Saturday, January 30, 2010

Naturalism

Several months ago I read Naturalism, by Stewart Goetz and Charles Taliaferro. What an excellent read! I brought it to La Jolla with me and began re-reading it on the plane. It's a critical assessment of philosophical naturalism and its variations, such as "strict naturalism." What's that? G&T quote strict naturalist Paul Churchland:

"You came to this book assuming that the basic units of human cognition are states such as thoughts, beliefs, perceptions, desires, and preferences. That assumption is natural enough: it is built into the vocabulary of every natural language. ... These assumptions are central elements in our standard conception of human cognitive activity, a conception often called 'folk psychology' to acknowledge it as the common property of folks generally. Their universality notwithstanding, these bedrock assumptions are probably mistaken."

Churchland's strict naturalism argues that there are no such things as "mind," "soul," and "free will." G&T take this idea (that "nature" is all that there is) and show that it is fundamentally incoherent.  But this is self-defeating, "because it''s proponents believe that [naturalism] is true and seek to convince us of its truth, wheras if the view is true, then there ultimately is no such thing as belieiving it is true because there ultimately are no psychologicalevents of that kind, period." (26)

In naturalism G&T challenge "the almost unquestioned primacy of naturalism." (9) It's such a good presentation that I'm now re-reading and re-absorbing their arguments against naturalism and for theism.

Suffering In La Jolla

Linda and I are in La Jolla. We arrived at 11 AM yesterday - rented a car - only $15/day from Enterprise - they asked "Want a convertible for just a few dollars more (a lot of their convertibles re not renting well in Jan here)?" Yes.

67 degrees, sunny, the ocean, we eat on the outdoor patio of a restaurant overlooking the Pacific, sea lions are barking - we see them in the ocean, for lunch Linda has a fresh-caught lobster, pelicans stream single file over our heads, we drive the convertible along the beautiful rocky and sandy seashore, we walk around artsy downtown La Jolla as I hold my Starbuck's, I stop in a bakery and get a coconut lemon bar, Linda browses in some clothing shops, someone is surfing...



(Pelicans!)












(Linda's lobster!)

(The view from our restaurant table)


(Linda, looking on the Pacific Ocean)














(The backyard of Clay & Cheri Ford's home)

Friday, January 29, 2010

Fear & Anxiety Immobilize the Spirit

Flying with Linda to La Jolla in just a few minutes. One of the ways I start the day is to read something from Thomas Merton, one of my spiritual heroes. Merton writes:

"If a man in this night lets his spirit get carried away with fear or impatience and anxiety, he will come to a standstill. He will twist and turn and torture himself with attempts to see some light and feel some warmth and recapture the old consolations that are beyond recovery."
- New Seeds of Contemplation (One of the ten most influential books in my life)

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Relational Vs. Theoretical Knowing

Andrew Murray, in chapter 7 of Abide in Christ, writes: "How often have you longed for wisdom and spiritual understanding that you might know God better." The answer to this is: Then "abide in Jesus: your life in Him will lead you to that fellowship with God in which the only true knowledge of God is to be had. His love, His power, His infinite glory will, as you abide in Jesus, be so revealed as it hath not entered into the heart of man to conceive. You may not be able to grasp it with the understanding, or to express it in words; but the knowledge which is deeper than thoughts or words will be given--the knowing of God which comes of being known of Him."

This is relational knowing of God, as opposed to mere theoretical knowing. God is not calling us into a religion, but into a relationship with him. How close, how tight, can this relationship be? As tight, as connected, as a branch is to a vine. The branch that is connected to the vine gets all the good stuff that is in the vine. A disconnected branch, if it had a mind, might protest that the vine is hard to get to know. The vine seems far away, distant. A disconnected branch would only know of the vine by hearsay, as a theory. The connected branch will have a hard time communicating what it's like to know the vine as it does. There will be things the disconnected branch will never understand, and even find absurd.

Philosopher of science Michael Polanyi wrote a book called Personal Knowledge. "Personal knowledge" is relational knowledge, like "knowing" how to ride a bicycle. When we ask someone "Do you know how to ride a bike" we're not asking for bike-riding theory. Our questions means: can you do it? Do you actually get on the bike and use it to transport yourself from one point to another.

There's something about personal knowledge that language cannot capture. The person in relationship knows both more and differently than the one who is out of relationship. Being in relationship with Jesus, abiding and welling "in him," gives one a personal knowledge that is far superior than someone who knows all the theories about Jesus.

*****
Jim Hunter shares some thoughts...

Hi John:


Your words bring these thoughts to mind:

1) As you say, our job is not to try to attach ourselves to the vine or to get ourselves "in Christ" - We are in Christ - It was entirely God's work!

Writing on struggling to get "in Christ," Watchman Nee says, "Oh the folly of trying to enter a room in which we already are!"

"By Him are you in Christ Jesus ..." - 1 Cor. 1:30

"For He (God) delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the Kingdom of His beloved Son." - Col. 1:13

2) Our job is not to try or struggle to live the Christian life. The only One who can live the Christian life is Jesus! Trying is of the flesh (flesh = trusting in my own strength, abilities and resources). We are to trust Him to live His life through us - Difference of trying versus trusting - Flesh versus Spirit.

Paul repeatedly exhorts believers to allow Christ to live His life through them:

“Christ in you, the hope of glory.” - Colossians 1:27

“My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you” - Galatians 4:19

“Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you . . .” - 2 Cor. 13:5

“… so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith;” - Ephesians 3:17

“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me;” - Galatians 2:20

“Who has known the mind of the lord, that he will instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.” - 1 Cor. 2:16

“. . . so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. - 2 Cor 4:11

"For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.” - 2 Cor 4: 11

“Christ, who is your life..” - Col 3:4

3) Our job is to abide in Christ and let Him bear the fruit of the Spirit through us - "Abide in me and I in you . . . . Apart from Me you can do nothing"

Watchman Nee has some great words on how we are to abide:

"During the first three months of the Japanese war in China we lost a great many tanks and so were unable to deal with the Japanese tanks, until the following scheme was devised. A single shot would be fired at a Japanese tank by one of our snipers in ambush. After a considerable lapse of time the first shot would be followed by a second ; then, after a further silence, by another shot ; until the tank driver, eager to locate the source of the disturbance, would pop his head out to look around. The next shot, carefully aimed, would put an end to him. As long as he remained under cover he was perfectly safe. The whole scheme was devised to bring him out into the open.

In the same way, Satan's temptations are not primarily to make us do something particularly sinful, but merely to cause us to act in our own energy; and as soon as we step out of our hiding-place to do some thing on that basis, he has gained the victory over us. If we do not move, if we do not come out of the cover of Christ into the realm of the flesh, then he cannot get us.

How are we to abide? "Of God are ye in Christ Jesus." It was the work of God to put you there and He has done it. Now stay there! . . . Trying versus trusting . . . Believe me, it is the difference between heaven and hell." - Watchman Nee, The Normal Christian Life.

Firmly In Him,
Jim Hunter

*****
Brandon Robinson shares some thoughts...

To abide, is to know love’s word


Wisdom is a deep topic. Sometimes, wisdom reveals more questions than answers. And before I feel that I might need wisdom, there are things that I first have to discover.

One of these discoveries is purpose. If I don’t have purpose, something important I have focused on, then I won’t miss wisdom. I can casually wander around pretty well on my own opinions. The next discovery is ambiguity. I have chosen a goal, but the way ahead is foggy and unclear. I am stepping forward onto new territory, and my normal experience isn’t enough to explain what is happening. Finally, there is the discovery of needing the essential. I have chosen a goal, I’ve stepped forward into ambiguity, and now I’m looking for the most definitive path. I don’t want to waste time and energy on partial paths, or illusory paths, or bright, glowing paths that leave me lost. I’m looking for the real path, and I realize I need wisdom.

So, if I have found purpose, ambiguous new territory, and the need for a path, I will seek wisdom. But, now, the questions. How do I find purpose? Is new territory any place that is unfamiliar? And what does a real path look like, anyway?

