Modern Pensées

Reconsidering theology, philosophy, culture, economics, and politics

Posts Tagged ‘Protestantism

Best Links of the Week

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Planned Parenthood - Eugenics is still alive and kickin'

1.  World Magazine goes undercover at Planned Parenthood.

2.  Some pretty shocking statistics from Mark Driscoll of 18-23 Protestants who attend church at least 2-3 times per month.

3.  Newsweek article on the monetization of privacy:  Google and Facebook.

4.  John Frame’s thoughts on Francis Schaeffer’s thought.

5.  Video Timeline of unemployment figures by county since 2007.

6.  Obama administration pushing for unrestricted and warrantless access to cell phone tracking.  Create fear, expand government, push for less freedom on altar of ‘security’… (Bush did it too).  I’ll take my chances because I don’t worship security.

7.  A scathing and apt critique of George Barna’s ridiculous book Pagan Christianity.

8.  UK’s top climate scientist (and same figure in the center of climategate scandal) says there has been no global warming in last 15 years.

9.  On Friday (2/12/10) 49 of 50 states had snow on the ground.

10.  Potential genetic link between Jews and Taliban – it seems that one of the 10 exiled Northern tribes of Israel/Ephraim went over to India.

11.  Millionaire Says Money ‘Prevents Happiness’ and gives away all money and property.

12.  Atlantic Monthly on What Makes Great Teachers and on the subject of education, Justin Taylor has a nice write up on Fred Sanders book Education for Human Flourishing.

13.  Marine Lance Cpl. walks away from sniper shot to the head.

14.  Pew Research Survey


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Implications of the Incarnation on the History of Philosophy, Part 1: Plato vs. Aristotle

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Plato's Allegory of the Cave

I have been teaching a class at the Encore Program of NC State University contrasting the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche with orthodox Protestant Christianity.  The class has been a real delight so far and I will do a series on it here in the coming weeks.  Something struck me though both as I was lecturing and then later during some further over lunch…

Background and Introduction

…There are some remarkable implications of the Incarnation to the history of philosophy.  By way of introduction and background, the history of (western) philosophy can be summarized as an ongoing debate between Plato and Aristotle.

In short, Plato (428-348 BC) put forth the idea that the metaphysical world is more knowable than the physical world.  Following Socrates, Plato illustrates this idea through allegory of the cave, where there is a group of humans chained in a cave, facing a blank wall, where a fire illuminates shadow puppets on this blank wall (see illustration above).  The idea is that this physical world we reside in is merely a shadow of a more real and more knowable world that is not physical but metaphysical.    From here Plato posits the idea of the Forms.  Take for example a chair that is sitting in front of you.  Plato asks you, ‘how do you know that his is a ‘chair’?’  You might say something to the effect, ‘well, it has more than three legs, has a place to be seated, armrests, and backing… is it not obvious that this is a chair.’  Plato would tell us that we know that it is a chair because there exists in our minds an ideal chair and the reason we know that the thing before us is a chair, is because of its resemblance to the archetypal chair.  That archetypal chair is the Form of chair.  In short, we have knowledge of physical things here and now because of the resemblance of these physical things to their ideal metaphysical Form.

In contrast, Aristotle denies that the Forms exist way out there in the metaphysical realm – the Form of the chair is actually residing in the chair sitting in front of you.

So, the battle lines are drawn for a 2400 year long conversation/debate/dialogue in the West (the reason Immanuel Kant is so revered in philosophy is for his attempt to synthesize Plato and Aristotle).  Is knowledge of a thing transcendent (Plato) or is it immanent (Aristotle)?  Is the nature of all things Being (Plato) or Becoming (Aristotle)?

Implications of the Incarnation

The Incarnation solves this dichotomy, not with words, logic, or an argument… but with a person!   Jesus is the God-man, one person with two natures (Hypostatic Union).  Jesus bridges the gap between the physical and the metaphysical.  In his person, he is both transcendent and immanent simultaneously.  Jesus is the divine logos united with a real human body.

So, is God near to us or is He lofty and far away?

Yes.

ps.I think Kant could have saved a good deal of time if he had just looked for the answer to philosophy’s greatest question by looking at his first name, Immanuel.  God with us.

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…

Written by Michael Graham

December 19, 2009 at 11:29 am

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!

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