Sunday, March 9, 2014

Sovereignty and Apologia


God has the absolute, supreme right as sovereign Lord over all that is, to be acknowledged, honored, feared, loved, and worshipped at all times, in all places, by all men, who have absolutely no right whatever to refuse God His right or to call into question this right for any reason, in any place, at any time, be they young, old, rich, poor, noble, common, lettered, not lettered, psychologists, doctors, lawyers, judges, politicians, philosophers, and especially clergy.
It is here that the Christian evangelist, apologist, and pastor must begin if they are to communicate the gospel, defend the faith, and shepherd the sheep in such a way as to honor the very God of Christian theism they claim to serve. We must never be soft in how we position the message of repentance, or remotely apologetic of the fact that our Lord and Christ, our God that is, is a demanding God with inalienable rights. Let there be no misunderstanding here. God is not sitting in heaven wringing his fingers hoping you will eventually come to your senses and realize how wonderful He is and finally place your faith and trust in Him. According to Scripture, the situation is profoundly different. God is not sitting in heaven hoping and praying (to whom?) that you will find a way to just believe in Jesus so that you will not suffer eternal torment when all is said and done.
The apostle Paul provided a wonderful case study in Christian apologetics in Acts 17. From the start, one should notice that Paul was not indifferent toward the idolatry in which the city was absorbed. Luke describes Paul as being provoked in his spirit due to the idolatry he witnessed in Athens. Often, we operate on the misgiven assumption that respectful replies in apologetics mean that we are not emotionally drawn into the situation. Luke's description of Paul in Athens helps us realize that this is a false dichotomy. We can be both moved emotionally and invested in the situation as well as reply with gentleness and respect.
More important than this, Paul never once hinted at compromising or loosening his view that God has an absolute right to be acknowledged by all men, as well as feared and obeyed. After opening his rhetoric with a compliment of the Athenian philosophers, he immediate turns their attention to God with a thunderous statement that pointed the philosophers up to the concept of divine sovereignty.
From the standpoint of reality, knowledge, ethics, meaning, and truth, God stands at the very beginning, the fountainhead of all these areas. Philosophers are far from agreed on the nature of reality, human theories of knowledge, the description of morality, the meaning and purpose of being, and the concept of truth. But the one thing most of them can agree on is that it cannot possibly be as Christian theism contends. Human philosophy begins with the sovereignty or autonomy of human reason. Human philosophy refuses to acknowledge God. It refuses to render to God what is rightfully His. Christian apologetics, evangelism, and shepherding must confront the philosopher, not only in his godless philosophical speculations, but right here, where the philosopher claims sovereignty for his or her own.
The idea that human beings can know anything apart from God reduces to absurdity. The problem of knowing the self is a perfect example. What is the self and how exactly do we gain knowledge of it? In order to know anything objectively about the self, it seems one has to step outside the self. But such a move is impossible. Is the self the soul? Or is self purely a physical entity evolved from a common primordial ancestor? What is the self and how do we know? Indeed, knowledge of what we are seems prerequisite to any knowledge at all. If we do not know what we are, how can we know what anything else is? We know ourselves in terms of what we are not. But if we do not know what we are, how can we know we are not something else? And if we do not know that, how can we know anything about the other? Hence, it seems readily apparent that a knowledge of self is essential if we are truly going to know anything about anything.
Jer. 17:9 informs us that the human heart is more deceitful than all else, and is desperately sick (morally), who can know it? If we take Jeremiah at face value, it seems that human beings in and of themselves cannot actually know themselves. We often hear the English idiom, "trust your heart." Jeremiah contradicts that without hesitation or doubt. The answer lies in v. 10. God searches and knows the very heart, the self, of every human being. God, who searches and knows the self, according to Christian theism, reveals such knowledge as He deems fitting, to His creation.
"This far, the course of thought has run smoothly. Knowledge of God is the crown of all that can be known. Knowledge of God is inconceivable, except it is imparted to us by God Himself." [Abraham Kuyper, Encyclopedia of Sacred Theology, 229] The answer then is that if knowledge is to be had, it must be revealed by God. If knowledge of self is necessary to knowledge at all, then the question must be asked how one is to know the self. Philosophers of all stripes disagree how and if such a thing is even possible. The reason is simply due to a groundless and indefensible dismissive attitude toward Christian theism from the start.
Calvin writes, "Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consist of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves." [Calvin, Institues, I.i.1, 35] Calvin understands well the necessity of human knowledge and breaks it down into two parts. He goes even further when he writes, "Again, it is certain that man never achieves a clear knowledge of himself unless he has first looked upon God's face, and then descends from contemplating him to scrutinize himself." [Ibid. I.i.2, 37] Solomon wrote, "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge." (Prov. 1:7) Notice that Solomon did not say that the fear of the LORD leads to knowledge. He said it is the very beginning of knowledge. In other words, if you desire knowledge, a prerequisite is to fear God.
God, speaking through Moses said, 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 the law. (Deut. 29:29) God is sovereign over all that is, to include human knowledge. We know because the transcendent God of Christian theism created men and then revealed Himself. Knowledge is only possible because God sovereignly chose to reveal. Had He chose otherwise, humanity would remain ignorant, in the dark, without any hope of knowledge. Human knowledge is an expression of God's common grace.


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