January 16, 2016

Catholic or Protestant?

617px-Lucas_Cranach_d.Ä._(Werkst.)_-_Porträt_des_Martin_Luther_(Lutherhaus_Wittenberg)

Portrait of Martin Luther (see endnote)

Monday, January 18, is the day we remember Martin King in the USA. It is appropriate, therefore, to remember also the historical figure for whom he was named. This is significant because he was never, in his public ministry, spoken of as Martin King he used his father’s name and they both used that of the great German Reformer – Martin Luther.

The question at the head of this article raises the matter of just exactly what was it that made Martin Luther, the Augustinian monk different from the rest of the Church of his day. Different enough so that he was eventually driven out of the Church because of his protest against her abuses. It was not the protest against abuse in itself. There had been many who were concerned about the way the clergy of the time were failing to lead the people in godliness.

Martin Luther, however, argued that the problem could be traced back to a lack of proper authority. While the teaching of the bible was reinterpreted by the self-same clergy there could be no real reform since interpretation was, in the mind of many, a matter of opinion. Let us be clear of what this means in today’s terms. The Church of Martin Luther’s day had no trouble affirming the infallibility of Scripture and its inerrancy. They believed very firmly that the authors of the various books were governed by God so that what they wrote was the very word of God. Where the problem came was in the area of the ordinary person’s ability to understand that word.

Martin and the other Reformers argued that not only was the word of God clear and thus able to be understood by the ordinary person, they set about translating it into the common tongue so they could read it for themselves. The final straw as far as the Catholics were concerned, however, came with the claim that the Scripture were all that a man needed in order to be saved from the wrath of God against sin. This last step, it was claimed, made the priesthood and the whole Catholic church redundant and, in a sense that was true. What was more significant was that it gave the ordinary man the ability to review what his priest said and see if it was, in fact, what God said.

That did not mean there was justification for setting aside the teaching of the church completely but it did mean that there was a standard by which the conflicting voices of pinion could be tested. That the Scriptures are clear implies that others will have reached the same conclusions about what it teaches as we do when we read. That they are all we need means that when a man disagrees with the clear, contextual, teaching of Scripture his opinion is not necessarily correct. Suddenly, throughout Europe there were many who wanted to read and discover for themselves what it was that God had to say and the Reformation was born.

It was not a coincidence that Martin Luther King challenged the wisdom of his age. It was common to argue that Africans were intended to be perpetual slaves to the descendants of Shem and Japheth. Even great commentators made this error in interpretation. As a preacher, Martin Luther King studied his Bible and discovered that it did not support such an interpretation. Jesus had come in order that all men should be free. There would no longer be distinctions of race in the house of God – not even those which God had instituted in the Old Testament. His dream of shared meals around a common table was based on that teaching of the Bible. As a result great progress has been made towards recognizing the unity of the family of God under his word.

Itis both Protestant and Catholic, Roman Catholic, to recognize that the Bible is inerrant and infallible. But it is the Protestant who places tradition under the authority of Scripture – who claims Scripture is our clear and sufficient guide to salvation. That is because the Protestant argues the Holy Spirit speaks clearly enough to us in the Bible so that we may be saved from condemnation if we but read it carefully, paying attention to what it says.

Portrait of Martin Luther: “Lucas Cranach d.Ä. (Werkst.) – Porträt des Martin Luther (Lutherhaus Wittenberg)” by Workshop of Lucas Cranach the Elder – The Bridgeman Art Library, Object 308462. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

September 15, 2013

Van Til

Underdog Theology video on Van Til

One of the best introductions to the significance of Cornelius Van Til’s contribution to apologetics I have heard. Thank you, Warren Cruz, for posting this video along with the many good things you post for our edification.

