Monthly Archives: November 2008

Schaeffer on Ethics, He is there and he is not silent, pt. 2

As noted before, I have really enjoyed Schaeffers little book. I was particularly impressed with his ability to tie metaphysics in with ethics. I usually hate ethics. It is boring to me particularly because so much time is spent talking about the hot topics. And usually people discuss ethical issues like they discuss flavors of ice cream. Ethics becomes interesting when one of two things happen: 1) Meta-ethics is considered. How we go about choosing ethical norms, as well as choosing the criteria for choosing ethical norms. What motivates our establishing ethical norms as well as our actual practice is profound in meaning. 2) Ethics is related to metaphysics and epistemology. Schaeffer builds on metaphysics. Frame and Newbigin would both say that knowledge is ethical; there is an element of the will and morality in submitting to God and gaining true knowledge of the world. Knowledge of creation depends on a moral choice to not consider yourself judge over God.

Schaeffer evaluates ethical positions on metaphysical bases. This is his genius. He sets out two main options: an impersonal beginning, and a personal beginning. The personal beginning has two options within itself: man is continuous now as he was created, or he is discontinous, changed.

So without further ado here are the quotes:

Impersonal Beginning

Insignificance of Cruelty

Insignificance of Cruelty

“Thus to the pantheist, the final wrong or tension is the failure to accept your impersonality. If you look to those places in the East where pantheims has worked itself out more consistently than in our modern, libearl theology, or the hippie-type of pantheism, you will find that the final wrong int man, the final Karma, if you will, is the fact that he will not accept his impersonality. In other words, he will not accept who he is.

In the Hindu paneverythingism there is a hight development of the fact that there is no ultimate difference between cruelty and non-cruelty. This can be seen clearly in the person of Kali. … Interestingly enough, the feminine Kali is also always the destroyer. She is often pictured as having great fangs, with skilly hanging around her neck. Why? Because finally, cruelty is just as much a part of what is as is non-cruelty.” (pg 24-25)

“But, eventually as you examine the new theology as well as the pantheims of the East, you come to the place where you cannot rightly speak of right or wrong. In Western religious paneverythingism, we find men trying to stem off this situation, and to retain a distinction between cruelty and non-cruelty. They try to hold off the arrival at the place where they have to acknowledge that there is no basic meaning to the words “right” and “wrong.” But it cannot be done. It is like starting a stone downhill. Beginning with the impersonal, though one may use religious terms and even Christian terms, there is no final absolute and there are no final categories concerning right and wrong. Hence what is left may be worded in many different ways in different cultures, but it is only the relative – that which is sociological, statistical, situational – nothing else. You have situational, statistical ethics – the standard of averages – but you cannot have morality.” (pg 25)

Schaeffer rejects the impersonal beginning of creation as a basis for ethics. It is not true to what is there.

Personal Beginning:

“If man was created by a persona;-infinite God, how can we escape the conclusion that the personal God who made man cruel is himself also bad and cruel? This is where the French thinkers Charles Baudelaire and Albert Camus come on the scene. Baudelaire … has a famous sentence: “If there is a God, he is the Devil.” … [A] real Christian would agree with Baudelaire that if there is an unborken line between what man is now ans what he has always intrisically been, then if there is a God, he is the Devil. Although as Christians, we would definitly differ from baudelaire, we would agree with this conclusion if we begin with his premise.

Now Camus dealt with the same problem from a slightly different viewpoint. He argued that if there is a God, then we cannot fight social evil, for if we do, we are fighting God who made the world as it is. What these two men say is, I think irrefutable if we accept the absic premise that man stands where he has always stood – that there has been a continuity of intrinsic cruelty.” (pg 27-28)

“I have said that people who argue irrationality to be the answer are always selective about where they will become irrational. That is certainly true of this area. Suddenly men who have been saying that they are arguing with great reason become irrationalists at this point, and say that there is only an irrational answer for the questions of how God is good. Liberal moderna theology is firmly fixed in this classification.

