Apologetics

Van Til Quoted in the New York Times

Van Til Quoted in the New York Times

Owen Strachan responds to Molly Worthen’s piece at the New York Times. Here is Strachan’s conclusion:

No, it is not Cornelius Van Til who is to blame for our modern breakup. It is not Carl Henry. It is not Francis Schaeffer. It is not Chuck Colson. It is not Al Mohler (mocked in a prior profile by Worthen). These are the men, with many others, who have both strengthened the church and driven it to act in love toward the world—a world that despises them, that rejects their views, and that even dares to blame them for the dissolution of modernity.

Worthen is surely right about one thing: Western civilization is imperiled. But she sadly fails to see that the figures she identifies as the problem are the ones who point to our only real hope: a crucified and risen man who preached exclusive truth, was the exclusive truth, and invited all to come and taste his boundless goodness and grace.

Dreher and the Benedict Option

Dreher has drawn a lot of attention from the media for his proposal of a Benedict Option. As Dreher summarizes:

Around the year 500, a generation after barbarians deposed the last Roman emperor, a young Umbrian man known to history only as Benedict was sent to Rome by his wealthy parents to complete his education. Disgusted by the city’s decadence, Benedict fled to the forest to pray as a hermit.

The option would entail a type of retreating from public life to pray and meditate. While this philosophy could be easily dismissed, there is more to it. Dreher elaborates this in an interview:

We don’t have the luxury of disengagement. We’ve got to protect our institutions as best we can. What I’m trying to say, to tell Christians, is it’s not enough to be a knight. You have to be a gardener, too. In the work I’ve done in the past couple years, I’ve talked to Christian leaders in different colleges, Catholic and Protestant, and they are seeing an entire generation of young people who don’t know their faith. Even if they’ve been through church groups, it’s always been this sort of Jesus-is-my-boyfriend, youth pastor kind of stuff that’s about a quarter-inch deep.

They don’t have the strong sense of the faith, not only in terms of what they know, but in terms of the way they live, their habits. They don’t have a strong enough sense of the faith to withstand the power of this culture, and you’re starting to see it, especially in the same-sex marriage thing. When people, young people, so willingly throw over biblical morality to fit in with the culture, that tells you there’s a problem, and I’ve seen it myself in the different churches I’ve been involved with. There’s just this moralistic, therapeutic deism, as Christian Smith calls it, this idea that “God is my best friend; God is the cosmic butler.” That is the real faith of American Christians, young Christians, and some of my generation.

So he is not proposing an abandonment from society, but a strengthening of the Christian faith in order to properly deal with society. We have drunk deeply of the God referred to by Christian Smith and in this sense we have lost our sense of goal as Christians. Dreher sees this as the only resort to staying Christian during this next phase of Christian history. He goes so far as to state:

You may be Evangelical, you may be Catholic, you may be Orthodox, but if you are not Benedictine in your approach to the life of faith, you or your children aren’t going to be Christian for long.

Dreher no longer sees this country or culture as ours and so we need to begin to live in that reality. Whether his assessmest is too doomed from the outset is worth debating, but no one can deny there is validity to the idea that we have lost some of our power over the culture and the country. Dreher concludes:

Maybe it never was our real home, but we have got to prepare ourselves and our families and our churches through intentional living, through disciplined living, and through an awareness of the cultural moment to deal with perhaps even persecution.

There are a few things here to consider. Intentional living and disciplined living may be the best alternative to our present chaos.

Persuasion and the Product

Persuasion and the Product

Here I am ready to hit the tennis court with a friend. But I am hindered by a magician claiming that with a few chemicals he can make my grass grow, brighten its greenness, and kill all weeds. 99% of them, of course. I am versed enough in persuasion. I do it for a living, after all. I have to persuade people that the Gospel is more beautiful than they ever imagined. In most cases, my job is simple. So, I listened to this fellow try to sell me something that I have absolutely zero interest in. “This is a special deal for you.” Ok. I’ve heard this one before. This is the “we advertise an absurdly high price, so that we can offer you our regular price masqueraded as ‘Discount’ ” persuasion tactic. He looks around my house. Like a detective he looks for clues to use in his favor. There is my new baby. He tries to make me feel special because there is new life in my home and now I am therefore worthy to receive this magnificent, once-in-a-lifetime deal.

