Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: reason

Are you a deist or a theist?

If you are a deist, you believe:
– that there must be a higher power because this complex world could not just have happened;
– that there are moral lessons in the Bible that will help us to find happiness;
– that the Bible as a whole is mysterious and confusing and better left alone;
– that it is good to pray when in need, because the higher power might hear and help.

If you are a theist, you believe:
– that God is not an explanation, He is a revelation;
– that the God who created all things reveals himself personally to us;
– that the whole Bible is an introduction to God;
– that we need to read the whole Bible to recognize how God speaks to us;
– that God is near, hears our prayers and answers them;
– that true happiness can only be found by making God the Lord of our life.

Consequences of a false gospel

Several weeks ago I wrote about the effect on education of René Descartes’ belief in the ability of the human mind to discover all truth through the exercise of reason. That belief has worked its way into every aspect of Western civilization. It is found in our media, our social institutions, our ideas about business, religion and politics.

I may as well come right out and say it – There are times when it appears to me that Donald Trump is the only sane political leader in North America. Everyone else is so caught up in trimming their sails to catch the latest wind of political correctness that they have no idea where those winds are coming from or towards what destination they are being driven.

This was a gradual development, but the point where it hit mainstream North American culture began with Walter Rauschenbusch and Charles Sheldon. Rauschenbusch was a Baptist minister who came to believe that sin was not a personal matter but something rooted in society. He coined the term “social gospel” around 1892, teaching and writing extensively on the subject. He taught that there was no such thing as a sin against God, all sins are against our fellow humans. In fact, he ceased to believe that God was a real Being. He was just a social construct, created in men’s minds to give some coherence to their beliefs.

Rauschenbusch saw private ownership of business as the great sin and the root of all evil. He went as far as to describe a privately owned business as an “unsaved” business and a collectively owned business, either by government or a co-operative, as a “saved” business.

Sheldon’s book, In His Steps, appeared in 1896. I have read it four times from cover to cover, searching for some trace of the Christian theme that many profess to find in it, and came up empty every time. There is Christian window dressing, but that’s all it is. The characters in the book read the Bible, but find nothing to guide their actions; they pray, but receive no guidance; they are moved to tears by hymns, but hear nothing to move them to action. It’s all just camouflage. The answers come when people ask themselves “What would Jesus do?” and answer by their own power of reason. This is following René Descartes, not Jesus Christ. Once again, the real culprit is privately owned business; salvation comes to Raymond when the owner of the daily newspaper decides to turn the business into an employee-owned co-operative.

Sheldon described himself as a Christian socialist. That is revealing. The Christian label was only camouflage to introduce socialist ideas to a North American populace that was largely composed of church-going people.

Thanks to Rauschenbusch and Sheldon, Marxist economic theories and the concept of class struggle took root in many of the largest denominations. Those denominations then moved into social activism, urging governments to set to right social injustices. The list of social injustices grows ever longer and the pressure on governments to fix things ever stronger.

Many major US foundations, now in the hands of Marxist administrators, are funnelling money into Canadian protest movements. Many movements are ostensibly grassroots indigenous protesters, but the money and the tactics are coming from US foundations. The money is channelled through a tangle of entities in an attempt to camouflage its source. But they are becoming bolder, to the point of openly declaring their aim to shut down Canada. Why? I suppose because Canada is seen as a soft target, the low hanging fruit. If they would succeed in imposing their collectivist Marxist principles in Canada, they would move on to target the USA.

Actually, they have already made great headway in the USA. Make no mistake about it, the protest movements, whether their stated aim is to stop climate change, save the animals, create equal rights or better access to health care, do not care for individual people, these are only ruses to impose a collectivist agenda.

What is the best response of Christians to these dangers? Lets go back to being Christians, followers of Jesus Christ. It is not for us to reform society. The history I have briefly sketched shows what happens when Christians take that detour.

When I hear those who profess to be Christian expressing indignation, vituperation or even hatred, for or against Donald Trump, for or against the various protest movements, it raises questions. How well do they understand what it means to be a Christian? Are they truly following the leading of the Holy Spirit?

It may seem folly to say that Christians should have a peaceful attitude toward everyone, but that is what the Bible says. If Christians had done that 100 years ago, would we be in this mess today?