Those are questions answered not by explanations to be understood, but by the relationships we cultivate. When it says that ‘Jesus was made unto us wisdom from God,’ it implies that we have a relationship, through Jesus, in the Godhead. This salvation encounter with the deep wonder of love answers the three questions above. And, since Jesus is made unto us wisdom, it means not only did He author a relationship through salvation, but He has remained, in Spirit, to illuminate the way of the new life. His word leads me in love’s purposes, its new territory, and its essential path.

On a side note:

One product of ‘Jesus as wisdom unto us’ is the freedom of human ability. People are resourceful, and possessive of great potential, so that talents and abilities are sometimes chosen as the way to work through ambiguity and achieve the purposes that seem important. My personally favorite example is the philosopher who is seeking insight. But insert whatever character fits best- the athlete, musician, activist, evangelist, teacher, doctor, artist, thrill-seeker, punk rocker, lawyer, politician, etc and etc. And this character is sitting at a table, struggling with a recent project. My philosopher has a wax candle, and he’s buried his forehead in his hands. And Jesus is sitting across from him. Finally, Jesus says, ‘So, have you figured Me out yet?’ Or maybe the question is, ‘have you glorified Me enough yet?’ Or, ‘have you shown enough of My mercy, enriched enough lives in My name, or fought for enough advances in My kingdom?’ My philosopher looks up from his hands, and looks at Jesus square in the face. He responds, “No, I haven’t. I mean, really, You are God after all.”

Jesus says, “You’ve spent all this time with Me, but still don’t know who I am?”

My philosopher, who has exhausted himself to pursue true purposes, is lost at this question. He is in new territory. And over a moment, a still, thick passage of heavy time, the Spirit touches the philosopher with wisdom. “Oh,” he says, looking into the unending gaze of Jesus, “I am talking with God.”

I'll Be in La Jolla This Weekend


(La Jolla)

Linda and I will travel to La Jolla, CA, tomorrow - be back Tuesday night. I'll be speaking Sunday morning at my friend Clay Ford's church, La Jolla Christian Fellowship.

On Monday I'll attend our HSRM Exec. Committee meetings, as we plan for our sumer conference with Randy Clark and more. For all of us these are very exciting times!

Best of all - Linda and I get to spend a much-needed break together Friday and Saturday in the San Diego area. We were there last winter and went to Torrey Pines on the ocean, Del mar, La Jolla, the San Diego Zoo, ate phenomenal (and real) Mexican food, and just walked around and talked in the springlike weather. (It's 18 degree outside as I write from our Michigan home...)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

On Not Judging Your Own Self


In Matthew 7:1-2 Jesus says, "Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." I can see the truth of this in two ways.

#1 - The judgmental-person-as-faultfinder-and-accuser-of-others will receive their own unfair share of retributive judgment heaped back on them. Waste your time picking out the faults of others, and many of those others will waste their time picking out your faults. The big bang of your judgmental words creates an ever-expanding universe of judges, all skilled at finger-pointing. Surely it's not true that everyone who gets "judged" judges back. But when most feel feel judged the thought comes into their heads, "But you, also, are a failure." One wants to attack back, unlike Christ responded.

#2 - The non-divine judges of all the earth suffer something even greater, which only gets exacerbated by the human judges who lash out at them. Most judgmental people I have met in my life waste a lot of time being critical of their own selves. The people who hate and punish others hate and punish their own selves. These are people who are self-perceived failures. They arrogantly weigh the deeds of other people, measure their hearts, and pronounce their "guilty" verdicts. I have personally found that, when I have felt inwardly inferior, I am more susceptible to judge others. But I've also pointed my big critical guns at my own self. The skilled, cynical critic of others is just as skilled and cynical about their own self. The one who hurts others is themselves a hurting heart. It's the old "hurt people hurt people" thing, which I think is mostly true.

The antidote to this whole wasted mess is to find and experience the love of God for one's own deep self. Be loved by God, not just in theory but in experience, and the result will be things like greater compassion towards others.

Love God.
Receive God's love for your own self.
Stay connected to Jesus and ecperience, in relationship, his love.
Love one another.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

On Not Judging Others


Jesus tells us to stop judging other people. (Matthew 7:1) Here are some thoughts I have about this.

  • We can, and will, make "judgments" in life. This is unavoidable, and is not the thing Jesus warns us against doing. Consider this judgment: Killing people for fun is wrong. I judge that to be "true." I am not called by God to stop doing this kind of thing. Every day we make hundreds of judgments ranging from moral judgments to "This cup of coffee is too weak." When Jesus says "Judge not" he is referring to judgmentalism, which is different from making judgments.
  • A "judgmental" person is one who weighs in on the hearts of other people and pronounces, like a trial judge, a verdict. Such as "guilty." Or: "That person is bad." A judgmental person places themself in the world court of law as both judge and jury over people. Judgmental people feast off making moral and spiritual judgments about the motives of other people. Judgmental people see the worst in others irregardless of evidence to the contrary. Judgmental people will make their pronouncements without any evidence at all, or in the face of counter-evidence, or even on the basis of manifestly false evidence. When this happens judgmentalism becomes the bedfellow of gossip and slander.
  • Behaviors can and should be judged. But the human heart is difficult to assess. If someone steals from you it is not wrong to say, "They stole from me; stealing is wrong; therefore what this person has done is wrong." But why did they steal from you? Here's where caution is advised. Because you do not have access to the human heart. Judge the behavior; refrain from judging the person's heart. How many times I have been either positively or negatively surprised when a person's true heart becomes evident. Which leads me to say...
  • I have, many times, assessed the heart of another person incorrectly. I have ctually done this to my own children! When my assessment has been negative I have found myself building a case against that person. That's neither good nor helpful. It breeds bitterness. I have made mountains, not out of mole-hills, but out of no-hills. Consider Proverbs 20:5, which says that "the purposes of a man's heart are deep waters." You and I lack epistemic access into the deep waters of another person's heart. I can't at times even figure my own heart out. How then can I expect to accurately read the hearts of other people? If you wonder why someone did something that affects you negatively, why not ask them rather than put them on trial in your own mind and even before others? And if God reveals to you some negative aspect of another person's heart it is only so that you can pray for them or, with permission, help them. God doesn't entrust such privileged information to judgmental people.
  • In John 7, in one of his confrontations with the Jewish religious leaders, Jesus asks them to "Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment." They have, again, misjudged Jesus. This is because what is seen with the eyes is not equivalent to what lies in the heart. It may "appear" to me that a person has just given me a nasty look. I should not conclude from this that they have a nasty heart. Maybe, maybe not. Many years ago, when Linda and I were dating, one of her friends told Linda that it appeared I did not like this friend because of the look on my face. Linda assured the friend that I did like her, and by the way that's how my face normally looks. This is not necessarily good. In the past few months I have become good friends with a metalhead who is covered with tattoos and piercings. I discovered that, beneath it all, there lies a very good heart. And then there's Susan Boyle, standing before judge Simon Cowell...
  • I personally think judgmental people are fearful people. Judgmentalism works as a barrier erected to ward off self-scrutiny. If I deflect attention away from my own sin and failure and get people to look at the surface-appearance of sin and failure in someone else, I can breathe easier. Here's where the tabloid-media comes in and gets an entire nation of people judging what's going on in the heart of a Tiger Woods. Instead of crying out "Search me O God, and know my heart," the cry becomes "Judge them, O God, for I know their hearts." Probably not.
  • It's hard work being the judge of the world. I have in the past spent too many hours trying to figure out just what the heck is going on in the brains of other people. Now, consciously, I am more and more giving this responsibility to God. What a relief! He calls me to love others, not judge them. I will do very well if I focus on that. Jesus says to me, "John, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you." And in Matthew 7 Jesus adds: "Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?"
    God is able to speak into the hearts of all the people I find myself wondering about. In the meantime I will do well to allow him to speak to my own heart, and leave the judging to him.

