Posts Tagged ‘Apologetics

06
Nov
12

jedi faith, christian it is not

Apparently Disney has bought the Lucasfilm franchise, the company behind George Lucas’ Star Wars, for a cost of around 4 billion dollars.  They anticipate releasing a further Star Wars film in 2015.  For someone who was still young enough to be captivated by the Star Wars universe way back in the early days this should perhaps be a good thing.  In many ways it is.  These space tales from a galaxy far away are fairly innocuous.  Good and evil are fairly clearly delineated and there is little that is harmful morally.  In fact, Star Wars is pretty much a space-age version of Roy Rogers (the arch-villains are generally in black and the heroes in white). It is, of course, at the philosophical level that Star Wars is a problem.

Star Wars presents, pretty explicitly, a worldview, a religion.  In fact, when asked their religion on State forms some write ‘Jedi’.  For most this is no more than a protest at the intrusive faith question, however, for some it probably is an honest answer; there is a religious group that find their origins in the Star Wars films.  Jediism, believe it or not, is a formal faith-group.  Its practitioners refer to themselves as Jedi Knights.  They consider themselves to be a UFO religion or spirituality.  Perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised since the Star Wars franchise has unabashedly created a universe impulsed by a new-age form of Buddhism, that is, by a philosophy of life that is fundamentally Eastern pantheism with a smattering of the Christian story thrown in; it is in its syncretism utterly modern.

The pantheistic Buddhism is clear in the idea of the Force, with its light and darkness and suspicion of all emotion.  In Star Wars ‘The Revenge of the Sith’, Yoda, the arch-Jedi, counsels the young Anakin Skywalker who is fearful of a dream in which he foresees the death of Padme, the girl he loves.  Yoda counsels:

Careful you must be when sensing the future Anakin, the fear of loss is a path to the dark side. Death is a natural part of life, rejoice for those around you who transform into the force, mourn them do not, miss them do not, attachment leads to jealousy, the shadow of greed that is… train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose….’

From a Christian perspective this counsel is wrong on so many levels.  God is no impersonal Force, he is a Person.  Furthermore, he is a person who is light and in whom is no darkness at all. There is no contradiction in God., no light and darkness or shades thereof, only light.  Because he is personal he has emotions.  He loves and hates (my previous post was about this very reality in God).  He is jealous for his own glory and mourns sin in humanity.  Emotions, in the Christian faith are not in some sense dishonouring and weak; they are not the source of sin and so to be stifled.  Emotions are God-given and indeed good; they are found in the Creator.  Despite some versions of impassibility in Christianity, it is clear that the God of the Bible has emotions.  These emotions are always consistent with who he is and thus glorify him.  Thus Christians (unlike the Jedi) are not told to kill emotion but to put to death sin.   This will mean controlling emotions as we must control every part of our being.  It will mean examining whether the emotion springs from a worthy place or not but it will emphatically not mean denying emotion itself, for that is to deny our humanity as a people made in the image of God. And death is not a natural part of life but is rather an enemy that is opposed to life and will one day be completely swallowed up in life for the believer and God’s final creation.

Lucas is a high priest of pantheism.  He purveys a Buddhist worldview where the impersonal emotional detachment of the Buddha is the acme of human existence (a million miles from a crucified Christ involved in suffering and sinbearing).   He is no friend of Christianity; it is of one of the principal Dark Lord’s of the Force that it was said, ‘he could save others from death but not himself’ – a clear allusion to Christ.  In his Buddhist vision of existence Lucas employs Christian language (and imagery) while subverting and perverting it.  Christianity (unlike pantheism) accepts absolutes but Lucas has the Jedi Knight exclaim, ‘Only a Sith deals in absolutes.’  Siths are of course the arch-villains controlled by the Dark Side.  Lucas fits well into a postmodern world of relativism that dismisses absolute truth.

So yes, another Star Wars film may be worth anticipating but we must remember as believers that even the most apparently wholesome fruit of the tree that is this world has something essentially rotten and poisonous at its core.

