Friday, November 27, 2020

Christmas Resources 2020

Last year, I wrote two articles that can be used as a starting point for researching Christmas issues. One of those articles was about how to concisely argue for a traditional Christian view of Jesus' childhood. The other was about how Jesus framed his public ministry around his identity as the figure of Isaiah 9:1-7.

Here are some examples of other Christmas issues we've addressed over the years:

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Chariots And Horses Of Fire

"Jesus Christ, our most true God, veiled in human form, bows his knee and prays [in John 17], and throws his divine energy into the prayer for the bringing home of his redeemed. This one irresistible, everlastingly almighty prayer carries everything before it. 'Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am,' is the centripetal energy which is drawing all the family of God towards its one home. How shall the chosen get home to the Father? Chariots are provided. Here are the chariots of fire and horses of fire in this prayer. 'I will,' saith Jesus, 'that they be with me;' and with him they must be. There are difficulties in the way — long nights and darkness lie between, and hills of guilt, and forests of trouble, and bands of fierce temptations; yet the pilgrims shall surely reach their journey's end, for the Lord's 'I will' shall be a wall of fire round about them. In this petition I see both sword and shield for the church militant. Here I see the eagles' wings on which they shall be upborne till they enter within the golden gates. Jesus saith, 'I will;' and who is he that shall hinder the home-coming of the chosen? As well hope to arrest the marches of the stars of heaven." (Charles Spurgeon, The C.H. Spurgeon Collection [Albany, Oregon: AGES Software, 1998], Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Vol. 32, pp. 223-24)

Monday, November 23, 2020

What About Evil? by Scott Christensen


What About Evil cover

Full disclosure: The following is a review of What About Evil? by Scott Christensen.  I am friends with Christensen on Facebook, although I cannot remember precisely the details of how we became Facebook friends. I suspect it’s either because of Triablogue or because of Steve Hays directly. I also received a review copy for free.  However, the following views are my own and are an honest assessment of Christensen’s book.

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Christensen’s writing style is one that definitely connected with me.  When reading some authors, you can get the sense of overwhelming intellect. They use large words and technical phrases with skill, and you learn a lot from them but it also takes a lot of extra thinking to parse out those sentences.  Christensen’s style is the opposite.  It’s not that his writing is simplistic—far from it—but rather that he writes in such a manner that it is effortless to take in what he is writing about.  In other words, his meaning is plain, not convoluted. His metaphors are obvious, not strained.  And the end result is that reading a paragraph from his book is effortless.  Unlike reading a massive tome where it is a chore to grind out every sentence, Christensen’s style lends to quick, and enjoyable, reading.

Where this becomes a bit unusual is in instances where Christensen lists examples of what he is referring to.  For instance, when giving a list of natural disasters in his introduction (page 2), he includes “...the European Black Death (1347–51), Chilean earthquakes (1647), Krakatoan volcanoes (1883), Spanish flu pandemics (1918), Indonesian tsunamis (2004), Chinese coronavirus pandemics (2020), and endless twisters in Tornado Alley.” Because I am used to reading many technical treatises, my mind immediately asked “why do tornadoes not have any dates listed?  And why did he suddenly move from specific examples to the general example of tornados?  And why only tornadoes and not, say, hurricanes?” 

But of course, Christensen wasn’t trying to make any extra point by including tornadoes there.  He’s simply listing some common examples of natural evils, and the “oddity” of having tornados at the end, not fitting the format of the other items in the list, fits into Christensen’s folksy style.  This is the sort of list someone would make if they were talking extemporaneously in a conversation.

I hope none of that is taken as a criticism. In fact, I think the style of the book helps make it easier for a lay person to read.  And by pointing out the style is “folksy” that in no way means that the arguments Christensen puts forth have no weight.  Instead, it means that (in my opinion) more people will be able to benefit from this writing than if Christensen had used a more academic style.

