Conservative Theology

May 27, 2009

General / Shallow vs Deep Apologetics


One thing that is frustrating about the conservative movement, is the tendency in the last century to practice what I call "shallow apologetics".  Shallow apologetics is an attempt to defend the scripture or practice of the Church using the simplest means available.  It often means memorizing formulas or answers to questions.

Now, on its face, this has some value.  It builds up the congregation by providing answers to questions, and doing so at a level which is comprehensible to the largest group of parishioners.  But I will argue that this sort of benefit is largely temporary, and in fact is one of the reasons we are losing the culture war.

So what is the alternative?  The alternative is "deep apologetics".  Deep apologetics is looking into the faith in a way which engages the mind on a deep level, and is not satisfied with shallow answers.  This usually produces some of what I consider to be shallow apologetics, but the difference is that deep apologetics does not view the formulas and answers as the final goal, but rather looks at discovering the order of God's Creation as the final goal.  The fact that it can provide near-term answers is an added bonus.

The shallow apologists are looking to refute something, while the deep apologists are looking to learn something.  Notice that in shallow apologetics, it is the skeptics of the faith who set the agenda, while in deep apologetics it is the faithful who do so.  This is why shallow apologetics, if it is the main feature of the apologetics enterprise, is destined to lose.  Eventually someone is going to figure out that the shallow apologist is not producing anything of value, but merely holding on to what he has.  Think of the parable of the talents.  The shallow apologists are the ones who simply bury their talent it in the ground, and dig it back up when God asks for it.  Shallow apologetics does not bear fruit, precisely because it does not aim to.  Deep apologetics provides a harvest for the future precisely because that is where it aims.

This used to be known as "academics."  Unfortunately, in the current academic environment, anyone who starts their reasoning from scripture, or norms their reasoning by scripture, is considered unacademic.  That is a travesty of the highest order.  The very institutions which were established to provide a harvest for the future of the faith have excluded faithful reasoning from their repertoire.  And so, when we wonder where is the intellectual harvest of the Church is, we find that the institutions charged with its production have decided to simply do something else.

We need to return our minds to the task of understanding God's world - scientific, political, cultural, sociological, and historical, from a perspective that is explicitly and intentionally Christian.  Since others have burned the crops which the Church has contributed to, we must begin in earnest rebuilding the storehouse of faithful reason for the future of the faith.

May 16, 2009

General / Why I'm Happy to be a Fundamentalist


There are lots of definitions of Fundamentalism floating around.  A lot of people in the Church are quick to say, "oh no, I'm not a fundamentalist!"  I got that sense, for instance, reading N.T. Wright's The Last Word.  He wanted to distance himself from the "fundamentalists" while at the same time holding many positions many people think of as fundamentalist.  The reaction is understandable - the term "fundamentalism" is used by many people in academia and public policy as a reason for not listening to someone - if you can be labelled as a "fundamentalist", then you simply don't count as a rational human being.  You can be set aside with other sorts of crazies and ignored for all practical purposes.  Plantinga has a great little section about Fundamentalism in this sense (from his book Warranted Christian Belief which I have not yet read but should).  

The fact is, most people from the left who use the term "fundamentalism" to discount people's ideas, actually use the term for anyone who believes in a God who answers prayer.  This includes many Christians on the left who use this term (they are essentially deists, but maintain some aspects of Christian tradition and practice).  So, the first reason why I'm proud to hold the title fundamentalist is that I try not to set my rule of faith based on what other people want me to believe.  The fact is that most people are cowering from the term fundamentalism simply because of the negative connotations that others are giving it.  But if we let our detractors set the standards for our beliefs, what good are they, or are we?  We cannot let others redefine ourselves into their image based on what others are willing to believe.

So what are the reasons for being a "fundamentalist"?  Well, there are two main areas which I want to explore.

First of all, the term "fundamentalism" comes, at least for the most part, from the fundamentalist-modernist controversy in the beginning of the 20th century.  Probably the best book on the subject is Machen's Christianity and Liberalism.  Although some people claim that there were a set number of fundamentals, the fact is that there was no agreed upon number.  The 5 fundamentals that most people consider to be characteristic of fundamentalists (and I won't disagree) were established by the Presbyterian Church in 1910.  Before reading them, I want to ask you, are you a fundamentalist by these beliefs?  Here they are:


  • The historical reality of Christ's miracles
  • The bodily resurrection of Christ
  • The belief that God used Christ's death as an atonement for sin
  • The virgin birth of Christ
  • The belief in the inerrancy of scripture

Now, be honest, based on those beliefs, how far are you, really, from being a fundamentalist?  So when someone labels you a "fundamentalist", for the most part what I interpret them as saying is that anyone who believes any of these notions is stupid.  From this list, for my Christian friends who eschew the label of "fundamentalist", the only one of these beliefs they might have a problem with is inerrancy.  Yet, if you use Machen's description of the Christian belief about the Bible, it would include anyone who believes that the Bible is uniquely inspired, whether or not it contained any errors.

