Sunday, February 28, 2010

Scot McKnight on Brian McLaren

New Testament scholar Scot McKnight reviews Brian McLaren's A New Kind of Christianity here. He finds Brian's new book more "evolutionary" than "revolutionary."

Jesus-Followers Are the "New Internationalists"

In yesterday's columnist Nicholas Kristof applauds Richard Stearns and World Vision for "doing superb work on issues from human trafficking in India to mass rape in Congo." World Vision is "the largest U.S.-based international relief and development organization." Kristof, who is no special fan of conservative Christianity, applauds the work and visionary writing of Stearns. Evangelicals, thanks to Stearns and World Vision and groups like it, have become "the new internationalists," replacing "Democrats and liberals."

Stearns is the author of the phenomenal The Hole In Our Gospel. Read it to have your world rocked.

Kristof has written a follow-up to his essay, clarifying some things. He has already received (as I write) 223 comments on the original essay.

Here in Monroe we're part of Godworks, a Soup Kitchen and coming Food Pantry that provides meals every day in our community. Plus in my church we're doing a lot of things like helping girls get out of sex-trafficking to assisting unwed mothers. So when I hear Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris tell me that religion is intrinsically evil I wonder what planet they are living on. Kristof's essay does some more debunking of the Dawkins-Harris myth.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Human Dignity

I like this quote on abortion from Gilbert Meilander's Neither Beast Nor God: The Dignity of the Human Person (cited in Jewish Review of Books, Numer 1, Spring 2010):

"[E]ven bracketing entirely more general arguments about abortion—the ready acceptance of abortion of “defective” fetuses (or, now, assisted reproduction procedures in which “defective” embryos are selected against) violates the human dignity we share. It sets aside the fundamental bond of parents and children, inserting choice in the place of love and acceptance, and teaching us thereby that we must justify our continued existence, especially when we constitute a burden to others. That is inhumane in the most precise sense, for it drains moral significance from a relationship which deeply marks our human identity and which makes space in life for a love that need not be earned."

Note Meilander's reasoning: If we are a burden to others, we must justify our existence. Thus, this kind of "love" is something we must earn. That is precisely not the kind of love Jesus came to demonstrate. The earning of love on the basis of one's talents, abilities, situatedness, productivity, potential, and beauty is anti-Christ "love," the kind of thing Jesus came to overcome and defeat. Perhaps such "love" is better understood as hatred; i.e., a revulsion at having to live any part of one's life with another who is a burden.

Regarding Meilander's quote, Shalom Carmy of Yeshiva university comments: "The fact that many traditional rabbinic authorities would permit abortion of severely deformed fetuses does not diminish the profundity of this insight. There is a world of difference between the tragic recognition that parents may be unable to bear a burden, on the one hand, and the belief that such a fetus may be deemed unwanted and thus disposable, on the other."

Meilander's book has received some very positive reviews.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Auction + Luncheon for Mercy House Tomorrow

One of the ministries we support is New Beginnings Mercy House, which is headed up by Brenda Pawlicki of Redeemer.

Tomorrow we will have a Quilt & Art Auction + Salad Luncheon in our fellowship hall to raise money for Mercy House.

Sat., Feb. 27, noon - Redeemer Fellowship Church
5305 Evergreen
Monroe, MI

Redeemer Ministry School Spring Classes

If you would like to enroll in one of RMS's Spring classes here is the information.

We are also receiving applications for our 2010-2011 class. If you want to spend 10 months of intense Kingdom of God study that is both academic and experiential, check our our website for more details.

Kingdom of God III: Historical Study of the Moves of God – Josh Bentley

Description: This course will survey many geographical locations throughout history that have experienced a sustained Move of God. There will be great attention paid to the origins, characteristics, and demises of each move of God.

Class meets: Tuesdays & Thursdays, 9:30-11 AM

Apologetics – John Piippo

Description: The word “apologetics” means: to defend one’s faith. In this course students will especially learn to defend: 1) the existence of God; 2) the existence of and person of Jesus Christ, with emphasis on the historical resurrection; 3) the belief that God is all-loving and all-powerful even though there is evil and suffering in the world; and 4) the belief that Jesus is God incarnate, and that historically he rose from the dead.

Class meets: Wednesdays, 9:30 AM – 1 PM

Leadership – Jim Hunter

Description: This course will introduce students to servant leadership principles. Our basic assumption will be: leaders for Christ are themselves led by Christ. Students will not only study leadership principles but will engage in the practice of authentic servant leadership.

Class meets: Thursdays, 5-7 PM

Worship III: Creativity and Worship – Holly Benner & Gary Wilson

Description: Have you ever noticed how many different methods of worship are found in the Bible? Singing, clapping, dancing, building, shouting, kneeling, playing instruments, giving… the list goes on! We are the Body of Christ, and God has fashioned each one of us to give Him a facet of praise that is unique from the person next to us. Creativity and Worship will explore how to find the creativity inside of you and to use that to honor God. Gary Wilson will be teaching a portion of this class. Gary is an elder at RFC and also an art professor at MCCC.

Class meets: Fridays, 9:30 AM – 1 PM

Cost: $240/class. If you want to enroll in a class but cannot afford this please contact Dr. John Piippo at 734-242-5277.

NOTE: We’re offering Jim Hunter’s Leadership class for $75/student. If you want to take the class but cannot afford the $75 please contact Dr. John Piippo at 734-242-5277.

Classes begin March 23 and run through the first week of June.

Slavoj Zizek & "The Monstrosity of Christ"

I am reading The Monstrosity of Christ by Marxist-atheist Slavoj Zizek. You can download "Monstrosity" online for free.

There is a very clear intro to what Zizek and Milbank the theist are dialoguing about, which is the possibility of a Hegelian synthesis of Christian theology and Marxist atheism to combat "capitalistic nihilism." Very interesting!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Slavoj Zizek on Apophasis & Capitalistic Nihilism

(Slavoj Zizek)

Here's a little  bit of rambling writing with some autobiography added as I am picking up Tony Myers's book Slavoj Zizek. Zizek is a Slovenian philosopher who has been referred to "the wild man of theory." This in itself might be enough to make me want to find out about him. But I have heard of him, not only in philosophical but also theological contexts. Zizek the atheist is interested in Christianity. I want to know why theology matters to him. I'm interested in brilliant crazy people (like Nietzsche), wondering if their craziness is precisely the does of reality we need to see. So, I'm looking into a book on Zizek before I actually read him as he dialogues with John Milbank in The Monstrosity of Christ: Paradox or Dialectic?

A little bit about Zizek. "Zizek's subject matter is the hole in the discourse of philosophy." (Myers, 3) The rhetorical figure used to describe this kind of thinking is apophasis. "Apophasis is the device of mentioning a subject by saying you will not mention it - for example, 'under no circumstances will I be drawn to discuss the minister's infidelity'." (Ib.) Myers says that "apophasis articulates a kind of hole in a discourse." (Ib.) Zizek apophatically talks about what should not be talked about in philosophy. It appears that this will be important methodologically.

Time for a tangent. I am now thinking of a distinction that is made in the history of Christian spirituality; viz., the distinction between apophatic and kataphatic spirituality. "Apophatic" spirituality is that which approaches God without icons or iconic objects. "Kataphatic" spirituality approaches God with icons and iconic objects. Apophatic spirituality is "the spirituality of subtraction, where one finds God by subtracting from one's life everything that is not God." One finds the presence of God in what is not there. Desert spirituality is an example of this. Making a kind of analogy, it appears that Zizek's philosophy talks about what is not talked about in philosophy. This becomes a method by which one approaches philosophical issues. This method is also found in a significant strand of Christian mystical spirituality.

