Is the God of the Bible a Genocidal Maniac?

I love the stuff they’re putting out on this channel.  Reformed Wiki has good, solid teaching on Reformed apologetics, both the theory and practice.  This one fits with the latter category.


That Other Preacher, That Other Religion

He was so passionate, so intense.  He had a conspicuous religious fervour.  The man was on fire; he was preaching.  His pulpit was a small lectern in Tasmania’s Legislative Council.  The topic of his sermon was his “End-of-Life Choices Bill.”

Last week as I watched Mike Gaffney present his bill, at first it merely seemed to me that he was preaching.  But reflecting on it further, I came to realize he was a genuine master of the homiletical arts.   And Gaffney was using his homiletical gifts in service of his religion.

Tasmania (our home for the last 5 years) has held the line when it comes to state-sanctioned suicide.  Australia’s smallest state has faced several attempts to introduce legislation which would allow it, but so far each time those efforts have been in vain.  There’s great concern that this time will be different.  There definitely seems to be a strong degree of public support for it.

Reading or hearing those expressions of support, you often come across the idea that opposition to state-sanctioned suicide comes from religious people, whereas non-religious people (like Mike Gaffney) support it.  It gets framed as a religion versus no-religion debate, often with a few “separation of church and state” sentiments sprinkled on.  But is that really what’s happening here?

It’s all going to depend on how you understand “religion.”  If you understand “religion” to refer to belonging to an organized church (or synagogue, mosque, temple, etc.), the debate could be framed in these terms.  Specifically, most opponents of state-sanctioned suicide belong to Christian churches, whereas many supporters don’t.

However, most dictionaries will tell you that “religion” has a broader frame of reference.  For example, it can refer to sincerely held beliefs about what’s ultimate in life.  From a Christian perspective, whatever is ultimate in your life functions as a god, even if you don’t refer to it as a deity.  If it’s ultimate and functions like a god in your life, then regardless of what you call it, it’s a god to you.  And you’re a religious person.

He’d probably disagree with me, but Mike Gaffney is a religious person.  He’s devout in his commitment to an ultimate belief.  His ultimate belief appears to be personal autonomy.  It’s the right to individual self-determination.  Nothing is above that.  This is the root religious belief driving so many cultural trends:  transgenderism/LGBTQ, abortion, and state-sanctioned suicide.  This belief says that the individual is ultimate – the individual is essentially an autonomous god.  So if “god” says he is now a she, no one may question “god.”  If “god” chooses death for the child in the womb, no one may question “god.”  When “god” says that life is too much and “god” wants to “die with dignity,” then no one should question what “god” says.  Gods are always ultimate in authority and power.

It’s no wonder then that, given a pulpit, devotees of this religion can be such powerful, passionate preachers.  They’re on fire for their religion and will do everything in their power to spread it.  I was going to write “evangelize,” but that would give the impression that this religion of individual autonomy has good news on offer.  It doesn’t.  There’s no good news in a religion promoting death.  Christians have a religion of life – a gospel which proclaims a Saviour who is the resurrection and the life. We have a gospel which leads us to protect and honour life.  So why aren’t we just as, if not more, zealous than Mike Gaffney?


What’s in Aiming to Please?

Before I wrote Aiming to Please, I asked my Facebook friends what sorts of questions they’d like to see addressed in a book on Reformed worship.  Many responded.  I noted all the questions and tried to work them in.  Here’s a list of almost all the questions you’ll find answered:

