The Christian Worldview, Modern Culture, and Addiction

“The problem of leading a Christian life in a non-Christian society is now very present to us… And as for the Christian who is not conscious of his dilemma—and he is in the majority—he is becoming more and more de-Christianized by all sorts of unconscious pressure: paganism holds all the most valuable advertising space.” —T.S. Eliot

Written by Steven Barto, B.S., Psy.

Lift Up Your Hands

I’VE HEARD IT SAID that in days past Christianity had an influence on culture in America; today, however, culture is having an impact on Christianity. One of my mentors at church puts it this way: “There’s too much world in the church and not enough church in the world.” This symptom comes from the relegation of all things religious to the private world, and the banning of all public expression of one’s faith. Nancy Pearcey said, “Not only have we ‘lost the culture,’ but we continue losing even our own children. It’s a familiar but tragic story that devout young people, raised in Christian homes, head off to college and abandon their faith.” (1) How does this happen? Largely because we’re sending our children off to secular education without helping them develop a Christian worldview. They can’t keep what they don’t understand.

Trevor Hart believes Christian theology must be a matter of activity, not just a subject to be studied. Today,  the hallmark of intellectual inquiry in everyday living appeals exclusively to reason and empirically established evidence as the only building block for truth. He said, “This account of things, which is widely subscribed to within our culture, can be traced back some three and a half centuries to the origins of the so-called European Enlightenment.” (2) Hart said one particular manifestation of this factor is the chasm between public and private spheres. Certainly, this view has greatly contributed to Christianity’s ineffective influence in culture. The “public” sector Hart refers to is the realm of universally-owned or agreed knowledge. If something is “public” truth, then it must be something which everyone can know to be true—a truth available to observation or self-evident to human reasoning.

Public and Private Venues

Today, we’re told to the “private” realm belong all statements or propositions which (for whatever reason) do not permit public scrutiny. Hart wrote, “The private sphere is the sphere of values, matters of opinion and beliefs; anything, in fact, the truth or falsity of which cannot in principle be demonstrated on publicly agreed terms.” (3) This phenomenon leads to comments like That’s your opinion and you’re entitled to hold it; but unless you prove it to be true I am compelled to reject it. Admittedly, the deck is stacked against faith and religion and in favor of science and “proven fact.” Hart believes the “passport” for bringing faith into the public realm is “justification by reason.” Christian faith is generally considered by our society to belong to the category of unproven and unprovable. To speak of such private beliefs in public is simply not condoned. Although faith is the usual motivation for theology, those who advocate for investigation solely on empirical evidence believe faith must remain on the sidelines, giving way to the pursuit of truth based upon reason alone.

Hart believes absolutism is born of arrogance. I concur. Many individuals today shout down any explicit expression of faith in public. It is their conclusion that the truth of the Christian story is not, nor will it ever be, demonstrable. Of course, another element of this is the opinion that truth is never something absolute or universal, but always relative to a particular context—cultural, historical, linguistic, religious, or whatever. We call this conclusion moral relativism. Relativism refers to an ethical system in which right and wrong are not absolute and unchanging but relative to one’s culture (cultural relativism) or one’s own personal preferences (moral subjectivism). Of course we see both forms widely embraced in today’s society. These concepts are directly related to the multiculturalism and pluralism rampant in Western civilization.

Worldview with Earth

How we experience and define the world and our place in it is called our worldview. Wilhelm Dilthey said, “The basic role of a worldview is to present the relationship of the human mind to the riddle of the world and life.” (4) Worldviews vary greatly, but they typically share some common elements: the certainty of death; cruelty of the natural process; general transitoriness. Accordingly, a worldview begins as a cosmic concept and then, through a complex interrelation between us and our world, develops into a more sophisticated and detailed sense of who we are and what is the nature of that which surrounds us. Coupled with a growing sense of values, a highest order of our practical behavior (comprehensive plan of life, highest good, highest norms of action, and shaping of our personal life) takes hold of and defines our thought and experience.

We are speaking of a clash of worldviews. Will Durant said, “From barbarism to civilization requires a century; from civilization to barbarism needs but a day.”

A Christian Perspective

Herman Dooyeweerd believes theoretical thought does not necessarily lie at the base of one’s worldview. More fundamental than any worldview delineated by religious faith is the orientation of one’s heart. Referring to Dooyeweerd, James Sire wrote, “All human endeavor stems not from worldview, but from the spiritual commitments of the heart.” (5) Sire believes there are only two basic commitments in Christianity, leading to two basic conditions of life: “man converted to God” and “man averted from God.” C.S. Lewis treated Christian ideas with clarity and creativity, painstakingly dissecting their importance and relation to overall philosophy and individual challenge. Lewis held the belief that we are all philosophers to some extent. It was his goal to reach philosophia perennis—ultimate and permanently true philosophy.

To this end, Lewis posited that a Christian worldview must be a hybrid of philosophy and theology. He thought this would be highly advantageous because both disciplines generate knowledge in their own distinctive ways. Philosophy employs reason, building on commonly available information, to decide the most fundamental queries about life and the world. Theology draws from Scripture, ecclesiastics, established doctrine, and the historical experiences of the community of believers to articulate knowledge about God in a systematic manner. Lewis believed the truths established by philosophy and theology were compatible. I see this as another application of “all truth is God’s truth.”

Christian apologist James Orr (1844-1913) set out to provide a complete, coherent, rationally defensible exposition of Christianity that would stand up to the intellectual and cultural challenges of his day.  Orr supported the belief that the Christian faith is a christocentric, self-authenticating system of biblical truth characterized by inner integrity, rational coherence, empirical verisimilitude, and existential power. Sire says, “Worldviews have their source deep in the constitution of human nature and involve both the intellect and the actions we perform” (italics mine). (6) Martin Luther said, “It is through living, indeed through dying and being damned, that one becomes a theologian, not through understanding, reading, or speculation.” (7) We must live our theology, without which it is merely a collection of data.

Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920) believed every worldview has a single conception from which the whole worldview flows. He supported the need for all thought to proceed from a single principle: what he called a fixed point of departure. Herman Dooyeweerd (1894-1977) believed the religious or faith orientation of the heart was more fundamental than any worldview that can be delineated by ideas and propositions. He said, “Theory and practice are a product of the will, not the intellect; of the heart, not the head.” (8) Accordingly, he believed worldviews are pretheoretical commitments that are in direct contact not so much with the mind as the heart—involving experience; the living of life. Soren Kierkegaard said Christian conversion necessarily leads to the formation of a new “life-view.” Paul wrote, “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2, NRSV) (italics mine).

Ronald Nash provides a very concise description of worldview: “In its simplest terms, a worldview is a set of beliefs about the most important issues in life… [It] is a conceptual scheme by which we consciously or unconsciously place or fit everything we believe and by which we interpret and judge reality.” (9) I’d like to present a longer comment from Nash before addressing what I hope to be a unique look at a “negative” or “bad” worldview; one I held while in active addiction. Nash wrote:

A worldview may well be defined as one’s comprehensive framework of basic beliefs about things, but our talk (confessed beliefs or cognitive claims) is one thing, and our walk (operational beliefs) is another and even more important thing. A lived worldview defines one’s basic convictions; it defines what one is ready to live and die for.

Worldview of an Addict

Hung Over

Worldview is how a person views the world. A person’s worldview consists of the values and ideals—the fundamental belief system—that determine his attitudes, beliefs and, ultimately, his behavior. Typically, this includes his view of issues such as the nature of God, man, the meaning of life, nature, death, and right and wrong. It is not difficult to imagine how the worldview of an addict might be skewed away from what most people consider proper attitude, belief, and behavior. We begin developing our worldview as young children, first through interactions within our family, then in social settings such as school and church, and from our companions and life experiences. This is, at least in part, the concept of nature versus nurture.

Here are the basic questions we must answer to determine our worldview, and my responses while in active addiction:

  • Is there a god and what is he like?  Maybe. I think so, but I’m not sure. Besides, who cares if there is? He doesn’t love me or want me. I might not be “God” but I want the job. I want to be in charge of me!
  • What is the nature and origin of the universe? Who knows? Who cares? I doubt something came from nothing, but I’m not interested in finding out.
  • What is the nature and origin of man? I don’t think I came from an ape, but I sure act like one! I’m smart, so I should be able to read about this issue and make up my own mind. Some day. Not today.
  • What happens to man after death? I think the Bible has it right. There is a place for the “good” people and the “bad” people. I’ve always been a piece of crap who cannot love or respect others. Instead, I deceive and manipulate them. There probably is a Hell and I’m headed there. My “sins” are too great. Jesus saved everyone but me! I cannot be redeemed so might as well “live it up,” taking what I want.
  • Where does knowledge come from? Good question! I have an IQ of 127 but it does me absolutely no good. My father said, “If you’re so smart, why are you so dumb?” My “smarts” came from me reading, learning, doing. I make my own rules and definitions.
  • What is the basis of ethics and morality? Ethics is whatever I say it is. Morality? No one is truly moral. It’s all “relative” to the person or circumstance. If cannibalism is okay, then I am free to do whatever I deem fit for the situation. It’s “dog eat dog.” It’s all about getting what you want at any cost. And I love the idea of paybacks!
  • What is the meaning of human history? Maybe Darwin was right! Life seems to be every man for himself. I need to adapt. Be a chameleon. Be whatever it takes to get what I want and need. Our entire history has been about survival of the fittest, even from a social perspective.

What It’s Like Now

God has given me a great gift. It starts with life itself. There are numerous situations which, by odds, should have ended in my death. I overdosed on an opiate one afternoon and needed emergency care. I do not remember the event—going unresponsive; the neighbor coming over to try reviving me; the ambulance ride to the trauma center; yelling horrible obscenities at my mother and begging to go home; pulling my IV out, blood everywhere; being transferred to my hospital room. I became aware of my surroundings the next morning when I woke up in a hospital bed. I’ve driven while under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol countless times but never crashed, killed myself, killed others, or ended up in a wheelchair. I’ve been homeless. I’ve put myself in dangerous circumstances just to score drugs. I continued drinking a fifth of vodka a day despite ulcers, elevated liver enzymes, and pancreatitis. I’ve operated a vehicle at speeds in excess of 100 miles-per-hour. Being a “garbage head,” I snorted, swallowed, smoked, and huffed nearly anything that would “do the trick.”

