Reflections of a Broken Man

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 Sin by StephenMac
April 23, 2009, 11:58 pm
Filed under: Reflections | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

*Currently listening to Lost in the Sounds of Separation – by Underoath*

I’m currently reading Tim Keller’s The Reason for God. Heard of it? You have now, and there is no excuse to not go and get it! Do it! Right now! Stop reading this and start reading his book!

Anyhow, the reason it is so good is that Keller seeks to answer the most common objections to faith, seek to really understand the barriers, and then present the clearest cases for God. Again, we’re not just talking about the random impersonal force god, but the God of the Bible. But, in doing so, he makes it so easy to understand. For a Christian, it’s a fantastic way to better understand what you believe and have placed your faith in, but if you don’t know Jesus, can I please please please ask you to read this book, because Keller tries to understand where you are coming from, and respectfully show you that there is a real, rational, personal reason for God.

But what struck me most this afternoon was the definition of sin that he provides. Sin is such an awful word, conjuring up all sorts of images and feelings. But I think this helps: “Sin is the despairing refusal to fin your deepest identity in your relationship and service to God. Sin is seeking to become oneself, to get an identity, apart from him.


What this means is that you have a God-shaped hole in your life. Don’t deny it, it’s there. You have that void, that nothing seems to fill. You try sport, achievements, career, relationships, sex, drugs, parties, alcohol, church, family, bible-studies, altruistic societies. All of these things, they may be good in their place, but they won’t fit in that God-shaped hole in your life. Sin is trying to fill that void with things other than God.

Our problem today is that many of us don’t know what to put in that void, and we turn inward, despairing and melancholic. Where is your identity? Is it in the things of this world, the things that grow one day and fade the next? Is you hope and certainty in things that are transitory and passing? Or is your hope in the Eternal God who created you?


On Video by StephenMac

Good news everyone!

Underoath have released a video for “Too Bright to See Too Loud to Hear”.

I love this song, best song on the album. I’ve blogged this song before, but I thought it time to reflect on it.

“I originally wrote the music without intending it to be a quote-unquote accessible song,” McTague says of the memorable soundscape. “It was a slow paced, slowed down jam-out song. We were actually out to dinner one day out by our practice space and Aaron pulled out his iPhone and he was thinking about that song and he said, ‘I wrote these lyrics’. And what he wrote was so meaningful. It was this huge statement.”

Citing the lyric “Good God if your song leaves our lips / if your work leaves our hands / then we will be wanderers and vagabonds,” the guitarist continues, “Our band has always been this Christian band and we’ve always been open about what we believe in, but there comes a certain point where a lot of the messages in our songs are very ambiguous. And that was so bold and straight up, talking about how we’re all people but without purpose we can feel lost.” (h/t here)

It’s so good to go to the original source and find out what they really mean rather than speculate on meanings… I had originally thought that that when they said “your work leaves our hands” they meant as in going out from them, as in proclaiming God, yet I am glad to see that it in fact means the complete opposite, and I’m struck by the powerful image of pointlessness and despair that we have should we abandon the one who gives us meaning.

McTague says of the concluding song (Desolate Earth :: The End is Here):

“Being lost, searching for answers and finding hope, we really felt like it summed up the whole record.”

It seems as though hope is a central theme, and the resounding answer is that it can only be found in God. But not just the theistic conceptions of God, not “God” in general, but the God of the Bible, the Father of Jesus Christ. To make sense of Underoath’s lyrics, you must understand that their world view is based on the work and the person of Jesus Christ.

Hope can only be found in Him. Underoath’s call is to find that hope in Jesus. Listen to the rest of the album. They paint for you an image of what a godless world would look like. Listen to “Emergency Broadcast :: The End is Near” (second favourite song on the album).

At the end of it all
We will be sold for parts
We will try to rebuild
But we ate it all away
All ambitions now run dry
Someone stop this thing, turn it off
In search of new life
Nothing will be left to walk this earth again
Turn it off
Our hopes and dreams
Will be swallowed
We always said it wouldn’t end up like this
We will be the new ice age
We will be the new plague
Disguised as a colony
We will wipe them all away
Feast your eyes
Or just rip ‘em out
This is it for us
It’s time to panic
We always said it wouldn’t end
It wouldn’t end up like this
We are the cancer
We are the virus
Tell me it’s not too late

Spencer Chamberlain, the main vocalist of Underoath, says this about the two songs:

WTL!: What’s the connection between “Emergency Broadcast… The End is Near” and “Desolate Earth… The End if Here”?

