Monday, October 7, 2013

A Response to Albert Mohler Jr.

Just recently, Albert Mohler Jr. wrote a blog post on the question "should Christian parents send their children to public school?" As a Christian and a public school teacher I think there are issues with Dr. Mohler's post. 

Mohler's Analysis in sum 
Dr. Mohler provides a short history of education from the late 1800s to the 1980s. He says American education originated in "the village." Parents controlled most of the curriculum in their child's school. This began to change with the arrival of the industrial revolution. Cities grew and farm life shrunk. Yet, parents still had a major voice in public schools. 

Things changed. "Educational authorities... pushed for a 'progressive' understanding of education." People like John Dewey pushed for a "liberalism," forced through the separation of church and state, and taught secularism. This took a long time. Also, the Supreme Court handed down decisions that destroyed the local communities. The parent lost control over their children's education. Mohler calls this an "ideological revolution."

Everything from homosexuality, evolution, postmodern concept of truth, revisionism in history and naturalism are coming into the schools. If your school doesn't have it, it soon will. Yes, there are Christian educators, but that's not how things were. So, Christian parents are now saying no. 

Mohler's Answer 
Dr. Mohler doesn't give an answer to the question. I think he implies his answer with statements like"If these developments have not come to your local school, they almost surely will soon." He sounds more like a prophet then a theologian.  

What is wrong with this Analysis
The basic problem with Mohler's analysis is he is not doing theology. He reduces American educational history to this: American education was going really well until the big guys in Washington stepped in and messed it up. This is a philosophical and historical point.  He is giving a philosophical analysis of the state and history of education. He hasn't given a Biblical argument except that parent's have a Biblical responsibility for their children's education.  

I think this is a case where Dr. Mohler needs to be quiet. He is in higher education, not secondary or elementary. He is a theologian, not a historian or educator. He is not working in his role. Let those who are trained in this area do the historical analysis and philosophical work. 

Monday, September 30, 2013

A Thought on Phenomenology

I am taking Phenomenology and Existentialism this semester. I am gaining an understanding of early and mid-20th century philosophy. We have read Husserl, Ponty and now Arendt. They are timely because many theological developments occur during this time. (For instance, the beginning of the culture wars and theological splits in churches.)

I also am understanding why I find continental philosophy to be full of a lot of “huhs” and “duhs.” What I understand, I find to be plainly true and not controversial. What I don’t understand, there seems to be little ways to go about understanding it. What I disagree with, I find no argument to wrestle with. Perhaps it has to do with my background in analytical philosophy, but a professors word of wisdom on continental philosophy was helpful. "Continental philosophy is either nonsense or common." 

Friday, April 5, 2013

How Much are you Eating?

This post is an accumulation of thoughts and conversations with various peoples through the years.

Around the time I started to study philosophy at Taylor, my younger sister and I had a conversation about how much philosophy is helpful to read. She mentioned that our neighbor and elder in the church said we ought to read more of the Bible then any other book. At the time we both found this preposterous since I was finding myself reading up to hundreds of pages of philosophy in a week.

Soon after, I was walking with my older brother about music. Back then there was a lot of discussion about what type of music was helpful to listen to, particularly rock and CCM. At the time, he thought it helpful to understood rock music like candy. A little can be fun and ok, but too much and you'll get sick.

Last summer, this same brother convinced me to listen to a sermon series. I struggle to listen to sermons, and they have been of little help in my life. There is really only one pastor's sermons who have been of great spiritual significance in my life. Anyway, he convinced me to listen to this series on assurance of salvation. He made the point that it's important to have a large quantity of spiritual things in our lives. At the time, and for a while by then, I thought it was more important to have a few high quality things in our spiritual life.

I listened to the sermons. Didn't get much out of them. These three stories have one thing in common, quantity of spiritual things. Rarely do we think about the quantity of spiritual things in our lives. We often analyze of the quality of spiritual things, thinking their their orthodoxy and application.

