iSoul In the beginning is reality

Category Archives: Being

ontology, metaphysics, logic

Essentials of Christian Thought, part 4

The previous post in this series is here.

The key to this middle way, if it is truly a middle way between extremes, is divine self-limitation—the idea that the God of the Bible is vulnerable because he makes himself so out of love. p.139

… the personal God of the Bible is revealed there as the one “principle of all things,” “both cause and reason” for everything else’s existence. [Emil] Brunner also rightly emphasized that for the Christian this is no “theory of the world,” no rational, speculative hypothesis, but revealed truth of the “one word of God.” p.142

Whether or not one takes the Genesis narratives of creation literally, their theological meaning is obvious to anyone who approaches them without bias against personal theism: The whole world, the universe, everything outside of God, was created by God “in the beginning.” p.143

And, yes, God has mind, intelligence, thought, purpose, but his essence is not “Mind” (Nuos) as Greek philosophy conceived it. p. 145

According to the biblical narrative, then, there are two basic categories of reality—God’s, which is supernatural and personal (but not human), eternal, independent, self-sufficient; and the world’s, which is dependent but good, filled with purpose and value and governed as well as sustained by God. p.145

The distinct, singular personhood of God, the reality of God as a being among beings, not an all-inclusive, unconditioned, absolute Being Itself, is a hallmark of the biblical portrayal of God. p.147

By the free act of creation, by creating something outside of himself with limited autonomy, the God of the Bible has become a being beside other beings and limited by them in a limited way. p.149

… the difference between God and humans is character, not personhood. p.149

As philosopher Plantinga explained, the scientific search for truth assumes nature is not all there is. If nature is all there is, then truth itself is a chimera and our human faculties for discovering and knowing it are unreliable. p.151

As already explained, according to the biblical view of God and the world, the world has a relative autonomy over against God—by God’s own design. Yet neither nature nor history are independent processes operating entirely under their own laws and powers. p. 151

Modern Christian thinkers such as Scottish philosopher Thomas Reid (1710–96), Horace Bushnell (1802–76), and C. S. Lewis, among many others, went out of their way to explode the myth that a miracles must be a divine interruption of nature—as if, in order to act in special ways, God must “break into” a world that operates like a machine alongside of, over against, and independently of God’s immanent, continuing creative activity. The biblical-Christian view of nature and history is the both are in some sens always already the activity of God. That is not to say that everything that happens in them is the direct, antecedent will of God; it is only to say that, from a biblical and Christian perspective, the very laws of nature are, in some sense, simply regularities of God’s general providential activity. And history is always being guided, directed, and governed by God—even when God’s human creatures, endowed with free will, rebel and act against God’s perfect will. According to a biblical-Christian worldview, God’s agency is always the principle and power underlying everything. p.152

That means, then, that a miracle is never a “breaking” of nature’s laws, a “violation” of nature, or a “disruption” of history’s story as if nature and history were normally operating under their own power and overcome by God “from the outside.” That is the myth about the supernatural and miracles imposed by modern naturalism. p.152

Rather, from a biblical-Christian perspective, a miracle is simply an event in which God acts through nature in an unusual way. p.152-3

The ultimate reality of the biblical narrative, God, is self-sufficient but also vulnerable. He is not dependent on anything outside himself and yet, at the same time, opens himself to influence by his own creatures. … God’s self-sufficiency is his freedom; his vulnerability is the product of his love. p.154

According to [Thomas F. Torrance], the Genesis creation narrative itself implies God’s entrance into time. p.157

Catholic Tresmontant affirmed that the God of the Bible, unlike the ultimate reality of Greek philosophy, is not an unchanging sameness but ever active life and action. p.157

For Cherbonnier, God’s immutability is simply his faithfulness, not his static being-ness without becoming or eternity without temporality. p.158

That is, the biblical story consistently correlates virtue and knowledge but not in the Greek sense of “to know the good is to do the good.” Rather, for the Bible and Christian thought generally, “doing the good,” by God’s grace and with faith, produces knowledge of ultimate reality as the ultimate good. p.162

But also, Brunner argued, the whole idea of an objective moral law, “right” and “wrong,” depends on ultimate reality being a personal God. p.162

For biblical-Christian thought, then, metaphysics and ethics are inseparable. p.163

Essentials of Christian Thought, part 3

This post continues from part 2, which is here. The following are more excerpts from Roger E. Olson’s The Essentials of Christian Thought.

