Absolutes and Exceptions

I ran across a brilliant observation by Ravi Zacharias.

I’ve never seen it quite this way, before.

You know, I find the atheist very clever in what they do. For example, why do they discount miracles? According to David Hume, because the natural law functions routinely—so why do you look for miracles, an oddity in the midst of natural law? So they did away with the miraculous because they were going with what was normative and what was routine. But then when it came to ethics, they very cleverly switched the terms. If you started talking about an absolute, which was normative, they would interject an exception like, “What happens if you walk into your home and your family member is being assaulted? Are you telling me you will not fight or take a baseball bat or something?” Very fascinating. When it came to natural law in the realm of the sun and the planets, they did not allow for the exceptions. But when it came to ethics, it was the exception that debunked the absolute.

So what do those two reactions have in common? They both want to get rid of God—because if you bring in the miraculous in natural law, you have to accommodate the presence of God. If you take the normative and the absolute in ethics, you have to invoke upon the very person of God. So it is more the atheist that is anti-reason and anti-rational, but the accusation that is made against the Christian is leveraged to their advantage now.

—Ravi Zacharias, “Learning to Think Critically” (12/11/12)

Brilliant. Wow.

After thinking about it for a few minutes, I realized that I already knew this. Zacharias just said it in such a concise and memorable way.

I have known this previously as the “upper story” and “lower story.” As Nancy Pearcey has pointed out in her books,

As Schaeffer explains, the concept of truth itself has been divided—a process he illustrates with the imagery of a two-story building: In the lower story are science and reason, which are considered public truth, binding on every-one. Over against it is an upper story of noncognitive experience, which is the locus of personal meaning. This is the realm of private truth, where we hear people say, “That may be true for you but it’s not true for me.”

The two-realm theory of truth:

UPPER STORY
Nonrational, Noncognitive

______________________

LOWER STORY
Rational, Verifiable

When Schaeffer was writing, the term postmodernism had not yet been coined, but clearly that is what he was talking about. Today we might say that in the lower story is modernism, which still claims to have universal, objective truth—while in the upper story is postmodernism.

Today’s two-story truth:

POSTMODERNISM
Subjective, Relative to Particular Groups

________________________

MODERNISM
Objective, Universally Valid

—Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth pg. 21

It’s a common thing to say that we live in a “postmodern” time. But, that statement really needs to be qualified. Ask the atheist physicist (you know who) about morality, ethics, religion, and he’ll give you some postmodern, relativistic answer. But, ask the physicist about physics, and what will you get? Absolutes. Inflexibility.

Modernism, as it turns out, is alive and well. Snuggly settled in on the lower story. The attitude of the Enlightenment has not been banished, as we were led to believe. Absolute truth, perhaps modestly held, has it’s place.

But what of values, ethics, and religion? Are they absolute? By no means! Romanticism (or at least the descendent of it) is still around. Relativism is the order of the day when it comes to these things. Irrationality. Keep them personal and private, please. Meaning, don’t expect them to be universal truths. Hence, the upper story is where postmodernism lives.

Ravi Zacharias said it another way, a way that is very easy to whip out in a conversation.

“You don’t allow for exceptions from the absolute in natural law, but you demand exceptions to override absolutes in ethics? Fascinating.”

An important note: Ravi Zacharias is not a presuppositionalist. If you read the rest of that article, that becomes most obvious. Be that as it may, insights like the one above may be found and placed within the proper framework. If someone truly gets presuppositional apologetics, they’ll be the first to say that all tools are ours, and so we can learn and benefit from everyone’s work regardless of their methodology. We just use it within the proper covenantal context.

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Massive Apologetics Track

Take up and read. A lot.
Take up and read. A lot.

A collection of books and courses to get you well on your way in developing and practicing a biblical apologetic. (Also see: How to use the Apologetics Track)

Is this all necessary, for every Christian? No. For the average believer, this length and depth of study is not required. I am in no way implying there are “levels” of Christians. Every Christian is required to be an apologist. Every believer therefore needs to undergo some preparation to ensure that they are always ready to give an answer to anyone. But, not every believer is going to make apologetics their living, or be debating apologists of other religions, or teaching apologetics at a seminary, or specially serve the church in apologetics. There’s no office of apologist. Yet, all believers are responsible, and some believers have been designed by God to have more aptitude for it. Not everyone is a Greg Bahnsen or James White, but some are. Pastors, I think, should give extra attention to it than the layperson, since ministers are specially reminded of it in Titus 1:9.

