Monday, October 10, 2016

How Do We Know that Christianity is True?

Unless you accept the belief that all knowledge is revelational in nature, and that Christian knowledge is due to special revelation and divine illumination in particular, you cannot know that Christianity is actually true. The best you will be able to do as far as Christianity goes is to conclude that its truthfulness rests somewhere on the probability scale. And to know that something is probably true, even highly probably true, is not the same thing as knowing that it actually is true. Any view of Christianity that has, as its maximal state, the conclusion that Christianity is highly probably true is a view of Christianity that is not shared by the first Christians, by the apostles of Christ, or by Christ Himself. Now, any and all views of Christianity that differs from the view of Christ and His Apostles is a view of Christianity that ought to be rejected and abandoned.

How do Christians come into true knowledge that Christianity is true? One popular method claims that we have all sorts of evidence that Christianity is true. Well, yes we do. But the overwhelming majority of intelligent people reject this evidence as weak and not warranting Christian belief. Why is that? It is because we do not have external evidence, evidence apart from the Bible, that assures us the claims of Christianity are true. We do not possess the right “kind” of evidence, evidence that meets a certain criterion. We have some corroborating archeological evidence that the Bible records a number of things correctly. But that says nothing about the actual claims of Christianity. The book of Mormon and the Qur’an got some things right too. Does that mean these things serve as evidence for their truthfulness? Surely not! But there are miracles in the Bible that validate the claims of the writers of Scripture. This is no doubt true. But that does nothing to prove the claims of Christianity are true. This was no doubt useful to those who experienced those miracles but for us, it is not the same. You and I have never experienced the miracles of the Bible. They are confined to the Bible. What we have as far as miracles are concerned are witnesses to miracles, a record that miracles took place. But we do not have the experience itself. I am not saying that historical evidence, archeological evidence, or miracles have no role to play in answering questions or challenges to Christianity. They surely do. The problem is that bad theology, influenced by worldly philosophies, has been guilty for a number of years now of assigning a far more important role and a place of prominence to the evidential approach. Frankly, I do not believe it can live up to its reputation, logically speaking. If you are going to take this approach of defending Christianity, all you have is a book written by a handful of Jews in the first century who made some very outrageous claims indeed. That’s right. Your only source for answering whether Christianity is true or not, and whether we can know if it is true, is a Book. Now what? This means that the credibility of Christianity is only as credibility as the credibility of the Book from which its origin and teachings are drawn. Obliterate the integrity of the Bible and you have shattered the credibility of Christianity. If this paragraph has given you cause to pause, and perhaps even made you a little nervous, good. You won’t be nervous long, if indeed the Spirit of Christ reigns in your heart.

We are going to do something quite radical now. We are going to reject the definition of knowledge handed down to us by Platonic and Aristotelian philosophy. You see, Christian actions should see to honor God at all times. Knowing is an epistemic act. Therefore, our knowing should seek to honor God at all times. How can Christians know that their knowledge of truthfulness of Christianity is true knowledge versus mere opinion? Out of this quest for knowledge over the centuries came the idea of rational certainty. I can only really have true knowledge of a something, if and only if I am certain about it. But the problem with this way of thinking is that if we cannot be certain that true knowledge requires certainty, this house of cards collapses. In other words, how could we ever be certain of that true knowledge must be certain knowledge? The fact is that the models of knowledge offered up by unregenerate philosophers have all failed to provide a workable explanation for human knowledge. These models to the philosophy, fail to consider the point of view that knowledge is revelational in nature. Human knowledge is possible because of divine revelation.

