Monday, December 31, 2007
Friday, December 28, 2007
(Queen Anne's Lace - Monroe County, Michigan, 12/2007)
In “I Am Legend” Will Smith plays Dr. Robert Neville, a scientist who was part of developing a cure for cancer that instead turned into a killer virus, wiping out most of mankind. Neville is immune to the virus, and stays in NYC working to find an antidote.
A woman and her mute son find Neville. This woman claims to hear from God and be led by God. Neville says to her, “There is no God.” Later on Neville, when talking about the virus, says “God didn’t cause this.” Which is correct. The question this film raises but never adequately deals with is: does the reality of massive evil argue against the existence of God?
The wiping out of mankind causes Neville to turn to atheism. I assume Neville was a theist, as we see his wife praying for his safety as he is separated from her and his daughter. Now, in the face of mass extermination and the residual suffering of humans turned into “Dark Seekers,” Neville apparently has concluded God could not exist. For if God did exist, he could have stopped this horrible thing from happening. Such evil shows that if there is a God he is either not all-loving or not all-powerful. Or, there is no God.
When Neville says “God didn’t cause this” he is, in my mind, at least entertaining the idea that, even though there is this mass suffering, it doesn’t mean God doesn’t exist. Humans caused this suffering, he being one of them. Neville thus presents a form of what is called The Free Will Defense against the argument from evil. God has given persons free will, because love is only possible if persons have free will, and love is the highest value for God. This is risky for God since persons can use their free will to either deliberately bring about evil or inadvertently bring about evil. Neville and his colleagues were trying to bring about a great good, and instead brought about a great evil.
This reminds me of atheist Albert Camus’s The Plague. The main character, Dr. Rieux, labors to help infected people in their homes and in hospitals. Father Paneloux tells people the plague is an act of God against the sins of the people. The story can be read as being about the essential irrationality and absurdity of the world. No cure is found, and Dr. Rieux’s wife dies as well. Where was God?
In “Legend” the cure finally comes, and Neville becomes a God-believer again. From my Christian paradigm, the “cure” has already come. There is an antidote for our darkness-diseased souls in Christ. (Neville himself becomes a bit of a Christ-figure, bringing the antidote to save the world from sin and darkness, and giving his life in the end to accomplish this. But his earlier self-doubt and God-doubt is more like the bumbling Willem Dafoe Freudian Jesus in "The Last Temptation of Christ.")
As for the atheist Camus, read Howard Mumma’s Albert Camus and the Minister, which records Camus’s interest in God and Christianity in his later years.
Thursday, December 27, 2007
Today the thought came to me, as it sometimes does, that I exist and a universe exists and that seems amazing to me. This was an existential, experiential kind of thing for me rather than an evidentialist argumentative thing. Yet the experience usually leads to a reasoning about it.
Stenger defines "nothing" as follows: "This suggests a more precise definition of nothing. Nothing is a state that is the simplest of all conceivable states. It has no mass, no energy, no space, no time, no spin, no bosons, no fermions-nothing... As Nobel Laureate physicist Frank Wilczek has put it, "The answer to the ancient question 'Why is there something rather than nothing?' would then be that 'nothing' is unstable."
Commenting on Rundle, Eric Lund writes:
"How does Rundle defend his central claim that nothingness is not a genuine possibility? The general idea is that the expression "There is nothing" fails to express a genuine claim unless something more is added that completes it but that any such completion leaves us with something. One way of completing the expression is by specifying where there is nothing, as in "There is nothing in the cupboard". But as soon as we say where there is nothing, we thereby also grant that there is something, namely, the place in physical space which is claimed to be unoccupied. One might think that "There is nothing at all" would do the job, but this statement, too, raises the question of where the state-of-affairs that is described obtains (where there is nothing at all), at least this is what I think Rundle would say in response."
To this Lund responds that "perhaps it is true that the logical grammar of ordinary language does not allow us to express complete nothingness and that everything we can say is relative to a presupposed non-empty domain, but it is not clear to me why this linguistic fact must be taken as an indication of a fundamental conceptual barrier or, indeed, as a constraint on reality itself. To some extent at least Rundle solves one mystery by introducing another."
