Meaningful World By Benjamin Walker and Jonathan Witt: A Review

With a Ph.D. in Theological Ethics, Benjamin Wiker lends his expertise along with the literary insights of Jonathan Witt, Senior Fellow for Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, to the question of just what kind of world we live in. Wiker and Witt do not simply disagree with the reigning paradigm of metaphysical naturalism found in science. They see it as harmful. They have written this book as an antidote to the “poison” that is “the assumption that science has proven that the universe is without purpose, without meaning—proven it so clearly that one need not even produce an argument.” (Wiker and Witt, Location 61.)

The question of meaning has implications for how all of reality is seen. For Christians concerned with preaching the gospel, juxtaposing a divine creator with a meaningless universe is incoherent. This is one of the reasons why the apologetic project is needed in order to make Christianity a live option in the marketplace of ideas. In this particular case, the meaningfulness of the universe needs to be recognized. The poison must be counteracted. Recognizing the fact that human beings are an integral part of the universe, and that we have lived, acted, and created as though the world has meaning, Wiker adds his analysis of the works of Shakespeare which are best understood if meaning were central to human understanding of the world, as well as a comparative analogy to the creativity found in nature.

“The book’s central claim is clearly stated: the universe is meaning-full.” (63) The authors make it plain that they reject the nihilistic paradigm that is claimed to be “proven” by science. They build their case beginning with a historical overview of how the idea of a random, meaningless world goes back to the ancient Greeks and found resurgence in Darwin, Nietzsche, Freud and Marx. The assumption of meaninglessness began to lose momentum as discoveries of order and specified complexity began to emerge such that even a hardened skeptic like Antony Flew was moved to theism. From this background, Wiker and Witt note that just as parts of the cosmos made sense in light of the whole, and perhaps only so, the same is clearly so in literature. Shakespeare’s works are examined to illustrate the point, showing that contrary to Dawkins’ illustration of “Methinks it like a Weasel,” the parts fit the whole, but also that the whole makes no sense if the works and their author are nothing more than matter in motion, or animals driven by the urge to procreate. The genius exhibited by Shakespeare is then used to illustrate the genius Euclid points to in mathematics. The authors show how on a materialist worldview, the existence of mathematics makes no sense, much less its applicability to the material universe. From mathematics, the order and intelligibility of the cosmos, chemistry (especially the periodic table) and biology is examined. Through each discipline, the antidote of structuralism is counteracting the poison of reductionism. Structuralism approaches these questions from the top-down, parts-to-whole view. Such a view is not even considered a live option if one starts from meaninglessness. In fact, it is the only way scientists can discern “the meaning of the data they gather.” Wiker and Witt present case after interrelated case for the meaningful whole of the created order into which each of its parts –matter, energy, chemistry, life in general, and humanity in particular– fits. While so many books of this type focus on particular arguments for God’s existence from specific areas such as cosmogony, fine-tuning, or information theory, Meaningful World looks at the big picture. If the other works study the trees, Wiker and Witt look at the whole forest. They show not only that these things fit, but also that they are made to be discovered as such. They do so with a clear, accessible style and a refreshing dose of humor. While their arguments are logically cogent, their discussion of Shakespeare’s literary acumen appeals to aesthetics. Moreover, while they mention some of the astronomically high levels of improbability of the world being the way it is by chance, they do not hang their whole case there. Another way the thesis of the book can be stated is, “Intelligent design? More like creative genius.”

The literary element they introduce by way of analogy and as a particular example is a rarity in books on this subject. Their use of Shakespeare to illustrate their point is not only a novel way to argue in this arena, but they inspire a new appreciation for the literature itself. Their presentation reaches the reader at the cognitive as well as the intuitive level. Moreover, they present a strong case in favor of their thesis, rather than simply relying on defeaters for its negation. They do more than show that reductionism is false. They present a powerful case for a meaningful world. More than merely meaningful, the authors offer a case for elements of genius in the created order that is analogous to the creative genius of Shakespeare. Wiker and Witt argue that the knowledge offered by the study of mathematics, cosmology, chemistry and biology have the depth, clarity, harmony and elegance one would expect to find in the works of geniuses. This is not design by a minimally intelligent mind, but a designing Genius.

