Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Some Atheists Crusade for Ownership of the "Solstice Season"

Some atheists feel the need to attack Christmas. So, they've spent $20,000 on this billboard in New York City.

The American Atheist Website says the billboard serves three purposes:


1) To address those atheists who “go along to get along”, and to encourage them to come out of their closets

2) To attack the myth that Christianity owns the solstice season

3) To raise the awareness of the organization and the movement

Re. the closet, I'm quite sure that, were I an atheist, a billboard like this would make me stay in the closet and not come out for a long time. Or, I hopefully would already be out of the closet, but the billboard might frighten me into the closet. Why? For the same reasons attacking, judgmental Christian-legalistic self-righteous fundamentalists make me reluctant to affiliate with them. The good news about Jesus is not essentially an attack on others. The "let's go attack the Christian "myth"" strategy would not succeed in recruiting me.

But if Christianity is a myth, why attack it at all? Why spend that kind of money on attacking a myth, epecially if you are an atheist? Thank God there are plenty of atheists out there who would not waste their time on something like this.

Who cares who "owns the solstice season?" I mean..., really! As a Christian theist I say, let the atheists have as much of the "solstice season" as they want. To crusade for ownership of the "solstice season" is not a real heart-grabber.

And, BTW, I celebrate "reason" as much as these atheists do. I teach logic. I think, actually, that I have more to celebrate than they do since, on atheism, we arguably lack grounds or warrant for trusting in "reason." But tha's another story, and a very long one.

The Compatibility of Free Will & Sinlessness in Eternity

Steve Lichty & Al Willingham in Nairobi
My friend Steve asked me these questions, in regard to one of my recent posts.

"What we will be doing on the new earth? Will it be similar to the pre-Fall Eden, but that presupposes the idea that we could somehow still sin. If the redeemed inherit the new earth and our capacity to sin is removed, how do we maintain a relationship with God based on free will? Is there something beyond free will that humanity cannot comprehend due to our dimmed view of God's cosmos?"

I now speculate, thinking I can demonstrate the compatibility of free will and sinlessness.

We will live everlastingly in the new, restored, redeemed creation; the new heaven and earth. The idea of "restoration" implies a return to pre-Fall Edenic conditions. I believe we will have free will, without which love would make no sense. But does this mean we could choose to not love God, and thereby sin? I think (I speculate...) the answer is: yes. But we will always choose the good since:
  • we have chosen Christ while in this life, our hearts this longing for and experiencing God and the good
  • we will one day see, no longer through a glass darkly, but face to face
  • such face-to-face seeing will be what we would in this present life call "coercive"; viz., one would not choose against God in the face-to-faceness of the overwhelming glory and being of God
  • we will gladly and easily choose God and the good, much in the same way one would easily choose to breathe rather than suffocate
  • there will be no demonic evil in life everlasting seducing us to sin
It seems to me that these reasons show the compatibility of free will and sinlessness.

Steve, I'm not certain this was what you were asking. Anyway - blessings to you in Nairobi!

Inference to the Best Explanation & the Fine-Tuning Argument

Bangkok
Tonight in my Logic class, we are studying that form of reasoning known as "inference to the best explanation." I'll teach out of our textbook (Vaughn), then give the Fine-Tuning Argument for God's Existence as an example of using inference to the best explanation in a philosophical context.

Here's the notes I'll give the students. Very few of them will have ever heard something like this, so I'll go slow and do my best to explain.

***
The Fine-tuning argument for God’s existence reasons for God’s existence using “inference to the best explanation.” (IBE)


In IBE “we reason from premises about a state of affairs to an explanation for that state of affairs.” (Vaughn, The Power of Critical Thinking, 344)

The premises, in IBE, are statements about observations or evidence to be explained.

The explanation is a claim about why the state of affairs is the way it is.

So, given some state of affairs, what is the best explanation for the existence or nature of that state of affairs? “The best explanation is the one most likely to be true, even though there s no guarantee of its truth as there is in a deductive inference.” (Ib.)

IBE has this pattern:
1. Phenomenon Q.
2. E provides the best explanation for Q.
3. Therefore, it is probable that E is true.

