Wisdom and Worldview (Goldsworthy)

Here’s a nice section from Graeme Goldsworthy’s book Gospel and Wisdom:

“The Christian rejects this [naturalistic] assumption of a universe which is shut up against the God of the Bible.  He accepts rather that God is self-sufficient, personal, and in complete control.  While the atheist view of reality is a closed system of cause and effect, the Christian view is a universe in which cause and effect are established by God and open to his sovereign intervention.  We need the revelation of God in order to know that the universe is in fact like this.  We do not know all the answers yet.  We never will know all the answers because some can be known by God alone. Because God has revealed that the ultimate meaning of reality lies beyond the ability of man to discover for himself, we know that empirical knowledge is always in that sense defective.  What man discovers by himself, and what he reasons from it, will never bring him to understand God and to know him.  Thus, we have returned to Paul’s assertion that worldly wisdom cannot know God (1 Cor. 1:21, compare 2:12).

The Bible characteristically looks at reality in terms of relationships.  Because God is the creator of all things, these relationships must begin with God.  To understand what it means to be human we must know man as image of God.  The non-Christian can describe many things about man in a way that is useful within a restricted framework.  But while we can look at man purely in terms of structure, chemistry, anatomy and so on, none of these approaches can show us the real nature of man.  They do not provide a satisfactory explanation of the uniqueness of man in the purposes of God.  They can never discover and pin-point the exclusive trait of humanity created in the image of God.  From a biblical point of view, then, the definition of man is primarily a definition of his relationship to God….”

This quote is taken from The Goldsworthy Trilogy, pages 367-8.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

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“What is Man?” and Apologetics (Pascal)

As I’ve mentioned a few times here before, Douglas Groothuis’ Christian Apologetics is one of my favorite books on this topic.  I don’t agree with every part of it, but every part of it is insightful and worth reading.  One part that sticks out is the chapter called “Deposed Royalty.”  This chapter is a discussion of Blaise Pascal’s defense of the Christian faith from an anthropological angle.  In other words, one way Pascal aimed to prove the truth of the Christian faith is by arguing that Christianity has the best and most satisfying answer for the fact that man is both wretched and great at the same time.  No other religion can explain this fact nearly as well as Christianity.  Here’s Pascal:

“Man’s greatness and wretchedness are so evident that the true religion must necessarily teach us that there is in man some great principle of greatness and some great principle of wretchedness.””Man’s greatness comes from knowing he is wretched: a tree does not know it is wretched.  Thus it is wretched to know that one is wretched, but there is a greatness in knowing one is wretched.”

Pascal is saying that humans have a sort of “dual nature.”  Here’s how Pascal said it (from God’s perspective):

“…You are no longer in the state in which I made you.  I created man holy, innocent, perfect, I filled him with light and understanding, I showed him my glory and my wondrous works.  Man’s eye then beheld the majesty of God.  He was not then in the darkness that now blinds his sight, nor subject to death and the miseries that afflict him.””But he could not bear such great glory without falling to presumption.  He wanted to make himself his own center and do without my help.  He withdrew himself from my rule, setting himself up as my equal in his desire to find happiness in himself, and I abandoned him to himself.  The creatures who were subject to him I incited to revolt and made his enemies,  so that today man has become like beasts, and is so far apart from me that barely a glimmering idea of his author alone remains of all his dead or flickering knowledge.”

Pascal, of course, says more about this.  But the gist of his apologetic argument is that the philosophers never did reconcile the fact that man is both wretched and great at the same time.  The Christian faith alone gives the best and most plausible reason for why humans are like they are.  Created upright and in God’s image, we fell into sin, and now we are both wretched (sinful) and great (still have a faint reflection of God’s image).  Pascal also noted that humans are redeemable by grace.  Douglas Groothuis summarizes the argument with a Creation-Fall-Incarnation logic:

Humans are 1) wretched because fallen, 2) great because of their unfallen origin and the vestiges of it, and 3) redeemable through the incarnation.

Finally, here’s Pascal’s challenge after talking about the need to answer the “what is man” question:

“Let us examine all the religions of the world on that point and let us see whether any but the Christian religion meets it.”

Pascal’s argument is very much worth considering.  Groothuis did a good job in summarizing it.  If you’re interested, pick up Christian Apologetics and see the chapter called “Deposed Royalty.”  And while you’re at it, check out the other chapters as well!

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

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

The Danger of Idols (Lints)

 Not many people in our American culture worship and bow down to physical images and statues.  Instead, our idols are things like money, entertainment, sports, sex, health, fitness, image, relationships, and work.  But whether the idol is an actual statue or something like football or a flat stomach, the truth is that idols are dangerous and deadly.  Here’s how Richard Lints explains it as he discusses the image of God in man as it relates to idolatry:

“The image finds its flourishing in its relationship to the original.  Creatures find their satisfaction in the God who made them.  The idol represents both a false fulfillment and a perversion or corruption of the creature.  The [biblical] canon goes to great lengths to narrate the tug in human hearts between the living God and the idols who pull them away from the living God.”

