Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Basic Ideas, Post 2

In A Guide to Basic Ideas post 1, I advocated the notion that God is the foundation of all truth and that in order to truly know, one must accept Him. I quoted Augustine and Anselm who said we must believe in order to understand. But, while significant, our natural knowledge of God is not really enough considering how dimmed by sin our will and faculties have become. In order to know not only that there is a God, but to confirm to our dim understanding what we should already be able to deduce about his nature and plans but usually do not, we need his written revelation: the Bible. I don’t doubt that the acceptance of a postulate that is over 1000 pages long and many printings will be a difficult pill to swallow for many people. But if we are trying to establish truth and create a system of ideas that will last, we must believe the scriptures in order to understand the universe. Once again, this cannot be an instrumentalist relationship either. The scriptures must be accepted for the sake of God not merely for the sake of human knowledge.
The Bible is a self authenticating divine message. The Bible itself claims to be inspired by God and to have authority as a communication from God that is full of specific communications from God. 2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All scripture is God breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness.” 2 Peter 1:21 says that the prophecies of the Old Testament did not come “by the impulse of man” but “men knew by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” There are also the times when Jesus attributes words in the Old Testament scripture written by the authors of the Old Testament to God himself such as Matthew 1:21 and Matthew 19:5. The same thing is done in the book of Acts in Acts 1:16, and by implication, in Acts 2:16-17. There are also the many passages in the Old Testament and the New where it describes God himself as speaking or says Thus sayeth the LORD. I could go on and on. If you’re interested in the details, you should consult a good systematic theology treatise like Wayne Grudem’s systematic theology or Gordon Clark’s book God’s Hammer: the Bible and its critics. So the Bible claims for itself to be a divinely inspired communication. When we read the Bible we are also convinced of its claims and convinced that its words are a communication from God. Just as God cannot be proved, neither can his words be proved in an ultimate objective sense of being forced to receive them. But when we are confronted with the truths in the scriptures, if we seek the truth with an open mind we will be convinced by the Holy Spirit that the Bible’s claims to be God’s words are accurate. The Bible is systematically consistent and fits the facts. It meets the needs of the human condition. The apologist Carnel made these points in a very persuasive way. We can also see, in looking at the scriptures, that it claims to be a set of eye witness accounts. It is not written in the once-upon-a-time manner of fairy stories or myths. The Bible claims to be set of descriptions of events in time and space as well as poetry and prophetic literature. The Bible is full of fulfilled prophecies, eyewitness testimony to divine intervention in everyday life. The greatest and most important eyewitness testimony of divine intervention is the testimony of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. We also have the evidence of lives transformed by the Bible’s message today and throughout history. The Bible is also extraordinary in that it is the only book of its kind and the only book to have survived the many attacks, persecutions, hostilities, and attempts at refutation that the Bible has survived. While many religions have experienced persecution, no religion or religious message has been so besieged as first Judaism and then Christianity. The message of their scriptures has been resented by the world since it was spoken and then put in written form. Yet despite all of the attempts to destroy it and refute it and to kill and torture its people into recanting, the Bible has survived as have God’s believers. To sum up, the Bible is self authenticating. While it cannot be proved by putting you in an intellectual situation where you are forced to accept it, God has not left himself or his word without evidence. From here, we will go on to see what the Bible and God’s general revelation tell us about God himself.

Monday, March 15, 2010

An Update on Religious Liberty

Many people who read my blog post on religious liberty and who have read similar accounts of the dilemmas facing society in the realm of religious freedom find it difficult to believe that religious liberty could actually be under siege in any way. They don’t believe there are people out there who would like to do away with the freedom of Christians to teach the truths of Christianity to their children. While such people are definitely not the majority and are definitely not in control of the government, they do exist. For example, the blog Cranmer has an extensive quote dated Friday, March 12, 2010 from David Laws, the shadow Secretary of State for children, schools, and families of the Liberal Democrat party in England. Now mind you, the Liberal Democrats are not in control in England and are not likely to be. The Tories should win the next election if everything continues along its current path. But this is some of what David Laws has said about the approach of his political party to the question of schools with a religious mission. You also need to keep in mind in reading this that religious schools in England are called faith schools and they are partially funded by the government. Laws has stated:

"Can it be right that a child living in the catchment area of a faith school whose parents want to choose that school for the child should be denied entry to the nearest taxpayer funded school on the basis of a religious test? That is a reality in many communities. Liberal democrats therefore voted to require all faith schools to have a more inclusive approach to entry…democrats also decided that, with the exception of religious instruction, staff in faith schools should be chosen on the basis of the ability to teach and not simply on the basis of faith. That is surely right – anything else is unfair both to children who need the best education, and to the teacher with the right skills.
Finally what of sex and relationship education? … Is it really acceptable that in the 21st century that – for example – a school should be able to teach about homosexuality while at the same time making clear those same sex relationships are morally wrong or that hell could await those who find their sexuality defined in this way? Can we really expect young people to be treated with respect and gain confidence in themselves if state-funded schools are allowed to teach such nonsense? Liberal democrats will defend the role of faith schools in state education. But state funded prejudice is not a freedom that liberals or liberal democrats should feel the need to justify or tolerate."

In other words, to recap, the third largest political party in the United Kingdom maintains as part of their platform that faith school should not be able to discriminate against potential students on the basis of their faith, should not be able to hire teachers primarily on the basis of the faith of the teacher, except in the area of religious instruction, and should not be able to teach that homosexuality is morally wrong or could result in eternal judgment. Such policies might never be implemented. But if people who believe in the need for Christians to be able to teach the truth don’t stand up for their rights to do so, who knows what could happen?

Saturday, March 06, 2010

A Guide to Basic Ideas: Post 1

There is an interesting article about Christians and postmodernism in the March 2010 First Things magazine. It inspired me to attempt a series of posts on reality and knowledge. None of the ideas in these posts will be new or original, but will attempt to synthesize and summarize common knowledge Christian thought on these issues from many sources.
How do we begin to describe the truth? How can we discover and catalogue the contents of the world of ideas? We cannot. To find out the order of things and see reality, we cannot start with any thing. We cannot start with seeking what we hope to find. We cannot lay a foundation of our own making. We cannot even start from the perspective of “we” or “I.”
That which is, that which was from the beginning, the word of truth. Before all else comes God. Nothing is more fundamental. As your eyes rely on light to see, your mind relies on God to think or know or reason. Nothing is more fundamental than God. In a sense, God cannot be proved because He is the most fundamental reality. All other reality depends on him for its being and purpose, its existence and definition, its context and relationships. God is before all else.
You may be wondering how can we accept what we cannot prove? You have no real choice in this matter if you want to know or prove or think or accept anything else. Whether you yield on this or not, all knowledge, reason, being and form depend on God. To deny Him is like claiming you do not believe in light. You go on seeing by the light anyway, and your rejection of the light can only hurt your efforts to improve your vision.
But then it is also the case you do not need proof of God because you already know He is. You know He is there whether you acknowledge Him or not. You always have. In fact, it was probably easiest for you to just accept He exists before you could think much or talk much about Him. Your mind has tried hard to pretend He is not there as you have grown into an adult and have wanted to be comfortable with doing more and more you knew was incompatible with Him.
Of course knowing God in any way is made possible by Jesus, the Messiah, and the second person of God. And there are different qualities of knowledge. Everyone knows God exists and knows more than enough about what God is like and what he wants for the purposes of everyday life. But you need to know Him, not just know He is there.
So, acknowledge that God is there – and is here. God is the center. God is the start and the end. God is the foundation and the capstone. Everything else depends on Him. As Augustine and Anselm said, we must believe in order to understand. But to know the goal cannot be knowing, the goal must be God Himself, just as God Himself is our starting place.