Saturday, July 31, 2010

Time Magazine's Heartbreaking Cover...

As I walked back from the mailbox today I looked through the mail and stopped when I saw the cover of Time magazine. It's sad, heartbreaking, anger-producing.

Tomorrow Is Easter Sunday at Redeemer!

(German scholar Wolfhart Pannenberg)

Tomorrow morning - I've been waiting almost 5 years to preach on the words "He is not here. He is risen!"

Tomorrow is message #246 in our Real Jesus series, as we've been preaching chronologically through the 4 Gospels. Over 5 years ago God told me to do this. One reason is that we live in a horrifically Jesus-illiterate culture, and I'm doing what I can in our little context to correct that.

Tomorrow...  the resurrection. And I have a preaching problem. The problem is: I have way too much to say about the resurrection of Jesus!

Way back in 1972 I was a brand new Jesus-follower. The leader of the campus ministry I was in was Bill Craig (AKA William Lane Craig). Bill introduced me to and mentored me in Jesus-resurrection studies. When Bill left the university we were at he did two Ph.Ds - one with the famous, brilliant British philosopher John Hick, and the other with the brilliant German thinker and resurrection scholar Wolfhart Pannenberg. I went off to do only one Ph.D, at Northwestern University. I wrote my dissertation on the language of resurrection, drawing on, among others. Pannenberg's classic Jesus: God and Man. Between my dissertation's completion (1986) and today I have continued to read Jesus-resurrection research from all angles supportive and sceptical. The result for me is: I believe Jesus was crucified on a cross. I believe Jesus' tomb was found empty by women. I believe God raised Jesus from the dead. And, I believe I'm going to celebrate Easter in August tomorrow at Redeemer.

36 Sophomoric Arguments Against the Existence of God


In his monthly newsletter Bill Craig notes that he has written a "brief review for the Christian Research Journal of Rebecca Goldstein’s book 36 Arguments for the Existence of God, a truly sophomoric book criticizing theistic arguments."

I agree. I read and commented on Goldstein's "36 Arguments" and found that, after the impressive title, it went quickly downhill. 

Anne Rice Stays With Christ But Quits Being a Christian


The headline at cnn.com says "Anne Rice Leaves Christianity." This is misleading, since she says:

“My faith in Christ is central to my life. My conversion from a pessimistic atheist lost in a world I didn't understand, to an optimistic believer in a universe created and sustained by a loving God is crucial to me. But following Christ does not mean following His followers. Christ is infinitely more important than Christianity and always will be, no matter what Christianity is, has been or might become.”

Rice writes:

“For those who care, and I understand if you don't: Today I quit being a Christian ... It's simply impossible for me to ‘belong’ to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I've tried. I've failed. I'm an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.”

OK. She's no longer a Christian. But she has faith in Christ, and this faith is central to her life. She just can't handle being with "Christians." She refuses to be “anti-gay,” “anti-feminist," “anti-science” and “anti-Democrat.”

I'm glad she still loves Jesus. But Jesus has not abandoned his not-so-perfect followers. If she hangs with Jesus she needs to realize that Jesus spends time hanging with the rest of us "Christians." Has Jesus left Christianity? On that point I feel sure he's not pleased with some of it, in the sense that some or even a lot of what passes for "Christianity" today has no point of contact with the Jesus of the Gospels. But Jesus has not really left even the many "Christian non-Christians" and nominal Christians, but is in loving pursuit of them. If Rice follows after the Real Jesus then he's going to lead her, at times, to fake Christians, which he has not ceased to love. Because God is, as she has discovered, a "loving God." This all-loving God doesn't get put off by the imperfections of people, but dies on the cross for them, which includes for us since we are "them" too. It's instructive to note that Jesus, after being abandoned by all his original 12, calls for a meeting with them after he gets crucified and rises from the dead. They are abject failures yet remain objects of his love. Jesus' love did not allow him to remain an "outsider."

Friday, July 30, 2010

An Agnostic Challenges Faith-Filled Atheism

Here's some thoughts on Ron Rosenbaum's An Agnostic Manifesto: At least we know what we don't know.

Agnosticism is, says Rosenbaum, "radical skepticism, doubt in the possibility of certainty, opposition to the unwarranted certainties that atheism and theism offer." So an agnostic is skeptical not only of religious claims but also of atheistic claims. The New Atheists have an epistemic certainty about them that Rosenbaum the agnostic rejects. (Note: I have read some non-philosophically astute atheists who easily and fallaciously include agnostics in their number so as to inflate their meager numbers.)

"It's time," says Rosenbaum, "for a new agnosticism, one that takes on the New Atheists. Indeed agnostics see atheism as "a theism"—as much a faith-based creed as the most orthodox of the religious variety." Rosenbaum the agnostic is coming against "faith-based atheism." To explain: "Atheists display a credulous and childlike faith, worship a certainty as yet unsupported by evidence—the certainty that they can or will be able to explain how and why the universe came into existence. (And some of them can behave as intolerantly to heretics who deviate from their unproven orthodoxy as the most unbending religious Inquisitor.)"

The faith-filled New Atheist demonstrates his mighty leap of faith when he or she asserts that some day science will explain to us how something came from nothing. "Most seem never to consider that it may well be a philosophic, logical impossibility for something to create itself from nothing." Rosenbaum is unconvinced at atheistic stabs at solving this problem by positing a "multiverse" or  "vacuums filled with quantum potentialities." He counsels us to refrain from turning science into another religion "until it can show it has all the answers, which it hasn't, and probably never will."

Rosenbaum guffaws at "the brights." "The "brights" seem like rather dim bulbs when it comes to this question. It's amazing how the New Atheists boastfully stride over this pons asinorum as if it weren't there." I'll agree with Rosenbaum here. That a few non-philosophical (in the sense of the academy) atheists need to refer to themselves as "brights" is just funny. Especially since I know a few of them who are, when it comes to thinking "brightly" [logically], incoherent. (God loves them anyway.) (What Rosenbaum writes about pons asinorum is too funny for me to here quote.)

Rosenbaum the agnostic lays down the gauntlet with this challenge: "I challenge any atheist, New or old, to send me their answer to the question: "Why is there something rather than nothing?" I can't wait for the evasions to pour forth. Or even the evidence that this question ever could be answered by science and logic." Speaking as a theist I'd say: true, atheism cannot answer this question. But theism can. And that's another story, which I've posted about here before.

I found myself having a good feeling when Rosenbaum tipped his hat to David Berlinski's The Devil's Delusion, a good deal of which I agree with even though Berlinski is himself an agnostic. And Rosenbaum cites a recent essay by atheist/agnostic Paul Kurtz, who cites John Dewey as saying: "The aggressive atheist seems to have something in common with traditional superstition…. The exclusive preoccupation of both militant atheism and supernaturalism is with man in isolation from nature. [A Common Faith]"

Citing John Wilkins, Rosenbaum lists five objections to th New Atheists.

1. Too much of the rhetoric and sociality is tribal: Us and Them."

2. [The New Atheism] presumes to know what it cannot. More on this below.  

3. As a consequence of 1 and 2, it tries to co-opt Agnosticism as a form of "weak" Atheism. I think people have the right to self-identify as they choose, and I am neither an atheist nor a faith-booster, both charges having been made by atheists (sometimes the same atheists).

4. Knowability: We are all atheist about some things: Christians are Vishnu-atheists, I am a Thor-atheist, and so on. [Which is why the "are you agnostic about fairies?" rejoinder is just dumb.] But it is a long step from making existence claims about one thing (fairies, Thor) to a general denial of the existence of all possible deities. I do not think the god of, say John Paul II exists. But I cannot speak to the God of Leibniz. No evidence decides that.  

