The State of Truth

I’ve written about truth a lot on this blog, but I think there has been a slight shift (or maybe I’m just picking up on it) that Christians should be aware of.

I’ve talked a lot about relativism, and how it’s confusing, harmful, and self-refuting. However, I don’t think people are relativists in the purest sense of the word. I may have told this story before, but I was talking to a guy and he was telling me about how truth is relative, and you can believe whatever you want. He then turned around to his kids and told them they could have their dessert only after they finished their meal. I didn’t pick up on it soon enough, but I should have asked him why he wasn’t raising his kids in a relative way. Nobody raises their kids in a relativistic way, just like how nobody wants to have a house built by a relativistic carpenter or go to a relativistic doctor. So if there are certain things that people aren’t relativistic about, then what are the things they are relativistic about?

It seems like this is where another stream of thought merges in. I think people are only relativistic about things that they seem to think don’t actually matter or effect them, personally. In other words, we are blending pragmatism and relativism. You don’t want a relativistic surgeon, because you know that if the doctor believes something is true for him, then it better also be true for you, because your life is on the line. However, people don’t view things like religion and God in the same way. In classic Schaeferian terms, people put religion into the upper story.

I find it interesting that a lot of early Christian writers spent a good deal of time talking about why/how Christianity was good for both the individual, and for society. We may want to think about incorporating that into our apologetics and our evangelism. I’m not just talking about the “save yourself from hell” approach, either. Since we know that Christianity is not merely about heaven, but also incorporates our lives and actions on this earth.

I think we need to still articulate how Christianity is objectively true, for all people, and at all times, but we mustn’t stop there. We also need to answer the “why should I care” question. Unfortunately, for a lot of people, apathy is only beaten by how this could actually effect them. The fact of the matter is, Jesus is Lord over all of life, and that has actual effects on the lives of individuals and the societies in which those individuals live.

So, in summary, we should be thinking about how to answer two questions in our apologetics and our evangelism:

Is it true?

Why should I care?

Questions that are not as easily answered as you might think, but are important enough to take the time to answer them.

SDG

David Encounters a Protest Rally

Persons of the dialog: David, Amy Hipsterical

Setting: A park.

David: Excuse me. What is going on?

Amy: We’re just finishing up, so I’m afraid you missed your chance to join in!

David: Join what?

Amy: This was an awareness march. It’s basically a protest march to raise awareness for a worthy cause.

David: I see. What cause were you raising awareness for?

Amy: We were raising awareness for the fact that we all need to (points to sign) coexist.

David: Interesting. What does that mean?

Amy: Well, a lot of people are hating other people these days. They say it’s in the name of some religion or belief, but I think ultimately all religions say that we should love one another. So this sign is a reminder that we need to love people, even if we have different religions.

David: I certainly agree that we need to get along. Do you see violence between these groups?

Amy: Well, I think there are certainly places in the world where they actually go to war against one another, but not here in America. But that is only one small portion of what this is about. In the safer places in the world we still have hatred, and that’s probably even worse than war, if you think about it.

David: I see. So what do you mean by hatred?

Amy: Well, I think it’s a refusal to love people, and that comes out in different ways.

David: Alright. How do we go about loving people?

Amy: That’s a good question. I think it has to do with choosing to be nice, even if you disagree. I mean, you can disagree with what someone believes, but you don’t have to hate them for it. You should just keep that to yourself, you know?

David: I’m not sure I follow you. What if you want to talk about the things you disagree about? Is there a way to do that where you don’t end up showing hatred?

Amy: Yeah, but I think it’s tricky because we live in a society that has made it easy to hate, you know?

David: Ok. So what advice would you have for me if I wanted to talk to someone about something we disagree about?

Amy: Well, I think you have to be really loving about it. Just because you think someone is doing something wrong doesn’t mean it’s wrong for them. Like you might think a certain belief is wrong, but that might just mean it’s wrong for you, and not wrong for someone else. We need to be really tolerant of other people. That’s a big part of what it means to coexist.

David: That’s an idea I’ve heard a lot about lately. So how does that work when you want to have a friendly disagreement with someone? Or think it’s an important discussion to have.

Amy: Well, I think it’s important to realize that if they’re not hurting anyone, then what they are doing is ok. I mean, ultimately, if we have disagreements it’s really more of a matter of taste. For example, we might like different types of music, and so it’s ok to discuss why we like what we like, but I don’t think it would be right to tell the other person their type of music is bad or wrong or something.

David: Hmm. That may work in terms of music, but do you think it would work in more important areas?

Amy: You mean like religion?

David: Well, I think there are all sorts of areas that are more important than music taste. Religion would be one of them, but even politics and public policy or banking have more significant consequences on life.

Amy: In these areas, it’s important to remember that all sorts of things can work. It’s just a matter of different cultures, and if the religion or political system doesn’t hurt anyone, then it doesn’t really matter what else they do.

David: So I’m getting the idea that you’re ok with just about everything, so long as people don’t hurt one another. Is that accurate to say?

Amy: Absolutely! If you don’t hurt people, then everything else really just boils down to differences in taste, really.

David: Why is it important not to hurt people?

Amy: Seriously?

David: Yes.

Amy: Well, would you like someone to hurt you?

David: No, I certainly would not.

Amy: Then there you go. Nobody wants to get hurt, so therefore it’s wrong to hurt people.

David: I get that. But I can think of instances where it might be ok to hurt others.

Amy: I can’t.

David: What about if someone tries to attack someone you love deeply? Would it be ok to defend them, even if it means hurting the attacker?

Amy: Well, I suppose so. But that’s an extreme case. That’s self-defense.

David: So, in at least one case, it is ok to hurt someone else.

Amy: I don’t think I would phrase it that way. I would say that it is ok to defend yourself or someone you love.

David: Ok. So would you say that if someone has an idea or belief that says it’s ok to hurt others, that that would be a bad belief?

Amy: Yes, certainly.

David: And would you think it would be a good idea to talk about why that idea is a bad one?

Amy: Education can fix a lot of the ignorance in our society, and I think it can solve a lot of problems.

