Abstract for ISCA Conference Breakout Session

The Epistemology of Inerrancy: Teaching the Doctrine in the Church

While a cornerstone of evangelicalism is the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible, this doctrine needs a revival. Seminaries, churches, and parachurch ministries commonly ignore the doctrine, substituting terms like “authority” and “inspiration” which are alone insufficient. Many evangelical Christians have assumed inerrancy to be true for so long that we have forgotten to teach it to the next generation. But teach it we must. Any teacher worth his or her salt takes into account the context of the students. We are in a skeptical world which has just as much, if not more influence on our believing brethren than do the truths of Christianity. While we must certainly teach the theology of inerrancy, a solid epistemological foundation is needed as a platform for conviction. Inerrancy is not only a matter of faith; it is a matter of knowledge.

This conference will be held at Southern Evangelical Seminary, April 11-12, 2015. I will also be delivering a plenary address called The Apologetics of Inerrancy: Making our Case to the World. 

 

Advertisements

30 Years of Learning

As my 30th birthday approaches, I have reflected on some things I have learned in my first three decades on this earth. Some of the lessons have been easy, and some have been painful. May these brief reflections edify someone.

  1. Degrees do not give you wisdom. Perspective does.
  2. Selfless friends are rare. When you find them, hold onto them and reciprocate.
  3. Hold firmly to principles, and tentatively to plans.
  4. Teaching is dangerous because people will listen to you.
  5. Don’t act like you know it all. No one ever does.
  6. Men will never look good in skinny jeans.
  7. Figure out the difference between mountains and molehills. Don’t put on climbing gear for a molehill. You will only waste your time and look ridiculous.
  8. Following your heart is often a very bad idea (Jer. 17:9).
  9. Cheaters do prosper, on this side of eternity at least. Karma is not in control (it doesn’t even make sense); Jesus is, and he will set things right when he returns.
  10. Most people and situations offer something for us to learn.
  11. Christian doctrine without practice is fruitless, but Christian practice without doctrine is meaningless.
  12. Instead of finding reasons to be offended, find reasons to not be offended. This makes for better relationships and clearer thinking.
  13. You will rarely “feel like” doing what you ought. So just “git r dun” already (to quote Larry the Cable Guy).
  14. None of us deserve handouts or special treatment. That’s what makes special treatment an act of grace, deserving of gratitude.
  15. There will always be smarter, more successful, and more attractive people. You are less important than you may think you are.
  16. In addition to (11), the world is full of brilliant people. It has a shortage of virtuous people.
  17. Do not let your ambitions eclipse your calling. Sometimes we are called to small things that are eternally significant. God knows why he created us; we do not.
  18. What others want you to be will change rapidly. You might as well resolve to be the best version of yourself.
  19. You cannot force anyone to change their behavior or ideas. You can and should try to encourage people to think, though.
  20. Avoiding problems makes them worse.
  21. The experience of suffering can greatly aid your ability to empathize with and disciple others.
  22. No finite person or activity can complete you. That is because we were created for a relationship with a perfect Creator. Everything else falls short.
  23. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good (Romans 12:9), but we must learn to recognize the good first. It is not as easy as it sounds.
  24. In a swiftly changing world, God is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8).

What Millennials Want, and Why It Ultimately Doesn’t Matter

unsplash-kitsune-3About a year ago, enormously popular “post-evangelical”  blogger Rachel Held Evans wrote an essay for CNN called, “Why Millennials Are Leaving the Church.”  It went viral. Since then, increasing numbers of Christians have lept to action, frantically trying to solve the problem. Since millennials are allegedly leaving the church, it follows that they are not getting what they want. In the last several years, evangelicals across the western world have had meetings, written articles, and conducted studies to discover what it is that millenials want. The evangelical community seems largely poised to do whatever it takes to entice the younger generation to attend church.

However, something is terribly wrong with this approach. In truth, a few things are wrong. First of all, it is not entirely accurate to say that “millennials are leaving the church.” According to George Barna, six in ten churched members of this age group walk away from the faith they were raised in.  However, that still leaves four out of ten, and since millennials are an enormous group, that four represents a large number. Therefore, a substantial set of millennials remain in the church. To act as though millennials are absent from the pews is simply an overreaction at best, and disingenuous at worst.

