For the Illumined Mind

augustineThere is a special breed of Christian, well at least in my opinion, who were brought to life from a state that appeared quite alive to begin with; those people who were actively searching for truth but were unable to grasp it by their own pursuit.

Of course we understand that they were not truly living since all things apart from Christ are spiritually dead, but a special type of person I still feel. The kind of person Paul preached to in Athens, who groped around in the darkness for the Truth who was not far off (Acts 17:27). People like Augustine who reflect: “I enjoyed the books, while not knowing Him from whom came whatever was true or certain in them. For I had my back to the light and my face to the things upon which the light falls: so that my eyes, by which I looked upon the things in the light, were not themselves illumined.”

There is a world of information and knowledge, where truth can be discovered, with many thinkers, readers and writers operating in it; intelligent people who have studied broader and deeper than I ever think I will. But there is one supreme truth that many of these intellectuals will continue to fumble in the darkness for, one that many simple minded men have taken hold of: Christ Jesus! “For although they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Romans 1:18).

But by the mercies of God, “he saves us, not because of the works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour” (Titus 3:5-6).

This special Christian, who once pursued knowledge by the pattern of the world, is now set free by the mercy of God to think and reason and calculate in truth. I love to watch this person, who so loves to think, suddenly understand the information he has curiously stored up all his life. Their minds reboot and now direct them on a path of living out the will of God. David Peterson in Possessed by God writes,

“It is a fundamental principle of Christian spirituality that God does his sanctifying work through our minds. In so doing he works with our conscious cooperation and permission.”

A great reversal has taken place, the Romans 1:21 man now becomes a Romans 12:2 man and the instruction is to be “transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what the good and acceptable and perfect will of God is.”

But caution, there is still the warning to not be conformed to the world, because the wisdom and influence of the world is very appealing. It draws out our old compulsive nature and deceives us once again into thinking that it is true wisdom. But it is folly because worldly thinking has not been thought through to completion. The godless man looks at life as it is now, as if this is all there is and ever will be. There is no vision of a perfected world; no decision made in light of the eternal. Whether consideration has been given for an entire lifetime or for one-hundred lifetimes, it is still too short-sighted to be fully good, perfect or true. How difficult it is to keep our minds set on things above, allowing the prospect of eternity to shape our perspective. This short life is so distracting and enticing; to pursue comfort, worldly knowledge and acclaim. As explained so well from the pulpit recently, the only gain in death is if to live is Christ (Philippians 1:21). Any other life pursuit will end in loss and prove you to be the greatest fool.

“But that is not the way you learned Christ!” To paraphrase Ephesians 4:18-23: Your mind is no longer futile, ignorant of the eternal or darkened in its understanding. You have heard about Jesus, you were taught in Jesus, as the truth is in Jesus. Therefore, put off your old self, be renewed in your mind and put on the new self.

foreverIt is no wonder that it is the Spirit who works this out in us. He is from the eternal, sets our minds on the eternal and makes us into a new self, preparing us for the eternal. We are being made into forever beings, in the image of our creator, and the preparation begins in our minds (Colossians 3:10). It is amazing that God would go through so much effort to acquire for himself someone like you for forever!

Reader, fabulous and most brilliant mind, be renewed so that your discernment will be clear to see that the most reasonable offering to God is yourself.

Biblical Historicity and African Folklore

One fairly appealing argument for the historicity of Old Testament narratives is that Jesus/Paul/Some-author viewed treated them as historical. By this, we mean that they make arguments from them. One example from the Old Testament is Exodus’ use of the creation account in the Ten Commandments: “For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth and the sea and all that is in them, and he rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy” (Ex 20:11).

Thandi, a young South African Zulu woman came to her mother with a complaint.
— “I don’t want to go to church today,” Thandi told her mother, “it’s boring …”
You must go Thandi,” her mother tenderly replied.
— “But why?”
Look at the moon, my daughter.
— “What?”
Long ago there was a woman like you who didn’t want to go to church. She thought that her time would be much better spent collecting wood which she did. She took her child on her back and went to the forest and began bundling up logs of wood. Later in the afternoon, when lunch was to be served her family realised that she had not done any preparation. They looked for her far and wide all day long. It was only in the evening that they found her though.
— “Where was she?”
She had been swallowed by the moon. Later in the evening, her family looked up …” At this, Thandi’s mother pointed to the moon and passed her hand over it’s strange shadows, “… and there in the moon, they saw her, a young woman with her child on her back and carrying a bundle of logs.

That’s why you should go to church, my girl.

Admittedly, there is a moon. What’s more, one could probably identify the silhouette of  a woman carrying a bundle of sticks and a child (in a “what do you see in the clouds?” kind of way). However, those hardened in Zulu culture believe the story to be true no more than skeptical Westerners. It’s simply rhetoric of Zulu culture: “look at the moon – that’s why you should go to church.” For some skeptical Westerners, “look at the rainbow, that’s how we know God is merciful,” is not that different.

