Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Sunday, March 25, 2012

How to Know Which God Is Real

There are two kinds of people. The first kind are people who want to believe what they want to believe because it justifies some behavior or because they have some emotional attachment to believing it. The second kind are people who really do want to believe what is true, but still struggle against believing what they want to believe that isn’t true. There may be the rare third kind who have it all together, but these would be extremely rare. D.A. Carson might be in that boat.

But if someone truly desired to know truth, then I believe it is possible to get very close. Without quantifying that, I’ll use the ideas that I set up in my last article as the foundation for developing a basic method.

Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason has what he calls “The Columbo Tactic” based on the style of the old Columbo character played by Peter Falk in the TV show of the same title. The method that I propose is similar.

In the last article, I talked about the singular nature on non-theological epistemology and the dual nature of theological epistemology. The difference was in the fact that someone who believed in a god would have to conclude that in order to know god, he would have to reveal himself. The question then remains, how do we know which of all the gods people worship in the world is the true one?

If there are people who are concerned only with believing what they want to believe, then we know that these people do not espouse knowledge that they gained from outside themselves. They may say things that they learned from others, but they choose to acknowledge this on their own accord. They have no assurance.

People who espouse a god will typically claim some divine assurance that what they believe is true and that the knowledge they have was revealed by that god. All but one religion would have some false assurance of this, so one cannot rely solely on the testimony of others. That doesn’t mean that testimony cannot be an indicator of truth. It means that it isn’t a reliable source of assurance.

So if the true God reveals Himself, then we can be sure that He would make it plain to those to whom he chooses to reveal himself. Psychologically speaking, some doubt may be necessary in order to pull this off. So the presence of some occasional doubt isn’t an indication of a lack of assurance. The true indicator of receptivity to true revelation is the desire for truth over and against what you otherwise want to believe.

What I propose as the method of apprehending truth in light of this desire, is to simply ask yourself some questions:

1.       Why do I want to believe what I believe? (This speaks directly to motive.)
2.       How do I know what I know? (This reveals false motives of which we are not consciously aware.)
3.       In what way does God make His true revelation distinct from all other false revelation?

These kinds of questions should be asked of all things we know or desire to believe. Answering honestly will eventually result in knowing the truth. Self-delusion, particularly more elaborate ones, may result in the same thing. However, self-delusion hardly produces honest answers.

(For atheists, honest answers to numbers 1 and 2 will produce the presupposition of a God who reveals Himself necessary to ask question 3.)

I’ve already mentioned doubt. Occasional doubt can be a good thing. But if asking results in the loss of faith, then one had no faith in what was true to begin with.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

What It Means to Be Sure About God

I considered a more technically accurate title to this: The Epistemological Duality of Theology. "Epistemology" is a philosophical term that refers to theories about how we know things. That’s the big word you need to know, to don’t get scared away. Read on. This information provides some background understanding for the next article I will post.

Epistemology is an important thing to think about. If you want to believe some philosophical idea to be true you have to talk about how you know it in the first place.

Non-theological epistemologies often focus on the single track of how we know something as though knowing it makes it true. If it's not true, then you don't know it. If you know it then it's true. That’s almost an oversimplification of it. It’s what we more commonly call relativism. Sometimes non-theological epistemologies consider that something can be true whether we know it or not. So the debate in non-theological circles centers on whether what we know determines its truth or whether truth determines our ability to know it.

These are just two sides of the same coin. They all consider something to be known as unable to reveal itself. Our perception is what is important. Even if something is true, if we can’t perceive it there’s no way we can talk knowledgably about it because we can’t know it. That’s the nature of non-theological knowledge.

Theology involves the consideration of a truth-giver. So it has two tracks to understanding knowledge: revelation and assurance. Revelation is that which the truth-giver gives us to know, particularly about himself. Assurance is our ability to know that it is true. If you deny the former, then your theology devolves into non-theological philosophy. In other words, you end up denying a truth-giver.