March 4, 2013

Another book on Creation

Here is a book review of a book which I think ought to be better known. One caution — the author writes for a Reformed audience. I think this is an error. The problem is waay more important than something which is confined to the Reformed branch of Christianity. Christians everywhere, of every denomination, who are concerned to be biblical in their belief and practice need to read and understand the message of this book. That, of course, assumes the review is accurate and I have no reason to believe it is not.

http://bylogos.blogspot.com/2013/02/refuting-figurative-genesis.html#more

February 8, 2013

Ten Myths about Calvinism

A review of the book by Kenneth J Stewart

As one who was a beneficiary of two streams which came from three of the earlier resurgences of Calvinism mentioned by Kenneth Stewart in the later part of his book, it is my pleasure to share a little about this book and explain why it is worth spending the time to read and (I believe) the money to buy. The three earlier resurgences he mentioned provided those influences which led me into the school of theology known as Reformed (or Calvinistic).

They were Abraham Kuyper’s influence in bringing together the two groups of Churches in the Netherlands to form the Gereformeerde Kerken in de Nederlands which in the early twentieth century led Dutch settlers in New Zealand1 to, eventually, form their own congregations. They had been encouraged to join with the Presbyterian Church in that country only to discover that there were ministers who were teaching contrary to the Scriptures. When their protests fell on deaf ears they sought to discover how this situation could have come about and why nothing seemed to be able to correct the problem. They asked help from the churches “back home” in the Netherlands and discovered the problem was the 1901 Declaratory Act which had allowed ministers and elders to subscribe to the Westminster Confession but believe that the Bible was not the word of God but that it “contained the Word of God.”

The second of those resurgences was the upheaval which took place in the Presbyterian Church in America which led J Gresham Machen and several others to form Westminster Theological Seminary and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.2 When the dutch folk in New Zealand went looking for ministers to help fill their pulpits they wanted to do more than merely provide ministers from the GKN, they wanted to be a truly New Zealand Church and so they sought to find Presbyterian ministers who would help them be more in line with the views of New Zealanders. The men from the OPC who came to New Zealand added their doctrinal views (based on the Westminster Standards) to those of the GKN ministers (the Three Forms of Unity). The denomination took the official stand that the Westminster Confession would be added to the Three Forms to become the doctrinal standards of the new Church. It was a bold move which has not always made life easy but it has helped the New Zealand Church appreciate both the continental and also the Scottish streams of Reformed theology.

If the former were influences on the Church in which I first met the doctrines of grace, the third resurgence was an influence on me personally, as it encouraged growth in the faith. This was the brought about by the Banner of Truth Trust books and a few (way too brief) meetings with Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones and others of the trust. As a member of the New Zealand Armed Forces I traveled enough to learn that God had reformed-thinking people in denominations and places where we might least expect them.3 I was, for a time, a Christian book seller who gained great benefit from the policy of the Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing house of charging only for books sold. This gave access to all the wonderful reprints of men who wrote before the turn of the century as well as some of the best of American writers in the Reformed tradition. As one, therefore, nurtured in the traditions of the Puritans, the Continental Reformed and Presbyterians (both Scottish and American) it has been a pleasure to read Kenneth Stewart’s book and find in it the same concerns that modern Christians develop an appreciation of the breadth of our heritage.

The one place in the book where I felt Mr Stewart failed to completely achieve his goal of dispelling the ten myths he set out to examine was in the section dealing with Calvinism and Art.4 The flaw is not in what he says but that he does not include enough in his purview as art. The Calvinist is not just accused of iconoclastic views, with respect to paintings and sculptures, which warp his sense of art but, in spite of the fact that much of modern Church music came from the Reformation, that his view of music is lacking. It was commonly argued that excessive syncopation and (in some circles) even harmony was unfitting for Church music. Art however involves much more than painting, sculpturing and music. It would have been good to see how Mr Stewart dealt with the theatrical arts (and hypocrisy) adornments and embellishments on housing and furniture and even the way printers modified the shapes of the lettering in the printing process. Or how about the change in the way painters (like Vermeer, Constable, Turner and so on) saw art as representational or how how the Reformation changed the way fictional stories were written.

