Thinking Things Through
The Academy for Christian Thought
Bulletin #1 - March 2005
What we look forward to in 2005
Paideia Bible Studies for international students and scholars will reflect the Old Testament theme with a global perspective, asking after the relevance of the Hebrew-Jewish-Israelite experience for a universal faith. These studies engage contemporary issues prevalent on the campus and workplace.
The completion of the first full year of Project Timothy. This novel approach to a close reading of the Scriptures in community guided by lectures in theology, biblical history and philosophy provides a strong foundation to understand the Bible. Forming Prayer Triplets for accountability, each participant learns to use biblical tools such as concordances, commentaries and historical atlases and formulate their apologetic and missional thoughts responsibly. In having to offer a testimony to be critiqued by the group, each member has to rethink what it means to be a witness. I am assisted by two able tutors who are former PT graduates, Vivek Mathew and Gene Yuan.
The Areopagus Seminars for 2005 feature studies in Christianity and World Religions as well as Science and Theology. The 30 titles of ACT manuals are now available for purchase online. We began the year with a survey of the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds titled “What Christians Really Believe”. I spoke on the significance of a creedal faith in a relativistic world. The Scriptures serve as an anchor for the church and provide a peerless measure of confessional stability. This speaks against the charge that Christianity is what Christians practise. The February seminar was “Quest for the Christian Mind”, a survey of the 3 Cs of Christian belief - convictional commitment to the confession - that Christ is God and Lord. The next seminar is an introduction to the 1947 discovery of the “Dead Sea Scrolls” and its implications for Christianity.
The Kairos Lectures in Systematic Theology have generated requests for recordings. (see next point). In the first quarter, I examined the twin doctrines of creation and providence, topics which are crucial for our understanding of theology in a postmodern scientific world. Then we considered the doctrine of man, exploring what it means to be made in the image of God and how this can address the life sciences. Next, we will cover the Bible’s historical role in shaping the Church, including a survey of the Lost and the Banned Books.
In this Bulletin, I would like to explain why we ought to be interested in apologetics (the art of giving a reasoned defense of what we believe). In the early Christian church, apologetics was the first duty of every Christian. Without it, the church as we know it would not have arisen and much of what we take for granted as ‘gospel truth’ would be nothing but blind faith.
Let me begin with a defense of the doctrine of the Trinity, the foundation of the Christian faith. Do Christians worship one god or three gods? Both options are incorrect. We worship the god who is one! The maker of heaven and earth, who spoke to Adam and Eve, saved Noah and his family, called Abram out of Mesopotamia, named Jacob Israel, called Moses to lead the Hebrews out of Egypt, and who guided Joshua into Canaan, is the God who is one and, not one god. The shema in Deuteronomy 6:4 [Hear O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is one ] and James 2:19 [You believe that God is one; you do well...] refer not to one God but God who is one. Christianity is not a monotheistic faith. It is a trinitarian faith. We have become theologically corrupted by well-meaning but biblically-challenged worship songs which have become a major source of our biblical knowledge, so we sing “The Lord our God is One Lord”, suggesting that we worship one God rather than the God who is one. But who can understand this mathematical conundrum? It is easier to say that we worship one God expressed in three forms rather than a unitary of three gods. Yet this has no biblical warrant. It is just a cop-out. We should be bold enough to say that God revealed in the Scriptures as the Father, the Son and the Spirit are titles describing the three distinct persons of the trinitarian godhead, for which any attempt at mathematical formulation will collapse. What they have in common is the same will. This we need not wonder about or guess at - they do not contradict each other. It is this character of God which makes our Lord one. In every other respect we do not have a biblical description of a singular god.
We conclude that our God is one, Father, Son and Spirit. While we testify to God’s singular and unified will, we cannot and need not explain either to the satisfaction of history, philosophy or science, any verification of just such a claim. All three fields of inquiry are limited by the powers of human perception. As a metaphysical claim, it is beyond the competence of human inquiry to devise a test, and if a test exists, no one can understand or even recognize it. The non-verifiability of doctrines is the consequence not of theological weakness but of the limits of human inquiry. In this apologetic, we use philosophy to keep both scientific and theological claims honest. The nature of scientific inquiry is to observe, ponder and explain natural phenomena by inference to the best explanation (IBE). It offers descriptive rather than truth statements. This is why progress in science, replacing wrong knowledge with better but not necessarily correct knowledge, is an acceptable practice. Theological doctrines however, are not observational approximations by inference. Rather, they are truth claims and may not be fully understood even by the messenger, since such claims are revelatory and not inferential. Science discovers what God discloses. Theology reflects on what God reveals. Philosophy keeps both of them honest. However, responsible doctrinal effort always takes into account the inferences of the sciences, the imagination of the arts, and the poetic expressions of literature as it reflects theologically. A complete theological construct of reality engages every sphere of human culture because that is the way we know knowledge about anything. We ask how this insight from revelation that God is triune helps us better understand the worlds of the natural sciences, the fine arts, literature, history, philosophy, the business world, economics, politics and “the man on the Clapham Omnibus” (man in the street). At the very least, it distinguishes the Christian faith from both Judaism and Islam. That God is trinitarian allows for a divine judge, redeemer, and comforter. That God is creator answers the question of origins. That God loves and judges answer the questions of ethics. No philosophy or religion offers such a comprehensive worldview.
In my next Bulletin, I shall examine the rejection of the virgin conception which led to the birth of Jesus, our Lord. This leads to two heresies, Docetism and Ebionism. The first is the teaching that Jesus is divine and cannot be fully human while the second is the claim that Jesus is a great human but not divine. One easy way to remember the difference is that just as D comes before E (Docetism before Ebionism), so the heresy about Jesus’ humanity comes before the rejection of Jesus’ divinity. The issue at stake is whether Jesus, if he was indeed fully human and male at that, had a Y-chromosome, which all human males possess? If he does not have a Y-chromosome, he is not fully human male. If he has a Y-chromosome, where in the world did he get it from? The only possible answer is that he got it at conception by the power of the Holy Spirit. All other human males received from paternity of another human but Jesus in this case, did not. Is this a serious argument against the doctrine of Christology, that Jesus is both God and man? While this may seem a flippant attack on Christianity, be assured that at biology classes all over the world, millions of Christian students who accept the doctrinal teaching of the Church begins to wonder when they come to Genetics 101.
Until the next Bulletin, may the grace of the Lord be your peace, Ron Choong