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The Most Basic of All Truths

Forgive me for writing another complicated post, but I couldn’t help it.

What do you think is the simplest, the most basic and foundational truth we can know outside of revelation from God. What I mean is, were we not given the Bible, what could we “start with?”

According to presuppositionalism, we have certain presuppositions which we must assume are true when debating about God with non-believers, or anything at all for that matter. In particular, we can assume that God exists. Indeed, they would say that we cannot know anything without admitting that God exists.

To help explain this, imagine you are debating about which tires are the best for a particular kind of car. You could talk about every possible aspect of the tires in your discussion with another car owner, how some might be too big for the chassis, or how the tread on a particular tire is too smooth to grip the road for the level of acceleration the car offers.

However, while you are having this discussion in which you might disagree with the other person, you are only able to have it because of an enormous host of presuppositions you both share. One might be more aware of these in greater detail than the other, but they are all still there. They are presuppositions like: 1) Gravity pulls the car down toward the road; 2) Friction wears away the tires over time; 3) The person driving this car probably is not going to be driving the majority of the time in reverse. But even more basic than these presuppositions are: “cars roll on the surface of the road”, “cars should be able to go at least 65 mph”, and more basic still, “the car exists and is tangible”.

Back to the Issue
Hopefully now you can see what I’m getting at. The question is, when you walk up to an unbeliever, what do you both agree on before the debate about God’s existence even starts? Hopefully you both agree on the following:

  1. If you say something, what you are saying is more or less what you meant to say (give or take human error).
  2. Logic and reason can be relied on as the method of constructing and testing arguments.
  3. You can know things.

All of these must be true. If someone is debating philosophy with you they automatically believe these things. What would be the point in speaking if I did not think anyone could possibly receive the message I meant to send? Why would I structure my sentences using the basics of logic if I did not believe that logic had any use or structure or sense in it? And most of all, why would I attempt to sway someone’s beliefs or reinforce my own beliefs if I did not think one could hold a belief or know anything at all?

If you can point these things out (especially how everyone deep down does believe that we can know things) to an unbeliever, you will always win the argument. But what about the original question: is the presuppositionalist right in saying that we can assume that God exists right from the start, before arguing at all?

The idea is that knowing things at all is absurd if God does not exist. Why? There are sophisticated arguments for this, but essentially, it is absurd because if God is the source of logic, it does not make sense to use logic without assuming that God exists. If there’s no source than it’s all absurdity. Perhaps a presuppositionalist could come and respond to this post with a more complete argument, but that is what it is in its most basic form.

I agree with that, but I do not think it is the most basic truth, nor do I think it is a starting point for arguments with atheists. It seems to me that the fact that logic and reason are sound methods for analyzing or describing anything abstract or real is the most basic truth we know. And if you would disagree with me, you must use logic to do so.

Even the presuppositionalist, in his or her attempt to explain the existence of God as being the ultimate truth that we all can assume to be true from the start must use logic to do so. You might object that he must also use language to do so, therefore language is the most basic truth. But language does not go as deep as logic and reason. If they invented a device which could be connected between two people’s brains so that one could “think” what the other was thinking, you would eliminate completely the medium of language, while still being able to understand someone’s argument by having them simply think about it (this idea is less absurd than it sounds). Even your thoughts have a logical structure, something that gives them sense and use for you to think them, whether or not you have ever learned a single word.

It seems that God has placed in every human being this basic ability to structure and compare, to calculate and to see when something is not balanced. Without it we can’t do, think or say anything at all. We cannot even begin to ponder the universe or the things of God without it.

This scares some people. They worry that reason therefore becomes God, and existed before God or is outside of and above God. But it seems odd to think that a method existed before a being. Can a method even exist at all. Is it not abstract? For sure, we do not know how God orchestrated the whole thing. But we don’t have to worry that a method will become God to us if we rely on it. If God could create intangible things like physics and the invisible principles which rule our planet, it seems he could also create or install in us the ability to reason in some way which we could never possibly understand on this earth.