I went from hating myself for 59 years to finally loving myself. Today, I have forgiven myself for the harmful and twisted way I lived for over 40 years, no longer regretting my past or pretending it never happened; instead, I see it now as an asset for helping others. I am motivated today to teach to others the lessons I had to learn the hard way. Loving myself has made it possible to love others. It has also shown me what true unconditional love looks like (1 Cor. 13). I have forgiven all those (whether real or imagined) who treated me badly, no longer using it as an excuse to behave badly. I understand original sin and fully comprehend the “struggle” Paul wrote about in Romans 7. I have forgiven others for their unforgiving attitude toward me, seeing me through their eyes.

I have finally come to accept my powerlessness over drugs and alcohol, as well as pornography, emotional eating, and spending money to “feel good.” Paul put powerlessness into perspective:

I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. So then it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me… Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I of myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin (Rom. 7:15-20, 24-25).

I used to have a very chaotic and unsettled lifestyle. My “default mode” or my “center” was anxiety. I had no peace; no quite moments. I couldn’t sit still. My mind wandered every time I read a book, and I was prone to daydreaming during a movie. My nights were filled with restless worrying and insomnia. As my health and well being began to suffer, I was wracked with depression, anxiety, and chronic physical pain. My degenerative disc disease made it harder to stay away from opiates and cannabis. The great lie I told myself is that I used oxy and weed to escape pain and anxiety. I was not an addict. I needed drugs. I was so very wrong. Despite attending my first 12-step meeting in 2001, I am only sober from booze since 2008 and free of cannabis and opiates for ten months.

Yes, I am powerless. Over many things. But that’s okay. I don’t need to overcome anything by myself. John wrote, “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that overcomes the world, our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God” (1 John 5:4-5). I spent decades doing whatever I wanted. When circumstances got bad, I tried to fix things by myself. Quitting is actually easy for me; the hard part is staying quit! No worries. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Phil. 4:13). And so can you. When we admit our faults, confess them to one another and to God, and take the next right step to move away from deliberate sin, we exponentially increase the odds we will keep on moving and growing.

Footnotes

(1) Nancy Pearsey, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity (Wheaton, LI: Crossway Publishing, 2005), 19.

(2) Trevor Hart, Faith Thinking: The Dynamics of Christian Theology (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1995), 12.

(3) Hart, 13.

(4) Wilhelm Dilthey, Gesammelte Schriften, in Introduction to the Human Sciences: An Attempt to Lay a Foundation for the Study of Society and History, (Detroit, IL: Wayne State University Press, 1988), 291.

(5) James Sire, Naming the Elephant: Worldview as a Concept, 2nd ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2015), 35.

(6) Sire, 33.

(7) Martin Luther, Operations in Psalmos, quoted by Kelly M. Kapic in A Little Book for New Theologians (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012), 41.

(8) In Naugle, Worldview, 27.

(9) Ronald Nash, Worldviews in Conflict (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1922), 12.

What About This Man Called Job?

Written by Steven Barto, B.S., Psy.

CURSE GOD AND DIE. Withhold your praise and adoration, for He has assailed you without reason. You did nothing wrong. Are you not righteous? Do you not seek His face daily? Have you not repented, turning from your wicked ways? Did you lie today? No! Did you steal from others today? No! Did you willfully or callously sin today? No! Have you put God before all things today? Well, probably. Did you willingly accept whatever He put before you today without complaint? Yeah, I guess. Did you judge anyone today? Now wait a minute! That guy was wrong. Completely out of line! So that would be a yes, then? You don’t have to answer. Have you ever cursed the day you were born, shaking your fist at God, and asking Him to end your life of nonstop despair and misery? Did you lose sight of the horizon, deciding the darkness of the moment will never end? Never mind. I withdraw the question.

Spiritual-darkness-e1524259521247

Darkness is a terrible foe. Devoid of all light, it keeps us from seeing even a tiny speck of hope. Early in my many attempts to break free from the bondage of active addiction, my uncle said, “Your problem is you can’t see the horizon.” Darkness, by its very nature, blinds us to our circumstance. Close your eyes for a moment and try to remember exactly where everything is in the room where you’re sitting as you read this. Without peeking, make a mental picture of every inch you can recall. Angles, colors, position of furniture, which magazines lay on the cocktail table unread, books you forgot to put away last night, the location of your TV remote, where you placed your box of tissues. Then open your eyes and see how well you did. This exercise speaks of two things: it is impossible to see without light; and, we are often unaware of our surroundings or predicament.

The Man

Job was a man who lived in Uz. He was honest inside and out, a man of his word, who was totally devoted to God and hated evil with a passion. He had seven sons and three daughters. He was also very wealthy—seven thousand head of sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred teams of oxen, five hundred donkeys, and a huge staff of servants—the most influential man in all the East (Job 1:1-3, MSG).

Job Before God

We are given a glimpse of Job’s character, which is presented in the simple and direct style of a patriarchal narrative. Although not an Israelite, Job is a worshiper of the one true God. Job is a blameless and upright man—e.g., he is beyond reproach but not sinless and perfect. Job acts as a true patriarch of his family, offering daily sacrifices to God on behalf of each of his children. The Book of Job was likely written by Job, and is one of the more ancient books in existence. The fortitude and patience of Job, though not a small thing, gave way in his severe troubles. However, his faith remained focused on the  coming of his Redeemer, giving him steadfastness and constancy. He did not curse or blame God for the troubles that stalked him.

Matthew Henry wrote, “Job was prosperous, and yet pious.” (1) We can see from his routine sacrifices on behalf of himself and his family that he understood the sinful state of man and the need for dependence on God’s mercy. Although his afflictions began at the hand of Satan, the LORD gave permission for Job’s persecution for wise and holy purposes. Henry said, “There is an evil spirit, the enemy of God, and of all righteousness, who is continually seeking to distress, to lead astray, and, if possible, to destroy those who love God.” (2) When Satan appeared in the presence of God to accuse Job, the LORD asked, “Whence have you come?” Satan answered Him, saying, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it” (Job 1:7, NRSV). We know the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour (1 Pet. 5:8), and this is precisely what he was doing that day in Uz.

The story of Job provides us with a unique opportunity to study man’s slow burn when besieged with persistent trials and tribulations. Satan asked permission from God to oppress Job in order to prove Job’s faith and righteousness was contingent upon his wealth and prosperity. Satan said, “But put forth thy hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will curse thee to thy face” (1:11). Putting aside the fact that God knew exactly how Job would respond, He permitted the devil to attack Job (1:12). In essence, God said to Satan, “We’ll see! Go ahead, do want you want with all that he has.” It’s important to note that God protected Job’s life, telling Satan to not lay a hand on him.

Satan’s attack came on all at once. Job was having a meal when a servant came to tell him, “The oxen were plowing and the asses feeding beside them; and the Sabe’ans fell upon them and took them, and slew the servants with the edge of the sword; and I alone have escaped to tell you” (1:14-15). Before this man could finish presenting Job with the bad news, another servant burst in and told him lightning struck his flock of sheep, killing every head and all servants except him (1:16). A third man told Job the Sabe’ans had returned and took all his camels and killed every servant but him. Another servant arrived, telling Job his children were killed when a strong wind caused the house to fall on them as they ate supper. In each instance, the devil allowed a servant to witness these calamities and survive to inform Job.

It was not until several of Job’s friends arrived that he seems to have noticed how far he’d fallen during this onslaught. When they arrived, they barely recognized Job. Crying out in lament, they ripped their robes, dumped ashes on their heads as a sign of their grief, and sat with Job on the ground for seven days. No one spoke. It is likely that during this week of silence Satan continued to assault Job’s beliefs by planting doubt in his mind. Henry wrote, “These inward trials show the reason of the change that took place in Job’s conduct, from entire submission to God’s will, to the impatience which appears here and in other parts of the book.” (3)

Job cried out:

Obliterate the day I was born. Blank out the night I was conceived! Let it be a black hole in space. May God forget it ever happened. Erase it from the books! May the day of my birth be buried in deep darkness, swallowed by the night. And the night of my conception—the devil take it! Rip the date off the calendar, delete it from the almanac. Oh, turn that night into pure nothingness—no sounds of pleasure from that night, ever! Why didn’t I die at birth, my first breath out of the womb my last? Why were there arms to rock me, and breasts for me to drink from (Job 3:3-7, 11-12, MSG)?

Eliphaz, one of the friends, says that although Job often comforted other people, he now demonstrated that he never actually knew their pain. Eliphaz believed Job’s pain must be due to some sin he committed and he told Job to seek God’s favor. Bildad and Zophar agreed that Job must have performed evil to provoke God’s justice and argued that he should attempt to manifest more innocent behavior. Bildad supposed that Job’s children brought their deaths upon themselves. Even worse, Zophar suggested that whatever wrongdoing Job has done he likely deserved more suffering than what he had experienced.

Although Job cursed the day he was born, he did not curse God. I imagine he was later ashamed of these utterances. As I read these words this morning, I was reminded of my past and the countless times I shouted at God, cursing Him for not helping me, and wishing I had never been born.  On more than one occasion I shook my fist at heaven and said to God, “Either cure me or kill me!” The longer I toiled under mental illness and addiction, the more I was convinced my life was meaningless. Each time I would stop using drugs and alcohol and head back to treatment, I was highly motivated. I wanted to learn from my mistakes. During these moments, I felt blessed to be alive, and I was grateful that I could use my horrific past to help counsel others. Then it would start over again, worse than the last time.

