Saturday, December 31, 2011

Concealing, Revealing and Christian Apologetics & Philosophy

"The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law." Dt. 29:29

The Hebrew word str appears five times in the Hebrew text. It is translated hide in Dt. 7:20 and Is. 45:15; hidden in Ps. 19:12; concealed in Pr. 27:5; and secret here in Dt. 29:29. The subject here is "the secret things." Hence, it follows that secret things exists. What are they? Well, since they are secret, it is hard to speak about the content even though we may be able to talk about categories or questions, the answer to which we do not possess. In the nifal it means hide oneself, be hid, concealed. The answer to the question regarding the identity of secret things is found within the text under examination. We know things in reference to other things. In fact, it can be said that we know what things are by knowing what they are not. Here, we know what "secret things" are because we know what has been "revealed," and we know that "secret things" are not "revealed things." The secret things belong to the Lord, but the things revealed belong to us.

The Hebrew word "revealed" in this text is glh. It is translated exile in 2 Sa. 15:19; Is. 49:21; Am. 6:7. It is translated open in Pr. 27:5; Je. 32:11; Je. 32:14. It is translated uncovered in Nu. 24:4; Nu. 24:16. Finally, it is translated revealed in Dt. 29:29. HAL defines the word as, to penetrate, to go to, to leave, to uncover, to open, to make public, to emigrate, to make clear, to become clear. In the nifal it means to expose oneself, to be uncovered, to be exposed, to appear, show, to let oneself be seen, to become visible, to announce information, revealed, what is disclosed. The idea goes to a clear unveiling or revealing. What is interesting is that these things, the things revealed are said to belong to us. The purpose of this revealing is so that the children of Israel may keep all the words of the law.

Some things God reveals, others He keeps secret. The things God reveals, we should see as given to us to know. They are given to us to know so that we may do something with them. They are given to transform our lives. The point of revelation is transformation. We are transformed from creatures that do not seek God's glory into creatures that seek to glorify God in every way. God reveals His glory so that we may behold it and in turn give glory to him in return. God extends His glory to us so that we may return it with honor and humility in awe of His condescension. What are the implications of God's act of revealing and concealing in apologetics, philosophy, and theology? If you listen to some apologists and theologians, you would wonder if there is anything left to mystery when it comes to religious thought. They speak as if everything is revealed and nothing is concealed. On the other hand, if you listen to other theologians and philosophers, they think nothing is revealed and skepticism and doubt are the highest of virtues. The fact remains that God, in His providence and for purposes known only to Him has determined to reveal some things to His creation while concealing others. We would do well, in all our philosophizing and theologizing and apologetics to start by acknowledging this truth. From here, and only from here can we begin to engage in the act of noble inquiry into divine truth. Just as every human action comes under the scrutiny of the Christian ethic, so too does intellectual inquiry. There is an ethical as well as an unethical way to think about God and undertake inquiry concerning His truth. However, we have so elevated the power of human reason and our intellectual capabilities, that simplicity is not only avoided, but ridiculed as if the very idea of the simple and clear are without virtue.

All knowable truth has been divinely revealed by God.

"We have taken the final standard of truth to be the Bible itself." [Van Til, The Defense of the Faith. 32] This includes all things epistemologically. Christian theism, biblical philosophy, contends that all human knowledge is revelational. Unless the Christian God had revealed Himself to us, we would be incapable of possessing knowledge in any conceivable sense whatever. Christian thought does not take issue with the idea that all knowledge is revelational and that the Bible is the standard of truth. Unbelieving thought, however, is entirely hostile to this view. It is sad to confess that more and more Christian apologists are adopting the idea that man is capable of arriving at truth apart from God's revelation. In the process, God's essence and being is reduced, human reason elevated, sin downgraded, and the cross of Christ devalued. It is not that these apologists intentionally seek to do harm to the God that is. It is a lack of theological congruency and exegetical acumen coupled with naive optimism and rationalistic philosophies that leads to significant ineptitude in how we frame up what it is that Christian theism actually believes and defends. As a result of this gap in our theological systems, we end up retreating to ground that actually bears little resemblance to the teachings of historic Christian orthodoxy. Libertarian freedom is a perfect example of how this happens. We adopt certain postulations about this sort of freedom in man in an attempt of make God more palatable to the unbeliever challenge. As a result we construct views like middle knowledge where God does not know the acts of free creatures in advance. His plan essentially depends on what the creature will do at point x. Some Christian philosophers speculate that the reason evil exists is because God could not have created a world in which evil would never obtain! This is the best He could do, they say. How do they know this? There is current specualtion raging over God's relationship with time. We cannot understand how God could have ever come to create unless He was in some way constricted by time. Really? How do we know? And this is my point about all this speculation. I love theology, exegesis, hermeneutics, apologetics, and philosophy. However, my proclivity for those things can serve to draw me into deadly sin. The intellectual seduction that theological and philosophical speculation tends to ignite can lead to views of God, man, Christ, sin, and other doctrines that result in outright sin.

