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Adult non-fiction, Theology

Calvinist vs. Arminian: a tale of two books

Why revisit the debate between Arminianism and Calvinism? Isn't it a waste of precious time to discuss these differences even as the world is aflame with political unrest? No, this is a debate that should always generate interest and discussion. Dr. J. I. Packer once observed that the very terms Calvinism and Arminianism represent opposition:

“The words are defined in terms of the antithesis, and the point is pressed that no Christian can avoid being on one side or the other."

Arminianism had considerable influence in Anglo-American theological developments and, on the surface, Calvinism might seem to have lost the battle in the theatre of American evangelicalism. Many evangelicals even believe that Calvinism is “irrelevant.” They say, “Christianity cannot possibly teach that.” With a commitment to egalitarianism and the rejection of the traditional doctrine of original sin, American culture is receptive to Arminianism. The Arminian emphasis on individualism and self-determination dominated much of 20th century American evangelicalism. Billy Graham, for instance, uses the language of Arminianism in his crusades when he asks attendees to "make a decision for Christ" – language that Calvinists find utterly foreign to their understanding of salvation. Revival of Calvinism So it seems clear that Calvinism does not fit the American ideal. Why would anyone be a Calvinist then? The reason is quite simple. The gospel of Jesus Christ is countercultural. Perhaps this is why Calvinism seems to appeal to young people, especially college students. There is also a renewed interest in Calvinism among the Southern Baptists, the largest Protestant denomination in the United States. What is at stake? But why should we know the differences between Calvinism and Arminianism? Because they represent stark opposing theological visions, at the heart of which are profoundly different views of God. Two books, published as a set of sorts, highlight just how profound the differences are: What I am not a Calvinist, by Jerry Walls and Joseph Dongell, and Why I am not an Arminian by Robert Peterson and Michael Williams. The authors of Why I am not a Calvinist believe:

“...the heart of the matter is how we understand the character of God. The issue is not how powerful God is but what it means to say he is perfectly loving and good.....The breathtaking vision of God's Trinitarian love is obscured by the Calvinist claim that God passes over persons he could just as easily save and thereby consigns them to eternal misery."

The following questions then, are at issue: How are we saved from our sins and granted eternal life? Are human beings so fallen that they must be saved exclusively through the unilateral and unconditional actions of God? Is it possible for human beings to successfully resist the saving approaches of God's grace? Can any who were once truly redeemed through faith in Christ fail to receive final salvation? The tone of the debate Considering the seriousness of the differences, it shouldn't come as a surprise that the history of the debate between Calvinism and Arminianism has been one of intense and often "mean-spirited" confrontation. However, Why I am not an Arminian's authors aims to treat their Arminian brothers and sisters in Christ as they would want to be treated. They also note that the Synod of Dordt was right to condemn the Arminian misrepresentation of the saving ways of God. "Yet we do not think of Arminianism as a heresy or Arminian Christians as unregenerate." They observe that Calvinists and Arminians are brothers in Christ. In other words:

“The issue of the debate is not between belief and unbelief but rather which of two Christian perspectives better represents the biblical portrayal of the divine-human relationship in salvation and the contribution of both God and man in human history."

And Why I am not a Calvinist authors rightly say,

"We should all speak with a measure of care and reserve when delivering our interpretative conclusions."

Why I am not a Calvinist So what type of argument do the authors Why I am not a Calvinist make? They first provide some background. Arminianism has its roots in the work of Jacob Arminius (1560-1609). It teaches that salvation is available to anybody who exercises faith; it contrasts with the Calvinist understanding that God alone determines who is and who is not among the elect. Arminian popular belief tends toward the overestimation of human ability and the human redemptive contribution. Traditional Arminianism believes that the death of Christ provides grace for all persons and that, as result of his atonement, God extends sufficient grace to all persons through the Holy Spirit to counteract the influence of sin and to enable a response to God. But, they argue, it is possible for sinners to resist God's initiative and to persist in sin and rebellion. Arminianism believes that God's grace enables and encourages a positive and saving response for everyone, but it does not determine a saving response for anyone. Furthermore, an initial positive response of faith doesn't guarantee one's final salvation:

“It is possible to begin a genuine relationship with God but then later turn from him and persist in evil so that one is finally lost.”

In 1610, the disciples of Jacobus Arminius produced a manifesto called the Remonstrance, which they regarded as a corrective to the Calvinist doctrine of election. The authors view the divine election of Israel and Christ as “that tree of redemption into which all persons can be incorporated by faith.” They state:

“God doesn't unconditionally predestine particular persons to salvation. Rather, election is in Christ, and all are saved who do not knowingly and persistently refuse God's gracious offer of life.”

