When a Pastor falls – response to Gospel Coalition.

Last week yet another evangelical scandal spread over the Internet. It was even a trending topic on Twitter where I am. Eddie Long, the head pastor for New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, has been accused of engaging in sexual activity with three young men in his congregation. In fact he is accused of coercing them into sex.

It remains unclear, at the time of writing this, whether these allegations are true or not. Several blogs and news sites have posted stories about this but I want to focus on just one. I was appalled at this article in the Gospel Coalition blog. It sickened me that such a harsh burden was placed on a Pastor with apparently no real concern to help him carry it and in fact the command to beat him when he falls under it! If a Pastor cannot carry a burden that, apparently, no one else is expected to then he should be thrown out of the ministry? Really?

So, the first point I wish to address is this: The high expectations of the Church.

Reading the New Testament with remarkably selective skill, the Gospel Coalition post demands Pastors to have extraordinary levels of personal holiness. Whilst that is scripturally true (I Tim. 3:1-8; Tit. 1:5-9) it seems to relegate personal holiness to the responsibility of the individual. This ignores the New Testament teaching on the Church. Paul teaches that the Church is one body of many members and that the weaker parts of that body are to be treated with special care. Isn’t everyone weak in some way? Are there not certain areas of brokenness in each part of the body? Each member of the body has need for the rest of the body. Paul goes to great lengths to explain this. Why is it that we do not extend that same grace to our Pastors? Remembering that they need us as much as we need them.

So, firstly, I do not believe the Pastor should be expected to be any more holy than the congregation is willing to be. Meaning, accountability and honesty for all if they expect their pastor to be ‘above reproach’.

Secondly, the article pins the credibility of the Bible on the personal witness of the preacher.

If that was true, who would ever be permitted to speak? I know I wouldn’t. Do we really believe that the Bible’s credibility, even the Gospel’s credibility depends on frail human frames? This article suggests just that. Speaking specifically about marriage, the Pastor is somehow expected to shoulder the work of maintaining a healthy marriage whilst all around him the Church is getting divorced. Why do we expect the Pastor to be any more holy than we are willing to be? It’s either that, or the whole church must admit it’s sin, because Paul seems to teach that leaders must be an example of Christ, leading others towards him. He certainly does not teach that a pastor must be like Christ so the rest of the congregation don’t have to be.

If the truth is dependant upon the individual, haven’t we just made God into an idol? A carved image? Something we work on to maintain the veneer? Pastor becomes the idol-carver who must work to make what he says, true. No, that is not only idolatry, it is also illogical. If we believe this, we forget that the Word of God is bigger than us, and we forget that there is a Holy Spirit who lives and moves in and through the Church.

No, the Pastor ought to admit his own failings to obey the very Word he preaches, to have reverence and to fear the Lord. That is why I respect a preacher. Not because of their boastful success, but because of their humble confession.

And  thirdly, that a Pastor ought to leave the ministry if he ‘fails’

Because apparently the Fall didn’t affect those in the Ministry. In fact, when someone feels called by God to be a minister, they magically become totally fixed for life, right?

So let me understand this: We do not extend the Gospel to those who preach it to us. Instead, we tell the world that if they fail, personally, their lives are ruined? And we only offer marital counselling and support once the Pastor has fallen from the pedestal pulpit?

This part sickens me the most. This is a perversion of the Gospel. We force our ministers into denial and secret hypocrisy with their porn addictions, or alcoholism, or affairs or any other form of heart idolatry. What else are they supposed to do if their job is threatened if they admit to having problems?You know, the sort of problems we expect them to show grace and mercy towards?

The fallen pastor, especially the one in the Public Sphere, is a wonderful opportunity for the Gospel to advance as we demonstrate the power of God’s community to show grace and to invite that pastor to walk on the road to recovery. We can show the world that we rely on each other, that we rely on the Body of Christ for our salvation.

Or we can throw them out and discard them to the media frenzy and try and protect our public image. Whatever.

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22 Comments

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  1. I wonder how you would feel if you were the mother or father of a young man abused in this way?

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  2. Hello, everyone.

    This story is not an unusual one, in that I have heard variations of it before from the US: A pastor who preaches homophobic or anti-homosexual messages, and later is exposed as having partaken of them himself. Ted Haggard, Paul Crouch, Paul Barnes, Lonnie Latham, etc, the list – it does go on!
    Now, witholding from making a cheap shot at these phenomena (especially as this is ongoing, and we can’t make a credible case for whatever took place until its not), instead I’d like to pose some preliminary questions for the floor, based from some quotes from Ian’s post:

    “We force our ministers into denial and secret hypocrisy with their porn addictions, or alcoholism, or affairs or any other form of heart idolatry. What else are they supposed to do if their job is threatened if they admit to having problems? You know, the sort of problems we expect them to show grace and mercy towards?”

    Yes, they are hypocrites, but I like that you (Ian) see them as ‘the same’ as their parishoners in that regard, and it seems to me that you make a case for their being treated the same to the extent that they shouldn’t lose more just because of their position? As the post says earlier:

    “Because apparently the Fall didn’t affect those in the Ministry. In fact, when someone feels called by God to be a minister, they magically become totally fixed for life, right?”

    They’re not ‘fixed’, of course, though expectations are high. I’m interested that what’s advanced is the same ‘road to recovery’ idea that the likes of those men I’ve listed above have often taken… and oh how their cheerleaders swoon at all their penitent angst, while giving them a chance to once again hold a platform from which to spout venom. I’ve tipped my hand a bit, haven’t I? Oops.

