Archive for August 2005
We often use the words personality and character interchangeably to describe ourselves and others. However, these words are not synonymous; rather they indicate two distinct, yet related attributes of being. Webster defines personality as ‘the quality or state of being a person,’ and character as ‘the complex of mental and ethical traits marking and often individualizing a person.’ According to Webster, personality is merely the state of existing!
Though we often use the word to indicate specific behavioral traits and preferences of a person, personality itself is inherent to being alive and conscious. What follows is that character is the manifestation of these traits. In other words, we have personality by virtue of being, but we understand ourselves and others as individual conscious persons through character. That means that character can influence personality, but personality is unchanging. God created man with an eternal soul. In fact, the Hebrew uses specific language to differentiate between the state of being alive, as plant life is, and the state of being alive with a soul in the word ‘nephesh (literally: soul, the inner being of man; living being with life in the blood).’ Our personality- the state of our being- is eternal, but our character is who we are presently and how we exhibit ourselves to others, and to God. This is why God pays close attention to our decisions, as they are indicative of our character. (Decisions have played pivotal roles in many of the essential events of Biblical history (Cain, Abraham, Jacob, Noah, etc.)). But the Bible also states in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that ‘if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.’ This means that when one is born again by the Spirit of God, he or she is reformed in personality first, then character.
When we accept the forgiveness of Christ, our character, previously marred by sin, is freed from condemnation because God has reformed our entire personality! As we grow in Christ and continue to persevere in Him, our character will continue to grow and mature from glory to glory, a process made manifest by the fruit of the Spirit of God, ‘love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law (Galatians 5:22-23).
The word ‘worldview’ is a term borrowed from the German ‘Weltanschauung,’ meaning literally to ‘look onto the world.’ A worldview is an essential and consistent sense of existence that creates a framework within which knowledge is understood and applied. Worldviews by nature are cross-cultural and have more to do with the philosophical origin of a social conscious rather than the basis of individual social behaviors and practices.
For example, the essential worldview at the center of classical Buddhism is cyclical, which is made manifest in the understanding of recurring events and experiences. Within monotheistic traditions, there is an essentially uni-directional worldview derived from the understanding of a single force and purpose that governs the universe. These worldviews inform the systematic theology of both traditions, however, they are not always perceived due to the entropic effect of syncretism. (The problem of syncretism, which Webster defines as ‘the combination of different forms of belief or practice,’ has existed since the beginning- recall how when Moses was receiving revelation from God, the people grew impatient and turned to idolatry yet still referred to the god of their own creation as ‘your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt (Exodus 32:4)’ They took their experiential knowledge of God’s character and actions and applied it to an idol- desiring God in a way that made sense to their simplistic framework, rather than the authenticity of God Himself. Today, we see numerous examples of syncretism in cultures where Christianity is reintroduced and fused with other traditions like shamanism, witchcraft, voodoo, etc.) Many of the present expressions of Buddhism are actually syncretistic with more animistic practices rather than maintaining the classic teachings of Buddha.
Likewise, Christianity has itself experienced political syncretism that is quite contradictory to the Biblical worldview in unfortunate and devastating manifestations (the crusades, the inquisition, etc.). As Ghandi said ‘I like their Christ, but I don’t like their Christian.’ In saying this, he was pointing out the sad truth of hypocrisy among Christians currently and historically- that our worldview does not and has not always cohered with our philosophy. Though syncretism gives birth to its own worldview, it is one that has lost the logical coherence of its pure form. That is why we must not allow syncretistic forms to represent the Christian faith.
The importance of the worldview concept for apologetics, however, is as follows: One must strive to understand the perspective of philosophical worldview from its untainted form, but also understand the individual by his worldview, which may no longer cohere to first form. In addition, a theological understanding of the basis of a worldview must itself be comprehensive and contextualized. For the Christian, the Biblical worldview will not simply be summed up in the command ‘You shall love the Lord God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind (Matthew 22:37).’ This is certainly the greatest commandment, as Jesus says. However, the Christian worldview is also cosmologically and eschatologically informed, and so when we read in Matthew 24:31 ‘And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other,’ we see that there are expectations for the future that will have certain worldview implications. So we look to the worldview to be a coherent and comprehensive manifestation of philosophy, though we understand that it is many times not the case.
