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March 16, 2007

Sooner or later they had to give Al Mohler an opportunity to take the stage and he did so in the day’s final session. He spoke on “The Authority of Scripture” using 2 Timothy 3:14 and the verses following as his text (though this was certainly not an expository message as much as a lecture).

He began by speaking of epistemology which is the study of how we know anything (and a word that is nearly impossible to type quickly). How can we claim to know anything? Epistemology is the division of philosophy that seeks to explain knowledge. Every day we deal with epistemological problems. We require different levels of proof or attestation for issues we face in life. There are things we can get through in life without ever seeing one (i.e. germs). Even the question of global warming comes down to an epistemological challenge for most of it is based on computer modeling and backwards casting on what they think the weather must have been like. The reality is that the debate has many dimensions but there is no shared consensus about what we know or can know about the question. No wonder we’re confused.

The harder the question the higher the stakes. We receive some information by experience, some by trial and error, some by external authority. But when the questions get to the highest level of importance—the meaning of life, the origin of the universe, the reality of evil—epistemology becomes a genuine intellectual crunch. What form of knowledge or evidence or clarification would be necessary for a person to claim that he knows anything about these questions. Every worldview has to deal with four factors: the question of beginnings, the question of what has gone wrong, the question of whether or not it can be fixed, the question of eschatology or the end. Where will we find answers to these questions? We as Christians are inheritors of a worldview that answers all these questions and more. Christianity recognizes human beings as intelligent creatures with the ability to know and to know God. This capacity that allows us to know God also allows us just to know. This distinguishes us from the animals who are not writing books of philosophy (when you go to the zoo you read a human guide to the animals, not an animal guide to humans). There is within us a hunger for the knowledge of God. Romans 1 makes it clear that this knowledge exists and that creatures have corrupted this knowledge. Within human beings there is a quest for worship and this leads inevitably to idolatry. The lack of knowledge and understanding becomes deadly. The human capacity that cries out that there is a God is filled with idolatry and paganism. This is and always will remain an epistemological issue. This is not a new challenge but it is an urgent matter in our age.

Christianity is founded on the view that God exists and that He makes Himself known. We need to make it clear that this universe is stuck in an epistemological crisis. If we are left in the trap of this crisis, we’ll never really know the truth about God, the meaning of creation, the meaning of life, what’s wrong, whether this can be fixed and where this is all going. Thankfully we are not left in this crisis because God has revealed Himself to us not just in the form of ideas or vague concepts, but in the form of words.

We need to focus on words. Words are incredible things. They bind us; they are symbolic representations and once written are fixed. There are some who believe that the text is a dead thing and that the reader provides the meaning, but no one truly believes this (about a contract, for example). The God of the Bible is a speaking God though He is under no obligation to do so. He has no obligation to resolve this epistemological crisis. In the Bible we encounter the speaking God who has given us the gift of an inscripturated revelation. Our access to God’s ways of speaking (fire, theophanies, visions, etc) are not to be taken back to the actual place of encounter, but through the inscripturated book known as the Bible. What access do we have of God’s revelation of Himself in His Son? Some evangelicals would answer with mysticism. But we know what we know through the Word and only through the Word. Christianity is the only belief system that provides a complete account of revelation—beginning, necessity, authority, reception, effect. The Christian doctrine of Holy Scripture sets it apart from all other religions.

In our age this is considered extremely exclusive. It is considered intolerably objective. It is considered to be essentially arbitrary. This is a claim with evidence and reason. We claim this book and this book alone is the inscripturated Word of God.

Mohler suggested two tests for Scripture: the test of content and the test of miracles.

The entirety of the Koran came through one person who was supposed to be unable to read or write. The Book of Mormon is parallel with the revelation supposedly coming through an angel. Both say all revelation was delivered at one time in one book. In contrast the Bible has 66 books that were written over several centuries and involved multiple authors, multiple contexts and venues of writing, multiple styles and circumstances, and a variety of revelatory forms. We see in the Bible a book that was validated by the experience of many people versus a person who wrote it all himself. The Word of God is validated by the coherence and consistency of the Old Testament. The experiences recorded in the Bible were verified by the people who were there when they happened. The Bible deals with historic claims involving those who were alive when the claims were made.

The more we know of the textual history of the Bible, the more it supports the Bible’s claims of who wrote it and when they wrote it. The more you look at false gospels the more you see the validity of the genuine gospels. The history of the Bible attests to its truthfulness. Similarly, archaeological discoveries continue to attest to events, people and places in the Bible and even its background stories.