Interestingly, Why I am not Calvinist's authors go beyond traditional Arminianism, and seem favorably inclined to Openness Theology, also called Open Theism. Advocates of Open Theism have argued that while God knows everything that can be known, He cannot have exhaustively definite knowledge of the future. Since the future will involve decisions made by genuinely free creatures, knowledge of the future is said to be impossible, by definition. Since God doesn't know future free choices, the future is not completely settled. Clark Pinnock, a noted Open Theism advocate says, “Some prophecies are conditional, leaving the future open, and presumably, God's knowledge of it.” And Richard Rice argues, "Where human decision is presupposed, God cannot achieve his purpose unilaterally. He requires our cooperation.” Open Theist theologians acknowledge “the triune God of love has, in almighty power, created all that is and is sovereign over all,” but in His freedom and desire to enter into a relationship of love with humanity has “decided to make some of his actions contingent upon our requests and actions.” They also believe that God is “dependent on the world in certain respects.” Consequently, they propose that the traditional view of God's infallible foreknowledge is a conviction that should be dispensed with. Open Theist theologians seem to highly esteem people while limiting God. For example, according to Pinnock human freedom can be won only by surrendering divine foreknowledge. I agree with those theologians who call Open Theism radicalized Arminianism. And if our future free actions cannot be known with certainty, even by God, how can we believe in the fulfillment of prophecy? Why would God "promise" anything if He cannot know the future or guarantee it by His almighty power? For the authors, the doctrine of election does not seem to hold any mystery. In fact, an appeal to mystery scandalizes them. They claim that some Calvinists “make a hasty retreat to mystery” when faced with charges of inconsistency. And they argue, “It isn't a sign of true piety for one to be willing to dispense with logical coherence in the name of mystery.” They critique John Piper's declaration that the potter has absolute rights over the clay, and if God chooses not to save some persons, it is not for us to understand but simply to adore. Interestingly, on the one hand the authors state that Calvinists have been zealous evangelists and missionaries and have contributed powerfully to the cause of winning the lost for Christ. On the other hand, they argue that Calvinists can't make coherent sense of their claim that God makes a bona fide offer of salvation to persons he has not elected for salvation, nor can they explain how God can truly have compassion for such persons. They claim, “the consequences for evangelistic preaching are profound indeed.” Why I am not an Arminian What are the counter arguments from the authors of Why I am not an Arminian? In their carefully reasoned, understandable exposition of Calvinism, they address the historical context, theological concerns, and biblical texts in a readable manner. In fact, they are Bible-centered in their presentation. They point out that the question of ecclesiastical authority and the integrity of the church as a confessional body was an intense bone of contention for both sides in the struggle between the Calvinists and the Arminians within the Dutch church. The Calvinists argued that a Reformed church is a confessional church. Hence they pleaded for the maintenance of particular confessional standards. Following in the tradition of Erasmus of Rotterdam, however, the Arminians championed the liberty of the individual conscience relative to doctrinal standards. The authors show that Calvin was not the first one to talk about reprobation or the absolute sovereignty of God. They point to the church father Augustine who emphasized the utter dependence of man upon God alone for salvation and the supremacy of grace to the exclusion of all human contribution. His teaching has proven a problem for many Christians throughout the centuries, and it still lies at the heart of the Arminian rejection of Calvinism, which was in many ways a 16th century revival of Augustine's teaching on sin and grace. The authors show that Calvinism stands for the doctrine that all humankind is sinful. Human beings will not and cannot make their way to God, retrieve their own lives or earn their own salvation. If humankind is to be saved, God must act. God must be gracious. Human beings are utterly dependent upon the saving grace of God. And apparently, God has not acted on behalf of all. He has not chosen to be gracious to all human beings. Sovereign in His grace, God showered His redemptive love upon a Jacob but not on an Esau. It is a mistake, therefore, to pit individual and corporate election against each other. In other words, egalitarian fairness – treating all persons the same – may be a cultural ideal for the modern West, but there is no biblical reason to suppose that God shares it. The authors write:

"For his own reasons, God assumes the right to save one and not another – a Jacob, for example, and not his older, more talented brother; for Esau, left to himself and his sinfulness, is deserving divine wrath.”

Why does God elect some and others are passed by? God does not elect Abraham and Jacob based on foreseen merit or even foreseen faith. The basis of their election is God's love and will. The authors also show that both individual and corporate election are taught in the Old Testament. God chose Abraham and Jacob, also the nation of Israel. As fallen human beings, Calvinists struggle with a sovereignty that stretches and often transcends our abilities to discern the redemptive ways of God. Scripture leads us to the contention that divine sovereignty – God always prevails – is compatible with human freedom. God is not rendered idle by a world ruled by human freedom. Furthermore, in the new heaven and earth:

“the ultimate life of the redeemed will not include libertarian freedom, the ability to choose sin rather than obedience, apostasy rather than faithfulness.”

