Archive | Postmodernism

Why I am Not Completely Certain Christianity is True

Indubitable: adj – Beyond the possibility of a doubt; unquestionable

I don’t believe the Christian faith is indubitable, but I do believe that it is true.

I tell this story when talking about the bankruptcy of requiring indubitability before you believe something (Yes, I’ve told this before):

I play this game with my kids that drives them crazy. Sitting in the room, with no one but us, while they are not looking I will slap them on the rear-end and act like I did not do it. They turn and say, “Daddy! I know you did that.” I say, “I did not.” “Then who did it?” they respond (thinking they have settled the issue with this one question).  I say, “A guy ran in the front door and slapped you and then ran out.” They look at me like I am crazy and exclaim, “Daddy! We know you did it.” “Look!” I respond to their skepticism, “The front door is not locked. It is possible that someone could have come in since the door is not locked.” Upon further looks of skepticism, I force them go check the door to see if it is locked. Once they see it is unlocked, I have won the day. I have poked a hole and their certainty and even caused them to confirm it by checking the door. No longer possessing the indubitably that I have required for their epistemic verification, they now have lost poise in their former confidence. In other words, I tricked them into thinking that one has to be absolutely certain about something before it can be believed.

Ideas about the value of certainty are currently on the theological stage of debate. With the intellectual challenges of the so-called “new atheism,” some Christians are opting for a fidist approach to the faith (ignore the evidence, just believe). Others, however, are responding to their challenges with precise and cutting vigor. However, many are on wild goose chases checking doors to see if they are locked and becoming frustrated, even doubting, when they find that the door is not locked.

Objection: “You can’t be certain that Christianity is true. One scholar has proposed Christianity borrowed from other ancient religions to get its story.”

Response: Oh great. Yes, most people don’t believe this, but what if this one scholar is right? What does this mean for my faith?

Objection: “You can’t be certain Christ rose from the grave since his body might have been stolen.”

Response: I supposed this could be true. Though there does not seem to be any evidence for this, it might have been stolen. What does this mean for my faith?

Objection: “It would seem you have a problem since there are two angels in one resurrection account and only one in the other. Which one is it?”

Response: While they both agree that Christ rose from the grave, should I continue to believe when these two accounts cannot agree on this most basic detail?

Objection: “Stephen Hawking said that a black hole could have created our universe out of nothing.”

Response:  I have no idea what this means, but what if Hawking is right? He is a very smart man.

Often, a skeptical world will will provoke us with the reality that we cannot be indubitably certain about any of our beliefs because of the infinite amount of alternative possibilities.  No matter how unlikely these alternative possibilities are we find ourselves spending time defending against positions that are well beyond tipsy in their stability. When people poke “holes” in our beliefs with arguments that are no better than “look, the door is not locked” we find ourselves missing the big picture, backed into a corner seriously discussing the security of the door.

How do we get here? Glad you asked. Continue Reading →

Why I Am Not Completely Certain Christianity is True

Indubitable: adj – Beyond the possibility of a doubt; unquestionable

I don’t believe the Christian faith is indubitable, but I do believe that it is true.

I tell this story when talking about the bankruptcy of requiring indubitability before you believe something (Yes, I’ve told this before):

I play this game with my kids that drives them crazy. Sitting in the room, with no one but us, while they are not looking I will slap them on the rear-end and act like I did not do it. They turn and say, “Daddy! I know you did that.” I say, “I did not.” “Then who did it?” they respond (thinking they have settled the issue with this one question).  I say, “A guy ran in the front door and slapped you and then ran out.” They look at me like I am crazy and exclaim, “Daddy! We know you did it.” “Look!” I respond to their skepticism, “The front door is not locked. It is possible that someone could have come in since the door is not locked.” Upon further looks of skepticism, I force them go check the door to see if it is locked. Once they see it is unlocked, I have won the day. I have poked a hole and their certainty and even caused them to confirm it by checking the door. No longer possessing the indubitably that I have required for their epistemic verification, they now have lost poise in their former confidence. In other words, I tricked them into thinking that one has to be absolutely certain about something before it can be believed.

