Monday Monologues: Telling Stories, July 16, 2018 (podcast)

Stephen W. Hiemstra, www.StephenWHiemstra.net
Stephen W. Hiemstra, 2017

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

In today’s podcast, I pray about money and talk about telling stories.

To listen, click on the link below.

After listening, please click here to take a brief listener survey (10 questions).

Monday Monologues: Telling Stories, July 16, 2018 (podcast)

Also see:

Monday Monologue On March 26, 2018 

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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/Hebrew_Heart

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The Surprising Role of Story Telling

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Simple FaithBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

Postmodernism is hard to define precisely because, unlike modernism, it engages in nonlinear arguments that are hard to track if you are trained exclusively in linear thinking.  Postmodernism resembles a collage, a hanging ornament with unique pieces that balance one another but may be completely different taken individually. Before explaining what I mean here, let me digress to borrow a form argument from William Placer for why the modern age has given way to the postmodern age.

Is the Modern Era Over? 

Placher starts his discussion of the Enlightenment with the father of the Enlightenment, René Descartes, writing:

“Descartes had set the goal of seeking a foundation for knowledge, but modern philosophy soon divided between empiricists who looked for that foundation in bare, uninterrupted sensations [things you see, hear, feel, taste…] and rationalists who sought it in logically unchallengeable first truths.” (Placher 1989, 26)

For empiricists, a problem quickly emerged because:

“We cannot build knowledge on a foundation of uninterpreted sense-data, because we cannot know particular sense-data in isolation from the conceptual schemes we use to organize them.” (Placher 1989, 29)

If this is not obvious, think about how one knows that a light is red and different from yellow or green. In order to recognize the difference, one needs to understand the definition of red and how it differs from yellow or green. Without knowing that definition, red is not a distinct color. We teach colors to children at a young age so they seem obvious to us as adults, but to untaught kids colors have yet to be learned. The definition of red is what is meant here as a conceptual scheme.

For logicians, Placher (1989, 33) observes:

“What we cannot do is find some point that is uniquely certain by definition, guaranteed to hold regardless of any empirical discoveries, independent of any other elements in the our system.”

Placher (1989, 32) notes the definition of a mammal, “a warm-blooded animal with hair which bears live young”, had to change with the discovery of the platypus, a mammal that lays eggs. While the problem posed by the platypus seems trivial, Placher notes after referencing Russell’s paradox that:

“If our definitions in mathematics or logic lead to problems, we may decide to change them, but we always have more than one choice [of definition].” (Placer 1989. 34)

In conclusion, Placher (1989, 34) cites Wittgenstein observing:

“when we find the foundations, it turns out they are being held up by the rest of the house. If theologians try to defend their claims by starting with basic, foundational truths that any rational person would have to believe or observations independent of theory and assumptions, they are trying to do something that our best philosophers tell us is impossible.”

In other words, the attempt by Enlightenment scholars to find a defensible basis for objective truth has failed and we are now in the postmodern era where it can be said: “how you stand on an issue depends on where you sit”.

A Picture of Postmodernism from Mathematical Modelling

Placer basically argues that the foundations of science, the idea of objective truth, cannot be validated as a logical framework. Let me offer a logical argument for what he is arguing from my modeling background in economics.

The typical argument in economic modeling is metaphorical—the economy can, for example, be characterized in terms of aggregate demand where demand is divided into different components, like consumption, investment, and government spending. To perform a mental experiment, we might change government spending while holding consumption and investment constant. The effect on aggregate demand is accordingly limited to the effect of the change in government spending. The size of the effect will be determined by statistical estimates of past aggregate demand. 

This type of modeling is referred to as a static equilibrium model because we make our forecasts based on only one changed variable at a time. This is a linear argument and quite familiar to economists trained in the modern period. What changed in the postmodern period was the idea of allowing all the variables to change simultaneously—the introduction of general equilibrium models. Mathematically, models could only be approximated, not statistically estimated in the prior sense. 

The reason for this intractability arises because the historical experience likely does not offer observations on changes that might be expected in the future. In the 1980s, for example, we saw interest rates rise to levels never previously seen; the Great Recession likewise saw housing prices fall further than ever previously observed or even contemplated. 

Postmodern Dilemma

This hypothetical modeling complexity is precisely the same problem faced by postmodern society—too many cultural norms have been altered too quickly. With the traditional sources of personal stability—family, work, church, education, technology, attitudes about gender, authority, freedom—in motion, we observe high levels of anxiety, depression, and suicide. 

