The Truth of God: Not Trendy (Groothuis)

 I find myself going back to this book several times each year in my studies: Truth Decay by Douglas Groothuis.  In chapter three Groothuis gives a nice summary of the biblical view of truth.  I appreciate them all, but number five sticks out to me right now:

The truth of God is eternally engaging and monument, not trendy or superficial.  In postmodern times, our sensory environments are saturated with bright images, intrusive words and blaring sounds – all vying for our attention (and our funds).  Fads, whether in advertising, politics or sports, come and go with increasing rapidity.  It seems that nothing is settled or rooted or stable over time.  In his book, “The Culture of Disbelief: How American Law and Politics Trivialize Religious Devotion” (1993), Stephen Carter laments that for many people (and the state), religion is little more than a hobby, something with which to amuse oneself, a kind of curiosity for when the mood strikes but not something to take all that seriously, especially in matters of legality.

Yet beyond empty ephemeralities, there lies ‘the Rock of ages.’  Beyond the fragility of shifting tastes, hobby horses and market fluctuations stands the Word of the Lord, resolute and rooted in the eternal God of the universe.  ‘The grass withers and the flower falls, but the word of God stands forever’ (Is 40:8). ‘Your word, O LORD, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens (Ps 119:89). And as God  declared to his rebellious people: ‘I the LORD do not change’ (Mal 3:6; see also Heb 13:8). God remains faithful to his covenant with creation and to the community he summons forth.  His word endures and is reliable, from age to age….

God’s truth is grounded in God’s eternal being.  It has no expiration date and needs no image makeovers.  Moreover, it is a living, personal and dynamic truth – a truth that transcends the transient trivialities of our age and touches us at the deepest levels of our beings by including us in an eternal drama.  This truth transforms us, as David knew well: ‘I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you’ (Ps 119:11).

The above quote is found in Douglas Groothuis, Truth Decay, 73-74.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

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Truth Is Obscured Nowadays (Pascal)

This is one of those books that I don’t always agree with, but it does always make me think: Christianity for Modern Pagans by Peter Kreeft.  It’s basically a modern commentary on some of Pascal’s Pensees.  Here’s one part that got me thinking about truth; it’s worth sharing:

Truth is so obscured nowadays and lies are so well established that unless we love the truth we shall never recognize it (Pascal).

Here are Kreeft’s comments on Pascal’s statement; though I don’t fully agree with them, they are worth digesting:

This is why the discovery of truth depends on the heart and will, not just the head and mind.  This is why the prime requisite for any great truth (like God, or the meaning of life or death, or who we are and what we ought to do, or even finding the right mate and right career) is love, passion, questing, and questioning.  Once we pursue a question with our whole being, as Socrates pursued ‘know thyself’, we will find answers.  Answers are not as hard to come by as we think; and questions, real questioning, is a lot more rare and precious than we think.

Finding is not the problem, seeking is.  For truth is hidden, ever since the Fall but especially ‘nowadays’, now that our secular society no longer helps us to God, as traditional societies did.  Lies are well established on the level of appearance (for example, movies); truth and reality are hidden, behind the lies.  No one will find the truth today just by listening to the media, which are largely in the power of the Father of Lies.  We have to ignore the pervasive chatter and seek the countercultural, unfashionable, media-scorned truth behind these obstacles.

Clearly, this situation has become vastly exacerbated since Pascal’s day.  Here again he plays the prophet; he is more relevant to our time than his own.

If we do not love the truth, we will not seek it.  If we do not seek it, we will not find it.  If we do not find it, we will not know it.  If we do not know it, we have failed our fundamental task in time, and quite likely also in eternity.

Peter Kreeft, Christianity for Modern Pagans, p. 216-17.

