Sunday, March 01, 2015

The Moral Relativist as Enemy of the Oppressed

This is wrong, right?
I'm grading logic exams and listening to Bruce Cockburn. There's a line in "Down Where the Death Squad Lives" that has never left me. He writes:

sometimes I feel like there's a padlock on my soul
if you opened up my heart you'd find a big black hole
but when the feeling comes through it comes through strong
if you think there's no difference between right and wrong
just go down where the death squad lives

Correct. Where evil reigns lines become clearer. Moral relativists appear, if they do at all, as incarnations of the very evil they say is "right for you but wrong for me." The moral relativist is the enemy of the oppressed.


goons in blackface creeping in the road
farm family waiting for the night to explode
working the land in an age of terror
you come to see the moon as a bad news bearer
down where the death squad lives

they cut down people like they cut down trees
chop of its head so it will stay on its knees
the forest shrinks but the earth remains
slash and burn and it grows again
down where the death squad lives

Want to know something that's scary today? Teaching philosophical logic in a relativistic world where the relativism is the air we breathe, thus going unnoticed by the average university student. Logic is about "truth." Logic looks at statements and uses words like "true," "false," probably true, "probably false." These words leave the logician's mouth and horrify the student-relativists. 

I recently received a logic text to review - Critical Thinking Unleashed, by Elliot Cohen. The book is pretty much a standard logic text, except for the introduction, where Cohen's passion and sense of urgency falls from above like nuclear logic-bombs on our Facebook nation. Cohen writes, "Enculturation, or the socialization of children to cultural norms, is another factor in creating barriers to rational thinking." (4)

Uh-huh. When I teach about the fallacious nature of ad hominem circumstantials, tu quoques, and various forms of the genetic fallacy, I have this sense that, for a number of the students, I might as well be speaking ancient Greek. It's not that these students are unintelligent. It's that they have been enculturated and baptized in the warm waters of relativism.

This week I'm going to try again. I will use statements like "This is true," and "This is false." One brave student will say, "That's just what you happen to think," as others nod silently and Stepford-wife-like in agreement. Others are engaged in a meta-activity that may result in a break from cultural bondage into freedom. They are interested in truth - does it even exist? Can one get at it?

Cohen writes, "conformity to slanted norms routinely replaces self-reflective thinking." I agree. Now note this. Cohen is ethics editor for Free Inquiry magazine, published by the Council for Secular Humanism. I'm a theist, Cohen is a secular humanist, yet we're both in agreement that we're living in a time when reason has been abandoned. I suspect we both feel a bit like Nietzsche's madman, except that everyone else seems to have left the land for the relativistic seas while we're standing on the philosophical shores waving "Come back!" I presume Cohen and I want to reason and argue about our differences from the same logical foundation, as we reject the silly waters of il-logic.

Cockburn concludes:

I've got friends trying to batter the system down
fighting the past till the future comes round
it'll never be a perfect world till God declares it that way
but that don't mean there's nothing we can do or say
down where the death squad lives

the world can be better than it is today
you can say I'm a dreamer but that's okay
without the could-be and the might-have-been
all you've got left is your fragile skin
and that ain't worth much down where the death squad lives

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Christian Fellowship Is a Gift of Grace

Tonight I'm reading some documents that Payne Theological Seminary has sent to me regarding teaching spiritual formation course online. I get to be part of developing this at Payne, and am so thankful for the opportunity. 

One of the documents is "Spiritual Formation in Theological Distance Education: An Ecosystems Model," by Stephen Lowe and Mary Lowe. Lowe uses the ecosystem model of Uri Bronfenbrenner and others to establish the power of and need for authentic Christian community in transforming our hearts into greater and greater Christlikeness. 