“Idols are dangerous in the same way that outside love interests are dangerous to the marriage.  Adulterous liaisons inevitably pull the marriage apart at the seams.  As with adultery, so idolatry is about both wrong beliefs (e.g. a belief about where satisfaction can be found) but more importantly, idolatry is also about corrupted desires (e.g. the desire to get gratification on whatever terms are necessary).

“All idolatry involves error in belief to some extent, if the belief in question is that some creature has a worth enjoyed only by the Creator.  If there is only one God, there is only one object worthy of worship and adoration.  Monotheism and monolatry go hand in hand.  The worship of one God (monolatry) is a necessary consequence of the belief that only one God exists (monotheism).”

These are some profound thoughts about idolatry.  It is dangerous, it is about wrong beliefs, and idolatry is about corrupted desires.  These are things to think about as we fight idolatry and seek to faithfully bear the image of God rather than sinfully bear the image of an idol we’ve made.  As the Apostle John said, Dear children, keep yourselves from idols (1 John 5:21 NIV).

The above slightly edited quote is found on page 39 of Lints’ Identity and Idolatrywhich, by the way, is one of the best books on idolatry that I’ve ever read.  I highly recommend it!

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Point of Contact

He is There and He is Not Silent Here’s a note from Francis Schaeffer on the point of contact between Christians and non-Christians:

“As a Christian approaches the non-Christian, he still has a starting place from which to know the person in a way that the non-Christian does not have, because he knows who the person is.  One of the most brilliant men I have ever worked with sat in my room in Switzerland crying, simply because he had been a real humanist and existentialist.  He had gone from his home in a South American country to Paris, because this was the center of all this great humanistic thought.  But he found it was so ugly.  The professors cared nothing.  It was inhuman in its humanism.  He was ready to commit suicide when he came to us.  He said, ‘How do you love me, how do you start?’  I said I could start.  ‘I know who you are,’ I told him, ‘because you are made in the image of God.’  We went on from there.”

“Even with a non-Christian, the Christian has some way to begin: to go from the façade of the outward to the reality of the inward, because no matter what a man says he is, we know who he really is.  He is made in the image of God; that’s who he is.  And we know that down there somewhere – no matter how wooden he is on the outside, or how much he has died on the outside, no matter if he believes he is only a machine – we know that beyond that façade there is the person who is a verbalizer and who loves and wants to be loved.  And no matter how often he says he is amoral, in reality he has moral motions.  We know that because he has been made in the image of God.  Hence, even with a non-Christian, the Christian has a way to start, from the outside to the inside, in a way that non-Christians simply do not have” (p. 82-3).

Schaeffer, He Is There and He Is Not Silent.

shane lems

Sanctification: A Slow Work of God’s Grace

Faith and Life  The Westminster Larger Catechism, among other things, says that sanctification is “a work of God’s grace” wherein his people “more and more die unto sin and rise unto newness of life” (Q/A 75).  Here’s how B. B. Warfield concludes a sermon on this topic from 2 Thessalonians 5:22-23.  This is an outstanding and much-needed reminder to be patient with God’s process of making us more like Christ.

“Certainly the gradualness of this process ought not to disturb us. It may be inexplicable to us that the Almighty God acts by way of process. But that is revealed to us as His chosen mode of operation in every sphere of His work, and should not surprise us here. He could, no doubt, make the soul perfect in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye; just as He could give us each a perfect body at the very instant of our believing. He does not.

The removal of the stains and effects of sin—in an evil heart and in a sick and dying body—is accomplished in a slow process. We all grow sick and die—though Jesus has taken on His broad shoulders (among the other penalties of sin) all our sicknesses and death itself. And we still struggle with the remainders of indwelling sin; though Jesus has bought for us the sanctifying operations of the Spirit. To us it is a weary process. But it is God’s way. And He does all things well. And the weariness of the struggle is illuminated by hope.

After a while!—we may say; after a while! Or as Paul puts it: Faithful is He that calls us—who also will do it. He will do it! And so, after a while, our spirit, and soul and body shall be made blamelessly perfect, all to be so presented before our Lord, at that Day. Let us praise the Lord for the glorious prospect!”

B. B. Warfield, Faith and Life (Edinburgh, Banner of Truth, 1990), 372.

rev shane lems

How Do Human Beings Differ From Animals?

In one section of his excellent book, Seven Truths That Changed The World, Ken Samples explains how human beings differ from animals.  It might seem like a no-brainer to some, but this is important to remember when evolutionary theories are creeping into Christian circles and churches.  (Note: as usual, I’ve edited this list to keep it brief, though I recommend the entire section and book.)

“Specific qualities and traits set people apart from all other creatures.  According to historic Christianity, and specifically in light of the imago Dei, these acute differences are expected.”

1) Human beings have an inherent spiritual and religious nature.  Nearly everyone pursues some form of spiritual truth.  People generally have deep-seated religious beliefs and engage in intricate rituals.  This defining characteristic of humankind is so apparent that some have designated humans as homo religiosus (religious person).  Though animals can be intelligent, they show no sign of spirituality or of concern with ultimate issues.