22
Mar
12

philosophy and christian faith

It was the Church Father Tertullian who famously asked, ‘What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?’  He meant that human philosophy has nothing in common with the revealed faith of Christianity.  In this he merely echoed the sentiments of the apostle Paul some 150 years previously.

The Colossian church was plagued by a heresy that was a hydran mixture of philosophy (human wisdom) mysticism (human spirituality) and Judaism (human religiosity).  Paul writes to the church to attack this hydra’s three malevolent heads.  The first of these is philosophy.  Paul is adamant that human philosophy has no place in Christian faith.

Col 2:8-10 (ESV)
See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.

This is the only direct reference to philosophy in Scripture and it is hardly positive.  Elsewhere Paul speaks pejoratively of the ‘wisdom of this world’ which presumably includes philosophy, especially as the wisdom he refers to is specifically Greek.

I find it strange that some commentators (by no means all) claim that Paul’s disparaging of ‘philosophy’ has no reference to Greek philosophy or philosophy generally, but merely to ideas current in C1 cults and mystery religions.   It may well be to these cults that Paul refers (though this is by no means certain), however, even if this is so, the ideas current in these cults were simply drawn from the wider philosophical milieu.  The theosophic (gnostic) speculation Paul denounces, that matter was intrinsically evil and therefore the body should be denied in aspiring to spiritual enlightenment,  has a clear straight line to the major Greek platonic philosophies that denigrated the material world associating it with lesser gods or demiurge.  Paul pulls the feet from this Hellenistic dualism when he says of Christ, ‘in him dwelt the fulness of the Godhead bodily‘; incarnation makes a mockery of platonic wisdom.

We should not doubt that Scripture does not look on human philosophies benignly.  They are part of the world that crucified Christ.  Pilate’s plaque above the cross was in Greek, as well as Latin and Aramaic; the cross is the moral measure of human wisdom.  Had the rulers of this world  true wisdom they would not have crucified the Lord of glory (1 Cor 2:8).   God, in the cross, destroyed the wisdom of the wise (1 Cor 1:19).  He exposed it for the empty vain thing it is.  The Lord knows that the wisdom of the wise is futile (1 Cor 3:20). He revealed too its intrinsic animosity to himself since it indicts God’s wisdom in the cross as foolishness (1 Cor 1:22,23).  Human learning (in itself a good thing) is corrupt because it is the product of  a world hostile to God and blinded by the god of this world; can a bad tree produce good fruit?  Human wisdom springs from death and can only produce death; it arises from darkness and can only result in darkness.  It is little different from false religion.  It has no route to God and sheds no light on God.

Nowhere is the mind independent of God more obvious than in philosophical pursuit.  Philosophy is the pursuit of understanding (wisdom) apart from divine revelation.  The venture is from the outset rebellious folly destined to fail.  It assumes the capability of autonomous reason to arrive at truth and does not submit to God’s truth.   It is intellectual hubris.  Little wonder Paul associates philosophy with ‘vain deceit’.

And it is vain in both senses of the word (futile and self-regarding).  Ancient Greece with its extolling of human reason is considered the cradle of civilization.   The humanism that tells us ‘man is the centre of all things’  finds its philosophical roots there.  In human reason the ascent of man was believed to lie.  Philosophy and learning was and is considered refining and elevating.  Philosophy, it was claimed, enabled one to rise above the moral degeneracy of the age.  The trouble is the philosophers themselves all too often gave the lie to this.  They judged the morality of others yet did the same things themselves (Roms 2:1).  Moreover the philosophical assumption that matter was evil produced all kinds of lascivious behaviour.  Education makes clever people, not good people, and certainly not holy people.

Paul is clear, the only wisdom that elevates the human spirit above itself and empowers for godliness is the risen reigning Christ.  In him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (not in philosophy).  We are elevated and enriched when we set our minds on things above where Christ is (Col 3:1,2).  Neither Pythagoras,  Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Nietzsche, Hume, Voltaire, Camus, nor whoever, is the wisdom of God: Christ alone is the wisdom of God.  None of these add a whit to him nor to what believers have in him: we are complete in Christ.  Philosophy does not commend, compliment or complete Christ; it corrupts Christ.  It flows from a different stream altogether.

