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Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

 

daniel-and-neb

Daniel interprets Nebuchadnezzar’s dream.

One of the key points of Gordon Clark’s Scripturalism is that we are just as dependent on God for knowledge as we are for salvation.

 

Those in the Reformed community, at least those who are actually Christians, will readily admit that salvation is by grace alone, through belief alone, in Christ alone.

But oddly, many of the same people are sound on the doctrine of salvation at the same time hold to a theory of knowledge (epistemology) that is at odds with their view of salvation.

It is not uncommon to hear some Christians talk as though there are two sources of knowledge, revelation in the 66 books of the Bible and sense experience (empiricism).

This admixture of revelation and sense experience in Christian thought can be traced back to Thomas Aquinas. John Robbins explains,

Thomas Aquinas, the great thirteenth-century Roman Catholic theologian, tried to combine two axioms in his system: the secular axiom of sense experience, which he obtained from Aristotle, and the Christian axiom of revelation, which he obtained from the Bible. His synthesis was unsuccessful. The subsequent career of western philosophy is the story of the collapse of Thomas’ unstable Aristotelian-Christian condominium (An Introduction to Gordon H. Clark)

One of the problems with Protestantism over the centuries is that it never produced a philosopher who challenged Aquinas’ theory of knowledge. As a result, Aquinas’ erroneous synthesis of “the secular axiom of sense experience…and the Christian axiom of revelation” was accepted by large segments of the Christian church.

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God's HammerGod’s Hammer: The Bible and its Critics by Gordon H. Clark (Unicoi, Tennessee: The Trinity Foundation, 304 pages, 4th Ed., 2011), $5.18.  Also available in E-Book format.

Chapters include: How May I Know the Bible is Inspired?; The Bible as Truth; Verbal Inspiration: Yesterday and Today; The Evangelical Theological Society Tomorrow; Special Divine Revelation as Rational; Revealed Religion; Holy Scripture; The Concept of Biblical Authority; Hamilton’s Theory of Language and Inspiration; What is Truth?; The Reformed Faith and the Westminster Confession.

According to the back cover of the fourth edition, “God’s Hammer is a collection of essays on the inspiration, authority, and infallibility of the Bible by one of the greatest defenders of the Christian faith in modern times.” These words, in the opinion of this reviewer, are an accurate summary of the book.

The title God’s Hammer comes from Jeremiah 23:29, “Is not My word like a fire?” says the LORD, “and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?,” Here, Jeremiah contrasts the lying words of the false prophets of Judah with those of the Lord delivered through his true prophets. And what was true for the words spoken by God through Jeremiah are true for those set forth in the rest of Scripture

It may come as a surprise to some, the doctrine of Scripture is the most important of all Christian

doctrines. For the 66 books of the Bible are the very word of God and the only means by which man can come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Apart from God’s gracious written revelation, we would have no knowledge of creation, the fall, or the atonement. We could never deduce the Trinity or man’s ultimate destination in heaven or hell from our own experiences or by using logic alone.

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Animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, use for entertainment, or abuse in any other way. – People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

PETAFounded in 1980, Norfolk Virginia based People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has long had a reputation as one of the more aggressive animal rights groups. PETA’s slogan, quoted above, describes as abuse actions that most people would consider quite normal. Such a radical criticism of normal everyday activities calls for close scrutiny. For if PETA is correct in what it says, then it is incumbent on people to rethink their relationship to the animal kingdom.

Not surprisingly from a group that has the word “ethical” in its name, PETA’s slogan is an ethical statement. Ethics is one of the four main disciplines of philosophy and answers the question, What ought we to do? It is the theory of right conduct. In the case of PETA, their ethical statement is put in the negative, telling us what we ought not to do, namely: use animals for food, clothing, laboratory experiments, entertainment or otherwise subject them to abuse.

On the PETA website, if one click’s on the slogan, he will taken to a page that explains in more detail what the PETA stands for and the reasons for the group’s position on animal rights. From a review of this page, it quickly becomes obvious that PETA is serious about what it says and is quite sincere in its ethical pronouncements.

But truth, unlike what so many people seem to think in this anti-intellectual age, is not a matter sincerity. One can be completely sincere in his beliefs and at the same time be totally wrong. What is the Christian to make of PETA’s ethics?

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Richard Weaver

Richard Weaver

Ideas Have Consequences is title of well know philosophical work by Richard Weaver. First published in 1948, the book argues that the decline of the West began with the rejection of absolute truth by the medieval scholastics, and that this decline has continued into modern times.

While we do not share the author’s analysis of origin of the decline of the West, his prescription for curing it, or even what constitutes Western Civilization, we can appreciate his insight about the importance of ideas. All practice – the actions we take, the words we use – are the result of some prior theory. John Robbins put it this way,

Not only do ideas have consequences, but only ideas have consequences: Human actions are not independent of ideas but the results of ideas (The Religious Wars of the 21st Century).