Jeremiah Burrows was a puritan minister who wrote "Gospel Worship." It's a series of sermons he gave about how we ought to worship. In talking about the Lord's Supper, this is what he said. I apologize for the length of the quote, Puritans are always long-winded, but it's worth reading through. If you don't just skip and read my summary below:

This is the communion of the body of Jesus Christ and of his blood, and therefore there ought to be hungering and thirsting desires of the soul after Jesus Christ. Therefore you must take heed that you do not come with your stomachs full of trash, as children do when they can get plums and pears and fill their stomachs with them when they come to your tables. Though there is never so much wholesome diet, they have no mind to it at all.  
So it is with men of the world. They fill their hearts with the trash of this world, with sensual delights, and whence it is that when they come to such a great ordinance to enjoy communion with Jesus Christ, then they feel no want at all of Christ. They only come and take a little piece of bread and a draught of wine, but for any strong, pausing desires to meet with Jesus Christ there in the ordinance, to come so as they know not how to live without Christ, even as a man who is hungry cannot live without his meat and drink, and so for the soul to to have such a disposition after Christ is a rare thing." 
The point being, when we approach the Lord's table, don't be feasting on the things of this world or you will come to the Lord's table with a full stomach of trash. You will not desire to feast on Him.

In the Old Testament, the Kings of Israel were required to read and study the Law day and night. King David expressed a love for God's law (See Psalm 119, all of it). In the New Testament, we see Jesus as a child having a great depth of God's law as a child (Luke 2). Furthermore, Paul himself was well versed in the Law and it almost got him killed a couple times by the Jews, Acts 9. Paul tells the Philippians to approve the things that are excellent in Philippians 1 and later to meditate or think on what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely or praiseworthy. In Revelations, John claims to "be in the spirit" when he received the revelations of things to come. 

By reading more of the Bible then any other book, filling my mind with excellent things then the Lord's Supper becomes much more desirable. Likewise, I find my relationship with Christ to be much stronger and prayer, bible study and worship comes easier to me. If we increase the quantity of spiritual things in our lives then we will desire them more. The more of the Bible I read, the more I enjoy it and realize how much I don't know about it. 

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Worship Service vs. Discipleship

In our church* there is a tension/debate about placing priority on the worship service or discipleship. On one side, you have people claiming that if we just bring people to worship on the Sabbath and place them in front of the pastor and they hear the word, then they'll begin to grow in Christ. On the other side, meet with the person weekly, share your applications from your ABC Bible study, check each other's memory verses and talk.

Arguments for which side? 
It's easy to take a side on this debate depending on how the Holy Spirit has worked in your life. In my life, relationships with men who shared their applications and reviewed memory verses with me have helped me grow in Christ more then listening to sermons on Sunday. On the other hand, there are plenty of people who have grown tremendously from hearing sermons week after week. In fact, some claim that the spirit works primarily through the preaching of the word. Perhaps this means I'm a stunted Christian....

So, what should the church emphasize? Discipleship or the worship service? In answering any question, I have always tried to say "both" as much as possible unless a clear contradictions presents itself when you agree with both sides. So, public worship and discipleship are both of equal importance and worthy of equal emphasis in the church. I haven't understood why this is the correct answer, until now.

A Question that Explains why "both" is right
I've been reading Pipa's work "Public Worship, 101" for a class I'm taking on public worship at 2nd RP. He asks this profound question in chapter 2, "where do we anticipate our most profound encounters with God?" It is profound on a couple levels. First, we encounter God on different levels in different contexts. The question asks whether we work to figure out where? Second, in our relationships with people, we know that there are certain things to anticipate. For instance, I anticipate that I need to converse with my coworkers about NCAA basketball so I make sure to know who is in the Final Four. Likewise, we should anticipate what kindles our relationship with God. Third, where does God most profoundly affect us?

Pipa points to the worship service, citing Revelations 5. If you think about it, the most profound experience we will have with God is going to be in heaven, worshipping King Jesus. The worship service is a preparation for that glorious day, and it's no surprise for us to find that our most profound moments will be in the worship service.

Here is where we pause. At this point, one will think that this means the church ought to emphasize the worship service over anything and everything else since its a preparation for the most glorious encounter with God! It's a "well, duh!" thought. But no, there is more.

Why It is Both
I don't know about you, but if I don't know the people around me and how God is working in their lives, it is difficult for me to worship God with them. It's like being around a really good friend with a stranger. You can't focus on getting to know better your good friend as much.

