Kierkegaard’s Maturing Faith

The main reason for this upload is similar to my post on Augustine… that is, people’s views mature and change over a lifetime. Similarly, at the beginning of Kierkegaard’s works he was very existential. But as he and his faith matured he mentioned and placed his trust in Jesus fully. A great example of how he and all of us mature in our faith. For more clear thinking like this, visit Premier Christianity’s show, “Unbelievable?

Here is an interesting interview with Clifford Williams, teacher of philosophy at Trinity College in Deerfield, IL. He is an author of Existential Reasons for Belief in God: A Defense of Desires & Emotions for Faith. He talks about his background and how he got into philosophy, the role of philosophy in theology and apologetics, the meaning of “existential” and the existential argument for belief in God, needs and desires and their role in the existential argument, various objections to the argument, the role of the argument in a cumulative case for God, practical application for apologetics.

Keep in mind in our very “rational” | “scientific” Western mind, often the softer side of life, faith, and what it means to be an emotional being is often times neglected.

Theologian Wayne Grudem on Pacifism (+Ravi Zacharias)

This is the first of a couple posts/Excerpts that will highlight “Just War Theory,” Pacifism, and the like. By far this is one of the best resources that I will start this series of excerpts [and later some thoughts] with. It should sit on every serious Christians shelf. Enjoy:


  • Wayne Grudem, Politics According to the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), 36-44, 388-394.



According to this third view, all use of government power is deeply infected by evil, demonic forces. The realm of government power is the realm of Satan and his forces, and therefore all governmental use of “power over” someone is “worldly” and is not the way of life that Jesus taught.

Those who hold this view also usually favor military pacifism. They argue that since Jesus told us to turn the other cheek (Matt. 5:39), the best way to resolve disputes—even among nations—is never to use military force, but always to negotiate and build friend­ships and act in a Christlike way, showing love to other nations.

 1. Support from Luke 4:6

This viewpoint has been strongly promoted by Minnesota pastor Greg Boyd in his influ­ential book The Myth of a Christian Nation (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005). Boyd’s views in this book have had a large impact in the United States, especially on younger evangelical voters.

Boyd says that all civil government is “demonic” (p. 21). Boyd’s primary evidence is Satan’s statement to Jesus in Luke 4:

And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours” (Luke 4:5-7).

Boyd emphasizes Satan’s claim that all the authority of all the kingdoms of the world “has been delivered to me” and then says that Jesus “doesn’t dispute the Devil’s claim [p.37>] to own them. Apparently, the authority of all the kingdoms of the world has been given to Satan.”29

Boyd goes on to say, “Functionally, Satan is the acting CEO of all earthly governments.”30 This is indeed a thoroughgoing claim!

2. The mistake of depending on Luke 4:6

Greg Boyd is clearly wrong at this point. Jesus tells us how to evaluate Satan’s claims, for he says that Satan “has nothing to do with the truth” because

“there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44).

Jesus didn’t need to respond to every false word Satan said, for his purpose was to resist the temptation itself, and this he did with the decisive words, “It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve ‘” (Luke 4:8).

In evaluating Boyd’s claim that “the authority of all the kingdoms of the world has been given to Satan,” we have a choice: Do we believe Satan’s words that he has the authority of all earthly kingdoms, or do we believe Jesus’ words that Satan is a liar and the father of lies? The answer is easy: Satan wanted Jesus to believe a lie, and he wants us to believe that same lie, that he is the ruler of earthly governments.31

By contrast, there are some very specific verses in the Bible that tell us how we should think of civil governments. These verses do not agree with Satan’s claim in Luke 4:6 or with Boyd’s claim about Satan’s authority over all earthly governments. Rather, these verses where God (not Satan) is speaking portray civil government as a gift from God, something that is subject to God’s rule (not Satan) and used by God for his purposes. Here are some of those passages:

“The Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will and sets over it the lowliest of men” (Dan. 4:17).

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no author­ity except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are the ministers of God, attending to this very thing (Rom. 13:1-6).

[p.38>] Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good (1 Peter 2:13-14).

At this point it is interesting that both Paul (in Romans) and Peter see civil govern­ment as doing the opposite of what Satan does: civil governments are established by God “to punish those who do evil,” but Satan encourages those who do evil! Civil governments are established by God “to praise those who do good,” but Satan discourages and attacks those who do good. In addition, it would not make sense for Peter to say, “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every institution in which Satan is the CEO.” Peter would not want Christian citizens to be subject to Satan’s control and direction.

The point is that Satan wants us to believe that all civil government is under his con­trol, but that is not taught anywhere in the Bible. (Of course, Satan can influence some individuals in government, but he is not in control.) The only verse in the whole Bible that says Satan has authority over all governments is spoken by the father of lies, and we should not believe it. Greg Boyd is simply wrong in his defense of the view that “all government is demonic.”

3. But where did Jesus ever teach us to use force?

In supporting his position, Boyd often appeals to the teachings of Jesus rather than the teachings of the whole Bible. For example, “Jesus didn’t come to give us the Christian answer to the world’s many socio-political quandaries”32 Boyd also says that the “just war” theory is “something that Christ never taught or hinted at”33 (quoting George Zabelka with approval).

But this form of argument fails to recognize that the whole Bible was given to us by God. We have no right to restrict our views to the teachings of Jesus in the four Gospels. If the main teaching on civil government in the Bible is found in Genesis 9:5-6, and in the historical narratives and laws in Exodus to Deuteronomy and Judges to 2 Chron­icles, and in Romans 13, and in 1 Peter 2:13-14, then getting Christians to neglect those passages gets them to misunderstand what the Bible says about civil government. That is exactly what-Boyd is doing when he asks, “Where did Jesus ever act or talk like this?”34 The answer is that the whole Bible comes with the authority of God and the authority of Jesus Christ, and our position on government should be based on the teaching of the whole Bible. (Also, Jesus did seem to authorize the use of a sword for self-defense and protection against robbers in Luke 22:36-38; see discussion below on pp. 201-3.)

4. Support from Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey

One other argument used by Boyd depends on the Greek writer Homer in his epic poems Iliad and Odyssey. Boyd says that

[p.39>] in Homer “the gods” are always involved in the affairs of humans…. For Homer, the inevitability of war is not just the result of conflicting passions—it has a supernatural dimension. And all the while, Zeus sits on Mount Olympus, amused by the sport of it all.35

Boyd says that if we understand these Greek “gods” to be demonic forces, then

Homer was also right about the gods…. Our tribal, territorial, and ideological passions have a demonic dimension to them…. From a scriptural perspective, these fallen gods are behind and involved in the conflict that occurs between nations. And all the while, Satan, the ultimate single “power over” god of this age, watches the bloodshed with a demonic sense of amusement.36

5. This view leads to a “moral equivalence” between good and evil governments

There are two problems with Boyd’s analysis here: (1) Homer is not the Bible, nor did he write (in the eighth century BC) from a biblical worldview, and we should be suspicious of any worldview that is derived from ancient Greek mythology rather than from the Bible. (2) In Homer (as interpreted by Boyd) the motivating factors of the governments on the two different sides in a war are both demonic.

This leads Boyd to adopt a “moral equivalence” view of various conflicts between nations: both sides are following Satan. (Although Boyd does not explicitly say it, this view would imply that Adolf Hitler was following Satan, for example, and England and the United States were also following Satan in sending armies to defeat Hitler!) Boyd does apply his “moral equivalence” view to the modern conflict between American forces and terrorists in Iraq, and specifically the terrorists’ beheading of an American civilian, Nicholas Berg. Boyd says this to his American readers:

Your yearning for justice is, of course, natural. But this rage is exactly what led the terrorists to cut off Mr. Berg’s head in the first place. You probably passionately believe that our cause is just, and theirs is evil, but the terrorists passionately believe that their cause is just and ours is evil. Your passion for American justice is mirrored by their passion for Islamic justice.37

How could Boyd come to the point where he sees Islamic beheading of innocent civilians as morally equivalent to America defending itself against terrorist attacks? How could he believe that a nation that never intentionally targets innocent civilians is mor­ally the same as a terrorist movement that makes it a conscious policy to target, torture, and kill innocent civilians?

Boyd reaches this conclusion because he follows this wrongful “all government is demonic” view. Boyd sees committing horrible terrorist acts and defending against [p.40>] terrorists as morally equivalent because he believes Satan’s lie in Luke 4:6 that all the authority in the earth’s kingdoms has been given to him, and he believes Homer’s false Greek mythology that the “gods” (which Boyd sees as demons) motivate both sides in human conflicts. Boyd believes these errors from Satan and Homer rather than fully believing the Bible when it says that the civil government “is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (Rom. 13:4).

Thus Boyd’s “all government is demonic” view makes him unable to see the truth, namely, that terrorists who attack innocent civilians (as at 9/11) are evil, and the Ameri­can military, when it pursues and kills terrorists who are attacking innocent civilians, is working as “God’s servant for your good” and “is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (Rom. 13:4). Boyd simply fails to realize that carrying out terrorist murders of innocent civilians is evil and defending a nation against such terrorists is good. But his position is the logical consequence of the “all government is demonic” view.

6. Boyd’s rejection of all governmental “power over” as “worldly”

There is yet a deeper reason behind Boyd’s “all government is demonic” view. The deeper reason is that Boyd rejects what he calls governmental “power over” others as worldly and not part of the kingdom of God. Boyd says,

Wherever a person or group exercises power over others … there is a version of the kingdom of the world. While it comes in many forms, the kingdom of the world is in essence a “power over” kingdom…. There have been democratic, socialist, communist, fascist, and totalitarian versions of the kingdom of the world, but they all share this distinctive characteristic: they exercise “power over” people.38

Boyd explains that this power over people is sometimes called “the power of the sword.” He says, “The power of the sword is the ability to coerce behavior by threats and to make good on those threats when necessary: if a law is broken, you will be pun­ished.”39 While Boyd admits that this exercise of “power over” others is “not altogether bad,”40 because Romans 13 explains that God uses this power of government “to keep law and order in the world,”41 he immediately returns to his main emphasis on Satan’s authority over all the kingdoms of the world42 and concludes that “even the best politi­cal ideology lies under the influence of a ‘power over’ cosmic ruler who is working at cross-purposes to God.”43

By contrast, Boyd thinks people should recognize the contrast “between the ‘power over’ kingdom of the world and the ‘power under’ kingdom of God,” which is the same as “Lion power” versus “Lamb power.44 He says, “The kingdom God advances by people lovingly placing themselves under others, in service to others, at cost to themselves.”45

[p.41>] Boyd says that “coming under others has a power to do what laws and bullets and bombs can never do—namely, bring about transformation in an enemy’s heart.”46 He then says,

Obviously, when hearts and motives are transformed, behavior is eventually transformed as well—but without “power over” threats. Similarly, where the rule of God is established, law and order are established—but without “power over” force…. Do you trust “power over” or “power under”? Do you trust the power of the sword, the power of external force, or do you trust the influential but non-coercive power of Calvary-like love?47

7. Boyd says Christians should not even fight to defend their wives and children or their country

This rejection of governmental “power over” other people leads Boyd to say that a person totally conformed to the image of Jesus Christ should not even use physical violence to defend against an attacker who “threatened to kill you, your wife, or your children?”48 Plus, the rejection of the “power over” kingdom also leads him to say that Christians should never serve in combat situations in the military:

I find it impossible to reconcile Jesus’ teaching (and the teaching of the whole New Testament) concerning our call to love our enemies and never return evil with evil with the choice to serve (or not resist being drafted) in the armed forces in a capacity that might require killing someone.49

He also says, “I honestly see no way to condone a Christian’s decision to kill on behalf of any country—or for any other reason.”50

So at the heart of Boyd’s teaching is a fundamental opposition to the use of superior force to restrain evil, even an evil criminal who attacks one’s wife and children. Boyd’s “all government is demonic” view leads him to advocate an absolute, total pacifism for those who wish to follow Christ.

8. God has established both evangelism and the power of government to restrain evil

The problem with Boyd’s view here is that he fails to distinguish the task of evangelism from the task of civil government. Of course God has not told us to spread the Gospel of Christ by using the “power of the sword” or the power of government. We spread the Gospel by the proclamation of the Word of God (see Rom. 10:17). But God has told us that we should restrain evil by the power of the sword and by the power of civil govern­ment (as in the teaching of Romans 13:1-6, quoted above, p. 37).

[p.42>] If the power of government (such as a policeman) is not present in an emergency, when great harm is being done to another person, then my love for the victim should lead me to use physical force to prevent any further harm from occurring. If I found a criminal attacking my wife or children, I would use all my physical strength and all the physical force at my disposal against him, not to persuade him to trust in Christ as his Savior, but to immediately stop him from harming my wife and children! I would follow the command of Nehemiah, who told the men of Israel, “Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes” (Neh. 4:14; see also Genesis 14:14-16, where Abraham rescued his kinsman Lot who had been taken captive by a raiding army).

Boyd has wrongly taken one of the ways that God restrains evil in this world (chang­ing hearts through the Gospel of Christ) and decided that it is the only way that God restrains evil (thus neglecting the valuable role of civil government). Both means are from God, both are good, and both should be used by Christians.

This is why Boyd misunderstands Jesus’ statement, “If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matt. 5:39). When this verse is rightly understood (see below, p. 82), we see that Jesus is telling individuals not to take revenge fora personal insult or a humiliating slap on the cheek.51 But this command for individual kindness is not the same as the instructions that the Bible gives to governments, who are to “bear the sword” and be a “terror” to bad conduct and are to carry out “God’s wrath on the wrong­doer” (Rom. 13:3-4). The verses must be understood rightly in their own contexts. One is talking about individual conduct and personal revenge. The other is talking about the responsibilities of government. We should not confuse the two passages.

9. Could more pacifism have stopped slavery or stopped Hitler?

Near the end of his book Boyd responds to the objection that war was necessary to end slavery in the United States (in the Civil War) and to stop Hitler’s campaign to take over the entire world (in World War II). Didn’t the use of military force bring about good in those cases?

Boyd’s response is to say that if Christians had been better pacifists, history would have been different: “Had professing Christians been remotely like Jesus in the first place, there would have been no slavery or war for us to wonder about what would have happened had Christians loved their enemies and turned the other cheek.”52 With regard to the US Civil War, Boyd says, “A kingdom person should rather wonder what might have happened had more kingdom people been willing to live out the call of the radical kingdom.”53

But this is just an elegant way of saying, “If history was different, it would prove my case.” And that is another way of saying, “If the facts were different, they would prove my case.” That is not a valid argument. It is appealing to wishful thinking rather than facts.

[p.43>] Boyd is simply saying that if the world were different, the world would be different. But that proves nothing. History is what it is, and history shows that both the evil of American slavery and the evil of Adolf Hitler were only stopped by the power of superior military force. That is the task that God has assigned to governments when they “bear the sword” (Rom. 13:4).

10. The more ominous implications of the “all government is demonic” view

I am concerned about the influence of Boyd’s position because his mistake is not simply a harmless failure to distinguish the task of evangelism from the task of government. There is a much more serious problem with his position, namely, that it tends to persuade Christians to oppose all governmental power over evil. Although we cannot discuss the biblical passages in detail until later chapters, at many places in the Bible God approves the use of governmental power over evildoers: see, for example, Genesis 9:5-6; the narratives concerning Moses and other righteous judges and kings in the Old Testament; Romans 13:1-6; and 1 Peter 2:13-14. God establishes civil government and authorizes it to use its power to restrain evil, “to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good” (1 Peter 2:14).

But what would happen if more and more Christians agreed with Greg Boyd that the use of “power over” evildoers by government is serving Satan as “CEO” and Christians should have no part in it?

On the world scene, it would mean less and less support for a strong military and more and more insistence on endless conversations with aggressive nations who would attack us and our allies. It would mean more and more of the kind of appeasement that led Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain of England to sign the Munich Agreement of 1938, giving Hitler a large section of Czechoslovakia with no objection from Britain, only in exchange for Hitler’s (empty) promise of peace. This view would today result in increasing objection to the use of military power to oppose evil aggressors anywhere in the world. And that, in turn, would result in increased aggression by Islamic terrorists as well as by countries such as Russia, North Korea, Iran, Venezuela, Cuba, and any others who realize that no act of aggression would be answered by American military force anywhere in the world.

At the local level, this rejection of all governmental “power over” evil would mean more and more opposition to the use of superior force by local police, for Boyd’s ideal way of opposing all evildoers is “by people lovingly placing themselves under others, in service to others, at cost to themselves.”54 Because Boyd’s approach neglects God’s appointed way of using governmental power to restrain evil, the result would be the unrestrained growth of violent crime in every community.

At this point, discerning Christians should be able to see a more ominous spiritual component at the heart of Boyd’s position. Who would ultimately profit from persuading Christians that all government power over evil is wrong and demonic? Who would [p.44>] ultimately want to eliminate all use of power over evil by those who are followers of Jesus Christ? It would ultimately be Satan himself, who wants no force for good to restrain his evil deeds in the world.

Therefore, at the heart of Greg Boyd’s position is an exact reversal of the role of God and Satan with regard to civil government. Boyd says that when government exercises power over evil, this itself is demonic and evil. But the Bible tells us that the ruler who exercises power to restrain and punish evil is doing “good” and is “God’s servant” (Rom. 13:4).

The “all government is demonic and evil” view is a third wrong view.




1. Governments are responsible to defend their nations from attacks by other nations

As we saw in chapter 3 above (see pp. 77-82), one of the most basic responsibilities of government is to punish those who do evil. When a government does this, it defends the weak and defenseless and deters further wrongdoing. The apostle Peter says the civil government is intended “to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good” (1 Peter 2:14). Paul says that the government is authorized by God to “bear the sword” (Rom. 13:4) against evildoers so that it can be “a terror” to bad conduct (v. 3), and it also “carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (v. 4). According to Paul, when the ruler uses superior force—even deadly force—against evil, he is “God’s servant for your good” (v. 4).

Now, if a government is commanded by God to protect its citizens from the robber or thief who comes from within a country, then certainly it also has an obligation to protect its citizens against thousands of murderers or thieves who come as an army from somewhere outside of the nation. Therefore a nation has a moral obligation to defend itself against foreign attackers who would come to kill and conquer and subjugate the people in a nation.

Further evidence for this is seen in Old Testament narratives where the nation of Israel repeatedly had to defend itself against attacks by nations such as the Philistines, the Assyrians, and the Babylonians. When God blessed Israel, they defeated their enemies who were attacking them (see Judg. 2:16-18; 1 Sam. 17; 2 Sam. 5:17-25; and numerous other examples in the Old Testament narratives). But when the people disobeyed God and turned from him, he allowed other nations to defeat them as a manifestation of his judgment against them:

They abandoned the LORD and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth. So the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers, who plundered them. And he sold them into the hand of their surrounding enemies, so that they could no longer withstand their enemies. Whenever they marched out, the hand of the LORD was against them for harm, as the LORD had warned, and as the LORD had sworn to them. And they were in terrible distress (Judg. 2:13-15).

This was a fulfillment of what God had promised through Moses in Deuteronomy 28. If the people were obedient to God, he promised, “The LORD will cause your enemies who rise against you to be defeated before you. They shall come out against you one way and flee before you seven ways” (v. 7). But if they disobeyed, “The LORD will cause you to be defeated before your enemies. You shall go out one way against them and flee seven ways before them” (v. 25).

These promises were fulfilled multiple times in the history of Israel. They demon­strate that it is a good thing in God’s sight—a special blessing—when a government has enough military power to defeat the enemies who would bring armies to attack it (that [p.389>] is, it is a good thing as long as a government has not become so corrupt and evil that God would be pleased to see it conquered).

Sometimes people wonder how it can be consistent for the Ten Commandments to say, “You shall not murder” (Exod. 20:13), and then also command that soldiers and armies go forth to kill the soldiers in an attacking army. Doesn’t this mean that sol­diers who kill in combat are violating one of the Ten Commandments? No, it does not, because that is not what that verse means.

The Hebrew word translated “murder” in Exodus 20:13 is rātsakh, a word used forty-nine times in the Old Testament. It is never used to refer to killing in war (other Hebrew words are used for this). Rather, the word refers to what we would call “murder” in English today (the unlawful killing of another human being) and also “causing human death through carelessness or negligence” (as the ESV marginal note says at this verse). The command is not speaking about killing in war, and the original Hebrew readers would not have understood it to apply to soldiers who kill in combat.

