Tuesday, November 26, 2013

If Postmodernism is True...

If postmodernism is true, then I can't know what they believe.

If postmodernism is true, then they can't know what to deconstruct.

If postmodernism is true, then why do they even write books?

If postmodernism is true, then how do they know that I don't understand them?

Since I know what postmodernists believe, they seem to be clear on what they are deconstructing, they write books propagating their absurdity, and they think they know that I don't understand them, then we know a few things:

  • Postmodernism is false.
  • Postmodernists are justifying untruths that they want to be true or denying truths they don't want to be true. (Since postmodern deconstruction seems aimed at ethical considerations, squirming out of moral obligations is almost certainly the purpose of postmodernism.)
  • The opposite of naturalistic, evidential science (which is rationalistic) isn't supernaturalism (which is also rationalistic), it's postmodernism (which intends to deconstruct rationalism).
Watch this panel discussion to see Christian philosophers Sarah Geis, Larry Burtoft, Doug Groothuis, and David Mathewson deconstruct postmodernism.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Glorifying God: Leveling the Cessationist / Continuationist Battlefield

This is an article that was introduced by this article and provides one of two examples for it.

I also want to mention that I won’t address every single issue relating to the larger theological debate, but to demonstrate how glorifying God opens the door for understanding his purpose in the theological tension.

There has been debate among Southern Baptists recently regarding the activity of the Holy Spirit among the people of God. In some ways this is a simpler debate than what I addressed in the previous article, but the tension is still there.

The core of the debate stems from a difference in the way we understand how God speaks to us. Continuationists point out that the Bible never directly says that the charismata (miraculous gifts) were supposed to cease. This is a fair observation. It’s also a similar argument non-Trinitarians make that the Bible never mentions the Trinity. However, since we see that the Bible still teaches the Trinity one aspect at a time, it is viable that the Bible could teach that the charismata have stopped. Nevertheless, it’s a somewhat more tenuous position than the Trinity. It’s only a degree of rationale removed from that used by Harold Camping, for example, to promote his unique (and now rather obviously incorrect) eschatology.

Nevertheless, Cessationists make this case. But their issue has an additional rationale that is related to how we know what is to be included in the canon of scripture. In other words, if God is causing people to speak in tongues that they don’t know or prophesy the future in such a way as to direct people what they are supposed to do, that means that we should have some material today that should be added to scripture. So there’s a presuppositional argument for making the connections in scripture that they do.

There is far more to the debate than this. To be fair, Continuationists don’t think that prophesy today should be included in scripture and Cessationists don’t think that all charismata have utterly ceased.

One big argument that Cessationists make is that Continuationists enable false claims. My first observation here is that it doesn’t falsify the Continuationists to point out their abuses. However, there should be no claim to charismata without serious discernment to ward of false claims.

That is where glorifying God comes in. False claims are exclusively a result of seeking to glorify the bearer of the alleged charismata (and, in the case of some professional charlatans, to line their pockets) rather than glorifying God.

How does this work out?

For Cessationists, legitimate charismata happen. Given that the goal of the Holy Spirit is to glorify Christ by revealing him to us, that is precisely what such charismata will do. Outside of this result, the charismata should be suspect. For Contiuationists, since the charismata will only result in glorifying Christ through leading us to his known revelation to us, much of what passes as charismata are not legitimate.

If our focus is turned upon the glory of our Lord, Jesus Christ, in his work on the cross and his divine sovereignty over us according to the revelation that we have by virtue of the same Holy Spirit who inspired it, then there is no debate. The false bearers of charismata should be duly rebuked by both Continuationists and Cessationists alike while legitimate charismata should be received with gratitude by both for pointing people to the true Christ of the Bible.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Glorifying God: Leveling the Free Will / Election Battlefield

This is an article that was introduced by this article and provides one of two examples for it.

I also want to mention that I won’t address every single issue relating to the larger theological debate, but to demonstrate how glorifying God opens the door for understanding his purpose in the theological tension.

Many people are familiar with this old debate. The debate is an attempt to answer a very specific point of theological tension. That is, there are two truths taught in the Bible that appear to logically contradict one another. One truth is that God sovereignly elects his followers. That is to say that God chooses those who will follow him and acts to enable their faith. The other truth that is taught in scripture is that people are morally culpable for their sins. The contradiction is that if God is the one who chooses who will spend eternity with him, how can he hold the rest responsible for their sin since he didn’t give them the same opportunity? It seems to be a contradiction of fairness. It’s not fair that some people get paradise for all eternity and others have to suffer for all eternity if they have no say in where they are going.