Is it that I am amazed that something rather than nothing exists because I am ignorant of philsophical and/or scientific arguments re. nothingness's implausibility? Surely this is possible. In that case I would be like the man in "The Gods Must Be Crazy" who was amazed that the coke bottle fell from the sky. Yet I personally cannot seem to get away from the idea that nothingness seems prima facie more plausible than somethingness. It is this thought that causes me to be more than intellectually interested that something exists; indeed, that I exist.
(By the way, I am not using this an an argument for the existence of God. In this regard I am interested to see if J.P. Moreland addresses this issue in his forthcoming Consciousness and the Existence of God.)
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
- Christology and New Testament studies, to include regularly reading the Bible. I'll finish the excellent book by Greg Boyd and George Eddy - The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition. And, I hope to finally work through N.T. Wright's The Resurrection of the Son of God. I've also got Eugene Peterson's Eat This Book ready to go.
- More focused biblical-theological studies on the Kingdom of God. I remain impresseed with J.P. Moreland's Kingdom Triangle: Recover the Christian Mind, Renovate the Soul, Restore the Spirit's Power. Moreland articulates what I have found myself doing for many years. I strongly recommend this book to you if you have not yet read it.
- Certain problems in the philosophy of religion - esp. the existence or non-existence of God, the problem of evil, Plantingian warranted belief, the soul-body problem, and others. I'm now reading University of Montreal neuroscientist Mario Beauregard's The Spiritual Brain: A Neuroscientist's Case for the Existence of the Soul. I hope to be making some specific posts on this book in the future.
- Certain Old Testament issues - e.g., I've read and will be reading studies on the Exodus tradition as historical and counter-claims that it is not historical. I've got a number of the minimalist texts already. I'll pick up James Hoffmeier's Ancient Israel in Sinai: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Wilderness Tradition.
- Issues of Christian spirituality. I've purchased some new Howard Thurman books and will finish them. Thurman is especially good on showing how authentic Jesus-spirituality and outward social action are inextricably linked. Tony Campolo and Mary Darling have written a Thurman-esque book - The God of Intimacy and Action: Reconnecting Ancient Spiritual Practices, Evangelism, and Justice. I've got that in my shelf and will give it slow read soon.
- Finally, I'll hope to read through the Bible again. My friend Craig Keener says: "We live in an "instant" culture that delights in shortcuts, but we cannot settle for prepacked verses we have heard quoted by others—even by "everyone else." . . . We must study the Bible passage by passage and book by book. Only then will God begin to open fully the treasures of wisdom and knowledge He has given us in Scripture." The version I will use for this is The Books of the Bible (with the orange peel cover!). This is a unique Bible in the following ways, and it's only $8.99 online:
- Chapter and verse numbers are removed from the text(A chapter and verse range is given at the bottom of each page)
- Each book's natural literary breaks are shown instead
- There are no notes, cross references, or section headings in the text
- Text is presented in one column rather than two or more
- Books that have historically been divided into parts are restored
- Books are presented in an order that gives readers more help in understanding
Monday, December 24, 2007
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Sunday, December 16, 2007
Friday, December 14, 2007
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
I've quoted the entire article below. My comments and concerns and questions are in bold.
"When God Comes to Church Is it wrong to pray that God will show up?"
by Steve Gaines
It was a warm spring Wednesday night in West Tennessee. Fifty or so of us faithful Southern Baptists were in church for prayer meeting. I was the 20-year-old college intern. It was part of my job to show up for these kinds of things. "Our spring revival starts in just a week and a half," the senior pastor was saying up front. He named the evangelist who would be coming to preach and told some of his credentials. "We sure want people to come to Christ during this series of meetings. In fact, before we start the prayer time, let's make a list of people here on the chalkboard.
Who of your relatives and friends and neighbors do you want to mention?"
A middle-aged woman with dark hair near the front raised her hand.
"I'm going to invite my neighbor in the next apartment. She's having lots of trouble in her life, I know. She really needs the Lord."
The pastor turned to write Lorene's neighbor on the board. A man in a denim shirt spoke up next. "We could pray for my brother-in-law to come. He's got a drinking problem. I don't know if he'd ever show up or not. I sure wish he would." Roy's brother-in-law was added to the list.
"Who else?" the pastor asked. I raised my hand.
