Is Marriage Vindicated?

23 February 2009

A recent article from the BBC highlights some interesting conclusions drawn from a report (The Good Childhood Inquiry) about the conditions in which we rear our children.

For example:

“…three times as many three year olds living with lone parents or a step-parent have behavioural problems compared with those living with married parents.”

“Children with separate, single or step parents are 50% more likely to fail at school, have low esteem, be unpopular with other children and have behavioural difficulties, anxiety or depression.”

“Child-rearing is one of the most challenging tasks in life and ideally it requires two people.”

This is certainly at odds with the current social consensus on raising children. But just when you might think that this does not necessarily support marriage, the report recommends that:

“…a civil birth ceremony conducted by a registrar in which parents publicly accept the responsibilities of parenthood”.

I know that this is not exactly the (modern, western) Christian marriage model, but it is pretty darn close for this secular culture.

But the report has some more startling things to say:

“…many more working mothers has contributed to the damage done to children”.

“…most women now work and their new economic independence contributes to levels of family break-up which are higher in the UK than in any other Western European country.”

Wow, talk about un-PC! Can you say that in the UK? Even I, a conservative (sort of) evangelical, find that difficult to swallow. But maybe my theology has been over-influenced by secular western thought.

What do you think?


Did you Know that You are a Philosopher?

23 November 2008

Everybody has a philosophy. You are no exception.

Maybe a better way to put it is that you have a ‘world-view’. A world-view, simply put, is a lens through which you and I view and experience “life, the universe, and everything”. It is unfortunate that many of us do not notice the lens. But it’s there all right.

Not sure? Then consider a little illustration, curtesy of a friend at church.

One day a young boy of six said to his father, “why does the world not fall down?”

To which his father explained in simple terms that the Earth orbits the Sun. He even referred to Newton’s universal law of gravitation (as he was a physics teacher).

The boy – ever inquisitive – then asked, “well, how do you know?”

His father, rubbing his hands and getting into his element, noted that many astronomers have observed this phenomenon in different parts of the sky. And these observations can be used to derive the law.

Beginning to sound like a philosopher or a good physicist, the boy then asked how astronomers could know that gravitation is a universal law?

Impressed now, the father explained that the law is constant throughout known reality (as far as we can tell, and assuming Newtonian physics for now).

Now sounding suspiciously older than six, the boy asked why this is the case. To which the father replied as best he could: he said, “it just is”.

At that point, the boy’s father revealed to his son part of his own world-view. The moment his father said “it just is”, is when we can see one of his father’s most fundamental assumptions.

Now, this simple story may not be realistic, or apply to everyone. But the point remains: we all have fundamental assumptions about reality. And that’s all they are: assumptions. And we can easily discover some of them by allowing ourselves to reach a similar stage where we must simply say, “it just is”.

What is your philosophy, what is your lens? Do you like what you discover? Are you confident in your assumptions? It is important to know what you assume, and why you assume it.

I leave you with a quote by Eric Hoffer:

“What monstrosities would walk the streets were some people’s faces as unfinished as their minds.”


Why do Some Christians Reject Evolution?

14 November 2008

I don’t want to debate the empirical matters of the theory of evolution. I’m neither a geneticist nor a biologist, so I gave that up ages ago. But it is my impression that most Christians who disagree with evolution do so on a basis that has nothing to do with the actual scientific merit of the theory anyway.

So why do some Christians reject the theory?

I think most would say that evolution is contrary to the first chapter of Genesis. But while I disagree with this sentiment, I won’t address it here (maybe another post).

What I want to do is discuss another possible reason, one that has cropped up in a few conversations. That is: some Christians think that the philosophical theories/statements founded on, and related to, evolution are synonymous with the theory itself. This appears to me to be absurd, very much throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

The theory of evolution is a scientific theory, not in itself philosophical (though I suppose it depends on how broad your definition of ‘philosophy’ is). You may as well reject the theory of relativity for philosophical reasons! So some Christians may have rejected the theory of evolution needlessly.