Monday, January 25, 2010

God Is the Architect Of Our In-Christness


(Me, in Bangkok)

Last night Linda and I went to the home of Bryan and Tera Shaffer, who are the Young Life Directors for Monroe and Lenawee counties. The occasion was a Young Life leadership meeting - some worship, sharing, prayer, and then I shared out of John 14-16 on what it means to "abide in Christ." As Linda and I left their home we agreed that it was good to be with these young leaders who are passionate about Jesus. We are so thankful for them, and for the excellent directorship of Bryan and Tera. They incarnate themselves in the lives of high school kids, meet them where they are at, and introduce them to the Revolutonary Jesus. Being at this gathering reminded us of our days in campus ministry at Michigan State University.

Now - more on "abiding in Christ."

The "open secret" of how Jesus said what he said and did what he did is found in John 14:10-11, where Jesus tells his disciples: "Don't you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves." The worship song "Breathe" expresses this well: "Your holy presence, living in me; Your very word, spoken to me."

If we are Jesus-followers we are "in Christ." Paul, in 1 Corinthians 1:30 says that it is because of God "that you are in Christ Jesus." Andrew Murray, in Abide in Christ, writes: "The whole Christian life depends on the clear consciousness of our position in Christ. Most essential to the abiding in Christ is the daily renewal of our faith's assurance, "I am in Christ Jesus."" Important to note is that "this is not of our own doing." This is God's doing, for us.

Murray cites Ephesians 2:10 in support of this: "For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." It should give you comfort to know that God has effected our "in-Christness," and that it's not of our own doing. Speaking for myself, as someone who is not skilled in things like carpentry or tentmaking, I am glad that God has put this thing together and not me. It greatly increases the chances that this thing that God has put together will not fall apart when the storms come!

Stand amazed that you and I have now become partakers of this union "in Christ," joined and fitted together by God himself. This is precisely why Jesus says "I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father." (John 14:12)

1. I am "in Christ."
2. Christ is in me, the hope of glory.
3. The peace and joy that is Christ's is, therefore, mine (because I am a "branch" connected to Jesus, the true Vine).
4. I can do all things in Christ.

As I write this my mind is saying...  cool.

I have not been able to get away from these Jesus-words for many months now. I am not only interested in the possibility of doing "even greater things" than Jesus did, but am also very interested in the doing of what Jesus had been doing. All of this, of course, not for one4's own fame, but to the glory of God and the magnifying of Jesus.

Today remember your position in Christ.

*****
Brandon Robinson comments on Murray ch. 6

To abide, means to know the Spirit.


There is something mystical to this, and that unusual quality should not cause skepticism. The spiritual is an expansive realm. And, though removed from our more comfortable modes of thought, our stereotypes, our Hollywood interpretations, the seeming ethereal or abstract nature of something as elusive as a spirit does not yield it irrelevant. The point is my identity, and I am more than a shell with a psyche befit for socialization and entertainment.

But I can only encounter that epiphany of identity by abiding. And as much as the epiphany of my spiritual self is deemed good, as much as I genuinely agree with it, I must acknowledge abiding—something alien to my self until I knew it—as also congruent to my being. And yet I didn’t invent it. I don’t have the blueprints for it. I haven’t charted its horizons.

Abiding is a provision from a life I share because that life encompasses and defines the existence I envision as myself. Thus abiding is ever-present to me though I have nothing to impart to its creation or continuation. I give myself to know it, as effected by the Spirit’s nature giving itself in this way of knowing.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Tonight at Newport Beach Cafe


(I took this picture of an eagle a mile from our house - on the Telegraph Rd. bridge over the River Raisin)

Tonight at Newport Beach Cafe:

Kellie Robinson leads worship.

Tim Curry speaks on Luke 3:21-22.
9:00pm.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Redeemer Ministry School Prophecy Class


(Michelangelo's "The Prophet Zechariah")

Josh Bentley and I are teaching a class on "Prophecy" in our Redeemer Ministry School. I am so excited about this class, and what God is doing re. this gift at Redeemer! My own heart is to have greater understanding and experience of the prophetic. Paul writes, in 1 Corinthians 14, that we are to especially desire the gift of prophecy. I desire it, for reasons cited here. (Note: a long time ago I was taught that this word "prophecy" was equivalent to "preaching." I no longer believe this is true, for exegetical reasons.)

The kind of prophecy Paul had in mind when he wrote this included, essentially, the experience of God-given revelation that strengthens, comforts, and encourages the body of Christ (= the "church").

Books we are using and referring to in the class include the following:

Mike Bickle, Growing In the Prophetic (a wonderful, humble, grace-filled book written by a person who just wants the Real Jesus)

Wayne Grudem, The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today (perhaps the best scholarly text on prophecy - especially note the distinction between prophecy in the Old Testament and prophecy in the New Testament)

Jack Deere, The Beginner's Guide to the Gift of Prophecy (don;t be put off by the title - Deere is an excellent writer and a tremendous biblical scholar who converted from dispensationalism to the experiential and textual belief in the spiritual gifts for the church today)

Romans 7 - Unlearning and Learning


(I paid $2 for this cup of Palestinian coffee in Jerusalem.)

At 60 years old I am still learning. Part of learning is unlearning. For example, I have always interpreted Romans chapter 7 as a description of a Christian's inner struggle between knowing what is right to do and doing, instead, what is wrong to do. Now Ben Witherington is telling me I have been wrong. Witherington claims:
  • In Romans 7-8 Paul is describing "the anatomy of a conversion." (The Problem with Evangelical Theology: Testing the Exegetical Foundations of Calvinism, Dispensationalism, and Wesleyanism, 36) 
  • "In Romans 7:14-25 we find a person under conviction of sin, but still in its bondage, and crying out for conversion." (Ib.)
  • Romans 7:5-6 and Romans 8:1-2 make it perfectly clear "that Christians have been set free from the bondage of sin and death." (Ib.)
  • Romans 7 is about "sin and its power over fallen human beings." (33)
  • Re. Romans 7, "we need to take seriously that Paul here is describing a crisis experience that leads to a crying out for help. [Romans 7:24 - "What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?"] He is not speaking of the day-to-day mind-set of the fallen person, whether devout or not, and whether Gentile or Jew. What we have then in Romans 7:14-15 and continuing into the next argument in Romans 8 is a narrative of a conversion and its theological and spiritual implications seen after the fact and from a Christian perspective." (Ib., 31)
But isn't Paul, in using 'I' language, referring to himself? No, says Witherington. He asks, in his chapter "Squinting At the Pauline "I" Chart," "who is the "I" then who is speaking here?" He concludes, "In my view the I is Adam in vv. 7-13, and all those who are currently "in Adam" in vv. 14-25." How does Witherington arrive at this? To get the whole picture you need to read this entire chapter. But briefly, one key is to understand that Paul is using a rhetorical technique called "prosopopoia," which "involves the assumption of a role." Sometimes the role-playing speech would be inserted "without mentioning the speaker at all." (Ib., 22) Witherington adds, "Unfortunately for us, we did not get to hear Paul's discourse delivered in its original setting, as was Paul's intent. it is not surprising then, having only Paul's written wors left to us, that many have not picked up on the signals that impersonation is happening in Romans 7:7-13 and also for that matter in 7:14-25." (Ib., 22)

What can I say about this? Some thoughts:
  • I respect Witherington as a scholar. Therefore, I listen to him.
  • His take on Romans 7-8 does not surprise me. Because, currently, this is the sort of thing that is now happening almost weekly in my Jesus-studies and Jesus-preaching.
  • I do have moments where I wonder if I've known anything at all about the Jesus-life. But because I am certain that much of real learning requires unlearning, this doesn't freak me out.
  • I have no wish to hold on to the perspective on Romans 7 or any biblical thing that I have somehow in the past acquired. I just want the truth of the text, to hear it as it was heard originally. If this means I have not had parts of it right, so be it. And so should it be, I think, for all who treasure the Christian Scriptures.

I Am In Christ Jesus


(Monroe, a half mile east of our house.)