This book is a must-read for anyone interested in the philosophy of science, or the history of the controversy over the Intelligent Design hypothesis. The book is accessible to the layperson without dumbing down the content. While the scholarship of the authors is evident in the content, the engaging style of the prose has none of the dryness that can come from the subject matter. The integrated approach will inform a more fully orbed apologetic than those books that focus on a narrower topic such as the origin of information or the complexity of the living cell. As important as these details are, this book will help you see the forest and the trees.

I Read How To Be an Atheist, and Now I Believe In Moral Subjectivism

 

 

Mitch Stokes is a Senior Fellow of Philosophy at New St. Andrews College in Moscow, Idaho.  He received his Ph.D. in philosophy from Notre Dame under the direction of Alvin Plantinga and Peter van Inwagen.  At Yale, he earned an M.A. in religion under the direction of Nicholas Wolterstorff.[1] In fact, being trained by Plantinga, van Inwagen and Wolterstorff made J.P. Moreland positively gush at Stokes’ credentials. That is high praise indeed. Stokes is the author of A Shot of Faith (to the Head): Be a Confident Believer in an Age of Cranky Atheists, and the current book under review, How to Be an Atheist: Why Many Skeptics Aren’t Skeptical Enough.

Many militant atheists pride themselves on their reliance on reason and science to tell them the truth about the world. They are especially confident of their views of science and what it can tell us about morality. Stokes argues that if they were to put their skepticism where their mouths are, they would be a little more hesitant to assert that science has proven that naturalism is true (and therefore theism false) and that morality is real.

How to Be an Atheist is a short book of just over 200 pages, broken into three parts. In part one Stokes shows the problem of relying on reason and science as articulated by one of the “heroes” of the Enlightenment, David Hume. In part two, science is examined to see the limits of what it can tell us, especially with respect to what is unobservable. This section includes a helpful explanation of how theories, which are neither easily dismissed claims nor iron-clad laws, are inferences that try to make sense of what has been observed. (Stokes also holds advanced degrees in engineering, so there is no anti-science bias here.) Also noted is the fact that many of the areas of physics most often cited as evidence for naturalism are instrumental rather than realistic, which is to say, the theories involving quantum mechanics and such are models used to make sense of what can be observed, but do not even claim to accurately describe what cannot be observed. In the third section, Stokes argues that if naturalism is true, then morality, actual good, bad, right and wrong, does not exist. They are merely expressions of human likes and dislikes.

It is this third section that prompted the title of this review. Stokes argues that all values are personal. The thing that makes something good (in a moral sense) is a value holder. Likewise, a duty or obligation is only held between persons. Many atheists would affirm this. However, this is not to say that morality is ultimately grounded in human persons. After all, if all morality is mere human preference, which human? Why this one and not that one? Why yours and not mine? It is not hard to see why this can lead right back to a kind of moral anarchy. As Stokes notes, Christianity has held to what is called “Divine Command” theory of ethics which is the idea that which is good, and that which we are obliged to do and prohibited from doing, is good, obligatory, or prohibited because God has commanded it. He further notes that the common “Euthyphro objection” is resolved when we understand that God commands what he does because his nature is good.

All this is not to say that morality is relative. Moral standards are person centered (or on Stokes’ view, Person centered.) Whatever the standard, whether a behavior measures up is an objective reality. However, it is not the behaviors themselves that are intrinsically good or bad, but these values are derived from the Value Holder, God himself.

 

Stokes’ book is highly accessible, well reasoned, and fun to read. Stokes has a flare for mixing humor into a technical subject. He is generous in his treatment of those with whom he disagrees, and sets quite the example in this. I highly recommend this book.

 

 

[1] CV taken from http://www.mitchstokes.com/about.html

Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward by Nabeel Qureshi. A Review

Author

Nabeel Qureshi is a former Muslim, now a Christian, and author of three books Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity, and No God But One: Allah or Jesus and the work under review. He holds an MD from Eastern Virginia Medical School, an MA in Christian apologetics from Biola University, an MA in Religion from Duke University, and is currently pursuing a doctorate in New Testament Studies at Oxford University. Qureshi is also an itinerant speaker for Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. His desire in writing this book is encourage people to think carefully about Islam, responding without naiveté or undue fear.

