Posts Tagged ‘faith’

Book Plunge: The Passionate Intellect

December 2, 2014

What do I think of Alister McGrath’s book? Let’s dive into the Deeper Waters and find out.

The Passionate Intellect

First, my thanks to IVP for sending me a copy for review purposes of this book. IVP I have found to be an excellent publishing company and their books consistently meet a high standard of excellence.

The Passionate Intellect is a look at the life of the mind from the viewpoint of Alister McGrath, himself a former atheist heavily interested in the sciences who became a theologian after his conversion to Christianity.

In some ways, I got a lot of good out of the book, but I’m not sure it was the good I was wanting to get. I would describe myself as one who has a passionate intellect. My wife would be more likely to connect to God through art and music and things of that sort. For me, I connect more through apologetics and through study of the historical Jesus.

Something I had been hoping for was a look at how exactly study was to be done with a passionate intellect. What do you do if you do not connect the most through music? After all, for me, one time I like to hear in a church service is “You may be seated.” I want to jump right into the study of Scripture and see what it has to say. This is not intended to disrespect the band at our church. They do a great job much of the time, but I can only stand and hear the songs for so long.

McGrath doesn’t do that as I would have liked. Still, he does bring out the importance of theology. Theology should definitely inform our worship and then in turn our worship will inform our theology. Too often we have worship going on in the church that has no real content to it and ends up focusing on us and our emotional experiences.

McGrath recommends studying the minds of the past and seeing how they deal with different circumstances, such as the problem of suffering. Here we see a contrast between Martin Luther and C.S. Lewis. What would these two have thought of each other? Could it be that we can have an idea of what the solution is to suffering but then we suddenly see how difficult it is when the real suffering takes place?

The second part of the book does focus largely on apologetics. Those who are interested in the question of the relationship between science and religion will always find something interesting to read in McGrath. You will find discussions on Darwin as well as looking at what has happened when atheism comes to power. McGrath even has a little bit on suicide bombers and asking if they’re primarily religious or if they instead happen to be more political.

So in conclusion, while I did not get what I was necessarily wanting, I did get something that was helpful and I do agree with McGrath that we need some passionate intellects in the church. Those who would see themselves as having a passionate intellect are encouraged to get this book and see if it helps them on their Christian journey.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Advertisements

Book Plunge: Why Church History Matters

September 29, 2014

What do I think of Robert Rea’s book? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Let’s be blunt. For many of us, history isn’t always the most exciting topic, which is quite really a shame since it impacts our lives so much. If we’re Christians, we love the Bible and we think it’s important to know what happened in it, but aside from perhaps something like the Reformation, many of us don’t know what happened in church history. Go to your average church and ask the people who know their Bibles well to name a single early church father. Most likely, you’ll get blank stares and some might say “Martin Luther? John Calvin? John Wesley?”

It’s a shame that those of us who have such a great love of Scripture so often do not bother to understand how our own history that went before us turned out. We act as if Jesus came and then perhaps something like the Reformation happened and lo and behold, we are here now and now we must live our lives.

Part of this is the individualism in our culture that places each of us in our own little vacuum of existence where what went before us doesn’t matter and what’s happening outside of us doesn’t really matter. It is our personal universe that is of the supreme importance. What difference can the Donatist controversy make? How can I be repeating the errors of the Gnostics today, whoever they were? Why should I care about those old arguments Thomas Aquinas put forward for God? Do I really need to care about how John Chrysostom interpreted Scripture?

Rea tells us that in fact church history does matter and if we are students of Scripture, we should be students of that history. We should be learning about the great men and women who came before us and realize that the lessons we learn from them in the past can be highly influential in our day and age and keep us from repeating their errors and help us to repeat their successes.

C.S. Lewis years ago gave the advice to read old books because when you do, you read another time and place that critiques yours and can see blind spots in your position that you do not see because of the unspoken assumptions you accept in your culture. Meanwhile, you too can see blind spots in the work that you are reading that they would miss for the same reasons.

In fact, the author suggests we read outside of the circle of our own faith tradition, our own time, our own location, and our own culture. In doing so, we will interact with areas we would never have considered before. If we are wrong, we can correct our view. If we are right, we are still the better for getting to see why others think differently.

The first part of the book is about tradition. How is it understood? The reality is Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox (By orthodox, unless stated other wise, I mean branches of the church such as Eastern Orthodox) all place some value on tradition. Some place it on the same level as Scripture. Some don’t, but they see it as important to consider and insofar as it agrees with the Scripture, should be accepted. Bible-Focused Christians, as Rea prefers to call them regardless of where they land on the church spectrum, would all tend to accept statements like the Nicene Creed for instance.

Regardless of your position, tradition should not be ignored. Even if you think it is wrong in a certain place, it is helpful to learn how it is that that tradition came about, why it was held to in its day, and what the reasons were for believing in it. It would not be as if people just woke up one day and said “Hey! Let’s believe in the perpetual virginity of Mary!” There would be reasons for holding to it, rightly or wrongly, and a context that it was discussed in.

This part also includes a little bit about church history and how we got to where we are. As stated earlier, too many of us really have no idea even though we claim to be Bible-focused. This is interesting in an age where many of us like sites like ancestry.com where we want to see where our families came from, and there is no wrong in doing so of course, but our very Christian faith does not get the same treatment.