Andrew Murray, in chapter 5 of Abide in Christ, writes: "The whole Christian life depends on the clear consciousness of our position in Christ. Most essential to the abiding in Christ is the daily renewal of our faith's assurance, "I am in Christ Jesus.""

1 Corinthians 1:26-31 says: 

"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. 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. 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. 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. Therefore, as it is written: "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.""

Here we see the core Jesus-Kingdom-idea about true greatness. "Greatness" in God's Kingdom is not what it is in any earthly kingdom. It's not about intellect or birthright or physical strength or economic power.

Recently I had the privilege of meeting with a simple (but not simplistic) man who has little money, no earthly fame, is not especially physically attractive, and speaks the English language in a very ungrammatical and syntactically incorrect way. As we were talking I sensed Jesus in him. This man's heart's location is "in Christ." He's older than I, and fairly recently has been rescued out of a life of drugs and violence. I could see the joy and amazement in his eyes as he told me his story. There was a simple, deep wisdom in him that is not about him but all about Jesus in him, and he in Jesus. This man knows his position in Christ. I may ask him to share his story to our church family.

As I left him I had a feeling that I've often had; viz., the feeling that, somehow, I've just had a meeting with Jesus. The truth is that, in a very real sense, I had met with Jesus. And Jesus met with us, because we're both abiding in Him.

If there's anything to brag about in this life, it's just this: Thanks to God, I am in Christ Jesus.


*****
Brandon Robinson comments on Murray, ch. 5:

To abide, means to walk in the Spirit.


Living on Earth, the planet, guarantees that some conditions will influence me. Gravity, for instance. Before my waking consciousness forms its first ideas for the day, it is taking gravity into account. My interaction towards mattresses, shower heads, stairs, toasters, briefcases, and tire friction all depend on gravity. This force is a fundamental quality in the space where I live.

Would that it were the same with supernatural love. The ground of faith is no less familiar with such a force. The space of abiding no less saturated than to luxuriously permeate my encounter with the world. And my first ideas, too often acknowledge themselves as traitors to the dwelling of my soul. My interaction toward relationships, obligations, social exchanges, job requirements, financial situations, personal hopes, etc. and etc. stands much to gain from the secret place of abiding.

That walking through a course of events would at first step be upon the way of life.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Pants (No Longer) On the Ground


When Linda and I walked out of the theatre last Friday night a young man and his girlfriend were in front of us. He wore baggy jeans that were slung low below his posterior. As soon as I saw this a song popped into my head - "pants on the ground, pants on the ground, lookin' like a fool with his pants on the ground." I almost began to sing it out loud.

Mark this: on January 12, 2010, the baggy-below-the-butt-pants-look officially ended. Whereas prior to this date below-the-bottom-baggies (BBBs) made someone look like a "cool cat," now, because of General Larry Platt's song "Pants On the Ground," the kid walking in front of me looks like a fool. More than that, he is a fool. And, if he had gold in his mouth and a hat turned sideways he would be three times the fool.

Platt's "Pants" song is huge, and is going to get huger (pronounced "hue - jer"). When it becomes a cd it will rocket to #1 and stay there and rule until no more pants are on the ground. Then, it will hover over society making its presence felt just in case some kid decides to wear his pants real, real low. It has already become impossible to look at someone wearing BBBs and not perceive them as a fool. If you've heard the song, I dare you to try it. You are no longer able to look on someone sporting low-riders and not laugh out loud. The wearing of BBBs is now equivalent to leaving home in the morning wearing clown makeup complete with a giant red bulbous nose. The only people on the planet wearing BBBs today are those who don't know what the word "fool" means.

Let's go deeper. "Pants On the Ground" is now busy restructuring human consciousness. The way we perceive things is undergoing a paradigm shift. Behold the shifting paradigm, right before our very eyes! One rarely gets to see such a thing since paradigm shifts are subtle and go unnoticed by most, sometimes taking a hundred years from the initial paradigm-threatening anomaly to the final settling-in of the usurping paradigm. But last Tuesday night, on "American Idol," the world changed in an instant. Former "cool cats" were instantly morphed into laughably clownish idiots.

Google "Pants On the Ground" and see everyone from Jimmy Fallon to Bret Favre singing the song. Behold "Pants" chewing up and spitting out an entire culture. BBBs have become the fashion equivalent of the mullet.

Monday, January 18, 2010

What Today's Emerging Adults Think About Truth


"There is no way to know what is true -- in a final way." This is one of the "truths" Christian Smith has discovered in his analysis of today's American teens and young adults. I am certain he is correct about this. I have seen this thing manifest itself many times in my college philosophy classes.

I have not read Smith's book. I tried to access the relevant chapter from google books, but was blocked. So, let me extrapolate from that opening sentence and make some comments, understanding that I might not have it right.

  • Young adults today have no clue about inductive reasoning and probableistic truth. Most of the truths we believe in are of this variety. For example, no empirical truth can be conclusively verified. Consider a statement like "This is a computer," said as one points to a computer. This statement can be true, but only inductively so. When I hear someone say "You can't prove there is a God!" I think they are confusing deductive reasoning with inductive reasoning. Most philosophical proofs of God's existence use inductive reasoning, or reasoning by inference to the best explanation. They conclude with: Most probably, God exists.
  • One of my philosophy of religion classes is in room 228, building C, at Monroe County Community College, in Monroe, Michigan. In my class late this afternoon I made the statement, "The lights are now on in this room, room 228, building C, on the campus of Monroe County Community College, in Monroe, Michigan, on Jan. 18, 2010, 6 PM." As I made that statement the lights were in fact on. Therefore, that statement was true. I then say, "If that statement is true, then it is true for everyone in the world. It's as true for a person in China as it is for you and I here, in this room, now." When I make this claim a number of the students are wondering about it, like I have arrived from another planet to communciate to them in an alien language. "Truth" always marginalizes. "Marginalization" is bad. Therefore, I am now being a bad boy. How could I claim that any statement is true "for everybody?" But that, philosophically, is the way things are when it comes to truth. If the statement "God exists" is true, then it is true for everyone, to include atheists. If it is false, then it is false for everyone, to include theists like myself. I think it's important to understand this, and find that it feels radical to say such things. "Truth," in this sense (which is the sense philosophers have always been interested in), is not a matter of "true for me" or "true for you."
  • The belief that there is no way to know what is true is itself a strong claim to truth. Consider the statement: "There is no way to know what is true - in a final way." That statement is either true or false. Its truth or falsity is "final" in the sense that it applies to everybody. If anyone thinks that statement is true, they do so in a "final way." For how odd it would be to say that this statement is true, but not "finally" so, which means in the future it could be false.
Tensions rise in the classroom when I say things like "It is true that the lights in this room are now on." Worldviews are being shattered when I begin to talk about properly basic, "bedrock" beliefs, such as "1+1=2," a statement which everyone believes but not one of my students can prove. If someone says, "Well, we can't be sure that '1+1=2'... it might not be true," or "I am not sure that '1+1=2,'" I then tell them, if you think that, say, "1+1 = 3," then I want to exchange money with you all day.

Hinduism (Pankaj Mishra)


Pankaj Mishra's essay on Hinduism, "Beyond Boundaries," is excellent. Mishra correctly presents Hinduism as a variegated collection of ideas, beliefs, and rituals that tends towards amorphism and, as such, is difficult to define and pin down. Mishra writes: "despite the frantic attempts by Hindu nationalists to “modernise” Hinduism, this religion still lacks a single dominant church, creed or clear founder; it possesses a variety of gods and goddesses, and prescribes several modes of devotion and salvation, “high” as well as “low”."

"Hinduism in practice contains a baffling diversity of religious ideas, extending from the worship of trees and abstract monism to atheism – alone among major world religions, Hinduism continues to expand its pantheon with new divinities."

This entire article is well worth reading to get a grip on religion in India, how its mythical narratives have endured and morphed, and why they have and like will continue to resist Europeanization.