My concern, and it is simply a concern, is that our claim for historicity on the basis of the way arguments worked in the first century AD (or before that) may miss the rhetorical style of author’s culture.  It’s simply food for thought and an attempt to sharpen our arguments by cutting the dead-wood. If you can think of other/better arguments, please let me know (comments are good) – a while ago I jotted down a few thoughts on the importance of historicity here.

P.S. Tempering these thoughts is the rhetorical value of historicity. Job, for example, seems a far more powerful argument to endure suffering as historical narrative than as parable. Could this just be my Western rhetorical style though?

Ignoratio Elenchi (Latin title: probably irrelevant article)

For a few months I have been considering writing something brief on a remarkably popular line of reasoning that is often employed and yet, utterly fallacious. I began thinking about writing this after proofreading an essay for someone at college who made this mistake. I began actually typing stuff out after John MacArthur did it.

It often seems to happen when the topic of creation comes up, this is perhaps because creation is one of the most contentious issues amongst evangelicals. It is called “Ignoratio Elenchi” which is Latin and therefore must mean something important (see what I did there?). The source of all knowledge: wikipedia, explains those foreign words as, “irrelevant conclusion, missing the point – an argument that may in itself be valid, but does not address the issue in question”.

The example that pops up again and again seems to be something to the effect of

Scripture is God-breathed (2 Timothy 2:16)–inspired truth from God. “[Scripture] never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). Jesus summed the point up perfectly when He said, “Thy word is truth” (John 17:17, KJV).
The Bible is supreme truth, and therefore I am right!

By the way, I stole everything except the bold bit from Johnny Mac’s blog entitled “Genesis 1: Fact or Framework?”.

Now in general I don’t really like bashing chaps publically (like this). When you write a blog and get a million readers though, I feel like you need criticism (and I’ll email this to him as well – I get an absolute ton of readers so even if he doesn’t get my email, it’ll surely get to him simply by word of mouth). Here’s my criticism though Dr. MacArthur: The fact that the Bible is supreme truth would not be disputed by Meredith G. Kline. Why are you arguing for it? The answer is: because it makes your position appear to be the biblical one. Your argument, while valid, does not address the question. It’s really not helpful to say it, all it does is portrays those who don’t hold your position as people who reject the Bible. I believe that the Bible is inerrant, not people who interpret it.

Now you should know that you’ve got a bit of slippery slope fallacy sneaking in there as well, “Why could not the resurrection itself be dismissed as a mere allegory?” But I’m not really interested in that stuff, I just wanted you to know that I know a bunch of people who actually believe framework hypothesis and the Bible… For that reason, it’s really not a helpful to present a case for inerrancy or infallibility: if we are ever going to figure this stuff out, we need to start taking each others’ arguments seriously. As a starting point, let me suggest you imagine a person who holds to the framework hypothesis and rejects theories of an old earth and evolution and the rest, who believes the earth is young and who loves Jesus with all his/her heart – what is your argument now? Stop with the slippery slope stuff, stop with the ignoratio elenchi stuff and sit down and let us reason together.

What’s more haven’t you ever noticed that strawberries are red. Red is the color of incorrect things. If you like strawberries, you know what that means… That’s just a joke and considering the title of this post includes Latin, you couldn’t possibly have expected anything beneath it to actually be funny.

Emotional Reflection #1: Greek Philosophy & Our Emotions

So, off the back of Feel, I’ve been thinking about how Greek Philosophy has crept into our thinking and negatively influenced us. For those of you who are sold out on Greek philosophy, I don’t hate Greek philosophy, and I do think it has lots to offer us. I’m just here wanting to think about one point that appears to me to clash with a biblical worldview.

The element I’m thinking of in my white, middle-class, Western-influenced-African culture which has been influenced by Greek philosophy is obviously our emotions. We seem to believe that emotions are to be suppressed and controlled, rather than understood and dealt with (if they are seen as bad) or cultivated (if they are seen as good). It is, perhaps, more accurate to say that only a portion of the population has taken on this understanding. There is another section of the population who are suspicious of reason, and believe we should follow our feelings or desires. In the post on Feel, Grace helpfully points out that Elliott is close to swinging the pendulum in that direction. Although we shall not directly deal with this other part of the population, the points below will be framed in such a way that my line of response to this group shall be evident.

The way this Stoic element has entered my culture is that we have allowed our being to be split dualistically into an emotional sector and a rational sector. The rational element is then elevated to a position of superiority, and so the emotional element is made subordinate to reason. This is to be equated with a form of dualism because our emotions are seen to be the result of a biochemical reactions, whereas our thoughts are seen as fundamentally superior.

Although, within my culture, this is attributed less to fatalism – as the early Stoics did – and more to what Marcus Aurelius called chaos, the result is the same. If one wishes to find true happiness they should not seek to change that which they cannot, but should pursue peace within themselves. Thus, the most self-evident way within our culture to grasp happiness is to follow the conclusions of our highest faculty (reason) and dismiss any lower dissenter, which in this case is decidedly emotional.