The second part is about the way we interact with the past. Can you form friendships as it were with those who went before. I am thinking of a debate I had with an atheist not too long ago where I stated that we do have the works that we can read by the past and we should critique them today and learn from them today. We can interact with the philosophers and others who went before us rather than leave reality up to only people today who happen to get a voice just because they’re conveniently alive at the time. There is a well of wisdom before us and we need to drink from it.

This includes finding mentors and accountability partners. No. You can’t communicate with them the same way you would with a friend, but you can still learn from them and let their lives be a blessing to you. I think of Aquinas for instance whose arguments I use today. When properly understood, they are incredibly powerful in our day and age. Too often, we have dismissed ideas just because they are old. Some ideas will stand the test of time and we will find we have just reinvented the wheel when we are done if we ignore them.

Finally, we have a section on how this affects us today. Can we bring the past into the present? What this deals with is how to interpret Scripture, such as by learning from the methodologies used in the past to interpret Scripture, and also how learning history affects our practices of worship and compassion and missionary service.

I will say I was a bit disappointed that despite being academic, when it came to this last section, nothing was really said about apologetic approaches. It would have been good to see how those of us who are in the apologetics ministry could look to the past for valuable mentors and friends in the field. Other important areas were mentioned, but this one was left out. I hope a future edition will include that as well as we can learn from great defenders of the faith in the past such as Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas.

Still, this is a recommended read and got me thinking about the importance more of learning from the past and learning how to interpret Scripture as they did. You won’t find out much about church history per se, but you will find out much about why you should find out about it.

In Christ,

Nick Peters

Faith Is Not A Virtue

July 2, 2014

Does it really help you out if you are said to believe something? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

So many times in church services I often hear that the point of Jesus doing such and such or God telling us such and such is that we will have faith. In one sense, this is true and noble, but in the sense that I suspect most people use this term, I do not think that it is noble at all. Most people think of faith as just believing in something. As I have argued, faith is really more akin to an active trust in someone.

Imagine a person who said they believed entirely that travel by airplane was safe, yet when it came a time that this person needed to make a long trip, he refused to act on that and instead chose to drive or take some other means of transportation. Picture someone who said he believed that his doctor was right on what was necessary for his health, but at the same time refused to ever act on the advice of the doctor. Would we count any of those as good positions to have?

In the same way, let’s suppose that you believe God exists. Let’s suppose you believe the Bible is the Word of God. Let’s suppose you believe Jesus has all the attributes of God. Let’s suppose that you believe Jesus rose from the dead. Does that count anything to your credit?

Nope.

It doesn’t? Look at what James tells you! James tells us that the demons believe that there is one God, and they tremble! The sad reality is that many who claim to be Christians do less about the reality of God than the demons do. Isn’t it a shame that according to Scripture, demons take the reality of God more seriously than Christians do?

Of course, all Christians should believe those truths, but that does not mean that believing those truths alone will make a difference. What good will it do you to believe in a truth that you will not act on? If anything, your situation is made worse by your believing those claims. After all, what benefit does it do you to believe in a truth and then act as if that is not really true or that it does not matter. You believe that Jesus is the resurrected Lord? Okay. What good does that do if you don’t live like He’s the resurrected Lord?

When faith is seen as trust, then we are getting to what it is that we need. When Christians start not just saying that they believe something but start living like they believe something, then the differences that need to take place will occur. You believe Jesus is Lord? Then live like you’re supposed to spread the Kingdom? You believe God is the one who you should seek to know the most? Then actually consider learning more about him than your favorite TV show or sports team. You think the Bible is the greatest book of all? Then do yourself a favor and actually study it and treat it like a a piece of literature instead of treating it simplistically.

If you can get someone to believe something, then that is good. Life does not stop with just belief though. We must get people to learn to act according to belief and learn all the ramifications of what it is that they believe and what difference it makes. When belief itself is treated as a virtue, people are tempted to stop right there. Belief is not a virtue. Living in active trust, true faith, is.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 6/14/2014: How Do We Know?

June 12, 2014

What’s coming up when I record the Deeper Waters Podcast this Saturday? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

For those wondering when the episodes will be up soon for your listening pleasure, we are working on that. I will be meeting a techie friend of mine tonight who is going to show Allie and I everything that we need to know to get them online. We are working to do all that we can, but we would appreciate any support from those of you who do like the podcast and want it to keep going.

But for now, let’s move on to this Saturday’s show. What are we talking about?

Epistemology.

Dang. That sounds exciting. Some of you might be wondering what that is.

Epistemology is the study of knowledge. What is knowledge and how do we know anything at all? In fact, the book we’ll be looking at is by two Christian authors named James K. Dew Jr. and Mark W. Foreman. The book is “How Do We Know?” It is an introduction to epistemology.

So who are these guys?

Let’s start with James Dew since he’s listed first on the book.