The greatest and closest encounters I have had with God in a worship service are at my home church, 2nd RP where I know my pastor's life, he knows mine, I am meeting with others in that particular body, and we're praying for each other. If I know the people I'm worshipping with better then I'm much more able to have a close encounter with God.

So if worship is to take a priority in the church, it won't fully blossom unless there is discipleship. At the same, time, discipleship can't fully function on its own since the worship service is a bringing together the body of Christ. It doesn't make sense to neglect Worship when throughout the New Testament worship is seen as a very important part of the Christian life.**

*This debate takes place at my church as well as in theRP Church broadly speaking.
**I myself have noticed that when I miss church, I tend to have a tougher week. I'm crabbier, sullen and things just don't go as smoothly. 

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Do you Want your Youth to Stay in the Church?

It's a dumb question to ask since any church member with the ability to think would say, yes. We don't want our youth to leave the church. This post is in response to Marc5sola's post about why young people leave the church.  We want young people to stay in the church. If they leave for another city or town, we want them to be rooted in a strong community of believers where the gospel is preached.

I almost left the church. Specifically, I almost left the RP church because of the following reasons: 1. are very few people my age. 4. It's hard to relate with many in the church.

I'm not abnormal either. Large numbers of 20-somethings are and have left the church. It's an epidemic right now. If you want to keep your youth in the church, here is how:

You give them leadership positions, you disciple** them and you be honest. 

I have stayed in the church, specifically in the RP church. Here is why. In high school I was given leadership positions. I was a member of CYPU and so four/five times a year I was organizing, helping lead events in the RP church for the presbytery youth.

Also, I once had breakfast with my pastor, and I asked why we don't have a "youth group" at 2nd RP. His explanation, youth groups pull the youth out of the church and create a second church. He then challenged me to take my desires and use them to benefit the church. He challenged me to serve. As as a result, I started to organize and plan various service projects to help others in the church.

Because I was given leadership and challenged to invest in the church as a leader, it was hard for me to leave church. No one leaves what they've invested in very easily.

Discipleship is not hard to understand. You meet with a fellow believer on a regular basis, share your applications from Bible study and review memory verses. What's hard is being honest on how you're doing spiritually and keeping up with meeting with your brother on a regular basis.

In high school, I was discipled. My Dad and pastor regularly met with me, sharing their applications and memory verses. I saw their spiritual lives. It gave me an honest picture of how one grows in Christ.

During my junior year and senior year of high school, an elder in the church met with me weekly, reading through various books like Plato, Aristotle, Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. I got to deal with questions he struggled with and I got to struggle through my own. I was able to start to get an honest picture of the struggles of today's church.

Two Final Comments 
First, This is not a sure-fire way to keep young people in the church. Young people will leave the church. The question is whether they are going to leave with you screaming, crying and fighting as they go. It's important to never quit with young people. They're a strange bunch. When you least expect them to listen, they do. When they act like they've rejected everything, they really haven't.

Second, pray constantly. Just because a child of God has left, it doesn't mean this child lost. The prodigal son returned.  

*Part of the reason I saw worship as "boring" is because I didn't understand in my mind why the things happened in the service that did and I didn't hold in my heart the willingness to humble my desires in light of God's. 
**Discipleship: What Jesus did with the Twelve Disciples, what Paul did with Timothy. 

Friday, March 22, 2013

Van Til "The Defense of the Faith" Chapter 2

This is the second post on Van Til's work "The Defense of the Faith." My analysis of the first chapter is here.

Again, I am reviewing it chapter by chapter as a way of digesting the book. It is not thick, but Van Til is an important thinker in reformed theology. I'm also coming at it from the perspective of a philosopher who wants to be a help to today's reformed theologians. So I won't be making comments on all parts of the book but rather limit what I say to where I think I can help clarify ideas and definitions and correct problems. 

Before we Talk about Reality, the Method
Van Til is doing philosophy from a reformed theological standpoint. That is really important to understand before we get into anything. He is trying to make everything he believes about philosophy to be informed by the Bible. This is his method. In philosophy, your method will determine what you say about ultimate reality, how we know, if we can know, do we know, what is beauty, what is justice, what is goodness and if there is a God. 

