Thursday, September 29, 2011

Sermons From Reformed Baptist Blog Pastors

For readers of the blog who may be interested, here are links to sites containing sermons from the various members of the blog. Although I am the founder of the blog, and its primary author up to now, I will post my link last, following an alphabetical order in presentation:

First, for sermons by Dr. Richard Belcher, I offer two links. For his Covenant Baptist Church sermons, see here. And for his sermons, see here.

Second, for sermons by Dr. Jeff Johnson, see the sermons page for Grace Bible Church here.

Third, for sermons by Kerry Miller, see the sermons page for Christ Bible Church here.

Fourth, for sermons by me – Keith Throop – see the page for Immanuel Baptist Church here.

I hope and pray that you will be edified as you listen to preaching from men committed to the principle of Sola Scriptura and to the Doctrines of Grace. Please feel free to contact any one of us with questions or comments.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Toward a Biblical Perspective on Depression: Psalm 42

Today I would like to offer the first of two posts dealing with passages in which the Bible speaks directly to the issue of depression in the life of a believer. There are a number of places in the Psalms in particular that deal directly with depression in one form or another, but I will focus my attention on just two of them. In this post I will discuss Psalm 42, and in the next post I will highlight a portion of Psalm 119.

Let's turn our attention now to Psalm 42, in which the Sons of Korah vividly describe a believer's battle with deep depression.
NKJ  Psalm 42:1-3 “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so pants my soul for You, O God. 2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? 3 My tears have been my food day and night, while they continually say to me, 'Where is your God?'”
Here the Psalmist describes what would seem to be a continual discouragement or depression, for he speaks of crying day and night. But, as if that wasn't bad enough, while he struggles with depression there are people continually speaking discouraging words to him. They have seen how blue he is, and it has apparently led them to question where God is in his life. The situation seems to be one in which they are essentially saying, “If your God is so great, then why are you so sad?” After all, the Psalmist does thirst for God and seek Him, but he still finds no comfort. And as others see this struggle, they keep on tempting him to question God's love and care for him, for what else could they mean in such a situation when they say, “Where is your God?” Yet, despite these trying circumstances, he doesn't stop thirsting for God.
NKJ  Psalm 42:4 “When I remember these things, I pour out my soul within me. For I used to go with the multitude; I went with them to the house of God, with the voice of joy and praise, with a multitude that kept a pilgrim feast.”
Here the Psalmist recalls his previous experience of joy in the Lord, when he used to join everyone else in the house of God “with the voice of joy and praise” as opposed to crying out in sorrow and discouragement through constant tears. He had even led the people in worship, which makes sense, because the psalm is attributed to the Sons of Korah, who were among those to whom King David had given this task (1 Chron. 6:31-38). But the important thing for us to notice here is that this individual is described as not taking part in corporate worship, although the authors don't say precisely why. Perhaps he was unable to be there due to circumstances beyond his control, although he still longed to go. Or perhaps he was like so many believers today who avoid being with God's people when they are depressed. Either way it is not a good thing, especially since, being apart from fellow believers, the Psalmist is only hearing discouraging words (“Where is your God?” vs. 3) rather than finding comfort and encouragement with God's people. No wonder the author of Hebrews later warned Christians not to avoid gathering together even when they are going through trying times (Heb. 10:32-34; 12:4). Indeed, he thinks that regular gathering for worship and mutual encouragement is even more necessary in such times:
NKJ  Hebrews 10:23-25 “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.”
At any rate, the Psalmist remembers a time when he felt close to God, and he longs for such a time again, as the next verse indicates:
NKJ  Psalm 42:5 “Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance [פָּנֶה, pāneh, literally face, commonly occurring in the plural, i.e. פָּנִים, pāniym].” [Note: He repeats this self-talk in vs. 11, except for a significant change, which we will see examine below.]
Notice that, since the Psalmist is not with God's people in order to hear them speak words of encouragement, he preaches to himself! Martyn Lloyd-Jones helpfully expounds upon this same point in his classic book, Spiritual Depression, which is based primarily on this psalm:
Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. You have not originated them but they are talking to you, they bring back the problems of yesterday, etc. Somebody is talking. Who is talking to you? Your self is talking to you. Now this man’s treatment [in Psalm 42] was this: instead of allowing this self to talk to him, he starts talking to himself. “Why art thou cast down, O my soul?” he asks. His soul had been depressing him, crushing him. So he stands up and says,: “Self, listen for moment, I will speak to you.” (pp. 20-21)
Charles Spurgeon is also very good in applying this text in his classic commentary on the Psalms, The Treasury of David, which I recommend as great devotional reading. Listen to what he says:
As though he were two men, the Psalmist talks to himself. His faith reasons with his fears, his hope argues with his sorrows. These present troubles, are they to last for ever? The rejoicings of my foes, are they more than empty talk? My absence, from the solemn feasts, is that a perpetual exile? Why this deep depression, this faithless fainting, this chicken-hearted melancholy? As Trapp says, “David chideth David out of the dumps;” and herein he is an example for all desponding ones. To search out the cause of our sorrow is often the best surgery for grief. Self-ignorance is not bliss; in this case it is misery. The mist of ignorance magnifies the causes of our alarm; a clearer view will make monsters dwindle into trifles. (e-Sword)
I would only point out that, while it is true that the Psalmist questions himself as to why he is so downcast, the emphasis is not placed on the reasons or circumstances that have led to his depression so much as it is placed upon not allowing any circumstance or cause for discouragement to overwhelm him when he does, in fact, know God. In other words, the Psalmist seeks to lift himself out of the pit of depression by reminding himself that there really is reason to hope in God, despite what his feelings are telling him.

Notice also that this depressed individual resolves to once again praise the Lord, and he even begins to pray to God and to praise Him in the very next verse (and, of course, the whole Psalm is itself intended for public worship and praise as well). But here it is significant that he says that he will praise God for “the help of His countenance.” This language recalls the blessing the priests were to pronounce over the people as a promise from God:
NKJ  Numbers 6:23-27 “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying,'This is the way you shall bless the children of Israel. Say to them: 24 “The LORD bless you and keep you; 25 the LORD make His face [פָּנֶה, pāneh] shine upon you, and be gracious to you; 26 the LORD lift up His countenance [פָּנֶה, pāneh, literally face] upon you, and give you peace.”' 27 So they shall put My name on the children of Israel, and I will bless them.”
It is noteworthy that the Sons of Korah place this same vocabulary in the mouth of the depressed person in this psalm. I think they intend to picture him as laying hold of these promises of God and preaching them to his own soul. And, even though he does not sense God's presence at the present time – indeed he feels far from God – he nevertheless places his hope in the fact that God will again “lift up His countenance” upon him. He thus places his trust in God and His Word rather than in his own circumstances or feelings, doesn't he? And here we find a key weapon in battling depression -- the Word of God! Indeed, this is the very reason why we are spending so much time searching the Word of God in this series of posts!
NKJ  Psalm 42:6 “O my God, my soul is cast down within me; therefore I will remember You from the land of the Jordan, and from the heights of Hermon, from the Hill Mizar.”
This verse appears to place this struggling saint in the far northern reaches of Israel, north of the Sea of Galilee, where Mount Hermon and the headwaters of the Jordan are located. This may also be why he spoke in verse 4 of remembering having previously gone “to the house of God, with the voice of joy and praise, with a multitude that kept a pilgrim feast,” because now he is said to be far from there. He could still experience fellowship and corporate worship with God's people, but it just isn't the same as when he was able to go to the sanctuary of the Lord in Jerusalem.

