Monday, December 21, 2009

International Hot Tub: Round 4 part 3

(For newcomers, this is a debate between myself, a Christian, and my best friend Andy Snyder, a former Christian who is now an atheist. For a fuller introduction to the intent and explanation of the name of this series, please see the introduction. Though this is presented as a two party debate on one level, comments and responses are still fully welcomed to all posts in the comments section as a way to help extend the debate and bring other voices into it.)

Andy, your third argument is made in three paragraphs. Here they are:
Third, even if I consider Christianity on its own terms, I would argue its subjects (God/Yahweh/Jesus/The Holy Spirit) have been suspiciously absent for quite some time. Simply put, theophanies have a shelf life and the resurrection of Jesus has long past its expiration date. There is biblical president for this: In John it is written,

“ ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’ Thomas said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Then Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’ ” (John 20:24-29)

Here Jesus reveals two things: the need for humans to experience tangible proof of his divine claims and the difficulty to marshal belief when humans don’t have that first hand experience. Most scholars date this gospel only 60 years after the time of Jesus. That the author included this saying of Jesus implies his audience, only two or three generations removed from the life of Jesus, was struggling with his claim to be God. It is infinitely harder to believe now, as we are thousands of years and generations removed from the last significant theophany Christianity attests to. Experiencing the story, the gospel, and Christ’s ethics expressed through his church 2000 years later is not a meaningful substitute for an unequivocal biblical theophany of God. You won’t apologize for this tension and that’s fine, but neither will I for claiming a victory here.
It is undeniable that the apostles were given a gift few others received by spending intimate time with Christ, hearing not only the teachings he gave to the masses, but also his interpretation of them, speaking explicitly about his identity and mission, and appearing to them in his resurrected body. I would wish for that as much as anyone.

I'll say only two quick things in response and in denial of your assumed victory. First, your argument here is entirely subjective. Theophanies have a shelf life? How long is that? You can only appeal to what feels like a long time. For me and plenty of other Christians, the resurrection of Christ is not a theophany but the unrepeatable and eternally significant Day of the Lord, his coming in judgment and forgiveness. Yes, he has ascended, withdrawn his bodily presence, but you know ,if you did truly consider Christianity on its own terms, that this is the gracious will of God to allow an interim before his final coming for the sake of the preaching of the gospel and repentance.

Second, you are not without tangible evidence and experience of God in this interim period. God is present in his church through the Spirit as he was present in the flesh of Christ. He is as perceivably real now in us, the church, as he was then in Christ's flesh. Your judgement against Christ is truly your judgement against us, against our truthfulness, clear mindedness, will against self-delusion, and faithfulness. You can certainly make this judgement, there is no lack of warrant for making it, but in making it you must certainly also make it against yourself. Do this. Judge me a self-deluded liar, but only if you are willing to judge yourself to the same degree. Then, in that state of solidarity in judgement with me and the church, tell me if God is not real in me and in the church in spite of, through, and above our weakness and sin. Put your fingers in Christ's wounds as you see them in us - are they not there? Do you truly see nothing of the Spirit of the risen Christ in me? I don't appeal to my own righteousness, but of the visible and tangible presence of God in me and in all the church despite our total unrighteousness. You are not without evidence.

I'll give the last word here to Peter:
2 Peter 3:3-18 3 First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. 4 They will say, "Where is this 'coming' he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation." 5 But they deliberately forget that long ago by God's word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. 6 By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. 7 By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. 8 But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. 11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. 14 So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. 15 Bear in mind that our Lord's patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. 16 He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction. 17 Therefore, dear friends, since you already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position. 18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.
One more post to come and then I'll hand it back to you.

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