Synopsis

Answering Jihad is organized into three categories, in which Qureshi answers the 18 most common questions he is asked regarding Islam and Christianity. Part 1 gives an introduction and historic overview of the concept of jihad. Part 2 addresses the practice of jihad today, and Part 3 deals with the differences between Islam and Christianity with respect to violence. The end of the book contains some appendices that explain more about Islam in general, as well as the particular sect to which Qureshi’s family belongs.

Analysis

In Part 1, Qureshi offers a compelling argument for the idea that those who practice violent forms of Islam are far more consistent with the teachings of the authoritative, foundational documents and the actions of the founder of Islam. He shows from historical context, as well as the documents themselves, that jihad is properly understood as violent warfare.

In Part 2, Qureshi explores the resurgence of jihad in modern times. His explanation of how moderate Muslims receive their traditions, which is far different from the Protestant tradition of Sola Scriptura. For Muslims, their Imams carry far more authority than an equivalent leader in Christianity. Therefore, if the Imams are teaching Islam as peaceful, then Islam is peaceful. This is especially helpful in light of claims made by some that all peaceful Muslims are merely employing Taqiya, or deception. However, with the advent of the Internet, Muslims have unprecedented access to their foundational documents, the Quran and the Hadiths, which teach a more aggressive Islam. Qureshi notes that exposure to these documents leads to a crisis of faith for these Muslims. They must choose apostasy, violence, or to live in cognitive dissonance.

In Part 3, Qureshi responds to questions and challenges about the seeming similarities and differences between Islam and Christianity. Here he does a good job of differentiating jihad from Old Testament warfare. I thought, however, he could have done a little more research into Jesus’ teaching on “turning the other cheek.” Qureshi claims this is an injunction against even self-defense. However, as J. Warner Wallace points out, “When Jesus told His followers to “turn the other cheek,” He was referring to personal retaliation rather than to responses related to criminal offenses or actions related to military force.” Wallace’s comment was in response to the idea that “turn the other cheek” was a command to be pacifist, but I think it can be applied to self-defense, though not retaliation. One other issue I would take would be with Qureshi’s response to the Crusades and the reports of the taking of Jerusalem. As Rodney Stark points out, “the commonly applied ‘rule of war’ concerning siege warfare was that if a city did not surrender before forcing attackers to take the city by storm (which inevitably caused a very high rate of casualties in the besieging force), the inhabitants could expect to be massacred as an example to others in the future.” (God’s Battalions, 168.) This is not to argue that Christians are to behave this way, but to expect Christians sent to war in medieval times and expecting them to conduct themselves by modern standards is unrealistic. That simply was how wars were fought. It was not a uniquely “Christian” practice.

Qureshi concludes by reminding us that we need to realistic in our view of Islam, while charitable toward Muslims. If we wait until our Muslim neighbors reach that “three-pronged fork in the road” to reach out to them, it may be too late. This point cannot be overemphasized. As Christians, we need to see Muslims as people for whom Christ died.

Recommendation

Despite my nit picking, I highly recommend this book. It is accessible for anyone from late middle school and meaty enough for a graduate student. It is a must read for anyone hoping to have a meaningful interaction with their Muslim neighbors.

 

Philosophy In Seven Sentences By Douglas Groothuis: A Review

The author

Douglas Groothuis is professor of Philosophy at Denver Seminary. He earned his PhD at the University of Oregon and he specializes in Philosophy of Religion, the History of Philosophy and other areas. Dr. Groothuis is the author or editor of 13 books including

Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith, Truth Decay: Defending Christianity Against the Challenges of Postmodernism, and In Defense of Natural Theology: A Post-Humean Assessment in addition to the title under review here. Groothuis is passionate about careful thinking as an element of worship.

 

Thesis

In Philosophy In Seven Sentences, Groothuis seeks to make philosophy a little less intimidating and esoteric to the uninitiated, while demonstrating the need to think well in order to live a good life. He does this by introducing the work of seven philosophers with quotes that embody their work. Each chapter fleshes out the ideas behind the sentences, as well as some background information on the philosophers to whom they are attributed.

 

Synopsis

In chapter 1, Protagoras’ claim “Man is the measure of all things: of the things which are, that they are, and of things which are not that are not” is examined. Groothuis notes how this idea has some merit, but pressed to its logical conclusion, it leads to the inability to know anything.

In chapter 2, we hear from Socrates, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Groothuis notes that this is a hyperbolic statement, urging the hearers to seek truth by which to live, which requires comparing one’s life to that truth.

