Why I Quit Facebook – Despite the Need for Apologetics

What prevented me most of exterminating the Facebook bug from my life was that I believe strongly in the power of ideas. Ideas Have Consequences, Richard Weaver wrote decades ago. They do. A powerful idea can change a person’s worldview and hence their life. A change in one’s view on say, the existence of God and human origins can shape a person’s whole understanding of the meaning and purpose of life. I’m reminded of William B Provine (1942-2015), professor of the history of biology at Cornell. In the movie Expelled by Ben Stein, Provine affirms his acceptance of Darwin’s theory of evolution, and how this acceptance caused him to reject belief in the Deity. He notes that with no God, there is no hope, no free will, no meaning, and no ethics and no morality. (One needn’t hold theism and Darwinism in contradictory terms, however. As far as morality, an Aristotelian natural law perspective does supply an ethics by means of understanding ‘the good’ based upon the knowledge of the essence of things). Yet, the point here is, Ideas Have Consequences is axiomatic. If there is no God, what hope do we have? We may have an ethics based upon epistemology, but ultimately, what hope can there be on metaphysical grounds? As Provine says in the film clip, “We live, we die, and we’re gone. We’re absolutely gone when we die.”

So of course, I used Facebook quite a bit to promote philosophical and scientific arguments for the existence of God, archaeological evidence which supports the historical reliability of the Bible, and so forth. And I know that a number of people were impressed by such things as the arguments for God, the Bible, and for the resurrection of Christ, so much so that one fella from my high school told me a few years ago, “Chris. I was an atheist. But after the things you’ve posted on Facebook, I believe in God.  I’m not sure about the whole Jesus thing, but I definitely believe in God.” That’s encouraging to me. Facebook has been a source of good after all.  Yet, it’s simply not enough for me to remain an active participant on this social medium.  It is no medium, but a maximum in the lives of so many, controlling their time and energy and inhibiting relationships in the real world. While it is true that I’ve encouraged other people in their lives and have influenced people with pictures and stories from Ethiopia as well (volunteering with an NGO that helps women and children affected by HIV), and while it is true that Facebook is a powerful medium, it is not enough to keep me partake in its pogroms.

I had to say goodbye to Facebook for a number of reasons.

First, the violence. There are videos of other people getting murdered (butchered)  by Palestinians in Israel.  There is one particular video of a trooper interacting with a crazed lunatic. Expecting an arrest, I decided to watch the footage. Suddenly the man goes back to his car, gets his gun, and starts shooting at the officer.  The officer is screaming in terror with cries for mercy. He was shown no mercy.  I heard the officer’s dying breath, and watched the evil man who murdered him speed away in his truck.  Shocked, I sat in stunned silence and prayed to God for help. This experience is called “ontological shock.” It is a shock to the core of one’s being, as if one is left suspended over a cliff, awaiting the snap of the chord and a fall into the abyss below. I was then shown another video that very same morning of a couple of cops confronting a crazed skinhead holding a hatchet. Then I was reminded of gruesome images of slaughtered children in Syria. Perhaps you’ve seen these things too.  This was the main reason why I quit Facebook.

Secondly, I found myself distracted constantly by always checking my “account” (why it’s called that, I do not know).  How many likes did I get? What comments did I get for what I posted? How am I going to reply to so and so in this debate I’ve gotten myself into? The controversial articles about political maneuverings in our nation (same-sex marriage, abortion, government corruption, Big Business corruption, etc.) constantly filled my News Feed. I discovered that I really don’t need to read that article.  “Must read!” “So good.” “This. Read this now.” “Worth your time.”  “Take five minutes.” “Watch and share.”

Enough. For, the articles in the News Feed disappear into its own abyss, to be forgotten. “Oh, but Chris, you have to read and share. You never know how you might influence someone for the better.” Maybe. But after trying to maintain “balance” with Facebook for ten whole years and not succeeding, I decided to cut the chord. It has been good for my health. Here is what I mean.

My third point is that Facebook is an ADD-machine. I discovered my attention span was extremely short. I’d be doing some reading or research for a class I’m taking or for a lesson plan I’m creating, and after a paragraph I’d need a ‘Brain Break'(I read some heavy material for my graduate program in philosophy). Time to check the Facebook. It’s like Brain Candy, and I need a fix. But now, without Facebook, I can actually focus on what I’m doing and get so much more work done, like writing projects, studies, lesson plans, etc.

Fourth, I have to tell you that my life is so much better without it. I have so much more peace. I’m more focused. Here’s a really important tidbit: I don’t have to compare myself to other people’s awesome lives. I do that enough as it is! Oh, how I wish I were living that dude’s life. He travels here and there. Look at his cool job, personal achievements, education, car, house, vacation, talents, star son or daughter doing such and such in sports, music, theatre, or what have you. All of this comparing our lives to one another’s leads to depression. Of course, I’m just as guilty as the next person for perpetuating the myth that my life is so awesome and wouldn’t yours be cool if it were like mine.

There is a fifth and final reason–the best reason–for quitting Facebook. The other night, after our evening reading of C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, my daughter says to me with a big smile, “You know Dad, now that you’ve quit Facebook, you can spend more time studying, or playing guitar, or focusing on your children.” With a wry smile she nods, emphasizing the final phrase. But she’s sincere also. That solidified the deal for me.

Of course, I know social media can be and is used for the exchange of ideas. Ideas do have consequences. There is such a thing as information overload, however. Do you know of that “must see” article? It’ll be lost in the News Feed Abyss before you know it. Then, two minutes later, you’re wondering, “What was that article I wanted to read about again?” That’s ADD! It also seems to me that we have become so accustomed to using the system for this purpose, that we forget about other mediums of idea exchange, namely, being with people in person.  Or, as we now say, “being present.” So, if I want to influence people in the world of ideas, I think it’s best for me to do that face-to-face. “Face” Book may do that, but the cons outweigh the pros, in my opinion. And, my inner peace is at an even, steady pace, while my anxiety and comparison of myself to others are at an all-time low. I’m happier. I’m more focused.  I’m not skittish, but can look people in the eye and pay attention. I’m not checking my phone all the time, straining my neck and staring down “at the ground.” All of that is pretty good, is it not? Perhaps you too will take the plunge.

Cheers,

Chris

When I Survey the Wondrous Cross

For our homeschooling, we are introducing our children to classic hymns of the Christian faith, along with biographical information regarding the authors. Today, we studied Isaac Watts’ “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.” Every time I hear and sing this song, I weep.  We listened to a rendition of this stunning hymn sung by Kathryn Scott.  I was with my three girls as we watched and listened on YouTube.  It’s a beautiful video, artful, clean, and mysterious.  Faint few key words from the hymn fade in and out as the song is sung.

Before we listened to the hymn, and before I sang along with it for my girls, I told them the story of how Watts once asked a young lady for a courtship (a date, as it were). She replied, “Sir, if only the casket were as the jewel.” I explained to them what she meant: Isaac, you are beautiful on the inside, but not the outside.

We then listened to the hymn sung by Kathryn Scott. At the end of the hymn I broke down in tears and covered my face with my hands.  My daughters remained silent as I explained to them how Wonderful the Cross really is. I told them that when I was a lad and a young man, how I was violent, scared, insecure, a drunkard, wasteful, and more. Amid my weeping, I eked out words of thankfulness to God for giving me a beautiful wife, and three beautiful children. My youngest daughter who is not yet 6 years old came over to me and put her hand on my arm and held me.

When I think of what God has done in my life in blessing me with the peace of Jesus Christ, and the new life He gives, I weep. This hymn by Isaac Watts gets me every time. And that is why I love it so.  “Were the whole realm of nature mine, that would be a present far too small.  Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.”  True and beyond true.

