Category Archives: Christian Worldview
Since 2005, James R. White has taken to a serious study of Islam. What he’s produced, both in lectures and reading material (in print and on his blog), is some of the most helpful stuff on Islam available. Here’s his 2 part introduction:
And here’s his shorter 1 part presentation of the much of the same material:
For more detail, see White’s fuller discussion in:
Something to think about:
Christian maturity is tested by its willingness to go against the odds, to go against intellectual and practical fashions in the service of our King. It is easy enough to be a Christian when being a Christian merely requires us to be nice people. But love for Jesus, that love which is motivated by his great sacrifice, requires far more. It calls upon us to renounce what Scripture calls the “wisdom of the world,” the fashionable ideas and practices of our society, and to count them as rubbish for the sake of Christ. We honor those like Noah, who built his ark though the world scoffed; like Abraham, who set aside the evidence of his senses and the laughter of his own wife to believe that God would provide a miraculous son; like Moses, who stood up against Pharaoh the totalitarian despot to bring him the word of God; like Daniel, who endured lions rather than to worship an earthly king; like Peter and John, who told officials that “we must obey God, rather than man.”
-John M. Frame
Thoughts on our gifts, callings, and duties before God:
In general, our obligations, our moral responsibilities, differ according to our gifts, our callings, our opportunities. One who has the gifts and calling to be an architect, and the opportunity to get the training and credentials necessary for that profession, has an obligation to give more attention to architecture than most of us would dream of giving. Similarly, we can say that obligations also change with maturity (both physical and spiritual). When Paul writes to Corinth asking the people to set aside some contributions for the poor saints in Jerusalem, common sense would lead us to believe that he is not addressing children of six months and under. Those who are ordained to the eldership have a responsibilities for the welfare of the church body that “babes in Christ” do not have as yet. Scripture teaches us “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked” (Luke 12:48). Thus Jesus is far more critical of the Jewish leaders, who have been entrusted with much knowledge, than he is of the ordinary Jews and Gentiles who are relatively ignorant of God’s word.
What is the big claim made by the transcendental argument? No one puts it better than Cornelius Van Til himself:
Only the Christian theory of knowledge, based as it is upon the absolute authority of the word of God speaking in Scripture, makes communication of any sort possible anywhere between men. Without this presupposition man would have no integrated selves and the world would be a vacuum. Without this presupposition of the Christian theory of being there would be no defensible position with respect to the relation of men and things. Neither man nor things would have discernible identity. There would be no science and no philosophy or theology, for there would be no order. History would be utterly unintelligible. Finally, without the presupposition of the Christian theory of morality there would be no intelligible view of the difference between good and evil. Why should any action be thought to be better than any other except on the supposition that it is or it is not what God approves or disapproves? Except on the Christian basis there is no intelligible distinction between good and evil.
-Cornelius Van Til, The Doctrine of Scripture, 61-62
There are really only two worldviews. John Frame helps us see the contrast:
If the world is basically impersonal, it is a pretty dark, dreary, and hopeless place. Happiness, justice, love, beauty might spring up for a while, but they are cosmic accidents of no ultimate importance. Finally they will be consumed in various cosmic explosions, and nothing will remain to remember them. Ultimately they are meaningless. If the world is basically personal, the situation is different: personal values like happiness, justice, love, and beauty are wrapped up in the very core of the universe. They are what nature and history is all about. In time, it will be the matter of the world that will be burned up, to be replaced by a new heaven and earth wherein dwells righteousness.
Contrast this with the view of highly regarded atheist philosopher, Bertrand Russell:
That man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labors of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins. . . . Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built. (Bertrand Russell, “A Free Man’s Worship,” Why I Am Not a Christian, ed. Paul Edwards)
This leaves us with a choice to make.
