Saving the Queen (Buckley)

Buckley, William F. Saving the Queen.

Blackford Oakes is….
….America’s James Bond.

There are differences, though.  Whereas Bond has gadgets to get the job done, Oakes relies on wit and old-fashioned American swagger.  There are some uncomfortable similarities, though. Both have a penchant for women.  This actually ties into a deeper question that isn’t often addressed directly in the Bond universe: how do we understand breaking one moral command (chastity) to pursue another: saving lives, killing communists (which are, incidentally, the same thing)?

The book begins slowly, as it must begin with the young Blackfor Oakes, his time in America, and his brief schooling in England. After his CIA training, the novel picks up in intensity and ends in a thrilling dogfight.

The Stoic Art of Living (Morris)

Morris, Tom.  The Stoic Art of Living: Inner Resilience and Outer Results. Open Court: Chicago, 2004.

Check out his website

Key idea: Our life goals must be rooted in self-knowledge, “guided by a sense of what is good, and should take form within an ennobling big picture” (Morris 5).


The mind should be exercised continually (10).

The proper application of any insight depends on perspective (15).

Seneca details the importance of goal-setting.  “Begin with the end in view.”  Not just any goals, but goals that are proper to you.  The challenge is to find out how we can know the right goals.  That’s where proper philosophy comes in.  We have to go beyond what we want to “what we should want” (19).  Seneca’s task was to link proper goal setting with pursuing the Good. We know that our desires aren’t always good ones; a proper understanding of the Good can try to offset erroneous desires.

Our larger goals will most likely be shaped, whether for good or for ill, by how our soul has developed at that point. Our smaller goals must fit within that larger structure.

Key idea: adversity is necessary for “soul-making.”

Goals and Sequences

Morris echoes, or perhaps anticipates, themes from his other works: “We need a clear conception of what is important” (36-37).

Key idea: “Inconsistency often shows that at some level we really don’t know what we want” (39).  Consistency is truth.  When you are inconsistent, you are not being true to yourself.  One way to guide us is reason.  But Seneca has a “thick,” not thin concept of reason: “It is the whole ability we have to grasp, through intuition, interpretation, and inference, what the truth is about anything” (42).

While many probably admire the Stoic’s ability to not let things get to them, few can go with them on negating all emotion.  Is that what the Stoics really teach?  Probably.  Maybe.  The key point, as Morris notes, is that “any extreme of emotion can distort our perspective if it gets out of control” (48).


The most famous modern ethical dilemma is the trolley dilemma or perhaps the Nazis at the door.  Such discussions are important but largely irrelevant to modern life.  Following Seneca, Morris notes, “In modern times we are encouraged to suspect that ethical dilemmas will stalk us at every turn, making it nearly impossible to have agreed upon, universally applicable standards” (57). In reality, you won’t be in those situations.

While we cannot go with the cosmic pantheism of the Stoics, they are correct that we stand in “reciprocally dependent relations with each other.”


“It is not external forces in our lives, but our own beliefs about those forces that pressure us and bring on us all the negative experience” (76).  The background for this comment is that we shouldn’t look to the external world for our happiness. Morris takes the Stoic emphasis on the internal and draws a shocking (yet common-sense) conclusion: by focusing “our thoughts, plans, attitudes and energies…close to home, to what we can control, to the small sphere of real personal competence that we do command,” we are actually able to achieve positive change and balance (81). 

In other words, identify your range of control.  Your range of control is what is truly in your power: assent, aspiration, and action (86). This means developing our core within ourselves, which for the Stoics meant cultivating virtue and living according to reason. This means cultivating the will, “the seat of virtue or vice” (99).

Good practical advice

“It is only the relaxed and rested mind that can be intuitive and creative to its highest potential” (60-61).

Reason isn’t everything.  “While we should govern imagination by reason, it is only the power of the imagination that is able to tame emotion” (93).

Like all of Morris’s books, this book makes the ethical life exciting.  As Christians we don’t always have to agree with the Stoics (and Morris offers his own criticisms at the end).  Nonetheless, the early Christians in the New Testament dealt with the Stoics and Epicureans, not the Platonists (who are no doubt important in their own way).

Put out More Flags (Waugh)

Waugh, Evelyn. Put out More Flags.

Basil Seal is a rogue and a scoundrel.  He grew up with too much money.  Unlike the modern American rich kids who are simply wastrels, Basil is not lazy.  In fact, he is probably too industrious. He comes up with numerous rackets that capitalize on the confusion in the early days of World War II.

Like in all of Waugh’s novels, we get a perfect glimpse into the decayed social structure of the pseudo-intellectuals (i.e., Marxists) in Britain.  The novel is not necessarily happy, few of Waugh’s are, but its wit is razor sharp.  For reasons one can’t fathom, Basil is often in the company of the avant-garde Marxists.  He tells one surrealist painter who is frightened by the war, “You know I should have thought an air raid was just the thing for a surrealiste; it ought to give you plenty of compositions–limbs and things lying about in odd places you know” (Waugh 32).

On a Marxist Heaven

“[Basil] is a man for whom there will be no place in the coming workers’ state; and yet, thought Ambrose, I hunger for his company.  It is a curious thing, he thought, that every creed promises a paradise which will be absolutely uninhabitable for anyone of civilised taste. Nanny told me of a Heaven that was full of angels playing harps; the communists tell me of an earth full of leisure and contented factory hands. I don’t see Basil getting past the gate of either” (69-70).

As in all of Waugh’s novels, we see beyond the brutal satire and occasionally glimpse that beautiful world that was old England.

Big Book of Christian Apologetics (Geisler)

Geisler, Norman.  The Big Book of Christian Apologetics.

 I read the original “Baker Encyclopedia” in college.  I’m partial to that one for nostalgic reasons.  This one is good, too (and is the same thing, more or less).

When Geisler sticks to Evangelical Thomism, few can compete with him.  His take on causality, analogy, and being is one of the few essential takeaways from this book.

