One of the things that I love about Oden is that not only is he biblical, but that he doesn’t write as though he is the first (or only) person to have ever read the Bible. He draws (very thoroughly) from Christian history, especially the early Church. He understands what it means to read the Bible in community.
His three volume set on systematic theology is arranged in a Trinitarian fashion: Book 1: The Living God, Book 2: The Word of Life, and Book 3: Life in the Spirit. It’s not necessarily an easy read, but it is thorough and comes from a deep and abiding faith.
Oden is a United Methodist, but in this work his emphasis is focused more on what all (or at least “most”) Christians can and should agree on if we would call ourselves Christian.
Here’s a description of the series from Christianbook.com…
Covering the nature of God, the person of Christ, and the work of the Holy Spirit, Oden’s masterful study emphasizes the ecumenical common ground of theological doctrine. Faithful to biblical teaching and classical tradition, his direct, provocative approach articulates the concerns of pastors, teachers, seminarians, and thoughtful laypersons. An indispensable reference at an irresistible price! 1561 pages total, three hardcovers from Hendrickson.
Click here to learn more about it or to order it.
The United Methodist Church, via our denominational standard, addresses the issue of the sufficiency of Scripture. Our 2008 Book of Discipline reminds us that Scripture is “necessary for salvation” and is “the true rule and guide for faith and practice.”
I’m assuming that the "practice" referenced is the practice of our faith (the practice of living in this world and preparing for the next… as Christians)… which we believe should be in accordance with Scripture’s direction, rules, laws, commands, examples, teachings, principles, etc. That covers a great deal of ground.
United Methodists believe that what John Wesley called scriptural holiness relates to both our inward walk with Christ but also our outward relationships, life, and witness in this world. Our Doctrinal statements, General Rules and Social Principles cover a lot of ground... an enormous variety of topics such as economics, environment, bioethics, justice, marriage, parenting, politics, poverty… and yes, our precious Lord Jesus Christ and the salvation that comes through him. In all these spheres and more, Scripture is our “true rule and guide for faith and practice.”
Our 2008 Disciplines says this about scriptural holiness…
We insist that personal salvation always involves Christian mission and service to the world. By joining heart and hand, we assert that personal religion, evangelical witness, and Christian social action are reciprocal and mutually reinforcing.
Scriptural holiness entails more than personal piety; love of God is always linked with love of neighbor, a passion for justice and renewal in the life of the world.
This is what I mean by the sufficiency of Scripture for every sphere of life. This is what I take our Discipline to mean when it reminds us that Scripture is “necessary for salvation” and is “the true rule and guide for faith and practice.”
So, while the Bible doesn’t, for example, teach me how to change the oil in my car, it still directs and guides me to do even something as mundane (and as important) as that to God’s glory. It teaches me to be a good steward of what God has provided.
The Apostle Paul teaches us…
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
That’s profitable for a bunch of stuff. Am I only using a rhetorical device to suggest that Paul might be referring to Scripture’s sufficiency for every sphere of life? Bishop Mack Stokes addressed this by writing…
Immediately following the “General Rules,” Wesley wrote, ‘These are the General Rules of our society; all which are taught of God to observe, even in his written Word, which is the only rule, and the sufficient rule, both of our faith and practice.’ (The Bible in the Wesleyan Heritage, p. 21)
That’s all I mean by Scripture being sufficient for every sphere of life.
My understanding of Scripture’s sufficiency is not the same as saying that the Bible is a science textbook, a political constitution, or a manual for how to change my car’s oil. But it does have something (and something important) to say about those areas and far more.
Wayne Grudem, (who is not United Methodist) shares this definition for the sufficiency of Scripture which I believe is helpful. He writes,
The sufficiency of Scripture means that Scripture contained all the words of God he intended his people to have at each stage of redemptive history, and that it now contains all the words of God we need for salvation, for trusting him perfectly, and for obeying him perfectly. (Systematic Theology, p. 127)
We want to submit to our Lord in every sphere of life and are guided in that pursuit in and through God’s Word. It is sufficient for such a pursuit.
Once again, I appreciate the opportunity to clarify what I meant in my two posts on Scripture’s authority.