"Yes, Steve?" the pastor said. "Who would you like us to pray for?" I knew that if God showed up, sinners would be touched and Christians would be stirred.
With all seriousness I replied, "Let's pray that God will show up at our revival."
I wasn't trying to be a smart aleck. I meant it with all my heart. Awkward silence. Heads swiveled toward me, then faced the front again. "Well, yes, we know the Lord will be here," a deacon declared, setting the record straight. I could tell I had committed a major boo-boo.
Though I had been a Christian only two years, I had heard enough sermons to know that God, of course, is everywhere. I even knew the word for it, omnipresent. But I also knew I had been at some meetings where God's presence was undeniably real, and others where it wasn't. At times it was almost palpable enough to reach out and touch with your hand.
In those special, holy times, you didn't want to move or cough for fear of breaking the moment. The leaders or singers on stage were eclipsed by the presence of one greater than they. It was not exaggerating to say that "God was in the house." I yearned to have this happen at our spring revival meeting. I knew that if God truly showed up, sinners would be touched and Christians would be stirred.
Unfortunately, the week came and went, the evangelist preached solid messages, we sang "Just as I Am," but not much happened. It turned out to be just another set of meetings. The next Wednesday night, one of the dear saints was blunt enough to ask out loud, "So why didn't we have a better revival this year?" I wanted to raise my hand and say, "Because God didn't show up!" But I knew I'd already said too much for a rookie youth intern. I held back. The thought did cross my mind, however, that if I ever served as pastor of a church, I hoped to lead people to hunger for the presence of God more than anything else. It's as if the church motto is "Come as you are; leave as you came."
Here I am now more than 25 years later, a fully credentialed, seminary-trained veteran of pastoral ministry. The various diplomas hang in nice frames on my office wall … still, in one sense I haven't changed from that night long ago. The cry of my heart is still for God to show up.
I once heard an old-time preacher speaking about God sending fire from heaven onto Mount Carmel during the prophet Elijah's day (1 Kings 18). He said that the manifest presence of God is "when God shows up, and he shows off!" He comes in not to take sides but to take over. When he arrives in splendor and glory, it is obvious to everyone that he is present and he is in charge. The human agendas fade away in the overwhelmingly awesome presence of the King of kings.
For years now this has been my primary prayer for every worship service. The longer I live, the less interested I am in how many people we have in the sanctuary. What is far more important to me is how much of God we have in the place. If he comes, we will have a wonderful service, no matter if there's only a handful.
I am not suggesting that God's people engage in fleshly emotionalism. God gets blamed for a lot that takes place in today's churches when in reality he had nothing to do with it. The Bible does not support Christians barking like dogs, rolling on the floor, laughing uncontrollably, or jerking and contorting. Nor does it mention angel feathers appearing at the church altar, gold dust forming on the minister's hands, or images of Mary appearing on the side of a building.
[OK - the Bible does not mention gold dust. So...? One cannot conclude, "Therefore, God would never, ever bring gold dust." In the Bible there are a lot of things that would appear very strange in a Western Eurocentric Enlightenment paradigm. "The Bible does not support... laughing uncontrollably, or jerking and contorting." How does the Bible not support this? Because such things are not mentioned? Acts chs. 1 & 2 describe, e.g., behaviors that again would not fit in to the Enlightenment worldview. The author simply states that the Bible does not support such things. But he gives no support for such a statement. I doubt that he could support his statement biblically. In the actual Bible a lot of strange and weird things happen.]
Something else is at work there; God should not be held responsible.
[You mean, Satan? Or, "the flesh?" If we really want God to come and heal and deliver, then we should be open to God's choice of methods to do this. And, let's say God does come, and someone gets healed. Like the brother-in-law with the drinking problem. Should he not laugh or twitch or move if God actually heals him, and he knows he has been set free? Should he not jerk or contort or roll on the floor? To me, such a healing could be so overpowering that it would necessarily affect him physiologically. Since we are not mind-body dualists like Descartes and all Cartesians, we would expect a freedom of the heart to be accompanied by something physical going on. But if minds are metaphysically detached from bodies, then of course when a mind is touched and healed of an addiction the body would not have a clue that something amazing and glorious and powerful has happened.]