The authors also show that Calvinism is much broader in scope than the TULIP doctrine. The five points of Calvinism do not sufficiently define Calvinism, and certainly do not say all there is to be said about the Reformed faith. They affirm the five points of Calvinism but also a Reformed understanding of the church and sacraments. They explain the particular Reformed contribution to Christian reflection on the covenant and the kingdom of God. They also stress the church as the people of God with a call to seek a cultural life in the world that is typified by justice, mercy, and a transformational vision for individual vocational life. Both Arminians and Calvinists agree that not all believe. One person hears the gospel as the word of life; another sees it as foolishness. But the authors of Why I am not a Calvinist critique Piper's rejection of "the wider hope," which holds that saving grace is available to all persons, not just those who have heard the gospel in this life. The Cannons of Dordt follow Augustine in their explanation. God has sovereignly chosen to save some but not all. And unlike Arminianism, Calvinism believes in the perseverance of the saints. The Canons of Dordt judged the Arminian agnosticism regarding perseverance as a hopeless position. If our salvation depends on us, whether it be our merits, our will or even our striving to keep in step with God's grace, we are most surely lost. The authors of Why I am not a Calvinist claim that an emphasis on God's sovereignty in salvation hinders evangelism, yet that emphasis encouraged the apostle Paul to continue preaching. In the line of Paul, Calvinists believe that the message of the cross is to be presented to all in order that they may believe and be pardoned. The good news of a provided forgiveness is to be as universally proclaimed as is the command to repent. God commands us to take the gospel to the ends of the earth and to every person in it. The Synod of Dordt did not see the doctrine of particular atonement as compromising preaching in the slightest. "God wants all to hear the gospel, but He intends to save only some. Why that is the case, we don't know." As evidence of the compatibility of belief in limited atonement, and a fire for spreading the gospel, Calvinists can refer to Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, Charles H. Spurgeon and Francis Schaeffer. They proclaimed a redemption that is definite and yet good news and offered an invitation addressed to all. Much more can be said about the differences between Calvinism and Arminians. I hope that this summary review will enhance our readers' love for our Calvinist heritage and the rich doctrines of sovereign grace.

Rev. Johan Tangelder (1936-2009) wrote for Reformed Perspective for 13 years. Many of his articles have been collected at Reformed Reflections. 

