Theology


Top Ten Posts for February, 2008 

Very little was posted this month (the team has been busy!), but here are the Top Ten most visited posts for the month of May:

  1. The Battle for the Mind: German and British Propaganda In the First World War: A post examing the beginnings of modern war propaganda and how it is used to direct the populace.
  2. Doormat Christianity: How much personal offense should a Christian put up with?
  3. The Nature of Truth: A two part essay that examines the meaning of truth and its underlying principles. Part 1, Part 2.
  4. What is Christian Art?: Is there such a thing as “Christian” art and how does one recognize it?
  5. Eschatology Poll Update and Fun with Christian Kitsch:  A post that examines the results of our eschatology poll while having some fun with kitschy Christian art.
  6. Faith and Reason: A two part essay dealing with a proper definition of faith as well as its relationship to reason. Part 1, Part 2.
  7. Much Ado About Nothing: Nihilism and Modernist Literature: A four part essay that examines nihilistic themes in the works of three Modernist authors.  Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.
  8. Is Fantasy Escapism?:Is fantasy literature (LOTR, Narnia, etc.) an attempt to escape reality, or does it communicate reality better than any other genre?
  9. Monty Python’s Parody of Knighthood (Part 1): How Monty Python and the Holy Grail humorously skewers the ideals of Arthurian chivalry.
  10. The Ethical Quagmire of Designer Babies: A post that investigates the murky waters of bioethics.

Top Ten Posts for March, 2008

Here are the Top Ten posts on Quadrivium for March, 2008:

  1. Faith and Reason: A two part essay dealing with a proper definition of faith as well as its relationship to reason. Part 1, Part 2.
  2. Much Ado About Nothing: Nihilism and Modernist Literature: A four part essay that examines nihilistic themes in the works of three Modernist authors.  Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.
  3. The Ethical Quagmire of Designer Babies: A post that investigates the murky waters of bioethics.
  4. An Evaluation of Descartes’ Claim that the Mind is More Easily Known Than the Body: A post that examines the contents of its formidable title.  (Note: this is not an argument against substance dualism, just an evalution of one of Descartes’ arguments for it).
  5. What is Christian Art?: Is there such a thing as “Christian” art and how does one recognize it?
  6. A Review of Expelled: A preview commentary on Ben Stein’s upcoming ID flick as well as some interesting discussion in the comments.
  7. Handling Money God’s Way: A practical post that gives Scripturally based principles and tips on how to manage your money.
  8. The Suffocating Soul: A two-part book review and commentary on the various ‘corsets’ and ‘tight slippers’ that suffocate our souls.  Part 1, Part 2.
  9. The Conflict of Christianity and Culture: A post that examines the underlying causes of modern Christianity’s estrangement from culture.
  10. The Biggest Loser- A Commentary on Pop TV: Examining the delights and dangers implicit in a popular reality television show.

A Message from  

 

“A number of people called our attention to this clip from the popular TV series ER. It really is amazing for secular television.The “Fair Use” law allowed us to teach from it, without violating copyright laws. It has wonderful evangelistic potential, so please use it all over the Internet.”

To me this one is worth re-posting for WOTM.

Nobody can say it quite like Piper:

props to Matthew at The Foolishness of Preaching for bringing this gem to light.

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”

 19 Votes and counting… Click here or in the sidebar if you would like to join in.  Feel free to comment as well.

If you need definitions for the terms below then check out this previous post.

Click here if you would like to tour our gallery of Christian kitsch.

Dispensational Premillenial 11% (2 votes)

 
One of the ‘other’ votes is basically an ‘undecided’ between the first three choices, the other ‘other’ vote is for Hope/Kingdom eschatology which I think [if the voter is referring to the popular notion of ‘Hope” theology] would be a kind of Marxist postmillenialism.

Well I know you’ve been waiting for it!  Here’s more Christian kitsch!

horses

biblesecondcoming.jpg

morerapture1.jpg

rapture1.jpg

kitschcoming.jpg

kingofkings69.jpg

Disclaimer: To any who might be offended by visual representations of the rapture:  We are not making fun of the doctrine of the rapture…we are making fun of PICTURES of the docrine of the rapture.

