Sunday, October 19, 2014

Praying, Prophesy, and Humilty (PrayerLife)

Humility is the foundational attitude for spiritual formation and transformation. Humility is foundational for prayer, since conversational prayer requires listening, and to really listen we must be humble.

Jack Deere has some good things on "humility" from his excellent, clearly-written little book TheBeginner's Guide to the Gift of Prophecy. Here are some highlights.[1]
  • God values and esteems a humble person. "This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word."[2]
  • The humble hear and understand the voice of God. God deals with the proud from a distance, but with the humble "it's up close and personal."
  • Sermons on humility are rare. Deere writes (astonishingly!): "I've never heard a sermon or a theological lecture on humility. I've heard lots of sermons on faithfulness, service, purity, giving, judgment, grace, mercy, obedience, prayer, meditation and spiritual gifts, but I can't remember ever hearing humility talked about."  
  • "Humility is the virtue to which our flesh is most opposed, because it is the soil from which so many other virtues grow."
  • "Humble people are small in their own eyes." Listen to what the prophet Samuel said to Saul:  “Although you were once small in your own eyes, did you not become the head of the tribes of Israel? The Lord anointed you king over Israel.”[3]
  • "Humility is not the denial of our attributes; it is believing in our hearts that our best qualities are not good enough to cause us to deserve God's attention, or even to gain us the lowest position of service to Him."
  • "Humble people know it is not their physical strength, nor their intelligence, nor their luck, but the Lord who determines the outcome (see Prov. 21:31; 16:9, 23)."
  • "Humble people put their confidence in the mercy of God rather than in their abilities or character (see Rom. 9:15-16)."
  • "Humble people put their confidence in the Holy Spirit's ability to speak, not in their ability to hear. Humble people put their confidence in Jesus' ability to lead, not in their ability to follow."
  • "Humble people are willing to associate with and serve people of lower position, just as Jesus and our Father do."
  • "Humble people have learned to embrace their weaknesses."
  • We can't get humility by reading about it. "No one becomes humble without pain doing its work. Often that pain takes the form of desert experiences. Humility is almost always acquired in the desert."
  • "The desert is necessary because no human being has the character to bear perpetual success."[4]
  • Acquire humility by hanging around humble people. "Humility is produced by pain, being with Jesus, being with humble people and is a life-long process (see Phil. 3:12-14)."

Francis Frangipane once referred to pride as "the armor of darkness."[5] C.S. Lewis called pride "the complete anti-God state of mind."[6] If our hearts are proud we won't hear from God, which makes it unlikely that we will truly prophesy (in the sense of 1 Cor. 14:1-4).

How important is humility, when it comes to the desire to prophesy? Mike Bickle writes: "This is not a good time for a "know-it-all," but rather it's the proper time for the virtue of humility expressed in a teachable spirit as we go to greater depths in the prophetic."[7]

I am praying "Lord, teach me humility."

[1] Jack Deere, The Beginner’s Guide to Prophecy, 72 ff.
[2] Isaiah 66:2
[3] 1 Samuel 15:17
[4] Ib., 75, emphasis mine
[5] Francis Frangipane, The Three Battlegrounds
[6] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
[7] Mike Bickle, Growing In the Prophetics, x

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Praying a Miracle (PrayerLife)

Monroe County

A friend from Brazil asked me - "Do you remember the first miracle you saw and what was it like?" I do. It was like this.

I was five years old. My mother came in my bedroom and told me that our pet canary had died. The birdcage was in another room. I went, followed by my mother, and saw the canary. It was on its back lying on the floor of the cage. It was not moving. I was crying.

I went to my bedroom and was sobbing and praying "God, please make my canary live!" I can't remember how long I was doing this. My mother came into my room and said, "John, come with me and look!" I followed her to the room where our dead canary lay. I was afraid to go and have to see it again. We went into the room and there was the canary, sitting on its swing, like nothing had happened.

I went back to my room, happy, and after a few minutes it was like this sad incident never happened.

Here's what I know.

1. My mother and I saw the canary on the cage floor, on its back, legs pointed skyward, not moving. We were eyewitnesses of this.
2. I prayed, asking God to bring my canary back.
3. Minutes later we saw the canary alive and sitting on its swing. (More eyewitness testimony.)

