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Is Natural Theology Excluded for Apologetics? – Sunday Quote!+

ffs-molnarHere’s a special edition Sunday Quote which features a more extended discussion. Let me know what you think in the comments.

Is Natural Theology Excluded for Apologetics?

Paul Molnar’s Faith, Freedom and the Spirit is a massive study on the Trinity–specifically the economic Trinity–with much insight from contemporary theology. Early on, Molnar makes a statement which, as a trained Christian apologist, seemed a bit like “fightin’ words”:

If contemporary theologians were to make explicit the role of the Holy Spirit in enabling our knowledge of the triune God, then there could be wide agreement that natural theology of whatever stripe is not only unhelpful but is directly excluded from any serious understanding of theological epistemology. (82)

Now, “natural theology” is, according to Justo Gonzalez’s Essential Theological Terms, “A theology that claims to be based on the natural gifts of the human mind, and on the ‘general revelation’ granted to all… rather than on a ‘special revelation’ in Scripture or Jesus Christ” (118). Natural theology, that is, is the attempt to show that God exists and certain other truths through looking at the world. From this quote, it seems that Molnar is arguing that if we had a better notion of the role of the Holy Spirit, we would basically think that natural theology is worthless related to knowledge of God.

Molnar develops this notion further throughout the next 50 pages or so. His argument basically is that if we acknowledge that it is the Holy Spirit who enables faith and knowledge of God, then any “knowledge” of God which is not directly through faith (i.e. through something like a cosmological argument) is not objective knowledge of God.

Although some of what Molnar argues resonates with me–particularly the notion that the Holy Spirit is the one who imparts faith rather than it being some kind of choice we make–I think that his dismissal of natural theology is unnecessary and mistaken. First, the most obvious question to be asked is whether the Spirit can use natural theology to create faith. If it is the case that the Holy Spirit can work through natural theology–something which seems to be clearly correct to me–then the objection that natural theology ignores the role of the Spirit is mistaken.

Second, Molnar’s argument seems to rely on a concept of natural theology which is entirely about trying to impart knowledge of God to those who do not have faith. This, however, ignores the use of apologetics in strengthening the faith of believers. Natural theology can be a valuable tool for those who have faith to pursue the call of 1 Peter 3:15 and have a reason for the hope within them. Whatever one’s view of whether natural theology can bring people to the true God, it seems that it can and should be used for believers to explore the natural world and bolster their faith.

Third and finally, it seems to me that Romans 1 in particular demonstrates that natural theology is not a worthless project. If God’s invisible attributes are capable of being discovered in the things God has made, then surely natural theology has some value in tracing God’s handiwork.

Should we think that natural theology is a failed project? Can it have other uses like those I listed? Is it possible to go from God to Christ? What of the role of the Spirit in apologetics?

Faith, Freedom and the Spirit is a thoroughly thought-provoking read which I recommend to those interested in the doctrine of the Trinity. It has certainly gotten my wheels turning!

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Sunday Quote– If you want to read more Sunday Quotes and join the discussion, check them out! (Scroll down for more)

Source

Paul D. Molnar, Faith, Freedom and the Spirit (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2015). 

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Enter [Science] Fictional Messiah – “Wind and Shadow” and “Daystar” by Kathy Tyers

daystar-tyersKathy Tyers’ Firebird series is renowned by many for its explorations of worldview questions in a stirring science fiction setting. I have written on the Firebird Trilogy before. Here, we’ll take a look at the two concluding books in the series- Daystar and Wind and Shadow. Specifically, I’ll be analyzing them from a worldview perspective. There will be SPOILERS for the whole series below.

Human Nature

Both books have much to say about human nature. In particular, questions about the extent and nature of our free will abound as we as readers are confronted with different concepts of determinism and free choice. Although this theme is never, perhaps, fully developed in philosophical terms, the very activity of the characters makes a kind of argument towards the notion that we have free choice that is genuine, though the question of whether this might be compatibilist–set alongside determinism–or not is left open.