Christian education

A Christian perspective on 2+2

What does math have to do with God? Many people see no connection. Aren't logic, numbers and geometry the same for Christians and atheists? Math is thought to be the hardest subject to integrate with Christianity. Yet, there are very close links between math and God. Mathematical realism The key question concerns truth. Most mathematicians believe that mathematical truths such as "6+1=7" are universally and eternally true, independent of human minds. They believed that they are discovering properties of, say, numbers, rather than merely inventing them. This view of math dates back to Pythagoras (582-507 BC) and Plato (427-347 BC). They held that mathematical concepts apply best to ideal objects. For example, geometry deals with exact circles, but no physical object is exactly circular – perfect circles don’t actually exist. Furthermore, such things as the number "7" seem to exist at all times or, even, beyond time. This led to the notion that math exists in an ideal world of eternal truth. This is called mathematical realism. Where do such eternal mathematical truths exist? Augustine (354-430) placed the ideal world of eternal truths in the mind of God. He argued that eternal truths could not arise from material things or finite human minds. Rather, mathematical truths must depend on a universal and unchanging Mind that embraces all truth. Only God can have such a mind. Thus math was held to be true because of its supposed divine origin. It was held, moreover, that God created the universe according to a rational plan that used math. Since man's was created in the image of God, it was thought that man should be able to discern the mathematical structure of creation. Indeed, since man was God's steward over creation, man had the duty to study nature and to apply the results towards the glory of God and the benefit of man. Such theological considerations were key factors motivating the scientific revolution. Most founders of modern science, such Kepler, Galileo and Newton, were all driven by their Biblical worldview. Naturalist math Ironically, the very success of mathematical science led to the demise of the Christian view. The universe seemed to be so well controlled by mathematically formulated laws that God was no longer deemed necessary. Such over-confidence in scientific laws led to a denial of biblical miracles. This undermined biblical authority. Consequently, many scientists banished God and embraced naturalism, the notion that nothing exists beyond nature. THE LOSS OF CERTAINTY With the rejection of a divine Mind, there was no longer any place for eternal truth. This, in turn, led to the collapse of mathematical realism. Naturalists came to consider math as just a human invention. But if math is just a human invention, why should it be true? Mathematicians tried to prove the truth of math using the axiomatic method. Math was to be grounded on a set of undoubtedly true, self-evident principles, called axioms, from which everything else could be derived. The axiomatic method had been used with great success by the Greek mathematician Euclid (circa 300 BC). He derived all the truths about normal (or Euclidean) geometry from only 10 axioms. This became the model for the rest of math. Towards the end of the 19th century the search was on for a set of self-evident axioms upon which all of math could be based. Any system that yields a contradiction is, of course, false. A system of axioms that will never yield a contradiction is said to be consistent. A system is said to be complete if all true theorems (and no false ones) can be derived from the axioms. The goal, then, was to find a set of axioms that could be proven to be consistent and complete for all of math. Initially, there was some success. Simple logic and Euclidean geometry were proven to be both consistent and complete. Unfortunately, in 1931 the Austrian logician Kurt Gödel proved that the program was doomed. He proved that any large system of axioms (i.e., large enough for arithmetic with addition and multiplication) will always be incomplete.  There will always be theorems that can be neither proven nor disproven by the system. Thus all of math can never be based on a finite set of axioms. Math will always be larger than our human attempts to capture it within a system of axioms. Moreover, Gödel proved also that we can never mathematically prove the consistency of any system large enough for arithmetic. Hence we cannot be sure of the validity of arithmetic, even though we use it all the time! The soundness of math now had to be accepted largely on faith. THE LIMITS OF INVENTION Rejecting theism affected not only the soundness of math but also its content. Classical math was based on the concept of an all-knowing, all-powerful, and infinite Ideal Mathematician. The operations and proofs allowed in classical math were those that could in principle be done by God. It was thought that, if math is just a human invention, its methods should be adjusted accordingly. Only those mathematical concepts and proofs were to be considered valid that could be mentally constructed in a finite number of explicit steps. The "there exists" of classical math was to be replaced by "we can construct." This came to be known as constructive math. It entailed a new approach to both logic and proofs. Classical math is based on what is called two-valued logic. Any mathematical proposition is either true or false. Take, for example, Goldbach's Conjecture concerning primes. A prime is a number that is divisible only by itself and 1 (e.g., 2,3,5,7 & 11 are the first five primes). Goldbach's Conjecture asserts that any even number can be written as the sum of two primes (e.g., 10=3+7; 20=13+7). No one has ever found a number for which it did not hold. But no one has as yet been able to prove it. Classically, this conjecture is either true or false, even though we do not yet know which it is. Constructionists, however insist that there is a third possibility: a proposition is neither true nor false until we can construct an actual, finite proof. The rejection of two-valued logic restricts one's ability to prove theorems. Classical math often uses an indirect method of proof called Proof by Contradiction. To proof a theorem, one first assumes the theorem to be false and shows that this leads to a contradiction; hence the initial assumption is false, which means that the theorem is true. Since such proofs rely on two-valued logic, constructionists reject them. They accept only those theorems that can be directly derived from the axioms. Unhappily, this means rejecting so many results of classical math that one lacks the sophisticated math needed in modern physics. EVOLUTIONARY CONJECTURES If math is just a human invention how did it ever get started? Naturalists propose that evolution has hard-wired our brains to contain small numbers (e.g., 1,2,3…) as well as a basic ability to add and subtract. They conjecture that all our mathematical thoughts come from purely physical connections between neurons. Even if an evolutionary struggle for survival could account for an innate ability for simple arithmetic, it is hard to see where more advanced math comes from. Our ability for advanced math is well in advance of mere survival skills. The evolutionary approach fails to explain also the amazing mathematical intuition of leading mathematicians. Further, if our mathematical ideas are just the result of the physics of neural connections, why