I think it may be helpful for all of us to understand, and make clear in our conversations, when and where we make the journey from science to philosophy.

My view on this is a work in progress, as it were; so I welcome your thoughts and comments. By all means disagree! But let me know, and expect a little discussion.


Reason vs. Revelation

28 September 2008

Perhaps you can help me. I was discussing the nature of Christian belief – specifically knowledge – the other day with a good friend, and I felt like I hit a wall. This wall is certainly not one that is unique to my friend, but is common to most everyone. The wall is that of human reason and intellect.

It was my friend’s opinion that while they could clearly observe that Christianity is mostly internally coherent, there is still a large gap of belief and understanding preventing full acceptance. And my friend is not able to cross this gap for intellectual reasons. I know that given the truth of Christianity, there should be no true intellectual gap; and indeed, I have been able to defend Christianity on the occasional issue. But I also believe there is more to this gap than mere reason.

I suppose you could see the void in a number of ways. In one sense I suppose it’s about Christianity being externally coherent: i.e. matching up to our sense of reality. But I do not believe this is possible without revelation from God. This is true for two reasons: first, God’s plan for salvation appears to be foolish when judged by human reason alone (1 Corinthians 1:18-28); second, mankind actively suppresses the truth of God’s existence (Romans 1:18-23). So it takes a divine intervention for people’s eyes to be opened.

So think of it this way: proper intellectual acceptance of God is not purely intellectual, it has a moral dimension. It is this moral dimension that is affected supremely by our inherent sin; and thus our intellectual capabilities are suppressed.

I know that for most Christians, the above is quite obvious and well-understood (assuming I got it right). However, I struggle with the implications of this with regard to human reason. It is clear that human reason is subordinate to God’s truth; and that human reason, in its purest form, is a gift of God. But what about when reason doesn’t appear to lead to God? Of course, from the Christian’s point of view this is a result of incomplete reasoning. But I can’t always argue around that.

Sometimes I just have to say that I don’t know: or rely on the foolishness of man and the wisdom of God. But I must say I don’t like it very much! So, what do you think? Do you think I have fundamentally misunderstood something; or do you have any advice?


Our Greatest Sin

14 September 2008

Rebellion against God. It’s the primal crime of the human race. And the guilt of it lies over every man, woman, child and nation: trying to live without God in control.

Your average person is not living a life of dramatic wickedness, only one of mundane godlessness and average selfishness; and yet the biblical warning is that this is the root of all sin: godlessness.

Rebellion against God; in which your decent, nice, and friendly neighbour is neither decent, nor nice, nor friendly to God.

He is the God who made us for himself and who sustains their lives every day. And yet he’s un-thanked and unwanted, and kept on the margins of their lives and their societies. They may have a kind of religion, because that kind of tames God, and keeps him in a box. But it’s not the true God and its not true religion. Our fallen humanity substitutes religion for God.

– Peter Lewis, Cornerstone Church


Church History (What is it good for?)

14 September 2008

I am almost finished reading a superb book about Church history by Bruce L. Shelley. It is called ‘Church History in Plain Language’ – and it’s most certainly that. It is written in a wonderfully narrative-ish style, and is gripping enough for me to get through the 490 or so pages.

Before I began the book, a Christian friend of mine expressed surprise that I would bother to read up on such a topic (especially such a lengthy one). He was also unconvinced about the usefulness of Church history knowledge – particularly for the layman. So the question I’d like to address is: what is Church history good for?

To begin with, I’d like to use the reasons that Shelley himself outlined in the prologue. He wrote that “many Christians today suffer from historical amnesia. The time between the apostles and their own day is one giant blank. That is hardly what God had in mind. The Old Testament is sprinkled with reminders of God’s interest in time…” Shelley further pointed out that ignorance of our history leads to vulnerability to cults (distortions of Christianity), a “shocking” case of spiritual pride (our way is the only way), and a lack of a wider context for any work in the Church (e.g., “how shall we use our time and effort?”). Shelley pointed out that study of Church history can give us the means to separate the “transient from the permanent, fads from basics”.

