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Worldview Study: Understanding the Times (review)

December 18, 2018 Leave a comment

Nearing the end of the 2018 Challies Reading Challenge, I recently read a lengthy worldview book (from a frequent Kindle deal), Jeff Noebels’ “Understanding the Times:  A Survey of Competing Worldviews.”

The writing style is for laypeople, straightforward, though at over 500 pages it requires commitment to stick with it.  The first chapters seem to cover more general material common to any discussion about apologetics and other worldviews, as the book gets into describing several of the major worldviews:  Secularism, Marxism, post-modernism, Islam, New Spiritualism – and Christianity.  Of the non-Christian views, I have been most familiar with Secularism and New Spiritualism (which is a catch-all label for Hinduism, “New Age” and transcendental meditation), plus acquaintance with post-modernism and Islam.  Understanding the Times does not attempt an exhaustive look at all the different religious ideas or various cults, but interacts with the major ideas that Christians are likely to come across; modern-day Judaism is a smaller worldview; Buddhism and Hinduism have their differences, and have their differences from westernized “New Age,” but that would be the topic for other books – such as Marvin Olasky’s The Religions Next Door.  Marxism seems an odd choice to include, as an idea that enjoyed more popularity up through the mid-20th century, but the authors make the case for including this worldview which, unfortunately, has contributed in far greater measure to overall human misery and death in the last century, than other ideologies.

Where this book gets interesting is the chapters that consider several basic disciplines that are at the foundation of life in this world, and each of the worldview’s viewpoint (if any) at each of these points: theology, philosophy, ethics, biology, psychology, sociology, law, politics, economics, and history.  I particularly liked the chapters on ethics, politics, economics, and history, as well as the overall use of illustrations and quotes from popular literature (such as Les Miserables and Lord of the Rings, among others) as examples to help compare and contrast different worldviews on specific issues.

As an introduction to ethics, Understanding the Times notes the types of ethical theories:

  • Theories about ends (teleology): judging actions as right or wrong, based on the end goals desired. What is the good life?  How might the good life be secured for as many people as possible?  This is the ever-pragmatic “the ends justifies the means” approach.  This was the view of, for example, Aristotle, Thomas Hobbes, Nietzsche, and John Dewey.
  • Theories about duty (deontology): What ought we to do? Whether we like it or not, we “ought” to do what is right merely because right is right.  Philosophers of this view include Immanuel Kant and Rene Descartes.

Christianity does not fit neatly into either of these categories, but resolves the limitations of each view.  Addressing the problem of secularism (atheism) and morality, this book observes:

Christians can applaud that biblical morality is being upheld, and it is to (their) credit that they know a good idea when they see one.  What Secularists fail to address, however, is why these values are worth defending as moral declarations.  Cornelius Van Til’s assessment is apt:  they are sitting in God’s lap in order to slap him in the face.  In other words, secularists draw on truths explained only by God’s existence and form them into arguments to deny His existence altogether.

A (brief) summary of five Christian views regarding political involvement:

  1. Christians shouldn’t be involved. – religion and the intellect occupy different domains. An example here is Henry Ward Beecher,
  2. Society isn’t worth redeeming – late 1800s, early 1900s. The view of D.L. Moody.
  3. Political structures can’t change the human heart
  4. Christianity is only about the institution of the church and is not relevant to civil government: “Two-kingdoms theology.”  Michael Horton is noted as an example of this view.
  5. Christians should be involved, and they should try to take over

Overall this is another interesting book on the basics of worldview study, with a good survey overview of many of the common non-Christian views–and what the Christian worldview proclaims, by contrast.  It has often been a Kindle sale deal, and is worth reading.

Worldview Suppression: Romans 1 and Apologetics

July 6, 2018 8 comments

From my recent reading (Challies 2018 Reading Challenge) and Reformed theology conference lectures comes an apologetics study of Romans 1.  What do general revelation and suppression really look like, in our 21st century post-Christian world?  This question is addressed in Scott Oliphint’s lecture from the 2018 Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology (theme Spirit of the Age: Age of the Spirit), Workshop 4: The Anatomy of Unbelief.  Oliphint is always interesting to listen to; I enjoyed listening to his lectures last fall, in Reformed Forum’s conference on the Reformation and Apologetics.

This 2018 conference lecture provides commentary on Romans 1 and suppression, and what that involves — what truth is suppressed?  His invisible attributes; His eternal power and His divine nature – and the wrath, the judgment that comes as a result (Romans 1 verses 24 through 32).  Oliphint also recounts his recent experience with a graduate level Hegel philosophy course.  Throughout the course, until the very end, the students were kept in suspense: what is Hegel’s “absolute”?  The expert didn’t know, and the expert admitted that he thinks Hegel himself didn’t know what it was.