So: is the world basically personal, or basically impersonal? One would think that either hypothesis is at least worth considering at the outset of the discussion. But do the secularists give equal attention to both? Do they consider equally the evidence for both? My sense of it is that they routinely assume that the universe is impersonal, and they do not give any serious consideration to the other possibility. Consider Darwinian evolution, Marxist economics, Freudian psychology. Did Darwin, Marx, or Freud consider the evidence for the existence of God and conclude objectively that God did not exist? Certainly not. They assumed that God did not exist, and they went on from there to develop impersonalist explanations of life, history, economics.
Why? Because impersonalism and autonomy go together. If God exists, then autonomy is at an end; we must bow the knees of the mind. But if God doesn’t exist, then we are on our own, free. We can set our own standards, believe what we want to believe. So to assume autonomy, the secularist also assumes an impersonal universe. (John M. Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God,)
For more see:
As God’s Spirit penetrates people’s hearts through the gospel, those people become new creatures (2 Cor. 5:17). They take their faith into every sphere of life, including the workplace, politics, economics, education, and the arts. And in all these realms, they seek to glorify God. They hear Paul’s exhortation in 1 Cor. 10:31, “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” They obey, imperfectly to be sure. But their incipient obedience leads to significant changes in society, as we’ve seen above.
It is true that the New Testament does not focus on the goal of improving the general society. Most of its social teaching concerns relations of love within the body of Christ. But Jesus taught his disciples to minister to people without regard to their creed or national origin (Luke 10:25-37), and Paul, as we saw, urges believers to do good “especially” to the household of faith, but not exclusively there. The early Christians did not have the power to affect much the politics and culture of the Roman empire, but they did what they could. For example, they rescued babies who had been exposed to die and brought them up in their homes.
The Romans, at least, felt threatened. “Kyrios Iesous,” Jesus is Lord, sounded all too much to them like “Kyrios Caesar,” Caesar is Lord, their own fundamental confession. Jesus did not come in his first advent to be an earthly king, but he is indeed King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Rev. 17:14, 19:16), to whom all authority has been given (Matt. 28:18). He is the mighty Son of David, whose kingdom is to stretch “from sea to sea” and “from the River to the ends of the earth” (Ps. 72:8). The Romans persecuted Christians because they believed that Christ’s kingship was a threat to Caesar. The Christians protested that Christ was not an earthly king, and that they sought to be good Roman citizens. They said that sincerely. But in time Christianity overwhelmed the Roman Empire, not by the sword, but by the power of the gospel. In time, Scripture teaches, the kingdoms of this world are to become the kingdom of Christ (Rev. 11:15). So the gospel certainly is a political movement. That is not to say that Christians should seek political power by the sword. But they should never imagine that their faith is politically irrelevant.
-John M. Frame, “In Defense of Christian Activism“
I believe in the existence and power of logic. First, let me make it clear that (at this point at least) I’m not talking about our ability to use our reasoning capacities, as great as that is. I’m talking about the objective existence of the laws of logic. I believe that the validity and universality of the laws of logic defy a mere materialistic explanation. Let’s think of the “big 3.” These are the foundational and standard laws of logic found in most Intro to Philosophy books and all Logic textbooks.
1) First, we have the law of Identity. A is A
2) Second, we have the law of the excluded middle, A is either A or Non-A (it cannot be both.). Admittedly, philosophers have debated the validity of this one, but last I checked the debate isn’t over.
3) Lastly, we have the law of non-contradiction (otherwise known as, ironically, the law of contradiction). This law states that P cannot be both A and non-A at the same time and in the same respect.
These laws of logic are universally true and even in denying them we utilize them. For instance, if we say that “there are no universal laws of logic,” we’re taking for a given that that statement is not the same as “there are universal laws of logic,” thus using the law of non-contradiction to argue against the reality of the law of non-contradiction.
Now, I’ve always found this problematic for those who are materialists on the one hand, yet who champion logic, reason, and “free thinking” on the other. I think it’s safe to say that we all (Christian and non-Christian) that laws of logic immaterial. Can we taste, feel, smell, weigh, measure, or hear the law of identity? Can we see the law of the excluded middle? Well, no, of course not. Are they then “not real”? Are they simply social convention? If so, then they aren’t universally binding. But we know that something that’s A cannot be both A and non-A in the same time or in the same respect, whether it’s in our culture or any other. If we throw away the universal validity of the law of non-contradiction, for example, then logically there’s no difference between Atheism and Christianity. But, of course, there is.