THE FINE TUNING ARGUMENT FOR GOD’S EXISTENCE

Imagine we finally arrive on Mars, and find a clear domed structure containing plant and animal life. Suppose the environment inside this biosphere is perfect for life. The temperature is 80 degrees F; the relative humidity is 50%. The biosphere has an oxygen-recycling system and a system for the production of food and water.

Call this state of affairs Phenomenon Q. What is the best explanation of its existence? Consider these two alternative explanations:

a. The biosphere came about as a result of natural processes alone.
b. The biosphere was made by an intelligent designer.

Clearly, using IBE, a is so unlikely and improbable that we would not consider it. Alternative explanation b, if true, makes Phenomenon Q unsurprising.

This example forms an analogy to our universe. Our universe is “just right” for life to exist. “It is, in effect, a biosphere with an environment fine-tuned to render life possible.” (Stairs and Bernard, A Thinker’s Guide to the Philosophy of Religion, 40) Phenomenon Q is: Our universe is fine-tuned to render life possible. The fine-tuning argument, using IBE, then looks like this:

1. Our universe is fine-tuned to render life possible.
2. The two explanations for this fine-tuning are:
a. Atheism: The fine-tuning came about by natural processes alone (and therefore by chance or coincidence).
b. Theism: an intelligent designer fine-tuned our universe for life.
3. If explanation a is true then our fine-tuned universe seems wildly improbable.
4. If explanation b is true then our fine-tuned universe is not improbable.
5. Therefore theism is probably true.

Crucial to this argument is the truth of premise 1. (P1) P1 is affirmed by atheists and theists alike. For example, atheists Hawking and Mlodinow in their recent book The Grand Design say: “Our universe and its laws appear to have a design that is both tailor-made to support us and, if we are to exist, leaves little room for alteration. That is not easily explained, and raises the natural question of why it is that ay.” (Hawking and Mlodinow, The Grand Design, 162)

Princeton physicist Freeman Dyson has said: “There are many lucky accidents in physics. Without such accidents, water could not exist as liquid, chains of carbon atoms could not form complex organic molecules, and hydrogen atoms could not form breakable bridges between molecules.” In short, life as we know it would be impossible. (Quoted in Stairs and Bernard, 41)

Theoretical physicist Paul Davies claims that with regard to the structure of the universe, “the impression of design is overwhelming.” (In Ib.)

There are many physical examples of the fine-tuning, to include:

1. The strength, or value, of gravity must be just right. If the gravitational constant were a little weaker, all stars would have been blue giants, which burn too briefly for life to develop. If the gravitational constant were slightly stronger, land-based animals the size of humans would be crushed. If it were even greater, all stars would have been red dwarfs, which are too cold to support life-bearing planets.
2. The strong nuclear force must be just right. Just a 1% increase would result in almost all carbon being burned into oxygen. A 2% increase would preclude proton formation from quarks, preventing the existence of atoms.
3. By some counts there are over 100 physical, fine-tuned constants. (See Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “Teleological Arguments for God’s Existence,” 4.1 – “Cosmic Fine-tuning.”)
4. Hawking and Mlodinow write: “Most of the fundamental constants in our theories appear fine-tuned in the sense that of they were altered by only modest amounts, the universe would be qualitatively different, and in many cases unsuitable for the development of life.” (op. cit., 160)
5. Hawking and Mlodinow, once more: “Were it not for a series of startling coincidences, in the precise details of physical law, it seems, humans and similar life-forms would never have come into being. The most impressive fine-tuning coincidence involves the so-called cosmological constant in Einstein’s equations of general relativity.” (Ib., 161)

So, to repeat, Phenomenon Q is: our universe is exquisitely fine-tuned for the existence of life.

On atheism this state of affairs is wildly improbable, and would be like explaining our Martian biosphere as having naturally formed by chance.

On theism this state of affairs is very probable, and would be like explaining the Martian biosphere by postulating an intelligent designer.

Our existence is highly improbable on the atheistic hypothesis, but not improbable on theism.

Another way of putting this is:
1. The existence of the fine-tuning is a surprising state of affairs.
2. But if theism is true, the existence of this state of affairs is not surprising.
3. Therefore there is reason to suspect that theism is true. (See Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, op. cit.)