May you too be blessed beyond compare by the Lord Himself and by this beautiful, haunting hymn.

The “Religions are Man-Made” Argument & Why it Fails

I wrote this on my Facebook wall as a response to a guy I know who is an ex-pat of the church.  He (kindly) told me that religions were man-made and therefore false.  He also said Science makes religious belief irrational.  Well, so, instead of letting my grand wisdom go to waste on a hidden comment on a wall that will disappear via the scroll of the abyss, I decided to write it here.  Enjoy.  🙂

First, because some – or even many – religions are man-made, it does not follow that they all are. This is a logical fallacy. Your other fallacy is the genetic fallacy: religion was created in order to explain human existence and ethics. This is an attempt to invalidate religious belief based upon its origin. Moreover, this is fallacious reasoning because you would have to be omniscient in order to know that every single person who held a religious point of view about origins and ethics did so because of your stated reason, namely, that religion is a concoction based upon ignorance or worse, fear. But how can you know that?

Second, one needn’t look far into history or wide into some hidden culture in order to find a system of thought that requires people to live a certain way and is not “religious.” E.g. atheist Soviet Union, atheist Nazi Germany (though in some forms, it was neo-pagan), atheist Mao-China, atheist Cambodia, etc. **This isn’t a vilification of atheism** but a simple matter of fact that whether someone is religious or irreligious, one lives under an ethical system, AND one lives under a system of thought that includes an origin story.

Third, the term “religion” used in contradistinction to science ignores my earlier point that it is Naturalism vs. Religion, not Science vs. Religion that is the contradistinction in view.

*How would you define science? Observing cause and effect? Knowledge based upon observation? But atomic theory is not based upon observation of atoms, but upon the theoretical claims that atoms exist due to their apparent effects. Electrons are not observed in a gas chamber. Rather, their effects are. But how do we know electrons are actually real? Not based upon observation, but based upon theory. And theory is an “unobservable” entity.

Fourth, “religion” –how do you define it? Is it a system of thought that involves a God or gods/spirits? Is it a system of thought that is pantheist, whereby the entire cosmos is the container into which an impersonal life-force is infused? Is Buddhism a religion? Classical Buddhism is atheistic. So, the idea that “religion” is man-made includes atheism as well. For, religion merely asserts a narrative about origins and ethics. Doesn’t atheism do the same?

Fifth: the burden of proof argument I’m willing to take on. But first, you need to understand that the burden of proof is not on the theist. There is no “Presumption of Atheism” as **former** atheist Anthony Flew once argued. (Flew converted to theism after looking at evidence for intelligent design at the biomolecular level, and also reading Aquinas’ Five Ways once again). Ask yourself: why is atheism the presumptive starting point? What, about 2% of the nation’s population is atheist? But it’s not about numbers. That’s an ad populum argument. Rather, the burden of proof is on the non-theist (or, atheist) to show me why believing in God is irrational. Can you show me why that is so?

But let’s say the burden of proof is on me. Ok. So here is the Kalaam Cosmological Argument for the existence of God.

1) Whatever begins to exist has a cause
2) The universe began to exist
3) Therefore, the universe has a cause.
______

4) Premise 2 is shown by Einstein’s theory of relativity, whereby matter, energy, space, and time are correlative. This means they all came into existence at the same time.

5) Given 4, whatever caused the universe must be immaterial, as matter came into existence a finite time ago.

6) This cause must be atemporal as well i.e. timeless

7) This cause must be personal. The universe was brought into being by an immaterial, timeless cause. Therefore the cause that caused the universe to be must have willed it to be. A cause with a will is a being, and is a person.

8). God exists. An immaterial, timeless (eternal), personal being can only be God.

Sixth: Don’t you think Jesus of Nazareth is a remarkable figure in human history? Surely you doubt that quote by Thomas Pain whereby he declared Christianity was made up by the early Christians in copying from Roman pagan religion. Jesus is not in his tomb. Where’s the body?

Thomist A Priori Metaphysics & Sola Scriptura

(I have edited this post from a long email I sent to a Catholic friend who converted from the Reformed Church not too long ago.  She read my post on the SES blog and asked me about Protestant teaching on the authority of Scripture.  Her question was about whether a Thomist can believe in the Protestant idea of Sola Scriptura i.e. “Scripture Alone.”  The doctrine simply states that Scripture is our supreme authority in spiritual matters).

We can summarize the apparent dilemma in this way: there are a priori metaphysical principles at work in our hermeneutics.  Given this, what role does Sola Scriptura play then?  Would not the metaphysics reign supreme over Scripture, and therefore deny Protestant teaching?  For example, Genesis 3 says God walked in the Garden (v.8), but Jesus says “God is Spirit” (John 4:24).  It takes a body to walk.  Spirits, being immaterial, do not have bodies, and therefore do not walk.  So, which verse to we take as our grounding principle for determining whether God has a body, or whether he is Spirit?  Well, neither.  We needn’t pit (seemingly) contradictory teachings of Scripture against each other.  Rather, we need some philosophy in order to inform us of our understanding of the nature of God.  Of course God is Spirit, but how do we know this, when there are (seemingly) contradictory statements in Scripture about God’s “arm” (Dt. 4:34 and elsewhere), and other attributions which we intuitively know are anthropomorphic?  In short, what is the way in which we discover anthropomorphisms vs. literal statements about God?  Well, the answer of the Thomist is clear: we must use first principles of philosophy, namely, metaphysics, in order to determine that God is Spirit.

Nature of God 

Of course Aquinas himself believed one could not determine the temporal finitude of the universe (its not being eternal) by means of mere philosophy, but only by revelation).  The universe could, in fact, be eternal, but it requires an Unmoved Mover to get it going and bring about change (this is what Aquinas means by “move” – change.  He doesn’t mean moving in a temporal, causal chain).

Aquinas demonstrates with philosophical argument when he says that God cannot have a body because, “first, because no body is in motion unless it be put in motion, as is evident from induction. Now it has been already proved (2, 3), that God is the First Mover, and is Himself unmoved. Therefore it is clear that God is not a body,” (Aquinas, ST I-II. Q3. A1. s.c.).  In the same section, Aquinas writes concerning God as necessarily in pure “act” and therefore unable to be in potency.  If something is in potency, it is subject to change.  Something may move from potency to act.  Aquinas uses the illustration of a log heating up due to fire.  The log was in potentiality to being hot, and now is actually (‘in act’) of being hot.  God is not in potency, however.  God is not subject to change, nor can he be as the First Cause of all being, and as the Unmoved Mover and causal agent of all change.  So then, God cannot have a body, because no simple being, no being in Pure Act, can have a body, because a body is both in act and potency, but only God is Pure Act.

Ok, so where does that leave us?  Well, following philosopher Jacques Maritain, who followed Aquinas, we understand that our unaided human reason demonstrates the existence of God, and our unaided human reason demonstrates the reliability of the Bible e.g. archaeology, history, manuscript reliability.  Having done this work, we can then trust the Bible to tell us things that our unaided human reason cannot attain to: Trinity, Incarnation, Atonement, Resurrection (both Christ’s and ours).

Faith, Reason, and the Authority of Scripture 
Now, that’s not to say at all that people reading the Bible need to take a class on the classical method for apologetics, God’s attributes, hermeneutics, etc.  I wouldn’t expect my mother (when she was alive) or your grandmother to know these things.  It is not a requirement to be justified in one’s belief in Christ.  (That the Church had dropped the ball in educating her children is of course, true, as seen in the rampant anti-intellectualism and ignorance of basic doctrine in much of both Catholicism and Protestantism).

