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Barack ObamaIn case you didn’t know, the time of year formerly known as June is now Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month. The president himself has said it, so it must be true. The White House proclamation announcing this momentous change reads in part,

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in my by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim June 2015 as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month. I call upon the people of the United States to eliminate prejudice everywhere it exists, and to celebrate the great diversity of the American people.

Americans have a long history of ignoring the proclamations of various and sundry potentates, but this time the whole country seems willing to bear any burden to carry out the president’s call to stamp out prejudice and celebrate diversity. As proof, consider the following stories circulating in the mainstream press at this very moment:

  • The Boy Scouts of America: After a long and successful court battle against the homosexual lobby, the leadership of the Boy Scouts of America is working overtime to bring the organization’s values in line with the spirit of the times. To this end, Boy Scouts president Robert Gates recently called for a reversal of the group’s policy of banning gay scout leaders. Gates exposed himself as an ethical relativist when he was quoted saying, “We must deal with the world as it is, not as we might wish it to be.”
  • WNBA Players’ Arrest/Gay Wedding/Baby Announcement/Annulment: Brittney Griner and Glory Johnson, two star players in the WNBA, celebrated diversity by over a period of six weeks by successively getting themselves both arrested on charges of domestic violence, going through with their planned wedding anyway, announcing a baby, and then annulling the wedding. We are truly thankful for the fine example Brittney Griner and Glory Johnson have set for us. Doubtless, their actions will go far toward eliminating irrational prejudice against gay marriage.
  • Bruce Jenner: Jenner
    once competed against world class athletes, famously winning a gold medal in the decathlon at the 1976 Montreal Summer Olympic. Jenner now competes with the Kardashian sisters, fighting it out with them to see who can garner the trashiest tabloid headlines. Yes, Bruce has now become Caitlyn, without a doubt both the highest profile transgender person to date and a great encouragement to others seeking to follow in his twisted footsteps.

Needless to say, if you find any of these items freakish, outrageous, ill-advised, or immoral, you, my friend, are an impediment to moral progress. A benighted blockhead bitterly clinging to your guns and religion, a fellow badly in need of enlightenment. And as several Christian bakers and wedding photographers have found out, God forbid if you dare act on your beliefs. You will find the full force of the law crashing down upon your head to the cheers of the Social Justice Warriors.

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The Arrogance of Rehoboam, circa 1530.  Hans Holbein the Younger.

The Arrogance of Rehoboam, circa 1530. Hans Holbein the Younger.

“Nothing is completely worthless,” or so the saying goes, “it can always serve as a bad example.” I’ve always liked this old saw and have found it oddly comforting. In my own life, God has used my sins and to teach me some painful, negative lessons, which to this day I remember. But negative lessons are not unique to me. In fact, chastening from God is the common experience of Christians, for the author of Hebrews tells us that without chastening, we are illegitimate children and not sons.

But our opportunity to learn negative lessons is not limited to our own experience. God is a gracious God. It would be enough for him to provide us with bare commandments on how we ought to live, or just enough of the Gospel to be saved. But that’s not what he did. He gave us a whole library of 66 books, in which are found, not only his commandments, but example after example of what happens to those who heed his voice as well as to those who disobey.

Today, I’d like to focus on two negative examples found in I Kings 12-14. In particular, I would like to draw the reader’s attention to the examples of Rehoboam king of Judah, Jeroboam king of Israel. Both individuals were in a position of great responsibility, both brought upon themselves the judgment of God by their own poor decision making, which in both cases was the result of their failure to take their ideas from the correct source.

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philosophy_dictionaryMy previous posts in this series were intended as a survey of what the Bible has to say about the four main disciplines of philosophy: epistemology (the theory of knowledge, metaphysics (the theory of reality), ethics (the theory of conduct), and politics (the theory of government). The structure and ideas contained in this series are taken from the tract What is Christian Philosophy? written by John Robbins and published by The Trinity Foundation.

These posts were written with three goals in mind. First, to lay my philosophical cards on the table. Since my purpose in writing this blog has always been to articulate the Scripturalism of Gordon Clark and John Robbins, it seemed good to set forth the basic assumptions of this system as clearly as I possibly could.