  • What difference does covenant theology make for Reformed worship?
  • Do we hold to the Regulative Principle of Worship?
  • What do our confessions say about worship?
  • Do our children belong in the worship service?
  • When and how does the worship service begin?
  • Can someone other than a minister say “you” with the salutation and benediction?
  • Why do we read the Ten Commandments every Sunday?
  • Is there a biblical warrant for singing hymns?
  • Can we sing all the psalms?
  • Should we sing whole psalms or just selected stanzas?
  • Should we pray with uplifted hands?
  • Should the congregation say the votum?
  • Does the pastor lift one hand or two for the salutation?
  • Should the congregation say the “Amen”?
  • Does a sermon need to use words?
  • Can a woman lead in the reading of Scripture in the worship service?
  • Why do we have collection bags?
  • How can we do the offertory in an increasingly cash-less society?
  • Do we need to read the liturgical forms exactly as written?
  • If my neighbour becomes a Christian, can I baptize him in my swimming pool?
  • With baptism, should the sprinkling be done once or three times?
  • Should baptism be done before or after the sermon?
  • How often ought we to celebrate the Lord’s Supper?
  • Should we celebrate the Lord’s Supper at tables or in the pew?
  • Why do we have a supervised Lord’s Supper?
  • Do you need an attestation from a sister church to attend the Lord’s Supper as a guest?
  • Can we use non-alcoholic wine or grape juice for the Lord’s Supper?
  • Can we administer the Lord’s Supper to shut-ins?
  • Why do we worship twice on the Lord’s Day?
  • Is catechism preaching biblical?
  • What is the best way to do catechism preaching?
  • Does church architecture matter?
  • Should the elders sit at the front?
  • Can we use a projector in worship?
  • Doesn’t the Regulative Principle of Worship forbid instruments in worship?
  • Is the organist “a prophet on the organ bench”?
  • Should accompanists receive an honorarium?
  • What about drums in our musical accompaniment?
  • Doesn’t the Regulative Principle of Worship forbid holy days like Christmas?
  • Can we celebrate Christ’s birth on a day other than December 25?
  • Should we have liturgical seasons of Advent or Lent?
  • Does it make sense to have offerings in a church plant or other mission setting?

If you’re in Canada, you can buy Aiming to Please direct from the publisher here.  If you’re elsewhere in the world, it’s available via Amazon and other online retailers.


C.S. Lewis and Apologetics — A Reformed Assessment

Many Christians admire C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) and enjoy his writings.  I was introduced to C.S. Lewis through my Grade 4 teacher who read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe out loud to us.  I was hooked.  Shortly thereafter I went out and bought my own set of the complete Chronicles of Narnia.  That just got me started.  I’ve long enjoyed his imagination and literary style and I’m by no means alone.

But his influence goes further.  He was a well-known and persuasive advocate for Christianity.  Many people claim to have become Christians through the writings of Lewis.  Books like Mere Christianity and Miracles are still widely-read and touted as powerful tracts promoting Christian truth.  He was one of the most influential Christian apologists of the twentieth century.  But what should a Reformed believer think about his method?  Can we make use of his writings in Reformed apologetics?

Some Background     

Lewis was born in Ireland, but spent most of his life in England.  He was a professor of English at Cambridge University.  He wasn’t trained as a theologian, but did study and briefly teach philosophy.  He’d been an unbeliever for much of his young adult life.  He writes about this in his spiritual autobiography Surprised by Joy:

I was at this time living, like so many Atheists or Antitheists, in a whirl of contradictions.  I maintained that God did not exist.  I was also very angry with God for not existing.  I was equally angry with Him for creating a world.[1]

In the early 1930s, Lewis abandoned his atheism and professed to be a Christian.  He became a member of the Church of England.

Today many Christians believe C.S. Lewis to have been an orthodox, evangelical believer.  However, it’s important to realize that Lewis had some serious theological problems.  For example, he didn’t hold to the inerrancy of the Bible.  In his book Reflections on the Psalms, he insists that the imprecatory psalms (like Psalm 137) are “devilish.”  In Mere Christianity, he affirms the theory of evolution.[2]  In the same book, he writes about the possibility of Buddhists belonging to Christ without knowing it:  “…A Buddhist of good will may be led to concentrate more and more on the Buddhist teaching about mercy and to leave in the background (though he might still say he believe) the Buddhist teaching on other points.”[3]  There are more such issues.  On the basis of some of his statements, one might even wonder to what extent C.S. Lewis really understood the biblical gospel of Jesus Christ.  For myself, I’m not sure.

One thing that is certain is that Lewis has had a huge influence.  In the last few years, this is definitely because of the Chronicles of Narnia books being made into films.  As mentioned earlier, there are many people who claim to have become Christians because they read a book by C.S. Lewis like Mere Christianity or Miracles.  Let’s briefly look at those books and the method Lewis uses.

Mere Christianity 

Mere Christianity was originally a series of radio talks.  It was an attempt by Lewis to argue for a basic (‘mere’) form of the Christian faith.  Early in the book, Lewis uses the moral argument for the existence of a deity.  He says that because there is moral law, there must be a law-giver.  That law-giver must be a deity.  At that point, he wasn’t arguing for the Christian conception of God, but only a generic divine being.  His method becomes clear in what he says here:

We have not yet got as far as the God of any actual religion, still less the God of that particular religion called Christianity.  We have only got as far as a Somebody or Something behind the Moral Law.  We are not taking anything from the Bible or the Churches, we are trying to see what we can find out about this Somebody on our own steam.[4]

Lewis was thus trying to reason to God apart from any revelation from God.  He was asking readers to independently judge the existence of God on the basis of the arguments presented.  This method is found elsewhere in Mere Christianity as well.

