Archive for April, 2009
by Brent Clark
If you ask 10 different people, “Who is God?” you would probably get 10 different answers. Everyone develops an understanding of God based on their life experiences. Some see God as the great, cosmic Santa Claus, there to grant their every wish and desire. Others see God as a harsh judge waiting to pounce on them and punish them at their first mistake. Of all the views people hold of God, how do we know which view of God is right? How do we know God? The reality is that God has taken steps to reveal himself to his creation. He has done this in several ways.
One way God reveals Himself is through his creation, or through Natural Revelation. Romans 1 tells us that God has revealed himself through his creation. Natural Revelation is a general revelation because it is made available to everyone, everywhere at all times. Through his creation, God has revealed himself to the world by manifesting some of his divine qualities in his creation. God has left his mark on the world. Psalm 19 is a great example of this:
The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known. They speak without a sound or word; their voice is never heard. Yet their message has gone throughout the earth and their words to all the world. (Psalm 19:1-4 NLT)
It is important to note that even though it is through Natural Revelation that God has revealed himself, natural revelation is limited in the amount of information it reveals about God. Natural revelation by itself is enough to show the world there is a God, but not enough to save the world.
God goes the additional step of revealing himself in special ways also, known as Special Revelation. One of these ways is through the Bible. 2 Timothy 3:16 states that the Bible is God self-revelation through the written word. This passage states that, “all Scripture is inspired by God…” The word inspired means God-breathed. The Scripture originated in the mind of God and was communicated by the mouth of God though the breath of God. It is God’s Word because he spoke it. The Bible reveals to us what God is like and his plan for us.
God also revealed himself to us through his Son, Jesus Christ. In fact, Jesus is the consummate revelation of God. Hebrews 1:1-3 tells us that Jesus Christ is the perfect revelation of God. Jesus’ revelation to us is complete in every detail. The revelation of God through Christ is not just a better revelation, it is the ultimate revelation. Jesus Christ perfectly shows all that is knowable about God. If we cannot learn about God from the Son, then there is no amount of additional revelation God could do to convince us.
The Hebrews passage says that Christ “radiates God’s own glory.” This tells us he is not like God; he is the very essence of God. Just as one cannot separate the sun’s light from the sun itself, no one can separate the nature of Christ from that of God. The passage also says that Christ “expresses the very character of God.” The word “expresses” gives the picture of a die or engraving. Just as a coin reflects the exact image of the die, so Jesus reproduces the precise character of the Father. Jesus affirmed this himself when he told Philip, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father!” (John 14:8 NLT)
So what does this mean? It tells us that God has taken the first steps to reveal himself to man. He wants to be known. It’s undeniable that if he didn’t want to be known, we wouldn’t know him! God has revealed himself to us because of his great love for us. John 3:16 testifies to his love for his creation. God promises eternal life for those that believe in his Son. Eternal life isn’t just a great thing for when we die. Eternal life begins the moment we accept Christ as our Lord and Savior. Eternal life is to know God and to be in a relationship with and experience the blessings which flow from that relationship both now and in the age to come.
God has already taken the steps to reveal himself to us, how will you respond to him?
Sometime ago, an Illinois pastor was gunned down while preaching his Sunday morning sermon. While I wasn’t a friend of the victim, I did attend seminary classes with him in the late 1980’s. As I tried to gain more information about the tragic situation, I came across an online news report that reported the pastor’s sermon title: “How to Find Happiness in the Workplace.” I don’t know what the content of the sermon was, but I wonder if he would have been confident in his topic had he known it would have been his final topic.
For the past few decades, ministers and ministries have been striving to become “relevant.” Somehow a shift has been made from preaching sermons on how to live better to preaching sermons on how to better your life. The recent best seller Your Best Life Now is an example of the trending toward bettering one’s life. Another recent example is the “30 Day Sex Challenge” from Relevant Church in Tampa, Florida. Pastors Paul and Susie Wirth challenged the married couples within their congregation to have sex for 30 consecutive days. The supposition was that it would make marriages better because the husband would have his need for sex met and the wife would have her need for intimacy met. They preached, they blogged, and now they’ve published a curriculum. Other churches in America have followed suit. All of this has been done in the name of being culturally relevant.
