Scientism: Is it a “Religion” or is it Science?

Our children are growing up in a post-Christian culture in which the public often views people of faith as irrelevant or even, in some cases, extremist. In his book Scientism and Secularism, J.P. Moreland articulates a way of friendly engagement with the prevailing worldview of Scientism.

By Steven Barto, B.S. Psych.

IN HIS BLOG POST Be Careful, Your Love of Science Looks a Lot Like Religion, Jamie Holmes writes, “Science is usually equated by proponents of this view with empiricism or, in many fields, with a method of inquiry that employs controls, blinding, and randomization. Now, a small group of contemporary psychologists have published a series of provocative experiments showing that faith in science can serve the same mentally-stabilizing function as religious beliefs.” What is this thing called “Scientism?” It is said to be an excessive or exclusive belief in the power of scientific knowledge and techniques. It names science as the best or only objective means by which society should determine normative and epistemological values.

Okay. But what does that mean? The claim that scientific judgement is akin to value judgement is often accompanied by the normative claim that scientific judgment should be guided by so-called epistemic or cognitive values. Epistemology refers to the theory of knowledge, especially with regard to its methods, validity, and scope. Epistemology is the investigation of what distinguishes justified belief from opinion. We can immediately recognize the “religious” language in the above definition: e.g., justified belief. The problem with such a viewpoint is this: Justified by whom and against what ultimate truth?

Much of this worldview, which is actually a secularization of nature and existence, is rooted in the Enlightenment, during which time philosophers decided that reason and individualism should prevail rather than tradition. It was heavily influenced by seventeenth-century philosophers such as Descartes, Locke, and Newton, and its prominent promoters include Kant, Goethe, Voltaire, Rousseau, and Adam Smith. We must remember that worldview means a set of presuppositions (assumptions that may be true, partially true, or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic make-up of the world. Scientism is, accordingly, a worldview. Admittedly, Christianity is also a worldview.

A presupposition is something assumed or supposed in advance of the evidence. Generally, a presupposition is a core belief—a belief that one holds as “self-evident” and not requiring proof for its validity. A presupposition is something that is assumed to be true and is taken for granted. Of course, there is a pejorative quality to this term. Synonyms include prejudice, forejudgment, preconceived opinion, fixed conclusion, based upon a priori knowledge. To be fair to this concept, a priori knowledge simply means knowledge possessed independent of experience—that knowledge which we cannot help but bring to our experience in order to make sense of the world. Some philosophers, such as Locke, believe all our knowledge is a posteriori—that the mind begins as a “blank slate.” In order to level the playing field, we must all come to realize that every worldview, whether secular or Christian, contains a degree of presupposition. Christianity, however, has been coming up true and accurate more and more as science and archaeology uncovers empirical proof of the accuracy of the Bible.

Charles Colson, in his book How Now Shall We Live, writes, “We must show the world that Christianity is more than a private belief, more than personal salvation. We must show that it is a comprehensive life system that answers all of humanity’s age-old questions: Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going? Does life have any meaning and purpose?” (Colson and Pearcy, 1999, xi) [italics mine]. The Christian worldview breaks these huge questions down to three distinct categories:

  • Creation. Where did we come from, and who are we?
  • Fall. What has gone wrong with the world?
  • Redemption. What can we do to fix it?

Christianity is a Worldview

Colson believes the way we see the world can change the world. As believers, in every action we take, we are doing one of two things: we are either helping to create a hell on earth or helping to bring down a foretaste of heaven. We are either contributing to the broken condition of the world (part of the problem) or participating with God, through his Son and us, to transform the world to reflect His righteousness and grace (part of the solution). This requires us to see reality through the lens of divine revelation. Arguably, the term worldview may sound abstract or “philosophical” (indeed, it may even sound like a “head in the clouds” perspective); a topic that must be relegated to college professors and students in the halls of academia. Keep in mind, however, that understanding and acknowledging one’s worldview is tremendously productive.

Christianity cannot sit back and consider itself a mere belief system, reduced to little more than a private feeling or “experience,” completely devoid of objective facts or physical evidence. In their book Evidence That Demands a Verdict, Josh McDowell and Sean McDowell consider evidence for matters such as the reliability of the Bible, the deity of Jesus Christ, and the historical (actual) resurrection of Jesus from the dead, revealing strong historical evidence that confirms the Christian worldview. If we have the authentic words of Jesus claiming to be God, evidence that He genuinely performed miracles, and confirmation that Jesus rose from the grave, then Christianity is undeniably true.

Naturalism, the other side of the coin, permeates Western culture, claiming that only physical things exist and that all phenomena can ultimately be explained by the combination of chance and natural laws. This worldview underlies much rejection of metaphysical causes or origins. The New Atheists take particular aim at intelligent design and the deity of Christ. Interestingly, naturalism has absolutely no explanation for the origin of matter or life, the existence of consciousness, the nature of free will, or objective morality. This quest is  true regardless of geopolitical position. All of mankind asks these basic questions. In any event, Anthony Flew (in Licona, 2010, p. 115), a former atheist, said “The occurrence of the resurrection [has] become enormously more likely.”

Scientism as Religion

In 2013, a study published in The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology​ found that when subjects were stressed, they were more likely to agree to statements typifying science such as, “the scientific method is the only reliable path to knowledge.” When people felt anxious, they esteemed science more highly than calmer subjects did, just as previous experiments have shown to be the case with religious ideals. Therefore, beliefs about science are often defended emotionally, even when they’re wrong, as long as they provide a reassuring sense of order. That is to say, beliefs about science may be defended thoughtlessly—even unscientifically. Scientism, accordingly, seems to both religious and scientific outlooks as a soothing balm to our existential anxieties. What we believe, the parallel implies, can sometimes be less important than h​ow ​we believe it. This would indicate that a deep faith in science as the only means for explanation of the origin of matter and life, and the meaning existence, is a form of irrational extremism.