The bottom line is, all believers are responsible before the Lord Jesus to always be ready to answer anyone, and ministers especially are responsible. And since Jesus commanded that discipleship includes teaching everything, then all of us must be able to teach apologetics to others (though again, we won’t all be professors of apologetics).

If your first thought is, “Oh my… there’s so many resources,” then take my word when I say there could have been more. Much more. I have practiced restraint, in fact, and tried to narrow it down, and limit redundancy between the resources. There will be repetition, but that serves as reinforcement. But many books and resources have not made the cut simply because whatever they cover is dealt with by what has made the list.

I hope that the fruits of my study may benefit you. A primary reason why I read so much is so that others won’t have to. It takes a lot of time, and we don’t all have that kind of time. There is so much out there today, as never before, and it can be so overwhelming that some bother to even attempt to begin study. Or, we despair that we won’t know which resources are reliable, and which are not. If for nothing more, having all these links in one place should save a lot of work as far as looking for presuppositional material, which does not get as much publicity as other apologetic approaches.

That’s why I present, for your edification, this apologetics learning track. Don’t know where to begin? Here’s a proposal. And it is more than just a start.

Theology

Now, it is necessary that you build your apologetic from a sound theology. Theology determines apologetic methodology. If you need help getting started with that, read:

Your Bible! Internalize as much of it as you can. Dedicate time to reading for scope, and also dedicate time to read in detail. For help in your Bible reading, read Let the Reader Understand.

Most essentially for theology:

The Westminster Standards: The Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF), The Westminster Larger Catechism (WLC), and The Westminster Shorter Catechism (WSC). Available FREE in PDF and Kindle here.
The Forgotten Trinity by James White. Trinitarianism is what we are defending, so we had better know it.
Pilgrim Theology by Michael Horton. An easy-to-read systematic.
Lectures on Calvinism by Abraham Kuyper (FREE). This will show that sound theology is actually a worldview.
Institutes of the Christian Religion, by John Calvin (for a shorter reading, go for the 1541 edition published by Banner of Truth)
I would recommend nailing all, but not necessarily the Institutes, before diving into apologetics.

Now, on to apologetics.

The Apologetics Track

Perhaps it would be helpful to lay it out in stages. I know that for some, seeing a huge, unbroken list of books and classes is overwhelming (while others see a candy shop). So, I’ll break the track into sections, explaining what each will provide.

Stage One — Foundations

The point of stage one is to ingrain the biblical foundation. It may seem repetitive, but repetition is good. We need reminding. If we didn’t, then we would only need to read the Bible one time. But we don’t. There’s a thing called sin, and sin is the spoiler of understanding. Hence, we need the Gospel repeated weekly. We need to hear the teaching of God’s Word over and over and over again. As Spurgeon said, pound it into our heads. So, when learning apologetics, we need to be reminded constantly what the Bible says, until it becomes second nature.

Pushing the Antithesis: The Apologetic Methodology of Greg L. Bahnsen, edited by Gary DeMar

Simply the best and most concise introduction to apologetics that I have found. The arrangement of the book is very helpful as well, making a great teaching tool. It has the best practical applications after each chapter.

Presuppositional Apologetics: Stated and Defended, by Greg Bahnsen

The perfect pairing with Pushing the Antithesis. The positive presentation of the apologetic is excellent, strewn throughout with Scripture. However, the second part of the book is worth the price. Bahnsen evaluates others who have also been labeled as “presuppositionalists.” The most helpful critique is of Francis Schaeffer, which is spot on.

Always Ready by Greg Bahnsen

This one makes for quick reading. The appendix about Paul’s apologetic in Athens is brilliant, and clears up several common misconceptions about that engagement.

Basic Training for Defending the Faith, taught by Greg Bahnsen

Taught to high schoolers heading into college. So you can handle it. Or, you will realize how far our standards have fallen. I know I did.

Defending the Christian Worldview Against All Opposition, taught by Greg Bahnsen

Hands down the best series of lectures on apologetics.

Defending the Faith, taught by Dr. Michael J. Kruger (also here, for lecture 9).

One reason I appreciate Kruger so much is that his specialty is the New Testament canon. Knowing the current state of apologetics, you would expect someone with all that knowledge of manuscripts, history of transmission, etc. to be an evidentialist (since it’s so common). But he’s not. So he approaches the canon (as well as other issues) from a presuppositional perspective. His treatment of the problem of evil is brilliant, though simple.