If revelation is not the means by which we arrive at truth, then some other source must serve as the foundation. At bottom, all knowledge is revelational. That is my point. Moreover, God determined what He would and would not reveal. What He revealed belongs to us for the purpose of sanctification, essentially. God's revelation has perlocutionary intent. It is given to change us, so that we may observe all of the law of God. God revealed in order to change us. God's revelation was not given to satisfy intellectual lusts and ungodly speculation. As with every action God takes, revelation has a very specific purpose: TRANSFORMATION. Conversely, what has not been revealed does not belong to us. The fact that it does not belong to us means it is off limits. God retained them for himself. Since all knowledge comes through revelation, and God has chosen to reveal them to us, then if follows that we cannot know them. Our intellectual lust to know what has not been revealed is nothing short of idolatry. From my perspective, Christian scholarship is saturated with this sort of behavior because scholars somehow have missed the fact that Christian ethics also deal with intellectual behavior. I think it is time we begin to remind ourselves of this fact.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Turning Away from ??? [Apologetics in the Hotseat]

I recently received a comment on the blog from a professing Christian who basically said that presupposing the truth of Scripture, in apologetics, is really just begging the question. In other words, it is poor apologetic method to begin your answer for the reason of the hope that is in you with Scripture. Now, the first question we must ask concerns what Peter would have expected from his audience. After all, Peter is the one who penned what has become the "apologetic imperative." Immediately, Peter turns to God's sovereign control over all things, to include the prospects of suffering for the gospel. He actually says it is better to suffer for doing what is right than for doing what is wrong. Here we have no reference to Plato, Aristotle, or Socretes. Rather, reference is made to God's divine control over all things. Peter then retreats to the cross of Christ. He references the glorious truth of redemption in Christ and instructs the believers to arm themselves, or prepare for similar suffering. Again, no appeal to the reasoning of these opponents comes into view. Peter says their opponents are surprised that the believer does not accompany their opponent in sensuality, lust, drunkenness, carousing, drinking parties, and idolatry. He then encourages these believers to be of sound judgment and sober for the purpose of prayer, keeping fervent in love for one another.

Nowhere does Peter call on autonomous human reason to aid in providing this answer to the demand for a reason of the hope that is in the believer. Yet, in modern apologetics, even in evangelicalism, this is not only seen as useful, it is viewed as the superior approach to providing the answer. I could not disagree with this position more.  Scott Oliphint points out that the unbeliever is"day and night suppressing the constant and persistent truth that bombards him from God whom he knows. Then he asks, "How reasonable is it to approach such a one and ask for an honest inquiry? How ratonal can it be to ask someone to make a moral judgment who, by virtue of his very nature, has an ax to grind against God?" There is a reason Peter does not fall into the trap that many in modern Christianity do: his theology was the foundation of his apologetic and philosophy. Peter understood the nature of God, he refers to God's sovereignty. He understood the nature of man, he refers to the cross. Somehow, modern apologists seem to have skipped those pesky theology classes and jumped right into that philosophy of religion class. And that has far reaching consequences as we can see.

The second question we have to ask is, "if not Scripture, then what is it that we must presuppose in order to defend the Christian worldview?" It is as if there are brute facts and that all men are neutral. This is categorically false! The facts of creation exists as facts created and interpreted by God prior to His creating them to be what they are. This is what the Christian worlview believes and teaches and has from the beginning. If God created everything, why would we grant the possibility that perhaps He did not do so, only to play the actor in apologetic dialogue? This is a fool's game in my opinion. Oliphint comments, "Because reason and philosophy are thought to be of ministerial use in theological argumentation, theology is the higher truth in relation to philosophy. As a higher truth, theology is not to fall lock-step behind philosophy's pronouncements, especially its pronouncements with regard to the things of the Christian faith." [Reasons for Faith, 88]

Not only are there no brute facts, neutrality is a myth. I am going back and forth on Twitter with a man who seems to believe in naturalism while at the same time denying the existence of presuppositions. He apparently wants to indict my approach of presupposing the falsification of naturalism all the while presupposing it to be true himself. It is a perfect example of the myth of neutrality. The man who commented that assuming the authority of Scripture merely begs the question is guilty of the same error. He presupposes that all men reason the same way, that they are neutral and that the evidence will lead them to the truth of Christian theism. One is left to wonder, if this is true, why these apologists continue to have such trouble convincing atheists to adopt Christianity. The theist and atheist can examine the very same evidence and arrive at violently contradictory conclusions about it. They may have even grown up on the same street and graduated from the same university with degrees in the same field. Turretin comments, "Men are not only destitute of righteousness, but also full of unrighteousness; incapable of good, but also inclined to evil; turned away from God, as the immutable and eternal good, but also turned toward the creature and inclined to every vice." [Turretin. Institutes of Elenctic Theology. I. ix. xi. x. 637] A loss of faith in sacred scripture is a loss of faith in God. A rejection of Scripture is a rejection of God.