Then, there’s the promise of transforming my not so attractive front yard into Eden. “If you start with these chemicals now, in 30-90 days all weeds will be gone and your grass will be coveted in this entire neighborhood. But the chemicals are necessary because they combine these two ingredients: _______________ & ______________.

I should have paid more attention in Chemistry class.

We are all trying to persuade others of something. Even if we are not forceful we hope that others will reflect our thinking in a small way.

But persuasion is hard. That gentleman tried his best, but all I could think of was heading to court to show off my ridiculously weak serve. He had ten minutes. He gave his best shot, but the odds were against him. He pushed me at an emotional level. He tried to appeal to aesthetics. He appealed to my bank account. The future looked bright and colorful and very green. In fact, I can’t say all his efforts were for naught. In the end, I promised to give him a call in the morning; a call to say No. But he still persuaded me to engage him once more, even to give him the bad news. Still, he has me for a few more minutes with the hope that he might persuade me of his product.

Persuasion is not easy. The car salesman thrives. He thrives because he is not afraid to fail. He has failed many times. But failing ten times and succeeding once is all it takes to make a few thousand dollars worth of commission. And failing lost him nothing.

Persuasion is good for the soul. It’s the fulfillment of rhetoric.

Doug Jones puts it this way:

Persuasion is a terribly strange thing. It has to overcome our personality types, our histories, our ages, all our past friends and safe influences, and our willingness to reconsider. We dismiss books and authors for lacking the right feel or for not sounding like our friends. It’s an impossible task. Persuasion is magic or more like an unbelievable accident. We have to be standing at just the right intersection at the exact moment of time, tilting our head in just one direction to see what we need to see. It’s astounding we’re ever persuaded of anything new. I guess that’s why most of us tend to stick forever with views we embraced in high school or college.

The lawn salesman had me at the wrong time. He caught me utterly distracted. My mind wasn’t open to hear about his product. But he tried. He persisted. He believed. He failed. But the next door neighbor bought it. Persuasion eventually makes a convert.

Richard Dawkin’s World

Richard Dawkin’s World

 dismantles the silly declarations of Richard Dawkins. In her Guardian piece, she traces the maniacal assertions of a man who is “so convinced of his intellectual superiority that he believes the one domain in which he happens to be an expert, science, is the only legitimate way of acquiring or assessing knowledge.” Dawkins builds an entire empire of assertions and trashes anyone who dare confront his scientific appeal. He speaks of the profane and then treats those who view his rants as the indecency of a lunatic as absolutists.

A recent example of this comes from the famous tweets of the All-Learned and Blessed One:

Another day, another tweet from Richard Dawkins proving that if non-conscious material is given enough time, it is capable of evolving into an obstreperous crackpot who should have retired from public speech when he had the chance to bow out before embarrassing himself.

“Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at knifepoint is worse,” huffs Dawkins. Seeming to have anticipated, although not understood, the feminist reaction this kind of sentiment generally evokes, he finishes the tweet: “If you think that’s an endorsement of date rape, go away and learn how to think.”

Suffice to note in this great degree of indecent, inappropriate, and insensitive analogy-twisting is that for Dawkins the concept of evil and greater evil exists. But how does the world of an atheist make sense of any type of evil? Where is the fountain of morality?

Dawkins is truly a crackpot. His hubris has bewitched him. His analogies are grotesque. There is no “worse” in Dawkins’ narrative. There is only unexplained choices, which stem from a non-purposeful universe; the world Dawkins obviously wants us to know he is its intellectual ruler. O, hail, ruler of the absurd!

Vintage Van Til

Vintage Van Til

I have been reading through Van Til’s book simply entitled “Apologetic.” It is remarkable for its forcefulness, but also its simplicity. He argues that to defend Christian theism as “a unit it must be shown that its parts are really related to one another.” The Bible is at the center not only of every course, “but at the center of the curriculum as a whole.” This centrality and consistency leads him to affirm that the “religious and moral instructions of the Bible cannot be separated.” Without taking the Bible into account, “there is nothing in the universe on which human beings can have full and true information.”