David: Sure. But even outside of a strictly educational context, would it be a good thing to do? Like if you meet someone who has a religion, for example, that says that you must convert or die. Would it be a good idea to try and discuss why you think that religion is wrong?

Amy: It doesn’t sound like it would be safe!

David: Haha, well let’s suppose that this person might not be a practitioner of that aspect, for the sake of argument.

Amy: If I would be sure that I would be safe, then I suppose it would be a good idea to discuss it, sure.

David: How would you go about having that discussion? It seems like you can’t go the “whatever is true for you, works” route, since you feel so strongly that hurting people is almost always wrong. Yet since that belief is there, it is important to discuss it.

Amy: …yeah.

David: To quote Jack Sparrow. If I may lend a machete to your intellectual thicket.

Amy: Haha. Go for it.

David: I think you need to develop a lot of your ideas. I think you have a genuine heart for people, and that’s a good thing. However, in order to be effective, I think you have to better understand what tolerance, love, and hate are.

Amy: What do you mean?

David: There are some older ideas about what those words mean. They aren’t very popular these days, and nobody marches to raise awareness for them (though maybe they should). However, I think they are more sustainable, and they make dealing with difficult situations a bit easier. Maybe we can meet up and talk about them over coffee some time?

Amy: That sounds like a good idea.

Lecrae, Tim Lambesis, & Christian Music

image

Christian music is an interesting thing, and lots of controversy unfortunately comes out of it. The two guys pictured above represent two of the more controversial genres (hip-hop/rap and metal), and so they tend to be more scandalous in the eyes of people, regardless of any other factors. I happen to thoroughly enjoy both of these genres, so I’ve been following these guys for years.

Recently, there has been a good amount of controversy surrounding these two individuals, and I just want to touch on that, and relate it to Scripture. First, we have the controversy surrounding Tim Lambesis, the former front man of the metal band As I Lay Dying. I say former, because Tim got arrested for trying to hire a hit man to murder his estranged wife. This would be a pretty crazy situation by itself, but it was intensified because As I Lay Dying was associated with Christianity. They were known as a Christian metal band, and obviously that is the sort of sinful behavior that should not be associated with Christians.

In a rather lengthy interview, Tim talked about his self-destruction, and how their band really wasn’t Christian at all, but while they may have started that way, they were now just doing the “christian thing” to have jobs and make money. The entire story was quite shocking, to the secular and Christian worlds alike. The obvious question was, how did we miss it? I think part of it is the fact that most only pay attention to the music, and since As I Lay Dying preferred to have their lyrics have implicit Christianity, it was easier to miss. They were a band that preferred to be called “Christians in a band” instead of a “Christian band”. This is an extremely common sentiment among bands, and while there is nothing wrong with the statement as such, it is interesting that bands/artists make this statement commonly only after they have some sort of change in lyrics.

For As I Lay Dying, they have always chosen to take the “implicit Christianity” route with their music, even back when they were actually Christians, they still preferred to be as Christians in a band instead of a Christian band. The reason many artists say this is because there is a stigma that comes with being a Christian artist. The idea is that you have to be talking about God constantly. Back in the day, when the church was afraid (well, more afraid) of rock music, in order to be a christian band, some people said every song had to have so many JPMs (Jesus per minute) in order to “count”. So this sort of stigma doesn’t come from nowhere, but is the designation a helpful one? I think it depends on more than just the music. For example, here are some lyrics from the song “The Darkest Nights”

For so long I have felt alone
Content to live with unrest
Longing faded into countless nights
That buried my weary heart
But You brought an end
To this dead hour
And meaning to a calloused life
Held in Your arms

So it seems pretty clear what he’s talking about, but it would appear that his life did not match up with his music. So while the “implicit Christianity” thing wasn’t the problem, it did contribute to the more camouflage nature of his change. So we’ve looked a little bit at the controversy surrounding Tim Lambesis, and how implicit Christianity functioned within the As I Lay Dying paradigm, but what about Lecrae?

The controversy surrounding Lecrae is not nearly as scandalous as the one surrounding Tim Lambesis, and the reason for this is because while Tim’s life did not match up even to the implicit Christianity of AILD, Lecrae’s life very much matches up with Christianity. The reason there is controversy with Lecrae is because he has moved from an explicit Christianity to an implicit one. Compare the songs “Go Hard” and “Confe$$ions”. The former would be an example of lyrics that would fall under the “explicit Christianity” category, whereas the latter would be in the “implicit Christianity” category. Comparatively, Lecrae’s implicit lyrics are more explicit than the implicit lyrics from AILD, but they are certainly more implicit than his earlier stuff. Media and certain Christian circles went ablaze with questions on whether or not Lecrae had sold out, and with his success, he had walked away from Christianity.

Personally, I think the reactions were way overblown. However, I think it’s ok to say that there has been a shift in Lecrae’s music, and doing so doesn’t make you a “hater”. He actually made a song called “rebel vs. gravity” to address the controversy, and I think there are some things to be said about the song. In the song, he (as Mr. Gravity) says that he did change, but it was never for the change (money), and that he matured. Later on, he talks about how he isn’t as self-righteous as he was before, and that while he still believes everything he wrote on the “Rebel” album, he points out that bragging about mission trips or people he’s discipled on every song doesn’t make him more holy (true) and not doing it doesn’t make him less holy (true). However, the question then becomes “were you self-righteous and bragging on your earlier albums?” or was it simply that you felt the conviction/need to be more explicit? Unfortunately, we don’t know the heart of people, and from what listeners could ascertain from the lyrics, it seemed simply that he was “bringing the truth hard, hoping that it gets through” as Mr. Rebel says. If he was bragging and being self-righteous, he managed to do it in a way that nobody noticed. In this way, perhaps even “explicit Christianity” can be a camouflage.