When we adopt any method that calls into question the nature of God's word, we are calling into question God Himself. We see this in apologetics at multiple points. When scientific method is elevated above Scripture, we abandon a literal interpretation of Gen. 1-11. When human reason is elevated above Scripture, it displaces Scripture as the source of reliable truth and places the nature and content of Scripture in the dock. Unregenerate men set up standards by which Scripture is judged. If Scripture fails to meet the rational challenges of the unbeliever, it is dismissed as false. This makes man the measure of all things. However, it is no better if Scripture passes man's test and man decides to accept it. In that scenario, man is still the measure of all things. Scripture has been judged by man to be worthy. This is not the biblical order. Scripture is authoritative, not because it passes man's tests of reason, science and history. It is authoritative because of what it is: the very Word of God. We must begin with Scripture if we are to preserve it's place. It is authoritative, not because we say it is. Scripture is not self-attesting because that is the status we give it. Scripture is self-attesting because that is what it claims for itself. All reason, all science, all history, all philosophy must humbly submit to the authority of Scripture in every way. They are servants of theology, not magistrates over it.

Francis Turretin, in his 8th question in his Institutes of Elenctic Theology, asks:
"Is human reason the principle and rule by which the doctrines of the Christian religion and theology (which are the objects of faith) ought to be measured? We deny against the Socinians.
"Rather the question is whether it is the first principle from which the doctrines of faith are proved; or the foundation upon which they are built, so that we must hold to be false in things of faith what the natural light of human reason cannot comprehend." [Turretin, Francis. Institutes of Elenctic Theology, I.25] Yet, we have turned away from our faith in the self-attesting nature of Scripture and exchanged it for human reason or, in other cases, scientific method. This entire turning betrays a compromise in the orthodox teachings on the nature and attributes of God, as well as the noetic effects of sin on the human intellect. You see, if you had not skipped those theology classes, perhaps you would have been armed with Scripture to refute those views the minute you heard them and subjected them to the critical process as you should have. As you can see, we are not suggesting that reason should be abandoned. Rather, I am suggesting that it be born again. For unless you are born again, not only can you NOT enter the Kingdom of God, you also cannot reason rightly.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Peter's Apologetic Imperative

The challenge of Christian apologetics is to present the Christ of Scripture without compromise as it engages in the effort to provide a reasonable answer for the hope that gives rise to the Christian worldview to all who ask, with reverence and gentleness. Peter’s audience was under attack. Actually, the Christian worldview is what was under attack. Peter’s audience just happened to be the indirect object of the assault. Peter issues a word of encouragement and a command for the believers to hold the Christian line: no retreat, no surrender. What is the aim or goal of Christian apologetics? Is it to persuade, convince, and influence? Is this what Peter had in mind? Probably the greatest apologetic example we see in Scripture is Moses. Moses believed that Yahweh was God and that Israel was God’s covenant people and that Pharaoh should believe this and let God’s people go. I wonder how Moses must have felt when confronted with the notion that he would engage Pharaoh in one exchange after another, all the while knowing that Pharaoh was not going to listen. Is apologetics for the unbeliever, to convince them of the truth of God’s existence in the system of Christian theism? Is it possible that when Peter issued his word of encouragement and command, that he was not actually thinking so much about persuading others as he was about reinforcing the faith of the believer? After all, when one reads Paul in I Cor. 1 & 2, one wonders how we can persuade men to exchange their entire worldview for a system they conclude to be radically irrational.

The Lordship of Christ

Peter begins by encouraging the believer to sanctify Christ as Lord in their hearts. The believers are under serious and sobering pressure to return to their unbelieving communities or groups. One gets the sense that imminent persecution is in view. Hence, Peter issues the encouragement to reinforce the sanctity and significance of Christ as Lord in their hearts. Now is not the time to shrink back. Just as important as any argument they may provide in answer to their inquisitors is their resilience of faith and determination of conviction.

Prepared Answer

Peter instructs his recipients to always be ready. The phrase is hetoimoi aei. The condition speaks to a state of readiness. There is nothing left to prepare. This is the state of the attorney the night before the trial is set to begin. She is finished with her preparation. She is ready to argue her case. It is the state of a football team on game day. Practice and preparation are in the books. The game plan is finished, the men know what it is, how to execute it and are ready to engage. Jesus used this word when He spoke of the large upper room where the last supper would take place. He described the room as “ready.” (Mk. 14:14) Paul used this word in II Cor. 12:14 when he said he was ready to come to the Corinthians. Preparations had already been made and he was not ready to come to them. It takes energy and effort to move to a place of preparedness. A boxer trains for hundreds of hours for a fight that lasts 36 minutes at most. Unfortunately, American Christians are not unlike other Americans. They are, in general, lazy. They focus on the easy things in life. Moreover, since doctrine doesn’t really matter and truth-claims are reserved for the mean-spirited and critical, there is little to no motivation for American/Western Christians to prepare a Christian apologetic. It comes down to Peter’s previous encouragement to sanctify Christ as Lord in our hearts. How important is it to us that we obey our Lord?

