Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Thoughts on Oliphint's Christianity and the Role of Philosophy

Christianity and the Role of PhilosophyChristianity and the Role of Philosophy by K Scott Oliphint
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

K. Scott Oliphint gives the reader a brief tour of philosphy as it relates to the Christian.  He lays out the basics of philsopy's big three:metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics.  He shows how, despite some possible disagreement, there is no true consensus on answers to the questions posed by the big 3.  Oliphint uses an analogy of road map vs GPS and argues that philosophy is akin to a road map.  The user of philosophy is not sure where one begins and finds it hard to figure out how to get to where you're going or seek to go.(He uses it better than I am)

"Philosophy, by and large, in its quest for and love of wisdom, has tied itself to the first way above(that of road map as opposed to GPS), it has sought to discover the answer to its big three questions by looking around its limited surroundings, using whatever maps may be available at the time, and moving inexorably toward some destination."

This has led the pursuit of philosophy to show "little to no progress" in answering the questions it seeks to answer, at least in any definitive way.

Christianity also seeks to answer these big questions.  "What is the nature of ultimate reality?"(metaphysics) and "How do I know that?"(epistemology) are both questions that Christianity seeks to answer.  But, the difference for the Christian is that the Christian has a "view from above", a "GPS" that orients the Christian to where they are and gives direction from there.  This "GPS" is the revelation of God.

Oliphint then outlines possible ways that philosophy and theology interact and settles on the fact that theology governs philosophy and then goes on to defend this position by looking at the principia of both theology and philosophy.  Oliphint argues that since "reason does not have the perogative to act independently of what God has determined" and that God is "the principium essendi of all disciplines, since it is from God alone that any and every discipline derives anything and everything that it is and has."  Or, a "simpler way to put this is that God is the Creator and Sustainer of all things."  So, being said, philosophy is subservient to theology.

For a short book this is quite detailed.  It is fun.  Oliphint is clear and engaging, as always.  This book has a nice glossary and some great questions to guide the reader's study.  This is well worth the cost, both time and money.

I received a review copy of this book from the publisher through Netgalley.com

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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Seminary Notes on Philosophy

The word philosophy means “love of wisdom.” Historically, philosophy has been characterized by a relentless search for wisdom, a single-minded and insatiable desire to set forth the fundamental aspects of human existence in order to guide human activity. In the words of the pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus, “Wisdom is to speak the truth and act in keeping with its nature.” Philosophy is concerned with the truth and with actions that are in accordance with the way things are. This requires some notion of just what “truth” is, and it requires that we know something of “the way things are.”

So what exactly is philosophy? Generally speaking, it is a theoretical activity that seeks to make sense out of the world in order to make sense of our place in it. In its activity, historically, philosophy has concerned itself with three broad categories: metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics.

Metaphysics asks and attempts to answer the question: “What is the nature of things in reality, and especially of ultimate reality?”  Metaphysics concerned with the nature and structure of reality and is often called “ontology”. 

Epistemology means “study of knowledge.”  Philosophy’s task here is to study why, how, or whether we know something. Aristotle began his work on metaphysics with this statement: “All men by nature desire to know.” Here we see the interweaving of metaphysics and epistemology. Aristotle is saying something about the nature of man, which would have something to do with metaphysics. He is also asserting that it is a part of man’s nature to want to know, which touches on the area of epistemology. This discussion of epistemology together with metaphysics was typical of philosophy for most of its history.  Epistemology seeks to answer questions such as, “What is the origin and exten of human knowledge?”  What is the nature of human knowledge?  Can we know anything at all? 

Ethics—sometimes called moral philosophy—concerns itself with either of two primary categories. It may concern itself with so-called judgments of value, in which philosophers look at judgments of approval/disapproval, rightness/wrongness of an action, and so on. Or it may focus on so-called judgments of obligation, in which philosophers attempt to determine what it is we are obligated to do or not obligated to do in given situations or circumstances.

These three categories have constituted the bulk of philosophical activity since its inception and they are interrelated. 

The simplest way for me to keep these sorted is to look at the key question each discipline seeks to answer.
Metaphysics-What is the nature of ultimate reality?
Epistemology-How do I know that?
Ethics-How does this truth affect how I live and how others live?