But when God is in the house, it's not fleshly emotionalism. It's far beyond some talented soprano nailing a high B-flat at the pinnacle of her solo. It's not just a speaker revving up the audience. All of these things are fairly easy to manufacture by someone who has secular stage presence.
[Emotionalism? Let us reject that. Displays of emotion? All non-Cartesians should expect that. Were you healed of alcoholism might you smile, displaying some faint emotion? Might you actually be happy? Could you even be ecstatic and "embarrass" yourself in an overwhelming physical display of emotion? I think so. But if this pastor really wants God to show up and sets limits on the display of emotion I imagine God saying, "No..., that won't be possible."]
I'm talking instead about something that is real.
[Which implies: emotional responses are not real? How false because, again, Cartesian.]
I'm referring to what I read about on the day of dedication at the new temple, when "the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of God" (2 Chron. 5:14).
[Well..., if the priests could not stand..., did they fall down?]
That's one of the best definitions of revival I can think of: the glory of God filling the house of God. The Lord invaded the ceremony and basically took over, so that men and women fell to their knees and faces in reverent worship.
[Yes..., but surely they did not fall to their knees as a result of making a logical choice like, "Hmmm., the glory of the Lord is filling the house of God, so I will assume the proper position." Rather, the priests COULD NOT STAND. They were overcome physically as well as emotionally. In Hebrew psychology, the two are not metaphysically distinct.]
The New Testament tells about a prayer meeting where, as the early disciples poured out their hearts to God, "the place where they had gathered to gether was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness" (Acts 4:31). Those people lacked screens and microphones and all kinds of things we enjoy today in church life, but they had the manifest presence of God.
[The place was "shaken." Sounds rather upsetting to me. Hearts might have been beating faster, bodies might have twitched just a bit..., ]
What if the Holy Spirit would come and shake out the sin, the apathy, the pride, the self-centeredness, the satisfaction with church as usual. We don't need a bigger facility or a larger budget nearly as much as we need the presence and power of a holy God.
[I'd like this too. I don't find it odd, should the Holy Spirit come and "shake out the sin," that a physical body might shake just a bit as this is happening.]
Through the years I have seen glimpses of what I'm trying to describe. I remember one morning in Jackson, Tennessee, we had enjoyed a wonderful time of worshiping the Lord through congregational singing. When the choir began its song, I don't know how to ex plain it except to say that God walked in the room. You could sense his presence. People, without any human prompting, began to stand with their eyes closed, worshiping the Lord. Some slipped quietly to the front of the church, knelt at the altar, and prayed. At the end of the service, several lost people gave their hearts to Christ and became believers. It was like a little touch of heaven on earth, and we all left wanting more. I also experienced these "heavenly invasions" during a 14-year pastorate in Gardendale, Alabama. In the mid-1990s, many people in that church began to fast, pray, and seek the Lord's presence. People started getting right with the Lord and with one another. God began to bless our worship services with his presence. The Lord knew he was welcome at any time to do anything he wanted among his people.
[Except for... falling, laughing, twitching, gold dust, and a host of other banned physiological manifestations that would embarrass the heck out of Descartes and many Enlightenmentized Evangelicals???]
After all, it is his church, isn't it? He graciously enthroned himself on our praises (Ps. 22:3) and met with his people who were hungry for him. Again, I want to be clear that I'm not talking about anything unbiblical or weird.
[Nothing "weird?" Does "weird" = "unbiblical?" If so, we're reading different Bibles.]
What I'm speaking about is the real deal found in Scripture—the manifest presence of God.
[The "real deal" found in Scripture has some pretty strange stuff in it...]
When he shows up, no true believer in Jesus has to ask, "Is this really God?" The Holy Spirit within us confirms the obvious: Jesus is here. I am convinced that one of the reasons so many people are turned off from the idea of church these days is that it is all so explainable.
[Ban physiological manifestations and it will all remain quite explainable.]
Too many churches are growing simply because they are well-oiled machines. Church programs, in and of themselves, will not change one person's life for eternity. Rather, what causes a thief to quit stealing from his employer, what causes divorced people to soften their hearts and remarry each other, what causes a man to stop using pornography, what causes a homosexual to turn away from his lifestyle, what causes grown men to reconcile after not speaking to each other in years is the touch of God.
