Category Archives: Christian Worldview
As of late, my time as been primarily written for various publications and course work for my doctoral program. Since the last post I have published two additional piece (with more on the way). The first, Molech’s Victory, is a theological reflection on Ireland’s recent decision to overturn its ban against abortion.
The second piece, The Cosmic Border Crisis, is a response to the “sacred cosmopolitanism” in the writing of Diana Butler Bass. There I contrast her vision of boundary-less spirituality with the robust vision of the New Heavens and Earth put forth in Scripture.
I continue to write, and, as I’ve said above, have more material coming.
Again, Russell Moore warns us against a false sense of cultural success:
The idea of the respectability of Christian witness in a Christian America that is defined by morality and success, not by the gospel of crucifixion and resurrection, is just another example of importing Jesus to maintain one’s best life now.
…If we see the universe as the Bible sees it, we will not try to ‘reclaim’ some lost golden age. We will see an invisible conflict of the kingdoms, a satanic horror show being invaded by the reign of Christ. This will drive us to see who our real enemies are, and they are not the cultural and sexual prisoners-of-war all around us. If we seek the Kingdom we will see the devil. And this makes us much less sophisticated, much less at home in modern America.
… If the kingdom is where Christ is, then we dare not assume the power of the state for the purposes of the church, and we dare not subordinate the ministries of the church to the authority of the state, The kingdom is defined by the gospel and the gospel is defined by the kingdom. If the gospel is abstracted from kingdom, then our mission is simply about the initial evangelism of new believers If we abstract the kingdom from the gospel, though, then the kingdom be about mere morality, and, thus, an easy client from the pretend Messiah of state power. The gospel is a gospel of the Kingdom of Christ.
-Russell Moore, Onward: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel, 65
Powerful words from Russell Moore:
As American culture changes, the scandal of Christianity is increasingly right up front, exactly where it was in the first century. The shaking of American culture will get us back to the question Jesus asked his disciples at Caesarea Philippi: “Who do you say that I am? As the Bible Belt recedes, those left standing up for Jesus will be those who, like Simon Peter of old, know how to answer that question. Once Christianity is no longer seen as part and parcel of patriotism, the church must offer more than ‘What would Jesus do?’ moralism and the “I vote values” populism to which we’ve grown accustomed. Good.
A church that assumes the gospel is church that soon loses the gospel. The church now must articulate, at very phase, the reason for our existence, because it is no longer an obvious part of the cultural ecosystem. That articulation of the gospel will mean engagement because the most pressing issues are not ancillary to the gospel, in the way some other cultural and political issues are. The temptation will be, as always, to overract to the sins and foibles of the last generation, with a pullback altogether in an attempt to avoid culture wars and social gospels. A recalibration is called for, to be sure. We are a different people facing a different context. But if we see the cosmic contours of the gospel, we must not swing into a kind of libertarian spirituality that reduces the gospel simply to matters of personal salvation and personal morality. First of all, the culture increasingly finds personal salvation and personal morality to be themselves politically problematic. There is no cordoning them off from a culture in which the personal is the political.
More importantly, an attempt at wholesale withdrawal might exempt us from some of the hucksterism and moralism of some figures in our parent’s and grandparent’s generations but it will take us back to the opposite errors of some in our great grandparents generation, back to divorcing the gospel from the kingdom, the love of God from the love of neighbor. We could shrug off our social witness altogether, as a defense against legalism. But we would be wrong, and we would, ironically, fall into a pharisaism of the other side, building hedges around a temptation to avoid falling into it. More than that, we would be abandoning a post to which we were assigned and from which we have no permission for leave. The test will be we can engage the culture without losing the gospel.
-Russell Moore, Onward: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel, 25, 26
Too frequently we hear that the contemporary worship service is a wholly novel invention. Songs, sermon, and even Sunday worship were later man-made tradition. For folks who advocate this kind of thinking, the goal is to “move back to Bible,” to the kind of informal, liturgy-free gatherings of the first Christians. But there’s a problem with this thesis: It’s not grounded in real history. We we dig below the surface rhetoric, we realize that the basic structure of ancient worship service are fundamentally similar to what Christians experiences each Sunday morning. On this, Kevin DeYoung writes:
Moreover, an examination of early church documents like Clement’s Epistle to the Corinthians (c. 95), Ignatius’ Epistle to the Smyrnaeans (c. 112), The Didache (early second century), The First Apology of Justin Martyr (c. 155), and The Apostolic Traditions of Hippolytus (c. 200) show the existence of specific worship orders in the early church, including responsive readings, Communion instructions, liturgical responses, prayer formulas, blessing formulas, and various rules for teachers and preachers.35 Our worship does not need to be identical to that of the early church, especially when we move outside the New Testament to the testimony of the church fathers, but to argue for a completely spontaneous, structureless, antiliturgical, brand-new-every-week worship service in the first centuries of the church is an argument against the plain facts of history.