    Anyway.
    If this ‘Long’ case turns out to be that true, and he did coerce young men into sex, (I’ve also heard there are investigations afoot r.e. his finances, by the by) then is that bad enough for people never to trust him in such a position? Or ever?
    For years, I’ve heard homosexual behavior equated as being on a par with pedophilia, incest, bestiality, etc, as sexual sins go. I’m not strawman-ing about what any of those reading this might believe (and if you disagree with that comparison, I’m very relieved). I mention this because of another equivocation in the post, where I can only assume that “porn addictions, or alcoholism, or affairs or any other form of heart idolatry” are comparable to what Eddie Long is accused of. It makes me wonder what else might be forgiven, given enough penitence?
    Would one take the catholic approach, and keep an misbehaving/abusive priest (it seems) within the fold no matter what?

    Are there levels of such things?

    If so, when would you let them go?

    What would they have to have done?

    One final question:

    “Or we can throw them out and discard them to the media frenzy and try and protect our public image. Whatever.”

    Someone tell Pope Benedict this. 😉
    Correct me if I’m wrong, but this immediately preceding paragraph seemed utterly to do with ‘public image’:

    “The fallen pastor, especially the one in the Public Sphere, is a wonderful opportunity for the Gospel to advance as we demonstrate the power of God’s community to show grace and to invite that pastor to walk on the road to recovery. We can show the world that we rely on each other, that we rely on the Body of Christ for our salvation.”

    What’s the distinction?

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  3. I think it would be very uncompassionate to leave anyone in a position where temptation had already proved too strong for them wouldn’t it Ian? It is actually an act of kindness and compassion to remove someone from an area of temptation, work with them, gently restore them, build them up, and not place them back into the same area unless and until they feel strong enough to deal with it. This is the reason they are removed from office – not as a punishment.

    You are quite right that Jesus has died for our sins and that God isn’t punishing us. However we are still accountable to the society we live in. If you or I committed Murder God wouldn’t condemn us but we could still expectto go to jail.

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  4. Ben:

    I think it dishonours the gospel to come down hard on ministers and then five the congregation a free pass to sin all they like and to not withhold anything from them. That seems to be creating a special caste in the Church, which doesn’t seem to be Jesus’ message. So which is it? Either all are to be accountable for their sins, or no one is.

    For me, this looks like participation in the Lord’s Supper. I can almost see why some practice ‘closed communion’, that is only congregation members who are officially part of the church can take communion. This means only those who have confessed their sins and pursued God in the community of faith may take communion. One standard for all.

    Trust is lost very quickly. Of course it will always take time for trust to be rebuilt, and it is up to the congregation to decide whether they trust a leader enough to listen to them again. I would also argue that a change to his life in order to ensure such a failing doesn’t happen again is a necessary step to regaining trust.

    What else can be forgiven?

    Do you really not know what the Gospel is? I thought you at least had a rudimentary grasp!

    No, there is nothing which cannot be forgiven. That forgiveness may look different in different situations, but there is always redemption. I refuse to believe anyone who is breathing is beyond God’s power. If one who has failed has changed their lives in such a way that they maintain high levels of accountability and are well supported by close friends, then there is grounds for someone being in leadership again.

    The most wonderful thing about the Gospel is that it says ‘sin does not define us’. Christians trade their identities in, meaning that we ought not count people’s sins against them. We don’t call Eddie Long a ‘pervert’ or a ‘rapist’, because he is still a Christian before all of that.

    Having said that, sometimes people are so damaged that they damage others. It is loving to prevent harm to the community of faith by doing whatever it takes to ensure nobody is harmed by another’s sin. Priests and ministers can lead the way in this through honesty and humble confession of their needs. In this way they can glorify God despite being weak in certain areas.

    Is there a level? Well firstly when they hurt others they should be held accountable for their actions. That ought to be accompanied by an apology, an attempt to repair the wound and a commitment to seek healing and change. If a person refuses to change, then they cannot be allowed to hurt people in that way again and ought to be removed from situations of temptation. If they seek to abuse others, one could then begin to question their salvation.

    If a minister hurts someone or is at risk of doing so, confession ought to be their first port of call. Confession without the fear that it will ruin their lives, but with anticipation of mercy and healing.

    I don’t see how those two paragraphs contradict one another, since both approaches would change the public perception of the Church. If one publicly fails and then publicly finds redemption, God’s power is demonstrated. If someone fails and is discarded by the Church, God is shown to be uncaring and cruel.

    Beverly:

    I completely agree that is not loving to force someone to shoulder a burden when they have a broken back, so to speak. Yet, that is the mentality of many and I find it to be rather disgraceful. We believe that ‘while we were yet sinners Christ died for us’, and yet suddenly a fallen pastor is beyond redemption? I don’t think so!

    Though I’m not sure I agree with your second point. I want the Church to be formed in God’s image and so all we do must find it’s source in the nature of God. I believe justice and holiness is an integral part of that nature and that would be why we ought to discipline ANY believer caught in sin. Of course we do have to live by the law of the land as far as God agrees with it, but God’s law must be our first law and first accountability.

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  5. Again Ian I am confused – your original post spoke against removing a minister from office – this last post talks about disciplining any believer caught in sin. Am I to understand your main point is not that the minister shouldn’t be removed from office but that every person who is a member of the church should be removed from office – ie: that it should be fair? I totally agree – but the difficulty arises in that most of the membership of the church actually don’t hold any office they can be removed from!!!!

    Also I find it fascinating in the english language that the word disciple – has so many good thought behind it yet the minute we use the word discipline – it turns our thoughts to punishment. If disciple doesn’t mean punishment then why should discipline – both surely mean learning and teaching and encouraging and growing?

