Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thinking Like a Christian, Week 2: Philosophy

Of all the topics in the "Thinking Like a Christian" series, this has got to be the hardest to distill, in understandable, concise, and yet sufficiently thorough language, into a 40-minute S.S. lesson! The word philosophy, recognized by many as a Greek word meaning "love of wisdom", occurs only once in the entire Bible, in Colossians 2:8:

"Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ."
There are many "philosophies" out there. Some of them are almost comically erroneous; others are quite difficult to discern from truth. What are some important biblical truths about philosophy? I offer these observations:

1. The most significant and important philosophical truth in the Bible is that Jesus Christ is the Logos (Word) of God (John 1:1-4). Christ is the explanation for the universe and everything in it. Furthermore, all the Christian doctrines of God, creation, design, etc., etc. are consistent with the findings of science, history, and personal experience. The philosophies that "spoil" you will teach you otherwise.

2. The Bible does not ask the Christian to abandon reason in order to accept truth. Isaiah 1:18 reminds us: "Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool." Understood in the context of salvation (a rather important topic in the Bible!), God asks us to use our reason to understand not only our need, but also His provision and gift of salvation. A great truth! 1 Peter 3:15 reminds us of our Christian duty to "be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear," which again emphasizes our need as Christians to reason with biblical truth.

3. I offer this golden quote from Warren C. Young's book A Christian Approach to Philosophy:

"The crucial problem is that some thinkers place their trust in a set of assumptions in their search for truth, while other thinkers place their trust in a quite different set of assumptions."
Our set of assumptions is found in the Bible. Everything else is "vain deceit."

4. Christianity answers more of the deeper questions of life more completely than any other worldview. Again, this should not surprise us, since our philosophy and faith ought to founded in the Book which God Himself wrote.

5. Philosophy leads us astray when it is based on "vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ." What should we do with such philosophies that lead us astray? Read 2 Corinthians 10:5:

"Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ."
Cast them away! Know that God wants you to intentionally remove such philosophies from your life whenever they might exert a control over you. (One extra word to parents: Teach this to your children by precept and example—every single day! Teach them that thinking biblically is good, and that following the world's thinking is not good—it must be "cast down"!)

Philosophy, of course, is a very broad subject; many books and dissertations exist on the topic. In this entry I want to discuss several areas of philosophy and how a Christian worldview deals with them.

Faith and Epistemology: Hebrews 11:1 defines faith; Epistemology is defined as "The branch of philosophy concerned with the nature and origin of knowledge. Epistemology asks the question “How do we know what we know?" in the The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, 3rd ed. This seems like an unresolvable paradox until we recognize that all knowing requires faith! Where is your faith? Is it in God, or something else? Edward T. Ramsdell is responsible for this great quote in his book, The Christian Perspective (p. 42):
"The natural man is no less certainly a man of faith than the spiritual, but his faith is in the ultimacy of something other than the Word of God.The spiritual man is no less certainly a man of reason than the natural, but his reason, like that of every man, functions within the perspective of his faith."
Please note also that Christian philosophy does not throw out tests or reasons for truth. If anything, we are to consider the evidences that reason can employ.

Reconciling Science and Christian Philosophy: One of the most repeated (and erroneous) statements on this subject is that these cannot peacefully coexist. The scientific method is actually a help to the Christian, for it is based on observations—and the Christian should be OK with that. Indeed, it is the man who believes life sprang from non-life or that a large explosion was the catalyst for the known universe that should be concerned with observations. Observations from the scientific method support the Christian's teleology (discerning God from His design) and cosmology (questions about the origin and nature of the universe).

Scientific discoveries also support the conclusion that God exists. Here are four of them:

  1. The Second Law of Thermodynamics (increasing entropy)
  2. The apparent impossibility of spontaneous generation of life from non-life
  3. DNA and genetic information theory
  4. The "Anthropic Principle": The cosmos seems to be "fine-tuned" to accommodate human life
It is also interesting to note that modern science, for the most part, was founded by men with a Christian perspective—men who, observing laws in nature, gave credit for those laws to an all-powerful Lawgiver.

