Friday, December 31, 2010

A True Passion for Christ - John 4:14

Jesus said, “but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.”

James Montgomery Boice writes, “This is what the Lord Jesus Christ is saying. He is promising to place a spring within the life of anyone who will come to him. This spring will be eternal, free, joyous, and self-dependent. But he is also warning you that you will never be able to bulldoze anything over it!” [Boice, James M. The Gospel of John, vol. I, 280]

As we close 2010 and reflect on the events that affected us during the year and the actions we engaged in over the course of the year, we must give consideration to Christ. A true passion for Christ produces a burning hot desire within the Christian to please Him! Over the last year we no doubt have made mistakes we would love to take back. We have sinned in small ways and perhaps in egregious ways. There have been numerous disappointments and failed expectations. However, regardless of the number of failures we may have encountered, the number of times we can remember specifically letting someone down, or even worse, missing the mark of holy living before a loving heavenly Father, the spring of living waters placed in us by God Himself continues to bubble up within. Yes, we disappoint one another. Yes, we sin against our God again and again in small and even big ways. We experience unrealized hopes and expectations at work, at home, and even in the church. Our struggle not to adopt cultural attitudes that run contrary to the mind of Christ ebbs and flows from one day to the next. Yet, I am reminded that God holds me in the palm of his hand. Jesus said that of all the Father has given me, I will lose nothing! Peter said we are protected or kept by the power of God. My continuing in Christ does not depend on me or my self-determined will. It depends on the power of the One who has called me to Himself. God keeps me! Christ implanted a spring of life within me that I realized 31 years ago now. That water is the only water I need and it is the only water I want. Once we drink that water, Jesus says we will never thirst again.

We will never thirst again because this water exists within and we drink from it continuously. It is the passion that is Christ and that we experience as we live our life to please Him. For the genuine Christian, obeying Christ in every place we know to obey Him is not an option. The Christian does not come to a commandment issued by his Lord and Master and ask whether or not he will obey it. It goes without saying! The believer, having been firmly planted in Christ, and having Christ firmly planted within does not ask how little she may do to qualify for the kingdom. She asks how much she may do to please her master. As far as the Christian is concerned, there is no such thing as enough obedience, enough love, or enough service. The passion of Christ floods our heart as a lively spring bursting forth with its sole aim to glorify God with a life of humble obedience and service to the Father.

Jonathan Edwards remarks, “From hence it follows, that in those gracious exercises and affections which are wrought in the saints, through the saving influences of the Spirit of God, there is a new inward perception or sensation of their minds, entirely different in its nature and kind from any thing that ever their minds were the subjects of before they were sanctified.” [Edwards, Jonathan. On Religious Affections] The passion for Christ that is produced in the whole person of the Christian is a result, not of the volition of the individual, but rather, God’s Spirit as He presses us into the kingdom. This is a desire stronger than any other desire to do what we know honors God. The absence of such a passion to please God indicates a lack of grace that should give rise to great concern for the person. If there is a sense of this passion lacking in the desires of the individual, the person would do well to fall before a loving heavenly Father and beg for mercy, repent of this lack of desire to obey, and plead with God to restore to him the joy of his salvation. Every Christian experiences times of this sort in their life. But the true believer responds with despair and pleads with God to take the sin away from them and restore to them the righteous desires implanted there by the Holy Spirit. Edwards continues, “It was before observed, that the affection of love is as it were the fountain of all affection; and particularly, that Christian love is the fountain of all gracious affections. Now the divine excellency of God, and of Jesus Christ, the word of God, his works, ways, &c. is the primary reason, why a true saint loves these things; and not any supposed interest that he has in them, or any conceived benefit that he has received or shall receive from them.” [Edwards, On Religious Affections]

Notice that if one wants to fill a well with dirt and rocks to remove the water, they may do so. But the same cannot be accomplished with a stream of water. You cannot hold it back but so much. Place a line of dirt across the stream today and return tomorrow to see what you will find. The stream will push around, through, or over the obstacle. The same is true with the living water that bubbles up within us. Indeed the passion for Christian living may run low at times as if in spiritual drought. But the water of Christian passion and life is never entirely extinguished. The stream always returns to its proper levels as the Spirit, in good time, provides the rain necessary to return the waters rightly. Christian love serves as the predominant fruit that is prominently displayed in the life of the Christian for all to see. Christian love is a selfless love that serves first to please God through active obedience regardless of the cost of that obedience. Indeed, the cost of godly obedience can be high. In some cases it may cost one their source of living. In other cases, more severe of course, it may cost them their life or the lives of their family. It may cost them their freedom. In America, it rarely costs so much. Not intending to indict those of us who are spoiled American Christians, the most it ever costs us is the selfish desires of the radical and extreme individualism of which we have become accustomed. Our condition is sometimes so poor that even ministers cannot find the courage to help us overcome ourselves in this regard. The plight of American Christianity, both in reformed and evangelical circles is dire. Our sermons and teachings are shallow. We dare not meddle in the affairs of givers who may, in their individualistic custom, take their gifts and move down the street to a church that suits them! Is this the passion of Christianity? Does this reflect the heart that burns for God? Alas, we are in a backslidden condition and sorely in need of a revival individually and corporately in the American church. For those Christians who find themselves in a different culture, where the gospel of Christ and a passion for loving God persist in the Christian community, you must pray for the plight of the American Christian. On our behalf, plead with God for revival as you have never done before.

2010 has come and gone. Where is our passion for Christ? Is it in word only? Have we convinced ourselves that passion and love for God is possible without complete surrender to his expressed will for our lives? Have we deceived ourselves into thinking that we can adopt a lifestyle of materialism, hedonism, and radical individualism while at the same time possessing a vibrant and passionate faith? If so, we have buried our heads in the sand. Did we enter 2010 living a lifestyle of blatant rebellion before God and exit it in the same condition with the same self-justifying mindset? Have we moved at all in our spiritual growth? Do we have broken relationships that we entered and exited 2010 still in a broken condition? Are our churches experiencing a revival of passion for Christ that is being clearly expressed in loving relationships, unity, peace, the teaching and preaching of sound doctrine, and a discipleship process that serves to help everyone build close relationships and maintain the necessary level of personal accountability that is, to this point sorely lacking in the Christian community?

If we find ourselves exiting 2010 in the same spiritual condition in which we entered it that is regrettable and unfortunate. The Christian life is not a life of stagnation. It is a life of passion, beauty, love, and vibrant faith. It is a life of movement! The believer is ever growing, learning, and transforming. Are we more like Christ today than we were when 2010 began? If not, something must change. And it must begin to change now! What does living a successful Christian life before God with passion look like for you in 2011? What things must change in order for you to change? Write them down and create a plan. Grab a fellow brother or sister in the church and share these goals with them. And then ask them to meet with you regularly and hold you accountable for engaging in the new behaviors you have outlined. If you do not change things, nothing is going to change. Will we continue to devote an aberrant amount of time to self? Will the bible continue to be neglected in reading and living as we prefer to devote our time and attention to television, material goals, jobs, and shallow relationships?

There are three kinds of people in the world today: people who make things happen, people who watch things happen, and people who wonder what is happening. Which one are you. The Christian life is a life of passionate change. A passion for Christ means that we are constantly moving, changing, and transforming our lives and churches more and more into the image of Christ. Now is the time to address the behaviors and attitudes that are getting in the way of your desire to be more like Christ. If there are open issues in your life that are causing tension, sin, and other conditions that run contrary to God’s expressed will, now is the time to move expeditiously to begin to bring closure. Only make sure that this closure has, at is foundation, a desire to carry out God’s mandates above all else. What is your plan for change? The only reason that you should not create and execute a "change plan" in 2011 is if you are content with who you are as a Christian right now. If that is the case, then feel free to ignore this article and pray for the rest of us. Here is hoping that 2011 will be a year of tremendous change, passionate transformation, and radical revival in all our lives.

Jonathan Edwards says, "Truly gracious affections differ from those that are false and delusive, in that they naturally beget and promote such a spirit of love, meekness, quietness, forgiveness, and mercy as appeared in Christ." [Edwards, On Religious Affections]

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Critial Thinking Christian - IV

The Reverberations of Feminist Hermeneutics in the Reformed and Evangelical Christian Communities:
Recovering the Model of Male Authority in the Church & Family

Anthony Thiselton writes,
“But it is precisely here that socio-pragmatic hermeneutics reveals its pastoral inadequacy. For if all claims to patient exegesis are merely internally generated by communities governed by interests, no claim can be ranked in revelation to any other claim except among those who share the same ethnocentric interests.” [Thiselton, Anthony C. New Horizons in Hermeneutics, 588]

Such an approach to hermeneutics leads to cultural relativism. This method sets the stage for Christians engaging in the unfortunate and sinful practice of transforming the text rather than being transformed by the text. The purpose of this article is to discuss the shape that feminist hermeneutics takes as it is subtly, and in many instances, unwittingly adopted by women and men alike in the reformed and evangelical churches. The aim of this article is to help believers in the Christian community recognize these tendencies as they examine certain paradigms for church and family life that have arisen as of late in Western American culture. The aim is to subject certain feminist behaviors in the Christian community to sound critical thinking practices that have been reformed by Scripture so that we can identify those cases where our family and church life are missing the mark as it relates to how we should behave in terms of these respective relationships.

These issues have been discussed in churches within the Reformed and Evangelical traditions on countless occasions. There is no shortage of materials on the subject of husband-wife relationships or the role of women and men in the church. The typical format for these discussions is geared toward making sure believers can communicate and relate to one another so as to have a happy, healthy relationship at home and at church. The problem with this aim is that it does not go deep enough. The question that is begged by such an approach is, “what does it take for me to be happy in my marriage and in my church?” Far too often, the answer is presupposed. We want our spouses to make us feel loved, respected, appreciated, and important. We want our church to focus on a certain style of music, to have a vibrant and entertaining youth program, to teach classes that help us succeed in the world, to be better husbands, wives, and parents. We want our pastors to have charisma, panache, and deliver dynamic sermons that are culturally relevant and speak to the many issues we face week in and week out. But is this really what marriage and church life are supposed to be about? In this paradigm, marriage and church life are not at all God-focused. It isn’t even other focused. It is focused entirely on self. It is this ‘self’ focus that has opened the door to many of the problems we face in the Christian community. While the emphasis of this article is on the ramifications of feminist hermeneutics on the family and the church, the aberrant focus on self does not end there.

