Saturday, December 31, 2011

Books Read in 2011

Thanks to the Amazon Kindle, I have read more books this year than ever. Here is the list in chronological order. A '*' connotes a much beloved book.

1. Matthew Commentary, by R.T. France
2. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Steig Larsson
3. The Coming of the Third Reich, by Richard Evans
4. The Third Reich in Power, by Richard Evans
5. The Third Reich at War, by Richard Evans
6. Biblical Theology, by Geerhardus Vos
7. From the Finger of God, by Phillip Ross*
8. Living in God's Two Kingdoms, by David Vandrunen*
9. Inside Scientology, by Janet Reitman
10. The Lost History of Christianity, by Philip Jenkins
11. The Great Train Robbery, by Michael Crichton
12. Isaac's Storm, by Erik Larson
13. The Moviegoer, by Walker Percy*
14. Lost in the Cosmos, by Walker Percy*
15. Commentary on Mark, by R.T. France
16. A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole*
17. God, No!, by Penn Jillette
18. Love in the Ruins, by Walker Percy
19. The Johnstown Flood, by David McCullough
20. Empire of Illusion, by Chris Hedges
21. Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte
22. Amusing Ourselves to Death, by Neil Postman*
23. Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, by Doris Kearns Goodwin
24. Bloody Crimes, by James L. Swanson
25. Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson*
26. Where the Conflict Really Lies, by Alvin Plantinga*

Friday, December 30, 2011

Book Review: Where The Conflict Really Lies by Alvin Plantinga

Christian apologetics tends to be extremely defensive in nature. “Defending the faith” is the way we often think of apologetics. Of course we know that apologetics is more than simply defensive, but it is fair to say that a large amount of energy by Christians is spent responding to atheists – be it the so-called four horsemen of atheism (Dennett, Dawkins, Harris, or the late Chris Hitchens) or simply the run-of-the-mill atheists whom we've all encountered at one time or another.

Right out of the gate, I want to say this about Alvin Plantinga’s new book Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism - he takes the fight to the atheists. After reading this book, it becomes apparent that if they want to carry the mantle of rationality then naturalists/atheists have a lot of work to do.

From the beginning, in typical philosophical fashion, Plantinga is straightforward about the case he is about to spend the book making:
My overall claim in this book: there is superficial conflict but deep concord between science and theistic religion, but superficial concord and deep conflict between science and naturalism. (90-91) [All references are from the Kindle edition of the book]
He does not insist that science is at peace with every metaphysical commitment, however: “there is a science/religion (or science/ quasi-religion) conflict, all right, but it isn’t between science and theistic religion: it’s between science and naturalism” (103-104).

In Part I of the book, Plantinga recounts the alleged conflict that is said to exist between theism and science. He reviews arguments by Dawkins, Dennett, and Paul Draper, demonstrating that their commitment to naturalism is a metaphysical commitment and that science (and especially evolution) ought not to necessarily entail naturalism as the atheists are wont to insist. He also spends an extended amount of time discussing the question of whether a belief in a God who does miracles and “intervenes” in the world undermines the possibility of scientific exploration or knowledge. Arguing that science deals with the possibility of knowledge within a system when it is closed, it is silent on laws within a system when it is open (such as when a being intervenes from the outside).

Some may find Plantinga’s method of apologetics to be somewhat difficult to swallow. He believes that God’s existence cannot be strictly proven, but his view that God has implanted a sensus divinitatis within mankind means that a belief in God is properly basic and provides an epistemic ground for theistic belief. That is to say, just as we do not perceive other minds to exist, or perceive this house to be standing in front of us through a chain of arguments or inferences, we likewise do not believe that God exists because of a chain of inferences or arguments. Plantinga says that we perceive God rather than arguing to God.

That does not mean that defeaters cannot be presented to the perceiver of God. Theism is not, in principle, nonfalsifiable. Plantinga's argument for proper basicality cannot be used to prove any and every belief. The atheist, it is alleged, offers alleged defeaters for this belief, and the alleged defeaters are to be dealt with.
It is perfectly obvious that theists won’t be able to give an explanation of mind in general—they won’t be able to offer an explanation for the state of affairs consisting in there being at least one mind—because, naturally enough, there isn’t any explanation of the existence of God. But that is certainly not a point against theism. Explanations come to an end; for theism they come to an end in God. For any other view of the same level of generality they also come to an end. The materialist or physicalist, for example, doesn’t have an explanation for the existence of elementary particles or, more generally, contingent physical or material beings; that there are some is, from that perspective, a brute fact. It isn’t easy to say precisely what counts as begging the question; but to fault theism for failing to have an ultimate explanation of mind is as good a candidate as any. (545-551)
One of the most important claims Plantinga defends in the book is that evolution does not entail the claim that natural selection is an unguided process. The claim that evolution is unguided is a metaphysical commitment which makes a judgment in an area where science cannot speak with authority.
On the one hand, therefore, we have the scientific theory, and on the other, there is the claim that the course of evolution is not directed or guided or orchestrated by anyone; it displays no teleology; it is blind and unforeseeing; as Dawkins says, it has no aim or goal in its mind’s eye, mainly because it has no mind’s eye. This claim, however, despite its strident proclamation, is no part of the scientific theory as such; it is instead a metaphysical or theological add-on. On the one hand there is the scientific theory; on the other, the metaphysical add-on, according to which the process is unguided. The first is part of current science, and deserves the respect properly accorded to a pillar of science; but the first is entirely compatible with theism. The second supports naturalism, all right, but is not part of science, and does not deserve the respect properly accorded science. And the confusion of the two—confusing the scientific theory with the result of annexing that add-on to it, confusing evolution as such with unguided evolution—deserves not respect, but disdain. (4233-4240)
This claim of Plantinga’s will meet with some resistance from orthodox Christians who have (justifiably) less than friendly feelings towards evolution (especially given the new arguments surrounding Adam & Eve). The point, which is not to be missed, however, is that evolution as such, does not present a defeater for theism. It may present a defeater for a literal reading of Genesis, it may present a defeater for the Westminster Confession’s statements on creation, and it may present a defeater for inerrancy in general, but it does not present a defeater for Christian theism.
The truth of the theory of natural selection, therefore, doesn’t for a moment show that all of life has come to be by way of unguided natural selection, or even that it is biologically possible that it has come to be that way. It is therefore a mistake to say with Dennett that “the theory of natural selection shows how every feature of the world can be the product of a blind, unforesightful, nonteleological, ultimately mechanical process of differential reproduction.” (717-720)
The point in Plantinga’s discussion is not whether evolution is true or how old the universe is – the point is that even if one believes in evolution, the metaphysical claim of naturalism, which is often attached to evolution, is an added assumption. The one does not necessarily entail the other.

In Part II of the book, Plantinga reviews the superficial conflict that does exist between theism and modern science. He talks about evolutionary psychology as well as modern naturalistic methodologies in scripture scholarship (higher biblical criticism). Plantinga concedes that evolutionary psychology and higher biblical criticism cannot co-exist happily with a theistic worldview. However, he also argues that these issues are superficial in nature and that they do not offer defeaters for theistic belief since they entail the very metaphysical assumptions that are at issue.