This truth, however, is not  universally recognised.  Over the centuries Christians have argued whether philosophy and the Christian faith were friends or enemies.  Some like Tertullian rightly saw it as an enemy, others, like Augustine of Hippo, as a friend.  Where philosophy was treated as a friend syncretism and confusion  soon followed (Augustine tried to synthesize Greek and Hebrew thought). Why not make the scandal of the cross more agreeable to  the wise and great?  Why not engraft to the Galilean faith the common sense of Aristotle or the wisdom of Plato?  The Middle Ages show what a disaster such a venture was. Soon philosophy buried the gospel; human reasoning and biblical faith have nothing in common around which to unite so one must occlude the other.  Philosophy caters to human pride while the message of the cross crushes it.  Faith repudiates philosophy, not only as a rival but as an ally; it rests only on God’s Word; it accepts that Word as absolute and exclusive.  Yet today, our universities again side with Augustine and indeed go further.  Theology and philosophy are often the same faculty.  The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy writes in 2002,

In the last forty years, however, philosophers of religion have returned to the business of theorizing about many of the traditional doctrines of Christianity and have begun to apply the tools of contemporary philosophy in ways that are somewhat more eclectic than what was envisioned under the Augustinian or Thomistic models. In keeping with the recent academic trend, contemporary philosophers of religion have been unwilling to maintain hard and fast distinctions between the two disciplines. As a result, it is often difficult in reading recent work to distinguish what the philosophers are doing from what the theologians (and philosophers) of past centuries regarded as strictly within the theological domain. Indeed, philosophers and theologians alike are now coming to use the term “analytic theology” to refer to theological work that aims to explore and unpack theological doctrines in a way that draws on the resources, methods, and relevant literature of contemporary analytic philosophy. The use of this term reflects the heretofore largely unacknowledged reality that the sort of work now being done under the label “philosophical theology” is as much theology as it is philosophical.

This is profoundly worrying for the future.  It means all Christian theology is approached from a humanistic perspective and not as divine revelation; Athens has captured Jerusalem.  What kind of theological training will our best evangelical minds receive in our universities?  How far will evangelical colleges and seminaries eager for academic recognition and accreditation capitulate to this paradigm?  Does Evangelical theology (a theology submissive to revelation) have a future? I fear the collapse of faith will be profound. (See comment by John Frame here.)

Alongside this marriage, aiding and abetting, is the popular evangelical slogan that ‘all truth is God’s truth’.  Its roots are Augustinian though it was popularised in a book of the same title by Christian philosopher Arthur F Holmes.  As someone wrote of Holmes,

Throughout his writings and career, Holmes emphasized that, indeed, “all truth is God’s truth.” His desire was for Christians to not shy away from the difficult questions that may arise from whatever subject of academic study they choose. With a firm belief that any truth they find can be reconciled with their faith, Holmes challenged educators and Christians in academia to grapple with what they are interested in, noting that a strong faith can handle some turbulence while coming to a better understanding of God’s creation.’

However, Holmes’ statement, while from a philosophical perspective true is from a biblical perspective untrue.  It is untrue for its definition of truth is not biblical.  We should be clear that Scripture views truth as EXCLUSIVELY special revelation. God’s Word alone is truth.  Indeed, Christ alone is the truth.  He is not part of the truth but the whole.  There is no truth missing in Christ that needs supplemented by philosophy.

Further, truth, biblically considered, is unitary.  It is a whole.  Truth is either ‘truth’ or ‘the truth’, it is never ‘a truth’.  It is a revelation of things as they really are and as they are in relation to each other.  Thus Christ reveals God as he really is.  He reveals humanity as it really is (humanity’s true state is exposed at the cross).   But Scripture never calls the wisdom of the world ‘truth’, far less ‘the truth’.  Rather the wisdom of the world (whatever it may be) and the wisdom of God always stand in opposition.    In fact, the world is opposed to truth in its biblical sense.  In hatred, it crucified the one who spoke truth and was the embodiment of truth.  Jesus said,

John 8:42-47 (ESV)
Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” 

The whole world lies in the evil one who is the father of lies; it loves lies and hates the truth.  It will not come to the light because its deeds are evil (Jn 3:19).  It cannot receive the Spirit because he is the ‘Spirit of truth’ (Jn 14:17).  Truth in Scripture is ever a spiritual reality, revealed to spiritual people by the Spirit.

