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I wanted to write a book on the subject of God, but I knew that the subject was lofty and high, and at best, I would be looking in on the Godhead from the outside, doing what clowns are meant to do in a play like Hamlet.
[Shakespearean plays often revolved around characters from royalty and high society—and in these plays, the clowns took on the roles of commoners—who would give the audience another viewpoint, another angle, with which to understand the plot.]
But this book—Knowing God—is not what I had in mind. Knowing God may seem, at first glance, to be a properly-planned book, but it is actually more like a string of beads—or rather more like a string of chapters, because these chapters were originally written as separate articles and published in Evangelical Magazine. Later they came together like a single message about God, covering those topics on the subject that would be helpful for Christian living.
John Mackay was a Presbyterian theologian who wrote a book called Christian Theology. In the preface he describes two different kinds of interest people can have in Christian things. To explain this better, Mackay pictures a Spanish house built along a road where travelers would pass by. He then describes two different kinds of people in the scene, both of whom have a keen interest on matters related to the road and the journey. One group of people sat on the high balcony on the front of the house and watched the travellers on the road. The other group were the travellers themselves.
The balconeers were interested in the road and would:
- Overhear the conversation of the travellers and chat with them
- Comment critically about the way the travellers walked
- Discuss questions and matters about the road including things like
- How the road can lead anywhere
- What might be seen from different points along the road
The travellers were interested in the road and they had problems which:
- Were mainly practical—
- which-way-to-go problems
- how-to-make-it problems
- decision and
Balconeers were only onlookers with theoretical problems that they had to understand with their heads. Travellers, on the other hand, were actually on the road, and while they too may have had a theoretical take on things, their problems were of a practical nature.
How Balconeer types and Traveller types can look at subjects related to God:
|Subject||Balconeer concerns||Traveller concerns|
|Evil||Can evil co-exist with God’s goodness and sovereignty?||How can we master evil and bring good out of it?|
|Sin||How can it be true that we are sinners on account of Adam and sinners on account of our own personal sins?||Is there any hope of being delivered from the sin within us?|
|Godhead||How can one God be three?|
What kind of unity can the Three have?
How can the Three who make the One be Persons?
|How can I show proper honour, love, and trust towards the Three Persons who are now together at work to bring me out of sin to glory?|
This book—is for Travellers because it deals with traveller questions.
I wrote these chapters with the conviction that at the root of the church’s weakness lies:
- Ignorance of God’s ways
- Ignorance of how to communicate with God
The reason for this ignorance is because of two unfortunate trends.
Trend 1 Christian minds have been conformed to the modern spirit
What is this modern spirit that I am referring to? This is the spirit that can generate innumerable grand thoughts about man, while having very little room left for God. The modern way is to keep the idea of God at a distance, but not do away with Him altogether. In this kind of irreligious world, Christians caught up by this spirit have allowed God to become very remote, even as they have continued to carry out their religious practices. Clear-thinking persons, recognising this, have been tempted, in disgust, to remove themselves from churches and seek for God on their own. I can hardly blame them, because church people who look at God through the wrong end of the telescope, so to speak, end up with a God of pigmy proportions, and become pigmy Chrisitans themselves. Naturally clear-thinking persons want better than this for themselves. Furthermore, moderns do not want anything to do with thoughts of death, eternity, judgment, and the greatness of the soul. So too the idea that what we decide during our temporary stay on earth has lasting consequences is “out” for moderns. It is quite depressing that the church is not raising its voice to remind the world that we are forgetting about the things of God, Instead the church is further playing down these important themes. But for Christians, capitulating and going along with the modern spirit is suicidal as far as their Christian life is concerned.
Trend 2 Christian minds have been confused by the modern skepticism
During the Renaissance, the naturalistic thinking—which believes that all the changes we see are governed by natural rules and not supernatural rules—evolved significantly. For more than 300 years since then, this naturalistic ‘leaven’ has pervaded Western thought like a cancer.
In the 16th century, the Socinians—followers of the Italian-born theologian Faustus Socinus—believed that the Christian faith had to be more rational, and they claimed that Jesus was a mere man. (Centuries later, this movement would give rise to Unitarianism).
Then in the 17th century the effect of naturalistic thinking was obvious when Arminians and deists came to deny—what was so important in Reformed Theology—that God had complete control of His world.
And since then, theology, philosophy, and science have furthered the skepticism against divine revelation, joining hands to deny the same thing—God’s sovereignty over His world.
As a result the Bible came under heavy fire, leading to skepticism about Christian origins—so that, foundation-facts of faith were questioned, things like:
- Did God meet Israel at Sinai?
- Was Jesus more than a very spiritual man?
- Did the gospel miracles really happen?
- Is not the Jesus of the gospels largely an imaginary figure
It did not stop with skepticism of divine revelation and skepticism about Christian origins. It gave rise to an even more widespread skepticism—a skepticism that made people doubt that there could be a unity of truth that would cover all of our human knowledge. They think that my inner questions to do with religion and God, which is ‘down here’ in my mind, have nothing to do with science that is external to myself and ‘out there,’ because they think God is not ‘out there.’ After the Gnostic movement, which tried to swallow up Christianity in the second century, the world has not seen such confusion and uncertainty about God as we see today.
Theology or the study of God and religion is at an all-time high in terms of
– academic expertise,
– the large number of books written on theological subjects and
– the kind of books published.
But on the other hand, theology is weak and clumsy—and at a low point, when you rate it based on
– how well it does its basic task of holding the church to the realities of the gospel.
Ninety years ago (1887 or so), C.H.Spurgeon looked at how wobbly the Baptists had become on theological subjects like
– the atonement and
– human destiny
and he described those wobblings as ‘the downgrade.’
If he had seen Protestant thinking about God at the present day (about 1977), he would not have described it as ‘the downgrade’ but as ‘the nosedive.’
This is what the Lord says:
“Stand at the crossroads and look;
ask for the ancient paths,
ask where the good way is, and walk in it,
and you will find rest for your souls.
But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’
This book—is an invitation like this one by the prophet Jeremiah encouraging people to ask for the ancient paths. It is not claiming to explain a new way. It is a straight-forward appeal to people, telling them that the good way is still what it used to be.
But readers should not suppose that I know a lot about what I am talking about.
Those like myself whose imagination far exceeds their obedience are subject to a just penalty; we easily imagine conditions far higher than any we have really reached. If we describe what we have imagined we may make others, and make ourselves, believe that we have really been there.
[C.S.Lewis in The Four Loves]
Like Lewis says, it is possible that I have said more in these chapters than I have personally reached.
It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak
[2 Cor 4:13]
But let the reader take it the way Paul wrote to the Corinthians when he quoted from the Psalms—“I believed; therefore I have spoken.” . I too have written what I have believed and meditated upon. If what I have written helps anyone in the way that those meditations helped me, then the work will have been abundantly worthwhile.