Anti-Gnosis: The Plight of the Church
“And as they did not study to have knowledge of God, God delivered them to a worthless mind to do what is not lawful, being filled with all kinds of unrighteousness, wickedness, greediness, and evil. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, and meanness. They are gossipers, slanderers, and haters of God. They are insolent, proud, boastful, inventors of evil, and disobeyers of parents. They are without understanding, covenant breakers, without affections, and without mercy. They know the decrees of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do them, but also approve of those who do them.”
Peter writes that judgment must begin with the household of God (1 Peter 4: 17), which means, when salt and light does not pervade a culture where the church is immanent, there is a problem. And the source of that problem stems from within the church. If salt loses its saltiness, of what good is it? And, when light can no longer be distinguished from the darkness around, is it truly light any longer or has its lamp-stand been removed? There is no question that churches are present within communities throughout the United States, most of which proclaim themselves to be Christian. So, where is the salt and light?
It is my fear that three things have taken place. First, many churches that proclaim themselves to be “Christian” are not Christian by any meaningful sense of the term. They have rejected historic Christian Creeds and Confessional statements and have embraced ideas that have been condemned by the Councils of the Christian church going back to the first Century AD. Secondly, many professing Christians are more interested in a promise of heaven than they are interested in what it means to live out an authentic Christian faith. Many assume that they can live however they choose and worship in whatever way they prefer, so long as they have their “Get Out of Hell Free” pass promised by a person who preaches niceties to them on Sunday morning. Third, many Christians have become so busy with life that they presume that knowledge of the things of God is something for pastors and seminary students only. In fact, many are so used to this notion, that they are hostile to the notion that all Christians are commanded to study and learn the things of God.
Psalm 111:2 boldly proclaims, “Great are the works of Yahweh, studied by all who delight in them.” Do you delight in the things that God has done? Then the way you show your delight is by studying them. In fact, it could be argued that you most eagerly study those things in which you most delight. Billy Graham used to say, “If you want to know where a man’s priorities are, just look at his checkbook.” I say, “If you want to know what a man loves, look at those things that most occupy his mind and thought.
Paul writes here in Romans that one of the results of people seeking to worship the creation rather than the creator is that they do not “study to have the knowledge of God.” The Greek word in question here is δοκιμάζω (dokimazo), which conveys the idea of examining something to see whether it is right or true and then drawing conclusions about said things on the basis of what has been tested and examined.
Conceptually, this is a powerful notion. For without such careful and detailed examination, upon what does one base their Christian belief? Too many professing Christians simply claim that faith is enough, but is faith not something that ought to be substantiated? Without examination, how is our faith in God any different than the heathen’s superstitious faith in their totems and idols? Is not faith a conviction (ἕλεγχος — elegchos — the act of presenting evidence as in a court case — Hebrews 11:1) of things that are not seen? Is not the faith that results in praise and glory and honor at the revealing of Christ a faith that is examined (δοκιμάζω — dokimazo — 1 Peter 1:7)? If God tests our hearts (1 Thessalonians 2:4) shall we also not test every spirit (1 John 4:1) — δοκιμάζω (dokimazo)? How can we make a reasoned defense of the faith if we have first not examined what we believe (ἀπολογία — apologia — 1 Peter 3:15)?
Yet, not only do many (if not most) never bother applying their reason to the faith they possess, many pastors seek to dissuade their flock from doing so. Perhaps they feel as if the reasoned examination will detract from the passion of their worship. Perhaps they do not wish to face such questions themselves. Perhaps they too are blindly following the example of a superstitious faith set for them by others. Worse yet, perhaps they feel intimidated at the idea that someone, upon examination, might discover that the faith and practice inculcated at their church might prove fraudulent and empty.
If this is the state of the American church, then why should we be surprised when the world sees our practice as unintelligent, superstitious, undesirable, and irrelevant to life? They reject the salt and light of the church because the church has lost its saltiness and its light has become so dimmed as to be imperceptible from any other expression of religion or faith? The church in the first centuries did not have a vague witness. They boldly proclaimed Christ’s resurrection from the dead and were happy to have their testimony examined by even the most hostile and critical foes. Shall we not do the same? Yet, we cannot, until we are ready to examine the faith we profess. If we do not do so, then the church will continue to fall into the morass of sin that Paul describes in this passage — indeed, do not many of these sins describe the church of our day (envy, strife, deceit, meanness, slander, gossip, etc…).
How will Christ be pleased with the playacting that many supposed Christian churches practice week in and week out when the faith therein is never tested? On what basis will Christ say, “well done,” if there is no basis for that statement other than one’s personal preferences? Indeed, many will be expecting to hear the words, “well done,” yet will only hear, “I never knew you.” If the church will not repent of its foolishness, then the lamp-stand will be removed and Christ will spit them out of his mouth. To be ignorant in the church is one thing if one is a new believer. To be ignorant in the church, though one has been in the church for years, is lazy. But to be opposed to the careful examination of the things of God is the work of antichrists (1 John 2:18-19) and should be condemned with the strongest language — indeed, they are preaching a gospel of another kind than what is plainly taught in Scripture (Galatians 1:6-10).
Antitheism: as a Worldview
“And as they did not study to have knowledge of God, God delivered them to a worthless mind to do what is not lawful, being filled with all kinds of unrighteousness, wickedness, greediness, and evil. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, and meanness. They are gossipers, slanderers, and haters of God. They are insolent, proud, boastful, inventors of evil, and disobeyers of parents. They are without understanding, covenant breakers, without affections, and without mercy. They know the decrees of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do them, but also approve of those who do them.”
In discussions of Christian worldview and various forms of non-Christian thought, we usually focus on the two categories of agnosticism and atheism. In this author’s manner of thinking, addressing the first is mostly a matter of convincing a person to take time from their busy schedule to examine the question. In terms of the latter, it is a matter of convincing the person to examine the question on the basis of logic, whether that be through logical proofs or through the evidence in the world around us which points to God. In both cases, it seems to me, that they suffer from the presupposition that God is either not worth knowing or that he is not able to be known.
Yet, there are other categories by which those who are against Christian thought may be classified. One of which is “anti-theism.” This is not simply a question of whether God can or cannot be known, but this is a view that the knowledge of God is harmful to both individuals and to society. Such a view is more than a rejection of the knowledge of God; it is a rejection of those who acknowledge God, and there is a difference.
For instance, in the west, the majority of children are raised with the belief that a large, rotund, sprite from the North Pole sneaks into their home (though a chimney or otherwise) to deliver gifts on the night of December 24th. Were one simply agnostic to this view, they might simply say, “to each their own.” Were one in rejection of this view, one might simply say, “That is a foolish notion” and then shake their head at the silliness of others while not practicing the tradition. Yet, for the “Anti-SantaClausian,” the practice would not only be viewed as wrong, but harmful to practice. Such parents would not only train their children up that Santa Clause was a myth, but would actively encourage other parents to do the same. Indeed, they might even look down on other parents for lying to their children at least once a year, for if they will lie on this matter, what other matters will they lie about?
In this passage from Romans 1, Paul is addressing a wide variety of character traits that are manifested in individuals and societies that reject the worship of the One True God. In other words, they will not study or evaluate the arguments for the existence of God (both atheism and agnosticism fall into this category), but in refusing to do so, God has punished them by giving them over to a clouded mind and debased passions. They know the Law of God, but refuse to obey it.
Over the years, there has been a rise in atheism, not just in terms of a philosophical position, but in terms of those who actively consider theism in any form to be harmful. The late Anthony Flew described such people essentially as those who evangelize atheism (as if atheism could ever be labeled as “good news”). Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens are examples of those who hold such a view. They have made a study of the Bible (though usually from atheistic presuppositions) and they have rejected it (along with the Q’ran, the various Buddhist texts, etc…). Further, they see the presence of those with a theistic worldview as one that hinders the development of society.
The point is that the normal approaches of apologetics are not well suited for those who hold to an anti-theistic worldview. They are not interested in examining the evidence on the basis of the evidence itself nor are they interested in having a rational dialogue about the reasonableness of theistic claims. They are militantly against these things. For an anti-theist, a balanced dialogue about the theist’s claims is as irrational as a balanced dialogue over whether Santa, the Easter Bunny, or the Tooth-fairy exists. It is a waste of time and energy.
My proposition is that apologetics training needs to be re-evaluated in light of the presence of the anti-theist. While I am certainly not advocating the elimination of the many tools of apologetics that are available to us today, I think that we need to improve the toolbox. As we are in a spiritual war, perhaps a better analogy is that we need to improve our apologetics arsenal in light of anti-theism. Too often, we equip our children with little more than a pellet gun when they are sent onto the battlefield of a thoroughly anti-religious, anti-Christian, and anti-theistic world.
The Scientific Method: A Christian Idea
“What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down?”
— Friedrich Nietzsche, The Madman (1882)
In Nietzsche’s classic parable (one which every Christian should be familiar), he portrays a kind of prophetic madman (arguably Nietzsche himself) running into the midst of a crowd and declaring that God is dead and that they have killed him. The “they” refers to the people of his day, of his culture, and of the formal church which had become ensconced in liturgical monotony and not genuine religion. By their disbelief, by the idolatry of tradition, and by the people’s lack of commitment to genuine faith combined with their commitment to science and rationalism, Nietzsche believed that they had effectively removed God from the society (something that Nietzsche believed was a good thing).
Christians, of course, have been quick to point out during the years that followed, that the notion of God being “dead” or his being “killed” is an irrational concept. By definition, God is eternal and thus cannot cease to exist by any means — he simply is. Further, God’s existence is not predicated on the belief of his people — whether people believe that God exists or not, whether people worship him or not, does not change his state of being. He nevertheless always and eternally is. He is a self-existent being and all things that exist derive their existent from him.
Nietzsche’s commentary is nonetheless instructive for us for 19th century Germany is not the only place or point in history where those who claimed the name of God’s people had fallen into idolatry and unbelief. One need only read the book of Judges to see this cycle taking place over and over or to read the prophet Hosea to see God’s judgment upon his people because they have simply gone through the motions, doing the right thing in form but not being committed to it. Isaiah, Chapter 1, is another prime example, illustrating for us God’s dissatisfaction with his people as they are distant from him.
In any time and in any place where people substitute the form of religion for the practice of religion, you find an era where this takes place. Read the letters of Jesus to the seven churches in Asia Minor (Revelation 2-3) — five of the seven were under the criticism of Jesus and two of those five were pronounced to be under judgment. This was a good deal of the reason that a Reformation of the church was needed in the 16th Century and it is the reason that the American and European churches largely need to repent, for very few care at all about obedience to the Word of God , only about maintaining their status quo.
But what has this to do with the scientific method? Nietzsche’s observation was that with the death of God the world would be turned upside down. Now, it can be argued that Nietzsche is using this more as a rhetorical device than as an observation, but let’s run with this statement (quoted above) for a minute. If God is not then there is no authority higher to man to which one can appeal. If God is not, definition becomes entirely human in its manufacture and not eternal. If God is not, then laws really have no meaning other than the meaning which we give to them; and if God is not, there is no reason to assume that the laws of the universe are consistent between one place and another.
The Scientific Method is the process of establishing a hypothesis, making predictions about the nature of cause and effect based on this hypothesis, and then testing the hypothesis to confirm that the actual results match the predictions made. The entirety of this method is prefaced on the principle that the universe is orderly and predictable. Yet, the assumption of an orderly and predictable universe is a Christian assumption based on the fact that we have a God who is orderly and who has created in a way consistent with his orderly character.
Does that mean that no one but Christians can use the Scientific method — or at least that no one but theists? Of course not. The scientific method properly applied is an essential aspect of doing research and science. But without a commitment to the notion that the universe is rationally structured by a rational God, why bother with the scientific method in the first place? Why be committed to the notion that the laws of physics are set and consistent? It is worth pondering the implication of a universe created by an orderly being and a universe that just randomly generated itself without anything to guide it or to order it. In Nietzsche’s atheistic model, we might as well be plunging in every which direction without any basic points of reference like up or down.
Fabian Tactics in the Church
“These are the peoples which Yahweh caused to remain settled to train Israel by them — all those who did not know all the wars of Canaan. It was only in order that the descendants of the Sons of Israel should know, to teach them war — only those present who did not know.”
Many of our English translations will render hAsÎn (nasah) as “test,” though, in context, it seems like, “to train,” is perhaps the better rendering. Because the people had sinned with idols and disobedience, God is leaving these pagans in the land to train the people in war. But why would God do such a thing? Why not remove the people from the land (indeed, God will do that several centuries down the road)? Why not bring the people peace and woo them while they are free from the shadow of war (certainly, that would be the mindset of the health-wealth movement). No, God trains us through the most difficult experiences we face. God teaches us reliance when we face insurmountable obstacles. God teaches us obedience most often as we are given a taste of what the path of disobedience brings.
Thus, this “testing”, this “training” was never meant to be a pleasant thing, nor is God trying to raise up a warrior nation. God is the warrior of Israel (Deuteronomy 20:4), the victories do not come from the might of Israel’s warriors. God will prove that over and over again. They don’t need to learn war to become warriors; they need to learn war because war is awful and grievous to the heart. The people need to learn that wars take place because of human sin, not for human glory.
The question that we must ask ourselves is, “Will we learn?” In other words, will our own commitment to idolatry keep us from obedience? Will we learn the lessons from hardship and persecution to walk in faith and not by worldly-sight? Paganism is in our midst; how will we respond? Will we engage the pagan world with the Gospel? The promises to the church exist in the context of the church marching in battle (the gates of Hell will not prevail), not to a church that seeks to fight a defensive war — defensive campaigns are losing campaigns anyhow, ask Quintus Fabius Maximus if you doubt that. Fabian tactics delay and frustrate the enemy, but they do not win wars. Sadly, the church has largely practiced such tactics for a generation, all the while losing ground in the culture.
So, what is our solution? We follow the lead of Scipio (and more importantly, the Apostle Paul) and take the battle to the enemy. We tear down every argument that stands against the knowledge of God in our community, in our school systems, in our collegiate environments, and yes, even in our churches (too many churches have compromised so much of the Scriptures that their witness is not effective and hardly even can be considered Christian). We evangelize. And we intentionally disciple with the aim of a church body that both knows the Word and practices the Word in obedience. We create an environment where even the non-Christian benefits from the presence of Truth in their midst. We train, train, train ourselves and our children, we read good books and we utilize good resources so that every Christian Culture Warrior that is sent out is equipped for the battle. We learn the lessons of war so that we and future generations will walk in obedience.
Influencing the Culture
“Naphtali did not dispossess those who dwell in the House of Shemesh or those who dwelt in the house of Anath; and they dwelled in the midst of the Canaanites who dwelt in the land. Thus, the House of Shemesh and the House of Anath became forced labor for them. And the Emorites tormented the sons of Dan in the mountainous region, thus they did not give them the ability to come down to the lower plains. And the Emorites were prepared to dwell in the mountains of Cheres, in Ayyalon, and in Sha’albiym, but the hand of the house of Joseph was glorious and they became forced labor. And the border of the Emorites was from ascents of Aqrabiym to the cliffs and above.”