Let us look at this more carefully . As soon as irrationality is brought in at this point, it will lead to tension in two directions at the same time. First, there will eb a motion back toward reason. As people argue that God is a good God against all reason rationality, there is something in them that is in tension. Consequently, liberal who offer this answer frequently split off back into reason, and every time they do, they lose this blindly optimistic answer. As soon as they enter reason, the optimistic answer is gone, because all the optimism concerning God’s goodness rests upon irrationality. If they step back into the area of reason, they are back into  pessimism; that is, if there is a God he is a bad God. … As one flees into irrationality at this point, there is the tendency to spin off back into pessimism.

The other tension that is immediately set up when people give this answer is to spin off in the opposite direction, towards making everything irrational. As they spin off towards irrationality, they ask, where do I stop? They tend to say that perhaps on should just accept the whole irrational chaotic situation, and decide that there is no meaning in the use of religious “god-words” at all. ” (pg 28- 29)

“Modern man has no real basis for fighting evil, because he sees man as normal – whether he comes out of the paneverythingism of the East or modern liberal theology, or out of the paneverythingism of everything’s being reduced (inclduing man) to only the energy particle. … [The Christian] has the solution for Camus’ problem” we can fight evil without fighting God, because God did not make things as they are now – as man in his cruelty has made them. … [Man’s cruelty and the results of man’s cruelty] are abnormal, contrary to what God made, and so we can fight the evil without fighting God.” (pg 32)

Schaeffer uses Jesus at Lazarus’ tomb as a great example of sorrow for death, and blinding anger at the evil of death, without being angry at God.

“He was furious; and he could be furious at the evil of death without being furious with himself as God. This is tremendous in the context of the twentieth century.” (pg 32)

“It is important to remember that it is not improper for men to ask these questions concerning metaphysics and morals, and Christians should point out that there is not answer to these questions except that God is there and he is not silent. Students and other young people should not be told to keep quiet when they ask these questions. They are right to ask them, but we should make it plain to them that these are the only answers. It is this or nothing.” (pg 34)

Schaeffer saw clearly that if you do not submit to Christ on all these matters, and cling to the biblical philosophy, then you are left with a thorough-going nihilism. Nietzsche was the honest philsopher. He rejected Christ and was consistent in that rejection. Most others want to have their cake and eat it to; it just doesn’t work like that. I suppose it would be more like: either the Judaeo – Christian God of the Bible exists as does the cake that you can eat, or the cake, and nothing else exists.

Here is Schaeffer’s positive account of the ethical situation man finds himself in:

“Now we have come to the other possibility, the Judaeo-Christian position. There was a spcae-time, historic change in man. There is a discontinuity and not a continuity in man. Man, made in the image of God and not programmed, turned by choice from his proper integration point at a ceratin time in history. When he did this, man became something that he preciously was not, and the dilemma of man becomes a true moral problem rather than a merely metaphysical one. Man, at a certain point of history, changed himself, and hence stands, in his cruelty, in discontinuity with what he was, and we have a true moral situation: morals suddenly exist. Everything hands upon the fact that man is abnormal now, in contrast to what he originally was.” (pg 30)

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Schaeffer on Epistemology, He is there and he is not slient

I just finished Schaeffer’s little but powerful book on the three main areas of philosophy; Metaphysics, Ethics and Epistemology. I picked it up for a friend but ended up reading it before I gave it to him. There are so many priceless, insightful, and terse lines I thought I would share some. He cuts to the heart of the issue with some very beautiful summaries. Here are some of my favorites from the first chapter, the others will follow in later posts (I hope).

“Man is personal and yet he is finite, and so he is not a sufficient integration point for himself. We might remember another profound statement from Sartre, that no finite point has any meaning unless it has an infinite reference point. The Christian would agree that he is right in this statement.” (2)

“Christians have tended to despise the concept of philosophy. This has been one of the weaknesses of evangelical, orthodox Christianity – we have been proud in despising philosophy, and we have been exceedingly proud in despising the intellectual. Our theological seminaries hardly ever relate their theology to philosophy, and specifically to the current philosophy. Thus, men go out from the theological seminaries not knowing how to relate it. It is not that they [do] not know the answers, but my observation is that most men graduating from our theological seminaries do not know the questions.” (4)

