Who God Is

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We can’t exhaustively define God, of course, but this description cited by Dallas Willard is edifying.

God is “the eternal, independent, and self-existent Being; the Being whose purposes and actions spring from Himself, without foreign motive or influence; he who is absolute in dominion; the most pure, the most simple, the most spiritual of all essences; infinitely perfect; and eternally self-sufficient, needing nothing that he has made; illimitable in his immensity, inconceivable in his mode of existence, and indescribable in his essence; known fully only by himself, because an infinite mind can only be fully comprehended by itself.  In a word, a Being who, from his infinite wisdom, cannot err or be deceived, and from his infinite goodness, can do nothing but what is eternally just, and right, and kind.”

— Adam Clarke in Cyclopaedia, vol. 3 (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1894), 903-4, quoted by Dallas Willard in Knowing Christ Today, chapter 4, n. 1.

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Science and the Early Church

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“In Augustine’s influential view, then, knowledge of the things of this world is not a legitimate end in itself, but as a means to other ends it is indispensable.  The classical sciences must accept a subordinate position as the handmaiden of theology and religion—the temporal serving the eternal.  The knowledge contained in classical sciences is not to be loved, but it may legitimately be used.  . . .

“Does endowing scientific knowledge with handmaiden status constitute a serious blow against scientific progress?  Are the critics of the early church right in viewing it as the opponent of genuine science?  I would like to make three points in reply.

(1) It is certainly true that the fathers of the early Christian church did not view support of the classical sciences as a major obligation.  These sciences had low priority for the church fathers, for whom the major concerns were (quite properly) the establishment of Christian doctrine, defense of the faith, and the edification of believers.

But (2), low or medium priority was far from zero priority.  Throughout the Middle Ages and well into the modern period the handmaiden formula was employed countless times to justify the investigation of nature.  Indeed, some of the most celebrated achievements of the Western scientific tradition were made by religious scholars who justified their labors (at least in part) by appeal to the handmaiden formula.

(3) No institution or cultural force of the patristic period offered more encouragement for the investigation of nature than did the Christian church.  Contemporary pagan culture was no more favorable to disinterested speculation about the cosmos than was Christian culture.  It follows that the presence of the Christian church enhanced, rather than damaged, the development of the natural sciences.”

— David C. Lindberg in Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science and Religion, ed. Ronald L. Numbers, 16, 17.

The Chalcedonian Formula

The Chalcedonian Formula is “the theological conclusion of the Ecumenical Council held in Chalcedon (A.D. 451), which attempted to delineate the relationship between Christ’s humanity and his deity.  The church accepted the Chalcedonian formula as the orthodox statement about the person of Christ.”

Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms (IVP, 1999), 24.

Concerning the Incarnation, the creed states,

We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach people to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable [rational] soul and body; consubstantial [co-essential] with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten God (μονογενῆ Θεὸν), the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ; as the prophets from the beginning [have declared] concerning Him, and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us.”

Blessings to you as you celebrate Christ’s coming!

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Further Critiques of the “God Delusion”

The God Delusion

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I’ve made reference to several fine critiques of the new atheists and their books (for example, here, here, and here), but I am always happy to add more—especially from those who are outside the evangelical fold, which hopefully serves to show that our own (similar) critiques aren’t simply payback in kind.  The one below comes from H. Allen Orr, a biology professor at the University of Rochester, in the New York Review of Books.

“Despite my admiration for much of Dawkins’s work, I’m afraid that I’m among those scientists who must part company with him here. Indeed, The God Delusion seems to me badly flawed. Though I once labeled Dawkins a professional atheist, I’m forced, after reading his new book, to conclude he’s actually more an amateur. I don’t pretend to know whether there’s more to the world than meets the eye and, for all I know, Dawkins’s general conclusion is right. But his book makes a far from convincing case.

The most disappointing feature of The God Delusion is Dawkins’s failure to engage religious thought in any serious way. This is, obviously, an odd thing to say about a book-length investigation into God. But the problem reflects Dawkins’s cavalier attitude about the quality of religious thinking. Dawkins tends to dismiss simple expressions of belief as base superstition. Having no patience with the faith of fundamentalists, he also tends to dismiss more sophisticated expressions of belief as sophistry (he cannot, for instance, tolerate the meticulous reasoning of theologians). But if simple religion is barbaric (and thus unworthy of serious thought) and sophisticated religion is logic-chopping (and thus equally unworthy of serious thought), the ineluctable conclusion is that all religion is unworthy of serious thought.