Second, it has been my hope to show the importance of systematic thinking. Systematic thinking is not popular today. That the world should passionately embrace irrationalism is not surprising. But the hostility toward logical thought in the professing church is alarming. Christ is the logos, the logic, of God. And those who bear his name, those who have the mind of Christ, of all people should have respect for sound thinking.

My third goal with this series has been to make philosophy accessible. Often people are turned off from philosophy, because they think they cannot understand it. Much of this is the fault of the philosophers themselves. If you are in that camp, I understand. In spite of my best efforts, I never understood philosophy until I started reading John Robbins. He was possessed of remarkable ability to take ideas that in the hands of other authors were all but impenetrable and make them clear. It has been my goal to do the same for others.

To close out this series, I have summarized my previous posts on Christian philosophy below.

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PoliticsSo far in this series on Christian philosophy, we have looked at three of the four major philosophic disciplines. First was epistemology, the theory of knowledge. It answers the question, How do you know? Second came metaphysics, the theory of reality. For those who have not previously studied philosophy, these terms may seem a bit strange or intimidating. Ethics, the theory of conduct, was third. Ethics is a more familiar term for us. It answers the question, What ought we to do ?

This post will address the disciple on politics. Politics is the theory of government. As you may suppose, there are many different views on government. Men differ on the origin of government – is it a natural institution?; does it arise from the consent of the governed? – the proper scope of government – should government be minimal or involve itself in every area of one’s life? – and what form of government – democracy, republic, or monarchy – is ideal.

The Origin of Government

In his book A Christian View of Men and Things, Gordon Clark raised the question, “How does a government get, not the power, but the right to coerce its people?” This may seem like a strange question to many people. For the most part, folks accept the existence of government in much the same way they accept the fact that the sun rises in the east, or the grass is green, or the sky is blue. But this is an important question. For if government cannot be justified in any form, there is no use in discussing its proper scope or form.

Historically, there have been several answers to Clark’s question. Aristotle, for example, believed that government was a natural institution. In one of his lectures on philosophy, John Robbins described Aristotle’s view thus, “People grow into states the way that acorns grow into oak trees.” Another view is the social compact theory: governments derive their coercive authority form the consent of the governed. Still another view is that government is power. This was the view of historian Oswald Spengler, who held that, “Great statesmen like Caesar or Napoleon act immediately on the basis of a flair for facts. Their action is not sicklied o’er by the pale cast of thought. If indeed ther ar any general principles of politics, they never enter the heads of great men” (Clark, A Christian View of Men and Things, 95). These views of government, diverse as they are, all have one important element in common: God, the God of the Bible, does not matter in any of them.

Christian political theory rejects all these answers to the origin of government. The Bible teaches us, in the words of Gordon Clark, that, “The existence of the state is a partial punishment and cure for sin” (A Christian View of Men and Things, 100). Government bears the power of the sword, the power of coercion, in response to man’s sin. Proof of this can be seen in Genesis 3:24, which reads, “So He drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.”
Civil government was not a natural institution, it was not part of the original created order, it came about after the fall of Adam. Writing in Romans 13 about the civil magistrate, Paul makes this same point where he tells us, “[H]e does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.”

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Dictionary definition of the word

Throughout this series on Christian philosophy, it has been my argument that Christianity is a system of ideas thought out together. Christianity is not the only system of thought, it is not the only worldview. Marxism, for example, is a systematic attempt to provide a comprehensive worldview. On the other hand, Christianity is unique in that it is God’s revealed system of thought. it is truth itself. Paul’s statement, “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, not have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love him” (I Corinthians 2:9), is a denial that man can discover truth on his own.

Throughout the course of history, men, brilliant men such as Plato and Aristotle, have argued that man can too discover truth by his own efforts. Secular epistemology – epistemology is logically the first discipline of philosophy, it is the theory of knowledge answering the question “How do you know?” – comes in one of two forms. Rationalism (Plato) tells us that men can know truth from ideas they come up with in their own minds. Empiricism (Aristotle) argues that man can know truth by observing things. Our senses, say the empiricists, furnish us with knowledge. Christianity, on the other hand, argues that truth, all truth, is graciously revealed by God to men, that men do not discover truth on their own, that the so-called wisdom men claim to have found by their own efforts is, in reality, foolishness.

