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WHI-1218 | Chaos & Grace

Posted by on in 2014 Show Archive
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What is the state of contemporary Christianity, and what are some of the trends that are shaping the way we think about God, heaven, hell, and the Christian life? Why are evangelical Christians prone to think about the gospel in subjective and experiential terms? On this edition of White Horse Inn, Michael Horton will be discussing these questions with Mark Galli, Senior Managing Editor of Christianity Today magazine and author of Chaos & Grace: Discovering the Liberating Work of the Holy Spirit. What is the state of contemporary Christianity, and what are some of the trends that are shaping the way we think about God, heaven, hell, and the Christian life? Why are evangelical Christians prone to think about the gospel in subjective and experiential terms? On this edition of White Horse Inn, Michael Horton will be discussing these questions with Mark Galli, Senior Managing Editor of Christianity Today magazine and author of Chaos & Grace: Discovering the Liberating Work of the Holy Spirit.


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Chaos & Grace
Mark Galli

God Wins
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  • Guest - John Bauman

    If I applied the same level and type of skepticism to those answers (especially Stephen's) as I would expect a thinking person to apply to any other religion's faith claims, I would find them utterly wanting.

    They are a magician's handful of words and phrases we have come to accept, being waved around to catch our attention so that we fail to notice that there's nothing in the other hand.

    They amount to "begging the question". They are circular. They are answering the central question with the very premise that is in question.

    They lead to the conclusion that God is there as long as I can allow my imagination -- not my ability to observe, but my imagination -- to tell me that as long as there are beautiful sunsets and baby's laughter, that there must be a God. They conclude that God's very existence is hinged on our acceptance that He sustains the universe.

    But I would question that kind of reasoning from ANY other religion, not just ours.

    Our foundational religious history had a God whose prophets could call down fire from heaven in front of thousands of witnesses at Mt Carmel. Our God parted the Red Sea, healed the sick, raised the dead, miraculously fed the hungry, poured water from stone. When the apostles went forth in the fledgling years of the church, they spoke in tongues, healed the sick, could call forth all manner of miracles -- and not in a sporadic, arbitrary, *sometimes-it-works* manner. When they called it forth, it came.

    And now the best we can come up with to claim our God is active in a material world is that the sun comes up and babies laugh?

    ....oh, and the Scriptures. ....that tell us about a God who once actively participated in the lives of his people but now only does so if we're imagining Him properly?

    It would be very easy to see my questioning as doubting God -- His involvement, if not His very existence. That's really not my intention. I may feel that sometimes, but as I've said, I believe in God.

    What I'm trying to do....not for others, but for my own sanity, spiritual, and even temporal life, is to try to understand God.

    There's a rather famous (if apocryphal) story of a sculptor who was asked by a marveling observer, "How in the world do you sculpt such life-like figures of men out of pieces of mere granite?" to which the sculptor replied, "Well, I simply chip away any granite that doesn't look like a man."

    My faith is in a God that is not only real enough to withstand my most ardent questioning, but who actually invites it. He demands it.

    I believe that if I chip away all the false answers -- the granite that doesn't look like God -- the God with which I will end up, just might be the real thing. And I DO still believe that He WANTS me to find him.

    It is the lack of such questioning that leads to a God of my creation -- my imagination -- not a God of my discovery.

    The problem, I fear, lies in how strongly a tendency toward bias confirmation leads one to hold back from the tough questions and instead go racing back to what one has wanted to believe all along.

    But that racing back to the safe MIGHT be the very thing keeping one from a better understanding of the one true God.

    Or not. I could be all wrong. That's the problem with uncertainty. It can't be very dogmatic.