But notice also that is he talking to God again, telling Him about how his soul is “cast down” within him. No matter how far away he feels he is from God – or from feeling good – he still clings to his relationship with God. And he persists in prayer, another indispensable weapon for battling depression.
NKJ  Psalm 42:7 “Deep calls unto deep at the noise of Your waterfalls; all Your waves and billows have gone over me.”
I think Thomas Constable has captured well the basic meaning of the metaphorical language in this verse:
The writer viewed his troubles like waves cascading down on him, as if he were standing under a waterfall. He compared the noise of the waves to his troubles that he personified calling to one another to come overwhelm him. (Online Bible Study Notes on the Psalms)
The metaphor that pictures troubles as an overwhelming flood or as the sea raging around a person is common in the Bible (see, e.g., Psa. 32:6; 46:2-3; 69:1-2) and is an apt description of the way depression seems to overwhelm us.
NKJ  Psalm 42:8-9 “The LORD will command His lovingkindness in the daytime, and in the night His song shall be with me – a prayer to the God of my life. 9 I will say to God my Rock, 'Why have You forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?'”
Once again the Psalmist reminds himself that, despite his feelings, God really does love him, and he determines to persist in praise and prayer, singing to God and calling on Him. And he will continue to seek an answer from God.
NKJ  Psalm 42:10 “As with a breaking of my bones, my enemies reproach me, while they say to me all day long, 'Where is your God?'”
Following the mention of the oppression from his enemies in verse 9, this poor saint speaks of the effect of their insults as being so painful they are like someone breaking his bones. He especially doesn't like it when they mockingly ask him, “Where is your God?” In fact, this is the second time he has brought it up, having already said in verse 3, “My tears have been my food day and night, while they continually say to me, 'Where is your God?'” So we get the impression that, on top of everything else, this person apparently feels as though he is being a very bad witness for the Lord. Many a modern believer who struggles with depression may feel the same way, as though he is being a bad witness for Christ because he struggles to hang on to the joy Christ has promised for His followers. It is understandable that a believer would feel this way, but it isn't necessarily true that he is being a bad witness at such times, at least not if he continues to trust in the Lord even through such a terrible trial. Indeed, isn't the believer pictured in this very psalm an example of how one may be a good witness for God even in the midst of depression?
NKJ  Psalm 42:11 “Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; For I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God.”
Notice the difference between the Psalmist's self-address earlier in verse 5 and here in verse 11:
In verse 5 he said, “I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance [פָּנֶה, pāneh].”

In verse 11 he says, “I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance [פָּנֶה, pāneh] and my God.”
Because he knows God will again lift up His countenance upon him, the Psalmist also knows that his own countenance will be better as well. When God's face again shines upon him, his own face will again shine toward others. Notice that the Psalmist also ends by referring to the Lord as “my God.” He will not turn away from God in his difficulties; he will continue to turn toward Him.

In seeking to further apply this psalm, it is worth observing that the Sons of Korah ask the all important “why” question about depression, and that this question leads them back to God. In fact, they have the main character of the psalm asking “why” at least six times (vs. 5 [2x], 9 [2x], 11 [2x]). And they have him asking himself the crucial question “Why are you cast down, O my soul?” at least twice ( vs. 5 and 11, if you don't take Psalm 43 as belonging with this one and add 43:5).

Ed Welch has written an insightful article entitled Words of Hope for Those Who Struggle With Depression, in which he speaks of the potential importance of asking this question. He warrants significant quotation:
As you think about the meaning of your feelings, you will notice that, rather than leading you to more and more despair, the path leads you to the triune God. More specifically, it will lead you to the question, Will you live for God or will you live for yourself and the things you worship? Sometimes it takes awhile to get to this most critical of questions, but it is always there. Usually, all you have to do is ask yourself the “why” questions of a three-year-old.

“I can’t go on.”
“Because I am so tired and I can’t take the pain any more.”
“Because I feel like I am alone.”
“Because … I don’t believe that God is with me.”
“Because … I don’t trust him. I trust in my interpretation that comes from my feelings.”

“Why” questions should lead you to God. You will get tired of the questions by the time you get to the second one, but keep them coming. At the end of your questions say to Him, “Jesus is my Lord, I confess my unbelief, and I trust You.”

Trust, confession of sin, and following Christ in obedience — sound familiar? These are the staples of the spiritual life. When you get under the surface, these are the things that are important for everyone. You will find that they work.

If these seem superficial, then you are numb to the secrets of the universe and you need to go back to listening. Don’t trust what your emotions are saying on this one. These may be simple, but they are not simplistic. They are the foundations for life itself. They are the primary ways we respond to God. (Journal of Biblical Counseling, Vol. 18, No. 2, Winter 2000, p. 44)
Yes, the ultimate answer for dealing with depression is to trust the Lord. It really is that simple … and that hard! That is why we cannot do it without the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit. Thank God, then, that His Spirit really is present in each and every believer to give us the faith we need to face any and every trial, even the terrible trial of depression.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Dr. Bob Gonzales on the Validity and Value of Confessions

To continue the theme begun by Jeff Johnson regarding the importance and necessity of confessions (here and here), I would like to bring to your attention some articles by Bob Gonzales at his new blog, It Is Written, where he has been writing a series of posts on the validity and value of confessions. There are three:

1) The Validity & Value of Confessions: Defining Terms

Bob reworks Philip Schaff’s definition of a creed and offers this modified definition:
A creed or a confession of faith is the church’s doctrinal standard in written form, identifying and expounding those doctrines of Scripture that are essential for salvation, as well as those doctrines of Scripture that are necessary for the spiritual well-being of the Christian and of the church.
Sounds good to me!

