Christian Ethics are Derived from Christian Theology

An atheist Christian minister. That sounds like an oxymoron of illogical cohesion. Could an atheist serve as a Christian minister? According to the United Church of Canada and the Reverend Gretta Vosper, the answer is, yes. Gretta Vosper came out of the closet at her church. She came out of the closet, not as a homosexual, but rather as an atheist! Instead of firing her, the church embraced her as their Christian atheist minister. Vosper recounts,

“My congregation belongs to The United Church of Canada, probably the most progressive Christian denomination in the world. It ordained women over seventy years ago and has been ordaining openly LGBTQ leaders for decades. But theologically it remains in the closet about the human construction of religion and all its trapping. I couldn’t stay in that closet.
I came out as an atheist in 2001. After I spontaneously preached a sermon in which I completely deconstructed the idea of a god named God, rather than fire me, the congregation chose to step out on an unmarked path. With them, I’ve laboured, lamented, lost, and loved. It’s hard road but a worthy one with no finish line in sight.”[1]

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How does this work? According to Vosper, she holds to the ethical standards of Christianity but dismisses the idea of a supernatural, intervening God. Thus, she holds that Christianity provides supreme ethical standards, but little things like God, heaven, hell, salvation, sin, human value in God’s eyes, the resurrection, miracles, and eternity are simply defined as “archaic ideas and the prejudices trapped within them [should be] traded for contemporary knowledge and understanding.”[2] I hope you can see the sarcasm behind the previous statement. Such issues are not minor. Rather, they constitute the core fundamentals of the faith. Can one separate Christian ethics and Christian theology? I say, no. Christian theology formulates Christian ethics in at least three areas.[3]

Christian ethics are formulated in divinely placed human value.

Why did Jesus place so much emphasis on right living in the Sermon on the Mount? It was because the Father had placed so much value on humanity. Human beings are made imagio dei (i.e., the image of God). From the opening moments of Scripture, human value is emphasized. Human value is shown to be placed in the divine value attributed to humans due to their being made in God’s image. God “created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27).

Thus, while Vosper is to be commended for placing high value on the lives of her fellow human beings, her value is void without God. Life holds no value without God. The so-called “archaic view of God” is actually the glue that holds together her presuppositions of human life. Therefore, without the Christian fundamentals, Vosper’s ethics fall apart.

Christian ethics are formulated in divinely placed human standards.

Why should a person desire to treat others ethically in the first place? If there is no God, then why does it matter how I treat another person? It may be nice to be nice. But sometimes I don’t feel so nice. I may have the tag “reverend” before my name, but I do not always feel so reverential. Why not run those Sunday drivers off the road when they are driving 20 miles under the speed limit? Why not plow through a gaggle of cyclists when they refuse to get out of the way? Why do we have to act nice?

The reason humans have standards is because of the knowledge of a supreme authority governing the universe. Atheism falls short. While atheists can be good moral people without God, their reasons for acting moral do not stand. In stark contrast, Christian theism demonstrates that there is a God who has provided a moral standard upon all humanity. This God has eyes that “are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good” (Proverbs 15:3). Let me illustrate this point further.

This past Thanksgiving, our family met together for a wonderful meal. My sister and two cousins all have young toddlers about the same age. My son is about 7-years older than his younger cousins. We watched as the toddlers interacted with one another for the first time. The kids would sometimes take a toy away from another. The moms and dads said, “No! You cannot do that. It is not polite.” For the toddlers, they were being taught the proper dos and don’ts of playtime etiquette. Why? It was because they had a higher authority governing them—that is, my sister, cousins, and their spouses. Likewise, ethics without a higher governing authority collapses. Thereby, Vosper’s atheistic Christianity flounders without the fundamentals of orthodox Christianity.

Christian ethics are formulated in divinely placed human eternity.

One of the great losses of Vosper’s atheist Christianity is the loss of hope found in eternity. How would she counsel someone who had lost a loved one? Would she say, “Well, they are not experiencing the great nothingness that comes from death. You don’t have to worry. You’ll never see them again.” What type of comfort is that, especially if they loved the person they lost?

Ethical standards carry over into eternity. God has given each person the opportunity to respond to the gospel message. A person’s decision to follow Christ or to deny Him follows through for all time. In a similar fashion, a person’s work on earth follows them also. But wait! Aren’t a person’s sins forgiven never to be remembered to any further extent? Yes and no. In one sense, a person’s sins are forgiven and washed away. Their sins will not keep them from God’s eternity. Nevertheless, the apostle Paul teaches in what is called the Judgment Seat of Christ. That is to say, every believer will be judged according to what they have done while in the body of Christ. Paul explains,

Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire” (1 Corinthians 3:12-15).

What will a person’s rewards mean in eternity? I don’t really know. They mean something as indicated by Jesus’ Parable of the Talents. Those without Christ will be judged at the Great White Throne Judgment (Revelation 20:11-15). The unbeliever’s work will be gauged as well. The difference is that they will not have anything to atone for their sinful behaviors.

Vosper’s ethical standards mean nothing without an eternal standard. Why should people treat others nicely? Vosper’s atheistic Christianity would claim, “Because it is the nice thing to do.” Classical Christianity would exclaim, “Because there is a higher standard than yourself and you will be held accountable for what you do.” Again, Vosper’s worldview collapses as the foundations that uphold her outlook have been removed.

Conclusion

On November 17th, 2016, I delivered a message entitled “Signs of a False Shepherd” from Zechariah chapters 10 and 11. While I considered leaving the topic for another one, I cannot seem to leave the discussion just yet due to the infiltration of so many false teachers in our time. Simon Peter noted, “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction” (2 Peter 2:1).[4] Craig Keener, in his commentary on the text, quips, “In earlier Scripture, false prophets spoke from their own imaginations rather than from divine inspiration…they often comforted people in their sin rather than speaking God’s true warning of divine judgment.”[5] Thus false prophets such as Gretta Vosper promote false doctrine in three ways.

  1. False prophets elevate opinions over truth.
  2. False prophets deny the existence of absolute truth.
  3. False prophets promote what’s popular over what’s true.

Much more could be said about this issue. Perhaps, we will address this issue in further detail here at BellatorChristi.com. Suffice to say for now, false prophets remove the foundations of the hope within them in order to be popular with society or to uphold one’s progressive stances. True prophets uphold the truth in order to be faithful to the God of all eternity.

© November 28, 2016. Brian Chilton.

 Notes

[1] Gretta Vosper, “About,” GrettaVosper.ca. http://www.grettavosper.ca/about/, retrieved November 28, 2016.

[2] Ibid.

[3] This list is certainly not exhaustive.

[4] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001, 2011).

[5] Craig S. Keener, “2 Peter,” NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016), 2191.

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A Review of “God and Time: Four Views”

Ganssle, Gregory E., ed. God & Time: Four Views. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2001. $24.00. 247 pages. Contributors: Paul Helm, Alan G. Padgett, William Lane Craig, and Nicholas Wolterstorff.

Of the issues in theology, God’s relationship to time has become one of the most complex. How does God relate to time? This question is coupled with two theories of time. A-theory (or the process theory) holds that time moves from one point to another in a unidirectional line. The B-theory of time (or the stasis theory) holds that time essentially stands still. B-theorists holds that the process of time is an allusion and time itself is rather static, or unmovable. I readily admit that I have had the book God & Time: Four Views on my shelf for quite some time and have anticipated the time when I could read it as this topic has become interesting to me. Recently, I was able to accomplish that task. Gregory Ganssle edits the book God & Time: Four Views. (Note: it is essential that the reader reads through Ganssle’s introduction. Ganssle provides a necessary background for the complex issues that lie ahead.) The book has four contributors, all holding different perspectives about how God relates to time.

 First, Paul Helm (J. I. Packer Professor of Theology at Regent College, Vancouver, B.C.) argues for the divine timeless eternity view. That is, God is absolutely timeless and exists beyond the scope of space-time. Helm holds a version of the B-theory of time, although it could be said that there is a combination of A-theory and B-theory in his viewpoint. While Helm offers one of the most traditional views (and perhaps most biblical), Helm seems to one one hand argue that the universe is co-eternal with God, while on the other hand holding that the universe is a special creation of God coming into existence at a particular point. Elements of Helm’s argument were quite persuasive. However, I was left somewhat confused and bewildered at his explanation. It seemed that Helm argued for a beginningless, beginning for all of creation as Helm did not seem to hold to creation ex nihilo, which is quite odd.

Next, Alan G. Padgett (Professor of Systematic Theology, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN.) argues for the relative timelessness view. Padgett holds the A-theory of time. He argues that God is timeless and remains timeless despite creation. God, thus, operates in a sequence of events in eternity. Yet, God operates in time taking part of the sequential aspect of space-time. Overall, Padgett offered a compelling argument. I was left, however, unsatisfied with his argument of divine foreknowledge. Padgett argues that God knows the future. But since the future has not happened, it seemed that Padgett accepted some limitation in divine foreknowledge. (Note: I may have misunderstood Padgett in this regard.)

William Lane Craig (Research Professor, Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, La Mirada, CA) holds what is called timelessness and omnitemporality view. William Lane Craig, one of the greatest Christian philosophers and apologists of our time, holds the view that God was timeless before creation began, but then became temporal (in time) when creation came into being. I was not surprised by Craig’s argument. I previously read Craig’s work Time and Eternity: Exploring God’s Relationship to Time. My major qualm with Craig’s view is that the theologian is left accepting divine immanence without transcendence. Christian theologians have accepted for the vast majority of church history the duality of God’s transcendence and immanence. In fact, theism tends to rest upon such understanding. God is not time. God is not creation. God is outside the realm of both. Plus, since God created time, this view seems to limit God by the scope of His creation, something problematic when it comes to divine omniscience and omnipotence. Therefore, while I greatly respect William Lane Craig and his work, I hold reservations with his views pertaining to God and time.

Finally, Nicholas Wolterstorff (Noah Porter Professor of Philosophy, Yale Divinity School, New Haven, CT) argues the unqualified divine temporality view. Wolterstorff holds that God has always been temporal, acting in time. While God is everlasting, God acts in a sequential mode. Creation takes part in that sequence of time. However, many physicists accept that time is a created thing, coming into being when the universe first started. Of all the views presented, I was least satisfied with Wolterstorff’s view.

I had waited for some time to read this book. Unfortunately, I was left largely dissatisfied. Some contributors were far better than others. It’s interesting that Thomas Aquinas was used to prove nearly all of the four viewpoints. From my reading of Aquinas, I feel he would accept Helm and Padgett’s viewpoints more than any other. Nevertheless, this reader was left wondering if there could not be a fifth view. It seems that one could posit a view where God is outside the scope of time and able to see all points of created space-time (like Helm’s argument), but operated in a sequential modus operandi (as found in Padgett’s viewpoint), and related to creation (as found in Craig and Wolterstorff’s cases). While some views seemed more reasonable than others, none seemed to capture the classic theological viewpoint that I had hoped for.

I give this book three out of four stars. I think the book is an important work. One will find, though, that the book is not an easy read. Those who have not had exposure to philosophy and the God and time debate will struggle with this read. I would suggest reading up on the issues of God and time before engaging this work. Be sure to thoroughly read Ganssle’s introduction also as it will help immensely.

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Copyright, September 10, 2016. Brian Chilton.

“People Do Not Come to Faith by Arguments!” 4 Objections to Apologetics

Some time ago, I was in a meeting with pastors and other church leaders from various backgrounds discussing a potential ministry opportunity. I noted the importance that apologetics plays in the realm of collegiate ministries, especially with the mainstream attacks on Christianity from ultra-liberal voices. For instance, the collegiate ministry known as Ratio Christi has held a profound positive influence on the intellectual and spiritual lives of college students across the nation. To my surprise, one particular ministry leader said, “It’s my experience that people are not brought to faith by arguments.” The statement was shocking enough. However, I was even more bewildered by some who seemed to agree with him. I replied, “What do you say of Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel, and J. Warner Wallace who were former atheists and became believers because of the evidence for the Christian faith?” The conversation quickly moved to a different topic.