Perhaps the song dispels the controversy, and it is adequately addressed. Though actually, I think the song brings up more questions than it answers. How was he being self-righteous before? If he is no longer being so, how can we tell? He says that he doesn’t want to turn every song into a sermon. Why not? I’ve read in various articles that he feels like he’s taking Francis Schaeffer’s advice, and is influencing culture by being good at his craft. While it is true that Schaeffer talked about the need for Christians to be, say, good artists or musicians while also being Christians, I think it may be unfair to cite him in this particular instance. The reason I say that is because it’s not exactly the same issue that Schaeffer was addressing. The worry isn’t that Lecrae is a good rapper in the eyes of the world and has implicit Christian lyrics, but rather, that there was a change from explicit to implicit. Personally, I would be interested in hearing a more full explanation of this. Maybe it’s out there somewhere and I’m unfamiliar with it, but as far as I know this song is the only thing that addresses it.

When I started writing this, a few texts from Scripture came to mind. One of them is the parable of the two sons, which is found in Matthew 21:28-32:.

“What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.

While this is not an exactly similar situation, I have to wonder what we prefer as listeners to Christian music. On the one hand, we have a guy who came out with explicitly Christian lyrics, and then later slowly changed to a more implicitly Christian approach. On the other hand we have a band that came out with implicitly Christian lyrics, and later self-destructed, revealing that they were faking Christianity in order to get money. I think putting the two side-by-side makes the reaction to Lecrae look pretty silly, and rightly so. The appropriate response would be to ask him some questions about he views his ministry and where he feels that God is leading him. Instead, Christians came out of the woodwork, looking to throw him under the bus. I think there are some questions which deserve answers, but they need to be done in a respectful way.

The other Scripture passage that comes to mind is one where (I can’t find it to reference) Paul is in prison, and he talks about how there’s an enemy of his who is out preaching Christ in order to try and take some of the fame away from Paul and for himself. Interestingly, Paul’s response is that he’s grateful for what the man’s doing because even though he is doing it from an evil heart, the truth of the gospel is still being preached. That’s sort of how I feel about the As I Lay Dying ordeal. They may have been lying about what they believed for unjust gain, but they were saying true things.

Ultimately, I think we need to take some advice from Lecrae, who says that we need to be learning from our pastors, and not necessarily from musicians. This isn’t to say that we can’t learn things from musicians, but when it comes to theology, we need to get that from the proper place. We need to go to Scripture, and then to our pastors, to get our understanding of Christianity. There is certainly a place for a critique of musicians, but we need to do that from a place of respect and kindness, always looking to Scripture as our guide and foundation.

SDG

The Generation That Won’t Impeach

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word “impeach”? For me, I think of Clinton and Lewinsky or Nixon and Watergate, but that’s about it. Without going to Google/Wikipedia, do you know what impeachable offenses are for elected officials? I certainly didn’t, and that’s part of what I’m getting at, even if it’s not the whole. There will likely always be people who are in politics (truism much?), and therefore know the ins and outs of impeachable offenses. However, to an extent, the American system of government is “accountable to the people”, and public opinion can do certain things. This is largely the area I want to focus on, both because it is more of my interest, and also because technically political material is beyond me.

It would be very easy to point to Obama’s administration, and how this or that issue should have been an impeachable offense, but the fact of the matter is, there is more at play than simply Obama. Granted, in the case of the presidency, there is always influence on future presidents. Particularly if one president is able to get away with something his predecessors might not have been able to. But what’s the point of all this? Why do I think my generation (I’m currently 26) won’t impeach anyone? Well, let’s start by listing a few things we think:

    • All politicians are corrupt
    • The political system is broken
    • All truth is relative

These are just a few things that play into why I don’t think my generation will impeach someone. First of all, I think an elected official would have to do something so incredibly outlandish and evil (don’t ask about the definition of evil) that it would rise above our general apathy and cynicism toward the political machine. We naturally assume that since the system is broken, and that politicians are corrupt, then therefore they are going to do bad stuff all the time. We pretend to care and know what we’re talking about around election time, but the rest of the year we will be more surprised when they do a number of really nice/good things (why do you think Pope Francis is so popular?).

So someone will have to do really bad things, and they will have to do them with enough regularity that people will remember to care about them. It’s easy to quickly get a bunch of moral outrage behind something, but it’s incredibly difficult to get that same response a few weeks after the fact.

Then we have the problem of moral relativism. It’s particularly difficult for my generation to claim moral high ground on many things, excepting the people who don’t hold to our definition of tolerance and relative truth, of course. I say this is a problem because while it would be somewhat easier to get people upset about something, it is quite another to get them to the point of doing something about it. Punitive action is saying that some rule has been broken, and there deserves to be a punishment for it. This sort of flies in the face of the “tolerance” bumper stickers, because it’s saying that there is some sort of objective rules which need to be followed. We don’t like thinking about objective morality or rules which are binding, regardless of if you disagree with them or not. This might naturally lead into all sorts of sticky areas like the definition and nature of rights, freedom, and how we are to continue to function in a society with them. These sorts of questions are ones that my generation tends to avoid like the plague.

These are some of the issues that would need to be surmounted in order for my generation to actually impeach someone. With ISIS, we are starting to see exactly what sorts of things need to be done to shock my generation out of its slumber. I sincerely hope we take the hint, and not just roll over and hit the snooze button.

As Christians, this is the task we face whenever something happens and we are called upon to respond to it. To borrow a phrases from Al Mohler and Francis Schaeffer, we need to be able to rest on the strength of full Christian conviction, informed by a Biblical worldview, and offer real answers and real hope to a generation which has none.

SDG

The Straw Man

You remember the movie Wizard of Oz? The classic film has been analyzed to death, and there are a ton of theories about it. I won’t be addressing any of those, nor positing my own, but I would like to talk about one character. Each of the companions Dorothy meets in her journey to the magical land of Oz is lacking one thing, which they will all travel to the Wizard together to acquire. The Straw Man is in need of a brain, and while I don’t know if this was an intentional correlation or not, there is an informal fallacy in logic called the straw man fallacy.

This particular way of arguing or reasoning rears its ugly head in all sorts of circumstances, and is surprisingly easy to commit. When dealing with other people, we have to realize that they have a different view point from ours, and from the groups they affiliate with. This may seem like an obvious point, but perhaps it’s so obvious that it is easily missed.