Geisler’s “Twelve Points” is the outline of his apologetic thrust.  They are helpfully outlined here.:

  1. Truth about reality is knowable.
  2. Opposites cannot both be true.
  3. The theistic God exists.
  4. If God exists, then miracles are possible.
  5. Miracles can be used to confirm a message from God.
  6. The New Testament is historically reliable.
  7. The New Testament says that Jesus claimed to be God.
  8. Jesus’ claim to be God is confirmed by miracles.
  9. Therefore, Jesus is God.
  10. Whatever Jesus (who is God) teaches is true.
  11. Jesus taught that the Bible is the Word of God.
  12. Therefore, it is true that the Bible is the Word of God (and anything opposed to it is false).

Analogy, Principle of. Analogy is based in causality. A cause communicates itself to the effect.  Being communicates being. “The cause of being must be a Being. It cannot give what it don’t got.” Analogy between God and creation is based in efficient causality. We are like God because Actuality communicates actuality, but unlike God we have limiting potentiality.

Principality of Casuality

  1. Every effect has a cause.
  2. Every contingent being is caused by another.
  3. Every limited being is caused by another.
  4. Everything that comes to be is caused by another.
  5. Nonbeing cannot cause being.

No potency for being can actualize itself, for it would have to have been in a previous state of actuality.

Edwards, Jonathan.  Used a good cosmological argument.  Some problems concerning panentheism and an overly rigid view of free choice.  No one is moved to act unless God acts on him.  We act according to our free desire.  This self-destructs when applied to Satan and the angels, for it seems God would have to have given them their desire for sin.

First Principles

These are so good I am probably going to write them in the cover of my bible.
B means being;

Bn means Necessary Being;
Bc means contingent being;
-> means causes;
-/> cannot cause;
Act means actuality;
P means potentiality (or potency).

  1. B is or exists (principle of existence)
  1. B is B (principle of identity)
  2. B is not non-B (principle of non-contradiction)
  3. Either B or non-B (principle of excluded middle)
  4. Non-B -/> B (principle of negative causality)
  5. B-/Bc (principle of contingent causality)
  6. Bn-/>Bn (principle of impossible causality)
  7. Bn->Bc (principle of positive causality)
  8. Bc is (exists) (principle of contingent existence)
  9. Bn is (exists) principle of necessary existence)
  10. Act is Act (with no potency) (principle of pure actuality)
  11. Bc is act/potency (principle of potency)
  12. Act ->act/potency (principle of analogy
  13. Act is similar to act
  14. Act is different from potency
  15. Bn is not (principle of negative attributes)
  16. finite (= is infinite)
  17. changing (=is immutable)
  18. temporal (=is eternal)
  19. multiple (= is one)
  20. divisible (=is simple)
  21. Bn is (principle of positive attributes)
  22. actual
  23. intelligent
  24. personal
  25. good
  26. truth
  27. Beautiful

Geisler’s take on creation/flood is interesting.  He holds to Old Earth (or rather, the strongest argument for YEC don’t obtain because there are gaps in the genealogies).  On the other hand, he holds to a global flood.

Hardening of Pharaoh

This isn’t as against Calvinism as it might seem.  Our scholastic fathers held to free choice and that God doesn’t work mechanically against our wills.  If that is true, then we shouldn’t have to big a problem with Geisler’s conclusion that God doesn’t harden initially, but subsequently; not directly, but indirectly; not against free choice, but through free choice; not as to the cause, but as to the effect.

Hinduism. Some comments. The only way I could know that all is an illusion is by using my senses.  These same monists tell us to use our senses to listen to their lectures or read their books.

If illusionism is true, how could I know it?

Gospel witnesses:  The gospels couldn’t have been myths because not only do myths not develop in under a generation, but myths also do not develop while the eyewitnesses are still alive.

Bart Ehrman on the manuscripts’ having errors: if we apply the same reasoning to his own books, we note that his first edition had sixteen errors.  One hundred thousand copies were pritten.  This means he made 1.6 million errors, but that is silly.

First Law of Thermodynamics.  The point isn’t that energy can’t be created or destroyed.  It isn’t making a statement about the origin of the universe.  Energy remains constant, albeit the usable energy decreases.

Van Til. We’ll end the review with his critique of Van Til.    CVT says that for Aquinas God’s existence is only probable, whereas Aquinas said it was rationally necessary (ST 1a., 2, 3). Aquinas would believe with CVT that truth depends ontologically on God.  Yet CVT never fully realized that finite man must ask how he could know.  CVT confused the order of knowing with the order of being.

Even worse, if the unbeliever experiences everything with a “jaundiced eye,” how would he ever understand Van Til, since the rules of logic and grammar are being experienced differently?  CVT seemed to see this tension (IST, 15).  It gets worse, though. If the unbeliever with his jaundiced eye cannot account for creation, then he’s off the hook since there is no way for him to suppress a truth that he doesn’t even understand.


Unfortunately, Geisler holds to some form of the subordination of the Son.  To be honest, I think he is just confused, for he first anchors the subordination in the economy.  However, he does use the unstable category of “function.”  There is no evidence, though, that he is using this model to drive a particular view of male-female relations.  He might in other books, but not here.  What makes it more frustrating is that his overall Trinitarianism and Doctrine of God is so good.

Geisler’s Systematic Theology vol. 1

Geisler, Norman.  Systematic Theology: Introduction, Bible. Bethany House.

This book would be perfect if it were divided into two separate books.  The first half would be a book on prolegomena, foundations, and apologetic method.  Had I read such a book before I went to seminary, I would have been spared 8 years of wrong thinking (most of which would have been my fault).  The second half is a survey of issues relating to inerrancy, bible survey and introduction, and the like.

There is quite a bit of repetition in this book.  Numerous quotes by Albright, J. A. T. Robinson, and others appear over and over.  Moreover, much of this book can be found in The Big Book of Apologetics/Baker Encyclopedia of Apologetics.  It’s still good material, though.