5. But does that mean no *possible* evidence could decide it [existence or nonexistence of God]? That's a much harder argument to make. Huxley thought it was in principle Unknowable, but that's a side effect of too much German Romanticism in his tea. I can conceive of logically possible states of affairs in which a God is knowable, and I can conceive of cases in which it is certain that no God exists.

Rosenbaum reminds me a lot of Berlinski. He's witty and intelligent, and his essay is a good read. It confirms in me that, were I an atheist, I would not wish to be either a New Atheist or an ex-Christian Evangelistic Atheist (whose life purpose is to refute Christianity).

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Some Changes In My Philosophy of Religion Classes

(Queen Anne's Lace - a very lofty name for a weed!)

The new Philosophy of Religion text I'll be teaching out of at MCCC is Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings.

I'm keeping the three-section approach with three one-on-one oral exams with the students.

Section I will be on the existence of God. Like the previous years I'll begin with Anselm's ontological argument for God's existence. But then I will present Alvin Plantinga's contemporary modal version of the ontological argument. This will be challenging, both for me and for my students. I'll continue to use W.L. Craig's "Kalam Cosmological Argument." I'll use Betty and Cordell's "Anthropic Teleological Argument," plus Robert Adams on "Moral Arguments for God's Existence."

Section III will be on the Argument from Evil Against God's Existence.

Section II will be, for me, completely new. I'll teach on Religious Experience. First we'll look at Teresa of Avila's visions of God. Next, I'll teach William James's famous "Religious Experiences as Feelings Forming the Root of Religion." Both Teresa and James will be easy to teach. But then we come to some very dense essays. William P. Alston's work that makes an analogy between direct mystical experience of God and sense perception is important. It's also tough going. I'm doing some work tonight on Alston. I need to make these quite difficult essays clear to my students. I'll probably teach Michael Martin's "Critique of Religious Experience," and end with Merold Westphal's "A Phenomenological Account of Religious Experience." Alston, Martin, and Westphal will be impossible for my students to read. So it will all depend on my ability to teach them.

But why? Because:

1) Students today are extremely interested in religious experience.
2) I am finding myself increasingly interested in the nature of religious experience.
3) Teaching this new section will be refreshing for me as a professor. It will cause me to grow in a very important philosophy of religion area.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

My Sermons

You can access a lot of my sermons for free on iTunes. Go to the iTunes store; type in 'Piippo.'

The End of All True Friendships

I stepped outside my hotel room door and picked up the complementary USA Today lying on the floor. I read it at lunch today, and was especially interested in the editorial by Mark Vernon - "Is True Friendship Dying Away?" Vernon's answer is: yes. I think: of course it is. Add Vernon's brief insights to Nicholas Carr's deeper research in The Shallows and we have not only the loss of "friendship" but of meditative, contemplative consciousness as well.

The thesis is simple: repetitive behavior produces changes in the physical brain. Where is texting and messaging leading us? Vernon says: "Perhaps to a dark place, one where electronic stimuli slowly replace the joys of human contact." "We know that less is more when it comes to deeper relationships. It is lonely in the crowd. A connection may only be a click away, but cultivating a good friendship takes more. It seems common sense to conclude that "friending" online nurtures shallow relationships — as the neologism "friending" itself implies." Please note: this is not apocalytpic fear-mongering, it's just good old (new, really) neuroscience. Anyone who poo-poos the concerns of Carr and Vernon are simply neuroscientifically obfuscated.

If you want actual, close friendships, Vernon counsels: "Put down the device; engage the person." Do it while you still can.

Spiritual Formation Class, Payne Theological Seminary, July 2010


Pray Psalm 23 With Me (& Howard Thurman) This Week

This week at Payne Theological Seminary we are meditating on Psalm 23. Here is the handout I gave Payne seminary students yesterday, and which we're looking at again today. I send them out to pray for an hour, using Ps. 23 as their meditative God-focus. I invite you, through this week, to engage with God using this Psalm.




***
PRAYER EXERCISE – SPIRITUAL FORMATION


Dr. John Piippo

1. The purpose of this exercise is to enter into the presence of God for the sake of deepening your relationship with God alone. My assumption is that you need God. You need to spend much time in God’s presence. And that time is to be spent in a certain way.

2. Find a “lonely place apart.” When you get to that place, spend one hour with God.

3. Take with you only Psalm 23 and your journal. You may also take a Bible with you. But I want you to use Psalm 23 as your focus of meditation.

4. Leave any cell phones, computers, books, palm pilots, shopping lists, and xerox machines behind. They will be waiting for you when you return from this time.

5. Use Psalm 23 for meditation.

6. Your purpose is not to exegete Psalm 23, but to be yourself exegeted by the Holy Spirit.

7. When God speaks to you, write it down in your spiritual journal. A spiritual journal is a record of the voice of God to you.

8. If your mind wanders, you may wish to write down where it wanders to. Your wandering mind is a barometer of your true spiritual condition. Your mind will never wander arbitrarily, but always to something like a burden or a hope.

9. When the hour is over, return to our class.



Psalm 23

A psalm of David.

1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.

2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,

he leads me beside quiet waters,

3 he restores my soul.

He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil, for you are with me;

your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

5 You prepare a table before me

in the presence of my enemies.

You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

6 Surely goodness and love will follow me

all the days of my life,

and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

 
***
I'm also giving the students a copy of this quote from Howard Thurman's Meditations of the Heart, 27-28.
 
“There is no argument needed for the necessity of taking time out for being alone, for withdrawal, for being quiet without and still within. The sheer physical necessity is urgent because the body and the entire nervous system cry out for the healing waters of silence. One could not begin the cultivation of the prayer life at a more practical point than deliberately to seek each day, and several times a day, a lull in the rhythm of daily doing, a period when nothing happens that demands active participation. It is a wonderful way with which to begin the day and to bring one’s day to an end. At first the quiet times may be quite barren or merely a retreat from exhaustion. One has to get used to the stillness even after it has been achieved. The time may be used for taking stock, for examining one’s life direction, one’s plans, one’s relations, and the like. This in itself is most profitable. It is like cleaning out the closets, or the desk drawers, and getting things in order. The time may be used for focusing and re-focusing one’s purposes in the light of what at first may be only one’s idea of the best and the highest. Then quiet changes begin to take place. Somewhere along the way, one’s idea of the best and the highest takes on a transcendent character and one begins to commune, to communicate with one’s idea of the best and the highest – only a man does not talk to, or with, and idea. When the awareness of God comes in – how He entered, one does not know – one is certain that He has been there all the time. This assurance is categorical and becomes the very core of one’s faith; indeed, it becomes more and more one’s faith. Suppose you begin now, this day, with the use of the quiet time in some such fashion as suggested.”

Monday, July 26, 2010

Teaching at Payne Theological Seminary

I've had a beautiful day with the 28 seminary students in my Spiritual Formation class at Payne Theological Seminary. These students have traveled to Wilberforce, Ohio from all over the U.S. - from Florida, New York, Atlanta, Texas, New Jersey, South Carolina, Ohio, and yes even from Michigan. A pastor from Detroit showed up this morning wearing a Tigers hat! (And then the Tigers get no-hit tonight... :(...

Whenever I teach this class I send the students out to pray for an hour, giving them specific instructions. I give them Psalm 23 to meditate on and say, "When God speaks to you, write it down."

It was a stunning morning as we all went out to pray. I re-meditated on Ps. 23 - it's always a blessing for me to do this, and today I was spoken to in a new way about the "comfort" God is now giving my soul. That was very encouraging.

When the students re-convened in our classroom I had them break into groups of four and share with one another the things God spoke to them. There was a lot of great sharing which culminated in each group making a report to the entire class. God spoke in many and various ways to all of us today. One of the students received an answer to a prayer she had been asking God about for 5 years.

