Some Philosophical Motivation for Bible Study

A while ago I was reading through Geisler and Feinberg’s ‘Introduction to Philosophy’.

At a certain point in the book they deal with the legitimacy inductive reasoning (viz., reasoning from the part to the whole, from the the particulars to the general). I began to think about the way that this relates to the study of Scripture.

Something that is vital in regards to the epistemology (theory of the way that we might arrive at truth /knowledge) of inductive argument is the following: an inductively reasoned conclusion can only be as sure as the percentage of particulars that have been examined in the reasoning process.

E.g., If only 90% of the facts of an investigation have been examined, then while the conclusion might indeed be 90% probable, it can in no way be seen as absolutely certain. Even further, if there are an unknown amount of particulars (as is often the case in many different investigations) this will obviously weaken the general conclusion even further.

As human beings we have severe limits to our knowledge. For this reason, not many things can be determined with absolute certainty. That said, inductive reasoning yet remains an incredibly helpful tool. This so, precisely due to the sense of accurate probability it can yield. Indeed, for this reason, inductively argued probabilities form the major part of most modern scientific reasoning. [Side note: contrary to popular belief, scientific conclusions are not absolute, unless ALL the particulars can be / have been examined].

Now, with that in mind, consider the wonder of God’s plan in revealing Himself (the infinite God / a God of infinite particulars) in and through the Logos (Jesus Christ – a finite man) definitively spoken of and pointed to in the logos (Scripture). Of course, the implications of this are profound in many different ways. One point, however, is the way that this relates to the study of Scripture itself.

Think about it: when we talk about an inductive method of Bible study, we are really talking about knowing the otherwise unknowable! That is to say, we can come to dogmatic absolutes about the truth of God, because God Himself has divinely and perfectly revealed everything that we need to know, in order for us to truly know Him!

In many ways, this makes the Bible one of the principle objects of pure scientific study. The canon is closed. In a sense, then, all the particulars can be found. This is why we have ‘dogmatics’ in theology. Systematic theology is essentially the process of coming to an understanding of the major doctrines of the Bible through the means of inductive reasoning. Also, because of the analogy of Scripture (i.e., the bible’s unified inspiration and non-contradictory nature) any sound exegetical conclusion one part is authoritative at every part. I.e., An inductive study of any a single book, chapter, or verse essentially reveals a total truth; a truth that can stand in light of the whole.

Amazing, right? What a worthy academic discipline to give our lives to!

Fantasy and Fairy Stories

If you’re interested in reading some more regarding some of the recent podcast discussions on fantasy, check out Tolkien’s paper here:

http://brainstorm-services.com/wcu-2004/fairystories-tolkien.pdf

These are the two relevant podcasts:

Tolkien, Fantasy, and Fairy Stories

 

Cheap Brandy and High Fantasy

 

Also, be sure to check out the fantasy section of our growing bookstore (affiliate links to Amazon) here: https://twoagesojourner.com/category/recommended-books/fantasy/

Library_A-512

 

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

Ontology and the Importance of Philosophy

Ontology is an area in the study if theology that has a profound overlap with the study of philosophy. At the end of the day, however, it is a philosophical category. In this regard, it forms a case-study in showing the importance of the study of philosophy, along with theology, and to give careful consideration to the importance of philosophical thinking throughout the ages.

Ontology is the study of reality; the study of being. It seeks to answer some of the most important questions that we could ever ask: “What is reality? What is being?”. Without question, these are deeply intimidating ideas. Also, they might seem too high and lofty for our average down-to-earth lives. However, if we fail to wrestle with these ideas, at least at a basic level, it will harm our ability to have a cohesive worldview, not to mention a strong starting point for our understanding of God and theology.

One of my favourite books on Systematic Theology is written by Michael Horton, called “The Christian Faith” (he also wrote an excellent layman’s version called “Pilgrim Theology”). One of the reasons that it is among my favourite presentations of Christian doctrine is because of the way that he starts. He acknowledges the need to begin with ontology, and from that starting point, to build toward an epistemology (study/theory of knowing). We must start with the big questions: How do we understand God’s being? How do we understand our own being?

Think about the way that we sometimes browse backwards through photos on Facebook or Instagram; good memories from years ago. Aside appreciating the occasion itself, one of the things that often happens is that we notice how much we, or another person in the photograph has changed. And this is indeed, true. We have changed. The reality is that not only are we older than before, but we are not the same person that we were. This is true for everyone, all the time. This is in fact a profound ontological reality.

You never simply ‘are’. You are always ‘becoming’. Only God ‘is’. Indeed, this is nothing less than the ontological essence of his ‘God-ness’. To ‘be’, is to be God. While everything else is growing and changing and learning, God simply ‘is’. He was never ‘not’. He never learns anything new. He always has perfect knowledge. What a mind-blowing reality!

But it is not only theologians and philosophers that think these sorts of thoughts. It’s one of the first things that the most profound of philosophers — little children — ask their parents not very long after they enter into a state of consciousness. We all remember experiencing these questions ourselves; “Mommy, who made God?” The answer is that no one made God. God is uncreated. God ‘is’. He exists in a pure state of being. And unlike God, everyone and everything else is in a state of becoming.

In this we see a good example of the importance of the study of ontology, both in terms of philosophical and theological categories. A right understanding of ontology, or the nature of reality presents a wide-lense starting point for any truly Christian theology: a distinction of creator and creature. It’s not difficult to see that if this is not properly in place, and properly thought through, we will quickly go off course.

Imagine if we failed to define the God-ness of God in this way? We might be lead to think that God is growing or changing in the same way that we are, such as is often presented by teachers of open-willed theism. On the other hand you might be led to believe that man, given long enough, could himself become like God. These are dangerous ideas. And it is only through a study of this philosophical category that we will come to see the ways that these ideas not only misrepresent the Scripture, but also the very nature of reality itself.

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.