Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Problem of Knowing God

The agnostic claims that God cannot be known. And this claim would be true were it not for God’s self-revelation. If left entirely to himself, man could not know God; but man is not left only to himself, for the transcendent God is also immanent. Because man is God's creature living within His creation, God is manifested both internally and externally to man. Therefore the agnostic's agnosticism is willful, self-inflicted, and inexcusable.

Furthermore, God has revealed Himself, in no uncertain terms, in the Holy Bible. He filled the pages of His self-revelation with accurate and objective truth. Certainly, man could not know God if God desired to be unknown but this is not His desire. God has spoken. He has spoken in His world and in His word. Thus, in the universe generally and in the Bible specifically we have context and content for knowing God.           

Man can know God. Let that sink in. What a marvelous truth. Because God wishes man to know, man can know. But it is important that we qualify this claim of knowing God thusly: Man’s knowledge concerning God is apprehensive but not comprehensive. Our knowledge of God is apprehensive and not comprehensive due to the disparity between God and man. That is to say, God is infinite and man is finite. That which is finite can never fully grasp that which is infinite, thus certain theologians refer to the infinite-finite tension as the “problem of the knowledge of God.”

We could add to man’s finitude the noetic effects of sin. And to man’s finitude and sin we could also point out the dilemma of limited semantics, or the limitations of language. Yet for all of this we mustn’t conclude that knowing God is problematic in the agnostic sense of the word “problematic;” for God has addressed and answered this “problem of knowing” in His self-disclosure contained in the Holy Bible.

So then, it is not a question of knowing or not knowing. Rather, it is entirely a matter of knowing apprehensively and partially, versus knowing comprehensively and exhaustively. We must be very clear: There is no problem of knowing God truly and accurately. We can know God truly and accurately because He has truly and accurately revealed Himself to us in the scriptures. We have certain, albeit limited, knowledge of God; i.e. our knowledge of God, as predicated upon the Bible, is true or real knowledge, as opposed to spurious or vain imaginings.

Because of God’s self-disclosure it is not presumptuous or prideful to know that one knows. The “problem of the knowledge of God,” so called, need not lead one down a darkened path of pessimism and agnosticism; but rather the challenge to know God more fully should compel one up the way of God’s self-revelation in humble and fruitful discovery. When we admit that our knowledge of God will never be comprehensive [and this is an eternal "never" because He will ever be infinite and we will ever be finite], we are simultaneously asserting that our knowledge of God is cumulative.

This cumulative aspect of our knowledge of God is exampled in the Bible itself. In the Bible we find the knowledge of God increasing with new revelations, culminating ultimately of course in the Person and revelation of Jesus Christ. Similarly, as our personal knowledge of the Bible increases, our individual knowledge of God increases and matures as well.

Apart from the Bible sinful man cannot know God accurately or adequately or savingly. Likewise, apart from the Bible, the Christian’s knowledge of God cannot grow or deepen. True and objective knowledge of God is not to be found in subjective, mystical experiences. This is why the Christian who pursues the mystical does so by leaving, to some degree or another, the orthodox.

Furthermore, the one who seeks content-less, existential and emotive, or experience oriented revelations of God; denies in practice, the sufficiency of scripture. The scriptures are the only sufficient basis for objectively and accurately knowing God, so let us devote ourselves to the task, the joyous task, of sufficiently knowing them. For one thing is certain: Our love for God cannot surpass our knowledge of Him.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Beautiful, Ugly Story

During this “most wonderful time of the year” we hear much concerning what is commonly called the “most beautiful story ever told.” The drama of Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus is beautiful, romantic, and wistful; filling us with nostalgia. But let us be most careful not to forget what is most important about this beautiful story: The story is true.  

As Christians in a secular society, we can ill afford to romanticize away the reality, the historical reality, of the birth of God’s Son. We must, this Christmas and every Christmas, hold forth to an unbelieving world the historicity of Jesus' birth.  