After lunch I began teaching my theology of spiritual formation. This is something I've worked on for thirty years, and there's not a textbook that shares it the way I want it shared. I've developed this as a result of: 30+ years of weekly praying and entering into God's presence; teaching and spiritual-coaching 900+ pastors and Christian leaders from all over the world; traveling to various seminaries and conferences and teaching these things; reading and teaching the history of Christian spirituality, and studying the biblical texts.

Tomorrow morning I'll send the students out to pray again for an hour, and again use Ps. 23 as our meditative focus (there is a method, which is Hebraic, to this madness). Then I will re-teach my theology of spirituality, this time inserting the spirituality of Howard Thurman into the mix.

God gave me some specific insights into the students' lives today. They are a great, receptive group. For me it's a real honor to spend this week with them.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

In Dayton, & and Two Apocalyptic Cartoons

I'm in my beautiful hotel room in Dayton (a suite!). Tomorrow I begin teaching Spiritual formation at Payne Theological Seminary. I am looking forward to this week. Twenty-eight students form Payne's incoming seminary class.

On a totally different note, here's an apocalyptic cartoon by Tony Auth, posted today. And another one by my favorite political cartoonist Tom Toles.


Friday, July 23, 2010

The Shallows - #4 - The Non-Hardwiring of Our Brains

"The genius of our brain's of our brain's construction is not that it contains a lot of hardwiring but that it doesn't."
- Nicholas Carr, The Shallows, Ch. 2

Change, flexibility, malleability, and plasticity are our neural norms. We change our physical brains through the way we live and the tools we use.

The Shallows - #3 - Overcoming Neurological Nihilism

Nicholas Carr, in Chapter Two of The Shallows ("the Vital Paths"), shows how:
1) The belief has been, until quite recently, that the human brain does not change physiologically. This created a "neurological nihilism", causing people think that, logically, people cannot change if the brain is "fixed."
2) But recent discoveries have shown that the physical brain is "massively plastic" and malleable.

What's going on?

"Every time we perform a task or experience a sensation, whether physical or mental, a set of neurons in our brains is activated. If they're in proximity, those neurons join together through the excahnge of synaptic neurotransmitters like the amino acid glutamate. As the same experience is repeated, the synaptic links between the neurons grows stronger and more plentiful through both physiological changes, such as the release of higher concentrations of neurotransmitters, and anatomical ones, such as the generation of new neurons or the growth of new synaptic terminals on existing axons and dendrites. Synaptic links can also weaken in response to experiences, again as a result of physiological and anatomical alterations. What we learn as we live is embedded in the ever-changing cellular connections inside our heads. The chains of linked neurons form our minds' true "vital paths." Today,  scientists sum up the essential dynamic of neuroplasticity known as Hebb's rule: "Cells that fire together wire together.""

So, the idea that Net-addiction is rewiring our physical brains is plausible given the evidence of their neuroplasticity.

The Shallows - #2 - Thoughts "Emerge" From Neuronal Interactions

Nicholas Carr, in The Shallows, will need to go into the physiology of the human brain if he hopes to substantiate his thesis that the medium of the Internet (like Nietzsche's typewriter) alters that physiology. Carr writes:

"Neurons have central cores, or somas, which carry out the functions common to all cells, but they also have two kinds of tentacle-like appendages - axons and dendrites - that transmit and receive electric pulses. When a neuron is active, a pulse flows from the soma to the tip of the axon, where it triggers the release of chemicals called neurotransmitters. The neurotransmitters... flow across the synapse... and attach themselves to a dendrite of a neighboring neuron, triggering (or suppressing) a new electric pulse in that cell. It's through the flow of neurotransmitters across synapses that neurons communicate with one another, directing the transmission of eleectrical signals along complex cellular pathways. Thoughts, memories, emotions - all emerge from the elctrochemical interactions of neurons, mediated by synapses." (emphasis mine)

It's that little word "emerge" that I am especially interested in. I don't know if Carr will do anything with this; probably not. "Thoughts" as "emergent properties" of the physical brain, as "qualia" - that's interesting, and problematic on physicalism. That's a rabbit trail that's become, for many today, a superhighway.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Shallows - #1

Tonight I downloaded - for free - Kindle for PC. Then I bought "The Shallows," by Nicholas Carr, for $9.99. The Amazon price for the hard copy is $17.79. That's probably what it would cost (if not a bit more) at Borders. So - it's a deal!

Now I am reading "The Shallows." Carr begins with an extended meditation on the famous Marshall McLuhan quote - "the medium is the message." Very nice. So what might that mean? To Carr, it means something like this: "As McLuhan suggested, media aren't just channels of information. They supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought." (173-85; note: this is Kindle's "position number." You can't get page numbers unless you convert them via a tool.) It's like this. Turn on your garden hose and let it run water in one area of your lawn, day after day after day, and it will erode a groove in your lawn. Leave it on for a few millenia and you've got the Grand Canyon. Web-skim and Net-surf for years and you'll lose the ability read books.

What's the result of years of Net surfing and linking and browsing? "What the net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for contemplation and concentration." For Carr it feels different in his brain than it did years ago. web users become "chronic scatterbrains." They skim, scroll, and have "very little patience for long, drawn-out nuanced arguments," even though they may "accuse others of painting the world too simply." (199-212)

Of course the Net has great advantages, which Carr admits. His study is about how chronic Net-using is altering the landscape of our physical brains.

For contemplatives like myself who teach others the lost arts of meditation and contemplation the current neural transformations are going to make deep thinking seemingly irrelevant. This won't be a result of intellectual argumentation, but will be due to a neuro-inability to conceive such possibilities. One might as well ask a fish if he'd like to consider flying. Carr writes: "In a talk at a recent Phi Beta Kappa meeting, Duke University professor Katherine Hayles confessed, 'I can't get my students to read whole books anymore. Hayles teaches English; the students she's talking about are students of literature." (213-26)

Well, that's interesting, isn't it? It certainly resonates with talks I've had with professor colleagues. And to think that, in just over a month, I'll be asking my philosophy of religion students to read three pages of Anselm, and introducing them to his ontological argument for God's existence. It's not something to be skimmed. And the Net will be of no help to any of them in coming to comprehend it.

Redeemer Ministry School Fall 2010 Class Schedule


(Me, after baptisms at Redeemer)

RMS FALL 2010 CLASS SCHEDULE


Spiritual Formation
Tuesdays, 9:30 – 1
Instructor: John Piippo

Description: In order to be used by God as an agent of renewal and transformation one must themselves be in a continual place of personal renewal and transformation. This course will combine times of personal prayer, spiritual journaling, and teaching from biblical and historical resources on what it means to dwell in the presence of God and be renewed and transformed.

Worship I
Wed., Fri., 9:30 – 11
Instructor: Holly Benner

Description: True worship and adoration comes from intimacy with God. It is founded on the understanding of God's great love for you. Intimacy and Worship will focus on building and furthering that love relationship with Him while defining what a lifestyle of worship looks like. This class will include an in-depth look at Song of Solomon and Old & New Testament character studies.


Bible Study Methods

Thursdays, 9:30 – 1
Instructor: Josh Bentley

Description: This course will provide students with systematic methods of studying scripture. Through those methods students will also learn how to practically apply their understanding as they study different books of the Bible.



Kingdom of God I
Thursdays, 4:30 – 7:30
Instructor: Jim Collins

Description: The main teaching of Jesus was about the “kingdom of God” or “kingdom of heaven.” This course will present the major interpretations of the meaning of the kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed. Students will learn to understand the real Jesus from the perspective of God’s kingdom message.


WEEK 1 - Sept. 13-17 - Community building & orientation

WEEK 2 - Sept. 20 - Classes begin!

We break for all of Thanksgiving week.

redeemerministryschool.com

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The DROID X Is Not God

(The Motorola DROID X, with its all-seeing, all-knowing HAL-like "eye." See the real HAL 9000 below.)

