Jesus: A Contentless Banner?? (Schaeffer)

 Many Christians have noted a dichotomy in modern thought.  On the upper level is value; on the bottom level is fact.  On the upper level is faith; on the bottom level is reason.  On the upper level is religion; on the bottom level is science.  On the upper level it is non-rational; on the bottom level is rational.  In other words, the upper level is about personal feelings and beliefs and the lower level is made up of more solid and real things like reason, science, and facts.  Francis Schaeffer discussed and critiqued this modern view in his excellent book, Escape from Reason.  In this book he gives a good Christian and biblical answer to modernity’s false dichotomy.

One area where this false dichotomy shows up is in how people today think of Jesus.  For most people, Jesus belongs to the upper level of religion and faith but he does not belong to the bottom level of fact and reason.  For many Westerners, Jesus can mean anything to anyone – what Francis Schaeffer called a “contentless banner.”  Here’s Schaeffer:

I have come to the point where, when I hear the word “Jesus”—which means so much to me because of the Person of the historic Jesus and his work—I listen carefully because I have with sorrow become more afraid of the word “Jesus” than almost any other word in the modern world. The word is used as a contentless banner, and our generation is invited to follow it. But there is no rational, scriptural content by which to test it, and thus the word is being used to teach the very opposite things from those which Jesus taught. …It is now Jesus-like to sleep with a girl or a man if she or he needs you. As long as you are trying to be human you are being Jesus-like to sleep with the other person, at the cost, be it noted, of breaking the specific morality which Jesus taught. But to these men this does not matter because that is downstairs in the area of rational scriptural content.

We have come then to this fearsome place where the word “Jesus” has become the enemy of the Person Jesus and the enemy of what Jesus taught. We must fear this contentless banner of the word “Jesus” not because we do not love Jesus but because we do love him. We must fight this contentless banner, with its deep motivations, rooted into the memories of the race, which is being used for the purpose of sociological form and control. We must teach our spiritual children to do the same.

This accelerating trend makes me wonder whether, when Jesus said that toward the end time there will be other Jesuses, he meant something like this. We must never forget that the great enemy who is coming is the anti-Christ. He is not anti-non-Christ. He is anti-Christ. Increasingly over the last few years the word “Jesus,” separated from the content of the Scriptures, has become the enemy of the Jesus of history, the Jesus who died and rose and who is coming again and who is the eternal Son of God. So let us take care. If evangelical Christians begin to slip into a dichotomy, to separate an encounter with Jesus from the content of the Scriptures (including the discussable and the verifiable), we shall, without intending to, be throwing ourselves and the next generation into the millstream of the modern system.

Francis A. Schaeffer, Escape from Reason (Westmont, IL: IVP Books, 2014).

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

A Unified Answer to Life (Schaeffer)

 I haven’t read this whole book yet, but what I have read is quite good: Escape from Reason by Francis Schaeffer.  Here’s one helpful section I read this morning:

…Christianity has the opportunity, therefore, to speak clearly of the fact that its answer has the very thing that modern man has despaired of—the unity of thought. It provides a unified answer for the whole of life. It is true that man will have to renounce his rationalism, but then, on the basis of what can be discussed, he has the possibility of recovering his rationality. You may now see why I stressed so strongly, earlier, the difference between rationalism and rationality. Modern man has lost the latter. But he can have it again with a unified answer to life on the basis of what is open to verification and discussion.

Let Christians remember, then, that if we fall into the trap against which I have been warning [pitting faith against rationality], what we have done, amongst other things, is to put ourselves in the position where in reality we are only saying with evangelical words what the unbeliever is saying with his words. In order to confront modern man truly you must not have the dichotomy. You must have the Scriptures speaking true truth both about God himself and about the area where the Bible touches history and the cosmos. This is what our forefathers in the Reformation grasped so well.