However, it is to say that when we take a look at the process of knowing the truth about God, that these first principles of metaphysics e.g. act/potency tell us (either intuitively or non-intuitively) that God is Spirit, and does not have a body.  So, my mom can read the Bible and conclude the right view about God not having a body without articulating the cosmological argument.  Of course, the reason why cults exist is because they don’t have the first principles of philosophy!  Case in point is the Dake Study Bible, which teaches that God has a body, and also the Mormon Church which teaches the same.  Philosophy saves souls, huh?

So the question must be, “What is the authoritative relationship between these a priori metaphysical principles and Scripture?”  For if the a priori principles are logically prior to the Scripture, then there is something non-divine that has authority over the Scripture, and this seems to go against clear, Protestant teaching.  But that needn’t be.  Remember Maritain: he has 3 degrees of knowledge, which he explains in more detail, but his system can serve as an analogue to our discussion:  1) Our reason helps us understand the existence of God and the reliability of the Scripture.  2) Faith, mixed with reason helps us attain the veracity of and reality of theological truths like the actuality of the Trinity, Incarnation, Atonement, Resurrection.  3) Faith, as a mode of knowing, helps us know (not just believe in) the Trinity, Incarnation, etc., because reason cannot attain to these truths.  Only faith can.

The Roman Catholic Church as the Pillar of Truth?

Doesn’t all of this philosophy and use of unaided human reason mean that a human institution is the arbiter of God’s truth?  1 Timothy 3:15 speaks of the Church of the living God as the “pillar and foundation of the truth.” That sure seems like a high calling, and lofty status for the Church.  In this text, Paul is telling Timothy and the other believers how to conduct themselves in the world, and that the Church serves much like a support structure for the Temple in the OT.  Stulos (pillar) is used of the Solomonic Temple in the LXX (Greek version of the Old Testament, 1 Kings 7:15ff; 2 Kings 2513ff) and Paul used that word here to tell Timothy and friends that God has built them, and owns them, and that they are to “undergird and hold aloft God’s truth in word and deed.” (George W. Knight III, NIGNTC, p.182).

So, while on the surface it seems 1 Timothy 3:15 is a proof text for the Roman Catholic Church, one needn’t understand it as such, because it speaks of all believers everywhere who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ who are the Church.  This mode of being fits well with the Church as comprised of individuals who have the common ground of unaided human reason to offer discursive reasoning in terms of arguments for the existence of God, and the historical reliability of the Bible.  And yet, it does not lend itself to the idea that only the Roman Catholic Church is the pillar and foundation of the truth.  Rather, it is everyone who calls on the name of Jesus Christ as Lord who are this pillar and foundation.  It is a foundation which was built by God himself.  I feel good about closing this post with the closing of 1 Timothy 3, where Paul gives us the context of v. 15:

By common confession, great is the mystery of godliness:

“He who was revealed in the flesh,
Was vindicated in the Spirit,
Seen by angels,
Proclaimed among the nations,
Believed on in the world,
Taken up in glory.”

Amen.

Calvin Loved Himself Some Natural Theology: Longer Response to K. Scott Oliphint

K. Scott Oliphint recently gave an impassioned lecture at a conference called Reformcon 2016 in Phoenix in which he critiqued Southern Evangelical Seminary (SES) where I am a student in the MA Philosophy program.  He pointed out a number of SES’s teachings in theology and philosophy, but I only want to respond to his criticism of one of those things, which is the classical method in apologetics. I have a short response to the criticism of the classical method in apologetics at the SES blog whydoyoubelieve.org.  This is the longer version.  

Before I respond, I want to affirm that Dr. Oliphint is enjoyable company.  In 2013, I had the pleasure of joining him at a local pub while we attended SES’s National Apologetics Conference in Charlotte.  Company included Dr. Oliphint’s son Jared, and Kurt Jaros, a budding apologist and doctoral student.  Scott Oliphint is good company—he even drove!  I appreciated his Texan swagger and as one who’s been in Reformed circles for 15 years or so, I was thrilled (to say the least) to be in his presence in such an intimate setting.  Scott is a good scholar, having written a number of books on the integration of philosophy, theology, and apologetics. 

Now, Dr. Oliphint’s lecture at Reformcon 2016 concerned a recent book edited by Doug Beaumont, a former faculty member at SES.  The book is Evangelical Exodus and it’s about a number of students and faculty who have attended or taught at SES and have subsequently (not consequently) converted to Roman Catholicism.     

Oliphint’s lecture covered a lot of ground in his review of Evangelical Exodus and his indirect critique of SES: dispensationalism, cheap “free” grace, divine immutability, justification & sanctification, Molinism and more, all under the critical apparatus and rubric of what he calls the “self-authenticating” nature of Scripture.  He seemed happy to confirm Evangelical Exodus’  consequentialist incrimination of SES’s production of Roman Catholics because of what is taught there.  The main reason for this is because SES delights in the teachings of Thomas Aquinas.  Aquinas is often left unread by evangelicals, but I’m thankful for having to read him, along with others in the Thomist line of thought, whether on the nature and attributes of God, metaphysics, epistemology, or natural theology.  Natural theology, which is used in the classical method in apologetics, is a good that I have discovered as a product of my required reading at SES.  But it wasn’t always so. 

Natural theology is something I held in very low esteem for many years when I was a presuppositionalist. Having been a staunch proponent of this school of thought for about fifteen years, I had known all the presuppositional buzzwords, namely, “autonomous reason.”  (In presuppositionalism, ‘autonomous reason’ is understood as man’s sinful attempt to attain knowledge of ultimate reality, reaching its apex in the knowledge of God, but doing so apart from God’s assistance; it is therefore idolatrous).  I had written on and studied the Transcendental Argument for the Existence of God, and even wrote a 50-page paper on Van Til for my MDiv.  I listened to countless hours of Greg Bahnsen over and over and over.  Even more, I had impressed a number of people while apologizing for the faith with my knowledge of Hume’s problem of induction and Kant’s attempt at solving it with transcendentals, and Van Til’s rescue of knowledge with his Christian epistemology.  I was myself duly impressed that unless I presupposed the ontological Trinity, I could know nothing truly, and found this to be wonderfully powerful.  I was convinced that Hume was correct: I cannot trust my sense-perception unless I am regenerated by the Holy Spirit and unless I have a biblical worldview.  Worldview apologetics and inference to the best explanation (abduction) became my staple, and I used the word “epistemology” and “epistemic quagmire” like it was a switch that I could intellectually whip people with.  Little did I know.

It was in 2014 when students and faculty at SES, along with a friend from an unnamed Reformed seminary, who advised me to read Catholic philosopher Ed Feser’s The Last Superstition.  In it, the Aristotelian-Thomist realism which SES espouses totally changed my perspective on metaphysics and epistemology.  In Feser and other works I’ve had to read for my coursework at SES, I have for the first time learned the four Aristotelian causes, the form/matter composition of sensible things, the essence of those things, the difference between nominalism, conceptualism, and realism, and why the latter is the only option in constructing a metaphysics.  And realism is not an inference to the best explanation.  Not at all.  Sense-perception is reliable, and I can know reality, the nature and essence of things, and I can rationally demonstrate the existence of God.  Three cheers! 