When we look at what the Bible says about humanity, we see that Scripture tells us what we would never say about ourselves. Humans would never call themselves sinners! And so the Bible holds up perfectly under the test of content.

And then he turned to the test of miracles and whether the Bible provides information that could only be known by God. Predictive prophecy provides a good example of this. The Bible continually provides prophecies and then fulfillment of its prophecies.

Our confidence in the Bible comes down to this simple formula: when Scripture speaks God speaks. We must acknowledge our dependence on the Bible for true knowledge of God. Human beings could never find their own way to a true knowledge of the true and living God. It’s not that the knowledge isn’t out there but that our minds are so muddled that we need God’s help to see Him.

How do we know the one true God? We know Him through His book. This book is immediately a limiting factor on the way we know and do theology. We are limited to this book and if we do not understand our limitation to this book we will become idolaters. We will invent ever-new forms of paganism. It is the grace of God that He reveals Himself to us in words and that He gives us those words.

Mohler turned to Calvin’s six proofs of Scripture’s authenticity:

Antiquity of the book
Fulfilled prophecy
The preservation of this text

To this he added several but the one that most resonated with me is the candor of the Bible being a sign of its authenticity. He considered Moses as the hero and anti-hero, Peter, and others. In the Koran or Book of Mormon we do not find the authors speaking badly of themselves and yet in the Bible we do. The candor is unmistakable.

The Bible does not have its position because we have been able to recognize it for what it is, but because God gave us this book. The only rescue from our epistemological hole is a God who can speak and who has spoken through the words of His Word. The Bible is, to borrow a strange but effective phrase, the norm that cannot be normed and norms all other norms.

And now I think my brain is full. Hearing MacArthur, Piper, MacArthur, Zacharias and Mohler is a good day by any measure. But it is also a day that requires some good brainpower. I was grateful to have a reader of my site ask me to go to dinner with him and his family. We went to a seafood place (where I forsook the seafood in favor of a good slice of a cow-based product) and greatly enjoyed a time of fellowship with them. I feel truly blessed.

March 16, 2007

Until today I had never attended a conference featuring Ravi Zacharias. I know a fair bit about the man as his reputation precedes him, but had never sat under his teaching. Now that I’ve done so I can affirm that I have never been and will never be a philosopher. I am a simple guy I guess. While I enjoyed his discussion on the existence of God, a whole lot of it went right over my head. This made it, understandably, I’m sure, quite difficult to encapsulate. Furthermore, he does much of his teaching in the form of stories and anecdotes and it is awfully difficult to quickly and neatly type these up in the heat of battle. So with great shame I admit that I’ve got no liveblog of this session to share with you.

What I do know is that his speech answered three questions: What are the intense philosophical problems arising from denial of God’s existence? How do we demonstrate God’s existence? How is the Christian faith unique in portraying God? To answer the first question he said that a denial of God’s existence presents a problem with defining or arriving at morality, that it removes any way of positing meaning, and that it takes away all hope. To answer the second question he, well, he just made it even more difficult for me. So tell you what. How about you just download the audio when it is available. I’m sure you’ll find it beneficial. And I dare you to try to take good notes while listening the first time! Even if my pride is damaged, I am at least comforted by the fact that he said the session would be very difficult for note-takers…

March 16, 2007

After Dr. Piper’s speech, John MacArthur spoke no the always-difficult subject of “The Problem of Evil.” this is an important issue because one of the favorite justifications for those who reject the God of the Bible is the issue of evil in the world. Skeptics and theological liberals cannot accept the God of the Bible. How can the God portrayed in the Bible as good and loving allow evil and even massive evil and even dominant evil, the ask? How can God be loving and tolerate or allow all of the results and effects of evil which inflict people with so much pain and suffering? The issue could be stated like this: the biblical God is loving, good, holy, all-knowing, all-powerful and yet evil exists in the world. Therefore, the biblical God does not exist. Theological liberalism feels it needs to rescue the good God from the bad caricature in the Bible as if we need to come up with a truer understanding of God assembled from the component parts of our personal ethics.

People really believe that this is the dilemma which backs Christians into an impossible position. There are people who see this as fourth and forty on the ten yard line and the only option is to punt. There are some supposed Christians who believe this too. Is this the best we can do? Are we pressed against our theological end zone with no option but to punt? Isn’t there some perfect play to score a touchdown? We have a big play that scores and guarantees victory. The answer is in the Bible and we can know it and thoroughly embrace it and enjoy it. It is not an inadequate, short answer either.

