5/29/2007

The Trinity is Logical

At the request of a Muslim I have been having online exchanges with, I wrote the following bit about the trinity. I have reprinted it here, along with links, quotes and augmentations.

You had requested an explanation of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. Pardon my delayed response due to my father-in-law’s illness.

To begin, God is one being. Christians do not worship three Gods, but one (Deuteronomy 6:45; Isaiah 45:5-6 and 21-22; Isaiah 44:6-8). We do not worship more than one God as Surah 5:73 states. That would be “tritheism,” which we condemn.

Baptists like myself do not see Jesus, Mary, and God as the trinity as is suggested by Surah 5:116-117. This elevates a human, Mary, into the God-head, and we would see that as “adoptionism,” which we condemn. We would also condemn as adoptionism any thinking that says Jesus ever became God. Jesus was not created. He did not become God at some time. He has eternally existed.

God exists as three persons and as one being. This is logical. Aristotle’s Law of Non-contradiction, the foundation of the laws of logic, states that something can not be what it is and not be what it is at the same time and in the same relationship. The trinity is not a contradiction because we say God is one in His being and three in His person.

In the logical sense, we change the relationship in the definition above. If we said God is three in person and one in person we would have a contradiction. If we said God is three in being and one in being we would have a contradiction. But we do not say either of those things. We say God is three in person and one in being. As R. C. Sproul says:

The historic formulation of the Trinity is that God is one in essence and three in person. Though the formula is mysterious and even paradoxical, it is in no way contradictory. The unity of the Godhead is affirmed in terms of essence or being, while the diversity of the Godhead is expressed in terms of person. – Essential Truths of the Christian Faith p. 35.

My layman’s understanding of the trinity begins with verses I read in the Old Testament. In Genesis 1:26, God says, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” The pronouns He chooses are plural. We have the same thing in Genesis 3:22, 11:7, and in Isaiah 6:8. These verses do not reveal all of the doctrine, but they hint at multiple persons in God’s being.

In the New Testament, we find Matthew 3:16-17. In this passage we see three persons: the Father speaking, The Spirit descending, and the Son receiving power. We see that Christians are to baptize in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). We see three persons mentioned separately and as equals in Ephesians 4:4-6, 1 Peter 1:2, and Jude 20-21. Acts 5:3-4 equates the Holy Spirit to God.

This is a mystery, something that we cannot understand completely as finite creatures. There are many things about God we cannot completely understand. I wanted to quote from Isaiah 40:10-18:

Behold, the Lord God comes with
might, and his arm rules for him …
He will tend his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms;
he will carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead those that are with young.
Who has measured the waters in the hollow of
his hand and marked off the heavens with a span,
enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure and
weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance?
Who has measured the Spirit of the Lord, or what man
shows him his counsel? Whom did he
consult, and who made him understand?
Who taught him the path of justice,
and taught him knowledge,
and showed him the way of understanding?
Behold, the nations are like a drop from
a bucket, and are accounted as the dust on the
scales; behold, he takes up the coastlands like fine dust …
All the nations are as nothing before him, they are
accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness.
To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with
him?



Everyone we met has only one personality, but have you ever met anyone like God? If there is none like God, why should we expect Him to have a personality like everyone else? I am not surprised He has three persons. I cannot understand this completely, but I can know something about it. The being of God is something we stand in awe of, not something we completely comprehend. As Romans 11:33-36 says:

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable
are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
"For who has known the mind of the
Lord, or who has been his counselor?”
“Or who has given a gift to him that he might
be repaid?” For from him and through him
and to him are all things. To him be
glory forever. Amen.

Other articles on this subject can be found here, here, here, here, here, and here.

5/27/2007

The Linear Argument Showing the Bible to be God’s Word

Time after time an opponent of Christianity accuses us of circular reasoning. The statement we are accused of making goes like this: The Bible claims to be God’s Word so it is God’s Word. That is “begging the question,” where the conclusion is true only if the premise is true. However, the actual argument put forth by Christians is linear and logical. In bullet point form, it goes like this:

· The Bible is good history (The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell).