One way we see this entering the Christian conception of the world, within this culture, is that the emotional words in the Bible (love, joy, peace, hatred) are re-defined into rational or intellectual concepts. Further, importance is placed on one affirming the intellectual concept, regardless of whether the corresponding emotion is felt or not.

The point to make in response to this is that both our thoughts and feelings are the result of biochemical reactions, and so we cannot dismiss our emotions on this count, while at the same time allowing our rational thought to remain unaffected.

A more significant point is that both our reason and our emotions are affected by the fall. We may wish to discuss the different ways in which they are corrupted, yet the basic point stands. Thus, since our whole being is corrupt, we cannot look to something within ourselves and submit all other aspects to it.

The Word of God comes to our entire being from outside of us, and our entire being (in its rational, emotional and actionable aspects) is called to submit to that Word. Thus, we need to treat our emotions more like we treat our reason. They are fallen, and should come under the truth revealed in Scripture. Yet, because of our corruption, our emotions – indeed our whole being – rebels against that truth. This is because we have an emotional and intellectual attachment to falsehood, both of which need to be eradicated.

The truth is that, for the most part, our emotions and intellect work together. We feel angry because something is endangered which we value. We feel scared because something we value is threatened. Thus we need to discover what we are loving more than we love God, in our minds and hearts. We should then evaluate our whole being against the revealed Word. Once that has been done, we need to begin the process of repentance by working through why we are thinking what we are thinking and why we are feeling what we are feeling.

In an attempt to develop the manner in which our emotions and intellect work together, perhaps we could say that our emotional reactions give us insight into the truths that we intellectually affirm, yet have not absorbed within our being? If this is correct, then we need to look at the object of our emotions. The object of our ungodly emotions will be the idol which we are still worshipping. Thus, we might know the truth about a specific idol, or the arguments against some specific expression of sin, but we haven’t attached such value to any given truth such that it generates the appropriate emotional response. We still love the idol more than we love God. This is why being concerned about intellectual obedience, without any concern for emotional obedience, will never suffice over the long term. We need both for complete repentance.

We cannot then subdue or manipulate our emotions. Nor can we let them run wild. We should not elevate emotion above reason and so swing into emotionalism. We need to understand and process that which our emotions point to, and then cultivate godly feelings. We need to accept that God is reforming our entire being – which includes both our emotions and our thoughts.

For the above reasons, we cannot accept this Stoic aspect of our culture, which is based on a dualistic view of humanity. On the path to happiness, this is not an adequate response to God’s providence, or to any kind of chaotic understanding of the world. We must see that if we view our emotions as inferior impulses which need to be subdued, then we will damage an aspect of our being which God uses to reform us into Christ’s likeness – in a manner similar to the way he uses our minds. We need to view our being with balanced eyes: we are wholly depraved, and we are being wholly renewed!

What is the place of ’emotion’ in the Christian life?

pulpit

I’ve recently been diagnosed with depression. So I’ve been pretty man down lately. I have started on a dose of anti-depressants, and they’re slowly kicking into my system. As I was on my way up I was hit by a solid bout of flu. As much as flu sucks, I honestly quite enjoy the time in bed to sleep, read and think.

During this time I started reading a book called ‘Feel‘. In it Matthew Elliott argues that if we downplay emotions in the Christian life, we distance an important, God-given part of ourselves.

Here’s the description from the Amazon page:

“In Feel, Matthew Elliott takes a critical look at what our culture and many churches have taught about controlling and ignoring our emotions. He contends that some of the great thinkers of the modern era got it all wrong, and that the Bible teaches that God intends for us to live in and through our emotions. Emotions are good things that God created us to feel. Matthew helps us to understand our emotions and equips us to nurture healthy feelings and reject destructive ones. So refresh yourself, drink deeply, and learn to live with a new, passionate heart”.

pulpit I’ll be honest, after reading the subtitle (“The power of listening to your heart”) my sensors were tingling a little. But, surprisingly, it was brilliant! It gripped my heart and sent my mind all over the place as I thought about whether it clashes with anything in my theology. I think the best part was that it got me to read the Bible and pray with a new air of excitement.

Has anyone who checks in here read it? If you have, I’d love to hear your thoughts about it. I’m convinced by his argument, and think he highlights something important which is downplayed or, at least, overlooked in most reformed circles. It has given me something to chew on as I think about how to approach my pretty significant emotional. So I’m looking for an opportunity to chat about some of the ideas he raises.

I realise that most of you won’t have read it though. Obviously I recommend you give it a read. But most of you won’t have the time for that. So, because I would still like you to get involved, I have made a plan for you. I have made something of a summary. Give that a read, and then let me know your thoughts below.

P.S. I’ve also been thinking about posting something longer on godliness, friendship and intimacy. So keep an eye out for that too.