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Category Archives: Theology

Theology and the Bible

From persistence to God

Edward Feser’s book Five Proofs of the Existence of God (2017) includes his version of the Aristotelian proof, which starts from the existence of change. There is a similar proof that starts from the existence of persistence, which I sketch here by modifying some words in Feser’s text (with page references to his book).

Persistence happens. Examples are all around us. The coffee in your cup is still warm after you step away for a minute. A leaf on the tree outside your window is in the same place it was yesterday. A puddle is the same size it was ten minutes ago. You swat a fly and miss, so it keeps buzzing around.

These examples illustrate four kinds of persistence: qualitative persistence (the coffee doesn’t change temperature); persistence with respect to location (the leaf is in the same place); quantitative persistence (the puddle has the same size); and substantial persistence (a living thing keeps on living). That persistence of these sorts occur is evident from our sensory experience of the world outside our minds. p.17

What persistence involves is, for pseudo-Aristotle, the actualization of a potential. The coffee has the potential to stay warm. A leaf has the potential to stay in the same place. A puddle has the potential to remain the same size. A fly has the potential to stay alive. p.18

Persistence requires a persistentizer. We find examples all around us in everyday experience. The warm air in the room keeps the temperature of the coffee the same. The connection to the tree keeps the leaf in the same place. But the thesis that persistence requires a persistentizer is not merely a generalization from instances like these. It follows from what persistence is: the actualization of a potential. p. 19

Consider next that series of persistences that extend backward in time, in what we might think of as a linear fashion. The coffee is still warm because the air in the room is warm; the air is warm because the air conditioner is still broken; and so forth. p. 20

There is another kind of series—let us call it the hierarchical kind—which must have a first member. … Consider the coffee cup as it sits on your desk. It is, we may suppose three feet above the floor. Why? Because the desk is holding it up, naturally. But what holds the desk up? The floor, of course. The floor, in turn is held up by the foundation of the house, and the foundation of the house by the earth. [p.21, same text]

Let’s skip ahead to modifying Feser’s more formal statement of the argument (p.34ff):

1. Persistence is a real feature of the world.
2. But persistence is the actualization of a potential.
3. So, the actualization of potential is a real feature of the world.
4. No potential can be actualized unless something already actual actualizes it (the principle of causality).
5. So, any persistence is caused by something already actual.
6. The occurrence of any persistence C presupposes some thing or substance S which persists.

19. In order for this purely actual actualizer to be capable of persistence, it would have to have potentials capable of actualization.
20. But being purely actual, it lacks any such potentials.
21. So it is ever-changing or incapable of persistence.
22. If this purely actual actualizer existed in space, then it would be capable of persistence, which it is not.
23. So, this purely actual actualizer is transcendent, existing outside of space.
24. If the purely actual actualizer were material, then it would be persistent and exist in space, which it does not.
25. So, the purely actual actualizer is immaterial. p.35-36

The main difference between this argument and Feser’s is the conclusion that God is ever-changing. Does that contract the Bible? No. it’s an affirmation of Lamentations 3:22-23:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

Where there is life, there is change. Since God is alive (Heb. 4:12; Rev. 1:18), God is ever-changing.

Luther at 500

October 31, 2017, is the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Phillip Cary’s excellent article in First Things places this in perspective. While the full article is behind a paywall, here are some excerpts:

It all did start with the ninety-five theses, in a sense. Luther probably did not actually nail them to the church door—at least no one at the time tells us so. And if he did, it was not in anger or protest against the church. He was trying to arrange an academic discussion, and evidently that’s where the bulletin board was. What we do know is that he mailed them off to his archbishop, together with a treatise on indulgences and a cover letter dated October 31, 1517, so that is the date remembered as the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.

What Luther did not know at the time is that the pope and the archbishop were the ones profiting from this merchandise, each claiming half of the take. So it is not surprising that events took a turn he did not anticipate. Within five years, this intensely obedient monk had concluded that obedience to God precluded obedience to the pope, and a schism in the Church followed.

