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Blaise Pascal
Blaise Pascal

I am a fan of Blaise Pascal. The 17th Century French genius has me in his corner. When I turned up in Oxford a couple of years ago I was told to read his Pensées (best said with thick, French accent – thank you Uncle T.) and so I did. At first I felt like I was snooping through his personal diary. His sprawling collection of notes, intended to be turned into a book one day, is a great insight into the mind of this brilliant man. It is a great pity that he never lived to finish what he started, but what he left was incredible in itself.

Perhaps best known for his famous ‘Wager’ argument, Pascal has made his mark in philosophy, not to mention his great work in mathematics and so much more (one of those great Renaissance men). However his famous ‘betting on God’ approach to belief (it’s better to wager on an eternity of bliss than against) is nowhere near his full apologetic for Christianity. Just reading Pensées makes that clear.

If all we read of Pascal is his Wager, and perhaps, as his most famous argument, that is all we might come across, we may think Pascal a Fideist. That is, someone who belief structure in God is based on a ‘leap of faith’. A ‘faith in faith’ approach, rather than a rational faith. David Baggett takes on this deficient view of Pascal in his essay, Pascal was No Fideist.

Baggett highlights that Pascal’s approach with his Pensées was to provide a wide variety of ‘evidential reasons’ to believe in God’s existence. Reason was central to Pascal. Yet reason has its limitations. Baggett says:

Pascal’s use of reason enabled him to identify reason’s limitations, which naturally led him to infer that reason is not everything.

Of course, as Baggett then goes on to point out, because ‘Pascal was no strong rationalist does not mean he was a fideist’. Pascal understood reason including reason’s limitations. Reason, logic, history, the condition of man (and morality) all played into a collective case that Pascal find persuasive for belief in God. Pascal’s Wager sat on top of all of this, rather than forming the foundation to his faith. Belief in God made sense for Pascal for many reasons and the Wager was far from a ‘hail Mary’ apologetic but a strong line of thought that would be useful in getting many to think about the great question of the existence of God. Baggett sums it up:

It is not that Pascal thought theism was unlikely but we had better cover our cosmic rear ends anyway, but rather that theism was likely true and that it had remarkable implications that need to be seriously reckoned with.

I continue to enjoy dipping into Pascal and learning from his great thoughts. It is amazing how his rich insight can seem contemporary (he nailed Facebook, for example). Using The Wager as a diving platform I’ve discovered a depth below it of well-reasonsed wisdom that we do well to revisit today.

Download Pascal was No Fideist by David Baggett.

You must translate every bit of your Theology into the vernacular. This is very troublesome, and it means you can say very little in half an hour, but it is essential. It is also of the greatest service to your own thought. I have come to the conviction that if you cannot translate your thoughts into uneducated language, then your thoughts were confused. Power to translate is the test of having really understood one’s own meaning.

C.S Lewis in Christian Apologetics quoted in C. S. Lewis – A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet

I am concerned that we are not prepared for such fights. I concerned that, in fact, we foster an over-protective intellectual environment that doesn’t prepare people for the bumps and knocks of honest exploration of reality. People who are unprepared for a rocky intellectual journey – people who are taught only to expect ease and triumph – will experience those harsh realities as profoundly disillusioning. Reality can confront us without a sugar-coating and our snug beliefs can be ripped from us in a way that feels, frankly, cruel, as I’m sure Jesus’ disciples would testify. But if we, too, are his disciples, why do we consider ourselves immune? Why do we think we will never have our own worldview lay in splinters? Why do we think that, even if he were to do that, he would certainly do it slowly, gently, easily, and will full explanation?

Read full article …

Good thoughts from Martin Smith on Christian Apologetics UK.


Read Michael Kruger's response to Bart Ehrman on the Gospel Coalition blog
Read Michael Kruger’s response to Bart Ehrman on the Gospel Coalition blog

Michael J. Kruger on The Gospel Coalition has posted a response to a challenge presented by Bart Ehrman. The challenge is this: because we don’t have the physical, first copies of the books of the Bible, we can’t trust what the Bible says. Erhman states,

What good is it to say that the autographs (i.e., the originals) were inspired? We don’t have the originals! We have only error-ridden copies, and the vast majority of these are centuries removed from the originals and different from them . . . in thousands of ways.

Kruger examines this claim and in his persuasive answer looks at:

  1. The role of the autographs (i.e. those first writings)
  2. The nature of the corruption of the manuscripts

Bart Ehrman’s attack follows in a long tradition of scholars attempting to undermine the strength of the Bible. This particular challenge is a little different to the ones that have come before and it is worth the time the understand the argument and the good reasons we have for rejecting it.

Do Unto Others

March 25, 2011 — 4 Comments

Brian McLaren has recently responded to an article John Piper wrote in the aftermath of the horrific earthquake and resulting tsunami in Japan. Both men exhibit compassion and sympathy towards the victims of this tragedy and encourage Christians to help where they can.

In reading McLaren’s response, I was however slightly bemused that McLaren went after Dr. Piper’s theological position, which differs from his own, with the argument that it is sometimes hard to draw absolutes, “black and whites” as it were, from the Bible. Here is what McLaren says to John Piper’s response in an opening paragraph (emphasis mine):

“This response will no doubt be deeply satisfying for many people of a certain theological bent, those who want simple answers to go along with their aid and empathy. This clean and clear theodicy, an explanation for how evil and suffering can exist, resonates well with the old saying, “The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it.

But as I’ve suggested elsewhere, for all its air of confident piety, that axiom is more than a little misleading. I think the underlying meaning of the saying could be more accurately rendered like this: “The Bible says something which I interpret in a certain way, and I believe that interpretation, and that settles it!” Yes, acknowledging the complexities of the interpretive process has a way of reducing the simplicity of one’s answers. But in the interest of truth and honesty, we often have to let black-and-white, open-and-shut simplicity at least temporarily dissolve into the grays of complexity and even the darkness of perplexity.”