Communication scholar Tim Muehlhoff talks about how it is important that we create a “thick” view of people, instead of a “thin” one. You can only accomplish this by taking time to figure out some important things:

    • What does this person believe?
    • Why does this person believe this?
    • Where do we agree?
    • Based on all I’ve learned, how should I proceed?

This applies even if the person you’re talking to claims to belong to a particular group, or believe a particular thing that you’ve heard, read, or studied before. Interestingly enough, in one way, the more you study something, the easier it becomes to straw man a person. I’m here making a distinction between every day communication and academic communication. If you are writing an essay on classical Islam, then the more you read and study, the less likely you will be to straw man classical Islam. However, if you are talking to someone who calls themselves a Muslim, and has lived in America their whole life, they may not believe things that are consistent with classical Islam. Therefore, if you proceed based on your study of Islam, you will end up creating a straw man of that person’s beliefs, even if that means they are theologically/philosophically inconsistent with their claimed worldview.

In other words, you need to figure out what exactly each person believes, and argue against that, and not whatever you suppose they believe. As an intellectually-oriented guy, that is a hard lesson to learn. I strive to be consistent to the Christian worldview that I espouse, and so I have a tendency toward thinking that everyone does the same in an academic sense.

Whether you come from the perspective of the academic “I’ve studied that, so you must believe X” or from the layman “I’ve heard that somewhere, or talked to someone who believed that, and so you must believe X” you must guard against using a straw man in your discussions. While all people have worldviews, backgrounds, time periods, and cultures that they come from that color what they think/believe, it is important to find out specifically what each person believes, in each situation. There is nothing wrong with have a store of background information in which you can say things about categories of belief, but while it may inform your discussions, it should never dominate them.

Each person is an unrepeatable soul, created in the image of God, and part of evangelism is loving people enough to find out what they believe. May God help us as we seek to share His truth in a lost and confused world.

SDG

Post-New Atheist Atheists

There have been Atheists as long as there have been Theists, and like every worldview movement, there has been a number of changes and disagreements along the way. You have the oft-quoted Euthyphro Dilemma dating back to 399 BC, through David Hume, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Bertrand Russell, all the way up to the New Atheists.

The New Atheists are people like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, the late Christopher Hitchens, Victor Stenger, Jerry Coyne and others. The term “New Atheist” is a controversial one, in terms of sociological classification, but I think in terms of the everyday person, it’s a helpful term for identifying them. They came out of the gate with all guns blazing, raging against religion, particularly Christianity, and got to the tops of the best-seller lists for their efforts. They mocked God, berated Christians, and did a lot to raise awareness about how it was ok to be an Atheist, even in a “Christian” nation like America.

However, after 5 or 6 years, the postmodern (metamodern?) masses got tired of them. They realized that they were basically the opposite side of the coin to the religious fundamentalists that they were against in the first place. The postmodern people didn’t like “radical” religionists or fundamentalists, not so much because of their religion, but because of their radicalism. So when people started realizing that the New Atheists were radical atheists, they stopped listening to them as well; not so much for their Atheism, but for their radicalism. What came after that realization was a new brand of Atheists that is a bit difficult to classify.

Do we call them the New New Atheists, Post-New Atheists, or what? Well, there’s a number of different ways of classifying them (1, 2, 3), and with all worldviews, there are different varieties coexisting (see what I did there?) at the same time. The point of this post, though, is to focus on what the third article refers to as the Seeker-Agnostic, or the Ritual Atheist. I would say that the term “Seeker-Agnostic” is a bit misleading, as it would make me think that this person is actively searching out an answer, whereas their definition makes it seem like they are a straightforward Agnostic, but I could simply be mistaken.

I would usually put the idea of a “seeker” in the category of the Ritual Atheist, because it implies (to me, anyway) a sense of looking for answers. According to the article, this group is composed of people who don’t necessarily believe in God, but who don’t wholly discount religion, either. They may have respect for the “profound symbolism” in religion, or think there is something to certain ceremonies and practices. In my experience, these individuals are Atheistic toward particular gods (specifically the God of Christianity), but not necessarily of other metaphysical ideas or entities like fate, karma, ghosts, or even astrology. I think there are certainly more of these type of Atheists than there are of the New Atheist stripe, at least as far as my interactions with people have been.

One result of this new push toward a “religious atheism” , if you will, is the creation of the “Atheist Church” in London, and then around the world. Perhaps someone realized that the “bare bones” Atheism simply wasn’t working, or could be/needed to be augmented. One wonders why that would be the case, but whatever the reasons may be, I find it interesting that the group has already experienced a schism. The article claims that one group wanted to move toward a more “Unitarian Church” style structure, instead of a more straightforward Atheism. As a Christian, I would say that all men suppress the truth in their unrighteousness (Romans 1:18) , and that all men have the law written on their hearts (Romans 2:14-15). It certainly seems like the actions of the Ritual Atheists do lean them in that direction, and I think that is a fantastic opportunity for Christians, in general.

Here is a group of people that is less antagonistic toward your opinion than their predecessors, and so while they might not debate as much, they may be more open to checking out one of your events. For most people, that is good news, as heated debate is usually not what they want. However, while they may not be vocally opposed to Christianity, they are still Atheistic for a reason. They are likely still reacting against the cultural Christianity that they have grown up surrounded by, and so presenting them with nothing but the same version of cultural Christianity that they have reacted to is not likely to be effective.

This is where we need to show Christianity as an entire worldview. Many of the early apologists and theologians wrote about how Christianity was good for society/humanity, and that may be a practice that we would do well to revive. The New Atheists did a lot of damage to the public perception of Christianity, and if nothing else, that deserves to be countered; but I think it would also serve our apologetic and evangelistic efforts as well. In other words, we need to offer these people something meaty. It doesn’t have to be super-philosophical (some people aren’t wired that way anyway), or use big, theological words. It does have to be more than simply what they have heard in the past. Jesus is Lord over all of life, and Christianity is a religion that speaks to all of life. Offer them that. A robust, all-encompassing relationship with Christ that struggles with and answers the big questions of life, and is a source of both true truth and real hope in a world without answers or hope.