We draw the introductory history to a close…again, this is designed to overlap the end of the book of Joshua and to prepare us for the context of the book of Judges that follows. Chapter 2 will shift from looking backwards to looking forwards and in many ways will summarize Judges as a whole. But for now, we must content ourselves with once again reflecting on the consequences of a partial victory. Indeed, there are benefits that can be gained through the forced labor of the pagan peoples, but largely the presence of the idolatry of the pagans has a devastating effect on the people.
But let us pose the question, what if the people were not inclined to stumble at the paganism of the Canaanites. Instead, what if the evangelistic fervor of the people were such that it was the Canaanites that were converting to Judaism? What a different conversation we might be having. Interestingly, while I am not an advocate of slavery in any form and the American manifestation of slavery that took place several centuries ago is not anything that could be described as good, may I at least offer that many Africans, who had grown up in an Animistic religion, were converted to Christianity. We don’t typically think of forced labor and slavery as being redemptive in any way, but shall we not celebrate the thousands of souls that were saved because of this horrible practice? Might we say with Joseph, that “While you intended it for evil, God intended it for good”?
Surely some of these Canaanites that were put to forced labor converted, but mostly the Canaanite practice influenced the Israelites to fall into sin. How about those influences in your life? Are your non-Christian friends influencing you or are you influencing them? At the end of the day, are they more like you or the other way around? A vital and healthy faith ought to influence others without being influenced by the unbelief of others. Though, much like ancient Israel, that doesn’t much happen in our churches. Were that it would. May we strive for it to be so.
If you are there, God…
“On this very day I came to the spring and I said, ‘Yahweh, God of my lord, Abraham, if you are there, please bring success to my way upon which I have walked.”
Many of our modern English translations will render the phrase of Eliezer: “if you will prosper my way…” yet that is not a literal reading of the Hebrew text. Literally he states: DKVv‰y_MIa (im-yeshka), “if there is you.” The impression that is being given is not so much: “Lord will you please bring success,” but, “Lord, if you exist, please bring success…”
How often have we, or have we been tempted, to pray that prayer? It is the fleece that Gideon would put out and it is the test that Thomas posed — “I need to touch his pierced hands and side…” We doubt, we fear, we worry, we wonder and then we ask God over and over to assure us of his guidance — that the path we are on is exactly the path that He has designed for us to walk.
Somehow we think that things, if we are doing God’s will, will simply fall into place and be easy. That as a pastor, my congregation will swell with membership; that as a father, my children will grow up kind and respectful and obedient; and that as a husband, my wife’s life will be filled with joy and excitement and the pleasure of every new day. Perhaps that will be so in the new creation, but here we grow as wheat amongst the tares; we live in a fallen world where trials and tragedies are commonplace and where fallen people constitute our congregations. So we cry out, “God, if you are really there, won’t you…”
The amazing thing is that sometimes, God does… Yet, in reality, most of the time God is teaching us patience and persistence as well as faithfulness through the woes of a world in rebellion against truth. He has been faithful to us and if we will but read his word, we will be reminded of his many kept promises. If we but remember the path through which he has led us in life, we too will remember that even through the darkest valleys of trial, it is his rod that has guided us and his staff that has kept us secure. The pathway that Christ chose to take to heaven led through the cross; why should we expect that ours will be more comfortable?
So, let us refocus our prayers and our lives in the knowledge that God is there and ask ourselves, “What, my Lord, are you teaching me through this trial?” and then seek to apply that learning. True, that is often easier said than done, though it has been done by many believers who have walked this road ahead of us — we are not blazing a new trail. Ultimately, the goal is to be made like Christ … how long a path we all have to go toward that end…
The Desires of our Heart
“Take pleasure in Yahweh;
And He will give to you the petitions of your heart.”
Recently, I my wife was listening to a popular Christian radio station in our area and I heard, during one of the breaks between songs, a commentator saying, “God wants to give you your heart’s desires…” Ultimately the man went on to explain that the more we delight in God the more God will bless our lives. And as I was standing there listening to this, I said to myself, “that’s surely not what David meant when he wrote these words.” By human terms, David’s life was a mess. His brothers did not like him much, his first wife was embarrassed by him, his father-in-law (King Saul) tried to kill him multiple times, and he spent much of his life hiding in the wilderness from the King and his men. Even as a king, David spent much of his time at war, he murdered one of his close friends, committed adultery, lost a child because of his sin, had another son take his kingdom out from under him, was denied by God in terms of building the Temple, etc… Yet, David understood where to go for peace and sanctuary. A life of trial and strife surely could not have been the desire of his heart (read the Psalms!), but he did take ultimate pleasure in Yahweh. If the radio commentator is right, David is doing something wrong. I think that the radio commentator is wrong…and so go all those who would read the Bible out of context.
In many ways, Psalm 37 reads more like a chapter in Proverbs than in the Psalms (then again, it would be one of David’s sons who would write the former). It contains a series of reflections or ponderings about living life well in this fallen world, and here in verse 4, we find the language that the radio commentator was drawing from. English translations tend to render the language similarly, “Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart.” The language seems pretty straightforward, and it is, but to understand this passage we need to make sure we do not gloss over the implications of what it is saying. The problem arises when people separate the first part of the verse from the latter part of the verse. The commentator was reading the verse this way: “If I delight in God then God will give me the things that I desire.” But, if we genuinely delight in something (or in this case, someone), isn’t that one in which we delight the desire of our heart? Indeed, it is!
The point is that God does not want to give us the desires of our hearts; God wants to be the desire of our heart! And when God is the desire of our heart, God gives more and more of himself to us, not the “stuff” that this world is filled with and we so often allow to become our treasure. Jesus said to set your treasure in heaven (on God! — Matthew 6:19-21) for where our treasure is there our heart will be. The reason that David could write these words in the midst of so many trials of life was precisely because God was the one in whom David delighted. And as David delighted in God, God gave to David more and more of himself…a place of refuge in a time of trial.
This world is filled with things and people that will try and become the desire of your heart. This world is also filled with well-meaning people who study their Bibles in the light of their own preferences. All of these things are pitfalls and traps that we must avoid. John the Apostle instructed us that we are to “test the spirits” (1 John 4:1), that means all the spirits you encounter, even those that wear the garb of Christianity. There are many that will mislead and under their influence we will set our hearts on other things. Do not fall into that trap. Make God your soul desire in life and he will richly bless you with himself.
The Problem of Thanksgiving for the Unbeliever
I suppose that I should make one qualification up front. And that is that I personally know a number of non-Christians who are very thankful people and who thoroughly enjoy the celebration of this American holiday. There can be no doubting the deep Christian roots of this event, but regardless of one’s faith (or lack thereof), there is much in life to be thankful for as Americans. I should also state up front that many people (Christians included) live out their lives holding to a variety of inconsistencies without paying them any mind or suffering as a result of said inconsistencies — such is the natural end of living in a post-modern world. My intent here is not so much to argue the merits of a thoroughly consistent worldview, but rather to raise the question of Thanksgiving for the atheist, assuming the value of a consistent worldview.
To begin with, there are several categories by which we may mark our thankfulness. The first, we could think of as “personal thankfulness,” which would reflect a certain sense of satisfaction for having made choices or having done something that brought benefits to your life. “I am so glad that I chose such-and-such a restaurant for dinner” or “I am thankful that I chose to strive for this goal” are the kinds of mental thoughts that would accompany this kind of thankfulness. This thankfulness is good and important, but I would suggest that it makes up a smaller percentage of the state of our thankfulness than one might initially think. Simply put, often that restaurant was suggested by a friend or we were helped to the particular goal by others and the timing was perfect for you to be successful. Thus, this kind of thankfulness often is at least partially dependent on events or persons outside of you as an individual.
And that, then, leads us to the second kind of thankfulness: thankfulness toward others. This reflects the kind of thankfulness that is directed towards another human being who has done something that has benefitted you. It might be a nice gift, but it also might be found in the form of advice, counsel, or even a rebuke. As I look back on my life, I am very thankful toward certain friends of mine who had the integrity to tell me that I was about to make a stupid mistake if I took this or that action. I might not have felt thankful at the moment, we seldom do when people speak truth to us, but over time, once my ego stopped swelling and my self-defense mechanisms returned to their proper place, I realized the wisdom of what was told to me and was thankful to have such friends.
Yet, again, this kind of thankfulness, while common to our experience, likely does not make up as large a proportion of our total thankfulness as we might think. The reality is that even in cases like this, there are still elements of providence (the atheist would likely call them coincidence) that are outside of the control of either you or the person toward whom you are thankful. For example, there are chance meetings that brought about conversations that led to the advice (or whatever) you happened to be given. And how did you make such a friendship? The singular friendship that I have maintained from my years at the University is that of a lady with whom I happened to get lost on campus. It seems that the two of us were given wrong information as to where a certain English class was to meet and we both ended up in the wrong corridor together at the same time. The typo on our course-lists, the fact that neither of us had received the correction (when most of the class did), and the timing by which we bumped into each other were all elements that were outside of our direct or indirect influence. I am thankful for all of these events because she and I have kept up correspondence over the years and have encouraged one another as we have both gone our separate ways in life. If we are honest as we survey the landscape of our experience, there are numerous such events that can be traced in our lives for which we are surely thankful. Again, some would call these things coincidence, from a Christian perspective, I choose to use the term “providence.”
Thus far, at least in the immediate sense of personal satisfaction and thankfulness to someone for kindness, there is no contradiction between the atheistic worldview and said thankfulness. In fact, were an atheist choosing not to be thankful for these things, one would have to draw the conclusion that something was wrong with the person’s thinking. Yet here is where the consistency comes to an end, for how is it that someone can direct their thankfulness toward someone (or something) in which he does not believe? Let me explain.
If I am given a gift, while I am thankful for the gift, I will typically express that thanks toward the one from whom the gift came (to do otherwise would be considered rude). That is easy enough to do when a friend or neighbor gives something to us, but what about when providence shines its face upon our lives? To whom (or to what) does the atheist express his thanks? Arguably, one of the reasons that ancient man began worshipping idols was to solve this dilemma. At least in the stone representation of that which his imagination dictated was the source of good things, one could then direct one’s thanksgiving. Yet, the atheist does not set up idols of wood or stone.
The likely answer to this dilemma that the modern atheist will bring to the table falls into one of two categories. One view is to argue that all things are determined by a sequence of cause and effects and thus these things took place and they could not have not taken place. This worldview is referred to as “fatalism” and is a form of deterministic approach. The atheist who holds to this view ought, then, be thankful for nothing (for what happened logically must have happened and could not have been otherwise) or recognize that their thankfulness also is simply a result of chemical interactions that are a result of causes (and again could not have been otherwise), thus making the idea of thankfulness devoid of meaning (it is simply an experience). Any discussion of thanksgiving, from a fatalistic perspective, reduces itself to meaningless absurdity and is thus neither internally consistent nor helpful if one is trying to be consistent with their worldview.
The second, and arguably more palatable, solution of the dilemma as to whom shall we express our thankfulness is to argue that what I am referring to as “providence” is nothing more than pure random chance and thus, I am not thankful to chance, but thankful for chance, in turn, never directing one’s thanksgiving toward someone or something. Yet, how can one be thankful for something that is purely random? Even the craps-shooter praises “Lady Luck” for his good-fortune with the dice. It is not that which is random that we are thankful for, but we are thankful for that which guides or superintends that which is perceived to be random. Granted that the atheist will likely counter that we simply perceive someone guiding “chance events,” but our perception is little more than a figment of our own imaginations. Certainly, the question as to whether God is a figment of our imagination or not is a discussion to be pursued, but not here because this response of the atheist is meant to do little more than to distract from the question at hand: can an atheist be thankful in a meaningful way while still being consistent within his atheism. The answer to the matter must be “no,” for thankfulness must be directed outside of oneself, particularly for the events and circumstances that we have no control over. I am thankful, for example, that I was born and raised in the United States of America in a middle-class home with a family who loved me. This very fact has afforded me opportunities that I would not have had were circumstances different. Yet there is not one aspect of these circumstances that I can say that I had any control over. I might thank my parents for loving me and for their choice to reside in America, but their choice to do so was also based on events that were outside of their sphere of influence (where there were jobs, etc…).
So, where does that lead us? No, I do not expect a run of atheists coming into the church, giving up their unbelief, and accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior because their worldview has inconsistencies. Sure, it could happen, but that would be a work of the Holy Spirit, not the work of a logical argument. In addition, it should be noted that Christians are not the only ones who can appeal to this kind of argument, any religious institution that envisions their gods interacting with the lives of men can appeal in similar ways. My purpose is to appeal to what I believe is an inward desire that we each have — and that is to have a worldview that is consistent with experience, reason, and itself. I have had atheists say to me, “I am thankful for my inconsistency,” but deep down, is that a very satisfying way to live? Is intellectual inconsistency either satisfying or something to thank oneself for? I would suggest it is not and would counter that intellectual consistency is not only satisfying, but it is something we desire deep down (and ought to because we are made in the image of a God who is perfectly consistent with himself).
Cogito Ergo Sum
Descartes made his famous statement, “I think; therefore, I am,” to communicate what he held to be the most fundamental and irrefutable truth: his thought about whether or not he existed was proof that he did exist. He argued that everything else could be an illusion, but that this was the one principle that he could not deny. He would go on to argue that logically, the only way we can have any confidence that the things we believe to be true are true is to posit the existence of a good and all-powerful God, for without such a God, one could logically have no confidence that what he perceived was not part of a grand deception. In addition, combining elements of Anselm’s Ontological Argument and Aquinas’ Proof from Degrees, he posited that the idea of an all-powerful good God was inherently greater than that of an all-powerful demon, it must be that of an all-powerful God of good that we ought to expect to be in reality.
Whether one is compelled by Descartes’ logic or not, my purpose here is to raise the question about existence and non-existence in relationship to God’s creation. God, of course, is the one self-existent being that was necessary to bring into being all that is. Prior to God’s work of creation he existed in perfect blessedness and in perfect relationship within his Triune self. His creation was done not because of a need within him that had to be filled; his creation was done as a revelation of his glory and he created us to be in fellowship with him so that we might enjoy the fullness of his glory.
One of the key elements in medieval logic, that drove Anselm, Aquinas, and Descartes was the principle that existence is greater than non-existence. For most of us, that seems to be more or less a common sense position as a pound of meat in the hand of a hungry man is more valuable to him than the idea of a pound of meat. Yet, later on, there would be philosophers like Immanuel Kant who would challenge that notion, arguing that existence is not so much a quality of something that could be found cumulative with other qualities, thus making that which existed better than that which did not exist, but that existence simply was a reflection of an item’s state of being. It either does or it does not exist, with no value statement assigned either way.
Despite Kant’s insistence to the contrary, I would put forward that the medieval view that existence is greater than non-existence is closer to the Biblical standard. Certainly a God who does exist eternally and is self-existent beyond the created order is greater than one who exists only in our imaginations, for who then brought creation into being? The naturalist would argue that nature is self-existent and has always existed, but nature is un-thinking and un-reasoning and how could an unthinking and unreasoning entity produce such uniform design throughout the cosmos? From the smallest genome to the largest stellar body, complex design is evident and design demands a reasoning designer. Hence, there logically must be one who is self-existent and transcendent from nature from whom nature receives its design — once again returning us to the necessity of a self-existent God who is existent.