Years ago I came across a book by Os Guinness titled Prophetic Untimeliness. In it Guinness asserts, “Never have Christians pursued relevance more strenuously; never have Christians been more irrelevant.” The challenge for the church is to be timely, not trendy. This comes not by being in step with the times, but having the courage to be out of step with the conventional wisdom of our present culture. The popular need for cultural relevance comes because of our fixation with time. But in reality, only that which is eternal is truly relevant. Guinness writes, “It takes the eternal to guarantee the relevant; only the repeated touch of the timeless will keep us truly timely.”
Those words bring to mind the words of Calvin Miller, Professor of Preaching at Beeson Divinity. In his book Preaching, Miller writes that the greatest challenge that preachers face each week is the decision between saying important things or saying interesting things. Or put another way, “Shall I say something important this week? Or shall I settle for merely being interesting?” Well put.
Matthew Pierce suggests The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James. This classic, first published in 1929, is available in reprint. James spent his entire career as a Professor of Psychology at Harvard. This work focuses on Religious Experience as an argument of the existence of God.
I suggest The God Question by J.P. Moreland. Moreland, Professor of Philosophy at Talbot Seminary. This book is a new release, and is helpful because of its Christian reflection on recent publications concerning Intelligent Design.
Matthew also recommends The Existence of God by Richard Swinburne. Now in reprint, Swinburne argues that the greatest case for the existence of God does not lie in any individual argument, but the collective weight of the philosophical arguments.
Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis is a classic that every Christian ought to own in their personal library. Written a half century ago, Lewis, a former atheist, explains his logic for coming to believe in the existence of God based on the Moral argument.
Matthew’s final pick is There is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind by Anthony Flew. Flew, who championed atheism for nearly 50 years, came to the decision that God exists persuaded by the recent developments in DNA research.
The following information was compiled and presented by Matthew Pierce in our weekend worship services on April 18-19, 2009. Matthew did his undergraduate studies and received a degree in Philosophy at the University of Southern Mississippi. He is presently a litigation consultant located in Des Moines, Iowa. His wife Rachel is a news anchor for ABC channel 5 in Des Moines.
Our first argument was given the name Ontological by Immanuel Kant, but the argument itself is attributed to St. Anselem, a philosopher from the middle-ages who was once the Archbishop of Canterbury. This argument attempts to provide proof of the existence of God through sheer deduction. The method used is reductio ad absurdum, and you can see why in this excerpt from Anselem’s text:
Therefore, if that, than which nothing greater can be conceived, exists in the understanding alone, the very being, than which nothing greater can be conceived, is one, than which a greater can be conceived. But obviously this is impossible. Hence, there is no doubt that there exists a being, than which nothing greater can be conceived, and it exists both in the understanding and in reality.
To put this in common English, the argument works as follows:
1. It is a conceptual truth that God is a being than which none greater can be imagined.
2. God exists as in idea in the mind.
3. A being that exists as an idea and in reality is greater than a being that exists only as an
4. If God exists only as an idea, then we can imagine something that is greater than God.
5. We cannot imagine something that is greater than God.
6. Therefore, God exists.
Next is the Teleological argument. The word teleological comes from the Greek word telos meaning “end” or “purpose”. Most people would know this argument as “Watchmaker Theory.” This argument attempts to provide proof of the existence of God through identifying universal order and design.
Perhaps you are familiar with the name Anthony Flew. Flew has been described as the world’s most notorious atheist. In 1950 Anthony Flew wrote an essay titled “Theology and Falsification,” which became the most widely reprinted philosophical publication of the last half century. That and subsequent writings were among some of the most cited arguments against the existence of God. At a symposium at New York University in 2004, after over 50 years of championing atheism, Flew announced that he had changed his mind. He attributed recent advances in DNA research as one of the major contributors to his reconsideration. Here’s what he said:
What I think the DNA material had done is that it has shown, by the almost unbelievable complexity of the arrangement which are needed to produce life, that intelligence must have been involved in getting these extraordinarily diverse elements to work together.
Now, from the very small, DNA, we are going to go to the very large. Have you ever considered just how big the universe is?