From my material at SES, students and faculty helped me understand the notion of universals like triangularity, redness, dogness, humanness, and the the like.  I learned about first principles and self-evidential truths e.g. the laws of logic and math.  (While I had known about the laws of logic from Bahnsen’s arguments, I wasn’t taught that they were self-evident, but rather that their existence served as a defeater to materialism, and that their access by the human knower required the presupposed Triune God and Holy Scripture).  I read Catholic philosopher Frederick Wilhelmsen, who taught me that “knowing is a way of existing” (thus refuting solipsism).  And, (you guessed it) Catholic philosopher Joseph Owens taught me that epistemology is not a stand-alone subject, but a subsidiary of metaphysics.  (Yes, John Frame teaches tri-perspectivalism, but epistemology is not a sub-species within metaphysics on his schematic). All of this fits with realism, which has given me the certainty I have desired all these years, but failed to have.  Presuppositionalism simply didn’t bother to teach me first principles, universals, form/matter composition, and the four causes.  And then there was the life-changing book,  The Degrees of Knowledge by (yes) Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain, who comprehensively puts together the relation of faith and reason that includes science, math, metaphysics, faith, gifts of the Holy Spirit, mystery, non-normative, subjective mystical experience, and finally, the Beatific Vision.  Maritain is like reading poetry, and his system of thought has filled me with freedom, and pure joy.  Don’t forget Eleonore Stump and her work on the problem of evil.  So good!  How did all this happen?  Well, from being a student at SES. 

As this struck me like a newsflash, I rejoiced in the good teaching I learned from these excellent Catholic philosophers.  The Transcendental Argument and the presuppositional method left me always with a nagging agnosticism: how do I prove the ontological Trinity (and the Protestant canon of Scripture) as the necessary precondition for human knowledge?  How do I read Scripture where on the one hand, God changes his mind, but on the other hand “He changes not” as the hymn says apart from some prior philosophical commitments?  And if I can’t know the answer to that question because the biblical data contradicts itself (allegedly), then how can I know that God is the epistemic foundation for cause and effect?  I came to see that Van Til took Kant’s idealism and washed it in Reformed, theological terminology.  Van Til had his critics, of course—even in Reformed circles.  Well, especially so, actually.  So, it’s strange that Oliphint uses his lecture against the dangers of Thomas Aquinas and the erring path of SES to make a pitch for presuppositionalism as the exemplar of apologetic method. 

Didn’t Reformed theologian R.C. Sproul say a long time ago that God was first in the order of being, but second in the order of knowing?  I disdained that teaching as a presuppositionalist.  But now I see that he was correct.  Natural theology isn’t “autonomous reason” at work.  No, it’s simply the way God made us: we can study this world and know it truly by our sense-perception.  Makes sense to me.  It made sense to the Reformers as well. 

Which Reformers?  It should not surprise anyone that not all the Reformers were “against reason” and neither were they all presuppositional (speaking anachronistically).  Hardly at all.  In fact, Calvin himself believed in the authority of human reason to attain to the (albeit non-saving) knowledge of God.  John Calvin believed in the duplex cognitio Dei (double knowledge of God).  He therefore believed in the proper use of unaided human reason to attain to a non-salvific knowledge of the divine being.  To wit, Calvin says in his Institutes in 1.15.8 that “God provided man’s soul with a mind, by which to distinguish good from evil, right from wrong; and with light of reason as his guide to distinguish what should be followed from what should be avoided.”   He writes a similar idea in 2.2.13, “Still, however, it is true, that some principle of civil order is impressed on all. And this is ample proof, that, in regard to the constitution of the present life, no man is devoid of the light of reason.”  For more evidence of this, see Stephen J. Grabill’s book Rediscovering the Natural Law in Reformed Theological Ethics.  (I wrote a review of this book for an independent study at SES on Natural Law & Sexual Ethics).  Grabill shows how Reformed theologians who are against Natural theology are really following Barth, the neo-orthodox theologian, not Calvin, the Reformer par exellence.

But what about all of these aforementioned Catholic philosophers?  Am I not in danger of leaving the evangelical fold?  No.  Because I favor the classical method of apologetics, and because I have learned the truth about the reliability of sense-perception and the ability to know reality from Aristotelian Thomist principles, it does not follow that I’m going to become a Roman Catholic and suddenly deny any distinction between justification and sanctification (as if the Reformed community hasn’t had enough controversy within her own circles over this issue in recent years with Federal Vision, and the New Perspective on Paul!).  Further, and more pertinent to our discussion, I don’t have to submit to the church of Rome in order to retain my conviction that sense-perception is reliable, and I don’t have to submit to an alleged solution to Hume’s problem of induction by means of a baptized Kantian response, either.  And neither do I have to give up the five solas in order to learn from Thomist metaphysics, theology proper, or prolegomena.  While it’s true that the relationship between philosophy, theology, and the authority of Scripture is rife with intellectual rigor, it does not follow that I must now take the Eucharist and believe in transubstantiation.  We do not believe, as evangelicals, in solo Scriptura.  We believe in sola Scriptura.  The difference is clear, yes?

When I was a presuppositionalist, I noticed that not only in me, but in many others in this school of thought, there was a rigid dogmatism whereby people only read certain authors, namely, Bahnsen and Van Til.  This is dangerous, no matter what school of thought one is in.  James N. Anderson, who is a Van Tillian presuppositionalist (if there ever was one) told me as much during lunch a few years ago.  (He even named his dog “Van Til”).  He said that students get stuck on the Transcendental Argument as the only argument, and when this argument is challenged, these students often shipwreck their faith.  “There isn’t a Transcendental Argument,” he said.  “There are transcendental arguments” (plural).  Presuppositionalists would do well to listen to Anderson.  And they would do well to read Feser, Wilhelmsen, Owens, Maritain, Stump, Davies, and others as well.  I love being a Thomist.  And I love being a Protestant. 

I am happy that I have had the privilege to read other Christian scholars from my time at SES at the encouragement of students and faculty there.  Never did any of them mock me or ridicule me for being presuppositionalist.  Perhaps they were confident that my studies in Thomist philosophy would lead me on their own.  It seems they were correct. 

Getting High on My Birthday

Today is my birthday. I’m 22 years old today. It was June 12 of 1994 after a long, crazy night of bar-hopping downtown GH and comforting a homeless girl who was afraid of her ex-boyfriend and his new girlfriend. She was afraid they were going to kill her. “Because I’m following Jesus now,” she said. “And they are committed to Satan worship,” she said. I didn’t know what to think about that. Then, I remember sitting there, and watching my friends drive away in my car, to an unknown destination. I guess I’ll have to walk home. But mostly, I remember thinking of this poor young lady, skinny and strung-out, living in fear. I got to bed at 4am or so.

Next morning the sun burst through my window and I was up at around 8:30 feeling surprisingly refreshed. I felt really good–like something good was going to happen that day. I was going to go to church, after a 9 year hiatus and after giving God the middle finger after my mom’s accident and other trauma experienced as a lad. But this morning was lively and different. As I was getting ready for church, I sensed a small, inaudible voice, or impulse, or whatever, saying, “You don’t want to go to church. You don’t need it.” So I said out loud: “I’m going to church because it’s good.”

Some guys I smoked weed with invited me to church. “You go to *church*?” I said. “Yeah man. It’s only so long before you gotta get it back into your life.” I was dumfounded. So, I went to this little church meeting at Purcell’s Siding Company on Beechtree. It was also known as “The Door Store.” I walked in, and saw people praying in a circle. Never seen that before. Especially at a Lutheran church. People greeted me and there was something in their eyes. Astounding it was to see that. It was love. People had love in their eyes and they truly cared about me–a total stranger, and not a little bit of a haphazard loser and dilettante.