I do not tell this story to demonize or demoralize anyone. The denominational worker who voiced opposition to apologetics was a good, caring individual who loves the Lord and the people he serves. However, we must engage the question he presented. Do logic and argumentation bring people to faith or are such disciplines useless endeavors? The mission statement of Bellator Christi is that it exists to take up the sword of Christian theology and the shield of classical apologetics in order to take Christian truth into the arena of ideas. But if people are not argued into the faith, this ministry would seem a bit futile, at least in the latter portion of the mission statement. So, are apologetic argumentations necessary? This article will review 4 common objections given to apologetics by the modern church. Each objection will contain an explanation and an appropriate reply.

Objection #1: Arguments do not bring people to faith.

The ministry leader I mentioned posed the first objection against the use of Christian apologetics. This objection claims that arguments do not really bring people into faith. Faith is a matter of the heart, not of the mind.

Reply:

One could provide several replies to the first objection. To keep the post brief, I will present only two. First, objection 1 is in reality a self-defeating statement. How so? Well, the objector is presenting an argument to persuade others that arguments do not persuade. The objection is much like someone claiming to be a married bachelor or saying “I cannot speak a word of English” in English.

Second, the Bible presents several examples where people came to faith or were persuaded to faith by various argumentations. For instance, the miracles and teachings of Jesus provided a case for His claim to be Messiah. The miracles served as a sign. Why were such signs offered? Signs were provided to present an argument for the Messianic claims of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus argues that “the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me” (John 5:36). In addition, Jesus challenged His adversaries to “search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me” (John 5:39). Other examples could be offered such as Paul’s defense of the faith before various groups of people, including the Athenians. Consider Philip’s argumentation to the Ethiopian that Isaiah 53 referred to Jesus of Nazareth. All such arguments were used to bring people to faith.

Objection #2: The Holy Spirit brings people to faith, so argumentation is useless.

Some people have objected to the use of Christian intellectual arguments due to the assumption that the Holy Spirit leads people to faith. If the Holy Spirit leads people to faith, then why should one worry about intellectual argumentation.

Reply:

Let me first say, I wholeheartedly agree that the Holy Spirit leads people to faith. Jesus noted that when the Holy Spirit comes that He would “convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because you do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged” (John 16:8-11). While the Holy Spirit convicts, we are told that we have a part to play in the evangelism process. Jesus also told the disciples before His ascension, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). One could argue; If the Holy Spirit brings people to faith, then why evangelize? Christians evangelize because God commanded us to do so. Through the preaching of the Word, people are convicted by the Holy Spirit to come to faith. The Holy Spirit uses our evangelistic efforts to save people. The same is true for apologetics. Intellectual argumentation is often used by the Holy Spirit to bring people to faith. While the majority of Athens did not follow Christ after hearing Paul’s intellectual defense of the faith, the Book of Acts states that “some men joined him and believed, among whom were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them” (Acts 17:34).

Another problem I have with this statement stems from the spirit of laziness that exists in some Christians today. I heard a person tell a pastor, “You don’t have to study to preach. Just follow the Holy Spirit.” While I wholeheartedly agree that a person should follow the Holy Spirit, I also accept that the Scripture tells us the “test the spirits” (1 John 4:1). How does a person test a spirit? One tests a spirit against the Word of God. Testing spirits require study. I truly believe that it is the increased biblical illiteracy and lack of study that has led the modern church into many great heresies.

Objection #3: No one has ever come to faith through argumentation.

Anti-apologetic apologists argue that no one comes to faith through intellectual argumentation. Why bother if no one comes to faith through argumentation?

Reply:

This is an easy objection to answer. The claim is false. Many have come to faith through intellectual argumentation for the faith. Among such converts include: C. S. Lewis (famed English professor and writer), Josh McDowell (author of countless Christian books), Lee Strobel (former legal editor of the Chicago Tribune, atheist turned Christian pastor and writer), Fazale Rana (Christian biologist), and J. Warner Wallace (former Los Angeles cold-case homicide detective turned Christian apologist). These individuals only scratch the surface of those who have come to Christ because of the evidence for Christianity.

Objection #4: If someone is argued into faith, then someone could be argued out of faith.

Lastly, objectors to Christian apologetics often claim that if it is by evidential argumentation that one comes to faith, then one could be easily led astray by some other persuasive argumentation.

Reply:

This objection holds two problems in my estimation. 1) The objector does not understand the power of the Holy Spirit. If Christianity is true and a person comes to faith in Christ, then the Scripture states that the Holy Spirit will abide with the repentant person (John 14:15-16). Jesus notes that the Holy Spirit would lead a believer in truth (John 15:26-27). Thus, it would appear that the objector places less value on the power of the Holy Spirit than the advocate of Christian apologetics.

2) In addition, the objector must consider the following point. If Christianity is true, then it will always remain true. The truthfulness of Christianity will never change. Truth is unchangeable. Thus, if a person is truly convicted of the claims of Christianity and truth does not change, then the person (although doubts may come) will not leave the faith due to the truth claims.

Conclusion:

While I respect the objections made and the people who make them, it cannot be said that such objections hold any merit or value. Christianity is true. Period. If Christianity is true, then it is worth defending. If Christianity is true, eternity is at stake. Some people do come to faith when they are met with the evidences for Christianity. It may be true that some people do not require the same level of evidence that other people require. But, refusing apologetics to the one who needs it is like refusing insulin to a diabetic because not everyone needs insulin. It is, to a degree, a categorical mistake. Remember, Peter tells us, as has been noted several times before, that we must “honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).

Check out this video by Brett Kunkle of Stand to Reason as he engages this issue: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0cS2xGUj5KQ

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

© August 30, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Review of “The Reason for God” by Dr. Tim Keller

Keller, Timothy. The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism. New York: Penguin, 2008. $16.99 (combination book with The Prodigal Son). 310 pages.

Faith in an age of skepticism is harder to come by than it was in previous times. Cynicism and snide Humean naturalism tend to disregard ideologies like those found in the Christian faith. However, Dr. Timothy Keller has found a way to combat such cynicism. Dr. Timothy Keller is the founding and senior pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in the heart of Manhattan, New York. People told Keller that an evangelical church in the heart of New York City would not make it. Those skeptics were wrong. Keller’s church has made and indelible imprint in the Great Apple as it has grown to more than 5,000 congregants.1 In his book The Reason for God, Keller demonstrates the winsome and sage teaching that has inspired countless individuals in Manhattan.

The Reason for God (henceforth RFG) seeks to “lay out pathway that many…Christians have taken through doubt, the second half of the book is a more positive exploration of the faith they are living out in the world.”2 Essentially, the book engages the doubts that are often given against the Christian faith and then defends the core essentials of the Christian faith. The book is divided into two sections with fourteen chapters overall.

Part One of RFG challenges the skeptics’ doubt. Chapter One examines the exclusivity of Christianity. Are Christians bigoted in claiming there is only one way to heaven? What about nations who have sought to outlaw religion? Chapter Two examines the issue of God and suffering. Why would a loving, powerful God allow for suffering to occur? Keller approaches the issue from the final redemption found in Christ. Chapter Three evaluates the skeptic’s claim that Christianity is binding and takes away a person’s freedom. Keller shows that a person has more freedom in the Christian life than outside it, because true love leads towards a loss of some independence.3 Chapter Four argues against the claim that Christianity is responsible for the injustices of the world, while sensitively acknowledging the past failures of the church. Chapter Five examines the issue of God sending people to hell. Keller argues that “hell is simply one’s freely chosen identity apart from God on a trajectory into infinity.”4 I was fascinated by Keller’s response seeing that he is reformed. Yet, I was certainly pleased with his answer to the conundrum. Chapter Six argues that science has not, and in fact will not, disprove Christianity, and shows that the skeptic’s problem with miracles is based more on a philosophical objection rather than a scientific one. Chapter Seven examines the issue of taking the Bible literally. Keller argues that a person can and should accept the claims of the Bible. Otherwise, a person possesses a kind of “Stepford God”5 form of theology.

Part Two provides reasons to accept Christianity. Chapter Eight provides reasons to accept God’s existence. Chapter Nine argues that a person has a knowledge of God already, whether they accept God or not. Chapter Ten examines the problem of sin and argues that a person’s identity can only be known in God. Chapter Eleven differentiates the gospel message from that of religion. Chapter Twelve explains the message of the cross. Chapter Thirteen defends the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection. Finally, Chapter Fourteen describes the final redemption anticipated in the Christian message as there will be a new heaven and a new earth. What are some of the strengths of the book?

RFG systematically dismantles Humean naturalism. Keller’s approach fairly engages skeptical claims made against Christianity. RFG provides a balanced approach, as well. Keller does not bombastically present the message of the gospel in a way that offends, unlike some. Rather, he is quite compassionate to the skeptic in his approach. Thus, the skeptically minded person will not be overly offended reading RFG. Keller’s approach is fascinating as it philosophically-based. While Keller’s text holds many strengths, RFG holds a few weaknesses, also.

Keller could have presented the case much stronger than he did for the existence of God. Keller tended to emphasize the inability to “prove” or “disprove” God’s existence more than giving a stronger cumulative case for God’s existence. Do not misunderstand me. Keller did an exceptional job demonstrating the reason to believe in God and in Christ. However, it would have been nice if he provided a stronger case, emphasizing the robust evidences promoting God’s existence. Here, Keller could have improved his case by giving scientific reasons to believe in God’s existence as you would find in other apologetic works. It is especially interesting that Keller does not focus on the objectivity of truth more than he does.

RFG is an exceptional book. Keller provides insights for the Christian faith not found in other Christian works, especially the issue of identity and the philosophy of Soren Kirkegaard (see chapter 10). I highly recommend Keller’s book. Those who desire a deep scientific understanding of the faith may not be satisfied with RFG. However, those who seek a cumulative case for the Christian faith from a philosophical point-of-view will be greatly pleased with RFG. Individuals who have not been exposed to philosophy may find Keller’s book slightly more difficult to read than those who have. However, a lack of philosophical exposure should not hinder one’s overall understanding of RFG, it may only take a little longer to digest. Keller’s book is greatly accessible to general readers. I give the book five glowing stars.

© July 31, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Sources Cited

1 Timothy Keller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (New York: Penguin, 2008), xiv.

2 Ibid., xix.

3 Ibid., 50.

4 Ibid., 80.

5 Ibid., 118.

Resurrecting Classical Theology

Recently my family and I returned from our vacation at the beach. We stayed on a local island. Instead of staying at the coastal section of the island, we chose rather to stay at the side where the waterway was found. My wife noticed that many of the houses on the coastal side were in much worse shape than those on the waterway side. The waves of the ocean and the salt-enveloped wind had beaten the coastal homes. In stark contrast, the homes at the waterway were protected by the numerous trees in the area.

I used to live in the area for awhile. A friend of mine, who had lived at the coast for most of his life, told me that storms had previously not affected homes as much as they do now. Why? Many of the sand dunes and trees found on these islands were removed to allow for more residential and commercial areas. Thus, homes, even on the mainland, were more prone to the waves and the wind. In a similar fashion, the Christian Church has been subjected to great flaws due to the erosion of classical understandings of the faith.

Attacks on the Christian church from the outside have gathered a lot of attention. Persecution and financial pressures from outside groups often concern Christian leaders and laity alike. Yet, another threat ominously endangers the Church.[1] No, it is not a threat from any government, world religion, or terrorist organization. This threat comes from the Church itself. “What is this danger?” you may ask. It is the danger of losing classical theology. By classical theology, I do not mean any particular view found in a non-Calvinist or Calvinist tradition. Classical theology, as it is used here, refers to the core fundamentals of apostolic Christianity, or the teachings of the New Testament apostles.

