Category Archives: theology

JP Moreland on the Christian worldview

[HT Brain Auten]

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Crash course on existentialism with Sartre

A bible-study companion of mine recently sent me Jean-Paul Sartre’s “Existentialism is a Humanism”. Here’s my response:

Thanks for sending that over! I must admit I haven’t read much of Sartre, so the lecture you sent helped remedy that.

I have a hard time differentiating existentialism from hedonism, something Sartre seems to acknowledge at least by accident when he talks about how existentialism got an early reputation for exalting man’s baser actions.

I suppose if we are to consider existence to come before essence then it logically follows that whatever I experience (ie. my present state of existence) should be considered of greater value than what I know (ie. knowledge of a transcendent essence). And if we are to begin with the subjective then it stands to reason that we can never attain knowledge of the divine. This struggle of where to begin epistemologically was also wrestled with by Plato and Aristotle (succinctly captured in this piece of art which depicts Plato’s notion of idealism which is the polar opposite of what Sartre is arguing for) and was also eloquently expressed by Francis Schaeffer (notably in his “Modern Man & Epistemology” lecture).

The third objection, stated by saying, “You take with one hand what you give with the other,” means, at bottom, “your values are not serious, since you choose them yourselves.” To that I can only say that I am very sorry that it should be so; but if I have excluded God the Father, there must be somebody to invent values.

One of the most instrumental Christian philosophers who paved the way for this kind of thinking, at least in the Church, was Friedrich Schleiermacher who argued that the primary way we know God is through our emotions and not through revelation/reason.

Its interesting how Sartre calls for men to be stewards of the emerging essence of mankind at the same time he claims that there is no ideal essence we are obliged to grow towards. I would agree with his notion that we should act as if all of mankind is defined by our actions, but that only makes sense if there is an objective and external observer whose favor or disapproval mattered. Sartre borrows much from the Christianity he misrepresents (ie. that Christian teaching is determined by the subjective whims of priests) and loathes. In fact, his a priori assumption that moral ideals would remain unchanged if we were to find that God doesn’t exist stands in direct opposition to his admission that Dostoevsky’s notion that “without God all things are permissible”. And he further contradicts himself when he talks about an ideal form of morality whose particulars are subject to change!

I understand why he claims that existentialism is a form of humanism, mostly because it puts man in the center of the universe. But like all other humanistic variants, it suffers from the same frailties that all men do. Namely our lack of omniscience and immortality, both of which it seems Sartre struggles with mightily to no avail.

Thanks again for the paper. Here are some movies on existentialism in case you’re interested to see what Hollywood does with this philosophy. There are a lot of big name actors in these movies which leads me to believe that existentialism is held in high esteem by much of Hollywood.

  • eXistenZ – The director required the cast to read Sartre and other existential philosophers in preparation for the movie
  • I heart Huckabees – Plot centers around a team of existential detectives

The radicalness of ordinary

The best way to write a bestseller is to have a compelling, action-packed narrative. In the Christian market it seems the best route to take is to buck accepted wisdom, to tell everyone that what they thought was a good idea really isn’t and that what we should do is overhaul our lives.

This isn’t exactly a new phenomenon, nor is it particularly wrong in itself to call to attention traditional practices of Christians that legitimately do need to be changed. Martin Luther was arguable one of the first christian bestsellers, and for a good reason. His books were lengthy and detailed. Luther wanted to convince his readers of the truthfulness of his position.

Today, however, I wonder if much of what passes for christian literature, is not meant (or otherwise merely has the effect of) producing an emotional reaction.

Take the grandfather of what I’ll call “get busy for Jesus” books. Charles Sheldon wrote In His Steps around the turn of the 19th century in order to encourage his readers to ask the question, “What Would Jesus Do?” The intent of the question is sound, to encourage people to be courageous Christians, but the method is wholly existential. In order to answer the question one is asked to, at some level, pretend they are Jesus. The result is that the answer to what Jesus would do turns out to be whatever the one asking the question subjectively decides.

