Sunday, September 24, 2017

Conflict Reveals True Character

I loved teaching some of our Redeemer kids this morning!

I've always thought that who a person really is, is who they are in their home. This is because a home is made of people living under the same roof who are not normal like you. The people in your home, whether old or young, are different.

Differences attract - that's good. Maybe that's why you married the person you did. Differences also collide. Differences repel, like positive and negative magnetic poles. Differences conflict. A husband and wife are, in a few ways at least, polar opposites. 


From God's perspective, this is very good. Differences can complement. In Genesis we read, "And God created polar opposites, and saw that it was good." And, BTW, God is different from you. God's ways are not your ways. That fact is a transcendent good which we minimally grasp.

Conflict, therefore, is inevitable. Conflict is normal. If there's no conflict in your home, you have a problem. Probably, that problem is you. Or, at least, you are part of the problem. Always consider this possibility, for it situates you on the road to being a peacemaker.

James van Yperen, in Making Peace, writes:

"Conflict reveals the true character of a leader. Jesus told His disciples, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven…. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?” (Matthew 5:43-46). Who we are is revealed by how we react to persecution." (p. 26)

If differences irritate you, that is your problem. If different approaches and styles "push your buttons," those buttons are your's. Own up to this and you are on your way to character formation.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

The Existential Thirst That Never Goes Away

Butterfly House, in Whitehouse, Ohio

As a philosophy professor I've done a lot of teaching, talking, coffee-breaking, and reasoning with a broad spectrum of students. I spend time teaching and relating to theists, atheists, and don't-know-what-ists.

All of them have a worldview. Few have evaluated their worldview. This is across the board, no matter what their belief system.


They have one thing in common, because the deeper we go inside people, the more we are the same, in terms of life's important issues. They all have a metaphysical urge for the transcendent. Yes, even if they say they are atheists. 


This gives me hope when relating to my philosophy students. In the depths of the human heart there are reasons that not even reason can fully satisfy. As the French philosopher Pascal said, "The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing." (Two helpful books here would be Existential Reasons for Belief in God: A Defense of Desires and Emotions for Faith, by Clifford Williams, and Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense, by Francis Spufford.)


The British writer Theodore Dalrymple confesses, “It is not as easy as one might suppose to rid oneself of the notion of God.” After confessing that he is an atheist, he proceeds to describe the void.


"Believing there is no God does not make the thirst go away. Few of us, especially as we grow older, are entirely comfortable with the idea that life is full of sound and fury but signifies nothing. However much philosophers tell us that it is illogical to fear death, and that at worst it is only the process of dying that we should fear, people still fear death as much as ever. In like fashion, however many times philosophers say that it is up to us ourselves, and to no one else, to find the meaning of life, we continue to long for a transcendent purpose . . . To tell us that we should not feel this longing is a bit like telling someone in the first flush of love that the object of his affections is not worthy of them. The heart hath its reasons that reason knows not of." (Quoted in Philip Yancey, Vanishing Grace: What Ever Happened to the Good News?, p. 31)




I'm now writing Leading the Presence-Driven Church, to be published in late Spring, 2017.

After that - Transformation: How God Shapes the Human Heart.

Friday, September 22, 2017

The World Will Not End Sept. 23, 2017

David Meade calls himself a "Christian numerologist." He predicted the world will end on Saturday, Sept. 23. 

Now, he's changed his mind - the world will not end on this day, but it will launch a series of catastrophic events. 

All this is nonsense.

I have paid no attention to this person. No one should pay any attention to "Christian numerology." Because a few people have asked me about this, I'm posting on it.

David Meade needs to come forth after nothing unusual happens and confess to everyone he has led astray, to everyone who has become afraid due to his false thinking.

That would be good. I hardly ever see this. Usually, false teachers predicting doomsdays revise their predictions, so as to fit their errors. 

As for you, there's nothing to fear tomorrow. Just stay close to Jesus, as always, trusting in him, and following as he leads.

(See Michael Brown's article HERE.)

Could There Be More Than One God?

Near Brasilia, Brazil

(In last night's Philosophy of Religion class at MCCC a student asked, "Why could there not be more than one God who created the universe?" I'm re-posting my response to this.)

Instead of there being one God who exists and created all that is, why could there not be multiple Gods? 

One answer sometimes given to this is Ockham's Razor, which states that causes should not be multiplied unnecessarily. For example, if I come home and discover a pan of freshly baked brownies on the table, I understand my wife Linda to have made them. But someone suggests, "Why could not the brownies have been made by several bakers? Why assume just one person made them?" Because, using Ockham's Razor, there is no need to multiply causes unnecessarily. That the cause of the pan of brownies is "my wife Linda" is enough explanation. Similarly, "one God" is enough explanation for the cause of the universe.

I'm thinking that one could employ German philosopher Leibniz's "Identity of Indiscernibles" to argue that the idea of multiple Gods is incoherent. This is an idea in process. Here we go!

Assume that "God" has essential attributes, which causally determine God's contingent attributes. For example, because God is essentially love, God's responses to unloving situations will be logically predictable. When God sees death, e.g., God respnds with comfort out of his loving compassion. God's particular manifestations of his loving compassion are not essential to the being of God, but contingent.

Now imagine there are two Gods, or even twenty-two Gods. If we define "God" as essentially omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent, then Gods One through Twenty-two are also essentially omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent. Were they not, then they would not be God. Given these omni-attributes, such as omnibenevolent, each of the twenty-two Gods will respond in exactly the same ways to, e.g., a particular human death. Sharing all the needed knowledge, they each would choose the very best response to that death, which would be the same. This would mean that each of the twenty-two Gods would share not only the same essential attributes, but also the same contingent attributes.

What is called "Leibniz's Law," viz. the Identity of Indiscernibles, states that no two objects have exactly the same properties. But in our example we stated that twenty-two Gods share exactly the same essential and contingent properties. Using, therefore, Leibniz's Law, Gods 1-22 are "indiscernible"; namely, they are the same object, which is to say there is only one God.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy explains:


"The Identity of Indiscernibles (hereafter called the Principle) is usually formulated as follows: if, for every property F, object x has F if and only if object y has F, then x is identical to y. Or in the notation of symbolic logic:
F(Fx ↔ Fy) → x=y.
This formulation of the Principle is equivalent to the Dissimilarity of the Diverse as McTaggart called it, namely: if x and y are distinct then there is at least one property that x has and y does not, or vice versa."
If at least one of our twenty-two Gods had the requisite essential attributes, but each of the other twenty-one Gods had different essential attributes, then each of the other twenty-one Gods would not be God. The same applies to any varying contingent properties. Therefore, logically, there can only be one God, and the idea of multiple Gods is logically incoherent.

The Secret of Jesus' Ministry

Monroe, in the days when snow fell during winter

Why did Jesus pray? He prayed to find out what the Father wanted him to do. He prayed to receive strength and comfort. He and the Father were on a redemptive mission together. In times of prayer, Jesus received his marching orders.

Prayer brings us into the control room of the kingdom of heaven. In Scripture the "kingdom" means: the rule, or reign, of God. A praying person engages in God's kingdom activity. In prayer we gain discernment. We discern the important from the mundane. In praying we become relevant doers of the will of God.

I like this quote from Henri Nouwen, as he describes the place of prayer in Jesus' life.

"In the midst of a busy schedule of activities—healing suffering people, casting out devils, responding to impatient disciples, traveling from town to town, and preaching from synagogue to synagogue—we find these quiet words: “In the morning, long before dawn, he got up and left the house, and went off to a lonely place and prayed there.” The more I read this nearly silent sentence locked in between the loud words of action, the more I have the sense that the secret of Jesus’s ministry is hidden in that lonely place where he went to pray, early in the morning, long before dawn." (Nouwen, Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit, pp. 20-21)

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Fine Tuning Argument for God's Existence





For my MCCC Philosophy of Religion students.

Robin Collins's Fine-Tuning Argument for God's Existence

Monroe County Community College
(For my MCCC Philosophy of Religion students)

Oral Exam Question #5 - Explain Collins's Fine-Tuning Argument for God's existence.

1. Give the "biosphere" example.

2. The universe is analogous to such a biosphere.

3. The universe is "fine-tuned" for our existence. For example, "If gravity did not exist, masses would not clump together to form stars or planets, and hence the existence of complex, intelligent life would be seriously inhibited." (The gravitational constant is an "anthropic coincidence," or "cosmological constant." Stephen Hawking et. al. acknowledge the fine-tuning.)

4. State the argument:


  • Premise 1. The existence of the fine-tuning is not improbable under theism.
  • Premise 2. The existence of the fine-tuning is very improbable under the atheistic single-universe hypothesis.
  • Conclusion: From premises (1) and (2) and the prime principle of confirmation, it follows that the fine-tuning data provides strong evidence in favor of the design hypothesis over the atheistic single-universe hypothesis.


5. The "prime principle of confirmation" is: whenever we are considering two competing hypotheses,  an observation counts as evidence in favor of the hypothesis under which the observation has the highest probability (or is the least improbable). 

Note: Collins also calls the "prime principle of confirmation" the "likelihood principle."





