Faith in Faith? (Schaeffer)

The God Who is There Many people today talk about the need for faith.  “You just gotta have faith” is Hallmark card spirituality, as if faith is some kind of inner strength that will get you through hard times.  Diagnosed with a serious illness?  Just believe, and you’ll make it.  Have a mountain in life to climb?  Have faith – you’ll be able to climb it!   I like how Francis Schaeffer critiqued this unbiblical view of faith:

Probably the best way to describe this concept of modern theology is to say that it is faith in faith, rather than faith directed to an object which is actually there.  Some years ago at a number of universities I spoke on the topic ‘Faith v. Faith,’ speaking on the contrast between Christian faith and modern faith.  The same word, ‘faith,’ is used, but has an opposite meaning.  Modern man cannot talk about the object of his faith, only about the faith itself.  So he can discuss the existence of his faith and its ‘size’ as it exists against all reason, but that is all.  Modern man’s faith turns inward.

In Christianity the value of faith depends upon the object towards which the faith is directed.  So it looks outward to the God who is there, and to the Christ who in history died upon the cross once for all, finished the work of atonement, and on the third day rose again in space and in time.  This makes Christian faith open to discussion and verification.

On the other hand, the new theology is in a position where faith is introverted because it has no certain object, and where the preaching of the kerygma is infallible since it is not open to rational discussion. This position, I would suggest, is actually a greater despair and darkness than the position of those modern men who commit suicide.

Francis Schaeffer, The God Who is There, p. 84-5.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI. 54015

A Christian View of Knowledge (K. Samples)

One of my favorite books on apologetics and worldview is A World of Difference by Kenneth Samples.  I’ve mentioned it here on the blog from time to time; while I was recently flipping through it again, I re-read a helpful discussion of the Christian, biblical view of knowledge (Christian epistemology).  I’ll summarize it here:

1) Extreme skepticism is self-defeating.  Like the universal denial of truth, extreme skepticism with regard to knowledge is self-defeating and therefore false.  The skeptic’s reasoning (‘one cannot know’) backfires for surely he at least claims to know that he doesn’t know – an assertion which is self-referentially incoherent or absurd.

2) Knowledge is possible with God as its source and foundation.  The Bible indicates that human beings can attain genuine knowledge of God, the self, and the world (Ps. 19:1-4, Acts 17:27-28, Rom. 1:18-21).  The Creator sustains the universe and the mind and sensory organs of man in such a way that they correspond with each other and him.  Because man is created in God’s image, human beings can trust in the reliability of the basic process of knowing.

3) Knowledge is directly connected to God’s revelatory acts.  God’s general and special revelation make knowledge available.  In other words, people can come to ‘know’ through exercising their God-given rational capacities, through empirical observation.

4) Knowledge is properly justified true belief.  1) Knowledge involves belief.  It is a necessary part of knowing, for no one can know something unless he believes it. 2) A person can only know things that are true.  An individual can think she knows something to be true but, in fact, be wrong.  3) A person can believe something to be true, that is in fact true, but it wouldn’t constitute knowledge if it lacks proper justification.  Knowledge involves some form of confirmation or evidence.

5) Human knowledge is limited and affected by sin.  1) Human beings, though quite well-endowed intellectually by way of bearing God’s image, are nevertheless finite creatures by nature.  As a result, unlike God, they have limitations with regard to knowledge and rational comprehension in the essence of their being.  2) Human reason has been negatively affected by sin.  To some degree sin impairs human intelligence and rationality.  (However, sin does not effect the laws of logic or of correct reasoning.)

6) The Christian faith involves knowledge and is compatible with reason.  1) The Christian faith affirms that there is an objective source and foundation for knowledge, reason, and rationality; that basis is found in a personal and rational God.  2) Christian truth-claims – though they often transcend finite human comprehension – do not violate the basic laws or principles of reason.  3) The Bible encourages the attainment of knowledge, wisdom, and understanding.  4) The truths of the Christian faith correspond to and are supported by things such as evidence, facts, and reason.  Biblical faith can be defined as confident trust in a reliable source (God or Christ).  Reason and faith function in a complementary fashion.

For the full discussion, including some more Scripture references, see pages 78-83 of A World of Difference.

shane lems
hammond, wi

The Biological Basis For Religion?

As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, Douglas Groothuis’ Christian Apologetics has many strong points.  One part I appreciated was his section on neurotheology, which is the study of the biological basis for religious beliefs.  Some scientists today believe that religious beliefs (e.g. belief in God) can be explained “on the basis of certain functions in the brain.”  In other words, the only reason people have religious beliefs is because of the way our brains work – there is no external or objective basis for religion and faith.  Religion is a figment of our biological and neuro makeup – so they say.