For these reasons I find it rational to believe in God. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy says, in regard to this: “Barring any viable alternative, cosmic fine-tuning via deliberate agency seems to many to constitute a live candidate for a design argument.” (op. cit.)

(Note: for objections to the fine-tuning argument Stairs and Bernard [op. cit.] is very good.)

Monday, November 29, 2010

More Women than Men Active in Pentecostal Churches

At Redeemer my perception is that we have more women than men involved in active ministry and spiritual growth. As I say this I want to add that it's not greatly imbalanced, sicne we have many men who are learning, growing, and active in ministry. Still, with us, women slightly outnumber men. And all this without taking a formal survey.

The general pattern "in Pentecostal churches is that the leadership is usually male, whereas most of the followers are female. In some churches women occupy formal leadership positions." (Anderson, Burgunder, et. al., Studying Global Pentecostalism: Theories and Methods, 3)

An Invitation to Study With Me This Week

Near Tel Aviv
Right now, in our preaching, we are looking at the Christology of the Book of Acts. The word "Christology" means: the study of Christ; reasoning about Christ. This coming Sunday's Acts Jesus-passage is Acts 8:26-36.


I'm inviting our Redeemer people and anyone, if they like, to study and meditate on Acts 8:26-36 with me in anticipation of this coming Sunday's worship service and message.

As you do this, if you have any questions about these verses send them to me. If God gives you any insights, I welcome them - please send them to me.

I'm including below the Home Group questions for this week, on these verses. You can use these to guide your thinking.

How will I prepare for preaching these verses this coming Sunday? I will:
  • print out the verses and carry them with me.
  • meditate on them. Which means: to ponder them, to chew on them, to get them into myself.
  • look at commentaries on these verses. I am especially using Ben Witherington's commentary on Acts, N.T. Wright's Acts for Everyone: Part One, and Peter Wagner's commentary on Acts.
  • use biblegateway.com when I am on line. This site includes an Intervarsity Press commentary on these verses which is quite good. Go here.
  • spend time in God's presence hearing from the Spirit on these verses, and writing down what God tells me.
I look forward to how God is going to speak to us all this week!

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Here are the home group questions for the sermon to be preached on 5 December 2010.

Jesus, the fulfillment of Isaiah 53 - Acts 8:26-36

26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” 27 So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means “queen of the Ethiopians”). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. 29 The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.” 30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked. 31 “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

32 This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading: “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth. 33 In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.”

34 The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” 35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus. 36 As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?”

1. Read Acts 8:4-8 and 8:26.
  • Who is Philip?
  • What had Philip been doing previously?
  • Have you ever been sent somewhere or told to do something without knowing the purpose?
2. Read verses 27-28 above.
  • Why was an Ethiopian treasurer worshipping in Jerusalem?
  • Why do you think he was reading Isaiah?
3. Read verses 29-33 and Isaiah 53 (esp. 7-8). The Ethiopian had questions about Isaiah and Philip was invited to answer them (now Philip knew why he was sent).
  • Where did Philip learn what he taught the Ethiopian?

4. Read Acts 8:34-39. A man who believes in Judaism is suddenly confronted by the truth of Jesus and becomes a follower of Jesus.
  • Discuss the significance of the Ethiopian's question in verse 34.
  • Discuss how God had "set up the situation" for both Philip and the Ethiopian.
  • How did this conversion happen so fast?
  • What do you think this man thought when Philip then disappeared?
  • Do you think the Ethiopian might have later told this story in high places?

Question 1 - Matthew 10:2-4; Mark 3:13-19
Question 2 - Ethiopians were Nubian (Southern Egypt) Gentiles
Question 3 - Luke 24:27, 32, 44-47. Luke refers to a portion of what is now the 53rd chapter of Isaiah.
Question 4 (bullet 4) - 1 Kings 18:12; 2 Kings 2:16; Ezekiel 3:12, 14.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

After Death, What Will We Be Like?

African grey hornbill, in Kenya
Scot McKnight pointed me to Randy Alcorn's writings on heaven, especially as they understand our ultimate destiny of the restoration of all things and the new heaven and new earth.