In spite of this flaw, however, this is a book which delivers what it sets out to do, both in terms of its dispelling the myths it describes and encouraging a broader understanding of our Reformed heritage. In all fairness it has to be said that even the chapter dealing with art provides enough information to show the charge against the Reformed is greatly exaggerated and in most cases refers only to art in the Churches. We too seldom appreciate the significance of the encouragement given by the Reformers to art in the home and in public places. Second to providing good information which leads to further study (and, yes, Mr Stewart even makes some worthwhile suggestions in that direction) is the ability to ask thought-provoking questions of the reader. Certainly the last question in this chapter on the arts is a challenge to any thoughtful Christian of our era.5

His dealing with the four myths perpetrated by Calvinists is well done. He certainly manages to convince the reader that, as Calvinists, we do seem to have a poor record when it comes to dealing with extreme versions of our tradition. This writer found it a little difficult at times to decide whether the use, say, of a term like “High Calvinism” was a synonym for “Hypercalvinism,” a replacement for “consistent Calvinist” or a way that opponents use to refer to those who “believe all five points of Calvinism.” Sometimes, surely, our difficulty in dealing with the extreme versions of Calvinism is that – on investigation – some of those extremists are more difficult to pin down than we first thought. Then, too, the very breadth of Calvinistic thought allows for faulty expressions which others find implication in which were never really intended. Perhaps the most useful result of reading Mr Stewart’s contribution to this discussion is the way he brings to mind details not contained in the book itself but which corroborate his arguments. This process is consolidated by the questions at the end of each chapter which give an opportunity for sharing some of these insights with others, when used as a study guide. In this writer’s opinion it is well suited for such a role.

For me, personally, the chapter I enjoyed the most was the one dealing with the TULIP acrostic. The historical journey back to the Canons of the Synod of Dordt was a delight, especially for one for whom both the Westminster Standards and the Three Forms were the common fare in the Church. In discussions with Arminians it has quite often been a frustration that they “know” exactly what the letters of the acrostic say. They know all the evil implications of the words (all of which are found in the conclusion to the Canons)6 but actually know little of what Calvinists really believe. If they are prepared to listen and learn – which occasionally happens – it has been my experience that a good way to explain the Reformed Faith (or the doctrines of grace) to them has been to take them through the Canons of Dordt’s teaching. It truly is a better way to help explain the gospel than to use the approach suggested by TULIP. The acrostic may be helpful in certain situations (say for a quick check on where the conversation has reached in what you are trying to say) but it is better, and more often than not more natural, to take the time and explain in detail what we actually believe are the implications as well as the hallmarks of the Reformed Faith. One wise man once told me it was not necessary to cover the whole of the Bible’s teaching in one meeting. Likewise, if the person you are talking to wants to change the conversation, do so. Evangelism is not a sales pitch. It’s answering questions about why we believe as we do. When the answer has been given, unless the person wants more information (in which case they will ask) be quiet and let the Holy Spirit do his work. Our aim is not to win a debate it is to bring the person to love our God and serve him. And the acrostic does not do that at all well, it encourages a sales pitch or (worse) even a confrontational approach. It does not lend itself well to presenting an easy-to-grasp picture of the doctrines it is supposed to represent – hence the reason so many conference speakers have to modify that names of some of the five points.

The good thing about using the Canons is that the origin of the five points in the Remonstrance can be explained first. This approach allows a serious student to research those five points and begin to see the real problem that led to Christ’s death on our behalf – the real effects of sin. The problem is that discussions on the basis of the TULIP acrostic often lead to unnecessary confrontation and, then in order to defend the five points, there is little place for the equally Calvinistic emphases on the need for evangelism, the responsibility of repentance and faith and even the place of the Law in guiding the life of the believer. For the Arminian who happens to be a Christian these are clearly taught in the Bible and to deny them (by our silence) only reinforces his (false) idea that we do not believe in these things. If the only result of reading this book is that it makes the reader aware that stating the doctrines of TULIP is an inadequate way to explain to those of other traditions what is distinctive about Calvinism then Kenneth Stewart will have done a great job of helping Christendom begin to repair the unity which should obtain between Christians of the Protestant Church.