Was the canary really dead? I can't prove this. We didn't check its heartbeat. Did it die and come back to life? That's what mother and I thought. Again, I cannot prove this. But what I do know is that 1-3 above are true.  

I also know one more thing. I came out of that day believing God can raise the dead, and that where my praying focuses God's power falls. 

The More You Spend On a Wedding, the More Likely You Will Divorce

(Thanks to John V. for sending this to me.)

From the Wall Street Journal:

See the WSJ video "Does a Big Wedding Equal an Unhappy Marriage?"

See my post "The $20 Wedding."

Friday, October 17, 2014

Plantinga's Free Will Defense Against the Logical Argument from Evil Against the Existence of God

The river in our backyard

"Some philosophers have contended that the existence of evil is logically inconsistent with the existence of the theistic God. No one, I think, has succeeded in establishing such an extravagant claim. Indeed, granted compatibilism, there is a fairly compelling argument for the view that the existence of God is logically consistent with the existence of the theistic God."
- Atheist philosopher William Rowe, "The Evidential Argument from Evil," in Peterson et. al., Philosophy ofReligion: Selected Readings, Fourth Edition, p. 331, fn. 1)

(For my MCCC Philosophy of Religion students)

Philosopher-atheist J.L. Mackie constructs an argument from evil intended to show the incoherence of theism. One cannot, thinks Mackie, simultaneously affirm the following three propositions (known as "Mackie's Triad"):

1) God is all-powerful.
2) God is all-good.
3) Evil exists.

Just as one cannot simultaneously affirm:

1) John is a bachelor.
2) John's wife's name is Linda.


1) Object X is square.
2) Object X is circular.

With this last example, we see that there is no possible world where an object, X, can be at the same time square and circular. There is, e.g., a possible world where a talking sponge can exist; i.e., it is logically possible that a talking sponge can exist. The term "talking sponge" is not logically impossible (logically incoherent). But "square circle" is. Mackie's claim is that theism, the idea of an all-powerful, all-good being, is incoherent on the existence of evil. That is, one cannot imagine a possible world where an all-powerful, all-good being coexists with evil.

As convincing as Mackie's argument sounds, it is false. To defeat Mackie all one would have to show is that there is a possible world (or there are possible worlds) where the existence of an all-loving, all-powerful being is compatible (coherent) with the existence of evil. This has been done. (Note: this is modal logic stuff.)

Nearly all philosophers, to include atheists such as William Rowe, believe Alvin Plantinga has defeated Mackie's logical argument, and that therefore theism is not incoherent. All Plantinga needs to do is show that there is a possible world in which Mackie's Triad can be affirmed. If Mackie's Triad was logically inconsistent then there could be no possible world where an all-powerful, all-loving being existed with the existence of evil.

Plantinga does this by showing:

1) It is possible that God has given persons libertarian free will.
2) It is possible that God has counterfactual knowledge.
3) It is possible that transworld depravity exists.

"Libertarian free will" is: making a choice (such as, e.g., a moral choice) that is not fully reducible to antecedent causal conditions.

To say that God could have counterfactual knowledge is to say that God knows the truth value of future conditional statements that describe possible states of affairs. (Note: if one thinks that God's counterfactual knowledge eliminates free will they have just made an error in modal logic - see here.)

By "transworld depravity" Plantinga means: in all possible worlds human agents will commit at least one evil act.

If, then, there is a possible world where libertarian free will exists and God knows what choices John will make, and knows that John will choose, on at least one occasion, evil, then God cannot make a world where John is faced with that choice and chooses good. This is because it would violate John's free will.

But what if, Mackie asks, God made a world where all persons on all occasions chose good? Plantinga responds by saying that it is possible transworld depravity exists. If so, then we have a world where one can affirm the existence of an all-powerful and all-loving (as well as all-knowing) God exists, as does evil.

Nagel on Plantinga: Materialistic Naturalism Has Not Proposed a Credible Solution for Trusting Our Rational Faculties

New York Review of Books has an essay on Alvin Plantinga's theism by atheist Thomas Nagel. ("A Philosopher Defends Religion") Now that... is very cool! (If you are a philosopher and haven't read Nagel's "What Is it Like to be a Bat?" what is your problem?)

