Book Summary Now Available!

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Available now is my summary of The Universe Next Door by James Sire.  This worldview catalog is part of the arsenal needed  for believers to understand the major beliefs held by both their neighbors and also themselves.

The value of this study is akin to a baseball scout taking the necessary time to understand the opposing team’s ball player’s strengths, weaknesses and tendencies.  After such due diligence is accomplished, the odds of “competing” and “beating” the “opposition” are enhanced.  Too often Christians are bested in the classroom, boardroom, or family room because we have not done our due diligence regarding other worldviews when compared to Christendom.  This book is a remedy for such maladies as Sire notes:

“For any of us to be fully conscious intellectually we should not only be able to detect the worldviews of others but be aware of our own—why it is ours and why in light of so many options we think it is true” [Opening page]

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Summary of Chapter 10: THE EXAMINED LIFE—CONCLUSION (Pgs.192-200)

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            Sire concludes the book by mentioning that worldviews are not as voluminous as one might think, but many of them overlap each other in nuanced forms that make it appear there are numerous worldviews.

           To choose an adequate worldview, Sire rightly points out the need for the following.  First, humility is essential.  We just don’t know everything so it’s important to come with that reality in mind.  Second, there must be intellectual coherence where the laws of logic are rightly applied so falsehoods are avoided.  Third, there must be experiential reality where the data of all reality is considered by what we know through critical analysis and scientific investigation.  Fourth, there must be explanatory power where what is purported to be explained (e.g., human enigmas) are actually explained.  Lastly, an adequate worldview must be subjectively satisfactory whose implications can be lived.

According to Sire, at the end of the day, a worldview can only satisfy if it’s true (Pg.198).  Christianity, says Sire, meets the above mentioned criterions for choosing an adequate worldview and makes most sense of reality as we know it, even though it has its own problems.  Christianity, is not merely intellectual as a worldview, but an encounter with a person—the risen Christ that makes the examined life worth living.

Reflections From ROMANS 3:21-31: “WHICH LAW REMOVES BOASTING: THE LAW OF WORKS OR THE LAW OF FAITH?”

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            Paul continues his argument about how all are justly under God’s wrath Jew and Gentile alike, and that the law was never intended to justify anyone before God.  He says:

But now, apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets,…” (V.21)

Here may be the Jews second advantage.  Recall Jesus came to the lost sheep of the house of Israel—that was his mission.  His apostles were to take his message to the Gentile world.  Thus, the oracles of God which were entrusted to the Jew gave witness to God’s righteousness apart from the Law.  And yet this Law and Prophets are putting their stamp of approval on God’s righteousness but how?

…even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe, for there is no distinction, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God… ” (Vv.22-23)

God’s righteousness (i.e., He always does what is just, true, beautiful and holy) is shown through those who put their trust in Jesus Christs’ work on Calvary’s cross.  It’s the only rescue for Jew and Gentile alike.  Why this righteousness manifested is because all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory.  What’s the glory of God here?  It’s the opposite of what the creature wanted in chapter 1 where the “infamous exchange” took place, the infinite for what is finite, the greater for the lessor, the creator for the creature.  It’s all backwards!

Remember, the glory of God is first, His wrath against all unrighteousness (1:18) because He’s righteous; secondly, His glory is the self-disclosure of attributes in creation (1:19-20); third, His glory is revealed in the truth of things designed (1:25, 32).  In other words, the glory of God as described above, is the perfections of His being demonstrated through just punishment on obstinate creatures refusing to live in accordance with the Creators design.  But as Paul further explains, God’s glory is not just manifest in wrath but also in mercy or justification:

24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus;”     

Note here that the glory of God is magnified by justifying (acquitting) as a gift sinners who trust in Christ’s redemptive sacrifice.  And this act of redemption (i.e., a term meaning to buy out of the slave market) was a propitiation (i.e., a sacrifice that satisfied God’s wrath) publicly demonstrated not hidden (e.g., Prophets of Baal and Elijah).  This was done for a purpose:

25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

It seems that through Christ’s sacrifice the sins previously committed and unpunished were paid for to demonstrate God’s justice-His righteousness where sin’s penalty had to be paid.  Thus God in His forbearance was not unjust in staying David’s execution after his adultery and murder, for Christ at the proper time in history would pay also for his sins.

