The surest guide we have to what God is like is the good human parent. This seems true upon reflection and it seems to have been the conviction of Jesus (see especially Matt 7:9-11, Luke 11:11-13).

Discernment uncertainty in friendship with God is by divine intention. God wants his friends to decide what they think is most consistent with the friendship. So long as they choose what they think is most consistent, they are being the best friend to God they can be, regardless of whether they choose what is actually, objectively most consistent with their friendship with God. Again, this is by God’s design. And it is a good and wise design. Among other benefits, it trains his friends to become good decision makers.

There is no greater evidence than self-evidence. Take the proposition “2+2=4”. How do I know this proposition is true? I know it is true because it is self-evidently true. I do not need to appeal to evidence outside the proposition to know it is true.

Of course not all propositions are this way. Consider the proposition, “George Washington was the first President of the United States.” I believe this proposition is true, and I believe my belief is correct. Therefore I believe that I know the proposition “George Washington was the first President of the United States” is a true proposition. But how do I know this is true? Because it is self-evident? No. I know it is true because trustworthy testimony tells me it is true. In other words, my knowledge of the truth of the proposition depends upon evidence beyond the proposition itself. It is not enough to simply state the proposition “George Washington was the first President of the United States” to know that the proposition is true. But it is enough to state “2+2=4” to know that is true.

There are many propositions besides “2+2=4” that are self-evidently true – at least to me: what is self-evidently true to one person is not necessarily self-evidently true to another person. For example, the proposition “I exist” is self-evidently true to me. Likewise, the proposition “I am not the only thing that exists” is self-evidently true to me. Also the proposition “it is wrong to torture babies for fun” is self-evidently true to me.

“So what”, you may be thinking. “What’s the significance of all of this?” Well, let’s turn to some theological propositions that some assert to be true.

Consider, for instance the proposition: “God, a morally perfect being, will torture people forever.” Is this proposition true? If you think so, if you think even maybe it might be true, then I think you are certainly wrong. For, to me, this proposition is self-evidently false. It is as self-evidently false, even more self-evidently false than the proposition “It is not wrong to torture babies for fun.” I do not need any outside evidence, no divine revelation, no expert testimony, not anything but the proposition itself to know that the proposition is false. The proposition has no meaning. It’s like saying 2+2=5.

Likewise, consider the Calvinist proposition that “God, a morally perfect being, has necessitated, or ordained, whatsoever comes to pass, the good and the evil (every murder, rape, act of pedophilia, the Holocaust, etc.)”. Again, that is self-evidently false to me. Even if someone were to persuade me that the “Bible” teaches it, that would only be evidence that the Bible is wrong, at least on this point (but the Bible does not teach this absurd proposition in my opinion). The same goes for other Calvinist propositions, for example the proposition that “God, a morally perfect being, holds people accountable for sins he necessitated.” And traditional Calvinism even combines these absurd propositions with the eternal torment proposition! Again, all of this is self-evidently false to me. Meaningless propositions. If the Calvinist wishes to amend the definition of God as a morally perfect being, then well and good. But so long as they define their God as a morally perfect being, the actions they ascribe to God are simply impossible. Nonsense. They might as well tell me “it is not wrong to torture babies for fun” or “2+2=5”.

As I said before, what is self-evident to one person is not necessarily self-evident to another person. And it is not even possible for everything self-evident to one person to be self-evident to every person. For example, to a great mathematician it is self-evident that 8,974 X 4,534 = 40,688,166. But it is hardly possible that this could ever be self-evident to anyone besides a great mathematician. But regarding the theological propositions discussed above, I suggest that although their falseness is not self-evident to all – otherwise, there would be no one who believes the propositions, but there are people who believe them and alas teach them, which is the only reason I write about them – their falseness should be self-evident to all. Or to be more frank: there is something wrong with the moral aptitude of the person to whom these propositions are not self-evidently false. Either that or the person knows not what he says. Or both.

DEAR SIR,

— I have received and read with thankfulness and pleasure your denunciation of the abuses of tobacco and wine. Yet, however sound in its principles, I expect it will be but a sermon to the wind. You will find it as difficult to inculcate these sanative precepts on the sensualities of the present day, as to convince an Athanasian that there is but one God. I wish success to both attempts, and am happy to learn from you that the latter, at least, is making progress, and the more rapidly in proportion as our Platonizing Christians make more stir and noise about it. The doctrines of Jesus are simple, and tend all to the happiness of man.

  1. That there is one only God, and he all perfect.
  2. That there is a future state of rewards and punishments.
  3. That to love God with all thy heart and thy neighbor as thyself, is the sum of religion.

These are the great points on which he endeavored to reform the religion of the Jews. But compare with these the demoralizing dogmas of Calvin.