On his website Randy gives a brief answer to the question: After death but prior to the resurrection, what will we be like? His answer:

"Between our entrance to heaven and our resurrection, we may have temporary pre-resurrection bodies. This is strongly suggested by the account of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19ff.), as well as passages showing pre-resurrected people doing physical things, such as wearing robes (Rev. 6:11). Unlike God and the angels, who are in essence spirits though capable of inhabiting bodies (John 4:24; Heb. 1:14), man is by nature both spiritual and physical (Gen. 2:7). Hence, between our earthly life and our resurrection, a temporary body would allow us to remain fully human while awaiting the resurrection. (If true, this in no way minimizes the ultimate necessity or critical importance of the resurrection stressed in 1 Corinthians 15.)"

Note: resurrection life after heaven-life after death is in God's restored creation. "Heaven" is used to decribe life "between our earthly life and resurrection," aka life after death. But, as N.T. Wright has told us, the Christian hope and the dominating New Testament focus is on life after life after death.

Writing & Wrighting About Life After Death

I write, therefore I understand. Or, more accurately, therefore I grow in understanding. That's why I am now writing as much as I can, about all things that matter to me. I am finding that in the act of writing thoughts and ideas come. Had I not begun to write, I am certain that ideas would not so easily form, which then get written.

You should write. Just... write. write what you believe, what you think, what you know and what you think you know. You have much to say. What you have to say is potentially far more interesting than some who write because they have to produce another article or book.


In Eldoret, Kenya
I'm now writing a little bit on the question: What happens to us after we die? I have studied this in my own faith, and in other religions. Yet I feel incomplete, want to know more, want to have a better answer. If I find some answers, or some path to follow, I'll write about it here for my own benefit and reference.

In my research there are certain people I trust and listen to. If they recommend someone, I check them out. Two of my credible witnesses today are Ben Witherington and N.T. Wright. If you read my website you know my admiration of Wright. I sometimes think if I have a mind of my own, or am in my Wright-mind. I Wright, therefore I am?

Here Witherington interviews Wright on the Christian idea of the afterlife.

The bullets:
  • BW - "I take it from many things you say in 'Surprised by Hope' that you believe in a limited dualism between body and soul, or body and personality, such that the person survives death and goes to be with the Lord, but that ultimately that dualism will be resolved when the resurrection of the body happens, and those in Christ are made like him once and for all."
  • NTW - If there is to be a resurrection, there must be some continuity between the embodied person now and the embodied person then. We are not just "fast-tracked to the eschaton." Because the new creation will be made out of the old creation.
  • NTW - Perhaps this is what happens immediately after we die. Maybe God "remembers"us by somehow "holding us in life with his own being." Consider physicist John Polkinghorne's idea that
    "God will download our software onto his hardware until the time when he gives us new hardware [= a new physical body] to run the software again for ourselves."
  • NTW - When Paul said his desire was to depart and be with the Lord "I don't think Paul could have said that if he'd believed it would be a non-existent state prior to the resurrection."
Here Witherington comments on NTW's position, and I find this very clarifiying.

"You can't equate heaven with new creation or the new heavens and the new earth. The latter refers to a material realm, transformed or made new by God. Heaven is not a material realm. This is precisely why Paul says in 2 Cor. 5--- that he will be absent from the body and present with the Lord when he dies.


Secondly, the Bible absolutely does not affirm the notion of the Eternal Now, as opposed to time being infinitely extended in heaven. Notice how the saints under the altar in heaven ask God "How long O Lord". No, heaven is not a place where there is no procession of what we would call time.

And as to how the new creation will be different from dying and going to heaven. Much in every way. We will not have bodies of any kind in heaven. Resurrection is what happens when Christ returns to earth, not something that happens in heaven."

Witherington seems to be affirming Wright's idea of "the after-afterlife."

1. We die.
2. We go to "be with the Lord." That is, "to heaven." It is a nonembodied state. A "holding place" until the final resurrection.
3. We are given new, transformed bodies at the final resurrection.
4. We live in the new, restored heaven+earth temporal existence (everlasting time) forever.

N.T. Wright On: What Happens When We Die?



The question about what happens after we die is a question Christians have been confused about for centuries. Some friends have recently asked me what I think about this, as a result of preaching out of Acts 3:21 and the final "restoration of everything." So I'll be doing my own study on this and, maybe, posting thoughts about it. But first, a disclaimer: I am not the final authority on this.  But, for me, N.T. wright is a good place to begin, so...

Remember that Wright and other N.T. scholars are massively interested in, not how recent cultures (like American Christianity) views biblical texts, but on how the original Jesus-culture heard and understood the scriptures. So Wright is looking for a correct biblical view. Here are some things he says about what happens when we die, especially in light of our ultimate hope and final destination.

Wright argues that a correct biblical view does not say Jesus-followers are ultimately destined for heaven. Instead, at the end of time, God will literally re-make our physical bodies and return us to a newly restored earth. Heaven is important but it is not our final destination. The N.T. speaks far more about this final destination than it does about heaven. So then, what is "heaven?"

Biblically “heaven” is a temporary holding place. That is "life after death." The Bible gives us few clues about this. Paul says, in Philippians 1:21-23: "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far." So, immediately after death, we shall be with Christ, in heaven. And that, of course, is good.

While that is important and interesting, what the New Testament is more concerned with is what Wright calls “life after life after death.” Or, the "after-afterlife." Here we have far more about our ultimate destination upon being physically resurrected.

For Wright our final destination should affect our lives in the here and now. He says because he believes in God’s kingdom of justice and peace, it gives him focus to work on God’s kingdom coming in the present. In this regard remember that The Lord’s Prayer was never understood to be a purely future hope. Unlike the total-paradisiac-future of Islam, the Christian hope includes redemption now. This is the “age to come” invading “this present age.” (See Ladd's eschatology here.) And while the age to come will come in its fullness at the final resurrection of the dead, the in-breaking of the kingdom (heaven coming to earth) has been happening since the earthly life of Jesus and the resurrection of Jesus.

So, to sum up:
  • When a Jesus-followers dies they go to heaven, to be with the Lord.
  • Heaven is not our ultimate destination. It is a holding-place, until the final resurrection.
  • At the final resurrection God will re-make our physical bodies.
  • We will live, in a state of everlasting time, in God's newly restored creation. This will be the unifying of heaven and earth. When "the times reach their fulfillment" God will "bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ." (Ephesians 1:10) 

Elvis Adds to the Great Yoga Debate



Before you watch Elvis sing, READ THIS FIRST.

The Great Yoga Debate continues, even gaining momentum, as is evidenced in today's nytimes article "Hindu Group Stirs a Debate Over Yoga’s Soul."

The Hindu American Foundation has a "Take Back Yoga" campaign. BTW - the HAF website is good for understanding Hinduism and its impact on the U.S.

The Take Back Yoga people argue that, behind every yoga movement, there lies an acient Hindu religious practice. Southern Baptist leader Albert Mohler agrees with this and argues, for that reason, that Christians should not practice yoga. Mohler cites Stephanie Syman's recent The Subtle Body: The Story of Yoga in America to make his yoga-as-ancient Hinduism point. Mohler writes:

"Syman describes yoga as a varied practice, but she makes clear that yoga cannot be fully extricated from its spiritual roots in Hinduism and Buddhism. She is also straightforward in explaining the role of sexual energy in virtually all forms of yoga and of ritualized sex in some yoga traditions. She also explains that yoga “is one of the first and most successful products of globalization, and it has augured a truly post-Christian, spiritually polyglot country.” Reading The Subtle Body is an eye-opening and truly interesting experience. To a remarkable degree, the growing acceptance of yoga points to the retreat of biblical Christianity in the culture. Yoga begins and ends with an understanding of the body that is, to say the very least, at odds with the Christian understanding. Christians are not called to empty the mind or to see the human body as a means of connecting to and coming to know the divine. Believers are called to meditate upon the Word of God — an external Word that comes to us by divine revelation — not to meditate by means of incomprehensible syllables."