Unfortunately, the fundamentals of Classical theology are eroding in many Western churches. Why? Theological liberalism along with secularism, New Age ideologies, and the desire for relevancy have begun to chip away at the underpinnings of Classical theology. Richard Howe made it clear in a session at Southern Evangelical Seminary’s “National Conference on Christian Apologetics” in 2015 that the Church must reclaim Classical theology. I wholeheartedly concur. But how do we resurrect Classical theology? I feel that focusing on four core fundamentals will help.

  1. Resurrecting the classical view of divine omniscience.

Divine omniscience is one particular attribute under attack. By divine omniscience, I mean, as Wayne Grudem defines, the ability of God to “fully know himself and all things actual and possible in one simple and eternal act.”[2] Worded another way, Ryrie states that “Omniscience means that God knows everything, things actual and possible, effortlessly and equally well.”[3]

Classical theology affirms that God knows all that there is to know. However, omniscience has been assaulted by New Age Christianity.[4] New Age Christianity often seeks to excuse God from the problem of evil by claiming that God did not know that a particular bad thing was about to occur.

Such reckoning wreaks havoc on the Church’s understanding of God. Why? If God cannot be trusted to know the future, then how can we trust God in His prophetic utterances? How can we know that history will be unfolded as the Book of Revelation proclaims?[5] How do we know that God will really hold the victory in the end? In reality, a person could not trust that God would, or even could, deliver in all that He has promised. Thus, the New Age Christian lacks the trust in God’s knowledge that the Classic Christian holds. As bad as the New Age Christian attacks God’s omniscience, it is even worse when one considers the assault on God’s omnipotence.

  1. Resurrecting the classical view of divine omnipotence.

Theologically, omnipotence has been understood by classical theology as God’s ability “to do whatever is possible to do.”[6] That is to say, God can do anything that power can do. God has all-power to do all things that are logically possible. God’s omnipotence is a clear teaching of the Scriptures (e.g., 2 Cor. 6:18; Rev. 1:8; 4:8, and etc.). Early Christian teachers accepted divine omnipotence. Augustine of Hippo teaches, “We call Him omnipotent, even though He is unable to die or be deceived. We call Him omnipotent because He does whatever He wills to do and suffers nothing that He does not will to suffer.”[7] So why does New Age Christianity seek to dismiss the omnipotence of God?

New Age Christianity, as it does with the omniscience of God, dismisses divine omnipotence in an effort to explain away the presence of evil. If one could say, “God would like to rid the world of evil, but He just can’t quite do it,” then the New Age Christian feels that God’s omnibenevolence (or all-loving nature) is spared. Some may seek to compromise divine omnipotence in an effort to explain the existence of unbelievers.

The New Age answer causes greater problems with it addresses. If God is incapable of doing all things, then is God truly God? God, properly understood, is the highest being in existence. If God were not all-powerful, then God would really not be God. If God were not all-powerful, then what assures the believer that God will ultimately triumph over evil?

Luckily, better answers are found in Classic Christianity. If one acknowledges human responsibility and the impartation of the human will,[8] then a person can find the answer to these conundrums without sacrificing God’s attributes. Here again, the Classic Christian answer provides a better basis than newer alternatives. In a similar sense, the Triune nature of God is diluted.

  1. Resurrecting the classical view of divine trinitarianism.

One of the earliest heresies to face the Church dealt with the issue of the Triune nature of God. Christians since the days of the inception of the Church have accepted that God was One God, but in three persons. While most Christians accepted this truth, it was through a process that the doctrine known as the Trinity would be properly understood.

Let me say from the outset that the Trinity was not an invention of Constantine as some have claimed. The Scriptures demonstrate the divine nature of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. One of the clearest examples of the Triune nature of God is found in Christ’s baptism (Matt. 3:13-17). In the particular passage, one will find Jesus who “went up from the water” (Matt. 3:16);[9] the “Spirit of God descending like a dove” (Matt. 3:16); and the Father speaking out from heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17). Why is it that modern versions of Christianity seek to demote the doctrine of God’s Triune nature?

Many New Age versions of Christianity have been influenced by heretical groups. Worldviews found outside of the classical Christian understanding[10] have promoted an idea of God that is antithetical to the classical view. Unfortunately, a severe lack of biblical training complemented with a woeful disregard for intellectual understandings of the faith have led to the inclusion of heresies that have been condemned since the 300s. The disregard for the Triune nature of God has also led to a weak view of Christ.

  1. Resurrecting the classical view of divine incarnation.

Finally, the person of Christ has been chipped away by modern ideologies. Some have taken the Gnostic understanding of Jesus. In this understanding, Jesus is seen as a mystical and spiritual person. Jesus’ humanity is ignored. Jesus is thus turned into a Marvel comic character. The opposite is also true. Others have sought to demonstrate Jesus’ humanity while neglecting and dismissing the divine nature of Christ. Individuals such as Rudolf Bultmann have sought to “de-mythologize” Christ. Therefore, any miraculous claim given by the Gospel narratives are bypassed as mere myth.

In either case, the Church is (to use a cliché) standing on thin ice when accepting either of the previous alternatives. Paul records an ancient confession saying that “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). As Lord, one acknowledges the divine status of Christ.[11] The apostle John also notes that “every spirit that confesses that Jesus has come in the flesh is from God” (1 John 4:2). The Classic Christian view is that Jesus is both God and man in one person.

Conclusion

This article has been somewhat longer than most posts that I write. But it is longer for good reason. The church is at a crossroads in the Western world. Globally, Christianity is growing at a rapid rate. The Western church, however, has faced many problems. The problems of the Western church originate from increased secularization, decreased biblical knowledge, and an explosion of possible distractions—from technology to careers. The church in the Western world has sought to combat this decline by catering to the culture, all-the-while seeking to become relevant.

While I fully acknowledge that methodologies must change, it is a grave mistake to tamper with the fundamental doctrines that uphold the Christian worldview. By “watering-down” particular doctrines, the church essentially commits the same problem that many coastal areas have done. They take down the very things that buffer them from the storms of life. Houses can be rebuilt. But undermined theology can lead to erroneous doctrines which may hold eternal consequences. Let’s fix this problem by resurrecting and maintaining classical Christian theology.

 

© June 12, 2016. Brian Chilton.

[1] I use the capitalized term “Church” to reference the global community of Christ.

[2] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 190.

[3] Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), 47.

[4] In this article, I use the term “New Age Christianity” to denote a modern form of Christianity that is found to disassemble the fundamental core of Classical Christianity.

[5] I hold to a futurist understanding of the Book of Revelation.

[6] Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology: In One Volume (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011), 487.

[7] Augustine of Hippo, City of God 5.10.

[8] In varying degrees depending upon one’s view of salvation (soteriology).

[9] Unless otherwise noted, all quoted Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[10] Such as the Jehovah Witness movement and the Church of the Latter-Day Saints.

[11] Also noted by Thomas in his response to the risen Jesus, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28).

7 Questions the Bible Answers about Miracles

On May 8th, 2016, the final episode of Morgan Freeman’s documentary The Story of God: The Story of Us aired on the National Geographic channel. The final episode of the series dealt with the issue of miracles. From the episode, 7 questions emerged. As we have done since the beginning of the show, we will examine these questions from a biblical perspective.

  1. Does God work miracles or is everything merely random?

Freeman frequently asked the question, “Is God providentially working or is life completely random?” Freeman poses an excellent question. The answer to the question depends on how one views God. Does God exist? If so, then the possibility of God working a miracle becomes at least possible. Does God care about the world? If so, then the probability of God working a miracle increases exponentially. The mere notion that everything is merely random stems from a naturalistic assumption that God is non-existent or is uninvolved.[1] The moment, however, that one miracle occurs disproves such a notion. That there are hundreds of miracles, if not thousands,[2] demonstrates that the world is not a sterile collection of random molecules in motion, but rather the world is a wondrous lush garden of divine providence.

  1. Why does God work miracles for some and not for others?

This question is more difficult to answer, mainly because we cannot know the mind of God. God can perform miracles for any person at any point in time. However, it is apparent that God intervenes in some cases but not in others. At the time I am writing this article, God worked a miracle in the life of my grandfather. He has severe COPD. He also suffered a blockage in his intestines which would have been fatal had his intestines ruptured. In addition, he suffers from other medical conditions that complicate any surgery. The doctors were unsure if he would make it through. God saw fit that he did. In addition, he was placed on a ventilator. The doctors were unsure if he would be able to come off. He came off the day I wrote this article. God performed numerous miracles with my grandfather. I told my mom, “Either Grandpa is Iron-Man or God still has some great things in store for him.”

But why does God not perform the same kind of miracles for everyone? Truthfully, I cannot answer this question. Neither can anyone. We can know that God has a plan for each person, especially for His children. Paul writes, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).[3] The promise of Romans 8:28 does not presuppose that God will make every event in life good, but that everything will work together for good. Much more about this issue could be said, especially that each person has a date with death (Hebrews 9:27). However, we should probably leave this issue for now as it deserves deeper treatment.

  1. Can we understand the will of God to perform miracles?

No. We can know the will of God to save (Matthew 28:18-20). However, we cannot know how God is going to move or work. Faith is a vital element. Faith, biblically speaking, means trust. Thus, we must trust God to do what is right, even when we do not understand what God is doing.

  1. Does probability override the possibility of miracles?

No. On the episode, it was debated whether probability overrides the possibility of the miraculous. However, this cannot be the case. Why? Even if there is a 1 in 10 billion odds that a miracle could occur, when we discuss miraculous healings and divine intervention, the probability is zero percent if God does not exist. If God does exist, then it is impossible to gauge the odds in how much or how little God would act and respond in a miraculous fashion. God could defy the odds and perform a miracle every day of the week. Then again, it may be that God would choose not to perform a miraculous deed at any time in a given year. It seems to me that the idea of probability does little to settle anything as it pertains to miracles.

  1. Is life fatalistic or free?

When I say fatalistic, I mean to say that everything is predetermined. That is, everything is a matter of fate. How much is life predetermined and how much in life is free to choose? Such is a philosophical question that has resounded for ages. The Bible seems to suggest a congruence between God’s sovereignty and human freedom.[4] For instance, the book of Proverbs states that “We may throw the dice, but the LORD determines how they fall” (Proverbs 16:33, NLT).[5] The text demonstrates that humans have the freedom to choose certain options, but God’s sovereignty uses human decisions to direct and guide. Thus, human freedom and divine sovereignty are congruent. So, God can and does work in this work in miraculous ways while remaining sovereign over His creation.

  1. Does faith in miracles matter?

God can work miracles regardless of faith. However, it appears that faith (i.e., trust) does matter and makes a difference in the working of miracles. James notes that the “prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up…Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The intense prayer of the righteous is very powerful” (James 5:15, 16b, HCSB).[6] Mark notes that in one particular instance that Jesus could “do no miracle…except that He laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And He wondered at their unbelief” (Mark 6:5-6a). Miracles come from God. However, it is important that the one asking for a miracle trust in God’s ability to perform the miracle. Even still, one should note that even those who had the greatest faith (i.e., Jesus, Paul, Peter, etc.) often suffered. So, no one should suppose that faith will cure every physical ailment. God may have a purpose behind a person’s suffering. Therefore, individuals who claim that a lack of healing stems from a lack of faith are greatly in error.