Philosopy, like so many other things, is a great discipline when held in its proper perspective.  When seen as a tool of common grace, given to men by God to lead to greater honor and worship of God, philosophy is a great thing.  When divorced from God and seen as a substitute to Him, it is a tool of destruction.  Not only that, it is a futile effort because apart from God as starting point, philosophy cannot answer the questions that it seeks to answer.

Philosophy apart from revelation is like a road map……
Revelation is a GPS—a view from above.



So what is the proper placement of philosophy in regards to study of Scripture, Theology. 
There are 4 options to this question.
1.       Philosophy governs theology--
This view holds that because philosophy deals with the totality of reality, part of its task is to delineate the boundaries and activities of every other discipline.

2.      Philosophy is to be integrated w/ Theology--  This view is more ambiguous than 1, since the notion of integration is not always clear. Does philosophy “integrate” with theology when theology uses philosophical vocabulary? Historically, the answer to this question has been no. But the notion of integration in this category should be seen as on a continuum; it can be “more or less.” In terms of his method of doing philosophy, Thomas Aquinas argued that the knowledge of God could be had by using certain tools of philosophy. This knowledge of God could be acquired by reason alone.
This is most likely the majority view in the history of the church and of Christians doing philosophy. Such a view depends on a particular view of the relationship of natural theology to special revelation. Natural theology is something that anyone can do as long as the right tools of reason are employed. Special revelation, though, is also necessary to fill out or supplement the proper conclusions of natural theology.


3.      Philosophy is theology--The is here is not is in terms of identity but rather in terms of subject matter. This view can be seen, for example, in John Scotus Erigena in the Middle Ages, in some forms of Deism, and in certain forms of modern theology (e.g., Paul Tillich’s “ground of being”). The main tenet of this position is that the way to God is through reason alone. Revelation either is not appealed to or is denied altogether as an authority, as in Tillich. The subject matter discussed deals very little with biblical revelation and almost exclusively with abstract ideas or systems of thought.

4.      Theology governs philosophy
Gen 1:1; Ps 104, 139; Eph 1:11; Heb 1:3
The role of philosophy, therefore, must be as subservient to theology. If philosophy seeks to maintain its principium of reason, then reason itself must be understood, defined, delineated, and used within the boundaries and context set forth by God and his revelation. To put it negatively, reason does not have the prerogative to act independently of what God has determined. If it does so, it will inevitably end in failure. This takes us back to the illustration above. Reason acting of its own accord is analogous to the man with a map. He does not know where he is, even if he has some idea of where he would like to go. In order to get to where he wants to go, he can only work through a seemingly endless array of “maps,” hoping that at some point one map will bring him to his destination. Since he has no idea where he is, he can never argue cogently for his own starting point; he is in the dark.

If, however, reason is properly guided and directed, it is analogous to the man with the GPS. The GPS is a view from above. It tells the man where he is. It shows him how he can move from where he is to make real progress toward his destination. It allows him to choose the proper map. He may have more than one way to move to his desired destination. But he cannot move, even an inch, in the proper direction unless he stays within the map that has been set by the GPS. In other words, philosophy can be properly pursued only when it is pursued within the context and confines of God’s own revelation. Philosophy’s role is as a handmaid to theology. Its use is ministerial, not magisterial. It seeks to serve, not to rule over, theology. It takes its cue from theological truths; it sets its tasks according to principles and ideas that conform to, and are perhaps directed by, God’s own Word.

This means, to use just one example, that philosophy has to let the Word of God determine and define reason’s own status. Since philosophy is (rightly) concerned with principles and uses of reason, it should first consult theology to ascertain just what reason is meant to do and be. When we read, for example, that the mind of man is hostile toward God (Rom. 8:7), and that the natural man cannot understand spiritual things (1 Cor. 2:14), and that we, while remaining in our sins, are dead (Eph. 2:1), we should see that philosophy’s tasks cannot begin to be accomplished until and unless reason itself is redeemed in Christ.

            Philosophy that seeks to undertake its task apart from this redemption winds up in foolishness and empty deceit. This is, in part, why the apostle Paul contrasts the sinful pursuit of wisdom (i.e., philosophy apart from Christ) with God’s wisdom:

For it is written,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. (1 Cor. 1:19–21)

Notice that “the world did not know God through wisdom.” Why not? Because the wisdom of the world is in direct opposition to the wisdom of God. The folly of the cross (which is wiser than the wisdom of the world—1 Cor. 1:25) is the beginning of true wisdom. Unless philosophy begins its task with that folly, which is God’s wisdom, it will be destroyed; it will destroy itself.

