C. S. Lewis, atheist

C. S. Lewis, one of the foremost Christian apologists, had been for 15 years a convinced and rather militant atheist.  My friend and former colleague Joel Heck has written a splendid study of Lewis’s atheism, published by Concordia Publishing House:   From Atheism to Christianity:  The Story of C. S. Lewis

There are many kinds of atheism, just like there are many kinds of Christianity, and Joel unpacks the influences, books, and ideas that defined Lewis’s particular variety of unbelief.  In tracing Lewis’s life and intellectual development from his school days through the early years of his academic career, the book is a compelling biography.

In his recreation of the intellectual atmosphere of pre-war Oxford, Joel shows the important influence of idealist philosophers, such as F. H. Bradley and Henri Bergson.  Most studies of early modernism focus on materialism and existentialism.  And yet, arguably, the idealists–who said things like “”the Universe begins to look more like a great thought than like a great machine” (James Jeans)–may have been even more important.  After all, T. S. Eliot, a founder of literary modernism, wrote his dissertation on Bradley.  Certainly the artistic modernists–Yeats and Joyce with their mythmaking; Stravinsky with his neo-primitive music; Picasso’s Cubism, Dalí’s Surrealism, and Kandinsky’s Abstractionism–are hard to reconcile with the definition of Modernism as an “age of reason.”  [Suggestion for graduate students:  Lots of good material for dissertations here!]

Both idealists and materialists could be atheist, and Lewis seems to have vacillated between the two, but idealism best accounted for his personal and aesthetic yearnings.  This new book also describes in detail how and why Lewis gave up his atheism, turning first to belief in a personal though philosophically-abstract deity, and then to the God of Abraham who became incarnate in Jesus Christ.

C. S. Lewis fans, apologists, intellectual historians, and atheists will all want to read this book.

[Read more…]

Mathematical proof of God’s existence?

Kurt_gödelNPG D23949; St Anselm after Unknown artistThe great mathematician and logician Kurt Gödel, who died in 1978, left behind a series of equations that purport to prove the existence of God.

As I understand it (and I don’t understand the math!), the equations test the validity of St. Anselm’s ontological argument for God’s existence, which defines God as the greatest being that can be conceived.  Such a being would have to have the property of existence; otherwise, we could conceive of a greater being, namely, one that exists.  And that one would be God.

This sounds like a language game, but philosophers have wrestled with the argument for centuries, finding it more formidable than it might appear on the surface.

Now two European computer scientists have run Gödel’s mathematical proof on a computer and found it valid.

You do the math:

“Ax. 1. {P(φ)∧◻∀x[φ(x)→ψ(x)]} →P(ψ)Ax. 2.P(¬φ)↔¬P(φ)Th. 1.P(φ)→◊∃x[φ(x)]Df. 1.G(x)⟺∀φ[P(φ)→φ(x)]Ax. 3.P(G)Th. 2.◊∃xG(x)Df. 2.φ ess x⟺φ(x)∧∀ψ{ψ(x)→◻∀y[φ(y)→ψ(y)]}Ax. 4.P(φ)→◻P(φ)Th. 3.G(x)→G ess xDf. 3.E(x)⟺∀φ[φ ess x→◻∃yφ(y)]Ax. 5.P(E)Th. 4.◻∃xG(x)”.

After the jump, a news story on the computer scientists’ work.  I also include Gödel’s proof and a link explaining the above mathematical notation. [Read more…]

A book on why we should trust the Bible

Trevor's book on the BibleThere are four more shopping days until Christmas, time (especially if you have Amazon Prime with free two-day shipping) to buy for someone who needs it Trevor Sutton’s new book Why Should I Trust the Bible?

Trevor is the author of another good book,  Being Lutheran.  He is a young pastor and an excellent, enjoyable-to-read writer.  (I’m going to be collaborating with him on a project–more on that later.) This book takes on the confusions, untruths, and half-truths that undermine confidence in the Scriptures.  It makes a strong positive case that the Bible is a unique book whose foundation is Jesus and which is utterly reliable.  This work of lively apologetics will connect with the young and the old, the faithful and the questioning.