God is Reality and the Universe is Reality 
So Van Til responds to that last question by saying yes, God exists. Furthermore, God is reality. He says that we must be careful to make a distinction about the term reality. God, who is reality, is self-sufficient and is distinct from His universe. This distinction is very important since it triggers important stances in ethics, psychology and my favorite epistemology. 

A Side Note 
Van Til says this "Most philosophers have not been Christians." He says this comment in the context of explaining why it is improtant to take theological language and redress it with philosophical terms. This is a small point, but yeah I disagree with this comment. Let's begin with a list of orthodox* Christian philosophers: 
  1. Boethius 
  2. Augustine 
  3. Thomas Aquinas
  4. Anselm
  5. George Berkeley 
  6. Kierkegaard 
  7. Melebranche 
  8. Pascal 
*Orthodox defined as one who holds beliefs put forth by the historic creeds 

Ok, moving on.

The Problem of the One and Many 
In this chapter, Van Til attempts to work through the problem of the one and the many. He briefly outlines the problem. "The philosophers have sought for a unified outlook on human experience. Philosophers have sought for as comprehensive a picture of the nature of reality as a whole as man is able to attain. But the universe is composed of many things. Man's problem is to find unity in the midst of the plurality of things." I like how Heraclitus put it, when you put your foot in a river and take it out again, is it the same river the second time you put your foot in? 

This problem has plagued humanity since we started trying to categorize things. (Yes, it is why I struggle to keep my room clean. I have one room and many things and don't know how they ought to be unified together.)

Various philosophers have tried putting forwards answers. Some have said there is no unity, just diversity. Heraclitus said everything is in constant flux. Plato argued that somewhere out there there are a set of forms on which all things are based. Kant said we can't know reality in itself, hence don't worry about solving this problem. You can take your pick, and Van Til puts his on the list.

Another Distinction 
Quick to separate himself from the philosophers, Van Til makes a distinction between "the eternal One and Many" and the "temporal one and many." This important since the former is the trinity, residing in complete unity. On the other hand, God is also equally diverse. Neither the Father, Son or Holy Spirit are fundamental. "The Son and the Spirit are ontologically on a par with the Father."

The Temporal One and Many Concrete Universals 
With this distinction between the eternal one and many and the temporal one and many, Van Til focuses on the temporal one and many. The realm of temporal one and many (this world we created beings reside in) has equality among each other. There are no created ideas/facts that are more ontologically basic then others. The reason being, all are equally derived and equally dependent upon God. On the other hand, their relation to each other is one of a hierarchy. Certain laws like man's purpose is "higher" then the mechanical laws of this universe. These different laws are mutually dependent on each other. Though, Van Til doesn't explain how.

Why I Disagree with Van Til 
Honestly, Van Til doesn't solve the problem of the one and the many. I'm still confused on how having a trinity solves it. I think Van Til simply pushes the problem back to a horny dilemma of how can God be one and three? In fact, trying to use the trinity to solve a philosophical problem (the former being of faith and the latter of reason) opens a nasty can of worms for theologians. I admire Van Til for wanting to be theological in his philosophy, but I fail to see how he solves this philosophical problem. Rather, I think he makes it worse for theologians.

Faith and Reason - an Important Distinction to Hold 
Because he has brought a concept that is known by faith into the realm of reason, we now have muddled an important distinction between two forms of knowledge. Knowledge by faith and knowledge by reason. We know the problem of the one and many through reason. We know the existence of the trinity through faith. If you muddle this distinction you start going down the path of the late scholastics and later our friend Descartes. We've been there, let's not go back.

note: I'm not saying I'm against "faith seeking understanding" since understanding is different then reason. 

Friday, March 8, 2013

Why World History can be Overwelming

What do world history teachers teach? Well, they teach all history except U.S. History. That includes: The Maya, The Aztecs, Islamic Empires, The Chinese Dynasties, Russia, North Africa, African Empires, East Africa, Mesopotamia, the Enlightenment, the Renaissance, the Reformation and Ancient Egypt. Note, I haven't mentioned topics like the World Wars, Cold War, Age of Revolutions, Age of Exploration, Rome, Greece, the Byzantine Empire, rise of Christendom and rise of Islam. These are also a part of World History. Oh don't forget key figures like Genghis Khan, Qin Shi Huangdi, Menelik, Muhammad, Jesus, Buddha, Peter the Great, Elizabeth I, Napoleon, Plato and Aristotle. Those are also a part of world history. Yes, you could spend the rest of your life studying just one of these topics. Furthermore, this just a sampling of what includes world history. World history is an overwhelming topic to teach. 

