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Commenting on Christendom, culture, history, and other oddities of life from an historic Protestant perspective.

Friday, April 18, 2014

How Much Does the Soul Weigh?

In case your subscription to the American Medicine journal has lapsed, you’ve missed the findings of Dr. Duncan MacDougall regarding the weight of the soul.

Published in 1907 (I’m a little behind in my reading), the journal records that Dr. MacDougall, son of a mortician, was able to measure weight change upon death. He did so by building a bed that doubled as a scale, and then by successively tucking-in six terminally ill patients.

By measuring their weight before, during, and after death, and by accounting for air, bodily fluids, etc, the good doctor was able to record a decrease in body weight of 21 grams. (He performed the same test on dogs, but recorded no such weight change—sorry Lassie.)

There you have it: the soul weighs 21 grams.

Modern Soul-Weighers

Dr. MacDougall’s study, and his subsequent attempt to X-Ray the soul, strikes us as silly today. It’s silly to the Christian because the category error is obvious: the soul can’t weigh anything because it isn’t physical (and it can’t be photographed because it’s shy). To the modern skeptic, the soul can’t weigh anything because it doesn’t exist—nothing immaterial exists.

The interesting thing is that today’s skeptics have more in common with Dr. MacDougall than they think.

Whatcha Talkn Bout, Willis?

Consider the following from mathematical physicist Casey Blood, Ph.D (no relation to the Errol Flynn character). . . .

. . . we need to sketch how the brain works. For our purposes, it consists of long nerve cells called neurons. Each neuron has a long branch on one end that receives electrochemical signals from other neurons, a cell body in the middle, and a second long branch on the other end that passes electrochemical signals on to other neurons. If the receiving end of a neuron receives enough input from other neurons, an electrochemical wave runs the length of the cell. In that case, the neuron is said to be “firing.” Each thought (or emotion or perception or initiation of a bodily action) corresponds to a particular set of firing neurons. So from a materialist’s point of view, we essentially are our pattern of firing neurons. (Emphasis in original.)

A key word in the explanation is “corresponds.” To the materialist, thoughts, emotions, intuitions, etc, are the firing neurons. But for those who believe in the existence of the soul, like Dr. Blood, “corresponds” is much more accurate. To put it another way, to the materialist there is only the brain. To those believing in an immaterial self, there is the mind and the brain, which work hand-in-hand; hence the use of “corresponds”: thoughts (produced by the mind) correspond with the firing synapses, but are not themselves the firing synapses or caused by the firing synapses.

What Does This Have to do With the Price of Butter?

There are a few problems with the “soul-weighing” being done by modern skeptics regarding thoughts. The first problem has to do with a reductive fallacy known as “Nothing-Buttery.” This fallacy is committed when you reduce something to one of its parts. For example, if I refer to my truck as “nothing but a bunch of nuts and bolts” I would be committing this fallacy, for my truck is much more than that.

Here’s another problem: If your thoughts are nothing but firing synapses, how could you know that without transcending it? For example, if I was a fish in a bowl, how would I know that without somehow transcending the bowl?

Also, if only material things exist, then our thoughts are material (i.e., extended into space). This brings us to another problem: Imagine a gold fish swimming in a fish bowl. How much does that thought weigh? How long is it? Moreover, if we cracked open your head, would we find the gold fish? If the materialists are right, we should find Mr. Limpet swimming around in there.


Thoughts are information, and information isn’t physical. If you grabbed today’s San Antonio Express-News and took it to the lab, you could determine all of the chemical and organic compounds that make up the paper—but none of that would ever tell you what it says. The information transcends the paper’s material constituents. Likewise, thoughts—and souls, for that matter—transcend our physical selves. Otherwise you might find Mr. Limpet hiding behind your Occipital Lobe.


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Today in Church History: Archibald Alexander, Princeton Theological Seminary

On April 17, 1772, Archibald Alexander was born near Lexington, Virginia.