Preconditions of theology:

  1. Mind capable of sending a message (encoder)
  2. Mind capable of receiving message (decoder)
  3. There is a common mode of communication shared by both persons.

God: The Metaphysical Precondition

Geisler defines metaphysics as the study of being.  

Theism posits an Infinite, Personal God that exists both beyond and in the universe. After surveying various forms of dualism and monism, Geisler posits a form of Thomism, noting that all finite beings are composed of act and potency in their very being.  Potentiality limits a finite being’s actuality, as opposed to God, who is Pure Act.

In a move somewhat rare among systematic theologies, Geisler actually defines being. It is that which is, either a mix of potency and act or a pure actuality. God is, other beings have.  From here Geisler moves to his arguments for the existence of this Pure Act.


Horizontal argument.

(1) Everything that had a beginning had a cause. 

(2) The universe had a beginning. 

(3) Therefore, the universe had a Cause. 

The second premise needs defending, which those from Bonaventure to William Lane Craig have done:

1) An infinite number of moments cannot be traversed. 

(2) If there were an infinite number of moments before today, then today would never have come, since an infinite number of moments cannot be traversed. 

3) But today has come. 

(4) Hence, there were only a finite number of moments before today (i.e., a beginning of time). And everything with a beginning had a Beginner. Therefore, the temporal world had a Beginner (Cause).

Vertical Form of the argument:

This argument begins with “present contingent existence.” It argues from effect to Necessary Cause.

(1) If everything were contingent, then it would be possible that nothing existed. 

(2) But something does exist (e.g., I do), and its existence is undeniable, for I have to exist in order to be able to affirm that I do not exist. 

(3) Thus, if some contingent being now exists, a Necessary Being must now exist, otherwise there would be no ground for the existence of this contingent being.

But granting the arguments, would this even prove the Christian God?  It will get closer than you think.  Such a God would not be the one of finite godism, “since the cause of all finite things cannot be finite.”  Nor can it be the god of polytheism, since there can’t be more than one unlimited being.

Miracles: The Supernatural Precondition

The problem of definition: 

Weak sense: something that is not contrary to nature, only our knowledge of nature (Augustine). On this view an event doesn’t even have to be supernatural to be a miracle. This is obviously inadequate.

Strong sense: an event beyond nature’s power to produce (Aquinas, SCG 3).

A miracle doesn’t have to violate natural law. It is simply a new effect produced by a supernatural cause.

Answering objections

Spinoza: standard objection of “violating immutable natural laws.” Response: He begs the question on immutable laws.  He also operates in a closed system. 

Hume: Miracles are in-credible. Uniform experience is against miracles.  Response: He begs the question in advance by claiming to know uniform experience. He can’t know all possible sense experiences. Moreover, as Geisler notes, “he never weighs the evidence on miracles.  He simply adds evidence against them.”  Even worse, Hume’s method of “adding evidence” eliminates any unique experience in history, even natural ones.

Revelation: The Revelational Precondition

The possibility of divine revelation depends on the reality of God.  If God exists, which he does, then divine revelation is not only possible, but actual. The only real challenges today concern whether humans are capable of receiving this revelation (postmodernism) and whether the medium is reliable.

Geisler correctly notes that “In order for an infinite Mind to communicate with finite minds, certain things must be possible. To begin, there must be a common  principle of reason that both possess.” Language and being are analogical.

Geisler’s charts are really good.

While some like to say that man’s thought sinfully distorts general revelation, and at one level that is true, general revelation is still essential to human thought. And while it is true that “Scripture determines what we believe on general revelation,” we still use general revelation (e.g., laws of logic) to make that statement.

That doesn’t fully answer the existential question: when our understanding of general revelation and our understanding of special revelation clash, who wins?  Geisler says the interpretation with more certainty. Sometimes this is general revelation, sometimes special.

Logic: The Rational Precondition

Geisler summarizes here his other writings on logic.  At their most basic they are:

1) Law of non-contradiction
2) Law of identity
3) Law of excluded middle.

In order to help us think better, Geisler has given a nice summary of categorical propositions:These should be written on the inside of all study bibles.

(1) There must be only three terms. 

(2) The middle term must be distributed at least once. 

(3)Terms Distributed in the conclusion must be distributed in the premises. 

(4) The conclusion always follows the weaker premises(i.e., negative and particular ones). 

(5) No conclusion follows from two negative premises. 

(6) No conclusion follows from two particular premises.

 (7) No negative conclusion follows from two affirmative premises.

Most evangelicals will go with him this far, but what is the relationship between Logic and God? According to Geisler, Logic is subject to God ontologically. “God is prior to logic in the order of being.”  Nevertheless, God is rational by his very nature. On the other hand, logic is prior to God epistemologically.  As Geisler notes, the statement “God is God’ makes no sense unless the law of identity holds (A is A).”  The statement “God exists” isn’t true unless the law of noncontradiction is true.

Meaning: The Semantical Precondition

Thesis: all true statements must be meaningful.  Geisler identifies three different types of schools: conventionalism (Wittgenstein), essentialism (Plato), and realism.  Conventionalism is self-falsifying, for when it says all linguistic meaning is conventional, it, too, is relative.

Truth: The Epistemological Precondition

Thesis:  Truth is that which corresponds to its object.

Exclusivism: The Oppositional Precondition

Thesis: Christianity’s truth claims entails that other religious oppositions are wrong (or at least cannot be correct at the same time as Christianity’s).  Much of this is standard fare in evangelical apologetics, but Geisler hones in one of John Hick’s questionable presuppositions.  Hick says an undifferentiated Real is known in all faiths.  The problem is that an undifferentiated Real doesn’t have any definable characteristics, which means it can’t be identified. It can’t be known in any faith!  Even worse, if it is undifferentiated, then no symbol can represent it.

