I’ve been meaning to read Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics for some time now, but it’s a tough slog (unlike Plato which I found much easier to understand), so like the typical human being I am, I’ve just put it off. The reason I’ve been so non-eagerly eager to read it is because I’ve heard one of my favorite people in the world, Hillsdale College President Larry Arnn, say too many times to count how it’s his favorite book and that he reads it every year. One of the reasons Dr. Arnn is so highly esteemed by me is that when he talks I hear wisdom. It’s odd because he doesn’t sound terribly intellectual or sophisticated, and in fact maybe the opposite (Tim Keller has this affect on me as well), but his insights about life and people and the nature of reality ring truer and deeper to me than most other people. Part of the reason for this, I am convinced, is his passion for an education that is classical focused. Thus his constant promotion of Aristotle’s Ethics.
If you’re like every human being on the face of the earth, you sometimes doubt what you think you know. It’s part of what’s known as the human condition, and being finite. We can only know so much. There is in fact much more that we don’t know, way much more, than we do know. One of the nine ideas I explore in my book is epistemology, which is the study of knowing, what we know, how we come to know it, etc. If a person doesn’t doubt what they believe they know (no matter what it may be—doubt is not a religious concept), I don’t question their humanity, I question their sanity! A person who thinks they don’t experience doubt is deluded.
As for me, I’m terribly human. Just ask my family. So of course I experience doubt. Sometimes I doubt if I should go to a doctor for a nagging ache somewhere in my body I just know is cancer—of course I doubt that too! Or I doubt if I should lease a new car. Or I doubt if I should cook for dinner, or do take out. Mundane stuff all, but proof that doubt is a fundamental fact of human existence. What, though, if I doubt big things, like God’s existence?
In the second of the three posts about creation I argued that naturalism is the default view of reality in our post-Christian secular culture. Even for people who do believe in God, they live their lives functionally as Deists. Even if God is there, he’s not terribly relevant to life. The pervasive naturalism of our culture makes this easy to do. But why is naturalism such a threat, and how is the doctrine of creation the answer?
I believe most Christians are functionally naturalists, in that we tend to see the natural world much as our secular neighbors do. This is nothing new because since the Fall human beings have always been inclined to see reality as if they were God and he was not, the heart of Satan’s temptation to Adam and Eve. So from the very beginning God has had to establish his bone fides, if you will, that he is God and we are not! It seems absurd to have to argue that we are not God, or that we have to be continually reminded of that. Isn’t it kind of obvious that we are finite in every way? Obvious that we are fragile in so many ways, and finally mortal? Of course! But the, “You will be like God” temptation is a great one, and at the heart of all human misery.
Thus God had to get the point quickly, so we read the very first words of God’s revelation to his creatures, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” God as Creator is foundational to the Christian life. He is affirmed as the creator or maker of the universe continually throughout the Bible. In the Old Testament, the contrast is often made to idols which are literally nothing, just human creations. In the New Testament, we learn of Jesus, the Logos, and his role in creation. John tells us:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.
And Paul expands on this in Colossians 1:
15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
Pretty comprehensive, wouldn’t you say? The absolute centrality of God as Creator to our faith is why Satan works so assiduously to get human beings to deny or ignore it. Since the Enlightenment, naturalism is the point of the spear in Satan’s toolbox to undermine our faith in God as Creator. If he can get us to buy into that no matter how subtly (we can say God is the Creator, but see the world as if it is independent of his sovereign, providential control), then we are that much closer to dethroning God from his rightful place in our lives, and replacing him with ourselves. Not good.
A simple example comes from C.S. Lewis, and something I’d never considered until I read it. For Christians there should be no distinction between the natural and the supernatural. The material world is infused with God’s presence, as Scripture affirms. Lewis pointed out that Mary’s conception by the Holy Spirit was no more miraculous than any woman’s conceiving. Is not a new being’s creation utterly miraculous? Are we really supposed to believe the process of creating a new life is solely “natural”? No divine assistance required?
Another example is a simple tree. We look at a tree, any tree, and tend to think that it exists and grows because of the seed that it came from, and the soil and sun and water. While that’s certainly true, that’s only part of the story. The tree exists and grows because of God! He animates all existence. As Paul says above, through Jesus “all things hold together.”
