Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Why Only One Nation? A Response to Bruce from Project: The King and I

Bruce over at Project: The King and I has been reading through the Bible. I've been following his blog just because I find it interesting to see what an atheist thinks about the Bible as he reads through it. Well, today's reading was from Genesis 34 and 35. He has a sense of humor because he titled the post "The One Where Rachel and Isaac Die" (a blatant Friends reference). He concluded today's post by asking an honest question:
My question, that I've wanted to ask since early on is:
Why is God only blessing one family, The linage of Abraham? He seems to be a personal god to the one family (Abraham, Jacob, Isaac, etc) and others must win favor with the family to benefit from God's power. To me this comes off not as a god that loves and provides for his creation so much as a personal mentor/bodyguard for a wealthy family.
I could have posted in his comments, but I'm very congnisant of trying not to put long responses in comment sections on other blogs, so I'm hoping he'll read my response that I will post here.


When you see God working so narrowly with only one man and one family, keep in mind that the first principle being exercised is God's freedom in choosing (election). The principle illustrated by God's choice of one family is his freedom. He could have presented himself to any family, but he chose to show himself to and link his glory with the destiny of this one man and his descendants, not out of obligation, but freely.

The second principle in God's choosing one family through whom to reveal himself (which is what Abraham and his descendants were) is that there is a universalistic end to this choosing. Recall God's statement to Abraham: "all the families of the earth shall be blessed" (Gen. 12:3). As Biblical theologian Geerhardus Vos once said, "The election of Abraham..was meant as a particularistic means towards a universalistic end."

Picture God's revelation of himself as sort of a tree. When creation was young (early in Genesis) God's revelation was very wide, like the roots of a tree - it extended to all mankind through Adam and his children. Everyone knew God through His revelation to Adam and Eve. Eventually, humanity became unrepentant and lived in open rebellion against God and forgot their Creator (Now picture the tree narrowing into a trunk). When God again reveals himself, it is to one man (Abraham). It is at this point that the spectrum of revelation and divine favor narrows to Abraham and his family.

However, the end of this narrowing of divine favor/revelation in Abraham and his family is not meant to stay that way. Eventually, in Jesus (yes, this is where all of this is leading - just keep reading the book) the branches of the tree broaden once again when the Gentiles are allowed to be ingrafted into the tree. (Now picture the branches of the tree extending as broadly as possible.) So the end goal is not as particularistic as things look right now, in Genesis 35 and 36. You will have to wait several thousand years, but the end game is much broader than one simple family or nation. Until then, everything that is happening is setting the stage for the Messiah who is to come, under the law, so that he could live in perfect obedience to that law and die for his people. All of this is setting the stage for the One who eventually is to come.

I hope this is helpful, Bruce.


  1. That's a pretty convoluted path for an all powerful "god" to take, isn't it?

  2. "... but he chose to show himself to and link his glory with the destiny of this one man and his descendants, not out of obligation, but freely."

    Wouldn't Abraham's destiny be of god's making to begin with? Why would he 'choose' to link himself if he were already linked?

  3. It seems more likely that the descendants (who wrote this stuff down circa 700 BCE, many hundreds of years after it is alleged to have happened) are claiming God's favor for themselves for political purposes. Occam's razor - do you know it?

  4. It's pretty convoluted in the sense that a purportedly omnipotent, perfect being creates the entire universe- 91.4 billion light years across, then selects one tiny planet, creates/evolves life and humanity, sets up a test he knows that they will fail, proceeds to punish the human race via this sin-by-inheritance scheme for about a hundred thousand years, then at some point decides to select one guy to receive a "special revelation and covenant" which will of course be dismissed by everyone else as mental illness instead of say, announcing himself to humanity like any sane entity would do. THEN, another four thousand years pass and the descendants of this guy have some good times and some bad times all the while waiting for the promise of someone to finally get rid of the whole birth-curse the human race has been saddled with all this time. FINALLY, God reincarnates himself into a human body, is tortured and executed to satiate his own bizarre sense of justice and then proceeds to STILL not alleviate any suffering or injustice in the world, instead requiring that everyone, everywhere adhere to some specific, arbitrary rules that they must find out through this organization he leaves behind, or else suffer eternal punishment. Oh and best of all, he still refuses to make any of this wild story more credible by way of physical evidence than any number of other competing mythologies which attempt to explain the human condition. Now THAT is what I call a convoluted scheme, particularly for a being which, in its perfection by definition cannot experience desire in any shape or form.