In fact, at various times in the Old Testament, God himself commanded the people of Israel to go to war (see Deut. 20:1), and it would be contradictory for him to com­mand something and forbid it at the same time. In the New Testament, soldiers are not condemned for being soldiers in the Roman army, but John the Baptist tells them, “Be content with your wages” (Luke 3:14), and Cornelius, a Roman centurion in charge of one hundred soldiers, came to faith and was baptized as a believer in Jesus with no indi­cation that there was anything morally wrong about the occupation of being a soldier (see Acts 10:1, 44-48; see also Luke 14:31). (See also the discussion on taking a life in capital punishment on pp. 186-97 above.)


Of course, there are wrong wars such as wars merely for conquest and plunder. How can we tell if a war is right or wrong? During centuries of ethical discussions regarding the question of war, one common viewpoint that developed, with much input from Chris­tian scholars, is the “just war” tradition. That viewpoint argues that a war is morally right (or “just”) when it meets certain criteria. It also argues that there are certain moral restrictions on the way that war can be conducted.

It seems to me that this “just war” tradition, in general, is consistent with biblical teachings about the need for nations to defend themselves against their enemies. Here is a useful recent summary of the criteria for a just war, together with biblical references that support these criteria. I think that these criteria, in general, are consistent with these biblical teachings:

Over time, the just war ethic has developed a common set of criteria that can be used to decide if going to war in a specific situation is right. These include the following: (1) just cause (is the reason for going to war a morally right cause, such as defense of a nation? cf. Rev. 19:11); (2) competent authority (has the war been declared not simply by a renegade band within a nation but by a [p.390>] recognized, competent authority within the nation? cf. Rom. 13:1); (3) com­parative justice (it should be clear that the actions of the enemy are morally wrong, and the motives and actions of one’s own nation in going to war are, in comparison, morally right; cf. Rom. 13:3); (4) right intention (is the pur­pose of going to war to protect justice and righteousness rather than simply to rob and pillage and destroy another nation? cf. Prov. 21:2); (5) last resort (have all other reasonable means of resolving the conflict been exhausted? cf. Matt. 5:9; Rom. 12:18); (6) probability of success (is there a reasonable expec­tation that the war can be won? cf. Luke 14:31); (7) proportionality of projected results (will the good results that come from a victory in a war be significantly greater than the harm and loss that will inevitably come with pursuing the war? cf. Rom. 12:21 with 13:4); and (8) right spirit (is the war undertaken with great reluctance and sorrow at the harm that will come rather than simply with a “delight in war,” as in Ps. 68:30?).

In addition to these criteria for deciding whether a specific war is “just,” advocates of just war theory have also developed some moral restrictions on how a just war should be fought. These include the following: (1) proportional­ity in the use of force (no greater destruction should be caused than is needed to win the war; cf. Deut. 20:10-12); (2) discrimination between combatants and noncombatants (insofar as it is feasible in the successful pursuit of a war, is ade­quate care being taken to prevent harm to noncombatants? cf. Deut. 20:13-14, 19-20); (3) avoidance of evil means (will captured or defeated enemies be treated with justice and compassion, and are one’s own soldiers being treated justly in captivity? cf. Ps. 34:14); and (4) good faith (is there a genuine desire for resto­ration of peace and eventually living in harmony with the attacking nation? cf. Matt. 5:43-44; Rom. 12:18).1


Although the just war view has been the one most commonly held throughout the his­tory of the church, a minority view has been that of military pacifism. The pacifist view holds that it is always wrong for Christians to use military force against others and thus it is wrong for Christians to participate in military combat, even to defend their own nation. A similar pacifist view holds that it is wrong for anyone to participate in military combat and that such “violence” is always morally wrong.

I have responded in some detail (in chap. 1 above, pp. 36-44) to several of the argu­ments for pacifism, because they are often related to the “all government is demonic” view advocated by Greg Boyd. Another recent advocate of pacifism is Jim Wallis, in his book God’s Politics.2 Similar arguments are also found in Shane Claiborne and Chris [p.391>] Haw’s Jesus for President, which advocates a pacifist perspective.3 What follows here is a shorter analysis of the key pacifist arguments as they apply to war.

The arguments commonly used to support pacifism are that (1) Jesus commanded us to turn the other cheek (in Matt. 5:39), (2) Jesus commanded us to love our neigh­bors as ourselves (Matt. 22:39), (3) engaging in military combat involves failure to trust God, and (4) the use of violence always begets further violence, and pacifism should be adopted to stop that vicious cycle.

In response, I would argue that (1) the pacifist viewpoint wrongly uses Jesus’ teach­ing about individual conduct in turning the other cheek (Matt. 5:39) to apply to civil government (see discussion above, pp. 42, 82 ,201-2), but the explicit teaching on civil governments in Romans is that it should “bear the sword” to oppose evildoers and execute God’s wrath on the wrongdoer (Rom. 13:4). In addition, in Luke 22:36 Jesus actually commanded his followers to carry a sword (which was used for self-defense and protection from robbers; see discussion above, pp. 201-3).

(2) If we truly love our neighbors (as Jesus commanded in Matt. 22:39), then we will be willing even to go to war to protect them from evil aggressors who are attack­ing the nation. While the pacifist might ask, “How can you love your neighbor or even love your enemy and then kill him in war,” the answer has to be that God commanded both love for one’s neighbor and going to war, for the command “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” is found in Leviticus 19:18 in the Old Testament, and Jesus quotes it from there. Therefore it must be consistent for God to command both things and the one command should not be used to nullify the other. One example of this is found in the tragic story of David sending out his army to defeat Absalom, his son, in 2 Samuel 18:1-33. David had great love for his son Absalom and yet he was responsible to protect the office of king that God had entrusted to him. Therefore, with sorrow, and while still loving Absalom, David sent the army out against him.

(3) Christians have no right to tell others to “trust in God” for things that are dif­ferent from what the Bible teaches, and Romans 13:1-4 teaches that God authorizes governments to use deadly force if necessary to oppose evil. Therefore, at this point the pacifist argument is telling people to disobey what Romans 13 says about government and then to trust God to protect them anyway. This would be like telling people they should not work to earn a living, but should “trust God” to provide their food anyway! A better approach is to obey what God says in Romans 13:1-4 about the use of govern­ment power to restrain evil and then trust God to work through that government power to restrain evil, which is how he intends governments to function.

This is the problem I have with Jim Wallis when he criticizes the American reliance on military power to protect the nation from terrorists as “a foreign policy based primarily [p.392>] on fear.4 And then he also attributes another wrong motive to Americans when he puts military responses to terrorist attacks in the category of “anger and vengeance” that leads a nation to “indiscriminately retaliate in ways that bring on even more loss of innocent life.”5 Wallis sees military action against terrorism as based on “fear” and “vengeance.”

By contrast, Romans 13 teaches that military action used to defend a nation is not a wrongful or sinful activity, nor is a desire to depend on military action (under God’s guid­ance) a wrongful attitude to have, because God has authorized nations to use such mili­tary power. What pacifists like Wallis fail to realize is that it is completely possible—as millions of Christians who have served in military forces have demonstrated—to trust in God that he will enable them to use the military power he has put in their hands to successfully defend their country. The solution is not pacifism, but trust in God to give success while obeying him by using the military defense that he has appointed.

This is also why pacifists such as Wallis are actually unbiblical when they say that nations like the United States should not act alone and use “unilateral action” to defend themselves, but should rather depend on a “world court to weigh facts and make judg­ments, with effective multi-national law enforcement.”6 Elsewhere Wallis wants us to depend on a much more powerful “international law” and “global police forces.”7 Wal­lis says that only such a world court with effective power “will be able to protect us.”8

There are several objections to Wallis’s argument:

(a) It is mere wishful thinking. Such an effective worldwide government over the entire earth has never occurred in the entire history of the human race. (Even the Roman Empire at its largest extent did not reach to China or India or sub-Saharan Africa or North and South America.) It is foolishness to depend on something that has never existed to save us from a terrorist threat that we are facing at this very minute.

(b) If such a powerful world government ever did exist, it would likely be dominated by the votes of numerous small nations who are largely anti-American because their governments are communist or totalitarian or devoted to expanding the Muslim reli­gion and therefore opposed to the United States. In this way it would be like the present make-up of the United Nations with its frequent anti-American votes.

(c) Depending on such a world government to keep peace in the world would require nations to give up their individual sovereignty and would require the United States to give up a significant measure of its individual sovereignty. This would open the door to reducing the United States to a condition of servitude and domination by nations or leaders that seek its demise.

Far better than the pacifist position of trusting in a world court and world police force is trusting in the Lord to use the means he has designated, which is the use of each nation’s own military power, as I have argued above from Romans 13 and other passages.

(4) It is simply untrue to say, as pacifists do, that “violence always begets more violence.” The deadly force used by local police in restraining or killing a murderer brings [p.393>] that murderer’s violence to an end. It is the same situation when armies are used to defend nations against aggressors. In fact, the use of military power stopped Adolf Hitler from taking over all of Europe and ultimately all the world in World War II. It stopped the North Koreans from taking over South Korea in the Korean War. In the American Civil War, it stopped the Confederate armies from establishing a separate nation in which slavery would be preserved and protected.

The pacifist slogan “violence always begets more violence” is misleading, because it uses the same word, “violence,” to refer to two very different things—the morally good use of deadly force to stop evildoers and the morally wrong use of force to carry out attacks on innocent people. A better slogan is, “Just governments should use superior force to stop criminal violence against innocent people.” Or even shorter, “Superior force stops criminal violence.”

This is the shortcoming of the pacifist position of Wallis, who says that the solution to international terrorism is “the mobilization of the most extensive international and diplomatic pressure the world has ever seen against the Bin Ladens of the world and their networks of terror.”9 Consistent with that position, Wallis argues that rather than going to war against Iraq,

The international community could have united in an effective strategy to isolate, contain, disarm and ultimately undermine and remove the brutal and dangerous regime of Saddam Hussein.

Wallis adds, “The Iraqi people themselves could have been supported internationally to create civil resistance within their own country to achieve [regime change].”10

But Wallis’s pacifist solution here is very much like the wishful thinking of Greg Boyd that I discussed in chapter 1 (see pp. 42-43). He is simply saying that we “could have” overthrown Saddam and protected ourselves from international terrorists without military action against them by the United States. The phrase “could have” in pacifist arguments can justify almost any wishful thinking. We “could have” waited for some future day when a supposed international police force would come on the scene. And we “could have” waited for the day when the Iraqi people would rise up and overthrow a brutal dictator who controlled one of the most powerful armies in the world. But in fact, these things did not happen, although alternative solutions had been tried for many years. In actual fact, it was only the superior force of the United States military that over­threw Saddam. It was only the superior power of the United States military that defeated terrorists in Afghanistan. It was only the superior power of the United States military that protected us for many years following 9/11.

This kind of “history could have been different” argument is common in pacifist literature. Instead of acknowledging that military power is necessary to achieve a triumph over evil forces, it claims, “If the events of history had turned out differently, they would support my case.” But that is simply saying, “If the facts were different, they would support my case.” That is not a persuasive argument. It is merely wishful thinking.

[p.394>] The logic of pacifism leads ultimately to a total surrender to the most evil of governments, who will stop at nothing to use their power to oppress others. (See further discussion above, in chap. 1, pp. 41-44.) For all of these reasons, the pacifism of Jim Wallis and others is not a persuasive position for Christians to adopt.


29. Greg Boyd, The Myth of a Christian Nation (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 21.
30. Ibid., 22.
31. Boyd also quotes some other verses in Myth of a Christian Nation, 21-22, but none of them refer specifically to civil governments, so they do not prove his point.
32. Ibid., 59.
33. Ibid., 168.
34. Ibid., 91.
35. Ibid., 23.
36. Ibid., 24.
37. Ibid., 25.
38. Ibid., 18, italics added.
39. Ibid.
40. Ibid., 19.
41. Ibid.
42. Ibid., 21.
43. Ibid., 22.
44. Ibid., 31.
45. Ibid.
46. Ibid.
47. Ibid., 32-33.
48. Ibid., 162,166.
49. Ibid., 166-67.
50. Ibid., 173.
51. See explanation of this verse in ESV Study Bible, p.1830; see also pp. 2554-55. [I added this recommendation]

5:39 Do not resist the one who is evil. Jesus is not prohibiting the use of force by governments, police, or soldiers when combating evil (see notes on Luke 3:12-14; Rom. 13:1-4; 1 Pet. 2:13-14 Rather, Jesus’ focus here is on individual conduct, as indicated by the contrast with Matt 5:38, which shows that he is prohibiting the universal human tendency to seek personal revenge (see note on Rom. 12:19) If anyone slaps you on the right cheek pictures a backhanded slap given as an insult (a right-handed per­son would use the back of the hand to slap someone on the right cheek; cf. Mishnah, Baba Kamma 8.6). The word “slaps” translates Gk. rhapizō, “to slap, to strike with the open hand.” turn to him the other also One should not return an insulting slap, which would lead to escalating violence In the case of a more serious assault, Jesus’ words should not be taken to prohibit self-defense (see Luke 12:11; 22:36-38; Acts 22:1; 24:10) or fleeing from evil (see 1 Sam 19:10; Luke 4:29-30; John 8:59; 10:39; 2 Cor. 11:32-33), for often a failure to resist a violent attack leads to even more serious abuse Acting in love toward an attacker (Matt. 5:44; 22:39) will often include taking steps to prevent him from attempting further attacks. Jesus’ teaching must be applied with wisdom in the light of related Scriptures that address similar situations (cf. note on 5:42).


Just War

The just war ethic argues that warfare is sometimes nec­essary in order to resist or reverse specific unjust actions taken by one government or nation against another, but it also insists that war is always regrettable, is always something to avoid if possible, and is never to be used to establish some new vision of a social order.

The just war ethical tradition arises from both bibli­cal and classical sources. In the Bible, just war principles can be found in rules revealed for engaging enemies out­side the territory of the Promised Land (Deut. 20:1-20), in God’s judgment of war actions taken by the Gentile nations around Israel (Amos 1), and in the regard Jesus had for moral wisdom relating to the way kings go to war (Luke 14:31).

The NT church included many soldiers serving on active duty and saw nothing morally inconsistent with Christians serving as military professionals. The conversion of Cornelius, a Roman centurion, was confirmed by the Holy Spirit with no question of his profession com­promising his faith (Acts 10). John the Baptist responded to soldiers in a way that implied they were serving in a morally legitimate profession (Luke 3:14). And when Paul was imprisoned in Rome, many in the Praetorian guard became Christians (cf. Phil. 1:13). As a result, Chris­tians soon came to fill the Roman “fortresses,” military “camps,” and army “companies” (see evidence provided by Tertullian in Apology 37; c. A.D. 200), and the first persecu­tions of the church arose because of the high number of Christians serving in the Roman army. While some early Christians opposed military service (cf. Tertullian and Origen), the majority tradition of the church has never considered military service to be inconsistent with biblical standards.

Over time, the just war ethic has developed a common set of criteria that can be used to decide if going to war in a specific situation is right. These include the following: (1) just cause (is the reason for going to war a morally right cause, such as defense of a nation? cf. Rev. 19:11); (2) com­petent authority (has the war been declared not simply by a renegade band within a nation but by a recognized, competent authority within the nation? cf. Rom. 13:1); (3) comparative justice (it should be clear that the actions of the enemy are morally wrong, and the motives and actions of one’s own nation in going to war are, in comparison, morally right; cf. Rom. 13:3); (4) right intention (is the pur­pose of going to war to protect justice and righteousness rather than simply to rob and pillage and destroy another nation? cf. Prov. 21:2); (5) last resort (have all other reason­able means of resolving the conflict been exhausted? cf. Matt. 5:9; Rom. 12:18); (6) probability of success (is there a reasonable expectation that the war can be won? cf. Luke 14:31); (7) proportionality of projected results (will the good results that come from a victory in a war be significantly greater than the harm and loss that will inevitably come with pursuing the war? cf. Rom. 12:21 with 13:4); and (8) right spirit (is the war undertaken with great reluctance and sorrow at the harm that will come rather than simply with a “delight in war,” as in Ps. 68:30?).

In addition to these criteria for deciding whether a specific war is “just,” advocates of just war theory have also developed some moral restrictions on how a just war should be fought. These include the following: (1) propor­tionality in the use of force (no greater destruction should be caused than is needed to win the war; cf. Deut. 20:10-12); (2) discrimination between combatants and noncombatants (insofar as it is feasible in the successful pursuit of a war, is adequate care being taken to prevent harm to noncom­batants? cf. Deut. 20:13-14, 19-20); (3) avoidance of evil means (will captured or defeated enemies be treated with justice and compassion, and are one’s own soldiers being treated justly in captivity? Cf. Ps. 34:14); and (4) good faith (is there a genuine desire for restoration of peace and event­ally living in harmony with the attacking nation? cf. Matt. 5:43-44; Rom. 12:18).

If a war is just, it should not be viewed as morally wrong but still necessary, nor as morally neutral, but as something that is morally right, carried out (with sorrow and regret) in obedience to responsibilities given by God (Rom. 13:4). Those who serve in a just war should understand that such service is not sinful in God’s sight but that they do this as “God’s servant for your good Rom. 13:4; cf. Luke 3:14; John 15:13; also Num. 32:6. 20-23: Ps. 144:1).

Most nations throughout history, and most Christians in every age, have held that fighting in combat is a responsibility that should fall only to men, and that it is contrary to the very idea of womanhood, and shameful fora radon. to have women risk their lives as combatants in a war The assumption that only men and not women will fight in battle is also a frequent pattern in the historical narratives and is affirmed by leaders and prophets in the OT (see Num. 1:2-3; Deut. 3:18-19; 20:7-8; 24:5; Josh 1.14: 23:10; Judg. 4:8-10; 9:54; 1 Sam. 4:9; Neh. 4:13-14: Jer. 50:37; Nah. 3:13).


Since the time of Tertullian and Origen (2nd-3rd cen­turies A.D.), some Christians have advocated pacifism, the idea that participating in war is always wrong, or is always wrong at least for Christians. Arguments used to support pacifism are: (1) Jesus taught us to turn the other cheek (Matt. 5:39); (2) Jesus taught us that “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:39); (3) Jesus refused to use the power of the sword to advance his kingdom (Matt. 26:52-53); (4) the use of military force shows lack of trust in God; and (5) violence always begets more violence and does not really solve the underlying problems.

Those who differ with pacifism respond to each of those arguments as follows: (1) Jesus’ teaching on turn­ing the other cheek was intended as a guide for individual conduct, not for the conduct of governments or soldiers or police in the service of governments (see note on Matt. 5:39). (2) The command to love one’s neighbor is consistent with going to war to protect one’s neighbor from an aggressor, as is evident from the fact that the OT commanded love for one’s neighbor (Lev. 19:18) as well as directions for the conduct of war (Deuteronomy 20). It is also evident from the example of David, who loved his son Absalom but sent the army against him when Absalom sought to usurp the throne (2 Sam. 18:1-33). (3) It is never right to use military force to advance the gospel message, or compel adherence to Christianity, but that is differ­ent from the responsibility of government to protect its citizens. (4) The believer’s trust in God must be defined by what Scripture says, including its teachings on God’s appointment of civil government to use force to protect its citizens. Therefore, one should trust God to work through the power of the sword exercised by government. (5) It is simply not true that wars never solve problems: war was necessary to defeat slavery in the nineteenth century in the United States and to defeat Hitler in World War II. as well as to defeat other tyrants throughout history. In addi­tion, non-pacifist Christians also note (6) that although Jesus stopped Peter from using a sword to resist arrest on his way to the cross (Matt. 26:52), he did not consider it inconsistent with directions given hours earlier that same evening when he instructed his disciples to carry weap­ons for self-defense (Luke 22:35-36. see note); and if using deadly force is justified as required under individual circumstances, there can be no objection to using deadly force as required under civil community circumstances.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version Study Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2001), 1830, 2554-2555.

52. Boyd, Myth of a Christian Nation, 174.
53. Ibid., 177.
54. Ibid., 31.


1. “War,” in ESV Study Bible, p. 2555. [See footnote #55, above]
Jim Wallis, God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2005), especially 87-205.

3. Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw, Jesus for President: Politics for Ordinary Radicals (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), especially 199-224 and 338-47 but also at various other places in the book, most of which is structured as a loosely connected set of narratives rather than an organized, sequential, logical argument. Claiborne and Haw also list at least two widely used pacifist books in their recommended bibliography: Greg Boyd, The Myth of a Christian Nation (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007), and John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994).
4. Wallis, God’s Politic, 88, emphasis added.
5. Ibid., 92; see also 94.
6. Ibid., 106.
7. Ibid., 164.
8. Ibid., 106.
9. Ibid., 163.
10. Ibid.