It's a lot of fun teaching world history because there are so many interesting events, people, places and ideas to explore. On the other hand, it's overwhelming to decide what to cut out. For instance, I never talked about ancient Egypt in my world history class this year. There simply wasn't enough time. What makes this more frustrating is that there is no universal method to figuring out what is "important" history and what is not. 

A great example of this is the responses of historians, writers and movie directors response to the following question "what is the most important day in history?" All their answers were different. The diversity of these responses shows that it's a hard task figuring out what is important in history and what is not. We can't even decide what is the most important. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Why I'm terrified of Finding Scripture Passages in Public

I need to tell you two stories. The first was when I was about 10 or so. During the yearly church meeting, the kids were placed in a room with some older teenagers to watch us. I remember that we played a "game" of who "Who can find that passage first?" The leader would tell us a passage of scripture. The one who found it first one. Let's just say I didn't even know the gospels are in the middle and Psalms and Proverbs were next to each other. (In this moment, I can't even remember which comes before the other.) I didn't get one passage. Oh how unholy I felt that evening.

The second story took place my senior year of high school. I was at a high school retreat sitting in on a workshop. To give some context, not only was I attending the conference i was one of the student leaders. Yes, I was also a senior. I distinctly remember the spot I was sitting in. I distinctly remember raising my hand saying I could find a passage in Malachi  Two minutes later, I asked "where is Malachi  I can't find it." What was worse was the guy sitting next to me was also a student leader. He couldn't find it either.

Because of these vivid memories, I have always been terrified of finding passages of scripture in public. Now that I'm in a class on the doctrine of worship, the professor often asks students to read/find passages of scripture. I have my computer, but I still struggle to remember, where is Malachi?

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Broken Art - Seen through Parent-Teacher Night

This past week we had this semester's parent teacher night. For those not familiar with how public schools work, a.ka. homeschoolers,  parent-teacher conferences are meetings where parents have the opportunity of meeting individually with their student's teachers for about 10 minutes.

In these meetings I have the blessing of telling parents their students are great. I get to say he has an A in my class, contributes to the class and is a great person to be around. This happens quite a bit, which is great. 

On the other hand, I have to have conversations with parents who have students with poor grades. I often notice these parents are tired, overworked, stressed and saddened. Even parents with students who do well, I have noticed that there is a general sadness when I talk with them. Life is hard and people go through divorce, have to work nights, don't get enough sleep, have medical problems and/or have financial issues. This is only the parents I'm talking about. 

A couple of the conversations I had to have were regarding students misbehavior and/or poor grades. It was hard to add this on to these parent's lives. It was easy to feel like I was the next guy in line contributing to a parent's mounting list of problems. I also found that as a teacher I was in a position of power in those meetings. 

In these meetings, I made sure that I explained as clearly as possible the best way for these students to pull their grade up or improve their behavior. It would be easy for me to offer no solution or offer something that is simply not possible for a parent to accomplish with their student. That's an easy response to brokenness. It was really important to see through the brokenness and provide a roadmap for them to follow in order to bring the student's grade up.  I have the power to provide a way of success or leave them in the dark.  This is a heavy burden. 

I have over a hundred students. I'm scrambling just to get my lesson plans finished. (And write an occasional blog post.) Grading is better know as LPP (large pile of papers). Discipline issues randomly pop up, students miss class, emails need to be sent and on top of that I teach. I survive because my administration is really helpful. 

It feels like I have a heavy sword that can lie dormant or be used poorly. It's so heavy I might as well not lift it up. When I do, it's easy to do something hurtful with it. I'm amazed when I see teachers doing great things. It surprises me and gives me comfort there are teachers able to do the work of a teacher. They help guide students towards their high school diplomas and on to college. It's a great thing to see. 

Parent-teacher night is tough because it's a lot of talking and listening. It's full of hard conversations, but  I found it an opportunity to tell parents about how they can give their student success. It was great to tell a parent who went through a divorce, works nights and just found out her/his student is failing my class that there is a way to bring that grade up. Not all is lost.