In this context of instability, we hear professions in all callings imaginable telling stories about the more complex cultural system will evolve. The older process of imaging one change at a time simply does not work. The typical reactions that we observe are either to rely on our faith that God will guide us or to chase after the myriad of untested assumptions and stories that postmodern advertisers can offer (Sacks). The role of Christian apologetics is to make sense of the new environment and how the Christian message can lead us, our kids, and our neighbors back to God.

References

Placher, William C. 1989. Unapologetic Theology: A Christian Voice in a Pluralistic Conversation. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

Sacks, Jonah. 2012. Winning the Story Wars: Why Those Who Tell—and Live—the Best Stories Will Rule the Future. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

The Surprising Role of Story Telling

Also see:

A Roadmap of Simple Faith

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/Hebrew_Heart

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Monday Monologues: A Hebrew Heart, July 9, 2018 (podcast)

Stephen W. Hiemstra, www.StephenWHiemstra.net
Stephen W. Hiemstra, 2017

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

In today’s podcast, I pray for the local church and talk about a Hebrew Heart.

To listen, click on the link below.

After listening, please click here to take a brief listener survey (10 questions).

Monday Monologues: A Hebrew Heart, July 9, 2018 (podcast)

Also see:

Monday Monologue On March 26, 2018 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/Hebrew_Heart

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Clark Rejects the Rationality of Evidentialism, Part 2

Kelly James Clark, Return to ReasonKelly James Clark. 1990. Return To Reason: A Critique of Enlightenment Evidentialism and a Defense of Reason and Belief in God. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. (Go to part 1)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

One reason that many people dismiss apologetics is influence of the romantic period (early nineteenth century) has led many Christians to focus on heart rather than head in their faith. Pastors have been known to say—“people won’t care what you know until they see how much you care.” While there is truth in this expression, head and heart cannot be separated.

After the Great Awakening of the eighteenth century, Jonathan Edwards observed that, if revivals were not followed by sound teaching, the formerly fervent new believers soon wandered off, never to be seen again in church. We witnessed this very same pattern in the weeks after 9-11 as the new faces in church after the attack soon disappeared again. Clearly, we need apologetic insights into the faith that we adopt with our hearts in order to remain faithful when our fervent hearts cool.

In part one of this review of Kelly James Clark’s book, Return to Reason, I gave an overview of Clark’s argument about evidentialism

“Evidentialism [according to Clark] maintains that a belief is rational for a person only if that person has sufficient evidence or arguments or reasons for that belief.” (3)

I will examine in part 2 three arguments for the existence of God laid that Clark critiques: the cosmological argument by Richard Taylor, William Paley’s argument from design, and a probabilistic argument outlined by Richard Swinburne. Clark describes attempts to prove God’s existence from facts known about the natural world at natural theology (15).

The Cosmological Argument

This argument begins with a question: “Why is there something rather than nothing?” (17) Citing Taylor, Clark appeals to the principle of sufficient reason:

“…for every positive truth there is some sufficient reason which makes it true. There are two ways that statements can be true. Statements can be contingently true, which means their being true depends on something else; and statements may be necessarily true, which means their truth is not dependent on the truth of other statements.” (18)

Taylor sees no reason to doubt that the existence of the world is contingent on something else that we do not know (the chain of causality must lead to something eternal and imperishable). This eternal and imperishable being is God (21-22).

While the conclusion from this argument that God exists is obvious to a theist (someone who already believes in God), a non-theist sees no reason to conclude that the world is contingent on anything (23). The theist stops when God is presented; the non-theist asks whether God is contingent (24). Thus, the pre-supposition that God exists renders the argument moot.

The Argument from Design

Clark summarizes Paley’s argument succinctly:

“The world shows design; design implies a designer; hence, the world requires a designer.” (27)

Paley arguments that the existence of a stone poses no evidence that anyone ever put it there, but if one found a watch lying on the beach, the precision and subtly of a watch begs the question of who made it.

Hume argued, unlike with a watch, we have no experience with how the universe was made and so it appears as a unique item. Our explanations are therefore by analogy, not direct knowledge. Suppose, for example, the universe were created by a committee, not just one person. Thus, we cannot intuit the existence of God from design, except perhaps through anthropomorphism (51). Darwin believed that instead of design, the extinction of species pointed to an absence of design and to evolution as the mechanism for the creation of complex animal features (33-34).