In Part III Plantinga reviews the ways in which theism finds happy concord with science. He discusses the merits of fine-tuning arguments and Behe’s irreducible complexity. Some may be interested Plantinga’s evaluation of fine-tuning arguments from his analytical-philosophical perspective. In sum, he does not find the arguments to be nearly as strong as some classical apologists have:
The right conclusion, I think, is that the [Fine Tuning Argument] offers some slight support for theism. It does offer support, but only mild support. Granted: this is not a very exciting conclusion, not nearly as exciting as the conclusion that the argument is extremely powerful, or the conclusion that it is wholly worthless. It does, however, have the virtue of being correct. (3138-3140)
It is worth the effort to read his arguments for this conclusion, though we don’t have time to work through them in this review. He also has this conclusion regarding Michael Behe’s irreducible complexity:
On balance, then: Behe’s design discourses do not constitute irrefragable arguments for theism, or even for the proposition that the structures he considers have in fact been designed. Taken not as arguments but as design discourses they fare better. They present us with epistemic situations in which the rational response is design belief—design belief for which there aren’t strong defeaters. The proper conclusion to be drawn, I think, is that Behe’s design discourses do support theism, although it isn’t easy to say how much support they offer. (3679-3683)
He also discusses the “deep concord” between theism and science. He discusses the friendliness between the theistic view of human knowledge and the reliability of the senses, mathematics, simplicity, and contingency. Pointing to the Christian view of the image of God in man, his argument centers on the fact that God has made man to be a knower and has designed man’s mind to have a correspondence with the world around him.
According to theism, God has created us in such a way that we reason in inductive fashion; he has created our world in such a way that inductive reasoning is successful. This is one more manifestation of the deep concord between theism and science. (4111-4113)
Atheists cannot make such a claim. Part IV of the book is where Plantinga gets the knives out. Whereas Christians are able to account for induction, simplicity, the constancy of physical laws, the abstract non-physical laws of mathematics, and reliability of the senses, atheists have no such ground for rationality. Regarding physical laws,
[F]rom the point of view of naturalism, the character of these laws is something of an enigma. What is this alleged necessity they display, weaker than logical necessity, but necessity nonetheless? What if anything explains the fact that these laws govern what happens? What reason if any is there for expecting them to continue to govern these phenomena? Theism provides a natural answer to these questions; naturalism stands mute before them. (3939-3942)
Plantinga goes farther than to simply argue that atheists can’t explain the universe. He actually argues that rationality and atheism are mutually destructive. His argument that naturalism is self-defeating has been around in printed form for years. However, in this book it forms the meat and potatoes of his argument against naturalism.
What I will argue is that naturalism is in conflict with evolution, a main pillar of contemporary science. And the conflict in question is not that they can’t both be true (the conflict is not that there is a contradiction between them); it is rather that one can’t sensibly accept them both. (4252-4254)
What Plantinga essentially argues is that unguided natural selection only promotes the survival of the organism in question - not the gaining of truth. This means that while Christians believe we are designed to know truth and that there is a correspondence between the world and our senses, naturalism can make no such claim. Plantinga’s entire argument, formally stated, goes as follows. [KEY: P=Probability R=Rationality N=Naturalism E=Evolution]
(1) P(R/N&E) is low.
(2) Anyone who accepts (believes) N&E and sees that P(R/ N&E) is low has a defeater for R.
(3) Anyone who has a defeater for R has a defeater for any other belief she thinks she has, including N&E itself.
(4) If one who accepts N&E thereby acquires a defeater for N&E, N&E is self-defeating and can’t rationally be accepted. Conclusion: N&E can’t rationally be accepted. This argument shows that if someone accepts N&E and sees that P(R/N&E) is low, then she have a defeater for N&E, a reason to reject it, a reason to doubt or be agnostic with respect to it.
After stating the argument, Plantinga reviews a possible attempt by the naturalist to squirm out from under it:
Naturalistic evolution gives its adherents a reason for doubting that our beliefs are mostly true; chances are they are mostly mistaken. If so, it won’t help to argue that they can’t be mostly mistaken; for the very reason for mistrusting our cognitive faculties generally, will be a reason for mistrusting the faculties that produce belief in the goodness of that argument. This defeater, therefore, can’t be defeated. Hence the devotee of N&E has an undefeated defeater for N&E. N&E, therefore, cannot rationally be accepted—at any rate by someone who is apprised of this argument and sees the connections between N&E and R. (4757-4762)
All in all, Plantinga’s book takes the fight to the atheists. They have serious problems to work through which are endemic to their worldview. How an atheist proposes to solve the problem of rationality with unguided natural selection is beyond me. I am not heavily involved enough in the contemporary debates to really know for myself whether there even has been a proposed solution offered to Plantinga’s past iterations of the argument that naturalism is self-defeating.

Presuppositionalists will have mixed feelings about the book. On the one hand, they will utterly despise Plantinga's philosophical approach, which involves a great deal of discussion about probabilities (presuppositionalists are allergic to probabilities). They will also not agree with Plantinga's method of arguing for theism in general rather than Christian theism particularly. On the other hand, this book puts a large number of arguments and tools into the hands of the presuppositional apologist.

All in all, Plantinga’s book is an apologetic tour de force. Philosophically rigorous and yet written at a popular level, it constitutes a bold introduction to Alvin Plantinga which many lay Christians have heretofore not had popular access to, and it constitutes one of the strongest challenges to atheism in print. It may not be the book that many want, and most of his readers will not agree with Plantinga on everything (especially his apparent concession to theistic evolution), but one thing is for certain – this is the book which Christendom has needed for years, it is the pinnacle and summation of Plantinga’s philosophical prowess, and distills years of Plantinga's work into a single volume. We are blessed to finally have it.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Interesting Take on the Starlight Issue

I don't know much about Dr. Hartnett, but this book seems to present some compelling arguments with regard to the starlight issue which we've been discussing here.
Dr. Humphreys found that if you assume the universe has a center, and that God stretched it out (rapid expansion) during creation week, that there would have been a time dilation event near the Earth that would slow down time on Earth to a standstill while time passed in the universe at normal rate. This would result in a few days of time (creation week) passing on Earth while billions of years worth of time pass in the rest of the universe. This explains how the starlight could have gotten to Earth in a few Earth days.

Paradoxically, it also means the Universe is both 6000 years old and billions of years old, depending on the location of the clock.
Check out the review if this is of interest to you.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Summoning Plantinga's Help in Responding to My Own Starlight Argument

Some time back, I posted an argument against the young earth view of creation. In that post, I stated that if young earth creationism is true, then we can see stars which are millions of light years away which never existed until most of the light years necessary for the light to reach earth would have already transpired. At its most basic level, my argument asserted that the Young Earth model of creationism yielded a God whose world is not epistemologically discernible. If, I argued, God has caused the stars in the sky to have the appearance of having existed at a time when they did not, then foundations for knowledge are undercut. The very first act in the universe appears to have had intertwined with it, a deception.
Others have argued – and this is perhaps the most persuasive argument possible – that God created the light already in transit. In response, it is first important to note that the argument is not that God could not create the light already in transit. That is not in question. What is in question is the implications for general revelation and knowledge in general if God causes things to appear a certain way when they are not (or were not) actually so. This argument tells us that, though the speed of light is basically constant, it was created in transit to earth...My basic argument is that if one wants to deny that the stars which are millions of light years away existed as we see them, then they are not epistemologically justified in believing in the existence of the sun.
Well now, as some of you who follow Bring the Books regularly know, I am a newly minted Young Earther myself. How - it must be asked, do I respond to my own views with regard to the issue of Starlight and its implications for epistemology?

What is most apparent to me, with regard to my starlight argument, is that it proves too much. If, in fact, it destroys knowledge and science (for God to cause something to happen which is contrary to the observable natural order) then we are left with a Bultmanian task of de-mytholization or else a gross unwillingness to follow our principles where they lead.