Think of what we find in the New Testament: a holy meal celebrated frequently (Lord’s Supper); an initiatory rite signifying those who belong to the Christian community (baptism); a day set apart (the “Lord’s Day” mentioned by John in Rev. 1:10, probably alluded to by Luke in Acts 20:7, and referenced by Pliny and Justin Martyr); the singing of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Eph. 5:18-20); the probable recitation of other hymns or confessional poems (Phil 2:6-11; Col. 1:15-20; 1 Tim. 3:16 ); the teaching and reading of Old Testament Scripture (1 Tim. 4:13); contemporary epistles commanded to be read in the churches (1 Thess. 5:27). Add to this list numerous doxologies (e.g., Gal. 1:5) and benedictions (e.g., Gal. 6:18), liturgical “amens” (1 Cor. 14:16), holy kisses (Rom. 16:16), and the “maranatha” (quite possibly a set prayer for after Communion [1 Cor. 11:26; 16:22]), and even future liturgical formulas to be repeated and sung by the saints and angels in heaven (see examples in Revelation chapters 4-5, 7, 11, 15-16, 19, 22). We see evidence of patterns and structure all over the place.
-Kevin DeYoung & Ted Kluck, Why We Love the Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion, 126-127.
For this we can be thankful. Though there have certainly been changes and adaptations in church liturgy over the millennia, by God’s grace much has remained faithful on essential matters.
In the following quote, Edmund Clowney (the first president of Westminster Theological Seminary) encourages us to press into the riches of the biblical witness in the face of our cultural challenges:
“The Christian answer to relativism is theological: the reality of the Creator God. He is both Creator and Interpreter. Made in his image, we have a relationship to the created universe that is not illusory. He is free to reveal himself in time and space, and in the languages of the cultures that develop in human history. Christian theology takes seriously the cultural contexts in which his revelation is given, and the Christian mission takes seriously the cultural contexts it addresses. Hermeneutical studies have reminded us that our own culture has an impact on both tasks. But so does God’s word have an impact on all languages and cultures. Confronted with God’s revelation, our own understanding changes, and we alter our assumptions. Not a circle, but a spiral of clearer conception and communication of the message results. God has made his truth communicable; he calls us to ‘think his thoughts after him.”
-Edmund Clowney, The Church, 177
My article, Paul and the Slave Girl: Racism and the Great Gospel Narrative (posted earlier this week, and up for about a mere hour) was picked up by Mere Orthodoxy. Please take a look.
Since Jan. 22 was National Sanctity of Human Life Day it’s only right that I passed along among material that further demonstrate the logic of the Pro-Life position. The following was written by Dr. Scott Klusendorf, and originally posted on the Crossway Blog. Immediately after Dr. Klusendorf’s piece you will find a brief clip debunking the outrageous claim of Planned Parenthood that only 3% of their services are abortions.
10 Things You Should Know about Abortion
1. Pro-life advocates present a formal case for their position.
That case is summarized in the following syllogism:
- P1: It is wrong to intentionally kill an innocent human being.
- P2: Abortion intentionally kills an innocent human being.
- C: Therefore, abortion is wrong.
2. A pro-life advocate can defend that syllogism in 1 minute or less.
“I am pro-life because the science of embryology establishes that from the earliest stages of development, you were a distinct, living, and whole human being. You didn’t come from an embryo; you once were an embryo. True, you were immature and had yet to visibly develop, but the kind of thing you were was not in question. And there is no essential difference between the embryo you once were and the adult you are today that justifies killing you at that earlier stage of development. Differences of size, development, environment, and dependency are not good reasons for killing you then but not now.”
Learn more about defending the pro-life view.
3. That abortion intentionally kills an innocent human being is conceded by many who perform and defend the practice.
Abortionist Warren Hern writes, “We have reached a point in this particular technology [D&E abortion] where there is no possibility of denying an act of destruction. It is before one’s eyes. The sensations of dismemberment flow through the forceps like an electric current.” Feminist Camille Paglia frankly admits, “abortion is murder, the extermination of the powerless by the powerful. Liberals for the most part have shrunk from facing the ethical consequences of their embrace of abortion, which results in the annihilation of concrete individuals and not just clumps of insensate tissue.” Feminist Naomi Wolf calls aborting a human fetus a “real death.”
4. The Bible is pro-life even if the word “abortion” does not appear.
Scripture is clear that all humans have value because they bear the image of their maker (Genesis 1:26-28; James 3:9). In laymen’s terms, that means humans are valuable in virtue of the kind of thing they are rather than some function they perform. Humans have value simply because they are human.
Because humans bear the image of God, the shedding of innocent blood is strictly forbidden (Exodus 23:7; Proverbs 6:16-19; Matthew 5:21). Abortion is the intentional killing of an innocent human being. Thus, the passages in Scripture that forbid the shedding of innocent blood apply just as much to the unborn as they do every other innocent human being.
5. The Bible’s alleged silence on abortion does not mean that its authors condoned the practice.
Prohibitions against abortion were largely unnecessary in biblical times. In a culture where children are a gift and barrenness is a curse, and where a nation’s destiny depends on parents having lots of children, abortion is unthinkable.
6. Preaching on abortion is not a distraction from the Great Commission responsibilities of the local church, but integral to it.
- P1: In the Great Commission, Christ charged the church to go make disciples.
- P2: The way we make disciples is to “teach them to obey” his commands.
- P3: One of those commands is that we are not to shed innocent blood.
- P4: Abortion is the shedding of innocent blood.
- C: Therefore, preaching on abortion relates to the Great Commission responsibilities of the local church.
7. The pro-life position does not rely on personal perspectives.
To assert that only women can speak on abortion is to commit the ad hominem fallacy—that is, attacking the person rather than the argument he or she presents. It also raises a troubling question: which women get to speak?