    I still fundamentally disagree with you regarding “judgement” and I still can’t understand how you can marry up statements like you make above ……..And I thought Jesus had taken all of God’s wrath. So why then should anyone be punished for their sins? ………..
    with your last paragraph. Or was that first statement made not one you really believe to be true?

    God is just – God punished our sin (on Jesus) – he would be unjust to punish us. Nothing has been negated in God’s character because he is not punishing us – he has been totally and utterly just – its just that we are not (through utter and complete mercy and grace) the object of his judgement and punishment – Jesus was.

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  6. Ian, cheers for replying. Interesting clarifications.

    I see that you approach ‘forgiveness’ in its purely biblical context… which I really should have seen coming. Sorry. To assuage your fears, yes I am aware of the ‘meaning of the gospels’.
    See, the problem here is one we’ve run into before, and you put it best, when you said something like (and I paraphrase):
    “I guess you could say there are two kinds of bad; things humans dislike, and things that are repellent to God”.
    This is a problem many apologists have, where one equates being unethical with ‘sin’, which is a purely religious term which means doing something against god. You say:
    “The most wonderful thing about the Gospel is that it says ‘sin does not define us’. Christians trade their identities in, meaning that we ought not count people’s sins against them. We don’t call Eddie Long a ‘pervert’ or a ‘rapist’, because he is still a Christian before all of that.”
    I can assure you that there are many who will be justified in defining people by their ‘sin’, if that sin is what we now call unethical, such as something like rape, (or child-abuse, as in the recent catholic scandals).
    Do you remember, Ian, the first time we spoke to each other (online) since I had left Kings Langley? I do, because you introduced me to a story I’ve heard many times, since. It goes something like this:
    A story of two friends; one becomes a good judge and the other to a life of crime. The criminal one day goes before the judge, his friend. The judge has to sentence his friend for justice’s sake, but then comes down and pays the fee himself.
    You used this analogy to present to me why Jesus had died for us – because he loved us, and didn’t want us to suffer. But if one considers the caliber of criminal to be slightly higher than in this analogy, then the story begins to crack. Say the criminal is a serial murderer, or a rapist, or hell – let’s have both. You can surely see why one’d be inclined to think substitutional atonement barbaric, and in no way resembling ‘justice’. God’s justice, maybe, but I see nothing beyond strong-arm tactics to support its ‘moral’ authority.
    This is what bugs me: I think you can say this because, to you, and ‘god’, all humans are supposedly the equivalent of the raping murderer, for, according to Christianity, we are all destined by default, for simply being born, to eternal death/damnation. That’s not the punishment one gives someone who simply broke a window, and could pay off with a fee — that’s the kind of punishment you give a serial murderer. And according to Christianity, whether you’re kind and good person who simply never ‘accepted Jesus’ or a psychopathic killer, you both have the same punishment.
    I think that’s why you can talk lightly of ‘forgiveness’ for these crimes, when committed by fellow believers, be they kiddy-fiddlers, or the (alledged) actions of Eddie Long, or the ‘internet porn addictions’ of that other pastor.

    Also:
    “If a minister hurts someone or is at risk of doing so, confession ought to be their first port of call. Confession without the fear that it will ruin their lives, but with anticipation of mercy and healing.”
    Not good enough. I am sure you can think of why I say that: What about the (potential) victim? After all, you also say:
    “sometimes people are so damaged that they damage others. It is loving to prevent harm to the community of faith by doing whatever it takes to ensure nobody is harmed by another’s sin”.

    “I don’t see how those two paragraphs contradict one another, since both approaches would change the public perception of the Church.”
    Oh, I didn’t imply contradiction, I was just asking what the distinction was between what you said here:
    “The fallen pastor, especially the one in the Public Sphere, is a wonderful opportunity for the Gospel to advance as we demonstrate the power of God’s community to show grace and to invite that pastor to walk on the road to recovery. We can show the world that we rely on each other, that we rely on the Body of Christ for our salvation.”
    and here:
    “Or we can throw them out and discard them to the media frenzy and try and protect our public image. Whatever.” since they were both about the good image of the church, and such. I think you answered me anyway, though. 🙂

    Interesting, all this.

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  7. Interesting concepts Ben. I know you have read the bible ( I assume all of it?) but from what you write it doesn’t seem you have completely grasp the concept of what sin is and why there are no degrees of sin with God? (I assume you accept (although not agree with) the concept that to God all sin is the same. )

    The problem with your “ethical” argument is that this is flawed because of the “degrees” of ethics. Unless you start from a position of “absolute truth” then any argument regarding degree of sin is flawed because one man’s (society’s) truth is different to another.

    The problem I see is that for someone who believes in evolution – you have the excuse that because you arrived here by accident you can therefore exclude yourself from accountability for your actions (to a larger or lesser degree depending on the society you are brought up in/the moral code you set yourself etc).

    Convenient excuse don’t you think – maybe one that an enemey of God was able to get humans to accept to deflect them from thinking about God!!

    The problem is if there isn’t any absolute truth – then of course there is the possibility of no ethical code – because one man’s code can be different to another. You might think that rape or murder or paedophilia is wrong but what makes you right if there is no absolute truth?

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  8. Beverly

    (Responding to 2 comments ago)

    Disciplining the whole Church presents a significant problem, especially in the ‘seeker friendly’, ‘relevant’ church of today. We withhold nothing, no part of our fellowship, from anyone who happens to show up! I suppose my main gripe against the heavy hand with which ministers are treated, whilst congregation members have no such pressure.

    Aside from closed communion, I can’t think of any way it is possible to discipline a believer in a church context. mean, if they were part of a group or a mission, they could be removed from that? Right?

    We would also use the word discipline to describe those in uniform, who have a function to perform. If we look at Christ’s example, he certainly does rebuke his disciples and spur them to good works. Have you seen what they make soldiers do, who won’t fall in line?