    (though I am reminded of my favorite definition of an agnostic: He's the one who isn't sure if there's a God...but is damn certain you can't know either. :^) )

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  • Guest - Susan

    Hi John,

    It’s hard to be in need of a miracle and not get one. What we need in most of our dealings though isn’t a miracle in the sense of the supernatural breaking in on the natural but for the general laws in existence by the supreme lawgiver, to be unhindered. Man by his freewill can thwart the natural order and cause chaos. I’m thinking here of when governments make it hard for men to pursue economic freedom by applying a system of economic equality. I don’t understand all the ends and outs, pitfalls and whatnot, but I do know that my husband’s industry has suffered because of loose lending( I mean if you can count government support as income…) then ultimately crumbled when the government( Dodd-Frank WSRCP Act) tried to stave off a worse catastrophe. Actually the whole country has suffered in one way or another but we feel it more acutely because my husband is a real estate appraiser who lost nearly all his clients because they weren’t deemed big enough to be kept from failing.
    Anyways, those are our personal woes, and not the subject of this WHI episode, but my point is that we actually do have a personal part in the bigger picture of which we are not fully aware. Things change sometimes for the better, and sometimes for the worse(temporarily so). In my personal scenario less government planning would give my husband greater ease obtaining work, but since economic systems aren’t deterministic there was the possibility that stringency will harm in ways that the planners could not have foreseen. Somehow it must still be a part of God’s overarching plan that we suffer financially which causes our children to suffer socially and health wise( my youngest kiddo desperately needs orthodontics). It’s a system for sure and there are no panaceas. Who knows maybe it will turn out even better for us in the long run. No matter, we still all will eventually die and become part of the earth’s strata. It’s the fate of every civilization, every individual. But God is still God! In CS Lewis’s Space Trilogy( forgot which book), he says something about swimming with the waves until that time that they take you. So just keep swimming until you can swim no more. St. Augustine said to pray like everything depends on God, and work like everything depends on you. All of this makes me think of this:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ysa5OBhXz-Q

    You believe in God and wonder where arethe biblical kind of miracles in our day. I wondered that too. This is one of the things that drove me to Catholicism…….. The Catholic Church seems to expect miracles. She believes that the Eucharist at the time of the Eucharistic Prayer becomes the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ( real presence). This is something that I am not allowed to protest. It’s dogma. There are also stories of particular witnessed miracles involving the Eucharist too( see Miracle of Lanciano). You may be a doubter, but the more I started noticing that my Reformed faith was constantly challenging, discounting and mocking “faith”, the more I became afraid that I was not inside the Christian “religion” anymore. It takes strong faith to believe in a miracle that you can’t see. I needed my faith encouraged. Not that God has to show signs, but it is fully compatible with our religion to expect one.

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  • Guest - John Bauman

    I appreciate your kind, measured comments, and I need to re-read them a few times more to really "get" what you're saying.

    But I want to make something clear before I accidentally again derail this conversation:

    I'm not really looking for a miracle. I understand that it's my fault for having pointed to the miracles as examples of God materially revealing Himself in the material world.

    But I'm not really asking for a miracle per se. What I'm trying to observe is that I can tell the difference between acting and being acted upon. And I don't have any sense of God's presence, nor of His having acted on my behalf -- even if I acknowledge that historical fact.

    And I'm observing that the Bible seems to describe a God who is offering up a real, material (I'm wracking my brain for a better word than "sign")...

    And I think I'm saying that there could just possibly be some middle ground between cold silence and a miracle. If my eternal destiny hinges on whether or not I have been acted upon .... and I can't tell that I've been thus acted upon .. well, you can draw your own conclusions. Mine (conclusions) are not comforting.

    And what a horrible irony. So much of the church's conversation these days circles around how we answer "The
    New Atheists" -- how we are losing our next generations to the inability to fight the fire of materialism/naturalism with any intellectual currency that the materialist/naturalist would accept. What's ironic about that? Well, back when miracles were happening, they were demonstrating the presence of a God to a world that WASN'T denying theism, but was merely arguing over which flavor of god to believe in. But here we currently stand with more material evidence than ever in the history of man, reshaping our theism so fast we cannot even keep up with it.....and NOW God chooses to disarm us?

    Real funny, God.

    But maybe I just need to accept the reality of the theology I have embraced for fifty years. Maybe I need to go back to the fatalism of, as you put it, "pray like everything depends on God, and work like everything depends on you."

    I need to accept my failure, lose my house and my means of making a living this late in life and try to dig myself out of the hole anyway. And if it turns out that I AM able to so dig, I'll know that it was God doing it. And if I do lose everything, I'll accept my own failure. That's how it works, right?

