Thursday, September 23, 2010

Heresy: Docetism

Docetism comes from the Greek dokeo meaning "to appear" or "seem". It is the thought that Christ only seemed to be a human being. This idea stems from thinking that a pure spiritual being, Christ, could not suffer as a man, and hence he must have been human in appearance only.

Much of this post was
adapted from this great book.
Heresies by Harold Brown
Image from
The story of docetism grows out of Gnosticism. Gnosticism has a large varied background and is therefore difficult to describe and categorize. The gnostic movement has appealed to many throughout the ages because of two primary features (1) the claim of a secret lore, explaining otherwise incomprehensible mysteries and (2) the idea that only those who are the elite can access these secrets. 

This clashes with biblical Christianity at many points, but two are primary, the doctrine of Creation and the doctrine of Christ. Gnosticism totally denied the Creation, and, while it accepted Christ, it gave him a drastically different interpretation. It is this strange interpretation that produced arguably the first heresy within Christianity, docetism. 

Docetism does affirm the deity of Christ but does not recognize his humanity. They claim that His humanity is only apparent and not real. It only seems to us like Christ must have been human but was not really human. 

It is easy to see where this thinking can lead if you think back to events recorded in the gospels. For one thing, we must deny that Christ died, for deity cannot die! This has so many other doctrines connecting to it that it is easy to see why docetism was condemned as heresy. The whole of soteriology must be changed if docetism is to stand.    

One can spot different elements of the error of docetism which had already appeared during New Testament times (see 1 John 4:1-3; 2 John 7).

"[4:1] Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. [2] By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, [3] and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. (1 John 4:1-3 ESV)"
"[7] For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist. (2 John 1:7 ESV)"
Geislers Systematic Theology
 Image from
Dr. Norman Geisler points out in his Systematic Theology v. 2 that "Muslims accept a form of this error as well (see Sura 4:187). Among those charged with this error were Cerinthus (fl. c. A.D. 100) and Serapion, the Bishop of Antioch (190-203)." 
While docetism is not very common these days but it is still heretical. We often run into another heresy that is almost the opposite of this one. The heresy known as Arianism. That however is another post for another day.

A few different early church men wrote against this error including Ignatius of Antioch and Irenaeus (115-190), and Hippolatus (170-235).
Docetism was also condemned at the Council of Chalcedon in 451. Which condemned a number of christological errors. 

You can check out the Catholic Encyclopedia entry which gives a great deal of background and detail here.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Army-Navy "E" Award

I am a bit of an oddity. Strange to admit, but not in the way you might be thinking. I work in two research groups, that is, I have two major professors. Both of the groups work in the area of physical chemistry yet one is experimental and the other theoretical. Most people are one or the other, but I get to be both. I think it will end up being a benefit to me, but the jury is still out on that one.

One of my offices is located in the DOE Ames Laboratory. I spend a lot of time working in the area of electronic structure theory in this office. Day in and day out I pass by this flag in the hall way outside my office.

I got to wondering about it as I hadn't seen a flag quite like it before. So I looked it up. It seems there isn't much about this type of thing on the web. The best sites regarding it are wikipedia, the National Park Service's Rosie the Riveter site, and this Military Navy history page. As you may have guessed, it relates back to World War II.

Ames lab had an important role during the war. It was this role that led to the flag that is framed outside my office. Turns out that the Ames lab began an interesting venture led by Dr. Frank Spedding (side note: my office is in Spedding hall). Dr. Spedding was an expert in rare earth chemistry which is still a large part of the research that goes on in the Ames lab.

To have a nuclear bomb it is necessary to have high purity uranium. Dr. Spedding turned his attention to producing this uranium. The history of the Ames Lab web page recounts it like this:
"The Ames Project developed new methods for both melting and casting uranium metal, making it possible to cast large ingots of the metal and reduce production costs by as much as twenty-fold. This uranium production process is still used today. Ames produced more than 2 million pounds (1,000 tons) of uranium for the Manhattan Project, advancing wartime efforts to uncover the secrets of atomic power and protect national security.
      The Ames Project received the Army/Navy E Flag for Excellence in Production on Oct. 12, 1945, signifying two-and-a-half years of excellence in industrial production of metallic uranium as a vital war material. Iowa State is unique among educational institutions to have received this award for outstanding service, an honor normally given to industry."
To read more about this history and the history of the Ames Laboratory see their 60th anniversary page.

