Modern Pensées

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3 Month Introspective

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Introspective

So, I’ve been blogging consistently for three months.  This is the week of Christmas and I’ll be all over the place.  I thought I would briefly summarize the 3 months of blog series on here:

Blaise Pascal:  We took a look at Blaise Pascal’s thinking, its use of aphorism and its relationship to both tri-perspectivalism and presuppositionalism.  We also looked at his use of aphorism and his warnings against deism and atheism.

Thoughts on Evangelicalism Past, Present, and Future, Parts 1-7:  We defined the term evangelical.  We looked at its historical roots in the First Great Awakening, Second Great Awakening, and its ties to celebrity culture, democritization of knowledge, and modernism.  Then we looked at the roots of liberalism, the Protestant split and suburbanization, and defined and outlined evangelical populism and their game plan for reaching America.  Finally we assessed the current status of American evangelicalism and then made some predictions of future trends.

Introduction to Apologetics, Parts 1-7:  We looked in broad strokes at the various schools of apologetics.  We then took a more in-depth look at:  Classical Apologetics, Evidentialist Apologetics, Presuppositional Apologetics, and the specific apologetics of Blaise Pascal and Alvin Plantinga.  Finally, we employed the three phases football as an analogy for the different apologetic schools and I likened Tim Tebow to the presuppositionalists.

Thoughts on Evangelicalism Moving Forward, Parts 1-10:  We looked at some analysis of some shifts evangelicalism will need to make moving forward:  Doctrine, Worldview, Urbanization, Globality/Mobility, “Post-Modernism,” American Culture(s), Contextualization, Balance, and Final Analysis.

Top ~10 Books by Topic:

Top 10 Systematic Theology Texts

Top 10 Devotional Classics

Top 10 Books on the Church

Top 10 Books on Science and Christianity

Top 10 Books on Christian Biography

Top 10 Books on Culture

Top 10 Books on Eschatology

Top 5 Books on Worldview

Top 15 Books on Status of American Evangelicalism

Top 10 Books on Church History

Top 40 Books to Read While in College

Top 10 Books on Missions, Discipleship, and Evangelism

The 25 Most Destructive Books Ever Written…

Top 10 Apologetic Works

Top 10 Books on Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility

Top 10 Books by John Piper

Top 5 Children’s Books

Best Creeds, Confessions, and Catechisms of the Christian Church

A Comprehensive List of Top 10 Book Lists of 2009

Up Next:  We will be looking at some thoughts on the economy and investment and then delve into the mind of Friedrich Nietzsche…

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Written by Michael Graham

December 19, 2009 at 11:29 am

Top 10 Apologetic Works

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Apologetics to the Glory of God

This is a highly selective list of what I think are both good and useful apologetic works.

1.  Apologetics to the Glory of God by John Frame  [y, l, e, p, s]

At the end of the day, I think the presuppositionalists have the most Biblical and best defense of Christianity.  This is the best of the presuppositional works.

2.  Pensees by Blaise Pascal  [y, l, e, p, s]

This book should come as no surprise considering the title of this blog.  Pascal speaks to the heart and the mind.  His analysis of man’s greatness/wretchedness, propensity towards boredom, and love of diversions make so much sense of the human experience in light of the Christian story.

3.  Warranted Christian Belief by Alvin Plantinga  [p, s]

This is Plantinga’s magnum opus.  He presents his epistemology.  It is not an easy read, a background in philosophy would be very helpful.

4.  Tactics:  A Gameplan For Discussing Your Christian Convictions by Gregory Koukl  [y, l, e, p, s]

While not necessarily an apologetic work, this is a helpful book for creating discussion about your faith.  I included it here because it is so helpful and practical.

5.  Darwin’s Black Box by Michael Behe  [l, e, p, s]

See write-up here.

6.  The Reason for God by Tim Keller  [c, y, l, e, p, s]

Keller presents a third way between pure science/reason and pure faith.