Our actions demonstrate what we believe far more than our words. Therefore, we must take care to examine our behavior daily if it is our goal to conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. While I am personally unaware of any woman within the ranks of the Reformed or Evangelical churches I have been associated with over the years outwardly holding to overt claims of feminist hermeneutics, I have witnessed more than one or two engaging in behavior that would indicate that they at least think more like feminists than they would openly admit. And it is precisely this behavior that this article is concerned to address.

The Question: What should happen when a husband and wife cannot agree on a course of action for something that involves their lives or home in one way or another?

Most of the scenarios that are usually presented in the teaching materials on this subject are so general that everyone can agree that husbands and wives make decisions together. And for the most part, that is how we function and is as it should be. A good male leader will not lead by abrasive force or harshness. However, there are situations in which the husband and wife cannot agree on a course of action. What does the Bible say about that specific situation? This is where feminist hermeneutics and theology have infected the minds of many pastors, husbands, and wives to the point that they have adopted a paradigm that isn’t biblical. A major contention from feminist proponents suggests that male headship is a result of the fall and that before the fall there was no such thing as male headship. Moreover, many feminist proponents will refer to Gal. 3:28 where Paul says there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. So we must decide what to do when we are faced with a decision where the husband and wife cannot agree on a certain course of action.

What makes this decision necessary? The reason the decision is necessary is, first, there will be times, and they may be frequent, that a couple cannot agree on a course of action. Second, the couple desires to honor God in their lives as well as their marriage. Third, practically speaking, sometimes a course of action is absolutely essential and not taking ‘one of the forks in the road’ is not an option. Hence it follows that a formal way for dealing with these situations is not only prudent, but necessary.

What is recommended and on what grounds? An examination of Scripture is necessary in order to help husbands and wives, and churches for that matter make decisions when there is disagreement between spouses on what that decision should be. Feminist hermeneutics contends that the Bible was written by men and hence has a hierarchical approach that unfairly favors male leadership. While conservative bible-believing women would argue that they do not think this way, often times their behavior betrays them. But feminist hermeneutics begins with the end in mind and places certain impositions on the text that fit what was earlier dubbed as socio-pragmatic hermeneutics. It looks for all sorts of ways to reinterpret the relevant texts in an effort to accommodate autonomous feminist philosophies. Other women within evangelical churches are rebellious in other ways. I remember the story of the woman who was living with a man and attempting to maintain her membership at a solid Baptist church in the south. Her elders came to her on several occasions and confronted her with her sin and asked her to repent of this behavior. She refused to respond to her spiritual leaders who were rightly applying Scripture to her situation. In the end, the elders had to take the correction to the final step of excommunication. Rather than repent, she left the church and took the public letter the elders sent out to the church to Fox News. Was this the kind of attitude she should have been demonstrating to the world or the Christian community? Of course not! But she had clearly bought into the notion that women have no obligation to submit to advice and guidance that they do not agree with. She viewed the elders as male control freaks who were intruding on her personal life without any right to do so. Scripture explicitly instructs her to submit to elders who are caring for her soul in a godly style.

I once had a woman who was taking counseling classes sign up for a class I was teaching on Hermeneutics. This was a very basic, undergraduate course that I taught at a Bible institute that I started at a church I use to attend. She was incensed after I devoted half a class walking through the entire chapter of Jeremiah 29 so that they could see the error of the current rage on Jer. 29:11. She was so distraught that she sent me a hand-written letter containing several derogatory remarks about “my” interpretive method. This was a person who hadn’t taken a course in theology, exegesis, or hermeneutics her entire life. I was a male leader in the church and she did not hesitate to correct me in the most unpleasant manner possible. I have even had women who were supposed godly, mature woman attempt to correct my teaching rudely, in front of an entire class I was teaching. God has not called a female to the role of rebuking or correcting male leaders in the church in any way, especially in front of an entire class. I am sure that if you were to observe these women, you would think that by all accounts, they are bible-believing, God-fearing, conservative Christians who would naturally reject feminist tendencies. And for the most part, they are. However, subtly, Satan has crept in and they have adopted some of the more nuanced ideas of feminist thinking.

Another good example would be the wife who demands that the family attend a particular church while the husband has expressed a clear desire to attend a different church. He has lovingly instructed his family on the matter of how to select a biblical church to no avail. The wife desires to attend the church that is larger, more exciting, and more dynamic, has a better music program, some drama, and a robust youth program filled with entertaining activities for the children. What advice should we give this couple? How should the wife be thinking regarding her husband’s role as head of the family? How does Scripture inform her of how she should behave in this situation? Does she in fact have the right to go against the wishes of her husband and attend the church of her choice? The wife should always be thinking in terms of “how do I honor, obey, and glorify my God in this situation?” If every couple approached every situation with this question in mind first, many issues would be completely avoided in the first place. Some may say this is an overly simplistic approach. It may read that way in an article but when you try living it out in real life, it is anything but simplistic thanks to a nature that is constantly bent to sin.

As it relates to this decision, what are the options/alternatives? The man could capitulate as many men do in our culture for the sake of harmony. Hence he could allow his wife to lead as opposed to leading himself. However, is this God’s expressed will for how men should spiritually lead their families? This is one option. The man could slam his proverbial fist against the table and lay down the law. But is this how Christ leads the church? The man could agree to alternate from week to week or month to month but this would seem another form of capitulation. The couple could agree to attend different churches, but such a decision is hardly demonstrative of family unity and male leadership. The man could lovingly work with his family to help them understand God’s criteria of what makes for a healthy church. He could decide to help his family understand that the church does not exist to entertain, nor is it there to meet our selfish needs and desires. It is a living Christian community where we live and move and relate to fellow believers in a way that helps us honor Christ with our lives in all that we do.

What are the possible consequences involved in this decision? If the wrong decision is made, the family would be guilty of attending a church for all the wrong reasons. The wife would be guilty of sinning against God by not voluntarily and graciously submitting to the leadership of her husband. Both parents run the risk of modeling a marriage and family life that is out of accord with God’s design. The spiritual growth of each family member will be compromised and placed at risk if the church is not a spiritually healthy and vibrant church. The consequences tout court could be devastating.

How important are these consequences? Nothing is more important than the spiritual health and well-being of the family. The consequences are substantial and therefore the decision is crucial.

How can the husband carry out this decision? He should carry it out with much prayer, preparation, and diplomacy. It would be unwise to be insensitive to his wife and children. Above all else, he should demonstrate a high degree of patience and lead his family through prayer and a thorough examination of the biblical material together as a unit. By doing so he is likely to retain their respect, love and affection.

God has something very specific to say to wives as it relates to their role in creation, the church, and the family. Your attitude as a woman/wife should be that you were created by God for God. God did not create you to lead the family. He did not create Eve and then Adam. He created Adam and then Eve. God’s sovereign plan and his expressed will for women is that they should honor, respect, and follow the leadership of their husbands in all things so long as those things do not involve sin. God has not ordained wives to lead husbands and make the final decisions in the family. Yet many women only honor their husband’s leadership when they agree with it. Some women refuse to follow the husband when they do not agree with his decision. Again, the woman is created by God for God and God reserves the right to determine the role of women in the church. Many women, even in conservative churches fall prey to an egalitarian spirit without even realizing the sinfulness of such behavior. They set examples for their sons and daughters that are ungodly. The reject God’s expressed will for the family in preference for the desires of their own heart. Simply put, their agenda is not God's agenda and God's agenda is not their agenda. Some of these decisions are more serious than others, but nevertheless, the effects are still present. A woman should have the attitude that God is her God and that His will is her will regardless of how she feels about it. Her desire should be to please God with her behavior and to demonstrate that she accepts the fact that God is truly Lord over her life by doing what God instructs without question or hesitation. A slave has no right to refuse her Master’s beckoning. A Christian woman has no right to oppose her husband or the male leadership of her church so long as these men are not asking her to sin. She does not have to agree with the counsel of her husband or her spiritual leaders, but she does have to submit to it.

Today there are women in the church who refuse to follow the leadership of their husbands. They may see some of their decisions as minuscule and therefore inconsequential. Other women call into question everything the leadership in the church does. They feel free to challenge doctrinal teachings, strategic decisions, and a variety of other decisions that male leaders deem right and proper given their unique circumstances. Such behavior is unambiguously condemned in Scripture, and therefore condemned by God. Still some women not only refuse to follow their husbands, they refuse to follow their pastors. They have thrown off every piece of advice given to them by their husband and their pastors and have decided it right and proper to follow their own course as their heart so chooses. Such egregious error is a brazen demonstration of rebellion and if done publicly places the person in the position of creating a public scandal in the Christian community. This is the epitome of feminist philosophy expressed in the Christian community. However, far more often it is the little things that pass under the radar that create the most problems in the family and the church. The insistence on service times, music styles, and class offerings are the items that catch us off guard and cause us to sin. Sin is the rejection of God’s expressed will for our lives as given in his word. We reject God by refusing to obey his instructions for us. So many people think that you are not rejecting God so long as you don’t actually say the words, “I reject God.” A homosexual Christian once said, I am not rejecting God I am rejecting your idea of God. When we refuse to do God’s word, we reject God. He that is of God keeps God’s word. One cannot decide to adopt a lifestyle that reflects deliberate continuous rejection of God's word without also rejecting God. Kevin Vanhoozer writes,
"The vocation of the theological interpreter of Scripture is to render judgments - ethical, epistemological, and yes, metaphysical - concerning what is "meet and right" for Christians to affirm of God on the basis of the various modes of divine self-showing, self-giving, and self-saying." [Remythologizing Theology: Divine Action, Passion, and Authorship, 198]