But the reason that I like the term fundamentalism goes a little deeper than that - it goes more to the heart of what fundamentalists were trying to do than the specific set of beliefs they came up with.  I consider fundamentalism more as a mode of thought than anything.  And the other mode of though it usually stands in contrast with is "progressivism".  Now, before I describe their differences, keep in mind that I don't totally hate progressivism - there are certainly some very good aspects of it which I think are important - but rather I think fundamentalism is a better default mode of thought.

I define these two terms - progressivism and fundamentalism - in terms of the primary question that they are asking.  The progressive thought is "Here we are, let's decide where we want to go and make a plan to get there from here".  As I said, there are many things to like about progressivism.  But let's look at fundamentalism's basic attitude - "Here we are, what was the purpose in our coming here, and why did we bother with this path?  What was our goal and how are we doing in achieving that?"

Fundamentalism attempts to connect with past generations and try to understand where they are in relation to the goals and dreams of the past.  In addition, it looks at the current situation and asks, "what are we doing here, and how does it align with our mission?" Progressivism attempts to rewrite the goals in every generation, while fundamentalism attempts to live in continuity with the past, and tries to understand the goals deeper and deeper every generation.  We don't always succeed in that :)  But that is the difference as I see it between the two.

To give an example, I want to refer us to the Internet bubble in the stock market around the turn of the millenium.  In terms of financial practice, you had the "fundamentalists" which evaluated businesses based on a historical criteria of earnings and earning potential.  On the other hand you had the "progressives" who thought that the old way of thinking was out of date in the new markets, and that instead of looking to the "fundamentals" we should be looking at "mind-share".  This was profitable for a time, but eventually we found that looking at the fundamentals of a company didn't cease to be important just because it was unpopular.  The fundamentalists would ask the question, "what was the point of starting a company?  Oh yeah, to make money - let's do that" while the progressives would ask, "okay, we're in a company, what do we really want to do instead?"

Again, there is a place for progressive thought.  But, in general, I think that our default mode should be to remember why we are here and what our purpose is, in continuity with the purpose of the Church historically.  Our new pursuits should always be done by asking the question of how this fits in with the historical purposes and guidelines of the Church.  That doesn't mean we can't ask good questions about the Church's historical purposes, goals, and beliefs, but that our general baseline should be to live in continuity with them, and we should take extreme caution in any fundamental revision we make. 

And that is why I am happy to be a fundamentalist.


April 10, 2009

General / Ghosts


Ghosts are not anything I regularly put in a lot of intellectual time on, but Parchment and Pen recently did a very interesting overview of the relationship between concepts of "ghosts" and the Bible.  

March 17, 2009

General / Leadership Practicum for New Leadership Styles

Getting Away from Command and Control


Mark Riddle is hosting a leadership training seminar for new styles of leadership which are different from the command and control model, but which focus on helping the Church grow as a community of gifted people.

If Church leadership is your thing - check it out!

January 28, 2009

General / Christian Rock Radio


A friend just sent me this link -- I'd thought I'd share it with you:

January 14, 2009

General / The Terribly Irritating Thing about Liberal Theology


The one thing about liberalism that I find terribly, terribly irritating is that they seem to have this constant, almost dizzying, switch that goes back and forth between materialism and supernaturalism.  On the one hand, they take everything "science" says about materialism as if it were the gospel, and then, apparently wherever they feel like, they make assertions about how the will acts, or God's action in the world.  It is absolutely dizzying.

There's a constant need to redefine everything from truly spiritual terms to more physical terms - like redefining spirituality as "inner transformation" (note that inner transformation leaves God entirely out of the picture), making all behavior the product of genetics, and other things.  And then, somewhere out of the blue, in pops God and free will.  But of course, only for a brief moment, and there is no way to discern why we should be thinking in terms of God and free will in those isolated instances when every other association with them has been broken using materialism.

December 19, 2008

General / Proselytizing


A friend of mine pointed to a great video about proselytizing.  The short form of it is that if you believe that salvation is in Jesus, and you don't proselytize, how much must you hate someone?

I have problems proselytizing.  In fact, most of the big issues that I care most deeply about I don't wind up following through with (faith in Christ and abortion to be two big ones).  I'm not quite sure why that is.  The way I justify it to myself (rightly or wrongly) is that the problems are usually bigger than a short-and-quick interaction will be able to solve, and that the surface solutions to those problems (i.e. proselytizing and political campaigning or picketing) aren't necessarily long-term solutions to the problem.  Especially in the case of proselytizing, since ours is a culture that knows about Jesus already, I'm always unsure whether my particular contribution in the form of proselytizing will be helpful rather than hurtful.

