Why Literature Matters: Some Presuppositional Considerations (Pt. 1)

heart-and-tongue2During my visit to Westminster Seminary California, I sat in on Dr. David Van Drunen’s ethics class. In his lecture, he spoke about general and specific/special revelation as regards the moral law. What I found particularly refreshing about his lecture were his comments on literature being a means of moral reflection. Literary works can help Christians better contemplate just how difficult it is for us, as fallen sinners, to disentangle our sinfulness from our conceptions of justice, fairness, etc. As regards morality, literature can function parabolically/didactively or cathartically/mimetically. This provides the Christian with much to consider from his own standpoint.

Perhaps even more significantly, however, moral considerations, which are in every novel, force the reader to ask questions about ontology, psychology, and epistemology. Thus, the reading of literature is not only helpful as regards moral questions which we may face as Christians, but as regards ontological, psychological, and epistemological points of view that are rooted in the Christian worldview but which have been perverted in the service of sin and rebellion.

For instance, while the diction of a narrator may not be identical to the diction of the author who created the narrator, the diction of the narrator signifies the kind of person the narrator is and, thereby, reminds us that “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt 12:34b). This connection between personhood/psychology and language is one that forms the very substance of a narrator. Moreover, given the assumption that the narrator is “omniscient” (see here), the characters themselves may be said to display the same phenomenon of speaking in accordance with their very personal/psychological constitution.

As a writer, I can personally attest to how difficult it is to create fictional characters (narrators, protagonists, or antagonists) whose “voice” is completely distinct from my own. I have a peculiar taste for out of the ordinary latinate words, baroque internal rhythms, intricately woven causal chains tied together by connectives (e.g. and/or, thereby, and so on) and transitional words and phrases (e.g. therefore, however, moreover, notwithstanding, and so on). The artist paints his own face, to some extent, in every profile he paints, no matter how well-trained he may be in reproducing what is before him. And it is the same in literature: Out of the abundance of the heart (i.e. the mind/soul) the mouth speaks. Even the best writers, those who are said to be masters at reproducing in a single novel multiple dialects of a given language (e.g. Mark Twain, Carson McCullers, and Charles Portis) cannot fully extricate themselves from their creatures. The point of a character’s voice breaking into what can only be called poetic rhapsody, for instance, is typically the point at which his/her voice contains the least noticeable traces of the dialect by which he has, up to this point, been defined. The author’s heart determines his speech; the hearts created by the author determine how they will speak as well.

The connection here should not be overlooked, for it is central to every literary production. Even in works where the reader is encouraged to question the veracity of the narrator, they are prompted to do so by the narrator’s voice. In her essay A Question of Credibility: The Subjective Narrator of Notes from the Underground (by Fyodor Dostoevsky), Victoria Stephanova elucidates this very well. She writes:

The narrator of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Notes from the Underground repeatedly asserts that he is not writing for a public audience. Instead, the underground man, as the narrator is known, declares that he is writing purely for his own benefit in an effort to attain self-honesty. If this is true, then we are left to believe that Part I of his work is a monologue in confessional form, while Part II is a genuine memoir of certain events that occurred in the underground man’s past. However, given the fact that Notes from the Underground is saturated with his exaggerations, contradictions, and distortions of reality, we have good reason to question the veracity of the underground man’s statements. Thus, the first part of this essay shall argue that Notes from the Underground is a subjective testimony of a first-person narrator who expects his work to be read by others. With this in mind, the second part of this essay aims to demonstrate that the underground man’s awareness of the presence of a reader prevents him from composing a genuine account of his life. (source)

Stephanova’s thesis, whether true or not, illustrates that it is the narrator’s words [i.e. his “exaggerations, contradictions, and distortions of reality”] which give us “good reason to question the veracity of the  underground man’s statements.”

-h.