As we then reflect on the nature of this self-existent God, we must first note that the God of the Christian Bible is the only God that fits the description of being both transcendent and self-existent. The Hindu gods, for example, are part of the created order and are not considered to be self-existent. Similarly, one can say the same of the many spirits worshiped in various forms of shamanism and new-age philosophy. In each case, the gods are understood to exist within the natural order, not outside of it. The one potential exception to this would be Islam, which holds to a transcendent god, yet their god presents himself as a great deceiver, which of course would eliminate him from being a candidate for being absolutely “good.” Thus, as Descartes points out, without an absolutely good God, we can know nothing for sure — even the faithful Muslim will have to confess that he does not have any confidence as to whether he will go to heaven or enter into judgment. The Christian Bible would go further in its claim about a god who is a deceiver and clearly point out that he is the Devil (John 8:44) or serves the devil (2 John 7).
Thus, if the Christian God is the only candidate for a transcendent and self-existent God, we will use the Bible (God’s self-revelation) to be our rule for understanding the characteristics of this God — namely that he is not only all-powerful and self-existent, but that he is all-knowing. This attribute is essential to our discussion of existence and non-existence. For, when we state that God is all-knowing, that means that God can learn nothing — he knows and has always known from the beginning all that will ever take place. This is a position that even most Wesleyans and Calvinists can find agreement on. The Wesleyan would argue that God knows all things because he is outside of time and thus looks down upon the whole of time and observes the events of man from beginning to end, a view popularized by the philosopher Boethius. The Calvinist would argue that God knows all things because he has ordained them to take place, a view that is arguably more consistent with Paul’s use of terms like election and predestination in his epistles.
Thus, regardless of which side you may fall on the Reformed/Calvinistic vs. Wesleyan/Arminian debate, there is agreement that God knows all things within orthodox Christianity. God knows all things and in turn, can learn nothing. The implication of this is that before God entered into the act of creation, the idea of his creation and of all created history existed in his mind. Surely, were God to have thought like Kant, there would have been no need to create, for existence and non-existence are simply states of being, not qualities of value. Instead, God does not simply let the idea of a created order exist in his mind, but he chooses to create and bring into existence all that is known.
This raises an interesting thought. While there was nothing lacking within God to cause him to create, it may be suggested that there is something lacking in non-existence. The lack is not in a sinful way, for sin did not enter into the world until the fall and sin can certainly not abide in the presence of a holy God, but the principle that existence is better than non-existence implies that that which exists in reality is better than that which exists only in the mind. Thus, in creating, God redeems non-existence by bringing creation into being. In a very real sense, this makes the entire creation account a redemption story. God begins by redeeming non-existence by making it exist then continues by addressing the formlessness and void. God redeems the formlessness by giving it order in the first three days of creation and then redeems emptiness by filling it in the latter three days of creation. Existence to non-existence, order to disorder, and fullness to emptiness, God redeems each and makes them “good.”
Evidence for the Historical Jesus
Recently, I watched a debate where a critic of Christianity made the statement that there was no historical evidence to support the Jesus of the Bible that existed in Jewish literature. The Christian in the debate made a tolerable answer, but I felt that he had missed a major point of the argument. In this essay, I would like to do two things. First, I would like to pose the question as to just what does constitute historical evidence and second, what historical evidence is there in the world?
To begin with, we need to ask what constitutes “historical evidence” before we can honestly set evidence on the table for discussion. The Historical Method, which is the method used by historians to relate the history of peoples, events, and cultures can be summarized by a series of principles:
- Archaeological Relics are the most reliable witnesses to an event because they were actually present at the time the event took place.
- Primary source material is the most reliable witness, followed by secondary sources and then tertiary sources, etc…
- The more independent sources testify to an account, the more credible the account becomes.
- When looking at source data, one must take into account the sympathies, biases, and agenda of the author.
- The less biased a witness is, the more credible the witness.
These are the criteria of those who practice what is called the “Historical Critical” method, which is dominant in historical evaluation today.
In light of the above criteria, I would begin by suggesting that the Biblical text itself satisfies all of the above requirements to be considered reliable primary source data of the most credible degree. Manuscript evidence of the Bible dates back to the first century AD, during the lifetime of some of the original 12 Apostles. It is primary source data in that it records first-hand accounts of the life, the works, the teachings, the miracles, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. These early witnesses are also testified to by first and second century manuscripts, themselves constituting either primary or secondary witnesses. Given the large amount of independent sources that corroborate the Biblical account, the biases can be recognized as minimal. In additional, since all of the Biblical writers, save perhaps Luke, were Jewish, even the New Testament counts as primary Jewish source evidence. Those who reject the Bible because of its religious nature have allowed their own biases to cause them to be inconsistent in their methodology. Yet, in addition to the primary source material contained in the Bible, we additionally have references like the following to support the life and ministry of Jesus Christ:
- Josephus (a Jewish historian in the Roman court) in Antiquities, Book 18, Chapter 3 mentions Jesus as “a wise man” and a doer of “wonderful works.” Though this text is debated, here Josephus also attributes Jesus as a teacher and Christ who was executed.
- In Book 20, Chapter 9 of Antiquities, Josephus also mentions James as the brother of Jesus “who was called Christ.”
- Tacitus (a late 1st century Roman Historian) in his Annals 15.44 mentions “Christus” as the namesake of the Christians and that this Christus was executed in Judea during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of Pontius Pilate.
- Thallus (a Roman historian writing in the mid first century) records an unusual eclipse as well as an earthquake during the time of Passover in Judea. The eclipse was unusual because Passover was held at the time of the full moon where eclipses do not take place naturally.
- The Babylonian Talmud (Hebraic tradition and commentary) records that on the eve of Passover “Jeshu” was hanged. Jeshu is a Jewish name for Jesus.
- Mara Bar-Sarapion (a Stoic Philosopher in the mid to late 1st century AD from Syria wrote the following in a letter to his son: “What advantage did the Athenians gain from putting Socrates to death? Famine and plague came upon them as a judgment for their crime. What advantage did the men of Samos gain from burning Pythagoras? In a moment their land was covered with sand. What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their wise king? It was just after that that their kingdom was abolished. God justly avenged these three wise men: the Athenians died of hunger; the Samians were overwhelmed by the sea; the Jews, ruined and driven from their land, live in complete dispersion. But Socrates did not die for good; he lived on in the teaching of Plato. Pythagoras did not die for good; he lived on in the statue of Hera. Nor did the wise king die for good; he lived on in the teaching which he had given”
It should be noted that this list contains only a small sampling of the extra-Biblical evidence to the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. We have not begun to talk about some of the archaeological evidence like the “James Ossuary.” We also have deliberately kept Christian writers out of the discussion, though there are many. The bottom line is that there is an abundance of evidence to support the existence of the Historical Jesus—even in the Jewish writings. If we were to include Christian writings, layers upon layers of textual evidence would be added. Ultimately, to deny the historicity of Christ is like trying articulate a new scientific law without ever having taken the time to test it in the lab; it is intellectually dishonest. Those who deny the Bible as Historical evidence are not being honest with their methodology and the evidence that is available.
 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historical_method — footnote 1: Thurén, Torsten. (1997). Källkritik. Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell.
Does Your Location Affect Your Religion?
Recently, I heard a challenge to Christianity that was worded like this: “The only reason you identify yourself as Christian is because you were born in America; if you had been born in Iraq, you would be Muslim and if you had been born in northern India, you would be Hindu—religion is nothing more than a cultural expression of morality.” The person making the challenge was Richard Dawkins, a popular atheist in our culture today. Though I had not heard that objection worded in the same basic way, I have heard this objection of Christianity before, and thought that I would like to pose a response from two perspectives.
The first perspective is purely a practical one, for I know that there are many nominal Christian parents that are essentially banking on this principle, hoping that their children will remain Christian (at least in name), while never truly training their children up in the faith. They think that of course, America is a Christian nation, so of course, my children will remain Christians all of their life. This not only exposes a faulty understanding of Christianity (as I will mention below), but it is a dangerous assumption, for America is becoming more and more of a secular, atheistic nation, and not a Christian one. Thus, some are estimating that as many as 80% of teenagers leave the church when they hit their college years, often without returning. Don’t get me wrong, many of them still think of themselves as Christian, but their Christianity has no bearing on the way they live their lives and for all practical purposes, they are secular humanists in practice and thought.
Furthermore, many of these children will openly reject Christianity because they see how self-serving, jaded, lazy, and corrupt so many churches have become. Many embrace the atheism of their college professors, but others are embracing false religions like Islam because they are attracted to the self-discipline and rigid lifestyle that such religions offer. We should not need to be reminded that one of the reasons that the Byzantine empire fell so easily to the Muslim expansion was due to the corruption and self-seeking nature of the church—people saw its weaknesses and rejected it as diseased and dying. Such an observation has been made of much of the church in America. Thus, it is not enough that we are actively pursuing the Christian faith, it is essential for us to recognize that our children must be actively pursuing the Christian faith as well.
That is the purely practical perspective, now for the theological one… While many religions may very well be simply cultural expressions of morality, Christianity, by definition, is different. For in Christ, we are called “new creations” (2 Corinthians 5:17)—in other words, we are changed from the outside in. Christianity is not a mere self-help program, it is a total change of lifestyle that can only be accomplished if one is supernaturally changed by God—we refer to this as being “born again” (John 3:3). This change is impossible to do for oneself, but God must effectively draw us to Christ as well (John 6:44). God draws us from the world, God gives us new life, and God makes us a new creation. This is more than mere morality, it is transformation. And, it is a transformation that takes place all over the world, even in countries where you can be put to death for claiming Christ as Lord and Savior.
The sad thing is that too many Christians simply treat Christianity as a self-help program, and when that happens, they do not live like new creations and Christianity becomes nothing more than a social norm—a norm that is quickly being redefined in America.
John Calvin: Apologist for the Reformation
(This took me a while to transcribe, but what follows is the content of my lecture at the International Calvin 500 Conference, held in Moscow, Russia, this past September)
I would like to begin simply by thanking you for the opportunity to speak this day. As I stand here and listen to some of the things that have been said and talked about thus far, I realize my own inability to stand before you.
Sometimes as we receive opportunities to speak we are truly humbled by those who have given us that opportunity. At the same time, as a Calvinist, I believe in God’s sovereignty, and as someone who believes in God’s sovereignty I believe that God has brought me here by his divine hand. If this is true then despite my weaknesses then I believe that God has a message to bring through me. This was mentioned yesterday as well, but I wanted to give this as a way of reminder. That as we meet on this anniversary of Calvin’s birth, we meet not to glorify the man, but we do so to glorify the God who raised up this man to serve his church. And I believe that we can honor that God by learning from the things that this man has taught us.
The second thing I would like to do by way of introduction is to introduce my agenda. It is a dangerous thing when the speaker actually tells you why he is speaking because all of us have motives behind what we want to talk about. Oftentimes those motives go unspoken, but in this case I want to set them on the table in front of us.
We live in a world that is more and more raising up and praising the supposed virtues of atheism. We live in a world where the Christian church is seen to be irrelevant and not essential to everyday life. Though I am new to Moscow, I have spent time in Ukraine and know the difficulties that the protestants face in dealing with the Orthodox Church. So part of my agenda in choosing the topics that I did was to help equip you to show the world that the church is not irrelevant. As pastors, part of our job is to teach the church how to stand for the truth and to live that truth relevant, living it out every day. We also have a responsibility to protect our church members from being wooed back to Orthodoxy or being lulled into atheism. And I do believe that Calvin is a great person to help us do both things. Thus, my goal this day, recognizing that we cannot exhaustively explore Calvin’s apologetics, my goal is to explore elements of Calvin’s apologetics with the aim of applying them both in the west and in the east.
To accomplish this goal, I would like to look at three elements of Calvin’s apologetic approach:
- I would like to look at his writings, with a primary focus on his Lausanne Discourses and his letter to Bishop Sadolet.
- I would like at the theology of Calvin’s Doctrine of Vocation.
- I would also like to look at his emphasis on a theologically educated laity.
I have a secondary goal as well: that is to encourage you, as pastors, to write for your congregations. Now, I recognize that many of Calvin’s writings were taken down by secretaries, but the principle is there in Calvin’s theology that his words were to be heard and applied to the lives of his people. At this point we must recognize the context that Calvin was writing in—he did not have a computer to type upon, but the writing was done with a quill pen or a stylus dipped in ink. Despite that, Calvin wrote more than many people will read in their lifetimes. Also Calvin understood the principle that a shepherd does not feed his sheep only once or twice a week. But a shepherd feeds his sheep everyday. Calvin had the luxury of having daily worship services in Geneva, but that is oftentimes not an option in our contexts. Yet, if you write daily Bible studies and theological things for your congregations to read, they will read them. And you will have a means to feed your flock on a daily basis.
There is another aspect of me wanting to encourage you to write. I have a vision for a change in the names of authors in Reformed literature. As you heard yesterday and this morning, you have an honorable Reformed heritage, but most of the most well-known names in Reformed Theology are western names. We have names like Boston, Owen, Calvin, Hodge, Lloyd-Jones—these are names that are dominant in Reformed literature, and while the translation of these texts from English into Russian is a valuable resource to you, I desire to see Russian names filling the bookshelves of our theologically Reformed seminaries. You heard the challenge to learn English so that you can read more of these resources; I long to see a time when people will be saying to people in the west, “Learn Russian!” so that you can read these new Reformed theological resources.
But for that to happen it needs to begin with someone like you—so there is my challenge to set before you as we begin—Write! And write for your people, for they will read it. It is a way that you will strengthen the church and it is a means by which Calvin did just that in Geneva.
I also want to make one other comment by way of introduction, and that is a note with respect to Calvin and his role as a man of the Church. Henry Beveridge, one of Calvin’s translators, wrote: “the whole of Calvin’s life shows that zeal for the interests of the church was his ruling passion.” Calvin did not set out to go through Geneva to be their pastor—his goal was Strasburg to be a scholar, yet God had other plans for Calvin and Calvin was willing to submit to God’s will. Many in our culture, especially in the west, have seen the failures of the church and have chosen as a result to reject the church altogether. Calvin saw the failure of the Roman Catholic church of his day, but he also recognized that the failure was in man’s failure as a fallen individual.
As a result, you do not simply let the church die or give up on her. But as pastors, you need to live for her and die for her, to pour yourself out for her and to suffer for her. If you do this you will honor not only John Calvin’s memory, but you will also honor our Lord’s memory—the one who died to lay his claim upon the church.
So let us begin and speak of Calvin’s apologetics. And I want to begin by raising the question, what is an Apologia. The word, Apologia simply means, “a reasoned defense.” It is a legal term used to refer to how one would defend a view or a client in a court case. Peter uses this and applies it to our Christian life. Peter writes, “In your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense—an Apologia—to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” Yet Peter continues, “do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience so that when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.”
Too often, people who would defend the Christian faith in the world around us, do so with an arrogant and a haughty spirit. Sometimes, when you are right and you know that you are right, you find yourself in a dangerous position. I think that this is one of reasons that Calvin’s model is so valuable for us today. Because as you read Calvin’s writings against those who would challenge the Reformed faith, you do not see an arrogant man ranting and raving, but you see a man of humility speaking with grace.