    In my initial comment, I was referring to the position you had stated previously on the post about costly grace, because this is a very similar issue. That is not how I would choose to describe the cross. To borrow the language of costly grace again, I believe the justification of the sinner is actualised when the believer ‘joins Christ’ on the cross, that is by following him and crucifying the flesh with him. In fact I believe it is in this surrendering of ourselves that grace is received and salvation becomes a reality in the believer.

    Anyway, the issue I have with the Eddie Long case is the larger issue of dealing with sin in the ministry, as if somehow they are vicariously holy for the rest of us. Absurd.

    Ben: Yes, there will be many who are totally justified in defining people by their wrongdoing. However it ought to be different in the Church. By no means does that mean sin is overlooked, as that would be unbiblical. If it was bad enough that Jesus had to die for it, then it really is a big deal to all in the Church. If Jesus died for it, forgiveness is no light matter, but a matter that assumes divine significance. Forgiveness does not mean people are not accountable to the law, or to the person they wronged or to the community as a whole. Forgiveness means we do not define a person by their actions, but by God’s.

    This is why I advocate costly grace. That cheap grace view that our sin doesn’t matter, our holiness is of no significance because Jesus died on the cross is toxic to the morality of the church. Christian faith must – MUST – change lives for it to be real. Thus a persons confession of sin is also a confession of faith, a belief that they can be changed and indeed expect to be changed.

    No, forgiveness is no light matter. Forgiveness comes about when a person obeys Jesus and begins the journey of discipleship. That is costly grace.

    Beverly:

    (One comment above)

    I’ll agree that I’m not sure how well a self-determined morality can actually work, beyond the strongest voice/arm wins.

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  9. “The problem I see is that for someone who believes in evolution – you have the excuse that because you arrived here by accident you can therefore exclude yourself from accountability for your actions ”

    I have commented on the disgusting insult to human dignity that argument represents elsewhere (in Ian’s ‘Jesus: more iPad than Macbook’ post) I’ll reproduce the relevant portions here:
    “…call me a cynic, but I can see eerie parallels between what the shrill anti-evolutionists used to say about the social consequences of darwinism (‘tell people they’re descended from monkeys and they’ll behave like monkeys!’), and what springs to mind when I read/hear the Fall’s consequences expressed. Tell people they are selfish, only out for their own good… and they will feel less bad, if they ‘give in’. Just a thought.
    A bit like the rapes that can sometimes occurr in deeply muslim societies, and be mildly ‘understood’, because the woman in question was not sufficiently covered (and all men are lustful and depraved when they see bare female legs/other extraneous stretch of skin).
    My point is, people can behave in appalling ways, and in very good ways, and if one is told that the negative ways are one’s innate nature, and the good drives are owed to the divine… then you can see how self-serving that belief-system is, by monopolising ‘salvation’.”

    Is this what keeps you moral, Beverly? Being held accountable? Pray, keep the faith, then. I wouldn’t like to see you as a non-believer. 😉

    As for ‘sin’, I think you are making the precise mistake I highlighted several apologetics as making: you are equating ‘sin’ with being unethical. Sin is a religious concept, one which has no bearing on me, as a non-religious person. There will, of course, be moments of intersection where what a theist considers a sin will amount to what I also consider a harmful/negative thing. If you wanted to discuss the evolutionary basis of our altruism, or ethical systems, that would be a fascinating conversation, but I wonder whether it is you who would struggle to grasp systems of morality where you aren’t sure “what makes you right if there is no absolute truth?”
    You seem to think that its a straight ‘if one isn’t the absolute truth, then they’re all equal’ What is your logic? I’m interested.

    I also struggle with the implication that if one “believe(s) in evolution” you think you “arrived by accident”. That’s not how natural selection works, of course. Also, there is the usual trope of “you can therefore exclude yourself from accountability for your actions” since one doesn’t think one owes one’s existence to the divine.
    As if THAT’S the sort of reason people believe or disbelieve things: ‘don’t like an idea? That’s alright – here’s one which suits your narcissism’.

    “Convenient excuse don’t you think – maybe one that an enemey (sic) of God was able to get humans to accept to deflect them from thinking about God!!”
    Here you are either making an argument for Satan deluding people with the theory of evolution, or… I don’t know, it’s not very clear. It reads like conspiracy theory, and very conveniant (like conspiracy theories) in that it adds no evidence of its own while denying everyone else’s.

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  10. Ian: Cheers, I think you’ve answered me by highlighting that last distinction (costly grace, and the ‘demonstrable’ change it should evoke, vs ‘cheap’ grace). It’s a pity, perhaps, for your argument, that there is so much of the latter around.
    Thanks.

    P.S.
    I mis-spelled ‘convenient’ in my previous post’s last sentence. Yes, I am a pedant.

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  11. If one were to read the Bible from Genesis chapter 1, rather than chapter 3 we see that humanity was designed in the image of God. This tells me that humans at their best mirror their creator, who made a good world. In a sense, it is goodness which is our design and our depravity is not what we’re supposed to be.

    Of course you must also be aware that when I say depravity, I am mostly referring to humanities abhorrence of God, not claiming all unbelievers are terrible people, despite what you have demonstrated to me (I jest). Sin is the rejection of God before it is a qualification of any moral action. An action may be morally right, but if it rejects God it becomes sin. See where I’m coming from?

    ‘As if THAT’S the sort of reason people believe or disbelieve things: ‘don’t like an idea? That’s alright – here’s one which suits your narcissism’ – Didn’t I write a post about this?

