Author Archive

Why You Need To Know About The Epistle to Diognetus

You need to know about this because a common refrain of some critics of the faith is that major Christian doctrines were not present in the earliest years of the church. They were accoutrements that developed over time. The full divinity of Jesus? Not till Nicea. A substitutionary atonement? Not until Anselm rigged the jury in the middle ages.

There are of course many ways to respond to this. One way that Dr. Michael Kruger has pointed out is to appeal to the Epistle to Diognetus, a second century work of Christian apologetics. It’s clear that the author of this Epistle had a high Christology and affirmed a robust view of substitionary atonement and even imputation.

No early evidence of the divinity of Jesus? Consider this:

But the truly all-powerful God himself, creator of all and invisible, set up and established in their [Christians’] hearts the truth and the holy word from heaven, which cannot be comprehended by humans.  To do so, he did not, as one might suppose, send them one of his servants or an angel or a ruler…but he sent the craftsman and maker of all things himself, by whom he created the heavens, by whom he encloses the sea within its own boundaries, whose mysteries all the elements of creation guard faithfully, from whom the sun was appointed to guard the courses that it runs during the day, whom the moon obeys when he commands it to shine at night, whom the stars obey by following the course of the moon, by whom all things are set in order and arranged and put into subjection, the heavens and the things in the heavens, the earth and the things in the earth, the sea and all the things in the sea, fire, air, the abyss, creatures in the heights, creatures in the depths, and creatures in between–this is the one he sent to them. (7.2)

So, then, did he [God], as one might suppose, send him [his Son] to rule in tyranny, fear, and terror? Not at all.  But with gentleness and meekness, as a king sending his own son, he sent him as a king; he sent him as God; he sent him as a human to humans.  So that he might bring salvation. (7.3-4).

The Word appeared to them [the apostles] and revealed things, speaking to them openly.  Even though he was not understood by unbelievers, he told these things to his disciples, who after being considered faithful by him came to know the mysteries of the Father.  For this reason he sent his Word, that it might be manifest to the world. This Word was dishonored by the people but proclaimed by the apostles and believed by the nations. For this is the one who was from the beginning who appeared to be recent but was discovered to be ancient, who is always being born anew in the hearts of the saints.  This is the eternal one who “today” is considered to be the Son, through whom the church is enriched and the unfolding grace is multiplied among the saints. (11:2-4).

No substitutionary atonement?

But [God] was patient, he bore with us, and out of pity for us took our sins upon himself. He gave up his own Son as a ransom for us, the holy one for the lawless, the innocent one for the wicked, the righteous one for the unrighteous, the  imperishable one for the perishable, the immortal one for the mortal. (9.2).

For what else could hide our sins but the righteousness of that one? How could we who were lawless and impious be made upright except by the son of God alone? Oh the sweet exchange!…That the lawless deeds of many should be hidden by the one who was upright, and the righteousness of one should make upright the many who were lawless!

If you read the comments section of the post, there’s a fairly developed interaction between Dr. Kruger and a commenter named John S that some might find helpful if they want to see this point developed further.



How Reading The Chronicles Of Narnia Can Help With Your Doubts

One of the most helpful disciplines a Christian can develop is to learn how to chase down their doubts. I first learned this from JP Moreland. A danger zone for a believer is when their vision becomes clouded with vague and ethereal doubts. The solution is to get specific. Write them down and list them in order of importance. And then chase them down, one by one. Talk to people. Research. Keep chipping away at it. I’ve practiced this in my own life and I’ve found the solution to be a strengthened and weathered faith. One of the benefits of such an approach is that it builds confidence. Once you’ve worked through the process a couple of times, you’re not flummoxed by every doubt that shows up at your door for tea.

