Tag Archives: philosophy

A Christian Educator’s Thoughts on Revelation and Integration

I have a lot of interest in faith-learning integration. A constant question as student in the sciences was, “What does this teach me about God?” It was a natural question and practice for me, as it never occurred to me that the studying creation to understand God was a bad thing. After all, the glory of God is revealed in the heavens seemed to mean that if I looked at the heavens (which was clearly a metonymy for all of creation) then I would understand a bit more about God and His thoughts about me, Himself, and the rest of Creation. It wasn’t until I ran into some of the Bible-only psychologists who completely discarded any source of knowledge about ministering to others that originated from outside of scripture that it occurred to me that other people think differently about the issue.

Until recently, I couldn’t resolve the problem of why some would reject faith/learning integration. Why is it that well-meaning Christians have such difficulty contemplating the conclusions of other fields? Many (most of them non-Christian) would argue that we’re a bunch of ignorant fools chasing after ancient myths and fairy tales in order to retain a sense of superiority and personal well-being. I don’t quite buy that notion.

My friend recently graduated with her PhD in Theological Studies, where she studied the topic of general revelation, and introduced me to one Herman Bavink, a Dutch Reformed theologian. A quote from Herman Bavinck’s The philosophy of revelation; the Stone lectures for 1908-1909, Princeton Theological Seminary. Stone lectures; 1908-09. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1953.

Although God is immanent in every part and sphere of creation with all his perfections and all his being, nevertheless, even in that most intimate union he remains transcendent. His being is of a different and higher kind than that of the world (23).

And a second quote from the same source.

One of the results of the trend of present-day science is that theology is just now largely occupied with…how revelation has come about, than in the question what the content of revelation is (23).

Can you see the issue? We forget that God is the source of all revelation and instead focus on what people are doing with it, rather than what it says. In the process, we’re robbing ourselves of precious perspectives and resources for understanding God. Simply put, if God reveals, then it bears his essential character (see Ash’s unpublished dissertation A Critical Examination of the Doctrine of Revelation in Evangelical Theology, p 152 for more details on this).

We need to study creation. We need to look at ants to learn about laziness and industriousness (Proverbs 6:6). We need to look at  plants to learn about God’s character (Luke 12:27). We need to study the origins of the earth to learn about God’s power (Job 38). We need to study the law to learn about God’s love (Psalm 119).

Why study creation? Because the Bible tells me so.

Bavinck, Herman. The philosophy of revelation; the Stone lectures for 1908-1909, Princeton Theological Seminary. Stone lectures ; 1908-09. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1953.

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April 23, 2013 · 11:46 pm

Why I am not an Apologist

Every now and then, I’ll get into a discussion with someone about the rise of apologetics as a field of study for Christian Education. In recent years, several universities or seminaries have built or added apologetics degrees including Biola, Houston Baptist, and Denver Seminary, all of which have highly respected faculty and programs.

Personally, I think it won’t reach most students’ learning goals.

Okay, so that’s a strong statement, but let me explain. Many people value apologetics because they feel it helps them spread the gospel. In their view, they want to gain answers to any and all questions in order to be prepared to give a defense. Unfortunately, I believe they’re preparing to answer the wrong questions, and will therefore give the wrong answers.

Most of us in the church have been educated according to a Modernist mindset wherein the major philosophical category is epistemology. In simple English, when we encounter issues or problems, we first ask “Is this true?” before moving forward. Therefore, we gravitate to degrees like apologetics because it helps us to understand the truth, to argue about what is true, and to see the truth.

We live in a post-Modern era wherein the major philosophical category is axiology. When a post-modernist encounters a problem, they first ask, “Is this valuable?” before moving forward. A post-modernist wants to understand issues of importance, value, or good. This is why many people will respond with, “Well that’s your truth,” when you tell them about something you understand as true. What they’re really saying is, “You may think that’s good/valuable/important, but I don’t.” You may have every argument for the authenticity of the Bible, every philosophical proof of deity, all truth in all of existence about the veracity of what you have to say, but if you do not convince them that what you have to say is good, they will never accept it as true.

In short, I feel that apologetics degrees and approaches suffer because they ask and answer the wrong questions. A post-modern apology for Christianity must defend the notion that (1) God is good, (2) Christianity is good, and (3) what Christianity produces is good. If your apology (defense) neglects any of these, I feel that you will not reach this generation. As a side note, I’ll also point out that actions speak louder than words in this case.

I respect those who take the path of the apologist. I respect those who teach apologetics to others. I observe, however, that arguing over the accuracy of this or that New Testament manuscript may not have the effect you think it does. As the old saw goes, no one every became a Christian because they lost the argument. And what is good? “He has told you, O man, what is good, and what the Lord really wants from you:He wants you to promotejustice, to be faithful,and to live obediently before your God.”

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The Task of Christian Education

Warning: big words ahead. Bear with me, though. I will land in a relevant, practical place.

J. Scott Horrell, professor of Theological Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, describes the five divisions of sin in Genesis chapter 3 based on his meditations at L’Abri and the writings of Francis Schaffer. In a nutshell, once Adam and Eve eat of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, it causes a division or separation of five relationships: humanity/God, humanity/humanity, humanity/self, humanity/nature, and nature/nature. Jesus’ work on the cross reconciles these relationships, and will ultimately reconcile these relationships in the eschaton (eternity future, when Jesus returns and sets all things right).

However, we don’t live in the eschaton; we live in the here and now. Here  and now, the Bible describes the church as the body of Christ. In a sense we (the church) serve as the incarnation (Christ in the flesh) until the incarnation comes back to complete the job.* If you can accept that the church must carry out the work of Christ, and if you can accept that Christ came (in part) to reconcile the divisions of sin (in fulfillment of the protoevangelium of Genesis 3:15) then it follows that the church’s task is to carry out the reconciliation of the five divisions of sin.

This means that the task of Christian education is to teach the church how to carry out the task of reconciliation.

Implication: Christian educators need to reconsider the cognitive categories of education. We organize our educational system around content domains, based upon Greek philosophical categories. It seems to me that, while helpful, those categories may not offer the best method or categories.  I think that the Arts/Humanities/Sciences split doesn’t offer the best lens to think through the reconciliatory task. I will offer an alternative at a later date.

Implication: Christian educators also need to reconsider education in light of the academy/church/home split. I have suggested that the academy teaches to the cognitive (knowledge), the church teaches to the affective (values) and the home teaches to the conative (method/drive), but I think theses agencies can coordinate and cooperate more in their efforts to teach the students. In fact, I think these agencies need to do a better job in doing so. Perhaps this offers a path to doing so.

Implication: Christian educators must teach not only to the cognitive (content) aspects of education, but also the affective and conative aspects. I have said this before, but it bears repeating. Christian education involves the whole person, and our efforts need to do so with deliberation and with careful and prayerful consideration.

May we renew and pursue the task and the high calling of Christian education.

* – Yes, yes, I know this brings up post/pre/a-millenial arguments and interpretations of Revelation and the particular eschatological views. If you will grant me the basic premise that life now is different than life will be (in other words, that the future when all things are right will be different than life is now when all things are not right) without arguing over how we get there, I believe you might be able to accept where I’m going with this.

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Filed under Christian Education, Foundations, Theology