SDG

Spurgeon on the Psalms

So I wasn’t able to write a blog yesterday, due to both an extra day of work, and an illness. I have some ideas, but frankly, I’m not feeling up to fleshing them out. That being the case, I’m going to do something a little different. I’m going to basically show you what my devotionals have been the last few days. I took a break from where I was normally reading in the Bible, and decided to read the Psalms, along with the commentary of Charles Spurgeon. If you don’t have this commentary set in your library, I would strongly encourage you to do so.

“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

“‘BLESSED’–see how this Book of Psalms opens with a benediction, even as did the famous sermon of our Lord upon the Mount! The word translated ‘blessed'; is a very expressive one. The original word is plural, and it is a controverted matter whether it is an adjective or a substantive. Hence we may learn the multiplicity of the blessings which shall rest upon the man whom God hath justified, and the perfection and greatness of the blessedness he shall enjoy. We might read it, ‘Oh, the blessednesses!’ and we may well regard it (as Ainsworth does) as a joyful acclamation of the gracious man’s felicity. May the like benediction rest on us!
Here the gracious man is described both negatively (verse 1) and positively (verse 2). He is a man who does not walk in the counsel of the ungodly. He takes wiser counsel, and walks in the commandments of the Lord his God. To him the ways of piety are paths of peace and pleasantness. His footsteps are ordered by the Word of God, and not by the cunning and wicked devices of carnal men. It is a rich sign of inward grace when the outward walk is changed, and when ungodliness is put far from our actions. Not next, he standeth not in the way of sinners. His company is of a choicer sort than it was. Although a sinner himself, he is now a blood-washed sinner, quickened by the Holy Spirit, and renewed in heart. Standing by the rich grace of God in the congregation of the righteous, he dares not herd with the multitude that do evil. Again it is said, ‘nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.’ He finds no rest in the atheist’s scoffings. Let others make a mock of sin, of eternity, of hell and heaven, and of the Eternal God; this man has learned better philosophy than that of the infidel, and has too much sense of God’s presence to endure to hear his name blasphemed. The seat of the scorner may be very lofty, but it is very near to the gate of hell; let us flee from it, for it soon shall by empty, and destruction shall swallow up the man who sits therein. Mark the gradation in the first verse:

He walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly,
Nor standeth in the way of sinners.
Nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.

When men are living in sin they go from bad to worse. At first they merely walk in the counsel of the careless and ungodly, who forget God–the evil is rather practical than habitual–but after that, they become habituated to evil, and they stand in the way of open sinners who willfully violate God’s commandments; and if let alone, they go one step further, and become themselves pestilent teachers and tempters of others, and thus they sit in the seat of the scornful. They have taken their degree in vice, and as true Doctors of Damnation they are installed, and are looked up to by others as Masters in Belial. But the blessed man, the man to whom all the blessings of God belong, can hold no communion with such characters as these. He keeps himself pure from these lepers; he puts away evil things from him as garments spotted by the flesh; he comes out from among the wicked, and goes without the camp, bearing the reproach of Christ. O for grace to be thus separate from sinners.
And now mark his positive character. ‘His delight is in the law of the Lord.’ He is not under the law as a curse and condemnation, but he is in it, and he delights to be in it as his rule of life; he delights, moreover, to meditate in it, to read it by day, and think upon it by night. He takes a text and carries it with him all day long; and in the night-watches, when sleep forsakes his eyelids, he museth upon the Word of God. In the day of his prosperity he sings psalms out of the Word of God, and in the night of his affliction he comforts himself with promises out of the same book. ‘The law of the Lord’ is the daily bread of the true believer. And yet, in David’s day, how small was the volume of inspiration, for they had scarcely anything save the first five books of Moses! How much more, then, should we prize the whole written Word, which it is our privilege to have in all our houses! But, alas, what ill-treatment is given to this angel from heaven! We are not all Berean searchers of the Scriptures. How few among us can lay claim to the benediction of the text! Perhaps some of you can claim a sort of negative purity, because you do not walk in the way of the ungodly; but let me ask you–Is your delight in the law of God? Do you study God’s Word? Do you make it the man of your right hand–your best companion and hourly guide? If not, this blessing belongeth not to you.” – Charles Spurgeon (commentary on Psalm 1:1-2)

If that doesn’t hit you like a ton of bricks, I’m not sure what will. It is not enough that we simply abstain from something, as a positive always seems to trump a negative. We need to love the law of God. This doesn’t mean we become like the Pharisees. It means that we’re constantly reading, thinking, and meditation on the Bible. This is not the passive Christianity which comes easily to so many of us, and which is so prevalent in our churches today. Nor is this the hyper-emotionalism that we have created as we reacted against the perceived legalism of our parent’s and grandparent’s generations. This is genuine, Bible-saturated, Christian living. I pray that you will follow this path, as I pray that I do as well.

SDG

David Meets Jacob Freeman

Persons of the dialog:  David, Jacob Freeman

Setting: Pastor’s office, after service.

————————————————————————————————————————–

Jacob: Hey, thanks for coming in David. I understand you wanted to talk to me about my sermon?

David: Yeah, thanks for making time for me. You tackled some tough topics in your sermon, and I was just hoping to get some clarification.

Jacob: The topics of divine sovereignty and human freedom are certainly heavy topics, so I’m happy to help out in any way that I can.

David: I appreciate that. What you said about the responsibility we all have makes a lot of sense. I guess I was just a little lost on the divine sovereignty aspect of it.

Jacob: Ok, where did I lose you?

David: What do you mean by sovereignty?

Jacob: I mean that God created everything, and that He has exhaustive foreknowledge of everything that is going to happen before it happens. It also means that God upholds everything, in an ongoing fashion.

David: It’s those last two that I’m interested in. What do you mean by foreknowledge?

Jacob: I mean that He knows things before they’re going to happen. The Bible talks about God knowing our thoughts and our actions before we think or do them in the first few verses of Psalm 139.

David: That make sense, but how is it possible that God knows things before they happen?