Intellectualism, reason and faith

Intellectualism is the idea that all truth can be discovered by reasoning. René Descartes started with “I think, therefore I am,” and proceeded down this line of reasoning to discover all that was worth knowing, to his own satisfaction at least.

The fatal flaw in this is that God is considered as irrelevant and thus the reasoning is based on the false premise that the human mind is able to comprehend the meaning of all things. Reason is not contrary to faith, but reasoning based on false premises does lead away from faith.

The rage against faith by many intellectuals of our day should be seen as an acknowledgement that they know they are on shaky ground. Their fine sounding reasoning has not brought the fulfillment and happiness they anticipated, but they are determined to never admit that. Hence the furious attempts to ridicule, vilify and silence anyone who has the temerity to point out the weaknesses in their reasoning.

There is nothing about Christian faith that is contrary to reason; there is no evidence in the way that things really are and how they work that contradicts the revelations given in the Bible. Christian faith puts us in harmony with the way things really are. That is to be expected if we are in harmony with the Creator of all things.

It is enough for Christians to patiently and humbly point out the reasonableness of Christian faith. We should never be the ones on the attack, with ridicule and harsh words. We should avoid all triumphalism and above all avoid all fables that purport to offer proof of Christian faith. The Bible is enough.

In defence of doubt

As Christians, we tend to have this utopian belief that a true believer will never have any doubts about matters of faith. Thus, when a brother or sister has the courage to admit to doubt, we react with something akin to panic.

Why do we react like this? Isn’t it because deep down we ourselves doubt whether there is a satisfactory answer for the doubt expressed by our brother or sister. So we label the doubt as unbelief and tell the doubting person to repent of that unbelief.

In most cases doubt is simply a feeling of uncertainty, a longing for answers and not a refusal to believe. We all have doubts at times and it is not healthy to suppress them. If we go on for too long simply stifling our doubts, they are apt to erupt one day into a major crisis of faith.

We need to look for answers to our doubts, and to the doubts of others. Right here we often encounter the biggest doubt of all: are there really answers to our doubts? How can we even know that God exists?

We should be wary of answers that assume that faith and reason are mutually exclusive realms and that we just need to have faith. Sometimes Christians use a variant of this type of answer by coming up with stories that supposedly prove Creation, the existence of heaven or hell, or some other tenet of the faith and say we have a different kind of knowledge than the world has. Most of these stories do not stand up under close scrutiny and have the effect of confirming the world’s perception that Christian’s aren’t very bright.

Blaise Pascal said “The heart has its reasons, which reason cannot know.” Yet he went on to develop arguments to show the reasonableness of Christian faith. There is no contradiction here — Christian faith does provide the best explanation for things as they really are. Those who rely on reason alone and deny the very possibility of God have created well thought out explanations for the existence of the world and all natural phenomena, including the workings of the human mind. The problem is that new evidence keeps cropping up that does not fit these explanations, so new explanations need to be developed.

There is no absolute proof for any aspect of Christian faith; on the other hand, there is no evidence that contradicts the faith. When looked at objectively, without the blinders created by a refusal to admit any possibility of the existence of God, it becomes clear that God is the explanation that best fits all the available evidence.

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Faith then is really all we need, faith in God and faith in what He has revealed to us in His Word. But questions and doubts will arise, and we need not fear them.

The world has developed supposedly scientific ideas about what is best for the mental and emotional well-being of mankind. Here too, an unblinkered look at the evidence shows that they don’t really work. Having confidence that there really is a God who created the world and everything in it, including us, should give us confidence to trust that His plan for the church and the home are exactly designed to meet our real needs. Let’s not panic when someone expresses doubts. Consider that an opportunity to examine the evidence and have our faith renewed.

Lazy thinking

The sluggard is wiser in his own conceit than seven men that can render a reason (Proverbs 26:16).

My mother told the story of a poor farmer extolling the virtues of socialism to his neighbour who was even poorer.

“If everyone who has more than they need would share with those who do not have enough, what a wonderful place this world would be!”

“Sooo, does that mean that if you had two cows you would give me one?”

“Of course.”

“If you had two horses, you would give me one?”

“Certainly.”

“And if you had two pigs, you would give me one?”