I've got a simple cell phone. I don't text people or receive texts. I use AT&T.

I get e-mails from Verizon, asking me to switch to them. I sometimes check them out, in case I find a cheaper phone package then what I now have. And, BTW, I do not want to spend time researching these things, so no suggestions please!

Anyway, I linked to the Verizon ad that came to me today. One of their phones is a "Motorola DROID X." You have probaly heard of this, and maybe even have one. I've never heard of it before and definitely do not have one.

What interested me is the description of the DROID X. Here it is.

"Motorola DROID X

With a screen that turns your eyes into captivated apertures of ecstasy. Web-busting speed that transforms your arms into blistering, churning pistons. And intuition that manifests itself as your sixth sense. There's no end to what your device can do, it's the next generation of does."

  1. Eyes... turned into "captivated apertures of ecstasy?" ("Glory?")
  2. Arms... transformed "into blistering, churning pistons?" ("Power?")
  3. Intuition... "that manifests itself as your sixth sense?" ("Wisdom and All-knowingness?")
  4. "There's no end to what your device can do?" ("Omni-attributes?")

If all these are true, then the DROID X is God. I've decided not to get it.

(HAL's eye, in "2001: A Space Odyssey")

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Can Computers Think? Uh-uh.

(Keir Dullea faces the truly creepy huam-like computer "HAL" in "2001: A Space Odyssey.")

David Gelernter is Prof. of computer science at Yale. In his essay "Dream-Logic, the Internet, and Artificial Thought," he raises the wonderful question: Can computers think? In regard to this question "here is an unfortunate truth: today's mainstream ideas about human and artificial thought lead nowhere." Gelernter gives three wrong assumptions that lead people astray when trying to answer our question.

1) Many people believe that "thinking" is basically the same as "reasoning." I feel certain Gelernter is correct that this assumption is false. Reasoning is a subset of thinking. 'But when you stop work for a moment, look out the window and let your mind wander, you are still thinking. Your mind is still at work. This sort of free-association is an important part of human thought. No computer will be able to think like a man unless it can free-associate.'

2) Many people believe that reality is one thing and your thoughts are something else. Thinking includes things like, for example, dreaming and hallucinating. "No computer will be able to think like a man unless it, too, can inhabit its thoughts; can disappear into its own mind."

3) Many people believe that the thinker and the thought are separate. "When a person is dreaming, hallucinating — when he is inside a mind-made fantasy landscape — the thinker and his thought-stream are not separate. They are blended together. The thinker inhabits his thoughts. No computer will be able to think like a man unless it, too, can inhabit its thoughts; can disappear into its own mind."

Gelernter then says: "What does this mean for the internet: will the internet ever think? Will an individual computer ever think?" For anyone who has wondered about the answer to such questions the rest of Gelernter's essay is worth reading. His answer to these questions are: No. For the following reasons:

  1. "Intelligence" can only mean human or human-like intelligence. The idea that the internet will develop some new kind of intelligence is "nonsense." "If your new form of intelligence is human-like, it's not new. If it isn't human-like, it's not intelligence." Just like if some substance tastes like chocolate it isn't chocolate, and if it tastes like chocolate it's not something new, it is chocolate.
  2. Human-like intelligence cannot emerge, in principle, on the internet because "the raw materials are wrong." A computer will never have first-person subjective experience. This is called, in philosophy, the "absent qualia" problem.

  3. "Furthermore, human consciousness and thought emerged from a mechanism (genetic mutation) that allowed endless, nuanced variations to be tested — under the uncompromising pressure of survival or death. Neither condition holds on the internet as we know it. Expecting intelligence to emerge on the internet is like expecting a car to move when you floor the accelerator, even though it has no motor."
  4. We could have a computer that seems to have consciousness, but "as far as we know, there is no way to achieve consciousness on a computer or any collection of computers." A software model of consciousness is not itself consciousness. "The result would be a computer that seems to think. It would be a zombie (a word philosophers have borrowed from science fiction and movies): the computer would have no inner mental world; would in fact be unconscious. But in practical terms, that would make no difference. The computer would ponder, converse and solve problems just as a man would. And we would have achieved artificial or simulated thought, "artificial intelligence.""
  5. There can be "no cognitive spectrum without emotion." "But emotions are produced by brain and body working together."
  6. Gelernter concludes: "One day all these problems will be solved; artificial thought will be achieved. Even then, an artificially intelligent computer will experience nothing and be aware of nothing. It will say "that makes me happy," but it won't feel happy. Still: it will act as if it did. It will act like an intelligent human being. And then what?" 

Holly Benner's New CD Now on iTunes!

Holly Benner's new cd is now (yay!) on iTunes!

Holly is our worship leader and is probably writing another new, great song as I type...

You can also order a copy and have it mailed to you. Call Redeemer Church, 734-242-5277 for details.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Donald Miller (& the Real Jesus)

Cnn.com has a nice article on "Blue Like Jazz" author Donald Miller. Miller talks about  "the best sermon he ever heard," which was the life of a not-famous Jesus-follower named David Gentiles. "David Gentiles didn't look the part. He wore work boots, drove a creaky Ford pickup and wore a chewed-up Cleveland Indians baseball cap more than he wore pastor's robes. A Cajun from Louisiana, Gentiles stood only 5-foot-5 but he loved big hugs, laughed loudly and cried openly. Gentiles, Miller said, "taught me more about Jesus than anybody I knew.""

To be honest, I think that mostly this is how things are when it comes to actual Christianity. The un-famous Jesus-followers of the world are the real influencers of people. May Miller himself, along with myself, fade into anonymity and descend into greatness.

Miller has "created "The Mentoring Project," a program that offers mentors to kids without fathers. He contends that men who grow up without fathers are more predisposed to prison and brutalizing women. The Mentoring Project has attracted so much attention that Miller was asked by the White House to join a presidential task force on fatherhood."

The article tells what happened when Miller met his biological father for the first time. And how Gentiles became a real father to him.

Redeemer Ministry School - Be a Part of Two Very Special Events

We're now taking applications for our 2010-2011 Redeemer Ministry School class.

RMS begins the week of September 12.

Class schedules will be posted this week.

This year's RMS students will be serving and participating in two very special events that are coming to Redeemer.

Jan 12-15 - Randy Clark and his School of Healing and Impartation comes.

April 6-9 - Darren Wilson's "Furious Love Event," which we are hosting at Redeemer.

For application + RMS information go to: redeemerministryschool.com.


***
Note: Topics covered in The School of Healing and Impartation 1: Revival Phenomena and Healing


Common phenomena that occur in revival (regarding healing and missionary expansion in the world)

Words of knowledge (including an activation clinic)

The 5 Step Prayer Model

"The Agony of Defeat" in the healing ministry

Healing ministry principles that shouldn't be turns into Laws

"Spend and Be Spent" (followed by a time of impartation)

Q & A with the panel of speakers

"Pressing In" (followed by a time of impartation)

"Acts of Obedience: Keys to Unleashing Healing and Miracles"

"Open Heaven: Experiencing all that Christ Purchased"

Four kinds of faith for healing

The healing power of the Lord's Supper

Randy will sometimes feel led to give one teaching on deliverance in this school

Topics covered in The School of Healing and Impartation 2: Healing, Deliverance, and Disbelief:

Words of knowledge and the "Five Step Prayer Model"

Healing and the glory of God

Healing and the Kingdom of God

Healing and intimacy with God

Why Cessationism is not Biblical

The Biblical basis for the doctrine of impartation

Is healing in the atonement?

How desperate are you for a healing anointing?

