New Book: Reformed Epistemology and the Problem of Religious Diversity

An individual confronted with the vast diversity of religious beliefs and practices in the world has four possible ways of making sense of this situation. The first is naturalism, the position that all religious beliefs are merely the product of human projection and therefore false. The second is pluralism, the idea that there is a single ultimate religious reality and all religious traditions are actually different ways of experiencing or interpreting this reality. The third option is inclusivism, the position that there is one religion that offers the most effective path to salvation, but others outside this religion can somehow be saved or liberated. The final option is exclusivism, the idea that one religion is exclusively true and the doctrines of other religions are false when they conflict with this religion.

For the Christian, believing anything less than exclusivism would seem to contradict the clear teaching of Christ. Yet, today, this position is not popular. To endorse one religion over others is considered arbitrary, irrational, unjustified, even oppressive and imperialistic.

In a new book released last month, Joseph Kim seeks to defend Christian exclusivism against these charges. Reformed Epistemology and the Problem of Religious Diversity interacts with Alvin Plantinga’s proper function account of warrant and shows why mutually exclusive religious beliefs do not serve as defeaters for Christian belief. Kim, a former lecturer in philosophy and business ethics at the University of California and Arizona State University, argues that the Christian exclusivist need not give up her Christian belief when faced with the problem of religious diversity even when she is unable to give an argument for the truth of Christian belief to those that disagree.

For those looking for a solid defense of Christian belief and a good introduction to the central issues that connect contemporary epistemology and the philosophy of religion, this looks like a book to seriously consider.

Below are the table of contents and some of the endorsements:

Read more

Seven Days That Divide the World: John Lennox on Creation, Science, and Scripture

John Lennox’s latest book, Seven Days That Divide The World, launches next month. In it, he sets out to answer one of the most fiercely debated questions of our day: can science and the Bible co-exist? Writing for a popular audience, Lennox examines the Genesis account of creation and addresses some of the issues that typically arise when trying to understand the Biblical narrative in light of contemporary science.

A Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford and a recent visitor to New Zealand, Lennox argues in Seven Days that science and faith can in fact peacefully co-exist and that Darwinian evolution and young-earth creationism are not the only two positions available to Christians.

Read more

Is the Magic of Harry Potter evil?

The following is an excerpt from the excellent book How Harry Cast his Spell: The Meaning  Behind the Mania for J. K. Rowling’s Bestselling Books, by author John Granger. It is a great read and I would recommend it anyone. You can buy it and other books by him at Amazon.

Read more

Defending the God of the Old Testament

Matt has posted his review of Paul Copan’s new book Is God a Moral Monster?:

“Overall, Paul Copan’s Is God a Moral Monster? is a must read for anyone interested in Old Testament ethics. It brings together important material that is otherwise scattered and demonstrates how this material responds to a line of moral criticism that has, by and large, been neglected by Christian philosophers until now.  Read more

Reviewing Rob Bell

Even before its release, Rob Bell’s book Love Wins has been drawing controversy. In questioning many of the traditional Christian views of heaven, hell, and eternal punishment, the popular megachurch pastor seemed to be abandoning the doctrine of God’s judgment and advocating a brand of universalism.

Now that the book has been published, several reviews and responses have became available. Of these, Kevin DeYoung has perhaps written one of the most careful and comprehensive treatments of the book. He summarizes why the book is so dangerous:

“The theology is heterodox. The history is inaccurate. The impact on souls is devastating. And the use of Scripture is indefensible. Worst of all, Love Wins demeans the cross and misrepresents God’s character.”

You can read the whole review on his blog or download the 21 page pdf here.

DeYoung’s response is organized under seven headings:

  1. Not Your Grandmother’s Christianity
  2. Historical Problems
  3. Exegetical Problems
  4. Eschatological Problems
  5. Christological Problems
  6. Gospel Problems
  7. A Different God

Rob Bell is right when he says “what we believe about heaven and hell is incredibly important because it exposes what we believe about who God is, and what God is like” and that’s why we need to take these issues so seriously and understand how harmful Bell’s claims are to the gospel message.

Two New Books about Christianity and the Life of the Mind

It does not take much investigation to see that the Christian church no longer values the life of the mind and the pursuit of knowledge as highly as it once did. While there may be encouraging signs of change within Evangelicalism, for many the mind is still viewed with indifference, confusion, and sometimes suspicion. The Bible, however, commands us to use our minds and calls us to thinking that is rigorous, passionate, and God-centered. The writers of the New Testament make it clear that we cannot feel or act out our faith as responsible Christians unless we first think as Christians (Romans 12:2, Ephesians 4:23).