Trying to Be Relevant Leads to Our Irrelevance

My back yard

At Redeemer, my goal is to see people come to know Christ, and discover life in the presence of God. For people to know God, experientially.

Thus, I am increasingly uninterested in being "relevant."

Os Guinness writes:

"Rarely has the church seen so many of its leaders solemnly presenting the faith in public in so many weak, trite, foolish, disastrous, and even disloyal ways as today...
This monumental and destructive carelessness has coincided exactly with a mania for relevance and reinvention that has gripped the church. So a disconcerting question arises: How on earth have we Christians become so irrelevant when we have tried so hard to be relevant? And by what law or logic is it possible to steer determinedly in one direction but end up in completely the opposite direction?... We are confronted by an embarrassing fact: Never have Christians pursued relevance more strenuously; never have Christians been more irrelevant."



***
My two books are:


Leading the Presence-Driven Church (Fall 2017) 

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Jim Carrey Goes Rogue

Image result for caesar flickerman before crowd
Caesar Flickerman

Comedian Jim Carrey has gone rogue. He was interviewed on the "red carpet" for an event called New York Fashion Week. The interviewer asked Carrey what he thought of the many "icons" that were at the event. Carrey responded by calling the whole event "meaningless." (Why, then, was he there?)

Carrey continued, sounding like an existentialist philosopher, or the book of Ecclesiastes.

“I don’t believe in icons, I don’t believe in personalities, I believe that peace lies beyond personality and invitation and disguise, beyond the red S on your chest that makes bullets bounce off,” he said. “I believe that it’s deeper than that. I believe we’re a field of energy dancing for itself, and I don’t care.”

Before walking away, Carrey concluded, “We don’t matter.”"

If we are but "a field of energy dancing for itself," then of course we don't matter. But we are not. And, we do.

Carrey went off the grid. That's good. Because the grid is absurd and meaningless. Humans? As icons? To be adulated? How stupid. How uncreative.

I cannot get the image from The Hunger Games out of my mind, where Caesar Flickerman stands before the crowded auditorium, twisting every moment into happiness before the brain dead crowd. The people are hungry. The Capitol gives them The Games. In the Capitol, life is a game; hence, what once was thought evil is served up with heaping bowls of sugar.

We are bored. Look at people. Can you not see this?

In response, to placate us, and to hide the inanity, our shallow culture dishes out entertainment.

We devour it and, for a moment, are sedated.

Upon awakening, we find ourselves bored.

Caesar Flickerman knocks on the door, and sells us his happy drug.

We ingest it, clueless, happy.

There is no life, no meaning.

That's what "boredom" is. It's not having nothing to do. In America we have so much to do that we have lost the ability to do nothing. Boredom is finding no meaning in our never-ceasing doing.

The author of Ecclesiastes saw this over two thousand years ago.


Everything's boring, utterly boring -

no one can find any meaning in it.

Ch. 1, The Message

The Pleasure of Solitude with God

Somewhere in Monroe County

Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.
Luke 5:16

I spent time praying yesterday afternoon. I did not go outside, which is my preference, because a deluge of rain poured out from the heavens. 

I got alone with God, lifted requests to him as they came to me, meditated on Scripture (Ecclesiastes), listened for his voice, wrote some things he was saying to me, prayed for some people, and gave thanks to him.

I also deburdened. This creates a space in my heart to receive from God. When I am in that secret place that is my heart, my listening capacity rises.

I have done this for so many years (see here, for a record of this) that the attraction of God overwhelms the distractions of life. This has helped me live more focused.

The French theologian Pascal said we require things to distract us from ourselves. He wrote: "Hence it comes people so much love noise and stir; hence it comes that the prison is so horrible a punishment; hence it comes that the pleasure of solitude is a thing incomprehensible.” (In Dallas Willard, The Great Omission, Kindle Locations 2968-2969)

It took some time to learn aloneness with God, without distractions. To rest in the Lord, and not in the American sense of "rest" as "entertainment." The distracted life is the source of our miserable discontent. Willard writes:

"Solitude and silence are the most radical of the disciplines for the spiritual life because they most directly attack the sources of human misery and wrongdoing. To be in solitude is to choose to do nothing. For extensive periods of time. All accomplishment is given up. One learns “hands off.” Silence is required to complete solitude, for until we enter quietness, including not listening and speaking, the world still lays hold of us. When we go into solitude and silence, we even stop making demands upon God. It is enough that God is God and we are His. We learn we have a soul, that God is here, that this world is “my Father’s world.”" (Ib., Kindle Locations 2993-2997)

How different, how refreshing, how energizing and life-giving is the pleasure of solitude with God. No wonder Jesus did it!