Christian Mind


What an impact a true Christian can be.

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Tight SlippersJonalyn Grace Fincher’s book, Ruby Slippers, has proven to be a pioneer book on femininity and discovering the soul of a woman.  I will be reading and re-reading this to contemplate the stimulating concepts that are presented.  I must admit that my own perception of the feminine soul has been challenged.The first analogy that we examined was that of corsets. We layer our corsets so tight so that our soul begins to suffocate under the weight. Another striking analogy that Jonalyn utilizes is that of Grimm’s Cinderella.  Unlike the Disney version, Grimm paints a picture of two step-sisters who cut off parts of their flesh to fit into shoes that were not meant for them. They had normal feet but demolished what they had to try to squeeze into shoes meant for Cinderella.

“Often the roles we play are like pinching shoes. In order to fit into some role, we squeeze ourselves, contort ourselves, even cut off part of ourselves. We accept these roles, and the contortions they sometimes demand, and we call it womanly, submissive even.”

Much like the step-sisters, we slice off parts of our soul to fit into the molds that we are expected to wear. We cut away crucial parts that God intends for us to grow and use. What we don’t realize is that while we fit into the shoes, our souls are bleeding. Why do we accept this as a necessary part of femininity without going to the One who created us to find out what He expects?

God created each woman unique. When we chisel away what He gave us, we are limiting ourselves to the narrowminded expectations of society.  I think its a sad commentary that we are satisfied with the shoes that are handed to us and we struggle to fit outselves into them without asking God what He wants for us.  How unfulfilled our lives become!  We must toss the corsets and man-made shoes to lay ourselves bare before the all-loving God who knows us…really knows us. But, this is so scary! Who are we without our corsets and tight shoes? Do we dare expose ourselves for who we are? 

We must remove human opinion from its pedestal. We must regard God’s opinion as the basis for our femininity. I love how Jonalyn puts it: “It’s time to remove these stifling shoes and corsets so we can walk closer to Christ.”

I believe that this movie has the potential to be the most talked about event in 2008, even eclipsing the political conventions, the Olympics and the Election.   I am equally sure that if it does well in the box office that there will be MUCH negative publicity against it.    At any rate, this is a very thought provoking trailer.  Enjoy

If nothing else I hope that this movie will engage Christians in and with the culture once again.  Forcing us to think! and get off our pat answers and shallow arguments.  This could be a great opportunity to participate in conversations with the culture at large.  It will also be an opportunity to show our ignorance if we are not careful. There is a risk of the anti-intellectuals, who shun academia, science and the institutes of higher learning, to solidify the sterotypical image of the “Christian” as the ignorant, blind faith bumpkins that many in the culture say we are.
At any rate, it is time to get out of the bunkers we call church and engage our culture again, not in some antagonistic conflict, but in truth and love.  It is possible to win the argument and lose the person with whom you are conversing. (I have to give props to my Pastor, Josh, for that line, it was too good not to borrow.)  It is also possible to lose an argument due to lack of preparation and basic knowledge and end up looking like a backwoods banjo picker.

Faith & Reason (Continued from Part 1)

We have already established that there is an interrelation between faith and reason.  Now the question is: How do they relate to each other?  This, the second post on this subject, will seek to answer that question.  There are three major categories in which faith and reason can relate.  These are (1) faith only; (2) reason only; and (3) faith and reason.

Fideism (Faith Only)
The “faith only” perspective says that reason plays no part in matters of religion.  As Tertullian said, “I believe because it is absurd!”  This view asserts that the only valid way to know anything about God is solely through faith.  Famous faith-only Christians include individuals such as Tertullian (160?-230?), Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855), Karl Barth (1886-1968), and to a slightly lesser degree, Blaise Pascal (1623-1662). 

 The driving force behind Fideism is the separation of man from God.  The finitude of human beings (specifically in regard to the intellect), and the transcendent nature of God keeps us from being able to effectively reason on spiritual matters.  On the one hand there is the fallen state of man which has left his mind and intellect in opposition to God; while on the other, there is the infinite greatness of God’s power and wisdom, which is totally foreign to human reason and can only present paradoxes to mankind.