Language: The Linguistic Precondition

Thesis: How do our concepts relate to God?  They can’t be equivocal, for that would be self-defeating.  They can’t be univocal, since God is infinite.   Analogy makes the most sense. It allows for both similarity and differentiation.  Similar to Parmenides’ dilemma, Geisler notes: “Either one’s principle of differentiation is inside of being or it is outside of being. If outside, then things do not differ in being; they are identical in being, and monism is true. The only way to maintain a pluralism essential to theism is to insist that things differ in their very being. Yet how can they differ by what they have in common? The answer is that they cannot, if being is univocal. But it isn’t.”

We’re not done yet, though.  We can say that we have univocal concepts but analogical predication. The definition is the same between God and creatures, but the application is different.

Interpretation: The Hermeneutical Precondition

Contra Heidegger, Geisler asks how he can say Being is unintelligible. How could he know this about Being unless he understood it?  Moreover, Heidegger’s denial of correspondence assumes that his denial corresponds to the way things are.

Heidegger correctly notes that man is a contingent being, yet he draws back from affirming the logical conclusion: there is a Necessary Being.

Contra Derrida, his statement that all meaning is limited by language tries to get outside those limits in order to establish them.  (The rest of the criticisms flow from this critique).

Savage Burn: “it is fruitless to turn to poetry to avoid metaphysics. Metaphysical questions still exist, and they cannot be answered in anything but metaphysical language. Any so-called poetical protest is nothing more than an exercise in ventilating one’s tonsils.”

The Alternative

Can we know things objectively? Yes.  The metaphysical precondition, God, has made it possible.  Geisler: “The objective basis for meaning is found in the mind of God.” Much of this chapter is standard fare in grammatical-historical hermeneutics.  The following is a long quote, for which I indulge the reader’s forgiveness, but it is worth noting:

Applying the six causes to meaning will help explain the point. Following Aristotle, scholastic philosophers distinguished six different causes: 

(1) efficient cause—that by which something comes to be;

 (2) final cause—that for which something comes to be; 

(3) formal cause—that of which something comes to be; 

(4) material cause—that out of which something comes to be; 

(5) exemplar cause—that after which something comes to be; 

(6) instrumental cause—that through which something comes to be.

 Remember the example of the chair? A wooden chair has a carpenter as its efficient cause, to provide something to sit on as its final cause, its structure as a chair as its formal cause, wood as its material cause, the blueprint as its exemplar cause, and the carpenter’s tools as its instrumental cause. As we have seen, applying these six causes to meaning yields the following analysis: 

(1) The writer is the efficient cause of the meaning of a text. 

(2) The writer’s purpose is the final cause of its meaning. 

(3) The writing is the formal cause of its meaning. 

(4) The words are the material cause of its meaning. 

(5) The writer’s ideas are the exemplar cause of its meaning. 

(6) The laws of thought are the instrumental cause of its meaning. 

In conclusion, we use the laws of logic in biblical hermeneutics.  Anything else makes rational meaning impossible.

Historiography: The Historical Precondition

Method: The Methodological Precondition

The Evangelical method begins with an inductive basis in Scripture, which involves an abductive step.  It will also deduce truths from Scripture and make use of analogies.  He puts them all together into what he calls a Retroductive Method, worth quoting in full:

1. The Inductive Basis: 

(a) God cannot err. 

(b) The Bible is God’s Word. 

2. The Deductive Conclusion: 

(c) The Bible cannot err. 

3. The Use of Analogies: 

(d) Just as Christ was divine and human yet without sin, even so the Bible is divine and human yet without error. 

(e) Just as nature (God’s general revelation) presents difficulties with possessing errors, so does the Bible (God’s special revelation). 

4. The Use of General Revelation: 

(f) The earth is not square. 

(g) The sun does not move around the earth.

 5. The Retroductive Method: 

(h) The biblical teaching is fleshed out in view of facts known from general revelation and the data (phenomena) of Scripture.

 (i) There are errors in the manuscript copies.

 (j) The Bible uses figures of speech and other literary devices, round numbers, everyday (nontechnical) language, paraphrases, etc.

 (k) The deductive conclusion (point c) is understood in the light of the retroductive enhancement. For example: (1) The Bible is without error only in the original text, not in all the copies. (2) Round numbers, observational language, figures of speech, and paraphrased citations are not errors.

The rest of the book is a summary and defense of inerrancy, inspiration, and the like.  Some things to note, like Geisler’s chart between accommodation to error and adaption to finitude.

Note: To the everlasting embarrassment of Bible critics, at least those who claim to be followers of Christ, Jesus affirmed exactly the opposite of what much of negative “higher criticism” teaches.

Christian Ethics (Geisler)

Geisler, Norman. Christian Ethics. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker.

Geisler’s work is divided into two parts: a survey of the different positions (including a defense of his own, graded absolutism) and a treatment of different issues in ethical reasoning. While one can quibble with some of his exegesis, his larger arguments are compelling. His treatment of defective ethical positions, such as Joseph Fletcher’s Situationism, is masterful.


The situationist has the one law of love, the many general principles of wisdom, and the moment of decision (Geisler 45). Fletcher repeatedly asserts that the rule of Christian ethics is “love.” So what do I do in a specific situation? The “what and why” are absolute and the how is relative.

Geisler does note a number of legitimate strengths of situationism, but nonetheless there are gaping inadequacies.
*One norm is too general (57).
*Unless there is advanced cognitive content to what “love” is, then one doesn’t really know what I am commanded to do!
*There can be many universal norms.
*Fletcher hasn’t given any substantial reason on why axioms deduced from other axioms can’t be universal.
*A different universal norm is possible.
*Why do we privilege Christian love and not Buddhist compassion?
*On what basis do we choose one single norm as binding?


Greatest good for greatest number.

Problems and ambiguities:
(1) who gets to determine what “good” means?
(2) Offers no protection to minority viewpoint, since by definition they will never been in the “greater” number.
(3) The definition of “end” is unclear. Do we mean a few years? Lifetime? Eternity? In that case, only God could be a utilitarian and he is not (77).

Unqualified Absolutism

premise: all moral conflicts are only apparent; they are not real (79). Held by Augustine, Kant, Charles Hodge, John Murray, and Puritanboard.

hypothetical problem: Lie to the Nazis at the door?

