Sermonette notes, 12-23-00 by Eric Snow
Controversy I’m generated over the years with letters to the editor. Generated a lot of trouble at the Jackson Citizen-Patriot and East Lansing State News. Would get replies, both in print, and by letter and phone at home. When had letter critical of gay lifestyle published in State News, one man wrote me who was a traditional Christian, but disliked me using a certain rational argument in criticism of the gay lifestyle. Correctly saw a problem with it. But wrong to say such arguments should be left to unbelievers. Coming from opposite side, one professor in print criticized me for quoting from an atheistic philosopher (Ayn Rand) in another letter I wrote that said gays shouldn’t receive governmental protection from being discriminated against in jobs, etc. He said I was confused and ignorant to do this.
So what do these two stories have in common? Both the traditional Christian and the skeptical professor both agreed Christians shouldn’t use human reason to support doctrinal or theological points.
Would Paul agree with these two men? Would he think it was wrong to prove God’s existence by human reason? Would he think it was wrong to use human reason to prove moral absolutes existed? Would he think it would be wrong to use reasoned arguments for believing in the Bible?
Paul wouldn’t have agreed with these two critics of mine. He believed that human reason could know that God existed, and that it could figure out certain of God’s characteristics and attributes. It also could figure out some basic morality based on people’s consciences.
S.P.S.: Today, we’re going to show that Paul believed that human reason could prove God’s existence and certain very basic Christian teachings.
Human reason like a wild horse in natural state: Have to break it, tame it, or else will naturally tend to go against faith. There’s always an evil human nature and Satan’s continuing influence to push it that way. But God gave it, and our minds, to us also. This is how we’re superior to the animals. The ancient Greek (and pagan) philosopher Aristotle didn’t invent the laws of logic, but merely discovered what was there already.
Deductive logic (syllogism):
Fluffy is a cat, All cats have tails, therefore, Fluffy has a tail. All chimpanzees are primates, all primates are mammals, therefore, all chimpanzees are mammals.
Why is this dangerous?
What’s wrong in using human reason to support Bible’s truths, when available? Mr. Armstrong was willing to do this. Compare to Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, 5 ways of proving God’s existence.
Was Paul opposed to human reason proving God to exist per se?
V. 18: can’t suppress truth if don’t know it, as has been observed. Like Charles Darwin admitting the eye’s complexity made him uncomfortable:
“Although the belief that an organ so perfect as the eye could have been formed by natural selection, is enough to stagger any one . . . I have felt the difficult far too keenly to be surprised at others hesitating to extend the principle of natural selection to so startling a length.” Origin of the Species
How many skeptics like him since, who really in private doubt their atheism or agnosticism than let us know?
V. 19: Clear to them God is there.
V. 20: Also can know certain attributes or characteristics of God by human reason, not just bare existence.
HWA: Cornered a communist and atheist by an argument that shows God has a mind. Similar to John Locke’s argument, actually:
GO SLOW, EXPLAIN SOME SINCE MAY BE TOO FAST
“Now,” I pursued, “you’re a real intelligent man. I’m sure you won’t deny that! You have a mind. With it you can think, imagine, reason, plan. You can make things. But you cannot make anything that is superior to your mind! Do you agree to that, or can you show me that you can originate and produce something superior to your mind?” He was getting more confused by the minute. Of course he could not demonstrate that he could produce something superior to his own mind, so he was forced to admit it. “Then you have admitted that whatever can be produced must be devised, planned, and produced by an intelligence greater and superior to whatever is produced. Do you know of anything that is more intelligent, and superior, than your mind?” . . . “I guess not,” he admitted weakly. “And yet you acknowledge that something less intelligent than your mind could never have produced your mind and that it must of necessity have been devised and produced by an Intelligence greater than your mind. So you see you have admitted a First Cause having life, and of intelligence superior to the most intelligent thing you know, in order to bring you and your mind into existence.” Pointed to animals and plants in world, said if you couldn’t devise them by own intelligence, then it took a superior power, greater intelligence, a “Living Creator” to do so.
(Autobiography, vol. 1, pp. 583-584)
V. 21: People try to reason way out to disobey God, do what they want. Untamed horse analogy again: Human reason can be used for good or for evil, to write “Mystery of the Ages,” or “Origin of the Species.”
(SPS repetition): So Paul here is plainly saying humans are morally responsible for knowing that God exists and that He has certain attributes or characteristics, and that they should have worshipped Him, but didn’t. This can be known by human reason alone.
BE READY TO SKIP OR TRIM THIS DOWN, AS NECESSARY:
Acts 18:22 –31:
Paul deals with Epicurean and Stoic philosophers (v. 18).
Uses basic fundamentals both pagans and Jews can believe in, uses same starting point. Can’t start with Old Testament with these people, and its prophecies about the coming Messiah: They don’t believe in it.
v. 22: Knows they are pagans, hates it (v. 16), but compliments them on their religiosity, a shared value.
v. 23: says the God they don’t know is the Creator, whom he knows about. Altar to unknown God.
Pathetic aspect to this: Some pagan realized he was ignorant, wanted to reach out to a God he didn’t know, but left in ignorance until 2nd resurrection. Be thankful you’re called!
V. 24-25: describes the True God’s attributes in general terms.
V. 26-27: All can serve this God, not just one ethnic group (i.e., the Jews).
V. 28: Quotes a pagan poet who correctly describes mankind’s relationship with the true God. Aratus, 270 b.c., friend of Zeno, the founder of the Stoic school of philosophy. “Always we all have need of Zeus, for we are also his offspring.”
Epimenides the Cretan, 6th century b.c., wrote, “They fashioned a tomb for thee, O holy and high one . . . But thou art not dead; thou livest and abidest for ever; for in thee we live and move and have our being.” SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 6.
Notice that Paul doesn’t start out by running them down, saying “Repent ye sinners!” Can’t operate with them as prophets did with the Jews, since they don’t know enough.
V. 29: Natural law reasoning to second commandment!
V. 30-31: Actually doesn’t mention Jesus’ name, still says nothing about the Old Testament, etc.
BACKUP: Rom. 2:14-15, natural law morality.
Dangerous to let human reason be controlled by, and used only by, skeptics. Should tame, then mobilize this gift of God to serve God with. Not opposed to faith, if given proper role for both reason and faith.
So in conclusion, since Paul used human reason to support his efforts to evangelize unbelievers in the world, why shouldn’t we also? If Paul said we could know God existed by human reason, and know certain attributes of God’s by human reason, why can’t we also? So instead of saying human reason is evil per se, it’s better to say an untamed human reason that reasons against the plain teachings of God’s revealed word, the Bible, is the problem.