TGC: Now is the Time for Evangelism (in Australia)

Rory Shiner thinks that 2018 is the time for evangelism. I agree.

Talk to student workers in AFES, for example. They are the ones on the front line, sharing the gospel with the very generation who have been raised on intersectionality and gender fluidity and the whole bit. And yet, again and again, from campus to campus, these student workers are saying that this is the best and the freshest evangelistic environment they’ve seen in their life time.

People are so post-Christian that the gospel is fresh and interesting. They know so little that there’s less prejudice. And if they have an impression of Christians at all, it’s so outrageously negative that all you have to do is offer them a cup of tea and not punch them in the face and you seem like Mother Theresa.

Think about this, and it makes plenty of sense. People in the last 60 years or so have felt, in rejecting Christianity, that it is old and outdated and childish. That they already understand it, and can dismiss it as false. But now they might still have some of that attitude, but in reality they know nothing about Christianity. It’s easy to get someone intellectually curious about Christianity now, or surprise them with how little they know. And this leads to critical engagement. And critical engagement with Christianity leads to Christians.

The harvest is great, but the workers are few. Don’t be afraid or discouraged. Go on the offensive, fight the good fight, and win souls for Christ.

Guest Post: Is Jesus Jehovah?

For many of us, the deity of Christ is simply a given. We hear Him making claims that no human being could possibly make. He claims to be the only true way (John 14:6) and gate (John 10:9) into God’s kingdom. He claims to be the Lord of the sabbath (Matthew 12:8) and the fulfillment of all righteousness (Matthew 3:15). These are no mere figures of speech, and we have to take them seriously.

If those claims aren’t enough, the New Testament epistles testify to the deity of Christ. Trinitarian creeds are tucked into the very fabric of Peter (1 Peter 1:2) and Paul (1 Corinthians 12:4-6). What’s more, the word “God” (Greek theos) is used of Jesus explicitly.

But this little Greek word is the source of more controversy than perhaps any other in the New Testament, especially when dealing with Jehova’s Witnesses and those in the LDS church. With lengthy exegetical gymnastics, those who deny the deity of Christ usually bring prepared answers to respond to the famous texts like John 1, Colossians 1 and 2, and so on. They claim that “[Jesus] is not the one-and-only God, but is a god, or divine being”. Under such statements, theos becomes a lost pointer to the deity of Christ in the bible. In order to respond to these views, we must develop a more fundamental apologetic. The real question is, “Did the Biblical authors consider Jesus to be Jehovah God himself?” If we can show that the name of the one true God, “Jehovah”, can be biblically applied to Christ, then the centre of the debate shifts away from prepared answers and towards edifying dialogue. We will now examine a few texts to answer this question.

Who did Isaiah see?

In the most well-known chapter of Isaiah, chapter 6, the prophet is given a vision of God in his temple.

“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty. The Earth is full of his glory!'”

Isaiah sees what could only be described as the very throne of God himself, and the one seated on it. He sees the Lord (“Jehovah” in the New World Translation) lifted up, and sitting in GLORY. There is a particular emphasis on the glory, splendour and majesty of God, and so Isaiah is undone: “Woe to me, I am as good as dead”. After Isaiah’s sins are forgiven and atoned for, the focus shifts to his prophetic commission:

“Then I heard the voice of Jehovah saying: ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ And I said: ‘Here I am! Send me!’ And he replied, ‘Go, and say to this people: ‘You will hear again and again, But you will not understand; You will see again and again, But you will not get any knowledge””

After Isaiah sees the Lord, he is commissioned to preach to an unrepentant nation, who (we are told) will “hear but never understand”. In other words, the chapter can be summarised like this: Isaiah sees the glory of Jehovah, and is commissioned to speak for him amongst an unbelieving people.

Fast-forward several hundred years, and Jesus is preaching to a hard-hearted crowd in Jerusalem, the capital city of faithless Israel. In John 12:37, we are told that Jesus had performed many signs, and yet they still didn’t believe him. We are told that this took place in order to fulfil the words of Isaiah: “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn—and I would heal them.”

So John directly connects this event with the prophecy of Isaiah 6. But the next statement is absolutely critical:

“These things Isaiah said because he saw His glory, and he spoke of Him. Nevertheless many even of the rulers believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they were not confessing him”.