At the starting point in 1517, Luther’s pastoral concern was unfamiliar and hardly Protestant. He thought indulgences made penance seem much too easy, undermining the lifelong work, required of all Christians, of contrition, which he identified with heartfelt self-hatred.

By the end of 1518, he was teaching that Christians hearing the word of absolution in the sacrament of penance (“I absolve you of your sins in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit”) should simply believe their sins are absolved.

Faith comes by hearing, says the apostle (Rom. 10:17), and Luther is the greatest and most obsessive theologian of hearing in the Christian tradition. For Luther, everything depends on hearing the Word of God, taking hold of it, clinging to it, and not talking back—not calling God a liar. His treatment of the doctrine of justification always turns on the conviction that “God is true, though every man be a liar” (Rom. 3:4). Everything depends on God being true to his word and keeping his promise, which the deceitfulness of our unworthy hearts cannot overturn.

What happens in 1518 is that Luther’s fierce conviction that we must never talk back against God’s word meets the medieval doctrine of sacramental efficacy, and results in the Protestant conception of the power of the Gospel.

When Luther teaches justification by faith alone, he is not requiring us to put faith in faith. On the contrary, he wants us putting faith in the Gospel alone. Any account of faith that focuses on the experience of faith—any theological turn to subjectivity, such as in liberal theology—has missed Luther’s point. What we experience, for the most part, is our own sin and unbelief. Faith means turning away from our experience to take hold of Christ alone by believing, against all doubt and temptation, that what the Gospel tells us about Christ given for us is really true.

Justification by faith alone is thus justification by Christ alone. This has everything to do with hearing the Gospel spoken aloud in external words, through which Christ claims each of us by saying “you” in a way that includes me.

Luther accepts the traditional metaphysical attributes of God, such as eternity, immutability, omnipresence, and so on, but these are not objects of his devotion. Above all, he has no use for the rich notion of intellectual vision shared by Augustine and Aquinas, going back ultimately to Plato’s metaphor of seeing the supreme Good with the mind’s eye. Luther does not aim to see God’s essence but to hear him speak, for it is in his word that God gives himself to be known.

If God is a person rather than a principle, coming to us in the person of his own Son, isn’t believing what he has to say about himself the deepest and most appropriate way to know who he is?

Most important, Luther’s challenge affects Christian life by freeing Christian love to be love, removing the kind of performance anxiety that makes it about ourselves. If we are justified by faith alone, then works of love serve our neighbors, not our desire to justify ourselves or make ourselves holy. We are holy because Christ claims us as his own through word and sacrament, and Christian love takes root in our hearts because we believe what Christ has done.

How we have always been justified by faith alone is best seen in light of Luther’s distinction between law and Gospel. Both the law of God and the Gospel of Christ are God’s word, but the former only gives us instructions while the latter gives us Christ. For the law tells us what to do, but the Gospel tells us what Christ does. The distinction grows out of Augustine’s insistence, in his great treatise On the Spirit and the Letter, that telling us to obey the law of love does not help us do it from the depths of our hearts; only the grace of Christ can give us such a heart. Luther merely adds: The place to find the grace of Christ is in the Gospel of Christ.

E. W. Kenyon, part 4

The previous post in this series is here. McIntyre next introduces theological defenses of divine healing. in 1881 William Boardman (1810-1886) authored The Great Physician (Jehovah Rophi).

Boardman’s earlier work, The Higher Christian Life (1859) was tremendously influential in bringing the message of sanctification into non-Methodist circles. … Boardman expressed the idea that everything we need is already a reality in Christ, only awaiting the believer’s faith to claim it. … He later came to see healing as a part of our redemption and applied this same premise (that sanctification and everything we need is already true in Christ and awaiting our claiming it by faith) to healing. This is exactly what Kenyon taught. p.85

A. J. Gordon … wrote a book titled, The Ministry of Healing: Miracles of Cure in All Ages, which [Charles] Cullis published in 1882. It was a historical and doctrinal study of faith healing from the early church fathers, the post-Reformation period, and modern ministries of healing. p.86