Daystar also raises major questions about the nature of humanity itself–are we purely material beings; or perhaps purely spiritual and trapped within a material body; or are we a unified center of body and soul? The organization known as the Collegium puts forward a kind of mystic view that we are eternal souls which, when we die, go back to the infinite, impersonal divine. There are strong elements of both Gnosticism and Platonism to be found in this teaching, and it is one which resonates with New Age type beliefs and other worldviews today. We need to think on this for ourselves: when it comes to the very concept of what it is to be a human, are we essentially matter, or is there something more? Christians need to think on such issues deeply and consider our own standing in the universe.

The Powers

There is a fantastic meld of science fiction technology and the reality of the spiritual realm found throughout the Firebird series. Wind and Shadow, in particular, moves the concept of spiritual warfare front-and-center. A Shadow being possessed Kiel, a kind of priest, and attempted to convince him that he ought to proclaim himself as the coming Messiah. In this way, the spiritual being sought to gain control over the course of events. The interplay of the spiritual and physical was something that was interwoven throughout the Firebird series, and it is important to reflect as Christians on how that might play out in our own lives.

Not long ago I read an excellent book on spiritual warfare which presented several views on the topic. I think we need to be prepared to dive into such challenging topics and see what the Bible has to say about them.

Messiah

Daystar reads much like a lengthy biblical Gospel. The story therein is that of the coming Messiah. But it is far more complex than that. It is also a story of the attempt to exterminate an entire people group; the story of religious conflict; of materialism; and more. However, the core of the book, and much of the series, is the hope for the coming Boh-Dabar, the Messiah. That Boh-Dabar ends up being Tavkel, a herdsman from a secluded place.

Tyers brings forth themes about the Messiah in surprisingly insightful ways. First, she integrates several parables into the text as Tavkel instructs people in the faith. (See a recent Sunday Quote! post for one of the parables from the book.)Some of these parables find parallels in those Jesus taught; others are clearly inventions of Tyers’ mind to try to put forth spiritual truths. All of them are unique and engaging. Second, Tavkel is very explicit about his own nature as divine. I think this was a good move on Tyers’ part because sometimes it can be easy to miss how clear Jesus’ own claims of divinity were. When Christ claimed the authority to arbitrate and expand the Mosaic Law, that would have been astonishing. In Daystar, Tavkel points to himself as a divine figure.

One conversation with Meris, a character who is a foreigner and who holds to rival beliefs, depicts Tavkel explaining the notion of being fully divine and fully human. Tavkel explains it by pointing out that “My father created the human form. He has mastery over it…” Meris objects by arguing that it doesn’t make sense that Tavkel can be “one hundred percent” human and one hundred percent God. She asks “Which [are you]?” Tavkel responds, “Both.” When Meris says “That’s not possible,” Tavkel responds: “Is light a wave or a particle Meris?” (426). Though the analogy is not perfect, it does help us to envision how we might assume to much in our own ability to comprehend reality.

Third, there is also much discussion over how the Boh-Dabar may fulfill some prophecies in unexpected ways and that even some preconceptions of what the Messiah figure should be or what verses are even about him might be mistaken. This finds its parallel in some ways in Jesus, who, being the Messiah, yet did not come as a military leader as many expected. To see the people in Daystar figuring out the implications their Messiah has for their understanding is a unique insight into how the Christian story itself might have played out during its earliest days. Confronted by the reality of a risen Lord, notions of what the Messiah should be had to fit this risen Savior.

Daystar is filled to the brim with interesting conversations and speculations like this, and the best part is that they point beyond themselves to the truth of God’s word.

Conclusion

Daystar and Wind and Shadow are excellent works in a fantastic science fiction series. I highly commend the whole series to you, dear readers, not just as a great way to think about worldview, but also simply as excellent science fiction by a bestselling author of the genre.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Kathy Tyers’ “Firebird Trilogy”- Faith, Humanity, and Conflict in the Far Future– I look at a number of worldview issues in the Trilogy in this post.

Microview: “The Annotated Firebird Trilogy” by Kathy Tyers– I review the trilogy with a brief look at the plot and some positives and negatives in the book.

Popular Books– Check out my looks into other popular books (scroll down for more).

Sunday Quote!- A Science Fiction Parable– What might a parable look like in the future? Well, not too much different from one now. Check out this post on Tyers’ speculative parable in Daystar.