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  12. No, I get you on the ‘not all unbelievers are terrible people’ front, of course. That bit where “Sin is the rejection of God before it is a qualification of any moral action. An action may be morally right, but if it rejects God it becomes sin” is precisely what I mean, when untangling ethics and ‘sin’.

    Did you write a post on that? I must go and re-read it!

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  13. Hi Ben – sorry you didn’t like my reference to getting here by accident – I was only quoting both Stephen Hawking and Richard Dawkin from both their recent television series – I just assumed as they seem to be the top authority on evolution that they knew what they were talking about!!

    “My point is, people can behave in appalling ways, and in very good ways, and if one is told that the negative ways are one’s innate nature, and the good drives are owed to the divine… then you can see how self-serving that belief-system is, by monopolising ‘salvation’”

    ………. was not aware that I actually said this – merely that different people’s view of right and wrong must vary if there isn’t an absolute.

    Why is it so unbelievable that there may be an absolute truth? The rest of nature seems to obey rules – indeed the whole of scientific study is based on the assumption that these rules can be relied upon – so why should one of those rules not be absolute truth?

    I would be intrigued with your definition of ethics if it is not a concept of right and wrong?

    I don’t even think about “keeping moral” that’s not what Christianity is all about – I am in love with God – I therefore enjoy pleasing him? Surely this isn’t a weird concept – after all it’s what any one in a love relationship tries to do isn’t it?

    As far as different ethics/morals I find it interesting that you seem to consider murder wrong enough to justify severe punishment (although of course – define murder – euthanasia – abortion – cannibalism – manslaughter – crime of passion etc………..) but breaking a window isn’t ….. (am guessing that’s maybe because you have broken windows but not murdered!!) But who says murder is a crime? Or is it because it takes life? But then who says live (if it is just a matter of evolving) is important. What are the standards by which you decide what is right and what is wrong if there is no absolute truth?

    I presume that a cannibal doesn’t consider it is murder to kill and eat someone – unless of course they kill a member of their own family/tribe. I assume that anyone continually indulging themselves in something that the bible defines as a sin – obviously doesn’t consider it a sin themselves (like a seriel killer) so without absolute truth who is to say whether they are right or wrong – or just entitled to their own opinion – and indeed why shouldn’t everyone be entitled to their own opinion if there is no absolute truth?
    Doesn’t seem very fair to me to have any social rules or standards or ethics at all if this is your opinion?

    IAN: now I understand where you are coming from – yes I agree – pastors should be subject to the same discipline as every other member of the body of Christ.

    We will agree to differ on the point of costly grace. I believe I am not in any way an advocate of cheap grace – merely that whilst maybe you seem to focus on the human point of view – I concentrate on looking at it from Jesus’ point of view – sin indeed required a very very costly sacrifice – but one drop of Jesus’ blood was more than sufficient to deal with this sin – so I choose to praise and glorify God and Jesus for this. Deut 28 v 47 tells us that the hebrews would be punished because they didn’t serve with joyfulness and gladness of heart = I choose to spend far more time praising and worshipping God for who he is and what he’s done rather than focusing on what I was before God made me a new creation.

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  14. Hello.

    “Hi Ben – sorry you didn’t like my reference to getting here by accident – I was only quoting both Stephen Hawking and Richard Dawkin (sic) from both their recent television series – I just assumed as they seem to be the top authority on evolution that they knew what they were talking about!!”

    Let’s see the quote, then. Be assured that I was not offended by the term ‘accidental’, as it would be no slight against me, in particular, over the multiple other possible Bens with (slightly) re-shuffled genetic material from my parents who might’ve been.
    As for ‘by accident’, one might better phrase it as ‘the outcome of probability’ rather than accidental, which implies agency (which is a bit too a priori of an assumption to begin with). You will observe, that even IF the probability of abiogenesis, leading to the possibility of intelligent life evolving, is a rare occurrence, that our even asking the question might demonstrate that it had to have happened at least once. Ah, but I am being ever so slightly frivolous.
    I am semi-concerned that we may be applying blanket terminology for several distinct ideas. Are we talking about the beginnings of the universe (which is really a physics thing, and Hawking’s department), or about the beginning of life (abiogenesis), or the process by which that life alters and changes(evolution)? Just so we don’t misrepresent some nuanced stages, through which we, ultimately, seem to have found ourselves chatting online.

    “was not aware that I actually said this – merely that different people’s view of right and wrong must vary if there isn’t an absolute.”
    Oh, that isn’t what you said. That was a quote from an earlier conversation I had, as was stated.
    Of course peoples’ opinions vary according to cultures, this is to be expected. That is not ‘merely’ what you are saying, though, is it? You do happen to believe in an absolute morality/truth.

    “Why is it so unbelievable that there may be an absolute truth? The rest of nature seems to obey rules – indeed the whole of scientific study is based on the assumption that these rules can be relied upon – so why should one of those rules not be absolute truth? ”

    A more important question is ‘why SHOULD it be?’ The ‘whole of scientific study’ is based on observation, not assumption, in that one checks one’s hypothesis against reality in testable ways. In any case, you have set up a false analogy: these ‘rules’ apply to concepts which are governed by impersonal forces of ‘nature’, which are as impartial as the weather, from what all reasonal observation can tell us.
    Humans, on the other hand, are able to subvert our evolutionary drives, through the neurological development of consciousness. Observe the fact that many of us now use contraception; it doesn’t diminish our sexual instincts a tad, but we circumvent them easily. In general, we find not only our own children worthy of protection and nurture, but children in general. Neither of these examples have a deleterious effect on our reproduction and survival, or the passing on of our genes in particular, so while not being evolutionary advantages per se (though there are some quite fascinating studies on mutual cooperation within the human species published which explore the ways in which ‘human solidarity’ was an advantage) they are outweighed by the fact that enough of us do survive and reproduce, that we don’t go extinct. Remember: evolution happens over time in populations, not individuals. There’s plenty of ‘wriggle’ room for misfires, and subversion for a species that can ‘think’, like us.