*The majority of these notes are taken directly from K. Scott Oliphint's book, "Christianity and the Role of Philosophy".  It is a GREAT book.

Christian Interpretations of Genesis 1 by Vern S. Poythress

Christian Interpretations of Genesis 1Christian Interpretations of Genesis 1 by Vern S. Poythress
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a short book from a really good author.  Poythress does a great job briefly looking at the various interpretations of Genesis 1 and diagnosing what he sees as their weaknesses and strengths.

Poythress encourages the reader to look into varying explanations of disputed subjects, including how to interpret Genesis 1, because "it helps to be familiar with the possibilities so that we do not too quickly adopt one explanation without considering alternatives."

Poythress is unashamed in his view that to be a Christian, you have to believe the Bible.
"A person who wants to be a genuine Christian must be a disciple of Christ, and being a disciple of Christ implies submitting to the teaching of Christ the Master.  So accepting the Bible as the Word of God is an integral part of Christian faith and living."

Yet, his point is not a Bible vs science, us vs them, sort of mentality.  While he is explicit on the Bible being "infallible" and "modern scientific claims being "fallible", he is equally adamant that "even though the Bible is infallible, however, we as interpreters of the Bible are not."  I appreciate Poythress making clear that our interpretations are not equivalent with God's revelation and while God's revelation has no room for error or correction, our interpretation most certainly does.

You may not come to the same conclusions that Poythress does on Genesis 1, but you will have to agree that this little book is well worth your time and does a fairly good job of presenting the differing positions well.


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Monday, September 23, 2013

Covenantal Apologetics: Principles and Practice in Defense of Our Faith by K Scott Oliphint

Covenantal Apologetics: Principles and Practice in Defense of Our FaithCovenantal Apologetics: Principles and Practice in Defense of Our Faith by K Scott Oliphint
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Apologetics.  Epistemology.  Thomism. Van Tillian Presuppositionalism.  Terminology can be a beast sometimes.  Labels, which are designed to communicate substantial amounts of truth in a word or few, are less than helpful when a person is unfamiliar with them and can become detrimental when either the meaning of the label is debated or the label itself is misunderstood.

I still remember at a church where I was on staff that I found out through the grapevine that I believed only 144,000 people would ever be saved.  It seemed that because I had been labeled a "Calvinist" and thus believed in "election" then it was the case that I believed in only the salvation of the 144,000.  While I am sure it shocked many in the church that I would believe such, none were as shocked as I was.  Labels.  They can be helpful.  They can be confusing.  They can be downright harmful.

Scott Oliphint makes the case in Covental Apologetics that this might just be the case with the label of "Presuppostional Apologetics".  Oliphint feels it is time to move away from the terminology "presuppositional" and move towards a label more representative of the method itself, and one without the negative connotations that "presuppostional" enjoys.

Although, for that matter, "apologetics" itself is a word that is a bit loaded in our common vernacular.  Oliphint does well to define "apologetics" and then offer an apologetic for its use.  While many, from Barth to Kuyper to Spurgeon, have expressed reservations in regards to the discipline of apologetics, Oliphint shows that it is a discipline that is shown in Scripture to be allowable and beneficial, while also being directly commanded.(and one in which all these men engaged, even if they did not do so in a way that they would label as "apologetics")

"Christian apologetics is the application of biblical truth to unbelief.  Really it is no more complicated than that.  But it is complicated by the fact that there are so many theological permutations of biblical truth and almost no end to the variations and contours of unbelief.  Not only so, but there have been, are, and will continue to be attacks of every sort that seek to destroy the truth of the Christian faith.  So as one thinks about and commences to defend the Christian faith, things can become complex."

Oliphint makes the case that the Christian apologetic is one that is distinctly covenantal, one that is based on the fact that all humans are in a covenant relationship with God and are either in Adam, as covenant head, or in Christ, as covenant head.

"(B)asic to everything else we will say, we should recognize that every person on the face of the earth is defined, in part, by his relationship to a covenant head.  That is, there are two, and only two, postions that are possible for humanity, and only one of which can be actual for each person at a given time.  A person is either, by nature (after the fall into sin), in Adam, in which case he is opposed to and in rebellion against God, or he is in Christ, in which case by grace a person is not guilty before God but is an heir of eternal life.  This is the covenantal status of humanity, and it assumes in each case, a relationship to God."