Lewis tries to build up his case bit by bit.  Eventually he gets to the question of what should his readers think about Jesus and his claim to be God:

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him:  “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.”  That is the one thing we must not say.  A man who was merely a man and said the sorts of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell.  You must make your choice.  Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse.  You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God.  But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher.  He has not left that open to us.  He did not intend to.[5]

That’s a brilliant piece of writing, often quoted.  You’ll sometimes hear it condensed down to the idea that people have to decide whether Jesus was Lord, liar, or lunatic.  Yet note again that people are called to judge.  You have to judge the claims of Jesus.

C.S. Lewis wrote another book entitled God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics.  In that book he gets to the heart of the problem with his own approach in parts of Mere Christianity.  He writes:

The ancient man approached God (or even the gods) as the accused person approaches his judge.  For the modern man the roles are reversed.  He is the judge: God is in the dock…The trial may even end in God’s acquittal.  But the important thing is that Man is on the bench and God in the dock.[6]

That’s exactly what Lewis did in Mere Christianity.   He allowed man to judge God.  He flattered the unbeliever.  Lewis gave him a position of authority over God.  That method was and is not unique to C.S. Lewis.  Many others before and after him have done exactly the same thing.  I should also note that it can sometimes be persuasive.  These types of arguments can work to get people thinking about the Christian faith, and maybe even convince them.  However, just because they work doesn’t mean they’re right or pleasing to God.

Miracles

In his book Miracles, we do find Lewis using a different method at times.[7]  He discusses the philosophy of naturalism, the idea that nothing exists besides nature.  Against naturalism is supernaturalism, which allows for the existence of other things outside of nature, and therefore also allows for the existence of miracles.

Lewis starts off by rightly noting how the disagreement between the naturalist and the supernaturalist over miracles is not merely about facts.  One needs to spend time considering the philosophy of facts held by each side.  Lewis is saying that presuppositions matter.  He writes,

The result of our historical enquiries thus depends on the philosophical views which we have been holding before we even began to look at the evidence.  The philosophical question must therefore come first.[8]

That could have been said by Reformed theologians like Herman Bavinck or Cornelius VanTil.  Lewis recognizes that people have pre-existing philosophical commitments which must be exposed and discussed.

So when it comes to naturalism, Lewis does exactly that.  He does an internal critique of this philosophy and how it fails to account for logic, morality, and science.  To illustrate, let’s just briefly look at what he says about naturalism and logic or reason.

Lewis demonstrates that the naturalist cannot consistently hold to his position without undermining reason itself.  His philosophy cannot account for reason and cannot support reason.  Even though the naturalist tries to talk highly of reason, he actually destroys it.  This is because our reasoning powers are not explainable with naturalism.  Naturalism is materialistic – all that exists is matter.  But what is reason?  Is reason material or non-material?  Because reason is non-material, naturalism cannot account for it, we have no way for knowing whether it’s true, and our reasoning has no legitimacy.  Lewis writes:

A theory which explained everything else in the whole universe but which made it impossible to believe that our thinking was valid, would be utterly out of court.  For that theory would itself have been reached by thinking, and if thinking is not valid that theory would, of course, be itself demolished.  It would be destroyed by its own credentials.  It would be an argument which proved that no argument was sound…which is nonsense.[9]

Naturalism collapses under its own weight when it comes to reason.  Later in the book, Lewis shows that naturalism also collapses when it comes to morality and science.

Instead of naturalism, Lewis argues that supernaturalism can account for everything.  While he doesn’t get to the point of affirming that only the Christian worldview’s supernaturalism can account for everything, he comes close.  Elsewhere in his writings, he did reach that conclusion.  There is this famous quote from his book The Weight of Glory:

Christian theology can fit in science, art, morality, and the sub-Christian religions.  The scientific point of view cannot fit in any of these things, not even science itself.  I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.[10]

That is very well said — completely in line with Psalm 36:9, “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.”  Indeed, only Christianity can consistently account for everything.  Christianity is true because of the impossibility of the contrary.  Lewis didn’t always consistently work with this method, but when he did, he used it to great effect

At the end of the day, Lewis is worth reading, not only to see some wrong ways of doing apologetics, but also to learn to use some right ways — and brilliantly.  Moreover, if you have non-Christian friends, reading Lewis with them might be a great way to bring Christian truth to bear on their lives.  If you do that, I’d recommend Miracles over Mere Christianity.