  1. That there are three Gods.
  2. That good works, or the love of our neighbor, are nothing.
  3. That faith is every thing, and the more incomprehensible the proposition, the more merit in its faith.
  4. That reason in religion is of unlawful use.
  5. That God, from the beginning, elected certain individuals to be saved, and certain others to be damned; and that no crimes of the former can damn them; no virtues of the latter save.

Now, which of these is the true and charitable Christian? He who believes and acts on the simple doctrines of Jesus? Or the impious dogmatists, as Athanasius and Calvin? Verily I say these are the false shepherds foretold as to enter not by the door into the sheepfold, but to climb up some other way. They are mere usurpers of the Christian name, teaching a counter-religion made up of the deliria of crazy imaginations, as foreign from Christianity as is that of Mahomet. Their blasphemies have driven thinking men into infidelity, who have too hastily rejected the supposed author himself, with the horrors so falsely imputed to him. Had the doctrines of Jesus been preached always as pure as they came from his lips, the whole civilized world would now have been Christian. I rejoice that in this blessed country of free inquiry and belief, which has surrendered its creed and conscience to neither kings nor priests, the genuine doctrine of one only God is reviving, and I trust that there is not a young man now living in the United States who will not die an Unitarian.

But much I fear, that when this great truth shall be re-established, its votaries will fall into the fatal error of fabricating formulas of creed and confessions of faith, the engines which so soon destroyed the religion of Jesus, and made of Christendom a mere Aceldama; that they will give up morals for mysteries, and Jesus for Plato. How much wiser are the Quakers, who, agreeing in the fundamental doctrines of the gospel, schismatize about no mysteries, and, keeping within the pale of common sense, suffer no speculative differences of opinion, any more than of feature, to impair the love of their brethren. Be this the wisdom of Unitarians, this the holy mantle which shall cover within its charitable circumference all who believe in one God, and who love their neighbor!

I conclude my sermon with sincere assurances of my friendly esteem and respect.

Thomas Jefferson

To Dr. Benjamin Waterhouse Monticello, June 26, 1822

To whom does greater glory accrue? To the one who compels another to love him, or to the one who is loved by another by the other’s own free choice? Do I receive greater glory if I compel a woman to marry me (even if I am somehow able do so in such a way that she believes she is freely choosing to marry me), or if a woman chooses to marry me by her own free choice (that is, her choice is such that she could either choose to marry me or choose not to marry me)? I can find nothing glorious in compelling another to love oneself. In fact, I think it is altogether inglorious and indeed an impossibility, as necessitated love is not love at all. But I can think of no greater glory than the glory of being freely loved by another.

The presence of women among Jesus’ disciples and followers should not be doubted, and several seem to have been closer to him than even some of the twelve.

James Dunn, Jesus Remembered

By light and evidence derived from every accessible source – from revelation, from reason, from experience, our own and that of others – we determine the objective right . . . In many cases there is no hesitation; the decision is immediate and infallible. In others we find room for doubt, and liability to error. But when the balance of probabilities is settled, then conscience endorses the probable course. And in this the conscience is right. We ought to follow our best judgment in outward duty. If not, what guide remains?

. . . But is the person virtuous who thus follows their conscience and an erroneous judgment? Certainly they are; it is the only virtue possible for us. . . . the intuitive perceptions of people forever contradict the doctrine that there is sin, blameworthiness, in an honest, conscientious error. . . .

It is not the objective right that determines duty, but the right as apprehended. . . . The truly conscientious person is the one who takes, as their end of life, that which reason approves as the good; thus they meets all real obligation, become benevolent, and necessarily adopt such courses of outward conduct as approve themselves to their judgment. Such a person alone follows conscience. . . .

Two persons equally conscientious may differ much in their outward conduct. They are alike in their subjective state, act upon the same great principles, are equally virtuous and worthy of approbation; but they differ in the light they have, and hence in their judgment of outward duty. There is ground for mutual confidence ; they can trust each other’s hearts while they distrust the judgment.

— James Harris Fairchild, Moral Science

Self-love may stand in a threefold relation to love of God. In the first place, it is contrary to love of God when a man makes love of his own welfare his final aim. In the second place, it is included in love of God when a man loves himself for God’s sake and in God. In the third place, it is different from love of God, but not opposed to it, when a man loves himself from the point of view of desiring his own welfare, but does not make this welfare his final aim. In the same way there is also a kind of love towards one’s neighbour besides that which is based upon God, such as exists when a man loves his neighbour because of his attractiveness or on the ground of kinship.

— Thomas Aquinas

Love is not mere tender-heartedness, good-nature, kindly feeling, a weak disposition to make everybody comfortable. It is gentle or stern, forbearing or indignant, as the occasion may require.

