Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Christian Quarries and Apologetics

this is from my blog:

Growing up, one of my favorite things to do was going on long hikes in the woods just behind our neighborhood. I called it mountains, but it is technically at best ‘hills’. These hills had all kinds of well marked paths and each day was a grand adventure. One trail led to abandoned mine shafts, others went to beautiful points of views and solitude. We named the trails based on what they led to: “fire tower’, "Irondale”, “Mines”, and “quarry”. Our most favorite hike, however, was to the ‘quarry’. It seemed like a grand canyon to my 11 year old life. There were actually three quarries: the’ Big one’, the ‘Smaller one”, and ‘the Little quarry’- all within a ¼ mile area.

It was the Big quarry that capture my imagination and excitement. It had high cliffs which completed about 2/3 of a canyon. The trail was cool because it was all heavy pine and shadows that dramatically opened to this amazing view of old limestone walls and evidence of industry. This was a completely dry quarry that has been recorded in my brain as about 440 yards in diameter. It had basically, a flat bottom, and even had an old abandoned car in it.

My mom would have had a heart attack if she ever saw all that we did in that quarry. We climbed the cliffs (without ropes!) with no worry that a fall meant death. On the top of the quarry, it was a good 100 foot drop! I had a favorite ‘fat man squeeze’ that led to a type of cave. I would climb, squeeze, and then sit in this opening for hours. It was quiet and I felt so alive!

The hollow canyon was strange. I knew that there had once been a lot of activity there. Birmingham had iron ore, limestone, and coal in great abundance which allowed it to blossom into ‘the Magic City” and “Pittsburg of the South” almost overnight.

But it was dead now. Except for quiet shrubs and persistent saplings, it was devoid of life. I loved to sit and look at the evidence of activity, but it was nothing more than a relic. The old car was rusting, the quarry was out of business, and except for a few adventurous neighborhood boy-gangs.

What made me think about this? Well, I have been spending a lot of time lately in another beautiful quarry- Christian Epistemology and Philosophy. Hold on- don’t pull me in front of the Presbytery yet- I have great admiration of these pursuits.

I have been overwhelmed by the intellect and work of Justin Martyr, Iraneus, Tertullian, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Calvin, Kant, Pascal, Kierkegaard, Clarke, and Van Til. I have loved hearing their thoughts and analysis and I have great faith that God ordains this process as a development of our better understanding of Him and the beautiful balance of faith and reason.

However, I have become more and more convinced that Christian philosophy is somewhat a dead quarry. I worry that we have squeezed out all of the ore and left only the outline.

I hear the charge- “There you go- another anti-intellectual Christian”- and that is not it at all. I believe that we have to stay in the academic arena and defend the faith with boldness and clarity. But the basic nature of man will forever place the academic credibility of Christian faith in jeopardy. We never sound ‘retreat’- but let’s not pretend that we will become popular in the devil’s domain.

The more I study the ‘evidence of the mind’, the more convinced I become about the ‘reasons of the heart’. Anytime we separate our rationale from the heart, we create another quarry.

What do I mean?

Well, God is a person.

And that personhood requires heart. We think of apologetics as a tower, God presents it as a dialogue… a relationship. The entire Bible is a story of relationship in which we take sides. We are either a son or an enemy.

Personhood also unfolds as story. God has a narrative. His story is the gospel and its victory lap through history and around the globe. If our apologetics arguments ever detach from the gospel… then the ore has no more value.

Ravi Zacharius reminds us that we argue from theory, illustrate from the heart, and apply at the kitchen table. Music and movies pierce the soul and logic bounces off the brain. The Christian apologist is sharing himself. The warmth of his love prepares the ground for the force of his evidence.

I will not stop studying the men before me; they are my faithful fathers. Because they are men, they all have flaws. Some have even communicated ideas that we now consider heretical. But relationships are never clean and all life points to the need of the gospel message of salvation by faith in Christ’s atonement.

But there has to be heart- there has to be love- what benefit will a clanging gong have on this world?

The seal of the savior means a story to His glory- I hope to daily die to my miserable glory story and walk the way of my Lord.

I now borrow a prayer… stolen from Anselm- the famous ‘credo ut intelligam’

"Nor do I seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe that I may understand. For this, too, I believe, that, unless I first believe, I shall not understand."

This ‘understanding’ comes first through the heart. The amazing thing is that it is sick by sin- but God’s spirit makes it function and God’s son makes it clean.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Growing in Obedience as a Result of Grace

Matthew 7:24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”

The question of obedience comes up a lot. “Aren’t we saved by grace, not a result of works?” YES.
And yet, I find myself being confronted on this very issue. Pastor Rick Warren in his 8 Principles based on the beatitudes lists this very idea in Principle 5.