That morning, the pastor talked about real life, and how life isn’t about toys and pleasure–he used a Gumby doll and a toy truck as props. Then he went into detail about how Jesus was whipped and nailed to a cross “For *you*” he said. That was pastor Glenn Shelton of Lakeshore Lutheran Fellowship. Later than morning, my friend (unnamed) and I went out to an industrial park and smoked a joint and talked about life, God, Jesus, heaven, and hell. I asked who was going to hell. He flipped to 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. In that text, there are a whole host of people who are not going to inherit the kingdom of God: sexually immoral people, drunkards, swindlers (thieves) and more. I was struck with an overwhelming sense of guilt before God.

Then I asked, “Yes, but how do I know the Bible is true?” He flipped to John 20:31: “But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” And John 21:24 “This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true.”

My friend began to pray a beautiful prayer, praising God for his creation of the stars, and saying his name is precious. Prayers to me were always rote, from the liturgy. I’d not heard such an intimate prayer before. While my friend prayed, I told God, “I haven’t lived the life you would want someone to live.” And I was thinking of all my sin. “But I want to live the way you want me to live. But I can’t. I’ve tried and failed. Help.”

When I said “Help,” the Holy Spirit washed me. I felt immediately lifted up like I was on a roller coaster at the apex. I felt all my sin washing off of me like tar oozing down, down, and away down a drain, never to return. I felt clean. I drove home sober. I wasn’t high.

That was the beginning of my new life in Christ! I knew God was with me wherever I went, and that Jesus was present with me, and smiling. He became my new Master. I had an overwhelming sense of God’s presence with me. This presence didn’t last, but is sought after in meditation and prayer. Still, the Holy Spirit did a radical work of grace in me that day. It’s important at this point to say that I had always believed in the Triune God. I wasn’t an unbeliever. I think rather, I was a bad Christian, but then the Holy Spirit came and blessed me with repentance and a newness in Christ that is beyond description.

When I came home, I opened the door and saw my mom and dad sitting at the counter. “Where have you been?” they asked. “I think I’ve been born again by the Holy Spirit!” I said. (I don’t remember ever knowing that phrase. I hardly even knew what I was saying). My mom raised her fist and said, “Yay!” And my dad looked at me like I was nuts. Well, I can’t blame him. I was floundering in life. But it seems to me, that Jesus has worked a good work in me and will continue to do so, provided I remain close to him. Thank you, Lord, for my 22nd birthday. June 12 is a special day for me.

Remembering Amy Lantz

Thirty years ago (May 31), the small town of Grand Haven, Michigan suffered the shocking loss of a blooming flower.  It was a Friday evening, and Spring had come with her warm breath and the perfume of lilacs and lilies of the valley, even as the memories of tulips began to fade.  Late Spring in west Michigan means anticipating summer, and summer is glorious there.  Those who leave for college often come back, wooed by sandy beaches, and lapping shores.  Those who depart for decades to make their livelihood elsewhere long for what will always be ‘home.’  Home in Grand Haven, like many other small towns in the whole of the country served as a protective mother against the wider maladies of the world.  Bad things happen, sure.  We read about that in history books, or saw it in the papers and on the evening news.  But bad things don’t happen in Grand Haven.  In Grand Haven, everyone is happy, and lives a perfect life and dies of a ripe old age.  Then they are laid to rest in peace, knowing that they have an abundance of children and grandchildren to carry on their legacy.  That’s naive, yes.  And yet, during those tender years of coming of age, life sure seemed to carry itself out in this way–at least in the safe harbor of Grand Haven.

Everyone has their own memories and stories of Amy Lantz, and I can only share my brief acquaintance with her, even as what I can say about her, is agreeable to all who knew her.

She Taught Me Goodness 

The flower that faded on that Friday evening/Saturday morning once captured me in stunned silence.  Or rather, she caused in me to stop and ponder, and the pondering was my own character.  Those long, puke-green hallways of the Junior High school building, in their endless corridors, enclosed weary travelers trying to make sense of the awkwardness so prevalent in young, morphing bodies and minds.  I had sneered or made a rotten gesture at a girl who was either mentally retarded, or had some kind of birth defect.  I cannot remember what her diagnosis was, but I remember making a nasty face at her.  Of course, I did this because I was insecure and needed to put someone down in order to make myself feel better.  I had my own “defects” and they haunted me daily.  Next, a young flower chided me with a strong rebuke as she volunteered to carry the books of the ‘Defect.’  After my sneer, Amy said to me, “That’s not right, Chris Van Allsburg!  You don’t treat people that way!”  Then she walked off with the ‘Defect,’ carrying her books or holding her arm–I can’t remember which.  She was wearing white pants and her long, brown hair fell straight down her back.  Standing there in the hallway like a sentinel, I finally turned to my classroom and sat in silence.  What I had done was bad, and what Amy had done was good.  Amy was a righteous young lady.  That is, she did what was right.  I remember being hounded by this simple thought: Amy is good.  And I’m bad.  But I want to be like Amy, and I need to be like Amy.  Amy was always doing things like that.  She was always carrying peoples’ books, or helping people, or being kind.  My friend Brian Mitchell (who recently lost his son) wept with me and lamented how he had hoped Amy would survive so he could carry her books for her just as she had done for him.

Crush

She twirled around and her hair flew in a glorious circle.  Moonstruck, I was, with my jaw gaping.  That evening, all of us junior-highers went to see Lucas at the downtown theatre.  Lucas was about a small, weak, nerdy boy who wanted to be accepted by his peers, so he tried out for the football team.  Having the chance to win the game by catching a long pass, he fails.  And yet, the moral of the story we took home was that Lucas tried his best, and that’s what counted.  We also learned that Life is real and raw–it’s full of failure.  Lucas and I were the same.

Now Amy and the rest of us walked the train tacks a mile or two to the McDonald’s on US 31.  That’s quite a trek, but we enjoyed it.  Sometimes, kids would attempt to board the train as it flew past us.  A friend tells me Amy tried it that evening, and wasn’t hurt.  He noted to me how ironic it was how she died that night.  Now Amy was a princess.  I hadn’t noticed her before.  She was on a date with a really tall guy in our grade, who was a basketball star–and a good dude, too.  He was just one of the guys, and he was my good friend and my compatriot in the supremacy of heavy metal over and against all other kinds of music.  All of us other guys stood outside the McDonald’s looking in through the window as Amy sat down.  “Wow, look at her!” we all said.  I couldn’t take my eyes off of her.  She wore a white sweater and looked glorious.  Her smile and her eyes, wow.  I knew that she’d never be interested in a guy like me, though.  That is, not until I went through some much needed repair: I was short and skinny with huge feet, I had buck teeth–really bad buck teeth, and I had a broken nose, too.  But I was convinced of her.   So, I said out loud for everyone to hear as we approached the flag pole outside that fast food restaurant: “When I get my braces off, I’m going out with Amy Lantz!”  And I didn’t care who heard it.  It may take years, but some day, she’d go out with me.

Just a friend, and a good sister is what I was really after.  Not romance, really.  This is true because my own mother had been taken from me in July of 1985, and returned home in a mangled mess, losing a leg, having killed a young mother in a head-on collision, and having severe brain damage and mental illness.  My mom was a crazy, one-legged woman, and my dad had to take care of her all on his own.  As I think about it now, what that 14-year-old boy needed back then was a mother, or a sister, or a good female friend to mother and sister him.  Amy would be that person.  Amy would save me from the despair and loneliness that encumbered me due to my loss and privation.