Second, every generation has its own struggles just as it has strengths. There are valuable things millennials want to see more present in evangelical churches. Millennials want liturgy. Millenials want depth. Millennials want “authenticity.” Millennials want meaningful relationships (a rather vague and relative phrase). However, the church should not adopt or condone everything millenials want any more than it should adopt and condone the attitudes and biases of any other specific generation. According to Evans, “young adults perceive evangelical Christianity to be too political, too exclusive, old-fashioned, unconcerned with social justice and hostile to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.” Some of these are legitimate concerns, but some are not. Moreover, millennials have needs that they may not necessarily want, such as the need to be morally challenged, to be intellectually grounded, to be held theologically accountable, and to be spiritually convicted. If we forego what millennials need in favor of what millennials want, then we have undergone a tragic metamorphosis from historic Christianity to freestyle “Millennialism.”

Instead of preoccupying ourselves with what millennials want, we should ask a related, yet entirely different question: How can we better help all believers to become committed, convinced, mature followers of Christ? There is one unchanging standard for Christian maturity; God’s standard. There is no such thing as “millennial Christianity,” “baby-boomer Christianity,” “Gen X Christianity,” or any other generational variety. There is one church, bearing witness to one timeless truth. This teaching permeates Scripture. For example, see 1 Corinthians 12, and the entire book of Ephesians.

If we still find ourselves overly concerned about an ecclesiastical mass exodus of the younger generation, we need to remember something. God does not abandon his people, nor has he ever struggled to preserve the Church through the ages. The people of God will endure until the end. If we doubt that, we doubt not only his sovereignty, but also his trustworthiness. If he is not sovereign or trustworthy, then he is not truly God. Finally, if YHWH is not God, then millennials are right to leave the church.

But YHWH– Father, Son, and Holy Spirit– is God.  As we await the return of Jesus and the fulfilment of his promises, we should seek to be the nothing other than the continuation of Christ’s historic Church, preaching his Word, obeying his precepts, and discipling the nations. Millennials should not join in because their desires or even needs are being met; instead they should join because the message of Christ is the only true, final answer to the human condition, given once and for all generations.

I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.  As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified. – Jesus’ prayer for his disciples (John 17:13-18)

 


 

*Note: For anyone wondering, I am 29 years old, and thus am solidly a millennial.

Canon, Church History, and Irenaeus

Misinformation abounds about the origins of Christianity. Some individuals assert that by the time of the Council of Nicaea under Constantine in AD 325, there were upwards of 80 (disagreeing) gospels which competed for the traditional four slots (this many-gospels account is quite a desperate move, having no positive support along with a sizable case against it). Most who hold to this view contend is that the Church rather arbitrarily selected Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John out of this pool of contenders for political reasons. Other contemporary writers assert that after a supposed period of conflict and division, alternative “Christianities,” such as the various varieties of gnosticism, were unfairly snuffed out by the growing power of the church of Rome. Perhaps the most influential of these theories is the Bauer thesis, which argues that Christianity began in diversity and only later moved into unified orthodoxy. Unfortunately for the Bauer thesis, the exact opposite is true, as Andreas Kostenberger and Michael Kruger argue in the book, The Heresy of Orthodoxy  (2010). It is increasingly common to believe that modern Christianity survived because it gained political power over other, equally compelling alternatives.

Recently in a used bookstore, I came across a strikingly and distressingly large section titled, “Alternative Church History,” which was filled with works on the gnostic “gospels” and gnosticism itself. Unfortunately for those who wish to revise history by exalting early heresies to a level of popularity far beyond what the historical record supports, the facts of history are not up for grabs. The early church did not hide these heresies from public view, or try to dispose of the evidence of “alternative Christianities,” but openly and confidently exposed and refuted their errors. In the early church, gnosticism was never considered to be a separate branch of Christianity, but was recognized as something else entirely. Thus, gnostic texts were never an option for inclusion into the canon. These historical realities are being obscured and must be reestablished. Early writers such as Irenaeus (active around the late second century, long before the existence of Constantine and the Council of Nicaea) are of great help to us in dispelling falsehoods and rumors caused by the irresponsible pens of certain contemporary writers.