For [Emil] Brunner, and for me, natural theology means only (1) that the biblical-Christian worldview better answers life’s ultimate questions than its competitors and alternatives, and (2) that eyes of faith for whom the Bible “absorbs the world” see the natural world as God’s good creation—”charged with the grandeur of God”—even if eyes of unbelief cannot see it as such. p.75

For biblical-Christian thought, in contrast with Greek philosophy, souls are created by God, they are not emanations, offshoots, of God’s own substance. p.81

Nearly all extra-biblical philosophies struggle with the [biblical] idea of a personal, related, vulnerable ultimate reality capable of being influences by what creatures do. p.84

Brunner believed God is revealed in nature and in the human spirit generally (general revelation). p.92

First, … nature and universal human experience, general revelation, yield only a “thatness” of God but not God’s “whoness,” personhood, and will. What humanity needs is to know God personally, not just God’s nature as ultimate reality. Second, according to Brunner, in complete agreement with most classical Protestant theology (and the Bible in Romans 1!), reason, or the use of reason, has been spoiled in humanity by sin. p.93

The reason the human person cannot use his own reason to arrive at a satisfying life philosophy or vision or reality is his own natural tendency to minimize evil—especially in himself. p.93

Brunner argued that “everyone who philosophizes does so from a definite starting point, upon which he, as this particular man, stands. The Christian philosophizes from that point at which God’s revelation sets him.” p.94

For Brunner, the God of biblical revelation is supernatural and personal but not human. p.95

God is both ontologically beyond and personally present. p.98

The point of this entire chapter is that there is a biblical, narrative-based metaphysic that contrasts with other metaphysical visions of ultimate reality, is not irrational, lies at the foundation of Christianity itself, and is being retrieved by Jewish and Christian scholars who are also separating it from extrabiblical philosophies that conflict with it. p. 99

Many scholars tend to define the difference between philosophy and theology as revelation—theology uses it and philosophy does not. There are, however, exceptions. “natural theology” is the rational exploration of the evidence of God in nature and universal human experience. “Philosophical theology” is philosophy that explores reasons for belief in God …. p.100

Brunner coined the term eristics for his own belief that, when set alongside alternative worldviews, Christian philosophy is superior. p.106

… the biblical narrative requires belief that God’s existence precedes the world’s not only temporally but ontologically. That is, the world is dependent on God, not vice versa. p.119

[Plantinga’s] conclusion, therefore, is that there is superficial conflict but deep concord between science and theistic belief, but superficial concord and deep conflict between science and naturalism. p.122

Humanism is simply any belief in the dignity and creativity of human persons, that human beings are unique and above nature, in some sense transcendent, capable of great culture achievements as well as terrible destruction. It places special value on humanity. … the real humanism is Christian humanism because of the biblical-Christian emphasis on humans as created in the image and likeness of God. p.123

functional naturalism—belief that although God exists and is person, he does not intervene in history or human lives, which are ruled by natural laws and explainable by science. p. 125

Classical Christian theism, born in the cauldron of philosophized Christianity in the second and third centuries in the Roman Empire, reached its zenith in Anselm and Aquinas. p.132

Gradually, Christian began to envision ultimate reality, God, along the lines of Platonic metaphysics—including the idea that God, being metaphysically complete and perfect in every way imaginable, cannot suffer or be affect by temporal events or creatures. The word for this was and is impassibility. p. 136

 

The next post in this series is here.

Essentials of Christian Thought, part 2

This post continues from part 1, here.

One characteristic of the book is that the “essentials” or “metaphysics” that Roger E. Olson elucidates are somewhat buried among the text dealing with the competing alternatives. What follows are excerpts that focus on the essentials of Christian/biblical thought itself.