Educated at Liberty Academy (now Washington and Lee University) and ordained in 1794, Alexander was president of Hampden-Sydney College and served as pastor of Third Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia for six years. In 1812, the General Assembly appointed him the first faculty member of the newly created Princeton Theological Seminary. As "Professor of Didactic and Polemic Theology," he would soon be joined by Samuel Miller and Charles Hodge, and eventually by two of his sons, James Waddel Alexander and Joseph Addison Alexander, as well. He would serve at Princeton until shortly before his death in 1851.

Born of second-generation Scotch-Irish parents and converted through frontier revivals in the Shenandoah Valley, Alexander always considered Virginia his home. Although he was an opponent of the excesses of revivalism, he insisted on the importance of the experiential dimension of the Christian life, especially in his 1841 book, Thoughts on Religious Experience.

John Muether


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Should We Seek Extra-Biblical Revelations?

One of the issues resolved by the Reformers was that of final authority, i.e., Are the Scriptures sufficient for doctrine and life? The Reformers, of course, answered in the affirmative. Louis Berkhof summarized their case as follows:

In Scripture each succeeding book connects up with the proceeding (except in contemporary narratives), and is based on it. The Psalms and the Prophets presuppose the Law and appeal to it, and to it only. The New Testament comes to us as the fulfillment of the Old and refers back to nothing else. Oral traditions current in the time of Jesus are rejected as human inventions, Matt. 5:21–28; 15:4, 9; I Cor. 4:6. Christ is presented to us as the acme of the divine revelation, the highest and the last, Matt. 11:27; John 1:18; 17:4, 6; Heb. 1:1. For the knowledge of the way of salvation we are referred to Scripture only, to the word of Christ, and the apostles, John 17:20; I John 1:3 . . .

Both Rome and the Anabaptists rejected the sufficiency of Scripture. Rome put as Scripture’s rival her church councils and traditions, with the ultimate authority residing in the pope. The Anabaptists, however, had a low view of Scripture for other reasons: they sought guidance from an “inner light” and direct revelations from God, resolving that the Spirit worked apart from the Word because the Word was dead.


Renting the Spirit from the Word by claiming direct revelations from God was something the Reformers could not abide. For that reason, Martin Luther derisively referred to them as “swarmers” because they were “swarming everywhere, deranged by the devil, regarding Scripture as a dead letter, extolling nothing but the Spirit and yet keeping neither the Word nor the Spirit.”

Likewise, in speaking of the link between the Spirit and the Word, John Calvin wrote . . .

Two things are connected here, the Word and the Spirit of God, in opposition to the fanatics, who aim at oracles and hidden revelations apart from the Word.

The Sufficiency of Scripture

The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men . . .

Westminster Confession, chapter 1, article 6(a)

The confession states that everything we need to know for doctrine and life is either expressly or by consequence set forth in Scripture. Moreover, because it is the “whole counsel of God” there is nothing left to be revealed in this life. In other words, the Scriptures are sufficient for all men at all times and therefore can’t be added to.

Incomplete to the Complete

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son . . .

Hebrews 1:1-2

The writer of Hebrews juxtaposes the patriarchs and prophets to Christ. The point being that their writings were partial, incomplete; this is why there was a succession of prophets and books of the Bible. Christ, however, being the pinnacle of revelation, was truth in its entirety (John 14:6; Col. 2:9).

No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.

John 15:15

All that the Father wanted revealed was made known to the Biblical writers. This information, and only this information (Jn. 21:25), was later codified into the Scriptures by the work of the Spirit (Jn. 14:26). It is this completed, inscripturated word that is to be taught (I Tim. 4:13), and it is by this completed work of revelation that we are fully equipped:

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:16-17

Furthermore, because God’s revelatory work is complete, we are able to proclaim “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27), and we are able to rest in the knowledge that what we have in the Scriptures is “the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.” (Jude 1:3)

Modern Swarmers

Modern “swarmers” abound. Some, like Harold Camping, Pat Robertson, or the late David Wilkerson, are well known to us, and so is the shame they brought on the body of Christ because of their claims of revelations. But these “God whispers” don’t only occupy leadership roles in major ministries, nor do they only fill the gaudy stages of “Christian” TV programs. Pentecostals, Charismatics, and many Evangelicals seek revelations apart from Scripture. For those seeking these revelations I have two things I’d like you to consider:

First, think about what you’re saying when you say something like, “God spoke to me,” or “God is giving me a word for you,” or, as a former “pastor” of mine would say mid-sermon, “Yes, yes, lord, I’ll say that.” God doesn’t take kindly to those who claim to be speaking on His behalf when He has not spoken. As a matter of fact, this crime is so heinous that, in Old Testament times, God commanded that the offenders be put to death (Deut. 13, 18:20-22, 13:12-13; Ez. 13:1-9; Zech. 13:3).