You could say that “I exist” is the most basic truth we know. But even the idea of existing, or of knowing you exist, requires a logical understanding. You are saying or believing that A = B, that something is true. That famous quote actually goes “I think, therefore I exist.” And what is thinking but the application of logic and reason? Those come first.

Conclusion
This stuff can make your head swim. You don’t have to go deeper than you need to. Very likely I missed something or got something wrong in this post because this is mind-boggling stuff. But at the very least I hope you can, when in debate with someone who is a relativist and believes that we can know nothing, start by using their own attempted use of logic as an argument against their beliefs. For the truth which says that “things make or do not make sense” is the one presupposition everyone starts with, and is something near and dear to us all.

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Posted by on May 10, 2013 in Philosophy

 

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The Bread and Water of Faith

Anyone who knows me or has read any of my posts here knows the kind of stuff I like to discuss: issues that are, for the most part, either highly debatable or highly irrelevant.

But that’s not what I’m writing about today. I have had experiences in the past few months of my life that have shaped me profoundly and have caused me to look at my faith in new ways.

How Things Happened
On August 18, 2012, I married the love of my life (she still is by the way). As we settled into our new lives, things grew gradually worse at my job. Indeed, even before we were married I wondered whether I was going to be fired before the ceremony. In reality I kept working that job for about 7-8 months after the wedding.

It was the worst experience I have had in my life. Not only was I miserable because of the way I was treated at work, I also wondered if I was going to be fired at any moment. Suddenly, the one thing I had never been much concerned about came to the forefront of my mind: money.

I had read these verses many a time from Luke 12:

22 Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. 24 Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! (NIV)

My response was always, “I know, I know….God provides.” I did not feel the weight of need because all the bare necessities had always been provided by my parents. It’s a lot different when you are on your own.

To complicate things, the fact that I hated my job so much made me want to quit it at the same time that I did not want to be fired. But what would that mean? Could I just quit my job and let God provide? That didn’t seem right.

I decided that I would just go until I could go no more. It is hard, though, to know when you really have reached your limit. When you quit something difficult, you always wonder, “Couldn’t I have gone just one more day?”

However, when the day came, both Marcella and I knew it. We knew it was time to quit that situation. I gave my three weeks notice. Why three? Because I needed to give at least two, but I didn’t want to cut myself short. I had nothing else lined up to take the place of that job. I was working on becoming a home inspector but had already failed the test two times. I knew, though, that I had done what I could. We really did believe the rest was in God’s hands. That was our only real comfort.

Then the fateful week came. It was my last week of work. I took my home inspector test for the third time on that Monday. I was sure I had failed, and the rest of that week was so difficult. I was leaving my job that Friday, and if indeed I did fail the test I would have to wait a month before I could take it again.

Friday came. I went through the final steps at my job and closed that chapter of my life for good. But the victory seemed hollow, because I didn’t know what to do. I was unemployed. But I was unemployed in God’s hands.

And He came through. No more than three hours after finishing that job, the test results came in the mail. I had passed! There was no way I could have timed that myself. He let me suffer the least amount of time I needed to at that job, and made us wait the least possible amount of time before getting another source of income.

Conclusion
There’s no way you can know what that was like for Marcella and I. Many other small things like that have happened throughout the process that have reinforced our trust in God that he will provide for our financial needs. It has established a stronghold in our minds that would be very difficult to destroy at this point. It is the only reason why now, as I sit at home waiting for the calls for home inspection requests that are not coming in, I am not overwhelmed with worry about what we are going to do. If only he would expand my faith to the other areas of my life!

I have come to see that this is the basic bread and water of Christianity: trusting God in every aspect of your life. And not just affirming it mentally (as I used to do in my parent’s house regarding those verses above). Yes, the most basic faith which you must hold in Christianity is trusting in Christ’s death on your behalf on the cross. But it seems almost silly to trust that God will pay for your sins but not help you with your rent.