A basic presupposition of this book is that the Bible does contain an implicit metaphysical vision of ultimate reality—the reality that is most important, final, highest, and behind everyday appearances. p.12

Ultimate reality is relational. p.13

Ultimate reality is personal, not impersonal, and humans reflect that ultimate reality in their created constitution—what they are. Here we will call that “Christian humanism.” p.17

Here metaphysics is simply another word for investigation into the nature of ultimate reality. p.19

… both Tresmontant and Cherbonnier argued very cogently that the biblical philosophy is holistic, not requiring supplementation by extrabiblical philosophies … and that the biblical philosophy is fundamentally contrary to Greek philosophies. p.22

in this postmodern age every philosophy is rooted in some story and tradition based on it, and that for the Christian “the Bible absorbs the world”—the biblical story, narrative, is the lens through which the Christian sees reality as God’s good creation (for example). p.23

belief in the supernatural (something above and free from nature and nature’s laws) is no more a matter of faith, “seeing as,” than belief in naturalism (that nature and its laws are all that are real). p.33

The biblical-Christian vision of reality is a “view from somewhere,” … that … better answers life’s ultimate questions than any competing worldview or metaphysical vision of reality. p.39-40

… Christian theology’s main task is not correlation with other, non-Christian worldviews or plausibility structures, but self-description of the Christian view of reality from within the Christian tradition-community inspired by the biblical story. p.41

… being Christian means, in part, seeing the world as the reality described, or presupposed, by the Bible. p.43

… [Hans Frei] argued that faithful Christians ought to take the Bible seriously as “realistic narrative.” In other words, the Bible ought not to be viewed either as history in the modern, literal sense (viz., a textbook of facts about history) or as myth (symbolic representation of universal human experience). Rather, a Christian should find the meaning of Scripture out outside it—whether in outer history or universal human experience—but inside of it. p.43

Frei’s point is simply that the meaning of the Bible is not outside of it. p.44

The Bible depicts ultimate reality—the highest, best, final, eternal reality upon which all else is dependent—as supernatural and personal but not human. Here supernatural simply means “beyond nature,” not bound to nature and nature’s laws, free over nature, not controlled by nature. Some people would prefer the word transcendent for all that … p.53

The Bible depicts ultimate reality as personal, which here means having intelligence, thought, iintentions, actions, and some degree of self-determination. It also means “relational”—being in relation to others, drawing one’s identity partly, at least, from relations with others. p.53

… the long history of philosophical metaphysics, from Plato in ancient Greece to Hegel in nineteenth-century German, has tended to depersonalize ultimate reality, to represent ultimate reality as impersonal, a power, force, or principle behind appearances. p.56

… the ultimate reality of the Bible, Yahweh, God the Lord, is personal in the primary, supreme sense, the pattern of true personhood, which human beings are personal in the secondary sense, copies of the pattern of true personhood. p.57

In Athens Paul articulated concisely what later Christian thinkers came to refer to as God’s transcendence and immanence—that God is both present within creation and exalted above creation as its source and sustainer who needs nothing. p.62

Summing up, the biblical view of ultimate reality is that it is not an it but a he. According to the biblical narrative … ultimate, final, eternal, all-powerful, all-determining reality is a personal being both beyond the natural world and dynamically present within it. This metaphysical vision has variously been labeled “personalistic theism” and “biblical theistic personalism.” At the heart of ultimate reality, the one unifying source behind and withing everything, is an intelligence, free agency, and independent will marked by loving-kindness and justice. p.63

The next post in this series is here.

Essentials of Christian Thought, part 1

The Essentials of Christian Thought: Seeing Reality Through the Biblical Story by Roger E. Olson was published by Zondervan in 2017. It’s 256 pages long in seven chapters with as many “Interludes” but no bibliography or index. The author gives a video introduction here.

The intended audience for the book is those who accept the Bible as a guide “to the nature of ultimate reality” (p.11). Its purpose is to describe that ultimate nature (or metaphysics) according to the Bible. Much of the book is spent delineating differences between the biblical metaphysics and that of others. The author leans heavily on four authors (in order of the number of references):

Edmond La Beaume Cherbonnier (1918 – 2017), “an American scholar in the field of religious studies. He served as Professor of Religion at Trinity College, Connecticut”. Wikipedia

“Is There a Biblical Metaphysic?”, Theology Today, 15(4), January 1959, pp. 454–69.
Hardness of Heart, Doubleday, 1955.
“Biblical Metaphysic and Christian Philosophy”, Theology Today, 9(3), October 1952.
“The Logic of Biblical Anthropomorphism,” in Harvard Theological Review 55(3), 1962, 187-206.