The alternate to this approach, in case you’re wondering, is to ask “what did Jesus do and say?” This is the difference between a deconstructive and an analytical approach to the acquisition of knowledge.

But that’s the problem. Luther wrote to impart knowledge. Sheldon wrote to impart an experience. And it is Sheldon’s intent that I find in many Christian bestsellers today.

Three modern variations come to mind. Henry Blackaby’s bible study, Experiencing God, Francis Chan’s Crazy Love, and David Platt’s Radical series. Each one has, at its core, a call to an experience. And each one, if closely analyzed, is inherently against the analytical approach to gaining knowledge.

Another common factor in these books is a call to “be radical”. To make sweeping wholesale changes, preferably without much analysis or forethought. Not only is this reckless, but it runs afoul of what Jesus taught about carefully calculating the cost of any decision we make.

Sometimes radical changes are necessary. But more often than not they are merely destructive and should be avoided in favor of slow and gradual change.

One of Luther’s radical conclusions was that the normal, average person was important. That even the most ordinary work could be glorifying to God. That one didn’t need to be a rock-star in order to have an impact on the world.

What is really radical are ordinary people doing ordinary things day after day. What is radical is a family that lasts. What is radical is a responsible financial plan that helps mitigate unforeseen circumstances while allowing for a slow and steady accumulation of wealth to be handed down to subsequent generations.

Here are a couple of other great reviews of David Platt’s Radical:

Book review: Not God’s Type by Holly Ordway

Most testimonies I’ve heard or read (including mine to a large degree) are rather dry and uninviting. They contain little more than a historical account of someone’s life. Rarely do we come across a testimony whose author manages to invite us into their journey and share with us the experience of their internal turmoil which ultimately led to their conversion.

Holly Ordway manages to do just that.

Throughout her book, Not God’s Type, A Rational Academic Finds a Radical Faith, Holly provides us with a clear and well reasoned account of the events and relevant facts which led to her conversion. Holly also manages to give us a glimpse into her personal spiritual development by interludes which function as sort of a flash-forward from the main storyline.

I had heard part of Holly’s story before when she gave a condensed version in William Lane Craig’s Defender’s Sunday School class (link, audio). But as they say about most movies, the book is much better.

Holly’s journey is unique in that her conversion occurs as a result of a primarily intellectual pursuit as opposed to emotional. Not that Holly is a Vulcan, she shares candidly how her emotions worked against her throughout the process of her conversion. However in spite of herself, Holly describes how she came to carefully and honestly evaluate the information presented to her and how that evaluation led her to the most logical conclusion, accepting of Jesus Christ as her Lord and savior.

Holly’s account is a great example for anyone with non-Christian friends, and that should be all of us, of what to do and what to avoid when seeking to share our faith. Holly also issues a clear challenge to her fellow brothers and sisters to train and prepare for the rare opportunity we may have with our non-Christian friends to make a case for Christ.

Apologetics for kindergarteners

My daughter came home from school the other week and while talking with my wife about her day she mentioned that one of the boys in her class told them that God doesn’t exist.

As much as I wanted to lay out for her the intricacies of the cosmological argument, the moral argument, the teleological argument, the historical argument, and a whole range of other evidence that points to the existence of God, I knew that my 5 year old, brilliant as she is, would not be able to comprehend them.

So what should I do to 1. combat this challenge she has received to her fledgling faith and 2. strengthen her faith?

The first thing I did was to address the absurdity of the claim that God doesn’t exist. The exchange went as follows:

Daughter: My friend told me that God doesn’t exist.
Me: That’s silly, that’s like me saying that since I didn’t catch God in a glass jar he must not exist.

The purpose of this exchange was to, quite simply, make the assertion that “God doesn’t exist” appear as absurd as it actually is. Universal negatives require omniscience and I have yet to meet an atheist who meets that criteria so it is safe to dismiss that notion outright.

This also helps to teach my daughter that all propositional truth claims require evidence and sound reason in order to be properly substantiated.

Me: Why does your friend think that God doesn’t exist?
Daughter: I dunno.
Me: Probably because his father told him.