“Dr. Jamie Dew grew up in Statesville, NC but moved to Raleigh, NC in 1994. Through the witness of some of his friends, he came to Christ when he was 18 years old and surrendered to vocational ministry shortly thereafter. He earned a B.S. in Biblical Studies from Toccoa Falls College in Toccoa, GA in 2000 and then moved to Wake Forest, NC to work on his graduate degrees. He earned his PhD in Theological Studies from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2008, and is working on a second PhD in Philosophy from the University of Birmingham in England. He is the author of Science and Theology: An Assessment of Alister McGrath’s Critical Realist Perspective (Wipf & Stock, 2010), co-author of How Do We Know?: A Short Introduction to the Issues of Knowledge (IVP, 2013), and co-editor of God and Evil: The Case for God in a World Filled with Pain (IVP, 2013). Dr. Dew pastored in NC for 10 years, and also served in various churches as a Youth Pastor and Minister to Adults. Now, Dr. Dew is the Vice President for Undergraduate Studies and Academic Support and is the Dean of the College at Southeastern. He has been married for 13 years to his wife Tara and they have two sets of twins: Natalie & Nathan (6) and Samantha & Samuel (3).”

Dew_2

And who is Mark Foreman?

“Mark W. Foreman is professor of philosophy and religion at Liberty
University where he has taught philosophy, apologetics, and bioethics for 25 years. He has an MABS from Dallas Theological Seminary and an MA and Ph.D. from the University of Virginia. He is the author of Christianity and Bioethics (College Press, 1999, [reprint Wipf and Stock, 2011] ), Prelude to Philosophy: An Introduction for Christians (InterVarsity Press, 2014), How Do We Know: An Introduction to Epistemology (with James K. Dew,Jr., InterVarsity Press, 2014) and articles in the Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization (Wiley-Blackwell, 2012), Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics (Harvest House, 2008) as well as chapters in Come Let us Reason: New Essay in Christian Apologetics (B&H, 2012) Steven Spielberg and Philosophy (with David Baggett, University of Kentucky Press, 2008) and Tennis and Philosophy (University of Kentucky Press, 2010). Mark has been a member of Evangelical Philosophical Society for over 20 years and is currently serving as vice-president of the society. His specializations are Christian apologetics, biomedical ethics and ethics.”

Foreman

Please be looking for this broadcast as we discuss their books and questions related to it such as “Is faith an epistemology” as Peter Boghossian claims, and “Is science the only way or the highest way of knowing?” as many internet atheists claim.

I hope to have everything up shortly. Be watching!

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Tim McGrew vs. Peter Boghossian

May 26, 2014

What did I think of the debate on Unbelievable? Let’s talk about it on the Deeper Waters Podcast.

Recently on the Unbelievable podcast hosted by Justin Brierley, there was a debate between Tim McGrew and Peter Boghossian. The subject was Boghossian’s book “A Manual For Creating Atheists” which I have reviewed here. It was my high hopes that Tim McGrew, a real professor of epistemology, would be the one to expose Boghossian before a listening world.

Request granted.

Boghossian could not reply to a single source that Tim McGrew had on the meaning of faith. Boghossian defined it as “belief without evidence” or “pretending to know things you don’t know.” McGrew defined it as “trust in evidence.” All Boghossian was able to use was his “personal experience” of talking to Christians. McGrew said his experience was different. Now of course, when two people get together who have different personal experiences, then they need to look for something outside of their personal experience. McGrew went to the Oxford English Dictionary and how it shows that faith is best to be understood as trust. Boghossian could not counter this nor did he ever even attempt to. For Boghossian, he was just repeating the same refrain again and again about what he encountered.

Now I don’t doubt that there are many Christians who have a false view of faith, but is that really the way to say you’re going to go around creating atheists? Boghossian says atheism is a result of critical thinking. Of course, if atheism is true, critical thinkers should be atheists, but that is the very premise in question. Is atheism true and you don’t say “I’m an atheist, therefore I’m a critical thinker” or “X is a Christian, therefore X isn’t practicing critical thinking” nor could the reverse apply.

McGrew points out at the end that he could not define atheists as people who are ignorant about reality because they deny God exists. Now of course, if God does exist, then atheists are ignorant about reality, but that would be a terrible way to define an atheist before the debate even gets started and every atheist should rightly call McGrew on that if he does that, as McGrew himself agreed.

Boghossian also asked McGrew if he had read the Koran which no doubt gave the shocking reply of “Yes.” He went on to name other holy books that he has read. I am quite confident in my position that McGrew has read far more scholarly works that he disagrees with than Boghossian has.

Boghossian also wanted to know if the Muslims believe without evidence that Muhammad flew on a horse. McGrew rightly answered that they do not. They point to what they think is the beauty and elegance of the Koran and conclude it is a divine work and then trust it. Is that conclusion right? Of course, McGrew and Boghossian and myself don’t think so, but that does not mean that Muslims lack a reason or what they think is evidence for their claims.

This is an important distinction McGrew kept coming back to. What matters most is what one counts as evidence and what is considered reliable. One could even agree with the conclusion and disagree with the evidence presented. Suppose I meet someone who is a Christian and says they are because the Holy Spirit just told them that Jesus rose from the dead. I would really want them to have something more than that, but I cannot deny that they have reached the right conclusion.

Boghossian wanted to know about the difference between faith and hope. McGrew pointed out that faith is when you’re willing to act in a way where you’re venturing something. You can’t absolutely 100% prove something but you’re going by evidence. This is a mistake I think Boghossian doesn’t realize. He had said you needed to examine every religious worldview before you could choose one. No. You just need sufficient evidence to choose one.