Philosophers are nothing new, and Paul in Romans 1 was dealing with the same type of thing from the Greek philosophers of his day.  Yet their ideas about reality are only theoretical and do not work in the real world.  Objective truth is there, facing us every day in the external world.  We cannot arbitrarily ignore and re-interpret reality to decide that a red light means ‘go’ and a green light means ‘stop’.  A chair lifted up and about to hit your face is a real threat that cannot be ignored.

Another interesting point Oliphint noted, was observed by Jonathan Edwards.  We often hear that hell is the absence of God.  Yet this cannot be; by His very nature, God is everywhere, omnipresent–including in hell itself.  Instead, hell is the ever-continuous presence, in wrath, of the God that the people there despise and hate.

My recent reading includes a past Kindle deal that also addresses this subject of Romans 1, suppression, and the limitations of non-Christian worldviews which don’t work in the real world: Finding Truth: 5 Principles for Unmasking Atheism, Secularism, and Other God Substitutes , by Nancy Pearcey.  Suppression involves focusing on one part of reality and making it the full truth – and ignoring the parts of reality that don’t “fit” within the box.  Following an outline of Romans 1, Pearcey presents five points to help Christians identify and respond to worldview suppression, with examples from Hegel, materialism and other philosophies.

  1. Identify the idol.
  2. Identify the idol’s reductionism
  3. Test the idol: does it contradict what we know about the world?
  4. Test the idol: does it contradict itself?
  5. Replace the idol: make the case for Christianity.

Many examples are provided (with the actual quotes) from secular scientists and philosophers who admit that they really can’t live with the ideas they come up with about reality, such as this section about materialism:

When it reduces humans to complex biochemical machines, what sticks out of the box? Free will. The power of choice. The ability to make decisions.  These are dismissed as illusions. Yet in practice, we cannot live without making choices from the moment we wake up every morning.  Free will is part of undeniable, inescapable human experience—which means it is part of general revelation.  Therefore the materialist view of humanity does not fit reality as we experience it.

When we see statements about how “we cannot live with” a view, that is worldview suppression.  Through the five principles, we can identify the specific type of suppression – and respond to it, to those who present such ideas, with the truth of Christianity.

Oliphint’s lecture is an excellent summary overview of apologetics related to Romans 1.  Pearcey’s book provides more details and examples, with special emphasis on the experience of college students who leave home as Christians and “lose their faith” when challenged by anti-Christians in the academic university setting.

Psalm 119, the Reformation Anniversary, and Apologetics

November 3, 2017 5 comments

Psalm 119 Thoughts

As I near the end of the Psalm 119 series, here is an interesting point brought out regarding verse 162:  I rejoice at your word like one who finds great spoil.

Here we consider the treasure, the plunder – and the idea also involves the delight and joy of the victory itself, the victory which brought the ‘great spoil.’  Old Testament Israel could certainly relate to and remember the many great deliverances in battle, brought about by their God.  From my own recent reading in Ezekiel, here I also relate this to any victory in battle and the spoil or plunder, not limited to Israel’s warfare; Nebuchadnezzar had worked hard to conquer Tyre, but with no reward – therefore God gave Egypt to Nebuchadnezzar’s army, for their payment (Ezekiel 29:18-20).

Psalm 119 and the other psalms so often express this truth so well – how wonderful God’s word is, our love for God’s word — with many analogies and metaphors.  The same truths have their New Testament “equivalents” such as 2 Timothy 3:16, 1 Peter 2:2 (the comparison to milk) and Ephesians 6:17 (which also uses the imagery of war and battle).

This psalm also especially shows us the law of God, that which we love (reference also the New Testament, Romans 7:12, 16, and 22), which reveals God’s attributes to us.

The Reformation Anniversary

The last few weeks have brought many interesting “Reformation theme” articles, free and discount sale offers, and conferences.  One item of interest here:  Reformed Resources is providing its large collection (over 3000 lessons) of MP3 download lessons, all free (normally $1 per download), until November 15 – with the coupon code ‘celebrate’.  Among the interesting collections here, are ‘The Bible Study Hour’ with lessons on many of the Psalms and other Bible books, and a series on ‘The Westminster Confession into the 21st Century’.  I’ve already ordered many of these, for future listening.

Many churches have hosted weekend conferences on “the Five Solas” or other variations, bringing to attention key ideas from the Protestant Reformation.  Desiring God’s brief biography podcast “Here We Stand” gives a few minutes each day to some well known or perhaps lesser known person who played a part in the 16th century Reformation.