Metaphysics (the branch of philosophy dealing with "first principles" and ultimate reality): The two main classes of metaphysics are plainly addressed by Christian philosophy.
  • Ontology—the nature of existence or being. Christians believe that God exists; God is.
  • Cosmology—the origin and nature of the universe. God created it, from nothing, as He described in Genesis 1.
Take, for example, the Mackinac Bridge. Does it exist? I have, by my count, crossed it five times, so I am going to say, Yes. Where did it come from? There are plenty of eyewitnesses (and probably a documentary on the History Channel) to its construction, so I'll assume it did not simply evolve at that location over a period of untold years.

Do the universe, our planet, our human race, and the other uncounted things we see around us exist? If so, where did they come from? The answers: Yes; because God created them.

The mind and the body are two different things: Christians believe the mind, or consciousness, exists as a separate entity from the physical body. Admittedly, some of the other worldviews believe this also. We believe that the mind was created by God. The key implication is this: Matter exists, and something other than matter exists. Christians believe in both the material and the supernatural. The Bible teaches that the physical body is not the same as the soul or spirit in verses such as Daniel 7:15; Micah 6:7; Matthew 10:28; 1 Corinthians 6:20, 7:34; 1 Thessalonians 5:23; and James 2:26.

Christian philosophy represents a worldview that is entirely consistent with the Bible. The choice of a supernaturalist worldview (that there exists something beyond the natural) will have strong influence over many areas of a person's life. Life is meaningful and purposeful, and our beliefs must be shaped and directed according to a coherent, reasonable, biblical worldview—not "tossed to and fro" by whatever secularist teaching comes along.

And a final quote from Warren C. Young:

“In the same way it can be said that the Christian philosopher and theologian must be acquainted with the contending worldviews of his age.Philosophy, after all, is a way of life, and the Christian believes that he has the true way—the true pattern for living.It is the task of the Christian leader to understand the ideologies of his day so that he may be able to meet their challenge.The task is a never-ending one, for, although the Christian’s worldview does not change, the world about him does.Thus the task of showing the relevance of the Christian realistic philosophy to a world in process is one which requires eternal vigilance.To such a task, to such an ideal, the Christian leader must dedicate himself.”A Christian Approach to Philosophy, pp. 228-229.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Thinking Like A Christian, Week 1: Theology

Is there a God? What is God like?

Among the most profound of all questions are the two above. It is evident with just minimal thought that one's view of God's existence and person will effect one's thoughts, decisions, and actions every day.

Take, for example, those who hold an atheistic view—there is no god. They will see no purpose in life, since we simply came to be by chance. They will see no ultimate right or absolute good, and therefore will view law as something to be determined by majority vote, or even by caprice. Those who are pantheistic or those who hold to the teachings of another "god" (e.g., Allah) will have their own views on these and other questions.

How do we learn about God? The first way we learn about God is through special revelation, which includes the Word of God (the Bible) and the Person of Jesus Christ. We can learn more about God through these than any other avenue. Of course, to believe in God, we must believe that His Word is "inspired": That it is His very Word, communicated on purpose to us, and that it is entirely true to the very last word. "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works" (2 Timothy 3:16-17). The inspiration of Scripture is fundamental; no one can deny it and still claim to be a Christian. To claim that the Bible is not God's Word is, in essence, to call the God of the Bible a liar. Faith cannot allow that.

For the Bible to be true and accurate, it must be divinely inspired! There is certainly plenty of evidence to support this view: Its exceptional unity, despite its diverse "authorship" (God authored all of it, of course, but used many different men in many different circumstances to pen the words [2 Peter 1:20-21]); its ability to change the lives of individuals for the better; its profound moral truth; its prophetic accuracy; and, certainly, so much more. An open-minded study of the Bible can leave no other conclusion.