The ironic twist as that towards the end of McLaren’s piece, he then turns to Scripture, and the “jagged history of our planet”, himself to argue his black and white position. He makes statements about who God is, what He is like, what His purpose is for us:

“To me, as I reflect on the Scriptures and on the jagged history of our planet, it is better to say that God’s sovereignty is not totalitarian. God isn’t the kind of king interested in absolute control. God wouldn’t create that kind of relationship with the universe because God isn’t that kind of God. Instead, God creates space and time for a universe to be, to become, to unfold in its own story, its own evolution. God’s kingship is God’s absolute commitment to be with us, whatever happens, always working to bring good from evil, healing from suffering, reconciliation from conflict, and hope from despair. This is the God I see imaged in Jesus, born as a vulnerable baby, growing as a vulnerable boy, living as an unarmed man with courage and kindness. This is the God imaged as a king who washes the feet of his subjects, a king whose power is revealed not by killing and conquering but by suffering and dying . . . and rising again.”

I appreciate that theology can be hard, and I can support robust discussion between differing scholars as we seek to understand God through the Bible and the work of Jesus. No one person or stream holds a monopoly on the truth, although there may be more truthfulness found in some than in others.

In the process of our continuing theological discussions, surely it would be wise to employ ground rules and acknowledge common points of reference? The first of these could perhaps be the words of Jesus in Matthew 7:12.

Tough theological positions differing from our own that others hold, palatable or otherwise, need to be critiqued in the same manner with which we would want our own to be examined. At the end of the day we have a responsibility before God to continually pursue truth ourselves (Philippians 2:12), not for personal goals but as a continuing testament to the glory of God.


February 25, 2011 — 1 Comment

Found on The Good Book Co.

Here’s a video from Os Guinness on the state of the Christian Church in the West. (YouTube)

Found at A Better Hope

“It is important for us to make a distinction between the spiritual fruit of joy and the cultural concept of happiness.”

R. C. Sproul writing on the Dark Night of the Soul.

On Sunday morning, or whenever you corporately meet, take a second to glance around and conduct a quick demographic survey. If your church is like mine there’ll be a fairly healthy smattering of kids, married couples and older folk but there could well be a gap in 20-30 single somethings, and an even bigger gap where the guys should be.

You could dismiss this by saying something like, “Young people grow up and then move away for university” – but does this answer the question? If you’re in a town or city then surely there will be people moving in to the city replacing those who are moving out.

I think it’s time to own the fact that by and large many churches struggle with retaining young men and women when they enter their twenties. Rather than simply explaining away this phenomenon I think it’s pertinent that we work out how we’re losing these people and how we’re going to get them back.

Being a man isn’t a problem, it’s the solution

The church was started by a man in his thirties with a bunch of his mates. They all had jobs and some had families. After 3 or so years of training Jesus (the guy who started the church) left eleven guys to get on with it. Of these eleven, ten were martyred for their beliefs. The love that these men had for Jesus led them to give everything they had for the church. This is the calibre of man that Jesus picked to lead the church. 2,000 years later and the job spec hasn’t changed, but perhaps the candidates have.

To succeed as a man in life you need to show some determination. To father and lead a family, hold down a job, provide a future and encourage men around you takes grit and courage. Through all of this a man’s character is shown and every aspect of his god-given manhood is used. My question is, do we encourage any of this in church or not?

Let me explain what I mean.

I wonder if you know of this man? He’s competitive, and likes sports. He’s stubborn and doesn’t like to admit he’s wrong. He wants to be right and win the argument, oh, and he wants to have lots of great sex.

Stereotype? Maybe. But here we have him. Now, let’s look at how some churches may see him. He’ll be branded as: strong and not meek/mild, proud and not soft-hearted, arrogant and divisive, and lustful and degrading to women. He’ll know sooner rather than later that he’s just sinful and all he desires are wrong. He’ll either have to neuter himself or leave the church. Not once will he be encouraged in who he is.

However, I don’t think this is how Jesus sees him. Sure, he might be misusing his passions – but our God is a redeemer, not a large anti-testosterone pill. Instead of pre-condemning the up-and-coming men in the church we should celebrate them and encourage them. Let’s look at them the way that a loving father who wants the best will look at them.

This guy I mentioned could be viewed this way. He is competitive; he’s not satisfied till he gives his best. He’s stubborn; he’ll fight for his faith. He regards truth highly and wont settle for anything less. Oh, his healthy sex-drive is a great ingredient for a healthy marriage, which is the core of a healthy family.

If we decide that we don’t need to defend truth, or work hard for our Lord and Saviour, and that easy compromise is preferable and healthy families don’t rate that highly then sure, we don’t need young men in the church. We can condemn all manly desires as sinful and not welcome and we can effectively skim off the boys as they reach manhood.

But if we wake up and realise that we value God’s truth and that it is under attack, that compromise is as disgusting as it is rife and that the family model is so far off from God’s plan, then maybe we’ll think about making at an effort to keep our boys instead of repelling them and take the effort train them to become the men God is calling them to be.

If we lose the young men, we lose the church. Game over. But if we give the guys a glimpse of how God sees them and how He wants to use them, then watch their natural talents come into play as they grab hold of life and pour their lives out for the church in love for their leader, Jesus.

Bible Study Magazine, from Logos, has an interesting article in this month’s edition, where, “Jeff Struecker recounts how studying the Bible helped him during the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu, which was portrayed in the book and movie Black Hawk Down, as well as during his career as an Army Ranger and chaplain.”

You can read the full article (pdf) here.