Book Review: Galatians For You – Tim Keller

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letter-gGalatians For You, as might be suspected, is a commentary on the book of Galatians. Timothy Keller’s aim with the book is to offer a bible centered, Christ glorifying, relevantly applicable, and easily readable look at the book in question.

The key point of Galatians for Keller is the fact that “the gospel is the A to Z of the Christian life. It is not only the way to enter the kingdom; it is the way to live as part of the kingdom. It is the way Christ transforms people, churches and communities” (p9). Paul is in essence calling his readers to live out the implications of the gospel, and Keller’s utmost goal is to point out to his readers how “It is not simply non-Christians but also believers who need continually to learn the gospel and apply it to their lives” (p11).

The commentary acts as a passage-by-passage (and to a degree verse-by-verse) breakdown of the book of Galatians. The chapters for each passage are then broken into two parts, with each part ending with a few “Questions for reflection.”

Throughout his commentary Keller lays out the uniqueness of the gospel and challenges the idolatrous habits in the lives of believers and nonbelievers alike. Keller brings out the fact that the gospel leads to both spiritual freedom, to cultural freedom, and to emotional freedom. The gospel offers freedom, and in a sense even freedom from the moral law, but – as Keller is keen to point out – “though not free from the moral law as a way to live, Christians are free from it as a system of salvation” (p42).

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Book Review: The Psychology of Atheism – By R.C. Sproul

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Letter MMuch has been written trying to explain the psychology of theism. The foundational text in that field is probably Sigmund Freud‘s The Future of An Illusion, where Freud theorizes that religion came about as a sort of coping mechanism; it was comforting for early man to personalize the forces of nature and to turn their chiefs into legends, and eventually this evolved into the more institutional forms of religion.

Freud may have been the first, but he was far from the last. Feuerbach theorized that the gods were just man’s projections of himself onto the universal scale. Marx theorized that religion was just a way to keep the working class placated. Nietzche theorized that religion was rooted in fear of the nihil; Bertrand Russell followed a similar line of thinking. More recently, Richard Dawkins dismissed religion as a meme, a sort of ‘mind-parasite’.

In each case these writers are not asking “Is there a God?” Rather, they presuppose there is not a God, and then ask why there is religion. At the same time, they suppose – at the very least through implication – that they are explaining away or debunking religion. In each case these writers fail to realize that explaining what a man can or might do is not in the least determinate for what he actually did do. Or, as Sproul puts it:

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Book Review: The Abolition of Man – By C.S. Lewis

Lewis Abolition of Man.pngLetter DDuring the past few centuries within discussions of philosophy there has been what might be called a revitalization of skepticism. This skepticism, what many deem free inquiry or free thought, has come to question everything, such that during the early Twentieth Century G.K Chesterton wrote that: “It is vain for eloquent atheists to talk of the great truths that will be revealed if once we see free thought begin. We have seen it end. It has no more questions to ask; it has questioned itself.”

The Abolition of Man is C.S. Lewis‘ answer to this same thought, his answer to the skepticism which has once again begun to run rampant throughout all philosophy and all society since the beginning of modernity. Despite being a well-known Christian writer, in this particular text Lewis is not arguing distinctively for a religious system, but is simply addressing the question of objectivity and first principles.

In short, Lewis’ argument is in favor of what he terms the ‘Tao‘, that is, the “practical principles known to all men by Reason” or in other words “the doctrine of objective value, the belief that certain attitudes are really true, and others really false.” In rejecting this Tao Lewis argues that mankind has created “men without chests.” They have done away with basic axioms of morality and virtue in attempt to create their own system.

Yet for Lewis this is impossible, stating that “neither in any operation with factual propositions nor in any appeal to instinct can the Innovator find the basis for a system of values.” In short, in rejecting objective values the ‘Innovator’ has placed themselves in position in which they can have no values at all, and which any attempt to create values is simply a contradiction in which they draw upon the objectivity which they reject. This phenomena, combined with man’s attempts at conquering nature (first through doing away with old moralities and then through more physical means) paradoxically results in the state which the title describes, the abolition of man. Through skepticism they have done away with value and all obligation, leaving only the impulse of nature: “They are not men at all: they are artifacts. Mans’ final conquest has proved to be the abolition of Man.”

Perhaps the summation of Lewis’ argument can be found here:

“If you will not obey the Tao, or else commit suicide, obedience to impulse (and therefore, in the long run, to mere ‘nature’) is the only course left open. At the moment, then, of Man’s victory over Nature, we find the whole human race subjected to some individual men, and those individuals subjected to that in themselves which is purely ‘natural’ – to their irrational impulses. Nature, untrammeled by values, rules the Conditioners and, through them, all humanity. Man’s conquest of Nature turns out, in the moment of its consummation, to be Nature’s conquest of Man.”

In the final analysis The Abolition of Man is a powerful argument for first principles, those basic and universal values which are shared by mankind, standing as self-evident and thereby forming the only foundation upon which anything – even any argument – can be based, for without axioms no progress can be made and nothing can be proven. Finishing out at a nice 81 pages the book can easily be read in one sitting and serves as wonderful food for thought while pondering the basic questions of morality and values.

Memorable Quotes:

-“No emotion is, in itself, a judgment; in that sense all emotions and sentiments are alogical. But they can be reasonable or unreasonable as they conform to Reason or fail to conform. The heart never takes the place of the head: but it can, and should, obey it.”

-“It is no use trying to ‘see through’ first principles. If you see through everything, then everything is transparent. But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To ‘see through’ all things is the same as not to see.”

“If the pursuit of scientific knowledge is of real value, then so is conjugal fidelity. The rebellion of new ideologies against the Tao is a rebellion of the branches against the tree: if the rebels could succeed they would find that they had destroyed themselves. The human mind has no more power of inventing a new value than of imagining a new primary color…”

-“We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.”