They were awarded the Army-Navy "E" award for excellence in production on October 12th, 1945. It is this very flag that I nonchalantly pass by every day that they received on that day.

October 12th, 1945 Army-Navy "E" award given to Iowa State University
You may not have noticed, but this flag is a 4 star "E" flag. Of the 4283 flags given out 8 were six star flags, 206 were five star flags, and 820 were four star flags. That makes this flag a pretty rare one.
The more I think about this flag and its connection
with chemistry and research the more I wonder how many other items I pass by every day with such history. There are many displays throughout the lab buildings that have old artifacts with such stories. Strange chemical apparatuses on display that had some important part in the development of some reaction or theory. Old displays like

this one on the right which hangs on the first floor of Spedding hall by the main entry way. It's an old "Periodic Chart of the Elements" which has some of each element on display. Here is a close up image. 

What sort of things do you pass that have special meaning to you, things that have such a rich history that may have shaped the nation? 

Today is September 11th and we all know what happened back in 2001 here in the U.S. but I encourage you, stop and think. Stop and thank. Stop and thank God for what you have and those who came before you.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Importance of Apologetics

Image from The Veritas Forum

If you have never visited a Veritas Forum event you should make going to one a priority. Veritas is the Latin word for truth. It is the mission of The Veritas Forum to, "Create forums for the exploration of true life. We seek to inspire the shapers of tomorrow's culture to connect their hardest questions with the person and story of Jesus Christ"

     Take some time to explore their media library. They record most all of their events and you can watch them online. They take the time to explore many of the great questions of life. 

     Most Christians seem to not be intellectually involved with their faith. They feel that faith is contrary to reason. This view, known as fideism, was defended by Pascal and Kierkegaard among others. While I do think Pascal's wager should help to sway many who are on the fence I do not agree with Pascal that the proofs for God's existence are irrelevant. 

    While the average Christian probably does not subscribe to most of the "tenets" of fideism (let alone know what all is involved with holding this view) they hold a minset that is similar in regard to apologetics. There are many congregations that are involved in learning apologetics and defending the faith. However, there are many churches that hold what I will call the "fishing hypothesis". That is, go where the fish are biting, and if they don't take your gospel presentation move to the next fishing hole. 

    I might tend to agree with this thought at first. No one wants to waste time and energy evangelizing when you feel like your efforts will not come to fruition. It makes sense to go where people want to hear what you have to say, or at least go to where they are receptive. I think, however, that this view is overlooking a major aspect of evangelism. For one thing, you do not know how your efforts will affect someone. The way Paul puts it, "I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth" 1 Cor. 3:6 ESV   

   Is it completely true to say that the development of fundamentalism has led to today's "uninvolved with the world around them" Christians, the "let God deal with the government and he will work things out" crowd. You know, the "what is a worldview", "apologetics is a waste of time if no one gets saved immediately" church goers. Maybe not completely true, but the withdraw from culture initiated by the fundamentalist movement definitely has shaped many of the things we see today - like the lack of answers given to college students who then leave church and their faith altogether. 

    There are Christians out there who came to believe by taking their time and slowly having their barriers removed via apologetics who are thankful that someone took the time to go through the long process of answering their objections. Good thing those people didn't just move to the next one biting.  You will often hear those who subscribe to the fishing hypothesis remark, "If just one person gets saved won't it be all worth it?" Yet the do not apply this same philosophy to taking the time and energy required to systematically dismantle the objections of someone who is truly seeking God. Why should we be happy with a body of believers that, while they are believers fail to have good reason for their belief? Why should we settle with the idea that we just need to believe and God will handle the rest of their objections? Should we throw honest objections to the wayside because the Harvest is great?  

   I do think there is a time and place for such thinking. I do not think that it should occur during evangelism in most cases. I am not advocating the persistent arguing with someone who is just wanting a fight. Obviously we would not want to be in a situation similar to Prov. 29:9. Generally one can tell if someone honestly wants answers or if they are just seeking to have an argument. 

  Yes you should learn apologetics. Yes you should seek to understand your faith better. Yes you should prepare yourself to give an apologia for your faith. Yes you can help others who are honestly seeking answers come to the knowledge of the truth. Yes you should take some time to attend a Veritas Forum which will help you to provide Christian answers to deep questions.

Lucky for me Ravi Zacharias will be at the upcoming Veritas Forum at the Mayo clinic civic center in Rochester, MN.      

Here is a video from last year's Veritas Forum at the Mayo clinic. I got to meet Alvin Plantinga there!