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Loving God with all Your Mind

Loving God with all Your Mind

by Rick Shrader

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I have always enjoyed reading Gene Veith.  He was the first to introduce me to postmodernism back in the early 90s.  Somewhere along the line I missed this 1987, 2003 book.  The sub-title is:  Thinking as a Christian in the Postmodern World.  Veith uses Daniel as his primary example of someone who was forced to live in a culture (Babylon) that was opposed to almost everything he believed and held dear.  He uses that to bring the reader up to date (at least from 2003) on what is happening to thinking and writing in our present day culture.  Veith proposes, “Western thought has deep roots in Christianity and in a biblical worldview.  Even if contemporary scientists reject Christianity, they cannot escape its influence in the very way they think.”  Yet Veith admits that we have come to a point where our thinking is divorced from Biblical thinking.  “Postmodernist ethicists look neither to absolutes, as Christians do, nor to empirical considerations, as the modernists do, but solely to the individual’s choice.  Morality too is relative, a construction either of the culture or of the individual.”  Then he writes, “The prevailing view is that biblical morality is oppressive and that it stands in the way of social change.”  That change must come even at the extermination of opposing points of view.  But Gene Veith is an educator and he believes that the Christian actually has great advantage in the arena of ideas.  “Christianity offers a conceptual framework for affirming both what is natural and what is human.  In the doctrines of Creation and Incarnation, a Christian can find a conceptual basis for valuing and pursuing the whole range of human and natural knowledge.”

 

Noah Webster

Noah Webster

by Debra Conley

Did You Know?

By Debra Conley

 

One of the first complete dictionaries published in America was Noah Webster’s 1828 Dictionary. At the time, the Bible was the standard textbook in most schools and homes and Webster, a Bible student himself, included many interesting quotes from Scripture  within his definitions. Consider the word Study. Along with the full etymology of its origins, Webster includes quotes from the classic authors such as Bacon and Milton,  but as is his practice, includes the Bible’s statement of such a word, using I Thessalonians 4:11 and  II Timothy 2:15.

An interesting tidbit is that Noah Webster made himself a millionaire on the sale of his Blue Back spelling book.  This was in part the impetus for his push for new copyright laws which were enacted in 1831. When he died in 1843, he had not yet finished a second revision of the dictionary and some reports say that his family sold the rights to help pay for his debts, even though there was controversy over whether Webster had a copyright on it. The purchasing family of George and Charles Merriam agreed to keep the Webster name on future publications. To this date, the company still publishes as Merriam-Webster.

Consider these quotes:

 

“The Bible must be considered as the great source of all the truth by which men are to be guided in government as well as in all social transactions.”

 

“Education is useless without the Bible. The Bible was America’s basic text book in all fields. God’s Word, contained in the Bible, has furnished all necessary rules to direct our conduct.”

 

“Every child in America should be acquainted with his own country. He should read books that furnish him with ideas that will be useful to him in life and practice. As soon as he opens his lips, he should rehearse the history of his own country.”

 

 

 

It’s Time To Start Again

It’s Time To Start Again

by Rick Shrader

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Well, it’s time to start again.  On January 1st no one writing columns really knows how to say anything new.  As a pastor who must preach a fresh sermon every Christmas and Easter and all the other holidays, and has been doing it for most of my life, I can tell you I repeat myself a lot.  You know the man who only comes to church on those two holidays and leaves saying, “pastor, you preach the same thing every time I come to church.”   So as I start the 24th year of writing Aletheia you may want to just put it down and say, “he said this last year.”

Do you remember January 1, 2000, or Y2K?  It wasn’t really the start of a new millennium yet, but the world was changing from writing 1900 to writing 2000.  Well, some gearhead somewhere told us that all computers in the world could not handle the automatic change in those digits and would instantly jam and shut down.  It was pointed out that almost everything in our lives has a computer chip in it and therefore will instantly quit working at midnight of the new year.  The computer in your car, your microwave, your watch, your pacemaker; the computer that runs the city power grid and the one that runs the water works; all of Washington, the Pentagon, the White House (yes, there was some disappointment in its failure here), and even Big Ben and Greenwich Meridian Time.  All of these were supposed to stop and, of course, the world as we know it would come crashing to a halt.  Some were actually disappointed when the world went right on instead of reverting back to outhouses and wood stoves.  Talk about New Year articles being a bummer!  Ironically, the year 2000 started, not with a computer glitch, but with good old, manual, “hanging chad.”  It was probably a natural harbinger of things to come in the next decade.

This year we kind of have a Y2K politically which will start on January 20th when a different kind of President, at least from what we’ve known in our life time, is sworn into office.  Since November 8th, or make that 9th, we have been receiving warnings of coming doom and gloom, or, on the other hand, of the golden age itself.  I would imagine that either side is going to experience quite a bit of disappointment that it doesn’t happen as predicted.

Then there was Harold Camping. Even Wickipedia proudly (or maybe disappointingly) reports, “Camping predicted that Jesus Christ would return to Earth on May 21, 2011, whereupon the saved would be taken up to heaven in the rapture, and that there would follow five months of fire, brimstone and plagues on Earth, with millions of people dying each day, culminating on October 21, 2011, with the final destruction of the world.”  Poor Harold died in 2012—the fate of all writers who go a little overboard predicting what is going to happen next year.

Isaac Watts, my favorite song writer of all time, wrote a little known hymn which he titled, “Begin, My Tongue, Some Heavenly Theme,” and continues in the second line, “And speak some boundless thing” (see the rest at the conclusion of this article).  Since I don’t have boundless things to speak, I am going to let the last two chapters of James speak for me.  Am always enticed by 4:13-17 where James says to his people, “Go to now, ye that say, Today or tomorrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain.” Then James continues, “For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.”  This admonition to approach the next year with God’s will in mind rests in the middle of the last two chapters both of which move our attention in the right direction.