Biblical Logic: In Theory & Practice, by Joel McDurmon

Logic is a necessity. Understanding logic from the Christian perspective is a necessity. This book is very approachable, with very good contemporary examples of fallacies. We need to be equipped to detect errors in reasoning always, and especially in apologetics. Conversation with an unbelieving perspective can be simplified when one has been trained to detect simple fallacies. Also, it’s best the Christian not commit those same fallacies, and thereby discredit his claims for Christianity.

Stage Two — Engagement

This is divided into two, overlapping parts. Apologetics is not merely arguments and answering every question. The “open hand” (persuasoria) is the positive side of apologetics. The “closed fist” (dissuasoria) is the negative side of apologetics. I agree with Os Guinness that the one we most need to recover is the “open hand.” So I’ve placed those helps before the others, so that character gets developed early.

The Open Hand – Persuasoria

Apologetics is not less than intellectual and philosophical, but it is also more. As you will soon here from Bill Edgar, abstract philosophy is not where people live and move and have there being. They live in a psychological and sociological context. Education, occupation, upbringing, etc. Hence, there is a cultural element in apologetics, if we are in fact to reach people as they are.

Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions by Greg Koukl
Even though Koukl’s apologetic methodology is completely different, I haven’t found as valuable a resource as this for learning how to have a conversation. There’s just nothing like it. Within a presuppositional framework, this will help you think and talk better about anything, including apologetics. A friend of mine has called this book “logic for dummies” (logically, it follows Biblical Logic). Adopt these tactics, make them second nature. I personally read this ever year. It is that good.

Inerrancy and Worldview: Answering Modern Challenges to the Bible by Vern Poythress

This is my “handout book” to people who have difficulties with the Bible. Vern Poythress has provided this book for FREE in PDF format (linked above). See my short review and recommendation.

We can begin to answer many of our difficulties in a number of areas if we make ourselves aware of the assumptions that we tend to bring along when we study the Bible. (pg. 16)

The Last Christian on Earth: Uncover the Enemy’s Plot to Undermine the Church by Os Guinness

Fool’s Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion by Os Guinness

Os Guinness provides a much neglected component of apologetics. The tendency in all apologetic disciplines, I think, is to forget the sociological and cultural environment that people actually live in, so we forget about plausibility.

The Reason for God by Timothy Keller

A stellar example of how to dialogue with the postmodern person, in their language (and not Christian code language).

A Serrated Edge: A Brief Defense of Biblical Satire and Trinitarian Skylarking, by Douglas Wilson

Creativity is a characteristic of persuasoria, and this includes irony and humor. Doug Wilson uses both according to biblical example. His setting out of biblical norms for writing and speech is a helpful corrective to the “neutral” way of dialogue promoted today (which silences truth). The world doesn’t set the norms for discourse, the Bible does.

L’Abri (New Expanded Edition) by Edith Schaeffer

An example of the compassionate and hospitable manner in which apologetics should take place. We must never forget that every human being we encounter is also made in the image of God, and therefore we must listen, respect their honest questions, and give honest answers.

Cornelius Van Til: Reformed Apologist and Churchman by John Meuther

Apologetics is not isolated, and must not be practiced or even studied in isolation. Meuther is right to observe that when it comes to Van Til, we only look at his apologetic, and totally neglect the rest of him. But the rest was connected, indeed, resulted in his apologetic. And as James White has communicated, apologetics cannot be divorced from the church. Cornelius Van Til was the embodiment of that principle. Van Til lived an absolutely amazing life. This is my favorite biography.

Apologetics 101 taught by William Edgar, and read Christian Apologetics (2nd edition, edited by William Edgar) by Cornelius Van Til. Edgar’s little book Reasons of the Heart is also a textbook for the class.

Bill Edgar ties it all together in this class. He takes the intellectual rigor and biblical faithfulness of Van Til, the persuasive emphasis and sociological insights of Os Guinness, the compassionate and personal approach of Francis Schaeffer, and his own experience at L’Abri, and delivers it all as one. This is my favorite seminary course on apologetics. Christian Apologetics by Van Til is one of his assigned texts for the class, and an easy introduction to Van Til’s apologetic from the man himself.

The Closed Fist – Dissuasoria

Now, why is this section larger than the first, and in fact the largest chunk of the learning track? First, apologetic offense just gets more attention. And, there’s so many forms of unbelief. By God’s grace, we have unprecedented access to examples of faithful engagement with them. So instead of reinventing the wheel, we learn from those who have engaged before us.

