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Monday, 17 December 2012

The limits of Philosophy

What is Philosophy?
Answers to the great questions of life, such as Who am I? Where have I come from? Is there any meaning to life? What happens after death? Etc.

But as it is presently defined in the West, Philosophy is the answers to all these questions without God, or without 'revelation'. There is no good reason under heaven why it should be defined this way, but it is: philosophy is defined, in practice, as finding the great answers of life and death using the human mind, without introducing God or anything supernatural.

So the philosopher sits down without a Bible (or any 'holy book' for that matter) and ponders a subject: war, marriage, and so on, using whatever tools are around her...... are five immediate limitations she comes up against:

Limit #1: Experience is a limited guide
One tool she will use is Experience: she will draw on her experience. Trouble is that being finite and located in only one family, one culture, one nation and one short span in history, her experience will be tiny. Any philosophy based on it will inevitably be open to revision and change in the light of a broader experience.

Limit #2: What 'is' may not be what 'should be'
Another source of philosophy would be the way we find things around us in the world. If you were born into a culture that glorified violence (the Roman world, for example) or tolerated slavery or tolerated abortion, you could easily grow up assuming these "ares" were "rights" (plenty of mothers, yes mothers, fought against the eradication of chimney sweeps, a cruel occupation for a child if ever there was one. Why, because that's just the things "were" to them.).  If a person feels attracted to someone else of the same sex, one might easily say that this "what is" is "what should be." But who is to say that one can move from 'is' to 'should' that easily? There may be a world of difference  between what we find around us in the world and what is actually right: 'is' is no necessary guide to 'should be'. What if something has gone wrong with the world which means what 'is' is a distortion of what 'should be'? But, without revelation, how would a philosopher know that what 'is' is not "right"?

Limit #3: The experts may be wrong
Suppose we go to the experts to form our philosophy. They could also so easily be wrong. New textbooks are written every year for exactly that reason. What the experts say in one decade is overturned in the next. Sometimes, as in the case of Marx and Mao, not before considerable carnage has been done to and by the followers of these false systems.

Limit #4:  The balance of truth
What if in our age or particular culture (or just in us personally!) there is a really big imbalance in perspective? In a recent book called "The Master and his Emissary" the author Iain Mcgilchrist suggests that present Western culture, unlike Eastern cultures, is dominated by left-hemisphere brain function, with potentially dire consequences for the future. What if there are other imbalances which we simply do not see, all of them skewing our philosophy away from the truth?

Limit #5: There may be things unknowable by human research
Suppose there are keys or key pieces of information that simply cannot be known without 'revelation'? Suppose there are secrets which only the Creator can reveal to us, information which simply can't be found by us, no matter how big the research programme? Any philosophy which did not take them into account would be faulty.

For all these reasons philosophy has severe limitations. 

The overarching reason all human-without-God philosophy is flawed is this:  the people who create it are tiny and finite and in the Great Scheme of Things, they simply don't know that much at all: none of us do, that's why we need revelation.

Philosophy is like a bridge that gets us partway to the land of truth. But we need revelation to get over to the other side - I don't mean attached to the partial bridge of philosophy I mean making the whole span.  If we walk over the philosophy bridge thinking it will lead us to truth, we'll end up stumbling off and into the river of error.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Thank God for Richard Dawkins!

The latest UK Census
Religious Views in 1000's UK Census 2011
Over here in the UK, the government runs a census every decade or so, and the results of the 2011 one have just come out. All sorts of interesting facts emerge, not least on the subject of "religion".

"We're not Christians"
One interesting result is the sharp decline in those calling themselves 'Christian' over the last ten years. In 2001 72% (or 37 million) said they were Christian but in 2011 only 59% (33 million) classify themselves as Christians - a decline of 13%.

In the same period the number of people saying they belonged to "no religion" doubled, no doubt in part due to a publicity campaign to encourage people to be more honest about which box they tick (see right).

Based on this 13% drop one group estimated that less than 50% of the population of the UK would be "Christians" by 2018.

Among the many reasons offered for this decline is the campaigning work of people like Richard Dawkins, through his book "The God Delusion" and various campaigns, such as his  London poster campaign (see below).

Should we be concerned?
If you believe in "Christendom" you should probably be afraid. If you believe there is such a thing as a "Christian nation" you'll be disappointed - after all, we are clearly becoming less of one.

