Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Bring In the New Year by Worshiping With Us!

At Redeemer we'll bring in the New Year with worship.

New Year's Eve, Redeemer Fellowship Church.

Begins at 9 PM.



Bring some snacks to share with others (we'll do this after midnight).

Blessings!

Two Books to Read Together

I am inviting any interested persons to join me in reading one or two books with me in the first three months of 2010.


Book 1 - Abide in Christ, by Andrew Murray. You can purchase this book for $9 at amazon.com, or read it online for free here. We will be in John chs. 14-17 through March 2010. The central theme is: remaining in Jesus, like a branch is connected to a vine. This book, which has a number of short chapters, can be read devotionally.

Book 2 - Muslims and Christians At the Table, by Bruce McDowell and Anees Zaka. $11 at amazon.com here. I am diving in to more Islam studies in 2010, as a preparation for some things I believe God has for me to do in the days ahead. I invite you to tag along with me as this is one book that has been recommended to me by a close friend who is a missionary in a Muslim nation.

PROTOCOL

Read one (or two) of these books with me.

Send your thoughts, comments, what God is saying to you, questions, to me.

I will post them on my website - johnpiippo.com - and interact with them there. I will use your name in the posts. I may choose to edit your writing.

Any questions, let me know.

Blessings!

John

"Avatar's" Pantheism Is Not Real Pantheism


(What's more fun than webbing about "Avatar?")

With the movie "Avatar" the worship of Nature has again stepped forward. God is made equal to Nature; "God" = "Nature"; by "God" we really mean "Nature." Persons are part of Nature. We are to commune with Nature, to "be one with Nature." And, in Avatar, we see that Nature sides with those who commune with it and call out its name. "The Na’Vi are saved by the movie’s hero, a turncoat Marine, but they’re also saved by their faith in Eywa, the “All Mother,” described variously as a network of energy and the sum total of every living thing." (Douthat)

The idea that Nature is a being with consciousness is worthy of being rejected for the following reasons.

1. Science does not support this metaphysical claim.

2. History and personal experience argue against Eywa-theory. "Nature," simply as nature, seems indifferent. We call Nature "Mother Nature," and label the hurricane "Katrina," but they do not answer (unlike "Avatar's" Eywa) when we call their names.

3. The historical fact that some ancient peoples worshiped Nature is not an argument for the truth of the idea that Nature is a being with a mind of its own. To think so is to commit, in logic, the genetic fallacy.

4. Philosophical pantheism does not support Eywa - theory. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy's essay on "Pantheism" states: "Where pantheism is considered as an alternative to theism it involves a denial of at least one, and usually both, central theistic claims. Theism is the belief in a "personal" God which in some sense is separate from (transcends) the world. Pantheists usually deny the existence of a personal God. They deny the existence of a "minded" Being that possesses the characteristic properties of a "person," such as having intentional states, and the associated capacities like the ability to make decisions." (emphasis mine) Call Nature "Eywa" if you want, but "Eywa" does not have intentional states. So the Cameron-idea at the end of "Avatar" where Eywa "responds" is, on philosophical pantheism, absurd. SEP concludes: "Worship and prayer are not suitable to pantheism." Read the etnire SEP essay to understand this.

As a Christian theist what am I to make of nature? Here's a thought from C.S. Lewis's Miracles which tells us that Nature is not to be considered God, but viewed differently.

"I spoke just now about the Latinity of Latin, It is more evident to us than it can have been to the Romans. The Eng-lishness of English is audible only to those who know some other language as well. In the same way and for the samereason, only Supernaturalists really see Nature. You must go a little away from her, and then turn round, and lookback. Then at last the true landscape will become visible. You must have tasted, however briefly, the pure water frombeyond the world before you can be distinctly conscious of the hot, salty tang of Nature’s current. To treat her as God,or as Everything, is to lose the whole pitch and pleasure of her. Come out, look back, and then you will see ...this as-tonishing cataract of bears, babies and bananas: this immoderate deluge of atoms, orchids, oranges, cancers, canaries,fleas, gases, tornadoes and toads. How could you ever have thought is was the ultimate reality? How could you everhave thought that it was merely a stage-set for the moral drama of men and women? She is herself. Offer her neitherworship nor contempt. Meet her and know her. If we are immortal, and is she is doomed (as the scientists tell us) torun down and die, we shall miss this half-shy and half-flamboyant creature, this ogress, this hoyden, this incorrigiblefairy, this dumb witch. But the theologians tell us that she, like ourselves, is to be redeemed. The‘vanity’ to which she was subjected was her disease, not her essence. She will be cured in charac-ter: not tamed (Heaven forbid) nor sterilized. We shall still be able to recognize our old enemy,friend, playfellow and foster-mother, so perfected as to be not less, but more, herself. And that will be a merry meeting."

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

"Avatar," Homo Religiosus, Sensus Divinitatis


Jonah Goldberg of the LATimes has a nice article on "Avatar" - "'Avatar' and the Faith Instinct."

Highlights include:

  • James Cameron rips off movies like "Dances With Wolves" and "Pocahontas" and inserts their religious cliches into "Avatar."
  • Goldberg agrees with James Douthat, who calls "Avatar" an "apologia for pantheism."
  • Goldberg quotes John Podhoretz, who says that Cameron made "Avatar" "not to be controversial, but quite the opposite: He was making something he thought would be most pleasing to the greatest number of people." ("Avatarocious")
  • What would have been controversial would be something like this: "a movie in which the good guys accepted Jesus Christ into their hearts."
  • What turns out to be "pleasing to the greatest number of people" is "unapologetically religious" (Cameron's metaphysical utilitarianism).
  • So - watch "Avatar," and behold the current state of Western religious culture.
  • Goldberg uses Nicholas Wade's The Faith Instinct to explain this surprising discovery:  "Humans are hard-wired to believe in the transcendent."
  • Goldberg quotes philosopher Will Herberg: "Man is homo religiosus, by 'nature' religious: as much as he needs food to eat or air to breathe, he needs a faith for living."
  • The faith instinct is "baked into our genes."
These findings, if they are true, surely will disappoint today's evangelical atheists, because God-belief will not essentially be something "irrational" that can be logically and empirically argued against.

The thought that now comes to me is that Wade's thesis can possibly fit into the noetic framework of Christian theism. It would here be instructive to read Michael J. Murray's essay "Belief in God: A Trick In Our Brain?" (in Contending With Christianity's Critics, eds. Paul Copan and William Lane Craig). Murray concludes his essay with:

"For the moment it seems perfectly acceptable for the Christian to hold that God created the world, human beings, and human minds in such a way that when they are functioning properly, they form beliefs in the existence of rocks, rainbows, human minds, and God...  This discovery echoes the claim made four hundred plus years earlier by John Calvin that 'there is within the human mind, and indeed by natural instinct, an awareness of divinity." (Copan & Craig, 57)

Monday, December 28, 2009

Global Muslim Population

To see:

  • A country's estimated 2009 Muslim population, and
  • the percentage of its population that is Muslim and the percentage of the world Muslim population it represents
Go here.

Why is this important? Read this.

Avatar's Noble-Savage Pantheism


Today I: filled up the bird feeders in my back yard; tied to position one of them so squirrels could not get to it (which one enterprising squirrel did with incredible feats of mental ability and physical flex-ability, showing that a squirrel is smarter than a person; viz., me); made chili which is now slow-cooking; did some reading; talked witha  few people on the phone; talked with Linda; trembled as Linda started cleaning out the family room closet; and wrote on my website between it all as thoughts came to me.

Now, I write of "Avatar." We saw it yesterday. I recommend seeing it, if only for the 3-D effects. Visually, it's stunning. And the story line? It's the "noble savage" theory re-heated and pantheism celebrated. For a very good essay explaining America's EckhartTolleDeepakChopraOprahWinfreyJamesCameron-love affair with pantheism, see Ross Douthat's helpful nytimes essay here.

Douthat writes: "Pantheism has been Hollywood’s religion of choice for a generation now. It’s the truth that Kevin Costner discovered when he went dancing with wolves. It’s the metaphysic woven through Disney cartoons like “The Lion King” and “Pocahontas.” And it’s the dogma of George Lucas’s Jedi, whose mystical Force “surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together.”" "Avatar" is not about "when nature calls" but when one calls on "nature" and "nature" comes to the rescue. Which, of course, is a metaphysically silly idea. And, as we have known for some time now, the "noble savage" theory has no actual application.

I think Douthat is on target as he describes today's pantheism as expressive of the desire to find some kind of meaning in all of this mess when one has abandoned theism. "We pine for what we’ve left behind, and divinizing the natural world is an obvious way to express unease about our hyper-technological society. The threat of global warming, meanwhile, has lent the cult of Nature qualities that every successful religion needs — a crusading spirit, a rigorous set of ‘thou shalt nots,” and a piping-hot apocalypse."

I like rescue stories where good defeats evil. As this happens in "Avatar" I was cheering inside (as Scandinavians prefer over outward cheering). Unfortunately for pantheism, its noetic framework is fundamentally unable to account for such a thing. Whereas theism can. I simply cannot make sense of morality within a pantheistic framework. Douthat writes: "The question is whether Nature actually deserves a religious response. Traditional theism has to wrestle with the problem of evil: if God is good, why does he allow suffering and death? But Nature is suffering and death. Its harmonies require violence. Its “circle of life” is really a cycle of mortality. And the human societies that hew closest to the natural order aren’t the shining Edens of James Cameron’s fond imaginings. They’re places where existence tends to be nasty, brutish and short."

Douthat concludes: "If there’s no escape upward — or no God to take on flesh and come among us, as the Christmas story has it — a deeply tragic one. Pantheism offers a different sort of solution: a downward exit, an abandonment of our tragic self-consciousness, a re-merger with the natural world our ancestors half-escaped millennia ago. But except as dust and ashes, Nature cannot take us back."

The Jerusalem School of Synoptic Research


(In Israel, on top of Masada, overlooking the Dead Sea)

I am enjoying reading David Bivin's New Light on the Difficult Words of Jesus: Insights from His Jewish Context. Bivin is part of The Jerusalem School of Synoptic Research, a consortium of Jewish and Christian scholars dedicated to understanding better the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke), and to rethinking the Synoptic Problem. Our friends Hal and Mirja Ronning are two of the great scholars who belong to JSSR.

For example, chapter two of Bivin's book is called "Following a Rabbi." It's very clear and helpful to understand what it meant to call Jesus a "rabbi," which he was. There's a saying from a hundred years before Jesus that says, "Let your home be a meeting-house for the sages, and cover yourself with the dust of your feet, and drink in their words thirstily." (Bivin, 12) The idea of one's feet being "covered with dust" is about someone who would follow after a rabbi and walk the dusty roads and paths with him as he traveled from place to place. "One literally had to follow a rabbi to learn from him, so if your rabbi traveled, you did too." (14) Bivin writes, "Had people not opened their homes to the rabbis, it would have been impossible for them to reach the masses with their message." (12)

Go to JSSR's website for a number of free articles. And thanks, Josh, for the Christmas gift of this book!

Islam & the Persecution of Christians


Why is Europe afraid of the "Muslim Invasion?" Perhaps mainly because Muslims nations rank poorest in the area of religious tolerance, and high on religious persecution. See yesterday's nytimes essay on the minaret, veil, and burqa problem in France. “Today in Europe the fear of Islam crystallizes all other fears. In Switzerland, it’s minarets. In France, it’s the veil, the burqa and the beard.”

I often read the Jerusalem Post online (the blessing of reading foreign newspapers online!). Today the JP has a very good essay on a Muslim who converted to Christianity in Egypt and was, consequentially, tortured for it. Majed El Shafie was born in Cairo, Egypt, the son of a prominent Muslim family of lawyers. Shafie converted to Christianity when he was 18. He says:

"During my years in law school in Alexandria the persecution of Christians was going on all around me and it made me wonder why it was happening. For the first time in my life I started to think about it. I started asking questions of my best friend Tamer, who was a Christian, and I started reading the Bible. I started making comparisons between the Bible and the Koran. And that's when I decided to convert to Christianity."

But converting from Islam to any other religion is dangerous if you live in a Muslim country. "Under Shari'a law such conversions are understood to be a capital offense - enforced by the death penalty in some states, and bringing about various abuses and vigilante tactics in others. Nonetheless, Shafie was outspoken about his new faith."

Shafie says:  "After I converted I wrote a book about the difference between Islam and Christianity which soon caused me to be arrested and imprisoned. There were three charges. The first charge was that I was trying to make a revolution against the Egyptian government. The second charge was that, because I was seeking equal rights for Christians, I was accused of trying to change the state religion to Christianity. The third charge was that I worshiped Jesus. So in fact I looked at the judge and I said, 'Guilty as charged.'"

Shafie was then imprisoned and tortured.  Read the whole, sad, engaging story in the Jerusalem Post here. See also Shafie's website, One Free World International, where Safie now lives in Toronto.

(I have had pastors from Egypt in my seminary classes who have personally told us of Muslim persecution against them in Egypt.)

Living the Interrupted Life



(In Starbuck's... in what city?)

Years ago I would get frustrated when my life got interrupted. Then God told me the interruptions were my life. (Thank you Henri Nouwen)

I have some plans for today. Having a to - do list is good. Planning is good. God, also, has plans for today, and they include me and you. Therefore, be prepared to have your plans interrupted and rejoice.

Real followers of Jesus are interruptable. When God says "come," they "come." I remember once having plans to travel with our college student ministry for a Saturday at the dunes on Lake Michigan's shoreline. I love doing this kind of thing and was so looking forward to going with Linda and my two young sons! The morning came, and the boys were sick. They could not go. Linda could not go. But I felt frustrated because I wanted so much to go. I was willing to leave Linda with our sick boys and go and have fun at the beach. God spoke to me and cut through my selfish protesting. Of course I did know that college students were able to have a great day at the beach without me being there. "I" just felt interrupted, and was angry. (Note: "frustrated" is just another word for "angry.")

Real life is a series of interruptions. Many of these interruptions are your life, and to selfishly not go after them is to miss the calling and work of God, through you, to others, rather than to the advancement of your own little self. Marriage and family and ministry and friends and work require a flexibility of the spirit to go with the flow of what's happening rather than be always angry because things aren't going "according to plan." Whose plan? That's the basic question.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Jim Wallis on "Prosperity"


"God doesn't mind prosperity and wealth, as long as we share it." - Jim Wallis

See Jim Wallis interviewed here at washingtonpost.com.

Wallis is asked, "What's the problem - why don't people share out of their prosperity?"

Wallis: "Greed. Sin. It's an old problem. When you are always competing with the 'Joneses' instead of looking out for the 'Joneses' you and they will be in trouble before long."

Wallis has long been a solid voice, articulating the ethics of the Kingdom, showing us how to understand politics from a Jesus-perspective. Anyone interested should read, as a beginning, God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It

See The Washington Post's "On Faith" section for good stuff on faith, God, religion, etc.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Jesus and the F-word


I love introducing people to the Real Jesus and his beautiful kingdom. I have met many people bound in the kingdom of darkness who curse and swear and use the f-word a lot. In fact, God has now, again, led me to people who want to talk yet swear all the time right in front of me. Does it bother me that they talk like this? No, not really. I have actually found some of them to be more real and authentic than some Christians I know. I find myself thinking, "This is the kind of person who could be a real Jesus-follower!"

In my BC-days every fourth word out of my mouth was the f-word. That's just the way I talked, and I thought nothing of it. Is every fourth word out of my mouth now the f-word? No. Why not? 1) Because Jesus doesn't talk like this; and 2) because in my culture it is mostly off-putting and will hinder people from listening to what I believe God wants to say to us (1 & 2 are probably related). While Jesus himself doesn't talk like this, Jesus loves people even if they talk like this. When someone says the f-word Jesus doesn't say "I'm outta here!"

The Mission is not: get people to stop swearing. The Real Mission is: witness to the sozo-ing work of Jesus in your life. Jesus isn't waiting for people to clean up their acts before he meets them. If that were true you and I would still be waiting to meet Jesus. I've been with "Christians" who get really offended when some non-Jesus-follower uses the f-word, and then see it as their divine mission to first clean out the mouths of these people before they love them. In fact, I've known "Christians" over the years who won't lift a finger to serve in God's kingdom but will complain about some other Christian who swore. I think Satan just loves it when that kind of stuff happens. To the many of us who are going after people we cry out "Get behind us, legalists!"

I find it helpful to remember that the Bible is an R-rated book. In that light it was laughable when secular critics complained that Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" was too graphically violent. The Bible's R-rating is there because it contains some pretty wild sexual situations. Like Genesis 19, where old Lot gets drunk and has sex with his two daughters. How would you film that? Have you read the "Song of Solomon" recently? And, in the Bible we have the word "dung." Do you know what that 4-letter word means? God doesn't seem the slight bit embarrassed that he put it in there, now wishing he hadn't as if it were a "typo."

What about the third commandment - "You shall not take the name of the Lord in vain?" Well, it's important not to do that. But this was never essentially about "swearing." Matthew McMahon writes: "In looking closely at the third commandment we will find more than we bargained for. We as Christians break the third commandment more often than any pagan who may be screaming "God D_____t" or "Jesus Christ!"" What can McMahon mean by this?

When something is "vain" it is empty, and of no real value. To take God's name "in vain" would then include things like: promising God you would do something and then not doing it; promising before God that you will remain faithful to your spouse and not remaining faithful; saying "God bless you" when someone sneezes and not intending to bless them at all. Isn't that too legalistic? I don't think so. It's just a good example of vain-ness. In such instances "God bless you" does not really mean "God bless you." Sounds like true vanity to me.

To use God's name in vain is to misuse the name of God, in any way. Saying "God D_____t" or "Jesus Christ!"" can, and probably are, examples of this. But so much more is included. The matter really goes deep into the human heart. Like singing "Here I Am to Worship" without having a heart of worship. Like singing "I Love You Lord" and not loving the Lord. Like saying "Amen" to the words of Jesus while not following Jesus and living out His words. All hypocrisy is sheer vanity. "Christians" who are consistently "outraged" when others say "God D_____t" or "Jesus Christ!"" may themselves be consistently violating the third commandment.



So what if you meet a person who hyper-exgurgitates the f-word? For me the answer is: just witness to the sozo-ing activity of Jesus in your life. Love them, as you have been loved. Trust God to do the rest.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Jesus Did Not Drive a Cadillac


Some "prosperity Gospel" teachers argue that Jesus was materially wealthy. They do this to justify their own false "prosperity" teachings. Today at cnn.com we see the article "Passions over 'prosperity gospel': Was Jesus wealthy?" Prosperity teacher Thomas Anderson reasons: "Jesus couldn't have been poor because he received lucrative gifts -- gold, frankincense and myrrh -- at birth."

Stop here. Behold the vainglory of eisegesis.

  • Jesus was born in a feeding trough.
  • Jesus' parents did not have a room in the Ritz-Carlton.
  • Jesus is a newborn baby.
  • This newborn baby is given gifts, "at birth."
  • That... makes Jesus a wealthy man?
New Testament scholar Luke Timothy Johnson calls Anderson's argument "completely illogical." ""So Martin Luther King must have been a millionaire," he says. "Crowds followed Siddhartha Buddha and he was poor. And mobs followed Mahatma Gandhi, and Gandhi wore a diaper, for God's sake." The argument that Jesus was wealthy because the soldiers gambled for his clothes at his crucifixion doesn't makes historical sense, either, says Johnson, author of "Among the Gentiles: Greco-Roman Religion and Christianity."" Johnson says this because part of the prosperity-eisegesis says that the soldiers gambled for Jesus' undergarments because Jesus was wearing million-dollar undies (or Calvin Klein). Soon we'll see paintings of Jesus dying on a cross (which was, at that time, criminal-expendable-scandalous) wearing designer clothes. Luke Timothy Johnson says, "Crucifixion was the sort of execution carried out for slaves and for rebels," Johnson says. "It wasn't an execution for wealthy people."

The entire Kingdom of God message of Jesus in the actual Gospels (note: rarely seen on American TV because of the need to raise funds for one's own personal ministry) shows a preferential option for the poor. This is why Mary sings her song. And then there are the things the Real Jesus says about money. His words are found in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

The CNN article says: [Baylor U. professor] "Bruce W. Longenecker says life in Jesus' world was brutal. About 90 percent of people lived in poverty. A famine or a bad crop could ruin a family. There was no middle class. "In the ancient world, you were relatively poor or filthy rich, there's very little in-between," says Longenecker, author of "Engaging Economics: New Testament Scenarios and Early Christian Reception." The New Testament is full of parables where Jesus actually condemns the rich and praises the poor, Longenecker says. In the sixth chapter of the Gospel of Luke, Jesus actually curses the rich, he says. "The only way you can make Jesus into a rich man is by advocating torturous interpretations and by being wholly naive historically," Longenecker says.

Anderson reasons that Mary and Joseph "rode in a Cadillac" because they rode on a donkey. I confess I do not even know how to respond to such thinking. If they "rode in a Cadillac" in first-century Israel then they not only could have stayed in a hotel, they could have owned the hotel. The Son of Man would have had a roof over his head. (Matthew 8:20) And Mary would have sung a different song in Luke 1.

Instead of:

"My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me— holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty."

P-Gospel eisegetist Tom Brown says that the proof that Jesus was a wealthy man "is scattered throughout the New Testament. One example: The 12th chapter of the Gospel of John says that Jesus had a treasurer, or a "keeper of the money bag." "The last time I checked, poor people don't have treasurers to take care their money," says Brown."

Are you kidding me? In that culture it was not uncommon for someone to carry the group "purse." In Jesus' disciples case the purse was small (envision Judas hauling a bag of money the size of Santa's bag). Judas stole from that purse (John 12:4-6). So was Judas rich? Later, he is given thirty pieces of silver to betray Jesus. That amount was symbolic, being the amount needed to buy a common slave. (equivalent to $25 U.S.) That is not a lot of money to a man who had been hauling the megabucks-bag of Jesus and his wealthy entourage. (Note: Here in America rich people carry their own wallets and purses. I carry a wallet. Today is Christmas morning. Therefore, my wallet does not have a lot of money in it.)

Prosperity-gospel proponents emulate the very honor-shame hierarchy that Jesus came to invert. They leave this world's masses feeling guilt because they do not have enough "faith" for more money, with their current impoverishment being the visible shame-filled sign of their "lack of faith."

My suggestion is: do a Jim Bakker-thing. When P-Gospel preacher Bakker was in prison he read, actually read, the four Gospels. He underlined everything Jesus said about money. Bakker then wrote his book I Was Wrong.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Friends With God (and 289 Facebook Friends)



(Two very good friends)

I have 289 Facebook "friends"... and counting. Some of them I do not even know. I would not recognize them if they walked into the room and sat next to me. I'd say, "Who are you, and what are you doing here?" They respond, "I am Facebook friend # 227."

"Oh. Sorry... I don't know you. I never knew you. I'm not even sure I want to know you."

In real life (not the matrix of social networking) one can have only so many friends. In my life, I've mostly had one or two at a time. As a little kid my two friends were John and Neil. I knew them, to some degree. Now my best friend is Linda. I know her very well, though not completely. And she knows me very well. Only God knows me better than Linda knows me.

God knows you very well. God knows you completely. God has countless billions of friends. You are one of them. At this point I love what A.W. Tozer has written:

"An infinite God can give all of Himself to each of His children. He does not distribute Himself that each may have a part, but to each one He gives all of Himself as fully as if there were no others."

In this life I have one very close friend, a number of real but casual (more or less) friends, and 289 Facebook friends, some of whom I do not know. And, God refers to me as his friend. Jesus said "I lay down my life for my friends. And you are my friends." Personalize this. Let it sink in. The omni-God of the universe knows you fully and yet loves you and calls you his friend and invites you into the circle dance of eternal Triune friendship. Gasp at this. Bow. Be glad.

I Left Twitter, Therefore I Am Free


I know - some time ago I left Facebook, but I got back on. Facebook has some use for me, whereas I: never use Twitter; never think of using Twitter; never even think of Twitter; never think "Gee - I must be missing something because I'm not using Twitter; wonder why in the world others are now using Twitter; now think that Twitter has had its day in the sun; hear the sound of shackling chains wrapped around my mind breaking as I just closed my Twitter account; and proclaim that I'll never tweet again. I am William Wallace, being tortured and impaled by Twitter, and declare that I have had enough of this twitter-torture, step off the rack, and walk away crying "Freedom!!!"

My Christmas Week


Here are some things I am doing this week to "remain in Jesus, the Vine."

  • Listening to a lot of Christmas music. It is beautiful, isn't it?! Linda and I have found Andrea Bocelli's new Christmas cd astounding.
  • Spending a lot of personal time with God. Just me and Him. I continue slow-cooking in John chapters 14-17. I keep a spiritual journal. When God speaks to me, I write it down in my journal. I remind you of Exodus 33:11, which we looked at in Sunday morning's worship service: "The LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend." This is the kind of relationship I want with God! Remember what Jesus tells his disciples in John 15:15 "I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you."
  • Taking me-and-Linda time. We're going to see a movie or two. I am looking forward to seeing "Invictus," a story about South Africa's Nelson Mandela. Maybe "Avatar" too.
  • Ministering to people both within and without the Redeemer family. Tody there are some hospital calls I will be making. And Linda and I are always open and alert to how God wants to use us and flow through us to others. For us, even though we need times to refresh ourselves, ministry is life. Can things get any better than being wielded by God to save and rescue others? I don't think so!
  • Meeting with our incredible staff on Tuesday morning for coffee, sharing, and just being together.
  • Coming to Redeemer for an hour on Christmas Eve to be with all of you, our very beloved and power-filled passionate followers of the Real Jesus! How grateful we are for every one of you!
  • Serving in the Soup Kitchen meal on Saturday night.
  • Reading. My "hobby" has always been and remains reading multiple books at a time. I am a perpetual learner, and enjoy filling some of my time in this way. I am currently reading Imam Qazwini's autobiography American Crescent. Qazwini is the Imam of the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn. A few weeks ago I met with the Muslim leader of ICA. I feel God is telling me to study more deeply about Islam, and that he has some things for me re. this in the days ahead.
  • Being interrupted. I just got a phone call from one of my communtiy college students. He told me he wants to talk about some of the things about God that I was teaching in my class. I told him, "See you in thirty minutes."
Have a truly meaning-filled, blessed Christ-mas!

What the Dark Night of the Soul Is and Is Not About


At times I have read or heard someone say that they are going through a "dark night of the soul," and by this refer to a time of personal suffering. This is not the "dark night" St John of the Cross was speaking of in the classic The Dark Night of the Soul.

To explain. John of the Cross was a mystic. "Mysticism" comes from the Greek word muo, which means "to conceal." There is, on mysticism, a way of "knowing" God that cannot be gained via things like the physical senses. Mystical literature speaks of such knowing as "dark knowledge."

John of the Cross, in The Ascent of Mount Carmel, writes: "The first night or purgation is of the sensual part of the soul, which is treated in the present stanza, and will be treated in the first part of this book. And the second is of the spiritual part; of this speaks the second stanza, which follows; and of this we shall treat likewise, in the second and the third part, with respect to the activity of the soul; and in the fourth part, with respect to its passivity." In the first "night" or "purgation" of the soul one's senses are "darkened." If one wants to know God in the sense of a God-encounter than this, precisely, cannot be gained via the 5 physical senses. They must be darkened.

For John of the Cross there are a series of darkenings, which then leafe the soul without any of its ordinary tools to rely on in the quest to know and be known by God. This is good, since, for a mystic like John, God cannot in principle be known this way. John writes: "And the second night, or purification, pertains to those who are already proficient, occurring at the time when God desires to bring them to the state of union with God. And this latter night is a more obscure and dark and terrible purgation, as we shall say afterwards." (Ascent)

The soul is purged of its active senses and eventually becomes passive, receptive. This is what Meister Eckhart means when he uses the word "Gelassenheit" to mean a passive "letting be," as opposed to an active grasping-after God. In the "Passive Night of the Senses" God purges the soul of its default ways of knowing. John calls this purgation "horrible," since in it we lose our normal way and can feel disoriented. But this is a holy disorientation, as we are being prepared for a unitive knowledge of God that cannot be gained with the separative physical senses. One experiences a great sense of loss, only to emerge into the greatest gain possible: knowledge of the ineffable God that comes to meet us.

The heart of John's "dark night" is expressed in these words:

"The night which we have called that of sense may and should be called a kind of correction and restraint of the desire rather than purgation. The reason is that all the imperfections and disorders of the sensual part have their strength and root in the spirit, where all habits, both good and bad, are brought into subjection, and thus, until these are purged, the rebellions and depravities of sense cannot be purged thoroughly."

I have long been attracted to the mystical tradition, for the following reasons.

  1. Surely knowledge of God cannot be captured in the steel nets of literal language.
  2. Surely God, in his essence, is beyond what our abilties can grasp.
  3. If "God's ways are not our ways," then it seems reasonable to think that there are limits to our human abilities when it comes to knowing the ways of God.
  4. I have often had the sense, especially in times of praying, that I am meeting God in a way that is both "beyond" me and more real than sense experience.
  5. Weekly I talk with ordinary non-theologians in my congregation who describe encounters with God that are both real and indescribable (in essence).
  6. Jesus' words in John chapters 14-17 imply a strong "in us" and "in God" experience that is better captured, often, in Christian mystical literature than in the evangelical hyper-rational environment I was trained in and loved.
The greatest danger of over-emphasizing mystical experience of God is that, at times, the mystical literature describes the contemplative union with God as an ontological union, a union of being. Here one gets "lost in God" to the extent that one is metaphysically the same as God. Surely, on Christian theism, there remains a metaphysical distance between us and God. Mysticism, at its extremes, conflates us and God so that we are ontologically one. I do not think that is true, nor do I find it helpful.

On another note, when I read the early pages of Dark Night I see similarities between the way our church and others worship. Reading sections of Dark Night remind me of the worship songs that are songs sung by the beloved to the Lover of our souls. To me that is very good, since there is a hymn-culture that more stresses the distance between us and God, thus taking the Emmanuel-encounter out of the church.

We Are Becoming Normal


Virtual Gifts for Virtual Friends


Sunday, December 20, 2009

Social Networking - Pros & Cons


In Exodus 33:11 we read that "the LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend." I think face to face friendships are closer than Facebook friendships. (Many have commented on the use of "friend" on social networks like Facebook, usually admitting that Facebook "friends" are, mostly, different from face to face friends.)

In John 15 Jesus calls his disciples "friends." The Greek word here is philoi, which is from philia, one of the four Greek words for "love." Jesus' words "I call you friends" could be translated as "I call you the ones I love." Philoi has nuances of intimacy that our English word "friend" does not capture.

My son Dan and his wonderful wife Allie are in their second year working in Japan. It's been a year since we have seen them. Linda and I do appreciate Facebook because we pull up pictures they post there. But better than that is when we talk with them on the phone. Best of all will be this coming April when they return home after two years away and we will see them, face to face, and hug them.

No doubt, social networking is huge and will only get bigger. It surely has its positive aspects. It is also transforming the traditional idea of "community" as a face to face, actual physical-presence kind of thing. Hence, for me, arise some concerns, and some cons of social networking. One "con," e.g., may be: "The hours per day of face-to-face socializing have declined as the use of social media has increased. People who use these sites frequently are prone to social isolation. Parents spend less time with their children and couples spend less time together even when they live in the same house, because they are using the Internet instead of interacting with each other." One "pro" of social netowkring may be: "Social networking sites allow people to create new relationships and reconnect with friends and family. Increased communication, even online, strengthens relationships."

Surely many examples of the blessedness of social networking can be given. And yet, as cited above, I have concerns over some parents who seem to dwell on Facebook, making me wonder about them and their marriages and families. Some Facebook-prophets are needed to call these faces back to the land of physicality.

Surely a strong case can be made for the superiority of face-to-face rather than Facebook when it comes to friendships. One wants to hold the beloved in one's arms rather than merely touch the screen. Because persons are psycho-physico-spiritual beings, the most meaningful way to engage and potentially befriend real persons must include physical presence. Even though the days of Facebook text-weddings is coming, it's a lot better to physically kiss your life partner standing before the presence of family and friends. 

For a good list on the pros and cons of social networking check this out.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Coming Events at Redeemer



REDEEMER COMING EVENTS



Dec. 24, Christmas Eve – 6-7 PM. We present our “Gifts to the Savior,” plus have communion together and end with candlelight singing.


Dec. 31, New Year’s Eve – 9 PM – 1 AM – We worship our way into the New Year! Bring snacks to share at midnight.


Redeemer Ministry School - Winter Trimester Classes


• T/Th, 9:30-11 - Worship II, Holly Benner


• Tues, 5-7 - Prophecy, John Piippo & Josh Bentley


• Teaching & Preaching, Wed., 9:30 - 1, John Piippo


• Kingdom of God II (Healing & Deliverance), Fri., 9:30-1, Josh Bentley


The Winter Trimester begins Tuesday, Jan. 5. If you are not a full-time student and want to take an RMS class, the cost for the Prophecy class is $75 - for books and materials. All other classes are $240.


Saturday morning, Feb. 6 - Workshop - "The Power of Servant Leadership", with Jim Hunter  -  8:30 a.m. – Noon


To lead is to serve - This is how Jesus described the essence of leadership. Servant Leadership involves serving others by identifying and meeting their legitimate needs (as opposed to wants) and seeking their greatest good. John Maxwell, renowned leadership author/speaker, flatly asserts, “Leadership is influence, nothing more, nothing less.” According to that definition, we are all leaders because we all influence and impact others every day. Indeed, Jesus calls us to be leaders - “salt” & “light” - to influence the world for good.


So please come! Whoever you are - Student, parent, coach, teacher, manager, pastor - All will benefit from this workshop because we all influence others!


Redeemer’s own Jim Hunter will lead this paradigm/ life changing workshop. Jim is the author of two internationally best-selling books: The Servant & The World’s Most Powerful Leadership Principle. His books have been translated into fourteen (14) languages and have sold over 3.25 million copies worldwide. Jim's clients include many of the world’s most admired organizations including American Express, Best Buy, NestlĂ©, Microsoft, Procter & Gamble and the United States Air Force, Army & Navy.


A free will offering will be taken at the conclusion of the event with all proceeds going to the Bangkok Nightlight ministry.


Sunday evening, Feb. 14 – We will be one of several hundred churches across the nation showing Darren Wilson’s new film “Furious Love.” Darren is the son of Gary and Linda Wilson, and grew up in Redeemer.


May 27-30 – Bethel School of Supernatural Evangelism at Redeemer, with Chris Overstreet.


June 27-July 2 – our annual summer conference in Green Lake, Wisconsin, with Randy Clark and Redeemer’s Worship Team.



Thursday, December 17, 2009

Which Nations are Poorest When it Comes to Religious Freedom?

The Pew Forum Report on Religion and Public Life yesterday said that "nearly 70 percent of the world's 6.8 billion people who live in countries that have severe restrictions on religion." It is mostly Muslim nations who impose such restrictions.

The report ranks countries by one index that assesses government restrictions on religion and another that measures social hostilities or curbs on religion that stem from violence or intimidation by private individuals or groups.

From this link we read:

The Government Restrictions Index is based on 20 questions used by the Pew Forum to assess state curbs on religion at the national, provincial and local levels.


"Is public preaching by religious groups limited by any level of government?," and "Taken together, how do the constitution/basic law and other national laws and policies affect religious freedom?" are among the questions asked.

Both lists rank 198 countries worldwide and are based on scales of 0-10. Saudi Arabia was the only country to appear on both "very high" lists. The rankings fall under four categories: "Very High," "High," "Moderate" and "Low".

Following are the countries ranked as the most restrictive or "Very High" on both lists. The first list has 10 countries, the second has 11.

GOVERNMENT RESTRICTIONS INDEX

Very High or Top 5 percent of scores from 6.7 to 8.4.

Saudi Arabia, Iran, Uzbekistan, China, Egypt, Burma (Myanmar), Maldives, Eritrea, Malaysia, Brunei.

SOCIAL HOSTILITIES INDEX

Very High or Top 5 percent with scores from 6.8 to 9.4

Iraq, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Somalia, Israel, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Saudi Arabia.

I remember, in my U-Toledo dialogue with a Muslim Imam who was from Egypt, that I shared about persecution of Christians in Egypt on the basis of statistics such as these, plus three Egyptian pastors who were recent students of mine. The Imam just shook his head in disagreement.

The Pew Forum Report is the kind of thing that makes some of us wonder about what will happen if Islam grows in our country. Perhaps the Interfaith Dialogue efforts of ICA are in a significant minority? Is there something intrinsic to Islam that disallows freedom of religion?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Burial Shroud Found from Jesus' Time


(The Temple Mount, Jerusalem)

Researchers/archaeologists in Jerusalem found a burial shroud from the time of Jesus. DNA tests showed the person had leprosy. It was found in a tomb complex on the edge of the Old City of Jerusalem.

Greg Boyd on the Violent God of the Old Testament

Greg Boyd is doing some blogging on his forthcoming book Jesus Versus Jehovah: Understanding the Violent God of the Old Testament in Light of the God of the Cross.

See also the U-Notre Dame conference, now on video, with its phenomenal, diverse presenters - here.

What the Word Became


Multiple Choice - choose the correct answer, which is also the best answer.

1. In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the Word became a text and dwelt on our I-phone.

2. In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the Word became a Face and dwelt on Facebook.

3. In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the Word became a download and dwelt on our hard drive.

4. In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

Better to have God make his home with us and in us (John 15) then God as: 1) merely a text; 2) only a Face; 3) just a download out of the ethersphere.

Better "Emmanuel" that "Text-uell," "Face-uell," or "Download-uell."

The Word: not just some more words, not just another pretty face, not just some software that takes up more space. The Word was one of us.

"The Word was first, the Word present to God,
God present to the Word.
The Word was God, in readiness for God from day one.
Everything was created through him;
nothing—not one thing!— came into being without him.
What came into existence was Life, and the Life was Light to live by.
The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness; the darkness couldn't put it out...

...The Word became flesh and blood,

and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
the one-of-a-kind glory,
like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out, true from start to finish."

(The Message)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Stephen Toulmin


Although I teach logic and, in many ways, love it, in no way do I think that everything is "logical" and can be understood via logic. "Life," surely, is not captured by the steel nets of logic. Love is not essentially logical, and any attempt to logically argue for this is to ask one to fall in love with Mr. Spock. And moral issues cannot be understood by abtract logic sans context, as Stephen Toulmin told us years ago.

Toulmin the philosopher died on December 4. I was introduced to Toulmin in Harold I. Brown's philosophy of science class. When I was applied for Ph.D studies at Northwestern U. and the U. of Chicago, Toulmin was teaching at the latter. In The Uses of Argument Toulmin "criticized formal logic as an overly abstract, inadequate representation of how human beings actually argue. He also challenged its claims to universality, as well as its faith in absolute truth and moral certainty."

From the nytimes Toulmin-tribute we read: “Stephen’s essential contribution was to bring philosophy back from the abstractions of reason and logic — the world of Plato and Descartes — to the human condition,” said Roy Pea, a professor of learning sciences and education and the director of the Stanford Center for Innovations in Learning at Stanford University. “He argued that if we want to understand questions of ethics, science and logic, we have to inquire into the everyday situations in which they arise.”

Harold I. Brown spoke of Toulmin because Toulmin's Foresight and Understanding: An Enquiry Into the Aims of Science was often mentioned "in the same breath as Thomas Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions.” 

"Mr. Toulmin’s provocative ideas often encountered resistance at first, especially in Britain, and his work on argument was no exception. He proposed, instead of formal logic’s three-part syllogism, a model of persuasive argument consisting of six components. Some, he maintained, apply universally but others do not. Arguments, in other words, do not unfold in a Platonic ether, but in particular contexts. The Toulmin model proved to be highly useful for analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of arguments. It is commonly used in debate manuals, for example, but its applications have extended to the rhetorical interpretation of literary texts, computer science and artificial intelligence."

See also Michael Ruse's tribute to Toulmin here.

Toulmin argued that, in things like moral reasoning, historical and cultural contexts must be taken into account. One does not just argue "logically" in some kind of epistemic vacuum. The absolutism of idealized formal logic "fails to consider the field-dependent aspects of argument. Advocating a universal truth, absolutists believe that a standard set of moral principles — regardless of context — can solve all moral dilemmas. But Toulmin purported that many of these standard principles cannot be applied to day-to-day life in the real world." (Pamela Johnson, here)

Muslim-Christian Dialogue


A good friend of mine who is a Muslim scholar, and missionary in an Arab-Muslim nation, has communicated with me that a very good book to read on Muslim-Christian dialogue is: Muslims and Christians at the Table: Promoting Biblical Understanding Among North American Muslims, by Bruce McDowell and Anees Zaka.

I'm especially inviting Redeemer people (my home church) to join me in reading this text, and then discussing it together. All this is in preparation for the greater witness to Muslims that God is calling me, and us, towards.

I expect to be making posts re. this in the days ahead, so I invite any readers to talk with me about these things.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

A New Breed of Islam in America


(Jonathan and Daniel - I am very interested in your take on this.)


Yesterday I and two of my MCCC students were hosted at the Islamic Center of America (ICA) in Dearborn by Eide Alawan. Mr. Alawan is the liaison to Imam Qazwini, and director of the Office of Interfaith Outreach. Mr. Alawan graciously gave us almost two hours of his time. For me, and for my students, it was a great learning experience.

We were graciously greeted by the women office managers with coffee and "breakfast bread," which was in the shape of pita bread and freshly baked, using a "secret recipe." These delicious breads can be bought at ICA.

Mr. Alawan is a very fit 69-year-old Muslim of Syrian origin. He is quite a scholar, both gentle and passionate, and an incredible host. He toured us around ICA, always explaining things and sharing his personal insights on what was going on there, accompanied by sharing his Muslim faith.

The highlight for me was when we joined 300-400 mostly Shia Muslims in the large, circular prayer room (which can hold 700-800). Men were in the front of the room praying, kneeling in rows as a sign of unity. Women were in the back of the room. Mr. Alawan told us that it is this way so that the men will not be distracted by the women and will instead concentrate on Allah.

The meeting began with a muezzin leading the people in the call to prayer. Then Imam Qazwini taught a lesson on helping orphans, being humble, and the need for parents to teach their children about Islam. The Imam's message was spoken first in Arabic, then in English. He encouraged the people to deeply study the Quran because, as he sees things, many say they follow the Quran but really do not follow it because they do not deeply know it. As he was speaking this reminded me of what arguably could be the majority of "Christians" in America who not only do not understand the Bible but also do not follow it. This, in my mind, leads to many varieties of "folk Christianity" that are far removed from the real thing, The Imam was calling for "deep Quran literacy" as I am calling for "deep Bible literacy." Imam Qazwini is a relatively young Muslim leader and, I think, a compelling spokesperson for Islam. He regularly meets with world presidents and leaders and has recently published his book American Crescent, which I purchased at ICA's bookstore (which is next to their coffee shop).

Mr. Alawan is a national leader in the effort to promote interfaith understanding and dialogue. In listening to him talk I saw the face of Islam that wants to understand Jews and Christians. And, an Islam that is non-violent and non-terrorist. When I asked Mr. Alawan what he thought of the Islam of Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden he expressed his strong belief that that is not real Islam.

As we said good-bye he told me that he and his wife would like to take Linda and I out to dinner to share some very good food. If that happens I am certain we will be very glad to do that.

What do I make of all of this? Here are my immediate thoughts.

  • In order to dialogue with Islam and present Jesus to Muslims I must understand Islam.
  • I am aware of the debate over whether or not Islam is intrinsically violent.
  • I find myself wondering if Mr. Alawan and Imam Qazwini interpret portions of the Quran correctly. I know this is audacious of me to say, since they are both great Quran scholars, especially the Imam. For example, Imam Qazwini writes: "The Qu'ran also speaks of infidels, but in very specific terms. "Infidel" does not refer to just any Christian or Jew but to someone who aims to harm or kill Muslims for practiocing their faith." (American Crescent, 230-231) The Imam expands a bit more on this. Mr. Alawan shared this with us yesterday. I found myself thinking that I know too much about textual interpretation to simply accept this. Such an interpretation would certainly fit well with a moderate, peaceful Islam. I am personally grateful for this approach but wonder if it can be textually supported. An analogy for me might be this: I might want universalism ("all will be saved") to be true but feel certain that this cannot be textually supported in the Christian Scriptures. So, e.g., when someone like John Hick argues for it I cannot refer to hjis argument as a particularly "Christian" one. A whole lot of hermeneutical maneuvering has to take place to get to such a position.
  • On Interfaith Dialogue I have been involved in this, in some way, for most of my Christian life. The question about the "other" religions inevitably comes up for all who follow Jesus deeply, and is dealt with in a variety of ways. Some of us have chosen to study and understnad those other religions, on the idea that we cannot meanignfully speak with them if we do not have a clue about who they are and what they believe. As a campus pastor at Michigan State University and part of the Religious Advisors organization we were always discussion interfaith and inter-denominational issues. At times I felt the only things we could all agree on were: 1) we were against alcoholism on campus; and 2) apple pie is a very good thing. When I dialogued in Rocket Hall at the University of Toledo with the Imam of Northern Ohio a few years ago he said to me, in front of the students who were there, "I think you and I are really talking about the same thing." But surely we are not, especially at some very key points. In fact, to be told that we are really talking about the same thing is an insult to me. I don't hate the Imam for saying this, but I do feel insulted that he would say say this. If he really believes that then he is ignorant of what I believe. The Quranic teaching is that Christ was not crucified nor killed by the Jews. But this is not only something I believe, but is the very beating heart of what I believe. If you take this away from me you have taken away my entire faith. Real interfaith dialogue openly acknowledges real, crucial differences and does not try to find some more basic ontological ground where we are all saying the same thing.
  • Mr. Alawan does not view Islam as evangelistic or wanting to convert people of other faiths to Islam. I am not certain about this. While I can believe that ICA's philosophy is non-evangelistic, I just do not know about other versions of Islam. Perhaps Imam Qazwini is bringing in a kind of Islam that will be embracing of Jews and Christians and other faiths, and this is why Rolling Stone magazine reviewed Imam Qazwini's book by referring to him as "typical of a new breed of Muslim leader in the United States."
  • For me, authentic interfaith dialogue would acknowledge my commitment to the real Jesus who commands me to "make disciples of all nations." Again, one problem with interfaith dialogue is that it has a tendency to seek some universal common ground that we can all stand on, like "apple pie is very good." (A more intellectual example would be Tillich's God as the "ground of being.") For me, less and less am I trying to "convert" someone, since that implies that "I" am the "converter." As I witness to Christ in me, by word and in service and power, I am trusting God to be the Great Convincer. And again, and but of course, this implies that I think I am correct about this, and that the Quran is wrong when it comes to Jesus. Interfaith dialoguers need not be threatened by this, since we will all feel the other religions are wrong about some things.
  • I am to love a Muslim such as Eide Alawan. I admit that I like him. I think I can love him, and I think I already do. Perhaps he will become a friend. I do not think he is my enemy, because my biblical understanding is that people are not the real adversary anyway. The shocking Jesus-perspective is that, even if he were my enemy, I am called to love him. Perhaps we will become friends, and Linda and I will love Eide and his wife around the dinner table, and we will have the chance to share with them the Jesus who has rescued us just as he shared his love for Islam with me. What are the possibilities here?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Read Paul Through Jesus; First Jesus, Then Paul


When I began my seminary studies the very first course we had to take, as a requirement, was on the book of Romans. I do not remember there being a required class on any one of the four Gospels. We had, I think, a course on New Testament studies. Probably there were some elective courses on the Gospels, either all or one or the synoptics or John. Now I would not trade my seminary experience for anything. It was wonderful and deep with amazing professors, some of whom became friends. Yet I think it mirrored the typical evangelical seminary at the time with its emphasis on Paul before Jesus.

Now, I can see that the order of hermeneutical priority is: Jesus first, then Paul. First spend a lot of years marinating in Jesus and the Gospels. Then, turn to Paul. Jesus preceded Paul. Chronologically what Jesus did came before Paul's conversion and subsequent Jesus-understanding. Paul fills out our understanding of Jesus, and not vice versa. Read Paul through Jesus, not Jesus through Paul. To read Jesus through Paul is the evangelical equivalent of a Roman Catholic methodology that asks its adherents to not read the Bible, but understand the Christian Scriptures through the lens of the church fathers.

At my church we began preaching chronologically through the Gospels in September 2005. Now, four years later, we are in John 15 (vv. 9-13 this Sunday morning). Personally, I have read and re-read through Matthew-Mark-Luke-John many times in these four years. One result is that, when I now read Paul, I am looking at a lot of things more clearly. For me, Paul's writings ave opened up in new ways for me as a result of my ongoing immersion in Jesus and Jesus-studies.

An idea: in 2010 read and re-read, slowly and meditatively, the four Gospels. Get familiar with Jesus.

Want to study the four Gospels? See my post here for some ideas.

Want to read through the entire New Testament chronologically? Get this Bible - The Books of the Bible - for under $20 here. Especially nice about this Bible is that there are no chapters or verses - Yeah!!!

See the endorsements for The Books of the Bible here and be inspired.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Prophecy


I feel, as much as I've ever felt in my life, that I want the spiritual gift of prophecy. Eighteen years ago, at our HSRM conference in green Lake, Wisconsin, Jack Hayford was the speaker. As he talked about spiritual gifts it was not coercive and manipulative. Instead, I felt God, through Jack, was extending an invitation to me.

I like being invited rather than being pushed in. I think, when it comes to experiencing the river of God, some are divers and some are waders. I shared this with my congregation a few months ago. I asked, "You know me pretty well. How many of you think I'm a diver?" A few strangers raised their hands. "How many think I'm a wader?" Everyone in the building raised their hand.

It's true. I am a wader. And I can tell you that waders don't like being pushed. In fact, I hate it. I hate being pushed. I also hate being judged if I'm not out there diving. I don't mind seeing people dive. But the thing is, I've seen some people who dove into the River of God years ago and they're not even in the water anymore, while here I am still wading out into deeper waters.

I'm still in the water, and I'm going further. I think that's what counts. Are you in the water now or not? While diving seems more dramatic and faith-filled, how one gets into the water and stays means little to me now. I don't mind seeing people dive into the River of God, but I think there are more waders around than divers. This conference years ago allowed me to wade, and Jack Hayford was the perfect beginning to that.

It's an invitation to come in, not a push. I don't even want someone to push me in the lake. I'll go in if I want to. But look, I'm out in the deep waters, and my report is the waters are fine, and I'm crying out to God for the gift of prophecy.

Look at 1 Cor 14:1-3: Follow the way of love, eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy. I take that literally - especially, desire the gift of prophecy. So I feel I'm out in this water deeper now, and I'm swimming around, and I hear this. And we're all still growing; we never stop growing. We're either green or growing, or we're dying. I need and want a propehtic upgrade - that's currently part of my own green-growth. And I think I see more clearly why I want this gift.

1 Corinthians 14:3 says, "everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort." The idea here is that God is able to give you or me something to say, from God, to another person, that would strengthen, encourage, or comfort them. Who wouldn't want that? I know that I do, because there are many people I love and minister to, and a lot of times I feel inadequate because my cognitive abilities are inadequate. I find myself crying out to God for the words that will heal and deliver and save.

I have had this happen to me, and find myself speaking prophetically into people's lives more and more. For example, I still carry with me a prophecy spoken to me through my good friend Gary Wilson. When Gary speaks prophetically he always does so with great humility, often adding words like "John, I believe God is saying this, so I am presenting it to you." Some of the things God has spoken to me through Gary and others have so encouraged me that I know it was God. I am so thankful for friends who risk sharing good words with me.

Last Sunday morning I was praying for a number of people and felt impressed by God to share some specific things with a number of them. My experience is, as I am praying for them, a thought comes to me. In my mind I weigh that thought for a few moments. If it seems like something that would strengthen, comfort, or encourage them, I share it, often adding the words "I think God is giving me something to share with you." After sharing it I might ask them, "Does this make sense to you? If this helpful? Encouraging? Strengthening?" Most of the time the person says, "Yes."

In my past life as a hyper-left-brained "evangelical" I would have thought such things were the equivalent of magical fortune-telling and should be avoided. Now I think that fortune-telling is the dark copy of the real thing, just as counterfeit twenty-dollar bills exist precisely because there is such a thing as a real twenty-dollar bill.

Desire especially the gift of prophecy. I do. Not so I can be some TV "prophet," but so God can speak through me to strengthen, comfort, and encourage the many people I love and minister to. My desire for the gift of prophecy is accompanied by a deepening sense of my own indequacy to really help people. Have you ever counseled failing marriages, drug addicts, sex addicts. control addicts, bondage-situations, and the like? I have and do all the time. In my own strength and on my own talents and abilities the success rate is far short of 100%. Do I think an all-knowing God has the keys to unlock and open the doors to freedom? Of course. Do I think an all-loving God would want to set captives free? Indeed. With these truths securely in mind I find myself seeking God for other people, and asking "God, give me your healing and freeing and delivering words, and I will risk communicating them to your children."

Remain in Jesus, dwell in the perichoretic Tri-unity, let God make his home in you, and more and more God's thoughts will be your thoughts. Speak God's thoughts to others. That's prophecy.

(Josh Bentley and I will teach a Prophecy class at Redeemer in the winter, Tuesdays, 5-7 PM. For information call 734-242-5277.)

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

"Science" Defined


What, if anything, can "science" tell us about value, or about God's existence or non-existence? To get at these things it seems obvious that we need some shared idea of just what "science" is. How shall we define "science?" Alvin Plantinga, in his Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry "Religion and Science," shows just how difficult it is to give "science" any definition. What shakes down for him, after explaining various ideas about science, is this:

"Perhaps the best we can do, with respect to characterizing science, is to say that the term ‘science’ applies to any activity that is (1) a systematic and disciplined enterprise aimed at finding out truth about our world,[1] and (2) has significant empirical involvement. This is of course vague (How systematic? How disciplined? How much empirical involvement?) and perhaps unduly permissive. (Does astrology count as science, even if only bad science?) Still, we do have many excellent examples of science, and excellent examples of non-science."

If we have examples of science and non-science why, then, is it important to define "science?" And if we have trouble doing this, so what, since we have excellent examples of both science and non-science? Because, among other things, of the need to be able to judge the many claims that do not have essentially to do with the doing of science, but rather concern "science" as such. As, for example, the statement Science and religion conflict.

"Theism" Defined


It's always important to define terms when making an argument. In the philosophy of religion one must define "theism." Alvin Plantinga defines it this way: "theism is the belief that there is an all-powerful, all-knowing perfectly good immaterial person who has created the world, has created human beings ‘in his own image,’ and to whom we owe worship, obedience and allegiance."

So, when arguing for the existence of the God of theism, or when claiming that belief in the God of theism can be understood to be properly basic, we are using this definition.

Claiming Victimhood Is the New Multicultural Sport


(Priest, in Jerusalem)

N.T. Wright, in Evil and the Justice of God, writes:

"We can project evil on to others, generating a culture of blame: it's always somebody else's fault, it's ociety's fault, it's the government's fault, and I am an innocent victim. Claiming the status of victim has become the new multicultural sport, as people scramble for the moral high ground in which they can emerge as pure and clean, and everybody else is to blame." (29)

Every week I meet someone who makes a choice that is evil and wreaks untold havoc on their marriage and family. It's only Tuesday and it's already happened a few times. The evil-wreaking soul then looks at all the nuclear residue they have launched and asks, in dismay and to my amazement, why people are talking about them. They are "victim," and others are to blame for their transgressions. As wild as this might sound, I have been blamed for not seeing the tragic transgression coming and stopping it before it happened.

When the rescuer enters into the post-transgression rubble and tries to save all that can be saved, the rescuer can get crucified on a cross erected on top of the mountain of evil. I am not complaining, and less and less do I fall into the trap of thinking that my real shortcomings are responsible for someone else's sin. I mean, if you are going to get crucified, get crucified for the right reasons.

There are real, true, undeserving victims in life. There are also faux-victims, many of them. There have been, since the Garden-event, when the fingers of Eve and Adam began pointing at one another. There will be because Satan, in the book of Revelation, is called "the accuser." Blaming is the name of his game.

Most likely, you are not a victim in your circumstances. Take responsibility. Own up to your own transgressions. Be yourself changed. When the breakup begins to happen in you you will see breakthrough happening around you.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Kenneth Miller On the Limits of Science


"In the end you have no answer to why science works, why the physical logic of natural law makes life possible, or why the human mind is able to explore and understand nature. And I agree that there is no scientific answer to such questions. That is precisely the point of faith–to order and rationalize our encounters with the world around us. Faith is human, and therefore imperfect. But faith expresses, however poorly, a reality that includes the scientific experience in every sense, and therefore has become more relevant than ever in our scientific age."


- Kenneth Miller, in his debate with C Hitchens

So, science qua science has limits. Not everyone understands this. My previous experience in a church that was filled with scientists tells me that a lot of actual scientists do understand the limits of science. With this in mind we see that we cannot escape questions of value, about which science says nothing. Questions about meaning, truth, beauty, love, right, wrong, good, and evil. These are the domains of philosophy and religion.

Why December 25?


(Church of the Nativity, Jerusalem)

Was Jesus born on December 25? Probably not.

Was December 25 recognized as Jesus' birth because it was borrowed from pagan celebrations? Probably not. Christmas is not really a spinoff from pagan solar festivals.

How, then, has December 25 come to be associated with the birth of Jesus? The current issue of Biblical Archaeological Review has a theory. ("How December 25 Became Christmas")  The theory goes as follows.

  • Jesus' birth may lie in the dating of Jesus' death at Passover.
  • Around 200 AD Tertullian "reported the calculation that the 14th of Nisan (the day of the crucifixion according to the Gospel of John) in the year Jesus died was equivalent to March 25 in the Roman (solar) calendar. 9March 25 is, of course, nine months before December 25; it was later recognized as the Feast of the Annunciation—the commemoration of Jesus’ conception.10 Thus, Jesus was believed to have been conceived and crucified on the same day of the year. Exactly nine months later, Jesus was born, on December 25.d."
  • BAR cites other sources that reason this way.
  • This way of reasoning, while sounding strange to us, "reflects ancient and medieval understandings of the whole of salvation being bound up together."
  • "The notion that creation and redemption should occur at the same time of year is also reflected in ancient Jewish tradition, recorded in the Talmud."
  • BAR says that, although of course we cannot be sure about this, the idea that December 25 as Christmas is derived from pagan celebrations has problems. "The actual date might really derive more from Judaism—from Jesus’ death at Passover, and from the rabbinic notion that great things might be expected, again and again, at the same time of the year—than from paganism."

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Dinesh D'Souza on the Genetic Fallacy


In my two MCCC Logic classes I've just finished teaching Hurley's section on informal logical fallacies. One such fallacy (not mentioned by Hurley) is the genetic fallacy. The genetic fallacy is a type of "fallacy of relevance." That is, in logic, there are certain statements that have no relevance to the validity and soundness (in dedictive arguments), or probability and cogency (in inductive arguments) of an argument. Such as, e.g., one's life circumstances, psychological condition, personal biases, ethnic background, past and present experiences, and so on. For example, one could be a chainsmoker and make an argument that concludes with the statement "Therefore, you should not smoke cigarettes." The historical fact that the person making this argument is a chainsmoker is, logically and completely, irrelevant to the strength or weakness of the argument. So I, as a Christian theist, can make an argument for the truth of Christian theism and am immune from ad hominem accusations. This is an important thing to understand when it comes to logic. I find that many of my students consistently find this difficult to grasp. They are enamored with the perceived strength of ad hominem reasoning.

Dinesh D'Souza, in his new book Life After Death: The Evidence, talks about the genetic fallacy as used, he feels, by certain atheists. For example, it is a sociological fact that the statement Religious diversity exists is true. If you were born in India, as D.Souza was, you would most likely be a Hindu rather than a Christian or a Jew (as D'Souza was). While that sociological statement is true, its truth has (watch closely...) no logical relevance as regards the statements such as The Hindu worldview is true, or Christian theism is true. D' Souza writes:

"The atheist is simply wrong to assume that religious diversity undermines the truth of religious claims... [T]he fact that you learned your Christianity because you grew up in the Bible Belt [does not] imply anything about whether those beliefs are true or false. The atheist is guilty here of what in logic is called the "genetic fallacy." The term does not refer to genes; it refers to origins. Think of it this way. If you are raised in New York, you are more likely to believe in Einstein's theory of relativity than if you are raised in New Guinea. Someone from Oxford, England, is more likely to be an atheist than someone from Oxford, Mississippi. The geographical roots of your beliefs have no bearing on the validity of your beliefs." (38-39, emphasis mine)

As far as I can tell, that's just straight logic. Logic is about formulating and evaluating arguments. Arguments are made of statements, one or more of which is a premise, and one of which is a conclusion. From the premise(s) to the conclusion there must be a claim of inference. The claim of inference is the logic-thing. Apart from that, strictly speaking, philosopher-logicians are uninterested in any sociological, anthropological, or psychological data no matter if such data are true. Personally, I do think there are other ways to evaluate truth-issues than just brute logic. But, from a logical standpoint, D'Souza is correct when he says "The geographical roots of your beliefs have no bearing on the validity of your beliefs."