“If a man held that everything is meaningless, nothing has answers and there is no cause-and-effect realtionship, and if he really held this position with any consistency, it would be very hard to refute. But in fact, no one can hold consistently that everything is chaotic and irrational and that there are no basic answers. it can be held theoretically, but it cannot be held in practice that everything is absolute chaos” (5)

He hits the nail on the head in so many of these. The last one is especially important when we consider Hume. He refutes the belief in induction as rationally based. There is no objective basis, when rationally considered, for believing that the future will resemble the past, or that x causes y. Yet, in spite of this ‘bombshell’ (as my profs used to call it), his approach to the philosophical life was a purely professional one. That is to say, philosophy is to be left in the study, and should not encroach on living a normal life. Hume was not willing to step off a cliff, because he knew that he would fall to his death. Yet, Nietzshce somewhat embodies a thotough going rejection of God, and trust in revelation…. and of course loses his mind at the end of his life.

“Perhaps you remember one of Godard’s movies, Pierrot le Fou,” (I dont, but thanks anyway) “in which he has people going out through the windows, instead of through the doors. But the interesting things is that they do not go out through the solid walll. Godard is really saying that although he has no answer, yet at the same time he cannot go out through that solid wall. This is merely his expression of the difficulty of holding that there is a totally chaotic unverse while the external world has form and order.” (6)

“…That which is personal began everything else, the very opposite of beginning with the impersonal. In this case man, being personal, does haev meaning. … These things are not abstract, but have to do with communicating the Christian gospel in the midst of the twentieth century. I get tired of being asked why I don’t just preach the ‘simple gospel.’ You haev to preach the simple gospel so that it is simple to the person to whom you are talking, or it is noo longer simple. The dilemma of modern man is simple: he does not know why man has any meaning. He is lost. Man remains a zero. This is the damnation of our generation, the heart of modern man’s problem.” (11)

“It is not that [Christianity] is the best answer to existence; it is the only answer” (15)

“…Man, beginning with himself, can define the philosophical problem of existence, but he cannot generate from himself the answer to the problem. The answer to the problem of existence is that the infinite-personal, triune God is there, and that the infinite-personal, triune God is not silent.” (19)

Schaeffer speaks so clearly on many of these topics. It has been a great encouragement to me to read him and be reminded of the positive account we have in the Bible, in God’s word. I often am consumed with the negative account of why postivism, rationalism etc. fail, but neglect the positive. The account that Schaeffer builds is exactly what we need. What I would hope to do at some point is use secular philosophers (like Wittgenstein, Quine, etc.) to frame the exact problems on a more technical level so as to more clearly explicate biblical beliefs in contrast to the emptiness of the worlds attempts to answer the questions. Some day…maybe.

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Missions, Are We Misguided? How Bad?

The following quote is the sort of thing that has been rattling through my head for the last year, and I really don’t know what to do with it. It is discouraging at times, as well as challenging. So any thoughts on it are welcome. Here goes:

Roland Allen (1868 – 1947) served as a missionary in China until 1903. Thereafter … he wrote a succession of books and articles arguing with great persistence that the methods of contemporary mission were not those of Paul. He contrasted what Paul achieved in ten years of work with what modern missions had failed to achieve in a century. Paul could say that in four great provinces he had completed his work. By contrast, missions in Asia were still only at the beginning and no end was in sight. What was the reason for the difference?

As Allen looked at Paul’s missionary methods he saw four decisive points of difference from modern methods.

(a) When, as the result of the preaching of the gospel, a Christian community has come into being, Paul entrusts the whole responsibility to the local leadership and moves on. He does not do what modern missionaries have done; he does not build a bungalow! The new converts are simply “committed to the lord in whom they believed” (Acts 14:23), and the missionary moves on. His work is done.

(b) Paul does not establish financial relations with the new church. There are no subsidies or grants-in-aid. By becoming Christians the new converts do not lose their independence.