No matter how we answer the question, we end up back at God who created the angels and humans that fell and catapulted humanity into its fallen position. You have to build your answer on God. This is why we call this discussion theodicy (words derived from God and justice).

MacArthur framed the discussion around four things we know to be true:

1. Evil exists. There is natural evil (impersonal, external evil as seen in diseases, disasters, etc). The whole universe is blighted by bad things and we live at the mercy of a fallen creation and physical corruption. There is moral evil (personal, internal, spiritual seen in wickedness, sin, transgression) and this evil dominates the life of humanity. Society is dominated by both internal and external evil that impacts every person and every relationship. There is supernatural evil (demonic). It is a supernatural evil against which we wrestle. These vile spirit beings are as old as creation and are unmitigatedly evil. They have a delegated sovereignty in this world system on a temporary but still formidable basis. There is also eternal evil (which will exist in eternal hell). And so evil is a massive reality and is the dominant reality of human life both internally and externally.

2. God exists. That is to say that the God of the Bible exists. He is the only true and living God and is the God that Scripture says He is since Scripture is His own self-disclosure. He is sovereign and controls everything. There is nothing that is or could be outside of His control. God’s sovereignty is absolute, infinite and eternal. He is under no rule, no law and has no influences that come to Him externally. He is a law unto Himself. God is content to make it clear that He is unhesitatingly sovereign over everything that exists including evil. He admits this without a hint of hesitation. He does not ask to be delivered from bad press or embarrassment. He speaks for Himself in unmistakable terms.

3. God wills evil to exist. There is no other possible conclusion. He does this without in any way being evil for He is light and in Him is no darkness at all. At this point panic strikes the heart of an Arminian. Like the theological liberal, he needs to rescue God from this caricature. Arminianism is another rescue operation to rescue God from the bad press He gets in the Bible. Arminians don’t deny God’s power or love or holiness or goodness or that He should be glorified for saving sinners, but the panic attack comes when they cannot allow God to be held responsible for evil. They don’t want God to have the responsibility for not saving people (even if they don’t want to deny God the responsibility for saving people). How do they make this rescue attempt? You have to reinvent God and become a revisionist interpreter of Scripture. You need to come up with a new God who is off the hook. Many limit His power to prevent evil or say He is unwilling to use the power He does have because there was something more important than stopping evil and that was to give to sinner autonomy or free will. This is supposedly a nobler gift. Then there are other Arminians who say that God has limited knowledge and here we meet process theologians and openness theologians. They have created a new God and lack a God-centered, God-focused, God-exalting view of the way things are. They need to make sure that God doesn’t violate any of their sensibilities. God creates man and they return the favor.

Where do we go to solve this?

One answer is metaphysical thinking about reality: good exists, therefore evil exists. Evil is inevitable because good is present (yin yang). Another answer is the one used by most evangelicals: autonomous theology—evil exists because of free will. The noblest thing God gave men is free will because this is the highest good. Free will trumps evil on God’s value scale. He would rather deal with the issues of evil in order to give people freedom. God wants you to love Him because you chose to love Him, not because He made you love Him. God had to allow the possibility of evil to allow the possibility to autonomy. Humans must then have self-determination since if God worked as the primary cause, God is responsible and people are then not free. This doesn’t solve anything because if God knew that people would reject Him when He gave them free will, knowing where it would go and where it would lead, He is still responsible. This problem of evil is the big problem in evangelical and liberal Christianity—everyone trying to save God from this biblical definition.

The question is would you rather have a God trying to get control of evil or a God who is in control?

God didn’t create evil but He also didn’t invent it. It occurred in a rebellion against Him but willed and ordained that it occurred. You can see many ways in the Bible that God designs to use evil things for His own purposes, and even eternal evil. Sometimes to bring fear and terror and conviction on the unregenerate, sometimes to bring chastisement or discipline on God’s people or to humble them.

Why did God will this? God willed it for His own glory. At this point MacArthur read fro the Westminster Confession and quoted passages such as Romans 3:5 and Romans 5:8. Read these passages and look for the word “demonstrate.” Through evil God demonstrates his love, his wrath and the riches of His glory. The presence of sin allows God to demonstrate His love and righteousness. How else could He show the character of His love that allows Him to love His enemies if there were none? God endures this horrible assault on His everlasting holiness and the blaspheming history of sinful beings, and suffers it to display His wrath to the fullest extent. Finally. God demonstrates the riches of His glory. The only ones who will ever know the fullest riches of His glory are those that He has saved. We will have the privilege of eternally glorifying Him for all that He is. The greatest good is God’s everlasting glory.

