Reality is complex, the world is sophisticated, existence is perplexing: why should we expect the answers to ultimate questions to be easy and transparently simple? Nevertheless, I do not think these choices between religions are as overwhelming or perplexing as they might sound.
You’re right, my thinking is quite binary on this issue. Existence, as we know it, is either personal or impersonal.
Think about it: all religious belief systems are one or the other. Some are impersonal, or non-personal, if your prefer. These have taught that reality contains no personal deity or deities, but only the cosmos as it is, with energies, or “power”. Buddhism falls into this category, as does Confucianism. Many of the New Age religions focused on energies, crystals, reincarnation, are similarly impersonal. They do postulate some kind of super- or supra-natural powers, but these are not personal beings. All forms of pantheism (Including some forms of Hinduism and Taoism) or panentheism are likewise impersonal. If all things are God and God is all things, then you have an absolute, but an impersonal absolute.
Similarly, the philosophy (or religion) of materialism asserts that “the cosmos is all that is, all that was, and all that ever shall be”. The physical matter and energy of the universe is the sum total of existence. While it admits that consciousness exists in this cosmos – our own – it sees this consciousness as more of an anomaly. Impersonal matter accidentally created self-aware minds. Of course, all forms of atheism believe the universe is non-personal.
All impersonal belief systems tend towards nihilism. If reality is impersonal, then no universal meaning exists. Nothing in our experience has intrinsic beauty, value or significance. All is accidental, random, and chance. All meaning is individual, arbitrary and subjective. In the end, if nothing is true for more than one person, all that remains is that we please ourselves with whatever appeals to us. Pleasure is paramount, and the power to get the pleasure is vital. Reality is the survival of the strongest.
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By W. Robert Godfrey — 1 year ago
Written by W. Robert Godfrey |
Tuesday, August 31, 2021
Our responsibility is not to produce great success in our strength. Our responsibility is to be faithful and thereby to be instruments that God may use just as He will. Our great concern should not be our success or our will, but it should be God’s will and God’s success. And as Calvinists, our confidence will be that God will accomplish His purpose.
The calling of Ligonier Ministries is to renew the churches through a growing knowledge of biblical Christianity, which is to say a knowledge of historic Calvinism. Ligonier is continuing the teaching ministry of R.C. Sproul, one of the best minds and one of the most balanced, faithful, and effective Reformed teachers of the last half-century. He inherited and continued a marvelous tradition: the militant stance for the fundamentals of the faith of J. Gresham Machen; the scholarship and Reformed orthodoxy of old Princeton Seminary; the evangelizing, Reformed revivalism of the First Great Awakening; the confessional and experiential Calvinism of the Westminster Confession of Faith; the teaching of John Calvin and the Reformation; and the legacy of Augustine and true catholicity. What a heritage is ours. How much we have inherited from those who have gone before. What a responsibility for us to preserve and advance what we have received.
We recognize that the great accomplishments of Christians in the past are now challenged in unique ways. After more than 1,500 years of Christianity’s providing the dominant worldview in the West, we now find ourselves living in a post-Christian world. Certainly in terms of Calvinism, our numbers, our influence, and our fervor seem much diminished. I was reminded of this in an essay by John Updike. Thinking about those beautiful Congregational churches on village greens in New England, he wrote: “Joy and aspiration have shaped these churches, but a certain melancholy may fill them. Puritanism faded into Unitarianism and thence to stoic agnosticism; these gallant old shells hold more memories than promises.”1 Has our movement come to hold more memories than promises? That is the great issue, it seems to me, before us today. My passion and my concern are that we be committed to the notion that Calvinism holds more promises than memories, as rich and glorious as those memories are.
The title of this essay, “The Whole Counsel of God,” comes from Acts 20:27, from the words of the Apostle Paul as he encouraged the Ephesian elders in their future service of the Lord. He said to them in part:
You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. (Acts 20:18–32)
Paul called on the Ephesian elders to preserve and build on the Christian truth that he had brought to them. He had given them “the whole counsel of God” and called on them to live courageously on the basis of that truth. Today we need a courageous Calvinism for the unique time in which we live. What is the character of that courageous Calvinism that we need? What is the truth of God that we must embrace, live, and teach?