This was all Gods doing, His purpose—rescue apart from works of the law through faith in Christ’s work on the cross.  And while some may object, it should be remembered that the Creator alone can do whatever He pleases because of His ontological status (i.e., infinite, self-existent, and the source of all life), not the creature specifically because of his ontological status (i.e., finite, needy, dependent on sources outside the self to exist).  Now why did God do this?  Paul continues and asks:

27 Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. 28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.

Thus, both Jew and Gentile have redemption apart from the law if they trust in Christ alone.  Both Jew and Gentile have no reason for boasting because this redemption is a gift.  Thus, God is now glorified through bringing to life in Christ those who were once dead in sins and trespasses.  Those who were once unrighteous have been made righteous, justified by faith by the Just One.  No one gets a “free ride”.  The payment for sins must be made and can only be made by God, not us.  Paul now concludes:

29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30 since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one.

Here, he’s affirming monotheism.  That is, the God of scripture who created is also the one God who sent His Son to rescue all who believe in him—Jesus of Nazareth.  Now Paul asks:

31 Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law.

I’m not exactly sure what it means to say that “…we establish the Law”.  Perhaps it points to God’s righteousness as being witnessed to by the Law and Prophets (V.21), and now that faith has come, fulfillment of God’s faithfulness has been demonstrated through Christ’s redemption.  That is, God’s faithfulness to do what He promised is seen as His truth shines and the Law’s purpose is fulfilled—by pointing us to Christ.  That is, the Law is good, but its’ purpose was never intended to make the hearer good (righteous), but rather to point them to Christ Jesus who has come in space time history to make his followers righteous, pure and holy.  (SDG)

 

Summary of Chapter 9: THE VANISHED HORIZON—POSTMODERNISM (Pgs.172-190)

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          In this chapter Sire argues that Postmodernism (PM) changed everything starting with the death of God which grounded its’ wisdom and demise in Modernism.  This is because far from being “Post” anything, it’s nothing without Modernism.  What it has accomplished though is taking Modernism’s views to their natural end which failed to meet their own criterion.

To begin with, Sire admits defining (PM) is difficult.  The term was first used to describe architecture.  One definition advanced of (PM) is: it denies there is any one metanarrative that is more credible than another to explain to us the nature of reality (e.g., theism, pantheism, or atheism make part of the whole).

A good way to understand (PM) is to compare it to Premodern and Modern views of reality to grasp its’ significance.  Pre-moderns for example focused on attaining a just society by basing it on the just God of revelation.  Moderns contrarily focused their view of attaining justice through universal reason.  Post-moderns however despair any universal attaining of justice because language is what constructs reality or meaning itself.

Sire continues and explains how the three different views lead to a way of ruling by virtue of their starting point.  Pre-modernism lead to medieval hierarchy, Modernism lead to Enlightenment democracy, and Postmodernism leads to anarchy.

Concerning first principles, Pre-moderns saw metaphysics (being, existence) as the grounds for epistemology (how we know anything); Moderns held that epistemology is the grounds for ontology (the study of existence, being); and Post-moderns hold that epistemology is the grounds for significance but end their search with no confidence in human reason.  The self-refuting nature of (PM’s) many positions is here obvious by their use of reason to make said statement.

Sire continues to point out the self-refuting nature of (PM) positions like its notion of truth that it is forever hidden from us.  These “authorities” are telling us the “truth” that truth is forever hidden from us.

When (PM) says that all narratives are a mask for a play of power, they fail to see that they also are giving us a narrative of reality that according to them also falls into the category of a “play of power”.

