Twinkle, Twinkle, Simple Faith?

Every now and again I speak to believers who don’t enjoy the notion of Christian theology one little bit. Their faith, you see, is a simple faith. Theology? Well that just confuses people! “Forget all the boring and complex doctrine”, they say, “I just want to love Jesus…that’s all”.

But, one only has to ask, which Jesus is it that they ‘just want to love’? And of course, to answer a question like that, one needs very complex and and precise doctrine. And while being able to properly identify the Jesus whom we love does absolutely nothing to take away from the simplicity of our faith (viz., our complete and utter trust in the person of Christ), the same cannot be said for those who do not know their theology. Not only do they end up in great danger of heresy, but their faith becomes simplistic – not simple.

The following story (from Mark Dever’s “Message of the Old Testament”) serves to illustrate well that this is something which cannot be commended;

“George Buttrick… was [from 1927 to 1954] pastor of the Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York. One week he had been off on a speaking engagement and was flying back to New York City. On the plane he had a pad and a pencil and he was making some notes for next Sunday’s sermon. The man seated next to him was eyeing him with curiosity. Finally, the curiosity got the best of him, and so he said to Buttrick, ‘I hate to disturb you—you’re obviously working hard on something—but what in the world are you working on?’

“‘Oh, I’m a Presbyterian minister,’ said Buttrick. ‘I’m working on my sermon for Sunday.’

“‘Oh, religion,’ said the man. ‘I don’t like to get all caught up in the in’s and out’s and complexities of religion. I like to keep it simple. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The Golden Rule, that’s my religion.’

“‘I see,’ said Buttrick. ‘And what do you do?’

“‘I’m an astronomer. I teach at the university.’

“‘Oh, yes,’ said Buttrick. ‘Astronomy—I don’t like to get all caught up in the in’s and out’s and complexities of astronomy. Twinkle, twinkle little star, that’s my astronomy.’”

Worldview Made Easy

A launch into the study of worldview can often be overwhelming and complicated. Many works on the subject, from a Christian point of view, tend to focus on the particulars (things like the various individual religions, cults, new-age spiritualities etc); but in so doing, they miss the forest for the trees. Viz., They miss larger categories into which these individual expressions fall.  As a result, an enquiry into worldview quickly turns into a very complicated and detailed area of study; many (especially new Christians) will understandably give up before they have found what they were looking for.

This is a problem. Every Christian needs to try and get a good grasp on this subject. This is because an understanding of our own worldview (in relation to opposing worlviews) helps us to interpret everything around us. It helps us to come to terms with where we stand in relation to everything else (people, things, and ideas). Moreover, for the Christian who seeks to engage in meaningful evangelism, the enterprise is of critical importance. So, if you are one of the people that have tried to study this subject, and have felt that it has been too complicated for you, let me encourage you to keep on reading.

Michael Horton, in his “The Christian Faith: A Theology for Pilgrims on the Way”, (what a title for the two-age sojourner!) offers a very helpful approach to the subject in the opening section of his book. While it is not uncommon to find some sort of apologetic for the Christian worldview at the start of a systematic theology, Horton’s offering is particularly helpful. Also it makes the subject of worldview classification very accessible, memorable and manageable.

He shows that it is possible to understand any worldview in terms of one of three basic categories. Three big buckets; that’s all you need. The basic concept at the centre of each of these categories is the problem of ‘a stranger’. And the stranger, of course, is God.

If the central problem/concept is that God is stranger, then the central question is, “how should we respond to that problem?”. Here’s the rub: In every single worldview, there is essentially only 1 of 3 answers. If you can understand the answer/approach of that worldview, then you’ve essentially grasped the big idea behind that worldview.  And that is all there is to it. Beautifully simple.

If you are interested in exploring this further, look out for the next post where we’ll explore each one of these 3 answers/categories.  Or if you wanted to jump ahead and do that now, check out this episode of the podcast: https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-4qest-a063e2

The Creatio of the King

We read the famous words, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1:1). God’s immense sovereignty should be at the forefront of our minds. Arthur Pink says the following;

“In His sovereign majesty, God dwelt all alone. We refer to that far distant period before the heavens and the earth were created. There were then no angels to hymn God’s praises, no creatures to occupy His notice, no rebels to be brought to subjection…But even at that time, if time it could be called, God was sovereign. He might create or not create according to His own good pleasure. He might create this way or that way; He might create one world or one million worlds, and who was there to resist His will? …It was His sovereign right to create, on the one hand, the exalted seraphim to burn around his throne, and on the other hand, the tiny insect which dies the same hour that it is born. If the mighty God chose to have one vast gradation in His universe, from loftiest seraph to creeping reptile, from revolving worlds to floating atoms, from macrocosm to microcosm, instead of making everything uniform, who was there to question His sovereign pleasure? Behold then the exercise of divine sovereignty long before man ever saw the light.”

It is only with this properly in place, that we can start to process the account of creation. In fact, whenever we use the term ‘creation’, we typically use it to talk about something that we might have made (e.g., a painting, building, machinery etc). However, this is not the case when we refer to God’s creation. When speaking of God’s ‘creation’ in Genesis, we need to remember that none of it existed before! First, there was nothing – and then, there was… not a hand…or tools…but the royal decree of the King!