Crossway Books has recently published two new books to help Christians in this area. Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God is authored by well-known pastor and author, John Piper, and The Gospel and the Mind: Recovering and Shaping the Intellectual Life is penned by associate professor of Christian studies at Union University, Bradley G. Green. Both titles look deeply at the task and privilege of thinking and how this is encouraged and sustained by the Christian worldview. With Christmas near, these books provide a great opportunity to fill the stocking of your friend or loved one with something that has both spiritual substance and intellectual bite.

Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God

In Think, Piper seeks to develop a considered theology of thinking that demonstrates it’s importance and necessity for the Christian life. Far from neglecting our emotions and our experience of God, he shows how our minds are in fact indispensable to knowing God better, loving him more, and caring for the world. We don’t have to choose between either our hearts or our minds, instead Piper argues that thinking carefully about God and done to His glory actually fuels passion and affections for God.

Endorsements:

“Piper has done it again. His outstanding book Think promises to shepherd a generation about the Christian commitment to the life of the mind. Deeply biblical and uniquely balanced, Think practices what it preaches: it is an accessible, intellectually rich study that calls the reader to renewed love for God and others.”
J. P. Moreland, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy, Talbot School of Theology, Biola University

“An essential dimension of Christian discipleship is the life of the mind, and this may well be the most neglected Christian responsibility of our times. God has made us intelligible creatures, and he has given us the stewardship of intellectual faculties that should drive us to think in ways that bring him greatest glory. In this new book, John Piper provides brilliant analysis, warm encouragement, and a faithful model of Christian thinking. This book is a primer for Christian thinking that is urgently needed in our time.”
R. Albert Mohler Jr., President, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

“Thinking—the alert, meticulous, probing, logical, critical use of the mind—will be a highway either to godliness or to its opposite, depending on how it is done. Taking leads from Jonathan Edwards, John Piper surefootedly plots the true path here. His book should be, and I hope will be, widely read.”
J. I. Packer, Professor of Theology, Regent College; author, Knowing God

The Gospel and the Mind: Recovering and Shaping the Intellectual Life

In The Gospel and the Mind, Bradley Green carefully examines the nature of the relationship between the Christian worldview and the life of the mind. He endeavours to the show that it is not an accident of history that (to use the phrase articulated by D. Bruce Lockerbie) wherever the cross is planted, the academy follows. By distilling several key concepts that are necessary for a flourishing and meaningful intellectual life – creation and the importance of history, the centrality of a telos to all things, the value of words – Green then argues that it is the Christian worldview that uniquely provides these preconditions. His book is not only a compelling argument for Christianity but also immensely practical: reminding us of the fact that the cross rescued not just our souls and bodies, but also our minds.

[vimeo id=”16898930″]

[vimeo id=”16899052″]

Endorsements:

“This remarkable and ground-breaking book is an adventure to read. Green argues convincingly that there is a strong link between Christian faith and the intellectual life of human beings. Given the Christian theological vision of God, human beings, and the world, learning has both a foundation and an animating purpose. Apart from Christian views of creation, history, and redemption, learning is adrift and without ultimate purpose. I strongly recommend this book for all those who long for the recovery of a vibrant intellectual life in our time.”
Stephen Davis, Russell K. Pitzer Professor of Philosophy, Claremont McKenna College

“The Enlightenment teaching that reason is a neutral universal act of thought free of tradition has been as decisively refuted as any philosophical theory can be. But the question remains of how to understand the embededness of reason in tradition. Green makes a convincing argument that Christianity contains just those foundational beliefs about reality that make the life of the mind possible. Christians who for two centuries have anxiously tried to conform their teachings to Enlightenment reason will discover—perhaps to their astonishment—that it is the gospel that makes reason in its fullest sense possible.”
Donald Livingston, Professor of Philosophy, Emory University

Harry Potter, Wandlore and the Imago Dei

Two things in particular have led my to write the following. The first was a recent conversation with a couple of Christian friends. When I expressed my joy of finally being able to see the latest Harry Potter movie (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1), I received back some respectfully worded, but obstinate hostility towards the “witchcraft” contained therein. The second thing was a comment made a while back on facebook by a friend. He said something like “I don’t read fiction, I like to read books about real life.” My reaction: “Fiction is about real life!”

