Sunday, June 29, 2008

Shane Claiborne's Partial Jesus for President

I recently read Shane Claiborne's Jesus For President and liked it very much. The one major place it did not connect with me is in its incomplete presentation of Jesus on the kingdom of God. I think Claiborne presents an awesome partial gospel; viz., Jesus' kingdom concerns for the poor, and Jesus' upside-down kingdom when it comes to the issue of power. And he's living this out in real time, which gives him massive credibility and authenticity. To follow Jesus is not just a nice theological theory for Shane. It's with this in mind that I offer a few thoughts to, I hope, supplement his Christology and theology of the kingdom.

My one comment is that Shane says little about Jesus' continual demonstations of healing and deliverance. For me, as someone who believes in these things and find them central to Jesus and the kingdom, I find their absence leaving Shane's Christology incomplete. If Jesus were president, would he not both proclaim the kingdom of heaven and demonstrate that kingdom with signs, wonders, healings, and casting out demons? Jesus' healings and demonic deliverances lie at the heart of the gospel of the kingdom. There are Jesus-followers who affirm this and live it out and also live out Jesus' mandate to care for the poor and the sick. For some examples, see Donald E. Miller's Global Pentecostalism: The New Face of Christian Social Engagement - look at the chapters of Florence Muindi and Jackie Pullinger, for example.

There's a piece on Shane today. I'm so thankful for him and how God is using him. From the article:

"Claiborne is touring the country, packing churches and community centers, in support of the book he and Chris Haw co-authored, "Jesus for President." "This whole project is about the political imagination of what it means to follow after Jesus," Claiborne said. "The language of Jesus as Lord and savior is just as radical as it would be to say 'Jesus as our commander in chief' today.""


Saturday, June 28, 2008

Self-Refuting Loops & the Mind-Consciousness-Brain Problem

Mind-brain-consciousness studies are huge and getting huge-er. Is the "mind" nothing but the physical activity of the brain? Is conscious awareness nothing but the physical activity of the brain? Yesterday's Wall Street Journal moves in that direction.

It seems that "researchers now can detect our intentions and predict our choices before we are aware of them ourselves. The brain, they have found, appears to make up its mind 10 seconds before we become conscious of a decision -- an eternity at the speed of thought."

If that's true, then what of "consciousness" and "free will?" ""We think our decisions are conscious," said neuroscientist John-Dylan Haynes at the Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience in Berlin, who is pioneering this research. "But these data show that consciousness is just the tip of the iceberg. This doesn't rule out free will, but it does make it implausible.""

Free will... is implausible...??? Which brings me back to the same old thing related to what Steven Pinker called the "hard problem" of first-person subjective awareness. If the 10-second theory is correct then Haynes's "decision" to state "We think our decisions are conscious" was itself already a done deal in the physical brain.

My own belief is that with this kind of thinking we'll always run up against a self-refuting loop. This gets expressed in the WSJ article's last sentence: ""We are trying to understand who we are," said Antonio Damasio, director of the Brain and Creativity Institute at the University of Southern California, "by studying the organ that allows you to understand who you are.""

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Leadership In the Church

I really like this quote from Dan Kimball's They Like Jesus But Not The Church:

"We strive to establish an Ephesians 4:11-12 culture in our church, in which the majority of the people, not just the paid staff, will be organized, in the good sense of the word, to care for, shepherd, know, and guide people in the church. We strive to create a culture and structure in which the paid staff focuses on empwoering people for ministry. If we are successful in doing this, then those who are a regular part of the church should have most of their needs met, since the church is functioning as a community not dependent on the paid staff and higher levels of leadership. We won't have to battle levels of hierarchy, since the leadership is spread out, making access to decision-makers all the more easy. We still have structure and levels of leadership, but leadership's goals are to see people owning, sharing, and developing the vision of the church using their gifts, personalities, and skills. We guide but try our best not to control." (P. 85)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Youth Are Not Flocking to the Mega-Churches

I'm reading Dan Kimball's They Like Jesus But Not the Church. Kimball points out that mega-churches have a lot of baby boomers but younger people are mostly absent from them. He talked, e.g., with the college pastor of a church that has well over 10,000 people in it. But the attendance of those under thirty is "rather dismal."

