Wednesday, March 5, 2014

A Mistaken View of Love

Dr. William Lane Craig’s recent podcast entitled “A Mistaken View of Love” can be found here. Please listen to it. I used the same title here because while he answers a mistaken view of love, he does so while himself holding a mistaken view of love.

The mistaken view of love that he addresses is summed up in the statement, “Love is not a feeling; love is a decision.”

The idea that he counters with is that a full and mature love will involve affection. He points out that “the Bible affirms that God has genuine compassion.” Instead of supporting this by citing where the Bible says this, however, he points out the etymology of the English word, “compassion”. He says that the word means to “have feeling with the other person; to be connected with that other person emotionally.” He says that instead of “saying that love is not an emotion, maybe what we should be saying is love is not merely an emotion.”

He, of course, attributes the mistaken view of love he is answering to Calvinists, legalists, and Muslims. This may be the case with Muslims. The category of legalism is too broad to pin something like this on. There are legalistic charismatics or semi-pelagians, for example. His idea of Calvinism is that a fully sovereign God is too harsh a concept. It goes to show that he doesn’t fully understand Calvinism.

But perhaps he has God’s impassibility in mind. This is a disputed doctrine, even among Calvinists, that essentially says that God is not motivated by passion. That is to say that God doesn’t experience emotion like his creatures do. This excludes, obviously, the incarnated Son of God in his humanity. The Bible typically anthropomorphizes God. In descriptions of God, we see that he has hands, eyes, a heart, a face, wings like a hen, breath, etc. Descriptions of emotion attributed to God are likewise probably anthropomorphisms as well.

The reason I say that is because we know today that emotions involve physical functions. We are walking chemical factories producing hormones and endorphins that generate emotional states that were created to drive appropriate actions. Because of the fall, our emotional states are often inappropriate for specific situations. When we are wronged, for example, a heightened anxiety level may produce anger that if acted upon will cause us to fail to be gracious. While fear of social repercussions may drive us to refrain from acting inappropriately on this anger, the proper way is to deny the emotion based on a desire for God and his will to be done over and against our own will. Because we are in an inappropriate state of emotion, this must be disimpassioned. It is rather trust in God’s steadfast love over and against passion that allows us to behave lovingly for others.

So in some respect love is a decision in that acting in love often requires a decision. But I also agree with Craig that it is more than a decision. In a perfect world, it will involve appropriate emotional responses. But this isn’t a perfect world. So what is love and what is its relationship to emotion?

Let me discuss emotion first. It’s a woefully vague word that typically lacks nuance. When we use the word, we typically think of our own personal experience with emotion. Since our emotions are temporal, we typically don’t have the capacity to feel all emotions simultaneously. When we feel a couple of competing emotions at the same time we are often left confused and befuddled. But our experience with emotions is that we are both motivated by them and wrestle against the way inappropriate ones would motivate us to behave. God doesn’t have this problem because isn’t motivated by temporal emotions. Emotions in some limited way, however, are a picture of some of God’s attributes. While God is not motivated by emotions, he is motivated by his attributes. But all of his attributes are eternally unified. That means that God loves and hates all at once; that he is merciful and wrathful all at once; that he is gracious and just all at once. It’s hard for us to understand the fullness of this truth because we possess fallen, limited minds.

And so the love of God is no mere emotion. All of his other attributes are wrapped up in it; All of them. So it’s reasonable that he is impassable. That brings me to the definition of love. It isn’t a decision, although it results in decisions over and against wayward emotions. It isn’t an emotion because it can be wielded most effectively when not motivated by some emotional attachment. Jesus talked about this in Matthew 5:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48, ESV)

So loving when we lack an emotional motive for doing so is likened here to “being perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect.” Chew on that for a while.