Christian Theistic Evidences (2nd edition, edited by K. Scott Oliphint) by Cornelius Van Til

By now you’re able to get more Van Til, and this new edition includes explanatory notes by K. Scott Oliphint. This book is a thorough critique of the traditional apologetic approach. Van Til weighs, measures, and finds it wanting. Here you will see clearly that what distinguishes “evidential” apologetics from presuppositional apologetics is not that one uses evidence and the other does not. Look at that title: Evidences. Evidence and facts are only such within a philosophy of fact, which is what Van Til presents here. This book will put out of your mind forever the straw-man criticism that there’s no place for evidences in presuppositional apologetics. Actually, this was originally the syllabus for Van Til’s “Christian Evidences” class at Westminster Seminary. Oliphint quotes Machen saying to Van Til: “I wish I could take your course on Evidences. I need it and am sure it will benefit the Seminary.”

Five Views on Apologetics edited by Steven B. Cowan

The Bahnsen/Sproul Debate Over Apologetic Method (Full Audio) (Full Transcript)

James White – Apologetic Methodology: Part 1Part 2Part 3

These first four resources are each an apologetic for an apologetic approach, and critique of other approaches. Why the critiquing of other approaches to Christian apologetics? As Os Guinness said, “The apologist’s brief covers false teaching and false behavior wherever it is found, whether inside the church or outside in the wider culture” (Fool’s Talk, pg. 212). Wherever it is found. Unfortunately, there is much error inside the church when it comes to apologetic methodology. There is much undermining of the faith being defended by the very philosophy of defense. The very authority and teaching of Scripture, that is often the object of defense, is easily contradicted by the apologetic methodology. Therefore, it’s helpful to look at presuppositionalism compared to other apologetic approaches.

How To Answer The Fool: A Presuppositional Defense of the Faith (film of Sye Ten Bruggencate). Watch online.

Movie time! Look at this as a refreshing reward from all the reading so far. Taking presuppositional apologetics to the campus, Sye Ten deftly reduces arguments to absurdity. A fun watch. Grab a snack and enjoy the show.

Greg Bahnsen versus Gordon Stein debate, “Does God Exist?”

Yes, the great debate.

Worldview Apologetics taught by James Anderson

Helpful in teaching some basics about other worldviews. Did you know Mormonism is a materialistic worldview? I didn’t.

Classes, all FREE, taught by Timothy Tennent. This will give you material. So that we do not spout false testimony about our neighbor, we always need to be familiar with what others believe. Learn the world religions, and because of your apologetic foundations, you’ll be able to detect points of tension and begin to develop ways to approach each one. You’ll be prepared should you encounter any adherents.

World Religions,

Introduction to Islam,

Introduction to Buddhism,

Introduction to Hinduism.

Tennent’s classes are absolutely indispensable. To this day I fall back on what I learned in them.

What’s Your Worldview?: An Interactive Approach to Life’s Big Questions by James Anderson

A truly original apologetic book. It will help you narrow down and identify what people believe. Well paired with his class.

Finding Truth: 5 Principles for Unmasking Atheism, Secularism, and Other God Substitutes by Nancy Pearcey

Though not presuppositional (following Schaeffer), no one quite handles worldviews like Nancy Pearcey, and I know few others who are so easy and enjoyable to read. She makes seeing the weakness of false worldviews easy.

Scripture Alone: Exploring the Bible’s Accuracy, Authority and Authenticity by James White

An excellent presuppositional approach to Scripture. We had better understand our ultimate authority. The dialogues are especially helpful.

*Justification by Faith – James White vs Mitch Pacwa (Roman Catholicism)

*The Sola Scriptura Debate – James White vs Mitch Pacwa 1999 (Roman Catholicism)

*Dr. James White Full Interview ‘NWO Bible Versions’ (King James Onlyism)

*The Roman Catholic Controversy by James White

*Mary—Another Redeemer? by James White

*James White versus Robert Wilkin debate (Anti-Lordship, no-repentance “gospel”)

*Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship by John MacArthur

“What is that doing here?” The refutation that MacArthur presents is Scriptural (he and the Master’s Seminary are presuppositional, anyway). To summarize, this book is a critique of false teaching and a defense of the biblical, orthodox doctrine of God the Holy Spirit. It just might seem odd to classify this book as “apologetic” because we are used to defending the deity of Christ, or the Trinity, not so much the 3rd Person. But he is God, and what we believe concerning him must be founded on the Word he inspired.