10 Things to Expect in a Federal Vision Church

10 Things to Expect in a Federal Vision Church

I recently read a post by a frustrated woman on the outcome of some decisions made in different PCA Presbyteries. Among many things, this individual observed that she was deeply concerned for the well-being of the people who attend PCA churches. She urged them to leave the denomination. Many of them have bought into the “Federal Vision theology,” and are possibly doomed to a “Christ-less eternity,” she wrote. They also are grace-less, because they emphasize a robust faith that is not dead.  Among the other things mentioned, apparently Federal Vision advocates do not care about personal relationships, but only church business, because we put so much emphasis on the church. And to top off the list of accusations, we have traded “a relationship with Jesus for religion.”

I am not a PCA pastor, but as someone who served in the PCA for several years, I do want to defend those brothers who are referred to as Federal Vision. Suffice to say, these accusations are childish in every way.

At the same time, I know there is a lot of misunderstanding out there. And in case you are either curious or tempted to visit one of these so-called Federal Vision churches, I would like to prepare the bold visitor for ten things he/she is to expect as they enter into a typical one:

1) Apart from using the term to clarify ideas and misunderstandings in friendly conversations and the occasional men’s study, the term Federal Vision will most likely never be used in the pulpit.  Further, opponents and even advocates of the Federal (Covenant) Vision differ on many points. The closest thing to a consensus is found here, but there are still are sorts of distinctions and qualifications that need to be made.

2) Be prepared for that archaic practice of singing the Psalms. Yes, we confess to singing from Yahweh’s songbook, as well as some old time religion music from the 4th century. Expect very vibrant singing; the one that roars!

3) Be alerted that we are a very friendly congregation, and contrary to what you have heard (if you have ever heard such a thing) we will greet you and likely invite you to lunch after church.

4) Also, do not be alarmed by the little cries in the congregation (Ps. 8:2-3). We really love our little ones and we encourage parents to train them up in worship, and the best place to do that is…in worship.

5) You may be asked to kneel (Ps. 95:6). We believe posture is important to God. Obviously, you do not have to kneel. It is optional, though everyone will.

6) The pastor may get a bit theological at times, he may take the time to explain the text in detail, but he usually explains his theologizing and biblicizing and is very consistent in applying his text and theology to the life of the body.

7) This may truly shock you, but we have the Lord’s Supper every week. And furthermore, we offer bread (real bread) and wine (real wine). This may take some adjustment, but I promise it will make sense after a while.

8) And I know the red flags are all over the place by now, and this is not going to help, but we also believe that baptized children are called to partake of the table of the Lord. Here is where we confess we have strayed from broad Reformed practices. But we have only done so because we believe that the early Christians practiced this. We further believe that I Corinthians 11 actually confirms our practice.

9) The ministers may wear an alb and a stole (though many others may simply wear a suit and tie). This practice serves to point out the unique role the man of God has in proclaiming God’s truth in Word and Sacrament. This may appear very Roman Catholic to you, and you are right. Of course, it is also very Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist, and yes, even Reformed (see data on clerical collars).

10) Finally, you are correct to assert that we love the Church. We love her because Christ died for her. Our Reformed forefathers were clear. But the Church is no substitute for Christ, the Church is called to build on her firm foundation, which is Christ. You cannot separate Groom and  Bride. And what does this Christ demand of his Church? He demands repentance, and in repentance you will find fullness of life.

I trust you will visit us, but if you do so, we want you to be prepared.

 

Authorship Thoughts

Over the years both in undergraduate and graduate studies I have been exposed to a host of New Testament authorship issues. I have been bombarded with alternative authorship theories on every New Testament book. From Mark to Paul, everything has been questioned. Yet the more I ponder this issue the more confidence I have in the historical designation of these books. It may perhaps be my naive trust in the labors of our forefathers, but when I consider the 18th and 19th century motives of scholars on books like Philippians, it seems clear that their motives are not shaped by divine authorship as much as the latest critical consensus.

