Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Core Message #4 - Holly Benner - Redeemer Is a Worshiping Church

Go HERE to hear this great message Holly gave a few weeks ago.

Atheism Leads to Nihilism

If I was an atheist, then I would be a nihilist.

A few years ago I bought and read the book Is Goodness Without God Enough? A Debate on Faith, Secularism, and Ethics. It's a series of essays generated by the debate, in 2001, between theist William Lane Craig and atheist Paul Kurtz.

I see Kurtz as missing Craig's two points, which are:

1) If theism is true, then we have a solid basis for morality.
2) If theism is false, then we do not have a solid basis for morality.

If 2 is true, then atheism does not lead to humanism (as Kurtz thinks), but to nihilism. Craig says: "If theism is false, you've got to ask yourself, Why wouldn't nihilism be true? What proof do you have that nihilism is not the correct remaining alternative?" (44)

If atheism is true it follows that humans are "just animals, and animals have no moral obligations to one another." (32) Craig quotes ethicist Richard Taylor, who invites us to imagine humans who live in a state of nature without any customs or laws, and one of them kills another and takes his property. Taylor writes:

"Such actions, though injurious to their victims, are no more unjust or immoral than they would be if done by one animal to another. A hawk that seizes a fish from the sea kills it, but does not murder it; and another hawk that seizes the fish from the talons of the first takes it, but does not steal it - for none of these things is forbidden. And exactly the same considerations apply to the people we are imagining." (32)

If atheism is true, it's hard for me to see that nihilism is not true.

This is not an argument for either theism or atheism. It is to present a hypothetical situation, with logical entailments. It is to argue against the rationality of moral obligation under atheistic humanism. 

Finally it is not, as Craig so often tells us, to say that an atheist cannot act morally. Craig's point is about moral ontology, not moral behavior or moral epistemology. With these things in mind we can make sense of a statement like this:

Craig: "Thus, if atheism is true, it becomes impossible to condemn war, oppression, or crime as evil. Nor can one praise brotherhood, equality, or love as good. It doesn't matter what you do - for there is no right and wrong; good and evil does not exist." (33)

(See my How One Atheist Lives Without Morality)

When I Have Become Prayer (PrayerLife)

Wall of Herod's Temple, Jerusalem
I woke up praying again today. This is now my common experience. It's as if I cannot not-pray. 

There was a time, a long season of my life, where praying was unnatural to me. I had to force myself to pray. Now what began as forced, disciplined prayer (which is good) has become a way of life (which is better). I see that I am a praying person. 

This morning I read this from one of my worn-out devotional books. Thomas Merton once prayed: God, "let my eyes see nothing but your glory, and let my hands touch nothing that is not for your service. Let my tongue taste no bread that does not strengthen me to praise your great mercy." (From New Seeds of Contemplation. Cited in Merton, Through the Year with Thomas Merton, 55.)

When my entire being has become a prayer, when I am prayer, then shall I know by experience what it is to see sub specie aeternitatis

Easter Week Day 2 - The Cursing of the Fig Tree Is Really About the End of the Temple

Woman praying in Jerusalem


This is Easter Week - the days leading up to Good Friday and the cross. After Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey to the shouts of "Save us now!" ("Hosanna!"), he did some radical and revealing things in the city. One of them was His "cursing of the fig tree."


18 Early in the morning, as Jesus was on his way back to the city, he was hungry.19 Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!”Immediately the tree withered. 
20 When the disciples saw this, they were amazed. “How did the fig tree wither so quickly?” they asked. 
21 Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. 22 If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”


Jesus and his disciples are walking up Mount Zion, upon which Jerusalem is seated. On top of the mountain is the Temple. The Temple was in full view as they ascended. It's probable that the fig tree was higher up on the road, between Jesus and the Temple. As they walk to the Temple, Jesus see the fig tree ahead.

As He points to the fig tree, he is really pointing to the Temple. The barrenness of the fig tree is a visual analogy for the barrenness of the presence of God within the Temple. God is no longer showing up in the Temple. The religious leaders, instead of welcoming God's presence and introducing people to that presence, shut the door of heaven in people's faces and themeselves do not enter in. (
Matthew 23:13) Their "religion" was rule-based and filled with self-centered pride.  Nothing worse could be said of a religious leader; viz., that they do their religious thing and bar God from the activities.

In the case of the Temple, God himself exited. How sad and worthless this is, since what people need is God and His manifest "with-us" presence.

When Jesus curses the barren fig tree and talks about "this mountain" being thrown into the sea, he's not referring to just any mountain, but to Mount Zion. Some people talk about a faith that can move mountains and use this passage as an example, but Jesus was really talking about a new kind of faith that would exist 
without the Temple. The Temple, where God had showed up for hundreds of years, was going down, never to be inhabited by God again. The day was near when true worship will not happen on this mountain or any mountain. Thus, "this mountain" (Mt Zion) can be cast into the sea.

Later, as Jesus and his disciples are walking down Mount Zion from the Temple area, 
his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. 2 “Do you see all these things?” he asked.“Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” (Matthew 24:1-2)

With the Temple now God-less, where will God manifest Himself? The answer, as the disciples will realize on the Day of Pentecost, is that the dwelling place of God will be 
in His people, both individually and corporately. The great, revolutionary new truth of Jesus in this story is that if you are a Jesus-follower then you are a temple of the presence of God. You are, as Richard Foster has written, a "portable sanctuary."

You host the presence of God.


1. Consider ways in which you will welcome God's presence in your life today, ways in which you will welcome his presence.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Nietzsche's "Parable of the Madman"

(For my MCCC Philosophy of Religion Students.)

It's no secret that, among atheists, Nietzsche ranks as one of my favorites. I'm not being flippant about this. He was brilliant. If I was an atheist (which I'm not) I would orbit around him.

Atheist Peter Watson, in his newly published The Age of Atheists, presents Nietzsche as the beating heart behind all atheism that comes after him. Nietzsche is the proto-modern atheist. 

In the third section of my Philosophy of Religion class I begin with Nietzsche's famous "Parable of the Madman," from his book The Joyful Wisdom. Here are the expectations for my students. I give individual students 1-on-1 10-minute oral exams, where they are asked the questions I teach on.


1. Spell 'Nietzsche.' (I once put this question on a written exam. I was pleased that 95% of my students got the answer right. It is a mark of good teaching when the great majority are getting the correct answer. But what is the value of being able to spell 'Nietzsche'? Here is one example. Imagine you are dating someone that you want to break up with but don't know how. On your next date tell them: "I can spell 'Nietzsche'." Then, spell it. I think the relationship will be over at that point, the ball will be in the other's court, and they will be looking for ways to graciously break up with you. Or, you will have found your soul mate.)

2. Explain what Nietzsche means by "the horizon of the infinite.'

Nietzsche is writing to the European, especially German, atheists of his time. The metaphysical foundation of their culture, the "land" upon which they stood which provided the basis for their understanding of morality, is Christian theism. But once a person adopts the worldview of atheism, that metaphysical foundation and all that is built upon it must be abandoned. The result is that now the atheist is sailing alone in a boat upon a sea with an "infinite horizon." By "infinite horizon" is meant: there is no "land," no new metaphysical foundation, in sight.

This is one way of expressing Nietzsche's struggle with nihilism. "Nihilism" is the belief that life has no meaning.

3. Explain the "parable of the madman."
  • In the parable the madman is Nietzsche.
  • The madman is an atheist and enters a "village" of atheists. In this village there are "village atheists"; viz., "atheists" who do not have a clue about the philosophical ramfications of their atheism.
  • They mock the "mad"-but-logically consistent atheist, who rants depairing, dismal things like:  "The earth has been ripped out of its orbit around the sun and we're spinning out into total blackness!" 
  • The "sun" for us was Christian theism. It was our light and life, and gave meaning to our existence. Once we abandon that worldview we're out in the infinite blackness of space, looking for a sun to orbit around. Nietzsche's point is: when you abandon a worldview, you leave all its propositional truth behind. This includes the moral values that come from a God as divine command-giver. At this point, for Nietzsche, everything is up for grabs; we have begun de novo.
  • On atheism there is, of course, no God of Christian theism. That's what we got out moral values from. That's the "village" we've been living in. One can no longer live in the village if one is an atheist.
  • This realization that there is no God is the greatest event ever, "and whoever is born after us will on account of this deed belong to a higher history than all history up to now." This is because an entire world of meaning and value (viz., the Christian theist worldview upon which Europe exists) has been taken away. It is as if, to use a metaphorical analogy, the entire world was seen as the game of baseball, and the truth is the entire world is actually the game of tennis. In tennis the rules and values of baseball do not apply.
  • The madman stares at the pseudo-atheists, holding his little lamp since there's no longer a sun to light our way. They don't have a clue. He smashes his lamp on the ground, says "I guess I've come too early," and goes into an empty European church and Gregorian-chants "God is dead."
  • Such is the logic of atheism. Village atheists are those who live as if there's a moral foundation beneath ("land") while in reality they are all alone in an infinite situation.

I'm not an atheist. Were I one, I'd be sailing in the boat with Nietzsche, who struggled with and against nihilism the rest of his days.

Some notes from Stephen Williams, The Shadow of the Antichrist, pp. 118 ff.

Nietzsche's parable tells us:
  1. "First, God and theism are gone." (119)
  2. "Second, there are plenty of people around who know it." (Ib.)
  3. "Third, there are not plenty of people around who understand it." (Ib.)
  4. "Fourth, the demise of God and God's world is the product of human will and of human deed, not an accident."
  5. "Fifth, it is more massively world-historical than anything imaginable." (Ib.)
  6. "Sixth, it induces vertigo as we think about the future." (Ib.)
From his lonely outpost Nietzsche announces a cataclysm. He is an atheist-prophet, who has been compared to John the Baptist. "Nietzsche has actually been called 'that unbalanced John the Baptist of the modern world.'" (Ib., 120)

For Nietzsche, the death of God and the end of Christian theism means that, "intellectually, it all has ended." (Ib.) "We have arrived at the close of an epoch." (Ib.) In Human, All Too Human Nietzsche writes: "There will never again be a life and culture bounded by a religiously determined horizon." (In Ib., 121)

Easter Week #1 - Jesus Comes to "Hosanna" Us

Image result for johnpiippo israel
Ancient Korazin, Israel
SCRIPTURE READINGMark 11:1-11; Matthew 21:4-5

1 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, 2 saying to them, "Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 3 If anyone asks you, 'Why are you doing this?' tell him, 'The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.' "

[Matthew 21:4-5 adds these verses:
4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:
 5 "Say to the Daughter of Zion,
      'See, your king comes to you,
   gentle and riding on a donkey,
      on a colt, the foal of a donkey.' " 

Back to Mark...

4 They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, 5 some people standing there asked, "What are you doing, untying that colt?" 6 They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. 7 When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields.
9 Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,
   "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!"
 10 "Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!"
   "Hosanna in the highest!"


When the people saw Jesus and began shouting “Hosanna!,” they were calling out to Jesus “Save us!” “Rescue us!” Hosanna! is a Hebrew word (hoshi`ah-na) that had become a greeting or shout of praise, but it actually meant "Save!" or "Help!" Not surprisingly, this word was used by needy people to address the king (cf. 2 Sam 14:4; 2 Kings 6:26).

The palm branches are kingly things. They were waved as symbols of a victorious ruler. 

This word “Hosanna” has the sense of immediacy. It has an urgency about it - “Please save us, and do it now!” I see desperation in the eyes of the people as they cry out "Hosanna!"

When Jesus rode in his upside-down Kingdom-way on a donkey (not a war horse) into Jerusalem there was desperation in the air. The Jewish citizens of Jerusalem were under the heavy yoke of the Roman Empire. They had heard about Jesus. The  rumor was that he claimed to be a king. So when word got out that Jesus was coming into Jerusalem  on a donkey, he was greeted as royalty.

As shouts of “Blessed is the King of Israel!” are heard, clearly the people see in Jesus the answer to their nationalistic, messianic hopes. Earlier a crowd had wanted to make Jesus king (6:15), and now this crowd is recognizing him as king in the city of the great King. Here is the ancient dream of a Davidic ruler who would come and liberate Israel, establishing peace and subduing the Gentiles.

The way Jesus entered Jerusalem was a deliberate, prophetic “Zechariah 9:9 act” on his part. Zech. 9:9 reads: Do not be afraid, O Daughter of Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey's colt. 

Jesus comes into Jerusalem in a kingly way, and the people respond in a kingly fashion. The imagery is regal, even messianic, though it is a humble Messiah who makes his entrance. As the people spread their garments (NIV: their cloaks) on the road, a "red carpet" of sorts is produced.