******************

[1] C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy, New York: Walker and Company, 1955, 170.

[2] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, London: Fontana Books, 1952, 181ff.

[3] Lewis, Mere Christianity, 173.

[4] Lewis, Mere Christianity, 35.

[5] Lewis, Mere Christianity, 52-53.

[6] C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, ed. W. Hooper (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), 244.

[7] For this section on Miracles, I am indebted to an unpublished paper by Daniel R. Dodds, “Elements of Transcendental Presuppositionalism as Found in the Works of C.S. Lewis.”

[8] C.S. Lewis, Miracles, New York: Fount Paperbacks, 1947, 8.

[9] Lewis, Miracles, 18-19.

[10] C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, 1980, 92.


Open Letter to All Tasmanian MLCs

The following letter was sent this morning to all Members of the Legislative Council in Tasmania.  This is related to the End-of-Life (Voluntary Assisted Dying) Bill in front of the Council.

********************

Dear MLCs,

I’m writing to you today concerning the End-of-Life Choices (Voluntary Assisted Dying) bill.  Let us peel away the political language and call it what it is:  state-sanctioned suicide.

I have experienced the pain of suicide in my life.  After suffering both physically and mentally, my mother took her own life in 2002.  This was the most painful thing I’ve ever endured.  She determined her own way to die, but it was a choice which caused enormous heartache to our entire family.

Because we recognize the pain it causes, our society invests so much time and energy in suicide prevention.  Just yesterday, the “R U OK?” campaign was in action.  When a celebrity like Robin Williams takes his own life, after suffering horribly with mental illness, the world laments his choice.  We’re told that “suicide is never the answer.”  When the TV news features a story about suicide or depression, they always include a mention of the Lifeline number.  It seems like society wants to prevent suicide, while this bill aims to allow it.  This is double-mindedness.

During the debate over same-sex marriage, proponents of SSM argued that a vote or plebiscite on it would lead to LGBTQ youth committing suicide.  This is significant for two reasons.  One is that the idea was that removing the cause of their suffering (i.e. a vote on SSM) would save their lives – which were worth saving.  The other is that this political activity was considered to be triggering to vulnerable individuals.  If this was true, does not consistency then demand that we focus on 1) alleviating suffering, and 2) avoiding triggering vulnerable individuals through political activity related to suicide?

Getting into the legislation itself, one of my chief concerns is the slippery slope.  It is a documented fact worldwide that legislation like this is only ever the beginning.  My native Canada adopted physician-assisted dying in 2016.  This year the Canadian parliament is debating (via Bill C-7) the expansion of provisions for physician-assisted dying.  In fact, Tasmania’s proposed legislation even has the slippery slope built into it.  Section 142 proposes a review in two years about expanding to include minors under 18 years old.  Where will it end?  In the Netherlands and Belgium, legislation has progressed past the point of doctors facilitating suicide for mental suffering.

In 2009, Dr. Philip Nitschke appeared before a Tasmania parliamentary inquiry.  Under oath, he admitted to breaking the short-lived Northern Territory legislation, the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act.  Dr. Nitschke euthanized Bob Dent.  Why?  Because he was socially isolated.  Dr. Nitschke was never charged.  NT police looked the other way.  If this legislation is enacted, can we have confidence that Tasmania Police would not do the same if this legislation is violated?

All these kinds of laws are fraught with problems.  I urge you to reject this bill and recognize the worth and value of all human life.  Human beings are not animals which can be euthanized when they’re suffering.  We have a conscience.  We have the capacity to love and be loved.  If there is suffering, we must seek to alleviate it, not to extinguish the life of the one suffering.

Rather than state-sanctioned suicide, I ask you to propose legislation which will expand palliative care in Tasmania.  We need a network of hospices for professional, compassionate end-of-life care.  Rather than state-sanctioned suicide, I ask you to invest more funds in suicide prevention programs.   We have to do more to prevent vulnerable people from hurting themselves and their loved ones.  Truly, suicide is never the answer.

Thank you for your time and attention.  I wish you God’s blessing as you serve our state.

Yours sincerely,

Rev. Dr. Wes Bredenhof

Pastor, Launceston Free Reformed Church