Friendship with the world is the enemy of  God (4:1-12)

“Ye have not, because ye ask not.  Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.  Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God?  Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.”  Pretty tough language!  We know that the Bible uses the word “world” in a few different ways and that here it means that worldly system of which Satan is the god and people are his subjects—sometimes evidently even believers.

When believers, who actually belong to Christ and are no longer legal subjects to Satan, love the world it causes the Holy Spirit Who dwells within to “yearn jealously” (vs. 5).  Though James attributes this to “the scripture,”  we have no Old Testament verse that says it exactly.  I think the study Bibles are correct in referencing Genesis 6:3, which says, “My Spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh.”  James next tells us that God “giveth more grace.”  This could be his analogy to Noah in Genesis 6:8, “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.”  With the end of the old world coming, when “every imagination of the thoughts of men’s heart was only evil continually,”  it was imperative for the believers to look ahead and live by grace.  The friends of that world tragically died in the flood.

Seek God’s will for the year ahead (4:13-17)

James, the pastor of the church in Jerusalem and the first New Testament writer, had to warn his people about their new year’s resolutions.  The book of Acts indicates that these were tough times for the believers because of persecution (11:19) and increasing recession due to famine (11:27-30).  It was only natural for the people to make financial goals for the coming year.  They would go here and there, do this and that, and make some money.  But they had left out the most important consideration,  “For that ye ought to say, if the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.  But now ye rejoice in your boastings:  all such rejoicing is evil.  Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin” (4:15-17).

It is a “sin” for us both to leave God out of our plans and also to run contrary to His will when we know better.  There is something in us here that makes us gravitate toward our own selfishness, especially when we can “consume it upon our own lusts.”

This world is no friend of grace (5:1-6)

“Go to now, you rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you!”  If a time of famine was coming, and evidently it was, the rich people were about to enter a recession or even a great depression.  But God did not have pity because they had “kept back by fraud” the wages of honest workers (4).  “Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter.  Ye have condemned the just; and he doth not resist you” (5-6).

Believers cannot always count on unbelievers to be honest with them, though the believer ought always to be hard working and honest regardless of his or her working situation.  Natural law speaks to all parties involved, but inspired Law speaks even more to Christians.  Why would we want this part of the “world” to love us when, in fact, it can’t love us.  Jesus said to the unbelievers of His day, “The world cannot hate you; but me it hateth, because I testify of it, that the works thereof are evil” (John 7:7).  A generation who loves the world so much that it seeks its love rather than rebuke is not a friend of God.

Take the long look (5:7-11)

This section in James begins, “Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord.”  Let me point out the language here, at the risk of being boring.  “Patience” (as a noun) almost always comes from the Greek word hupomonee, to remain under a burden or trial.  The verb, hupomeno, is usually translated “endure” because it admonishes us to remain under our trial with this patience.  But “patience” here in the three times it appears in James 5:7-10, does not come from hupomonee, but from makrothumia, which is almost always translated “longsuffering.”  I think that would be a much better translation here instead of “patience” although virtually no common translation does it.

James is directing the reader’s attention, in all three cases, to the “coming of the Lord,” “for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh,” and because, “the judge standeth before the door.”  In other words, the admonition is more than just patience, it is also looking far ahead to the time when we see the Lord!  Makrothumia is a combination of two words: makro, meaning long, and thumia, meaning desire.  The same root with a different prefix, epi, meaning short, or short desire, is usually translated lust.  Having a long desire is good and gives us the word longsuffering.  Having a short desire is not good and gives us the word lust.  We should be longsuffering in this world because the Lord is coming one day.

How should we approach 2017?

Here are a few of the things believers should be paying attention to and being aware of in the new year.

Promoting the Lord more than ourselves.  “For not he that commendeth himself is approved, but whom the Lord commendeth” (2 Cor. 10:18).  It seems like everything on line, on TV, in sports, in theater, in music, is about the performer, and this is too often the case in God’s church.  There are so many ways in which we can feed this tendency for the “pride of life” that we must be especially aware of it.

The world does not operate from the perspective of being fallen creatures.  To the average person, the exalting of self is a good thing, it is a way to get ahead, to get oneself noticed.  Even humility is generally used as a way to gain a compliment.  And why shouldn’t they think like this if there is no higher Authority in one’s life?  Still, we know better.  As Paul prefaces that verse, “But he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord” (2 Cor. 10:17).

Furthering the gospel more than good deeds.  Of course, we know that when we present the gospel that it is a gospel of grace not works.  But I am thinking from the sinner’s point of view.  There are many good things to do in this world and we all should be busy with them as much as possible:  helping the helpless, comforting the weak, lifting up the downhearted.  The world, however, sees these as an end in themselves.  The “real” meaning of Christmas, as we have seen, becomes the gift of giving.  The “real” meaning of love is to never give up.  In the old modernistic way, the real meaning of Christianity is to follow Christ’s example and to be like Him, since He was the great Example.

All of these good works are good but they lack one thing:  being the result of a new birth and not the way to a new birth.  The politically correct world is fine with the good works, but they don’t like to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ.  In fact, the gospel is almost outlawed in free societies.  With all of our good deeds, let’s not neglect the most important thing, the need for saving faith.

Using our time wisely.  I think we must all feel the contradiction of living in the most convenient time in history, and yet being chronic time wasters.  Never have we needed more to be, “Redeeming the time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:16).  No doubt, in many ways modern conveniences save a lot of time.  Just think of flying across country rather than driving, and driving rather than riding a horse!  I am writing this article and will send it out by email which will reach anywhere in the world instantly.  I just took a break from writing to heat my cold coffee in 30 seconds in the microwave.  I just texted my brother-in-law across the country to remind him to cheer for my football team in tonight’s game.  Grandpa would not have believed it.