Does that comment strike you as odd? Then let me begin with

A brief explanation of the Imago Dei

In Christian Theology there is an idea called the Imago Dei. (Gen 1:26-17) This idea is that God has given us something that reflects himself. This “Image of God” sets humanity apart from the animal kingdom and the rest of the created order. What it precisely means to be an Image-bearer is widely discussed with many differing opinions. There are however two solutions within the broad mainstream that are relatively uncontroversial.

The first is that the Image has something to do with creativity. The context of the passage is the the creation narrative, where humans are revealed to be the intended apex or goal of everything that has come before it. Also, it’s not just any god whose image we bear, but the one and only true creator God, who calls things into being from nothing.

The second is that the Image has something to do with the function of humans. Like a mission or call to action. In the middle of and immediately after the enigmatic passage God says, “Let them have dominion…” and “fill the earth and subdue it…” We are, as humans, commissioned to go into the world, and bring about God’s dominion to an unordered environment.

This Image was not destroyed when Adam and Eve sinned against God. It was merely distorted. The power of sin began to reign and bought death, both spiritual death and ultimately physical death. Spiritual death is any separation from the life of God, symbolized by their banishment from Eden where the tree of life was. The entire narrative makes it clear that Image-bearers were intended to operate in relationship with the one who placed it there.

So what does this have to do with Harry Potter?

Previously I have argued that J.K. Rowling intentionally utilizes familiar symbols to layer Christian meaning into her stories.[1] One example of this is Harry’s wand – made of holly with a Phoenix feather core.[2]

If you know anything about holly, you probably know its a tree particularly associated with Christmas. You probably recall Deck the Halls with Bells of Holly. Not so widely known is the carol is The Holly and the Ivy.

The holly and the ivy,
When they are both full grown
Of all the trees that are in the wood
The holly bears the crown.

The holly bears a blossom
As white as lily flower
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
To be our sweet Saviour.

The holly bears a berry
As red as any blood,
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
To do poor sinners good.

The holly bears a prickle
As sharp as any thorn,
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
On Christmas Day in the morn.

The holly bears a bark
As bitter as any gall,
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
For to redeem us all.

The holly and the ivy,
When they are both full grown
Of all the trees that are in the wood
The holly bears the crown.

Christianity has an long tradition of taking the pagan symbols and super-imposing Christian meaning over it. It does this with the hope that, in time, the overlaid meaning will replace the old entirely. In this way, a culture can be transformed into a one that is accustomed, receptive and honoring to the gospel of Christ. The Christmas holiday was, for instance, directly modeled on the Roman celebration of the Saturnalia, where wreaths and garlands of holly were used as decoration during the cold winter months. Being an evergreen, the decoration was a reminder of the life that was to come while all else was dormant and appeared dead.[3]

This carol above is an example of this kind of co-opting of religious symbolism. “White as lily” here alludes to Christ’s purity. Red berries correlate to the redness of Christ’s blood, shed to save sinners from death. The prickles represent the crown of thorns that adorned Christ’s head while on the cross. Possibly the bitter bark is a reference to the drink offered to Christ while being crucified. The carol’s first and last stanzas bear a feint reference the battle between the “Holly King” and its brother the “Oak King” that is a part symbology’s cultural heritage. Here holly is made out to be the preeminent tree and a permanent victor over ivy – the plant that tries to choke it. Holly was already thought by pagans to protect against evil and ward off bad luck,[4] so the old meaning is concomitant with the new symbolic meaning. Christ is the Holy King,[5] the defeater of evil, and the master of death.[6] Accordingly the evergreen becomes an apt symbol for eternal life.

It is easier to understand its symbolic meaning of the Phoenix feather core. The Phoenix is the “resurrection bird,” named so because they die in a burst of flames and are re-born in their own ashes. This was commonly understood and utilized in Christian art of past ages to be a symbol of Christ, the Resurrected One. The Phoenix plays an important anagogic role in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,[7] and in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix when Fawkes blocks a killing curse directed at his friend, allowing Dumbledore to vanish a snake an instant away from sinking its fangs into him.[8]

Harry’s wand is thus a symbol of sacrificial death, resurrection and everlasting life all rolled up into one. In sum, it is a symbol of Christ, and particularly of what Christ has done of our behalf.