The six myths which are attributed to Calvinists cover a broad range of topics from missions, the role of the Law in the life of the believer, theocracy, creative arts, gender equality and racial inequality. All but the one mentioned above are well done and that one was certainly dealt with persuasively. None of the charges laid against the Reformed faith are new, nor are the answers to the charges. Where Kenneth Stewart is beneficial is in the way his argument is brought together. He threads his way through the subjects and neatly avoids giving unfair criticism to either detractor or defender. It is a masterful example of how a strong case can be made without causing unnecessary offense.

It is the writer’s hope, however, that this book will be like Calvin’s Institutes. Designed to explain the truth about the doctrines taught among those of his subjects who were Protestant, in answer to the calumnies and distortions currently circulating about those beliefs the small booklet grew until it became a really useful compendium of truth. Perhaps a more extended version could include some discussion of the way the Reformed handle key texts which are germane to the myth. This could be useful since it is often alleged that the Reformed need to twist the plain meaning of Scripture to find support for their views. This writer, for one, will be interested in any new offering from the pen of Kenneth J Stewart.

1Recovering our Bearings pp. 281-2. It was the results of Kuyper’s work which gave these immigrants a solid basis in the Reformed Faith. Even as late as 1980, nearly a hundred years later, new immigrants from the GKN still has a tendency to view Scripture as the very Word of God. The importance of a biblical Church home where God was honored, the role of Christian schools and even integrity in politics was a continuing legacy of this work.

2Loc. cit. p. 279. The OPC men have, with their ability to get to the heart of the issue, been a perfect foil to the tendency of New Zealanders in the Church to compromise. Their Presbyterian background has made the Church less of a imported religion and more one with which New Zealand-born church members can relate. Their presence was vital while the young church was getting onto its feet and, especially after the changes which have taken place in the GKN and the CRC in the past 25 years, has enabled them to accept that new ties can be forged where the concern of all is for the truth of Scripture.

3Loc. cit. pp. 274-76. Involvement in this movement (even though it was towards the end) gave an insight into the Reformed faith that Mr Stewart’s book may well make available to others who have not had this benefit. There is a tendency to view the less-than-perfect presentations of the gospel of the non-Reformed Christians as being no presentation at all. Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones used to call this “a most subtle form of legalism.” Clarity in presenting the gospel is important but a breadth of vision helps us avoid arrogance – an important element often lacking in the young convert.

4Myth Eight “Calvinism undermines the creative arts.” loc. Cit. Pp 197-217.

5“In Western societies, at least, illiteracy has been virtually eradicated, and yet, if anything, moderns are more likely than a generation ago to draw their ideas from images (whether photographic or cinematic). Discuss this persistence of the image in the forming of opinion and conviction.” p. 216

6That the doctrine of the Reformed Churches concerning predestination, and the points annexed to it, by its own genius and necessary tendency, leads off the minds of men from all piety and religion; that it is an opiate administered by the flesh and the devil; and the stronghold of Satan, where he lies in wait for all, and from which he wounds multitudes, and mortally strikes through many with the darts both of despair and security; that it makes God the author of sin, unjust, tyrannical, hypocritical; that it is nothing more than an interpolated Stoicism, Manicheism, Libertinism, Turcism; that it renders men carnally secure, since they are persuaded by it that nothing can hinder the salvation of the elect, let them live as they please; and, therefore, that they may safely perpetrate every species of the most atrocious crimes; and that, if the reprobate should even perform truly all the works of the saints, their obedience would not in the least contribute to their salvation; that the same doctrine teaches that God, by a mere arbitrary act of his will, without the least respect or view to any sin, has predestinated the greatest part of the world to eternal damnation, and has created them for this very purpose; that in the same manner in which the election is the fountain and cause of faith and good works, reprobation is the cause of unbelief and impiety; that many children of the faithful are torn, guiltless, from their mothers’ breasts, and tyrannically plunged into hell: so that neither baptism nor the prayers of the Church at their baptism can at all profit them” – Canons of Dordt, Conclusion.

