Julian Freeman

Freed to live through the death of another.

Category: Presuppositions

How Simple and Shrewd Viewed Sage

I wrote this a few years ago for a different forum. I thought I might as well post it here as well. Hope you enjoy!

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In a place far from here three men, each on a pilgrimage met each other as they were travelling down a forlorn path. Conversation quickly revealed that the three were all desirous of reaching the same destination. One was an old man named Sage who said he had himself carved these paths many years ago. The second man was Simple, a smithy by trade, who often seemed quite pliable. The third man, a young noble named Shrewd, was wise in his own eyes and often desired to forge new paths, even as he imagined Sage had done when he was young.

As the three travelled on for some days, Sage offered direction time and again as he led them through grounds neither of the younger men had seen before. Every time he provided direction, no matter how unlikely it seemed, his word proved to be true and they found themselves to always be headed in the right direction.

Eventually, when the two young men awoke one morning, they found Sage already dressed for travel. He informed them that he had to depart for some time, but that if they followed his directions, he would meet them at the end of their journey. After some days on the path, he said, they would come to a cave. Despite what they saw, no matter how difficult the path through the cave would become, they were to keep going and not give up. This was the only route, he warned, that would take them to the land they desired.

Sure enough, after two days of walking, Simple and Shrewd found themselves at the mouth of a cave. Shrewd took a good long look at the cave, examining it from various perspectives. He warned Simple that caves such as this had been found to be perilous traps before for clueless pilgrims. Simple, however, was convinced that this was the cave he had been told they would find. Seeing that Simple would not be swayed, Sage reluctantly said he too would enter, but that Simple must go first.

As they entered the cave, they found that it travelled only down. Further and further it went, and the air got increasingly frigid. Soon it was totally black and both Simple and Shrewd were in despair for their lives. Looking ahead as far as he could, evaluating the little of the contours of the cave his eyes could discern, Shrewd began to speak:

‘Simple, this is all wrong. Anyone with a half a brain knows that a cave which leads to open land lets in light from both ends. If it is day time outside, and there is a way out of this cave, then we would be able to see light. It makes sense. To follow this path any longer is illogical. We can see that with our eyes. If you insist on staying here anymore, you will have to go it alone, because wisdom advises me to turn around.’

Simple reasoned, ‘The man Sage has never lied to me. He has led me safe this far, and even his words about this cave proved true; the way is difficult. Would it not be more foolish now to turn back, having seen that his counsel has been good thus far?’ And so he spoke to Shrewd, ‘I cannot see the light we both know we should see. But I know the man Sage, and I trust him. I will not turn back.’

So Shrewd and Simple parted ways.

Shrewd quickly, since he was moving towards the light, found his way out. Once out into the forest again, he surveyed the land, checked his compass, and headed off to forge his own path; to take the road less travelled and make his own mark. Not a mile from the cave, as he was looking at his compass, thinking hard about which way made the most sense to him, he happened to walk in between a family of bears, separating a mother from her cubs without even knowing it. He was mawled, and there he died, compass in hand, never having reached his desired land and never having carved the paths he had wanted.

After Shrewd left, Simple continued slowly through the cave. Shortly he had to feel his way along with only his hands as his sight completely failed him in the dark. Several times he hit his head or stubbed his toe, and many times he even began to question whether or not Sage’s words had been correctly spoken–or perhaps they had been misunderstood on his own part? He was, after all, an unlearned man.

But after some time of following the dark, damp, cool walls of the cave, Simple noticed that the wall on his right side disappeared and he realized that he was at a corner. Turning the corner, he caught a glimpse–could it be?–just a glimpse of light ahead. The more he walked toward it, the brighter it got, until he was finally able to walk with ease.

Coming out the other side of the cave he found his old friend, Sage to guide him the rest of the way home to the land of rest he had always desired.