God is who He has revealed Himself to be in the person of Jesus Christ and throughout the unfolding historical revelation of sacred Scripture. If He reveals Himself to be for or against certain behaviors, then this is who God is. Deus est constans.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Encounter with an Atheist Scientist

Recently, I was privileged to engage in a discussion with a lady who was one-year away from completing her Ph.D. in a particular field of science. When she discovered I hold a doctorate in theology, she asked the question, “does this mean you study religions?” I responded “a little, perhaps.” She proceeded to inform me that she loved to study the different religions and that she was an atheist. Now when someone informs you that they are an atheist, it is always wise to qualify what they mean by such a claim. Many people are really agnostics while using the word atheist to describe themselves. An atheist is one who denies positively that there is no God. An agnostic contends that you cannot know if God exists. Overly simplistic, perhaps, but that will suffice for purposes of this article. So I asked this scientist if in fact she rejected the idea that God exists and she emphatically said “of course, I am a scientist and I do no believe in anything that cannot be proven using the scientific method.” This last statement contains a presupposition that will inevitably cause the dear scientist’s view tremendous grief. The scientific method relies on the epistemological method of empiricism in order to arrive at truth. Empiricism contends that all knowledge comes through the senses and that nothing can be demonstrated to be true outside of empirical verification. Before continuing with this interaction, a short review of the problems of empiricism and the scientific method are in order. This will serve as the basis for how I challenged the scientist’s basic assumption: the scientific method is the only valid means by which truth (or the highest probability that something is true) can be known. Her conclusion then would be that unless you can demonstrate something empirically, you should not believe it exists. Remember, this is her basis for rejecting the idea of God. In her view, God cannot be proven using empirical methods, and therefore she is justified in rejecting the idea of God.

Problems of Empiricism

The first problem is the issue of verification. It is clear that knowledge of all facts cannot be subjected to empirical verification. Does that mean that we reject them as false or even simply contend that we cannot know for sure? A simple example is historical testimony. We have good historical evidence that says George Washington was the first president of the United States. However, this claim cannot be empirically verified. We have to take someone’s word for it. However, using strictly empirical methods we cannot demonstrate that it is true.

A second observation is that empiricism has a major problem with general statements. For instance, empiricism cannot accept the claim that all humans have minds. In fact, empiricism cannot demonstrate than any human has a mind. The best it can do is to prove that the humans it examines have brains. Mavrodes aptly points out that to make the demand for verification a general requirement for knowledge is futile. This would of course demand that every claim to knowledge require verification ad infinitum. [Frame, John. The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, 116]

Finally empiricism cannot justify itself empirically. How would one ever empirically verify that empiricism holds the key to all knowledge? Empiricism as a sole method for knowing the facts of reality would require that we limit what we call knowledge. [Frame]

Back to the Conversation

Given the scientist’s assertion that she rejects God on the basis that the God idea cannot be proven empirically, I had a question. I have learned, after great trouble and tribulation, how we interact with those who oppose the faith is just as important as what we have to say to them. One’s way of saying something should never distract from what one is saying. When that happens, you defeat your own purpose. So I took the Q&A approach. Any good post-grad student closing in on an advanced degree loves questions. They are prone to teach. So I took the approach that I wanted to learn from the good scientist. With that I asked, “Do you believe in logic?” Those of you trained in apologetics and philosophy already know where I am going at this point. She answered, “well of course I do I am a scientist.” As you can see, I already had enough information to place the scientist in a position that would expose her inconsistency at the very foundation of her worldview. Instead of saying something in such a way that would make her intellect feel threatened, I simply followed up with another question. Ph.D. candidates tend to have big egos and the last thing I wanted to do was to make this discussion about intellectual capacity. I did not want this to feel like a debate. I have made the mistake of doing this repeatedly in the past and it has usually not ended charitably.

As of late, I would like to think I have learned some things about my own sinful tendencies to provoke egotistical responses and by God’s grace, I have determined to take a different, more charitable course in the future. That being said, I followed the good lady’s answer with one more question: “Can you tell me what it looks like when a scientist empirically verifies that logic exists?” The scientist paused for a few seconds. And then she paused for a few seconds more. While she was thinking about how to answer my question, I followed with another question: “Can you tell me what it looks like when a scientist empirically verifies that empiricism is true?” The scientist paused again. After about a minute of consternated expressions, she looked at me and said, “you have taken this to a whole new level.” Well, I have not taken anything to a whole new level. These arguments are all over the landscape of philosophy and Christian apologetics. All I did was to take her method of reasoning and ask her to apply that method to itself. And when she did, she felt the incoherence of her own thinking. I did not have to directly attack the incongruence in her thinking. She was seeing it for herself. All I had to do was to ask the right questions so that she could arrive at this conclusion on her own. This protected her ego. This was enough to cause her to wonder if her basis for contending that God did not exist was valid or not. However, she was not entirely ready to give up defending her ultimate commitment that there was no God.

The next item to be attacked was ‘reason.’ She proceeded to challenge the concept of logic. She asked for a definition of logic. This was a brilliant move on her part. She had turned the tables of questions and answers on me and placed me on the defensive. When engaging unbelievers, the position of strength is always the offensive position. Try to avoid playing defense. If you are not careful it can turn into questions ad infinitum and you end up not able to move the discussion to Christ which is where you want it to go. My answer was “Logic is the science that governs all human cogitation.” Without logic, all hope for meaningful communication is lost. Reason no longer exists. She then attacked reason. But before she could continue her assault, I asked her another question: “Is it possible to touch a hot stove and be burned and not burned at the same time?” Can such a state exist? Can I feel pain and not feel pain at the same time? If I demonstrate that something is true empirically, can it also be false empirically? She either could not answer or would not answer these questions.

In closing our discussion, I said two things to the good scientist: before you destroy logic in your insistence to reject the God idea, you should recognize that science is destroyed along with it. Secondly, there are a number of things you believe to be true that you cannot verify empirically. If ever we get the chance to speak on the subject again, I would like to point them out to you so that you may have something more to think about when you think about why you reject the God idea.

I have not had the occasion to speak to the good scientist again. I can only hope that our exchange produced fruit by way of causing her to doubt the validity of her rejection of God. I do not know if God sent someone behind me to follow up with that discussion. God is sovereign and should it be His will, perhaps He did. It is my prayer that someone else comes along to follow up on that discussion or that our paths will cross again and I may be afforded the opportunity to press her with the question of Jesus Christ.

It should be noted that I do not in any way intend to imply that we cannot know anything by empircal means. Such a view is preposterous in my estimation. My point is that empricism, nor the scienfitic method that relies on it so heavily serve as valid means for concluding that God does not exist. The purpose of this article was to demosntrate that man's rejection of God is always based on invalid inferences in one way or another. Secondly, I hoped to impart some strategy for how one should engage the unbelieving community. Titus 3:2 instructs us to malign no one and this includes unbelievers. In fact, most commentators believe Paul has unbelievers in mind when he penned those words. I pray you find the information in this blog useful.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Critical Thinking Christian III - Case Studies

Having discussed critical thinking principles and concepts in the abstract, it is now time to apply the rules of critical thinking to the concrete. What does it look like when critical thinking is actually appropriated and incorporated in real life situations? This article covers two case studies from real life situations. Critical thinking skills will be employed to demonstrate how the correct application of those skills, using distinctly Christian presuppositions impacts the outcome of events.

Changing the Doctrinal Position of the Church

Stated current belief: Homosexual behavior is condemned by God in Scripture. No practicing homosexual can rightly be said to have a heart for God. Therefore, those who engage in the homosexual lifestyle fail to demonstrate genuine faith in Christ and are not eligible for membership in the covenant community.

Proposed revision: God loves homosexuals without condition. Homosexual behavior is a genetic condition and is therefore unavoidable. Homosexuals are what they are by an act of God’s decree and hence should not be excluded from the covenant community purely on the basis of their sexual orientation. The Bible does not condemn homosexual relations. Rather, the Bible condemns unlawful homosexual relations in the same way that it condemns unlawful heterosexual relations. Monogamous homosexual relationships are as acceptable to God as their heterosexual correlates.

For purposes of this exercise, it is assumed that the Bible will serve as the sole authority for how decisions are made and therefore all the evidence for making the decision will be limited to the evidence provided in Scripture. This assumption is made to keep the length of the article reasonable. Otherwise, the complex nature of this situation would quickly balloon into a master’s thesis at minimum.

The examination of this situation begins with the question, “What makes this decision necessary?” Based on the information provided, the answer appears to be that the church believes it may have misinterpreted Scripture’s position on homosexuality and that a correction to its doctrinal statement is necessary. If the church intends its doctrinal statement to accurately reflect the teachings of Scripture, and it is concerned that the current may not meet such an objective, then a change is necessary.

The second question that must be asked is, “What is recommended and on what grounds?” If it is true that the church has misinterpreted Scripture regarding homosexual behavior, then it follows that they should revise their doctrinal statement accordingly. Hence it follows that from the start, an analysis of the biblical text should be conducted to determine if in fact a misinterpretation has occurred. If we grant that one has occurred without conducting a critical examination of the evidence, we abandon the principles that buttress sound critical thinking. This would be a sin in light of 1 John 4:1. Hence, step one in the process would be to examine the textual evidence in order to determine what the Bible says about homosexuality. On the grounds that the church holds to the inerrancy and authority of Scripture, it is recommended that an exegetical examination of the texts that deal with the subject of homosexual behavior be carefully re-examined using sound hermeneutical principles to arrive at the truth of God’s revealed truth regarding said behavior.

In addition, a second presupposition has been introduced in the proposal: Homosexual behavior is genetic, and therefore unavoidable. What evidence does the statement offer in support of it’s assertion that homosexual behavior is genetic? It is further recommended that attention be given to the assertion that homosexual behavior is genetic. Moreover, a third recommendation emerges concerning the human genome as it relates to the ineluctability of human behavior.

