Friday, September 25, 2015

Engaging God's World

Cornelius Plantinga Jr., Engaging God's World: A Christian Vision of Faith, Learning, and Living. Eerdmans, 2002. 150 pages. ISBN 0-8028-3981-9

God wants to not only convert our heart, but our mind also. God calls us to love Him with our mind. As Mark Noll observed years ago, there was a need for evangelicals to develop the Christian mind. So often Christians might have been converted to Christ, but their thoughts and actions are determined by secularism. As Psalms one says, we are not to walk in the counsel of the ungodly. How can we develop a Christian mind? I am glad you asked. Plantinga shows us how in his book, Engaging God's World: A Christian Vision of Faith, Learning, and Living. This book is especially written for college students to show them the main themes of Christian faith and how they apply to higher education. The big themes discussed in this book are creation, fall, redemption, vocation, the kingdom of God, and shalom. The author hopes these themes will provide the student with the ability to "recognize a world and life view" and be able to communicate it to others. The author quotes from three major sources as he addresses these themes in this book: the Belgic Confession (1561), the Heidelberg Cathechism (1563), or the Canons of Dort (1618-19). The author is reformed, but he addresses these themes in a broad way that applies to all Christians.

Engaging God's World is divided into the five major themes: Hope, creation, fall, redemption, and vocation. In chapter one he describes the hope for shalom. Shalom can be defined as human flourishing. It is through following Christ that human flourish. The author begins with his first major theme in chapter one-creation. This is important. My early years as a Christian believer creation was not emphasized in the christian circles I participated in. They emphasized redemption. They also emphasized that the only reason God left us on earth after we were converted was to win souls. It was not till I begin reading Thomas Aquinas was I taught the importance of creation. The author emphasizes that the biblical view of creation implies certain points: "First, the original goodness of creation implies that all of it, including any human being we meet is potentially redeemable. . . . Second, created things - and their parts and processes - are unique and sometimes mysterious, but because they have come from the wisdom of God they are also purposive and, in principle, intelligible" (35). This means that we are co-partners with God in redeeming the earth, and we can use our minds to understand and improve it. Another implication from the doctrine of creation: the earth was created out of "god's goodness, power, and love." God did not have to create the heavens and the earth and everything was created out of nothing. Fourth God calls us to love his world without worshipping it. In other words, the material, physical creation is good. All that leads to human flourishing is good. The author notes, "It follows that the things of the mind and spirit are no better, and are sometimes much worse, than the things of the body. Christianity rejects those 'boutique spiritualities," ancient and modern, that scorn the messy, organic nature of physical life" (37).

Chapters three and four discusses the fall and redemption. We live in a fallen world. This does not mean that the world is completely corrupted. The author notes, "If you put together the doctrines of common grace and total depravity, you'll be in a position to explain the remarkable fact: worldly people are often better than we expect, and church people are often worse" (60). The author declares that sin is as old as the human race, but so is the grace of God that brings redemption. Redemption comes from the incarnation, atonement, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We cannot save ourselves. It is all of God's grace. The author pictures the Christian life as a dying and rising with Christ. This is not a one time event, but a continual even. Plantinga states that the Christian's life needs "continual reformation."

The last chapter addresses vocation in the service of the Kingdom of God. We are redeemed by God to serve others in this world. The author sees the Christian as having a calling. The author illustrates this by the mission statement of his college. It says that the college "seeks to engage in vigorous liberal arts education that promotes lives of Christian service" (110). Even Christ said I have not come to be served, but to serve. A major part of our calling is to work for shalom, or human flourishing. A college education can equip the student to serve in God's kingdom. A college education should provide knowledge, skills, and virtues.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

What's Good about Feeling Bad?

John C. Thomas and Gary Habermas, What's Good about Feeling Bad? : Finding Purpose and a Path through Your Pain. Tyndale House Publishers, 2008. 267 pages. ISBN 978-1-4143-1689-5

I recently finished re-reading What's Good about Suffering by John C. Thomas and Gary Habermas. This is one of the best books that I have read on pain and suffering. Many of the books on pain and suffering deal with the issue of the problem of evil and belief in God. How can the two be reconcile. This book is not that kind of book. The title describes what kind of book it is. The title, What's Good about Feeling Bad seems to imply that there are some positive things that come from feeling bad. God might be wanting to teach us something. C.S. Lewis said that God whispers in our job, but yells in our pain. In other words, in pain he gets our attention. The subtitle adds clarification to this purpose: Finding Purpose and a Path through your Pain. This seems to point to the idea that the authors are here to help us to work through our pain.

John C. Thomas has been a professional counselor for over twenty-five years, serving in private practice and is the director of the counseling program at Liberty university. Gary Habermas is Research professor and chair in the philosophy and theology department at Liberty university. Both authors have experienced suffering in their life and share these experiences with the reader. In addition, they share the experience of those they have counseled for over twenty-five years.