Does this view merely negate scientism, or does it also indict Christianity? This is not meant to be a cop-out, but the answer depends on individual worldviews. In other words, if a believer in Christ refuses to consider science at all, stating it has no explanation for the natural world, he or she is viewing the world with eyes closed, misunderstanding all they see. Moreover, such an individual is ignoring the numerous scientific discoveries proposed by Christians and theists over the centuries; please note the wide range of scientific fields represented below (philosophy of science; botany; astronomy; physics; mathematics; chemistry; electricity and electromagnetism; biology, microbiology, and neurobiology; subatomic theory; psychiatry; neuropsychiatry; genetics; information theory):

  • Robert Grosseteste, patron saint of scientists, Oxford, founder of scientific thought, wrote texts on optics, astronomy, and geometry.
  • William Turner, father of English botany.
  • Francis Bacon, established inductive “scientific method.”
  • Galileo Galilei, revolutionary astronomer, physicist, philosopher, mathematician.
  • Blaise Pascal, known for Pascal’s Law (physics), Pascal’s Theorem (math), and Pascal’s Wager (theology).
  • Robert Boyle, scientist, theologian, Christian apologist, who said science can improve glorification of God.
  • Isaac Newton, discovered the properties of gravity.
  • Johannes Kepler, astronomer, discovered planetary motion.
  • Joseph Priestly, clergyman and scientist, discovered oxygen.
  • Michael Faraday, established electromagnetic theory and electrolysis.
  • Charles Babbage, information theorist, mathematician, pioneer in computer programming.
  • Louis Pasteur, biologist, microbiologist and chemist renowned for his discoveries of the principles of vaccination, microbial fermentation and pasteurization.
  • Lord Kelvin, mathematical analysis of electricity and formulation of the first and second laws of thermodynamics. 
  • J.J. Thompson, credited with the discovery and identification of the electron and discovery of the first subatomic particle.
  • Johannes Reinke, phycologist and naturalist who strongly opposed Darwin.
  • George Washington Carver, American scientist, botanist, educator, and inventor who believed he could have faith both in God and science and integrated them into his life.  
  • Max Born, German physicist and mathematician who was instrumental in the development of quantum mechanics. 
  • Michael Polanyi, appointed to a Chemistry chair in Berlin, but in 1933 when Hitler came to power he accepted a Chemistry chair (and then in 1948 a Social Sciences chair) at the University of Manchester. Wrote Science, Faith, and Society.
  • Rod Davies, professor of radio astronomy at the University of Manchester, known for his research on the cosmic microwave background in the universe.
  • Peter Dodson, American paleontologist who has published many papers and written and collaborated on books about dinosaurs.
  • Charles Foster, science writer on natural history, evolutionary biology, and theology.
  • John Gurdon, British developmental biologist, discovered that mature cells can be converted to stem cells. 
  • Paul R. McHugh, American psychiatrist whose research has focused on the neuroscientific foundations of motivated behaviors, psychiatric genetics, epidemiology, and neuropsychiatry. 
  • Kenneth R. Miller, molecular biologist, wrote Finding Darwin’s God.
  • John D. Barrow, English cosmologist based at the University of Cambridge who did notable writing on the implications of the Anthropic principle.

J.P. Moreland

In his book Scientism and Secularism: Learning to Respond to a Dangerous Ideology, Moreland (2018, p. 16) writes, “As the ideas that constitute scientism have become more pervasive in our culture, the Western world has turned increasingly secular and the centers of culture (the universities, the media and entertainment industry, the Supreme Court) have come increasingly to regard religion as a private superstition. It is no surprise, then, that when our children go to college, more and more of them are just giving up on Christianity.” Scientism claims that only the “hard” sciences can discover and explain reality. It also believes everything else is based on private emotions, blind faith, or cultural upbringing. Moreover, scientism believes reliance on religious explanation for the origin of matter and life has yielded no reality at all. Simply put, theology and philosophy offer no truth whatsoever and, accordingly, are of no repute.

I find it fascinating that Christian theology does not make the same stinging conclusion about science. As we saw above, many great scientists, inventors, and discoverers throughout history (including many contemporary pioneers in science) were or are Christians or theists. Each of them believe God’s general revelation (that is, the natural order of things and the origin of matter and life) speak loudly of God as our intelligent designer. I, too, hold this view. Nanoscientist James Tour said, “Only a rookie who knows nothing about science would say science takes away from faith. If you really study science, it will bring you closer to God.” This is the basis for the Teleological Argument that (i) every design has a designer, (ii) the universe has a highly complex design, therefore (iii) the universe had a designer.

Atheism Requires More Faith Than Not Believing!

Postmodern culture has made every attempt to destroy truth. It teaches that the idea of truth and morality are “relative” to the circumstance, person, or era; that there is no such thing as absolute truth. This zeitgeist is prevalent in academia today in our public schools and most (if not all) secular universities. The postmodernist thinks not believing in ultimate truth or metaphysical explanations regarding the universe means one is “enlightened” and, therefore, not reliant on “dogmatic thought.” Interestingly, despite the postmodern belief that there is no absolute truth or morality, society seems to behave as though it exists. Yet these supposedly bright and enlightened ones insist that “truth” is merely a social contract defined and maintained by the powerful to remain “in power.” Admittedly, truth has fallen victim to modern culture. The modern ideas of tolerance and pluralism are a direct result of taking God out of the equation.

The term “university” is actually a composite of the words “unity” and “diversity.” Our universities should allow for the pursuit of knowledge and truth through such unity.

I find it curious that liberal secularists insist on tolerance, yet they have absolutely no tolerance for non-secular worldviews. This is non-tolerance! Perhaps they see “tolerance” differently than the rest of us; they seem to think it does not simply mean treating those with different ideas respectfully and civilly. If you think they are not using disrespect and intolerance to defend their “religion” of naturalism and scientism, then log on to YouTube and find a couple of debates to watch between believers (such as Dinesh D’Souza, Ravi Zacharias, Ken Ham) and the so-called New (or “militant”) Atheists (which includes Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins). In nearly every instance, and despite some atheists with a background in science, they attack Christ, Christianity, and, more typically, the believer rather than providing a convincing argument against intelligent design.

It is rather easy for the postmodern secularist to avoid confronting or defending the notion of intelligent design and creation science because he or she rejects the idea of absolute truth and the Law of Non-contradiction at the start. Rather than engaging in an intelligent point/counterpoint debate, the postmodernist goes about town moralizing to everyone about the importance of tolerance without having to explain the inherent contradiction presented by his or her closed mind regarding all things spiritual or metaphysical. This smacks of intellectual fraud. They simply do not practice what they preach—especially toward Christians. Why is this? One thought is because Christianity is truth, and Jesus knew the world would reject his followers in the same manner they rejected Him. Truth, on one hand, sets us free. But it also confounds and convicts those who reject it and peddle a counterfeit reality.

There is a degree of “political correctness” in this attitude. Even many churches have been corrupted and misguided by the unsustainable notion that pluralism allows for tolerance. Many have allowed their theology to be watered down and have permitted the authority of Scripture to be undermined in favor of society’s “evolved” or “advanced” ideas on morality. Unfortunately, many Christians and their church leaders have become an accomplice to the denigration of truth. This is a conscious and deliberate disobedience of the Great Commission presented to the body of believers by Christ before his ascension (see Matt. 28:16-20).