Claude Tresmontant (1925 – 1997), “taught medieval philosophy and philosophy of science at the Sorbonne.” Wikipedia

A Study of Hebrew Thought, tr. by Michael Francis Gibson, Descle, 1960.
Christian Metaphysics, Sheed and Ward, 1965.
The Origins of Christian Philosophy, Hawthorn Books, 1963.

Emil Brunner (1889 –1966), “a highly influential Swiss theologian who, along with Karl Barth, is associated with Neo-Orthodoxy or the dialectical theology movement.” Theopedia

The Philosophy of Religion from the Standpoint of Protestant Theology, tr. by Bertram Lee Woolf, James Clarke, 1958.
Revelation and Reason: The Christian Doctrine of Faith and Knowledge, tr. by Olive Wyon, SCMP, 1946.
“Nature and Grace” in Natural Theology, tr. by Peter Fraenkel, Geoffrey Bles, 1946.

Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907 – 1972) “was a Polish-born American rabbi and one of the leading Jewish theologians and Jewish philosophers of the 20th century.” Wikipedia

Man is Not Alone, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1976.

The next post is here.

Synopsis of the Gospel

A previous post here gave a summary of the Gospel. The following comes from Rev. David Harper’s blog entry, The power of story:

Here’s a synopsis.

1. God created humankind in His image for fellowship and partnership, entrusting to us stewardship of His earth. (Gen. 1:28)  

2. Because of sin, in which we all participate, our fellowship with God and one another has fractured (Gen. 3:1-19, 4:8; Rom. 3:23).

3. God sent His Son, Jesus, as the promised Messianic King and Son of God, come to earth in human form to become one with us. (Rom. 1:3-4; Phil. 2:4ff.).

4. By his death and resurrection, Jesus atoned for our sin, and secured our justification by grace, (1 Cor. 15:3ff.). He has broken the dominion of sin and evil over us (Col. 2:13-15), restored us to right relationship with the Father, and made us the firstfruits of His new creation. (James 1:18)

 5. He has given us His Holy Spirit to empower us to do the works that Jesus did, enlisting us in His plan and purpose to make the whole creation new. (John 14:12ff, Acts 2:1ff, Eph. 1:9-10, 3:8-12

6. At his return, Jesus will complete what he began by the renewal of the entire material creation, and the resurrection of our bodies (Rom 8: 18ff.).)

For more from Rev. Harper, see his website Things New & Old. One thing he is known for is expressed in his talk on Three Streams, One River.

Classical knowledge

As with a previous post here, this post looks at George Lakoff and Mark Johnson’s Philosophy in the Flesh (1999). This time the focus is on what they call “folk theories” but I’m calling classical knowledge since these have become so ingrained in Western thought. Starting with chapter 16 they look principles that came out of ancient Greek philosophy. Though they don’t mention it, these were influenced by the other source of Western thought, Christianity.

The Intelligibility of the World: The world makes systematic sense, and we can gain knowledge of it.

General Kinds: Every particular thing is a kind of thing.

Essences:
Every entity has an “essence” or “nature,” that is, a collection of properties that makes it the kind of thing it is and that is the causal source of its natural behavior.

Every kind of thing has an essence that makes it the kind of thing it is.
The way each thing naturally behaves is a consequence of its essence.

Substances:
A substance is that which exists in itself and does not depend for its existence on any other thing.
Each substance has one and only one primary attribute that defines what its essence is.

Metaphysics: Kinds exist and are defined by essences.

The All-Inclusive Category: There is a category of all things that exist.

The Elements: Things in nature are made up of some combination of the basic elements: [which in ancient times were considered to be] Earth, Air, Fire, and Water.

What was considered the essence of being? There were several answers:

Thales: Water; Anaximander: Intermediate Material, Air; Heraclitus: Change; Pythagoras: Number

For Plato: Essences are Ideas (and Ideals)

For Aristotle: Ideas are Essences

Basic Gospel Message

Vic Scaravilli is a Catholic who put the following on his website here. I’m reposting it (with permission) and note that Evangelicals would agree that this is the gospel, with some nuances about baptism.

The Basic Gospel Message

By Vic Scaravilli

God loves each one of us. He loves me and He loves you with an unconditional love. You are precious in His eyes.

There is something that has kept us separated from God, something that has kept us from experiencing His love in our lives. That something is called sin. The result of sin is spiritual death. We have all sinned and never can be perfect.