Kenyon certainly read this book since he quoted from Gordon’s writings more frequently than any other author. p.86

Gordon believed that healing was included in the atonement of Christ. Even the critics of the doctrine acknowledged Gordon’s skillful treatment of the subject. Gordon wrote:

 The yoke of His cross by which He lifted our iniquities took hold also of our diseases; so that it is in some sense true that as God “made Him to be sin for us who knew no sin,” so He made Him to be sick for us who knew no sickness. …

If now it be true that our Redeemer and substitute bore our sicknesses, it would be natural to reason at once that He bore them that we might not bear them.

But, it is asked, if the privilege and promise in this matter are so clear, how is it that the cases of recovery through the prayer of faith are so rare? Probably because the prayer of faith itself is so rare, and especially because when found it receives almost no support in the church as a whole. p.86-87

Healing in the atonement became widely regarded as the basis for claiming healing as the believer’s covenant privilege. p.87

R. L. Stanton and R. Kelso Carter also wrote books defending divine healing in the atonement.

Kenyon would later state his belief about deliverance from sin and sickness being included in the finished work of Christ in his book, Jesus the Healer. p.89

Kenyon, like most of the voices in the Faith-Cure movement, saw in the work of Christ at Calvary a basis for holy living and healing and health. Claiming the provisions of Christ’s work by faith and confessing them before men was common practice among them. Acting on the promise without any apparent change was also regularly encouraged. p.89

McIntyre covers much more but let’s skip to the controversy that ensued.

Anyone teaching divine healing in the latter part of the nineteenth-century faced the inevitable comparison with Christian Science and the other metaphysical cults. Unfortunately, many leaders in the orthodox church who were opposed to healing in general failed to distinguish any significant difference between the two approaches to healing. p.239

In this climate, divine healing teachers had to be able to show the differences between biblical healing and metaphysical healing. p. 240

McIntyre then documents the following points:

  • The Faith-Cure movement predated the metaphysical cults by a number of years.
  • The practices of the Faith-Cure movement were established before the metaphysical cults were visible as distinct movements.
  • The Faith-Cure movement, which was rooted in the evangelical church, had distinctly different teachings than the cults.
  • E. W. Kenyon’s teachings are in the Faith-Cure tradition.

I will end this brief introduction to McIntyre’s book with this quote from Kenyon about affirmations:

You see the vast difference between an affirmation based upon your own will or philosophy and an affirmation backed up by God Himself.

The affirmations based upon sense knowledge philosophy have no more value or ability to make good than is in the will and mind of the maker of the affirmation. But the affirmation that is based upon the living Word has God back of it to make it good. p.259

E. W. Kenyon, part 3

The previous post in this series is here. McIntyre next turns to the Faith-Cure movement.

This revival of healing, known as the Faith-Cure movement[,] lasted from around 1873 until its teachings were absorbed into the Pentecostal movement in the early 1900s. Its earliest advocates began teaching divine healing by faith as early as 1846. p.64

It is only because so few today are aware of this revival that Kenyon’s critics have been as influential as they have been. A review of its teachers and teaching reveals a great similarity between the Faith-Cure movement and the [Word of] Faith movement. p.64-65

Kenyon helped bridge the gap between the two movements. Others who bridged the gap included F. F. Bosworth, John G. Lake, and Carrie Judd Montgomery. p.65

Kenyon was influenced by the three most prominent leaders of the Faith-Cure movement—A. B. Simpson, Charles Cullis, and John Alexander Dowie. p.65

McIntyre points out that Kenyon and his wife Evva were initially reluctant to pray for the sick. Kenyon later wrote:

Before this I had always been suspicious of anyone who claimed their prayers were answered along the line of healing. I felt we had doctors and surgeons and sanitariums for that purpose. p.66

But sick people asked Kenyon to pray for them, and when he started to do so, people were healed.