The Distinctive Traits Of Cults ~ Anthony Hoekema

Anthony A. Hoekema (1913-1988) was a Christian theologian of the Dutch Reformed tradition who served as professor of Systematic theology at Calvin Theological Seminary for twenty-one years.

Hoekema was born in the Netherlands but immigrated to the United States in 1923. He attended Calvin College (A.B.), the University of Michigan (M.A.), Calvin Theological Seminary (Th.B.) and Princeton Theological Seminary (Th.D., 1953). After pastoring several Christian Reformed churches (1944-56), he became Associate Professor of Bible at Calvin College (1956-58). From 1958 to 1979, when he retired, he was Professor of Systematic Theology at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

(BTW, Hoekema was an Amillennialist. I do not personally hold this position. Likewise, this position has very little impact on the whole of these “traits” of aberrant beliefs… if any. A good 9-minute challenge to a main portion of his “Kingdom” view is HERE.)

  • Anthony A. Hoekema, The Four Major Cults: Christian Science, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormonism, Seventh-Day Adventism (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1963), 377-388.Hoekema four major cults - book 330


In setting forth what I believe to be the distinctive traits of the cult, I do not wish to give the impression that not the slightest trace of these characteristics is to be found in the churches. If we are honest with ourselves, we shall find vestiges of these characteristics in the churches too. I venture to affirm, however, that [p.378>] the traits which will now be described are so uniquely character­istic of the cult that any group in which they play a leading role can no longer be recognized as belonging to the true church of Jesus Christ.

(1) An Extra-Scriptural Source of Authority. As the first of these distinctive traits of the cult, I instance the presence of an extra-Scriptural source of authority. Hutten aptly calls this trait “a Bible in the left hand.” Recalling the ordination of a Sweden-borgian minister, who held a Bible in his right hand and one of Swedenborg’s books in his left, Hutten observes that every cult has such a “Bible in the left hand,” which actually supersedes the Bible in the right hand. It should be added here that the cults face a kind of dilemma with respect to the question of authority. Since, in distinction from non-Christian religions, they claim to be Christian groups, they must somehow appeal to the authority of the Bible. Yet in order to justify their peculiar doctrines they must either correct Scripture, reinterpret Scripture, or add other sources of authority to Scripture. Their attitude toward Scrip­ture is therefore always an ambivalent one: a mixture of apparent subjection to its authority and of arbitrary manipulation of its teachings.

That this matter of ultimate authority is of determinative im­portance in evaluating the cults has already been implied by the inclusion of a section on “Source of Authority” in the discussion of each of the cults treated in this volume. It was found that every cult discussed did, indeed, find its ultimate ground of authority in some extra-Scriptural source. Mormons, it was seen, consider the Bible to be full of errors and in dire need of supplementary ma­terial; hence their ultimate source of authority is found not in the Bible, but in the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and The Pearl of Great Price. If there should be a contradiction between what is taught in the Bible and what is taught in these. supplementary sacred books, it is the teachings of the latter which are determinative for Latter-day Saints (see above, pp. 18-30), For Christian Scientists, the final source of authority is Mrs. Eddy’s Science and Health, with Key to the Scriptures; although the Bible is read at their Sunday services, it is Science and Health which determines how the Bible is to be understood (see above, pp. 182-86). Though Jehovah’s Witnesses claim that the only basis for their teachings is the Bible, it has been seen that their New World Translation is a biased rendering of the Scriptures [p.379>] into which they have smuggled many of their own heretical teach­ings, that their method of using Scripture is to find passages which seem to support their view and to ignore passages which fail to provide such support, and that they insist that the Bible may only be understood as it is interpreted by the leaders of the Watchtower Society (see above, pp. 237-48).

The reader is reminded of the discussion found on pages 30-33, above, where it was pointed out that the Bible itself condemns the attempt to supplement it with any additional source of authority. These “Bibles in the left hand” are never innocent appendages to Scripture; they always overmaster and overshadow the truth of Scripture. Whenever a cult raises a book or a set of books to the level of Scripture, it does violence to the Word of God. God is no longer allowed to speak as He does in the Bible; He may now speak only as the sect deems proper. Thus the Word of God is brought under the yoke of man.

The claim of the cults to have a source of revelation beyond the Scriptures – for that is what these “Bibles in the left hand” really amount to — is a claim which places them outside the pale of Christian churches. It may be added, by way of warning, that whenever a denomination of Christendom gives so much venera­tion to a human teacher or group of teachers that he or they are thought to be virtually infallible, it is in this respect mani­festing a trait of the cult! People in the Corinthian Church who said that they belonged to Paul, Apollos, or Cephas were rebuked by Paul as being carnally minded; they were told, instead, that Paul, Apollos, and Cephas belonged to them! (I Cor. 3:21-23). Christians today who might be tempted to say that they belong to, say, Calvin or Luther, should learn from this passage that the Biblical way of expressing our relationship to human leaders is this: they (the human leaders) belong to us, but we belong to Christ. If these leaders belong to us, their writings may never be considered superior in authority to the Word of God. Sola Scriptura must remain the motto of every truly Protestant Church!

(2) The Denial of Justification by Grace Alone. A second distinctive trait of the cult is the denial of the doctrine of justifi­cation by grace alone. Grace is no longer considered the free gift of God to the unworthy sinner, but a reward which has been earned by the faithful keeping of various conditions and requirements. Hutten, in fact, calls this trait the most basic character- [p.380>] istic of the cult. The Reformation, he contends, asserted the principle of solo gratia: man is saved by grace alone. Salvation, the Reformers taught, does not depend on any human or ecclesias­tical co-operation with God. The concept gratia implies that salvation is given freely by God apart from any conditions which man may fulfill or which the church may make available. Even those responses to the Gospel which take place in man through the working of God’s Spirit — his faith, his conversion, his works, and his walk — are not meritorious, since they are all the fruits of God’s grace. Precisely because salvation is all of grace, it can never be a ground for Pharisaic pride but must always move us to deep humility and gratitude.

This demand for humility, however, goes against the grain of human nature. Man wants to be his own lord and master. This is especially so in the matter of his salvation. He shrinks from taking the leap of faith — a leap in which he must trust wholly in God for his salvation. He prefers to take his future destiny into his own hands; he does not wish to surrender this destiny to a strange, unknown power. This fundamental human drive, Hutten continues, is the real root of the cult’s protest against the church. The basic antithesis of the cult to the church is therefore the cult’s antipathy toward the central message of the Reformation: the message of justification by grace alone and by faith alone (.cola gratia, solo fide). Though there are variations in the degree to which the different cults reject this doctrine, they all do reject it. As a matter of fact, Hutten adds, the church must always be on its guard against slipping into this cultic manner of thinking about the way of salvation. Only when the church has completely conquered this cultic tendency within its own borders, will it have the strength to oppose the cult on this point.

It will not be difficult to show that the trait described above is found in the cults we have studied. Mormons, as has been seen, reject the doctrine of justification by faith as a pernicious doctrine which has exercised an influence for evil in the church. They further teach that individual salvation (entrance into one of the three Mormon heavens) is to be merited by man through his own acts, and that one can only become eligible for the highest degree of salvation by keeping the commandments of the Lord in all things (see above, pp. 59-62). Christian Scientists decisively reject justification by grace alone; for them, salvation from sin is accomplished when one ceases to sin, or when one stops believing that there is such a thing as sin — on either interpretation salva‑ [p.381>] tion is achieved by human works and not by the grace of God (see above, p. 212, and compare pp. 209-12). Though Jeho­vah’s Witnesses claim that salvation is of grace and that all credit for salvation belongs to Jehovah (see above, p. 283), a careful study of their writings will reveal that they, too, reject justification by grace. In the case of the 144,000, man saves himself by exer­cising faith, repentance, and dedication to Christ (functions in which he is said not to be dependent on God), by showing himself worthy of being selected as a member of the anointed class, and by carrying out his dedication to Jehovah faithfully until death (see above, pp. 282-83; compare pp. 279-83). In the case of the other sheep, these, without having had their natures renewed, are able to exercise faith in Christ, to dedicate their lives to him, and to remain faithful to the end — this faithfulness to be revealed chiefly by diligent witnessing (see above, pp. 283-85). After the millennium has begun, these other sheep, whether as survivors of Armageddon or as resurrected beings, are to be judged on the basis of their obedience to Jehovah during the millennium. If they continue to obey God during Satan’s final battle, they will be “justified,” that is, given the right to perfect life on the new earth — this “justification,” however, is based not on faith, but on works. As far as others are concerned, billions of those who, though sincere in their belief, lacked an opportunity to learn of righteousness from God will be raised during the millennium, will be instructed in God’s law, and will receive everlasting life on the new earth if they now obey God’s commandments.

It is clear, therefore, that these three cults definitely and deliber­ately reject the doctrine of justification by grace alone. Though they may speak of the grace of God, their theologies have no room for grace in the real sense of the word. For, as the Bible says, “If it [the remnant according to the election of grace] is [saved] by grace, it is no more of works; otherwise grace is no more grace” (Rom. 11:6). Note also the severe judgment leveled by Paul against this position in Galatians 5:4, “Ye are severed from Christ, ye who would be justified by the law; ye are fallen away from grace.” Crystal clear is Titus 3:5: “Not by works done in righteousness which we did ourselves, but according to [p.382>] his mercy he saved us….” By taking the position sketched above, therefore, the cults deny one of the cardinal teachings of Scripture.

(3) The Devaluation of Christ. In the third place, all cults are guilty of a devaluation of Christ. Hutten points out that, since the cult has assumed a determinative role in the distribution of salvation, the result is bound to be a minimizing of Christ as the only Mediator. This, he adds, does not need to mean a com­plete denial of Christ’s mission and work; it may express itself simply in a shifting of emphasis. We shall see this tendency revealing itself in a twofold way: in a devaluation of the Person of Christ and in a depreciation of His work. The latter is par­ticularly characteristic of the cult; since salvation for the cult is not determined by the grace of God revealed at the cross of Christ, that cross is robbed of its unique soteriological significance.

Let us see how this trait can be found in the cults we have studied. Mormons teach that Jesus Christ was the firstborn of the spirit-children of Elohim; since, however, all men are spirit-children of Elohim, it is evident that the difference between Christ and men (even, for that matter, between Christ and Satan) is one of degree but not one of kind (see above, pp. 53-54). Christ is considered by Mormons not to be equal to the Father; he shared with other pre-existent spirits like Adam and Joseph Smith the task of “creating” this earth, and his incarnation is not unique, for other gods before him were incarnated on other earths (see above, p. 54). In fact, Christ’s incarnation was only illustrative of what happens to every man who perfectly fulfills all the ordinances of the Gospel: he, too, was once a pre-existent spirit, is now incarnate, and will some day be a god (see above, pp. 54, 61-62, 72). As far as the work of Christ is concerned, Mormons affirm that the atoning death of Christ was necessary to deliver all men from death, and did provide for all the right to be raised from the dead (see above, pp. 57-58). As was just observed, however, Christ’s atonement does not provide individual salvation for man since this is to be merited by man’s own acts; thus the Mormon Christ does not save in the full sense of the word but only gives man an opportunity to save himself (see above, pp. 58-61).

According to Christian Science, Jesus was not God but only a man, whereas Christ is the name for a certain divine idea: the idea that sickness and sin can be healed through Christian Science (see above, pp. 200-202). Jesus was therefore simply a man who demonstrated a divine idea. So unimportant, in fact, is Jesus in [p.383>] Christian Science that Mrs. Eddy could say that if such a person as Jesus had never existed, it would make no difference to her! (see above, p. 203). As far as the work of Jesus is concerned, Christian Scientists deny that he atoned for our sins by shedding his blood on the cross — after all, since sin has no real existence, why does it need to be atoned for? Jesus’ work was rather that of demonstrating the truth of Christian Science and of setting us an example of the kind of life we must live. Even this example, however, is not uniquely distinguished from that of the apostles (see above, pp. 207-9).

What Jehovah’s Witnesses do with the person of Christ is well known: he was, for them, not equal to Jehovah, but the first crea­ture of Jehovah. In his prehuman state he was a created angel; during his stay on earth he was nothing more than a man; and after his stay on earth he was again nothing higher than a created angel, though now endowed with immortality. In none of these three stages, therefore, was or is Christ equal to Jehovah (see above, pp. 270-76). As regards the work of Christ, the Witnesses teach that Christ did lay down his human life for his people as a ransom. By means of this ransom Christ redeemed man from inherited sin and from the prospect of eternal death as a result of that sin (see above, pp. 276-77); his ransom pro­vides a resurrection from the dead for all except certain classes of people (see above, p. 317). Christ did not, however, earn the right to everlasting life in heaven for the 144,000 since he earned only a perfect human life with its rights and earthly prospects; the 144,000 must themselves earn the right to heavenly life by sacrificing their earthly prospects (see above, p. 283). As for those who will spend eternity on the new earth, they, as we saw, will receive this blessing only if they have obeyed Jehovah’s commandments during the millennium. Neither the 144,000 nor those who will inhabit the new earth, therefore, are really saved by the work of Christ; Christ’s ransom has only served the purpose of enabling them to earn their future blessedness, either in heaven or on earth, by their own achievements.

It is quite clear, therefore, that the cults leave us with a Christ who is not the Christ. Neither in his person nor in his work is the Christ of the cult the Christ of the Bible. For the cultist, it is not really Christ who saves but man who must save himself. This position, however, cuts the very heart out of the Bible: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16). The words of Paul to the Galatians, directed against those who in that day taught that one was saved partly [p.384>] through faith in Christ and partly through performing certain works of the law, are equally applicable to the cults of our day: “But though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach unto you any gospel other than that which we preached unto you, let him be anathema” (Gal. 1:8).

(4) The Group as the Exclusive Community of the Saved. A fourth distinctive trait of the cult is that it absolutizes itself as the exclusive community of the saved. Hutten points out that the anti-ecclesiastical polemic which is so characteristic of the cult is but the converse side of its own self-justification. Since the cult is convinced that it is the only true community of God’s people, it must try to show that the church is either an apostate organization or an actual instrument of the devil. There is among the cults no appreciation for the Biblical doctrine of the “one holy catholic Church” — that is, of the universal church of Christ, composed of Christ’s true people of all the ages and from all the nations. Every cult says, “We alone are the people of God.” The cult, so to speak, takes God by the arm, insisting that His evaluation of people must agree with its own.

Let us see how this trait is found in the cults we have studied. Mormons contend that the church of Jesus Christ was in a state of apostasy until God revealed Himself to Joseph Smith in 1820; when Smith and Oliver Cowdery received the Aaronic and Mel­chizedek priesthoods from heavenly messengers in 1829 and 1830, the Restoration of the Church took place. The Mormon Church is therefore the only true church — because it alone has the Priest­hood of the Almighty, and it alone since the time of Christ has received and may still receive divine revelation. One of the early apostles of the Mormon Church claimed that non-Mormon churches have no right to call themselves Christian since Christ has nothing to do with them, and a recent Mormon writer has said that there is no salvation outside the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (see above, pp. 62-64). It may be noted that the possibility of salvation for those who died in ignorance of Mormon teaching only confirms the point under discussion since such people can be saved only if Mormons have been baptized for them (see above, pp. 64-66).

Christian Science also claims to be the only true church. Since Mrs. Eddy is said to have received the final revelation of the divine principle of scientific mental healing, and since Science and Health is said to be the voice of truth uncontaminated by [p.385>] human hypotheses, it follows that, according to them, no group outside of Christian Science has or knows the truth (see above, pp. 183, 212-13). Though individual Christian Scientists may express appreciation for other Christian groups, it is clear from the statements just alluded to that the views of all other churches about the Bible and the way of salvation must officially be con­sidered basically erroneous while Christian Science is held to be unerring and divine (see above, p. 184).

In Jehovah-Witness ecclesiology we reach the ultimate in bigotry. It is said by them that Jehovah’s Witnesses alone are God’s true people and that all others, without exception, are fol­lowers of the devil. The Watchtower Society is now the only instrument or channel whereby Jehovah teaches His people on earth (see above, p. 247). The “great whore” of Revelation 17 is organized religion, Christian as well as heathen. The visible part of the devil’s organization on earth includes all of Christen­dom, Protestant as well as Roman Catholic. The religious clergy are, in fact, the direct link between mankind and the demons (see above, pp. 285-86). At Armageddon all of earth’s inhabitants except Jehovah’s Witnesses will be wiped out of existence (see above, p. 311). Only Jehovah’s Witnesses, therefore, will survive Armageddon; during the millennium non-Witnesses who are raised from the dead will be given an opportunity to save themselves in response to the preaching and teaching of the princes, prominent among whom will be those who occupied leading positions with the New World Society on earth (see above, pp. 318-21).

Whenever a group takes the position that it is the only com­munity of the saved, however, it violates an important aspect of Scripture teaching. Christ Himself warned against this type of bigotry when his disciples said to Him, “Master, we saw one casting out demons in thy name, and we forbade him, because he followeth not with us.” Jesus replied, “Forbid him not; for he that is not against you is for you” (Lk. 9:49, 50). We should therefore remember that whenever a denomination slips into a kind of thinking similar to that described above, it reveals a tendency toward cultic behavior.

(5) The Group’s Central Role in Eschatology. The last dis­tinctive trait of the cult I would like to mention is this: the cult plays a central role in the eschatological climax of history. The cult is convinced that it has been called into existence by God for the purpose of filling in some gap in the truth which has been neglected by the ordinary churches. The birth of the cult thus marks the final climax of sacred history, the beginning of the [p.386>] latter days.    Eschatology thus plays a determinative role in the

theology of the cult: it becomes the arena in which the glorifica­tion of the cult will complete itself. The cult is therefore the mes­senger and way-preparer for the imminent return of Christ; it is God’s partner in the drama of the end-time; it is the ark of safety for the coming flood; it is the instrument of divine judgment on un­believers; it shall finally triumph in the sight of all the world as the group particularly favored by God.

This type of procedure Hutten calls a cultic perversion of Biblical eschatology. Whenever the cult has developed an escha­tology, he continues, it places itself in the very center of it. The drama of the last things thus becomes the means whereby the cult is glorified and all its enemies are overwhelmingly defeated. Though the cult may now be small and insignificant, when the final climax of history arrives, it will receive from God the place of honor it deserves as a reward for its faithfulness to His com­mandments. The antithesis between God and Satan which has run through history will in the last days reach its climax as an antithesis between the cult and the rest of mankind, particularly the church.

As we attempt now to see how this trait is revealed in the cults we have studied, we must first make an important exception. Because of the absence of a real historical dimension in Christian Science, the latter has no general eschatology; hence it cannot be precisely fitted into the category just described. Christian Science denies that there will be a literal Second Coming of Christ, a gen­eral resurrection, a final judgment, and a new earth (see above, pp. 219-21). Though there is a kind of individual eschatology in this system, there is no general eschatology in the sense of a final, dramatic climax of history. Yet Christian Scientists do manifest a trace of the characteristic in question, since Mrs. Eddy con­tended more than once that what the Bible calls the Second Com­ing of Jesus Christ actually coincided with the rise of Christian Science (see above, p. 219). By statements such as these Mrs. Eddy did, in a sense, place Christian Science in the center of eschatology.

[p.387>] It will not be difficult to show the presence of the trait under discussion in the other two cults being considered. Mormons very definitely place themselves in the center of the eschatological drama, giving themselves a position of special privilege in it. The Mormons, God’s “Latter-day Saints,” consider themselves the bearers of the Restored Gospel – the Gospel which must now be proclaimed by them to all the world as God’s last word to man­kind (see above, pp. 62-64). Before Christ returns, there will be a series of gatherings. Ephraim or the Ephraimites must be gathered first to prepare the way for the rest of the tribes of Israel when the time comes for them to be gathered to Zion. Since most Mormons today are said to be Ephraimites, it is ob­vious that the gathering of Ephraim is going on at the present time. Ephraim is being gathered to Zion, the gathering-place on the

North American continent. The “lost ten tribes” will later be gathered to Zion, where they will receive “crowning blessings” from Ephraim – that is, from the Mormons. During the mil­lennium Christ will rule over the Mormon Zion as well as over Jerusalem in Palestine (see above, pp. 67-69). At this time Mormons on earth will be joined by a heavenly group, the City of Enoch (see above, p. 69). Also during the millennium Mor­mons will preach to non-Mormons who are still alive, and will be baptized for the dead who have lived from the beginning of time (see above, p. 70). In the final state Mormons who have fully kept the commandments of the Gospel will enjoy the highest grade of blessedness in the celestial kingdom; non-Mormons can enter the celestial kingdom only if Mormons have been baptized for them (see above, pp. 66, 72-73). Most non-Mormons, however, will spend eternity in one of the two lower kingdoms, the terrestrial or the telestial (see above, pp. 73-74).

Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that the kingdom of God was not established until A.D. 1914, that this kingdom is now the ruling part of God’s universal organization, and that this kingdom is comprised of Jesus Christ and those members of the 144,000 who are now in heaven (see above, pp. 295-97). These heavenly members of the anointed class (who were, for the most part, Jehovah’s Witnesses on earth) not only rule with Christ now, but are actually changed from human beings to divine beings (see above, p. 304). Between 1918 and the Battle of Armageddon, a judgment of the nations is taking place, in which all those who do not accept the Jehovah-Witness message and who show no kindness to its bearers are doomed to destruction at Armageddon [p.388>] – a destruction from which there will be no reawakening (see above, pp. 306-7). The Battle of Armageddon will therefore be a stupendous victory for Jehovah’s Witnesses, who will be the only survivors of this worldwide catastrophe (see above, p. 311). Armageddon survivors will have a favored position on the renewed earth during the millennium; many of them will be made princes (see above, pp. 311, 314, 318). Jehovah’s Wit­nesses who have died before Armageddon will have the privilege of being raised from the dead before the rest of earth’s inhabi­tants. Those who were active in the New World Society before the millennium will take a leading part in instructing newly-resurrected people in the laws of Jehovah (see above, pp. 318-­19). For Jehovah’s Witnesses, therefore, the climactic anti­thesis of history will be that between God’s true people, the Wit­nesses, and all others, including the churches of Christendom.

Whenever a religious group places itself in the center of the eschatological drama, it makes itself guilty of spiritual pride. Over­looking its own shortcomings and sins, it magnifies the sins of others. It blandly assumes that because of its own superior worthiness it has become God’s special favorite. When Christ came across a similar kind of pride among the Jewish leaders of His day, He rebuked it in no uncertain terms: “I say unto you, that many shall come from the east and the west, and shall sit down with Abraham and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven; but the sons of the kingdom shall be cast forth into the outer darkness. . .” (Mt. 8:11, 12).

Good News Means There is Bad News

I love Propaganda’s above presentation. It hits all the point in the below video. You see, a life lived without the Gospel Message infused into your walk makes a truly lost soul where in the end nothing you do amounts to anything important. It mirrors naturalism in that all your actions… and humanities collective achievements, are all for nothing. Except, unlike naturalism, you live with this consequence in some form — eternally.

Josh McDowell put it best on why there has to be judgment for our sins, let me paraphrase him with this story of a judge and his daughter.

There was a district court judge who had been on the bench for thirty years, he was a just judge. He has never taken a bribe, always handed out judgment and leniency in a fair and balanced way, only within the parameters of what the law allowed. In other words, a just, righteous member of the legal system as well as the community. One day while in session, his only child, a daughter, was brought before him with a traffic violation. She had broke the law and was arrested for her excessive speeding. What was he to do? He loved his daughter immensely, so he could fine her only one dollar and no jail time. But this would mean he would be an unjust judge, not worthy of the position he holds.

So instead, he fines her 500 hundred dollars and three days in jail. He is heart broken, but that is what the law requires. Just as soon as his gavel hits the bench, he rises from his chair, removes his robe of authority, steps down from the raised platform to come around to the front of the bench. He, with a tear in his eye, throws an arm around his daughter, whom he loves dearly, and with the other hand pays the fine and puts himself in her place in the three day sentence. This is TRUE love, and TRUE justice.

In the same way, the just God of the Bible is our judge. He would be un-worthy of our worship and honor if he acted any other way. He has pronounced death as the judgment of our rebellion and sin [Death and hell are merely eternal separation from him, and because of that, there will be gnashing of teeth]. As our heavenly Father, who knew us before we were in the womb, he loved us so much (His creation) that he stepped down from his heavenly throne to the earth and paid the price for our infractions against the “court.” No other god in history in any other religious belief cared so much as to offer the only acceptable (free of sin) gift, Himself. This is the beauty of the Christian faith.

Remember, the Gospel STARTS with a terrifying truth, that is, “God Is Good… and we are not

God doesn’t put people he loves in “hell”, those people choose that place as a replacement for God’s already done work on the cross. I firmly believe that if you were able to go to hell and ask someone there if they would like to change their mind and accept Jesus, they would respond in the negative! Why? Because they would rather have eternal pain and “hell fire” than to acknowledge Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

Even Stephen Hawkings gets this distinction (from an old debate):

One of the most intriguing aspects mentioned by Ravi Zacharias of a lecture he attended entitled “Determinism – Is Man a Slave or the Master of His Fate,” given by Stephen Hawking, who is the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge, Isaac Newton’s chair, was this admission by Dr. Hawking’s, was Hawking’s admission that if “we are the random products of chance, and hence, not free, or whether God had designed these laws within which we are free.” In other words, do we have the ability to make moral life choices, or do we simply follow a chemical reaction induced by millions of mutational collisions of free atoms? Michael Polyni mentions that this “reduction of the world to its atomic elements acting blindly in terms of equilibrations of forces,” a belief that has prevailed “since the birth of modern science, has made any sort of teleological view of the cosmos seem unscientific…. [to] the contemporary mind.”

Mortimer J. Adler points out in his book Ten Philosophical Mistakes that without true choice, free will, nature disallowes any talk of moral categories. He says “What merit would attach to moral virtue if the acts that form such habitual tendencies and dispositions were not acts of free choice on the part of the individual who was in the process of acquiring moral virtue? Persons of vicious moral character would have their characters formed in a manner no different from the way in which the character of a morally virtuous person was formed—by acts entirely determined, and that could not have been otherwise by freedom of choice.”

Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s maxim rings just as true today as it did in his day, “If there is no God, all things are permissible.” Without an absolute ethical norm, morality is reduced to mere preference and the world is a jungle where might makes right. This same strain of thought caused Mussolini to comment, “Everything I have said and done in these last years is relativism by intuition…. If relativism signifies contempt for fixed categories and men who claim to be bearers of an objective, immortal truth… then there is nothing more relativistic than fascistic attitudes and activity…. From the fact that all ideologies are of equal value, that all ideologies are mere fictions, the modern relativist infers that everybody has the right to create for himself his own ideology and to attempt to enforce it with all the energy of which he is capable.”

Notice that Mussolini agrees that might makes right. There was another bad boy on the block in those days, his name was Hitler, who agreed when he said, “I freed Germany from the stupid and degrading fallacies of conscience and morality… we will train young people before whom the world will tremble. I want young people capable of violence – imperious, relentless and cruel.” Again, the rejection of moral absolutes creates what? Young people who will scare the bejesus out of the world.  (Take note of the rise in youth violence in our school system.)

But what is this “absolute” that Mussolini referred to as “the immortal truth?” What is the “stupid and degrading fallacies of conscience and morality” that Hitler removed in order to created a nation of hate mongers? Heidegger, In Being and Time, discussed the problems facing men living in a post-Enlightenment secular world which he called“the dark night of the world.” A world in which the light of God had been eclipsed and in which men were left to grope around as best they could, searching in the darkness for any scraps of meaning that might be found. Is it any wonder then that Heidegger backed the National Socialists (Nazis) for most of the 1930’s. society – a world without God in other words.  Heidegger called this situation

Apologist, lawyer and theologian John Warwick Montgomery references this choice in a quick blurb about the existence of evil and a good God:

Opponents of theism have perennially argued that the natural and moral evils in the universe make the idea of an omnipotent and perfectly good God irrational. But if subjectivity (and its correlative, freewill) must be presupposed on the level of human action, and if God’s character as fully transcendent divine Subject serves to make human volition meaningful, then the existence of freewill in itself provides a legitimate explanation of evil. To create personalities without genuine freewill would not have been to create persons at all; and freewill means the genuine possibility of wrong decision, i.e., the creation of evil by God’s creatures (whether wide ranging natural and moral evil by fallen angels or limited chaos on earth by fallen mankind).

As for the argument that a good God should have created only those beings he would foresee as choosing the right – or that he could certainly eliminate the effects of his creatures’ evil decisions, the obvious answer is (as Plantinga develops it with great logical rigor in his God and Other Minds) that this would be tantamount to not giving freewill at all. To create only those who “must” (in any sense) choose good is to create automata; and to whisk away evil effects as they are produced is to whisk away evil itself, for an act and its consequences are bound together. C. S. Lewis has noted that God’s love enters into this issue as well, since the Biblical God created man out of love, and genuine freewill – without the free possibility of accepting love or rejecting it. Just as a boy who offers himself and his love to a girl must count on the real possibility of rejection, so when God originated a creative work that made genuine love possible, it by definition entailed the concomitant possibility of the evil rejection of his love by his creatures.

The choice is yours. All your answers will not be magically swept away, but you will be on a road of deeper understanding and a spiritual journey that includes love in it. No other world religion has this type of love story in it. Here is a witnessing situation that includes the above thinking, it is instructive to show how wide the divide is between us and our Lord:

This may seem simple, but the Roman’s road brings you to the sinners prayer. God has so wired you and this cosmos that He responds to this simple prayer

In a presentation that I gave in a Sunday class at church (and added media to here), I end with this wonderful video that encapsulated the Gospel message the most effectively — in my minds eye:

Ben Shapiro Puts On His Theology Hat ~ #TrumpBible

After “The Donald” is asked about a favorite verse of the Bible, Ben Shapiro takes a quick tour on the meaning of an “eye-for-an-eye.” Included at the end is the John Kasich’s faux-pas in a library surrounded by Hasidic Jews.

For more clear and humorous exchanges like this, go to:

God’s Gender ~ Theology

Just to temper the first point of the three via the above video, I wanted to add these explanations of Biblical patriarchy and the male/female relationship by Nora Hale:

  • God does not have a gender. He is neither male nor female. Gender is a biological characteristic, and God is not a biological being. God is Spirit (John 4:24), and spirit does not have flesh and blood (Luke 24:39). However, in the Bible God is always referred to in the masculine. This is most probably because of how God “the Father” relates to Jesus, who is the Son of God. He was born a male, and in the Biblical culture the male is the one who represents his descendants (1 Cor. 15:22) and has the authority in the family (Gen. 27:1-29, 48:13-14). When Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden, Eve sinned first, but sin entered the world through Adam (Romans 5:12). This means it was the man Adam who possessed representative authority, not Eve. This phenomena is called Federal Headship…. (CARM)

Christianity Today explains well the main idea with this topic. While they have an excellent article as a whole, this doctrine of offices withing the Trinity and how we should revere these distinctions in the Godhead are what made the Jewish survival possible. Most ancient Near-East views of creation and of their sustenance were through fertility goddesses:

Not an Invention

Feminine images are used throughout Scripture to describe God’s compassionate and loving nature. Examples include the frequent images of God protecting and comforting his children (Isa. 66:12–13; Hos. 11:1–4). But it’s important to note that God is never addressed as Mother. This phenomenon is unique compared with the cultures surrounding the original biblical writers. Most ancient Near Eastern societies had a goddess as the main cult figure or at least to complement a male god—Asherah in Canaan, Isis in Egypt, Tiamat in Babylon. If patriarchy is responsible for cultures portraying God as male, then we would expect goddess worship to reflect a matriarchal society—one in which women are given superior status or at least are equal to men. But this is not the case. Even today, many societies devoted to goddess worship remain oppressive toward women. Devotion to the goddess Kali in Hinduism, for instance, has never resulted in better treatment of women, even among Kali devotees.

We could even say that Israel succumbed to an idea of God that was rather against her natural disposition. Left to themselves, the Israelites would have ended up worshiping the Baals and Asherahs—Canaanite fertility gods and goddesses. Israel’s prophets singled out idolatry for fierce denunciation because its people were constantly tempted to do just that. But Israel’s idea of God’s fatherhood bucked a common trend in the ancient world. Hence, it could not have been an Israelite invention, but rather the result of a long history of living under the revelation of God. It is the church’s continuity with this narrative of Israel that would lead eventually to the uniquely Christian doctrine of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

In the New Testament, God’s fatherhood conveys two distinct ideas. First, it refers primarily to the internal relationship within the Trinity. This is how the first article of the Apostles’ Creed puts it: “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, the Maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.” Even as early as Paul’s writings, the phrase “God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” had become commonplace. God is first and foremost the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is not an invention of later church leaders, but comes directly from Christ, who refers to God as “Father.” In doing so, Jesus reveals a unique relationship between the Father and Son that constitutes the beginning of the Trinitarian doctrine.

Jesus taught his disciples to call God “our heavenly Father.” Therefore, the loving relationship he has with the Father from eternity now extends to those adopted into God’s family (Rom. 8:15). The father-son relationship is the most intimate personal relationship, one marked by reciprocal love and respect, and it is God’s supremely personal and loving nature that the term father is meant to underscore.

To claim, as many feminist theologians do, that the very presence of masculine metaphors for God excludes women simply does not square with the way Scripture uses them. Masculine images of God do not always convey exclusively “masculine” qualities. For example, Isaiah 54:5–7 refers to God as the Husband who with “deep compassion” (a stereotypically “feminine” quality) called estranged Israel back to himself (see also Isa. 49:13). The term father, then, excludes not feminine qualities, but rather the idea of a distant and impersonal deity, which is precisely the picture of the supreme being still seen in many primal religions.

Second, the father metaphor points to God as the Creator (e.g., Isa. 64:8; Mal. 2:10) “from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name” (Eph. 3:15). Father captures in one word two seemingly contrasting characteristics: God’s love for his creatures and his lordship over all creation. Here again, we see the difference between Israel and ancient Near Eastern cultures. In the Judeo-Christian faith, God the Father created the world as something separate from himself, whereas in Near Eastern societies, the mother metaphor pictures the mother-goddess giving birth to the world (which makes it an extension of the deity’s body). Calling God Mother undermines the Christian doctrine of creation by implying that God and the world are made of the same stuff and virtually indistinguishable. So, we need Father in order to get to the right doctrine of creation….

(read it all)

Apologetic Press (AP) goes on to quote CS Lewis’ excellent understanding of the larger idea at stake here. AP then quotes Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli book…. which I will include the entire section of after this quote:

But must we refer to God via masculine terms? The question has nothing to do with what we would like to do, but rather with what God tells us to do. C.S. Lewis addressed this point in his book, God in the Dock:

Goddesses have, of course, been worshipped: many religions have had priestesses. But they are religions quite different in character from Christianity…. Since God is in fact not a biological being and has no sex, what can it matter whether we say He orShe, Father or Mother, Son or Daughter?

Christians think that God Himself has taught us how to speak of Him. To say that it does not matter is to say either that all the masculine imagery is not inspired, is merely human in origin, or else that, though inspired, it is quite arbitrary and unessential. And this is surely intolerable (1970, p. 237, emp. in orig.).

Scripture makes it clear: “O Jehovah, thou art our Father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand…. Shall the potter be esteemed as clay; that the thing made should say of him that made it, ‘He made me not’; or the thing formed say of him that formed it, ‘He hath no understanding’?” (Isaiah 64:8; 29:16). Since when does the clay have the right to dictate to the potter or override his decisions? As a believer in God and His inspired Word, and yet as one speaking from an inherently masculine viewpoint, Lewis went on to say:

We have no authority to take the living and semitive figures which God has painted on the canvas of our nature and shift them about as if they were mere geometrical figures…. It is painful, being a man, to have to assert the privilege which Christianity lays upon my own sex. I am crushingly aware how inadequate most of us are, in our actual and historical individualities, to fill the place prepared for us. But it is an old saying in the army that you salute the uniform not the wearer…. A given man may make a very bad husband; you cannot mend matters by trying to reverse the roles… (1970, pp. 237-238, emp. added).

It is not man’s (or woman’s!) place to question God’s sovereign authority or divine will; neither falls under mankind’s jurisdiction.

Here is the fuller quote via Kreeft & Tacelli:

Is God a “He”?

The hottest controversy today about God concerns the traditional exclusive use of the pronoun he. Nearly all Christians admit that (1) God is not literally male, since he has no biological body, and (2) women are not essentially inferior to men. Those are red herrings.

There are, however, two reasons for defending the exclusive use of mas­culine pronouns and imagery for God. One issue is whether we have the authority to change the names of God used by Christ, the Bible and the church. The traditional defense of masculine imagery for God rests on the premise that the Bible is divine revelation, not culturally relative, negotiable and changeable. As C. S. Lewis put it, “Christians believe God himself has told us how to speak of him.”

The other reason for calling God “he” is historical. Except for Judaism, all other known ancient religions had goddesses as well as gods. The Jewish revelation was distinctive in its exclusively masculine pronoun because it was distinctive in its theology of the divine transcendence. That seems to be the main point of the masculine imagery. As a man comes into a woman from without to make her pregnant, so God creates the universe from without rather than birthing it from within and impregnates our souls with grace or supernatural life from without. As a woman cannot impregnate herself, so the universe cannot create itself, nor can the soul redeem itself.

Surely there is an inherent connection between these two radically dis­tinctive features of the three biblical or Abramic religions (Judaism, Chris­tianity and Islam): their unique view of a transcendent God creating nature out of nothing and their refusal to call God “she” despite the fact that Scripture ascribes to him feminine attributes like compassionate nursing (Is 49:15), motherly comfort (Is 66:13) and carrying an infant (Is 46:3). The masculine pronoun safeguards (1) the transcendence of God against the illusion that nature is born from God as a mother rather than created and (2) the grace of God against the illusion that we can somehow save our-selves—two illusions ubiquitous and inevitable in the history of religion.

Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1994), 97-98.

Below will be a couple theological expansions of this thinking on a level of the seminarian. Enjoy the input as I have:

  • Michael F. Bird, Evangelical Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013), 137-138.


Does the fact that God is depicted as male in the Scriptures create an androcentric conception of God that is oppressive to women? Is God really male in his essence? Are men more in the image of God than women because they are male? Does describing God as male provide religious sanction to patriarchal oppression and cul­tural imperialism? These are the questions about God and gender raised by feminist theologians. A few thoughts to consider here.

We can readily admit the sociolinguistic link between language and power. We can also recognize the injustices and inequalities in society perpetuated by gender discrimination. Yet retaining the maleness of God language as given in Scripture is not an automatic validation of an oppressive and abusive patriarchalism. The God who reveals himself as Father is the loving Father of all men and women. Those who receive Jesus Christ as Savior become “sons of God” (Rom 8:14, 19; Gal 3:26; 4:6 NIV [1984]) but also more generally “children of God” (John 1:12; Rom 8:16-17, 21; Phil 2:15; 1 John 3:10; 5:2). God will always remain a “he,” since God is a personal being, and the substitution of the noun “God” for the personal pronoun inevitably makes him impersonal in his speech and actions. The fact that God is described as “he” does not mean that God is intrinsically male, but he relates to us primarily in the masculine mode, as Father, Son, and Lord.”

It is notable that it is maleness and femaleness that constitutes the image of God according to Genesis 1:26-27. It is humanity created as male and female that marks the image and likeness of God. That means that God’s being cannot be confined to masculine qualities. Our humanity has a divine character expressed in the union of male and female. God is the sum of both genders because humanity as male and female are equally rooted in God’s divine being.

What is more, God is also described with maternal language and feminine imag­ery at several points in Scripture. Moses indicts the Hebrews for their rebellion in the wilderness: “You deserted the Rock, who fathered you; you forgot the God who gave you birth” (Deut 32:18). God is depicted like a nurse or mother in his care for his people (Ps 131:2). The love of God is compared to the love of a mother for her child (Isa 49:15; 66:13). God’s wisdom is considered one of the primary per­sonifications of his work in the world (e.g., Prov 8:1-12; Jer 10:12; 51:15), and it is expressed in words that are grammatically feminine in both Hebrew (hokmâ) and Greek (sophia). Jesus could even depict himself like a mother hen protecting her chicks from a barnyard fire (Matt 23:37).

In the biblical witness, God’s fatherhood is not an oppressive or authoritarian per­sona that he adopts to force his will on others. Instead, we are to see the imagery of a father’s deep love for his children. Jesus taught his disciples to pray to the Father with the intimate term of abba (Matt 6:9; Mark 14:36; Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6). Jesus declared that God’s fatherhood is why he is so eager to answer prayer (Matt 7:9-11), for God’s love is like a father’s love for his children. And this is why the image of being “children of God” is so powerful. The God from whom we were formerly estranged on account of our sin has adopted us into his own family (John 1:12-13; Rom 8:13-17; Gal 3:26). If there is something good about a human father’s love for his children, then there is something infinitely good about the heavenly Father’s love for his children too.