This is the crux of a covenantal (presuppostional) apologetic.  Using Paul's argument from Romans 1, Oliphint shows that God has made Himself known to all men and men either receive this and acknowledge Him, or they rebel against Him and suppress this knowledge.  As covenantal creatures we enjoy a sensus divinitatus, a "sense of the divine".  This "sense of the divine" influences how we form our arguments with unbelievers and how we approach the discipline of apologetics.

Oliphint offer ten tenets to guide the Covenantal approach to apologetics.  These tenets are:
"1.  The faith we are defending must begin with, and necessarily include, the triune God--Father, Son, and Holy Spirit--who, as God, condescends to create and to redeem.
2.  God's covenantal revelation is authoritative by virtue of what it is, and any covenantal, Christian apologetic will necessarily stand on and utilize that authority in order to defend Christianity.
3.  It is the truth of God's revelation, together with the Holy Spirit, that brings about a covenantal change from one who is in Adam to one who is in Christ.
4.  Man(male and female) as image of God is in covenant with the triune God for eternity.
5.  All people know the true God, and that knowledge entails covenantal obligations.
6.  Those who are and remain in Adam suppress the truth that they know.  Those who are in Christ see the truth for what it is.
7.  There is an absolute covenantal antithesis between Christian theism and any other, opposing position.  Thus, Christianity is true and anything opposing it is false.
8.  Suppression of the truth, like the depravity of sin, is total but not absolute.  Thus, every unbelieving position will necessarily have within it ideas, concepts, notions, and the like that it has taken and wrenched from their true, Christian context.
9.  The true, covenantal knowledge of God in man, together with God's universal mercy, allows for persuasion in apologetics.
10.  Every fact and experience is what it is by virtue of the covenantal, all-controlling plan and purpose of God."

These tenets are fleshed out beautifully throughout the remainder of the book.

There were many outstanding moments in this book.  One of the more memorable for me was Oliphint's chapter on the role of persuasion in apologetics and how he moved from the classical, educational Trivium (grammar, logic, and rhetoric) to the theological trivium (the principial nature of Scripture, the sensus divinitatus, and God's universal mercy)  to the trivium of persuasion (ethos, pathos, and logos).  The mixture of theology, philosophy, history, and Scripture applied so beautifully to the discipline of apologetics, specifically persuasion, and showing how critical the pathos of the apologist is, was wonderful.  Chapter 4 alone is worth the price of the book.

And if chapter 4 alone is worth the price of the book then the reader should be ready to receive much more than they have paid for.  This book is a great book. Oliphint deals with a broad range of subjects and he does so in a manner that will not easily lose his audience.  There are a few spots where it feels like the current may sweep the reader away, but Oliphint does a fine job helping the reader find solid, familiar ground pretty quickly in these cases.  The discussion on probability as it relates to a naturalistic worldview get pretty heady pretty quickly, but it is definitely worth looking at and was especially edifying to me.

Oliphint includes three model-discussions to see how a "Covenant Apologist" would deal with different worldviews.  These discussions are informative and challenging, and frankly, just fun to read.

If you have any interest in knowing what Van Tillian, or presuppositonal, apologetics proposes, this is the book for you.  I have to be honest, I get lost in Van Til quotes and have never been able to convince myself to dive into his work.  Frame and Bahnsen are good, but as far as clarity and an engaging style, Oliphint, to me at least, is head and shoulders above his peers.  This is a book that the reader will enjoy and learn from, regardless of whether or not you end up embracing this particular apologetic.


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Faith Like Einstein

Browsing along my Facebook feed I came across this story.  It reads:

Professor : You are a Christian, aren’t you, son ? 
Student : Yes, sir. 
Professor: So, you believe in GOD ?\ 
Student : Absolutely, sir. 
Professor : Is GOD good ? 
Student : Sure.
Professor: Is GOD all powerful ? 
Student : Yes. 
Professor: My brother died of cancer even though he prayed to GOD to heal him. Most of us would attempt to help others who are ill. But GOD didn’t. How is this GOD good then? Hmm?
(Student was silent.) 
Professor: You can’t answer, can you ? Let’s start again, young fella. Is GOD good? 
Student : Yes. 
Professor: Is satan good ? 
Student : No. 
Professor: Where does satan come from ? 
Student : From … GOD … 
Professor: That’s right. Tell me son, is there evil in this world?