Job had lost his way and was without any prospect of reprise or hope of better days. Certainly, we all contemplate our misery when in the thick of it, and for those whose trials appear to have no end there seems to be no reason to go on. According to the American Psychological Association, the suicide rate in America rose 33 percent from 1999 to 2017. Suicide ranks as the fourth leading cause of death for people ages 35 to 54, and the second for ages 10 through 34. It remains the 10th leading cause of death overall. (4) Pinpointing the reasons that suicide rates rise or fall is challenging in part because the causes of suicide are complex. During those when moments I considered suicide, I’d lost all hope that things in my life would ever change. I was tired of letting people down. I became convinced I was a hopeless, helpless hypocrite.

His Accuser

Satan retorted, “So do you think Job does all that out of the sheer goodness of his heart? Why, no one ever had it so good! You pamper him like a pet, make sure nothing bad ever happens to him or his family or his possessions, bless everything he does—he can’t lose! But what do you think would happen if you reached down and took away everything that is his? He’d curse you right to your face, that’s what” (Job 1:9-10, MSG).

Satan the Accusing Serpent

We learn a great deal about Satan from his conversation with God about Job (1:6-12). He is accountable to God. His power over Job was limited. All angelic beings, good and evil, are compelled to appear before God. An evangelist friend of mine puts it this way: Satan appears in the “Court of God” daily, accusing us of wrongdoing, asking God to judge and punish us accordingly. God knew Job would eventually persevere through faith. Satan, of course, is not able to see the future. Moreover, although he wages spiritual battle against us through our thoughts, he cannot read our minds or know what we will do. If he could, he would have known his temptation of Job was futile. What, then, was the reason for his attack on Job? First, it shows us Satan is alive and well on earth, roaming about seeking those whom he can destroy. Second, no matter the circumstances—or our initial doubt and frustration—we can overcome the wiles of the devil through the Word of God and prayer.

Why was Satan in God’s presence along with all the angels at the beginning of this story? As an angel, Satan is obligated to give an account for his actions in the world. He told God he had been going to and fro on the earth, walking up and down on it. Notice the implication: Satan strutting about, boasting of his power as ruler of the earth, tempting and dominating whomever he wants. He attacked Job’s motives, saying that Job was blameless and had integrity only because he had no reason to turn against God. Satan wished to prove that Job worshiped God because God had given him so much, not because he truly loved and revered God. Truly, many Christians are “fair weather” believers, following God only when everything is going well, or seeking whatever they can get. Such superficial faith often falls on its face when confronted with adversity—especially if the believer perceives his or her hardship as unfair or undeserved.

Satan essentially slanders Job before the Court of God. Of course, Christians should dread nothing more than living as hypocrites. This was my fault for many years. When my brother said, “I hate you, and you are nothing but a hypocrite,” I was devastated. Not angry; just sad that he was right. When in active addiction, I would do or say whatever it took to get me out of hot water. To convince others I was fine. I wanted to be left alone. This was not Job’s problem. He genuinely meant what he said. There is nothing worse than being called out as a hypocrite when it is not true!

The devil undertook to expose Job as a hypocrite by afflicting him; and Job’s friends concluded he was a hypocrite because he showed marked impatience during his afflictions. Job’s friend Eliphaz says, “Think now, who that was innocent ever perished? Or where were the upright cut off? As I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same” (Job 4:7-8). In other words, Job, what did you do to bring this calamity down upon you and your family?

His God

As for me, I would seek God, and to God would I commit my cause; who does great things and unsearchable, marvelous things without number: he gives rain upon the earth and sends waters upon the fields; he sets on high those who are lowly, and those who mourn are lifted to safety (Job 5:8-11).

Hands To Heaven

Regardless of Job’s self-righteous spirit, the LORD watched over him with the affection of a wise and loving father. God is fully aware of every attempt by Satan to bring suffering and difficulty upon us. God might allow us to suffer for a season, but there is always a reason. The apostle Paul wrote, “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28, NRSV). God suffered Job to be tried, as he suffered Peter to be sifted. Jesus and his twelve had gathered in the upper room for a Passover dinner. In Luke 22:21 Jesus said, “But behold the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table.” This prompted much murmuring: Who could it be? Not, I, I would never do such a thing! The twelve argued about who among them loved Jesus more.

Jesus said to Peter, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren” (22:31-32) (italics mine). Let’s not miss the amazing prophetic lesson this represents. Only hours after being told that he would be a ruler in Christ’s kingdom, Peter is going to crash. From the heights of joyful anticipation and confidence to the pit of failure and bitter weeping in one night. We know Peter denied Christ three times just before dawn, before the rooster crowed twice, as Jesus had predicted. It is clear from the scene in The Passion of the Christ that Peter was mortified, if no outright frightened for his salvation.

Despite this egregious offense, Peter is the first to preach the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit under the New Covenant. He proclaims  a resurrected Jesus to the Jews, converting many to the gospel. He is later directed by God to bring the gospel to non-Jews as well. Despite Peter’s denial of Christ, Jesus made him the rock upon which He would build the Body of Christ. His ministry dovetailed nicely with Paul’s mission to the Gentiles. When Jesus said and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren, he was speaking of the good that would come from Peter’s repentance.

Ultimately, God is in control. Today’s New Atheists enjoy charging God with the heartless and purposeless infliction of violence and despair on undeserving people. It’s the typical argument, If God is a God of love, why does He permit evil in His creation? Regarding Job, it is extremely important to notice that not once did Job blame God or curse Him for the suffering being poured out on him and his family. I had to re-read the Book of Job to be certain of this, but it’s true. Job cursed his own life, even the day he was born. In fact he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return; the LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (1:21). It seems Job was more willing to assume blame for what was happening to him than blame his beloved LORD.

Although Job essentially said If God is not responsible, who is? he expressed hatred for his life and not for God. He remarked, “[H]ow can a man be just before God? If one wished to contend with him, one could not answer him once in a thousand times. He is wise in heart, and mighty in strength—who has hardened himself against him, and succeeded?” (9:2b-4). He continued: “How then can I answer him, choosing my words with him? Though I am innocent, I cannot answer him; I must appeal for mercy to my accuser” (9:14-15). Henry provides a wonderful analysis of this rant. He writes, “Job is still righteous in his own eyes, and this answer, though it sets forth the power of God, implies that the question between the afflicted and the Lord of providence is a question of might, and not of right.” Henry notes, “[W]e begin to discover the evil fruits of pride and of a self-righteous spirit.” (5) Job did not believe he was without sin; reflecting on God’s goodness and justice, he tried to determine what had brought God’s disfavor upon him. Rather than blame God for his troubles, he wracked his brain to determine why he’d been singled out.

Not once did Job say to God, Why are you doing this to me? Nor did he curse God or recant his faith. Instead, he admonished his so-called friends and decided to take his case directly to God. It is important to note that Job says, “I’ll take whatever I have coming to me” (13:13). He asks God to remove his afflictions (The terror is too much for me!), but he does not accuse God of improper treatment. Remaining humble, he asks, “How many are my iniquities and my sins? Make me know my transgression and my sin” (13:23). Maybe Job was beginning to see how his pride and complacency brought him to this moment in his life. Eliphaz had essentially accused him of lacking empathy. Perhaps additionally he recognized a sense of entitlement that he thought should prevent such attacks as he was presently facing.

Concluding Remarks

The story of Job is one of the finest examples we have of Romans 8:28. Persecution is the yardstick by which our sincerity as Christians is measured—it tends to separate the true believer from the hypocrite. Unsound hearts pretend in prosperity, but fall away during tribulation (Matthew 13:20-21). Because of their immaturity, imposters cannot sail in stormy weather.  God often uses adversity to publicly gauge the genuineness of a man’s faith. As I noted earlier, suffering times are often sifting times. Job said, “When I am tried I shall come forth as gold” (Job 23:10). He had the type of faith that can’t be destroyed by fire. A Christian who is truly born of God, no matter what he loses, will hold fast his integrity (Job 2:3).

 Job was unsure about why he was being attacked, but he chose to keep seeking God. Aware that he had not intentionally or maliciously sinned, he ignored the chastisement of his friends. He had confidence in the goodness of both his cause and of his God; and cheerfully committed his cause to Him.  It is during times of trouble that fervent prayer is most important. God knows us better than we can ever know ourselves. This is why we can be sure that if we love God every detail in our lives is worked into something good. When we grow weary, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us through.

Job presents his “closing arguments” in 31:1-40. Ultimately, he clears himself of the charge of hypocrisy:

Oh, that I had one to hear me! (Here is my signature! let the Almighty answer me!) Oh, that I had the indictment written by my adversary! Surely I would carry it on my shoulder; I would bind it on me as a crown; I would give him an account of all my steps; like a prince I would approach him. If my land has cried out against me, and its furrows have wept together; if I have eaten its yield without payment, and caused the death of its owners; let thorns grow instead of wheat, and foul weeds instead of barley (31:35-40a).

It is only through humility and reverence that we can hope to learn from our errors, and turn trials and hardship into victory. Even though Satan must seek permission to challenge our faith, we are not expected to stand against his wiles alone. It is through the Name of Jesus that we can defeat the enemy, grown in stature, and glorify God through or every word and deed.

Footnotes

(1) Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1997), 415.

(2) Henry, 415.

(3) Henry, 418.

(4) Kirsten Weir, “Worrying Trends in U.S. Suicide Rates,” American Psychological Association, Vol. 50, No. 3 (March 2019), URL: https://www.apa.org/monitor/2019/03/trends-suicide

(5) Henry, 425.

More on Scientism

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Written by Steven Barto, B.S., Psych.

Dan Egeler writes in the Forward to J.P. Moreland’s book Scientism and Secularism: Learning to Respond to a Dangerous Ideology, “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.” It is no secret that much of the scientific community believes it is at odds with religion. In fact, scientists see themselves as the voice of reason. It is their intention—for the most part—to stem the tide of all this “irrational belief” in a divine creator or eternal being.

It can be argued that we might have been fooled into this pointless yin/yang fight between science (the physical) and metaphysical (the fundamental nature of reality, including the relationship between mind and matter). How can someone believe in God and science at the same time? Science sees itself as the “great revealer” of reality, down to the very mathematical calculations about matter and energy. Belief in God is considered to be “old fashioned” or “backward,” if not outright elitist. Consider the words of Physics Nobel Prize winner Stephen Weinberg:

The world needs to wake up from the long nightmare of religion. Anything we scientists can do to weaken the hold of religion should be done, and may in fact be our greatest contribution to civilization” [1] (italics mine).