The Reformation and Apologetics

A conference I have found especially interesting is Reformed Forum’s 2017 Theology Conference, relating the Reformation to Reformed / Presuppositional Apologetics, a six part series available here.  I’m still listening to these messages on my podcast player, and find these very helpful, to build on my recent reading of Van Til’s A Defense of the Faith.  The speakers reference Van Til, but especially point out that presuppositional apologetics existed long before Van Til, in the teaching of John Calvin and others during the Reformation.  Especially of note, one of the speakers references and responds to the errors and inconsistencies in the well-known book Classical Apologetics (which advocates “classic” as in Thomas Aquinas, evidentialist apologetics, though authored by Reformed theologians who are inconsistent and ought to know better).

Van Til on Presuppositional Apologetics

August 17, 2017 6 comments

Continuing in the 2017 Challies’ Reading Challenge, some books are more challenging and slower-going, such as a selection for apologetics:  Cornelius Van Til’s The Defense of the Faith,  about presuppositional apologetics.  The writing style itself is not always easy to follow, with a lot of abstraction and philosophy, though some parts are clearer.  Overall, though, I see the basic points of presuppositional apologetics, along with a detailed explanation for why classical/evidential apologetics is not the best approach for communication with unbelievers.

Throughout, Van Til contrasts Catholic and Protestant-Evangelical (Arminian) apologetics, with the understanding of Reformed Theology.  As well-pointed out, what it really comes down to is that Reformed folks should use the same approach for both preaching and apologetics; Reformed preaching proclaims the sovereignty of God in all things, including salvation, as well as the total inability of the lost sinner.  Yet often, Reformed Christians depart from this when it comes to apologetics, turning instead to lost man’s “reason” independent of the authority of God’s word.  The analysis of basic differences in the very definitions of concepts between unbelievers (even unbelievers of varying types, pagan polytheists versus secular), such as the concepts of deity and mankind, is quite interesting, all supporting the point that believers really do not share any “common” point with the unbeliever, in terms of the natural man’s thoughts and reasoning.

The Reformed Christian is often Reformed in preaching and Arminian in reasoning.  But when he is at all self-conscious in his reasoning he will seek to do in apologetics what he does in preaching.  He knows that man is responsible not in spite of but just because he is not autonomous but created.  ..  He knows also that the sinner in the depth of his heart knows that what is thus held before him is true.  He knows he is a creature of God; he has been simply seeking to cover up this fact to himself.  He knows that he has broken the law of God; he has again covered up this fact to himself.  He knows that he is therefore guilty and is subject to punishment forever; this fact too he will not look in the face.

And it is precisely Reformed preaching and Reformed apologetic that tears the mask off the sinner’s face and compels him to look at himself and the world for what they really are.  Like a mole the natural man seeks to scurry under ground every time the facts as they really are come to his attention.  He loves the darkness rather than the light.  The light exposes him to himself.  And precisely this neither Roman Catholic or Arminian preaching or reasoning are able to do.

Van Til points out that evidentialist apologetics does the first part of evangelism by appealing to the natural man’s thinking, and challenging the atheist/agnostic unbeliever with the fact, the existence, of God.  Only after this first part of “accommodating” the unbeliever, the apologist then “switches” to the Christian perspective and why one should believe the Bible, etc.  The unbeliever can certainly follow along at the first point, since nothing is being challenged in his fundamental human reason.  As Van Til observes, the result is a two-phase approach to Christian conversion:  first to Theism, then, later, conversion to Christianity.  This method obviously does ‘work’, as God’s sovereign purposes in calling His elect include even faulty apologetic methods; but Van Til makes the case for a true Reformed approach to the matter.

It helps to relate what Van Til is saying to real-world examples.  What Van Til described here, describes the conversion story of C.S. Lewis, who was an atheist when he met colleague J.R.R. Tolkien at Oxford in the 1920s.  Much has been said on the negative side regarding the theology of both of these men – though as has also been noted, Tolkien converted Lewis to Christianity in general, not to Catholicism.  Yet as Lewis himself described it, his conversion was indeed a two-phase process: first, conversion to theism, and then – about two years later – to the Christian faith.  Van Til’s critique of classic apologetics provides the clear explanation for the very process/method of Lewis’ conversion experience.

Though the overall reading is not easy, I’m now over halfway through, and some parts are quite good, with insightful quotes.  In closing, here are a few great quotes from Van Til:

The Bible is thought of as authoritative on everything of which it speaks. And it speaks of everything. We do not mean that it speaks of football games, of atoms, etc., directly, but we do mean that it speaks of everything either directly or indirectly. It tells us not only of the Christ and his work but it also tells us who God is and whence the universe has come. It gives us a philosophy of history as well as history. Moreover, the information on these subjects is woven into an inextricable whole. It is only if you reject the Bible as the Word of God that you can separate its so-called religious and moral instruction from what it says, e.g., about the physical universe.

And

Time rolls its ceaseless course. It pours out upon us an endless stream of facts. And the stream is really endless for the non-Christian basis. For those who do not believe that all that happens in time happens because of the plan of God, the activity of time is like to that, or rather is identical with that, of Chance. Thus the ocean of facts has no bottom and no shore.