So far, sound critical thinking requires that the church reevaluate the biblical text to determine God’s revealed truth on the subject of homosexuality. The method used for this evaluation is both exegetical and hermeneutical. Second, the church will conduct a thorough examination of any research regarding the postulation that homosexual behavior is genetic. Finally, the church will review the question of deterministic behavior based on the human genome to establish if there is any truth to the hypothesis that humans cannot behave in ways that actually contradict their DNA make-up. Note that the church has already established the fact that God’s word will serve as the sole basis for their decision. Ancillary questions regarding science have no bearing on the final decision regarding homosexuality and Christian ethics.

After a thorough examination of existing research on the subject, the church concludes that there is no scientific basis for the theory that homosexual behavior is genetic. Therefore, without credible evidence in support of this proposition, it cannot be accepted. The next question regards the view that homosexual behavior is unavoidable because it is genetic. One has to ask about the logic employed in this thinking. Is this statement logically valid? Does it follow that humans cannot behave in a way that is contrary to their genetic wiring? One may argue that heterosexual men are wired to have sex with women. Does it follow then that a married man cannot avoid having sexual relations with a woman who makes herself available to him even though she is not his wife? After all, he is wired to engage with her sexually. But many men avoid such invitations successfully and they do so consistently. Even though the urge or temptation may be very real, somehow, they manage to resist the offer. Hence it does not follow that humans cannot behave in a way that is contrary to urges driven by their genetic make-up. They do so all the time. DNA is not an acceptable excuse for obscene and immoral behavior. The research has debunked the idea that humans cannot behave against their DNA structure, not to mention the belief that homosexual behavior is genetic.

The next question that critical thinking addresses is, “What are the options or alternatives?” The church could ignore sound critical thinking and simply decide that their goals are more pragmatic than simply remaining faithful to the biblical text. The church could take a survey of its members to understand what the congregants think and use this as the basis for their decision. Of course, these alternatives would require a fundamental shift in the church’s presuppositions around biblical authority. The church could simply vote on the matter and whatever position garnered the most support, then that position will become the official position of the church. The exegetical evidence from 1 Cor. 6:9 condemns both forms (dominant/soft) of homosexual behavior. The church will either have to decide if Paul spoke from the standpoint of having divine authority to make such a pronouncement or if he was writing from a position of being culturally conditioned and therefore personally biased against homosexual behavior. If the church desires to remain faithful to the authority of Scripture and sound exegetical and hermeneutical principles, it will have no choice but to reinforce its doctrinal stand against the practice of homosexual behavior. To some this may seem a radical oversimplification. However, the point here is not to get tangled in various exegetical arguments surrounding this text, but rather to demonstrate rudimentary critical thinking.

What are the possible consequences of this decision? The most significant would be that the church would have to consider a major revision of its doctrinal statement if in fact it shifts its high view of Scripture to a lower one. Every other doctrine that it holds to on the basis of biblical authority would necessarily require revisiting if the church desires consistency in its creed. If the church reinforces its prohibition against homosexual behavior, some members may leave. The church may be hurt financially or it may limit its potential to attract younger generations of people who have a more liberal view of sexual behavior. This church will have to decide why it exists in the first place. It seems likely, from a worldly standpoint, that reinforcement of the decision will hinder the church’s ability to grow. At a minimum, it seems likely that growth will be slower than desired.

How important are the consequences for those affected? For homosexuals attending the church, the consequences are serious. Their desire to be accepted and loved, by their definition of love and acceptance, will fail to be realized. They will most likely be forced to find another church in which to worship where they can be accepted and comfortably feel like they are a legitimate part of the family of God. On the flip side, if the church decides to receive homosexuals as members, those who are conservative in their theology and practice will likely leave the church in search of a community that they believe will honor Scripture as it is rightly understood based on commonly accepted methods of exegesis and interpretation. For the believer, few things are as important as the church’s view of Scripture.

When you compare the consequences with the alternatives, which one is most important? The church is the body of Christ and as such has a fundamental responsibility to uphold the teachings of Scripture. She is not free to abandon the teachings of Scripture for the more utilitarian approach of growth. Her duty is to glorify God through the proper expression of the life and teachings of Christ and His holy apostles and prophets. To move beyond this duty the church runs the risk of becoming illegitimate as a true church of Jesus Christ and therefore, irrelevant as an agent of change in the Christian community. The first mark of a true church is the teaching and preaching of sound doctrine as expressed in the written text of sacred Scripture. The consequences for shifting her position on the issue of homosexual behavior are extreme. Clearly it is more important to remain faithful to the teachings of Scripture than it is to adopt the utilitarian method.

How can the church carry out this decision? The church must reinforce its condemnation of homosexual behavior while avoiding any and all hate speech that may be easily misunderstood as hating the individual as opposed to the sin. The church has a responsibility to remain true to the text, to answer the false assertions regarding the human genome, and to reach out in love to those who engage in homosexual behavior.

There are many more components involved in the discipline of critical thinking. These represent some of the critical questions that underpin the discipline. The purpose of this article was to provide the reader with a case study of what critical thinking may look like in the concrete so that it may be incorporated into life practices. The hope is that you will pause, and consider how you think about thinking. The church family is an accountability mechanism used by God to help believers, deacons, and elders grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. Critical thinking is indispensible to that end. In the next article, the critical thinking Christian will apply critical thinking skills to the question of divorce.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Hamartiology: What is Sin?

Every so often we have a moment when we realize that we have been taking something for granted that we probably should not have. I have come believe that there are a number of people in the Christian community, including pastors and elders who do not understand the nature of sin. This realization has caused me to begin to question my own understanding of the nature of sin, what it means to sin, and what actually happened in the Garden of Eden when mankind committed his first sin. For 31 years I have heard sin defined as “missing the mark.” And there is a certain degree of truth in that definition. However, I fear that while this definition may get the conversation started in the right direction, to leave it there is an excessive oversimplification. An inadequate understanding of sin necessarily results in an inadequate understanding of grace, redemption, reconciliation, and a number of other orthodox doctrines of the Christian faith.

The History of Sin

The word "sin" appears 752 times in the NASB. When you compare how often the Bible talks about sin and how often it talks about love, the results are astonishing. The word love appears 529 times in the Bible. Sin appears 42% more often in Scripture than love. In fact, the word “sin” appears more often than the word “holy.” Holy appears 677 times in the NASB. Sin appears 11% more often than holy. The first appearance of the word sin is found in Genesis 4:7 and the last time the word is used in is in Revelation 18:5. The Hebrew doctrine of sin was both rich and exceptionally intricate. In fact, David R. Seely points out, “One may count over fifty words for “sin” in biblical Hebrew, if specific as well as generic terms are isolated (DBSup 7:407–71).” The first occurrence of sin and the first use of the word “sin” are two different matters and both of them should be examined to understand the history of this phenomenon. The ominous story of how sin entered into God’s created world is located in Genesis 3. There is a clue provided for the deceitfulness of sin in the very first sentence of that chapter: וְהַנָּחָשׁ הָיָה עָרוּם מִכֹּל חַיַּת הַשָּׂדֶה translates to, Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field. ערום (ʿārûm) is the Hebrew word translated crafty. The word means shrewd, sensible, or prudent. The Hebrew compound word mikol brings together the preposition min together with the noun kol and is literally rendered “from all.” The basic idea that one gathers from this construction is that the serpent was distinctly prudent, wise, and crafty when compared to the other animals of the field. It is not a mistake that Moses points this out as he begins to record the fateful story of man’s tragic fall into sin. The point is that from the beginning of the story of sin, deceit occupies a prominent place. This observation cannot be overemphasized. The context of the serpent’s craftiness clearly points to a craftiness with words that were used to exercise deceit with the woman as Satan seduced her to partake of the forbidden fruit. The strategic move by Satan to use the wisest animal of the field was no accident. Satan is an exceptional being possessing exceptional talent, skill, and intelligence that far exceeds that of the most able human. It is only fitting that he would select the most capable cohort to accomplish his mission of deceit.

The Nature of Sin

The episode in the Garden is ominous and dark as we read about the first lie to ever occur in human history, “you will not surely die.” This was the first promise of sin. Sin promises life and life more richly and pleasantly than one could ever imagine. The second lie sin promised was, “your eyes will be opened.” Paul says that the god of this world (Satan) has blinded the eyes of unbelievers. (I Cor. 4:4) The third lie that sin promised, “You shall be like God.” More than anything else, the entrance of sin into human history began with a desire for autonomy. Man wanted freedom . Sin entered the world because man wanted life, knowledge, and freedom on his own terms. Herman Bavinck says it this way,

"In Genesis 3, the issue is not primarily the content of the knowledge that humans would appropriate by disobedience but the manner in which they would obtain it. The nature of the knowledge of good and evil in view here is characterized by the fact that humans would be like God as a result of it (Gen. 3:5, 22). By violating the command of God and eating of the tree, they would make themselves like God in the sense that they would position themselves outside and above the law and, like God, determine and judge for themselves what good and evil was.” [Bavinck, Herman. Reformed Dogmatics: Sin and Salvation in Christ, Vol. 3, 33.]
Sin is therefore man’s desire to live on his own terms, to know on his own terms, and to be absolutely free according to his definition of freedom. In short, man wanted to replace God by becoming god in his own right. Hence the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life were born by the one act of Adam and Eve to transgress the expressed will and desire of God. Since that time, no human being has ever lived who has not been found a sinner, sinning against his Creator. Bavinck continues, “The knowledge of good and evil is not the knowledge of the useful and the harmful, of the world and how to control it, but (as in 2 Sam.19:36; Isa. 7:16) the right and capacity to distinguish good and evil on one’s own.” [Bavinck, Herman. Reformed Dogmatics: Sin and Salvation in Christ, Vol. 3, 33.]