Giving an Account

After firming up their loyalty to Christ as Lord, which is actually not entirely a separate act from being continually prepared to provide an answer, Peter instructs the believer to give an answer, or provide a defense. What is this defense? The believer is commanded not to betray the righteous cause. The word is apologia, and it is the act of making a defense. Paul used the word in Acts 22:1 where he made his defense before the Jews. He also uses it in I Cor. 9:3 concerning his defense of those who examine him. Hence, the idea is that we are to be continually ready to give a defense of the Christian worldview. Mouton & Milligan say the ordinary meaning of this word is “to make a request.” Of the 70 occurrences in the NT, it is translated “ask” 66 times in the NAS. BDAG and Louw-Nida both point out that this word is closer to demand or to ask with urgency. The idea is that the “asking” comes with an almost entitlement to the answer. The mode of this defense is speech.

For those who give no attention or thought to this command, I have no words to offer other than, shame. What shall we say? That Christianity is worth believing, it is worth living, it is worth sharing, but it is not worth knowing well enough to defend? We want the easy way out, and for Christians, there is no easy way. Christianity involves discipline and focus top to bottom. There is no such thing as serving Jesus from the lounge chair! Laziness is a sin.

Putting Slanderers to Shame

The question about Peter’s command and the idea of putting your opponents to shame now comes into view. What makes for a good or sound apologetic? Does apologetics aim at being persuasive or is a biblical apologetic ipso facto persuasive? I tend to think that a biblically sound apologetic is both persuasive and offensive. I look at apologetics like I do preaching and teaching. I am interesting in change the minds and lives of the audience, but more than that, I am interested in proclaiming God’s word, God’s way. We have wrongfully separated apologetics from proclaiming and teaching the word. They are the same thing with a slightly different emphasis. Preaching and teaching is typically viewed as taking the initiative in speech while apologetics is usually a response. However, both must include the same content and presuppositions to be biblical. They both presuppose the existence of God, the truthfulness of the Christian worldview, and the authority of Scripture. They both assume a Christian metaphysic, revelational epistemology, and a biblical ethic. They proclaim and defend the Christian worldview as a whole rather than trying to piecemeal it together. Christian apologetics argues within the worldview that it seeks to defend.

What, then is Peter saying? Is he saying that we are to put together a philosophically complex system designed to actually persuade men of the truth of God and the legitimacy of Christian claims? While many, many apologists would answer in the affirmative, I have my doubts. By nature of the audience Peter is addressing, such a postulation would seem far-fetched. He is not giving believers a pass to be lazy, nor is he requiring a Harvard education in philosophy in order to be a good apologist. I should mention that, while every believer is not called to be a pastor, evangelist, teacher, etc., every believer is commanded to be an apologist. If you listen to some apologists, you are left wondering how an ordinary believer with a job and family could ever hope to obey Peter’s simple imperative. The prevailing idea is that a successful apologetic means persuasion. In other words, the measure of your success in apologetics is located in the power of your argument to convince others. Nowhere is this concept every presented in Scripture. In fact, since unbelievers are depraved, and reason entirely differently than Christians, such a postulation is utterly incongruent with Scripture. What then is Peter’s apologetic imperative? What, by God’s standards, is a sound Christian apologetic?

First, it involves a fearless defense of the truth claims of the Christian worldview. Peter says “do not be afraid of their intimidation!” It is likely that threat of physical harm was in view. Peter does not excuse the believer, even in the case of potential physical harm. If that is true, how can American/Western Christians excuse themselves under the guise of possibly offending others? How can we excuse ourselves over threat of loss of employment? Peter implies that loss of life is no reason for believers to excuse themselves from their apologetic duty. Therefore, loss of friends, loss of employment, loss of luxury, and loss of any comfort or convenience cannot serve as a legitimate reason for Christians not to fiercely engage in the Christian duty of defending the faith with all those who make such a demand. Pastors who neglect to equip their communities accordingly fail on a very fundamental level. Apologetics should be as much a pastoral concern as sanctification.

Second, Peter’s imperative has everything to do with reaffirming the Lordship of Christ in the life of the believer. Only if the believer acknowledges the lordship of Christ will they be able to make the sacrifices that Christian apologetics may demand of them. After all, if Christ is not Lord, why should I lose anything for Him, especially my health or even perhaps my life?