— James Harris Fairchild, Moral Science

 

The strength of a religion lies not so much in its general moral ideas, which are common to all the more cultured religions, but in the way these moral ideas are connected with​ the religious ones, or rather — to speak more correctly — with religion as centred in a person, namely, God. This connection Christianity has in the crucified Christ. The man who comes to God through Christ and in the condescension of Jesus to the sinner recognizes and experiences the love of God — to him, as often as he approaches God, self-sacrificing love must come home as making a direct moral claim.

— Gustaf Dalman

Here, on this earth on which we dwell, the sky does not cease to be friendly, nor the trees, in their proper season, to shoot forth branches, nor the vines to bud and bring their reviving fruits to perfection, nor the boughs to hang down with ripe berries, nor the corn to yield its expected increase; but all things flourish, the springs are continually running, and the fields are clothed with grass. And then, if we consider what a multitude there is of cattle, partly for food, partly for carrying, and partly for clothing our bodies; and the nature of man himself, who seems to be formed for contemplating heaven and the gods, and to adore and worship them, and that the whole earth and sea lie open for his use; when we see and consider these, and innumerable other things, can we doubt whether there is a Superior Being, who is either the Creator of these things, if they were indeed created, as Plato thinks; or, if they always were, as Aristotle supposes, who is the Manager and Disposer of so great a work and charge.

— Cicero

If we hearken to the voice of the world, we shall hear it say nothing but God hath made me.

— Plotinus

 

If all else fails, the doctrines of the deity of Jesus and the trinity ought to get Christians to scrutinize every doctrine of their faith starting with these two doctrines, and yet it is precisely these two doctrines that above all keep Christians from scrutinizing every doctrine of their faith and especially these two doctrines. Put differently, Christians should be snapped out of their cozy recourse to invoking “mystery” above all by the blatantly unreasonable doctrines of the deity of Jesus and the trinity, and yet sadly it is precisely these two doctrines that above all lead Christians to invoke “mystery” in the first place, rather than using their God-given reason to think through their faith, rejecting what is false and keeping/discovering what is true. Nothing has been more detrimental to the history of theology than recourse to “mystery”, and nothing is more detrimental in the thinking of Christians, and other religious people for that matter, than recourse to “mystery”. Believed to be the panacea, it is in reality the ultimate poison.

God’s will [according to Jesus] is not unalterable. The Father of Jesus is not the immovable, immutable God who ultimately can only be described in negations. He is not the God to whom it is pointless to pray, but a gracious God who hears prayers and intercessions, and who in his compassion is able to self-repeal his holy will. Above the holiness of God, Jesus places the grace of God.

— Joachim Jeremias, The Proclamation of Jesus.

What prompts Paul to hark back again and again to the divine purpose is not an abstract predestinarianism or reference back to God’s decrees as the final cause in the chain of events, but the designation of sovereign, divine grace as the sole motive of his work of redemption in history.

One can raise the question as to whether after all the idea has not hereby been given of a predestined closed number of the elect and whether with that — even though not said in so many words— those who do not belong to this closed number have not been excluded in virtue of this same purpose before the foundation of the world.

One can only say of these questions that they place Paul’s pronouncements concerning the church as foreknown by God and elect in Christ under another point of view than that of Paul himself and thus abstract and extrapolate them from the context of the Pauline doctrine of salvation, an extrapolation that easily leads to conclusions Paul himself does not draw and which are entirely in conflict with the tenor of his preaching.

— Herman Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology. Ridderbos was Dutch Reformed and one of the best interpreters of Paul to date. Here he rightly avows that the Reformed doctrine of unconditional election cannot appeal to Paul for support, indeed that it contradicts completely the tenor of Paul’s preaching. In this way he channels, doubtless intentionally, the legacy of that great Dutch theologian Jacob Arminius.

Jesus considered it certain that the chief end of mankind was to find their salvation in the most intimate relation to God and in full obedience to His will. He was further convinced that the purpose of God was directed principally to the bestowal of blessing on men, and not to the mere exaltation of the divine majesty over the world. Hence, in his view, the completed establishment of God as king implied, for those who experienced it, absolute happiness.