Jacob: Well, I would say that He knows them because He’s God. Also, He is outside of time, so He sees things differently.

David: So, would you say that being outside of time is the aspect of His being God that allows Him to know everything before they happen?

Jacob: That is one way to put it. I think God’s omniscience necessarily includes His being outside time.

Jacob: There is an analogy I heard many years ago that helped me to understand the idea that God is outside of time. Imagine that you are inside a box, traveling down some train tracks. You cannot see out of the box, except for one small circle in it. This circle is fitted with a pipe, about an inch and a half or so wide. From this opening, you can see only a small fraction of what is actually there. You see small bits of scenery moving by quickly, but that is all you know. That is like us, trapped in the universe, inside time. God would be like the person who is seeing the whole thing play out on a screen. He is able to see the entire railroad, the box/pipe contraption, and the landscape.

David: I see. Since God created everything, this includes time and space, right?

Jacob: Right.

David: In your analogy, it seems like God knows everything instantly, because He is outside it, and is able to see it all at once. Am I following you correctly?

Jacob: It seems like you’ve got it, yes.

David: So, did He have this knowledge prior to creating everything? Or did He create everything, and then instantly observe it, and gain the knowledge?

Jacob: That is a good question. I believe He knew everything before creating it.

David: Ok. I’ve heard the view that God knew everything before creation because everything happens via His decree. So He knows things before they happen because He created everything in such a way that they will happen how He wants them to.

Jacob: Yes. That is what the historic reformers believed, but that is not the view that I would take. I believe that God knew in advance decisions that free creatures would make, were He to create such and such a universe, and then chose to create the universe based on that prior knowledge.

David: So that all took place in the mind of God, if you will, prior to creation?

Jacob: Yeah, that’s a good way to look at it.

David: I’m wondering about these free creatures then. So, He chose to create a world based on what He knew the free creatures He would create would do beforehand? That’s confusing.

Jacob: Haha, well we are getting into some pretty deep things. There have been a number of theories proposed as to why He chose to create this world instead of another. I think it has something to do with the fact that this world gives us the maximum amount of freedom, and ultimately brings about the most good or the most people that would come to salvation through faith in Christ.

David: It seems like God’s actions are dependent upon our actions, or at least the actions that we will do as soon as creation happens. I don’t think I quite understand how that works. How is it possible that God has thoughts about what free creatures will do before those creatures even exist?

Jacob: Well, I think God desires that we are free. The passages I used in the sermon demonstrated the freedom that we have. If we take that into account with the creation narrative in Genesis, I think we have a pretty solid biblical foundation for this.

David: If I remember correctly, you used Matthew 23:37, 1 Timothy 2:4, and 2 Peter 3:9. Is that right?

Jacob: Those were the main texts, yes.

David: You mentioned the historic reformers before. I believe they had different understandings of the verses you mentioned.

Jacob: That is true, but I don’t think they are convincing. If everything happens because God decrees it to happen, how are we able to “freely” love God? It seems like we would be forced to love, making us like robots.

David: That’s a good question, and it’s something I’ve been thinking about lately. It occurred to me that we may have a strange aversion to being robots. Why would being robots be bad? I don’t think it’s a fair assessment of the reformed position, from my reading of it. But even if it were true, why don’t we like that idea?

Jacob: Because we know that we are free, and if we were robots, then there would be something controlling us or limiting our freedom. If someone were forced to love, that love wouldn’t be genuine.

David: That’s possible, but would it be a bad thing if the person doing the controlling were perfect?

Jacob: If everyone were saved, and nobody did anything bad or wrong, then that might be ok. Though I would still contend that our lacking freedom would mean that our “loving” God would be insincere. However, the bigger issue would be that if God was controlling everything, then He would be sending people to hell. That doesn’t seem very loving to me, especially since we know from 1 John 4:8 that God is love.

David: Well, I think we have a lot to discuss there. It’s my understanding that reformed people have always understood freedom to mean that you are only free to do what is in accordance with your nature. So, they would say that the idea of God sending someone to hell against their will is an inaccurate picture of their position. In their mind, people love their sin, and are in rebellion against God from the time they are born. So nobody is getting forcibly sent to hell against their will. A helpful analogy would be that there are two groups of people. One group God chooses to save, giving them mercy, and the other group are left to the love of their sin and rebellion, and proceed to hell, receiving justice. In the end, mercy and justice has been displayed, but there is no injustice in God. Does that make sense?

Jacob: Well, so far you have mentioned a lot of philosophy, and not very much Bible. This is why I, and by extension this church, prefer to avoid the terms Calvinist and Arminian. Those terms seem to imply that we are following various philosophies and traditions of men, whereas we seek to call ourselves Biblists.

David: I appreciate the desire to follow the Bible, as I believe all people in this discussion desire to do. I believe the Bible seems to teach compatibilism, which is the idea that the answer to the question “is this God willing or man willing?”,  would be “yes.” You can see this pretty clearly in a couple examples from the Bible, though there are many. The story of Joseph shows the clear intent of the brothers to do harm to Joseph, and to sell him into slavery. However, in Genesis 45:8, and even more prominently in Genesis 50:20, we see that while his brothers intended to harm him, God clearly sent him there to ultimately bring about good. The second example is the crucifixion of Jesus. Used by people on all sides of this discussion as the supreme example of both justice and love, it is also a perfect example of compatibilism. From Acts 2:23, and Acts 4:27-28 we see that Jesus was delivered up to be crucified according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, yet in all the accounts of the crucifixion, we see the people doing exactly what they wanted to do, even going so far as to say that His blood would be upon them and their children , and not Pilate.

Jacob: That may be all well and good, but how does that apply to the issue of free will or love and being robots?