should they be true? Such accounts of math cannot distinguish true results from false ones. Indeed, if all knowledge is based on neural connections, so is the idea that all knowledge is based on neural connections. Hence, if true, we have no basis for believing it to be true. In spite of naturalist objections, most mathematicians remain realists. They view new theorems as discoveries rather than inventions. The excitement of exploring an objective mathematical universe is a powerful incentive for research. Realism explains why mathematicians widely separated in space, time, and culture end up with the same mathematical results. Moreover, if math is just a human invention, why is it so applicable to the physical world? Math is indispensable for science. Further, if math is a human invention, one might ask: how did math exist before Adam? Are we to believe that "2+2=4" did not hold, so that two pairs of apples did not add up to four? Christianity and math How does math fits within a Christian worldview? The Bible tells us that man was created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-30). The divine image included not only righteousness but also rationality and creativity. This involves the capacity for abstract thought, as well as the ability to reason, to discern and to symbolize. Man was created with the innate potential to do math, to help fulfill his role as God's steward (Gen. 1:28). Adam could have confidence in his mental abilities because God created these to function properly. He was the result of God's purposeful plan rather than an evolutionary accident. With Adam's fall into sin, man lost much of his original image. Yet, man's mathematical ability is still largely functional. It seems that we are born with various basic, innate mathematical abilities such as those of logic, counting and distinguishing shapes. JUSTIFYING MATH How can we justify human math from this basis? One could try to ground the soundness of math on the Bible. After all, the Bible frequently uses logical arguments (e.g., I Cor. 15:12-50 or Matt. 12:25-29) and arithmetic operations (e.g., Luke 12:52). Gordon Clark claimed that all the laws of logic could be deduced from the Bible. Similarly, J.C. Keister asserted that all the axioms of arithmetic are illustrated in Scripture. Although such biblical examples may confirm our rules of arithmetic and logic, they fall short of rigorous proof. One must be careful in drawing general conclusions from a limited number of specific cases. Moreover, this method gives no basis for the vast bulk of math that extends beyond basic arithmetic and logic. A better approach might be to ground the truth of math on the attributes of the biblical God. For example, God's character has a logical aspect. God's word is truth (John 17:17); God never lies (Titus 1:2) and is always faithful (Ps. 117:2). God means what he says, not the opposite; hence the law of non-contradiction holds. God's identity is eternally the same; hence the logical law of identity must be eternally valid. Thus the very nature of God implies the eternal and universal validity of the laws of logic. Logic is not above God, but derives from God's constant and non-contradictory nature. God's character also has a numerical aspect: the Biblical God is tri-une, consisting of three distinct persons. Since the three persons of the Godhead – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – are eternal, so are numbers. Consider further God's infinite power and knowledge. God knows all things. This includes not just all facts about the physical world but also all necessary truths and even all possibilities. As such, God's knowledge surely embraces all possible mathematical truths. Thus math exists independent of human minds. God surely knows whether any proposition is true or false. Hence the usage of two-valued logic in math is justified. God is the source of all being, upholding everything. He even establishes necessary truths and contingent possibilities. God upholds all truths, including truths about math. God surely knows whether any mathematical proposition is true or false. God's knowledge includes that of the actual infinite. The concept of infinity is crucial to the philosophy of math. We can distinguish between potential infinity and actual infinity. Potential infinity is the notion of endlessness that arises from counting. Given any large number, we can always obtain a yet larger one by adding 1 to it. There seems to be no largest number. Potentially we could go on forever. Actual infinity, on the other hand, is the notion that the set of numbers exists as a completed set. Augustine, however, considered actual infinity to be one of the mathematical entities that existed in God's mind. He wrote, "Every number is known to him 'whose understanding cannot be numbered' (Ps. 147:5)." Since God knows all things possible, this must surely encompass also the totality of all possible numbers. A BASIS FOR MATH Modern math is based on set theory. A set is a collection of objects. We can consider the set of all dogs, or the set of all even numbers, and so on. We use brackets {} to denote a set. Thus, for example, the set of even numbers is written {2,4,6...}. Treating each set as an entity in its own right, we can then do various operations on these sets, such as adding sets, comparing their sizes, etc. Remarkably, almost all advanced math can be derived from the nine axioms of modern set theory. Not all math, since Gödel proved that all of math can never be derived from a limited number of axioms. Yet, it does cover all of the math that most mathematicians ever use in practice. So far no contradictions have been found. Can we be sure, however, that no contradictions will ever be found in this system? Gödel, you will recall, proved that it cannot be proven mathematically that the system is consistent. The best we can do is to appeal to the plausibility of the individual axioms. Everyone agrees that the axioms all seem to be self-evidently true when applied to finite sets. Several of these axioms, however, deal with infinite sets. They postulate that certain operations on finite sets apply also to infinite sets. Infinite sets are needed to get beyond number theory (which just concerns whole numbers) to real numbers (such as √2 = 1.414213..., which requires an infinite number of decimals to write out fully). Real numbers are needed for calculus, upon which physics heavily relies. The axioms concerning infinite sets are rejected by constructionists since infinite sets cannot be humanly constructed in a finite number of steps. However, these axioms are very plausible given an infinite, omniscient and omnipotent being. Georg Cantor (1845-1918), the founder of modern set theory, justified his belief in infinite sets by his belief in an infinite God. He thought of sets in terms of what God could do with them. Cantor believed that God's infinite knowledge implies an actual infinity of thoughts. It included, at the very least, the infinite set of natural numbers {1,2,3...}. Actual infinity could thus be considered to exist objectively as an actual, complete set in God's mind. Cantor believed that even larger infinite numbers existed in God's mind. Even today, almost every attempt to justify the principles of set theory relies on some notion of idealized abilities of the Omnipotent Mathematician. The existence of sets depends upon a certain sort of intellectual activity - a collecting or "thinking together." According to Alvin Plantinga,