Sneaking Out 

Like lurking leopards aiming after their prey, Keith and I crept up his stairway from the basement, and with the skill of stealth, opened the sliding door to the backyard in perfect silence.  Just as Hobbits can traverse the forest floor whilst making no sound, so were we when we absconded into the warm night of late May.  The perfumed air was sweet, and the delinquency was delicious: the night was ours, and no one knew it but us.  Breathing a little easier now, we headed out toward Mercury Drive and stopped at the corner of 155th Ave.  Flashing lights always scare a lad who is out past his bed time, and fear of the police forced us behind a puke-green power unit.  It was an ambulance, and it was heading into town.  The next morning, I knew who was in that ambulance, and stopped, stunned at the thought of having just missed her on the road.

“Hey, look!”
“What?”
“Over there.  Walking along the road.  It’s two people.”
“Oh wow.  Better keep quiet.  Could be big people.”
A short lapse of spying later, “It looks like two girls!”

“Let’s go talk to them.”
After recognitions, “Oh, hey Amy, how are you? (I was just proclaiming my love for you out loud for everyone to hear.  You don’t know that, right?  Heh-heh).”

“Hi Chris!”

The next morning, I prayed for a miracle.  Please, God, let Amy live.  “All I Need is a Miracle” by Mike and the Mechanics played over and over in my head.

2014

Amy’s grave found me resting there many times when I was a young man.  I would often tell Amy of accomplishments I’d made, like selling books door-to-door successfully in California and winning a trip because of my sales.  Or, I’d just stop and sit and think about what Amy would see in me that made her proud.  That lasted a short time, and then I largely forgot about Amy.  “I leave you with a smile” is written on her grave stone, and there’s a red balloon accompanying it.  Almost 30 years later, in 2014, my mother finally died after living a long, hard life in a wheelchair, with mental illness, diabetes, obesity, pain, and fatigue.  Then, Amy flew back into my mind, and I relived all of those emotions of that scared, lonely, insecure boy of age 14.  It was like my 14-year-old self had been transferred into my 42-year-old self, and I was back in 1985/86 all over again.  Grief will do strange things to you: I purchased some of those favorite heavy metal albums on iTunes that I hadn’t listened to since that period of my life.  Relive the past and redeem that past, perhaps.  It seems like that’s the modus operandi there.

When we buried Amy in the ground on a sunny day, I was one of the last ones there.  We all hiked through the trees and trail in Duncan’s Woods to the grassy hill near the parking lot and let go our balloons in the sky.  With that release, an emptiness and deep abyss thinned my soul to hopelessness.  Death isn’t supposed to happen.  It just isn’t.  Now, after my mom died, I started asking a lot of friends who knew Amy what she was like.  I was so confused, because I hardly knew Amy, and now in 2014, 28 years later, I’m in the same pit of darkness as I was in 1986, and reliving her awful demise and all the pain that went with it.  It was like a giant, ghostly hand smushed me into the floorboards and held me down.  I could not function at times.  The grief and pain brought a heavy darkness upon my soul.  How to deal with death, that ominous enemy?

Of course, my mother’s demise and my hope of Amy as my savior are tied together in a psychological web that only the mind of God can unravel.  It was, however, a good Christian friend, Stacy, who analyzed my looming grief: Amy was a Savior to me.  She taught me how to be good.  She accepted everyone.  She would have accepted me.  She was lovely.  She could dance.  To me, Amy was just like Jesus.  When Amy died, it was like Christ dying.  Despair, loneliness, confusion, emptiness.  Amy really was like Jesus.  She knew when someone was suffering, and she knew it without that person saying anything.  Amy knew, for example, that a girl in our school was being abused in the worst way possible, and she confronted her about it to tell the truth.  How did Amy know?  Amy knew because she was a gift from the Giver.

Now, when my mother died, all of the dross and debris from 1985 and 1986 resurfaced in me.  I began to ponder the sovereignty of God in this and I was so angry that I told Him I hated Him.  After all, I could’ve saved Amy if we had just met on the road.  We only missed them by 20 minutes or so (I looked it up on a map and calculated the time it took to walk the difference between the accident and where Keith and I hid behind the power unit).  But during prayer and repentance while on the phone with Stacy, my bedroom filled with light from the sun right at that moment.  The day had been overcast all day, and right at the moment of crying out to God for help, the light flooded my room, and I was comforted, imagining myself in his immediate presence.

It’s Not Over 

Death is not the end.  I believe in the resurrection of the body.  People will be raised from the dead in a real, flesh and bone body that is a spiritual body that is not subject to decay.  In this respect, we will be just like Christ.  That’s my belief.  It may not be yours, and that’s ok–but it’s my belief, and in it I find great hope and comfort (or, strength, as the Latin comforte means, ‘with strength’).  My hope is that Amy and I will most definitely meet on the road and I will tell her how she taught me goodness, beauty, and love.  She left us with more than a smile.  She left us with a model on what it means to accept others, especially the outcasts, and to show kindness.  She showed me how despite the gifts one may have, whether beauty, talent, athletic power, intellectual fortitude, or whatever, that it’s most important to care for others in a spirit of humility.  That’s the impression Amy left on me, and that’s how I want to be.

 

 

Is Robinson Crusoe Colonialist?

This article by Dennis Prager, on Why the Left Hates Western Civilization (do please read it) reminds me of a conversation I once had an an evening soiree, where a professor of Literature and I discussed Robinson Crusoe.  As an enthusiast of the Western Canon of Literature, I prize Crusoe as a brilliant spiritual biography as well as a killer adventure story filled with ingenuity, economic wisdom, planning, and heroism.  I’ve taught some sublime tomes in addition to Crusoe to high school students, including Dante’s Inferno, and The Brothers Karamazov. 

However, I was told that Crusoe is actually a propaganda piece lauding the white, Christian male of British imperialism and colonialism.  This can be known due to Crusoe’s reference to the savage he rescues from cannibals—named Friday— as “My man.”  The professor repeated this phrase over and over and she seemed rather angry.  My man, My man,” she says. Her gestures suggested deep-seated hostility to author Daniel Defoe himself.  It is important to know at this point that Defoe was a Protestant Dissenter, who eschewed belonging to the king of England.  He was indeed a political writer, but also a merchant, and a writer of fiction. 

Now, I had never heard such an accusation before.  When I think of it now, I think she has a point.  Crusoe does in fact refer to Friday as “My man.”  And Crusoe refers to himself as “Master” in the relationship.  Moreover, Crusoe, after returning to England, inhabits the island once again, with a number of ship mates and friends he has garnered over the years.  Finally, a ship is sent to both England Brazil to fetch a number of women, so the men on the island can have wives.  The Brazilian women are seven in all, and are deemed “proper for service, or for wives to as such would take them.”  I remember reading this and thinking, Oh, how non-PC.  Yikes. During our conversation I mentioned that I could see how postmodern and Leftist sensibilities would especially cringe at this notion! 

By contrast, and in defense of the good of the book, it is also true that Friday willingly offers his life to Crusoe for rescuing him from a grotesque, macabre death.  And, why cannot “My man Friday” be a term of endearment?  Don’t men say this to each other for whom they have affection?  In addition, Defoe writes Friday’s character as one having supreme intelligence as seen in Crusoe’s discussions with Friday over Christian theological doctrines like original sin, the purpose of God’s allowing the devil to live (and hence a treatise on the problem of evil), the moral corruption of cannibalism, and the theology of the cross of Jesus Christ.  Friday is no immediate convert, however.  He plays the skeptic in the book for quite some time before accepting that there is only one God who provided the grotesque, macabre death on Friday’s behalf.  Evidence of Defoe’s exaltation of Friday’s character is further seen in his heroism in Europe and his independence gained once there (he joins Crusoe in a sea voyage in the sequel, The Father Adventures of Robinson Crusoe).