From that day on healings came—not many, for not many people asked to be prayed for. … One day I discovered the use of the name of Jesus. Then miracles became a daily occurrence. p.67

Kenyon cautiously introduced divine healing to [his] new nondenominational church, called the Tabernacle. p.67

McIntyre describes leaders of the Faith-Cure movement, A. B. Simpson (the founder of the Christian and Missionary Alliance), Charles Cullis, and John A. Dowie.

[A. B.] Simpson, like so many of those involved in the Faith-Cure movement, advocated testimony and actions of faith before the healing was manifested. p.70

[Charles] Cullis shared his discovery of divine healing with many leaders in the Holiness movement who also embraced the doctrine. p.72

Arguably the most gifted—and the most tragic—character in the Faith-Cure movement was John Alexander Dowie. Used mightily of God for a season, Dowie came to believe in his latter years (from 1901 until his death in 1907) that he was Elijah the Restorer, the great end-time prophet. p.72

In one of his books, Kenyon referred again to the power of God in Dowie’s ministry. He wrote, “You and God and linked together. You become invincible. We see a glimpse of this in Luther’s ministry. We saw it in John Alexander Dowie’s ministry. We have seen it in individuals here and there—God and man linked together, doing the impossible. p.73

McIntyre notes there was debate about the role of doctors in divine healing.

An aspect of healing ministry that is still debated today is the use of medical treatment. The abysmal state of medicine was probably one of the underlying reasons why some Faith-Cure healers rejected medical treatment. p.73

It was common in both the Holiness movement and the early Pentecostal movement to trust God alone for physical health and healing. p.74

McIntyre then tells of other leaders of the Faith-Cure movement, starting with Ethan O. Allen.

Ethan O. Allen [1813-1903], known as the father of divine in the United States, was the first American known to have a full-time traveling ministry focused on healing. For fifty years he traveled throughout the Eastern United States praying for the sick and teaching divine healing. Allen was also a frequent guest at A. B. Simpson’s conferences. p.77

Kenyon’s teaching is strikingly similar to Allen’s. … Let’s review the steps Allen took. He claimed the promise of God by faith and stated that the “evidence” of his healing “was very clear.” The “evidence was the witness of the Holy Spirit that his prayer was heard and that God had given the healing to him by faith. Note that he said, “I have got the evidence, pain or no pain.” p.78

Allen applied the Methodist understanding of faith for receiving sanctification to receiving healing. He spoke out of the witness of the Spirit rather than his physical condition. Some people today call this “sensory denial;” the Methodists and Faith-Cure people called it faith in God and His Word. p.78-79

Allen, also in the Methodist tradition, stressed the need for confession that a healing is received. p.79

McIntyre points out that this principle was in line with Phoebe Palmer and “older Methodists such as Hester Ann Rogers and John Fletcher” who “taught that sanctification was kept by continual public confession. This idea was normative in Methodism as early as 1846.” (p.79)

McIntyre gives other examples of this teaching: Elizabeth Mix, Carrie Judd Montgomery, and, surprisingly, Andrew Murray.

Having lost his voice and reportedly finished his career as a preacher, Murray sought out the truth of divine healing. Eventually he went to London to the divine healing home established by William Boardman called Bethshan. He was so completely healed he was never troubled again by any weakness of the throat or voice. … In 1884 Murray wrote the Dutch version of his book on divine healing called Jesus, The Physician of the Sick. It was published in English in 1900. Concerning faith and healing Murray wrote:

Prayer without faith is powerless… If you have already asked for healing from the Lord, or if others have asked it for you, you must, before you are conscious of any change, be able to say with faith, “On the authority of God’s Word, I have the assurance that He hears me, and that I am healed.”

Here another respected leader whose devotional writings are still popular today, expressed himself in terms that Kenyon could easily have used. p.83

The next post in this series is here.

E. W. Kenyon, part 2

This post continues the previous post here. McIntyre’s book provides more 19th century history and shows how E. W. Kenyon’s teachings reflected his background in the Holiness movement.