 

Apologetics and the Law: James White’s “Holiness Code For Today”

December 14, 2016 1 comment

A few weeks ago a friend linked a great response of James White to the “West Wing” Bible Lesson, a sharp and witty response to an atheist’s ridicule of Christianity in reference to the Mosaic code. James White here responded to one of several such sarcastic remarks that originated several years ago in a letter from an atheist to Dr. Laura, this particular one: “My neighbor was working today (sabbath) so I murdered him. This is correct?”

Excerpted from the West Wing program that featured this same content:

“I wanted to ask you a couple of questions while I had you here. I’m interested in selling my youngest daughter into slavery as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. She’s a Georgetown sophomore, speaks fluent Italian, always cleared the table when it was her turn. What would a good price for her be?”

“While thinking about that, can I ask another? My chief of staff, Leo McGarry, insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly says he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself or is it OK to call the police?”

… “Here’s one that’s really important, ‘cause we’ve got a lot of sports fans in this town. Touching the skin of a dead pig makes one unclean, Leviticus 11:7. If they promise to wear gloves, can the Washington Redskins still play football? Can Notre Dame? Can West Point?

“Does the whole town really have to be together to stone my brother John for planting different crops side by side?

“Can I burn my mother in a small family gathering for wearing garments made from two different threads?

From the comments at the James White note (above) I learned of a full series that James White did on this very issue, “The Holiness Code For Today,” begun in 2014 and recently completed (August 2016), preached at Phoenix Reformed Baptists for both Sunday morning and evening sessions. The full series of 38 lectures is available here.

I’m now about ¼ of the way through this series, in lesson 10 of a great series that approaches the “holiness code” (generally seen as Leviticus 17 through the end of the book) from an apologetics perspective, equipping Christians with serious, thoughtful responses to the secular unbelieving world.  The introductory lectures set the tone and the background, acknowledging our increasingly secular world and hostile unbelievers who mock by asking tough questions — and the truth, the right response to such challenges.  As White mentioned, googling “holiness code Leviticus” or “iron age morality” will indeed bring up some rather interesting anti-Christian web pages.  This portion of scripture especially deals with the evil and abomination of homosexuality, and this series responds to the common objections of those in our day who would try to deny or twist these texts into something that no longer applies to us in our age.

The introductory messages provide the overall setting and perspective regarding the holiness code and the real problem that unbelievers have.  As White well said in this lessonNo one will ever hear or honor the law of God, who hates the God of the law. No one will ever honor or hear or bow to the law of God, who hates the God of the law, and that’s the real issue.

Among the highlights: the importance of looking at the historical context, of Israel surrounded by pagan religions and practices, a nation in stark contrast to the standards of its neighbors; whereas our society today cannot fully appreciate this, from a time reference of a post-Christian culture, a society that has enjoyed the common grace benefits of the Judeo-Christian worldview – a society that is, sadly, quickly heading back to paganism.  Also, we must not look at these laws, the ones given to Israel in the Leviticus holiness code, from a pragmatic view, of trying to determine “why” He did so, “the real reason” for each particular law.  A common example of this is the modern “explanation” as to why the Israelites were forbidden to eat pork, trying to rationalize it due to supposed modern discoveries of science.  Instead, our starting point should be, that these laws were commanded by God; God forbid these things, and we may never discover the reason why.

In response to those who think that the Mosaic law in its entirety was “only for the Jews” and a part of “iron age morality” no longer applicable:

First, as noted in these chapters, the Canaanites were judged by God, were spewed out – the land itself said to vomit them out for their abominable practices.  They did not have the Mosaic law, nor any prophets sent to them, yet they were still held accountable and judged, based on the light they had; reference Romans 2.

Secondly, it is true that these sexual behaviors, including homosexuality, were a part of the religious rituals of the Canaanites.  That does not mean, though, that the underlying idea is in itself okay; people cannot reason that, because the Canaanites were doing such things in their religious practices, thus homosexuality in a different context is okay, in a “loving, monogamous (homosexual) relationship.”  Leviticus 18 simply states the abomination itself:  a man lying with another man.  Leviticus 18 says nothing that would restrict the meaning to only those religious ceremonies.

White also references the various scriptures and usages of the Hebrew word for abomination – pronounced as “Toe-ay-Vo” (I have no idea of the spelling in Hebrew letters).  The first occurrence is found in Genesis 43 (Hebrews were loathsome to the Egyptians), but the second and third are found in Leviticus 18 and 20.  Other uses throughout the Old Testament, including several places in Isaiah, include the abominable idolatry of the Israelites. Throughout, the meaning of the word is clear, of something detestable; none of us would want to be considered as such, before God.  The early church used the Greek Septuagint, and in the New Testament we find that Paul uses (in 1 Corinthians 6) the same Greek word for abomination, as what is found in the Septuagint in Leviticus 18.