Given the practical mindset that dominates in the US and throughout the West, the notion that ideas are logically prior to, and more important than, actions may seem strange to many. One 20th century theologian who well understood the importance of ideas was Gordon Clark. For Clark, ideas were not merely the thoughts that a man thinks, they were the very definition of the man himself. Clark wrote,

the definition [of a person] must be a composite of propositions. As a man thinketh in his (figurative) heart, so is he. A man is what he thinks…a person is the propositions he thinks (The Incarnation, 54, 55).

It is not true that we are what we eat. We are defined, not by what we consume at the dinner table, but by the thoughts we think. And the thoughts we think have consequences for all eternity. Our very salvation depends upon our understanding of, and accepting as true, the propositions of the 66 books of the Bible, especially the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

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Christ And CivilizationChrist and Civilization by John W. Robbins (Unicoi, Tennessee: The Trinity Foundation, 48 pages).

Many in the West have a vague sense that something is seriously wrong with our civilization. Predictions of decline and collapse are not especially new. They go back as least as far as Oswald Spengler’s 1918 Decline of the West. But the years following the 2008 financial crisis have seen anxiety about the long-term viability of Western civilization go mainstream. Government surveillance grows. Individual freedom shrinks. National debt spirals out of control, while politicians and central bankers talk openly about banning the use of cash, the better to control a financial system that threatens to collapse. There seems to be a general loss of trust in the mainstream institutions of society, and the rise of the alternative internet media is one sign of this.

In the opinion of the reviewer, people are right to be concerned about the future of the West. An unstable and unsustainable financial system, increasingly lawless government, and the decline of public morality are all hallmarks of our civilization in the early 21st century. Someone once made the witty observation that things which cannot go on forever, don’t. And from all appearances, the West seems to be on an unsustainable course. The question seems to be when, not if a major systemic shock will occur.

One of the few hopeful signs during this degenerate time has been the rise of the internet, which has provided a forum for commentary which in earlier times never would have seen the light of day. As one with a special interest in finance, this reviewer has been delighted at the remarkable amount of interesting and knowledgeable commentary about the ongoing financial crisis that is to be found on various blogs and You Tube channels.

But while many bloggers pour their heart and soul into documenting the decline of the West and advising people how to protect themselves against it, there is something missing from what they have to say. In this reviewer’s opinion, their biggest problem is that they lack a clear understanding of what made the West great in the first place and what has been the cause of its decline.

Christ and Civilization by John W. Robbins is the antidote to all that. Writing in the lucid, concise style that is characteristic of him, Robbins takes there reader on a tour of history beginning in ancient Greece and Rome, carrying through to the middle ages and the Reformation, and ending in modern times. This would be an impressive feat for any book. But what makes this book all the more remarkable is that Robbins accomplishes all this in the space of a mere 48 pages.

Originally published in The Trinity Review as an essay by the same name, Christ and Civilization posits that the West owes its origin and its success, not to Greece and Rome, but rather to the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century. Form most modern westerners, subject as they are to secularist propaganda, this likely will come as a new thought. And herein lies the importance of Robbins’ work.

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Supreme Court rainbow.

Supreme Court rainbow.

Shocked but not surprised, that was my reaction to the recent Supreme Court ruling that legalized gay marriage in all 50 states. Shocked, because it is difficult for me as a Christian to process how a law so repugnant to the clear teaching of the Word of God could become law. It had been my prayer and my hope that God would intervene and put a stop to the madness. Such was not the case. On the other hand, I’m not surprised at the Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges either.
Governments, including the U.S. federal government, sometimes do horrible things. And the zeitgeist, the spirit of the times, in the US is such that a victory for gay marriage seemed almost preordained long before the official ruling was handed down.

But now that the deed is done, now that sodomy is the law of the land, now that our government has called good evil and evil good, what are Christians to think? What are they do? Below are a few of my thoughts on the subject.

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Jeroboam sets up a golden calf.

Jeroboam sets up a golden calf.

Among other things, the Bible is a book of examples. As God’s people, we can be thankful for this. Had he wished, God could have given his bare commandments and left it to us to draw our own lessons. But that’s not what he did. After providing very clear instructions to his covenant people in the Law of Moses, God inspired the writers of the Old Testament to record a detailed and fascinating history of his people. Some of this history was recorded as a warning to future generations. In his letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul highlighted several negative examples from the history of Israel and made the point, “Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (I Corinthians 10:11).

In a previous post, we looked at two bad examples from the Old Testament, specifically the actions of kings Rehoboam and Jeroboam. In the case of Rehoboam, his was a political failure. Instead of being a servant to his people, he instead chose to lord it over them, answering a reasonable request for lower taxes with a churlish threat to increase them. His arrogance was the proximate cause of the division of the twelve tribes into the Northern and Southern Kingdoms. On the other hand the failure of Jeroboam, the first ruler of the Northern Kingdom, was of an ethical nature. He was charged by the prophet Ahijah to walk in the commandments of God. But Jeroboam, doing what he ought not, was quick to set up an idolatrous religion in the Northern Kingdom, which corrupted the people for generations. At bottom, the failures of both kings were epistemological, for both men rejected the clear commands of God and followed the dictates of their own hearts.

As a follow up to the bad examples, over the next two weeks we will look at two good examples from the Old Testament, one of them a prophet, the other a king. Both of had this in common: they trusted in God, not themselves.

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