Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Essentials

One of the things Christians are disagreed about is the importance of their disagreements. When two Christians of different denominations start arguing, it is usually not long before one asks the other whether such-and-such a point “really matters” and the other replies: “Matter? Why, it’s absolutely essential.” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity) 

Over the past year or so I have become increasingly sensitive to the incredible amount of infighting between Christians who self-identify as conservative, Bible-believing evangelicals. Furthermore, it seems to me that much of these internecine debates are over secondary, even tertiary disagreements which shouldn’t generate such heated, hateful rhetoric. 

Nevertheless, the dreaded “You’re denying the Gospel!” trump card is played shamelessly and often—even with non-Gospel issues.  

But what are the essentials of the Christian faith?  

In my mind, the essentials of Christianity are those teachings which were and are accepted or affirmed by all Christians, in all places, in all times. The following beliefs, in my estimation, fit the bill. 

1) There is one living and true creator-God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. (Please note: this is not necessarily full-orbed Trinitarianism which took time to formulate.) 

2) Jesus Christ was and is fully God and truly human.  

3) Jesus Christ died on the Cross to save sinners and He physically rose from the dead. 

4) Scripture is God’s inspired word. (I say scripture and not “The Holy Bible” because the earliest Christians lived while the New Testament was being written and transmitted. Furthermore, there is disparity between what some believers accept as canon.) 

It’s true: the devil is in the details. Thus, when considered more deeply, Christians may even disagree concerning the above four dogmas. (For example, not all Christians ascribe to the same atonement theory or theories. That is, we may be disagreed as to how Christ’s death saves sinners, but not that it does.) 

I realize some will be most dissatisfied with my essentials. They will consider my list an exercise in reductionism or compromise or perhaps something worse still (if there be such a creature).  

But what happens to the “communion of the saints” when we elevate nearly every doctrine to the status of an essential? We effectively narrow the fellowship to those who believe exactly as we do. This seems more cultic than Christian. (For those wondering if I’m truly your brother in Christ…yes, I’m talking about you.)

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

A Better Knowledge

The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us . . . (Deuteronomy 29:29). 

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a Facebook status which reads: God does not answer to us; we answer to Him. 

A friend promptly replied, “Oh but He does answer prayer. I know that with certainty now.” 

Yes, God graciously answers prayer. But answering prayer isn't nearly the same thing as answering to. God may indeed answer us, but never does He "answer to" us. That is, He feels no compulsion whatsoever to justify His ways to us. He is inscrutable. And while we are in no position to judge Him, He is in position to judge us. 

Yet, the One who judges is the One who loves. He may not give us explanations for our trials, but He has given us something far better. He has given us His Son. Knowing why pales in comparison to knowing Him. 

When I say "answer to" I have in mind something like what we find in the book of Job.  

In the beginning, Job envisions confronting God—demanding answers from Him as to why he is suffering. In the end, this is not at all what happens or even what is needed. Job finds God, not explanations. And God is sufficient. He is better than explanations. 

The fact is people of faith endure trials and suffering—and quite often—we don't know why. But we have a better knowledge: We know God. And because we know Him, we trust Him—even when we don't understand Him. We know He is good, faithful and loving even when we suffer. 

In other words, not understanding life does not keep us from trusting God. Hence we find in scripture the admonition: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding" (Prov 3:5). 

Thus the apostle Paul does not pray to have explanations or to know all things. Rather, he prays: "that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death" (Phil 3:10, emphasis mine). 

I understand the desire to know exactly why we suffer. But there is a better knowledge: "Joy is not the absence of pain. Joy is the presence of God." 

We come to terms with our pains by considering them through the lens of Christ's sufferings. Our hope and comfort are not in knowing why, but in knowing Him.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Fun With Alvin Plantinga

Below is a brief, irenic discussion I enjoyed with an atheist. She was responding to a Christian who basically stated that the relativistic notion, “There’s no such thing as absolutes,” is a self-defeating claim. 

For clarity our atheist friend’s words appear bold and italicized. (Her comments are unedited.) 

Also, for those who don’t know: Solipsism is a philosophical theory which posits the idea that oneself is the only existent thing. 


“its absolutely true that absolutes exists. one of those absolute truths s that you cant disprove solipsism. as such by definition there is no way to prove the existence of god is absolutely true.

its also absolutely true that god or no god I know I don't know everything, but I can know some things that are axiomatically true.” 

Speaking of "solipsism"...funny story...

Alvin Plantinga opened a lecture I attended with the following tale (I paraphrase, of course): 

As far as I know I've only met one true solipsist [a professor on a campus Plantinga was visiting]. He was very cordial; a nice fellow. He treated me as though I were a real human being. I remarked of this to the grad student who was showing me around. 

The grad student replied, “Oh, yes. We treat him very well...because...if he goes, we all go." 

It was hilarious to hear him tell it. 

“lol. btw i an not arguing its true i am just noting the in ability to actually disprove it.” 

Yes, I understand your point. 

Now...when you say, "One of those absolute truths is that you can't disprove solipsism," would you also affirm that one can't disprove theism? 

(I'm guessing you would affirm this.) 

“well both are unfalsifiable, and both lack proper justification. so yes i canty disprove theism in general it is surprising how many definition of god can be disproven.” 

It may be surprising, I suppose. (Definitions are tricky things.)  

If by "proper justification" you mean (from your earlier comment), "there is no way to prove the existence of god is absolutely true," then I believe you are setting an unreasonably high standard. 

I'd say that better than 90% of what we "know" or "believe" in experiencing our day-to-day existence, we cannot "prove" to be "absolutely true." Does this mean 90% of our "knowledge" or "beliefs" lack justification because they cannot be "proven absolutely true"? I don't think so. 

For example, am I justified in believing in my own human existence? I think I am. And yet, can I "absolutely prove to be true" that I am not some kind of information-gathering robot, sent to earth by an advanced alien society, which has been programmed to believe it is human? 

No. I don't suppose I can "absolutely prove to be true" my own humanity. But am I justified in believing in my humanness? I think so. 

Similarly, is Christian theism a justified belief? I don’t see why not.