Let that soak in for a minute. Isaiah said these things because he saw His glory, and spoke of Him. Who is “he”? There can be no doubt in the text. The one who was preaching, the one who the pharisees were rejecting, the one about whom the whole story is written (John 20:31), is the one Isaiah saw and spoke of. Remember our summary of Isaiah 6? Isaiah sees Jehovah and is commissioned to speak. Here in John 12, the apostle is clearly (though implicitly) saying “Isaiah saw the glory of Jesus, lofty and lifted up”. For John, there is no doubt. Jesus is Jehovah himself.

Who laid the foundations of the earth?

Psalm 102 is a beautiful prayer of confession from a helpless and languishing saint. He offers himself to God in a desperate time of weakness and trial. As an antidote to his distress, the psalmist remembers the character and Sovereignty of God, his refuge:

“My days are like the evening shadow; I wither away like grass. But you, Lord, sit enthroned forever; your renown endures through all generations… In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain;  they will all wear out like a garment. Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.”

How beautiful! But we must not ignore the hidden gold nugget of theology shining through the lyrics. Let us be clear: this is a song to Jehovah. His name is used several times explicitly (v.1, 12, 15, 16, 18, 19, 21, 22), and surely Jehovah alone is the craftsman of the heavens.

But the book of Hebrews has more to say. In the first chapter, the author intends to show that Jesus is no mere angel “For to which of the angels did he ever say ‘You are my son, today I have begotten you’?”

Jesus is not just an angel. He is the divine Son of God. Once again, verses 9-12 give the kicker:

“But of the Son he says… “You, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth, And the heavens are the works of Your hands; They will perish, but You remain; And they all will become old like a garment, And like a mantle You will roll them up; Like a garment they will also be changed. But You are the same, And Your years will not come to an end.”

In other words, Psalm 102 is directly applied to Jesus. God the Father said these things “Of the Son”. It was Jesus who laid the foundation of the world. In the mind of the author of Hebrews, Jesus is Jehovah himself, God the Son.

Who ascended?

Let’s take another Psalm. In Psalm 68, David reflects on the saving characteristics of God, with a particular emphasis on the redemptive acts of God in Israel’s history (like the exodus from Egypt):

“When you, God, went out before your people, when you marched through the wilderness, the earth shook, the heavens poured down rain, before God, the One of Sinai, before God, the God of Israel.”

Verse 18 describes none other than Jehovah:

“When you ascended on high, you took many captives; you received gifts from people, even from the rebellious—that you, Lord [Jehovah] God, might dwell there.”

That is, God led forth a procession of captive Israelites to the promised land, and to his sanctuary.

Paul, however, adds another layer to this exceptional verse. To the Ephesians, Paul writes:

“But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says: ‘When he ascended on high, he took many captives and gave gifts to his people.’ (What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions. He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.”

Notice who gives the gifts. We have each been given a gift as Christ apportioned it. Paul then goes on the quote Psalm 68:18 (a verse which itself contains the name of Jehovah) and applies it directly to Christ. Not only does he apply it to Christ, but he actually makes an argument. He argues that the reference to “ascension” can only make sense if it refers to the resurrection of Christ. ‘What else could it mean?’ he asks. And he is right. The truth is, Psalm 68:18 is a verse about Jesus. If our theology is to align with Paul’s, then we should be able to read Psalm 68:18, and indeed the whole Psalm, and see Jesus. The Psalm is about Christ, including the word “Jehovah”.

So we have John, Paul and the author of Hebrews all referring, however subtly, to Jesus as Jehovah. Many such references exist in the New Testament, and we cannot simply pass over them lightly. Before we bring them to the debating scene, let us soak ourselves in the rich truth that a crucified Galilean was none other than our Creator. The one who made a way for us on the cross was the same one who touched the lips of Isaiah, and led the Israelites through the desert. He spoke with Moses, He was the delight of David, and He was fully revealed on the dark day of Calvary.

 

Sola Scriptura in the Early Church

Given that I am Reformed, I hold to Sola Scriptura. The Westminster Confession defines it well:

“The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men.”

I believe this, as do all who are Reformed. However, occasionally, people who lean more towards the Roman Catholic Church will tell me that Sola Scripture is an innovation in the 16th century and cannot be found in the early Church, in the writings of the Church Fathers. Here are some Church Fathers, and some things that they have said that are relevant to this discussion. For the moment I will limit myself to the thesis: Sola Scriptura is defensible from the Church Fathers. For the moment, I do not intend to argue that it is the only defensible position from them.