So, where do these laws originate? Why do they fit so perfectly with the world? How can we account for their universality? Those are important questions. If they were only social conventions, they we’d be saying that they don’t really exist. But if they this is the case, why do they always accurately reflect the external world? Why can’t we think without assuming their truth?
Now, I can imagine what someone might be thinking here. “Ok, ok, you’ve made your point. But how does the Christian makes seem of logic?” I honestly can’t think of laws of rationality being material “things.” They’re immaterial. But laws of thought govern minds (not merely brains). So, ultimate laws of rationality reflect an ultimate Mind. Without getting terribly into details, Christianity teaches that God the creator is a rational, orderly, logical being. The laws of logic simply describe to us how God thinks. Since we’ve been created in God’s image (as finite reflections of God on earth to represent Him) we think like him, though on a finite scale.
For instance, to say that my car is blue all over and yet say that it is the case that it is not blue all over is to, essentially, to affirm a falsehood. God is a God of truth and since I am to reflect His character, I should not affirm falsehoods or lies (thus abiding by the law of non-contradiction). Similar examples could be given regarding the other 2 laws. So, from a Christian theistic worldview, the universality and accuracy of logical reasoning are affirmed and grounded in my belief in not just any God, but specifically in the God of the Old and New Testaments, Yahweh.
The following series is intended to lay out some helpful argument to demonstrate the existence of God. Philosophically constructed arguments as such are not the basis of my belief in Yahweh, the God of the Old and New Testaments, for he’s revealed clearly both in creation and in human nature (cf. Romans 1). The whole world is evidence for his existence. Nevertheless, i’ve attempted to take that evidence and reformulate it into helpful arguments that can be used to bolster the faith of Christians and refute those who contradict.
But before we delve straight into the arguments themselves we should note two things: the centrality of worldviews and the impossibility of neutrality in holding and formulating worldviews.
The importance of worldviews. The notion of worldview is key here. Technically speaking, the term worldview is looser than a philosophy, but the overlap is great. Here’s my working definition:
A worldview is a spoken (or unspoken), consistent (or less consistent), often assumed, though rarely articulated, comprehensive vision of life. Here’s a more philosophical definition, A worldview is a network of guiding assumptions regarding the nature of reality (i.e. metaphysics), knowledge and truth (i.e epistemology), what we should value (i.e. value theory) and how we should live our lives (i.e. ethics).
Here, given the definitions above, we all have a worldview. And, more importantly, we should develop their worldview. Since everyone thinks “worldviewishly,” the least we can do is do it well. Likewise, we should strive to be more self-conscious about our worldview development. Too often- and I’m the first to admit this about myself- we passively soak up bits-and- pieces of the worldview of the surrounding culture.
The problem of neutrality. Since we all have views regarding the most important issues of life (What’s real? How and what do I know? How should I live? What is valuable? ), to deny this is naïve. Now, let me clarify for a second. I’m not saying that we have views on every single thing. Personally, I have no views on string theory, or the status of quarks. So, if someone tries to persuade me of them views on those matters it’s fairly easy. But talking about a worldview, the lens through which we integrate our entire lives, is something very different. No one is either neutral or objective. I also reject the modernist and enlightenment notion of objectivity. None of us has “God’s eye view” of reality. We’re always firmly planted in our historical contexts, with its biases (whether they’re helpful or harmful), and various ways of seeing things.
Now, one might be tempted to think that I’ve opened the door wide for relativism, but I don’t think that’s the case. When I reject the notion of objectivity, I’m not saying we can’t know truths that exist independently of our options. I do believe we can have such knowledge. What I reject as philosophically naïve is the notion that we can come to weighty matters without concern, without prejudice, and with the ‘cool detachment’ of Reason (notice the capital R).
For more see:
Look for part 2 on Wednesday.
