Posted in Pro-Life

Why the Lamb and the Wolf?

Recently I’ve been writing about the Pro-Life movement. This is not a new fight, but has been going on since the sad episode in the garden. My last post touched on the fact that we might find ourselves, at times, with some (unlikely allies). But this shouldn’t stall us in our fight to preserve life.

What I have come to realize is that there are various misconceptions about what being “Pro-Life” even entails. But before I get into all of that, I wanted to take a few moments about why it is we are so error prone when it comes to the Christian faith. In particular, what that faith entails.

The Christian Faith is…Life

Let’s start off with an easy question:

**From where do we acquire the knowledge and wisdom to live the Christian life?**

“From God!” the ever so eager student answers. “Right on,” responds the teacher, “but how so?” “By prayerfully reading His Word,” a thoughtful student opines. “Exactly.”[1]

We are all responsible to live for the Glory of God, and in so doing enjoy Him forever.

“Now, can anyone tell me what we are responsible for?” inquires the teacher. “To glorify God!” the student quickly chirps confidently from somewhere in the back. (You will find that when someone assumes they have the correct answer, they are quick to speak. Sometimes this gets them the approving nod at other times disappointment.) The correct answer is “to live.”

Seeing the “Before” …

Before we can fulfill the obligations given to us—1) glorify God, 2) enjoy Him forever—we need to live. Our first priority is living. God has given us life in order that those other two necessaries will follow. In short, God is Pro-Life.

Understanding that our first priority is living, the next question is how do we live life well? We have already identified the what’s (i.e., glorifying God, enjoying Him forever), and we have rightly spotted the where (i.e., God’s Word/The Holy Bible) for living. But some very important related questions are “How do I live in order to fulfill my obligation to my Creator? How does the Bible instruct my living?”

How Obligatory Living Works…

When the apostle Paul spoke to the elders of Ephesus, he gave them a charge as overseer’s (elders, presbyters) over the flock of God with a reminder of what he had done:

  • The Charge: “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood…Therefore be on alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years. I did not cease to admonish each one with tears” (Acts 20.28, 31).[2]
  • The Reminder: “You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which came upon me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you publicly and from house to house, solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ…Therefore, I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose [counsel] of God” (Acts 20.18b-21, 26-27).

Paul preached life in Christ. He warned those in leadership in Ephesus to guard that life with their very lives. The life Paul preached is found in the full counsel of God alone.

Where the Teaching of Life Originates

This teaching emphasis did not originate from Paul, but from God.

“See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, and death and adversity; in that I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments, that you may live and multiply, and that the Lord your God may bless you in the land where you are entering to possess it. But if your heart turns away and you will not obey, but are drawn away and worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall surely perish…I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the Lord your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him…” (Deut 30.15-18a, 19-20a; emphasis mine).

It does to apply…

Realizing that some might challenge the application of this particular text saying, “This only applies to Israel, not the Church of Jesus Christ!” I want to nip it in the bud. First, by asking a very important question: “Who says?” If God says this, then show me where. If He doesn’t say this, then why do you open your mouth? “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” (Job 38.2; ESV).

Secondly, have you not read God’s Word? For Jesus, when tempted in the wilderness by Satan to turn the stone into bread—being hungry—offered the following retort:

“It is written, ‘MAN SHALL NOT LIVE ON BREAD ALONE, BUT ON EVERY WORD THAT PROCEEDS OUT OF THE MOUTH OF GOD” (Matt 4.4; emphasis in original).

Odds are we have some familiarity with that passage. Many a preacher has made countless points regarding Jesus’ words here. But what is the root to which Jesus points? Is it possible that we are missing something in the Lord’s rebuking of Satan?

Jesus’ words go back to a time in Israel’s infant years; during the Exodus under the leadership of Moses. The message of the Lord delivered to Moses and explained to the people is the same as that which we just saw a moment ago in Deuteronomy 30:15, 20a: “I have set before you life…and death.” Jesus quotes to Satan from Deuteronomy 8:1-3 which reads,

“All the commandments that I am commanding you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live…You shall remember all the way which the Lord your God has led you into the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what is in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord” (Deut 8.1, 2-3; emphasis mine).

Foundational Issues…

The lesson of the manna was that people will either live or die in response to God’s Word. Torah often translated law means instruction. The author of life gives instructions to His creation so they might live. Living is dependent upon their response to His commandments, statutes, instruction, etc. If we are to learn anything from the incident that occurred in the garden of Eden it ought to be this, to be obedient in humble submission to the Lord above is to eat the blessed fruit of the Tree of Life. Just like the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was not poisonous, so too was the fruit from the Tree of Life not miraculous. They were real trees that produced real fruit, similar to the apple trees growing in my front yard. What made them either a blessing or a curse was the response of God’s chief representative on earth—Man—when God said “Do and don’t.” Do eat of every tree in the garden, don’t eat of the tree that I put a no-trespassing sign on.

It is said of Jesus that He is the light of all men (i.e., people) and that in His light is life (John 1.4). Thus he rightly told His hearers that if they came to Him in faith they would have life—“I say these things that you might be saved” (John 5.34), but many did not (John 5.40). Peter rightly stated that Christ’s words alone have life (John 6.68). Jesus affirmed that those who abided in His word “the truth will make you free” (John 8.32), and that “he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die” (John 11.25-26). Therefore, the charge that He gave to His disciples before He ascended to the Father’s right hand was that in making disciples of the nations they were to “[teach] them to observe all that I commanded you” (Matt 28.20a).

In other words, God is not only the author of life, but His Word is the sustainer of life (eternally so). If one wants to live, then this act of faith is first weighed in response to His commandments.[3] When Jesus taught to obey His Word, to keep His commandments, He was speaking about all that was written. When Paul spoke to Ephesian elders in Miletus his reminder and warning was charged with the life-giving sustenance found in the Word of God alone.