A Great Teacher
On a similar note, Pastor James Faris posted a commemorative blog post for a mentor, friend and pastor of mine, Pastor Rich Johnston. Pastor Johnston is stepping down from his 30 years of ministry as a youth secretary in the Great Lakes Gulf Presbytery of the RPCNA. He's been really important in my life. I posted a comment on Gentle Reformation, but I thought I'd put it on my blog to express my thanks for all of Pastor Johnston's work. My thoughts above would not be possible if it wasn't for the work God has used Pastor Johnston in my life.  

"I was on the CYPU Leadership team in high school, did a couple internships at 2nd RP and now work with the high school students at 2nd RP under Pastor Johnston’s leadership. While in high school, I was held to a high standard by Pastor Johnston with the other leaders and all the students who attended the CYPU events.
I learned so much under Pastor Johnston’s leadership while in college because he gave sound and wise advice and direction. He also was incredibly patient and kind to a crazy college student who continually messed up under his care. Now as a public school teacher, I look back on these experiences and stories Pastor Johnston told as reference points for my teaching today.
God has used Pastor Johnston in a special way in my life which I am eternally grateful for. I’m saddened that he will be stepping down this spring, but thankful for these 30 years he sacrificed for the church and her children."
Why Hope is Possible
Lastly, I found this video to be thoughtful, power and encouraging. It's worth seven minutes of your day. It's called "To This Day." I watched it after parent-teacher night and found it was saying part of my thoughts. 

Monday, February 18, 2013

Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, Chapter 1

This is the first post in a series of posts on Corneilius Van Til's work "The Defense of the Faith." I am reviewing it chapter by chapter as a way of digesting the book. It is not thick, but he says a lot which influences reformed thinking today.

I'm also coming at it from the perspective of a philosopher who wants to be a help to today's reformed thinkers. So I won't be making comments on all parts of the book but rather limiting my comments to where I think I can help clarify ideas and definitions and correct problems.

Introduction of the Book
In his introduction, Van Til quickly distinguishes himself from Rome. He finds that Roman Catholic thinkers have compromised Christ by merely asking the "natural man" to "add wisdom and work of Christ to that which man has in and of himself." (Pg. 3) The consequence is twofold, man is not shown his internal inconsistencies and this view gets stuck in "contingency."

Christians ought to reject this view of apologetics by uncompromisingly put forward Christ. Specifically, "their method of apologetics should be in line with their theology. In both Christ should be taught and preached unto men who are lost in all their thinking and living without him." What Van Til means, man is really lost and without Christ he can't even think straight. Van Til also distinguishes himself from other views. He claims to be following Warfield's line of thought. (As a philosopher, the reformed v. Neo-orthodoxy v.Arminianism doesn't interest me right now since I have yet to see how I can as a philosopher be helpful.)

What is Theology? 
Enough of the introduction, Van Til says right off the bat in the first chapter that theology is simply taking what the Bible says and teaching it. So, the first chapter Van Til summarizes this "system of truth" acquired from the Bible.

History, what about it? 
He notes that Christianity is a historical religion and Christ being a historical figure, Christianity is not void of a history. He notes that a pragmatist will attack this historical argument for Christianity by saying that all facts are unrelated and so to make a connection between the fact of Jesus' resurrection and us 2,000 years later, is superfluous. Hence, we must be involved in a philosophical discussion since we have to respond to the pragmatist. (I actually like this point. He says we should do philosophy as a way of defending the truth of Christianity. Glad I have a place in Van Til's system.)

Reason/Experience vs. The Bible - a Problem 
Van Til goes on to stop us from throwing away the Bible by saying "we do not first defend theism philosophically by an appeal to reason and experience in order, after that, to turn to scripture for our knowledge and defense of Christianity." Okay, stop. We need to talk about this.

Why does Van Til think that one must place the introduction of Christianity in an order? Why do you either introduce God's existence through reason and/or experience and then the Bible or vice versa. You're in trouble if you take this approach. You're bound to start with experience.  All knowledge stems from experience. (Cheers to Locke and Edwards for this point.)
note: Yes you can believe that all men are born with innate ideas/dispositions and say this. Edwards did. 