As I’ve argued before, the rise of modern science came about from the conviction of the Bible’s presentation of metaphysical realism teaches that the external world was really there, not merely a projection of our minds, and detailed study of it could lead to a true understanding of the world rather than merely biographical insights (opposed to eastern influenced worldviews that teach reality as maya, illusion.). This is grounded in the Biblical notion of a Creator/creature distinction.
Naturally, this may lead to an objection: What of those who practiced a kind of science before the rise of modern science? What about Lucretius? What about Democritus? Didn’t they say the same kinds of things?
Well, let’s ask a couple of question. Did Lucretius believe in a Creator/creature distinction? Great! Wait…no? Did he believe that the external world was really there? Great! My point isn’t that non-Christians don’t believe in an external world. The nub of the issue is whether their worldview provides a basis for believing those things. The issue is worldview. The rise of modern science is owed to Christian theism.
It’s not enough that someone, somewhere (ex: Lucretius) agreed with a single point that Christians later held. Rather is was a collection of beliefs that made modern science possible. Even Alfred North Whitehead, not exactly a friend to historical Christianity, said in Science and the Modern World:
Faith in the possibility of science, generated antecedently to the development of modern scientific theory, is an unconscious derivative from medieval theology.
The point? Even those who reject Christianity acknowledge its role in the development of modern science.
Let’s think of some other problems for naturalism. Epistemologists for centuries have noted what I’ve called the problem of the knower. That is, how do we know that our measuring, thoughts, etc. match up to the external world? Our measuring, observations, etc may work (they may provide pragmatic usefulness), but how do we know that they lead to truth? Personally, I can understand how on a materialistic worldview they lead to the first (pragmatic usefulness), but not how they can secure the second (truth).
You see, this is also called the subject/object problem. But, one of the reasons for the problem (and the issue here, again, is how does one justify, integrate, harmonize, provide the philosophical preconditions for these assumptions. I’m not doubting that the assumptions (i.e. that our measurements reflect the external world, etc.) are valid, I’m questioning naturalism’s philosophical foundation for such beliefs. Naturalists have failed to provided an epistemological norm or standard for these foundational beliefs. For Christians the standard is the Bible. Lots of work has been done to unpack the philosophical implications for metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, etc from the teachings of the Bible, like John Frame’s Doctrine of the Knowledge of God (P&R Publishing), and Alvin Plantinga’s Warranted Christian Belief (Oxford). This “norm” serves as a presupposition in the sense that it acts as the filter, lens (insert analogy here) through which evidence will be understood. This norm isn’t easily refuted or correct by a simply appeal to “the facts” either, because it’s the standard by which evidence is interpreted. So the battle between naturalism and Christianity is a clash of worldviews. This clash was made explicit in the now infamous book review by Richard Lewontin:
Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, IN SPITE OF its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, IN SPITE OF the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a A PRIORI adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is an absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.
- Richard Lewontin,”Billions and Billions of Demons,” The New York Review of Books, Jan. 4, 1997, 31. Emphasis in original, though they were italicized, not caps
This speaks volumes, and I’m convinced that this worldview clash is what dictates so many of the arguments against, for example, the intelligent Design movement. It’s a commitment to methodological naturalism, and as Lewontin notes, and a priori commitment at that.
Conclusion. What’s the Christian response to the philosophical issues noted above? In a nutshell, it’s found in biblical doctrines of creation and anthropology. Since the same God created both me and the world around me, there’ s a correlation between the two. God has created the world with a rational structure and likewise has modeled our thinking to match this rational structure (not perfectly, but truly).