Accio Loose Ends

Although wandlore in Harry Potter is referred to as somewhat mysterious and difficult subject, a few facts do emerge. First, the magic inside a witch or wizard is harnessed and focused by the wand. An underaged wizard cannot fully control their own magic, so it is spasmodically and uncontrollably released. Second, the wand and the wizard form a partnership, learning to work together. Harry likens his holly and Phoenix feather wand to a familiar friend, whereas other wands fit strangely in his hand and do not produce the same strength of magic. Third, and most importantly, the wand chooses the wizard.[9]

So here we are presented with a picture of Harry (our “every man”) with magic inside him (the Image of God), forming a relationship with a wand (Christ) to transform, create and bring dominion to the world around him. There’s much more that can be said regarding Harry’s wand, its relationship to Voldemort’s wand, the elder wand, and the magic of imagination. I trust I have whet your appetite for more. [10]

To my friends I would repeat that an intelligent reading of Harry Potter is truly rewarding, and it would be a severe tragedy to unthinkingly dismiss something as evil without digging for the gold buried beneath, and dwelling on that which is true, honorable and excellent (Phil 4:8). There are riches aplenty to find. To my facebook friend, I would say fiction is wonderfully able to illustrate truths in ways that books on philosophy do not. Fantasy is a genre that is particularly capable of doing this. It creates a universe – and characters to populate it – that in some way reflects our own world. In doing so it can tease out and give answers to some the great questions of life, like what it means to be truly human – an Image-Bearer. Once again, I recommend Harry Potter.

Footnotes

1. See Stuart McEwing, “Muggle Matters: Is Harry Potter a Doorway to the Occult?” n.p. Online: http://talk.thinkingmatters.org.nz/2008/muggle-matters-is-harry-potter-a-doorway-to-the-occult/
2. Hat tip goes to Jane Hawes, “Guest Post: Tis the Season for Holly Wandlore” n.p. Cited 29 November 2010. Online: http://www.hogwartsprofessor.com/guest-post-tis-the-season-for-holly-wandlore/.
3. David Beaulieu, “The Holly and the Ivy” 2 pages. Online: http://landscaping.about.com/od/holidayplants1/a/holly_and_ivy.htm. See also “Christmas Holly Trees: History, Winter Solsitice” n.p. Cited 29 November 2010. Online: http://landscaping.about.com/cs/winterlandscaping1/a/holly_trees.htm
4. Frederick Warne in association with the Royal Horticultural Society, Flower Fairies: The Lore and Language of Flowers (London, England: Penguin, 2004), 78.
5. It is by no means clear that “Holly” and “Holy” can be linked linguistically.
6. See Jane Hawes, “Guest Post: Tis the Season for Holly Wandlore.
7. See John Granger, “Harry Potter and the Inklings: The Christian Meaning of the Chamber of Secrets” n.p. Cited 29 December 2010. Online: http://www.george-macdonald.com/resources/granger.html
8. Harry Potter and the Order of the Pheonix, p 719.
9. Harry Potter wandlore. See Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone, p. 65.
10. Start here. Jane Hawes, “Guest Post: Tis the Season for Holly Wandlore.

Book Launch: Beyond the Law – Where Grace Abounds

Beyond the Law - Where Grace Abounds

If you are in Auckland on Saturday 4th September you may be interested in attending the Launch of a new book from Hope 2 Overcome Publishers by author Mike Butler.

Launch Info:

Saturday 4th September @ 7pm
Encounter Christian Centre
495 Rosebank Road Avondale
RSVP – Myan Subrayan
info@hope2overcome.org / 021 507 149
Light refreshments will be served

NZ Release Date – 4th September 2010
RRP – $25 / Trade Paperback / 181pages
For all enquiries contact : Myan Subrayan
Tel: 021 507 149; info@hope2overcome.org

Backcover Blurb:

The Christian life can get pretty busy with many activities. Sometimes that busyness can lead to undue stress and pressure, even leading to the point where we feel:

• Burnt out in our Christian walk,
• Overwhelmed by church activities,
• Frustrated and hurt because we don’t measure up to someone else’s idea of what a ‘Christian’ should be.

In this book Michael Butler explores these difficult issues and brings a new perspective on how the demands of the Old Testament law should operate for believers who live under New Testament grace.

Beyond the Law – Where Grace Abounds is an insightful book that will help you discover liberty in your Christian life.