When available online, I have produced links to the sources. Sadly not all the writings of the church fathers are available online, or at least not that I could find. If you can find a reference I’ve missed, please let me know.

Irenaeus (130 – 202)

“Such, then, is their system, which neither the prophets announced, nor the Lord taught, nor the apostles delivered, but of which they boast that beyond all others they have a perfect knowledge. They gather their views from other sources than the Scriptures” – Against Heresies 1.8.1

“We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith. For it is unlawful to assert that they preached before they possessed ‘perfect knowledge,’ as some do even venture to say, boasting themselves as improvers of the apostles” – Against Heresies 3.1.1

“When, however, they are confuted from the Scriptures, they turn round and accuse these same Scriptures, as if they were not correct, nor of authority, and [assert] that they are ambiguous, and that the truth cannot be extracted from them by those who are ignorant of tradition. For [they allege] that the truth was not delivered by means of written documents, but vivâ voce” – Against Heresies 3.2.1

Clement of Alexandria (150 – 215)

“But those who are ready to toil in the most excellent pursuits, will not desist from the search after truth, till they get the demonstration from the Scriptures themselves” – Stromata 7.16

Hippolytus (170 – 235)

“There is, brethren, one God, the knowledge of whom we gain from the Holy Scriptures, and from no other source. . . . So all of us who wish to practice piety will be unable to learn its practice from any other quarter than the oracles of God. Whatever things, then, the Holy Scriptures declare, at these let us look; and whatever things they teach, these let us learn” – Against Noetus 9

Cyprian of Carthage (210 – 258)

“Whence is that tradition? Whether does it descend from the authority of the Lord and of the Gospel, or does it come from the commands and the epistles of the apostles? For that those things which are written must be done, God witnesses and admonishes, saying to Joshua the Son of Nun: The book of this law shall not depart out of your mouth; but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written therein”” – Epistle 73

“If, therefore, it is either prescribed in the Gospel, or contained in the epistles or Acts of the Apostles, that those who come from any heresy should not be baptized, but only hands laid upon them to repentance, let this divine and holy tradition be observed” – Epistle 73

Athanasius (296–298)

“Vainly then do they run about with the pretext that they have demanded Councils for the faith’s sake; for divine Scripture is sufficient above all things; but if a Council be needed on the point, there are the proceedings of the Fathers, for the Nicene Bishops did not neglect this matter, but stated the doctrine so exactly, that persons reading their words honestly, cannot but be reminded by them of the religion towards Christ announced in divine Scripture” – Letter, De Synodis

“These are fountains of salvation, that they who thirst may be satisfied with the living words they contain. In these alone is proclaimed the doctrine of godliness. Let no man add to these, neither let him take ought from these. For concerning these the Lord put to shame the Sadducees, and said, ‘Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures.’ And He reproved the Jews, saying, ‘Search the Scriptures, for these are they that testify of Me’” – 39th Festal Letter.

St. Cyril of Jerusalem (313 – 386)

“Have thou ever in your mind this seal, which for the present has been lightly touched in my discourse, by way of summary, but shall be stated, should the Lord permit, to the best of my power with the proof from the Scriptures. For concerning the divine and holy mysteries of the Faith, not even a casual statement must be delivered without the Holy Scriptures; nor must we be drawn aside by mere plausibility and artifices of speech. Even to me, who tell you these things, give not absolute credence, unless thou receive the proof of the things which I announce from the Divine Scriptures. For this salvation which we believe depends not on ingenious reasoning, but on demonstration of the Holy Scriptures” – Catechetical Lecture 4.17

“Now mind not my argumentations, for perhaps you may be misled but unless thou receive testimony of the Prophets on each matter, believe not what I say: unless thou learn from the Holy Scriptures concerning the Virgin, and the place, the time, and the manner, receive not testimony from man. For one who at present thus teaches may possibly be suspected: but what man of sense will suspect one that prophesied a thousand and more years beforehand? If then you seek the cause of Christ’s coming, go back to the first book of the Scriptures” – Catechetical Lecture 12.5

Basil the Great (330 – 379)

“What is the mark of a faithful soul? To be in these dispositions of full acceptance on the authority of the words of Scripture, not venturing to reject anything nor making additions. For, if ‘all that is not of faith is sin’ as the Apostle says, and ‘faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God,’ everything outside Holy Scripture, not being of faith, is sin.” – Moralia