A Probabilistic Argument

Clark summarizes Swinburne’s probabilistic argument as follows: 

  1. “The existence and design of the world—including morality, free moral agents, religious experience—are extremely improbable without the hypothesis of theism.
  2. The hypothesis of theism significantly raises the probability of the existence and design of the world.
  3. The hypothesis of theism explains and unites under a sign hypothesis an otherwise disparate and unlikely set of phenomena—the existence and design of the world, religious experience, miracles, and evil.
  4. The hypothesis of theism has sufficiently intrinsic plausibility.
  5. Therefore, it is like that God exists” (38).

Mackie looks at the same evidence and concludes that a materialistic or naturalistic origin for the universe is more likely, particularly because we have never observed a person without a body (38-39). Consequently, once again we see that the probabilistic argument depends heavily on the fundamental beliefs that you hold, prior to the argument rendering the argument moot (40).

Clark argues that because each of the arguments for God’s existence (or non-existence) do not stand alone, independent of prior beliefs, experience from the natural world cannot be used to substantiate the existence of God. In statistics, we are taught that relationships among observe data cannot determine causality, a restatement of Clark’s conclusion. It is accordingly pointless to pursue the requirements for proof under evidentialism (43). He therefore proceeds to explore alternatives.

In his book, Return To Reason, Kelly James Clark examines the Enlightenment claim that insufficient evidence exists to believe that God exists, an argument that he describes as evidentialism. He reviews three arguments for the existence of God and their weaknesses. He then goes on to reject evidentialism as a standard for determining rationality and to discuss the rationality of belief in God. Clark’s concise presentation should interest anyone who cares about apologetics.

References

Darwin, Charles. 1958. Autobiography (Orig Pub 1887). Edited by Francis Darwin. New York: Dover.

Hume, David. 1980. Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (Orig Pub 1776). Edited by Richard H. Popkin. Indianapolis: Hackett.

Mackie, J.I. 1982. The Miracle of Theism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Paley, William. 2002. The Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy (Orig Pub 1785). Indianapolis: Liberty Fund. Online: http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/paley-the-principles-of-moral-and-political-philosophy. Cited: 18 November 2017.

Swinburne, Richard. 1979. The Existence of God. Oxford: Clarendon.

Taylor, Richard. 1974. Metaphysics. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall.

Clark Rejects the Rationality of Evidentialism, Part 2

Also see:

Plantinga Defends Merits of Confessional Faith

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

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Clark Rejects the Rationality of Evidentialism, Part 1

Kelly James Clark, Return to ReasonKelly James Clark. 1990. Return To Reason: A Critique of Enlightenment Evidentialism and a Defense of Reason and Belief in God. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. (After December 5: Go to part 2)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

For those of us that grew up believing in God at an early age, apologetics seems a bit unreal. How do you prove that your parents exist? The answer is that you do not prove their existence; you simply point to them. Still, the arguments give comfort that your own existence makes sense and includes continuity with those that went before, something like a genealogy study proves royal lineage.

Introduction

Kelly James Clark’s book, Return to Reason, focuses on a crucial critique offered during the Enlightenment:

“Evidentialism maintains that a belief is rational for a person only if that person has sufficient evidence or arguments or reasons for that belief.” (3)

This statement is an epistemological presupposition, which is an untested, presumption about how we know something, has intuitive appeal because we all want to believe that we are rational thinkers. However, as Clark argues, almost nothing that we believe actually meets this criterion which, particularly in view of the damage that it has done to the Christian faith community, leaves us wondering if a bias has been exhibited merely by posing this standard for belief.

Responses to Evidentialism

Clark points to three basic responses to evidentialism. The first response (theistic evidentialism) is that some people believe that sufficient evidence for God’s existence can be demonstrated. The second response (fideism) is to admit that sufficient evidence does not exist, but we must simply have faith that God exists. The third response is to reject evidentialism (reformed epistemology) and develop an alternative definition for rationality. Clark writes in support of this third response and argues that evidentialism is doubly flawed (6-8).

Outline of Book

Clark writes his book in four parts:

  1. “Proving God’s Existence: Problems and Prospects
  2. God and Evil
  3. The Irrelevance of Evidentialism: God—Hypothesis or Person?
  4. Return to Reason: The Irrationality of Evidentialism” (vii-viii).