My thoughts on Hebrews are pretty clear, and I am willing to concede some healthy debate on the matter, but to begin to deny the authorship of Paul on what has long been considered Pauline authorship books is rather futile.

Beyond that, we believe that the Spirit of God inspired these men to write. Though their humanity is not absent in their writings, though their personalities show forth, yet they are being led by the Third Person of the Trinity. The Spirit of God can re-direct certain authors to alter their style of writing to fit particular circumstances and to minister to particular groups of people.

It also appears that in order to maintain so called objectivity and scholarship, some thinkers direct their attention away from the obvious author in order to scrutinize the book through the lens of critical scholarship. This tactic seems unhelpful and only adds confusion to the authorship question. Questions like: “Would Paul really write like this,” only accentuate the problem. The real question should be: “Our forefathers have largely accepted Pauline authorship, and if this is the case, though this language may not appear to be as consistent with other Pauline writings, could the Spirit direct this genius named Paul to write in such a way?” When such questions are asked, I believe the answer will be clearer. I am not asserting that there has always consensus in the past (Hebrews as an example), but that the majority position was generally clear (with minor exceptions).

The principle seems clear: when in doubt stick with the most obvious answer and that which has been historically prevalent.

It’s Worth Defending

Evangelicals overall do a fine job at defending the trivial but struggle to defend the hard things. Machen observed long ago in his monumental Christianity and Liberalism that “it appears that the things that are sometimes thought to be hardest to defend are also the things that are most worth defending (8).”

Machen was deeply concerned about where the lines were being drawn. He was sure that if we abandoned this battle, we would be swallowed up by heresy and forsake the tremendous work of our godly forefathers. He saw liberalism as another religion altogether; a totally different class of religious expression than Christianity (7). He saw the resurrection, virgin birth, and the divinity of Jesus being threatened on a consistent basis. But, he argued, these are the battles worth fighting; they are the hard battles of the faith. Once we lose the creedal ground, we will sink into oblivion. For Machen, this was not an option.

Affirming True Truth

Francis Schaeffer’s line true truth was coined as a result of the pluralistic culture he was a part of and which has in many ways engulfed our present society. Schaeffer was referring to a truth that is objective and not relativized by one’s preferences. The Gospel is true truth. The Church’s peculiarity stems from her unique message. It is indeed a message that is hardly embraced in the public square, but one which she must proudly proclaim: Jesus, the Messiah, is Lord.

Lesslie Newbigin’s classic work The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society addresses some of these  profound manifestations in the Christian world. He exposes the pluralistic and cowardly trends of the modern church a few decades ago and certainly still very much true in our own day. A Church can speak truth, but speak it so subtly and unwillingly that she permeates by her words a certain level of skepticism in her people. But there is also the type of belief that leaves the door open to other ideologies. Newbigin observed that,

As long as the church is content to offer its beliefs modestly as simply one of the many brands available in the ideological supermarket, no offense is taken. But the affirmation that the truth revealed in the gospel ought to govern public life is offensive (7).

Both are fatal. One slowly ceases to proclaim true truth, while the other leaves the door open for philosophical wolves. The Gospel is no longer that potent and offensive claim, but a powerless declaration that Jesus can be a lord, but is not necessarily interested in the job description.

True truth is declarational. Simple truth has its genesis in the One who claims to be the way, truth, and life. This three-fold declaration is not up for debate. Pluralism, religious pluralism, is doxologically impossible for you can only serve one master.

A Four-Year Old’s Reaction to the Abortion Industry

Originally published at Kuyperian Commentary

Response to Comments: I am pleased with the enormous response. As of now there have been over 500 views. The vast majority of responses were very supportive and expressed in one way or another the sadness, but also the hope that a new generation will turn this evil tide in our country.

As I expected there were a couple of negative responses. The response can be summarized in the following manner: “Abortion is such a difficult issue, and to expose a four year old to such an issue can be unhealthy.” One comment referred to the topic of abortion as “intense.” I do not wish to spend too much time with a lengthy response, except to say the following:

First, we have largely sanitized abortion in our evangelical culture. We looked at the Gosnell case with absolute horror, but then treated it as something completely different than what happens every single day in the abortion clinics of America. Approximately, 4,000 babies are suffering the same fate every day. Instead of sanitizing, we need to call it for what it is: barbarism. 