But it still doesn’t fully define love. The famous John 3:16 hints at the definition:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16, ESV)

God’s love involves the giving of his Son. How did he give his Son? As a sacrifice. Love involves sacrifice. Paul admonishes husbands in Ephesians 5 to “love your wives, and Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…” How did Christ give himself up for the church? He died on the cross as a sacrifice to atone for her sins. Husbands are called to love their wives by living sacrificially for them. But John came out with a clear statement about love in John 15:

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13, ESV)

So love necessarily involves sacrifice. But here we also see that that sacrifice is not for oneself, but that it is for someone else. I like the way my pastor phrases it. He defines love as seeking someone else’s best interest above your own. This definition of love is far deeper than the decision to sacrifice for someone or that it will involve some emotional attachment. It goes against the idea that we should compete against others so that we can be winners while everyone else is losers. It means that we should be willing to lose so that someone else can “win”; that they can receive all the benefit. And it means that we will do that for our enemies as well. Tough love is used to refer to being hard on someone because you know it is good for them. True love is tougher because it requires us to be hard on ourselves because it’s good for someone who doesn’t deserve a good thing.

And none of us are capable of doing that without living in the power of Christ who did that for us.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Pros and Cons of an iPhone versus a Droid – and God is Sufficient For All Our Needs

A few years ago I got my first smartphone. It was a Blackberry Storm. I enjoyed it although it had some quirks. Occasionally, you had to pull the battery so that the memory would reset. So when it came time to renew, I upgraded to a Droid 3 by Motorola. It was a good upgrade at the time. It worked well and did far more than the Storm. Additionally, you didn’t have to remove the battery to reset the memory. Frankly, all you had to do was wait until the battery died, which wasn’t long. Fair enough, though. It didn’t last much less than the battery on the Storm. The Droid3, however, still allowed me to pull the battery if only to make myself feel better. I liked the hardware keyboard that slid out.

I discovered the problem a few months after I got the phone. The Droid 3 and another Droid phone would no longer receive Android OS upgrades. Sure, you could jailbreak it and install the upgrades yourself with some trouble, but that would void the warranty. I had hoped for the fix to some bugs, but to no avail. Both Motorola and Google have been unhelpfully silent. I can imagine the confidential meetings with each one pointing the finger at the other:

Motorola: “You didn’t make upgrades that were compatible with some of our phones!”
Google: “Your phones are too crappy for our software!”

So who gets jammed? The customers.

For the most part, I’ve enjoyed my Droid aside from a few stupid quirks. I’ve also turned my nose up at Apple products. I like having control over my computing devices. I don’t like being subject to the whims of a company who has me subject to their proprietary software. I like to be able to open up a computer or device and change hardware, install custom software without any hassle, etc. if you want to program for your Apple, you need to purchase a license. So get an iPhone? No thanks.

During this time, my wife has been through a Droid and a couple of iPhones. She has an iPhone 5 now and still had an iPhone 4 that was in good condition. The battery on the Droid 3 is dying. I could shell out $80 or so for another battery, but the keyboard is wearing out and the Android software is old and buggy with no hope of an upgrade. I also noticed that my wife and kids were Facetiming each other. (My kids have iPod Touches.) At a loss for which new phone I should go with, my wife suggested I try her old iPhone 4 to see how it compares. Now that I’ve had it for a couple of days...

...I’ve been making a short list of pros and cons:

Platform: The iOS has been bug-free so far. It’s made for Apple products and Apple products for the iOS. Any problem and you have only Apple to blame. So they make it work, and it works well according to plan. You can count on the iPhone getting the latest updates. You can’t count on a Droid getting the latest updates.

Speed: One of the more frustrating things about the Droid/Android is that when the memory even thinks about getting full, it loses all kinds of speed. I would sit there and repeatedly punch the Back key waiting for an app to close as though repeatedly punching it would make it move faster. I knew how slow it was by how many times I punched it before it decided to close. Occasionally, it would even freeze completely. Even turning it off was impossible. What did I do? Pull the battery. I haven’t had this issue with the iPhone yet.

Battery: The life of a normally functioning battery is probably about the same. The benefit of the Droid3 is that you can actually change it yourself. iPhone? Nope. Take it in and pay someone else to change the battery. Most smartphones are going to non-removable batteries anyway, so it’s not just the iPhone.

Memory: The iOS has a feature that I enjoyed on the Blackberry: you can easily shut down background programs and clear out memory. Android will let you see the programs after waiting several seconds for it to find them all. You can try to shut them down. You might be successful; you might not. If you are successful, the Android software just might start it back up again.