· We can trust what the Bible says about Jesus because it is based on eyewitness testimony (Luke 1:1-4, 2 Peter 1:16). These eyewitnesses were willing to die for their faith.

· Jesus claimed to be God. He said, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). Thomas said, “My Lord and my God,” and Jesus did not correct him (John 20:26-31).

· Jesus worked miracles and proved Himself to be God (John 14: 9-11).

· Jesus affirmed the truth of God’s Word. He said, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). He said, in prayer to God, “Thy word is truth” (John 17:17).

· Jesus promised the Holy Spirit to help the apostles remember and truthfully relate the events in the Bible (John 16:13-15).

· We have a Bible we can trust. It gives us God’s truth and equips us for faith and service (2 Tim. 3:15-17).

The basic tenor of this argument is taken from two sources, When Skeptics Ask by Norman Geisler and Reason to Believe by R. C. Sproul.

As R. C. Sproul pointed out in a recent lecture, if we have established that the Bible is God’s Word, every other issue becomes a matter of “exegesis,” deciding what the Bible says on the issue at hand.

I would love to see your comments on the general approach, the specific points, or the things I have undoubtedly left out.

5/26/2007

Please Pray

Please say a prayer for my Father-in-law. He is in a hospital in Japan, where he has been pasturing a church for the last few years. He has Acute Promyelocytic Leukemia and has about a 5% chance of leaving the hospital.

He has two daughters, three sons, a wife, and five grandchildren. Please pray for him and for his family.

“But our God is in heaven; He does whatever He pleases.” – Psalm 115

5/25/2007

Richard Dawkins 3

As promised in the last post, I will discuss Richard Dawkins’ treatment of the argument from Scripture from his book The God Delusion (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006, p. 92-97):

The historical evidence that Jesus claimed any sort of divine status is minimal … there is no good historical evidence that he ever thought he was divine. (p. 92)

A wealth of textual evidence is used to validate the New Testament as an historical record. This historical record was written by eve-witnesses who had firsthand knowledge of the events they recorded or close companions of those eyewitnesses. This testimony can not be shrugged off with a sentence or two. Gary Habermas, who holds a Ph. D. in the History and Philosophy of Religion, puts it succinctly, “We have in the New Testament essentially what the authors originally penned, and the texts have been confirmed time and again by various means.”

Dawkins goes on, “Moreover, Luke screws up his dating by tactlessly mentioning events that historians are capable of independently checking…” (p. 94) Luke’s accuracy as an historian has been well established by William Ramsey. In fact, Norman Geisler cites over eighty facts that Luke shared in The Book of Acts and his gospel that have been verified by archaeological and historical research in his book, Systematic Theology (Volume One: Introduction: Bible, Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House, 2002, p. 466-473). It is not smart to discount someone who has bee right about some many things so matter-of-factly.

Alleged errors in Luke’s gospel have proven many times to be less than advertised. Dawkins does cite Luke’s comment on the census that required Jesus’ parents to go to Bethlehem. This “issue” has been dealt with at length.

As to Dawkins’ charge that Christianity is based on ancient myths on page 94, the New Testament books predate most of the material that they were allegedly based on, and have better historical attestation. It is hard to be based on something that did not yet exist. As for the rest, the similarities are not as obvious as they are claimed to be. Find some good articles here and here.

Dawkins also shows a major kink in his armor when he says that the gospels were written “after the epistles of Paul, which mention nothing about the alleged facts of Jesus’ life” (p. 93). Even a cursory reading of Paul’s letters shows many of the facts of Jesus life to be mentioned, including that Jesus was God (Philippians 2: 5-7), his sinless life (2 Corinthians 5:21), crucifixion (Romans 6:6, Galatians 2:20) and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-6). Norman Geisler cites 31 specific details of Christ’s life mentioned in Systematic Theology (p. 49). Let’s look at more detail at 1 Corinthians 15: 1-8:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he
appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five
hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. (ESV)

Paul’s letter to the Corinthians was written in about 55 AD. That’s less than 27 years after Christ’s crucifixion. It mentions over 500 eyewitnesses to the resurrection. This would be easy for someone to verify just by looking up some of these people.