Another notion of (PM) is that language is what’s used to construct who people are and what is ethical or not by society.  This ends with a radical relativism that if consistently lived out has as its’ champion the sociopath.

It leads naturally that from this view of language, the discipline that is king is literary theory, rather than theology, philosophy or science.

Sire than considers many of (PM’s) shortcomings not least of which is their denial of any objective truth but act as if it really exists by their writings and “insights” into describing reality, thus elites, not true experts end up ruling everywhere including the sciences (Pgs.184-187).

PM has rightly criticized naturalisms’ too high a view of reason, explained that language can be used to exercise power over people (these are not always negative situations however) but (PM’s) seem to overlook that their own criticism’s also apply to their use of words.

Sire points out that the “truth question” is very uncomfortable for (PM’s) and it should be pressed.  Moreover, their negative view of reason should be considered in light of their use of reason to advance their position.  That is, they employ their negative view of autonomy by using said autonomous human reason.  It’s just self-refuting.

Finally, Sire concludes that (PM) is not so much a worldview, but a parasite on worldviews and it’s not surprising therefore that this position lacks confidence in truth, a trust in reality or hope for the future.  Pessimism, nihilism and anarchy result if this thought of (PM) is followed to its natural conclusion.         

 

Summary of Chapter 8: A SEPARATE UNIVERSE—THE NEW AGE (Pgs.136-170)

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            In order to embrace the East, Sire argues, that one must die to the West (i.e., to its way of thinking).  That’s essentially what the New Age (NA) is all about.  While difficult to define as a movement, since the 1990’s, through the likes of Marilyn Ferguson, Ken Wilbur and Shirley MacLaine, the NA has infiltrated every sector of Western society.

The NA influence is evident in areas of psychology, sociology, anthropology, the natural sciences, the health field, our politics, entertainment, movies and even in sports (Pgs.140-144).  Of the many examples, I’ll focus on three that Sire provides.

One example is in the area of psychology where people like William James, C.G. Jung and Abraham Maslow have argued for the validity of altered states of consciousness (drugs are often used here to expand our understanding of the universe).  Another example is in anthropology, where Carlos Castaneda’s books focus on the use of psychedelic drugs in Indian culture and reveal that he himself was the apprentice of Don Juan, a Yaqui Indian sorcerer.  Castaneda’s alleged experiences brought him into new realities and separate universes.  A third example can be found in our entertainment—movies.  Here the NA influence can be seen in George Lucas’ Star Wars Series where divine power (i.e., The Force) is much like the Hindu Brahman who uses both good and evil to sustain a balance in the universe (e.g., Yoda).

The NA’s relationship to other worldviews is that it embraces them all to one degree or another.  That is, they are syncretistic and eclectic, but deny that there’s any transcendent god (unless it’s the individual) and affirm that we live in a closed system.  Moreover, like the East, the NA rejects reason as a means or guide to reality, but nevertheless uses it to advance their position.  That is, distinctions are the problem rather than the solution to problems (yet they use reason to persuade skeptics).        

Sire also points out that animism is massive in the NA where the spirit world and spirit entities are guides to understanding our many—reincarnated past lives (Pgs.144-145).  The NA has several pillars of thought that govern it’s thinking and hold up their structure of reality.

The first pillar is that the nature of being ultimately finds its base in the self.  That is, since the self is king, one can create their own reality from within their conscience and no one can refute it as reality because it’s a private experience.  What’s unfortunate is that self-deception is a very present danger here (Pgs.147-149).

The second pillar is that the cosmos being unified in the self is manifest through both ordinary consciousness and altered states.  This can be accomplished through meditation, drugs, acupuncture, etc.  The mind is a powerful tool for molding reality to our liking and is limitless (Pgs.150-151).  Light and colors, alien populations and guardians (demonic spirits) obtain, they are real and they help us make the most out of our lives.

The third pillar is that cosmic consciousness in space and time disappear along with morality.  Here there’s no such thing as good and evil, there’s just the illusion of such.  To experience cosmic consciousness is akin to Atman as Brahman.  Once again, this invites self-deception.