Your faith must go beyond the mental affirmation. Of course, C.S. Lewis understood it best:

Now Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes. I know that by experience. Now that I am a Christian I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable: but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable. This rebellion of your moods against your real self is going to come anyway. That is why Faith is such a necessary virtue: unless you teach your moods “where they get off,” you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of its digestion. Consequently one must train the habit of Faith. (Mere Christianity, 125)

This post is not an attempt to make myself look so faithful, but to show you that those verses about God’s providence really are true. And that is all I mean to say: You can trust in His provision!

 
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Posted by on May 8, 2013 in Theology

 

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What does it mean to “encounter” God?

This post is more of a question and introduction than it is a completed search for an answer. It is prompted by some thoughts I have had for awhile.

What does it mean to have an “encounter” with God? It might seem like an odd question. Here are the sorts of answers it might get.

To encounter God is:

-To have a sense that a particular sermon was intended by God particularly for you.
-To feel close to him in worship.
-To sense his leading by means of the Holy Spirit’s prompting.
-To hear him speak to you in an audible voice.
-To actually see him.

Which one of these falls under the definition of an “encounter”? Perhaps all of them? Or maybe just the last two?

I won’t try to answer that, but I will say this: that it seems today that many Christians appear to have excluded the last two on the list as a possibility and have settled for the “next best”, myself included. 

We strive to hear God’s voice, and when we don’t, we start to try to figure out different ways he might possibly be speaking to us, sometimes by signs or symbols.

But the scriptures don’t portray God that way. Whenever God wanted someone to know something, he either sent a prophet or said it himself. And that’s what I think heaven will be like. God will not have to do an elaborate act which we might eventually translate and be able to say, “Oh, I think God is telling me he loves me.” Rather, God will simply say, “I love you.”

So that’s my question: why should it be different now? Is God’s mouth closed or are our ears stopped?

 
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Posted by on March 18, 2013 in Philosophy, Theology

 

Avoiding The Pendulum Swing

I realized earlier today that there is a method of arguing that has been used widely throughout the church, but even so has gone unnoticed. Take the following bit of history as an example.

The Perfect Example

Throughout the history of the church there have been periods of time when different views on theology have thrived. In most recent church history, the previous prevailing argument was that we must strive in every possible way to do good works and separate ourselves from the world. This was during what we now call fundamentalism, and resulted in morality being pushed as the most important aspect of our faith.

I am not attempting here to argue with that viewpoint, but to show how it contrasts with what came next and is in fact what we have right now. The church realized that we had made a mistake in our theology. We decided that we needed to go back to the verses that talked about salvation “by faith alone”, that it’s not about anything we can do, and not about “works”. The result was a complete turning from the previous belief system. In an attempt to stay on the road of the faith, the church “over-steered”.

That is exactly the method of arguing that I am talking about. The idea is that if a viewpoint is so far off, we can fix it by doing a “pendulum swing” in the opposite direction to the same degree as the original swing so as to balance it out in the end. The result, however, does little to fix the problem.

What Really Happens

So why doesn’t this method work? It’s because an argument is not like a car. If it’s going off the road you don’t over-steer to correct it.

What I believe happens when someone “over-steers” is that first it appears to work. People realize that they have been believing the wrong thing, and they support the new viewpoint because it provides a solution to a major problem in their thinking. They don’t necessarily abandon the original viewpoint entirely, but now view it in relation to the new viewpoint. So, in a sense, it does balance out – for a short period of time.

What happens next ruins the original intent of the argument. People start to forget what they used to believe and only talk about the new belief or argument. The new belief then, when it stands by itself, becomes more than it was intended to be. Without the original viewpoint, it is a swing too far in the opposite direction.