Soren Kierkegaard
One of the most influential proponents of the “faith only” movement was the Danish philosopher and theologian, Soren Kierkegaard.  Among his many written works, his book, Fear and Trembling, especially sets forth his case.

The theme of Fear and Trembling is the well-known story of God commanding Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac.  Kierkegaard’s literary skill is superb as he captures the poignant emotions that Abraham must have felt as he traveled with his son to the mountain of sacrifice.  According to Kierkegaard, Abraham – unable to ascertain a rational motive explaining God’s command – had to make a “leap of faith” and obey God instead of his own reason.

This “leap of faith” stands at the core of Kierkegaard’s conception of faith and reason.  In essence he taught that the only way to understand God was to let go of reason and venture out on faith alone, that rational proofs of God’s existence were pointless and an affront to his nature, and that (contrary to Romans 1) there was no such thing as natural revelation.  Frederick Copleston, in his History of Philosophy, describes Kierkegaard’s philosophy:

God is not man, and man is not God.  And the gulf between them cannot be bridged by dialectical thinking.  It can be bridged only by a leap of faith, by a voluntary act by which man relates himself to God and freely appropriates, as it were, his relation as creature to the Creator, as a finite individual to the transcendent Absolute.[i]

Evaluation
Although the “faith only” viewpoint does indeed contribute some important teaching concerning God, faith, and reason, it has made a serious error in attempting to disregard reason altogether.  God created man a rational being and expects him to use his reason even in matters of faith.  If reason is denied then we have no basis of certainty for Scripture and faith.

Rationalism (Reason Only)
Whereas Fideism advocates that we should disregard reason for faith; the “reason only” view holds to just the opposite.  According to Rationalism, anything that cannot be apprehended or explained by reason must be rejected.  Famous rationalists include such individuals as Rene Descartes (1596-1650), Benedict Spinoza (1632-1677), and Immanuel Kant (1724-1804).

Although there are various degrees within the “reason only” perspective, the basic idea that is held in common is the belief that all truth can be discovered by unaided human reason.  Therefore the reason of man becomes the measure of all things.  Even Scripture must acquiesce to reason as it must pass the test of rational inquiry before it is accepted.

This ideology is the basis for higher criticism and theological liberalism.  Spirituality and religion are measured only by man’s ability to comprehend them.  Immanuel Kant succinctly summed up the “reason only” movement with the title of his book, Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone.     

Evaluation
On a positive note, the “reason only” movement has been successful in dampening some of the influence of the more extreme versions of anti-intellectualism, although in the final analysis, this system of thought has consistently demonstrated itself to be bankrupt of any legitimate insight into the nature of God and Scripture.  While it is correct in assuming that God intends for us to use the reasoning powers of our minds, it errs in placing the mind of man above God and denying the role of faith in the Christian experience.

Interrelation (Faith and Reason)
 The final view that will be stated here represents a synthesis of faith and reason.  This view asserts that faith and reason are interrelational, that is to say, that they both play a part in understanding God and Scripture.  This view was set forth in particular by two of Christendom’s greatest thinkers: St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430) and St. Thomas Aquinas (1225?-1274).  

This perspective can best be described by the phrase, “faith seeking understanding”.  In Augustine’s opinion, faith was necessary to reason correctly about God.  We all have to place our faith in some authority as the basis for how we think; Augustine said that the authority of the Christian faith is Scripture.  However we should not be satisfied with simply resting on an authority, but we should seek to understand the authority in which we have placed our faith.  In other words, we should not just believe, but we should seek to understand why and what we believe

Aquinas’ position was very similar.  He believed that man could come to a basic knowledge of God based on reason but that Scripture was necessary for understanding many things within the realm of the Divine.  As he said in Theology, Faith, and Reason:

There are some intelligible truths to which the efficacy of [reason] extends, such as the principles which a man naturally knows and the things which are deduced from them, and for knowledge of these no new intelligible light is required, but the naturally inborn light suffices.  But there are things to which these principles do not extend, such as what pertains to faith and exceeds the capacity of reason…The human mind cannot know these unless it is illumined by a new light superadded to the natural.[ii]

Thomas was basically saying that there are things about God that the human mind can deduce from creation itself, but there are other things which can only be understood through the revelation of Scripture.  Based on this premise, Thomas believed that it was possible to prove the existence of God from reasoning about creation, which he set forth in his famous “Five Ways” in the Summa Theologica.