December 23, 2012

There but for the grace of God …

I remember reading someone’s comment that it is the height of bad taste to use the tragedy at Newtown CT for political or religious profit. At the time I understood the concern of the person to ensure sufficient weight was allowed to the nature of the tragedy and the reality of the grief which the survivors would undergo. Such concern is still valid but something also has to be said about the implications both political and religious for those who were not personally involved in the event.

 

Politically, the debate over safety in the classroom has followed predictable lines. Truly, any decisions taken over the increased (or otherwise) control of firearms in this country should be unaffected by the tragedy. The arguments should have been valid whether it never occurred or that it actually did. It is still true, for example, that making it harder for people to get weapons will lessen the mortality rate among disputants and it is still true that regulations are mostly effective among law-abiding citizens – who would not have committed the crime in any case. It cheapens the value of the lives of those who died to use them merely as pawns in an argument which should be taken on principle. Were the framers of the constitution right or wrong in granting the citizenship the right to bear arms? If they were wrong, consequent history notwithstanding, they were wrong. If they were right then again they were right regardless of consequent history.

 

Religiously there are two major errors to avoid. The first is that this tragedy is of greater importance than it really is. It is no greater, in God’s eyes, than calling someone a fool or manipulating the economy to put money in one’s own pocket while making thousands of people destitute or forcing a business to close which employed many hard working people in order to show the nation that one form of arbitration is more effective than another. The degree of suffering inflicted may merit a greater degree of punishment in Hell but all the above deserve Hell as their final destination. While *we* make a distinction between the rebellion against God implicit in raising the hand against God’s image-bearer, he considers (what we consider to be less tragic manifestations of that rebellion) as equally sinful. It is sin – in all its forms – which merit the punishment of eternal death. God has decided the final destiny of all those who died – the innocent and the guilty. It is more a tragedy that people suffer the results of their rebellion against God than that their time on this earth is cut short. Enoch lived about a third of the time of his contemporaries – and it was a tragedy to his family … but it was not for Enoch.

The second error to avoid is that of thinking that because someone does not believe in God they are not subject to his Law. The Bible makes it clear that when we accuse someone of breaking the law and do the same thing it is a reflection of the Law of God written on our hearts. The intensity of upset about the event shows that Americans in general (and others around the world too) know that murder is wrong. They show that they recognize doing harm to those who deserve nothing but our compassion and help is contrary to man’s nature. But this is a Christian concept. It is based on the Law of God. If we espouse the doctrine of evolution, for example, survival is only the right of the fittest. And, in a world where killing of the weaker and defenseless is commonplace we should not be at all upset by the death of the young UNLESS there is a distinction between man and the animals. Such a distinction is denied by those who believe in deterministic evolution based on natural selection.

In Christian belief there is a final judgment coming which all will face. Christians are (sadly) not as good at warning their non-Christian neighbors of the implications of that fact. The killings in Newtown bring us very near to a general recognition of the need for such a judgment where the wicked will get what they have earned. The problem is that we are very good at imagining we will, of necessity, be excluded from that group. We have forgotten the truth in the old Puritan saying when observing a criminal receiving his just punishment: “There but for the grace of God, go I.” God always deals justly and fairly with the wicked and we all begin in that category. Whether you remain in that category depends on your relationship to the Messiah of God. That is where the real investigation should arise from this event. We are all as bad, in principle, as the young killer – we have all broken God’s Law – so the question to be decided is how can we do something to avoid the like punishment. For the answer to that question, you need to talk about to someone who has discovered what the Bible has to say about it.

