Modern Pensées

Reconsidering theology, philosophy, culture, economics, and politics

Archive for the ‘Augustine’ Category

Nietzsche vs. Christianity, Part 4

with one comment

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

This lecture focuses on Christianity’s response to Nietzsche and the problem of Foucault.

Audio is available here.

I.  Recapping Nietzsche’s objections to Christianity:

A.  Intellectually impossible

B.  It demeans humanity

C.  Its morality is fatal to life

II.  In Christianity’s Place are Nietzsche’s Affirmations:

  1. Be a free-spirit
  2. Be curious
  3. Be nomadic

III.  Christian Responses

Abraham Kuyper

Dostoevsky – Brothers Karamazov

Blaise Pascal – Pensees

Karl Barth

Francis Schaeffer – true/livable

St. Augustine

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

IV.  The Problem of Foucault

V.  Talking Points

A.  Is the Nietzschean worldview true?

B.  Is the Nietzschean worldview livable?

C.  Does Foucault present a problem for Nietzsche’s worldview?

D.  Does Nietzsche really understand Christianity?

Best Creeds, Confessions and Catechisms of the Christian Church

with 2 comments

Trinity Shield from Athanasian Creed

Our faith is 2000 years old.  We have a long obedience in the same direction, affirming the same truths.  We are wise to be familiar with the many wonderful orthodox creeds, confessions, and catechisms of the Christian church.

Apostles Creed (~2nd century)

Nicene Creed (325)

Athanasian Creed (5th century)

Definition of the Council of Chalcedon (451)

The Canons of the Council of Orange (529)

London Baptist Confession (1689)

Westminster Standards:  Westminster Confession of Faith, Westminster Shorter Catechism, and Westminster Larger Catechism (1646)

Heidelberg Catechism (1563) – Note:  Kevin DeYoung has a book coming out on the HC next year entitled The Good News We Almost Forgot.  I would be surprised if it was not excellent.  CJ Mahaney says, “Doubtless this will be the finest book I will have ever read on the Heidelberg Catechism. It will certainly be the first.”

Belgic Confession (1618)

Canons of Dordt (1618)

Second Helvetic Confession (1536)

Genevan Catechism (1536)

The Thirty Nine Articles (Anglican, 1572) and Augsburg Confession (Lutheran) are not bad and worth familiarizing oneself.

Also of note is the Westminster Shorter Catechism for kids – the entire list of questions and answers can be found here for free.

Top 40 Books to Read While in College

with 4 comments

Don't Waste Your Life by John Piper

You will never have more discretionary time than while in college.  This is a critical time for you to develop your character and mind.  This is a list of what I think are the most important books to work through during your time as an undergrad.  These books focus on developing your heart to affection (orthopathos), renewing your mind to truth (orthodoxy), and provoking your hands to kingdom work (orthopraxis).  Take 10 books a year and devote 30 minutes a day – you’ll finish the list, perhaps even early.

Note:  I have listed them in order of how I think they should be read and not necessarily in order of how good they are.  For sake of space, I am not going to do a writeup on each of these.  If you have a question(s) about a book(s), just post in the comments.