Ideas about the value of certainty are currently on the theological stage of debate. With the intellectual challenges of the so-called “new atheism,” some Christians are opting for a fidist approach to the faith (ignore the evidence, just believe). Others, however, are responding to their challenges with precise and cutting vigor. However, many are on wild goose chases checking doors to see if they are locked and becoming frustrated, even doubting, when they find that the door is not locked.

Objection: “You can’t be certain that Christianity is true. One scholar has proposed Christianity borrowed from other ancient religions to get its story.”

Response: Oh great. Yes, most people don’t believe this, but what if this one scholar is right? What does this mean for my faith?

Objection: “You can’t be certain Christ rose from the grave since his body might have been stolen.”

Response: I supposed this could be true. Though there does not seem to be any evidence for this, it might have been stolen. What does this mean for my faith?

Objection: “It would seem you have a problem since there are two angels in one resurrection account and only one in the other. Which one is it?”

Response: While they both agree that Christ rose from the grave, should I continue to believe when these two accounts cannot agree on this most basic detail?

Objection: “Stephen Hawking said that a black hole could have created our universe out of nothing.”

Response:  I have no idea what this means, but what if Hawking is right? He is a very smart man.

Often, a skeptical world will will provoke us with the reality that we cannot be indubitably certain about any of our beliefs because of the infinite amount of alternative possibilities.  No matter how unlikely these alternative possibilities are we find ourselves spending time defending against positions that are well beyond tipsy in their stability. When people poke “holes” in our beliefs with arguments that are no better than “look, the door is not locked” we find ourselves missing the big picture, backed into a corner seriously discussing the security of the door.

How do we get here? Glad you asked. Continue Reading →

Is everyone really “entitled to their own opinion”?

People today are fond of certain pet phrases and repeat them often. In the context of disagreement and debate about things considered divisive, controversial and/or personal, one of the more popular sayings is that everyone is entitled to have their opinion(s) on the subject, whatever the subject and opinions are. Rarely does anybody challenge the statement, since it seems like an unassailable truth and the person saying it is thought to be speaking form the “high ground” of tolerance or something like it.

But what does the statement really mean and why is it featured with such predictability when there is a disagreement about things like religion, ethics or politics? Some social commentators might suggest that our “entitled” generation is drawn to the statement simply for that reason. There’s nothing a modern American loves to remind other people of more than his or her “rights”, which often extend to things that are in fact nowhere guaranteed legally.

That may be part of the reason this mantra is part of the cultural echo chamber, but I think there’s more to it. To me this statement belongs to a sub-class of what we might call “throw away” lines. These lines sound appealing and meaningful to contemporary ears, but they are mostly empty. People will insert them into a discussion about something controversial in hopes that they might seem profound while bringing the opposing parties together and getting them to “agree to disagree.” But typically the statement adds nothing to the issue and has not been thoughtfully considered. And one other important thing about many throw away lines: they often conceal a sneaky implication of something beyond what the words are really saying. This, I believe, is the case here, as I will elaborate below.

Let’s consider this particular proverb that burns up the airwaves these days.  What does it really mean to say that everyone is entitled to their own opinion? Is that true? The answer, as is so often the case, can’t be given reasonably until a few things are clarified. How can I render judgment on something if I don’t know what is really meant by it?  The sensible thing to do in such a case is to ask the person who offers this gem what precisely he or she means.

The person could mean, for example, only that in this country, presuming it’s the U.S. we’re talking about, liberty of conscience and freedom of thought/speech are granted legally to the citizens. If that is all that is intended, I concur that this is completely accurate, and I’m glad of it; … but I fail to see what bearing it has on the issues being debated, whatever they may be. In fact if this is what is meant, it borders on that notorious fallacy of relevance known as a “red herring,” and I might simply respond, “Thank you for that reminder and brief civics lesson; now back to the topic we’re discussing …” (or something less sarcastic sounding).