Grace and Truth,
Who was Jesus Christ? Was he just a good moral teacher? Was he merely a failed political revolutionary? Perhaps he was a lunatic who just didn’t know what he was doing. Or maybe, he was a con-artist looking to trick people into believing he was more than just a human being. Christians proclaim to the world that Jesus Christ was fully human and fully God. Furthermore, Christians claim that Jesus Christ was the Lord and Savior of the entire universe. What someone believes about the person and work of Jesus Christ, orthodox Christians believe, sets the pace for how one will live in this world and directly impacts issues related to eternity. Even pluralists such as John Hick feel the weight of the question about Jesus Christ’s identity. Hick says:
“There is a direct line of logical entailment from the premise that Jesus Christ was God, in the sense that he was God the Son, the Second Person of the divine Trinity, living in a human life, to the conclusion that Christianity, and Christianity alone, was founded by God in person; and from this to the further conclusion that God must want all his human children to be related to him through his religion which he has himself founded for us.”
Indeed, this is precisely what Christians have believed for 2,000 years. Norman Geisler reiterates this point. He says, “Orthodox Christianity claims that Jesus of Nazareth was God in human flesh. This doctrine is absolutely essential to true Christianity. If it is true, then Christianity is unique and authoritative. If not, then Christianity does not differ in kind from other religions.” Though a thorough investigation of this point is outside the scope of this post, Geisler provides a good outline for what the Christian apologetic is on this point. He writes:
“The basic logic of this apologetic for Christianity is: (1) The New Testament is a historically reliable record of the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ… (2) Jesus taught that he was God Incarnate… (3) Jesus proved to be God Incarnate by fulfilling Old Testament prophecy, by a miraculous life, and by rising from the grave… Therefore, Jesus of Nazareth is Deity.”
Therefore, what one believes about who Jesus Christ was and what he accomplished through his life, death and resurrection has profound implications for one’s worldview. One may believe Jesus was not God Incarnate, not the Savior of the world, did not rise from the dead on the third day, and not Lord of all. However, in believing that, one holds contradictory beliefs from what orthodox Christians embrace. Both beliefs may be false, but only one can be true.
Some Concluding Thoughts…
It has been the goal of this series of posts to show the necessary relationship between truth and the Christian worldview. Because Christianity claims to be a revealed religion, it is actually a sign of humility and obedience for believers to embrace, proclaim, and defend their Christian faith. To avoid or reject this responsibility is the real sign of arrogance because it reveals that one presumes to know better than God. John Hick properly understood the implications of confessing that Christianity alone was and is the fullest disclosure of God's self-revelation. What other response could possibly be more appropriate than to confess with one’s mouth and believe in one’s heart that Christianity is true, and not merely preferable? Christians believe that if Christianity is not true, then it is merely one religious preference among many. However, Christians have historically proclaimed, from the beginning, that they are the humble stewards of the one, true, and living God’s self-disclosure.
Soli Deo Gloria,
In the last post we took an introductory look at the worldview elements of theology, metaphysics, and epistemology. This time we’ll learn a little about ethics and anthropology and why they are essential aspects of one’s total world and life view.
Christians readily confess that they do not have a monopoly on ethical living. Everyday there are believers and unbelievers living moral lives. However, Ron Nash shows that in relationship to worldview thinking, the question of how one justifies his or her ethical beliefs and conduct is quite another question. He says:
“ethics as a worldview factor is more concerned with the question of why that action is wrong. Are there moral laws that govern human conduct? What are they? Are these moral laws the same for all human beings? Is morality totally subjective…, or is there an objective dimension to moral laws that means their truth is independent of our preferences and desires?”
The Christian worldview claims that why one “ought” to behave in a certain way and what conduct is permissible or impermissible is grounded in the character of God. Christians claim that it is God’s good, righteous and holy character upon which the Christian ethic is grounded. Furthermore, Christians assert that God has revealed laws, rules and principles by which Christians are to live. There is no dispute, therefore, that unbelievers live ethical lives. The Christian responds, however, that only belief in the Christian God can truly justify ethical behavior. The unbeliever either borrows from the Christian worldview or lives by personal preference. Christians further maintain that because of God’s general revelation to all humanity, there is no reason to believe that the ethical systems of other religions should be totally different from Christianity’s. Arthur Holmes has said that “all truth is God’s truth wherever it be found.” However, Holmes does carefully follow up that statement by reminding his reader that, “We do not affirm that everything men take to be true is God’s truth.” This statement is important to understand. Though all truth is God’s truth, not every credal statement or worldview ethic is a representation of that truth. Christianity claims to properly have the fullest revelation of God’s self-disclosure.