August 24, 2010

Dr James White

Dr James White, of Alpha and Omega Ministries, speaking at the God and Culture Conference (see below), began his first address by making the statement that our society is in the process of collapse because it has rejected God’s Law. Taking I Peter 3:8-18 as his theme he spoke on what he called the classic proof text for apologetics, making the point that because of the state of society a clear understanding of the discipline is even more important in our era than it was in the time of Peter.

It was his contention that it is a blessing to society when there is a clear-speaking Christian Church. The moral obligations of the Old Testament are still relevant, he said. The tongue, he said, reveals clearly what is in our hearts. “Who is there to harm you,” he quoted, “if you are zealous for God?” Do not fear their intimidation, (verse 14) he said, that is a part of the enemy’s great strategy. If we are afraid we can easily question whether it is wise to speak out against abuses of God’s name or character. The way to overcome the intimidation, he added, is to sanctify Christ in your hearts as Lord. This led to the first of a series of explanations of the use of the Greek language of the text. Sanctify means in this context to consider Jesus Christ as holy, set aside by God to be the Messiah. Lord (the word kurios) is often used in the Old Testament to refer to the Messiah or to Jesus as the second person of the trinity.

He spoke further of the need for the church  to be concerned with the holiness of God. Being willing to treat him with reverence is the beginning of apologetics. Part of the problem with modern evangelicalism is they assume a to familiar attitude when it comes to their dealings with God. He referred at this point to Isaiah 29:23. Another part is treating God as if he is the answer to a human problem – like a product from the local supermarket needed to make your life complete. He then quoted one of his elders as saying “What you win them with is what you win them to.”  Then he spoke of the person to whom the “defense” is to be made: the one who asks. Our apologetic, he said, is colored by our view of the gospel. Attitude to Christ leads to humility not just within ourselves but also with respect to the person who asks about our hope.

August 24, 2010

God and Culture Conference

The opening speaker, Christopher Brooks, a local pastor, introduced the importance of apologetics in the present age referring to several types of attack on the Church’s teachings and beliefs.

He raised the question of why we need to defend the Bible which he then answered by referring to two claims made by the Christian Church. First that they claim the Bible is right and true (citing Psalm 33:4 ) and second that Christ commissioned his disciples to have their followers obey all that he had commanded (Matt. 28:19,20). Add the fact that the Christian Church claims that Jesus is the only way to be made right with God and the necessity is made clear.

He dealt with a series of problems some people have with the bible under two headings:
Objections – 
a) Evidential. One of the chief objections here is that there is no historical support for the text of the Bible. Some claim that the text has been tampered with over the years. In answer he made the following claims:  First there is a remarkable consistency in the manuscripts written within the first few centuries. Of the 25,000 manuscripts there are only a very few differences and most of those are of no significance. 
Then textual criticism has demonstrated the consistency. It is possible to choose the very worst readings and still not change any major points of doctrine. He encouraged the attendees to study to master textual criticism because it is this discipline which has verified the accuracy of the Bible translations we have today. 
He also made the point that archaeology can be very useful in regard to the accuracy of the text of the Bible as has been demonstrated by the Hittite debate and some arguments about the accuracy of Luke’s writings.

He explained how textual criticism can be used to recover the original text by referring to a supposed letter which may have been written from one of the conference speakers to another. If it had been copied by each member of the conference and the original destroyed it would still be possible to be about 99.6% certain about the content of the original letter.

The second Evidential objection was the claim, often made, that there are errors and contradictions in the Bible. He suggested that the best way to deal with such claims is to ask the maker to prove it. Often the claims rest on hear-say. But it is still important to do your research and know your answers. The notes in the Bible should be read. Sometimes the problem is a variation of the text. But, either way, the most important rule to remember is that every text should be read in its context. Then, differences do not necessarily imply contradiction – consider the feeding of the 5000 and the feeding of the 4000. Two different events. And sometimes the difference may be the viewpoint of the writer.
b) Ethical.  Pastor Brooks spoke at some length about the ethical problems making reference to the differences between, for example, Biblical institutions like slavery and that which was prevalent in the USA in the early days. He compared the way Paul spoke of Philemon and to those of the Church who were slaves (Eph. 6:5-9) with the way the Old Testament spoke of the institution in Exodus 21:1-11. But, he said, listen to the way the person talks as he raises the ethical questions because the heart of the argument is often a clear indicator to the heart of the person.