The problem with the gadget age is that we love gadgets.  My wife and I play word games on our phones with our kids in four different time zones, but these games can go on all evening!  I can read texts, emails, and Facebook all afternoon while half a dozen good books sit next to my chair without ever being opened.  And (the chronic time waster of my life time) kids can watch virtually any program in the world for hours at a time and not have time to finish their homework.  Should I go on?

Somehow our forefathers managed to read more, write more, build more, even attend church more.  Maybe the biggest challenge in time management is ourselves, and it is a constant battle.

Keeping the main things the main things.  At the first of the year we all need to be reminded of the essentials of the Christian life: prayer, Bible reading, church attendance, witnessing, and doing the things necessary for a close walk with God.  I’m not talking about simply going through the motions without applying ourselves.  These things are commanded of us in the Scripture.  They are like food and water, clothing and shelter.  These we ought to have done, and not left the others undone.

With all the advantages of the modern conveniences and the ability to work on the go, to communicate instantly, there is something good and settling about establishing patterns and times and habits for these basic Christian virtues.  Sometimes we just have to turn everything else off and sit in a chair in a quiet room with our Bible in our laps (even if it’s an electronic Bible).  And what about our kids and grandkids?  Life will get even busier for them and they need to see biblical priorities in us.  We need to leave those footprints in the sands of our time and pray that generations will follow wisely until the Lord comes.

And So . . .

Having said more than enough to begin a new year, let me end with the rest of Watts’ old song.  I don’t know how he accomplished so much living in the 15th and 16th centuries, but may we match his enthusiam in ours.

 

Begin, My Tongue, Some Heavenly Theme (Isaac Watts, 1674-1748)

 

Begin, my tongue, some heav’nly theme,

And speak some boundless thing—

The mighty works or mightier name

Of our eternal King.

 

Tell of His wondrous faith-ful-ness

And sound His pow’r a-broad;

Sing the sweet prom-ise of His grace,

The love and truth of God.

 

His very word of grace is strong

As that which built the skies;

The voice that rolls the stars a-long

Speaks all the prom-is-es.

 

O might I hear Thy heav’n-ly tongue

But whis-per, “Thou art Mine!”

Those gentle words should raise my song

To notes al-most di-vine.*

*These verses still appear in Great Hymns of the Faith.  Six other verses appear in his original version (in Songs and Hymns of Isaac Watts).

 

 

 

 

Morning Noon and Night Bible Reading

Morning Noon and Night Bible Reading

Morning Noon and Night Bible Reading

by Rick Shrader

Here is my daily Bible Reading schedule in two formats.  I hope this is a help to you to this year as you begin your Bible reading.  These schedules will take you through the Old Testament once, the Gospels 3 times each, and the rest of the New Testament 12 times. Accept the challenge to read the Bible more this year than ever before.

 

Morning Noon and Night Schedule

Morning, Noon, and Night Schedule

Morning and Evening Chronological Schedule

Morning and Evening Chronological Schedule

These documents are formatted like a tri-fold brochure.  Click on the pictures above to open the printable PDF files.  

 

 

The Ultimate Proof of Creation

The Ultimate Proof of Creation

by Rick Shrader

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Dr. Jason Lisle is researcher on staff at Ken Ham’s Answers in Genesis, who writes the forward to the book. It is printed by Master Books, Green Forest, AR, 2009 and is in its sixth printing in 2015. This is more of a book on logic, reasoning, and debating than on creation itself. Lisle goes through ten chapters from proposing his “ultimate proof” of creation from the basis for reasoning at all, to evidences, logical fallacies, apologetics, and examples he used in actual debates with critics. Interestingly, Lisle is much more a presuppositionalist than an evidentialist, and is attempting to base evidences for creation on the presupposition that the Bible must be accepted before we can understand anything anyway. In the first three chapters he proposes what he calls “preconditions of intelligibility.” These are those things that all human beings take for granted when making any kind of argument. Lisle regularly emphasizes basic laws of logic, uniformity in nature, human memory, and morality as examples of those things we naturally assume when arguing anything. He then moves on to the “AIP” test for challenging any argument: Arbitrariness, Inconsistency, and Preconditions of Intelligibility, showing that most false arguments violate one of these three presuppositions. Lisle also has an interesting application of Proverbs 26:4-5, “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit.” We cannot agree to the unbeliever’s thesis (or we will be like him), but we can, for sake of argument, assume his thesis in order to show its fallacies (to confront him about his error).

Combining a few statements made within a few pages, will give a taste of Lisle’s case for presuppositionalism. “The Bible not only provides criteria for itself, but does so for all other facts. It gives us a foundation (the biblical God) for rational reasoning (including the laws of logic), science, morality, reliability of our senses and memory, and so on. . . The Bible passes its own criteria for truth (it is consistent, non-arbitrary, etc.) and provides criteria for everything else. . . The Christian worldview is the only one that is actually able to authorize itself—to pass its own criteria while simultaneously providing criteria for everything else. . . Notice that even the standards by which all worldviews are judged are actually biblical standards. . . The ultimate proof of creation is not that people must profess the Bible—or even read the Bible to be rational. The argument is that the Bible must be true in order for rationality to be possible. Only the biblical worldview can make sense of rationality, morality, and science. And the biblical worldview has always been true, even before the Bible that articulates this view was inscribed” (pp. 158-160).

The book is worth the time and money. It will give a different and interesting angle on the support for creation.

 

 

Questions of the Modern Mind

Questions of the Modern Mind

by Matt Shrader

It has been a long while since young-earth creationists have made such an international appearance. On February 4, 2014 Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis debated with Bill Nye from Bill Nye the Science Guy. Many in the scientific community tuned in to see how the debate would go. Countless churches and schools organized viewings of the debate. This author turned on the online stream which allowed me to conveniently pause and restart as needed. Many billed this as the second Scopes Monkey Trial. Interestingly, several prominent scientists excoriated Bill Nye for even debating. Many of the world’s leading atheists, including Richard Dawkins, objected to even giving creationists (let alone young-earth creationists) a podium from which to speak. For such scientists there is nothing to debate because creationism (and theism for some) has lost its day. This suggests that there is something bigger at play here, and it stretches back past the Scopes Monkey Trial of the 1920’s, past the publications of Darwin of the late 1800’s, and more precisely to the central questions which have come from the “modern” critiques of Christianity. Such questions predate that time period, but they were never presented with such tenacity, penetration, and widespread acceptance than they did at that time.