In view of the importance of these arguments, I will write this review in two parts. Part one will focus on Clark’s argument. In part 2, I will examine Clark’s problems with the classical apologetics.

Background on Clark

Kelly James Clark (1956- ) is currently Senior Research Fellow at the Kaufman Interfaith Institute and Professor at Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids Michigan. Clark received his Phd from the University of Notre Dame where his dissertation advisor was Alvin Plantinga. He has held professorships at Calvin College, Oxford University, University of St. Andrews, Notre Dame & Gordon College. He also served as Executive Director for the Society of Christian Philosophers from 1994-2009. Clark’s books include Religion and the Sciences of Origins, Abraham’s Children, The Story of Ethics, When Faith Is Not Enough, and 101 Key Philosophical Terms of Their Importance for Theology.[1]

Assessment

In his book, Return To Reason, Kelly James Clark examines the Enlightenment claim that insufficient evidence exists to believe that God exists, an argument that he describes as evidentialism. He reviews three arguments for the existence of God and their weaknesses. He then goes on to reject evidentialism as a standard for determining rationality and to discuss the rationality of belief in God. Clark’s concise presentation should interest anyone who cares about apologetics.

Footnotes

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kelly_James_Clark. @KellyJamesClark.

Clark Rejects the Rationality of Evidentialism, Part 1

Also see:

Plantinga Defends Merits of Confessional Faith

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2zRkNMJ

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Tim Keller Makes Sense, Part 3

Timothy Keller, Making Sense of GodTimothy Keller.[1]  2016. Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical.  New York: Viking Press. (Part 2, Part 3)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

A core tenet of the scientific method lies in using reproducible empirical evidence to validate or fail to validate a hypothesis. Because God created the heavens and the earth, he lies outside the created order, where evidence might be found. Therefore, scientific testing of the existence of God is impossible. However, the created order can be used to draw inferences about God, much like we might observe fingerprints of a potter on the pottery.

Introduction

In part three of his recent book, Making Sense of God, Timothy Keller summarizes six arguments for the existence of God from: 1. existence, 2. fine tuning, 3. moral realism, 4. consciousness, 5. reason, and 6. beauty (217). These bear repeating.

From Existence

For existence to even be, it had to have had an uncaused cause (218). Think about the evolutionary hypothesis. Life somehow presumably spontaneously emerged from non-biological substances and evolved until we were created—this is creation story according to many atheists. But who created the non-biological substances? The usual answer given is that the universe just always existed. However, according to the big bang theory held by most scientists to be the accepted theory of creation, the universe has not always looked like it does today. According to one online dictionary:[2]

“a theory in astronomy: the universe originated billions of years ago in an explosion from a single point of nearly infinite energy density.”

Given that the universe shows evidence of an uncaused cause, it is reasonable to infer that God created the universe in his own inscrutable way.

From Fine Tuning

Constants in physics appear to be precisely adjusted to allow life to exist. Keller writes:

“The speed of light, the gravitational constant, the strength of the strong and weak nuclear forces—must all have almost exactly the values that they do have in order for organic life to exist…the chances that all of the dials would be tuned to life-permitting settings all at once are about 10-100.” (219)

Given such a small probability that the laws of physics were randomly aligned in this way, many scientists have concluded that it is not an accident; it was intentionally planned this way. It is kind of like finding a working clock on the beach and assuming that it was randomly constructed—no reasonable person would assume that, but would rather assume that a clockmaker had to exist.

From Moral Realism

Most people, even ardent atheists, believe that moral obligations, like human rights, exist that we can insist everyone abide by. Keller writes:

“…some things are absolutely wrong to do. Moral obligation, then, makes more sense in a universe created by a personal God to whom we intuitively feel responsible than it does in an impersonal universe with no God.” (221)

Even an argent atheist would not idly stand by and watch another person drown or be killed in a burning house when something could be done to aid them in surviving. This kind of moral obligation is something that virtually everyone feels, yet is counter-intuitive from the perspective of personal survival—water rescues and running into burning buildings routinely kill rescuers, even those trained and equipped like lifeguards and firefighters. Why do we feel obligated to put ourselves at such risk? Christians answer that God created us with a moral compass.