Even the greatest evil the world has ever known, was decreed by God to achieve for God the greatest glory. God will be glorious, and will be all-glorious, and one day every knee will bow and everyone will confess the glory of the Lord. In eternity we will praise God in ways we never could had we not been able to see the demonstrations of His love, His wrath and His glory.

I really enjoyed this session and it was one of the conference highlights for me. A brief aside: earlier today I bumped into John MacArthur and Steve Lawson as they were walking from the parking lot. MacArthur grinned and said something along the lines of, “So did you generate some traffic on your blog from my comments at the Shepherds’ Conference?” And it just so happens I did, to the tune of 50,000 to 60,000 visits in the couple of days after his comments on premillennialism! Every five or six steps someone would approach MacArthur to thank him for his ministry and Dr. Lawson commented that walking with MacArthur is kind of like walking with Moses except that the Red Sea just never parts. John MacArthur is one popular man who has had a far-reaching ministry.

March 16, 2007

Friday’s second session featured John Piper and he spoken on “The Challenge of Relativism.” This is a topic that interests me a lot and is a topic that I have read into quite a bit. Piper’s take on it was definitely unique and I enjoyed it a great deal. Desiring God, in a clear bid to steal my thunder, has already posted the audio but if your speakers are broken or you have sore ears, perhaps these notes will still prove useful.

Piper began by asking “How is the bad thing called relativism different from good ways of thinking relatively?” We’ll learn about the bad by contrasting it with the good. We can think about certain things in a relative way without necessary being false. A person may be tall or short in relation to others so a person’s height is relative to a standard of measurement. This is a good and indispensable way of thinking. We have to be able to think this way. We need to asking meaningful statements in these situations to ensure that we properly understand context. The reason we don’t call this way of thinking relativism is that people on both sides have a concrete, objective standard in their mind and if they made that clear we could agree or disagree on the basis of a shared standard. This is not relativism but is a good way to think.

For it to be relativism we have to say one or more of four things

1. There is no external or objective standard of truth
2. The standard may be out there but you can’t know it
3. It is out there but you can’t know what it means
4. It is out there and we can know what it means, but I just don’t care

So here is a clear statement: “Sexual relations between two males is wrong.” Two people may disagree and not be relativists because they may share the same external, objective standard: God’s will expressed in an inerrant Bible. Relativism comes into play when there is no objective, external standard affirmed for right and wrong that is valid for everyone. So this statement is then only dependent on your standard of measurement. We cannot expect others to yield and submit to your preferred standard of measurement of what is true and false and good and bad and right and wrong.

Relativism is the view that no one standard of true and false, right and wrong, good and bad, beautiful and ugly exists that is valid for everybody. But what does this imply about truth? Relativists may infer from a lack of standard valid for everybody that there is no such thing as truth—that this is an unhelpful category. More often, though, they speak of your truth and my truth. If your ideas conform to your standard of measurement, you’re speaking truth and the same is true of me. We can both be true even if these truths contradicts. Statements and convictions that flow from them are not based on any standard of measurement shared by everybody but rather ones that are based on preferences or shared community values.

Piper turned to Matthew 21:21-27 where we see Jesus dealing with classical pragmatic relativists. They are de facto relativists. Most people are like this, not thinking through the philosophy of relativism but just acting in a way consistent with it. The Pharisees constructed a new truth here, insisting that they did not know the truth to answer Jesus. This is not full-blown relativism, but the seed of relativism. This is how the depraved mind works. The adulterous mind or heart becomes the servant to defend an ungodly choice. We don’t want to be shamed and don’t want to be harmed. Wants are governing what we say to be true. This is universal among humans until they have a renewed mind. The elders used their minds not to speak truth but to fabricate it and save their skins. So what is at stake for these guys? Truth? No! They are not even posing the answer “what would be a true answer” but “what works?” This is very relevant to our day.

What has become of the mind and its handmaid language? The mind has become nimble in its slavery to our passions. The adulterous heart is nimble in finding things to prostitute after. Language has been prostituted to use itself as the covering of duplicity. What a tragedy. The gift of language is used to create a truth to get out of a problematic situation. Jesus abominates the prostituting of gifts of human mind and human language. The claim that there is no standard for measuring good and bad, true and false is rooted in the cravings of the human heart not to want to be constrained by any external authority or standard. Rather, it wants to enjoy the exaltation of the self. We want to exalt self and therefore we’ll create a philosophy to create what we want.