Now, this holding forth of the Son of God's historical reality will not be looked upon with favor by some. Today, in the name of tolerance, “the most beautiful story ever told,” has become a most offensive story which should be left untold. To the few but powerful “tolerant” among us, the story of the birth of God’s Son is so ugly that it ought never to be spoken of in public places.  

So what is the Christian to do with such a beautiful, ugly story? I suggest to you that we follow, this Christmas and every Christmas, the example of some chosen misfits who experienced the reality of the infant Incarnate Son.
And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. (Luke 2:16-18)
Notice the shepherds do two things: 1) They “came” and “found” Mary and Joseph, and baby Jesus; and 2) They joyously and unashamedly--and I would venture to say breathlessly--told those who cared to listen [and even perhaps those who didn’t care to listen], the story of the newborn Child who was the Son of God. How could the shepherds possibly keep quiet?
Christians have done these same two things, every year, for over two thousand years. And we can and we should do these same two things again this year. We can and we should revisit, with awe and holy reverence, The Nativity. We can and we should “make widely known” what we know to be true. What do we know to be true? 

Well, we know to be true what the shepherds knew to be true, viz. The beautiful story of the birth of Jesus is “good tidings of great joy which will be to all people,” and the baby born in the “city of David” is the “Savior who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10,11).  

Certainly, the world was not overly receptive to the beautiful story as told by the shepherds. It never has been. There were scoffers then as there are now. After all, there is another side to the most beautiful story ever told, isn’t there?
An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt...for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.” Then Herod...sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under...Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet saying, “A voice was heard in Ramah, Lamentation, weeping and great mourning. Rachel weeping for her children, Refusing to be comforted, Because they are no more.” (Matt. 2:13,16-18)
Matthew shows us the terrifying depths of human depravity, the unmasked and hateful face of sin. When Christ was born in Bethlehem, there was an ugliness in the world. That ugliness was the consequence of human sin and it remains with us to this day. King Herod exemplifies how antichrist and anti-God philosophies inevitably result in antihuman behavior.  

Only when one understands the ugliness of sinful man can one even begin to truly appreciate the beauty of the birth of Jesus. What makes the “most beautiful story ever told” truly beautiful? It’s not simply the purity of Virgin Mary. Nor is it the tender strength of Saint Joseph. As beautiful as these things are, there’s more.  

What makes the story of Christmas beautiful is not found in man, but in God; specifically, in the God-man. Against the backdrop of a dark and ugly world, there shone and shines still, a beautiful and glorious Light. That the Creator Himself would enter into and redeem His rebellious creation is a beautiful grace beyond comprehension. It is the most beautiful story ever told because it recounts the most beautiful deed ever done: God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.  

I watch the same news programs as you. I see the same ugliness. Let’s revisit the Nativity of our beautiful, sinless Savior. Then let’s boldly, lovingly share what we find there. As you finish reading, close your eyes and journey along with me, “Silent, night, holy night, all is calm all is bright. Round yon Virgin mother and Child...”

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Christian Socialism?

My article from last week, “Christian Economics,” contains this thesis: There is no such thing as voluntary socialism. Socialism is primarily about one thing: The forced redistribution of wealth. The forced redistribution of wealth is entirely unbiblical for it denies private property and equity; and ultimately, it undermines industry, which inevitably precludes compassion.

Naturally, my position did not go unchallenged. The advocates of what I shall term, Christian Socialism, came to the defense of their beloved economic system, with Bibles firmly in hand. But please be advised: Though they enjoy an abundance of Bibles they suffer from a poverty of verses. Metaphorically speaking, the Christian socialist defends his position with big guns firing big blanks. That is, there is nothing of biblical substance to Christian socialism. Thus, the Christian socialist, like the Christian atheist, is a living, breathing oxymoron. 

My challenge to the aspiring Christian socialist is simply this: Present one verse of scripture which calls for the civil government to take by force the property of one group of citizens and give it to another group. I'll take just one.

To begin, some Christian socialists challenge the idea that there is no such thing as voluntary socialism; that socialism is the forced redistribution of wealth. They argue that because America, Britain, France, and others consistently vote socialistically, socialism is therefore not involuntary nor is it about the use of force.