The Holiness movement in America was rooted in the Methodist church, which was the largest Protestant denomination during the nineteenth century. John Wesley had taught the doctrine of Christian perfection in earlier years, and many voices were calling the church, within and without Methodism, back to a “higher Christian life.” p.46

The most distinctive doctrine of the Holiness movement was what was known as the second work of grace. At conversion the believer’s sins were forgiven. He was justified. Then the convert was to seek an experience known as entire sanctification. This was the “second work of grace.” It consisted of an instantaneous crisis of consecration, or total abandonment to the Lord, believed to remove the sin nature which was not affected by conversion. After this crisis the believer was able to live without sinning. This experience was often referred to as the baptism of the Holy Spirit. p.46-47

We can easily establish that Kenyon was exposed to these teachings. Kenyon was converted in a Methodist church. He spent his first years with the Lord attending a Methodist church and other Holiness meetings. He also attended services with The Salvation Army (who were among the second-work-of-grace Holiness advocates). p.46

Kenyon was, for the most part, a Holiness preacher when he pastored the Free Will Baptist church in Springville, New York (1894–1897). p.47-48

Personally, and as a pastor, Kenyon attempted to enter into an experience of entire sanctification. “In a church of which I was pastor we used to have consecration services from one to three times a week. I cannot tell you how many times I personally tried to do this,” the mourned. p.48

McIntyre then describes the teachings of the influential Phoebe Palmer (1807–1874) and others:

Palmer advocated what she called the “shorter way” into the experience of holiness. She taught that holiness was available, like justification, on the basis of faith alone. The necessary thing was to meet the conditions set forth in the Scriptures and then to believe the promises, accepting the Word of God alone as the evidence. p.50

The Free Will Baptists, with whom Kenyon was aligned at the time, were one of the denominations that embraced this teaching on holiness by faith. p.51

A positive confession of receiving the grace of sanctification was widely taught and practiced in the Holiness movement. … Palmer wrote in 1848, many years before Christian Science or New Thought developed:

But do not forget that believing with the heart, and confessing with the mouth, stand closely connected, and “what God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.” To the degree that you rely on the faithfulness of God, O hasten to make confession with the mouth of your confidence; and to the degree you honor God, by reposing on His faithfulness, will God honor you, by conferring on you the graces of His Holy Spirit in their rich plenitude. p.51-52

Other influential teachers, including Kenyon, later reflected Palmer’s ideas of faith as a law and an unchanging principle of the kingdom [of God]. … The “law of faith” was not some rigid demand that caused God to bow to the believer’s whim, but rather a principle by which the believer met the conditions of God’s covenant promises and God performed His promise for them every time (Rom. 3:27) P.52-53

[Hannah Whitall] Smith (1832-1911) is a respected and well-known author still today. Her book The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life is still quite widely read. … Smith’s book and its teachings on faith and consecration are a great representation of the teaching of the Higher Life movement, as it was often called. The idea of confession is not missing from her teaching either. She encouraged her readers:

To begin at once to reckon that you are His, that He has taken you, and that He is working in you to will and to do His good pleasure. And keep on reckoning this. You will find it a great help to put your reckoning into words, and say over and over to yourself and to your God, “Lord, I am Thine; I do yield myself up entirely to Thee, and I believe that Thou dost take me. p.58-59

Kenyon, like many other Christians of his day, had a crisis of consecration and wrote his own statement of consecration. He referred to this experience a number of times, mostly in his unpublished articles, so this event in his life is not widely known. p.60

Kenyon, while struggling with the issue of Christ’s Lordship or the necessity of total consecration of his life to God, faced … a number of what he described as “life-threatening” illnesses. He surrendered to the best of his ability to Jesus. He was dramatically healed as a result of this surrender and of the prayer of an unknown brother. … In this episode of Kenyon’s life we see both the influence of the Holiness movement and a definite experience with divine healing. p.62, 63

The next post in this series is here.