Believers are to provide a reasoned or reasonable account of why they have placed such confidence in the Christian worldview. Many apologists mistakenly think that Peter is saying that this “answer” must satisfy the reasoning of the unbeliever. In other words, many apologists assume that the reason (logos) Peter references is that which is employed by the world. If they do not make that mistake, they make the mistake of failing to distinguish between reformed or regenerate reason and unreformed reason. This raises the centuries old question of the relationship between faith and reason. As Augustine and Anselm said in their own way, I believe so that I may understand. Believers and unbelievers do not reason in the same way. How a Christian reasons must necessarily differ from how an unbeliever reasons due to the born again nature of the Christian. If this is true, then we have to ask by what standard of reason then should the Christian provide an answer for the hope that is in them? The answer is quite simple: it is God’s standard of reasoning. To assume that the world reasons in accord with God’s standard for reasoning is naïve and foolish. The unbeliever begins his reasoning on entirely different and even hostile ground than the believer. What makes us think they would permit godly reasoning in the course of this answer? Yet this is precisely what God demands.

How do we put the unbeliever to shame with our answer? First, it should be noted that to shame a Greco-Roman person was far more serious than it is for modern, Western or American persons. While it is far more stinging, the shame is not altogether so foreign that we are unable to attain a sense of it. We know very well what shame feels like. We can imagine what it feels like to be shamed by our group. The difference is the importance placed on honor and acceptance by the group. The manner in which we put the antagonist to shame is located in the mode of our answer, not the content or structure of the answer. In other words, we do not shame our opponents because they find the force of our reasoning irresistible. The only time that happens is when God regenerates the heart of the sinner. Otherwise, they are bound to find our reasoning empty and foolish. See Paul’s argument in I Cor. 1 & 2. The light has shined into the darkness and the darkness did not comprehend it because men loved darkness rather than light, because men’s deeds are evil. The courtesy and respect displayed in our answer serves to separate the believer from others.

It is one thing to understand how the reasoning of the unbeliever operates and where and how it departs from Christian theism. It is quite another to adopt that style of reasoning in an attempt to demonstrate the truthfulness of a worldview that such reasoning begins by dismissing at the outset. Unregenerate reasoning is hostile toward God. It is a sworn enemy of Christian theism. Worldly wisdom is antithetical to Christian wisdom. The world never comes to know God through its own wisdom. Their minds are darkened and without understanding. (II Cor. 4:4, Rom. 3:10-18)

A sound Christian apologetic begins with the truth of God’s existence, the validity of the Christian worldview, and the authority of Scripture as self-attesting. It does not begin with unreformed reasoning and move to that conclusion. It begins with God’s truth and proceeds along these lines, refusing to bow to the ungodly idol of autonomous human reason. A sound Christian apologetic does not, for the sake of argument, pretend that God might not exist, that Christian theism may not be true, or that Scripture is not necessarily the word of God, and then employ unreformed “type” reasoning in order to establish the likelihood of the truthfulness of these claims. Such an approach seems to me to be inconsistent with Peter’s apologetic imperative.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christopher Hitchens: Let's Be Honest

It is indeed a tragedy that any human being should depart this life rejecting God. It is even more tragic that some men take up the arduous and impossible task of erasing the very idea of God from society. Nothing is more disturbing than a human being openly, aggressively, and arrogantly putting forth extreme amounts of energy to destroy his or her Creator. No work is less noble, less honorable, less worthy, less ethical, less valuable than the work of erasing God from the conscience of human society. Not only is such work sheer folly, it is wrought with an arrogance unrivaled by any other known to man. To engage in the task of erasing God from human conscience is like standing under a waterfall while arguing that there is no such thing as water, that it doesn't fall, and that it does not make humans wet when contacting them.

I have read many kind remarks regarding Christopher Hitchens over the past few days. Most of these remarks coming from Christian quarters. The nicities are pouring forth like compliments at the King's birthday party. I cannot help but think about what Jesus said regarding His command for us to love our enemies. Does loving your enemies mean that you call them your friend? Can you love an enemy without saying wonderful things about him at his death? What does "loving your enemy" actually look like? How should Christian leaders be responding to the death of Hitchens? On one hand, I respect Hitchens' directness. You did not have to guess what he thought about God, the Bible, Jesus Christ, or those irrational and anti-intellectual Christian fruitcakes! Hitchens was a straight-shooter from what I can see. I wish more Christians were as honest and direct as he was. On the other hand, I destest the manner in which he blasphemed God.

What should we say about Hitchens? In American and Western culture, when people die, we have a tradition of saying only good things about the person. I understand why we have this inclination. I am not saying it is necessarily a good or bad thing. From my perspective, what really matters is Christ. What really takes precedence or should, is the gospel. What we should really be talking about is the truth. If you want to compliment Christopher Hitchens, then at least be honest with your compliments. Find something good that was actually good. Hitchens had a very powerful intellect. Perhaps he was a brilliant writer. But to say that any mind who aggressively denies God is a brilliant one is, in my opinion as a Christian, disengenuous. Truly brilliant minds do not deny their Creator. Men with powerful intellects may. Men with high IQs may. But to earn the description "brilliant" for me as a Christian means that this person's mind humbly submitted to the God who is there. Hitchen's did not! Any reasoning that concludes God is not is radically unsound. For Christians, how could it be otherwise?