1.  Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper
2.  Nine Marks of a Healthy Church by Mark Dever
3.  The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer
4.  Designed for Dignity by Richard Pratt
5.  The Fuel and the Flame by Steve Shadrach
6.  Tell the Truth by Will Metzger
7.  The Master Plan of Evangelism by Robert Coleman
8.  Holiness by J.C. Ryle
9.  The New Testament Documents:  Are They Reliable by F.F. Bruce
10.  Universe Next Door by James Sire
11.  Knowing God by J.I. Packer
12.  Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey
13.  Redemption Accomplished and Applied by John Murray
14.  Pensees by Blaise Pascal
15.  No Place for Truth by David Wells
16.  The Cross of Christ by John Stott
17.  Culture Wars by James Hunter
18.  Let The Nations Be Glad by John Piper
19.  Salvation Belongs to the Lord by John Frame
20.  Desiring God (or something else more substantial) by John Piper
21.  The John Frame Trilogy:  Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, Doctrine of God, Doctrine of the Christian Life by John Frame
22.  The Clash of Civilizations by Samuel Huntington
23.  Christ of the Covenants by O. Palmer Robertson
24.  Darwin’s Black Box by Michael Behe
25.  Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards
26.  Love the Lord Your God With All Your Mind by J.P. Moreland
27.  Darwin on Trial by Phillip Johnson
28.  Rise of Christianity by Rodney Stark
29.  Church History in Plain Language by Bruce Shelley
30.  Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem
31.  How to Read the Bible for All its Worth by Fee and Stuart
32.  He Gave us Stories by Richard Pratt [there is a nice summary here]
33.  Institutes of Christian Religion by John Calvin
34.  Confessions by St. Augustine
35.  Warranted Christian Belief by Alvin Plantinga
36.  Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche (I included this book because it is important for us to study antithetical works, I will make a list of books like this one later)
37.  What is a Healthy Church Member by Thabiti Anyabwile
38.  Habits of the Mind by James Sire
39.  Why We’re Not Emergent:  From Two Guys That Should Be by Ted Kluck and Kevin Deyoung
40.  Baptism and Fullness by John Stott

What books would you add?

Thoughts on Evangelicalism Moving Forward, Part 3: Worldview

leave a comment »

Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey

Three nasty by-products of a half-century of evangelical cultural disengagement and anti-intellectualism were that secularism, pluralism, and post-modern-pragmatism were allowed to run amok.  Divinity schools where Pastors were trained for ministry became Religious Studies departments where we put religions in a box to poke them and take notes.

Moving forward, evangelicalism must rediscover the Biblical worldview that they have neglected.  I can think of no better starting point that evangelicals everywhere reading Nancy Pearcey’s Total Truth.  Every undergraduate, mom, working person, or clergy needs to read this book.  Later I will be doing a series of Top5/10 posts on different books in different genres.  This books is on my Top 10 All-Time across all categories.  It is not an arrogant statement, but a truthful statement, to say that Christianity accounts for everything in the Universe.  This is not tantamount to saying that individual Christians fully understand or comprehend all things or that there is no mystery for us.  But it does mean that, as Augustine put it, “all truth is God’s truth.”  Universities used to be the unity of Christ as total truth uniting the diversity of various academic disciplines that all had their center in his logos.  In other words, the University was much like a bicycle tire, where Christ was the unifying hub and each field was a spoke that owed its stability to the hub and owed its inter-relatedness to other fields also to that same hub.  Now, the University is a place where you get completely different mutually exclusive worldviews in different departments.  This was my experience at University of Florida.  I got diametrically opposed pictures of reality in the Religious Studies and Philosophy departments.  Both were frustrating because both were wrong.  The Religious Studies department was certain that nothing was certain.  The Philosophy department was certain that everything was certain (via modernistic rationalism). I believe that the University is ripe for the plucking because none of these worldviews being espoused have any substantial veracity.  John Summerville has a game plan that I wrote on earlier for on how to redeem the University.

In my view, secularism, pluralism, and post-modern-pragmatism (I will define this term in a later blog post), are ultimately unlivable and provide a really fertile soil for the Gospel.  Evangelicals must take their faith seriously in mind, heart, and practice.

Up next, we will look at how energy, the Peak Oil debate, urbanization, telecommuting, and the suburbs may present a substantial threat to evangelicalism.