Dawkins also mentions several books that he feels were arbitrarily left out of the New Testament (p. 95). I’ve discussed issues like that in another post.

The treatment of the argument from Scripture by Dawkins is superficial. He makes no serious attempt to sate Christians’ position. It seems that once you have dismissed God’s existence, you feel that you don’t have to take the Bible seriously. Once you have suppressed the truth in unrighteousness, you think you can get away with it.

5/23/2007

Richard Dawkins 2

Next in Dawkins’ book, The God Delusion, we find a discussion of the teleological argument, or argument from design. Stated the way Dawkins does, the argument goes from evidence of design in the universe and in living things to the existence of an ultimate designer. On page 139-140, he says:

It is clear that here on Earth we are dealing with a generalized process for optimizing biological species, a process that works all over the planet, on all continents and islands, and at all times … This is a recurrent, predictable,
multiple phenomenon, not a piece of statistical luck recognized with hindsight. And, thanks to Darwin, we know it is brought about: by natural selection.

In Dawkins’ world, life appears and evolves into increasingly more complex organisms by a “process.” I am not a biologist. I am not a chemist, or a physicist.
I am, however, an industrial engineer.

Another name for industrial engineering is “process engineering.” I have spent a considerable portion of my life in the pursuit of process improvement. I have professionally applied myself to manufacturing processes in pulp and paper, ductile iron foundries, and tire manufacture. I have looked at ways to improve equipment, layout and organization of jobs, the way human beings interact with their equipment, and the way humans interact with each other.

The end, or purpose, of this process improvement has been a manufacturing process that produces quality products, when our customers need them, at minimal cost, in a safe manner. There is one thing I know: a process left to itself does not meet that end. Anytime we take our hands off the controls, neglect the equipment, or neglect the people, we get crummy products, late shipments, high costs, and increased injuries.

The teleological argument is not about design in the engineering sense. It is about purpose.

As stated by Dawkins, the “generalized process for optimizing biological species” is guided “by natural selection.” Its clear purpose is to generate life that evolves to survive in our world. If the process works in the fashion described, it requires an intelligence to fix its purpose and guide it.

John Gerstner, in his book Reasons for Faith (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1960, reprint 1995), uses this example on p. 34-35:

The dandelion sends up a little parachute to carry its seed along on the wind and find a place to germinate. That certainly spells intention … we search in vain to find anything in the dandelion that corresponds to our brain, the brain that enables us to think up useful plans.

We find the location of that purpose in “the ultimate cause which we have seen lies behind everything that is.” This is not a probabilistic argument. Evidence for any purpose whatsoever at any point demonstrates the existence of an intelligence to set that purpose.

The teleological argument is conclusive. It does not even depend on everything having an obvious purpose. It only requires at least one thing that shows intent. Evolution, if correct, demonstrates a purpose. It is one thing that clearly shows intent.

Please take note that I am not arguing for evolution here; I am arguing for God’s existence. This is a recto ad absurdum, where my opponent’s position is shown to prove my point. In addition, I do not necessarily speak for Gerstner when I state the argument this way.

To use another example, I remember reading an article in the University of Tennessee newspaper, “The Daily Beacon,” when I was in college. It was about a biology student who had proved evolution to her satisfaction by writing a computer program. The program generated a sentence from one of Shakespeare’s plays through “random chance.” I know a little about computers, and I know what was stated ‘between the lines’ in that article.