The legacy of Christopher Hitchens was blasphemer par excellence. I do not think Hitchens would object to this description, given that it is coming from an irrational Christian such as myself. At least irrational as far as Hitchens is concerned! This is a very sad and frightening truth. Few men have blasphemed God as often and as indignently as Christopher Hitchens. His denial of the Creator and the arrogance with which he paraded his own intellectual abilities represent the worse kind of blasphemy. Do we honestly believe that Jesus would put his arm around Christopher Hitchens, call him a good friend and shrug his shoulders saying we disagree about God, all the while having a good laugh about it? Christopher Hitchens spent his life blaspheming God and making fun of the only true religion in the entire world. Does God have anything at all to say to men like Hitchens? I think so.

Let's be honest: Christopher Hitchens perverted the gift of reason and turned this God-given gift against the gracious Giver Himself. Christopher knew God existed, deep in places that atheists don't like to talk about. They all know that God exists. In lock-step, to one degree or another, these god-haters all take the gracious gift of knowledge and surpress it, exchange it for something far less than the beautiful gift it is. And with that subversion, they set about to protect, with every ounce of intellectual energy they can muster, all the autonomy their wicked hearts desire. Mr. Hitchens, while an accomplished author, an excellent speaker, and a good representative of the antitheistic view, was not a brilliant thinker if for no other reason than he refused to think God's thoughts after him. In so-doing, he ipso facto placed himself squarely in the camp of the irrational. If you are truly a consistent, critical Christian thinker, you must arrive at no other conclusion. We leave you to God, Hitch. Every man must face his Maker. I would rather do so with Jesus Christ as my Attorney as opposed to engaging in the folly of trusting in my own self-appointment.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christian Arguments: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

One Amazon Reviewer writes:

Hi, Just want to make the point that while many Christian apologetic arguments are weak and badly thought out, the same can be said of atheistic ones. Some arguments in the book are mirror images of ones Christians use and thus many of the criticisms of Christianity can be turned back. The argument that we can't trust our brains leads to futility for atheists and theists. Also, atheists are [rightly] offended when Christians accuse them of publicly denying their own inward awareness of God, but they don't think it offensive to suggest that Christians are generally deluded and too stupid to change, that the only reason they continue to believe is that they have not understood atheist arguments, rather than that they have understood and found them wanting.
The basic problem in apologetics is that most arguments for Christian theism are far too influenced by enlightenment theories of human reason or the arrogance of postmodernism. In other words, just as atheism lives off the borrowed capital of Christian theism in its attempts to preserve some semblance of a rational defense of its views, so too, many modern Christian apologetic methods borrow from views whose presuppositions do not themselves cohere with basic Christian belief. When they attempt to weave together an internally consistent and persuasive argument, they trip over themselves. This is because they depart from orthodox Christian views of God, ultimate reality, the role of revelation in epistemology, the relationship between faith and reason, and the clear teachings of the impact of sin on the human mind. Unless apologists begin with the clear teachings of God in Scripture and proceed along those lines, they are likely to come off as strikingly incoherent and even inept in their presentation and defense of Christian theism.

A sound argument is a valid argument with true premises that result in a true conclusion. By definition then, there are no sound arguments against the truthfulness of Christian theism. Why? Because Christian theism is true. Did Jesus or any one of the Apostles EVER pretend that Christianity was false for the sake of argument? To do so is not only irrational for those who truly do purport to subscribe to the Christian worldview, it is without question a violation of Christian ethics to pretend that views which blaspheme the Creator could possibly be true, even for the sake of argument. As Aquinas once said, "A small error at the outset can lead to great errors in the final conclusion."

As Edward Leigh said, "The weightiest testimony only that can be brought to prove that there is a God, is to produce the Testimony of God speaking in his own word. None other in the world can have equal authority." God speaks to all men through His speech-act of Creation along with the sensus divinitatis not to mention Scripture! God testifies of Himself and His testimony is so clear, so pronounced that it leaves all men culpable. (Rom. 1)

"We are given to know the divine attributes or essential properties by revelation and rational reflection on revelation in such a way that God's nature is truly known by means of the revealed attributes."
-Francis Turretin

Monday, December 19, 2011

“Reason” and the Word of the Cross, cont.

As I stated previously, God, in His own reasoning, chose not to bring the world to Himself through the world’s reason. Rather, God chose to use that which the world finds to be foolish, divine reasoning to save the lost. God reasoned to save the lost through means that the lost would find most unreasonable. Nowhere in Scripture are we ever commanded to believe because it makes good sense to us. Conversely, nowhere are we let off the hook because we found a thing unreasonable or offensive to our senses. Francis Turretin writes, “Faith is not referred ultimately to reason, so that I ought to believe because I so understand and comprehend; but to the word because God so speaks in the Scriptures.” [Turretin, Francis, Institutes of Elenctic Theology. 25]

Paul says, “For since in the wisdom of God the world through wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.” (I Cor. 1:21) It seems rather clear that the ones who came to believe did not do so from human reason. The Greek construction clearly demarcates the message preached against human reason. The world did not come to know God διὰ τῆς σοφίας. Conversely, God saves the believing ones διὰ τῆς μωρίας. The world does not come to know God through her wisdom. On the other hand, God saves through the foolishness. Again, who thinks that the preached message of the good news is foolishness and nonsense? Men like Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Sam Harris think so. Yet God confounds the wise, the scribe, and the rhetorician with His simple, but powerful, life changing, earth-shattering gospel. The world considers the gospel a preposterous scandal.

