Friday, October 24, 2014

Study Torah With Me This Winter

Studying Torah in Jerusalem
Beginning Sunday, January 4, I will teach an 11-week class on "Torah: The First Five Books of the First Testament."

Torah, the Jewish Written Law, is also known as the "Pentateuch," meaning the first five books of the Bible.

This will be an in-depth study. Students will read, or read again, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. I will supplement this with classic and current scholarship on Torah.

Sunday evenings, beginning Jan. 4 -  6-8 PM. (Note: no class Jan. 11.)

If you are interested in attending please send me an email at, or contact my office at 734-242-5277.

Pascal's "Wager" (Intro to Western Philosophy)


Explain Pascal’s “Wager.” (Kenny, 238 ff.)

1.    Pascal is a skeptic concerning the powers of human reason.

Pascal had a low view of the powers of human nature (reasoning).
“Pascal was skeptical of the value of philosophy, especially in relation to the knowledge of God. ‘We do not think that the whole of philosophy is worth an hour’s labor’, he once wrote.” (238)
At best philosophical reasoning can prove the existence of the “god of the philosophers,” but not “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”

2.    Pascal said there is a “reasoning from the heart.”
Pascal is contrasting intuitive knowledge with deductive knowledge. “It is the heart, he tells us, which teaches us the foundations of geometry.” (239)
“The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.”
As Pascal sees it, it is reasonable to acknowledge limits to reason. “Reason's last step is the recognition that there are an infinite number of things which are beyond it”
Pascal had a transforming mystical experience in 1654.
"The year of grace 1654, Monday, 23 November, day of St. Clement, Pope and Martyr. From about half-past ten in the evening until about half-past twelve, FIRE. God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of the philosophers nor of the Wise. Assurance, joy, assurance, feeling, joy, peace...Just Father, the world has not known thee but I have known thee. Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy." (Found sewn into the lining of Pascal’s coat.)
Pascal argued that belief in God cannot be defended by means of the usual apologetic arguments. The very nature of what is believed in - namely, an “infinitely incomprehensible” being – leaves these arguments necessarily inadequate.

3.    Pascal’s Wager.

Pascal was one of the founders of “game theory” (theory of probability).
Pascal uses probability theory to show this (game theory).
 “Either God exists or not. Which side shall we take? Reason can determine nothing here. An infinite abyss separates us;  and across this infinite abyss a game is played, which will turn out heads or tails. What will you bet?” (Quoting Pascal, 239)
Pascal thought that reason is neutral with respect to the question of whether or not God exists.
Pascal thought agnosticism was not a rational possibility.
Because not choosing to believe is equivalent to choosing not to believe. If you do not choose for God, you in effect choose against God.
On what basis, then, should one decide?
The solution, Pascal argues, is to weigh the potential rewards of believing in God against the potential rewards of failing to believe in God—i.e., to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of the relative merits of “wagering” for or against God's existence. The options, as Pascal construes them, can be outlined in the form of a table:

God exists
God does not exist.
Infinite Gain
No (or Finite) Loss/Finite Gain
Infinite Loss
Finite Gain

Of course, in the case of God, it is hard to determine what the chances of a successful outcome might be: we cannot justifiably assume, for example, that the likelihood of God existing is equal to the likelihood of God not existing.
But that is okay, Pascal argues, because the payoff if God exists is an infinite payoff.

Thus, the potential for infinite gain makes it rational to bet that God exists, however slim the actual chances of this might be: as long as one is willing to grant that there is “one chance of winning against a finite number of chances of losing,” it is a better deal to bet on God.  

Meditative Prayer Converts the Entire Self to God (PrayerLife)

First Congregational Church, Detroit
When I was a youth pastor in the 70s at First Baptist Church of Joliet, Illinois, we had a big kid named Dan who one day boasted, "I can put an entire Big Mac in my mouth and swallow it whole." We said "No way!!!" So we drove to McDonald's and bought a Big Mac for Dan.

Was this an idle boast because he wanted a free meal? Dan - who was a football player at Joliet Central H.S. - inserted the Big Mac in his mouth. That was the last we saw of it. I am certain Dan saw more of it later than he wanted. If you don't take small bits and chew your food it will not get assimilated to your physical body.

The Psalmist wrote, "Lord I love your law. I meditate on it day and night." (Psalm 119:97) Meditation is a slow-cooker, not a microwave. Meditation is like a cow chewing its cud, not like a kid inhaling a Big Mac. Meditation on God-thoughts allows the Spirit to assimilate them to your spirit and even to your physical body.

Thomas Merton says it this way. "All good meditative prayer is a conversion of our entire self to God. One cannot, then, enter into meditation, in this sense, without a kind of inner upheaval... [which results in] a liberation of the heart from the cares and preoccupations of one's daily business." (Thoughts in Solitude)

To meditate on God's thoughts in Scripture is to be self-exegeted by Scripture. Bible "study" can keep God's thoughts at an objective distance. Meditative Scripture reading is my spirit simmering in the flavors and spices of the mind of Christ. As I am studied by Scripture I am empowered by the Spirit.