So, with regards to the big issues, I often feel, well, stuck.  Everybody knows what Christianity is, and everyone knows the arguments against abortion.  And yet, the world (at least the US) seems to be going a different direction.  With proselytizing, I feel like I'll just be one more added to the "crazies" category as a reason for people not to be a Christian. 

The way I've handled it to this point is to simply be a Christian and try to follow Jesus, and not hesitate to make Christ the center of my decision-making (this doesn't always happen, but indeed it is a goal), and so hopefully Christ will speak through me to people for whom actually talking might be less than helpful.  In addition, it is my hope that with this blog (among other things) I might help bring the Church back to its foundations, so that we can all live as a public witness to this world again.

Should I be proselytizing?  Probably.  But I just feel stuck.

December 16, 2008

General / Theology Around the Web


A Few interesting conversations going on:

Emergent Village argues against Sola Scriptura

Here is an excellent post on the argument between the "faith of Christ" vs. "faith in Christ" question.  The argument is that πιστεως χριστου is a larger, more-encompassing term than either of those translations.  Instead, "the Christ Faith" should be preferred (perhaps, to use a slight anachronism, "Christianity" is a proper translation).

Art has led me into covetousness.

Here is an interesting interview with an Evolutionary Creationist.  As is often the case, I just didn't the feeling that he "got" what either Intelligent Design or Creationism were all about.  In the first case, he criticized Intelligent Design for not having a theory of origins.  Of course, the reason for that is because Intelligent Design is a theory of causation, not origins!  He then criticized Creationism, but failed to engage in its cornerstone - flood geology and its relationship to Genesis 6-9.  Now, the real interesting thing is that Young-Earth Creationism was actually one of the things which caused him to be saved!  As I said, it's a very interesting interview, well worth your time. 

Here is a very interesting review of the Creation Museum.  Based on who it is who is reviewing the museum, I'll count it as extremely positive.  I ran across this when it first came out, but then never could find it again.  Basically, the reviewer was expecting to find the Creation Museum to be put together by people who didn't know science.  He found out that he was wrong - they knew the science better than he did, and their explanations of their reasoning was based on modern postmodern philosophy.  He didn't convert or anything, but you can see how, despite his extreme annoyance with YEC, the beginnings of some respect start to show through.

This looks like a great conference, but its on the wrong side of the pond.

How someone's life was torn apart because of a $100 donation.

Ancient Hebrew Poetry has a whole slew of interesting posts on translation issues.  I accidentally linked that back-to-front, so start reading with the last link and work backwards :)

Also a great post about the Judeo-Christian historical metanarrative.


December 04, 2008

General / The Emergence of Evangelicalism from Fundamentalism


I have just submitted a paper for my Christianity in the United States class on the emergence of two groups from early 20th century fundamentalism, which I classify as the Evangelical Middle and the Evangelical Right.  I give a short review of their historical and intellectual developments.  I have also added an addendum for my friends and blog readers in which I give the reasons why I consider myself part of the Evangelical Right and not the Evangelical Middle.

The paper is in PDF format - download it here.  Let me know if you have problems downloading it.  If I get time, I might post some summaries of different parts of the paper.

July 23, 2008

General / Shermer and the Church on Science and Theology


Michael Shermer has an editorial in the Ottawa Citizen criticizing Intelligent Design, or any theological understanding of science.  He says that you can believe in both science and God as long as you keep them in "logic-tight compartments".  How nice for the atheist to throw us a bone.

His main point, which has been repeated by him and others like him, is that science is about mechanism, and saying "God did it" isn't a mechanism.  But what Shermer misses is that understanding something in terms of its logical causes actually minimizes the importance of the physical causes.  For instance, if I write a computer program, there will be an interaction of both my purposes for the computer program, and the biochemistry in my body that allows me to write it.

In fact, the most important cause for the computer program is not the biochemistry.

If, for instance, I got a spinal chord injury and was unable to type, and started using voice-based typing, you would still wind up with the same program in the end!  Thus, there are multiple possible physical causation sequences, each hideously complex, having little to do with each other, which all lead to the same result.  Why?  Because the physical cause is relatively unimportant compared with the purposeful for which I am writing it.  In fact, after it is written, discovery of the process of engineering it becomes impossible from the code itself, especially since, as I just pointed out,  there are multiple, radically different, sequences of biochemical activity which took place.

So, if life is designed, then the quest to search for the mechanisms the designer used may be missing the point entirely!  That's not to say we should prevent them from trying, only to say that the idea that physical causation is the only avenue which is legitimate to search is stupid.