I want my daughter to learn how to follow ideas back to their source. In this case its a pretty safe bet that the source of her friend’s belief is his parents. Just like the source of my daughter’s beliefs are her parents. I won’t/can’t provide the reason her friend’s parents’ disbelieve in the existence of God, but I want to whet my daughter’s appetite and let her know that her trust in us is not without warrant.

So I finished our short conversation with.

Me: How do you know that God exists?
Daughter: I dunno, how?
Me: You know God exists because you trust your mommy and daddy. And how do you suppose we know that God exists?
Daughter: How?
Me: We’ve examined the evidence and arguments from both sides and have found the evidence for God’s existence to be overwhelming.

Like I mentioned above, I’d really like to go into the specifics on the plethora of evidence and reason we have to believe that God exists and, more specifically, that Jesus is the promised messiah. Instead I planted a seed. I intend to water it as she grows, but for now I only want to accomplish two things:

  • Introduce her to apologetics, the need to defend her faith
  • Provide her with a basic answer/reason/foundation for her fledgling faith

Defending Your Beliefs with Scott Klusendorf

[HT Crossway]

SFLA 2011 Scott Klusendorf from Alliance Defense Fund on Vimeo.

The law of love

Here is a snippet from a comment series on a previous post that I thought was worth highlighting:

Incest was necessary given the nature of God’s creation of human lineage. And polygamy and concubines run rampant in the Old Testament among those deemed righteous.

Incest is not unnatural in the biological sense. One could, and rightly so, argue that it is a very bad idea today given the degree of genetic mutations. However such genetic factors are not a guarantee nor is our present revulsion at the notion a negation of the biological reality of procreation.

You are correct that polygamy and concubines run rampant in the OT. And many who participated in the practice were considered righteous. However none of them were considered righteous for their polygamy or marital indiscretions. In fact, it is abundantly clear that these men were deeply flawed individuals and only considered righteous through grace on God’s part. So to assume their righteousness incorporated all of their deeds is to commit the basic fallacy of assuming salvation or favor with God is merited through works and not through grace.

A different kind of Christianity

Brian McLaren, a rockstar pastor in California, describes “A New Kind of Christianity”. However when he’s done deconstructing every central tenet of Christinaity as defined by Scripture, its quite clear that what he’s really offering is something completely different he’s calling Christianity.

Let’s Talk Post-Modernism and the Emergent Church

Not of the will of man

A friend of mine recently asked me what I made of John 1:11-13:

He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him.
But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

Calvinists (of the sort who deny free will) like to point to this passage, especially verse 13, as proof that man cannot choose to place his faith in Christ.

The first thing that needs to be pointed out here is that “His own” in verse 11 are the Jewish people. “Borne not of flesh and blood” refers to the fact that it is not physical dependency that determines one’s placement within the promise of Abraham. This sentiment is also echoed elsewhere by Paul in Romans and Ephesians.

Verse 13 is very far removed from verse 11 in that Jesus is primarily addressing the notion by the Jews of his day that they were among the chosen people and because of that they were guaranteed to be the “children of Abraham” who were to inherit all of God’s blessings.

So verse 13 is emphatically stating that the blessing is not seminal. It does not pass down generation to generation no matter what the fathers or “will of man” is. The Jewish audience of John would likely remember Jacob and Esau here and how Esau was not included in the promise even through his father clearly wanted him to be.

This idea of the promise not coming in the form of the law or according to the way the Jews expected it to come is at the heart of John’s whole gospel. To make verse 13 to be about a philosophical notion of whether man can actually place their faith in Christ is actually to go against the whole book John wrote by ripping it out of the clear context it is in.

For example, John goes from his introduction straight into John the Baptist who preaches according to the soon to be Old Covenant based on law. Then John moves to Jesus, then Nathan (law), then back to Jesus (wedding). So I would say that verse 13 is simply referring to the core theme John is writing about throughout his book, namely that Jesus is the promised messiah through which the blessings foretold will come.

In sum, you can’t say that verse 13 of chapter 1 has anything to do with our inability to place our faith in Christ since that is exactly what John is persuading his audience to do.