Computers do not think; they really just compare and calculate numbers very quickly. They use algorithms, methods of computing that enable computers to process information using binary numbers. This algorithm followed a simple course. A random letter was generated using mathematical manipulation. This letter was compared to the sentence. If it fit the next letter needed by the sentence, then it was held in memory. If it did not, it was deleted, and a new letter was randomly generated to take its place. The program ‘wrote’ the sentence one letter at a time. (This kind of simulation seems to be a regular occurrence in the scientific world. Programs like this, only with much more complex algorithms, turn up all of the time.)

In order to make that program work, an intelligent person had to take raw materials, assemble them into a computer, develop a programming language that enabled the computer to manipulate data, and write the algorithm it used to generate and keep the letters for the sentence. This program was written and designed. That involves creativity and intention. Far from proving that there is no God, these programs and arguments demonstrate that He is necessary.

Dawkins does not state his opponents’ positions well in some key instances in the book. I will look at another important area, the argument from Scripture, in my next post on Dawkins.

5/21/2007

Richard Dawkins – 1

Richard Dawkins’ book The God Delusion (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006) evokes strong feelings. Most of the arguments presented are not cogent, and the next post or two will address some of them. Not everything will be addressed. Some of the statements he makes about probabilistic arguments seem intelligent. Some do not justify a response. The case presented will outline a strong confirmation of the basic tenants of Christianity.

Dawkins quickly dismisses all of the classical arguments for God’s existence without reason. His issue is the infinite regress. This argument, called the cosmological argument because it is an argument from the existence of the cosmos, is more fully stated in the post Logic and God 3. There are other forms of this argument (what Norman Geisler calls the horizontal form for example), but those are better stated elsewhere.

In brief, the argument proceeds backwards through the series of causes that arrive at us. We cannot expect that an infinite regress of finite causes exists. That is, if we move backward from ourselves to the things that caused us, then backward to the things that caused them and so on, we must find something that did not have a beginning. Otherwise, we would never have moved through the infinite series of causes to get to ourselves.

Dawkins responds as follows:

To return to the infinite regress and the futility of invoking God to terminate it, it is more parsimonious to conjure up, say, a ‘big bang singularity.’ Or some other physical concept as yet unknown. Edward Lear’s Nonsense
Recipe for Crumboblious Cutlets invites us to ‘Procure some strips of beef, and having cut them into the smallest possible pieces, proceed to cut them still smaller, eight or perhaps nine times.’ Some regresses do reach a natural
terminator. (p. 78)

This is a false analogy. To make the analogy fit the argument that is being questioned, we have to think of a strip of beef so long that when we stand at one end of it we cannot find the other end. We simply cannot cut the entire thing into fine pieces because we will never reach the other end of the thing.

Dawkins goes on to discuss dividing gold into pieces. He says, “If you cut ‘gold’ any further than the level of the single atom, whatever else you get it is not gold” (p. 78). He is right. If you move far enough back, you arrive at something totally different than gold. How does this help Dawkins’ case? It seems the example requires something to be a further subdivision. Eventually we will get back to the cause of the continuing existence of the atom. This being must exist. We cannot think of it as not existing; the other option is to think of it as “nothing.”

We cannot say it is “nothing.” As soon as we decide on what nothing is, we have made it something in our thinking. As Jonathan Edwards noted, “Nothing is what the sleeping rocks dream of.” (Reference: Classical Apologetics, Sproul, et. al., Grand Rapids, Michigan: Academie Books, 1984)

It is worth pointing out that the something must also have the power to hold the atom, with all of its stored energy, together. That is power.

Dawkins goes on to criticize many of the probabilistic arguments given, but he has not addressed the classical arguments adequately. There will be more to come later.

Another useful reference in all of this is Reasons for Faith by John H. Gerstner (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1960, reprint 1995). It is a 245-page book that is worth reading. You will easily see that many of the things Dawkins says have been around for a long time. “There is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1: 1-11, ESV).

5/16/2007

Logic and God 3

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. – Romans 1:18-20, ESV


Richard Dawkin’s book The God Delusion is an interesting set of polemics. If it were possible to win an argument based on insults and innuendo, this book would have ended all positive discussion of belief in God. Future posts will contain some of the more interesting quotes.