From Consciousness

Keller, citing Thomas Nagel (110), writes that “all human experience has a subjective quality to it.” (222) It is pretty hard to argue, as does Francis Crisk (3), that

“You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules.” (224)

Keller summarizes: “Consciousness and idea making make far more sense in a universe created by an idea-making, conscious God.” (224)

From Reason and Beauty

Keller reports that has been popular in recent years to argue that our reasoning and appreciation of beauty both developed from the process of natural selection because they helped our ancestors to survive. Evolutionary psychologists have gone a step further arguing that even our faith in God is a product of evolution and natural selection because it helped our ancestors to survive.

The problem exists, however, that many animals seem to have survived just fine without developing any capacity to reason at all. Furthermore, if our faith is a product of natural selection, why wouldn’t we trust our reasoning capacity to tell us the truth? (225). The arguments for beauty parallel those for reason.

Keller, citing Luc Ferry, writes: “truth, beauty, justice, and love … whatever the materialists say, remain fundamentally transcendent.” (226) In other words, they all point to the existence of a loving God.

Limits to the Proofs

Most proofs of God’s existence focus only on making it sensible to believe in God in an abstract or philosophical sense. They really do not give us a detailed picture of God’s character, as revealed in the Bible.

Philosophers remind us that God transcends our universe being removed from it having created it—God stands outside time and space, as we know it. He is also removed from us by virtue of being holy—sacred and set apart. God’s transcendence makes it impossible for us to approach God on our own; he must initiate any contact that we have with him. Christians believe that God revealed himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ.

The Uniqueness of Christ

The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ makes the case that God not only exists, but that he is God of the Old and New Testaments (228). Keller makes the stunning observation that only Christianity is truly a world religion; it has indigenous believers fairly evenly distributed across all regions and continents of the world, long before it became a religion in Europe and North America. He writes: “today most of the most vital and largest Christian populations are now nonwhite and non-Western” (228)

Why is it that Christianity continues to grow in spite of strong influence of secularism in the West and obvious persecution of Christians outside the West? For me, the answer lies in God’s continuing and loving presence in each of our lives. What about you?

Assessment

My brief overview of the third part of Timothy Keller’s book, Making Sense of God, does not do it justice. Keller’s book is a jewel. It answers better than most books focused on apologetics some of the basic concerns of our age.

References

Ferry, Luc. 2011. “A Brief History of Thought: A Philosophical Guide to Living.” Translation by Theo Cuffe. New York: Harper Perennial.

Crisk, Francis. 1994. “The Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for the Soul.” New York: Simon and Schuster.

Nagel, Thomas. 2012. “What is It Like to Be a Bat?” Mortal Questions, Canto Classics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Footnotes

[1] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/big%20bang%20theory.

[2]@TimKellerNYC, http://www.TimothyKeller.com.

 

Tim Keller Makes Sense, Part 3

Also see:

Tim Keller Makes Sense, Part 1 

Keller Argues the Case for God 

Keller Engages Galatians; Speaks Gospel 

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2fEPbBK

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Tim Keller Makes Sense, Part 1

Timothy Keller, Making Sense of GodTimothy Keller.[1]  2016. Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical.  New York: Viking Press. (Part 2, Part 3)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Why does anyone care about theology, the study of God? In our thoroughly secular society, God would seem to be irrelevant, yet these are not happy times. Suicide rates have recently reached record levels and life expectancy went down last year in America for the first time driven by increases in death rates from preventable causes. If your faith is in the basic goodness of human beings, why is nuclear war an increasing worry? If your faith is in rational decision-making and technology, why Is life expectancy declining here in America due to preventable causes? As the presumptions of secular society have proven to be at best false and at worse idolatrous, turning to God and the study of his ways might seem a sensible response.

Introduction

In his recent book, Making Sense of God, Timothy Keller sets forth these objectives:

“…I will compare and contrast how Christianity and secularism … seek to provide meaning, satisfaction, freedom, identity, a moral compass, and hope—all things so crucial that we cannot live life without them. I will be arguing that Christianity makes the most emotional and cultural sense…” (4-5)

A bit later he addresses his target audience: “If you think that Christianity doesn’t hold much promise of making sense to a thinking person, then this book is written for you.” (5) Keller writes in three parts: (1) Why does anyone need religion? (2) Religion is more than you think it is; and (3) Christianity makes sense. (vii-viii)

This review is written in three parts that correspond roughly to Keller’s own divisions. The first part will, in addition, provide an overview of the book.