    I'm in the middle of a rather lame novel right now. But within the plot of this lame book, the author asserts that there is a difference between a maze and a labyrinth. That is (says the author), a maze is a puzzle full of traps and dead ends, and from which one may never reach the final goal or destination. A labyrinth, on the other hand, is merely a very complex, winding path that leads inexorably to the goal. Winding as it may be, it doesn't lead one astray. It just isn't the fastest way from point A to point B.

    It’s a road, not a rail
    And there’s room from side to side
    Sure, the destination's still the same
    But it’s a drive, it’s not a ride

    You can even take a fork or two
    Down roads traveled by few
    Oh, sure, the destination's still the same
    But the difference will be you

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  • Guest - Susan

    Hi John, I've been praying for you; praying that you don't lose your house. That's a tough thing to go through, I know. We lost ours in 2010. Very, very hard but, again, keeping it in perspective, it's not as hard as what some others have to go through. We don't get choose are crosses but we do have to bear them.

    You said:"What I’m trying to observe is that I can tell the difference between acting and being acted upon. And I don’t have any sense of God’s presence, nor of His having acted on my behalf — even if I acknowledge that historical fact."

    When you are praying or contemplating something spiritual that your mind has grasped you are being acted upon. The fact that you are praying, or contemplating or giving thanks is a show of grace in your life. You could not do these things apart from grace. Other movements around you, like say a job that comes in the nick of time, groceries on your front door step, a temporary reprieve of the ravages of cancer is also us being acted upon.

    "And what a horrible irony. So much of the church’s conversation these days circles around how we answer “The New Atheists” — how we are losing our next generations to the inability to fight the fire of materialism/naturalism with any intellectual currency that the materialist/naturalist would accept. What’s ironic about that? Well, back when miracles were happening, they were demonstrating the presence of a God to a world that WASN’T denying theism, but was merely arguing over which flavor of god to believe in."

    Christianity really is battling the New Atheism. I mean, it seriously is a problem for our age and the people at WHI are right about this. I read a really good book by a Prof. of Phil. His name is Ed Feser and his book is called "The Last Superstition". He "proves" the necessity of God. It helped me out of my unwanted atheism.
    The Jews at the time of the NT weren't denying theism, but unless they witnessed a miracle they also didn't know if it was safe to follow Jesus. Whenever God was going to do something new, He gave signs so that the people would know that it was God who was speaking.
    http://www.hebrewcatholic.net/12-07-motives-of-credibility-for-faith/


    "But maybe I just need to accept the reality of the theology I have embraced for fifty years. Maybe I need to go back to the fatalism of, as you put it, “pray like everything depends on God, and work like everything depends on you.”"

    That's not fatalism. We don’t know God’s plan from this side of heaven for us personally. All we can do is “ ora et labora”.... Rule of St. Benedict  We are always tempted to try to look into the future rather than trusting God with our future. In fact, I read( somewhere) that all the OT injunctions against sorcery, augury, divination etc( Deut. 18:10, Lev. 19:31…) are because God doesn’t want His people to try to peer into the future, but to trust Him because He is the Lord. Even
    As to the theology that you’ve embraced for fifty years, well, I’m sure it includes Divine Providence. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12510a.htm


    “I need to accept my failure, lose my house and my means of making a living this late in life and try to dig myself out of the hole anyway. And if it turns out that I AM able to so dig, I’ll know that it was God doing it. And if I do lose everything, I’ll accept my own failure. That’s how it works, right?”

    It’s not your fault if you lose your house necessarily, especially if you didn’t do anything unwise. If you are losing your means of making a living then that is being taken from you and all you can do is keep plugging away. My husband is 52 and is having to reinvent himself and keep going too, so I understand what you are experiencing. Know that you’re not alone. I will remember you and your family in my prayers. Providence means that God sends good gifts and that He also allows evil, but we can know that God exists AND because of the incarnation and sacrificial death, that He loves us! This is how we get through life and are able to give God thanks.

    ~Susan

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  • Guest - John Bauman

    thanks for the thoughtful conversation, Susan.