1Cor 2:2-14 (ESV)
For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.  Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”- these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.  The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

It is blasphemy to suggest that those who hate the truth can complete the truth that God himself declares He has already revealed in its completion in Christ through his Spirit.   The natural man receives not the things of God.  Only he that is of God hears God’s words (John 8:47). Philosophy and human learning give no spiritual insight, they cannot, they are ‘of the world not the Father’.  Mere factual knowledge that is true is not truth in any biblical sense of the word.  Holmes, in his bid to marry philosophy and faith deferred to a philosophical definition of truth rather than a biblical one.  This is a parable in itself; when united, philosophy will always trump revelation.

I understand why Holmes argued as he did.  He wished to make it easier for Christians to engage positively in the various disciplines of learning.  However, by adopting this ‘philosophical’ definition of truth (opposed to the revelatory definition) he fostered (unwittingly) an engagement with learning which is not nearly critical and suspicious enough.  I am by no means suggesting that Christians must not engage in the learning process or that they ought not study philosophy (see here for helpful advice for those who do).  Daniel was skilled in all the learning of Babylon. Paul was clearly well-educated.  Providentially, God in his goodness has allowed knowledge to flourish.  Developing human knowledge was always part of his creational intent (Prov 25:2). Thankfully, conscience prevents human reasoning and thinking degenerating as far as it may otherwise do (although fallen reason is always trying to neutralise conscience).     Human learning is valuable in many ways but only when we know its limits and its nature.  I am not suggesting that we despise knowledge.

What I am suggesting is that we must engage in education convinced of a clear divide between human learning and biblical truth.  We ought not to attempt to marry the two or blur distinctions. Nor should we consider human learning innocuous and value-free.  Its source insists otherwise.  We should approach it with our antennae well-attuned.  We should never be enthralled by it, beguiled by it, or in love with it; a critical mind and vigilance is vital. Christ, not human learning, is the object of the Christian’s love and captivation.  Christ, who is foolishness to the world, for the believer is the truth that elevates, frees, feeds, matures and thralls.

If our faith is philosophically-focussed rather than Christ-focussed we are losing touch with the head.  I have known a number of people who love Christian philosophy and apologetics  They enjoy debate, reflection, reasoning, and speculation.  They love Augustine or Thomas or Kierkegaard or Tillich or Lewis or Ellul or Schaeffer but sometimes it’s not clear they love Christ and what Paul calls ‘the truth as it is in Jesus’ (Eph 4:21).  Philosophy is not Christ and to love abstractions is not to love Christ; Christ is a person seated in heaven on whom the eyes of faith are fixed.

In conclusion, philosophically (wisdom-perspective-wise) our world aind its learnng is opposed to God and cannot be otherwise.  If anyone  thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise.  Our faith is at every point an affront to human wisdom, is spiritually independent of it, and complete in Christ without it.   Philosophy belongs to the world not Christ.  Let Paul’s words, quoted at the commencement of this post, be the final word.

Col 2:8 (ESV)
See to it that no one takes you captive [kidnaps you] by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.

13
Oct
11

keller and the ‘timothy factor’

Tim Keller is a great apologist for the faith, normally.  But he is fallen, and like all of us he can buckle under pressure.  Perhaps there is more of a ‘Timothy’ in him than folks realised (2 Tim 1).   It can be disappointing when we find our heroes have feet of clay.  Keller showed his clay feet fairly spectacularly in an interview with Martin Bashir at Columbia University (although it took place a few years ago, it is creating ripples in the Christian blogosphere).  Only as we walk in the Spirit do we find boldness and wisdom.

Perhaps, in this overheated celebrity Christian culture, one providential blessing salvaging something from Keller’s ‘headlights moment’ is that ‘celebrifying’ may take a knock.  Too many modern leaders are ‘awesome’.  A blog post that makes some wise  (and brave) points regarding Keller and gospel exclusivity may be found here.