Man is born with the innate capacity to know things about himself and his world. Apart from innate knowledge, knowledge is impossible. Pagan philosophies do not account for the first acts of knowing. Knowledge had to start somewhere. We cannot talk about knowledge without possessing knowledge. Man, being created in the image of God is created knowing and with the capacity to know his Creator and his world. Sin enters the equation and knowledge becomes the current complicated formula that it is today. Christ enters the world and redeems ungodly men. The Holy Spirit applies the work of Christ to the hearts of those whom God has chosen! The God who hides himself from sinners has revealed himself to us in history, in the person of Christ. And that history has been captured in Scripture. However, sin impedes our ability to see, to understand, and to know that revelation. We cannot see it and we do not want to see it. We have been in a tragic accident that has altered our appearance in shocking ways. We do not want to look into the mirror. We want to go on pretending we are beautiful. But we are not. The accident has left ugly scars that we would rather not acknowledge. But there is good news! The great Restorer of our hope has come and done his work. Not only can we look into the mirror to see our need for reconstructive surgery, the great Surgeon is here. So, what does this have to do with how a Christian can know that Christianity is true? Everything!

The presuppositions of the philosophers in question would be convincing enough if it could be proved that our cognitive faculties are in their primitive state of integrity. [Lecerf, An Introduction to Reformed Dogmatics, 38] Surely the cognitive faculties of humanity have been radically impacted by the fall. Paul makes it abundantly clear that the cognitive faculties of unregenerate human beings cannot be trusted with spiritual matters: “Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds.

They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.” (Eph. 4:17-18)             For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. (Rom. 1:21) This makes is plain that the unregenerate mind is not only unwilling to accept the truths of God, but as well, it is unable. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Cor. 4:4) The unregenerate mind is described as futile, its understanding described as darkened, and again, it is described as being blind.
How then shall the claims of Christianity be measured and judged by men who are described by the Christian Scriptures as being futile, darkened, and blind in their cognitive faculties? How do Christians come to know that Christianity is true? Positive faith is not the product of an act of man. It is indeed an act of man, but this act is determined by an efficacious movement of grace. Faith is the gift of God. [Lecerf, Introduction to Reformed Dogmatics, 38] And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. (1 John 5:20) We know because the Son of God has given us understanding. If the cognitive faculties of men are such that they can gain this understanding of the truths of Christianity apart from God, then in what sense does the Son of God have to come and give us anything? We already have all we need! Let us not rob God of his gracious act on our behave. When we claim we can know these things through unaided human reason, are we not guilty of unwittingly robing Christ of the credit that only He deserves? I think John would say that we are doing precisely that.

The true starting-point for a philosophy of religion is to recognize faith as religious capacity restored by grace, as an organ of knowledge: faith which sees in Scripture the source and rule of its knowledge. [Lecerf, Ibid., 39] The writer to the Hebrews said, “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.” (Heb. 11:3) Faith enables us to understand that the visible universe was created by something invisible, namely, by the word of God. [Ellingworth, NIGTC, Hebrews] The Christian assurance of true knowledge then comes through the organ of the gift of faith. This word, understand, means that we grasp or comprehend on the basis of careful thought, perceive or apprehend. In other words, true biblical faith is a means of knowledge just as much as rational analysis or even more so. In fact, faith is the means by which our rational analysis is improved upon. We interpret nature and the order of things rightly only when we interpret them through the lens of biblical faith. “But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge.” (1 John 2:20) “But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him.” (1 John 2:27) Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. (Luke 24:45) The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. (Acts 16:14) Col. 2:2 says that we have been given a “true knowledge” of God’s mystery. Not only this, but God withholds this knowledge from men: And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.” (Matt. 13:11) Jesus said, “Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.” (John 6:45) For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. “And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jer. 31:33-34) Everyone that God teaches comes to Christ.

Christians are in possession of a kind of knowledge that is clearly not available to the world. Christians do not “obtain” knowledge that Christianity is true like a school child obtains knowledge of science or mathematics. Instead, the knowledge of God grips the Christian’s entire being, cognitive faculties and all. The Holy Spirit takes aim at the sinner’s being, He rips out of that heart of stone and replaces it with a heart of flesh, opens the eyes that were blind, implants the gift of faith and the immediate response of the sinner to believe and repent. He does so because he knows the gospel of Jesus Christ is absolutely true. And he knows this truth with greater conviction than he knows himself.