Note too the reason that Peter emphasizes our apologia given with humility. He says that we are to do so that those who revile you may be put to shame. The implication that he is making here is that there are some that may be brought to Christ through our reasoned defense. But even in rebuking those that would attack the Christian faith, we do not chase them away or scare them away from the truth.
In October of 1536, about a month after Calvin had arrived in Geneva, having agreed to stay and help the city in its reforms, Farel and Viret to Calvin with them to Lausanne. Lausanne is a city about 60 Kilometers from Geneva on the other side of Lake Geneva. The purpose of this debate was to debate whether or not the Reformed teachings should be brought to Lausanne. Farel had invited representatives from the Roman Catholic Church to debate over 10 questions that Farel had drawn up.
These questions included the debate over justification, the role of Christ as sole mediator, the role of scripture as sole authority for the believer, and who would constitute the church. Calvin is there not to speak nor to debate, but simply as a witness. Yet there are two points during this discourse where Calvin found that he could not keep his peace. And at these points—October 5th and 7th, Calvin stood to speak.
On the 5th of October, they were discussing the 3rd of the 10 questions. The question was over the real presence of Christ in the elements of the Lord’s Supper. The Romanists would not only argue from the real presence, but would also accuse the Reformers of departing from the consistent teaching of the church through history.
At this point, Calvin stood and addressed the panel. He said, “I held myself absolved from speaking up until now and would have willingly abstained until the end seeing that my word is not very necessary of adding anything to the adequate replies which my brothers Farel and Viret give. And he went on the address the group of speakers. We don’t have time to explore the entirely the fullness of Calvin’s response, but let me outline some of the elements of Calvin’s defense.
Calvin begins by saying that any who would condemn the early church fathers are both arrogant and filled with contempt for God as God had raised those church fathers up to build his church. In other words, part of what he is doing is saying is that if he as the reformer is guilty of what the Romanists are accusing him of, he should be condemned.
He continues and assumes for the sake of argument that our primary obligation is to submit to scripture as those church fathers submitted to scripture. He says that this accusation that they are making is nothing more than their failure to understand the Reformation. He went on to say, in addition, if one would take time to examine the Church fathers, they would find that the Fathers would support the Reformation position and not the Roman Catholic position. One could even, by extension, take the argument to the next step that the church fathers did not support the Eastern Orthodox view of the real presence of Christ in the elements.
Calvin continued on to cite from memory passages from the church fathers. He cites Tertullian’s refutation of Marcion; Chrysostom’s unfinished commentary on Matthew; then he goes on to exhaustively cite Augustine and his writings. He cites from Augustine’s Epistle 23, from Against Adamantius the Manichee, Homily on the Gospel of John, and continues on from several other letters of Augustine.
Then he poses the question toward the Romanists, speaking to Dr. Blancherose, a leader of the Romanist position, and now you explain your position in light of the Scriptural teaching and of the Church fathers. Before he closes, Calvin goes on to defend the Protestant position of the spiritual presence of Christ in the elements. He does so by comparing Matthew and Mark’s recording of the Last Supper to Luke and Paul’s recording of the same. Where he sees in Matthew in Mark Jesus saying, “this is my blood”, Luke and Paul record Jesus as saying, “this is the new testament in my blood.” And then making the argument that even though Matthew and Mark are not recording it in the same way, that there is a clear understanding that this is to be symbolic, not a real presence in the Lord’s Supper.
Let’s make several observations from the way in which John Calvin refutes the Roman Catholic representatives. First is the gracious and humble nature with which Calvin approached the Roman criticism. The Romanists had been calling the reformers both apostate and ignorant of the Church Fathers. They were essentially saying that the Reformers had no idea what they were talking about and rather than getting upset and responding in anger, Calvin responds in grace and humility.
Calvin goes on to demonstrate not only his knowledge of scripture but also his knowledge of the church fathers. What he is essentially doing is taking the things that the Romanists are appealing to and using their own words to dismantle their arguments. Calvin was demonstrating that the church fathers were the allies of the Reformation and not of the Roman Catholic church.
That is something that is very important to recognize in our own ministries. Often our tendency is to read and study only those who agree with the positions we hold. But if we are going to make an effective apologetic for what we know to be true in the world around us, we need to be educated in the ideas and thoughts of those who will attack what we know to be true. At the same time, we need to do so from a position of having been educated on a foundation of truth.
Calvin demonstrates in his response that he is well read and well versed in the breadth of all of the teachings that are out there. And that is something that we need to do as pastors and as apologists for the church in this community. It is also worth noting that not only did Calvin impress those to whom he was addressing with his knowledge of the church fathers, but some of the bishops who had been accusing Calvin of not knowing the church fathers actually confessed that they had never read the church fathers in the first place, but their knowledge of the church fathers was only a secondhand knowledge taught to them by somebody else.
We will come back to this idea, but Calvin also expresses an apologetic that is grounded in solid and clear theology. One of the problems that we find in the west is that those who are our “apologists” are not necessary theologians. What Calvin is demonstrating is that to be an effective apologist, you must have a clear understanding of theology.
The second point in which Calvin stood up to speak (2 days later) is a much shorter response. Question number 8 in the discussion dealt with the power of the civil magistrate. But in the discussion the question of Hildebrand had come up. Oftentimes Hildebrand is giving credit for formalizing the doctrine of transubstantiation that the Roman Catholics hold. But if you look back at church history, one of the things you will find is that Hildebrand is one of the most corrupt and abusive Popes of history. Another element of Calvin’s apologetic comes out here in his response. Calvin poses the question as to whether one should trust a doctrine created by one who is personally morally corrupt. In other words, he is asking the question, “Do you separate the life of the man from his theology?” Calvin’s argument is, “no.” That as one looks at a man’s theology one must also be looking at their theology and if the lifestyle of the man is corrupt, his theology should be questioned.
How too that as pastors we need to demonstrate how we live our lives in our communities.
The second discourse I want to deal with is his letter with the Cardinal James Sadolet. In 1539, shortly after Calvin and Farel’s banishment from Geneva, the Roman Catholic Church sought to draw the church of Geneva back to Rome. The church itself did not quite know how to respond to Sadolet’s letter of invitation. Their first response was to send a letter to the churches in Bern to ask them to respond on their behalf. When Bern did not respond, Calvin was asked to write a letter of response.
I want to just highlight this for a moment because this is a man who has just been kicked out of his church and they are asking him to write a letter in their defense; I wonder how many pastors today would be willing to do just that. It is a demonstration not only of Calvin’s humble personality but also of his understanding of the role of the pastor. The pastor was pastor over his people even if he had been removed and exiled from his people and thus he chose to continue to serve those who had kicked him out of the city and he responded to Sadolet’s letter.
As we seek to understand the dialogue that goes back and forth, you have to understand part of Sadolet’s approach. He begins by using language of affection for the people of Geneva and setting forth the claim that Rome is the only source where they will find peace. Calvin sees through the ruse very quickly and points out that Sadolet had never had any interests in Geneva prior to this time. But Sadolet went on and accused Calvin and Farel of sedition and said that they were “assailing the authority of the church.”
This language of authority is the key concept in Sadolet’s letter. Essentially what Sadolet is arguing for is the authority of the church to interpret scripture and the authority of tradition to set forth truth in the lives of people. He even goes as far as to use reformational language, largely designed to disarm the Genevese senate. Sadolet speaks of having offered salvation through faith alone, but at the same time he speaks out of one side of his mouth sounding like a reformer, he speaks out of the other side of his mouth as well. He says that faith in Christ alone is essential for salvation, but why stop there, but faith is only a beginning and to be genuinely worthy of salvation, one must also have works.
There are numerous theologies today which try to do the same basic thing that Sadolet is suggesting, existing both in the east and in the west. They pay lip service on one side to salvation by faith alone in Jesus Christ but they try and sneak in human works by the back door. Yet the Apostle Paul wrote that God did not permit works so that no man may boast. And these theologies that deviate from salvation by faith alone is something that we need to guard ourselves and our churches against.
But Sadolet goes on and portrays the church as the anchor of Christian faith and thus for the Reformers to separate themselves of Rome is portrayed as a deep and dreadful sin of preposterous false religion. In the end, they are separated both from God and the Anchor of their faith which is considered to be the church, not Jesus Christ.
He goes on to appeal to the majority of the people in history (as he says), who have held to this Roman Catholic interpretation of scripture. And he says that if all of these people have understood it one way before, how do you know that you can trust this Calvin and the Reformers who understand it differently. Essentially what he is saying is that the Bible is too difficult for people to understand on their own, but to understand the Bible you need to be trained, equipped, and learned to understand it. This is the same basic principle that kept the Bible out of the hands of the layman for centuries on end.
One of the things that the Reformers understood was that when you read Scripture yourself, the lies of the Roman Catholic Church became clear. Sadolet even goes as far in his argument to suggest that the church cannot err in its interpretation of Scripture and if there might be errors, those errors must be in scripture and not in the church’s interpretation of scripture.
After he goes continues on this long discourse, making many slanderous comments about Calvin, though not by name, he closes by saying that he will agree to mediate between them and God if they will return to Rome. In other words, he is saying that the individuals themselves have no ability to come before God’s throne in light of their sins but we need Bishops and the church to do that on our behalf.
Yet, scripture is very clear that Christ and Christ alone is the only mediator between God and man.
So it is to this letter that Calvin begins to respond. Some have argued that this response of Calvin was the greatest apologetic of the Reformation. In spite of personal criticism, Calvin maintains a humble approach to Sadolet. And he writes that it is the duty of the pastor to defend his flock even while in exile. He almost goes as far as to apologize for the letter he is about to write. Sadolet was a respected scholar of his day and Calvin understood that his response to Sadolet would demonstrate Sadolet’s own ignorance of the Reformation and would show that Sadolet neither understood scripture nor the church fathers.
Calvin writes that it is with great reluctance that I bring forward your name before the learned world and address to you the following postulation. He continues that though he apologizes for essentially defaming Sadolet, he refuses to apologize for the Reformation.
I think that it is important to stop here and make an observation. Too many people in the west are more concerned with their standing than with the truth. In turn they end up sacrificing a great deal of truth to preserve their unity and their fellowship. Calvin understood that when one sacrifices the truth one sacrifices and compromises the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That would also compromise his call as a pastor.
Thus, though he is very gracious in the way he addresses his letter back to Sadolet, he refuses to compromise the truth that he is about to write. Calvin also refuses to attack the character of Sadolet, only Sadolet’s ideas as being insidious. When you get into debates with people, the temptation is to attack the person and the person’s character—it is much more difficult to attack the person’s ideas. One of the things that Calvin demonstrates is not slandering but dealing with the ideas as they are printed on paper.
Calvin’s apologetic here essentially elevates Scripture as the authority over top of church tradition. What he ultimately says is that the Genevese movement away from the Roman Catholic church is simply a reflection of them having been faithfully taught the scriptures. Here he is giving credit not to himself but to Farel and those who led the way or paved the road for him in Geneva. It is also a reminder to us of how important Calvin viewed the role of preaching faithfully God’s word. There is a temptation that pastors faith—to want to be popular—to want to have people come and listen to them as they preach. And Calvin is saying that we need to forget this philosophy in our preaching because the only way to become a popular preacher is to seek not to offend. We cannot sacrifice faithfully preaching God’s word. At the same time, when we do not sacrifice the preaching of God’s word, change will come and God will bring reformation and revival in His own time. And this is what Calvin is looking back at as he looks at the city of Geneva as they have moved away from the Roman Catholic Church.
Calvin then works systematically through Sadolet’s letter and then illustrates the logical errors and inconsistencies in each of his arguments. It is interesting for us to note where Calvin begins because he begins with what we, in Presbyterian circles, call the Regulative Principle of Worship. In other words, scripture regulates everything that we do in worship.
I think that emphasizes some of the things that Calvin holds to be important to the life of the Church. Oftentimes Calvin is thought of as the theologian of the Reformation, and he indeed was, but he is a theologian of worship. He saw the role of worship of God’s people as essential an that if our theology does not lead us into worship and equip us to worship better, our theology is wrong.
He begins this section by posing the question—which is the true Church, the Roman Catholic Church or the Reformed church? As he looks at this Regulative principle of worship and at the marks of the true church, he concludes that it is the Reformed church that is the true church. And Calvin demonstrates that the Roman Catholic church has moved away from Scripture and the tradition of the church fathers. In other words, it is the Roman Catholic Church that has moved away from fellowship and the Reformers and the ones who are preserving the true faith.
Calvin also mentions how he mentions how he longs for a day of ecclesiastical unity, that the church may indeed may be once again be one body, but only under God’s word, and not under man made traditions that are followed by the church.
So Calvin demonstrates a lot about apologetics in the way he approaches his writings, but Calvin also does not end his apologetic method or approach with his writings themselves. Calvin also applies his apologetics to actions in life. We have already demonstrated how Calvin is a student of the early church fathers. And in his apologetic writings he is following in the tradition of those like Quadratus who wrote to Hadrian to end the persecution of the church. And also in the line of those like Tertullian who wrote that Christians are an asset to the empire and not a threat.
As I was listening to pastor Ten speak earlier this morning, I heard this language coming out; he is looking at the benefits that the Reformed people brought to Russia. He was lamenting the fact that we as the church are not given credit for that—in a sense giving a call to all of us and particularly to you as pastors to speak to those over you and to say to them that we are a benefit to you and to your communities.
One of the questions that I am constantly asking the Ruling Elders of my church is this: If the church closed its doors and disappeared tomorrow, would the community notice? All too often the answer that churches give is that the community would not notice their disappearance. My challenge to you is the same challenge I give to my Ruling Elders every time we meet as a session. Be intentional about way you live and the way you exist. Be a benefit to your community in such a way that they see you as relevant to what you are doing and even if they don’t agree with you or hold to the Christian faith, they should see your presence as beneficial to the community.
One of the churches that I preached in many years ago when I was in seminary was built by an unbeliever. Yet he had the honest belief that if his community that he was establishing would continue, it needed a Presbyterian church. My prayer is that your communities (even non-believers in your communities) would think the same way. Like these early church fathers, Calvin, too, said that Christians were an important part of their society.
And he went on to teach about how the church is to live faithfully within that society. This is what we sometimes call the doctrine of vocational calling. The Roman Catholics taught that the only ones who were called by God to serve were the priests. Calvin taught that regardless of your occupation and the work you do, you are called by God to do it. That if you are a farmer, God had called you to be that farmer. That if you were an officer in the church or in the city government, God had called you to that as well. That work in itself is good and it is given by God no matter how dignified nor how menial that calling. And if God has given you work to do, it is a holy calling to work out in our lives.
In a sense, part of this is not only to encourage us to work harder and to work to the glory of God, but part of this is also an apologetic in lifestyle. In the passage we read from in 1 Peter earlier this afternoon, Peter is talking about how we live out our lives in every context despite the persecution we may face and we are to live in a dignified and honorable way so that when we are reviled, others will be drawn to Christ. That they will look at is, with the hope that we have, despite our condition and they will scratch their heads and ask how that person can be happy despite what that person may be doing. Calvin understood that when Christians live out their faith in their work, that the communities around them will recognize the value of having Christians in their midst. And not only will they cease persecution but will also open up doors to practice faith more freely.