The central question of the Ham-Nye debate was this: “Is creation a viable model of origins in today’s modern scientific era?” That is a great question, and I am glad that it gained some international news attention. I agree with those who have pointed out that the central question must inevitably turn not just to scientific data, but also to issues of how we can know anything (epistemology), what is our ultimate authority, what does it mean to exist, what do you do with the questions your viewpoint will inevitably create, and is there a Creator God that we can know on a meaningful level? Those questions reveal where the real differences reside.

The debate was not really about evidences. If the debate was all about which model presents the best explanation of the evidence then their could have been a more focused debate over the evidences. Instead both debaters referred the listeners to various resources to check their statements. And truly, the debate over the evidence is nothing new and there are myriads of explanations for either viewpoint answering the other viewpoint. It is well worth the time and effort to evaluate those evidences. These issues had to come out to answer the central question of the debate but they could never fully satisfy that question because the question points to those bigger issues I mentioned.

If you watched the debate, and it is surely still able to be accessed online, then you may have gotten the same feeling that I did: these guys live in very different worlds from one another. Furthermore, Bill Nye and those who agree with his point of view had to look at Ken Ham with an air of complete consternation. Ken Ham kept pointing to the Bible as his authority, an authority which Bill Nye repeatedly referred to as an old book come to us through countless modifications resulting in its utter unreliability. Bill Nye even pointed to certain ideas which he saw as morally reprehensible in biblical theology (theodicy questions) as well as rejecting any kind of non-natural explanation for human consciousness (psychology). Those questions all point to the central idea.

Bill Nye, who also happens to be a former student of Carl Sagan, could not understand why someone would reject not just the critiques of modern science on the Bible but also the critiques offered in the areas of psychology and moral theory and biblical higher criticism. I half expected Bill Nye to stop and respond to the major question by saying: “Viable??? Mr. Ham, don’t you know that the Enlightenment and modern critiques of religion have happened…and you lost?” In essence, how can anyone accept biblical explanations of anything (such as science) when they consider the huge body of modern religious critique?

I would like to take this article and explain a little bit of where such a question comes from by giving a historical survey of the modern critiques. I think we must also make the point that these questions are extremely significant to many. And I want to talk to how the current conservative Christian who accepts biblical authority and inerrancy can start to respond to such questions. But to answer a question we must first understand the question.

The Modern Challenges to Religion:

The critiques of the modern mind began in the time period called the Enlightenment, a period which stretched from the post-Reformation religious wars (ca. 1648) until  the French Revolution (1789). “It is the age which brought together the humanistic spirit of the Renaissance and the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century and thereby ushered in what we call the ‘modern world.’”1 This time period brought about revolutions in science, philosophy, anthropology, and also religion. Instead of an understood reliance on theological authority from the Bible or the Church, the modern man looked elsewhere for a foundation. Autonomous humanity was the central cry. Reason as the authority dominated especially the 1700’s. There was a trust in the ability of humanity to understand nature and inevitably progress, an understanding which produced much optimism. Other Enlightenment ideas such as toleration and the scientific method were also presented as a result of this newfound foundation. For Christianity, the options were whether they should accommodate to these changes; how they should adjust to these changes; or how they could resist these changes.

David Hume (1711-1776) was one of the first (and perhaps the best) of the modern critics of religion. He essentially destroyed any attempt to build a religion on pure reason alone. This was a blow to that Enlightenment idea but also a blow to those theologians who were attempting to build a natural religion which appealed to nature and reason apart from or in concert with special revelation. Now theology could no longer make appeals to its old authorities and neither to pure reason. Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) then put forth what he understood to be the new boundaries of religious discourse. This left religion reliant upon central moral laws inherent in humans (Kant’s categorical imperative). Because of these philosophical critiques Christianity was allowed to operate in fewer and fewer places with fewer and fewer potential foundations.

As the Western world came to grips with the philosophical programs of the Enlightenment certain solutions were offered by Christians (and they are quite diverse). Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834) was the most important of the early liberal theologians. He sought to provide an exposition of Christianity that could fit within these bounds. The title of one of his most important books reveals exactly what the modern Christian felt they had to do: On Religion: Speeches to Its Cultured Despisers.

The critiques, however, were not finished. David Friedrich Strauss (1808-1874) began the study of the life of Christ and attempted to determine what could be actual history and what was mythical or religious. Essentially, Strauss started the historical critical movement which subjected the Bible to the foundations of the modern mind and did not accept miracles or supernaturalism. Among subsequent modern theologians, simply accepting the trustworthiness of the Bible in matters of history, science, and other areas has not been entertained as a serious option since Strauss inspired biblical higher criticism.

In an entirely different vein Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-1872) began to envision what the true nature of Christianity must be and concluded that God is simply the projection of our own failures in life (and so God is the perfect we always fail to be). Christianity (and any religion) was simply a tool of the past that can and should be discarded because of the discoveries of the modern mind. This idea influenced significant modern thinkers such as Karl Marx, Søren Kierkegaard, Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre, Sigmund Freud, and Friedrich Nietzsche. It was Nietzsche (1844-1900) who then critiqued Christianity’s morality because it hindered humanity from embracing the truths of the modern world. Nietzsche’s parables about the “death of God” began to question why culture had not moved on past religion. With Feuerbach, Freud, and Nietzsche Christianity was questioned as to the viability of its anthropology, psychology, and morality.