With that being said, not all doubts are intellectual. And the solutions to some doubts aren’t intellectual. Joe Rigney, of Bethlehem College & Seminary, tells of how reading and rereading the Chronicles of Narnia helped him deal with periods of doubt and depression in his life:

Over the years I’ve had a handful of bouts with significant questions, anxieties, and doubts about the Christian faith. Being somewhat of a bookish guy, my doubts are usually sparked by intellectual or theological questions, which then spiral into emotional upheaval and panic. During those seasons, I get lost in my own head, unable to break out of the prison of my own mind. It’s like there’s this incessant accusing voice in my head, and I end up in endless debates with him which rob me of joy and life (and sleep).

One of the things that has helped me when my sense of God and myself and my place in this world is so fragile has been a strong dose of what Lewis called “quiddity,” or the “realness” of things. For me, quiddity has usually hit me as the experience of deep beauty and desire, like when I can’t help but find the way that the sun hits storm clouds on the horizon to be beautiful.

Lewis himself once said that his apologetic “argument from desire” was a kind of spell that might be used to break us from deadly modern enchantments. The Narnian stories, and the way that my soul cries “Yes!” when I read them, have helped to anchor me in those uncertain times. When I’m overwhelmed by intellectual doubts, it is profoundly helpful to me to experience the undeniable and insatiable desire for the glorious vision of reality that Lewis depicts in Narnia.

I’ve come to think of it in this way. We often talk about the classical triad of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. What I’ve come to see is that these three are so interwoven that when one of them falters or grows dim in our eyes, the others can be used to keep us hanging on. When the Truth about Christ and the gospel feels shaky, the Beauty and Goodness of the Christian vision of life can shore up its weaknesses.

In other words, to continue to hold on to the gospel in the dark valley of intellectual doubt because you find it irresistibly beautiful is a good and gracious thing, a gift from God. Narnia has that sense of irresistible beauty, and so I’ve been enormously helped by the grace of God through it.

I’m ashamed to admit that I’m just reading through the Chronicles of Narnia for the first time myself, but providentially, I’ve been going through a period of doubt and have found myself similarly blessed as Joe Rigney.

Carl Trueman Was on David Letterman?

Say what? Yes, that’s right. You heard correctly. The inestimable Dr. Carl Trueman of Westminster Seminary recently sang his heart out on David Letterman. Reviews have called his performance both “manly” and “refreshing.” But, you be the judge. Behold …..

By the way, he really gets going at 3:00.

Should We Make Curriculum More Relevant?

From Roger Ebert’s glowing review of the timeless Mr. Holland’s Opus:

Watching this film, falling into its rhythm, appreciating its sweep, I could not help but remember my own high school teachers. Sitting here at the keyboard, I began a list of their names, only to realize that you have your own list. Amazing, how clearly I remember their excellence, and their patience. One anecdote will do. Stanley Hynes, who taught us Shakespeare, always addressed us as “Mr.” and “Miss,” as a college teacher would do, and somehow that brought a greater seriousness to “Macbeth” and “Julius Caesar,” which were uncharted new worlds for us. Modifying the curriculum to make it more “contemporary” and “relevant” is doing an injustice to students, whose lives will become relevant to the exact degree that high school encourages them to outgrow themselves, and escape from the contemporary into the timeless. Mr. Hynes knew that. So does “Mr. Holland’s Opus.”

Why Doug Groothuis Is Not A Continental Philosopher

From Dr. Groothuis’ blog:

First, unlike CP’s, I’ll define terms. An analytic philosopher (AP) emphasize the following philosophical principles:

1. Define terms carefully.
2. Obscurity is not profundity
3. Logical operations are primary for philosophy, such as the distinction between necessary and sufficient conditions, types and tokens, necessary and contingent, and, of course, the basic arguments forms–deductive, inductive, and abductive. One should not have to guess about these points; they should be clearly stated.

Second, the orgins of analytical philosophy probably trace to Bertrand Russell and G.E. Moore. It is a neutral method and is not committed, a priori, to any one worldview. Russell was an atheist; Alvin Plantinga is a Christian. Both are analytic philosophers.

Third, many claims to the contrary, the method of AP does not rule out large-scale philosophical questions about God, meaning, philosophy of culture (I do that!) or even aesthetics. CPs often make this erroneous claim.