 Schaeffer, F. A., & Moreland, J. P. (2014). Escape from reason. Westmont, IL: IVP Books.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54014

More Machen

The church today is facing something similar to what Machen faced less than 100 years ago: Jesus divorced from Scripture, history, and the church.  We saw it a few days back in Deepak Chopra’s “third Jesus.”  Deepak’s jesus used scented lotions and came so we could realize our inner potential, so we might find self-actualization and inner tranquility.  The Christ of Scripture, history, and the church is God in the flesh who came to save people from sinful self-actualization by becoming a bloody curse on the cross, by destroying death in his resurrection, and by ascending into glory where he now lives to protect his church.  This is the gospel truth that Machen so ably defended.

“I do not think that what the New Testament says about the cross of Christ is particularly intricate.  It is, indeed, profound, but it can be put in simple language.  We deserved eternal death; the Lord Jesus, because he loved us, died in our stead upon the cross.  It is a mystery, but it is not intricate.  What is really intricate and subtle is the manifold modern attempt to get rid of the simple doctrine of the cross of Christ in the interests of human pride.  Of course there are objections to the cross of Christ, and men in the pulpits of the present day pour out upon that blessed doctrine the vials of their scorn; but when a man has come under the consciousness of sin, then as he comes into the presence of the cross, he says with tears of gratitude and joy, ‘He loved me and gave himself for me.”

From “What the Bible Teaches ABout Jesus” in J. Gresham Machen, Selected Shorter Writings, edited by D. G. Hart (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2004), 30.

shane lems

sunnyside wa

The Patristics and Systematics

I’m sure many of you – like myself – have heard a hundred critiques of systematic theology.  They go like this: it is totally modernistic, it is rationalistic, it is cold and dry like a brick wall, it is a product of the scientific branch of the Enlightenment, it imposes a dogmatic aspect upon Scripture that is not there, it ignores exegesis, and so forth.

Of course, we have to be careful not to “over do” systematics.  Most of the critiques of systematics should be considered so that it remains robust but does not do more than it should methodologically or topically.  One critique that I do want to answer and hopefully take much steam out of is the critique that systematic theology is a product of the Enlightenment’s scientific method.  To be sure, the Enlightenment hurt systematics in a lot of ways and helped it in a few ways.  But most certainly, organizing Scripture around certain scriptural teachings or themes was being done before the Enlightenment.  In fact, we can see it in the church fathers (though I’d also argue that Paul did it to some extent, but that’s a different post).  I’ll give a few examples from the fathers that I’ve been reading in the Ante Nicene Fathers set from Hendrickson.

Justin Martyr (2nd century): His two apologies were written to the Emperor and the Roman citizens.  In these two works, Martyr answers objections and accusations that many  were leveling against Christianity.  Martyr – in a logical order – refutes these objections/accusations, which include sections on Christology and ethics.  In fact Martyr even lists his responses out in numerical order (Apology I.xxiv-xxvi for example).   Of course, these are not systematics as we may be used to, but they are systematic, logical, and orderly.

Hippolytus (d. 236) wrote a massive essay refuting almost all Greek (and other) heresies of his day (titled Refutation of All Heresies).  Basically, he lines up all the heresies and, in order, explains each one, exposing their heretical nature.  Interestingly, at certain points (what we’d call chapters) Hippolytus even gives a quick a, b, c, d, summary of the topics covered up to that point.  It is clear in this that Hippolytus intended the work to be a systematic rendering of false theology compared with the true.  Much of the same can be said of Irenaeus’ Against Heresies, which is similar to Hippolytus in many ways.

The Teaching of the Twelve Apostle’s (a.k.a. Didache) is another good example.  It is basically sort of an a, b, c, d, church instruction or church order written by some in the early church (c. 2nd century).  The Teaching is a purposefully systematic rendering of biblical teaching for instruction.