Evaluation
It has been said before that Satan does not care whether you or going Upstream or Downstream just so long as you are Extreme.  The “faith only” and “reason only” viewpoints represent the extremes of our subject.  The Christian life is one of perpetual balance and this extends to the realm of faith and reason.  It is important that we see that there is an interrelationship between faith and reason, and that we do jump to the fringe on either side.  Blind faith and cold reason are both dangerous guides.  The balanced Christian seeks to have the body of reason animated by the fire of faith.


[i] Copleston, Frederick. A History of Philosophy: Vol. II. (New York: Image Books, 1994), p. 336[ii] Aquinas, Thomas. Theology, Faith, and Reason: On Boethius’ “On the Trinity”.

Many people associate Christian faith with a “blind leap into the dark”.  In their opinion, Christians are required to throw away reason in order to embrace a fantastic story that helps them worry less and sleep more soundly.  Modern culture often ignores the voice of Christianity, because it is assumed that faith has no bearing upon reason.

But is this true?  Are faith and reason mutually exclusive?  Can there be reconciliation between the two?  The answer to that question is a resounding yes.  One does not have to check his brain at the door when entering the realm of faith.  On the contrary, we have an injunction from the Almighty not only to love Him with all of our heart and soul, but with our mind as well.

What is Faith?
Many of the misunderstandings concerning faith and reason stem from a misconception of what faith really is.  Many consider faith to be some mystical feeling in the pit of their stomach; a magical intuition that guides them to deeper truth.  To others, faith is a thoughtless adherence to creeds and dogma without any concern or attention to the facts that under gird them.  Neither of these is the Biblical definition of faith, nor are they the traditional concept of faith that the church has held for centuries.

Faith According to Scripture
Nearly every time the word “faith” is used in the New Testament, it is translated from a form of the Greek word pistis.   The primary definition of pistis is a “a conviction of the truth of something that leads to belief“. We see, therefore, that the New Testament conception of faith is not a belief in an irrational fantasy, but rather a confidence in what one knows to be true.  As one theologian has said, “The heart cannot delight in what the mind rejects as false.”[ii]

The most comprehensive treatment on the subject of faith found in Scripture is found in Hebrews 11.  Often regarded as the “faith hall of fame”, this chapter sets forth a concise definition of faith in its first verse:  “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

A closer look at the attributes given to faith found in this verse will greatly increase our understanding of what faith really is.  The word “substance” is translated from the Greek word hupostatis.  This word, which is translated as “confidence” in 3:14, means “the strongest possible form of confidence that something is true“.  The word “evidence”, found within this verse and translated from elegchos, literally means “a strong conviction“.  The verse, literally translated, would read, “Now faith is the confidence of things hoped for and the conviction (or assurance) of things not seen.”

By looking carefully at this and other portions of Scripture, we can ascertain that the Biblical concept of faith is not an irrational leap into the dark, but a reasonable step into the light.  Although our faith rests in things which cannot be seen, it does so after being previously convinced that those things, though unseen, are real nonetheless.

Faith According to Theology
When we examine much of the traditional theology of the church, we find no conception of an irrational or blind faith.  The theology of saving faith was carefully systemized by the theologians of the past.  These men divided true, saving faith into three components: Notitia, Assensus, and Fiducia.

Notitia
This word means “the idea” and deals with the recognition of facts and data.  Faith cannot exist without some form of knowledge of what one is to believe.  In regard to saving faith, there must be an exposure to the data or facts of the gospel before one will ever be able to have faith in what it says.  Romans 10:14-17 states:

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?  And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”  But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?”  So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. 

Thus we see that faith must begin with a conscious recognition of fact, and cannot exist within a mental vacuum.

Assensus
Assensus means “to give intellectual agreement to the validity or truth of a statement”.  This means that one not only knows (notitia) the message of the Gospel, but that they have agreed that its message is true (assensus).

Although notitia and assensus are necessary to saving faith they are not sufficient in and of themselves.  This insufficient type of faith is known as fides historica, or mere historical faith, as opposed to fides salvifica (saving faith).