     Perhaps most important is [Irenaeus’] treatment of Scripture, which was not yet in canonical form throughout Christian communities. Irenaeus successfully appeals to a notion of catholicity, that most churches everywhere in the late second century see a certain collection of writings to be Scripture. He helps to prove that churches were not in disarray, uncertain of authoritative texts of the faith, but generally united in agreeing on most books and especially not agreeing on an entirely different and threatening genre of books: gnostic writings. Thus the voice of Irenaeus still disallows even contemporary gnostic fans like Elaine Pagels, critical historians like Bart Ehrman and popular authors like Dan Brown. He is the first to refer to a four-Gospel canon, to defend most thoroughly the apostolic authority of the Gospel writers and Paul, and among the earliest defenders of the book of Revelation while still disputed among some churches. — W. Brian Shelton, “Irenaeus,” in Shapers of Christian Orthodoxy, ed. Bradley G. Green, pp. 51-53

 

What Horse Training Has Taught me About Life

My current horse, Mabel


I am now primarily a philosophy professor, but for years I was a primarily a horse trainer who read philosophy on the side. Riding two to seven horses a day was intense, and the experience shaped me. I sometimes reflect on some of my lessons learned from horses, and how it has influenced how I live.  Here are some of those lessons.

1. Quit worrying. Bad things are going to happen that you can’t control. Good horses come up lame and you could come off and get hurt. However, if you are paralyzed by worrying about things that might go wrong, you miss out on the enjoyments of the present and still have to face inevitable problems later. Worry does not prevent disaster.

2. If you panic when problems arise, the situation will only get worse. There is no choice but to stop and think. Horses get stuck in fences, step on nails, and can manage to nearly kill themselves in a multitude of creative ways. Your panic does nothing productive, and another creature is relying on you to make good decisions. He will likely not.

3. Keep yourself under control. Your moods sometimes need to be restrained. If you are angry and overreact, your horse will overreact in response. If you are jumpy and distracted, you judgment will be impaired.

4. If you do not feel like doing chores, you must do them anyway. The beings you care for have consistent needs that cannot depend upon your inconsistent feelings. A job that needs to be done does not care how you feel.

5. Everyone can learn to fix things when something important must be done immediately. Helpless humans have no place among livestock. Duct tape and wire are your friends. Learn to improvise.

6. When faced with a set of problems, prioritize them. If you are riding alone and fall off, you must evaluate the situation quickly. Even if you have broken a limb, you need to ignore the pain, catch your horse before he runs off,  and get back home before you can melt down over your injury.  This is the art of triage.

7. Be creative and think on your feet. Unlike what is touted by some clinicians, there is no formula for helping horses reach their potential. This is because each being is an individual, and you have to be willing to pay attention to the talents, motivations, and fears of each one. The same goes for people. Learn all the skills you can, then adapt your skills to each situation.

8. Be patient. Learning is more important than artificial time limits. When teaching a lesson, sometimes you have to be willing to wait as long as it takes for the lesson to sink in. Sometimes this requires being stubborn in order to make a point.

9. Pay attention. Learn to recognize and appreciate the tiniest achievements, even if there is still a long way to go. This is how you help another being take steps toward a more difficult and complex goal.

10. Be mentally and physically tough. When working on something truly important, be willing to push through the blood, sweat, and tears until the job is done. Otherwise, next time will be just as hard, or even harder.

11. Your thoughts and actions have consequences. If you decide to wave a plastic bag around a skittish horse when the horse is tied up to a fence, that fence you chose better be strong. Horses can be dramatically reactive, and every move you make matters.

12. Be honest and humble. You can’t bluff your way through horse training. If you aren’t as competent as you claim, it will show.

13. Work hard. If you don’t, your skills and training will not improve. The path to progress is drenched in sweat.

14. Be disciplined enough to be consistent. If you are not, the horse will not understand what you want or who you are, and will not have any reason to listen to what you say– and certainly won’t trust you.

15. You never know it all. Get over yourself and embrace a lifestyle of learning.

Treatment for Platophobia: A Splendid Passage from 1947

Everyone who believes in an objective and unchanging standard of morality governing public as well as private life, in the soul as immaterial and immortal and the most important part of man, in the governance of the world by Divine Reason and in the existence of eternal archetypes or patterns of all things that come to be and pass away, with which our behaviour and thought must conform, everyone who believes all this or an important part of it can claim to be in the tradition that goes back to Plato and Socrates: though the later development of the Platonic school and, much more, the transforming influence of Christianity have very much altered the content of these beliefs, yet the tradition of their development has been continuous. However much we may find ourselves in disagreement with Plato on really serious and vitally important subjects, the nature of God, the eternity of the cosmos, the uncreatedness of matter, the value to be attached to the body and to sense-experience and sense-perceptions, yet in other vital matters we are still of his school. As against the host of materialists, relativists, pragmatists, positivists, deniers of any eternal universal and objective truths or standards, who dominate so much of our thinking today and whose feebler predecessors were dealt with by Plato in his time, we who still hold to the older tradition are on Plato’s side and he and Socrates are on ours, and we should reverence them as of the greatest among the founders and fathers of our thought.