A Dangerous Division

Harvard paleontologist Stephen J. Gould, though a prominent critic of intelligent design, has claimed he is not atheistic. Science and religion cannot conflict, he believes, because they deal with different subject matter: science is about empirical facts, whereas religion is about meaning and morality. Unfortunately, many of today’s Christians are falling for this rather dangerous division of science and theology. As a result, they are ill-prepared to give an answer for the faith they have in the gospel. A negative side-effect of this lack of preparedness is the tendency to either shy away from defending the gospel or doing so from a militant or insulting position. Neither of these reactions are within the scope of 1 Peter 3:15:

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect (NIV).

We cannot allow the surgical division of science and Christianity to persist. As noted above, many Christians have made groundbreaking scientific discoveries over the centuries. In fact, the list I provided is incomplete. Space does not allow the listing of all scientists who were Christians or theists. It is also important to note that because all truth is God’s truth, the Bible and science are not diametrically opposed. The means by which the New Atheists make this claim is unfair. It is literally a comparison of apples to oranges. To say that science can explain every aspect of creation is to misuse applied or experimental science when the proper tool is “historical” science. We cannot test the past to see if certain empirical theories are possible. We do not have a time machine.

Further, no one has been able to “create” the building blocks of life (the necessary enzymes, proteins, and genetic code) in a laboratory. No one has an explanation for the origin of biological information needed to establish Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, and Species. Modern science knows full-well that, ultimately, life is a molecular phenomenon. All organisms are made of molecules that act as the very building blocks required for origin and operation. Living cells require a constant supply of energy to generate and maintain the biological order that keeps them alive. This energy is derived from the chemical bond energy in food molecules. The proteins, lipids, and polysaccharides that make up most of the food we eat must be broken down into smaller molecules before our cells can use them—either as a source of energy or as building blocks for other molecules. The breakdown processes must act on food taken in from outside, but not on the macromolecules inside our own cells. It’s as if we have tiny nuts and bolts, gears and pulleys, of biological “equipment” inside us. How brilliant is that? We are like the pocket watch found on the ground in the woods by a hiker; we’re fearfully and wonderfully made, with highly intricate biochemical and physical operations, that can come only from a “watchmaker.”

Although it contains one, Christianity is not merely a worldview. Nor is it simply “a religion.” If it were, then it might deserve the reputation of being a narrowly pious view of the world. Thankfully, Christianity is an objective perspective on all reality, a complete worldview, that consistently stands up to the test of practical living. Additionally, it is about our relationship with the Creator. We become one with Christ when we choose to make Him Lord and Savior. This is a great litmus test for deciding whether a particular “branch” or “sect” of Christianity is genuine. Accordingly, we can admit that “false prophets” have arisen. I’m reminded of Jim Jones and David Koresh. Today’s atheists love to talk about all the people murdered over the centuries in the name of Christ. They don’t respond well to the rebuttal that millions were murdered by people who were not followers of Christ, typically in the interest of genocide: Benito Mussolini, Adolf Hitler, Pol Pot, Fidel Castro, Josef Stalin, Ho Chi Mihn, Idi Amin, Saddam Hussein, Mullah Omar, Leonid Brezhnev, Kim Il-Sung, Augusto Pinochet, and (drum roll please) the worst, Mao Ze Dung.

References

Colson, Charles, and Pearcy, N. How Now Shall We Live? (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House), 1999.

Licona, Michael, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press), 2010.

McDowell, J. and McDowell, S., Evidence That Demands a Verdict: Life-Changing Truth for a Skeptical World. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson), 2017.

Moreland, J.P., Scientism and Secularism: Learning to Respond to a Dangerous Ideology. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway), 2018.

Addressing the Socioeconomic Complexities of Addiction—Lessons from the Kensington Neighborhood in Philadelphia

From the Monthly Blog of Dr. Lora Volkow, Dir., National Institute on Drug Abuse
Originally Posted October 29, 2019 here.

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This September, Dr. Volkow was invited by Thomas Farley, the Health Commissioner of Philadelphia, to see firsthand how that city is responding to the opioid crisis. With other members of NIDA leadership, she toured Prevention Point, a private non-profit organization providing harm reduction services to Philadelphia and the surrounding area. The group also visited the health unit of the city’s Prisons Department, where they recently started a program that provides medications to prisoners with opioid addiction, and they met with outreach workers from Temple University who operate a mobile treatment unit that provides medications and behavioral health services for opioid addiction, as well as basic wound care.

Philadelphia Skyline at Night.jpg

Philadelphia’s rate of overdose deaths skyrocketed this past decade, tripling the city’s number of homicide deaths and greatly exceeding the peak number of deaths from AIDS in 1994. With one fifth the population of Manhattan, Philadelphia still has almost as many overdose deaths. It was humbling not only to see the challenges facing a city with a longstanding opioid problem but also to see the engagement and dedication of people on the ground attempting to help, as well as the struggles of those battling their own drug addiction amidst extremely hard socioeconomic challenges.

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Prevention Point’s Wound Care Clinic offers free, specialized wound care for all people

Whenever Dr. Volkow asks people on the front lines of America’s drug crisis what more NIDA can do to support and help their work, they remind her how essential it is to address the basic needs of individuals with addiction, such as stable and safe housing, food, basic medical care, and an opportunity for employment.  In the addiction field, NIDA has recognized the importance of addressing these basic needs as part of recovery support. Yet, it is crucial to realize that these needs have to be met even before a person is in stable recovery in order to facilitate them getting to recovery at all.  People cannot recover from addiction if they are homeless, isolated, and struggling to find food and safety.

Located in Kensington, one of Philadelphia’s hardest-hit neighborhoods, Prevention Point, which began three decades ago in response to the AIDS crisis, offers medications for opioid use disorder (buprenorphine and naltrexone), distributes Narcan (Naloxone) kits for reversal of opioid overdoses, and provides sterile syringes to reduce the risk of infections. It also offers testing for HIV and HCV and treatment referral when needed, wound care (people who inject drugs frequently develop infections), and linkage to behavioral health treatment.

Additionally, the center provides temporary housing and meals, as well as case management and a wide array of other non-medical services to people experiencing homelessness and struggling with addiction, such as legal services and mail services for clients who would otherwise be unable to file and receive needed paperwork. Under the impressive leadership of Executive Director Jose Benitez and Associate Executive Director Silvana Mazzella, Prevention Point provides these services with a very limited budget (facilitated by both public and private funding), in an old church.

Man Giving Money To Beggar On Street

By visibly providing support and care for individuals with addiction, Prevention Point is embraced by some in the community but resisted by others. Some view treatment as competition for the drug market; others fear how it may affect the neighborhood’s potential for renovation and gentrification. With addiction services historically segregated from the rest of healthcare, the “not in my backyard” (“NIMB”) problem has long been a major factor in impeding access to treatment.

