Creation Ex Nihilo: Worldview Implications (Samples)

A World of Difference: Putting Christian Truth-Claims to the Worldview Test From time to time I run into people who believe that God is part of the world, or the world is part of God.  This is pantheism – something movies like Avatar and religions like Eastern mysticism teach.  Others believe that God and matter are co-eternal (Mormons, Greek mythology, etc.) or that good and evil are co-eternal (gnostics and some branches of the occult).  Still others, like Buddhists, talk about a single organism of all sentient life (which is monism).  A sizable number of America’s founding fathers believed that God was a divine watchmaker who made the universe and then stepped back to let it wind down (this is called deism). Some today believe that all things came to exist by quantum fluctuation or a big bang.  The list goes on.

Historic Christianity, however, doesn’t teach those things.  The Bible teaches that the triune God created all things out of nothing and that though he is still intimately involved in creation (contra deism), he is distinct from it (contra pantheism).  Here are some important worldview implications of the Christian doctrine of creatio ex nihilo (creation out of nothing).  They are taken from Kenneth Samples’ A World of Difference.

1) The universe is not an extension or emanation of God’s essence or being.

2) God created a universe with a distinct existence of its own (though always dependent upon God’s power for its continuance).

3) The world is a distinct reality that cannot rightly be denied.

4) The world is a finite and contingent creation of God and therefore not a proper object of worship.

5) Matter was created by God and is therefore not eternal (nor the sole reality).

6) The universe is not self-sufficient, self-explanatory, or self-sustaining.

7) Everything has value and meaning as implied by the doctrine of creation.

8) The natural, material, and physical universe was created by a supernatural, personal divine agent.

9) God’s creation of the world from nothing demonstrates his complete power and control over all things (his sovereign lordship).

10) God is both transcendent and immanent.

11) God not only created the universe, but also continually sustains its existence.

12) God created all things, not out of need or desperation but as an act of divine freedom (Given the Triune nature of the Christian God).

13) God made the universe as a very good creation.

14) A creation out of nothing excludes any preexistent or chaotic contingent entities.

15) The world was created by God with rich natural and living resources to be used wisely by human beings for the purpose of sustaining and enhancing human lives.

These are some excellent points that show the depth of Christian creational theology.  Even more, these truths lead us to worship our triune God, creator, and redeemer as is so clear in the choruses of Revelation, specifically 4:11 and 5:12.

Note: the above quotes in Samples’ book also include brief explanations.  For more info, see pages 161-162 of A World of Difference.

(This is a repost from February, 2012)

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

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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

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

The Worldview of Naturalism

In Western culture, one popular worldview is that of naturalism.  Naturalism is the worldview that believes, in a word, that nature is all there is.  This worldview “regards the natural, material, and physical universe as the only reality.”  Naturalists say the cosmos is a closed system of cause and effect; nothing is beyond nature, there is no supernatural.  Quite obviously, this worldview is diametrically opposed to the historic Christian worldview.

Kenneth Samples has an outstanding chapter on naturalism in his book, A World of Difference: Putting Christian Truth-Claims to the Worldview Test.  In this chapter, Samples lists some typical distinctive features of naturalism.  In the form of a question, what are some beliefs a naturalist holds?

1) Monism. Monism is the metaphysical view that all reality is one thing or stuff.  By rejecting the supernatural, naturalists affirm that ‘everything is composed of natural entities.’  Naturalists agree that the physical universe – with its constituents of matter, energy, time, and space – is the one fundamental reality from which all things are derived.

2) Materialism.  Materialism is a particular type of monism.  This metaphysical view considers everything in the universe to be matter (that is, composed of material objects).  Nonmaterial entities or substances – souls, spirits, and angels – simply do not exist.  And, because the God of the Bible is an immaterial nonphysical being, materialists dismiss God as nonexistent and illusory.

3) Physicalism. Physicalism asserts that what actually exists is ultimately constituted of physical realities.  This theory entails the idea that all realities can be described an explained using only the vocabulary of chemistry and science.  Physicalism outright rejects all forms of mind-body dualism.

4) Scientism.  Scientism asserts that science is either the only reliable method (strong scientism) or the best, most dependable method (weak scientism) for obtaining genuine knowledge.  Naturalists who embrace scientism are convinced that the natural sciences are the only path that lead that lead to knowledge and truth.

5) Darwinian Evolution.  Naturalists assert that all life is the result of purely natural processes.  Evolution as a biological theory asserts that complex life-forms developed from more primitive life through a variety of mechanisms….  Naturalists staunchly defend some form of evolutionary theory because biological evolution is the only naturalistic explanation for life and the appearance of ‘homo sapiens.’

6) Antisupernaturalism. By insisting on natural causes, naturalism by its very definition dismisses the existence of the supernatural realm.   …All events, objects, and phenomena in the world must have purely natural explanations.  As one naturalist put it, ‘Naturalism, in essence, is simply the idea that human beings are completely included in the natural world: there’s nothing supernatural about us.”

7)  Atheism/Agnosticism.  Naturalists are typically atheistic in outlook, believing that no God or gods exist.  Because no supernatural realm exists, there can’t be a supernatural deity to affect the natural universe from the outside.  Atheists believe rather that the human mind invented God and, therefore, he is illusory.

8) Secular humanism.  The philosophical viewpoint of secular humanism strongly embraces all seven previous points that reflect the subcategories or family traits of the naturalist worldview.  This position emphatically opposes belief in God, religion, and anything supernatural.  Some would say therefore that secular humanism can be summed up in the statement: ‘Man is the measure of all things.’”

Though I’ve edited Samples’ points for the sake of length, this is a good summary of the worldview of naturalism.  In the rest of this chapter, Samples goes on to evaluate it by worldview standards: is it logical? coherent? does it have explanatory power? does it address the needs of humanity? (etc.).  You’ll have to read the chapter to see how Samples takes naturalism apart and says it is not a valid worldview and that it cannot stand up to Christianity.  Again, here’s the book: A World of Difference (the above quotes were taken from chapter 12).

rev shane lems

Biblical Support for Christ’s Deity

Without a Doubt: Answering the 20 Toughest Faith Questions In his excellent book, Without a Doubt, Ken Samples provides a brief list of Scripture texts which attest to the deity of Jesus Christ.  This list, as Ken notes, is incomplete, but it is a good start.  Here are some texts you may want to study for the next time you encounter a proponent of one of the modern-day cults (i.e. Jehovah’s Witness, Mormon, etc.) or a theological liberal (i.e. someone who denies the deity of Christ).

Divine titles proclaimed by or attributed to Jesus Christ:  1) God (John 1:1, 18; Rom. 9:5; Titus 2:13; Heb. 1:8), 2) Lord (Mark 12:35-37; John 20:28; Rom. 10:9-13; 1 Cor. 8:5-6), 3) Messiah (Matt. 16:16; Mark 14:61; John 20:31), 4) Son of God (Matt. 11:27; Mark 15:39; John 1:18; Rom 1:4; Gal 4:4), 5) Son of Man (Matt. 16:28; Mark 8:38; 14:62-64; Acts 7:56).

Prerogatives or actions of God in the Old Testament proclaimed by or attributed to Jesus Christ: 1) Worship of God (Is. 45:23/Phil. 2:10-11), 2) Salvation of God (Joel 2:32/Rom. 10:13), 3) Judgment of God (Is. 6:10/John 12:41), 4) Nature of God (Ex. 3:14/John 8:58), 5) Triumph of God (Ps. 68:18/Eph. 4:8).

Divine names, actions, or roles proclaimed by or attributed to Jesus Christ: 1) Creator (John 1:3; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2, 10-12), 2) Sustainer (1 Cor. 8:6; Col 1:17; Heb. 1:3), 3) Universal Ruler (Matt. 28:18; Rom 14:9; Rev. 1:5), 4) Forgiver of sins (Mark 2:5-7; Luke 24:47; Acts 5:31; Col. 3:13), 5) Raiser of the dead (Luke 7:11-17; John 5:23; 6:40), 6) Object of prayer (John 14:14; Acts 1:24; 7:59-60; 1 Cor. 1:2), 7) Object of worship (Matt. 28:16-17; John 5:23; 20:28; Phil. 2:10-11; Heb. 1:6), 8) Object of saving faith (John 14:1; Acts 10:43; 16:31; Rom. 10:8-13), 9) Image and representation of God (Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:3).

Divine attributes or qualities proclaimed by or attributed to Jesus Christ: 1) Eternal existence (John 1:1; 8:58; 1 Cor. 10:4; Col. 1:17; Heb. 13:8), 2) Self-existence (John 1:3; 5:26; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2), 3) Immutability (Heb. 1:10-12; 13:8); 4) Omnipresence (Matt. 18:20; 28:20; Eph. 1:23; 4:10), 5) Omniscience (Mark 2:8; Luke 9:47; John 2:25; Col. 2:3), 6) Omnipotence (John 1:3; 2:19; Col 1:16-17; Heb. 1:2), 7) Sovereignty (Phil. 2:9-11; 1 Pet. 3:22; Rev. 19:16), 8) Authority (Matt. 28:18; Eph. 1:22), 9) Life in himself (John 1:4; 5:26; Acts 3:15).

Again, this list is incomplete (and, for the sake of space, I left out a few citations that Samples gave), but it is a good start.  Indeed, Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah, is the eternal Son of God who is one with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

The above list in its entirety can be found on pages 125-6 of Ken Samples, Beyond a Doubt.

rev. shane lems

All Religions Don’t Lead to God

Without a Doubt: Answering the 20 Toughest Faith Questions I don’t know how many times I’ve heard people say things like this: “All roads lead to God,” or, “People of all faiths pray to the same God,” or, “We’re all praying to the same God.”  These statements sound nice, tolerant, and politically correct.  However, they are both illogical and unbiblical.  Kenneth Samples, in Without a Doubt, gives a helpful explanation of these phrases.  He wisely notes, “The acceptance of social pluralism (tolerance of diverse religious expression) does not logically imply the truth of metaphysical pluralism (that all religious truth-claims are equally valid and simultaneously true).

Here are three reasons why it is illogical and unbiblical to say or think that all roads/religions lead to God.

1) The world’s religions are fundamentally different.  While many religions share some common beliefs and especially moral values, fundamental and irreconcilable differences clearly divide them on many core issues.  These distinctives include the nature of God, the source and focus of revelation, the human predicament, the nature of salvation, and the destination of mankind.”  Some religions are polytheistic, some are monotheistic, and at least one religion is atheistic.  “Careful examination of the basic tenents of the various religious traditions demonstrates that, far from teaching the same thing, the major religions have radically different perspectives on the religious ultimate.”

2) Attempts to reduce all religions to a common meaning are futile.  The religions of the world are so diverse in belief and in worldview orientation that they defy attempts to reduce them to a single common theme or essence.  Indeed, in light of this vast and complex array of religious perspectives, religious reductionism would appear to be a dubious, if not altogether impossible, venture. …Attempts to reduce all religions to their lowest common denominator usually succeed only in distorting them.  …Religion cannot be reduced simply to ethics, for they are rooted in claims about the ultimate nature of reality (metaphysics) to which ethical systems appeal for justification.””

“Similar ethical values shared by religions such as Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Confuscianism cannot be separated from the distinct doctrines that define these particular religions.  This distinctiveness is especially true for historic Christianity, which is not primarily a system of ethics.  Christian ethics flow from a redemptive relationship with God through the person of Jesus Christ.  Therefore the ethical teachings of Jesus in the New Testament cannot be separated from the unique Christian doctrines that emerge directly from the great redemptive events of Jesus’ life (incarnation, atonement, and resurrection).  In other words, the truth of Christian ethics is inextricably tied to the truth of Christian theology.”

3) Different religious beliefs remain logically irreconcilable.  The formal laws of logic demonstrate the impossibility of all religious truth-claims’ being true at the same time and in the same way.  For example, Jesus Christ cannot be God incarnate (Christianity) and not God incarnate (Judaism, Islam) at the same tame and in the same respect (the law of noncontradiction: A cannot equal A and non-A).  Contradictory religious claims have opposite truth value, meaning that they negate or deny each other.  Therefore exactly one is true and the other false.  And, accordingly, Jesus Christ must either be God incarnate or not be God incarnate; there is no middle position possible (the law of excluded middle: either A or non-A).  Since Jews, Christians, and Muslims all conceive the identity of Jesus of Nazareth differently…logically speaking, their conceptions cannot all be true.”

This is an abbreviated quote of a longer and helpful argument by Samples found in chapter 12 of Without a Doubt: Answering the 20 Toughest Faith Questions.  In summary, Samples says, “according to the laws of logic and the historical realities of Scripture, religious pluralism (no matter how popular and appealing) cannot be true.”

shane lems

sunnyside wa

An Objective Christian Approach to Ethics

A World of Difference: Putting Christian Truth-Claims to the Worldview Test Many cultures today – including Western culture – have a subjective, pragmatic, relativistic, and democratic view of ethics and morality.  Historic Christianity, however, has an objective foundation for absolute norms.  Here are five points Kenneth Samples gives to explain the Christian foundation for ethics (I’ve summarized and slightly edited these):

1) Morality originates in God’s perfect character and immutable nature. Objective moral principles are not only compatible with the Christian worldview, but are also exactly what would be expected in a world made by an infinite, eternal, holy, just, and loving Creator.  The source and foundation for the ethical absolutes reflected in Christianity are found in the God of the Bible.  Moral ideals stem from his perfect character and unchanging nature.”

2) Moral values are objective, universal, unchanging, and discoverable.  The ethical principles so central to the historic Christian worldview are distinct from and independent of the human mind and will.  Therefore they are objective instead of subjective.  These universal values are an ‘abiding and fixed reality common to all.’”

3) Moral values are prescriptive in nature.  Prescriptive moral values involve the distinctly ethical ‘ought’ or ‘should.’  To have objective morality requires a ‘right’ that should be followed and a ‘wrong’ that ought to be avoided.  The prescriptive nature of ethics (an immediate and direct moral awareness in humans) compels right or correct conduct.”

4) Subjective ethics are inadequate, incoherent, and pragmatically unlivable.  An ethical approach to life based solely upon an individual’s likes, tastes, or preferences cannot function as a viable moral philosophy.  A morality relative to either a person or a culture is ultimately incoherent (in effect, such a morality denies itself).  Moral relativism, which pervades much of Western culture, leads to the logical quagmire of thinking that…no code of values exceeds any other, and all moral choices are equal.”

5) The God of the Bible endowed the universe and especially human kind with value, meaning, and significance.  Imagining how a universe without God (and in particular the sovereign Lord revealed explicitly in Scripture) could have value, meaning, and purpose, especially with regard to individual human beings, is problematic.  If the universe and humanity are merely products of blind, accidental, and purely natural processes – then a genuine enduring value for life is extremely difficult to identify and justify.  Accidental creatures with no ultimate purpose or end are hard pressed to impart any permanent significance to their own lives.”

For the entire helpful discussion, see chapter 11 of A World of Difference by Kenneth Samples.

shane lems