Additional memory: I like the fact that I could add or swap out supplemental memory cards. Not every Droid has this, but mine does. And I used it plenty.

Battery heat: Because the memory can be kept clean, the iPhone seems like it runs cooler than the Droid3. I knew when my battery was draining quickly because it would heat up like a skillet on my hip. I could cook supper on my Droid if the battery lasted long enough. You don’t need an app for that. It’s built into the system. All the Droids together might be able to melt the polar ice caps.

Apps: I was concerned that I would have to pay for a lot of iPhone apps. Nope. All my favorites, or similar ones, are still free. There are some I found that were even better than the apps for the Droid. So both are free and the iPhone apps seem to work better.

Syncing: I despise iTunes. I always have and unless something changes, I always will. I liked being able to sync music without converting half of my library on the Droid. I liked being able to sync without making copies of the songs I want to sync into a separate folder. Additionally, I like having direct access to the file system. Since I don’t have that on the iPhone, that’s one big thing that Droid has over iPhone. On the Droid, I didn’t have to sync to put songs on my phone. I could drop music directly into the directory on the phone and it was there when I switched the USB connection back over to “charge only”.

Facetime: Google Talk didn’t work. Every time I turned on background data I was pestered with messages saying that Google Talk couldn’t initialize. I didn’t have anyone to talk to on Google Talk anyway. I tried to get Google Talk to work if only so that I wouldn’t get that error message all the time. I sought help from Motorola and Google. No help. Meanwhile, my wife and kids were Facetiming each other. As soon as I set up my Apple account Facetime worked. Imagine that. Now I can pester my daughter when she’s doing her homework:

Me: “Hi, Hope!”
Hope: “Dad, I’m just in the other room.”

Virtual keyboard: I like a hardware keyboard. I’m always mistyping on the soft keyboard. But the iPhone’s soft keyboard seems to be a little easier for my big fingers than the Android’s soft keyboard. I might be able to live with it.

So, the iPhone is looking like a strong option. It’s not looking good for the Droid overall.

But that brings me to another issue. Sometimes we treat God like a smartphone.

We look for churches like we shop for phones, or cars, or houses… or even spouses these days. We like God as long as he works. But the moment he stops doing what we think he should be doing, we question whether our fidelity has been misplaced.

It’s only human nature to expect whatever god we worship to provide what we expect. In ancient days in the Middle East, tribes would take their gods into battle. The victor would demonstrate by winning that their god was the best. Tribes that were particularly victorious often had trophy rooms where they stored the gods they had conquered. It’s kind of like the drawer full of old phones that you’ve replaced because they weren’t good enough for you anymore.

But the true God of the Bible isn’t like these false gods. He didn’t need to be taken into battle per se. He went before his people. Sometimes he promised success in battle. Sometimes he promised that his people would be defeated for their lack of obedience so that they would come to a place where they would cry out for him in their need. Sometimes he called for difficult times, not because his people were disobedient, but precisely because they were obedient. And he used the difficult time his people went through in order to accomplish a much greater purpose that was not understood by his people at the time.

When we go through difficulties, we are not to treat God like a product that we invest in so that it serves us. We are here to serve God. Do we trust God or do we trust the conveniences that he gives us? Do we take him at his word that we will suffer for him and rejoice in that he will be with us through difficult times? Indeed, we should trust him for there is no other. There is no other god. There are only idols that vie for our hearts with false promises of convenience or some other well-being. And the idols themselves do not truly vie for us, but rather we for them. We invent promises and place them in the mouths of false gods.

Who would invent a God who brings his children through difficulties for his own glory? For unrighteous man, this seems cruel. But for a righteous God, the result is a sanctified heart. God is not a cell phone that we should discard him when it seems to stop working. He is the Almighty God, Creator of all things, who provides us with all that we need to be with him in the last day.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Teleological Value in the Kingdom of Heaven

“To be significant to God is to be significant in the most ultimate sense. No greater personal significance can be imagined.” –Wayne Grudem

This kind of significance is ontological. This is the value that we have simply because of who God made us to be. Two different ontologies can be understood in this. The first one is that all people are made in the image of God. That makes all of us intrinsically valuable for no other reason than we are his image bearers. The second is that some are his chosen people. These were the ancient Hebrews, and some still consider the Jews of today as their descendants to be God’s chosen people. But according to the Apostles of Christ, all those who have faith in Christ are God’s chosen people, his “elect”. By truly having faith in Christ, additional ontological value is added by virtue of the regeneration and indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The elect share a special relationship with God beyond simply being human.

But people also have teleological value. In one sense, teleological value is related to ontological value. In another sense, it is an independent value.

The teleological value of people can most easily be seen to be independent of their ontological value. Pharaoh was not ontologically one of God’s chosen people, but he was teleological instrumental in carrying out God’s plan to secure the identity of the Hebrews as his chosen people as a nation of underdogs. In their low position among the Egyptians, there was no way they could secure their freedom alone, much less assume possession of Canaan, without divine assistance. God used Pharaoh’s burdensome rule over the Hebrew slaves to create an apparent impossibility that served as a backdrop for the glory of God in the signs and wonders. So even someone of no faith in God can be used mightily to glorify him.

The link between ontological value and teleological value in the Kingdom of Heaven can be seen throughout the New Testament. I’ll  point to one passage. 1 Corinthians 12 and 14 both discuss teleology in the Body of Christ. In the middle of this discussion, in chapter 13, Paul brings up the ontology of the believer in sharing the relationship between members of the Trinity as Jesus taught in John 14. So the way we work together as the Body of Christ (teleology) is related to the relationship we have with God (ontology). The way this works is that the spiritual gifts each have been given are to employed with that same ontological relationship (love).

But even the way the ontological relationship is applied to employing the gifts is ontological. That is, it can be applied more or less faithfully. That’s the reason for Chapter 13 in the larger discussion. Paul’s admonition was to apply our ontological value as faithfully as possible.

But remember that teleology is also independent of ontology. Faithful application of ontology doesn't guarantee greater teleological value. That is, it doesn't mean that we will be more useful. Unfaithful application of ontology doesn't mean that we will be less useful. Many believers who unfaithfully apply their ontological value turn out to be quite useful in the body of Christ and many believers who apply their ontological value turn out to not be very useful at all. Nevertheless, Paul admonishes all of us to seek the greater gifts. That is, as we apply our ontological value faithfully we should also seek greater teleological value.

But God will use who he wants as he chooses, and that is good. For example, an older man I know has been creatively unemployed for years. He has used his time wisely to do such things as breed cattle and do contract finish carpentry. More importantly, he is involved in our local Child Evangelism Fellowship as a Shepherd and Teacher, he serves as a mentor for troubled teens in the community, and he helps out with a local ministry to at-risk children in the poorest neighborhoods in town. He is gifted only with a love of God and a desire to help kids know Jesus. He’s in the hospital on a long recovery after a severe automobile accident during a recent ice storm. He’s been taken out of the game for a while. He can barely move or speak. Once possessing great teleological value, that value is now on hold. If you have read thus far, you must know that few people will… read this far at least. You might acknowledge that I have a gift of understanding things that is at least exotic if not exceptional. But you might recognize that I don’t have a great ability to hold an audience such as to impart this understanding very effectively. I took one of those Spiritual gifts inventories and came up with the gift of knowledge, but not so much the gift of teaching. I certainly don’t have a gift of ministering to children effectively in any way. I write articles like this because frankly I don’t have anything better to do. This is one way of using this gift even though I know it won’t be very useful to anyone. So the man I know who isn't well gifted is teleologically more valuable that I am although I am apparently more gifted in some way. There’s no way I could take this man’s place in his absence. So while we are to pursue the greater gifts, even that doesn't necessarily influence our teleological value.

Now the message is often geared toward most people who either don’t apply their ontological value faithfully or don’t pursue the greater gifts. But the message also is given that we each have gifts that are useful. That teaching isn't in the text anywhere. Some gifts as given to some people are virtually useless. How many people die never having fulfilled their full potential? And yet God has given them gifts that were not used. We should try our best to steward our gifts and to be teleological valuable, that is, useful. But we are not promised to be successful, only that the attempt is required. Paul explains that different members have different functions, but that some should receive a higher honor.

Therefore, as we earnestly desire the greater gifts and faithfully apply our ontological value, we can only find contentment in our ontological value despite seeking satisfaction our faithful stewardship. Do not confuse your teleological value with your ontological value and rest in God whether you turn out to be very useful or not.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

What’s the Problem With Science?

If you missed the debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye, I recommend watching it. It’s live only for a short time and then you’ll need to obtain a DVD of it. Ken Ham’s argument was based on a variety of presuppositional apologetics that applies well to the scientific arena.

In that vein, it’s been a few years since I’ve handled the particulars of the epistemic problems of the scientific method and I’m not even sure where that article resides online anymore as I have blogged in a few different areas in the past several years.

However, many people may find not my language here helpful. I’m neither a rhetorical nor a metaphorical thinker. Many people think in terms of the words that they use to represent ideas. That rhetorical thought. Most people are metaphorical thinkers. They understand more difficult concepts by think of simpler things that are similar in some way to the concept. Most people can hear a clever turn of phrase or a metaphor and it sticks with them because the logic seems to make sense. So, I will vie to explain Ken Ham’s argument, and the problem with the scientific method, in a way that hopefully can be understandable to most people.

Let’s look at the way we perceive the world around us. We have 6 senses, if you include balance. (I don’t know why balance gets left out of the list of normal senses that we have, but it always is: 1) touch 2) sight 3) hearing 4) taste 5) smell… 6) balance. Come one everyone, add it.) We can only perceive anything right now immediately. If I hear you talking in the next room, my ears aren’t in the next room. The sound of your voice has traveled through the air into the area where I am and is causing my ear drums to vibrate. My hearing starts when my ear drums are vibrating. I can put two and two together and reasonably conclude that you are talking in the next room.

Given that sound travels through the air at a certain speed, I am actually not perceiving you in real time. My hearing your voice is delayed by a little bit of time. I know you are in the next room because I don’t see you in the room where I am and it sounds like your voice is coming from elsewhere. I have enough evidence to reasonably conclude that you are in the next room.

But I can be fooled. Someone can set up a speaker system, even in my room, that I’m not expecting your voice to come from. Someone plays your voice such that it sounds like your voice coming from the other room. So I get up and go into the next room and discover that you aren’t there. I was fooled. Magicians capitalize on this kind of misdirection and misperception in order to produce entertaining illusions of the senses.

We experience the world in repeating ways every day such that we can expect to experience things the same way every day. I put on a pot of coffee and it brews the same way it did yesterday. If it doesn’t brew, I check to see what’s wrong and I expect to find the machine unplugged or broken. These are predictable things that I know from repeated experience.

Science works the same way. When we observe the same things using the scientific method over and over, we expect it to be the same way every time. This is called predictability. This is the argument that Bill Nye made and challenged Ken Ham to come up with something that creationism does that is predictable.

The thing is that Ken Ham actually answered his question. However, Bill Nye didn’t understand the distinction. The answer is that scientists who are creationists use the same science that scientists who are naturalists use. So there is the same level of predictability. Ken Ham’s argument actually went further to point out that predictability fall apart at a certain point.

This is the problem with the scientific method. We can be fooled, not only by magicians, but by the limitations of the way that we sense the world around us.

Scientists augment our 6 senses with the use of equipment that helps us detect things that we wouldn’t normally be able to sense naturally. But when detecting things outside of certain limits, our ability to understand what we sense requires that we make certain assumptions. Ken Ham pointed out examples of these assumptions.

The problem is that these assumptions are not testable. That means that we have no way of knowing of these things are true.

One example was radiometric dating. That doesn’t mean that we have radios going out on the town drinking liters of beer instead of pints. Radiometric dating is when the percentage of elements in rocks is measured to see how old they are. The observation is that one element turns into another element over a very long period of time and we can measure this over a very short period of time to calculate how fast it changes. So the theory is that we can measure the two elements to see how much of the one has turned into the other. It sounds pretty cut and dry, right?

Well, there are some assumptions made. The biggest one is that we don’t know if there was any of the second element in the rock to begin with. We have to assume that there was none. But if there was some, then we would conclude that the rock is older than it really is. The fact is that there is no way of knowing. So we really can’t tell how old the rock is. All we really know is what the rock is made up of today.

Everything in science, from the diversity of life on earth to the light coming from distant stars, requires these kinds of assumptions. Depending on what we think we know molds the assumptions that we have. Scientists who don’t believe in God will make certain kinds of assumptions. Scientists who believe in God will make different kinds of assumptions. So when different kinds of assumptions are used to evaluate the same evidence, different conclusions will be drawn.

Ken Ham understands this. Bill Nye does not.

So there is a problem with the scientific method. Bill Nye thinks we can know the history of the world by looking at it scientifically. Sure, we can get close. But it’s reasonable to understand how accurate our conclusions are based on the assumptions we use. Bill Nye thinks he can know for sure because he doesn’t understand how assumptions work. Reasonable people who understand how assumptions work will understand that there is a certain level of uncertainty in scientific conclusions.

But there is a certainty in some assumptions that have been given to us to know. I will address that in some later article series if I get it laid out properly. Stay tuned.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

How Much Faith Do You Have?

"How Much Faith Do You Have?"
The only way to answer the question is to find a way to quantify faith. What measure do we use? Is there anywhere in the Bible that gives us a scale to use? Is there anywhere in the Bible that talks about the amount of faith that we have?

The Bible does indeed talk about the amount of faith that we have. Jesus frequently referred to people, especially the disciples, of having little faith. If they had the faith of a mustard seed, which obviously refers to very little faith, they would be able to tell a mountain to go into the sea (Matt 17:20). They must not have had even that much faith for Peter, who exhibited more faith than the rest, had only enough faith to walk on water for a short period of time (Matthew 14:22-33). Paul told the Romans that God gives us a measure of faith (Rom 112:3) and the Corinthians that the Spirit gives some special gift of faith to some (1 Cor 12:9).

With all this talk about how much faith we have, is there a specific measure that we are given by which we can judge faith? Jesus mentioned a mustard seed, but I guess the only way we can determine if we have that much faith is if we move a mountain into the sea. I guess someone in the United Arab Emirates has that much faith because they have moved mountains of soil into the sea to create large islands in various shapes. Is this really what Jesus meant? Really? Since I don’t see anyone else doing this, how are we to measure faith that is less than a mustard seed?

Since the measure of faith that we have comes from God, as I have already pointed out, should we be concerned with how much faith we have? We couldn’t possibly get any more than what God has given, could we? That question, however, misses the same point that many people have regarding Reformed theology when they ask things like, “What’s the use of evangelizing if God is going to save people anyway?” The answer to both questions is that not only does God ordain the ends, but he also ordains the means.

In other words, there is a divine purpose behind the struggle. There is a divine purpose behind the need to evangelize. Just as Christ came not only to save, but to reveal the Father even in salvation, the purpose of the Body of Christ is to bear the sins of the world by proclaiming Christ as the answer to sin even as we suffer for doing so. In all of this process, we reveal God as Christ did when he was here. That’s why God spoke of Paul that he would show him how much he must suffer for his name’s sake (Acts 9:16).

We may claim the promises of God and be certain that he will fulfill those promises. That includes suffering. But I have heard people say that we may experience miraculous healing if only we had enough faith. They say that we must pray believing that God will heal. The problem is that God never promised that. It is true that God can heal. But there is a difference between God being able to heal and God desiring to heal. We may pray, but we will only receive anything according to God’s will.

And so Paul instructs us as he instructed the Corinthians to desire the greater gifts (1 Cor 12:31). But he also said that we will not all receive them (1 Cor 12:27-30). It is in the desiring that we can learn the next lesson, a more excellent way (1 Cor 13). For desiring the higher gifts in faith must be done with a desire to serve for the greatest gifts are the gifts of the lowest servants in the Body of Christ. Many desire those gifts because they desire to be served as leaders. But no gift of God is effective in revealing God without exhibiting love sacrificially.