Second, what’s wrong with the revelation that He already provided? Considering the case made above, why do you think the Scriptures are incomplete? Why are they not sufficient for you? Instead of seeking a new “word,” how about mastering the revelation you’ve been provided (2 Tim. 2:15)?


All those seeking extra-Biblical revelations must stop trying to find a back door to God (or, as Martin Luther put it, stop trying to view God in the nude). God has spoken, and still speaks, through the Bible—and those same Scriptures remain sufficient for doctrine and life. Not the Spirit working apart from the Word, but the Spirit working through the Word.

The Bible is something more than a body of revealed truths, a collection of books verbally inspired of God. It is also the living voice of God. The living God speaks through its pages. Therefore, it is not to be valued as a sacred object to be placed on a shelf and neglected, but as holy ground, where people’s hearts and minds may come into vital contact with the living, gracious and disturbing God. . . .

James Montgomery Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith, pg 48

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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Inclusivism and John 14:6

Kevin DeYoung makes a great point against the inclusivistic interpretation of John 14:6 over at his blog . . .

Inclusivists believe that everyone who is saved is saved through the person and work of Christ. They do not, however, insist that conscious faith (on the part of sentient adults) is necessary to appropriate this saving work. Some Buddhists or Hindus or good people in our neighborhoods drawn to the true and the beautiful might be saved through Christ without knowing it. But what about John 14:6? Inclusivists understand “no one can come to the Father except through me” to mean through my saving work. Faith may not be necessary.

No doubt, it’s true that no one can be saved apart from the work of Christ. But the “through” in John 14:6 means “through faith in me.”

Look at the immediate context. Jesus begins the chapter by telling the disciples “believe in me” (14:1). Then verse 7 talks about knowing the Father by knowing the Son. Verse 9 makes clear that whoever sees Jesus has seen the Father. Verses 12 and 13 repeat the exhortation to believe in Jesus. The point of the whole section is that if you know/see/believe in Jesus you know the Father. And conversely, you cannot go to the Father or follow Jesus to his heavenly glory unless you know and believe in Son.

You can read the entire post here.

--The Catechizer


Monday, April 14, 2014

Today in Church History: Westminster Assembly of Divines

On April 14, 1648, the Westminster Assembly of Divines presented its Catechisms to Parliament: the Larger Catechism for pulpit exposition and the Shorter Catechism for the education of children.

When the 121 divines convened in 1643, they set out at first to review the Anglican -Nine Articles of Religion, which was considered essentially but not sufficiently Calvinistic. Soon the work of the Assembly expanded, and five years and 1,163 sessions later, it produced the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, the Directory for Public Worship, and the Form of Church Government.

In the words of John Murray, "The Westminster Confession and Catechisms are . . . the mature fruit of the whole movement of creed-formation throughout fifteen centuries of Christian history, and, in particular, they are the crown of the greatest age of confessional exposition, the Protestant Reformation. No other similar documents have concentrated in them, and formulated with such precision, so much of the truth embodied in the Christian revelation."

John Muether

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Sunday, April 13, 2014

Fear and the Last Judgment

I became a Christian in 1987 at the age of 18. I wasn’t looking for God, but He was clearly looking for me. An ex-girlfriend of my roommate invited me to go to church with her. She was hot; I was board; so why not? Worship was not on my mind as the service began, but something happened. I suddenly became aware that I was lost; that God was terribly angry with me; and that I needed to be made right with Him. I sat in the seat and wept bitterly. Everything had changed.