Indeed, even among feminists supporting abortion, there is no single perspective on the issue. Feminist Naomi Wolf calls abortion “a real death” while feminist Katha Pollitt thinks it no different than vacuuming out your house. In short, while gender perspectives on abortion help us understand personal experience, they are no substitute for rational inquiry. Rather, it is arguments that must be advanced and defended. After all, pro-life women use the same arguments as pro-life men.
8. Pro-life Christians tell a better equality story.
Does each and every human being have an equal right to life, or do only some have it in virtue of some characteristic that may come and go within the course of our lifetimes? Indeed, the abortion-choice position undermines human equality. That is, if humans only have value because of some developed characteristic like self-awareness that none of us share in equal measure, it follows that since that characteristic comes in varying degrees, basic human rights come in varying degrees. Human equality is a myth!
Theologically, it’s far more reasonable to argue that although humans differ immensely in their respective degrees of development, they are nonetheless equal because they share a common human nature made in the image of God.
9. Abortion-victim photography changes the narrative.
As Gregg Cunningham points out, when you show abortion pictures, “abortion protests itself.” Ephesians 5:11 says, “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” Nearly every successful social reform movement since the dawn of the 20th century has used disturbing imagery to convey evils that words alone are powerless to convey.
Disturbing images change how people feel about abortion while facts and arguments can change how they think. Both are vital in changing behavior. Our opponents concede this. “When someone holds up a model of a six-month-old fetus and a pair of surgical scissors, we say ‘choice’ and we lose,” writes feminist Naomi Wolf.
10. The remedy for post-abortion guilt is not avoidance. It’s forgiveness.
Abortion pictures are painful to see. But used properly, they set the stage for the good news of the gospel, which alone heals us from our sin. Pictures do the hard work of making sin concrete so that I can use my words to soothe and bring hope.
Post-abortion men and women do not need an excuse. They need an exchange: Christ’s righteousness for their sinfulness. Like all forgiven sinners, post-abortion men and women can live each day assured God accepts them on the basis of Christ’s righteousness, not their own.
Scott Klusendorf is the president of Life Training Institute, where he trains pro-life advocates to persuasively defend their views. He is the author of The Case for Life: Equipping Christians to Engage the Culture.
Does one need to be a Christian in order to understand the Bible? Do you need seminary training, and an advanced education to make sense out of God’s book? Or, conversely, is the Bible so clear that “even a caveman” can read and grasp it?
Some, motivated by a clear sense of the Bible’s “for everyone-ness” downplay or deny the importance of formal academic study of the Bible. Others, motivated by a clear sense of the Bible’s complexity, present Scripture as something better off left to the scholars, the new priesthood of the academy. Now, in truth, most Christians are probably willing to see some truth in both positions, yet also recognize the there are dangers in either extreme.
This is how I would, and intend, to argue.
In response to these questions, we should shy away from quick yes or no answers. A straight-forward yes or no, with no additional nuance or clarification, will distort the richness of the Bible’s teaching on this issue.
Bible Translations and Theological Language
One discussion closely tied to the issues above is that of Bible translation. Just how literal and formal should translations be? A commonly cited reason people prefer dynamic equivalent translations (like the NIV, the NLT, and others) is because some biblical words are weird, or unusual for the modern reader. Words like ‘justification,’ ‘expiation,’ and ‘propitiation’ aren’t words most people use in their everyday conversations. And for that reason some think that phrases like “sacrifice of atonement” (propitiation), made right with God (justification) and others are better inserted in contemporary Bible translations.
Generally speaking, I don’t think this is a good idea and here’s why: Biblical understanding flourishes in the soil of discipleship. Sometimes I fear people want a Bible translation to do the work of discipleship. I’ve become increasingly convinced that it is good and healthy and right for Christians both to speak the language of their native culture as well as to have a uniquely Christian dialect. Words like ‘atonement’ and ‘justification’ are ways in which God has chosen to reveal to us precious truths. These terms are the vehicles for personal transformation. Postmoderns are correct in this right; language shapes a people. Very rarely have I met one with a thick theological and biblical accent who also despises theology. Without both a knowledge and love of “theological” language I simply do not know how to grasp a passage like this from Romans 3:21-26:
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:21-26 ESV)
The same passage as it appears in The Message just doesn’t seem to me to have the same punch:
But in our time something new has been added. What Moses and the prophets witnessed to all those years has happened. The God-setting-things-right that we read about has become Jesus-setting-things-right for us. And not only for us, but for everyone who believes in him. For there is no difference between us and them in this. Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ. God sacrificed Jesus on the altar of the world to clear that world of sin. Having faith in him sets us in the clear. God decided on this course of action in full view of the public – to set the world in the clear with himself through the sacrifice of Jesus, finally taking care of the sins he had so patiently endured. This is not only clear, but it’s now – this is current history! God sets things right. He also makes it possible for us to live in his rightness.
To my mind, The Message has done the thinking for the Christ-disciple. As the Westminster Confession (I.VII) puts it:
All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all: yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.
What are the “due use of ordinary means”? These means are the ordinary ways we would determine the meaning of any written document. This includes studying the words of the document itself, its intended audience, grammar, syntax, word studies, and backgrounds (cultural, theological literary, political, etc.). It means picking up a commentary written by those who have done that level of research for us. Both believer and unbeliever.
Part of Christian discipleship is doing the work of wrestling with God’s word. So is an advanced education in theological and biblical studies necessary to understand Scripture? No, though it certainly can help! God have often used long, sustained periods of reflection under the guidance and direction of godly teachers to help so many in grasping the rich unity-in-diversity of the Bible. Such study helps us to understand how doctrines were historically formulated, how the Spirit has lead his Church, and often to apply God’s word to our modern challenges.