We’ve had a great response to our eschatology poll thus far!  A total of 12 votes have been counted.  Only 12?  Well, you have to remember that it is an eschatology poll of all things.  I would’ve considered five votes a success!  So here’s the breakdown thus far (if you need definitions for the following terms then click here to read an earlier post on the subject):

  • Dispensational Premillenialism: 1 vote
  • Classical Premillenialism: 2 votes
  • Amillenialism: 4 votes
  • Postmillenialism: 1 vote
  • “Whatever the Left Behind Novels Say”: 0 votes (thankfully)
  • Undecided: 2 votes
  • Other: 1 vote (although the voter basically said that they’re undecided about the first three choices)

Thanks to everyone who has participated thus far.

I have a couple of observations: First off, I’m surprised at the number of Amill votes, since Dispensationalism still appears to be the reigning eschatology in the evangelical church today.  I have noted a resurgence in Amillenialism in the past few years, but the results still seem odd (of course we have only gotten 12 votes so far, so things may change).  Anyone have any thoughts about this?  Secondly, while we certainly appreciate people casting their votes, we would love it if a few of you would comment on your choice (which position you subscribe to and why).

 Finally, while surfing the web for a pic for this post, I noticed that the majority of artwork concerning the Second Coming is just downright kitschy!  Why?  I’m not sure, but be sure to have fun with the sample of Christian kitsch below!

2ndcoming2.jpg

The not-so-secret Rapture

thiefjesus.jpg

Talk about literal interpretation!

morerapture.jpg

I’m not sure if this is supposed to be the rapture or just a ‘bad trip’.

70srapture.jpg

Groovy eschatology (I wonder if Jack Chick did this one???)

rapture.jpg

It’s the pièce de résistance of eschatology kitsch (nifty robes)!

The Second ComingThe previous post concerning N. T. Wright’s article got me to thinking about things.  For the past five years or so I have really been trying to come to grips with what the Bible teaches in regards to Eschatology. What is eschatology? Well, it is the branch of Christian theology that deals with the afterlife, the future, the Second Coming of Christ, and what exactly the Bible says about it. I’ll have to confess that I am still trying to decide for the most part. I was raised a Dipensational Premillenialist, but in recent years I have had some misgivings concerning this particular brand of eschatology.
So here’s a painfully simplified rundown of what the big words mean that you will see in our poll when you click the link in the sidebar (or link here):

  1. Dispensational Premillenialism teaches (among other things) that Christ will someday ‘rapture’ all belivers to Heaven while those left behind endure a 7 year period known as the ‘Gread Tribulation”.  After this, Christ will come to the earth to establish a literal, one-thousand year kingdom. After which he will make a final judgment of all humanity.  Dispensationalists really emphasize a difference between the church and and the nation of Israel and how God will deal with each.
  2. Classical Premillenialism teaches that Christ will come to establish a literal, one-thousand year kingdom.  After this he will finally judge all of humanity.  Classical Premillenialists don’t generally hold to the idea of a pre-tribulational rapture, and many of them don’t hold to an actual seven year tribulation in the future.  Classical Premills also don’t really make a great distinction between the Church and Israel (although there are a few exceptions).
  3. Postmillenialism teaches that the ‘millenium’ referred to in the book of Revelation is symbolic for a golden age that will be ushered in by the Church’s faithful ministry and preaching of the Gospel. After this, Christ will come and judge the world.
  4. Amillenialism teaches that the ‘millenium’ spoken of in Revelation symbolic for the church age in which Christ rules with the saints in Heaven. The kingdom of God is present in the church and Christ will come at the end of the church age to judge the world. (i.e. there is no literal Millenial Kingdom)
  5. The Left Behind Novels…well, I won’t even go there.
  6. None of the above: Hmmm. It would be interesting to see what could actually fit in this category.
  7. If you don’t know what this stuff means then talk to your local pastor or local theology professor. Then do some research for yourself, there’s plenty of info on the web and tons of literature on the subject.

I’m really interested in what you guys think, sooooooooo…if you’ll just take a look at our poll

p.s. Due to the fact that WordPress will not allow any really cool java polls in the sidebar, you will have to click on the link to the right under ‘Eschatology Poll’.  This will take you to a really nifty poll where you can vote.

p.p.s. Feel free to comment on your vote and let me know what particular subset of eschatology you adhere to and why

p.p.p.s. I consider a person’s eschatology to be a non-essential in comparison to other teachings of orthodox Christianity.  This does not mean that I don’t believe that it is important, just that I don’t want people slinging terms like ‘heretic’ around just because someone holds a different view than you.  As far as I’m concerned, the only essential tenet of eschatology is that Christ will indeed return someday as he promised.  The details about how that will happen exactly are open for discussion.  Remember the wise words of Augustine (who happened to be Amill):

In essentials unity, in doubtful things liberty, but in all things charity.