(c) Nor do they lose their status as adults. They are not treated as children. At no point does Paul lay down laws in the manner of the ten commandments. When he is consulted he adivses, but his advice is largely based on the ethical teaching generally acknowledged in surrounding society. Even on the question of contact with idolatry he does not lay down authoritative rules, but appeals to their own best judgment (I Cor. 10:14-22). In spite of the decrees of Acts 15:29, paul refrains from legislating in any binding manner on the subject of food offerred to idols (I Cor. 8). Even when, as in his dealings with the Galatians, he has to charge them with what could amount to apostasy, his language shows that he sees them as adults who must be resoned with, not as subordiantes who can be commanded. The fact that he speaks of them as children with whom he is again travail is vivid testimony to his own spiritual anguish, but the argument that immediately follows is addressed to mature men and women capable of following a subtle and passionate argument (Gal. 3 and 4). All of this is very far from the style in which missionaries have often claimed to direct the development of “their” own converts.

(d) Finally – and perhaps most important – Paul does not impose on them a ministry chosen and trained by himself. He has colleagues and helpers – Timothy, Titus, Tychius, and the rest – but they are available to be sent from church to church on special missions. The local ministry of each church is formed from its own membership. In contrast to this, modern missions have insisted on the necessity for training a new kind of leadership in schools and seminaries directed by the foreign missionary on the basis of the missionary’s perception of ethical and intellectual priorities. Consequently, whereas the churches formed by the work of modern missions have been able to develop a fully native ministerial leadership only after decades and even centuries of training, Paul could address the church in Philippi “with the bishops and deacons” within a very few years of the first conversions.

The central thrust of all Roland Allen’s writing is expressed in the title of a posthumoulsy published work, The Ministry of the Spirit. Allen’s charge against modern missions was that they had been tempted by their alliance with colonial powers to act as though the mission of the church could be pursued in the style of a cultural and educational campaign, as though the object was to multiply replicas of the sending churches. In contrast to this Allen rightly saw that in the New Testament portrayal of mission the central reality is the active work of the living Holy Spirit himself. It is the Spirit who brings about conversion, the Spirit who equips those who are called with the gifts needed for all the varied forms of ministry, and the Spirit who guides the church into all truth. The Spirit is not the property of the sending church or missionary who is sent. It is not part of the missionary’s duty to mold the new church into the style of the old. The Spirit is sovereign and free, and the missionary must trustthe Spirit to do his own work. Where Christ is confessed, where the word of the gospel is preached and the sacraments of the gospel are administered, and where there is a ministry that links the new community to the wider fellowship of the catholic church, there, Allen believed, the Holy Spirit must be trusted to provide all that is needed, and the missionary has done his or her work and can move on.

(pg 129-130)

We have been having a great time with the Mortons (David and Rebecca) while they have been in town. I lent David my copy of Lesslie Newbigin’s The Open Secret: An introduction to the Theology of Mission. Of course, he devoured it in the space of two weeks (just as he did with N.T. Wright’s New Testament and the People of God over the space of two months.) I am still about halfway through the book, and am slowly making way. When I asked him how he liked it, he read me the quote above. So basically I am not sure what kind of positive argument Newbigin has built up around it.

So this sort of thing makes me ask about our ministry here at ABC, or even the possible venues for theological education in Africa; Are we misguided and how bad is it?

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Authority V. Objectivity

We all know the difference between when someone hems and haws in answering a question, and when some speaks succinctly and with authority. Our Lord was One who spoke with authority unlike the scribes and Pharisees. This difference between Christ’s way of speaking and teaching (and the apostles for that matter), and the way the Pharisees is the difference between speaking with authority and speaking with an appeal to justification by objectivity. The second seems like a stronghold, but, in effect, neuters itself when analyzed by its own criteria. [If it isn’t subjected to its own criteria, and therefore rejected, it just comes across as pompousness, and we hate it anyway!]

Recently I had a conversation with a friend of mine about an book called The Interaction of Color, by Josef Albers. It is a work on color theory, and is awesome. This friend said that this book was powerful not only for his demonstrations but because he spoke them so pointedly. You were forced to either agree with him, or disagree. Disagreeing, you were then propelled to think about what in particular you disagreed with.  Either way, you could not walk away unchanged, or without a stance on his proposal. [In fact much of what I realized recently has to do with my friend’s words about all this].