The first thing Groothuis mentions about this is that it is begging the question since these scientists start with a materialistic presupposition: “Since we know there is no God and no sacred realm (all is material), we need to explain (and explain away) why so many have religious experiences.”  This presupposition seriously flaws their thesis.

Another thing Groothuis says is that this is no threat to the faith since we are material as well as spiritual beings.  The mind interacts with the body – Scripture confirms that.  We shouldn’t be surprised to find that brain states correlate with religious beliefs and experiences.

Groothuis continues:

“There is another problem for this reductive view: it works as a boomerang against itself.  If religious beliefs can be explained away as illusory simply because their neurological components (physical states) are identified, we must, by the force of the same argument, explain away as illusory the belief that religious beliefs are illusory (there is no God) because they too are merely neurological states.  This kind of reduction and refutation would extend to all beliefs that can be identified with brain activity.  But this conclusion results in an epistemological nihilism that is unsupportable logically and existentially.”

“It speaks volumes to note that while millions of dollars in grant money goes to explaining the neurological basis of religion, nothing goes to explain the neurological basis of atheism or skepticism.  Apparently, atheism and skepticism are innocent until proven guilty, whereas religious beliefs are just plain guilty.”

Well said!  These are great things to remember the next time you run across an article or person who says religion is a figment of the mind.  It may at first glance sound like a decent thesis, but there are huge flaws in this reasoning, and it comes not from bias free scientific studies, but a materialistic and anti-Christian point of view.

Scripture’s teaching makes much more sense – that because there is a God, and because he created us in his image, we have a “sense of the divine,” as Calvin called it.  Sadly, many people suppress this truth in unrighteousness.

The above quote was taken from Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, p.384.

shane lems

Christianity: Intellectual Suicide? (Groothuis)






“Some [people] refuse to give Christianity the time of day because they deem it anti-intellectual – a religion that values ignorance and credulity far above critical intelligence.  In his satirical book, “The Devil’s Dictionary” (1911), Ambrose Bierce defined faith as, ‘Belief without evidence in what is told by one who speaks without knowledge, of things without parallel.’  In a book on how to leave one’s religion behind, Marlene Winell writes of a young man named Sandy who was in her ‘religious recovery support group,’ who lost his faith in college through an encounter with an anti-intellectual pastor.  The young man was experiencing doubts as a result of what he was exposed to in college.  Instead of addressing these questions head-on, the pastor kept changing the subject.  One day, when pressed by the young man, the pastor replied, ‘Sandy, it’s about time we call this what it is – sin.’  The young man left the church and Christianity, being unwilling to follow ‘a religion that made thinking a sin.’”

“No one should be willing to follow a religion that decapitates critical thinking.  Anti-intellectualism has quite a grip in many aspects of American culture, not only in the Christian church.  The reasons for the irrational faith shown in some aspects of American Christianity are numerous and will not concern us here except to say that none of the reasons flow from the Bible itself or from the best and truest elements of the Christian tradition.  While some have pitted faith against reason, the Bible does not endorse blind leaps of faith in the dark but rather speaks of the knowledge of God gained through various rational means.  Instead of a ‘leap’ of faith, it commends a well-informed and volitional ‘step’ of faith. …We find then that Christianity should encourage a robust life of the mind and that many philosophers today are owning and defending Christianity philosophically.  There is therefore no reason to refuse to consider Christianity on the (false) basis that in demands intellectual suicide” (p. 95-96, 98).

Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics (Downers’ Grove, IVP, 2011).

rev shane lems
covenant presbyterian church (OPC)
hammond, wi

Jesus, Creed, Knowledge, and Faith

 Most of us understand that the phrase “No creed but Christ” is very unhelpful for two reasons: 1) it is illogical because it is creed in and of itself, and 2) one has to define “Christ,” and in so doing, the result will be something like a creedal statement.  Geerhardus Vos tackled this unhelpful anti-creedal attitude which was evidently around 100 years ago:

“Faith presupposes knowledge, because it needs a mental complex, person or thing, to be occupied about.  Therefore, the whole modern idea of preaching Jesus, but preaching him without a creed, is not only theologically, not merely scripturally, but psychologically impossible in itself.”

And more.