Fourth, while some APs de-emphasize the important of the history of philosophy, there is nothing in the approach of AP that necessitates this; that is, it is not part of the definition of AP. The history of a philosophical concept, such as substance, is very significant in making any sense of it rationally.

Fifth, philosophers who are pre-analytic, such as Pascal, are subject to analytical criticism and reconstruction. I did so in my book, On Pascal. It has even been done with Nietzsche and Kierkegaard (see the work of C. Stephen Evans)!

CPs typically do not define terms or types of arguments carefully and revel in obscurity and false dichotomies, such as “those analytic apologists like J.P. Moreland, Bill Craig, and Doug Groothuis emphasize logic, but not love and community” (Myron Penner). Bull$^&#.

Paul Tillich’s Definition Of Sin Is Beyond The Pale

I’m not that well versed in the theology of Paul Tillich, but I know people who are and who adore him. From what I’ve heard explained and from what I’ve read, I don’t get it. Two courses from John Frame at Reformed Theological Seminary didn’t help my opinion of the man and what I just read from Bill Craig has sealed the deal. Next time I hear the man’s name mentioned in a positive light I’m going to start braying at the heavens a la Michael J Fox in Teen Wolf II.

Similarly in the 20th century, a very prominent 20th century theologian was Paul Tillich. Tillich really could not even be called a theist, I don’t think. He didn’t really believe there is a personal mind or being distinct from the world who has created the world. Tillich referred to God as “the ground of being.” He is the sort of ultimate reality that is the foundation or the ground of everything else, and everything else is simply a manifestation of this fundamental reality which is difficult to characterize called “the ground of all being.” So for Tillich sin is alienation from the ground of being. Rather than recognizing your unity with the world and with the ground of being you are estranged from it. You don’t recognize that and so you are alienated from the ground of being. So Tillich reinterpreted the traditional characteristics of sin in line with this philosophy. For example, what was unbelief for Tillich? Unbelief is the failure to recognize your unity with God. You really are one with God. God is the ground of your being and you are one with God but unbelief is a failure to recognize that oneness with God. So you need to get rid of that alienation and estrangement by recognizing your fundamental unity with God. What is pride? Pride is self-exaltation. Rather than being oriented toward God, you are oriented toward yourself and exalt yourself. It is a refusal to recognize yourself as finite. You are just a finite creature that is ultimately doomed to perish and pass away and pride is thinking of yourself as somehow more significant than you really are; failing to recognize your finitude in face of the ground of being. Concupiscence he interprets to be, again, just self-seeking – seeking your own goods and interests. Again, for Tillich I think you can see, as with Schleiermacher, you have this same tendency to obscure the moral aspects of sin. We don’t hear anything here about guilt or punishment or the need for redemption. It is just a sort of failure of human consciousness to realize its oneness with God or dependency upon God.

Craig speaks more to this in the Q&A:

Question: It seems as though the modern position here is nothing more than a repackaged form of Pelagianism. Is that correct?

Answer: I think it is worse than that because – we’ll talk about Pelagianism when we get to original sin – but Pelagius did think that we need redemption, we need forgiveness, even if he thought that we have the ability to come to God and the ability to live a sinless life on our own in virtue of God’s gifts that he has given us. But it still is a moral failing on Pelagius’ view. So I think this is much worse than that. To me this is more like pantheism really. It is more like Buddhism, I think, in a sense. If you think of the ground of being as just being Brahman or The All or The Absolute, it seems to me that this is very alien to a monotheistic conception of God and sin.

ND Wilson Responds To Atheist Fortune Cookies

One way to evaluate the claims of atheism when it comes to the origins of the material universe is strict logical analysis. Bill Craig’s explanation of the kalaam cosmological argument is perfect for this. The problem with this is that Bill’s no fun. Enter ND Wilson. Sometimes a belly laugh is more effective than a syllogism. I think this is the case here, but you be the judge.