In the following quotation Van Til makes clear that all knowledge of God is covenantal. Either we know God “in Adam”, according to the rebellion of our hearts, or we know God “in Christ,” according to the renewing work of the Holy Spirit:
God has never left himself without a witness to men. He witnessed to them through every fact of the universe from the beginning of time. No rational creature can escape this witness. It is the witness of the triune God whose face is before men everywhere and all the time. Even the lost in the hereafter cannot escape the revelation of God. God made man a rational-moral creature. He will always be that. As such he is confronted with God. He is addressed by God. He exists in the relationship of covenant interaction. He is a covenant being. To not know God man would have to destroy himself. He cannot do this. There is no non-being into which man can slip in order to escape God’s face and voice. The mountains will not cover him; Hades will not hide him. Nothing can prevent his being confronted “with him with whom we have to do.” Whenever he sees himself, he sees himself confronted with God.
Whatever may happen, whatever sin may bring about, whatever havoc it may occasion, it cannot destroy man’s knowledge of God and his sense of responsibility to God. Sin would not be sin except for this ineradicable knowledge of God. Even sin as a process of ever-increasing alienation from God presupposes for its background this knowledge of God.
This knowledge is that which all men have in common. For the race of men is made of one blood. It stood as a unity before God in Adam. This confrontation of all men with God in Adam by supernatural revelation presupposes and is correlative to the confrontation of mankind with God by virtue of creation. If then the believer presents to the unbeliever the Bible and its system of truth as God speaking to men, he may rest assured that there is a response in the heart of every man to whom he thus speaks. This response may be, and often is, unfavorable. Men will reject the claims of God but, none the less, they will own them as legitimate. That is, they will in their hearts, when they cannot suppress them, own these claims. There are no atheists, least of all in the hereafter. Metaphysically speaking then, both parties, believers and unbelievers, have all things in common; they have God in common, they have every fact in the universe in common. And they know they have them in common. All men know God, the true God, the only God. They have not merely a capacity for knowing him but actually do know him.
Thus there is not and can never be an absolute separation between God and man. Man is always accessible to God.- Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, 176-177. Emphasis added.
A foundational text undergirding the presuppositional approach to apologetic is Romans chapter 1, specifically verses 18-32. There Paul teaches that all people have an implanted knowledge of God. They don’t merely know that God exists, but they personally know God (as enemy and opponent). God has revealed himself to them in what he has made. Likewise, they not only know God they also know something of his moral demands and that their violation of such demands warrants death (v. 32). Is there anything more to this knowledge? In this often neglected passage, Cornelius Van Til teases how some of what sinful man ought to know about God based on general revelation:
In the first place, he ought to think of God as the creator of this world. In the second place, he ought to believe in the providence of God. In third place, you have to think of the presence of a certain non-saving grace of God. At this last point is true follows for the fact that it is logically involved in the creation idea. If God is the creator of the world, he existed in complete self-sufficiency before the world was. There could be no evil in God; evil would have destroyed God’s self-sufficiency. Accordingly, evil must have come in by the hand of man. [Fourth] Thus logic should have driven men to see the truth of the tradition of the original perfection and the fall of man, and the tradition should have corroborated the logic. To quote Calvin in this connection, “Paul, accordingly, after reminding the Athenians that they ‘might feel after God and find him,’ immediately adds, that ‘he is not far from every one of us’ (Acts 17:27) everyman having within himself undoubted evidence of the heavenly grace by which he lives and moves and has his being” (Institutes 1.5.3).
In the fifth place, we believe men should even have concluded that somewhere in this world they had to be a manifestation of God’s special grace. Non-saving grace could not function without saving grace: “common” grace is not in end in itself, but only a means by which a field may be prepared for the operation of special grace. It is not a valid argument against this contention to say that no one could in advance of this coming argue for the necessity of a gift of grace, since grace is a free gift. We do not say that men ought to have been able to argue in advance that grace should come. We say rather that the world as a matter of fact exist in the way it did by virtue of grace alone as soon as it fell into sin. Moreover, mankind as a whole was brought face to face with the fact of special grace at the time of Cain, and again at time of Noah. Men ought to have seen that a sinful world cannot exist except by the presence of grace in it. Finally, in the sixth place, we may say that men ought to have concluded that the outcome of his failure to recognize the God whom he should serve would be his condemnation in eternal punishment. If they ought to know God as their Creator and ought to know him as the one from whom they had revolted, they ought also to conclude that this creator would put sinners out of his presents forever.