2) The Validity & Value of Confessions: Biblical Basis

After stressing the importance of our publicly confessing our faith, based upon such passages as Matt. 10:32-33 and Romans 10:9-10, Bob states:
How does this square with the claim that faith and religion are personal and private matters? Many people today, especially politicians, claim to have faith and religion; yet they studiously avoid any public affirmation of what that means. Contrary to this practice, the Bible calls God’s people to confess their faith unashamedly and publicly. This is precisely what we do by publishing and affirming a written confession of faith. We are proclaiming to the world and to one another both the reality and the substance of what we believe.
Bob establishes three points summarized by him thusly:
To summarize, a confession of faith is valid because (1) the Bible commands the public affirmation of our faith, (2) the Bible commends the interpretation and application of Scripture, and (3) the Bible contains seminal creeds and confessions of faith. Far from discouraging creeds, the Bible validates their composition and use.
These points are based firmly upon a Scriptural foundation and are clearly and succinctly argued.

3) The Validity & Value of Confessions: Objections Answered

In this post Bob responds to three common objections to the use of creeds or confessions: 1. "Confessions undermine the authority of Scripture." 2. "Confessions contradict the sufficiency of Scripture." 3. "Confessions intrude upon liberty of conscience."

After responding to each objection, Bob rightly concludes that "a public confession of biblical truth in the form of a creed need not in principle undermine the authority of God’s Word, contradict the sufficiency of Scripture, or infringe upon liberty of conscience."

I highly recommend reading this brief but thorough series, and I hope I have whet your appetite to do so. Together with what Jeff has written on our blog, I think you will be well prepared to defend the necessity of the appropriate use of confessions by the churches even in – or perhaps especially in – our pluralistic and relativistic age.

Update 05 October 2011

Bob has added another post in the series:

4) The Validity & Value of Confessions: Their Usefulness

In this post Bob offers three primary reasons for the usefulness of confessions: 1. "A Confession Provides a Standard for Intra- and Inter-Church Fellowship." 2. "A Confession Provides a Standard for Church Discipline and for Defending the Faith." 3. "A Confession Provides a Summary of Biblical Doctrine for Evangelism and Education."

Friday, September 16, 2011

Countering Anti-confessionalism – Part 2

Part 1, which dealt with the nature of mysticism and its introduction into Christianity, was posted last week here. This post concludes the two part series.

The Introduction of Existentialism into Christianity

Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768–1834), the Father of Modern Liberal Theology, sought to reconcile postmodernism (the ineffable nature of ultimate reality) with Christianity. Schleiermacher reasoned that if knowledge of ultimate reality (God) is locked behind a transcendental wall, then the Bible could not have had a divine or supernatural origin. Consequently, Schleiermacher denied the supernatural elements of the Scriptures. Once he removed the inspiration of Scripture, Schleiermacher did away with the miracles as well. According to Schleiermacher, because the Bible is uninspired, it is fallible. In the process, Schleiermacher became one of the major contributors of Higher Criticism, which flowed out of Germany in his day.

The Higher Criticism of Schleiermacher greatly influenced the Lutheran Church throughout Europe to such a degree that Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) was outraged at the spiritual lifelessness of the Danish National Church. Danish citizens were Lutherans by birth, and thus they saw no need for a personal and subjective knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. But Kierkegaard knew that Christianity was to be more than just a name; it was to be a relationship. It was not the objective facts that were important, but the subjective reality. Objectively it may be impossible to prove Christianity, but, even if it could be proven, this would not establish a subjective relationship with the Lord. According to Kierkegaard, what was important was the new birth. People needed to experience Jesus Christ experientially. How would this existential experience come? By faith, he determined. According to Kierkegaard, faith transcends reason and sense perception and provides an existential experience for the believer. Kierkegaard adopted the confession of Tertullian, “credo quia absurdum” (I believe because it is absurd). In this creed, Kierkegaard meant that the gospel message is neither rational nor supported by empiricism, yet faith does not need a reason or proof to believe. Faith is its own proof. In fact, according to Kierkegaard, this is the very nature of faith – a leap into the darkness. Faith leaps the believer over the transcendental wall, which separates finite man from the true knowledge of God.

Karl Barth (1886-1968) also reacted against the liberal theology of Schleiermacher, but sadly accepted the claims of Higher Criticism in his Neo-Orthodoxy. Barth, along with Brunner, Bultmann and Tillich, sought to save Christianity from the theology of liberalism while accepting the foundation of liberalism – Higher Criticism. The solution, according to these German theologians, was found in the philosophical writings of Kierkegaard – existentialism. Existentialism allows spiritual truth to be ascertained independently of an infallible book.

According to Barth, God's revelation is His Word and His Word is not the Bible, but the person of Jesus Christ. To understand God's revelation is to understand the Lord Jesus. Without an experiential knowledge of Jesus, there is no real apprehension of the revelation of God.

What about the Bible? Emil Brunner (1889-1966) claimed that just as a record has all kinds of noises and static along with the sound of a voice, the Bible has all kinds of sounds (errors) along with the voice of God. That is, the Bible contains God's Word, but is not God's Word. The key is to listen to the voice of the Lord and not to the static.

Rudolf Bultmann (1884-1976) was even more consistent with his postmodern form of Christianity. He agreed with Barth and Brunner that the main concern in Christianity is faith in Christ, yet belief in the historical Jesus was optional. In his demythology Bultmann sought to remove the apparent myths from within pages of Scriptures. It is the spiritual truth behind the story that matters, not the historicity of the story. The story of the resurrection, for instance, is not a historical fact as much as it is a symbolic story capturing the new life and hope believers have in Christ.

If the Bible is a fallible book that contains the voice of the Lord, how is the reader able to discern the voice of the Lord from all the errors and myths? According to Paul Tillich (1886–1965), truth is ascertained through a dialectic hermeneutic (a three tier method of interpretation). Like Hegel’s dialectics of thesis, antithesis and then synthesis, Tillich claimed that spiritual truth is discovered through the Bible, culture and church history. Throughout church history, doctrine has been formed, shaped and reshaped by various cultural concerns and controversies, and as new cultural concerns and controversies arise, new conclusions will be drawn. And since history is not fixed, doctrine will always be fluid and changing.

The Emergent Church

Brian McLaren (1956-current), one of the more prominent leaders in the Emergent Church, has adopted this postmodern view of Biblical interpretation and has consequently brought postmodernism, existentialism and neo-orthodoxy to their natural conclusion – a Christianity with no absolutes that embraces all religious faiths, a type of pluralism.