— Gustaf Dalman, The Words of Jesus

The Bible has to do with two great subjects, which, taken together, and in connexion with each other, make up what we call Religion. These two great subjects are Goodness and God. The Bible tells us about God and Goodness; this is what gives to it its unity. This is what gives to it its unique value. No other book has told men so well and so truly of goodness and God as the Bible. All that it says about God and all that it says about goodness is not indeed of equal value and of equal truth: there are degrees of excellence and of worth. But, taken as a whole, no other book has spoken and still speaks of God and goodness as this book, the Bible. And this is what has made the Bible precious and beloved through so many ages and to so many very different peoples. For God and Goodness can never grow old. Men and women always want to know about them, and in this respect one age is the same as another. The poetry of the Bible is often very beautiful, but men have not loved it for its beauty. Its stories are often very interesting, but men have not read them again and again for their interestingness. Its proverbs are often very wise, but men have not learnt them for their wisdom. Its history records many facts, but men have not greatly cared for the facts. Just as the writers cared for the ‘moral’ more than for the facts (and the later the historians the less they cared for the facts and the more for the moral), so its readers have always cared for the history of the Bible because they found in it something which told them about God and goodness, about virtue and vice, holiness and sin, about God’s rule in the world and how he governs it for the best.

The subject of the Bible, then, is Goodness and God. You may perhaps ask: How did the Hebrews — the men who wrote the Bible — get to know so much and so well about God and goodness? That sounds an easy question, but it is really a difficult one. I cannot answer it fully because I do not fully know. The best answer I can give is this, that it was God who told them what they have told us. It was by God’s help and will that they wrote about him and about goodness the noble words which we read in the Bible. Let me explain what I mean a little more clearly. If there were no God, we should not know anything about him. If there were no God there would be no goodness. I believe that this is perhaps the most important sentence, telling the most important truth, in all the world. But when I say ‘it was God who told them,’ I do not mean that he told them in the same way that I might tell you about a strange fish on the south coast of Africa which you had never seen or heard or thought of. God did not tell them, and does not tell us, things in that way. He does not pour knowledge into us as we pour water into an empty bottle. He has given us the power and the desire to know him and to be good, and if we use our power, he helps us to become good and to love him (for to know God and to love God are very near relations to each other). But over and above the help which he gives to every man, he gave a special help to the Jews, or perhaps I should say to the best men among the Jews, and to the men who wrote the Bible. He needed the Jews for his own good purpose to be the interpreters of his will to other nations and peoples. Through the Bible the Jews have taught the world about goodness and God, and so God told them more and let them know more about himself and how to serve him than he told to any other people. How exactly he told them I cannot tell you. That he told them, that he let them know a special and peculiar amount about himself and his service, that is a fact of history which everybody must accept. We shall soon hear various stories from the Bible itself how God told the Jews about himself and of his service and of righteousness and mercy; but the important thing is not exactly how the Jews were told, for their greatest men could hardly have explained it to you quite clearly themselves, but that they were told, that they somehow received this higher and better knowledge of goodness and God, and that through them Europe and America and Australia have received it too.

–Claude G. Montefiore, 1897

Love righteousness, you people of the earth,
think of the Lord in goodness
and seek him with sincerity of heart;
because he is found by those who do not put him to the test,
and manifests himself to those who do not distrust him.
For perverse thoughts separate people from God,
and when his power is tested, it exposes the foolish;
because wisdom will not enter a deceitful soul,
or dwell in a body enslaved to sin.
For a holy and disciplined spirit will flee from deceit,
and will leave foolish thoughts behind,
and will be ashamed at the approach of unrighteousness.

For wisdom is a kindly spirit,
but will not free blasphemers from the guilt of their words;
because God is witness of their inmost feelings,
and a true observer of their hearts, and a hearer of their tongues.
Because the spirit of the Lord has filled the world,
and that which holds all things together knows what is said,
therefore those who utter unrighteous things will not escape notice,
and justice, when it punishes, will not pass them by.
For inquiry will be made into the counsels of the ungodly,
and a report of their words will come to the Lord,
to convict them of their lawless deeds;
because a jealous ear hears all things,
and the sound of grumbling does not go unheard.
Beware then of useless grumbling,
and keep your tongue from slander;
because no secret word is without result,
and a lying mouth destroys the soul.

Do not invite death by the error of your life,
or bring on destruction by the works of your hands;
because God did not make death,
and he does not delight in the death of the living.
For he created all things so that they might exist;
the generative forces of the world are wholesome,
and there is no destructive poison in them,
and the dominion of the grave is not by creation.
For righteousness is immortal.

But the ungodly by their words and deeds summoned death;
considering him a friend, they pined away
and made a covenant with him,
because they are fit to belong to his company.
For they reasoned unsoundly, saying to themselves,
“Short and sorrowful is our life,
and there is no remedy when a life comes to its end,
and no one has been known to return from the grave.
For we were born by mere chance,
and hereafter we shall be as though we had never been,
for the breath in our nostrils is smoke,
and reason is a spark kindled by the beating of our hearts;
when it is extinguished, the body will turn to ashes,
and the spirit will dissolve like empty air.
Our name will be forgotten in time,
and no one will remember our works;
our life will pass away like the traces of a cloud,
and be scattered like mist
that is chased by the rays of the sun
and overcome by its heat.
For our allotted time is the passing of a shadow,
and there is no return from our death,
because it is sealed up and no one turns back.