-Cornelius Van Til, Introduction to Systematic Theology: Prolegomena to the Doctrine of Revelation, Scripture, and God (2nd. Ed), 145-146.
In the last chapter of his introduction to Systematic Theology, Salvation Belongs to the Lord, John Frame asks the “So what?” question. Given the rich variety of biblical teaching, how should it be put to use? So his book ends with ethics. While his comprehensive discussion on this topic can be found in his Doctrine of the Christian Life, here Frame provides his readers with three biblical reasons for a life of Christian obedience and good works:
The History of Redemption. Scripture uses basically three means to encourage believers to do good works. First, it appeals to the history of redemption. This is the chief motivation in the Decalogue itself: God has redeemed Israel from slavery in Egypt, therefore they should obey.
In the New Testament, the writers often urge us to do good works because of what Christ did to redeem us. Jesus himself urges that the disciples “love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13:34). Jesus’ love, ultimately displayed on the cross, commands our response of love to one another. Another well-known appeal is found in Col. 3:1-3:
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
When Christ died, we died to sin; when he rose, we rose to righteousness. We are one with Christ in his death and resurrection. So those historic facts have moral implications. We should live in accord with the new life, given to us by God’s grace when we rose with Christ. See also Rom. 6:1-23, 13:11-12, 1 Cor. 6:20, 10:11, 15:58, Eph. 4:1-5, 25, 32, 5:25-33, Phil. 2:1-11, Heb. 12:1-28, 1 Pet. 2:1-3, 4:1-6.
So the Heidelberg Catechism emphasizes that our good works come from gratitude. They are not attempts to gain God’s favor, but rather grateful responses to the favor he has already shown to us.[i]
But our focus on the history of redemption is not limited to the past. It is also an anticipation of what God will do for us in the future. God’s promises of future blessing also motivate us to obey him. Jesus commands us, “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:33).[ii]
This motivation emphasizes God’s control, for history is the sphere of God’s control, the outworking of his eternal plan.
The Authority of God’s Commands. Scripture also motivates our good works by calling attention to God’s commands. Jesus said that he did not come to abrogate the law, but to fuilfill it, so
Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matt. 5:19)
So in their preaching Jesus and the apostles often appeal to the commandments of the law, and to their own commandments, as in Matt. 7:12, 12:5, 19:18-19, 22:36-40, 23:23, Luke 10:26, John 8:17, 13:34-35, 14:15, 21, Rom. 8:4, 12:19, 13:8-10, 1 Cor. 5:13, 9:8-9, 14:34, 37, 2 Cor. 8:15, 9:9, Gal. 4:21-22, Eph. 4:20-24, 6:1-3, 1 Thess. 4:1, 2 Tim. 3:16-17, Tit. 2:1, James 1:22-25, 2:8-13, 1 Pet. 1:16, 1 John 2:3-5, 3:24, 5:2.
God’s commandment is sufficient to place an obligation upon us. We should need no other incentive. But God gives us other motivations as well, because we are fallen, and because he loves us as his redeemed children.
This motivation reflects God’s lordship attribute of authority. We should obey him, simply because he has the right to absolute obedience.
The Presence of the Spirit. Thirdly, Scripture calls us to a godly life, based on the activity of the Spirit within us. This motivation is based on God’s lordship attribute of presence. Paul says,
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. (Gal. 5:16-18)
God has placed his Spirit within us, to give us new life, and therefore new ethical inclinations. There is still conflict among our impulses, but we have the resources to follow the desires of the Spirit, rather than those of the flesh. So Paul appeals to the inner change God has worked in us by regeneration and sanctification. In Eph. 5:8-11, he puts it this way:
for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light 9 (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.
In the following verses, Paul continues to expound on the ethical results of this transformation. Compare also Rom. 8:1-17, Gal. 5:22-26.
So Scripture motivates us to do good works by the history of redemption, the commandments of God, and the work of the Spirit within us, corresponding to God’s lordship attributes of control, authority, and presence, respectively.