In my doctoral studies at Northwestern I took an independent study on Meister Eckhart with Richard Kieckhefer. There are rich connections here with me, as I have long been interested in Christian spirituality and Eckhart is the "wild man" of apophatic spirituality. I had studied and still remain fascinated to a degree by Heidegger, and Heidegger made reference to Eckhart, especially Eckhart's idea of Gelassenheit. Now here is Zizek, who is an atheist with some kind of deep appreciation for Christian theology, who will also make use of Eckhart.

The question Milbank and Zizek deal with is: "How can the theological and the material
unite to fund resistance to capitalist nihilism?" (Creston Davis, in The Monstrosity of Christ) Apparently Zizekian apophasis will play a role. The question under discussion is intriguing. (For a bit of Zizekian atheistic-theological madness go here.)

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Hebrew University Archaeologist Discovers Jerusalem City Wall From Tenth Century B.C.E.

Hebrew University archaeologist discovers Jerusalem city wall from tenth century B.C.E.

Go here.

(Below) Dr. Eilat Mazar, Hebrew University of Jerusalem archaeologist, points to the tenth century B.C.E. excavations that were uncovered under her direction in the Ophel area adjacent to the Old City...

Brian McLaren on Jesus

I really liked Brian McLaren's The Secret Message of Jesus, so much so that we use it as required reading in our ministry school. So it is with some anticipation that I begin reading Brian's Jesus-chapters in A New Kind of Christianity. Here we go!

Ch. 12 - "Who Is Jesus and Why Is he Important?"

Unfortunately, McLaren does not really answer either of these questions in this chapter. He mostly tells us who Jesus is not. I don't think you can blame this on deconstruction. So let's quickly move on to the next chapter.

Ch. 13 - "Jesus Outside the Lines"

McLaren wants us to see Jesus outside "the flat, six-line Greco-Roman narrative," but in "the three-dimensional Jewish narrative." (135) I can't help but wonder if McLaren does not have a false dichotomy here. Especially because he so, in my mind, distorts the Plato-Aristotle thing to fit his theory.

His opponent in this chapter is the Christian who reduces Jesus to just "saving souls from hell." This is too narrow and, for me, functions like a straw man. I agree that this straw man must go down. In my own ongoing investigations of what it means to be "sozo-ed" I have found a great, rich, breadth and depth in Jesus as the Sozo-er that cannot be narrowed into a fire escape from hell. Of course it's not a straw man for a fundamentalist.

McLaren writes that Jesus "came to launch a new Genesis, to led a new Exodus, and announce, embody, and inaugurate a new kingdom as the Prince of Peace (Isa. 9:6)." In the past few years I have been deeply impressed with N.T. Wright's understanding of the Jesus-story as echoing the Exodus story. At many points it seems like Jesus is deliberately making these connections, which would resonate with his Jewish listeners. In this chapter McLaren finds Genesis and Exodus echoes, seemingly, everywhere in, e.g., the Gospel of John. At times I find msyelf wondering if he's not so desirous of finding these echoes to make his hermeneutical points that he hears them everywhere. I'm just not in a place to trust his ears. My mistrust began early in this book. The root of this is that I remaining unconvinced of his construction of the "six-line Greco-Roman precritical lens" through which, he thinks, a lot of Christendom has viewed Jesus. I don't doubt that we all have precritical lenses. I just am not buying into the way he characterizes things and then pigeonholes everyone into when they disagree with him. That's way too easy for me.

I do agree that we should "read" Jesus through the lens of "Jesus' Bible" (as my friend Hal Ronning puts it) rather than through Plato and Aristotle and other Greco-Romans. In this regard I am with him. As should you be, if you are interested in knowing the Real Jesus.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Brian McLaren On the God of the Old Testament

(Upward-evolutionary progress of the M4 Carbine)

One of Brian McLaren's "ten questions that are transforming the faith is "the God question: Is God violent?" (A New Kind of Christianity, 19) He deals with the question in chs. 10 & 11. Brian's solution is this: Read the Bible as an ongoing conversation about the character of God.

Why does God appear so violent in some passages of the Bible? McLaren writes: "We suggest this hypothesis: if the human beings who produced those passages were violent in their own development, they would naturally see God through the lens of their experience." (106)

For Brian it's not that God's character changes, "as if God used to be rather adolescent, but has taken a turn for the better and is growing up nicely over the last few centuries. I am saying that human beings can't do better than their very best at any given moment to communicate about God as they understand God, and that Scripture faithfully reveals the evolution of our ancestors' best attempts to communicate their successive best understandings of God. As human capacity grows to conceive of a higher and wiser view of God, each new vision is faithfully preserved in Scripture like fossils in layers of sediment." (103)

What McLaren says next reminds me of good old-fashioned "progressive revelation." He writes: "Consider the Bible a collection of math textbooks. There's a first-grade text, a second-grade text, and so on, all the way up to high school texts..." (103)

McLaren seems to say that there is a biblical progression/evolution of the portrayal of God that is function of a spiritual and moral human evolution. Consider his "time machine" analogy. Imagine taking a time machine from today to the year 3013. "When we arrive, we find that people in the future are deeply spiritual. They have continued to grow in the knowledge and ways of the Lord over these many centuries. And they have grown socially as well as spiritually." For example, "they no longer fight wars. All conflicts are resolved through peaceful negotiation." (106)

If I read McLaren correctly his answer to the "Is God violent?" question is as follows.

  • Old Testament people were in "kindergarten" morally and spiritually. So, they portrayed God in a kind of Feuerbachian projection of their own moral and spiritual immaturity. McLaren's footnote on religion and brain activity is suggestive here. (273, fn. 4. See also Ib., fn 5, re. his "ontogeny recapitulates our phylogeny" quote.)
  • As people morally and spiritually advanced, so did the biblical characterizations of God.
  • When we get to the first century we have Jesus, a man of peace and love and sacrifice and humility.
  • Historically, we keep "trading up" our understandings of God. See McLaren's diagrams on pp. 112-113 that illustrate his upward-evolutionary understanding of God.
  • If we keep going at this rate by the year 3013 we'll all be vegan pacifists. (Yes, that's right - see p. 106)
I wonder about what McLaren is doing here. In these ways:
  • While progressive revelation makes some sense to me, the idea that humans have progressed and are progressing morally and spiritually does not make sense. We just left a century of unprecedented mass violence. As I read the biblical texts from a non-constitutional POV, I do not see a lot of human moral and spiritual progress. I feel certain that if McLaren tried to make a case for this kind of progress he'd find many scholarly resistors of all theological and atheological kinds.
  • If first-century humans communicated their wisest and best about God I do not think they would have come up with Jesus. So the biblical protrayal of Jesus is not in sync with human moral and spiritual development. On a "progressive revelation" viewpoint (rather than an evolutionary viewpoint) increasing revelation of God need not be in sync with human moral and spiritual development.
  • I am not convinced with McLaren's answer to the violent-God-of-the-OT question. To me it's more Darwinian, or socio-anthropological, then textual. I am quite intersted in the work Paul Copan is doing, and anxiously await Greg Boyd's forthcoming book on the subject. Plus the forthcoming text that came out of the recent Notre Dame conference on OT God vs. NT God.
  • I feel McLaren is working way too hard to fit the biblical texts into a theory, rather than let a theory emerge out of the biblical texts.
  • As I read these two chapters I could not help but think, "Am I missing something here? Why am I not buying into what he's writing? And why are there virtually no scholarly footnotes supporting what I see to be an outlandish thesis? Does he have support elsewhere? And why do I tire of all of his questions - sometimes a page or more of nothing but questions? Is he trying to model a conversational approach with me, the reader? I don't know...

The Full Measure of Jesus' Joy

(A hummingbird, at "the cove" in La Jolla.)

Jesus, in John 17:13, prays "[Father] I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they [Jesus' disciples] may have the full measure of my joy within them." What does Jesus mean by "the full measure of my joy?"