If you want to bring change in Russia, one of the ways that you will do so is by teaching your people to live out their holy callings in life. And if you teach them to live out their work to the Glory of God they will draw others to Christ and will open gateways for the church to grow and flourish. As Christians, we need to live to a higher standard because God is who we serve, not man. And that we are thankful and joyful at whatever provision that God gives us both for our provision and for our lives.
Think about it in the most basic of terms. What kind of people do you prefer to have around you during the day? Do you want cheerful people or grumpy ones? Cheerful people make work more pleasant no matter how dirty that work may be, and again the gospel is spread.
In the time I have left, I want to make one more observation about Calvin’s view on apologetics. That is the importance that Calvin placed on education. The Roman Catholic church kept theological education to a few, Calvin instead opened it up to the masses. The Roman Catholic church taught ritual whereas Calvin taught scripture. Calvin did so through his personal teachings on the Bible and through his writings.
In addition, in 1559, Calvin opened the Genevan Academy to train believers to do whatever they were called to do. This was a school not open only to those training for the ministry but to everyone in the city. By Calvin’s death, 5 years after the opening of the school, there were 1200 students in the college alone and an additional 300 were in the seminary training to be pastors. Of course, many of those pastors would go back to France to face the persecution that was taking place there. An interesting side note is that Thomas Jefferson, an early American president, actually tried to buy the college Calvin began and move it to America. Jefferson believed that such a university would benefit the new country called America.
And obviously the college was not moved, but a similarly designed college was established.
I am convinced that this is the kind of mindset that you want to nourish in your church. You do not want a congregation of people who will just come to speak to you every week. But you want a congregation like the Bereans, faithfully seeking out God’s word, digging into it to find out what is going on. You want a congregation that is hungry and eager to understand God’s word and learn God’s truth. Some pastors consider that a threat because as a pastor that means you need to be well versed and study yourself. But if you hold that mindset, shame on your…we need to be the teachers of God’s people and to nourish in them a spirit that wants to know God’s truth. And we want them asking difficult questions—that helps to teach us that they are drawing upon spiritual truth as well.
And you especially need to train up the men in your church. One of the weak parts of the church in America is that it is dominated by women. This is not to knock the faith or the prayers of the ladies who are in our churches, but we need men who are hungry for God’s word and theology who will lead and teach their families. And that will only happen if you teach and emphasized the teaching in terms of the lives of the men of your church.
There is a lot more that we could talk about in terms of Calvin’s Apologetics. We could talk about Calvin’s style of worship and how worship itself is an apologetic tool. But I set that into your lives and for your responsibility for further study; I simply want to set before you three basic goals:
1. Be prepared to defend your church as pastors; there are bears and their lions out there in the world that are seeking to devour and destroy.
2. As a shepherd of God’s fold you have a responsibility to protect them, but you have a responsibility to feed or teach them as well. Part of that is through educating them and through teaching them a lifestyle that will draw others to Christ and ease the persecution on the church.
3. We also have a responsibility to educate your people. Teach them from the pulpit every opportunity that you get. Teach them through your lifestyle every time they are looking at you. And write for them so that you will teach them when you are apart.
No Nice Christians!
I don’t want any nice Christians in our church! In fact, I don’t want to see nice Christians anywhere in the world! Okay, now that I have your attention, let me explain what I mean. The English word, “nice,” comes from the Latin word “nescire.” Nescire has as its root word, “scio,” which is the verb, “to know.” The “ne” prefix negates the term. Thus, the term “nescire” means “to not know” or “to be ignorant.” When the term originally came into Middle English, it meant the equivalent of “stupid.” Over time, the usage of the term changed from being stupid to being unthreatening (someone who knows nothing is not a threat!) to being pleasant to be around. Slowly, the term continued to change in its usage to the way we use the term today (pleasant or agreeable).
Thus, at least in the original sense of the word, I don’t want to see nice Christians in my congregation or even in the world. I want Christians to know what they believe and why they believe what they believe. I want them to be strong enough in what they do know to stand against those who would challenge their beliefs. In fact, I would argue that part of the reason the American church is in the mess that it is in is because of nice Christians—at least in the original sense of the term.
God speaks of this very thing through the prophet Hosea. In the fourth chapter of Hosea, God begins by lamenting that there is no knowledge of God in the land (Hosea 4:1) and as a result, the people’s lives are filled by swearing, lying, adultery, and bloodshed (Hosea 4:2). And when we get to verse six of the same chapter, God makes a devastating statement: “My people are ruined because they are without knowledge.” In other words, the knowledge of God (understanding that true knowledge comes through a relationship with God—Proverbs 1:7) is what keeps us healthy and whole as God’s people—it prevents us from utter ruin.
But look at what else Hosea records in this verse: “Because you have rejected knowledge, so I reject you from being a priest to me; and because you have forgotten the law of your God, I will also forget your children.” This is covenantal language, as when God makes his promises to his people, he consistently makes them with their posterity (Genesis 12:7; 17:19; Deuteronomy 12:28; Acts 2:39), thus the threat of discipline is not only pronounced against God’s people, but also against the generations that will follow them. In addition, Jesus uses similar language in Matthew 10:32-33, where he says that those who confess him, he will confess before his Father and those who deny him, he too will deny—all connected to the lack of knowledge of Him.
Now, it is fair to say that as Christians, we ought to be pleasant people to be around, but pleasant should not be our goal—loving should. So nice really should not be something that we strive for as an attribute even in the modern usage of the term. More importantly, though, we should strive to be knowledgeable in the things of God. To cite the old King James language, “study to show yourselves approved” (2 Timothy 2:15) because the Scriptures are profitable to prepare you for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Strive never to be nice—be loving, but also be knowledgeable in the Truth so that you will always be prepared to make a reasoned defense of the hope you have within you (1 Peter 3:15).
Why Doesn’t God Just Obliterate the Devil and thus Get Rid of Evil?
Why doesn’t God just obliterate the Devil?
One of the projects that we engage in at Rocky Bayou Christian School is that of helping to train students how to defend their faith when it is challenged. One of the ways in which we do so is to pose questions to the student body that challenge the faith and then challenge them to write out a response for a prize. Each of these questions are drawn from atheistic websites, blogs, books, or movies to ensure that the questions we use are ones actually being presented by unbelievers.
This month’s question is, “Why doesn’t God just obliterate the Devil and thus get rid of evil—and if he can, what is he waiting for?” The question itself comes from the trailer for Bill Mayer’s new movie, “Religulous.” The movie is presented as a documentary—more a “mock-u-mentary,” designed to poke fun at religious people. In his interview on Larry King Live this past August, Mayer gives the motivation for asking this question. Mayer states that religion is “the ultimate hustle,” that Christian leaders “need” the Devil, “because if God got rid of the devil—and he could because he is all-powerful—then there is no fear, there is no reason to come to church, there is no reason to pass the plate, we are all out of a job…” This statement falls on the heels of the comment, “at some point, mankind is going to have to shed this skin (Religion) if he is going to move forward. I do have a serious intellectual problem with it, and on another level, it just ticks me off…”
It is worth making one more comment about the interview on an indirectly related note: when speaking about the afterlife and the Christian’s view that we know what will happen to us after we die, Mayer makes a wonderfully true comment. Mayer states, “unless a God told you personally what happens to you when you die, it all came from another person with no more mental powers than you.” And that is exactly the point. God did come and tell us what will happen to us when we die, and he tells us the way that leads to eternal life, which is through a relationship with Jesus Christ, and the way that leads to death, which is the way that Mayer seems to have chosen to pursue—to reject Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. And we have these words of God recorded for us in the Bible.
How do we know that the Bible is the Word of God and not the writings of men, as I would presume Mayer would assert? While my point here is not to present a full defense for the inspiration and inerrancy of the Holy Scriptures (as others have written excellent volumes on just that subject), let me set forth several basic points.
The first thing that we must present is that the Bible itself claims to be God’s word. Now, your initial response very well may be to assert that a statement like this is circular reasoning. And on some level, it is. But let us pose the question, what might be true about the Bible if this statement about it being God’s word is true? We would expect, were it written by God, that all of the facts that it contains are true. And indeed, while evolutionists would assert that the creation story is untrue, evolution is a theory based on a speculation of the order of events. The “mountains” of evidence that so many evolutionists point toward are illusory, and Creation Scientists can present interpretations of the evidence that are arguably more compelling than the evolutionary models, and which are consistent with Scripture. If you doubt this, try getting a college Biology professor to agree to debate with a Creation Scientist—you will find it to be a rather challenging task. The Creation Scientists are willing, but the evolutionists are not—basic logic should tell you that they are hiding something if they are unwilling to engage in such debates.
But let us look at events that are clearly documented in history. What we find when we examine the archaeological evidence is that there is nothing to contradict the historical Biblical account. In addition, when we compare Biblical records of historical events with extra-Biblical documents of the same age, we find once again that there are no contradictions. There are more textual accounts, for example, to the life of Jesus than there are for example to the life of Julius Caesar, but no-one doubts that Julius Caesar lived, nor do they doubt the historicity of his writings.
In addition, we might not only expect that the history that the Bible records is accurate, but we might also expect that the things that it foretells is also accurate. Now, certainly all of the things that the Bible foretells have not yet come to pass, but there are hundreds upon hundreds of prophesies that the Bible did foretell that did come to pass. For example, Isaiah prophesied that the man who would be used of God to return the exiles to Jerusalem would be named Cyrus (Isaiah 45:1), a prophesy that was given roughly 200 years before the event took place. There are numerous prophesies that are given about the coming Messiah as well—that he was to be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14), that a forerunner would be sent (Malachi 3:1), that he would be rejected by his people (Psalm 118:22-23), numbered with transgressors (Isaiah 53:12), that the soldiers would divide Jesus’ garments (Psalm 22:18), and that in his death his bones would not be broken, but his side pierced (Exodus 12:46, Zechariah 12:10). We could go on, as there are many more, but as a friend of mine who used to be in the meat packing industry regularly says, “If the sample is true and free from bacteria, the whole lot is likely true and free from bacteria.” In other words, to prove that a tree has roots you don’t need to dig up every tree, but only a representative sample. Time after time, it can be documented that Biblical prophesies have come to pass. By every scientific measure, then, one must accept the validity of the whole.
One might also suggest that if the Bible were written by God himself, it would be true and without contradictions. And indeed, that is exactly the case. It is granted that there are some people who would point out that the Bible does seem to contradict itself on occasion, but in each of these cases, the contradictions are only apparent ones noted from a surface reading of the text. Reasonable explanations can be given for each of these apparent contradictions. One thing that we have learned from the discipline of forensic science is that in crimes, oftentimes very unusual events take place. And while a crime may at first seem to have taken place in one way, when all of the evidence is examined, rational explanations can be given for why the initial assumptions were wrong. If one is going to seek to say that the Bible contradicts itself, all of the evidence, both internal and external, must be examined before any rational conclusions can be reached. I suggest that once that examination is made, the Scriptures will be recognized to be internally consistent.
Though I don’t mean to belabor the point, but I want to make several more practical observations about the Bible that only seek to affirm that it is God’s word. First of all, one of the things that separate the Bible from mythic and religious writings of the ancient times is that it gives accurate names as well as detailed historical as well as geographical information. Most ancient religious documents are rather vague when it comes to such details so that they cannot be refuted. The Bible presents this kind of information, and as noted above, it is not found in error when challenged. Secondly, the Bible has had a greater impact on the events of worldwide history in a way that no other book can claim. Nations have risen and fallen around the contents and teachings of this book. Philosophies have emerged with the contents of this book as their foundations. The bible is the most widely-read book in history and even non-believers have benefited from its insights and wisdom into human nature. In addition, people have been willing to die for the veracity of this book in a way that no other book can claim in history. And finally, on a very pastoral note, the Bible has the ability to bring peace to a dying person’s heart unlike any other book in human history. When folks are on their deathbeds, they typically do not ask for someone to read from Shakespeare’s sonnets, but regularly ask to have some of the Psalms read to them. This again is a sign that the words of this book transcend humanity and are found to be of divine origin. No other book, religious or secular, can claim the authority that the Bible claims for itself, and it is irrational to ask for a higher authority to attest to the divinity of the Bible than God himself because God himself is the highest authority—and He claims thousands of times in the scriptures that these words are his own. If you doubt that this book is truly God’s word, I challenge you to sit down and give the Bible an honest read from cover to cover, examining the evidence for and against, before you seek to challenge its authority.
Now, as to answering Mayer’s specific question about why God does not destroy the Devil and thus rid the world of evil? To answer this question well, there are several things we need to take into account. First of all, there is an important distinction that needs to be made between the Devil and evil in the sense that even if the Devil were to cease to exist tomorrow, there would still be evil in the world. The name “Devil” comes from the Greek term, dia/boloß (diabolos), which literally refers to one who engages in slander against another (certainly something that Mayer is guilty of when it comes to God). In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, dia/boloß (diabolos) is typically used to translate !j’f’ (Satan), which means, “accuser.” Satan is described as the accuser of the faithful (Zechariah 3:1-2; Job 1) and one who incites to sin (1 Chronicles 21:1). The Devil, in turn, is described as tempter (Matthew 4:1), enemy of God (Matthew 13:39), betrayer (John 6:70), murderer and Father of Lies (John 8:44), oppressor of God’s people (Acts 10:38), enemy of righteousness (Acts 13:10), the one who sets snares for God’s people (1 Timothy 3:7), and the father of those who make a practice of sinning (1 John 3:7-10). Ultimately it will be the devil and those who serve him who will be thrown into the lake of fire to be tormented eternally (Revelation 20:10,15). Thus, in a sense, part of Meyer’s answer is answered. God has promised that he will destroy the devil, but such will not take place until all of God’s elect have been brought to faith (arguably Christ’s return is keyed to the death of the last martyr [Revelation 7:11]).
Before I address the question of evil and it being taken out of the world, I want to address the follow-up question that Meyer posed—what is God waiting for? In other words, the question can be rephrased—why doesn’t God just get on with it? In a sense, the answer was given just above—God is waiting for the final predestined believer to come to faith/the last martyr to give his life for the Holy faith. To understand this better, it is important to look at how Peter addressed this very question in his second epistle. Peter was dealing with those who were scoffing and saying “nothing has changed since the old days—where is this God of yours?” It is almost as if Peter were writing to Mayer on this very issue—or perhaps Mayer isn’t overly creative in asking questions. Peter states that the reason God is taking what seems to us to be a long time is not because God is slow to act, but because God is patient, being willing to endure the mocking and scoffing of unbelievers until the very last member of his elect has been brought to faith (2 Peter 3:8-10). Thus, in God’s eternal decree before the foundation of the earth, when he chose his elect throughout history (Ephesians 1:4), God also determined to stay his hand of eternal judgment long enough for the very last believer would be brought to faith—he will not lose even one of those who he has so ordained to become his own (John 10:28).