*A Definitive Look at Oneness Theology: In the Light of Biblical Trinitarianism, (4th Edition — Revised, Updated, and Expanded) by Edward Dalcour

Oneness theology is deadly heresy. To deny the Trinity is to deny God himself, who is Triune, one God in three distinct persons. To deny the Trinity is to deny the Lord Jesus Christ, God the Son (co-equal and co-eternal with the Father and the Holy Spirit) incarnate, the only mediator between God and men. To lose the Trinity is to lose the plan of redemption revealed to us in Scripture. Oneness theology is a very present false teaching and every Christian must be prepared to engage it and refute it. This book is the place to go to help you do that. At the same time, you will be personally edified as you understand the Triune God’s self-revelation better. (Available in PDF)

*Trinity vs. Modalism Debate: James White vs. Roger Perkins (Oneness, Unitarian)

*The Same Sex Controversy: Defending and Clarifying the Bible’s Message About Homosexuality by James White and Jeff Niell

The Gay Christian Movement: A Response Part 1 and Part 2 by James White

Few things are more relevant today. Learn how to deal with this issue in a way faithful to Christ’s Lordship.

*What Every Christian Needs to Know About the Qur’an by James White

*Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air by Francis Beckwith and Greg Koukl

They’re obviously not of the same apologetic methodology, but by now you’re grounded enough to see what’s lacking. However, all things are weapons in the presuppositionalist’s hands. To my knowledge, no one has written such a beautiful demolition of relativism, and it’s excellent. A delightful read.

*Christianity and Liberalism by J. Gresham Machen (FREE) (and FEE audio)

Liberalism is still alive and well. That’s why this book is included, though not from a presuppositional perspective.

*Debate: Is the Bible True? (White vs Crossan) (The Jesus Seminar, Liberalism)

James White is explicitly presuppositional in this particular debate. He’s presuppositional in every debate, but doesn’t necessarily explain it every time. He states what he’s doing very clearly in this particular debate. A nice pairing with Machen’s work.

*All these with the asterisk can either be blended with Stage Three, or completed afterwards.

Stage Three — Reinforcement

“Reinforcement” is pretty self-explanatory. These resources will top off, refine, and clarify the foundations and engagement. The first three books continue to develop apologetics. Van Til’s Apologetic serves the useful purpose of systematizing Van Til’s thought. K. Scott Oliphint assigns that book for students to really “get” Van Til, in Westminster’s second required apologetics course.

The Schaeffer classes and the memoir paired with them will give a more comprehensive view of how apologetics can be done; a larger look at the human side of the apologetic enterprise.

The Defense of the Faith (4th edition, edited by K. Scott Oliphint) by Cornelius Van Til

This edition includes the complete text of the original, 1955 edition. Scott Oliphint’s footnotes help immensely.

Revelation and Reason: New Essays in Reformed Apologetics edited by K. Scott Oliphint and Lane G. Tipton

Offering more exegetical support to Van Til’s apologetic. Lane Tipton’s two essays are worth the price of the book.

The Apologetic Implications of Self-Deception by Greg Bahnsen, the last chapter (FREE)

You can read all of it if you want. It’s Bahnsen’s dissertation, so much of it is repetitive, recounting various views on self-deception through history. He offers many helpful scenarios. The last chapter is the summary, that gets down to it. Self-deception is crucial in our understanding of apologetics. The title is odd, because there’s in fact no apologetic implications drawn out.

Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings & Analysis by Greg Bahnsen

I consider this work to be the capstone of apologetic study. It’s slow reading. Because you have to keep stopping to write down something great every 2 minutes.

Francis Schaeffer – The Early Years (iTunes U) and Francis Schaeffer – The Later Years (iTunes U) taught by Jerram Barrs, and read The Tapestry: The Life and Times of Francis and Edith Schaeffer, by Edith Schaeffer

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Abortion: a Worldview Approach

My guest post for the The Domain for Truth

baby

Abortion is arguably the religious and social issue of our day. Since it became legal in the United States, around 56 million children have been killed. To ignore such an issue, as a Christian, would be unfaithful to God who made man in His image. We as believers must be equipped to discuss and offer a defense. Also, the devaluation of human beings in the womb is not a view held in isolation. Many fail to realize that the fundamental beliefs behind modern bioethics don’t merely affect the unborn, but human beings at all stages of life. If these basic assumptions continue on, unchallenged by Christians who stand unapologetically upon God’s Word, we will continue to see the devaluation of all people.

Read the full post HERE.

