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Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

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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The Arrogance of Rehoboam, circa 1530.  Hans Holbein the Younger.

The Arrogance of Rehoboam, circa 1530. Hans Holbein the Younger.

“Nothing is completely worthless,” or so the saying goes, “it can always serve as a bad example.” I’ve always liked this old saw and have found it oddly comforting. In my own life, God has used my sins and to teach me some painful, negative lessons, which to this day I remember. But negative lessons are not unique to me. In fact, chastening from God is the common experience of Christians, for the author of Hebrews tells us that without chastening, we are illegitimate children and not sons.

But our opportunity to learn negative lessons is not limited to our own experience. God is a gracious God. It would be enough for him to provide us with bare commandments on how we ought to live, or just enough of the Gospel to be saved. But that’s not what he did. He gave us a whole library of 66 books, in which are found, not only his commandments, but example after example of what happens to those who heed his voice as well as to those who disobey.

Today, I’d like to focus on two negative examples found in I Kings 12-14. In particular, I would like to draw the reader’s attention to the examples of Rehoboam king of Judah, Jeroboam king of Israel. Both individuals were in a position of great responsibility, both brought upon themselves the judgment of God by their own poor decision making, which in both cases was the result of their failure to take their ideas from the correct source.

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philosophy_dictionaryMy previous posts in this series were intended as a survey of what the Bible has to say about the four main disciplines of philosophy: epistemology (the theory of knowledge, metaphysics (the theory of reality), ethics (the theory of conduct), and politics (the theory of government). The structure and ideas contained in this series are taken from the tract What is Christian Philosophy? written by John Robbins and published by The Trinity Foundation.

These posts were written with three goals in mind. First, to lay my philosophical cards on the table. Since my purpose in writing this blog has always been to articulate the Scripturalism of Gordon Clark and John Robbins, it seemed good to set forth the basic assumptions of this system as clearly as I possibly could.

Second, it has been my hope to show the importance of systematic thinking. Systematic thinking is not popular today. That the world should passionately embrace irrationalism is not surprising. But the hostility toward logical thought in the professing church is alarming. Christ is the logos, the logic, of God. And those who bear his name, those who have the mind of Christ, of all people should have respect for sound thinking.

My third goal with this series has been to make philosophy accessible. Often people are turned off from philosophy, because they think they cannot understand it. Much of this is the fault of the philosophers themselves. If you are in that camp, I understand. In spite of my best efforts, I never understood philosophy until I started reading John Robbins. He was possessed of remarkable ability to take ideas that in the hands of other authors were all but impenetrable and make them clear. It has been my goal to do the same for others.

To close out this series, I have summarized my previous posts on Christian philosophy below.

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PoliticsSo far in this series on Christian philosophy, we have looked at three of the four major philosophic disciplines. First was epistemology, the theory of knowledge. It answers the question, How do you know? Second came metaphysics, the theory of reality. For those who have not previously studied philosophy, these terms may seem a bit strange or intimidating. Ethics, the theory of conduct, was third. Ethics is a more familiar term for us. It answers the question, What ought we to do ?

This post will address the disciple on politics. Politics is the theory of government. As you may suppose, there are many different views on government. Men differ on the origin of government – is it a natural institution?; does it arise from the consent of the governed? – the proper scope of government – should government be minimal or involve itself in every area of one’s life? – and what form of government – democracy, republic, or monarchy – is ideal.

The Origin of Government

In his book A Christian View of Men and Things, Gordon Clark raised the question, “How does a government get, not the power, but the right to coerce its people?” This may seem like a strange question to many people. For the most part, folks accept the existence of government in much the same way they accept the fact that the sun rises in the east, or the grass is green, or the sky is blue. But this is an important question. For if government cannot be justified in any form, there is no use in discussing its proper scope or form.

Historically, there have been several answers to Clark’s question. Aristotle, for example, believed that government was a natural institution. In one of his lectures on philosophy, John Robbins described Aristotle’s view thus, “People grow into states the way that acorns grow into oak trees.” Another view is the social compact theory: governments derive their coercive authority form the consent of the governed. Still another view is that government is power. This was the view of historian Oswald Spengler, who held that, “Great statesmen like Caesar or Napoleon act immediately on the basis of a flair for facts. Their action is not sicklied o’er by the pale cast of thought. If indeed ther ar any general principles of politics, they never enter the heads of great men” (Clark, A Christian View of Men and Things, 95). These views of government, diverse as they are, all have one important element in common: God, the God of the Bible, does not matter in any of them.

Christian political theory rejects all these answers to the origin of government. The Bible teaches us, in the words of Gordon Clark, that, “The existence of the state is a partial punishment and cure for sin” (A Christian View of Men and Things, 100). Government bears the power of the sword, the power of coercion, in response to man’s sin. Proof of this can be seen in Genesis 3:24, which reads, “So He drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.”
Civil government was not a natural institution, it was not part of the original created order, it came about after the fall of Adam. Writing in Romans 13 about the civil magistrate, Paul makes this same point where he tells us, “[H]e does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.”

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Dictionary definition of the word

Throughout this series on Christian philosophy, it has been my argument that Christianity is a system of ideas thought out together. Christianity is not the only system of thought, it is not the only worldview. Marxism, for example, is a systematic attempt to provide a comprehensive worldview. On the other hand, Christianity is unique in that it is God’s revealed system of thought. it is truth itself. Paul’s statement, “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, not have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love him” (I Corinthians 2:9), is a denial that man can discover truth on his own.

Throughout the course of history, men, brilliant men such as Plato and Aristotle, have argued that man can too discover truth by his own efforts. Secular epistemology – epistemology is logically the first discipline of philosophy, it is the theory of knowledge answering the question “How do you know?” – comes in one of two forms. Rationalism (Plato) tells us that men can know truth from ideas they come up with in their own minds. Empiricism (Aristotle) argues that man can know truth by observing things. Our senses, say the empiricists, furnish us with knowledge. Christianity, on the other hand, argues that truth, all truth, is graciously revealed by God to men, that men do not discover truth on their own, that the so-called wisdom men claim to have found by their own efforts is, in reality, foolishness.

One’s view of metaphysics – metaphysics is the theory of reality – depends upon his epistemology. Since we live in an age in which empirical epistemology is dominant, it is not surprising that people believe that matter, physical stuff, is the ultimate reality. Carl Sagan gave voice to this idea when he wrote, “The cosmos is all that is or was or ever will be.” But as John Robbins wrote in his tract What is Christian Philosophy?, Christian metaphysics, which is based upon a Christian theory of knowledge, speaks in this way, “in God, not matter, we live and move and have our being.” The universe is not eternal, but created Not independent, but upheld by God. Not evolving to perfection, but advancing in its decay.

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Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1771.

Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1771.

My earlier post In Praise of Karl Marx makes the point that Christians can take one positive lesson from Marx’ work: the power of systematic thought. Marx was a thoroughgoing atheist, and both he and his followers consistently applied atheism to all fields of study, creating a well-developed all-around view of the world. Systematic thought is powerful and impressive. One idea is related to and supports another, in much the same way the flying buttresses support a majestic gothic cathedral. This is true, even if the system itself is badly flawed.

Of all people, Christians should be the most systematic thinkers, for we have the systematic, non contradictory truth of God’s Word revealed to us in the 66 books of the Bible. From the express statements and necessary implications of Scripture, we are able to develop a coherent, complete, systematic worldview. The apostle Paul tells us that the Scriptures make the man of God complete, thoroughly equipping him for every good work. This includes the good work of developing a systematic, Christian view of the world.

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