“The hear­ers taught in the Scrip­tures ought to test what is said by teach­ers and accept that which agrees with the Scrip­tures but reject that which is for­eign” – Moralia

“Therefore let God-inspired Scripture decide between us; and on whichever side be found doctrines in harmony with the word of God, in favour of that side will be cast the vote of truth” – Letter 189

“Enjoying as you do the consolation of the Holy Scriptures, you stand in need neither of my assistance nor of that of anybody else to help you to comprehend your duty. You have the all-sufficient counsel and guidance of the Holy Spirit to lead you to what is right” – Letter 283

Gregory of Nyssa (335 – 394)

“Let the inspired Scriptures then be our umpire, and the vote of truth will be given to those whose dogmas are found to agree with the Divine words.” – On the Holy Trinity

“We are not entitled to such license, I mean that of affirming what we please; we make the Holy Scriptures the rule and the measure of every tenet; we necessarily fix our eyes upon that, and approve that alone which may be made to harmonize vvith the intention  of those writings.”- On the Soul and the Resurrection

Ambrose (340 – 397)

“For how can we adopt those things which we do not find in the holy Scriptures?” – On the Duties of the Clergy

Theophilus of Alexandria (? – 412)

“It would be the instigation of a demonical spirit to follow the conceits of the human mind, and to think anything divine, beyond what has the authority of the Scriptures” – Epistola 96

Jerome (347 – 420)

“But as we do not deny what is written, so we do reject what is not written” – Against Helvidius 21

“Those things which they make and find, as it were, by apostolical tradition, without the authority and testimony of Scripture, the word of God smites” – on Aggai 1

John Chrysostom (349 – 407)

“Regarding the things I say, I should supply even the proofs, so I will not seem to rely on my own opinions, but rather, prove them with Scripture, so that the matter will remain certain and steadfast.” – Homily 8 On Repentance and the Church

“There comes a heathen and says, “I wish to become a Christian, but I know not whom to join: there is much fighting and faction  among you, much confusion: which doctrine am I to choose?” How shall we answer  him? “Each of you” (says he) “asserts, ‘I speak the truth.”‘  No doubt:  this is in our favor. For if we told you to be persuaded by arguments, you might well be perplexed: but if we bid you believe the Scriptures, and these are simple and true, the decision is easy for you. If any agree with the Scriptures, he is the Christian; if any fight against them, he is far from this rule.”  – Homily 33 in Acts of the Apostles

“Wherefore I exhort and entreat you all, disregard what this man and that man thinks about these things, and inquire from the Scriptures all these things; and having learned what are the true riches, let us pursue after them that we may obtain also the eternal good things” – Homily 13 On Second Corinthians

Augustine (354 – 430)

“What more shall I teach you than what we read in the apostles? For Holy Scripture fixes the rule for our doctrine, lest we dare be wiser than we ought. Therefore I should not teach you anything else except to expound to you the words of the Teacher” – Of the Good of Widowhood 2.

“It is to the canonical Scriptures alone that I am bound to yield such implicit subjection as to follow their teaching, without admitting the slightest suspicion that in them any mistake or any statement intended to mislead could find a place” – Letter 82

“For the reasonings of any men whatsoever, even though they be Catholics, and of high reputation, are not to be treated by us in the same way as the canonical Scriptures are treated. We are at liberty, without doing any violence to the respect which these men deserve, to condemn and reject anything in their writings, if perchance we shall find that they have entertained opinions differing from that which others or we ourselves have, by the divine help, discovered to be the truth. I deal thus with the writings of others, and I wish my intelligent readers to deal thus with mine” – Letter 148

“You are wont, indeed, to bring up against us the letters of Cyprian, his opinion, his Council; why do ye claim the authority of Cyprian for your schism, and reject his example when it makes for the peace of the Church? But who can fail to be aware that the sacred canon of Scripture, both of the Old and New Testament, is confined within its own limits, and that it stands so absolutely in a superior position to all later letters of the bishops, that about it we can hold no manner of doubt or disputation whether what is confessedly contained in it is right and true; but that all the letters of bishops which have been written, or are being written, since the closing of the canon, are liable to be refuted if there be anything contained in them which strays from the the truth, either by the discourse of some one who happens to be wiser in the matter than themselves, or by the weightier authority and more learned experience of other bishops, by the authority of Councils; and further, that the Councils themselves, which are held in the several districts and provinces, must yield, beyond all possibility of doubt, to the authority of plenary Councils which are formed for the whole Christian world; and that even of the plenary Councils, the earlier are often corrected by those which follow them, when, by some actual experiment, things are brought to light which were before concealed, and that is known which previously lay hid, and this without any whirlwind of sacrilegious pride, without any puffing of the neck through arrogance, without any strife of envious hatred, simply with holy humility, catholic peace, and Christian charity?” – On Baptism, Against the Donatists