It is important to note, however, that assensus is necessary to salvation.  There must be an agreement with the facts before someone can exercise faith.  This, in itself, demonstrates Christianity to be reasonable faith; because there is no disregard of fact or evidence. It does not mean that the person coming to faith understands all of the facts presented, but that he has agreed that they are true in light of the evidence.  To quote Charles Hodge,

“God requires nothing irrational of his creatures. He does not require faith without evidence. Christianity is equally opposed to superstition and Rationalism. The one is faith without appropriate evidence, the other refuses to believe what it does not understand, in spite of evidence which should command belief.”[iv] 

Fiducia
This term literally means “trust”.  It is the third and final necessary component of faith.  It involves an appropriation and reliance on what one knows to be true.  In the case of the gospel, it is a complete surrender to, and total trust in the promises made by God through Christ. 

It is also important to note that fiducia involves trust in a person and not just agreement with fact (assensus).  Our faith is not is not based on evidence or facts about Christ (though it may be supported by it), but in Christ Himself.    

We exercise these three aspects of faith every day.  Here is a simple but cogent illustration.  Our first reaction upon walking into a dark room is to search for the light switch.  Upon locating the switch we use it to turn on the light.   All of the three components that have been previously mentioned are involved in this simple act of faith. 

switch.jpg

  • 1. Notitia– We realize that the room is dark and we discover the location of the light switch.
  • 2. Assensus– We intellectually assent that the switch will turn on the lights based upon on the evidence (i.e. switches found in similar locations have always turned on the lights before).
  • 3. Fiducia– By actually flipping the switch we have placed our trust in the fact that it will perform the task we have already mentally agreed that it would do.

Although these three divisions of faith may occur almost simultaneously, each one is necessary for true faith to occur.  Therefore a study of the very nature of faith demonstrates that the idea that it is “blind” or somehow separate from reason is absurd.  While reason is not faith, it is necessary for faith.


[ii] Pinnock, Clark, Set Forth Your Case (The Craig Press, 1967), p. 3
.[iv] Hodge, Charles, Systematic Theology,  Taken from Introduction to Chapter 3, “Rationalism”

 T. S. Eliot 

(Read Part 1, Part 2, or Part 3)

“The Wasteland”, by T. S. Eliot, is considered by many to be the most famous modernist work ever published.  Within the chaotic lines of this poem Eliot seeks to portray the sense of decadence, decline, and despair that characterizes the post-war West.  This work was highly influential, and it injected its nihilistic themes into the cultural bloodstream.  “The Wasteland” would come to influence many subsequent works of literature; including the two novels which have already been addressed.

With his description of London as the “unreal city” (Line 60) whose population has been undone by death, Eliot clearly portrays the despair experienced by the British after the war.  The city is not only inhabited by the clotted river of sighing masses which flows through its fog-covered streets, but by the ghostly memories of soldiers like “Stetson” who lost their lives during the war.  What happened to the corpse planted in Stetson’s garden (the millions who died in the war)?  What ghastly fruit will come of it?  From his vantage point, Eliot saw Western culture crumbling into “a heap of broken images” (Line 22), yet within the fractured and fragmented lines of The Waste Land, Eliot at times seems to hint at an answer.

Similar to The Sound and the Fury, “The Wasteland” attempts to convey the nihilism of its day through its very form and style.  By its disjointed lines and multiple obscure references, the poem presents an age in which spiritual and existential certainty has been replaced by “a handful of dust” (Line 30).  I must confess that the first time I read this “The Wasteland” I was quite baffled and a bit annoyed by the sheer amount of references.  However, each time I read the poem the more I discovered that the references themselves convey one of this work’s most powerful messages.  

The Wasteland

Nearly all of the quotes and allusions are derived from renowned Western literature.  Shakespeare, Dante, St. Augustine, and the Bible all make appearances, along with many other famous works.  It is as though Eliot was seeking to gather the ruins of Western civilization and piece them back together again (however disfigured the finished product may be).  The numerous references of “The Wasteland” reinforce Eliot’s message that the modern age has lost its soul, and that the only redemption for it will be found in a return to the eternal truths to which these references adhere.