Corrective Insight…

God’s Word not only gives life, but sustains it from the works of sin. And for those of you like Andy Stanley that falsely assume that Old Testament saints did not have a Bible, but is somehow only a New Testament reality…you are wrong. Bible means book. And when believers speak affectionately of the Holy Bible, they mean God’s book. Jesus was sanctified according to all that was written in that book, and it is that same book by which we are sanctified and being sanctified for in it contains the Word of Life (see John 17 ).

God is Pro-Life, which does not begin and end on the debate that has been raging for a couple generations now regarding abortion. No doubt the fight over abortion is a Pro-Life fight. To fight to preserve the lives of little babies, unborn, in the womb is a holy war. To strike against that which is unprotected in what is supposed to be a sanctuary of safety and love, is to attack the very author of life Himself.

Wrapping Up…

My last few posts on this issue are meant to drive awareness into unknowing hearts. The issue is confrontational because at base it is an issue of life vs. death (Debating Abortion). The issue is not new but old and has already been fought and won in our nations past (History of the Pro-Life Movement). The issue will at times bring together combatants that are polar opposites theologically, but being made in God’s image they know intuitively that life is sacred and must be protected at all costs (Unlikely Allies). Which brings me to my final thoughts for this post.

Perhaps you noticed that I used the picture of a lamb and a wolf in my last post entitled “Unlikely Allies” linked above. I did this for two reasons. As things stand right now wolves and sheep are mortal enemies. They have different appetites and opposing natures. This symbolism is used in Scripture to show how believers are at odds with those in the world. But being the creations of God, this has not always been the case. In the beginning all things were very good (Gen 1.31). Not just in status as God’s creatures, but in function as God’s creatures. The fall in the garden changed all of that. Death, violence, pain and suffering were ushered in as the results of sin. However, God promises that this will not always be the case, and it is demonstrated in the prophetic writings of Isaiah.

“And the wolf will dwell with the lamb…” (Isa 11.6a).

“The wolf and the lamb will graze together…” (Isa 65.25).

Why? What brings about such change in the creatures of God? The answer is found in the root of Jesse named Christ Jesus (Isa 11.1; Acts 13.22-23), the very one who is the author of all things new (Isa 65.17; 2Cor 5.17). Christ brings peace and righteousness and healing in His wings. This is a future hope that is being played out in a present reality. We, who bear the name of Christ, are charged to fight for the very things that He did. And at times this will mean siding even with wolves, in the hope (trust) that our efforts as faithful stewards (i.e., salt and light) will bring glory and honor to our Lord and win others to our side.

For some of you this presents an eschatological problem, but that is a discussion for another day…


ENDNOTES

[1] There is a bit more to “prayerfully reading His Word” but the students answer is appropriate. There is a correct way and a wrong way to do this. Opening the Bible with closed eyes and putting your finger on the page, just because you’ve prayed “God give me insight into this or that situation” doesn’t make your method legitimate. Such behavior will surely lead you into error. A better way and what we ought to be doing (what should be meant by prayerfully reading His Word) is looking into the context of the writing (Historical, linguistic, cultural—who is being written to and why? Are appropriate questions), being observant of what is written, before we attempt to interpret it, and this we do with great care using Scripture to interpret Scripture and even checking what commentators of the past and present have had to say on the particular portion we are studying, long before we try to apply it to our lives (and the lives of others). But being mindful of whose word it is (i.e., prayerfully reading His Word) is a necessary first step in the right direction.

[2] All Scripture unless otherwise noted shall be of the New American Standard (NASB).

[3] Due to various misconceptions that may arise with this statement, I turn the reader to Acts 17:30 where the apostle Paul rightly declares that believing in the gospel of Jesus Christ is a commandment: “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent.” The gospel is NOT an invitation. That might be a popular way of speaking about it, but it misconstrues the biblical message.

Posted in philosophy

Philosophical Authority: An Inquiry into Paul’s Discussion on Colossians 2:8

“See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ” (Col 2.8; italics mine).

Is philosophical meandering wrong? At first glance it might appear that the apostle Paul is warning Christians to steer clear of philosophy in general.  But on closer inspection I think you’ll see he’s saying something else.

A Reflective Tale…

A few years back I read a book entitled, Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality by David Baggett and Jerry L. Walls. This was for a graduate level course on Christian Ethics. Besides having a huge axe to grind against the Calvinistic theological system, the two authors seemingly mocked the idea that philosophy as a whole needed to be governed by something outside itself. Instead they appear to treat biblical revelation and philosophical consideration as two separate but nearly equal, spheres of authority:

“Here we draw an important distinction. Whereas biblical authority trumps in the realm of theological norms, there are more basic philosophical processes at play that hold logical priority in the realm of basic epistemology.”[i]

In laymen’s terms. The authors seemingly believe the Bible holds the trump card when it comes to “spiritual matters” concerning God, etc., but philosophical processes play the necessary first step in determining knowledge related criteria in the real world. To show that I am not over exaggerating their intention, allow me to offer an example of their thought where they show that philosophy must serve as the necessary first step:

“The Bible is to be taken as authoritative in the realm of theological truth. But before we can rationally believe such a thing, as human being privy to general revelation and endowed with the ability to think we must weigh arguments and draw conclusions, that is, do philosophy.”