13
Dec
10

the gospel according to secular humanism

The Christian Gospel brings two great blessings from God into the world.  It brings life and light.  To a world dead in sin Jesus comes as the one who has ‘life in himself’.  Those who believe in him are born again (Jn 3).  To a world living in moral and spiritual darkness Jesus comes as light (Jn 8:12).  John puts both realities found in Jesus together in the opening chapter of his gospel when he writes:

John 1:4 (ESV)
In him was life, and the life was the light of men.

God’s new Kingdom of full life and full light came into the world in Jesus. In him God’s Kingdom of life and light appeared.  Today, God’s Kingdom grows in the world through those who believe in Jesus.  God’s life and light is seen truly, though partially and imperfectly in them now.   But this partial and imperfect expression of God’s kingdom life and light presently in his people points to the Second Coming of Jesus when the life and light will not be partial and imperfect but full, faultless and forever.

Ironically, humanism, borrowed these two images of God’s Kingdom to describe the Kingdom of Man.  ‘The Renaissance’ of  C14-16  heralded the arrival of a ‘new birth’ for society while ‘The Enlightenment’ of the C18 trumpeted new light.  Both, however, in the final analysis, located this life and light in man not God.  Human reason would solve all humanity’s problems and that reason would be autonomous.  The ‘upper storey’ of reality, ‘grace’ or if you like ‘God and faith’  was at first allowed a separate existence, which with the progress of knowledge became an increasingly irrelevant and marginalised existence and finally, a denied existence.  Humanistic secularism no longer needed the concept of a ‘god'; man had come of age and could be master of his own destiny.  The triumph of the Kingdom of man seemed complete.

Yet a few centuries later we see how misplaced the celebrations were.  The most terrible atrocities in the history of humanity have taken place since man has ‘come of age’.  Today wars, famines, drought, injustice, exploitation, greed and other human vices ravage our world.  In 1770 Sebastian Mercier wrote, ‘where can the perfectability of man stop, armed with geometry, and the mechanical arts and chemistry’. The irony today of such words is palpable.  Humanistically-rooted science made as it is, in man’s image, can only produce the image of its maker, and in the end that means violence and corruption.

The Renaissance and The Enlightenment have failed, as they were doomed to do.  Real life and light lies only in the Kingdom of God.  As God’s people we exhibit that divine life and light in this world, albeit partially and imperfectly, awaiting the Day when God will once more step into history, cosmically and absolutely, establishing His Kingdom in Jesus Christ, the Kingdom of true life and light, of which the hubristic kingdom of man is but a pretence, a gross parody, a waterless cloud in a dry land, promising much but delivering nothing.

28
Sep
10

old earth, young earth…

I know next to nothing about cosmology.  Indeed, I know next to nothing about science itself.  I am glad that many Christians with a science bent and an able mind give themselves to wrestling with the questions involved in relating the current cosmologies of science to that of the Bible.  The issues are not incidental.

One big question for me is how to reconcile Scripture to an old earth cosmology.

It does seem to me, tentatively, that it is very difficult to arrive at an old earth through Scripture.  My difficulty is not so much with Genesis 1-3 per se.  Although these chapters have a narrative that reads as history (and literal), and although they are part of a book that otherwise is historical, it is just possible that they present the story of human origins like a parable, presenting truth, beyond the understanding of those to whom it was given, in a way that they could grasp.  There are undoubtedly some fairly stylized literary features at work in the composition of Genesis 1-3 that make a parabolic/mythological reading possible.  Possible, I would say, though not probable.  The burden of proof certainly lies with those who believe it is myth (not untrue, simply not literally true) to prove their case – preferably from the Bible rather than science.

My greatest difficulty with viewing chapters 1-3 as anything other than literal is that the rest of Scripture seems to treat them as literal and indeed builds some of its most fundamental truths on its literal historicity.  More of this in a moment.

Take for instance the words of Moses at the giving of the Law

Exod 20:8-11 (ESV)
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

Moses appears to base the seven-day week of Israel on God’s seven-day week in creation.  There is no suggestion he views these creation days as anything other than literal.

Or take the teaching of Jesus regarding divorce in Matt 19:

Matt 19:3-8 (ESV)
And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.