  5. I have a lot of thoughts on what you've said, Gabe, but let me first point you to a post I did a few weeks ago. In this post, I point out that almost every single human being who has ever lived on the planet was born after Jesus. This may have some bearing on your judgment of the timing of the arrival of Christ in relationship to the rest of humanity.

  6. Gabe, with all due respect, any and every religion is convoluted by your standards, because they are all old and have a narrative connected with them.

    Even if we did grant that the story of the Bible is "convoluted," we both know that the truthfulness of a worldview is not measured by its simplicity. Otherwise, the numerous attempts by evolutionists to explain the origin of man might just as easily falsified. "Punctuated equilibrium is complicated, so it's not true" would not be an acceptable argument, would it?

  7. You rather seem to enjoy misrepresenting what Christianity actually teaches for the purposes of rhetorical flourish. For my own part, your painting of my worldview as "convoluted" is hardly convincing if you are not willing to fairly characterize the Christian story in a way that a Christian would actually recognize. For example:

    -Your statement that God did not "announc[e] himself to humanity like any sane entity would do" is very ignorant, considering that the story of the entire Bible is God announcing himself to humanity and being rejected.

    -Jesus was not "reincarnated." He was God incarnate in human flesh, and he only came once. Reincarnation is the belief that after death, our souls enter new bodies.

    -Your statement that God "refuses to make any of this wild story more credible by way of physical evidence" demonstrates an obvious bias towards empiricism. Are you aware of the circular nature of this epistemic commitment?

    -Was there a promise that the Messiah would "alleviate... suffering or injustice in the world"? The Jews certainly expected a political savior like you are describing, but a great deal of the work Jesus did was to convince the world that he was never meant to be a political savior who was bringing a worldly kingdom expressed in terms of social equality, peace, or justice. In fact, Jesus said, "I did not come to bring peace, but a sword." Clearly, like the Jews of Jesus' day, you may need to rethink your standards for a satisfying Messiah.

    All of these things may not sound compelling to you, given your own presuppositions, but within the bounds of the Christian worldview, they are not only coherent and rational, but the Christian worldview itself forms the basis for ethics, science, logic, induction, and a whole host of concepts which cannot be accounted for, given a skeptical or atheistic worldview.

  8. I would like to point out "{that almost every single human being who has ever lived on the planet was born after Jesus" is not true at all. Modern man was present between 40,000-100,000 years ago, while Jesus was born around 2,000 years ago. That's quite disproportionate.

  9. Did you follow my link, Nos4AuToo? Even if you do make assumptions about the prehistoric population, that population was never very large.

  10. Bravo Adam,
    you have presented and supported your case very adequately.

  11. Your estimates about global population are way, way off. Cecil Adams on the subject.

    Somewhere around half of everyone ever born was born before 1 CE.

  12. Your gross misrepresentation of global population is actually rather relevant to your other point about the Bible being the story of God announcing himself to the world, because prior to the birth of Christ the story of the Bible is not a universal one, but rather the singular story of the tribe of Abraham. Around 46 billion other human beings lived and died before the time of Christ. Does your God not care about those people?

    To your other points, you got me on the "reincarnation" bit, I mistyped. Empiricism versus Rationalism- I don't think we're going to settle that debate, but rationalism cannot prove the existence of God either.

    I do understand how the Christian worldview can be internally self-consistent, but the point I was making here was that from the outside, it sounds pretty convoluted and contrived. It sounds about as coherent to me as a religion like Hinduism would probably sound to you.

    Claiming that the Christian worldview forms the basis for ethics, science, logic, induction, etc is like saying that the ancient Greek pantheon forms the basis for ethics, science, & logic. Perhaps worshiping Zeus would be more reasonable. We certainly owe a larger debt to the Greeks creating the underpinnings of Western thought than to Christianity for co-opting it from the Muslims. And what of the ethics, science and logic of most Asian cultures? Are they incapable of coherence and rationality because they lack a Christian worldview?

