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

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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

The Blind Faith of Naturalism (Colson)

Growing up, I remember overhearing Chuck Colson’s “Breakpoint” from my mom’s kitchen radio.  Sometimes I would stop and listen.  I grew to appreciate his commentary, even though I didn’t always agree with all of it.  Here’s part of a previously unpublished memo of Colson’s from around 10 or 15 years ago:

It never ceases to amaze me that people are willing to bet their lives on naturalism; not only is it self-refuting, but to believe it is an act of supreme hubris.  I say supreme hubris because naturalism is the assumption that the only thing that can be known is that which you see and can validate with one of your five senses.  So what the naturalist is really saying is, if I can’t prove it’s true, then it can’t be true.  If I can’t, by physical observation, conclude something is real, then it can’t be real.

Of course, there are all kinds of things in life that we cannot see or apprehend with our senses that are nonetheless true, love being one of the most obvious.  The principle that allows an airplane to fly, the lift created by air traveling more slowly under the wings than over the wings, is a visible principle, but you can’t see the air actually moving.  It is measurable, of course, but still a certain amount of faith is involved in knowing anything.

Later Colson notes how naturalism is self-refuting because a naturalist presupposes that everything came about by chance, by evolution.  The naturalist says that reasonable, intelligent, and rational human beings evolved by chance mutations and evolutionary principles.  How can one prove this by physically observable facts?  Here’s Colson:

…To come to that conclusion, you’re relying on a brain and a thinking process that evolved by chance.  If it has evolved by chance, you have no idea whether it’s reliable.  Attempt to prove to me that an organ that evolved by chance is going to be reliable to always give you the right answer to any particular question.  Or prove to me that this organ has the capacity of knowledge, which is distinguishing what is real from what isn’t.  The answer, of course, is that you can never get there.

The naturalist is proceeding in blind faith.  He is defying what is self-evident, both in nature and the creation and in terms of our moral inclination.  He is, as C. S. Lewis said, like a man trying to lift himself up by grabbing himself by the collar and raising his hands.  He won’t get off the ground, but he will very likely strangle himself.

The naturalist is in the position of assuming that he knows everything he needs to know, and that everything that can be known is accessible to him through his senses.  It takes an extraordinary leap of faith to arrive at that conclusion.  But once you do, you have nothing.  You are defying the evidence.

Chuck Colson, My Final Word, p. 226-227.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Faith Seeking Understanding (Anselm)

Over the years, I’ve enjoyed Bengt Hagglund’s History of Theology.  Here’s a section from chapter 17, specifically on Anselm.

“Anselm, like Augustine before him, represented that position with respect to faith and reason which was customarily characterized by the expression, ‘I believe in order that I may understand’ (credo ut intelligam).  Basing their opinion on the words found in Is. 7:9 (Vulgate), ‘If you do not believe, you will not understand,’  those who follow this line emphasize that faith is the presupposition of a rational insight into revealed truth.  As Augustine put it, understanding is the reward of faith.”

“Anselm developed this position in more detail, among other places, in his Proslogion.  It is clearly expressed, for example, in the following passage: ‘I do not attempt, Lord, to penetrate Thy depth, for by no means do I compare my intellect with it; but I desire to understand, to a degree, Thy truth, which my heart believes and loves.  For I do not seek to understand in order that I may believe, but I believe in order that I may understand’ (Ch. 1).”

“The credo ut intelligam concept presupposes that theology and philosophy can be harmonized.  That which forms the content of faith, and which man comprehends by faith, can also be understood by reason – at least to some extent.  Faith and the principles of reason are not antithetical.  It is the task of theology to present the content of faith in such a way that it can be understood and comprehended. …[Faith] has the primacy, for man does not come to faith through reason; but on the contrary understanding comes by faith.  The role of reason is simply to make clear, a posteriori, that the truths of faith are necessary even as seen from the point of view of logic and reason.  For it is only after one has grasped revealed truth in faith that he is able, through rational discussion and meditation, to perceive that that which he believes is also agreeable to reason.”

Good stuff.  In a day where values and feelings rule over truth and logic, it is good for Christians to remember that our faith is not irrational.  Many great theologians followed this Augustininan/Anselmian perspective.  For just one example, Herman Bavinck wrote Our Reasonable Faith, a nice summary of his longer Reformed Dogmatics. 

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

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

Portions from Pascal

I’ve always appreciated Pascal’s Pensees; I also enjoy Peter Kreeft’s commentary on some of them.  Below are some of my favorites – random portions of Pascal’s Pensees found in Kreeft’s commentary (followed by his comments).

Pascal: “There are only two kinds of men: the righteous who think they are sinners and the sinners who think they are righteous.”

Kreeft: “The only choice, then, is between being sinners who know they are sinners and repent; or sinners who don’t.  Saints are not the opposite of sinners; saints are sorry sinners, saved sinners” (p. 158).

Pascal: “If we submit everything to reason our religion will be left with nothing mysterious or supernatural.  … If we offend the principles of reason our religion will be absurd and ridiculous.  … Two excesses: to exclude reason, to admit nothing but reason.”

Kreeft: “This is neither fideistic religion, rationalistic religion, fideistic irreligion, nor rationalistic irreligion – the four miserable alternatives, all irrational, that we see sprawled around on every side while the truth stands erect and serene in the middle” (p. 236-7).

Pascal: “The Christian’s hope of possessing and infinite good is mingled with actual enjoyment….  Christians hope for holiness, and to be freed from unrighteousness, and some part of this is already theirs.”

Kreeft: “The Wager thus is not wholly a leap in the dark but is partially testable and confirmable experientially in this life” (p. 307).

Peter Kreeft, Christianity for Modern Pagans (San Fransisco: Ignatius Press, 1993).

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