Once again someone states that there is no positive argument which proves God’s existence. To answer with one line of thinking out of several, God is eternal. He has no beginning and no end. This is foundational for a very reasonable argument for His existence.

Something in the past must have always existed. It is not possible to move through an infinite series of moments of time. For example, if time extends forward out to infinity then it is obvious we will never reach the end of it. Reversing the process, if time extends infinitely into the past, we could never have moved through time from the past to get to this moment.

Similarly, we cannot expect that an infinite regress of finite causes exists either. That is, if we move backward from ourselves to the things that caused us, then backward to the things that caused them and so on, we must find something that did not have a beginning. Otherwise, we would never have moved through the infinite series of finite causes to get to ourselves. The infinite regression cannot exist in reality. Whatever the first cause was, it must have always been (it is “eternal”) and it must have the power to bring about all we see in the universe (a part of “omnipotence”). We know something of God’s “eternal power and divine nature” from the world we live in.

Evidence of rational design found in the universe makes belief in God reasonable, especially since the universe as we find it already requires something that has always existed and was powerful enough to bring it about. Ultimately, the historically reliable accounts of Christ’s life found in the New Testament provide enough evidence to be convincing.

5/12/2007

Blessed Assurance

Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life. - Jesus (John 6:47, NKJV)

Recent conversations with a Muslim have reminded me that many in the world do not have a firm knowledge that they will go to heaven when they die. Some have a vague trust in their idea of a God who may honor their faith and may not. Some have only the hope that, when God judges the world, He will find their good works outweigh their bad. Some have not yet reached the point in their thinking that they can acknowledge a God who judges or a heaven (A future post will lay out some of the reasons for believing in both.).

We can know that we are on the way to heaven if we have faith in Christ. This faith is a confident assurance that what Jesus says about how to live life is true. This assurance brings us to a knowledge that we have not, even for one moment, lived free from sin; that is, we have done things that Christ tells us not to do or failed to do things that Christ tells us to do. This knowledge of the right path leads to repentance, turning from our sins to God and His way of living.

This faith is also an assurance that Christ paid the penalty for our sins. Not just for sins in general, but for our sins in particular.

Christ is God who became a man. He laid aside His rights and abilities and came to earth. He lived a perfect life. This life is an example to us, but it also gives Him credit for a life lived in perfect obedience to God’s law. He then died on the cross for us. In some way know only to the God of all, Christ took the credit for our sins and suffered God’s infinite, terrible wrath for those sins. He became sin for us that we might become righteous. (2 Corinthians 5:21, Romans 3:21-31)

Faith is the way we take credit for what Christ did for us. The credit for our sins is taken away from us, and we are given credit for Christ’s perfect life. The work is outside of us (“extra nos” in Latin). It’s not about what we do; it’s about what is done for us by Christ. When we have faith, the perfect God loves us perfectly because we are credited with perfection. When God looks at us, we are perfect because of what Christ did.

But how can we personally tell if we really believe? How can we look at our hearts and lives and tell if our own faith is genuine? The most useful verse to me personally is Galatians 5: 6. It says that what counts is “faith working through love.” I do love Christ. Not perfectly. Sometimes not even well. But we do love Christ. R. C. Sproul puts it this way, “I am not asking whether we love this Christ perfectly; I am asking whether we love this God and this Christ at all” (Chosen by God, Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House, 1986, p. 166).