Probably the person means to imply something else, however, and here we have to apply the sniff test, since the thing being implied may not be apparent on the surface.  Innocuous sounding statements can serve as the vehicles for smuggling a slanted idea of some kind into a discussion.  Don’t be surprised if the person who so casually drops this line about everyone being entitled to their opinion really means to convey the idea that nobody can or should consider another person’s view wrong. Put another way, the statement may intend to convey something more like: “You shouldn’t disagree with my view or suggest that it is weak or false.” In declaring that they’re “entitled” to it, they hope to float under the radar something that ordinarily would demand more work from them, which is that others ought to legitimize or give some kind of consent to the position the person is taking.
Continue Reading →

On My Journey to Become Charismatic

Theological opinions are hard to change. Once they have set in, they are usually there to stay. The theological glue that makes ideas stick early in your studies is, for better or worse, rock solid. It must be that same stuff they use on your teeth. I have one fake tooth glued to the root of the old tooth. I can’t believe that sucker is still holding. Strong stuff.

Ironically, I am in the business of changing theological opinions. Well, that is not entirely accurate. Sometimes – a lot of times – it is just solidifying opinions, rather than changing them. However, I don’t change my own opinions too much. In terms of my basic theological confession, I am pretty much the same person I was twenty years ago. I can still sign the same confessions (even though some of them cause me to raise an eyebrow or two).  I am still Protestant, Evangelical, Calvinist, dispensationalist. I believe in inerrancy, I hold to a pre-tribulational view of the end times, and I believe in dunking rather than sprinkling. I am a complementarian, a traducianist, and a memorialist with regard to the Lord’s supper. Heck, I even believe in a young earth! The point is that I rarely change my positions. Life is just more comfortable that way.

Don’t get me wrong. I have actually tried to change some of these opinions. I really want to change some of these opinions. What I mean is that many times, I find the view that I don’t hold to be more palatable or, for lack of a better word, more likable than the one I do. For example, I really want to be a charismatic. I desire so deeply to believe in and experience that miraculous divine intervention the way that charismatics do. I salivate as I look at their worship, hope, and engagement with God. However, though I have studied, argued, prayed, talked to the right people, and prayed some more, I am still not a charismatic (and doubt I will ever be).

The funny thing is that I know I am wrong about so much. When I stand before God, I expect to be surprised at how many of the things I taught, preached on, blogged about, wrote books about, and shouted from mountain tops were wrong. Obviously, I don’t know which ones these are or I would change them now. However, for the most part, I don’t think I will be in too much trouble. The best I can do is believe that those things I will be wrong about were sincere. In other words, I believe that the things I might end up being wrong about are difficult issues that “could go either way.” Continue Reading →

“I Feel; Therefore, I Am”: Reflections on Cultural Emotivism

We’re familiar with relativism’s slogan, “That’s true for you but not for me.” Well, in the worldview neighborhood, emotivism is just around the corner.  This philosophy of life is centered on feelings or emotions, entirely or partially eclipsing truth from consideration.  In ethics, emotivism stresses that statements like “Murder is wrong” don’t express moral truths; they only express feelings: “I don’t like murder” or “Murder—yuck!”  With its emphasis on feelings, the Romantic movement in art, literature, and philosophy began in the early 1800s in response to the seemingly cold, sterile rationalism of the Enlightenment (1650-1800). And in our day, we are witnessing something of a renewed Romanticism and the widespread flight from reason.

We encounter emotivismin the moral claim “I feel that this is right” or “That makes me feel uncomfortable.”  In their research papers, university students with increasing frequency write “I feel” rather than “I think” to establish their point.  Some might ask, “Well, what’s the difference? Aren’t a person’s feelings and opinions (thinking) pretty much the same thing?”  No, they are not, and we should try to speak with greater precision—beyond the mere expression of feelings—with a view to actually reflecting on and assessing the truth-content of beliefs.[1]

First of all, to say “I think” sounds more argumentative than “I feel.” Also, our culture increasingly takes feelings to be self-justifying—as though no further argument or supporting reasons are necessary.  And how can you disagree with how someone feels?  Think of the person who says, “I like chocolate ice cream.”  That statement reflects a personal preference—someone’s inner state—and there’s no point in disagreeing with it. But what are we to do with it? It sounds authoritative, but are we to adopt chocolate ice cream as our own favorite?