    “I would be intrigued with your definition of ethics if it is not a concept of right and wrong?”

    My definition of ethics? I suppose it could be of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, and the search for them, according to as stringent and honest a set of tools I can come up with, while taking into account the metaethical dilemma of whether I can be objective at all, and trying to, if not counter them, then to be honest about the reasons why I consider the reasons something is right, or wrong: which is usually something to do with balancing my own plans against the ‘world at large’s’.

    “I don’t even think about “keeping moral” that’s not what Christianity is all about – I am in love with God – I therefore enjoy pleasing him? Surely this isn’t a weird concept – after all it’s what any one in a love relationship tries to do isn’t it?”

    Ah, but if you were without that love/belief? That was my query. Also: I think there’s another false analogy in there, unless you are really as enamoured with God as you suggest.

    “am guessing that’s maybe because you have broken windows but not murdered!!”

    Hate to disappoint, but I’ve never broken any windows. I was just using an off-the-cuff analogy of a lesser crime than murder, among most people.

    “What are the standards by which you decide what is right and what is wrong if there is no absolute truth?”

    By what standard do you put forward the notion that the observable universe has to conform to your narrow view of the moral spectrum? Is it… god’s? Isn’t it more honest to accept that morality/right/wrong is likely a human phenomena, unique to our perspective?
    For example, the phenomena of colour has no intrinsic truth. There is no platonic ‘purpleness’ of purple. Purple exists inside our brains, when it has to translate the electrical signals of photons, picked up by the eyes into a decipherable image. In a very real sense, if humankind went extinct tomorrow, purple as we know it would cease to exist along with us. Its similar with right and wrong. If there were no humans, no other species (being creatures of lesser cognitive capacity) would concern themselves with such an idea.

    That said, within the human ‘population’, it is of great interest. You ask me to define murder. I expect that any definition I deployed would be met with the metaphysical claim of an immortal soul being in jeopardy when concerned with abortion. With the others, I am not going to partake in the derailing of this post into a debate on the ‘degrees’ of murder, though, I suppose, the words ‘premeditated’ and ‘intent’ would be a factor in determining such things.

    “who says live (if it is just a matter of evolving) is important.”
    Well, we do… since its ours. If your asking if the universe ‘cares’ in the larger sense, then I guess it doesn’t.
    Also ‘who’? Why always ‘who’? You appear to see agency everywhere. To be expected, I suppose – we probably evolved consciousness because it helped us detect/relate to human agency within groups of us, and adapt accordingly. Stands to reason that one could misapply a useful darwinian instinct to a totally ‘outside the box’ set of ideas, without it seeming strange.

    “why shouldn’t everyone be entitled to their own opinion if there is no absolute truth?”
    Ah – here we come to the heart of it. People are always entitled to their own opinion, that should go without saying. Where that remit ends is an imposition of one’s opinions on other people, as in (I think you mean) the case of a ‘serial killer’. Then one makes a cost/benefit analysis of whether their actions impose on yours, in which case one comes to a decision… does one have to spell this out?

    “Doesn’t seem very fair to me to have any social rules or standards or ethics at all if this is your opinion?”

    ‘Fair’ does not come into it. Best-case scenario for everyone, in a utilitarian context, does. Again, I wonder what kind of non-believer you’d make, if you’d have no objection to some of the things you imply I should be up for, since I don’t believe?

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  15. Well Ben where do I start – you seem to be using lots of words to deflect from the argument (in fact I had to print off your comments to make sure I actually understood your argument!!……. bottom line – either we are designed or are accidental – there are no other options!! Whatever clever words you choose to use to make “accidental” sound more scientific – it still boils down to accident or design – there are no other options.

    Of course I am talking about absolute truth – I am only pointing out that there is either absolute truth or there is no ability to define truth – because the minute truth becomes relative (a product of any human mind as opposed to the product of the creator’s mind – it ceases to be absolute truth because as we know all humans think differently) – a fact.

    As regards a definition of science – I think you have to admit that if science didn’t assume that tomorrow was going to be the same as today in terms of laws then they wouldn’t put any trust (faith!) in doing experiments in the first place. Yes science uses observation and testability – but what would be the point in doing a testable repeatable experiment if you couldn’t rely on (assume) the laws of physics being constant?

    And of course you bring up the flaw in the starting point of the evolution argument – the big bang is currently neither observable or repeatable so therefore by your own definition it currently isn’t scientific.

    Somewhat of a circular argument – I exist therefore I must exist!!! We aren’t debating whether we exist but why we exist.

    Fascinating that your paragraph on ethics boils down to you feeling self important! What right does evolution give YOU to balance your own plans against the world at large. You are actually setting yourself up as a god – if you are just an accident of nature (or in your terms an outcome of probability) you have no right or reason whatsoever to decide on anything. You are just an inane product of nature – you have no point of reference.

    As for your supposed explanation of why humans are “different” (by developing a conscience we subvert evolution!!!!!) any one could shoot this down in an instance – why are some things just impartial laws of nature and yet others aren’t?? That is an illogical conclusion if you do not believe in some form of control/controller/designer. Either everything in nature is impartial (an outcome of probability) or it isn’t – you can’t use different arguments when it suits you – either you are only a product of nature – in which case you are impartial – or you are special – in which case someone (or if you like something) is behind it. Once again you seem to be trying to make a point that humans are (or have become) superior.