Since I've read Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism, here we go with some Nagel-bullets.

  • Atheists, writes Nagel, tend to believe that science is on their side. Not so, claims Plantinga.
  • Plantinga's "overall claim is that “there is superficial conflict but deep concord between science and theistic religion, but superficial concord and deep conflict between science and naturalism.”"
  • By "naturalism" Plantinga means "the view that the world describable by the natural sciences is all that exists, and that there is no such person as God, or anything like God."
  • Nagel appreciates Plantinga as a theist who is "the real thing." It is refreshing to see such a sophisticated and lucid account by someone who holds to Christian theism.
  • Plantinga's three claims in "Conflict" are: 1) "the theistic conception of the relation between God, the natural world, and ourselves makes it reasonable for us to regard our perceptual and rational faculties as reliable. It is therefore reasonable to believe that the scientific theories they allow us to create do describe reality;" 2) "the naturalistic conception of the world, and of ourselves as products of unguided Darwinian evolution, makes it unreasonable for us to believe that our cognitive faculties are reliable, and therefore unreasonable to believe any theories they may lead us to form, including the theory of evolution. In other words, belief in naturalism combined with belief in evolution is self-defeating; and 3) "we can reasonably believe that we are the products of evolution provided that we also believe, contrary to naturalism, that the process was in some way guided by God."
  • Plantinga is concerned with the epistemological matter of: How can we know if one of our beliefs is true? Here is where the idea of "warrant" and "properly basic beliefs" enters the discussion.
  • Nagel explains "properly basic belief." He writes: "The basic belief-forming capacities include perception, memory, rational intuition (about logic and arithmetic), induction, and some more specialized faculties, such as the ability to detect the mental states of others... Beliefs that are formed in the basic way are not infallible: they may have to be given up in the face of contrary evidence. But they do not have to be supported by other evidence in order to be warranted—otherwise knowledge could never get started. And the general reliability of each of these unmediated types of belief-formation cannot be shown by appealing to any of the others:
    [Quoting Plantinga] 'Rational intuition enables us to know the truths of mathematics and logic, but it can’t tell us whether or not perception is reliable. Nor can we show by rational intuition and perception that memory is reliable, nor (of course) by perception and memory that rational intuition is.'" 
  •  Warranted beliefs "must result from the proper functioning of a faculty that is in fact generally reliable. We cannot prove without circularity that the faculties of perception, memory, or reason are generally reliable, but if they are, then the true beliefs we form when they are functioning properly constitute knowledge unless they are put in doubt by counterevidence." For example, to prove that the faculties of perception (seeing, et. al.) are reliable one would have to rely on the veridicality of the faculties of perception. Which is circular.
  • "Faith" is similar in some ways, and different on other ways. Faith is not part of our ordinary epistemic equipment. Faith, on Christian theism, is a gift from God. "God endows human beings with a sensus divinitatis that ordinarily leads them to believe in him. (In atheists the sensus divinitatis is either blocked or not functioning properly.)"
  • Faith is "a kind of cause that provides a warrant for theistic belief."
  • Plantinga believes that "the theistic conception explains beautifully why science is possible: the fit between the natural order and our minds is produced intentionally by God. Nagel writes: Plantinga "is also right to maintain that naturalism has a much harder time accounting for that fit. Once the question is raised, atheists have to consider whether their view of how we got here makes it at all probable that our cognitive faculties should enable us to discover the laws of nature."
  • Plantinga "argues that on the naturalist view of evolution, interpreted materialistically, there would be no reason to think that our beliefs have any relation to the truth. On that view beliefs are states of the brain, and natural selection favors brain mechanisms solely on the basis of their contribution, via behavior, to survival and reproduction. The content of our beliefs, and hence their truth or falsehood, is irrelevant to their survival value. “Natural selection is interested, not in truth, but in appropriate behavior.”"
  • Though an atheist, Nagel thinks Plantinga's reasoning is "powerful." Nagel writes: "Christians, says Plantinga, can “take modern science to be a magnificent display of the image of God in us human beings.” Can naturalists say anything to match this, or must they regard it as an unexplained mystery?"
Nagel concludes with these words:

"I say this as someone who cannot imagine believing what he believes. But even those who cannot accept the theist alternative should admit that Plantinga’s criticisms of naturalism are directed at the deepest problem with that view—how it can account for the appearance, through the operation of the laws of physics and chemistry, of conscious beings like ourselves, capable of discovering those laws and understanding the universe that they govern. Defenders of naturalism have not ignored this problem, but I believe that so far, even with the aid of evolutionary theory, they have not proposed a credible solution. Perhaps theism and materialist naturalism are not the only alternatives."