Voluntarily submit to every change God wants to make in my life and humbly ask Him to remove my character defects. "Happy are those whose greatest desire is to do what God requires"

Paul is clear about this in Romans 6:1 “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?”

This is a huge part of sanctification, that part of the doctrine of grace that flows out of our justification and adoption in Christ.

I am convinced however that it is a process.

CS Lewis adds an interesting idea in that , at the beginning, we somewhat pretend or rehearse this new life.

In Book IV Chapter 7 of Mere Christianity, he says these very interesting words:

So that, in a way, this dressing up as Christ is a piece of outrageous cheek. But the odd thing is that He has ordered us to do it.
Why? What is the good of pretending to be what you are not? Well, even
on the human level, you know, there are two kinds of pretending. There is a
bad kind, where the pretense is there instead of the real thing; as when a
man pretends he is going to help you instead of really helping you. But
there is also a good kind, where the pretense leads up to the real thing.
When you are not feeling particularly friendly but know you ought to be, the
best thing you can do, very often, is to put on a friendly manner and behave
as if you were a nicer person than you actually are. And in a few minutes,
as we have all noticed, you will be really feeling friendlier than you were.

In reality, of course, it is God who does everything. We, at most, allow it to
be done to us. In a sense you might even say it is God who does the
pretending. The Three-Personal God, so to speak, sees before Him in fact a
self-centered, greedy, grumbling, rebellious human animal. But He says "Let
us pretend that this is not a mere creature, but our Son. It is like Christ
in so far as it is a Man, for He became Man. Let us pretend that it is also
like Him in Spirit. Let us treat it as if it were what in fact it is not.
Let us pretend in order to make the pretense into a reality." God looks at
you as if you were a little Christ: Christ stands beside you to turn you
into one. I daresay this idea of a divine make-believe sounds rather strange
at first. But, is it so strange really? Is not that how the higher thing
always raises the lower? A mother teaches her baby to talk by talking to it
as if it understood long before it really does. We treat our dogs as if they
were "almost human": that is why they really become "almost human" in the

John Frame adds these thoughts in his study of Cornelius Van Til:

"He (Van Til) calls for an increase in the soul’s resolve to do God’s will. But that resolve needs to become more and more spontaneous, fixed, and growing in momentum. What he means is that spiritual maturity brings more internal and less external constraint. Growing in Christ means that we become more and more willing to do His will; our obedience becomes more delightful, more the passion of our own heart. It becomes habitual, in a good sense. A mature servant of God does not need to be browbeaten into seeking God’s righteousness."

So here I am, a believer in Christ since the summer of 1980, and I am still wavering in this idea of obedience. I’m thankful for grace and so dependent on my Lord’s mercy. But isn’t it time I seriously consider my areas of clear disobedience?

Saturday, January 17, 2009


image source:

I am reading a book by John M. Frame on the thoughts and teaching of Cornelius Van Til. The above diagram is what Van Til wrote on the chalk board all the time illustrating the basic two world views held by men today. The one big circle illustrates non-biblical worldviews, everything is together. No distinction of God as creator or person. The two-circles show what the Bible teaches. The tri-une God of the universe called everything into existence for His use and glory. Then He chooses to reveal Himself to us (the lines). The resulting application of these worldviews is dramatically different!

The more I read Dr. Frame (and I am also listening to him RTS Apologetics from Itunes U) the more I am overwhelmed at the incredible majesty and depth of this seemingly simplistic drawing.

Of all the good points- the one that has somehow struck me the most is the 'Personhood' of God. Our God has personality! In an age of CSI, where we bow at the altar of test tubes, computers, and techno gadgets- the God of Supreme Personality crashes through in a flood of love, communication, and truth.

Dr. Frame lays this out almost like it is no big deal...but in our world, THIS IS THE BIG DEAL!

Here are some of these crucial points from Dr. Frame:
' There are personal things and impersonal things. People (personal) and trees/rocks(impersonal). The Bible teaches that the impersonal things were made by a Person, for His use. The personal is more fundamental than the personal. But the non-christian does not have this reference, impersonal things are more fundamental. Scientists or philosophers assumes the most complete explanation of things is to reduce them to matter and motion. Your decisions of the will are merely products of molecules and chemicals with input from experiences. In their world, they think to explain things by reducing to the impersonal. (Then they have 'facts', which is the important stuff. For example, in science, the cause of things as starting with a person cannot be accepted because that goes outside science or the bounds of rationality or investigation.)

But in the Christian worldview, the most fundamental elements are personal: things like love, covenants, trust, justice, peace, are fundamental and lasting.

The non-Biblical view sees these things as ephemeral: they will all be wiped away in the impersonal process of nature.'

I am excited to continue into the study of Christian epistemolgy, theories of transcendence, etc. But in my studies, I pray that I will never lose that contact point of my Father being the Supreme Person. Absolute Holiness, but One who offers relationship! Lord, please let that relationship be as a good son and not a rebellious, cold, unreliable enemy.