We sin, sometimes often. We even sin the same sin over and over. This sin clouds our thinking and convinces us we do not have real faith. But God does not desert us. He always comes to our aid. As one scholar puts it:

…a regenerate soul will certainly persevere through the trials of life and continue to believe and repent. He will slip and fall, develop bad habits, wrestle with doubts, but through it all he will keep on going even as he began … all believers slip and fall into sin. But the truth of the matter is that no believer stays down. Just as God gave him faith and repentance unto initial conversion, so He supplies him with faith and repentance all along the way to heaven. (Dr. Curt Daniel, as quoted in “Safe and Secure” by Curtis C. Thomas, “Tabletalk Magazine,” Ligonier Ministries, Inc. December 2004, p. 8-11)


The God who saves us preserves our faith. He works in us to will and to do His will. He does not leave us in life’s battles without a champion. Maybe an old Baptist theologian can help:

The believer in Jesus, who has been regenerated by the power of the Holy Spirit, will never utterly fall away from Christ and be lost. He is not free from temptation; he may, through neglect and failure to employ the means of grace, grieve the Holy Spirit and bring reproach on the himself and the people of
God. He will, however, turn away from his sins and return to his Christian duty; he will not be content in the wayward life. It is the mark of the child of God that he cannot be happy in a life of sin. (E. Y. Mullins, Baptist Beliefs, Chicago: The Judson Press, 1912, p. 53)

I pray you will turn from sin to Christ in faith today. Know that eternal life, unending life with God in heaven, is yours. Be perfect when God looks at you. Experience the perfect love of a perfect God. I pray you will know that God loves you in your imperfection because of Christ.

5/10/2007

William Cowper

I was asked to sing a solo at our church last night. I choose to sing a hymn that written by a man named William Cowper. Cowper was born in 1731. He was a contemporary of John Wesley, George Whitefield, William Wilberforce, and others. He struggled with depression for most of his life.

After a major depression at age 21, he attempted suicide several times. At age 28, he had another breakdown caused mainly by the threat of a public examination before Parliament. They were to see if he could be appointed to a government position. He was committed to an insane asylum after more failed suicide attempts.

He became a Christian during his stay in the asylum when he picked up a Bible placed there and read Romans 3:25, where Christ’s sacrifice for us is highlighted. Cowper later wrote, “I saw the sufficiency of the atonement [Christ] had made, my pardon sealed in His blood, and all the fullness and completeness of His justification. In a moment I believed, and received the gospel…”

Over the next few years, he developed a close relationship with his pastor: John Newton. He and Newton worked together on a collection of hymns, including Newton’s “Amazing Grace” and Cowper’s “God Moves In A Mysterious Way” and “There Is A Fountain,” the hymn I sang.

Cowper, even as a Christian, continued to struggle with depression. Our doctrine must make room for Christians who struggle. Some were convinced that Cowper’s depression was a physical problem. You see, his depressions seemed to come every January and get worse in a regular pattern.

It was spiritual depression. Satan sometimes convinced Cowper that he was not saved and could never be saved. Cowper died in 1800, in deep despair, but he never completely forgot the hope he had in the gospel of Jesus Christ. He had many friends like Newton to remind him, when he needed reminding the most, of Christ’s grace.

There is hope for all who struggle with depression. We can often share hope with others by reminding them of Christ’s love and passion. We can let “redeeming love” be our theme.

There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood

Text: William Cowper, 1731-1800

There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel's veins; and
sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains. Lose all their
guilty stains, lose all their guilty stains; and sinners plunged beneath that
flood lose all their guilty stains.

The dying thief rejoiced to see that
fountain in his day; and there may I, though vile as he, wash all my sins
away.Wash all my sins away, wash all my sins away; and there may I, though vile
as he, wash all my sins away.

Dear dying Lamb, thy precious blood shall
never lose its power till all the ransomed church of God be saved, to sin no
more. Be saved, to sin no more, be saved, to sin no more; till all the ransomed
church of God be saved, to sin no more.

E'er since, by faith, I saw the
stream thy flowing wounds supply, redeeming love has been my theme, and shall be
till I die. And shall be till I die, and shall be till I die; redeeming love has
been my theme, and shall be till I die.

Then in a nobler, sweeter song,
I'll sing thy power to save, when this poor lisping, stammering tongue lies
silent in the grave. Lies silent in the grave, lies silent in the grave; when
this poor lisping, stammering tongue lies silent in the grave.