Until recently, I did not have a very well thought-through philosophy of the relationship between miracles and epistemology. But in Alvin Plantinga's newest book, Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism, he discusses precisely this issue.
Miracles are often thought to be problematic, in that God, if he were to perform a miracle, would be involved in "breaking," going contrary to, abrogating, suspending, a natural law. But given this conception of law, if God were to perform a miracle, it wouldn't at all involve contravening a natural law. That is because, obviously, any occasion on which God performs a miracle is an occasion when the universe is not causally closed; and the law says nothing about what happens when the universe is not causally closed. Indeed, on this conception it isn't even possible that God breaks a law of nature. For to break a law, he would have to act specially in the world; yet any time at which he acted specially in the world would be a time at which the universe is not causally closed; hence no law applies to the circumstances in question and hence no law gets broken.

Loc. 1259-65, Kindle Edition
Here is where Plantinga's thoughts help us regain our footing in dealing with the supposed negative epistemological ramifications for a model of creation which involves God's violating the natural order. The original creation of the universe was not done while nature was a closed system. As a matter of fact, the creation itself was an open event which was already contrary to the natural laws as we commonly think of them. It follows that the starlight which we see, if it was created 10,000 years ago (give or take) originated in an open system and not within a closed system. Science is not able to credibly rule on whether the universe is an open or a closed system since that would be a metaphysical claim which is outside of its purview.

If Plantinga is right, and it is technically not possible for God to break the laws of nature then we must dispense with this whole idea that an act of special creation ought to reflect the fingerprint of something created within an open system (i.e. not everything in the universe should not necessarily be expected to look less than 10,000 years old). It may not be possible for us to tell the difference between God's common work and what we often know as the miraculous. Another way of looking at it is, we ought not to reduce God's work to "within nature" and "against nature." Just because starlight was created rather recently does not mean that it is incumbent upon God to let the light take the billion-odd years that are supposed to have been taken for it to reach earth. Nor does it render science or knowledge impossible. Although we deduce from the speed of light and the distance of the stars that it has taken billions of years for this light to reach us, this is only a valid deduction if we understand all of the circumstances related to the creation of stars and light. The circumstances of the Creation, however, are far more mysterious than we would often like to admit. As has been argued to me by many young-earthers, it is no more contrary to the laws of nature for God to create light "in transit" than for God to create in the first place.

If the old-earth defender wants to dig his heels in here, he must be able to account for the fact that God's existence (given an orthdox understanding of God) means that nature is not a closed system. How does an old-earther argue for an old universe based on the speed of light without painting himself into a Bultmanian view of nature which requires natural consistency from beginning to end, ala the closed system model? I'm not sure. Perhaps someone will offer me an answer in the comments.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

One Paragraph Theodicy from Alvin Plantinga

A smidge of background: in this section, Plantinga is discussing the importance of God's own self-sacrifice in the larger context of discussing animal death.
This overwhelming display of love and mercy is not merely the greatest story ever told; it is the greatest story that could be told. No other great-making property of a world can match this one. If so, however, perhaps all the best possible worlds contain incarnation and atonement, or at any rate atonement. But any world that contains atonement will contain sin and evil and consequent suffering and pain. Furthermore, if the remedy is to be proportionate to the sickness, such a world will contain a great deal of sin and a great deal of suffering and pain. Still further, it may very well contain sin and suffering, not just on the part of human beings but perhaps also on the part of other creatures as well. Indeed, some of these other creatures might be vastly more powerful than human beings, and some of them—Satan and his minions, for example—may have been permitted to play a role in the evolution of life on earth, steering it in the direction of predation, waste and pain. (Some may snort with disdain at this suggestion; it is none the worse for that.) Not everyone agrees with this theodicy; and perhaps no theodicy we can think of is wholly satisfying. If so, that should not occasion much surprise: our knowledge of God’s options in creating the world is a bit limited. Suppose God does have a good reason for permitting sin and evil, pain and suffering: why think we would be the first to know what it is?
Where the Conflict Really Lies, by Alvin Plantinga
(Kindle Edition, Loc. 978-89)

Monday, December 12, 2011

Hands on With The Reformation Commentary on Scripture

It is difficult to overplay the importance of the book of Galatians in terms of the Reformation - and especially to Martin Luther. Many of the Reformers regarded Galatians to be of high importance, in part, because they saw Galatians as the message of Romans in miniature. It is fitting, then, that the first volume of the Reformation Commentary on Scripture is Galatians & Ephesians. I'm not exactly prepared to do a full review of this volume, but I spent many hours reading and looking through it over the weekend and thought I would share some reflections on what I see in it that may be of benefit or interest to our readers.

Since the RCS is a new commentary series (Galatians/Ephesians was only released three months ago, and the next volume, Ezekiel/Daniel is set to be released this coming March) it might be fitting for me to mention that this is set to be a 28-volume series which composes verse-by-verse commentary on the text. The body of the commentary is made up of the contents of sermons and commentaries of sixteenth century Reformation thinkers. While the editors speak of wanting to be broad in their spectrum of included thinkers, it is safe to say that the Anabaptist tradition is definitely under-represented in Galatians/Ephesians. I'm okay with that, though others may not be.

Some may be interested in exactly who makes the cut in this book. Certainly Calvin and Luther are the most dependable presences in the book, appearing on nearly every other page (at least). However, there is a very noticeable presence of David Dickson, William Tyndale, Rudolf Gwalther, Martin Bucer, Johannes Brenz, Heinrich Bullinger, Wolfgang Musculus, Kaspar Olevianus, and William Perkins. There are also lesser-known thinkers such as John Prime and Robert Rollock, whom I was very glad to be introduced to by this volume. Many of the writings in this volume have never been translated into English before, and so there is a sense in which much of the content of this book has never been enjoyed by the English-speaking church until now.

Galatians/Ephesians opens with a helpful introduction to Galatians and Ephesians and sets it specifically within the context of the 16th century Reformation. They discuss the impact the book had on Martin Luther as well as other Reformers. I found the introductory essay on Galatians and Ephesians in the context of the Reformation to be of particular value. Each section of Scripture is divided into pericopes with an ESV reading of the text leading off each section, followed by comments on the text in their appropriate place. As you read the comments of the Reformers you begin to see that the editors are moving you forward through the words of the text, and this movement happens very naturally. I personally enjoyed just picking the book up and reading the first twenty pages of commentary straight through. Before you know it, you have moved through the first three verses of Galatians and have heard from fifteen different Reformers, all of whom have minute diversity and general unity in their understanding of the Pauline text.

Each author is introduced by a heading which is meant to quickly summarize the meat of the quote. The quotes from the Reformers range from a single sentence to several pages (I came across a couple of two-page quotes from Musculus in the first 20 pages or so). At the end of the quote is the title of the work which the quote came from.

Luther, of course, is famed for his Galatians commentary, and it only makes sense that he is such a large presence in this volume. In spite of my love of Luther's polemical style, it is my hope that there will be more balance in future volumes between Luther and the other Reformed theologians.

From an aesthetic perspective, the first thing that strikes the reader is the extremely impressive binding. It looks good with, or without the dust jacket. Another thing, with regard to design, is that it sits open well. It is on the larger end of the spectrum with regards to its dimensions. Wide margin, a pleasantly-sized typeface, and sturdy binding all combine to make this one of the more attractive commentaries out there.

The editors of this series have done a great service to the Church by producing these volumes and giving pastors and teachers such unequalled access to the Reformers as they taught through the Bible. And really, what better companions could we choose to go through the Bible with than these great and godly men?

All in all, I am perhaps as excited as is possible for future volumes in this series. I want to recommend, while it is still an option, that our readers consider subscribing to the RCS through Intervarsity Press. I received this first volume as well as Timothy George's book Reading Scripture with the Reformers for $14.98 (that's with shipping included). The next one will just come to me in the mail and I'll pay $30 for each volume. That averages out to around $10 a month (cheaper than Netflix!).

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Sproul's The Holiness of God Free on Kindle!

You know the man. You know the book. As of 10PM on December 4th it's free on Amazon's Kindle Store, though I don't know for how much longer. Act quickly or regret it. [UPDATE: The book is no longer free.]