There are a few approaches to answering this apparent contradiction:

Mitigate the doctrine of the sovereignty of God by saying that the Bible really doesn’t mean what it seems to mean when it indicates that God does the electing.
Try to explain the apparent contradiction philosophically. There are some philosophical principles implied in the Bible and some that we import unwittingly from the culture. Inasmuch as the philosophical principles align with the Bible, this isn’t a bad approach. When we import philosophy from outside the Bible, we usually end up with some error.
Acknowledge that each are true, but write off understanding them as an impossible task and miss the direction God intends for us to take.
Acknowledge that each are true and struggle to understand why God has revealed them to us. This is the option I pursue.

Fortunately, the Bible addresses this issue directly, although many in the first option camp earnestly interpret this passage differently. Paul, in his letter to the Romans (9:19ff), asks this very question. His answer, in the same way that God answered Job, is to appeal to the sovereignty of God. In other words, give God his glory.

So how does this work to level the battlefield?

The personal observation that we have is that we make decisions on our own. Whether this is entirely accurate remains to be seen. To keep this consideration simple, however, let’s make our decisions black and white: we have before us to choose to do good or to choose to do bad. If we choose to do good, by definition we choose to do God’s will. If we choose to do bad, then we choose to do our own will. If this is the case, then we have two different types of decisions we make: God’s will or our will.

Even the choosing must be categorized. If we choose to do God’s will, then our choice is according to the will of God. If we choose to do our will instead of God’s will, then the choosing is according to our will.

So if we do any good thing, we must give God the glory by not taking credit for it. If we do any bad thing, we must confess that we are sinners and assume the responsibility for our sin. Yet the confession is according to the will of God, for we are commanded to do this. And so by our confession, instead of bearing the responsibility for the sin, it is imputed to Christ who bore it on the cross.

What happens when we start with the glory of God and analyze the theological tension accordingly is that instead of a tension we find the purpose for the tension. The tension was only there in the first place because our audacious tendency to focus on ourselves. The issue isn’t whether we make one decision or another, but whether God is ultimately glorified. When we understand that this is the purpose for the tension in the first place and focus at last on the glory of God, the tension disappears and we receive the understanding of our Creator.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Glorifying God: Leveling the Theological Battlefield

I haven’t written much lately because I’m planning an extensive series on Christian epistemology. The term “epistemology” refers to how we answer the question “How do we know…?” I don’t intend merely to give a defense of the Bible. Rather, I intend to investigate how we know that the Bible is true, how we know our understanding of the Bible is true, and discover the presuppositions that undergird that investigation. This is an extensive study that links the nature of God and creation with his revelation to us. I also hope to make it accessible to the average reader. The hard part is to linearlize it so that I can make an index that organizes it so the relationships between different areas of thought and study can be understandable.

In many ways, this short series is related to that series. There is a link between the purpose of revelation and our ability to know what it means.

Let me ‘splain:

Theology matters. If you get God wrong, you end up worshipping the wrong God. There are two, even three, categories for analyzing the importance of theological doctrines. Dr. Al Mohler calls this Theological Triage. The difference between the first category and the other two is a matter of salvation. Doctrines that one must hold to be true in order to know one is saved are in the first category. All other doctrines are in the second and third categories.

There are many who would dispute finer points of what should be included in the first category and what should be included in the second and third categories. For example, orthodox Christians hold that the diety of Christ should be in the first category, but there are denominations that claim that Jesus is not God who would dispute that the deity of Christ belongs in the first category. Very liberal theologians might argue that the only thing in the first category is a claim to be a Christian. They would claim that one could even deny that there is a God at all (much less that he sent a Christ for any reason) and still be a Christian. As ridiculous as that all seems, it only goes to show that it’s important to make a case that theology matters.

There are those that tend toward liberal theology for the reason that we all just need to get along. They would say that glorifying God by getting along is better than actually knowing what god we are trying to glorify. Therefore, they intentionally ignore the fundamental differences between the One True God and the plethora of false imitations.

So thoughtful Christians debate the finer points of who God is by virtue of his special revelation to us in the Bible, through a particular denomination’s traditional interpretation, the general revelation of the created order, and our intellectual ability to sort it all out. Most people miss the fact that they have cultural blinders on when they theologize. With all this to muddy the waters, it’s no wonder that we wind up with theological differences as we try to reconcile apparent theological tension.

Some people even dismiss theological tension either by chalking it up as a divine mystery or claiming that there is no way that we can know. They say that we just have to accept it “by faith”. While it’s true that there are things about God that are unfathomable to us now, special revelation was given to us precisely so that we could know and understand what has been revealed.

I’ve largely been dissatisfied with the historic debates, even when I agree wholeheartedly with one side over another. First, they tend to focus on differences rather than similarities. Second, opposing categories of doctrinal thought are in opposition precisely because they hold different fundamentals in primacy over the rest.

It’s that second reason that I'm addressing in this article. So I’ll have two areas of theological debate to use as examples. And I will replace both with the fundamental that all things: revelation, the process of sanctification, the ordinances/sacraments of the Church, the fellowship of the Church, etc: all things exist to glorify God.

As this article is getting long so I’ll break the couple of examples into separate posts.