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Pearcey on Motivation for Learning Worldviews

A biblical motivation for studying worldviews should be the same principle that motivates all authentic discipleship: The goal is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,” and to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:37–39). Loving requires knowing the person well. We nurture love for God by studying a biblical worldview to become more deeply acquainted with his truth, his character, his purpose in history and in our lives. And we demonstrate love for others when we study their worldview to get inside their thinking and find ways to connect God’s truth with their innermost concerns and questions. . . As the apostle Paul wrote, we must become “all things to all people” in order to win them over (1 Cor. 9:22 ESV). The phrase does not mean merely dressing like the natives and learning their customs. Above all, it means becoming familiar with their interpretation of the world, so that we can enter empathetically and compassionately into their experience of life.

Pearcey, Nancy (2010-09-01). Saving Leonardo: A Call to Resist the Secular Assault on Mind, Morals, and Meaning (p. 18). B&H Publishing. Kindle Edition.

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How to Develop a Christian Worldview, part 2

If one does not begin with Jesus Christ and the revelation of Christ, one destroys the possibility of knowing anything.

—Greg Bahnsen

In one of his lectures, Greg Bahnsen provides four components for developing a Christian worldview:

1. Be self-conscious about your own presuppositions.
2. Make sure what you think is governed and corrected by the Word of God and not worldly traditions.
3. Recognize the ultimate authority of God in everything you think and do.
4. God’s Word applies to every area of life.

*Summarized from “Just the Facts,” Lesson 4 in series 1, “Weapons of Spiritual Warfare,” of the collection Defending the Christian Worldview Against All Opposition, by Greg Bahnsen.

Read part 1 here.

2. Make sure what you think is governed and corrected by the Word of God and not worldly traditions.

Many of us are used to the compartmentalization of religion. Indeed, much of evangelicalism presupposes that “spiritual” or “religious” matters are on a whole different level than science, mathematics, logic, etc. We assume that values (religion, ethics, the subjective) are divorced from facts (science, industry, publicly verifiable truth). Ironically, this is what secularized culture believes as well. You have heard this presupposition at work if you’ve ever heard someone say, “I personally think _____ is wrong, but I would never force that belief on others.” Essentially, ethics, religion, and spiritual matters are made relative.

 The reality is that modernism remains firmly entrenched in the fact realm—the hard sciences, finance, and industry. No one designs an airplane by postmodern principles. Postmodernism is typically held only in the values realm—theology, morality, and aesthetics. Think of it this way: We are often exhorted not to impose our values on others. But we never hear people say, “Don’t impose your facts on me.” Why not? Because facts are assumed to be objective and universal.

—Nancy Pearcey, Saving Leonardo, pg. 28-29

Evangelicals who have absorbed this assumption believe that “spiritual” knowledge plays by different rules and doesn’t apply to the rest of life. It would seem that the “spiritual” isn’t in the same universe as the knowledge we live by day to day. However, to divide up reality in this way is to impose an unbiblical assumption, according the traditions of men.

When they read verses like “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” (Ps. 111:10), they interpret it to mean only spiritual wisdom. When they read that Christ is the one “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3), they limit the term to spiritual knowledge. Yet these verses do not restrict their range. True wisdom consists in seeing every field of knowledge through the lens of God’s truth—government, economics, science, business, and the arts. When Christians speak of a worldview, they are simply using modern terminology to restate the Bible’s comprehensive claim.

—Ibid., pg. 26

If the “spiritual” is divorced from  the “secular”, then what are we operating on the majority of the time? What is regulating our knowledge and conduct in “unspiritual” or “secular” areas? If the Bible only applies to “religious” matters, then what assumptions are in control of all other matters? What governs most of our lives? How do we go about scientific investigation? How do we examine and draw conclusions about history? How do we approach psychology? How do we interact and engage in culture?

Here’s the problem: many evangelicals “live fragmented lives. In the private world of home, church, and friendships, they operate on a view of truth (subjective values) that is completely contrary to the one they employ in the public world of work, business, and politics (objective facts). (Ibid., pg. 29)

Indeed, we must let the Word of God govern and correct all of our thinking, including this very issue. Have we applied God’s Word to how we think about everything? Or have we uncritically allowed the culture to tell us where our Christian convictions can and cannot apply? We must answer the question from the Bible itself.

All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Him.

I am saying this so that no one will deceive you with persuasive arguments. For I may be absent in body, but I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see how well ordered you are and the strength of your faith in Christ.

Therefore, as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, overflowing with gratitude.

Be careful that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit based on human tradition, based on the elemental forces of the world, and not based on Christ.