In chapter 3, Aristotle tells us, “All men by nature desire to know.” In service of this belief, Aristotle formulated the laws of logic, especially the Law of Noncontradiction. Groothuis points out that knowledge is impossible if we cannot escape contradiction.

In chapter 4, Augustine’s quote, “You have made us for yourself, and restless is our heart until it comes to rest in you” is examined. Augustine came to this realization, which he wrote in Confessions, as he reflected on his life and the process through which he became a Christian. He argues that humans feel a real guilt, stemming from an awareness of objective morality, and since the only remedy for this guilt is in God’s provision, rest can only be found in him.

In chapter 5, Groothuis analyzed Descartes’ quote “I think, therefore I am.” Descartes was searching for something he could know with certainty, and he found one such item in the realization that thinking requires a thinker. Descartes also devised an argument for God from the fact that the idea of God is innate and therefore implanted by God. Groothuis also notes Descartes’ contribution to the mind-body problem.

In chapter 6, Pascal’s quote “The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing” is unpacked. Like many references to “the heart” in older (and even ancient) literature, this one is often misunderstood. Rather than pitting emotion against intellect, Pascal was pointing to basic beliefs, and first principles on which all other beliefs depend.

In chapter 7, Kierkegaard warns us, “The greatest hazard of all, losing one’s self, can occur very quietly in the world, as if it were nothing at all.” Groothuis points out that for Kierkegaard, an adequate self-awareness leads to despair, and one must come to terms with that despair such that they throw themselves on God’s mercy.

 

Analysis

 

Philosophy In Seven Sentences serves as an excellent primer on philosophical thought. In fact, it ought to be required reading before any undergraduate takes and introduction to Philosophy course. Far too many take these courses and hear and read the opinions of philosophers when the students lack the tools of philosophy. This books shows how even the most brilliant philosophers’ opinions require careful consideration. This book is accessible to anyone with at least a high school education. Reading it made me wish I had the time and resources to pursue a degree in Philosophy.

 

So Now I’m a Christian. Now What? Part 4:The Loving, Triune God

 

 

I know your thinking, “So you think you can suck me into reading a treatise on the Trinity by mentioning “love?”

The ideas are related. Stick with me now.

 

You may remember, if you’re keeping score at home, that in part 1 of this series, I explained that God is self-existent. That means, among other things, that he is completely independent of anything else for his existence. If that is the case, it also means that every essential attribute God has is independent of anything else. What I mean by an “essential attribute” is any property or quality that a thing has such that if it did not have that property, it would be something else.

“Wait, what?”

Bear with me. An example would be water ice. Ice has the property of being solid at temperatures below 320F at sea level, and being made of water. If it were made of lead instead of water, it would not be water/ice. If it was 500F, it would be liquid, not ice. You get the idea.

“Still waiting for the ‘love’ part.”

I’m getting there. For God, we said that self-existence, immutability (he does not change) omnipotence,(all powerful) and omnipresence (everywhere present at the same time) are all essential attributes of God. Love is also one of his essential properties. If love exists, if it is a real thing, then it must have a source. If God is the ultimate source of all things, he must also be the ultimate source of love. If he is not, he is dependent on a source outside of himself.

“Great! Now lets move on. We don’t need to confuse this issue with this ‘Trinity’ stuff.”

Not so fast. For love to exist, you need two things: a lover, and a beloved. Love is a subject-object relationship. If God is love, as John tells us (1 John 4:8) then he must have an object of his love. If the only objects of his love are his creations, then he is dependent on his creation for an essential attribute. Do you see the problem? If God is not at least two persons, whom does he love when there is no creation?

“But, the word ‘Trinity’ isn’t in the Bible.”

True, but neither is the word “Bible,” so that doesn’t tell us anything. This is where the work of theologians comes in handy. (No, really!) Some doctrines come from straightforward readings of Bible passages, like the doctrine of creation from nothing (Genesis 1:1,) or the resurrection. Some, however, come from taking all of what the Bible says and putting it together like a big puzzle. This is called “systematic theology.” The Trinity is such a doctrine.

The doctrine of the Trinity says that there is only one God, one divine being, which exists as three Persons. We call these Persons the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Bible teaches us that there is only one God,[1] and that the Father is God,[2] the Son is God,[3] and the Holy Spirit is God.[4]

“Okay, but maybe sometimes God is the Father, sometimes he’s the Son and sometimes he’s the Holy Spirit.”