2) Human beings possess unique intellectual, cultural, and communicative abilities.  Humans are thinkers capable of abstract reasoning and able to recognize, apply, and communicate the foundational principles of logic.  Only human minds develop propositions, formulate arguments, draw inferences, recognize universal principles, and value logical validity, coherence, and truth.

3) Human beings are conscious of time, reality, and truth.  Humans alone recollect the past, recognize the present, and anticipate the future.  Only human beings pursue the truth, which has led to the founding and development of philosophy, science, mathematics, logic, the arts, and a religious worldview.

4) Human beings possess a conscience, identity, a value system, and legislate moral laws for society.  People have an inner sense of moral right and wrong or good and bad (conscience).  They deliberate about moral choices, feel the pull of prescriptive moral obligation, and conform their lives according to a system of ethical conduct.

5) Human beings are uniquely inventive and technological.  Human innovation has not only lengthened the human lifespan but also brought the world to the brink of nuclear destruction.  In this sobering and humbling fact, people once again prove themselves unique among all living creatures.

6) Human beings possess an intense curiosity to explore and understand the created realm.  Birds may look to the star patterns in the sky to guide them in migrations, but humans seek to comprehend the source of starlight and what lies beyond it.

7) Human beings possess aesthetic taste and appreciation for more than just practical purposes.  People distinctly create, recognize, and appreciate beauty.  Humans often create because they are moved by a deep and mysterious sense of the beautiful.

“These seven characteristics clearly place human beings in a different category from the rest of Earth’s creatures.  In many respects humans are different in kind, not just in degree, from the animals.  And the distinct attributes of humankind comport well with what Scripture reveals concerning the imago Dei.”

Kenneth Samples, Seven Truths That Changed The World (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2012), chapter 12.

rev shane lems

Evolution and the Image of God

Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 2: God and Creation For many good reasons, solid Christian theologians have sharply criticized and rejected Darwinian macro-evolution as an unchristian and unbiblical teaching.  Darwinism doesn’t square with the biblical record nor does it mesh with biblical doctrine.  I bring up this topic because a friend pointed me to a recent article on evolution by a retired Christian Reformed Church pastor.  His argument was thus: since evolution is true (the scientists say so!), we have to reformulate all our key doctrines to fit the evolutionary paradigm – from sin to salvation to eschatology.  You can find the article online by searching “Tomorrow’s Theology” and “evolution.”

Suffice it to say the article is extremely problematic and even outside the bounds of Christian and Reformed orthodoxy.  To say that Paul was wrong about Adam being the “first man” is not in line with historical Christian doctrine!  To say that Christ’s human nature evolved from fish and monkeys certainly isn’t a Christian teaching!  If we would reformulate all our doctrines to harmonize with evolution, we would be left with something other than Christianity.

In light of this article, I found it helpful to go back and see what some older Reformed teachers have written about evolution.  Here’s good section on this topic in volume 2 of Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics (p. 519-520).  In this section, Bavinck wrote about the theory of evolution and the image of God in man (Gen. 9:6 & James 3:9).  Especially pay attention to the last paragraph.

“Darwinism above all fails to provide an explanation of humanness in terms of its psychic dimension.  Darwin began with the attempt to derive all the mental phenomena to be found in humans (consciousness, language, religion, morality, etc.) from phenomena occurring in animals, and many others have followed him in this regard.  But up until now these attempts have not been successful either.  Like the essence of energy and matter, the origin of movement, the origination of life, and teleology, so also human consciousness, language, freedom of the will, religion, and morality still belong to the enigmas of the world that await resolution.  Ideas, which are entirely mental, relate to the brain in a very different way from the way bile relates to the liver and urine to the kidneys.  In the words of Max Muller, language is and remains the Rubicon between us and the animal world.”

“The psychological explanation of religion is untenable.  And the derivation of morality from human social instincts fails to do justice to the authority of the moral law, to the categorical character of the moral imperative, to the ‘imperatives’ of the good, to conscience, responsibility, the sense of sin, repentance, remorse, and punishment.  Indeed, although Darwinism as such is not wholly identical with materialism, it nevertheless tends in that direction, finds there its most significant support, and thus also paves the way for the subversion of religion and morality and the destruction of our humanness.  There is no advantage for people to say that it is better to be a highly developed animal than a fallen human.  The theory of the animal ancestry of humans violates the image of God in man and degrades the human into an image of the orangutan and chimpanzee.  From the standpoint of evolution humanity as the image of God cannot be maintained.  The theory of evolution forces us to return to creation as Scripture presents it to us.”

True, Christians might be called idiots and dolts for firmly rejecting Darwinism.  But it won’t be the first time we’ve been called names for holding tightly to biblical truth and rejecting what is false.  And it won’t be the last!  Our duty is to stand firm and hold to the traditions taught by the apostles (2 Thess. 2:14) – even when it is unpopular and counter-cultural.

rev shane lems