14 December 2012

Three Theories of Everything

So, one day in October we got a visit from an old friend we hadn’t seen in nearly 35 years. It was Ellis Potter, who was coming to Prague to lecture at the Anglo-American University. Ellis was the strange former Zen Buddhist monk, who arrived at L’Abri in Switzerland a bit before we did, in 1976. By the time we arrived he was already a “former” monk. He had become a Christian. We stayed in Switzerland for two years. Ellis still lives there. 

Ellis, to whom I refer as “the Ellis,” is still strange. It’s a good strange, though. We enjoyed his all-too-brief visit and hope to see more of him in the coming years (if we aren’t all doomed by the Mayan calendar. More on that in a few days). 

Ellis wrote a book. It’s titled Three Theories of Everything.  It’s a book about worldview (shudder!). These days, we read and hear a lot about worldview. There are worldview camps and worldview books, and worldview seminars, and worldview ministries, and worldview websites. Just what is a worldview? 
  • The overall perspective from which one sees and interprets the world. 
  • A collection of beliefs about life and the universe held by an individual or a group. 

John Calvin explained once that there are two things of which we must have understanding if we are to have an authentic, comprehensive world view: 
“First, of the mode in which God is duly worshipped; and, secondly, the source from which salvation is to be obtained.” (Selected Works of John Calvin, p. 126). 

This is what The Ellis is attempting to explain to us. He’s done so admirably. Readers seem to agree. In fact, he commented to me that, “Reviews have come in from two 13 year olds and one truck driver, so I guess the book is for everyone.” 

Now, remember, The Ellis is different. This book is different, too. I’ve read numerous books on this thing called “worldview.” Few describe the situation like this: “In terms of world views, there is one-ism, two-ism, and three-ism.” (page 3).  He does explain, along the way, that many folks refer to these categories of thought as Monism, Dualism, and Trinitarianism. 

In essence, what The Ellis is trying to do is help us to answer some old and universal questions, “What is Truth?” and “Are There Absolutes?” His contribution to the discussion reflects an interesting and refreshing combination of Ellis’s own experience and study with the teaching of his mentor, Dr. Francis A. Schaeffer. In a speech given at Notre Dame University in 1981, Dr. Schaeffer stated this: 
Christianity is not a series of truths in the plural, but rather truth spelled with a capital “T.” Truth about total reality, not just about religious things. Biblical Christianity is Truth concerning total reality – and the intellectual holding of that total truth and then living in the light of that Truth. 
The Ellis has been faithful to this teaching. After explaining that the world is in a mess - and needy (much as the Apostle Paul does in the first chapters of the Epistle to the Romans) - he states that 

The solution is that the Creator Himself enters into the creation and becomes one of us, a human being, made of flesh and blood.... Then being in the creation, and being the Creator, in time and in eternity, natural and supernatural, human and God , immanent and transcendent, He does one thing: He empties Himself. Literally. He sacrifices His life, allowing His body to be nailed to a wooden cross, so that His blood can be drained for others. Jesus gave Himself, emptied Himself, not for Himself, but for others. It was, and remains, the ultimate, most astonishing other-centered act in all of history. (page 67).

The Ellis gets it. And he’s sharing it with us in this unique look at reality. Pilate asked Jesus, “What is truth?” (John 18:38). This is a very good question these days, when everything is viewed as “relative.” Competing religions and belief systems call out to us like hawkers at a carnival: “Hey, you, look over here. I’ve got the best truth.” Others tell us that everybody has the truth – until somebody steps up and says they’re a Christian. Then we get a sort of “selective relativism.” 

How can we know what’s true? How can we sort out the charlatans from the purveyors of truth? Related questions include: “What does it matter what’s true? Do we really need to know?” If Christianity is true, then sin has invaded the world and men need salvation from the consequences of that sinfulness. If I cannot know that this is true, I will be lost – and suffer whatever those consequences are. If there is no God, as many modern teachers claim, then it really doesn’t matter what’s true. 

The last section of this book is particularly valuable (which is not to compare the other portions of the book in an unfavorable light). Titled simply, “45 Questions,” this segment of the whole deals with representative questions The Ellis has heard over the years. Of course, he also provides answers. He wrote to me “Answering a lot of questions in this book was supposed to save time, but it has actually gotten worse.” But he recognizes the necessity of continuing to ask questions, for he also states “Of the asking of questions there is, thankfully, no end. It is part of what keeps us alive and human.” 

It’s a little book. It’s full of Ellis-isms. It is at the same time simple and profound. I liked it. Buy several.

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