[Continued in Pt. 2]

Another Reason Why Theology Matters

CHRIST crushing the head of satanAs I listened to a recent episode of the Unbelievable podcast, I found myself agreeing more with the atheist’s contentions than with the professing Christian’s assertions. Let me explain.

The subject matter was that of divine healing. Specifically, the question was: “Do healing miracles happen?” The professing Christian is Robby Dawkins. The skeptic is David Beebee. I found myself in agreement with the atheist’s reasoning, reasoning which led him to ask for the purpose of scattered healings here and there, if they actually did take place. Robby had no answer. And this is where I grew frustrated.

You see, if God heals a man, that man will eventually die (if Christ doesn’t return before that). And if God does not heal that man, that man will still eventually die (if Christ doesn’t return before that). So in either case, the situation the man faces is the same: He will die. Why then would God heal the man? What is the purpose of the healing? Where is the orderliness and thorough significance that always accompanies God’s acts of healing in the Scriptures?

According to Scripture, death and sickness are the result of sin. Therefore, death and sickness will be in the world as long as there are sinners there. Moreover, so long as I am a sinner, even if I am redeemed, I will get sick. I will die. Sickness is not autonomous; sickness is part and parcel of the divine curse to which God, not the devil, has subjected all men. The healing of men in the Bible, then, signifies the removal of the curse, as it is only found in Jesus Christ. The atheist, then, is, ironically, right in asking about the purpose of these supposed present day “healings.” What is their purpose?

Christ’s working of miracles established His Divinity, His Messiah-ship, the lifting of the curse (as it has been placed upon God’s spotless and undefiled Lamb), and the future hope of resurrection unto incorruptible eternal life where there is neither sickness nor death. Christ’s works were not simply thrown around in order to show off God’s ability to heal. They were a testimony to His identity, as He Himself tells John the Baptist:

…the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them
(Matt 11:5-6)

Performing these deeds, says Jesus, is proof that He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. The signs were not performed for the applause of men.

Why won’t God heal everyone?

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)

And

The wages of sin is death.

God is under obligation to His own holiness and goodness to not lift the curse of sickness and death from man. Men get sick because God wills them to get sick.

Yet God also is under obligation to fulfill the promise He made to Abraham saying:

…in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed…(Genesis 22:18)

And that offspring is Christ. (Galatians 3:16)

And that blessing is salvation from the wrath of God – spiritually and physically. (See, Romans 3:24 & 8:23)

So the proper response to the atheist’s question “Why does God allow people to get sick?” is very simple:

The Gospel.

Sickness and death are punishment for our sins. (See, Genesis 3:16-19)
Healing is not something God must perform; however, punishment is necessary.
Yet God heals those who to come to Him in faith.

He heals their spirits.

He raises their bodies from the grave.

He removes His curse upon them forever.

Amen!

-h.

Of the Nature of Christ’s Mediation – John Flavel

jflfavelaHere’s another gem from John Flavel’s The Fountain of Life (you can download the entire book in pdf format here):

It implies, a necessity of satisfaction and reparation to the justice of God. For the very design and end of this mediation was to make peace, by giving full satisfaction to the party that was wronged. The Photinians, and some others, have dreamed of a reconciliation with God, founded not upon satisfaction, but upon the absolute mercy, goodness, and free-will of God.

“But concerning that absolute goodness and mercy of God, reconciling sinners to himself, there is a deep silence throughout the scriptures:” and whatever is spoken of it,upon that account, is as it works to us through Christ, Eph. 1: 3, 4, 5.Acts 4: 12. John 6: 40. And we cannot imagine, either how God could exercise mercy to the prejudice of his justice,which must be, if we must be reconciled without full satisfaction; or how such a full satisfaction should be made by any other than Christ. Mercy, indeed moved in the heart of God to poor man; but from his heart it found no way to vent itself for us, but through the heart blood of Jesus Christ: and in him the justice of God was fully satisfied, and the misery of the creature fully cured.