Sources

Kathy Tyers, Wind and Shadow (Colorado Springs, CO: Marcher Lord Press [Now Enclave], 2011).

Kathy Tyers, Daystar (Colorado Springs, CO: Marcher Lord Press [Now Enclave], 2012).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Really Recommended Posts 1/16/15- Abortion, Jesus, Science Fiction, and More!

snowl-owl-post-arpingstoneI am really proud of this lineup today, folks. I feel like it’s gotta be one of the broadest ranges of topics I’ve had in a while and they are all very interesting reads, at least in my opinion! Several of them are not just about what the title implies, but about something interesting related to that topic (like the one on pro-life being not just about the pro-life position but about how it might relate to evangelism). I’m pumped to share these posts. Let me know what you think in the comments here, and be sure to let the authors know you enjoyed their posts as well!

How Pro-Life Apologetics Helps Strengthen Your Evangelism– The case for the pro-life position is, in my opinion, absolutely philosophically and scientifically insurmountable. Here, Wintery Knight shares some thoughts on how learning the ins-and-outs of pro-life apologetics can also help evangelism.

Ehrmann Errors on Jesus’ Authority to Forgive– Noted skeptic Bart Ehrmann has argued that the notion that Jesus is divine was a later development in Christianity. What might the Bible itself–the earliest documents we have on the topic–reveal?

Observations About Commenting on Young Earth Creationist Facebook Pages– Let’s clear the water: commenting on Facebook pages is almost always going to get into some random fight about something… probably something completely unrelated to the original comment. The greater the importance of the topic, the more off the rail it often gets. That happens everywhere. However, here, the “Geochristian” shares some insights specific to discussing young earth creationism.

In the Image of Man they Created God; Male They Created Him– God is not male. God is Spirit. It is not inappropriate to use biblical pronouns for God like “He”; however, the danger is that we begin to think of God as a kind of Grandpa in the sky. Here’s some insight into the problems with assigning gender to God.

Scientific Mythologies: How Science and Science Fiction Forge New Religious Beliefs– Here, Anthony Weber shares a brief book review along with some insights related to this wonderful work by James Herrick. I do highly recommend the book to my readers. I shared a Sunday Quote about it some time ago.

Book Review: “Pascal’s Wager” by Jeff Jordan

pw-jj

For some time, I’d been wanting to put some effort into studying Pascal’s Wager. I picked up Pascal’s Wager: Pragmatic Arguments and Belief in God by Jeff Jordan in order to familiarize myself more with the philosophical grounding behind the argument. Jordan approaches the Wager through a lens of analytic philosophy and, I think, demonstrates that the argument has some force to it.

Jordan’s work has great scope. Several aspects of the Wager are brought to light.  He analyzes several different formulations of the argument, while also noting where the argument has been changed or modernized. For example, the notion that Pascal’s Wager was infinite bad vs. infinite good is a more recent innovation than Pascal’s original argument.

He studies the argument contextually to determine whether the Wager was intended as a generalized theistic proof or an argument for Christianity. Numerous objections from leading critics of the Wager are put to the test. Ultimately, a version of the Wager developed by William James is put forward as an argument that passes the philosophical muster. Jordan analyzes this argument from many angles, ultimately demonstrating that it overcomes the challenge of the “many gods” objection and provides grounds for Christian faith.

The value of Pascal’s Wager may is increased by the fact that many aspects of Jordan’s work are applicable to other arguments or areas of interest for philosophers of religion and apologists. For example, Jordan raises significant challenges to the notion that philosopher’s fictional deities may actually be counted as evidence for a “many gods” objection (75-76; 80-81). Another example is a rather interesting argument he derives from the work of James Beattie (1735-1803- Jordan notes Beattie is at times rightly accused of misrepresenting Hume’s arguments) about whether attempts to deconvert might bring about pragmatic wrongs (190-194). These and other tantalizing topics command even more interest than the book might otherwise have had.

Simply put, Pascal’s Wager: Pragmatic Arguments and Belief in God is a phenomenal, thought-provoking work that will have readers rethinking their evaluation not only of the (in)famous Wager but also of a number of related topics. Even at its steep price tag, the book is a bargain.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Pascal’s Wager: The Utility Argument Examined– I outline and defend one of the versions of Pascal’s Wager which Jordan brings up in this work. I find it to be a very interesting argument and a great addition to the apologist’s toolkit.

Source

Jeff Jordan, Pascal’s Wager: Pragmatic Arguments and Belief in God (New York: Oxford, 2006).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Really Recommended Posts 11/7/14- Dracula, Hamlet, Ebola, and more!

postAnother go-round the web leads to some more great reading material for you. Let me know what you think of the various posts in the comments here, and be sure to let the authors know as well! Featured topics are the movie Dracula Untold, Ebola, Hamlet, women in the church, and the existence of God.

Dracula Untold– Anthony Weber offers a perspective on the film “Dracula Untold” from a Christian. Here, read his interesting insights and also get some help deciding whether you want to go see the movie!

Can a Monkey type Hamlet given infinite time?– A common claim regarding complexity and the possibility of it coming through chance is the now time-honored monkeys with keyboards view. Check out this brief look at this thought experiment.

Women as Other– How are women involved in the church? Are we excluding women? What are some consequences of views that treat women as “other” in Christianity?

Edward Feser on the Existence of God– Edward Feser is an extraordinarily brilliant philosopher and even when I disagree I learn from him. Here, there is a brief presentation of one of his arguments for the existence of God.

God Outwits Ann Coulter on Ebola– I’ll admit I don’t always keep up on current events, so this post  was surprising to me. What did Ann Coulter say about Ebola and God? Check out this analysis.

Sunday Quote!- Forgiveness in Islam and Christianity

wecq-whiteEvery Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!

Forgiveness in Islam and Christianity

James White’s book, What Every Christian Needs to Know About the Qur’an is a work of scholarship and insight which provides much to think about in regards to Christianity and Islam. One passage I found particularly interesting was the contrast between the Christian view of forgiveness and that of Islam. White relates a story from the hadith (Sahih Al-Bukhari, 4:676) in which a man who has murdered many seeks forgiveness. Ultimately, Allah changes the very geography of the earth in order to forgive the man. But what this story (and some other instances White relates) teaches about forgiveness is what makes it interesting:

Here Allah not only forgives the man of horrendous sin but also does so without the slightest reference to the fulfillment of the divine law against murder. The key issue is not God’s mercy or even God’s desire to forgive. The issue is how forgiveness can be obtained without violating His holiness and justice. From the perspective of this hadith, forgiveness flows not from God’s actions in providing a basis for salvation, but from His power alone. (158, cited below)

The distinction White discusses here is crucial. The basis for forgiveness in Christianity flows along with God’s holiness and justice: God provides for justice through the atonement provided by Christ. In Islam, however, Allah may choose to forgive whomever, whenever, merely because Allah is all-powerful–and this in the radical sense that Allah may do whatever Allah wishes, even violate divine law against murder and the like without any intercession and mediation.

It seems to me that this provides another reason to think of the reasonableness of Christianity: it provides a basis for God’s forgiveness apart from mere divine fiat.

What do you think? How important is this distinction? Does James White accurately portray this difference?

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Sunday Quote– If you want to read more Sunday Quotes and join the discussion, check them out! (Scroll down for more)

Source

James White, What Every Christian Needs to Know About the Qur’an (Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2013).

SDG.

“The Monuments Men” – An Apologetic of Culture

monumentsmen“The Monuments Men” is a film based on a true story of a group of soldiers sent to salvage cultural artifacts from destruction by the Nazis. Here, we’ll analyze the film from a worldview perspective. There will be SPOILERS in what follows.

Aesthetics

One question the film puts front and center is this: “Of what value is art?”

The question is put in a number of poignant ways, such as a moving scene in which Donald Jeffries is killed in an effort to protect Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child. The scene is powerful because Jeffries finds his value in his efforts to defend and preserve this beautiful art. He writes a letter to his father about the value of defense of such a work of art, which is overlaid with the imagery of him being killed by a Nazi officer.

Claire Simone works against the Nazis to try to protect and preserve the ownership of art. Her recognition of the importance of these pieces of history to those who collected them is a recognition of the power of the human mind to transcend the mundane.

The power of art to shape humanity, or even become a monument to humans–a way to transcend–is front and center throughout the film. The question that is then begged is this: if the natural world is all which exists, whence the transcendence? Where or to what might the transcendence point?

History and Life

History is important aspect of human life. Long have various cultures held notions that if one’s name were erased from historical record, it was as if one never had existed. The driving force to be remembered is a powerful one in human life, but perhaps it is also something which drives us towards art.

By collecting the art and stealing the works from their rightful owners, the Nazis were essentially attempting to rewrite history and capture the cultural past of those who owned or produced the art. There is a powerful message behind this of the need to be aware of how history is shaped by even those who are writing it.

Argument from Aesthetics?

How is it that humans recognize the value of art, or, more abstractly, of beauty? Some would allege that it is merely something we assign to things. The value is entirely a construct. In some ways that seems true, but there is something inherent in the notion that beauty–that art–is something which it is a great evil to destroy or take from someone else. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but it is also something which points beyond itself, to the transcendent.

The very possibility for recognizing that which is beautiful itself cries out for explanation. Whence the need for, dedication to, and recognition of beauty? A Christian would point beyond these towards God. Without the actual existence of the transcendent, there is little possibility for explaining the capacity for humans to reach out and grasp it.

Conclusion

“The Monuments Men” is a very solid flick to explore from worldview perspectives. It’s not as action-packed as most war movies, but it is more thoughtful and because of that it is in many ways more compelling. Perhaps most interestingly, it offers a view of the arts as something concrete, to be appreciated, and perhaps even transcendent.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Sunday Quote!- Modern Warfare and the Power of God

hwb-tec

Every Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!

Modern Warfare and the Power of God

I’ve been reading through Holy War in the Bible: Christian Morality and an Old Testament Problem, a collection of essays about the problem of war in the Bible. One of the essays was by Stephen Chapman and had a number of powerful quotes and ideas sprinkled throughout. I particularly enjoyed one part about modern warfare:

Modernity is arguably no less brutal than the ancient world for conducting a secularized, technologized, indiscriminate form of war that excludes God from the kill zone on principle, thereby seducing the strong into believing that they are masters of their own destiny. Indeed, the biblical witness unblinkingly confronts modernity most sharply right at this point: “Assyria will not save us; we will not ride upon horses; we will say no more, ‘Our God’ to the work of our hands'” (Hosea 14:3) (66, cited below)

The so-called secularization of war has not somehow cleansed it of evil, but rather made the work of our hands the sole credit and often reason for war. Salvation comes not from others, but we turn to the work of our hands–cruise missiles, drone strikes, and the like–to wage war for resources, land, money, and the like. Has war become more or less justified? Is it somehow sanctified through “secularization”? I think this quote speaks powerfully to these notions. I’m about 1/3 of the way through the book now and I really have enjoyed it. It hasn’t quite been about the topics I expected, but it’s been more challenging and expanding in its vision for that reason.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Sunday Quote– If you want to read more Sunday Quotes and join the discussion, check them out! (Scroll down for more)

Source

Stephen Chapman, “Martial Memory, Peaceable Vision: Divine War in the OT” in Holy War in the Bible: Christian Morality and an Old Testament Problem (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2013).

SDG.

“Family Guy” is no friend of atheists

creation-of-adam-detailI used to watch almost every episode of Family Guy in the first season or two. I thought it was sometimes a clever show, but as it went on it seemed to devolve into a series of flashbacks and random, drawn-out asides which broke apart the coherence of the story. I recently saw most of an episode of “Family Guy” in which it was revealed that Brian, the family’s dog (who talks and is essentially part of the family), is an atheist. The episode is called “Not All Dogs Go to Heaven.”

My first observation is that despite the apparent intent to make people more aware of the demonization which happens with atheists, the episode does not portray Brian in the best light by any means. For one, Brian’s reasons for remaining an atheist are revealed to be a bit absurd to say the least. When Meg–the daughter who is often the butt of jokes on the show–asked Brian why he doesn’t believe in God given “all the evidence,” he responded with an argument that made my jaw drop. To paraphrase him, he said that Hubble Space Telescope has been taking so many amazing pictures of the wonders of the universe but has never found some old man with a white beard “out there” somewhere. It then cut to an aside with an old man with a beard riding on something with some sweet music in the background [see my comments on the show being a bunch of asides and flashbacks].