NIDA’s visit to Philadelphia drove home why America needs to address the stigma that still surrounds opioid addiction and its treatment. It also drove home why addressing the crisis will require a comprehensive approach—including treatment with medications along with harm-reduction (like needle exchange), as well as case management and an array of non-medical services that can attend to people’s basic needs, including helping them build meaningful social relationships.

It is crucial that drug treatment specialists do more research to find ways of effectively delivering such services and support to all communities, both urban and rural, that need them. It will require more collaborative engagement between researchers and community-level providers, volunteers, and people suffering from substance use disorders—the HEALing Communities Study, which is getting underway in four hard-hit states, is a start.

In conclusion, Dr. Volkow said, “I also strongly encourage scientists who work in other aspects of addiction research to spend time at local addiction service providers to get a firsthand understanding of the challenges faced by those on the front lines, to visit neighborhoods that have been devastated by addiction, and to speak to those afflicted. It can be a valuable reminder of how every aspect of a person’s life—from employment, to housing, to interpersonal relationships—can be either a vulnerability or an asset on the road to addiction recovery. “

Let’s Go to Theology Class! Week Seven

Summary of the seventh week of class in pursuit of my Master’s in Theology at Colorado Christian University. The next five weeks cover lessons in Systematic Theology (Part 1).

Written by Steven Barto, B.S. Psych.

For the purposes of this exercise, and not necessarily as a reflection of what you really believe, assume the stance of either an Arminian or a Calvinist. From the point of view of your chosen perspective, present and develop two ideas: (1) the one which is most convincing to you about the Calvinist or Arminian perspective and (2) the one with which you struggle the most regarding that perspective.

Concerning the differences between Calvinism and Arminianism, we must remember these schools of thought address two distinct issues: (1) free will and ability to choose one’s actions; and (2) election, or God’s choice, as to whom He saves. Calvinism and Arminianism both support the idea of the total depravity of man, to include an inability to choose how to behave. We cannot be saved by the Law. Rather, the Law merely informs us of our inability to “behave” ourselves into righteousness. Arminianism supports universal redemption (general atonement) and conditional election, whereas Calvinism believes in limited (definite) atonement and unconditional election. Calvin is best noted, of course, for adherence to “predestination.” After the Fall, man stood condemned before God. God chose and called “some” who would be saved.

Arminians believe God’s election depends on man’s free will because it is based on His foreknowledge. God does, in fact, see all time at the same time as noted by Grudem. [1] The apostle Peter said we are “chosen and destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood” (1 Pet. 1:2, RSV). Paul wrote, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren” (Rom. 8:29). Arminians are clear that individuals must accept God’s calling to be saved. It is not a matter of being predestined or chosen “ahead of time.” It is interesting to note, however, that this doctrine (universal salvation) is not necessarily supported by Scripture. Since Jesus died for all, Arminians argue that all will be saved. First Corinthians 6:9-11 says the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God; further, only those who are washed (sanctified, justified) by the blood of Jesus will be saved.

Taking the position of Calvinism, I would have to believe the “call” of God on our lives is resistible—we can reject Jesus or accept Him. However, once we accept Jesus as Messiah and Lord, the internal leading of the Holy Spirit is all-powerful, achieving God’s purpose in our lives and giving us a measure of grace to be able to choose. We can stand on the belief that God works out everything for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28). We’re made “spiritually alive” with a new ability to see God’s plan for our redemption and the place of Jesus in that plan. This call is so wonderful and appealing that it becomes impossible to say no to God. This is not a violation of our free will because we didn’t really have it in the first place; our will was corrupted by original sin. Martin Luther believed even the most excellent of men—endowed with the Law, righteousness, wisdom, and all virtues—is nonetheless ungodly and unrighteous. Due to the innate nature of sin, man cannot consistently choose to act righteously, if at all. [2]

Paul gave the example that many Jews were without faith who were most wise, most religious, and most upright. He said they had a “zeal” for God yet were transgressors of the Law. He wrote in Romans 3:9-10 that the Jew was no better than the Gentile; both are under the power of sin. No one is righteous on their own. This fits well with Paul’s remark that we do not wrestle with flesh and blood, but with powers and principalities; rulers of the darkness of this world (Eph. 6:12). Because we all are Adam, we need salvation. Adam’s offense comes to us not by imitation, nor necessarily by anything we do (although we do sin, sometimes habitually); rather, we receive our sin nature by birth. Luther believed original sin “does not allow ‘free-will’ any power at all except to sin and incur condemnation.” [3] Therefore, he rejected the notion of free will. He believed this conclusion is well supported by Scripture, especially in the writings of John and Paul.

Grudem quotes Peter, who called Jesus, “a stone that will make men stumble, a rock that will make them fall; for they stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do” (1 Pet. 2:8, emphasis added). Peter says in verse 10, “Once you were no people but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy but now you have received mercy.” Grudem says in a footnote related to verse 8, “The ‘destining’ in this verse is best taken to refer to both the stumbling and the disobedience. It is incorrect to say that God only destined the fact that those who disobey would stumble.” [4] Grudem notes that Calvin gives some room for man’s “free” acts and choices. Calvin admitted, however, that this statement is a bit confusing, causing him to avoid using it. Instead, man has “this sort of free decision, not because he has free choice equally of good and evil, but because he acts wickedly by will, not by compulsion.” [5]

For me, this idea of “will” can mean only one thing: man acts wickedly by deciding to reject the Light of Christ and remain in darkness. He is compelled by his sin nature to act the only way he can—in an ungodly and unrighteous manner. Admittedly, some men choose to act justly or “God-like” at times, but no man is capable of decidedly obeying the Law and acting righteously in a consistent manner. He is not compelled or tempted to do so by God. James said, “When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed” (James 1:13-14, NIV, emphasis added).

Grudem notes that God has made us responsible for our actions, reminding us that our actions have real and eternal consequences. He notes that Adam blamed Eve for his own disobedience, saying, “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate” (Gen. 3:12). Scripture, as Grudem notes, never blames God for sin. Regardless, He accomplishes all things (no matter their impetus) according to the counsel of His will (Eph. 1:11). In the case of Job, God pulled back and allowed Satan to attack Job in any manner He chose (including wiping out his livestock, killing his wife and children), but He would not allow the devil to kill Job. This type of issue gives me pause. It is easy, at least in my human intellectual capacity, to think God willed (therefore, caused) evil on Job’s animals and his family. Innocent people died for God’s point to be made. However, when I consider the horror and evil inflicted upon Jesus during the last twelve hours of His life (what we consider the “passion”), and when I play it out to the end, seeing that mankind could only be redeemed through the shedding of the blood of Jesus, I have an easier time understanding what is meant by God using whatever happens to accomplish His will.