Jesus equates the lives of Adam and Eve with ‘the beginning’.  The expression ‘the beginning’ does not normally refer to merely the beginning of the human race but the beginning of all things, indeed Mark specifically speaks of ‘the beginning’ as ‘the beginning of creation’  (Mark 10:6; 13:9).

Consider too that Paul builds a whole theology of the gospel in Romans 5 on the historicity of Adam (Roms 5:12-21).  Does it not seem special pleading for us to insist on the historicity of Adam (and Eve) in Gen 2,3 yet demur at the historicity of Gen 1.  If Genesis 1 is mythological (parabolic) then surely we must say the same for Gen 2,3.  Yet Scripture forbids us to do so.

You see my problem.  Coming to Genesis 1 from a purely biblical perspective there is little reason to read it as anything other than literally.  It is hard to escape the suspicion that it is only the voice of science that gives weight to the mythological reading.

What then are we to make of the old earth claims of science?  The first question I ask is how certain are they?  How far are they based on theory and how far on fact?

I ask too, is it not possible that scientists mistake the age of the world forgetting that when God created a new universe he created a mature earth.  Jesus turned water into wine that had all the hallmarks of age even although it was made at that moment.  Why can the same not be true of creation?  In fact, arguably, Jesus in this miracle is revealing something of his creatorial credentials; he, in this his first miracle, is simply doing what God did in the beginning.  He is the Creator.   To put the question in more basic terms, why should Adam not have a belly button?  And why should we claim that if he did God is deceiving us?

If we choose to believe in some form of uniformitarianism then it is not because God has suggested we should.  Indeed he has given us his Word which has long since told us he made the world and did so in seven days.  Paul’s view is that creation itself tells us there must be a Creator which should immediately make us realise that we cannot assume too much about origins.

Sometimes the Genesis flood is said to be localised.  Again the evidence of Scripture suggests otherwise.  We are expressly told that the flood was world-wide (Gen 6:17).  Could the dislocation of a world-wide flood account for fossils and anomalies in rock structures?  Or are the anomalies beyond being accounted for by a universe created aged and an earth distorted by flood?

I worry when we start from science rather than Scripture.  I worry because science is incapable of leading to a Creator.  The ‘why’ questions of science are not really ‘why’ questions but ‘how’ questions.  Science explores the mechanics of creation but since its  perspective is purely mechanistic it can never lead to a maker.  Physics is by definition not interested in metaphysics; its concerns are much more lowly and mundane.  Thus science will never posit a Creator if for no other reason than such a ‘theory’ is unprovable by scientific experiment.  If you couple this with the innate hostility to God of the human heart, science will posit multi-universes and any and every other mechanical solution but never suggest a Creator for science is both mechanistic and humanistic.  The question is how far Christians involved in science play along with, or worse still begin to embrace the rules of the game.  And what does this do to their Christian faith?

These are but a few ruminations.  Are they seriously naïve?  If so why?

08
Sep
10

(s)hawking hubris

I am no scientist, nor the son of a scientist.  Nor am I particularly interested in the whole evolutionary debate (perhaps I ought to be more so).  Two reasons why I have opted out.  One, it is impossible for me to argue at the level of science.  I am at the mercy of superior ‘scientific’ knowledge.  Two, I strongly suspect even the best minds speak with a far greater assurance than they really ought.  I suspect much speculation masquerades as certainty.

But it’s this masquerading as certainty that really bugs me.  On television programme after television programme evolutionary guesses are casually presented  as unquestionable gospel.  There is no ‘perhaps’.  There are no riders such as ‘according to present thinking it would seem that…’.  We are given the conclusions of evolutionary conjecture as if they were as mathematically precise and sure as 2+2+4.  Of course, my use of the word ‘conjecture’ may raise hackles.  But are these evolutionary conclusions so certain?

Now I am fairly sure that a sliding scale of (scientific) certainty is involved, acknowledged or not.  And I want to believe that more responsible thinkers are less cavalier in their pronouncements.  However, when Stephen Hawking, renowned physicist and previous Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge, presents his cosmological  convictions with the aplomb of scientific certainty – one wonders.

Are we really to believe that science has conclusively proven that, ‘the universe can and will create itself from nothing.’?  Can Hawking really be speaking as the voice of responsible science?  Hubris seems not too distant in his claims.  As one writer comments

Cosmologists report speculative hypotheses with all the certainty of a child explaining their imaginary friend.

Ironically, the very people who choked at the notion of a virgin birth are now prepared to swallow a self-creating universe.  Indeed, not merely one self-creating universe but an unimaginable number of self-creating universes.  When scientists champion spontaneous creation and multiple universes while denying a Creator and mocking miracle and when they find it quite probable that there is extra-terrestrial life but improbable that there is a God one begins to wonder if they have an agenda.  One begins to question their objectivity, not to mention their sense. Indeed, those very mockers of religious certainty have themselves crossed a category line; their certainty is religious rather than scientific (based on indices beyond the objectively and scientifically verifiable); a religious certainty based on far less compelling evidence than Christianity at that.

It is hard from a Christian perspective to resist the conclusion that men, however intelligent, will believe a lie – however bizarre – rather than embrace the truth – however clear.

13
Aug
10

believing hard truths

Most Christians find there are teachings of Scripture with which they struggle.  I’m not so much thinking about truths which call for commitment.  These are indeed a struggle as we all wrestle against the flesh.  I’m thinking more about issues like eternal punishment and salvation only through knowing Christ.

The difficulty of conceiving punishment as eternal and of a highly populated hell can be overwhelming.  Few can consider such things with equanimity.  Of course, some dismayed by such reflections have wondered if  our understanding of Scripture may be wrong and have looked for other interpretations.  These have not met with general acceptance by most who are committed to Scripture.  The basis for these more optimistic interpretations is normally pretty weak.  Yet we can understand why even true believers, committed to Scripture, look for alternatives.

For me, when tempted to get distressed by such questions, I find the best solution is to look at God and trust him.  I recognise he is good, wise, merciful, lavish in grace, and just.  He is the God who is revealed in Jesus.  I recognise he is a God I can trust and that his understanding and wisdom is infinitely above mine.  He will do what is right.  He is the wise judge of all the earth.

Questions can become too big for us.  We must learn simply to trust in God when we cannot understand.  Knowledge of all that is involved in things is ‘too wonderful’ for us (Ps 139:6; Job 42:3).  Even with revealed truth we see and understand only dimly (1 Cor 13).  As creatures we must simply trust and allow God to be God.

25
Mar
10

peter hitchens and faith

See here a video by Peter Hitchens introducing his new book The Rage Against God.

24
Jan
10

the god of haiti

I’ve just watched The Big Questions hosted by Nicky Campbell on BBC1.  This is a programme I normally enjoy for minority views normally get a fair hearing.  Nicky Campbell is very good at asking the hard question of each position.  He also is courteous, unpatronising and presses for views to be countered with argument not ridicule.  Today’s Big Questions asked whether the Haiti Disaster proves there is no God.  Unfortunately and unusually today’s debaters never reached the guts of the issue and so came nowhere near the answer, at least the answer the Bible gives.

Probably the first thing to say is that the question, from a faith perspective, is inappropriate.  What it does, is put God in the dock over the Haiti disaster.  Quite simply, if God is God, infinite in wisdom, power and goodness and Being, he is answerable to no-one.  He is certainly not answerable to us.  Who are we with our small parochial minds to question God?  Our understanding of existence is so limited and finite as to be laughable.  We are grasshoppers before God.  We are amoebic in our knowledge compared to the one who created and sustains all that is.   It is unbounded arrogance for us to question God.

Moreover,  a humanity that has perpetrated the most awful of atrocities and used any powers it has developed to fashion weapons of destruction is scarcely in a position to accuse God.  The hubris is palpable.  Our small and twisted humanity has no moral right to hold our Creator to account?  And we may be absolutely sure He has no intention of being docked.