“Oh come on now, that’s going too far. You know I have two pigs!”

That is the thinking of a sluggard. Sharing is a wonderful thing, if it means that you are giving to me. If I have to give something away, that is quite a different matter.

We all know people like that. If McDonald’s charges them five cents too much for a coffee, they are filled with indignation for days. If they see an opportunity to pick up a dollar that does not belong to them, it does not seem to cause the slightest twinge to their conscience.

Still, the majority of the people around us are honest; if they see a dollar laying around, they will try to find the owner. Why? Why is it that so many people still have a clear sense of right and wrong, even though they believe that we are just random agglomerations of protoplasm that appeared for no particular reason or purpose?

Isn’t this the reasoning of a sluggard? If there is a purpose for my existence, then there must somewhere be Someone who is the reason behind all that exists. The sluggard does have a sense of what is right and what is wrong, but wants to believe that this sense is just an evolutionary survival instinct. He would rather believe that he is doing the best he can under the circumstances and that he will never have to give account for cutting corners in life to the Lord of all that exists.

This is lazy thinking. If one seeks to search the reason for our sense of right and wrong, it quickly appears illogical that it could simply have arisen in response to the survival of the fittest in a dog eat dog world. Where then does our conscience come from? Evolution cannot even explain consciousness, let alone conscience.

There are people around us who appear to have stilled their conscience. Have they really succeeded? Or have they simply chosen to live with the terrors that dwell in their mind, hoping with all their might that death will be the end of it?

One of the greatest arguments for the existence of God is that those who have repented of the wrong they have done are blessed with a peaceful mind and a heart that forgives others who have wronged them.

Belief and unbelief, according to Blaise Pascal

I marvel at the audacity with which some people presume to speak of God.  In giving their evidence to unbelievers, usually their first chapter is to prove the existence of God from the works of nature.  I would not be surprised about this project if they were addressing their arguments to believers, for those with living faith in their hearts can clearly see at once that everything that exists is entirely the work of God whom they worship.  But for those in whom this light has been extinguished and in whom we are trying to rekindle it, persons devoid of faith and grace, searching with all their light that which they see in nature that could lead them to this knowledge and finding only obscurity and darkness, shall I  say to them that they have only to look around, and they will see in the least of these things God plainly revealed?   To give them no other evidence of this great and important matter than the course of the moon and the planets and claim this as infallible proof is to give them reason to believe that the proofs of our religion are feeble indeed.   Reason and experience tell me that nothing is more likely to bring it into contempt in their sight.

But this is not how the Scripture speaks, with its better knowledge of the things of God.  On the contrary, it speaks of God as a hidden God, and because nature has been corrupted, he has left men to their blindness.  They can only escape from this through Jesus Christ, for without him all communication with God is severed.  “Neither knows any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whosoever the Son will reveal him” (Matthew 11:27).

This is what the Scriptures tell us when they say in so many places that those who seek God shall find him.  This is not the natural light of the noonday sun.  We do not argue that those who are looking for the sun at noonday or water in the sea will find it and that in the same way the evidence of God in nature is likewise.  It is not.  Rather it says, “Truly thou art a God that hidest thyself” (Isaiah 45:15).

If it is an evidence of weakness to prove God from nature, do not despise Scripture.  If it is an evidence of strength to recognize these contradictions, then respect Scripture for this.

It is a remarkable fact that no writer in the canon has ever used nature to prove the existence of God.  They all try to help people believe in him.  Neither David, nor Solomon, nor others ever said: “There is no such thing as a vacuum, therefore God exists.”  They must have been smarter than the smartest of their successors, all of whom have used proofs from nature.  This is most significant.

People despise Christian faith.  They hate it and are afraid that it may be true.

There is always enough light to illuminate the elect and enough obscurity to humble them.  There is enough obscurity to blind the reprobate and enough light to condemn them and deprive them of any excuse.

One of the things that will confuse the damned will be the recognition that they are condemned by their own reason, by that which they claimed to condemn the Christian faith.

To know God without knowing our own wretchedness only makes for pride.  Knowing our own wretchedness without knowing God makes only for despair.   Knowing Jesus Christ provides the balance, because he shows us both God and our own wretchedness.

-selected from les pensées  of Blaise Pascal (1623-1662)

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