Augustine: cannot gain eternal life by temporal evil.

John Murray: Sanctity of Truth and Truth is the essence of God. However, he does not believe every intentional deception is a lie (e.g., a general’s movements in war).

Negative Aspects

Disputed premises:
(1) Are sins of the soul necessarily worse? Perhaps, but the Platonic premise here should at least by acknowledged. On this view, a “white lie” is worse than rape.
(2) Can the lie to save lives be separated from mercy? “God blessed the mercy but not the lie.” But is this really coherent?
(3) Will God always save us from moral dilemmas? 1 Cor. 10:13 only promises victory from temptation, not deliverance from moral dilemmas.

Fatal qualifications

Even one exception to this rule kills Unqualified Absolutism–and Augustine allows for exceptions in the case of Abraham and Isaac/Jepthath and his daughter.

*John Murray doesn’t believe we should be truthful in all circumstances (Murray 145).

“Punting to Providence”

God does not always spare his children from moral dilemmas. In fact, obedience often puts the believer in dilemmas!

“Third Alternatives are not always available.”
e.g., Tubal pregnancies

Conflicting Absolutism

Premise: (1) Real moral conflicts do occur in this fallen world.

(1.1) Yet when faced with this conflict, man is morally accountable to both principles. In other words, sucks to be you.
(1.2) Yet, sin is conquerable through the cross.

Popularized as “Lesser-evil” approach. Best seen in Lutheran Two-Kingdoms. Also, Lutherans will (correctly) praise Bonhoeffer’s attempt to kill Hitler but also say it did violate a norm.


As Geisler notes, this position is basically saying “we have moral duty to sin,” which is absurd (Geisler 103). Another problem, whatever God commands is ipso facto good, so it can’t be a “lesser evil.”

Here is Geisler’s own position, Graded Absolutism:
(1) There are higher and lower moral laws.
(2) There are unavoidable moral conflicts
(3) No guilt is imputed for the unavoidable.

(4) Love for God is more important than love for man.
(5) Obey God over Government
(6) Mercy over veracity (Nazis at the door).

Options and Applications:


The second section of the book deals with problems in Ethics.

BioMedical Issues.
(1) Nothing groundbreaking here.
(2) Most of the criticisms against utilitarianism can be employed against secular humanism on this point.
(3) Nota Bene: Geisler doesn’t come out and affirm birth control. However, he does note that birth control methods that kill a fertilized ovum are murder. Condoms, however, do not kill fertilized ova. And whatever the merits of NFP, the couple is still in the “controlling” aspect, so it is a form of birth control.
(4) He is against cloning.

He defends capital punishment by asking the question: Is punishment supposed to be “retributive” or “rehabilitative?” The Bible clearly supports the former. Punishment is to punish the offender. Nothing more, nothing less. And common sense shows how tyrannical the latter can be. If the offender is just a patient, then when he is “cured?” (Hint: whenever (if at all) the state says he is).

Geisler gives good responses to the opponents of capital punishment. In fact, if “rehabilitative” models of justice are necessarily suspect, then capital punishment wins by default.

Geisler defends the possibility of just war, including tactical nuclear strikes. A tactical nuclear strike against a larger army is not the same thing as launching thousands of ICBMs and will not destroy planet earth.

Civil Disobedience

Makes a helpful distinction between “Antipromulgation” and “Anticompulsion” (241-242). The former advocates rebelling against the government when it passes a law that permits evil or limits freedom. Schaeffer took this position in A Christian Manifesto. Not only is it unworkable, it is negated by much of Christian history. The latter position means disobeying the government when it commands you to do evil. Geisler categorically condemns armed revolution.

Marriage and Divorce:

As marriage is more than sex, so sex is more than procreation. Its purpose is threefold: (1) propagation (Gen. 1:28), unification (Gen. 2:24), (3) recreation (Prov. 5.18-19).

His take on divorce is a bit complicated.
(1)It is always wrong
(2)That does not mean remarriage is not permissible under certain circumstances.
(3) There can be situations where it is allowed (abuse, desertion)

Unfortunately, Geisler’s “Graded Absolutism” doesn’t save his position. (1) and (3) are contradictory, unless you add another premise:

(3*) Where the necessary situations obtain, divorce is not wrong.

Except Geisler doesn’t actually say that. That’s my position and I think if you pressed him, he would agree, too.


This is a fine intro to Christian Ethics and will serve nicely in a college or seminary classroom

Brideshead Revisited (Waugh)

Waugh, Evelyn. Brideshead Revisited.

In the discussion guide at the end of the book, Evelyn Waugh said that religion is the theme of the book.  Maybe.  Waugh himself elsewhere said that it was memory (Waugh, opening of Part Three).  I happen to think it is marriage, though I suppose all themes imply one another in the book.  The protagonist, Charles Ryder, an agnostic, befriends a lapsed Catholic and degenerate, Sebastian Flyde.  Flyde is the scion of an old aristocratic family.  Ryder’s memories explore the “decline and fall,” not only of House Flyde, but of the old way of life as well.

Catholicism manifests itself in various ways by the family.  Sebastian is an aesthete and drunk (though he also fervently believes in the supernatural elements). His older brother, the eponymous Brideshead, is a proper and devout Catholic.  Julia, the middle sister, is similar to Sebastian, sans the alcoholism.  The youngest, Cordelia, is full of fire and joy.

What makes the lapsed characters so compelling is the objectivity with which they view their faith.  Charles asks Sebastian, given the latter’s decadence, that shouldn’t his bad lifestyle negate his faith. Sebastian gives the blunt, yet commonsensical answer: whether I am morally bad is irrelevant to whether what I believe is true.  This maintains even on less weightier matters, like beauty in art. Cordelia asks Ryder if such and such a painting is good (which she thinks it is).  

Ryder notes, “I don’t know quite what you mean [i.e., is it Good Art?].  I think it is a remarkable example of its period.  Probably in eighty years it will be greatly admired.”