Hymn from http://www.hymnsite.com/lyrics/umh622.sht

Information in blog entry is from The Hidden Smile of God, John Piper, Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2001.

5/04/2007

Logic and God, Part 2

Many contemporary believers do not feel the need to have a rational basis for their Christian faith. For example, Robert Webber’s comment in Ancient-Future Faith (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1999, p. 185):

…Christianity is not provable outside itself through the scientific
method. One must come to the Christian faith believing that it is true and embrace it as such without any dependence on data outside the faith. Christianity requires trust, a believing embrace, a willingness to step inside its story apart from any dependence on historical, scientific, or rational persuasion.



So, according to Webber, Christianity requires a blind leap of faith for entrance. I always think of the Indiana Jones movie where he must jump across a chasm not knowing whether there is anything to catch him as he falls. When he jumps, he falls onto a bridge that was hidden from view by exquisite camouflage. Is that kind of leap the requirement, or are there reasons to believe what we believe?

Let’s look at R. C. Sproul’s thoughts in his book Defending Your Faith: An Introduction to Apologetics (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2003, p. 24-25):

Today we have been infected by something called “fideism.” Fideism says, “I don’t need a reason for what I believe. I just close my eyes like tiny Alice and take a deep breath, scrunch up my nose, and if I try hard enough, I can believe and jump into the arms of Jesus. I take a blind leap of faith.” The Bible never tells us to take a leap of faith into the darkness and hope that there’s somebody out there. The Bible calls us to jump out of darkness into light. That is no a blind leap. The faith that the New Testament calls us to is a faith rooted and grounded in something God makes clear is the truth … The task of apologetics [when a Christian makes a case for
the truth of Christianity] is to show that the evidence that the New Testament calls people to commit their lives to is compelling evidence and worthy of our
full commitment … We honor Christ by setting forth the cogency of the truth claims of Scripture, even as God himself does … the Spirit does not ask people to put their trust and faith and affection in nonsense or absurdity.


So, is Christian faith a blind leap, or a step onto something visible and solid? If it is true that:

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their measuring line goes out through all the earth, and their
words to the end of the world. (Psalm 19: 1-4a, ESV)


And that:


For what can be known about God is plain to [the unrighteous], because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. (Romans 1:19-21, ESV)


Then it follows that knowledge about God and His being is readily available from the world around us. The problem is not that the Christian faith is unreasonable or that it requires our brains to be checked at the church door. The problem is that we do not want to know the truth. We suppress knowledge that is plain to all because we do not like the implications. We might have to repent of the sins that we love so much. We might have to turn to Christ in faith, despairing of our good works that make us so proud of ourselves. It is our task as believers to anticipate the concerns of those outside the faith, address those concerns, and urgently communicate the requirements of repentance and faith.

Not all would agree with the views expressed here. I think specifically of those who would follow presuppositionalism, the system developed from the works of Cornelius Van Til. John M. Frame does a good job of presenting this view. Many in the Emerging church conversation would find their concerns with truth both anticipated and directly addressed by this system of thought.

Van Til and company do not completely satisfy. God’s existence can be proved from the evidence presented by Him in His creation and general revelation. (We can think of reason itself as something God reveals to all through His world. Reason and logic correspond to reality as we find it.) I find traditional arguments for God’s existence conclusive. I also find the basics of reason upheld and affirmed by the Bible, God’s revelation to us.

God used words to communicate his message to us. We must expect that God would choose a method that would be successful. The interpretation of words requires four things:
1. Basically reliable sense perception - You must be able to hear or read the words.
2. The laws of logic - The law of non-contradiction, the basis for all the laws of logic, must be upheld or the words are not understandable. This law states that A cannot be both A and non-A at the same time and in the same relationship. Otherwise, the words could mean one thing and another thing at the same time and in the same way. Nothing would be communicated.
3. The law of causality - We must assume that air pressure causes disruptions in the air that propagate as sound waves to our ears, or light reflected on a light-colored page will highlight dark-colored, non-reflective letters.
4. Analogical language - Language conveys reliable language about God. He reveals Himself to us, but not all of Himself.
The classic proofs of God’s existence can be affirmed with just those tools. Other references such as Classical Apologetics (Sproul, et. al., Grand Rapids, Michigan: Academie Books, 1984) have established these four tools in a more refined way.