Praying to Be a Servant (PrayerLife)

Monroe County
There's an older worship song we used to sing called "Change My Heart, O God." Sometimes when I sang it I would extend my arms in front of me and lift my palms up in an act of receiving. I'm prayer-worshiping before God, asking him to change the shape of my heart into greater Christlikeness. Morph me, O God.

My inner morphing is not for me alone. Because as my heart takes more and more of the shape of Christ's heart, I will become a servant. I will be someone who has come to serve, not to be served. Ruth Haley Barton writes: "Our transformation is never for ourselves alone. It is always for the sake of others." (Ruth Haley Barton, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry, p. 74)

What is good for me is for the good of others. Personal transformation is for the benefit of many. Any change that is only for the happiness of the individual is not from God.God is into community and otherness.

As I pray "change me, O God," I am asking to be a servant, as Jesus was.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Convenção Batista Nacional do Brasil


Retiro Nacional de Liderança Serva pelo Poder do Espirito Santo 17 a 20 nov 2014
(National Retreat Servant Leadership in the Holy Spirit)


Monday, 17 Nov.
Afternoon participants arrive
18:30 Supper
20:00 worship, informal icebreaker

Tuesday, 18 Nov.
8:00 Breakfast
9:00-9:45 Opening worship, Introductions
9:45-10:45 (Bruce & Ann Borquist) form small groups of 3 to 4 maximum, get to know you exercise, prayer (theme: leave burdens behind)
10:45-11:00 Break
11:00-11:30 John Piippo shares his personal testimony
11:30-12:15 Share testimonies in small groups
12:30 Lunch
13:30-15:00 Rest time
15:00-16:15 Leading the Presence-Driven Church- John Piippo
16:15 Break
16:30-17:15 Discerning the Spirits Leading- John Piippo
17:15-18:00 Small group exercise
18:30 Supper
20:00-22:00 Evening worship: praise & worship, message: Humility is Needed to Hear God- John Piippo

Wednesday, 19 Nov.
8:00 Breakfast
9:00-9:30 Praise & worship
9:30-10:30 How God Forms and Transforms the Human Heart- John Piippo
10:30-10:45 Break
10:45-11:30 Servant Leadership Arises Out of Gods Presence- John Piippo
11:30-12:15 Small group exercise
12:30 Lunch
13:30-16:00 Rest time
16:00-18:00 Personal Spiritual Renewal Exercise: Deepening Our Relationship with God- John Piippo
Instructions (15 min); Individual time alone with God and Ps. 23, listen to the Spirit and write down what He gives you (60 min); Large group sharing of reflections, followed by a time of corporate prayer (45 min).  
18:30 Supper
20:00-22:00 Evening worship: praise & worship, message: The Importance of Praying in Servant Leadership- John Piippo

Thursday, 20 Nov.
8:00 Breakfast
9:00-9:30 Praise & worship
9:30-10:45 Dynamics of Servant Leadership- John Piippo
10:45-11:00 Break
11:00-12:00 Closing worship, testimonies, appreciation, communion (served by: John, Esdras, Edmilson, Ana, Bruce), closing prayer
12:30 Lunch

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Longing for Transcendence (The Presence-Driven Church)

The Grand Hotel, Mackinac Island, MI

In November I'll being going with Linda to Brasilia, Brazil to speak and teach at the National Baptist Conference of Brazil and their annual conference. I'll be sharing my materials on "Leading the Presence-Driven Church.