The first element of courageous Calvinism that we need is a comprehensive Calvinism. You notice how Paul talked about the “whole counsel of God” (v. 27), that he did not hold back from them “anything that was profitable” (v. 20). Paul spoke very much in the spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ, who sent out His disciples in the Great Commission to go and teach “all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:20). Scripture and our Calvinistic heritage are clear that we are committed to all that the Lord has revealed in His Word. We seek no shrunken religion. We seek no minimalist doctrine. We seek the fullness of what the Lord has revealed to us. We stand with Jeremiah as the Lord spoke to him: “Thus says the LORD: Stand in the court of the LORD’s house, and speak to all the cities of Judah that come to worship in the house of the LORD all the words that I command you to speak to them; do not hold back a word” (Jer. 26:2). The task that is committed to us is to speak the whole counsel of God, all that God has revealed. Ligonier exists to help Christians study that Word in its totality and grow in that Word.
Our growth is founded on and rooted in our commitment to the Word and its inerrant authority. We embrace the Word in the spirit of John Calvin, who said, “A soul, therefore when deprived of the Word of God, is given up unarmed to the devil for destruction.”2 Our conviction is that the Word must be our sword and our defense. The Word in its complete truthfulness is what we need and that to which we are committed.
Calvin, commenting on Jeremiah 42:5–6, said:
If we desire to prove our fidelity to God, the only way of acting is, to regard his Word as binding, whether it be agreeable or otherwise, and never to murmur, as the ungodly do; for when God would have a yoke laid on them, they complain that his doctrine is too hard and burdensome. Away, then, with all those things which can render God’s Word unacceptable to us, if we desire to give sure proof of our fidelity.3
We accept the Word of God in its fullness. We are committed to it, both where it is pleasing to us and where it pinches us. Because of our sins and our ignorance, we must have the Word of God to correct us. And that means that we stand committed to a full biblical theology. J. Gresham Machen expressed this forcefully, reminding us that the “Christian life is the fruit of Christian doctrine, not its root, and Christian experience must be tested by the Bible, not the Bible by Christian experience.”4 We are committed to this notion that the Word judges us; we do not judge the Word. The Word directs us; we do not direct the Word.
R.C. Sproul continued and deepened this commitment with his leadership in defending the doctrine of the inerrancy of the Bible during his ministry. Inerrancy became a touchstone of true biblical fidelity, helping to reveal those who tried to use traditional terms for biblical authority and reliability but used those terms in equivocal ways.
Because of our commitment to the Word, we are committed to the notion of the importance of theology. We are committed to the idea that theology is a reflection on the Word and an effort on the part of human beings to summarize that Word. We are convinced that theology is a useful, necessary discipline for appropriating the Scriptures for us. Evelyn Waugh, the British novelist, gave one of the best definitions of theology I know after his journey to Ethiopia for the coronation of the emperor Haile Selassie. After observing the extreme mystery of the rituals of the Ethiopian Coptic Church, he rejoiced in a theology that makes clear what God’s ways are. He wrote, “I saw theology as the science of the simplification by which nebulous and elusive ideas are formalized and made intelligible and exact.”5 The “science of simplification”—how seldom theology has been seen that way, but how true that is. Theology should make clear God’s will and God’s way as He has expressed them in His Word. And we here at Ligonier are committed to the full theology of the confessions to which we have subscribed, as they summarize biblical teaching for us.
Now, some have said that stressing the importance of theology makes Christianity too intellectualized. Some fear this means that only theologians have a role in the church. Perhaps in the tradition of our Reformed churches, there has been some danger of that. But it is not inherent in our tradition. We are not saying that theology is all there is to Christianity. But we are saying that theology must shape life. There must be life, but it must be shaped and directed by the Word of God.
Indeed, our Reformed heritage says that we do have more than theology. We also have piety; we have worship; we have loving service to the Lord. All these elements of Calvinism also flow out of the teachings of Scripture. We can see that clearly, for example, in the work of the Westminster Assembly. We need to remember that the Westminster Assembly not only gave us a confession of faith as a summary of doctrine, but it also gave us catechisms to teach the faith. It gave us a directory of worship to guide our meeting with God. It gave us a form of government to help in the organization of the church. And it gave us a Psalter to voice our praise to God. As we seek a comprehensive Calvinism, we must be sure that we have not shrunk it just to theology—however full our theology might be. We must be renewed in the fullness of a Reformed life flowing out of a Reformed theology. Our lives must follow a pattern of Bible study and prayer, of Word and sacrament, of self-denial and active love, and of Sabbath and of Psalm. We have seen a great decline in Reformed piety, in Reformed life, and I would suggest that decline is tied intimately to our loss of Sabbath and of Psalm. Too many of us have lost a day of rest, worship, study, and reflection and have lost the Psalms that put steel in our souls. We need to recapture that fullness of Calvinistic experience as well as Calvinistic theology.
