Book Review: Hitler’s Theology – By Rainer Bucher

Hitlers Theology Bucher
Letter TThere aren’t many individuals in modern history more studied – or at least referenced – that Adolf Hitler. As we know from Godwin’s Law, “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Hitler approaches 1.”

One of the areas which has received less attention in all of this discussion is the topic of Hitler’s theology. Many assume that Hitler was an atheist, others that he was a Christian, and others believe that it is irrelevant what his thoughts about the theological were. A sea’s worth of ink has spilled trying to discern what happened in Germany during the early part of the 20th century, but very little on the topic of Hitler’s theological system. Enter Rainer Bucher.

Mr. Bucher’s goal in this is not to argue against or disprove Hitler’s theological views, but merely to study what they were, and to furthermore study why many theologians (and philosophers and scientists in actuality) welcomed his views so enthusiastically.

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Course Review: Apologetics 101 – Scott Oliphint, Westminster Theological Seminary

Scott Oliphint Apologetics 101.png


Apologetics comes from the reality of Scripture. It is not an invention of theologians and philosophers.


Letter II‘ve decided to try something new, to start a new type of series. I love to read, and I’ve been writing book reviews for years. I also love to listen to lectures, and often fill the time during my daily commute with courses from the online libraries of schools such as Reformed Theological Seminary, Westminster, Gordon-Conwell, Covenant, and others.

So I’ve decided start providing summaries, analysis, and critiques of these courses and lecture series, partially to help me process what I’ve encountered and partially because it’s not something I’ve seen done before and I think it’ll be fun.

The first series of lectures I will be reviewing is Dr. Scott Oliphint’s course Apologetics 101 at Westminster Theological Seminary (WTS).

Scott is a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) and is professor of apologetics and systematic theology at Westminster. He is one of the foremost experts on Cornelius Van Til and the sphere of presuppositional apologetics (along with John Frame and the late Greg Bahnsen), and is perhaps best known for his re-framing of presuppositionalism in the form of Covenantal Apologetics.

Scott is on Twitter, has written for Ligonier and DesiringGod, and has many resources available on SermonAudio.

This course is available for free on iTunesU.

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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).

————————–

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 Angelic Doctor‏ – By Jacques Maritain

Jacques Maritain The Angelic Doctor.pngLetter TThe Angelic Doctor, as one might well guess from the title, is Jacques Maritain‘s biography of Thomas Aquinas, as well as a treatise on the philosophy of monolithic thinker. The latter portions of the book are especially devoted to discussing the philosophy of Aquinas as it affects us today and laying out what Maritain believes to be the proper course of action for Christians in the face of the various systems of thought which face them.

As noted the first sections of the book are devoted to discussing the life of Aquinas in a purely biographical arena. The life of Aquinas as presented by Maritain is both readable and informative, as well as insightful.

With the life of Aquinas layed out Maritain goes on to speak of his philosophy. As posited by Maritain, “Saint Thomas’ method… is essentially universalist and positive. It aims indeed at preserving all the acquired knowledge of humanity in order to add to it and to perfect it; and it requires the more and more complete effacement of the personality of the philosopher before the truth of the object.” He goes on to note that “The philosophy of Saint Thomas is independent in itself of the data of faith: its principles and structure depend upon experience and reason alone.”

The prime duration of Maritain’s philosophy discussion is the exposition of his Thomism, concluding in a catalog of references to places in which the leaders of the Catholic church have shown support of that Thomism.

Memorable Quotes:

-“Thomism claims to use reason to distinguish the true from the false; it does not wish to destroy but to purify modern thought, and to integrate everything true that has been discovered since the time of Saint Thomas.”

-“The error of the modern world has been to claim to assure the reign of reason over nature by refusing the reign of super-nature over reason.”

-“I mean this in an altogether different sense: that common sense itself is an embryonic and rudimentary philosophy, a philosophy which has not yet reached the scientific state.”

Specific Criticisms

I’m unsure whether my criticisms serve as critiques of this book in particular, or of Maritain’s Thomism, or of Aquinas, or simply of Catholicism. It is possible my critiques are simply a reflection of my Protestantism. Either way they are the places I depart from the thought of the author (whether directly or indirectly).

My chief issue with the philosophy presented by Maritain, and the only one I’ll really bother to get into here, is that it sets up the problem of the Fall as an intellectual dilemma, it is one that he believes can be remedied by the use of the mind (which would make one wonder why there was any need of Christ if man could just think his way out of the trap he’d fallen into). Here are two examples of this mindset:

“A resurrection of metaphysics and a new expansion of charity: before all else this is the prerequisite for the return to human unity, to that unity which was perfect only in the Garden of Eden and in the heart of Christ in Gethsemane, but the longing for which will never cease to haunt us.”

“Now, it is important to realize that nothing below the intellect can remedy this disease which affects the intellect and which sprang from it; it is by intelligence itself that this disease will be cured. If intelligence is not saved, nothing will be saved.”

Within these two quotations we have presented everything which is in opposition to the message of Christ. In short, sin is not the problem. The issue is not one of the soul, or the will, but a simple problem of a diseased intellect – but the bright side is that even though it is the intellect which is diseased, the intellect is capable of curing itself!

A few other minor issues are the idea of a Christian philosophy being capable of existing independent of faith (operating solely on reason), as well as the general trend towards assimilating the ‘truth’ of all other philosophies into some Christian body of truth. The simple question is, ‘what are the qualifiers for bringing new truth into the Christian philosophy?’ Is it simply that which already agrees with Christian philosophy? In this case it would be redundant. Or is it simply acknowledging facts outside those expressly put forth in scripture (and/or tradition in the case of Catholicism).

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.

FATQ: Is there any biblical justification for exploring space?

space shuttle.png

Letter IIn recent news, Congress has passed a bill (S.3346) which is being hailed as “a solid commitment” towards the goal of having a manned mission to mars within the next 25 years. The bipartisan bill authorized a budget increase for NASA, taking their total budget up to “$19.5 billion.”

This raises the question in many minds: Is there any biblical justification in exploring space and more importantly, spending such large amounts of money to do so? It seems to be an important question, after-all, we don’t want to support something if it amounts to a violation of God’s law.

Our religion seems as if it should play a role in our decision on whether or not to support space travel. It has been observed by many social commentators that Christians seem to have less interest in space exploration than the general population. In 2014 there was a study addressing this very issue entitled “Separation of Church and Space: Religious Influences on Support for Space Exploration Policy.”

The study found that religion did indeed play a part in people’s view of space travel. Naturally, those who believed that the return of Christ was imminent saw little value in such long term endeavors (a standard position for premillennialists). Others are worried that a major impetus for such ventures is the discovery of alien life in hopes of proving evolution. Ken Ham was criticized a few years ago for seemingly being opposed to space exploration on these grounds (along with an assertion that aliens [if they exist] would go to hell (Ken denied that he ever said this, but he did)). Ken doesn’t seem to actually be against space travel, but his criticism does raise a valid point that the motivations for space travel should influence our view of it.

Oh to be a child at space-camp again, oblivious to such considerations!

At the outset, however, we have to point out that there is a problem with the question, which we can counter with another question:

Is there any biblical justification for needing a biblical justification for exploring space?

That is, the original question assumes that something not having a ‘biblical justification’ means that it shouldn’t be done, and so first we have to answer the questions: What counts as Biblical justification? And more importantly, does the Bible tell us that all of our actions need to have a justification from somewhere in itself? 

So what counts as a biblical justification? Is our answer that the bible has to explicitly endorse something  – as we do with the regulative principle of worship? Afterall as Van Til famously stated “The Bible is thought of as authoritative on everything of which it speaks. Moreover, it speaks of everything.” So if the Bible speaks of everything, what does the Bible say about space exploration? Not much at all, unfortunately.wendell_berry1

If we’re wanting a direct justification from the Bible on the question of space travel we’re out of luck. Then again, if we’re under the impression that we need an explicit justification for anything and everything we do in our lives then we’d best follow Wendell Berry’s advice and go agrarian (Wendell Berry is full of much wisdom, even if he probably doesn’t support space travel).

Perhaps a better approach to the question of what counts as a biblical justification is asking what principles we can infer from Scripture that can guide our decision-making. Van Til went on to say “We do not mean that [the Bible] speaks of football games, of atoms, etc., directly, but we do mean that it speaks of everything either directly or by implication. It tells us not only of the Christ and his work, but it also tells us who God is and where the universe about us has come from…”

So perhaps the question is one of implication. Along those lines the only thing we can really mine from Scripture is that The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” While it would be wildly anachronistic to claim Psalm 19 is referencing space travel, the fact that the heavens declare the glory of God could theoretically provide some basis for exploration – afterall , the chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever, so perhaps exploring the realm that declares that glory would be an inherently good thing.

Maybe we can infer from this that space exploration can serve as an act of worship, that “God would allow and approve of humans developing space-travel as a means of studying the earth, moon, and other celestial bodies from a large-scale perspective,” or that “our motivation to study the creation is that we understand that the world is not the result of random chance, but that God purposefully designed it.” Along these lines we might ask ourselves how space travel differs from ocean or jungle exploration, or microbiology or atomic research?

But then the critic can retort, can we not understand that without space exploration? Can we not glorify God in this way without spending all this money? Many Christians believe we are spending too much on our space programs, and I’ve had discussions with others who say that we should be using the money for other more humanitarian needs.

At this point the debate becomes more historical or pragmatic rather than theological or exegetical. There is arguably no dichotomy between exploration for discovering the glories of God’s universe along with the practical benefits/scientific advances made along the way on the one hand, and causes like world hunger and education on the other.

This is because economics is not a zero sum game. The money spent on NASA is not money robbed from feeding people or providing clean water. Those $19.5 billion aren’t sent into space. The money spent on building a rocket is money that is poured back into the economy. It goes to the people who make the glass for the shuttle windows, it goes to all the different places where the raw materials for building a space shuttle come from, it goes to the farmers and food manufacturers who produce and process the food the astronauts eat, it goes to pay the employees and contractors at NASA, who use their paychecks by buying normal things just like the rest of us. The money is not sent into space, it is funneled back into the economy.*

explorationThe distinction between space (or terrestrial or microscopic) exploration and solving world problems is a false dichotomy. Exploration, even for its own sake, often results in both scientific discoveries and the development of technologies that make lives better around the world; we tend to make great progress towards our humanitarian goals in the midst of pursuing our scientific ones. The work at NASA has led to developments in an entire array of areas, to include water and air purification, trash compactors, freeze-dry technology, fire resistant materials, solar energy, pollution control and measuring devices, sewage treatment technologies, breast cancer detectors, ultrasounds scanners, microlasers, radiation detectors, improved aircraft engines, doppler radar, wireless communications, and others.

Many of these are problems that we would have not been trying to solve were they not needed to make space exploration more feasible. Society as a whole has benefited greatly, if indirectly, from the advances made in the course of exploring the final frontier, going where no man has gone before.

But we still haven’t addressed the basic question, the presupposition on which this entire discussion rests: Is there any biblical justification for needing a biblical justification for exploring space?

I think a good lens for answering this question is provided by Kevin DeYoung in his book Just Do Something. The book is about discovering God’s will for our lives, and Kevin breaks down the God’s will into two different biblical categories. The first is God’s will of decree, that is, everything he ordains to happen in his sovereignty. The second is God’s will of desire, that is, his moral will for our lives – love God and love our neighbor.

A third category that we like to make up on our own is what we might call God’s will of direction.  It is this will we refer to when we ask where we should live and work, who we should marry, whether we should use Xbox or PlayStation, Android or iPhone. As DeYoung states: “Trusting in God’s will of decree is good. Following His will of desire is obedient. Waiting for God’s will of direction is a mess.”mars1.png

The thing that the Bible is concerned with us following is God’s will of desire, his moral will, as expressed in his Law. The Bible doesn’t tell us whether or not we should become a farmer or a businessman, it doesn’t tell us whether we should go to university or go to tech school, and it doesn’t tell us whether we should go to the moon or to mars.

The Bible does speak of everything, but it speaks of everything in terms of providing a worldview through which to look at everything and a basic morality through which to approach everything.

It doesn’t tell us whether or not to go to space, but it tells God created the heavens and that they declare his glory. It doesn’t tell us whether or not to go to space, but it tells us to not to commit theft or murder in the process. It doesn’t necessarily tell us what to do, but merely how to conduct ourselves morally in the midst of our endeavors.

The Bible does not ask us to seek a justification for everything we do within, but it does tell to do whatever we do for the glory of God, it tells us to love our neighbor in the midst of whatever path we choose.

So let us continue to explore all of God’s creation, throughout all the earth and all the heavens, and resting assured that when the time comes God will “send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.”

 

 


*One caveat in this discussion is that much of the money spent on NASA is money that is created/printed for that purpose alone, money that in turn increase the national deficit and results in inflation (something true of most all large-scale government projects). The discussion resulting from factoring in these elements, however, is not directly relevant to the topic at hand. The topic at hand is not whether the government should fund such projects or whether NASA is the best means for carrying out these goals; that would be a purely political/economic discussion (and while we could discuss whether Christians should support that sort of taxation, that is not our topic here). The topic at hand is simply whether the goal of space exploration is justifiable in the first place.

 

 

Book Review: The Man Who Was Thursday – By G.K. Chesterton

 

Chesterton Man Who Was Thursday.pngletter-oOver the past few years I’ve read almost every work written by Chesterton. This book, however, stands above the others as having been my first glimpse into his paradoxical yet brilliant mind. I was first exposed to it in a video-game, Deus Ex, which coincidentally turns out to be one of the greatest video-games ever created – whether or not this was in part because portions of this text were included in it perhaps we’ll never know…

Written in 1908, The Man Who Was Thursday is a book which is difficult to pin down, though it has stood the test of time and remains one of Chesterton’s most famous works. Not only is it hard to pin down now, but it was hard to for critics to pin down back then as well, and even Chesterton in his autobiography keeps from completely explaining what exactly is going on. It’s part espionage, part mystery, part allegory and part philosophy on the state of man. At less than 200 pages it’s certainly worth the time it takes to read it.

The story revolves around the man Gabriel Syme as he is recruited into a new sect of Scotland Yard, a group who believe that “the most dangerous criminal now is the entirely lawless modern philosopher,” and thus seek to infiltrate the Council of Days, the intellectual dynamiters who would reek anarchy upon the nation. At the center of this council is the ominous and ambiguous Sunday, a leviathan of a man who seems to posses an unclear and yet overwhelming power of being. It is a story that is at once compelling and comic, surreal and yet touching on the heart of the human condition. It has a pattern of predictability and yet still manages to keep to the reader guessing though to the puzzling end.

The only thing left worth stating are Chesterton’s own words on the book, though to get a true idea of his vision one must of course read the book: “So far as the story had any sense in it, it was meant to begin with the picture of the world at its worst and to work towards the suggestion that the picture was no so black as it was already painted…. I was trying vaguely to found a new optimism, not on the maximum but the minimum of good. I did not so much mind the pessimist who complained that there was so little good. But I was furious, even to slaying, with the pessimist who asked what was the good of good.”

Memorable Quotes:

“…burglars and bigamists are essentially moral men; my heart goes out to them. They accept the central ideal of man; they merely seek it wrongly. Thieves respect property. They merely wish the property to become their property that they may more perfectly respect it.”

“No one has any experience,” said the other, “of the Battle of Armageddon.”

“But I am really unfit-“

“You are willing, that is enough,” said the unknown.

“Well, really,” said Syme, ” I don’t know any profession of which mere willingness is the final test.”

“I do,” said the other-“martyrs. I am condemning you to death. Good day.”

“Yes,” he said in a voice indescribable, “you are right. I am afraid of him. Therefore I swear by God that I will seek out this man whom I fear until I find him, and strike him in the mouth. If heaven were his throne and the earth his footstool, I swear I would pull him down.”

“How?” asked the staring Professor. “Why?”

“Because I am afraid of him,” said Syme; “and no man should leave in the universe anything of which he is afraid.”

Specific Criticisms

If you wanted to criticize something about this book there are two big points you could use. The first is the repetition of similar twists, resulting in a predictable pattern of events once you notice what’s going on. The second is that the ending of the book, and thus the book as a whole, is very hard to make sense of.

On the first, while there is this element of repetition to the book I don’t necessarily view it as a bad thing. It’s like using a trope or a cliche, it’s only bad if you use it poorly. Chesterton doesn’t use pattern poorly, but instead uses it to give an overall flow and form to the novel, similar to the bass-line in music. It is somewhat predictable, but that’s not what it’s about, it’s about everything that’s going on around it and where that pattern leads.

On the second, there’s not much I can say about this, especially without just giving away the ending. Hopefully the commentary given by Chesterton helps in resolving that.

Book Review: The Truth War – By John MacArthur

 

John MacArthur Truth War.pngLetter TThe Truth War is John MacArthur’s account and call-to-arms against what he claims to be the most pressing pitfalls in contemporary theology, specifically, postmodernism and the arrival of the emergent church. Most pointedly it addresses the issue of truth and what we can know concerning scripture, as well as delving into just what it is that is causing so much trouble in today’s churches.

MacArthur begins his book with an expounding of just what it is that ‘truth’ means, how it relates to Christianity, and how it relates to the context of culture. Naturally MacArthur takes a very strong stance on truth, as opposed to the “rejection of every expression of certainty” that he identifies with the postmodern movement. This done he then goes on to explain just how it is that contemporary theology got to the place that it is, giving a brief overview of the progression of philosophers and finally arriving at a critique of those present ‘theologians’ who align themselves with the emergent church, especially Brian McLaren (who is seen as one of the chief leaders of the movement).

The overall theme of the book is one of the need to contend for the faith, to defend the truth, and to assert the truth of Christian doctrine rather than abandoning the hard truths in favor of appealing to the culture and society at large.

It is about exercising Biblical discernment and refusing to give into those who sacrifice truth in order to gain acceptance. The postmodern calls the Christian arrogant for asserting the ability to know any truth with any certainty, instead raising up an idol of uncertainty and ambiguity, removing from Christianity anything that defines it as being separate from the world or even as a religion distinct in itself – preferring to acclimate wherever possible. Since no doctrinal truth can be asserted in these contexts the ‘believer’ (if they can still be called that) is simply encouraged to live the Christian life. A call to salvation and repentance of sins is out the window and yet another works-righteousness heresy is lifted up in its place.

MacArthur presents a call to truth in contemporary churches, especially those who would call themselves evangelical and yet show no discernment in “rightly dividing the word of truth,” but simply roll with the fads. In being just over 200 pages it’s a moderately short, easy read, and gives a good view of the way those in the church see the emergent church movement and why they feel so strongly the need to struggle against it. The goal is not only to enlighten the reader as to the struggle, but to engage them in it, not in arrogance or harshness, but in order to defend the truth of Christ, lest his gospel be stripped of it’s message in favor of yet another form of works-righteousness (at least theoretically, more on that below).

Memorable Quotes:

“Truth never changes with the time, but heresy always does.”

“The belief that no one can really know anything for certain is emerging as virtually the one dogma postmodernists will tolerate. Uncertainty is the new truth. Doubt and skepticism have been canonized as a form of humility. Right and wrong have been redefined in terms of subjective feelings and personal perspectives.”

“The most compelling question in the minds and on the lips of many pastors today is not “What’s true?” but rather “What works?” Evangelicals these days care less about theology than they do about methodology. Truth has taken a backseat to more pragmatic concerns”

“Christians ought to have learned by now that we cannot avoid being an offense to the world and still remain faithful to the gospel. The gospel is inherently offensive. Christ Himself is offensive to all who reject the truth.”

Specific Criticisms

My first few criticisms have less to do with MacArthur’s message and more to do with his presentation. For example while the book is moderately short there are various chapters which could quite simply be removed without the book actually losing anything. At one point MacArthur spends numerous pages discussing the book of Jude, who Jude was, the significance of his name and how it’s translated, and the in’s and out’s of what it is that is going on with Jude that prompted his book. Now, while all this is a good and well and is nice to know, it really doesn’t do much in advancing the theme of the book.

MacArthur’s goal here seems to be to explain why Jude knows what he’s talking about due to the things he’s been through and his relationship to Christ. For somebody who simply accepts that Jude knows what he’s talking about on merit of it being in the Bible, all this isn’t really necessary – still I guess it is useful for those who might need some more convincing.

A similar area which I feel doesn’t do much to advance the books theme is a near chapter-long summary of various early heresies and their histories in the church, specifically Sabellianism and Arianism. While this is all good information in understanding the history of the church and the history of heresy, and why we should fight it, it seems that the same effect could have been accomplished in just a few paragraphs, rather than repeating oneself for pages on end.

The last criticism in this vein is that while there are these two areas which seem side-tangents from the main theme stuck in the middle of the book, the ‘Appendix’ is one of the best chapters in the book and is regulated to being jumbled in after the conclusion. Personally, I’d have much rather had the sections found in the appendix dispersed relevantly throughout the rest of the text.

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Moving on from that, another area which MacArthur may hurt his message is in his harshness; despite his repetitions that the Christian should act gentleness he has a tendency to blast his opposition. This goes along with another criticism, which is his focus on only a few of the emergent church thinkers such as Brian McLaren (with brief mentions of Rob Bell and a few others). I’ve seen this particular facet of the text criticized as bifurcation between orthodoxy and the most radical of the postmoderns (given that there are not only lesser degrees but also diverse types). MacArthur would do better to focus less on individuals and more on the movement as a whole; it’s easy to find a few cringe-worthy individuals in any movement.

My last, and probably biggest complaint with the book is that I don’t think MacArthur has much of an understanding of the philosophical underpinnings of postmodern thought.

One might argue that he is immune to this criticism because of the fact that he is primarily addressing postmodern theology itself and the things which go along with it, rather than the philosophical root of the matter – ie, he’s addressing the problems that it creates in the church, not necessarily the worldview as a whole. This is similar to treating the symptoms rather than illness.

While he does make a few good points against the emergent church and does give a good [albeit extremely superficial] understanding of postmodern theology, I think if he were wanting to write an actual apologetic against it he would do better to attack the root, demonstrating how emergent church theology is ultimately drawn from these faulty premises. If he attacks only the manifestations in theology his opponents can simply disagree with him, for he hasn’t done anything to shake their worldview – if he cuts their root, even if he doesn’t defeat them he’ll at least force them to enter the discussion.

Granted, this entire criticism could be set aside on the argument that that isn’t the audience MacArthur is addressing, that he just wants to give the general populace sufficient reason to reject emergent theology. Personally, I think he could have done both.

Regardless, one gets the impression in reading MacArthur that the only information he has about postmodernism is what he has read from its critics. That may be enough information if your only interest is preaching to the choir, but it fails in the sphere of offering any substantial engagement.

Book Review: On Liberty – By John Stuart Mill

John Stuart Mill On Liberty.pngletter-aAs stated by Mill the topic of On Liberty is the role society should take in interfering with the liberty of an individual, that is, the amount of power that society may legitimately exercise over its people.

The sphere of Mill’s inquiry is the system of a democracy, where the main danger to individual liberty is that of the “tyranny of the majority,” in which minorities are subjected to the whims of the majority such that the “weaker members of the community” are “preyed upon by innumerable vultures.” Mill’s argument is that “self-government” is not “the government of each by himself, but of each by all the rest.”

Mill’s main thesis is that society and the governing bodies have no right to interfere with the liberty of thought, action or individuality in any person save when those liberties may cause harm to others; that “over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.” This is to say that society is unable able to interfere with individuals unless they’re harming somebody, not including themselves – a person has every right to do harm to themselves and society may not intervene simply for the good of the individual.

Apart from this, Mill also believes that keeping away the “tyranny of the majority” is good not only for the individuals and the minorities, but for society itself as well; that the argumentation/discussion which leads from freedom of thought is pivotal in the development of the society and truth. It is only in this that societies can avoid stagnation and people can truly learn; they must be able to see both sides of the argument (from people who truly believe them) and the ideas must be allowed to clash, thus, “genius can only breathe freely in an atmosphere of freedom.”

In arguing for freedom of expression Mill argues that because the opinions of the individual may be true (or at least contain some portion of truth) and because human fallibility makes it so there are none fit to judge whether the opinion is true anyway, full freedom must be granted; not only this, but because there are none fit to judge, [according to Mill] there is no absolute certainty.

This is all to lead into a sort of Hegelian system which Mill puts forth, noting that both sides of any argument generally only contain a portion of the truth and that it is only by bringing these two ideas together that the full truth can be found; a balance must be found between the ideas. The ideas must clash and in this clashing the synthesis between them will be found.

Overall Mill’s text is a good read even for people today. The ideas being presented are just as relevant now as they were during Mill’s time, such the fact that the voice of third parties is all but crushed in the U.S.’s two party system or the discussions over gay marriage, abortion, or even something as small as free speech zones on college campuses. All of these feed back into the issue being discussed by Mill, that is, how much power society should be able to wield over its members and just what is the nature and extent of our liberty.

Memorable Quotes:

-“The liberty of the individual must be thus far limited; he must not make himself a nuisance to other people.”

-“He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that.”

-“If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, and only one person were of contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.”

-“What was not wanted was that the rulers should be identified with the people, that their interests and will should be the interest and will of the nation. The nation did not need to be protected against its own will There was no fear of tyrannizing over itself.”

Specific Criticisms

From a secular standpoint I’m not sure how much can be critiqued of Mill’s ideas. From a Christian standpoint there are two chief issues which may be taken.

The first issue that may be taken is with the idea that ‘over himself the individual is sovereign.’ This is exactly the mindset which Scripture rails against and sets up as the original sin, to think that we are our own sovereigns, to usurp the sovereignty of God over his creations.

The second issue which may be taken is with lack of any solid judge for truth. Simply put, the Christian would argue that God is the standard against which we measure truth, and due to his immutability he stands as a very good standard by which to judge. There is still the factor of fallibility which Mill notes, however this is not to say that truth cannot be discovered or that no statements can be set as entirely false.

Book Review: The Meaning of It All – By Richard P. Feynman

feynman-the-meaning-of-it-allletter-eEvery now and then I browse for a book to read outside my normal discipline, and this was the one I chose for my quarterly dose of science. In this I have to say that I was only partially successful, and it’s only tenuously that I actually categorize this as a scientific text.

While science is no doubt the key element around which the text is written, it is much more concerned with a philosophy of science than a study of some specific scientific idea, and even more-so than that it is concerned with the the general thoughts of how the author perceives science as interacting with the rest of the world.

The Meaning of It All is a text adapted from a series of lectures given by the late Richard Feynman in 1963 at the University of Washington. As noted above, I think the proper category for the text is in the philosophy of science. Feynman opens with a discussion of what exactly science is: what does it encompass, what is its purpose, what is outside its bounds, and what are the fundamental features of the endeavor.

The two chief principles laid out are the value in science of uncertainty and doubt, hence: “All scientific knowledge is uncertain… You have to permit the possibility that you do not have it exactly right. Otherwise, if you have made up your mind already, you might not solve it.” and “If we were not able or did not desire to look in any new direction, if we did not have a doubt or recognize ignorance, we would not get any new ideas.”

What follows from this talk of what science is and how it operates is a discussion of how science (and its methods) can and do affect various other aspects of life to include religion, politics, psychology, ethics and society in general. In a sort of biographical prose Mr. Feynman discusses everything from the church and education to war, from flying saucers to faith healing to telepathy to politicians and the role of government. He is entertaining, witty, and openly honest, with the added benefit of being informative.

At only 122 pages The Meaning of It All is a short book, and one that makes for a very fun and light introduction to the philosophy of science. I imagine, also, that it is a very good introduction to the writings of Mr. Feynman, or at least it was for me, and I will probably be keeping my eye out for other books by him. He may be over 20 years passed, but he is still a fun and relevant read, even if some of the things he discusses are long past.

Memorable Quotes:

-”Why repeat all this? Because there are new generations born every day. Because there are great ideas developed in the history of man, and these ideas do not last unless they are passed purposely and clearly from generation to generation.”(p.4)

-”Words can be meaningless. If they are used in such a way that no sharp conclusions can be drawn.”(p.20)

-”The third possibility of explanation of the phenomenon is that the young man perhaps doesn’t understand science correctly, that science cannot disprove God, and that a belief in science and religion is consistent.”(p.36)

-”You see, if you don’t have a good reason, you have to have several reasons…”(p.43)

-”The only way that we will make a mistake is that in the impetuous youth of humanity we will decide we know the answer. This is it. No one else can think of anything else. And we will jam. We will confine man to the limited imagination of today’s human beings.”(p.57)

-”This is in the attitude of mind of the populace, that they have to have an answer and that a man who gives an answer is better than a man who gives no answer, when the real fact of the matter is, in most cases, it is the other way around.”(p.66)

-”Writing commentaries is some kind of disease of the intellect.”(p.115)

Specific Criticisms

If I wanted to be extremely nitpicky I could probably critique some of Feynman’s comments on religion, but really, that would serve no purpose, so I won’t. When taken as a whole there is very little I could take issue with. One comment I might make is upon the conclusion where Mr. Feynman discusses how ideally (in the realm of morals and ethics) we could simply agree that we agree, and not argue about why we each agree upon the given conclusion.

Perhaps the chief issue with this line of thinking is that it offers no justification; if ethics are not justified, but simply agreed upon, then there is nothing to say that they are not arbitrary apart from popular consent. Morals and ethics simply become a matter of majority rule – but what about the minority or the one who questions the ethics of those who all agree with each other? Simply, if we are without a why then we are without a reason.