Julia: “But surely it can’t be good twenty years ago and good in eighty years, and not good now?”

That sentence reflects a profundity in ethics and metaphysics that you will almost never see at the graduate level, either in seminaries or secular institutions.  Then comes the coup-de-grace:

“Is there a difference between liking a thing and thinking it good?”

That’s a very important question.  For example, George Jones’s “He Stopped Loving Her Today” is the greatest country song of all time.  I don’t particularly like it, though. 

The objectivity emerges later when the lapsed Catholic Julia wants to get married to Rex Mottram, a buffoon.  Rex had already been married and never got around to getting a divorce.  Early 20th century Catholicism, being made of sterner stuff than the variant today, won’t grant a dispensation or annulment.  Here is Waugh’s genius on display.  He doesn’t let the reader off the hook: if you were in Julia’s shoes, especially if you believe in your faith, what would you do?

The scene where the priest is catechizing Rex is one of the funniest in 20th century literature.  No matter how outlandish the claim, if that’s what the church teaches, then Rex will believe it.  This ease actually throws the priest off balance:

Priest: I can’t get anywhere near him.  He doesn’t seem to have the least intellectual curiosity or natural piety.”

“The first day I wanted to find out what sort of religious life he had had till now, so I asked him what he meant by prayer. He said: ‘I don’t mean anything. You tell me.’ I tried to, in a few words, and he said: ‘Right. So much for prayer. What’s the next thing?’ I gave him the catechism to take away. Yesterday I asked him whether Our Lord had more than one nature. He said: ‘Just as many as you say, Father.’

“Then again I asked him: ‘Supposing the Pope looked up and saw a cloud and said “It’s going to rain,” would that be bound to happen?’ ‘Oh, yes, Father.’ ‘But supposing it didn’t?’ He thought a moment and said, ‘I suppose it would be sort of raining spiritually, only we were too sinful to see it.’

“Lady Marchmain, he doesn’t correspond to any degree of paganism known to the missionaries.”

“Julia,” said Lady Marchmain, when the priest had gone, “are you sure that Rex isn’t doing this thing purely with the idea of pleasing us?”

“I don’t think it enters his head,” said Julia.

This next quote, while lengthy, is worth its entirety:

“But yesterday I got a regular eye-opener. The trouble with modern education is you never know how ignorant people are. With anyone over fifty you can be fairly confident what’s been taught and what’s been left out. But these young people have such an intelligent, knowledgeable surface, and then the crust suddenly breaks and you look down into depths of confusion you didn’t know existed. Take yesterday. He seemed to be doing very well. He’d learned large bits of the catechism by heart, and the Lord’s Prayer and the Hail Mary. Then I asked him as usual if there was anything troubling him, and he looked at me in a crafty way and said, ‘Look, Father, I don’t think you’re being straight with me. I want to join your Church and I’m going to join your Church, but you’re holding too much back.’ I asked what he meant, and he said: ‘I’ve had a long talk with a Catholic–a very pious, well-educated one, and I’ve learned a thing or two. For instance, that you have to sleep with your feet pointing East because that’s the direction of heaven, and if you die in the night you can walk there. Now I’ll sleep with my feet pointing any way that suits Julia, but d’you expect a grown man to believe about walking to heaven? And what about the Pope who made one of his horses a cardinal? And what about the box you keep in the church porch, and if you put in a pound note with someone’s name on it, they get sent to hell. I don’t say there mayn’t be a good reason for all this,’ he said, ‘but you ought to tell me about it and not let me find out for myself.'”

Hint: Cordelia had been trolling Rex.

This book is advertised as the greatest English novel of the 20th century.  That might be a bit of a stretch, but it certainly ranks among the greats.

Classical Apologetics (RC Sproul)

I want to thank Tim Enloe for providing me with a copy. Please go by his site and check it out. He knows more about education and church history than I ever will.

Sproul, R.C., Gerstner, John., Lindsley, Arthur. Classical Apologetics: A Rational Defense of the Christian Faith and a Critique of Presuppositional Apologetics. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984.

There are several main challenges in responding to presuppositionalism. There is no easy way to begin. Another difficulty is that the book is somewhat out of date. For one, Van Til never formalized the Transcendental Argument (hereafter TAG). Bahnsen and Frame fully developed it a decade or so after this book’s publication. Another difficulty is that key Reformed sources weren’t translated at this time. Even though the classical position is correct and matches what one finds in Turretin, Turretin wasn’t yet translated. The same goes for Junius, Olevianus, etc. Yea, even Muller had not yet published his opus.

On a positive note, if presups would make one or two adjustments, their system isn’t very different from classical systems. This leads to probably the most important point in the book. Historic Reformed Christianity distinguished between the order of knowing and the order of being. From such a view, logic is first in man’s order of knowing. God is first in man’s order of being. Some classical authors have used this correct point to say they have refuted presuppositionalism. I don’t see why presups cannot practically use this. They’ll have to change (or better yet, drop) some of their rhetoric on “autonomous” starting points, but much of the system can be salvaged.

Part 1 is the authors’ case for natural theology. It’s not different from any historic Reformed prolegomena. Key idea: “Natural theology refers to knowledge of God acquired through nature…natural theology is dependent upon divine revelation for its content” (Sproul et al, 25).

Key idea 2: “The pagan’s problem is not that he does not know that God is, but that he does not like the God who is” (39). You might be thinking, “This is exactly what presuppositionalism teaches.” That is true, and if that were all presuppositionalism taught, we would be on board. As Sproul will develop the argument later, presuppositionalism wants to say that the pagan knows God but doesn’t have any knowledge of God. He has false knowledge of God. The problem there is that if he has false knowledge of God, then why would he try to suppress it (49)?

Part 2 is the authors’ case for the theistic arguments. This section is good, but almost all of it has been better stated in recent years. Their view of the ontological argument is important for the doctrine of God, so we will spend some time looking at it.