That’s Modalism, Patrick! (Don’t worry about what Modalism means, or who Patrick is. Just watch the video linked below.)

We know they are not all the same person switching “hats” because Jesus referred to the Father and the Holy Spirit as distinct from himself. Jesus was constantly talking about the Father, and he taught his disciples that he would send the Holy Spirit. If we can’t take his word on that, what can we trust him on?

“But if the Father is God, and the Son is God and the Holy Spirit is God, why do you say there is only one God? Are you really saying there are three Gods and one God?”

No. Next question? Okay, I’ll unpack that a little more.

Despite certain individual’s use of this distinction to try to dodge getting caught in a lie, there really are different meanings to the word “is.” If I say, “Dan Wynne is the husband of Carole Wynne,” I am saying Dan Wynne and the husband of Carole Wynne are one and the same. They are identical. That is why this is called the “is of identity.” A is B if A is identical to B. There are a few other ways “is” is used, but for our purposes, I will just explain one more. If I say “Dan Wynne is human,” you see that I am not saying that Dan Wynne is identical to “human.” If that were the case, it would also mean that “human” was identical to Dan Wynne, and you can see that is not the case because if you are reading this and you are not Dan Wynne, you are still human. Clear as mud? This use of “is” is called essential predication, or simply, predication. It answers the question, “What kind of thing is that?” When we say the Father, the Son or the Holy Spirit is God, we are answering the question, “What kind of thing is the Father?” He is God. If it helps, think of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit as divine. The simplest way, though imperfect, could be to think of God as one “what,” and three “who’s.”

Some have tried to come up with analogies to explain the Trinity. They are all flawed; no one explains that better than my friends at the Lutheran Satire YouTube channel. For an informative and funny video on the subject, click here.

“Okay, but they tell me Jesus is God. Does that make four persons?”

No. In my next post, I will explain how the Son is Jesus.

[1] Deuteronomy 6:4, Isaiah 45, 1 Timothy 2:5

[2] Matthew 5 and following (basically the Sermon on the Mount)

[3] John 8:58, Titus 2:13

[4] Acts 5:3-4

So Now I’m a Christian. Now What? Part 1: God

 

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:
Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.  He descended into hell.

The third day He arose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty,
whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.

Amen.

 

“I believe in God…”

At the most essential, basic level, a Christian is a theist. That is, we believe in the reality that God exists. Who or what is God? As Christians, we hold that God has revealed himself through special and general revelation. That is, we can know some things about him through nature and our conscience, and he has given us a written revelation, the Bible. We speak of God as omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, loving, etc.

“Omni-what? Omeprezol? Omnomnom… what are you talking about?” Ok, there’s that jargon again. Omnipotent means all-powerful. Omniscient means all-knowing, and omnipresent means God is everywhere at the same time.

It is hard to know where to start. I will start at the beginning and work from there.

Science and philosophy tell us that the universe had a beginning. Our universal experience tells us that everything that begins has a cause, so if the universe, that is all of matter and energy (material), space and time began to exist, it had a cause. This means the cause had to be immaterial, nonspatial, and timeless. Additionally, since whatever caused the universe to exist chose to do so, and choice is something only agents do, the cause must have been personal. (By personal, I simply mean having a will.)

“’Agents?’ Who, the feds? What are you talking about?” In this sense, an agent is a being that is able to choose.

Obviously creating the entire material world requires a powerful cause, and the design shows the cause to be intelligent. To summarize, philosophy and science can point to the existence of a powerful, intelligent, immaterial, nonspatial, timeless personal being. We call him God.

As Christians, we hold the Bible to be divine revelation. That is, God revealed himself though the words of the Bible. What we see from philosophy and science is consistent with what he reveals through his word, which is what we should expect since he is the author of all knowledge. However, in the Bible we are given more information.

“…creator of heaven and earth.”

Genesis 1:1 tells us “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” We see here that God is called creator in his word. Historically, this is understood as he created out of nothing. Theologians (those who study theology at an academic level) call this creatio ex nihilo. (The Latin is a freebie. It makes everything sound fancier.) In other words, he did not create the universe out of pre-existing material, but he created the very material.