Shane Lems

Evangelicals, Sexual Revolution, and Roadkill (Guinness)

Impossible People: Christian Courage and the Struggle for the Soul of Civilization by [Guinness, Os] As I’ve said before, Impossible People by Os Guinness is an excellent book in many ways.  One reason I appreciate it is because Guinness calls the church to stand firmly, carefully, and purposefully on the truths and teachings of Scripture.  He laments how some evangelicals have waffled and wavered when it comes to sexuality, gender, marriage, and other similar topics.  What is so clear in Scripture has been abandoned, explained away, or simply ignored by evangelicals trying to keep up with the sexual revolution.  Guinness’ words are helpful:

“Today’s evangelical revisionists should take sober note.  Time and again I tremble when I hear or read their flimsy arguments.  They may be lionized by the wider advocates of the sexual revolution for fifteen minutes, because they are siding with that wider culture in undermining the clear teaching of Jesus and the Bible that stands in their way.  For there is no question that Jesus, the Scriptures and Christian tradition all stand resolutely in their way.  But in truth, the sexual revolution has no real interest in such Evangelicals, and they will be left as roadkill as the revolution blitzkrieg gathers speed.  But that is nothing compared with the real tragedy of the revisionists.  It is no light thing for anyone to set themselves above and against the authority of Jesus and his Scriptures.  The apostle Peter betrayed Jesus and was restored, but Judas stands as the warning for all who betray Jesus for their personal, sexual or political interests and condemn themselves for their disloyalty.”

“Both Jesus and the apostle Peter tell us to ‘remember Lot’s wife’ (Lk 17:33), but our Christian revisionists should remember Lot himself.  Having chosen the benefits and privileges of living in the well-watered garden country of Sodom, having married into their social circles and having worked his way up to into the inner leadership of the city, Lot was suddenly confronted by the moment of truth.  He had been utterly naive and deluded in trusting the Sodomites.  When the chips were down, they had no respect for his hospitality, no time for his different moral standards, and they threatened to deal with him as brutally as his guests: ‘This one came in as an alien, and already he is acting like a judge; now we will treat you worse than them’ (Gen 19:9).”

“Poor Lot became a joke even to his in-laws.  In spite of all his efforts and contrary to all that he imagined, he had still not arrived, and he was never accepted as he imagined.  He was always the alien – as Abraham never forgot that he was and was respected for being.  We of course should always be resident aliens as faithful Christians who are in the world but not of it – regardless of the world’s pressure on us to change with the times and line up with the so-called right side of history.”

Os Guinness, Impossible People, p. 74-5.

Shane Lems

 

 

The Tension of Unbelief (Guinness)

Fool's Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion Fool’s Talk by Os Guinness is an excellent resource for thoughtful Christian apologetics.  I’ve mentioned it here before so I won’t go into details.  But there is a section I was recently reading again – a section which is well worth posting here.  It’s based on Romans 1:18ff:

“At the core of unbelief is ceaseless, unremitting and inescapable tension and conflict.  Unbelievers suppress the truth in unrighteousness, but it is still always the truth, so they can never completely get away from it.  An unbeliever’s view of the world without God may contain many deep truths and have all sorts of genuine merits.  But that view of the world can never be completely true, because the unbeliever will not accept God, without whom it will always be finally false at some points.  Yet at the same time, the unbelievers’ views of the world are never completely false, because they can never get away completely from God and his truth.  Unbelief is therefore always an inherently in tension, and it can never escape this conflict.  Whatever view of the world unbelief espouses, it is always partly true but twisted, and it is always twisted, though never other than still partly true.”

Os Guinness, Fool’s Talk, p. 93-4.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Fanaticism Is Not Faith (Or: One Conversion Will Suffice)

Ichabod Spencer’s A Pastor’s Sketches is an excellent resource of a 19th-century pastor’s deeply spiritual conversations with various people in his ministry.  In one journal entry, Spencer talked about a young woman who claimed to have been converted three times in a church that emphasized revivals, emotions, and experiences.  Her emotions and affections were excited, but she had little understanding of the Christian faith and her conscience had not been touched.  Spencer called this “fanaticism.”

The heart that has once been drunk with fanaticism is ever afterwards exposed to the same evil.  It will mistake excitement – any fancy – for true religion.  Fanaticism is not faith.