Most forms of the ontological argument begin with the innocent premise, “A necessary being may exist” (Sproul 100). Moreover, there is no logical contradiction in our being able to think about a necessary being. “If we can think of God at all, we are compelled to think that He is. God is being. It is undeniable that we do think of being…We cannot not think of being” (100).

It feels that Gerstner went too fast on this point, for as it stands he has merely proven pantheism. What he does later is distinguish God’s being from our being, but if we can’t help but think about being, then are we thinking about God’s being or ours? This is why Anselm is safer than Jonathan Edwards, and it is to Anselm that we now turn.

Key idea: God is that which none greater can be conceived. If a perfect being has “necessary existence” as one of its properties, then this perfect being has to exist. On a formal level, it works. Anselm’s disciples, of whom I am one, will have to rebut Kant’s criticism, but the argument itself is fairly stable.

Regarding the section on miracles, I just want to deal with Hume’s critique. When Hume attacks miracles as violating natural law and the instances of conformity, he not only gets rid of miracles, he gets rid of anything unusual (151). As the authors note, “Uniformity itself rests upon repetition, a series or sequence of some or similar events. But the series can never be established because before there can be two such similar events there must be a first one. The first, however, would be unique and therefore incredible.”

The Critique of Presuppositionalism

The heart of the matter is this: is the traditionalist sinning by starting with the self instead of God? Van Til will occasionally admit that we can start with temporal facts (CVT: SCE, 120). If he would have consistently worked this into his system, we wouldn’t have much of a problem.

The next problem is that “Van Til confuses the sinner’s rejecting sound knowledge with not having knowledge” (Sproul et al, 216). If the sinner didn’t have any knowledge, then how could we use the TAG with him? He at least has some reason. Unfortunately, Van Til says there is “no logic or reality” between the two (CVT: Reformed Pastor, 199). Here CVT collapses the various kinds of knowledge into knowledge as loving and obeying God. Sproul and Gerstner deliver their first coup de grace: “We cannot even presuppose God except logically. In other words, even to think of the God who can validate logic, we must first think logically or rationally” (Sproul 220). Even more, “the presuppositionalist cannot even use the word God without assuming the law of noncontradiction” (224).

Here is the pastoral danger in rejecting the distinction between order of knowing and order of being: if we don’t have knowledge unless we presuppose God, then how can the sinner even get to the point where he can accept (or reject) the offer? “Van Til has cut off the bridge to knowledge” (228). This is the heart of the critique. The rest of the book is a variation on it.

I am pastorally willing to grant the presuppositionalist almost everything except this one point. I’ve seen in my life and the lives of others were presuppsitionalist young Turks have become either nihilists or sacerdotalists because they had no consistent knowledge.

In any case, and this isn’t that fatal a point to the system, Van Til doesn’t actually begin with God. He begins with the supposition that we should be able to predicate” (233). By his own standards (by what standard?) he is as autonomous as the traditionalist.

Before we end this review, I want to make a somewhat ironic and amusing point on today’s presuppositionalists regarding miracles and charismatic claims. Rushdoony says “to accept miracles on any other ground is in effect to deny their essential meaning” (Rushdoony, By What Standard, 17). The church, by contrast, has always thought of a miracle as corroborating the Gospel. Think about the standard cessationist criticism of miracles: they were used in the early church to certify the apostles’ message. I personally think that is a bad argument, but it gets the idea of miracle correct. Rushdoony, and by implication, presups in general, reverse the process. We presuppose miracles. A miracle is now an empty concept. In any case, you can’t be a cessationist on miracles and accept the presuppositionalist view on miracles.

Final point: the traditional Reformed view says that the Holy Spirit illuminates the unregenerate’s heart (Jonathan Edwards, A Divine and Supernatural Light). On Van Til’s view there is no knowledge to illuminate (CVT: Jerusalem and Athens, 243).

This book has some value in responding to Van Til. It is of limited use concerning later presuppositionalists (Bahnsen, Frame) and the academic ones of today (James Anderson).


This is an introductory response to Bahnsen’s review of Sproul’s Classical Apologetics. I plan a more detailed one later. I left my copy in another town. There are many weaknesses in CVT’s approach, but I have to have my copy in front of me in order to do a full analysis. Lord willing, I should do that in a few weeks.

Response to Bahnsen’s Review

(The original review is here:

Bahnsen: He criticizes their attack on secularism because, given their def. Of secularism as limiting reality to the temporal order, the secularist won’t agree with any proof they offer (p. 2).

That’s an odd criticism to make. Presumably, the authors, like every other apologist, Bahnsen included, will attempt to show that the secularist is wrong on that point.

Bahnsen: they cannot legitimately appeal to “natural theology” since on their terms natural revelation assumes special revelation, which assumes the existence of God (2).

The second part of that claim is true, though I don’t see why it is necessarily a problem. Sproul et al admit bias. I think Bahnsen’s target here is probably JW Montgomery.

Bahnsen: their use of Scripture (Ps. 19) doesn’t prove their case, for if natural theology is man’s reflection on natural revelation, then Scripture isn’t doing that.

This isn’t entirely true. Part of the problem is the tendency among presupps to reduce natural theology to nature itself. If that is what natural theology is, then we don’t see the psalmists doing that. On the other hand, natural theology as used by Sproul and the historic Christian tradition includes legitimate inferences from logical foundations, even at times drawing upon non-Christian wisdom. The most notorious point is Paul’s quoting a pantheist philosopher. Evidently, that philosopher had at least one legitimate reflection.

Bahnsen on noetic effects: He takes issue with apologetics as pre-evangelism, as the sinner won’t even agree to an assensus of faith to the propositions without the Holy Spirit (3).

This is simply false. Anyone who has done evangelism has been in situations where an unbeliever will say, “Yeah, that makes sense or I can agree with that but I don’t want to change my life.” Moreover, it is not true in Scripture that one needs the Holy Spirit for intellectual assent. Demons, for example, give intellectual assent to the most important proposition one can make about God.