For instance, if that is the case, Boghossian no doubt considers himself a macroevolutionist, yet he has said he is not an evolutionary biologist. Before siding on his worldview, is he going to go out and examine every claim of say, young-earth creationism, before he’s willing to sign on the line of evolutionary biologist? He has said he is now studying the Koran. Does that mean he chose a position on God, namely that He does not exist, before studying all the evidence?

If the only way we can reach any decision is by studying all the evidence, no one will ever conclude anything. There are always books that are going to be unread. There will be arguments unheard and in fact, arguments unanswered. What one has to say is “On the whole, which explanation best explains all the evidence.”

To get back to faith and hope again, McGrew used the illustration of sky diving with the statistic that over 99% of people who jump out of a plane while skydiving land safely. The person who jumps is still venturing something. He needs more than just “I hope my instructor packed the parachute properly.” He needs to have good reason to think it was done that way. Then he acts and that act is referred to as faith. Boghossian is right one point. Faith is not an epistemology. He’s wrong on the point that he always treats it that way and unfortunately, his whole book is built on this false premise.

Also noteworthy is Boghossian’s view on how people of faith should be treated. Faith for Boghossian should be classified as a mental disorder and a virus of the mind and the person who is trying to reason someone out of their worldview is doing an intervention. It is hard to see how Boghossian is not just outright dehumanizing his opponents. For all the talk Boghossian has about practicing doxastic openness, it looks like he needs to learn some.

This means Boghossian is a bully and in fact, one of the worst kinds of bullies. He thinks those of us who are Christians are wrong. Okay. I get that. That is not being a bully. I have several friends who think the same way. What’s next is that he thinks that we automatically have a mental illness. This is when we start getting into bigotry. If that was where it stayed, that would be bad enough, but it is not. In his own book he says to treat faith as a public health crisis. He says that there are things we cannot do obviously due to freedoms we have here, like the freedom of speech, but it is scary to think about what Boghossian would do if he had power in a country like a Muslim country or in a place like Russia where those little restrictions didn’t get in the way.

Even worse is that Boghossian is not basing this on evidence. If his interventionist strategy works so well, why did it not work here? The simple reason is Boghossian is just highly uninformed and has unfortunately convinced himself that he is right. He is engaging in what I call atheistic presuppositionalism.

This is the idea that right at the start, he is right and a critical thinker by virtue of being an atheist. If anyone else disagrees, they are obviously not engaging in critical thinking and there must be some reason why they don’t see the light. Perhaps they are “Suppressing the truth in faithfulness” or “Their eyes are blinded by a bias they do not see and they need the scales removed from their eyes.” Either way, Boghossian knows he cannot be wrong because of his personal experience with walking his life of atheism for years and because of the inner testimony of his “voice of reason.”

In fact, it’s the same for some of Boghossian’s biggest fans who just can’t bring themselves to admit that Boghossian got, as one skeptic put it, his chickens slaughtered by McGrew. A sad example of such a fan who cannot seem to accept this reality can be seen here and you can see my comments to him on the blog.

Boghossian has strangely enough said he’s interested in a round two. We would like to see it, but it is certainly clear that Boghossian is going to have to improve his game dramatically before he steps into the ring again with McGrew. Perhaps it would help if Boghossian practiced more doxastic openness and avoided his idea of “Avoid facts.” For now, all he has his personal testimony while McGrew and those like him have data from scholarly sources. Therefore, by Boghossian’s own standards, Boghossian should be sitting at the kid’s table until he can bring forward some facts.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

On Interacting With Street Epistemologists

March 26, 2014

What’s been my experience so far interacting with Street Epistemologists? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

I was asked by an apologetics group I belong to to describe what has been my experience thus far dealing with street epistemologists. You see, I was thrilled when I heard Peter Boghossian, author of “A Manual For Creating Atheists” (which I have reviewed here and interviewed Tom Gilson on here) had decided to come out with a show called the Reason Whisperer where he plans to have live conversations with people of “faith” and get them closer at least to deconversion.

I think this is a Godsend really.

I’ve long been waiting to see if there is something that will wake up the church from its intellectual slumbers and this I hope is it! We’ve had more than enough warnings and yet too many Christians are too caught up in themselves to realize they’re to do the Great Commission.

So I wanted to see what these street epistemologists were made of. Myself and some others with the same interest went to the Facebook page of Peter Boghossian. There we began asking questions and challenging what was said. It’s noteworthy that Boghossian himself never responded to us.

In fact, one post at least was a practical dare on Boghossian’s part when he linked to Misquoting Jesus by Bart Ehrman and said the apologists won’t post on this one. He sure was wrong! More of us posted than ever before!

I’d like to report on how that has kept going and that Boghossian is being answered every day, but alas, I cannot.

Why? Because he banned us all.

Keep in mind, this is the same one who sees a great virtue in “doxastic openness.”

What I did find from the interactions I had is that street epistemologists are woefully unequipped. They read only that which agrees with them. They will buy into any idea if it goes against Christianity. The Earth was believed to be flat? Sure! I’ll believe that! Jesus never existed? Sure! I’ll believe that! Not having the originals of an ancient document is a problem? Sure! I’ll believe that! I still think about the person who recommended I read “The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross”, a book so bad that even the publisher apologized for it.