The result is The God Delusion, a book that never squarely faces its opponents. You will find no serious examination of Christian or Jewish theology in Dawkins’s book (does he know Augustine rejected biblical literalism in the early fifth century?), no attempt to follow philosophical debates about the nature of religious propositions (are they like ordinary claims about everyday matters?), no effort to appreciate the complex history of interaction between the Church and science (does he know the Church had an important part in the rise of non-Aristotelian science?), and no attempt to understand even the simplest of religious attitudes (does Dawkins really believe, as he says, that Christians should be thrilled to learn they’re terminally ill?).”

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The Magisterial vs. Ministerial Role of Reason

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“But what about . . . the role of argument and evidence in knowing Christianity to be true?  I’ve already said that it is the self-authenticating witness of the Holy Spirit that gives us the fundamental knowledge of Christianity’s truth.  Therefore, the only role left for argument and evidence to play is a subsidiary role.  I think Martin Luther correctly distinguished between what he called the magisterial and ministerial uses of reason.

“The magisterial use of reason occurs when reason stands over and above the gospel like a magistrate and judges it on the basis of argument and evidence.  The ministerial use of reason occurs when reason submits to and serves the gospel.  In light of the Spirit’s witness, only the ministerial use of reason is legitimate.  Philosophy is rightly the handmaid of theology.  Reason is a tool to help us better understand and defend our faith; as Anselm put it, ours is a faith that seeks understanding.  A person who knows that Christianity is true on the basis of the witness of the Spirit may also have a sound apologetic which reinforces or confirms for him the Spirit’s witness, but it does not serve as the basis of his belief.

“If the arguments of natural theology and Christian evidences are successful, then Christian belief is warranted by such arguments and evidences for the person who grasps them, even if that person would still be warranted in their absence.  Such a person is doubly warranted in his Christian belief, in the sense that he enjoys two sources of warrant.”

— William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith (Crossway, 2008), 47-48.

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Dallas Willard on Worldviews

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“You cannot ‘opt out’ of having a worldview.  You can only try to have one that most accords with reality, including the whole realm of facts concerning what is genuinely good.  What is true of individuals in this respect is also true of social groups and even whole societies or nations.

“One’s worldview need not be recognized as such to have its effects.  Much of it lies outside our consciousness in the moment of action, embedded in our body and its social environment, including our history, language, and culture.  It radiates throughout our life as background assumptions, in thoughts too deep for words.  But any thoughtful observer can discern the essential outlines of what it is.

“What we assume to be real and what we assume to be valuable will govern our attitudes and our actions.  Period.  And usually without thinking.  But most people do not recognize that they have a worldview, and usually it is one that is borrowed, in bits and pieces, from the social environment in which we are reared.  It may not even be self-consistent.

“. . . [B]ecause worldview is so influential, it is also dangerous.  Worldview is where we most need to have knowledge, that is, secured truth.  Perhaps we cannot have knowledge of our worldview as a whole, and some parts of it will then always consist of mere belief or commitment.  But for some parts we can have knowledge if we put forth appropriate efforts, and some parts of some worldviews can certainly be known to be false.”

— from Knowing Christ Today: Why We Can Trust Spiritual Knowledge (HarperOne, 2009), 44, 45.

* For numerous resources by Dallas Willard, see his website.

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Would Christ Have Come Even If Man Had Not Sinned?

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“[T]he primary purpose of the Incarnation, according to the Christian creeds, was ‘for us and for our salvation.’  However, philosophically minded theologians have given some thought to the wider implications of that ‘for us.’  One way of doing so is to ask, as Austin Farrer did, whether Christ would have come even if the human race had never sinned.  Farrer’s answer was a categorical yes.

Christ would still have come to transform human hope, and to bring men into a more privileged association with their Creator than they could otherwise enjoy.  For it is by the descent of God into man that the life of God takes on a form with which we have a direct sympathy and personal union.

. . . [Richard] Swinburne expresses some doubt as to whether there are strong arguments allowing us ‘to say what God would have done under certain unrealized circumstances,’ but he does consider a number of reasons, over and above the soteriological ones, why God might well become incarnate.  Incarnation would manifest divine solidarity with God’s creatures; it would demonstrate the dignity of human nature; it would reveal the nature and extent of God’s love for his personal creatures; it would exemplify an ideal human life; and it would provide uniquely authoritative teaching.  A sixth reason, based on God’s willingness to subject himself to suffering and evil, spells out the themes of solidarity and love . . . ”

— Brian Hebblethwaite, Philosophical Theology and Christian Doctrine, 70-71.

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