Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The All-Importance of Motive

Below is an excerpt from A.W. Tozer's book, The Root of the Righteous. Enjoy!

The test by which all conduct must be judged is motive.

As water cannot rise higher than its source, so the moral quality in an act can never be higher than the motive that inspires it. For this reason no act that arises from an evil motive can be good, even though some good may appear to come out of it. Every deed done out of anger or spite, for instance, will be found at last to have been done for the enemy and against the Kingdom of God.

Unfortunately the nature of religious activity is such that much of it can be carried on for reasons that are not good, such as anger, jealousy, ambition, vanity and avarice. All such activity is essentially evil and will be counted as such at the judgment.

In this matter of motive, as in so many other things, the Pharisees afford us clear examples. They remain the world’s most dismal religious failures, not because of doctrinal error nor because they were careless or lukewarm, nor because they were outwardly persons of dissolute life. Their whole trouble lay in the quality of their religious motives. They prayed, but they prayed ot be heard of men, and thus their motive ruined their prayers and rendered them not only useless but actually evil. They gave generously to the service of the temple, but they sometimes did it to escape their duty toward their parents, and this was evil. They judged sin and stood against it when they found it in others, but this they did from self-righteousness and hardness of heart. So with almost everything they did. Their activities had about them an outward appearance of holiness, and those same activities if carried on out of pure motives would have been good and praiseworthy. The whole weakness of the Pharisees lay in the quality of their motives.

That this is not a small matter may be gathered from the fact that those orthodox and proper religionists went on in their blindness till they at last crucified the Lord of glory with no inkling of the gravity of their crime.

Religious acts done out of low motives are twice evil, evil in themselves and evil because they are done in the name of God. This is equivalent to sinning in the name of the sinless One, lying in the name of the One who cannot lie and hating in the name of the One whose nature is love.

Christians, and especially very active ones, should take time out frequently to search their souls to be sure of their motives. Many a solo is sung to show off; many a sermon I preached as an exhibition of talent; many a church is founded as a slap at some other church. Even missionary activity may become competitive, and soul winning may degenerate into a sort of brush-salesman project to satisfy the flesh. Do not forget, the Pharisees were great missionaries and would compass the sea and land to make a convert.

A good way to avoid the snare of empty religious activity is to appear before God every once in a while with our Bibles open to the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians. This passage, though rated one of the most beautiful in the Bible, is also one of the severest to be found in Sacred Writ. The apostle takes the highest religious service and consigns it to futility unless it is motivated by love. Lacking love, prophets, teachers, orators, philanthropists and martyrs are sent away without reward.

To sum it up, we may say simply that in the sight of God we are judged not so much by what we do as by our reasons for doing it. Not what but why will be the important question when we Christians appear at the judgment seat to give account of the deeds done in the body.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Two Tasks

The following is an excerpt from an address given by the late Charles Malik entitled "The Two Tasks" given at the dedication of the Billy Graham Center in Wheaton, Illinois in the fall of 1980. Charles Malik was the Lebanese ambassador to the United States and president of the United Nations. He had a Ph.D. in philosophy from Harvard, and over 50 honorary doctorates. This speech is available in it's entirety as part of the book, The Two Tasks of the Christian Scholar by William Lane Craig.

I speak to you as a Christian. Jesus Christ is my Lord and God and Savior and Song day and night. I can live without food, without drink, without sleep, without air—but I cannot live without Jesus. Without him I would have perished long ago. Without him and his Church reconciling man to God the world would have perished long ago. I live in and on the Bible for long hours every day. The Bible is the source of every good thought and impulse I have. In the Bible God himself, the Creator of everything from nothing, speaks to me and to the world directly—about himself, about ourselves and about his will for the course of events and for the consummation of history. And believe me: Not a day passes without my crying from the bottom of my heart, “Come, Lord Jesus!” I know he is coming with glory to judge the living and the dead, but in my impatience I sometimes cannot wait and I find myself in my infirmity crying with David, “How long, Lord?” And I know his kingdom shall have no end....

In the nature of the case evangelization is always the most important task to be undertaken by mortal man. For proud and rebellious and self-sufficient man—and pride and rebellion and self-sufficiency are the same thing—to be brought to his knees and to his tears before the actual majesty and grace and power of Jesus Christ is the greatest event that can happen to any man....

But just as we are not alone with God and the Bible but also with others, so we are not only endowed with a soul and a will to be saved but also with a reason to be sharpened and satisfied. This reason wonders about everything, including God, and we are to seek and love and worship the Lord our God with all our strength and all our mind. And because we are with others we are arguing and reasoning with one another all the time. Indeed every sentence and every discourse is a product of reason. And so it is neither a shame nor a sin to discipline and cultivate our reason to the utmost. It is a necessity, it is a duty, it is an honor to do so.

Therefore if evangelization is the most important task, the task that comes immediately after it—not in the tenth place, or even the third place, but in the second place—is not politics, or economics, or the quest of comfort and security and ease, but to find out exactly what is happening to the mind and the spirit in the schools and universities. And once a Christian discovers that there is a total divorce between mind and spirit in the schools and universities, between the perfection of thought and the perfection of soul and character, between intellectual sophistication and the spiritual worth of the individual human person, between reason and faith, between the pride of knowledge and the contrition of heart consequent upon being a mere creature, and once he realizes that Jesus Christ will find himself less at home on the campuses of the great universities in Europe and America than almost anywhere else, he will be profoundly disturbed, and he will inquire what can be done to recapture the great universities for Jesus Christ—the universities which would not have come into being in the first place without him.

What can the poor Church even at its best do, what can evangelization even at its most inspired do, what can the poor family even at its purest and noblest do, if the children spend between fifteen and twenty years of their life—and indeed the most formative period of their life—in school and college in an atmosphere of formal denial of any relevance of God and spirit and soul and faith to the formation of their mind? The enormity of what is happening is beyond words.

The Church and the family, each already encumbered with its own strains and ordeals, are fighting a losing battle so far as the bearing of the university on the spiritual health and wholeness of youth is concerned. All the preaching in the world, and all the loving care of even the best parents between whom there are no problems whatever, will amount to little, if not to nothing, so long as what the children are exposed to day in and day out for fifteen to twenty years in the school and university virtually cancels out morally and spiritually what they hear and see and learn at home and in the church. Therefore the problem of the school and university is the most critical problem afflicting western civilization.

At the heart of all the problems facing western civilization—the general nervousness and restlessness, the dearth of grace and beauty and quiet and peace of soul, the manifold blemishes and perversions of personal character; problems of the family and of social relations in general, problems of economics and politics, problems of the media, problems affecting the school itself and the Church itself, problems in the international order—at the heart of the crisis in western civilization lies the state of the mind and the spirit in the universities.

The problem is not only to win souls but also to save minds. If you win the whole world and lose the mind of the world, you will soon discover that you have not won the world. Indeed it may turn out that you have actually lost the world.

This is a solemn occasion. I must be frank with you: The greatest danger besetting American evangelical Christianity is the danger of anti-intellectualism. The mind as to its greatest and deepest reaches is not cared for enough. This cannot take place apart from profound immersion for a period of years in the history of thought and the spirit. People are in a hurry to get out of the university and start earning money or serving the Church or preaching the gospel. They have no idea of the infinite value of spending years of leisure in conversing with the greatest minds and souls of the past and thereby ripening and sharpening and enlarging their powers of thinking. The result is that the arena of creative thinking is abdicated and vacated to the enemy. Who among evangelicals can stand up to the great secular or naturalistic or atheistic scholars on their own terms of scholarship and research? Who among evangelical scholars is quoted as a normative source by the greatest secular authorities on history or philosophy or psychology or sociology or politics? Does your mode of thinking have the slightest chance of becoming the dominant mode of thinking in the great universities of Europe and America, which stamp your entire civilization with their own spirit and ideas?

For the sake of greater effectiveness in witnessing to Jesus Christ himself, as well as for their own sakes, evangelicals cannot afford to keep on living on the periphery of responsible intellectual existence.

Responsible Christians face two tasks—that of saving the soul, and that of saving the mind.... If it is the will of the Holy Spirit that we attend to the soul, certainly it is not his will that we neglect the mind. No civilization can endure with its mind being as confused and disordered as ours is today. All our ills stem proximately from the false philosophies that have been let loose in the world and that are now being taught in the universities, and ultimately of course...from the devil, whether or not the human agents know it. Save the university and you save western civilization and therewith the world.