Additionally, there are five sessions on deliverance, and five session on physical healing

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Slow-Cook Your Way Out of Stupidity

Lots of important people are commenting on Nicholas Carr's book The Shallows. I haven't read it yet. I have so many books in queue that it would be wrong to get Carr's book now. But I do read reviews. Here's a decent one by Patrick Kingsley at The Guardian - "The Art of Slow Reading." Subtitled: "Has endlessly skimming short texts on the internet made us stupider? An increasing number of experts think so - and say it's time to slow down . . ."

Probably true. Try this: spend a few minutes just meditating on the title of Kingsley's essay... the art... of slow... reading... the art...  slow... reading... now... I...am... reading... slowly... Which means: Meditate, for God's sake! (I mean that literally.) Do it now and do it slow!

Kingsley writes: "Keith Thomas, an Oxford historian, has written that he is bemused by junior colleagues who analyse sources with a search engine, instead of reading them in their entirety. So are we getting stupider? Is that what this is about? Sort of. According to The Shallows, a new book by technology sage Nicholas Carr, our hyperactive online habits are damaging the mental faculties we need to process and understand lengthy textual information. Round-the-clock news feeds leave us hyperlinking from one article to the next – without necessarily engaging fully with any of the content; our reading is frequently interrupted by the ping of the latest email; and we are now absorbing short bursts of words on Twitter and Facebook more regularly than longer texts.

Which all means that although, because of the internet, we have become very good at collecting a wide range of factual titbits, we are also gradually forgetting how to sit back, contemplate, and relate all these facts to each other. And so, as Carr writes, "we're losing our ability to strike a balance between those two very different states of mind. Mentally, we're in perpetual locomotion"."


At our home group this past week I asked Judith if her husband Joe slow-cooked his infamous chili in a crockpot. Then I wondered, out loud, "How did people ever exist without a slow-cooker?" Judith responded, "They just cooked things slowly."

Think of Kant writing his Kritique der Reinen Vernunft without internet and computer. Find some good, true, important ideas and slow-cook them in your mind and heart. Like: "Lord, how I love Your law; I meditate on it day and night." (Ps. 119:97)

N.T. Wright on the Darkness Enveloping the Cross

At Redeemer, for almost 5 years, we've been preaching through the 4 Gospels chronologically. We'll finish at the end of October. We're raising the level of Jesus-literacy in our church family.

Tomorrow we're looking at the 4 Gospel texts that piece together Jesus on the cross as he says "It is finished" (tetelestai), and then a number of cosmic events occur as a preview (mini-version) of what's coming down the road (these events are "proleptic eschatological events).

N.T. Wright, at times, writes so beautifully. Here he describes the darkness that enevelopes Golgotha, and the cry of Jesus that comes out of that darkness.

“Out of the unexplained cosmic darkness comes God’s new word of creation, as at the beginning… And all happens because of the God-forsakenness of the son of God. The horror which overwhelmed Jesus in Gethsemane, and then seems to have retreated again for a few hours, came back in all its awfulness, a horror of drinking the cup of God’s wrath, of sharing the depth of suffering, mental and emotional as well as physical, that characterized the world in general and Israel in particular. The dark cloud of evil, Israel’s evil, the world’s evil, Evil greater than the sum of its parts, cut him off from the one he called ‘Abba’ in a way he had never known before. And welling up from his lifetime of biblically based prayer there came, as though by a reflex, a cry not of rebellion, but of despair and sorrow, yet still a despair that, having lost contact with God, still asks God why this should be.” (NTW, Mark for Everyone, 216-217)

Joseph Johnson's Principles of Scriptural Interpretation for Preaching

(B.B. King, who imaginatively preached on his guitar "Lucille.")

Black biblical scholar Joseph Johnson gave us the following eleven principles which suggest a way of preparation for the imaginative use of Scripture.

  1. Prepare yourself with devotion and prayer prior to your encounter with the Scriptures.
  2. Read the entire chapter in which the ext is located.
  3. Become acquainted with all of the stories which lead up to the text and those that follow.
  4. What were the problems, the situation of the participants in the story?
  5. Read the biblical passages aloud, so as to hear the Scriptures and permit them to speak with you.
  6. Discover the huan element and the Divine element in the situation.
  7. You must see what the writer saw, feel what the participants in the story felt, and hear what they heard.
  8. Use your imagination and put yourself in the place of the writer and participants of the story.
  9. Assume the different roles of the principal characters in the story and act as if you were present when the story was first told.
  10. Ask yourwelf this question: "What special message does this passage of Scripture bring to your people for their healing and renewal?"
  11. Then wait for God to speak.
(Joseph A. Johnson, Proclamation Theology; quoted in Cain Hope Felder, Stony the Road We Trod: African American Biblical Interpretation, 35)

Friday, July 16, 2010

Black Hermeneutics & the Imaginative Use of Scripture

Tonight I read a brilliant essay by black New Testament scholar Thomas Hoyt, Jr., entitled "Interpreting Biblical Scholarship for the Black Church Tradition" (in Cain Hope Felder, ed., Stony the Road We Trod: African American Biblical Interpretation). As I read it the sermon I heard in May at "Fanning the Flame" by black biblical scholar and Palmer Theological Seminary President Wallace Charles Smith came flooding back into my mind. Smith spoke out of Isaiah 6, especially emphasizing the "live coal" the angel took from the altar of God and placed on Isaiah's lips. Smith's sermon is simply one of the most powerful and influential I have ever heard in my life. And this was in spite of the fact that he seemed to take some liberty (freedom) in interpreting Isaiah 6. My Eurocentric hermeneutical training used to get in the way of this kind of preaching. Hoyt's essay has now straightened all that out for me.

"Biblical writers were themselves interpreters," reasons Hoyt. "Writers in both testaments exercised a certain critical freedom in building upon traditions that they received." (17) Scripture can be used "imaginatively" since, within Scripture, there is the imaginative use of Scripture. Hoyt writes: "To use the imagination means that we must allow the verbal images of the text to evoke mental images in the interpreter and the hearer. The black preacher was and is a master of this use of Scripture." (34) Oh yeah. Like Wallace Charles Smith, for me and many others.

I love how Hoyt describes his uneducated preacher father. He writes: "My father, who was a minister in the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church for over thirty-five years, did not have a seminary education, but had a basic love for Scripture and could tell the biblical stories in such a way that one would walk around in the images and find oneself caught up in the events of the Bible. He would often say, 'In my mind of imagination, I can see...' The intent was to evoke a picture that corresponded to what the text said. The preacher is especially called upon to use imagination in interpreting Scripture. For the congregation, Scriptures come to life through the images used by the preacher." (34-35)

When Wallace Smith preached about Isaiah in the temple it was as if I was in the temple with him, and the angel touched by lips and even the depths of my heart with a live coal. In fact, as I see it, God came that night and touched my soul with a live coal, and in somes ways I will never be the same again.

Tonight at Newport Beach Cafe

Val Fowler (one of our RMS graduates) preaches tonight at Newport Beach Cafe.

9 PM.

Worship included.

Fox In My Backyard!

I looked out our kitchen window a few hours ago, saw this fox in our back yard, and ran for my camera. This is the first fox we've seen on our property.

Cain Hope Felder & the "Stony Road" Black Biblical Scholars Trod

I just received New Testament scholar Cain Hope Felder's Stony the Road We Trod: African American Biblical Interpretation. It's a book of essays written by various black biblical scholars. One of the shared themes of them all is their struggle with the Eurocentric hold on biblical interpretation. For example, there has been an "academic prejudice that the European way of doing things is "objective" and somehow not culture bound." (6)

Felder quotes, e.g., a black biblical scholar who says:

"There are significant differences in the European and African mytho-poetic world views. For instance, miraculous deliverance (the transrational) is expected, evem normal, in the latter; whole in the former whites tend to rely exclusively on empirical procedures, planning, and verification. How can we wrest our understanding of the prophets and miracles from the Euro-American interpretation, and how can we develop and encourage that understanding." (Ib.)

