Monday, December 31, 2012

Clement: Philosophy & Science, Tools for the Church

I found this interesting quotation in a blog on Apologetics Alliance and thought it worth sharing. It was written by Clement of Alexandria in the late second century and it describes the value placed on philosophy among early Christians.

”Some, who think themselves naturally gifted, do not wish to touch either philosophy or logic; nay more, they do not wish to learn natural science. They demand bare faith alone, as if they wished, without bestowing any care on the vine, straightway to gather clusters from the first. Now the Lord is figuratively described as the vine, from which, with pains and the art of husbandry, according to the word, the fruit is to be gathered.

We must lop, dig, bind, and perform the other operations. The pruning-knife, I should think, and the pick-axe, and the other agricultural implements, are necessary for the culture of the vine, so that it may produce eatable fruit. And as in husbandry, so also in medicine: he has learned to purpose, who has practiced the various lessons, so as to be able to cultivate and to heal. So also here, I call him truly learned who brings everything to bear on the truth; so that, from geometry, and music, and grammar, and philosophy itself, culling what is useful, he guards the faith against assault.”

Warning against such "syncretism," Tertullian would no doubt counter, "What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?" The early Christians were not always in agreement on the use of philosophy. Some Christians, such as Origen, who incidentally, is thought to have studied under Clement of Alexandria, were highly educated and trained in philosophy prior to their conversion. It would be impossible for this to not influence their understanding and interpretation of Scripture and even God. The important thing that I think is noteworthy is that rather than being hostile toward philosophy as a whole, the prophets and apostles do in fact make certain valid philosophical assumptions and arguments, which I think validates it's use for Christians following their footsteps. They also choose to step carefully, recognizing it's inherent propensity for errors, as a cautionary tale for others. The Apostle Paul, both appealed to philosophy and ridiculed it. May we be wise enough to know when, where and how to do the same.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Brick Testament: A Skeptics Bible?

Following my favorite childhood hobby, I have taken great pleasure in introducing my kids to Legos. Every Christmas they can depend on getting a new box. In addition to gifts, most of their own spending money also goes to support their obsession. They've been to Legoland at the American Mall and most recently Schaumburg's Legoland Discovery Center. Of course the internet has all kinds of amazing constructions. One group of Lego fanatics actually built a life size replica of a house. When I found the Brick Testament, I thought that was a pretty cool idea. The kids got all excited and we started reading through some of the Bible stories. It wasn't long till I started getting annoyed by little things. What seemed like a great illustrated Bible, turned out to be riddled with bits of sinister contempt underlining certain stories. Could it be a Bible written for skeptics? Just who is this author, “Rev” Brendan Powell Smith?

In October 2012, the Brick New Testament was featured in Time and the Huffington Post. It's now available on Amazon and becoming increasingly popular among Christians and homeschoolers. How long will it be before the local Christian bookstore picks it up? I've already seen it used as sermon illustrations. When approached about the author being a skeptic, the pastor just couldn't believe it and continued using it in his sermons. Maybe this blog will help make things clear, as long as Smith doesn't decide to remove all the evidence from his pages. Before you start your own investigation, make sure your prepared to wade through all the profanities, sarcasm and skeptical rants inundated throughout his blog.

On October 2, Smith posted in his news, “This Saturday, October 6, I will be back in the valley signing books at a Freethinker's convention. I love my job. C'mon out, meet some nice folks and get a signed book! If you can't make it to these great events, you can always order a signed copy of any of The Brick Bible books from The Brick Bible shop! Always nice to meet fans in person though.”1 I have no problem associating with nice folks who are skeptics and atheist “freethinkers”, how else are Christians suppose to reach out to them with the Gospel? But, isn't the invitation a bit odd? And, if the book is being marketed to this kind of audience, shouldn't it at least arouse some curiosity?

Commenting on one of his chapters, Smith posted a blog titled, “Abraham willing to kill own son for God”, Smith asks, “How morally vile an act would you be willing to perpetrate if you were convinced God told you to do it? Would you steal someone’s wallet? Would you punch a random stranger in the face? Would you hijack a plane and fly it into a skyscraper? Would you slit your beloved son’s throat and burn his corpse? These are the sorts of questions that the faithful must ask themselves, for one never know when they will be tested. And lest you imagine that, as in the latest set of illustrated stories at The Brick Testament website, God will always shows up at the last second to tell you it was all only a test…keep in mind that sometimes God actually wants you to go through with it.” 2

Perhaps you have read some of the praises associated with this work. Rev. Wanda Lundy, professor of Ministry Studies at New York Theological Seminary calls it, “A spectacular twenty-first century Biblical art masterpiece.” “A curiously powerful graphic novel.” - Publisher's Weekly. says, “From the pew warmer to the geek dad, this book is the perfect gift.” Can people really be so gullible? Maybe they don't really care.