E. W. Kenyon, part 1

D. R. McConnell in A Different Gospel, 1988, and Hank Hanegraff in Christianity in Crisis, 1993, accused E. W. Kenyon of promoting heresies such as those found in New Thought. However, Joe McIntyre in E. W. Kenyon and His Message of Faith: The True Story, 1997 (rev. 2010), documented how Kenyon’s teachings were well within evangelical Christianity. Since Kenyon is considered to have influenced the controversial Word of Faith (or simply Faith) movement, an assessment of this requires a closer look at Kenyon and his teachings. This series of posts will include excerpts from McIntyre’s book and Kenyon’s writings.

McIntyre quotes Kenyon on his seven-fold test for the truth of Christian doctrines (p.33-34):

This danger of being led into false teaching stood at the threshold of every new truth in the early days of my Bible study, and I prayed much that the Lord would give me a real testing tube, scales, weight, and measure, whereby every step could be satisfactorily proved. (May 1916)

All New Testament teaching conforms to Old Testament types, and if all doctrine were built of the units of testimony of the whole Word, much false teaching would be done away with.

Take this sevenfold test. All New Testament doctrines must be found:

1) In Genesis, in germ (or seed) form;
2) In the Law, in type;
3) In Psalms, in sacred song;
4) In the Prophets, as prophecy;
5) In the Gospels, taught by Christ;
6) In Acts, practiced by the Apostles;
7) In the Epistles, as doctrine.

… Every truth, or doctrine taught in the New Testament can be found by the Spirit-taught student in these sevenfold steps. It gives the Christian an entire Bible. Then let us see, if the whole Word sends forth clear tones in perfect harmony with each other as we ascend the scale from Genesis to Revelation. (Oct. 1898)

McIntyre notes (p.35):

All the metaphysical cults, particularly Christian Science and New Thought, handle the Scriptures quite loosely, employing much fanciful interpretation, probably to avoid the implications of the text taken literally. In contrast, unless he was interpreting the types, Kenyon consistently took the text in its most obvious, literal sense. In this he reflected the influence of J. N. Darby and other Brethren authors whom he greatly respected. A little closer to home, we see the influence of A. J. Gordon, A. T. Pierson, R. A. Torrey, and A. B. Simpson, all of whom Kenyon greatly admired.

Regarding the baptism of the Holy Spirit (p. 37):

[Kenyon] taught that immediately after one was born again one should ask the Holy Spirit to come and live in his body. Statements of this idea are in almost every book he wrote. What Kenyon did not believe was that the experience of receiving the Holy Spirit was the baptism of the Holy Spirit. He believed that the phrase baptism of the Holy Spirit referred to conversion.

Regarding speaking in tongues (p. 37-38):

Kenyon believed that speaking in tongues was a valid experience, but for him the evidence for being filled, or receiving the Holy Spirit, was the promise of Scripture itself. Kenyon wanted people to look to the word of God alone as evidence that they had received the Holy Spirit.

McIntyre points out that in this matter Kenyon was influenced by four Christian teachers: A. J. Gordon, A. T. Pierson, R. A. Torrey, and A. B. Simpson. (p.38ff)

The next post in this series is here.

The real literalists

There is a kind of scholarship that starts with a very literalistic reading of a source text, finds contradictions in it, and concludes either that it is a combination of contradictory texts or that a very non-literal reading is justified. This is a method that seeks to justify one extreme by criticizing another extreme. No serious thought is given to the many options between these extremes, that the text is meant neither as a literal extreme nor a figurative extreme.

For example, Genesis 1:1 to 2:2 contrasted with Genesis 2:3 to 2:22 has differences that are asserted to be in conflict and hence represent contradictory traditions. The Documentary (Wellhausen) Hypothesis explains perceived inconsistencies in the Pentateuch by asserting it was written independently by four different authors and subsequently woven together by redactors. While the presence of various sources in the Bible is not a concern, the assertion that these contradict one another is.

This line of scholarship leads in two directions: (1) discerning every contradictory thread and inferring various factions, and (2) interpreting the whole text by inferring poetic license. So a whole panoply of figurative devices is promoted for hermeneutics and a playwright’s brew of characters is encouraged for historical studies.