If science and God do not mix, why were over 60% of Nobel Laureates between 1901 and 2000 Christians? The history of modern science has many great Christian pioneers—Galileo, Kepler, Pascal, Boyle, Newton, Faraday. Ben Shapiro wrote, “Jerusalem and Athens built science. The twin ideals of Judeo-Christian values and Greek natural law reasoning built human rights. They built prosperity, peace, and artistic beauty. Jerusalem and Athens built America, ended slavery, defeated the Nazis and the Communists, lifted billions from poverty, and gave billions spiritual purpose.” [2] Shapiro warns that atomistic individualism has a tendency to drift toward the self-justifying oppression of others. To me, atomistic means individualistic; society is comprised of a collection of self-interested and seemingly self-sufficient individuals swirling around one another like atoms. Christianity teaches us about society, neighborliness, love, mutual respect, fellowship, charity. It tells us no one is an island.

Science or Philosophy?

If I told you that the hard sciences alone have all intellectual authority to give us knowledge of reality, and that everything else—especially theology, philosophy and ethics—is based upon private notions, blind faith, or culture, what would you say? More importantly, would you think such a conclusion is “scientific?” Better yet, is it a “provable” conclusion? This is the basic tenet of scientism. It is not science, but a worldview. Specifically, it’s a theory of epistemology (the branch of philosophy that studies what knowledge is and how we obtain it). Not only does scientism not provide a “scientific view,” it is actually a school of philosophy. Scientism is so pervasive today that it distorts reality and pollutes the field of science.

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This worldview believes religions cannot be proven intellectually. They come from within the individual (a private belief) and are typically handed down from our parents as part of our culture. I have no problem with the second part of that statement. Indeed, many beliefs are passed down through generations. This does not mean those beliefs are untrue. To say they are, especially in a biology class in public schools, is to manipulate religious conviction. Why is is appropriate for high school science teachers to promote the theory of evolution as though it were a “proven fact,” while at the same time leaving intelligent design out of the story of life? To do so is to stack the deck.

Moreover, the theory of evolution is rooted solely in “historical” science— using knowledge that is already currently known to tell the story of what happened in the past. Scientific method involves making conjectures (hypotheses), deriving predictions from them as logical consequences, and then carrying out experiments or empirical observations based on those predictions. Scientists then test hypotheses by conducting experiments or studies. Some proponents of naturalism and evolution claim Christian apologists are stretching the concept that historical science is not verifiable; that it is not proper “science” relative to events occurring eons ago. In fact, it is said that creationists fail to appreciate the history of science and science itself.

Historical science is a term used to describe sciences in which data is provided primarily from past events and for which there is usually no direct experimental data. That sounds straightforward to me. Admittedly, however, science does deal with past phenomena, particularly in historical sciences such as cosmology, geology, paleontology, paleoanthropology, and archeology. Arguably, there are experimental sciences and historical sciences. By their very definition, they use different methodologies. Naturalists and evolutionists believe both branches of science can properly track causality. This is where I lose faith in their explanation. If historical science can track causality regarding events alleged to have taken place during as varied a time as tens-of-thousands, hundreds-of-thousands, or millions of years ago, I’d like an explanation. How can we trust in scientific “theory” that cannot be verified?

The scientific method has five basic steps, plus plus one feedback step:

  1. Make an observation.
  2. Ask a question.
  3. Form a hypothesis, or testable explanation.
  4. Make a prediction based on the hypothesis.
  5. Test the prediction.
  6. Iterate: use the results to make new hypotheses or predictions.

Recognizing that we all approach the world with presuppositions, biases, misconceptions, and (at times) faulty data, it is critical to admit that these conditions shape the way we see and interpret the empirical world. In this regard, historical science cannot be considered on equal footing with operational science. Because no one was there to witness the past—with the exception of God—we must interpret scientific claims regarding origin on a set of starting assumptions. Creationists and evolutionists have the same evidence; they just interpret it within a different framework or worldview. Evolution denies the role of God (as intelligent designer) and creation accepts His eyewitness account (related in the Bible) as the foundation for arriving at a correct understanding of the universe. Admittedly, this is based on an act of faith. Scientism and evolution, however, are also based on faith. They are philosophical viewpoints in the same manner as theism and intelligent design. Some, in fact, regard science as their religion.

J.P. Moreland on Scientism

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J.P. Moreland cites an example in Scientism and Secularism regarding the policy of public schools in the State of California in 1989, “Science Framework,” which offered guidance to teachers about how to address students who expressed reservations about the theory of biological macroevolution:

“At time some students may insist that certain conclusions of science cannot be true because of certain religious or philosophical beliefs they hold… It is appropriate for the teacher to express in this regard, ‘I understand that you may have personal reservations about accepting this scientific evidence, but it is scientific knowledge about which there is no reasonable doubt among scientists in their field, and it is my responsibility to teach it because it is part of our common intellectual heritage'” (italics mine)[3].

The above “policy statement” is actually a picture of knowledge it assumes to be true: knowledge about what is real can only be determined  by hard science, and empirical knowledge derived from hard science is the only knowledge deserving of the backing of public institutions. Science uses terms like “conclusions,” “evidence,” “no reasonable doubt,” and “intellectual heritage” to elevate itself as the only method for understanding reality. Scientism denigrates terms like “beliefs,” “faith,” and “personal reservations” as non-empirical and inappropriate, unfounded opinions. Indeed, this is not a level playing field!

It is critical to realize that scientism is a philosophy or belief system and not science. It is not proof beyond reasonable doubt. Scientism is not the identification of something as scientific or unscientific but the belief that “scientific” is far more valuable than “non-scientific” or worse, that “non-scientific” has negligible value. Moreover, this conclusion is making a huge assumption: there is no scientific proof of intelligent design or a supreme being. To decide this to be true is to close one’s mind to any possibility that science can prove metaphysical claims. Granted, whenever science establishes a prior metaphysical or ephemeral claim as fact, it moves from the category of metaphysical to the physical or scientific category. Unfortunately, the New Atheists label those who believe in God as irrational, deluded, backward, or closed-minded. And they feel justified in doing so because they believe there are no truths that can be known apart from appropriately certified scientific claims. First, that is not uncategorically true. Second, it dogmatically decides no such evidence will ever be found.

The Damage Done

Battle Between Science and Christianity

Because scientism is virtually everywhere in our postmodern pluralist society, it is considered to be “normal” if not essential. Increasingly, Christians are considered to be out of touch with reality. Stuck in the past. Scientism wants everyone to agree that religion is a byproduct of fear, doubt, and the quest for meaning, and that science has moved mankind further along the continuum of information. The only “stuff” that matters today is data. Scientism puts Christian claims on the outside looking in—beyond what people generally consider reasonable and rational. Accordingly, one of the disturbing side-effects of scientism is making the ridicule of Christianity more common and acceptable. It states that any belief in an invisible God or an intelligent designer is not just untrue, but unworthy of any rational consideration.

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The rise of modern science in the seventeenth century was founded on testing and rejecting authoritarian claims of truth. Whether Scripture, tradition, or Aristotle, authority must not stand in the face of logic and evidence. We see proof of this with the story of Galileo, who trusted the truths of mathematics and personal observation despite the fact that his conclusions contradicted the doctrine of the church or the authority of the ancients. Indeed, our universe is heliocentric (earth and the other planets revolve around the sun) not geocentric. Earth is not the center of the universe. Over the centuries, the scientific method led to better comprehension of nature and life. Technology transformed our world beyond the scope of mere fantasy.

Unfortunately, science has been erroneously identified as an “authority” we tend to bow to without question. Research necessarily leads to provisional conclusions, yet these conclusions are typically taught (if not worshiped) as the only definitive basis for the physical world. Science enjoys a prestige that often obscures how tentative its claims are in reality. This has led to professional advancement, political advantage, and ideological “certainty” which is intrinsically bound to the acceptance of new ideas or alleged truths. Countless individuals suspend any doubt or skepticism simply because science has “proven” something. This is a dangerous conclusion that is based on the worldview of scientism.

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More critically, science has encroached improperly on the world of human thought, philosophy, religion, and truth. Scientists have decided to apply the physical sciences to the behavior and motivations of people, their social and cultural practices, and their theological beliefs. They insist that everything in the universe (the physical and the metaphysical) can be understood through the precepts of natural laws; able to be predicted and analyzed by Newtonian physics. Carl Sagan famously said, “The cosmos is all that is or was or ever will be.” Frankly, this viewpoint is both illogical and based solely on conjecture. It is a personal belief and a scientific fact.

Critical issues concerning human behavior and motivation cannot be scientifically defined. We are decidedly different from animals or other natural phenomena. We have a mind, consciousness, self-awareness and self-determination, and (most importantly) the freedom to choose how we will act. None of these attributes has been explained solely through science. Psychology and sociology are considered “soft” sciences for this very reason. Give a man a situation and he will decide for himself in that situation how to react to it. In fact, most of our problems today are caused not so much by the situation itself as they are based on how we respond to that situation. Response has power to create a pseudoreality. We “see” things through the eyes of gender, race, culture, nature/nurture, personality, religion, and political viewpoint.

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Consider how these variables impact science. Sagan said, “Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.” Of course, he believed this was an accurate statement. It was his intention to impose this conclusion of everyone. Moreover, a statement such as this has no basis in scientific fact, theory, or empirical evidence. It is Sagan’s feeble attempt to see inside the soul of man. The very fact that this was his worldview meant he was not likely to “see” any evidence to the contrary. This is precisely what makes scientism dangerous and damaging.