The Holiness of God, by R.C. Sproul

(Since the price could change at any time, make sure and check that the price says $0.00 before you click to buy the Kindle version.)

Book Review: Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

As far as biographies go, Walter Isaacson's Steve Jobs is truly masterful. Isaacson has taken a complex and busy life of a contemporary man and not only made it comprehensible, but also organized the narrative carefully, giving due attention to the most important times in Jobs' life. The fact that most stories have two sides in this book, and those sides get a voice through Isaacson's careful interviews is possibly the best part of it all.

It is difficult to do a review of Walter Isaacson's Steve Jobs without succumbing to the temptation to review the man, Steve Jobs, himself. When I first read this book, I kept thinking, "what a horrible person!" and asking myself why I would want to read a book about such a deeply flawed individual. Eventually, you stop reading Jobs' story as one which is up for evaluation. After all, it is impossible to read the book without the knowledge that this man, too, is mortal and has feet of clay like the rest of us. If someone were to write a book about my life, there would be more than a few childish tantrums.

In the end, Jobs' life story - like all stories - is about a quest for salvation. Since Jobs was into Eastern philosophy, his quest was twofold: 1) A quest for inner peace and 2) A quest for immortality. I do not consider Jobs' life to be any sort of cautionary tale. His is a life that many aspire to. I believe this is because of the desire for us as fallen men to know that we will live on after we die in the memories and hearts of others. As Jobs put it, he wanted to "make a dent in the universe." This is a fundamental human desire, and I believes it reflects the creative image of God, which we are made in, and our fallen desire to rule in God's place. Again, I don't want to pontificate and use Jobs' life as an opportunity to sermonize.

My point is that Jobs was just like the rest of us. We all want to be remembered. We all want to live on. We all want to be important to others. We all tend to live in terror of a universe where we do not matter. This fear in Jobs is most apparent as Isaacson discusses Jobs' return to Apple from cancer treatments around 2008. He was upset that Tim Cook had announced that Apple would go on with or without Jobs at the helm.

Jobs' zen-mentality meant that in his personal life he eschewed cluttered living and elaborate possessions. He lived in an unfurnished mansion for years, sleeping on a mattress on the floor. When he did get married and discovered that women don't want to live in unfurnished houses, he relented and picked a very understated home in the suburbs to live in. At one point, his children referred to one of the Apple employees who owned a boat as their "rich friends" even though Jobs was doubtlessly worth billions more than this employee.

While a desire for simplicity and escape from material posessions was an important drive in Jobs' aesthetics and lifestyle, his own sister pointed out to him the glaring contradiction of believing the world is a better place if people have less "stuff" while at the same time creating things which people covet and desire and gather around themselves. Jobs' response was that the things he creates make the world a better place. It would be a mistake if we see this contradiction in Jobs, however, and don't see it - to a greater or lesser degree - in ourselves.

Having been born in the early 80s, I grew up with the first Macintosh in my house. At a very young age I was playing with Mouse Paint and loving it. I grew up during the home computing revolution and got to see firsthand the excitement in the air as the promise of a connected world came to fruition. Reading this book took me back to those days when the tech industry seemed to me an exciting, emerging, and far away place. At one point when I was a kid I bought a book on C++ and tried to teach myself programming. I did create a DOS-based calculator program, but I gave up on programming because I was terrible at Algebra. However, I never stopped admiring the workmanship and skill that went into creating technology.

This book convinced me that the world is a better place because Steve Jobs was in it and made the things that he made. I came to appreciate the simplicity of the Apple aesthetic.

[In a nutshell, I believe that the strength of Apple is in the fact that, other than hackers and hardware nuts, people buy computers to do things, to accomplish things. The PC is in the disadvantage because it is higher maintenance (take it from someone who owns a PC and a Macbook). Rather than doing, the PC experience is about making the hardware and software work. With Apple, it is all about using the technology instead of focusing on the technology. The more simplistic the experience, the more people can get to the work at hand. This is why a writer (such as myself) who is not a hacker or tech geek (anymore) wants to just grab his Macbook and start writing. The computer becomes a conduit for interactivity rather than a tinkering project or an object of fixation.]

In the end, Steve Jobs' life story is worth reading, though I offer a few caviats. First, this book is for those who are Apple fans. Apple people will love this book. Second, this book is for businessmen and entrepeneurs who are fascinated by others' success (and failure) stories. Third, this book is for those who are interested in the home computing revolution and who are interested in getting a behind the scenes look at how the industry came to look the way it did (though from a decidedly Apple-centric angle). Fourth, there is a lot of offensive language in this book. This is a book for thick-skinned readers. If you can't handle it, don't pick it up. Even John Lassetter has a choice F-bomb in the book. Finally, this is most certainly a book for people who enjoy great biographies.

Walter Isaacson has skillfully taken this multifaceted life and woven it into a comprehensible (though often non-linear) narrative. I found myself in constant appreciation of Isaacson's decision-making in terms of when to move forward in the narrative and when to jog back in the timeline to an earlier subject when had not yet been adequately dealt with. My guess is that this was not an easy book to write.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Becoming a Young-Earther After 12 Years

12 years. I've been an old-earth creationist for twelve years. More precisely, I've held what is often called a Day-Age View of creation. While refusing to believe in evolution, I have often scoffed at the idea of being a young earth creationist. And so, I have stood by Hugh Ross and his interpretation of Genesis since as long as I can remember.

This began ages ago. I was once an atheist. While I was in high school, I defaulted to atheism because I did not like my parents' religion, and frankly, I didn't like the idea of God and was embarrassed by the tongues-speaking, word-of-knowledge loving, 700 Club watching Christianity of my father. When I was 17, however, I had a change of heart. It was the Spirit of God changing me and making me into a new person, though I just thought it was my own great idea at the time. One of the tools God used was Hugh Ross' books The Fingerprint of God and The Creator and the Cosmos. These books not only affected the way I looked at the universe, but they opened me up to the truth that I was created by someone and that I could not live my life as a rebel against Him and expect to escape unscathed. I will never forget Hugh Ross, and I hope someday to meet him and thank him for his ministry at Reasons to Believe. I know that many young-earthers demonize his ministry, but he was used of God to change my life.

In becoming a Christian, I was never asked to put away my old presuppositions about the universe (especially the age of it). In fact, the beauty of Ross' approach to apologetics was that it met me where I was at and showed me that, in my view of the universe, I still had to acknowledge a creator. It disarmed me without my permission, yet never asked me to lay down my arms. For me, it was never a question of science vs. revelation. I always saw them as complementary.

Early on in my life, and even after coming to faith, I was exposed to the ministry of Kent Hovind. I remember bits and pieces, but what I do remember was embarassing. I saw a wild-eyed guy who, in my mind, took some facts that he learned from reading Stephen Hawking, put a Christian twist on them, and then spent most of his time arguing that old-earthers like me were wrong. He followed up his presentation by claiming that the Loch Ness Monster (Nessie) was real, that there may still be dinosaurs alive today, and even showing slides of people and dinosaurs living side-by-side. I also remember a suggestion on his part that at one point men may have domesticated dinosaurs (complete with a slide of a man riding on a saddled triceratops).

Ludicrous. Just ludicrous. I was an intelligent, thoughtful, scientific person, and I knew a crackpot when I saw one. In truth, I remember little of Hovind's ministry. I only remember the crazy parts that I recalled here. The point of this is not that I want to defame a godly man like Kent Hovind. The point here is to explain that my old-earth views which I have held for a dozen years were a combination of unabandoned presuppositions and reaction against a brand of fundamentalism which I found ugly and embarrassing.