  1. Do miracles come from us or do miracles come from God?

While faith is vital, miracles stem from God. God can work in ways that we cannot. It is a common assumption to believe that if we have enough willpower, we can overcome any odds. Yet, a person cannot bring oneself back from the dead. A person cannot overcome cancer by just the sheer belief that he can overcome. Often, healing requires an outside force working in a person’s body. I believe God works through the implementation of medicine. Thank the Lord for those in the medical field who seek to help the sick and suffering. But, I also believe that God can heal a person in any way He chooses. God holds the copyright on our DNA and our being. God can and does choose to heal at His discretion.

Morgan Freeman’s series entitled The Story of God: The Story of Us was incredibly fascinating. Freeman brought forth some interesting and serious questions front and center. As we have engaged the issues, I have personally found great satisfaction in the answers found in the Bible, God’s Holy Word. We may, and in fact most certainly will, find more questions to add as we journey through this life. I have no doubts that the Bible will rise to the occasion to answer any further questions that we may possess, as well.

© May 9, 2016. Brian Chilton.

[1] Deists accept God’s existence but deny God’s involvement in the world. Thus, they would, like the atheist, accept that life is merely random.

[2] See Craig Keener’s two-volume work Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011).

[3] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the New American Standard Bible (La Habra, CA: Lockman Foundation, 1995).

[4] As I have noted in previous articles, the harmony between divine sovereignty and human freedom is called “congrusim” as so termed by Millard J. Erickson in his book Christian Theology, 2nd ed (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998), 385.

[5] Scriptures marked NLT come from the New Living Translation (Carol Stream: Tyndale, 2013).

[6] Scriptures marked HCSB come from the Holman Christian Standard Bible (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2003).

9 Questions the Bible Answers About Creation

Morgan Freeman and the National Geographic Channel presented the fourth installment of the series The Story of God: The Story of Us this past Sunday. The series investigates various issues from the perspective of a wide array of religious perspectives. The episode presented nine questions as it pertains to the biblical account of creation and creation in general. This article will seek to answer those nine questions.

  1. Did a historical Adam and Eve exist?

One of the questions presented in Freeman’s documentary pertained to the historicity of Adam and Eve. Were Adam and Eve simply allegorical individuals or did they literally exist in space-time? While I can appreciate this debate, I feel the answer is fairly straight-forward. Adam and Eve were historical individuals. Why? Well, I feel there are three reasons to accept their historicity.

One, Adam and Eve’s historicity is a logical necessity. From sheer necessity, a person should see the validity in accepting an original human couple. For instance, my existence is contingent upon the necessity of my mother and father’s existence. Their existence is contingent upon the necessity of my grandparents’ existence. Continue the pattern back far enough and you can deduce the necessity of the first two homo-sapiens.

Two, Adam and Eve’s historicity is a scientific discovery. By scientific discovery, I am not claiming that scientists have found the remains of Adam and Eve. Rather, I am claiming that studies of the human DNA have shown that acceptance of Adam and Eve’s historicity is a tenable or you could say valid. Biochemist Fazale Rana states the following,

“More recent work (published in 2002) highlights this unusual genetic unity. A comparison of 377 DNA regions for 1,056 individuals from 52 different population groups found that 93 to 95 percent of the (small) genetic variation occurs within all populations and only 3 to 5 percent of the genetic variability occurs between populations.

What do these finds indicate about humanity’s natural history? Molecular anthropologists pose what they sometimes call the ‘Garden-of-Eden-hypothesis’ to explain the limited genetic diversity. This model maintains that humanity had a recent origin in a single location and the original population size must have been quite small. From this one location, humanity expanded rapidly to occupy all the geographical regions of the planet (emphasis mine).”[1]

Sounds pretty familiar, huh?

Third, one should accept the historicity of Adam and Eve due to the biblical mandate. The Bible clearly teaches that Adam and Eve were historical individuals especially as it pertains to the entrance of sin into the human equation. Much more could be said about this matter. Perhaps we should depart from this issue at the moment and pick it up in a later article.

  1. When was the book of Genesis written?

 Morgan Freeman claimed that the book of Genesis was only 2,500 years old. This would place the Book of Genesis as having been written at about 500 B.C. Yet, it appears that Genesis is much older than Freeman’s date. Good reasons exist to believe that Moses wrote most, if not all, of Genesis. It is quite conceivable that “Moses probably wrote the Pentateuch during the Israelites’ 40-year sojourn in the wilderness (c. 1446-1406 BC), completing the literary work shortly before his death (see Deut. 33     :1). The dating of the Pentateuch is derived from dates mentioned in 1 Kings 6:1.”[2] Thus, the date of the work is tied to the author. While the work does not mention the author’s identity, early “and reliable tradition has ascribed the authorship to Moses; and it is a fact that throughout the Pentateuchal narratives it is Moses who is most closely associated with the writing of the material contained in the Pentateuch (Ex. 17:14; 20:1; cf. also Joshua 8:31-32).”[3] Thus, Genesis is much older than what the documentary purported.

  1. Was the Garden of Eden a metaphor or a literal place?

It only stands to reason that if Adam and Eve were literal people (see question 1) then Eden must have been a literal place, as well.

  1. Where was Eden?

This is a hot topic. Genesis indicates that Eden was somewhere in what is known as Mesopotamia. We read that the “LORD God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed…Now a river flowed out of Eden to water the garden; and from there it divided and became four rivers” (Genesis 2:8, 10).[4] The text seems to indicate that Eden was somewhere around the Middle East. However, some studies indicate that humans may have originated out of Africa. Many scholars admit that the world has changed dramatically over the course of human history (i.e., the Flood, etc.). Thus, it is difficult to pinpoint the exact location of Eden. Even if Eden is demonstrated to be in Mesopotamia and if humanity is demonstrated to have come from Africa, there need not be a discrepancy since “Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden. So humanity’s population growth began outside the garden’s confines.”[5] To be fair, we cannot say with certainty where Eden was located. The best we can do is speculate.

  1. Can science and the Bible find harmony as it pertains to creation?

Yes! I have argued this several times before on this website. There is no discrepancy between the creation account found in the Bible and the origins of the universe. One is not forced to choose between science OR the Bible, rather one can accept science AND the Bible. The words “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1) is completely harmonious with the idea that the universe came into existence.

  1. Does science negate belief in God?

Absolutely not! Science can never disprove God since God is a logical necessity for the existence of any thing.

  1. Does God need a creator?

Freeman said that he struggled with the idea of where God came from. Who created God? However, Freeman misunderstands the concept of God. Freeman is corrected by Father Tanzella Niti corrects Freeman in the documentary. God is the first mover. God is the uncaused cause. Thus, God needs no creator. Something must be eternal: either the universe or God. The universe cannot be eternal, thus there is a necessity for an eternal God. Worded another way, the kalam cosmological argument states 1) Everything that begins to exist has a cause. 2) The universe began to exist. 3) Therefore, the universe must have a cause. That cause must be eternal, conscious, all-powerful, all-knowing, and beyond the scope of space-time. Sounds a lot like God, huh?

  1. Was there one creation or a multitude of creations?

Has God created other things beyond the scope of humanity and the universe? Yes. God created angelic beings before creating the universe. However, as far as we can answer, there is only one created universe that we know about. Paul mentions being taken to a “third heaven” (2 Cor. 12:2). This third heaven represents a place beyond the universe and earth’s atmosphere. So, I feel that there are entities beyond the scope of this universe. However, I do not think that one can, at this time, accept the idea of a multiverse or a multiplicity of universes.

  1. Is creation ultimately beyond our understanding?

Yes. We can know certain things about our creation, but we cannot understand everything. Some things are indeed beyond our understanding. We cannot even understand everything there is to know about God. As Norman Geisler has noted, “we can apprehend God, but never comprehend God.”[6] Such is a good place to end our present inquiry. Luckily, we can know certain things about our creation and our Creator from the revealed truths given to us from the Creator.

 

© April 25, 2016. Brian Chilton.

[1] Fazale Rana, Who Was Adam? A Creation Model Approach to the Origin of Humanity (Covina, CA: RTB Press, 2015), 63-64.

[2] Michael Rydelnik and Michael Vanlaningham, eds, The Moody Bible Commentary (Chicago: Moody Bible Publishers, 2014), 26.

[3] Kenneth L. Barker and John R. Kohlenberger, III, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Old Testament, abridged ed (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 1.

[4] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the New American Standard Bible (La Habra, CA: Lockman Foundation, 1995).

[5] Rana, Who was Adam?, 65.

[6] Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology: In One Volume (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011), 529.

The 5 Views of Morality

I recently read Gregory E. Ganssle’s book Thinking about God: First Steps in Philosophy. In his book, Ganssle provides 5 particular views pertaining to morality. As one examine these views, it becomes clear that one view of morality stands above and beyond the value of the other moral opinions. Many of these lesser viewpoints have invaded the mindset of many modern individuals. However, it becomes clear that only one is valid. So, what are the five views of morality?

The Error Theory

Ganssle describes the error theory as one that “holds that there are no moral facts. This theory denies them altogether.”[1] This theory holds that it is factually wrong to claim any form of morality. Thus, one could not say whether it is wrong or not to torture an animal or person. The error theory, while held by some philosophers, could be attributed to some Eastern religions which claim that good and evil are just illusions and not real.

From the outset, one should be able to deduce the great problems found in the error theory. For instance, the one who claims that the error theory is correct will dismiss such a theory the moment the advocate claims some form of act (i.e. racial discrimination, the Holocaust, terrorist acts, etcs.) as wrong. Thus, the error theory collapses upon itself as most everyone will acknowledge the existence of good and bad behaviors.

Individual Relativism

Individual relativism is best explained by the classic phrase, “What’s good for you may not be good for me.” That is, individual relativism is the belief that the individual sets forth his or her own morality. Thus, one person cannot tell another person what is right or wrong according to this theory as each person must decide good from bad themselves.

Upon careful examination, anyone can see the great problem with this theory. For example, if person A (we’ll call him Adam) is driving along and person B (we’ll call him Bob) steals Adam’s car, Adam may say, “Hey, that’s not right.” But according to individual relativism Bob would be justified in saying, “Hey man, it’s not right for you but it is for me!” However, we all know that it is morally wrong for anyone to steal another person’s car. A judge in a court of law will let Bob know quickly about the failures of his philosophy when sentencing him to jail time.

Why do so many jump on board with this philosophy? I think Ganssle is correct in saying that “I…think that people do not want other people to tell them what to do and that people do not want to tell others what to do. If morals are individually relative, then no one can tell you that something is wrong.”[2] Passivity, however, do not justify wrong thinking. Neither does a prideful heart. Individual relativism implodes the moment the individual relativist is a victim to an immoral act.

Cultural Relativism

Cultural relativists try to correct the problems of individual relativism while maintaining to the idea of moral relativism. The cultural relativist does so by claiming that morality is set by the cultural mores of an area. That is, “What is right or wrong is determined by one’s culture or society.”[3] While cultural relativism holds more of a base than does individual relativism, the theory still holds a major flaw.

Most people are horrified by the ruthless brutality of Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot, and extremist terror groups. However, if one accepts cultural relativism, then there is no basis for condemning such actions. For Hitler, he felt that he was doing the right thing according to his flawed moral viewpoint. Yet, cultural relativists hold no ground to condemn beheadings, gas chambers, and mass bombings if each culture establishes their own moral code. The cultural relativist begins to think more objectively than relative in such cases, as they should.

The Evolutionary Theory of Morality

The fourth theory is called the evolutionary theory of morality. According to this theory, it is held that treating other people in good ways rather than bad helped the human species to survive. Thus, the theory holds that morality falls in line with Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” philosophy. However, it is apparent that the theory holds some flaws.

Ganssle rightly notes that the evolutionary theory of morality “does not explain morality.”[4] Setting aside one’s acceptance or rejection of the evolutionary theory, this moral theory does nothing to define morality. For the evolutionary theorist, morality coincides with survival of the human species. This brings us to another flaw. Many societies have sought to destroy other groups of human beings. Catastrophic wars do not seem to help the human race survive. Rather than helping the species survive, war often threatens human existence. Wars are fought with both sides thinking they are correct. Therefore this theory tends to find itself in a form of cultural relativism which we have already denounced.