Bahnsen: he attacks their use of causality (i.e., every effect has a cause) and points to Hume.

Aside from implying Hume’s criticism of causality, Bahnsen gives no reason to believe Sproul is wrong.

Bahnsen on cosmological argument: I’ll grant Bahnsen a point here. I don’t like how Sproul phrased it: if something exists now, then something exists necessarily. There are much better presentations of the cosmological argument and I never liked how Sproul phrased this one. Bahnsen attacks the claim that this cause has the power of being in itself as incoherent. That’s just standard Christian theism. Beings have energia. That’s almost true by definition.

Bahnsen: the authors give us no reason to believe that the world can’t be an infinite regress.

Response: yes they do. The explanation for a cause must be outside that cause itself. If this is true, and Bahnsen has given us no argument on why it isn’t, then the cause will be outside the temporal order.

That’s more or less Bahnsen’s review. He devotes the last page to rescuing Van Til from the charge of fideism. Even if that attempt is successful, it ignores all the real criticisms of Van Til. Consider: does the sinner have false knowledge of God? If he does, then why is he suppressing it? Wouldn’t it make more sense to say that he has knowledge of God and that is why he is suppressing it?

Searching Our Hearts in Difficult Times (Owen)

Owen, John.  Searching our Hearts in Difficult Times.  Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 2020.

Banner of Truth reformatted several treatises from volume nine of John Owen’s works. The material was compiled posthumously.  Notwithstanding, the first half appears to be a long Q&A session from a conventicle meeting.  This would have taken place at the end of Owen’s life and after the Great Ejection.  That’s important for a criticism I will make later. The second half are several jeremiads bemoaning the rise of Roman Catholicism in England.

The first half offers a number of litmus tests to see if you have grace in your heart and whether that grace is strong enough to enable you to persevere in times of trouble.  He begins on a strong note: “Put your faith to work in viewing him as he is represented in the gospel” (Owen 17). He warns of the danger of mere head knowledge (20), but intellectualism isn’t much of a problem for today’s church.

He fields a question on praying to Christ and whether it is lawful. He notes that “all our prayers to him as God and man in one person” (22).  When Christ is considered “absolutely, in his own person…he is the immediate and ultimate object of faith and worship.”  In such cases, as with Stephen, we may pray to him.  

Concerning his mediatorial office, though, “he is not the ultimate object of our faith and invocation.  Rather, we call upon God, the Father, in the name of Jesus Christ” (25).  Failure to note his mediatorship results in a contradiction: our faith would be on Christ and also on his mediation.  In conclusion, Owen notes “The Father is placed before us as the ultimate object of access in our worship; the Spirit is the effecting cause, enabling us this worship; the Son is the means by which we approach to God” (25).

Owen gives us a good guideline on rooting out habitual sin.  Simply because we have a particular sin or lust does not mean we have a habitual sin. A particular sin becomes a habitual sin when we give it a particular advantage (36).  If your soul is “grieved by it more than it is defiled by it,” then it probably isn’t a habitual sin (39). To the degree we consent, to that degree we are defiled.  

If you find arguments against a sin losing force, it is probably a habitual sin (40).  In other words, you are rationalizing.

Most of the book is quite excellent.  I don’t disagree with anything that is said.  I find it strange, however, that when he is speaking of renewing the grace and promises to us, he doesn’t mention the Lord’s Supper at all. To be fair, at this point in England finding reliable ministers might have made this impossible, and if so, then I don’t have any criticism of Owen. He does tell us to “labour to have the experience of the power of every truth in our hearts” (89). Formally, I have no problem.  The problem is “what do you mean by ‘experience’”?  We are starting to sound a lot like Martyn Lloyd-Jones and the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  Of course, we aren’t suggesting that Owen is presenting that.  This is where a robust view of the Supper fits perfectly.

Aside from those quibbles, this is quite a good read.

Trinitarian Devotion of John Owen (Ferguson)

Ferguson, Sinclair.  Trinitarian Devotion of John Owen.  Reformation Trust.

This book unites what never should have been divided: piety and scholastic rigor (and if you don’t like scholasticism, then John Owen isn’t for you.  Keep moving). Lawson’s preface is a bit on the nose in terms of the “long line of godly men.”  It reads like bedtime stories for the Young, Restless, and Reformed.  Notwithstanding, Sinclair Ferguson brings rigor and warmth to his subject.

We are treated with some crucial terminology regarding the Trinity and the Divine decree.

Opera trinitatis: the works of the Trinity, particularly that there is one external work.  As there is one divine will in the Trinity, all the persons are in the working.

Appropriationes personae: each person expresses his specific personhood both internally and externally.  As Ferguson points out, “There is a deep relationship between the dispositions and actions of each person of the Trinity and the nature of the Christian’s knowledge of and fellowship with that person. Our experience of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is shaped by the specific role that each plays in relationship to our lives and especially to our salvation.”

Communion with the Father

Scholastic methodology allows us to make distinctions concerning the phrase “God is love.” This ties in with the divine decree.  

  • Love of benevolence: God’s plan for our lives.
  • Love of beneficence: the love displayed in history that does good to all people.
  • the love of complacency: the love planned in Christ that we experience.

Conclusion: “Christ died for us because the Father loves us.”

Communion with the Son

Grace isn’t a substance.  It’s Jesus. The medievals said we have sacramental grace infused in us at baptism.  Our faith is later formed by perfect love, and this makes us justifiable.  Owen, as Ferguson says, combats this: “Through the work of the Spirit, the heavenly Father gives you to Jesus and gives Jesus to you.”

Conclusion: “It does indeed involve our understanding of who Christ is and what He has done; it also includes a willingness to give ourselves unreservedly to Him. But our communion with Him also enlivens and transforms the Christian’s affections.”

Communion with the Spirit

The same Spirit who kept Christ from corruption of sin in the Virgin’s womb also kept him from corruption in the tomb.

This is a nice primer on deep theology.  It can be read by a layman in one or two sittings.