The fourth pillar is that physical death is not the end of the self, thus the fear of death is vanquished either through many re-incarnations, or the “evidence” from people’s near-death-experiences (NDE).  Transitions from one life form into another are thus good news, but Sire has argued that this view has been placed on “the scales and found wanting”.

The fifth pillar is that reality comes either under an occultic, psychedelic, or relativistic version.  Under the occultic version, one experiences a spirit guide through the use of tarot cards, mediums, crystal balls, etc., for direction in life.  Here, even NA advocates warn of danger if a person is not properly prepared they could invite all kinds of heel into their lives.  Under the psychedelic version, a person takes drugs like LSD in order to experience an altered state of consciousness in order to peer into new realities.  And under the relativistic version, there’s the expression of disjunction between objective and perceived reality where a symbol system of reality is merely substituted for another symbol system (i.e., one vision of reality replaces another vision of reality).

Sire concludes that the New Age has many problems such as their denial of a transcendent God, the self being the measure of reality and thus good and evil vanish.  Also, dabbling in the spirit world with entities can be very dangerous, even landing adherents in a mad ward.  Moreover, the nature of reality and truth end in epistemological nihilism because the self is the measure of all things, not the Creator.  Thus, our experiences derive “meaning” purely arbitrarily without any real grounds.  That’s bad news.         

Summary of Chapter 7: JOURNEY TO THE EAST—EASTERN PANTHEISTIC MONISM (Pgs.118-135)

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            Sire begins by pointing out the disparity of thought that obtains between the West and East and the problems which arise as a result.  Many events, including the Vietnam War, caused many Westerners to look to the East for meaning in life.   This shift of thinking in the West was evidenced by the Hippy movement of the 1960’s.

Eastern thought is both pantheistic and monistic where all is god and God is all, thus the One is Atman and Brahman are true reality.  First, it is held that every soul is the Cosmos where distinctions are eradicated.  Thus, God is each person and each person is God so whatever distinctions appear to be the case, are a mere illusion.

Second, some things are more than others which means that pure being is unity with the One.  Third, many if not all roads lead to the One, thus Hicks view of salvation obtains here.  One can meditate a mandala, chant a mantra, or chant the OM where solitude and silence are necessary.  Here it is where non-rational content has meaning and for one to become one with Atman, it is necessary for the waking, dreaming, sleeping and awakening which result in enlightenment.

The word OM is multifaceted in meaning (Pgs.125-126).

Fourth, one must realize their oneness with the Cosmos in order to pass beyond personality which equals the acquisition of pure being, which is nonconsciousness (Pg.127).

Fifth, realizing one’s oneness with the Cosmos means one has gone past knowledge where the law of non-contradiction does not apply.  Here’s where many Westerners get tripped up and rightly so.

Sixth, oneness means going beyond good and evil.  This view makes it impossible for one to have moral outrage much less a moral position (Pgs.128-129).

Seventh, death terminates the individual but really changes nothing and history is cyclical (See how West must engage East with their W.V.).  At the end of the day, the Eastern mentality denies reality as it truly is, thus evil and good are denied (point out this problem mannishly).  Mostly, the law of non-contradiction must be championed in order to address this position.  

Reflections From PSALM (139): “THOUGHTS ON ME AND GOD—THE SUBJECT/OBJECT DISTINCTION”

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For quite some time, I’ve considered teaching/preaching from this majestic text of Psalm 139 (and have).  The intimacy with which the psalmist experiences God in his omnipotence, omniscience, omnisapience and omnibenevolence is baffling.  The psalmists’ awareness that he can’t hide from the LORD is daunting and soothing.  The former obtains if I’m His enemy, the latter if I’m His child.

As I meditate on this passage what jumps out is the subject/object dynamic between the Creator and the creature.  While obvious from the text, this Creator/creature distinction seems to be increasingly being lost in many of our Christian churches that are vastly man centered when considering reality, rather than God obsessed.