One more to consider is The Constitutions of the Holy Apostles (c. 4th century).  This writing is very clearly a structured ecclesiological treatise written for instruction in the early church concerning church things.  The first part is for the laity, the second for the pastors/bishops, elders, and deacons.    The third part is a structured explanation of widows’ needs and baptism.  The fourth is about ministering the poor while the fifth part is on martyrs and other churchly matters.  There are a total of five “books” to this treatise, each an orderly presentation of church life and doctrine.

Finally, and probably most notable, is the Ecclesiastical Canons of the Same Holy Apostles (“same” as in same as the constitutions mentioned above).  This also dates around the 4th century, and is is basically a numbered list of canons concerning church functions and tasks.

In conclusion (this is just the tip of the patristic iceberg, so to speak – consider also the Ecumenical Creeds, which were highly structured!), we can say that while many features of systematic theology are unique to the “modern” period, systematizing the teachings of scripture is not unique to our period, or to the reformation, but was clearly in use way back there in the patristic writings.  The value of systematics ranges from refuting heresies (heresies in some sense gave rise to systematics), teaching new converts the main truths, and helping churches maintain apostolic standards.  While we may question some modern systematicians on certain things, we cannot question them on the topic of systematics in general.

Criticizing systematic theology as a product of the Enlightenment is ironically an Enlightenment attitude, assuming our point in history is one which has a higher judgment seat over those in earlier eras.  “Systematic Theology is baggage of the Enlightenment” is entirely an Enlightenment creed.  It is part of human nature and reason (not Enlightenment rationalism) to want to summarize and order teaching/writing for knowledge, belief, and living.

shane lems

sunnyside wa

Paradoxes and Contradictions in American Christianity

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Since reading D. G. Hart’s A Secular Faith, which deals with Christianity in/and America, I grabbed George Marsden’s Religion and American Culture.  Both are fascinating and well worth the investment and time.  I am always dismayed when reading of the history of Christianity in America, from Finney to Fundamentalism to faith-healing, though I suppose most Western countries have at least some distressing parallels to our situation here.  One particular thing that has always amazed me is how Deism and Christianity coupled together to get this country rolling, so to speak.  Here’s a bit of Marsden’s commentary on that.

“[Thomas] Jefferson and [Benjamin] Franklin and some of the other leading revolutionaries were ‘Deists’ who believed in what they viewed as ‘rational Christianity.’  They abandoned those parts of Christian heritage that they thought were not based on reason, yet they retained faith in a creator deity since they believed it was unreasonable to think that the wonderful machine of the universe appeared without a designer.  They also believed in a created moral order, reflecting the wisdom of the Supreme Being and necessary for the practical ordering of society.  They admired the moral teachings of Jesus, but did not consider him to be God incarnate.”

“You might suppose that the nation Jefferson, Franklin, and their Deist friends helped create would become a very secular place, accelerating the forces in the society away from the impact of traditional Christianity.  The relationship of American culture to such secular trends, however, has always been far more complicated than the trends, filled with paradoxes and contradictions” (41).

“Paradoxes and contradictions” – that explains it well.  The moral side of Christianity and the moral side of Deism fused, then wedded some Enlightenment elements and political distaste for British rule, and the outcome was a pretty solid constitution and country.  Fascinating!  Do we read “God” in the early American documents in the Deist (non-trinitarian) sense (god) or in the Christian (trinitarian) sense (God)?    These paradoxes and contradictions are also captured in one of Marsden’s main points in this book: “Even at its most religious, the United States was in many ways a very secular place” (12).

If you want a great study of the history of religion (specifically Christianity) in America, read these two books together (A Secular Faith and Religion and American Culture).  I also now want to read this one by Marsden.

Above quotes taken from George Marsden, Religion and American Culture 2nd ed.(Orlando: Hardcourt College Publishers, 2001), 41.

shane lems

sunnyside wa

Don’t Come to the Garden Alone!

I’m sure many of you have heard the hymn “In the Garden” by C. Austin Miles (d. 1946).  The song has always given me the creeps.  Here are a few lyrics.