Our studies and theology are not conventional gadgets to take out play with and put away. They go beyond the mind, soften the heart, and get us into the story of the God of Victory and Love. This is not a cold test tube tale, it is a drama, full of conflict and courage- love and healing, hope and joy. What makes movies meaningful?- All of the elements allow the story to touch deeper. We don't walk out and say, 'those were impressive wires and computer chips'- we are impressed with it as a story it resonates somehow in the soul.

More to come.....

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Mystery and Mastery of the Sermon on the Mount

this is an upload from my blog

Read the Sermon on the Mount lately? It is that frustrating and poignant part of the gospels that comforts and terrifies, humbles and encourages, rips and heals …. All at the same time.

It begins with the ‘Beatitudes’ (Latin Beatus- ‘Happy’ or ‘Blessed’) in Matthew 5 and ends with the story of building houses on sand in Matthew 7.

My first encounter with the sermon as a whole was back in 1988. I was newly married, had just accepted a job as a youth minister, had begun the process of seminary, and picked up Martin Lloyd Jones classic commentary, “Studies in the Sermon on the Mount”.

I took each chapter as a morning devotion and poured over the pages. I remember wearing out a yellow hi-liter pen and felt the very core of my soul being touched by the words of Christ.

Here I am 21 years later…. New job, new town, 3 children, Bible teacher ….. and I still am amazed at the eternal concepts and colossal challenges.

No matter what phase I am in spiritually, the sermon says something to me.

When I am weighed down by sin ….. ‘blessed are those who mourn’.

When I see myself as a failure….. ‘blessed are the poor in spirit’.

When I fall short in my desire to serve…..’WHEN you give to the needy’.

When I feel really good about my walk……’ not everyone who says Lord, Lord’

When I condemn other for their lack of faith or zeal….. ‘ do you not notice the log?’

The sermon encourages me to fast, pray, serve, study, give and hold fast to God’s timeless laws. It digs down deep, into the very core of my being to check attitudes of the heart and motivations.

Each year, I get to re-introduce this wonderful passage to seniors in our school. The class is called, “Biblical Principles”, designed by brother Steve Wilson. It challenges the students to anticipate the ‘next 10 years of their life’. Eventually we will discuss dating, marriage, college roommates, time management, finances, job interviews, health care, depression, addiction, worship…. But before we do, we review the fundamental principals of faith, gospel, and a little doctrine.

What the students never know is that I have to review these things also. The repetition is good.
This year in particular, the Beatitudes drove deep this year. I had the students re-write them in paraphrase form. Here is what I wrote.

“Congratulations! You finally realize what a loser you are! And you are finally sad about that! Good for you, because I can help you now. Be gentle, submit to my will and it will be great! Use that discontentment with life to drive you to Me- I will fill that hunger with Myself! And now that you see my forgiveness, PLEASE, give others a break. Learn to hate sin, it is serious. It hides Me from you. Put it off and seek Me more. Take the energy and time to help people. Restore them to Me - reconcile them to others. This is the work of my son! You know that people will not understand and some may hate you for this. But keep it up! There is a great reward… both now and forever!”

Will I still be in this…. 20 years from now? I hope so.

Thursday, January 01, 2009


from blog:

On this new day of a new year, I wanted to go back to the big beginning and remember all of the good things that He put in place. According to Genesis 1 and 2, it was God Himself that brought into being not only good things, but things that He named. He was the first to name- “Day”, “Night”, “Land”, “Seas”, “Sky”

It was His idea to mark seasons, days, and years.

He allowed for a division called ‘livestock’- domesticated animals for man’s good. This was apart from ‘wild animals’ and ‘small animals’.

He is a God of lavish blessings- the sea ‘swarmed’ with fish, the skies “filled” with birds. A once ‘formless mass cloaked in darkness’ now overflows with light and life- good bounty and great harvest!

He then patterned people after Himself. We reason, emote, contemplate, choose, and communicate.

It was all excellent and good and He rested, and He designated that rest as 'holy'- set apart for His glory.

The garden had ‘beautiful tress and delicious fruits’. We remember the two trees in the center.

The first tree mentioned is the TREE OF LIFE. It had no restriction!
“You may eat FREELY of ANY fruit in the garden except the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.”

The restriction was a protection- “In the day you eat of it, YOU WILL DIE”

One more blessing…. It was the companion, the helper, the intimate partner.
When I think of all my blessings…. From God…. Seasons and days and light and sky and fish and beauty and trees…. Help me never forget another high up the chain gift…. My beautiful bride. 2009 counts year 21 for us as man and wife. 'BONE OF MY BONE AND FLESH OF MY FLESH.'


Happy New Year to all!