I'm doing some prepping for the event and reviewing James MacDonald's excellent book Vertical Church. I'm with him on much of what he writes here. 
I am part of a Presence-Driven church. Not all churches are this way. MacDonald writes:

“Church leaders raised on rationalism lead ministries where the supernatural, the Vertical, is suppressed and where God Himself is at best an observer and certainly seldom, if ever, an obvious participant in church.” (MacDonald, Vertical Church: What Every Heart Longs for. What Every Church Can Be., Kindle Locations 533-535)

A pastor who suppresses God? Been there, done that, myself. It is the worst place to be, pastorally. Remember that Jesus shut down the Temple because the religious temple leaders "shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to." (Matthew 23:13)

This whole thing called "church" is really about God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit. And not just theoretically, but experientially. The movement of God's Spirit is a felt, discernible thing. Pastors must nurture and cultivate God's presence. We must be very, very open to it. The Horizontal Church is the godless church; Vertical Church is the Presence-Driven Church. It's all about "entering in."

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Buddhism's View That Evil Is an Illusion

I took this picture of the massive "Reclining Buddha" in Bangkok.

For my MCCC Philosophy of Religion students.

Today I introduced my Philosophy of Religion students to the Buddhist idea of evil as an illusion.

J.L. Mackie, in his logical argument from evil against the existence of God, states that one adequate solution to the problem of evil would be that the third statement in his famous "triad," "evil exists," is false. Mackie doesn't think it is false (neither do I), but some do. He probably is referring to Buddhism in its pure form, untainted by cultural influences.

BUDDHISM & the PROBLEM OF EVIL (Evil = “Gratuitous/Pointless Suffering”)

The time: 6th century BCE.

A prince, Siddhartha Gautama, has lived in a wealthy household and has been sheltered from all forms of suffering. One day he tells his father he wants to see the outside world. Reluctantly, his father lets him go.

He sees suffering in the form of sickness, old age, and death. Plus, he sees a wandering ascetic who has left behind wife and family and job in search of spiritual liberation. These four sights cause a crisis in Siddhartha. He decides that there must be more to human existence than profit, power, pleasure, and prestige.

The result is: Siddhartha leaves his wife and children and father, rides to the border of what would have been his vast inheritance, shaves his head, takes off his expensive clothes, and becomes a wandering holy man in search of the meaning of life. He wanders around North India, studies with various holy men, and his body becomes skin and bones.

One day he is sitting under a tree in North India. He vows to stay there until he is given the secret of our meaningless wandering from rebirth to rebirth. After 49 days he is “awakened.” He is “buddhaed” (“Buddha” means: awakening, enlightened.) What did he see?

He saw that all things are impermanent and ever changing. He saw how we wish the world was different, permanent. Through these insights his own suffering went away.

He then began to teach others what he had learned. In a deer park in North India he found five travelers. To them, he gave his first sermon. It was on Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path.

The Four Noble Truths
  1. All of life is suffering.
  2. The cause of suffering is craving.
  3. The end of suffering is getting rid of craving and grasping.
  4. The method to use in overcoming suffering is the Eightfold Path.
 “Buddhism is about removing the arrow of suffering.”[1]

The Eightfold Path[2]
  1. Right view. The disciple gains proper knowledge about illness – how he or she becomes ill, endures illness, and is released from illness.
  2. Right aim. The disciple must be prepared to renounce attachment to the world and give benevolence and kindness.
  3. Right speech. The disciple must not lie, slander, or use abusive or idle talk.
  4. Right action. The disciple must abstain from taking life, from taking what is not given, and from carnal indulgence.
  5. Right living. The disciple must put away wrong livelihood, acts that are condemned in the fourth step, and seek to support him – or herself by right livelihood.
  6. Right effort. The disciple applies the force of his or her mind to preventing potential evil from arising in him – or herself, to getting rid of evil that has arisen in him – or herself, and to awakening and sustaining good potentials within him- or herself.
  7. Right mindfulness. The disciple looks on the body so as to remain ardent, self-possessed, and mindful. The disciple has overcome the craving and dejection common in the world. The disciple also looks on each idea, avoiding craving and  dejection common in the world.
  8. Right concentration. Aloof from sensuous appetites and evil desires, the disciple enters the first jhana (meditative state), where there is cognition and deliberation born of solitude, joy, and ease. The disciple moves a step toward the fourth jhana – purity of mind and equanimity where neither ease nor ill is felt.
All things are impermanent and every-changing.