Introduction to Apologetics, Part 5: Blaise Pascal

with one comment

Blaise Pascal

Blaise Pascal: Apologist to the Skeptic

I can think of no Christian writer, not Newman even, more to be commended than Pascal to those who doubt, but who have the mind to conceive, and the sensibility to feel, the disorder, the futility, the meaninglessness, the mystery of life and suffering, and who can only find peace through a satisfaction of the whole being. – T.S. Eliot

If you do not know me (or could not guess from the main title of this blog), then you may not know of my sincere affection for the thoughts of Blaise Pascal (1623-1662).  Previously on this blog, I wrote this short bio:

Blaise Pascal was a scientist, mathematician, philosopher, and theologian.   In science, he essentially invented the hydraulic press, syringes, vacuums, and the barometer.  In mathematics, he made advances in probability theory, game theory, geometry, and foundational presuppositions to economics.     In philosophy and theology, Pascal had one work published after his death – Pensees (French for ‘thoughts’).  Pascal lived an anguishing and brief life of intense physical pain (likely stomach cancer and brain lesions/damage) and joy.  He died at age 39.

Further Background

Adding to this, later in life Pascal was a Jansenist.  Jansenism was a small branch of Catholicism highly influenced by St. Augustine (354-430).   Following Augustine, Jansenism has a high view of God and highlights God’s sovereignty in salvation.  Augustine was critical and seminal in the Protestant Reformation and, as such, much of Pascal’s thoughts appear Protestant and Calvinistic.

Pascal was substantially ahead of his time in science, mathematics, and philosophy (and may still be).  Pascal also transcends many different categories.  He is esteemed by both (some) Catholics and Protestants.  He is balanced on the role of reason and faith.  In the wake of the Thirty Years War, a European civil war over religion, which most historians point to as the death of religion in Europe, Pascal was vehemently defending Christianity.  He was a sharp critic of Rene Descartes and the foolishness of the Enlightenment Project, three hundred years before it became vogue to bash on modernism and the Enlightenment.  Pascal was both  incredibly thoughtful and emotionally passionate in his Christianity.

Pascal’s Apologetic

Pascal’s apologetic is brilliant.  His argumentation does not necessarily follow the paradigm of Premise 1, Premise 2, Premise 3, Premise 4, and therefore Conclusion.  Pascal appeals to individual experience, community experience, reason, and the Scriptures.  While the others of his day were extolling the absolute infallibility and perfection of pure reason, Pascal pointed out its weaknesses and inability to provide the necessary answers to being and experience.

Pascal starts by showing the boundaries of what reason alone can and cannot do:

On Reason

173.  If we submit everything to reason our religion will be left with nothing mysterious or supernatural.  If we offend the principles of reason our religion will be absurd and ridiculous.

183.  Two excesses:  to exclude reason, to admit nothing but reason.

188.  Reason’s last step is the recognition that there are an infinite number of things which are beyond it.  It is merely feeble in it does not go as far as to realize that.  If natural things are beyond it, what are we to say about supernatural things?

Pascal continues to challenge scientific rationalism (the Enlightenment Project), mainly by pointing out weaknesses in Descartes:

On Descartes (and by corollary the Enlightenment Project)

78.  Descartes:  useless and uncertain

553.  Write against those who probe science to deeply.  Descartes.

Pascal then examines many opposites, paradoxes, and antinomies:  Faith and reason.  Greatness and wretchedness.  Meaninglessness and Meaning.  Heart and Mind.  Certainty and uncertainty.  Boredom and happiness.  Diversion and rest.  He concludes that the true religion must account for all of these extremes.  He also puts forth an epistemology:

110.  We know the truth not only through our reason but also through our heart.  It is through the latter we know first principles, and reason, which has nothing to do with it, tries in vain to refute them.  The sceptics have no other object than that, and they work at it to no purpose.  We know that we are not dreaming, but, however unable we may be to prove it rationally, our inability proves nothing but the weakness of our reason, and not the uncertainty of our knowledge, as they maintain.  For knowledge of first principles, like space, time, motion, number, is as solid as any derived through reason, and it is on such knowledge coming from the heart and instinct, that reason has to depend and base all its argument.  The heart feels that there are three spatial dimensions and that there is an infinite series of numbers, and reason goes on to demonstrate that there are no two square numbers of which one is double the other.  Principles are felt, propositions are proved, and both with certainty through different means…  Our inability must therefore serve only to humble reason, which would like to be the judge of everything, but not to confute our certainty.  As if reason were the only way we could learn!