All the above and so much more is available in just the first ten lessons of this series.  The upcoming lessons consider the distinctions of law (moral, civil and ceremonial) and deal with the specific content of Leviticus 18-21 as well as a few passages in Deuteronomy.  I find this series edifying, a topic that is especially helpful to study in our day and age, and I look forward to listening to the rest of the series.

iTunes University: Theology Courses, Including History and Worldview Lectures

February 12, 2015 5 comments

Having enjoyed Carl Trueman’s Reformation history lectures, I recently learned about the full collections of audio lectures available from many theological seminaries — through iTunes University, a feature of iTunes software. Of particular interest: the available content from Westminster Theological Seminary, as well as Reformed Theological Seminary and Covenant Theological Seminary, cover many interesting topics: various periods of church history, Bible surveys, theology courses and more.

I have now started a “Church and the World” series, offered through Reformed Theological Seminary, with 28 lectures covering a topic I only know bits and pieces about: the history and development of liberal theology over the last few hundred years. The first messages provide general biographical and philosophical detail regarding the major figures of the Enlightenment, beginning with Descartes followed by the more radical David Hume and Immanuel Kant of the 18th century. Later lectures address such ideas as process theology, existentialist theology, liberation theology, as well as post-modernism, liberalism and fundamentalism, and the neo-orthodox reaction to liberalism, and I look forward to future lectures, to help put together more of the pieces concerning recent Christian and worldview history.

A few observations from what I’ve learned so far, and how it applies in current-day online theology discussions.

  • The Pre-Modern world (classic theism): A.D. 312 (the year of Constantine’s “conversion” to Christianity) through the 16th century – a time characterized by a theistic worldview, in which everyone understood and accepted the authority of God (and in extension the authority of the Roman Church) for understanding everything in life
  • The modern world: from 1600 to 1950, a time characterized by “a gradual but seismic shift” in understanding of human knowledge and relationship between humans and God, resulting in a worldview change. Major developments during this time included the 18th century Enlightenment and the 19th century Industrial Revolution.

These are categories we see in hindsight, not clear and sharp yet distinct gradual changes that establish themselves through a period of time. Of note, the 16th century Reformation Leaders held to more medieval-type thinking, at least to a greater extent than later Christian thinkers (here I recall Carl Trueman’s emphasis on this especially in relation to Martin Luther; Trueman saw Calvin and others as more of the then-emerging humanist mindset), and thus the “modern era” starts in the next century, though not in full swing until the 18th century. The modern era brought the ideas of rationalism and empiricism, a fundamental worldview shift in which man’s ideas dominate over the authority of God and His word, and where Christianity (and religion generally) is “proved” or disproved on the basis of man’s rational thoughts and experiences rather than from objective truth outside of ourselves.

This historical background helps in discussions regarding what past believers thought and how they expressed what they believed. As for example, in a recent discussion about the 1689 London Baptist Confession’s wording in chapter 4, regarding creation “in the space of six days,” one person suggested it was somehow of interest and special note that the confession authors “could have” specified more detail and “could have” been more precise and explicitly stated that the days were literal, normal 24 hour days – and therefore, because they did not, therefore that interpretation is left open and we can consider “six days” as meaning something other than really six days.

Such thinking of course reflects the modern and post-modern worldviews, and reading our own way of thinking into 17th century English Puritans. To see such qualifying and specific statements in 17th century documents would be an anachronism. Old-Earth views did not influence Christians until the 19th century, and no one in the 17th century thought in such terms regarding the definition of the days in Genesis 1. John Bunyan’s Genesis commentary (chapters 1 through 11)  indeed shows what Christians of that day were considering about Genesis 1 (chiliasm and the Millennial Week idea) as well as, by its absence, what they did not think about –because such ideas simply did not exist in their world.

Presuppositions in Evaluating Early Church History

November 3, 2014 1 comment

In my overall reading and research concerning the Lord’s Day/Sabbath and its historical development, I have come across some interesting material that also serves to show the existence of presuppositions and how we interpret historical data.

An example of this (and how our presuppositions distort our conclusions) comes from Samuele Bacchiocchi, a 20th century Seventh Day Adventist historian, whose book From Sabbath to Sunday does include some good historical data, excerpts from the writing of many early church fathers, following their writings from the 2nd century through the development of Roman Catholicism. The work does have some interesting points, including the development of a “spiritualized” sabbath beginning in the 4th century Constantine era and developed especially by Augustine plus further agreement from later Catholic Popes, to the effect that “This is why we accept in a spiritual way and observe spiritually what is written about the Sabbath. For the Sabbath means rest and we have the true Sabbath, the very Redeemer, our Lord Jesus Christ” (Pope Gregory I, late 6th and early 7th century A.D.)