Up to now, I have only referred to theology in the general sense. It's true of any theological system. It's true of Islam, Hinduism, etc. For the most part, although belief in a divine creator requires a dual epistemology, religions have to develop this epistemology outside the revelation. The only religion that doesn’t have to do this is the one that is true. The reason is because if a system of theology seeks to justify a revelatory epistemology from a God that doesn’t exist, then they lack the necessary revelation to do so.

However, the religion whose God truly exists is self-revelatory. That is to say, worshippers know that they have revelation from God because He reveals Himself to them in such a way as they have a means for perfect assurance that the revelation is true. On the surface, this appears as circular reasoning. However, knowledge that has been revealed doesn’t come from a belief in revelation. Rather, a belief in revelation comes from knowledge having been revealed.

The interesting thing about revelation is that it doesn’t discount obtaining knowledge through other than revelation. So there is a dual nature to theological epistemology.

I’ve already mentioned the false revelation of false religions and the assurance of true religion. In the next article, I will talk about one way to use this knowledge to determine what the true religion is.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Discerning and Handling Troublemakers

There's a great post at SBC Voices entitled "A Blogging Dilemma: Dealing with the Wolves among the Sheep". Dave Miller writes from the perspective of Christian blogging. Specifically, he says:

"How are we supposed to treat people who oppose the gospel of Jesus Christ but still want to take part in a Baptist blog?"

If you've read even a small number of Christian blogs and the comments that go with them, you've probably seen some people stirring up various kinds of trouble. Dave offers a practical and helpful list of questions to ask yourself for consideration in handling these kinds of troublemakers:

  1. Does the issue touch the cross?
  2. Are they seekers or are they deceivers?
  3. Am I affecting them or are they affecting others?
  4. am I making progress?

This list is only the tip of the iceberg. There's a lot of good substance and the whole article is worth a look.

This touches on something more general. We have a tendency when we perceive ourselves to be in a better spiritual place than someone else to rely on our spiritual superiority. Rather, we should rely on the authority of Christ and the moving of the Holy Spirit as we try to present truth faithfully to someone. So my response to this focused more on the attitude of humility that we should have. If we rely on our spiritual superiority we will be anything but spiritually superior.

Jim Pemberton March 12, 2012 at 3:45 pm
This is the place for discernment. Determining the difference between ignorance and intentional deceit normally requires a little bit of discussion. That discussion should be respectful. If it is determined that someone is intentionally being disruptive, then that is the time for removing further discussion from the blog. If they are not intentionally being disruptive but being disruptive anyway, then they may still be banned while off-line discussion may be considered as an option to help them work through their issues.

To be sure, both Paul and Jesus took a hard line on some folks. it should be noted that these were general groups of people rather than individuals. The harsh comments made by them were also helpful for the people they were ministering to. It should also be noted that Jesus was crucified and Paul martyred not for being vile and curmudgeonly but for boldly proclaiming the compelling truth.

So I would say that when answering someone we should take into account as much as possible the spiritual condition of who we are talking about as well as the possible spiritual condition of anyone who reads what we write. That said, we need to be generally helpful while realizing that we may be talking to someone who is being sanctified by the Holy Spirit as we also are and ask, “Am I agreeing with the Holy Spirit in this person’s sanctification?” It’s easy to be forgiving when we consider the extent of our own depravity from which we have been saved and are being purified.

Additionally, if we consider ourselves to be spiritually superior, we must realize that we were not always so (and are probably not a superior as we think we are if that’s our attitude). As such, we need to consider that the Holy Spirit is far superior to us and has indwelt us without destroying us by overwhelming us with the full disclosure of all of our sin. Consider those sins that we have not been convicted of yet because of the hardness of our hearts.

So we must be gentle of heart and firm on the truth of the gospel guiding our readers into the clear truth and wrestling together on the debatable points of God’s revelation with humility.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Fighting for Rights and Losing the Right-Giver

Two items have been in the news lately. Neither one is surprising because the philosophical foundation for them have been in place for a number of years now.

The first item is the court case that PETA filed against Sea World arguing for the human rights for cetaceans (marine mammals like orcas, whales, dolphins, etc.). It caused a flurry of debate in the public square. Example 1. Example 2. The court ruled against PETA. You can count on similar cases being appealed. This won't die. They rarely do.