The term used to describe man’s initial sin is referred to as original sin. While original sin is denied by many in the visible church because of the aberrant teachings of one Pelagius, nevertheless, the true doctrine of Scripture has been graciously preserved in historic Christian orthodoxy. As mentioned earlier, the historical account of the beginning of sin is recorded in Genesis 3. One of the best indicators to understanding the true nature of sin is to examine how God has responded to it historically and how he will respond to it in the future. God’s response to sin in Genesis 3 was felicitous given the nature of his own holiness. Even though God had enjoyed rich fellowship with Adam and Eve in the Garden, and even though His love for them was unshaken by their act of rebellion, His action against them was swift and deliberate. It is not a Christian trait to presume that God excuses sin in the name of love, grace or any other element of kindness found in His being. God’s response to Adam and Eve should serve as a basis for how He thinks and feels about sin. We should continually reflect upon the tragedy of this historical event and allow it to inform our own attitude and disposition toward sin.

So what is sin? What do we actually do when we sin? Socrates thought the cause and essence of sin consisted solely in ignorance. Hence the person who knows the good is good and acts according to the good. [Bavinck, 41] Of course this begs the question of how two perfect beings such as Adam and Eve could have ever sinned. Surely they were not ignorant. Sin is not a problem of reason. Reason alone cannot help us. Sin is something more than ignorance, something more than incorrect reasoning. Sin is not simply a matter of the will alone. We cannot will our way to perfection. No human has ever been able to pull this off. To reiterate, a misunderstanding of the nature of sin has far-reaching theological implications, not only in the area of systematics, but especially in the areas of practice and counseling. Bavinck observes, “Outside the area of special revelation, therefore, sin was always either interpreted deistically in terms of human will and construed purely as an act of the will or derived pantheistically from the essence of things and incorporated as a necessary component in the order of the universe as a whole. [Bavinck, 42] People usually do not realize they are taking a deistic approach to sin until it is pointed out to them. When we locate sin as purely in the will, it allows us to classify it on varying degrees and the standard we invoke is usually not God’s standard, but our own. This behavior goes back to knowing good and evil on our own terms. Only revelation can truly inform us of the true nature of sin.

Was Pelagius correct in locating sin in the human will? The champion of freewill thinking contends that this is precisely where sin is located and that each human falls individually when they sin. But this is not the doctrine of sin as held by historic Christian orthodoxy. Robert Duncan Culver defines sin as a principle, saying, “In a related (but not identical) way sin (singular number again) is a principle.” [Culver, Systematic Theology: Biblical & Historical, 340] Culver goes on to talk about sin as a law. Indeed, Paul viewed sin as a law in Romans 7:23, where he explicitly referred to the law of sin. The Greek phrase is "τῷ νόμῳ τῆς ἁμαρτίας." (TO NOMO TES HAMARTIAS) Sin cannot be simply an act of the will as the will itself does not operate in a vacuum. Humans only will to do what the mind thinks is best. Therefore, reason and desire are antecedents to volition. However, one may ask how forbidden desire initially emerged in our first parents? This is indeed a mystery. Herman Bavinck writes, “The impossibility of explaining the origin of sin, therefore, must not be understood as an excuse, a refuge for ignorance. Rather, is should be said openly and clearly: we are here at the boundaries of our knowledge. Sin exists, but it will never be able to justify its existence. It is unlawful and irrational.” [Bavinck, 70.]

Sin is a law that exists within our members. Paul explicitly teaches as much in Romans 7. This makes sin an ineluctable reality in our life. The will, intellect, and emotion are all involved in the covenant-breaking action of sin. Sin is a moral act that contradicts the expressed will of God for human behavior. In other words, it is a covenantal breach with the Divine covenant maker. It is not limited to the will, the intellect, or the emotion. Sin involves the whole person. A person is tempted when they are drawn away of their own lust (desire). The mind considers the matter, the desire is either allowed to grow or is dismissed and the person decides (wills) to act on the desire that was initially conceived in the intellect. James defines sin as the insemination of carnal cravings in our person. We are tempted when we are drawn away by our own cravings or desires, and when those desires are rationalized, the will carries us home to the final act. Desire is first base, rationalization is second base, the willful act is third base, and home plate is sin. We have reached the end when we reach home plate. These selfish lusts involve any desire that is placed before the covenantal relationship. Hence we see a glimpse of the battle that takes place in mind between good and evil thoughts and the desires of the heart that often tempt us to wander from the God we love.

As members of the covenant community, we each have a moral obligation and mandate to keep the covenant. Moreover, covenant keeping requires a comprehensive keeping of the entire covenant. One does not have to break every point in the covenant to be guilty of covenant breaking. Nor does one have to break only certain aspects of the covenant to be guilty of covenant breaking. One only needs to refuse to keep one point of the covenant to be in breach of the covenant. Moreover, God does not punish people because they broke a particular point in the covenant. God punishes people because they broke the covenant. It isn’t in how they broke the covenant. Nor is it how often they broke the covenant. It is the fact of covenant breaking that makes sin what it is. Sin is the intellectual decision to carry out a desire willingly to breach the covenant, and in so doing, to reject God’s offer of a covenantal relationship. God's offer of a covenantal relationship requires complete agreement to keep every aspect of the covenant. Breaching God’s covenantal offer is rejecting God’s relational offer. God relates to us by means of a covenant. One cannot reject the terms of that covenant offer and at the same time enjoy the benefit of relationship with God. The sad reality is that what man wants is a non-binding, non-covenantal relationship with God. Such a relationship does not exist, nor can it.

“We conclude that sin constitutes the breaking of the covenant. This perspective implies that sin does not just represent a transgression of formal rules. It goes deeper. It is directed against the sovereign Creator, who not only creates life, but also wants his people to experience a lasting communion with himself. Therefore sin constitutes opposition to the Creator who commits himself to grant life to man.” [J. van Gendersen & W.H. Velema, Concise Reformed Dogmatics, 396]
The consequences of this view are wide sweeping. A covenant breaker in this way cannot condemn another for being a covenant breaker in a different way. However, this is precisely what we do when we judge others hypocritically. Not only do we not have the right to pick and choose which parts of the covenant we want to break, we do not have the right to set up degrees of covenant breaking. There are no degrees of covenant breaking. We are all guilty of sin, and we all have a sin nature. This means we are all covenant breakers. It is only by grace that God has called us to a higher manner of life and empowered us to progress to higher degrees of obedience in this life. There is only one kind of sinner, and that is a covenant breaker. Some sinners God has elected to salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Others, he has passed over, permitting his radiant glory to be displayed in his righteous judgment.

Unless we understand that we are all equally guilty of being sinners and of breaking God’s covenant and that no one among us is any less a covenant breaker than anyone else, love and unity will always be a state we fail to realize. Grace has rescued us in the form of Jesus Christ who has kept the covenant perfectly in our stead, NCT notwithstanding. All humans are sinners in precisely the same way. We are all covenant breakers in various ways. But covenant breaking is covenant breaking. Sin is sin because it is a breach of the divine covenant. Sin is not sin apart from the fact that it breaches the covenant. In this light, adultery and lying are the same. Murder and slander are the same. In fact, in Galatians 5, the only thing separating idolatry from jealousy is a comma. However, we live in a culture that desperately, and self-righteously I might add, wishes to set up its own standards and treat the sin of jealousy or the sin of immorality differently from the sin of idolatry or the sin of murder. We attack homosexual behavior vociferously and condemn abortion with great exuberance. But we allow those who break the covenant by hating their brother to pass by without a word. We tolerate the sin of slander and even unrighteous divorce while engaging in contumacy ourselves around the hard task of biblical correction and discipline. We say, my sin is different from your sin and you are a sinner in a way that I am not a sinner. We even accuse others of doing things that we could never do. This kind of thinking clearly indicates that a return to Scripture and a careful and critical examination of the doctrines of sin, grace, justification, and numerous others are essential if we hope to objurgate such egregious deviations from historic Christian orthodoxy. Let such hope forever occupy our thoughts and prayers. And not only this, but let us find the courage to stand up for truth and in love, correct those who stray, for the sake of the gospel and the witness of Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Critical Thinking Christians – II

“Piety requires us to honor truth above our friends.” Aristotle

“I cannot teach anybody anything, I can only make them think.” Socrates
When it comes to the practice of critical thinking, there is so much material to cover that it is difficult to know where to begin. Should one begin with the elements of thought? Should something be said about metaphysics? Or should one begin with a word on epistemology? Flip a coin I suppose. However, the reason I titled the article “Critical Thinking Christians” is because I wanted to talk about the elements of thought from a distinctly Christian perspective. Critical thinking is not without presuppositions. There are foundational presuppositions that are necessary to engage in the practice from any perspective, but then there are specific points of view that serve to narrow the playing field if you will. For example, a critical thinking atheist will start their thinking from a very different point of view than a theist. For instance, both the atheist and the theist contend that logic is the science or system that governs all human thought. In short, logic is ordered thinking. Logic provides the rails upon which the train of cogitation travels. Both assert the unavoidable necessity of logic for all predication. Hence, logic is a necessary aspect of critical thinking regardless of one’s point of view on the more narrow issues. Without logic, thinking is cogitative chaos. Norman Geisler defines it this way,

“Logic is a way to think so that we can come to correct conclusions by understanding implications and the mistakes people often make in thinking.” [Geisler, Norman. Come, Let Us Reason: An Introduction to Logical Thinking, 13]
Neutrality and Critical Thinking

Since critical thinking involves elements of thought that entail different assumptions, the question of neutrality should be given some attention. It is my contention that critical thinking is possible because God, the Creator of all that is, made it so from the beginning. Prior commitments are impossible to avoid. A created being must bring prior commitments to every conversation to one degree or another. The fact of prior commitments invalidates the proposition that one can achieve a status of neutrality when approaching a subject. The modern mindset however vehemently takes issue with this view. Alfred North Whitehead asserted, “In philosophical discussions, the merest hint of dogmatic certainty as to finality of statement is an exhibition of folly.” But doesn’t this statement itself indicate that Mr. Whitehead is quite dogmatically certain of his view. Indeed it does. Hence, the on-going need for critical thinking is easily demonstrated even in the writings of some of the most educated and skillful philosophers of years past. As Greg Bahnsen writes,