If the Lord is truly our focal point, needy people can come into the house of God and feel his convicting power even during the time of singing, before the preacher ever starts. James 4:8 says, "Draw near to God and he will draw near to you."
We have to focus on him first of all. It does no good to reach out to human beings ahead of reaching out to God. That's backwards. When we get close to God, he moves close to us—and peo ple come running to get in on the action. A lot of churches in America have become like the Wal-Mart Supercenter down the street. They desire to be efficient, offer a dizzying array of products, and be smooth at the checkout lanes; but there's little if anything that transcends the ordinary. There's no awareness or focus on the presence of God in the place. It's as though the motto of some churches is "Come as you are; leave as you came." They haven't been touched in their soul by Jesus Christ. It makes me wonder if God can find anybody who wants to pay attention to him. God's people, not unbelievers, are the ones holding back revival.
God wants to return to his people and to his houses of worship in great power and glory. He is graciously knocking at the door of our churches. Are we willing to let him inside?
Steve Gaines is pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church near Memphis, Tennessee.
Monday, December 10, 2007
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
Monday, December 03, 2007
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Richard Dawkins has made Turkish Muslims angry. An Associated Press report today says this:
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Sunday, November 25, 2007
Saturday, November 24, 2007
As an undergraduate studying philosophy in the 1970s I spent much time reading atheistic philosophers. Some of these readings were required for classes, and others I read on my own.
I was introduced to Nietzsche and Sartre and Camus, to Flew and Humean skepticism (whether or not Hume was an atheist is questionable). I read Kafka and watched the films of Ingmar Bergman. I immersed myself in atheistic and theistic existentialist literature, finding it fascinating and challenging and compelling. I also found it, personally, despairing. And I respected the reasoning and thinking as regards the logic of atheism which, for me, still means this: If there is no God, then this life is meaningless and absurd. One can coherently imply nihilism from atheism.
Consider Bertrand Russell's famous quote from "A Free Man's Worship": "That Man is the product of causes which had not prevision of the end they were achieving; are but the outcome of accidental collocation of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the age, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man's achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins -- all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul's habitation henceforth be safely built."
I felt years ago and still feel today that, if the truth is that there is no God, then Russell is correct about this. One seems left with the oxymoronish truth that our lives stand on a "firm foundation of unyielding despair."
I remember reading Camus' "myth of Sisyphus" and thinking, "but of course if God does not exist then this is my life." I read Kafka's "Metamorphosis," even picking it up in German (Die Verwandtlung), and thinking that here was yet another expression of the logic of atheism as Gregor Samsa wakes one morning to find he is a beetle.
None of this is an argument against atheism. Rather, it is the logic of atheism as some see it and as I see it.
I have no doubt, indeed I am quite certain, that there are strong atheists who feel happy today, who are happier than I am. As for weak atheists, those who say they disbelieve but can give no compelling reasons for their disbelief, I view their lives as admixtures of proclaimed godlessness and inherited religious ideas; that is, atheism polluted by theism. But that an atheist feels happier and more alive than I ever have means nothing to me since I have never found belief and unbelief to be functions of one's moods. Does atheism lead to a life of inner emotional despair? Not necessarily. But if there is no God does our life rest on a foundation of unyielding despair? Of course.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Monday, November 19, 2007
Summary articles are now coming out, like this one. Which say things such as:
"The report also concludes that, while some climate change is now inevitable, its worst effects could be avoided with straightforward measures at little cost if only governments would take action. It says that the job can be done by using "technologies that are either currently available or expected to be commercialised in coming decades". It could be done at a cost of slowing global growth by only a tenth of a percentage point a year, and might even increase it.
The missing element, virtually everyone agrees, is political will from governments. Next month they meet in Bali to start negotiations on a new treaty to replace the current provisions of the Kyoto Protocol, which run out in 2012."
Saturday, November 17, 2007
On Thursday Linda and I got up at 5 AM and traveled 200 miles south to Wilberforce, Ohio, and Payne Theological Seminary. PTS is connected to Wilberforce University. WU's website says this: "Wilberforce University is a unique institution located in a state rich in America's private college tradition. Founded prior to the end of slavery in 1856, it is the nation's oldest, private African-American university. For 147 years WU has, through sheer force of will, provided young African-American students with a solid educational experience."