Christensen quickly gets to the point in the book. He is looking into the various theodicies presented to oppose those who question the existence of God based on the existence of evil.  He looks at some of the more common theodicies, such as the “Free-Will Defense”, “The Natural-Law Defense”, and the “Greater-Good Theodicy” (among many others), concluding that while there are some good things in most defenses, for a Biblically-minded Christian, the view that is most faithful to Scripture is a version of the “greater-good theodicy” with “the best-of-all-possible-worlds defense.”  He dubs his own view the “Greater-glory theodicy”, in his words, “because it seeks to resolve the problem by examining what brings God the greatest glory” (p. 7).

The reason I like Christensen’s method is because he is geared so closely to holding to what the Bible teaches, and using that as the foundation for all else.  It places Christ, and His work in defeating evil, at the center of the entire context of evil in the first place.  As he writes, “[…]Christ is no conventional hero, and the cross is no conventional weapon. We do not naturally associate a hero’s victory with his death. … Yet surprisingly, in the cross, Jesus defeats evil.  Jesus defeats death by dying…. He becomes our hero by being treated as a villain” (pp. 8-9).

If you feel I’m giving away too much of the book, perhaps the low value of those page numbers will assuage you.  Christensen fully tells us all of this within the very introduction of his book!  This isn’t something he’s trying to hold off for later, to bait you in before revealing where he’s going.  As is keeping with Christensen’s “folksy” language, he has no reason to obscure anything with rhetoric and seems almost excited to get through the background information to get to the main point: the glorification of Christ.

Honestly, as someone who’s read a lot of philosophy on theodicies—and many of them quite well reasoned and argued—it’s nice to have one where the focus is so clearly on the majesty of Christ.

This is why I especially enjoyed that while Christensen took several chapters to discuss evil from a historical and philosophical standpoint, including discussing how the term can even be defined, he so quickly delves into what would even constitute a theodicy that honors God, especially in light of how secular the world is in modern days.  He examines the strengths and weaknesses of the common arguments in Chapters 5 and 6, (the weaknesses being where they lack Biblical support, and the strengths being where they have sufficient Biblical support), and then spends chapters 7 and 8 discussing the nature of God Himself and how the Bible discusses evil.  It is that Biblically-centered focus that I very much appreciated, and that’s not even getting into the section that Christensen himself identifies as the “heart” of his book: Chapters 10 – 13, where the redemptive theme of Scripture is seen as a monomyth—“one universal storyline that evokes a human longing for redemption.”  And if you’re looking for shortcuts, first of all I suggest not doing so.  But if you really want to get to the main argument, Chapter 12 of the book (specifically, beginning on page 281) presents the “greater-good theodicy” in detail.

Much more could, and should, be said about this work by Christensen.  There is a treasure of introductory-level Reformed theology throughout all its pages, and his defense being grounded in Scripture is definitely a breath of fresh air.  The Bible is the strength of the Reformed position, and Christensen does a wonderful job pulling together the various threads to support his view: philosophical, historical, and most of all theological.  While I am more intellectually driven and love the logic of the Reformed view, Chapters 10 and 11 (where Christensen spends time talking about the entire story of the Bible) was a nice change of pace.  As a dabbler in fiction, the purpose and intent of stories also speaks to me, and it’s nice for someone to remind me that God is an Author, just as much as He is an Architect or Mathematician.

My only regret is that when I read the majority of this book, it was during an unexpected foot surgery I had, and as a result the experience was not as physically pleasant as I wish it could have been.  I hope in another couple of months to re-read the book, from a new (unmedicated and pain-free) point of view to get another take on it.  It will be well worth reading again, and I highly recommend this to anyone who wants to increase their theodicy arsenal.  I rate this a solid A+, or 5 stars if we go by the Amazon scale, because it is well written, well researched, well informed, and, most of all, Biblically grounded.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Buying Christ's Honor With Your Losses

"Blessed are they who would hold the crown on His head, and buy Christ's honour with their own losses." (Samuel Rutherford, Letters Of Samuel Rutherford [Carlisle, Pennsylvania: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2012], 258)