Daunting as these critiques were, perhaps the scientific work of Charles Darwin (1809-1882) challenged the Bible’s trustworthiness even more fundamentally. The very origins and makeup of humanity and indeed the entire physical universe was radically rethought following his books. Any type of Christian theology that appealed to nature as clearly and undeniably pointing to God was now theoretically answered by the modern mind.

These are but a few of the critiques that have been and are being leveled at Christianity. When Bill Nye is asked to respond to whether a biblical creation account is viable or not he must be a bit puzzled at the supposed unlearnedness of those who do. As I noted above, Bill Nye questioned the Bible’s trustworthiness (as did Strauss), the Bible’s morality (as did Feuerbach and Nietzsche), the Bible’s explanation of consciousness (as did Feuerbach and Freud), and of course the Bible’s views of science, nature, and anthropology (as did Darwin). Bill Nye is committed to only natural evidence and human reason, as is any child of the Enlightenment.

All this begins to show the questions of the modern mind. And I am speaking of those beyond and behind the explanation of scientific data. I might summarize these as: “What is the truly religious person supposed to do with their religion considering the full barrage of challenges and problems that have been presented by the Enlightenment?” The postmodern also asks these questions. They may add other issues such as skepticism, relativism, and truth because they have not accepted the modern solutions to those questions. What we must see is that to the modern and postmodern the issue of existence becomes central. What am I? Am I alone without God? What can I know? What does it mean to be and exist?

I hope that you see the incredible weight that is on the person who truly asks these questions. They are basic and unsettling. And that is one point that should not be missed. For a Christian to simply cast off such questions as “impious” or “off base” can be harmful. When you discard such questions, the modern thinker (and even a postmodern is an heir of this Enlightenment) takes your brushing off as a disinterest in them as a person because they think you do not care about their existence.

So what does the Christian do? How can the Christian respond? I believe that there are answers and I believe that the old truth is powerful even in a new day. We answer these questions for the sake of the truth (aletheia) but also for the sake of the person who needs the truth.

Answering the Questions:

The answers provided by modern theology since these questions have been asked are incredibly diverse and certainly not equally valid. They range from a rejection of Christianity as a necessary form of religion to an intentional return to a pre-modern understanding of the questions and of Christianity. My response to these questions comes from a conservative cultural and theological stance. There is no way to give a comprehensive treatment to those questions in the remainder of this paper. Theologians have given their entire lives to writing about these answers and still wish they could explain and answer more. Part of what we do with the continual publication of a paper like this is to give various and multi-faceted answers to these and other important questions. And so as a start let me give six things to remember.

Stand for Truth. This is simply to say that “Truth” exists and it is important. It is not to say that we infallibly know truth, but we may know it well because of God’s divine accommodation in Scripture and through the works of the Holy Spirit in the individual Christian. This is truth not only as the Bible speaks but also as humans speak and interact. We believe that there are things that are true and thus things that are false. We desire to encourage true beliefs, true speech, and truth in all endeavors. And of course, it is the truth of the gospel that is at the center: a truth which has come to us through God’s revelation in the Scriptures. Today many do not even believe in the existence of God which leads them to deny or radically redefine the idea of “Truth.” We must be sharp in our apologetics, find the questions that are at the heart of each person, and never give away the idea of truth.

Expose the bankruptcy of skepticism and relativism. An incorrect response to the critiques of Christianity is to slide into skepticism or relativism. Skepticism refuses to allow that there is any way to know knowledge and relativism is the related denial that there are any universal truths. As Christians we cannot agree to those ideas but we surely admit we make mistakes and may need time to answer questions and so we should be understanding and humble. I think that diversity is a good thing but I do not agree that this means that every kind of diversity is good (then any idea is acceptable, even eugenics for example). We should recognize we are fallible and that we have questions that are hard to answer but we should still insist that there are answers and that certain answers are better than others based on their adherence to truth.

Love your neighbor. All Christians must recognize their responsibility to love their neighbor and to fulfill the Great Commission. We should be winsome and approachable and civil in our discussions. We should also speak the truth and seek to convince others of the truth. This point should not be confused with weakened convictions or timidity to approach hard subjects or a lack of militancy for truth. We care for those around us and so we are careful that we do not drive them away with something other than the truth. We see all peoples as worth reaching with the truth.

Preach the Gospel. It is the power of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God that is behind the preaching of the gospel. To change someone’s mind concerning ultimate matters often means a change of that person’s heart. This is, of course, the ultimate answer that many are seeking when they ask the questions of existence. This is what we want for them. I also believe the Bible teaches that the regenerate Christian is able to see truth for what it really is because they have experienced the change of the new birth. Romans chapter 1 reminds us that the unbeliever will suppress the truth in unrighteousness and so we must seek for them to be believers. Evangelism is a command and it is also the most powerful convincer of truth.

Know that you are a pilgrim and sojourner. We are not Christianizing the world, but we are being salt and light. We are not staking all things on forging a world that is free from sin and error, but we do accept our responsibility to speak prophetically against sin and error when we see it. We seek to better the world we are in and to do whatever we can with the stewardship that God has given us. This may mean that we find ourselves in the cloud of witness that have suffered for their faith, a position that is truly glorious for its association to Jesus (Acts 5:41). As pilgrims and strangers we realize our permanent residence is elsewhere and realize our stewardship responsibilities even now.

Trust God. We can never forget that deception can convince anybody. Sin causes us to suppress truth. We rest in the truth of Scripture and we rely on the regeneration, illumination, and filling of the Holy Spirit. We trust God’s word and love and find our ultimate delight in God.

Is creation science viable? To answer we must first answer the bigger questions about God, revelation, authority, human ability, and human existence. Is faith viable? Yes, it has been and it will be (and everyone exercises it).

Today, people want to know what they can trust about these ultimate questions. Christians point to God’s sovereignty over all the universe past, present, and future. Notice that when the apostle Peter responded to those who scoffed and doubted the coming of Christ and saw no indication to accept it, he said remember creation, the flood, the coming of Christ, and the absolute reliability of God’s promises. God has not forgotten and God has not failed to accomplish his purposes.