Now, about those women who come to the island to help populate it: there is scant mention of women in the entire novel.  In fact, this section is a mere afterthought at the end of the book.  Women play virtually no role at all in the entire story.  So, it is unreasonable to posit that Defoe’s masterpiece is misogynist.  How can it be when a mere, two sentences are given to women in the whole of the writ?  Still, one might object that because there is no mention of women in the book, that this is reason to hold it askance.  But that’s absurd.  On that logic, the book would also be anti-regal, as hardly a word is spoken of the king of England. 

Still, one might object that the mere mention of women in the final paragraph, coupled with how they are “sent” by Crusoe, speaks volumes to the “women-as-chattel” patriarchal-imperialist-colonialist assumptions so prevalent in British society during the 17th and 18th centuries.  But this ignores only the literary aspect (among other aspects in the natural sciences, say) of British society during this time which produced a number of women authors like Mary Shelly, Sarah Scot, Hester Lynch Thrale Piozzi, Hannah More, and numerous others, including Mary Wollstonecraft, who wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Women in 1792.   (This latter title proves the obvious, that women had rights—they were educated and allowed to publish—but needed more rights, which they soon got).  Nevertheless, it is best to see the scant mention of women in the text as no implied, unwritten missive, but simply a way to wrap up the story with a happy ending: the island, which Crusoe has turned from a wasteland into a castle, will be populated with families, where children will play, and people will farm for food and enjoy a good life. 

So, is Robinson Crusoe a propaganda piece exalting the white, Christian, male who dominates other cultures by colonialism and imperialism?  While it is true that Daniel Defoe was involved with politics and writing political pieces, as a Protestant Dissenter who refused to belong to the Church of England, and hence, the king himself, it’s not likely that Crusoe had nationalist interests at heart while writing this epic tale.  One may read Robinson Crusoe for the masterpiece that it is: a tale of ingenuity and survival in the most desperate of situations, the good of Providence, repentance and conversion to Christ, courage and heroism, camaraderie, and the benefits of being a restless soul who refuses to remained stationed in the banality of life.  Go out and adventure!  And go out with God!  That’s Crusoe for you.

How Philosophy Leads to Inner Peace

How the SES Philosophy Program led me in the Worship and Love of God

Background

Loving God can be difficult for people.  That goes without saying.  Usually, this is tied to the problem of evil in some fashion or another, unanswered prayer rising near the top of the list of grievances.  When in particular, suffering during childhood impedes such love, a child often transfers upon God the Father the characteristics of his own father.  So, if a child has an angry, distant father wherein there is a privation of love, the potential to transfer this poorly-slated relationship upon God is great. 

This is how it has been in my own life.  Now, my dad wasn’t abusive or anything.  In his defense, it’s just that he was busy taking care of my mentally ill and physically handicapped mother, all the while working full time as a teacher, doing the shopping, cooking the food, and being both parents to two teenage boys jumping at the bit of life and embarking on the paths of the wild ones.  Even more, my dad simply wasn’t ever taught how to nurture or encourage his sons with a look in the eye or a hand on the shoulder saying, “I’m proud of you,” or “I love you.”  Worse, my dad’s own mother left my grandfather when my dad was only twenty-one.  My dad didn’t speak to his mother for fifteen years.  So, there was anger.  And I lived a reckless life, having given God the middle finger at age thirteen after my mother’s accident which left her maimed, ugly, and mentally disturbed.  She was a one-legged crazy woman, and my dad was distant, and often times, angry.  We yelled at each other a lot.  (It is not that way now.  My dad and I love each other and enjoy each other, and it has taken a lot of time and effort to come to understanding each other). 

Now, when I was twenty-two, the Lord Jesus brought me to himself in a deep act of repentance over my prodigal life of squandering my body, my mind, and my father’s hard-earned money.  I fell in love with Jesus.  I could picture him standing before me in his Jewish prayer shawl, and in messianic glory, smiling at me, loving me.  But—understanding God as Father was very difficult for me.  This is understandable, yes?  I believed in the Trinity, of course, and therefore God the Father loves me, even as does the Son and also the Spirit.  But we humans are a curious lot, full of emotions and hangups, which keep us from absorbing the truth deep in the recesses of the soul. 

Here’s the skinny: I’ve always had a hard time feeling loved and accepted by God.  It has been both and emotional and intellectual struggle, even though it is a mere sliver of a thought and feeling: does God really love me?  Does God really accept me?  Does God truly delight in me?  Reflecting on this, I think this comes from my understanding of God’s electing grace as taught in terms of God choosing some, but not others for salvation.  Reluctantly, I accepted this notion, and eventually became of champion of it; but it seems to me, that it always left me with wandering doubts.  For example, I remember a friend telling me, “Chris, I just want to say to you that God delights in you.”  I recall thinking, “Well, true, but…”  It seemed ridiculous: God delights in me?  I’m a wretched sinner.  How could God possibly delight in me? 

Philosophy for the Wounded Soul   

God’s Simplicity & Goodness

Now, some twenty-two years later after coming to know Christ, as a student at SES I have had the privilege of studying the nature of God in a unique way as never before.  Dr. J.T. Bridges’ class, Systematic Theology 502, has us reading on God’s metaphysical nature and also his attributes.  You may have also read Dr. Brian Huffling’s article on the non-moral goodness of God, where he tells us of the classical view of the doctrine of God: God is simple, eternal, and immutable.  That is, God’s being simple means he is not composed of parts.  In other words, God’s attributes of love, goodness, mercy, justice, and holiness, for example, are ‘convertible.’  This means that these attributes all flow in and out of each other, and while they are distinct, they are also similar.  Like the two natures of Christ (human and divine), they are inseparable, yet distinct.  For example, God’s goodness is convertible with his being (his essence and existence).  God’s Being is his Goodness.  God is Goodness itself. 

Now, how does this understanding of God’s goodness bring healing to the troubled soul in contemplating the love of God for the sinful human being?  Well, God, in his goodness, desires to share his goodness with all creatures.  God, in his activity of life, by sustaining the being and existence of all that is, continually draws all of creation to himself.  This is because God wants to share himself (his goodness) with others.  So, God, in his goodness, wants me to return to him and share in his goodness, love and mercy. 

And when I think of God being simple, eternal, and immutable, I’m drawn to worship.  Further, in my studies as SES, we have gleaned from the works of French philosopher Jacques Maritain, who describes the Beatific Vision (the blessed beholding of God ‘face to face’) as the highest degree of human experience.  It goes without saying that this is so, but as I contemplated all of this —and for an exam no less!—I started to weep, leaving tear drops on my class notes.  I began to feel overwhelmed at the thought of being in the immediate presence of the simple, eternal, immutable God.  God, who is pure and undivided and complete in himself (simplicity), and who is eternal and outside of time, and who dwells in the eternal now, and who is unchanging in his essence (immutability), and therefore unchanging in his willing the good of his creatures, really, truly loves me.  I began to drown in this idea of beholding God face to face. 

Understanding all of this, my heart began to pound in my chest, and I leaped from my chair, pacing around my study.  Overwhelmed, I placed my hands on my book shelf, and bowed my head and breathed deeply.  Then, I turned around and raised my hands toward heaven and said, “God!  I love you!”  And with tears streaming down my face, and my heart pounding in my chest, I worshipped the Lord, and experienced his presence, in what it seems like was a mystical experience.  This latter notion has been foreign to me, and a brief note in appropriate here. 