Seriously, that is apparently one of Brian’s main reasons for rejecting theism, according to the episode. Really? I don’t know if this is really a reflection of what Seth MacFarlane (creator of Family Guy) believes about Christianity; but if it is he needs to perhaps reflect upon his own rejection of it. The notion that God should be found somewhere in the physical universe by something as simplistic as the Hubble Space Telescope (or anything, for that matter) and would be seen as an old man with a beard is… well, obscene. If that were my picture of what Christians believed, I’d be an atheist too. But Christians don’t believe this. Instead, they believe that God is spirit and one cannot artistically make anything which looks like God. The old man with a beard was popularized by some Christian art which, for the sake of depicting deity, chose that image to portray God. That doesn’t mean Christians actually believe God is an old man with a beard cruising through space somewhere.

The worst part about this scene is that it seems like Brian is supposed to get points for his response here somehow. That is, it’s like the viewer can feel a running tally going and apparently they’re supposed to check one off for the atheists. But gross misrepresentation of others’ religion does not mean that one has made a good point. Sure, people can sit around laughing at the notion that God is some old white guy–I’ll join them!–but to think that Brian said anything constructive is absurd. I realize it is a TV show, and a fairly shallow one at that, but I expected more. Mea Culpa, I suppose.

So it seems Brian’s atheism is based upon a farce. But that’s not the only reason I think this episode is actually unfriendly to atheists. In a later conversation with Meg, who has newly found a rather zealous faith, he confronts her belief directly with what is apparently some kind of knock-down argument because it destroys her faith:

Meg: “You are not gonna turn me from my faith, Brian!”
Brian: “Ok, fine. Then let me just ask you this. If there were a God would he put you here on Earth with a flat chest and a fat [butt]?”
Meg: “I’m made in his image…”
Brian: “Really? Would he give you a smoking hot mom like Lois and then have you grow up looking like Peter [her odd looking father]? …And what kind of God would put you in a house where no one respects or cares about you?”

That is essentially the extent of the comments on Brian’s reasoning for atheism. Apparently, for Brian [and perhaps MacFarlane, depending upon if he is actually sharing his view], God’s entire purpose should be to go around making everyone’s life the best possible life ever. God is some kind of cosmic vending machine, and if you don’t win the lottery, you should doubt the existence of that vending machine. What was most horrifying about this sequence, in my opinion, was the fact that the “image of God” was reduced down to having a hot body. Ridiculous! Being made in God’s image does not mean that everyone is going to be physically perfect. Such a notion completely misrepresents what is meant by the “image of God” which historic Christianity has long held refers to the intellect, soul, reason, etc.; not physical perfection or even physical form.

Brian’s last retort seems to seal the deal for Meg. After all, why would God put people in homes in which they aren’t cared for? Well, I don’t know, why would God put Joseph in a home in which his brothers sold him into slavery? Oh… right. You see, anyone who thinks that is an objection to the existence of God presumes they know better than God. That is, they know how to run things; they should be in charge. But I’m sorry to anyone who thinks that: you don’t. Moreover, why assume that we should know the reasons for this, or even that there are reasons? Again, I am stretching the philosophical muscle of the show quite a bit [understatement of the millenium], but the whole episode seems disingenuous.

The episode did do some good things, however, in showing the absurdity of mistreating and abusing atheists due to their lack of shared belief. I agree with this. We should not say atheists are automatically terrible people or that we wouldn’t want to live next to them. Anyone who does endorse mistreatment of atheists is acting in a decidedly un-Christian manner and should repent. Period. My point in this post is simply that this episode of Family Guy doesn’t do atheists any favors. It misrepresents Christianity in order to abuse it, but it also presents atheism in an extremely shallow way. Rather than spurring discussion, the episode merely seems bent upon mutual ridicule. I hope my atheist friends would choose, instead, to engage in dialogue rather than resorting to this kind of nonsense–and the same goes for my Christian friends as well.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Should All Churches Be “Mere”ly “Christian”?

st-nicholas-cathedral-kronstadt-russia-1
I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. (1 Corinthians 3:2)

Apologetics Church

I have had many discussions with my apologetics-inclined friends on the nature and purpose of church. One thing I have heard again and again is the notion that all churches–even all services–should be seeker-friendly or should reflect what C.S. Lewis calls “mere Christianity.” Mere Christianity, as defined by C.S. Lewis, is essentially that which all Christians everywhere have believed.