Why so big? If God wanted to create a universe for humans to live, why make it so vast? According to the currently accepted laws of physics, the universe has to be the size that it is, else stars and planets would not exist. The mind numbing math on this states that if the force of gravitation were different by 1 part in 10 to the 39th power stars would not have formed.
(1 in 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000)
The third argument is the Cosmological argument which dates back to Aristotle. It states that everything that exists in the Universe is a result of cause. This cause and effect cycles back until it reaches the initial cause, which itself is outside of causation, which is God. One way to think about it is the domino effect. If a domino falls over, something caused it to fall, such as the domino falling behind it.
One of the most popular versions of this argument is the Kalam Cosmological Argument which deals more specifically with the temporal aspect. It proposes:
1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause of its existence.
2. The Universe began to exist.
3. Therefore, the Universe has a cause of its existence.
Now point two seems to be a given. Of course the universe began to exist. The truth is though, secular models tended to have the universe existing eternally, without beginning or end. The problem with the infinite existence of the universe is that science has been coming up with solid evidence that the universe did, in fact, have a beginning – the big bang.
Do you know who first proposed the big bang theory? Would you believe it was a Catholic priest? In 1927 Monsignor Georges Henri Joseph Édouard Lemaître published a physics paper that outlined what we now know as the Big Bang theory. This work would become influential to the work of Edwin Hubble’s Red Shift Argument that proves the ongoing expansion of the universe. The point for this purpose, however, is that atheism is now shifting away from the Big Bang Theory due to the lack of explanation as to who pulled the trigger.
Argument four is the Moral Argument. There are three types or subsets of Moral Argument for us to consider. The Formal Moral Argument suggests that morality consists of a set of commands, and for every command there is a commander. Therefore, there is a commander that commanded morality. The commands only carry as much authority as does their commander. Thus morality carries ultimate authority. Therefore, the commander that commanded morality carries ultimate authority, and only God carries ultimate authority. The commander that commanded morality is God, therefore, God exists.
The Moral Perfection Argument suggests that we ought to be morally perfect. If we ought to be morally perfect, then we can be morally perfect. We cannot be morally perfect unless God exists to aid in this goal, therefore, God exists.
The Kantian Moral Argument is somewhat different, in that it does not argue for the existence of God as much as the existence of an afterlife. The argument is based on things we experience in the world, such as good things happening to bad people, crime being beneficial, and the fact that life does not seem fair. If morality exists and adhering to such does not bring justice to us during our lives here on Earth, then there must be an afterlife where justice is served to those who have behaved in a moral way.
The final argument is the argument from Religious Experience. It states that it is only possible to experience that which exists. Therefore, the phenomenon of religious experience demonstrates the existence of God. This is the argument that most can readily identify with. I dare say that everyone has had a religious experience, in some form or another, that has bolstered our belief that God does in fact exist. In his book Varieties of Religious Experience, William James outlines this argument. In it James argues that all normal persons have religious experience and since experience is the final arbiter of truth, then God must be accepted as factually true. He further states that these religious experiences often to have a profound effect on the lives of people and even whole societies, suggesting that such cannot reasonably be attributed to hallucinations. Instead, it is much more reasonable that a real God is responsible for religious experiences than to attribute the profound effects of those experiences to a mere imaginary being.
Some of the minor arguments include Pascal’s Wager, which suggests that it is rational to believe in the Christian God. In it, Pascal argued that:
1. If you believe in God and it turns out that God does not exist you have lost nothing.
2. If you do not believe in God, and there is a God, then you suffer eternal punishment.
3. If you believe in God and there is a God, you are rewarded in eternity.
4. Thus believing in the Christian God is a wise and rational choice.
One of the interesting features of Pascal’s Wager is that it is the only argument that is directed toward the existence of the Christian God. All other arguments in philosophy simply deal with the existence of a God.
Another minor argument is the argument from Miracles. A miracle is defined as and event performed by or involving a supernatural agency. If a miracle occurs, God must have done it. In order for God to do something, he must exist. Therefore, if God must exist, he does exist.
Intrinsic Probability simply states that 51% is all that it takes to win an argument. Therefore, it is more likely than not that God exists.