Grudem says, “In response to the claim that choices ordained by God cannot be real choices, it must be said that this is simply an assumption based once again on human experience and intuition, not on specific texts of Scripture.” [6] Note that Grudem uses the term “ordained by God,” and does not say God performed the evil act itself. This speaks of the means through which He achieves His intended result. We are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). We’re made in such a way, however, that God ordains all we do. The Calvinist would endorse the theory that God does not sin but brings about His will through secondary causes, including the immorality of others. We should accept that whatever God ordains is within His purview and His authority.

Calvin distinguishes between “necessity” and “compulsion.” He notes that unbelievers necessarily sin. Scripture supports this, as does Martin Luther. There is, however, no “Godly compulsion” to sin. There is simply God’s ability to use whatever happens to further His will and promote His glory. What I find most difficult to grasp regarding Calvinism is the idea that God “predetermined” who will be saved and who will not. Perhaps this is a gross misinterpretation of “predeterminism.” The concept that, before the foundation of the world, God predestined a plan of redemption is about the plan and not a prior decision who He will accept and who He will reject. In addition, because God sees the past, the present, and the future all at once, He already knows who will be saved. The responsibility still remains with each individual to either accept or reject the sacrificial death of Jesus as the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world.

Bibliography

Grudem, Wayne, Systematic Theology. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan), 1994.

Luther, Martin, The Bondage of the Will, trans. By James I. Packer(Old Tappan, NJ:       Fleming H. Revell Co.), 1957.

 


[1] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), p. 168.

[2] Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will. (Old Tappan: Fleming H. Revell, 1957), p. 275.

[3] Ibid, p. 298.

[4] Grudem, p. 327.

[5] P. 330.

[6] P. 343.

U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory: Marijuana Use and the Developing Brain

Steven Barto, B.S., Psych.

I am reposting this information from a link to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS.gov) provided by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) website.

I, Surgeon General Jerome Adams, am emphasizing the importance of protecting our Nation from the health risks of marijuana use in adolescence and during pregnancy. Recent increases in access to marijuana and in its potency, along with misperceptions of safety of marijuana endanger our most precious resource, our nation’s youth.

Background

Marijuana, or cannabis, is the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States. It acts by binding to cannabinoid receptors in the brain to produce a variety of effects, including euphoria, intoxication, and memory and motor impairments. These same cannabinoid receptors are also critical for brain development. They are part of the endocannabinoid system, which impacts the formation of brain circuits important for decision making, mood and responding to stress.

Marijuana and its related products are widely available in multiple forms. These products can be eaten, drunk, smoked, and vaped. Marijuana contains varying levels of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the component responsible for euphoria and intoxication, and cannabidiol (CBD). While CBD is not intoxicating and does not lead to addiction, its long-term effects are largely unknown, and most CBD products are untested and of uncertain purity.

Marijuana has changed over time. The marijuana available today is much stronger than previous versions. The THC concentration in commonly cultivated marijuana plants has increased three-fold between 1995 and 2014 (4% and 12% respectively). Marijuana available in dispensaries in some states has average concentrations of THC between 17.7% and 23.2%. Concentrated products, commonly known as dabs or waxes, are far more widely available to recreational users today and may contain between 23.7% and 75.9% THC.

The risks of physical dependence, addiction, and other negative consequences increase with exposure to high concentrations of THC and the younger the age of initiation. Higher doses of THC are more likely to produce anxiety, agitation, paranoia, and psychosis. Edible marijuana takes time to absorb and to produce its effects, increasing the risk of unintentional overdose, as well as accidental ingestion by children and adolescents. In addition, chronic users of marijuana with a high THC content are at risk for developing a condition known as cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome, which is marked by severe cycles of nausea and vomiting.

This advisory is intended to raise awareness of the known and potential harms to developing brains, posed by the increasing availability of highly potent marijuana in multiple, concentrated forms. These harms are costly to individuals and to our society, impacting mental health and educational achievement and raising the risks of addiction and misuse of other substances.  Additionally, marijuana use remains illegal for youth under state law in all states; normalization of its use raises the potential for criminal consequences in this population. In addition to the health risks posed by marijuana use, sale or possession of marijuana remains illegal under federal law notwithstanding some state laws to the contrary.

Marijuana Use during Pregnancy

Pregnant women use marijuana more than any other illicit drug. In a national survey, marijuana use in the past month among pregnant women doubled (3.4% to 7%) between 2002 and 2017. In a study conducted in a large health system, marijuana use rose by 69% (4.2% to 7.1%) between 2009 and 2016 among pregnant women. Alarmingly, many retail dispensaries recommend marijuana to pregnant women for morning sickness.

Marijuana use during pregnancy can affect the developing fetus.

  • THC can enter the fetal brain from the mother’s bloodstream.
  • It may disrupt the endocannabinoid system, which is important for a healthy pregnancy and fetal brain development.
  • Studies have shown that marijuana use in pregnancy is associated with adverse outcomes, including lower birth weight.
  • The Colorado Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System reported that maternal marijuana use was associated with a 50% increased risk of low birth weight regardless of maternal age, race, ethnicity, education, and tobacco use.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists holds that “[w]omen who are pregnant or contemplating pregnancy should be encouraged to discontinue marijuana use. Women reporting marijuana use should be counseled about concerns regarding potential adverse health consequences of continued use during pregnancy”. In 2018, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that “…it is important to advise all adolescents and young women that if they become pregnant, marijuana should not be used during pregnancy.”

Maternal marijuana use may still be dangerous to the baby after birth. THC has been found in breast milk for up to six days after the last recorded use. It may affect the newborn’s brain development and result in hyperactivity, poor cognitive function, and other long-term consequences. Additionally, marijuana smoke contains many of the same harmful components as tobacco smoke. No one should smoke marijuana or tobacco around a baby.

Marijuana Use during Adolescence

Marijuana is also commonly used by adolescents, second only to alcohol. In 2017, approximately 9.2 million youth aged 12 to 25 reported marijuana use in the past month and 29% more young adults aged 18-25 started using marijuana. In addition, high school students’ perception of the harm from regular marijuana use has been steadily declining over the last decade. During this same period, a number of states have legalized adult use of marijuana for medicinal or recreational purposes, while it remains illegal under federal law. The legalization movement may be impacting youth perception of harm from marijuana. 

The human brain continues to develop from before birth into the mid-20s and is vulnerable to the effects of addictive substances. Frequent marijuana use during adolescence is associated with:

  • Changes in the areas of the brain involved in attention, memory, decision-making, and motivation. Deficits in attention and memory have been detected in marijuana-using teens even after a month of abstinence.
  • Impaired learning in adolescents. Chronic use is linked to declines in IQ, school performance that jeopardizes professional and social achievements, and life satisfaction.
  • Increased rates of school absence and drop-out, as well as suicide attempts.