When the affections or mere sensibilities of the heart are excited and the understanding and conscience are but little employed, there is a sad preparation for false hope – for some wild delusion or fanatical faith. The judgment and conscience should take the lead of the affections; but when the affections take the lead, they will be very apt to monopolize the whole soul, judgment and conscience will be overpowered, or flung into the background; and then, the deluded mortal will have a religion of mere impressions – more feeling than truth – more sensitiveness than faith – more fancy and fanaticism, than holiness. Emotions, agitations, or sensibilities of any sort, which do not arise from

Emotions, agitations, or sensibilities of any sort, which do not arise from clear and conscientious perception of truth will be likely to be pernicious. The most clear perception of truth, the deepest conviction, is seldom accompanied by any great excitement of the sensibilities.  Under such conviction, feeling may be deep and strong, but will not be fitful, capricious and blind. To a religion of mere impressions, one may be “converted three times,” or three times three, but to a religion of truth, one conversion will suffice. In my opinion, my young friend was all along misled by the idea, that religion consisted very much in a wave of feeling. Her instructors ought to have taught her better.

Ichabod Spencer, A Pastor’s Sketches, p. 175.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Pragmatism and Postmodernity (Groothuis)

In chapter six of Doug Groothuis’ helpful book, Christian Apologeticshe does a nice job explaining and refuting postmodernism from a Christian point of view.  He notes that in postmodernity, “dialoging about one religion being true or another false is beside the point.  All are ‘true’ in the postmodern sense because they give meaning and direction to people’s lives….”

“The postmodernist view also bears on the increasing tendency of some contemporary people to create their own religions (or ‘spirituality’) by mixing and matching elements of several religions, however incompatible these may be.  If spiritual truth is a matter of social or individual construction, then one need not be constrained by logical consistency or adherence to a received tradition (say Buddhist, Jewish, Christian, or Islamic).”

“There is an element of pragmatism here as well.  If it ‘works’ for someone to combine elements of Hinduism (the practice of yoga) and Christianity (church attendance, the golden rule, and prayer), one need not worry about intellectual consistency or spiritual fidelity to an ancient tradition or revealed authority.  But this smorgasbord approach lacks intellectual integrity because it makes religious belief something to use instead of something to discover and live by.”

Excellent points!  And of course, postmodernist and pragmatic views of religion and spirituality fall short:

“Postmodernity often erodes religious confidence.  What results is a free-floating spirituality largely devoid of certainty or sustained convictions.”

The Christian faith, however, isn’t free-floating, nor is it devoid of certainty, sustained convictions, or truth.  Because the gospel is true, it gives us direction, certainty, and convictions.  You can find this entire excellent discussion in chapter 6 of Groothuis’ Christian Apologetics.

Shane Lems

The Christian Faith Is True Regardless… (Guinness)

Fool's Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion Here’s a great reminder from Os Guinness that the Christian faith is true despite the fact that our attempts at defending it sometimes fall flat.  It’s also a great caution about putting too much stock in apologetic debates:

“…Faith in God is true because it is true – not because we, or David, or Elijah and Luther defend it successfully.  If the Christian faith is true, it is true even if no one believes it, and if it is not true, it is false even if everyone believes it.  The truth of the faith does not stand and fall with our defense of it.”

“A good or bad defense of the faith may be helpful or unhelpful, but in each case that is only corroborative.  The Christian faith is not true because someone argues for it brilliantly, nor is it false because someone defends it badly.  …Faith’s certainty lies elsewhere than in the rapier sharp logic or the sledgehammer power of the apologist.  At the end of the day, full certainty comes from the conviction of the Holy Spirit.”

“That is often the problem with the public debate format so loved by Christians today.  Some Christians are superbly gifted in using this format.  Others are less so, but the problem lies in the assumptions of the format itself.  The expectation is that the apologist is brought in to trounce the enemies of the gospel publicly.  Yet in such a win-lose situation, the danger is that some apologists are tempted to speak so as to with the debate but lose the audience, or to lose the debate and appear to let down the faithful – as if the faith were no more certain than one particular defense of it.”

“We [apologists/Christians] are not out to prove something new through the brilliance of our arguments.  Our calling is to point to something old, or rather to bear witness to the established facts of the story of the gospel, though in the process clearing up anything and everything that may obscure or block a person’s understanding.”

Os Guinness, Fool’s Talk, p. 58ff.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI