Reflections of a Broken Man

On Vision by StephenMac
May 30, 2009, 1:02 am
Filed under: Reflections

**Currently listening to Franz Ferdinand – Franz Ferdinand… A little peculiar in places (like the current song, Michael), but on the whole, pretty good**

I’m trying out this post by email at the moment, so not sure what the formatting will be like, but anyhow…

Vision is an important thing. Vision in the Gospels was an incredibly important metaphor, as so often it was the blind who could see Jesus so much clearer than those with clear vision. It was the blind who saw Jesus as the Messiah, the Saviour of humanity, our LORD, yet the disciples and the teacher of the law were so blind to this fact. And we are so often the same today. In another sense, vision is so important for ministry: having direction and purpose, goals and strategies. I hate these terms with a passion, because in the secular world they become god, but in the ministry context, they provide focus for getting the Good News about Christ Jesus out there. We need vision in a strategic sense so that those who are blind may see in the spiritual sense.

I’m not a fan of visions, but I must admit, I have been changed so much within the last month by men who have a heart for the gospel, and a vision for seeing it reach the lost. I need the dose of caution though. I think personally, it is so easy for me to see the strategic vision as the ends, and miss the spiritual vision that the strategic seeks to allow. I easily replace the ends with the means…

I have a camp coming up in July: it’s called VISION: Seeing Jesus For Who He Really Is. On it, I hope to excite my brothers and sisters at church that Jesus is King, Messiah and God. I pray that the Holy Spirit will so enflame them about this vision that they will be filled with a heart to seek and serve the lost. This is my vision. As long as this doesn’t become rhetoric, I’ll be OK, but I genuinely fear it…

Vision is about seeing God, seeing his Son, and seeing his people. And vision is about how we help others to do that. I met a man today who has both. And it is very exciting.


On Email by StephenMac
May 27, 2009, 4:13 pm
Filed under: Reflections

They say that you can post from your email client now…

attempting to give a damn

But fun anyhow…

On Game Theory and Evangelism by StephenMac
May 25, 2009, 9:17 pm
Filed under: Reflections | Tags: , , ,

**Currently mellowing to Transatlanticism – DCFC**

So today, I found myself in a conversation that, as it usually does by God’s hand, ends up on the topic of Christian faith and apologetics. It was only semi-planned, but I found myself doing the usual “So how do you know?”

I am beginning to wonder why God has brought me here to college in the first place. A year and a bit, and I still can’t do much more than rant (just now at a more educated level…) But while my ineptness was salvaged by the fact that at least the Gospel was proclaimed (I think…), I began wondering if there is a game theory of evangelism.

Think of this scenario: two robbers pull off a heist. They hide the evidence, but are imageseen coming out of the bank which has just been robbed. The police arrest them, and interrogate them separately. There is only enough evidence to nail them for a minor charge (6 months gaol time). If they both say nothing, they get nailed… 1 year each. However, the police cut a deal: if one of them defects and rats out the other guy, he gets to go free, and the other guy takes the rap (10 years). If they both defect, then they both get 5 years.
The two robbers have to trust each other to get the best scenario for both of them. But the best scenario for the individual is to defect, and hope that the other is a sucker who trusts you.
There is a thing called a “one-shot game”. If you knew that there would be only one game played, and thus no repercussions, would you play differently? Would you, instead of choosing to trust, defect?
This kind of thinking is used to determine behaviour of rational humans, as well as politics and economics.

My thought is this: in evangelism, if you are planning on developing relationships, prisoners dilemmawould you do things differently than if it was a one time conversation? If you knew that you would meet this person again, you would aim to develop relationship, ensure that you said nothing that would inhibit the relationship until you were certain of the strength of the relationship (in game theory terms, you would acquiesce as you knew that there were repercussions). If you knew that this was the one conversation that you would have, you would approach it differently… perhaps say a few more controversial things, perhaps be a bit more forward than you would normally, because you knew that there would be no relational repercussions…

If you were on the proverbial train, being asked the proverbial question “What is Christianity in 30 sec”, would your answer be different to if your best friend asked you the same question?

Question: at what point is evangelism (particularly walk-up/spontaneous evangelism) a one-shot game?


On Sermons by StephenMac
May 25, 2009, 12:04 am
Filed under: Reflections

I preached about two Sundays back.

The Bible shines so much light onto who we are, and how we attempt to run our lives. Pity I couldn’t convey that with the excitement and passion and coherence that Colossians deserves.