In addition, I would like to add that although we have the Bible for our own study today, our interpretations of the writings are coloured and shaped by our Christian ancestors. Why do we take this passage to mean one thing, that passage another? A quick glance into the past can make it clearer. There are also many valuable lessons to be learned looking though the corrective lens of hindsight. We don’t want to make the same mistakes again, do we?

For me personally, it has been a humbling experience. As I glimpsed into our past, it became surprising to me that God would choose to get anything done by us at all! We made so many stupid mistakes. It became obvious that God has his plan (whatever it may be), and manages to accomplish his will through us, by his choice.

My study also gave me an appreciation for the wider body of Christ, which is the true Church. I was suffering from some of the spiritual pride Shelley described. Now, I am in favour of denominationalism, but I was interested to discover that this idea came about in order to encourage unity though diversity (or at least, it stopped those who differed from killing each other). A denomination, by its original definition, did things the way it felt was right, but at the same time recognised that Jesus’ Church is much bigger – and there may be other ways of doing things. It seems now that I had too high a view of my particular way of doing things, and too high a view of mankind’s capability in the Church.

With this in mind, I encourage any Christian, even the layman, to investigate our Church history.


God Ordained that Evil Be

14 September 2008

I recently read a very intriguing article entitled, ‘Is God less Glorious Because He Ordained that Evil Be?’ by John Piper. The paper seeks to reconcile a Sovereign God and the inescapable presence of evil in the world; without implying that God is not fully in control, or that he does not see all ends. The following is a summary of the article (including direct quotation).

“God does not delight in evil as evil; rather, he wills that evil come to pass” (as evidenced by his control over natural and moral evil in this world) that good may come of it.

What good?

“It is a proper and excellent thing for infinite glory to shine forth; and for the same reason it is proper that the shining forth of God’s glory should be complete; that is, that all parts of his glory shine forth, that every beauty should be proportionally effulgent, that the beholder may have a proper notion of God. It is not proper that one glory should be exceedingly manifested, and another not at all…

Thus it is necessary that God’s awful majesty, his authority and dreadful greatness, justice, and holiness, should be manifested. But this could not e, unless sin and punishment had been decreed; so that the shining forth of God’s glory would be very imperfect, both because these parts of divine glory would not shine forth as the others do, and also that the glory of his goodness, love, and holiness would be faint without them; nay, they could scarcely shine forth at all.

If it were not right that God should decree and permit and punish sin, there could be no manifestation of God’s holiness in hatred of sin, or in showing any preference, in his providence, of godliness before it. There would be no manifestation of God’s grace or true goodness, if there was no sin to be pardoned, no misery to be saved from. How much happiness soever he bestowed, his goodness would not be so much prized and admired. . .

But is this beneficial to us? Piper explains that because our happiness consists in the knowledge of God and the sense of his love (he made it that way), evil is necessary as the means by which we gain the greatest insight and knowledge of God.

But if God ordains evil, is he evil himself? The short answer is no. “God has established a world in which sin will indeed necessarily come to pass by God’s permission, but not by his ‘positive agency’”.

But is permitting evil, evil? Again, Piper explains: “God may hate a thing as it is in itself, and considered simply as evil, and yet . . . it may be his will it should come to pass, considering all consequences. . . . God doesn’t will sin as sin or for the sake of anything evil; though it be his pleasure so to order things, that he permitting, sin will come to pass; for the sake of the great good that by his disposal shall be the consequence. His willing to order things so that evil should come to pass, for the sake of the contrary good, is no argument that he doesn’t hate evil, as evil: and if so, then it is no reason why he may not reasonably forbid evil as evil, and punish it as such.”

So we have a God who is in control of everything, and knows everything that will pass; who, in his perfection ordained that evil come to pass in order that his character may be perfectly manifest, resulting in his highest glory, and our greatest capacity for happiness. In that light, it seems possible to conclude that (considering all ends) the entirety of human history has been wrought by God to display his glory in the most perfect manner.

Remarkable – and challenging at that! It is not easy to accept first hand; so please study the topic further if you need to. Let me know what you think…