Therefore, relativism is bad and we should avoid it. We should bring our children up so they do not believe these and help college students to move away from it. We need to articulate as well as we can the evil and destructive effects of this way of thinking. And here are seven evil effects of embracing relativism. You usually can’t argue people out of relativism but you can show them where it leads.

1. Relativism commits treason against God for it is a revolt against the objective reality of God. The sheer existence of God creates the possibility of truth. God is the ultimate and final standard of all claims of truth. What God wills, says and does is the objective standard for everybody. It is a pervasive revolt against God because it denies the very concept of divine law. It is a worse revolt than looking in God’s face and refusing to submit to His law because this is more devious. It says to men “There is no such thing as law.” This is a subtle way of denying that God exists.

2. Relativism cultivates duplicity. Everyone knows that believing relativism to be true is contradictory and that nobody tries to live relativism consistently. Both philosophically and practically it cultivates duplicity. It is morally corrupting. The processes of thinking commits a relativist to principles that are not relative. It is shot through with self-contradictions and when this is done knowingly it is immoral.

3. Relativism conceals doctrinal defection. One of the most tragic effects is its effect on language. In a culture where truth is prized, language has a great and noble task. But where relativism rules, language becomes power broking. The role of language is no longer a humble servant carrying precious truth but takes on a power of its own, creating its own reality, no longer serving to display truth, it now simply defends preferences. This gives rise to every manner of spin. Language is now used to manipulate or create reality. The utilitarian use of language is a direct effect of relativism. It leads to vague speech that deliberately misleads people.

4. Relativism cloaks greed with flattery. Paul knew that he could use language to give people what they want and become rich or famous by doing this. Flattery is the use of language to help people feel good about themselves to get something from themselves. It is buttering people up and this is what language is for in the relativist milieu. Language becomes a means of greed by becoming flattery.

5. Relativism cloaks pride in the guise of humility. If you believe there are objective standards to which everyone must submit is that you will be called arrogant while relativism is portrayed as the humble position. Relativism is presented as being clothed in humility. But this is not humility. When Truth goes, so does humility. If there is universal truth out there, universally valid for all men, then we must submit to it. All over the country relativism is being sold as humility but the truth is that relativism is created to protect arrogance.

6. Relativism enslaves people. If we cultivate an atmosphere in which there is no truth we will create the kind of Christianity that will simply colonize slaves. People are not free from sin in the fog of relativism but rather remain in their chains. Anything that helps people not love objective truth is murderous and enslaving.

7. Relativism leads to brutal totalitarianism. The formula is simple. When relativism holds sway in society, over time more and more people do what is right in their own eyes. When enough people do what is right in their own eyes, we call it anarchy. There are only two solutions to anarchy: revival of absolute values or a dictator.

This list could go on. At this point Piper returned to Jesus and the Pharisees and their grappling for truth and their eventual fabrication of a truth of their own making. That is colossal bondage to the love of self, to the love of personal comforts, so that you are enslaved to use your mind to destroy what is true. The solution is this: if you will believe in Jesus Christ who takes away shame and guilt and to protect from any harm that matters in this life, you will be the freest of all people.

I think what made this speech unique was simply Piper’s wrestling with the problems inherent in relativism and the dangers in it. I’ve read a lot on the subject but haven’t read much that would go this far and present it in this way. This is a great starting point for an examination of relativism and I commend it to you.

March 16, 2007

The first session on Friday was handled by John MacArthur who spoke on “The Bible and Science.” He chose to narrow in on specifics rather than theory.

He began with several assumptions: whoever created the universe and everything that exists within it necessarily understands its nature and operation perfectly. Whoever created it does not have to wait for scientific discovery for Him to discover its operation. If He wrote a book, we would expect that it would be accurate. Whoever is great enough to create and sustain this universe would be intelligent enough to write a relatively clear and accurate assessment of it. He would be able to communicate accurately and truly.

MacArthur quickly surveyed the scriptures of other major religions, showing where they disagree with what is clear by scientific observation. Over against these scriptures, we need to find a book that is morally and scientifically accurate when assessed by true science since the true Creator is going to tell us the truth. He is not going to make mistakes in His book because He has created this entire universe to function on a complex, unfathomable, inscrutable information system. All of life depends on the communication of information, so we’d expect the book written by the creator not to say stupid and ridiculous things.

The Bible claims to be this book—the Word of the living God. It claims to be accurate in everything in says and inerrant no matter what it says. Its veracity and accuracy must be sustained under the most intense examination. The Bible is not a textbook on science, but wherever it intersects with science it must be completely true and accurate. If critics had been able to find scientific error in the Bible they would have found it by now. And this is good, because if the Bible is inaccurate in a scientific point it cannot be trusted in spiritual matters either.