McLaren argues in his book, A New Kind of Christian, that the problem with traditional Christianity is its antithetical view of truth – where truth is viewed as existing as a point on a horizontal line. This method of interpretation, McLaren claims, divides Christians (Catholics and Protestants, Calvinists and Arminians, etc…). For instance, Catholics argue that their interpretation is right on justification, while Protestants claim the same. According to McLaren, the problem with one side being right and the other side being wrong is that it is impossible for either side to have an infallible interpretation of Scripture. The reason both interpretations are fallible is that every interpretation is bound to the limitations of culture, history and language. Man can never rise above his own finiteness and limitations. According to McLaren, since no single interpretation (Catholic, Protestant, Calvinist, Arminian, etc…) is infallible, none can be authoritative. The only authoritative position is God’s position.

But, does not the Bible reveal God’s position? According to McLaren, not necessarily; but even if it did, finite man would still be unable to discern it. Absolute truth is stuck behind a transcendental wall that even those who read the Bible are unable to scale.

If authority always remains behind an impregnable wall, what use is the Bible? According to McLaren, the Bible was never meant to communicate absolute truth, but it does provide a reference point to help steer believers in the right direction. Rather than faith being like a building – having a single reference point or a single foundation, faith has multiple anchor points like a spider-web. The Bible (at least an interpretation of the Bible), church history, culture and spiritual experience all influence a person’s faith. Since there are multiple and even conflicting anchor points, truth will always remain relative.

Furthermore, according to McLaren, doctrinal absolutes are not even important. “I believe people are saved not by objective truth, but by Jesus. Their faith isn’t in their knowledge, but in God."[1] Relativism opens the doors to all types of religious beliefs, doors which McLaren is not afraid to open. In his book, A Generous Orthodoxy, McLaren asserts:
I don’t believe making disciples must equal making adherents to the Christian religion. It may be advisable in many (not all!) circumstances to help people become followers of Jesus and remain within their Buddhist, Hindu or Jewish contexts … rather than resolving the paradox via pronouncements on the eternal destiny of people more convinced by or loyal to other religions than ours, we simply move on … To help Buddhists, Muslims, Christians, and everyone else experience life to the full in the way of Jesus (while learning it better myself), I would gladly become one of them (whoever they are), to whatever degree I can, to embrace them, to join them, to enter into their world without judgment but with saving love as mine has been entered by the Lord.[2]
In An Emergent Manifesto of Hope, Barry Taylor confirms McLaren’s position: “We live in a post-Nietzschean world of faith and spirituality. Nietzsche’s declaration that God is dead still holds true, since interest in all things spiritual does not necessarily translate to a belief in a metaphysical God or the tenets and dogmas of a particular faith.”[3]

The Influence of Mysticism

The Emergent Church is nothing more than a form of mysticism and existentialism – an attempt to find meaning without absolutes. To think that the rest of Christianity has remained uninfluenced by postmodernism and existentialism is naïve. Churches across the globe have turned away from experience rooted in doctrine to experience rooted in mysticism. Sermons have shifted away from theology (how to know and love God) to motivational speeches (how to have your best life now). When theological terms are used, they remain vague and subject to diverse interpretations. Music has taken priority over preaching. The rich and doctrinal lyrics of the old hymns, which focused upon the work of Christ, have been replaced with a few superficial and repetitious words that focus upon the emotions of the worshiper. Contemporary worship has turned into individuals marinating in their own affections and love towards a vague God, rather than the church corporately praising the God of the Bible for His love as manifested in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The reason mysticism is so popular in churches is not necessarily because it offers meaning and hope in a postmodern climate of meaninglessness and despair, but because it is able to make unspiritual people feel spiritual. These mystical experiences are real for the worshiper and are easily created by the worship team. Dim the lights, get people excited by the beat and rhythm of the music, throw in a few religious terms, turn the focus to the emotions of the worshiper, and then presto – people feel spiritual. Another reason mysticism is effective is because man is religious by nature and has an innate desire to worship. Create the right atmosphere and then give Pagans an idol or give Americans a cool Jesus, and they will worship. To see this superficial worship, all you have to do is follow your unconverted friends to church and watch them raise their hands as they lose themselves in the “act of worship.” This is not to say that the true Christian in the same aisle is not worshiping the real Lord Jesus. But his neighbor’s false worship can be created simply by manipulating the atmosphere. Hold back theology and give people emotionalism, and people will enjoy a mystical experience that feels spiritual.

The Corrective to Mysticism

Of course, there are some parallels between mystical theology and biblical Christianity. A saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ includes more than a cognitive understanding of the biblical truth declarations (James 2:19). By faith, people experience a personal knowledge of the Lord Jesus (Eph 3:14-19). This saving knowledge brings about inexpressible love, joy and peace. In addition, this experiential knowledge of Christ Jesus comes only by spiritual illumination. Thus, a personal knowledge of the Lord is incommunicable – for it impossible to share our experiential knowledge of Christ Jesus with others.

With this said, biblical Christianity is not mysticism or even a form of mysticism. The fundamental difference is that saving faith and an experiential knowledge of Christ Jesus do not come from an existential experience that transcends cognitive and rational thought. There is no leap of faith into the darkness, but rather a leap of faith into the light of God’s Word. Saving faith comes only by hearing and hearing comes only by the articulated Word of God being clearly proclaimed (Rom 10:17). To know Christ initially, and to grow in the knowledge of the Lord, requires knowledge of the Scriptures (John 17:17). Doctrine, even deep doctrine, is vital to the Christian life (2 Th 2:13). Therefore, if the church really wants to help aid people in worship and spiritual growth, then they will place the focus upon God’s written Word.

The error of mysticism and existentialism is that they are founded upon the false presupposition that God is ineffable (unknowable). Yes, we are bound to our own finiteness, but this does not rule out the possibility of divine communication between God and man. First, man has been created in the image of God, which provides common ground between an infinite God and finite man. Because of this common ground, not only is man able to communicate with God, God is able to communicate with man. Second, God has communicated to man in natural and special revelation (Ps 19:1-6). Therefore, God is not unknowable.

Furthermore, divine revelation is universally understandable, leaving all without excuse (Rom 1:20). What about the noetic effects of the fall (the results of depravity upon the mind)? Does not Scripture say that the natural man is unable to discern spiritual truth (1 Cor 2:14)? Yes, fallen man has been alienated from the life of God and has no personal knowledge of Him. Consequently, due to the depravity of his heart, man will remain incapable and unwilling to place his faith and confidence in God. But this does not mean that fallen man cannot rationally understand the truth-claims of Scriptures. The Bible is neither irrational nor contrary to sense perception. In fact, the biblical worldview is the only worldview that makes sense of reality as perceived by the empirical senses. Further, it is the only worldview that is rationally consistent with itself. The problem with fallen man is not a lack of evidence or a lack of understanding of the truth, but a lack of appreciation and love for the truth. The light has come into the world, and the Bible says that man loved darkness rather than the light (John 3:19). The problem with man’s thinking lies in his lack of submission, not in a lack of proof. Man loves himself. Man loves his perceived notion of autonomy. Man loves his sin. Therefore, man would rather believe a lie or accept an inconsistent worldview, than to submit to a holy God (2 Th 2:10-11). Man is bound to his depraved heart. This unsubmissiveness is the problem, which is why the Lord said that even if a person were raised from the dead it would not convince a sinner to repent (Luke 16:31). The point is that divine revelation is effective in communicating truth to fallen man even if he does not accept it. Man’s knowledge of and rejection of the truth will be the very thing that condemns him in the Day of Judgment.