The simplistic implication is that when a majority votes socialistically, socialism is NOT to be equated with the forced redistribution of wealth. But this ignores the very real coercion of the minority who thinks otherwise. It also overlooks the fact that those who most want socialism are the people who will be RECEIVING the wealth which is being TAKEN--by force--from other folks. As H.L. Mencken observed, some people work for a living while others vote for a living.

By in large, tax consumers--not tax payers--vote socialistically. Thus, "social democracies" are indeed guilty of redistributing wealth by FORCE. Said another way, that group of citizens, from which the government takes wealth, must--UNDER PENALTY OF LAW--depart with its property; so that it may be given to others.

Consider this: Are taxes paid in America voluntarily? Are taxes compulsory in Europe? Once these questions are answered it becomes clear that even the Brits and the French prove my thesis correct.

Some Christian socialists deny the principle of “private ownership.” They will say things like, “God owns all things. Man owns nothing. Therefore, to speak of private ownership is to speak of that which is impossible.” Such a notion betrays a total confusion of categories. True, in relation to God, man can call nothing his own. In relation to God, not even one’s mind or one’s body is his own. Man is the Lord’s.

But we are not here speaking of private ownership in relation to God. We are dealing with private ownership in relation to other men. In relation to other men, one may biblically say: This is mine. This is not yours. To insist otherwise is to stand the word of God on its head.

Christian socialists are fond of Leviticus 19:9-10 and 25:23-28. However, such passages actually undermine their position. These scriptures, which speak of crop gleaning and buying, selling, and redeeming private property; FORBID the taking by force of private property. These verses very strongly uphold the principle of private property rights.

There is nothing socialistic in these passages. In no sense is Mosaic Law analogous to our welfare system. To insist otherwise is nothing more than contrivance. Any attempt to shoehorn God’s Law or the redemptive principle of Jubilee to fit into the modern idea of the welfare State is utterly ridiculous.

Other Christian socialists insist that Christians have a biblical duty to pay taxes which cover "the cost of government." And this is true. However, the enormous tax burden which is bankrupting and crushing America and Europe has very little to do with "the cost of government." Rather, it has to do with ENTITLEMENTS.

I do not consider welfare and entitlements to be "the cost of government." Socialist governments are simply taking by force the wealth of those who earn it and giving it to others who do not earn it. Where does God instruct the civil magistrate to do this?

The civil magistrate/government may enforce only what God ordains in His word. The authority of the State is NOT absolute, but derivative. The civil magistrate is to punish evil and reward good (Romans 13). And it is God's word which determines what is "good" and what is "evil"--not the leftist social agenda.

Nowhere in the Bible does God give the State the authority or the right to TAKE its citizens' wealth by FORCE and then give that STOLEN wealth to other citizens. There's not even a hint of this in God's word.

(And yes, taking something by force which rightfully belongs to another is theft; whether an individual does this or a corporation or a government. YOU SHALL NOT STEAL applies to all persons and entities.)

Which brings me to this: In addition to my initial challenge for the Christian socialist--to present one socialistic passage or verse--I have another. Please demonstrate, from scripture, how "YOU SHALL NOT STEAL" does not properly pertain to the civil government plundering its citizens' wealth.

The State which believes it has the authority to redistribute wealth by force is guilty of breaking the 8th Commandment of God: YOU SHALL NOT STEAL. The government which does this elevates itself above its God-given authority and thereby sets itself up as though it is absolute and autonomous and above God's Law.

When a government determines that it can usurp one's wealth and give it to others, what can prevent it from spoiling its people of everything they hold dear? If Christian socialists are correct, what recourse is left, what court of appeal exists if not God in His word?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Christian Economics

Several years ago I heard a lecture presented by R.C. Sproul which he titled: Christian Economics. We don’t normally hear these two words placed together, do we? Many Christians, perhaps thinking of Jesus’ famous, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s,” think in a false dichotomy. That is, they think of Christianity as being confined to the spiritual, and economics as being confined to the material.