So where does this leave us? It leaves us with the final theory of morality which appears to be the clear choice.

Objective Morality

Thankfully with the failures of the first four models, a fifth option exists. There is the objective morality theory. Norman Geisler defines objective morality as the following:

“Morality deals with what is right, as opposed to wrong. It is an obligation, that for which a person is accountable.

An absolute moral obligation is:

an objective (not subjective) moral duty—a duty for all persons.

an eternal (not temporal) obligation—a duty at all times.

a universal (not local) obligation—a duty for all places.

An absolute duty is one that is binding on all persons at all times in all places.”[5]

Thus, objective moralists view morality as transcendent reality which applies to all individuals and societies. An objective moral is held by all people. This seems to be the case. While different tribes and societies hold different outlooks on peripheral matters of morality, the core morals are the same especially among those of their own tribe. It is wrong to murder. It is wrong to steal. It is wrong to commit adultery. And so on. Even so, we can conclude that objective morality is the correct viewpoint. Furthermore, we can deduce as did Norman Geisler in that

“Moral absolutes are unavoidable. Even those who deny them use them. The reasons for rejecting them are often based on a misunderstanding or misapplication of the moral absolute, not on a real rejection of it. That is, moral values are absolute, even if our understanding of them or the circumstances in which they should be applied are not.”[6]

Objective morals, thus, point towards the necessity of an objective law (or moral) giver. That objective lawgiver is none other than God.

 

© March 7, 2016. Brian Chilton.

 Sources Cited

 Ganssle, Gregory E. Thinking about God: First Steps in Philosophy. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004.

Geisler, Norman L. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Baker Reference Library. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999.

Notes 

 [1] Gregory E. Ganssle, Thinking about God: First Steps in Philosophy (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 90.

[2] Ibid., 92.

[3] Ibid., 92.

[4] Ibid., 95.

[5] Norman L. Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Baker Reference Library (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 501.

[6] Ibid., 502.

Does Evil Exist?

Recently on ABC, I watched the 20/20 interview conducted by Diane Sawyers as she interviewed Sue Klebold, mother of Dylan Klebold—one of the teenage shooters in Columbine High School. The interview was interesting, heart wrenching, and disturbing at the same time. It was interesting as one was able to peer into the life of Dylan Klebold; heart wrenching as one could sense the pain of the mother; and disturbing to witness how a normal teenager’s heart could turn so cold.

Of particular interest was a conversation that Sawyer had with Klebold and Dr. Mary Ellen O’Toole, former FBI profiler. Sawyer asked Klebold, “Do you believe in evil?” Klebold responded, “I don’t think so. I don’t think I do.” The documentary then shifts to O’Toole who states, “Evil is a spiritual term. And it doesn’t have any legal or behavioral meaning. So I stay away from it.” Now earlier Sawyer asked Dr. O’Toole, “Did Dylan know right from wrong?” She replied, “Yes, but it did not preclude him from planning and going through with [the shooting.”[1]

My heart breaks for those involved in this tragedy. Yet I found myself pondering this question: in the face of such evil, how can one deny evil’s existence? Perhaps to accept the presence of evil, Klebold would have to accept that her son had been influenced by evil. Is evil only a spiritual term as O’Toole suggests? What exactly is evil anyway?

The term “evil” defined.

Merriam-Webster dictionary defines evil as “1. morally reprehensible, arising from actual or imputed bad character or conduct; 2. Causing discomfort or repulsion; 3. Causing harm, marked by misfortune.”[2] Augustine offers a good definition of evil in that “evil is nothing but the removal of good until finally no good remains.”[3] Thomas Aquinas adds that

“since every nature desires its own being and its own perfection, it must be said also that the being and the perfection of any nature is good. Hence it cannot be that evil signifies being, or any form of nature. Therefore it must be said that by the name of evil is signified by the absence of good. And this is what is meant by saying that ‘evil is never a being nor a good.’ For since being, as such, is good, the absence of one implies the absence of the other.”[4]

Thus we find that evil has two constituent parts. First, it is the absence of good. In addition, one progressively finds that the more evil one accepts, the more evil one will become.

Evil is the absence of good.

I think Augustine and Aquinas do well in defining evil as the absence of good. The Bible demonstrates in several places the absolute goodness (or holiness) of God (Isaiah 6:3; Rev. 4:1-8). However, humanity has fallen into sin (or activities that oppose the holiness of God, which actions would inherently would be evil). Thus, human beings find one of two options: salvation in Christ (forgiveness so that one can live righteously) or rebellion (living and relishing in sin). Therefore, individuals have only one of two lifestyle choices that leads to one of two options: living a life of righteousness (choosing the good) or a lifestyle of rebellion (choosing the evil). The psalmist notes that “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:1-2).[5] Therefore, good is the absolute rule. Evil is a deviation from the good. Therefore Augustine and Aquinas are correct in asserting that evil is the absence of good.

Evil is progressive in its hold.

Aquinas adds that “Good and evil are not constitutive differences except in morals, which receive their species from the end, which is the object of the will, the source of all morality.”[6] In other words, a person is not born evil. Yes it is true that all of us are born into sin and that “none is righteous, no not one” (Romans 3:10). However, every person stands guilty before God meaning that people are responsible for choosing the evil over the good. Paul notes that God’s “invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (Romans 1:20). Yet, evil is also progressive in its hold. This is the reason that many in the New Testament use the metaphor of light (representing good) and dark (representing evil). Paul notes that people who continue down the path of evil will become more and more depraved. Paul states that “since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done” (Romans 1:28). I heard once from a person who stole that the first time a person steals, it is very difficult. But the more times a person steals and gets away with the theft, the easier it becomes. Evil is like a cancer that overtakes a person the more the person walks in darkness.

Conclusion

Sue Klebold, undoubtedly, carries an enormous weight upon her shoulders. However, she must realize that the evil that transpired in Columbine was not her doing. It was not her fault. She did everything in her power to raise her son right. While I am tremendously sympathetic to Sue Klebold and greatly appreciative to the work of Dr. O’Toole, I must respectfully, however, disagree with their take on evil. Good and evil are very much real. While goodness is an attribute of God (since he is the essence of goodness) and evil is the absence of good, it must be understood that good and evil stem from the actions and choices that one makes. If one is genuine in their faith and seeks the sovereignly good God, then a person has started down the path of goodness. But if one forgets the two great commandments (love God and love others) then one may very well traverse down the path of evil. Unfortunately, Dylan Klebold is an example of one who journeyed down the path of evil. The results of such evil speaks for itself.

 

© February 29, 2016. Brian Chilton.

 Sources Cited

 Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Theologica: The Complete Edition. Translated by the Fathers of the English Dominican Province. New York: Catholic Way Publishing, 2014. Kindle.

Augustine of Hippo. Confessions. Translated by R. S. Pine-Coffin. New York; London: Penguin, 1961.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online. Accessed February 29, 2016. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/evil.

 

Notes

 [1] Sue Klebold, interview with Diane Sawyers, 20/20, YouTube video (February 12, 2016), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zHRcF-pFGYI.

[2] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/evil.

[3] St. Augustine of Hippo, Confessions III.7, R. S. Pine-Coffin, trans (New York; London: Penguin, 1961), 63.

[4] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica I.48-49, Fathers of the English Dominican Province, trans (New York: Catholic Way Publishing, 2014), Kindle.

[5] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[6] Aquinas, Summa Theologica I.48-49, Kindle.

Did Aliens Create Life?

Did aliens create life? For some, this question may be bizarre. However, I have recently been approached by more than one person inquiring about the possibility. Much of this inquiry stems from popular shows like Ancient Aliens or even Alien Encounters. Wild-haired personality Giorgio A. Tsoukalos popularized the view that many of the stories in the Bible involved personal encounters not with alien life forms rather than the divine.

im-not-saying-that-it-was-aliens-but-it-was-aliens
Giorgio A. Tsoukalos

It may surprise you to discover that even Richard Dawkins accepts the view of panspermia, that life was planted by alien life forms. In the movie Expelled, Ben Stein asks famed atheist Richard Dawkins the following:

What do you think is the possibility that intelligent design might turn out to be…um…the answer to some of the issues in genetics…”

Dawkins replies, “Well it could come about in the following way: It could be that at some earlier time, somewhere in the universe, a civilization evolved by probably some kind of Darwinian means by a very high level of technology and designed a form of life they seeded on this type of planet. Um…now that is a possibility, and an intriguing possibility. And I suppose it’s possible that you might find evidence for that if you look at the details of biochemistry of biology you might find a signature of some form of designer. And that designer could be a higher intelligence from elsewhere in the universe. But that form of intelligence must come from an explicable process.”

 Stein remarked, “Wait a minute! Richard Dawkins thought intelligent design might be a legitimate pursuit!”[1]

stein and dawkins
Dawkins answering Stein on Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed

 It seems like Dawkins does not have so much an issue with intelligent design as much as he does God. Are aliens the answer for life? Well, to give a complicated answer: no. I submit three reasons for why God’s existence is necessary rather than aliens to account for life.

God’s existence, rather than aliens, is necessary in being.

We must distinguish between necessary beings and contingent beings. This section may be a bit complicated for one who has not had experience in philosophy; for we deal with an ontological concept. Norman Geisler describes necessary beings as “one who cannot not exist (if it exists at all). But what cannot not exist has no potential for nonexistence. And what exists with no potential not to exist is Pure Existence.”[2] Philosophically complex? Yes. But, we can simplify the concept.

The issue comes down to this: something that absolutely is required to exist, exists. Let me explain the concept by the following illustration. You are reading these words on your device. These words are not random. They have meaning. Therefore, these words are contingent (dependent) upon the existence of an author (i.e. me). In this case, then, the words are contingent and my existence is necessary. The words prove my existence. However, when taken further, my existence is contingent upon the necessary existence of two other people (my parents). Because I exist, one can verifiably know that my parents exist. In this case, I am a contingent being and my parents are necessary beings. Push this far enough back to the first humans, then something has to account for all of life. God’s existence (an eternal, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving, conscious Mind) is necessitated by the existence of anything that exists.

God’s existence, rather than aliens, is necessary in creation.

This second point develops from the first. Whereas the first point engages the idea of ontology (the study of being), the second examines the question cosmologically. Even if aliens do exist, the creatures (sentient or not) would be contingent beings like ourselves as they would require an explanation for their existence as they would be finite creatures. Evidence continues to further prove the case that the universe if finite. Thus, anything that was born into this universe without a prior existent endowment and by sheer natural means is a limited creature.[3] If aliens are biological creatures born into this universe, then aliens are not the ultimate creators of life. They could never be. Therefore, aliens could not account for the creation of life and the universe as the finite universe requires an infinite, all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving Mind. Sheer logic dictates as much. Thus, God’s existence is necessitated by creation and not aliens.

God’s existence, rather than aliens, is necessary in purpose.

The final case for God’s necessity over that of aliens deals in the realm of teleology. The book of Genesis notes that “God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31).[4] The universe seems to have a purpose. Wayne Grudem makes the following observation, “If God created the universe to show his glory, then we would expect that the universe would fulfill the purpose for which he created it.”[5] If aliens created life, then life would have no purpose outside of being the result of a high school science experiment. If aliens created life, then there would be no sense of morality as morality requires the existence of a Supreme Good (i.e. God). Most importantly, if aliens created life, then there would be no hope for final restitution of creation. Life has been given purpose. The fact that humans possess a will, desire, and the ability to tell good from evil provides yet another reason to reject the idea of panspermia (i.e. that aliens planted life).