Meditative praying produces inner change. I must choose this day what my meditation shall be, for such shall the shape of my heart be formed. 

13 Books That Have Influenced Me

I came across an Anglican website that listed "The 100 Best Christian Books." It's a great, comprehensive list. It got me thinking about Christian books that have influenced me. Here's a list of 13 of them, not in any special order.

Celebration of Discipline, by Richard Foster. In 1981 this book kick-started a prayer revolution in me.

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, by Annie Dillard. I became an Annie Dillard fan after reading this. Can anyone write better than her? My eyes were opened wider to God's presence found in my backyard.

Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis. This book introduced me to Christian apologetics, and I've never looked back.

A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories, by Flannery O’Connor. Maybe Flannery O'Connor can write better than Annie Dillard. I've read everything I can by her, including a few books interpreting her vision of the presence of Christ in the lives of ordinary, flawed humanity.

New Seeds of Contemplation, by Thomas Merton. This book solidified the great truth that, in one's spiritual life, being precedes doing. Through this book Merton became one of my spiritual directors.

The Inner Voice of Love: A Journey Through Anguish to Freedom, by Henri Nouwen. Through Nouwen's deep, transparent writings I experience the love of God and find healing for my troubled heart. Nouwen is an invaluable guide in my spiritual life.

A Testament of Devotion, by Thomas Kelly. I underlined so much in this book that a friend suggested I use spray paint. Kelly helped me see earth, through heaven.

Caring Enough to Confront: How to Understand and Express Your Deepest Feelings Towards Others, by David Augsburger. I have used this little book countless times in helping to heal broken relationships.

Shame and Grace: Healing the Shame We Don't Deserve, by Lewis Smedes. Smedes helped me understand the grace of God and experience healing from self-hatred and shame. 

Silence, by Shusaku Endo. This story of early missionaries to Japan broke my heart and helped me understand the cost of following Jesus.

The Cross and the Lynching Tree, by James Cone. It was good and hard to read a book that exposed areas of spiritual blindness in me.

Till We Have Faces, by C.S. Lewis. This book affected me deeply. I can't find words to describe what it's like when a book interprets your heart's deepest longings. I must take a deep breath and go away to a quiet place and read it again.

Thinking in Tongues, by James K. A. Smith. I am Pentecostal, and Smith's book has gifted me with an epistemology to go with it.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Act of Praying Announces "Game On" (PrayerLife)

Ludington, Michigan light house
I address God for the sake of me. I need constant help. I need perpetual change. I have not yet made it my own, but I press on to do so.
“Pressing on mode” begins with praying. The act of praying announces “game on.”

  • Transform me into greater Christlikeness.
  • Assist me in the doing of your will.
  • Change my heart, O God.
  • Reduce the “me” in me.
  • Have your way in me.
  • Be gracious unto me.
  • Do not forsake me.
  • Be glorified, in me.
  • Orchestrate me.
  • Increase in me.
  • Decrease me.
  • Empower me.
  • Create in me.
  • Sanctify me.
  • Move in me.
  • Restore me.
  • Sustain me.
  • Deliver me.
  • Renew me.
  • Clean me.
  • Guide me.
  • Direct me.
  • Fill me.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


(For my MCCC Philosophy of Religion class)

Wykstra's essay is: "Rowe's Noseeum Arguments from Evil."

Wykstra says Rowe commits the "no-seeum fallacy." Explain.

Rowe's argument is:

1. As far as I can see there is no point to the fawn's suffering.
2. Therefore, there is no point to the fawn's suffering.

This argument commits the noseeum fallacy. One can only reason from 1 to 2 if the CORNEA condition is met.

CORNEA - Condition Of ReasoNable Epistemic Access

We can argue from “We see no X” to… ”There is no X”… only when X has “reasonable seeability.”

E.g. -     

1. As far as I can see President Obama is not in the room.

      2. Therefore, President Obama is not in the room.

There is a claim of inference from 1 to 2 in this case because CORNEA has been met. That is, were Pres. Obama in the room I would be able to see him. The "reasonable seeability" condition has been met.

An example of CORNEA not being met:  

1. As far as I can see there are no germs on this hypodermic needle.

      2. Therefore there are no germs on this hypodermic needle.

Wykstra agrees with Rowe that God would only allow intense suffering if there was some point to it.

Wykstra thinks Rowe’s claim that there are instances of pointless suffering is unjustifiable. That is, Rowe cannot claim this, because of CORNEA.

*      Rowe argues:

·         1. There appears to be no point to the fawn’s suffering.

·         2. There is no point to the fawn’s suffering.

·         THIS INFERENCE, says Wykstra, fails.

Wykstra further argues that the reasonable seeability claim cannot be met in the case of God.

·         He uses the parent-infant analogy to show this.

·         Wyckstra writes: “The disparity between God’s vision and ours is comparable to the gap between the vision of a parent and her one-month-old infant. This gives reason to think that our discerning most of God’s purposes are about as likely as the infant’s discerning most of the parent’s purposes.”