—Colossians 2:3-8

Paul is saying the same thing as Proverbs 1:7, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” Notice how much wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Jesus Christ. That knowledge dealing with “religious” matters? No. “Spiritual” knowledge? No, whatever that means. How about most knowledge? No! Read very carefully: all. Paul writes that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Jesus. Does that include math? Logic? Practical everyday things that don’t seem very “spiritual”? Paul says “all,” without qualification. All that man can know is hidden in Christ. This contradicts the assumption that the Bible only applies to a limited area of our lives and that we can get along just fine in every other area. According to Paul, we need Christ as part of our total thinking if we are to make sense of anything at all. There is no possibility of knowledge without Christ. Human knowledge is dependent on the Lord Jesus. All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ. Therefore, we cannot properly, truly, understand or know anything without Him. If anyone has any truth at all and yet does not acknowledge Christ, they are guilty of stealing from the Lord.

The epistemology of Paul is not disconnected from the rest of his theology. Paul’s epistemological conclusions are grounded in his theology of creation and redemption. Speaking of Christ, he says:

He is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn over all creation.
For everything was created by Him,
in heaven and on earth,
the visible and the invisible,
whether thrones or dominions
or rulers or authorities—
all things have been created through Him and for Him.
He is before all things,
and by Him all things hold together.
He is also the head of the body, the church;
He is the beginning,
the firstborn from the dead,
so that He might come to have
first place in everything.
For God was pleased to have
all His fullness dwell in Him,
and through Him to reconcile
everything to Himself
by making peace
through the blood of His cross—
whether things on earth or things in heaven.

—Colossians 1:15-20

In eternity and in redemptive-history, Christ is preeminent! Lane Tipton makes this connection:

this christological interpretation of creation underlies everything else Paul has to say about the significance of Christ in creation and redemption, including epistemological and philosophical implications (cf. Col. 2:3-4, 8). How can Christ have preeminence over all things if matters pertaining to knowledge and philosophy remain autonomous and neutral facets of human experience? Paul’s christological interpretation of Genesis 1 therefore provides the comprehensive frame of reference for everything else he develops in Colossians 1-2.

—Lane G. Tipton, “Paul’s Christological Interpretation of Creation and Presuppositional Apologetics” in Revelation and Reason, (edited by K. Scott Oliphint and Lane G. Tipton) pg. 102

We must know Christ in order to make sense of anything. Notice, God’s Word says that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ. The basis for any knowledge in any field is in Him. There is no knowledge apart from Christ. And nobody knows anything in autonomy, independently of God. All of us, Christian or unbeliever, are dependent on Christ for what we know. The question is, do we acknowledge Christ in our thinking? Do we submit to Christ’s Lordship?

There is a difference between believer and unbeliever when it comes to knowledge. Christians base their thinking on Christ, acknowledging Him as having all wisdom and knowledge. Christians (should) therefore submit their thinking, no matter the subject, to Christ’s Word. Scripture governs and corrects all thought. Unbelievers do not, but presume to acquire knowledge in a neutral, irreligious fashion.

Sadly, many evangelicals share this “unbelieving” epistemology, consciously or not. They view knowledge and philosophy as something independent of Christian commitment. “After all,” they say, “we know plenty of things apart from the Bible; we need Christ for knowledge of spiritual things.” You really only need Christ for knowledge of salvation and the afterlife, right? We know plenty on our own, we only need the Bible for knowledge of a limited number of things. All the other riches of knowledge are taken from Christ without recognition. The first story of the house is built by what what we can know (supposedly) on our own, then “faith” is what tops it off. On this view, we can develop much of our worldview by unaided reason and experience, and all we need Christianity for is to fill in the gaps and complete the framework. But again, what presuppositions are controlling these “neutral” areas? If we are not thinking with reference to Christ, we’re thinking like an unbeliever. If the Word is not governing and correcting the totality of our reasoning, then we have been taken captive by philosophy based on human tradition rather than based on Christ.

As Bahnsen points out, when we don’t acknowledge Christ for what we know, we are guilty of robbing from the Lord.

What does Paul warn us about? He warns us about being deceived, about being taken captive through philosophy and empty deceit. On a quick note, I know of some evangelicals that like to claim that Christians should have no part in philosophy. This text is an easy proof text. However, we must notice that Paul is not warning us about philosophy in general. There is a qualification. We are to be careful of “philosophy and empty deceit based on human tradition, based on the elemental forces of the world, and not based on Christ.” Paul is not anti-philosophy. Paul is warning us about philosophy that is not according to Christ. Paul is actually promoting a philosophy! He believes there is a philosophy that we should have: philosophy “based on Christ” (kata Christon). To say it another way, Christians are to have a worldview that is based on Christ, and avoid worldviews that are not based on Christ. Paul warns all believers not to be taken captive by philosophy and empty deceit, because it is based on human tradition and the elemental forces of the world, but rather that our philosophy must be based on Christ, because in him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

Tipton concludes:

Paul’s denunciation of vain philosophy applies to any and every philosophical approach that is “not according to Christ” (2:8). His language therefore would include any “Greek philosophy” or “philosophy in general” that is not governed at the worldview level by a christological interpretation of creation [1:15-20], together with its implications for redemption, epistemology, and philosophy.