Yet in closely reading both the actual early church ideas and this Seventh Day Adventist’s “explanation” or “interpretation,” the following erroneous idea comes out. “The fact that the typology of the eighth day first appears especially in the writings of anti-Judaic polemics, such as the “Epistle of Barnabas” and the “Dialogue with Trypho,” and that it was widely used as an apologetic device to prove the superiority of Sunday over the Sabbath,” therefore – according to this writer with a presupposition of seventh day worship, trying to prove that the early Christian Church really did not have a consensus on what day to meet for worship – this “suggests, first of all, that Sunday worship arose as a controversial innovation and not as an undisputed apostolic institution. The polemic was apparently provoked by a Sabbath-keeping minority (mostly Jewish-Christians) who refused to accept the new day of worship.”

Really? Justin Martyr and other early apologists were really trying to defend their own doctrines to fellow believers? Even basic encyclopedia entries (and not just Wikipedia) as well as article and book references readily acknowledge the basic audience of these writings: some to Gentile non-Christians, and other writing to Jewish non-Christians. False presuppositions (and forcing a predetermined outcome to agree with that presupposition) drive a modern writer to reject the plain and obvious audience of these works and instead conclude that a doctrinal issue was “controversial” within the Christian community itself. By that reasoning, everything they wrote about – including Justin Martyr’s statements about the then orthodox view of chiliasm – was really uncertain and controversial among Christians, and nothing of truth was decided except by the force of these 2nd century writers “decreeing” what the Christian Church “ought” to believe.

Here I recall also the difference (misunderstood by some) between what are considered “controversial issues” among Christians versus “controversial” for non-Christians, as in this previous post.  An excerpt from what I wrote then — Are cultural issues in the world really debatable points to Bible-believing Christians?  … The same goes for abortion, or any other social issue that the world is uncertain about:  God’s word does not change, and the true Church of professing believers does not feel the need to debate these issues — surely also applies regarding the “issues” of the early church. An idea which may be considered questionable by unbelievers, or even something that unbelievers hold a different/opposing view about, does not at all mean that the same issue was a “controversial innovation” by the believers of that time.

As with this rather obvious example, of how a group outside of the mainstream Christian church (SDA) imposes their false presuppositions on historical data, it behooves us to carefully analyze what we read, especially as this material comes up easily in online search results and it is not always easy to tell, at first glance, the presuppositions of a particular writer.  And when (as I have seen done at a local church) a church pastor/teacher casually references the “Christian Sabbath” issue and asserts for their own position that the Seventh Day Adventists have “proved” this one and they have it right about the seventh day Sabbath — well, “think again” and consider the source and  their presuppositions.

Creation Apologetics: The Creation Ordinance Sabbath

September 2, 2014 3 comments

In studying the idea of a creation ordinance sabbath – the significance of the seven day week and setting aside one of those seven days as different from the others – I recall the value of extra-biblical historical records, for apologetics related to other events of Genesis 1-11, in support of biblical “young earth” creation, the flood of Noah, dinosaurs (dragons) coexisting with humans, and the “Table of Nations” genealogies.  Reference this post (After the Fall), related to the study of the nations listed in Genesis 10.

It is not the purpose of this post to consider all the issues related to the Christian Sabbath. One very good resource is Robert L. Dabney’s “Systematic Theology,” of which nearly a full chapter (25 pages) is devoted to the issue of the 4th commandment, available online here, and includes the historical background of the two main views throughout Christian history as well as all the pertinent scripture passages.

The issue (for this post) is related to creation, and evidences available, including early historical records.  It is often asserted by non-sabbath believers, that the Pentateuch makes no mention of Sabbath observance after Genesis 2, until Exodus 16, and thus we have no evidence of any Sabbath observance before the law of Moses.  In response: first, the seven day week itself is an unusual phenomenon, as it does not fit with any calendar system of timekeeping — a strong evidence for the biblical record itself in contrast to evolutionary ideas; see this article from the Institute for Creation Research.  (As a side note: observance of a Christian Sabbath is not a “Covenant Theology vs. Dispensationalism” issue. As acknowledged in online discussions, even some dispensationalists believe and practice it; ICR is one such example, 4-point Calvinist-Dispensational with Christian Sabbath.)  Aside from the fact that the Sabbath is mentioned in the Exodus wilderness before the giving of the law on Sinai, it is true that the references in Genesis (after chapter 2) only mention the seven day week cycle and do not explicitly mention anything of people observing a rest for one day out of each seven.  Yet consider: if the seventh-day sabbath precept did originate at creation, we should expect to find some indication of it in early pagan civilization and their written records – similar to what is found regarding the flood of Noah, dragons, and the “Table of Nations” genealogies. Interestingly enough, we do find such evidence that the sabbath (a rest day for one out of seven days) goes back to creation itself.