(2 Peter 3:1-15, ESV)

This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, 2 that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, 3 knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. 4 They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” 5 For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, 6 and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. 7 But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. 8 But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.  9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.  10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. 11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! 13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. 14 Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. 15 And count the patience of our Lord as salvation.

Let the Christian see our present battles and God’s waiting not as reason to doubt His faithfulness, but as reason to be diligent. And let the unbeliever see God’s waiting not as evidence God is not there or that He does not care, but as His patient longsuffering giving opportunity for salvation.

 

Notes:

1. James C. Livingston, Modern Christian Thought, Volume 1: The Enlightenment and the Nineteenth Century, Second Edition (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2006), 5.

 

 

What We Talk About When We Talk About Go...

What We Talk About When We Talk About God

by Matt Shrader

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Rob Bell’s newest book is out, though without the hype that accompanied his last book. We gave a full article to reviewing Love Wins when it came out in early 2012, we gave an article to Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christianity, and we gave another article to the theological method (narrative theology) that drove much of what Bell and McLaren were doing in those books. Also, we gave a short review to another of Bell’s important books that was written in 2005, Velvet Elvis.This much attention is given because these authors have a huge influence and what they have said has become quite popular in many circles.

Bell’s newest book explores what he thinks we ought to believe or think about God. He starts by saying we should be open to new understandings of God because we live in a new and challenging world (this is classic Enlightenment liberalism). More importantly says Bell, we must recognize that language “both helps us and fails in our attempts to understand and describe the paradoxical nature of the God who is beyond words” (17) (remember his narrative theology and epistemology). This leads Bell to say that God is with us (in an intuitive and mysterious sense), for us (think Love Wins), and ahead of us (think Jurgen Moltmann’s Theology of Hope). And so, Bell says we must recognize those moments when God is trying to help us forward in the evolutionary process toward the place where he is. This is done through that intuitional acceptance of all of life as given by God to take us forward and bring us all together, despite the overwhelming mysteries.

I was not as surprised by the theology of this book considering the previous ones. Though, a few things were added to the paradigm of how I understand Bell. Here is the paradigm: explicit references to the theology of Paul Tillich (God is the ground of our being, pp. 15, 216); reiteration of narrative epistemology (failure of language and verbal revelation); and acceptance of a quasi-panentheistic god born out of Moltmann’s theology (Bell also praises Teilhard de Chardin, pp. 218, 220).

What does all that mean? Bell has an amazing ability to write and communicate major theological trends that carry the modern and postmodern day and put them into words that the person who cannot read Tillich, Moltmann, Teilhard, Frei, and Lindbeck will get and hold in a practical way. Unfortunately, he denies the Bible is verbally inspired and communicates propositional revelation. So then he denies the God described in the Bible (and in the creeds of the early church). And, he accepts a view of universalism that has an understanding of sin and salvation that is patently un-Christian. He may be a New York Times bestselling author, but his ideas cannot be considered Christian in any meaningful sense of the term.

 

 

Reading This Year

Reading This Year

by Rick Shrader

Francis Bacon once said, “Reading makes a broad man but writing makes an exact man.”1  I am not as broad as I ought to be and am surely not as exact as I need to be.  I find myself more in agreement with the preacher when he wrote, “and further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh” (Ecc. 12:12).  Yet I know that reading is the life blood of learning.  The great apostle, with no hope of escape from prison, still requested of young Timothy that he bring him his books! (See 2 Tim. 4:13); and Daniel, busy in his work as a head of state, wrote, “I Daniel understood by books the number of the years” (Dan. 9:2). 

My father was a university professor and my mother was an English teacher.  One would think some of it would rub of on their third child.  For my mother’s sake, I wear a white carnation on Mother’s Day and I try to continue to read and write.  Reading was comprehension to her, speed reading was not a real concern.  William McGuffey wrote, “Read much but not many books.  The motto in reading should be multum non multa”2 (not many things but much).  I (and my siblings) went to his grade school in Oxford, Ohio, maybe some of that will rub off! 

I’m certainly not a fast reader.  I have a four-speed transmission when it comes to how I can read various books.  Sometimes I can get up to third or fourth gear, but most times I plug along in first or second.  Technical books (such as commentaries and theologies, which I love) just need to be given time.  There is a saying, “it’s not the bee touching the flower, but abiding on it that produces the honey!” 

I have become a more organized reader as I’ve grown older; maybe you have as well.  I regret that I did not have (or no one taught me) a way to catalog information throughout my college and seminary days.  Those old text books and other reading material are filled with pencil scratchings behind the front covers, but if I can’t remember under which cover to look, I’ve lost it.  When my daughter Rebekah was my secretary, she wrote a small computer program to keep and catalog quotations from my reading.  Later, my software engineer son Michael made an even more elaborate program which I now use.  I guess if you can’t figure it all out yourself, raise some children who can.  They’ll only think you’re stodgy, which isn’t bad.  When Lee Strobel was writing his first book, he went to meet Bruce Metzger.  He said, “I found eighty-four-year-old Bruce Metzger on a Saturday afternoon at his usual hangout, the library at Princeton Theological Seminary, where, he says with a smile, ‘I like to dust off the books.’”3  That’s what my generation will be doing in retirement, and that’s not bad either. 

 

Some rules for reading

If I could start all over again I would follow a few rules.  If I didn’t like to read to begin with, I would begin reading with what I liked.  In my opinion a comic book is better than a cartoon because it takes more effort, imagination, and vocabulary.  But if one will continue in that vein, he will soon graduate to better reading.  Even to this day, when I get tired of reading the heavy things, I will go back to a good biography or even a fun story.  Those have a way of pulling me back to my corner chair and asking me to linger there a while.  Dr. Clearwaters used to quote William James saying, “We all have equal retentive powers, we only differ in degrees of interest and methods of learning.”  I have found that the degree of interest will greatly enhance the method of learning.