“When someone suggests that we ‘don’t need philosophy,’ either in this debate [over Calvinism vs. Arminianism] or more generally [i.e., on all other matters], their words reflect at best a huge misunderstanding…wrongly assum[ing] that we are even able to understand the Bible, let alone discern that it is ultimate revelation from God, without the capacity to think. Philosophy is, to put it most succinctly, clear thought.”[ii]

Thus, while we must give the Bible some nod of authority on our part, it is only to be done after we have—philosophically speaking—determined that this is in fact the actual case (again just to be clear this is the position of the authors, not my own). Which does what exactly? It gives the ultimate crown of authority not to the Word of God, but the word of man. For, according to such thinking, it is only after philosophical authority has recognized biblical authority that we dare attribute authority to Holy Scripture. And, who then logically has authority in this instance? God or man?

Referring to the passage (Col 2.8) quoted above (as well as a few others both biblical and non) these authors note:

“The Bible itself is sometimes thought to teach…skepticism about the value of philosophy… Any hint of even bringing philosophical analysis into the conversation is thought to be anathema, abandoning the authority of scripture [sic] to provide reliable revelation.”[iii]

I don’t think it is any stretch of the imagination to say that the authors so far quoted do not agree. It seems fairly clear that Scripture (Holy Bible) should stand on one tier and philosophy on the other, and where the two shall meet is determined by the philosophizer.  But the ground of authority starts where? This is the question that Paul is answering in his letter to the Christians in Colossae.

Colossians 1

In the opening of the letter, Paul is joyful for the believers that have faith in Christ Jesus (Col 1.4). He and those with him (e.g., Timothy; Col 1.1) “give thanks to God” (Col 1.3) unceasingly. The apostles desire is for these believers to “…be filled with the knowledge of [God’s] will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord [Jesus Christ], to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col 1.9b-10).

Paul acknowledges that what has taken place in their life is due to the Sovereign activity of God (His elective work):

“For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins…And although you were formerly aliens and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach” (Col 1.13-14, 21-22).

You see, in Paul’s mind Jesus is the Creator of “all things” (Col 1.16). Therefore, Christ has preeminence over all creation, which is the meaning of being firstborn (Col 1.15b), not in being created but in having supremacy over creation; including His Church (Col 1.18). For in Christ Jesus “…all things hold together” (Col 1.17), as “He is the image of the invisible God…” where the fullness of the Father indwells (Col 1.19). And it is His life alone that brought/bought reconciliation through the shedding of His blood (Col 1.20; cf. Heb 9.22).

Colossians 2

Now when we reach the apostle’s discussion on philosophy, we should not find it difficult to follow his flow-of-thought. Having shared those truths in the first chapter of his epistle, we find him begin to build on them further. Paul is deeply concerned about their welfare as believers. He is earnest on their behalf

“…for all those who have not personally seen my face, that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col 2.1b-3).

Three areas of concern…

Notice his topics of concern: 1) encouraged and knit together in love, 2) full assurance of understanding based on true knowledge, 3) found in Christ Jesus, the treasure trove of all wisdom and knowledge.

Speaking on the first, true believers are unified in Love, for this fulfills the entirety of the Law-Word of God. Not love as the world defines it, but love as that which is first found in God loving us, and then reciprocated (an outpouring of something God has put in us) to our neighbors. Love starts with God. Love is defined by God. And love cannot be true love unless this love has been instilled in the heart of the believer by God (a sovereign act; cf. 1Jn 4.10, 19).

Speaking on the second, Paul uses a concept that is somewhat foreign to much of the Evangelical world today—full assurance, which means certainty. A believer’s faith is founded upon the full assurance (i.e., certainty) of what God has done for them. True faith is one that knows God is real and is drawn to Him. You cannot draw to God as a volition of the will if you do not believe He is, and that He gives what He promises (Heb 11.6). Though we do not see Him, we are certain of who He is, and that He is ours and we are His and we have been created by Him (Heb 11.1, 3).

Speaking on the third, Paul teaches that such knowledge is hidden in and revealed in Jesus Christ. Jesus is the seat of all knowledge and wisdom. This statement alludes to various wisdom passages in the Old Testament:

“For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding; he stores up sound wisdom for the upright…” (Prov 2.6-7a; 1.7; 9.10)

And the lynch pin is this. Paul is teaching these things to these Christians for one unifying reason:

“I say this so that no one will delude you with a persuasive argument” (Col 2.4; emphasis added).

He says what? That in Christ comes the full assurance of faith, the bounds of all love, the grounds of true knowledge and understanding for all wisdom is seated in Him. All wisdom? All wisdom. What’s the love of wisdom called? Philosophy.

Should a Christian love wisdom? Depends upon the source doesn’t it? Obviously, Paul wants these Christians in Colossae to love wisdom if all knowledge and wisdom is seated in Christ. But Paul’s concern is also cautious. He wants these Christians to come to know all knowledge and wisdom, but at the same time he wants them to avoid falling into the trap of delusion (or deception) that comes by the way of persuasive arguments.

All persuasive arguments? Is the apostle telling Christians to avoid all persuasive arguments? No, for we find that he in the book of Acts uses persuasive arguments to explain and prove Christ Jesus (e.g., Acts 17.1-4). So, what is his concern?

He wants these Christians to walk in Christ just as they received Him (Col 2.7). And he warns them to not

“…be taken captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ” (Col 2.8; italics mine).

What he’s saying about Philosophy…

Philosophy is not bad, but the source from which it springs forth determines its worth. The Christian is to be governed by a philosophy that is according to Christ, not according to what men think. If we were to look at all the issues that spring forth within the Christian communities in these 1st century writings, what we would notice is that error always seeped in when man’s philosophy superseded or supplanted God’s.  

In the letter to the Colossians Paul identifies a few problem areas that are driven from false philosophy. For example, “worshiping angels” (Col 2.18); “circumcision” (Col 2.11); “food and drink,” “festivals” or “Sabbaths” (Col 2.16). To these they were strongly warned not to submit to things that have the appearance of wisdom but are really of no value (Col 2.20-23). Christians are to “let the word of Christ richly dwell within you…[to] do all in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Col 3.16, 17).

