Monday, March 27, 2017

The Closing of the American University's Mind

Trinidad - view of Maracas Bay (Linda and I were there in 2015)

One idea of the "university" is that it is a place for the exploration of ideas, where contrary viewpoints are encouraged, welcomed, and discussed, civilly. I had some professors who did this, and for that, I am thankful. They could handle disagreement with grace. I learned a lot from them.

But many professors do not. In fact, the American university has become tyrannical. 

I experienced that, too, when the head of the philosophy department at Northwestern University brought me into his office, and told me that, while he liked my work, he would not support me. The reason, he said, was that I was associated with Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, which functioned as Northwestern's divinity school. Garrett is United Methodist. The position of the United Methodist Church at the time was disaffirming of same-sex relationships. My philosophy professor was gay. He punished me for the sins of the UMC. 

I ended up finding two Northwestern departments that supported me in my doctoral work - Linguistics, and History and Literature of Religions. But the philosophy department, in their totalitarian righteousness, excommunicated me.  So much for philo - Sophia (the love of wisdom). (In retrospect, I probably could have sued the university for this.)

Such exorcistic behavior is normal, in the university. So says the current Chronicle of Higher Education article by Robert Boyers, "The Academy's Assault on Intellectual Diversity." 

Boyers writes of "the depth or virulence of the opposition to robust discussion within the American professoriate, where many self-described liberals continue to believe that they remain committed to "difference" and debate, even as they countenance a full-scale assault on diversity of outlook and opinion." Which means: If you don't agree with us, then you are to be loathed and despised.

Yes, loathed. The American academy is "a church held together by the hunt for heresies." Boyers writes:

"We do routinely observe that "active and inquiring intellects" are cast out of the community of the righteous by their colleagues and formally "investigated" by witch-hunting faculty committees and threatened with the loss of their jobs. One need only mention the widely debated eruptions at Oberlin College, or Northwestern University, or others, to note that this is by no means a phenomenon limited to a handful of institutions."
"Things have gotten out of hand. The desire to cleanse the campus of dissident voices has become something of a mission. Shaming, scapegoating, and periodic ritual exorcisms are a prime feature of campus life."
If a professor or student has a belief that challenges the cult, it is best if they keep their mouths shut. 
I thought university professors were open-minded people, seeking wisdom and knowledge, from wherever it comes? I thought the idea was that we were to listen to dissenting voices, perhaps learning from them, maybe even changing our beliefs on account of them?
Not really. That's a fantasy, found only in logic textbooks. Academics engage in Orwellian Groupthink as much as the common person does. Boyers writes:
"Though it must seem odd to those who spend little or no time in the academy to hear that academic intellectuals are notoriously susceptible to groupthink, there are several compelling ways to account for this. For one, as Jonathan Haidt has pointed out in The Righteous Mind (Pantheon, 2012), academics are much like other people in "trying harder to look right than to be right" when they conduct an argument. Within the confines of a community that prides itself on its disciplined commitment to a consensually agreed upon set of "enlightened" views, deviations once regarded as signs of a robustly diverse intellectual culture come more and more to seem intolerable."
Haidt has argued that professors are no more likely to think independently than a lemming. 
"High IQ people like academics "are no better than others at finding reasons on the other side." This is especially troubling — or ought to be especially troubling — in the culture of the university, where diversity of outlook and ideas, and resistance to accredited formulas, is at least theoretically central to the institutional mission.
But academics today are increasingly behaving like members of an interest group..."
And they conduct witch hunts. They abhor the deviants who dare inject contrary ideas. They shame people. 
It's scary.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

When Is a Church No Longer a Church?

Image result for lime green rambler car
My Nash Rambler looked like this (not my photo)

When I was an undergraduate at Northern Illinois University I was part of a social fraternity. One morning I left the fraternity house to go to a class on campus. I got in my lime green Nash Rambler, turned the key, and heard a strange sound come from under the hood. The sound was followed by the smell of burning rubber. I got out of the car, lifted the hood, and saw smoke coming from melted wires. My Rambler was finished.