The source of Jesus' joy comes from his obedience to the will of the Father. The joy of Jesus lies in dwelling in the Trinitarian perichoretic union (what I am referring to as "The Big Dance"). In this union the Father, Son, and Spirit are in a loving, joy-filled unity about plans and values. Out of this unity flows, inexorably, "obedience." When you love the Mission the living out of the Mission is a no-brainer. It's not true that from obedience comes love. It is always true that from love comes obedience.

For example, let's say you love Breyer's ice cream. Which, BTW, you probably do. Along comes me, and I issue this command to you: "I command you to eat Breyer's ice cream." You say, "OK." And it is your great joy to do this. Because from love flows joyful obedience. To accomplish the command, even to envisage the accomplishing of the command, brings joy.

Jesus once gave this conditional statement: "If you love me, you will keep my commands." As an analogy to explain, consider this conditional statement: If it rains, the ground gets wet. But of course. Always. Necessarily. In the same way if you love Jesus, you will keep his commands. Of course.

Jesus loves the Father in a unitive way; therefore Jesus keeps the commands of the Father. Because he and the Father are "one." They are of one heart and one mind. With this in mind New Testament scholar Andreas Kostenberger writes: “Jesus holds up his desire for his followers that they experience ‘the full measure of my joy,’ which is predicated upon remaining in the Father’s love and continued obedience to Jesus.” (Kostenberger, The Gospel of John, 495)

What this means for you and I is that we are promised the full joy of Jesus as we lovingly abide in him. To be where Jesus is, to follow after Jesus, to do the things Jesus does and even greater things than he did on earth - that’s when the joy-thing happens. And nothing can steal this joy from us. Not even suffering. The reality of the joy of the Lord is not a function of one's life circumstances. This joy can be known in the midst of the world’s hostility. Remember that Paul writes the most about “joy” when he is in prison. For Paul there was nothing that could separate him from the love of Christ. (Romans 8:38-39)

Or, consider Jesus. "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." (Hebrews 12:2) "Joy" and "enduring the shameful cross" seem to be mutually exclusive things. Yet the claim is that they are not. The ups-and-downs of life do not serve to allow or disallow the experience of joy. "Joy" comes from the Jesus-connection, like a branch connected to a vine. Jesus has joy as he faces the suffering that is to come because his joy is not about the elimination of pain but doing the will of the Father.

My greatest joy-filled moments increasingly have to do with participating in the redemptive activity of Jesus. The "commands" of Jesus are life-giving. I have found that the cost of discipleship is far less than the cost of non-discpleship.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Slogging Through Brian McLaren's New Book

("Job's Evil Dreams" - William Blake

I am slogging my way through Brian McLaren's new book, A New Kind of Christianity. It's rough going because, among other things, I don't find it (so far) well-written. For example, I just read ch. 7, "How Should the Bible Be Understood?," and found that the chapter does not at all answer that question. It does, however, give a long treatise on how the Bible should not be understood using the historical example of using the Bible to defend slavery.

In ch. 8 McLaren begins to get at an answer to his own question. But he still spends most of that chapter telling us (again) how not to read the Bible; in this case, not as a "constitution." He ends the chapter by suggesting that the Bible be read as an "inspired library." But 99% of this chapter is still telling us how the Bible should not be read.

I agree that we need to read the Bible differently. So far (up to p. 87) we have a lot of stuff on how not to read it. I am waiting. I think it's far easier to critique approaches to reading the Bible than to establish an alternative hermeneutic. I suspect that's why, so far, we've got mostly criticism (albeit of the gentle variety) than an alternative to the positions McLaren rejects.

McLaren Chapter 9 - "Revelation Through Conversation"

McLaren continues his attacks on the "constitutional reading of the Bible." Such a reading is incorrect and leads to ridiculous siutations. I agree. I also agree I have been largely taught such a method. I am thinking that my seminary professors did not teach me this method. But I wonder if they were allowed to teach me otherwise? If they could have taught me a more clearly biblical method without losing their jobs? Perhaps I would have been in line to dismiss them?

McLaren's presentation of the book of Job is, I think, well done. If every verse of the entire Bible presents revelation from God in some constitutional sense, then we're in the land of the very weird. McLaren affirms that there is God-revelation in Job, but we cannot access it if we come at the text constutionally. For example, McLaren writes:

"The meaning of the revelation that we carry away after reading the text takes shape in relation to the long-winded and false arguments that we find in its long middle section. Revelation thus happens through the course of the conversation, in the tension of the argument, through the interplay of statement and counterstatement. To snatch a verse from Job 10 or 14 or 23 would work fine if it were a constitution, but if it's this kind of story and conversation, verse snatching mocks reverent reading." (90)

Yup. More...

"To say that the Word (the message, meaning, or revelation) of God is in the biblical text, then, does not mean that you can extract verses or statements from the text at will and call them "God's words." It means that if we enter the text together and feel the flow of its arguments, get stuck in its points of tension, and struggle with its unfolding plot in all its twists and turns, God's revelation can happen to us. We can reach the point that Job and company did at the end of the book, where, after a lot of conflicted human talk and a conspicuously long divine silence, we finally hear God's voice." (91)

Note that God himself says, in Job, that all the stuff Job's three "conforters" say is a bunch of trash. But those good-for-the-garbage-can words of Job's three interlocutors are in the Bible. So, are those words from God? Nope. Can't be. Because God himself says they are not. Yet those un-God words are in the biblical text. Therefore every word and verse in the biblical text is not of God. God did not inspire the uninspired words of Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. But they are recorded in the Bible. Does that mean God does not reveal things to us through the Job story? Of course not. For beginners, just look at the effect of this story in the history of discussion re. the "problem of evil."

I find McLaren, so far...

... strong on exposing and criticizing the constitutional approach to the Bible
... good when he gives his treatment of Job (even though it's still brief)
... poor on explaining his "inspired library" theory to the Bible (because it's easier to tear down than to build up)

Much better, I think, is N.T. Wright's The Last Word.

Next, he takes on the issue: "Is God Violent?" (ch. 10)

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Brian McLaren Doesn't Know What "Deconstruction" Is

Brian McLaren only uses the word "deconstruction" a few times in A New Kind of Christianity. When he does use it, I think he misuses it. He may think he's deconstructing the biblical narrative, but I doubt it.

McLaren writes: "When I was in graduate school, the practice of "deconstruction" was in its ascendency, providing me yet another advantage as I have pursued this quest. Deconstruction is not destruction, as many erroneously assume, but rather careful and loving attention to the construction of ideas, beliefs, systems, values, and cultures." (55)

Not quite. Almost: not at all. It is true that deconstruction does not equal "destruction." But the rest of McLaren's explanation of "deconstruction" is so general that it could apply to almost anything. For the actual meaning of "deconstruction" go here or here. In the latter essay James Faulconer defines Derrida's idea of deconstruction as: "showing that something has been left out or overlooked, that omission is structural to any text -- and that we can find those omissions in the structure of the text -- without necessarily being able to specify what has been omitted."

Check out these defintions of "deconstruction" gathered from many sources and you won't recognize McLaren's anywhere. So what's my point, and why raise it? Because McLaren thinks he is deconstructing the Bible to get at its real meaning. He writes: "When you approach the Bible literarily, aided by these kind of advantages [such as deconstruction], the Genesis narrative sets the stage for what follows. As we've seen, it's the story of a good creation mrred by expanding human evil, countered by divine faithfulness, leading to profound reconciliation and healing." (56) With this quote in mind, consider what Rebecca Goldstein has to say:  "In deconstruction, the critic claims there is no meaning to be found in the actual text, but only in the various, often mutually irreconcilable, 'virtual texts' constructed by readers in their search for meaning." (Cited here)

On deconstruction, is there a meaning in the text? (See here, p. 373) Wrong question. Vanhoozer says that deconstruction denies that there is a center to the text. (Ib.) But deconstruction, as a way of undoing interpretations, can show us what a text is not. Presumably that is not something McLaren wishes to do as he gives us an interpretation of what he thinks the biblical story is.