A Case for Confessions

The remedy for mysticism is not to eliminate emotions and experiences from the Christian faith. This would lead to dead orthodoxy indeed. Emotions are vital to the Christian faith, and there is no salvation without an experiential knowledge of Christ. The answer is to make sure that our experiences and emotions are rooted in biblical truth. This is because God has chosen to change the heart by the truth. Perhaps if there were ever a time when the church needed to stand strong upon the truth, especially the gospel, it is now. The church needs to know what she believes and be ready to confess and defend her faith before the world.

In conclusion, even though everything in the universe is in flux, God is constant, for the great I AM never changes. God is the ultimate reference point, and the absolute and unchanging God has broken through the transcendental wall that separates the infinite from the finite and has clearly spoken to us in His Word. Being made in the likeness of God, we are proper recipients of this communication. Yet because of the fall, we are also capable of misreading it as well. Because the Bible can be both understood and misunderstood, truth is not relative as McLaren supposes. Rather, truth and error are antithetical, and an interpretation of Scripture is either right or wrong. Either people understand the intended meaning of Scripture correctly or they don't.

Because truth is knowable and absolute, confessions of faith are all the more important. If it was impossible to understand the Bible, or if it was impossible to misunderstand, then no confession of faith would be needed. But, seeing that there are both correct and incorrect interpretations, it is essential to know what a church believes in order to compare their confession with the Word of God. Every church member or potential church member has the right to know how the church interprets the Scriptures. It is not sufficient, with all the false teaching floating around, for churches just to say they believe the “Bible” or simply “love Jesus.” That kind of generic confession says little. It is the truth which saves, and it is the truth which sanctifies. It is time for the local church to stop hiding behind vague generalities and undefined religious terms for the sake of unfounded mystical experiences, and it is time to start clearly stating what they believe.



[2] A Generous Orthodoxy (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004), 260, 262, 264.

[3] Taylor, Barry, “Converting Christianity” in An Emergent Manifesto of Hope, edited by Doug Pagitt& Tony Jones (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2007), 165.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Bob Gonzales Has a New Blog With Free Scholarly Articles for Download

Many of this blog's regular readers already know that Bob Gonzales, Dean of the Reformed Baptist Seminary, is one of my favorite theologians, so you won't be surprised to find that I want to help promote his new blog. The blog is called It Is Written, and Dr. Gonzales describes its purpose thusly:
It Is Written exists to promote the Reformation doctrine of sola Scriptura (Scripture alone) and its corollary principle semper reformanda (always reforming). I’m basically Reformed and Baptist in my theological orientation. But more importantly, I’m a Bible believing Christian who affirms the verbal and plenary inspiration of both the Old and New Testaments of Holy Scripture (66 books) in their original autographs. I believe that the Scriptures are infallible and inerrant in all their parts and are, therefore, trustworthy and authoritative in all that they affirm concerning history, science, doctrine, ethics, religious practice, or any other topic. Moreover, I believe that salvation always has been and always will be through faith alone in Christ alone by grace alone. These convictions have been articulated well the great Reformed Confessions of Faith, especially, in the London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689, which is the confessional standard of the seminary where I serve. But I don’t believe the Holy Spirit’s work of illuminating the church stopped in the seventeenth century. He’s continues to teach the church, and I continue to learn more of his Word even through other theological traditions. My prayer and hope is that God might be pleased to use the content posted on this blog to promote a stronger commitment to the Scripture’s supremacy over all thought and life–to the end that we might more fully glorify and enjoy him in all that we do!
I am grateful for the blog and for the articles Dr. Gonzales has made available there. So far he has ten of his articles available:
“The Covenantal Context of the Fall: Did God Make a Primeval Covenant with Adam?” Reformed Baptist Theological Review 4:2 (Jan 2008).

“Where Sin Abounds: The Spread of Sin and the Curse in Primeval History,” Reformed Baptist Theological Review 5:1 (Jul 2008).

“Faults of Our Fathers: The Spread of Sin in the Patriarchal Narratives and Its Implications,” Paper Presented at the 2010 ETS Southeastern Regional Meeting.

“Man-God’s Visible Replica & Vice-Regent,” Reformed Baptist Theological Review (2008).

“Man’s Constitution as a Physical-Spiritual Unity,” Reformed Baptist Theological Review 6:1 (Spring 2009).

“Giving Proper Due to the People in the Pew, Part 1: A Biblical Defense of Lay-Ministry,” The Founders Journal 79 (Winter 2010).

“Giving Proper Due to the People in the Pew, Part 2: A Biblical Defense of Lay-Evangelism,” The Founders Journal 83 (Winter 2011).

“Judgment Begins at the House of God: A Theology of Malachi,” Reformed Baptist Theological Review 6:2 (Fall 2009).

“Interpretation of Canticles” (Unpublished, 2007).

“Fullness of Joy: The Old Testament Believer’s Hope in the Afterlife” (Unpublished, 2011).
I recommend checking out It Is Written. I know I will be a regular follower of the blog.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Toward a Biblical Perspective on Depression: Summary of Case Studies

After examining seven Scriptural case studies concerning depression, I would like to take time just to summarize some of the findings gleaned from these studies before moving on to some passages that deal more directly with the issue.

First, we have seen that depression can be the result of persistent sins such as anger and jealousy. And this can be true even in the case of hardhearted, unrepentant sinners, such as Cain was, not just in those who may struggle with a guilty conscience because of unconfessed sin. In people such as Cain, depression results from their own self-centered thinking and their resentment at not being perceived or treated as they think they should be.

Second, we have seen that depression can also be caused by a guilty conscience, as in the case of David. Indeed, there are many people that suffer from depression due to lingering guilt because they either have not yet found redemption in Christ or because they have harbored unconfessed sin in their hearts.