Risk for and early onset of psychotic disorders, such as schizophrenia. The risk for psychotic disorders increases with frequency of use, potency of the marijuana product, and as the age at first use decreases. 

  • Other substance use. In 2017, teens 12-17 reporting frequent use of marijuana showed a 130% greater likelihood of misusing opioids.

Marijuana’s increasingly widespread availability in multiple and highly potent forms, coupled with a false and dangerous perception of safety among youth, merits a nationwide call to action. 

You Can Take Action

No amount of marijuana use during pregnancy or adolescence is known to be safe. Until and unless more is known about the long-term impact, the safest choice for pregnant women and adolescents is not to use marijuana.  Pregnant women and youth–and those who love them–need the facts and resources to support healthy decisions. It is critical to educate women and youth, as well as family members, school officials, state and local leaders, and health professionals, about the risks of marijuana, particularly as more states contemplate legalization.

Science-based messaging campaigns and targeted prevention programming are urgently needed to ensure that risks are clearly communicated and amplified by local, state, and national organizations. Clinicians can help by asking about marijuana use, informing mothers-to-be, new mothers, young people, and those vulnerable to psychotic disorders, of the risks. Clinicians can also prescribe safe, effective, and FDA-approved treatments for nausea, depression, and pain during pregnancy. Further research is needed to understand all the impacts of THC on the developing brain, but we know enough now to warrant concern and action. Everyone has a role in protecting our young people from the risks of marijuana.

Let’s Go to Theology Class! Week Six

Summary of the sixth week of class in pursuit of my Master’s in Theology at Colorado Christian University. The next five weeks cover lessons in Systematic Theology (Part 1).

Written by Steven Barto, B.S. Psych.

Reflecting primarily, but not exclusively, on Wayne Grudem’s definition of systematic theology and his four, attendant sub-points (pp. 21-26), identify the biggest, most important idea for you about systematic theology?

“Biggest” can happen due to several factors: an idea which produced an “a-ha” moment while reading about it; an idea which has evaded your understanding until this session; an idea which you believe to be the most important one from all the readings of this session; or an idea which produces in you a deep sense of worship or wonder or even conviction.

The following is my response to the above discussion prompt.

The “biggest” or most important idea about why I chose to undertake the systematic study of theology is “clarity.” If, during my introduction to theology, I were to focus on systematic theology versus the “doctrine” of the Word of God, I would get sucked in to the vortex of the different forms of God’s Word (to include spoken or revealed versus written—sometimes explained as special revelation). That argument is enough to fill an entire tome itself. It would, by its very nature, include hermeneutics (the branch of knowledge that deals with interpretation, especially of the Bible or literary texts). I’d have to address apocryphal versus canonical. Then I’d have to examine authority, clarity, sufficiency, and necessity. I’d need to consider which translation is most accurate and suited for exegetical study. It’s enough to make the beginner theology student exclaim, “What have I gotten myself into?”

I can, however, focus on what I consider that one biggest idea. My choice surrounds the vital factor of conviction. Certainly, it is important to examine Christian beliefs and disciplines in relation to other systems of thought or practice. There is an element of historical theology in this exercise. What are the insights, analyses, and conclusions that have been handed down, and are they germane to the subject being studied at this time? Obviously, it is critical that systematic theology aid us in applying Christian doctrine to present-day circumstances. We’re told Christ is the same, always. We’re informed that God’s Word will never pass away. Accordingly, at least some portion of what’s before us must apply to the current situation. Further, how would we arrive at any sensible understanding of historical and applicable theology if the study itself is disorganized? By default, it would therefore not be systematic.

There is only one solution. As Wayne Grudem notes, systematic theology must treat biblical topics “in a carefully organized way to guarantee that all important topics will receive thorough consideration.” [1] Systematic theology, among other functions, helps assure the universal inclusion of approved doctrine for study, for edification, and for church governance. And what is “doctrine?” Grudem calls what the whole Bible teaches us about a topic “doctrine.” Although somewhat circular in its explanation, doctrine is simply “the result of the process of doing systematic theology with regard to one particular topic.” [2] To make matters more complex, a doctrine can be very broad in scope or very narrow. God, in general, is a rather broad doctrine; however, the trinity is a specific topic relative to the Doctrine of God.

Every general doctrine in Christianity holds within it the potential to be dissected into intricately yet equally important sub-sections of doctrine. Not surprisingly, each section or sub-section can be the subject of any number of teachings, and to varying degrees of depth. This might sound discouraging at best, and frighteningly complex at worst. To take this stand would be to miss the point. “Systematic” simply means “done to a fixed plan or system.” In other words, methodical if not (at least to some degree) universal. Systematic theology must concern itself with the “core” doctrines that define and vitalize Christianity.

The biggest, most important aspect of systematic theology is the appropriate definition and inclusion of doctrinal categories. Grudem sees these as critical enough to state they must meet at least one of the following three criteria: [3]

  1. Doctrines most emphasized in Scripture;
  2. Doctrines most significant throughout the history of the Christian church and deemed important for all Christians at all times;
  3. Doctrines that have become important for Christians in the present situation in the history of the church.

Wayne Grudem provides a comprehensive listing of core Christian doctrines that I believe should be a part of any systematic theology:

  • Part 1: The Doctrine of the Word of God
  • Part 2: The Doctrine of God
  • Part 3: The Doctrine of Man
  • Part 4: The Doctrines of Christ and the Holy Spirit
  • Part 5: The Doctrine of the Application of Redemption
  • Part 6: The Doctrine of the Church
  • Part 7: The Doctrine of the Future

Grudem’s list is not necessarily the “last word” regarding what is often included in a listing of Christian doctrine. It is, in my opinion, comprehensive to the extent that it is based upon sound biblical exegesis. Moreover, it is not unduly lengthy and cumbersome. For example, the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors expands the list of biblical doctrines as follows:”

  • Grace (already covered under the doctrine of redemption)
  • Sin (already covered under the doctrine of man)
  • Regeneration (already covered under the doctrine of redemption)
  • Justification (already covered under the doctrine of redemption)
  • Sanctification (already covered under the doctrine of redemption)
  • The Great Commission (although not a specific doctrine in Grudem’s Systematic Theology text book, it could be argued this belongs under the Doctrines of Christ and the Holy Spirit, sub-category “the offices of Christ”) [4]

While it can be argued that the above expanded version of the basic Doctrines of Christianity (at least as they are outlined by Grudem’s text book), it is Grudem himself who states, “In a broader sense, ‘all that Jesus commanded’ includes the interpretation and application of his life and teachings, because in the book of Acts it is implied that it contains a narrative of what Jesus continued to do and teach through the apostles after his resurrection.” [5] Further, Grudem argued that, in a larger sense, “all that Jesus commanded” includes everything contained in the New Testament.