It’s the Biblical worldview alone that demonstrates an intimate relationship between the creator and the creature.  Atheists don’t believe that any such God exists; Monists in any such distinctions; Polytheists don’t believe in any such monotheism; Islam doesn’t believe such intimacy is possible with the Creator but the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is unlike the rest.

Many in Christendom often live like the Atheist to the detriment of God’s gospel in Christ.  This injures the soul because it detaches us from the Designer who alone always knows what’s best for us.

Back to the subject/object distinction where the psalmist uses terms like; you, your, me, my and I, which according to my count these pronouns are used 49 times.  This type of accentuation can’t be overstated for monkeys, crows, lions nor rats, can boast of such a relationship.  Because contra naturalistic notions that we are here by chance accident in time, humans alone have been created in God’s image and said communication is unique to their interaction.  This interplay between the Creator and the creature has been around since Adam and Eve, is awesome in scope and has far reaching ramifications.  Let’s consider the following observations.

First, this is a declaration of humility and praise between the rescued Israelite and His God—the LORD—the covenant name of God where; “I will be their God and they shall be my people” is fleshed out.  This comes from David, the man after God’s own heart who often was a man seeking only his desires (E.g., seen in his interaction with Goliath/Uriah and Abigail/Bathsheba).  Regardless, whatever was good in David’s heart was the result of God’s work in his life which this psalm reveals.

Second, the LORD has qualities that absolutely stupefy the writer.  The LORD does the following: (v.1) searched…known me; (v.2) know when (time) I sit…I rise up, understand my thought from afar; (v.3) scrutinize my path…when I lie down…intimately acquainted…all my ways; (v.4) before a word is on my tongue…Behold…you know it all; (v.5) enclose me behind/before…laid Your hand is upon me; (v.6) such knowledge is too wonderful for me…too high, I cannot attain to it.  Without getting into the minute details of these verses, what is clear is that the LORD knows the psalmist (and me) more intimately than I know myself.  As a result, the writer is utterly humbled, baffled and elated.

Verses 7-18 seem to further explain the wonderment of the psalmist and the gratitude that springs from his soul as he meditates on these wondrous truths of the Creator with whom he is in covenant.  This covenant God of David is committed to assuring his child makes it safely home (v.24)

Third, in light of God’s magnificence the psalmist adores the LORD and thus hates God’s enemies.  He wants them destroyed because the psalmist is God’s friend, he has chosen a side…something everyone does (Vv.19-22).  Did David have a beatific vision?  Did he “see” the God of the covenant such that he grasped the awesomeness of Yahweh?  I think so.  But David does not end his contemplations here with “wipe out Your enemies”, but with, “have mercy on me a sinner…” (Vv.23-24)

Scripture instructs us that in His light we see light.  Once we were aliens and strangers to the covenant and promises of Israel but now as Gentiles have been grafted into the vine who is Christ Jesus the Lord.  David begins the psalm by stating what God has already done, “searched me and known me…(v.1) and now he’s petitioning God to do the same as in past times:

Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts.  And see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way.” (Vv.23-24)

 This seems to be illustrative of Mathew 7:5 where Jesus instructs disciples in the proper way to make judgments: “first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”  First things first…but we tend to neglect this principle.

God knows full well (as the psalmist indicates) that we are too easily inclined to look outward in making judgments rather than inward first, while ignoring the inward maladies of our souls.  David, after asking God to deal with His enemies, asks God to deal with his own sins.  What a model of humility and courage, of insight and resolve, of soberness and action.

The man of God understands that he stands naked before the LORD only by mercy.  He understands that but for God’s mercy, he’d be one of God’s enemies.  This supreme magnificent stupendous author of life desires to be intimate with His people.  As David said, so I state, “such knowledge is too wonderful for me!”