Ancient Pagan Religious Practices

Secular sources note that the ancient Babylonians, like the Jews, also observed a seven day week (somewhat modified for their lunar monthly calendar), and their pagan observance included “holy days” every 7th day. Such evolutionary sources, such as Wikipedia, of course try to “find” another explanation for the 7 day calendar, apart from its origin in Genesis, yet still note the following about early Babylonian practice:

The origin of the seven-day week is the religious significance that was placed on the seventh day by ancient cultures. The earliest ancient sources record a seven-day week in ancient Babylon prior to 600 BCE.[1] Babylonians celebrated a holy day every seven days, starting from the new moon, then the first visible crescent of the Moon, but adjusted the number of days of the final “week” in each month so that months would continue to commence on the new moon … Counting from the new moon, the Babylonians celebrated the 7th, 14th, 21st, and 28th as “holy-days”, also called “evil days” (meaning “unsuitable” for prohibited activities). On these days officials were prohibited from various activities and common men were forbidden to “make a wish”, and at least the 28th was known as a “rest-day”.[4] On each of them, offerings were made to a different god and goddess.

And from this online article:

In their normal seven day week, the Babylonians held the seventh day of each week as holy, much like the Jews did and still do.  However, the Babylonians also held the day to be unlucky.  Thus, similar to the Jews (but for a different reason- the unluckiness of the day), the seventh day had restrictions on certain activities to avoid dire consequences from the inherit unluckiness of the day.

Early Pagan Literature

This idea can also be found in ancient extra-biblical literature. Cited in Dabney’s “Systematic Theology”, the following evidence from early pagan literature:

The assertion that the Sabbath was coexisting with the human race, and was intended for the observation of all, receives collateral confirmation also from the early traditions concerning it, which pervade the first Pagan literature. It can hardly be supposed that Homer and Hesiod borrowed from the books of Moses, sabbatical allusions which would have been to their hearers unintelligible. They must be the remnants of those primeval traditions of patriarchal religion, which had been transferred by the descendants of Japheth, to the isles of Chittim. The early allusions to a sacred seventh day may be sufficiently exhibited by citing a collection of them from Eusebius’ Preparation Evangelica(50. 13., Sect. 13), which he quotes from the Stromata of Clement of Alexandria. The latter father is represented as saying: “That the seventh day is sacred, not the Hebrews only, but the Gentiles also acknowledge, according to which the whole universe of animals and vegetables revolves.” Hesiod, for instance, thus says concerning it:

“The first, the fourth also, and the seventh is a sacred day.” (Ieron `Hmar .) Dierum, line 6.

And again: “The seventh day once more, the splendid dawn of the sun.”

And Homer: “The seventh day then arrived, the sacred day.”

Again: “The seventh was sacred.”

“The seventh dawn was at hand, and with this all the series is completed.”

And once more: “On the seventh day, we left the stream of Acheron.”

And thus also writes Callimachus the poet: “It was now the Sabbath day: and with this all was accomplished.”

Again: “The seventh day is among the fortunate; yea, the seventh is the parent day.”

Again: “The seventh day is first, and the seventh day is the complement.”

And: “All things in the starry sky are found in sevens; and shine in their ordained cycles.”

“And this day, the elegies of Solon also proclaim as more sacred, in a wonderful mode.” Thus far Clement and Eusebius. Josephus, in his last book against Apion, affirms that “there could be found no city, either of the Grecians or Barbarians, who owned not a seventh day’s rest from labor.” This of course is exaggerated. Philo, cotemporary with Josephus, calls the Sabbath eorth pandhmo”.

These references from ancient history clearly support the biblical data for a seven day week and its associated creation sabbath ordinance: a creation precept set in place in Genesis 2, an ordinance and precept unlike the later ceremonial Sabbath set forth in the law section of the Pentateuch (which was given AFTER the events of Exodus 16 and AFTER the giving of the Ten Commandments). Like other knowledge from the antediluvian era, this was passed down to the post-flood world by Noah and his sons.  As with other knowledge from that time, though, this original understanding of the true God was soon distorted among the Gentile peoples who spread out from Babel (Genesis 11), along with all other distortions of yet true accounts in their literature (i.e., the creation story and the flood), and finally forgotten by our world which looks to godless evolution and millions of years, suppressing the truth (Romans 1) that was known by our distant ancestors.

The Significance of Both Creation and Last Things (Eschatology)

July 30, 2013 8 comments

Occasionally I come across statements, such as from individuals involved with Creation ministries, from those who hold to young earth creation but are not consistent in their end-times position.  As someone well observed in an online discussion recently, “obviously Creationists are not necessarily dispensationalists when it comes to prophecy; but there are far fewer non-literal-Creationist dispensationalists than 6-day-Creationist-CT/NCT people around.”