For street epistemologists also, science is the highest way of knowing anything. Now this is something understandable. If matter is all there is, then the best way to understand the world is to use a process that studies matter specifically. The problem is science can never determine that matter is all that there is any more than it could have determined that all swans were white. Science is an inductive process and while one can be certain of many of the claims, one cannot say they have 100% certainty.

Edward Feser has compared the use of science to a metal detector at the beach. Let’s suppose I was looking for a treasure map I’d heard had been buried at the beach. I go all over the local beach with a metal detector and say “Well I guess the map isn’t here. The detector never pointed it out.” Sure. I found several other objects that had some metal in them, but I never found the treasure map.

You would rightly think this is bizarre. After all, a map is made of paper and while a metal detector does a great job of picking up objects that are metal, it simply will not work with paper. This is not because a metal detector is a terrible product. It is because it is not the right tool for the job.

So it is that in order to determine if matter is all that there is or if there is a God, science is not the tool for the job. Now some might think science can give us some data that we can use, but it cannot be the final arbiter.

Yet for street epistemologists, it seems enough to just say “Science!” and that rules out everything else that’s religious. This would be news to many scientists who are devout Christians and see no disconnect between science and their worldview.

Yet here, the street epistemologists once again have an out. It is why I in fact call them atheistic presuppositionalists. They will simply say that these people are experiencing a kind of cognitive dissonance. They are compartmentalizing themselves and not seeing that their worldviews contradict.

This would be news to someone like Alister McGrath, Francis Collins, or John Polkinghorne.

As I said, these only read what agrees with them. They will read Bart Ehrman on the Bible, but they will not read Metzger or Wallace in response. They will read Boghossian and follow him entirely, but they will not bother to read his critics. They will read about how people in the Middle Ages thought the Earth was flat, but they will not read James Hannam’s book on the matter, see Thomas Madden’s scholarship there, or even read the atheist Tim O’Neill who disagrees with them.

Street epistemologists will also go with extreme positions. They will tout on and on about how Jesus never existed and only say “Richard Carrier” or “Robert Price” in response. They will not acknowledge that the majority of scholarship, even scholarship that ideologically disagrees with Christianity, says it’s certain that Jesus existed. They do not realize that biblical scholarship is an open field where anyone of any worldview can join and writings go through peer-review.

Interestingly, these same people will go after Christians for not believing in evolution because, wait for it, there’s a consensus that this happened! The consensus of scientists is to be trusted. The consensus of scholars in the NT and ancient history is not to be trusted!

Also, if you do not hold to their view, well you are obviously emotional in nature in some way since you only believe because you want to believe and because of how you feel. It never occurs to some people that there could be intellectual reasons. In fact, it follows the pattern that if they don’t think the reasoning is intelligent, then it is just emotional.

It’s in fact a direct contrast to what is often said in many religious circles. “Well you’re just living in sin and are blinded to the truth.” Now I don’t doubt for some atheists, they don’t want to give up an immoral lifestyle. Also, I don’t doubt that for too many Christians, their only basis for being a Christian is how they feel and an emotional experience. Both of these groups have reached their conclusions for the wrong reasons.

Yet psychoanalyzing is seen as an argument to street epistemologists. If they can say you just believe for emotional reasons, then they can dismiss what you say. Note that it is dismissal. It is not a response.

I consider this a form I see of what I call atheistic hubris. Note please as well that this does not mean all atheists are this way. It just means that there’s a sizable portion of what I call “internet atheists” that are this way. The idea is that if someone is an atheist, then they are rational and intelligent. Therefore, all their thinking is rational and intelligent and all their conclusions are rational and intelligent.

The reality is we must all be constantly watching ourselves and one of the best ways to do this is to read our critics. Our critics will show us our blind spots and if we are wrong, we are to change our minds accordingly with the evidence.

An excellent example of something Boghossian and others constantly get wrong is faith. Boghossian says it is believing without evidence or pretending to know something that you do not know. Now in a modern vocabulary, I don’t doubt this. Too many Christians use faith this way and treat this kind of faith as if it is a virtue. It isn’t.

The question is, when the Bible uses the word faith, does it mean this? The answer is no.

In all of the writings I’ve read by the new atheists speaking this way about faith, not one of them has ever consulted a Greek or NT Lexicon in order to make their case. They have just said that this is what the word means. Oh they’ll sometimes quote Hebrews 11:1, but a text without a context is a pretext for a prooftext. I have also given my own exegesis of what the passage means here.

Also, I do have another great source on what faith is.

Faith/Faithfulness

“These terms refer to the value of reliability. The value is ascribed to persons as well as to objects and qualities. Relative to persons, faith is reliability in interpersonal relations: it thus takes on the value of enduring personal loyalty, of personal faithfulness. The nouns ‘faith’, ‘belief’, ‘fidelity’, ‘faithfulness,’ as well as the verbs ‘to have faith’ and ‘to believe,’ refers to the social glue that binds one person to another. This bond is the social, externally manifested, emotionally rooted behavior of loyalty, commitment, and solidarity. As a social bond, it works with the value of (personal and group) attachment (translated ‘love’) and the value of (personal and group) allegiance or trust (translated ‘hope.’) p. 72 Pilch and Malina Handbook of Biblical Social Values.”

As it stands, the most I get told to this is that it is an appeal to authority, which indicates that street epistemologists don’t even understand the appeal to authority. Strange for people who claim to champion logic.