I think it worth pointing out as well that all theological language is analogical since the finiteness of human language cannot contain the entirety of God in all his infinite being. Human language for God brings us only partial and incomplete analogies, parables, similes, and images of what God is like. All God language, including that freighted with connotations of human gender, male or female, and sonship, is only analogous to God’s being and not an absolute description of his person. Shirley Guthrie writes:

With respect to the doctrine of the Trinity … when we speak about God as “Father,” when we speak about the eternal “Son” who comes to us in the man Jesus (who taught us to call his Father “our Father”), and when he speaks about the “Spirit” who is the Spirit of the Father and of the Son, we are not talking about the gender of God (for God is neither male nor female). We are using analogical language from human experience to talk about the kind of relationship that exists between the members of the Trinity and between the triune God and us human beings—a relationship that is like the intimate relationship between parents and their children.

  • William G. T. Shedd, edited by Alan W. Gomes, Dogmatic Theology, 3rd Edition (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 2003), 253-257.

Deity of God the Father

The deity of God the Father is undisputed, and hence there is less need of presenting the proof of it. Divine names, attributes, works, and adorableness are ascribed to him.

The term father denotes an immanent and eternal relation of the first trinitarian person. God in himself and irrespective of any reference to the created universe is a father: the Father of the Son. Were God pri­marily the Father because of his relation to men and angels and not because of his relation to the second person in the Godhead, his father­hood would begin in time and might consequently end in time. If there was once a time when God was not the Father of the Son, there may be a time when he will cease to be so. “It is the greatest impiety,” says Cyril of Jerusalem (Catecheses 11.8), “to say that after deliberation held in time God became a Father. For God was not at first without a Son and afterward in time became a Father.”

The hypostatic or trinitarian paternity of God the Father as related to the Son must not be confounded with the providential paternity of God the Trinity as related to the creation. Only one of the divine per­sons is the trinitarian Father; but the three persons in one essence con­stitute the providential and universal Father. The triune God is gener­ally the Father of men and angels by creation and specially of the elect by redemption. Hence, the term father applied to God has two significations. It may denote divine essence in all three modes or in only one mode. The first clause in the Lord’s prayer is an example of the former. When men say, “Our Father who is in heaven,” they do not address the first person of the Godhead to the exclusion of the second and third. They address, not the untriune God of deism and natural religion, but the God of revelation, who is triune and as such the providential Father of all men and the redemptive Father of believers. If a man deliberately and consciously intends in his supplication to exclude from his worship the Son and the Holy Spirit, his petition is not acceptable: “He that hon­ors not the Son honors not the Father” (John 5:23). A man may not have the three persons distinctly and formally in his mind when he utters this petition, and in this case he does not intentionally exclude any trinitar-ian person or persons; but the petition, nevertheless, ascends to the divine three, not to a single person exclusively; and the answer returns to him from the triune God, not from any solitary person exclusively. Says Witsius (Lord’s Prayer, diss. 7):

It is a doctrine firmly maintained by all orthodox divines, that the Father cannot be invoked in a proper manner, without at the same time invok­ing the Son and Holy Spirit, because they are one in nature and in honor. Nor can it, I think, be denied that, laying out of view the distinction of per­sons and looking only at what is common to all three persons in the God­head, God may be denominated our Father. Yet I cheerfully concur with those interpreters who maintain that the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is particularly addressed in the first petition.

Says Augustine (On the Trinity 5.2), “That which is written, ‘Hear, 0 Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord,’ ought not to be understood as if the Son were excepted or the Holy Spirit were excepted. This one Lord our God, we rightly call, also, our Father.” (See supplement 3.4.10.)

The term father denotes the Trinity in John 4:21, 23-24: “The hour comes when you shall neither in this mountain nor yet at Jerusalem worship the Father. The true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth.” Here the term father is synonymous with “God” who “is a Spirit,” the true object of worship. But Christ, in mentioning the object of worship, had in his mind the God of revelation, not of deism—trinal as he is in Scripture, not single as he is in natural religion—the very same God in whose trinal name and being he commanded all men to believe and be baptized. Christ’s idea of God as the universal Father was trinitarian, not deistic. In intuition and theology, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one God and the heavenly Father of angels and men:

The appellation father, descriptive of the connection between God and his creatures, is true of every one of the divine persons and of the three divine persons, one God. The [paternal] relation to the creatures is as true of the Son and Holy Spirit as of the Father in respect to divine nature; for all these persons are respectively, and in union, the Father of the universe; the Father in creation, in government, and in protection. The Son as Mes­siah is foretold in his protecting kindness and mercy as “a Father to the fatherless” (Ps. 68:5-6; Isa. 9:6). (Kidd, Eternal Sonship, chap. 13)

A believer in the Trinity, in using the first petition of the Lord’s prayer, may have the first person particularly in his mind and may address him; but this does not make his prayer antitrinitarian. He addresses that per­son as the representative of the Trinity. And the same is true whenever he particularly addresses the Son or the Spirit. If he addresses God the Son, God the Son implies God the Father. Each divine person supposes and suggests the others. Each represents the others. Consequently, to pray to any one of the divine three is by implication and virtually to pray to all three. No man can honor the Son without honoring the Father also. Says Christ, “He that has seen me has seen the Father also” (John 14:9). In like manner, he that prays to the Son prays to the Father also. Says Turretin (3.25.27):

The mind of the worshiper will not be distracted by the consideration that there are three divine persons, if he remembers that the whole divine essence is in each of the persons, so that if he worships one he worships all. With Gregory of Nazianzus, he may say: “I cannot think of the one Supreme Being without being encompassed with the glory of the three persons; and I cannot discern the three persons without recurring to the unity of the essence.”

The hypostatic or trinitarian paternity of God, in distinction from the providential, is mentioned in John 17:5: “Now, 0 Father, glorify me with your own self.” Here, Christ addresses the Father alone, the first person of the Godhead exclusively. He did not address the Trinity, for he died not address himself or the Holy Spirit. Respecting this trinitarian father­hood, the Son says “my Father,” not “our Father” (14:27; 15:1, 8; and other passages).

The baptismal formula and the doxologies indisputably prove that paternity is an immanent and eternal relation of God. The rite that ini­tiates into the kingdom of God would not be administered in three names denoting only certain temporal and assumed attitudes of the Supreme Being. Neither would a divine blessing be invoked through three titles signifying only these. Baptism and invocation are acts of worship, and worship relates to the essential and eternal being of God.

The hypostatic or trinitarian character of the first person is that he possesses the essence “originally,” in the sense that it is not communi­cated to him by one of the other persons. Augustine (On the Trinity 2.1) thus speaks of the “original” or unbegotten possession of the essence by the Father: “We call the Son, God of God; but the Father, God only, not of God. Whence it is plain that the Son has another of whom he is and to whom he is Son; but the Father has not a Son of whom he is, but only to whom he is Father. For every son is what he is, of his father, and is son to his father; but no father is what he is, of his son, but is father to his son.” A common term applied to God in the patristic age to denote this peculiarity was “unbegotten”: “Next to God, we worship and love the Word, who is from the unbegotten and ineffable God”; “we have the unbegotten and ineffable God”; “we have dedicated ourselves to the unbegotten and impassible God”; “he is the firstborn of the unbegotten God” (Justin Martyr, Apology 1.25, 53; 2.12-13); “there are also some dissertations concerning the unbegotten God” (Rufinus, Preface to the Clementine Recognitions). In the writings of Athanasius, the Father is denominated agennētos”‘ (ingenerate or unbegotten) and the Son gennētos (generate or begotten). (See supplement 3.4.11.)

The phrase unbegotten God implies and suggests the phrase begotten God. This denotes no more than the phrase God the Son, the latter containing the substantive, the former the adjective. Clement of Alexandria (Miscellaneous Writings 5.12) remarks that “John the apostle says no man has seen God at any time. The only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, he has declared him.” Irenaeus (Against Heresies 4.20.11) quotes this text in the same form: “The only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, he has declared him.” This patristic employment of the phrase begotten God strongly supports the reading monogenēs theos in John 1:18, which has the support of א, B, C, L, Peshitta, Coptic, and Ethiopic and respecting which Tischendorf (8th ed.) says, “Without a doubt [this reading] carries the weight of the testimonies.” Westcott and Hort adopt this reading.

In the controversy between the English trinitarians and Arians, con­ducted by Waterland and Samuel Clarke in the beginning of the eigh­teenth century, a distinction made by the former between “necessary existence” and “self-existence” is liable to misconception and requires notice. The Father, says Waterland, is both necessarily existent and self-existent; the Son is necessarily existent, but not self-existent. In this use of terms, which is uncommon, the term self-existent was employed not with reference to the essence, as is usually the case, but to the person only. In this sense, self-existence denotes what the Nicene trinitarians meant by “unbegotten” or “ingenerate.” The Father is self-existent in Waterland’s sense because divine essence is not communicated to or with him; he has it of himself. The Son is not self-existent in Waterland’s sense because divine essence is communicated; he has it not from him­self but from the Father. But the Son is necessarily existent, says Water-land, because he possesses an essence that is necessarily existent. The fact that the essence is communicated by eternal generation does not make it any the less an infinite, eternal, and unchangeable essence. In brief, according to Waterland, the Son is necessarily existent because the divine essence is his essence; but he is not self-existent, because his personal characteristic of filiation, his peculiar “self,” is not from him­self but from another person.

If no distinction be made between necessary existence and self-exis­tence, as is the case in the Nicene statements, Waterland would attrib­ute both necessary existence and self-existence to the Son. He would concede self-existence in the sense in which it is attributed to the Son in John 5:26: “As the Father has life in himself, so has he given to the Son to have life in himself.” Here, “life in himself” denotes the self-existence of divine essence, which is also necessary existence. The Father has this uncommunicated. The Son has it communicated or “given” from the Father, by eternal generation.

The Father was sometimes denominated pēgētēs theotētos or rhiza pases theotētos. This phraseology is used with qualification by accu­rate trinitarians. Some orthodox writers employ the phrase fons trinitatis’ to denote the hypostatic character of the Father, which is better than fons deitatis. Says Howe (Trinity, lect. 14):

If we do suppose the Son and the Holy Spirit to be from the Father by a necessity of nature, an eternal necessity of nature, and not by a depend­ence upon his will, they will not be creatures, because nothing is creature but what depends upon the will and pleasure of the Creator. And if they be not creatures, what are they then? Then, they must be God, and yet both of them from the Father, too; for all that do assert the Trinity do acknowledge the Father to be fonts trinitatis, the fountain of the Trinity: and if from this fountain the Son be in one way, and the Holy Spirit be in another way, both from the Father; that is, the Son from the Father imme­diately, and the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son, and this not by choice, but by an eternal necessity of nature, here is this doctrine as easily conceivable as any that I know of whatsoever, the lies not within the compass of our manifest demonstration.

Turretin (3.30.1) says that the Father is fons deitatis “if the mode of subsisting is in view.”‘ Owen (Saints’ Communion, 3) remarks that “the Father is the fountain of the deity.” Hooker (Polity 5.54) quotes Augus­tine as saying that “the Father is the source [fountain] of the Godhead.”” In these cases, deitas is loosely put for trinitas. Strictly speaking, how­ever, deity denotes the divine essence; and the first person is not the Father of the essence. But Trinity denotes the essence personalized by trinalizing. In this reference, the first person is the father and fountain. “We teach,” says Calvin (1.13.23, 25), “according to the Scriptures, that there is essentially but one God; and therefore that the essence of both the Son and the Spirit is unbegotten. But since the Father is first in order and has himself begotten his Wisdom, therefore… he is justly esteemed the original and fountain of the whole divinity [Trinity].”

Reasoning of Revelation ~ Thomas C. Oden

  • Thomas C. Oden, Systematic Theology: Volume One: The Living God (Peabody, MS: Hendrickson Publishers, 2006), 375-404. (Abbreviations at the bottom)
  • One should include my “What is Faith” post with this reading.

The Reasoning of Revelation

Does revelation elicit and require its own kind of reasoning? To what extent can the study of God expect to be reasonable? Does faith risk something essential to itself when it tries to be reasonable in the world’s terms?

No study of God is complete without dealing with the limits and resources of human reasoning in God’s presence. Four issues in par­ticular need to be investigated: (1) At what points can or must the inquiry into God appeal to reason? (2) What is meant by reason, and why is radical skepticism finally untenable? (3) Could any disclosure of God occur without reason altogether? (4) Does faith reason in its own unique way?

Must the Study of God Appeal to Reason?

Reason (dialegomai, ratio), as classical Christianity understood it, includes all the capacities of the soul to behold and receive truth (Augustine, Letters CXXXVII, NPNF 1 I, pp. 473-80; cf. Letters 120.1, FC). These include intellectual, emotive, and volitional (thinking, feel­ing, and willing) aspects of the self, insofar as all these faculties enter into the discernment and interpretation of the truth (Augustine, Con f. IV.1 ff., NPNF 1 I, pp. 89 ff.).

The Participative Premise: Reasoning out of a Community

Christian study of God requires a risk-taking effort to enter into and explore that context in which the relevant data are found. The data of the religious communities cannot be effectively evaluated or even heard if we do not enter into the sphere of that community’s life

its prayer, its confessional memory, and its acts of self-giving love. Those who elect to stand aloof from that worshiping community will have lost the chance to understand it from within. As one cannot undergo psychoanalysis merely by reading books, but only through analysis—so too, theology.

The study of God is not well grasped as an individualistic inquiry apart from a community that seeks to embody and celebrate it. In studying any discipline, one must enter into its language, artifacts, instruments, data bases, symbols, graphs, and diagrams—whatever that particular discipline requires—and live with those resources for a while, taking them seriously. Likewise, a participative element is required in Christian theology (Pss. 95:2; 34:8; Matt. 19:15-22; Acts 11:5; Teresa of Avila, Life I, pp. 17-20; cf. Calvin, Inst. 1.1-3; Bucer, De Regno Christi III, LCC XIX, pp. 200-207; Wesley, WJW V, pp. 185-201; XI, pp. 237-59).

Christian reflection well expounded should be reasonably intelligi­ble to an educated person who is not a Christian (Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, ANF I, pp. 194 ff.; Athenagoras, A Plea for the Chr., ANF II, pp. 123-49). But its evidences may not be completely plausible, persuasive, or even meaningful to one who has not made any participative effort, or to one who has not at the very least atten­tively listened to someone else who has made that integrative effort and lived it out in his or her own daily behavior (Clare of Assisi, Rule, CWS, pp. 209-25; Calvin, Inst. 4.15). It is a psychological axiom that our behavior authenticates our belief system so radically that we trust people’s behavior far more than what they say they believe (James 1:23, 24; Clement, First Epis. IX ff., ANF I, pp. 7 ff.).

Theological reasoning involves at least a tentative sympathy with the data to be understood. That does not suggest an uncritical, naive, gullible acceptance, but rather an attitude of receptive, imaginative open-mindedness that examines facts without hardened, preconceived cynicism. Though Christian teaching does not expect a prior radical commitment to everything the church tradition has said, it does re­quire some capacity for at least tentative openness to Holy Writ and holy tradition, in order to give it a chance to speak its own word, to declare its distinctive self-understanding (Augustine, The Catechising of the Uninstructed, chaps. 5-9, NPNF 1 III, pp. 288-92). Within this framework, the hearer is challenged to approach Christian teaching with a kind of risk-taking willingness, to be dissatisfied with cheap solutions, and to probe the deeper dimensions of internal consistency in the community that lives out of mystery, while seeking to reason as well as possible out of the mystery revealed (Augustine, The Usefulness of Belief, X.23-XVIII.36, LCC VI, pp. 310-18).

Christian teaching seeks to correlate a wide range of data, and therefore overlaps with companion disciplines (Augustine, The Teacher, LCC VI, pp. 69 ff.). It is something like sociology in that it requires complex data gathering and the interpreting of socially shared symbols and experiences. Sociology has methods, insights, and problems that overlap with those of anthropology, history, economics, and political thought (C. Wright Mills, The Sociological Imagination; cf. Tho. Aq., The Division and Methods of the Sciences, Q5, pp. 3-50). One cannot bracket out a small area of data and say: This is the absolute matter, subject, or text of sociology into which no other discipline can enter. The study of God is like this. It searches for proper balance in an extremely wide range of historical, psychological, moral, and religious input (Clement of Alex., Strom. II, ANF II, pp. 347-79). It is a broad-ranging intellec­tual exercise, yet a specific discipline with a single center—God’s address through Jesus Christ and through Israel, as that word is made relevant to the whole range of other modes of human knowing, feeling, and acting.

Theology is a joyful intellectual task because the source of its task is the source of profoundest joy (Tho. Aq., ST I-II Q2-5). At the moment at which one feels one’s theological endeavors becoming tedi­ous and heavy, one may have forgotten that the center of the effort is the joy of God’s presence—the ground of true happiness, the end of human despair. The God-inquiry furnishes the mind with its most radical challenge: God. It offers an unparalleled opportunity to think consistently, constructively, and fittingly about the One who gives life: this extraordinary, unduplicable being, God, who ultimately enjoys the penultimate goodness of creatures (Gen. 1:18-31).

Empathic Listening for Consistency

How may we weave our way through the fine distinctions that affirm reason as useful gift, yet with appropriate self-limits in the presence of the holiness and power of God?

Systematic theology is a critical discipline devoted to discovering, clarifying, understanding, defending, and extending the truth that is implied in the experience of the Christian community, the truth of God’s self-disclosure as remembered in Scripture and tradition. Re­sponsible discourse about God addresses the thoughtful, self-critical mind as it seeks clarity in understanding God. This inquiry wants to avoid obscurantism or evasion under the guise of piety, yet take seriously the energies of piety’s own modes of reasoning (Anse1m, Concerning Truth, TFE, pp. 91 ff.; cf. Proslog., preface, pp. 103-5).

Christian theology necessarily requires the rational exercise of thinking, because it is by definition reasoned discourse about God, modestly framed in terms of the immeasurability of its Subject (Gre­gory Nazianzen, Orat. XXVII, First Theol. Or., NPNF 2 VII, pp. 285-88). Seen from the viewpoint of the university or the encyclopedia, theol­ogy is a discipline. As such it requires self-critical reasoning about the word of God delivered through Scripture, liturgy, proclamation, and counsel.

Theology has long been suspected of being slightly too simple and far too difficult, a reputation well-earned on both counts. It is only part of the modern quandary concerning theology that much of the language of Christian confession is delivered through premodern cos­mologies, prescientific views of the world (Bultmann, Jesus Christ and Mythology, pp. 5 ff.). The conflict of cosmologies is not as deep as the conflict between faith and unfaith in the hearer. Even when clothed in the latest language and symbols of modernity, Christianity with its “Word made flesh” cannot remain completely nonoffensive (Kierke-gaard, Training in Christianity, pp. 79 ff.). Since classical Christianity is a tradition of exegesis, it has from the second and third centuries faced the awkwardness of having had its eternal Word spoken and echoed through various views of the world—dated understandings and misunderstandings of nature, psychology, and society that in turn differ widely from current conceptions of causality, physics, and real­ity. Christianity’s problem with what we call modernity is one that Christianity has faced many times before with many other “moderni­ties.” Bultmann wrongly imagined that the gulf between modern and premodern consciousness was larger than other gulfs the traditions of exegesis have managed to bridge (EPT I, II, passim). Our contempo­rary problems of cross-cultural communication do not pile higher than those faced by Athanasius, Augustine, John of Damascus, Thomas Aquinas, or Luther. Each had to struggle with making archaic lan­guage and symbol systems accessible to their own “modern” hearers of the fourth, seventh, thirteenth, or sixteenth centuries (cf. Athanasius, whose Festal Letters were mostly written amid massive persecu­tion; Augustine, whose City of God was written amid the collapse of Rome; Gregory the Great, whose Pastoral Care was written amid con­tinuing attacks upon Rome from both the north and the east; John of Damascus, whose Orthodox Faith was written in the then-new Muslim world, etc.).

A major obstacle to the modern hearing of classical Christian rea­soning is an inveterate modern chauvinism that assumes that modern consciousness is intrinsically superior to all premodern modes of thinking; conversely, all premodern thinking is assumed to be intrins­ically inferior to modern consciousness. That premise is deeply in­grained in the pride of modernity. In order to begin to hear the distinctive reasoning of the classical Christian consensus, that recal­citrant cultural egocentricity must be circumvented. How? The student of God must learn how to enter with historical empathy into archaic, seemingly outmoded, premodern frames of reference, accurately trying to hear what a text or a person is trying to shout as from a distant hill. The fact of distance does not mean that the message is in error.