The final minor argument is Reformed Epistemology: belief in God can be rational even in the absence of evidence for God’s existence provided they (those beliefs) are (a) grounded, and (b) defended against known objections.
This presentation can be heard in its complete form via podcast by going to www.ashworthroad.com.
To my way of understanding, theology is like a river that is formed by three tributaries. One tributary is the process of personal learning which comes as we sit before Scripture. As a Baptist, I wholeheartedly believe the doctrine of soul competency, which affirms our individual privilege and responsibility to hear from God and respond to him. As a believer, God has equipped and empowered us to relate directly with him. We can hear from him and respond appropriately.
The second tributary is the learning that occurs within the community of faith whereby we interact with one another over cups of coffee, honing our views and understanding of Scripture. A good illustration of this is found in church history. Our orthodox faith has been developed over time through conversations and councils that produced creeds and confessions. The doctrines we profess were not developed by individuals but through community. I think the best theological work comes from striving to ask better questions. Healthy community values hard questions over pat answers every time. Thus the work is more about asking better questions and less about clinging to our safe positions.
The third tributary is the practice of our faith in the marketplace and the resulting experiences we amass. Included in this tributary are things like our culture, context, and ministry application (praxis). After all, we are particular Christians living in particular places in the ongoing history. Whether we like it or not, what happens to us in the laboratory of life impacts what happens in us and tempers our view of God and his words, and how we minister those in the marketplace.
The narrative account of the Jerusalem council convened in Acts 15 demonstrates these three influences at work. Through that event we see the dynamics of persons wrestling with Scripture over against their cultural background and experiences. On one hand we see a group whose religious background would suggest the need for circumcision. On the other, another group whose ministry experience revealed that Gentiles were indeed coming to faith apart from strict observance of Mosaic law. They came together, had conversation, and worked out an understanding in community. Even then, their outcomes would not be the same outcomes we would reach here and now in the 21st century. I find this intriguing.
There is a problem, however, with the analogy of the three tributaries in that they are difficult to balance. In a perfect world, personal learning, the informal conversation of community, and life experience are an equilateral triangle: equal sides and equal angles. But that’s not reality. Sometimes we become out of balance due to the fact that one tributary may feed more than its share into the river because of heavy rain. Truth be known, theology is messy yet important work. From it flows our character, our values and convictions, and our conduct. The work is worth it. Otherwise we become victims to the worst of all, taking others word for everything we believe.
By way of introduction, I’d like to offer that I have no mandate from the people to begin a blog. There have been three or so kind persons who have suggested that I make an attempt to make available such an instrument, none of whom are related by blood or legal ceremony.
In the formative stages of this concept, I polled my circle of advisors and have gleaned the following advice. Hopefully the advice of my counselors will provide an anchor for this endeavor.
Their first suggestion was to be deliberate and consistent with submissions. Apparently many blogs begin with a feverish flurry of postings only to be abandoned for other choices and left to gather dust. So I’ll do my best to try to post something two or three times a week. I think that’s do-able.
Another word of counsel was to say something of value. Having viewed some blogs over the past several months, I’ve come to the conclusion that no one probably cares what time I wake up in the morning or what my family had for dinner last night. No one is interested in my sports picks or my vacation experiences. No one cares to hear about how my children are prodigies or my thoughts concerning the weather. In my opinion, those who do “flowing stream of consciousness” don’t do it well. So I’ll try to make this as substantive as possible and leave the other for Facebook and Twitter.
The final and perhaps most important piece of advice was to have clear purpose for the blog. My present concern is theology. How do we develop, understand, and communicate those convictions that govern our views about God and our practice of faith? Having done ministry for the past 25 years, I see many evidences that God’s people are asking big questions, the kind that aren’t satisfied with “three keys” and “four principles.” Make no mistake, people are looking for pathways to help them live better. But not the paths that come from pop psychology. People really do want to know about God, and more importantly, they really want to know God. Somehow we realize that if we can really know God and become intimately acquainted with him, much of the “how to” of Christian living will take care of itself. So I anticipate that this blog will give you an over the shoulder perspective my reflections concerning this subject.
So with that, welcome to timdeatrick.com.