Sadly, they’re just following in the footsteps of Boghossian himself. Boghossian’s techniques will not work for any Christian who is moderately prepared to defend his worldview. It’s a shame that he who teaches so much about doxastic openness is so often incapable of doing what he teaches.

I conclude that if this is what we can expect from street epistemologists, then we really have nothing to be concerned about with them. Street epistemologists are just as unthinkingly repeating what their pastor, in this case Boghossian, says to them, as the fundamentalist Christians that they condemn. They are really two sides of the same coin.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: How Do We Know

March 7, 2014

What do I think of Foreman and Dew’s book on epistemology? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Foreman and Dew have written this in order to explain epistemology to people who have never really considered it and in our day and age, it’s more necessary than ever. After all, you have people like Peter Boghossian out there wanting to train up “street epistemologists” to deconvert Christians from their faith. In addition to that, there is a rampant scientism in our society that says science is the way to know the truth. If what you say is not scientific, then it is not a fact.

So how is it that we do know anything at all and what is knowledge? Naturally, you won’t find a comprehensive refutation of positions in this work. Instead, it’s more to get you thinking about what the different positions are. The authors themselves do not come down on either side in the debate. After reading it, I cannot tell you what position either one of them holds.

The authors also go through the classical problems in studies of epistemology. One such example that will be well-known to students of philosophy is the Gettier Problem. (To which, I remember when this was discussed in my epistemology class one of my classmates immediately asked the professor about Gettier. His question? “Did he get tenure?” Yes. He definitely did get tenure after that.)

Gettier’s problem was to show that you could have a belief that was justified and that was true, but even then that might not be enough to say that you had knowledge. This is problematic since the prior definition of knowledge has been justified true belief, which means that now philosophers are looking to see if a fourth item might need to be added to the list.

Those dealing with new atheist types will be pleased to see the authors make a statement about faith and how faith is not a way of knowing but is rather a response of trust to what one is shown to be true. Of course, we seriously doubt that Peter Boghossian and others like him will pay any attention to anything that goes against their beliefs.

Along those lines, there is also a section on whether one can know through divine revelation which includes a short apologetic for Christianity. The authors are both Christians and do hold that divine revelation can be a valid way to possess knowledge.

If there’s a concern I have with the book, I would have liked to have seen more interaction with the medieval period. Too often we talk about Plato and Aristotle and then jump ahead to Descartes. A few times Aquinas is cited but not often. I do not remember Augustine being cited but that could have been something I overlooked. There were plenty of great thinkers as well in the medieval period and it does help to see how we got from the ancient to the modern era.

Despite this one misgiving, I find that this book will be an excellent start for those wanting to learn about epistemology. You won’t walk away with a firm conclusion most likely, but you will walk away hopefully knowing that you need to look.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Hidden Treasures In The Book of Job

February 21, 2014

What do I think of Hugh Ross’s book on Job? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

hiddentreasures

In Hidden Treasures in the Book of Job, Hugh Ross, astronomer as well as president and founder of Christian science and faith ministry Reasons To Believe, takes on a journey through the book of Job looking at it through the eyes of a scientist.

As I started going through the book, I think Ross could say the first lesson to learn is “Don’t write a book about Job.” Why? Because shortly after he started, he tells about great tragedies that came in his life, such as the loss of his father and of his wife’s father. Now of course, I don’t think the writing on Job causes that, but I do think that writing about Job can make you more in tune to the suffering in the world.

Ross starts off with talking about the history of the book and much of this I found interesting. For instance, I had not considered how far Job’s friends traveled to see him. The image showing this was quite revealing. I also do agree that Job is the oldest book in the Bible and so I started wondering about how it would be that if Moses had a copy of Job that it influenced his writing. I cannot say for certain if I think it did or not, but I do think that this is something that is worth research by leading scholars of the OT if it has not been done already.

Also a fascinating question if this is the case would be to ask how Moses got this information. Could it be that it came from Abraham since Abraham came from near the area of Job? Could it be then that Abraham might have had some knowledge through knowing Job or his story? These are questions worth considering.

Unfortunately, on the science aspect of the book, I really can’t comment. I make it a point to not comment on science as science. If something is a good argument against evolutionary theory, I could not show it and therefore make it a point to not comment.

I also found the chapters on animals to be fascinating. I cannot say that I think there is a message specifically in the animals named or if they’re general examples used for various purposes. That would have been good to see. We are told in the book about how these animals could be used for our good, but I do not recall seeing the lessons that we were to learn from them that would have been more readily apparent to the people back then.

I also found the section on what the great animals were described in Job that many people think are dinosaurs. In these areas, I did find that Ross’s explanations were convincing.

Naturally, when it came to some ideas, I was more skeptical. When it came to places where eschatology is commented on, I did not find those persuasive seeing as Ross interprets such passages in a much more literalistic sense than I do. (Something that he has said in one of his books surprises many people)

The last chapters are about the problem of suffering and evil and here I think Ross definitely writes with a pastor’s heart. There is not much in these chapters that was really scientific, but it is more written I think with the purpose of helping people who are undergoing suffering.

Some other reviews I have found elsewhere by skeptics note that they do not find much convincing them there is a God. I think Ross writes some books for that purpose, but I do not think this is one of them. I think instead this was written more to inform Christians on the book of Job from Ross’s perspective. There are some arguments that deal with scientific matters and I’m sure they’re worth investigating if they haven’t been already.

I cannot say at this point I agree with all of Ross’s readings, but I will say there is still material in here to spark conversation. I made sure to share many of the statements about animals with my wife who happens to be an animal lover. It gave us a delightful conversation together.

Still, if someone is interested in the book of Job, there is a unique view here you probably will not find elsewhere so by all means, see what you think.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Faith Like Paul

November 11, 2013

What does it take to live like the apostle Paul? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Yesterday, I heard somewhere someone saying about how great it would be to live like Paul. Paul certainly had a great faith and it really transformed his life. He wrote about joy from a prison cell and he dealt with persecution all his life, until in the end he was beheaded for his faith in Christ.

Now I do want to say that when I speak about faith like Paul, I mean faith in what I take to be the biblical sense. Faith is one of the most misused words today. I have written about a true understanding of faith here. Faith biblically is trust in that which has been shown to be reliable. It does not mean belief in the absence of evidence. It’s quite the opposite in fact. It requires evidence.

It’s important to realize Paul is not traveling around the Roman Empire based on what he thinks is a subjective experience or a hope he wants to see fulfilled alone (Though he has had an experience and he does have hope for the future because of Christ), but it is rather because he is because he has seen something in the world outside of his mind that he thinks changes everything about reality.

Years ago, there was a cartoon I watched and one clip advertising said something like “I watched the TV shows. I used to play the card game. Then I found out, this is real.” Imagine what it would mean if the plot of a favorite cartoon of yours was real. How would it change your life? Imagine if you found out that just one fairy tale or Disney movie was a real historical event. What would it change for you? Would you ever see the world the same way again?

Now for Paul, Paul has been a good Jew all his life and has grown up hearing about the hope of Israel, the Messiah, and as a good Pharisee, he has also believed in the resurrection. He has been holding to the Torah all his life. The Law of God is sacred writ for him. He treasures it. He reads it daresay I far more than we’ve ever read our NT. We would not be surprised if we heard Paul had the whole of it memorized.

What happened?

Paul’s claim is that He saw the risen Christ.

So what did that mean for Paul? “Yay! My sins are forgiven!” No. Paul thought he had a system of forgiveness already that worked quite well. He saw himself as blameless before the law. If you preached Jesus to him because he needed forgiveness, Paul would say “No I don’t! I am a faithful observer of Torah! That reveals that I am justified in the eyes of God!”

Of course, Paul did come to realize and teach that forgiveness is found only in Christ, but that is not why he came to Christ and while that is something that he was teaching an unbelieving world, that was not the main change.

What was it? I’d like for you to think about a work like Craig Keener’s book “Miracles.” Now if you’re the atheist reading this, just take a thought experiment with me. Suppose you undeniably witnessed someone praying in the name of Jesus for someone and then saw right before your eyes that they were instantaneously healed. Let’s suppose it was a condition like blindness or paralysis in fact.

Does your worldview change any at that point?

Now you might not come straight across to Christianity at that point (though I would have no complaints if you did), but I would hope at least you would if you were a committed atheist start thinking “Could I be wrong about something? What would it mean if God has broken in?”

In fact, for those of us who are Christians, we might need to start thinking like atheists more. We need to realize that this is something incredible really. God has broken into our world. There is someone out there in the world and He has spoken. There is more to this universe than meets the eye.

The problem is that we’ve grown up with Christianity so much that its become familiar to us. We know the stories so well that we’ve never found them to be incredible. It can sadly seem natural to us that God took on flesh and that Jesus rose from the dead.

They weren’t natural at all to a first century Jew.

For Paul, to see that Jesus is raised expresses so much that I seriously doubt that I can get it all. It is extremely difficult to begin to think like a 1st century Jew, but to understand Jesus as his contemporaries saw him, we must do this.

For Paul, I can wager some guesses.

First, he sees in Jesus that the promises of God are all yes and amen. God has spoken in Jesus which means that the time of renewal is at hand. The Kingdom of God has begun and it has begun with the reign of King Jesus.

Second, since the kingdom of God has begun its reign, then that means that the eschatological hopes of Israel are being fulfilled. God’s glory is being made known throughout the world. The Kingdoms of this world are to eventually bow the knee to the Kingdom of Christ.

Third, moral renewal will begin. The Law will be written on our hearts and we will follow the moral dictates. Paul is not an antinomian. He holds that there is still a law, but the righteous demands are being made known through the Holy Spirit.

Fourth, salvation has changed entirely. No more does it rely on following the sacrificial system, but it relies on trust in the Messiah of Jesus who occupies the throne of Israel. The Davidic and Abrahamic covenantes both find their fulfillment in Christ.

Fifth, God is in the act of making all things new. This includes even the dietary laws and the sacred days of Israel. Creation is being reborn. The curse is being lifted. Paul would have very well understood the claim of Revelation “Behold, I am making all things new.”

Sixth, in the resurrection of Jesus, we find the death of death itself. Death was the stranger that came into the world and ruined humanity. It has had a hold on most everyone save Enoch and Elijah. As long as death reigns, we have no certainty that justice will be done on this Earth. Since Christ has been raised and is the firstfruits of the resurrection, we have certainty.