Christian knowledge is not knowledge about some set of propositions even though propositional knowledge is unavoidably included. Christian knowledge is knowledge of what is behind the proposition. That God that is there. That God who speaks in Scripture to us. And we know that everything he speaks to us in Scripture is true because we know that Scripture is God speaking. Put this way, Christian knowledge is radically different from the pagan philosopher’s idea of knowledge. It is unavoidably true then that when we talk about knowledge and when the unregenerate talk about knowledge, where Christianity is concerned, we are not talking about the same thing. And even when we talk about knowledge in general, we are not talking about the same thing but that is different post for another day.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

What is a gentleman to do? OR I agree with Wayne Grudem

What is a gentleman to do? OR I agree with Wayne Grudem: I was interested to read a recent article by Dr. Jason Duesing of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City (my alma mater). The title of the post is “Where are the Gentleman Theologians?” The post is helpful and appropriately challenging in many ways.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

An Open Question to Spencer Toy

For anyone reading this blog post, you may want to visit this link “Open Question to Presuppositionalists” before continuing. You see, I am a Calvinist and a Presuppositionalist and it is my honest desire to know the truth as God has revealed it in Scripture and I will follow God’s Word wherever it leads. Can you see the difference between me and Spencer? Spencer says he will follow the evidence wherever it leads. But I sort of think if that were really the case, Spencer would be a Calvinist and a Presuppositionalist.

Spencer begins with the following statement:
“That being said, It is my understanding that according to the Calvinistic interpretation of Scripture, human reasoning is so totally depraved that any effort to understand or believe the Gospel is futile. Unless and until the Holy Spirit regenerates the reprobate mind, a person will continue to suppress the truth regardless of how well it is articulated or argued for.”

Rom. 1:18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.

Rom. 1:21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
Rom. 1:25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

1 Cor. 1:17-18 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

1 Cor. 1: 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.
1 Cor. 2:4-5 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

Rom. 8:7-8 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

So, I suppose that we Presuppositionalists do in fact believe that the doctrine of total depravity involves the fall and subsequent corruption of the intellect. Yes, we do affirm this truth but only because the Scriptures seem to clearly affirm this truth. The evidence from Scripture clearly indicates that human reason sets itself over against God and his divine revelation in Scripture, not just by way of volition, but because of its very nature. You see, the Calvinist knows that this is not just an epistemic concern, it is an ontological one. The two are interdependent.

Statement #2:
“In addition, the Calvinistic view of God’s sovereignty entails that God causally ordains all things that come to pass. There is no sense in which God merely “permits” things to occur. Everything that comes to pass, to include the unbelief of the reprobate, comes to pass because in so happening God will bring the most glory to Himself.”

Most Calvinists would say that what God permits he permits efficaciously. This means that God never permits x and x fails to happen. Whatever God permits, happens. To say otherwise is to end in a denial of God’s sovereignty, or it is to end with an incoherent system of belief. Neither option is very attractive.

Statement #3:
Here in lies a problem I don’t believe the Presuppositionalist will be able to get out of. Obviously, I understand that the Calvinist believes that God ordains means as well as ends. He has not revealed the content of His Divine Decree to us and therefore we are only accountable to what He has revealed in Scripture (i.e. preaching the Gospel to everyone since we are commanded to and we do not know the identities of the elect). Still, while an understanding of this may lead to a Calvinist carefully weighing the decisions he makes in the future, he still must acknowledge that all events in the past have occurred the way they did due to the Sovereign Decree of God.

Uh, amen. If past events occurred any other way than by the Sovereign Decree of God, that would mean that God is not sovereign in any meaningful sense of the word ‘sovereign.’ This is directly linked to the Enlightenment influence of deism that infects the modern churches and seminaries today.