7.  Cornelius Van Til:  An Analysis of His Thought by John Frame  [e, p, s]

If you are seriously interested in presuppositional thought, then this is a good place to dig deeper.

8.  Defending Your Faith by R.C. Sproul  [y, l, e, p, s]

R.C. has put together a very solid and readable introduction to apologetics.  A good first book on the subject.

9.  God and Other Minds by Alvin Plantinga  [p, s]

Here, Plantinga discusses the classical arguments for/against God.  Also, his God, Freedom, and Evil is pretty good.  It is not an easy read.  A background in philosophy and/or logic is very helpful.

10.  Every Thought Captive by Richard Pratt  [c, y, l, e, p, s]

This brief book is an accessible and good read for everyone.

(c=children; y=young adult; l=lay leader; e=elder; p=pastor; s=scholar)

Top 40 Books to Read While in College

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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?

Top 10 Books on Science and Christianity

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Darwin's Black Box: A Must Read

Let me first say that science would not exist unless it where for Christianity.  In the history of Western Civilization, one has to ask themselves, ‘the Greeks were really really smart, why didn’t they invent the scientific method?’  The answer is simple, following Platonic and Neo-Platonic thinking, they did not think this world was real or intelligible.  It was not until Christianity presented a world created, ordered, and directed by a sovereign and benevolent triune God that the scientific method sprouted.  The consensus view in the history/philosophy of science is that science required the fertile soul of Christianity in order to grow.  Christianity took this world seriously.

1.  Darwin’s Black Box by Michael Behe  [l, e, p, s]

In my view, this book destroys the Neo-Darwinian (scientific rationalism) story of how life exists.  This book is a must read.  See also this previous blog post.

2.  Pensees by Blaise Pascal  [y, l, e, p, s]

Although not explicitly about science and Christianity, Pascal presents an epistemology that includes science, reason, and faith.

3.  Personal Knowledge by Michael Polanyi  [e, p, s]

Polanyi rightly challenges the objectivity and impersonality of the scientist.  Polanyi is very important in philosophy of science and is a worthwhile read.

4.  When Science Meets Religion by Ian Barbour  [l, e, p, s]

Barbour presents four possible relationships that science and religion might have.  Balanced read.

5.  The Soul of Science:  Christian Faith and Natural Philosophy by Nancy Pearcey and Charles Thaxton  [l, e, p, s]

Great critique of naturalism.  Pearcey is solid as usual.

6.  Darwin on Trial by Phillip Johnson  [y, l, e, p, s]

Is there enough hard evidence to prove Darwinism correct, were it to be put on a public trial?  Creative and damning question.

7.  The Edge of Evolution:  The Search for the Limits of Darwinism by Michael Behe  [l, e, p, s]

More Behe.  Good stuff.

8.  Evolution:  A Theory in Crisis by Michael Denton  [l, e, p, s]

Most think that this is the book that started the Intelligent Design movement.

9.  The Reason for God by Tim Keller  [c,y l, e, p, s]

Although not explicitly on the subject of science, like Pascal, Keller presents a third way between pure science/reason and pure faith.

10a.   The Language of God by Francis Collins  [l, e, p, s]

A look at DNA, from the director of the human genome project, and an evangelical Christian.

10b.  Inventing the Flat Earth:  Columbus and Modern Historian by Jeffrey Russell  [l, e, p, s]

Russell confronts the myth that people (esp. Christians) believed in a flat earth.  Pretty damning to an annoying and ignorant argument:

On page 1 of Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae (that is, in the first article of the first question of the first part), he casually mentions the round earth on the way to proving something doctrinal: “the astronomer and the physicist both may prove the same conclusion: that the earth, for instance, is round: the astronomer by means of mathematics (i.e., abstracting from matter), but the physicist by means of matter itself.”  (via Between Two Worlds)

Honorable Mention:  Icons of Evolution by Jonathan Wells  [c, y, l, e, p, s]

I cannot stand behind anything else he has written, but Icons shreds the silly pictures commonly put in the textbooks you had growing up, demonstrating how they do not show Darwinian macroevolution.