Seventh, this means that judgment is coming. God has acted which means he’s not kidding around any more. The time of patience is over. It is now time to repent and get right with God. This motivates Paul even more to preach the gospel.

These are just seven I can think of. I do not doubt for a moment that there are many more, but if these facts haven’t fully gripped you, and to confess they haven’t fully gripped me either, then we will not have the faith of Paul that we so want to have.

Today, I urge you to look at your Christianity differently. Only when you see it as changing the world, can you see it as changing your world.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

What Does Faith Mean?

January 19, 2013

If you have faith, what does that mean? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Faith is one of those words that is often tossed around without considering what it means. If you listen to the new atheists, you will be repeatedly told that faith is believing in something without evidence. Fundy atheists will often say that we are people of faith in that we simply believe and the evidence doesn’t matter.

Christians often don’t do much better sadly. We have the idea that faith refers to belief in that if we believe in God enough, then X will happen. Our modern terminology does help us with this. Our faith system is said to be our belief system. We then can read passages such as those talking about having a mustard seed of faith and think that we just have to work up enough belief and everything will work out.

No. This is also incorrect.

Now the natural place people go to to look at what faith is is Hebrews 11:1. Who can blame them? This is the great faith chapter. However, let’s look at the surrounding context and see what’s going on in Hebrews 11:1. Keep in mind when the epistle was originally written, chapter and verse numbers were not there.

We’ll start with the end of Hebrews 10. Most of us know about the great warning towards the end of that chapter. What is going on in the whole of Hebrews to explain this? Hebrews is written to Jews in the Alexandrian area who are considering abandoning the new system of Christianity and returning to the old covenant. The writer is showing them that they are to remain faithful to YHWH in the new covenant and that it is superior and has in fact replaced the old. Hence, the constant warnings against apostasy. It would be easier for the people to go back to Judaism where they had social class and did not face shame in the public square, but is that what is most important?

After giving the warning, the writer says:

32 Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering. 33 Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. 34 You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. 35 So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.”

The writer starts reminding them that they have faced hard times already. As far as we know, there has been no death among the Christians due to persecution yet, but they are still suffering. It would be a natural temptation to want to return to a way that has been seen as tried and true and was the way of their ancestors. The writer encourages them to not do so.

36 You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. 37 For,

“In just a little while,
    he who is coming will come
    and will not delay.”[f]

38 And,

“But my righteous[g] one will live by faith.
    And I take no pleasure
    in the one who shrinks back.”[h]

39 But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.”

The writer tells them that God will indeed honor His promise to them. What is His promise? It has never been material possessions or even their health and life. The apostles regularly went without and the early church did have deaths take place due to persecution. His promise has been their salvation. They will see God.

He also gives encouragement. He expects them to be better. They will not fall back and be destroyed. They have faith and are saved.

Okay. So what is faith?

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”

Ah! Now we know what faith is!

Or do we?

The writer goes on to say that

“This is what the ancients were commended for.”

At this point, he will give us a long list of what the ancients were commended for. Let’s look at the list.

Abel was commended for offering up a better sacrifice. Enoch is said to have avoided death by faith. Abraham left his home country to go to another land and he even offered up his son as a sacrifice (nearly). Isaac blessed Esau and Jacob by faith. Jacob worshiped as he blessed his sons. Joseph by faith gave instructions about his burial. The parents of Moses by faith hid their baby. Moses refused to be known as Pharaoh’s daughter. The Israelites crossed the Red Sea. The walls of Jericho fell. Rahab and her family were spared.

Something interesting about some of these. Some of them had nothing to do with belief. The Israelites did not cause the Red Sea to part by believing. There is no recipe that if you believe you will avoid death like Enoch. Moses did not say “I will just believe I am of Hebrew origin” and receive commendation for that.

Many of these are in relation to the future. It was in the belief that God had said He would do X and they would live accordingly. God had said to walk around Jericho in this manner. Even though the Israelites did not know what would happen, they did it because God had instructed them to do so.

Note that you can as an atheist say these people did not hear from God. Okay. I get that. The problem is that even if they didn’t, the people reading the epistle believed that they had and saw that as an example. It does not mean that they themselves individually heard from God, but it does mean they believed God had acted in history and people had responded.

So let’s go back to Hebrews 11:1. What does faith mean here?

Trust.

It means that the fathers of the Hebrews believed that God would act according to the covenant in the future. They did not see the results, but they trusted God would bring them about. That is what is not seen! The future! Trust is the confidence that God will enact in the future what He has promised based on His actions in the past!

The writer also notes that some people suffered still, but they suffered believing that they would receive a better resurrection. I think what he’s saying is that they believed they would benefit more in the next life for what they suffered in this life. Trust does not mean that one will not suffer.

Trust also was rooted in evidence. That evidence was the action of God in the past. It was not to be seen as blind belief. Thus, both sides have it wrong. Faith does not refer to belief and it does not refer to blind belief in any way. Faith is still rooted in evidence, but it is not about what you do with your head alone, but where your loyalty lies to. Would the Hebrews be faithful to YHWH? In other words, would they be loyal to the covenant?

Today, we are told to have faith. Indeed, we should, but biblical faith. We are not just to believe. Even the demons believe and tremble! The problem is most of us don’t even tremble! We are to be loyal, something the demons will never be!

Today, be faithful. Be loyal.

In Christ,

Nick Peters