Truth, joy, and transcendent duty

Two atheistic assumptions:

1) Maximal joy does not likely come with maximal belief in truth and minimal belief in falsehood.

2) We have no transcendent duty to maximize our belief in the truth and minimize our belief in falsehood.

Convincing a person that they “ought”[1] to pursue the truth at all costs requires convincing a person that these are false assumptions. But how can you really convince a person of that? One could ask, “How do you know that, when one has discovered the truth, it won’t be terribly depressing?” And one could say, “If Truth is not an ultimate person, then none of us are obliged to it.”

Hence, it must be seen with the eyes of the heart.

“[He] has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6)

[1] “Ought” here means both “moral obligation” and “rational means to an end.”

How to Sort Through a Theological Controversy

  1. Pray for wisdom by the Holy Spirit in your pursuit of understanding God’s word (Psalm 119:18).
  2. Avoid reading any substantial work on the issue and avoid engaging in any opinionated debate on the issue until you have become familiar with the basic Bible passages in question (and their basic context). The scripture is your primary source, so don’t let it be obscured. Let it land on you in a raw way.
  3. After you have done this, hear the strongest arguments from both sides, and learn to be a kind of advocate for each position.
  4. Don’t be rushed, especially if it isn’t a heaven-or-hell issue,  yet neither let that dissuade you from being disciplined and thoughtful in your inquiry. Some of my favorite teachers remain undecided over controversies they would otherwise have been pressured to take a side on, yet when they do come to a compelling conclusion, they promote it with vigor.

I’m not saying I do this like I should, but I do aspire to.

Luther on Assertions and Assurance

The words of Martin Luther:

 “[N]ot to delight in assertions, is not the character of the Christian mind: nay, he must delight in assertions, or he is not a Christian. But, (that we may not be mistaken in terms) by assertion, I mean a constant adhering, affirming, confessing, defending, and invincibly persevering. Nor do I believe the term signifies any thing else, either among the Latins, or as it is used by us at this day. And moreover, I speak concerning the asserting of those things, which are delivered to us from above in the Holy Scriptures. Were it not so, we should want neither Erasmus nor any other instructor to teach us, that, in things doubtful, useless, or unnecessary; assertions, contentions, and strivings, would be not only absurd, but impious: and Paul condemns such in more places than one. Nor do you, I believe, speak of these things, unless, as a ridiculous orator, you wish to take up one subject, and go on with another, as the Roman Emperor did with his Turbot; or, with the madness of a wicked writer, you wish to contend, that the article concerning “Free-will” is doubtful, or not necessary.

“Be skeptics and academics far from us Christians; but be there with us assertors twofold more determined than the stoics themselves. How often does the apostle Paul require that assurance of faith; that is, that most certain, and most firm assertion of Conscience, calling it (Rom. x. 10), confession, “With the mouth confession is made unto salvation?” And Christ also saith, “Whosoever confesseth Me before men, him will I confess before My Father.” (Matt. x. 32.) Peter commands us to “give a reason of the hope” that is in us. (1 Pet. iii. 15.) But why should I dwell upon this; nothing is more known and more general among Christians than assertions. Take away assertions, and you take away Christianity. Nay, the Holy Spirit is given unto them from heaven, that He may glorify Christ, and confess Him even unto death; unless this be not to assert – to die for confession and assertion. In a word, the Spirit so asserts, that He comes upon the whole world and reproves them of sin (John xvi. 8) thus, as it were, provoking to battle. And Paul enjoins Timothy to reprove, and to be instant out of season. (2 Tim. iv. 2.) But how ludicrous to me would be that reprover, who should neither really believe that himself, of which he reproved, nor constantly assert it! – Why I would send him to Anticyra, to be cured…

Unless you consider all Christians to be such (as the term is generally understood) whose doctrines are useless, and for which they quarrel like fools, and contend by assertions. But if you speak of necessary things, what declaration more impious can any one make, than that he wishes for the liberty of asserting nothing in such matters? Whereas, the Christian will rather say this – I am so averse to the sentiments of the Sceptics, that wherever I am not hindered by the infirmity of the flesh, I will not only steadily adhere to the Sacred Writings every where, and in all parts of them, and assert them, but I wish also to be as certain as possible in things that are not necessary, and that lie without the Scripture; for what is more miserable than uncertainty… The Holy Spirit is not a Sceptic, nor are what he has written on our hearts doubts or opinions, but assertions more certain, and more firm, than life itself and all human experience.”

Is the “Middle Ground” Always Best?

Dr. Bruce Ware:

Council of Nicea. This resulted, then, in the Council of Nicea that met in A.D. 325, meeting for the sole purpose of settling this dispute between Arius and Athanasius and to try to bring together the church in a consensus view on how we should understand the nature of Christ in relation to the Father. There were actually three main groups of people who were present at Nicea. Athanasius was there and those who supported his view of the one God whose one undivided essence or nature is shared by both the Father and the Son equally and fully. You had also the Arian party was there, who argued that Jesus was, in fact, a created being and was subordinate in nature to the Father. But then there was another group that was there who were followers of Origen. Origen had passed away long before, 75 years, roughly, before the Council at Nicea. Origen in some of his writings had proposed a view of Christ in which Christ was like the Father, very similar to the Father, so the followers of Origen at the Council of Nicea played a role of trying to provide a mediating position between Arius and Athanasius. They thought that perhaps their view could prevail because it was the balanced view between the two extremes of the Arians and the Athanasians.”