Brian McLaren's Mistaken Spin on Greek Philosophy

(Plato & Aristotle, by Raphael. Note that Plato is pointing up, Aristotle is motioning down.)

In A New Kind of Christianity Brian McLaren likens the Western Church's view of the biblical story line to Greek thinking of "an 'ontological fall' from Platonic being and transcendent state down into Aristotelian becoming and debased story." (50) This is because Western Church scholars, since the 4th and 5th centuries, read the Judeo-Christian story backwards rather than frontwards.

McLaren thinks the Christian idea of a Genesis "Fall" is not biblical, but is a reflection of the Greek philosophical "fall" from Platonic idealism into Aristotelian realism. While surely it is true that a lot of Christian theology is a result of beginning with Greek-philosophical categories and reading them into the biblical narrative, I think McLaren is working too hard to create a Greek philosophical story line out of one that's not there. Greek philosophical history cannot be simplistically reduced to a story line that reads: Platonic ideal/being...   "Fall" into the cave of illusion... Aristotelian real/becoming... which leads to Greek Hades...  or "Salvation" and a return to the Platonic ideal.

I don't think so. Why do I have this feeling that a lot of Greek philosophy scholars would start laughing at McLaren's analysis? Probably because I studied with people like Reginald Allen at Northwestern, and took his course on Aristotle's Metaphysics. The move from Plato to Aristotle is not some kind of "Fall." Aristotle did not "fall" from the lofty idealism of Plato. Plato and Aristotle become twin forces that influence Christian theologizing. McLaren offers no scholarly philosophical footnotes to support his odd thesis. I doubt that he can. I find the idea that the Christian idea of the "Fall" is indebted to some kind of a "fall" from Plato to Aristotle just bad philosophy as well as bad history.

So, for me, McLaren's book gets off to a bad start.

60 and (Not) Pregnant

This Tuesday MTV will show an episode of "16 and Pregnant" that was partially filmed at our church's building. It happened this way.

A 16-year old girl named Nikki who lives in Monroe County got pregnant. The producers of "16 & Pregnant" connected with her. Nikki and her family wanted to do a baby shower. One of Nikki's relatives is part of our church family, and asked if they could do the baby shower at Redeemer. I and our leaders said "yes."

Prior to our decision I watched a few episodes of "16 & Pregnant" and was mostly impressed with the realism of the show. It does not glamorize teen pregnancy. And, in every episode, the pregnant teen gives birth to the baby. Yay!

On a Saturday back in the fall the film crew & director arrived. I greeted them, then got out of the way. Since I know some of the family we talked together. There were a lot of people in our church's gym and a really big pile of presents for the coming baby. The family asked me to say a prayer to begin the event. I said "Of course!" I prayed that God's Kingdom would come upon this baby shower, and prayed for Nikki, Josh, and the baby. I knew that my Jesus, the Real Jesus, was in this place. Both Nikki's and Josh's moms thanked us for allowing them to have the shower at Redeemer.

The director and film crew were polite and very professional, business-like. As I talked with the director I had an idea and ran it by her. I said, "Look, I'm 60 years old. How about you guys starting a new TV series featuring me and call it "60 and Not Pregnant?"" I am now trying to remember the look that she gave me.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Noetic Effects of Sin

Sometimes I make a post simply for my own sake; e.g., to reference something I am interested in and may want to get into later. So, here I am reading an interview with Taylor University philosophy professor James Spiegel on his new book The Making of an Atheist: How Immorality Leads to Unbelief.

Spiegel's thesis is: the cause of atheistic belief is that "sinful behaviors cloud and distort cognition... [because] volitional factors impact belief-formation." Spiegel is especially influenced by the work Alvin Plantinga has done in his Warranted Christian Belief. This has to do with the "noetic effects of sin"; viz., that one's noetic framework either illuminates or darkens one's experience of God.

Spiegel states how difficult it is for the noetic framework of atheism to discuss evil. "The very notion of “evil” presupposes a standard for goodness which atheism cannot provide. Any notion of evil or, for that matter, how things ought to be, whether morally or in terms of natural events, must rely on some standard or ideal that transcends the physical world. Only some form of supernaturalism, such as theism, can supply this. So to the extent that atheists acknowledge the reality of evil, they depart from their own commitment to naturalism."

Spiegel discusses the controversial thesis of Paul Vitz; viz., the idea that many atheists are that way because of broken relationships with their fathers. Spiegel says: "In his provocative little book, The Faith of the Fatherless, psychologist Paul Vitz surveys the major, and many of the minor, atheist scholars of the modern period. He finds that the one thing these thinkers—e.g., Hobbes, Voltaire, Hume, Nietzsche, Russell, Freud, Sartre, etc.—have in common is a severely broken relationship with their father. In accounting for atheism, Vitz turns the tables on Freudians who aim to explain away theistic belief as a cosmic projection of one’s father image. In fact, the opposite seems to be the case: atheists’ broken father relationships prompt their refusal to recognize the reality of God."

Surely any strong atheist will protest, even finding Spiegel's thesis silly. But the Plantingian point that is being made is that, of course it will appear silly given one's naturalistic noetic framework. The real issue is that of adjudicating between such fraemworks.

Religion Is Not Essentially Evil

(Thank you Gary Larson - one of the most creative cartoonists ever...)

Dinesh D'Souza is such a solid thinker and excellent writer. When he takes on the New Atheists he makes them look like simpletons (which, philosophically, Dawkins and Hitchens are, but not of course Dennett). Yet Dennett appears the simpleton when he makes a statement like "the belief in a reward in heaven can sometimes motivate acts of monstrous evil." (In D'Souza, Life After Death, 196)

Maybe, but if so only for a very few. If there are a few who do monstrous acts of evil for the sake of gaining a reward in heaven, this does not logically impliy that all of religion is intrinsically evil. D'Souza pointed this out in What's So Great About Christianity, and makes the point again in Life After Death. D'Souza scores points against this facile atheistic claim in the following ways.

  • Studies have shown that even radical Muslims don't launch suicide attacks in quest of heaven. Typically they are driven by more mundane motives. For example, "they are corrupting our culture," or "they stole our land."
  • "The vast majority of people in the world believe in life after death, and yet hardly any of them launch suicide strikes in the hope of hastening their journey to heavenly bliss." (Life After Death, 187) Indeed. I believe in life after death, but confess to have never even entertained the thought of becoming a suicide bomber, though I have had some anger issues.
  • "So the atheist attempt to indict all religion for the crimes of the radical Muslims fails." (Ib.)
  • "In the last hundred years [atheist] regimes, led by people like Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Nicolae Ceausescu, Enver Hoxha, Fidel Castro, Kim Jong -Il, and others, have murdered more than  100 million people." (Ib., 189)
  • Dawkins protests against this kind of reasoning, seeking to minimize the crimes of atheist regimes by arguing that "individual atheists may do evil things but they don't do evil things in the name of atheism." (Quoted in Ib.) D'Souza responds by accusing Dawkins of historical ignorance. For example, "atheism is not incidental to the Communist scheme; it is absolutely central. The whole idea is to create a new man and a new utopia free of the shackles of traditional religion and traditional morality." (Ib.)
Finally, D'Souza goes on to show  not only that religion is not toxic and bad for society, it is good for society. He supports this with points like these.

  • The great artistic achievements of the West are fueled by the sense of the transcendent. This sense "animates, even if implicitly, our sense of the good, the true, and the beautiful." (Ib., 189)
  • "Several of the greatest ideas and institutions of Western civilization were shaped by a similar vision of transcendence." (Ib., 190) For example, the cofre idea of Western liberalism, the idea of the separation between state and society, finds its roots not in ancient Greek culture, but in Augustine's City of God. D'Souza spends several pages in this. D'Souza is especially qualified to speak on this issue.
  • The ideas of human dignity and human rights not only find their roots in a religion such as Christian theism, but are better explained on Christian theism than on atheism. For example, the first organized campaigns against slavery in America, early in the 18th century, were led by Quakers and evangelical Christians who were motivated by a biblical teaching: viz., "the simple idea that we are all equal i the eyes of God." (Ib., 198) As before, D'Souza spends many pages establishing this point.
For anyone captivated by the current atheistic pop-idea that religion is essentially evil and non-beneficial to society, D'Souza's analysis reveals that idea's simple-mindedness. As New Atheist Christopher Hitchens says on the back of the book jacket: "Never one to be daunted by attempting the impossible, Dinesh D'Souza here shows again the argumentative skills that make him such a formidable opponent."

Covenant-Welded Marriage vs. Cohabiting

(I bought these roses for Linda on Valentine's Day.)

I was meeting with someone this week who cohabits with someone of the opposite sex. They live in the same apartment, have sex together, and act like they are married. But they are not married, by their own admission. This person asked me, "What is marriage, anyway?" By the look on their face I could tell they really wanted to know. Here are some things I told them, plus a few other points I'd like to make.
  • Marriage is covenant; co-habiting is not. At least not from God's POV. Which is important to all of us who follow after Jesus. Co-habiting outside of covenant is not a Jesus-thing.
  • Marriage, Jesus-style, is a covenant-welding-together of a man and a woman. When Jesus says "What God has brought together, let no man tear asunder," the biblical Greek word for "brought together" is: "welding."
  • Marriage, which is the total God-designed thing from beginning to end, is a holy thing, in God's eyes. The sexual intercourse act is holy. "Holy" means "set apart." Sexual intercourse is to be set apart for God-welded marriage covenant relationship.
  • When I married Linda 36 1/2 years ago (!!!), we stood together in front of our parents, our families, and our closest friends. And, we stood before God. We life-committed to one another. God sealed our marital union. We spoke vows to one another. We have held to our vows. All of this fits in with Jesus' idea about "What God has welded together..." Real marriage is a God-welding. Don't mess with it, or try to tear it apart.
  • I meet co-habiters who are afraid of commitment. In general, out of my experience, a lot of co-habiting is done precisely out of fear. If the co-habiting shack-uppers claim to be "Christians," they will often try to justify their co-habiting with an exhibition of outrageous hermeneutical tricks re. the biblical text. I have personally heard some of these arguments, which cause my jaw to drop in wonder and utter, "Are you serious?"
  • The fearful mistrust of the co-habiter is rooted in some deep stuff. Perhaps their parents split. So, the main model of marital union failed before their eyes. This kind of thing can build a deep mistrust.
  • I've met some co-habiters who are, I think, caught up in the current snowball effect of rampant cohabitation. Seeing so many who shack up together for a season justifies their own psyche. If "everyone" is doing it, I don't feel so bad about it.
  • I have known a number of male co-habiters who just want to have free sex without lifelong covenant commitment. As soon as "problems" start, they are out of there. If kids are produced this is an especially sad situation.
  • Some people are just so flat-out desperate for love that they'll live with anyone who will have sex with them and tell them "I love you." 
  • I have to add that I've also seen a lot of marriages fail. They should not have. All divorce is failure. Again, if children are involved, this is so sad. But the co-habiter will be illogical should she then reason: 1) A lot of marriages fail. 2) Therefore, God doesn't mind if I live with someone extra-covenantally if we stay together longer than some marriages. I don't think so. The failure of a number of "Christian" marriages is precisely because one or both partners fail to follow Christ. This unfortunate situation does not change God's mind about covenant marriage.
The National Institute of Child Health and Development reports:

"Cohabitation, once rare, is now the norm: The researchers found that more than half (54 percent) of all first marriages between 1990 and 1994 began with unmarried cohabitation. They estimate that a majority of young men and women of marriageable age today will spend some time in a cohabiting relationship. ... Cohabiting relationships are less stable than marriages and that instabililty is increasing, the study found."

I am not surprised by this. I've met a lot of people who have been married for decades. I rarely meet a co-habiting couple that stays together that long. But from the Jesus POV, for all of us who love Jesus and follow after him on his Kingdom mission, statistics do not ultimately matter. For us, even if 99.999% of the world cohabited, our question remains: "God, what have you designed for us?" The answer remains, as it always has: Covenant-welded marriage. I think there is something noble and heroic about life-commiting before God and family and friends, and then staying together and growing together through better times and worse times. Increasingly, I view such couples as radical, revolutionary, as heroes.

Some Upside-Down Kingdom Stuff on Holiness

Here's some beautiful upside-down Kingdom stuff from Paul, the apostle, with some comments added. From 1 Corinthians 1.

V. 26 - Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.

Any student of the history of the Jesus-movement knows that it's usually the unknown, obscure person that God uses to make a needed Kingdom-point. The rich and famous, the mega-people, may make some brief historical splash, the ripplings of their impact quickly fading. Instead, "Peter"-like figures are mostly what we see. It is instructive to remember that Peter was a mere fisherman whose fishing accomplishments, on their own, were not worth remembering. Peter was: 1) not influential; 2) not of noble birth; and 3) not a rocket scientist. In this regard think of yourself, and be glad.

V. 27 - But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.

That's you, O foolish world-thing. Me too, of course. Here the "wise" and the "strong" especially refer to the "proud." The "autonomous." Historically, for the most part, the proud and autonomous people come crashing down. This is but another famous 'upside-down" move of God. Almighty God is looking for human fools who at least know that they rank among the foolish, so as to be mostly free of pride. Humility is the foundational human virtue when it comes to usability by God.

As Paul continues: He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. (vv. 28-29)

V. 30 - It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.

If you are a real follower of Jesus, then you are "in Him." Stop before this truth - no trash-talking allowed. You had nothing, in yourself you got nothing, in Christ He becomes your everything. This includes your "holiness." AKA your "sanctification"; i.e., your set-apartness for God's purposes. Get this? Christ is your holiness. What does this mean?

Andrew Murray, in Abide in Christ (ch. 9), says that as we abide in Christ and Christ the hope of glory is in us, the set-apartness (holiness) that is His becomes our's. That is precisely why Paul concludes: V. 31 - Therefore, as it is written: "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord."

Jesus, who Himself was purely consecrated to carry on the mission of the Father, sets us apart and the Spirit empowers us to do the same. The key to the entire "life in Christ" thing is, again: not to strive and "work harder" at it, but to live your life in Him, attached to Jesus as a branch is attached to a vine.

Here are some of Brandon Robinson's thoughts on Murray's Ch. 9

To abide is, an excellent embrace

In describing sanctification, Jesus’ provision of humanity’s holiness, Ander Murray says, “to have fellowship is to have something in common.” Moving from there, to fellowship with God at all, the very nature must be in common. This is the tragedy of the Old Testament. The people’s worship of God could only constantly pass through the blood of sacrifice, for the sake of His holiness. The people’s knowledge of God was restricted to knowing about Him – the stories, the songs, the traditions, God’s Holy nature, and His distance from their corrupt nature. The thought of actually knowing God, in a present, experiential way, could not have been associated with peace or excitement. Holiness is terrible to sinners.

Moving from here, to fellowship with God is the desire of His love. The holy God who is set apart exists in the love-fellowship of the 3-in-1 tri-unity. And humanity was created in an expression of this unity. Given the quandary of the sinful nature, that by holiness sin is excluded but by love the sinner is remembered, sanctification emerges as God’s delight in the multitude of created personalities. Sanctification is God’s testimony that because of His love, the specific qualities that comprise unique individuals are important. Holiness could have used broad destruction, eliminated sin and the sinner, and purified creation. Love sought a more excellent way, to both exemplify holiness and embrace the beloved.

Historical Moves of God & A Heart of Worship

My colleagues Josh Bentley and Holly Benner have excellent websites dedicated to things God has called them to and that they are thinking about.

Josh has recently been posting very good material on historical moves of God. I don't personally know anyone who knows more about these things than Josh does. It's so important to understand history - we can learn a lot, avoid mistakes made in the past, see God's diversity among peoples, etc. Josh is a real scholar in this area.

Holly is posting her material on worship on her website. Holly knows as much about the depth of worship as anyone I know. She is becoming an excellent scholar in this area, plus she has the heart to go with it.

Josh and Holly both teach in our Redeemer Ministry School.

Check out their websites -

Created To Love Him

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The God Delusion #46: Craig's Criticisms of Dawkins

I think we all know by now that Richard Dawkins, as manifested in his book The God Delusion, is not a very good philosopher. As I read it some time ago I thought of a college freshman cutting and pasting from the internet, only to publish it as a best-selling book (!). Dawkins takes on the classic philosophical arguments for the existence of God, which would be like myself going to the hospital and taking on some brain surgery on someone.

William Lane Craig, who is a brilliant philosopher, shows the essential harmlessness of Dawkins's God Delusion in an essay called "Richard Dawkins On Arguments for God" (in God Is Great, God is Good: Why Believing in God Is Reasonable & Responsible). Craig looks closely at Dawkins on the cosmological, moral, teleological (fine-tuning), and ontological arguments for God's existence. He spends much time on the fine-tuning argument, looking at the "multiverse" objection. Re. the ontological argument Craig refers to Plantinga's modal argument and Dawkins's sheer ignorance of the reasoning behind it.

Craig gets funny as he resorts to a bit Dawkins-like ad hominisms when he writes:

"Dawkins also chortles: "I've forgotten the details, but I once piqued a gathering of theologians and philosophers by adapting the ontological argument to prove that pigs can fly. They felt the need to resort to Modal Logic to prove that I was wrong.""

Craig responds: "Now this is just embarrassing. [Indeed it is...] The ontological argument is an exercise in modal logic - the logic of the possible and the necessary. [Yup.] I can just imagine Dawkins making a silly ass of himself at this profession al conference with his silly parody, just as he similarly embarrassed himself at the Templeton Foundation conference in Cambridge with his flyweight objection to the telelogical argument."

Note that the last sentence was written by Craig, not Dawkins (sounds like Dawkins, admittedly). Beneath the pejorative comment there lies the truth: Dawkins's boasting claim makes a philosopher blush with shame. As a philosopher he's a child among men.

Monday, February 15, 2010

God As Morally Definite & Divinely Elusive

(Ancient Korazin, in Israel)

Paul Moser is a modern-day Kierkegaard without all the problem of a Regina. He challenges, anew and to the good, Hegelian-type pure rationalistic approaches to God, and lifts up the moral, holy God who is essentially interested in what humans will choose.

I just read Moser's beautiful, intelligent essay "Evidence of a Morally Perfect God," in God is Great, God is Good: Why Believing in God Is Reasonable & Responsible  (by Craig & Meister).

Moser suggests, in our search to find God and with our many rationalistic arguments for God's existence, that we approach the matter differently. He gives three questions which are suggestive of his God-finding approach. They are:

1) "What if we humans, in our moral imperfection and our resistance to unselfish love, are typically not ready and willing to receive God on God's terms?" (57)

2) "What if human pride, including our desired self-suffiency, obscures our apprehending (a) who God truly is, (b) the reality of God's call to us and (c) what God wants for us?" (57)

3) "What if divinely desired human knowledge is not a spectator sport but rather calls for obedient human knowledge of God as authoritative Lord, not as a morally indefinite creator?" (57)

For Moser, these are rhetorical questions. Given in the form of statements, we then read:

1a) We humans are morally imperfect. We resist agape love which is essentially unselfish. So we are not ready to receive God on God's terms.

2a) Our human pride obscures who God really is, the reality of God's invitation to us, and what God wants for us.

3a) The search for God's existence and presence is not some abstract "spectator sport."
Obedience to a morally definite Creator is prerequisite to knowing God. We are not sitting in the bleachers of life scrutinizing a God who poses on the playing field for us to examine his attributes. God is a "moving target."

For Moser our subject-object philosophical arguments for God's existence we are looking for God in all the wrong ways and wrong places. It is no wonder, given the spectator-approach, that God remains elusive. God is Subject, and we are God's searched-out objects of love.

Evidence for a morally definite God is "invitational," and operates at the level of our consciousness. If God is falsely viewed as "morally indefinite," in the sense of emphasizing the omni-attributes of God to the expense of the essentially and actively moral character of God, one should not be surprised if God does not reveal himself to us.

Moser's essay is thick, and must be read in its entirety. I could just copy the whole thing here, which would then do it justice. Some of his writing is beautiful, and calls me to a place where I have been before and long to be now. He writes:

 "The question of evidence of God's existence should become for us humans the question of how we respond to the gift of agape toward ourselves and others. In this connection, philosophy can only remove obstacles and clear a path for something ultimately nonphilosophical, because that "thing" is uncontrollable and more profound and transformative than any philosophy. It is irreducibly person-to-person: an I-Thou acquaintance of a person with the living God. At this sacred place, humans will be in thye presence of the personal God of holy love whom Blaise Pascal met and memorialized as follows:

'God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of philosophers and scholars.

Certainty, certainty, heartfelt, joy, peace.

God of Jesus Christ, God of Jesus Christ.

My God and your God.'" (61)

Philosophy of Religion - Oral Exams

For my MCCC Philosophy of Religion students:

If you signed up to take your exam this Wed., Feb. 17, you will still take the exam on that day. Room A173a.

If you were supposed to take your exam today (Monday), you will instead take your exam next Monday, Feb. 22. Room A153.

If you have any questions please call or e-mail me.


1. Anselm's Ontological Argument for God's Existence.
2. Gaunilo's response to Anselm. Our counter-criticism of Gaunilo.
3. Kant's criticism of the Ontological Argument. Malcolm's response to Kant.
4. The Kalam Cosmological Argument for God's Existence.
5. The Fine-tuning Argument for God's Existence.

Thoughts On "Furious Love"

Last night at Redeemer we showed Darren Wilson's new film "Furious Love." Several hundred people showed up - it was a great turnout. The film premiered in 500+ churches around the world last night. It was cool for us since Darren grew up at Redeemer and his parents Gary & Linda are two of our great leaders. We are biased about Darren and what he does to bring in God's beautiful Kingdom. We all wanted the movie to be good. It was. Linda and I love it! Why?

"Furious Love" puts the heart of the Gospel and the Real Jesus in the spotlight. It's about love. Real love. Because God is, in his essence, love. Love, God-style, is other-centered and sacrificial. God fully displayed his love in Jesus on the cross. Love intentionally descends into dark places for the sake of rescuing ("sozoing") people held in the captivity of hatred, abuse, addiction, and all things sin-filled. While love is compassionate, and com-passion is a feeling-with others, real "love" is not essentially a self-centered quest for personal feelings. When that becomes the motive then there's manipulation taking place. We feel used by people who "love" us mostly or solely for their own selves.

"Furious Love" does an excellent job of depicting the essential verb-nature of love. Love's an action. Trinitarian theism explains this best. There were a few moments during the film that I had tears coming out of my eyes, because of the beauty of rescue. I now think that nothing in life captivates and moves me as much as seeing moments of human liberation. My Jesus is: the Liberator.

As one who was trained in evangelical theology, I know there are Christians who will see this movie who are like what I once was; viz., skeptics when it comes to the manifestation of the demonic. Some will watch the episodes of deliverance and, because it is in their theological genes, "reduce" the demonic deliverance to psychological factors. "A demon is causing that women to thrash around on the ground? Yeah, right!" Thirty to forty years ago I would be tempted to do this, in spite of an experience I had in my first year as a Jesus-follower that I was quite unprepared for and could not help but conclude that, "If the demonic realm is real, then surely this was it!"  Now, I've left reductionism far behind, except for a few moment that function like vestigial organs in me, serving no real purpose except to remind me that they once had a role in my life.

I want to help the Jesus-follower who loves Jesus as Lord but wonders about some of the "Furious Love" scenes where the claim is made that: here is a person manifesting a demonic presence. Here are some things I think may help, in no certain order.
  • At the heart of the four Gospel-stories about Jesus is the conflict with Satan and demons. I suggest that if we become theological reductionists in regard to this then we will have left the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus believed in Satan and demons, and that the act of redemption involves spiritual battle against these dark powers. Surely that ought to mean something to us as his followers?
  • I believe that at the core of any evangelical skepticism re. the demonic as explanatory of certain human behaviors is an incipient philosophical naturalism. This is part of evangelical theology's "Enlightenment inheritance." J.P. Moreland is interviewed in "Furious Love" and explains this well, especially so in his writings. (See herehere, and here.) Few scholars are today writing as well about the problems with philosophical naturalism as Moreland is. Because Christian theism is not indebted to philosophical naturalism we are able to not only affirm the existence of non-physical reality but experience it as well. The realm of Christian non-physical reality includes thngs like: "soul," "consciousness," "free will," and "spirits" both good and evil.
  • If we affirm the reality of Satan and the demonic, then we can expect the demonic to "manifest" itself, like we see it does in the Jesus-story. It then becomes an issue of discernment as to whether or not a certain event is demonic or attributed to, say, mental illness or something like it. For me, currently, to be following the Spirit means inevitable conflict with demons. More and more I wonder about churches that never talk about this stuff.
Greg Boyd and George Otis are also interviewed in "Furious Love." Greg especailly talks about the outrageous love of Jesus and his beautiful kingdom. George gives what I would call anthropological examples of evil that can best be attributed to demonic spirits. In that regard I believe Christian Trinitarian Theism best explains such manifestations as demonic, and that reducing all of them to physiological constraints is not helpful. "Furious Love" shows this well. Thank you Darren, for making it!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Save Me From "Fat Tuesday"

(Some "paczkis")

"Fat Tuesday" - Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2010.

Save me from this day and all that it means. Because I want eat every one of these. But morally I am obligated to refrain. I should not eat one bite of one of these. It is my moral duty to not eat of these things. This is because, historically, one bite leads to eating all of them, no matter what number "all of them" equals. Doing this will lead to my premature death. It is morally wrong to intentionally contribute to anyone's premature death, including one's own.

Here in Monroe the paczkis are the size of footballs and the weight of shot puts. Imagine eating five pazckis, each weighing 16 pounds and the size of a football. That's 80 pounds of butter, sugar, and eggs. We need to do some self-examination here. Begin with this: why, when you just read about "80 pounds of butter, sugar, and eggs," do you now want to stuff a handfull of butter, sugar, and eggs into your mouth?

Why, when we see this...
... do we want it badly?

That picture is of a "jelly-filled bismarck." When we lived in Joliet, Illinois, I met the most incredible jelly-filled bismarcks and became intimately acquainted with them. It was a little pastry shop called "Flailors." It was my habit to ingest two Flailors bismarcks at the beginning of each day. What began as a "choice" to try one became a "habit," which means it was no longer a matter of choice but of "need," like breathing.

But what is, the philosopher in me cries out, a "bismarck," anyway? It "is a predominantly German and Central European doughnut made from sweet yeast dough fried in fat or oil, with a marmalade or jam filling and usually icing, powdered sugar or conventional sugar on top. They are sometimes made with chocolate, champagne, custard, mocha, or advocaat filling, or with no filling at all. The filling is injected with a large syringe after the pastry is fried." (From here.)

"In Canada a filled doughnut is known as a "bismarck" on the Prairies; usually referring to the custard-filled variety; "jambuster" in Manitoba; and "Burlington bun" in Nova Scotia." (Ib.)

Is it called a "Bismarck" because there was once a battleship called the "Bismarck"? As in the song "Sing the Bismarck?" The pazcki is a battleship that sails down your esophagus entering into your stomach and launches an attack of cholesterol- and fat-bombs into your arteries. In this case the bismarck eventually sinks you. As for the "Burlington bun," it becomes attached to your buns. And I don't know what to do with the "jambuster," except eat it. Perhaps it busts up the cholesterol jam of my clogged arteries?

Here's a sweet-looking, delicate "Berliner":

What could be wrong about this?
Perhaps because it's European it's better for me.

Why, in God's way of doing things, is this...

...better for you than this?

Why is this good for you...

...and this is out to get you?

Fat Tuesday is coming. Prepare.

Christ Now IS Our Righteousness

At Redeemer, on Sunday mornings, we have for months now been preaching on John chapters 14-17. One thing clear in all of this is that, if you are a Jesus-follower, the secret of your followership has nothing to do with legalistic, rule-oriented, back-breaking, burden-bearing, guilt-motivated human striving to be like Christ. We see in Paul's letters how he clarifies the Jesus-motifs of John 14-17. For example, look at Eugene Peterson's "Message" translation of 1 Cor. 1:26-31:

"Take a good look, friends, at who you were when you got called into this life. I don't see many of "the brightest and the best" among you, not many influential, not many from high-society families. Isn't it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose these "nobodies" to expose the hollow pretensions of the "somebodies"? That makes it quite clear that none of you can get by with blowing your own horn before God. Everything that we have—right thinking and right living, a clean slate and a fresh start—comes from God by way of Jesus Christ. That's why we have the saying, "If you're going to blow a horn, blow a trumpet for God.""

The NIV translates 1 Cor. 1:31 as: "It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption."

The Pauline ideas carry forth the central Jesus-truth found in John chs. 14-17; viz., that followers of Jesus will do the things Jesus did as they dwell in Christ ("remain" in Christ; "abide" in Christ; stay connected to Christ like a vine is connected to the branches). Christ now is our righteousness. This, therefore, has nothing to do with our striving and working hard to be, somehow, righteous as Jesus is righteous.

Andrew Murray writes, in ch. 8 of Abide in Christ: "The union to Jesus has effected a change not only in the relation to God, but in the personal state before God. And as the intimate fellowship to which the union has opened up the way is maintained, the growing renewal of the whole being makes righteousness to be his very nature. To a Christian who begins to see the deep meaning of the truth, "HE is made to us righteousness," it is hardly necessary to say, "Abide in Him.""

Murray adds: The follower of Jesus "understands what deep meaning there is in the key-word of the Epistle to the Romans: "The righteous shall live by faith." He is not now content with only thinking of the imputed righteousness as his robe; but, putting on Jesus Christ, and seeking to be wrapped up in, to be clothed upon with Himself and His life, he feels how completely the righteousness of God is his, because the Lord our righteousness is his. Before he understood this, he too often felt it difficult to wear his white robe all the day: it was as if he specially had to put it on when he came into God's presence to confess his sins, and seek new grace. But now the living Christ Himself is his righteousness--that Christ who watches over, and keeps and loves us as His own; it is no longer an impossibility to walk all the day enrobed in the loving presence with which He covers His people."

"Imputed" righteousness is: righteousness give to us as a gift, and not about us being instrinsically wonderful people. As Murray says, Romans 1:17 contains a deep truth: "For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: "The righteous will live by faith.""

If you are a Jesus-follower slow down now in your heart... take a deep breath... relax... rest... your God loves you...  God "imputes" the righteousness of Christ in you... it's not you that is the hope of glory, but "Christ in you, the hope of glory."

From Brandon Robinson, on Murray ch. 8:

To abide, means I have nothing to achieve

A righteous person follows the law against the force of lawlessness. His actions follow the decisions about right and wrong as established by a will. A truly righteous person follows the law perfectly. He only acts to cooperate with the direction of the established will. When a person is truly righteous, the power behind the will trusts him. Since the person follows the will perfectly, he is trusted with treasures of the heart which generate the will. Consider that a person will suffer heavily to trust his heart’s treasure to an unrighteous person.

To be ‘in’ a person, this phrase, means to know my experience through the other person’s presence. The fact that this someone else is with me, takes first precedence over the faculty of my comprehension, and the quality of my person. The presence of the other person is my immediate reference point for experiencing the current circumstances, in my thought, and in my identity.

To be in a person, and for this person to account as my righteousness, means that the established will that holds me before it is too great for me. It means that this other person, who has internalized me into himself, has followed the way of the will perfectly. It means that, in my unrighteousness, this other person was willing to suffer and absorb the void between my lowly state and the will. It means that, because of this person’s suffering, I am entrusted with the treasures of a heart so sacred, they would pulverize me if I stood alone.

Jesus as my righteousness removes the lawlessness, and fulfills the law. It leaves me abiding, with His presence, with His Heart, towards His will. I have nothing to achieve, and everything to love.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

City of David Website

(Linda, standing above ruins of ancient Jerusalem.)

Here is a very cool and helpful Jewish website on the ancient City of David (ancient Jerusalem).

Click on "virtual tour" and see the morphing of David's city over the centuries.

There's a visual feast of information here!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Ancient 6th Century Road Discovered In Jerusalem

If I had a next life on this earth I would be an archaeologist in Israel who studied philosophy and theology on the side. Here's the latest discovery, from the Jerusalem Post.

"For the first time the main road of Jerusalem, dated 1,500 years ago, has been discovered. An Israel Antiquities Authority archeological excavation in the heart of Jerusalem’s old city confirms a description of the road on the Madaba Map – an ancient mosaic map from the sixth century CE, measuring eight by 16 meters, and located in a church in Madaba, Jordan.

The map, from the Byzantine period, is the oldest surviving original cartographic depiction of the Land of Israel. What is notable on the map is the illustration of the entrance to Jerusalem from the west via a very large gate that led to a single, central thoroughfare on that side of the city."

For the rest go here.

Healing the Eye of the Heart - Alister McGrath on Romans 12:2

The reasoning Alister McGrath is using in his wonderful A Fine-Tuned Universe concerns, among other things, "seeing." By this is meant how a controlling narrative (noetic framework; even perhaps "worldview") allows persons to see aspects of reality that would not be seen by another controlling narrative. McGrath believes that the narrative of Christian Trinitarian Theism sheds much light on nature, society, humanity, and individuality.

McGrath believes that the New Testament predicts such a thing; viz., that on embracing Jesus one will be given new "eyes to see." He writes: "The New Testament speaks of the impact of Jesus of Nazareth in terms of his potential transformation of humanity through faith." (38) This transformation extends to the human mind. The obvious example is what Paul says in Romans 12:2; viz., that we are urged not to "be conformed to this world" but rather to "be transformed by the renewing of our minds." What Paul says here affirms "the capacity of the Christian faith to bring about a radical change in the way in which we understand and inhabit the world." (38-39)

I love what McGrath says next, and as a Christian theist find it beautiful and encouraging:

"The human mind is not replaced or displaced; rather, it is illuminated and energized through faith. Paul is speaking of a transformed disposition of the knower, which leads to a new way of thinking that enables the discernment of deeper levels of reality than unaided human reason or sight permit. Faith is about the transformation of the human mind to see things in a certain manner, involving the acquisition of certain habits of thinking and perception." (39)

The Christian understanding of salvation is that of "a transformative process that has been inaugurated, yet whose final completion has yet to take place." It's a "process of renewal." The renewal has to do with "changed and interconnected patterns of thought and behavior. We come to see the world in a new way, and as a result behave in a new way." (39)

For example, one reads Jesus' parables of the kingdom in a new way. They are "seen" differently, and the result of what is seen leads to "a change in outlook and action." McGrath writes: "The call to love God "with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind" (Mt. 22:34-37) clearly envisages a discipleship of the mind, since every aspect of human existence is affected by the gospel." (39)

Augustine, in the fifth century, described this new way of "seeing" as the "healing of the eye of the heart" by divine grace. (In Ib., 39) Augustine wrote: "Our whole business in this life is to heal the eye of the heart, so that God might be seen." (In Ib.) Theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar spoke of the "light of grace" coming to our inability by "bestowing vision," "this enabling us to discern God's presence and activity within the natural realm." (39)

All this is used by McGrath in arguing that "there is an integral explanatory element to the Christian vision of reality." (39) He writes: "The Christian vision of reality claims both to tell the truth and to possess explanatory power, because it corresponds to the way things really are." (40)

It's important in all of this to remember that McGrath does not wish to argue for the point beginning from nature. That's what he calls "classic natural theology," which he's not about doing. McGrath's development of a "Trinitarian Natural Theology" uses (as we've previously said) reasoning by "inference to the best explanation," or "abductive reasoning" (which, by the way, he and others find superior to Bayesian explanations - ""Inference to the best explanation" appears to have a significant advantage over Bayesian approaches in being able to illuminate the context of scientific discovery." [57]).

All of this excites and intrigues me very much. McGrath is a excellent writer. And, I'll be changing Logic texts in the Fall and using Lewis Vaughn's The Power of Critical Thinking, which contains an entire chapter on "inference to the best explanation." And, BTW, Vaughn's logic text has nothing on Bayes' Theorem, which my current Logic text by Hurley does.

RMS II Meets Tomorrow

RMS II meets tomorrow (2/11) at Panera Bread - 11:30 AM.

I'll lead our discussion, which will have two parts:

1) Follow up re. getting the word out about RMS.

2) A report on recent things I am thinking about, reading, studying - on Scripture & theology.

We'll treat you to coffee!

See you tomorrow,


Unequal In Valuableness; Equally Loved By God

(Bambi Meets Godzilla)

C.S. Lewis writes: "It is idle to say that men are of equal value. If value is taken in a worldly sense - if we mean that all men are equally useful or beautiful or good or entertaining - then it is nonsense. If it means that all are of equal value as immortal souls, then I think it conceals a dangerous error. The infinite value of each human soul is not a Christian doctrine. God did not die for man because of some value He perceived in him. The value of each human soul considered simply in itself, out of relation to God, is zero. As St. Paul writes, to have died for valuable men would have been not divine but merely heroic; but God died for sinners. He loved us not because we were lovable, but because He is Love. It may be that He loves all equally - He certainly loved all to the death - and I am not certain what the expression means. If there is equality, it is in His love, not in us." (From "Membership," in The Weight of Glory)

God loves us all equally, but we are not, in our humanity, equal. Some are better at math than others. Some people can fix things, other people cannot. I am not equal in running ability to Usain Bolt. Usain Bolt is not equal to me in guitar-playing ability (I feel certain of this). I am not the basketball player LeBron James is and could never be no matter how much I practiced. I am simply unequal to him physically. I am Bambi, he is Godzilla.

This truth leads to the following conclusion: In the game of basketball, LeBron James is more valuable than I am. If LeBron and I were lined up in a pickup game, and you were choosing players, you would choose LeBron before me. Such is the reality of human inquality.

What does Lewis mean when he writes, "The value of each human soul considered simply in itself, out of relation to God, is zero." The following, I think:
  • It is only in relation to God that our lives have value.
  • Without being in relation to God, our tiny souls add nothing to the greatness of God. If our value is numerically '1' or '1 billion,' the result is still zero when placed against 'infinity.'
The equality lies in this: God loves me and you and Usain Bolt and LeBron James equally. God does not favor the more gifted over your own self. God did not only die for those who have the greater talent, but for all. Because in our shared sinfulness the infinite qualitative distinction between us and God is the same.