The Role of the Church
The chief environment for this study is not the library, apart from the fellowship of other like-minded Christians. That is a helpful means of getting in the content, but not the final context for Christian discipleship. We learn truths and facts in books. But we experience their life transforming power in the laboratory of lived experience.
The truths we wrestle with in our study come to life (or, rather, bring us to life) when we “instruct one another” (Rom. 15:14), are“devoted to one another” (Rom. 12:10), honor one another (Rom. 12:10), accept one another (Rom.15:7), “Have equal concern for each other” (I Corinthians 12:25), “serve one another” (Gal. 5:13), are patient with one another (Eph. 4:2), “bear with each other…” (Col. 3:13), “encourage one another” (I Thess. 4:18, 5:11), and love another another (1 Jn. 3:11; 3:23; 4:7, 11, 12).
Ultimately, the church, in its worship and work is the place for Christian discipleship. It is the fellowship of God’s gathered people, and the context in which we learn to observe all that Jesus commanded us.
What is the relationship between love and logic? The picture many of us are used to is one of opposition. Love is warm, embracing, and personal. Logic, on the other hand, is cold, distancing, and impersonal. Christian thinkers in general, and apologists in specific, must be ready to counter this caricature. It is both biblical false and dangerous to a robust Christian discipleship of the mind.
The Example of the Gospels. Several pieces have been written clarifying specific ways in which Jesus himself employed sharp critical thinking. While our Christlikeness may mean more than this, it certainly does not mean less. Here are some examples:
- Jesus The Logician – Dallas Willard
- How Did Jesus Argue? Jesus & Logic – J. P. Moreland
- Jesus Used Logic – Dave Miller
- On Jesus, by Douglas Groothius
The Gospels often present logical reasons for their portraits of Jesus. How best should we handle passages in Matthew which say, “this was done in fulfillment of…”? The logic of these passage is as follows: “Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, and this is why you should believe it.”
The Example of Paul. If a reasoned articulation of our faith, one with the goal of persuading unbelievers, is wrong-headed how best should we handle the biblical passages in Acts that say that Paul “reasoned” with others to convince them of his message (such as Acts 18:4, 26:28, 28:24, compare also 2 Cor. 5:11)? Paul’s epistles are extended arguments in favor of certain conclusions. So, in Galatians, Paul’s argue you cannot add your good works to the atonement of Christ, and spends several chapters presenting carefully reasoned arguments to support his claim.
Christians should never separate what God has united: A heart for God and a mind for truth (The RTS motto). Our proclaiming the gospel can and should be combined with “arguing for,” and persuading people of its truth. I don’t use the word reconcile, because I don’t believe that reason, logic, and argument need to be reconciled with heart-felt faith …they aren’t at odds![i]
Unbelievers certainly misuse “logic” when they turn it against its very foundation[ii], that doesn’t mean that Christians are disqualified from utilizing this good gift of God. In fact, again, the line of reasoning that abandons things unbelievers misuse proves much too much. This would mean no longer using music as a means of conveying gospel truth because unbelievers likewise employ music to communicate false worldviews. It would also mean that Christians may no longer use theatre, poetry, or allegorical writings because they are all tactics the world (and other religions) use to convey their false belief systems. This where this line of thinking takes us.
Don’t get the impression that I’m advocating a heartless, dry intellectualism. That is simply not the case. When I seek to sharpen and improve my thinking, I seek to honor God. I believe with all my heart that Scripture is God’s word, and can therefore stand up to all supposed “intellectual” attacks made by those who oppose it. I believe that the best thinking shows, demonstrates, coheres with, and is in accordance with everything that we find in the Bible. Do I believe this because I’ve worked out all of the problems and can safely tell unbelievers that there are no challenges? No! I believe in Christ, and all that Scripture teaches because God has revealed them. I believe these things because God has opened my heart, causing me to repent of my sin, and has given me new eyes to see His world. The Holy Spirit has taken the scales off my eyes, shown me the beauty of Christ as the One in whom “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3).
When applying our reasoning to apologetics, we should remember that regardless of how persuasive we are, when our words are not accompanied by love they are both 1) a misrepresentation to the unbeliever (as if Christianity is a heartless faith), and 2) displeasing to God. A faith that does not work itself out in love (Gal. 5:6) is both dead and useless (James 2:14). We should never, in personal conversation with either believer or unbeliever, advocate a heartless, loveless appeal to history or logic.
Is trying to persuade people that Christianity is true a bad thing? Not if we take our queue from the Bible. Jude tells us to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3), Paul instructs Timothy to “correct opponents” (2 Tim. 2:25), that Scripture is profitable for “correction and reproof” (2 Tim. 3:16), as well as to “reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Tim. 4:2). Like to Titus Paul teaches that Elders must “hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it (Titus 1:9),” and that false teaches “must be silenced” (Titus 1:11). All of these verses in the pages of God’s word command us to, at appropriate times, contend, commend, advocate, and “argue” that the biblical understanding of God, the world, man, sin, Christ, etc. is correct. These are biblical passages that must be taken seriously.
To reject the use of rationality and reason in matters of our faith is known as fideism. Fideism presents our faith as either an irrational or non-rational. No Christian should accept Christianity based on blind faith. The kind of fideistic conviction that grounds the truth of Christianity in one’s subjectivity (i.e. because they feel strongly about it) proves too much. A Latter-day Saint may claim that they truly, truly believe Joseph Smith is a prophet of God, but simply believing it doesn’t make Mormonism true. A Muslim may claim with all their heart that they believe Mohamed was the prophet of Allah, but this doesn’t make Islam true.