While reading I found myself thinking how thankful I am that I get to be with my Jesus community tomorrow morning at Redeemer. I felt led to pull out Dietrich Bonhoeffer's beautiful book Life Together, and came to this:

"It is easily forgotten that the fellowship of Christian brethren is a gift of grace, a gift of the Kingdom of God that any day may be taken from us, that the time that still separates us from utter loneliness may be brief indeed. Therefore, let him who until now has had the privilege of living a common Christian life with other Christians praise God’s grace from the bottom of his heart. Let him thank God on his knees and declare: It is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brethren." (Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Kindle Locations 81-85)

"How good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!" 
- Ps. 133.1

Let the 'No' of Christ Be Formed In You (PrayerLife)

Sunset on a Lake Michigan beach

Robert Bly wrote: “The making of a man is making your body do what it doesn't want to do.” (Bly, Iron John: A Book About Men)

The mature person flourishes in life as they are able to wield the powerful word "No." The Jesus-idea is that, as we connect to him as a branch connects to a vine, we bear "fruit," part of which is awe-inspiring "self control." (Galatians 5:23) People drop their jaws and stare in wonder as people say No to mere self-gratification.

A Spirit-led, self controlled person is a free person. They have grown in their humanity to say "No" to eating the wrong things, to spending money they don't have to buy things they don't need, and to engaging in sexual behavior as the objectification of other persons.

"No" is the ultimate boundary word. The capacity to wield this word will not come from hearing slogans like "Just say 'No'." The authentic, boundary-setting 'No" must become one's heart, one's inner being. This happens as Christ is formed in us.

Think, e.g., of Jesus after he fed the 5,000. The people rushed after him to make him an earthly king. To this Jesus exercised his innate self control and refused. His 'No' was not only for him, but for the sake of others, indeed, for the sake of the whole world.

M. Scott Peck described The Road Less Traveled as "gratification delay." "No" is, perhaps, the ultimate other-centered word.This is a narrow road, said Jesus, and few take it. It is the road to freedom.

Let the "No" of Christ be formed in you and go free.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Judgmentalism and Making Judgments

The Mackinac Bridge, Michigan
A belief is a judgment that something is true, that a certain state of affairs obtains. Beliefs are expressed in statements. A statement is a sentence that is either true or false.A statement makes a claim that a certain state of affairs obtains.

If a statement is true it is true for everyone. In logic there is no such thing as subjective truth. To think that something is "true for you" but "false for me" is to fall into the rabbit hole of irrationality. 

Consider, e.g., the statement The lights in this room are now on. That is a belief, expressed in a statement. The statement is either true or false. If it is true (= the expressed state of affairs, viz. the lights being on, obtains) then it is true for everyone.

Of course there are things that are relative to persons. For example, John thinks sushi is good, but Jim thinks sushi is bad. But note this. When these two states of affairs are expressed in statements, the statements themselves, if true, are true for everyone.

Because everyone has beliefs, everyone makes judgments. This is unavoidable. Because every judgment is either T or F, every judgment (statement) marginalizes. If the statement The lights in this room are now on is true, then if I think the statement is false I am wrong. All statements make truth claims, hence all statements either embrace or exclude. 

Some people (many, I think) mistake the making of judgments with an attitude of judgmentalism. Let's say, for example, that X thinks There is nothing wrong with doing heroin. But I think It is wrong to do heroin. These two statements express beliefs X and I have. Both cannot be right. One of us is wrong. In fact, I think X is wrong about their belief. To say this is not to be "judgmental" or some kind of "judging person." It is only to make a judgment, and judgment-making is unavoidable and necessary and helpful in navigating through life.

Let's say X does heroin and asks me "What do you think about doing heroin?"

I respond: I believe (now here comes a statement) It is wrong to do heroin.

X feels angry and tells me "Stop judging me! You are so judgmental!" 

No, that can't be right. I only expressed a belief, only made a judgment. X has committed the mistake of confusing the making of a judgment with a judgmental attitude. This now becomes a problem with X, and not me. In fact, when X says You are so judgmental they have made a judgment about me which, in this case, is false.