Third, we have seen that sin may not have any direct causal relationship to depression at all but that depression may be experienced simply because we live in a fallen world where terrible things happen, as in the case of Job. Depression may thus be experienced in the midst of great trials or as the result of terrible physical or emotional trauma. But his case also teaches that we must avoid sinning in response to depression by becoming angry or bitter toward God. Here Jeremiah serves as an example to remind us that we must continue to trust God as our loving and gracious Lord despite what sorrows we may face in this life.

Fourth, Job's case also demonstrates that depression may be experienced as the result of intense spiritual warfare as we seek to do what is right before God. Or again, as in the cases of Moses and Elijah, depression may stem from the constant strain of stress in our lives as we seek to serve God in a hostile world and in very difficult circumstances.

Fifth, we have also seen that depression may be a very valuable aid to us because God uses it in the lives of believers to teach them faith and obedience, to make them more like Christ and to glorify Himself more fully in their lives. Indeed, if we desire to be like Christ, then we should expect to suffer as He did, even to the point where we might also be characterized as men or women “of sorrows.” After all, if Jesus learned obedience through the things which he suffered (Heb. 5:8) – including struggles with depression and sorrow – then shouldn't we expect the same? And shouldn't we also be encouraged to know that, just as Jesus in this way became our sympathetic High Priest, we in this way might also be more useful in helping others who struggle with depression?

We have been called to follow Christ on the path to glory, but that path includes suffering, suffering through which we may count on the Spirit's strengthening and assuring presence. Remember Paul teaches us that “the Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together” (Rom. 8:16-17).

Perhaps, then, we must learn to think of depression in the same way that Peter says we should think of other sufferings for Christ when he writes, “Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ's sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy” (1 Pet. 4:12-13).

We shall deal with the Bible's teaching concerning trails more fully later in this series, but stay tuned as we shall next turn our attention to passages that deal more directly with depression.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Countering Anti-confessionalism – Part 1

Much of contemporary Christianity has forsaken its roots and has become overtly non-confessional. Churches are no longer Baptist, Presbyterian, or Methodist, but rather they have become non-denominational and even inter-denominational. First Baptist Church has changed its name to The Journey, and the Bible Church has become the New Life Church. The Church on the Rock came out of the Assembly of God, but who is to know? Churches are afraid to define themselves and tell people what they believe. Doctrinal ambiguity has replaced the old confessions of faith, and contemporary Christianity seems quite content with identifying itself with only vague generalities. The goal is to experience “Jesus,” and find personal meaning and purpose without any clear definitions. This exchange of confessions for concessions is the new mystical theology of today’s Christianity.

There seems to be several reasons why contemporary Christianity has replaced their doctrinal confessions with vague and loose generalities: (1.) indifference, (2.) ignorance, (3.) pragmatism, and (4.) mysticism. Of these four reasons, mysticism is the one we want to expose in these posts. It is not as if the other three reasons are not relevant, but it appears that mysticism is the real root behind the other three reasons. Before we jump into mysticism, let us quickly highlight the first three reasons confessions have dropped from contemporary Christianity.

1. Indifference

Some Christians do not see any value in confessions of faith. It is not as if these believers are against confessions, they just haven’t given them much thought. The thinking goes like this: doctrine is not all that important, as long as people love Jesus. When looking for a new church to join, those in this group are not concerned about the doctrinal standards of the church, as much as they are learning about the church’s children’s programs and musical style of worship. What marks a good church is not its beliefs, but their attractive programs.

2. Ignorance

Generally, this group consists of those who pride themselves in making the “Bible” their preferred confession of faith. “No creed but the Bible” is their creed. Those who pride themselves in this type of anti-creedal position generally think a creed or confession suppliants the Word of God as the ultimate authority of faith and practice. This viewpoint may come from a well-intentioned heart, but it also stems from an uninformed mind. As B. H. Carroll explained, “There never was a man in the world without a creed. What is a creed? A creed is what you believe. What is a confession? It is a declaration of what you believe. That declaration may be oral or it may be committed to writing, but the creed is there either expressed or implied.”[1] Carroll’s point is that it is impossible not to have a creed or a confession. Just because a church refuses to adopt a confession or put their beliefs in writing does not mean that they are not still creedal because they still have their own interpretation of Scripture. To say, “I have no creed but the Bible,” is like saying my only creed is my understanding of the Bible, yet refusing to actually elaborate upon your understanding of the Bible.

3. Pragmatism

Another reason that churches do not want to define themselves doctrinally is because public confessions are thought to be too restrictive. Confessions get stored in the attic because the goal is to grow! Thus, the more inclusive the church is the better. To accommodate today’s objective the church’s creed is now: “Open Minds, Open Hearts and Open Doors.” This creed is inclusive and shuts no religious person out. This type of ecumenical openness comes from a refusal to make a public stand for the truth. For a church to say they have an “open mind” is to say that they have not come to any conclusions as of yet. All visitors with their diverse opinions and diverse lifestyles are welcome to join in the ongoing discussion. To confirm and expose the depravity of man, for instance, may offend seekers and prevent them from coming to church and experiencing “Jesus” in worship. Thus, it is best to minimize doctrinal truth and keep “love” (a subjective emotion) and a wishier-washier Jesus as the focal point. These pragmatic ends, then, are the best way to grow the church and connect people with the love of Jesus.

4. Mysticism

One of the main problems, if not the main problem, behind today’s anti-confessional Christianity is mysticism. Mysticism is an attempt to find meaning without definitions. It seeks an existential experience for self-validation or a personal experience “that speaks to me” outside of Scripture. Because of a desire for something new or directly personal, doctrine only gets in the way. For churches to help bring people (sinners included) into a worshipful experience, the focus must not be based upon articulated truth, but upon the emotions of the worshiper. There need not be any doctrinal foundation behind the emotions as long as the emotions are authentic. When words are used, it is not their objective meaning that is important, but rather their subjective connotations. Vague religious terms, such as god, spirit, Jesus, and even the word gospel are fine as long as they are not clearly defined. It is better to allow the worshiper to attach his own meaning to these religious terms; and as long they remain vague, they can convey something that is transcendental and supernatural. And again, the more spiritual, transcendental, mystical and vague the worship lyrics and the sermon are, the more likely it is to stimulate an emotional and ineffable experience for the worshiper. The goal starts out as wanting to have a spiritual connection with God, but the experience itself is sought out more than God Himself. “Here I Am to Worship,” as the song goes, could lead to this type of self-focus. It is this drive and desire for a mystical experience today that acts as a thick, dark cloud seeping into the cracks of the contemporary church with the advertisement to bring about authentic worship. For mysticism to work, clear doctrinal teaching must be left as a thing of the past.