—Ibid., pg. 109

If we fail to recognize that all the treasures of knowledge and wisdom are in Christ we will be blindsided by autonomous philosophy, worldviews based on human tradition. Instead, we must be captivated by the philosophy based on Christ, and not human traditions. Our worldview must be founded on the principles of God’s Word, not the principles of the world. Paul’s exhortation to us is to make sure our presuppositions, our fundamental beliefs by which we interpret everything else, are not based on the autonomous thinking of man.

Rather, our worldview must be based on Christ. As Paul said, “all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and by Him all things hold together.” Because of this, “All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Him.” Beware of all other worldviews that compromise these biblical presuppositions. If any belief system denies this christological view of creation, denies Christ’s preeminence in creation and redemption, asserts that philosophy and knowledge are neutral and autonomous, or limits the treasures of wisdom and knowledge hidden in Christ, then that belief system is “empty deceit based on human tradition, based on the elemental forces of the world, and not based on Christ.”

We must have a Christian worldview or we will be taken captive by an anti-Christian worldview. Our thinking (not just the content, but also the process) must be governed and corrected by the Word of God. If it’s not, that doesn’t mean our thinking is not governed. It certainly is. If we do not make sure that our thinking is governed and corrected by God’s Word, then our thinking will be governed by worldly traditions. We will have been taken captive by an anti-Christian pattern of thought, rather than “taking every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).

This means that we need to know the Bible. We must be students of Scripture. We must internalize the Scripture’s view of reality (metaphysics), knowledge (epistemology), and ethics (conduct). We must interpret ourselves and the world around us according to the biblical narrative: Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration. These biblical categories must become ingrained in our thinking. The Bible’s picture of reality must become our own. We must think God’s thoughts after him. Our answers to “what is real?”, “how do we know what we know?”, and “how should we live?” must be God’s answers. The ultimate answers to the ultimate questions are hidden in Christ, and revealed in his Word.

Teach me good judgment and discernment, for I rely on Your commands.

—Psalm 119:66

We must know the Bible well enough so that those unbiblical assumptions that we still have get corrected. How can God’s Word govern all of our thinking if we don’t even know what it says? How will we know what it says if we don’t study it? We must be perpetual students of Scripture. The Bible cannot be “a lamp for my feet and a light on my path” (Psalm 119:105) if I don’t allow it to illuminate anything.

As Greg Bahnsen said, “if you do not pay attention to the word of God you will not self-consciously develop a Christian outlook.”

You cannot think and reason as a Christian if you are not a student of Scripture. You cannot heed Paul’s warning if you are not a student of Scripture. Many of us need to repent.

We must think according to Scripture, even about those things that don’t seem “spiritual.” If all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are deposited in Christ, then nothing is left out. Every truth depends on Christ. We must not be robbed of all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge that are in Christ.

I gain understanding from Your precepts; therefore I hate every false way.”

—Psalm 119:104

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Nancy Pearcey on Philosophical Temptations

Saving Leonardo Pearcey cover. . . young people are confronted not only by moral temptations but also by philosophical temptations—fleshed out in the idiom of pop culture. For young people, learning the skills of worldview awareness can literally mean the difference between spiritual life or death. Ideas exert enormous power when set to music in a YouTube video or translated into glowing images on the theater screen.

Do you have the skills to confront that power and harness it for good?

—Pearcey, Nancy, Saving Leonardo: A Call to Resist the Secular Assault on Mind, Morals, and Meaning (p. 251). B&H Publishing. Kindle Edition.

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Nancy Pearcey on Detecting Worldviews

Do you know you are in a fight? Worldviews do not come neatly labeled. They do not ask permission before invading our mental space. Do you have the tools to detect the ideas competing for your allegiance in movies, school textbooks, news broadcasts, and even Saturday morning cartoons? Are you equipped to teach your children, students, and colleagues to recognize the most powerful worldviews of our age?

Or are you an “easy mark”?

-Pearcey, Nancy, Saving Leonardo: A Call to Resist the Secular Assault on Mind, Morals, and Meaning (p. 9). B&H Publishing. Kindle Edition.

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