You can find it (and others) here. I would love your feedback, your thoughts, your criticisms and your words of prophecy (to borrow another’s phrase).

Oh, and if you want to hear someone who knows what they’re doing, check out duck5.


On “The Defense of the Faith” – Part III: Christian Philosophy by StephenMac

**Currently listening to Transatlanticism – Death Cab for Cutie**

It’s chapters like this that make me cry…

The argument so far: Cornelius van Til was a lecturer in Apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary. After receiving much criticism for his perspectives on “presuppositional apologetics” within the “Reformed Tradition”, he writes “In Defense of the Faith” to settle the issue once for all. Part I of this series looked at the premise of the argument, but highlighted the nature that we are Reformed Christians. Part II argued that for us to do apologetics, we must begin with what we believe: i.e. Doctrine. But not just theism, nor even Christian theism, but Reformed Christian theism is what we believe and what we are defending.

In Part III, we look at philosophy. Apologetics is about evangelism. We want to express our faith to those who don’t believe. Chances are, they won’t understand the “theological” jargon that we use (go figure), so we must speak their language. Now for van Til, this was the educated man (and woman if we must be PC about it), and their language was philosophy. And so we must express our faith using philosophical words, phrases and concepts. Yet, for the most part, philosophers are not Christian, and in using their language and concepts, we are threatened with the possibility of importing non-Christian problems and worldviews into our own worldview. So the challenge for van Til (and us to a point) is to use the language of philosophy, but redefine it for our use.

**DISCLAIMER: Hate philosophy? Do big words and insane concepts send shivers down your spine, make you throw up, cry, want to hang yourself with your small intestine and other involuntary reflexes? Do you find Vogon poetry more palatable? Scroll down to NON-PHILOSOPHY SECTION**

Problem #1: The One and the Many (or the Thing amongst other things)

What’s more important to you: details or the big idea? This problem in philosophy is Cornelius_Van_Tilunderstanding how we can understand the immense amount of data around us. In philosophical terms, what is the relationship between the universal(the big idea – the Thing) and the particular (the detail – things). The problem for philosophers is that if there is no relationship between the universal and the particular. If there are only particulars, then all we are left with is independent things. We could never understand them, because each thing is unique and there would be no way of describing it or  conveying information about it. You could never talk about a “car” because each individual “car” is unique and independent and has no relation to any other “car”. We are left with an “abstract particular”.
The use of the word “car” illustrates a universal. If there are only “universals” or big ideas, then again, we would never be able to understand the world around us. Try, for example, describing to someone what you did today using only the word “thing” in place of every noun (or if you are feeling adventurous, replace every adjective with “thingish” and every verb with variations on “thinged”):

Hey thing, thing thinged at the thing, thing was thingy thing, but thing thingingly thinged against the thing, and thing thinged.
(yes… I know, “was” can technically be a verb, but pfft…)

This is the problem of the universal. By abstracting everything further out, til all we are left with is “being” (a rose is a flower is a plant is a living organism is a being): we have the abstract universal.

To stop the world from collapsing into oblivion (or meaninglessness… or an Arts degree if you think about it…) philosophers created the concrete universal. No-one is exactly sure what this entails, but it just stops the world from ending.

Enter van Til and Christian philosophy: First, we begin with the eternal one-and-the-many, and the temporal one-and-the-many. We enter the one-and-the-many debate with God, who is central to the Christian worldview. In God, the one and the many are equally ultimate. The universal conception of God and the particular conception of God are equally important. In English, this means that when we talk about God, we cannot talk about the Trinity as being more or less real than God’s unity or oneness. In other words:

In his being, God exists as God and also as three persons, and neither is more real than the other. His attributes are co-extensive with his being — that is, if you could understand any one attribute fully, you would understand God fully. He isn’t chopped up into love bits and justice bits and wisdom bits — they’re all intertwined.
(Thanks Pat!)

van Til points out that many of the heresies in Church history have come about from misunderstanding this point, emphasising one over the other, or “subordinating” one to the other. In philosophical terms, God is a real concrete universal. In God, there are no particular details about God that have no relation to the overall picture of God, and likewise, there is nothing universal about God that is not expressed in the particular details of God.Defense_of_the_Faith