Paul says the Jew seeks a sign and the Greek for wisdom. It would seem to me that if we used the logic presented to us today by a good many theologians, apologists, and Christian philosophers, that God should have come up with a way to reach these people by meeting them where they were. For Jews, He should give them just the right signs. And for the Greeks, if He could just help them get to the ultimate reality behind the forms by use of reason, perhaps He could win them. However, God has not taken up utilitarianism, contrary to Rick Warren and other seeker-sensitive, felt needs gurus. What does God offer the Jew and the Greek?

Paul says God brings them a message: Christ crucified! However, to the Jews, this is a stumbling block, and to the Gentiles foolishness. The Greek word scandalon was literally a device for catching a live animal. It was also an action that caused one to violate a deeply held set of beliefs. A stumbling block was something that caused offense or revulsion and resulted in opposition, disapproval, or hostility. In other words, the Jews found the preaching of the cross repugnant, and revolting in every way imaginable. It was as unattractive as any message could be. How could any Jew embrace and believe such a message, held in such contempt even to certain death in some cases? One could offer up many answers, but claiming that it was because the Jew found it so aligned with their basic beliefs about God that it was rationally compelling would not be one of them. The same can be said of the Greek. To the Greek, the gospel had to sound like the most foolish message they had ever heard. Greek dualism held to a view that the material world was evil, corrupt, and contaminating. How is it that this Christian God, the Savior of us all, this completely and perfectly holy God could or would ever become human flesh. The thought of such a thing is absolutely foolish. Yet, this is precisely the message God gives to the Greek. The apostles do not look for a way to make the word of the Cross more palatable or rational or less seemingly absurd to their audience. They make no modifications whatsoever to the message of the cross. They are just silly enough to proclaim it. They don’t get lost in the myriad of competing deities or the potential distractions of Greco-Roman rhetoric. They engaged the culture, not with rational faith, but with baptized “reason.” They engaged the culture with reformed reason in the service of faith in the Christian gospel. The apostles accepted and embraced the idea that their message was going to offend the Jew and appear foolish to the Greek. Their faith did not rest in the will of man. Their faith did not rest in their ability to construct sophisticated complex apologetic arguments to persuade men to believe. If ever such was needed at any time in any culture, it was at that time and in that culture. The faith of the apostles was in God Himself. They were convinced that God’s plan would not be, no, could not be thwarted by any one at any time in any place. God’s plan was entirely dependent on God, not the libertarian freedom of the creature. Perhaps, if we can shift our faith from the creature back to the Creator, we too can return to a biblical apologetic that rests on the revelation of Scripture rather than autonomous human reason. If reason is the gift from the enlightenment, perhaps it is time to re-gift.

Reason serves as an instrument of faith, not as a foundation of it. This is the problem introduced long ago with natural theology, going back to the Platonists of Cambridge when confusion about the role of reason and the supposed illumination of natural theology slipped through the cracks by one Benjamin Whichcote. I am a huge proponent of reason. I wholeheartedly believe in a rational defense of the Christian worldview. However, I insist that any reason used in the service of faith be reformed by the faith it seeks to serve.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

"Reason" and the Word of the Cross

Ho Logos tou staurou is an interesting phrase. The word of the cross is both foolishness from one perspective and powerful from another. The word of the cross is synonymous with preaching the gospel. Paul says in I Cor. 1:18, “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Notice the epexegetical “for.” This word serves as an explanation for the statement Paul just made. So, move your finger up the page to v. 17. There, Paul says, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void.” First, notice that Paul came to preach the gospel. It is this preaching of the gospel that Paul also calls, “the word of the cross.” There can be little doubt that Paul thinks of the gospel of Christ as the word of the cross. Read these two verses again and note how Paul draws a distinction between human reason and the gospel. There can be little doubt that Paul intentionally set up his argument to proceed along these lines.

Human beings are supposedly rational creatures. We have a “way of thinking” about things in order to make sense of them. God created human beings with the propensity to think in an orderly way. Reason imposes on all human cogitation norms that govern the orderliness of human thought. Rationalist are so enamored with human reason that they contend that all knowledge comes through it. Over the centuries, philosophers and theologians have undertaken the task of understanding how human reason and biblical faith relate to one another. Since reason is the human behavior of thinking in a certain sense, it follows that one must ask the question, how then does faith and regeneration impact how we reason as Christians? Is “reasoning” a neutral activity, unaffected by the sin nature? Reformed theologians and philosophers would answer in the negative as would I. Unbelievers and believers reason differently. The presuppositions that support the foundations of thought in the believer are antithetical to those that support the foundations of thought in the unbeliever. It is along these lines that we will proceed to discuss I Cor. 1:17-20.