“Especially as in writings of such authors I feel myself free to use my own judgment (owing unhesitating assent to nothing but the canonical Scriptures), whilst in fact there is not a passage which he has quoted from the works of this anonymous author that disturbs me” –On Nature and Grace

“This shows that the established authority of Scripture must outweigh every other; for it derives new confirmation from the progress of events which happen, as Scripture proves, in fulfillment of the predictions made so long before their occurrence” – Reply to Faustus the Manichaean

“In the matters of which we are now treating, only the canonical writings have any weight with us” – Reply to Faustus the Manichaean

Theodoret of Cyrus (393 – 458)

“Do not, I beg you, bring in human reason. I shall yield to scripture alone” – Dialogue 1

St John of Damascus (675 – 749)

It is impossible either to say or fully to understand anything about God beyond what has been divinely proclaimed to us, whether told or revealed, by the sacred declarations of the Old and New Testaments.” – The Fountain of Knowledge

SAINT THOMAS “THE MAN” AQUINAS (1225 – 1274)

“Nevertheless, sacred  doctrine makes use of these authorities as extrinsic and probable arguments; but properly  uses the authority of the canonical  Scriptures as an incontrovertible proof, and the authority of the doctors of the Church as one that  may properly be used, yet merely as probable. For our faith  rests upon the revelation  made to the apostles and prophets who wrote the canonical books, and not on the revelations (if any such there are) made to other doctors.  Hence Augustine says (Epis. ad Hieron. xix, 1): “Only those books of Scripture which are called canonical have I learned to hold in such honor  as to believe their authors have not erred in any way in writing them.  But other  authors I so read as not to deem everything in their  works to be true,  merely on account of their having so thought and written, whatever  may have been their  holiness and learning.” – Summa Theologia, Part 1, Question 1, Article 8

“The canonical scriptures alone are the rule of faith” – Commentary on John XXI. 24-25, paragraph 2656.

More arguments need to be made here, including dealing with the distinction between formal and material sufficiency of scripture. These will come one day. But for today, I don’t think we can say that treating scripture as the highest and only infallible standard is a Reformation idea.

Now my Catholic friends might say something along the lines of “You’ve just found a bunch of people who said something nice about scripture, that doesn’t entail Sola Scriptura”. In this case, I’d suggest we compare my support for Sola Scriptura with their support for the doctrine of the Papacy. See if they have anything more than someone saying something nice about Peter. There won’t be anything even close to what we have here. And in fact, many of our quotes here not only affirm the inerrancy of scripture but explicitly say that it is the highest authority, or the only source of doctrine.

Did I miss any important references? Did I take someone out of context? Let me know in the comments.

Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age

Many of you will have noticed that I reference the book A Secular Age by Charles Taylor quite regularly. Outside of scripture, no other book has been more influential in shaping my thinking about the Western world. Where we are, how we got here, what it means, and where we’re going.

If for some reason you don’t feel like spending 4 months digging through this 900 page tome, then there is an alternative that I haven’t read myself, but some of my friends recommend. From James Smith, the author of You Are What you Love, it is a summary of Taylor, containing many of his most important ideas, and it seems to attempt to make them explicitly and directly relevant to the Christian apologist. I also believe that Smith is Reformed, which always wins points in my book.

If those are too hard (and I strongly encourage you to take one of those two options, even as audiobooks or something) then I have found a reasonably good series of YouTube videos, they seem to be recordings of a philosophy class at a university discussing the book. They are not an alternative, but they may be helpful.