By J. Wesley Bush — 8 months ago
Written by J. Wesley Bush |
Friday, March 25, 2022
In the end, this war is the aging autocrat’s final attempt to rebuild the Russian Empire and correct the wrong turn history made in 1991. You might be tempted to ask why it matters to America. First, because America still stands for freedom and basic human rights. But more directly, Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia are part of historic Russia. They’re also NATO members and America is treaty-bound to defend them. If we don’t stop Putin indirectly in Ukraine, we might well have to face him on the battlefield.
What’s really happening in Ukraine?” This question has hit my inbox ever since Russia moved troops to the Ukrainian border. Friends look to me because much of my career has centered on Ukraine: I was a U.S. Army Russian linguist, spent four years as an Evangelical missionary in Ukraine, studied Ukrainian history in graduate school, and served in U.S. Embassy Kyiv for two years. I was there for the Orange Revolution, the Revolution of Dignity, and Russia’s 2014 invasion.
So what’s really happening? Putin is a throwback to a bloodier era in Europe when autocrats settled historical grievances by force. Except for Milosevic trying to build Greater Serbia via ethnic cleansing, such wars have been extinct since 1945.
Extinct, anyway, until Vladimir Putin came to power. There is no real mystery here. Putin explained his motivations in his famed 2005 annual address — the breakup of the Soviet Union was a “major geopolitical disaster.” In 2021, he went further, saying the independence of Ukraine and the other Soviet republics was the breakup of “historical Russia.” By historical Russia he means the Russian Empire, with “Great Russians” ruling over Belarusians, Ukrainians, Kazakhs, Uzbeks, and a host of other nations. As with most Russian nationalists, Putin cannot be happy with a country; Russia can only be great as an empire.
The alternative theory, that Putin is afraid of having NATO and the EU on his border, simply doesn’t fit the data. NATO members Latvia and Estonia already border Russia. No serious person thinks Europe has a military interest in Russia — Germany, the largest country, could not muster 44 tanks for NATO’s Very High Readiness Joint Task Force. It also fails to explain his aggression elsewhere on Russia’s borders.
He also weaponizes history, denying that Ukraine is a true nation. After Russia incorporated Ukrainian lands in the 17th century, it crafted an imperial ideology of three peoples in one — Great Russians, White Russians (Belarus), and condescendingly, Little Russians (Ukrainians). No one asked the “Little Russians” their opinion, and Putin is not interested in it now.
One of Putin’s talking points is that Ukrainian is just a dialect of Russian. In truth, it has the same overlap with Russian as Dutch does with English, so if you believe Putin, try reading an Amsterdam newspaper.
Ukrainians speak three languages — Ukrainian, Russian, and a mixture called Surzhyk. Many speak more than one. Putin tries a sleight of hand in which anyone who speaks Russian anywhere in the world is “Russian” and thus in need of his protection.
By David Robertson — 10 months ago
Scotland is both an example and a warning to other Western liberal democracies when the governing parties are taken over by the Woke progressives. Social “justice” issues – from their perspective – are their primary concern. Sometimes it seems as though when one “progressive” country goes so far, the next wants to go even further.
Transgender ideology is apparently an issue of some importance for the Scottish government. A government elected for the purpose of obtaining Scottish independence has double the number of civil servants working on its proposed Gender Recognition Act, than it does working on the proposed independence referendum, which it hopes to have done by the summer.
Part of this is because of the pushback against promises made by Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP about allowing people to self-identify. Feminist activists and others are rightly concerned about where this is all going to lead. There has been significant opposition within the governing party itself – with the finance minister, Kate Forbes, herself a committed Christian, warning that many people are being silenced and intimidated from speaking.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) warned that the proposed GRA should be paused because not enough account has been taken of women’s rights.
Nicola Sturgeon denies, despite all the evidence, that there is any conflict between transgender rights and sex-based rights. Anyone who dares to question that is automatically labelled ‘transphobic’ – but when even the Guardian is warning the Scottish government that they are going too far, you would think that this might give pause for thought.
The Census where facts don’t matter.
Not that this has stopped the Scottish government from acting as though its policy were already law. In the upcoming census the government are allowing people to put down whatever sex they want (as far as I am aware this does not apply to whatever age you want, wherever you want to live or whatever ethnicity you want to be).
Given that government policy is based upon the census this is a serious issue. The Fair Play for Women organisation is taking the Scottish Government to court, arguing that sex is legally defined in law and cannot just be arbitrarily overridden by a government committed to this strange ideology. The government argues that we ‘need to evolve with the times’.
It is somewhat puzzling as to why this issue is seen as so important. But Scotland is both an example and a warning to other Western liberal democracies when the governing parties are taken over by the Woke progressives. Social ‘justice’ issues – from their perspective – are their primary concern.