-John M. Frame, Salvation Belongs to the Lord
[i] This motivation is not what John Piper calls the “debtors’ ethic,” in which we do good works in a vain attempt to pay God back for our redemption. We can, of course, never do that, and we should not try to do it. See Piper, The Purifying Power of Living by Faith in Future Grace (Sisters, OR: Multnomah Publishers, 1995), and the summary discussion on pp. 33-38 of Brothers, We Are Not Professionals (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2002). But gratefulness, nonetheless, is the only legitimate response to the grace God has given us in Christ.
[ii] This is what Piper calls “future grace” in the works cited in the previous note.
I remember once reading approximately 50 books one year back in college. It looks like those days are long gone. If I reach half that ever again I’ll be amazed. Here’s my list for books read in 2012:
Jesus and the Gospels
- Jesus and the Victory of God- N. T. Wright
- How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels- N. T. Wright
- Mark for Everyone- N. T. Wright
- The Shadow of the Galilean: The Quest of the Historical Jesus in Narrative Form - Gerd Theissen
- The Sage from Galilee: Rediscovering Jesus’ Genius- David Flusser w/ R. Steven Notley
- Christology in the Synoptic Gospels: God or God’s Servant?- Sigurd Grindheim
- A New Vision for Israel: The Teachings of Jesus in National Context- Scot McKnight
- Are You the One Who Is to Come?: The Historical Jesus and the Messianic Question - Michael F. Bird
- Reading the Gospels Wisely: A Narrative and Theological Introduction- Jonathan Pennington
- Knowing Jesus from the Old Testament- Christopher J. H. Wright
- What Saint Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity?- N. T. Wright
- Paul in Fresh Perspective - N. T. Wright
- Introducing Paul: The Man, His Mission and His Message- Michael F. Bird
- Gospel and Personal Evangelism- Mark Dever
- Kingdom of Christ- Russell Moore
- Breaking the Code: Understanding the Book of Revelation - Bruce Metzger
- Revelation for Everyone- N. T. Wright
- Trinity, Revelation, and Reading: : A Theological Introduction to the Bible and its Interpretation- Scott Swain
- The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission- Christopher J. H. Wright
I also managed to read about 35% of N. T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God, and selections are various commentaries, journals, and theologies. If my back was against the wall and I was forced to choose a top 5 these would be my picks:
- Jesus and the Victory of God- N. T. Wright
- Reading the Gospels Wisely- Jonathan Pennington
- Trinity, Revelation, and Reading- Scott Swain
- The Mission of God’s People- Christopher J. H. Wright
- Knowing Jesus from the Old Testament- Christopher J. H. Wright
JVG is a game changer. Wright’s Jesus is a young Jewish prophet preaching the arrival of the long-awaited end of Israel’s exile, return of YHWH to Zion, the kingdom of God. This end of exile was demonstrated not simply by words, but by deeds also, not simply by parables, but by dying on a Roman cross. By setting the (synoptic) Gospels in their first century historical/political/theological background Wright opens up many new avenues for biblical exploration. Once you’ve read the whole thing, whether you agree or disagree with his overall portrait, you never read the Gospels the same way again.
Pennington’s RGW is marvelous and spends much time addressing problems we tend to bring to the Gospels as modern readers, issues of hermeneutics and meaning, how the Gospel narratives convey meaning (including how teachers and preachers can use Gospel narratives to instruct, in distinction from the more propositional epistles) and gives his readers a practical method for grasping the most out of each Gospel unit. Simply put, Swain’s Trinity, Revelation, and Reading is the best small work on the doctrine of Scripture, it’s characteristics, and interpretation I’ve ever read. Swain discusses Scripture as a covenant document and asks the question What does God intent to do to/with us through our reading of Scripture? Here Swain in the realm of speech-act theory, but the point he’s getting at is as old as Scripture itself. Scripture is given to form a people, to bring them into covenant mutuality with the triune King.