Modern scientists have developed a totally irrational approach to reality which says nobody x nothing = everything. This is ultimate stupidity to say that chance and chaos can create all around us. It is important to realize that evolution was created not as an attack on theism, but as an attack on the God of the Bible. Evolution can coexist with a god, but not the God of the Bible.

MacArthur chose to consider Scripture from a scientific standpoint, looking at science in Scripture in some specific ways. He said that God has spoken in His creation in more sophisticated ways than previous generations could understand. For example, the discovery of DNA is a discovery that God has spoken. He has not just spoken in His Word but into every facet of His creation. Every cell has a language, can communicate within itself, and can pass information around. The organic world is really a book packed with sophisticated biological information. The genetic code is truly digital exactly as computer codes are. This is not an analogy but a reality. Digital information is a reality that exists within the organic world. Until recently the grand omission in the scientific world has been the neglect of information. The idea that complexity arose from simplicity cannot and will not be proven. Science cannot demonstrate that information can spontaneously occur or appear either in organic or inorganic materials. Science cannot show that information can arise from non-information or complex information can arise from simple information. The conclusion through computer engineering is that information comes alone from intelligence and that intelligence expending energy. Simple computer blueprints or programs always come from intelligent efforts.

For example, silicon and copper do not create the reality of the television, but together can hold the concept of it. They can contain the external information that is applied to them, but silicon and copper are not a television. Information exists outside the object. The information is exogenous. The material can contain the information but not produce it.

Energy produces nothing of intelligence or order but only disorder. This is why Christianity sees “person” instead of “force.” The only true source of any information is intelligence. It is person. Person applies ideas, concepts to materials which can only hold that information and not produce it. This is why the Creator in John 1:1 is called the Word.

MacArthur then spoke of the complexity of the cell, comparing it, as many have done before, as a factory town. Interestingly, scientists cannot describe the cell without referring to engineering and machines. This is a level of complexity that Darwin never dreamed up. It is irreducibly complexity and must exist this way for any integrated cellular system to exist. There cannot be a process by which it can be achieved but must all exist simultaneously.

While MacArthur had opportunity only to speak of the micro world, the same principles would be true if we looked at the macro world. Somewhere there must be a master of information. If he can do all this, we must trust Him for the book.

He turned to several specific scientific examples, such as hydrology, astronomy the orbit of the sun, the fact that the moon does not have its own light but merely reflects the sun, the perfect balance of the sun, the shape of the earth, gravity, meteorology, etc. In all of these we see that the Bible spoke of what we now know as scientific fact long before humans figured this stuff out.

The answer to everything we need to know about the way things really are both spiritually and materially are found in the Word of the Creator. Skeptics and critics have been relentless in trying to find an error in the Bible. They never have, and of course, they never will. Though the Bible is not a science book, where it intersects with science it must always be right, for it is the book of the God who created things just as they are. There is nothing that is a surprise to Him and nothing He does not know.

March 16, 2007

After the “pre-conference” ended and we had packed down some dinner, the conference proper was set to begin. Steve Lawson took the stage to honor Dr. Sproul as he will be honored later this year by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association. He spoke of Dr. Sproul’s ministry and shared some personal perspectives based on studying for his PhD under him. He then presented Sproul with a fountain pen as a token of appreciation for Sproul’s long and distinguished career and his faithful defense of the faith.

John Piper then formally introduced R.C. Sproul who spoke on “The Task of Apologetics” and used Exodus 4 as a jumping off point, though the talk itself was more of a lecture than a sermon. As he usually does, Sproul did not often remain behind the pulpit, but wandered the stage looking the audience members in the eye, he leaned towards them, and he engaged them. He even wrote on a chalkboard that had been placed up on the stage. He is and remains a teacher.

This passage follows immediately after the “burning bush” episode and this was a watershed moment in redemptive history. Significantly, God revealed His name to Moses that would be His name for all generations. He identified Himself simply as “I am who I am.” After this moment God gave a task to Moses and his task was twofold: first, he had to go to the palace of Pharaoh to announce that God had heard the groanings of His people and now demands that Pharaoh let them go. The other task was to address those who were slaves and command the Israelites to defy the power and authority of Pharaoh by leaving the country to go to worship God. These events ended in the exodus.

Moses faced an apologetic task. He is supposed to address both Pharaoh and the people. How would a right-minded Israelite be expected to believe Moses? That is the problem address in Exodus 4. How am I going to convince your people that you have spoken? His apologetic task was to persuade the church (and not the world) of the Word of God.