Worldview is the framework of our most basic beliefs. It shapes our view of and for the world, and is the basis of our decisions and actions. Unfortunately, it is built in part on our preconceptions, presuppositions, biases, prejudices, and culture. James Sire said our propositions are actually deeply-rooted commitments of the heart. Quoting Naugle, Sire states, “Theory and practice are a product of the will, not the intellect; of the heart, not the head.” [4] Entwistle provides an important insight into worldview, stating, “What we see depends, to some degree, on what we expect and are predisposed to see.” [5] 

CONCLUDING REMARKS

Since time began, man has been bothered by metaphysical questions to which there seem to be no simple answers. Ravi Zacharias (a leading Christian apologist) says there are four great questions regarding life: (1) What is the origin of life?; (2) What is the meaning of life?; (3) Where does morality come from?; and (4) What is our ultimate destiny after death? From a philosophical and theological viewpoint, there are no universal responses to these questions. Scientice would like us to believe there are. Science believes it hold the only answer to the first two questions; they relegate the last two answers to philosophy or theology. It’s obvious that worldviews are as divergent as mankind itself. What makes this issue more complex is that worldviews are not limited to matters of culture or science, nor do they reside solely in the intellect. Rather, they are typically of the heart, not the head. A person’s worldview serves as the foundation or infrastructure for their values, which determine their behavior. Accordingly, it is crucial that Christianity labors to establish the ontological (underlying) truth of all things. This can only be accomplished by first grasping the meanings contained in the Scriptures, and then defending the very reason for our faith (1 Pet. 3:15).

I will admit, the same thing can be said about religion or faith. Theology is not science, but it is not anti-science. That’s the great lie evolutionists and most biologists tell everyone: Religion cannot be proven; faith is a private, subjective belief in something unseen; science clearly establishes the basis for all reality—indeed, all truth. Hold on a sec! That last one is not science; it is scientism. We’ve established that scientism is not science, but a worldview. It is a philosophical opinion about science that is not based on logic or evidence. Further, I agree that my belief in Almighty God (theism) and the life, teachings, ministry and atoning death of Jesus (Christianity) is at least to some degree based on faith.

Faith is not at issue. Mankind is not just a cluster of “meat” or “carbon-based” individuals wandering through the universe—material conglomerations of matter changing with every moment. We are individuals with responsibilities, morals, beliefs, and the ability to reason and question. What’s at issue is scientism’s claim that science is the only source of truth and reality, which is a philosophical claim and not an empirical scientific fact. Period. Moreover, to deny reason would be to end all human interaction, destroy our politics and sociology, and tear down what it means to be human at the root. It would be to decide one of two things: either the four great questions of Ravi Zacharias are not relevant to life itself or, perhaps worse, that science is the only vehicle by which we can definitively answer these questions.

Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (NIV). Faith has always been the hallmark of Christianity. The “principle” tenet of Christianity is planted in the heart of the believer through the Holy Spirit. Faith, in this manner, is a firm persuasion and expectation that everything the Bible says about God and Christ is true. Moreover, the believer has decided to trust that Scripture provides a true and accurate account of the origin of all things.

Is it just me, or does Darwinism make the same “faith” claim, but does so as if it were an ontological, underlying, clearly-proven fact?

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I want to start encouraging more feedback so we can open a dialog. Presently, in order to leave a comment you need to scroll back to the header and click on LEAVE A COMMENT, but I’m in the process of figuring out how to move the COMMENT bar to the end of each post. Thanks for reading. God bless.

Footnotes

[1] Stephen Wineberg, New Science, Issue No. 2578, November 18, 2006.

[2] Ben Shapiro, The Right Side of History (New York: HarperCollins, 2019), p. xxiv-xxv.

[3] J.P. Moreland, Scientism and Secularism (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018), p. 28.

[4] James Sire, Naming the elephant: Worldview as a concept, 2nd ed (Downers Grove: Inter Varsity Press, 2015), p. 35.

[5] Davide Entwistle, Integrative approaches to psychology and Christianity, 3rd ed (Eugene: Cascade Books, 2015), p. 93.

The Basis for True Science

WHAT IS SCIENCE? How do we determine if it leads to truth? Whose truth does it represent? Stripped down, science essentially means “the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.” Is true science an elitist or Gnostic pursuit? In other words, can it be understood by only a handful of people. How do we do science? Although the average person will never master science to any degree,  there is a desperate need for non-technical arguments that stand on their own merits, independent of any technical work, and that are at least somewhat comprehensible.

It is important to note that all humans are “scientists” to some degree. In fact, scientific study encompasses more than we realize on the surface—it touches on the philosophical, biological, social, and cultural aspects of life as well. Without realizing it, throughout the day we tend to carefully observe and analyze many aspects of the physical universe. We constantly make “mental notes” of what we observe, and we use those notes to build a conceptual model (or worldview) of how it all works. Each of us, regardless of our mental capacity, constantly acquires and analyzes data in the pursuit of meaning and cause-and-effect.

Stephen Hawking established two sets of questions to be considered when applying science to life and its “big questions.” The first batch of queries focuses on the “hows” of existence:

  • How can we understand the world in which we find ourselves?
  • How does the universe behave?
  • What is the nature of reality?
  • Where did this all come from?
  • Did the universe need a creator?

Hawking’s second set of questions relates to the “whys” of existence:

  • Why is there something rather than nothing?
  • Why do we exist?
  • Why this particular set of scientific laws and not some other?

Neil deGrasse Tyson says—

[Science] is made possible by generations of searchers strictly adhering to a simple set of rules: test ideas by experiment and observation; build on those ideas that pass the test; reject the ones that fail; follow the evidence wherever it leads; and question everything. Accept these terms and the cosmos is yours.

The “Religion” of Science

Unfortunately, many empiricists believe science and religion are locked in a bitter and contentious war for our minds. Stephen Weinberg, awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics, said, “The world needs to wake up from the long nightmare of religion. Anything we scientists can do to weaken the hold of religion should be done, and may in fact by our greatest contribution to civilisation [sic].” It has been argued that religion cannot cure disease; it cannot usefully explain where humans came from, the origin of life, or how the universe came to be; it is said to be unable to explain volcanoes, earthquakes, thunderstorms, hurricanes, epidemics, allergies, birth defects, diseases, and so on. Scientists dogmatically claim that religion cannot usefully explain one single thing. Of course, there is no basis for a categorical denial of religion’s usefulness in explaining the physical realm.

Consider the following position:

Science is an unstoppable force for human development that will deliver answers to our many questions about the universe, and solve many, if not all, of our human problems: disease, energy, pollution, poverty. At some stage in the future, science will be able to explain everything, and answer all our needs.

It would seem the above is a very narrow viewpoint. I suggest the following as a more accurate and equitable concept: (1) religion is based on faith; (2) science is based on faith; (3) both religion and science give us knowledge of the unseen world; (4) all knowledge of the unseen world must be based on faith; therefore (5) science is a religion.

To a great extent, today’s culture holds the dramatically one-dimensional opinion that what we see is all there is and, accordingly, nature is all we need to explain everything. Charles Colson, in his book How Now Shall We Live? describes this as the philosophy of naturalism. We can define naturalism as the philosophical belief that everything arises from natural properties and causes, and supernatural, metaphysical, or spiritual explanations are excluded or discounted. Natural laws are the only rules that govern the structure and behavior of the natural universe; the changing universe at every stage is a product of these laws and nothing else. Philosophical naturalism is a special instance of the wider concept of philosophy, taking the subject matter and method of philosophy to be continuous with the subject matter and method of other disciplines, especially the natural sciences.

Naturalism is essentially synonymous with humanism. Of course, both schools of thought exclude the supernatural by definition. Interestingly, naturalism claims to answer the how and the why of existence, holding itself as the cultural authority to rule on what is, why it is, and what it means. It can be considered an ism because it lives as a tendency, a stance, a frame of mind, a sequence of mental habits and reflexes. Naturalist philosophers believe no other intellectual enterprise—except pure mathematics—has such reliable and effective means for defining and explaining the universe. Typically, and to the contrary, making sense of human life is the principal business of organized religion. Methodological naturalism is a subset of naturalism, involving a cognitive approach to reality that ignores the metaphysical realm.

Naturalistic scientists try to give the impression that they are fair-minded and objective, thereby hinting that it is “religious” people who are subjective and biased in favor of their personal beliefs. This is basically a ruse; naturalism is as much a philosophy, a worldview, a personal belief system, as any religion. Of course, to claim that observable nature is all there is or ever will be is particularly narrow. This reminds me of Carl Sagan’s trademark statement (at the beginning of his PBS series Cosmos), “The cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.” This is remarkably similar to the Christian liturgical recitation, “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end.” I make this comparison merely to show the “religiosity” of naturalism.

The Big Bang theory seems to destroy naturalism, for the naturalist claims that reality is an unbroken sequence of cause-and-effect which can be traced back endlessly. From a purely scientific vantage point, however, the Big Bang suggests a sudden discontinuity in the chain of events. By its very definition, science can trace events back in time only to a certain point—the moment of an originating explosion. It is at this point in time that science reaches an abrupt break; an absolute time barrier. This concept presented Einstein with a dilemma which he wrestled with. He kept tweaking his equations in hopes of avoiding the conclusion that the universe had a beginning. Astronomer Robert Jastrow, an agnostic, believed science had reached its limit, adding it would never be possible to discover whether the “agent of creation” was the God of the Bible or some familiar force of physics. Yet the laws of physics contradict the concept of something from nothing. Matter cannot create itself.

Unfortunately, scientists and educators ignore the perplexing philosophical and religious implications of the Big Bang. In defense of their passing the buck, they say We only deal with science. Discussion of the ultimate cause behind the Big Bang is dismissed as philosophy. Some scientists attempt to sidestep the physics and mathematical implications of the Big Bang and simply say that matter is eternal after all. Of course, they provide no logical or scientific basis for this claim. Carl Sagan tried to bury this ultimate puzzle in a series of events wherein the universe has been expanding and contracting over an infinite amount of time. Sagan’s speculation runs up against the basic laws of physics. Even an oscillating universe would use up the available energy in each cycle, and it would eventually run down. The second law of thermodynamics, the law of decay, negates the notion of an eternal universe.

We should not oppose science with religion; we should oppose bad science with better science!