He was there to rescue them. The people were about to get “hosanna-ed,” “rescued.” But it wasn’t going to look like they thought it should. Jesus is a different kind of King. He’s going to “Hosanna” the world by dying on a cross. 
N.T. Wright writes: “The meaning Jesus attaches to this “triumphal entry” is quite different from the meaning they are wanting to see in it. That, perhaps, is where we can learn most from this story today.”

Jesus does intend to respond to the people’s cries. He has come to seek and save the lost. He has come for people who need help, people who are sick and need a doctor. Yet he’s not coming to be all things to all people. He’s not riding into Jerusalem to conform to the expectations of the crowds of people. He is going to answer in his own way.

The people wanted a prophet. This prophet, Jesus, is going to tell the people that they are under coming judgment. They wanted a Messiah. This one is going to be enthroned on a pagan cross. The crowds wanted to be rescued from evil and oppression. This person Jesus is going to do that, but in a far, far deeper way than they were thinking.

Jesus is going beneath surface evil and into the depths of the human heart. N.T. Wright says: “Precisely because Jesus says ‘yes’ to their desires at the deepest level, he will have to say ‘no’ or ‘wait’ to the desires they are conscious of, and expressed.” (op. cit., 68)

Once you really cry out “Hosanna,” Jesus is going to “hosanna” you more thoroughly than you imagined, maybe more deeply than you wanted. The Hosanna-ing Jesus brings is not a band-aid. This story of Jesus entering Jerusalem  is “an object lesson in the mismatch between our expectations and God’s answer.” (Ib., 69)

The bad news is that the crowds are going to be disappointed. The good news is that their disappointment is on a surface, shallow level. “Deep down, Jesus’ arrival at the great city is indeed the moment when salvation is dawning… The “Hosannas” were justified… they were correct…. but not for the reasons they supposed. To learn this lesson is to take a large step towards wisdom and humility, and towards genuine Christian faith.” (Ib.)


1.    If you are a Jesus-follower, then you have been Hosanna-ed. You called, He answered, and He came to your rescue. Think of how God, in Christ, has been your Rescuer. Make a list of some God-redemptive things in your life.

2.    Christ has not ceased to love you as Redeemer and Rescuer. If there is an area in your life that needs rescue and deliverance, identify it, and cry out “Hosanna, Lord!”

Sunday, March 29, 2015

God Morphs Us From Pride to Humility (PrayerLife)

My friend Timothy Chung, one of the humblest men I know.
Humility is the foundational attitude of spiritual transformation. Pride is the enemy of all change. James 4:6 states: “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Moses, the great leader, “was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:3).
Our English word “humility” comes from the Latin humus, which means “earth” or “soil.” Our hearts must be like good soil to receive the things God wants to plant in us. Pride, on the other hand, is hardness. Hardness of the heart is the great barrier to spiritual change. C.S. Lewis thus refers to pride as “the complete anti-god state of mind.”[1] Francis Frangipane calls pride “the armor of darkness.”[2] Are you a humble person, or a proud person? One indicator is how you handle criticism. A humble person doesn’t mind being critiqued, even welcomes constructive criticism if it brings more truth. A proud person doesn’t need any advice, and pride’s counterpart, shame, fears criticism.
Like the hidden pride of Isaiah, we need personal encounters with the Living God to see how undone and needy we are. Thomas Kelly has written: “But what trinkets we have sought after in life, the pursuit of what petty trifles has wasted our years as we have ministered to the enhancement of our little selves. And what needless anguishes we have suffered because our little selves were defeated, were not flattered, were not cozened and petted.”[3]
Humility, says Kelly, rests upon a holy blindedness, like the blindedness of him who looks steadily into the sun. “The God-blinded soul sees naught of self, naught of personal degradation or of personal eminence…”[4] Alan Nelson writes, “Growth in humility is a measure of our growth in the habit of the Godward-directed mind. And he only is near to God who is exceedingly humble.”[5]
Thomas Merton writes:
“A humble man is not disturbed by praise since he is no longer concerned with himself. A man who is not humble cannot accept praise gracefully. One who has not yet learned humility becomes upset and disturbed by praise. He may even lose his patience when people praise him; he is irritated by the sense of his own unworthiness. And if he does not make a fuss about it, at least the things that have been said about him haunt him and obsess his mind. They torment him wherever he goes. At the other extreme is the man who has no humility at all and who devours praise, if he gets any, the way a dog gobbles a chunk of meat… The humble man receives praise the way a clean window takes the light of the sun. The truer and more intense the light is, the less you see of the glass. Humility is the surest sign of strength.”
James 4:6 states that God is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble. This is one of those great biblical either-or ideas which states that it’s not simply a bad thing to have a proud heart but it is an anti-God thing. If you are proud God is against you. My own understanding of this is that, where there is some area of one’s heart that is hard towards God, God stands in opposition to that area. I’m saying this because I don’t believe any of us are totally free from pride. If that is true than God is opposed to us all. I think the human heart can both have areas that have been conquered by God and are humble and have areas of hardness that are not open to God. In this sense it’s not either proud or humble because I can’t imagine a follower of Jesus claiming to be wholly, perfectly humble.
A.W. Tozer once prayed, “O Christ, make me strong to overcome the desire to be wise and to be reputed wise by others as ignorant as myself. I turn from my wisdom as well as from my folly and flee to You, the wisdom of God and the power of God. Amen.”