However, we mustn’t assume that these offer stringent limits on what can or cannot be done by the believer. The question over what sort of philosophy we adhere to, submit to, and reason from is a question of its origin. If it originates in the heart of man, regardless of how well it is articulated, how well it is received, or how appealing it may be to our carnal minds, we need to reject it. We need not live by it. We need not allow it to govern our thoughts or actions. We are made in God’s image to reflect Him, and so any philosophy that does not find itself drawn from Jesus Christ is nothing more than “empty deception” driven by man’s wishful thinking.

Sadly, much of Christian thought nowadays suffers from philosophizing outside the bounds of Christ, apart from His Word. This is not new. Obviously, as the text before us reveals it was something that the apostles had to wrestle with in the early Church.

Back to my earlier reflections…

As for the authors that I cited earlier. I did this for a couple of reasons. The first is related to their failure to note that what Scripture and other divines of the past warned against they arrogantly trudged forth. The second is found in their reason for doing so, they are ultimately governed by a manmade philosophy that they find personally appealing, and this is evidenced by something they noted in the fourth chapter of their work.

In an effort to show the handicap that Calvinism supposedly has when confronted with Arminianism argument for God’s morality in light of a consideration regarding the doctrine of unconditional election, they make the following statement:

“In this chapter we intend to offer a philosophical case against the Calvinistic conception of God’s unconditional election…our primary aim is to show that Calvinistic construal is philosophically weak…If our argument is successful, we will thereby provide Calvinists excellent prima facie reason to go back to the Bible….”[iv]

Sounds as if they are going to put it to the Calvinists, demonstrating their philosophical prowess at the same time devastating the Reformed doctrines ineptitude. In short, they are going to drive us back to the Bible with our tails evidently between our legs. Here’s how they plan on doing it:

“We think of our argument as unapologetically appealing to general revelation, which means that we reject the claim that philosophy can or should be ignored in the process of figuring out the answer to such questions.”

And so, Baggett and Walls true to form, in an effort to teach us nasty Calvinists to think better, do so with only one direct appeal to a single verse taken out of context (cf. 1Cor 10.13, p. 69) failing to understand our own teaching—derived from the Bible—regarding man’s enslavement to sin and inability to will towards that which would please God. Now you can have your own thoughts on the Calvinist vs. Arminian (or even traditionalist debate). That is not the point I am making. My point is that in an effort to refute a biblical teaching that we hold, they appeal to a philosophy governed not from Scriptural precepts, but personal whims.

The End of the Matter…

Our philosophy will either be according to one of two standards in terms of authority: Man’s word or God’s. the Bible plainly warns against the former, while encouraging the latter. I will leave it to the reader to think on which philosophy truly governs all aspects of their life.


ENDNOTES:

[i]  David Baggett and Jerry L. Walls, Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2011),67, Kindle Edition.

[ii] Ibid., 68.

[iii] Ibid., 67.

[iv] Ibid., 66.

All Scripture unless otherwise noted is of the New American Standard Update (NASB).

Posted in doubts

Beating the Drums Once More…On Doubt

A one trick pony. A pounding of the same drum. The beating of a dead horse. The repeating of the same tale. Perhaps, that is what I am about to do today, but I cannot resist the urge.

A few posts back I wrote about what I called “that shadowy idol called doubt.” My reason for doing so was two-fold. On the one hand, I think that doubt is a good thing. On the other hand, we have a tendency of elevating our doubts to a height that they should never be placed.

Doubt a good thing…

Specifically, doubt can be good when it comes to our abilities. We ought never to think too highly of ourselves. We should never allow our knowing to puff us up with pride. And so, when it comes to human ability (what we can or cannot do) I think a little doubt is a good thing. It keeps us realistic. We all have limitations. We all have blind spots. We all have personal struggles.

In terms of our relationship with God through Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, I think a little self-doubt teaches us to lean more heavily on the Rock of our Salvation. God is our refuge. He is our strong and mighty tower. It is in Him that we stand, we move, we live, we breath. He is what sustains us by the power of His Word. He is the one who gifts us and enables us to serve Him. From His mouth comes knowledge and wisdom. From His hand comes strength and power to stand in the midst of our adversaries. A little self-doubt in our abilities teaches us to be dependent upon Him who made us in His image. A little self-doubt teaches us to yearn for the grace of God:

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with my weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (1Cor 12.9b-10; ESV).

And so, doubt can be a good thing, when it teaches us to reach for our Lord.

Doubt a bad thing…

However, the opposite is the case when we doubt God or His Word. We ought never to think that God might be mistaken, or that His word is lacking in anything. All that we have been given in Holy Scripture is necessary for living a righteous life. All that we have in the Bible is sufficient for answering those tough probing questions we all encounter. How are we here? God created everything. How did He do it? He spoke it into existence. How long did it take? Six days (approx. 24hrs in length). Why is there so much evil in the world? Because of the curse of sin. Why are people selfish, hateful and sometimes down right wicked? Because being children of Adam they are sinners—they bear his image. Why do we find fossil grave yards all around the world? Why are there sea creatures at some of the highest points of the planet? Because of the global flood of Noah’s day. Why are their different languages? Why do people look differently in one part of the world from the in other parts? Because God separated the earth (people) during the time of the tower of Babel. Why are clothes necessary? To cover our nakedness, to remind us of our shame (i.e., sin). What’s our purpose? Why are we here? We are to glorify God, having been made in His image (i.e., to represent Him). What happens when we die? We face judgment, some to eternal life others to eternal death (i.e., separation).

These are just a smattering of questions that some people have regarding basic life questions. These are mocked and doubted both inside and outside of the Christian faith. But there are other areas of doubt.