Wake up, my friends, wake up: The great universities control the mind of the world! Therefore how can evangelism consider its task accomplished if it leaves the university un-evangelized? And how can evangelism evangelize the university if it cannot speak to the university? And how can it speak to the university if it is not itself already intellectualized? Therefore evangelism must first intellectualize itself to be able to speak to the university and therefore to be able to evangelize the university and therefore to save the world. This is the great task, the historic task, the most needed task, the task required loud and clear by the Holy Ghost Himself.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

A Review of "There Is a God" by Antony Flew

I recently finished reading the book, There is A God by Antony Flew. The subtitle for the book is "How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind," which is especially apropos considering Flew's contributions to modern philosophical atheology. Flew has been an important force in academic philosophy for the past half-century. He wrote a number of important articles and books that have shaped the subsequent discussion in philosophy of religion. Among his more important works are "Theology and Falsification," God and Philosophy, and The Presumption of Atheism. He was even involved in the debates with C.S. Lewis in the Socratic Club at Oxford. The atheists today who have gained much attention in the media have really not contributed much to the philosophical debate of God's existence. Those like Dawkins, Dennet, Wolpert, Harris, and Stenger tend to just rehash old arguments, many of which were originally put forth by Flew. (Some of the arguments they put forth are simply bad arguments, which they have made up themselves.)

The book begins by telling Flew's story. It describes how he arrived at an atheistic position, the reasoning the led him there, and some brief autobiographical details. The second half of the book consists of the reasons that led to Flew's conversion from atheism to deism. Flew lays his cards on the table stating, "I now believe that the universe was brought into existence by an infinite Intelligence. I believe that this universe's intricate laws manifest what scientists have called the Mind of God. I believe that life and reproduction originate in a divine Source" (88). The titles of the chapters in this section are telling about what led to Flew's conversion: "A Pilgrimage of Reason," "Who Wrote the Laws of Nature?," "Did the Universe Know We Were Coming?," "How Did Life Go Live?," "Did Something Come From Nothing?," "Finding Space For God," and "Open to Omnipotence." As one might guess, some of the issues that led to Flew's conversion include the origin of the laws of nature, the fine-tuning of the universe, the intelligent design of life, how to make sense of life and freewill in a purely materialistic universe, and the cosmological argument. Flew's catalog of his intellectual journey is an interesting read, and it's also informative on the history of philosophy of religion. The book concludes with two appendixes. The first appendix was written by Roy Abraham Varghese and it critiques the so-called "new atheists." The second appendix is a dialog between Flew and N.T. Wright, the prominent British theologian and historian, in which Flew asks Wright a number of questions about the self-revelation of God in the person of Jesus.

This book is important on at least two levels. First, it is important because it signals that a renaissance is taking place among modern Christian theistic philosophy. The preface of the book cites a Time Magazine article from April, 1980, which says, "In a quiet revolution in thought and argument that hardly anyone would have foreseen only two decades ago, God is making a comeback. Most intriguingly this is happening ... in the crisp intellectual circles of academic philosophers." Unquestionably, there has been a resurgence of theism, and especially Christian theism, among academic philosophers. Thirty years ago, there was almost no such thing as a Christian philosophy professor at a major university. Today, Christian philosophy professors are common at major universities, and theistic positions are seen as highly respectable. God is not even close to being dead in the academy. On the contrary, He is alive and doing a mighty work.

Secondly, this book is important because one man is a step closer to trusting the Lord Jesus. I remember a debate I attended in 1998 in which William Lane Craig debated Antony Flew on the question of God's existence. (This debate is available in written form as the book, Does God Exist? The Craig-Flew Debate edited by Stan W. Wallace). After the debate I remember praying for Flew. It seems that perhaps God is taking steps towards answering my prayers. Flew does not consider himself a Christian at this point. Rather he believes in God, but the God he believes in is a deistic God who does not interact with people. However, in regards to Christianity Flew states, "I think that the Christian religion is the one religion that most clearly deserves to be honored and respected whether or not its claim to be a divine revelation is true. There is nothing like the combination of a charismatic figure like Jesus and a first-class intellectual like St. Paul" (185-186). Flew concludes his book stating, "Some claim to have made contact with this Mind. I have not--yet. But who knows what could happen next? Someday I might hear a Voice that says, 'Can you hear me now?'" (158). Please join me in praying that God would graciously call Antony Flew to Himself.