In this passage Moses is raising the question of apologetics. How can I convince these people of the truth of this mandate and that it has come from God? God does these miracles to authenticate Moses as the agent of His revelation by this sign. This is again for the benefit of the household of faith. God arms Moses with these three signs to prove his case to the people. Sooner or later the people will get the message.

The task of apologetics is not to tell the world that we’re sorry that we’re Christians. We don’t apologize for being believers. Apologetics comes from the Greek meaning simply “to give a reply.” Paul was a classic example of someone who would do this as he did at Mars Hill. Paul replied to the false idolatries of his day, answering the questions and protests that were thrown his way. At the end of the Apostolic Age the early church fathers carried on this task (think of Justin Martyr and his Apologies). The first task was to clarify what was really being proclaimed by the Christian church and to clarify it in light of the false conceptions that were being rumored and spread abroad. The church needed to answer false charges against it. The second task was to engage the pagan intellectuals of the day. In every generation Christians have been called to give an intellectual apology of this sort.

In the sixteenth century and with the Reformation and the rediscovery of the doctrine of justification by faith alone, the Reformers had to answer “what is the nature of saving faith?” This was the question Luther and Calvin felt the need to answer since people thought they were teaching some kind of easy-believism. So what makes up saving faith? There are three elements of saving faith:

1) notae (or notitia) - This has to do with the data or content of the Christian faith. We are not saved by just anything, for there must be a content to our faith. This is linked with preaching in giving a clear presentation of the content of the gospel. The sermons recorded in the book of Acts show that the authors have extracted from the sermons the teachings of Christianity.

2) assensus - This has to do with intellectual assent and has to be differentiated from a profession of faith. With this you are saying that you give intellectual assent of the truth of a proposition. You need to believe that Jesus can save you before you can embrace Him in faith and this is an intellectual assent. This is also not credulity or irrationally believing in the absurd. You cannot believe in something you don’t truly believe. Remember from Scripture that there are no creatures more aware of the assensus than the demons. Satan never wrestles with whether or not God exists.

3) fiducia - This has to do with trust—trusting your eternal soul to Jesus Christ. You are not saved when you give mere intellectual assent but when you are trusting in Christ and loving Him.

Within the Reformed community are different schools of thoughts about the science of apologetics. One thing they all agree on is that apologetics can never get you to step three or fiducia. It can explain the data and give you the rational defense of the truth claims of Christianity and we are to work to persuade men. However, the best arguments we offer, however convincing they may be, can never change the human heart that by nature is hostile towards God and dead to the spiritual things of God. Apologetics can ever explain the sweetness of Christ.

This does not mean we shouldn’t be involved in apologetics. We must do what we can do. We can do “pre-evangelism”—we can clarify the data and give the arguments for the rational consent and then get out of the way as the Holy Spirit works from that point on.

Sproul then turned to John Calvin’s defense of sacred Scripture as an example of apologetics. Calvin distinguished between two categories: proof and persuasion. Proof is objective where you lay out the case and try to give compelling reasons for something. Persuasion is more subjective. Think of King Agrippa and being “almost” persuaded by Paul. You can give an argument that is compelling and gives object proof of a proposition and still have people who are not persuaded by it. By this point the biases are so intense and so strong. In our natural condition we do not want to have God in our thinking. Calvin marshaled a list of objective evidences of the Bible’s being the Word of God and said that these arguments, in and of themselves, were sufficient to prove that the Bible is the Word of God. Objectively they prove the case. But no one will be sufficiently convinced of these evidences until the Holy Spirit pierces the heart and soul of the person and confirms the truth of His Word through the testimony of the Spirit. The Spirit changes the disposition of the soul so we acquiesce into the proofs. We are not, as many say today, to believe despite or against the evidence. The Spirit causes us to bow to and surrender to the evidence that is there, that is objective and compelling. It melts our resistance and overcomes the hardness of our heart.

One of the most important tasks in answering the critics of the Christian faith is not to provide proof and persuasion to the unbeliever. The most valuable role in the task of apologetics is to encourage the saints (think back to Moses and his task as an apologist to his own people). Not everyone is called to be a professional apologist but we are all called to study the things of God and to learn about the hope that is within us,

The most important tasks of the apologist are these: To defend the existence of God and the authority of the Bible. If we can settle these two issues, the rest will fall into place. We need to learn how to respond to the agnosticism and skepticism around us. We need to make the case that the Bible has its origin in God. If we do this, all other arguments are mere footnotes that can be done by exegesis. These two issues need to be defended clearly and cogently in every generation, and especially in our own.