The Right Way

Arguments do not work that way. They are built on premises and have a conclusion. No matter how far off a belief is, we must avoid the temptation to prove it wrong and must merely state the right argument or belief exactly as it is. If, for example, we think that older-style hymns have been wrongly believed to be the only valid songs to sing in church, and that we should learn to balance out the style of worship more, we do not say that hymns are wrong and should not be sung. We must rather make our argument that older and newer-style worship songs are equally usable so long as certain criteria are met. We do not think of it as a car that we must over-steer to prevent it running off the road. It’s a lot more like a gun. If you’re not shooting straight, you re-aim and fire again until you hit the target.

 
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Posted by on January 14, 2013 in Philosophy

 

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Achieving Objectivity

The Question: Is it possible to analyze what someone is saying perfectly objectively? That is, to judge what they are saying only using reason and not being swayed by anything at the same time (emotions, situations, etc.)? This question has been a subject of debate recently in my family.

It is so important because it changes everything. It is possible to believe one thing on a Sunday morning because it “just sounds so right”, and then hear a sermon the next week that contradicts what was said last week and believing it for the same reason. This is because the charisma of the preacher may be so persuasive that it doesn’t really matter what is being said.

First, let’s consider an example of what not judging something objectively (that is, judging it subjectively) looks like (this is only an example and not intended to be offensive to anyone).

Imagine that you own a business, and you are in the process of merging with another small company. The merge promises to be a successful business venture based on the facts. It will result in a lot of profit. When you meet the other owner, however, you find out he is Japanese. Due to losing a relative in the Pearl Harbor bombing, you still hold a grudge and decide to cancel the deal. This is an example of being swayed by personal emotions and making a decision that is not objective. The objective decision would be to make the deal (assuming that it really is the best course of action possible for you and the other company).

How to be Objective
You probably already understood these concepts. The question you are now asking is, how can you make objective decisions? Or better yet, how can you judge someone’s argument and determine (objectively) whether it is true or not?

There are two answers to this question. In the example above, we can see that sin affects our ability to make right and true decisions. The first answer in the example above would be to repent and pray for God to remove sin from your heart. Perhaps this is the main reason why brilliant atheists cannot conclude that God exists. They put all the pieces together, but their pride and sin disables them so that they cannot make the objective conclusion that God exists. They must deny the obvious, choosing the subjective way (their decision is swayed by their pride so they are not objective).

Assuming, though, that you are not harboring sin in your heart in a particular situation, how can you make decisions objectively? The key is to break it down. Just like when buying a house the key is location, location, location, when judging an argument the key is premises, premises, premises. What do I mean? Take an example.

Let’s say I make the following statement (whether true or not, we will see):

“I’m not hungry, therefore I must have just eaten a full meal.”

Is this statement true? Let’s break it down. The argument is structured as follows:

Premise A: If someone has just eaten a full meal, they are not hungry.
Premise B: I have just eaten a full meal.
Conclusion: I am not hungry.

The logic here is perfect. However, it is not enough to only lay out the structure. You have to make sure there are no missing premises. Ask yourself, “Is there any other situation where someone is not hungry?” You will find that there are many (including the already known situation):

1. Illness
2. Emotional distress
3. Prolonged fasting (there is a point where someone who is fasting actually loses the desire to eat)
4. Just ate a meal

Those three situations where just off the top of my head, but they are enough to make the statement, “I’m not hungry, therefore I must have just eaten a full meal” not necessarily true. I may not be hungry for one of at least four reasons. Therefore the statement is not foolproof and not always true. The argument is flawed because of missing premises. Here is what it should look like:

Premise A: If someone is ill, they may not be hungry.
Premise B: If someone is emotionally distressed, they are often not hungry.
Premise C: If someone has been fasting for a long time, they are sometimes not hungry.
Premise D: If someone has just eaten a full meal, they are very likely not hungry.
Premise E: Any other reason why someone might not be hungry…
Premise F: I am not hungry.

Conclusion (the only conclusion you can make from the given information): I am not hungry for one of the reasons in premises A-E.