The purpose of the book is to show "why God allows his children to suffer" (xiv). They show that there are all types of suffering and "God's responses and the type of relief that comes our way can also be quite varied" (xiv). Sometimes, God might deliver us from our suffering. Other times "He might hold our hands and walk with us through the hurtful situation" (xiv-xv). Though we might prefer the pain or the situation to go away, sometimes "the only way to gain blessing, insight or growth is to face adversity" (xv). We must trust God in these difficult circumstances.

What's Good about Pain is divided into three parts. In the first part they cover "the pain of suffering" and provide a theology of pain of suffering. They describe six truths about suffering. It is universal, painful, personal, unnerving, mysterious, and biblical. Chapter two was quite insightful. It described three beliefs that influence our response to suffering: "I deserve ease and comfort in life; I deserve a predictable world; I deserve a fair world." A big part of suffering is how we respond to it. Our beliefs have a major influence on this response. I found this chapter quite helpful. The author notes, "As Americans, we are told we have been endowed with certain inalienable rights, among which is the pursuit of happiness. Homes, jobs, money, family, friends, sex, health, and social status are supposed to provide us with the fulfillment and happiness. When any of these things are threatened or taken away, we typically react with fear and discomfort" (18). It seems we become quite use to comfort and expect it as a right. God, however, might have other purposes in mind.

In section two the authors describe 15 purposes in suffering:

  1. Purified Faith
  2. Humble Heart
  3. Test our Faithfulness
  4. Obedience
  5. Personalized Faith
  6. Christ-likeness
  7. Christian Maturity
  8. Minister through us
and others.

The last section provides "A Pathway through our suffering." Chapter 19 deals with some myths of suffering: "Spiritual people don't experience suffering; reading the Bible solves every problem; You can handle it alone; God owes us; pain and suffering are of no value; the God of Love would not allow us to suffer. Chapter twenty provides strategies for dealing with our suffering. One is to express your feelings about your sufferings to God. Be honest with God about your suffering. Another strategy is to try to determine the cause of our suffering if possible. The cause could influence how we should respond to it. A third strategy is to "recognize the ways God works to accomplish his plan." In addition the authors list five ways we can trust God: grow in your knowledge of God; "accept what happens as God's way of helping you grow; focus on your response to the problem rather than the cause of it; focus on God's presence; and make a willful decision to trust the Lord."

I found What 's Good about pain as an excellent support during the times of suffering. It contains much practical advice on how to deal with our pain. In addition, it provides much biblical support on dealing with pain and suffering. It also helps us correct misbeliefs about suffering and to create true beliefs about pain and suffering.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

C. S. Lewis and the Crisis of a Christian

Gregory S. Cootsona, C.S. Lewis and the Crisis of a Christian. Westminster John Knox Press, 2014. 169 pages. ISBN: 978-0-664-23940-4

There are some authors that you read once and there are other authors that you read over and over and read everything they ever published. You even read books that others write about this author. C. S. Lewis is that type of author for me. I read him for the first time my first year at Southeastern Louisiana University. During the Christmas break I read the Chronicles and Narnia and I was caught. At different periods of my life I have re-read many of Lewis' works and continue to do so. Lewis has been a spiritual mentor to me for much of my christian life.

It seems to be the same for the author of C. S. Lewis and the Crisis of a Christian. The author writes, "I rarely found Lewis simplistic or pat. In fact, in him I found a kindred spirit-- one for whom faith was by no means self-evident or devoid of serious reflection, a person who struggled with Jesus as a unique revelation of God, who took religious faith seriously with all his powers of thought. I found in his writings a fluidity of style and of mind that slowly engaged and even entranced me as a fellow lover of books and soon-to-be undergraduate in comparative literature. And I also found in him a fellow seeker who spent his life in a secular, world-class university, a place where Christianity, if treated at all, was passe, a vestige of Western civilization that had long ago thrown off such infantile beliefs" (14). It was through his reading of Lewis at the university that the author became a Christian and it was through Lewis' writings he has been able to resolve the crises of Christian life.

The purpose of this book is neither biography, or a critique of some or all of Lewis' books. Rather it is to look at the writings of Lewis from crisis situations, as Lewis and the author experienced them. The book is divided into three parts and an introduction. The opening chapters looks at Lewis' life and why he remains so popular since Lewis died over fifty years ago. The first part deals with the crisis of atheism. It includes chapters on materialism, meaningless, and anomie, a term the author does not define. It means social disorder. It is in this chapter he talks of Lewis writings on moral law. The second part addresses the "Crises of Christian faith" with chapters on Jesus and myths, and the "crisis of the Bible." The author's discussion of Lewis' views on scriptures was excellent. The last part of the book deals with "crises of human life." It includes chapters on feeling, suffering, and death. These were my favorite chapters. Lewis was a rationalist and he believed feelings were unreliable. Obedience, not feeling is the important thing. Many times feelings will follow our obedience. Our obedience should not depend on our feelings. It depends on the will, not emotions.

C. S. Lewis and the Crisis of Faith is both an easy and enjoyable read. The author explains crises that most, if not all, Christians go thorough. It shows how Lewis and the author resolved these crises in their own life. After reading the book, the reader should be motivated to read Lewis for the first time or all over again.