Sproul ended with these words: “This is our task. So get her done!” Significantly, these are exactly the tasks that Sproul has given himself to for all these years.

March 15, 2007

From L.A. to Toronto to Atlanta to Orlando. I’ve had a busy five days! It is beautiful and sunny and warm down here in Orlando. I thought it was hot in Atlanta but it’s definitely far warmer here. It has been a long time since I’ve been in Florida and I have to say, as I looked out the window of the airplane as we broke the clouds, my first thought was, “Wow. This state is flat!” Mel Duncan was kind enough to pick me up from the airport (or maybe he’s just the low guy on the Ligonier totem pole) and to stop off for some lunch. I’ve met Mel a few times now and always enjoy his company. I met up with my brother-in-law who chose to make the drive from Atlanta to Orlando and we made our way to the church.

This conference is being held at First Baptist Church of Orlando, a church that is absolutely massive. The church buildings are built on a sprawling campus that also includes a large pond, a school and all sorts of other unlabelled buildings. I’m not sure what the official attendance is or will be, but estimates are ranging as high as 6,000. While some conferences seem to attract one kind of person, there seems to be a fair bit of diversity here. There are men and women, young and old, white and…well, mostly white. I’ve been surprised to see quite a few children and teenagers here as well.

The conference has begun with a “pre-conference” or sorts, featuring sessions by Ravi Zacharias, Al Mohler, R.C. Sproul Jr., and a speaker’s panel with these three men and R.C. Sproul. The conference proper begins this evening at 7 PM and I’ll be sure to bring you a blow-by-blow account as it unfolds. Don’t forget that you can watch the free streaming video by starting here.

My brother-in-law and I both took a lot of photos and we’ll see if we can get some of those onto the web site. Sadly, I have once again managed to travel without bringing the necessary cable to get the photos from my camera to my computer. But I’ll try to figure something out.

March 10, 2007

Some conferences end with a bang. They crescendo in a big song or a passionate call to action, the lights come on, and they are over. Others end less abruptly, sort of slowly fizzling rather than culminating in a bang. The Shepherds’ Conference falls into the latter category. John MacArthur finished his session last night and the conference was done. Or kind of. After he was finished the Soapboxes were opened for business and the speakers took their places on the patio, each speaking what was on his mind. And then it was done. Or kind of. Some people will stick around until Sunday, enjoy the worship service at Grace Community Church and then celebrate Lord’s Supper together in the afternoon. And then it will be done. For real this time.

It was a very good conference and I really did enjoy it. The more effort I dedicate to writing thorough and (hopefully!) accurate and well-written summaries of the sessions, the more this liveblogging begins to feel like hard work. So at the end of the conferences I tend to feel a little tired or worn out. But it’s a good thing. I continue to learn how to best liveblog and think I’m starting to figure it out. Now I just need to find ways of doing more “candid” writing, reflecting on things other than the main sessions.

I will not be sticking around until Sunday. Paul and I will find something to do for a few hours before heading to the airport for our 3 o’clock flight. Or the flight is supposed to leave at three. In my last three flights to or from L.A. (flights to and from Resolved and the flight to Shepherds’) the best Air Canada has managed is 1.5 hours late. The first flight was delayed because they could not start the engines (which makes you feel really good as a passenger), the second because they blew a tire and needed to get it replaced, and the third because it was ridiculously cold and the plane’s plumbing froze. I am hoping for better results today.

Assuming I get home late tonight as planned, I’ll be packing my family into the van tomorrow and driving down to Atlanta to spend a few days with my family. On Thursday of next week I’ll be hoping from Atlanta down to Orlando to take in the Ligonier Conference, so tune in then for liveblogging of what is sure to be one of the year’s biggest events (5500 attendees are expected to be there!). And, once the conference has wrapped up, we’ll be driving back home and hoping life returns to normal for a while!

Some of the most encouraging comments I heard this weekend from readers of this site were along the lines of “I’m praying for you as you finish up your book.” I would really, really appreciate your prayers as I cross the t’s and dot the i’s on this book. While most of the content is in place, there are still a few significant portions of the book I need to spend time on. And time is short. So I covet your prayers as the April 1 deadline approaches.

I will leave you with one amusing visual. This is a graph showing the traffic to my site over the past month. You won’t have any trouble telling how the Shepherds’ Conference fits into this chart. In particular, you’ll know just how much interest was generated by John MacArthur’s comments in the first session regarding eschatology.