It remains a problem of reason and will (being willing to reason, and reasonably willing) to learn how to employ empathic imagination to get into another frame of reference, to understand somebody else who thinks with different categories and out of different language frames—chiefly Hebrew, Greek, and Latin but also at various periods Aramaic, Coptic, Arabic, German, French. Classical Christian writers have preached and taught in all these symbol systems and more. They have often transcended their own thought world and embraced other symbol systems in the service of the truth (among the best exemplars: Paul, Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and Raymond Lull).

In listening for the internal consistency of the deep nuances of classical Christian reasoning, we face complex problems of cross-cul­tural translation of meanings readily available in one period but almost inaccessible to another. An intellectual effort is required by the serious student of God’s revelation who must take in a wide range of data, listen to strange voices, place text in context, and pray for the guidance of the Spirit (Augustine, On Chr. Doctrine III, NPNF 1 II, pp. 556-73). The task requires rigorous understanding not only of Scripture but also of the tradition that remembers Scripture; in addition it requires the gift of putting all into a personally meaningful, internally cohesive formulation that corresponds to one’s own experiencing process (Au­gustine, Con f. VI, NPNF 1 I, pp. 89-101; Gregory the Great, Pastoral Care, ACW, passim). All of that requires thinking; Christian faith cannot simply appeal to mystery or refer itself uncritically back to immeasurable divine wisdom.

Scriptural Teaching Concerning Reason

The biblical writers welcomed reason that is open to the evidences of faith. Isaiah appealed to his hearers: “Come now, let us reason together” (1:18, KJV). Prophets such as Amos denounced idolatry and greed for its unreasonable stupidity (Amos 3:14-4:3). It is the fool, not the wise one, who says in his heart, “There is no God” (Ps. 14:1; cf. Pss. 53:1; 92:6).

Paul spoke to his Corinthian audience as persons “of good sense” (1 Cor. 10:15, “of discernment,” TCNT). He protested against the opponents of faith as those who were “unreasonable” or “wrong­headed” (2 Thess. 3:2, KJV, NEB). The writer of the letter to Colossians prayed that they might receive from God “all wisdom and spiritual understanding for full insight into his will” (Col. 1:9, 10). Jesus him­self reasoned by analogy through parables, and often reasoned from pragmatic evidence.

Biblical faith has been poorly described as contrary to reason or inaccessible to any kind of rational analysis or critical judgment. This has encouraged obscurantism to parade as faith, and fidism to refuse to give or seek any reasons for faith. This stands contrary to the apostolic counsel that believers be prepared at the proper moment to give reasons for the hope that is in them. “Be always ready with your defence whenever you are called to account for the hope that is in you, but make that defence with modesty and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).

The early Christian writers followed the biblical assumption that reason was to be utilized positively within appropriate bounds in the discussion of revelation. Athenagoras declared that “natural reason is chiefly and primarily adapted . . . to delight unceasingly in the con­templation of Him who is” (Resurrection of the Dead XXV, ANF II, p. 162). Clement of Alexandria (Strom. VI.12, ANF II, p. 503a) and Origen (Ag. Celsus 1.13, ANF IV, p. 402) argued for the inner affinity of faith and reason. Augustine formulated the relation with precision and wide influence: “If thou hast not understood, said I, believe. For understanding is the reward of faith. Therefore do not seek to under­stand in order to believe, but believe that thou mayest understand; since ‘except ye believe, ye shall not understand”‘ (Augustine, On Gospel of John, tractate XXIX, NPNF 1 VII, p. 184, quoting Isa. 7:9; cf. Hooker, Laws of Eccl. Polity 111.8).

Classical Christian exegetes sought to communicate both the im­portance and the limits of reason. They tried to avoid the rationalist exaggeration that reason is omnicompetent, thereby leaving no role for revelation (Tertullian, Apol. XLVI, XLVII, ANF III, pp. 50-52). They also resisted the opposite exaggeration, that reason is completely un­done and incompetent in the presence of the mysteries of religion (Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho II, ANF I, p. 195). A balanced, discriminating statement of the proper function of reason in theology requires firm grounding in Scripture and tradition (Clement of Alex., Strom. V.12-14, ANF II, pp. 462-76).

Feelings, passions, and emotive flow cannot substitute for analysis, observation, logical consistency, and historical awareness. Uncritical emotion may mislead, as Amos recognized in the irony of those who without reason “feel secure on the mountains of Samaria” (Amos 6:1, italics added). Modern psychological consciousness often finds it eas­ier to talk about inner feelings than to provide a reasonable analysis of the motives of emotive life. One need not deny the importance of the emotive life in order to affirm the need for reason (Catherine of Genoa, Spiritual Dialogue, CWS, pp. 91 ff.; J. Edwards, On Religious Affections).

The plague of personalistic pietism has been the unconstrained notion that what is really important about God is only “what I feel about it right now.” As a result, what one must finally trust comes down to little more than “gut feelings” and changeable, often self-assertive, emotive states—not the manifestation of God, not Scripture, not the historical experience of a community. Feeling disclosure is a primary objective in the intensive group experience. However useful, that in itself is incomplete; one’s feelings may emerge out of cruelty, deception, or inordinate anxiety, for example. Classical Christian teaching asked for more than feeling-disclosure. It asked for rigorous, critical reflection, within the bounds of humble contrition, concerning the self-disclosure of God and its relevance for everything human.

Classical Christian teaching sought to nurture and assist this ca­pacity for careful analytical reflection to avoid Christians becoming “slaves to passions and pleasures” (Titus 3:3; John Chrysostom, Hom. on Titus V, NPNF 1 XIII, pp. 535-40). Without the constraint of sound moral reasoning, the passions are prone to become “licentious” (2 Pet. 2:18), “ungodly” (Jude 18), “worldly” (Titus 2:12), or “dishonorable” (Rom. 1:26). Even the law, which is good, is prone to awaken “sinful passions,” as Paul knew: “While we lived on the level of our lower nature, the sinful passions evoked by the law worked in our bodies, to bear fruit for death” (Rom. 7:5; cf. Maximus the Confessor, Four Centuries of Charity 111.50-64, ACW 21, pp. 182-85).

Those who have been emotively grasped by the power of the Spirit to recognize the love of the Father through the Son do not merely feel without thinking. They owe it to themselves to seek whatever clarity is possible concerning the consequences of that experience (Tho. Aq., ST I Q78 ff., I, pp. 404 ff.). They may or may not reflect critically upon what inward religious experiences mean and require in such a way as to “conduct themselves wisely toward outsiders” (Col. 4:5, RSV), but those who do engage in such reflection tend to extend and deepen the meaning of the experience itself (Augustine, Conf. XIII, NPNF 1 I, pp. 192 ff.), even though reason seems always prone to overextend itself (111.6, NPNF 1 I, p. 63).

Reason and Certitude

Doubt and the Hunger for Certainty

It is understandable that a finite human being, troubled with the vicissitudes of life, should hunger for certainty in knowledge, or at least for high reliability, to whatever degree is possible. But how does one know? How is it possible to be sure that we know what we think we know? These are perennial questions of epistemology, but in cer­tain crucial times, especially amid sorrow, illness, and death, our usual rational explanations become stretched to their limit. As every pastor knows, these are the very times when theological questions are profoundly asked. These crucial moments make it exceptionally diffi­cult to answer the question, How do we know what we seem to know, or what we seem to know in part? Life constantly undoes our theories of knowing (Luther, Letters of Spiritual Counsel I, II, LCC XVIII, pp. 26-82; for much of what follows, I am indebted to Soren Kierkegaard, Concl. Unsci. Post., Reinhold Niebuhr, NDM, and L. Harold DeWolfe, TLC).

The act of pardon in the Christian service of worship announces, “You are forgiven.” But how does one know one is forgiven? Is there any relative certainty? Classical Christian teaching speaks of a circle of knowing: through the inner assurance of the Holy Spirit and the reliability of Scripture, the divine self-disclosure is knowable. But to what degree is certainty capable of being achieved in such statements? And if so, is it an empirical, or moral, certainty?

Multiple Levels of Reasoning

Christian teaching has long been aware of the difficulty of attaining rational certainty of any sort. All human reason, not theological reason alone, functions under the stubborn limitations of finitude and poten­tial self-deception.

Reason may be defined in a preliminary way as the capacity for internal consistency of argument based on evidence. Both deductive and inductive processes are combined in this definition. Reason can too narrowly be defined in either an abstract, rationalistic, nonexper-iential way or an excessively empirical, experiential way.

Rationalistic Method: Deductive Reasoning

Some rationalistic methods define reason in excessively nonexper-iential, nonsensory, and abstract ways. Descartes wanted to reason by cutting off all sense experiencing, by locking himself up in a stove, blocking all sensory input, so that exclusively on the basis of his own internal reason he could see if he could come to any reliable knowledge (Descartes, Meditations; W. Temple, Nature, Man, and God). Descartes is a prototype of one who wanted to block out the experiential and sensory side of the dialectic of knowing. When he realized that he was doubting, he reasoned: If he could doubt, then he must be thinking, and if he was thinking, then he surely must be. Therefore he came to what he regarded as reliable knowledge (that he existed) on a purely nonsensory basis. In time, that tradition of rationalism (as represented by Descartes, Spinoza, Wolff, and others) easily became overextended, and its claims unqualified and overweening.

Classical Christian reasoning, by contrast, has not characteristically proceeded by discarding sense experience. It wants to use its deduc­tive rational capacity, but only while utilizing to the fullest extent possible the inputs of sense experience, though admittedly there are finite limits to sense experience also. Reason depends, as Thomas Aquinas knew, upon sense perception, even though the senses may err. Thomas’s arguments for the existence of God all began with sense experience, by looking around at the orderly processes of nature, causality, contingency, and language.

No one is consistently able to exact the rigorous tests of sense perception in order to gain knowledge that is familiar to much ordi­nary daily experiencing. Suppose we are considering the notion of the number 1000 squared. We can in our minds instantly calculate a million in order to find that exact number accurately. But we do not have to stop to count those one million units. If we did we would take the demands for sensory validation too far. We take for granted a reliable structure of interpretation, a (rational) mathematical formula, 1000 x 1000, and trust the reasoning by which we square a number.

Thus in a sense we take it on the authority of those who have worked with mathematics for a long time (and perhaps have even counted those numbers), even though counting may seem absurd if we already know the formula. We often work confidently on the basis of such nonsensory rational ideas without feeling any need to “count” (to validate our reasoning empirically).

Scientific Method: Inductive Reasoning

The experimental method that we find in modern natural and behav­ioral sciences is based upon careful observation of change under con­trolled conditions on the basis of sense experience. Vast scientific and historical accomplishments have resulted from this experimental method. Yet this method has been alleged by some modern advocates (e.g., B. F. Skinner, Ivan Pavlov, Karl Popper, A. J. Ayer) to be the only way to know anything. There is little doubt that Christianity can make admirable use of empirical data gathering and scientific experimenta­tion, but they are of limited value when we are talking about the central concerns of Christian teaching: the meaning of history, sin, grace, atonement, and sacramental life. The experimental method is useful when quantifiable objects are measured and changes observed, but God is not a quantifiable object. Christian teaching does not dismiss or deride experimental psychology, sociology, biology, or phys­ics. It has learned much and can learn more from the data of the experimental sciences, natural and behavioral, and does not object to those methodologies per se, where quantifiable objects are being investigated.

These sciences ordinarily seek to isolate a single variable and try to account through some kind of quantifiable data-gathering process for a demonstrable change in that single variable that is repeatable and that can be experimentally reproduced and validated in a laboratory. But can one utilize that method effectively when attempting to speak significantly to the question of the meaning of suffering, the forgive­ness of sin, or the overarching purpose of the historical process? The empirical method has limited usefulness in approaching poetry, liter­ary analysis, religious experience, or love, all of which are grasped intuitively by a Gestalt or pattern of looking at personal knowledge that is seldom subject to exhaustive empirical analysis. Christian teaching in particular is looking for a pattern at work in all human history, to grasp the meaning of history (Augustine, CG XVIII, NPNF 1 II, pp. 361 ff.), so empirical method can take one only incompletely toward this understanding.

Hence both these methods that are available to us have positive but limited value: a rationalistic method and an empirical method. Both are needed; both are insufficient to the subject matter of the study of God.

Pragmatic Reasoning

There is another type of reasoning, prevalent primarily in the American tradition, sometimes called pragmatic reasoning, which es­sentially judges the truth of a thing in terms of its results, practical application, or impact (William James, Pragmatism; Essays on Faith and Morals; C. S. Peirce, Collected Papers, vol. VI, par. 465 ff.). This method of reasoning also has been useful to a certain degree in Christian teaching about God, salvation, and community. For Christian truth hopes also to “work,” to turn into practical acts, to be applied. But what pragmatism tends to neglect is the level of the truth question that lies prior to its practical application. Pragmatism is not so much interested in asking whether a proposition or affirmation is true or false as in asking only whether it has a practical or useful effect of some kind (J. B. Pratt, What Is Pragmatism?). That is not as deep as Christian teaching seeks to go.

Convergence of Plausibility

The method of comprehensive coherence is yet another, more complex, type of classical pastoral reasoning. The search for comprehensive coherence is the attempt to grasp or see as most probably true that proposed solution to a problem which is on the whole supported by the greatest net weight of evidence from all quarters—deductive and inductive reasoning, logic and scientific method, historical reasoning, Scripture, and tradition. It is a centered intuitive act of drawing to­gether of insights or data from widely varied resources and searching for their interrelated implicit meaning or convergence of plausibility (Clementina, Horn. II, ANF VIII, pp. 229, 230).

The knowing of God is at times something like a detective story, but one in which the answer is crying out to be revealed, the clues lying about everywhere. Some of the evidence is circumstantial, some requires careful data gathering; other steps need clear reasoning, faith­fulness to credible sources, or sharp intuition. Comprehensive coher­ence is that kind of reasoning which says that the most adequate explanation of something is the one that brings into focus the most widely varied inputs into a single, cohesive, tentatively meaningful frame of reference. Intuitive reasoning based on facts seeks to ascer­tain whether the overall evidence is reasonable or not. It differs from strict laboratory or experimental conditions in its breadth, variety, and imaginativeness. Scientific experimentation tries to bracket out these broader intuitions and insights and focus upon a single, manipulata­ble, objective variable (cf. Anatolius, Fragments from the Books on Arith­metic, ANF VI, pp. 152, 153; Reinhold Niebuhr, NDM I, pp. 18-24, 104 ff.). But the single-variable approach can box the inquirer into a vision that is highly constricted.

The study of God, ironically, is distinguished from empirical sci­ence in that it seeks to account for the greatest possible number of variables, rather than a single variable. For this unique study asks about the meaning of history. This is one way of describing the central task of theology: to give a credible account for the meaning of history, creation to consummation, viewed as God’s story (Luke 1:3; cf. 1 Chron. 11:11; 2 Chron. 13:22; Ps. 81:10). To deny a hearing to any kind of data by a prior and arbitrary limitation of method risks losing that part of the truth. Historically, theology has been relatively more willing to investigate speculative hypotheses, eschatology, psycholog­ical intuition, paranormal phenomena, and moral conscience than have the behavioral sciences, which have often ruled out such hypotheses.

In pleading for an attitude of openness to evidence, Augustine remarked that “every good and true Christian should understand that wherever he may find truth, it is his Lord’s” (On Chr. Doctrine 11.18, LLA, p. 54). If God is the deepest truth (even though not fully fath­omed), wherever the truth appears, there is some evidence of God’s presence (Clement of Alex., Strom. 1.13, ANF II, p. 313). Truth has self-evidencing power (Clementina, Hom. 111.36, ANF VIII, p. 123). So theology can look for evidence anywhere.

However open to any truth one may be, any evidence may be distorted by human egocentricity and finitude, for all our perceptions are finite. We see the world from a very limited perspective. We ourselves have not lived for more than a few decades, yet human beings have lived in cities for at least twelve thousand years. Homo erectus is said to date back three or four million years, and the earth’s history perhaps four and a half billion years. Our sufferings for one another are placed by the historical reasoning of the New Testament in the context of the “purpose of God hidden for ages” (Eph. 3:9; cf. vv. 10-13; Col. 1:26).

The most perplexing problems of epistemology are rooted more fundamentally in the basic dilemma of human existence—human fin­itude, with freedom to imagine. The fundamental paradox of being a human being is the fact that we live in nature, and are restricted by nature, yet we are capable of self-transcendence, of life in the spirit. We are not explainable to ourselves merely in terms of naturalistic reductionisms, yet we are not transnatural or superpersonal angels or unembodied intelligences. Human existence is by definition a combi­nation of the natural and transnatural, rooted in nature and the causal order, yet with capacity for self-determination and self-transcendence.

This is symbolized in the Christian community by shorthand lan­guage: body and soul, or soma and psyche. There is no body/soul dualism, because in Scripture the psycho-somatic interface is kept so taut—the psyche is constantly affected by the body, and the body is nothing (except a corpse) without its living reality, the psyche. The soul is never in history unembodied (not even in the Resurrection!), and the body that lacks soul lacks life. The person (psycho-somatically, paradoxically conceived) is wrapped in causal chains, yet exists as free—finite, yet capable of transcending finitude. Human life is “a sort of connecting link between the visible and invisible natures” (John of Damascus, OF 11.12, NPNF 2 IX, pp. 30, 31).

This boundary location of the perceiver makes perception all the more difficult to fathom. Even though one knows one is perceiving something, one does not always know the depths or limits of the perception. Every human being has the task of holding both sides of that composite together in a meaningful way (Kierkegaard, Sickness unto Death, I.1, pp. 146 ff.).

Epistemology is that troubled inquiry that seeks to understand how we can possibly know anything. It reflects the tension of the larger human problem: finite freedom. Empiricism has inordinately focused upon data gathered by sensory experience. Rationalism has inordi­nately focused upon the reason that transcends the natural, that which gives order to this natural vitality. The history of philosophy reveals both tendencies in various combinations in various periods (Reinhold Niebuhr, NDM I, pp. 1 ff.). Empiricism may become exaggerated, in the form of a radical skepticism, so as to overemphasize the compe­tency of sense experience. Exaggeration of the power of reasoning may lead into a soft, fuzzy trap of abstract idealism, such as in Hegel. Regardless of which side comes to the fore, the problems of episte­mology remain rooted in the fundamental dilemma of being a human being.

Problems and Limits of Radical Skepticism

Dependence of Reason on Experience

This brings us full circle, surprisingly, back to the limits of radical skepticism. Our data are not infallible. This is true even in the natural sphere—for example, when you put a stick in the water and it appears to bend. To account for this, you have to discount the bent appearance of the stick. Our sensory apparatus is always having to make these kinds of adjustments and to apply checks to itself. We are the victims of optical illusions, mirages in the desert, delusions, and dreams. Even when our sensory powers are working under the most favorable conditions, we still see the world from quite a limited perspective.

From critics like Hume we hear doubt cast upon causality itself. We had assumed that we could always rely on the fact that effects are produced by causes, but Hume argued that this is merely a habit of mind—assuming that certain causes are going to elicit certain ef-fects—but that one cannot necessarily infer thereby that what now appear to be ironbound causal laws might not later be viewed with different eyes. Although overstated by Hume, this critique bids us be humble about the competency both of our capacity to reason and our capacity to rely upon sensory input (Hume, Dialogues Concerning Nat­ural Religion, Phil. Works II, pp. 411 ff.).

Moreover, if all claims to have received a revelation from God were to be automatically accepted, fanaticism would be welcomed, and the easy credit would lead to constant bankruptcy. Reason functions to sort out the legitimacy of claims of alleged revelation in the light of whatever one has already learned about God through comprehensive coherence (1 Thess. 5:21; cf. 2 Cor. 11:1-21).

Data received must often be corrected on the basis of subsequent experiences, and those experiences in turn await being corrected by later experiences, only to find that later experiences then have to be again corrected by earlier experiences, and so on (Jer. 5:3). The di­lemma deepens: How can we be assured that there are not yet-to-be-discovered important data that will challenge or contradict our cur­rently assumed reliable and constructive knowledge?

