Thursday, April 30, 2009

Are Christians or non-Christians more moral?

One of the interesting conversations I had in the last week while we were visiting Rockhampton was with a few guys that were suggesting that the good things I do is less genuinely good than when they do good things because I do them because I'm a Christian. If I understood them correctly, they're saying that they do things simply because they're the right things to do, whereas I do them only because God says to do them. While I had heard similar comments before, I hadn't thought about it recently and only now have I had a chance to reflect on their comments.

My first reflection is that I do things because they're the right thing to do, as well as because God says to do them. That is, it's not like I object to doing the good things that these guys were talking about. I'm no different in that respect. I love helping friends. I'm moved with compassion when I see people having a rough time. And I think it's great that they want to do good things. It seems only natural. I live in this world where I have a natural desire to seek to do the good. It works. It makes the world a better place. It expresses love that I genuinely feel. Speaking as a Christian, God's made the world to work that way. Loving God's world doesn't mean blindly obeying his commands. It means obeying his commands with my eyes wide open—responding to the world in a way that "fits".

Second, do non-Christians really have no other motivation than that it's the right thing to do? I do the right thing because it benefits others, it pleases me and it pleases God. Don't non-Christians do the right thing because it benefits others and it pleases them? How long would people do the right thing if it always didn't benefit them? How long would it seem the right thing? Altruism is satisfying. I enjoy it, as I say. There's nothing wrong with that. But doesn't it taint our altruism? And shouldn't we stop and consider how long we'd be altruistic if it wasn't pleasing to us?

But third, the question of whether a Christian or non-Christian is more moral depends on whether you believe there's a God. If there isn't a God, it does seem more moral to act without the need of extrinsic motivation. But if the God of the Bible is there, then the good we do is a gift from him. And to do that good without acknowledging the gift is, well, a form of pride. So I appreciate these guys arguments. I can see that in their worldview, they seem more moral than I do. But I hope they're also willing to see how it looks to God if he actually is 'the giver of every good thing'.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Perfects in Hebrews 11

I've been working through Hebrews preparing to preach it later in the year, and I'm in the midst of chapter 11. At the same time, I've been following several discussions on B-Greek about Con Campbell's explanation of aspect. I get the impression that some are cautious about the theory of aspect in general and that most find his explanation of the perfect unsatisfying. Frankly, I've been fairly persuaded and have been moving more towards a temporal understanding of tense.

But then I've encountered 11:17 and 28. Here the perfect doesn't have a clear "past event with present consequences" meaning. Apparently Gundrie argues the perfect emphasises the events' abiding impact, but I just don't see that contributing anything to the broader argument. My best reading? The perfects emphasise the climactic events in the authors two most extensive accounts of lives of faith (Abraham and Moses). The perfects are emphatic, not temporal, and so Con's "heightened proximity" approach gives a good account at this point. I'll pull out Porter and think through what a stative account could mean, but it's not immediately obvious to me.