Given the magnitude of parables, teachings, instructions, sermons, and sayings of Jesus, and in light of Grudem’s statement that all of the New Testament contains commandments from Christ, I believe the biggest, most important idea for systematic theology remains the accepted and limited (for lack of a better term) listing of doctrines provided by Grudem in Systematic Theology. These doctrines pass the test he applied to them on page 25 (and discussed above). Without a clearly acceptable and limited list of Christian doctrines, systematic theology loses its very critical function: to provide a unified, accepted list of doctrines to be followed throughout the community of believers.

[1] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 24), 2000.

[2] Grudem, p. 25.

[3] Ibid, p. 25.

[4] Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, “Standards of Doctrine.” (Kansas City: Assn. Cert. Biblical Counselors, 2018).

[5] Grudem, p. 27.

Let’s Go to Theology Class! Week Five

Summary of the fifth week of class in pursuit of my Master’s in Theology at Colorado Christian University. These five weeks covered the topic of Major Approaches to Theology

Written by Steven Barto, B.S. Psych.

How does the foundation of Scripture as the primary source for theology help to prioritize and structure the relationships between the various sub-disciplines of Christian theology? How might these all contribute to the unity of Christian theology, or is there one approach that might contribute most to its unity?

Friedrich Schleiermacher identifies three unique and equally important substrates of systematic theology: Historical Theology, Philosophical Theology, and Practical Theology. These must be interconnected relative to every mode or operation of the Christian faith itself for there to be a true “unity of faith.” This is the very beginning of the “community of believers.” Of course, foundation is key to everything.

Consider the parable of the wise and the foolish builder in Matthew 7:24-27. Jesus was nearing the end of His Sermon on the Mount. He had spoken just minutes before regarding fasting and prayer, storing treasures in heaven rather than on earth, and allowing God to provide for our needs without worry. He said if someone hears His words and puts them into practice, that person is like the wise man who builds on a foundation of rock. Such a foundation can withstand stormy weather. The man who hears His words, however, and does not heed them is like the foolish man who builds his house on a foundation of sand. Such a dwelling cannot withstand the storms.

For Christianity in general, that foundation must be the Word of God for it to have a positive, systematic impact on the body of believers. Indeed, such a comprehensive and systematic study is not necessary for the individual, nor for a small study group or congregation; rather, it is for the church at large—the entirety of the “faith.” Only then can it promote universal and coherent application. Christian Theology, specifically, is the collective embodiment of those branches of scientific knowledge and those rules of art required for consistent church government. Faith alone (sola fida) does not need an apparatus for the individual or the family unit. Faith in such an intimate setting is an individual matter. Relative to a systematic theological undertaking of the Christian faith, it must ultimately be laid solidly upon the foundation of Scripture alone (sola scriptura). There is, of course, However, no foundational building block for Philosophical and Practical Theology without a clear continuum of the idea of Christianity.

Historical Theology calls for sifting through and supplementing what others have determined in past teachings of the church. Christianity can never be a solely empirical or intellectual undertaking (simply collecting data). It should, however, involve viewing en masse (in its historical context) all teaching and comparing same ultimately to other churches of the faith. If “history” is missing from systematic theology, it is devoid of “corporate will” (which is determined over time and within the church at large). In this regard, unity is lost. Troeltsch asks whether history merely renders judgment of probability (based on what has happened before). Moreover, is it merely the application of analogy to a specific time? We know analogy brings many problems with it, even when applied to things that happen before our very eyes. Much can depend on our worldview, and can be further compromised by bias, deception, dislocation, formation of myth, misinterpretation, preconception, imposture, factiousness, and so on. Barth says dogmatics can help with this, but it is only appropriate for the “listening” church. In other words, for those who are already believers and are able to “hear” the Word of God and compare Scripture to what is being espoused. He adds that dogmatics provides the mechanism by which human reflection and action (and their fallibility) can be subjected to another reflection and action—that of God’s. God Himself speaks for Himself! He has spoken in the past, He speaks to us now, and He will speak to us in the future. Dogmatics is essentially a kind of “call to order” for the community of believers. It is the means by which unity can be established. Barth thinks of it as a call to the teaching church itself to hear—that is, to hear Christ. Dogmatics must never form doctrine. Instead, it is a tool for weighing the words of the teaching church against the Word of God.

Dogmatics is a reminder that over and above the content of all human speech and its possibility, what is said has plainly been said already, and will be said again, and only consistent with the Word of God. Subject matter should therefore be grounded in the Spirit and not in human intellect or interpretation. In other words, the church teaches, not the person. This is a great tool for checking consistency. Historical Theology is quite significant for analysis due to historical criticism and comparison. Biblical criticism itself is rooted in analyzing the ways by which all the rest of church history has been handed down to us. As Barth noted, there has always been the risk of “equivocal” proclamation when the Word of God comes from the mouths of various theologians and ministers, but the goal must be unequivocally pure doctrine! It all must be said in accordance with (and therefore be comprised solely of) the Word of God. It is advisable, also, to be wary that personal intellectual capacity, history, or life’s situations must never color the truth of the Scriptures. The church essentially makes (or owes) a promise that no matter the circumstances or the person, the Word of God will be presented in pure doctrine and not with some illusory or mistaken element to it.

I believe all three approaches (Historical, Philosophical, and Practical) must be applied to systematic Christian Theology in order to determine a “solidarity” relative to doctrine, without which the church may fall into legalism and become a battleground for competing dogmas.

On Monday I started my second class in pursuit of my Master’s in Theology at Colorado Christian University. This class is the first of three courses in Systematic Theology. Please join me Monday, October 21, 2019 as I discuss the lesson from the first week of Systematic Theology I.

References

Barth, K. Church Dogmatics, 1/2. (Edinburgh: T&T Clark), 1956.  

Schleiermacher, Friedrich. Brief Outline of the Study of Theology, translated by William Farrer, (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: T. & T. Clark; Hamilton, Adams, & Co.; J. Robertson), 1850.

Troeltsch, E. “Historical and Dogmatic Method in Theology,” in Religion in History (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress), 1991.

Let’s Go to Theology Class! Week Four

Summary of the fourth week of class in pursuit of my Master’s in Theology at Colorado Christian University.

Written by Steven Barto, B.S. Psych.