But I have to ask what we would be giving the cetaceans if we grant them human rights. Take this next news item for example:

Ethicists Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva have published a paper arguing for the ethical permissibility for After-Birth Abortion. ("After-Birth Abortion" is euphemistic for "infanticide".) So finally here is vindication for the Vietnam veterans charged with being "baby-killers". But really, this rationale was around in Nazi Germany. They went farther and classified entire ethnic groups as being sub-human, not just humans in earlier stages of developments.

So, let's go ahead and give human rights to everything because really there are no human rights according to the justification cited by Giubilini and Minerva. Just follow the justifications to their logical conclusion. Nothing need change.

But my Christian brethren should not despair. The rights codified in the Constitution of the United States are not complete or fully biblical anyway. A couple of examples are given by Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians. In chapter 9, Paul cites rights that he has as a preacher of the gospel of Christ. Those rights aren't in the US Constitution, but they are in the Bible. What's interesting is that with regard to the proclamation of the gospel, while these rights are indeed right to follow, he found it even better to not follow the rights divinely accorded to him. His reward for proclaiming the gospel, found in verse 18, is to proclaim the gospel free of charge making no use of the rights he cites. The only way that makes sense is if his goal is not to obtain rights for himself but rather to proclaim the gospel.

Where our rights interfere with the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ, it is better not pursue those rights. Now that might upset some, but here it is. Many of the difficulties we see in church life are from many individuals vying to obtain their rights over and against the proclamation of the true gospel.

I can go in so many different directions at this point, but I'll save each of those directions for other posts that I may or may not ever get to. But I'll sum up how they fit together. Among those directions are importing non-Christian forms of leadership into the Church, the effects of moralism (as distinct from legalism) on the Church, hindering the outworking of Christian love in the Church, the destruction of marriage, and anemia in the Body of Christ due to not relying on the gifts that others have been given. There are probably others as well, but that's the list I have forming as I type.

What all of these things have in common is a propensity for people to compete selfishly for their rights against the larger work of Christ in the Church. There is a sense that if we don't use it, we lose it. However, if the Bible says it, we have it. In fact, many are often so concerned for their own selves that pursuit leads to the practical loss of their rights in the Church. This is because they fail to contend not for the gospel that provides these rights, but only for their rights. They cling to the rope and neglect the mountain that the rope was supposed to be attached to falling to their spiritual deaths.

So while one hand seeks to offer rights to creatures who shouldn't have them, the other undermines the rights that are being sought. Let's not make the same mistake in the Church.

Friday, March 2, 2012

A Great Commission People

Todd Benkert wrote this article on the SBC Voices blog. Read the whole article. Here's a snippet:

If we are not careful, evangelism will be merely something we talk about and list among other Christian duties but never actually do. Until evangelism ceases to be a Christian virtue that we have not yet achieved and becomes the driving passion of our church and personal ministry, we will never fulfill the purpose God has set for us.
 He quotes a passage from 2 Corinthians 5. I responded with a comment and a reference to 1 Corinthians 9:

    [17] For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward, but if not of my own will, I am still entrusted with a stewardship. [18] What then is my reward? That in my preaching I may present the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.
(1 Corinthians 9:17-18 ESV)

My comment:

Jim Pemberton March 2, 2012 at 6:09 pm
Paul wrote about this in his other letter to the Corinthians, chapter 9. He talks about rights that he has that he has not taken advantage of. Rather, he laid down his rights for the proclamation of the gospel.

But he made an interesting statement in verses 17 and 18. He was talking about whether he proclaims the gospel according to his own will or not. I don’t think he’s talking along the lines of our tired debate about Reformed theology. I think he’s talking about what motivates him to proclaim the gospel. There are less-than-honorable motives for proclaiming the gospel. The good motive comes with a reward.

But look at the reward he says he gets: his reward is to offer the gospel free of charge so as not to make full use of his rights. What kind of reward is that? Only the reward due to someone whose heart is for the gospel and its propagation in the lives of others. If that’s our motive, we will rejoice when we have no other reward and we will not consider the work and risk involved or the cost at our expense to be a hardship.