Who is Timothy Keller?

Timothy Keller founded Redeemer Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Manhattan, New York in 1989. While many pastors have founded churches in recent years, Keller stands out for having successfully witnessed to young, urban professionals with a faithful message, something thought inconceivable until he did it. He writes prolificly about Christian apologetics and his writing is passionately followed by young pastors and seminarians interested in urban ministry. He grew up in Pennsylvania, attended Bucknell University (BS), Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (MDiv), and Westminster Theological Seminary (PhD).

Keller distinguishes three uses of the word secular. In the first, a secular society is one that separates religion from the state, as is true in most Western countries. In the second, a secular person focuses on the material world and is skeptical that anything exists outside it. Finally, a secular culture focuses on the present, material reality and “meaning in life, guidance, and happiness are understood and sought in present-time economic prosperity, material comfort, and emotional fulfillment.” In a secular culture, even people professing faith may not act on it in making significant life decisions. (2-3)

In this sense, secularism is an atheistic religion, one of many, because God no longer occupies first priority in the lives of secular people, regardless of their professed religion.

Why Does Anyone Need Religion?

While the number of cultural Christians continues to decline in the U.S., the number of devote Christians continues to grow here and abroad. Why? Keller offers two reasons:

“…many people find secular reason to have ‘things missing’ from it that are necessary to live life well. Another explanation is that great numbers of people intuitively sense a transcendent realm beyond the natural world.” (11).

What’s Missing?

Secular postmodernism asserts many rights, such as human rights, that are a legacy of Christian morality, but it has no justification for maintaining them outside the Christian tradition. For the Jew or the Christian, human rights make perfect sense because they believe that we are created in the image of God (Gen 1:27), but for the Marxist, who does not believe God exists and believes that all rights are conferred by the state, such logic seems meaningless. Citing Habermas, Keller writes:

“The ideals of freedom…of conscience, human rights and democracy [are] the direct legacy of the Judaic ethic of justice and the Christian ethic of love…To this day, there is no alternative to it.” (13)

For the radical individualist, the absence of any moral obligation beyond the individual leaves no philosophical justification for human rights yet most assert human rights should be respected without a justification. Passing a law to assert disembodied values can certainly be done, but what happens when an evil coalition passes contrary laws? Many people have sensed that something important is missing and have come to see faith in God as essential to maintaining a just society.

A Sense of Transcendence

The sense of transcendence becomes obvious when contemplating the limits of the material world. Keller writes:

“Steve Jobs, when contemplating his own death, confessed that he felt that ‘it’s strange to think that you accumulate all this experience…and it just goes away. So I really want to believe that something survives, that maybe your consciousness endures.” (16)

In my own experience, I came to understand that even nihilism, complete denial of the existence of God, points itself to God because the human heart refuses to live without hope.

Assessment

Timothy Keller’s book, Making Sense of God, is a jewel. It answers better than most books focused on apologetics some of the basic concerns of our age. In parts two and three of this review, I will turn to Keller’s other two concerns: why religion is more than you think it is and how Christianity makes sense.

References

Habermas, Jürgen. 2006. Time of Transitions. UK: Cambridge.

[1]@TimKellerNYC, http://www.TimothyKeller.com.

 

Tim Keller Makes Sense, Part 1

Also see:

Keller Argues the Case for God 

Keller Engages Galatians; Speaks Gospel 

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2fEPbBK

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Return to Leadership

Cover for Called Along the Way
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy
of double honor, especially those
who labor in preaching and teaching
(1 Tim 5:17)

Return to Leadership

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

My term as elder began in January 2003 when Centreville Presbyterian Church (CPC) ordained me and I was elected as clerk of session, a leadership position. As clerk, I worked closely with the pastor to set agendas for the session and congregational meetings, and kept the official notes on all meetings.

Pastor Rob encouraged the elders to deepen their faith and to become more involved in the life of the church. He encouraged us involved dedicating the first half-hour of our meetings to study and prayer. The first book that we used in this effort was Oswald Sanders’ book, Spiritual Leadership, which served to make the point that elders were more than merely the board of directors of the church. Session soon became my first small group.