The Science of Religion

What does observation and induction have to do with discovering the existence of God? Everything! In 1927, the expanding of the universe was observed by astronomer Edwin Hubble. Looking through a 100-inch telescope at California’s Mount Wilson Observatory, Hubble discovered a “red shift” in the light from every observable galaxy, which meant that those galaxies were moving away from us. This was a direct confirmation of General Relativity—the universe appears to be expanding from a single point of origin in the distant past. Einstein reviewed this data and decided he could no longer support the idea of an eternal physical universe. He described the cosmological constant as “the greatest blunder of my life.” Einstein believed God was pantheistic (God is the universe). In any event, he thought perhaps his theory of General Relativity was strong evidence for a theistic God.

If the universe had a beginning, then the universe had a cause. This is the cosmological argument of creation. In logical form, the argument states:

  1. Everything that has a beginning has a cause. This is the Law of Causality, which is the fundamental principle of science. Francis Bacon (the father of modern science) believed true knowledge is knowledge by causes. David Hume, a skeptic relative to God, could not deny the Law of Causality. He eventually stated, “I never asserted so absurd a proposition that something could arise without a cause.” There was no natural world or natural law prior to the Big Bang. Since a cause cannot come after its effect, natural forces cannot account for the Big Bang.
  2. The universe had a beginning. If the universe did not have a beginning then no cause was needed. However, science and Christian theology admit the world began abruptly in violation of the laws of science.
  3. Therefore, the universe had a cause. If the universe had a beginning, in other words if it is not eternal, then there must be an underlying cause. Robert Jastrow said, “Now we see how the astronomical evidence leads to a biblical view of the origin of the world… the chain of events leading to man commenced suddenly and sharply at a definite moment in time, in a flash of light and energy.”

Faith—when it is truly faith rather than a mere intellectual assent to some proposition or other—will always seek to enter into a fuller and deeper knowledge and understanding of that which matters most to it. Trevor Hart, in Faith Thinking: The Dynamics of Christian Theology, says faith is concerned with what he calls the internal coherence of its own story or gospel. This involves the ability of educators in a subject to connect and align available resources to carry out the advancement of its theory, engage in collective learning, and use that learning to provide richer educational opportunity for those who continue the study of said theory.

Faith, by its very definition, is a critical reflection of knowledge and not a mere reiteration of some established body of truths. If our intention is genuinely to know the truth, and to allow that truth to shape our thinking and our speaking, then we must approach faith (or, if you prefer, religion) from an interrogative and outward-looking vantage point rather than with a dogmatic or individualistic bend. There is an unfortunate dogmatic warfare between science and Christianity that, if allowed to fester, blocks the science of Christianity from coming to the surface. Zoologist and New Atheist Richard Dawkins insists that all scientific beliefs are supported by evidence, but myths and faiths are not. He likens belief in God to belief in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, or fairies and elves.

J.P. Moreland, a modern-day philosopher from Biola University, believes Christianity is a matter of knowledge, which is supported by logical reasoning and empirical evidence. Faith is not mere emotion or opinion. Personally, I believe all truth is God’s truth. Whatever science proves, it will not contradict the Word of God. The Christian faith is a source of much original knowledge (through its many scientists) that served as a unifying vision, leading to advancement of Western civilization, education, and science. Today, that information (especially its origin) has been pushed indoors as part of a private belief that supposedly has no place in public forums. The problem is not with science, as most of what we consider to be fundamental scientific principles today were established by Bible-believing Christians. The key issue is the philosophical stance of scientism; one of the three major planks of naturalism, the other two being determinism and materialism.

Faith in Something!

Why should we consider belief in spontaneous creation (something from nothing), Darwinism, mutations leading to “new” species, and the Big Bang (as it is taught in public school) to be belief by faith? Because these “theories” go beyond the reach of scientific method. There is a huge difference between “historical” science and that which can be proved through experimental methods. Accordingly, when a “scientist” speaks of the origin of life or the universe, he or she is postulating something that is outside the scope of scientific theory. Unfortunately, many evolutionists refuse to admit that their idea regarding the origin of life and matter is a faith-based system. They argue that science will some day prove their theory. They base this on their comment that we only know part of reality at present, but science will provide all answers some time in the future.

I propose that the Christian and the atheist both live by faith. Each has his or her way of thinking, which is essentially their worldview. It is what they believe about life. Some scientists hold the view that matter and energy are eternal. They believe in a state of equilibrium before our ever-expanding universe burst forth from a very hot, very dense singularity. Of course, there is a contradiction within that very core belief: a state of harmony or equilibrium ceased to be so, bursting forth in a chaotic expression of energy and matter, without intervention. This “theory” has never been proven, yet it is being taught in our public schools as though it is true beyond doubt—that the only explanation for the origin of life is the evolution of “molecules to man.”

If everything was in a “neutral” state of equilibrium before the Big Bang, what made the Big Bang explode? If you believe in the Big Bang from the standpoint of modern science—eternal matter and energy sprang forth from an infinitely dense speck of matter—then you are postulating that the powerful inward pull of gravity somehow overcame its own force and went BANG! Moreover, you believe this tremendously huge and powerful explosion slowed down just enough for every molecule and every universe (great and small) to begin rotating in extremely precise orbits. Then, somehow, these random molecules, created from a random explosion billions of years ago, assembled themselves into water, air, carbon, fiber, enzymes, cells, tissues, organs, organ systems, organisms, populations, communities, ecosystems, and so on.

Then there is the matter of biological information. High school teachers never tell their students that the evolutionary model of one cell to man is based on unproven assumptions. Historical science is built exclusively on assumptions. Many necessary steps are taken for granted in the “molecules to man” model. Evolution assumes that non-living chemicals gave rise to the first “living” cell which, in turn, randomly evolved into more complex forms. Of course, this theory is not scientifically testable or experimentally verifiable.

G.A. Jerkut, an evolutionist, admitted to the following assumptions of evolution:

  1. Non-living things gave rise to living material; spontaneous generation occurred;
  2. Spontaneous generation occurred only once;
  3. Viruses, bacteria, plants, and animals are all genetically related;
  4. Protozoa (single-celled life forms) gave rise to metazoa (multiple-celled life forms);
  5. Various invertebrate phyla are interrelated;
  6. Invertebrates gave rise to vertebrates;
  7. Within vertebrates, fish gave rise to amphibia, amphibia to reptiles, reptiles to birds, and birds to mammals.

However, no cell is simple. For example, bacterium can synthesize some 3,000 to 6,000 compounds at a rate of about 1 million reactions per second. Cells of bacteria and blue-green algae contain just a single molecule of DNA, and they lack well-defined internal structures, such as a nucleus, chromosomes, and internal membranes. They lack the innate capacity to morph into anything else. This is true because they contain information specific to them, and such information cannot rewrite itself, becoming a completely different species. What kind of information does DNA contain? What kind of information must origin-of-life researchers explain the origin of? DNA contains specific information that deepens the mystery surrounding life.

DNA is the specific “code” of life itself. It is a rather dubious claim to state that genetic information came from nothing; that it “wrote” itself. Moreover, information specific to the second definition equals an arrangement or string of characters that accomplishes a particular outcome or performs a function of communication. This is no more possible than the idea that a piece of computer hardware (my laptop, for example) can write code. Moreover, computer software is, by its very definition, the compilation of zeros and ones in a “code” or “language” that tells the hardware what to do. Every single aspect of what I’m doing right now, from the appearance of each distinct letter on this screen to the bold or italic command, to the period at the end of this sentence. Code cannot write itself; it requires a programmer.

Here’s something to ponder. It’s been argued by atheists that if the universe needed a programmer (an intelligent designer), then that intelligent being needed a cause or creating force. This claim misconstrues the argument. Theists say everything that begins to exist needs a cause. The first premise of creationism does not say everything needs a cause. Since God did not begin to exist, He does not need a cause. Atheists also commit the category fallacy in which things from one category are applied to another. Granted, we can debate What caused God for decades, but such arguments are not mere scientific debates; they are disagreements between worldviews. Remarkably, even critics of creationism recognize that the beginning of the universe required something that was not itself caused. Atheists simply state that the laws of physics just exist, period

Concluding Remarks

It is obvious that Darwinism, secularism, and naturalism are prevalent in academia today. It is not necessarily a bad thing to discuss these “theories.” The harm comes when an instructor teaches them as scientific fact, ignoring any alternative theory such as intelligent design. They decide for themselves that the biblical account of creation is entirely unscientific. They fail to distinguish between theory, historical science, and provable science. Instead, they teach evolution in the same manner that they teach mathematical formulae, gravity, friction, thermodynamics, chemistry, and genetics. In fact, they base everything in the universe on the unproven assumption that something came from nothing. They assume that naturalism can account for the origin, organization, development, and fine-tuning of the universe and everything in it regardless of the mathematical impossibility of life beginning without an intelligent designer. (See my blog article Signature in the Cell: The Definition of Life.) 

Obviously, there is a tremendous amount of variation between species. Species—groups of similar organisms within a genus—are designated by biochemical and other phenotypic criteria and by DNA relatedness, based on their overall genetic similarity. You may recall from ninth-grade biology class that living organisms (whether animal or plant, zebra or zucchini) are divided into seven levels: kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species. The arguments presented by today’s New Atheists fly in the face of logic and probability. The laws of physics, when applied uniformly and fairly, indicate that the universe could not have created itself. Nor could the information of biology write itself.

It is worth stating that people have personal rather than evidential reasons for rejecting God. The assumption that all knowledge must be scientifically provable isn’t scientifically provable. It’s a philosophical claim. People who deny the existence of God want to run their own lives, and they don’t want anyone to interfere with the way they’re living. They want to be in control of everything they do, and they know that if they were to believe in God, they’d have to change their lifestyle. Instead of living by their own list of what’s right and wrong, they’d have to take seriously God’s moral standards.

Paul said in Romans 8:7, “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, indeed it cannot” (RSV). Why, then, should we allow our children to be taught unproven theories by secularists who refuse to put aside their presuppositions, misconceptions, biases, and personal worldview?

Let’s Go to Theology Class: Effective Study of Scripture

The following is a summary of my most recent class in pursuit of my Master’s in Theology at Colorado Christian University.