One’s view of metaphysics – metaphysics is the theory of reality – depends upon his epistemology. Since we live in an age in which empirical epistemology is dominant, it is not surprising that people believe that matter, physical stuff, is the ultimate reality. Carl Sagan gave voice to this idea when he wrote, “The cosmos is all that is or was or ever will be.” But as John Robbins wrote in his tract What is Christian Philosophy?, Christian metaphysics, which is based upon a Christian theory of knowledge, speaks in this way, “in God, not matter, we live and move and have our being.” The universe is not eternal, but created Not independent, but upheld by God. Not evolving to perfection, but advancing in its decay.

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Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1771.

Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1771.

My earlier post In Praise of Karl Marx makes the point that Christians can take one positive lesson from Marx’ work: the power of systematic thought. Marx was a thoroughgoing atheist, and both he and his followers consistently applied atheism to all fields of study, creating a well-developed all-around view of the world. Systematic thought is powerful and impressive. One idea is related to and supports another, in much the same way the flying buttresses support a majestic gothic cathedral. This is true, even if the system itself is badly flawed.

Of all people, Christians should be the most systematic thinkers, for we have the systematic, non contradictory truth of God’s Word revealed to us in the 66 books of the Bible. From the express statements and necessary implications of Scripture, we are able to develop a coherent, complete, systematic worldview. The apostle Paul tells us that the Scriptures make the man of God complete, thoroughly equipping him for every good work. This includes the good work of developing a systematic, Christian view of the world.

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Raphael's The School of Athens, depicting Plato and Aristotle.

Raphael’s The School of Athens, depicting Plato and Aristotle.

Last week I mentioned one positive lesson Christians can take from Karl Marx. That may seem like a strange statement at first blush. After all, Marx was an atheist, a collectivist, and a violent revolutionary. Hardly the sort of fellow a Christian should look to for philosophical guidance. And yet, there is one aspect of his program that does recommend itself to the Christian: he was a systematic thinker. He didn’t randomly throw ideas together, but sought to develop a unified worldview based on certain philosophic principles. Systematic thinking, systematic philosophy, has tremendous power. So much so, that even an evil system of thought such as Marxism can take the world by storm.

Christianity also is a system of thought. But unlike Marxism, or Kantianism, or Objectivism, or any other system developed by man – what the apostle Paul deemed “the wisdom of this world” – Christianity is a revealed system of thought. One could even call it a revealed system of truth. For Christianity reveals the mind of God, the truth that comes from God, in every area of intellectual inquiry.

But even though Bible-believing Christians would be the first to defend the Word of God as inspired, inerrant and infallible, too often their thinking, and thus their practice, betrays a certain amount of inconsistency. The Bible, in the view of many Christians, is good for learning about God, sin, and salvation in Christ. But when it comes to questions of philosophy, well, the Christian will have to go to the experts. This always means the secular philosophers.

Thomas Aquinas is the ultimate example of this approach. In his case, he attempted to combine revealed ideas from the Bible with the empirical philosophy of the pagan philosopher Aristotle. The resulting system called Thomism is now the official philosophy of the Roman Catholic Church-State. It is also, unfortunately, the philosophical system of many Evangelicals. Well known evangelicals such as R.C. Sproul and Norman Giesler both espouse Thomism. And while Aristotle and Aquinas were brilliant men, neither one’s system of thought was Christian. By following Aquinas, these Evangelicals unknowingly undercut their Christian witness.

In one of his lectures on philosophy, John Robbins made the point that a major weakness of the Reformation was the fact that it never produced a systematic philosopher. That is, no one, at least in any coherent way, ever attempted to apply Scripture to the problems of philosophy. That is, no one until Gordon Clark. With Clark’s work, Christians for the first time were furnished with a Biblical system of thought capable of meeting and defeating all rivals in all fields of intellectual endeavor. In some ways, it is hard to believe that it took so long for this to happen. Yet happen it finally did. And as Christians we can take great delight in this. My goal in this and in the next few posts will be to summarize the basic ideas of Christian philosophy using John Robbins tract What is Christian Philosophy? as my guide.

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