Emotivism doesn’t express moral facts—only moral preferences. The problem, though, is that feelings are often misguided, and we need good thinking to direct our emotions and help bring them under control.  A person may get angry in a particular situation he has misjudged, but his anger may quickly subside when he hears reasons that explain the context.  And don’t we periodically change our moral perspective on certain issues, presumably because we think we have a good reason for doing so? But why should we take a person’s feelings, by themselves, as authoritative?  Continue Reading →

An Open Letter to Homo sapiens

Dear Homo sapiens,

This has been a rather unfortunate week for you. Since the world’s attention will turn to London next week with the Summer Olympics, I decided a voice must speak up to make next week more civilized.

A vile disease spread through your species this week. I don’t see it as frequently as in prior times and prior places but for some reason it struck twice this week. Please heed immediate caution. If you desire the Olympic games to go smoothly, do your best to eradicate the spread of this disease. If honesty continues to spread there will be no limit to its brutality.

It was brought to the attention of humankind, this week, that Dan Cathy is pro-family. The president of Chick-Fil-A opened his hate-filled mouth stating, “We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit.”

Unbelievable. Unconscionable. Who knew Chick-Fil-A was a Christian organization? Sure, they’ve always been closed on Sunday but wasn’t that because they are backwoods NFL and NASCAR fans? It turns out they are closed on Sundays to allow employees to go to church, be with their families, and observe the Sabbath. Cathy further added insult to injury stating God may know best how a family should operate. Can you believe a Christian would make such a ridiculous statement?

Where will this end? Will Atheists start telling people there is no God? Will my mortgage company tell me what I owe them? Will Apple store employees start making fun of Microsoft? If a Christian will honestly communicate orthodox Christian ideas, will honesty ever stop infecting Homo sapiens? We need to stop the madness. For the sake of humanity.

If one encounter with honesty was enough to ruin the week for the species, a second encounter hit the planet. An epidemic may be on the horizon. An NBC reporter asked Mitt Romney whether London was ready for the Olympic games. Romney questioned the readiness of London to host the games. Thankfully the British press quickly sought to eradicate this honesty coming from the lips of Romney.

Continue Reading →

Why I Don’t Trust My Own “Scholarship”

Those who know me, know that I am an easy target for a good laugh. There is a certain part of my brain that I am convinced has never functioned. It is that part which has to do with remembering, among other things, names and faces. I remember when I watched Grease as a kid. I liked the movie, but I could not understand why “Danny” (John Travolta) ended up with a new girl other than “Sandy” (Olivia Newton John) at the end of the movie. I came to realize many years later that it was not a new girl, just Sandy with a different hairdo! Then, the movie made much more sense.

The other morning, I came into the Credo House and made my way back to my office. I mingled with all the people at different tables and finally sat down at my desk. I opened my computer to find an email that had just come in from a guy who wanted to say how nice it was to see me again (the first time since our time at seminary together) and, how happy he was that I started the Credo House. I did not quite remember who he was, but I was determined to express cordial words in a way that would not undermine our renewed “friendship” that must have been forged recently.  Immediately, I wrote him back (why couldn’t I have waited for just a couple of hours?), “It was great to see you again too. You should stop by the Credo House sometime.” His reply came back two minutes later, “I am here right now.” My face turned red. I got up and peeked outside my office door, looking at all the people with whom I had just mingled, wondering which one he was. Finally, I just shut the door and sighed, wondering once again why this part of my brain does not work. I have dozens of other stories just like that.