Indeed. I agree.

Now, a little tangent. For example, the all-white, narrow American theology known as "dispensationalism" has, at least in the past, influenced American evangelical Christianity. A number of us are now "wrestling" to free people from such a theology which emasculates the prophetic and the miraculous. See, e.g., Ben Witherington, The Problem with Evangelical Theology: Testing the Exegetical Foundations of Calvinism, Dispensationalism, and Wesleyanism. For example, Witherington writes:

"Unlike the case with Calvinism, the Dispensational approach to the Bible did not arise after profound study of the Hebrew or Greek Scriptures or detailed scholarly exegesis of the text. It was a system that apparently arose in response to a vision and as a result of a pastoral concern about unfulfilled biblical prophecy, and was promulgated by various ministers and evangelists and entrepreneurs in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. More recently, it has often been wed with the all-too-American gospel of success and wealth, not to mention the belief that America is in some way Gods chosen instrument, though of course the Bible says nothing about America." (91)

Full-page Isaiah 53 Ad in Today's New York Times

Chosen People Ministries has placed a full page (!!!) ad using Isaiah 53 in today's New York Times.

You can see the ad here.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Christianity in Kenya

(Stephen Prothero writes: "The Kikuyu people of Kenya, the country’s largest tribe, refer to Mount Kenya as “Where God Lives.”")

A few years ago I read Boston U professor Stephen Prothero's American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon. Prothero also writes for CNN's "Belief Blog." He's got a nice essay called "Spiritual Safari: The Gospel According to Kenyan Cabbies." It reminds me of things I learned about folk Buddhism while riding in cabs in Singapore. I'll be teaching at a conference for Kenyan and Ugandan pastors this Oct. 22-29.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Gospel of Scientific Materialism

One of my current obsessions is the study of philosophical naturalism or, what may be the same thing, scientific materialism. Creighton University professor R.R. Reno has a nice little essay in First Things called "The Gospel Of Scientific Materialism."

African, and African-American Spirituality

(Artist: Malik-Seneferu)

I've been doing intensive studies on the Christian spirituality of Africa, and African-American spirituality. This is in preparation for my week of teaching in late July at Payne Theological Seminary (PTS), and my October trip of speaking, teaching, and preaching in Kenya to 80-100 pastors from Kenya and Uganda.

My PTS class is for Payne's incoming M.Div. students, and is entitled Spiritual Formation. This is the class I've been teaching for many years at a number of theological seminaries, seminars, workshops, both in the U.S. and in places around the world. Through the years it has been my privilege to instruct many pastoral leaders from Africa, and many African-American pastoral leaders.

The books I am especially reading now re. African and African-American spirituality include:

Howard Thurman (Thurman, in my mind, is the leading African-American figure in contemporary spirituality, not only writing so profoundly in this area but living out a contemplative and active life of Jesus-following)
James Cone
John Mbiti
Vincent Wimbush
Cain Hope Felder
Robert W. Kellemen, Karole A. Edwards
Cornel West, Eddie S. Glaude Jr.

Rufus Matthew Jones, Kerry Walters (Note: the Quaker-mystical theology of Rufus Jones deeply influenced the spirituality of Howard Thurman)
Obery Hendricks (Hendricks is former President of Payne Theological Seminary and currently Prof. of Biblical Interpretation at New York Theological Seminary)


Monday, July 12, 2010

Pre-Marital Workshop at Redeemer


Robin Head is a senior at Spring Arbor University. Robin is doing her senior project, which will be a premarital seminar that will take place at Redeemer.

The details, from Robin, are below.

*****
PRE-MARITAL WORKSHOP

When Where and Time:
Sunday evenings, August 8th–September 5th
Redeemer Fellowship Church, Monroe MI
6:00pm-7:30pm

For information contact:
Robin Head
Home: 734 568 0400
Cell: 567 694 3350
Email: robinrhead@hotmail.com
Feel free to call anytime, if I do not answer please leave a message.

Who am I:
My name is Robin Head and I am a senior at Spring Arbor University. I am finishing my degree in family life education. My goal is to teach families how to work together to increase longevity of the family unit and bring peace to what can sometimes be volatile situations. I am writing a pre-marital workshop as part of my senior project. My initial goals are to implement the program and get through the class, but my long term goals include turning this into a mission to reach Christian couples and equip them with communication skills. I am previously divorced and can speak to the need for effective communication in a relationship. My life experiences have prepared me to reach a wide variety of people. The old adage states that “hind sight is 20/20.” Although that is true, I believe couples can be taught certain basic skills and alternative ways of handling conflict, which can help increase marital satisfaction and allow for the family to be a more positive institution.

The Goal for this Program:
The goal of this program is to help facilitate more effective communication, as well as to provide alternatives to conflict resolution. This will result in increased relational satisfaction for engaged couples that can be maintained throughout their marriages.

Topics of Discussion:
Week 1:
Do Men and Women even speak the same language?
This session will cover what men and women expect from conversation and how to better understand their needs. It will also provide interactive activities for the couples to participate in to solidify teachings.

Week 2:
What Love Language do you Speak?
This session is based on Gary Chapman’s Five Love Languages book. It will build on the necessity for communication within the relationship. During this session couples will take the “test” to see what their love language is, as well as what their partner’s love language is. They will be given tips on how to speak the other’s love language and given homework to demonstrate the effectiveness thereof.

Week 3:
Fair Fighting!
During this week, couples will learn that conflict within a relationship is a not a sign of failure but rather a way in which to learn about their partner. They will be given a variety of situations and an assortment of responses or techniques to resolve the conflict.

Week 4:
Intimacy
We will look at the importance of emotional as well as physical intimacy in a relationship. Discussing the meaning of intimacy on a multi-level platform will help participants discover the importance of true intimacy within their relationship.

Week 5:
Child Rearing
The final week will be an optional week for those who intend to have children or for those who may already have children. This week will be used to discuss the importance of understanding the stress children can have on a marriage, varying child-rearing techniques and the importance of couples communicating about disciplining of children and agreeing on methods of implementation.

Brain Science Cannot, In Principle Disprove God's Existence

Steven Reiss is Emeritis Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at Ohio State University. He has a nice little piece in Psychology Today called "Are Brain Scientists Disproving God or Darwin?" Reiss's answer to both is: "No."

A casual reader might agree that brain science studies are not disproving evolutionary theory, but believe that such studies are disproving God's existence. Reiss cites a recent article by Lionel Tiger. (Wall Street Journal op ed, 3/27/10) Tiger's "premise is that religion is a belief in the supernatural world, but brain science might prove that religion is part of the natural world. He suggests the possibility of attacking religion, not by dealing with the truth or invalidity of each of the specific statements of theology, but categorically by making the supernatural natural." But if brain science invalidates all metaphysical ideas, this will be bad for many things we believe to be true but which have no physical status and, hence, are meta-physical or super-natural (beyond physical nature). Reiss writes: "Plato long ago distinguished between the physical and the meta-physical, that is, the natural and the supernatural. Today the physical includes everything in the here and now, such you and me. The meta-physical includes real things not in the here and now, such as our memory of Charles Darwin, the "truth" of evolution theory, the number 5, and of course, God."

Consider, for example, the number '5." "5" is, surely non-physical. "5" doesn't have a Facebook page. I do expect to walk out my back door and see chickadees at my feeder, but I should be shocked to see the number 5 sunning on the deck. It's the same for "truth." I can weigh a chickadee, but cannot weigh truth. "So if someone were to conclude there is no God because beliefs about God are beliefs in the supernatural, and supernatural does not exist, we also should conclude that mathematics isn't true because numbers are not natural."

And, we should conclude that the theory of evolution is not true. Theories are non-natural, meta-physical things. "Where is Darwin's theory of evolution? Upstairs? In the basement? Please don't say "abstraction" because, post-Wittgenstein, we know that isn't true. In the past? Where is the "past"? Theories aren't names for brain events; numbers don't refer to brain events; God doesn't refer to brain events. We know concepts aren't names for brain events because Wittgenstein proved they aren't names. We know concepts aren't names for abstractions because they aren't names."

Brian science is interesting. Brain science tells us about the brain. Personally, I've been upping my brain science studies for a number of philosophical and theological reasons, as well as the fact that I find the human brain so ridiculously captivating. But for all that, brain science can tell us nothing about God, or "5," or "truth," or "the theory of evolution." To think so is to make a Ryleian kind of category mistake.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Whale-Watching

Linda, Josh and I took a whale-watching trip on Thursday. We were on the Atlantic Ocean for about 5 hours - so far out you couldn't see the land. It was a beautiful, sunny day - an amazing trip, very well-run... the onboard biologist whale-expert did a great job. (7 Seas Whale Watch, in Gloucester, MA - excellent!)

We saw many fin whales. They can grow up to 88' long and weigh up to 200,000 pounds. Yikes! We saw three different humpback whales up close. The picture is one I took of a humpback making a dive, tail out of the water. Humpbacks can grow to 50' and weigh as much as 80,000 pounds. Whales eat 2000 pounds of fish a day and, as our biologist-guide said, "never get satiated."

If you ever get a chance to do this, take it!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Paul Copan's Forthcoming "Is God a Moral Monster?"

A few months ago I reviewed Paul Copan's Essay "Are Old Testament Laws Evil?" Atheist Hector Avalos pointed me to criticisms he has made of Copan's work. I commented back to Hector re. his idea that all persons, whether they admit it or not, are really moral relativists (here). I asked Paul if he had specifically responded to Avalos's criticisms. Paul responded back here, saying:

John,

Thanks for the query. My book *Is God a Moral Monster?* (Baker, January 2011) responds extensively to the sorts of criticisms Avalos makes. Stay tuned.
All best wishes,
Paul

Thank you Paul!

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Can God Create a Stone Too Heavy for Him to Lift?


Today Linda, Josh, and I went to Quincy Market in downtown Boston. Linda had a phenomenal burger, Josh had a margarita pizza, and I had a glazed fig and prosciutto pizza (our pizzas were wood-fired). Delicioso! We did some shopping, watched the last half of the Spain-Germany World Cup match, and strolled some of Boston's beautiful streets.

Tonight - back to reality, as I'm relaxing and reading George Mavrodes's "Some Puzzles Concerning Omnipotence" (in Peterson, Hasker, Reichenbach, and Basinger, Philosophy of Religion). Mavrodes was, until fairly recently, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Michigan. I heard him speak years ago at a philosophy conference at Wheaton College (I took two independent studies with Wheaton philosopher Arthur Holmes). And once, while strolling the halls of U-M's superb philosophy department, I walked into Mavrodes's office as his door was open. He was very gracious, and we talked a bit.

If God is "omnipotent," does this mean God can do anything? Can God create a stone too heavy for him to lift?

It's generally understood that the doctrine of omnipotence refers to the ability to do anything that is logically possible. So, e.g., God cannot make a "square circle" simply because such a thing is logically incoherent. But while "square circle" "seems plainly to involve a contradiction..., [the statement that] "x is able to make a thing too heavy for x to lift" does not." (141-142) I could, e.g., make a boat too heavy for me to lift. Why, then, could not God make a stone too heavy for him to lift? At least, it's not obvious that such a thing is logically incoherent in the sense of being self-contradictory or even meaningless. With this in mind, Mavrodes argues that the stone-idea is self-contradictory in the same was as is "square circle." Here's how this works.

God is either omnipotent or he is not. If he is not omnipotent then the phrase "stone too heavy for God to lift" may not be self-contradictory. It follows that if God can make such a stone then he is not omnipotent. But if we assume that God is omnipotent then the phrase "stone too heavy for God to lift" becomes self-contradictory. "For nit becomes 'a stone which cannot be lifted by Him whose power is sufficient for lifting anything'. But the "thing" described by a self-contradictory phrase is absolutely impossible and hence has nothing to do with the doctrine of omnipotence."  (142) "The very omnipotence of God... makes the existence of such a stone absolutely impossible, while it is the fact that I am finite in power... makes it possible for me to make a boat too heavy for me to lift." (142)

But what if someone objects and claims that "stone too heavy for God to lift" is not self-contradictory "and therefore describes an absolutely possible object?" (142) If that is correct than our answer will be, "Yes, God can create such a stone." The existence of such a stone will then be compatible with the omnipotence of God. "Therefore, from the possibility of God's creating such a stone it cannot be concluded that God is not omnipotent... The conclusion which [the objector] wishes to draw from such an affirmative answer to the original question is itself the required proof that the descriptive phrase which appears there is self-contradictory." (142) To the question "Can God make a stone too heavy for Himself to lift?" the objector wants us to answer "Yes." But if we answer "Yes" the objector will think our answer to be absurd since the idea of a stone too heavy for God to lift is logically absurd. This is because, once we grant omnipotence to God plus non-self-contradictoriness to the "stone too heavy for God to lift," we are involved in a logical absurdity which denies what we have granted to God. Mavrodes says: "It is more appropriate to say that such things cannot be done, than that God cannot do them." (Ib.)

Tomorrow...  we're going whale-watching, hopefully to see mammals too heavy for any fishermen to lift.

Today - Downtown Boston

Yesterday Linda, Josh and I: went to Harvard Square - a very neat place for coffee (got me some Peet's!), book-browsing, shopping, culture, food, etc. etc. Bought Linda The Help to read. Then we traveled north to the fishing village of Gloucester - traveled a bit south and sat in a park on the ocean where Josh and I played catch with a football and softball (we brought our gloves). Then, some ice cream on a day that reached over 100 degrees.

Today we'll explore downtown Boston. We're considering going on a whale-watching boat ride tomorrow. It's good to get away, we're relaxing.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

It's Uncool to Try to Be Cool

Mike Sares, in Pure Scum, writes: "By the time Scum began I was already forty-six years old. ["Scum" = Scum of the Earth Church in Denver.) There was no way I was going to try to look and speak like I was in my twenties. Trying too hard to be cool is the most uncool thing you can do. I didn't have any tattoos before Scum started, and I still don't. I've been told that my wearing cargo shorts is a young adult faux pas, even in the summer. And I've only dyed my hair neon blue a couple times, just for fun (using temporary dye, by the way). But Reese wasn't asking me to change the way I looked. It seemed like he was calling me back to something I'd known before I got involved in the Christian subculture. He was asking me to be myself." (59)

That's a nice quote, and so freeing and true. When I think of the people in my life who have most influenced me not one of them was trying to be cool so as to relate to me. Had they done this I would have been weirded out.

Now - today's itinerary! We're in Boston, and going to Harvard Square this morning. Then, to Gloucester on the ocean for, I am certain, some very cool seafood!

"We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world."
- Paul. in 1 Corinthians 4:12-13

Monday, July 05, 2010

John Polkinghorne On the Modesty of Science's Explanatory Ambition

John Polkinghorne was Professor of Mathematical Physics at the University of Cambridge before becoming an Anglican priest. He played an important role in the discovery of the quark. I just spent some time sitting outside at our Boston hotel reading Polkinghorne's essay "The Universe as Creation" (in Peterson, Hasker, et. al., eds, Philosophy of Religion, 551 ff.).