    Coincidentally, a friend just linked this on facebook:
    http://newapologetics.com/divine-hiddenness-part-i-we-dont-know-what-we-know

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  • Guest - Susan

    Thank you too, John. I found that article helpful. It made me think of Lewis' trilemma of Lunatic, Liar, or Lord. I gave this a lot of thought when I was in my period of atheism, and believe me this was the bleakest time in my life. All I could do was lay on the couch and stare out the window, while my youngest read to me. I actually had her read to me because I wanted to draw attention away from my despair. How could I tell my children that I no longer knew whether or not God was real? During this time,I gobbled up NT Wright, and Gary Habermas on the resurrection, and even tried to find out if there were extra-biblical testimony that Jesus had existed. This is the point that I picked up Pope Benedict XVI's "Jesus of Nazareth", which did help push me towards Catholicism. I didn't want to think so skeptically but I allowed in every kind of skepticism that I could imagine, just so that I could have the truth no matter how painful it was. I even toyed with the idea that the NT was fulfilling an OT expectation motif and never really happened. I know, how stupid of me! How the heck could a someone or multiple people write such a perfect fulfillment of all OT prophecies?!http://www.catholicbible101.com/otpropheciesofjesus.htm

    Besides the first martyrs were eye witnesses and died before the NT writings were complete,so it's not like they were being fooled by a written myth.
    It's all so cohesive and amazing!http://ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Jesus_Resurrection.htm

    The trilemma that Lewis talked about made me think of another type of trilemma that Dr. Bryan Cross spoke of in an article, and this one has to do with the problem of evil.

    http://www.strangenotions.com/god-in-the-dock-tragedy-and-trilemma/

    I've enjoyed my interaction with you, John, and I will be remembering you in prayer.
    Susan

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  • John, thanks for your patient probing and what I believe are very honest expressions of your question. I am jumping in here late, so I won't try to respond to everything that has gone on before.

    I would like to address one idea you gave that I don't think anybody has attempted to answer: that God's punishment is disproportional to the sin. My major objection is that you assume that men are only punished for sins committed in this life. But the Scriptures seem to teach that men will continue sinning against God for all eternity. They will be angry, slandering God, shaking their fists against Him even in the midst of the torment. There will be no repentance.

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  • Guest - John Bauman

    "But the Scriptures seem to teach that men will continue sinning against God for all eternity. They will be angry, slandering God, shaking their fists against Him even in the midst of the torment. There will be no repentance. "

    Where do you find this?

    I see a rich man in torment wishing only that he could return to tell his brothers so that they might not suffer the same horrible fate as he.

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  • Thanks, John

    "Where do you find this?"

    Here is one place:

    Revelation 16:8-10 The fourth angel poured out his bowl upon the sun, and it was given to it to scorch men with fire. 9Men were scorched with fierce heat; and they blasphemed the name of God who has the power over these plagues, and they did not repent so as to give Him glory. 10Then the fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom became darkened; and they gnawed their tongues because of pain...

    Verse 21: And huge hailstones, about one hundred pounds each, came down from heaven upon men; and men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail, because its plague was extremely severe.

    :I don't think the rich man was repenting, but only wanting his unsaved brothers to come his end. Repenting is turning from sin to God, or to God from sin.

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  • Guest - John Bauman

    You may feel as though that passage confirms your thesis. I don't. As near as I can tell, that passage is describing something taking place in life, not after death.

    Also, I didn't say that the rich man was repenting. I was merely pointing out that he wasn't angry, shaking his fist at God. He wasn't as you described the condemned dead. He was, in fact, accepting the truth as he now sees it, but of which he was ignorant (and therefore condemned) in life.

    Beyond that, the question of proportionality is still a much greater one than whether or not a puny man is chuffed at the situation created by his ignorance.

    It is man's ignorance.

    I think that to a great extent "depravity" is misunderstood to mean man's wickedness, when it is really more accurately describing his incapability -- an incapability more closely associated with ignorance and impotence. Man doesn't have the capacity within himself to provide for his own eternal life. It needs to be provided for him, and was by the finished work of Christ.

    But it is God who decides whom he will bless with that eternal life. Those he doesn't choose will, presumably, have jillions of years of torment because they did not receive a gift -- during their 3 score years on Earth -- from the only being who could have saved them from the oncoming torment of which they were ignorant.

    As I said in my opening post, that is disproportionality of epic proportions. The very most epic.

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