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Epistemology

Epistemology


Defined narrowly, epistemology is the study of knowledge and justified belief. As the study of knowledge, epistemology is concerned with the following questions: What are the necessary and sufficient conditions of knowledge? What are its sources? What is its structure, and what are its limits? As the study of justified belief, epistemology aims to answer questions such as: How we are to understand the concept of justification? What makes justified beliefs justified? Is justification internal or external to one's own mind? Understood more broadly, epistemology is about issues having to do with the creation and dissemination of knowledge in particular areas of inquiry. This article will provide a systematic overview of the problems that the questions above raise and focus in some depth on issues relating to the structure and the limits of knowledge and justification.
Follow link to see meat put on these bones.  It will change your life....actually, that is a bit of an oversell.  But you might enjoy it and it might prove useful.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Classic Sermon: God Glorified in Man's Dependence by Jonathan Edwards

God Glorified in Man's Dependence
God Glorified in Man's Dependence  was Edwards' first published work. He originally delivered the sermon in Northampton in the fall of 1730; on July 8, 1731, he preached it to a meeting of clergy in Boston, soon after which it appeared in print. One of his more noted efforts, the sermon was reprinted frequently in subsequent editions of his work, including the Dwight edition (8, 147–62).
Edwards here picks up many of the themes that he had been working on in his private notebooks and other sermons from the period and brings them together in an elegant, well-modulated statement in defense of the evangelical precept that human beings are so fallen that they are utterly dependent on God for spiritual good, especially salvation. Clearly, Edwards shaped his ideas to combat Arminianism and so carried forward the polemic he had begun with his Master's  Qu├Žstio  in 1723.1  To this extent, the sermon also reflected other efforts from this period, such as  God Makes Men Sensible of Their Misery, to articulate the importance of evangelical humiliation.2  God Glorified, however, adopts a different rhetorical strategy. Rather than stress the affective dimensions of humiliation, Edwards defends the Calvinist view of human nature by linking it to the doctrine of the Trinity.
In the Explication, Edwards contends that people depend on Christ for redemption, on God for Christ, and on the Holy Spirit for the faith that unites them with Christ. In the first major head of the Doctrine, he pursues this trinitarian structure. The redeemed have all of their good  of  (or from) God, which means that they, helpless in their sinful states, depend solely on God for the power to make them holy. The redeemed also have all their good  through  God's gift of the Mediator, Christ, who justifies them. The redeemed furthermore have all their good  in  God, who makes them morally excellent by the presence of the Holy Spirit.

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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Review of As You Go by Alvin Reid



Alvin Reid, professor of evangelism and student ministry at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, is "tired of meeting young adults who tell (him) that what they remember from their youth group experience is 'invite a friend' and 'Don't have sex.'"  He wants students to begin living their lives enamored with the risen Christ as ministers of his Gospel of grace and love.  He wants to see young people living their Christian lives in a distinctly Christian way, as missionaries and ministers of reconciliation.

Me too!  Reid offers a lot of practical wisdom for leaders and parents.  He says we have spent so much time on the imperatives(the "do's", commands, law) and lost sight of the indicatives(the "Christ has done", Gospel).  This leads to what Christian Smith coined Moralistic Therapeutic Deism and it fills youth rooms and pulpits all over the country, if not the world.  The idea that God, an impersonal force more than a relational being, is here to make me feel better as long as I act good is as pervasive as it is perverse.  Reid's advice, ditch this and focus on the Gospel.

Focus on the Gospel in its grandest presentation.  The typical Roman Road Gospel presentation drops the hearer in the middle of the story, assuming that Romans 1-3 is known and understood as we kick off at Romans 3:23.  Reid's point is to see the Gospel from beginning to end, the good news of God from creation to consumation and restoration.  He encourages the reader to teach students the "metanarrative" of Scripture, the big story.  And see that the Gospel is not the "door to Christianity" that one enters and leaves behind, but rather it is the focus of all of Christianity.  Allow the student to see who God is and what He is doing and let these truths be applied to them by the Holy Spirit.