The Danger of Bad Philosophy
Once again: logic is not inherently sinful. Developing one’s analytical abilities is simply the discipline of thinking clearly and avoiding mistakes in reasoning. It can, and must, be used in a God-honoring fashion. Biblical passage frequently cited to dismiss the importance of “philosophy,” like 1 Cor. 1-2, are of course, all true. Let’s avoid hollow and worldview philosophy. But let’s also look at the context of such passages. The point Paul is making in all of those verses can be reduced to a few simple points: 1) the truth of the gospel cannot be reduced or explained merely be “fancy-talking” (what Paul calls “persuasive words,” “worldly wisdom,” etc), and 2) unbelievers show their hostility to God by taking a gift that He has given them (the capacity to think) and trying to use it against Him.
Likewise, in Colossians, Paul says, “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ” (Col. 2:8). This verse, though commonly thought to rule out learning philosophy, logic, etc. altogether, actually does no such thing. What this verse does do, however, is rule out doing these things when done “not according to Christ.” So, believers should seek to sharpen their reasoning abilities precisely because they seek to honor the Lord who gave them this capacity and whose righteous thinking we are to reflect.
Paul tells Christians not be conformed to the world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our mind (Rom. 12:2). Here Paul is speaking of the great truths of sin, grace, justification, and the mystery of God’s election covered in the first 11 chapters of Romans. The Pharisees and their ilk didn’t truly reason with Christ, they tried to rationalize their legalism. Big difference. It was bad, flawed, and ungodly thinking and spiritual rebellion that caused them to oppose the sinless Son of God. If we blame it on “logic,” then let’s agree that it was logic “not according to Christ.” Logic is not something man made, but rather reflects the mind of God whose thinking is clear, unified, and without error or confusion.
In conclusion, I’m not advocating an intellectualist religion. I think both are needed, a heart for God and a mind for truth. Thinking critically is not opposed to a vibrant faith. Love and careful reasoning are both useful in testifying to Christ. They work like the two blades on a pair of scissors. The same Paul that commanded that we “speak the truth in love” also said, “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ…” (2 Cor. 10:5).
[i] I don’t define an “argument” as a heated discussion, but rather providing clear reasons for the convictions we hold dear.
[ii] Though, as I’ve said before, I don’t think it’s the proper use of logic.
One thing I’ve long admired about Russell Moore, the president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (the public-policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention) is his winsome example of what a Christ-centered, gospel-saturated Christian looks like when they enter the public square. In his latest book, Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel, defining our calling to one of engaged alienated.
Our call is to an engaged alienation, a Christianity that preserves the distinctiveness of our gospel while not retreating from our callings as neighbors, friends, and citizens.
This means our priority is a theological vision of what it means to be the church in the world, of what it means to be human in the cosmos. We must put priority where Jesus put it, on the kingdom of God. But while we are a citizens Kingdom First people, we are not a Kingdom Only people. Jesus told us to seek both the kingdom of God “and his righteousness” (Matt. 6:33). We pursue justice and mercy and well being for those around us, including the social and political arenas. This means that we will be considered “culture warriors.” Maybe so, but let’s be Christ-shaped culture warriors. Let’s be those who contend for culture, but not those who are at war with the culture. We will see ourselves in a much deeper, much more intractable, much more ancient war not against flesh and blood or even against cultural forces, but against unseen principalities and powers in the heavenly places.
We will recognize the necessity of engagement in social and political action, even as we see the limits of such action, this side of the New but Jerusalem. But we will engage not with the end goal of winning with the end goal of reconciliation. This means that morality and social justice, while good, are not enough. We witness to a gospel that seeks nor only to reconcile people to one another but to God, by doing away with the obstacle to such communion: our sin and our guilt. hat comes not by voter blocs or by policy papers but by a bloody cross and an empty tomb.
Over the past century or so, the “culture wars” could be categorized as disputes over human dignity (the pro-life movement, for example), family stability (the sexual and marriage and child-rearing debates, for example) and religious liberty. The intuitions of American Christians on these fronts have often been right, I believe, even if too often unanchored from a larger gospel vision and from a larger framework of justice. We should learn from the best impulses of such engagement, and use our articulation of our views at these points as part of an even bigger argument. These should point us back to a vision of kingdom, of culture, and of mission, rooted in the gospel and in church, even as we work with those who disagree with us in the many ways toward an approximation of justice in the public arena. As we do this, we shouldn’t be ashamed of Jesus, and we shouldn’t be afraid to be out of step with America. We are marching onward, toward a different kind of reign.
In our present cultural moment, Moore’s presentation is exciting and needs to find a wide hearing.
If anything speaks to the confusion of our age it’s the poem Creed, written in 1993 by English poet and music journalist Steve Turner. (The postscript, called Chance, was Turner’s follow-up).
Creed by Steve Turner
We believe in Marxfreudanddarwin
We believe everything is OK
as long as you don’t hurt anyone
to the best of your definition of hurt,
and to the best of your knowledge.
We believe in sex before, during, and
We believe in the therapy of sin.
We believe that adultery is fun.
We believe that sodomy’s OK.
We believe that taboos are taboo.
We believe that everything’s getting better
despite evidence to the contrary.
