Blog Archives

CLXXIV

Wordsworth wrote an endless poem in blank verse on” the growth of a poet’s mind.”  I shall attempt a more modest feat for a more distracted age: a blog, “Things which a Lifetime of Trying to Be a Poet has Taught Me.”

 Salvation.  Not by our attainments; not by our merit; not by our performance.  By grace.  The unmerited favor of God, purchased by Christ on the Cross at a cost unimaginable.  Salvation.  By grace.  By grace.  By grace supremely.  By grace alone.

Crucifixion-Glass

THE BENEFICIARIES

 

But few of wealth or power,

Not very many wise

Will in the final hour

Rise up to claim the prize.

 

So what of those elected

To gaze upon the Face?

Not perfect, but perfected:

The trophies of his Grace.

 

Remember: for more poetry like this, go to https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order Stars Through the Clouds! Also look for Inklings of Reality and Reflections from Plato’s Cave, Williams’ newest books from Lantern Hollow Press: Evangelical essays in pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.  And look for Williams’ very latest book, Deeper Magic: The Theology behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis, from Square Halo Books!

Donald T. Williams, PhD

Book-CSLTheology-Cover

CXII

Wordsworth wrote an endless poem in blank verse on” the growth of a poet’s mind.”  I shall attempt a more modest feat for a more distracted age: a blog, “Things which a Lifetime of Trying to Be a Poet has Taught Me.”

Even people who do not agree with him admire Protestant Reformer Martin Luther for standing up for his convictions.  What many people do not understand is that his famous “Here I stand!” was not simply a bold assertion of modern individualism but sprang from much serious agonizing over what Scripture was telling him.  It was faithfulness to God’s truth as he understood it, not rebellion against church authority, that drove him.

LutherFamily

Martin Luther

Sonnet XXXV

Can one lone monk be right, and all the rest

Of Christendom for near a thousand years

Be wrong?  The question brought him close to tears

And troubled Luther sorely, he confessed.

But other problems had to be addressed,

Like, shall the Gospel reach the waiting ears

Of people whose good works were in arrears

And had no chance but Grace to pass the test?

 

He meant by that just simply every man,

And thought of men who’d lived by faith before—

And doubted then his Gospel’s truth no more:

With Athanasius contra mundum, and

With John the lone disciple at the Cross,

He clung to Christ and viewed all else as loss.

LutherStatue

Remember: for more poetry like this, go to https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order Stars Through the Clouds! Also look for Inklings of Reality and Reflections from Plato’s Cave, Williams’ newest books from Lantern Hollow Press: Evangelical essays in pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.

 Donald T. Williams, PhD

THE BREADTH OF THE HAIR: A Review

Brian Shelton, Prevenient Grace: God’s Provision for Fallen Humanity. Anderson, IN: Francis Asbury Press, 2014. xi + 283 pp., n.p., pbk.

John Wesley famously cracked that Calvinism was “within a hair’s breadth of the truth.”  One would not get any such impression from listening to either contemporary Calvinists or Arminians, who have been practicing polarization with great diligence ever since the passing of their respective masters. Toccoa Falls College VP for Academic Affairs Brian Shelton makes Wesley’s pronouncement plausible again with a much-needed study of Wesley’s doctrine of Prevenient Grace.  Strangely neglected by contemporary Wesleyans, this doctrine is actually their strongest response to Calvinist critiques of their theology.  Shelton treats it exegetically, historically, and theologically in a winsome book that deserves attention from people on both sides of the controversy.  The book concludes with a very useful FAQ section called a “Synthesis of a Case for Prevenient Grace.”

John Wesley

John Wesley

Prevenient Grace is the proverbial hair’s breadth from the corresponding Calvinist doctrine of “Effectual Calling.”  Both deal with the problem that in the Gospel faith and repentance are demanded of people who are incapable of rendering any such response, because they are dead in their trespasses and sins and the natural man cannot receive the things of the Spirit.  It will be news to many Calvinists that there is an Arminian theology that takes this problem as seriously as they do and offers a similar solution: the enablement of the Holy Spirit is a necessary prerequisite to that response.  The breadth of the hair lies here:  Does the Spirit give that enablement to all men and women who hear the Gospel, or only to those who actually respond?  Does He overcome all men’s sinful indisposition to the truth just enough so that they are able to make a free choice, or does He “call” those whom God foreknows so effectually that we can say that “whom He foreknew . . . He justified . . . and glorified” (Rom. 8:29-30)?

John Calvin

John Calvin

The exegetical section is the key.  There are of course passages that can be taken as supporting either view (I’ve given one I think is on the Calvinist side above).  Shelton shows what a responsible Arminian reading of them looks like.  I think that in several of them the words can be taken either way, depending on the assumptions we bring to the text.  In the end my own moderate reformed view remained intact.  But I think Shelton has shown that constructive dialog between Evangelical Arminians and Gospel Calvinists needs to continue, and that both sides will profit from making this doctrine—and Shelton’s fine treatment of it—central in that discussion.

Bigger on the Inside . . .

Bigger on the Inside . . .

Scripture, as I said, seems to say (or at least imply) both Prevenient Grace and Effectual Calling.  That is a sign that we need to live inside the hair.  If that seems a rather narrow and constricted space, remember: Like the Tardis and a certain Narnian stable, it is bigger on the inside than the outside.

Donald T. Williams, PhD

For more writing by Dr. Williams, visit https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order Stars Through the Clouds: The Collected Poetry of Donald T. Williams, Reflections from Plato’s Cave: Essays in Evangelical Philosophy, or Inklings of Reality: Essays toward a Christian Philosophy of  Letters, all from Lantern Hollow Press:  poems and prose in pursuit of Goodness, Truth, and Beauty!

A book that fights back against the encroaching darkness.

A book that fights back against the encroaching darkness.

PHILOSOPHY AND WISDOM

PHILOSOPHY: THE LOVE OF WISDOM?

If our writings are going to communicate the biblical world view, we have to know what it is.  Therefore, there is a need for Christian writers to be good thinkers, competent in philosophy and theology, as well as good creative writers.  To that end, watch for my forthcoming Lantern Hollow Press book REFLECTIONS FROM PLATO’S CAVE: Essays in Evangelical Philosophy.  To whet your appetite, start with the meditation below.

Philosophyphileo plus sophia, the love of wisdom.  Wisdom:  not intelligence (which is just processing speed) or knowledge (which is just information) or even understanding (which is seeing how one’s bits of knowledge relate to one another), but something more.  Wisdom is the knack of using one’s intelligence, knowledge, and understanding in useful and beneficial ways.  For Christians, it means using one’s intelligence, knowledge, and understanding in ways that glorify God, advance His kingdom, and bring blessing to His people.

It may seem hard to find much wisdom in the technical arguments of professional academic philosophers today, but it is there for those who know how to look.  (It may not be in the conclusions to their arguments!)  I hope there is some to be found in the philosophical musings I have indulged in over the years, not wholly unrelated to the conclusions of my arguments.  If I want you to find it, maybe I should be able to find it myself.  What have I learned from thinking philosophically?  More to the point, what have I learned from it that I can properly call wisdom?

Perhaps the first lesson is humility.  It is the glory of man that we cannot rest until we understand the world around us and understand ourselves.  We are the only species that is impelled to ask the Great Questions:  What is real?  Who are we?  Why are we here?  What is the good?  How do we know?  We are ennobled in that we ask, but we are brought low by our failure to find, or, finding, to live by, the answers.

To study the history of philosophy is to learn how our best thinking when unaided by revelation from above always leads to an irresolvable impasse.  It does so because, apart from revelation, we end up looking for the ultimate in a place where it cannot be found: within the circles of the finite world.  Hence we get the infamous false choices for which philosophy is famous:  Heraklitus and flux, or Parmenides and permanence?  Plato’s rationalism and realism, or Aristotle’s empiricism and nominalism? They are both right and both wrong.  Forms neither as immanent in matter nor as existing on their own but as the rationes aeterna in the mind of a personal God capable of grounding them because He is the source of both form and matter—for, that we would need the operation of revelation on a redeemed and receptive mind.  There is no other way to get it.