“I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses…he speaks, the sound of his voice is so sweet the birds hush their singing…  and the melody that he gave to me within my heart is ringing.  …and the joy we share as we tarry there none other has ever known.”

That gives me the creeps – roses, sweet voices, intimacy like “none other has ever known”  – these just scream to me the notes of enlightenment deism, rationalism, and mysticism, not to mention the fact that a Mormon could sing this song with a clear conscience.  Here’s another solid reason why the hymn just plain scares me: Miles’ account of how he penned the hymn.  I have to summarize it a bit, but I’ll include a few quotes, so pay attention to those.

In April, 1912, Miles was sitting in his dark room – a photography room with his organ inside it.  He was reading John 20 there, the text where the risen Christ meets the weeping Mary.  Miles wrote, “I seemed to be part of the scene.  I became a silent witness to that dramatic moment in Mary’s life….  My hands were resting on the Bible while I stared at the light blue wall.  As the light faded, I seemed to be standing at the entrance of a garden, looking down a gently winding path, shaded by olive branches.”  Miles then recounts the scene unfold as he saw it, somewhat similar to John 20.

Miles continues: Mary’s word “Rabboni!” ends the vision.  “I awakened in sun light, gripping the Bible, with muscles tense and nerves vibrating.  Under the inspiration of this vision I wrote, as quickly as the words could be formed, the poem exactly as it has since appeared.  That same evening I wrote the music.”

There are 100 things I could say about this, but I’ll have to save it for later posts on a closed canon, the regulative principle of worship, mysticism, rationalism, deism, revivalism, and so on.

Almost forgot: I got the above quote from Kenneth W. Osbeck, Amazing Grace: 365 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2002), 113.

shane lems

sunnyside wa

Classic Arminianism: The Grandfather of Rationalism

Every now and then while reading Herman Bavinck, I run across this loaded proposal: moralism, mysticism, rationalism, and deism go hand in hand.  I know what he means, but until recently I had to make the deductions myself in light of his other writings.  In Saved by Grace, I found his own explanation of this proposal.

First of all, Bavinck describes the early 17th century teaching of the Remonstrants (a.k.a. ‘classic Arminian’) that God gives sufficient grace to all humans which gives all people the moral ability to choose or reject Christ.  This means that universal, sufficient grace inside all people gives all people moral ability and capacity to do the good.

Bavinck argued that this view was moralistic (i.e. emphasized what people can do), it denied the effectual call (i.e. people can accept or reject as they please), it “undermined God’s entire special revelation” because the Quakers, Anabaptists, and other Enthusiasts highlighted the “internal word” (i.e. who needs a preached word when you can find it inside yourself), and is ultimately contractual rather than covenantal (i.e. God does his part, you do yours).

Add Remonstrant moralism, Anabaptistic mysticism, to Enlightenment rationalism, and you get deism.  Or, in Bavinck’s terms, moralism, mysticism, and rationalism lead to deism, and vice-versa: “deism leads to rationalism and moralism.”

This is part of the reason why the reformers (specifically at the Synod of Dort in 1618-19) rejected Remonstrant moralism and the Anabaptistic interior word and mysticism.  Bavinck:  “History has placed its seal upon the decisions of the Synod of Dort.  The doctrine of the Remonstrants, at first glance so moderate and sweet, paved the way for rationalism and deism, for the disappearance and dying away of all religion.”

In clear summary form – the Remonstrant position was “moderate and sweet” at first glance because it emphasized God’s grace and man’s ability.  But it led to moralism because of its focus on man’s ability.  This led to rationalism and mysticism because who needs God when man has built-in moral ability?  This led to deism and naturalism, which only needs God to wind up the clock and let ‘er tick down…

Above quotes and summaries can be found in Herman Bavinck, Saved by Grace (Reformation Heritage Books, 2008), p. 25-6, 72-3, and 149.  Side note: R. Scott Clark argues similarly in chapter 3 of Recovering the Reformed Confession.

shane lems

sunnyside wa