Specific Criticisms

Perhaps my only criticism of this text is that I think Lewis sets out on a futile task by denying himself the argument for theism, specifically Christianity. Granted, he does state that “In order to avoid misunderstanding, I may add that though I myself am a Theist, and indeed a Christian, I am not here attempting any indirect argument for Theism. I am simply arguing that if we are to have values at all we must accept the ultimate platitudes of Practical Reason as having absolute validity… Whether this position implies a supernatural origin for the Tao is a question I am not here concerned with.”

Personally, I don’t believe that it is possible to address whether there are “ultimate platitudes of Practical Reason” without discussing (directly or indirectly) whether or not these have a supernatural origin; not only this, but sufficing to refer to these as simply the results of ‘Practical Reason’ is to do somewhat of a disservice to the creator who put them in place. There is no basis for Practical Reason outside theism. Perhaps one might dismiss this as attempt to gain a neutral ground with his audience, designating these axioms as natural reason and using a third party term (Tao) when speaking of them. This may be a valid case, though it still encourages the autonomy of man in such cases (where it is the this rebellious autonomy which is the true issue).

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This isn’t a criticism, but simply an interesting note which I’d never noticed in Lewis before; that is, the presuppositional nature of some of his thought. Two quotes will do well to illustrate this

“But as we have seen, all the values which he uses in attacking the Tao, and even claims to be substituting for it, are themselves derived from the Tao. If the Tao falls, all his own conceptions of value fall with it… Only by such shreds of the Tao as he has inherited is he enabled to even attack it.”

“Unless you accept these without question as being to the world of action what axioms are to the world of theory, you can have no practical principles whatever. You cannot reach them as conclusions: they are premises… If nothing is self-evident, nothing can be proved. Similarly if nothing is obligatory for its own sake, nothing is obligatory at all.”

In replacing the Tao with God, in replacing ‘for its own sake’ with ‘due to the nature of God, we begin to have one of the basic arguments of the presuppositional apologetic. That is, that without God one cannot have meaning, nor can one make sense of anything which they see before them. “If nothing is self-evident, nothing can be proved” and the basis for their self-evidence is the testimony of God, the standards which He has set in place. Any system which is created apart from the Christian one is held up by boards and pillars borrowed from the Christian worldview, that is “Only by such shreds of [Christianity] as he has inherited is enabled to even attack it.” Or as Belloc states “Wherefore, it is said of heresies that ‘they survive by the truths they retain.'”

Compare this to statements made by presuppositional apologist Greg Bahnsen:

“If Christianity were not true, the unbeliever could not prove or understand anything. Only the Christian worldview makes sense out of the logic, science, morality, etc. to which both sides to the dispute appeal — not to mention, alone makes sense out of the very process of reasoning and arguing at all.”

“The unbeleiver is not completely blind to any and all truth, for he shares in common grace – yet this truth that he has is borrowed from us.”

Book Review: The Great Divorce – By C.S. Lewis

cslewis the great divorce.pngletter-hHere we have before us one of the monoliths of Christian literature in the 20th Century, C.S. Lewis, whose impact through his writings no doubt rivals those of individuals we would consider much ‘greater’ than him. He wrote prolifically over every subject both in fiction and nonfiction and this book is one which tows the line between the two. While written in for the form of a story this is simply a form by which Lewis conveys his arguments and ideas.

The Great Divorce begins during the dreary hours of twilight where our narrator boards a bus which will take him on an odd trip to a land which is more real than the one he left, perhaps even too real. This land is the outskirts of heaven, where the rainy town which he has left is perhaps what one might call purgatory. Both lands lay in twilight, one awaiting a dreaded dusk, the other a glorious dawn.

Taking a step back from the fictional aspect of the text and what we see is an outline of human misconceptions regarding salvation and heaven. The characters which the narrator encounters in his journey each display a different misconception. One displays the works righteousness of attempting to merit heaven, the character demanding that his ‘rights’ be given to him, all the while ignoring that his ‘rights’ would gain him nothing more than damnation. Another displays the idea that if we are simply honest and sincere in our beliefs that this is all which can be asked of us, ignoring the sincerity doesn’t necessarily entail innocence or any sort of goodness. Another asserts that intolerance and stagnation which must occur if any final truth is to be reached, opting for endless skepticism, all the while ignoring that the chief point of asking questions is to find answers.

Other characters, rather than demonstrating misconceptions, demonstrate mindsets which may keep the individual from accepting the truth. Such mindsets include that of shame, of selfish love, and of lust.

Each of these misconceptions and mindsets serve as minor arcs within the greater arc of the story. This greater arc may be summed up in the words of the narrator’s teacher: “But ye can get some likeness of it if ye say that both good and evil, when they are full grown, become retrospective. Not only this valley but all this earthly past will have been Heaven to those who are saved. Not only the twilight in that town, but all their life on earth too, will then be seen by the damned to have been Hell.”

Even more pointed may be the statement that “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell, choose it.” It is not a matter of merit or of rights, for if we got our ‘rights’ we would have no hope: “I haven’t got my rights, or I should not be here [heaven]. You will not get yours either. You’ll get something far better. Never fear.”

This is the outline of a great divorce between heaven and hell. It is meant as a contrast, a demonstration of the dichotomy present before us. There is no compromise but rather two distinct options divorced from one another, the good and the bad, where man must choose the one or the other, heaven or hell, where to choose earth is also to choose hell.

The text is at once entertaining and moving, as is to be expected by one who wrote both The Chronicles of Narnia as well as Mere Christianity. It is a book which anybody will profit from reading and at a mere 125pgs there is no reason not to.

Memorable Quotes:

-“You have gone far wrong. Thirst was made for water; inquiry for truth. What you now call the free play of inquiry has neither more nor less to do with the ends for which intelligence was given you than masturbation has to do with marriage.”

-“There have been men before now who got so interested in proving the existence of God that they came to care nothing for God himself… as if the good Lord had nothing to do but exist!”

-“The demand of the loveless and the self-imprisoned that they should be allowed to blackmail the universe: that till they consent to be happy (on their own terms) no one else shall taste joy: that their should be the final power; that Hell should be able to veto Heaven.”

-“That thing is Freedom: the gift whereby ye most resemble your Maker and are yourselves parts of eternal reality. But ye can see it only through the lens of Time, in a little clear picture, through the inverted telescope… For every attempt to see the shape of eternity except through the lens of Time destroys your knowledge of Freedom.”

Specific Criticisms

Perhaps the only thing which I might bring against Lewis, in a book which revolves so heavily around man’s path to heaven, is the distinct lack of grace – that is, the distinct lack of Christ. Individuals in heaven come out to meet those visiting heaven’s shores in attempt to persuade them to stay and journey inward, seeking ways to convince them to enter. After one such attempt the narrator’s teacher states that “Ye will have divined that he meant to frighten her; not that fear itself could make her less a Ghost, but if it took her mind a moment off herself, there might, in that moment, be a chance. I have seen them saved so.”

Of course it would be rather absurd to pick apart the theological ramifications of it being up to the efforts of heavenly individuals to save souls, but there is a bigger issue at hand. This issue is simply the idea that the narrator has “seen them saved so.” No word is said concerning the fact that is Christ who saves, and Christ alone, yet these individuals are said to be ‘saved’ by the efforts of these individuals. One might be able to write this off as the individuals simply acting as the means by which Christ is saving them but such a view is presented nowhere in the book (and given Lewis’ denominational background it is unlikely that this was his intention).

Book Review: The Problem of Pain – By C.S. Lewis

cslewis-problem-of-painletter-cC.S. Lewis is one of those authors I can always turn to when in need of a good read. The goal of this book is pretty self-explanatory by the title: to address the problem of pain. More specifically, the goal of this text is to solve the intellectual problem of suffering; this is important, as the book is an endeavor in the philosophical/theological, not primarily the pastoral or the therapeutic.

The book begins with a short apologetic for the Christian system, pointing out how the idea of Christianity (especially in relation to the presence of suffering) is not something that would have ever cropped up naturally; thus: “If the universe is so bad, or even half so bad, how on earth did human beings ever come to attribute it to the activity of a wise and good Creator? Men are fools, perhaps; but hardly so foolish as that. The direct inference from black to white, from evil flower to virtuous root, from senseless work to a workman infinitely wise, staggers belief. The spectacle of the universe as revealed by experience can never have been the ground of religion : it must always have been something in spite of which religion, acquired from a different source, was held.” Lewis also makes it a point to note that it is only from within the Christian system that the problem of pain even presents itself, such that “In a sense, [Christianity] creates, rather than solves, the problem of pain, for pain would be no problem unless, side by side with our daily experience of this painful world, we had received what we think a good assurance that ultimate reality is righteous and loving.”

With this foundation set Lewis goes on to discuss first the nature of divine omnipotence, divine goodness, and then mankind and our relation to God (namely, the fallen-ness of man and his wickedness). This discussion focuses both on the way in which mankind is free and the way in which God may use both good and evil actions in order to further his purposes. Pain, ultimately, serves to draw man closer to God by demonstrating the way in which pain “shatters the illusion that all is well.” In sum, however, Lewis takes the road of explaining pain through appeal to free will; that in order to absolutely avoid the presence of pain or evil God would be required to constantly over-ride the will of man.

The overall explanation is fairly typical of mainstream Christianity, with Lewis’ discussion of simple evils producing complex goods being a little more innovative. The text is concise, and generally a good read with many wonderful quotes, yet it is not without its fair share of faults (as detailed below).

Memorable Quotes:

– “All men alike stand condemned, not by alien codes of ethics, but by their own, and all men therefore are conscious of guilt. [Moral consciousness] is either inexplicable illusion, or else revelation.”-10

– “I do not think I should value much the love of a friend who cared only for my happiness and did not object to my becoming dishonest.”-37

– “A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word ‘darkness’ on the wall so his cell.”-41

– “To be God – to be like God and to share His goodness in creaturely response – to be miserable – these are the only three alternatives. If we will not learn to eat the only food that the universe grows – the only food that any possible universe can ever grow – then we must starve eternally.”-42

– “God may be more than moral goodness : He is not less. The road to the promised land runs past Sinai. The moral law may exist to be transcended : but there is no transcending it for those who have not first admitted its claims upon them, and then tried with all their strength to meet that claim, and fairly and squarely faced the fact of their failure.”-53

-“No doubt Pain as God’s megaphone is a terrible instrument; it may lead to final and unrepentant rebellion. But it gives the only opportunity the bad man can have for amendment. It removes the veil; it plants the flag of truth within the fortress of the rebel soul.”-83

– “Prostitutes are in no danger of finding their present life so satisfactory that they cannot turn to God: the proud, the avaricious, the self-righteous, are in that danger.”-86

– “For you will certainly carry out God’s purpose, however you act, but it makes a difference to you whether you serve like Judas or like John.”-99

– “In the long run the answer to all those who object to the doctrine of hell, is itself a question: “What are you asking God to do?” To wipe out their past sins and, at all costs, to give them a fresh start, smoothing every difficulty and offering every miraculous help? But He has done so, on Calvary. To forgive them? They will not be forgiven. To leave them alone? Alas, I am afraid that is what He does.”-116

Specific Criticisms

C.S. Lewis is a great writer, and a brilliant thinker, yet while his books are always packed with profound insight, due to his status as an amateur in the realms of theology and philosophy, he sometimes says things that are just terrible. His books are full of magnificent highs and dreadful lows; I’ve covered the highs, here are the lows…

Before getting into the major critiques of this book I’ll first offer a few minor ones. These are things like Lewis assuming that to surrendering to God will thereby make things “good and happy”(p78), which stinks of the seeds of the health/wealth ‘gospel’; surrendering to God will very likely increase your turmoil rather than diminish it. Lewis claims that humans can prevail through “painful effort”(p71), and while it is through painful effort, it is not merely through painful effort, but rather the grace of God working to empower man. A final minor critique is where Lewis states – in reference to the doctrine of man being present in Adam’s loins – that “these theories may have done good in their day but they do no good to me, and I am not going to invent others”(p74); while Lewis might not find the doctrine helpful, it will hardly do to just sweep a historic (and important) piece of Christian theology out the door as unhelpful. In fact, the reason that Lewis finds it unhelpful is that he takes the free will defense of evil, while said doctrine is a truth emphasized by the Reformed tradition in accounting for the transference of the fallen nature (or rather, why all men are guilty of one man’s sin; somebody who believes each individual freely causes their own fall naturally sees no need of this).

As for the major critiques, the first is Lewis’ reliance on the science of his day to support his views, such as taking for granted the theory of evolution; thus he states “For long centuries God perfected the animal form which was to become the vehicle of humanity and the image of Himself” (p65). Not only is relying on science a bad way to go about theology, but relying on bad science – such as the theory of evolution – is an especially bad way to go about theology.

Perhaps the most prominent theological/philosophical error made by C.S. Lewis in this book is that he takes the wrong side on the Euthrypo debate (which is solved by monotheism; the dilemma in the argument is only there because of the polytheistic foundation present); that is, he maintains that “God commands certain things because they are right…” and that “God’s will is determined by His wisdom which always perceives, and His goodness which always embraces, the intrinsically good”(p88), even going so far as to say that something could theoretically be good apart from God. This is, in effect, to supplant the god of Plato for that of Christianity; it is to make God subject to an authority outside of, and even more importantly, higher than, himself. For Lewis, God is not the ultimate standard, but instead something above God; this is quite simply a pagan position to hold.

While the most prominent problem might be Lewis’ mistaken view of Euthrypo, the most pressing problem is that – much like Chesterton – the Gospel is generally absent from his books, or else something that you have to infer from a few select lines. There are a few lines where the Gospel peeks through in this book, but only just, yet when addressing the problem of pain – or any point of Christianity – one cannot afford to minimize the Gospel.

Book Review: The Case for Christianity – By C.S. Lewis

 

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Letter TThe Case for Christianity
is one of three books which would later be compiled into C.S. Lewis‘ classic exposition of the faith, Mere Christianity. On its own, the book is a discourse on morality, specifically the moral argument for God.

Two snippets from the text serve well to sum up the argument being made by Lewis here:

“First, that human beings, all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and can’t really get rid of it. Secondly, that they don’t in fact behave in that way. They know the Law of Nature; they break it. These two facts are the foundation of all clear thinking about ourselves and the universe we live in.”(p7)

“A man doesn’t call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?… Consequently atheism turns out to be to simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes we should never know it was dark. Dark would be a word without meaning.”(p34)

Thus, the argument is essentially that people have within a certain moral code that they feel they should follow, a code which can only be explained through appealing to some higher standard, a standard that only the Christian God can account for. Such a claim is naturally going to be met with varying amounts of skepticism offering alternate explanations, which Lewis does well at addressing ahead of time, explaining how all the popular explanations – such as that morality is simply a form of instinct or that it is a social convention – are self-contradictory.

The first half of the text is a philosophical exposition of the matter, the second half the Christian take on the matter. On the whole, it is an excellent presentation of the moral argument for God, as well as meeting of the objections which might be raised.

Memorable Quotes:

-“Now this thing that judges between two instincts, that decides which should be encouraged, can’t itself be either of them.”(p8)

-“The most dangerous thing you can do is to take up any one impulse of your own nature and set it up as the thing you ought to follow at all costs.”(p10)

-“There’s no difference in moral principle here: the difference is simply about a matter of fact. It may be a great advance in knowledge not to believe in witches: there’s no moral advance in not executing them when you don’t think they are there! You wouldn’t call a man humane for ceasing to set mouse-traps if he did so because he believed there were no mice in the house.”(p13)

-“We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you’ve taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.”(p24)

-“Unless I believe in God, I can’t believe in thought: so I can never use thought to disbelieve in God.”(p32)

-“For Christianity is a fighting religion.”(p34)

-“Enemy-occupied territory – that’s what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.”(p40)

-“Remember, this repentance, this willing submission to humiliation and a kind of death, isn’t something God demands of you before He’ll take you back and which He could let you off if He chose: it’s simply a description of what going back to Him is like.”(p49)

Specific Criticisms

While C.S. Lewis is one of my favorite authors, I won’t pretend that he is without fault. The primary fault in this text comes towards the end where Lewis is discussing the Christian point of view on the matter and addressing objections which might be raised against it. For the most part Lewis does well here, except for the bit where he discusses the Christian attitude towards those who have never heard the gospel, stating “We do know that no man can be saved except through Christ; we don’t know that only those who know Him can be saved through Him.”(p55)

Romans 10:14 seems a well enough rebuttal: “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?” 

Tertullian and Philosophy – Rationalist, Fideist, Apologist?

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letter-fFrom antiquity through the postmodern age Christian thinkers have been faced with the confrontation between Christianity and culture, and even more specifically the confrontation between Christianity and secular (or pagan) philosophy, which is one of the chief areas in which Christianity fights against the thought patterns of any given generation.

One of the earliest Christian thinkers to wrestle with the question of how Christianity is to relate to philosophy is the Second to Third Century writer by the name of Tertullian, a North African thinker perhaps best known introducing a number of the key terms for discussing Trinitarian and Christological dogma, as well as for the question “What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” and the misquotation “I believe because it is absurd.”

Tertullian is acknowledged as one of the first Christian apologists and is often credited as the forerunner of both fideism and of the Reformed approach to apologetics, the former being a designation which writers use not only to put Tertullian in opposition to philosophy and the secular world – such as is done by H. Richard Niebuhr in Christ and Culture – but also to place Tertullian in opposition to the use of reason altogether and designate him an irrationalist.

The question thus arises as to what all Tertullian’s criticism of philosophy entails.

While Tertullian demonstrated a large amount of hostility towards the philosophies and the worldviews of his day, he was not an irrationalist; rather, he maintains an approach which places philosophy and Christianity in their proper spheres.

This approach is just as relevant today as it was eight-hundred years ago.

In order to discern Tertullian’s approach it is necessary to analyze various aspects of his thought, to include his general apologetic, his approach to philosophy, and his approach to the relation of faith and reason directly.

Tertullian, along with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, is seen as one of the founders of Christian apologetics. Tertullian’s main apologetical writing is the aptly named Apology, and this first text offers great insight into the way in which he interacted with the world outside Christianity.

One of Tertullian’s chief assertions made in this text is the notion that most of the hostility towards Christianity is derived from an ignorance of it and that those who become acquainted with it soon find themselves converting, thus he asserts: “By simply getting acquainted with it, they begin now to hate what they had formerly been, and to profess what they had formerly hated.” Much of Tertullian’s Apology is directed at arguing against the more moral – as opposed to intellectual – criticisms that were being railed against Christianity. Thus he defends Christianity against accusations of such things as treason and child sacrifice, and points out the inconsistencies which surround the trials and persecutions of Christians.

After defending the morality of Christianity and addressing unjust persecutions, Tertullian goes on to a more rational defense of Christianity and does so in some creative ways (though many of these are no longer forceful in the modern context). One of these ways is through a proof from the pagan gods.

Tertullian argues that since the pagan gods were once men, they must have been made gods by somebody higher than themselves, thus: “you must concede the existence of one higher God – a certain wholesale dealer in divinity” because “if they could have deified themselves, with a higher state at their command, they would have never been men.”

He argues again from pagan gods to a true God by arguing that since the ‘gods’ show favor to both those that worship them and those that do not, there must be some higher “dispenser of kingdoms, who is Lord at once of the world which is ruled.” Another set of arguments employed by Tertullian are arguments from the antiquity and the majesty of Scripture, that antiquity claims authority and the majesty of Scripture proves that it is divine. Tied in with this is an argument from the demonstration and truth of prophecy presented in Scripture which “is the demonstration of its being from above.” 

It can be observed from the arguments presented by Tertullian here that he is willing to offer counterarguments to criticisms of Christianity as well as a certain sort of argument for Christianity. This is perhaps at least one reason why Tertullian’s approach is seen as a forerunner of the Reformed approach to apologetics, in which “the focus will tend to be on the negative or defensive” side.

Another of Tertullian’s apologetical writings is The Soul’s Testimony. The argument here differs from that presented in the Apology, although it is alluded to in the Apology with the question “Would you have the proof from the works of His hands, so numerous and so great, which both contain you and sustain you… or the testimony of the soul itself?”

Rather than argue from pagan philosophy he aims to “prove the existence of God from the testimony that any man’s soul, whether Christian or not Christian, will give.”  Thus Tertullian asserts that “There is no a soul of man that does not, from the light that is in itself, proclaim the very things we are not permitted to speak above our breath” and “Thou proclaimedst God, O soul, but thou didst not seek to know Him.”

This sort of approach is much different from Tertullian’s other arguments. Rather than defending against attacks or offering an argument from the culture of the pagan, Tertullian here gives a somewhat more existential or psychological argument, appealing to the soul’s desire to worship and render service to something above itself and to “name the name of God” as proof of there being something above itself. While this form of argumentation may take Tertullian closer to the accusation of fideism than does that presented in the Apology, his argument is not based on nothing more than the indwelling of the Spirit and thus he is still arguing from experience rather than asserting the need for a leap of faith.

Again, Tertullian’s apologetic doesn’t seem to be in sharp contrast to reason as such. lewis-1

Another sort of apologetic which is often attributed to Tertullian is argument from absurdity, or to put it another way, the argument that the foolishness of the Christian position proves that it could not have been created by human beings and that therefore it must have been divinely constructed and inspired. This is an apologetical method which is not dead in contemporary apologetics; C.S. Lewis makes the same argument in his classic text Mere Christianity, arguing that “It is a religion you could not have guessed… it is not the sort of thing anyone would have made up.”

While this is an argument that is still alive today it is less certain whether Tertullian actually meant this by the statement “it is by all means to be believed, because it is absurd.” Tertullian does not seem to use this argument to argue directly that it could not have been created by man and is therefore divine, but is rather arguing that the ways of God are beyond man, and therefore the things he does may seem foolish to man.

The former may be inferred from the latter, but it does not seem to be directly entailed in it – nor does Tertullian state the former outright – and even when he is discussing the foolishness of the incarnation he does so by explaining how Christianity wouldn’t make sense if not for the foolishness, which is in itself a paradoxical acknowledgement of Christianity’s reasonableness.

If Christ was not flesh he could not have died (and must also therefore have been born), yet he is also God: “Thus the nature of the two substances displayed Him as man and God.” His proof also seems primarily set in the authority of Scripture which asserts that “God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise,” arguing that it is therefore believable for God to act in ways that seem foolish to man.

While this argument comes in the context of a dispute against Marcion over the incarnation of Christ, and while it seems to rely highly on Scripture as a proof (unless the modern revamping of the argument is seen as being intended), the argument still gives some insight into Tertullian’s view of philosophy via his apologetic. As is noted by Timothy Barnes, one of Tertullian’s main issues with Marcion was that he was rejecting the incarnation in order to satisfy the conventional standards of his day; thus, Tertullian is in actuality “contrasting the assumptions of Christianity with those of pagan society.”

In a discussion of Tertullian’s apologetic it is also of note that he alludes in various places to a sort of potential natural theology, but argues that such knowledge is taken by philosophy and “inflated with straining after that facility of language which is practiced in the building up and pulling down of everything.”

This contrasting of the assumptions of Christianity with those of pagan society and Tertullian’s critique of what philosophy does with what might be called ‘common grace’ leads well into the discussion of Tertullian’s overall attitude towards philosophy.

There is no shortage of criticism for philosophy in the writings of Tertullian. One of Tertullian’s divisions between Christianity and philosophy comes in his Apology where he points out that when Christians depart from the faith morally, they are no longer considered Christians, whereas “philosophers who do such things retain still the name and honour of wisdom” which leads him to ask “So, then, where is there any likeness between the Christian and the philosopher?”

This division isn’t one between reason and faith, but between a system which is built upon a morality and one that is not.

In this same text Tertullian attacks the philosophers for having perverted both the old Scriptures and the newer revelation, corrupting them “into a system of philosophic doctrines.” Tertullian makes this same sort of attack again in Ad Nationes, making the point that the philosophers take the truth of Scripture and “degenerated [it] into uncertainty.” Here he adds that “For after they had simply found God, they did not expound Him as they found Him, but rather disputed about His quality, and His nature, and even about His abode”

A final repetition of this outcry can be found following the oft-quoted “What indeed hath Athens to do with Jerusalem” in Tertullian’s On Prescription Against Heresies. Here he calls philosophy that which “pretends to know the truth, whilst it only corrupts it” and cries “Away with all attempts to produce a mottled Christianity of Stoic, Platonic, and dialectic composition!”

In this Tertullian is not so much railing against reason as such, but against philosophers who combine their philosophies with Christianity, against individuals who attempt to force Christianity to adhere to some preconceived system, and who distract themselves from the truth of God by quarrelling about various aspects of God apart from what is presented in Scripture and who debate the same questions over and over such as “why is evil permitted” in the course of tearing down the doctrines.

It may thus be said that Tertullian’s arguments against philosophy were not against rationality per se or of considering philosophic issues “but of the pagan philosophies that took their point of departure in human speculations.”

If Tertullian’s apologetic employed various sorts of proofs and defenses and if his critique of philosophy was chiefly built around keeping philosophers from modifying Christianity to suite their systems, it must still be inquired as to Tertullian’s direct view of the relationship between faith and reason.

From his apologetic it can already be seen that he posits various arguments which aim to make Christianity reasonable, and from his treatment of philosophy it can be observed that he did not critique them simply for their use of reason.

Still, Tertullian does distinguish the knowledge of revelation and faith from that of reason and human wisdom.

In looking back at Tertullian’s apologetic it can be seen that after he defends Christianity against the accusations of the pagans he goes on to spell out just what Christianity is. This in itself is part of his apologetic, as can be inferred by his earlier statements that the main barrier between pagans and Christianity is ignorance of it.

Once Tertullian begins explaining what Christianity is he notes that God is incomprehensible “though in grace He is manifested” and again that “He is beyond our utmost thought, though our human faculties conceive of Him. He is therefore equally real and great.”

tertullianIt seems from such statements as this that Tertullian at the very least sees Christianity as being a reasonable faith.

Despite this, it may also be observed that Tertullian does not view it as a faith which can be reached by reason alone. As has already been observed he had very little confidence in what philosophy did with the things of natural revelation. Tertullian perhaps best surmises his view in A Treatise on the Soul, where he states that:

“For by whom has truth ever been discovered without God? By whom has God ever been found without Christ? By whom has Christ ever been explored without the Holy Spirit? By whom has the Holy Spirit ever been attained without the mysterious gift of faith? From God you may learn about that which you hold of God; but from none else will you get this knowledge, if you get it not from God.”

Thus faith is an absolutely integral factor for in regards to knowledge for Tertullian, for without it God cannot be discovered, much less by the common man.

Indeed, God can be discovered and known without the strain of philosophy or the acrobatics of reason, thus “there is not a Christian workman but finds out God, and manifests Him, and hence assigns to Him all those attributes which go to constitute a divine being” even though God is difficult to find out and difficult to make known.

Rather than viewing Christianity as something opposed to reason or “a faith that is as isolated from reason as possible” as Boa and Bowman suggest, Tertullian seems to view Christianity as something that is reasonable but must be initiated by faith.

It is important to note here, however, that when Tertullian speaks of faith he does not simply mean to put faith in the Scriptures. Rather, he appeals to a rule of faith, which is the successive teachings passed down from the apostles. While this ‘rule of faith’ is derived from Scripture, it does put tradition on a very high pedestal, so much that he recommends using tradition to argue against heretics rather than Scripture or philosophy.

In the contemporary context the question of how to approach secular philosophies and worldviews is just as critical as it was in Tertullian’s day.

If taken outright Tertullian’s position may be seen as a countercultural movement of Christianity against the culture around it, as is pronounced by Neibhur or Alister McGrath when he asserts that Tertullian’s position is one which “refused to allow itself to be contaminated in any way by the mental or moral environment in which it took root.”

Yet Tertullian himself writes with much knowledge of the Platonic and Socratic philosophies, asserts that the truth which the pagans have is derived from Christian writings, and was “deeply imbued with traditional rhetoric.”

At the very least Tertullian gives a sharp warning against syncretism, although it may be going to far to set him distinctly in a Christ against culture camp.

While some of Tertullian’s specific arguments – such as arguing from pagan gods to the true God – may no longer bear any force, his general method is still quite pertinent. Many who reject Christianity still do so while having little idea of what Christianity actually teaches, and Tertullian also offers various arguments which are still around today (even if in modified form). The question of the relationships between Christianity and philosophy or between faith and reason are also just as alive today as they were in Tertullian’s, perhaps even more-so.

Tertullian does well to point out the ways in which Christianity may be perverted by modifying it to fit some preconceived philosophic system, a problem which was present first with classic liberalism and is present still with postmodernism, which seek to cut off the bits of Christianity which do not adhere to their system or what they believe to have truth value.

The current theological and philosophic climate also presents much hostility to the relationship between faith and reason, different groups seeking to place them at different levels of authority. As Etienne Gilson puts it in a more contemporary context, the reason why the universe seems confounded to scientists is that they mistake existential and metaphysical questions for scientific ones, “then they are puzzled, and they say that the universe is mysterious.”

Tertullian does well to point out that it is only through faith that God can be reached, rather than through some rationalistic striving of mankind.

Once that faith is reached, it  may be asserted that the faith is reasonable within its own system, for even when Tertullian calls the doctrines of Christianity foolish he does so in order to paradoxically point out their reasonableness and the way in which both must be accepted in order for the Christian faith and its doctrines to have congruity.

Through analysis of his apologetical method, his thoughts on the relationship between pagan philosophy and Christianity, and his thoughts on the relationship between faith and reason, one may conclude that the one of the key elements of Tertullian’s thought was that “Men are not to determine in advance of meeting Christ what his nature must be” and that knowledge of truth and of God may only ultimately come through the faith which is given by God himself.

The knowledge of God is further augmented by the revelation given to mankind in Scripture; yet Protestants must be wary of the baggage that Tertullian adds onto Scripture, namely, the force of interpretation based on apostolic succession.

He is not merely a fideist, but offers both rebuttals and arguments for the Christian faith – arguments based on the context of the people he is speaking to, based upon experience, and based upon psychology.

Despite writing some eight-hundred years ago, Tertullian’s thoughts still have just as much weight now as they did during his own time, even if the specific arguments and worldviews which are to be defended against have changed.

The essential conflict is still the same, secular philosophies still attempt to pervert the truths of Christianity, though perhaps with Tertullian it might be said “With our faith, we desire no further belief.”

Book Review: A Grief Observed – By C.S. Lewis

cslewisC.S. Lewis is one of those authors who I know I can always go to for a good read. Sometimes – many times – I disagree with him, but it’s always a good read, and most times he has some brilliant insights. But most of the time he’s writing in the style of an academic, which I also like; The Problem of Pain is a good example of this type. A Grief Observed stands against this trend. The Problem of Pain is academic. A Grief Observed is raw.

For context, A Grief Observed is Lewis’ journal following the loss of his wife to cancer. It’s visceral, and lucid. It’s Lewis figuring out how to process his wife’s death, how to process the things he knew as fact in The Problem of Pain but had never had to really deal with personally – those things he knew theoretically but not existentially – which now that they have hit home take him to the point of questioning his faith. It’s a guided tour through the testing of his faith, and you watch as he comes to terms with the pain and loss and finds healing.

The most hitting part of the book is that every now and then a lone line will be directed towards his wife (always referring to her as “dear” at these points), and then it’s like a punch in the gut, and you remember even more clearly that what you’re reading are the personal journals of a man in incredible pain.

The text is wonderfully moving, and has some of Lewis’ most brilliant insights into the faith, into grief, and into life in general.

A Grief Observed is now my favourite book by Lewis, and I highly recommend it (whether you’re dealing with loss or not).

Memorable Quotes:

(there are a ton of great lines in this book)

“One thing, however, marriage has done for me. I can never again believe that religion is manufactured out of our unconscious, starved desires and is a substitute for sex. For those few y ears H. and I feasted on love, every mode of it – solemn and merry, romantic and realistic, sometimes as dramatic as a thunderstorm, sometimes as comfortable and unemphatic as putting on your soft slippers. No cranny of heart or body remained unsatisfied. If God were a substitute for love we ought to have lost all interest in Him. Who’d bother about substitutes when he has the thing itself? But that isn’t what happens. We both knew we wanted something besides one another – quite a different kind of something, a quite different kind of want.”-p8

“Part of every misery is, so to speak, the misery’s shadow or reflection: the fact that you don’t merely suffer but have to keep on thinking about the fact that you suffer. I not only live each endless day in grief, but live each day thinking about living each day in grief.”-p10

“It is hard to have patience with people who say, ‘There is no death’ or ‘Death doesn’t matter.’ There is death. And whatever is matters.”-15

“The most precious gift that marriage gave me was this constant impact of something very close and intimate yet all the time unmistakably other, resistant – in a word, real.”-19

“You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you… Only a real risk tests the reality of a belief… I thought I trusted the rope until it mattered to me whether it would bear me. Now it matters, and I find I didn’t.”-22, 23, 37

“Talk to me about the truth of religion and I’ll listen gladly. Talk to me about the duty of religion and I’ll listen submissively. But don’t come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I shall suspect that you don’t understand.”-25

“He has to be knocked silly before he comes to his senses. Only torture will bring out the truth. Only under torture does he discover it himself.”-38

“Thought is never static; pain often is.”41

“The more we believe that God hurts only to heal, the less we can believe that there is any use in begging for tenderness. A cruel man might be bribed – might grow tired of his vile sport – might have a temporary fit of mercy, as alcoholics have fits of sobriety. But suppose that what you are up against is a surgeon whose intentions are wholly good. The kinder and more conscientious he is, the more inexorably he will go on cutting. If he yielded to your entreaties, if he stopped before the operation was complete, all the pain up to that point would have been useless. But is it credible that such extremities of torture should be necessary for us? Well, take your choice. The tortures occur. If they are unnecessary, then there is no God or a bad one. If there is a good God, then these tortures are necessary. For no even moderately good Being could possibly inflict or permit them if they weren’t. What do people mean when they say, ‘I am not afraid of God because I know He is good.? Have they never even been to the dentist?”-43

“God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already. It was I who didn’t.”-52

“Sorrow, however, turns out to be not a state but a process… Grief is like a long valley, a winding valley where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape. As I’ve already noted, not every bend does. Sometimes the surprise is the opposite one; you are presented with exactly the same sort of country you thought you had left behind miles ago. That is when you wonder whether the valley isn’t a circular trench. But is isn’t. There are partial recurrences, but the sequence doesn’t repeat.”-59

“There was no sudden, striking, and emotional transition. Like the warming of a room or the coming of daylight. When you first notice them they have already been going on for some time.”-62

“Five senses; an incurably abstract intellect; a haphazardly selective memory; a set of preconceptions and assumptions so numerous that I can never examine more than a minority of them – never become even conscious of them all. How much of total reality can such an apparatus let through?”-64

“[God] is the great iconoclast… All reality is iconoclastic.”-66

“We all think we’ve got one another taped.”-67

“If you’re approaching [God] not as the goal but as a road, not as the end but as a means, you’re not really approaching Him at all.”-68

“Look your hardest, dear. I wouldn’t hide it if I could. We didn’t idealize each other. We tried to keep no secrets. You knew most of the rotten places in me already. If you now see anything worse, I can take it. So can you. Rebuke, explain, mock, forgive. For this is one of the miracles of love; it gives – to both, but perhaps especially to the woman – a power of seeing through its own enchantments and yet not being disenchanted.