Without revelation and the receptive mind, we end up with people fighting over what are at best partial glimpses of the truth.  And our best thinkers never quite live up even to their partial glimpses.  Only as God stoops to us in revelation do we find answers that are whole; only as He stoops to us in grace do we accept those answers and find the ability to live them out.  If following in the footsteps of our best unaided thinkers to see the impasses that result from their thinking helps us more clearly to see and appreciate our limitations, then the first lesson of wisdom we learn is humility—and the second is gratitude.  Humility from our inability, gratitude for God’s supply: surely humility and gratitude are essential parts of a life of wisdom!

Sadly, many people who study philosophy do not learn humility or gratitude from it, but rather arrogance in the defense of one of those limited and partial viewpoints.  One even finds those who are arrogant in their defense of the seemingly humbling proposition that we cannot know anything!  But, then, people are fallen, prideful, and stubborn in their pursuit of other fields of study just as well (including theology).  The fault therefore lies not with philosophy but with the philosophers, that is, with us.  Only by God’s grace do we pursue anything wisely, that is, humbly and gratefully.  Those who have been captured by God’s grace in Jesus Christ then should apply themselves to philosophy because, just as bad philosophy has to be answered by good philosophy, so sinful philosophers have to be answered by redeemed ones—by their existence as much as by their arguments.

From the best Christian philosophers, such as Augustine, Anselm, and C. S. Lewis, one can also learn this wisdom:  confidence that Truth, Goodness, and Beauty are real things, objectively rooted in the nature of the God of creation and objectively imprinted by Him onto the world He has made.  They are rightly called “the transcendentals”: they are supremely valuable and are their own justification precisely because Truth is the reflection of God’s mind, Goodness of His character, and Beauty of His glory.  And we, created in His image and redeemed by His blood, may participate in them, yea, bathe in them.  We find our purpose and our fulfillment in doing so, because thus we reflect Him to the world.  If Christians do not gain confidence and boldness and indeed joy in their pursuit of these transcendental values from thinking philosophically, then they are missing the point, profoundly and colossally missing the point, as badly as the most secularized sophist on the planet, and with less excuse. If they do not promote and encourage confidence, boldness, and joy in the pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty by the way they do and teach and write philosophy, then they have betrayed their calling.

If I am on track in the last paragraph, then I have also learned that Solomon was right:  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.  Nothing can claim to be wisdom that does not rest on, flow from, and promote in us the reverent, humble, and grateful acknowledgement of His necessary existence, His Trinitarian personality, His divine majesty, His rightful sovereignty, and His supreme worthiness of all worship and devotion.  It is ultimately He who must teach us this, by revealing Himself to us in His Son, the eternal logos who enlightens every man and who came into the world.  Our philosophical search for truth without that act of grace on His part is but vanity and striving after wind.  Philosophy, in other words, is not the key to understanding Him; it is He who must illumine our philosophy.

(I am not affirming fideism here, by the way.  I have made arguments for God’s existence in this journal.  But I am recognizing that He is more than the conclusion to a logical argument; He is the reason why logical argument is possible in the first place.  I am recognizing that, even so far as they are valid, those arguments will only be accepted and will only have their intended effect in leading to wisdom when they are used by His Spirit as part of His gracious work of conviction and calling, leading to regeneration, conversion, and sanctification—including the sanctification of the mind.  May He graciously grant my prayers by so using them.)

When God does illumine us, philosophy can help us see things about ourselves, our need, and His grace in meeting that need, that we might otherwise have missed.  It is better for redeemed sinners to wonder about who we are, why we are here, what is real and what is good, and how we know, and to find their answers in Him, than it is for them to remain ignorant.  So Augustine and Anselm had it right all along:  Credo ut intelligam, “I believe that I might understand.”  Fides quaerens intellectum, “faith in search of understanding.”

You will know that your faith is producing understanding, you will know that your philosophical thinking has been profitable, when it leads you to the humble and grateful love of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, and to their manifestation in your life to the glory of God.  Then perhaps we can redeem the etymological definition of philosophy as the love of wisdom.  May God grant it by His grace, for our good and His glory.

Amen.

For more of the authors own glimpses of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, go to https://www.createspace.com/2563414 and order STARS THROUGH THE CLOUDS: THE COLLECTED POETRY OF DONALD T. WILLIAM (Lynchburg: Lantern Hollow Press, 2011).