Therein is the measure of faith, not that we believe so strongly that God gives us the desires of God so that we may be glorified. But the measure of faith is not quantifiable as such. The measure of faith is in the demonstration of love, not that we have any great emotional outpouring, but that we are willing to sacrifice our wants and needs for the needs of someone else.

Therefore, faith is demonstrable. It is no mere assent to something true, although that is necessary. But James instructs us drawing a delineation between mere assent and the demonstration of faith (James 2:19ff). A mere quantum faith is necessary only for salvation, but a faith demonstrated is necessary to be sanctified, made holy, set apart for God.

Therefore, have great faith, but count the mighty power of God as far greater than any strength you can must of yourself. That is the foundation for faith and the growth of faith is the practice of sacrifice in love.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Faith is Epistemic

“Faith is epistemic.”

So I said at a recent introductory meeting for a men’s theological reading group at my church. As simple a statement as it is, to fully expound on it would take more time than our brief hour warranted with much more ground to cover than just the idea that we require faith to understand theology (and that theology likewise informs our faith).

Even secularists can understand the role of faith in epistemology 1. (Although the author is a Christian, his article is published by Princeton.) That is, a faith in the continuity of the universe and our perceptions that is experiential at best is necessary for apprehending empirical data. Read the article for details.

Paul Manata explored a similar model 2 with regard to the Christian Faith a few years earlier.

My previous article likewise discussed the nature of faith as being informed, rather than by the notion proliferating in the popular philosophy of these days: “blind faith”.

The model of epistemological faith that these articles discuss is the need for an apologetic of one’s epistemology that necessarily requires a modicum of faith. But the need for faith is also required to understand information that has already been apprehended.

I discussed many of the principles I have discovered in a couple of series of articles within the past few months that can be found in the following articles:

Understanding the Bible

Glorifying God: Leveling the Theological Battlefield
Examples of this principle:
I won’t rehash the discussions here, but if you are interested in how faith is necessary to know God and understand him better, the articles referenced here may serve a good primer.

In the future I plan to discuss more in depth the formation of faith by knowledge obtained by faith. however, that discussion will be part of a much larger series investigating an apologetic for Biblical hermeneutics.

For now, I will only offer an example as to how faith is both informed by and informs our knowledge of God.

My wife is leaving next week for a trip to Uganda and Kenya to help with a Christian mission as well as visit some friends from our church who are currently serving in Kenya. She approached me last month with the sense that she should go against all other considerations. I'm wary about such subjective "leading of the Holy Spirit", but I'm also quickly supportive of any desire to go and serve given spiritual fitness and giftedness to do so. Without any support up front, we took savings money and purchased tickets. My wife sent out a support letter expressing her need for expense monies. Enough came in that the money we took out of our savings account was reimbursed and all trip expenses are virtually covered. Such it is that we glorify God in faith exalting him for his provision to do his work.

When we were first married, I planned to continue in school such as to finish a degree. Degrees have a way of opening doors and my intention to go into some sort of ministry was the driving factor. However, no jobs were available where the school was and I was subsequently resigned to find a job in our hometown where I work to this day. God didn't provide what we needed for us to live in such a way that I could continue my direction. Should I say that God is not faithful? No. Rather, my faith informs me that God provided for me not to continue my formal education. Although I continue to study on my own, I realize that God has no apparent use for me in this way. My faith, therefore, is not in God fulfilling my desire, but in my seeking to fulfill God's desire. I can understand that Paul's admonishment to "earnestly seek the higher gifts" is not a promise that we will recieve those gifts.

And so in either case, God is glorified. We are not. God is revealed. We are not. God's purposes come to fruition. Our purposes must be changed to agree with his. This is the foundation of Christian epistemology. This is how we know God.


1. Park, Joung. "The Role of Faith in Epistemology." Revisions. Princeton, 30 Sept. 2011. Web. 22 Jan. 2014.
2. Manata, Paul. "The Epistemology of Faith." The Epistemology of Faith. Triablogue, 30 Aug. 2007. Web. 22 Jan. 2014.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Do You Know Enough to Trust?