Any person who says something, causing it to ‘just happen’, gives the immediate impression of power and authority. When people obey a superior without any challenge, it shouts the concept of “sovereignty’. How much more when things that are not – are called into being by utterance – and made into the things that are! And what sort of analogy could we even use to describe the sovereignty of Him who not only created all things by His decree – but sustains every second of it, merely by His Word?

Behold the glory of our sovereign Lord – whom the authors of the NT identify as Jesus.

“He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Heb 1:3).

“He [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by[6] him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities–all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent”. (Col 1:15-18)

 

Can You Truly Tell Right from Wrong?

In reading again through Francis Schaeffer’s great book “The God Who Is There”, I’ve been struck afresh with this thought: 

Atheists have no true and consistent basis upon which to distinguish between right and wrong.  Though they might argue tooth-and-nail to the contrary,  the reality is that they cannot make truly reasonable decisions concerning that which is ethical or non-ethical. At best, a basis is found by mutual agreement for the betterment of society. But as soon as one society disagrees with another about what is ethical, an unavoidable contradiction emerges. Moreover, history has shown that a ‘survival of the species’ approach does not give society a sufficient base for determining that which is ethical and that which is not.

This in contrast to the reality of a theistic worldview: Ethics flow from the basis of God’s revealed law. God’s law, in turn flows from His unchanging, constituent being–the very bedrock of reality, truth and holiness.

Seeking God: A Quick Look at Paul’s Rhetoric to the Athenians.

Can we feel our way toward the unknown God? Paul’s rhetoric to the Athenians at Areopagus (Acts 17:15-34) is intriguing.

The logic of his argument is clear. During his time among the Athenians, he observed the many objects of their worship. The reality of the religious nature of the people was undeniable. And yet, along with the many objects of worship in the city, there was also an altar to ‘the unknown God’ (Acts 17:23).

This is where it gets interesting. Paul explained that this limit to their knowledge was by God’s own design. God had sovereignly placed them within the “boundaries of their dwelling place” so that “they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him” (Acts 17:27). What is interesting, then, is that the language that Paul uses here. It seems to convey that there is indeed some ability for men to feel their way toward God. But, is that really what he is saying?

Though the Athenians might well  “perhaps feel their way” (Acts 17:27, emphasis added), the point he is making is that that they would never actually be able to arrive at any degree of certainty (as attested by the ‘mystery’ alter), unless God came to them and further revealed himself. Paul’s words are not intended to theologise man’s ability to seek God. Quite the opposite. They are part of his rhetoric, powerfully highlighting the relevance of his message. God had indeed revealed himself in Jesus Christ, and had proven so by the reality of the resurrection. This was the very reason that his message had implications for all men (not Jews only). God now commanded “all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30).

The realities that are evidenced in the religious activity of the Athenians, serve as a microcosm for humanity at large. Certainly Paul believed that humanity does have an innate sense spirituality. And indeed this spirituality does allow him, in some way, to seek for God. This seeking, however, is part of man’s dilemma, not his hope.  He can seek only as a blind man seeks. He gropes in the darkness while looking for something that he cannot see, feel or touch. The reality of this kind of seeking does not show man’s ability to get to God, but rather his total dependence on God’s revelation in and through the Christ.

A Sacred Grip

In the last post I summarised a New Testament missional philosophy as ‘Closed-hand, Opened-hand, Go”. This is a truly important paradigm, and it presents many different facets of application. To begin with then, I’ll highlight one of these as it relates to the idea of ‘closed-hand’.

Remember that in talking about our ‘closed hand’ we are speaking about all things relating to the sphere of the sacred (and yes, contra to all that popular folk-theology out there, there is a very real distinction between sacred and secular in the Christian life). One of the main things in this ‘sacred’ hand, then, is our doctrine. We have an ironclad grip on our theology. No negotiating.

But just as surely, this means a willingness to swim against the stream. Missional philosophy these days will typically argue that in order to do mission well, we need to dumb everything down and restrict our theology to the basic essentials. If it’s not both absolutely vital and easy to understand at the same time, it has to go. Put another way, this approach asks the church to relax its ‘sacred’ grip, and like sand running through loosened fingers, let all the richness of biblical teaching fall to the earth. Only the pebbles remain, and even among these the sharp ones are jettisoned. This is the idea behind everything from liberalism to seeker-sensitivism: the sacred hand is opened for the sake of mission. But it never goes well.

Here then is a better way. Despite this constant pressure upon churches and ministers (the pressure of true wordiness), we must move in the opposite direction. Rather than open our ‘sacred’ hand, we close it — and tightly.  Moreover, we must work daily to strengthen this grip. We study our Bibles. We want more doctrine, not less. We want all of our theology, and we’ll even contend for it. We want the big, historic confessions–not the small, stupid DIY ones. We want deep Bible exposition on Sundays, not moralistic, therapeutic ‘Christian’ TED talks.  We want the whole Bible and all of its teaching, not a post-modern form of resurrected fundamentalism.