Praying to Be Released From the Prison House of Perpetual Ingratitude (PrayerLife)

River Raisin walking bridge

It's hard to be thankful when you feel you are mostly in want. In American culture we are constantly alerted to how little we have. Marketing serves to create need, and need indicates barrenness, since what you don't need you don't lack. This is why Linda and I mute commercials when we are watching TV. For the most part there is nothing in them that we need.

Thankfulness concerns something you have, not something you lack and therefore need. The sense of deprivation mutes gratitude. Columbia University professor of religion and culture Mark Taylor writes: "We have been conned...  by an economic system that creates endless desire where there is no need." That is the prison house of perpetual ingratitude.

The vast, rolling  verdant pasture of gratefulness is the land of "I shall not be in want." (Ps. 23:1) I cultivate this by intentional abiding in Christ, and harvest the many fruits of a thankful heart. Out of my heart, as another facet of praying, I say "Thank you again, God!"

Redeemer Basketball League Winter 2015

We plan on having registration on Dec 13th. 
The league will start on Saturday, January 10th. 
We plan on playing 10 weeks with an 11th being playoffs, and taking a week off for Pinewood Derby at the beginning of March. 
The league will be open to children from 5th through 12th grades. 
For information please call the church office at: 734-242-5277

Coming Events at Redeemer

*    JOSH LEWIS IS PREACHING THIS COMING SUNDAY MORNING, OCTOBER 26. Josh has been part of our Redeemer family since he was young, and served as a missionary in Ireland for a year.
*    REDEEMER BASKETBALL LEAGUE COMING THIS WINTER: We plan on having registration on Dec 13th. The league will start on Saturday, January 10th. We plan on playing 10 weeks with an 11th being playoffs, and taking a week off for Pinewood Derby at the beginning of March. The league will be open to children from 5th through 12th grades.  Contact persons: Chris Verhille, Karen Reaume, and Daniel Reaume.
*    TORAH – THE FIRST FIVE BOOKS OF THE BIBLE. This RMS class is open to anyone who wants to be part of an in-depth study of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Meets Sunday nights beginning January 4. 6-8 PM at the church. Teacher: Pastor John Piippo.

*    BAPTISMS – SUNDAY MORNING, November 30. If you wish to be baptized please let me know.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Rowe's Evidential Argument from Evil Against God's Existence

The Facebook-atheist argument against God's existence is:
1. Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha...
2. Therefore, God does not exist.
(For my MCCC Philosophy of Religion class, from William Rowe's "The Evidential Argument From Evil.") 

1. Rowe believes Mackie's logical argument fails, having been defeated by Plantinga's Free Will Defense. Rowe, therefore, does not believe theism is logically incoherent.

2. Instead, Rowe's presents an "evidential" argument from evil against the existence of God. His argument is based on the evidence of:

a) the kind of horrendous evils there are in the world; and

b the amount of such horrendous evils in the world (= gratuitous suffering, or pointless suffering).

3. Rowe never really defines "evil." he says "intense human and animal suffering" is "a clear case of evil." (Pojman, 201) Yet he says that even when suffering has a "point" the suffering is still, in itself, "evil." Rowe calls this "justified evil." Rowe's argument, however, depends on "unjustified evil"; i.e., "pointless evil." (Not all suffering is "pointless." E.g., it's generally wrong to come up to someone and cut them, with a knife unless you are, e.g., a surgeon who is about to prevent some greater evil overtaking you.)

4. Rowe's argument is:

P1. There exist instances of intense suffering which an omnipotent, omniscient being could have prevented without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.

P2. An omniscient, wholly good being would prevent the occurrence of any intense suffering it could, unless it could not do so without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.

C3. There does not exist an omnipotent, omniscient, wholly good being.

5. Rowe says his argument is logically "valid." This is correct. He then asks: is it rational to believe P1 and P2 are true? He believes so,

6. P2 – "This premise is, I think, held in common by many atheists and nontheists... (and even) theists." (Pojman, 202) I think Rowe is correct on this. The controversial premise is P1.

7. P1 – Rowe uses the "Bambi example" as an illustration of the rationality of pointless, or unjustified, suffering. Rowe says we cannot "prove" P1. But he believes it is rational, or reasonable, to believe P1 is true. Even if we can't see that his Bambi example works, surely, thinks Rowe, there are instances of pointless suffering among all the suffering in the world. He says: "The idea that none of this suffering could have been prevented by an omnipotent being without thereby losing a greater good or permitting an evil at least as bad seems an extraordinary absurd idea, quite beyond our belief." (Pojman, 203)

8. It seems, therefore, "that we have rational support for atheism, that it is reasonable for us to believe that the theistic God does not exist." (Pojman, 203)

9. Rowe calls his position "friendly atheism." This kind of atheism holds that a theist can also be rational in believing in an Omni-God. (Pojman, 205-206) A friendly atheist can believe this even while thinking the theist is wrong.