There is an alternative to this game: reading the text not too literally and not too metaphorically. That is how people normally speak and it works rather well. People who are called biblical literalists usually do this and are able to reconcile supposed contradictions through a natural but close reading of the text. Those who are most opposed to literalism are the ones who follow the kind of scholarship I have outlined and end up with a one-two punch of a very literal reading (rejected) followed by an excessively metaphorical reading that knocks out the intended meaning.

Religion in Ngrams

Google’s Ngram Viewer gives the frequencies of words and phrases in books since about 1800. It is an interesting way of looking at history in the last two centuries. What follows are some observations about the usage of words associated with religion and Christianity:

Usage of the word religion has gradually decreased since 1810, steeply until 1860. The words virtue, virtues and virtuous have declined since 1810. Trinity has decreased since 1815.

The words priest and pastor are parallel with priest more common and both declining moderately since 1860.

Several words have declined since 1840: irreligious, evil, wicked, church, God, Jesus Christ, Christianity. The word theology had a peak in 1890 and a trough in 1940. Christian declined from 1850 to 1920 then leveled off.

The words atheism and atheist decreased until 1920 then leveled off. The terms evangelical (or Evangelical) and reformed (or Reformed) declined from the 1840s to 1920 then leveled off.

The words moral and prayer declined from 1840 to 1940 then leveled off. Holy Spirit decreased from 1840 to 1940 then increased as Holy Ghost declined.

Contrary to this trend Christmas increased from the 1830s to the 1940s, declined until 1970 and then has increased since then. Charles Dickens’ novella A Christmas Carol was published in December 1843 and likely contributed to the rise.

The words secular and secularism have increased since 1920. The phrase organized religion took off from 1900 to 1940, and has oscillated since then.

Bible peaked in the 1850s but has been on the rise since the 1970s. Bible study had a steep peak in 1915, declined to the 1940s, and a steep rise since the 1970s.

So the period 1840 to 1920 had a general decline in usage of religious words. Since then it is more mixed: some decline but also some increases, Bible study being the most dramatic.

Toward a biblical YEC philosophy

A biblical young-earth creationist (BYEC) is someone who believes that the Bible shows the earth to be relatively young, that is, created within the last ten thousand years. As such there are BYECs in all the major branches of Christianity and so while they agree about the age of the earth, they do not agree about many other matters. Yet it is clear that among those actively concerned with origins, the typical BYEC is someone who considers the Bible to be the first and last authority in matters of faith and science. So we will accept that as our starting point.

Now why would a biblical young-earth creationist want to develop a philosophy? One reason is to justify to others inferences made from the Bible about the created world. That may seem strange to some: why is philosophy required to justify inferences about the Bible? The answer is philosophy is not required but it may help. One might say, for example, after making an inference from the Bible: Meditate on this biblical passage until you see the validity of the inference. That might be sufficient for someone to understand the inference. But it might not. The person may come back and say: I meditated on the biblical passage but I still don’t see the inference. At that point one might explain how to make inferences from biblical passages in general. That would involve doing philosophy.

Another reason a biblical young-earth creationist might want to develop a philosophy would be to justify inferences about the created world. That may also seem strange to some: why is philosophy required to justify inferences about the created world? The answer is again that philosophy is not required but it may help. One might say, for example, after making an inference about the created world: study these phenomena in light of the Bible until you see the validity of the inference. Again, that might be sufficient for someone to understand the inference but it might not. The person may come back and say: I meditated on the phenomena in light of the Bible but I still don’t see the inference. At that point one might explain how to make inferences from phenomena in light of the Bible in general. That would involve doing philosophy.

A deeper reason why a biblical young-earth creationist might want to develop a philosophy would be to justify the belief that the Bible is authoritative in matters of science. Here it is not unusual for creationists and others to say that belief that the Bible is authoritative in matters of science is part of their worldview and cannot be justified to those with different worldviews. That could end many conversations with those who are not biblical young-earth creationists. But if there were a philosophy that allowed the justification of biblical young-earth creationism, then there would be greater possibilities for conversations with those who did not agree with biblical young-earth creationism or did not understand how such a belief could possibly be justified in this day and age. So a philosophy would have an apologetic value for communicating and defending biblical young-earth creationism in general.