Going Deep

God is big… infinite, in fact. It only makes sense, then, that a finite being like me can’t understand everything about God. One thing the emergent *cough*neo-orthodoxy*cough* crew likes to point out is that we can’t put God in a box. Generally it’s phrased in a ‘witty’ sarcastic statement intended as a ‘humble’ rebuke of some ‘fundamentalist’ that goes something like this: ‘Well, I’m glad that some of you have God all figured out, but for those of us who think God is too big to fit into a little box (or sometimes ‘book’), we prefer to think that he is free to act as he sees fit.’  

Sure. But no one was denying that. In fact, we would argue that the Scriptures themselves teach that God is free to act as he sees fit (even in spite of what we might choose).

The idea of God being ‘really big’ should not effect the basic doctrines the way emergents often quote it. Infinity does not negate perspicuity. When deep sea diving, it can get dark. When snorkeling, there is plenty of light to see where we’re swimming. You could very well be in the same ocean either way, but in one place the water is murky and in another it’s clear.

The same is true of God. Just as he has claimed to have not revealed everything to us, neither do we claim to know everything. But the things that God has revealed, we can and must know! The fact that God is bigger, deeper, more profound, complex and wonderful than me should not discourage me from ever knowing anything about God, but rather, should inspire to look into the mystery of his revelation all the more.

But the complex does not complicate the simple. Some aspects of God are plain. He is holy and righteous and he hates sin. He will not compromise, change his mind, or give his glory to another. He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished. He will accomplish his purpose in history, despite sinful man’s every effort to thwart God’s plan (as pictured in the cross). God will always be victorious (as pictured in the resurrection and ascension). He requires propitiation of his holy wrath, and he provided it for all his sheep in the person of Jesus Christ. He will one day raise all the dead from all time to face judgment: either unto eternal life or eternal punishment. This much is plain.

When Christ returns, I want to be able to say that I used the ‘talent’ he left us (his word) to get to know him and that I’ve spoken his truth to others, not that I buried it in the ground in order to ‘ask questions,’ because I was afraid to conclude anything about him because he’s too ‘big.’

Is Evangelicalism Fundamentally Flawed?

* This is a repost from a while ago, at my old blog. It created good discussion then, so I’m wondering if it will again. I’m also wondering if anyone who participated in the conversation then has changed their opinions since then… to that end, I’ll also repost the original comments so we can see where we’ve all come since that time. *

The Enlightenment. Modernism. Deconstructionism. Postmodernism. Post-postmodernism. What does the Church believe? What are the essentials that do not change and what is culturally relevant?

While it may be an oversimplification, it seems that in a broad stroke, what separates “Evangelicalism” from “Fundamentalism” is how to handle the Enlightenment… and everything post-elightenment, really. Fundamentalism unrelentingly holds fast to the “fundamentals,” without any regard for what the modern sciences have to say about things. “Evangelicals,” on the other hand, are eager to interact with all that advanced human learning can teach us. Rather than writing off evolution by insisting that the Bible teaches a literal 6 day creation, Evangelicals are willing to roll with whatever it is in vogue for scientists. After all, why would we want to remain out of the loop? Does anyone have any respect for the Roman church’s response to poor old Galileo?

In contrast, Fundamentalists could care less what the rest of the world has to say, they insist that since the Bible teaches a literal 6 day creation, we have no need for further inquiry into the matter. Why, they bravely ask, does it even matter what a modern scientist might be able to find, when we have the Bible?

An Evangelical might quickly counter, “What are we afraid of?” All truth is God’s truth! If what we believe is truly true, then there is no truth that can disprove what we believe!

Call me a sceptic or whatever you want (okay, maybe not anything you want), but I see a problem here. I am not, strictly speaking, a Fundamentalist. I think it is a fundamentally wrong assumption for one to hold his beliefs with such little regard for what is demonstable truth. I would be an idiot to believe that pigs can fly when that is simply, patently (and demonstrably) untrue. If I believe something that has no grounding in reality, then it doesn’t matter how hard I believe, I’m still a fool for believing it.