Written by Steven Barto, B.S. Psy.

AS WE FOCUS ON the lessons covered to date in my initial theology class, we become familiar with how to understand faith as an object onto itself and its place in today’s world. Trevor Hart (1995) calls this type of study faith thinking. Theology is typically undertaken as part of a higher education, whether on the undergraduate, master’s or doctoral level; however, the activity known as “Christian Theology” must become (at least to some degree) an inevitable consequence of life as a thinking Christian. Why do we believe what we believe? How do we think about what we’re thinking about? What weight do we give it in our everyday Christian life?

Admittedly, I am behind in a few lessons from my first theology class. I was hit with an illness that put me behind in week three, and this had an unexpected domino effect. Not to worry. We are going to spend the next few days getting caught up. This will allow me to focus on the first lesson of my second theology class: Systematic Theology, Part 1 by Monday, October 14th.

In the third week of my initial class Major Approaches to Theology we discussed how to effectively read Scripture.

Certainly, reading is a two-way street regardless of its subject matter. When we read Scripture, we interact with information of paramount importance, on multiple levels, each having the potential to change how we see ourselves, our fellow man, and the material world. When reading the Bible, we are embroiled in a written medium that is alive. The New Atheists of today, such as Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011), are adamant about one thing: religion poisons everything. In his seminal book God is Not Great he wrote, “God did not make us; we made God.” In attempting to discredit the Bible, Hitchens used the tactic of lumping it in with the Qur’an, Homer’s Iliad, Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses, the red herring of “apocryphal” verses “canon,” and many other inter-related, if not unrelated, textual concerns.

Mesmerized by its reverence, power, emotion, history, and Almighty God, it is only natural for man to hold competing opinions on how best to respond to Scripture We are rightly overcome by a wide range of emotions when reading the Bible: conviction, elation, guilt, fear, boredom, hope, love and the like. Because Scripture is universally applicable, we don’t always know on an individual level how to categorize what we’re reading, let alone how to apply it to our situation. What is worth our immediate attention? What can wait until tomorrow? This is why systematic theology and the “community of believers” are critical to reading, understanding, and applying God’s Word.

Regarding Karl Barth, a Swiss theologian who penned such books as Church Dogmatics, Faith Thinking, and The Humanity of God, referred to Mark D.J. Smith’s quote, “The guiding principle of this strategy is Barth’s conviction that the Bible ought to be treated as testimony to God’s self-revelation in history.” Karl Barth believed Scripture must be regarded as God’s own words and nothing less. I recently read an attribute given to Barth. It says that, other than John Calvin, Barth is possibly the most important Protestant theologian of the twentieth century. Barth gave credence to a quote from N.T. Wright: “The tide of literary theory has at last reached the point on the beach where the theologians have been playing, and, having filled their sandcastle moats with water, is now almost in danger of forcing them to retreat, unless they dig deeper and build more strongly.”

Thankfully, grace is a key ingredient in any discussion regarding matters of the Word of God. Barth believed faith to be “awe in presence of the divine incognito.” Further, he understood full-well that faith (the faith each believer holds in his or her heart) cannot hold a candle to the amazing quality of love bestowed upon us through the written Word of God. Scripture is a living thing, yet it is at the same time both amazingly knowable and incomprehensible. Whenever an author writes a book explaining mercy or grace—and when those topics are the essence of the book itself—the writer risks having the subject matter missed entirely. Thankfully, as Christians, we know the “language” of the Bible in our hearts. We see its virtue and we know of its healing properties. Of course, this creates a great atmosphere for systematic theology and honest, open communication among the community of believers in order to best understand and apply the  accuracy and full meaning of Scripture. Barth equates Scripture with God speaking, as did Augustine. For both men, Scripture is in fact Scripture.

Of course, Scripture is not “just another holy book” or a canonical history of the Christian church. Nor, as Christopher Hitchens would claim, a book that can even remotely be categorized with the Qur’an or Homer’s Iliad! It is not merely a volume to be taken down from the shelf and studied. Hebrews 4:12 tells us, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (RSV). The Interlinear Greek transliteration says the Bible “[is] living… and operative and sharper beyond every sword two-mouthed and passing through as far as division of soul and of spirit, of joints both and of marrow and able to judge of thoughts and intentions of a heart.” (Excuse the cumbersome wording, but it is a literal rendition of the original Greek text.)

The writer of Hebrews adds, “And before him no creature is hidden, but all are open and laid bare to the eyes of him with whom we have to do (4:13, NIV). Eugene Peterson boldly says, “God means what he says. What he says goes. His powerful Word is sharp as a surgeon’s scalpel, cutting through everything, whether doubt or defense, laying us open to listen and obey. Nothing and no one is impervious to God’s Word. We can’t get away from it—no matter what” (4:12-13, MSG). It seems Barth had a rather “controversial” interpretation of Scripture. Although he approached the Bible with an orientation of sola scriptura (Scripture alone), many of his detractors tried to place him in one of the many –ism camps of his time: Platonism, Kantianism, intellectualism, biblicism, pessimism, universalism, or even modernism. Barth had one focus. The authority of the Word of God.

In the interest if keeping the momentum flowing, I intend to present a synopsis of my studies from weeks four and five of my first theology class in the next day or two. Thanks for stopping by. I encourage any comments, questions, or feedback.

For This Very Reason

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:5-8).

By Steven Barto, B.S., Psych.

THE APOSTLE PETER CONFIRMS our calling and election as members of the Body of Christ. He tells us that faith unites the weaker believer to Christ in the same manner that it does the stronger and mature believer. Every sincere believer is by his or her faith justified in the sight of God. This is the only means by which each of us are justified. There are no “favorites.” Upon belief in the life, sacrificial death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the Messiah, we all become clothed in the righteousness of Christ. As we grow in Him, our faith must work toward godliness—if you prefer, toward becoming more like Christ.

satan-in-silhouette-e1569902468622.jpg

Satan tries daily to pull us away from Christ, dragging us back to a life of sinfulness and self-centeredness. He attachs detritus and filthiness to our spirits in an attempt to blot out the righteousness of Christ with which we have been clothed. This is theologically impossible, of course, but we must remember to choose right thinking and proper acting every day—walking in a manner that truly demonstrates our repentance and exemplifies the new creation we have become in Christ. If we’ve truly done a 180, as they say, we will be less likely to habitually practice sin and unrighteousness. We cannot willfully choose disobedience. At the very least, when we are pulled back toward our old sinful ways, we must go kicking and screaming, fighting the tide of regression. Truly, we should resist the devil at every turn. When we do, he will flee.

James 4:7-10 says, “So let God work his will in you. Yell a loud no to the Devil and watch him scamper. Say a quiet yes to God and he’ll be there in no time. Quit dabbling in sin. Purify your inner life. Quit playing the field. Hit bottom, and cry your eyes out. The fun and games are over. Get serious, really serious. Get down on your knees before the Master; it’s the only way you’ll get on your feet” [MSG]. I am amazed by the number of Christians who don’t seem to grasp the power we have in Christ to stand against the wiles of Satan. Our authority over the devil is established by the work done by Christ on the cross.

Ephesians 2:20 says, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (RSV). The same power that created the universe resides within us. Accordingly, Satan has no true power over us. He cannot force us to sin, nor can he possess us. This is not to say that he cannot oppress us, deceive us, or draw us away from the presence of God. That would be remarkable, but it would fly in the face of God’s primary gift to us other than our very salvation—He has given us free will.

The Building Blocks

As my friend Wally Fry wrote in his blog Truth in Palmyra,

We add these things Peter lists to our faith. Faith is always the starting point; however, it is not the endpoint. Faith never marks the end of our Christian lives, but only the beginning. Another thing to note is that this list Peter provides is not some sequential check-off list of Christian to-dos; it is to illustrate the totality with which we are to apply ourselves to progress in maturity.

Thank you Wally for providing this very profound truth we must all grasp as believers in Jesus Christ. Peter tells us that Jesus has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness. He says, “For this very reason add goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, mutual affection, and love. There is a necessary progression here. Each attribute on Peter’s list is fully dependent on the prerequisite quality that precedes the new one. Peter adds, “The more you grow like this, the more you will become productive and useful in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:8, NLT).

In his commentary on 2 Peter 1:5-8, Matthew Henry (1997) writes,

Faith work[s] godliness, and produces effects which no other grace in the soul can do. In Christ all fullness dwells, and pardon, peace, grace, and knowledge, and new principles, are thus given through the Holy Spirit. The promises to those who are partakers of the Divine nature, will cause us to inquire whether we are really renewed in the spirit or our minds; let us turn all these promises into prayers for the transforming and purifying grace of the Holy Spirit (p. 1240).

The New Living Translation expresses 2 Peter 1:5-8 thusly: “In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone. The more you grow like this, the more productive and useful you will be in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Please note, the more we grow in this fashion, the more likely we will have genuine unconditional love for everyone. Faith has to be more than mere belief—head knowledge, a mere collection of intellectual concepts or, if you prefer, mere “information.”

Belief, Faith, Behavior

Christian theology consists of three pertinent parts: belief (the cognitive decision-making that underlies our granting intellectual acceptance to its doctrines); faith (the inner state whereby we accept with complete trust and confidence—in our hearts rather than in our heads—the symbolic efficacy of those doctrines, grounded in spiritual apprehension rather than empirical evidence); and outward living or behavior (or, if you prefer, works). Religion provides us with a set of mental, symbolic, practical, and behavioral tools with which to approach the task of interpreting and living in our world according to our individual worldview. Christianity grounds this concept in the deity of Jesus Christ.

Faith Black and White Image

Our faith must be more than mere belief in a set of principles or doctrines. That’s just the jumping-off point. It must ultimately result in action; growth in Christ-likeness (character); and the practice of moral discipline—again, belief, faith, works. James 2:14-17 says, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (NIV). This supports the comment that we are saved for our good works. Indeed, the world should be able to recognize Christ in us. Jesus told the disciples “by their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:20, NIV) [italics mine].