The person of Jesus Christ is not a myth. He was a real human being (fully man and fully God—my finite mind can't understand that completely, either) who really lived, died, and rose again on this earth, as the Gospels record. The Holy Spirit, who lives within each Christian from the time of salvation, plays a role in revealing the truth of Scripture and of Christ to us.

This gives us so much more reason to make the study of Scripture an important and daily part of our lives.

Another way we learn about God is through general revelation: The Creation. What we observe in the Creation speaks of a Creator God Who designed it all for a divine purpose. We learn about that purpose in the Bible. A classic example of this: A person, walking on a hike through the woods, finds a watch. It is in working order, appears clean, and shows the correct time. Does the person conclude that the watch has lain there forever? Does the person conclude that the watch both came into being and "found its way there" by mere vagaries of chance? No. He concludes that not only did someone make the watch, but also that the watch was brought to that point (probably unintentionally, of course) by someone. He may not know all the details, but he knows that the watch did not get there by itself. The presence of design implies the existence of a designer. C.S. Lewis said,
“Suppose there were no intelligence behind the universe…In that case nobody designed my brain for the purpose of thinking. Thought is merely the by-product of some atoms within my skull. But if so, how can I trust my own thinking to be true? But if I can’t trust my own thinking, of course, I can’t trust the arguments leading to atheism, and therefore have no reason to be an atheist, or anything else. Unless I believe in God, I can’t believe in thought; so I can never use thought to disbelieve in God.” (From the book, p. 25; quoted from Broadcast Talks [London: 1946, p. 37-38])
God's revelation, particularly the special revelation of His Word, tells us much about God. No single blog entry or Sunday School lesson can do more than scratch the surface of Who God is. But several important worldview points stand out:
  • There is only one God. God makes this exceptionally clear in many passages, including Deuteronomy 4:35, 38; 1 Kings 8:60; Isaiah 45:5, 6, 14, 18, 22, and 46:9. He refers to Himself in Exodus 3:14 as the I AM THAT I AM. The very first of the Ten Commandments makes it very clear how we are to respond to this: "Thou shalt have no other gods before me" (Exodus 20:3).
  • God is a personal God. He has what we humans might refer to as "personality," though His bears only faint resemblance to our own. He communicates and reveals Himself to men, as the Scriptures indicate in many places.
  • The characteristics of God are found in the Bible. Again, entire books could be written on every one of these (and they have been), but they include: He is sovereign (Daniel 4:34-35); He is moral (note that there are many passages, for example, where He distinguishes between good and evil, or between right and wrong); He is longsuffering, patient, and faithful (1 Corinthians 1:9); He is a Trinity (Matthew 28:19); He is powerful (Genesis 1:1 speaks adequately to this); He is holy (Leviticus 11:44-45, quoted in 1 Peter 1:15-16); and He is a judge (2 Timothy 4:1; Hebrews 10:30).
  • And just an extra word about God being a judge:  The judgment of God is not a popular preaching topic.  But that doesn't matter:  The holiness of God necessitates the judgment of God.  His holy nature is antithetical to sin.  God must judge people because people are sinners.  God does not take pleasure in judgment (Ezekiel 33:11), but He must judge because He is holy (Jude 15).  Live, think, and act, knowing that the Judge sees you every moment.
  • God is a Redeemer.  This is the great promise to mankind, the reason we can all rejoice, since it means that our eternal destiny doesn't have to be condemnation in hell. God is a loving and merciful God, "not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9). His love is universal—available to all men and women of every nation, people, or demographic polling group. His love is gracious—He loved us "while we were yet sinners" (Romans 5:8), sending His Son to die for us. His love is sacrificial—God willingly gave His own Son (John 3:16-17) to die for us. His love is beneficial—both in the benefit of eternal fellowship with God in Heaven (Romans 6:23b) and in the earthly benefits we enjoy every day as His children.
These truths are not merely an academic review exercise in theology! Study them, to be sure, but remember that every day, you will think thoughts, make decisions, and take actions. Think, decide, and act based upon Who God is, what He has done and will do, and knowing that He is a Holy Judge. Let these impact your life totally.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Our Friends' Adoption: An Update

This summer friends of ours went to Russia and adopted a little boy, now four years old, with Down's Syndrome. Today "mom" updated her blog with uplifting photos of how well their new son is doing here in America. You can read about it here.