I highly recommend this book to all leaders and Christians seeking their identity and purpose in Christ to live ‘spirit filled’ lives.
Brent Douglas Senior Pastor Encounter Christian Centre

This book is a tremendous tool to help Christians make the transition from guilt- ridden, works-driven legalism, to a Spirit-empowered life in Christ.
Ken Legg, Senior Pastor – New Beginnings Christian Church Gold Coast, Australia

I encourage every Christian to read and understand the message of Kingdom reality that is so powerfully captured by this book.
Charles Kandregula, Retired Bible College Principal, Auckland, NZ

The Bible is clear that Jesus came to set us free. As Christians we have associated this freedom solely with being set free from sin – there is more to it. Yes, Jesus did come to set us free from sin and I am in no way doubting that. But there is more to the freedom that Jesus gives than meets the eye. Jesus also came to set us free from religion or legalism, which has crept into the Church.

His biggest “battles” were with the religious people at the time – the teachers of the Law. These religious people were known as the Pharisees and Sadducees. They were so religious that they debated whether swallowing their own spit on the Sabbath was work. Jesus did not take kindly to this lot and referred to them harshly: hypocrites, fools, vipers, blind guides.

About the Author:

Michael Butler was born and educated in London, but has lived in New Zealand with his wife Kay for over 35 years. They have three grown children. Michael has pastored, taught in Bible schools and travelled extensively. His passion is for teaching on the increase of God’s Kingdom.


Free Online Book: Is Christianity True?

Earlier this year, Brian Auten at Apologetics 315 organized a collaboration between several apologetic websites and blogs on the topic Is Christianity True? The purpose of the project was to explain and defend the truth claims of the Christian worldview against various intellectual challenges. With over twenty essays in the series (including one by Matt Flannagan), it is a compelling introduction and example of apologetics in action. Today, Brian has helpfully released the series in a single ebook format:  Kindle Version | Mobi | ePub | PDF .

Here is a list of the individual essays:

Chris ReeseForeword
Brian AutenIntroduction
Tawa AndersonDoes God Exist?
Jim WallaceThe Best Explanation
Wes WidnerCoherent, Consistent & Livable
Richard GerhardtThe Failure of Naturalism
Bob PerryDefrocking the Priests of Scientism
Peter GriceOrthogonal Complexity
Chad GrossCumulative Reasons for Christianity
Shelby CadeProphecy and Resurrection
Luke NixMaking Sense of the Resurrection
Aaron BrakeThe Facts of the Resurrection
Amy HallThe Historical Event of the Resurrection
James Patrick HoldingThe Impossible Faith
Stephen J. BedardChristianity and Other Ancient Religions
Anthony HorvathChristianity Proved by the Nature of the Jewish Nation
Mariano GrinbankThe Euthyphro Dichotomy
Marcus McElhaneyChristianity is Objectively True
Vocab MalonePaul D. AdamsThe Gospels Tell Me So
Glenn HendricksonChristianity Explains Logic
Brian ColónAtheism: A Falsified Hypothesis
Kyle DemingTesting Christianity’s Core Truth Claims
Matthew FlannaganShowing Christianity is True
Brian AutenThe Wise Man Seeks God

The Myth of Religious Violence

Brad S. Gregory, writing in the First Things journal, reviews William T. Cavanaugh’s The Myth of Religious Violence: Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict:

“The “Myth” of religious violence? Is the head of this ivory tower academic (Cavanaugh teaches theology at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota) buried in the sand? Cavanaugh has no interest in denying the obvious, that human beings are sometimes motivated by religion to act in violent ways. Nor does he seek to differentiate between “genuine” and “so-called” religion in an effort to keep the sincere and the devout free from the taint of violence.

Exposing the myth of religious violence means something else: the careful demolition of the variously argued idea that in ostensible contrast to rational, modern, secular ideologies, there is something distinctively disruptive, divisive, and dangerous about religion that makes it, across historical epochs and cultures and peoples, inherently prone to irrational, intractable violence. Because of this, the argument goes, religion must be resolutely corralled and controlled by the benign secularism of the liberal state, if necessary by justifiable, pacifying violence of the state’s own.

Cavanaugh rightly sees that, for this argument to work, there must be something identifiable about “religion” that makes it susceptible to violence and sets it apart from secular ideologies and commitments. But those who make this argument have offered no account of religion that can sustain the argument. Ignoring much scholarship about the historical and cultural variability of the concept of religion itself, they argue as if the differences are apparent. Hence they offer, in the guise of description and analysis, the myth of religious violence: the powerful and pervasive perpetuation of the false notion that because it is especially liable to violence, religion merits special attention by a secular state whose legitimacy is reaffirmed every time it performs its policing function, thereby reinforcing the myth and deflecting attention away from its own violence.