The Nature of Mysticism

Mysticism may sound like a mysterious and difficult subject to get a handle on, but in reality, the basic tenets of mysticism are straightforward. In all the various forms of mysticism, there are three basic ideas. (1.) Ultimate reality (ontology) is ineffable or unknowable (transcending human language and rational thought). (2.) The only way to know (epistemology) this ultimate reality is by some form of existential experience (by existential experience I mean an experience that transcends the rational process of cognitive thought). (3.) Once Mystics/worshipers have experienced the ultimate reality, it is impossible for them to communicate or share this experience with others—for it remains ineffable and thus mysterious. Different types of mysticism have different labels for this “ultimate reality” and various methods of achieving this existential experience, but they all seek some form of connection with the ultimate reality that transcends the cognitive thought process. The bottom line is that mysticism allows the worshiper or religious seeker to have an experience without having to back it up objectively from Scripture.

The Introduction of Mysticism into Christianity

Christian Mysticism is rooted in the notion that the real nature of God is ineffable or indefinable. That is, God is so utterly different, separate and transcendent, that the slightest knowledge of God is completely unattainable. God’s knowledge of Himself and our knowledge of God are equivocal (entirely different).

Plato was one who believed that the essence of God could not be explained: “Now to discover the Maker and the Father of this Universe were a task indeed; and having discovered him, to declare him to all men were a thing impossible.”[2] Prior to Plato, Xenophanes likewise claimed, “There never was, nor ever will be, any man who knows with certainty the things about the gods and about all things which I tell of. For even if he does happen to get most things right, still he himself does not know it. But mere opinions all may have.”[3]

For the Church Fathers, there seemed to be something noble in this line of reasoning. What is more glorifying to God than to exalt Him to the highest extent? God is not like man; He is absolute, eternal and transcendent. God is infinite; man is finite. Is this not the teaching of Scripture? Because of these presuppositions, many early theologians went on to teach that God’s essential being was utterly unknowable. Gregory of Nazianzus believed, “It is difficult to conceive of God, but to define Him in words is an impossibility.”[4] Justin Martyr viewed the names of God, such as ‘Father,’ ‘God,’ and ‘Lord’ as only vague shadows, “derived from his good deeds and functions,”[5] rather than a true depiction of the real nature of God. Athanasius agreed, “He is exalted above all being and above human thought.” Origen, Eusebius, and many others followed suit with this way of thinking, culminating with the greatest of all the early Church Fathers – Augustine. In his commentary on the Gospel of John, Augustine speculated: “For who can declare the Truth as it actually is? I venture to say, my brothers, perhaps John himself has not declared it as it actually is, but, even he, only according to his powers. For he was a man speaking about God – one inspired, indeed, by God but still a man.”[6]

This foundation of ineffability established by the Patristic Fathers drove mystical theology into the dark ages. If God is unknowable, and if Scripture fails in communicating His nature, then there must be another, more mystical way of ascertaining the real knowledge of the Divine. Pseudo-Dionysius (4th to 5th cen.) is considered to be the Father of Christian Mysticism, followed by Bernard of Clarivaux (1090-1153), Francis of Assisi (1182-1226), Bonaventure (1221-1274), and Meister Eckhart (1260-1328). Even Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) developed a mystical theology that required the seeker to lay down the Scriptures and close off the mental faculties in order to enter into a mystical experience with the Divine. For instance, Bonaventure speaks for all these Medieval Mystics when he remarked:
Do thou, O friend, push on boldly to the mystic vision, abandon the work of the senses and the operations of the reasoning faculty, leave aside all things visible and invisible, being and nonbeing, and cleave as far as possible, and imperceptibly, the unity of Him who transcends all essences and all knowledge.[7]

Mysticism may have laid low slightly during the Reformation and the Age of Enlightenment, but it has come back to life and regained popularity and academic clout by revamping itself under the name of existentialism. Existentialism is not a belief system or an ideology that encompasses any one particular set of core beliefs. Existentialists can be atheists, theists, deists, pantheists, materialists, hedonists, or a proponent of any other philosophical system of reality. This is because existentialism is not bound to any particular ontological system, but rather is a method of epistemology or the doctrine of knowledge.

Epistemology is concerned with how finite individuals can ascertain universal truth. The other two major methods of epistemology are rationalism and empiricism. Rationalism says that truth is ascertained by the use of reason and the laws of logic. Empiricism says that truth is ascertained by the use of sense perception and personal experience.


It is impossible to understand existentialism without understanding what has also led to postmodernism. This is not just because existentialism originated out of the same environment as postmodernism, but also because it is within postmodernism that existentialism flourishes today. Technically speaking, Postmodernism is considered a condition or assessment of society. It has followed on the heels of the age of Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution. Supposedly, for the last quarter century we have been living in the Postmodernism Period. Yet, if we define postmodernism as a philosophical rubric of thought that denies the possibility of knowing ultimate truth, then the foundations of postmodernism reaches back into the Modern Period was man become increasing skeptical. In this sense, I use the term postmodernism not to identify a period of time, but as an epistemological framework that denies the possibility of man ascertaining absolute truth. Accordingly, postmodernism is fallen man giving up on absolute truth while still holding onto a false notion of personal and individual autonomy when man started denying knowability of absolute truth. Postmodernism is at least honest with itself; if there is no divine revelation, then there is not universal truth and no ultimate purpose and meaning in life. In short, postmodernism is a presupposition that ultimate reality (God) is ineffable and any attempt to ascertain unto this knowledge is futile. Man is bound to his own finiteness, which leads to meaninglessness and hopelessness. Postmodernism is basically despair. And this despair is the nature result of humanism – man’s attempt to anchor his knowledge of how he knows what he knows in himself.

The Death of Rationalism

During the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution, man felt confident that every bit of truth could be ascertained by use of reason and the empirical senses. Knowledge would increase until there was literally nothing else to learn.

The quintessential rationalist was Rene Descartes (1596-1650). By the reasoning process alone, Descartes believed man was able to prove the existence of the ultimate reality – God. Descartes started by doubting the existence of everything, even his own existence. Yet, in doubting, he could not doubt his own existence, or otherwise he would not be able to doubt. Thus, he claimed, “cogito ergo sum” – I think (I doubt), therefore I am. Secondly, seeing that doubt is uncertainty and uncertainty is an imperfection, he concluded that he was imperfect. Yet, since it is illogical for something greater to come from something lesser, he concluded that the idea of the perfect and ultimate being – God – could not have arisen from himself, seeing that he was imperfect and a lesser being. In short, by the use of reason alone, Descartes attempted to establish universal truth without the aid of sensory perception.[8]

John Locke (1632-1704), the great empiricist, took a dagger to the very heart of rationalism by claiming that deductive reasoning is impossible without ideas and ideas are impossible without sense perception. According to Locke, ideas are not preprogrammed (a priori) in the mind, but rather they are gained by experience and sense perception. People are born with a tabula rasa (blank tablet) and ideas are collected only by experience. Deductive reasoning may process those ideas into knowledge, but again not until those ideas have been ascertained by the five senses. This means, according to Locke, that man’s knowledge is limited to what the five senses are able to discern. That which transcends the sensory perception (e.g., God) will always remain unknowable.