Pastor Rob also encouraged us was to become more involved in the life of the church through preaching and teaching. In the spring, our associate pastor resigned and Pastor Rob asked that elders to offer personal testimonies on Sunday morning to give him some time off.
At first, I avoided the question, but after thinking about it, I told him:

I am uncomfortable giving a personal testimonial, but if you want, I will preach for you. I am used to teaching college students so it should be no problem to preach.

He agreed and shared a book, Communicating for a Change, with me by Andy Stanley and Lane Jones to help me get started. Over the next year, I preached four times on the call to faith and ministry, the problem of pain, the Book of Esther, and the covenants of law and grace.
The following year, I taught my first adult Sunday school class, a video series crafted around R.C. Sproul’s book: Reason to Believe. We had more than twenty adults who attended the class and, because of the success of the class, I was encouraged to teach Bible studies, starting with the Book of Romans in 2005. After that I taught Luke, Genesis, Hebrews, Philippians, and Matthew.

After a point in teaching, I got frustrated by the poor attendance on Sunday mornings. I thought: “Where are the elders? Where are the deacons?” When I looked around the room, I realized that only one or two in a class of a dozen were even church members. My class consisted primarily of family members, colleagues from work, and active, non-members who wandered in. These were people who, like myself, struggled to understand their faith and chided at the usual pat answers.

References

Sanders, J. Oswald. 1994. Spiritual Leadership: Principles of Excellence for Every Believer. Chicago: Moody Press.

Sproul, R.C. 1982. Reason to Believe: A Response to Common Objectives to Christianity. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Stanley, Andy and Lane Jones. 2006. Communicating for a Change. Colorado Springs: Multinomah Books.

 

Other ways to engage with me online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2sqj

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Placher Argues the Foundations for Postmodernism, Part 1

William C. Placher. 1989. Unapologetic Theology: A Christian Voice in a Pluralistic Conversation. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

It is hard not to notice the crisis of identity facing Christians and the church today. If we as Christians see ourselves as created in the image of an almighty God, then nothing is impossible for God and, by inference, for us as heirs to the kingdom. On the other hand, if we start to believe our critics that God does not exist and church is just another human institution, then our options are no different than anyone else’s—limited by the time and money immediately available. Because we act out of our identity, we need to care about what our identity is in our heart of hearts, not just on our business cards. For Christians, our truest identity is defined in our theory of God or, in other words, in our theology.

In his book, Unapologetic Theology, William Placher writes:

“This book represents some of the philosophy I have been reading, as one context for thinking about a new way—or maybe a very old way—of doing theology.” (7)

By “old” Placher means to argue apologetically from a Christian perspective with Christian assumptions. This “old” perspective, which he calls the “unapologetic” approach, is interesting because:

“Christian apologists can adopt the language and assumptions of their audiences so thoroughly that they no longer speak with a distinctively Christian voice.” (11)

Arguing from the “new” Enlightenment perspective means:

“questioning all inherited assumptions and then accepting only those beliefs which could be proven according to universally acceptable criteria.” (11)

If those universally acceptable criteria preclude faith in Christ Jesus by their nature, then the “new” perspective blunts effective witness (12). Worse, if no universally acceptable criteria exist, which essentially means that the Enlightenment (or modern) era is over, then the price of arguing is paid without gaining any credibility as a witness. Thus, adopting an unapologetic stance appears warranted in the postmodern era which we find ourselves in.

Placher’s argument raises two questions that we care about. First, is the modern era truly over and, if so, how do we know? Second, because Placher clearly believes that the modern era is over, how do we approach apologetics in the absence of universally acceptable criteria for discussion? We care about these questions because it is hard to witness for Christ in the postmodern era if, in effect, we do not speak the language of a postmodern person.

In part 1 of this review will focus on the first question while part 2 will consider the second.

Is the modern era over? Placher starts his discussion of the Enlightenment with the father of the Enlightenment, René Descartes, writing:

“Descartes had set the goal of seeking a foundation for knowledge, but modern philosophy soon divided between empiricists who looked for that foundation in bare, uninterrupted sensations [things you see, hear, feel, taste…] and rationalists who sought it in logically unchallengeable first truths.” (26)

For empiricists, a problem quickly emerged because:

“We cannot build knowledge on a foundation of uninterpreted sense-data, because we cannot know particular sense-data in isolation from the conceptual schemes we use to organize them.” (29)

If this is not obvious, think about how one knows that a light is red and different from yellow or green. In order to recognize the difference, one needs to understand the definition of red and how it differs from yellow or green. Without knowing that definition, red is not a distinct color. We teach colors to children at a young age so they seem obvious to us as adults, but to untaught kids colors have yet to be learned. The definition of red is what is meant here as a conceptual scheme.