My exposure to young-earth ministries since meeting Hovind's has not faired much better. Earlier this year our church hosted a speaking engagement with Jonathan Sarfati which I found to be far less than compelling. Like most creationist ministries, Sarfati's ministry seemed to be more focused on showing old-earth Christians that they were wrong than with meeting evolutionists in battle. This is still my perception of most creationist-focused ministries.

In the last couple of years I decided to revisit my assumptions about the book of Genesis, and one thing which I came to believe was that the Day-Age view of Genesis which I held did not stand up to the reading I was giving to it. For one thing, my interpretation of Genesis required the creation of stars (including the sun) on day one, while on day four I merely understood God's "making" the sun to be a revealing of the sun through some sort of primordeal mist. To my mind, this did not do the text justice because pulling back a mist is not the same thing as "making" the sun.

I did not hold to any sort of de-chronologized reading of Genesis, and so generally the order of the events in the text began to bother me, from my old-earth perspective. Perhaps my project to make science and scripture comport could not stand up to the scrutiny. Within the last year I turned towards the Framework view of Genesis and for a time was pleasantly surprised that many of my problems seemed to disappear with the Framework view. After all, the Framework view is not about science. It does not claim to know how old the earth is because the Framework view of Scripture does not understand the Bible as even speaking to the age of the universe. I found the chiastic structure between day 2 and day 5 to be quite compelling. I found the dual triadic structure of days 1-3 (creation kingdoms) and days 4-6 (creation kings) to be very insightful. I found Meredith Kline's argument that Genesis 2:5-6 establishes that creation happened through normal providence to be devastatingly helpful. In the end, I was ready to hold and defend the Framework view. The only thing is, I realized that I could appreciate the chiastic structure of the days of creation without actually de-chronologizing Genesis. I also knew that there were ways of reading Gen. 2:5-6 from a young-earth perspective that seemed perfectly acceptable, exegetically speaking. To make it simple, I realized that I wasn't being dragged kicking and screaming by the text towards the Day-Age view or the Framework view. It was the Young-Earth view which I was being dragged kicking and screaming towards.

In a conversation with my pastor, he asked me a pointed question. Though I don't remember the exact wording, he asked me essentially whether there was something prideful or stubborn that was keeping me from accepting the plain reading of the text. Although I have never found the argument that the plain meaning of the text is the right meaning compelling (it isn't) his question cut through a lot of the issues and got to the state of my heart, which is what I needed. The truth is, I was resisting a young-earth reading of Genesis because I was too proud to be a part of the Kent Hovind crowd. I was so judgmental and proud all these years against Kent Hovind's weirdness that I kept myself from what I now believe is the most sensible and accurate reading of the words of Genesis.

I have come to believe, after all of these years, that God did, in fact, create in six literal 24-hour days. I resisted holding this view for negative, rather than positive reasons. I was sinning these many years by judging my fellow Christians who I deemed to be less sophisticated than me because they held to a literal, 24-hour view of creation, and I suppose this blog is as good a place as any for me to repent of my sinful attitude.

Let me add a postscript here and just say that I do not believe that day-agers or frameworkers hold to the views they do because of the reasons I did. I am not interested in imputing any motives to those with whom I used to agree on this issue. The truth is, we are all complex creatures, and if it took 12 years for God to root this single strand of pride out of my heart, I would not presume that the issue is the same with others.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Giveaway: Last Day!

Just wanted to send out a reminder that today is the last day to be part of our giveaway. All you have to do to enter this giveaway is to "Like" Bring the Books on our all-new Facebook page.  Tomorrow, or soon thereafter, we will randomly draw two names from our followers on Facebook.

Grand Prize

The grand prize winner will receive A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New by G.K. Beale.  This highly anticipated volume is out now and we had a copy ready to give away.


The runner-up will receive The Federal Vision and Covenant Theology: A Comparative Analysis by Dr. Guy Waters.

We will contact the winner via Facebook to get shipping information.  Due to the costs of shipping, the giveaway is only for those living in the continental United States.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Nine Reasons Beale's NT Biblical Theology Is Unique

In his book A New Testament Biblical Theology, G.K. Beale offers nine ways in which his NT biblical theology differs from other NT biblical theologies:
1) "The approach of this book overlaps with that of a whole-Bible biblical theology in that it addresses more directly the theological storyline of the OT" (5).

2) "The main facets of the OT narrative story are then traced into and throughout the NT" (6).

3) "The bulk of discussion in this biblical theology of the NT consists of attempts to elaborate on the main plotline categories of thought through surveying the places in the NT where that thought is expressed." This is in contrast to the chronological/canonical approach offered by most NT biblical theologies.

4) "[This Biblical Theology] is concerned with how important components of the OT storyline are understood and developed in Judaism. This is significant because it is important to see how the major biblical-theological notions of the NT develop these same OT components and whether they do so in dependence on Judaism or in line with Judaism or in contrast to it" (8).

5) "This approach to NT biblical theology will focus more on the unity of the NT than on its diversity" (9).

6) "It is not usual to find a concise definition of what is a classic NT theology. On the other hand, my working definition of NT biblical theology is the following, in dependence on Geerhardus Vos' definition of a whole-Bible biblical theology: 'Biblical theology, rightly defined, is nothing else than the exhibition of the organic progress of the supernatural revelation in its historic continuity and multiformity.'... This project places the interpretation of NT texts in relation to the preceding epochs found in the OT, which often occurs through analyzing the use of particular OT passages in the NT" (9).

7) "The approach of this book is most in line with Stuhlmacher's and Dodd's theory of NT biblical theology...Nevertheless, this book sets out in a different direction in the way it executes how the two Testaments are related" (11-12).

8) "[Other biblical theologies] conduct their discussions generally corpus by corpus...Also, in contrast, as noted earlier, my approach is organized by the major components of my formulation of the NT storyline" (14).

9) "In light of what I have discussed thus far, I categorize my biblical-theological approach to be canonical, genetic-progressive (or oganically developmental, as a flower develops from a seed and bud), exegetical and intertextual. This approach could be summarized as a 'biblical-theological-oriented exegesis.'" (15)
If you want Beale's book, you can enter our drawing to win a free copy (the drawing will be on December 1st). If you don't have the patience, then you can order your copy from the Westminster Bookstore for 45% off, though that offer is about to expire.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Best Christological Hymn Of All Time

In his Pillar New Testament Commentary on the Gospel of John, D.A. Carson includes the following hymn at the close of his discussion of John's prologue (1:1-18). I've never heard this hymn before and so am grateful that he chose to include it.
Thou art the everlasting Word,
The Father's only Son;
God manifestly seen and heard,
And Heaven's beloved one.
Worthy, O Lamb of God, art Thou
That every knee to Thee should bow.

In Thee most perfectly expressed
The Father's glories shine;
Of the full Deity possessed,
Eternally divine:
Worthy, O Lamb of God, art Thou
That every knee to Thee should bow.

True image of the Infinite,
Whose essence is concealed;
Brightness of uncreated light;
The heart of God revealed
Worthy, O Lamb of God, art Thou
That every knee to Thee should bow.

But the high mysteries of Thy name
An angel's grasp transcend;
The Father's only - glorious claim! -
The Son can comprehend
Worthy, O Lamb of God, art Thou
That every knee to Thee should bow.

Throughout the universe of bliss,
The center Thou, and sun;
The eternal theme of praise is this,
The Heaven's beloved One:
Worthy, O Lamb of God, art Thou
That every knee to Thee should bow.

Josiah Condor (1789-1855)

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Church as the Marriage Battleground

I am constantly dancing on the periphery of pop cultural knowledge. On the one hand, I can tell you every video game that is coming out in the next month and how the reviews for them are stacking up. On the other, I have no idea who the Kardashians are, or why they are famous (I am told nobody knows). Actually, I was just told - by someone who was quite shocked at the news - that one of the Kardashians is getting a divorce after only having been married for 72 days.