Both of the above mentioned Chris Wright books are great models of well-written, “feet-on-the-ground” theology. Knowing Jesus asks how does Jesus fit into Israel’s Old Testament drama? How did Jesus view his own mission within the promises of God? How did Jesus understand the Old Testament ethical demand for holiness? Originally published in 1992, Knowing Jesus from the Old Testament clearly previewed themes that would later take on fuller development in his 2006 masterpiece The Mission of God. The Mission of God’s People builds on The Mission of God by asking the “so what?” question. If God’s own mission is to holistically deliver his creation what does that mean for us? Chapter by chapter Wright answers by a “biblical theology for life” which ties together the identity and vocation of both Old Testament Israel and the New Covenant church.
Greg Bahnsen was one of Van Til’s greatest expositors. His book Always Ready: Directions for Defending the Faith is a treasure trove of biblical instruction answering the Why and How of presuppositional apologetics. Here Bahnsen discusses the transcendental trust of the method. For those not familiar with Van Til’s approach it can be much at first, but once you “get it” you realize that you’re dealing with nuclear strength apologetics:
If the way in which people reason and interpret evidence is determined by their presupposed worldviews, and if the worldviews of the believer and unbeliever are in principle completely at odds with each other, how can the disagreement between them over the justification of Biblical claims be resolved? It might seem that all rational argumentation is precluded since appeals to evidence and logic will be controlled by the respective, conflicting worldviews of the believer and unbeliever. However this is not the case.
Differing worldviews can be compared to each other in terms of the important philosophical question about the “preconditions of intelligibility” for such important assumptions as the universality of logical laws, the uniformity of nature, and the reality of moral absolutes. We can examine a worldview and ask whether its portrayal of nature, man, knowledge, etc. provide an outlook in terms of which logic, science and ethics can make sense. It does not comport with the practices of natural science to believe that all events are random and unpredictable, for instance. It does not comport with the demand for honesty in scientific research, if no moral principle expresses anything but a personal preference or feeling. Moreover, if there are internal contradictions in a person’s worldview, it does not provide the preconditions for making sense out of man’s experience. For instance, if one’s political dogmas respect the dignity of men to make their own choices, while one’s psychological theories reject the free will of men, then there is an internal defect in that person’s worldview.
It is the Christian’s contention that all non-Christian worldviews are beset with internal contradictions, as well as with beliefs which do not render logic, science or ethics intelligible. On the other hand, the Christian worldview (taken from God’s self-revelation in Scripture) demands our intellectual commitment because it does provide the preconditions of intelligibility for man’s reasoning, experience, and dignity.
In Biblical terms, what the Christian apologist does is demonstrate to unbelievers that because of their rejection of God’s revealed truth, they have “become vain in their reasonings” (Rom. 1:21). By means of their foolish perspective they end up “opposing themselves” (2 Tim. 2:25). They follow a conception of knowledge which does not deserve the name (1 Tim. 6:20). Their philosophy and presuppositions rob one of knowledge (Col. 2:3, 8), leaving them in ignorance (Eph. 4:17-18; Acts 17:23). The aim of the apologist is to cast down their reasonings (2 Cor. 10:5) and to challenge them in the spirit of Paul: “Where is the wise? Where is the disputer of this world? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” (1 Cor. 1:20).
In various forms, the fundamental argument advanced by the Christian apologist is that the Christian worldview is true because of the impossibility of the contrary. When the perspective of God’s revelation is rejected, then the unbeliever is left in foolish ignorance because his philosophy does not provide the preconditions of knowledge and meaningful experience. To put it another way: the proof that Christianity is true is that if it were not, we would not be able to prove anything.
What the unbeliever needs is nothing less than a radical change of mind – repentance (Acts 17:30). He needs to change his fundamental worldview and submit to the revelation of God in order for any knowledge or experience to make sense. He at the same time needs to repent of his spiritual rebellion and sin against God. Because of the condition of his heart, he cannot see the truth or know God in a saving fashion.
-Greg L. Bahnsen, Always Ready: Directions for Defending the Faith, 121-122.