What was disappointing about the programme was how facile most of the comments were.  The smug atheistic Humanists believed they had proof beyond dispute that there could be no God, or if there was he must be malevolent.  One misguided C of E Bishop tried to counter the accusation of malevolence by claiming the Christian view of God is essentially deistic; He set up the world in the beginning and has left it and us to get on with it.  Another Christian philosopher argued that suffering was part of existence as God originally intended; it is part of a robust training regime intended to mature us.  He was a little nearer the mark though still got it wrong.

Interestingly, and ironically, it was the Moslem speaker who mentioned the unmentionable, namely that God does not always act in ways that are loving towards people.   He affirmed that God is good, and often this goodness involves mercy, however, his goodness may also involve punishment.  Now this is true, but unless explained is open to misunderstanding by some, and misrepresentation by others who simply want to score points against theism.

In fact, no-one properly explained why bad things happen in the world.  Why do earthquakes take place?  The answer is not that of the Bishop, that God has wound the world up and left it to itself.  The Bible emphatically and unambiguously teaches the world is controlled by God.  The Bishop was wrong, badly wrong.  Nor is the answer that of the Christian philosopher, that God created a world with suffering as part of the package so that we will all mature.  Nor is the truth that God is a punisher, at least not without further qualification and explanation.

What is the truth?

The truth is God created a good world where bad things did not happen.  But the world is not as God made it.  The truth is humanity, we, rebelled against our Creator and through us sin as a malevolent destructive force invaded creation.  The truth is all tragedy has a line of responsibility leading directly to us.  Tragedy is the effect of which we are the cause.  And this what the discussion group missed.  The real villian behind Haiti is not God but man.  Human rebellion results in cosmic suffering.  All dislocation, disfunction, distress, disease, disintegration, disunity, yes and the dissolution of death, whether small or apocalyptic in scale is sourced in humanity.  We set the ship off course.  We put the universe out of kilter.  We started the fire. Our rebellion against our good Creator has polluted the whole of the created order like a deadly destructive virus . To put it in the simplest of terms and in biblical language,

The wages of sin is death. (Roms 3:23)

Death is the destined end of humanity, of the animal and vegetable Kingdom, of our planet and of the universe.  Sinners and the sin-defiled must, like a vile disease, be destroyed.  Does this mean that those in Haiti were greater sinners than us?  No it doesn’t.  When a tower fell killing eighteen people Jesus was asked if those destroyed were greater sinners than others.  He replied,

Luke 13:5
No, I tell you! But unless you repent you will all perish as well!”

His response was not so much that those who died deserved to live but that we all deserve to die.  It is true that the Haiti disaster gives us all an opportunity for generosity and the Bible commends generosity.  However, the emphasis on The Big Questions that the right response was to give and that God was testing us to see if we would, is revealing.  It betrays that the instinct of the human heart is always to self-righteousness.  It is to try to win brownie points with God.

Jesus expects a different response.  He sees repentance as the proper response.  Catastrophe, you see,  should humble us before God.  Awe not accusation should be our instinctive response.; contrition, not condemnation.  Mourning our sin should precede giving our money.  Disaster is God’s loudspeaker call to repent and forsake our sin.  It is a forceful reminder that soon what happened to Haiti will happen to the whole world.

Is God indifferent to Haiti and suffering? The Christian Gospel reveals he is not.  He is not remote from our suffering.  Rather he entered into our suffering through Jesus.  Jesus vindicates the God who has no need of vindication.  In the death of Jesus, God’s Son, God takes the destruction of sin upon himself.  In the death of Jesus the loving, forgiving, merciful, rescuing heart of God is revealed. Jesus is God’s rescue plan from the coming catastrophe, the final judgement.  He is a deliverer for all who repent, humble themselves by confessing God is God and they are rebels and trust in Him for their salvation from the final catastrophe.

The question is, will you do this?  Or will you try to hide from God behind philosophical doubts about his existence?  Will you ignore the elephant in the room, your sin?  Will you invent a God without moral indignation to sooth your existential qualms? Will you try to justify yourself by humanitarian effort?  The great test of Haiti is not how we respond to the disaster but how we respond to God?  Haiti puts us in the dock, not God.




the cavekeeper

The Cave promotes the Christian Gospel by interacting with Christian faith and practice from a conservative evangelical perspective.

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