The temporal one and the many is the created universe. It was created by God, created out of nothing and created into nothing. In other words, “before” the creation of everything, there was not God and “not-God”, but only God (kinda bends the mind…). Anyhow, the created things were placed in order and in relation to the created Thing. The Thing”, the universals, are the generalisations about the order that God has used to arrange the things, the particulars. The “laws of nature”, “the laws of science” blah blah blah are merely the generalisations of how God has ordered creation. Hence, should God choose to place certain things in a different order, he could: and *bang* we have miracles. In the presence of God, the things and the Thing are equal, the one and the many are equally real. Yet, there is a subordination of the things to the Thing, as created by God. van Til argues that there is a subordination of certain “laws”:
mechanical (the way things work or cause/effect) >>> teleological (why things work or purpose). So miracles are explained by God rearranging facts and placing them in the order that conforms to the teleological, rather than the mechanical (or something like that…).

van Til then points out that this conception of reality is placed within God’s plan to deal with the problem of sin. Sin has affected the ordering of the temporal one-and-the-many, and so God’s plan for salvation centred on the redemptive work of Christ is in fact the re-ordering of the world: its the re-establishment of the order of the temporal one-and-the-many, it is regeneration, the renewal of all things.


For van Til, apologetics was to the educated, more specifically, the philosophically educated (poor, sad people that they are: myself included now I guess). But the principle must remain the same, when we evangelise, when we do apologetics, we must be grounded in the Reformed Theology, but we also must speak their language. And so apologetics is the discipline of translation. We must be able to use their language, be on guard against importing non-Biblical, non-Reformed ideas into our language, and thus distorting the message that we proclaim.

*my brain hurts…*


On “The Defense of the Faith” – Part II: Christian Theology by StephenMac

**Currently listening to Never Take Friendship Personal – Anberlin. I finally brought all my CDs from home in to college, but still can’t go past the favs…**

OK, poor start to the series. I labelled the first post “Part I”, but van Til labels it a mere introduction. Hence, “Part II” is actually chapter 1… go figure.

van Til argues that to understand his apologetics, you must understand “the structure of his thought”… which is the Reformed system of doctrine. And so we begin with the six points of reformed Doctrine:

  1. Doctrine of God
  2. Doctrine of Man
  3. Doctrine of Christ
  4. Doctrine of Salvation
  5. Doctrine of Church
  6. Doctrine of Last Things (eschatology… but Last Thingy sounds better)

**Switch in music… Lost in the Sounds of Separation – Underoath… was planning on podcasts with Earng and Gardner, but too difficult to listen and type at the same time**

I think what has struck me is that to be involved in apologetics, you need to know what you are defending. And as van Til points out, we are defending “Christian-theism as a unit”. What this means is that if you are doing walk-up, you must speak of the Christian God, and not god in general. To an atheist, you must speak to him of the Christian God. van Til’s point is that you can’t defend Christianity (the historical religion) apart from Christian theism (which involves philosophical discussion).

This Christian theism is known as “doctrine”. And van Til argues that to speak of doctrine, you must speak in the language of philosophy. Yet this language is not divorced from the Bible (it is not an appeal to reason or experience), but is deeply Defense_of_the_Faithgrounded in it. Therefore, this system of truth, this Christian theism, this doctrine is what Christianity is founded upon, and it is this that we present, and it is this that we defend.

This feels esoteric at the moment. But, think about when you do walk-up. What questions do you ask, and what points do you defend? What words, or concepts, or worldviews do you present. If you are talking to an atheist, you cannot use theistic arguments to first convince them of the existence of God, then move to the reformed view of salvation. No, your first and only argument is the reformed view of the existence of God, and the the reformed view of salvation: our first and only apologetic must be the reformed Christian apologetic, which van Til points out is in opposition to Romanist and Arminian apologetics.

This I still feel somewhat uneasy with, if only for the labels. To defend a reformed or evangelical doctrine (which I do in practice) is fine, but to label it that means that I am automatically emphasising a division in Christianity. That division does truly exist (doesn’t mean I have to like it though).

Second, I think we need to be conscious about our reformed evangelical faith. We are not merely Christian, but Reformed Evangelical Christians, bound to the Scriptures, but influenced by those who have gone before us like Luther, like Calvin, and like van Til. And so as we do our evangelism, our teaching, our encouraging and growing, we hold  must hold that we are doing this in the Reformed Tradition. Sure, “tradition” is a pejorative word that the reformers held against the Romanists, yet it is what we hold to be true.