(c=children; y=young adult; l=lay leader; e=elder; p=pastor; s=scholar)

ensees by Blaise Pascal

Introduction to Apologetics, Part 7: Concluding Thoughts

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Tim Tebow Presuppositionalist

Tim Tebow as Presuppositionalist

I see a place for all the apologetic schools in defense of Christianity.  There are some that are firmly entrenched in their particular school or tradition, and for the most part I understand where they are coming from.  I happen to think the presuppositionatlists are head and shoulders above the other schools and I happen to agree that their approach is the most Biblical, and therefore the most God glorifying.  However, I see a lot of value in the classical and evidentialist schools and I don’t think we should throw the baby out with the bath water.  From a personal perspective, intelligent design, the teleological argument, and the ontological argument had a profound impact on my life.

I think the main value of evidences are to bolster pre-existing faith by showing that our faith is not unreasonable, unjustified, or unwarranted.  I think the main value of presuppositional apologetics is calling all non-Christian worldviews to task over the fact that they hold mutually exclusive propositions and cannot account for all things.

Perhaps its a silly analogy, but I liken apologetics to the three phases of footballoffense, defense, and special teams.  The presuppositionalists are on the offensive challenging false notions in other worldviews.  The classical and evidentialist apologetists are defending the reasonability of the Christian faith.  Then there are guys like Blaise Pascal, and Alvin Plantinga that specialize in kickoffs, punts, PATs, and field goals.  Together they present a coherent, consistent, and believable Christianity that makes sense of existence intellectually, emotionally, and experientially.

Introduction to Apologetics, Part 5: Blaise Pascal

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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 1

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Paul

Paul, The First Apologist

I think there are two main barriers to people consistently sharing their faith, fear of man and lack of knowledge.  We will do a series of blog posts to introduce the different schools of Christian apologetics.

[Christian] Apologetics means quite simply a defense of the Christian faith.  Broadly speaking, we can use the sports metaphor of offense and defense to categorize the different schools of apologetics (recognizing that all schools have both offensive and defensive elements).

DEFENSIVE – broadly speaking, defensive arguments appeal to reason

Classical Apologetics:  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.

Evidential Apologetics:   In one way, evidential apologetics is a subset of classical apologetics, but in the last century has grown to be a stand alone school.  It emphasizes the rational evidences for Christianity, namely, miracles, fulfilled Biblical prophecies, and how our world is incredibly fine-tuned (Teleological Argument aka Argument from Design).

OFFENSIVE – broadly speaking, offensive arguments point to the necessary foundations that precede and make sense of reason

Presuppositional Apologetics:  Presuppositional apologetics presupposes the existence of God and the truth of the Scriptures.  Presuppositional apologetics seeks not to defend Christianity with rational evidences but rather attacks the false assumptions (presuppositions) of the unbeliever.  Say, a non-believer believes that man is inherently good and does not believe in God or His Word… all the evidences in the world will do no good until his incorrect and inconsistent presuppositions are exposed.  It also challenges whether rational arguments are any good at all being that all the reason in the world will do no good unless God regenerates their heart.

Pascal:  Pascal challenges whether we can reason ourselves into heaven, being that the path to the Kingdom must pass through the heart.  For Pascal, ‘the heart has reasons of which the mind knows nothing of.’  For Pascal, faith and reason go together, but ultimately it is evidences that confirm the faith and not the evidences that lead to faith.

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.

Alvin Plantinga (Reformed Epistemology):  Plantinga argues that belief in God is a properly basic belief and therefore requires no justification.  He has also defended Christianity against the problem of evil and put forth a modal logic version of ontological argument.

Just for kicks, here is a video of evidentialist William Lane Craig, cross-pollinating a bit, employing some presuppositional tools against scientific naturalism:

Next, we shall take a deeper look at each of the different schools and assess their relative strengths and weaknesses…

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