Looking at the many humanist objections to God can be quite revealing of what the implicit purpose of humanity is in such a worldview. For instance, within the question “how can a God of love allow so much human suffering in the world?” is the implication that humanity aught not to be suffering- that if the world was the result of an intelligent act of creation, its purpose must be human happiness. Now, the Christian is aware that the circumstances of the Fall have lead to the removal of the happiness man was meant to have living according to the will of God, for the rebellion of Adam and Eve created a leaving of man from his Creator, and a cleaving to the earth. But God’s purpose for Man has always been the same- to know Him and to worship Him. That is our simple but grand purpose! It is interesting to consider, however, the point of view of the materialist or atheist.
Remember that the atheist has removed the possibility of transcendence from his entire cosmology, thus limiting the scope of purpose to his own experiences and choices, and removing also the possibility of objective morality. Confronting the finality of a life that does not continue, the reasonable deduction becomes placing high value on the immediate and selfish carnal desires of man- an attitude reflected in the words ‘eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.’ This hedonism becomes the purpose of life. Yet here is the problem: how can a life that is going nowhere have any purpose at all? Somehow, man knows in his heart that he is meant for a purpose; it is a deduction he cannot avoid, and a desire he cannot satisfy. The heart of man yearns for eternal purpose, despite the direction in which the search proceeds. So, the denier of God invents his own futile purpose, while the follower of God realizes his purpose both in the immediate sense of worldly life, and in the confrontation and anticipation of eternity. And yet as the denier groans and travails in the angst of purposelessness, he somehow invokes morality to challenge the existence of God.
To ask how a God of love could allow so much suffering implies the idea that it aught to have been, or could have been, different for humanity- or more simply, that human suffering is objectively wrong. Is that not a notion poised upon a position of morality? The problem becomes: How can a denier of purpose and objective morality distinguish between right and wrong without a transcendent law by which to differentiate? He cannot! Any statement made such as this must be (by the materialist’s own rules) relegated to personal preference, or rejected for its subjectivity. Even if he were to acknowledge the existence of an objective morality or transcendent law, he must account for its creation. Where did if come from, if not from a transcendent lawmaker? (Remember that transcendence requires a separate or elevated state from that to which it is relative.) If morality is invoked to deny purpose, creation, and even morality itself, then there is no valid argument of defense left and the statement is made invalid by its own contradiction. The transcendent law remains, and so also must the transcendent lawmaker, whom we know to be God. If He remains, then we must follow Him. If our revealed purpose is to know Him and to worship Him, than we must celebrate having purpose and rejoice in Him who bestows it upon us.
It is important to begin our discussion of atheism with a proper definition of the term. Webster traces atheism from the Greek atheos (godless, from a- + theos god) and defines it as “the doctrine that there is no deity.” It is immediately clear that atheism is absolutely not a philosophically neutral position. It actually affirms the absence of God; it does not affirm the absence of evidence or plausibility. (Many sincere questioners may be better suited to identify themselves as agnostics, which Webster defines as “a person who holds the view that any ultimate reality (as God) is unknown,” or “one who is not committed to believing in either the existence or the nonexistence of God or a god.”) It is crucial to differentiate between such positions because each results in a different deduction toward reality. Atheism asserts the non-existence of God, presumably because of lack of evidence, or in essence, by default.
The argument becomes problematic because to assert such an absolute negative requires that one has ultimate knowledge with which to make such a claim. It is not plausible to make such a statement purely on the basis of doubt or lack of evidence. In fact, even if the atheist could provide coherent arguments against the existence of God, the conclusion that God does not exist has not truly been proven. Atheist Kai Neilson says ‘To show that an argument is invalid or unsound is not to show that the conclusion of the argument is false….All the proofs of God’s existence may fail, but it still may be the case that God exists (Kai Nielsen, Reason and Practice, New York: Harper & Row, 1971, 143-44).” In other words, without transcendent knowledge of the universe, one cannot assert an absolute negative such as that God does not exist. Now here is the counterpoint: Though one may logically prove the illegitimacy of the atheistic argument, theism by default has not been shown to be true. One must defend theism with positive argumentation, not merely by assuming that since atheism is untrue, theism is true. Legitimate argumentation in this area can take many forms and approaches.