Finally, we are left with the question of evil. The first thing to note is that while the concept of sin is related to the concept of evil, they are not synonymous. The Old Testament word for sin derives from the Hebrew verb aj’x’ (chata), which means to miss the mark or target that one is aiming at. Thus, sin is missing the mark of God’s righteous character or not being able to live up to his standard. In turn, the antonym of sin is righteousness. In contrast, the Hebrew word for evil is [r: (ra), and it is typically used as the antonym of bAT (tov), or “good.” Deuteronomy 30:15 presents this contrast quite clearly where Moses presents the people with the following statement: “See, I put before you this day the life and the good—the death and the evil.” In other words, that which is good and that which is evil are seen as the necessary results of obedience or disobedience respectively, or in the context of our discussion—good and evil are the results of a righteous lifestyle or a sinful lifestyle. One might take the concept one step farther, understanding the fall of mankind as described in Genesis 3 as the entrance of evil into the world, that good is ultimately reflected in what it was like to live in an unfallen world and evil is reflected in what it is like to live in a fallen world.
So why does God permit us to live in a world that is less than perfect and is often filled with evil rather than with good? Admittedly, such a time is only for a season, for there will come a time when Jesus will return and remake the heavens and the earth free from the effects of evil—restoring the world to an unfallen state, but with one catch—we will no longer be able to fall into sin. Yet, for now, we live in a fallen world and not only do we sin, but we are forced to endure not only evil people all around us, but also evil events that take place—events that are reflective of the fall of mankind. So why does a good God permit such evil? First of all, God permits such to go on in the world around us to remind us of the effects of our sinful actions and hopefully compel us to grieve over our own sin as well as the sins of others. Secondly, evil in the world around us stands as a constant testimony against the secular humanists and almost every other religious system. Most religions and the secular humanists believe that deep down mankind is good and that it will only truly become good when it “sheds the skin” of religion and moves forward apart from God. The Bible tells us quite the opposite. We are born in sin (Psalm 51:5) and we pursue sin (Romans 3:10-12) with all of our strength apart from a movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives. If mankind were good, then mankind would be perfecting itself and wars and political oppression and greed would come to an end. Yet we are sinners, and thus we stumble and fall into sin. Mankind is fallen and evil is a constant testimony to that fallenness. A final reason for God’s permission of evil in the world is that he uses evil to strengthen Christians in their faith. Facing evil, trials, and tribulations force us to draw closer to God and to rely on his strength and thus grow in our relationship to him.
In other words, for the Christian, while evil is something that we never desire to enter into our lives, when it does, such evil things are not necessarily bad. In fact, in many cases, the scriptures remind us that it is good to face evil things so long as we are relying upon God, for such cases will grow us to be stronger in our relationship with Jesus Christ. One final note—while the final destruction of the Devil will not take place before the second coming of our Lord, Jesus did once and for all time defeat the power of the devil upon the cross of Calvary. Yet, though Satan has been defeated, we must endure for a little while longer while God works out his plan in the world.
In a nutshell—God does has already destroyed the Devil and has promised to cast him in the lake of fire in the end times. Second, God is waiting for the last of the elect to come to faith and/or the last martyr to die. Third, even if the Devil were thrown into the pit tomorrow, we would still have evil in the world due to the fall of man and man’s sin—something that can only be remedied through a relationship with Jesus Christ. Fourth, evil is not always bad though it is always unpleasant. God often uses evil to bring about his work in this world as well as using it to sanctify and mature us in the faith.
Strengths and Weaknesses of Proofs for God’s Existence from General Revelation
This is just a small sampling of the many proposed “proofs” for God’s existence drawn from General Revelation; there are many more that we could spend our time reviewing. Yet, these six do a good job demonstrating the strengths and weaknesses of such proofs. The strength of the proof is that it demonstrates the truth of Romans 1 and Psalm 14 (as well as many other places) where the Bible states that even natural man is able to recognize that there is a God that is greater than him. And by definition, if there is one who is greater than you who has created you, you have an obligation to him. Thus, in refusing to worship the one true God, man knows that he is condemned in sin. Hence, human responsibility to live acceptable lives before this God is affirmed indirectly by these proofs.
The weakness of the proof is that it does not explain who this God is, it does not teach us how we may come into relationship with him, and it does not teach us what are obligations toward that God are or how our past failure to fulfill our obligations to him may be redressed. I daresay that another weakness of this argument, at least from a purely naturalistic or secularistic perspective, is that these arguments assume a God like whom the Bible describes. For a conclusion to be valid, the premise must be valid. We need scripture to affirm the premise of an infinite God who is the creator, designer, or first mover in a meaningful way. Anselm’s definition of that which is “greater” is a definition, for example, that assumes benevolence to be a necessary aspect. Yet, what of one who defines “greater” in terms of maliciousness? Even Anselm’s definition, then, is predicated on the Biblical idea of God. These proofs demonstrate why it is so essential to begin with the presuppositional stance of Biblical inspiration as defined earlier.
Limitations of General Revelation:
Thus, one can argue from General Revelation that God exists, which is consistent with what Paul teaches about General Revelation in Romans 1:20. What else may we discern from General Revelation? We can discern something of the orderly and moral nature of God from the orderly way the creation functions and behaves. We can also observe that we are created to be religious, as everywhere and in every culture, religion of one form or another arises. More will be said on this when we speak of Anthropology, but let it suffice to say that given the evidence around us, man is a moral and religious creature. Finally, we must confess that General Revelation is rather insufficient for any system of thought, either religious or otherwise. General Revelation is dependent upon our ability to interpret evidence, something that is limited first by our fallen and finite minds and second by our ability to observe the world around us. How many scientific principles have changed through the years when advances in technology allowed us to observe something that was previously unobservable. The electron microscope, for example, revolutionized the study of the cell and turned the scientific world on its head. Prior to this discovery, the cell was thought to be a simple organism, and in fact, the whole Darwinian theory of evolution was based on the premise that the cell was simple and not complex, easily able to be mutated and adapted into different things. This is clearly not the case, as electron microscopes have allowed us to look into the cell and discover that they are far more complex than even the most intricate factories or machines that humans have ever made. In fact, human machines pale in comparison to the complexity of what was once thought of as a “simple” cell. As a result, there is a move within the scientific establishment away from evolution back to the idea of Intelligent Design. Many Intelligent Design proponents are not willing to admit to the designer being the God of the Bible, but they at least recognize that we are created by design and not random chance. As a result of this one invention, more than 100 years of science has been shown to be faulty and scientists must begin again in making their arguments. Like science, psychology and philosophy are in a constant state of flux. Thus, if General Revelation is insufficient, then what must we have if we are to walk faithfully before God in this world?
The answer to the limitation of General Revelation is Special Revelation, or, revelation that comes directly from God. We have already demonstrated, by the weakness of General Revelation, that Special Revelation is essential. Without Special Revelation, we would have no way to understand the fullness of God’s nature, the depravity of our sinful state, the means to which man may enter into a relationship with the creator God, or the means by which we may be redeemed from our wretched estate of sin. Without Special Revelation, we truly would have no meaningful way to understand the world, for Special Revelation provides us with a lens to look through that is not distorted by the effects of the fall. In fact, Special Revelation is the only undistorted lens by which we may see and understand even the things in the scientific world clearly and properly. Mankind did not need to invent the electron microscope to know that the cell was a complex entity and thus all things were made by a Grand Intelligence. God told us as much in Genesis 1 and 2.
Anselm’s Ontological Proof for the Existence of God based on General Revelation
Anselm’s Ontological Proof
In dealing with the question of naturalistic proofs for God’s existence, we must not fail to discuss Anselm and his Ontological argument. Anselm predated Aquinas by about 200 years, so clearly, Aquinas is responding to Anselm’s idea that the reality of God’s existence could be proven by looking at General Revelation. It is worth noting that through history there have been many, including people like Thomas Aquinas and Immanuel Kant who have felt they have undone Anselm’s argument, but in reality, these critiques fall short of refuting Anselm’s proof—hence it is still discussed today. Again, this is not designed to prove the God of the Bible, but simply that God, as an infinitely greater being, does exist. He was simply seeking to develop the language of Psalm 14:1, “The foolish one says in his heart that there is no God.”
- Anselm begins by presenting a definition of God. God, he says, is a being greater than which no greater being can be conceived. Again, this argument is not designed to prove the God of the Bible, but that there is a God who is infinite and above all else. One might take issue with Anselm’s definition, suggesting, as many today do, that we can have a plethora of Gods depending on culture and preference, yet, why would one bother worshipping one God of many, who is at best equal to others and likely less than some? This hardly seems like the definition of a god worthy of worship. The one worthy of worship and veneration is the one whom above which there is no other. Why accept a cheap counterfeit when you can have the genuine article?
- Given this definition, Anselm argues that there are only two possible candidates for “God.”
- This infinitely perfect being exists, but he only exists as an idea. Yet, what is greater than an infinitely perfect God who exists as an idea? It is an infinitely perfect God that exists in reality.
- Thus, the second candidate is an infinitely perfect being, greater than which none can be conceived, that does exist in reality: God.
Objections to Anselm:
The two most regularly cited objections to Anselm’s argument come from Gaunilo, a contemporary of Anselm and Kant, more than 700 years later. Briefly, their arguments were similar, but distinct. Gaunilo argued that he could think of many things greater than which no other could be conceived. He suggested, as an example, an island, arguing that he could conceive of the perfect island but just because he could conceive of it did not imply that it existed or that he should seek it out. Anselm replied that he had committed the logical fallacy of equivocation, in other words, using the same term in different ways to refute an argument. Gaunilo and Anselm were both speaking of that which was perfect, but were not using them in the same way, hence Gaunilo’s argument did not carry any weight. In the case of the island, Gaunilo was defining “perfection” in terms of the best representative of a given class of objects—namely islands. Anselm was not positing God as the best member of a class of beings, but as the being par excellence, who is not a member of a class, but a class unto himself.
Kant approaches the argument from a slightly different angle and criticizes Anselm for making the concept of “real existence” a primary quality of value. His suggestion is that the existence or non-existence of something does not make it qualitatively better or worse, but simply different. This can be approached from two angles. First, from a philosophical view, even if existence is not a primary qualitative attribute, it is still an attribute of something. If the idea of God is, as Anselm posited, a being which nothing greater can be conceived, the simple addition of the secondary attribute of existence is still an addition to the being and is, by definition, greater. Thus, Anselm’s argument still stands. The second approach is a practical one. The existence or non-existence of something is a qualitative attribute and cannot be refuted as such. Even Kant would have to concede that were he hungry, the existence or non-existence of food on his plate or in his cupboard is a qualitative difference of first priority. Let us assume one goes to a restaurant and orders an expensive meal, and let us assume that the waiter brings out an empty plate claiming that such is simply the non-existent form of the meal—the meal consisting as an idea in the patron’s mind—how do you think that even Kant would respond when the bill for the meal is brought? Surely we must concede, that the existence and non-existence of an object is a qualitative measure of primary importance, and thus, Anselm’s distinction between an infinitely perfect God that exists as an idea and an infinitely perfect God that exists as reality stands.
Aquinas’ Five Ways: Proofs for the Existence of God from General Revelation
St. Thomas Aquinas listed what he saw as five intellectual proofs of the existence of God—proofs that were dependent on reason and observation, not the revealed word of God.
Aquinas and the First Way:
Aquinas recognized that for motion to take place, there had to be something that interacts with it to cause it to move. For a ball to move, for example, it must be struck by another object, for example, the foot of a child kicking it. The ball has the potential to move, but that potential cannot reach its actuality until something else acts upon it. Aquinas argued then, that as the original object that was moved needed to have something act upon it to move, so too does the second object have something act upon it. The boy swings his leg, which moves his foot which in turn moves the ball. And the chain continues backwards from there. He also recognized that without a first mover, the chain of cause and effect must, by definition, go eternally back. Since that idea is absurd to the ordered mind and is not consistent with observable evidence, there must be a first mover upon which nothing is needed to act to cause him to move. This, in turn must be an infinite being outside of creation and hence is God.
While it is not my purpose to go into a detailed critique of these proofs, it is important to point out what Aquinas is doing. It is clear from the language that this is designed to be an intellectual argument for the existence of a god, but it does not point clearly to the existence of the Biblical God. This proof could just as easily be applied to Allah, Odin, or Jupiter. The point is simply to argue that it is impossible to rationally look at our world without seeing the reality of a creator God.
Aquinas and the Second Way:
The second approach that Aquinas mentioned is similar to the first, but focuses on cause and effect rather than on potential motion being converted into actual motion. Every effect must have a cause, if you eliminate the cause you eliminate the effect. Once again, since an infinite series of cause and effect is irrational, the principle posits that there must be an original cause that in itself does not need a cause: hence God. Again, this does not posit the God of the Bible, or even a good and benevolent God for that matter, it only posits that a God exists who is the cause of all things and who is the effect of nothing.
Aquinas and the Third Way:
The third approach deals with a question of being and not being. Aquinas argued that from observation, the things around him had the possibility of being (or existing) or not being. The chair that you are sitting on exists, but it has not always existed. There was a time when the chair was not. He went on to observe that for something to move from not being to being, that action had to be brought about by something that was being. In other words, for the chair we spoke of earlier to come into being, it had to be manufactured. To manufacture something you must “be.” Something that does not exist cannot make something come into existence, the idea of such is nonsensical. Thus, all things that exist must be brought about by that which exists. Just as in the question of causation, there must be a first being. Yet, if that first being exists, he must necessarily not have the possibility of not being. In other words, as non-existence cannot bring about existence, the first being necessarily has to have always existed. And this entity that necessarily exists and cannot not-exist, is God.
Aquinas and the Forth Way:
Aquinas points out that we recognize that there are degrees of things. Some things are better than others; some things are shorter or taller or colder or hotter, etc… than others. And thus we rate them as good, better, and best. Yet, for us to have the idea that one thing is better than another, we must have a standard by which all things are measured and that can never be exceeded. That standard, then, is God. Note that this is not the suggestion that we get the idea of goodness or hotness from God, but simply that there must always be something that is more good or more hot than that which we are viewing and since there is a gradation, there must always be a top to the gradation that can never be surpassed. Such a top or asymptote, by definition, requires an infinite being, hence it must be God.
Aquinas and the Fifth Way:
Fifthly, Aquinas points out that there are entities in creation that have no consciousness at all, yet still act in a regular fashion and in such a way that it is beneficial to their continued existence. Trees, for example, have no consciousness of their own to direct themselves, yet they will sink their roots deeply into the soil to collect water, they will spread their branches wide to collect light for their photo-synthetic leaves, and they will drop seeds by which they may propagate their kind. Aquinas observed that since they act with some sense of direction in terms of self-preservation, yet are unguided by their own consciousness, they must be guided by the consciousness of another. This, once again, is the role of God.
C.S. Lewis: Christianity and Literature (outline)
Christianity and Literature: Outline
The Big Idea: What distinguishes Christian Literature? Answer: it clearly points to Christ
- Asked to discuss “Christian Literature” though unsure of value of this discussion
- Understands that Literature is a means for sharing the Gospel
- Rules for good writing are same for Christian and non-Christian
- Thus, does not see a value in a genre of “Christian” literature, just good literature or bad literature, both kinds reflecting the author’s perspective
- Is one a “Christian writer” or a “writer that happens to be Christian?”
One: What makes literature “Christian?