“Come, therefore, let us enjoy the good things that exist,
and make use of the creation to the full as in youth.
Let us take our fill of costly wine and perfumes,
and let no flower of spring pass us by.
Let us crown ourselves with rosebuds before they wither.
Let none of us fail to share in our revelry;
everywhere let us leave signs of enjoyment,
because this is our portion, and this our lot.
Let us oppress the righteous man;
let us not spare the widow
or regard the gray hairs of the aged.
But let our might be our law of right,
for what is weak proves itself to be useless.

“Let us lie in wait for the righteous man,
because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions;
he reproaches us for sins against the law,
and accuses us of sins against our training.
He professes to have knowledge of God,
and calls himself a child of the Lord.
He became to us a reproof of our thoughts;
the very sight of him is a burden to us,
because his manner of life is unlike that of others,
and his ways are strange.
We are considered by him as something base,
and he avoids our ways as unclean;
he calls the last end of the righteous happy,
and boasts that God is his father.
Let us see if his words are true,
and let us test what will happen at the end of his life;
for if the righteous man is God’s child, he will help him,
and will deliver him from the hand of his adversaries.
Let us test him with insult and torture,
so that we may find out how gentle he is,
and make trial of his forbearance.
Let us condemn him to a shameful death,
for, according to what he says, he will be protected.”

Thus they reasoned, but they were led astray,
for their wickedness blinded them,
and they did not know the secret purposes of God,
nor hoped for the wages of holiness,
nor discerned the prize for blameless souls;
for God created us for incorruption,
and made us in the image of his own eternity,
but through the devil’s envy death entered the world,
and those who belong to his company experience it.

But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God,
and no punishment will ever touch them.
In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died,
and their departure was thought to be a disaster,
and their going from us to be their destruction;
but they are at peace.
For though in the sight of others they were punished,
their hope is full of immortality.
Having been disciplined a little, they will receive great good,
because God tested them and found them worthy of himself;
like gold in the furnace he tried them,
and like a sacrificial burnt offering he accepted them.
In the time of their visitation they will shine forth,
and the Lord will reign over them forever.
Those who trust in him will understand truth,
and the faithful will abide with him in love,
because grace and mercy are upon his holy ones,
and he watches over his own.

But the ungodly will be punished as their reasoning deserves,
those who disregarded the righteous
and rebelled against the Lord.

— Book of Wisdom

Christ is risen from the dead. That is the new point of view. And it is with that point of view that the apostle Paul wants us to look at life, our own life and the life of the world. Indeed, also the latter. For if we can only see the world, as many Christians do, from the viewpoint of evil, then we are acting as if the devil is the boss in this world and as if Christ is not risen.

–Hermann Ridderbos

In his letter to the Christians in Rome, the Apostle Paul wrote (Rom 2:6-8),

God will render to each person according to his deeds: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, vengeance and indignation.

And commenting on these words, Abiel Abbot Livermore aptly remarked (bold mine), 

The grand principle is here announced of the impartiality of God’s awards, as made with single reference to life and character. The theological issues which have been got up relative to faith and good works, as to which is the criterion of acceptance, are irrelevant. Character is the test – character of course having a root in faith, or in other words in a deep, inward principle of spiritual truth, and blooming outwardly by a necessary force of life in the flowers and fruits of beautiful and useful good works. If it be possible to state any doctrine in human language so that it cannot be mistaken or misrepresented, the doctrine of a righteous moral retribution is so stated in this passage. As men live, so will they be judged here and hereafter – live inwardly, in motive, will, desire, and intention, as well as outwardly, in act, speech, and habit. The Gospel does not alter the native grounds of acceptance with God, as the Apostle announces here, except as greater privileges establish a greater trust to be accounted for and provide more animating and effectual motives to obedience.

From my friend and reader of this blog, John in Zimbabwe:

Our relationship [with God] is what it’s all about! Going against God is like trying to cut across the waves in a rowing boat! Life will be very difficult indeed!

It has taken me many years to get a clear handle on what the Bible is and what it is not. The idea that it is a book of inerrant revelation from God is THE fundamental, principle doctrine of Evangelicalism. This doctrine of the Bible was drilled into me in seminary. But it just is not true, and the wide world of biblical scholarship has known this for hundreds of years now. But the doctrine simply will not die. The reasons are many, but the strongest one in my opinion is the fundamental desire people have for certainty. I know this desire myself too well. We want an absolutely certain word from God. Of course, even when one regards the Bible as such, it does not work. For there is the fact that the Bible must be interpreted and that interpretation is not easy.