The second area we want to look at is anthropology. Nash suggests that every worldview should include a “number of important beliefs about human beings. Examples include the following: Are human beings free… Are human beings only bodies or material beings? …what is the human soul or mind, and how is it related to the body? Does physical death end the existence of the human person?” Quoting William J. Abraham, Nash considers what the Christian worldview believes about human beings. Abraham states:
“Human beings are made in the image of God, and their fate depends on their relationship with God. They are free to respond to or reject God and they will be judged in accordance with how they respond to him. This judgment begins now but finally takes place beyond death in a life to come. Christians furthermore offer a diagnoses of what is wrong with the world. Fundamentally, they say our problems are spiritual: we need to be made anew by God. Human beings have misused their freedom; they are in a state of rebellion against God; they are sinners. These conclusions lead to a set of solutions to this ill. As one might expect, the fundamental solution is again spiritual… [I]n Jesus of Nazareth God has intervened to save and remake mankind. Each individual needs to respond to this and to become part of Christ’s body, the church, where they are to grow in grace and become more like Christ. This in turn generates a certain vision of the future. In the coming of Jesus, God has inaugurated his kingdom, but it will be consummated at some unspecified time in the future when Christ returns.”
Christianity purports to know where human beings came from, why human beings are here, and what will happen to human beings after death. The questions of origin, purpose and destiny are answered by Christians by pointing once again to the God who has revealed himself. For a worldview to even be taken seriously, it must deal adequately with the human condition. Christianity claims to offer the most realistic analysis of the fallenness of the human condition, and only Christianity knows how this fallen condition has been solved.
Next time we’ll take a look at the person and work of Jesus Christ and conclude this series.
The first area to consider is how a worldview understands God. Christians believe in much more than the “existence” of God. The God that Christians believe in is the God who has revealed himself in the Old and New Testaments. Even though I am a United Methodist and believe we have a rock solid doctrine of God (see here and here), perhaps the most comprehensively and clearly described doctrine of God can be found in the Westminster Confession of Faith. It says:
1.) There is but one only, living, and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions; immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute; working all things according to the counsel of His own immutable and most righteous will, for His own glory most loving gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him; and withal, most just, and terrible in His judgments, hating all sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty.
2.) God hath all life, glory, goodness, blessedness, in and of Himself; and is alone in and unto Himself all-sufficient, not standing in need of any creatures which He hath made, nor deriving any glory from them, but only manifesting His own glory in, by unto, and upon them. He is the alone fountain of all being, of whom, through whom, and to whom are all things and hast most sovereign dominion over them, to do by them, for them, or upon them whatsoever Himself pleaseth. In His sight all things are open and manifest, his knowledge is infinite, infallible, and independent upon the creature, so as nothing is to Him contingent, or uncertain. He is most holy in all His counsels, in all His works, and in all His commands. To Him is due from angels and men, and every other creature, whatsoever worship, service, or obedience he is pleased to require of them.
3.) In the unity of the Godhead there be three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost: the Father is of none, neither begotten, not proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Ghost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son.
The Christian God described above in the Westminster Confession of Faith is not only different than, but actually in contradiction to other worldview conceptions of God, if indeed they have one. For example: atheism asserts the non-existence of God. Polytheistic religions believe there is more than one God. Pantheism contends that God is all and all is God. Islam and Judaism deny the Trinitarian understanding of the Christian God. Therefore, the glaring contradictions between these worldviews seem self-evident. They could all conceivably be false, but they can't all be true.
The second area of focus is called metaphysics, which deals with ultimate reality. “These beliefs include answers to such questions as: What is the relationship between God and the universe? Is the existence of the universe a brute fact? Is the universe eternal? Did an eternal, personal, omnipotent God create the world? …[I]s there any purpose to the universe? Are miracles possible?” The Christian response to some of these questions is that God did create the whole universe out of nothing. In fact, Christians believe only God is eternal. Furthermore, as previously mentioned, Christians affirm that God is our personal Creator who is not a remote deity far away. God in his transcendence is not the same as his creation, yet in his immanence he is close at hand, participating in his creation. These are important elements of the Christian worldview to maintain. These metaphysical truths about the Christian worldview also contribute in distinguishing Christianity from its competitors.