- Sacred in theme/starting point for devotion
- Value is subjective (rag may be sacred for some)
- Written by Christians for Christians, not for literary merit per say
- Christian approach to literature
- Creative vs. derivative
- Spontaneity vs. Convention
- Freedom vs. Rules
- Great authors are innovators, “breaking fetters,” not followers
- Jesus as Poet or Philosopher
- Jesus’ limitations
- Poetic in some senses
- More like Socrates than Shakespeare in analogy
- Man as head of woman, God the Father as head of the Son, Jesus as head of Church
- The subordinate is to reflect the head
- Just as son watches Father, so Jesus observed the Father to better communicate his being
- New Testament Literary Expression
- Originality is the prerogative of God
- Creativity discouraged and being conformed into the image of Christ
- “being as little as possible ourselves, in acquiring a fragrance that is not our own but borrowed, in becoming clean mirrors filled with the image of a face that is not ours
- Lewis’ rejection of Total depravity
- Derivative & reflective is good
- “pride does not only go before a fall—a fall of the creature’s attention from what is better, God, to what is worse, itself.
- Applied to Literature
- Purpose is not to create, but to reflect Christ
- Embody or reveal what is true of eternal beauty and wisdom
- Originality is not true originality as it comes from God
- Non-Christian writes for vain purposes, Christian for Christ
- Christian does not ask, “Is it mine?” but will ask “Is it good?”
- “The Christian knows from the outset that the salvation of a single soul is more important than the production or preservation of all the epics and tragedies in the world”
- The strength of Christian literature comes not from the literature but from the God of Christian literature
Words to Define:
- Hagiological: of the Saints
- Proprement dite: French for “properly itself”
- Argumenta ad hominess: argument by opinions
- A fortiori: “From the Stronger”
- Catena: chain
- Redolere Christum: “to smell of Christ”
- mi/mhsiß is derived from mimhth/ß, meaning: imitator
- au moins je suis autre: French—“At least I am different”
- di se medesmo rise: Italian for, “I lauged at myself”
C.S. Lewis: Miracles (outline, part 2)
Miracles By C.S. Lewis
Flow of the Argument
I. The Big Idea
a. The difference between Tradition and a living faith
II. “Those who make religion their god will not have God for their religion” Thomas
a. Popular Religion
1. God is abstract
i. God is truth
ii. God is goodness
iii. God is a spiritual force pervading all things
2. Makes God impersonal
i. impersonal gods make no demands
ii. impersonal gods are more “comfortable” than a god who
demands of us
iii. hence, impersonal gods are more preferable
3. this kind of religion is really pantheism
i. “the fact that the shoe slips on easily does not prove that it is a
new shoe” (131)
ii. pantheism is the permanent “natural bent” of the human mind
iii. only religions to refute pantheism
c. Christianity (the only truly formidable opponent)
4. Pantheism leads to immoral behavior
ii. German racial nationalism (Sprach Zarathustra)
5. Christian vs Panthistic view of God
i. Pantheists believe that God is present everywhere because he is
diffused or concealed within everything
ii. Christians believe that God is totally present at every point of
space and time but not locally present anywhere (no place
or time can contain the fullness of God)
6. Good theology is a nuisance to the fancies of popular religion
i. true historian is a nuisance to one reminiscing about the “good
ii. real musician is nuisance to one indulging in self-taught music
iii. truth vs. preference
iv. “IF God is the ultimate source o fall concrete, individual things
and events, then God himself must be concrete and
individual in the highest degree. Unless the origin o fall
other things were itself concrete and individual, nothing
else could be so; for there is no conceivable means whereby
what is abstract or general could itself produce concrete
v. God “is not a universal being: if he were there would be no
creatures, for a generality can make nothing.
vi. The Limpet analogy (142-143) –note that a Limpet is a marine
vii. must have a conception of what something is to say what it is
viii. the ultimate spiritual realities are more real, not less real than
ix. Note that this is the Rubicon that you cross—once you reject
pantheism, you find yourself crossing into Christianity
I. The Big Idea
a. Are Miracles “acceptable” to a mighty God?
II. Would God break his own scientific laws
a. difference between elementary rules taught to schoolboys and deeper rules
employed by the masters for the purpose of style
b. God created the universe intentionally for a relationship with himself
c. Science is not the rule that constrained God’s creation; science is the byproduct
of God’s orderly creative work
d. “if miracles do occur then we may be sure that not to have wrought them
would be the real inconsistency” (155)
e. we don’t understand God’s deeper plan because “it is a very long story, with a
complicated plot; and we are not, perhaps, very attentive readers.” (158)
I. The Big idea
a. The probability of miracles is not the question, it is how fit miracles may seem
to one’s mind
II. Nature and uniformity
a. “the fact that a thing had happened ten million times would not make it a whit
more probable that it would happen again” (162)
b. “Experience therefore cannot prove uniformity because uniformity has to be
assumed before experience proves anything” (163)
c. we have a sense of “fitness” about the way things go, so all things must be
consistent with that fitness if our minds will readily accept them
d. If God is “a rational Spirit and we derive our rational spirituality from it, then
indeed our conviction can be trusted. Our repugnance to disorder is
derived from Nature’s creator and ours.” (168)
e. “Even those who think all stories of miracles absurd think some very much
more absurd than others: even those who believe them all (if anyone
does) think that some require a specially robust faith. The criterion which
both parties are actually using is that of fitness.” (171)
Chapter 14: The Grand Miracle
I. The Big Idea
a. the Incarnation is the grand miracle of all from which all other miracles stem
from or lead up to
II. The Incarnation is the Grand Miracle
a. greatest importance
b. the supernatural coming down and becoming part of nature for a time
III. Patterns of this in Nature
a. Descent/ascent (death/rebirth)
1. the corn god motif
3. life and rebirth in nature
b. chosen-ness/God’s selectiveness
1. selectiveness in nature
2. selectiveness in redemptive history
c. Vicarious nature
1. exploitation and oppression
2. kindness and gratitude
IV. How other religions respond to these themes
a. Natural religions deify them
b. anti-religions deny them
c. Christianity explains them as illuminated by supernatural
V. Original vs. Imitation
a. Christianity is the original pattern from which all other cultic religions get their
start, not the other way around
b. Christianity as the one true “myth” that really did happen
I. The Big Idea
a. Miracles can be divided in many different ways
d. dominion over inorganic
2. Old and New creation
a. Old Creation= a reflection of what God has already done in
nature on a vast scale
b. New Creation= pointing toward that which is to come
b. note importance of these chapters for apologetic arguments
I. The Big Idea
a. You are now prepared, having dealt with the philosophical aspects, to deal with the historical question. Yet, if you do, make sure that you re-teach yourself what you have been taught for so many years by the culture. Reject Everythingism as something that offers nothing.
The different usages of the term “Spirit” and we must define our terms and say what we mean by the word spirit when we use it in dialogue
On Providential matters—understand the difference between first and second causes and how Lewis is defining Providence as the miraculous and thus rejects providence.
Also understand Lewis’ analogy of the curved lines running parallel to one another and how God views history from the outside, not being bound to it.
C.S. Lewis: Miracles (Outline, part 1)
Miracles By C.S. Lewis
Flow of the Argument
I. The Big Idea: Before we can argue for Miracles, we must answer the philosophical
question as to whether miracles can exist.
a. They either do exist or they do not.
b. If they do exist, we must also ask if they are likely or not.
II. Flow of Reasoning:
a. What is your presupposition about miracles?
1. If you don’t believe they exist, even if you are confronted by one you
will explain it away.
2. If you believe that they are possible, but unlikely, you will also explain
them away even if confronted by one.
b. Because historical data is recorded by the observation of people with
presuppositions, historical inquiry cannot prove the miraculous unless the
initial philosophical question is answered.
I. The Big Idea: Defining the terms Miracle, Naturalism, and Supernaturalism.
a. Miracle: “an interference with Nature by supernatural power” (5)
b. Naturalist: Those who believe that nothing but nature exists (5-6)
c. Supernaturalist: Those who believe that there exists something in addition to
nature that is outside of nature (6)
II. Flow of Reasoning:
a. Given the broad definition of a miracle, the naturalist must, by definition, deny
that miracles are possible
b. The Supernaturalist accepts the possibility of miracles by Lewis’ definition,
though the supernaturalist does not necessarily think that miracles are
c. For the naturalist, nature must be the “whole show” and include whatever there
d. What is “nature” or “the natural state”?
1. the state that something would be in without outside interference
i. the dog would be unkempt and have fleas
ii. the wilderness would not have roads or houses in it
iii. “The natural is what springs up, or comes forth, or arrives, or
goes on, of its own accord: the given, what is there already:
the spontaneous, the unintended, the unsolicited.” (7)
2. As everything must be explainable in terms of the whole system
i. nature must be cause and effect
ii. any spontaneity and originality is reserved for the whole
iii. Nature exists in its own right with nothing outside of it
iv. Nature is independent and depends on nothing.
e. The Supernaturalist
1. Agrees with the naturalist that there must be something that exists in its
2. this self-existing reference is the “Starting point for all explanations”
3. Supernaturalist does not identify this self-existing entity with nature,
and nature is seen as being derivative from that one thing
i. “The one basic Thing has caused all other things to be. It exists
on its own; they exist because it exists. They will cease to
exist if it ever ceases to maintain them in existence; they
will be altered if it ever alters them.” (9)
f. the God of the naturalist
1. a naturalist need not be an atheist if the naturalist’s god is understood to
be within or part of nature, much like the gods of Ancient Greece
and Rome or the Gnostic perspective
2. the naturalist cannot accept a god who is outside of nature or one who
g. the Naturalist view is a view that all things exist within the framework of
nature, the supernaturalist holds that God created the framework within
which nature operates
h. the possibility of a plurality of “Natures” as long as they are not interconnected
in any way, nor do they influence one another.
i. a speculative view of a plurality of natures opens up two kinds of miracles
1. God bringing two natures together for a time
2. God interfering with one or both natures
I. The Big Idea: Naturalism rules out reasoning.
II. Flow of Reasoning:
a. By definition, Naturalism must be explainable in terms of the whole system
b. Anything found outside of the system ruins the naturalistic argument
c. This rejects science by statistics—everything must be calculable
i. “The movement of one unit is incalculable, just as the result of tossing a
coin once is incalculable: the majority movement of a billion units
can however be predicted, just as, if you tossed a coin a billion
times, you could predict a nearly equal number of heads and tails.
Now it will be noticed that if this theory is true we have really
admitted something other than Nature. If the movements of the
individual units are events ‘on their own,’ events which do not
interlock with all other events, then these movements are not part
of Nature.” (19)
d. The knowledge we have of any information is observation + inference, thus all
possible knowledge depends on the validity of reasoning.
i. our observation demands that we recognize something outside of
ii. when we recognize that which is outside of ourselves, then we are
iii. “It follows that no account of the universe canbe true unless that
account leaves it possible for our thinking to be real insight. A
theory which explained everything else in the whole universe but
which made it impossible to believe that our thinking was valid,
would be utterly out of court. For that theory would itself have
been reached by thinking, and if thinking is not valid that theory
would, of course, be itself demolished. It would have destroyed its
own credentials. It would be an argument which proved that no
argument was sound—a proof that there are no such things as
proofs—which is nonsense.” (21-22)
e. If nature is explainable in terms of the whole system, it must, by definition,
imply a cause & effect universe—cause and effect all of the way back to
f. In this view, then, reasoning must be nothing more than “one link in a causal
chain which stretches back to the beginning and forward to the end of
g. Thus, mental events are caused by previous mental events and nothing more—
“knowledge” plays no role in the progression of these mental events—also
mental events came into being in the same evolutionary way that physical
events came into being—mental events to the naturalist, then are nothing
more than responses to stimuli.
h. Yet, the experience that things are always connected (fire burns you) is only of
animal behavior, Reason comes into play when you infer something from
i. Nature cannot show how one turns sub-rational, animal instinct, into rational
thought, thus a break in the chain occurs
j. Knowing is more than mere remembering what happened last time, but of
inferring that what happened in the past will continue to take place in the
future. Inference, then is determined by genuine knowledge, not by cause
k. Inference and reason are the means by which we know and understand nature
and how we explain nature and cannot be explained by nature
I. The Big Idea: Acts of reasoning are not interlocked in the system of Nature as all
other items are interlocked with one another.
II. Flow of Reasoning:
a. Reasoning is not interlocked with the system of Nature but is connected
1. the understanding of a machine is connected with the machine but not
in the same way that the parts of the machine are connected with
2. My understanding of the machine is outside of the functioning of the
b. Reasoning affects the cause-effect process, but it is a one-way street
1. Nature is powerless to produce rational thought
2. Rational thought produces actions which change nature
i. “Nature can only raid reason to kill; but Reason can invade
nature to take prisoners and even to colonize” (39)
ii. “The walls, ceiling, and furniture, the book, your own washed
hands and cut fingernails, bears witness to the colonization
of Nature by reason: for none of this matter would have
been in these states if Nature had her way.” (39)
c. Asymmetrical relationship (A yields B but B does not yield A)
1. (A) is the father of (B), the reciprocal cannot be said of (B) to (A)
d. Does not follow that rational thought exists absolutely on its own (rational
thought is not God)
1. As above, rationality would become irrationality if it is dependent on
2. Yet, my reason stops at night when I go to sleep or when I am
3. Reason must come from something outside of nature that also exhibits
1. Rather, then of saying, “I reason,” should we not say, “God reasons
2. “Reasoning does not happen to us; we do it.” (43)
3. We also have false conclusions, which would be impossible if our
reasoning were only God reasoning through us.
1. Could this greater reasoning, be a part of nature, having emerged or
evolved as we do?
2. Nature, by definition, cannot beget reasoning, thus that which begets
our reasoning must be outside of nature
I. The Big Idea:
a. Moral arguments are a product of reasoning and not merely a result of societal
II. The Flow of Reasoning:
a. Many suggest that “morals” are merely a result of conditioning by society
b. but “ought”, “this is good” and “this is evil” are value statements, not
c. “If the fact that men have such ideas as ought and ought not at all can be fully
explained by irrational and non-moral causes, then those ideas are an
d. Yet, “A moment after they have admitted that good and evil are illusions, you
will find them exhorting us to work for posterity, to educate, revolutionize,
liquidate, live and die for the good of the human race.” (57)
e. the naturalist is inconsistent—his philosophy does not match his living
f. “If we are to continue to make moral judgments, then we must believe that the
conscience of man is not a product of nature.” (60)
I. Big Idea:
a. Our reasoning is done through the medium of the brain much like we observe
through the medium of a looking glass
II. Flow of Reasoning:
a. if the brain is impaired our reasoning is impaired (though the opposite does not
b. When we look at a garden through a window, we are not cognizant of the
window unless we intentionally look at it or it is distorting our field of
c. “The naturalists have been engaged in thinking about nature. They have not
attended to the fact that they were thinking.” (65)
d. The implication is that we ought to discover the looking glass through which
we view nature and understand his character
I. Big Idea:
a. Does nature, by its very nature, exclude the miraculous?
II. Flow of Reasoning:
a. People of old believed in miracles because they were uneducated and knew no
1. Joseph understood that virgins did not get pregnant, which is why he
went to send her away
2. Bible presents these things as miracles, not as the norm
b. People of old did not have good enough science to know better
1. Ptolemy taught that earth was point with no magnitude in comparison
to sun 1700 years ago
2. Pythagoras (525 BC) calculated
i. earth was round
ii. earth revolved around a “Central Fire” (though the central fire
was not the sun, and only reflected the sun’s light.
iii. popularized base 10 mathematics
c. Thus, there is no reason to write off miracles because of our chronological
I. The Big Idea
a. Recognizing that there are regular laws within nature, How does God interact?