But if you can't see for the life of you where the idea of a "Christian Nation" comes from, you will probably be encouraged, oddly enough. (In the New Testament there is no such thing as a "Christian Nation", just a new people, a new community, called the church, despised and scattered across the world).

Why be encouraged?
Because, at last the census is becoming more realistic. In a nation dominated by the false idea of "Christendom" people tick the Christian box because they think that you become a Christian by being "born one". If you are born into a Muslim home or Muslim country you are a Muslim, if into a Hindu home or country, a Hindu, etc.

This may well be true of religion, but it is wholly untrue of Christianity. To be a Christian you have to be born again - a miracle the Holy Spirit does at some point in life, rarely at birth, through the Word of Christ. Being born in a Christian home or a "Christian country" makes you no more a Christian than being born in a birthing pool makes you a fish (or an amphibian).

So, at long last, the statistics are becoming more realistic and honest. My own guess is that the stats are going to have to go down much further  before they reflect the proportion of people who are truly Christian.

True Christianity is on the way
And as we become secularised we will become persecuted, and to call yourself a Christian will be costly. All of this will deter people even more from putting an X in the "Christian" box. Finally, perhaps at a few percent we will have an accurate idea of how many in the UK are true believers.

And at that stage, as a persecuted minority - the norm for the history of the world by the way - we will again become effective and bold in preaching the Gospel to our already-lost culture.

So, though I never thought I'd say this, thank you Richard Dawkins for making the statistics in the UK a little more honest and realistic.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

How to enjoy reading your Bible

Why do I find a novel more 'attractive' than Scripture?
Many Christians who want to read their Bible find it a struggle. A real struggle.

But why?

Why should a novel or newspaper one day seem more attractive than the Bible?

Because reading the Bible is spiritual warfare at the sharp end of  battle. Scripture is not the shield or helmet, but the "sword of the Spirit", and when we read and meditate on it we are engaging in offensive warfare against the evil one.

And so the enemy tries to make that novel, newspaper - or even that new Christian book - more attractive than the Bible.

Tips to enjoying Scripture
Recognise the battle. Remember that you are about to engage in battle before you read - and prepare for it. That way, you'll understand the distractions thrown across your path, or the sudden tiredness that may descend.

Remember what the Bible is. Scripture is food for the soul! Scripture is one half of the relationship between you and God (the other half is prayer). Scripture is light for your path and Truth for understanding the most important things in life. So as we read Scripture we will grow up in faith, get to know God better, have light cast upon our daily path  - and we will understand everything important in the world far better.

      What incentives to read!

Remember that there are no 'reading rules'..... The very worst way to read the Bible is to set up for yourself a list of rules or expectations that you may never be able to keep: "I will read it for two hours a day". The problem with making rules is that when you break them guilt comes in, and nothing will kill your enjoyment of Scripture more than a guilty conscience. The Bible gives no rules; how could it when we are encouraged to delight in the exercise? (Psalm 1).

...but have a plan. "No rules" doesn't mean no discipline or plan. If you aim for nothing, be sure you'll hit it. What will you read and why? Perhaps you will use some Bible Study notes, perhaps you will use one of those 'read through the Bible in a year' plans, perhaps you will decide to read a book you've not tackled before.

Find a place and time to read. Decide when you will read and where.Will it be every morning or evening (some are larks, some are owls - what are you?) Will you read it every day or three times a week? Will you read it for 10 minutes or 30? It is all up to you (how much blessing do you want?).

Read to benefit from, not to race through. The big problem with the yearly plans is that you can find yourself racing through the Bible rather than benefiting from it. The word the Bible uses in Joshua 1 and Psalm 1 is "meditate", chew over, reflect on.  It is far better to read one verse and benefit from it, than to read 100 verses but digest none of them.

Read with Jesus to find. Jesus Christ showed two followers on the road to Emmaus that he was everywhere in the Bible. So look for the mercy and grace of God through Jesus Christ and his Gospel on every page you read.

Read to obey. Before you read ask God to show you wonderful things. The Spirit who first inspired the word can alone unlock it.  After you've read, pray over what you've read. How does God want you to respond?  Has he taught you something new about himself? Some old sin to repent of, some new virtue to put on? Someone to forgive, someone to encourage? Well then, pray through and then act!

The believer who meditates on God's word will become strong and fruitful....

    "like a tree planted by streams of water 
        which yields its fruit in season 
             and whose leaf does not whither. 
       Everything he does prospers...." 

                 (Psalm 1)