The point of beginning with creation is that God is distinct from his creation, not a part of it or “one with” it. Some would ask, “Who made God?” If, however, they mean the God of the Bible, the question is nonsensical since we understand God to be uncreated. Another way of saying this is that he is self-existent. It means that there was a timeless state of affairs such that all that existed was God. It would also mean God is changeless. This state had no beginning and while it was the case, there was no time. Wait, what? Okay, rabbit trail time. Let me say something about time to make sense of this.

If we understand an event to be a change in the state of affairs, we can understand time to be the relation of before and after between events, as well as the duration of and interval between them. So when the state of affairs is such that all that exists is an unchanging God, such a state is timeless since there are no events. As such, the creation of the universe would be the first event, so that time is created along with matter and space. All this is to say that before he created the universe[1] God existed eternally, which means without beginning. In this state he is timeless.

We see above that the creation entails an immaterial, nonspatial being. We are told as much in Scripture. One example is Jesus’ words to the woman at the well in John 4, “ God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (4:24) Spirit is understood to be immaterial and nonspatial. Moreover, Genesis 1:1, as well as John 1, which attribute the creation of all things to God, imply that God himself is not created. The only way something can exist without beginning is if it is self-existent. As Isaiah has said, “I am the Lord, and there is no other; Besides Me there is no God.”

In this post, we have discussed God’s self-existent, unchanging, non-material, and nonspatial attributes. In my next installment, I will talk about God as almighty, or “omnipotent.”

 

[1] I know that is technically problematic, but for the sake of accessibility I will leave it be

Born Again: Why Christianity is Not What You Think by Jim Barringer: A Review

 

The Author

Jim Barringer has a Bachelor’s degree in Education from Anderson University, and an MA in Biblical Studies from Southwest Seminary. He is worship and teaching Pastor at The Church of Life in Orlando, Florida.

Synopsis

The phrase “born again,” is taken from John 3:3. It has taken on a variety of meanings, and in contemporary culture it has gained some unfortunate baggage. Barringer seeks to help the reader understand what it really means and why it matters. The book is structured in 7 semi-linear chapters. I say “semi-linear” because there are references and connection between chapters that are coherent, but unconventional. This manages to avoid making the book confusing.

The author lays the groundwork by expositing the dialogue where the phrase first appears, notes that it is a mandate and not an option, and points to its centrality to our identity. He then demolishes the idea that there are good people (apart from God) and lays out our need for rebirth. After explaining the sin issue, he then spends the next three chapters unpacking the command to love God and others and what that should look like.

Analysis

Barringer does an excellent job making these ideas accessible to those interested in understanding the Christian life from conversion through the sanctification process right up to the eschaton. In other words, from joining oneself to Jesus, to the growth process, right up to life in the new heavens and new earth. Many books like this have been written, but few, if any, with this level of transparency on the part of the author. Barringer is refreshingly honest about his own struggles and failures in his life. It is good to know that even those in leadership struggle beyond the occasional “yes, I struggle too” thrown in as a formality. While there are a few places that a theology nerd like me might take issue, they are not nearly important enough to mention here.

Recommendation

This book is a must read for anyone who is frustrated with the christianese platitudes they get when they look for advice on the Christian life, or any serious seeker who is confused by the many voices competing for their attention. It is accessible for readers from middle school up, and intelligent enough for a PhD. Even experienced Christians can be refreshed and reminded of what is important.

Total Truth Study Guide: Chapter 1 Question 10

Five Strategic Principles

Principle #1: Identify the Idol

  1. The text says that every nonbiblical religion or worldview starts with an idol. It must locate an eternal, uncaused cause within the created order. Explain why, and list some examples. Can you think of any exceptions to this principle?

In a course pack on Historical Perspectives on Science and Religion, Keas and Magruder point out:

Following the clear discussion in Roy Clouser, The Myth of Religious Neutrality (Notre Dame, 2005), we may define “faith” or “religious belief” as a heart-deep response to what a person takes to hold the status of divinity. By “divine” we mean, “that which is able to exist on its own without depending on anything else” (this definition is consistent with traditional Western usage from Aristotle to Aquinas and thereafter… even William James agrees with us here, and it appears to be implicit within the Bible). In this sense one’s divinity could be Yahweh, matter/energy, Number, form, self, or almost anything else.[1]