Does this mean I think the Bible is worthless? Nothing could be further from the truth. I think it’s value is truly priceless. But only if it is not used as an inerrant guide. Even the best of it must be used as an imperfect guide alongside other imperfect guides. The other imperfect guides may be summarized as God’s revelation of himself in creation, God’s law written upon our hearts, and the accumulated wisdom of the ages. We must consult these several imperfect guides, the Bible included, to best discern what is true of God and true of ourselves. And when this is done, at least when it is done with prayer and an open heart and mind, I believe we are able to discern that God is the most beautiful being we can imagine – indeed, more beautiful than we can imagine. And I believe we are able to discern that we are his precious creatures whom he has created to live as sons and daughters of him in a relationship of mutual friendship, even love. And not only has he created us for such, but he has at great suffering to himself carried out a plan to rescue us from our lost, estranged condition – a plan of redemption, culminating in the sacrifice of Jesus of Nazareth on our behalf, the sacrifice of a son of God who could not have been more dear to God, so intimate was their bond and relationship.

Clearly I am living proof here that one does not need the erroneous Evangelical view of the Bible as inerrant revelation from God to know the truth about God and ourselves. I would challenge anyone to draw a better, truer picture of reality than what I have just sketched. And yet I do not believe the Bible is inerrant revelation from God.

Where the consistent themes of God’s various revelations to and through the Hebrews and the dictates of a mind or heart sensitive to value converge is epistemological terra firma.

As the Scriptures are inspired, so, if faithfully used, do they become life-awakening and soul-inspiring. As they are living, their pupil is living likewise ; as they are wise and loving, he is changed into the same image from strength to strength, and from glory to glory. . . .

But in order that the inspiration in the Bible may become inspiration in us, we must read, and muse, till the fire burns. The deep book must be read with our deepest mind. “If the well is deep, and we have nothing to draw with, from whence then can we have that living water ?” Voltaire confessed that he had not even read the whole of the book upon which he poured out such a merciless scorn. Other infidels have confessed to a similar neglect. We say, then, for honesty’s sake, give as much study to your theology as you do to your geology or astronomy, your navigation, engineering, or farming, and “hasten slowly” in making up a final judgment on a collection of books so various, so reverend, and so ancient. But if you weigh it carefully, and drink in its spirit, if you read and re-read its Job and its John, and consider its moral tables and golden rules, and exult in its songs, and hush your heart with its prayers, and descend depth after depth into the passion and pathos of Jesus, and, after all this spiritual process, you still find it to be only a bundle of Jewish and old wives’ fables, then you will have falsified, we do not say the highest yearnings and moral instincts of your own being, but the colossal testimony of the ages, the innermost experience of the wisest men of the Christian ages.

— Abiel Abbot Livermore, “The Bible, Inspired and Inspiring”

It cannot be too often repeated that the only legitimate method of determining what is involved in the idea of inspiration, or under what conditions it manifests itself, is by an examination of the books that are described as inspired, and an impartial study of the facts presented by them. The Scriptures nowhere make the claim of absolute and universal inerrancy. . . .

Without pretending to define inspiration, or to determine the mystery of its operation, we may, I suppose, say that what we mean by it is an influence which gave to those who received it a unique and extraordinary spiritual insight, enabling them thereby, without superseding or suppressing the human faculties, but rather using them as its instruments, to declare in different degrees, and in accordance with the needs or circumstances of particular ages or particular occasions, the mind and purpose of God. Every true and noble thought of man is indeed, in a sense, inspired of God; but with the Biblical writers the purifying and illumining Spirit must have been present in some special and exceptional measure. Nevertheless, in the words of the prophet, or other inspired writer, there is a human element, not less than a Divine element, and neither of these must be ignored. . . .

We cannot take at random a passage from the inspired volume and say, without qualification or comparison with other passages, that it is absolute truth, or the pure word of God, or an infallible guide to conduct or character. . . .

It is plain that there exist declarations in the Bible which are not free from the tinge of human infirmity and human passion. But abundant as are the evidences of the elevating and sanctifying work of the Spirit of God upon the writers in both Testaments, we have no antecedent right to suppose that every writer is in precisely the same degree subordinated to it. Neither Scripture itself, nor the judgment of the Church, authorizes us to affirm that every statement, or even every book, stands upon the same moral or religious plane, or is in the same measure the expression of the Divine mind: the influences of time and place, of circumstances and situation, of scope and aim, of temper and opportunity, must all be taken into account, before we can rightly judge of the precise sense in which parts of Scripture are to be regarded as the word of God, and of the precise degree in which they individually claim to be authoritative. . . .