-A.H. Armstrong, An Introduction to Ancient Philosophy

A Review of “Saving Leonardo” by Nancy Pearcey

This is a review I wrote last year, which was published in the Denver Journal. 

Saving Leonardo: A Call to Resist the Secular Assault on Mind, Morals, and Meaning

  • Nancy Pearcey
  • Jun 24, 2013
  • Series: Volume 16 – 2013

Nancy Pearcey, Saving Leonardo: A Call to Resist the Secular Assault on Mind, Morals, and Meaning, (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2010). 336 pages. $26.99. Hardback. ISBN-10: 1433669277, ISBN-13: 978-1433669279

Saving Leonardo Nancy PearceyNancy Pearcey has established a reputation as one of the leading female Christian apologists today. Currently Professor of Apologetics at Houston Baptist University, Pearcey is well-respected for her analysis and critique of culture, by exploring the underlying worldviews at work. In 2004, her tremendously successful book, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from its Cultural Captivity was published. In it, Pearcey’s emphasis on the Lordship of Christ over all of life—heart and mind alike—made the book a valuable antidote to the false yet ever-so-popular dichotomy between faith and reason. At the expense of much ink and paper for note-taking, I read Total Truth when I was a sophomore in college, and thus was better able to stay afloat in the often tumultuous sea of competing worldviews.

Saving Leonardo continues the work begun in Total Truth. Pearcey’s task is large: to evaluate contemporary Western culture by looking at each of its dominant philosophies, exposing flaws in the view, and showing how it affects science, visual art, music, and literature. False ideas are common, and they powerfully shape culture. This is because the cultural and academic elite, who tend not to be Christians, act as the gatekeepers of knowledge (9). Unfortunately, contemporary Christianity has failed to adequately engage culture and academia at the level of the gatekeepers. Furthermore, few Christians even know how to spot erroneous philosophies at the foundation of what public schools advocate, what some artists produce, what the media reports, what Hollywood proclaims, and what many books contain. Oblivious, we passively absorb such false ideas, which impede our ability to flourish the way God intended, and ultimately undermine the gospel. The best way to think critically and redemptively about culture is to learn how to spot and correct errors which surface in a variety of contexts. In this way, Saving Leonardo serves as a good tutorial.

Moreover, keeping in harmony with Total Truth, Pearcey emphasizes Christ’s Lordship over all of life. Because all truth is God’s truth, the Christian worldview affirms all that is good, true, and beautiful about these false worldviews. It then gives these elements meaning by explaining creation, fall, and redemption like no other worldview can (26). When we understand from where people get their worldviews, how various philosophies prompt cultural changes, and where these philosophies go wrong, we are better prepared to love and address the existential and intellectual needs of each soul we meet. When individuals recognize their worldview’s failure to meet their deep needs, they become most receptive to the gospel. This is the heart of culturally-sensitive apologetics, as her predecessor Francis Schaeffer modeled.

The influence of Schaeffer is evident in this book. Like Schaeffer, Pearcey is concerned with dismantling the fact/value, or faith/reason distinction. Western society is dominated by methodological naturalism and the resulting epistemology of scientism—which Pearcey idiosyncratically replaces with the term “empiricism.”  Because scientism (“empiricism” in the book) holds that science alone holds the keys to knowledge, things like the findings of biology, physics, and chemistry belong exclusively to the realm of fact. By contrast things like art, morality, and religion are in the completely separate realm of value. Faith (or values) has been locked away into what Schaeffer termed “the upper story,” and reason (or facts) resides in the much more respectable “lower story.” The logical consequence of this is that things of faith cannot inform anything in the category of reason, and reason cannot lead one to or help one understand faith. Faith becomes, then, a merely therapeutic crutch. By this secular definition, faith cannot be rational. Pearcey rightly warns that this dichotomy ultimately reduces religion to “a mysticism with nobody there” (187). Following Schaeffer, Pearcey seeks to expose the secular assumptions and philosophical errors of this division. Then, once the erroneous belief structure is dismantled, the Christian worldview is offered in its place. Within Christianity, fact and value, faith and reason harmoniously coexist as equally important pieces of the puzzle.