The author, on the subject of color, could have easily given statistics, and built a case stating why colors interact the way they do. Yet this would have been lacking the force needed to make the point clearly. In fact, if he were to have gone into a long discussion on what objections might have been made, or why his assumptions were justified empirically (for instance), his conclusion would have been weakened. A dialectic approach would have returned his thesis to nill, as our dismal and conclusive history of philosophy has shown us.

This does not mean I am advocating a discussion-less dogmatism, where objections are disregarded as dead weight. That would be nonsense. Rather I am opposing the traditional scheme we have of knowledge in the West. Objective knowledge is supposedly what we want. We act as if once we make reference to some epistemological buck stopper (e.g. empirical ‘facts’ gathered by scientific inquiry) our knowledge is holy and untouchable. Yet, this is simply a fiction we have sold ourselves at the cost of our judgment. Our faculty of judgment stands in contrast to the goal of Modern Objectivity; intuitive grasp exceeds the reach of objectivity.

Alston, Plantinga, Wittgenstein have all written agaisnt this sort of modern foundationalist approach. Alston’s account is the most powerful. Epistemic Circularity, Alston says, is what we fall under each time we reference some sort of foundational epistemological buck stopper.  To quickly demonstrate this let’s say: Empirical facts are the foundation for every true belief. In order for it to be true that empirical data is the foundation of true knowledge, it also has to be true that data got empirically is reliable. Why would empirical data be thought of as reliable and trustworthy then? Because empirical data is the foundation of true knowledge. So in order for our original assumption to be true, the implications that rely on it must be true. Thus because neither one arrives at a basic fact, niether is objectively true.

In a different way we see that objective knowledge is mythical creature. Often the criteria we use to judge whether a statement is true doesn’t itself hold up to its own criteria. I guess you could call it Epistemic Hypocrisy, (or at least I would). A statement like this “Only knowledge gotten scientifically is true”, is not itself a scientific statement and so loses savor in its own light, (it neuters itself).

So instead I want to propose (and begin working towards), authoritative knowledge. I call it authoritative because it does not attempt to claim ownership of the mythical creature “objectivity”, but claims to derive truth from the One who has authority over all things; our Lord. I know something, not because I can make reference to a long list of empirical facts, but because I live in God’s creation, and by His authority, I trust my senses and my understanding of the world.  My assumption is the trustworthiness of God and the faculties He has given me because I live in His creation.

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Frustration with Student Failure – Thorns

More than the blistering heat, annoying curriculum (and sometimes unresponsive leaders), sun spiders and other invasive insects (millions on millions of ants), my students failing classes is the most difficult thing to deal with this year. It has gotten to the point now where I grade my best students last so that I won’t be torn apart by my students who consistently get every single problem wrong. That way I can be comforted by my students who care and try hard.

The problem is that of the ones who do poorly, all but one of them is discouraged by it, and tries even less the next time. If none of them cared, (like me in Jr. High), then I would be happy to give them the “F” they so willingly embraced. But as it is, they wish they did well, but don’t. There are a number of reasons for that, such as them not really appliying themselves, or going above and beyond to remedy the situation. They prefer soccer or friends over study…..just like I did.

Yet I am still left discouraged. Why? I am not quite sure. It gets under my skin that my students are failing. I feel as though I have failed. It is my charge to instruct, teach and walk along side these students, and when they fail I take it by implication that I have failed. Bitterness, frustration, and even straight up anger result.

Pastor Kelly (Crosspoint) and Pastor Irwin ( CPC) have both told me that they experience this constantly in the pastorate. After teaching something for 10 years, one of their parishoners will finally get it at some conference, and come back raving about the speaker. That would just be salt in the wound if that were me. The difference for them is that they don’t get to grade their parishoners lives, and the tragedy is immediate and grave when the people of God don’t live as they ought.

My prayer has become one of submission; Lord here are my efforts, I lay them at your feet. Here are my students, I lay them at your feet. Here I am at your feet, wash my efforts with your blood, bless my work for your son’s sake. I look forward to your return, groaning with the rest of creation.


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