It took me a minute to process this, because our culture is not shocked at all by divorce. It is ubiquitous. It is all around us. It is like pornography - it infects everyone's home (or so it is assumed), and so everyone is afraid (including many pastors) to tell the truth about it. So what is so special about this Kardashian divorce? Nothing. It is an opportunity for a jaded society to pretend it still has some qualms when in reality it just wants an opportunity to judge a beauty queen who did what they always expected, only much quicker than they expected it.

Nobody whom I have spoken to or heard on the radio is shocked that she got divorced, but they are shocked at how quickly she got divorced. While society pretends to reel at this not-so-shocking news, they secretly must acknowledge her for her efficiency at ending the marriage before it had a chance to fall apart and end in misery. Marriages today are not expected to endure. They are assumed to eventually fall apart. At your average wedding, the jaded crowd listening to the vows is not in awe that two people are uniting for life, till death. If they are honest, they will admit that they wonder what will be the now-happy couple's undoing: an affair? an emotional breakdown? failure to launch on the man's part? The crowd searches its mind for a breakdown which seems most compatible with the couple in front of them.

For years, we have been told that gay 'marriage' and gay unions will undermine marriage (and I have no doubt that in some sense they do, though I'm not trying to be political here). Has anyone considered that most straight marriages today are doing more to undermine marriage than a whole San Francisco courthouse could ever seek to do? Kim Kardashian's pathetically surface-level miming of vows is the real future of marriage.

I said earlier that I wasn't trying to be political, but in a sense I am. If this is what marriage is in the North American context, then why would the Church care two winks whether its view of marriage is what the magistrate acknowledges? Real, true, lasting marriages rooted in Christ and His intercession will never be performed by a judge, a Unitarian minister, or a ship's captain anyway. God knows if a marriage is real. God has revealed to his bride what His view is in these matters, and let us just say a 72 day marriage or a marriage that ends in divorce after even 50 years is not His will. The Church is the guardian of these truths - not Clinton or Bush or Obama or a Supreme Court or a House of Representatives. The battle lines should be drawn in our churches. The Church is the only institution with the right to chastise their members for so blatantly flouting and mocking marriage as Ms. Kardashian has done. The Church is the last battleground of marriage, not the Congress.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The SBC is Not a Business

I came across this editorial this morning that discusses the fact that the Southern Baptist Convention is considering changing their name. As I read it, I was struck by the fact that the author constantly compared the SBC to a business. For example,
As for geographic bias, I don’t think anyone will cancel their insurance because they perceive that New York Life is full of know-it-alls who talk too loud or will refuse to fly Southwest Airlines, worried that the company may be operated by bowlegged people with cow poop on their boots. It’s not the name; it is the public’s perception of the service they deliver.
In the midst of discussing the name change, the author takes a detour and comments on the fact that Al Mohler, president of one of the SBC seminaries, does not believe that women are fit for ordained ministry, the author says,
You see, women can run for president of the United States, be a senator or a governor, the CEO of a Fortune 500 company or an astronaut, but they can’t be preachers in the SBC churches.
Even in this quote, the author seems to want to handle the Church like a business or other such enterprise. Regardless of your views on the "women-in-ministry" issue, the Church is not a business and these issues (a churches name and who is fit for church office) are not decided on the basis of popular opinion or other methods of the business world. The SBC is not a business. It is not run by a CEO or by any other person except Jesus Christ. Christ is the head of the Church and runs his Church through his word.

Monday, November 7, 2011

"Behind a Frowning Providence..."

I began this day with an unwelcome cold shower. This unpleasant cold shower was a kindness of the providence of God. Let me explain. I got into my shower this morning only to realize that there was no hot water. After expediently showering, I went downstairs to light the pilot on our water heater, only to find it would not light. I also noticed that our furnace was clicking and not lighting. It also was apparent that our dryer (gas) was running, but it wasn't warming up. Anyone with a lick of sense will tell you that something was wrong with our house's gas supply, and they would have been right.

Our local gas company came out later in the day and explained that they installed a new meter for us because the old one was not allowing gas to get through. With the new meter installed, the men from the gas company were gracious enough to re-light our pilots for my wife, as I was at work for a few more hours. When the man from the gas company lit the pilot, he also checked for Carbon Monoxide leaks. Low and behold, he found one. Evidently, our house is built in a way that excess CO is vented through an old incinerator flew. However, the CO was not escaping - it was staying in our house. Evidently, birds had made their home in our chimney and had so blocked the opening that no light was even able to get through. The gas company would not turn our gas back on until the obstruction was removed.

Our landlord promptly had the flew cleaned out, our gas was turned back on, and the pilots were lit. Tonight, we have heating and hot water, praise God. What really concerns us is that our house may have been filling with carbon monoxide for quite some time. The gas company told us that we might have all died in our sleep some night because of this leak. If it hadn't been for my cold shower this morning and the discovery of this obstruction which lay at the end of a long chain of complex events, we still could be in serious danger of carbon monoxide poisoning.

What I mean to say is, I thank God for this event which began the day. I was not thanking God for my cold shower at the time, but I have spent the entire evening thanking Him for what I thought was a "frowning providence" on His part. Our lives were literally saved because this gas meter went bad.

It has been a hard week, I won't lie. We had two funerals in one week. We spent an entire week separated as a family because of one of the funerals. Work has been exhausting. Responsibilities keep piling on. I woke up this morning with a freezing cold shower.

In all of this, I am reminded of brother Cowper's words:
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.
Much of the time, we don't have the pleasure of seeing God's smiling face in the immediacy of our pain or apparent "frowning providences." It is in the times when we can't see God's smiling face when we glorify Him by trusting Him anyway that He is good, and that He does good, and that He will not allow His saints to endure anything which is not for their eternal good. We do Him no honor by claiming that the things which happen to us are not His will and that they are not sent by Him. In so doing, we lose God's entire purpose in our pain. In fact, by denigrating God's sovereignty in our pain, we make it impossible for God to have a purpose in our darkest hours. These two claims together are our anchor: (1) God rules even my pain, and (2) He is absolutely good and always does what it right. Remove one and He is a despot. Remove the other, and he is a well-intentioned weakling.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Dumb Evangelicalism, Neil Postman, and Church Splits

In his ubiquitous and often beloved book Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman spends the first half of the book charting the rise and fall of the "typographical culture" which perished with the rise of new media (radio, television, etc.). In the first part of the book, Postman claims that 18th and 19th century "American public discourse, being rooted in the bias of the printed word, was serious, inclined toward rational argument and presentation, and, therefore, made up of meaningful content" (p 52). According to Postman, this was because the printed word created the context of discourse. The printed word created the environment in which people thought, conversed, and preached.

As part of Postman's effort to buttress this contention, he points to the contrast between someone like Jonathan Edwards and TV preachers like Jerry Falwell and Billy Graham. Whereas Edwards delivered lengthy treatises and dissertations from the pulpit (and the people understood him!), Falwell and Graham comparatively speak/spoke in soundbites with simplistic language. Largely, Postman observes, religious, legal, and political intercourse became dominated more and more by image and personality and less by direct theological concerns.

These sorts of observations are helpful, I think, in observing evangelicalism as a whole, today. I wish to offer an anecdote. The town in which I live has a population of approximately 13,000 people. In our town there are approximately (and this is very approximate) 50 churches (none of which are Reformed, by the way - are you reading, PCA/OPC church planters?). In the last ten years, there have been at least three new churches that I can think of. All of them arose from church splits. What I want to observe is not the existence of church splits - those happen all of the time here in the midwest - but rather, the reason for those church splits. Was it doctrine? Was it theology? Was it predestination and the virulent influence of incipient, ugly, unhappy Calvinism? No. It was personalities. These are churches which split off of one another and started new fellowships (all non-denominational churches) because they felt that a leader at another church was not given their due or because this or that group felt that they connected with a certain small group leader. Churches in my community appear to be more governed by personality than by truth/doctrine. My fear is that this is only the tip of the iceberg.