What Teens Think About Religion


Christian Smith's Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers was important for all of us trying to understand today's teens. Now his new book Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults looks very good. Scot McKnight is reviewing it here.

McKnight bullet-points Smith's conclusions re. "what emerging adults think about religion." Now pay attention, everyone, as you read the following, which totally resonates with my little window as a community college philosophy professor.

The most commonly voiced themes are these:


1. Religion is not a very threatening topic.

2. The majority of emerging adults are indifferent to religion.

3. The shared principles of various religions are good -- all good. In fact, they say religions share the same core principles.

4. Religious particularities are peripheral to what is most important.


5. The point of religion is to make people good -- make good people -- make people better morally.

6. Religious congregations, therefore, are elementary schools for morals -- and once you've been through elementary school you move on.

7. A family's faith evokes a sense of dependence; therefore, not good.

8. Religion is not the place of real belonging.

9. By and large, friends rarely talk about religion.

10. Religious beliefs are "cognitive assents" but not "life drivers."

11. What seems right to me is what is right and authoritative.

12. Take or leave what you want in your religion.

13. Evidence and proof trump blind faith.
 
14. Mainstream religion is fine, probably.


15. Religion is personal, not social or institutional.

16. There is no way to know what is true -- in a final way.

The Modal Ontological Argument According to Plantinga

This winter semester at MCCC I'm teaching two sections of my philosophy of religion class. I teach them both on Mondays and Wednesdays. I look forward to teaching tomorrow. I love teaching these classes, and entering into dialogue with the 70 students who will be in the two classes. I have found that, for the most part, students want to talk about religious things like the existence or non-existence of God, the problem of evil, the logic of atheism, arguments based on inference to the best explanation, and so on.

My class begins with Anselm's ontological argument for the existence of God. It is so much fun to teach this argument! The students will be engaged by it.


I won't teach Plantinga's modal version of the ontological argument. I've written about this version here, from Graham Oppy's excellent article on the OA in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy article by Kenneth Himma is also very good. Here is Plantinga's OA for God's existence, via Himma.

Plantinga defines two properties: "maximal excellence" and "maximal greatness."

P1. A being is maximally excellent in a world W if and only if it is omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect in W; and


P2. A being is maximally great in a world W if and only if it is maximally excellent in every possible world.

"Thus, maximal greatness entails existence in every possible world: since a being that is maximally great at W is omnipotent at every possible world and non-existent beings can't be omnipotent, it follows that a maximally great being exists in every logically possible world." If, then, a maximally great being exists in some possible world, then it exists in every possible world, to include our actual world.

Is it logically possible that a maximally great being exists in some possible world? Plantinga thinks so. To think this is not possible one would have to show that the concept of "maximally great being" is logically contradictory, like "square circle." Therefore the concept of a "maximally great being" is logically possible; i.e., possibly instantiated. It follows, therefore, that a maximally great being (i.e., God) exists in every possible world.

Himma now formulates Plantinga' argument as follows:

1. The concept of a maximally great being is self-consistent.


2. If 1, then there is at least one logically possible world in which a maximally great being exists.

3. Therefore, there is at least one logically possible world in which a maximally great being exists.

4. If a maximally great being exists in one logically possible world, it exists in every logically possible world.

5. Therefore, a maximally great being (i.e., God) exists in every logically possible world.


As P2 affirms, a maximal greatness entails existence in every possible world. If it s possible tht such a being exists in one possible world, then it exists in every possible world. Since our world is a possible world, God exists in our world.

See Himma's entire essay for more, including objections.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

A Thank-You to T-Bone Burnett


In the 1980s I was introduced to the music of Leslie Philips and her outrageously talented songwriter-musician husband T-Bone Burnett. (Joe Richards, I think you first told me about Leslie Phillips.) The album was "The Turning." Song #1 - "River of Love." I could sing that whole song right now - here's an example of very cool, inspired songwriting. Simple, but not simplistic. Haunting, to me. Just....  beautiful. To craft a song like that takes a bit of musical genius. We used to sing, as a worship song in our campus ministry, "God Is Watching You." What a sweet, true song! "The Turning" was listed as #8 in CCM's "100 Greatest Albums in Christian Music."

T-Bone wrote the music for the movie "O Brother, Where Art Thou?"

Tonight, just a few minutes ago, I watched Burnett receive the Golden Globe Award for his song "The Weary Kind," in the movie "Crazy Heart." Yay!

T-Bone Burnett is an example of a Jesus-follower who lives in the world but is not of this world, like Bono and Bruce Cockburn. I admire and have always admired this. When you live in the world (but are not "of" it) you hang out with worldly people, in the sense of going to meet with them where they are. This is different, and far more effective, then huddling up in a "church building" and waiting for the nonbelievers to come to you. Actually, it's how Jesus himself did it. Jesus went to where the people are.

So what's the tie-in with T-Bone Burnett? It's this: he brings his God-given brilliance into the arena of the world and influences it. He just won a Golden Globe award. He has the ears, some of them at least, of the world listening to his music. He also believes in Jesus, and has publicly said so. He treads where the televangelists do not trod and mostly dare not trod. Which is to say, the places where the Real Jesus walked.

Denzel Washington & The Book of Eli


Linda and I saw "The Book of Eli" Friday night. I have some thoughts about "Eli," and then about Denzel.

First, "The Book of Eli."

  • The first thought that comes to my mind is: whoaa, Eli is one very tough, very bad dude! He cartoonishly defeats hoards of people who stand in the way of his God-given mission. The violence, on Eli's part, is used to defend and protext the innocent. In this movie it's not too hard to see who are the good guys and who are the bad guys.
  • Bleak, bleak, and more bleak. Reality is nowhere near as bleak as the Eli-ian landscape. The world of Eli is the antithesis of Avatar's "Pandora."
  • I generally found "Eli" boring when he wasn't chopping off heads, in the name of Jesus. Actually, not only in the name of Jesus, but led by Jesus (see the movie's end, then reverse-engineer the movie to see what I mean).
  • The bad-guy played by Gary Oldman irritated me. I could not help but think of Oldman the actor, over-acting. When I start thinking like this I am not into the movie, which is not good as a movie-goer.
  • A question: why not the NIV rather than the NKJV? It's good it wasn't the TNIV, otherwise a protest would arise. And it could not have been "The Message," since it's too folksy for the kind of violence to be justified.
  • A new meaning is given to "walking by faith, not by sight." I am not sure it is a good meaning.
  • Eli's book is worth preserving. It is a powerful, revolutionary book. I did appreciate that.
  • "Eli" can be seen as a metaphor for the spiritual battle to advance the causes of God. Like a "Lord of the Rings" thing. There was a lot of non-Jesus violence in it, and we didn't complain. Taken this way, "The Book of Eli" is interesting.
Second, on Denzel Washington.
  • DW is a Jesus-follower.
  • See the christianitytoday interview with DW here.
  • DW says (from the ct interview): I believe that Jesus is the Son of God. I've been filled with the Holy Spirit. I know it's real. I was in the room. My cheeks blew up, I cried like a baby, and it scared me to death. It kind of scared me off it. I backed up and went the other direction, to be honest with you. I didn't know what was going on. It was too strong. It has taken me many years to come back around."
  • Washington is "a Hollywood superstar who, though not perfect, offers that rare example of a Christian in a place of extreme acclaim and success who doesn't let it go to his head, instead remaining grounded in the Bible and reliance on God."
  • I am thankful for that.



Friday, January 15, 2010

Worship & Pray - Saturday Evening, Jan. 16


Saturday evening (1/16/10) at Redeemer we will worship and pray from 6 PM until at least 8 PM.


We will especially intercede for the Haitian people.

I, and we, will be listening to God's voice - for myself, and for us as a chusch family.

RFC - Monroe, MI
5305 Evergreen
734-242-5277

Bhatia's Atheological Haitian Suggestions (Where Is God in Haiti?)