The Problem Explained 
If you want to say we ought to start with the Bible you are not actually saying that. Rather you are actually saying we ought to start with our senses picking up the Bible and then telling us about them.  No person on earth has sensory experiences or thought processes that are devoid of experience. Philosophically I'm saying something controversial, but let's follow a simple thought experiment. Think of anything, God, friends, your thoughts or your thought of your thoughts of your thoughts. Is that thought process devoid of experience? Well, what's a good criteria for something being an experience? For simplicity sake, let's say time is necessary. A necessary part of experience is the passing of time.
Okay this definition does get me into issues of "how do I know what is time outside of experiencing time?" If I can I can't then this goes in a circle. If you don't see the circle, here is is, what is experience? time. What is time? something we experience. Well, what is experience? So, let's get out of this circle by deal with what is time better, but that would take a book. I'm not writing a book. 

Did you pass time while you were thinking? Think about it. Notice, to think about whether time occurs when you think requires a bit of time. So, we're left with experience being foundation. I don't know if that's Biblical. It could be, but I don't know. As Van Til said, we want to stay Biblical, perhaps we don't want to get into this situation.

The Problem Resolved (hopefully...) 
Well let's resolve this sticky situation by saying we don't have to start with one or the other. Let's ask this question, do we have to start with either experience or the Bible? I argue there is no good reason for us to say one has to go with the other. God created us to function through experiences. They are vital to our identity. The Bible is vital to our knowledge of God. If one places them in two separate spheres saying one is prior to the other then we get into an unnecessary mess. So let's just say one doesn't have to start with one or the other. The implication for this is that we do have to do philosophy. Van Til said that. Oh good we can move on.

What Van Til Said 
Now, I know Van Til didn't create such a mess. He's not a second rate thinker. He doesn't say "One must start with the Bible and nothing else," but rather he says "It is therefore the system of truth as contained in the scriptures which we must present to the world." This is different then saying "ultimately we must start with the Bible." He is saying the Bible is the determining principle for what we say about what is.

If you don't think carefully, you may think that ultimately the Bible is foundational to EVERYTHING. No, no no. Let's not get into that false dichotomy  Let's say the Bible contains the truth and we need to follow it.

Van Til goes on to exposit basic concepts in systematic theology: Doctrine of God, Doctrine of Man, Doctrine of Christ, Doctrine of Salvation, Doctrine of the Church, and Last Things.

I won't bother discussing these parts since I've already said a lot. Next time we have chapter II and a really fun problem in philosophy which I don't think Van Til solves. - watch me eat my words.

Feel free to ask questions, critique or comment on this post. This is the first work I've read of Van Til so getting feedback from more educated individuals will be helpful. 

Should Protestants Celebrate Lent?

In the spring of 2008, I visited Ireland for a semester. I worshiped church that was a part of the Church of Ireland since there were no RP churches in the town we were staying. For those who are unaware, the Church of Ireland is essentially the Anglican Church in Ireland. The service I attended was a high liturgy service. Everything was scripted except for the sermon the priest gave. This was different for me because I grew up in a church where the worship service was very simple. We sang psalms a cappella,  had an offering, listened to a sermon and prayed a lot. I found the worship services I attended in Ireland to be unique and special. There is a place in the church for having high liturgy, but that's not the point of this post.

A good friend of mine, Ethan Harrison, also went with me to Ireland. We decided to celebrate Lent since it was being emphasized by the church we were attending. I knew absolutely nothing about Lent. I think I thought it was a practice that Roman Catholics thought you had to do otherwise you'd go to hell or something though I don't think I'm sure about what I thought.

I did it because I thought it would be helpful, still do.

Since that spring, I have participated in Lent by giving up something in my life. Other students at Taylor University also followed the practice so it we were sacrificing things together. We weren't disciplining our lives alone, it was in the context of the body.

A Tension 
Since graduating from Taylor, I am still celebrating Lent. More so now then when I was at Taylor, I've noticed there is a bit of tension between my denomination and the practice of Lent. Those who went before me (The Scottish Covenanters), disagreed with the Roman Catholic Church's stance on things like Lent. They saw it as unnecessary and unhelpful. (And the Anglican Church...) They went as far as dying so they didn't have to follow traditions like Lent.