PTS's dynamic president, Dr. Leah Fitchue, is a friend of mine. She invited me to speak and teach part of a week-long seminary class called "Transformational Leadership." The other class teachers were Dr. James Cone of Union Theological Seminary and Dr. Deotis Roberts of Howard University. My role was to wrap up the class by teaching on Personal Transformation: How God Changes Lives. I did this Thursday from 9 AM to 12:30 PM. My class was held on the campus of Wilberforce U.
Thirty-five African-American seminary students were in my class. Most were pastors and leaders in the A.M.E. church (African Episcopal Methodist). One student was from Sierra Leone, and another was from Ghana.
I structured my 3 1/2-hour block like this:
9 - 9:45 - Introduction; meet the students; share basics of how God changes lives
9:45 - 10:45 - I sent the students out to pray for 45 minutes. I explained to them how I wanted them to do this. My basic instructions are: go alone to a quiet place to meet, just you and God; use Psalm 23 to meditate on; when your mind wanders, write down where it wanders to (the mind always wanders to something like a burden); when God speaks to you, write it down; After 45 minutes, return to class.
10:45 - 11:45 - Meet in small groups, Share what God said to you. Someone take notes on the group sharing. Then, group recorders share with all of us. I comment on what I hear God saying to the people.
11:45 - 12:30 - I taught the elements of Personal Transformation. They are:
1. Recognize how needy you are
2. Realize the magnitude of the needed transformation (into Christlikeness)
3. Understand that only God can effect the needed transformation
4. Get into the presence of God
5. Understand what it means to dwell in God's presence
6. The level of personal transformation is: "the deep waters of the heart" (Proverbs 20:5)
7. God deconstructs the false self
8. The essential attitude is: humility ("Unless you humble yourself like a little child you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" - Matthew 18)
I am so glad Linda came with me. We had a wonderful time, made many new friends and connections. I believe we will be working together in some way in the days ahead.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
We are looking for people, and especially young people, who are passionate followers of Jesus to be with us for a 10 month period and be mentored by us. If that’s you, check out the information at our website and contact me personally if you like at 734-242-5277.
Monday, November 12, 2007
1. Pick up a good philosophy of religion anthology. Try this. Here's the text I use for my Philosophy of Religion classes. (Get an older edition used for less $$$.)
2. Read The Evidentialist Argument from Evil, by Daniel Howard-Snyder.
3. Read the debates between prominent atheists and William Lane Craig.
4. Read atheist William Rowe's Philosophy of Religion: An Introduction.
5. Read the debate between William Lane Craig and atheist Walter Sinnott-Armstrong.
6. Forget the neo-atheists Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens.
Saturday, November 10, 2007
I greatly enjoyed Antony Flew's There Is a God, especially as Flew traces his own journey, revisiting his famous arguments against God's existence, showing how he came to doubt those arguments, and "followed the evidence to where it leads"; in Flew's case, to the existence of God.
In the Nov. 4, 2007 New York Times Magazine Mark Oppenheimer writes about Flew's odyssey in "The Turning of an Atheist."
Right away Oppenheimer's essay gives one the feeling that he's not thrilled that Flew now believes in God as he writes that, over his lifetime, Flew was a professor at "a series of decent regional universities." "Decent?" This reminds me of a time when I was teaching in India. One night I strolled the streets of the city of Kurnool and saw a furniture store called "Decent Furniture." I assume the owners misunderstood the meaning of this word, at least in English. "Decent" furniture is, well, "decent," you know, "OK furniture." But not exceptional by any any means.
Oppenheimer says that Flew's book is "written in simple language for a mass audience." Not really. Perhaps a lot of people will buy Flew's book but the masses will fail to understand its most crucial elements. Flew's arguments will be "user-friendly" only to those who already have a philosophical background sufficient to frame them. I think Flew's book is well-written, but will remain obscure to the masses.