“Because of man’s fall into sin, the world is inherently hostile to the Christian faith. From the time of the fall, enmity is the controlling principle separating the believer and unbeliever. (Gen. 3:15; John 15:19; Rom. 5:10; James 4:4) [Bahnsen, Greg. Pushing the Antithesis: The Apologetic Methodology of Greg Bahnsen, 13]
The noetic effects of sin make every behavior humans engage in a matter of ethics. Our claims to knowledge, morality, and metaphysics are as much ethical claims as they are anything else. Hence, it follows that the practice of critical thinking is also an ethical undertaking. As believers we are entirely committed to the truthfulness of God’s revelation in Scripture and sworn to uphold the Christian ethic. Therefore, it follows that we are committed to thinking in a very specific manner. It is not noble or honorable to abandon one’s most basic commitments in order to engage in a practice that is ultimately designed by a holy God who has prescribed the very parameters that are to govern the practice. Such dismissive behavior on the part of Christians represents a real problem in the Christian community, and without fully intending the pun, reflects a lack of critical thinking on their part that is fully submitted to honoring Scripture. And this is the whole point of an article addressing the “Critical Thinking Christian.” Oswald Chambers writes,

“Never run away with the idea that it does not matter much what we believe or think; it does. What we think and believe, we are – not what we say we think and believe, but what we really do think and believe, we are; there is no divorce at all.” [Chambers, Oswald. Biblical Ethics: Ethical Principles for the Christian Life, 221]
How do we know what we really think and believe. We know what we really think and believe by what we do. James says, you have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works. (James 2:18) James is saying that we show people what we believe by how we live. Saying we believe something while living like we don’t is useless in James’ words. The word James uses for useless describes someone who idle or unemployed. In other words, an unemployed worker is an oxy-moron. A worker who does not work is not a worker. A worker works. Peter tells us that if the qualities of godliness are found in us they will make it so that we are not useless or unfruitful. (1 Peter 1:8) The list of qualities Peter outlines concern behaviors that are clearly visible in the life of the believer. Hence, thinking is a behavior that is subject to the Christian ethic the same as any other behavior.

Nuts and Bolts

To be critical, thinking has to meet certain standards – of clarity, relevance, reasonableness, etc. – and one may be more or less skilled at this. [Fisher, 11] Critical thinking requires questioning and metacognition (thinking about your own thinking. [Fisher, 11] Critical thinking requires skilled and active interpretation. Interpretation requires careful analysis and asking the right questions as one considers several possible alternatives. Critical thinking always begins with a question. When a critical thinker reads a text, they begin with the question, “what did I read?” What is the author saying? Evaluation of the text cannot begin until the text has been rightly interpreted. In the interpretation process there are multifaceted questions that go to the original or intended meaning of the author. Since this article concerns critical thinking that is distinctly Christian in nature, the author rejects the interpretive method known as deconstructionism as a valid means for understanding a text. Once the text is rightly understood, the evaluation process can begin. Is the author’s claim, assertion, or record accurate? It is one thing for us to understand that Scripture claims that Jesus rose from the dead on the third day, but it is quite another for us to accept that assertion. In fact, many do not. The claim that Jesus rose from the dead on the third day is rejected by many based on their strict adherence to the scientific method. Other’s accept the possibility that Christ really did rise from the dead, but conclude that God was not actively involved at all. They argue that indeed a fascinating event appears to have happened, and that in time, science will be able to figure it out. Critical thinking involves prior commitments that we all bring to the table. And with those commitments, we bring a set of questions in an attempt to understand the object we are observing, be it a text, a person, communication, etc. It is beyond the scope of this article to interact with the numerous presuppositions that undergird the practice of critical thinking. This would require a discussion around such topics as epistemology, metaphysics, and linguistics, not to mention several others. Suffice it to say that critical thinking depends on a number of factors we will assume to be true for the sake of argument. Otherwise, it is doubtful that much progress could be made in provoking thought in such a crucial behavior. And that is the whole point of this article. The aim is, at the end of the day, perlocutionary. The aspiration is that, after reading this article, you become so interested in the behavior of critical thinking, that you will do something about it. Critical thinking is about making a decision about something. It could be the meaning of a text, the observed behavior of a person, or the purchase of an item. On page 163 of his book, Critical Thinking: an Introduction, Alex Fisher creates a thinking map. That map can be very useful in walking through how to make a good decision using sound principles of critical thinking. The questions contained in that map are as follows:

1. What makes this decision Necessary?
2. What is Recommended and on what Grounds?
3. What are the Options/Alternatives?
4. What are the Possible Consequences of the various options – and How Likely are they?
5. How Important are these consequences – for all those affected?
6. When I Compare the alternatives in the light of their consequences, which is best? Is the recommended course best?
7. How can I carry out this decision? (Contingency plans?)
[Source: Fisher, Alec. Critical Thinking: an Introduction, Cambridge, 163.]
The answer for many of these questions is going to depend on one’s ultimate commitments. For instance, take the question of ordaining a practicing homosexual to the pastorate. In such a case, one’s view of Scripture, not to mention their hermeneutic becomes vitally important. While the questions must be answered in this case, two people coming with two completely different positions will work through the same questions and arrive at very different conclusions. While the practice of critical thinking is indispensible to understanding, it does not follow that adherence to these principles is a safeguard against false conclusions. Of considerable import then are the presuppositions that one brings to critical thinking.

The Ethics of Thinking

Human cogitation is a behavior and as such should be subjected to certain ethical questions. For believers, the supreme ethical question is, “Is its primary motive to honor God?” If the answer to that question is no, then we have an unethical behavior on our hands from a Christian perspective. Hence, laziness in any way, shape, or form does not honor God. God hasn’t a lazy component in His being. And therefore, Christians should avoid all tendency toward laziness. Unreflective thinking is lazy thinking.

Unreflective thinking is not only antithetical to critical thinking, but also to Christian ethics. The command that we are to test the spirits because of the presence of false prophets ( 1 John 4:1) is clearly an example of God’s expectations for Christians to avoid the laziness of unreflective thinking. Simply put, unreflective thinking is about taking the cogitative short-cut. Unreflective thinkers jump to conclusions, fail to examine all the evidence, refuse to look at the possible alternatives, and rush to rash judgments. This command also demonstrates the importance of distinguishing between sound teaching and false teaching. Hence, critical thinking is necessary to please God.

The believer’s primary concern is to please God. Genuine believers love to please God. Nothing is more important to the Christian than pleasing their heavenly Father. In order for believers to please God, they must keep God’s word. (John 8:47; 1 John 2:5) The word of God has perlocutionary intent. That is, it seeks to change us from the something that we are, to something else. Our purpose for picking up the sacred Scripture is change. We desire to know God more and to walk more like Christ. Scripture informs us how we are to conduct our lives. But Scripture requires proper interpretation and interpretation requires critical thinking skills. Hence, while critical thinking is indispensible to sound reasoning, it does not ipso facto guarantee that you will arrive at a right conclusion. What it does guarantee is that your conclusion will most likely be a valid one. But a valid or reasonable conclusion is not the same thing as a truthful conclusion. All thinking, and especially critically thinking must be engaged in according to God’s model. We must think God’s thoughts after Him. The only right way to think is to think like God thinks. We are to think analogously to how God thinks. In short, our thinking must be informed by Scripture. Any and all thinking that does not have Scripture as its starting and ending point is idolatrous. Therefore, every critical-thinking Christian takes up these principles with an ultimate commitment to please God by humbly submitting their mind to the sacred text of God’s communicative revelation. Paul writes in Phil. 4:7, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”

In part three of this series on Critical-Thinking Christians, the principles of sound critical thinking will be applied using a case study in order to illustrate what critical thinking looks like in real life. The appropriation of critical thinking skills is essential to every Christian in the community of faith. These skills will go a very long way in helping us honor God, not only in how we think, but especially in how we live.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Critical Thinking Christians - Part I

“Critical thinking is skilled and active interpretation and evaluation of observations and communications, information, and argumentation.” (Fisher & Scriven, 1997, p. 21) [Fisher, Alec. Critical Thinking: An Introduction, Cambridge University Press, New York, NY 2001, 10]

Two things can be said about critical thinking: it requires something of the person who endeavors to undertake the task and some event or object outside of the individual as its focus. Based on the definition above, critical thinking requires skilled and active interpretation and evaluation. Interpretation and evaluation can require additional education and training unless one is born with the natural ability to think critically. And even then, formal training and study in critical thinking is always valuable. There are at least four things in the definition that are to be skillfully and actively interpreted and evaluated: observations, communications, information, and argumentation.

To be sure, there is no such thing as a tabula rasa where the practice of critical thinking is employed. Moreover, the idea that the principles that serve to corroborate the art and science of critical thinking are neutral should itself be subjected to the highest degree of critical examination. All human reasoning has a starting point. All critical thinkers bring a specific point of view to the subject at hand. There is no neutrality in the practice of critical thinking. Like everything else, we should critically examine our starting point, our presuppositions that serve to underpin how we engage in the practice of critical thinking.