Charles Taylor on the Nature of Modern Atheism

…the prospect that religion might disappear under the forces of scientific refutation is abandoned, but the prediction that in humanity’s search for meaning in the future, religious answers will be relegated to the margins

But religion as a whole dissapear or be marginalized in this fashion? At first sight, there seems to be a difficulty with this, in that the very self-understanding of unbelief, that whereby it can present itself as mature, courageous, as a conquest over the temptations of childishness, dependence, or lesser fortitude, requires that we remain aware of the vanquished enemy, of the obstacles which have to be climbed over, of the dangers which still await those whose brave self-responsibility falters. Faith has to remain a possibility, or else the self-valorizing understanding of atheism flounders. Imagining that faith must just disappear is imagining a fundamentally different form of non-faith, one quite unconnected to identity. It would be one in which it would be as indifferent and unconnected to my selse of my ethical predicament that I have no faith, as it is today that I don’t believe, for instance, in phlogiston or natural places. This I suppose is something like what Bruce is predicting

Religion remains ineradicably on the horizon of areligion, and vice versa. This is another indication that the “official story” needs to be understood on a deeper level, as I have been suggesting above.

Something to think about as we engage with our atheist friends, especially those of the New Atheist tradition. It is always good to try to understand the deeper motivations and frameworks of the debates that we have, as well as critically evaluating arguments. We are not just out to win minds, but hearts.

All Religions are the Same: Secular Propoganda

We’ve all heard it before. It’s not really even an argument, just a rhetorical flourish. “All religions are basically the same”, says the atheist. They don’t even intend to argue for this point, they assume everyone will agree with them, and this is, in fact, the premise of their (normally implicit) argument that atheism is superior to religion. And of course, we might just chalk this up to the endemic ignorance that characterizes the New Atheist movement. But I think that there is actually a deeper and more insidious reason why this particular piece of ignorance is so prevalent.

Secularism is founded on what Charles Taylor calls “subtraction narratives”. The idea that religion and silly superstition were holding us back, and once we threw off these burdens and broke free from these chains, we were able to pursue science, rationalism, and humanism. That merely subtracting religion creates a secular person, a scientist and a rationalist and a humanist. Or at the societal level, once we stopped spending all our time worrying about religion and started actually thinking about the real world, we were able to produce the Enlightenment. Religion only holds us back and represses us, and once it is gone we advance.

This is, of course, a false narrative. In reality, the turn from Christendom to the secular age was not one of subtraction, but substitution. We didn’t lose a worldview of religion, we substituted an enchanted worldview for a disenchanted one, a theistic one for an atheistic one, a communal one for an individualistic one, etc. For a fuller treatment, read Taylor’s A Secular Age. But the point is this: we didn’t strip back the religion to find the bare “secular” man ready to be a humanist. Religion was replaced with a secular worldview, with humanism, with another set of values and presuppositions.

The secularist, now embedded in this new worldview (which is often naively accepted and never questioned) must now build a narrative of progress. And in this narrative of progress we contrast the regressive religion with the enlightened secularism. This is what motivates the grouping of all religions together: to maintain their worldview, the secularist has to see all religions as fundamentally the same, so that secularism can be fundamentally different from each, and fundamentally better. A sign of progress of humanity.

But in reality, secularism is just another worldview. It’s not fundamentally different to a “religious” worldview, and in fact I’d call it a religious worldview itself. It attempts to situate us in the world with grand narratives of progress and humanism (as opposed to grand narratives of salvation and redemption), it provides its own set of values and doctrines which can’t be questioned. It even gives a “sacred order” from which we derive a “social order” (see: Rieff’s Deathworks). But the secularist can’t accept that secularism is one competing religion among many, and must find some way to make it fundamentally different.

The truth is that not all religions are the same. They differ not only in doctrine or history, but in values, in the kinds of community or society they create, etc. Some religions are implicitly hostile to what we today think of as science, while one religion (Christianity) gave birth to science. Only a Christian worldview can give rise to something like science, while a Buddhist worldview cannot. For a fuller treatment, see Rodney Stark’s The Victory of Reason. Some religions lead to ethical treatment of minorities and disadvantaged groups, some do not. Some religions lead to societies governed for the welfare of the citizens, and some do not.

Look at all the secular values that I have appealed to there: science, humanism, rationalism, equality. The reason I do this is to point out that even from a secular point of view, treating all religions as fundamentally the same is foolish and ignorant. But of course the secularist has deep pressure to remain ignorant and foolish here, because part of the narrative of their religion requires that all other religions are the same.

 

Another argument for the PSR

The PSR is the Principle of Sufficient Reason, the most controversial premise of the LCA which we have defended here previously. We will here provide another argument for the PSR. That is, for the claim that for every contingent thing (or perhaps indeed every single thing, contingent or not) has a sufficient explanation.