(SDG)

 

Summary Chapter 5: Zero Point_Nihilism

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Chapter 5: ZERO POINT—NIHILISM (Pgs.74-93)

Sire begins this chapter by arguing that nihilism is a denial of ultimate reality and is thus more of a worldview than a philosophy.  This is evident in the artwork produced which denies meaning on the one hand, but possess a structure to it on the other hand, and thus ends refuting itself.  For structure, presupposes meaning, a mind, design, etc.

Nihilism, Sire continues, is the child of naturalism which reduces all of life into chance plus time plus matter.  To make a choice is really illusory for what seems to be “our decision” is actually determined matter in motion.  This means there’s no such thing as free will.  All that exists is unknown determinism masked as chance that cares for no one nor favors anyone.  It just is.  Add to that naturalism’s claim to knowledge which according to Darwin is quite dubious since our brains are only a higher order from monkey’s, who knows if it’s not deceiving us into thinking something illusory?

Nihilism, in light of the aforesaid, commits the; is/ought fallacy, for there’s no outside influence telling us what is right or wrong.  This loss of knowing ushers in a loss of morals, which escorts people into a meaningless life.  Futility thus destroys any sense of real beauty in art and living this worldview consistently often leads one to madness (Pg.93 consider nihilism’s heroes).

Summary of Chapter 4: THE SILENCE OF FINITE SPACE—NATURALISM (Pgs.52-73)

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            According to Sire, Deism is the isthmus between theism and naturalism.  Naturalism affirms that matter is eternal, God does not exist, and the cosmos is in a closed system (I.e., no outside forces can interfere with nature like a “miracle”).  Humans are thus nothing more than complex machines in a “monistic” framework of matter and when death beckons, human identity is forever extinguished.  This position also removes meaning from history (really all of life) and many turn to nihilism (I.e., life is meaningless) as a result.

What ends up happening, is that people become the architects of what meaning in life is; not some extrinsic being.  When this occurs, human beings are the measure of all things, thus ethics and truth become relativized and living out the implications of said state of affairs creates many inconsistencies and practical contradictions such that what is, ought to be.

As architects of what determines meaning, naturalism’s child “secular humanism” affirms human value from a physicalist worldview, but the problem is that one does not get values from the physical world; it comes from an immaterial reality.  Sadly, this problem of contradiction is ignored.

There’s also Marxism, which Sire affirms comes in varied forms be it a democratic or a totalitarian packaged worldview.  Marxism considers the meaning of life from an economic locus where people are mere subjects of their environment (Influenced by philosophers Hegel and Feuerbach).  Marxism’s goal for history is utopian, its’ atheism is reductionist, it loathes capitalism, it fails to factor in human sin, and considers the redistribution of wealth as a virtue.

The fact is humanity is much more than a brain and the desire for meaning and purpose is a relentless issue in life that always pricks the human soul.  Despite its many metaphysical, epistemological and ethical problems, naturalism holds sway for many because it’s viewed as objective and without bias, for it’s always looking for the truth with no “axe to grind”.

Summary of Chapter 3: THE CLOCKWORK: DEISM (Pgs.40-51)

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            Deism according to Sire came about as a response to: internal strife within Christendom; and resulted in a view of reason that trumped any revelation, thus making autonomous human reason the ultimate reference point.

Deism’s God is not personal, but an unknowable architect of the universe, who wound up the creation and left it alone to govern itself.  The major tenets of Deism are:

First, God is utterly transcendent and not personal; second, creation runs itself deterministically; third, while human beings are personal, their decisions are not significant because somehow they are not self-determined; fourth, there’s a denial of the Fall and sin, so what is, ought to be.

Moreover nature tells us what we need to know about God, He does not write books.  He’s a designer but not a lover or judge; fifth, ethics reveals nature so what is ought to be, thus there’s a denial of right and wrong good and bad; sixth, the course of history is linear but predetermined at creation, thus Deist’s are not interested in history for God’s knowledge is had through nature, not any of God’s acts in the past; seventh, there’s a denial of the incarnation.

Interestingly, many religious pluralists hold to many of these tenets not least of which is the denial of the incarnation.