Interestingly, I have run into several people from a broad spectrum of backgrounds who have told me that they think all churches should be “mere Christian” churches centered on apologetics. The point of church on this view is to evangelize and to provide Christians with reasons to believe what they believe.

Statements like this are repeated by many of my apologist friends. I had a conversation with one friend in which I was informed that the purpose of church was to evangelize, and what better way to do that then to go to “mere Christianity” and have every service revolve around apologetics discussion. That’s right, this person–and others I have talked to–said that every sermon, every service, every time the church meets should be about apologetics and should not focus on those doctrines which have caused so much division within the body of Christ.

As an apologist with an MA in the field, this has some appeal! After all, were all churches to do this it would certainly raise my “employability” quotient! I would be in demand every single Sunday. But realistically, I think that statements like this show underlying confusion about the nature of church and the importance of Christian doctrine.


The Point of Church

There is no way for a complete, systematic outline of what church is about in a post like this. Nor would I claim to be an expert on the doctrine of the church. So, at risk of being simplistic, I would say that the meaning of church is to glorify God. How is this done?* I think it’s clear that the creedal statements about the church accepted throughout the history of Christianity (dare I say, the “mere Christian” definition of church?) is that it is “holy” and a “communion of saints” (Apostles’ Creed) and it is “holy and Apostolic” and “catholic/universal” (Nicene Creed).

A church should not be a place which wards off those who are seeking, but the ultimate purpose of church, confessed for over a thousand years, is to be “holy” and a community of saints. The body of Christ is not immediately perfect; but the point of church is to have community with fellow saints–the Body of Christ. Worshiping and glorifying our Creator and Redeemer is central to the life of the church. If we abandon that, we abandon the very reason for having community to begin with.

Whatever vision we have of church, then, should incorporate how the church has always defined itself. A primary need for the Christian is to worship and thank God for the blessings poured out on us each and every day. The community of believers longs to worship Christ, to join the company of angles to laud and magnify the name of the Most High God.

Moreover, when we look at the verse I led this post with, the church is a place to get the “solid food” believers need to go beyond the “milk.” Churches instruct the community in how to move beyond the “milk” of “mere Christianity” and acceptance of the bare minimum and into “solid food” and a fuller understanding of God’s word.

449px-NürnbergReformationsGedKircheApologetics Church, Revisited

I have my own vision of what a church that is focused on apologetics would look like.

The “Apologetics Church” would have a study group for both youth and adults to participate in which focused upon various apologetics issues. The group would start at a basic level, teaching on the nature of apologetics and its methods, then move into individual objections to the Christian faith.

The pastor would have studied apologetics on his/her own and would integrate apologetics into sermons when appropriate (Easter would be a great time to talk about evidence for the resurrection, for example). The church would have a monthly “outreach night” in which the local community was invited in to discuss questions about the faith and simply engage in dialogue over desserts or a snack. The church would have groups that went to a movie, or an art show, or a concert, etc. and then met afterwards to discuss the implications of that media for the Christian worldview.

It would be a church aware of, but not overtaken by, apologetics. It would be an evangelical, mission-oriented church, but not a missions-only church.

Conclusion

I have said only the bare minimum about the nature of church and its function. Ultimately, though, I think a vision of the nature of church should include apologetics, but it should not be reduced to it. We seek “solid food” and long for deeper knowledge of God. Your church is an excellent place to get that needed, longed-for instruction.

As the deer pants for the water, so my soul longs for you.. (Psalm 42:1)

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

The Church Universal: Reformation Review– I take a deeper look into the definition of a “universal church” in a post that focuses on theology of the reformation.

*As a Lutheran, I would say that glorifying God in church is best done through Word and Sacrament, but I realize that not all churches are sacramental and do not desire to start that debate here.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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