So I can’t ignore what the sciences have to say…

But then why not be Evangelical (if my dichotomy may be allowed to stand for now)? Why not simply engage with all that the world can determine to be true? Without delving too deep into theories on the nature of truth, it must be acknowledged at least in some sense, that much of the “truth” we find empirically is fluid.

For example, not too long ago smoking was not the taboo it has become today. It wasn’t bad for your health, and was socially accepted. Now, however, we have determined that it is horrible for the human body and can cause any number of diseases. A few generations ago, the “truth” about smoking was different. It was knowledge based on a changing and evolving science.

Again, we could look at the different theories that have been held with regard to homosexuality or even alcoholism. What was once known by any number of societies to be “sin” (however that community defined it) has now in many circles become simply a genetic difference. Alcoholism is something that, regrettably, some people will have to deal with because of genes. Homosexuality is something to be celebrated as a normal part of a person’s genetic makeup.

So what do we do with knowledge gained through the sciences? Bill Webb argues that modern science can demonstrate that certain traits once thought to be tied to gender can now be shown to be more from genetic makeup than gender.

Many liberals within the Church of England argue that homo- sexuality is a part of genetic makeup, and can therefore not be wrong. The homosexuality Paul condemned was that of the pagan cultic worship rituals of his day. What Paul condemned was perversion, not personality. This is not to say that either Webb or the Anglicans are right or wrong, but rather to pose the question, what do we do with science?

Do we base doctrine on it? So what if we compromise on the creation issue and argue rather for a “theistic evolution,” but then the evidence tips back the other way again? Do we then turn and argue for a 6 day creation like it was the year 1589 all over again?

What if we could demonstrably prove scientifically that men are actually more gullible than women? Would that mean that we should take 1 Timothy 2 mean that only women should be elders in our churches?

And what if it is in fact proven that homosexuality has nothing to do with genetics, but everything to do with how someone is raised and socialized? Will the Anglican church have an about-face?

Or are our methods of using the “impartial” sciences really quite partial after all? Why is it that CNN reports all the time of skulls being researched which are millions of years old, while at the same time millions of more copies of “A Case For Creation” are sold in Christian bookstores?

If Evangelicals intend to use the modern sciences to inform their interpretation of the Scriptures, ought they not to define better what role these sciences should play? And what do they do when the science “changes”? Does truth change?

If Fundamentalists intend to hold unswervingly the timeless truths of the Bible, how in the world will they gain credibility in a society that is swamped with “facts” that disprove the “fundamentals”?

Is Evangelicalism destined for a future of fluidity–always trying to balance acceptance in scholarly and popular circles with attempts to remain faithful in some sense to the biblical witness?

Is Fundamentalism destined for a demise into infamy as it distances itself from all things relevant with ever-increasing speed?

Is there a middle ground? Is that even what we need? Do we look for further defintion or faster departure from these classical categories of modern Christendom?

Shrewd as Serpents?

Please understand that I know the whole Augustinian / Pelagian (Calvinism / Arminianism) debate has been running its course for 16 centuries or so now, so I don’t intend to solve it here. That being said, I’m a little frustrated this evening at the “non-logic” employed by many Christians when it comes to working through these thoughts.
Augustine (and subsequently Calvin, Luther, Edwards, et al.) taught the freedom of the will. This surprises many, but it’s true. The will is free to choose whatever it should so desire. The biblical picture, however, is that the unregenerate heart will always choose evil; hence the “bondage of the will” (ie. it can only choose evil, therefore, it knows nothing of true freedom). God’s grace, according to Augustine, is his active changing of our hearts, so that we delight in him above all else, so that we freely choose him over everything else (thus God is, to Augustine, his sovereign joy) and every other false pleasure.
I believe firmly that this is a concept firmly rooted in the biblical portrait of man and God’s redemptive work and would be prepared to argue that at length. That’s not what I’m hoping to discuss here, however.
My problem is when I get into discussions like one I had recently with a brother (whom I love dearly) who refuses to acknowledge God’s sovereign grace for patently unbiblical reasons. He made no attempt to argue from Scripture, exept to cite a single verse from 1 Tim 2 without rooting his argument in context. He then based his whole theology of grace around the idea that he created from that one verse. His argument went something like this:

1. God elects some to salvation.
2. This necessarily implies that he has willfully, actively chosen to create some, make them sinful, and send them to hell.
3. This is unacceptable.
4. Therefore, God does not elect unto salvation.
The problem, of course, with this syllogism is that 2 does not follow from 1.
The problem in the grander scheme of things, however, is that he has worked himself into a tough corner when it comes to actually dealing with the biblical texts which clearly delineate God’s electing in salvation. What does one do with Ephesians 1 when he has already decided in his mind that God’s greatest desire is for every single person to be saved?
The simple fact of the matter is that the Bible places the blame for the damnation of sinners on sinners. Out of a fallen race of humanity, God elects a people unto salvation. God is responsible for salvation, because his grace has to change our hearts so that we can delight in him. God is not responsible for the damnation of a sinner, that sinner chose what he desired.
Some may well ask “how can God judge me when he didn’t elect me?” To that we’d have to answer with Paul, “Who are you, o man, to answer back to God?” Or with Moses, “The revealed things belong to man, but the hidden things belong to God.” Or with Isaiah, “His thoughts are not our thoughts, nor his ways our ways. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so are his thoughts above our thoughts and his ways above our ways.”
It frustrates me to no end how Christians are willing to take certain things by faith, but then when the Bible doesn’t answer every question they have, they reject what the Bible does teach for their own ideas of what it should teach.
Deal with the text and let that frame your thoughts and questions. Be willing to submit to whatever it teaches… it is the word of God. Be willing to accept “foolishness” when it presents itself. This type of humility usually leads to the greatest insights of wisdom.

What Controls You?

A couple of different events are converging at once, prompting this post. One of which is some recent reflections I’ve had on narrative theology (most recently, Justin Taylor brought out the connection between narrative theology and emergent/emerging). The other series of events that leads me to these thoughts is the series of sermons we find ourselves in at Grace Fellowship. We’re currently in Romans 9 and working through what it means that God ‘has mercy on whom he wills, and hardens whom he wills.’

It’s a basic presupposition of many people that you must allow a certain set of texts (be they divided by genre, place in redemptive-history, author, whatever) to control the other sets of texts.

For example, because of their predisposition to narrative theology, open theists say that the ‘divine repentance texts’ must have priority over the seeming ‘exhaustive detail sovereignty texts’ in teaching us how God interacts with people. In fact, the narrative texts ultimately determine how we interpret those other texts.

This post will obviously not resolve all (or perhaps any) of the problems raised within these issues. That being said, I want to suggest that we sometimes overlook basic rules of logic when it comes to interpreting the Bible. In other words, sometimes we think that we have to have an entirely different type of thinking cap on when we’re reading God’s word.

Here’s an example of what I mean. One of my all-time favourite bands is braveSaintSaturn (although I think they may be defunct now…?). I love this band so much because I can identify with the poetry, allegory, images, and emotions conveyed in their art. It pulls at my heart. As they sing, I interpret everything that they say… and to be honest, I think I get it. I think I totally understand what the author of that song was trying to get across.

But I could be wrong. The other day I read an interview with Reese Roper, the lead singer of the band, and the guy that writes most of their lyrics. He started talking about what the symbols meant, and what he was trying to get across in various songs. Now, if he had’ve explained that a certain image meant something completely different than what I had expected, who would be right? Should I still insist that the image is what makes sense to me? Or should I understand that in his mind, he meant to convey something else, and let his explanation govern my interpretation?