Statement #4:
This being said, I would like you to consider someone like Dr. Frank Turek who is not a Calvinist and uses the Classical Apologetics method. Based on the admission of Reformed theologians themselves, it seems to me that a Calvinist has to believe that ultimately the reason that Dr. Turek is in error regarding God’s Sovereignty and the proper apologetic method is because God has not granted it to him to understand these things. Just as the reprobate man’s fallen reason can never lead him to God, neither can Dr. Turek’s reason lead him to the truth of Reformed theology unless and until the Holy Spirit grants it to him to understand it. If Dr. Turek persists in his error, he does so only because God has sovereignly determined before the foundation of the world that he would be in error, for through Dr. Turek’s theological errors God will bring the most glory to Himself.

This is essentially a red herring. We are not dealing with God’s secret counsel. We are dealing with God’s revealed will in Scripture. We are moving, speaking, and acting according to God’s Word. What Spencer has done is create a straw man of hyper-Calvinism and attempted to paint it as Calvinism. He is either being unethical in his approach or he is ignorant of the differences between hyper-Calvinism and Calvinism. Neither option is very attractive. Hyper-Calvinism does exactly what Spencer talks about. Historic Calvinism repudiates such thinking. Spencer should realize this and that raises the question as to what he is doing in this paragraph.

Spencer then launches into a role play scenario between a classical apologist and a presuppositional apologist. The scenario is about as poor an attempt to defend the Classical approach as I have seen. This too is a red herring. What does Scripture say? I listed several Scriptures that clearly teach us that unregenerate human reason is a hostile enemy of God and is not only unwilling to see and accept the truth of God, it is unable to do so. What we need is for Spencer, if he wants to refute Calvinism and Presuppositional apologetics, to provide an exegesis of those texts that stands up to the test of the rest of Scripture.

Statement #5:
CA: “But if that’s the case how could you ever confidently know that anything you believe is true? I suspect you’ll say because God has revealed it to you, but that would just be arguing in a circle. You just admitted that if God wants someone to be in error then they will certainly be in error, including me and including you! How can you know that what God has revealed to you isn’t an error so that He can bring more glory to Himself by your being incorrect?”

Now, Spencer seems to be terribly confused for one thing. He seems to be suggesting that if God’s decree is unknowable, and orthodox Christianity has affirmed from the beginning that it most certainly is unknowable, then skepticism wins the day. Spencer wants to force us to accept a God who is either unknowable or one that is not sovereign. The God Spencer seems to be positing is not sovereign. The God Spencer claims the Calvinist believes in is actually unknowable. Spencer hangs all our knowledge of God on knowing the secret counsel of God. He fails to take into consideration that we are not just talking about knowing what God says and when God acts. We are talking about knowing God. We can know that God has not left us in error precisely because we have assurance that God reveals himself to us through Scripture. Moreover, the principle that Scripture is self-interpreting protects us from ourselves.

I always turn to Jer. 31:31-34 for my epistemology:
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me. Jer. 32:38-40

What we see coming out of the Classical Apologetics camp recently are men who are wholly enamored with Greek Philosophy. They are obsessed with the ability of human reason. They are, for the most part, wholly given over to Enlightenment philosophies to one degree or another. If I am wrong, can you please explain to me why Spencer Toy, in his open question to Calvinists/Presuppositionalists, never once turned to an argument from exegesis? What text of Scripture did Spencer reference in order to support his case? He didn’t appeal to Scripture at all. He appealed to human reason. He made what he thinks is a sound case against presuppositionalism using the criterion of autonomous human reason as his standard. The problem is that Spencer, like the unbeliever, uses autonomous human reason as his standard for what justifies belief. The presuppositionalist is going to go to Scripture every time.

It is always a bad idea for finite human beings to focus on what God’s plan for permitting x might be, that is, above and beyond the revealed truth that it is for His glory. We know that God efficacious permits men to reject Christ, passing over them, and he does so for his own glory. And when we are tempted to push that conversation too far, we must put our hands to our mouth and remember the words of Paul: “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Rom. 9:20