Even in the most sacred parts of Scripture is the truthfulness of the picture, as a whole, dissociated from the mechanical correctness of its individual parts . . .

Nothing is more destructive of the just claims of Christianity than a false theory of inspiration: nothing has led to more fatal shipwrecks of faith than the acceptance in youth of a priori views of what an inspired book must be, which the study of maturer years has demonstrated only too cogently to be untrue to fact. . . .

The practical value of the Old Testament is not dependent upon a theory of the sense in which it is inspired; and those who judge the literature of Israel from what may be termed a critical as opposed to a traditional standpoint must dispute the claim, which representatives of the latter seem sometimes to make, that they alone are conscious of the worth of the Old Testament. . . .

— Samuel R. Driver, sermon on “Inspiration”

Being out of relation to God is the meaning of depravity. However well our intellect, will, and heart otherwise function, they fail their primary purpose if they are not active in relation to God.

— Edward Vacek

The reconciliation of human beings to God is the most important activity occurring in the world today. It is God’s great project which he privileges those who are reconciled to God to participate in with God. Being reconciled to God is a matter of being persuaded to love God. What has the greatest power to persuade us to love God? Is it not the belief that God is good, that God loves us? This seems clear upon reflection. Moreover, it is the plainest teaching of God’s revelation. According to this revelation, nothing evinces God’s goodness and love for us like God’s sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf, and therefore nothing has the power to reconcile us to God, to persuade us to love God, like God’s sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf. Therefore, if the reconciliation of human beings to God is the most important activity occurring in the world today, then the most critical activity occurring in the world today is activity that shows that God is good, and the most destructive activity occurring in the world today is any activity that obscures God’s goodness. And therefore it is clear to what those who are reconciled to God should devote their greatest energies. They should devote their greatest energies to showing, in word and deed, that God is good and/or to negating activity, in particular false teaching about God, that obscures the goodness of God. And since their reconciliation to God is an ongoing affair, they should devote themselves to doing this not only for others but also for themselves. The latter they do principally by prayer and study.

We have more than sufficient evidence to be not merely confident but certain of the existence and goodness of God. If we do not feel certain of these things, this is because we have an inadequate knowledge of the evidence or because, though having an adequate knowledge of the evidence, we deceive ourselves into thinking we are yet uncertain. We do this by redefining the term “certain” – and like terms, like “sure” – in this specific context, convincing ourselves we are only “certain” of the existence and goodness of God if we know these things like we know 2+2=4. This is similar to how Calvinists redefine “sovereign” to mean “all-determining”, and thereby deceive themselves into thinking only an all-determining God is a “sovereign” God.

Reality consists of me, gifts, and the Giver of the gifts. Therefore, I face a choice between four options:

  1. Love the gifts but not the Giver.
  2. Love the gifts and the Giver, but the gifts more than the Giver.
  3. Love the Giver but not the gifts.
  4. Love the gifts and the Giver, but the Giver more than the gifts.

The first choice is not too harshly described as wicked and stupid, but sadly it is the choice of many. If this choice is wicked and stupid, then the second choice is wrong and foolish. And sadly it too is the preference of many, perhaps the majority of those who believe in God, at least in the West. The third choice is the right and wise choice for some, either temporarily or permanently as the case may be. These are the ascetics. They choose to sacrifice the gifts in order to learn to love the Giver. It is a noble choice these make and for them the right and wise choice. But, except for those who need to be ascetics for a time or permanently, the fourth choice is the right and wise choice. It is the ideal. It is what the Giver himself envisaged and envisages for us, as both his ordinary and extraordinary revelation attest.

The most important question we can ask ourselves is this: what is the purpose of our existence, or why are we here? The answer, joy of all joys, is that we are the creatures of the Greatest Possible Being, that is, an All-Perfect God, who has created us in order to make us happy. To this end he has surrounded us with delights innumerable. But greatest of all, he offers himself to us. He offers us the opportunity to love him as a Perfect Father and Perfect Friend. He does not compel us to do so. No, that would not be love. He can only give us the choice to return, to reciprocate, his love which he lavishes upon us. What wonderful news! The answer to the most important question is the greatest answer possible! How could any answer to the question be better? How could there be any better reason for our existence? Thanks be to our Most Beautiful God!