Listening to this week’s Stand to Reason’s radio program, Greg Koukl discussed how to build faith with a caller. His answer was that Christian faith is based on the knowledge of God in such a way that results in our action of trust. It’s a definition similar to that which I have long held.

I’ve had passionate discussions with Christians who believe that faith is blind. It’s a common understanding of faith that has been given not by the Bible, but by popular secular philosophy. However, that doesn’t stop people from invoking a poorly understood verse in defense of blind faith:

…for we walk in faith, not by sight. (2 Corinthians 5:7)

Most people correctly understand “sight” to refer to knowledge. So they believe that this verse teaches that faith is held over and against any kind of knowledge. But if you read the surrounding passages, you understand that this is not what this passage is teaching.

The definition of faith that such a false understanding begs is a belief in something that one cannot know for certain to be true. A phrase commonly used to invoke this kind of definition is "You just have to take it on faith.” The implication is that someone assumes something is true without any evidence. This is not Christian faith.

Look at the verses surrounding 2 Cor. 5:7:

For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.

So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.
(2 Corinthians 5:1-10, ESV)

I have highlighted the word “know” as used in the passage above. “Faith” in this passage clearly involves knowing for certain something about our relationship with God. But that faith is held over and against “sight” is that there are clearly some things we don’t know. Greg Koukl used the example of giving someone a ride who didn’t know where they were going. If you don’t know the person, you don’t know if they are safe or not. But if you know the person, you have a basis on trusting them for the things you don’t know.

So it is that God gives us enough knowledge about himself and keeps enough knowledge from us so that we will need to put our trust in him. So faith is based on certain knowledge.

What unbelievers often point out is that we can’t know these things to be true although the Bible says we can. The fact of the matter is that we actually do have evidence and unbelievers typically dismiss it because that evidence demands that we trust in God. So the knowledge that God has given to inform our faith also demands our trust in him.

So if the knowledge of God is given freely to all people, what makes some people trust God and others not trust God?

I occasionally like to watch Property Brothers. These twin brothers work together to help people find and fix up the home they are looking for. One brother is a real estate agent; the other is a licensed contractor. The other night I watched an episode where the lady they were trying to help kept interfering in their efforts to help her by trying to micromanage them. She is, as we often call such people, a “control freak”. Her problem, as with all control freaks, is that she lacks the ability to trust. Only when they begged her to trust them and she actually stayed out of their hair could they actually get things done and provide the house that she was hoping for.

[This, by the way, is why I despise control freaks. They often vie for leadership positions but fail to engender trust among the teams they end up leading. Control freaks live in fear and pass that fear on to those who work for them.]

People who don’t trust God are essentially control freaks over their own lives. The lady on Property Brothers knew enough to trust that the brothers knew what they were doing. But she didn’t trust because she didn’t know what they knew. Knowing enough is not enough for control freaks.

Trust demands action, or rather the type of action that enables those we must trust to accomplish what they have been equipped to accomplish. God is well equipped to give us eternal lives, especially such as entails new bodies in the resurrection. Was raising Jesus Christ from the dead not enough evidence?

In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, the rich man begs Abraham to send Lazarus back from the grave to warn his brothers about the torment that awaited them after their death so that they would be moved to trust. Abraham replied that they should listen to Moses and the Prophets. If they didn’t trust Moses and the Prophets, they wouldn’t listen to someone who even rose from the dead.

The answer is hinted at in the passage in Corinthians above:

...we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.

We love the Lord, and desire to be with him. Therefore, we are open to the evidence and testimony that has been delivered to us over the millennia. We are therefore willing to lay down our lives trusting in his work and promises.

But our faith in him also grows as we practice by trusting our brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ. We have each been equipped to serve the body in the proclamation of the gospel and presentation of the knowledge that has been handed down that informs our faith. But we need to trust those who are equipped in ways that we are not. So we get to practice trusting each other and thereby grow in faith in Christ.

Are you a control freak, or are you capable of trusting others? How will you trust Christ if you don’t trust those who he has provided to work with you? Do you have enough knowledge to relinquish the need to know what is outside your ability? No blind faith is required, but we indeed have enough knowledge to trust and our eternal lives depend on it.