(The banner is from the Livesay's blog. They are a missionary family living in Haiti. For all who want to help they say - do not come personally [especially if you are not a professional doctor or nurse], unless you speak Creole. But in general, send money, not people, because having more people around, esp. those who do not speak Creole, will mean more people to house and feed, etc.)

The recent nytimes op-ed by Poojah Bhatia suggests, implicitly, that Haitians are foolish to believe in God in the aftermath of the earthquake. Bhatia writes: "If God exists, he’s really got it in for Haiti. Haitians think so, too. Zed, a housekeeper in my apartment complex, said God was angry at sinners around the world, but especially in Haiti. Zed said the quake had fortified her faith, and that she understood it as divine retribution." Bhatia concludes: "Why, then, turn to a God who seems to be absent at best and vindictive at worst? Haitians don’t have other options. The country has a long legacy of repression and exploitation; international peacekeepers come and go; the earth no longer provides food; jobs almost don’t exist. Perhaps a God who hides is better than nothing."

My Haitian pastor-friends who are now in Haiti helping their people (if my friends are alive) have not lost their faith in God. Quite the opposite: they are mobilizing their rescue efforts around praying and placing their trust in God. Are they fools for doing so? To infer this is to degrade them. Bhatia seems to suggest that they only turn to God because "Haitians don't have other options," and if they did have "other options" what might those be? What if, in fact, there are no other options for all of us?

I think that is the case; viz., in the face of such disaster, humanity has no other option but to trust in God if one is looking for help. What about atheism as an option? Atheism is the worldview that tells us there are no options at all. Freud's atheism says that humanity creates civilization in order to protect us from one another and from natural disasters. But civilization cannot protect us from natural disasters. So humanity, acting on the basis of its "infantile prototype," "projects" an imaginary father onto the heavens and appeals to it. If we then add Freud's very low opinion of human nature to this, a solitary individual like "Zed" (above) has no options in her plight. (For Freud, humans are intrinsically evil; i.e. self-centered/narcissistic.) Both Nietzsche and Bertrand Russell acknowledged nature's inexorable, punishing onslaught against humanity. With that as a fact, what shall a person do? Nietzsche's option was to bow before "power," and finds such power-worship in pre-Socratic Greek culture. Russell's option was: be free in your own mind. Which, of course, will do nothing in the face of nature's ravages. Just don't bow before them. Why not be atheists and just love and care for one another? I do know that many Jesus-followers have planted themselves indigenously in Haiti and pray and love and work to effect systemic differences in the Haitian infrastructure. Is there such an atheist presence, long-term, in Haiti? I don't know. And I cannot help but think of a meeting I had with one of our local atheists. After talking with him for a few hours I invited him to serve with me in our community soup kitchen, which feeds seven nights week, between 70 -200 people per evening. He declined. He's far too busy laughing and "Christianity" and mocking religious people. I know all atheists aren't like like. This one is. The point: there has been a significant, long-term, systemic Christian presence in Haiti. They have been there and were there when the earhtquake went down and are now there, speaking Creole, helping their Haitian brothers and sisters,  most of whom are Christians. Can atheists claim the same?

Should Zed trust humanity? As Bhatia acknowledges, Haiti has "a long legacy of repression and exploitation; international peacekeepers come and go." What if there's a whole lot of "Christian humanity" out there in the world? Don't things them seem more promising? While there are real Jesus-followers who follow the Real Jesus and work to effect systemic change in the world's impoverished conditions, most Christians - at least in North America and Europe - are too self-absorbed, hoping to achieve their best life now. See, for more detail about this, Richard Stearns's phenomenal and troubling The Hole In Our Gospel.

Bhatia gives us no options, if not God. He admits that humanity hasn't systemically helped Haiti in the past. The "Haitis" of our world have always existed, now exist, and shall continue to exist, even existing within a few miles of you. Why think humanity will be of any real, systemic help in the future, even as the world currently runs to Haiti, as it should?

If I were one of my Haitian pastor-friends I would feel outraged at the kind of atheological suggestiveness in Bhatia-type thinking. I know, personally, that their faith in God runs so deep and is so securely rooted that even this current tragedy is not shaking it, but is rather driving them even more into the arms of the powerful, loving God they still believe in. To ask "Why turn to God?" is to take away their only, deeply-rooted, long-suffered (especially in Haiti), life-option. In the face of the problem of evil, if God does not exist, then realistic atheistic options (Freud, Nietzsche, Russell) provide "nothing" to turn to. As in, e.g., Julian Barnes's agnostic meditation Nothing To Be Frightened Of. Here underline the word "Nothing." Fundamentally, it seems evil for Bhatia to suggest to the Haitian people that perhaps God hates them, is hiding from them, is malevolent, or even nonexistent.

Can we question God? Can we ask, "Where are you, God?" We can, and we do. We see this in the Psalms. Today's nytimes quotes the blog of a Christian missionary family that lives in Haiti, the Livesays. They write:

"Sometimes life in Haiti leaves you wondering “Where are you God?” and other times we witness miracles with our own eyes. Living in that tension has forced us to see how much we need HIM and that we have a lot more growing to do. We are a work in progress - trying to make the love of Jesus known while learning to know Him better ourselves."

Needed: More Jesus-followers like the Livesays.



(Note: in the philosophy of religion, as in my MCCC philosophy of religion classes, we study the "problem of evil." Currently I have read N.T. Wright's Evil and the Justice of God, and am now reading through William Dembski's The End of Christianity: Finding a Good God In An Evil World.




 

Thursday, January 14, 2010

It's the Relationship, Not the Theory (or Doctrine), That's the Point of It All


(Green Lake, Wisconsin)

Andrew Murray writes, in his book Abide in Christ, that he finds Christians who hold to the theological truth of justification by faith but who "have hardly found a place for the larger truth 'The just shall live by faith'." (26) Murray writes that such people "have never understood what a perfect Savior Jesus is, and how He will each day do for the sinner just as much as He did the first day when He came to Him." (26)

I like this. It's one thing to have biblical and theological correctness; it's quote another thing to live out these great truths. I have met "Christians" who really wack out when they think someone is making a "theological error" that goes against their doctrine, while not themselves living lives that actually trust in Jesus. Which is, by the way, the point of the whole thing. God did not send his Son to rescue us so that we could have a correct theology, but so that we would come into relationship with him. It's the relationship, not the theory, that is the point of the whole Jesus-thing.


*****
Brandon Robinson writes, on Murray, chapter 3:

To abide, is the freedom of devotion


It takes a lot of work to live as an individual, unhindered by rules, not answerable to an authority or others’ opinions. If you disagree, then I can blame your understanding. If you think I’m not respecting you, well, of course I am. Just not the way you want me to. And behind the technicalities of what you said and what I meant, I am set apart with my own experience, my life. Too bad I couldn’t choose which events to experience. I am engrossed by the daily operations of my little world. The exhaustion of promoting me against the surrounding reality leaves me feeling too tired or too successful to step beyond the illusion. Behind the walls of my defenses I proclaim that I am free to be myself. Too bad this isn’t the freedom you had in mind.

It takes a lot of work to live as a productive member of society, serving authority, listening to and filtering other’s opinions. If you disagree, we’ll have to talk about it, by 5:00pm tomorrow. Because there’s a few new policies going into effect. Except, that doesn’t happen until next month. They sent us an email. Well, yes, I was aware there were some modifications, but it wasn’t supposed to take that long. At the last meeting we decided to take this approach, which was interrupted by a sick child, and three memos later we drank just enough caffeine to remember that there was a point to this. There was a point. Something important. Something worth fulfilling. Something that awoke me, stirred me, to fulfill it.

And so Paul says, “ . . . but I press on that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold by Christ Jesus.” In the spiritual life, beyond the self, beyond productivity, outside our frail constructs, there is no longer limbo. It may yet be dark, but in the Spirit we abide, in truth there is a way, and in love there is a prize.

Darren Wilson at Redeemer This Sunday Morning


Darren Wilson, who made the film "Finger of God" and the new "Furious Love," will be worshiping with us at Redeemer this Sunday morning.