Accordingly, a true life of faith leads to knowing God better, an increase in self-control, patient endurance in all things, godliness, and an abiding love of others under all circumstances. First Corinthians 13, often referred to as “the love chapter,” defines God’s unconditional love (from the Greek word agape), which we must all strive to attain:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails (v. 4-8a, NIV).

We simply cannot express this depth of love without first seeking from God the power it requires to do so.

When Peter wrote for this reason, he was saying “along with this,” or “by the side of your obtaining precious faith.” His remark regarding what is added to our faith amounts to a kind of spiritual arithmetic. According to the Dake’s Annotated Reference Bible, there are seven steps in spiritual mathematics. You should note from this list that we cannot have a virtue without first being well-grounded in its prerequisite:

  1. Add to your faith virtue
  2. Add to virtue knowledge
  3. Add to knowledge temperance [self-control]
  4. Add to temperance patience
  5. Add to patience godliness
  6. Add to godliness brotherly kindness
  7. Add to brotherly kindness love.

Eugene Peterson, in The Message, translates 2 Peter 1:5-8 this way, “So don’t lose a minute in building on what you’ve been given, complementing your basic faith with good character, spiritual understanding, alert discipline, passionate patience, reverent wonder, warm friendliness, and generous love, each dimension fitting into and developing the others. With these qualities active and growing in your lives, no grass will grow under your feet, no day will pass without its reward as you mature in your experience of our Master Jesus. Without these qualities you can’t see what’s right before you, oblivious that your old sinful life has been wiped off the books” [emphasis added]. Let me repeat that last sentiment: that your old sinful life has been wiped off the books!

A closer examination of the blessings Peter speaks of in 2 Peter 1:1-4 indicate the following:

  • precious faith (Greek, isotimos), meaning equal honor purchased at a great price
  • righteousness
  • grace
  • peace
  • all things that pertain to life and godliness
  • glory
  • virtue
  • divine nature
  • escape from corruption and lust

Saved For Good Works

Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:10 that we are saved unto good works. Eugene Peterson puts it this way: “He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing” [emphasis added]. The Greek word for “ordained” Paul uses in verse ten is proetoimazo, which refers to preparing us for good works through regeneration. Remember, we do not possess the capacity under our own power to love unconditionally as described by Paul in 1 Corinthians 13. Our only hope is that through regeneration and progressive spiritual maturity we can build upon our virtue one step at a time, thereby increasing our ability—indeed, our likelihood—to begin imitating the agape love of Jesus.

It is Paul’s contention that we become Christians through God’s unmerited favor, not as the result of any effort, ability, intelligent choice, or act of service on our part. We will never be able to do enough good to overcome the pervasive sin nature that dwells in our flesh. We cannot do enough penance to secure the remission of our sins. Accordingly, out of gratitude for this free gift of redemption, we must reach out to serve others with kindness, love, and gentleness—not merely to make ourselves look good. God intends for our salvation to lead to spiritual maturity, which should include acts of service. After all, we are God’s masterpiece. Our salvation is something only God can accomplish, and even then it required the death of His Son Jesus Christ. All of us, no matter who we are or what we’ve done, are God’s masterpiece. Whenever we reach out and feed the hungry, clothe those who don’t have adequate clothing, heal the sick, or visit those who are in prison, it is as if we do these things unto Jesus (see Matthew 25:35-40).

For this very reason, we are called onto good works through progressive growth in Christian virtue and love.

References

Dake, Finis. Dake’s Annotated Reference Bible. Lawrenceville, GA: Dake Publishing, Inc., 2008.

Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000.

Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1997.

Let’s Go to Theology Class: Understanding Religious Faith

The following is a summary of my most recent class in pursuit of my Master’s in Theology at Colorado Christian University.

Written by Steven Barto, B.S. Psy.

WE HAVE LEARNED SO far that theology is an attempt by faith to understand itself, its object, and its place in today’s world. Trevor Hart (1995) calls this exercise faith thinking. Although theology is typically undertaken as part of a higher education endeavor, the activity known as “Christian Theology” should be an inevitable consequence of life as a thinking Christian. Systematic Theology is defined as “an integrating discipline that studies how the church may bear enduring, timely, and truthful witness to God as revealed in Jesus Christ.”

This week’s lesson focused on understanding religious faith. In Trevor Hart’s Faith Thinking, he expounds on contemporary approaches to theology through examination of objectivism and relativism, saying these are the only available intellectual options a “theologian can use. The Church Covenant at my home church indicates, “We covenant that we will not forsake the assembling of ourselves together, but will regularly attend the services of this Church. We will strive for its advance in knowledge, holiness, and fellowship, and sustain its ordinances, discipline and doctrines” (see Hebrews 10:25 for scriptural authority).

Further, the Covenant states that spreading of the Gospel must be built upon the truth, which can only be attained through being reconciled to God and being the very ambassadors through which God may work in the same manner He worked through Christ (see 2 Cor. 5:19-21). In other words our church members are expected to walk carefully in the world, being just in their dealings, faithful in their responsibilities and exemplary in their conduct, as well as understanding [having accurate knowledge of] what the Lord’s will might be. This directive is based upon Ephesians 5:15, 17.

Wolfhart Pannenberg

Clearly, faith evaluated through an objective view must focus on reason, purpose, and the individual self. This stems from the basic approach of objectivism as relating to or being comprised of only that which can be observed, negating the importance (if not existence) of that which cannot be observed. According to Trevor Hart, this is considered “public” versus “private” theology. This is specific to the manner in which we discuss or hold our underlying belief and should not to be interpreted as being double-minded or hypocritical.

Pannenberg believes the theologian’s first responsibility is to aid people in experiencing as reality whatever they are expected to build upon as their true theology or faith. He says this must be accomplished prior to the theologian asking individuals to take an initial step of faith. The basic platform on which such faith is built must be firm, thereby promoting confidence in the platform. Hart indicates some individuals will step out further in faith than others. Regardless, the Christian theologian cannot expect a potential believer (skepticism often hindering absolute conviction) to take that first step without his giving them a “good reason for doing so and pointing to something firm to place their foot on.”

What is this objective approach to faith? It’s been said that in order for faith to operate properly—that is, to provide an adequate window through which we can contemplate truth—we must grasp a meaning in our soul which is intrinsic and built upon knowledge we’ve come to accept as so. If it is based on internal, subjective truth, we may become fearful of investigation, asking What will become of believers if they dare challenge the very doctrine they are invested in as ontological? Under this system of thought, we might feel less of a believer whenever we question any tenet of our faith. Pannenberg says the reasonableness of responding to the Gospel and committing oneself to Jesus must be demonstrable to those who are not yet Christians—those who lack faith from the start. Pannenberg seems to take an apologetics view as he addresses the ruminations of the modern world concerning God and Christology. He believes theology must clearly demonstrate the credibility of its claims. As such, Pennenberg took an objective approach to theology.

Paul Althaus

Paul Althaus says the “truth” of the Christian gospel is not necessarily apparent to those who cannot see it. There’s a sense of predisposition here: The gospel cannot be grasped by those without the “eyes to see” or the “ears to here.” It is, therefore, not objective. Instead, Althaus said the study of systematic theology was relative to what each individual intrinsically believes to be true. There is a troublesome dilemma here: This type of God knowledge is unknowable in any straightforward way by the masses—it is not given in the public arena. Instead, it is merely discerned by the eye of faith specific to the individual.

There is a slight hint of Gnosticism with Althaus in that, as Hart puts it, Althaus argues “the true significance of those facts remains hidden or obscured to unbelief and is only recognized from the particular perspective of faith.” Althaus notes the many outward (public) examples of the signs and miracles performed by Jesus as proof of His claim to be the Messiah. He says, “There is nothing about them which, when viewed by the public at large, compels such recognition.” He thinks faith is not based on progressive accumulation of knowledge or experiences available to all; rather, it amounts to a special dispensation setting some believers apart, revealing truth and demanding an appropriate response, which seems to speak of an internal, relative and subjective belief system. Althaus seems to mix a bit of Calvinism or predestination in with this belief.

Pannenberg disagrees. He says if we accept that the meaning of gospel realities are only knowable based on a “prior decision of faith… then two things seem to follow.” First, we will be forced to embrace relativism, indicating there is no intrinsic truth or value “for its own sake,” only that which we choose to invest in it. Second, Althaus says there is a crude logical gap between public perspective and faith’s perspective. He believes faith to be some “absurd character” lacking any support from the perspective of what is commonly observed. It seems the best point of view for deducing the existence and meaning of God must come from without: As Augustine puts it, knowledge of God must be sought from God. Moreover, Pannenberg says, “Faith is not a blind leap, but a carefully considered and reasoned judgement; not a state of ‘blissful gullibility’ but a venture in which the Christian ‘risks trust, life and future on the fact of God’s having been revealed in the fate of Jesus.”

John Macquarrie

John Macquarrie tended to mix orthodox Christianity and existentialism. He saw faith not as a mechanism or demand as a prerequisite to finding the knowledge of faith and of God—an external, objective approach. Instead, he saw it as “a critical and reflective activity to which faith eventually leads.” Theology for Macquarrie is an activity of faith, but not in the sense that it requires or demands compilation of information through a prerequisite or a priori approach. Instead, he does see theology as a reflective and highly critical undertaking to which faith naturally leads. This writer is not sure how helpful it is to divorce faith from theology, especially when Macquarrie requires that it be set aside during the actual practice of theology. No doubt this is a side-effect of his existential approach to knowing.

Without a firm foundation (faith) on which to build, there remains the chance (with each individual search) to end up down some tangential path that will only serve to confuse and frustrate the search for truth. It is important that believers recognize their individual biases, preconceptions and assumptions about theology (public or private), and, knowing such exist, subject their conclusions to the scrutiny of the community of believers. This permits side-by-side evaluation of prescribed canons of truth, whether rational, historical, experiential, or whatever the focus. Hart says, “Theology, we are given to understand, must play the intellectual game together with everyone else on a level playing-field.”       

Bibliography

Hart, Trevor. Faith Thinking: The Dynamics of Christian Theology. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 1995.