So now here is me, about 300ish years later practicing Lent in a denomination that has a history of not being a fan of Lent. (And other such practices.) I know why, but I want to think that I can celebrate Lent in good conscience.

There is a Difference
A major difference between me today and the Covenanters back then was that I'm not persecuted for my beliefs. No organization is telling me I have to celebrate Lent and is going to get an army, walk over to my apartment and make me. More importantly, I don't connect Lent with salvation, as have many. No work makes me a better person, much less makes me acceptable to God.

The Covenanters saw Lent as being connected with "works salvation." Hence, we ought not celebrate it. I agree that there is the danger of believing Lent is a work that is meritorious when the truth is that nothing makes us good except the work of Jesus Christ. It was a good thing to get rid of all the pomp and circumstance surrounding worship.

So if one sees Lent as a practice that will bring about this belief in their lives then by all means don't celebrate Lent. This is true for any practice one participates in to bring about spiritual growth. All disciplines in the Christian life must be understood as not meritorious. If a practice does bring about that belief, the individual who is in danger ought to stop.

Disciplines of the Christian Life can all be seen as Meritorious 
On the other hand, just because a practice has been seen as meritorious to some, doesn't mean it is seen as meritorious by all. In 300ish years people may become extremely critical of the discipline of Bible memorization because people began to think that the quantity of scriptures you memorized equaled to the amount of righteousness in your soul. Just because this came about, it doesn't make Bible memorization a forbidden practice. Paul says that all things are lawful for me but not all things are beneficial. (1 Corinthians 6:12) The question for all disciplines is whether they will beneficial, Lent included.

I have the freedom to celebrate Lent, and I have the freedom not to celebrate Lent. I celebrate Lent because it helps my spiritual life. Once it doesn't, I'm going to stop. Likewise, no one should celebrate Lent if it is not helpful to them.

So, should protestants celebrate Lent? That depends on whether it will help protestants or not. For some it will and others it won't. Recognize that salvation does not come from not following Lent and not from following Lent. Salvation is found only in Christ, Lent has nothing to do with it. This is true for all discipling the Christian takes part in. 

Saturday, February 16, 2013

How Many Things can Change in a Year?

I have gone through a lot of changes in the past year. Part of the transition from a college student to a young professional is that changes don't come cycles. They occur randomly, quickly and sometimes you don't even notice them.

With working so much now, I haven't had time to reflect on how my life has changed. Here is a summary of the changes:

1. Thomas Aquinas "solves" the mind-body problem.
-Okay, not really but what I'm reading right now is doing a lot of good for me in thinking through this problem.
2. It's hard being a philosopher around people who don't know much about philosophy.
-Sometimes you say things that are taken as "you're using reason vs. the Bible so you're a bad person." Though is probably a poor generalization.
3. Education has no good philosophical foundation outside of pragmatism.
-Western education was based on Christianity supplement by Plato and Aristotle. Since that foundation was removed in the early 20th century, pragmatism is the foundation. I really don't like pragmatism because it doesn't answer some very important questions confronting educators today.

1. It's really hard to be a teacher.
-I mean really hard, and I'm at a good school that supports my work.
2. I don't know history like I thought I did.
-I stink at pronouncing names of dead people.
3. Educators who use data and measurable outcomes are awesome.
-Because they change the lives of students for the better.

1. President Obama was elected again.
2. The Republican Party is now crippled like the Democrats were after the Civil War. (though, I think I'm wrong on this point.)
3. I continue to dislike the Tea Party. (not much of a change...)

1. I qualified for the 2013 Olympic Distance Triathlon National Championship in August.
-Pretty exited.
2. I got a friend to do a triathlon.
3. I am having knee problems. My knee won't stop hurting!

1. I moved out of my parents place and into my own place.
2. I am living without the internet. (Hence, I'm at a coffee shop right now.)
3. I am starting to like Shakespeare.
4. Last semester I lead two Bible studies, was the assistant XC coach at school, was in a book club and was discipling a young man.
-So I got really tired.
5. I got really tired.

1. Reading Thomas Aquinas is awesome.
2. Reading 10 chapters of the Bible every day is very awesome.
3. I really look forward to Sundays. (Not just because I don't have school.)