The third ingredient in a worldview is perhaps the hardest to understand, although every person implicitly holds beliefs on this subject. This third area has to do with one’s view of knowledge and is called epistemology. The subject of epistemology basically asks the questions: “how do we know what we know?” or “is knowledge possible?” For the Christian, knowledge comes from God’s self-disclosure concerning himself, the world, and humankind. Furthermore, God “is a God who created men and women as creatures capable of knowing his mind and will and who has made information about his mind and will available in revealed truths.” While Christians confess they do not have complete knowledge about God, it is maintained that Christians have true knowledge about him. Therefore, the Christian worldview categorically rejects skepticism. Christians steadfastly affirm that knowledge about God, the world and humankind is possible. The foundation of God’s self-disclosure, once again, reminds the Christian to walk in humility because it is God’s graciousness, and not one’s own autonomous reason, which allows him or her to know anything at all.
Next time we’ll look at ethics and anthropology.
Grace and Truth,
Having laid the foundation for the importance, indeed the necessity of truth within the Christian worldview, it is now appropriate to consider what the truth-claims of Christianity are. There is no use speaking passionately about truth or why Christians claim to know the truth, if the content of that truth is absent. Once again, Christianity purports to correspond with reality as it has been revealed by a personal and omniscient God.
It’s important to point out that, historically, Christianity has claimed that it is an internally consistent worldview without logical contradictions. When weighing worldviews, one must look at the beliefs of Christianity and competing truth-claims to evaluate which one actually corresponds to reality and is therefore true. At this point, one may ask if there really are differences between the world’s religions and philosophies, or are they all essentially saying the same thing. It is my contention that all religions cannot all be true. Though, from a distance, there are similarities, under closer inspection one notices the superficiality of those similarities. In reality, there are significant differences between them, which include crucial foundational issues. Gary Phillips and William Brown point out:
“The nature of God, of matter, and of man are all defined differently by various religious systems. Therefore, when man confronts God, nature, and self, the worldviews that arise will be different. Is life after death a new sphere or level of personal existence, or are we simply absorbed into a transcendental impersonal force? How do we come to know God? Is it through asceticism…, through mysticism…, through the works of self-discipline, or by grace through faith.
What about Jesus Christ? Is Jesus an eternal being, or was He a created being? Was He truly God and truly man, or was He exclusively human? Did He die for the sins of mankind (Christianity), did He die a disillusioned and misunderstood itinerant rabbi (Judaism), or was He taken up into heaven without dying at all–and therefore is not a Savior (Islam)?”
If two truth-claims contradict one another, they cannot both be true in the same way and in the same relationship. Therefore, it is now important to consider the criteria to be employed in examining a worldview.
To consider the Christian worldview, I will examine the five worldview elements drawn from two of Ronald Nash’s books and will additionally consider the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Next time we’ll look at the first three of those elements: God, Metaphysics, and Epistemology.
Grace and Truth,
Challenging the Darkness: Toward a New Christian Renaissance Featuring Dr. Os Guinness
As we discuss how the church can engage an increasingly post-Christian culture in the west, it is helpful to take a step back from our own times and historically examine how Christianity has dealt with cultures that seemed implacably opposed to it. Christianity was never expected to convert the Roman empire; nor was it expected to convert the barbarian tribes after Rome fell. Yet, it both cases it succeeded despite the odds. Similarly today, Christians must hold onto hope for a revival in the modern west.
It is, of course, not enough to show that the culture and the church have strayed from their roots. The issue of what truth is and how a truth-claim may be tested now needs to be addressed. The essential nature of truth’s relationship to faith ought not be abandoned for relativistic pluralism.
Elton Trueblood says:
“If any religion or any part of religion is not true, we ought to give it up. To maintain the appearance of a faith merely because it is socially useful, or comforting, though believed to be false, is to deny what is asserted. If a religion is not true it is evil! If God is not, then prayer is a waste of good time and wholly indefensible. If there is no life after death, the sooner we find that out the better. In any effort to deal with religion philosophically, we must try to understand what we mean by truth. If we have differing or ambiguous conceptions of the nature of truth, further fruitful discussion will be impossible, for we may be arguing for different positions without knowing it.”