Standing in the background of this poem is the Fisher King, a mythical figure from Arthurian legend.  His impotence (see Jake above) represents the sterility of the age, and his only hope is that someone will ask him what it is that ails him.  In “The Wasteland”, Eliot is emphasizing the fact that the problem for modern man is not to be found in the lack of abundant answers, but in the lack of the proper questions.  The age that produced World War I could not fix its own problems; only a return to the wisdom that had preceded it offered any hope.

All of these works communicate a powerful truth: that in his rise to power and scientific prowess, mankind lost his way.  Confusion reigns and his tower is left to crumbleThis is nihilism: the disintegration of all value; the fatal mistake of forgetting that the most precious things that a man possesses are not those things which can be stuffed in a pantry, stored in a bank account, or measured in a test tube.  Yet, as Eliot perceived, there is hope: escape from the maze of meaninglessness is not found by pressing forward into the darkness, but by following the breadcrumbs of antiquity back to the entrance…and to escape.

William Faulkner(Continued from Part 1 and Part 2.  Read more in Part 4)

The Sound and the Fury also foreshadows its theme by means of a literary reference it its title; in this case, Macbeth’s desperate testimony to the futility of life.  Within this novel, William Faulkner expresses the dissolution of value for modern man and his descent into existential nihilism.  By adopting the unique (and sometimes confusing) perspective of the mentally-handicapped Benjy, Faulkner explores life as “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Time is a key motif within The Sound and the Fury.  Benjy has no sense of it, Quentin is obsessed with it, and Mr. Compson seeks to explain it out of existence.  Indeed, the nature and perception of time is probably the most important key to understanding the nihilistic concepts that permeate the book.  Until the twentieth century (which brought Einstein’s relativity theory), Newtonian time was the great constant: linear, immutable, and persistent as it flowed like a river from past, present, to future.

Mr. Compson is the perfect representation of the modern undermining of traditional thought.  At the start of “Quentin’s Section” of the book, we are presented with Quentin’s memory of his father glibly explaining “the position of mechanical hands on an arbitrary dial.” (Faulkner 77)  In essence, Mr. Compson is stating that what we call “time” is nothing but human convention, a thing that we ourselves have invented measurement for and in which we anchor our daily existence.  One can hear in his words the echo of the Logical Positivist’s of the day, as they dismiss God, morality, and all metaphysical inquiry as nothing more than ludicrous linguistics.

Quentin, the recipient of Mr. Compson’s doleful pontifications, stands in sharp contrast to his father.  He represents the traditional values which have crumbled due to the influence of modern ideology.  Quentin is quite obviously obsessed with time; he is a traditional moralist and must have an absolute standard to sustain his reality.  However, he perceives that the world in which he lives does not conform to his ideals and (to his horror) neither does he, himself.  In the end, Quentin smashes his watch in the morning and drowns himself in the afternoon.  He believes that his view of reality is not feasible, but chooses to die rather than face a world that has failed to conform to his wishes.

Benjy’s character represents a chaotic fusion of the two aforementioned characters.  He is the modern man who must face reality after the traditional views of it have been destroyed (Quentin’s suicide) and the modern views of it have been found wanting (Mr. Compson’s drinking himself to death).  Benjy is neither obsessed with time, nor does he attempt to explain it away; he is simply oblivious to it.  His section is a confused string of random memories and experiences without any consistent order or logical coherence.  What does Benjy do?  He moans.  He moans in “utter horror; shock; agony eyeless, tongueless; just sound.” (320)  He is a man drowning in the despair of nihilism, unable to assign any transcendent meaning to his suffering but feeling the harsh and visceral reality of it nonetheless.

Faulkner’s answers are elusive.  Indeed, the only hint at a resolution is found in the final section of the book when Dilsey takes Benjy and Luster to church.  There, while listening to the passionate Easter sermon of a visiting minister, Dilsey has a somewhat mystical experience and finds comfort in her troubles.  Faulkner, by his reference to the Resurrection of Christ, is telling that a jettisoning of the past age and its truths is not the answer, but rather a realization of something worth keeping: namely, hope in redemption and new life.

All quotations taken from:  Faulkner, William. The Sound and the Fury. New York: Vintage. 1990

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