Of course, there are still a lot of challenges (take language, for example, and health), but it is a great blessing to see the willingness they have to cherish and raise up this little boy. Our prayers and encouragement go out to them.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Thinking Like a Christian: An Introduction

This Sunday, November 14, I will be beginning a series of lessons from the book Thinking Like a Christian by David Noebel. Each week I hope to add to this blog a summary of the lesson for those who are unable to attend Colonial Hills Baptist Church in Taylors, South Carolina, to hear it in person. The topic is of primary importance to Christians. The series will recess in January and, God-willing, be resumed later in 2012.

The introductory lesson discusses the importance of the topic. The textbook defines "worldview" as any ideology, philosophy, theology, movement, or religion that provides an overarching approach to understanding God, the world, and man's relationship to God and the world (p. 6). Furthermore, every worldview has an answer to the three most basic questions:
Where did we come from?
What's wrong with the world?
What is the solution to man's basic problems?
The worldview promoted by the book (and by me, of course) is biblical Christianity: The worldview that comes directly from the Word of God. It answers all three questions clearly, and does so in a way that offers hope and eternal security to every man and woman.

Everyone has a worldview. Most can't explain their own worldview clearly or concisely, but everyone has one. Many Christians today are not taught, and frequently do not even consider, the importance of thinking biblically...which is probably why most Christians are not functioning as salt and light, and most are having little influence on the world around them—some, sad to say, have little influence even among their own families and friends. Most Christians today are more impacted by the world's worldviews than by the Bible's. If we are to reach the world for Christ, this must change.

The textbook divides a biblical worldview into ten categories, around which the text and the lessons are organized:
We will forego any discussion of whether a more suitable organization exists, except to say that many of the topics do overlap in our world, and all are important for the Christian to understand and discern. I think this organization works well.

Each of these ten categories is addressed in the Bible. Each has ramifications in our own lives, and demands that we understand how to biblically interact with it. Each impacts the others, and each demands some basic assumptions about the nature of reality—the reality of the creation in which God has placed us. We will see in subsequent lessons that each of them is dealt with even in the earliest chapters of Genesis and throughout the Bible; furthermore, Christ is manifested in His Word as having significance in each area.

Once upon a time, America, for the most part, had a biblical worldview. That is clearly not the case today. Every topic in the list above, in our country today, is dominated or under attack from perspectives which eminate from non-biblical worldviews. We Christians lament this. But we shouldn't just whine and lament: We need to educate ourselves, our fellow Christians, and the world about what the Bible says on these things! Sure, the world needs Christ, and we need to share the Gospel with everyone, as Scripture clearly teaches. But we also need to be making clear what the Bible says about the other aspects of life; the Holy Spirit can use this kind of teaching, too, to impress upon the hearts of the unsaved the truth of His Word and the need of His salvation. Think of it as teaching the "all the counsel of God" (Acts 20:27).

1 Peter 3:15 says that we must "sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear." Understanding and having a Christian worldview will help you to do that. Remember, too: There is no difference between the sacred and the secular in the Christian's life; all of life is sacred to the Christian.

The other worldviews do not provide satisfaction. Colossians 2:4-8 reminds each of us that the "wisdom of this world" will "spoil" you—literally, it will carry you away captive! Only in Christ and His Word can mankind find joy and happiness, as well as a rational, adequate, and consistent explanation of reality. It doesn't require a Ph.D., nor immense intelligence. Even a child can understand the teachings of the Bible.

Learn the biblical worldview. Live it. Share it with others.