The Myth of Religious Violence begins with the arguments of nine leading scholars-including John Hick, Martin Marty, and Charles Kimball-who argue in their respective ways that religion tends especially to violence because it is absolutist, divisive, and/or not rational. Cavanaugh demonstrates that all such arguments founder: If they define religion in substantive terms, he shows with abundant evidence that “there is no reason to suppose that so-called secular ideologies such as nationalism, patriotism, capitalism, Marxism, and liberalism are any less prone to be absolutist, divisive, and irrational than belief in, for example, the biblical God,” and if they employ a functionalist definition of religion, they dissolve the analytical distinction between religious and secular, because “the term religion comes to cover virtually anything humans do that gives their lives order and meaning . . .”

. . . “But didn’t the “wars of religion” in the Reformation era show beyond any doubt that religion is absolutist, divisive, and irrational and therefore prone to violence? And, as a result, wasn’t the modern liberal state created and construed as a secular, privatizing, and individualizing religion in order to tame it?

This “creation myth of the wars of religion” Cavanaugh dismantles thoroughly. He rightly directs his analysis especially against contemporary liberal political theorists and legal scholars who construe the creation of the secular state as the creation of a peacemaking savior from the religious unrest of early modern Europe. The contemporary liberals’ story simply echoes the story’s self-serving creators, from Hobbes and Spinoza through Voltaire and Rousseau.

Against this narrative Cavanaugh marshals a wide range of evidence from historians of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries that hopelessly complicates any construal of major European conflicts from the Schmalkaldic War (1546-1547) through the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) as “wars of religion.” More fundamentally, he correctly notes the inseparability of religion from politics and society in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Hence, one cannot, for example, say that a Catholic Eucharistic procession was religious rather than political or social–unless one applies, anachronistically, a conception of religion that itself arose only as a rejection of the human realities it sought to refashion . . .”

“. . . In place of the myth of religious violence, Cavanaugh suggests leveling the playing field: Both secularist liberalism and religious traditions should be placed within the same analytical framework when it comes to answering without prejudice a straightforwardly functionalist question: “Do certain ideologies and practices have more of a tendency to produce violence than others?” In this endeavor, “the distinction between secular and religious violence is unhelpful, misleading, and mystifying, and it should be avoided altogether.””

Read the whole article here.

The Myth of Religious Violence: Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict, by William T. Cavanaugh (Oxford University Press, 2009), 296 pages is available for $39.96 on Amazon.

Can we Love Jesus and Accept Evolution?

James Anderson, assistant professor at Reformed Theological Seminary, reviews “I Love Jesus & I Accept Evolution”, the latest book by Denis Lamoureux:

“A full critique of Lamoureux’s evolutionary creationism cannot be given here. I will, however, indicate some of the major reasons why I don’t find his arguments compelling. In the first place, his approach to interpreting Scripture is highly problematic. He professes to acknowledge both the “Book of God’s Works” (revelation in nature) and the “Book of God’s Words” (revelation in Scripture) but it’s clear that he gives the former unqualified priority over the latter; if there is any apparent conflict between nature (for which read: modern science) and the Bible, Lamoureux concludes that the Bible is mistaken due to its accommodation to ancient science. On this way of thinking, the Bible must always be judged in the light of modern science. Yet this prioritization is the very opposite of the view that Christians have historically taken on the issue. As Calvin famously put it, the Bible functions like a pair of spectacles given to correct the distortion of natural revelation by our fallen intellects. Scripture has authority over science, whether ancient or modern.

Furthermore, Lamoureux’s separation of theological statements and scientific statements in the Bible is impossible to apply in practice. Take, for instance, the claim that God judged the world by sending a great flood (cf. 2 Peter 3:6). Is that a theological statement or a scientific statement? On the face of it, it’s both—at the very least, it has theological elements and scientific elements that cannot be teased apart.

A further concern is raised by Lamoureux’s central claim that the Bible is accommodated to ancient science and therefore makes scientific statements that are false. Why think that the accommodation only pertains to science? Why not suppose, for much the same reasons, that the Bible is accommodated to ancient morality too? Indeed, that’s precisely the argument used by many liberal theologians today who argue that Christianity is compatible with monogamous homosexual relationships. If Lamoureux wouldn’t accept their position, why should we accept his? What do modern scientists have that modern ethicists don’t?

The point can be pushed further still. If the Bible is accommodated to the fallible scientific outlook of its original audience, perhaps it is also accommodated to their fallible religious outlook. Perhaps all those claims in the New Testament regarding Christ’s substitutionary atonement are merely a concession to the religious outlook of ancient people who were used to thinking in terms of animal sacrifices, propitiatory atonement, and so forth. Presumably those claims would be no more immune to error than the Bible’s scientific claims. But then how much confidence could we place in the gospel message preached by the apostles?

The point is this: accommodationist theories of biblical inspiration such as Lamoureux’s are like a universal acid that burns its way through everything. Once we argue that the Bible is unreliable in one area (science) due to its accommodation to ancient ignorance, we can have no principled basis for insisting that it is still reliable—never mind inerrant—in other areas such as ethics and theology.

So much for Lamoureux’s doctrine of Scripture. What about his scientific arguments? I’ve noted already some of the weaknesses in his case: circular reasoning, selective evidence, and conclusions that go far beyond what the empirical data support. Equally problematic is the fact that he doesn’t even mention, let alone address, some of the many significant scientific difficulties faced by the theory that all living organisms have gradually evolved from rudimentary life forms by purely natural processes (e.g., the lack of a plausible mechanism for large-scale evolutionary development, the so-called “Cambrian explosion” in the fossil record, the origin of sexual differentiation, and the existence of irreducibly complex biological structures). The uninformed reader will almost certainly be misled into thinking that the scientific case for evolution is beyond question. Still, perhaps we should cut Lamoureux some slack on this point. After all, if the biblical authors can be excused their misleading or false statements on the basis that they were captive to the science-of-the-day, presumably so can he!

Finally, I suspect many evangelical readers will be unconvinced by Lamoureux’s plea that his position preserves all the essential doctrines of the Christian faith. He speaks several times of “non-negotiable” Christian beliefs, but never explains what criteria he uses for treating some traditional Christian beliefs as non-negotiable and others as dispensable. One can’t help but suspect that his list of essential doctrines is rigged so that his own views fall safely within the bounds of orthodoxy.

Lamoureux’s rejection of the doctrine of original sin, which follows of necessity from his rejection of the historical Adam and Eve, is particularly problematic. If Adam never existed then obviously no human being could have inherited a sinful nature from him. Lamoureux suggests that this traditional doctrine originated with Augustine (who was, of course, misled by the science-of-the-day) but he fails to acknowledge that Augustine argued his position from Scripture. What Lamoureux recommends in place of the traditional doctrine might be dubbed “Original Sin Lite” (or perhaps “Original Sin Zero”): every human being is a sinner and that’s all we need to affirm. Yet surely this falls far short of the doctrine taught in Romans 5:12-21 and 1 Corinthians 15:20-22, which offers both a coherent theological explanation for universal human sinfulness and a profound parallel (and contrast) between Adam and Jesus. It’s remarkable that Lamoureux makes no reference to these passages in his discussion of original sin, and his treatments elsewhere in the book require him to hold these texts at arm’s length. One has to wonder whether he would have so quickly concluded that Adam is a dispensable mythical figure had he been more exposed to the Reformed tradition in his theological studies. There is far more at stake here than whether Paul was mistaken in certain incidental historical facts.

I have to conclude that despite its irenic approach and the undoubted expertise of its author, this book fails in its goal of reconciling biblical Christianity with modern evolutionary science. Nevertheless, it is very useful in this respect: it makes clear what price has to be paid in order to make peace with evolution, even if one takes a relatively conservative approach. The first casualties are the doctrines of biblical authority, clarity, and inerrancy, closely followed by the doctrine of original sin; and once those are sacrificed it’s inevitable that more will follow, for no doctrine is an island. The doctrines of salvation by grace alone and justification by faith alone, to cite two examples, are intimately connected to the nature of the fall and its consequences.”

Read the whole thing here (or an abridged version at Discerning Reader here).

QFCMV2V5J463

New Book: Has Christianity Failed You?

Chesterton famously wrote that “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.” Has Christianity Failed You? is a new book by evangelical thinker and apologist, Ravi Zacharias, written to address the struggles that many experience in trying to follow Jesus Christ. In a culture that is post-Christian, there will be many people who end up rejecting Christianity for different reasons – personal loss or suffering, false expectations shaped by broken relationships, traumatic church experiences, and often because of intellectual struggles. Ravi explores the nature of disappointment with God and the difficult questions that often arise from those who have feel betrayed intellectually and spiritually by the church or by their Christian experience. Some of the specific questions addressed in the book:

  • Have you stumbled and fallen in your faith?
  • Do you have intellectual questions that are unanswered?
  • Is Christianity not what you thought it was?
  • Have you been affected by hypocrisy in the church?
  • Are you swayed by the challenges to the Holy Scriptures?
  • Has science tested your Christian belief?