II. Flow of Reasoning
a. 3 conceptions on the “Laws of Nature”
1. They are “brute facts” known only by observation
i. but observation cannot give us knowledge—knowledge requires
2. They are applications of the law of averages
i. yet, if the Naturalist is correct, there must be no law of averages
and all must be predictable down to the smallest element
3. Fundamental laws of Physics are “necessary truths”
i. they provide meaning to the system of nature
b. Thus, God’s interaction is an interaction that in itself is a “cause” and effects
come from it—God as a “cause” from which effects come
1. “a miracle is emphatically not an event without cause or without
results. Its cause is the activity of God: its results follow
according to the Natural law.” (95)
I. The Big Idea
a. Recognizing a God, must he be the kind that acts and is nature any less real as
II. Flow of Reasoning
a. this line of objection (that God would not wish to act) is a purely emotional
b. to say nature is unreal because a God has created her is nonsense
c. Every aspect of nature expresses the character of nature that God wished her to
I. The Big Idea
a. We must understand the nature of this Supernatural God through Analogy
II. Flow of reasoning
a. we cannot understand many finite things but through analogy (imagining
London)—analogies being imperfect notions
b. Yet even an imperfect analogy does not invalidate the results (horrid red
c. 3 principles
1. Thought is distinct from the imagination that accompanies it
2. thought may be sound even when false images accompany it
3. anyone who talks of that which cannot be seen, touched, or heard must
inevitably speak of them as if they could be seen, touched, or heard
d. We must then use analogy to explain the supernatural, not to explain it away
C.S. Lewis: The Problem of Pain (outline)
The Problem of Pain
Overview of the Argument
I. The Big Idea:
A. There is Pain on the earth
1. In the natural world creatures prey upon one another
2. In the natural world life is sustained through the death of other things
3. Man has the capacity not only to feel pain, but to anticipate pain
4. Philosophical fatalism abounds
i. Albert Camus (1913-1960)—“the only question modern man
has left to answer is the question of suicide”
B. Yet, if there is so much pain on the earth, why did human beings ever attribute
creation to a benevolent creator?
1. Note that dread & awe stemming from the created order are not
physical qualities, but inferred from physical qualities
2. Moral goodness/guilt is not result of cause & effect
3. Men stand condemned of their moral failure regardless of their
4. You thus cannot write off moral teaching of Jesus, and if you accept his
moral teaching you must accept his teaching about his divine being
-“Either he was a raving lunatic of an unusually abominable type,
or else He was, and is, precisely what he said. There is no middle
way. If the records make the first hypothesis unacceptable, you
must submit to the second.” (13)
C. The very fact that we have a good creator as God creates the problem of pain
rather than solving it—were God other than good, as he describes himself,
the question would never arise.
Chapter 2: Divine Omnipotence
Initial Problem: “‘If God were good, He would wish to make His creatures perfectly happy, and if God were almighty He would be able to do what he wished. But the creatures are not happy. Therefore God lacks either goodness, or power, or both.’ This is the problem of pain in its simplest form. “(16)
A. This assumes that “goodness”, “happiness,” and “omnipotence” are defined
the same for us as for God
B. Meaning of Omnipotence
1. God does not have the power to do anything
2. God has the power to do anything that is consistent with his nature
a. God cannot be righteous and unrighteous at the same time—that
would be nonsense
b. law of non-contradiction
c. the impossible/contradictions are not things but non-entities as
they are impossible
3. Freedom for the creature implies that there is a choice
-“their freedom is simply that of making a single naked choice—of
loving God more than the self or the self more than God.” (20)
4. The Freedom of God consists in the fact that no cause other than
Himself produces His acts and no external obstacle impedes
them—that His own goodness is the root from which they all grow
and his own omnipotence is the air in which they flower.” (27)
Chapter 3: Divine Goodness
Big Idea: God’s definition of Goodness must include human pain.
I. Problem: “If God is wiser than we His judgment must differ from ours on many things, and not least on good and evil. What seems to us good may therefore not be good in His eyes, and what seems to us evil may not be evil. On the other hand, if God’s moral judgment differs from ours so that our black may be His white, we can mean nothing by calling Him good; for to say, ‘God is Good,’ while asserting that His goodness is wholly other than ours, is really only to say, ‘God is we know not what.”’
A. The difficulty with equivocal and univocal language
1. Must use analogical language
2. our understanding of good and evil is neither the same as God’s nor is
it wholly different—our understanding is derivative
3. Since God is our moral compass, there must then be a degree of
4. “When the man of inferior moral standards enters the society of those
who are better and wiser than he…[then he] gradually learns to
accept their standards” (29)
5. “His idea of ‘goodness’ differs from ours; but you need have no fear
that, as you approach it, you will be asked simply to reverse your
moral standards” (30)
B. Man’s Idea of God’s Goodness
1. Understood in terms of God’s “lovingness”
a. Gumball machine analogy
b. The Old Man and Mr. Smith, by Peter Ustinov
2. Desire not for a Father in heaven, but for a senile grandfather
3. Kindness is more just giving escape from suffering
a. Euthanasia question
C. God’s concept for kindness
1. “It is for people whom we care nothing about that we demand
happiness on any terms: with our friends, our lovers, our children,
we are exacting and would rather see them suffer much than be
happy in contemptible and estranging modes. If God is Love, He
is, by definition, something more than mere kindness.” (32-33)
2. The Dog and master analogy
a. training a dog takes hard discipline at first
b. trained dogs enjoy benefits that wild dogs do not
3. “We may wish, indeed, that we were of so little account to God that He
left us alone to follow our natural impulses—that He would give
over trying to train us into something so unlike our natural selves:
but once again, we are asking not for more love, but less.” (36)
4. God is conforming us into the image of His Son
a. that requires suffering
5. “Love may forgive all infirmities and love still in spite of them: but
love cannot cease to will their removal.” (39)
D. Our Response
1. “Our highest activity must be response, not initiative. To experience
the love of God in a true, and not illusory form, is therefore to
experience it as our surrender to His demand, our conformity to
His desire: to experience it in the opposite way is, as it were, a
solecism against the grammar of being.” (44)
2. “When we want to be something other than the thing that God wants us
to be, we must be wanting what, in fact, will not make us happy.
Those Divine demands which sound to our natural ears most like
those of a despot and least like those of a lover, in fact marshal us
where we should want to go if we knew what we wanted. He
demands our worship, our obedience, our prostration…God wills
our good, and our good is to love Him…and to love Him we must
know Him: and if we know Him, we shall in fact fall on our faces.”
Chapter 4: Human Wickedness
Big Idea: We must get to the source of the problem—the source is not God, but Man
A. Problem is that we have had “human goodness” preached to us for generations
a. and we are wicked, not good, by nature
B. We see God’s hand as one meddling in our lives
C. “When we merely say that we are bad, the ‘wrath’ of God seems a barbarous
doctrine; as soon as we perceive our badness, it appears inevitable, a mere
corollary from God’s goodness.” (52)
D. Undoing false beliefs
1. We suppose ourselves not much worse than others
2. domestic conceptions of morality
3. illusion that time cancels sin
4. the idea that there is safety in numbers
E. Fact that moral beliefs contain basic consistencies regardless of background
1. Zarathustra, Jeremiah, Socrates, Gautama, Christ, Marcus Aurelius
2. all agree that man has problems and needs fixing
F. Moral perfection of God
1. some theologians deny necessity of this for judging humans
2. “the road to the promised land runs past Sinai” (59)
G. Note Lewis’ misunderstanding of the doctrine of Total Depravity
H. “I have been trying to make the reader believe that we actually are, at present,
creatures whose character must be, in some respects, a horror to God, as it
is, when we really see it, a horror to ourselves. This I believe to be a fact:
and I notice that the holier a man is, the more fully he is aware of that fact.” (62)
Chapter 5: The Fall
Big Idea: Lewis’ Commentary on Genesis 3
I. False views
II. Is it better to create than not to create?
III. For Lewis the fall is more than disobedience, but contains deeper, more mystical
A. Lewis’ view on evolution and the Imago Dei in man
B. Man’s sin of pride
C. “They wanted, as we say, to ‘call their souls their own.’ But that means to live
a lie, for our souls are not, in fact, our own. They wanted some corner in
the universe of which they could say to God, “This is our business, not
D. Man was created to love and serve God, sin is a rejection of our most basic
E. “Theoretically, I suppose, we might say ‘Yes: we behave like vermin, but then
that is because we are vermin. And that, at any rate, is not our fault.’ Bit
the fact that we are vermin, so far from being felt as an excuse, is a greater
shame and grief to us than any of the particular acts which it leads us to
-“The thesis of this chapter is simply that man, as a species, spoiled himself, and
that good, to us in our present state, must therefore mean primarily remedial or
Chapter 6: Human Pain (part 1)
The Big Idea: The value of pain is that it shatters our illusions.
A. Two kinds of pain
1. Physical sensation
2. Anything that the patient might find distasteful.
B. Life as imitation
1. Jesus models the father to man
2. Christians are to model Jesus to unbelievers
3. “We are not merely imperfect cratures who must be improved: we are,
as Newman said, rebels who must lay down our arms. The first
answer, then, to the question why our cure should be painful, is
that to render back the will which we have so long claimed for our
own, is in itself, wherever and however it is done, a grievous pain.”
C. Pain Shatters the Illusion that all is well
1. “We can rest contentedly in our sins and in our stupidities; and anyone
who has watched gluttons shoveling down the most exquisite foods
as if they did not know what they were eating, will admit that we
can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists on being attended to.
God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience,
but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf
D. Pain shatters the illusion that we have all we need
1. “Let me implore the reader to try to believe, if only for a moment, that
God, who made these deserving people, may really be right when
he thinks that their modest prosperity and the happiness of their
children are not enough to make them blessed: that all this must
fall from them in the end, and that if they have not learned to know
Him they will be wretched.” (95)
E. Pain shatters the illusion of human divinity
1. “the movement ‘full speed astern’ by which we retrace our long
journey from paradise, the untying of the old, hard knot, must be
when the creature, with no desire to aid it, stripped naked to the
bare willing of obedience, embraces what is contrary to its nature, and does that for which only one motive is possible.” (100)
2. God requires bare obedience from his creatures even if we do not
understand the outcome
a. Abraham being asked to sacrifice Isaac
b. Job is never given an answer for why these tests were placed on
3. Pain teaches not that we are self sufficient, but that we have the
sufficiency to trust in heaven
Chapter 7: Human Pain (part 2)
The Big Idea: Lewis deals with 6 propositions regarding pain
A. There is a paradox in Christian teaching on suffering
1. We are told blessed are those who are poor, but for the rich to give
money to them to alleviate their poverty
2. We are told blessed are those who are persecuted, but we find believers
leaving a city to avoid persecution
3. If these things are really a blessing, should not we be striving to be
poor and persecuted? (“If suffering is good, ought it not be pursued rather than avoided?”)
4. Lewis argues that pain is not a virtue in itself but a means to an end
B. Tribulation is necessary in redemption
1. genuine tribulation is different than masochistic acts
2. Tribulation will always be here until God returns to judge
3. the idea of a utopia, heaven on earth, is inconsistent thinking
C. Church Doctrine of self-surrender and obedience is a theological, not a
1. government is incapable of bringing about or thwarting genuine
2. the Church grows under the harshest persecution and grows lethargic
and dies when apart from it
D. The Christian doctrine of suffering explains about the world around us
1. We desire settled happiness
2. we do not find it in this world
3. We are only given stabs of joy here and there, but not lasting
4. the Remedy is Heaven, not earth—we are on a journey to Heaven
E. We must never overestimate pain
1. toothache analogy: pain x + pain x does not equal pain 2x, but two of
us share the pain x
F. Of all the evils, pain is a sterilized or disinfected evil
1. pain is different than sin—when sin is over one must go, repent of it,
and make the offense right
2. Pain is done with when it is done
Chapter 8: Hell
The Big Idea: Lewis refutes objections to the doctrine of Hell
-“I am not going to try to prove the doctrine tolerable. Let us make no mistake; it
is not tolerable. But I think the doctrine can be shown to be moral, by a
critique of the objections ordinarily made, or felt, against it.” (121)
A. How can pain that does not lead to repentance be beneficial?
1. Hell then is positive retribution for sin
2. of the confirmed wicked sinner: “Can you really desire that such a man,
remaining what he is, should be confirmed forever in his present
happiness—should continue for all eternity, to be perfectly
convinced that the laugh is on his side? And if you cannot regard
this as tolerable, is it only your wickedness—only spite—that
prevents you from doing so? Or do you find that the conflict
between Justice and Mercy, which has sometimes seemed to you
such an outmoded piece of theology, now actually at work in your
own mind, and feeling very much as if it came to you from above,
not from below?” (123)
B. Is there not a disproportion between transitory sin and eternal damnation
1. sin in part spoils the whole
2. we may be given a thousand chances to do right and will reject every
C. Are not the frightful images of hell just that, images meant to scare, and not
reflective of the reality?
1. True that they are images, but there is a concrete reason these images
2. They are meant to reflect that which is unspeakably horrible because
3. Hell is spoken of as a place of punishing pain, destruction (not
annihilation), and privation of good—don’t overstate one at the
expense of the others
4. Lewis’ view of Hell emphasizes the privation
-“They enjoy forever the horrible freedom they have demanded,
and are therefore self-enslaved: just as the blessed, forever
submitting to obedience, become through all eternity more
and more free.” (130)
Chapter 9: Animal Pain
The Big Idea: How do we explain animal suffering?—an odd answer by Lewis
A. Suffering for animals contains no moral dignity
B. What kind of pain do animals suffer?
1. varies depending on the animal, some more than others
2. must be careful not to attribute pain where there is none
C. How did disease and pain enter the animal world
1. through the fall of Satan
2. views fall of Satan causing pain and suffering in animals long before
Adam and Eve’s fall
D. How can animal suffering be reconciled with the Justice of God?
1. mosquito heaven would be hell for man
2. heaven and hell as a question are irrelevant as animals cannot
understand the concepts only feel when pain begins and ceases
3. Justice is applied to man, not animals
Chapter 10: Heaven
The Big Idea: Heaven is the solution to the problem of pain
A. Many object to heaven as a ‘pie in the sky” doctrine—but there must be a
basis for it, otherwise all of Christianity is false
B. Many think of heaven as bribe for good behavior
-“Again, we are afraid that heaven is a bribe, and that if we make it our
goal we shall no longer be disinterested. It is not so. Heaven offers
nothing that a mercenary soul can desire. It is safe to tell the pure in heart
that they shall see God, for only the pure in heart want to. There are
rewards that do not sully motives.” (149)
C. “Your soul has a curious shape because it is a hollow made to fit a particular
swelling in the infinite contours of the Divine substance, or a key to
unlock one of the doors in the house with many mansions. For it is not
humanity in the abstract that is to be saved, but you—you the individual
reader, John Stubbs or Janet Smith.” (152)
D. Heaven, apart from all the glorious description found in the Bible, is living in
perfect harmony, peace, unity, joy and grace and living thus for all