Notice that:

  • There were people who showed up, probably using language to the effect that we shouldn’t be extreme about our views on the deity of Christ. Sound familiar? Can’t we find a middle ground? It’s ideal, but in many cases it’s awful!
  • All three parties had exponents–people with names–who popularized each view and represented the various christologies. Did that make it a Paul vs. Apollos type of situation? No, absolutely not. The issue wasn’t merely the theological supremacy of the major proponents, but the actual theology. Again, sound familiar?

The Gospel: The Fragrance of Life and the Stench of Death

The words of Paul in 2 Corinthians 2:14-17:

“But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.” (ESV)

Check out how some paraphrase-ish translations put it:

“Our lives are a fragrance presented by Christ to God. But this fragrance is perceived differently by those being saved and by those perishing. To those who are perishing we are a fearful smell of death and doom. But to those who are being saved we are a life-giving perfume. And who is adequate for such a task as this?” -NLT

“In fact, God thinks of us as a perfume that brings Christ to everyone. For people who are being saved, this perfume has a sweet smell and leads them to a better life. But for people who are lost, it has a bad smell and leads them to a horrible death. No one really has what it takes to do this work.” -CEV

“For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task?” -NIV

Eugene Peterson doesn’t pull any punches in his interpretative-translation:

“Because of Christ, we give off a sweet scent rising to God, which is recognized by those on the way of salvation–an aroma redolent with life. But those on the way to destruction treat us more like the stench from a rotting corpse. This is a terrific responsibility. Is anyone competent to take it on?” -The Message

We are indeed a fragrance to those “who are being saved and among those who are perishing”, but as v. 16 shows, to those who are perishing, we are the fragrance (i.e. stench) from death to death. Of course, we are the fragrance of life and a stench of death via a life of God-exaltation, Christ-defined love, the exercising of a good heart, a pure conscience, and a sincere faith, and declaring the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:26-28). An unbeliever has to be controlled by the “ruler of the kingdom of the air” (Ephesians 2) to find such beautiful things ugly!

“If the great things of religion are rightly understood, they will affect the heart. The reason why men are not affected by such infinitely great, important, glorious, and wonderful things, as they often hear and read of, in the word of God, is undoubtedly because they are blind; if they were not so, it would be impossible, and utterly inconsistent with human nature, that their hearts should be otherwise than strongly impressed, and greatly moved by such things.” –Jonathan Edwards

Objective Truth vs. Subjective Attraction?

From I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist:

“Many beliefs that people hold today are not supported by evidence, but only by the subjective preferences of those holding them. People almost invariably arrive at their beliefs not on the basis of proof but on the basis of what they find attractive. But truth is not a subjective matter of taste–it’s an objective matter of fact. In order to find truth, one must be ready tog ive up those subjective preferences in favor of objective facts. And facts are best discovered through logic, evidence, and science.” –From , by Norman L. Geisler, Frank Turek, and David Limbaugh (>>)

I sympathize with the quote, because it’s reacting to a culture that is attracted to cheap pleasures that are lies. People drink from the toilet of fictional works like the The Da Vinci Code rather than marvel at the screaming glory of the skies, the necessary inferences from mere existence (like eternality!), archaeology, and self-evidencing, corroborative, non-fictional, first-hand testimonies like the gospels.

But the quote rubs me the wrong way, because people don’t come to Christ through cold thinking. God shines in their heart to see the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. It is a subjective beauty *and* objective truth issue. That which is most beautiful is truthful, and that which is most truthful is beautiful. True beauty attests to truth, and truth is beautiful. If we don’t subjectively prefer truth, we haven’t seen it for what it is. We’re still believing a lie. If we aren’t concerned about objective truth and coherence and reality then we aren’t really attracted to true beauty. We’re subjectively attracted to cheap pleasures.

It’s impossible to prefer true beauty without assenting to great truths.

A Rose is Still a Rose

If my neurology should be known
My influences shown
Temper understood
And heart exposed
A rose is still a rose
And still beautiful

If you should study sociology
And know me socio-economically
And recognize my needs
And crutches
A good friend
Is still just that

If you will fathom cosmology
And be a sage of astronomy
And understand the mysteries of all creation
And find in it intellectual elation
You are still small
And created

If you will account for my hormones
And play yourself the sexy saxophone
Analyze my stimuli
And appeal to the instinct to procreate
Love is still love
And still supernatural

If you should perceive all possible perspectives
Or see the walls of your own tunnel
Or experience a life of lies
And hypocrisy
Truth and goodness are still real, and knowable
And the light is still shining

And so

If you should slow time and watch light
Travel from flower to eye
And observe the rods and cones on a retina
And forget that the rose is beautiful
You are a fool

A rose is a rose
And beautiful
And real