On this view, all worldviews have something that is of ultimate concern. Nonbiblical worldviews have a god-substitute, or an idol. For the materialist, the universe will be the idol. It is simply a brute reality. For the pantheist, the created order is identical with the creator. They ascribe divine attributes to the universe. Rather than explain the origin of material reality, they deny its existence. As Sire writes, “If anything that is not God appears to exist, it is maya, illusion, and does not truly exist.”[2]

Exceptions to this principle might include Islam, Mormonism, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Islam worships a god that created the universe, but is transcendent, to the point that nothing about Allah is revealed except his will. Jehovah’s Witnesses affirm a God like the biblical God, but who apparently could not preserve his word or his church for about 1800 years. Mormonism holds to a multitude of gods, and make no claims on the origin of the universe.

“When was there a beginning? There never was one; if there was, there will be an end; but there never was a beginning, and hence there will never be an end; that looks like eternity. When we talk about the beginning of eternity, it is rather simple conversation, and goes far beyond the capacity of man.” (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 47.)

Despite the fact that Mormonism, Islam, and the Watchtower all have a divinity that transcends creation, we will see how their views still lead to the reductionism to be discussed in Principle 2.

[1] Biola University, 2014

[2] James W. Sire, The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog, 3rd ed. (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, ©1997), 122.

Total Truth Study Guide : Chapter 1 Questions 5-9

Since these are shorter questions, I am posting them in one article.

God Substitutes

  1. “An atheist professor once told me that the Bible teaches polytheism because the first commandment speaks of ‘other gods.’” This claim is made frequently on atheist Internet sites. Practice explaining what the first commandment really means to someone who claims that it teaches polytheism.

“You shall have no other gods before me” (Exod. 20:3)

The Hebrew phrase translated “before me” means “in my sight/presence.” In other words, “Get out of my face with your idols.” It does not mean, “I am to be first among many.”

  1. The text says that the easy-to-diagnose, surface-level sins are often driven by the more hidden sin of idolatry. Think of examples in your own life. Discuss if you feel comfortable doing so.

While we no longer bow before statues of gods made of wood, stone, silver or gold, when we live as though something other than God has the most important position in our lives. Anything we want more than God is our idol.

For many years, I turned to food for comfort because it was easier than seeking God and relying on him for comfort. Sometimes my workout routine can become the distraction that serves the same purpose.

When Good Gifts Are False Gods

  1. How can even good things become idols? Describe something good that you have been tempted to turn into an idol. Discuss if you feel comfortable doing so.

There was a time in my life when I accepted the demands placed on me that required that I relinquish my leadership role in order to keep “peace” when the only result was one of my children being mistreated. “That’s all I got to say about that.”

Idols Have Consequences

  1. What does the Greek word nous mean? How does that give richer meaning to scriptural verses such as these: “God gave them up to a debased mind” (Rom. 1:28); “Be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Rom. 12:2)? Add your own examples.

The sense of the word is broad enough to encapsulate the idea of worldview. On this understanding, it is not hard to see how those who ignore God’s general revelation live in cognitive dissonance to the point where they have to do mental gymnastics to hold their worldview. Moreover, since this tendency to allow our thinking to direct our lives as a whole can be renewed, it has the effect of transforming our lives. Finally, when we direct our intelligence to the service of God, we truly love him with all our mind.

  1. In debates over moral issues such as homosexuality, most people today use the word nature to mean behavior patterns observed among organisms in the natural world. What is the older meaning of the word nature, as in the phrase “human nature”? How is this traditional meaning expressed in Romans 1?

The older meaning of the word “nature” was that for which we were designed. We were intended to behave in a certain way such that we would reflect God’s character. As such, sin is behavior that is contrary to our nature. Paul lists a number of examples of this behavior by which we defy God and degrade ourselves.

Evil, Suffering, and Eternity

It seems like every time I turn around, the topic of evil and suffering keeps coming up. Whether it is the mid-week Bible study on it, or apologetics podcasts I listen to that discuss the Problem of Evil, or the fact that my father-in-law is suffering from cancer, even when life is going well for me the issue is inescapable.