Presuppositional arguments are compelling at another level, however. They present a good argument that laws of logic require a rational being as their foundation. This is the transcendental argument for God’s existence. It has won debates in the past.

Someday all Christians will gather around the throne of the God who is, was, and will be. This God knows everything (all things that are, all things that will be, all things that could have been but were not, and all things that could be but will not be). May all of us glorify Him in our thoughts as well as our actions.

(Much of the general trend of thought of the above post was inspired by R. C. Sproul, Jr.’s book Tearing Down Strongholds: and Defending the Truth (Phillipsburg, New Jersey, P and R Publishing, 2002.)

5/02/2007

Robert Webber 1

Robert Webber’s comments in Listening to the Beliefs of the Emergent Church lead me to take a book by him off my shelf which had been there for a few years: Ancient-Future Faith (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1999). I looked back through my underlinings and dog-ears to find some quotes. Several came to mind. One is on page 177:

The debate of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries paved the way for the Reformers who chose the doctrine of sola scriptura. The Reformers pulled Scripture away from the church, separated it from tradition, set it over against popes and councils, and made it stand on its own.


I question whether the Reformers pulled the Bible away from church tradition. It is more likely that they returned to the original interpretations of Scriptural authority held by the Early Church Fathers. Keith Mathison in his excellent book The Shape of Sola Scriptura (Moscow, Indiana: Canon Press, 2001) shows that the interpretation of the early church on Scriptural authority (what Webber rightly refers to this as “The Rule of Faith”) did not contradict the Apostles. When tradition and Scripture agreed, there was no need to reconcile them. To quote Mathison from page 150-151:

Scripture is the sole infallible authority and the sole source of revelation, but it must be interpreted in and by the Church within the hermeneutical boundaries of the rule of faith (Christian orthodoxy – as defined for example in the Nicene Creed). A doctrine of scriptural authority separated form its apostolic ecclesiastical [having to do with the church of the apostles] and hermeneutical [method of interpretation of the Bible] context is neither Reformational nor Christian…The New Testament was the “inscripturisation” of the
apostolic proclamation, and it together with the Old Testament was the sole source of revelation and the only doctrinal norm…

What about tradition’s authority? Returning to Weber, page 177:

However, the Reformers began another cycle of tradition within their churches (Lutheran, Reformed, Anglican) in which the Reformers themselves were viewed as authoritative interpreters of Scripture. Each Reformation tradition was marked by a particular confession that functioned in an authoritative consensus on the teaching of Scripture…


The confessions of the Reformation are of a different character than described by Webber. Some quotes from the major confessions of the Reformation follow.

This is about the Sum of our Doctrine, in which, as can be seen, there is nothing that varies from the Scriptures, or from the Church Catholic, or from the Church of Rome as known from its writers. This being the case, they judge harshly who insist that our teachers be regarded as heretics.

The Augsburg Confession, Article 21, 5

The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.

The Westminster Confession, Chapter 1, 10
Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.

The Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England, Article 6



How can confessions to be set up as an “authoritative consensus” as Weber states when the confessions themselves state that the Scriptures are the authority? It is also worthy of note that the Augsburg Confession cites church tradition as well (It is rightly said of Luther that he was more catholic than Rome). I learned of the Early Church Fathers when I read about them in John Calvin’s Commentaries. He cites them often.

It is a wrong approach to ignore the opinions of those who have gone before us. It is a wrong approach to ignore the opinions of experts in the filed of Biblical interpretation. It is wrong to rest authority in a modern church’s or group’s consensus on the issues at hand. It is wrong to ascribe infallibility, or freedom from error, to any source other than the Scriptures themselves.

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