Peter Hitchins, brother of famous atheist Christopher Hitchins, also had an unexpected conversion. Kevin DeYoung posts an excerpt from Peter Hitchin's book describing the event at his site:

What I can recall, very sharply indeed, is a visit to the Hotel-Dieu in Beaune, a town my girlfriend and I had gone to mainly in search of the fine food and wines of Burgundy. But we were educated travelers and strayed, guidebook in hand, into the ancient hospital. And there, worth the journey according to the Green Michelin guide, was Rogier van der Weyden’s fifteenth-century polyptych The Last Judgment.

I scoffed. Another religious painting! Couldn’t these people think of anything else to depict? Still scoffing, I peered at the naked figures fleeing toward the pit of hell, out of my usual faintly morbid interest in the alleged terrors of damnation. But this time I gaped, my mouth actually hanging open. These people did not appear remote or from the ancient past; they were my own generation. Because they were naked, they were not imprisoned in their own age by time-bound fashions. On the contrary, their hair and, in an odd way, the set of their faces were entirely in the style of my own time. They were me and the people I knew. One of them — and I have always wondered how the painter thought of it — is actually vomiting with shock and fear at the sound of the Last Trump.

I did not have a “religious experience.” Nothing mystical or inexplicable took place — no trance, no swoon, no vision, no voices, no blaze of light. But I had a sudden, strong sense of religion being a thing of the present day, not imprisoned under thick layers of time. A large catalogue of misdeeds, ranging from the embarrassing to the appalling, replayed themselves rapidly in my head. I had absolutely no doubt that I was among the damned, if there were any damned.

You can read the entire account here, as well as pastor DeYoung's comments.

--The Catechizer


Friday, April 11, 2014

Avicenna and the Law of Non-Contradiction

Many Postmodern thinkers have taken to denying the law of non-contradiction. This law of thought states that A cannot be non-A at the same time and in the same sense.

Despite their protestations, Postmodern-types violate this law when they claim that truth cannot be known. Since they mean for this claim to be taken as true (despite their verbal smoke and mirrors), they are saying that it’s the case that truth can be known and it’s the case that truth cannot be known.

Folly Revealed

With all the ills Islam has brought to humanity, I’ve found something commendable. Muslim philosopher Avicenna (Ibn Sina) deftly shows the folly of denying the law of non-contradiction.

Anyone who denies the Law of Non-contradiction should be beaten and burned until he admits that to be beaten is not the same as not to be beaten, and to be burned is not the same as to not be burned.

Avicenna (980-1037)

I recommend setting this to memory for use next time you encounter someone denying the law of non-contradiction—or if you simply want to recite flowery Islamic prose.


Wednesday, April 09, 2014

The Priesthood of All Believers

At the time of the Reformation, a two-tier hierarchy of believers was in place. In the upper class were the spiritual elites, such as priests, monks, and nuns. It was believed that they were able to attain perfection, mostly by completing spiritual rituals and ceremonies. In the lower class were the laymen. These were thought of as being spiritually inferior, only being able to perform natural works. Thus “sacred” work, done by the religious professionals, was pleasing to God, while “secular” work, done by those in the pews, was not.

The Origin of the Sacred/Secular Split

This dichotomy was primarily due to Thomas Aquinas’ view of God’s grace and of the nature of man. Aquinas taught that human nature was not fit for a relationship with God. It needed something more—a donum superadditum—a gift that was added on.

In the state of pure nature man needs a power added to his natural power by grace . . . in order to do and to will supernatural good.

Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)

Thus, according to Aquinas, man needed this “add on”—this infusion of power—to have fellowship with God. Reason being, man’s nature was inherently defective and incapable of having such fellowship.

But how was man to get this supernatural power? Rome’s answer: Monasticism—a life of self-denial, poverty, pilgrimages, doing penance, obeying Rome, etc—in other words, sacred work.