A Smattering of Questions…

Did the walls of Jericho really fall down after marching around them and blowing trumpets in Joshua’s day? Did Moses really part the Red Sea by following God’s commands to raise the staff and separate His hands? Did manna come down from heaven? Did the rock produce water? Did the Israelites clothes really not wear out after 40-years of wondering in the desert? Did Balaam’s donkey really speak? Did the serpent in the garden? Were the Israelites really slaves in Egypt? Did God choose (elect) to save them because of a promise to Abraham and God’s decision to place special love on them? Did Peter walk on water? Did Jesus turn water into wine? Did Gideon rout the Midianites with just 300 without losing a single man, even though they fought numbers in the 10’s of thousands? Did Samson really kill a thousand Philistines with the jawbone of a donkey? Did Paul really get bit by a poisonous snake and just shake it off without any health issues? Did Jesus really arise from a sealed tomb under Roman guard and then appear to His disciples? Did silver become so abundant in Israel during the reign of Solomon that it was like gravel? Did Elijah stop the rain for three-and-a-half years, and also call fire down from heaven? Did he really outrun Ahab who was riding in a chariot to Jezreel? Did David slay a 9 ½ foot giant named Goliath? Did Daniel escape a lion’s den unscathed? Did Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego go into a burning furnace and then after some time inside leave that furnace without hair or cloth singed or smelling of smoke?

What do we do with those biblical events? Do we believe them? Or to our own peril, do we doubt them? If we doubt them, do we then parade those doubts around as if we are really sophisticated, smart thinkers? In our doubt, are we ashamed of admitting them to the world? As a result of our own doubts, do we attempt to find answers for them that will alleviate some of the embarrassment that we might experience when those who don’t believe ask us our thoughts regarding them?

A Serious Flaw in our Thinking…

When our doubt is exalted in this fashion it is an idol, for we would rather cherish our doubts in those moments than the Lord who has spoken truly. Our failure to fully grasp such things is not excuse, for doubting them. And if we doubt these supernatural occurrences (which are logical in a universe that God has created), then what grounds do we have in believing that our salvation, purchased by the life of Jesus Christ, is not also on shaky ground? If those things, which make up an integral part of the whole of our Christian faith can be legitimately doubted and explained away, then what justification can we provide in saying that our faith is not in vain?

Often you will hear Christians appealing to 1Cor 15 where Paul argues for the resurrection of Jesus Christ as necessary or else our faith is in vain. But what is forgotten is that Paul is addressing a specific issue in the Corinthian church where some were arguing against the resurrection (bodily). However, he was not saying that Christ’s resurrection is the only aspect of our faith that makes it null and void if it didn’t happen according to the Scriptures. The Christian faith is a total encompassing worldview. It all is interrelated. It is all one cogent whole. Thus, if one part is found to be in error or false or to be seriously doubted, then so too might any other part of it be. If God has not spoken truly in His Word through His prophets and apostles on any point, then what basis do we have in not assuming that it is all in vain?

Abrahamic faith…

Faith is the opposite of doubt. Abraham was accredited righteousness, not because of anything he had done, but because he believed (did not doubt) what God had said. We are called to have the same faith. In this way we are identified as children of Abraham. But if we hem and haw on God’s Word at various points, preferring to express our doubts as if they are good things, then how is this an exercise of Abrahamic faith?

Posted in certainty

The Dirty Word Called Certainty

All knowledge claims are based upon a standard. A foundation from which the rest of cohesive thoughts and beliefs are formed. The question the thinker must ask himself/herself is: By what standard? What is the standard from which we claim to know things? Is this standard personal? That is, is it seated in the heart/mind of the individual in question? Then it is by its very nature subjective.  For what one person holds to be true, will not necessarily be what the next person in line clings to as truth.

For the skeptic the best solution is to deconstruct all knowledge claims to the truly unknowable. If knowledge can be shown to be self-imploding due to its personal, and therefore relative in nature status (different strokes for different folks), then it is not possible—it will be argued—for any one to really know anything for certain.

A Dirty Word…

And since certainty is viewed as a dirty word (in both Christian/non-Christian circles), the accepted premise is that certainty cannot, should not be claimed by anyone. Revisionists say that we cannot really know what has taken place in the past for certain, because of the biased nature of the authors of history. Therefore, it is the pursuit of the revisionist to rewrite the “true account” of what transpired in the past apart from any partisan notion of the events recorded. Eyewitnesses are mocked, either they didn’t really see what they professed to see, or they were confused because they were intellectually inferior, or they were blinded by their own biases, and therefore, self-serving notions of what transpired.  

What the deconstructionist and the revisionist seek to do (and yes, they are both playing the same game) is offer their form of a rescuing device[i] in order to salvage what their own biased desires—based on what they perceive is true—believe (i.e., will acknowledge) as truth. What they want to deny, due to their own skepticism and desire for autonomous reasoning (including knowledge, truth and belief) is to establish their own set standard. To hold all others to a standard of knowing that they in fact will deny is possible if it disagrees with their own biased certainty of fact.

A Notable Difference…

For the Christian the standard should be markedly different. The same question is asked: By what standard? The same standard is applied in the sense of whether or not this standard provides proper justification (i.e., reasons) for belief. But the difference (at least it ought to be this way) is in the nature of the standard itself.

The standard or foundation on which the Christian stands is outside himself/herself. Since it is impossible for a human being to truly know anything, because without knowing everything you cannot really be certain of anything. The Christian humbly submits to the Law-Word of God.

The Christian identifies with the fact that true knowledge and wisdom is not personally sourced in the heart/mind of man, but personally sourced in the mind/heart of God the Creator.  For in Christ are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge found (Col 2.3). Knowledge may be known, truth may be known, correct belief may be known because it is dependent upon the One who knows all things (Psa 94.7-11) and holds all things together by the power of His Word (Psa 75.3; Eccl 8.4; Heb 1.3).