This probably seems silly, but it is the very fabric of how you analyze an argument. Most of the time, the easy part is breaking it down and listing the premises, and the hard part is thinking of the hidden premises. In highly complex arguments, this can involve extensive research (especially in scientific arguments).

Back to the Bible
Now that we understand the basics, let’s consider a statement about something in the Bible. Imagine you are listening to a sermon, and the preacher says:

“God is a God of love, he has always been a God of love, and therefore he would never send babies who have died at birth to hell because they never had a choice.”

It sounds right, doesn’t it? But is it true?

Step 1: Remove any subjectivity and judge the argument objectively. We all want to say “amen” to this statement because no one wants babies to go to hell. However, we must not let this sway our judgement. We must pretend like it doesn’t matter either way, at least while we are considering whether the statement is true.

Step 2: Let’s break it down:

Premise A: God is Love.
Premise B: Being a God of love necessitates that He cannot commit an act which will result in the suffering of a particular individual if that individual never had a chance to repent.
Premise C: Babies sometimes die at birth before they can make choice (note the assumption here, that babies cannot make choices in the womb).

Conclusion: Those babies go to heaven, or at least don’t go to hell.

Step 3: The logic is sound. Therefore, we must analyze the premises.

Premise A is true, based on 1 John 4:8: “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (ESV)

Premise C may be true. For the sake of simplicity, let’s assume babies really can’t make any choices, though that would affect the argument if they can, and it is possible still.

Premise B is the critical premise. Does being a God of love mean God has to give everyone a chance? Nowhere in scripture do we find a statement like that. That doesn’t mean it’s not true, but it is a deep question, one that would require a thorough search of scripture, and even then it is a question that we simply do not have enough information to make a judgement on. Therefore premise B is uncertain.

Step 4: Because at least one of the premises (and in this case, the crucial one) is uncertain, that makes the conclusion uncertain. We therefore cannot state the conclusion as true at this point, and therefore, it should not be preached.

This is the perfect example because it shows how sometimes (and quite often) we do not have enough information to make sound conclusions. We must restrain ourselves from making a choice when we can’t. And above all, we must not let emotion lean us in either direction, though it can be very difficult at times (imagine a mother who lost a child at birth).

Conclusion
It is definitely possible to be objective. Either you are or you are not. That doesn’t mean you won’t have feelings, it just means you must ignore them or, if you feel they are legitimate feelings, explore the reasons why you have them and find out if they are logical. However, never let the charisma of a preacher be the determining factor in your decision-making. Rather, ask yourself why he might appear emotional on a particular point in his sermon, and whether his emotions are warranted or whether they are only being used to sway you.

There is much more that can be said about being objective. For the time being, next Sunday try using the above method and see how it affects what you get out of the sermon. You may find yourself agreeing or disagreeing on points you never thought you would.

 
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Posted by on December 1, 2012 in Philosophy

 

Was it Worth it?

Two and a half years, massive piles of books and papers, and over $50,000 worth of classes later (thanks to financial aid that’s not what was actually paid), a question arises which demands an answer: Was all of that worth it? Am I any better a Christian than I was when I started at Multnomah University? Has it enabled me to be a better bearer of the image of Christ than before?

Thinking back, each semester had it’s own lessons to teach me that were beyond the curriculum of the classes I happened to be taking. It seemed I was always being taught something by God. But what about the content of the classes themselves?