N. T. Wright says that most Christians are wrong about Heaven in a recent article by Time magazine:

If people think “my physical body doesn’t matter very much,” then who cares what I do with it? And if people think that our world, our cosmos, doesn’t matter much, who cares what we do with that? Much of “traditional” Christianity gives the impression that God has these rather arbitrary rules about how you have to behave, and if you disobey them you go to hell, rather than to heaven. What the New Testament really says is God wants you to be a renewed human being helping him to renew his creation…
.

Despite the provocative title, Wright makes some excellent points about Heaven, the after life, and the after, after life.  Certainly worth a click.

DistractedHave you ever contemplated how much time we waste on meandering thoughts?  During any busy day, our minds become crowded with To-Do lists, Have-Done lists, and things you cannot even label because they speed by on the highway of your mind, forgotten as quickly as you thought of them.  Have you ever driven yourself to the store and wondered how you got there because your mind was not on the road, but you cannot really explain what distracted your mind for so long?  I have to admit that I have done this on several occasions.  In meditating on the thought life, I am starting to understand that this is a part of who we are.  Our thought lives reflect our self-discipline, or lack thereof.  Our brains become little more than pinball machines with thoughts darting back and forth with no real goal or focus.  This becomes a habit that we fall into.

 

Having an untrained mind is like a person that is trying to organize the closet.  They start well with the right intentions.  They arrange the shoes by type and color.  They pull out the old boxes to go through and put in their proper place.  But then something distracts them.  They see the closet floor needs to be vacuumed.  Then they see they might as well vacuum the entire bedroom, then the whole house.  As they are vacuuming, they see toys lying around that must be put up, and so goes the day.  At dusk they realize that the boxes are still lying in the bedroom floor, none of the clothes have been boxed up for the season and the only thing they accomplished was sorting the shoes.

 

However the first thing we must do to break a bad habit is to recognize it for what it is.  Is an uncontrolled mind such a bad thing?  I am coming to think that it is.  It shows disorder, lack of discipline, and it affects other areas of the life.  The example of the closet shows a person that cannot focus his or her mind on the task at hand.  The time has been wasted and cannot be gained back.  We see that having an undisciplined mind is a problem and we admit our failures.  But where are we to go from here?  Is there any help for those of us who have difficulty maintaining a constant stream of thought?  I Corinthians 10:5 states, “…bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;” Our thoughts are to be brought under Christ’s control.  Does having a well-organized mind glorify God?  I say yes.  I am still meditating on this verse as I learn to control my thought life.  I know it will help organize my day, free myself from stress and most of all, glorify the One who gave me the mind to think.  Not to mention, I can drive to the store and not wonder why I am in the Laundromat parking lot instead.  Any comments or suggestions on this would be most helpful.

This is an article I posted in the church bulletin several years ago.  I still stand in wonder at the likes of Carey, Judson, Livingstone, Hudson Taylor, and the host of others who went and have made such and impact on this world for the Cause of Christ.  Who were willing to spend and be spent in order to preach the kingdom to every creature.  

As we begin our week of Mission’s Revival, I bring to a close the excerpts from the book “The Judson Offering.”  My own heart has been stirred and brought under conviction as I have followed the father of American Foreign Missions from the “Haystack Prayer Meeting” to the shores of Burma.  The imprisonment and the trials that those pioneer missionaries endured, not for vain glory or self gain but all for the Glory of God and to be allowed the privilege to take the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the benighted lands of the pagan heathen.  They held not their own life dear but lived only to do the will of God, counting themselves already dead to this world.  Where is that consecration today?  Where is that abandonment to God and His good pleasure today?  O, God where is that burden for lost souls today?

I submit the following poem written by Rev. James D. Knowles.   The original preface reads: “the following stirring appeal on behalf on the mission cause, is founded upon the eager inquiry once made by a poor heathen to Dr. Judson: ‘Art thou Jesus Christ’s man?’”

Art thou Jesus Christ’s man?

Redeemed by precious blood?Baptized into his death, and raised,In emblem from the flood?