Critical thinkers are often terribly misunderstood. You see, critical thinkers can come across as people who are just looking to win argument. Indeed, this is one of the sinful tendencies that critical thinkers must be concerned with. Critical thinkers can also have the tendency to wear people down, exhausting them mentally. Critical thinkers, or those who are more prone to think critically, ask a lot of questions and examine the minutest details. As a result, some may think that these individuals are just being nit picky. For the most part, that is not the case at all. Critical thinkers have a very specific way in they approach situations. They have a strong interest in understanding the subject matter and they utilize a very systematic method to ascertain the validity or truthfulness of their observation. This is not a bad thing. However, since we live in a culture where critical thinking is rarely encountered, when we do interact with it, it can create unintentional tension. The temptation for critical thinkers is to bully others about intellectually. The temptation for others is to judge individuals with a higher propensity to think critically as pugnacious and pugilistic. Both, those who are prone to critical thinking and those who need to improve at the practice must humbly submit to God and recognize their own sinful proclivities and mortify the deeds of the flesh accordingly. (Rom. 8:13)

The ethical component of critical thinking should never be over-looked. This is especially true when one comes at the subject from a strictly Christian perspective. Of all the people in the world, Christians should be the most adept of critical thinkers. Paul commanded the Corinthians to be mature in their thinking. (1 Cor. 14:20) The Greek word used here for mature is teleioi and it means, when used in this context, adults. But in order to understand what Paul is driving at we need to get a better sense for the broader use of this word. After all, Paul is not literally telling the Corinthian Christians to grow up. He is addressing a problem with their thinking skills. So he corrects them directly, commanding them to move their thinking skills to a higher level. The Greek word teleioi means, pertaining to meeting the highest standard, when speaking about people, it means adult, things, it means perfect, of morality, it means to be fully developed in a moral sense. The word has a sense of completeness. The Greek word used for ‘think’ in this text is fresin and it means the process of careful consideration, thinking, or understanding. Paul is explicitly commanding Christians to be skilled in the practice of critical thinking. In other words, Christians are commanded to be critical thinkers. However, the sad truth is that Christians, rather than having a reputation for being some of the most skilled thinkers in the world, often times are characterized as being radically uncritical in their thinking. This is a very serious dilemma and the Christian community must come to grips with it sooner than later. N.K. Clifford wrote,

“The Evangelical Protestant mind has never relished complexity. Indeed its crusading genius, whether in religion or politics, has always tended toward an over-simplification of issues and the substitution of inspiration and zeal for critical analysis and serious reflection. The limitations of such a mind-set were less apparent in the relative simplicity of a rural frontier society.” [Noll, Mark. The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, 12-13]
I was recently able to chat with a person who was completing a Ph.D. in a particular subject within the field of science. This person asserted to me that she was an atheist because she did not believe in anything that could not be proven using the scientific method. She did not realize that her faith in the scientific method itself was incoherent because the scientific method cannot be demonstrated to be valid when restricted to validation by the scientific method. J. P. Moreland says it like this,

“For one thing, the statement, “only what can be known by science or quantified and empirically tested is rational and true” is self-refuting. This statement itself is not a statement of science. It is a philosophical statement about science. How could the statement itself be quantified and empirically tested? And if it cannot, then by the statement’s own standards, it cannot itself be true or rationally held.” [Moreland, J.P. Scaling the Secular City, 197]
Indeed, when I asked the Ph.D. candidate if she believed in logic, she answered in the affirmative. And when I followed up by asking her what it looked like when a scientist proved that logic exists using the scientific method, she was speechless. Believe it or not, she was initially tempted to attack logic. Ethically speaking, she wanted to hold so dearly to her atheism that she was on the brink of destroying the very system that governs all human cogitation. As Christians, we need to be informed of the art and science of critical thinking so that we can honor God in our thinking and understanding of Him. We are commanded to love the Lord our God with our entire being and that includes the human mind.

Browne and Keeley write,

“Listening and reading critically – that is, reacting with systematic evaluation to what you have heard and read – requires a set of skills and attitudes. These skills and attitudes are built around a series of related critical questions.” [Browne & Keeley. Asking the Right Questions: A Guide to Critical Thinking, 2]
John says it this way, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (1 Jn. 4:1) Quite simply, the word John used for test is dokimadzw and it means “to make a critical examination of something, to determine genuineness, put to the test, examine.” It is used 22 times in the New Testament: once by Peter, once by John, twice by Luke, and eighteen times by Paul. It is interesting that this word is used in the LXX 28 times, and in 22 of those instances Yahweh is the subject and humans are the object. G Schunack writes,

It is significant that the testing corresponds to “intuitive” knowledge and perception rather than being mediated through activity, experiment, or demonstration.

Notice that the testing is cognitive and therefore involves thinking skills. This indicates that one cannot possibly overvalue the NT stress on the practice of critical thinking among Christians. Because there are so many points of view that seek to contradict truth, the practice of critical thinking is even more important. We live in a culture that seeks to nurture every behavior we can that detracts from the need to think critically. When one examines the foundations of pluralism, cultural relativism, moral relativism, unbridled tolerance, political correctness, it is no wonder that people do not see the point of taking up the hard task to think critically. Critical thinking implies that something can be understood correctly and this inversely means that something can be misunderstood. In other words, conclusions about observations, communications, information, and argumentation can be accurate or inaccurate after all. If someone makes an argument for homosexual marriage, critical thinking, using Christianity as its starting point of view, will make very definite conclusions about that argument. Hence it follows that critical thinking is less important in a society where unbridled relativism and religious pluralism seem to dominate the day.

Critical thinkers must constantly be reminded to submit their intellect to Christ and love their brothers and sisters just as Christ loves them. Browne & Keeley write,

“As a critical thinker, you have the capacity to come across like an annoying warrior, constantly watching for ways to slay those who stray from careful reasoning. But learning is, in important ways, a social activity. We need one another for development; we need one another to share conversation and debate. None of us is so gifted that we can stand alone in the face of the complexities we encounter.” [Browne & Keeley. Asking the Right Questions: A Guide to Critical Thinking, 205]

Paul says to critical thinkers, “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.” (Col. 4:6) In closing, Timothy Lane and Paul Tripp comment,

“In his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus brought reconciliation in two fundamental ways. Jesus reconciled us to God, which then becomes the foundation for the way he reconciles us to one another. As C.S. Lewis said, Christ restores first things so that second things are not suppressed but increased! When God reigns in our hearts, peace reigns in our relationships.” [Lane & Tripp. Relationships: A Mess Worth Making, 13]

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Lynchpin of Liberal Theology

The word “liberal” to most conservative Christians is what some would call “fighting words.” To be accused of being a liberal when you are a conservative would make the list of “insults among insults.” In other words, for some people, to be characterized as a liberal comes close to being the most defamatory thing you could ever say about them. I would be firmly in that camp. So, what is a liberal and why do conservative Christians recoil at the very thought of being one? For purposes of this blog, the liberal will be constrained to liberal theology. To be a liberal means that one’s theological views can be defined as liberal. There are a number of components that go into liberal theology but for purposes of this article, only one will be considered. In short, liberal theology, in one way or another, rejects the authority of the word of God. I say in one way or another because there are a number of ways that liberal theology attempts to free itself from the bondage of the sacred text. Another question that some people wonder about is if they themselves are a liberal Christian. If a person rejects the authority of Scripture, is that enough to ipso facto make them a liberal Christian?

The fall of man headlong into sin was about autonomy. Man’s overwhelming temptation in the Garden during that baleful conversation with Satan was the temptation to break free. From what exactly did man desire freedom? Man had everything he could want or need, didn’t he? Oftentimes we speak of the Garden of Eden as paradise. Hence, it follows that we refer to it as paradise lost. But there was something more that man began to desire in the Garden that he did not have. And that something was absolute freedom. Only one being actually has absolute freedom and that being is God. God is truly free to do whatsoever He pleases. And the Lord actually does whatsoever He pleases. (Ps. 115:3) In his desire for freedom, what man actually received was bondage. Man exchanged bondage to God and freedom from self for freedom from God and bondage to self. This fallen condition explains why we all struggle with selfish desires day in and day out. The seat of the sinful nature is located in self. This is easy enough to see in our secular culture. However, while it can be somewhat veiled in the Christian community, nevertheless, it is present. The battle for selflessness is more about authority than it is anything else. Hence it follows then that for the Christian, what is the authority that has absolute right to rule every aspect of their life? To some, the answer to this question is easy; to others, not so much. And yet, to many more, the answer is very murky. The authoritative source by which God controls the behavior of believers is the word of God. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that we struggle with our desire to do something with the word of God as opposed to permitting the word of God to do something with us. Liberal theology has answered the word of God by retiring its authority and replacing the authority of Scripture with human reason. Liberal theologians do not dispense with the content of Scripture entirely. They simply pick and choose where they believe the authors of the text got it right and dismiss where they believe they got it wrong. For example, a liberal female pastor once informed me that Paul’s view on women pastors was based on his cultural bias and therefore it did not reflect God’s view. Simply put, Paul was wrong. However, when I pressed this same female pastor on the question of homosexuality, she readily condemned the act as sinful and ungodly. I then asked her what she would say to a homosexual who asserted that Paul’s writings against homosexuality were simply a reflection of Paul’s cultural bias against the lifestyle. She became incensed. I did not intend to upset her. That was not my aim. My goal was to rip the mask of her inconsistent reasoning off so that she could see that her argument was both incoherent and self-serving. Her problem was that human reasoning had displaced Scripture as her final authority for how she would live her life. It is not surprising that the selfish, sinful nature of humans would attempt to remove any claim of authority over our lives at every turn. We are sinners. And we have a selfish bend that runs through our entire being. The last thing we really want to do is that which we really do not want to do. But God’s grace is sufficient.

This liberal behavior is not limited to liberal churches, seminaries, or theologians. It seeps into even the most theologically conservative churches, seminaries, and theologians. This is because we all have a sinful nature. We are all selfish to one degree or another. The question that each of us must face is what to do when the word of God commands us to do that which we really do not want to do. Will the text of Scripture transform our lives and change our behavior? Or, will we, like liberal theology, find a way to appease our conscience, displace Scripture with human reason, and end up walking in obstinacy to the imperatives of our Lord. Our problem with Scripture is not what it says, but rather, what it expects. We have a problem with what Scripture requires of us. We will do everything we can to reason our way out of obeying Christ’s commands. We don’t have a problem with the Bible per se. What we have a problem with is how the Bible threatens our way of living. This is true of every sinner that has ever walked the planet. We are fine with the Bible condemning murder and forbidding such behavior among humans. Why? For we also detest such behavior as murder. However, what if I am a female pastor and I discover Paul’s imperative that women are not to serve in such roles? Now I have a decision to make. Will I recognize Scripture’s right and authority over me to inform me of my error and respond by changing my life? Or will I find a way to conveniently continue in my desired behavior and transform the meaning of this text into something I can live with? John Frame writes,

“Let’s define the authority of language as its capacity to create an obligation in the hearer. So the speech of an absolute authority creates absolute obligation. Obligation is not the only content of language, as we have seen. But it is the result of the authority of language.” [Frame, The Doctrine of the Word of God, P&R Publishing, 5]
The word of God places mankind under absolute obligation to do as it says because it is the word of the absolute sovereign God who is Lord over all. He is Creator of all that is and therefore has absolute right to direct our behavior down to the most infinitesimal detail.