What I cannot and can understand…

I am often confused by professing Christians that say “I could be wrong about Jesus,” or “I could be wrong about my faith.” I am perplexed by men who claim to offer a sound apologetic (i.e., defense or reasoned answer) for the supposed hope with in them, when out of their mouths, in the very next breath, they say “Noooo…[I’m not certain!]”[ii]

William Lane Craig and Lawrence Karauss debate on “Life, the Universe and Nothing: Why is there Something rather than Nothing”

If a person is an unbeliever, I can understand that claim. They argue that life is a cosmic accident; although, I will grant that some do it a bit more eloquently than others. They deny that there is an all-sufficient creator of all things. They deny that He sovereignly directs the affairs of people. They deny that there is One who will hold all creation accountable and deal out justice in the end. But the basis of their “uncertainty” is they cannot know everything. And in this, they are right.

A Question of Dependency…

None of us can know everything. “Well, then you cannot be certain about your Christian faith!” it is sometimes argued. This would be true if my knowledge was based on my limited abilities, but it’s not. My knowledge is dependent upon the One who does know everything. Therefore, my certainty is on HIM and of that I am absolutely certain. To suppose that “certainty” is a word that Christians should steer clear from, when you yourself are a professed Christian supposedly helping others in their faith, reveals not only your inconsistency and your doubts, but an area of sinful thought that you need to repent of.

God’s Word on Certainty and a Message to fellow Christian Witnesses

“Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2.36; emphasis added).[iii]

The Greek term for certain (asphalos; adv.) describes the action of “knowing.” It is used elsewhere in Scripture to speak of holding something “securely” (Acts 16.23), kept “under guard” (Mark 14.44). Knowledge that is placed in a lockbox of sorts that may be clung to without deviation because it cannot be moved.

Thus, we should be surprised when the writer of Hebrews claims that as believers, we ought to

“…confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace whenever we need help” (Heb 4.16; NET; emphasis added).

How can we confidently approach Christ Jesus who is the embodiment of God’s grace and mercy given to us who believe, unless we “know for certain” that He exists and intercedes on the behalf of His people (cf. Heb 11.6; 13.6)? Do we find the apostles of Jesus weak kneed before the world? Do we find them floundering with doubts, pretending that “knowing for certain” that Jesus is the Christ, that all things were created through Him, by Him and for Him and that in Him all things hold together (Col 1.15-16) may not be so? That they could be wrong?

Are they seemingly only 80-85% positive[iv] that Jesus rose from the grave according to the Scripture, having died for the iniquity of His people according to the Scripture (1Cor 15.1-4; Isa 53)?  Do they not boldly stand before rulers and synagogues, and people from many tribes and tongues, worshipers of many gods and goddesses to be Christ’s witness (cf. Luke 21.12-13; Mark 13.9-10) and declare that now is the time to repent, that judgment is coming, and that salvation is provided in any other name than Jesus of Nazareth (Acts 17.30; 4.12)?

They do stand there boldly, unashamed before people, “knowing for certain” that the Scriptures are true and all men are liars (cf. Rom 3.4). They boldly and confidently stand in opposition to an unbelieving culture and point them to the only hope of deliverance—Jesus Christ (Acts 4.12cf. Rom 3.19-25). If you proclaim that you are an apologist, if you say it is your duty to speak for Christ, if you profess with your mouth and believe in your heart that He is Lord over all and has died for your sins (Rom 10.8-13), then for the LOVE OF GOD stand assured in the faith once for all given to the saints (Jude 3)!

Be certain of what you profess. Stand and do not bow to the masses. Know your God and speak! Know your God and live! And if you cannot bring yourself to stand in the gap in such a fashion before the culture that you now live in…do yourself and others a favor…be quiet and sit down.

“Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3.1).

And while, you may stand before the Lord in salvation because He saves youyou do not save yourself—your works that were not built upon the true foundation with the precious materials that He has provided you, will be burned up in the fire (1Cor 3.15). In short, stop lauding doubt as a virtue and be certain of your belief.


ENDNOTES:

[i] Jason Lisle writes, “There is always a rescuing device to explain away contrary evidence. If people have faulty presuppositions, they may not be convinced no matter how good the evidence may be.” Jason Lisle, The Ultimate Proof of Creation: Resolving the Origins debate (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2009), 159.

Lisle’s point is that a person may find an argument logically sound, but due to the unsatisfying implications necessarily drawn from the argument will search for grounds to dismiss it. In the end, a rescuing device is employed when an argument is emotionally and psychologically disturbing. You might think of it as worldview self defense in order to stave off something perceived as harmful.

[ii] This snippet was provided by Captain Disquise, March 10, 2014. Time stamped: 102:36–102:50. The whole debate may be seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V82uGzgoajI

[iii] All Scripture is of the English Standard Version (ESV) unless otherwise noted.

[iv] Michael Licona confessed to saying in the past that he was “80% Christianity is true…[but] a little more now.”

The snippet was originally taken from Alpha & Omega Ministries podcast the “Dividing Line” with Dr. James White. I’m not sure where the original sound bit is from. Dr. White may have mentioned it, but I might have missed it. Honestly, I’m not surprised by Licona’s testimony here as he was a guest speaker (lecturer) for about a week at Luther Rice Seminary where I have earned a couple of degrees. I also have his book that he did with Gary Habermas entitled “The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus,” where this attitude is expressed though not necessarily verbalized with percentage points. You can watch the video and make of it what you will. Michael Licona, Certainty and Assurance, Aug 30th 2019.

Posted in Worldview Analysis

Worldview Authority, Indoctrination and the Implications of Deuteronomy 6

Just a reminder: “A worldview is… ‘Our conception of the world around us, stemming from an authoritative source that we submit to, affecting all areas of activity in our life.’”