IT’S ONE THING TO pick up a book and read about theology. And that’s okay. It’s how I got interested in taking the subject on as a graduate student. It all starts with contemplation. We “think” about what it means to be alive, to have purpose. We wonder how we might make a difference in society. We question the “logic” of believing in God. Armed with such a burning desire to know, I enrolled in a master’s program in theology and started out on what so far has proved to be an amazing, breathtaking journey.

In week four of my theology class we considered the proper relationship between theological study, sanctification, contemplation, prayer, and action. Further, we discussed the type of character most conducive to theological insight, and how the systematic study of theology should impact one’s character. Generic “theological” study does not necessarily require any degree of sanctification. Many people choose to study theology or philosophy without any sense of what is meant by redemption or sanctification. These concepts are, however, imperative in Christian theology.

What is the proper relationship between theological study, sanctification, contemplation, prayer, and action?

I was amazed how little I understood about sanctification over the years. I thought it “just happened” when I “got saved.” Considering the decades of sinful behavior and active addiction I went through after accepting Christ (at age 13), I was far from sanctified. Of course, it does start with salvation. When we become redeemed, we are expected to “repent” of our old life. Then sanctification can begin. According to R.E.O. White, sanctification means “to make holy.” [1] It’s not uncommon for a new Christian to think this means he or she is made holy (shazam!) all at once. White further explains that to be sanctified is to be “set apart” from common or secular use.

First Corinthians 1:2 says we are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints. R.E.O. White writes that sanctification is not merely justification’s endgame; rather, it is justifying faith at work. The new believer is declared to be acquitted and clothed in the righteousness of Christ. Through sanctification, God begins to accomplish His will in us. This is often called becoming spiritually mature. We are not saved by good works, but there is little hope of sanctification without submitting to the will of God.

Thomas Aquinas says in the Summa Theologiae [2] that four of the gifts of the Spirit of the Lord are wisdom, understanding, knowledge, and counsel, and that these gifts have a direct impact on the intellect. Isaiah 11:2 says. “And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD” (RSV). David Jeremiah explains that the coming king “will be endowed with the Spirit of the Lord, who provides the wisdom, ability, and allegiance to God that are necessary to accomplish a challenging task.” [3] Proverbs 2:6 says, “For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.” James reminds us that if we lack wisdom in any circumstance, we are to ask God and He will give it (James 1:5). Thomas Aquinas said any discourse of reason always begins from an understanding. It is critical, therefore, that we never attempt theology while lacking understanding. Although the work of the Spirit is already completed relative to the compiling of Scripture, His work regarding “illumination” is ongoing.

Prayer is the means by which we gain access to God. Just as we speak to the Father, and call upon Jesus, we must request from the Holy Spirit the guidance, understanding, knowledge, illumination, and discernment needed to effectively and accurately undertake systematic theology. It is equally important to pray for guidance regarding God’s call on our lives. When I decided to change my major from the master’s in counseling program to the master’s in theology, I spent weeks in prayer. I consulted with my pastor, several lay ministry friends, family members, my CCU student advisor, two professors, and several elders at my church. I cannot fathom undertaking a systematic study of Christian theology without prayer.

What type of character is most conducive to theological insight, and how should it change as the result of undertaking theological study?

In any theological undertaking, one would expect there to be a change of character. I think of Nabeel Qureshi (1983-2017), author, speaker, lecturer, and apologist, who converted to Christianity from Islam after spending nearly two years conducting an exegetical study of the Holy Bible. His character, if you will, was that of a loving, dedicated, well-behaved young man who had been raised in a religious home. In fact, no one in his immediate or extended family were extremists or jihadists. He loved the Qur’an, Allah, and his messenger Muhammad. This “character” coupled with a sharp intellect likely contributed to his willingness to examine the theology of Islam, and, ultimately, compare it to Christianity.

Tradition injects a lot into character, and, when that character matures, one becomes curious about tradition, religion, politics, culture, the meaning of life, and so on. Qureshi said one of the greatest hardships he faced was having to inform his parents he had become a Christian. He was, after all, part of a “community of believers” that were bonded together by solid theological principles and deep-seated tradition. He believed in Islam. He revered Muhammad. Regardless, once he met Jesus Christ, he could no longer reject Him than he could make himself stop breathing. This is precisely the type of character it requires to begin a theological study.

Insight comes from honest, rigorous, open-minded, and thorough study. We’ve been told that theology is in its simplest form “the study of God.” For me, the desire to know God stems from my burning desire to know why my earthly father seemed to hate me so much and, more frighteningly, whether my Heavenly Father was as mean-spirited, vindictive, nasty, judging, and punishing. (Incidentally, I eventually learned that my dad did not hate me, and he did the best he could to keep me from running off the rails and into the gutter.)

If God were to be “the same as” my dad, I would have no time for Him. Regardless, somewhere deep inside, I wanted to know several things. First, exactly who or what was this Christian God I’d heard of at church? Second, was He authoritative—leading from a position of authority and strength, love and longsuffering—or authoritarian—ruling over everyone with a heavenly despotic fist, ready to accuse and condemn? Third, was it true, as my father said many times, that I was worthless, or was there hope that my life had some greater meaning?

As to what type of character should result from theological study, Trevor Hart said, “Faith is not a natural progression from knowledge or experiences available to all, but results from a special dispensation which sets us in the perspective from which the truth may be seen, and demands a response” [4] [italics mine]. In other words, deciding to systematically study Christian theology is both a soulful drive or ambition and a rigorous discipline. I have gone through numerous personal changes as an undergraduate student of psychology at Colorado Christian University. I believe those changes set the stage for my choosing to take on a master’s level study of theology. There is a progression at play. Had I not first chosen to return to college, I would not have discovered CCU; had I not enrolled at CCU, I would not be the Christian I am today; and, had I not grown more mature in Christ as an undergraduate, I would not have undergone the requisite changes conducive to undertaking a master’s degree in theology.

This is the fourth week of my first theology class, and already I feel tectonic shifts within me. My personality has brightened, and my mind has cleared. I am ravenous for information about theology, Christology, eschatology, and apologetics. I see people as God sees them, and I’ve begun to feel a heartache for those who will never see the truth about the life, love, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I have started to keep my promises more consistently than I used to, and I exercise greater control over my tongue (which was no easy task!). I even noticed a major change in the amount of television I watch. All of that notwithstanding, I find myself asking God every morning to put a task before me; to lead me where He needs me to go; to break my heart for what breaks His.

Footnotes

[1] R.E.O. White. “Sanctification.” Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017), 770

[2] Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologiae, I.II, q. 68, a1

[3] David Jeremiah. The Jeremiah Study Bible. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2013), 893-94.

[4] Trevor Hart. Faith Thinking. (Eugene:Wipf & Stock Publishers, 1995), 75.