The Dependence of Reason on Unproved Postulates

We not only have practical difficulties with establishing sensory evidence in every discrete case, but our reasoning also depends upon assumptions and postulates to which no data-gathering process can appeal, and that no data-gathering process can establish and that no reasoning process can prove without assuming these postulates pre­cisely while the proofs are being attempted (Origen, De Princip., pre­face, ANF IV, pp. 239-41). Two examples are the intelligibility of nature and the principle of consistency.

One example is the elementary principle of the intelligibility of nature: Any attempt to communicate through language involves the assumption that we are living in an intelligible order. Yet how can one prove that assumption? It remains an axiom, an assumption that lies quietly behind our reasoning (Augustine, Soliloquies II, LCC VI, pp. 41-63).

Another assumption is the principle of consistency: If genuinely contradictory ideas can be true at the same time, then no argument for or against any conclusion has any force. Yet there is no way to establish that principle empirically, and no way to demonstrate it rationally without first depending on it (Anselm, Concerning Truth IX ff., TFE, pp. 107 ff.).

The Impossibility of Radical Skepticism

This takes us to the hypothesis of complete skepticism about know­ing anything. The ancient skeptic Carneades asserted that it is impos­sible to know anything at all. He thought that we must base any truth on premises that we already hold, and that if we attempt to prove the premises, we can only move back toward other premises upon which we base our proof (N. MacColl, The Greek Skeptics, cf. Augustine, On the Profit of Believing, NPNF 1 III, pp. 347 ff.). Thus we are pressed toward a total skepticism.

This is really the humorous conclusion of this chapter’s trajectory thus far: The reason no philosophy has been able to teach or embrace a complete skepticism is that it is impossible to do it. To believe that nothing can be known is to believe that even the meaning of that belief cannot be known. If you believe that you can know nothing, you have to be skeptical also of that belief (Tho. Aq., ST II—II Q60, I, pp. 1448, 1449). So even the most radical skepticism stumbles back with an internal contradiction. Even if you should try to teach the notion that nothing can be known, you are involved in an absurdity, because to teach it would be to assert that you know something. Skepticism is the yielding of the mind to a conviction of the impossibility of certainty, accom­panied by a complacency about such a condition. Since skepticism believes that there is no truth, it must itself be classified as a faith in the reliability of ignorance (Pope, Compend. I, p. 48; DeWolfe, TLC, I). This insight helps theology to move through and beyond the morass of skepticism.

Though absolute certainty is not deductively or inductively attain­able, complete skepticism is even more logically absurd, and cannot be maintained in practice. It is unreasonable to lay a radical demand upon ourselves, as we proceed theologically, to prove everything empirically, as some scientific and philosophical critics of religion ex­pect. But that is no excuse for not taking as seriously as possible the evidentiary process so as to try to bring into our consciousness as many factors as we possibly can that will appeal to a comprehensively cohesive form of reasoning.

Historical Reasoning

This is why the predominant form of reasoning in Christian the­ology has been a somewhat different form of reasoning, namely, his­torical reasoning. The Old Testament view of reasoning about God is historical in scope and method. Yahweh repeatedly refers to himself in distinctively historical terms: “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (Exod. 3:15, 16; Mark 12:26) and often rehearses to the Israelites the mighty deed he has done in history (Joshua 24:2-13; Ps. 136).

God meets us not just in our inner thoughts but in history, dem­onstrating the divine presence and power through events (Deut. 11:1-4; cf. 1 Cor. 2:4). “The Lord is righteous in his acts; he brings justice to all who have been wronged. He taught Moses to know his way and showed the Israelites what he could do. The Lord is compassionate and gracious, long-suffering and forever constant” (Ps. 103:6-8). That the Lord is compassionate and gracious is known by recollecting God’s historical activity (Irenaeus, Ag. Her. V.21, 22, ANF I, pp. 548-51; Cyril of Jerusalem, Catech. Lect. VI, NPNF 2 VII, pp. 33-43).

One who wishes to get in touch with God’s demonstration of his justice and mercy in history must look candidly at universal history and learn to reason about all of history from the vantage point of a special history—Israel’s. To know Yahweh at all one must look partic­ularly toward the distinctive ways in which Yahweh has become self-revealed in history. The Hebraic way of reasoning is to tell a story. History telling or narrative is the distinctively Hebraic way of reasoning—a highly complex mode of theo-historical reasoning (Ezra 1:1-4; Neh. 1:1-4; Amos 1:1-5).

Hegel employed a different kind of historical reasoning. He theo­rized that reason is manifesting itself in historical processes, so that what is going on in history he called Absolute Reason unfolding itself. This historical reason, he argued, displays a recognizable logic that can be seen in every discrete historical unfolding. His effort centered upon seeking to understand the logic of history. The pattern he rec­ognized recurrently was that of a force followed by a counterforce, and then a synthesis made possible by the conflict of those two energies. The same form of reasoning is found in Hegel’s psychology and polit­ical thought, epistemology and metaphysics. Everywhere Hegel looked he saw this kind of reasoning in history working itself out in thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. Scripture does not argue for this sort of predictable logic, yet Hegel’s fundamental idea (however unbiblically rationalized) is derived from Hebraic historical consciousness. It is a unique type of reasoning—reasoning derived from history, especially the history of God’s mighty deeds (Eusebius, Preparation for the Gospel VII, I, pp. 321 ff.; Augustine, CG XVI, NPNF 1 II, pp. 309 ff.; cf. Hegel, Reason in History; Kierkegaard, Concl. Unsci. Post.).

Ordinarily the final meaning of a person’s or nation’s history is only knowable at the end of the story. One cannot write a definitive biography of Gandhi until his life is over. A living person or nation could always take a new turn, and make subsequent choices that would bear upon the meaning of the whole. Suppose the meaning of human history is to become knowable only at its end, as virtually all late-Judaic apocalyptic writers assumed (the Books of Enoch, the Apocalypse of Baruch, and War of the Sons of Light against the Sons of Darkness), for apokalypsis refers to the final uncovering of meaning that had been hidden.

Jesus was born into a community saturated with expectations that the end of a grossly distorted history would eventually reveal its meaning, however disastrous the present may be (cf. Daniel, 2 Esdrus, and the Assumption of Moses). Suppose, however, that an event oc­curs in history that reveals the meaning of the end before the end. This is what happened in Jesus Christ—his incarnation, crucifixion, and res­urrection, the one mighty deed of God that bestows significance upon all human deeds (Lactantius, Div. Inst. IV.25-30, ANF VII, pp. 126-34).

Supposing that such a revealing event had occurred in history, would it not be necessary that it be followed by a remembering com­munity, one that sought to preserve the meaning of the whole histor­ical process revealed in that event? Would it not be understandable if a community of celebration followed that event that remembered it, shared in it, and proclaimed its meaning to all who would hear? (Methodius, Three Fragments, Hom. on the Cross and Passion of Christ, ANF VI, pp. 399-401).

Such a community has emerged in Christian history, reasoning out of this event, seeking to make it understandable in each new cultural-historical context. Through a gradual process of canonization, the documents witnessing to this event became received as Holy Writ, attested by the Spirit as a reliable point of contact with the originative event through which the meaning of history—God’s Word to humanity—became clarified. Something like this process occurred in the historical Christian community. Each phase of history has required astute historical reasoning (e.g., Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho LXXXII—CXLII, ANF I, pp. 240-70). Each new situation of the church has demanded a modestly revised form of historical reasoning—the recollection of revelatory events amid these particular new historical conditions. Hence, theological reasoning is historical reasoning.

What Purpose Does Reason Serve in the Study of God?

There are five classical explanations of why reason is required in any revelation: Reason is needed to receive the truth, distinguish truth from falsehood, reveal reason’s own limitations by pointing beyond itself, interpret the truth, and transmit it to new generations.


A revelation can be made only to a potentially rational being. Stones do not receive revelation. Without reason even the most obvious revelation could not be apprehended or grasped. If God wished to reveal the truth to a stone, it would first be necessary to create in a stone some capacity to understand, or the capacity to reason, in order for it to receive the revelation (Tho. Aq., ST II—II Q2, II, pp. 1179-88; Gamertsfelder, Syst. Theol., p. 126). One must assume in any revela­tion both the capacity to apprehend truth and the active openness of the mind to the truth offered. Reason helps faith to understand the content of what is to be believed (Augustine, WAS, p. 59).


All alleged revelations cannot be taken seriously. Some are patently spurious, fraudulent, or manipulative claims (Hippolytus, Refutation of all Heresies, VII, ANF V, pp. 100 ff.; Kierkegaard, Authority and Revela­tion: The Book on Adler). The community has to sort out which self-proclaimed revelations are true and which are not. When a murderer claims that he acted by divine revelation, faith must utilize its rational-analytical capacity to sort out what is alleged to be true through divine revelation, though falsely, as distinguished radically from that which, by a larger process of comprehensive coherence, can be consensually received and understood as truly God’s own revelation (Tho. Aq., SCG 1.3, I, pp. 63 ff.).

Reason is required in order to judge the evidences of religious claims to revelation (Clement of Alex., Strom. VI.7-11, ANF II, pp. 492-502; Wesley, WJW VI, pp. 350-61; Hodge, Syst. Theol. 1.3, pp. 58, 59). The evidence must be fitting to the truth purported. Truth con­veyed through history requires historical evidence plausibly set forth. Truths of nature require natural, empirical, scientific evidence. Truths of the moral sphere require moral evidence. The “things of the Spirit” (Rom. 8:5) require the self-evidencing assurance of the Spirit (The Pastor of Hermas, II, comm. 10, 11, ANF II, pp. 26-28). In this way sound reasoning and faith’s response to revelation do not contradict but complement each other.


Augustine wrote:

God forbid that He should hate in us that faculty by which He made us superior to all other living beings. Therefore, we must refuse to believe as not to receive or seek a reason for our belief, since we could not believe at all if we did not have rational souls. So, then, in some points that bear on the doctrine of salvation, which we are not yet able to grasp by reason—but we shall be able to sometimes—let faith precede reason, and let the heart be cleansed by faith so as to receive and bear the great light of reason; this is indeed reasonable. (Letters 120:1, FC)

It is through reason that we may see that reason points beyond itself. It is reasonable that right reason know its own limits. Reason serves faith by pointing both beyond itself and to its own limits (Augustine, Sermons on New Testament Lessons LXXVI, NPNF 1 VI, pp. 481 f.; cf. LXVII, p. 465).


Even if a community had received divinely revealed truth, and recognized it as such, it must still use reason to discover the implica­tions of this truth amid its historical context, expressed in its own language. Even after we have learned that God is revealed as just and requires justice, we still must ask what that justice means for us and how it is to apply to our particular situation. This requires reason (Tho. Aq., SCG III. 121-22, pp. 141-47; Wakefield, CSCT, pp. 20-22; Gamertsfelder, Syst. Theol., p. 128; DeWolfe, Theol. of a Living Church). It is by reason that the believer learns to utilize analogies in the service of the truth, to make observations from nature and history, and to remove doubts by setting forth reasonable arguments. The teachings of faith are exhibited, clarified, and made rhetorically persuasive by good reasoning (Augustine, Con f. XI.25-31, NPNF 1 II, pp. 172-75).

Reason helps remove objections to belief (Augustine, Letters CII.38, NPNF 11, p. 425).


To transmit truth to another, one must employ reasoning. To com­municate from one rational mind to another, one must presuppose the rational capacity of both speaker and hearer. Reason is needed if one seeks either to understand or to make understandable the truth of Christian faith. No preaching, teaching, or apologetics can occur with­out some rational capacity. By reason, faith’s wisdom is correlated with the insights of philosophy, history, political ethics, psychology, and other sciences (Clement of Alex., Strom. IV.18, ANF II, pp. 518-20).

Hence, reason is needed to receive revelation, to distinguish be­tween true and false revelation, to help us to believe what we cannot see, to interpret the truth of revelation in the present, and to transmit revelation to emergent historical situations.

Authorized Prerogatives of Reason

No one can be required to believe absurdities. The mind is God-given and has a responsibility to reject falsity. If a claim of religion requires that which negates or contradicts a previous, duly authenti­cated revelation of God, it is to be rejected as false religion, and inconsistent with faith’s reasoning. Paul went to great lengths with the Galatians to urge consistency of teaching with the original apos­tolic teaching: “But if anyone, if we ourselves or an angel from heaven, should preach a gospel at variance with the gospel we preached to you, he shall be held outcast” (Gal. 1:8).

God would be inconsistent as just and good if, holding human freedom responsible for its moral conduct, God provided neither suffi­cient means for human beings to recognize the moral good nor any evidence of the divine will. If human beings are to be held responsible for themselves, they must have some capacity to know the good, and to recognize their own failure to do good. “How could they invoke one in whom they had no faith?” asked Paul. “And how could they have faith in one they had never heard of?” (Rom. 10:14). Yet unbelief does not arise out of ignorance alone. It arises willfully because “men preferred darkness to light because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19).

The earliest Christians were warned against naiveté: “Do not trust any and every spirit, my friends; test the spirits, to see whether they are from God, for among those who have gone out into the world there are many prophets falsely inspired” (1 John 4:1). Furthermore, a standard of judgment is given: “This is how we may recognize the Spirit of God: every spirit which acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God” (1 John 4:2).

Christian faith concedes to reason what is rightfully its due. God does not reveal himself to irrational, but rational, creatures, capable of distinguishing between true and false evidence. Revelation does not imply faith in the absurd or impossible, or faith based on ignorance. Christian faith opposes anti-intellectual obscurantism as much as it does extreme skepticism. Faith resists a blind fidism that believes without examining the evidence; and a defensive skepticism that believes only its doubt of the credibility of all evidence (Tho. Aq., SCG 1.4-7, pp. 66-75; Wesley, WJW VI, 350 ff.; Hodge, 1.3, pp. 54, 55).

The Tendency of Reason Toward Egocentric Distortion

Although reason is intended to be put to good use, it is prone to distortion. The intended uses of reason have been divided into three categories: First, reason functions as an organic part of faith’s reflection upon itself, as in the right use of logic, grammar, rhetoric, induction, and deduction. It is necessary to use reason, for example, to translate Scripture into various languages (Augustine, On Chr. Doctrine; Justin Martyr, First Apol., ANF I, pp. 159-87). Second, reason has crucial apologetic functions, assisting faith in stating reasons for its conclusions where doubts about it have arisen (Justin Martyr, Hortatory Address to the Greeks, ANF I, pp. 273-90). And third, reason has a polemical use in the correction of error by argument (Hippolytus, Refutation of All Her., ANF V; cf. Gerhard, Loci I, p. 76; cf. DT, pp. 36, 37). None of these functions would be possible without the use and application of rational criticism.

Yet reason since the fall has been blind, proud, vain, wrapped in error and self-deceit (Rom. 1:21; 1 Cor. 3:1; Gal. 4:8; Eph. 4:17, 18). Fallen reason is not able, without grace, to lift itself up to a recognition of the divine mysteries (Matt. 11:27; 1 Cor. 2:14-16). Hence reason may become harnessed for evil as well as good. Reason may be uti­lized by egocentricity to more profoundly oppose revelation, faith, hope, and love (Rom. 8:6; 1 Cor. 2:11 ff.; 3:18-20; cf. R. Niebuhr, Moral Man and Immoral Society). Fallen reason stands in need of repentance, cleansing, and conversion, so that it too might become captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:4, 5). Hence, because of its self-decep­tions, natural reason unaided by grace is not to be viewed as an adequate rule for judging faith or revelation (Gerhard, Loci II, pp. 362 ff.; cf. DT, p. 34).

The rational capacity of Adam and Eve (symbolic of all humanity) is twisted by pride, anxiety, guilt, and self-assertion. Thus our re­markable rational capacity has become, to some degree, an instrument of sin, guilt, and death. We use reason to promote wrongdoing and to do evil. The biblical notion of distorted, alienated, self-assertive reason has increased the realism of the Christian understanding of humanity. Nonetheless, the right use of reason is thought by most classical exegetes to be useful and necessary—not as a rule of faith, and never as absolute judge of faith, but as an aid to faith’s reflection upon its source and ground. “Theology does not condemn the use of Reason, but its abuse and its affectation of directorship, or its magis­terial use, as normative and decisive in divine things” (Quenstedt, TDP I, p. 43, in DT, p. 35).

Whether Faith Has Reasons That Reason Does Not Know Faith

The term faith (pistis) is utilized in the New Testament with several levels of meaning. Faith is

  • the recognition through the active life of the Spirit of, “the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1 Kjv)
  • an active trust or confidence, as when one asks “in faith, nothing doubting” (en pistei, meden diakrinomenos, James 1:6)
  • a belief, trust, and assurance in God’s righteousness in Christ that is active by love and yields the fruit of good works
  • the act of believing; for example, when one says, “I believe” (Apos­tles’ Creed) one is saying “I have faith that . . . “
  • a body of truth confessed as necessary for salvation, as in “the faith once delivered to the saints” (Jude 3, Kjv), or the Christian religion for which the believer contends (1 Tim. 6:12)
  • reliability, or constancy in fulfilling one’s promises, as when Paul speaks of the “faithfulness of God” (Rom. 3:3)
  • trust in the intelligibility of the cosmos that premises scientific inquiry (Ps. 89:1-8)
  • obedience, or the obedience of faith, which stands ready to be guided by duly constituted authority (Rom. 16:26)

All these varied shades of meaning cohere, interflow, and coalesce in Christian teaching concerning faith (cf. Ambrose, Of the Chr. Faith, prologue, 1.4; II.Intro.; II.11, 15, NPNF 2 X, pp. 201, 206, 225, 236, 240; Augustine, On Psalms LI, NPNF 1 VIII, p. 195; Luther, Freedom of a Chr., ML, pp. 56-61; TDNT; TDOT). Faith includes the capacity to discern by grace the things of the Spirit, and to trust in the reliability of the divine Word (Cyril of Jerusalem, Catech. Lect. V, NPNF 2 VII, pp. 29-32). Faith embraces the complementary meanings of the trust­ing frame of mind that has confidence in Another and the trustwor­thiness that can be relied upon (Tho. Aq., ST I—II Q1-13, I, pp. 1169-1233; Calvin, Inst. 3.2).

Faith does not occur without grace: “Yes, it was grace [chariti] that saved you, with faith [pisteos] for its instrument” (Eph. 2:8, Knox). When grace enlivens reason, reason is not subverted but empowered. Human reasoning, by grace, appropriates divine truth without ceasing to be human reasoning. When reason discerns the truth God speaks, it does not do so without God’s grace. God cannot be comprehensively grasped by any human reason, but some aspect of God can be grasped by faith’s reasoning which leads not to a false God or an illusion of God, but truly to God insofar as God becomes accessible to human knowing (Basil, Letters, To Amphilochius, CCXXXV, CCXXXVI, NPNF 2 VIII, pp. 274-79).

Since faith is the discernment of spiritual truth, faith is not sepa­rable from reasoning, rightly understood. Rather, faith is a way of reasoning out of God’s self-disclosure, assisted by grace. In faith the reasoning is directed to the things of the spirit, rather than to empir­ical data. Hence it is impossible to have faith without reasoning, or belief without any form of thinking, although our thinking is always inadequate to its infinite Subject. Since faith enlarges human vision, the logic of faith is an enlarged, not a diminished, logic (Tho. Aq., SCG 1.1-9, I, pp. 59-78).

The struggle of Christian teaching against various exaggerated rationalisms is not a struggle against reason but against the misappli­cation of reason—such as when reason is made the sole judge of revelation, or when reason completely refuses to credit true revelation. There can also be an overdependence upon speculative reasoning, or a distorted technical reason that functions without moral constraints. Hence excessive rationalisms pervert the function of reason and thereby undermine the appropriate service of reason to the study of God. Rationalism can turn into a tight and uncritical dogmatism just as religion can.

Classical Christian writers have sought to show that faith does not conflict with right reason, that there is harmony between revelation’s historical way of reasoning and reason’s respect for all the evidence, and that human reasoning is made more plausible and whole when the premise of historical revelation is received. But Christian reasoning cannot proceed without the assistance of grace and the premise of revelation.

The Data Base of Faith’s Reasoning

If authority of Scripture and tradition are objective criteria of the­ology, then faith and reason must be considered as subjective criteria, but in different ways. For as Scripture is definitive for tradition, so does faith set the context and bounds in which faith’s historical rea­soning operates.

Unless we cling to the absurdity of rejecting the benefit of any experience of any others, our reasoning must depend upon some external authority. This is true of scientific reasoning, which is de­pendent upon the consensually shared authority of induction, obser­vation, hypothecation, and deduction.