I would also slow down and read as if I were talking to the author and he with me.  But just as in real conversation, the pace will naturally pick up as you run deeper into the topic.  Spurgeon said, “A student will find that his mental constitution is more affected by one book thoroughly mastered than by twenty books he has merely skimmed.  Little learning and much pride come of hasty reading.”4  Daniel said he “understood by books,” not that he saw something in a book. 

I would also try to expand my knowledge of various kinds of literature and authors.  A “university” (unity in diversity) training is what we need.   An “encyclopedic” (pediatrics in the whole cycle) knowledge is what we are after.  Thomas à Kempis wrote,  “Let not the authority of the writer offend thee, whether he be of great or small learning; but let the love of pure truth draw thee to read.”5  I see my younger son, Matthew, gaining this kind of reading ability much better than I ever did.  When our children were young, we would stock the shelves with children-sized novels and classics, and he read them all!  Now his (and all of our children’s) range of reading is much broader than it would have been.  Our younger daughter, Rachel, now has an MA in reading!

 

Those technologies

And also, as I have noted, I would develop a retrieval method much earlier in my career.  This is where the electronics boom has been such a blessing, though it can also be a curse.  My father, a PhD from the University of Missouri, was an electronics wizard.  He fixed anything and everything, built our houses, built and rebuilt our cars, and could tell you how every little gizmo worked and why.  He retired, however, in 1984 just as the computer world was coming into its own and he did not come in with it.  He had the brains, no doubt, and the aptitude, but the interest died out too quickly.  I am certainly no computer guru and only operate on an average level, but I am well beyond my father.  My children are the same distance ahead of me (maybe more) than I was of my father.  I’m sure their children will pass them as well. 

Now this doesn’t mean that we are more literate than our ancestors.  Most people agree that our generation has more material at its fingertips than past generations combined but seems to have less wisdom and literacy than past generations.  I know that I am far less literate than my mother (who died 1-1-01).  She was an English and Literature teacher and taught for 25 years in the public school system and was an avid reader.  She also taught a very popular Bible as Literature class in the high school where I attended—in the 1960s!  She never used a computer, as far as I know, but I still wish that my reading could be as broad as hers.  My sister, Debra, is just like her mother but more computer literate as well; so it can work both ways.  She reads quickly and comprehensively to the shame of the rest of us.  I would still call her “old school” when it comes to the kind of books she likes and her broad understanding of subjects, yet she is well beyond our mother in up-to-date technologies.

Only recently have I begun reading from a Kindle.  On a trip this year to Ukraine my son, Matthew (who has an iPad with Kindle on it), gave me his old Kindle with a few books already on it.  I bought a few more and took only that with me on the trip.  I loved the ease of it and read four books on the two-week trip.  That doesn’t bring me into the new age, however.  I still love to read with a pencil and my personal bookmark (I am terrible at marking up a book so no one else will ever be able to use it).  I have Amazon tagged with my favorite web sites and have done my share of making them rich.  But I still identify with  J. Sidlow Baxter when he said,  “All of us are fond of reconnoitering among the shelves of evangelical bookstores.”6  I’ll add to that, among dusty shelves of used book stores!

 

The next generation

What will our children and grandchildren face in their life-times? There is already the problem of plagiarism in schools and informal writing.  With Google searches, it is almost too easy to find information.  It takes little or no effort in personal research.  In fact, “research” today means searching the internet.  But footnoting and giving credit where credit is due takes time and know-how.  So why not just drop (cut and paste) the whole text right into my own document?  In a world-wide information system, who’s to know?  One can also word-search a subject in difficult-to-read books and lift a quotation out of it as if one has really read it.  Remember in the old footnoting system (which I still use) how you had to be careful not to use an author’s own footnote when he footnoted another author?  Either read the book yourself, or give the current author credit.  That kind of thing is even easier now.

On a personal note, I tire of the over-footnoting which is today’s style (and required of good students).  When you read a paper, or technical book, you are reading two things:  the text itself which is the top half of the page, and the footnotes which take up the bottom half of the page.  It’s almost like reading two books at once, like carrying on two conversations at the same time.  I’m old-school enough to just want it in one conversation or be polite and wait until later.  Footnoting itself (which I agree is necessary) is not found in older research books at all.  I’m not sure that I would go as far as professor Goodrick when he wrote, “Many a polluting interpretation that deserves a death with dignity is kept alive by the heroic efforts of that life-support apparatus called a footnote.”7

I am afraid that history will be so re-written that my grand children will not even know the truth of history.  The internet makes no distinction between false and true.  This is like the Hollywood film version of history—since it is all many people will ever see, it is accepted as fact without any critical thinking.  This is already bleeding over into Biblical history and the reliability of the Bible.  Dan Brown’s DiVinci Code is proof enough!

How many of us will see our grandchildren ten times as proficient as we with the technologies, but woefully deficient in the social skills of life?  I still find it ironic to talk about “social networking” among people who never see or talk to one another.  It is a common remark to hear someone say that they have been in a public place where everyone was busy on their electronic device but never said a word to one another.  Multi-tasking seldom includes conversation, evidently.  Add to this the coming deficiency in spelling, grammar, personality, facial expression, eye contact, not to mention manners.  And we cannot even talk about morality.  C.S. Lewis wrote some time ago, “He has read all the right books but has got the wrong thing out of every one.  It is as if he spoke your language but mispronounced it.”8  I think it is the same with an over-use of the internet and social media. 