“The very names by means of which Jesus would have to be presented to people are nuclei of creed and doctrine.  If it were possible to eliminate this, the message would turn to pure magic, but even the magic requires some name-sound and cannot be wholly described as preaching without a creed.  The vogue which this programme has acquired is to some extent due to the unfortunate, and altogether undeserved, flavor clinging to the term ‘creed,’ as though this necessarily meant a minutely worked out theological structure of belief.  That is not meant, but belief there must be before faith can begin to function, and belief includes knowledge [Matt. 8.10, Lk. 7.9].  This knowledge may have been gathered gradually, almost imperceptibly, from countless impressions received during a brief or longer period of time, but epistemologically it does not differ from any other kind of mental act however acquired.  To be sure, mere knowledge is not equivalent to full-orbed faith, it must develop into trust, before it is entitled to that name.”

For more on this from Vos, see the context of page 389 in Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments.

shane lems

The Jefferson Bible: American Religion

I’m sure many have heard about the Jefferson Bible of the early 19th century.  This is the (in)famous edition of the NT that has all the miracles and supernatural events snipped out.  In his own words, Thomas Jefferson said “it is a paradigma of his [Jesus’] doctrines, made by cutting the texts out of the book and arranging them on the paper of a blank book, in a certain order of time or subject” (p. 18).  In Jefferson’s view, Jesus’ teachings have been “disfigured by the corruptions of schismatizing followers” who perverted the “simple doctrines” he taught by platonizing them, “frittering them into subtilties (sic) and obscuring them with jargon” (p. 16).  That sounds familiar – I’m thinking of Dan Brown or Deepak Chopra or higher criticism of 100 years ago or the Jesus Seminar.  There’s a lot to discuss here!

Jefferson believed that religion (including Christianity) was strictly a personal, private, inner matter.  Here’s how he said it.

“Say nothing of my religion.  It is known to my God and myself alone.  Its evidence before the world is to be sought in my life; if it has been honest and dutiful to society, the religion which has regulated it cannot be a bad one” (p. 10).

Jefferson’s “religion” excluded the resurrection of Jesus – the stone was not rolled away.  In fact, he ends his cut-and-paste-NT with this verse:

“There laid they Jesus: and rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed” (p. 168).

Jesus died.  The end.  However, because Jefferson believed in the moral teaching of Jesus, he considered himself a good Christian.

“To the corruptions of Christianity I am indeed opposed; but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself.  I am a Christian only in the sense in which he wished anyone to be; sincerely attached to his doctrines, in preference to all others; ascribing to himself every human excellence, and believing he never claimed any other.”

You get the picture.  The NT has been distorted.  Though Jesus is still dead, he was a good guy worth following; if you do your best to live like him, you’re a Christian.  And keep your religion to yourself, please, I’ll keep mine to myself.

Of course I don’t have time to go into it all here now, but I do recommend this “Bible” simply for the fact that it is a great example of American religion.  It is worthwhile to have a basic understanding of these things so we can better engage religious people around us and tell them the biblical truth that we didn’t make up, the truth that is a public fact of history, the truth that we have no business altering, cutting, or pasting: Jesus, the eternal Son of God and savior of sinners, came to earth, lived a perfect life, died a substitutionary death on the cross, and rose again the third day to destroy the forces of sin, darkness, and hell.

This is not my opinion, it’s not a private value, not an inner hunch, not something in my heart, but a true fact to be proclaimed publicly, believed in, and lived according to in every area of life, private and public.

shane lems

Lazy Christian Minds?

 Here’s a helpful section from Mike Horton’s Gospel Commission

“Lazy minds breed lazy hearts and hands.  The greatest threat to Christianity is never vigorous intellectual criticism but a creeping senility that transforms truths into feelings, public claims into private experiences, and facts into mere values.  Christianity is either true or false, but it is not irrational.  If its claims are not objectively true, then they are not subjectively useful.  If our only reason for believing that Jesus is alive is that ‘he lives within my heart,’ then, as Paul said, ‘our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain….’ (1 Cor. 15.14-15, 17, 19).”

“Faith is not an arbitrary decision but a gracious gift of God that comes through hearing and understanding Christ’s person and work.  It’s certainly true that faith is trust in a person, but we cannot trust a person without knowing who he is and what he has done that is worthy of our confidence.  Faith is more than knowing and assenting to facts, but it is not less.  Even repentance means ‘change of mind.’  Before we can bear the fruit of repentance in godly living, our minds have to be changed.  We must recover our distinctively biblical commitment to rigorous, inquisitive, and persuasive thinking before there can be a genuine renewal of Christian conviction, faith, repentance, and discipleship.  It is time once again to love God with our minds.  It is surely not enough to know the truth, but it is the unavoidable place to start.”

Michael Horton, The Gospel Commission (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011), 113.

shane lems