Imagine a world that is truly and intrinsically and explosively accidental. Explain time in that world, in the world with no narrative and no narrator. Why time? Why progression? Before hydrogen had its alleged and infamous cosmic hiccup, did something aphysical and philosophically flammable snafu first? Perhaps nirvanic nothingness is more unstable than we thought; after all, it would have to spontaneously generate progression and causation (as laws and/or authoritative patterns) before hyper-hydrogen could get flatulent and before that flatulence could begin seeking radically sophisticated order. (Sidenote: By nirvanic nothingness I mean nothingness – nothingness as in what your teeth see only less, nothingness as in take a glass and empty it, erase the glass, remove the table on which it sat, part the electrons in the air where it once was and step between them into the black coldness of space, and then remove the cold and the blackness, remove the ability of anything to take up space, remove space, remove causation, and while you’re at it, remove God.)

But we’re not done. We need an emptier grasp of this concept. Nothingness (no space, no time, no spirit): Grab a book about talking mice. Stare at the cover. Ready? Turn to page number -77. Right. Now set a bowl of fruit at its feet or pull the beating heart out of a slave on top of a ziggurat in its honor because that bit of nothing (all nothing is one in its noneness) invomitvented causation, space, time, you, me, and herpes. And if it could do that, there’s no telling what could come from its nonexistent bowels next. Nonexistence is the squirreliest of b$%^gods. Any nothing any nowhere could suddenly become any something any somewhere – and it could arrive with new laws for its new reality. Watch out for -77. It gave and it can taketh away.

Atheist Fortune Cookie: There is only the material world. Don’t ask me where hyper-hydrogen came from, but I am pretty sure it blew up because I am here (I think). The ‘laws’ of nature and reality and logic and morality are non-binding and are merely internal descriptions of the accidental explosion by another part of that same explosion and are likely to further explode or implode into something else as stuff continues to splatter around. You have no soul, and love and loyalty are chemical by-products of the accident and have no authority as the explosion neglected to accidentally create any. You have no purpose, no deeper meaning, and are no more valuable than any other mobile composting machine, engulfing and expelling until you are engulft and expelt. Also, as you have no soul, the concept of you it itself shaky, as your self-identity is simply the result of an arbitrary atomic boundary imagined by static electricity in spongey tissue inside a spherical bone that appears to be proud of any carbon-based meat that happens to be electronically connected to it. You’re not important. Your molecules prefer fragmenting to binding and will inevitably and absolutely fly apart. So suck on that, sucker of thatness. Also, you should be open to new opportunities of the month.

Atheists trapped in an exclusively physical philosophy must maintain that what we have dubbed Time is just one part of a physical entity (thus, wormholes and bad TV). Time is just another part of the shock wave perpetually spreading out from an explosion, ever impregnating nothing with something as the growing anti-crater we call a universe does its from-everlasting-to-everlasting belching.

My atheist friends: You aren’t taking this seriously.
Me: What was your first clue?
Mystic Docs and Post-Docs of the Most-Low Goo: You are petty, simplistic, and ignorant.
Me: Page number -77 made me that way. Accept me.

Death by Living, pgs. 102-105 (Just in case Janet Mefferd is reading this blog).

Private Religious Education Contributes More To The Common Good

It turns out that private religious education doesn’t pump out “ultra-rich snobs and religious hardliners”, at least, according to a recent education survey by Cardus. More than 2,000 former students between the ages of 24 and 39 who attended separate Catholic, Evangelical, or private Christian schools were queried on issues such as charitable donations and civic involvement.

The study concludes alternative school graduates are as likely, if not more so, to be valuable contributors to the “public good.”

Students at independent schools make up for about 8% of Canada’s school-age population, and includes Catholic schools in Ontario funded by the government.

Lead researcher Ray Pennings says the findings help shatter the stereotype that alternative schools have a negative impact on Canada’s multicultural fabric.

“The perception has been that independent schools were for rich kids and religious kooks who were focused on themselves,” said Pennings. “What the study actually shows is that whether it’s social engagement, donating or volunteering, the graduates of these schools are achieving the objectives of public education at equal or greater proportions than the public school systems.”