Donum Superadditum Rejected

The Reformers rightly rejected the doctrine of donum superadditum, as well as the claim that man’s nature is inherently defective. Instead they believed that “. . . God created man good, and after His own image, that is, in righteousness and true holiness; that he might rightly know God his Creator, heartily love Him, and live with Him in eternal blessedness, to praise and glorify Him.” (Heidelberg Catechism)

The true problem is that man has fallen from his first state, becoming corrupt and alienated from God. Man, therefore, does not need an additive—he needs restoration. This restoration comes not by any work of man, but is a free gift of God (grace), through the work of Christ.

The Sacred/Secular Split Rejected

Along with the rejection of donum superadditum came the rejection of its offspring: the sacred/secular split. In its place the Reformers taught the Biblical doctrine of the priesthood of all believers.

But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God's OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light

1 Peter 2:9

Far from Monasticism, which required the rejection of secular work, the Reformers taught that all legitimate work done in faith pleases God. Furthermore, when we are performing that work, we are rendering worship unto the Lord—we are acting in our capacity as priests unto the Most High God. There is, therefore, no spiritual elite, and there certainly is no divide between sacred and secular work.

This is a wonderful thing, that the Savior of the world, and the King above all kings, was not ashamed to labor; yea, and to use no simple an occupation. Here he did sanctify all manner of occupations.

Hugh Latimer, English Puritan and Martyr

--The Catechizer


Tuesday, April 08, 2014

A Little Levity

What do you get when you combine an insomniac, agnostic, and a dyslexic?

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A person who stays up all night wondering if there is a dog.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Do Same-Sex Couples Deserve a Chance to Get Married? - Part 3 (Conclusion)

Continued from part 2 . . .

I wrestled with how to reconcile my Christian faith with my desire for Will to have the same opportunities to pursue happiness and fulfillment as his brother and sister. Ultimately, it came down to the Bible’s overarching themes of love and compassion and my belief that we are all children of God.

Senator Portman asserts that love and compassion are the overarching themes of Scripture. I would take umbrage with the good Senator’s negligence of some of the other major themes within Scripture: judgment, sin, God’s sovereignty, wrath, holiness, and sanctification, just to name a few. These cannot be excluded when considering the topic at hand. I often hear people overemphasize the qualities of God which they deem beneficial (or more palatable) in negligence of those which they would rather not talk about.

God’s Love

While God’s love is an overarching theme in the Bible, it is only properly understood when coupled with His hatred for sin. God’s love is most poignantly demonstrated in the outpouring of His eternal wrath - or anger, hatred, and punishment - against sin. God’s love is manifested most clearly as He forsook His eternally beloved Son for the purpose of expunging the guilt and debt incurred by man. That guilt and debt required, indeed demanded, punishment!

What you do not see in Scripture is Jesus coming into the world proclaiming, “All is well. My Father loves you and is willing to let bygones be bygones.” Jesus did not come into the world to give the world a hall pass, a get out of jail free card, a mulligan. Jesus came into the world “Because the justice of God requires that the same human nature which has sinned should make satisfaction for sin” (Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 16). No other human could “bear in His manhood the burden of God’s eternal wrath” against sin; but Jesus was able to do so “by the power of His Godhead” (Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 17, emphasis added).

God’s Justice

God’s justice is another overarching theme of Scripture. His justice demands that good be rewarded and evil be punished (Ezekiel 18:4-9). For either to go unrequited is an aberration of His justice. Often we would like to think that God will let our sin slide because, after all, as the popular saying goes, “nobody’s perfect.” Scripture puts it this way, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). But that’s not the end of the matter. Elsewhere the Bible reads, “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

God has set His standard before us - His moral law, summarized on two tablets, and expounded upon in the whole of Scripture. This standard is an expression of His moral character. We are to follow this law because as our Creator, He has the right to demand of us what He wills. He has laid before us, clearly, the consequences of breaking His law. He has provided a means of reconciliation for law-breakers, via the incarnation, righteous life, and atoning death of His Son. He has given His Spirit to indwell within the hearts of those whom He has predestined, called, justified, and glorified (Romans 8:30a). We are not at liberty to set this law aside for our own enrichment, vengeance upon our enemies, or even the happiness of our children. Our public representatives would do well to consider the standard from which they reason, especially when they claim the standard of Holy Writ. Senator Portman should take heed.

--The Deacon