"If the collecting or thinking together had to be done by human thinkers there wouldn't be nearly enough sets - not nearly as many as we think in fact there are. From a theistic point of view, sets owe their existence to God's thinking things together."

Plantinga grounds set theory on God's infinite power and knowledge. He concludes that theists thus have a distinct advantage in justifying set theory. A detailed theistic justification of modern set theory has been developed by Christopher Menzel (2001). Ultimately, the consistency and certainty of math can be grounded upon the multi-faceted nature of God Himself. Trust in God generates confidence in math. Bibliography John Byl’s The Divine Challenge: On Matter, Mind, Math & Meaning (2004) Christopher Menzel’s "God and Mathematical Objects" in Mathematics in a Postmodern Age: A Christian Perspective (2001) edited by Russell W. Howell & W. James Bradley Nickel, James Nickel’s Mathematics: Is God Silent? (2001) Alvin Plantinga’s "Prologue: Advice to Christian Philosophers" in Christian Theism and the Problems of Philosophy (1990) edited by Michael D. Beaty Vern Poythress’ "A Biblical View of Mathematics" in Foundations of Christian Scholarship (1976) edited by Gary North

This article first appeared in the February 2008 issue of Reformed Perspective under the title, "A Christian perspective on math." Dr. John Byl is the author of "God and Cosmos: A Christian View of Time, Space, and the Universe" and "The Divine Challenge: On Matter, Mind, Math & Meaning." He blogs at Bylogos.blogspot.com

Some guidelines in teaching math  The goal of Reformed education is to prepare students to serve the Lord (I Cor. 10:3). This entails teaching them to think and function within a Christian worldview. In any discipline one must teach not only the subject matter but how this coheres with other disciplines and finds meaning within the Christian worldview. God's truth functions as a comprehensive unity. Math should thus be taught in terms of various contexts. 1. Mathematical Context In addition to mathematical knowledge we should instill insight into why math works, an appreciation of its beauty and a love for math. 2. Theological Context Math must be connected to the Christian worldview. We should show how Christianity explains mathematical truth, the rational structure of the universe, and our ability to do math. Studying math should be motivated by the love of God and directed to His glory. Studying math tells us something about God (e.g., His wisdom, coherence, boundlessness, consistency, dependability, righteousness). 3. Applied Context We should illustrate how math is an important tool for other disciplines, such as science. Math helps us to fulfill the cultural mandate and to more deeply appreciate God’s wonderful world. We should stress both the strengths and limits of mathematical models: these have to be applied and interpreted in ways that are consistent with Scripture. More generally, math helps to develop logical thinking and analytical problem-solving abilities, skills that are useful in all facets of life. 4. Social context Math teaching can be enriched by linking topics to their historical-cultural context. One could tell interesting anecdotes about pertinent mathematicians, touching also upon their religious motivation. This will bolster also the theological context since Christianity played a large role in the scientific revolution and since most leading mathematicians  (e.g., Descartes, Pascal, Newton, Euler, Cantor, Gödel) were theists.

Assorted

C.S. Lewis on real happiness and real Christianity

So who does not want to be happy? We all do, but wanting something is not the same as finding it. We all strive after happiness, but how many people actually find true, lasting happiness? Of course for the Christian, we know this is a foolish quest. Search for joy and it will elude you. Search for God wholeheartedly and you will be found by Him and happiness will be thrown in as a by-product. This is basic Christian teaching, yet sadly even most Christians today seem to get this wrong big time. So many sermons we hear today are all about your own happiness and peace and satisfaction and having all your desires met. How can I be successful and happy and satisfied and prosperous? That is what we hear so often: it is all about self, self-satisfaction, self-fulfillment and personal happiness. Instead of the biblical emphasis on the denial of self, we get plenty of self-centered foolishness by church leaders who should know better. We expect the world to get it wrong here, but Christian pastors? Consider folks like Joel Osteen, the guy with the biggest church in America. This is what he said:

“To find happiness, quit focusing on what’s wrong with you and start focusing on what’s right with you.”

Um no, Joel, that is not the way it works at all. That is not even remotely biblical. We are to focus on God and God alone, and seek after holiness (without which no one will see God – Hebrews 12:14) and as a by-product, peace and happiness may well follow. But we are never told to seek after it, put it first, or to believe that we can somehow find it by focusing on our self. The real nature of happiness, and why it should not be our central concern, is something C.S. Lewis spoke often about. He wrote much about happiness, or joy. Indeed, he called his autobiography Surprised By Joy. In his many well-known works he speaks much to this. Here I want to look at some of his lesser-known writings as I discuss this issue. He wrote about these themes throughout his life, and even in his very last writing before his death in November 1963, he was discussing this. His essay “We Have No ‘Right To Happiness'” (later published in God in the Dock) speaks directly to this. A superficial happiness So what did he say in his last known writing? He mentions a woman who claimed a “right to happiness,” and says:

“At first this sounds to me as odd as a right to good luck. For I believe – whatever one school of moralists may say – that we depend for a very great deal of our happiness or misery on circumstances outside of human control. A right to happiness doesn’t, for me, make much more sense than a right to be six feet tall, or to have a millionaire for your father, or to get good weather whenever you want to have a picnic.”

He goes on to say that this woman meant primarily “sexual happiness.” He concludes his piece with these words:

“Though the ‘right to happiness’ is chiefly claimed for the sexual impulse, it seems to me impossible that the matter should stay there. The fatal principle, once allowed in that department, must sooner or later seep through our whole lives. We thus advance toward a state of society in which not only each man but every impulse in each man claims carte blanche [complete freedom]. And then, though our technological skill may help us survive a little longer, our civilization will have died at heart, and will – one dare not even add ‘unfortunately’ – be swept away.”

Another essay, also found in God in the Dock, is entitled “Answers to Questions on Christianity”. Question 11 asks this: “Which of the religions of the world gives to its followers the greatest happiness?” To this he gave this now famous reply:

“While it lasts, the religion of worshipping oneself is the best. I have an elderly acquaintance of about eighty, who has lived a life of unbroken selfishness and self-admiration from the earliest years, and is, more or less, I regret to say, one of the happiest men I know. From the moral point of view it is very difficult! I am not approaching the question from that angle. As you perhaps know, I haven’t always been a Christian. I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity. I am certain there must be a patent American article on the market which will suit you far better, but I can’t give any advice on it.”

No abiding happiness apart from God But perhaps some of his most-well known comments about happiness come from his classic Mere Christianity. As he says there:

“The moment you have a self at all, there is a possibility of putting yourself first – wanting to be the centre – wanting to be God, in fact. That was the sin of Satan: and that was the sin he taught the human race. Some people think the fall of man had something to do with sex, but that is a mistake. (The story in the Book of Genesis rather suggests that some corruption in our sexual nature followed the fall and was its result, not its cause.)

“What Satan put into the heads of our remote ancestors was the idea that they could ‘be like gods’ – could set up on their own as if they had created themselves – be their own masters – invent some sort of happiness for themselves outside God, apart from God. And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history – money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery – the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.

“The reason why it can never succeed is this. God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on petrol, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.”

And the very last paragraph of his book says this:

“Give up yourself and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favourite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.”

Conclusion Exactly right. This is indeed the basic Christian understanding, yet we have an entire generation of Christian teachers and preachers who have totally lost this, and are preaching a me-centered gospel which must disappoint. A focus on self, our wants, our desires, and our lusts is exactly what Satan wants us to do – but not God. Jesus made the secret to happiness absolutely plain in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12). Blessedness or happiness consists of being poor, being meek, mourning, being persecuted, and the like. That is the path to happiness. It is about denial of self, as Jesus spoke about so often. It certainly is not about being fixated on self, seeking your best life now, or aiming for material wealth and possessions. What Lewis said about happiness is just the simple Christian gospel. How can so many believers and preachers today miss this so thoroughly?

Bill Muehlenberg blogs on culture daily at BillMuehlenberg.com where this first appeared. It is reprinted here with permission.

In a Nutshell

Tidbits – March 2020

It’s so easy to get things wrong While doing evangelism, Christian apologist Ray Comfort will often ask his conversational partner a series of quick trick questions. The goal is to provoke a little humility by highlighting how easy it is to get things wrong. So take this quiz (or better, yet, give it to a friend...who can take a joke) and then look at the bottom of this page to see how well you really did. How many of the unclean animal did Moses take onto the Ark? What is the name of that raised print that deaf people use? Spell the word shop. What do you do when you come to a green light? It's noon. You look at the clock, and the big hand is on the three, and the little hand is on the five. What time is it? You are the driver of a train. There are 30 people on board. At the first stop, 10 people get off the train. At the next stop, 5 people get on the train. Here is the question: What is the name of the driver of the train? Spell the word silk. What do cows drink? And here’s one Comfort doesn’t use, but should:

What mouse walks on two legs?   I don’t know. Mickey Mouse! What dog walks on two legs?   Goofy? Right! And what duck walks on two legs?   Donald Duck! All ducks walk on two legs!

Troublemaking Bruce Jenner, who now goes by the name of Caitlyn, was an Olympic decathlete in the 1970s, and his personal best in the 400-meter is still better than any woman has ever run. If feelings can determine a person’s gender, then why doesn’t Caitlyn own the women’s 400-meter world record? Lies and statistics, and spanking... Every now and again the mainstream media will splash news of the very latest spanking study, which will report that spanking is "linked to aggression, antisocial behavior, mental health problems, cognitive difficulties, low self-esteem, and a host of other negative outcomes." That study will then be used as evidence that spanking needs to be banned. But if we look beyond the headline we'll find that whatever the latest study might be, it makes two fundamental errors. First, it will label as "spanking" anything physical that a parent did as a punishment for their child. That a child who is regularly beaten by his drunken father will have problems at school, is presented as evidence that a child who sometimes gets three smacks to his behind will also have trouble at school. Second, despite knowing that correlation does not imply causation, the press will report as if this is the exception to the rule, instead of looking for any sort of possible alternate explanation for the findings. What might an alternative explanation be? If I were a betting man I would put all my fortune down on this: were we to do a study of children who crayola the hallway wall, and then go outside to make mud pies so they can feed them to their napping, open-mouthed big sister, we would find that they are more likely than their peers to get spanked. In other words, it might well be that spankings don't lead to these "negative outcomes" but rather that a child's disposition to negative outcomes requires a parent to spank them more often. As any parent with two or more children can tell you, one of their kids will require more discipline than the others. And it isn't the especially good one. Get ready to be reviled "Pastors need to teach their people about how to handle with grace being looked down on more then ever before. I heard of John Stott reflecting that as a young man at Cambridge when people said ‘O he's a Christian,’ what they meant was that he was a goody-two-shoes. But now to be called a Christian means that you are viewed as a morally-deficient person, because you have not swallowed the gay agenda.” – Dr. John E Benton, Evangelicals Now, July 2012, on how the world will change as gay marriage becomes the norm. More troublemaking Our culture is insane, as is on clear display with what they think about sexual education. To put that insanity on better display here’s an idea from frequent RP contributor Rob Slane that lays out a couple of pointed questions a brave troublemaking Christian could ask university professors or sex-ed teachers.

"I imagine a teenager in a sex education lesson asking the following question: 'Miss. Assuming I take precautions, would it would be safer for me to have 3 partners or 300?' No brainer of course, and even the most progressive of teachers would have to admit that 3 is 'safer' than 300. Simple mathematical probabilities this one: the lower the number, the 'safer the sex.'

"In which case a really mischievous teenager – a true rebel you might say – might ask the following question: 'Miss, is it safer to only have 1 partner for life, or multiple? And if it’s 1 – which it is – and if this is a safe-sex lesson – which it is – why do you not advocate it?'”

Faint heart never won fair lady “Many a man has known a great woman, yet did not win her because, out of fear, he failed to pursue her.  Every man understands this, both the brave man who has risked it all (and won or lost) and the timid man who did not dare.  The battle to take the great action required at these ‘make it or break it’ moments is won or lost privately, deep in the heart.” – Patrick F. Fagan Answers for "It’s so easy to get things wrong" Moses didn't take any animals on the ark; Noah did. Deaf people don't need special raised print; Braille is for the blind. You certainly don't stop. We told you, it's noon. Remember, you are the driver of the train. While calves might drink milk, cows drink water.

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Tagged: featured, Saturday selections

Saturday Selections – December 14, 2019

Hummingbirds are way cooler than you knew… (3 minutes)

Did you know their tongues aren’t straws so much as skinny unfurling claws? This is freaky cool stuff designed and crafted by our great God!

Was Christ actually born on December 25? (10-minute read)

You may have heard that Dec. 25 was originally a pagan sun-worshipping festival marking the winter solstice, and then the Church co-opted it to celebrate a very different Son. But Dr. William J. Tighe argues that while it is highly unlikely the 25th is actually when Christ was born, the Christmas celebration came before the pagan one – Christmas was the original, and the co-option was actually a pagan attempt to subvert the Christian celebration, not the other way around.

World’s first “detransition” conference (3-minute read)

Feminists organized a conference of medical and health personal, and women who have used surgery and drugs to attempt to become men. The conference included testimony from some of the women about how cutting off their breasts and taking puberty blockers only led to later regrets. And yet even at this conference some expressed more, and others expressed less, regret – confusion remained because no one was pointing attendees to Christ, where they can find their identity as forgiven, as worshippers, and as male and female made in God’s very Image.

Smartphones for the kiddies this Christmas? Weighing the pros and cons (5-minute read)

The subtitle for this one is: “Reasons to wait.”

Reports of the apostrophe’s death have been greatly exaggerated

Few seem to know when it should be “its” versus “it’s.” And that’s why the Apostrophe Protection Society was born.

But science says… (2 minutes)

If you’re older than 40 you’ll remember a time when butter was bad and then good for you, red meat was hazardous and then became a key part of paleolithic diets, and, as Dr. Wells shares below, eggs were good and then bad for you, and then not so bad for you.

Why does this matter? Because we need to understand that, despite acting like their pronouncements are beyond question, scientific experts get things wrong all the time. So, for example, prior to 2012 we were told that 98.5% of the human genome was junk and that this demonstrated the messy haphazard nature of our evolutionary origins. As Richard Dawkins wrote in his 2009 book The Greatest Show on Earth: The evidence for Evolution:

 “it is a remarkable fact that the greater part (95% percent in the case of humans) of the genome might as well be not there for the difference it makes.”

Just a few years later the ENCODE project discovered this “junk DNA” was anything but. It was getting transcribed into RNA, and may have a role in regulating protein production. The “experts” were, once again, wrong.

So when experts dispute the  Bible, we don’t need to be worried – this is the infallible Word of God versus the very fallible word of folks who, time after time, end up with “egg on their face.”

 


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