Graduates of non-government schools took part in more neighbourhood and community groups, but more significantly, they were more likely to vote and participate in grassroots movements. (HT: James KA Smith)

Solid Advice On Blogging

We’ve already done this before on the blog by way of showing what Andrew Sullivan thinks on the topic. Given my own pathetic contributions to the blog as of late, I’d thought I’d share some solid blogging advice I just came across. This comes from Tom Bennett,  a British education author I stumbled across while coveting books in the infamous Blackwell’s  in Oxford last summer. As I’m a teacher, I’m trying to get my hands on everything that Bennett writes, so I was delighted to see that he has a blog.

Here are Bennett’s gems:

1. Write because you have to.

Write because you itch to write; because there’s something to be said that hasn’t been said before and you need to be the one who says it. Write because you own some part of the truth that nobody else possesses. Write because you’re lying awake at night and a particular arrangement of words won’t leave you alone, nudging you to trap them on page or screen. Write because you can’t sleep for not doing so. Write because a day without writing makes you feel empty and indolent.

This is important. Don’t write for money, at least not at first. If money is your primary concern, then get a paper round. Don’t write because you want to be famous: drive your car through a shopping centre if you want that. Write because you are a writer, and that is what you do.

2. Say exactly what you want to say.

Say what you want to say in the most direct way you can. Don’t worry, as you write, is this good enough? Worry about that later. Instead, write about the thing that makes you angry, sad, upset, agitated or elated. Write your truth, in your voice, but don’t worry about what your voice is; just speak. Say it in exactly the way you want, and don’t worry about offence. That comes later. But if you self-edit at this point, you dam the river of words that bubbles and boils inside you.

3. Edit your work.

You should write as if no one is reading it, then edit as if everyone is. Fix grammar and spelling first. Try reading it aloud to yourself. How does it sound? By the end of the piece you usually have a better idea of how it should start, so unpick, unstitch, and most of all, hack away. Gut anything that doesn’t add to the meaning. You love a phrase but it doesn’t serve the whole piece, or it detracts or distracts? Get rid of it. Save it for later. If it’s good you’ll find somewhere to plant it.

If a paragraph doesn’t help the whole thing, cut it out. If you find one half goes in a different direction, cut it in half, like Solomon, and decide which half you love most. Finally, edit for libel, and ask yourself if you have inadvertently caused offence. Nothing wrong with offence at times, but make sure it’s advertent. And legal.

4. Blog regularly.

I feed robins in my garden. At first they must have been delighted by my RSPB coconuts. Eventually they started coming back looking for more. Now, they’re fat. Good.

5. Interact and promote.

You want a readership? Of course you do, otherwise you wouldn’t be blogging: keep a diary instead if it’s just the love of writing, because the love of being read is another requisite of the whole thing. Respond to comments. Use networking sites like Twitter to spread the word. Leave links as parts of discussions on other blogs and education websites.

6. Be prepared for the bouquets and the brickbats.

And finally, the most important thing is to be prepared for a reaction. Some will laud you, and some will damn you. As Malcolm Tucker says in The Thick of It, ‘Are you prepared to be a dartboard?’ The answer has to be yes. But that doesn’t matter, because some of the darts will be flowers, and because blogging is something you love to, have to, do. And if people still troll, even when you’ve genuinely attempted to engage with them, then, as Christopher Hitchens said, ‘They can take a ticket and get in line to kiss my ass.

But first you have to write the damned things. Stop thinking about it. Just write.

So, hopefully this will inspire me to write in more than four month intervals.

Andrew Coyne Debates Tyler Cowen On The Great Stagnation

I don’t know how I missed this. Tyler Cowen presents the thesis of The Great Stagnation, with Maclean’s editor, Andrew Coyne, providing the rebuttal. I haven’t watched all of it yet, but I know that it’s something that some of our readers might enjoy. Especially noteworthy are the comments that Tyler Cowen has about Canada starting around 23:00.