    That is a point of course which I would entirely agree with – but your explanation as to how and why we became superior just doesn’t hold water.

    I do however have a point of reference – I have met with and have a relationship with my designer – if I have any problems about my reality I can ask him -he knows better than me – he designed me.

    I love the attempt to confuse with talking about colour. How do you KNOW what you are saying is true? I believe colour is colour because someone superior to me designed this world to be in glorious beautiful wonderful technicolour (even on the bottom of the ocean where there is no light) !

    It matters not a hoot how you scientifically define (or don’t define) colour. All that matters is that colour has a purpose – we know that in nature specific colours give warnings etc – and regardless of “how a brain sees or doesn’t see colour” the whole of nature recognises it for the same thing. Animals have warning colours that other animals recognise.

    OF course purple wouldn’t cease to exist if humans beings ceased!!! What a load of nonsense – different plants have different colours – whatever you call them – there would still be the ability for animals to distinguish the difference in shade, tone, hue etc.

    Colours come from God – a reading of his word shows how important colours are to God – try reading the description of heaven in revelation, ezekial etc, – wonderfully descriptive.

    Consciousness – you have just yourself brought up the very point of consciousness to say that that makes us superior to evolution because we have the ability to subvert it, and then you have a go at me for using that very consciousness and suggest I am misusing a useful darwinian instinct. At least be consistent in your argument Ben!! You can’t have it both ways.

    Of course I see agency in everything – it beggers belief to me that you would try and pretend you don’t. You have infact in your consciousness argument introduced agency in that you make humans agents because we subvert evolution – thus we are now able to be an agency.

    Cost/benefit analysis – of course I understand this is how society works – but once again – if we are just a product of probablity (or to be mathematically correct gross improbably – explosion in a scrap yard or print factory analgies spring to mind) then what right do we have as just a product of nature to even suppose we should make ourselves superior to any other human regardless of what our cost benefit analysis is. If I am JUST the same as any other human – if I wasn’t designed – if there isn’t an absolute truth – then I have NO right whatsoever to say that I am right and a serial murderer is wrong. Just that he has a different opinion to me.

    Best case scenario for everyone – that really isn’t what happens is it Ben? name me one country one state one city one village where there actually exists a best case scenario for everyone – human beings are observably selfish – the rules “what goes” are at best decided by a majority – at worst by a human dictator. This is in no way a best case scenario for everyone.

    I couldn’t even consider what I would be like as a non believer since I believe (and by the way – I really AM as enamoured as I suggest!!! My every day is given to God – I am a living sacrifice (admittedly I climb off the altar daily because in my flesh and soul I am not yet perfect!) but My Father knows my heart – and his amazing grace and mercy means I am not condemned. Yes I am ready and willing to die for my God – For Me to Live is Christ – to die is gain – I have nothing to lose and everything to gain. I am willing to be wherever He wants me to be, to do whatever He wants me to do.

    The bottom line is – I observe the world around me. It is abundantly clear there is design. It is abundantly clear there is the ability to hurt (ourselves, others, nature etc) , it is abundantly clear that we as humans do not seem to have the ability to sort the problems out – indeed observably it seems we just continue to make situations worse. I am amazed, astounded, grateful, thankful and relieved that the Designer not only saw the problem, but realised that we needed a solution outside of ourselves and that He solved the problem for us.

    Having put my faith in this Designer and His solution – I can say by experience and observation – it works.

    Like

  16. Hello Beverly. 🙂

    “Well Ben where do I start – you seem to be using lots of words to deflect from the argument ”

    No, those are attempts to use the ‘appropriate’ words to ‘express’ my argument. If you can’t understand it (my argument) without printing off a copy, then I can only apologise for my efforts to address this topic seriously.

    “bottom line – either we are designed or are accidental – there are no other options!! Whatever clever words you choose to use to make “accidental” sound more scientific – it still boils down to accident or design – there are no other options.”

    These assertions without evidence are getting a little repetitive (literally).

    “As regards a definition of science – I think you have to admit that if science didn’t assume that tomorrow was going to be the same as today in terms of laws then they wouldn’t put any trust (faith!) in doing experiments in the first place. Yes science uses observation and testability – but what would be the point in doing a testable repeatable experiment if you couldn’t rely on (assume) the laws of physics being constant? ”

    That’s a very wide definition of faith. Religious faith, such as you possess is demonstrably different from the confidence one might hold in a theory like evolution, which is the best explanation for the evidence across many disciplines, and has withstood stringent criticism, and today forms the underlying basis for our understanding of how living creatures arise the way they do. It is the overwhelming concensus of expert opinion, and is constantly being modified and improved. (something you may distrust, since, unlike the gospels, its truth is not ‘absolute’, but provisional)
    Scientists don’t believe (faith!) in evolution: they use it, and accept it because it continues to work.

    “And of course you bring up the flaw in the starting point of the evolution argument – the big bang is currently neither observable or repeatable so therefore by your own definition it currently isn’t scientific.”

    I refer you to my point made in the comments of another post, about the distinction of reasonable inferences:
    “empiricism in the philosophy of science emphasizes those aspects of scientific knowledge that are closely related to evidence, especially as discovered in experiments. It is a fundamental part of the scientific method that all hypotheses and theories must be tested against observations of the natural world, rather than resting solely on a priori reasoning, intuition, or revelation. Hence, science is considered to be methodologically empirical in nature.”
    What is meant by this is that the evidence is out there, in the same way as the evidence of a crime is there for ‘investigators’. The ‘investigators’ may not have been eye-witnesses to whatever crime took place, but with a certain amount of forensic evidence… they can re-construct what most likely went down.
    Do you see?

    “Somewhat of a circular argument – I exist therefore I must exist!!! We aren’t debating whether we exist but why we exist.”