Mohler: "Douglas R. Groothuis, Professor of Philosophy at Denver Seminary and a respected specialist on the New Age Movement, warns Christians that yoga is not merely about physical exercise or health. “All forms of yoga involve occult assumptions,” he warns, “even hatha yoga, which is often presented as a merely physical discipline.” While most adherents of yoga avoid the more exotic forms of ritualized sex that are associated with tantric yoga, virtually all forms of yoga involve an emphasis on channeling sexual energy throughout the body as a means of spiritual enlightenment."

See some posts and links I've made here, which include the recent debate between Deepak Chopra (yoga is not ancient Hinduism, but more ancient than that) and University of Minnesota's Aseem Shukla (yoga belongs to Hinduism).

My own take on this is that, while a Westernized consciousness trivializes and secularizes spiritual practices, one cannot divorce yoga's physical movements from originally spiritual exercises. I would counsel Jesus-followers to stretch without yoga since "the Hindu roots of yoga seem difficult to deny." (See here.)

Now, for something very culturally ignorant and mental-lite, go here to watch Elvis sing "Yoga Is as Yoga Does." Elvis sings, while attempting yoga (I m not kidding): "You tell me just how I could take this yoga serious. When all it ever gives to me is pain in my posterious."

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Stephen Lived on the Corner of Heaven Street and Earth Boulevard

Monroe
C.S. Lewis called the story of Christmas “The Invasion.” It’s not just a nice little story about a cute little baby surrounded by friendly animals. Instead, “Enemy-occupied territory-that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.” (C.S.L., Mere Christianity) In the Incarnation, heaven invaded earth. Stephen is one of the first saboteurs.


Tomorrow I’m preaching out of Acts 6 and 7 on the story of Stephen. Stephen lived on the corner of Heaven Street and Earth Boulevard, at the place where the two intersect. Here is where the things of heaven merge with the things of earth. Stephen’s wisdom, peace, and power come from making his abiding place here. Here Stephen experienced “days of refreshing” (Acts 3:19) as foretastes of the ultimate unity of heaven and earth (Ephesians 1:10), of the reconciliation of all things whether on earth or in heaven (Colossians 1:19-20), and of the restoration of “everything” (Acts 3:21).

Now the Sanhedrin accused Stephen of disparaging the Temple, the place where it was believed that God connected with earth. The Diaspora Jews of the Synagogue of the Freedmen complained, “This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law. For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.” (Acts 6:12-14) Whooaaa – Stephen is playing with fire, and things are getting hot! Many a pastor has gone down in flames as a result of “changing the customs handed down to us.” I can feel the heat as Stephen speaks.

Stephen’s point is that, on the contrary, the Temple leaders do not understand their own tradition, which is actually about a Movement to redeem and restore all things rather than an Institution-as-museum of human hand-made things intended for God’s pleasure and habitation. N.T. Wright helps us understand what is really going on here between Stephen and, ultimately, the Sanhedrin.

The God-Movement is a story, The Story, The Grand Narrative, with (suggests N.T. Wright) five Acts. This is about how to read the Bible; viz., as a 5-Act Play.

• Act One: (Creation) Whatever means God uses to create the world it’s a crucial feature of the play that creation is good and that humans are in God’s image.

• Act Two: (Fall) God’s good creation is full of rebellion: evil and idolatry become real features of the world.

• Act Three: (Israel) The story of Israel as the covenant people of God for the world. This act begins with the Abrahamic covenant and ends with the Jewish anticipation of an event in which God will liberate Israel from spiritual exile and reveal himself as the world’s true King.

• Act Four (Jesus) The story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. As the climax of the narrative it represents the inauguration of a new kingdom in which death and sin are being reversed throughout all of creation. Many of the OT teachings, as well as some of Jesus’ teachings, have played out their intended purpose.

• Act Five: (New Testament and the people of God). The New Testament forms the first scene of this act. The church is the people of God, in Christ, for the world; their job is to act in character: to live out Act Five by showing the world the true way of being human and to bring about God’s victory over evil on earth. This largely involves living out (“improvising and retelling”) God’s story and gospel – namely that Jesus is Lord and that God raised him from the dead to ‘put the world to rights.’
o From N.T. Wright, The Last Word; and Acts for Everyone: Part One.

So, view the Bible this way.