Polkinghorne the brilliant scientist writes of the limitations of science. "Science's success has been purchased by the modesty of its explanatory ambition. It does not attempt to ask and answer every question that one might legitimately raise. Instead, it confines itself to investigating natural processes, attending to the question of how things happen. Other questions, such as those relating to meaning and purpose, are deliberately bracketed out. This scientific stance is taken simply as a methodological strategy with no implication that those other questions, of what one might call a "why" kind, are not fully meaningful and necessary to ask if complete understanding is to be attained." (551)

I'm now thinking of a recent discussion I had with an atheist (of the philosophical naturalist variety) on the question of why bad things happen to people. In dialogue with me he said he gets his answers to this kind of question from science. My response to him was that science cannot, in principle, answer such a question. Science can tell us about the physics of, e.g., a tornado, but it cannot tell us anything about "badness."

Boston, a City that May Be Better Than Detroit

We stayed last night in Syracuse. Went to see Syracuse University. A beautiful campus with a lot of amazing old buildings. Not a student was in sight on July 4. We found the campus business district and at at a Greek-American greasy-spoon type of restaurant run by an old man from Greece. He asked "Where are you from?"

"Detroit," I said.

"Where are you going?"

"To Boston."

He replied, "Boston is better than Detroit."

My Greek salad was excellent! Josh had a really good baked pepperoni-pastry thing, and Linda had gyros with "real" french fries.

We went to the county fairgrounds and joined tens of thousands of people and watched the fireworks.

We're packed up and leaving for Boston, a city that may be better than Detroit.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Off to Boston!

Linda, Josh and I drove from Monroe to Syracuse today. Tomorrow we're heading to Boston, where we'll vacation for 5 days. I'm looking forward to this getaway!

I've got some books to read, including Pure Scum and The Loser Letters, + I'll probably read a few more of the essays in The Waning of Materialism & Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings (this is the new text I'll use in my MCCC philosophy of religion class this fall).

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Furious Love Event in Monroe (2011)- Registration Has Opened!

Darren Wilson brings his "Furious Love Event" to our church April 6-9, 2011. Registration is now open, and will be limited. For information go to FL website.

What an amazing, diverse, cool lineup of speakers!

Heidi & Rolland Baker




Rolland and Heidi Baker began Iris Ministries, Inc., an interdenominational mission, in 1980 and have been missionaries for the past twenty-five years.

Today Rolland and Heidi cry out for a continuation of the visitation of God experienced by the children of H.A. Baker's orphanage in China long ago. That is beginning to happen, and more testimonies are accummulating than can be communicated! May the Word of God spread in power to the remote corners of the world, and may the the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind, people who have never before tasted the goodness of God, be drawn the King's great banquet!

WEBSITE: Iris Ministries Inc.

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Philip Mantofa



Philip Mantofa graduated in theology from Columbia Bible College, British Columbia, Canada. Since 1998, He has been serving in Mawar Sharon Church, a growing church of 30,000 in Indonesia. Currently, He is the assistant head of Gereja Mawar Sharon denomination, which has a network of 70 local churches. Since his younger age, he has brought more than 100,000 souls to Christ. His passion is to ignite the fire within the younger generation to become pastors and spiritual leaders all around Asia. Moreover, he has a burning desire to see nations experience and encounter the love of Jesus Christ. He is happily married to Irene Saphira with three lovely children : Vanessa, Jeremy and Warren.

WEBSITE: Philip Mantofa on Facebook

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Robby Dawkins



Born to missionary parents in Japan, Robby had an early start in ministry. In his father’s church he began a children’s ministry at the age of 12, and became the youth minister at 16 years old.

Robby and his wife, Angie, married in 1992, have pastored the Vineyard Church of Aurora, IL since 1996. They feel God called them to plant in a poor urban community, and continually use “power evangelism” to gather for the church.

“In addition to starting and pastoring this church, God has called me for the purpose of building up and equipping the local church with power tools for harvesting,” Robby shares. These “power tools” are prophetic ministry, healing, ministry of the presence of God, and deliverance from demonic power.

WEBSITE: Robby Dawkins

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Will Hart

In 1999 Will Hart walked into the basement of a church not knowing why he was there. That night the Holy Spirit reached out and grabbed him by the heart and he was never the same. While the rest of his senior class was walking down the aisle collecting their diplomas, Will was already on a plane to Paraguay.

During his 19 months in Paraguay he witnessed the power of revival first hand. Ministering alongside his mentor Bob Bradbury, he saw salvations, healing and deliverances. The power of the Spirit was on him to preach and set people free. In 2002 he received a call from Randy Clark to travel with him full time.

After three years of hands on training with Randy, Will and his wife Musy moved to Mozambique to serve Heidi and Rolland Baker. Will's call is to take the simplicity of the gospel and power of the Holy Spirit wherever he goes. Whether it is the jungles of Congo or the streets of Thailand, he is expectant and confident in the Holy Spirit showing up in power.

WEBSITE: Hart Ministries

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Angela Greenig



Angela’s teaching and insights come from years of experience on the front lines of Spiritual warfare. A seasoned Seer/Warrior for Christ, and a leading force in deliverance ministry. Author and TV personality Justice for All. For the past 26 years Angela has traveled the world, teaching an setting people free.

WEBSITE: SetFree Ministries

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Shampa Rice ("Shanti" from the film)

Shampa Rice was raised in Calcutta, living across the street from Mother Teresa’s headquarters from the age of 12, Shampa was often inspired by her faith and simplicity. She prayed that God would raise her out of poverty so that she too could someday help the poor as Mother Teresa was doing. God heard her cries above and beyond anything she could have dreamed; eventually she would be reaching people all over the world with God’s love.

One of Shampa’s favorite themes is that God likes to use simple, “little people.” “I love to cook. I am a woman from the kitchen,” she says. “God is not looking for someone important; He's looking for anybody who loves Him because He wants to be found more than we want to find Him.”

Shampa has been the director for Iris Ministries in North India since 2005.

WEBSITE: Iris Ministries // India

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Mattheus van der Steen



The founder, pastor and CEO of Touch Reach and Impact the Nations, Mattheus van der Steen was born in Holland. He is passionate for and about Jesus, and speaks prophetically about revival and transformation, God's heart for the orphans and the widows, the John the Baptist generation, the Church in the end time, Joel's Army, depression and burnout, signs and miracles, being filled with the Holy Spirit, the Great Commision, and, his favourite subject, "If you see the invisible God, you can do the impossible."

WEBSITE: Mattheus Van Der Steen

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Greg Boyd

Greg is an internationally recognized theologian, preacher, teacher, apologist and author. He has authored or co-authored 18 books and numerous academic articles, including his best-selling and award-winning Letters From a Skeptic and his most recent books (co-authored with Dr. Paul Eddy) The Jesus Legend and Lord or Legend.

WEBSITE: Greg Boyd

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J.P. Moreland

J.P. Moreland (Ph.D., USC; Th.M., Dallas Theological Seminary) is one of the leading evangelical thinkers of our day as a prolific philosopher, theologian and Christian apologist. He is a Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the Talbot School of Theology and director of Eidos Christian Center.

With degrees in philosophy, theology and chemistry, Dr. Moreland has taught theology and philosophy at several schools throughout the United States. He has authored or coauthored over forty books, including Philosophical Foundation for a Christian Worldview, Scaling the Secular City, Does God Exist?, The Lost Virtue of Happiness and Body and Soul.

He is coeditor of Jesus Under Fire and a frequent contributor to popular Christian magazines and scholarly journals. Dr. Moreland served ten years with Campus Crusade for Christ, planted two churches, and has spoken on over 200 college campuses, in hundreds of churches, and over 25 debates.

Moreland and his wife and partner in ministry, Hope, have two married daughters, Ashley and Allison.

WEBSITE: Kingdom Triangle

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Come to Redeemer Ministry School 2010-2011 to be part of this event, the Randy Clark conference (Jan. 12-15), and more of what God is doing at Redeemer!