Yet, historic Christianity is not dualistic--with the spiritual and the material being absolutely separated--but rather, Christianity has a holistic or integrated view of reality and the world. Said another way, the Christian worldview is not stunted or constricted; but it is comprehensive.

Economics is a major force in the world and in the life of every person in the world, and the Bible has much to say concerning the economy or stewardship. (Economy comes to us from combing two Greek terms for “house” and “law,” so etymologically economy means “house law” or “law of the house.")

We could undoubtedly list numerous biblical principles of economics, but we will here limit ourselves to four very broad and fundamental categories. Without discussing these in any particular order of importance, I begin with the biblical principle of private property.

Vital to Christian economics is the recognition and the respect for the individual’s right to own property. The right of the individual to own private property is the implicit philosophy behind the commandment of the LORD: “You shall not steal” (Ex. 20:15).

The second principle of Christian economics is equity. By equity I mean “justice” or perhaps, “fairness.” Equity in this sense speaks of just or fair wages and just or fair prices. We may look to the teaching of Jesus [spoken in the context of preaching the Gospel]: “...the laborer is worthy of his wages” (Luke 10:7). The Apostle Paul combines this saying of Christ with Deut. 25:4 “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain (1 Timothy 5:18).

Next, we find the principle of industry. Like private property, industry is also implicit in the command “You shall not steal.” Many mistakenly believe that industry or labor or work; is the result of the sin of Adam and Eve. Yet, we find Adam and Eve working before we find them sinning: “Then the LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). The principle of industry is a creation ordinance predicated upon or patterned according to the work of the Creator God Himself.

The fourth principle of Christian economics is compassion. God’s Law is clear: the poor are not to be taken advantage of or exploited. Biblically, we are not to exploit the poor, and further, we are to practice benevolence; i.e. we are to feed and clothe the starving and the naked. “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40).

Now, there is another principle which under girds the above four. This underlying and necessary principle is freedom, economic freedom. Dr. Alvin Schmidt aptly observes,
Just as God does not want people to be coerced in spiritual matters, so too He does not want them to be coerced in earthly matters, for instance, in their economic activities.  There is not a single reference in either the Old or New Testament in which God denies economic freedom to people, as do fascism, socialism, and communism. (Under The Influence, p.205)
Communism is largely a failed economic and social experiment, but socialism is alive and well (Or should I say “alive and unwell”?) in much of Europe and in the hearts of many Americans. Often times the American socialist or communist or fascist will use the Bible--in an appeal to the principles of equity and compassion--to justify their economic philosophies. But is socialism or communism agreeable to Christian economics?

The answer is “no.” First, we must point out that socialism (communism and fascism are two kinds of socialism) is not, in the final analysis, concerned with equity, but rather is devoted to equality. Equity is not equality. The laborer is certainly worthy of his wages but the laborer is not necessarily worthy of his neighbor’s wages. Clearly, Jesus’ parable of the talents shows that equity is not equality. Socialism confuses and conflates the two and thus proves to be unjust and unfair.

We should also point out that some of the lowest standards of living are not to be found in capitalist countries, but in socialist countries. Making all people poor is a poor act of compassion. Still, many American socialists appeal to the nascent church of Acts 2. The Bible says that the Lukan-Acts community “had all things in common and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need” (Acts 2:44-45).

There is one basic and obvious difference between the infant church and socialism: The early Christians behaved in such a way temporarily and voluntarily. There is no such thing as voluntary socialism. Socialism is primarily about one thing: The forced redistribution of wealth. The forced redistribution of wealth is entirely unbiblical for it denies private property and equity; and ultimately, it undermines industry, which inevitably precludes compassion.

In short, Christian economics ensures freedom to the individual to own private property so that he may perform worthy work for a worthy wage. It honors the profit motive—yet precludes exploitation--so that industry may increase production; thereby helping the poor (scarcity helps no one, especially the poor). And finally, Christian economics encourages--not enforces--benevolence, to curb the callousness of unbridled selfishness; the sinful selfishness which knows no categories of “haves” and “have nots.”