The evidence must be investigated
And you can prove anything with evidence.
We believe there’s something in horoscopes
UFO’s and bent spoons.
Jesus was a good man just like Buddha,
Mohammed, and ourselves.
He was a good moral teacher though we think
His good morals were bad.
We believe that all religions are basically the same-
at least the one that we read was.
They all believe in love and goodness.
They only differ on matters of creation,
sin, heaven, hell, God, and salvation.
We believe that after death comes the Nothing
Because when you ask the dead what happens
they say nothing.
If death is not the end, if the dead have lied, then it’s compulsory heaven for all
Hitler, Stalin, and Genghis Kahn
We believe in Masters and Johnson
What’s selected is average.
What’s average is normal.
What’s normal is good.
We believe in total disarmament.
We believe there are direct links between warfare and bloodshed.
Americans should beat their guns into tractors
and the Russians would be sure to follow.
We believe that man is essentially good.
It’s only his behavior that lets him down.
This is the fault of society.
Society is the fault of conditions.
Conditions are the fault of society.
We believe that each man must find the truth that
is right for him.
Reality will adapt accordingly.
The universe will readjust.
History will alter.
We believe that there is no absolute truth
excepting the truth
that there is no absolute truth.
We believe in the rejection of creeds,
And the flowering of individual thought.
If chance be
the Father of all flesh,
disaster is his rainbow in the sky
and when you hear:
State of Emergency!
Sniper Kills Ten!
Troops on Rampage!
Whites go Looting!
It is but the sound of man
worshipping his maker.
Apologetics is about giving a credible witness to the wisdom of God. To do this best, the apologist studies three things,
- God’s word
- The questions and objections of non-Christians
- How to communicate the truth persuasively and in love.
The danger that the title refers to is the danger that in the process of explaining and defending the faith, we give the impression that if the non-Christian just thought a little more, was only a little more moral and/or philosophically consistent they would walk right into the kingdom. This, of course, is not the case.
And in fact, if we give this impression, we undermine our kingdom testimony.
For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe… (1 Cor. 1:21)
Christianity may have maximal explanatory power, but part of those things it explains is the obstinate, recalcitrant, and indifferent attitude of non-Christians toward the truth. This heart-rebellion is the very reason that one’s full intellectual acceptance of Christianity is nothing less than a miraculous work of God’s Spirit. Full intellectual acceptance of Christianity means more than the acceptance of propositions (though, certainly not less). It means accepting God’s word for what it is, the word of God, and not the word of men (1 Thes. 2:13).
Only the God of the miraculous, the One in the beginning who said “Let there be light” shine “in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6)
One thing people often miss is this: Our approach to life — our committed worldview — has to do a lot of heavy lifting. In order for it to truly be a worldview it must have maximal explanatory power. . It has to explain and account for both creation and corruption, our longs for truth, good, beauty, and justice, and it has to take evil seriously. It should even account, in principle, for mystery. And it cannot deny or suppress truths we can’t not know.
I don’t feel comfortable with a view of life that compartmentalizes my life, drawing hard and fast divisions between aspects of my inner life and the external world that I experience daily as a singularity, a unity.
Ultimately, I’ve concluded that Christianity is just that worldview.
First, it validates and indeed gives grounding to my subject world, my hopes, fears, desires. It makes sense of my desire for justice, my sense of beauty, and the human longing for a world that “lives up to its potential.”
Second, I’ve found that my intellectual cravings are satisfied with the worldview presented in the Bible. No matter what objections I’ve throw at it, it stands up, none the worse for wear. It gives me a metaphysic that makes sense, and naturally flows into its own epistemology and an ethic. Of course, it’s not an exhaustive list of how to run my life, but that’s exactly because the Bible doesn’t present us human as automatons. We apply the implications of Scripture to aspects of life not directly addressed in its pages.
Whatever worldview we commit to must take all of all of human experience and make sense of it in a way that’s not radically counter-intuitive and that doesn’t make nonsense of life.
In line with other recent response to agnosticism, unicorns, and atheism, I’d like to raise some questions about the approach to knowledge known as empiricism. Empiricism is a tradition which teaches that all knowledge is derived from sense-experience. That is, if something is not, at least in principle, able to be tasted, touched, seen, heard, or smelled, then it does not count as a potential object of knowledge. This view of knowledge, the seeing-is-believing- approach, is fairly standard in a secularizing culture and so Christians should know a thing or two about how to respond to this claim.
So first we’ll discuss the claims and difficulties of empiricism. Then, I’ll argue, contrary to the intentions of the empiricist, empiricism can be a vital ally in apologetics, because, when consistently applied, it takes the empiricist to places they do not want to go.
Help from David Hume
The best way to understand empiricism is to learn a little about one who adhered to it with near-perfect consistency. The philosopher David Hume had a two-pronged approach to sifting through knowledge claims. Picking up what a tool of analysis from Leibniz, Hume’s “fork” (at the late Ronald Nash called it) for sifting truth claims is the “analytic/synthetic” distinction.. Analytic statements are relations of ideas, and to deny them necessarily leads to a contradiction (laws of logic, definitions such as “all bachelors are unmarried men”). These are usually what we think of as a priori truths (truths that known apart from sense experience). Hume’s (hereafter H) attack on analytic statements was that they are tautological, i.e. they add nothing new to knowledge. H believed that his rationalist philosophical counterparts (ex. continental rationalists such as Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz) were building philosophical systems in mid-air, with nothing empirical to ground their flights of fancy.