We all fear the next generation’s attitude toward Christian fellowship and worship.  We try not to quibble over electronic words rather than printed words, or virtual speakers on a screen rather than the actual speaker in front of you.  We can’t even approach the subject anymore of which is better:  real sound or electronically reproduced sound.  We lost that battle over sound tracks, then over organs, and now we may only seldom hear the sound of a real acoustic piano.  But where are we headed when it comes to real books?  An appropriate illustration might be of the song book.  If older song writers did not copyright their songs (which, of course, they did not), they are changed at will to suit the current publisher’s purpose.  If Isaac Watts wrote “for such a worm as I,” then either sing it or leave it alone!  But don’t soft-peddle it into something he didn’t write.  But this is a mute point also since we are now beyond using actual song books anyway (except in my church).  You don’t have to have anything in your hand, Bible or song book, except perhaps your own “smart” phone to do something else when you get bored. 

I’ve used this old quote from J.S. Whale often, “Instead of putting off our shoes from our feet because the place we stand is holy ground, we are taking nice photographs of the burning bush from suitable angles.”9  Many worship services do feel more like a photo session than a worship service.  We worship the worship more than the object of our worship.  Our icons have become electronic.

 

The challenge

So what are the challenges that we face as we go forward (and go forward we must)?  First and foremost is to keep walking by faith and not by sight.  The immortal, invisible God lives in a world we cannot experience with our physical senses.  Therefore we must follow the path He has revealed to us, and that is precisely a written text.  A verbal, plenary view of the inspiration of that revelation causes us to want to read it!  Yes, we can do that electronically.  I have a few different electronic versions of the Bible plus an extensive Bible software program.  I must admit I still love the real Book in my hands and real commentaries, lexicons, etc.  I also do find these deficiencies with my electronic versions: I don’t mark them (though I can, clumsily, with built-in tools), I read them too fast, I read them in busy places, and I don’t reverence them much.  Again, the danger in all of this is losing a proper view of the invisible God.  Maybe He can be downsized, or stored in a file, or cut and pasted, or be given a handy size to fit my busy life-style.  Maybe I’m the one in control here.

Second, will this cycle of one generation dropping pace from the next, continue from now on?  Will children always have the attitude that adults don’t know things and are incapable of handling the simplest tasks?  What will a generation of kids look like in fifty years?  Will there still be a walk by faith and not by sight?  When the last generation does come, will there still be faith on the earth?

Third, what about myself and my generation?  I want to finish the race strongly.  Can I do that if I am not very technologically astute?  Can the older saints, whom we are to honor, be given any real respect in our churches, or are they mere spectators while the children run the show?  I watched my father retreat from a newer world and I’ve always told myself I won’t do that.  Frankly, retreat from communications that corrupt good manners seems prudent.  But I will continue to do the best I can within the framework of God’s Word.

 

And so . . .

The subject of this article is reading.  I believe we must read.  A generation that doesn’t read also doesn’t learn, spell, communicate, or write.  Christians can’t allow that to happen to them or their children.  We are in a strange world but so have been those before us.  Pilgrims and strangers must travel through the land and do the best they can in the time they have.  Our stewardship is with the tools God has given us, not what He has given someone else.  Stewards must be faithful.

Christian (in Bunyan’s classic) was uncomfortable in the city called Vanity which had a Fair that lasted twelve months out of the year so that the partying never stopped.  He was out of place, they told him, in his speech, his looks, and his stodgy ways.  He couldn’t change Vanity’s Fair in the time he had there because he was a pilgrim and had a goal in sight and had to move on.  But he was a light in a dark place for a while.  We are children of the light so let us also walk in the light in the time that we have.

 

Notes:

1. This quote is repeated by many.  See, for example,  Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Church (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995) 100.

2. Harvey Minnich, William Holmes McGuffey and his Readers (Cincinnati: American Book Co., 1936) 183.

3. Lee Strobel, The Case For Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998) 57.

4. Quoted by J. Oswald Sanders in Spiritual Leadership (Chicago: Moody Press, 1971) but attributed to H. Thielecke in a book titled Encounter With Spurgeon.

5. Thomas  à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ (Chicago: Moody Press, 1984) 33.

6. J. Sidlow Baxter, His Deeper Work In Us (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1977) 81.

7. Edward Goodrick, Is My Bible The Inspired Word of God? (Portland:  Multnomah Press, 1988) 107.

8. C.S. Lewis, Surprised By Joy (New York: HBJ, 1955) 199.

9. J.S. Whale, Christian Doctrine (Cambridge: University Press, 1963) 152.

 

 

 

 

Right Reason and the Princeton Mind

Right Reason and the Princeton Mind

by Matt Shrader

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This book is subtitled: “An Unorthodox Proposal.” Helseth sets out to defend the theologians of Old Princeton (Alexander, Hodge, Warfield, Machen) against the accepted scholarly opinion of their theology. The accepted opinion states that these men illegitimately borrowed categories and philosophies from Enlightenment thinking, such as Scottish Common Sense Realism and Baconianism. And so, this view states, the Old Princeton theologians were merely modernist thinkers. The specific charge is that they allow parts of man’s rationality to be unaffected by the Fall, therefore, they do not have a Reformational epistemology.

Helseth skillfully (and refreshingly) counters this charge. He shows that the Old Princeton theologians had an understanding called “right reason,” or, reason reliant upon moral and spiritual categories. Therefore, the use of the previously mentioned modern methods and philosophies does not preclude the charge of Enlightenment rationality; and, theoretically, there can be a place for those methods within a genuinely Reformational epistemology.

There is a lot of really good information in this book. If you enjoy reading some older theology, history of theology, and how that history of theology has been written, then this book is highly recommended. I have gained a lot of benefit from the theologians that Helseth defends (Warfield on inerrancy and Machen on modernism are two of the brightest examples). It is nice to see a study defending their theology and methodology.

 

The Man Who Went Away

The Man Who Went Away

by Rick Shrader

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This finishes the 16 HBW books I have out of the 19 he wrote.  This was his last book written in 1942 about a man who owned and saved the Red Wood Forests, opting for the sublimity of the ageless past over the lurid and fast-paced future.  (I collect HBW books and am looking for Long Ago Told; The Devil’s Highway; or To My Sons, in case you happen to know where one is).