I especially like the organization of the book, which breaks down the different issues (the charge that the Bible is myth, that it is full of errors and inconsistencies, that the canon was an imposition of power, that the translations are unreliable, etc.).  It deals with each objection thoroughly.  At the end of each chapter is an excursus that looks at the issue in terms of another work of literature (The Epic of Gilgamesh, The Gettysburg Address, Shakespeare’s history plays, etc.), showing how the Bible comes across better.

After the jump, more description from Amazon. [Read more…]

Subverting people’s need to constantly justify themselves

In the discussion of Michael Lockwood’s new book The Unholy Trinity:  Martin Luther against the Idol of Me, Myself, and I, the author himself joined in.  He explained what he was getting at in his book in words that demonstrate what I said about his insights.

In case you don’t read the comments, I didn’t want you to miss what he said about the way people today try to evade God’s Law in a futile attempt to justify themselves.  As opposed to being justified by Christ.  Read what he says after the jump. Then buy this book. [Read more…]

Reaching today’s idolaters of the self

How do you proclaim the forgiveness of sins to someone who doesn’t think he has done anything wrong?  How can you apply the Law to someone who feels no guilt and the Gospel to someone who feels no need for Christ?  Trying to evangelize today’s relativists seems like a futile project.  How can we get through to them?

The Australian pastor and theologian Michael Lockwood has just published a stimulating, paradigm-shifting book entitled The Unholy Trinity:  Martin Luther against the Idol of Me, Myself, and I.

On one level, it is a study of Luther’s view of idolatry.  For Luther, idolatry is not just worshipping graven images, as with Christians who think tangible objects used in worship, such as crucifixes, are idols.  Rather, idolatry is worshipping false gods created by the self.  In his explanation of the First Commandment in the the Large Catechism, Luther asks, “what is it to have a God?”  His answer:  What do you put put your faith in?  That’s your God.  Ultimately, idolatry is the opposite of saving faith in Christ.  It means putting your faith in yourself.

Dr. Lockwood then applies the insights from Luther to today’s spiritual landscape, from “Moralistic-therapeutic-Deism,” through the whole array of false spiritualities, to the pure secularism that sees no need for God at all.  All of these, at their root, are idolaters of the self.  But the self will let you down every time.

Drawing on his experience as a missionary, Dr. Lockwood says that non-believers first need to be “disenchanted” with their idols. He shows how the Law brings a message not only of guilt but of disenchantment.  In times of suffering, failure, and the prospect of death, even the idolaters of the self can find redemption in Christ.

This is a ground-breaking book that brings a distinctly Lutheran perspective on the task of apologetics, evangelism, and pastoral care.  But all Christians will benefit from its fresh approach to cultural criticism and from learning from Dr. Lockwood the art of “spiritual diagnosis.”

Read my review after the jump.  Then buy this book.

[Read more…]

Don’t give them the Gospel? 

We often assume that if we could only find the right way to reach those who are opposed to Christianity that we could win them over to the Gospel.  S. M. Hutchens, writing in the Touchstone blog, says that many of these folks don’t lack knowledge of Christ.  They are simply rejecting Him.

Good point.  But then he says that such overt enemies of God should not be given the Gospel, that they cannot be evangelized.

I would say that we are all by nature enemies of God.  And that, by the power of the Word, the Holy Spirit can bring even the worst enemy of God to salvation.  (I am thinking of St. Paul, who called himself “the worst of sinners” and was an overt persecutor of the Church and of Christ.)  Certainly, a person can’t be open to the Gospel without first being broken by the Law, which can happen in various ways.  But that is part of the process of evangelism, and everyone needs to be evangelized.  (We Lutherans believe in the universal atonement, that Christ died for everyone, so we cannot assume that any given person is one of the non-elect “reprobates.”)

But is there something in what Hutchens says?  Even if those who are purposefully rejecting God should still be evangelized, do we need to approach them and the trouble they give Christians differently than if they were merely ignorant?  Read his argument, excerpted and linked after the jump. [Read more…]