“Intelligence in action is will par excellence.”-75

 


This review has also been republished on Presbyformed.

Chesterton’s Apologetic & The World Today

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G.K. Chesterton – despite his great girth – is somehow often overlooked in contemporary discussion. Yet if you should take up most any book of his and read you will find that he is still a wonderful treasure trove of insight into the world.

Chesterton was a massive influence on Christianity during the early 20th century, at least within the context of England. He was his generation’s version of C.S. Lewis, with an extra serving of wit. This made him the chief candidate for being the popular defender of Christianity during his day, and his method of defending the faith is one that we would do well to learn from today. But before we can learn from Chesterton’s methods, we must first determine what those methods were.

In undertaking this task it is helpful to first look at what types of strategies are out there, there are at least five different approaches:

  1. the Classical Method, which includes using natural theology and pure reason to establish theism, that is, a belief in God or gods
  2. the Evidential Method, which uses miracles, the historicity of Jesus, etc. to argue its case
  3. the Cumulative Case Method, which says Christianity makes the best sense of the data
  4. the Presuppositional Method, which argues that only through God can one make sense of the world and have a basis for reason and ethics, and also that the opponent’s views all end in absurdity
  5. the Reformed Epistemology Method, which tends towards fideism (that is, a stance which “refuses to offer any arguments or evidence for Christian claims”) and is mostly defensive rather than offering any real argument.

With this cursory survey given we can look at where Chesterton’s arguments fall in this schema.

Chesterton’s book Orthodoxy is perhaps his most iconic work in defense of the faith, and it is therefore ideal for discerning his method. As one reads Orthodoxy the feeling is given that Chesterton’s apologetic is one of common sense, with his chief enemy being skepticism. First Chesterton argues positively for certain evidences which may be found within Christianity, including what he calls guessing ‘illogical truths’ – truths that would be thought illogical if not for their being true – or that the division between man and animal is in need of an explanation. The view that evolution fails to account for the vast differences between man and animal can also be seen in his book The Everlasting Man, where he argues that:

A monkey does not draw clumsily and a man cleverly; a monkey does not begin the art of representation and a man carry it to perfection. A monkey does not do it at all; he does not begin to do it at all; he does not begin to begin to do it at all. A line of some kind is crossed before the first faint line can begin.

Both of these show signs of a sort of evidentialist method, where the argument is made by looking at the outside world and asking for explanations of what is seen.

But more than just presenting arguments for Christianity, Chesterton also offers many arguments against the opponents of Christianity. The opponents he primarily tackles include skepticism, materialism, and pantheism; skepticism being the view that human knowledge is impossible in some field or another, materialism the view that the material world is all that there is, and pantheism the view that everything that exists is part of God. His primary argument against these opposing views is that they result in a ‘suicide of thought’, which is  the name of the chapter in which he states “There is a thought that stops thought. That is the only thought that ought to be stopped.”

Through this method – similar to reductio ad absurdum – Chesterton greatly imitates the method of presuppositionalism, yet in this he has a similarity to the cumulative case method as well; on the one hand arguing that the opposing views end in absurdity, and on the other that it is only Christianity that makes sufficient sense of the data.

G.K. Chesterton employs a variety of apologetical methods in order to argue his case for Christianity. Yet apart from just looking at the arguments that he presents, we can also look at how he views the relationship between faith and reason.

This relationship forms a pivotal part of any apologetic method, for it is this relationship which determines whether the arguments presented will have any practical effect on the nonbeliever.

In looking for his view on this matter it is perhaps best to look once again back to Orthodoxy, in which he provides his arguments for Christianity and against its critics. Chesterton may be found stating here that “It is idle to talk always of the alternative of reason and faith. Reason is itself a matter of faith.” It might thus be concluded that Chesterton places faith above reason, for reason itself falls under the purview of faith.

The relationship between faith and reason is further expounded in Chesterton’s biography of St. Thomas Aquinas, in which he condones Aquinas’ view where he “was willing to allow the one truth to be approached by two paths, precisely because he was sure there was only one truth.”

The point here is that for Chesterton faith and reason are two methods for arriving at the one truth. Chesterton therefore has no outright contention with science or reason (such as the proofs of Thomas Aquinas) because he is sure that if reason arrives at any truth that truth could not contradict the truth of Christianity.

This not only demonstrates Chesterton’s view of the relationship between faith and reason, but it also shows his endorsement of the classical method of apologetics through his approval of Aquinas, who formulated most of the classical proofs. Thus, it may be said that Chesterton pulls his argumentation from all of the apologetical methods combined – classical, evidentialist and presuppositional –  rather than simply relying upon one or the other.

Chesterton’s was of course greatly defined by his era, by the onset of modern liberalism – that is, the movement to make Christianity compatible with science – as well as the fact that presuppositionalism was just coming into play during his time period. Modern liberalism was just starting to take hold during Chesterton’s time, hence the attacks against it in texts such as Machen’s Christianity & Liberalism as well as Hilaire Belloc’s The Great Heresies.

This period also saw the development of a new type of apologetic, that of Van Til’s presuppositionalism. Presuppositionalism is best known for its attack on the epistemology of the opponent, a strategy not seen before the dawn of the Twentieth Century, and therefore we may assume that Chesterton was also influenced by this trend.

Perhaps one of the greatest insights to be drawn from Chesterton is that one is not limited to any one view of apologetics, indeed, he drew from just about all of them.

Furthermore, many of the same heresies that Chesterton fought against are still prevalent. We can still see skepticism in the world today, as well as materialism, as well as pantheism. It is by analyzing how our ancestors battled untruth that we can better understand how to do it ourselves. The truth never changes, therefore it may still be truly said that “there is nothing new under the sun.”


 

[Originally posted on Chestertonian.com]