Contained within this definition are two concepts, one stated and the other implied, that might cause a knee-jerk reaction against it. The first concept is that of authority. The second, which is implied, is indoctrination. This article will address this knee-jerk reaction and why, given serious thought, is unnecessary.

On Whose Authority?

  If there is one thing that this current generation hates it’s the idea that there is some overarching authority that ought to be submitted to, in order to think and live correctly.  Even many well-known Christian and conservative speakers will do as much as they can to steer clear of that concept.  Take for instance the recent interview of William Lane Craig by Ben Shapiro.  Toward the end of that dialogue between these two intellectual giants (I’m not being tongue-in-cheek here, because I do think both men are fairly brilliant in their own right), Craig tells Shapiro to notice that he does not appeal to the Bible, but starts with philosophy.1

**Why not the Bible? Why not start with the source of one’s religious faith/convictions/assumptions? What is wrong with starting our reasoning from there, from the standard we ultimately appeal to?

Well, you don’t have to do much research into the thoughts of Craig to figure out why his approach is the way that it is.  In his book, Reasonable Faith, Craig asks the rhetorical questions “Exactly how do we know Christianity to be true? Is it simply by a leap of faith or on the authority of the Word of God, both unrelated to reason?”2

I find it interesting that he sets up the issue of biblical authority by introducing a Straw-Man argument.  The Christian worldview does not view faith as a leap of anything. That might be a secular view of “faith” in a religious sense, but biblically speaking faith is an issue of trusting belief, an internal/external commitment, but I digress.

Later in this same text when looking at the history of Christian faith Craig starts with Augustine of Hippo. Picking up on Augustine’s commitment to biblical authority, Craig writes, “Such a view of authority would seem to imply reason has no role to play in justification of belief, and sometimes Augustine gives that impression.”3 One of concerns he has is in regards to “circular reasoning.”4

On his website commenting about last year’s interaction with Andy Stanley’s sermon on separating the Christian faith from the Old Testament law-code, and the heat Stanley was facing by men like Al Mohler, Craig defended Stanley’s position. He said, “When we do systematic theology the basis of theology—the rule of faith—is Scripture. The Scripture is the only authoritative and infallible rule for faith and practice. But [not] when we do apologetics…The apologetic enterprise or task does not depend upon biblical authority, inspiration, inerrancy, and all the rest. Those things are important for doing theology, but when you are doing apologetics those sorts of things are not presupposed lest one be arguing in a circle.”5 Since my primary concern here is about the authorities that we submit to, I will ignore Craig’s dichotomy of theological vs apologetic practice in a later post.  For now let it be safe to say that Craig is concern with how his opponents (or those of a dissimilar view) will react to an appeal to the Bible as authoritative over ones thoughts and actions.

Likewise Shapiro shares Craig’s underlying sentiment, as seen in a Q/A session he had with students in another setting: “I’m a religious person. I never cite to the Bible. The reason I don’t cite to the Bible is because that’s an argument from authority. You may not believe that authority to which I’m citing….”6 I’ve heard Stephen Crowder, another popular conservative make similar comments’. Now what is true of the conservative is likewise true of the more left-leaning.

In citing those who I have much more in common with, I merely highlight our current culture’s distaste for appealing to one standard as authoritative over another; and yet, that is precisely how ALL worldviews work.  There is no getting away from it. Even when the above individuals attempt to stay away from appealing to authoritative standards, they are inconsistent in doing so. Which, by the way is perfectly fine (no, not that they are being inconsistent, but…), because no one human being can know all things.  Even experts get things wrong in the very field in which they are deemed the wisest.

Although men like Craig, Shapiro and Crowder do not cite biblical truths as the foundation from which they draw moral conclusions of right and wrong on particular aspects of society, they are still making their argument based upon that foundation.

For example, Craig believes that the resurrection of Christ is meaningful; leading to the strong possibility that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, but in order to have those categories of Christ and Son of God—in the sense of equality with deity—he must smuggle in biblical precepts. So too, with Shapiro and Crowder who borrow their ideas against murdering babies in the womb from the Bible (i.e. human life is sacred at conception). Rather than condemn such individuals and others for making an appeal to authority we ought to recognize that everybody else on the planet does the same thing.  It is just the simple fact of how our minds work, and were designed to do so.7

Indoctra…what? Indoctrination

The above term may be familiar, it may not.  Currently, the word “Indoctrination” is seen in a very negative light in academia.  This view highlights the concerns of such people like John Dewey a key signer of the Humanist Manifesto I which governs much of public educational thought.

Indoctrination, according to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate dictionary, means “to instruct especially in fundamentals or rudiments…to imbue” other persons with a particular viewpoint of reality or truth or evidence, etc. This is viewed negatively by those who have a strong aversion of religion/religious belief.  That being said, ALL people are the byproduct of someone’s indoctrinating. We are taught from an early age, and that teaching is ingrained in our minds (i.e. indoctrinated).

**This happens on all levels of learning.

For instance, being indoctrinated in the fundamentals of a particular sport (the form of it) is what we call “practice.”  Growing up I learned the fundamentals of baseball, football, weightlifting, breathing when I run, and teaching my body how to react when threatened in Martial Arts. In relation to writing institutions of higher learning indoctrinate their students in the particular writing style that their students will learn in their particular field of study (e.g. MLA, APA, Chicago/Turabian, etc.). I won’t bore you with details that you are hopefully beginning to grasp.  Pick a field of study, or a discipline, or a craft of interest and when you learn the fundamentals of it understand that what has taken place is indoctrination (from one degree to another).