This may be a merely anecdotal proof, but it is a symptom of a sickness in evangelicalism today. I am at least encouraged by doctrinally-based church splits, because it reflects a culture where God Himself is more important to worshippers than the shepherd. However, to be frank, the state of evangelicalism in my town almost causes me to deeply despair over our ever living in a day when truth and reason are again celebrated over celebrity and personality. Some time back, Doug Wilson opined that Postman and McLuhan are wrong, and that technology will not destroy the church, but rather, enrich her as a type of wealth. I cannot help but think that if I were a post-millennial I might find room agree with his friendly assessment of the situation. As it stands, however, I see nothing ahead but a further dumbing-down and a further decline in terms of the content of the things which once mattered.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

New 'Five Views' Book

There is a new 'Five Views' book which came out less than a month ago. I only just found out about it, but I must say it seems like the most important of all of the 'views' books that have ever been released. I'll list the contributors, and you can try and guess the specific subject this new book is tackling.
  • Traditional Reformed (Michael S. Horton)
  • Progressive Reformed (Michael F. Bird)
  • New Perspective (James D. G. Dunn)
  • Deification, or Theosis (Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen)
  • Roman Catholic (Gerald O’Collins and Oliver Rafferty)

Friday, October 14, 2011

More Free Kindle Books (Hodge, Turretin, Calvin...)

A friend of the blog, Zack, has done something similar to me and begun creating his own Kindle books for personal use. He has given me permission to share them for the rest of you to download. You can pay Zack a visit at his blog, The Stranded Scholar, where he has lots of other more scholarly free resources. For me, the highlight is definitely being able to have Hodge's 3 Volume systematic theology tucked away and searchable in my skinny little Kindle.

Abstract of Systematic Theology by James Petigru Boyce

Institutes of the Christian Religion (Beveridge Translation) by John Calvin

The Scriptures by Francis Turretin

Systematic Theology (3 Volumes) by Charles Hodge

Monday, October 10, 2011

Free Kindle Book: Robert L. Dabney's Systematic Theology

"...he was not only a Calvinist in name, but in fact, that he knew why he was a Calvinist."

Download Dabney's Systematic Theology in Kindle format (Complete with working table of contents) by clicking here.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Blog Tour: A Hitchhiker's Guide to Jesus

I have been invited by the fine folk from Baker Academic to participate in a blog tour for one of their new titles, A Hitchhiker's Guide to Jesus by Bruce N. Fisk. Let me say out the outset that this is a very clever book. The presentation of the material is done in a new and fresh way.

At its core, this volume is an introduction to the Gospels and the so-called "search for the historical Jesus." The book is laid out as the journal of a recent college graduate named Norm Adams, as he makes a journal through the Holy Land. The book is full of dialogue, pictures and even email correspondence will Norm's former Bible professor, as Norm moves through the places Jesus is said to have been. Along the journey Norm interacts with many notable New Testament scholars, such as James Dunn, Scott McKnight, and John Dominic Crossan. This book deals with some of the questions college students would be dealing with as they are introduced to many of the forms of Higher Criticism. Because of that, this book would seem to be a good text book for a college introduction class on the Gospels. The format and style would seem to appeal to to most students, even those who are being forced to take your course. The way that the author interweaves details of the Holy Land makes you feel, at times, like you are there. One thing is for sure, after reading this book any Bible student wants to visit the places described in these pages. The readers of this blog would like to know that Fisk takes a more historical/critical approach to the study of the Gospels, rather than a canonical approach. If this is kept in mind, most of the material in this guide to Jesus is solid.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Free Dan Phillips Book for the Kindle

Dan Phillips, whom you may know as a regular contributor at Pyromaniacs, has a book, The World-Tilting Gospel which is currently available for free on the Kindle. You can get it by going here.
The first generation of Christians turned the world upside down. But the church today is being turned upside down by the world. Why? And why aren't we-with all our social medias and high-tech gadgets-more effectively producing Christ-centered, Gospel-liberated, biblically-instructed, world-tilting believers?
As always, I have no idea how long this book will be available for free, so grab it while you can.

NOTE: It is no longer free, of 10/9/11.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Have We Missed the "Gospel"?

In his latest book titled The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited, Scot McKnight says we have. He says that "we've got the gospel wrong, or at least our current understanding is only a pale reflection of the gospel of Jesus and the apostles" (24). The gospel that McKnight thinks we, as evangelicals, have wrong is the gospel of justification by faith. McKnight does not want to deny justification by faith, but he does not think it is the gospel. "The Calvinist crowd in the USA...has defined the gospel in the short formula 'justification by faith'" (25). And it is this gospel of justification by faith that McKnight sets up as his foil.

What does McKnight offer in the place of this "wrong headed gospel"? To answer this question he starts with Paul’s summary statement of the life of Jesus found in 1 Corinthians 15 and then moves to the the Creeds of the Church and then he ends with a return to Jesus in the Gospels and Acts. In essence, his view is that the the death and resurrection of Jesus are the consummation of the story of Israel and that this is the gospel. He argues that "the book of Acts reveals that gospeling was not driven by the salvation story or the atonement story. It was driven by the Story of Israel, and in fact makes most sense in that story” (134, emphasis original). He goes on to state that "neither Peter nor Paul focuses on God's wrath when they evangelize in Acts, nor do they describe the saving Story of Jesus as an escape from hell" (135, emphasis original).

What are we to think of McKnight's proposal? First, it is true that the death and resurrection of Jesus are central to the gospel. Without these divine acts there is no gospel. However, what makes this message "good news"? In other words, why is the death and resurrection of Jesus good news to anyone? What is it about the death and resurrection of a Jewish Rabbi that is good news for anyone? The answer is found in what Jesus' death and resurrection accomplished, that is, in salvation. The very thing that McKnight wants to distance the gospel from. It is true that some might have over emphasized the salvation aspect of the gospel (as a few of the stories McKnight tells in the book pp. 25-26), but the solution to this over emphasis is not to remove salvation from the gospel.

Second, as McKnight himself points out, the preaching of the gospel in Acts does have aspects of judgment. For example, Acts 17:29-31 speaks of the fact that God will one day judge the world. It is the fact that Jesus removes us (or saves us) from this judgment that makes the whole gospel good news. Also, in Acts 24:25 Paul reasoned about the coming judgment. Further, Romans contains a few examples of wrath and judgment that are linked with the gospel. For instance, in Romans Paul begins his discussion by stating that "the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth" (Romans 1:18). This declaration of God's wrath follows right after Paul introduces the gospel (Romans 1:16-17). Thus, it seems that for Paul, the wrath of God is the (or at least a) starting place for the gospel. Also, In Romans 2:16 Paul links the gospel with God's judgment when he writes "...on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus."

So what is the gospel? I think McKnight has part of it right, it is the fact that God took on flesh in the person of Jesus Christ to die a sinner's death and that he rose from the dead to prove his claims true and usher in the new creation. But this by itself is not good news, unless it is for me. That is why the full gospel is that Jesus did all of this for sinners. So sinners would not have to face the wrath and judgment of God. Jesus did all he did in the place of sinners; he died for sinners; he lived a perfect life for sinners; he rose again for sinners. And by faith alone all Jesus did is counted as all I did. This is the good news of the gospel. And this is what Paul does in 1 Corinthians 15. He writes, "For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins." That gospel is not just what Jesus did, it is that, but it is also what Jesus did for us.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Baker Give Away

The Tale of the Suicidal Turtle

Yes, more Walker Percy...