In theology, the inductive data base of experiences and observations is mediated to us from many others—countless examples of faith, suffering, martyrdom, and witness stretching over many centuries, relayed to us through unwritten and written sources. It is the lan­guage of this community’s experience with which theology has pri­marily to deal. Among the written sources are those consensually designated by the community as canonical Scripture, as authoritative witness to the revelation of God. The Holy Spirit guides the preser­vation and guarantees the trustworthiness of scriptural witness. Scrip­ture rightly interpreted remains the reliable guide to revelation upon which faith is based. Reason cannot proceed without the testimony of Scripture. Reason has its data base in Scripture as tested through tradition and experience.

However great may be the differences between philosophy and theology, as different as are reason and revelation, these two spheres are not locked in endless antagonism. One thinks in the light of natural intellect, the other in the light of God’s self-disclosure in history. Both think either toward or from the truth.

It is from a surprising quarter, seventeenth-century Lutheran Scho­lasticism, that the faith/reason relationship is most beautifully stated: “Anyone who would deny those things which are visible in a greater light because he had not seen them in the smaller, would fail to appreciate the design and benefit of the smaller, so also he who denies or impugns the mysteries of faith revealed in the light of grace, on the ground that they are incongruous with Reason and the light of nature, fails, at the same time, to make a proper use of the office and benefits of Reason and the light of nature” (Johann Gerhard, Loci II, p. 372, in DT, p. 33).

Faith’s Presentation of Evidences to Reason

The revelation given by God is addressed primarily to faith, and only in a secondary sense to reason. Faith receives the self-evidencing divine disclosure in the special certitude constituted by trust and by assurance through the Spirit. However, this same faith is then charged with the task of gaining the assent of unbelieving hearers in the world (Athenagoras, A Plea for the Chr., ANF II, pp. 123-48; Tatian, Address to the Greeks, ANF II, pp. 59-84). As faith receives revelation, so faith then seeks to pass on the evidences of revelation to others, utilizing reason where appropriate to state, clarify, and present these evidences (Augustine, Ag. the Epis. of Manichaeus I—V, NPNF 1 IV, pp. 129-31).

In addressing faith primarily, revelation addresses a human faculty seated in the human constitution, the faculty of believing. This faculty is at work, accepting the truth on sufficient evidence, wherever human knowing occurs, and especially spiritual knowing (1 Cor. 2:11-16; Heb. 7:14-25; 11:1 ff.).

Believing is that faculty that “makes us certain of realities we do not see” (Heb. 11:1). It enables the heart to recognize “the truth as it is in Jesus” (Eph. 4:21). No other human faculty is sufficiently com­petent to recognize this truth. For faith is to the unseen world what the senses are to the visible world (Maximus, Four Centuries on Charity 111.92-99, ACW 21, pp. 190-92). Faith is the eye that sees what the senses cannot see, the ear that hears what the senses do not hear. One who lacks this eye and ear “refuses what belongs to the Spirit of God; it is folly to him; he cannot grasp it, because it needs to be judged in the light of the Spirit” (1 Cor. 2:14; Gregory Nazianzen, Or. XXVIII, NPNF 2 VII, pp. 290-91).

Faith in God is not alien to the human condition, because “the Spirit of God himself is in man, and the breath of the Almighty gives him understanding” (Job 32:8). This Spirit already at work within us discerns the truth, receives its evidence, and celebrates its veracity (Augustine, On Trin. IV.22-32, NPNF 1 III, pp. 85, 95). The coming of Jesus is like the coming of a light that is offered to “enlighten every one,” even though some prefer darkness (John 1:9-12). The Revealer “knew men so well, all of them, that he needed not evidence from others about a man, for he himself could tell what was in a man” (John 2:25). Since God empathized with our limitations, he radically adapted the evidence of revelation to the human condition, so that even amid our self-assertive deceptions we might be able to recognize the truth incarnate and the Spirit of truth (John 1:14; 16:13).

One who prejudicially resists this evidence has “a distorted mind and stands self-condemned” (Titus 3:11). Such persons “defy the truth; they have lost the power to reason, and they cannot pass the tests of faith” (2 Tim. 3:8).

Faith Is a Way of Reasoning

In this way the Scriptures viewed faith as sound reason. Hence faith and reason are deeply bound and melded together in inextricable spiritual kinship. The same Spirit who has called forth faith also awakens reason to receive “the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints” (Col. 1:26), a mystery reason of itself cannot fathom. The evidences of God’s self-disclosure that faith recognizes, faith now calls upon reason to rec­ognize and credit. In this way the judgment of the mind is given the honor of examining the evidences of faith. While faith is raised up to receive and embrace revelation, reason is bowed low to behold its self-giving love. Faith does not despise reason, but presents those evi­dences for revelation in history that are understandable to reason (Wesley, WJW VI, pp. 351 ff.).

But what are these evidences that faith presents to reason? They are Scripture’s recollections of the divine self-disclosure in history. Through the presentation of these evidences, the believer is taught to “be always ready with your defence [pros apologian, ready to provide reasons] whenever you are called to account for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet. 3:15). Luke wrote his Gospel as “a connected narrative” (diegesin) for Theophilus, “so as to give you authentic knowledge” (epignos, Luke 1:4) of the coming of the Saviour (Luke 2:11). So every believer, and especially everyone in public ministry, needs to be sup­plied with such “authentic knowledge” to provide credible reasons concerning the reliability (asphaleian, certainty) of that in which they have been instructed (Luke 1:4). It was just such “an outline of the sound teaching which you heard from me” (2 Tim. 1:13) that Timothy was instructed to keep before him, so that the reasons for faith might be readily available to him.

The Clementine Recognitions (mid fourth century) commended the process of asking hard questions of faith, requiring faith to reason about itself:

Do not think that we say that these things are only to be received by faith.

but also that they are to be asserted by reason. It is not safe to commit these things to bare faith without reason, since assuredly truth cannot be without reason. And therefore he who has received these things fortified by reason can never lose them; whereas he who receives them without demonstrations, by an assent to a simple statement of them, can neither keep them safely, nor is certain if they are true. . . . And therefore, according as any one is more anxious in demanding a reason, by so much will he be the firmer in preserving his faith. (Recognitions 11.69, ANF VIII, p. 116)

The Trustworthiness to Which Trust Responds

Faith is not merely intellectual assent to propositions about God. Faith (pistis, fiducia) is an entrusting of oneself to someone or something that is regarded as trustable (John of Damascus, OF IV.10, NPNF 2 IX, p. 79). One can think of this by analogy by asking oneself: Who do I trust and why? To answer that question autobiographically is to reflect profoundly upon one’s relationships with others.

We learn to trust certain people because they make themselves known as trustworthy. I may live through a history together with another in which I know that whatever that person tells me will be dependable. I would never know that, hence never trust that person, unless there were a concrete history (including names, dates, and pivotal events) of trustworthiness that revealed that person’s reliability.

So it is in the Christian community, that one’s trust in time is placed in that Source and End of all things—God—as that eternal One who has become known through a historical process as unfail­ingly trustworthy. That is the story the Bible tells. The events are remembered as revealing the trustworthiness of God to Israel. The Bible witnesses to that history, to elicit that kind of trust (Ps. 40:1-4; Augustine, On the Psalms XL, NPNF 1 VIII, pp. 119-28). Such trust is not based upon abstract propositions, nor is it based upon psycholog­ical feelings about ourselves.

Christian faith is not a faith in faith. The central predicament of introverted pietism is faith based on faith itself, moving, like a dog chasing its tail, in a frustrating circle. Sound faith is based upon that which calls forth faith—a history of trustworthy relationships through which the other (human partner) or Other (divine partner) becomes somehow known as trustable. Words in themselves cannot engender that trust. It takes a history. Such a faith is not based upon projections of need or rhetoric or conceptualities, however good, but upon a history in which God has made himself known as caring partner and has shared his existence with us faithfully (Athanasius, Ag. the Arians 11.14.6-11, NPNF 2 IV, pp. 351-54; John Cassian, Conferences XIII.7-12, NPNF 2 XI, pp. 425-30).

Reasonable Acceptance of Legitimate Authority

The classical ecumenical writers argued that the acceptance of le­gitimate and reasonable authority is itself an eminently reasonable act, for both scientific and religious knowledge. When the believer trusts the church’s authority to discern and canonize Scripture, distill from it the creed, and propose a rule of faith as a guide to scriptural truth, that is viewed as a reasonable act. “It behooves us to flee to the Church, and be brought up in her bosom, and be nourished with the Lord’s Scriptures” (Irenaeus, Ag. Her. V.20.2, ANF I, p. 548).

Amid the horrors of persecution, Cyprian observed that whoever is able to call God Father, must first call the church Mother (Epistles LXXIII.7, ANF V, p. 388). If reasons appear that make it clear that the church’s judgment has become untrustworthy, or its consensual judg­ment misguided, then the believer has a duty to question that author­ity. Such a predisposition toward ecclesial trust does not imply an abandonment of reason; rather, it assumes that the community is merely providing the believer with evidence for consideration, reflec­tion, and testing against other forms of knowing. This predisposition to ecclesial trust is the very thing most lacking in the Protestant psyche; the whole basis for the Reformation being a “hermeneutic of suspicion” toward the Roman church (cf. Ricoeur, Freud and Philosophy, pp. 20 ff.).

Children conditionally accept the word of their parents and teach­ers who are seeking to present them with evidence that they then can duly examine, test, and draw their own conclusions about. Educators do not normally regard that act of conditional acceptance as irrational but rather as a reasonable openness to evidence under competent guidance. It is far less reasonable to suppose that the child must begin with a consistent attitude of radical distrust, as in a “hermeneutic of suspicion,” toward those who are seeking to permit the child to ex­amine evidence.

Similarly, the knowledge received through Scripture and church tradition remains subject to further exploration, experiential confir­mation, and amendment by subsequent evidence. To depend upon Holy Writ and holy church for supplying the very evidence with which faith deals does not imply sacrifice of intellect, however, but a reason­able act of openness to evidence.

The Possibility of Faith

How is faith possible? We do not attain faith by simply saying we ought to have it; we do not logically derive it from deductive premises. Rather, faith comes by trusting in God by the power of the Spirit (Ps. 26:1). It is by faith that Abel’s sacrifice was greater than Cain’s, that Enoch was carried to another life, that Noah built the ark, that Abra­ham left Ur to go where he had never been, that Sarah conceived, that Isaac received the promises, that Moses left Egypt (Heb. 11). Faith walks by trusting and not always by seeing (cf. 2 Cor. 5:7). “Commit your life to the Lord; trust in him and he will act” (Ps. 37:5). As we learn to trust others by taking risks, so we learn to trust God, step-by-step, by risking trust. Those who will not risk small steps of trust will find the larger vision of God’s trustability implausible (Luther, Freedom of a Chr., ML, pp. 56-61).

Faith is not simply poured down our throats without any choice of our own. It is at times a risk-laden choice amid hunger, fire, war, and death. But we do not get very far reasoning about God until we somehow enter into that sphere in which faith in God’s historical revelation is taken seriously—hence the world of Scripture, of the celebrating community, of preaching and sacrament. There again and again we meet others who have taken risks in relation to that trust­worthy One, and again and again, according to their witness, God makes himself known as trustable (Cyprian, Treatises III, On the Lapsed, ANF V, pp. 437 ff.).

All this remains subject to critical reflection. A broad historical data base, imagination, and critical reason all have been richly em­ployed by historical Christianity. As we test out the trustability of God, trust is given a chance to grow. Such is the testimony of Jewish and Christian communities. It is only in the process of risking trust that God’s trustworthiness becomes credible.

Faith is indeed possible, because we know that in this community God has been trusted. Nonetheless, since faith remains a risk-laden decision, no one can do it for any one else. Just as nobody can die for anybody else, nobody can believe for another (Luther, Eight Sermons, WML II, p. 391; cf. Freedom of a Chr., ML, pp. 66, 67).

In any event, life demonstrates that faith of some kind is necessary (Theophilus, To Autolycus 1.8, ANF II, p. 91). We in fact do not live as free self-determining persons without trusting something, without casting our reliance upon something that renders our existence worth­while, plausible, and meaningful (H. R. Niebuhr, RMWC, pp. 124 ff.).

For we cannot be human beings without making choices. The very essence of choosing involves risk, and where risk is, there is some form of trust, even if misguided (Kierkegaard, Either/Or II; Judge for Yourselves!).

People admittedly can have faith in what is unreliable, or untrue, or incompletely true, or untrustworthy. It is reasonable that our faith be attached to that which is more rather than less trustworthy, that is based upon a larger rather than a smaller range of comprehensive coherence. Such a rational duty would apply to every person who has the capacity to reason. For God did not give us the capacity for reason in order that reason be abused, but used (Clement of Alex., Strom., VII.6 ff., ANF II, pp. 531 ff.).


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Epis. Epistle

Elem. Theol. Dog. Elements theologiae dogmaticae. Francois Xavier Schouppe.

Brussels: H. Goemaere, 1863.

EPT Essays Philosophical and Theological. Rudolf Bultmann. New York: Macmillan, 1955.

ESS Exercitationes sacrae in symbolum. Sacred Dissertations. Hermann Witsius. Translated by D. Fraser. Utrecht: 1694. Edinburgh: A. Fullerton, 1823.

ETA Examen Theologicum Acroamaticum (1707). David Hollaz (or Hollatz). Leipzig: B. C. Brietkopf, 1763.

Exhort. Exhortation

Expos. Exposition

FC The Fathers of the Church: A New Translation. Edited by R. J. Deferrari. 69 vols. to date. Washington, DC: Catholic University Press, 1947—.

FEF The Faith of the Early Fathers. 3 vols. to date. Edited by William A. Jurgens. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1970—.

FER The Fathers for English Readers. 15 vols. London: S.P.C.K., 1878-1890.

FGG From Glory to Glory, Texts from Gregory of Nyssa’s Mystical Writings. Translated by H. Musurillo. New York: Scribner’s, 1961.

Mystical Writings. Translated by H. Musurillo. New York: Scribner’s, 1961.

GC Of God and His Creatures. Thomas Aquinas (abbreviated translation of Summa Contra Gentiles). Translated by Joseph Ricaby. Westminster, MD: Carroll Press, 1950.

Her. Heresies

Hex. Hexaemeron

Hist. History

Hom. Homilies or Homily

HPC A Harmony of Protestant Confessions. Edited by Peter Hall. London: J. F. Shaw, 1842.

Inst. Institutes of the Christian Religion. John Calvin. LCC, vols. 20, 21. References by book and chapter number.

Inst. Instruction, or The Instructor. Clement of Alexandria. ANF II.

1W The Inspired Word. Luis Alanso Schoekel. New York: Herder and Herder, 1965.

JJW Journal of John Wesley. Edited by N. Curnock. 8 vols. London: Epworth, 1938.

KC Kerygma and Counseling. Thomas C. Oden. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1978.

KJV King James Version, 1611

LACT Library of Anglo-Catholic Theology. 99 vols. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1841-1863.

LCC The Library of Christian Classics. Edited by J. Baillie, J. T. McNiell, and H. P. Van Dusen. 26 vols. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1953-1961.

LCF The Later Christian Fathers. Edited by H. Bettenson. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1970.

LF A Library of Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church. Edited by E. B. Pusey, J.

Kebel, J. H. Newman, and C. Marriott. 46 vols. Oxford: J. Parker, 1838-1875.

Literal Interp. of Gen. Literal Interpretation of Genesis. Augustine. CWS.

LLA Library of Liberal Arts. Edited by Oskar Piest. Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs Merrill, 1951—.

Loeb Loeb Classical Library. Edited by T. E. Page, et al. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1912—.

LPT Library of Protestant Thought. Edited by John Dillenberger. 13 vols. New York: Oxford University Press, 1964-1972.

LT Loci Theologicorum. Martin Chemnitz (1591). 3 vols. Frankfurt: N. Hoffmann, 1606.

LW Luther’s Works. Edited by J. Pelikan and H. T. Lehmann. 54 vols. to date. St. Louis, MO: Concordia, 1953—.

LXX Septuagint (Greek Old Testament)

Metaphy. Metaphysics

ML Martin Luther: Selections From His Writings. Edited by John Dillenberger. New York: Doubleday, 1961.

MPG Patrologia Graeca. Edited by J. B. Migne. 162 vols. Paris: Migne, 1857-1876.

MPL Patrologia Latina. Edited by J. B. Migne. 221 vols. Paris: Migne, 1841-1865. General Index, Paris, 1912.

MTEC Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church. Vladimir Losskii. London: J. Clarke, 1957.

MWS Ministry of Word and Sacrament: An Enchiridion. Martin Chemnitz (1595). St. Louis, MO: Concordia, 1981.

Myst. Mystical, or mystery

NBD The New Bible Dictionary. Edited by J. D. Douglas et al. London: Intervarsity, 1962.

NDM Nature and Destiny of Man. Reinhold Niebuhr. 2 vols. New York: Scribner’s, 1941, 1943.

NE A New Eusebius: Documents Illustrative of the History of the Church to A.D. 337. Edited by J. Stevenson, (based on B. J. Kidd). London: S.P.C.K., 1957.

NEB New English Bible

NIV New International Version

NPNF A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church. 1st Series, 14 vols. 2nd series, 14 vols. Edited by H. Wace and P. Schaff. References by title and book or chapter, and subsection, and NPNF series no., volume and page number. New York: Christian, 1887-1900.

OBP On Becoming a Person. Carl R. Rogers. Boston: Houghton and Mifflin, 1961.

ODCC The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Edited by F. L. Cross. Revised by F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1974.

OUED Oxford Universal English Dictionary. 10 vols. Edited by C. T. Onions. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1937.

OF On the Orthodox Faith. John of Damascus. NPNF 2 IX. FC 37.

Or. or Orat. Oration or orations

Phi. J. B. Phillips. The New Testament in Modern English.

Phil. Philosophy

Phil. Frag. Philosophical Fragments. Soren Kierkegaard. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1962.

Prescript. Prescription.

Princip. De Principiis. Origen. ANF IV, pp. 239-384.

Proslog. Proslogium. Anselm. Translated by S. N. Deane. In BW.

Prov. Providence

PSG Philosophers Speak of God. Edited by Charles Hartshorne and William L. Reese. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1953.

PW Practical Works. Richard Baxter. 23 vols. London: James Duncan, 1830.

RD Reformed Dogmatics. Heinrich Heppe. Translated by G. T. Thomson. London: George Allen and Unwin, 1950.

Ref. Dogm. Reformed Dogmatics. Edited by J. W. Beardslee. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1965.

Relig. Religion

RMWC Radical Monotheism and Western Culture. H. Richard Niebuhr. New York: Harper & Bros., 1960.

RPR Readings in the Philosophy of Religion. Edited by John Mourant. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1954.

RSV Revised Standard Version

Sacr. Sacrament

SCD Sources of Christian Dogma (Enchridion Symbolorum. Edited by Henry Denzinger). Translated by Roy Deferrari. New York: Herder, 1954.

SCG On the Truth of the Catholic Faith, Summa contra Gentiles. Thomas Aquinas. 4 vols. (with sub-volumes). Referenced by book, chapter, and page number. New York: Doubleday, 1955-1957.

SDF The Sayings of the Desert Fathers. Translated by Benedicta Ward. London: A. R. Mowbray and Co., 1975.

Dennis Prager Gets God Wrong

Video Description:

(SORRY, I wanted to discuss how the “euthyphro argument” being an issue for Mormonism and not applicable to Christianity and Judaism. Dropped the ball on that one.)

Over the years I have noticed that Dennis Prager has an unhealthy view that Mormonism and Christianity worship the same God. This is not true… at all. In a recent show Prager talks about a minimalist approach to see if people worship the same God. I am a huge fan of Dennis’s, BUT, in this case he isn’t even close to being correct on an issue one would think is important for him to get right.

At any rate, I couldn’t figure out how to get some of the fade issues to sync up better, plus I need to work on the audio (a little “tiny” sounding).

Even according to thee simple parameters, the LDS god is vastly different than the Judeo-Christian concept of God. In the video I recommend two books, I will add my chapter as a resource as well:



Infinitely Finite – Mormon Materialism

Dennis Prager Stumped By the Trinity

From the video description:

In an honest dialogue via a caller to the show, Dennis Prager tells us his lack of understanding of what seems so clear to Christians — MIND YOU, it is still a mystery, but not self-referentially false. In other words, coherent.

Two quick explanations are from two men I respect:

Here is a four part series by theologian Wayne Grudem:

See his books for more doctrinal specifics:

Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine
Bible Doctrine: Essential Teachings of the Christian Faith

Jehovah’s Witness’ vs. The Trinity by Papa Giorgio