Conclusion

Even if it could be demonstrated that aliens planted life, the existence of God would still be mandatory. Why? Because someone had to develop the method by which life would grow. Someone would be responsible for the creation and development of alien life. Someone would still be responsible for the creation of the universe and all the laws of physics found within. As I noted before, the existence of anything necessitates the existence of an eternal, all-knowing, all-powerful, all-good, Mind. We know that being to be the God presented in the Bible. While it may be fun to contemplate the existence of aliens (and who knows, aliens could exist), we should note that the potential existence of such life forms do nothing to eliminate the necessity of God’s existence. God is responsible for the creation of life, not ET.

 

© February 21, 2016. Brian Chilton.

 

Bibliography

 Dawkins, Richard. Interviewed by Ben Stein. “Ben Stein vs. Richard Dawkins Interview.” YouTube. In Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed: No Intelligence Allowed (2008). Accessed February 21, 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GlZtEjtlirc.

Geisler, Norman. Systematic Theology: In One Volume. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011.

Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994.

Notes

[1] Richard Dawkins, interviewed by Ben Stein, “Ben Stein vs. Richard Dawkins Interview,” YouTube, from Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed: No Intelligence Allowed (2008), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GlZtEjtlirc.

[2] Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology: In One Volume (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011), 418.

[3] Notice that the statement is worded as such to exclude Christ was existed before he was born (John 1:1).

[4] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[5] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 272.

God’s Omnipotence and You

I have always been an avid weightlifter. In high school, I did not take up many of the popular sports. I was too short for basketball, too slow for football, and too uncoordinated for baseball. However, I found something that I enjoyed and found great success in doing: weightlifting. Weightlifting is not a sport where one competes against another person. Rather, it is a sport where one competes against oneself. A person tests their limits. Through the years, I have had great success with the hobby. In my early thirties, I posted a personal best in the bench press lifting 555 pounds and a squat well over 800 pounds. This was something I thought was pretty good until I watched a video of a man named Scot Mendelson posting the world record bench press at just over 1,000 pounds.

800 lbs squat
A picture of Pastor Brian squatting 800 lbs.

I have kept pushing myself through the years. However, digestive problems and other medical issues not only made me realize my limitations, but also took away the ability to post some of the numbers that I once achieved. I realized something that I did not want to accept—I have limited power. While we as human beings will always have our limitations, God does not.

God is known to have the attribute of “omnipotence” (omni, Latin for all; potent, Latin for power). Omnipotence means “all powerful” or “unlimited power.” God is known to be omnipotent in the Bible, partially due to his names. God is called in the Old Testament El Shaddai which means “the Almighty.” In the New Testament God is called the pantokrator which means “almighty” or “all powerful.” Norman Geisler rightly defines omnipotence as the ability in “that God can do whatever is possible to do. Or, God can do what is not impossible to do.”[1] Even still, we must understand that even God cannot do three things:

  1. Act in a way that is contrary to his nature (i.e. he cannot lie, do what is evil—Titus 1:2).
  2. Act in a way that impedes human freedom (he can coerce, persuade, but there must be an aspect of human response, e.g. Matt. 23:37). This does not mean that God could not override human freedom. However, should God override human freedom, human freedom would be lost.
  3. Act in a way that is logically impossible (i.e. create a married bachelor, a squared circle, swear by a name that is higher than his own, etc. Heb. 6:13).

 In Jeremiah chapter 31, we learn that Jeremiah was told to buy a field in a time of great uncertainty. Jeremiah bought the field and gave the deed to Baruch, his associate. However, Jeremiah had doubts as to whether he should have purchased the field. But, Jeremiah prays in chapter 32 and finds strength in the omnipotence of God. So, what does this omnipotence of God mean to you? Let’s look at five areas that God’s power affects the life of the believer.

  1. God’s power exceeds that of the power found in creation. God created everything that exists. Therefore, God is able to work within the bounds of nature and outside the bounds of nature. God can do the miraculous at his will. Creation does not restrain God, rather creation is restrained by God as God creates and sustains all that exists. That being said, nothing is too powerful for God.
  1. God’s power is extended to his children. We are told that we can move mountains with just a morsel of faith (Mt. 17:20). Great power is found in prayer. Because God has the power, not us. If we try to work without prayer, we are merely working by our own power. If we operate by prayer, we are working by the power of God.
  2. God’s power has been and is used to offer every means possible for a person to be saved. God doesn’t desire for anyone to be condemned to hell (2 Peter 3:9). Jesus did not come to condemn, but to save (John 3:16-17). Thus, understand, salvation is not a work that you have done. Salvation is not a work that is achieved. Rather, salvation is a work received as it is a work that God has done. Because of God’s great power, he has made a way for you to live with him for all eternity.
  1. God’s power means that he is the ultimate authority. God’s grant of forgiveness is irrevocable. Jesus said, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28).[2] If God deems you forgiven, then no one else can say otherwise. If you enter into eternity without Christ, then God will rule you guilty. Understand, there is no court superior to God. No Supreme Court can override the edict of God. God is the ultimate authority. The doors God opens, no one can shut. And, the doors God shuts, no one can open. If you are forgiven, you have an eternal promise of eternal life. God cannot lie.
  1. God’s power along with God’s incapacity to lie means that victory is certain! Just because God hasn’t judged the world yet, doesn’t mean that he won’t. God is allowing time for more people to come to salvation. But understand, victory is as certain as the words before your eyes. As Paul says, “If God is for us, who can be against us” (Romans 8:31). Victory is certain. Evil will be defeated. So, stop worrying!

Because God is omnipotent and is also all loving (omnibenevolent), this means that the believer serves a God of possibilities. Where our power is limited, God’s power is limitless. Are you depending on your own power or the power of God today?

 

© February 16, 2016. Brian Chilton.

  

Source Cited

 Geisler, Norman. Systematic Theology: In One Volume. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011.

 

Notes

[1] Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology: In One Volume. (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011), 487.

[2] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

Challenging Humean Presuppositions

One of the first tasks for the apologist is to understand the arguments of one’s opposition. David Hume and Anthony Flew provide astute arguments against the possibility of the miraculous. But, perhaps the most challenging is the issue behind how to define and defend a miracle in the first place. David Hume writes that a miracle “is a violation of the laws of nature; and as a firm and unalterable experience has established these laws, the proof against a miracle, from the very nature of the fact, is as entire as any argument from experience can possibly be imagined” (Hume 1997, 33). Hume continues by claiming that “no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous, than the fact, which it endeavors to establish…the superior only gives us an assurance suitable to that degree of force, which remains, after deducting the inferior” (Hume 1997, 33). In other words, Hume argues that since the laws of nature are so established and a miracle is a violation of such laws, then no amount of human testimony could override the commonly held laws known by every person. Thus, for Hume it would appear that the miraculous is impossible to demonstrate historically since such occasions are inferior to commonly held natural occurrences. The skeptic would merely find some rational way to explain away such an occurrence. So, how might one answer such a claim?

First, it should be duly noted that Hume is operating from a naturalistic presupposition. For Hume, God does not exist, or at least may not, thereby excluding any possibility that God could engage in the natural world. If God were to exist and this God were to interact upon the laws of nature, those laws would be for his to bend and/or suspend. If God is the creator of said natural laws, then it is feasible that God would counteract those laws in times of necessity. Thus, Hume’s argument is guilty of anti-supernatural bias. He has negated the possibility that any miracle could occur while arguing that miracles cannot occur due to natural laws. By Hume’s own reasoning, he demands the need for objective truth which essentially demands for an objective reality—God. Frank Turek makes the argument that “all debates presuppose that an objective truth exists outside the mind of each debater. Each debater is trying to show that his claims are closer to that objective truth than his opponent. Every truth claim—whether it’s ‘God exists’ or ‘God doesn’t exist’—requires unchangeable laws of logic” (Turek 2014, 33). Thus, while Hume seeks to avoid the implications of the divine by dismissing the miraculous, in essence Hume pleads for objective truth which pleads for an eternal objective Mind.

Second, what if the superior claim gives greater assurance to the viability of a certain miraculous event rather than a naturalistic explanation? For instance, a miracle being found in the resurrection of Jesus is the best explanation for the appearances of Jesus. Hume argues that one cannot accept the testimony of any number of people to assume the validity of a miraculous event. However, what if he were to hear that in the 1960s humanity propelled human beings to the surface of the moon? It may seem improbable that such an occurrence could happen. But what if several individuals claimed to have seen this particular man (Neil Armstrong) walking on the surface of the moon? It may seem fantastic, but Hume would most likely agree that such an occurrence took place. Why then should it be any different for the miraculous unless Hume presupposes that God could not exist? Being a weightlifter, I could lift a bar all day long. However, if one denies my existence, it would seem preposterous that such a bar could move. If there is sufficient historical evidence which demonstrates that Jesus of Nazareth walked out of the tomb on the first Easter Sunday, then one must concede that a miracle took place. If a miracle took place, then one must concede the existence of a divine Being. It must be remembered that “History is a friend of science” (Habermas 2014, Video). For Hume, it appears that his issue is more of an anti-supernatural presupposition rather than an openness to follow the evidence wherever it could lead. As Gary Habermas states, “When I talk about evidence for miracles, I talk about different kinds” (Habermas 2014, Video). Evidence exists for the miraculous and for the resurrection of Christ. That being the case, Hume’s anti-supernatural presuppositions begin to crack at its foundation.

 

Sources Cited

Habermas, Gary. “Philosophical Objections—Not Enough Evidence.” Liberty University (2014). Video Lecture.

Hume, David. “Of Miracles.” In In Defense of Miracles: A Comprehensive Case for God’s Action in History. Edited by R. Douglas Geivett and Gary R. Habermas. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1997.

Turek, Frank. Stealing from God: Why Atheists Need God to Make Their Case. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2014.

***Note…the previous article was first posted as an assignment. Thus, please make sure you quote any of the material properly so as to avoid charges of plagiarism.***

 

Copyright, November 23, 2015. Brian Chilton.

Does Paul Condemn Philosophy in Colossians 2:8?

Philosophy is defined as the “the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence” (Soanes and Stevenson 2004). Advocates of Christian anti-intellectualism will criticize the use of philosophy within Christian circles due to Paul’s supposed admonition against philosophy. Such individuals charge that philosophy is antagonistic to the faith due to Paul’s so-called warning against philosophy in Colossians 2:8. But what exactly does the apostle claim? In Paul’s letter to the Colossians, he warns the Colossians that they should “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” (Colossians 2:8).[1] According to philosophical antagonists, Paul’s warning against philosophy should dissuade anyone from participating in a philosophical endeavor. However, one should ask, is Paul actually condemning the use of philosophy or is Paul using the term “philosophy” to address another issue?

A closer examination of the Colossians text affords one the opportunity to evaluate Paul’s actual intention. When one examines the text, one will find three reasons why Paul does not discredit philosophy as it is popularly understood in modern times. Rather, one will discover that Paul actually advocates the use of good philosophy.

Paul’s Intention Behind the Word “Philosophia.”

As I was preparing this article, I had the chance to discuss the issue of Colossians 2:8 with Dr. Leo Percer. Dr. Percer is a New Testament scholar who teaches Greek, Hermeneutics, and New Testament studies at Liberty University. Dr. Percer stated, “‘Philosophy’ in Colossians is probably a reference to religious ideas more than what we mean by the word today. If memory serves, Josephus uses the word to describe the various views of the Pharisees, Sadducees, and such” (Percer 2015). Is Dr. Percer correct? It appears so for two particular reasons.

First, Louw and Nida note that “φιλοσοφία (philosophia) may be rendered in some languages as ‘the way in which people are wise’ or ‘the way in which people understand things’ or ‘the manner in which people reason’” (Louw and Nida 1996, 384). Paul’s use of the term philosophia does not indicate that he is speaking of philosophy the way modern individuals understand the term. To understand what a writer is saying, one must not force the writer into one’s time-frame, but must rather examine the writer’s literary style during the period in which the author pens their work. This leads us into another defense for Percer’s claim.

