Archive for March, 2009

Is Doubt Good or Bad?

March 23, 2009

One of the clearest signs that times have changed is the way doubt is hailed as a virtue these days.  Those who doubt whether the Christian faith is true are praised for their authenticity and sincerity.  In some paradoxical manner, their faith is seen to be more genuine than that of the brother who never doubts. 

Charles Spurgeon would not have agreed.  This is what he said in a sermon in 1872 [HT: Pyromaniacs]:

“Too many in the church of God regard unbelief as if it were a calamity commanding sympathy, rather than a fault demanding censure as well. . . . Doubts are among the worst enemies of your souls. Do not entertain them. Do not treat them as though they were poor forlorn travelers to be hospitably entertained, but as rogues and vagabonds to be chased from thy door. Fight them, slay them, and pray God to help thee to kill them, and bury them, and not even to leave a bone or a piece of a bone of a doubt above ground. Doubting and unbelief are to be abhorred, and to be confessed with tears as sins before God. We need pardon for doubting as much as for blasphemy. We ought no more to excuse doubting than lying, for doubting slanders God and makes him a liar.”

I have concerns about this postmodern trend toward the romanticizing of doubt.  I know the sinful heart.  I have one.  I know the human tendency toward a rationalization of sin.  I know the danger of calling what is good evil and what is evil good.  I myself have doubts from time to time.  But I don’t think I have ever celebrated that.  I see no evidence from Scripture that it is something to celebrate, and much evidence that it is something to lament.

I think this new faith in doubt stems from a bent towards rebellion.  We all have images in our heads of fundamentalist parents and preachers who indoctrinate children and tolerate no dissent.  Many former fundamentalists grew up in small churches where seminaries were viewed with suspicion, where honest questions were taboo, where the honest questions that were posed were given shallow answers, where people didn’t want to be bothered with the facts because they had already made up their minds, thank you. 

It is no surprise that those kinds of churches churned out a number of people who never made the faith their own.  Often times these kinds of churches produced shallow automatons who knew everything by rote, not heartfelt believers who had come to love what they had been taught.  I will stand with the postmoderns in condemnation of this way of handling the faith. 

But the solution to this kind of shallow, unquestioning faith is not doubt.  That’s like fighting cancer with AIDS.  Doubt can only be celebrated as a virtue in a society where the individual’s self-discovery takes precedence over the richness of the community.  Doubt of the truth is inherently rebellious, and as such only a rebellious age would baptize it and bless it. 

I say this as one who struggles with doubt myself.  And, I agree with those who celebrate doubt that if one has doubts, it is much better to be open about them than to deny them.  But that goes for any sin.  The grieved, repentant sinner is in a better position than the hypocrite who doesn’t recognize his own sin.  But the one who celebrates his sin is in the worst position of all.

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It’s a Most Unusual Day

March 10, 2009

Bravo, President Obama.

Bravo, Senate.

Bravo, Wall Street.

Big News

March 9, 2009

It is now safe for me to make an announcement here, now that everyone who needs to have been told first has already been told. 

We are planning a move to Jackson, Tennessee, toward the end of July.  I have recently been hired to teach at Augustine School, a small, private Christian school that specializes in the classical model of education.  I will be teaching the sixth grade class, including a range of subjects: math, history/literature, grammar/rhetoric, science, Latin, and Bible/theology. 

So many things have fallen into place in order to make this possible, including my experience since August at Dorothy Sayers Classical School in Louisville.  Being there part-time has helped me get my feet wet in the world of classical Christian education, and it is a field that really excites me.  I am so thankful for good Christian people who are serving in our public schools right now (like my mother).  I value their service, but I also agree with a number of Christian leaders (like Albert Mohler) who have recently suggested that Christian parents should develop an exit strategy from the public schools.  Now that I have seen the quality of education that students in classical schools receive, and specifically their development of a biblical worldview in a school that is both classical and Christian, I realize how much I missed in my own public school education.  One of the added benefits of teaching at Augustine is that my children will be able to attend for free, and it would bring me great joy to provide them with the kind of opportunity I never had in that regard.  I am excited about joining the Augustine School family.  It seems like a special place (go to the website and watch the video; it is well done). 

The hardest part about this move will be leaving our church.  By the time we leave I will have been there for over five and a half years.  That’s not much in the big scheme of things, but for a church like this one, which is always seeing “seminary boys” come in and leave, it has been a long tenure.  And for my part the time I have spent as pastor of Corn Creek Baptist amounts to about 20% of my life.  I announced to the congregation yesterday our plans for the future, and I told them my desire is to work with them over the next few months to make a smooth transition to a new pastor.  I’m hoping we can call a pastor to work alongside me for a month or six weeks before I leave in order to establish some continuity with my present ministry.  And I hope that our new pastor will have gifts that surpass my own and will be able to reap abundant fruit in ways that I have not. 