One more example will suffice, especially since we moved to Florida this summer and experienced the first Hurricane to directly hit the Tampa area since 1921. Such things are often referred to as “natural disasters,” as if God, if he exists as all, is a bystander. My Christian brother or sister, there is no such thing as a “natural” disaster! God is the sovereign Lord of all creation, and nothing, not a hurricane, a tsunami, earthquake, or sparrow falling to the ground, happens without God’s providential ordaining of it. Such a God is worthy of our worship, our lives, and our trust.
In my last post I argued that the doctrine of creation is central to the entire history of redemption. For the Hebrews in the ancient world what differentiated them from the Pagan nations was that their God was the creator of the universe, while Pagan gods were literally nothing, figments of sinful human being’s imaginations. But I ended my last post with this question: What makes the doctrine of creation so important for us, and keeping our kids Christian, in the 21st century? Let’s answer this question for our own unique historical cultural moment.
It’s no secret we live in a post-Christian age, one getting more post-Christian by the moment. As I argue in the book, far from being a threat to our and our children’s faith, a hostile secular culture can be our children’s best friend! But we can only turn the culture to our advantage if we know the actual threats it poses. The doctrine of creation will help us counter one of the least understood cultural threats Christians must address if we are to build a generational faith in our children: naturalism. What exactly is naturalism and why is it such a threat?
Some years back I decided for the first time in a very long time to read the Bible through cover to cover (I suggest you do that too!). I was sort of surprised, although I shouldn’t have been, by the centrality of the idea (or doctrine) of creation to the narrative of God’s dealing with his people. In fact, the history of redemption is meaningless apart from the centrality of the doctrine of creation to it. This is profound, and to borrow from the hippie party days of the 1970s, very heavy. I’m afraid I can’t do it justice in a short blog post, but I’m gonna try.
These thoughts were impressed anew upon me when I read a piece titled, “What We Forget about Creation: How Augustine Expands Our Vision.” The author, Gavin Ortlund, points out something so glaringly obvious that everyone seems to miss it: that many think the early chapters of Genesis “are important . . . primarily to set the stage for the real business of Christian theology—those issues involved in the doctrine of redemption.” Boy oh boy, does that nail it. The only real interest in the creation accounts seems to be fodder for the debate with Darwinists. How utterly wrong-headed that is cannot be stated strongly enough. The first sentence of this paragraph from Ortlund almost comes off as funny, if it wasn’t so sad:
In the church we have often emphasized life as a Christian without reference to life as a human being. But the categories of sin and salvation are only comprehensible in light of the prior category of creation—the assertion, “I am a sinner” is a further specification of the assertion, “I am a creature.” Furthermore, if redemption involves not a repudiation of our original creaturely mandate but rather a reorientation toward it (e.g., Col. 3:10, Eph. 4:24), then the doctrine of creation not only precedes and undergirds the doctrine of redemption, but informs it. We are not just saved from something (sin), but saved to something (imaging God).
Las Vegas: More Important Than The Killer’s Motivation to Do Evil, Is Why Evil Exists in The First Place!
Since the horrific events in Las Vegas many in the media have been obsessed with trying to figure out the motives of the psychopathic killer who killed close to 60 people in cold blood and injured about 500 more. More important to me, however, than what caused this evil mad man to do what he did, is the question of why evil exists at all.
Everyone knows that randomly killing and shooting hundreds of people is wrong, but WHY is it wrong? Why do we know the wrongness of it, that evil is, well, evil? There are very few possible answers. Here are three, and there really are not any more:
When I was growing up in the 60s and 70s, the big concern and among fear-mongering apocalyptics was over-population. One best-seller at the time, published in 1968 by Stanford University Professor Paul Ehrlich, was subtly titled The Population Bomb. It predicted that there would be starvation on a mass scale by the 1980s because there would just be too many people. He starts his book this way:
The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s and 1980s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate . . .
Not only did Ehrlich’s hysterical predictions prove laughably false, in the 21st century demographers are telling us the exact opposite is the problem. Population decline is now the fear. All over the Western and much of the Asian world, women are not having enough children to replace current populations. Unlike the apocalyptic fear-mongers (yes, that in includes you, Al Gore) who see human beings as leaches on society and the natural world, demographers understand that human beings are a net resource; fewer human beings, fewer resources. More human beings, more resources.
In my previous post I argued that secular Western culture often makes belief in God problematic. For those who go with the secular cultural flow, instead of continually challenging and fighting it, God can seem less than real, less plausible. This has nothing to do with reason or logic or evidence, but with only what seems real. As I argued, for many people God seems no more real than Santa Clause. Whether he is or not isn’t the point, only the seeming of him.
This is a huge problem for the 21st century church, but invisible as a topic of concern. Most Christians are taught what they believe at church, but rarely why they believe it. Without the why, however, the what has much less staying power in the current secular cultural context. I have a very simple solution to this secular plausibility challenge. It’s called explanatory power.
Although only 3% of Americans claim to be atheists according to a recent survey, belief in God can be problematic in a culture awash in secularism. In our media, education, and entertainment God is persona non grata. Here are three examples:
- It’s amazing how many movies or TV shows you’ll watch, seeing people deal with the deep and profound issues of all kinds, and God is totally absent. If he, or Jesus, is mentioned at all it’s in the passing form of a curse.
- In media and journalism of all kinds, unless it’s specifically Christian, it’s the same. God is an idol curiosity, or something deeply personal that has no place in the public square.
- In public education, both in the K-12 and higher variety, God is separated from the classroom for the most part by that wall made famous by Thomas Jefferson, and completely distorted by the United States Supreme Court.
Culture is almost an all-powerful plausibility maker. In other words, it has the power to make things seem real or not to us. Whether the thing is real or not isn’t the point; the seemingness is. So for many Americans because of our dominant secular culture, God sometimes bears a passing resemblance to Santa Clause; he seems no more real than jolly ol’ Saint Nick. Culture obviously communicates, but culture also cultivates, and if we’re not careful we’ll allow the culture to determine our reality, or what seems real to us.
I myself went through a period of what I call “plausibility insanity” not too many years ago. I could never not believe in God or Christianity because I am convinced on too many levels that it is The Truth, but I had a little problem with it’s plausibility. I even remember thinking how I could understand why atheists see this religion thing as so strange. A few years before I decided to write Keeping Your Kids Christian, I wrote these words in an exercise I had to do for our church:
When I first became a Christian my faith was so dynamic and fresh and exciting. After 10 years or so it seemed like any relationship goes after a period of time, not as intimate and real. I continued to go to church as our family grew, read the Bible and prayed here and there, but it was nothing like those early days. I suppose every relationship can’t be always be novel and exciting, where it moves into a type of maturity that requires love that takes a decision and commitment. God doesn’t always seem “real,” but I can’t help but believe in a living God who is actually there.
Not even realizing it I was using the concept of plausibility. I didn’t understand how powerful a plausibility generator is the secular culture we live in. Even someone as convinced as I was about the veracity of Christianity’s truth claims, couldn’t help but be effected by the culture. It wasn’t any new arguments that I’d come across that made God seem less real to me; it was the culture! Unfortunately we live, eat, and breath this culture, and it will have its effect on us. So whenever we go through our own bouts of plausibility insanity I suggest we make use of the secular culture’s greatest enemy for the Christian: explanatory power. I’ll explain this “secret” to having your own personal powerful plausibility structure for your faith in my next post, so stay tuned . . . .
This coming All Saints Day (otherwise known in America as Halloween) Protestant Christians celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. On October 31, 1517 Martin Luther nailed his 95 Thesis to the church door at Wittenberg, and the Western world would never be the same again. Luther discovered that a salvation apart from the works of the law was available by faith in Christ alone. He discovered this truth in his study of Romans. In chapter 3 Paul says:
21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.
I was reminded of the power of this “alien righteousness” recently as I was listening to a talk given by Michael Reeves as he was describing the “joyful exchange,” our sin for Christ’s righteousness. I believe many Christians live out their faith daily without having ever having heard of or experienced the wonder of this exchange.