Second, while looking into Percer’s claim pertaining to Josephus’ usage of the term “philosophy,” I discovered an example of what Dr. Percer was saying in Josephus’ writings. Josephus, in the first-century, writes, “The Jews had for a great while three sects of philosophy peculiar to themselves; the sect of the Essenes, and the sect of the Sadducees, and the third sort of opinions was that of those called Pharisees; of which sects although I have already spoken in the second book of the Jewish War, yet will I a little touch upon them now” (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 18.11). Note that Josephus uses the term “philosophy” to describe the religious viewpoints of three religious groups: the Essenes, Sadducees, and the Pharisees. This is not the only time Josephus uses the term “philosophia” to describe religious ideas. Josephus also writes, “But of the fourth sect of Jewish philosophy, Judas the Galilean was the author. These men agree in all other things with the Pharisaic notions; but they have an inviolable attachment to liberty; and say that God is to be their only Ruler and Lord” (Josephus, Antiquities to the Jews 18.23). Again, Josephus uses the term “philosophia” to describe a religious viewpoint. If this is the case, could it be that Paul uses the term “philosophia” to describe religious groups and religious ideas rather than philosophical concepts? To answer such a question, one will need to consider the theme of Colossians chapter 2.

Paul’s Theme in Colossians 2.

Paul’s letter to the church of Colossae was written to combat heretical viewpoints in the area. In chapter one, Paul presents what is normally recognized as an early Christian formulation denoting the incarnation of Christ (that the divine God had took on fleshly imbodiment) in writing that Christ is the “image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent” (Colossians 1:15-18).

Paul then in Colossians 1:24-2:5 speaks of his persecutions and how through them God made his presence known to the Gentiles. In that passage, Paul writes that “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ” (Colossians 1:28). Note that Paul indicates the importance of teaching individuals the truth with wisdom. Philosophy is the pursuit of wisdom. Paul then turns his attention to the importance of one’s “knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ” (Colossians 2:2). Paul says that he notes this so that “no one may delude you with plausible arguments” (Colossians 2:4). How does one decipher plausible arguments from implausible arguments? It comes from knowing the truth (theology) and knowing how one can know the truth (philosophy).

It is after such a discussion that Paul then writes that the Colossians should “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” (Colossians 2:8). Instead of warning the Colossians against philosophy, Paul is actually warning the Colossians against well-argued false doctrines. Ben Witherington argues that “In v. 8 Paul characterizes the false teaching not only as “philosophy,” which in itself would not be a problem, but as philosophy built on merely “human tradition” and on what Paul calls “empty deceit.” The verb sylalageō is rare, found only here in biblical Greek, and means “kidnap” or better “carry off as booty” (Witherington III 2007, 154). Douglas Moo would also agree as he notes that “The word ‘philosophy’ was applied to a wide range of belief systems in the ancient world, so it tells us little about the origin or nature of the teaching. It does suggest, however, that the teaching involved a somewhat coherent system” (Moo 2008, 50). Thus, Paul’s warning is not against philosophy. Rather, Paul’s warning is against cleverly argued false doctrines. Instead of negating philosophy, proper philosophy seems to be promoted by Paul due to the incredible way Paul argues in favor of the truth.

Paul’s Use of Philosophical Argumentation.

Paul was not only a master theologian; Paul was a master philosopher, as well. Paul was a master rhetorician. In fact, Douglas Moo writes, concerning Colossians 2:8 and following, that “This key paragraph begins with a warning about the false teachers (v. 8) but is then dominated by a theologically rich explanation of why the Colossians should reject this teaching (vv. 9–15)” (Moo 2008, 184). Witherington explains that

“Paul is speaking into a rhetorically and philosophically saturated environment. When someone puts those two things together and the philosophy is false, there is a grave danger to Christians who are prone to listen to such powerful persuasion and to be influenced by it. Paul therefore is in the awkward position of not being able to speak directly and in person to his audience, thus losing a good portion of the rhetorical arsenal (gestures, tone of voice, etc.). Yet still he must offer an even more powerful and philosophically substantive act of persuasion than is given by those who are beguiling the Colossians” (Witherington 2007, 154).

Thus, Paul is using philosophical methods to argue in favor of the truth despite being at a disadvantage as he is unable to physically deliver his well-argued and well-reasoned defense for the Christian faith. Paul is not dismissing philosophy. For it was Paul who was able to hold his own defending the Christian faith to the intellectuals at Athens. So what can we take from this study?

Conclusion

Does Paul condemn philosophy in Colossians 2:8? The short answer is “no.” Paul does not demerit or condemn philosophy in Colossians 2:8. Rather, Paul eloquently warns the Colossians against false philosophical and false theological concepts. Such false concepts were considered by Paul to be teachings that “have indeed an appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh” (Colossians 2:23). So what was the false philosophy being presented to the Colossians? It appears that the likely problem for the Colossians was a form of syncretistic doctrine, similar to the modern day New Age movement,that blended Christianity with Jewish mysticism and pagan religions into a systematized form of belief.  Instead of condemning philosophy in general, Paul instead argued that the Colossians needed a stronger Christian theological and philosophical construct to stand against the cleverly devised falsehoods being purported in their town. Such a warning needs to be heeded among modern Christians as well.

Sources Cited

Josephus, Flavius, and William Whiston. The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1987.

Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains. New York: United Bible Societies, 1996.

Moo, Douglas J. The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon, The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2008.

Percer, Leo. Interviewed by Brian Chilton. (Thursday, September 10, 2015). Online Interview. Information used with permission.

Soanes, Catherine, and Angus Stevenson, eds., Concise Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Witherington III, Ben. The Letters to Philemon, the Colossians, and the Ephesians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on the Captivity Epistles. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007.

© September 13, 2015. Brian Chilton.

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

3 Attributes Critical for Effective Persuasion

Aristotle, the famed ancient Greek philosopher, wrote On Rhetoric in the 4th century BC. Aristotle writes on how one can build a strong case that will be coherent, persuasive, and winsome. In Christian apologetics, it is imperative that one build a strong case for Christianity. Often, apologetic antagonists will claim, “No one was argued into the kingdom.” Yet, it seems that more and more people are being illuminated by the Holy Spirit through the use of arguments stemming from the apologetic renaissance. In fact, the pages of Scripture, one will find Christian case-makers arguing for the truths of Christ.

In On Rhetoric, Aristotle provides three important aspects of persuasion. These three aspects are called the ethos, pathos, and logos. Interestingly enough, Jesus himself demonstrated these attributes as he led people to faith. This article will examine Aristotle’s three attributes of persuasion and will show how Jesus used these attributes to powerfully argue for his identity as Messiah.

Ethos: Having Character Persuasion

The first attribute of persuasion is that of ethos (literally “character”); that is, the moral integrity of the speaker. English contrives its word “ethic” from the term “ethos.” Aristotle writes that the “orator persuades by moral character when his speech is delivered in such a manner as to render him worthy of confidence; for we feel confidence in a greater degree and more readily in persons of worth in regard to everything in general, but where there is no certainty and there is and there is room for doubt, our confidence is absolute” (Aristotle, On Rhetoric I.2.4).

To have value, the speaker must demonstrate authority and character. These two attributes are found in one simple term—integrity. By what authority does the speaker present his/her case? Why should I listen to such a person? Does a person live by what he/she speaks? Many a great communicator has lost value because their ethos does not support their theses. In this regard, a persuasive speaker must have authority to speak on the manner in which they address and they also must have the moral character that supports their speech. Carter and Coleman note Aristotle’s categories of ethos in that of “Phronesis—practical skills and wisdom. Arête—virtue and goodness. Eunoia—goodwill toward the audience” (Carter and Coleman 2009, 67). In this regard, the audience determines the ethos of the teacher.

In this regard, Jesus demonstrated ethos par excellence, although his adversaries chose to disregard this aspect of Jesus’ teaching. Jesus exemplified phronesis as he consistently outsmarted his opponents. Zuck writes that “Jesus knew the minds of three groups: inquirers, his disciples, and his enemies” (Zuck 1995, 51). Jesus was so good at answering his opponents that after a certain point, “no one dared to ask him any more questions” (Mark 12:34).[1] Jesus also demonstrated arête. Jesus did not provide a commandment which he did not himself keep. He told his disciples to “love their enemies” (Matthew 5:44). Jesus exemplified this commandment as he prayed while being crucified “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Jesus also demonstrated great eunoia by the multiple healings provided to the sick and helpless.

If one is to have an impact for God’s kingdom, then such a person will need to demonstrate a strong ethic. A person must have integrity. Without it, nothing that is said will leave an indelible mark on anyone. A great communicator without a strong ethos will fade into the shadows of failure.

Pathos: Having Connected Persuasion

The second attribute is that of pathos (literally “suffering,” “experience”); that is an emotional connection with the audience. English contrives its words “sympathy” and “empathy” from the term “pathos”. Aristotle writes, “The orator persuades by means of his hearers, when they are roused to emotion by his speech; for the judgements we deliver are not the same when we are influenced by joy or sorrow, love or hate; and it is to this alone that, as we have said, the present-day writers of treatises endeavor to devote their attention” (Aristotle, On Rhetoric I.2.5).

While it seems that many have been captivated more by emotionalism rather than intellectualism in modern times, emotionalism is still important. On a side note, let it be known that many a danger has come by speakers who manipulate the emotions without demonstrating the other two components. Hitler, Mousseline, and others have persuaded by appealing to negative emotional aspects (i.e. racism, nationalism, et. al.) without adhering to the other two cornerstones of effective persuasion. That being said, it would behoove the speaker to note the great power found in one’s emotions. If one is to connect with the audience, they must be willing to connect with the listeners emotionally.

Much could be said of Jesus’ use of pathos. However, such a treatment extends beyond the scope of this article. Nevertheless, Jesus’ use of pathos is demonstrated most clearly through his use of shared artifacts. “Jesus often made use of shared artifacts by utilizing his knowledge of Scripture, geography, and Jewish history” (Carter and Coleman 2009, 26). If the speaker is to connect with the audience, he/she must find a point of contact just as Jesus did through his parables and Paul did through his missionary ventures. If there is no connection, the most throughout intellectual treatment of a topic may fall on deafened ears. Never negate the power of a good illustration.

Logos: Having Coherent Persuasion

For the Christian who knows his or her Bible well, the third term will strike a chord, for it is the “logos” (literally “word,” or “from which a thought is expressed or delivered”). English contrives its word “logic” from “logos”. The third attribute considers the logic of an argument. Aristotle writes, “Now, since proofs are effected by these means, it is evident that, to be able to grasp them, a man must be capable of logical reasoning, of studying characters and the virtues, and thirdly the emotions—the nature and character of each, its origin, and the manner in which it is produced” (Aristotle, On Rhetoric I.2.7).

Here again, a full treatment is not possible in this article. I would suggest one interested in this topic pick up a copy of Carter and Coleman’s book which is referenced in this article. However, it should be noted that those who argue against logic will be surprised at the great use of logic used by Christ. Consider Jesus’ use of the following forms of logic:

Enthymene: an incomplete syllogism made to allow the “audience to ‘connect the dots’ and discover the insight on their own” (Carter and Coleman 2009, 49). Example found in Matthew 10:40, “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me” (Matthew 10:40).

Syllogismus: “the use of a remark or an image that calls upon the audience to draw an obvious conclusion” (Carter and Coleman 2009, 52). Example found in John 3:14-18, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the only Son of God” (John 3:14-18).

A fortiori: (Latin: “to the stronger”) the use of a commonly held truth to argue for a stronger truth. Exemplified in Jesus’ defense of his healing on the Sabbath, “Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it? And ought this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day” (Luke 13:15-16). Also exemplified in Matthew 18:12-14.