The second ethical question he raised was that of homosexuality. The first point he made was that, far from the common perception, many homosexuals desperately want to be free from the practice. Secondly Christianity is an equal opportunity condemner! All sin is condemned no matter what kind. Those involved in sexual sins are as guilty before God’s Law as those who are embezzlers or murderers. Further, since this is true all sinner can be saved. In fact in I Corinthians 6 Paul speaks of some in the Church who used to be involved in many differents sins but now have been saved.

All humans can be recipients of the same love and because of that can receive the benefit of the Holy Spirit. Christians should not pick on any one particular type of sin as more heinous than others. They are required to recognize a higher moral authority.

His final point was that what is needed today, however, is not great debaters but great missionaries.

April 29, 2010

Instant Conversions

I was checking for a definition of Easy Believism for an article I was writing for the examiner when I ran across this gem of a description from an evangelist with the Cork Free Presbyterian Church. It contains one version of the process which I had heard of but never seen explained. A second article had two preachers role play the process which made the concept clearer. A third example put the whole thing in the context of what the writer called Easy Christianity.

One thing all the examples have in common is the idea that “Instant” conversion is not only possible it is to be expected. That it’s all like the making of Instant tea or coffee. Just “add hot water” and the tea or coffee will be as good as if it were brewed the traditional way. I am not sure if that is true of tea and coffee but I am certain it is not true of conversion. It’s not a case of “add …” and the sinner will become just as genuine a believer as if converted the traditional way.

Conversion involves three aspects (at least) of the man – the mind, the emotions and the will. There must be a clear understanding of what is involved – that means the unbeliever must see what danger he stands in as a sinner in the hands of an angry God, he must understand that something must be done if he is to escape. It is essential in this case for the sinner to know as certainty that there is nothing he can do to for himself.  There ought to be, alongside that, fear for his safety, shame over his failure to do anything good and disgust for the effects of sin in his life. Then, finally, there has to be a determination to find a way to avoid the punishment and a willingness to do whatever is required no matter how difficult. If those elements are not present there is (ordinarily speaking) no way the person is even ready to hear the Gospel.

How do we tell when these elements are present? The Bible indicates that the sinner comes and not only asks for help but is insistent that they must have it. Bartimaeus called out to Jesus that he might be healed – when those around him told him to be quiet he ignored them. Even when brought to Jesus he was not prepared to give up unless Jesus blessed him. The Canaanite woman was prepared to accept an insulting description of her status if her daughter could be made whole, turning the description around so that helping her would be justified. The examples could be multiplied.

Now consider the most common form of this “Instant Conversion” system – a tract which contains a series of short statements, asks the reader to say a short prayer “from the heart” and then they will be saved. Visit many modern Churches and such tracts are found in the book racks The attempt is well-meant but fails because it can be and often is used without any real understanding of the implications. No understanding by the sinner means little emotional involvement and finally no likely determination to see it through. The sad thing is that in order for the tract to be (at least) Biblical in intent is for the last step to be dropped off and the reader to be encouraged to contact someone who can help their understanding of the words they have read.

One is often left wondering, if this is the best way to bring sinners to repentance, why Jesus sent the Apostles out preaching rather than having them write tracts. Perhaps the traditional method of evangelism, by spending time with the sinner; learning to know them, earning the right to show them their danger, responding with the Gospel when they show evidence the Holy Spirit is prompting them to find out how to be saved and letting them see we are still Christians even though we are not perfect is too slow for the modern Church.

But, then the traditional way would not give an “instant result” – and, therefore, miss the point completely.