Does that mean we can never know and experience God’s love? No, because God loved us so much He sent His only Son to die for each one of us. Jesus is the only bridge that takes us from our sin to the love of God. By His death and resurrection, Jesus opened the gates of heaven for everyone.

This is called salvation. It is the free gift of eternal life that is completely given to us by God’s grace. Salvation is the life in Jesus that begins now and will be for all eternity.

The free gift of salvation must be accepted in order for it to be our own. We must experience an internal conversion experience that changes our hearts. Once we accept Jesus into our hearts and allow Him to come into our lives, we begin to experience His love.

In order to become children of God, we must be born again. The sacrament of Baptism forgives your sins, gives the gift of the Holy Spirit, restores the grace lost by Adam, and makes you a member of His family.

This is the gift of salvation. We have the opportunity of eternal life because of what Jesus did for you and me. All we have to do is personally accept it by faith and be obedient to Him. Baptism and conversion are required to begin this process.

Jesus paid a debt He did not owe because we owed a debt we couldn’t pay.

Branches of Christianity

Christians accept the four gospels as four different perspectives on the gospel. In fact, each is properly titled, “The Gospel According to …” That is, there is one gospel but four perspectives on it. While it is an interesting exercise to compare the gospels with each other, they are best thought of as parallel accounts of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

There are four branches of Christianity, corresponding to the four Gospels. The parallels between each gospel and each branch of Christianity show this. The four branches are the Orthodox, Catholic, Evangelical, and Pentecostal churches. Like the one gospel, there is only one church, but there are four perspectives on the one church.

The gospel of Matthew shows Jesus as the Messianic King. The gospel of Mark shows Jesus as the Suffering Servant. The gospel of Luke-Acts shows Jesus as the Son of Man. The gospel of John shows Jesus as the Son of God. From considerations like this, one can see the Orthodox, Catholic, Evangelical, and Pentecostal branches, correspond to the gospel according to John, Matthew, Mark, and Luke-Acts, respectively.

Christians have learned to accept the four versions of the one gospel, and their different perspectives. It is past time that Christians learn to accept the four branches of the one church, and their different perspectives.

Christianization of the world

In Mt 13:33 reports of Jesus: He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.” Christianity is the leaven of the world. Put it into the world and gradually the whole world is leavened. This is the Christianization of the world.

Note that leaven works from the inside out, not the outside in. Christianization does not mean the world is given a coating of Christianity in hopes that it will penetrate further down. Rather, it means that the leaven of Christianity is put into the middle of the world and gradually works its way throughout.

When this is done, the outside at first may look as if nothing much has changed. But if the inside has changed, then sooner or later the outside and everything in between will change. That is what genuine Christianization means.

Christianity is a meta-religion: it “comes after” religion because it takes a religion and transforms it. The first religion Christianity was applied to was Judaism, as recorded in the New Testament. After that, the pagan religion of the gentiles in Europe was Christianized. Many of the customs associated with Christianity today come from Christianized Judaism and paganism. For example, Easter is a Christianized spring festival (the name comes from the Teutonic goddess of spring) and Christmas is a Christianized winter solstice festival.

Other religions have not been Christianized as much, but they could be. Music is one aspect which has been Christianized. There are Christian songs in every music tradition. Converts from any religion should be able to retain parts of their culture with a new focus and interpretation. Christianity is not about replacing the cultures of the world but about redeeming them.

The kingdom of God is the Christianization of the world. Where the kingship of Christ is, there is the kingdom of God. The world in all its diversity can be redeemed — and preserved — through Christ.

 

Repentance and faith

Acts 20:21 speaks of “repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.” This first step of the Christian life is God’s doing. God grants repentance and faith. So while people say, “I repented” and “I believed,” it is only by God’s grace that they did.

This can be compared with an alarm clock going off while we’re sleeping. We woke up on account of the alarm clock. We could have resisted the alarm. But it was the alarm that woke us up. We didn’t wake ourselves up.

Repentance and faith is conversion (Latin conversio, Greek metanoia) and it is God’s work, not ours. Jesus said, (Mt 22.14) “Many are called, but few are chosen.” This may indicate that everyone receives a “wake-up call” at some point in their lives but not everyone responds to it.

So listen to the Gospel and when you perceive God calling you or tugging at your heart, respond as Samuel did, (1 Sam 3:10) “Speak, for your servant is listening.” And wake up!