Speaking of the failure of the modern scientific age, Percy in his essay "The Delta Factor" speaks of man's unique position, not as homo sapien but as homo loquens, man the talker. Alone among animals, humans speak constantly and unceasingly. Modern scientists only see man as an organism in an environment, but as I shared earlier, man behaves like anything other than this (just look at how miserable people are, even in good environments).

But scientists, though their enterprise is doomed from the beginning, must batton down the hatches and dig in their heels.
Accordingly, it did not strike anyone as peculiar when scientists sought an explanation for man's perversity and upsidedownness in this or that atavism from man's evolutionary past. Man blamed beasts for his madness. Next, it seemed natural to look for the source of man's "aggressive" behavior in the aggression and "territoriality" of more primitive species...even though no...creature but man has been observed to wage war against itself (suicide) or against its own kind (war).
Curious, I took advantage of my modern age and used the internet to look for people who do think that animals commit suicide (I knew somebody must believe it). I was not disappointed.

One article, by Stefan Anitei, "Do Animals Commit Suicide?" says from the beginning that it is hard to really know if animals commit suicide, but then goes on to argue that they do, anyway. The entire article is a series of anecdotes which tell us more about the author than about the behavior of animals. If you enjoy Milo and Otis-style articles filled with anthropomorphic animal tales, this article will quite fit your fancy. The highlight of the article is actually the comments section, which I have a hard time taking seriously. Here is a standout written by "Brad":
I happen to know that animals DO commit suicide, and quite often... In fact I used to have a pet turtle who is my living proof. It enjoyed watching movies with me, some of its favorite's were films like Forest Gump, and Kill Bill. One day we watched Requrium [sic] For A Dream, and instantly after the movie, it crawled to its fake log in its cage, lifted it, then slammed it down on its neck, resulting in a catastrophic paralysis injury. I then had no other choice but to batter it with a heavy spoon to put it out of its own misery. Animals DO commit suicide.
Hilarious as this story might seem, I believe the author is sincere. Look at this response I found a little further down the page.
wow truly emotional brad..... yea wow. Animals have feelings like humans. People tend to think since animals are not so complex as us that they are less superior therefore less capable of emotions. Also that animals follow a daily ritual everyday. Just because they dont have a civilization or just because they dont have as many genes as us. does that mean they arent as complex as us? If you think about it, some animals minds work just like us. just because they cant speak a language or do other things like us dosnt mean that they are not capable of feeling emotions. cats and dogs show great emotion. if you have a dog or a cat when you are down about something (my cats atleast) will jump up on my lap and start purring and loving on me because they sense depresion. they obvioulsy can point it out so why do we think that they arent capiable to feeling it. thus deppression is the leading emotion to suicide in humans. So if animals can reconize depression and feel depression whats stopping them. plus we can argue that humans are animals too. just because we get out of the "state of nature" dosnt mean we arent animals, or mamals we are apart of them and they are apart of us.
Brilliantly, this comment by "vash" illustrates the absurdity of modern man which Percy is addressing. Professing to be unique among the animals for his ability to "get out of the 'state of nature'," vash still says that we are animals. There is nothing tongue-in-cheek about vash's response to the tale of the suicidal turtle. These people really believe that this turtle is capable of comprehending the crushing depth of man's lostness illustrated in Requiem and then responding with existential hopelessness by devising a mechanism of crushing its own skull.

If ever Percy needed help substantiating his claim that "Man blames beasts for his madness," Brad and Vash have done it for him.

I wonder if an internet search might find someone who believes that animals tell tales to one another of their human masters committing suicide...

Another (less fanciful) article on the subject from Time Magazine

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Emphasizing Self-Knowledge in Apologetics

"Know thy self."
I have recently become increasingly aware of the importance of self-knowledge - primarily as a result of my new infatuation with the writings of Walker Percy. I wanted to share a series of quotes dealing with self-knowledge and man's inability to find himself apart from God. I'll begin with a quote from Walker Percy's magnificent book Lost in the Cosmos. This quote alone has had such a profound impact on my own life, in existential terms, which I find difficult to describe. It's been about a month since I first read it, and I continue to be grateful for having read it:
The Self since the time of Descartes has been stranded, split off from everything else in the Cosmos, a mind which professes to understand bodies and galaxies but is by the very act of understanding marooned in the Cosmos, with which it has no connection. It therefore needs to exercise every option in order to reassure itself that it is not a ghost but is rather a self among other selves. One such option is a sexual encounter. Another is war. The pleasure of a sexual encounter derives not only from physical gratification but also from the demonstration to oneself that, despite one’s own ghostliness, one is, for the moment at least, a sexual being. Amazing! Indeed, the most amazing of all the creatures of the Cosmos: a ghost with an erection! Yet not really amazing, for only if the abstracted ghost has an erection can it, like Jove spying Europa on the beach, enter the human condition.
How empty are our pursuits of pleasure! If they do not find their root in God, then they are meaningless and we remain lost in the cosmos.

Many do not like Kierkegaard because of his high philosophical language and because of his "leap of faith" approach to apologetics, which one may or may not see much virtue in. Kierkegaard was a Lutheran, however, and understood that human antipathy against God lies at the heart of all human problems. For all of his faults he was a great thinker and had a profound grasp of the human condition. In this age of alienation, despair, and lostness, modern man could do worse than to grasp the reality of what Kierkegaard understood about the self and despair.
The human being is essentially spirit. But what is spirit? Spirit is to be a self. But what is the self? In short, the self is a synthesis of the infinite and the finite, of the temporal and the eternal, of freedom and necessity. The self is the conscious unity of these factors, which relates to itself, whose task is to become itself. This, of course, can only be done in relationship to God, who holds the synthesis together. When is despair completely eradicated? It occurs when the self, in relating to itself and in wanting to be itself, is grounded nakedly in the power that established it. In other words, when it is related openly to and dependently on God. To transcend despair is neither to become finite nor to become infinite but to become an individual in their synthesis, which God alone holds together. In so far as the self does not become itself in this way, it is not itself. And not to be oneself, as God created you, is despair.
Lest one think all this talk about self-knowledge sounds a bit to high and philosophical, I wanted to bring in the friend of all good Presbyterians, John Calvin. Calvin famously argued at the very beginning of his Institutes (1.1.1) that self-knowledge is crucial to Divine knowledge, and that Divine knowledge is the only thing which would make true self-knowledge possible.
Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of is evident that man never attains to a true self-knowledge until he has previously contemplated the face of God, and come down after such contemplation to look into himself. For (such is our innate pride) we always seem to ourselves just, and upright, and wise, and holy, until we are convinced, by clear evidence, of our injustice, vileness, folly, and impurity. Convinced, however, we are not, if we look to ourselves only, and not to the Lord also —He being the only standard by the application of which this conviction can be produced...But though the knowledge of God and the knowledge of ourselves are bound together by a mutual tie, due arrangement requires that we treat of the former in the first place, and then descend to the latter.
I believe it entirely possible that in our apologetics, we have - in terms of our language, in terms of our overall approach, so emphasized the objective truth of God's existence extra nous that we have neglected the one area where our fellow human beings cannot deny a lack in themselves. They do not understand themselves, and they hate the One who can make sense of their existence and self-hood.

It is patently obvious, though perhaps not scientifically provable, that human beings are, as Percy says, "something more than an organism in an environment, because for one thing he acts like anything but an organism in an environment." Is it possible that in reformed apologetics we have made the same mistake Percy says scientists are making, and that we are approaching the universe (and perhaps even God Himself) as a scientific observer rather than as one who is to "know and be known" by God?