Darren will share some things about his new film and will show us a clip from it.

Remember that, on Sun. night Feb. 14, Redeemer will be one of many churches around the nation showing "Furious Love." More information on that TBA.

We're glad to have Darren with us as he comes back to Redeemer, the church family he grew up in!

Does God Hate Haiti?


An op-ed in today's nytimes.com is entitled "Haiti's Angry God." Poojah Bhatia writes: "If God exists, he’s really got it in for Haiti. Haitians think so, too. Zed, a housekeeper in my apartment complex, said God was angry at sinners around the world, but especially in Haiti. Zed said the quake had fortified her faith, and that she understood it as divine retribution...  Why, then, turn to a God who seems to be absent at best and vindictive at worst? Haitians don’t have other options. The country has a long legacy of repression and exploitation; international peacekeepers come and go; the earth no longer provides food; jobs almost don’t exist. Perhaps a God who hides is better than nothing."

Here are some thoughts I have about this.

1. The situation is tragic. I just looked at many photos of the aftermath - dead bodies lying everywhere; a father crying as his little daughter's dead body lies before him; countless homes and dwelling places demolished. What the earthquake caused was horrendous. The aftermath is going to be staggering in terms of things like - lack of clean water, lack of shelter, lack of health care, disposal of the bodies, pollution, and what looks like the need to totally level the entire afflicted area and begin from scratch.

2. You and I must help, somehow. Let those who choose to ignore Haiti not complain about the absence of God. Let those who believe in God become God's heart and hands. Personally, I am asking God how I can assist, at this time, in a way that is most relevant and helpful.

3. That, in our current state of techno-advancement as a global community, a "Haiti" even exists is a sign of global greed. You may not personally be greedy. And, thank God for real Jesus-followers who spend their lives rescuing others out of a hopelessness that is many times not of their own doing, but of their historical and geographical situatedness. But mankind, largely, is greedy. People like Richard Stearns of World Vision reports that  much of Christendom, as well, is greedy.

Speaking to people who claim to be Jesus-followers, Stearns has called this situation "the hole in our gospel."  Not one of us could have stopped this earthquake from happening. But that hundreds of thousands of people live below the poverty line in a country whose infrastructure is an indequate disaster-waiting-to-happen, and which physically exists on top of an earthquake zone, is the kind of situation which, it seems to me, lies behind Stearns's appeal when he writes something like this: "One of the disturbing things about Church history is that the Church's appalling track record of being on the wrong side of the great social issues of the day. If the Church is indeed a revolutionary  kind of institution, called to foment a social revolution by promoting justice, lifting up the sanctity of human life, fighting for the underdog, and challenging the prevailing value systems in our world, then it seems we should be out front on social justice issues rather than bringing up the rear." (Hole, 190) The earthquake itself was a physical, not a social, event. But pre-earthquake Haitian society claimed the dubious distinction of being the most impoverished country in our hemisphere.

I have no idea if nytimes essayist Poojah Bhatia has ever assisted pre-earthquake Haiti. I suggest that if he has not, then he would do well to be cautious before claiming "God really has it in for Haiti," since Haiti has long-been one of the most suffering-est spots on our planet.



4. Action is what is now needed, not theorizing. Now's not the time to grab a Starbuck's, sit before a glowing fireplace, and philosophize and theologize about the existence of God and the problem of evil if one does nothing in the effort to eradicate systemic moral evil and inequity. Yet Bhatia uses the occasion to at best criticize God for "hiding" and at worst implies that God does not exist. Bhatia says that, as he was wandering the Haitian streets, "there was singing all over town: songs with lyrics like “O Lord, keep me close to you” and “Forgive me, Jesus.” Preachers stood atop boxes and gave impromptu sermons, reassuring their listeners in the dark: “It seems like the Good Lord is hiding, but he’s here. He’s always here.”" I suggest that Bhatia's sceptical and a-theological inferences will not help our struggling Haitian brothers and sisters who are, many of them, deeply religious.

In my seminary teaching I have had, as students, Haitian pastors and Haitian leaders. I can assure you that the ones I know, and the people who are loved and served by them, have not come to believe in a God who is primarily deus absconditus. These friends of mine do not believe in God and Jesus because "they have no other option." They do not believe nor do they teach their people that God hates them and their country.

Seek God how best to assist Haiti.
Pray for Haiti.
If you are a Jesus-follower, remember the gospel of Jesus the Christ, who comes to fill not only the aching hole in our own hearts but those of our neighbors as well.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Redeemer Ministry School - 2010-2011



(Bolles harbor on Lake Erie, just a few minutes from RMS)

It's only January but I am already thinking about the people God is going to send to us at Redeemer Ministry School this coming fall.

RMS is unique from other ministry schools in the following ways:

  • Our's is a 9-month, compressed academic and experiential training environment (rather than two or three years)
  • The 9-month format is great if you want to get in-depth training but not spend years acquiring it
  • Because we're not as big as some of the more well-known ministry schools, we're able to give a lot of hands-on, relational attention
  • What you will get academically from us is comparable to seminary-level teachings (I know this, since I currently teach at two seminaries, one of them being a doctoral program - Palmer Theological Seminary)
  • Full tuition provides housing - if you choose this option you will live in community with other RMS students
  • Our instructors are passionate and, I think, phenomenal! [I know other ministry schools can say the same :)]
  • After 9 months with us you will have gained the following: 1) a deep knowledge of what real leadership is; 2) a deep understanding of Jesus' core message, which is about the Kingdom of God; 3) a deep cognitive and experiential understanding of the heart of real worship; 4) greater skills in handling and interpreting the Scriptures; 5) the confidence and ability to teach and preach; 6) a deeper understanding of true Jesus-community; 7) a cognitive and experiential understanding of the now-activity of God in power, signs, and wonders; 8) a group of friends that will last a lifetime; 9) an understanding of and ability to defend God's existence, the authority of the Scriptures, and the person of Jesus Christ against the current atheistic and skeptical challenges in our postmodern culture; and 10) even an introductory knowledge of the biblical Greek language!
Why not pray about joining us in the fall, or suggesting RMS to someone else who might be a perfect fit for what we are offering?

Blessings,

John Piippo, Ph.D

What It Means to "Abide in Christ"


(A vine, in my back yard)

(I’m reading Andrew Murray’s Abide in Christ with some friends. I’ll be posting my comments, and any of theirs, here.)

Murray, in his fourth chapter, prays "Let me study the wondrous union between Jesus and His people, until it becomes to me the guide into full communion with my beloved Lord."

That's a current prayer of mine, too. And, I am doing this. I am now engaged in personal, experiential, biblical-theological study of Jesus' John 14-17 invitation to dwell "in him."

What is it, to "abide" in Christ? Murray says it is:

  • nothing but the acceptance of my position (i.e., I'm a branch, Jesus is the True Vine)
  • the consent to be kept there, and
  • the surrender of faith to the strong Vine to hold me, the feeble branch

*****
Brandon Robinson has written, as he is reading through Murray's book:

All You Who Have Come to Him, Brandon Robinson


To abide, means to draw sustenance from.

If by coming to Jesus a person knows the invitation to abide in Him, and yet does not know this level of relationship, then the person is asking Jesus to be someone He is not. The person shrinks the vine of the Spirit to a convenient form and requires it to decorate some empty corner of his livelihood. In this event, the branch has come to the vine and twisted it into a trinket among other souvenirs that interest his psychology. And he’s presumed to know something of living in truth. He is, after all, familiar with the vine. He relishes its words, and delights in its presence, and glories in keeping this light of truth in a polished jar, on a shelf. And as much as he pretends to be the gardener of such a vine, to prune it to his likeness, he withers for lack of sustenance. To such a dried up person as this it is his lot to be disturbed by real growth, and hopefully to discover by a most unfamiliar mercy he can actually survive, even abide, as a branch. Imagine his surprise when he realizes he likes bearing fruit, instead of gobbling it up to sustain himself.


AND...