The argument I intend to motivate is this: we should extend reasoning principles as far as possible, until we have a good reason. The PSR is a principle we use in many areas, and so we should extend it to all objects unless we can come up with a good reason why we should not.

Now we all know how we apply the PSR in physical situations. There is currently light hitting my eye, as an explanation I posit a computer monitor in front of me as an explanation. An apple falls from a tree, and we posit gravity. Celestial objects move across the sky, and we posit heliocentrism. In none of these cases do we say “perhaps there’s no explanation”, we always immediately begin looking for one. If there’s some phenomenon we can’t find an explanation for, we conclude that we aren’t smart enough, or our equipment isn’t precise enough. We assume that there is one we just haven’t found.

So now we might be tempted to say “The PSR only applies to physical phenomena”, and then we wouldn’t be forced to admit that God exists. And there may be some cause for this since intuitively, physical objects are the kinds of things which seem like they’re causally closed. But maybe other kinds of phenomena (if they exist at all) are “spooky” and not causally closed, so maybe there’s no PSR there.

Let’s consider another domain then: ethics. Take the famous trolly problem: suppose it turned out to be the case that it was morally wrong to pull the lever to save five while condemning one. Suppose this was morally impermissible. And an interested interlocutor would ask “Why?” Suppose we answered, “It just is, there’s no reason”. Is that an acceptable answer? Clearly not. And in fact many ethicists have spent their lifetimes looking for answers to such ethical question: what is right and what is wrong, and why are those things right and wrong. Again, there is the presumption of explanation.

Now a third domain: mathematics. We observe some mathematical phenomenon, and we ask “why”. That “why” often comes in the form of a proof, or at least a sketch of a proof. Often the “why” is actually hidden in the proof, almost as if the author of the proof went to great effort to obscure the deep intuition. But sometimes it’s on the surface. And this doesn’t only apply to theorems, we can ask why a theorem is true, but we can also ask why something more general is the case. Here’s one such question: why does the sum of the series of inverse square numbers involve a pi term? Pi has to do with circles, but this doesn’t appear to be related to circles. And indeed, there is an explanation.  This kind of question is often asked by mathematicians, why is something the case? And often the answer is intuitively satisfying, deep, and can lead to new ways of thinking about problems. Much of mathematics, rather than hunting for proofs of theorems, is hunting for these more intuitive, conceptual explanations of a more general class of phenomena.

Now we go back to our PSR. It holds in the domains of physics, ethics, and mathematics. Our natural, everyday reasoning assumes that the PSR holds when we consider physical objects, abstract objects (such as numbers), and moral facts. So how might we restrict it? If we say “All physical, ethical, and mathematical phenomena have sufficient explanations”, but that seems extremely arbitrary. And again, we normally want to expand principles until we have a good reason not to. What good reason do we have for restricting the PSR to these classes of phenomena, but not others?

And we can take this argument even further. We can follow Della Rocca, and point out that unless you can give a sufficient reason for that restriction, you’ve begged the question. I covered that particular argument in the original post on the PSR, but it is worth reiterating because I think it is indeed a strong one.

 

 

Saturday Links 25/8/18

 

Sorry posts have been a bit sparse lately, I have just started a full time (secular) job. I still need to work out how I am going to manage my time between all of my projects.

Biblical Justification for Classical Arguments

Since I am Reformed, I have often been criticised for my use of classical apologetics such as Cosmological Arguments on the basis that it has an unbiblical anthropology. The presuppositionalist claims that we shouldn’t grant the ground to the atheist that they can use reason, since reason is grounded in God and depends on God. Under their worldview, there is no God, so there is no justification for why they can use reason.

Further, claims the presuppositionalist, by doing this we allow man to sit in judgement over God. Man gets to weigh the evidence, and then use their reason (for which they depend on God) to judge whether God is God or not, whether God exists or not. But in reality, God is the judge, and we have no authority over Him.

I think there is some merit to this, but I do not think this disqualifies classical arguments. And indeed, I think there is biblical precedent for these arguments and a place for them in apologetic practice.

First and most obviously, we appeal to Romans 1. Here is the section I have in mind (please read the context yourself):

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. 21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.

24 Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. 25 For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

Why are men without excuse? Because knowledge of God was freely available to them: His eternal power and divine nature are displayed in creation. But they did not approve of having God in their knowledge, so they suppress the truth and their foolish hearts were darkened.