The Death of Empiricism

David Hume (1711-1776) claimed that it is empirically impossible to determine any universal truth because it is impossible to observe causality. Science is based upon the relationship between cause and effect. Yet, science cannot prove causality by observation. By examination, we may notice that “A” takes place before “B,” but this does not prove that “A” is the cause of “B.” Even if we observe that water boils at 100 degrees Celsius every time, that does not mean that heat was the cause of the water boiling. Who is to say with one hundred percent certainty that the next time water boils, it may do so without heat? Europeans used to think that doves where all white, that is until they learned that in Australia black doves existed. To know anything truly, we must know it exhaustively. Without universal knowledge to begin with, which finite man can never obtain from his limited reference point, universal truth will always remain unknowable.

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) was even more influential in placing the knowledge of ultimate reality out of reach. In his book The Critique of Pure Reason, Kant reasoned that there are two limitations on what we can know. The first is the totality of what exists and the second is the totality of what we are able to apprehend. According to Kant, if something does not exist, it is unknowable. More importantly, even if something does exist (e.g., God) and if we are unable to apprehend it, it remains unknowable. Kant divided existence into two spheres, the noumena – the world as it actually is, and the phenomena – the world as it appears to us. According to Kant, we can never know the world as it truly is, but only the phenomena world of appearance. Eyes are able to perceive visual images of reality, ears are able to apprehend various sounds of realty, and the other three senses are able to discern more information, but only according to their abilities. Who is to know if there are other dimensions of reality that remain hidden? In essence, Kant established a transcendental wall that prevents man from ever truly knowing reality – that is, reality as it truly exists.

The Death of Absolutes

Throughout history, people have thought antithetically – if something is true, the opposite is false. This is basic logic 101. Georg Hegel (1770-1830), however, turned everything upside down with his dialectic method of reasoning. According to Hegel, as with Kant, it is impossible to know reality as it truly exists. The only knowledge we can hope for is knowledge of the world as it appears, and the world of appearance is a world of constant change. There is nothing in the universe that is fixed and permanent – everything is in flux. If everything is changing, then man’s concept of reality must always be changing as well. According to Hegel, man learns by contrast and comparison, and then drawing a conclusion. Yet, once that conclusion is made, it will be contrasted again with new information that leads to a new conclusion, with a progression that never ends. Thus, what use to be black and white, is now relative – depending upon where you stand in progressive history.

Albert Einstein (1879-1955) gave scientific support to Hegel's dialectics with his theory of general relativity. Hegel changed reasoning from a straight-line of thesis and antithesis to a pyramid adding a third point – synthesis. In the same way, Einstein saw a third point existing in the universe. In addition to time and space, Einstein added a space-time continuum. Before Einstein, scientists considered the speed of light as traveling in a one-dimensional straight line through space and time. In the theory of general relativity, Einstein claimed that due to the graviton of large bodies, light curves as it travels through space and time. Because of the curvature, the speed of light is faster at the edge of the universe. What once seemed to be a constant speed of 186,282 miles per second now turns out not to be as fixed (absolute) as scientists once supposed.

How fast does a .30-06 caliber bullet travel? 2,950 feet per second may be the answer. It depends on the reference point at which the speed is calculated. Are we standing on the surface of the sun and with the speed of the earth calculated into the equation, or should we calculate the speed from a neighboring solar system? Since nothing is fixed and there is no ultimate reference point, everything is relative. Just because this might be the way you see the world, does not mean that this is how Johnny sees it, and who is to know how the world actually even exists?

The Death of God

Because of this transcendental wall hindering finite man from seeing ultimate reality as it is in itself, Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) concluded, “God is dead.” By this statement, he did not mean that God did not exist, but that we being finite have no way of knowing. We are bound to our finiteness in a world that is ever changing with no ultimate reference point. Thus, we are bound to a fragmented knowledge based upon our individual perception of reality.

The Death of Meaning

If there is no ultimate truth, then there is not ultimate meaning or purpose behind anything. In the end, postmodernism leads to nihilism. For instance, Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980) claimed that “existence precedes essence,” and this rules out any ground for meaning. Nihilists believe that each individual is randomly “thrown” into an unresponsive and meaningless universe without any hope of knowing why.

The Birth of Existentialism

Nevertheless, man, even the philosopher, cannot live without meaning or purpose. To live consistently with the conclusions of postmodernism is an impossibility. Those who have attempted to do so have often ended their lives in despair or suicide. If there is no meaning in life, and if man cannot live without meaning, what is man to do? The answer is to create meaning. Thus Nietzsche, after claiming that God was dead, went on to say that we are now forced to create our own god. Sartre, likewise, concluded that since life is meaningless, we must choose to construct our own meaning. Some existentialists have chosen hedonism (Onfray), others pragmatism (Dewey), power (Nietzsche), pantheism (Jaspers) or theism (Kierkegaard).To prove to others that their version of meaning is truly meaningful is impossible and unimportant. The main drive for existentialists is to individually discover personal identity and meaning for themselves. This is existentialism – establishing meaning in a world without meaning with the knowledge that there is no rational or empirical foundation for that meaning.

Part 2 will focus how Existentialism was introduced into Christianity, the appearance of the Emergent Church, the influence of mysticism and, finally, the corrective to mysticism and the case for confessions.


[1] B. H. Carroll, “Creeds and Confessions of Faith,” in Baptists and their Doctrines, eds. Timothy and Denise George (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1995), 81.

[2] Plato, “Timaeus,” in The Dialogues of Plato, Translated by B. Jowett. (New York, NY: Random House, 1937), 12.

[3] As cited in Frame, John. The Doctrine of God (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2002), 107.

[4] Gregory of Nazianzus “Oration 28” New Advent.Web. March, 2011

[5] Bavinck, Herman ,The Doctrine of God (Edinburgh, GB: Banner of Truth Trust, 1979), 21.

[6] Augustine, “Com. on St. John,” Tr. I. 1., cited in Rolt, C. E. ed. Dionysius the Areopagite on the Divine Names and The Mystical Theology (Berwick, MA: Ibis Press, 2004), 40.

[7] Ibid., 140-141.

[8] See Rene Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy (Hackett Publishing Company, Indianapolis, Cambridge: 1993).