Spencer: They’re both songs that are just kind of referring to the end of the world, like not really songs about “the end of the world”, but when you’re going through something and you think “This is terrible, this is the worst ever! It’s the end of the world!”, that’s why they’re so visually inspired by real end of times, inner struggles, demons, those dark, sad places you find yourself in.

Underoath know what it is that many of their listeners are going through. They know that society demands of them an identity, and yet there is none to be found. Who are you? Why are you here? Don’t be fooled by these simple questions: they are the most important questions for all of us. The answer is not what “we are of our own making” or “I am whoever I want to be” – we see where that leads us:

We always said it wouldn’t end
It wouldn’t end up like this
We are the cancer
We are the virus

The answer is only found in Jesus Christ. To divide Underoath’s lyrics from Jesus is to completely misunderstand them and to miss the point entirely.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. According to His great mercy, He has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, uncorrupted, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by God’s power through faith for a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.
1 Peter 1:3-5 (CSB)


On Call by StephenMac
March 25, 2009, 10:38 pm
Filed under: Reflections | Tags: , , , , , , ,

**Currently listening to On Call – Kings of Leon**

She said call me now baby, and I’d come a running.
She said call me now baby, and I’d come a running.
If you’d call me now, baby then I’d come a running.
I’m on call, to be there.
One and all, to be there.
And When I fall, to pieces.
Lord you know, I’ll be there waiting.
To be there.
To be there.
I’m on call, to be there.
One and all, to be there.
And When I fall, to pieces.
Lord you know, I’ll be there waiting.
I’m gon’ brawl, so be there.
One for all, I’ll be there.
And when they fall, to pieces.
Lord you know, I’ll be there laughing.
I’d come a running.
I’d come a running.
I’d come a running.
To be there.
To be there.
I’m on call, to be there.
I’m on call, to be there.
I’m on call, to be there.
I’m on call, to be there.

There is something to be said for being “on call”. As a Christian, there are often pastoral situations where we will have to “be there” for those who depend on our MPj04330860000[1]support. For those who are hurting, for those who want someone to talk to, for those who are struggling with sin, and those who are complacent, we are “on call to be there”.

I think the biggest challenge is setting aside time for others. Being there for others requires being interrupted in what we are doing, and to focus on another. It has, at it’s heart, selflessness. This was part of Jesus’ ministry too. So often, he would be moving from one place to another, teaching as he went, only to be interrupted by one person or another, begging him to heal this person, fix that ailment, visit this house, have lunch with that person, answer the various demands and traps of those who hated him. The ministry of Jesus was an interrupted ministry, because he was constantly on call, because he was constantly there for those who needed him.

And because we’re “on call, to be there” for those around us, a significant part will be prayer. This is what I struggle with the most, and yet, it is probably the most important thing we can do to show that we are there for others. Currently, there are people around me who are hurting, who are struggling, who are confused, or saddened, or stressed, any number of ailments of this age. If I’m “on call”, then there needs to be an attitude change of “let me fix the problem” (which I can’t do) to “let me pray for you” (where God can fix the problem).

I wonder if Kings of Leon understood that being on call required selflessness and patience on their part? I wonder if they knew that Jesus is the only one who didn’t fail while “on call”, and is always there?


Obama: A New Hope? by StephenMac
November 6, 2008, 9:31 am
Filed under: Reflections | Tags: , , , ,

**still listening to New Surrender… iTunes tells me that I listen to this album ten times more than any other music in my collection… including the rest of the Anberlin collection**

(h/t Byron for his thoughts on this topic)

In preparing for my sermon on evangelism and the churches role in mission (yes, conflating two distinct topics…) I was struck by Jumbo’s FB status which said that he was “watching the world crave a saviour”. Within two hours of Obama’s victory, stock markets all over the world were reporting increases. Rob Henderson, head of market economics with National Australia Bank in Sydney, said: “Well, it can’t be negative for markets. It’s a vote for change and has to inject a degree of optimism that America can again reinvent itself.”

obama1“A degree of optimism”… well, according to the SMH, Kenyans are so optimistic that they declare today to be a national holiday…

I don’t want to sound cynical, but I would have to suggest that the world is seeking a saviour, and the rhetoric of American exceptionalism (with all due respect to my American readers) seems to point the world to this. I am by no means claiming that Obama genuinely thinks that he is the salvation to all the world’s ills, but it seems to me that the world over is seriously looking not just to Obama, but to a “reinvented America” to solve the world’s problems. The world craves a messiah.

The American election received attention the world over. I’m ashamed to admit that there were quite a few number here at college who spent the day in front of the TV, not playing the xBox or Wii, but watching the election coverage. This is news that the whole world wanted to know. This is news that the world thought important enough that they should pay serious attention to.