There are perhaps three main benefits, I think, to going through Bible college:

  1. A Greater Ability to Defend the Faith
    I would have to say that probably the greatest thing I discovered at MU, from the very beginning, is that our faith is indeed reasonable! More Christians than not probably have the lurking suspicion in the back of their minds at one point or another that perhaps their faith has no grounds, that perhaps Christianity is just one among many of the world’s religions. I certainly thought these things in the past. It’s not as if I never question anything anymore, but what has been firmly established in my mind beyond a shadow of a doubt is that if there is anything on this earth which we are able to know is true, it’s that Jesus is God, that he has payed for our sins, and that he now commands our allegiance to him. What I discovered is that if Christianity were not true, if God was not real and active in our lives, any ability to understand anything in the fabric of our universe would disappear altogether. As C.S Lewis put it:”I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”This is what I discovered at Multnomah. Now I not only have greater assurance, but am more able to defend the faith with nonbelievers.
  2. An Appreciation of Other Theological Viewpoints
    I have already shared some of my thoughts about these things in this post. What I have learned is that there are no two Christians who agree on everything. In all my classes, I never had an instructor with whom I agreed on everything. I have learned to try to treat all views not as valid, but as worthy of being heard and considered whether they are valid on the grounds of a reasonable reading of Scripture. I therefore had to revise some of my beliefs.
  3. A Realization That I Only Scratched the Surface
    While doing in-depth papers on only one or two verses, I realized that there’s so much more to know in God’s word. It’s not as if there are hidden things which only the skilled or the wise can find out, secret messages waiting to be found. Rather, there’s simply so much to know about God himself, and our life-long journey to getting to know him only begins in Scripture. It has put in me a hunger to know God fully.

A Crucial Truth
These three benefits are great, and one thing I will never say is that I wasted my time at Bible college. But one key thing I must remember: it doesn’t matter that I’ve gone to Bible college and learned a lot if any fire that was kindled in me goes out.

God is concerned not with how much I pursued him in the past, but with how much I am pursuing him right now. May I never get to the point where the things I’ve learned are only things of the past and insignificant to my life right now.

 
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Posted by on December 15, 2011 in General, Philosophy, Theology

 

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Just and Righteous Judgment

I know I’m in the middle of a “series” on arguments for the existence of God, but I had to make a post about something.

What I am about to say will sound like I am boasting, but (hopefully) that’s not what I am intending. Now that I’ve attended Bible college for two years (and summer classes start in a week), it feels like it’s harder to get anything out of sermons. By no means have I learned everything, but often the things that are preached are things that were taught to those who preach in Bible college (and that is indeed what they should be teaching). But today I was reminded that, even though you can logically understand something, you may not fully grasp it at a personal level. And I probably still don’t fully grasp it.

Today Pastor Scott (at Southwest Bible Church) was teaching in Romans. It was a good sermon, but there was one particular point which, in some way which I do understand, impacted me to the core. He said something along the lines of:

“People today judge with bias, but when Christ judges, he judges based on truth.”

This was the end of a larger part of the sermon in which he was talking about God’s judgment, but for some reason which I do not understand, a light-bulb went on in me. I had always understood the logic of it: “Yes, God judges justly…that’s obvious!” But it was at this moment that I understood how wonderfully glorious it is to have a God who judges justly and righteously. It is only now that I can fully understand these verses:

The third angel poured out his bowl on the rivers and springs of water, and they became blood. 5 Then I heard the angel in charge of the waters say:

“You are just in these judgments, O Holy One,
you who are and who were;
6 for they have shed the blood of your holy people and your prophets,
and you have given them blood to drink as they deserve.”

7 And I heard the altar respond:

“Yes, Lord God Almighty,
true and just are your judgments.”

(Revelation 16:4-7, NIV)

Before I just thought, “Why would the altar respond in that way? I mean, the angel just said almost exactly the same thing. What’s the big deal?” Now I understand that the altar (however it is that an altar can talk) is simply responding with praise at this wonderful truth about God. And that is the very response which I have made today.

I can attribute this enlightenment to no one else but the Holy Spirit. Even though I fully understood it, I did not know it or realize it personally. This is why I will try to remind myself that people who are moved by the Holy Spirit (like pastor Scott) can always be used to illuminate truth to those whom they are speaking to (like me), no matter how many Bible degrees one has.

 
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Posted by on June 6, 2011 in Theology

 

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