And so, as Augustine speaks, “God neither lost the severity of his justice in the goodness of mercy, nor the goodness of his mercy in the exactness of his severity.” But if it had been possible God could have found out a way to reconcile us without satisfaction, yet it is past doubt now, that he has pitched and fixed on this way. And for any now to imagine to reconcile themselves to God by any thing but faith in the blood of this mediator, is not only most vain in itself, and destructive to the soul, but most insolently derogatory to the wisdom and grace of God.

And to such I would say, as Tertullian to Marcion, whom he calls the murderer of truth,“spare the only hope of the whole world, O thou who destroyest the most necessary glory of our faith!” All that we hope for is but a fantasy without this.

Peace of conscience can be rationally settled on no other foundation but this; for God having made a law to govern man, and this law violated by man; either the penalty must be levied on the delinquent, or satisfaction made by his surety. As good no law, as no penalty for disobedience; and as good no penalty, as no execution.

He therefore that will be made a mediator of reconciliation betwixt God and man, must bring God a price in His hand, and that adequate to the offence and wrongs done him, else he will not treat about peace; and so did our Mediator.

-The Fountain of Life, PDF version p.81.

Fallacies & Falsities: Some Clarification

penguThe debate between Dr. James White and Chris Pinto over whether or not Codex-Sinaiticus is a modern day forgery was one that disappointed me. I explained the reason why in my article Disappointment with the White vs. Pinto Debateand it had nothing to do with Dr. White presenting false information, but with his use of fallacious reasoning. Yet I have received criticism for pointing out that Dr. White’s argumentation in that debate is fallacious.

I think there are many reasons for this, but I’ll just keep it to the one reason I think is very significant. Understanding and properly using the laws of logical inference is not something that the world encourages us to engage in. Sadly, this is also true for many Christian churches. The contemporary assault on theological truths that are derived from clear passages of Scripture is, for instance, very common in our time – and this is so despite the fact that Scripture teaches us to know God through the reading, analysis, and comprehension of God’s Word and the propositions necessarily derived from those passages!

Consequently, many today mistakenly think that identifying an argument as fallacious is equivalent to identifying that argument’s conclusion as false. However, this is not at all the case. In fact, identifying an argument’s conclusion as false because its structure is invalid/fallacious is, ironically, itself a fallacy known as an argumentum ad logicam, or the argument from fallacy.

Identifying that your opponent’s argument is fallacious allows you say that their conclusion has not been proven or adequately defended. It allows you to say, along with Dr. James White, that “Inconsistency is the sign of a failed argument.” But that is not equivalent to saying that the conclusion one draws from a fallacious argument is false.

Consider the following example:

If it is raining outside, my sink will be dry.

My sink is dry.

Therefore, it is raining outside.

This is a hypothetical syllogism (i.e. a three part argument taking the form of If p, then Q; Q; therefore, p). Ignoring the absurd connection between the rainfall outside and my sink’s wetness or dryness, even if there were some weird connection there, the conclusion does not follow from the premises. My sink could be dry for an infinite number of reasons. Therefore, it may be not the case that it is raining outside. The technical name for this fallacy is “Affirming the Consequent,” and it is the fallacy scientists commit whenever they test a hypothesis. This means that their arguments do not prove their conclusions; however, it does not mean that their conclusions are false.

The fallaciousness of the argument in my example, therefore, does not indicate that its conclusion is false. It could be raining outside, despite the fallacious argumentation I try to use to prove that it is raining outside.

Fallacies and falsities are not identical.

When I say that an argument is fallacious, I am saying that the statement “Argument p proves conclusion q” is false; in other words, I am saying that “It is not true that Dr. White’s argument proved his points.” However, I am not thereby saying that the conclusion q is false; or, once more, I am not saying that “Dr White’s points are false.”

The difference should be taken into consideration here and remembered so that we can argue more clearly against the enemies of the faith, and so honor Christ our God.

Soli Deo Gloria

-h.