The same is true of worldviews…

A person’s worldview is what guides and under-girds their interpretation of the world, classifying all facts and evidences in light of previously held assumptions/biases, in order to justify the manner in which they live on a day-to-day basis.  Worldviews affect the thoughts and actions of the individual in question, and this applies to all people everywhere regardless of whether or not they choose to accept/confess this reality. Worldviews are really faith-based systems that act dependently upon an authoritative source that the person willingly submits to. A cornerstone, if you will and it is the fundamentals of that cornerstone’s insights regarding reality that ingrain within the life of the individual how to think and act in everyday life.

For the Christian our indoctrination comes from the Bible; which is Christ’s Word—Genesis to Revelation. Being indoctrinated in God’s Word is not a concept of the Enlightenment, or the Reformation before that, or the Scholastic Period during the Middle-Ages, nor is it the by-product of some supposedly Constantinian understanding of the Christ faith.  No, being indoctrinated in one’s faith-system is something that God has intended since the beginning.

To be made in God’s Image (imago Dei) is meant to convey the idea of shadowing our Creator. In the beginning, the Lord God made man (male and female) to bear His image throughout all creation.  He created mankind to be His representatives. Now the only way to truly represent God is to mirror who He is—His thoughts and actions—in our daily lives, as we think and act in a godly fashion.  Peter highlights this in his 2nd epistle:

  • “May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and Jesus our Lord. His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire” (2Pet 1.3-4; emphasis added).

Peter then goes on and highlights that which enables them (us) to live godly lives. Something, he says he intends to remind them of continually until he departs with the Lord so that “after [his] departure you may be able at any time to recall these things.” (2Pet 1.15). What things? The truth of God, rather than “cleverly devised myths” (2Pet 1.16) …truths that were greater even than eyewitness accounts (as important as those are) “the prophetic word” which acts as “a lamp shining in a dark place” (2Pet 1.19; cf. Psa 18.28) to guide their (our) hearts.

Deut 6: A reference point to Godly Indoctrination

This concept of indoctrination, to which Peter speaks was not new but old. For Moses, many years before instructed the nation of Israel with the following truths:

  • Deut 6:1 “Now this is the commandment, the statutes and the rules that the LORD your God commanded me to teach you, that you may do them in the land to which you are going over, to possess it, that you may fear the LORD your God, you and your son and your son’s son, by keeping all his statutes and his commandments, which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be long” (Deut 6.1-2)

Jacob’s descendants were not to look at the Word of God—including His commandments—as burdensome or tasking, but as a token of grace. These instructions of the Lord were given so that the people might know how to think and live in a manner pleasing to Him.  By following God’s commands for all of life the people were promised very rich blessings; both temporal and eternal.  Not only were they to treasure His teachings, but the Lord God also instructed them to…

  • “teach them diligently to your children, and you shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deut 6.7).

In short, they were commanded to indoctrinate their children with the truth of God. It didn’t matter if they were working, or walking, or preparing for bed etc. Whatever they were found doing, when the occasion called for it (and there would be plenty of those as any parent knows), they were to instruct their children faithfully in the ways of the Lord. God even tells the Israelites:

  • “You shall being them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deut 6.8).

This language is metaphoric and not meant to be taken in a wooden-literal sense. In the first part of the verse pertaining to the hand and head (i.e. between your eyes), the Israelites are being told to treat God’s commandments as that which governs their thoughts and their actions, whether they work or play. The second portion of the verse pertains to God’s governing light it the home (i.e. doorposts of the house), and in civil society (i.e. your gates).  God’s Word was meant to be authoritative in the home guiding the family’s thought and action, as well as the civil society’s thought and action. The Bible (Torah= Law/Instruction) was meant to be the indoctrinating document for all of life.

What’s Changed in a Few Thousand Years?

Absolutely nothing, at least when we are talking about governing principles in regards to a person’s world and life view.  Worldviews are the elementary principles of human life (individually, familiarly, and societally) that are based upon an authoritative foundation.  We must be careful with not only what foundation stone our lives are built upon (the Christ of God), but also what materials we use in building upon it (His doctrine/teachings).  We must also be aware of what we are allowing ourselves to be indoctrinated with, and this includes our children and the least among us. For how we think will have a direct bearing on our actions in life, and the activity of our society. As our 24/7 news cycle ought to show us.

____________________

ENDNOTES:

1 The Ben Shapiro Show, Sunday Special Episode 50: William Lane Craig. Time-stamp: 57:40—58:45. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hL-zJzE5cIA

2 William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, 3rd ed. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, [1984], 2008), 29, Adobe Digital Editions.

3 Ibid, 30.

4 Ibid, 30.

5 William Lane Craig, “The Bible Tells Me So! So?” Reasonable Faith with William Lane Craig, March 26, 2017, accessed May 23, 2019, https://www.reasonablefaith.org/media/reasonable-faith-podcast/the-bible-tells-me-so-so/.

6 https://www.dailywire.com/news/13350/watch-ben-shaprio-breaks-down-argument-authority-hank-berrien.

7 Norman L. Geisler and Ronald M. Brooks, Come Let us Reason: An Introduction to Logical Thinking (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1990). They write that “Argumentum ad Verecundiam (appeal to authority) … [means] ‘Accept this because some authority said it…The mere appeal to authority should never be substituted for evidence or a good argument. However, it is not always wrong to trust an authority… [For example,] any appeal to authority is justified if there is evidence that it is an ultimate authority…” in such cases the authors argue the authority “knows the evidence better than we do.” (p. 98, 99).

The Christian justification for appealing to the Holy Bible as authoritative is not just because “The Bible says so…” (i.e. it’s God’s Word and He has spoken). The Bible is seen as a valid authority to be appealed to, as well as being used to judge all other standards—something that all ultimate standards attempt to do—because it alone makes sense of the world in which we live. The Bible offers the framework that makes knowledge possible, explaining why things are the way they are, pointing to how things ought to be.