Barack Obama, despite now being the most powerful man in the world, leader of the most powerful nation in the world, has got nothing on Jesus. And yet, the world still cries out for a saviour. News about Obama’s victory spread rapidly around the world – how quick are we to tell people of the news of the victory of Christ, a real saviour, who brings real change, whose leadership is not four, or even eight years, but eternity? This news is the Gospel. This news will bring real change and real hope.

In Contemplation of a Guy From Seattle… by StephenMac
August 30, 2008, 8:39 pm
Filed under: Reflections | Tags: , , , , ,

**currently listening to: Define the Great Line – Underoath**

I am tempted to say that Sydney is in the middle of Driscoll-mania, but I am not too sure markof the fairness of that, especially to him: having heard him speak both at College and BYPJ, he is a remarkably honest, genuine, and humble guy. And while the cynic inside of me may say that 10,000 people only went to see him because of his reputation, what does it matter? God’s word was preached powerfully and faithfully, people were cut to the heart, and the name Jesus is on people’s lips. And that is cause for prayers of thankfulness to our Lord.

In thinking about these two talks, and having read quite a few others thoughts, I am convinced that many people have been challenged by Driscoll’s call to Sydney men to man-up. Now I think that some of this is rhetoric designed to push buttons, to challenge men to step up and to take responsibility as they have been called to. Many guys, especially those of us who are single, have been challenged (read: offended) by the call to find our pants, get married, move out of mum’s basement and start a church plant. And despite many disagreeing with his statement, I think he has made his point – and we, mainly we as Sydney Anglicans, are now thinking about how we deal with this call. Some of us have simply dismissed it as irrelevant – we have MTS, Christians on average get married younger, etc etc. Others agree wholeheartedly, seeing this as the wake-up call we needed. I am still unsure. But as the only 22 y/o at college, I heard his challenge to man-up loud and clear (everytime he used the phrase “average 22 y/o” I’m thinking, oh man, not another thing I have to do…). I think it’s something that I personally can’t dismiss so easily. My question is though, so what do I do?

Being 22, I have the advantage of being a church-planter by 25 after finishing college, but I had never even in my wildest daydreams ever considered it. I had dismissed the idea of being a minister with the thought that I am too young – pastor-ship is an old-man’s calling. I had seen myself as working in the academic world and serving in that area. Yet as I heard Driscoll describe his vision for young contextualised ministry, I couldn’t help but be filled with an air of joy and excitement, of seeing the urgency that should come with the acknowledgement that Jesus Christ is Lord RIGHT NOW! What this means for my plans, no idea, but I’m sure God is challenging me to think outside the square, and remember it’s his plans that have the final say, not mine…

IMG_0454 - Copy Getting back to the topic at hand, BYPJ (which I believe many are currently blogging, that is, until they get back from engage, and then they’ll blog that I presume) didn’t teach me much new… and I struggled with that, wondering how I could then use this talk for something productive. An opportunity came up on Thurs night, when I was able to use the his plastic jesus’ as a way to have a conversation with a friend of mine about who Jesus really is. What was great for her, was that I was able to use the idea of moral jesus or religious jesus or spiritual jesus to show that Jesus is so much more. Yet, I am praying that now that she knows that Jesus = God (head knowledge) that it will translate into Jesus = God (heart knowledge). Praise God for the work that he does so gradually.

Driscoll talked (can’t remember which talk exactly… possibly college talk) about evangelism being a long term thing. And I see that in his own ministry – he will plant the seeds in an event like BYPJ, but God who calls us to get alongside these seedlings, to pray for them, to answer them, to talk and be there for them.

So often, I have longed for a gf… to be able to have a family etc, and Driscoll’s talk really pushed that button. But there was always a song lyric by DBC that I had longed to be able to sing of myself…

**Stephen changes songs to check the lyrics**

How the grace with which she walked into your life
Will stay with you in your steps, and pace with you a while…

**Stephen, having mellowed out, switches permanently to DBC**

I was thinking… these seedlings can become the family that I have longed for. Will not they be the ones who walk into my life by grace? Will not I stay with them in their steps, encouraging them, growing them, and in turn, being encouraged and grown? Yet, there is a difference – Driscoll remarks how lonely it is, and the need for him to have his wife supporting him – is it possible to do a similar job without a wife and consider the pastoral family as an equal substitute? Perhaps… but I think that could be dangerous and risky, even more so than for a married pastor.

No matter what you may think of the phenomenon that has embraced Sydney while Driscoll has been here, I think that the simple fact that he has put Jesus on the lips of people, and filled Christians with some form of evangelistic zeal has been terrific, and hopefully it will be persistent, especially after Driscoll leaves. The real test will be the next few months, and whether the feeling can be maintained through to Connect09…