The context in which Paul writes has to do with worldly group associations within the Christian community. The Corinthian believers were proud to be associated with Peter, Paul, or Apollos. Somehow, they thought such identification improved their social status. Paul is pleased to say that he had baptized almost none of them. Now, the Corinthian church was located near Athens and as one might expect, she came with all sorts of philosophies and speculations. Wisdom was elevated to a very prominent place in this society. This is not unlike our own culture. Humans have desired to elevate human reason from the time of the fall to present day. There are apologetic methods that place reason at the center of their argument. They wrongly believe that eloquent arguments based on sound human reason should be used to compliment the preaching of the gospel and that these methods increase the effectiveness of the gospel. I am going to argue that Paul does not leave us with the impression that he would have agreed with such methods.

Paul actually infers that human reason, apart from Christ has little to commend it when it comes to the Christian message. He argues that he deliberately did not engage in Sophia logou, wise words or words of wisdom, or cleverness of speech. Why not? He tells us clearly why not! So that he would not render void the cross of Christ! What does he mean, “render void.” The word void kenoo and it means to make powerless, to divest of privilege. Paul appears to say that the methods of human reason if employed to spread the gospel actually make the gospel powerless. This runs contrary to many apologetic methods, but this is not the only place Paul speaks in this manner. Moreover, this position makes complete sense in the light of other truths asserted in various portions of the sacred text. Paul preached a simple message so that the cross would be not be made powerless.

Why is this so? Paul tells us in v. 18. He explains the reason for why this stunning revelation. It is because the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing. The Greek word is moria. It means nonsense, foolishness, senseless. In other words, the preaching of the gospel makes absolutely no sense to those who are perishing. We see this is the Athenian response to Paul’s assertions about a resurrection! “Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer.” (Acts 17:31) We spend a great deal of time attempting to make the gospel more reasonable to people that the gospel itself says will find it foolish. This raises the question around the need to make the Christian message more reasonable. Do we need “the word of the cross” to sound more reasonable or is it a legitimate goal to make it more reasonable to those that the gospel itself admits would find it foolish. I think more needs to be said about this subject, but space requires that I save that thorny issue for another post.

There are three types of people that are put to shame by the “word of the cross:” the wise man, the scribe, and the debater. These three groups likely refer to very specific groups in Greco-Roman culture. The wise man, likely refers to the Greek philosophers of the day. Their impetuous search for wisdom and even new views is described by Luke in Acts 17:21 where he says they spent their time in telling or hearing something new. Paul says the Christian message leaves the great Greek philosopher without anything to contemplate. God has demonstrated that for all his philosophizing, he knows nothing. His complex and exhaustive or exhausting inquiries have been brought to nothing.

The second, group, the grammateus likely refers to Jewish lawyers, who were the experts in all matters pertaining to the Law, or Moses. It word refers to a person who has attained a high level of education or expertise in a certain field or discipline. It occurs 63 times in the NT and once it refers to the town clerk. The remainder of the time it appears to refer to the Jewish experts of the Mosaic Law. These were the religious experts par excellence in Paul’s day. They were the top scholars in the land. According to Paul, the word of the cross demonstrated precisely what they did not know about God and His divine revelation.

The final group Paul calls, sudzetetes. The word appears only once in the NT. It also appears once in Ignatius to the Ephesians as he quotes this verse. The word means a disputant, or debater. The verb means to contend with persistence for a point of view. Whether or not Paul intends this to be a separate group from the previous is debatable. Rhetorical skill was highly valued in this culture and it is possible that Paul had such in mind when he mentioned this last group. The point is that these men are closely associated with ten sophian tou kosmou, the wisdom of the world. The very foundation upon which the existence of these groups thrive, God has made foolish. Literally, God has caused the wisdom of this word, its method of reasoning, its intellectual prowess to become nonsense, devoid of meaning.

I will continue in Paul’s polemic against worldly reasoning in my next post. Suffice it to say, that if we are going to interact with the world in apologetic fashion, we must come to grips with what Paul is asserting to the believers at Corinth regarding the world’s capacity to reason in a way that can make sense of the gospel without reforming their reason. It would be proper to say that there is nothing wrong with the world concluding that your Christian message is absurd. Paul contends that part of the Christian message is that the world will find the Christian message nonsensical. This is not necessarily proof you got it right of course. However, if the world considers your message very sensible and agrees with it, this is a serious indication that you have got something wrong. Perhaps making the “word of the cross” more sensible to the world has more to do with our own insecurities and uneasiness about the gospel and its relationship to our ego that it does about honoring God by effectively presenting His truth. Think about that.

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