I walked into classes that day. When I returned to the fraternity house the Rambler was gone. Some of my fraternity brothers had the car towed to the center of campus, and were charging students a dollar to hit it with a sledge hammer. When I saw my beloved car it was no longer recognizable.

When is a car no longer a car? When it loses its radio? No, even without a radio a car is still a car. When it gets repainted? When a headlight goes out? When the bumper falls off? Even with all these losses, it is still a car.

When Henry Ford made his first car, it had some essentials that cars still have, one hundred years later. Shapes, sizes, weight, materials, are different today. But the first Ford had wheels, a steering wheel, seats, and an engine. These are the essentials. The original Ford had them. So do cars today. Don't let anyone try to sell you a car if it doesn't have the essentials of the original.

There was an Original Church. Jesus is building it in the Gospels. We see it birthed in the book of Acts. The Original Church was in many ways different than churches today. The Original Church didn't have permanent buildings to meet in. Today, we do. The original church didn't have Bibles. We do. They wore different clothing than we wear. Today, many things are different than they were in the original church. But some things are not supposed to change.

When Jesus made the first church it had some essentials. Spiritual gifts like speaking in tongues and prophecy happened. People prayed for the sick with great expectancy. They experienced signs and wonders. The original church perceived itself to be in a spiritual battle against Satan and demons. Indeed, this was seen as the reason for our struggles; viz., that we battle against spiritual principalities and powers, rather than flesh and blood.

All this was empowered by the Holy Spirit. In the book of Acts we see constant demonstrations of power (dunamis) and authority (exousia). Surely there was far more of this going on than what has been written down.

But now, sadly, these essentials are missing in many American churches. They are not taught, they are not experienced, they are even spoken against, and they are, to some, an embarrassment. A.W. Tozer saw this, and wrote:

"If the Holy Spirit was withdrawn from the church today, 95 percent of what we do would go on and no one would know the difference. If the Holy Spirit had been withdrawn from the New Testament church, 95 percent of what they did would stop, and everybody would know the difference." (Tozer, in Michael Brown, Authentic Fire, pp. 54-55)

If Peter and Paul and the first-century Jesus-followers saw the American Church today, they would find it unrecognizable. A "church" without miracles, signs, wonders, spiritual gifts, healings, expectation, power, and the Holy Spirit? Don't let anyone try to sell you a church if it doesn't have the essentials of the Original.

My first book is Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.
I'm currently writing book #2 - Leading the Presence-Driven Church (Summer 2017)

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Truth Is Not Dead

In 1966 Time magazine published one of its most famous covers ever. 

Image result for time is god dead magazine cover
April 8, 1966
The answer to that question was, and is: No.

I went to the mailbox today to get the recent edition of Time, and here is the cover.
Image result for time is truth dead magazine cover

If the answer is "No," then truth is not dead.

If the answer is "Yes," then truth is not dead.

Because if the answer is "Yes," then the following statement is true: Truth is dead. But that statement cannot be true, because if it is true, then it is false. In other words, the statement Truth is dead is logically incoherent. 

Therefore, Truth is not dead

Further, "truth" is not some living thing that can die. Truth cannot die. That statement is true.

So, what about the feature article? It's written by an atheist, Michael Shermer. I've read some of Shermer's stuff. My truth antennae go up. The article is entitled, "Can Trump Handle the Truth?"

OK. Time is playing mind games. The 1966 "God Is Dead" issue was actually about whether or not there is a God. Of course, the statement God is dead is misleading, because if there is a God (I believe there is) then God could not be dead, since God necessarily exists, and a being that necessarily exists never came into being and could never go out of being. And if there is no God, then the statement is sheer nonsense, since only existing living things can die. You have to be alive, and contingently so, to die. (When Nietzsche uttered "God is dead," he was speaking figuratively to mean "I [Nietzsche] have ceased believing in the existence of God.")

Shermer's question is: Can Trump Handle the Truth? This question affirms that truth is not dead, and that there is such a thing as objective truth (true for everyone) that, presumably, Trump cannot handle. If there is no objective truth, then Shermer's question makes as much sense as Can Shermer ride a unicorn?

Truth and falsehood, admits Shermer, are binary opposites. This is exactly what I teach in my logic classes. Shermer accuses Trump of blurring the binary distinctions between truth and falsehood. Shermer states that Trump utters many untruths. The core and bulk of his article intends to substantiate the truth of this statement.

The cover of the new Time aroused the philosopher in me. I took the bait. The fact remains: Truth, like God, is Not Dead.

Healing and the Atonement - at Redeemer

Detroit River, in Wyandotte

Two weeks ago at Redeemer I preached on 1 Peter 2:24. This message was part of preaching through the letter of 1 Peter. I assumed I would just continue into chapter 3, but God had different ideas.

Stay on 1 Peter 2:24. This was very clear to me. So here we are, and here I am. At Redeemer we are now focused on Healing and the Atonement. And, our praying for the sick has ramped up. In the past two weeks we have seen some people healed of physical and emotional illness. We'll do it again tomorrow morning, and the next week, and on Palm Sunday, and on Easter Sunday, and...? Until God directs otherwise.

I confess to liking this very much. It seems that most of our people do, too.

Because one of my love languages is Study, I am engaging in Atonement studies. Periodically, usually as we near Easter week, I revisit the atoning work of Christ on the cross. My background studies include doing one of my doctoral qualifying exams on ancient Christology, especially the Christological controversies about the nature of Christ, and the eventual formation of the Creeds.

I love studying Jesus more than eating a Cadbury egg (this is saying a lot - on occasion I have studied while eating one, thereby experiencing the best of both worlds). I love knowing and experiencing his now-activity, his "with us" presence. Hopefully, this is happening in your church. That is the point of the whole thing, right?

If you want to engage in Atonement studies the best place to begin is this book - The Nature of the Atonement: Four Views, by Thomas Schreiner and James Beilby. It includes Greg Boyd's cool presentation of the famous "Christus Victor" position, and theologian Bruce Reichenbach's "Healing View" of the Atonement.

Friday, March 24, 2017

The Impossibility of Worship Without Presence (The Presence-Driven Church)

Lake Michigan shoreline

Worship without a sense of God’s presence is not true worship. God’s presence and worship fit together like a hand and a glove. God’s palpable presence evokes worship; worship provokes God’s people into his felt presence. God’s presence is evocative; true worship is provocative.

At times I have a sense of God’s presence, and this evokes worship in me. I may praise God, or sing of God’s greatness. At other times I may feel spiritually barren, and then a song we are singing prods me, and barrenness is replaced with fecundity.

I doubt that a person could be in God’s presence and not somehow worship him. The experience of God, with us, never gets ordinary or old. The very thought of God manifesting himself in all his omni-attributes is cognitively and emotionally overpowering. Where God is, there people will bow before him in awe and adoration.

In true worship God becomes not only the object of our adoration, but our worship leader. This is why, in true worship, we cannot program or predict how the Holy Spirit will lead. The Holy Spirit cannot be click-tracked, or timed. True worship shifts time zones, from clock time (chronos) to now-time (atemporality; kairos; God’s “time”). We become lost in the moment, in what some have called the “eternal now.”

On Sunday mornings, for example, we have some things in place: an opening worship song, we pray for our children, announcements (if any), praise & worship, preaching, then a time of ministry. But all this can change.

Recently, during the opening song, I was drawn to a person in our sanctuary. I did not know them, but sensed God's presence doing a good thing in them. I felt led to share this with them. At that point the worship meeting was changing before my eyes.

We begin with a simple, basic structure. That's OK and, I think, good. God has led us to prepare the way for his manifesting presence. But within this structure there is room for the Spirit to do his thing. And He does. Always, in our context.

In that sense we do not have an "order of service," or a "program" to be followed. The reason is, while God can and does pre-order what happens in our corporate gatherings, it is God, not me or a committee, doing the pre-ordering. We can't order or program God.

When God manifests his presence it is never to put on a show to entertain a room of consumers.  A. W. Tozer looked at “worship” in the Entertainment-Driven Church in dismay. 

He wrote:

"Thanks to our splendid Bible societies and to other effective agencies for the dissemination of the Word, there are today many millions of people who hold ‘right opinions,’ probably more than ever before in the history of the Church. Yet I wonder if there was ever a time when true spiritual worship was at a lower ebb. To great sections of the Church the art of worship has been lost entirely, and in its place has come that strange and foreign thing called the ‘program.’ This word has been borrowed from the stage and applied with sad wisdom to the type of public service which now passes for worship among us."[1]

Tozer wrote that in 1948. What might he say today?

(This is why at Redeemer we want our worship team musicians and vocalists to, primarily, have deep, abiding spiritual lives with Christ. A musician who lacks that is doxologically worthless, an impediment to true worship.) 

[1] A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God, Kindle Locations 46-51

Change Always Involves Loss

Some of the Redeemer kids I teach (along with Daniel and John)

I'm reading Walter Fluker's Ethical Leadership: The Quest for Character, Civility, and Community. Fluker has written before on the spiritual and social relationship connecting Martin Luther King, Jr., and Howard Thurman (See They Looked for a City: A Comparative Analysis of the Ideal of Community in the Thought of Howard Thurman and Martin Luther King, Jr.) 

In Ethical Leadership Fluker deepens and strengthens the King-Thurman connection, and the importance of grounding social ethics in individual and community spiritual formation and transformation.

This means, among other things, that we need to change, individually, and in community. Our selves and our communities must walk in ongoing renewal and transformation, lest we die and perpetuate the cultural nihilism of this dark world.

Fluker quotes Ronald Heifetz and Martin Linsky:

"You appear dangerous to people when you question their values, beliefs, or habits of a lifetime. You place yourself on the line when you tell people what they need to hear rather than what they want to hear. Although you may see with clarity and passion a promising future of progress and gain, people will see with equal passions the losses you are asking them to sustain." (Fluker, Kindle Locations 237-239; emphasis mine)

Change feels dangerous to the human heart because it always involves loss.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

When a Pastor Succumbs to Vocational Idolatry (The Presence-Driven Church)

Clare, Michigan

The typical American pastor feels pressure to keep people coming to church. If people don't come, there won't be enough money to maintain the building, and to pay their salary. This pressure can cause a pastor to wilt, spiritually. To succumb.

I have felt this, especially when I was in campus ministry. For eleven years we survived from hand to mouth. We depended on the support of other churches. I traveled every weekend to visit churches, to share what God was doing with our college students, and praying that these churches would give us some financial support. Even though we never had more than enough, for the most part we always had enough.

One danger for the pastor is that they will adopt secular techniques of appealing to people to make church more palatable. As this happens the secular slowly displaces the spiritual, the coffee bar transcends the cross, the stage replaces the altar, the clock rules over the Spirit, and a performance substitutes for The Presence.

Eugene Peterson writes:

"The volume of business in religion far outruns the spiritual capital of its leaders. The initial consequence is that leaders substitute image for substance, satisfying the customer temporarily but only temporarily, on good days denying that there is any problem (easy to do, since business is so very good), on bad days hoping that someone will show up with an infusion of capital. No one is going to show up. The final consequence is bankruptcy. The bankruptcies are dismayingly frequent." (Peterson, Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness, p. 3)

When this happens "church" becomes market-driven, and the people are viewed as "consumers." Peterson calls this "vocational idolatry."

"Pastoral vocation is interpreted from the congregational side as the work of meeting people’s religious needs on demand at the best possible price and from the clerical side as satisfying those same needs quickly and efficiently. These conditions quickly reduce the pastoral vocation to religious economics, pull it into relentless competitiveness, and deliver it into the hands of public relations and marketing experts." (Ib., pp. 3-4)

The Reason You Are Wounded by Rejection

Detroit skyline

We all need affirmation, as well as realistic evaluation. But there is a disease called affirmation addiction, and it is punishing to the soul. The affirmation addict goes up and down, emotionally, with the approval and disapproval of people.

Are you disturbed when someone dismisses you or assaults you on social media? When you get a "thumbs down?" The source of your disturbance is addiction to affirmation. If you did not live for the approval of other people, you would not die by their disapproval of you. You have to choose whose acceptance you will live and die for. (I am writing this as much for myself as for anyone else.)

Bob Sorge says, "Jesus was not touched by the praise of man, so he was not wounded by the rejection of man." (See here.) This is from John 5:44, where Jesus faces his followers and says,  How can you believe since you accept glory from one another but do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?

Jesus refused to receive the approval of humanity. He didn't rise and fall by what other people thought of him. Instead, he lived and died by the Father's approval, and thus was free to live and die for you and me.

My book Praying is available as a Kindle book HERE
Hard cover 
You can contact me at:

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The War for the Liberation of Human Souls

My backyard, on the river

This is for the serious God-seeker, the passionate Christ-abider, the desirer of God's presence. Better is one day in God's presence than a thousand with my toys.

"Do everything you can to avoid the noise and business of the world. Keep as far away as you can from the places where they gather to cheat and insult one another, to exploit one another, to laugh at one another, or to mock one another with their false gestures of friendship. Be glad if you can keep beyond the reach of their radios. Do not bother with their unearthly songs. Do not read their advertisements."
- Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation

Don't despise people who are addicted to social media. Just don't get seduced and entrapped yourself. Merton continues:

"No man who seeks liberation and light in solitude, no man who seeks spiritual freedom, can afford to yield passively to all the appeals of a society of salesmen, advertisers, and consumers."

Merton wrote Seeds of Contemplation in 1949. It was revised and published as New Seeds in 1962. I envision Merton coming to life itoday, looking at the spiritual carnage lying in the wake of social media, and concluding the war for the liberation of human souls is over. Humanity lost. Lost humanity.

My book on prayer can be purchased here.

I'm currently writing Leading the Presence-Driven Church (Summer 2017).

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The American Church Has Lost Its Way

Image may contain: outdoor

Some New Testament scholars believe the following:

1. The American Church has severely lost its way.
2. For the Church to survive it must understand and enact the Real Gospel of Jesus.

Voices include Dallas Willard, Eugene Peterson, N.T. Wright, and Scot McKnight. There are others.

In addition to such scholars, there are unschooled Jesus-followers who are in some ways like the original disciples of Christ. They look at the story of Jesus and see a different reality than what is seen in the American Church.

Dallas Willard writes: "(In the American Church we have) contemporary misunderstandings that produce gospels that do not naturally produce disciples, but only consumers of religious goods and services....  (The) primary barrier to the power of Jesus’ gospel today... is a view of salvation and of grace that has no connection with discipleship and spiritual transformation. It is a view of grace and salvation that, supposedly, gets one ready to die, but leaves them unprepared to live now in the grace and power of resurrection life." (Willard, quoted in Scot McKnight, The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited, p. 16).

Consumers, rather than disciples.

Conformation to American culture, rather than transformation into Christlikeness.

Human effort, rather than resurrection power.

Voices are crying in the wilderness. The consumer, market-driven, entertainment church does not hear.

"We’ve wandered from the pages of the Bible into an answer that isn’t biblical enough... I think we’ve got the gospel wrong, or at least our current understanding is only a pale reflection of the gospel of Jesus and the apostles. We need to go back to the Bible to find the original gospel."  (McKnight, Ib., pp. 23-24)