To abide, means to labor out of shared desire


When I agree to come under another person’s will, I accept the yoke of his or her control. When I cooperate with the requests of that control, I attend to bearing the burden of obedience. Although the language of the yoke and burden come from agriculture, any modern hospital witnesses this exchange routinely. A doctor directs a patient to take a medication three times a day with two glasses of water. And three times a day, the patient makes sure he has water to drink.

Of course, the exchange may not happen so coherently. The medication may be forgotten in the car, for a week. The patient may think he is well. Maybe the meds aren’t necessary and the doctor is exploiting the patient for financial gain. Even as a needy person depends on a facility as capable as a hospital, a separation between the direction and the cooperation—the yoke and the burden—results in a state of unrest.

Thus, being well-organized, capable, may not encourage the true sharing of an undertaking. Though people agree to work together, the exchange of control and cooperation may not extend from shared desire. Such harmony, however, such common ground of common heart does not begin with sharing the work of will and obedience.

It begins with sharing yourself under the control of a greater harmony. In this wholeness and humility, you can offer your will as a direction, and simply share it with another, easing it, not requiring him to bear it alone. And since the work of co-laboring extends from a friendship of togetherness, you can take up part of the cooperation, and lighten the burden of obedience. And as you and your friend from common desire bear the yoke and burden which you undertake, your friend will know a great rest.

And if it is Jesus, saying come to Me, rest in My sustenance, and take My yoke, and learn to bear My burden, then to us it is rest for the soul.

Islamic Violence and Confusion (Uh-oh)


(Istanbul)

A Malaysian high court has ruled that the word "Allah" is not exclusive to Muslims. Uh-oh. The time.com report says...

"The anger seemed to turn into violence late Thursday night after masked men on motorcycles firebombed three churches in the city, gutting the ground floor of the Metro Tabernacle Church, located in a commercial building in the Desa Melawati suburb of the capital. The attacks, which police said appeared uncoordinated, were condemned by the government, opposition MPs and Muslim clerics alike. On Friday, Muslims demonstrated in scores of mosques across the country, but the protest was peaceful. In the mosque in Kampung Baru, a Malay enclave in the city, Muslims held placards that read "Leave Islam alone! Treat us as you would treat yourself! Don't test our patience!" amid cries of "Allah is great!""

In Malaysia "political Islam" is a "growing force." Uh-oh. Malaysia "operates under two sets of laws, one for Muslims, the other for everyone else."  "The few Muslims who have urged respect for judicial independence have been shouted down as traitors. "I can't understand how any Muslim can support this judgment," said legislator Zulkifli Noordin in a statement."

Roman Catholic "lawyers for the church argued that the word Allah predated Islam and was commonly used by Copts, Jews and Christians to denote God in many parts of the world. They argued that Allah is an Arabic word for God and has been used for decades by the church in Malaysia and Indonesia. And they said that the Herald uses the word Allah for God to meet the needs of its Malay-speaking worshippers on the island of Borneo."

If Catholics are allowed to use the word "Allah" Muslims would be "confused."
"The confusion would worsen, they said, because Christians recognize a "trinity of gods" while Islam is "totally monotheistic."" That idea reveals Mohammed's, and Islam's (in general) basic confusion about Christian Trinitarian theism, which does not recognize a "trinity of gods." That, precisely, is something I have never believed as a Christian. It's simply false, and a misrepresentation. About this let's dialogue, not firebomb.

Time.com says: "Non-Muslim Malaysians worry that the vehement opposition to the Allah ruling reflects a growing Islamization in a multireligious society. Last October a Shari'a court sentenced a Muslim woman who drank beer to be caned in public; in another incident, in November, Muslims enraged over the construction of a Hindu temple near their homes demonstrated their anger with a severed cow's head. They kicked and stomped on the head, as Hindus — to whom cows are sacred — watched helplessly."

This kind of stuff, which happens a lot, makes it exceedingly difficult for peaceful, "interfaith" Muslims (like Imam Qazwini and Eide Alawan of the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn) to promote Islam as intrinsically peaceful.

Combine such religious over-reactions with a text like Christopher Caldwell's Reflections on the Revolution In Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West and one easily thinks... uh-oh.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Whatever You "Personally Think of God" Just Doesn't Matter


I began reading Julian Barnes's Nothing to Be Frightened Of yesterday. Barnes is an agnostic who stopped believing in God for the most trivial, non-philosophical reasons as a child. Now, he still does not believe God exists, but claims agnosticism since none of us know very much at all.

Barnes is a brilliant writer, engaging and often very funny. I find myself laughing out loud at points in the book. It's an extended meditation of death, from a non-believer's perspective. Inevitably, in talking about one's own death, people - even Barnes - talks about God.

One of the things Barnes derides and despises and rejects is the idea of one's "personal idea of God." He writes: "A common response in surveys of religious attitudes is to say something like, "I don't go to church, but I have my own personal idea of God." This kind of statement makes me in turn act like a philosopher. Soppy, I cry. You may have your own personal idea of God, but does God have His own personal idea of you? Because that's what matters. Whether He's an old man with a white beard sitting in the sky, or a life force, or a disinterested prime mover, or a clockmaker, or a woman, or a nebulous moral force, or Nothing At All, what counts is what He, She, it, or Nothing thinks ofyou rather than what you think of them. The notion of redefining the deity into something that works for you is grotesque. It also doesn't matter whether God is just or benevolent or even observant - of which there seems startlingly little proof - only that He exists." (46) (For me, it's not the person who has their "personal idea of God" that does not matter, but the epistemic content of their "personal idea of God" that is of no consequence or interest.)

I'm not with Barnes on the unimportance of and evidential aspects of the benevolent nature of God. But I am with the rest of what he here says. The "personal avatar" idea of God, when someone presents this to me in a sentence that begins "For me God is...", means nothing to me except that it adds to the sociological religio-cultural survey-databank in my brain. If God exists (which I think He does), then God exists for us all, and His nature/essence is the same for us all. At this point personally invented "gods," like designer clothing, only illustrate a kind of mini-temporal trend that has no relevance as regards the real question. In this sense, as Barnes says, whatever one "personally" thinks of God just doesn't matter. I agree.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

William Dembski and The End of Christianity


Bill Dembski is one of the most brilliant thinkers I've ever read. Forget the atheists who try to malign his intelligence. His thinking is out of the box, even revolutionary. I have always felt that, when certain evolutionary naturalists labeled Bill as just another "creationist" this was simply an ad hominem attack that stemmed from their own inability to capture the essence of his position. Most (but not all) of Bill's internet critics seem to only cut-and-paste stuff because they are, simply, not on an intellectual level to engage him. And, some critics respect Bill's thinking enough to engage him in serious debate, such as Michael Ruse and Wesley Elsberry (see here).

Bill's new book is The End of Christianity: Finding a Good God In an Evil World. It's his work on "the problem of evil." Demski believes the Christian position teaches that all evil, to include natural evil, is due to human sin. But he is not a young-earth creationist. So, animals existed prior to humans, and the pre-human world contained natural evils and animal suffering; i.e., the pre-human natural world evidenced "fallenness." What if the earth is 4.5 billion years old? "In that case, the bulk of natural history predates humans by billions of years. In that case, for hundreds of millions of years, multicelled animals have been emerging, competing, fighting, killing, parasitizing, torturing, suffering, and going extinct." (49)

Dembski writes: "Our dilemma is to preserve both theological orthodoxy about the Fall and scientific orthodoxy about the age of the earth." (78) His solution will be "to see how the Fall can affect not only the future but also the past" by showing how "God acts across time, or transtemporally."

I'm only in chapter 5, so I'm not to the point where Bill works out this solution. But I am looking forward to this read, since I have such respect for him as a thinker and a Jesus-follower.

If Demsbki's book philosopher J.P. Moreland writes: "The End of Christianity towers over the others in profundity and quality . . . I have read very few books with its deep of insight, breadth of scholarly interaction, and significance. From now on, no one who is working on a Christian treatment of the problem of evil can afford to neglect this book."