With that, let us see if we can at least begin to develop a biblical young-earth creationist philosophy. At this point, someone who knows something of various philosophies might very well tell us that we were embarking on an idealist philosophy. That is, they might well say that for us the Bible has provided true ideas of what reality is like and so reality for us is defined in terms of the true ideas in the Bible. We might reply, Not so fast — we’ve just begun this project. But this might make us a little more cautious about how we proceed.

At this point someone who knows philosophy might say, The Bible is a text so every word has to be interpreted; you must subscribe to the so-called ‘linguistic turn’ in modern philosophy. We look this up and read,

“Where word breaks off no thing may be”: this is the line from a poem by Stefan George repeatedly cited by Martin Heidegger to indicate his version of the linguistic turn, which affected many philosophers in the early twentieth century …

They explain that our version of this is, “Where Bible breaks off no thing may be”. Since the Bible defines reality, the science of hermeneutics – interpretation – is the key to philosophy and theology, too. Our head may start to spin a little here. No, that is not what we mean. But now we have to be extra careful how to proceed.

We have begun with the Bible as the first and last authority in matters of faith and science but is that really all we have begun with? The Bible is a book which exists on paper or in other forms such as audio recordings or digital representations – so do we accept that books and other media are real? Do we have to go to the Bible to assure us that books and other media are real? Surely we know that books and other media are real without consulting the Bible. And what about the chair we are sitting on or the floor under our feet? Do we have to consult the Bible to know that they are real? Surely not.

So we can safely grant that the commonsense things of life are real without consulting the Bible. Books and chairs and people and things we deal with in everyday life are real and no Bible or philosophy is needed to know this.

At this point someone who knows something of various philosophies might well tell us that we have turned toward materialist philosophy. We acknowledge the existence of material objects and that the Bible is a book on paper or other media which are material entities so for us reality must be primarily material and only secondarily what we get from the Bible. We might again reply, Not so fast – we’re still trying to think this through. But this might make us a little more cautious about the world of material objects.

At this point someone who knows the Bible might start asking questions. They might say for example, What about Abraham in Genesis 18? In verse one it says: “The LORD appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day.” Then in verse two it says, “Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.” In Genesis 18:1 it says the LORD appeared and in Genesis 18:2 it says three men appeared. Mere common sense would have seen three men but not the LORD. For that, Abraham needed revelation and we need the Bible.

Quite so. But note the fact that Abraham saw three men did not invalidate the revelation that the LORD appeared to him. The common sense perception of three men was perfectly compatible with the revelation that the LORD was there. So acknowledging the reality that common sense provides us is consistent with acknowledging the authority of the Bible.

Fourfold Gospel

There is one Gospel but four ways of understanding it.  These correspond to the four “Gospels”, that is, the Gospel according to Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John.  They each emphasize different aspects of the good news of Jesus Christ.  For example, see Characteristic Differences of the Four Gospels (which Kregel Publications calls “Four Views of Christ”) by Andrew Jukes.

The fourfold Gospel includes a fourfold atonement corresponding to the key roles and accomplishments of Jesus Christ:

(1) Victor:  He overcame death, hell, sin, and Satan, that is, evil and all its manifestations, without denying the rights of Satan and his minions.  Christ is Lord, King, and Ruler of all.

(2) Sacrifice:  He provided a way for God to forgive us without compromising righteousness.  He did this by satisfying the requirements of justice on our behalf.  Christ is Priest, Lamb, and Temple for all.

(3) Mediator:  He restored our relationship to God, that is, overcame our alienation from God, without ignoring the development of our alienation.  Christ is Prophet and Intercessor for all.

(4) Exemplar:  He embodied the way, the truth, and the life of God, showing us how to live, what to think, and which actions to take.  Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

2005