Dost thou heed his last command-

“Preach my word in every land?” Art thou Jesus Christ’s man?His image dost thou bear-His love for guilty man, his zeal,His self-denial share?Canst thou see the Burman die,Hear unmoved his wailing cry? Art thou Jesus Christ’s man?Thyself hast freely given,To live for him alone, till HeShall call thee home to heaven.And wilt thou still refuse to go,To rescue men from endless wo? Art thou Jesus Christ’s man?And does He let thee live,Where freedom, peace, and plenty reign?And dost thou grudge to giveThy gold, to speed the gospel’s flight,And fill the world with truth and light? Art thou Jesus Christ’s man?This question must thou meet,When thou, with all mankind, shalt standBefore His judgment-seat.How wilt thou then endure His eye,And what! Oh! What, wilt thou reply?

One of the thorniest problems that the theist must face is how to understand the concept of human freedom in light of a sovereign God.  By “sovereign” I mean a God who is maximally great and possesses such attributes as omnipotence (maximal power), omniscience (maximal knowledge), and omnibenevolence (maximal goodness).  God’s omnscience, and his foreknowledge in particular, is the attribute that causes the most consternation for theists who want to preserve the notion of human freedom.  If God already knows everything about our future, do we actually have any choice in the matter?  Is every human action already determined by God, or are free human choices undetermined?  There are three basic categories that philosophers and theologians fall into in regard to these questions:

  1. Hard Determinism: This view essentially asserts that everything that happens is causally determined.  The causes may be physical (such as in a materialistic, clockwork universe), due to God’s prescience, or a combination of the two.  Under this view, human  beings are not free in the libertarian since (they cannot act contrary to the causal chain).
  2. Libertarian Free-Will: This view argues that the choices of human beings are not causally determined (at least not completely).  Under this view, free choices are indeterminate, and a free human agent can act contrary to the causal chain.
  3. Soft Determinism (Compatibilism):  As the name implies, this view seeks to mitigate the fatalistic impact of Hard Determinism and the indeterminate fuzziness of Libertarian Free-Will by arguing that Determinism and human free-will are compatible.  To accomplish this, the Soft Determinist must redefine the meaning of a free choice.  The Soft Determinist argues that “freedom” is merely the ability to choose what you desire (although your desires are themselves causally determined).

So what’s the problem?  Why have intelligent individuals argued over these different theories for thousands of years?  Well, let me conclude part one of this topic by listing some of the problems that each view holds for the theist.

  1. Some theists hold to a clear Hard Determinism (usually in Calvinist or Reformed circles).  The unsavory aspects of this view, however, revolve around the idea of fatalism.  If everything that we will ever do has already been determined, do our choices have any real value?  Are they worthy of praise or condemnation if we could not have done otherwise.  Besides, a lot of people don’t consider themselves as organic automatons and actually find the very idea to be repugnant.
  2. Other theists seek to have their Deterministic cake and freely eat it too by espousing Compatiblism (a large chunk of evangelical Christians fall into this group).  However, this view suffers precisely the same problems as Hard Determinism.  How’s that?  Well, remember that the Compatibilist achieves compatibility by redefining free will.  We do what we want, but our wants our determined.  And if our wants are determined, did we really have a choice?
  3. Then there are the theists who take the opposite route by completely denying Determinism in favor of Libertarian Free-Will (many Christians of an Arminian or Wesleyan bent espouse this view).  While this idea seems attractive at first, it apparently produces some serious problems for a sovereign God.  If God foresees that Bob is going to mow his lawn next Thursday, can Bob freely choose not to mow his lawn and thus change God’s mind?  Do human choices trump God’s choices?  If so, then God does not seem to be as great as he is supposed to be.

Now, before the contentious comments begin to arrive :), let me give a quick disclaimer.  I am neither espousing nor condemning any of the above views in this post.  I am only trying to point out the potential problems for each one.  I also realize that this has been an incredibly simple presentation of a topic that is incredibly complex and that there are shades of gray between each of the major theories that I have presented.  I am simply trying to set the stage for future posts on this subject.

In Part 2 of this topic, I would like to begin examining some of the more sophisticated attempts that have been made at producing a solution to the quandary of Divine Foreknowledge and Human Free Will.

 Until then, I would be very interested in hearing anyone else’s thoughts on these weighty matters.

Next Page »