This begs the question: Who do I think I am teaching eternal truths, when I can’t even remember the most basic, everyday, temporal happenings? If I don’t really trust my memory, can I trust my theological “scholarship”? So much of what I believe and teach is built upon stories, information, and “facts” that I don’t even really know are true, since I can’t, for the most part, remember exactly from where they came. I have just said some things, told some stories, and relayed some information so many times that I don’t think about it anymore. For example, in class session 4 of The Theology Program, I talk about the rise of Modernism through the story of Rene Descartes (the “father of modernism”). I tell about his “Dutch oven” epiphany. I tell about how he would not come out of this oven until he found a legitimate (indeed, indubitable) source for his knowledge. Ironically, I don’t know where I first heard this story about the Dutch oven. I am not sure about the legitimacy (much less indubitability) of my source! I am fairly certain I did not make it up out of thin air, but the fact remains that I don’t really remember from where it came. But even if I could remember it came, for instance, from a book, encyclopedia, or biography, this fact would not guarantee that the person from whom I originally received this information was accurately remembering or representing his sources. Even if it was an autobiography, I have no guarantee that Descartes, himself, remembered things correctly.

But don’t get too haughty. I know that I may have a personal memory “condition” (which I am calling prosopagnosia, for now!), but I don’t really trust your “scholarship” that much either. You have a memory condition. After all, you are not perfect. You have bias, age, lifestyles, hopes, legacy, commitments, and pride (not to mention the glue you sniffed when you were a kid) which affect your memory.  Furthermore, even if you had a perfect memory, that does not mean you have the ability to process information with impunity. You are selective in what you choose to know, focus on, and evangelize. Some things you will choose to forget.  Others will become part of the story you tell people. However, you really don’t have an objective basis to know which things deserve to be timeless and which can be discarded. You have plenty of Rene Descartes’ Dutch oven stories too. These are all the things, personal or academic, which you have repeated so many times that, by virtue of their mere repetition, have become fact in your mind. Continue Reading →

Why Are There So Many Divisions in the Church?

divisions

Why Doesn’t Everyone Agree with Me?

I am a Calvinist; others are Arminian. I believe in a premillenial eschatology; others are amillenial. I am a traducianist with regards to the creation of the soul; others are creationists. I believe in reasoned inerrancy; others believe this is an archaic naive doctrine. There are many points of doctrinal division I am going to have with people, some of which are much more important than others.

Why doesn’t everyone agree with me? Who is causing this disunity in the body of Christ, them or me? Do these divisions demonstrate the doctrinal bankruptcy of sola Scriptura? Should we elect a Pope of Protestantism? Or could it be that God has a purpose in his allowance of disagreements?

There are a few different ways that I could answer this.

  1. Others don’t agree with me because they have not studied deeply enough (lack of scholarship).
  2. Others don’t agree with me because they have not studied broadly enough (lack of perspective).
  3. Others don’t agree with me because they have not studied long enough (lack of wisdom).
  4. Others don’t agree with me because their traditional prejudices have created a learning “disability” that keeps them from the truth (lack of freedom of thought).
  5. Others don’t agree with me because they have sin in their life that is blinding them to the truth (lack of holiness).
  6. Others don’t agree with me because we don’t have an infallible authoritative interpreter of Scripture that would bring doctrinal unity (lack of a Pope).
  7. Others don’t agree with me because they are not Christian. If they were, well . . . they would agree with me! (lack of salvation)

Generally speaking, I do not default to these possibilities. Don’t get me wrong, these really are all possibilities. It could be that people deny the truth (assuming that my position is such) due to ignorance, lack of perspective or wisdom, traditional bindings, sin, lack of authority, or a presupposition of godlessness or naturalism. But I think we need to be careful about any negative prejudgments about people’s motives and the ultimate reasons for disagreements. We normally don’t know.

Here are the considerations I would aspire to make before I fall back upon the previously mentioned possibilities.

Others don’t agree with me because they are right and I am wrong.

Granted, I am convicted I am right. If this were not the case, I would simply change my position. But the possibility always exists that I am the one who is in error, misinformed, motivated by false pre-understandings, tradition-bound, or lacking perspective. I must consider this with great humility, as hard as it is to do. Continue Reading →