David: I merely wanted to mention that to lay some of the biblical foundation for my earlier statements. If it is true that the Bible teaches compatibilism, then it would be possible for the definition of free will that I gave above, to stand. This would allow God to be completely sovereign, controlling everything, while still giving people the desires of their hearts and not “forcing” people to do things they don’t want to do. We believe that all people are born in sin (Psalm 51:5) , and that unless God chooses to change our nature, to remove the heart of stone and replace it with a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26), than nobody will voluntarily choose Him (Romans 3:11). Instead, people are chosen from the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4) , before they are born and not based on works (Romans 9:11-13), and God will bring them to the end He has designed for us (Romans 8:29-30). If that makes us robots, then it is by Him who is perfect, and works everything according to the counsel of His will (Ephesians 1:11) , to His glory, while leaving our greatest desires in tact.

Jacob: Hmm. Well, I think there are still some problems in your view, but I’m afraid I have another appointment.

David: Thank you for giving me so much of your time. I hope we can talk more about this soon.

Apologetics Basics

The world of apologetics is a big place, and it can be kind of daunting to someone who is new to the whole thing. In the next few paragraphs, I hope to lay out some basic do’s and don’ts for where to start.

Before you start trying to figure out what everybody else believes and how to counter it, you need to first be solid on what it is that you believe. I can’t stress enough how important it is to know your Bible. In 2 Timothy 2:15, Paul charges Timothy to “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” and as an apologist, I can tell you that the Word of God is the greatest tool at your disposal. This takes a lot of time, and I strongly suggest that you are sitting under sound teaching, so that you are learning from someone who is farther along in the way than you are. In fact, you should be surrounding yourself with mature Christians, who are willing to talk about the Word with you, and work through the difficult passages. Every Christian apologist needs to be able to answer the following biblical questions:

  • What is the Bible?
  • How do we know it came from God?
  • Who was Jesus?
  • How do the Old Testament and the New Testament fit together?
  • What is the gospel?
  • How can someone be saved?
  • What is the Trinity?
  • Where can the Trinity be found in the Bible?
  • Can we trust the Bible?

These questions are deep, and the more you know about them, the more you will be able to apply them to the different worldviews that you encounter. This will take work, but hopefully you will have friends and mentors who can help make the work a bit more doable. Also, ask other Christians in your life for solid preachers, apologists, or ministries that have helped them. One of the great things about Christianity is that we have a long history. There are millions of people who have gone before us, and have thought about these things, so we do not have to start from scratch. Read/listen/watch what these people had to say, always making sure to check that against the Bible, and then build from there.

Next, I would try and find an area that particularly interests you. You don’t necessarily have to pick only one area and stick with it for life. You can be a jack of all trades, but you may already have some subjects that you are passionate about, and there’s nothing that makes doing the apologetics heavy lifting easier than matching it with your passions. Here are some questions that you should be able to answer, grouped be area, and a list of people/ministries to familiarize yourself with:

Science:

  • How old is the earth/universe?
  • What is evolution?
  • What do the first three chapters of Genesis mean?
  • Is science against religion?
  • What is science?
  • How does science and the Bible fit together?

Ministries/People:

  • Answers in Genesis (Ken Ham, Jason Lisle) (young earth)
  • Reasons to Believe (Hugh Ross, Fazale Rana) (old earth)
  • Intelligent Design (Michael Behe, Stephen Meyer, William Dembski)

Philosophy:

  • What is truth?
  • What is logic?
  • How do we know things?
  • What is a worldview?
  • How can you make a good argument?
  • How can you identify bad arguments?

Ministries/People

  • Reasonable Faith (William Lane Craig)
  • Stand to Reason (Greg Koukl)
  • Alvin Plantinga
  • Vern Poythress
  • Francis Schaeffer

I just chose two examples, among countless others, and your googling and wikapediaing can find you any number of things to choose from. Once you start doing these things, you need to also start reading the other side. This means people who disagree with you inside Christianity, as well as those who have completely different worldviews than you do. What are the Atheist arguments against Christianity? How about Islam, Mormonism, and Liberalism? You need to know what the counter arguments to your arguments are, and how to respond to those. Plus, as an apologist, you will make a lot of ground when the person sees that you are actually trying to understand, and accurately represent, what they believe. Sit down and talk to people who disagree with you, and talk to them in such a way where all you are trying to do is figure out what they believe and why. People don’t like being set-up for an argument they don’t want to have. So don’t talk at people, but rather, try to form a relationship, and actually care about them. This is where that whole “gentleness and respect” part of 1 Peter 3:15-16 comes into play.

Speaking of conversations, it’s important to develop and study how you can do apologetics in a casual, conversation setting. I have a tendency to study how I would do things in a debate format, and that doesn’t transfer to a coffee shop conversation well. The person I am talking to just feels like I’m there to fight, and am trying to trap them. This will rarely lead to an opportunity for sharing the gospel. Ultimately, we do apologetics because we want people to come to Christ. If we want to do this, we need to be winsome in our conversation with others, even if we adamantly disagree about important things. Here are some books, people, and ministries to help with the area of communication:

    • RZIM (Ravi Zacharias)
    • C.S. Lewis
    • Tactics by Greg Koukl
    • Sean McDowell
    • Apologetics.com
    • I Beg to Differ by Tim Muehlhoff

 

On a connected note, I think it’s important that we not be jerks. We learn about logic and argumentation because we want to bring glory to God, not to us. Things will get heated, because we are passionate about these things, but do not resort to demeaning another person’s position. By all means, debate with everything you’ve got, but we need to show the character of Christ, even in our intense disagreements. Lines like “You believe in a young earth? You must hate science, and I would like to see you and a flat earth believer fight.” , “You believe in an old earth? You must believe in secular evolution instead of the Bible.” are not going to get us anywhere. Do not treat people like they are stupid, or are simply a project for you to test out your latest arguments on. It is possible to win an argument, but completely turn off a person to Christ. That will be quite the failure, even if you had the best arguments.

