Posts Tagged ‘Revelation

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.

12
Oct
10

reformed judaism!

Classic Reformed Churches house many godly Christians.  Some of the most able preachers of the gospel are found in their pulpits.   Yet running through this rich gospel lode is a streak of anomalous legalism that causes more than a little head-scratching and hair-pulling.   Some of these  C21 gentile believers seem almost as zealous for the Law of Moses as their C1 Jewish Christian (professing at least) counterparts.  The Law of Moses loomed large in the mind of C1 Jewish believers.  This was hardly surprising since it informed their whole religious and cultural background.  It seems less comprehensible that it should colour so greatly C21 gentiles who view the Mosaic Covenant from an objective  distance (historically, culturally, racially and geographically) and for whom Paul, the apostle, made herculean efforts to keep them free of the Law’s grip.  Yet many seem unable to place it in an appropriate redemptive-historical perspective.  All too often they give it significance it does not deserve.

And so, they speak of Scripture as ‘the Law of God’.  They refer to the Lord’s Day as ‘the Sabbath’.  They confess Christians are not under Law yet insist they are obliged to keep the Law as a rule of life,  an obvious  logical contradiction as well as being biblically unfounded.  They insist on a justification based on law-keeping to be accepted by God (and so Christ must keep the law on our behalf).  Indeed, the Law is so significant that it is, they say, a revelation of God’s character.

Now each of these claims is mistaken and when taken together create a legalistic climate of thought that is in danger of distorting the gospel.  At the very least the gospel becomes confused.  Let me focus on one point only.  Is it true to say that the Law is a revelation of the character of God, or, as many say,  a transcript of his character?

It is certainly true that the Law reveals something of the nature of God.  Everything God says and does reveals something about him just as everything we say and do reveals something about us.  But does the Law reveal the character of God?  The Law is just that, law.  It reveals what God demands of man if he is to be righteous.    It tells us what man ought to be but it hardly tells us what God is.   If a schoolteacher gives rules of behaviour to his pupils, does this reveal his character?  Read the Law in Exodus and Deuteronomy and see just how much it really shows of God.

What do we find when we turn to Scripture?  We find firstly that the Law far from revealing God was given by a hidden God.   The people do not see God.  He was hidden from them in thick darkness.

Exod 19:9,20 (ESV)
And the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am coming to you in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and may also believe you forever… On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly.

God spoke only through an intermediary (Moses).  Only Moses climbed the mountain and even he saw only the ‘back parts’ of God’s glory.  When he came down the mountain he veiled his face so that the people could not see the reflected glory.   All this reveals the nature of Law.  It tells us there is in God a holiness that cannot be approached or seen.  It does not reveal that holiness it simply informs us it is there.  Thus when we come to the NT we are told that the Law is a ‘shadow’.  Can a ‘shadow’ be a transcript of the divine character and nature?  We are told too, the Law is ‘obsolete and passing away’.  Is something transient properly a revelation of all God is in himself, his full glory?

The problem with claiming the Law is a transcript of the divine character is not simply that it gives the Law a significance it doesn’t deserve but that it detracts from the true revelation of the character of God which is Jesus Christ.  It is Christ who images the invisible God, not the Law.  It is Christ who is ‘the Word, eternally with God and himself God’ not the Law.  OT  Law was one part of a revelation that was at best piecemeal and fragmentary (Hebs 1:1) and stands in contrast to his revelation in his Son who is ‘the radiance of the glory of God and h the exact imprint of his nature’.  The Law, says John, in telling contrast, ‘ came by Moses, but grace and truth by Jesus Christ’.

It is in Christ and in Christ alone that the character of God is truly seen.  John says, ‘We beheld his glory, the glory of the only Son of the Father full of grace and truth’ (Jn 1).  Philip, in Jn 14 says,

John 14:8-10 (ESV)
“Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.”

Does Jesus point to the Law?  We read,

Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works.

Such language could never be said of the Law.  The Law demanded righteousness but did not reveal it.  It promised life but could not display it.  The righteousness and life that lie at the heart of God are seen only in the face of Jesus Christ.  John says of Christ, the Word of life, ‘the life was manifested and we have seen it’ (1 Jn 1:1,2).  The OT Law was an administration of death.  Indeed what Law revealed was human sin (Roms 3).  Life and righteousness are revealed in Jesus Christ.

2Cor 3:7-11 (ESV)
Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory.

It is in the Gospel the righteousness of God is revealed.  In the Law the righteousness of man is revealed.  Had man kept the Law it is his righteousness that would have been displayed and the object of glory or boasting, not God’s.  That is why in deliberate contradistinction we read in Romans 1 that it is in the gospel ‘the righteousness of God is revealed’ (Roms 1:17).

Where do we look if we wish to see God’s righteousness in its perfection?  We look to Christ.  Christ is the righteousness of God (1 Cor 1:30).  Indeed we look to Christ especially on the cross.  It is in the cross that the true and full character of God is displayed.  It is there God is fully glorified for it is there he is fully revealed.  There his wisdom, righteousness, grace, kindness, power, holiness, kindness, and mercy are all revealed in their perfect proportions.  There God, as he really is in himself, is seen.   God’s righteousness is not properly the demands of Law it is a righteousness that functions in grace and mercy.  Righteousness in God, is God acting consistent with all he is in himself.  Yes God is revealed as righteous in his judgements and is glorified in them but his heart is love and the righteousness that most glorifies him is a righteousness that is married to grace. God’s righteousness is at root a giving righteousness rather than a demanding righteousness.  It is at Golgotha not Sinai that God is glorified in all that he is and in such a way as he responds righteously by glorifying the one who so glorified him.

John 13:31-32 (ESV)
When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once.

It is not the Law that shares the throne of God it is a freshly slain lamb (Rev 5).  The glory of the New Jerusalem is the glory of ‘God and the Lamb’ (Rev 21).  The glory of the Law was passing, the glory of the Lamb is permanent.   We do neither the Law nor the Lamb any favours when we ascribe to one a glory that rightly and solely belongs to another; Christ and only Christ , is the way (to God), the truth (about God) and the life (of God).




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

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