This affirms what cosmological arguments claim: that we can look at the world, and reason about it, and deduce that there is a God. This also applies to fine-tuning arguments. Paul affirms that this kind of reasoning (though not individual arguments, just the kind of reasoning) is valid, and in fact, people are morally guilty for failing to accept the conclusions of this kind of reasoning.

Now the presuppositionalist claims that yes, this is the case. But their foolish hearts were darkened, and they cannot see this any longer, as they suppress the truth in unrighteousness. The only thing that can undarken their hearts is God regenerating them, the hearing of the Gospel, and faith in God.

I agree. And I think that no apologetic encounter is complete without the Gospel, and in fact, the proclamation of the Gospel must always be central. Don’t get me wrong, if you walk up to someone, run them through the LCA, and leave, you’ve done them basically no good.

But I don’t think that means that cosmological arguments do no good. Part of the proclamation of the Gospel is that there is a God, there is a Designer and a Judge, and we have failed to live up to His standards. And if we must justify that claim, we will, and we will use cosmological arguments as part of that justification.

And of course, no-one will listen unless God regenerates their heart. But if God does regenerate their heart, as is His prerogative, then cosmological arguments which demonstrate to their mind the truth of God can be an effective part of Gospel witness. And if He doesn’t, then they expose inconsistency. More on that later.

The second main point I want to make is this. The presuppositionalist says that the atheist has no ground for using reason without appealing to God, no reason to believe that reason is reliable apart from God. I want to point out that that is precisely the same way cosmological arguments proceed, but in reverse. The presuppositionalist claims “Reason is reliable only if God exists”, and the classical apologist claims “If reason is reliable, God exists”. These two statements are logically equivalent. For we assume reason and conclude God, so reason entails God. And so when the atheist says they can use reason but have no God, then if the classical arguments are sound, we can say that they are inconsistent.

And notice that no matter which path we take, classical or presuppositional, we must appeal to reason at some point. If we do present a convincing argument that reason is grounded in God, the atheist must use reason to accept the argument. We both assume they are able to reason, even if they don’t have a sufficient ground for it.

Now it is true that discussions cosmological arguments can often get lost in what we might call meaningless minutia, and we lose our focus on God. But I submit that not only is this true for any kind of argument, but also that it isn’t a huge problem. While every conversation we have must have Christ at the centre, not every sentence needs to. Clearly, in negative apologetics, we know this, when we respond to a supposed contradiction in the Old Testament we normally don’t talk much about Christ in that particular subpoint.<

We also see from Paul at Mars Hill that it is valid to in a sense “enter into” someone else’s worldview in order to preach the Gospel. Paul begins his evangelistic and apologetic work at Mars Hill by appealing to a god the Athenians worshipped, the unknown God. He identifies this god with God, claiming that this God created the universe and everything in it. He then quotes parts of some works describing Zeus and attributes them to God. Paul enters into their worldview to make a point, to demonstrate the truth of God inside their worldview. Because of course, we know that any worldview without God is inconsistent. So if we enter their worldview and pretend that it is consistent, we ought to be able to prove God exists. This is what cosmological arguments do: let’s enter into the atheistic worldview, pretend that we can reason, and deduce that God exists.

But as we saw above, the dark-hearted fools who are unregenerate won’t accept it. More often than not, they admit they have no response to the argument, but retreat to “Well sure maybe God exists. But if He does, He is a moral monster and is evil and I would never worship Him.” And this is the appropriate place to quote Romans 9: “And who are you, O man, to answer back to God?”. We affirm, like our concerned presuppositionalist does above, that God is the judge and we are not. We point out their pride and wrong-headedness in sitting in judgement over God.

They pretend their disagreement with God is intellectual, not moral. But we know from our study of Romans 1 that it is indeed moral. Cut away their intellectual pretence, and they are forced to admit the truth. This is where we cut to the heart: man placing Himself above God. And if God grants them a regenerated heart to see this and repent, then they can turn and be saved.

This is why I think cosmological arguments, and other classical arguments, are valuable. Never do they comprise the entirety of our apologetic preaching or methodology, but they are valuable components. Paul affirms their soundness in Romans and applies a similar methodology (to Pagans rather than atheists) at Mars Hill. Not the only valuable arguments, but good ones to have in our bag when the need arises.