  13. Some additional data on world population:

  14. You know, Gabe -

    1. I'm really not an expert on population. After all, I did get my information from Wikipedia! ;-) It looks like Wikipedia's information on prehistoric humans comes from the Toba Catastrophe theory, which says that less than 15,000 humans lived before 70,000 B.C. It also looks like they reference this article from Breitbart.

    That PRB reference is interesting, but it is frustrating to see such wide and varying estimates from the different sources. As someone who is more a theologian than a sociologist or statistician, I'm tempted to throw my hands up and say that this is all guess-work.

    2. But really, I think you adequately stated the charge when you said: "Around 46 billion other human beings lived and died before the time of Christ. Does your God not care about those people?" Fair enough. And for the sake of argument, lets say your numbers are spot on. From a theological perspective, this is not a problem for two reasons:

    First, after the Fall, all humans deserved death and condemnation. If God were to allow every single human being since to perish and suffer in Hell, this might be horrific, but it would not, strictly speaking, be a violation of His justice.

    Second, immediately after the Fall, God made a prophetic promise to mankind that promised a conquest of sin. Speaking words of condemnation to the serpent after the Fall, in the presence of Adam and Eve, God says:

    "I will put enmity between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel" (Gen. 3:14).

    Christian theologians are agreed that this is the first known promise of a coming savior to deliver humanity from sin. Belief in this promise alone was sufficient to save anyone believing it. To believe in this promise was to believe in Jesus.

    In other words, Adam and Eve received this promise from the beginning and were saved on account of it. Any and all of their descendants had the same opportunity to trust in the promise and follow the God who made the promise.

    Again, I doubt this is compelling to you, but it does show that the opportunity for salvation has always existed - even before the physical arrival of Jesus. Keep in mind, once again, that God was not strictly bound to be merciful or offer a means of escape.

  15. 3. Re: Rationalism vs. Empiricism. I actually favor neither. If you choose either, you are arriving at them via circular means. Both worldviews beg the question.

    4. I'm not arguing for the truth of Christianity on the basis of internal coherence. My argument for the truth of Christianity is from the impossibility of the contrary. If Christianity were not true, we would have no grounds for logic or for induction, just to name a couple of things which would not be the case in a strictly naturalistic universe.

    5. "Claiming that the Christian worldview forms the basis for ethics, science, logic, induction, etc is like saying that the ancient Greek pantheon forms the basis for ethics, science, & logic." You misunderstand me. But I don't blame you. I was shooting fast and not explaining myself.

    When I say that the Christian worldview provides the basis for something like logic, for example, I am saying that the contrary worldview cannot account for it. In other words, given naturalism, there is no accounting for universal, invariant, non-physical entities. And yet all three of these characteristics I've listed apply to the laws of logic. Given the atheistic worldview, the laws of logic cannot be accounted for. Now, given Christianity, we can definitely account for these things. God is logical - it is the way he thinks. Given Christianity, there can be universal and invariant abstracts. Given Christianity, there most certainly are non-physical entities. This is just one example, but I could demonstrate "science" for you as well, if you pressed me on it.

    So I'm not saying that non-Christians can't follow logic until they understand theology. I'm instead saying that they need it to be true - and that they borrow our logical, reasonable, orderly, supernatural worldview all the time in order to make sense of the universe, even if they deny it by their words.

  16. First, after the Fall, all humans deserved death and condemnation.

    This right here is what I take exception to. Why is this the case? I imagine your argument will proceed from the idea that an offence against God is infinite because he is. To quote Borges, "Arguing that an error against God is infinite because He is infinite is like arguing that it is holy because God is, or like thinking that the injuries attributed to a tiger must be striped."

    The other thing I take issue with is the heritablity of original sin. In the Christian worldview, souls are not material entities. If souls are not encoded in our DNA, how can we inherit original sin? If we don’t inherit it with our sex chromosomes, how do we inherit it? If God creates souls de novo to insert into each conception – is he creating them pre-stained with the "spot of Adam"? How such an idea could be reconciled with the notion that God is both just and good. Just human law certainly would never ascribe the crimes of parents to their children. The notion is absurd.

    The presuppositionalist argument you are making for Christianity being the basis for reason, logic, etc I'll see if I can address tomorrow, as it's rather late. For now, I would just like to note that this argument is riddled with logical fallacies, of which I will be glad to enumerate for you when I get a chance.