On Faith

185. Faith certainly tells us what the senses do not, but not the contrary of what they see; it is above, not against them.

Pascal shows his reader the wretchedness of his estate, the weakness of his reason, and shows him the true happiness of Christ and the Gospel against that dark backdrop.  Pascal transcends the different apologetic categories we have listed thus far.  He was far before his time and embodies the essence of the classic Richard Pratt quote, “Because the deck of life is always shifting balance can be nothing more than momentary synchronicity.”

Concluding Thoughts

In this writers opinion, if the modern era had read Pascal more widely the arrogance of the Enlightenment Project and modernism may have never occurred and Europe might still be substantially Christian today.  Pascal’s non-linear methodology also suits a third way between the arrogance of modernism and uncertainty of post-modernism.  Tolle lege!

Introduction to Apologetics, Part 2: Classical Apologetics

with one comment

Augustine

St. Augustine

Again, classical apologetics focuses on the rational basis of the Christian faith.  It establishes this through several rational arguments for the existence of God (Cosmological, Teleological, and Ontological), and evidences for the reliability of the Bible and miracles.

Some main characters:

-The Apostle Paul (first century) would sometimes cite the resurrection and fulfillment of miracles in his preaching of the Gospel (Acts 17…).

Justin Martyr (100-165 ad) focuses much of his attention defending Christianity to the Roman government and arguing against prominent heretics of that day, particularly Marcion.  Justin keys in on defending the Incarnation of Jesus as the Divine Logos, emphasizing prophecies fulfilled, and highlighting the reality of Jesus’ Second Coming. [there are some presuppositional veins in Justin Martyr as well – most notably, he thinks God’s existence needs no proof]

St. Augustine wrote very widely defending Christianity against the heresy of Pelagius as well as positively refining/defining many central elements of orthodox Christianity.

St. Anselm (1033-1109) is most famous for the original formulation of the Ontological Argument.  The ontological argument for the existence of God is exceedingly difficult to understand, requiring heavy thinking to comprehend its brilliance.  I happen to think that the ontological argument actually establishes the existence of God.  I also happen to think that it is the second best argument behind the presuppositional Transcendental Argument.  I think the best formulation of the ontological argument is Alvin Plantinga’s version employing modal logic.

Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) also wrote very widely, providing much of the foundations for the Roman Catholic tradition up til Vatican II.  Aquinas is a central figure in Classical Apologetics for his 5 arguments for the existence of God.  The 5 arguments are:

  1. Many things are moving.  Everything that is moved was moved by something.  An infinite chain of movers is impossible.  Therefore there had to be an unmoved mover.  We call this unmoved mover God.
  2. Many things are caused.  Existence is a series of causes and effects.  There had to be a beginning, hence there must be a first cause to this chain of causes and effects.  We call this unmoved mover God.
  3. Some things in the Universe may or may not exist, these beings exist contingently.  However, it is impossible for everything in the Universe to be contingent, because something exists right now.  Therefore, there must be a being whose existence is not contingent but necessary.  We call this necessarily existent being God.
  4. Different perfections of a wide range of degrees can be evidenced  in the Universe.  These degrees of perfection assume an ultimate standard.  The ultimate standard is God.
  5. All natural bodies work toward a purpose.  These objects are unintelligent in an of themselves.  Acting towards a purpose is a sign of intelligence.  Therefore, there is an intelligent being that guides these natural bodies to those purposes.  This intelligent being is God.

In recent times several key apologists continue on the rich tradition behind them:  R.C. Sproul, Norman Geisler, William Lane Craig, and J.P. Moreland.

Up next, we will take a look at Evidentialist Apologetics.

%d bloggers like this: