Why I Believe Again

The fascinating testimony of a Christian turned atheist turned (recently) Christian who once wrote a controversial biography of C. S. Lewis:

Watching a whole cluster of friends, and my own mother, die over quite a short space of time convinced me that purely materialist “explanations” for our mysterious human existence simply won’t do – on an intellectual level. The phenomenon of language alone should give us pause. A materialist Darwinian was having dinner with me a few years ago and we laughingly alluded to how, as years go by, one forgets names. Eager, as committed Darwinians often are, to testify on any occasion, my friend asserted: “It is because when we were simply anthropoid apes, there was no need to distinguish between one another by giving names.”

This credal confession struck me as just as superstitious as believing in the historicity of Noah’s Ark. More so, really.

Do materialists really think that language just “evolved”, like finches’ beaks, or have they simply never thought about the matter rationally? Where’s the evidence? How could it come about that human beings all agreed that particular grunts carried particular connotations? How could it have come about that groups of anthropoid apes developed the amazing morphological complexity of a single sentence, let alone the whole grammatical mystery which has engaged Chomsky and others in our lifetime and linguists for time out of mind? No, the existence of language is one of the many phenomena – of which love and music are the two strongest – which suggest that human beings are very much more than collections of meat. They convince me that we are spiritual beings, and that the religion of the incarnation, asserting that God made humanity in His image, and continually restores humanity in His image, is simply true. As a working blueprint for life, as a template against which to measure experience, it fits.

[From New Statesman – Why I Believe Again, by A. N. Wilson]

Presuppositions make the man.

Chambers and Creationism

Another great quotation from Whittaker Chambers that has come to my mind many, many times:

I date my break [from Communism, which Chambers lived for and which, he says, was inherently atheist] from a very casual happening. I was sitting in our apartment on St. Paul Street in Baltimore. It was shortly before we moved to Alger Hiss’s apartment in Washington. My daughter was in her high chair. I was watching her eat. She was the most miraculous thing that had ever happened in my life. I liked to watch her even when she smeared porridge on her face or dropped it meditatively on the floor. My eye came to rest on the delicated convolutions of her ear—those intricate, perfect ears. The thought passed through m mind: “No, those ears were not created by any chance coming together of atoms in nature (the Communist view). They could have been created only by immense design.” The thought was involuntary and unwanted. I crowded it out of my mind. But I never wholly forgot it or the occasion. I had to crowd it out of my mind. If I had completed it, I should have had to say: Design presupposes God. I did not then know that, at that moment, the finger of God was first laid upon my forehead.

Witness, Whittaker Chambers, 16
Random House, 1952

Theologically Exhausted

I’ve just had the longest post famine in the history of my blog (excluding my honeymoon), I believe. I’m afraid I’m currently focused on work and dissertation, both of which have required significant attention recently.

But I can’t let my blog readers—both of you!—miss this great quotation, which I just placed in the new Bible Truths 12th grade textbook on worldview. The anecdote comes from Whittaker Chambers’ famous book Witness. Chambers gained his notoriety from his writing skill (notably at TIME magazine) and his controversial testimony against Communist Alger Hiss.

I use this illustration to show that we all believe things on authority and that we all have presuppositions we accept on faith.

In summer, my mother was a great pie maker and she had a way of holding up a pie on the fingertips of one hand while she trimmed the loose edges of crust with the other. She was doing this one day, when, in some rambling child’s conversation, I said something about “when God made the world.” I think I was trying it out on her. If so, the result was much better than I could have expected.

She froze with the pie in one hand and the trimming knife suspended in the other. “Somebody told you that,” she said with a severity she seldom used to me. “You picked that up somewhere. You must learn to think for yourself. You must keep an open mind and not accept other people’s opinions. The world was formed by gases cooling in space.”

I thought about this many times. But it was not the gaseous theory of creation that impressed me, though I did not reject it. What impressed me was that it was an opinion, too, since other people believed something else. Then, why had my mother told me what to think? Clearly, if the open mind was open (as I would say to myself later on, still turning over this conversation in my mind years afterwards), truth was simply a question of which opening you preferred. In effect, the open mind was always closed at one end. pp. 116-117.

Genesis 1 and Exodus 19, A Canonical Connection

Do you find yourself baffled by the Old Testament? You want to apply it to your life, but many passages seem impenetrable and the lessons you hear drawn from others just don’t ring true?

One idea I was taught in seminary that has begun to yield some rich results for me is that of biblical theology (BT)—or I could also say worldview. That’s because a rounded BT itself constitutes a worldview (see Wolters, 9). It answers the questions of why we’re all here and where we’re all going.

One of the most basic ideas of a Christian worldview, and one of the ideas that holds a sound BT together from Eden to New Earth, is that God’s original purpose for mankind was not revoked after the fall. God revealed that design in the programmatic passage of Genesis 1:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

What does BT draw from this passage for a Christian worldview?

  • God wanted man to image Him—something that is and isn’t happening in every one of us. It is happening, because all men are created in God’s image whether they believe in the God of that image or not (Gen. 9:6; Jas. 3:9). It isn’t happening to a full degree because only in Christ can we better approximate that image (Col. 3:10; Eph. 4:24).
  • God wanted man to have dominion over all animals and over all the earth. That includes domains of culture: economics, politics, art.
  • God wanted man to produce many offspring, filling the earth.
  • God wanted man to “subdue” the earth, a word most commonly used to refer to enslaving or subjugating.
  • God wanted man to have dominion, something only God, the sovereign, can bestow.

Now to my title. Let’s connect this passage to the famous programmatic statement God gave Israel in Exodus 19:4–6:

You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.

Now read this statement in light of Genesis 1 and God’s original purpose for man. God intended Israel to be “priests”; that is, they were supposed to mediate God’s presence to other nations. They were supposed to image God, as Genesis 1 commanded, to the heathen. Israel was (and is) all part of God’s plan, revealed right after the fall, to redeem the world. (A friend of mine wrote his dissertation on this topic.)

When you read the Bible, can you trace threads like these from beginning to end? If not, vast portions of the Old Testament will not make sense to you. You will be tempted to moralize—to command obedience without grace. You will be tempted to spiritualize—to invest insignificant details (like David’s five smooth stones) with spiritual meaning. To understand the OT rightly, you have to keep the whole story in mind.