Judgment-making is unavoidable and necessary to live this life. But judgment-making is not equivalent to being judgmental. The first is a matter of logic, the second is a matter of attitude.

More Praying in Peru

Our Redeemer team is still in Peru leading a conference for about 150 pastors. They are teaching the pastors to take alone, abiding times with God. Here's another short video of the pastors doing one of their hour prayer times.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Book of Revelation - begins Sunday morning, March 22.

On Sunday morning, March 22, I will give the first of many messages at Redeemer on the biblical book of Revelation. We will go verse-by-verse through this incredible text until - a year or more later? - we finish it.

The commentaries I am using to preach Revelation are:

G.K. Beale, Revelation: A Shorter Commentary (only 562 pages)

Grant Osborne, Revelation

George Ladd, Revelation

Robert Mounce, Revelation

Craig Keener, Revelation: The NIV Application Commentary

Ben Witherington, Revelation

N. T. Wright, Revelation for Everyone

If you come to Redeemer I recommend you begin reading and re-reading Revelation to become more familiar with it.

Abiding and Praying in Peru

This video was sent to me today from our Redeemer team who are in Peru leading a conference for pastors. Here the pastors and leaders have been sent out for an hour to pray. 

The Dialectical Movement From Solitude to Community and Back Again (PrayerLife)


In my spiritual formation classes and retreats I do the following, methodically:

  1. Send participants alone to pray, using Ps. 23. The assignment is: When God speaks to you, write it down.
  2. Assemble participants in small groups to share with one another, with the guiding question being: During your hour of prayer, what did God say to you? Someone takes notes of the sharing.
  3. In our large group the note-takers share what God said to the people in their small group. After the note-takers share, I teach, coach, and discern the movements of the Spirit.
  4. I then teach the large group, sharing my phenomenology of spiritual formation, transformation, restoration, and renewal.
Then, after a sufficient break for lunch or dinner, we do #s 1-4 again.

If we have more time, such as a 5-day seminary class, we do these four things again and again.

This creates a dialectical movement (which means a progressive, back-and-forth movement) from solitude to community and back to solitude and then community, over and over. This environment cultivates movement of God's Spirit. 

Both solitude and community are needed. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his famous book Life Together, writes:

"Let him who cannot be alone beware of community. He will only do harm to himself and to the community. But the reverse is also true: Let him who is not in community beware of being alone. Only in the fellowship do we learn to be rightly alone and only in aloneness do we learn to live rightly in the fellowship. It is not as though the one preceded the other; both begin at the same time, namely with the call of Jesus Christ."

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

To Love Deeply Is to Suffer Deeply

Linda and I in Green Lake, Wisconsin.

The one who loves much suffers much.

To surrender to love is to risk. It is to be vulnerable. It is to be open. Eventually, there will be loss.

For example, our family loved our dog So-fee. When she became so sick that we had to put her down it was painful. It made me think that I never want a dog again, because I never want to go through this again.

Suffering can cause one to stop loving, since loving entails suffering, a suffering-with the beloved. When we open ourselves to transparency and vulnerability we invite the real possibility of suffering.

Will Hernandez writes that “it is equally accurate to say that only one who has known the experience of deep suffering can freely love and give love with true abandon. If suffering happens to be the consequence of true love, then that same love also becomes the fruit of real suffering.” (Hernandez, Henri Nouwen and Spiritual Polarities: A Life of Tension, K231)

Henri Nouwen has written: “Yes, as you love deeply the ground of your heart will be broken more and more, but you will rejoice in the abundance of the fruit it will bear”(IVL:60; cited in Hernandez, K240).

To immerse yourself in the sufferings of others is to grow in your capacity to love others, one’s own self, and God. “Love and suffering are bound to change anyone radically.” (Hernandez, K240)

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Core Message #3 - "The Abiding Church"

Trees in my back yard.

This is the third of 6 core messages I'm giving at Redeemer - "We Are an Abiding Church."

You can listen to the message & pull up the power points here