Synthetic statements are those which can be empirically explored and verified. An example of such a statement would be “Molly’s dress is green.” How can we truly “know” that this statement is true? By checking it out, it must be subject to an empirical inquiry.
In light of H’s empiricist epistemology, he uses this fork to sort out all philosophical issues. Only synthetic statements lead to true knowledge. So, H asked of the traditional questions of philosophy, are the answers given merely in the realm of relations of ideas, i.e. analytical ? If so, then they are tautological and offer us no help. But since H only accepted as worthy of study and consideration beliefs based on verifiable experience by at least one of the five sense, he lapsed into his notorious skepticism.
Here is a list of things Hume doubted because they cannot be verified by appeals to the five senses:
- The existence of God. God is a spirit, so this should be obvious.
- A continuing self through time. When was the last time you experienced your “self”? Looking into a mirror won’t help, because all you see is a body, not the “self.”
- Causation. We never actually “see” a cause. We see one event followed by another, but we cannot experience in any way the necessity of the procession of events. In philosophical terms, we “see” a succession of events-ball A moves after ball B strikes it- not causation. Remember, H is being a consistent empiricist.
- The uniformity of nature. There is no empirical –and non question begging!- reason to believe that the future will be like the past. We have had no experience of the future, and hence cannot really be sure. An anti-toxin that cures today may poison tomorrow. Of course apart from the uniformity of nature science cannot proceed.
Of course the truth is that David Hume never said that the above mentioned things do not exist, or even that he himself didn’t believe in them. His point was to demonstrate that autonomous reason has no logical reason for believing these things. Again, his point was that empiricists cannot sufficiently ground the belief in anything in the above list given their commitment to an empiricist epistemology.
According to Hume, beliefs in the uniformity of nature and the necessary relationship between cause and effect are rather grounded in our psychological make-up, a “habit of the mind.” Thus, being that Hume rejected the rationality of belief in God, causality, a sustained “self”, etc, he attributed the belief in such things to the irrational aspect of humanity. Without, for instance, a Christian conception that God creates both the world around us and our minds to understand it (being created in His image), Hume had no assurance that the objects of our knowledge and our perceptions of them cohere.
Turning the Tables: The Apologetic Benefit of Radical Empiricism
In David Hume, many philosophers believed they were witnessing the end of philosophy. Immanuel Kant stated the it was Hume that arose him from his “dogmatic slumbers” and driving him to develop his own creative epistemology. Notwithstanding Kant’s evaluation, Hume’s radical empiricism is a great help to Christian apologetics. Hume pushes empiricism to its logical[ly absurd, yet consistent] limits.
Though Hume thoroughly discredited epistemological empiricism hundreds of years ago, most outspoken forms of atheism (ala Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins) are “religiously” empiricist. Likewise the average “man on the street” unbeliever functions on the basis of a “seeing is believing” epistemology. When we encounter unbelievers with this framework we should always ask the same questions and hold them to the same level of consistency.
First is the issue of consistency. Ask the empiricist unbeliever to be absolutely consistent with their theory of knowledge. Politely question them on whether they believe in true and objective moral standards, justice, laws of rationality and mathematics, human dignity, beauty, and real cause-and-effect relations. Now, surely most will. Even those who see where you’re going and attempt to deny these things (by saying, for example, that they are merely social constructs) should be reminded that their everyday actions betray that they really do believe them.
Second, we need to ask revealing questions. Empiricism as a theory of knowledge and truth largely depends on materialism and naturalism (the belief that only the physical realm exists, only matter in motion coming together in strange ways). So, here are some questions to ask the empiricist:
- Have you tasted, touched, heard, smelled, or seen a law of logic? (hereafter i’ll substitute “tasted, touched, heard, smelled, or seen” with “sensed”)
- Have you ever sensed a law of mathematics such as A2 +B2= C2?
- Have you ever sensed a number? (and here I don’t mean a numeric inscription such as 1 or I, 2 or II, but the number itself)
- Have you ever sensed “human dignity”?
- Have you ever sensed caused and effect? (I don’t mean succession-I covered in the first post-I mean causation)
- Have you ever sensed the chief empiricist principle, “all knowledge comes from sense experience”?
By asking such kinds of questions, you’re simply asking the empiricist to be consistent with their principle that all knowledge comes from the five senses. After all, the answer to all the questions above is a resounding No. The naturalist worldview denies a basis for affirming these things and hence cheats when it tried to “borrows” these concepts for it’s anti-God project. And if the empiricist approach doesn’t even provide a sound basis for it’s chief principle (the last question above), then it disqualifies itself as a serious theory of knowledge and challenge to Christianity.
Now, naturally the Christian rejects the principle of empiricism, though we do not deny the need in many cases to be empirical regarding study, research, science, etc. (cf. 1 John 1:1).
In a very real sense our culture lacks a mythology. Perhaps this is one reason why films like The 300, TV programing like professional wrestling, and comic books are so popular. Mythological stories and archetypes serve to flesh out a culture’s deepest values. Going on 40 years now, there’s been an ideological struggle in the comic book world, a crisis in worldview. In 1938, two young Jewish boys, Jerry Siegel and Joel Shuster, created Superman, a larger-than-life hero who would save us from all our fears. Superman reflected the ideals of both those who created him, and the larger culture into which he was born. Truth, justice, honesty, and integrity (and yes, the American way) were upheld as aspirational goals.