Ravi is a gifted writer and I have benefited greatly from his discussion of logical and existential questions (Can Man Live Without God, Cries of the Heart and Deliver Us From Evil are excellent works). This new book by him looks to again balance out both the practical and philosophical considerations involved when God seems distant or when the Christian life seems harder than we expected it to be. Let’s face it, religious people and institutions can often be the biggest obstacle to belief in God (movements like the emergent church prove this pretty well). Hopefully this book will be helpful for many who find themselves in this position.

Has Christianity Failed You? becomes available on Amazon this month.

Here are two questions from an interview Ravi did with Danielle DuRant about the book (the full interview can be found on the RZIM site):

What do you say to the person who cognitively believes God is good and wants to trust him but, based on a past heartache or a present situation, still struggles to experience him as compassionate and trustworthy?

RZ: These are what I call the rub questions. They are not easy to answer. And these situations are more often the rule than the exception in our experience. I think about this a lot, and I wonder how much we have been wrongly taught in these matters? Have our expectations for life as a Christian been wrong? In our efforts to be relevant, we have forgotten that some things are going to be irrelevant and unexplainable for us, and it is we who need to become relevant to the truth, not the other way around. We are not God. Imagine trying to force a square peg into a round hole—all you accomplish in the end is to damage the edges of the peg. Sometimes we try to force God to fit our mold for him, to fit our idea of how he should act, and then when he doesn’t meet these expectations, we blame him for not meeting our expectations.

I have concluded that the greatest of loves comes at the greatest cost. The greatest of loves will never come cheaply. It takes everything you have to honor that love and everything you have to honor that trust. And the greatest love that any of us could have is our relationship with God.

Look at any athletes who have succeeded. Discipline is an indispensable part of their lives— unless, of course, they cheat. And when you’ve got the discipline, you’ve got the marks on your body to demonstrate it. But we sit down Sunday after Sunday, in the West particularly, to a delicious buffet of programming. Then when the first temptation comes, we are walloped; we are thrashed, and we wonder where God is. God is exactly where we have left him—way behind, reshaped into our image.

Something I heard from a Muslim doctor I met in Pakistan who had come to know Christ comes to my mind often. He told me about the two sentences he heard from a preacher that changed his life: “In surrendering, you win. In dying, you live.” This is the counterperspective. So when you say, “I don’t feel God here. I’m afraid to trust him here,” realize that there are many days when you don’t feel the love you want to feel from your spouse, your children, your family. But you have to be big enough to surrender your own needs and keep loving and “kicking against the goads,” as it were. I believe when it is over, you will discover that perseverance was what it was all about.

You’ve raised many significant points today—that we must carefully examine our expectations of God and our disappointments, not denying them but bringing them to God and asking him to show us where we may be thinking improperly, and that we must come to him in prayer rather than turn our backs on our relationship, asking him to show us more of himself and his love for us.

RZ: There are two important implications, Danielle. Blaming our poor relationship with our heavenly Father on our poor relationships with our earthly fathers is similar to saying that Christianity has failed us because of what we see or experience in the church. This is a false extrapolation. Yes, the church is flawed; yes, it is broken. But if you think of the twelve men whom Jesus chose—my word! Certainly an insightful Divine Being could have picked better disciples than he did. And out of these less-than-perfect disciples, he took perhaps the least promising— Peter—and gave him the key spot. Then he took a terrorist—Paul— and made him the penman for one-third of the New Testament. So I think we take a great risk if we base our decision about ultimate matters only on what we can see.

Second and very important, one of the chapters in this book is a response to Robert Price and his view of the irrationality and untenability of the Christian faith. This is not a face-value response, but I want the reader to understand this: Examine any other worldview, and you’ll find an important difference between it and the Christian faith. In the Christian faith, we may ask the questions, in fact, encourage questions, and while we may not always have comprehensive answers, we have very meaningful answers. In any other worldview, not only do they not have meaningful answers, they cannot even justify their questions. This is not to say that Christianity is the best of some horrible options. No! I think the questions of morality, meaning, love, destiny, values, sexuality, marriage, friendship, and word over feeling are most meaningfully answered in the Judeo-Christian worldview. I am more convinced of this than I was at the moment I first committed my life to Christ. So examine Christianity against all other alternatives, and I believe with my whole heart that you will find that Christianity has not failed you.