In Jackson my wife and I will join Cornerstone Community Church, where my good friend Lee is a pastor.  I am looking forward to that as well, especially the possibilities for ministry in that context.  I have long believed that I could be more effective in ministry as part of a team, where I am enabled to play to my strengths and follow the established leadership of someone else.  It looks like CCC will be the place where that can happen. 

As for my education, I am working hard on my dissertation, which is now over fifty pages long (I anticipate a final product of 200-250 pages).  My plan is to have a first draft complete before we move.  I won’t be able to defend it, however, until the spring semester of 2010 (my supervisor has a sabbatical this fall).  So I will be able to put the finishing touches on it from Jackson, and I expect to graduate in May of 2010. 

Oh yes, and somewhere in the mix of all of this our second child will be born (due date is May 3rd, but I expect an April birth).  We are truly a blessed family. 

Life goes on, into ever new realms of possibility and excitement.

Open Theism and the Nature of Truth: An Unsolved Problem

March 6, 2009

Open theism, the view of God that claims that he does not know many things about the future (primarily the future choices of free agents), faces a number of theological problems.  One problem that it faces that I have not seen explored anywhere in print is the problem of its ramifications for the nature of truth itself. 

What is truth, in its absolute sense?  I would expect that almost all Christians would agree that absolute truth corresponds to what God knows.  Our grasp of the truth is limited by our finitude, by our perspective, and by sin, and there have been endless debates about whether and to what degree truth can be known by human beings.  But for Christians, there does not seem to be much of a debate about God’s knowledge of the truth.  He has a “God’s eye” viewpoint on everything, and thus truth is nothing other than what he knows.  We have genuine knowledge only when what we know corresponds (not perfectly, though partially) to what he already knows.

Open theism runs into a massive problem here because the God of open theism cannot see everything at once.  He does not know how the future will unfold.  Open theists are careful to argue that he knows everything about the past and the present, but this is a hollow claim, because every event of the past and of the present cannot be known exhaustively unless it is known in relation to everything else, including the future.  God cannot have exhaustive knowledge of World War II, for example, because the full ramifications of that event have not yet played out before him, nor will they until the end of history.  Thus, not only is God’s knowledge of the future severely limited, so is his knowledge of the past and of the present.

And this deals a huge blow to the idea of truth itself.  In the open theist world, not even God has a “God’s eye” viewpoint, and thus there is absolutely no objective perspective on anything.  There is no such thing as absolute truth, for nothing can be known in the fullness of its relation to everything else.  The problem of perspectivalism that postmodernism has raised for us, leading to skepticism about knowledge itself, is now not just a problem for us; it’s a problem for God too, for even God is limited by his own perspective!  The logical outcome of open theism is nothing other than the denial of truth itself. 

Steve Wellum, a theology professor at Southern Seminary, told a story one day in class about how, when he was doing his doctoral work at Trinity, he took a trip up to Canada to interview Clark Pinnock about this very question.  He said Dr. Pinnock had never considered this issue before and had no answer for it.  As far as I have read, neither Dr. Pinnock nor any other open theist has addressed this problem.  It remains an unsolved issue for them.

Is Google the Antichrist?

March 4, 2009

A few weeks ago I said to some of my friends that in the future, personal computers will become obsolete.  Eventually everyone will store all of their personal files on the internet and be able to access their own personal desktop from any internet terminal.  In that kind of world, if somebody steals your laptop, it’s really not a big deal.  You may lose the computer, but all of your files are still safe and accessible to you.  And as I said this a few weeks ago, I predicted that Google would be the company to make this happen.

It looks like it’s coming soon.  Gdrive may be here this year.  This is a revolutionary and exciting development.  I for one would be very happy to be able to access my personal desktop and files from any location, and for free!  But the one thing that concerns me about this idea is that Google will gain more access to our personal information.  I love Gmail, but I am slightly annoyed by the fact that Google scans my private correspondences in order to tailor its advertisements to me.  What are the possible ramifications of entrusting all of my personal files to them? 

Google is an amazing company.  It is innovative and forward-thinking.  It makes life easier in so many ways (have you heard of Google 411 yet?  Just dial 1-800-GOOG-411; it’s a free 411 service).  But could Google be so successful that it is quickly gaining too much power over our lives?  Is Google the Antichrist?