Therefore, it makes sense that we ask the question, “What is truth?” Winfried Corduan provides a helpful way of understanding this question. He writes,
“…there is some kind of reality that is constituted independently of what we say about it. In other words, either my car is in the parking lot or not; either the geometry of right triangles follows the Pythagorean theorem or not; either God exists or He does not. This reality is a given. Our statements are true if they correspond to the reality in question; they are false if they do not correspond. We call this the correspondence theory of truth…”
In other words, regardless of what reality might be, if something is true, it corresponds to that reality. For Christians, the truth proclaimed relates to God because he is ultimate reality. Because truth is ultimately grounded in the person and character of God, truth is absolute or objective, unchanging, and universal. This absolute, unchanging and universal truth corresponds between a belief, a judgment or proposition, and a fact or state of affairs. Again, it is important for the Christian to respond to the charge of being arrogant with the humble claim that it is God alone who is omniscient. It is God who knows “all the truth about everything and knows it perfectly. As creator of all, he is the ultimate source of all our knowledge, so that our attempts to know truth are dependent on him and bear witness to him.” Thus, the Christian freely and humbly admits dependence upon the living God for his or her epistemological foundation.
Nevertheless, it is one thing to assert that one’s proposition or religious belief is true while quite another thing to test that truth-claim. How does one test a religious or philosophical truth-claim? Ronald Nash suggests five such tests: reason, experience, outer world, inner world, and practice. While all five are extremely helpful in evaluating a worldview, the limitations of this post prohibit examining all of them. Therefore, only the test of reason will be considered.
Nash says that by referring to the test of reason, he is referring to “logic or the law of noncontradiction.” The law of noncontradiction states that A cannot be B and non-B at the same time and in the same relationship. What this means is that when two contradictory truth-claims are stated and compared to one another, if one is true, then the other one is necessarily false. Nash says:
“Since contradiction is always a sign of error, we have a right to expect a conceptual system to be logically consistent, both in its parts (its individual propositions) and in the whole. A conceptual system is in obvious trouble if it fails to hang together logically.”
This test obviously will not be as useful for those religions or philosophies which make no universal truth claims. However, Carl Henry points out that “Logical inconsistency sacrifices plausibility; a logically inconsistent system cannot be valid or true.”
Furthermore, any repudiation of the law of noncontradiction is purely artificial and temporary. Aristotle showed that the law of noncontradiction is indispensable for significant action, significant thinking and significant communication to take place. Any argument against the law actually assumes it. In order for significant action to take place one cannot therefore do and not do a certain task at the same time and in the same relationship. If significant thinking is to take place then one cannot affirm two contradictory propositions as true. Finally, if significant communication is to take place, then words and propositions cannot be contradictory or have infinite amounts of meaning. More importantly, the use of logic is not the use of a human invention or meaningless word-games. Ronald Nash writes:
“‘The true nature of logical conclusions has not been arranged by men, rather they studied and took notice of it so that they might be able to learn or to teach it. It is perpetual in the order of things and divinely ordered.” For Augustine, the truth of propositions like ’2+2= 4′ does not consist simply in the mental act of making this judgment. Rather, its truth lies in the eternal reality which makes the judgment true. The truths of logic are not empty tautologies devoid of any reference to being.”
Moreover, this is not merely a law of thought, but has a direct relationship to ontological reality. Nash suggests:
“The denial of the law of noncontradiction leads to absurdity. It is impossible meaningfully to deny the laws of logic. If the law of noncontradiction is denied, nothing has meaning. If the laws of logic do not first mean what they say, nothing else can have meaning, including the denial of the laws.”
Thus a truth-claim, to be considered true, must actually correspond to reality or to the way things really are, and must not contain contradictions within the system. Once again, the test of reason can only serve as a negative test for truth. “…[T]he absence of contradiction does not guarantee the presence of truth.” However, as one of five tests for truth, it is extremely useful.
Next time we’ll take a look at the essential components to the Christian worldview.
PS - The video below is the best one minute and 43 second answer as to why as person should be a Christian that I've heard in a long, long time. And, gratefully, it goes well with I've just written. Enjoy.
Grace and Truth,