Oppenheimer asks: "But is Flew’s conversion what it seems to be? Depending on whom you ask, Antony Flew is either a true convert whose lifelong intellectual searchings finally brought him to God or a senescent scholar possibly being exploited by his associates." Oppenheimer visited with Flew, and writes: "With his powers in decline, Antony Flew, a man who devoted his life to rational argument, has become a mere symbol, a trophy in a battle fought by people whose agendas he does not fully understand." So, either Flew is a vibrant scholar or he is a senescent scholar. But perhaps this is a false dichotomy? And it "depends on whom you ask?" How about asking Flew himself. But if Flew is "senescent" then of course he will not know it.
Flew, believes Oppenheimer, has been exploited by evangelical theists. Oppenheimer implies that, indeed, Flew is a "senescent scholar," which means a "less than decent scholar." Thus, if such is true, then it takes much if not all away from his "conversion." ["Senescence refers to the biological processes of a living organism approaching an advanced age (i.e., the combination of processes of deterioration which follow the period of development of an organism). The word senescence is derived from the Latin word senex, meaning "old man" or "old age" or "advanced in age"."]
Oppenheimer writes of Flew's senescent state as one of "blissful unawareness": "When Flew met Christians who claimed to have new, scientific proof of the existence of God, he quickly became again the young graduate student who embarked on a study of the paranormal when all his colleagues were committed to strict rationalism. He may, too, have connected with the child who was raised in his parents’ warm, faithful Methodism. Flew’s colleagues will wonder how he could sign a petition to the prime minister in favor of intelligent design, but it becomes more understandable if the signatory never hated religious belief the way many philosophers do and if he never hated religious people in the least. At a time when belief in God is more polarizing than it has been in years, when all believers are being blamed for religion’s worst excesses, Antony Flew has quietly switched sides, just following the evidence as it has been explained to him, blissfully unaware of what others have at stake."
So does one have to "hate religious people" to be a real atheist? That is, does one have to take on the spirit of Richard Dawkins to be truly atheistic? I think not, as many anti-Dawkins atheists are saying. And to bring up Flew's Methodist upbringing commits the ad hominem circumstantial fallacy. If only Flew had hated religious people and had not been brought up as a Methodist he never would have signed such a document! But then, of course, had Oppenheimer never been raised/trained/etc. as he has, he'd never write an essay like this. Perhaps to be in one's "right mind" one must: 1) be an atheist; and 2) hate religious people. In that case Flew has truly lost his mind.
Thursday, November 08, 2007
“Brad Cole is a friend of mine who runs a ministry called Heavenly Sanctuary. This ministry puts on Conferences around the country on the Character of God — and they get it right. This year they hired an artist named Lars Justinen from the Justinen Creative Group to paint the above picture to use on posters advertising their conference. Under this picture they had captions like “Follow the Leader,” “God IS Great,” and most accurately, “Jesus - Still Too Radical?”
What does this say about how many American Christians envision Jesus? Obviously, the protesters believe that Jesus would not wash Osama Bin Laden’s feet. But Jesus died “not only for our sins, but for the sins of the whole world” (I Jn 2:2) — and this obviously includes Osama. So if Jesus died for Osama, how are we to imagine him being unwilling to wash his feet?”
Wednesday, November 07, 2007
Monday, November 05, 2007
Moreland writes: “I do not wish to be harsh or inappropriately critical of my brothers and sisters who are part of the Emerging church. There is much good in the problems they are bringing to the surface and in some of the solutions they are offering. For now, I simply register my concern about what I believe is their unnecessary association with postmodern language.”
What, for Moreland, are his main objections to postmodernism (which he admits “is a variegated movement with many stripes”)? Postmodernism:
Rejects objective truth construed as a correspondence with reality
Rejects the rational objectivity of reason
Rejects the reality of simply seeing, and the human ability to be aware of and know reality directly, unmediated by “conceptual schemes,” language, or their surrogates. (67)
Moreland holds to a correspondence theory of truth. Which means: “In its simplest form, the correspondence theory of truth says that a proposition is true just in case it corresponds to reality, when what it asserts to be the case is the case. More generally, truth obtains when a truth bearer stands in an appropriate correspondence relation to a truth maker.” “Truth bearers” are what, in logic, are called “propositions” or “statements.” A “truth maker” is what makes a proposition or statement true. Moreland, in his philosophical work, writes much to explain the correspondence theory and argue for its plausibility. In Kingdom Triangle, see especially pp. 80-85.