April 26, 2010

Intelligent Design

Philosophically speaking, the phrase “intelligent Design” is used as a part of the discussion of the “proofs for the existence of God.” Of the many proofs mentioned in a Wikipedia Entry the following are the “proofs” usually referred to in philosophy:

Cosmological proof – This is the argument from cause and effect. It seeks to demonstrate that since for every effect there has to be a sufficient cause, in order to explain the existence of the universe (the effect) requires a god (the sufficient cause).

Ontological proof – This argument claims there is always something greater than what we presently know. This approach, therefore, attempts to prove that no matter how great a being we can imagine that being must have existence because to have existence is to have a greater quality than merely being imagined.

Transcendental proof – The existence of reason and logic suggests that such things could not have come into existence by accident or chance. This argument seeks to demonstrate that, with the application of rigorous logic it is impossible to believe that god could not exist and that, therefore god does exist.

Moral proof – This argument is based on the idea that all men have an inbuilt moral understanding. It seeks to demonstrate that there are certain universally accepted rules for moral behavior and that, therefore, there has to be a lawgiver. That lawgiver is god.

Teleological proof – This is the argument which derives from evidence of design in the natural world. It seeks to show that such design has to have a planner and that planner or designer is god.

The problem with all these “proofs” (and the reason the god they demonstrate has not been listed here with a capital letter) is they only demonstrate a god may exist. It is still necessary to demonstrate that such a god is, in fact, the God of the Bible. Recent apologists using this approach have been quick to use the new scientific evidence that is being accumulated to show that intelligent design is a very persuasive argument for the existence of God.

An interview at New Saint Andrews University in Moscow, Idaho, with Dr Michael Behe makes this point very well. He is a scientist involved in the study of cellular construction. During the question and answer session following his (short) presentation, he made the point that it is clear there is evidence of complex design in even the smallest cells of nature, thus making it extremely difficult to believe that there was ever such a thing as a “simple” cell. The problem, he said, with modern Darwinian evolution is that attention to detail seems to be constantly disproving the structure on which the theory is built.

From this he demonstrated that proof of intelligent design, in and of itself, does not prove the existence of the God of the Bible. It makes the argument more persuasive, but there are other alternatives which have been offered. When a scientist uses the term intelligent design, therefore, he is not speaking philosophically nor is he necessarily a Christian.

The interview is well worth listening to because it clarifies our thinking. The reason people do not see the hand of God in nature is not because they are unable to. It is because sin makes them deny they do. All of which means that the use of the intelligent design argument in apologetics is still useful but, if you are going to use it, remember the limitations.

Oh, and an interesting aside. I noticed in the Wikipedia article that they acknowledged God’s intervention in history (recorded in the Jewish Scriptures) and the witnesses to Christ’s resurrection (recorded in the New Testament) are used as proofs for the existence of God. Being taken from the Bible, of course, these have the greatest weight for the Christian.

April 15, 2010

Evolution and the Bible

Why, we may ask, is it necessary to see the evolution vs creation debate as significant? In fulfilling the Great Commission we are called upon to wake the world to the dangers that face them at the end of time. That these dangers are real and will affect every person in this “space and time continuum” is a matter of truth or it is ridiculous.

We believe the resurrection was a physically verifiable event – that it was historical and that it was witnessed by hundreds who testified what they had seen, in their day. We believe there was an historical event known as the great flood of Noah and that the only reason another has not occurred is that God is a keeper of his word, and he promised it would never happen again.

So what about evolution? Here are some of the implications, taken from Reformation21. The main point is perfectly valid. Who is the final authority for the Christian? The God of the Bible. And he talks of creation, not evolution. So what about the claim that we must give in to the assured results of the scientific community?

Two things: First: the scientific community, even among evolutionists is not united about the facts on which the theory rests (oops – sorry, I keep forgetting they like to call it a fact now!) Second: there is a well- researched alternative approach which fits the facts into a creation model. There are at least two website you ought to be familiar with if you take Rick Philips’ post (above) seriously. The first is the popular language Answers in Genesis site and the second the more technically oriented Institute for Creation Research site.

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