The great English philosopher, John Stuart Mill, has somewhere observed that mankind cannot be too often reminded that there was once a man of the name of Socrates. That is true; but still more important is it to remind mankind again and again that a man of the name of Jesus Christ once stood in their midst. – Adolf von Harnack

To love our neighbor is important, but to love God is more important. So the nature of the case makes clear upon reflection, and so Jesus taught when asked what is the greatest commandment, answering, “The greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. The second is to love your neighbor as yourself.” Furthermore, loving God with all our heart, soul, and strength does not diminish or distract loving our neighbor. On the contrary, it inspires and deepens the love of our neighbor. It inspires the love of our neighbor because it furnishes an additional reason for the love, namely, that our neighbor is valuable to God and so their well-being means God’s well-being. And it deepens the love of our neighbor because it motivates us to seek our neighbor’s greatest need, which is to be reconciled to God their Father, without compromising our pursuit of their lesser needs.

. . when we no longer see through a mirror darkly, when we know as we are known, when God’s sorrows are made manifest to us, we shall see that we have never experienced anything that we could, without shame, describe as sorrow. — Peter van Inwagen

Specious interpretation of the Bible, that is, interpretation of the Bible that is superficially plausible but actually wrong, is the life-blood of erroneous theology.

A closed mind is its own punishment, leaving its possessor ignorant of the things it does not know and without worthy confidence of the things it only fortuitously does know.

There is wrath with God only because there is evil with human beings. Were there no evil with human beings, there would be no wrath with God. The evil of human beings calls forth the divine wrath as a new feeling in the divine heart and mind. And it calls it forth, not because God is less than perfectly good, but precisely because God is perfectly good. Perfect wrath is the reaction of perfect goodness to evil. But, critically, it is only part of the reaction. For God’s perfect wrath which arises from God’s perfect goodness in response to evil is also always controlled by, ever subjected to, God’s perfect goodness. For again, wrath is but an affection, a feeling, with God. It is no attribute of God. And so it is that with God there is plenteous forgiveness for the repentant. Indeed, so it is that God ever works to turn his human creatures from their evil which calls forth his perfect wrath. Indeed, so it is that God even offers up, sacrifices, what is most precious to him, even his perfect Son, to reconcile us to him, so that in the Son we may no longer be children of the divine wrath, but become children of the divine delight. “God demonstrates his own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by his blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.” (Rom 5:8-10)

Matching our subjective scale of values to the objective scale of values is the intellectual goal of ethics, and to the extent that we are rational, that is, to the extent that we pursue that which we deem most valuable rather than pursuing what we deem less valuable, this matching leads to the attainment of the ultimate goal of ethics, which of course is doing the good, or better, doing the will of God.

When we pray, we ought to ask with boldness for whatever we wish of God, our Father, but always with this proviso, whether stated or implied: “Father please grant as much of my request(s) as possible without compromising your greater good purposes.” This umbrella petition, it seems to me, is only a more precise version of the “Not my will, Father, but your will” of Jesus in Gethsemane. Besides expressing our deference to God’s perfect purposes he is pursuing, the value of this umbrella petition is that it enables us to make our requests of God without fretting endlessly over what we should be asking, that is, over whether our requests are reasonable and good. We are enabled to simply make, and make with boldness, whatever requests we desire and place them all beneath the umbrella petition.

The Hebrews apparently lacked a single word for “the universe.” Therefore, God communicated to them that he is the creator of the universe, and/or they interpreted God’s communication to them that he is creator of the universe, by use of a merism, that is, the combination of two contrasting words to refer to an entirety. God was described as “Maker of heaven and earth” (עשׂה שׁמים וארץ). I find this an especially lovely way to refer to God as creator of the universe.

I can think of no better means of determining what one values most than finding out what one would be most sad to lose (even if they could not lose it). I wonder then: how many would be sad to lose, more than anything or anyone else, God? Not God’s gifts, including “heaven” so understood, but God himself?

Dogmas like those of so-called “Calvinism” and the traditional doctrine of “hell” as God-inflicted unending torments so plainly represent God as an Anti-Father that, given the teaching of Jesus that God is our Heavenly, i.e. Perfect Father, they may be deemed as Anti-Christ. Therefore, such dogmas should only be treated with scorn and contempt. Thomas Jefferson saw both these points clearly, writing in a letter to one Dr. Benjamin Waterhouse in 1822, “Who is the true and charitable Christian? He who believes and acts on the simple doctrines of Jesus, or the impious dogmatists as Athanasius and Calvin? Verily I say these are the false shepherds foretold as to enter not by the door into the sheepfold, but to climb up some other way. They are mere usurpers of the Christian name teaching a counter-religion, made up of the deliria of crazy imaginations, as foreign from Christianity as is that of Mahomet. Their blasphemies have driven thinking men into infidelity, who have too hastily rejected the supposed author himself with the horrors so falsely imputed to him. Had the doctrines of Jesus been preached always as pure as they came from his lips, the whole civilized world would now have been Christian.”