Remember, as the subtitle states, “A New Spin on the Story of Jesus.” Here's Smith's commentary on his adaptation of Armageddon, “God has a plan. Our pathetic, puny human minds cannot comprehend the utter and sheer brilliance of God’s plan (and God made sure of that by only equipping us with pathetic, puny human minds), but rest assured that God does indeed most certainly have a plan. And here’s one thing we can know about God’s plan: it involves torture. Lots and lots of torture. Sure, torture is generally regarded by us comparatively dim-witted humans as the most morally vile, reprehensible, and cruel behavior possible. But this must only show our lack of intelligence, because God can’t get enough of the stuff. In our latest four illustrated stories from Revelation, God continues to pour down wave after wave of horrible torments on mankind.”3

Now I ask you, does this sound like the kind of person who believes in God? Obviously Smith doesn't think God is trustworthy. He certainly doesn't rely on exegesis and hermeneutics to aid his understanding of Biblical texts and cultural contexts; neither are of any concern or consequence to his agenda. As a matter of fact, it wouldn't surprise me if he was reading through this blog, laughing all the way: the thought of Christians using his “Bible,” he probably never even imagined it would be such a hit. His is the work of pure sarcasm. He's actually contending against Christianity, mocking the Bible. There's better works out there. If you have kids who like illustrated books, then I recommend, The Action Bible, illustrated by Sergio Cariello. Another great Bible story book that is out of print is God's Story: The Bible Told as One Story by Karen Henly.

Footnotes / Sources

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Jesus and Culture - Dallas Willard

Dallas Willard has a 12 part video series, Divine Conspiracy, available to watch here. Dallas Willard is an important Christian thinker and serves as professor at UCLA.

Rescuing the Mind from Post-Modernism

In The Gospel and the Mind, Bradley Green explains how "There is an inseparable relationship between the reality of the gospel and the cultivation of the intellectual life. When the gospel ceases to permeate and influence a given culture, we often see a confused understanding of the possibility of knowledge and the meaning of our thoughts. Ultimately, where the gospel is not holding sway, it should not surprise us to see the subtle or not so subtle disintegration of, or rejection of, meaningful intellectual engagement." 

Green argues "that the Christian vision of God, man and the world provides the most meaningful and coherent presuppositional framework for the intellectual life."

p. 19, 20

Dallas Willard has an excellent lecture on the subject of the university and the mind that he gave at UCLA. You can download it here. The Q and A can be found here

Sunday, March 25, 2012

F.F. Bruce

The evidence for our New Testament writings is ever so much greater than the evidence for many writings of classical authors, the authenticity of which no-one dreams of questioning. And if the New Testament were a collection of secular writings, their authenticity would generally be regarded as beyond all doubt. It is a curious fact that historians have often been much readier to trust the New Testament than have many theologians. - F. F. Bruce

With special thanks to The Poached Egg for sharing.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Legislating Morality?

William Wilberforce is considered to have been the greatest social reformer who ever lived. If there is any reason to doubt the connection between legislation and morality, his illustrative life should once and for all reveal the relationship as inseparable. I'm currently reading Eric Metaxas' biographical account, “Amazing Grace,” named after the hymn written by the former slave ship captain, John Newton, who was Wilberforce's spiritual mentor. Wilberforce has permanently affixed upon the Christian conscience the moral obligation for political action. The idea that one cannot legislate morality should be forever banned as meaningless drivel.

“Is it not the great end of religion, and, in particular, the glory of Christianity, to extinguish the malignant passions; to curb the violence, to control the appetites, and to smooth the asperities of man; to make us compassionate and kind, and forgiving one to another; to make us good husbands, good fathers, good friends; and to render us active and useful in the discharge of the relative social and civil duties? ” 
― William Wilberforce

You can watch the trailer of the movie adaptation of Amazing Grace:

William Wilberforce's book, Real Christianity online or download.

William Wilberforce (Eric Metaxas mp3 download)

William Wilberforce, Wikipedia article

William Wilberforce, Christianity Today article

Eric Metaxas' Blog