Saving Leonardo’s very appearance is commendable. Its heft and high-quality binding lends an air of importance to the book, which is fitting for a project of such scope and import. The paper is high-quality and glossy, which beautifully supports the many, colorful images of the art being discussed. As is fitting for a book with a large focus on art, it is visually captivating. Thus, the book often feels like a text on art history, leading the reader to a greater appreciation of the art discussed. Of course, it goes far beyond what a typical art history book would cover, by tracing the theological and philosophical movements throughout history which have informed and inspired the creative world. These paintings, books, and musical trends are thus situated within a richer, more informative worldview context so that the reader understands what philosophical or theological assumptions are on display in the art.

However, the book is not without its problems. The scope is enormous, which also is one of its greatest weaknesses. It often seems unfocused, due to trying to cover the entire history of Western philosophy, art, music, theology, politics, and other cultural trends. This threatens to overwhelm the reader since he must process so many topics at once, and from various angles. Because Pearcey has had to move very quickly and accomplish so much in 336 pages, it is sometimes hard to distinguish what she is prescribing, what views she intends to disavow, and what she is simply describing.

More specifically, there are some philosophical difficulties in the book. One of the larger problems involves a perennially popular whipping boy: the philosopher, René Descartes (1596-1650). I mention him because he surfaces several times in the book. Pearcey, like so many before her, have interpreted Descartes’ famous line, “I think, therefore I am” (Cogito ergo sum) as an expression of human autonomy from God (51-52, 234). However, this was not Descartes’ goal, neither was it implied by his principles. Rather, Descartes’ initial concern was epistemological, not metaphysical. The ultimate, ontological source of knowledge is a metaphysical question, while the foundation of what we know is an epistemological one. He acknowledged God as the source of reality (and even used an argument for the existence of God to prove this), but he also realized that many otherwise rational skeptics denied the truth of God. So, he attempted to find epistemic common ground with the skeptic in order to discover something not even the skeptic could deny, which is the famed Cogito. His goal is to defeat the skeptic at the skeptic’s own game. In saying “I think, therefore I am,” he was not saying “My thinking is of ultimate importance,” or even “My thinking defines me,” and certainly not “I think, therefore I am an autonomous being.” Instead, he was simply claiming that if I think, I must exist as a thinker. I am thinking, therefore I can be absolutely certain that I (the thinker) exist. It is important to understand what Descartes was setting out to do, lest we too hastily dismiss someone who may be actually be helpful to our cause.

There is also some philosophically questionable language used in this book. To continue with the theme of epistemology, Pearcey states on page 24 that each person’s list of credible worldview possibilities will be determined by his or her theory of truth—“what philosophers call your epistemology.” However, epistemology discusses the theory of knowledge, whereas theories of truth lie in the jurisdiction of metaphysics. Later on in the book, Pearcey uses the term “rationalism” in an unusual manner. On page 125, she says rationalists believed that the deeper structure of reality was mathematical. However, this is an oversimplification, and is not the essence of philosophical rationalism. The core of the rationalist/empiricist debate is over whether or not we have innate, a priori knowledge of anything apart from sense experience (the rationalist’s position), or if instead we have only sense experience on which to begin building knowledge (the empiricist’s position). Seen in this light, rationalism does not seem like so great a problem for Christianity after all. This is because humans do possess a priori knowledge, such as a basic understanding of logic, and that the self exists.

There are a few other philosophical problems, but they need not be mentioned here. On the whole, though, Saving Leonardo is to be praised for showing how worldviews strongly influence culture. Unless we follow Pearcey’s advice and educate ourselves to learn how to spot error, we will be swept further away from truth and closer to secularism. Pearcey shrewdly counsels her readers to understand that they need not personally enjoy certain trends in art, literature, or politics, but nevertheless, they do need to pay attention to what these trends have to tell us about the state of the world we live in and what it is crying out for. Only then can we wisely and sensitively offer Truth as a balm for a world galled by error.

Sarah Geis, M.A.
Apologetics and Ethics Associated Faculty
Denver Seminary
June 2013