This is the appropriate attitude. This kind of humility is the necessary precondition for spiritual transformation. Pride dies, the soft heart prevails, which allows God to shape one’s spirit into greater Christlikeness.
[1] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
[2] Francis Frangipane, The Three Battlegrounds
[3] Thomas Kelly, A Testament of Devotion
[4] Thomas Kelly, A Testament of Devotion, pp. 62-63
[5] Alan Nelson, Broken In the Right Place

Saturday, March 28, 2015

God-dependent People Pray (PrayerLife)

Door, in Monroe, Michigan

The less a person has, the more God-dependent they are. There are exceptions to this, but I find this to be the rule. "It is hard," Jesus said, "for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven." And by "kingdom" Jesus meant: the rule, or reign, of God.

It is hard for a rich man to come under the reign of God in their life. For these reasons.
  1. - Material possessions tend to give people the illusion of control.
  2. - If a person has money they have more control over elements and diseases; i.e., they have a roof over their head, food to eat, and access to health care.
  3. - People with lots of stuff spend their lives attending to their stuff - storing it, protecting it, cleaning it, etc. This takes lots of time, leaving less for God.
When material things become burdensome joy decreases. Henri Nouwen discovered this and wrote about it in Gracias! A Latin American Journal. If you are wealthy and joyful for the right reasons (viz., the presence of God ruling in your being), then praise God. But Nouwen found more joy in the poor communities of South America than in the elite halls of Yale where he taught.

When I was traveling and speaking in central India I discovered that people who wanted to receive prayer were numerically greater than what I find in the U.S. The same happened on my Kenya trip. When you have little food, shelter, and money, it is common to turn more to God because there's nowhere else to go.

Weakness breeds dependence. When I am weak then I am strong, for the great Western illusion is that I am fundamentally non-dependent. 

Over time a Jesus-follower's God-dependency should increase. The truth of how we are essentially God-and-other dependent is more clearly seen. The illusion that we are "in control" is broken in us.

And, we pray more. An increasing prayer life is a sign of increased dependency on God. God-dependent people pray.

Friday, March 27, 2015

God vs. Atheism: Which is More Rational?

Peter Kreeft is Professor of Philosophy at Boston College.

On Christian Mediocrity

My back yard
23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, 24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.
Colossians 3:23-24

I had a student in one of my philosophy of religion classes who was a follower of Jesus. They loved God and wanted to serve God. At least they said this. But they were failing my class, not because of a lack of intelligence, but because of a lack of effort. One day I took them aside and asked:

"You are a Christian, right?"


"Has God called you to be in college?"


"If God has called you to be in college," I said, "then you need to pour everything you have into this and study your face off."

I told them they would never serve on my team if they didn't respond to God's callings by giving it all they have. 

This is not about a grade or being better than others. It's not about working hard to earn God's love. It is about loving God; therefore working hard at all God calls you to do

Thomas Merton wrote: "It is the lack of self-denial or self-discipline that explains the mediocrity of so much devotional art, so much pious writing, so much sentimental prayer, so many religious lives." (Merton, Thoughts in Solitude, 26)