For logicians, Placher observes:

“What we cannot do is find some point that is uniquely certain by definition, guarantee to hold regardless of any empirical discoveries, independent of any other elements in the our system.” (33)

Placher notes the definition of a mammal, “a warm-blooded animal with hair which bears live young”, had to change with the discovery of the platypus (32). While the problem posed by the platypus seems trivial, Placher notes after referencing Russell’s paradox that:

“If our definitions in mathematics or logic lead to problems, we may decide to change them, but we always have more than one choice.” (34)

In conclusion, Placher cites Wittgenstein observing:

“when we find the foundations, it turns out they are being held up by the rest of the house. If theologians try to defend their claims by starting with basic, foundational truths that any rational person would have to believe or observations independent of theory and assumptions, they are trying to do something that our best philosophers tell us is impossible.” (34)

In other words, the attempt by Enlightenment scholars to find a defensible basis for objective truth has failed and we are now in the postmodern era where it can be said: “how you stand on an issue depends on where you sit”.

William Placher’s book, Unapologetic Theology, is a fascinating review of modern and postmodern philosophical arguments that affect how we do theology and witness in the postmodern age. In part one of this review I have summarized Placher’s argument for why the modern age is truly over—objective truth has no foundation that we can all agree on. In part two of this review, I will summarize Placher’s arguments for how we should do theology and witness understanding that we are in the postmodern era.

 

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Incentive to Examine Faith

simplefaith_web_01172017By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Christians face an enormous challenge in living out their faith today because major tenets of Christian theology are being openly challenged in the media, in schools, and in the political arena. What are we to believe and, then, how are we to apply those beliefs in our daily choices?

Epistemology

The question of what are we to believe falls in epistemology, which is the study of knowledge (how do we know what we know). Epistemology is an intimidating subject normally reserved for those with a strong background in philosophy, but, like it or not, each of us has to answer these questions of faith without the benefit of a doctorate in philosophy. As such, our decisions always involve a high level of uncertainty.

Why is Epistemology Interesting?

Even though none of us are adequately prepared for this challenge, two reasons force us to pay attention to epistemology.

First, the rate of cultural change in this generation is a consequence of a fundamental shift in philosophy. Modernism is dead; postmodernism is unstable and transitioning to something else. Philosophical change directly affects our understanding of theology and how to apply it. The most obvious illustration of this problem has been the breakdown of the division between church and state which had existed since the time of the reformation.

Second, when philosophical disagreements arise, institutions leveraged on them no longer can be relied upon to provide guidance on how to handle the changes. Professional pastors, for example, receive specific training in biblical interpretation, pastoral care, and preaching; they receive no more training than the rest of us in journalism, politics, psychology, science, philosophy, and business management. Institutions actively engaged in self-preservation offer little shelter to those dependent on them.

Complex World Requires More Understanding

Because of these changes, much like the average person following the mortgage crisis needs to know more about financial decision making, they also need to know more about epistemology. The alternative is to reject faith leaving one open to unreflective acceptance of the many pseudo religious alternatives (atheism), to accept pagan or other faith alternatives, or to merge Christian faith with either of the prior alternatives (syncretism). Everyone has a belief system; not everyone reflects systematically on what they believe.

Now, some of you may be thinking, why do I need to bother myself? Why can’t I just apply scripture and be done with it? Of course, you can. However, if you do this on Sunday morning and forget about it on Monday morning, then do you honestly believe your Sunday morning applications or are they simply an interesting mental exercise? Blind acceptance of faith invariably leads to beliefs only tentatively held and of little use when life’s challenges arise. In some sense, epistemology provides a lens for viewing the current age through the eyes of scripture so that it is more meaningful, hence, more applicable.

Project Objective

The purpose of this writing project, Simple Faith: Something Worth Living For, is examine the fundamentals of epistemology from the perspective of faith. In many cases, I will take the arguments no deeper than the fundamentals of apologetics—offering a defense of the faith—but to shy away from deeper debates would be a disservice. Each and every day we are asked to make decisions about epistemological topics with a minimum of information—decisions under high levels of uncertainty. Any additional information is accordingly most valuable.

Incentive to Examine Faith

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