Basically, my point is this: We sometimes forget that all revelation did not always exist (it came in sequence) and that not all Scripture is equally clear (2 Pet 3.16). Just as poetry provides brilliant images and draws on emotions and encourages audience involvement, so does the narrative of the OT (and gospels and Acts). But, if we understand the concept that there is one author of the whole Bible–as there was one author who both wrote the braveSaintSaturn songs and spoke about them in the interview–(see 2 Pet 1.16-21; 2 Tim 3.16; and Heb 1), then we must understand that what comes later, and clearly interprets all of narrative history (cf Romans and Hebrews for example), is intended to control our theology. This is especially true of theology proper.

What in the world does all that mean? Simply this: When we read things in the Bible that confuse us about God, we allow the newer revelation to control the older (cf Heb 1.1-2) because it is better. It interprets what came before. This is a simple principle that we apply all the time to other things we read, we just seem to miss it somehow when we read our Bible. Maybe we have a ‘presupposition-driven theology.’

Fundamental Flaws and Empathy for Evangelicals

My former post seemed to get a bit of response. In it I posed several questions. Not the least of which was, “Is Evangelicalism, as a way of thinking, fundamentally flawed since it seeks to interact with a fluid concept of reality, through which it ultimately must determine truth and interpret Scripture?” But that was compared with Fundamentalism, and it was then asked, “Is Fundamentalism any better? Can one determine truth if he has not engaged all the facts available to him? Can one remain relevant to his culture, his world, his times, if he does not interact with all that those around him know as reality? Can he even know truth if he has not actively engaged falsity, in order to know it as such?”

The responses were variegated in topic and flavour, but seemed to revolve around two main thoughts. One of which was that all “isms” are man-made, and thus are inherently flawed. The second main thought in the responses was one wherein it was questioned whether the Bible should be used as a “science textbook” when that is clearly not what it was originally intended to be. Shouldn’t we be more concerned with the main points and practical results of what the Bible teaches, rather than getting all caught up in the relevance of details that weren’t supposed to be taken as we take them (ie. taking the details of creation in Gen. 1 as a description of the exact chronology of how things occurred, according to modern scientific method)?

The post itself was meant to be leading in its line of questions. Wherein lies truth? How can transient man ever come face to face with eternal reality?

When Augustine was young he developed a love for philosophy by reading Cicero’s “Hortensius.” By this point in his education, Augustine had fallen head over heals for great poetry and prose and fanciful arguments of men over what to believe and what to question… sounds like many of us. When he first came to question these things, he queried his friends, searched his own mind and soul, and finally saw fit to probe holy writ.

He records his experience:

So I made up my mind to examine the holy Scriptures and see what kind of books they were. I discovered something that was at once beyond the understanding of the proud and hidden from the eyes of children. Its gait was humble, but the heights it reached were sublime. It was enfolded in mysteries, and I was not the kind of man to enter into it or bow my head to follow where it led. But these were not the feelings I had when I first read the Scriptures. To me they seemed quite unworthy of comparison with the stately prose of Cicero, because I had too much conceit to accept their simplicity and not enough insight to penetrate their depths. It is surely true that as the child grows these books grow with him. But I was too proud to call myself a child. I was inflated with self-esteem, which made me think myself a great man.

Many a “great man” treats the Word of God in this manner. Evey man who treats God’s word in this manner must indeed be “great,” at least in his own mind–how else could humanity pass judgment on the divine?

I am certain of this, that “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” I think this holds true with regards to the work of his Holy Spirit. The Word of God is indeed living and active, and it will not return to him who sent it without accomplishing its intended purpose.

When the Word of God meets a humble and contrite heart, who accepts it as truth truly sent by God, it has indeed found a home. The Spirit of God plants the seed of the word, waters and nourishes it. The grace of God is all the light and energy needed to bring forth a tree of good fruit.

As time goes by, I become more and more convinced that God honours faith and humility. If, in faith, I come as a human, bound in time and space, limited in knowledge and wisdom, to his Word which I regard as holy truth and wholly true, the revelation of the character and nature of the One Eternal Reality against which all else is measured, I will be blessed.

Too many times I have come to the Bible like Augustine, quoted above. I have thought of it and have been ashamed that the book to which I am supposed to cling is “not like Cicero.” It is, in places, not the most beautiful of language. At times it seems downright naive. It is almost always politically incorrect, and quite often it says things that are incredibly difficult to interpret aright.

It is much easier to come up with my own grand thoughts of what God must be like, or could be like, or the nature of reality itself than to read about them in a book multiple-millenia old. And it is old–it has all been heard before. What of new ideas, new thoughts, new perspectives? What about “always reforming” anyway? Shouldn’t that apply to at least our interpretations, if not doctrines of Scripture?

God has honoured and will continue to honour that faith which recognizes his Word as “God-breathed”–that is, from him and above reproach or rebuke, shame or scandal, culture or critique.

He does this in very practical ways. God honours faith by providing proof.

Remember in the Chronicles of Narnia when Lucy saw Aslan so plainly when others could not? Aslan demanded of her that she follow him regardless of what the others thought or did. The others thought she was nuts at best and a pain at worst. But as each one’s faith was added, they were provided with the grace to see that Aslan was there and had been leading them all along.

It is the same thing for the Christian as he reads his Bible. When I read it in faith, trusting that it is God’s truly inspired Word to me, his Spirit bears witness to my heart that what I read is truth. When I read with the faith of a child trusting his Father, he honours that faith and shows me the intangible internal consistency, undeniable connectivity of thought, and the subtle nuances that could be included only if one author had edited the whole.

So what? What does all this have to do with the conversation at hand? How does this relate to the Evangelical / Fundamentalist debate?

Simply this: The Bible is not a science textbook and Evangelicalism, like Fundamentalism and every other “ism” is indeed fundamentally flawed. Science cannot give us the answers we are looking for; it cannot interpret Scripture or give us absolute truth. Science, like the “isms” at hand, is never impartial, nor are our uses of it.

The only source of truth we have is the Word of God. And the Word of God is hard–hard to interpret, hard to understand, hard to apply. Who thought truth would be easy? The only answer we have is to simply choose to believe Scripture.

Ultimately, we must choose to either believe it or disbelieve it. It is a matter of faith. The more faith we place in it, the more we see that it is entirely trustworthy. The more we analyze, deconstruct, apply our criticisms, the more room for Satan to fill our minds with doubt. The Bible testifies to itself like Christ testified to himself, or like God testified to himself to OT Israel. Either believe or disbelief; take it or leave it.

To take the promises of God and wait to see if they hold true for others is to disbelieve. To take Christ and examine him sceptically as he is modelled by Christians is to disbelieve. To take the Word of God and determine whether or not to believe it based on how you see it interacting with culture or science is to disbelieve it.

What I am suggesting is not a return to Fundamentalism, where we do not interact with the culture or science of our day, but rather that we do so with a heart that has already determined that God’s Word is true in what it asserts regardless of what the rest of the world professes to believe. God’s Word is true regardless of any scientific “fact;” though we know that no fact could ever contradict truth. Thus, the fluidity of the reality of the world around us alternatively may testify for or against a truth claim of God’s Word.

Faith demands that I go into my interactions with culture or science with the understanding that what God (as Creator of all) proclaims to be good or bad, right or wrong, truth or fiction, is in fact exactly what he says it is. End of conversation. Regardless of what culture or science attempts to dictate or demand.

In humility we must come to the Word of God and believe it absolutely. To do anything less is to disbelieve completely. The inner testimony of the Holy Spirit to the absolute truth of God’s Word cannot be denied by any who have come in the humility our great God deserves.

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