Thirdly and finally, van Til argues,

it is shown first that it is the Reformed Faith, not some common denominator “core” of Christianity, that must be defended. (p. 43)

What does this mean for its authority? Sure, van Til argues that this Reformed Faith is biblically based, but is it infallible or inerrant (despite the problems of those terms). I hold the Bible is unswervingly and always true, my yardstick for any question of “truth”. But can I say the same about the “Reformed Faith”? I hold it to be true, but is that a mere mortals interpretation? Or does it too have the same authority? My guess is probably not, but it’s the best we got so far… “but I could be wrong…


On “the Defense of the Faith” – Part I: An Introduction by StephenMac

**Currently listening to Champagne from a Paper Cup – Death Cab for Cutie**

So I thought it time that I blog something productive. I’m currently reading The Defense of the Faith by Cornelius van Til. This series will hopefully become a summary and reflection on the ideas that are raised by van Til.

The first thing to note is that this book is a polemic. As the title suggests, it is a defensive response by van Til to critics of his work. However, it was both eye-opening and interesting to read that what van Til is defending is the “reformed” faith, and not the faith in general. So often in today’s apologetics, and evangelism, we think of bringing people to faith in Christ, but usually in general “Christianity” terms. When we chat about Christ, we may speak in reformed terms, but rarely are we conscious of it. I have never considered myself as “reformed” (by this, I mean that I am never consciously thinking of myself by that label, though I am wholeheartedly reformed in my theology), but van Til’s book raises the point that the reformed faith is what we should stand up for. For example, when we evangelise, we evangelise people into the reformed faith, and not some other form of the Christian faith. How often are we conscious of this?

Second idea in the first chapter is that van Til is very conscious of using secular philosophical terms and redefining them. We’ll discuss this further next time, but I was interested to see that most of the criticism that was levelled against van Til was because he describes himself as doing reformed faith apologetics, or for using secular philosophical terms with Christian meanings.

It is with these two themes in mind that van Til writes. Part II discusses the “reformed” theology, and how this forms the basis for apologetics.


On Direction and Purpose by StephenMac
May 1, 2009, 9:05 pm
Filed under: Reflections

**Currently listening to The Created Void – Underoath**

I have been reading Katay’s posts on “If I ran the diocese I’d…”. It’s been quite an interesting thought exercise, and the most recent one on college has really hit home for one reason or another. I think that in short, I was selfishly looking for answers to my own questions, and seemingly frustrated when others didn’t psychically answer them: go figure…

In short, I’m lacking direction and purpose while at college.

I came to college, adamant that full-time paid ministry wasn’t my thing, that I would remain an academic in some institution somewhere, churning out paper after paper, dealing with questioning students, and hopefully using that platform for furthering the Gospel. Lay ministry held my attraction: preaching from the front without having to deal with any of the pastoral things that tie ministers down.

I can no longer live that fantasy anymore. Coming to college has changed me in a short space of time. The Gospel of Jesus Christ needs to go out, and the workers are few.

My (perceived – possibly imagined) problem is this: my age. I am somewhat younger than most people at college. In my interview, they hinted that if I wanted to pursue SP0003723Lcandidacy, that it might be an issue. And at the time, I was fine with that. But now, bitten by the ministry bug, I don’t think that I can use my age as an excuse anymore, but I don’t know if that’s a barrier to the powers that be.

I see that God has brought me here for a purpose. I see myself (somewhat arrogantly) as perhaps uniquely crafted for a job, being young, being single, being educated, gifted in certain areas. I am a product of my experiences, in which I see God’s hand at every turn. (I am also in need of a decent dose of humility, of which I am sure that God will sort out soon enough too). I make no claim on these things: they are not intrinsically me, nor mine, but gifts of the God who has lovingly crafted me to carry out his purpose and will. (Eph. 2:10 (CSV)For we are His creation—created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them.)

But my point is, that I feel that I have been brought here for a purpose, a reason, a reason that was different from my own ideas and purposes, and which I am now blind to. I don’t know where I am going with this. I know that God’s has in under control, I know that he is working out his plan, I know that doors will open and close depending on where God wants me. But from my side of things, I am purposeless, and directionless.

I am used to hiding behind my age, my immaturity, whatever, to “keep my options open”. But while my previous (self-centred) purposes have been shot to pieces, I have nothing to replace it with. And I can no longer hide behind excuses anymore. So where am I?

Maturity, I am told, is being able to commit. My generation is notorious for not being able to do so. I see candidacy at the moment as something that is a commitment, not to something new (I know that I will end up in full time ministry at some point in the future), but it whether I can commit myself to something, to set it in stone, to break with my generation and lock myself in for something long-term.

I finally got an answer: someone psychically knew what I was asking… There are rectors who do graduate at 26, and lead congregations by 31. I now need to commit to something.

And this is direction (the end point) and purpose (the reason for going there).