Heroes likes Superman, Batman, and Spider-man are classics. They’ve stood the test of time and come out better for it. These pillars of justice, contrary to the whims of Director Zack Synder, have vowed never to take human life. But not all comic book protagonists adhere to this code. For so-called anti-heroes such as Deadpool, Spawn, the Darkness, and the Punisher killing simply commons with the territory. Admittedly, the line between a Batman and a Punisher isn’t absolute.
But all of this is preamble to my main point. I believe there is a powerful and persuasive theological explanation for the global and time-tested popularity of Superman: Superman is a profound Christ figure, not only in his original story, but also in the hands of his successive writers. Both Superman and Christ, in an important sense, are not of this earth. Both are sent by their father, and come from a place far away. Both are saviors. Both died, taking the very wrath of doomsday it/himself upon them (for those of you who don’t know the story of Superman’s death in the early 90’s, he died saving the city of Metropolis from a creature literally named Doomsday). Both were resurrected because death could not overcome them. Lastly, in their resurrection bodies, both were transformed. Jesus was resurrected in a glorified body, never to die again. With the resurrection of Superman (perhaps the term “resuscitation” is more fitting?) a serious question is raised on whether Superman is immortal. As long as Superman is exposed to Earth’s yellow Sun it may be impossible to kill him (He is, so to speak, a solar battery).
Notice also how ‘oddly’ Superman’s dual identity strangely mirrors Christ’s dual nature. Clark reflects the lowly, servant nature of Christ, while the Man of Steel resembles the glorified, divine nature of Jesus.
|Origin: Not of this Earth||Sent from Krypton, a planet that orbited a red sun called Rao, 50 light-years from our solar system||Sent from heaven (Jn. 1: 9, 3:13), the eternal abode of God the Almighty Maker of Heaven and Earth|
|Sent by their fathers||Sent to Earth by father Jor-El||Sent to Earth by God (“El”) the Father (Jn. 5:37, 6:44, 8:16, 18, 12:49)|
|Saviors to their people||The people of Metropolis||The Church (Matt. 1:21, Jn. 10:11, Acts 20:28, Rom. 5)|
||1 Person with 2 natures (cf. Phil. 2:5-9)
|Their deaths save from the embodiment of destruction||Superman # 75, 1992
||Rom. 5:6-9, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.”|
|Resurrection||“Reign of the Supermen!” storyline-1993||1 Corinthians 15|
Is this sheer coincidence? I don’t think so. The original creators of Superman may not have been Christians, but Siegel and Shuster were raised in a biblically-saturated environment. They’ve claimed that Superman was loosely based on Moses and Samson. The rocket in which Superman’s father, Jor-El (El is Hebrew for God) sends him to Earth in is a parallel to the basket through which baby Moses was saved. And, of course, Samson is the prototype for Superman’s heroic strength. This would seem to work against my claim that Superman in a Christ figure. But, both Moses (as prophet and savior of the people of Israel) and Samson (as judge and defender of the nation) are Old Testament types pointing to their ultimate fulfillment in Christ. So is it any wonder why the Last Son of Krypton bears such a striking resemblance to the Son of Man?
What the Superman/Christ connection means for culture. Insofar as Superman embodies the ideals of generations gone by as well as today’s generation, his iconic status clues of in on a couple of things. First, since humanity is created with a purpose, and history is unfolding toward God’s goal, humans cannot escape their design. We cannot help but notice that the world is not as it should be. There are wrongs in this world that demand righting. Second, We need a hero. But, we need a hero that can do what we never could. One that is like us, yet not like us. Third, this hero must stand against all that is evil, and must embody justice to the fullest. Fourth, despite the argument to the contrary we still, deep down at our God-created core, know good from evil, and desire good to triumph over evil. Fifth, we cannot save ourselves. We are helpless to bring about the change that we so desperately need.
What the Superman/ Christ connection means for the gospel. First, the gospel presents us with the true myth. Part of the conversion of C. S. Lewis was his realization that the story of Jesus is the “true myth.” There was a time, during his “B.C.” days, when he thought the parallels between the Gospels and ancient pagan mythology proved that the story of Jesus couldn’t be true. But, in his conversion (which came about as a result of long conversations with Lord of the Rings author, J. R. R. Tolkien) he had a life-changing “aha” moment. As Lewis put it in a letter written to Arthur Greeves:
Now the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened: and one must be content to accept it in the same way, remembering that it is God’s myth where the others are men’s myths: i.e. the Pagan stories are God expressing Himself through the minds of poets, using such images as He found there, while Christianity is God expressing Himself through what we call ‘real things’.
The similarities between the Gospels and pagan myths, rather than invalidating the story, actually proves it! God’s was guiding history, in a manner of speaking, to set the stage for Christ to walk on the stage. The belief in creation, sin, judgment, and redemption (in one form or another) are universal themes, and they strike a chord with nearly every human heart. All the highest hopes of men, and the greatest themes in all stories find their fulfillment in Christ.
Second, the story of Superman provides Christians with a cultural point of contact to share the gospel. If you live in America, then chances are on more than a number of occasions you’ve seen people wearing Superman “S” t-shirts. They’re all over the place (and Yes, I own one). The Man of Steel is probably the largest cultural icon other than Jesus in America. So, this provides us with the opportunity to turn an ordinary conversation about Big Blue into an evangelistic conversation without it seeming forced.
Anything, yes, even Superman, can be used as a springboard to Christian truth.