The Problem of Evil (POE) is one of the most difficult to address of all the challenges to the Christian worldview. This is not because the Christian does not have valid answers so much as navigating the emotional issues that the challenger may be dealing with. Let me say at this point that if you are suffering now, whether from an illness or injury, or from the illness, injury or death of a loved one, it is likely you will not find what I have to offer here satisfying. In the middle of these times, you don’t need an argument. You need someone to come along side you and suffer with you. You need to know I hurt for you. For those of you who are suffering, I pray for you that you will be comforted. I also pray that if I have the opportunity to relieve that suffering that I am effective in that effort. I also encourage you to come back and read this when the sting of the situation has eased.

The POE has been presented in a number of forms. Since others have covered these in depth, and much better that I could, I will offer a brief survey below, and links to further resources at the end.

One such form was known as the Logical POE. This took the form of the following syllogism:

  1. If God were all-good, he would want a world without evil and suffering.
  2. If God were all-powerful, he would be able to make a world without evil and suffering.
  3. There is evil and suffering in the world.
  4. Therefore, either God is not all good, or he is not all-powerful, or he does not exist.

No philosopher of religion still offers this because as Alvin Plantinga pointed out, all you need to do to defeat this is to show that it is possible that God could have morally justifiable reasons for allowing evil and suffering and still be all good and all powerful.

Another way this issue is raised is in what is called a Probabilistic POE.

William L. Rowe, in an essay in Philosophy of Religion: A Reader and Guide, argues that there are cases of evil and suffering that God could have prevented, and would want to prevent. He then goes on to argue that this is probably the case. He offers examples such as the faun that is caught in a forest fire started by a lightning strike and horribly burned. This suffering happens entirely unobserved, and therefore there is no greater good that could come about as a result of this animal’s suffering. I think this example overlooks several things. For example, it assumes that animals suffer in the same way humans do, which is not uncontroversial. Moreover, the pain felt by the faun is the result of a physical mechanism that has a good purpose. Pain is the body’s alarm system that tells us something is wrong. Additionally, as Clay Jones points out, the world needs to operate according to understandable and predictable laws such that actions have consequences in order for our actions to have any meaning. If God were to intervene every time there was a case of suffering, these laws would be indiscernible and our actions meaningless.

A third category has been called the Religious POE, or the Pastoral POE. This is basically the response of the sufferer that in their suffering cannot see how a loving God would allow this to happen. This is the form that is the most difficult because it requires far more sensitivity and patience with the one who raises it. I will not attempt to address this directly here since the best response must be tailored to the needs of the sufferer. It is not a complete waste of time to offer these philosophical answers to the POE. If we have studied these before we enter a season of pain, grief, or suffering, we will be better prepared.

There does seem to be one aspect of this issue that I hear little about. I will call this the Temporal Defense. I realize that for the person who is watching their child die, or their spouse, or who has just experienced some evil act that talk of eternity can sound like “pie-in-the-sky” but it is a relevant issue. Since these problems are offered as a critique of the Christian worldview, it is important to remember that any critique must be done on the terms of that worldview. On the Christian worldview, human beings may live only a few decades in this life, but we will live forever somewhere after this life. If this is the case, our natural physical life only counts as the tiniest fraction of our total existence. If I live for 80 years, all of which in constant pain, but I place my trust in the person and work of Jesus Christ, when I die, I will enter a blissful intermediate state, followed by a resurrection to painless, blissful life. I will continue in that condition forever. What is 80 years of suffering compared to that?

A related issue to this is the death of children. I once attended a memorial service for a two-year-old who had died after a long illness. It was the most heart-wrenching experience of my life, and I pray I never have to do that again. I am a father, and I can think of no worse nightmare than burying one of my children. However, in the case of children like that two-year-old, they will also enjoy that blissful state. For those who would ask, “How can God allow that child to die?” for God, that child is not gone. She has just changed the mode of her existence.

Finally, I would like to note that God is not distant and unconcerned. He experienced severe suffering through the crucifixion. He knows what it means to suffer. He did that so we could be reconciled to God. That is proof enough that God is all-good.

For more on this issue, see:

The Logical Problem of Evil, http://www.iep.utm.edu/evil-log/#H4

Feinberg, John S. The Many Faces of Evil: Theological Systems and the Problems of Evil. rev. and expanded ed. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, ©2004.

Craig, William Lane. Philosophy of Religion: A Reader and Guide. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2002.

Strobel, Lee. The Case for Faith: A Journalist Investigates the Toughest Objections to Christianity. Grand Rapids, Mich.: ZondervanPublishingHouse, ©2000.

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