Reid makes a great point in line with this when he says,

Much of what we do in student ministry focuses on the lowest common denominator: What truth can we teach that will apply to all?  In an attractional, event-driven ministry, this approach is necessary to keep people coming. And, if your ministry focuses more on the how of Christianity (how to date better, how to witness, how to be happy) than on the why (focusing on God and his plan), it will thus be more focused on truth that applies to the widest possible audience.  But the more we focus on helping students see the big picture of who God is and what he is doing and why he is doing it, the better they can learn to make application to the unique aspects of their lives.

This leads to another one of Reid's big points.  He seeks to see a more relational, mentor, discipleship type of model grow in student ministry as opposed to the typical, pizza-party+lazer tag= little-to-no spiritual growth model that seems to reign supreme.  Not opposing events and pizza per se, Reid sees the role of the minister as that primarily of disciple maker and mentor, someone investing in the lives of individuals and seeing these individuals do likewise and so on and so on.  I think there is something quite biblical and quite Christlike to this mentality and this model.

Reid also invests an entire chapter on the role of the family in student ministry.  This could be one of the greatest weaknesses in many student ministries, and in many churches, is the compartmentalization of the church into almost little parachurch organizations.  Nursery, kid's church, youth group, young adults, middle adults, adult adults, really adult adults...you could go your entire life and never have to really know anyone much more than 5 or 10 years off of your age.  The need for the entire family to be involved in the growth and discipleship of students is crucial and I am glad Reid gave it a good section of his book(even if the age-integration soapbox is likely more me than him).

This is a good book and well worth parents and youth leaders to invest the time in reading and seriously consider the points that he makes.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Review of Despite Doubt by Michael Wittmer



Despite Doubt is a forthcoming work by Michael Wittmer that aims to deal with the discussion about the role of doubt in the Christian's faith.  I am not sure if the timing of its release is strategic or Providential, or a bit of both, but it serves as a great counterpoint to Gregg Boyd's latest work, The Benefit of Doubt.


Wittmer is Professor of Systematic Theology at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, where he also directs the Center for Christian Worldview. He is the authored multiple books including Heaven Is a Place on Earth, which is on my “to be read” list.

Wittmer sets out to argue against the idea that faith is a leap into the unkown, that it is as Elizabeth Gilbert puts it:
Faith is walking face-first and full-speed into the dark. If we truly knew all the answers in advance as to the meaning of life and the nature of God and the destiny of our souls, our belief would not be a leap of faith and it would not be a courageous act of humanity; it would just be... a prudent insurance policy.
This false dichotmomy that pits faith agaisnt knowledge is a large portion of what Wittmer addresses.  He argues against the idea that risk, rather than simply accompanying faith, is the essence of faith.  Scripture nowhere commands or affirms a faith as a "blind leap" and Wittmer presents a formidable case agaisnt this notion.  Wittmer affirms the Reformation tri-fold formulation of faith(notia, assensus, and fiducia) where faith is knowledge of God and His salvation, acknowledging that the case presented in Scriptures is objectively true, and wholeheartedly trusting this truth.  He quotes the Heidelberg Catechism that "(t)rue faith is not only a knowledge and conviction that everything God reveals in his word true, it is also a hearty trust."

Witmer's work is a pleasant blend of exegesis, philosophy, and apologetics.  It is a helpful and sincere look into the topic of faith and doubt.  It is simultaneously theological and practical, utilizing Scripture, arguments, and real life anecdotes to make the point that faith is trusting in what we know rather than a blind leap into the unknown.

Despite Doubt features a wide variety of topics, concise chapters, a clear and engaging style of writing, and a respect of and submission to God's word as our ultimate source of truth and knowledge.

I received a copy of this book through Netgalley.com for review purposes.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Classic Sermon: A Divine and Supernatural Light by Johnathan Edwards

A Divine and Supernatural Light
In  A Divine and Supernatural Light, Edwards condensed much of a decade of preaching, rumination, and private writing on the nature of spiritual knowledge into a single, remarkable effort. First delivered in Northampton in August 1733 and printed in Boston the following year, it enhanced his reputation as a spokesman for experimental Calvinism and set forth many of the themes that undergirded his preaching through the Great Awakening.
Edwards draws heavily on eighteenth-century faculty psychology to argue that a saving knowledge of God is far beyond the faculty of understanding. The text (Matthew 16:17), he contends, reveals that Peter's confession of Christ's messianic nature derived not from speculative knowledge or a purely rational recognition of an objective fact; it was an affective and moral response to the presence of divine light in Peter's soul. As Edwards develops the Doctrine in three propositions, he argues that true revelation evokes love, esteem, and trust—responses of the faculty of the will (which, by Edwards' use here, includes moral judgment) rather than of the understanding. As such, it implies an experience of God, a sensation of God's moral character, and a new vital principle within the believer. God, that is, must bestow the Holy Spirit by his own sovereign initiative before individuals can have a right perception of him. Because revelation comes only from God's self-disclosure to the elect, natural reason or any other human means alone cannot be said to convey spiritual knowledge. In the short but quite powerful Application, Edwards asks his auditors to decide whether they have received divine light and exhorts them with reminders that this light is not only morally pleasing and joyful but the means of conversion and salvation.1
These were important themes to Edwards, developed in other writings in bits and pieces. The image of light served him several times in his notebooks as a type for spiritual life, or beauty, or Christ. As early as 1723, he devoted a sermon to reflection on Christ, revelation, and light.2  In the printed version of  A Divine and Supernatural Light, he incorporated "Miscellanies" no. 489, on spiritual knowledge; several subsequent entries in the notebooks reflect a continuing interest in clarifying the relation between heart or spiritual knowledge and reason, the understanding and the will, affective judgment and faith. His treatise on  Religious Affections  picks up many of the ideas from  A Divine and Supernatural Light. In sum, his expression of the nature of spiritual knowledge in this 1733 lecture became an integral part of his theology.3
In the preface to the first printed version of  A Divine and Supernatural Light, Edwards claimed that his subject was "unfashionable" and "out of mode." Although he includes some warnings against enthusiasm in the lecture, his reference here appears more pertinent to religious rationalism. Certainly his comments could be construed as a critique of the implicit Arminianism of New Englanders who assent to the creed but who, in Edwards' terms, have only a notional knowledge of God. They deny—or simply ignore—the possibilities of a conversion experience initiated by the infusion of the divine and supernatural light of the Spirit. To this extent, the lecture on Matthew 16:17 gave Edwards a theoretical basis from which to promote evangelical revival.

Friday, September 6, 2013

John Calvin and the Natural World by Davis Young



One of the clearest and persistent voices of Scriptural fidelity and Protestant orthodoxy has to be John Calvin. He was someone addicted to the sufficiency and authority of Scripture and spent a great portion of his life opening the Scriptures for any who would listen. His works live on past his physical demise and, though demonized by many, he is one of the lasting voices of the Reformation and still has much to teach the Church, even on contemporary issues.

Calvin had an extremely positive attitude towards scientific endeavors in and of themselves. Calvin rejected a “solo scriptura” attitude that saw Scripture as the only source of knowledge and the only authority. He spoke harshly against those who purposefully remained ignorant and applauded that ignorance as somehow virtuous. Calvin definitely affirmed Scripture as the ultimate authority but did so in a manner that showed that all truth is God’s truth, including the sciences.

But clearly, for Calvin, science was not an end to itself. Science existed as a means to worship and honor God. We are created and called to worship the one true God and everything we do should lead us in that direction. “The man in whom there is no knowledge of God, whatever other learning he may otherwise possess, is empty, and even the very sciences and the arts, which are good in themselves, are emptied of significance when they lack this basis.”

Young’s work looks at Calvin’s interaction with multiple topics of science including: the heavens, the age of the earth, global flood, the weather, living things, origins, medicine, the natural world, how Scripture relates to things of nature, and many other topics. Some of the interactions are explicit, some implicit based on things said and how Calvin approached other topics.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Promises of God by RC Sproul



This is a book for which I have searched for a good while. I have looked for a short, concise, clear, accessible introduction to covenant theology. Thanks to RC Sproul’s The Promises of God, I have found such a book.

Sproul takes the reader from Creation to Consummation and shows how the covenant is at the heart of Biblical revelation. Sproul spends a chapter (or multiple) on each of the main covenants in Scripture: Redemption, Creation/Works, Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic, and New Covenant. He also starts with a chapter explaining what a covenant is and finishes by highlighting how the covenants all point directly to Christ.

The Promises of God is released by publisher David C. Cook and, if I understand correctly, this book kicks off a series of books that Sproul and David C. Cook will be putting out with a unique format. The Promises of God is setup with a built in study guide at the end of each chapter. Where many books will offer questions to consider and further readings to pursue, or some books even have pretty in-depth study guides you can purchase separately or may be included at the end, this is the first book I have read with this type of built in study feature.