I previously referenced this over a year ago here (this post) in reference to (Answers in Genesis) Ken Ham’s statement, that he thinks creation and eschatology are somehow different and unrelated.  His reasoning:  we also have the scientific physical evidence for creation, and the creation compromises came about from people responding to external ideas about evolution and old-earth. Whereas, he claims, eschatology is only dealing with the words of scripture themselves, apart from any external ideas.

His first point, about scientific evidence, of course overlooks the issue of presuppositions.  Unbelief will compel an old-earth scientist to come up with explanations for observed data that “fit” his own presuppositions; physical evidence does not of itself “prove” anything.  His second point ignores the clear hermeneutical issues and the history of the development of amillennialism and replacement theology through those who embraced the allegorical, spiritualizing hermeneutic instead of the literal, grammatical, historical hermeneutic.

In online discussion someone recently posted this link from Creation.com, in which the writer responds to a church-goer’s question about her pastor’s post-modern approach to God’s word.  Here the reasoning is that somehow creation is a more important doctrine than eschatology: The issues regarding Genesis are in a quite different league to those concerning prophecy, we would submit, because they are foundational to, and woven throughout the fabric of, the very Gospel of salvation itself.

Really? A closer look shows us that errors in creation and eschatology have several features in common, directly attacking central biblical teachings concerning the attributes and character of God, the authority of God’s word, and understanding of our salvation:

Concerning the Character of God:

       Doctrine of Creation

  • a liar, whose word cannot be depended on: that He did not really create the world in six literal, ordinary days as He said (even directly inscribed in stone tablets by God, on Mt. Sinai; reference Exodus 20:11, the Ten Commandments)
  • a cruel God whose idea of “very good” before the fall was actually a creation already cursed and experiencing death long before Adam fell.

      Doctrine of Eschatology / Last Things

  • A Bait-and-Switch God whose word cannot be depended on, who gave one set of promises to one group of people but later changed both the promises and the recipients.
  • A Pelagian-salvation God: Israel lost their promises due to their apostasy, and blew their chances due to their fall.  How, then, do we have any assurance that God will not also give up on us (Christians in this age) and reject us after all?

Concerning the Authority of God’s Word

The above-mentioned writer continues:   That does not mean that one can’t be terribly inconsistent and be saved in spite of disbelieving what Genesis teaches, but it has serious ramifications in church, culture, and society, and in the lives of many individuals—as well as for our effectiveness in evangelism, if the authority of the Word of God can be so cavalierly evaded in such a plain, straightforward matter.

Substitute “premillennialism” for “Genesis” above, and the meaning is the same.  Our understanding of the church (ecclesiology), and culture and society is DIRECTLY affected by our millennial view.  Errors here have brought about misguided ideas such as postmillennial dominion theology and “Christian America,” over-emphasis on the Church age (falling into the very error the apostle Paul warned against in Romans 11), and seriously hampered evangelism efforts among the Jews — and any unbelievers who read the Bible without awareness of Covenant Theology’s allegorical hermeneutic.  (Try explaining to Jews that all of their prophecies about Christ’s First Coming were literally fulfilled in Christ, BUT the prophecies about His Second Coming are instead spiritualized to mean something else, blessings to the (Gentile) Christian Church).

Creation AND Eschatology (the future), unlike all other scriptural teaching, are both areas unknown to mankind apart from Divine Revelation: we weren’t there at the beginning, and we don’t know the future.  Underlying both of these teachings are major, fundamental issues concerning the character of God and the nature of salvation.  Whether said by the leaders of various creation ministries or not, whatever “reasons” to justify the preference of one teaching over the other, the reality is that the doctrine of creation is not at all “in a different league” from the prophetic word.

Creation Material: Free Online Books

July 25, 2013 4 comments

Following up on recent posts, here are links to several good online books concerning creation:

Available in PDF Format:

Creationism.org has a Books Section page with links to many books of varying lengths and topics.  From this list I recognize one book I bought around 1990 (It’s a Young World After All), and their link to the online text “After the Flood” (see my recent review).  The titles include some from the early 2000s back to the 1980s, as well as earlier 20th century and earlier public domain books.  Especially interesting titles here include the classic “The Biblical Flood and the Ice Epoch (1966)” by Donald W. Patten. and “In the Beginning: Compelling Evidence for Creation and the Flood, 7th Edition (2001)” by Dr. Walt Brown.

Available for viewing on the web, Answers in Genesis has a large collection.  A few of these books deal with worldview, or specifically address parents or college-bound students.  Some titles look at the lie of evolution, while several others focus specifically on particular topics of creation history and creation science.  Authors include creationists Terry Mortenson and creation scientists Jason Lisle, Gary Parker, plus several others.