Unfortunately, Shermer also sees ID as a science stopper - as if the questions stop if "God did it" was determined for the cause.  In fact, the whole scientific enterprise arose from people who said "God did it" and then wanted to know more!  Christians tend to be fascinated with the things God has done, and that encourages the study of it, it doesn't discourage it.  Let's look, shall we?

  • Geology as we know it started when Nicholaus Steno decided to investigate the Biblical flood.  He believed "God did it", and wanted to know what happened after.  And so geology was born.
  • All of the astronomers believed that "God did it", and so studied the night sky intensely in order to understand the movements of these beautiful objects God gave us.   "God did it", and so astronomy was born.
  • Linnaeus was fascinated with all of the types of creatures that God had made.  He wanted to know everything that God had made, and how it relates to the other things God made.  "God did it", and so the modern persuit of biology was born.
  • Gregor Mendel wasn't satisfied with the idea of continuous evolution, and sought to show the differences between things that were made compared to the variations that occurred in nature.  "God did it", and so genetics was born.

That's just a sampling.  In the history of science, "God did it" has been the number one cause for innovative breakthroughs in science.  To say that "God did it" is a science stopper is laughably stupid.

He then goes on to make the following argument:

The problem with all of these attempts at blending science and religion may be found in a single principle: A is A. Or: Reality is real. To attempt to use nature to prove the supernatural is a violation of A is A. It is an attempt to make reality unreal. A cannot also be non-A. Nature cannot also be non-Nature. Naturalism cannot also be supernaturalism.

In order to drive his point home, Shermer makes what he thinks is a deep theological point:

If there is a God, the avenue to Him is not through science and reason, but through faith and revelation. If there is a God, He will be so wholly Other that no science can reach Him, especially not the science that calls itself intelligent design.

This is quite interesting theologizing from an atheist!  If Shermer is certain there is no God, how does he think he knows how to reach God?  I think it is simply a case of imposing his wishes on reality - Shermer does not want God to have anything to do with science, and therefore proposes that if there is a God, he cannot possibly have anything to do with reality.  How convenient for Shermer.

Those of us who actually do believe in God believe that God is active within reality.  Even those with a more "spiritual" notion of God's actions (i.e. that God doesn't do physical miracles but only heart miracles), still have a God who is actively at work within reality. What's interesting is I think most Christians who embrace evolution in order to be "pro-science" don't really understand what it is that many of the evolutionists like Shermer are really asking of us.  By simply saying, "we agree with science" (especially those who follow Gould's NOMA philosophy) and then actively trying to maintain the same science/faith distinction Shermer does, they undermine themselves unknowingly, because such air-tight compartmentalization means that God has nothing to do with the world as we see it.

Unfortunately, many denominations take to the mythology that science is a unified voice, and that it is free of theological influences.  They speak of religion and science not being mutually exclusive.  Well, earth to out-of-touch theologians, no one - that is, not anyone that I've ever met - thinks that religion and science are mutually exclusive, except for anti-IDists like Michael Shermer. There are certain scientific theories that are objected to, but why should that be cause for concern or considered out of place?  It is well within theology's realm to both criticize and contribute to science, and on theological grounds.  Many of the great scientists of history have used theology to shape their scientific inquiry.  The only reason why this mode of reasoning is considered invalid is because of a group of people who are trying to irradicate religion.  

Therefore, while I am not a fan of molecules-to-man evolution, it doesn't bother me nearly as much that there are churches that believe in that, as it is that these churches are playing the appeaser not to science, but to atheists and skeptics who are trying to destroy religion.  And these churches are playing the science card not by the logic of scientific inquiry, but instead on the logic of atheistic materialism, while at the same time denying that materialism.

And they don't even know that it is happening.  Because of their own lack of understanding of science, they simply take the skeptic's word for it that "this is what science says," and they go with it.

See the thing is, the theologians don't understand that a substantial part of evolutionary theory comes not from evidence, but instead from a different kind of "faith".  See what Shermer said in a debate recently:

You see at some point you have to have some bottom up natural forces to answer the question where did life come from, where did all this complexity come from in the first place. Positing something from the top down simply begs the question, yeah interesting, but where did that come from? And where did that come from? At some point to do science you have to have some bottom up forces at work here.

 By "top down" he means design, and by "bottom up" he means naturalistic forms of evoltuion such as natural selection.What he's saying is that "top down" isn't valid as a cause at all.  This is the understanding that is problematic.  If you want the church to legitimately participate in the intellectual discussion of the day, it must must must speak to these sorts of theological assumptions in scienc, or else the church will simply fall victim to the theologies of atheists by promoting those theologies themselves. And then, in order to be intellectually responsible, it must go back and examine current mainstream theories in science on that basis, and be discerning on what it keeps and what it doesn't keep, and have good reasons for doing so - not just because "science" says so.

UPDATE - for more problems with Shermer's faulty reasonings, see this discussion at Uncommon Descent.