Finally, if you choose to become an apologist in any capacity, you will face resistance in many forms. Obviously, you’re going to be on the front lines and talking to people who believe differently than you, but you will also be facing confusion from Christians. There are people who feel that apologetics is actually something that blocks people from coming to Christ. Even if they are not adamantly against apologetics, they may not see it as something which is important, and are confused as to why you spend so much time studying it. You will hear things like “you know, you can’t argue someone into the kingdom” and verses like Matthew 7:1-5, Colossians 2:8, and 1 Corinthians 8:1 taken out of context, and thrown at you. These are very discouraging, and it can seem like nobody is on your side. But rest assured, that you are doing what you are called to do as a Christian, and you are following in the footsteps of great people who came before you. From people of today all the way back to the beginnings, and no less than Christ Himself, there have been people who see the importance of apologetics, and use it to the glory of God. While not everyone should be an apologist, everyone does need to know some apologetics, and you can help build up the body of Christ with the knowledge and experience that you will learn.

I hope this was helpful and encouraging to you. I hope you have fun with apologetics, and that God blesses it. Take comfort from the fact that it is God who saves people. So even if you mess up, God is still sovereign. Always seek to be aware of your weaknesses, be accountable to others, sit under sound teaching, and stay grounded in Scripture. To adapt a C.S. Lewis quote:

Further up and further in!

SDG

That’s Not Fair!

Fairness is almost a buzzword these days, particularly when it comes to hot-button issues. It occurred to me the other day that I think we may be quite confused on what we’re talking about when we are quick to shout “that isn’t fair!” toward issues. Hopefully I’ll be able to explain what I mean in what follows.

I don’t have any children, but the graphic above is easy to understand. I have certainly seen instances where one child receives something and the other one instantly wants it as well, and will complain about how it isn’t fair if they don’t receive it too. Interestingly, I have seen one child decline something, only to want it a lot when the other child takes it. There is much to say on that in children, from original sin to the grass is always greener saying, but children aren’t my focus. I think there is still a knee-jerk reaction in adults to want a perceived fairness, even when we don’t necessarily understand what fairness is or why we want something.

A short post I wrote a few years ago on the difference between revenge and justice shows this confusion on the part of adults. We see a problem, and then get the solution almost right. In that context, we see a problem and then want to seek revenge (thanks Hollywood) when in realty, what we want is justice. In the context of fairness, we see popular slogans on a range of issues about how some people have certain things and others do not and we immediately think that it isn’t fair or that discrimination is somehow in play. Do you remember all the hullaballoo surrounding the Occupy Wall Street movement? The 1% are getting all the money! The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer! Warren Buffett says that he pays less in taxes than his secretary! Everyone hopped on the fairness bandwagon in wanting something to be done, namely that everyone should be equal, financially. Suddenly, we all became experts in economics, even though we had never heard the names John Maynard Keynes or Milton Friedman before. All that has blown over, and all the outraged people have long since ceased caring about “economic equality” ; but the cry of fairness is still used to rally people toward any number of things.

The thing about the fairness charge is that it is an emotionally charged super-word that can be used to get a bunch of people behind a cause without actually requiring them to know anything about said cause. Everybody wants to be seen as being on the side of fairness, and if you can do that without people stopping to think about the issues, then you’ve won the argument. In most of the cases you hear about in the news where fairness is brought out, it would seem that what everyone wants is for everyone to receive the same things/opportunities as everyone else. However, upon further reflection, it becomes obvious that nobody wants that, at least as a blanket reality. If it was a blanket reality (or categorical imperative, for you philosophers), then everybody would be saddled with debt, on death row, have terminal illnesses, be a millionaire, and the president.

Put in silly terms, it makes it obvious that nobody would want that. But what about the hot-button issues where the fairness charge is used? Surely they aren’t nearly as silly. (of course I’m serious, and stop calling my Shirley). Women can’t be pastors? Unfair! Homosexual people can’t get married? Unfair! Well, let’s calm down a bit before we start throwing out accusations. The media is structured to sensationalize everything, and only present things in such a way as to get views. Just like the parent may have reasons why one child gets a toy while the other doesn’t that the children don’t understand, or how economists may have reasons why one system of wealth generation or economic strategy works better than another while the population doesn’t understand, so there are reasons for these other issues as well. In terms of pastors and marriage, it would be important to figure out what a pastor is, or what marriage is, or what rights are, and where they come from. That is a lot of work, and it takes time to back away from the emotionally charged arguments in the media, and dig down to the grounding of things. But the payoff is rewarding, because it gives you a more thorough understanding of issues, and hopefully you will be able to work towards furthering the discussion or coming to a resolution. However, it is possible to do all that work and still come to a disagreement. What then?

Well, this is where the idea of tolerance comes into play. It seems like we’re confused about fairness because we’re also confused about tolerance. The redefinition of tolerance has lead us to believe that a tolerant person is one who holds all views to be equal, and celebrates or defends that truth. The exception to this definition would be whenever anyone disagrees with this philosophy. At that point, the proper way to proceed is to mock and ridicule the other point of view into either silence, conformity, or obscurity. The only thing that is fair, then, is what/whomever conforms to this idea of tolerance, which in turn, stands on the idea of all truth being relative. But if the relativization of truth is a foundation of sand, and it cannot stand, then we need to start to also question our understanding of tolerance. (I would highly suggest watching D.A. Carson discuss just that, here.) If tolerance means that you fully understand the other person’s point of view, and still disagree, and are ok with disagreeing without hating one another or trying to injure or silence one another, then you can make progress on issues. Then you can move into the real meat of what fairness is and what it would mean in each particular situation. Perhaps fairness needs to be determined on a case-by-case basis on the grounds of what is objectively true, truthfully tolerant, and in service to what is good.

As a Christian, I go further than this, but I feel like that is a place where people need to get to in general. As a Christian, I know that “There is a way that seems right to a man,
but its end is the way to death” (Proverbs 14:12), and that ultimately the goal is the glory of God. This requires us to do even more thinking, and to be deeply immersed in the Scriptures, so that we know how to apply the whole counsel of God to each situation.

In a society where the media has made everyone content with rallying behind hot-button issues and erecting sandcastles, only to be washed away by the next big thing, we need to be different. If the media can outrage you with a single word, there is no reason to suspect that you cannot be controlled by a single speech. Let’s do the hard work of building real castles of stone and steel. Let’s talk truth, tolerance, and fairness, as they were originally intended. Let’s get to thinking.

SDG

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 69 other followers