The cosmological argument that makes use of observational and philosophical points will be more coherent as our understanding of God’s existence must coincide with our understanding of reality. Thus, as we look at the apparent contingency of our universe as validation of the idea that it is not eternal, but has been caused. One may philosophically deduce that a universe that has come into being must have a first cause- one that transcends the essential existence of that which it causes. In other words, for God to be able to create the universe in which we exist, with all of its complexity and contingency, He must be essentially other- complete and sustained without His creation, and eternal in His nature. This understanding is necessary, as the typical argument against the first-cause proposition is that the first cause must have a cause, which in turn must have a cause, ad nauseum. The reason why this argument cannot apply to God as first cause is because God, as creator of the universe and all of its properties by which it operates (specifically and most important for our purposes: time, physics, etc.), must transcend those properties by not having come in to being Himself. Dr. Jonathan Sarfati provides a helpful illustration to this issue: “a more sophisticated questioner might ask: ‘If the universe needs a cause, then why doesn’t God need a cause? And if God doesn’t need a cause, why should the universe need a cause?’ In reply, Christians should use the following reasoning:
- Every thing which has a beginning has a cause.
- The universe has a beginning.
- Therefore the universe has a cause
(Read Dr. Sarfati's article here).” God cannot be subject to the laws of physics or time in his creation. Though He creates and employs those laws, He cannot be subject to them! Thus, logically, God requires no cause.
Webster defines apologetics as a “systematic argumentative discourse in defense (as of a doctrine).” This is in direct contrast with what many assume is the relationship between apologetics and the modern connotation of asking for forgiveness from the word apology. The word finds its root in the Greek ‘apologia,’ meaning literally to give an answer back. As it is written in 1 Peter 3:15, ‘but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.’ Peter’s admonition allows for two essential deductions: First, that the believer will certainly encounter questions regarding his faith, and second, that his faith is not blind, but grounded in defendable reason. In context, the above verse is preceded by these reassuring words: ‘But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled.’
Though Peter has words of encouragement for those who do engage in apologetic discourse, is it really necessary to have an answer? Does God really need man to defend Him? It may be easier to answer the second question first: God certainly does not need man to defend him. God will be God in all His glory despite what men do. However, man was commissioned quite specifically by Christ, as it is written in the Gospel according to Matthew 28:18-20, ‘And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”’ Jesus begins by qualifying the Great Commission with His claim to divine authority. Knowing that the task is great and arduous, Jesus reminds His disciples of His authority first, so that they many know the importance and necessity of obedience to His command. But the key here is that in evangelism, which is defined by Webster as “the winning or revival of personal commitments to Christ,” a ready defense is implicit. When confronted with the concept that they need Jesus, many will reply, ‘why?’ This is where apologetics comes in. It need not be overly complex or inflated by university degrees, but compassionately directed at its core toward the cries of the heart of man, resolute in the trust of God, and grounded in His Word, all of which we are capable by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Apologetics is really a comprehensive (or general) term that should be within the lexicon of most evangelical Christians. It is general in that it describes the activity of defending the Christian faith, though it can be within very specific topical areas. This being understood, it is crucial that the apologist be aware of the specific position of the questioner. For instance, if one is questioned on the authority of the Bible, it must be determined on what grounds the questioner dismisses the Biblical authority. If it is an issue of historical authenticity, then one would begin his defense by discussing the Bible within that frame of reference. If, however, the questioner is concerned with submitting to the authority of a God whom they misunderstand to be unjust in His actions, then one must begin by discussing the loving character of God, and the sacrifice and atonement of Jesus Christ. To put it simply, apologetics is an aid to evangelism, and therefore must be concerned with people. We must address the individual concerns of those who do question the Christian faith by focusing our discussion on their needs, not just a ‘textbook’ answer. Our answers must be motivated first by compassion, rather than a desire to simply win a debate, and they must find their coherence through the discernment and wisdom of the Holy Spirit.