Secondly, we have also minimized the ability of our little children to understand big issues. My four year old has been raised in a covenant home where the gospel is brought to her attention every day through singing, Bible reading, discipline, and conversations that vary from the Trinity to tying shoes. Children can grasp more than we can imagine. During our lunch time today, my daughter called my wife to tell her something. She whispered to my wife: “Thank you for loving life.” Yes, there were some tears, but ultimately it was a confirmation that the covenant promises of God are yes and amen.

Third, one comment addressed the fact that we need to show more love to these mothers. I agree. And I think that pregnancy centers like Safe Harbor in Pensacola do a marvelous job. Last year alone they–through their counsel–prevented over 150 women from taking the life of their unborn children. At the same time, when these women are walking into these abortion centers, they are mostly making a conscientious choice to take the life of their unborn child. This is tragic, and my daughter’s response was far more mature and pure than my own at times. Death is death. Death is a reality. We cannot keep our children from it, and when we see it we need to despise those who work iniquity (Psalm 5:5). 

May God grant this new generation courage and a fresh passion for the glory of God and the purity and value of human life.

———

It was a morning like any other, except my daughter was wide awake at 4:45 AM. I work hard at not being a morning person, but for her it came rather easily. I got dressed and made the quick decision to take my vivacious four-year old with me. It was an ordinary morning, but at the last abortion clinic in Pensacola it was a morbid morning. Young ladies full of life were entering the house of death.

I am an ordained minister. I have sat through a presbytery oral examination. After having studied for six months, I felt fairly confident as I sat before six other pastors. The Bible verses and the theology flowed from my lips with tremendous ease. This morning, however, I was examined by my four year old. Suddenly I found my rhetorical abilities being challenged as I tried to explain to this beautiful little girl just how un-beautiful this place was. “We are going to a place where mommies don’t want their babies,” I said. “Why do they not want their babies,” she asked. “Well, they simply don’t love life.” She paused and looked outside in silent wonder.

We arrived at the clinic and the signs were beautiful. The faces of lovely little children brought a temporary sanity to some of us. Another sign pictured a bloody and shattered body of an aborted image-bearer. She saw the image.

We joined the other saints. We read a psalm, prayed, and sang Psalm 92. They may not have heard us inside, but God did, and God acts through the prayers of his people. We sang of how the enemies of Yahweh grow like weed, but they are caught in their own evil schemes. Lord, hear our prayer.

We saw the vehicles as they drove by us. They reminded me of young college students flying through the college campus to get to class on time. In this case, they were young college students flying by in their expensive cars to terminate the life of their unborn children. It was a devastating sight to behold.

My daughter asked me to lower myself and quietly asked me: “Are the mommies going to kill their babies?” “They are, baby girl! That is why we are here. We don’t want them to make this horrible decision.” “But daddy, I don’t want them to kill their babies.” “We don’t either. We need to let them know that God loves life, and that He loves babies.” She was visibly shocked. In her world, mommies treasure babies, and daddies are not cowards. But in this world, mommies are bad characters in this unending movie, and daddies are participants in one of the most cowardly acts of history. “Daddy, I want to go home.” I excused myself and took my four year old to the car knowing that I was going to be examined again. “Are they really going to kill their babies?” Now she asked with greater conviction. Once again I said yes. We need to let them know that babies are gifts from God and that we cannot refuse his gifts. We then talked about how precious her baby brothers were. She told me she wanted to go home and kiss her 9 month old brother. Once again, she silently looked out the window in a contemplative manner. Then she burst into righteous anger: “I don’t like those mommies! They will never be able to kiss the babies! I don’t want to come back here.” I didn’t respond. She then pondered for a minute or two. “Maybe I will come back,” she said. “Just let daddy know, and I will bring you with me,” I said.

It was a morning like all others, but this morning my daughter learned that not everyone treasures life. And her heart was broken, and so was her father’s.

Uri Brito is a husband, and a father of three lovely children.