Reductio ad absurdium: “a type of logical argument where one assumes a claim for the sake of argument, derives an absurd or ridiculous outcome, and then concludes that the original assumption must have been wrong, as it led to an absurd result” (Carter and Coleman 2009, 55). Jesus’ rebuttal to his adversaries considering him demon-possessed is an example of reductio ad absurdium. Jesus said, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand” (Matthew 12:25-26)?

Appeal to Evidence: noting the evidence supporting one’s claims. This is incredibly important for apologetics. Jesus used this type of logic masterfully. Jesus would say, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25) then go out and raise the dead to prove his statement (as he did in the case of Lazarus). Jesus appealed to several pieces of evidence in John 5: the evidence from the Father (John 5:30-31); evidence from John the Baptist (John 5:32-35); the miracles performed by Jesus (John 5:36); God the Father’s witness (John 5:37-38); and evidence from Scripture (John 5:39-47).

As I have noted several times on this site, one must hold intellectual reasons for holding to the faith if one is to be effective in communicating the gospel. This comes by knowing WHAT one believes and knowing WHY one believes it.

Conclusion

This somewhat lengthy article has noted three important attributes that should accompany one’s presentation of the truth. One must hold a strong ethos (character), pathos (emotional connection), and logos (coherent argument). It may be possible that one can influence another without all three in place. For the one who holds character without the other two may be a beloved person whose beliefs are held because of the person’s character. Yet, such adherents will not hold a strong connection with the beliefs themselves. They simply inherited the beliefs. One may influence another by strong emotionalism to the detriment of the other two. This is most dangerous as the person may captivate a crowd by one’s charisma. Yet, the adherents will not have a defense for their position and, if the speaker is of low moral virtue, may be captivated by what could quickly escalate to dangerous cultic practices. One may also have high intellectual prowess and may convince others. Yet, without a strong ethos and pathos, the speaker may come across as cold and calloused. A blend of all three attributes is necessary if one is to be both persuasive and winsome in their approach. As noted, Jesus was a master of all three.

Sources Cited:

Aristotle. On Rhetoric. Acheron Press. Kindle.

Carter, Joe; and John Coleman. How to Argue Like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History’s Greatest Communicator. Wheaton: Crossway, 2009.

Zuck, Roy B. Teaching as Jesus Taught. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 1995.

© August 30, 2015. Brian Chilton.

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

8 Ways that Anti-Intellectualism is Harming the Church

When asked to identify the greatest commandment in all of the Law, Jesus answered the inquiry by saying, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command” (Matthew 22:37-38).[1] It seems that one aspect of this commandment has eluded the modern church. Yes, the church notes the great need to love the Lord with the heart, that is the will and emotions. The modern American church also focuses on the love that one must hold for God with one’s soul, that is, one’s conscious being (life). However, the third aspect of the great commandment seems to have escaped the modern American church. The Christian is also commanded to love the Lord with his or her mind. Extreme fideism (believing that the Christian life is only about faith without reason) has led the church into a state known as anti-intellectualism. Anti-intellectualism is defined as the state of “opposing or [being] hostile to intellectuals or to an intellectual view or approach” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). In this case, the intellectual approach is the intellectual approach to the Christian faith. Anti-intellectualism not only hinders one from keeping the great commandment, but such an attitude is also damaging to the church. This article will present eight ways that anti-intellectualism harms the church.

1. Anti-intellectualism harms the church theologically.

By theologically, I simply indicate how the church views God. Dr. Daniel Mitchell, one of my theology professors from Liberty University, once said, “The more you study God, the bigger God becomes.” His statement proved true. So often, anti-intellectuals limit their scope of God. Because anti-intellectuals fail to examine, research, and contemplate, they miss out on the vast nature of God. While the Christian may understand the basic fundamentals of God’s omniscience and omnipotence, one who allows oneself to contemplate and study these attributes of God will be left in great awe of the greatness of God Almighty. We love God with our minds when we study God. “Search for the LORD and for His strength; seek His face always” (1 Chronicles 16:11).

 2. Anti-intellectualism harms the church doctrinally.

By doctrinally, I simply indicate how the church views God’s interactions with humanity. How does the church view salvation? How does the church view humanity? The modern church has allowed pop culture to dictate these issues according to social fads and the like. The anti-intellectual will relish in having loads of moving music, will jump with excitement with the latest form of entertainment, but will be left with no basis for examining whether such songs and activities fit within the parameters of orthodoxy. So often, modern Christians leave their churches feeling great excitement, yet are left without any solid foundation for knowing what the church stands for and why it stands for certain things. Issues of salvation have become universalized, issues of eternity have been compromised, and issues concerning humanity have been radicalized because many modern Christians fail to love the Lord with their minds.

 3. Anti-intellectualism harms the church apologetically.

Those who know my testimony knows that I left the ministry for seven years and nearly became an agnostic. Why? My faith was shaken by the Jesus Seminar. When I asked Christian leaders why it was that I could trust the Bible, they responded by saying such things as, “Because it’s the Bible;” “the Bible says we should believe the Bible;” and “you shouldn’t ask such things!” It wasn’t until I came across the works of Christian apologists like Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel, William Lane Craig, Gary Habermas, and many others that I began to realize that there were good reasons for why I should believe the Bible. Many of those evidences came from outside of the Bible (e.g. archaeology, manuscript evidence, and et. cetera). Had I been given this information earlier, I would not have left the ministry. Anti-intellectualism is killing the church today because we are left with no defense from the attacks arising from secularists and the like. We must remember that we are instructed to “Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). To do otherwise is to neglect the love that we have for God with the mind.

4. Anti-intellectualism harms the church emotionally.

The fourth statement may sound counter-intuitive. Often when a case is made for intellectual Christianity, emotionalism is invalidated. However, emotions are important for human beings. Yet, emotions can lead us astray. Anti-intellectualism, such as is found in movements like the prosperity gospel and the like often lead to far more emotional damage than intellectual Christianity. A proper understanding of theodicy, suffering, and the problem of evil will help the believer in times of great distress. Proponents of anti-intellectualism are far less equipped to deal with times of tragedy than those who have a solid understanding of such topics. In fact, I have personally witnessed pastors who advocated anti-intellectualism fall into times of far greater distress and doubt when they are met with times of suffering and stress. Their doubt and stress is at a far greater degree than those who are grounded with an intellectual faith. An intellectual faith grounds the emotions and demonstrates how a person can love God with the mind.

5. Anti-intellectualism harms the church philosophically.

Philosophy and theology are intertwined to some degree. Theology is a branch of philosophy. Philosophy, simply put, is “a discipline comprising as its core logic, aesthetics, ethics, metaphysics, and epistemology” (Merriam-Webster), or the “pursuit of wisdom” (Merriam-Webster). How do we see the world? How do we see society? What is the meaning of life? These are questions that everyone must answer. Different people come to differing conclusions. In a culture where every opinion is held to equal value, it is important that the believer understands such concepts as truth, logic, and value. Otherwise, the believer will be led by everything thrown their direction or, in contrast, oppose everything that may have some value. Some oppose philosophy because of Paul’s statement to the Colossians saying, “Be careful that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit based on human tradition” (Colossians 2:8). A closer examination of Paul’s statement will reveal that Paul is not dismissing philosophy, but rather Paul is dismissing bad philosophy. In addition, Paul’s statement on philosophy is a philosophical statement. Thus, it would seem that quite the opposite is being promoted by Paul. One should not avoid philosophy. One should avoid bad philosophy. How does one know bad philosophy? They know bad philosophy because they know good philosophy. Possessing good philosophy is another way that the church loves God with the mind.

6. Anti-intellectualism harms the church socially.

It seems that many are led more by politics rather than their religious convictions. The opposite should surely be the case. When one allows political parties and nationalistic fervor to dictate their beliefs, one may well be found favorable among the populace while being very unpopular with God. Anti-intellectual Christians will find themselves more easily swayed by the great influence of politics. The intellectual Christian, one grounded in the fundamentals of the Christian faith, will understand the great value of all lives despite race, nationality, or gender. Intellectual faith remembers and realizes the truthfulness of Paul’s statement in that “There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). When intellectual faith realizes and actualizes Paul’s statement, then one will truly love God with the mind…and will be moved to love their neighbors as themselves.

7. Anti-intellectualism harms the church evangelistically.

While in prison Paul wrote that “what has happened to me has actually resulted in the advance of the gospel…I am appointed for the defense of the gospel” (Philippians 1:12, 16). How would Paul have been able to know how to defend the gospel if he did not know why one should believe the gospel? Many anti-intellectuals hold a limited if not unbiblical view of faith. Anti-intellectuals often consider faith to be the acceptance for which no evidence exists. Or, some may view faith as simply an emotional crutch. Faith is not demonstrated in such a way in the Bible. For instance, consider Jesus’ use of miracles. Jesus did not ask for blind faith. Jesus would back up his claims with a demonstration of power. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world” (John 9:5) and then provided the light of physical sight to the man at the pool of Siloam. At the tomb of Lazarus, Jesus told Mary and Martha (the sisters of Lazarus) as well as everyone else “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Me, even if he dies, will live” (John 11:25). Bold words to say at a man’s tomb, don’t you think? Yet, Jesus demonstrated that he was the resurrection and the life by raising Lazarus back to life. Jesus backed up his claims. It behooves the modern Christian to know the evidences for the faith. This will provide great strength to one’s evangelistic efforts. Know what you believe, know why you believe what you do, and know the One in whom you are believing, so that you can tell others about the One you serve. Doing such demonstrates a love for God with the mind.

8. Anti-intellectualism harms the church spiritually.

Finally, anti-intellectualism harms the church spiritually. How one might ask? Anti-intellectualism harms the church spiritually in many ways. I will list only two for the purpose of this article. 1) It harms one’s view of salvation. Some have added to or taken away from the gospel message because of an unexamined view of salvation from the Bible. False professions have been made without understanding the submission required for salvation, that is to say one’s submission to Christ as the Lord of one’s life. 2) It harms one’s spiritual walk. Sometimes anti-intellectuals will allow things into their lives which should not be present. When confronted, the person will say, “I have faith and that is all that matters.” Such a view stems from a bad interpretation of faith. If a person had studied their Bibles, researched passages, and held a true love of learning about God, then one would be willing to submit themselves to God fully and completely. Perhaps some of the problems of integrity in the modern church stems from the laziness which is so boldly exhibited in the anti-intellectual movement. Such can be protected at least to some degree by loving God with the mind.

Conclusion

Socrates is noted as saying that “an unexamined life is not worth living.” Socrates is right. However, one could stretch the philosopher’s statement in saying that “an unexamined faith is not worth having.” Biblical faith is enmeshed with reason. We should know why we believe in God and why we believe in Christ. If one simply accepts Christ because their family or friends did, is their faith truly legitimate? The Christian should not be afraid of loving God with the mind. One need not leave their brain at the door of faith. In fact, reason and faith are complementary because we serve a real God who provides a real trust. Anti-intellectualism is harmful for the church. It is a trend that must be reversed. Charles Bugg puts it best in saying,

“There is no excuse for preaching that requires people to leave their head outside the church. In the Great Commandment, Jesus taught His disciples to love God with all of their mind, heart, and soul. Some preachers make their living by attacking education or by riding the horse of anti-intellectualism. The result is a kind of demagoguery that creates unwarranted suspicion toward education. Ministers need to use the minds God has given them and to love God with all of that mind. Likewise, they need to call their listeners to love God with all of their minds” (Bugg 1992, 125-126).

Sources Cited:

Bugg, Charles B. Preaching from the Inside Out. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992.

Mish, Frederick C. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 2003.

 

© August 24, 2015. Brian Chilton.

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quoted in this article comes from the Holman Christian Standard Bible (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2009).