Kimball quotes Reggie McNeal, who writes: "We are witnessing the emergence of a new world... The phenomenon has been noted by many who tag the merging culture as post-Christian, pre-Christian, or postmodern. The point is, the world is profoundly different than it was at the middle of the last century, and everyone knows it. But knowing it and acting on it are two different things. So far the North American church has largely responded with heavy infusions of denial, believing the culture will come to its senses and come back around to the church."
McNeal writes: "The American culture no longer props up the church the way it did, no longer automatically accepts the church as a player at the table in public life, and can be downright hostile to the churches presence. The collapse I am talking about also involves the realization that the values of classic Christianity no longer dominate the way Americans believe or behave."
How true. I know this personally from teaching 8 years now at Monroe County Community College. For most of today's young students, the "church" is not even on the radar screen of options for them as they ask questions about the meaning and purpose of their lives.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Brain/Mind Problem: How Little We Actually Know

Check out this essay in The Wilson Quarterly by Charles Barber - "The Brain: A Mindless Obsession." There's a lot of neuro-activity going on out there, but in spite of the excitement and hype and neuro-everything claims the truth is we know hardly anything about how the brain works. Barber's analysis makes us look like medievalists when it comes to understanding things like depression, or how Prozac actually works. Among other things this is due to the outrageous complexity of the physical brain.

Barber writes, re. psychiatric disorders: "if anything has been gleaned from the last two decades of work in the genetics of psychiatric disorders, it is that the origins of these maladies are terribly complex. No individual gene for a psychiatric disorder has been found, and none likely will ever be. Psychiatric disorders are almost certainly the product of an infinitely complex dialogue between genes and the ­environment." If in fact such a "dialogue" is infinitely complex we can never expect to gain a complete or perhaps even a near-complete understanding.

Another quote, to give you a flavor of the essay: "The state of the art right now is that we can read brains—to some very crude extent—but we can’t even begin to read minds. Wall Street Journal science writer Sharon Begley has coined the term “cognitive paparazzi” to describe those who claim they can. “What does neuroscience know about how the brain makes decisions? Basically nothing,” says Michael Gazzaniga, director of the SAGE Center for the Study of the Mind at the University of California, Santa Barbara."

And: "There are currently no standard ways of treating or assessing mental illness based on brain images. The only unequivocal clinical use of imaging is in detecting raw abnormalities. “The only thing imaging can tell you is whether you have a brain tumor or some other gross neurological damage,” says Paul Root Wolpe of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Bioethics. The unfortunate fact remains that the most accurate way of gauging the thoughts and feelings of others is simply by asking them what they are thinking and ­feeling.
Steven Pinker, again: “We are still clueless about how the brain represents the content of our thoughts and feelings. Yes, we may know where jealousy ­happens—­or visual images or spoken ­words—­but ‘where’ is not the same as ‘how.’”"

When might we expect to understand "how" the brain works? "The brain is the most complicated object in the universe. Nobel ­Prize–­winning psychiatrist Eric Kandel has written, “In fact, we are only beginning to understand the simplest mental functions in biological terms; we are far from having a realistic neurobiology of clinical syndromes.” Neuroscientist Torsten Wiesel, another Nobelist, scoffed at the hubris of calling the 1990s “The Decade of the Brain.” “We need at least a century, maybe even a millennium,” he said, to comprehend the ­brain."

Finally, look at this quote from Francis Crick, reducing "mind" to the physical activity of the brain: “‘You,’ your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. As Lewis Carroll’s Alice might have phrased it: ‘You’re nothing but a pack of neurons.’”"

But if that's true, then Crick's claim that the mind is nothing but the physical activity of the brain is itself nothing but the physical activity of the brain. What could it mean to argue for the "truth" of such a theory?

Sunday, June 22, 2008


(Door, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem)

Long ago, as a freshman in college, I declared my major to be metallurgical engineering. I didn’t end up as a metallurigical engineer, but there are still things about the science of metals that have fascinated me. One of them is called “metallurgical integrity.” Metallurgical integrity concerns the consistency of a piece of metal. Structurally, if we have a block of metal, we want the metal to be the same at every point. If it’s not, the metal will be weak at the point of least consistency. So when stress is placed on the metal block the chances are greater that the block will dis-integrate at the point of least integrity. Metallurgical integrity is extremely important. If the metal on a Boeing 777 lacks complete integrity there could be problems at 35,000 feet at 600 mph. I think the same is true of persons. When the pressures of life come on us we will crack or fail or crash and burn at that place where we lack integrity.

I define a person of integrity as someone who has moral character, or moral “fiber,” in every situation of their life, whether in the workplace, the marketplace, the sanctuary, home, or when alone. A dis-integrated life is the life of someone who is polite and friendly and gracious when you see them at Meijer but impolite and cynical and legalistic in their home towards their family. In one environment they are a friendly and sociable Dr. Jekyll while in another environment they are a misanthropic Mr. Hyde. Such a person lacks “integrity,” being like a piece of metal that’s strong in one place and weak in another. They are morally and spiritually inconsistent.

What does a truly integrated life look like? How can we live as integated people today? Here are some of my thoughts about this.

Measure your character not by looking at other people, but by looking at God. For me the classic biblical text is Isaiah chapter 6. Isaiah, arguably the most spiritually-together person in Israel, has an excounter with God. In the face of the holiness of God Isaiah confesses, “Woe is me, I am undone!” Or, “I’m in big trouble, I thought I was integrated but I see I am dis-integrated.” The fibers of Isaiah’s moral and spiritual life were unravelling in the presence of The Perfectly Integrated One.

When we compare ourselves and measure ourselve over against other people, we can eventually find people more disintegrated than we are, thus making ourselves look pretty good in comparison. It’s only when we measure ourselves against God that we see who we really are; viz., as people who don't have it as much together as we thought we did.

This is a very good thing for us to see. It’s the beginning of real, authentic integrity. It’s a healthy dose of reality. God wants us to see this, not to leave us disintegrated, but to begin to knit together the moral and spiritual fabric of our lives. The brokenness thing Isaiah experienced is the necessary precursor to a truly integrated life.

So - consistently place yourself in the presence of God. Get broken before God. This isn’t something you need to force or worry about faking. In the real God-encounter brokenness just happens, inexorably. This feels painful but it’s also refreshing, since it’s not about religious game-playing and posturing but about the Real God who loves you and me and wants to rebuild our lives so we bring glory to God.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Buddhism & Monism: A Response to S. Dhammika

(Linda on Mackinac Island)

Yesterday Buddhist scholar S. Dhammika made the comment below re. my blog post “Buddhism as Atheism.” I’m grateful he responded. Here’s his comment, plus my comment back to him. This discussion gets really technical. One reason it does is because Buddhism is so counter-intuitive to Western thinking.

If you want to read further, note two points:

1) S. Dhammika agrees with me that Buddhism is atheism. Of course he is correct about that.

2) S. Dhammika does not find my understanding the Buddhism is metaphysical monism sensible.
I think he is incorrect about that.
S. Dhammika writes - “I am a Buddhist convert from Christianity and have been for 36 years, I have a degree in Buddhist studies, I read the scriptures in their original language and have written some 15 books on the subject. I can assure you, Buddhism is atheistic, in the sense that it gives no significance to the concept of a supreme deity. As for being ‘metaphysical monism’ you have completely lost me there. What one or One? I know of no place in the scriptures where the Buddha says anything like that or that this idea can be intimated from what he said. But keep trying and you’ll get there one day.Kind regards."

Here’s my counter-comment back to him:

”S. Dhammika – thank you for responding. I am certain that you understand the Buddhist scriptures far better than I do, so I’m listening to what you have to say. But I’m a bit surprised that you feel lost re. the idea that Buddhism is metaphysical monism, also called dialectical monism. Let me explain.

Dialectical monism is based on the idea that duality and unity are identical - unity always appears as duality, and duality is always reducible to unity. As the Heart Sutra says, “Form Does not Differ From the Void, And the Void Does Not Differ From Form. Form is Void and Void is Form.”

But note that unity is primordial. Duality is an epiphenomenon of unity. Unity is the reality, duality an appearance, or epiphenomenon. Unity, in Buddhism, prevails. Ultimately, everything that is, is One. Surely Buddhism, as a philosophy, is monistic rather than Western-philosophical/Cartesian-dualistic.

So what about our dualistic experiences, to include our experience of an “I” that now sees objects outside of my own “self?” Here is where I find Buddhist philosopher Owen Flanagan helpful. In The Problem of the Soul, he likens the philosophy of phenomenology to Buddhism’s philosophy or worldview. Flanagan writes, “Many Buddhists are master phenomenologists.” (209) This means that Buddhists concern themselves with appearances, and not with any things that might or might not correspond to those appearances outside of their minds “in an objective world.”
Note this Flanagan quote, which expresses Buddhist philosophy well: “What Buddhism calls “bare attention,” which is hardly bare, involves scrupulous attention to the way things – both the world and our own minds – really seem. Bare attention allows things to reveal themselves as they seem when carefully attended to, and it yields and grounds these observations. But it provides no grounds for speaking about much more than appearances.” (211)

Here the Western subject-object experience evaporates, and experience becomes non-discursive. Here is where Christian mystics like Thomas Merton find connections with Buddhism, and where Heideggarians find “Being” as similar to what Buddhists seem to be saying.

It’s this view of ultimate reality that I find interesting but ultimately incoherent, and false. Surely, it is debatable. And, it’s about a philosophy, or a worldview.

Blessings to you,

John Piippo”

N.T. Wright/Colbert Interview Transcript

Jake Bouma has posted the entire Wright-Colbert interview transcript here. Thanks Jake for doing this!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

N.T. Wright on The Colbert Report

I know it's a bit late but I just found out that N.T. Wright is on The Colbert Report tonight - 11:30 EST.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Freedom & Authenticity

(Sunset in Monroe - 6/17/08)

“Freedom” is always relative to constraints. There is no such thing as freedom without boundaries. Boundary-less “freedom” is “anarchy,” which is a severe bondage and a great limiting of freedom.

One example of freedom-with-constraints is the game of chess. Arguably, chess is the greatest board game of all time. The reason for this is, precisely, its rules. I’ve never heard a chess master complain about the rules of chess being too limiting or constricting. In chess, it seems as if no two games, at least among chess masters, are the same. It’s a brilliant set of constraints that allow for such great freedom.

The same is true of sports and science and culture and life itself. It’s true of your personal life. Are you a free person? This question is about one’s inner self, and is not, essentially, about external constraints. One could live in America and be in deep inner bondage; one could live under a repressive government and be free within. Every government constrains. All constraints bring greater or less freedom, running on a continuum between bondage and liberation.

The answer to your own inner freedom relates to the kind of things that constrain your heart, which things have to do with the purpose of your soul. Find out who made you and for what purpose you have been made, live within these purposeful parameters, and you will experience freedom. You will also be who you were intended to be, which is to say you will live authentically. (Note: if atheism were true there would be no constraints, and hence no true freedom.)

Jesus said “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” In Luke 4:18 Jesus spoke his own life-purpose as he said: "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed.” Paul wrote, in Romans 8:21, that one day “the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.”

You are a child of God. Created by God. Made by God and for God. Find your true identity and the result is “glorious freedom.”

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Authenticity & Freedom

(The Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island)

The word “authentic” comes from a Greek word, autos, which means “self.” We get a lot of other English words from autos, like “automobile” (a self-driven vehicle), “automatic” (runs by itself), “autograph” (a self-writing), and so on.

We could translate “authentic” as meaning “the real thing,” “the genuine article.” When it comes to Christianity, an “authentic” Christian would be someone who actually, genuinely, follows after Jesus. An “inauthentic” Christian would be someone who fakes it in front of other people (like on a Sunday morning) but in their own home or in their workplace is someone different.

My own feeling is that who you and I are in our own homes is who we really, authentically, are. And who we are when no one is looking is who we truly are.

It’s important to note that authenticity is not about perfection. No one is perfect (Jesus was, we’re not). It’s what we do with our imperfections that gives clues to authenticity. For example, I’ve at times met people who are self-admitted jerks who pride themselves by being consistent in their jerkiness. Authentically, they are the real thing when it comes to being rude or abrasive. A difference between them and a real follower of Jesus would be that the authentic Jesus-follower would be internally broken and saddened by their non-Jesus character and would cry out for more heart-transformation.

The question of authenticity thus has two components: 1) the goal - “real-ness” = “Christlikeness”; and 2) integrity - which means the reality of a growing Christlikeness is evidenced in every environment, whether alone or with others, whether at home or in the sanctuary.

The result of authenticity is nothing less than freedom. Acting and faking it takes a lot of energy. It’s a tiresome thing to try to be someone you were never intended to be. And “freedom” is not just being anybody or anything, but being like Christ, who was the truth, and whose truth sets us free.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Bible & Literal & Figurative Truth

(I'm writing this from Mackinac island, where I took this picture of the Straits of Mackinac yesterday.)

Today a former philosophy student of mine wrote me the following:
"I was watching a television show on gay marriage and how they feel about what the bible says regarding it. According to them, the bible can't be taken literally and gay marriage is really OK in a Christian God's eyes. I believe you once told me that your doctoral thesis was on biblical interpretation, so I was wondering what you have to say on the subject. Also, the Bible states that if you see lustfully, then you should tear that eye out, what do you think about that?And what I think to be a tough one, if the Bible cannot be taken literally then what about Jesus rising from the dead? What if he rose from the dead spiritually and his friends didn't see him rise, but visualized him rising, or something like that?"

My response to him was as follows:
Here are some thoughts I have.
It's mistaken to take the Bible "literally," if "literal" means non-figuratively. Instead what's needed is to get at what the Bible is saying. In this regard many biblical things are "literal" in the sense that they describe actual historical events and historical times and historical places. Just to cite one out of countless examples, when in John chapter 9 we read the story of a blind man who was healed when Jesus told him to go and wash in the Pool of Siloam, there really was and still is a Pool of Siloam in Jerusalem. I was in Jerusalem a few months ago and saw it. Many, many examples can be given like this.
Was this blind man healed? I believe we can take that, also, literally; viz., the man was blind, and then as a result of meeting Jesus he could see.
But many biblical things must be taken figuratively precisely because they were intended to be taken figuratively. One example is the one you give - "if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out." This is figurative language, and Jesus meant it that way. No one thought he meant that literally. But just because it's figurative does not mean it contains no truth. We often use figurative language to express truth. My Ph.D dissertation was on metaphor theory and figurative language. To cite but one of a billion examples, when we're watching a baseball game and the announcer says "The right fielder lost the ball in the sun" this is not to be taken to mean that the player was actually on the sun and lost the ball there. In interpreting the Bible, like any text, one must determine what's to be taken literally and what's to be taken figuratively. "Literal" is not "better" than "figurative," nor vice versa. The core issue is: what is the text saying? How did the people read the text; how did the people hear, e.g., what Jesus was saying?
All of this implies that someone who says "the Bible can't be taken literally" is making a nonsense statement. That isn't even the point of the whole thing. The point is: what does the text say? And, that there is literal truth and figurative truth, and one's not "better" than the other.
Re. homosexuality, the argument your note presents fails. It goes like this:
1. The Bible cannot be taken literally.
2. Therefore what the Bible says about homosexuality cannot be taken literally.
Premise 1 is false because essentially misguided.
Re. Jesus' resurrection, the biblical texts mean that literally Jesus was dead and then came back to life. The word "resurrection" is used to describe the literal event. "Resurrection," says theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg, is used metaphorically to speak of a literal event. We often use metaphor to speak of factual events because those events contain more meaning than the steel nets of literal language can hold. My doctoral dissertation (Northwestern, 1986) was on the nature of figurative and metaphorical truth.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Robert Sapolsky & the Overlapping of Non-Overlapping Magisteria

In the Templeton Conversation over whether science makes belief in God obsolete, Stanford biologist Robert Sapolsky makes a a very good point about the nature of science only to make a very non-scientific value claim about science and religion.

Sapolsky is an atheist who recognizes that "belief offers something that science does not." He writes: "Science isn't remotely about a scientist stating things with a degre of certainty." And in this I think, for the most part, that Sapolsky is correct. The only wondering I now have about this is when someone like Francis Collins rejects Gouldian NOMA in favor of POMA (partially overlapping magisteria, the "magisteria" being "science" and "religion").

The attractive Sapolskian point for me has always been and now is that science qua science can tell me how much a strand of DNA weighs, but the moment someone refers to that strand as "elegant" they have left science. "Elegance" is not to be found in the laboratory or under the microscope. "Elegance" cannot be weighed, measured, or quantified. The rose I am now looking at has leaves containing chlorophyll but surely it is not, scientifically, "beautiful." All of which is to say that science concerns itself not with values like love, truth, beauty, evil, right, wrong, heavy, light (in terms of weight), and so on.

Therefore if there is a battle between "science" and "religion" it's not a battle over "truth," as if one of the two has the "truthier truth." Agreed. If this is so than science qua science says nothing either for or against religion. They are, Gould again, N (non-)O(overlapping)M(magisteri)(A(a).

But then Sapolsky leaves science by asking the question "of whether religion or science is better for society." He writes: "On this front, there's no question which approach has produced more historical (and contemporary) harm." No question? On what basis? Surely not science, since science isn't remotely about the truth of anything. Truth is an abstraction, a non-empirical value, or perhaps a Platonic Form. Or truth is a relationship. But no one puts a bug under a microscope and sees truth alongside a pair of antennae. And what can Sapolsky mean by "harm?" Historically, religion and philosophy are the disciplines that try to answer such a question. Sapolsky writes: "The blood on the hands of religion drips enough to darken the sea." Maybe, maybe not. Such a metaphorical statement surely, as many metaphors do, contains a Ricoeurian metaphorical excess or extravagance. What is it's literal meaning? Is it that religion is "evil" or "bad" or "horrible?" Maybe. Maybe not. But one thing is for sure about this: science isn't remotely capable of making a judgment here. All it could say is something like: "If all the blood spilled as a result of religion were poured into the sea 0.000003% of the sea would be blood."

Sapolsky claims that "religiosity as an alternative [to science] has a spectacular potential for harm." What can we do with such a claim as this? Science can't help us. And why is religion to be considered as an "alternative" to science? What could this mean? Especially if the magisteria don't overlap.

I find Sapolsky's first point about the realm of science to be accurate. But he almost seems to forget this when he presents "science" as an alternative to "religion," or presents religion as more harmful than science, as if the values of "harm" and "good" had anything to do with science anyway.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Should We Be Praying to Jesus?

As followers of Jesus should we pray to him? The answer is yes. The best synopsis in support of this is in Putting Jesus In His Place: The Case For The Deity Of Christ, by Robert Bowman and J. Ed Komoszewski. Here’s their reasoning, briefly.

In the Old Testament the only object of prayer is God. God is the one who answers prayer (Psalm 65:2). “Prayer” is, essentially, communication with God.

Because we see, in the New Testament, prayers being given to Jesus, the pray-er approaches Jesus as God, since the only object of prayer is God. Since Jesus’ cultural-religious context was monotheism (belief that there is only one God) to pray to Jesus is only possible if Jesus is himself divine.

In Acts 1:24-25 we see the first Christians praying to Jesus. Before choosing a new apostle the early Jesus-followers prayed like this: “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” By addressing their prayers to the “Lord,” we can conclude they meant Jesus. This is because:

1) Luke most frequently used “Lord” to refer to Jesus.
2) Peter had just referred to “the Lord Jesus (Acts 1:21) prior to this prayer to the “Lord.”
3) It was Jesus who had previously personally chosen his apostles.

In Acts 7:59-60 Stephen, as he is being stoned to death, prays to Jesus. We read that “He prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he died.”

The great Yale historian and theologian Jaroslav Pelikan comments on this passage: “For Stephen to commit his spirit to the Lord Jesus when the Lord Jesus himself had committed his spirit to the Father was either an act of blatant idolatry or the acknowledge of the kurios Iesus [Lord Jesus] as the fitting recipient of the dying prayer of Jesus.”

In 2 Corinthians 12:8-9 we read that three times Paul prayed to Jesus to deliver him from some kind of infirmity.

In John 14:14 Jesus himself encouraged his followers to pray to him when he said, “Whatever you ask in my name, I will do.”

In addition to these things, the book of Revelation closes with a prayer asking Jesus to come back soon – “Come [Maranatha], Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20-21)

When we pray to Jesus we are on solid historical grounds. And, to pray to Jesus is to acknowledge that Jesus is God the Son, since only God is to be addressed in what we call prayer.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

The Definition Of A Great Song

As a songwriter I found myself agreeing with something Tommy Walker said about writing songs. Here's his quote from

"Well, just to plug Chris Tomlin, it's not easy to write an incredible song that's also simple. He is so good at what he does, and I totally give him props for that. As to whether the song is simple or difficult to play, who gives a rip if it's hard to play when no one wants to hear it anyway? A great songwriter knows how to write a melody that makes you want to push the repeat button. That's the definition of a great song."

Science Does Not Make Belief in God Obsolete

I've had a very busy week and am just now sitting on my back deck enjoying some solitude with a few books and a to-do list that needs attending to. Last Thursday Linda and I went to Illinois for her nephew's high school graduation. Got back Saturday evening, and went promptly to Monroe County's Relay for Life (cancer funding), where our church had a tent for people who wanted prayer. I think there were 5000 people there at the event. We had a lot of people from our church who got to pray for many people - I'm getting good feedback from this thing.

Then, after a big day Sunday with our church family (morning service, followed by a picnic and softball game where I proceeded to coach the losing team), I was part of a leadership strategizing retreat for our denomination, held just north of Lansing. This thing was held from Monday through yesterday afternoon. I greatly enjoyed that time and felt it was very productive, to include allowing me to connect with a lot of good friends I have not seen in a while. It looks like I will be part of a team that seeks God to lead our 150 Michigan churches into deeper spiritual renewal and transformation. If that happens I will be very excited!

When I returned home yesterday I was pleased to see the free book I ordered from the John Templeton Foundation. It's a series of short essays by scholars responding to the question "Does science make belief in God obsolete?" You can get this booklet on Templeton Foundation's website here.

I just read the excellent little essay by University of Maryland scientist William D. Phillips. Phillips is a Nobel Laureate in physics. His answer to the above question is: "Absolutely not!" Here's a little part of his essay.

"Why do I believe in God? As a physicist, I look at nature from a particular perspective. I see an orderly, beautiful universe in which nearly all physical phenomena can be understood from a few simple mathematical equations. I see a unvierse that, had it been constructed slightly differently, would never have given birth to stars and planets, let alone bacteria and people. And there is no good scientific reason for why the universe should not have been different. Many good scientists have concluded from these observations that an intelligent God must have chosen to create the universe with such beautiful, simple, and life-giving properties... I find these arguments suggestive but supportive of belief in God, but not conclusive. I believe in God because I can feel God's presence in my life, because I can see the evidence of God's goodness in the world, because I believe in Love and because I believe that God is Love."