Moreland especially looks at, among others, Emerging church leader Brian McLaren. For McLaren, absolute truth-claims cannot be made. Moreland quotes McLaren: “I think that most Christians grossly misunderstand the philosophical baggage associated with terms like ‘absolute’ or ‘objective’ (linked to foundationalism and the myth of neutrality)… Similarly, arguments that pit absolutism versus relativism, and objectivism versus subjectivism, prove meaningless or absurd to postmodern people.” (78)
McLaren-ist postmodern epistemology seems to say that “no one approaches life in a totally objective way without bias. Thus, objectivity is impossible, and observations, beliefs, and entire narratives are theory-laden. There is no neutral standpoint from which to approach the world… Knowledge is a construction of one’s social, linguistic structures, not a justified, truthful representation of reality by one’s mental states.”
In this regard Moreland’s manifesto pleads that Jesus-followers reclaim the Christian mind.
I like the way Moreland develops this in Kingdom Triangle. I find him loving and gracious, and concerned. McLaren’s postmodern rejection of objective or absolute truth is confused in two ways. (see p. 83 ff.) This section of Moreland deservers to be studied. Moreland himself is working through these things. One can see, on reading him, that he is growing in his understanding of the real issues that underlie the discussion.
Brian McLaren, in his (to me) wonderful and challenging book Everything Must Change, responds to the Moreland-type criticisms. McLaren, like Moreland, focuses on Jesus and the Kingdom of God.
McLaren is concerned in learning what the message of Jesus is and applying it here on earth. He seems especially disdainful of Christians who overspend time debating “religious esoterica.” (20) Yet he does spend some time responding to the issue of “postmodernism.”
McLaren argues that philosophers and theologians whose epistemologies concluded that one could have absolute, certain knowledge, contributed to a cultural confidence that was arrogant and “excessive.” While this may be true, surely it does not follow that one cannot have certain, objective truth about things. What follows, at most, is that one in possession of such truth should be careful so one’s confidence does not become “a dangerous, malignant confidence.” And this cuts both ways. Surely one could become excessively arrogant as regards any theory of knowledge that one believes is true.
McLaren argues that the opposite of “postmodern” is not best understood as “modern,” but as “postcolonial.” “Postmodern” is one side of the coin, “postcolonial” the other. (44)
McLaren cites non-Eurocentric Christian leaders who don’t “focus on philosophical questions of truth and epistemology, but rather on social questions of justice, which are ultimately questions about the moral uses of power.”
Here, to me, is the heart of McLaren’s thinking: “This integration of postmodern and postcolonial concerns – for both justice and truth, for both a proper confidence and a proper use of power – made it possible for me to turn from a set on intramural arguments (which had preoccupied me for several years) to the more global exploration articulated in my two preoccupying questions: ‘What are the biggest problems in the world today?’ and ‘What do the life and teaching of Jesus have to say about these global problems.’” (45)
I very much like what both Moreland and McLaren are writing about, and how their thinking is developing. Moreland’s new emphasis on the urgent need to reclaim the demonstrative power-acts of Jesus and the Kingdom is welcome (McLaren gives a few sentences in acknowledgement to this in his The Secret Message of Jesus. A such, his work is excellent but imbalanced). And Moreland’s Dallas Willard-like call to reclaim the human soul is important. McLaren’s emphasis on the kingdom of God, here, now (both future and present), is important, and Moreland would agree. McLaren’s great fear that a correspondence theory of truth has and yet could create an epistemological hyperconfidence can be balanced by a serious call to a devout and holy life.
I like what McLaren writes in a footnote. “Conservative critics of postmodernism – including many critics of my work – rightly realize that one can so successfully undermine a culture’s excessive confidence that it eventually lacks sufficient confidence… [On the other hand] we have many modernist defenders backing away from the dangers of relativism and nihilism, only to fall backward into an immoral defense of cultural chauvinism, colonialism, and empire. One hopes we can all work together in more balanced, both-and ways in the future.” (303, fn. 3)
I am now thinking of what Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13:11-12: “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”
I’d like to see J.P. Moreland and Brian McLaren come together and advance God’s Kingdom on earth together. I think it will happen soon...