Many conservative pastors and Christians shutter at the thought of being accused of being liberal in their theology. However, the practice of displacing Scripture with our own sinful reasoning is indeed the foundation of liberal theology. We have far more in common with liberal theology than we care to admit if this is how we handle the sacred text.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Liam Neeson, C. S. Lewis, Aslan, and Pluralism

So it seems that Liam Neeson has upset some C.S. Lewis fans with his comments that Aslan, the Christ metaphor in the Chronicles of Narnia just also be Buddha or Mohammed. Some think that such an interpretation by Neeson is not only erroneous, but disrespectful to Lewis and that it ignores Lewis’ original intent to create a story, the center of which was Christ.

A few things could be said about this comical incident. By calling it comical, I do not intend to downplay the significance of Neeson’s actions. The interpretive approach and the pluralism that underlay Neeson’s statement have far reaching consequences, especially in the field of biblical hermeneutics. However, I find it shocking that so many people are surprised by such behavior coming from a person who is clearly a subscriber of the liberal Hollywood philosophy that so permeates our society these days. Much could be said this story. For instance, should Christians and C.S. Lewis fans be appalled by his pluralistic remarks? There is plenty to say about how some are responding to Neeson’s comments. On the other hand, what about Liam Neeson’s Catholicism? Isn’t Mr. Neeson a practicing Catholic and doesn’t such a comment contradict Catholic dogma? One could decide to deal with the religious pluralism that is so obviously the worldview that serves as Neeson’s foundation for making such a comment. Finally, one could focus purely on the interpretive method that Neeson is employing to arrive at his position that whatever C.S. Lewis had in mind when he penned the Chronicles of Narnia that is irrelevant. Lewis is gone now and we can reshape the text, making it mean whatever we want it to mean to us. When Polycarp, the great church father, was being martyred for the faith, he prayed,

“May I be received among them today as a rich and acceptable sacrifice, according to your divine fulfillment. For this reason I praise you for everything, I bless you and glorify you through the eternal high priest, Jesus Christ, your beloved Son, through whom be glory to you and the Holy Spirit, both now and in the ages to come. Amen.”

This prayer was submitted to God by the great Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, as his life was about to be poured out for the gospel via burning at the stake. Polycarp was not willing to accept beliefs that challenged the exclusivity of the gospel and its radical narrow nature. Just like the Jewish prophets of old, and the apostles who had gone before him, Polycarp accepted the belief that God had personally drawn a line in the sand and that men had no alternative but to accept that line or suffer the consequences of divine wrath. Polycarp’s exclusive preaching cost him his life. But as far as he was concerned, it was a privilege to die for the truth claims of Christ. Here was a man who would not tolerate opposing views to the narrow, exclusive claims of the gospel. To stand for Christ and publically defend the truths of Scripture was far more important to Polycarp than his next breath. We are not left guessing what Polycarp would have said to Liam Neeson or anyone else who would have dared to assert that Jesus Christ, Mohammed, and Buddha are somehow interchangeable and mutually inclusive of one another. Today, in 2010, how many Christians have the mindset of Polycarp? Have we dulled our senses and our critical thinking skills to the point that we detest even the idea of standing up and fighting for truth? Have the attacks from society and the accusations of bigotry been so often and so intense that we have lost our will to stand up in the face of the tyranny of religious pluralism?

Religious Pluralism and It’s Hermeneutic Cousin

Leslie Newbigin wrote one of the best works on religious pluralism in modern times, and he says,

“It is not easy to resist the contemporary tide of thinking and feeling which seems to sweep us irresistibly in the direction of an acceptance of religious pluralism, and away from any confident affirmation of the absolute sovereignty of Jesus Christ. It is not easy to challenge the reigning plausibility structure. It is much easier to conform. The overwhelming dominance of relativism in contemporary culture makes any firm confession of belief suspect.”
Genuine Christianity, that is, biblical Christianity, or in other words, real Christianity insists on the exclusivity of it’s truth claims. This has always been the case. Beginning with Christ down to this very day, men and women have been dying the most torturous of deaths because they refused to open up the flood gates of relativism and allow the waters of pluralism to comingle with the pure water of life that flows freely from God via the river of truth as expressed in the person of Christ and communicated to us through the revelation of sacred Scripture. The attacks against Christianity are aimed primarily at its claims of exclusivity. Without its exclusive nature, Christianity ceases to exist. The whole point of Christian community requires exclusivity in order to retain any significance as an entity whatsoever. What is a Christian community if it is not exclusive? How would you go about identifying “Christian community” as opposed to a different community? Christianity loses it’s identity the moment it loses it’s exclusivity. It doesn’t take long for one to consider this fact before one realizes that religious pluralism is a trick of the enemy that really isn’t nearly as complicated as one would imagine. In other words, exclusivity, when all is said and done, really is unavoidable if society hopes to maintain any ability whatsoever to relate and communicate with one another.

Society, in its own autonomous fashion, desires to set the standards by which people should live and it seeks to do so without interference or judgment from any outside source. Therefore, society has a major problem with the idea that there is a transcendent being who has already establish the standard (his nature), revealed that standard to humankind, and will ultimately hold individuals accountable for complying with that standard. Religious pluralism is really autonomy in disguise. It is the same old attempt of human beings to become god in their own right.

In order to hold to the sacred cow of pluralism, society must do something with the written text. Of course the methods by which the biblical text has been dispensed with are more than can be documented for purposes of this article. However, the most effective method, by far, is located in the area of interpretation. It is the meaning of the text that is the true message of God. In order to really hear God’s voice, we must hear the actual meaning of the biblical text. Therefore, unless one interprets Scripture correctly, they do not actually get to the real message of God. Enemies of the faith know this all too well. Hence, in order to recreate God’s revelation on their own terms, and into their own message, they engage all sorts of hermeneutical gyrations. This should come as no surprise because Satan employed this very tactic from the beginning. Humans desire autonomy at every turn. This is just as true for the believer as it is for the pastor, the counselor, the elder, and the theologian. Kevin Vanhoover writes,

“For postmoderns, interpretation is not about gaining knowledge – doing one’s epistemic duty towards the texts – as much as it is about fulfilling desire.”
The Text of Scripture is there to change us. The human desire for freedom senses a great deal of threat in this regard. The great reformers were well aware of this. Anthony Thiselton remarks,

“Luther and Calvin argued that the word of God encounters readers most sharply when it addresses us as adversary, to correct and to change our prior wishes and expectations. This corresponds at a formal level to the correction of a tradition. Grace and judgment, holiness and love, may recall us to new and better paths.”
The text is there to DO something. Specifically, it is there to transform lives. That in and of itself represents a threat to some of our most dearly held beliefs and practices.. Religious pluralism cannot survive without autonomy. Since autonomy and the text are mutually exclusive, something must give. As Anthony Thiselton writes,

“The phrase “transforming texts” can be interpreted in two ways. Texts actively shape and transform the perceptions, understanding, and actions of readers and of reading communities. Legal texts, medical texts, and biblical texts provide examples. But texts can also suffer transformation at the hands of readers and reading communities.”
Religious pluralism answers to the problem of a transcendent text by retaining it’s desire for autonomy and transforming the text into what it desires. This is in fact the practice that Liam Neeson is engaging in when he redefines the character of Aslan in Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia.

The Hypocrisy of Religious Pluralism Exposed

Religious pluralism seeks to have its cake and eat it too. Out of one side of it’s mouth it desires to be all inclusive. However, even religious pluralism draws a line in the sand. There are views, after all, that even religious pluralism rejects. Exclusivism is excluded by religious pluralism, hence causing it’s all-inclusive utopia to tumble headlong into irrationalism. Religious pluralism detests the practice of pronouncing judgments on human behavior. But the behavior of judging is unavoidable. If I judge all lying to be wrong and religious pluralism judges some lying to be acceptable, that is still a judgment. Perhaps I judge sexual promiscuity to be evil. Religious pluralism may contend that one’s sexual behavior is private and should not be subjected to my judgment and how people behave sexually is their own business. This too is a judgment. The issue then becomes how we judge and not that we judge.

How to Respond to Religious Pluralism

First, look for the inconsistency in the propositions. For instance, as mentioned above, demonstrate to the individual that there are views that even they would exclude as being tolerable. A worldview that causes a leader to exterminate a people group would be one example. Morality would be another excellent area to focus on. A practice that burns the widows of men who have just passed away would be universally condemned, and this includes by those who hold to religious pluralism. The only system that is internally consistent and that corresponds with that which is revealed to us in reality is the Christian worldview. Every other system runs aground in one way or another. Do not fear their intellectual intimidation. No one accepts a total relativism about religions. We hear people say all the time that there is good and bad in all religions. If religious pluralism is true, then on what basis do we acknowledge that all religions have bad in them. Moreover, who sets the standards for what is good in all religions. Religious pluralism is simply one more attempt at human autonomy. Christians must be prepared to answer the assertions of religious pluralism more than ever. Our culture is a cafeteria of religions, even within Christianity. We must be aware of our own sinful desire for complete autonomy. This desire disguises itself as the search for truth. The believer must beware of this evil within and pray that God’s grace would ever grant us the strength to resist the urge to reach for autonomy.

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