The search for permanence in any experience leads to suffering (dukkha[3]). This is because “there is no permanence either in the world or in the one who experiences it.”[4] Everything is characterized by transiency.[5] Everything that is born must decay and die.

Suffering is a result of trying to grasp and hold on to this world and the things of this world. On Buddhism suffering comes from “ignorant craving.” It comes from mistaking things as unchanging and then clinging to these so-thought unchanging forms. Or, as one Zen Buddhist teacher has said, “Suffering arises from wanting something other than what is.”[6]

“Mahayanists emphasized that the world of experience is only appearances; the real world is one revealed in the enlightenment experience.”[7] (Mahayana Buddhism)

There is no “self.”

In Buddhism “the ‘self’ is a figment of the imagination.”[8] “You” are not. There is no permanent self to experience anything. So what’s going on then?! What you think is a self is really the aggregation of five basic groups, or skandhas[9], of experience that generate the appearance of a “self.”

Here Buddhism departs from Hinduism, claims there is an eternal self that continues on through a series of bodies. Buddhism disagrees with this. Consciousness is not the “self.” “A person is an aggregation of psychological activities, all temporary. In death, the aggregation comes apart. These five skandhas make up what we refer to as a person. Those who seek permanence of the self suffer, for no self exists.”[10]

There is no ego, no soul, only a temporary gathering of skandhas. Since objects, persons, and processes are impermanent, trying to keep them produces suffering.

The End of Suffering

Knowledge, or “enlightenment,” brings an end to suffering.
  • We see there is no objective, permanent world to be grasped.
  • We see there is no permanent self.
So, suffering (evil) is rooted in an illusion.

1. Suffering (evil) is caused by desire.
2. There is neither a self to desire nor a permanent world to be grasped.
3. Therefore suffering (evil) is an illusion.

“Seeing clearly the nature of a person – that there is no permanent self – helps bring an end to craving. Realizing that everything is only part of impermanent psychological processes makes grasping foolish. There is nothing to have and nothing to be had… Letting go is the end of suffering.”[11]

Nirvana – to “puff out” or “extinguish” or “be released from” desire and craving.

“In Buddhism, the state of being free from egocentrism and the suffering that it causes. Positively, it is joy and peace.”[12]

[1] Stephen Prothero, God is Not One, Chapter 5.
[2] Matthews, World Religions, 6th edition, 112
[3] Dukkha means: “suffering.”
[4] Matthews, 112.
[5] Prothero, Ch. 5.
[6] In Prothero, Ch. 5.
[7] Ib., 133
[8] Prothero, Ch. 5.
[9] the five elements that sum up the whole of an individual’s mental and physical existence. The self (or soul) cannot be identified with any one of the parts, nor is it the total of the parts. They are: (1) matter, or body, the manifest form of the four elements—earth, air, fire, and water; (2) sensations, or feelings; (3) perceptions of sense objects; (4) mental formations ; and (5) awareness, or consciousness, of the other three mental aggregates
[10] Ib.
[11] Ib., 113-114
[12] Ib., 115

Praying & the Inborn Desire for God (PrayerLife)

Maple leaves in my backyard

I report to you that, in adolescents today, the metaphysical impulse has not gone away. When my philosophy students are introduced to some of the Big Questions (for example) they are interested. Some are captivated. Even those who have nothing to do with the Entertainment Church or the Relevant Church open their eyes, ears, and hearts to Big Question discussions. The mostly unfulfilled inner-Pascalian abyss remains wide open and receptive.

The psychiatrist Gerald C. May, in his amazing, thrice-read book Addiction and Grace, observed that “after twenty years of listening to the yearnings of people’s hearts, I am convinced that human beings have an inborn desire for God. Whether we are consciously religious or not, this desire is our deepest longing and most precious treasure.”

Religion is not going away. Inner longing for something more is intrinsic to humanity. The human heart is like a throne wanting to be occupied, and our world has many pretenders to it. As someone who follows Jesus, because I am "made in God’s own image, God will find a way to fulfill that deepest longing. Prayer is that way." (Philip Yancey, Prayer, Kindle Location 237) 

Praying to the God who is there has proven to be my consolation in this world of desolation.