  17. I would like to say- combative tone of my comments aside, that you're one of the very few theists that I have had this conversation with that seems to be what I would consider to be intellectually honest, and for that I thank you. It's pretty refreshing. I try to keep an extremely open mind, and am completely willing to change my worldview given a sufficiently compelling argument. Cheers!

  18. When it comes to your questions on the origin of the soul, I am uncommitted. Many of my favorite theologians are traducians and believe that the soul is inexorably linked with the body, and that when a new body is conceived, then a soul is born along with it. Many others are creationists and believe that God creates the soul ex nihilo at the appropriate moment. For my part, I am uncommitted. I see strengths and weakness in both views. It would be helpful to my discussion with you if I adopted the traducian view, but in truth, I feel like the Bible isn't clear on the subject, so I'd rather be unclear as well.

    The doctrine of original sin is certainly important. You wouldn't be the first human who raised an objection to the doctrine. I have enough trouble convincing my theologically unsound fellow Christians that original sin is what the Bible teaches, so I think I'd really have my hands full bringing YOU around! LOL

    I can, however, recommend books and authors who have handled this subject in an able way. You can read Jonathan Edwards' able treatment of the subject in his book The Great Christian Doctrine of Original Sin Defended. He anticipates every objection that anyone would ever raise, including the subject of the origins of the soul.

    From my end of things, I would remind you that although my argument for the truthfulness of Christianity is not based on coherence, your specific claims regarding original sin and the origin of the soul are claims of internal inconsistency. After all, I think you will agree, given atheism, all of this is bunk. If we were arguing on atheistic grounds you could just say, "God doesn't exist, so we're done."

    Rather, you are trying to show (as I see it) that there is an inconsistency and an incoherence - a dissonance - in my worldview. But what I want to show you is that Original Sin is predicated on God's right to structure the universe as He wishes - to place one descendant as the federal head, and the rest of his race as being constituted "in" this first person (Adam). As someone once said, "If you grant Genesis 1:1, everything else that follows is possible."

    I'm looking forward more to the presuppositional discussion. From my perspective, you started off like a bit of a firecracker, but they when you realized I wasn't a horrible creature from the black lagoon, you calmed down a bit, and now we're having a reasonable discussion.

  19. The infection of sin, if you will, has not just infected our souls, but our bodies as well. Before Adam and Eve sinned, their souls and bodies were perfect and made to last forever. After sin, death entered both their souls and bodies.

    But, it did not just infect Adam, Eve and their progeny. Sin also infected the entire universe. What was once perfect – God declared everything “very good” – was now infected with death. From the smallest microorganism to the largest body in the heavens became infected with death and decay. Microorganisms that were originally created to sustain life now had to evolve into creatures that cleaned up death and decay. Animals that were originally designed to eat the produce of the earth now had to evolve into creatures that preyed upon their fellow creatures. Even the produce of the earth, which was not meant for spoilage, rot, decay, was infected with death through this sin.

    This is speculation on my part, but I believe that even the entire universe was infected – that planets that were once habitable became uninhabitable. Planets that before sin could have sustained life from a burgeoning, undying human population on Earth are now barren wastelands, where we humans can plainly see that at one time life could have been possible. Again, this is purely speculation on my part.

    I say all this because “Meanwhile, creation is confused, but not because it wants to be confused. God made it this way in the hope that creation would be set free from decay and would share in the glorious freedom of his children. We know that all creation is still groaning and is in pain, like a woman about to give birth.”

    The great good news is this: that God condescended to humanity – and we must remind ourselves that this is a humanity that constantly rejects God (if you watched the Golden Globe Awards last night, the very last words spoken were “Thank God I am an atheist.”) and His law – first of all by giving us hope right after the first sin was committed through the promise of some kind of salvation. And then, throughout time, God has continually shown Himself faithful to that promise by not annihilating humanity altogether, but bringing into clearer focus what that salvation would look like.

    The one constant for humanity throughout was simply this – we had to believe that what God said He would do would be done. Not in our own timing or our own way or our own wisdom, but in His. What’s important to remember is that throughout this history of God’s revelation, the invitation to all people has always been open – the righteous shall live by his faith. We simply have to believe.


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