    -facepalm- Right, no more frivolity, then. I was making a joke.

    “Fascinating that your paragraph on ethics boils down to you feeling self important! What right does evolution give YOU to balance your own plans against the world at large. You are actually setting yourself up as a god – if you are just an accident of nature (or in your terms an outcome of probability) you have no right or reason whatsoever to decide on anything. You are just an inane product of nature – you have no point of reference.”

    This is all your interpretation. I said none of this, aside from the ‘world at large’ bit you quote. I was talking about balancing my ambitions against other peoples’, and being as honest about the ways I do that, not “feeling self important!”.
    I “have no right or reason whatsoever to decide on anything. “. Really? I wasn’t aware that the only important critera was that I have to have ‘rights’ to do anything. I’ll say it again: you seem to be unable to entertain any system of ethics which is not divinely mandated from an authority. Why? So far, all I can think is that this must be because of a severe lack-of confidence in a world without this ‘point of reference’. Isn’t that a bit… simplistic?

    “by developing a conscience we subvert evolution!!!!!)”

    Not what I said. What I said was that there is now some wriggle-room, which does not imply a ‘conscience’ always.

    “Either everything in nature is impartial (an outcome of probability) or it isn’t – you can’t use different arguments when it suits you – either you are only a product of nature – in which case you are impartial – or you are special – in which case someone (or if you like something) is behind it.”

    Why? Go on, for once in this exchange, tell me WHY you always advance this sort of false dichotomy, and then expect everyone to swallow it?
    You never put anything forward for design other than a rather infantile brand of existential chauvinism (“I believe colour is colour because someone superior to me designed this world to be in glorious beautiful wonderful technicolour “). You totally miss my point about colour. Perhaps you could do with re-reading it:

    “By what standard do you put forward the notion that the observable universe has to conform to your narrow view of the moral spectrum? Is it… god’s? Isn’t it more honest to accept that morality/right/wrong is likely a human phenomena, unique to our perspective?
    For example, the phenomena of colour has no intrinsic truth. There is no platonic ‘purpleness’ of purple. Purple exists inside our brains, when it has to translate the electrical signals of photons, picked up by the eyes into a decipherable image. In a very real sense, if humankind went extinct tomorrow, purple as we know it would cease to exist along with us. Its similar with right and wrong. If there were no humans, no other species (being creatures of lesser cognitive capacity) would concern themselves with such an idea. ”

    “Once again you seem to be trying to make a point that humans are (or have become) superior.”

    Stop trying to put words in my mouth, please. I don’t think humans are superior to any other creature extant in this biosphere, as it happens.

    You say I’m trying to ‘have it both ways’ (there’s a joke in there, somewhere), but I think you’ve misunderstood my point when I mentioned your agency-detecting ability working to undermine critical thinking. You think I “suggest” you are “misusing a useful darwinian instinct. At least be consistent in your argument Ben!” What I actually say is you are mis-applying this instictive way of thinking to concepts which simply never affected the early humans who evolved in their specific environment.
    In a funny kind of way, you are being truer to your agency instinct than I am – yours is on overdrive to the point where you see it everywhere:
    “Of course I see agency in everything – it beggers belief to me that you would try and pretend you don’t. You have infact in your consciousness argument introduced agency in that you make humans agents because we subvert evolution – thus we are now able to be an agency.”
    Mmm, but that’s humans. How do you justify any extrapolations further than human agency?
    I think this video might explain what I mean clearer than I, apparently, am: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m6IDaYhmuoE&feature=player_embedded .

    “I have NO right whatsoever to say that I am right and a serial murderer is wrong. Just that he has a different opinion to me.”
    That may be so, in a cosmological, metaethical sense, but as you’ve already acknowledged, “Cost/benefit analysis – of course I understand this is how society works”.
    So, apply a cost/benefit scenario of the consequences to individuals/society/societies/yourself if serial killers were not impeded. Let’s be pragmatists.

    “Best case scenario for everyone – that really isn’t what happens is it Ben? name me one country one state one city one village where there actually exists a best case scenario for everyone”

    Never did I say that my standards are represented in the world. Never did I even imply it. You have either (again) misunderstood my point or are (as you seem often to do to others on this blog) deliberately mischaracterising what I say.

    “I couldn’t even consider what I would be like as a non believer since I believe”
    That, I can almost believe is true, and it depresses me, a tiny bit.

    ‘Til next time.

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  17. So Ben – Horizon – Monday night – forget the big bang – we are now on to the big bounce ? Your comments?

    Think we can dismiss the arguments against singularity – because that just pushes the how did it start further back!!

    Did you watch it – so many fascinating “religious” terms used – eternity, no time before our universe, nothing isn’t nothing, creation of our universe.

    How ever much they try to escape – everthing keeps pointing back to God!!

    Like

  18. Actually, I was watching ‘Mark Gatiss’ History of Horror’ (the genre) at the time that went out.

    Is it on bbc iplayer, do you know?

    Like

  19. Sorry Ben – another clip for you!!

    http://www.godvine.com/The-Last-Words-of-Famous-Atheists-in-History-33.html

    Be sure you are sure you are right – before it’s too late –

    Like

  20. Nothing like Clint Mansell’s ‘Lux Aeterna’ music to lend a video that air of manufactured gravitas.

    What was this supposed to be for?

    Like

  21. Climbing over the tangents, I almost wish I’d just posted this blog post (http://www.blackagendareport.com/?q=content/i-wanna-be-macho-man-prosperity-gospel-according-eddie-long) by Sikivu Hutchinson, as it pretty much says all I want to about Eddie Long.

    All the best, guys.
    😉

    Like

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