Mystical Experience

Mystical experience of God, in my view, has been understood as out of the bounds of reason and rational faith, and therefore to be eschewed as nonsense.  Until now.  Of course, mystical experience is above reason.  And that’s a good thing.  Maritain, in his book, The Degrees of Knowledge, writes of faith as a mode of knowing differentiated from reason as a mode of knowing (I owe this insight to Dr. Bridges for his notes in ST 502).  Faith, writes Maritain, is composed of three different aspects: faith & reason together, faith alone, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit in mystical experience.  First, faith & reason working in unison give us theological truths ascertained from divine revelation (Scripture).  This is where we get systematic theology, for example (what Scripture says about God, man, Christ, etc.). 

The second aspect of faith as a mode of knowing—faith alone—is where we behold the mysteries of the Christian faith such as the Trinity, Incarnation, and Atonement, or even the nature of Scripture.  Human reason simply cannot fully apprehend God as three in person, yet one in essence.  There is no analogy of the Triune God that does not ultimately break down in one way or another.  Thus, faith is a mode of knowing the doctrine of the Trinity.  It is known by faith alone. 

Third, there is mystical experience of God.  Mystical experience is not something I know a whole lot about, but I am open to the idea because of Maritain’s wisdom that faith and reason have an appropriate relationship with each other, and that faith as a mode of knowing encompasses all of human experience, including the non-normative, subjective experience that comes from prayer, meditation, fellowship, and worship.  I believe I have experienced this in minimal form by the grace of the Holy Spirit, and I am encouraged in my relationship with God that such experiences of the Divine Love are available to me, especially through prayer and meditation.  I truly look forward to the early morning hours.  I get to be with God.  And, God desires for me to be with him in this intimate way!  This has brought much healing to my wounded soul.  I had a dream recently where I saw the Lord and I longed for him with tears and I said to him, “You’re my Father!”  The Lord is good, friends.  And God is love. 

Quiescence

There is more that I could say about the benefits of studying philosophy at SES.  At this seminary, we study a lot of the thought of Thomas Aquinas.  Sadly, Aquinas and other Thomist philosophers seem to be left in the lurch by many in evangelical philosophy and theology.  For example, have you ever heard of quiescence?  I had not, until taking Dr. Bridges’ class.  Quiescence is Aquinas’ conception of free will as it relates to the sovereignty of God.  Evangelicals talk of Open Theism, Middle Knowledge (Molinism), Compatibilism, Determinism, and more.  But quiescence?  It is the basic idea that when a sinner stops loving their sin, and stops resisting the gospel, the Lord then infuses grace into that person, giving them the ability to repent and believe the good news of Jesus.  While defending this doctrine isn’t the purpose of this brief tale of my spiritual journey, I find that Aquinas’ view of quiescence is consistent with God’s goodness, which you’ll recall is that God actively wills all to himself, who is Goodness itself. 

Where Will You Study?

If you are thinking of studying philosophy or entering an apologetics program, I can think of no better place than SES.  I have to tell you that I was skeptical of the good of SES at the beginning, because I was a thorough-going presuppositionalist and Calvinist.  All this talk of Thomas Aquinas.  Good gravy, do they study other people?  Well, yes!  Still, I’ve seen the good of classical apologetics, and classical theism (Calvin was a classical theist, and some Reformed scholastics did believe in free will) and it has changed my life.  I love God.  I can say that now, with full assurance.  And I can believe wholeheartedly that God loves me and delights in me.  God, the simple, eternal, immutable Being who is intimately united to the essence of my own being, continually draws me to himself.  One day, I’ll experience him in the Beatific Vision.  This anticipation fills me with joy, allows me to suffer pain with patience, and moves me along the path toward holiness.  And yes, all of this came from studying theology and philosophy. 

Classical Education & Philosophical Inquiry

One thing I find gratifying about teaching my children the classical method is how simple lessons in grammar can lead to a primer on philosophical thinking which will give my children a taste of the questions they will ask when they are more developed in their frontal lobes and can ask questions about why things are they way they are.  That’s my simple definition of philosophy: asking why things are they way they are.  Philosophy asks the Big Questions of Life (God, meaning, suffering, & human destiny).   

Hence, philosophy takes into account the whole of human experience, from extra-mental reality involving the world “out there” to the inner workings of the human being as a person who thinks, feels & emotes, makes decisions by means of a will, and wonders about the big questions of life such as the existence of God, human longing for meaning & happiness, evil, and questions about how we should live.  Lastly, I think this all leads to Jesus Christ, it is  in Him that all human longing is met, and it is in Him that provides the exemplar of how a human being should live: in faithful obedience to God in a relationship based upon the deepest of mutual love for the loved and the beloved. 

Today, while using Memoria Press’ English Grammar Recitation (Workbook Three) with my eldest child, we looked at basic grammar questions about sentences, subjects & predicates, parts of speech, and the different types of nouns.  It is the nouns that got us to talking about the Big Questions of Life. 

Under the question, “What is a noun?” we find an answer that is more specific that what most people utter from rote; and it lends itself to philosophical inquiry to boot.  The typical rote answer to the question, “What is a noun?” is “A person place or thing.”  But that is not quite right, and this is no distinction without a difference either.  The correct answer is, “A noun is a word that names a person place, thing, or idea.”  The difference is that nouns aren’t things, and things aren’t nouns.  Rather, nouns are words that name things.  This is important to recognize because a proper philosophy of language has a proper philosophy of reality.  And a knowledge of reality is something that seems reclusive to Western culture today, not the least responsible for which is professional philosophers who combine theories of reality with “neuro-something” or “cognitive-something” and concoct a notion of reality that is replete with notions of relativism and skepticism. 

Nouns are words that describe things.  Things truly exist, and human use words to describe them.   In our discussion, I mentioned to my eldest that a tree, for example is referred to one way in English, but as Baum in German.  And yet, both words refer to the same thing.  Next, the following questions concerned concrete and abstract nouns.  Concrete nouns are perceived by the senses (trees, dogs, 70% cacao dark chocolate, Cabernet Sauvignon, smoked gouda cheese), whereas abstract nouns are not perceived by the senses (truth, goodness, and beauty). 

The key word I honed in on with my child was ‘perceived.’  “Sense-perception,” I said, is what we use when we engage in the natural sciences.”  We talked about the five senses, and then I added that by using our sense-perception to detect concrete nouns (sensible things), we can also know that there are abstract nouns that exist as well.  On this, Thomas Aquinas’ epistemology is of help.  Thomist realism starts with the reliability of sense-perception, and moves up a ladder of abstraction from the empirical sciences, toward mathematics, to a philosophy of nature and metaphysics (which seeks to understand the essence of things). 

I told my daughter that in the natural sciences, we can know causes based upon their effects.  And from the effect of the world, we can know that there is a First Cause (that finite, contingent beings are in need of an origination by means of a necessary being). 

What I find most impressive about the classical method of education is how it gives children a solid foundation for understanding language, and gets them thinking logically, analytically, and philosophically at an early age.  I was really surprised to hear my daughter mention the word “essence” and talk about a “state of being.”  While that’s not quite the correct definition of “essence,” it’s still a key indicator that a knowledge of grammar leads to metaphysical inquiry, which leads us to God.   “Where did you learn that word?” I ask.  She wasn’t sure, but perhaps she’d overhead Daddy using that word around the house. 

In either case, it’s fascinating how the classical method fosters such good discussions about simple things like nouns, but leads us to an understanding of how things truly are.  And that is much needed today, as people seem to have an abysmal understanding of what things really are based upon sense-perception.  Eliminating the reliability of sense-perception, and hence, the nature of reality, leads to many social maladies, and much of the identity crises today are rooted in the subjectivist approach to the whole of reality. 

The good news is, our grammar can lead us in the right direction, talking into account abstract notions of truth, goodness and beauty, climbing up the ladder of abstraction by means of the laws of cause and effect, and ultimately to God Himself, who is the Highest Good of all humans being.