Then, understand this. Acts I – IV are over. Done! Does that mean they were unimportant? Of course not. For example, on my recent trip to Kenya, I flew a Boeing 747 from Amsterdam to Nairobi. Upon landing I left the 747 behind. I did not need it to traverse Nairobi and beyond. But, of course, it was an important “chapter” in the story of my Africa trip. Analogically, the Mosaic Law and the Solomonic Temple of Act III in God’s Grand Narrative were important. But in Act IV God does (another) new thing. And in Act V God does a really new thing when he says, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own…” (1 Corinthians 6:19)

Stephen tries to reduce the shock effect of challenging tradition by showing that God is not and has never confined to the Temple. He says:

“The Most High does not live in houses made by human hands. As the prophet says:

“‘Heaven is my throne,

and the earth is my footstool.

What kind of house will you build for me?

says the Lord.

Or where will my resting place be?

Has not my hand made all these things?’”

Historically, God transcended the Temple when he appeared in glory to Abraham. (Acts 7:2) God then theophanized Moses with a burning bush. (Acts 7:30) Abraham and Moses built their homes on the corner of Heaven and Earth, receiving their instructions there. But the Temple, during the time of Jesus, was without the presence of God. Jesus told the Temple leaders that they shut the door to the kingdom of heaven. The open portal was now closed. But not for Stephen.

Stephen was full of wisdom and grace and did great wonders and signs. When he spoke, there was divine authority in his words, so that “they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke.” The sun roof of Stephen’s house faced the glory of heaven, and “all who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.” Stephen’s heart made its abode at the intersection of heaven and earth. Ben Witherington says: “The point of this expression is to convey the idea of a person reflecting some of God’s glory and character as a result of being close to God and in God’s very presence... Stephen has been endowed or imbued with the divine presence, and he is now prepared to speak the authoritative word to God’s people, whether they are spiritually prepared to receive it or not.” (Witherington, Acts: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, 259)

The problem is that the Temple leaders have had their own hands too much on things. Normally, on earth, “hand-made” is cool. There are certain hand-made guitars that are very expensive because their craftsmanship makes for a far better and more beautiful instrument than mass-produced guitars. When I was in Nairobi I went to an outdoor market where African women from many different tribes were making hand-made jewelry before my eyes. I thought “Sweet!” as I bought some for Linda. But when it comes to God and the Movement “hand-made” is neither cool nor sweet. It’s very bad, bitter news. In fact, it’s when humans start to get their hands on the things of God that church goes bad. Like the hand-made total-earth-idol the people of Israel made while Moses was taking up residence on Heaven-Come-to-Earth Street.

For years I’ve heard people say “I wish we could get back to “church” as it used to be. Like: “back to the ‘traditional’ church.” They usually mean “church” as it was in the 1930s. Or the 1950s. Or the 1980s. Or whatever decade they are from. I agree and disagree with people who say this. I agree that I want church as it used to be. I disagree that this means the 20th century. I want first-century “church” like when Act V of God’s Grand Narrative begins, with people like Stephen who stand in that place where heaven and earth come together, who understand the new things God is doing, and who do not end up worshiping the things and traditions their own hands have made. In this regard: Woe to all who build churches by their own hands and end up worshiping their own traditions rather than the Living God who is never boxed in by the work of our hands. NTW says: “As we consider our own traditions, and think of them lovingly since they ‘prove’ that we ourselves are in the right place in our worship and witness, perhaps sometimes we need to allow the story to be told differently, and to see whether we ourselves might be in the wrong place within it.” (NTW, A1, 119)

Stephen gets killed by the religious earth-dwellers. But just before he dies he sees an open heaven. "Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”" Is that amazing or what? His impending martyrdom has not caused him to panic, pack his bags, and leave the heaven-earth interlock. There Stephen is, in the Moses-place, in the Abraham-place, in the Jesus-place, on the corner of Heaven Street and Earth Boulevard. There was an “open heaven,” with the “heavenly court, suddenly superimposed upon the earthly one.” (N.T. Wright, Acts Part One, 122) We have a heavenly court-room scene, a heavenly throne-room scene, a portal into the throne-room of God, and there is Jesus advocating for Stephen. Do you think that gave Stephen some confidence? And some love, as he says those words that come only from heaven, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”

You and I, as Jesus-followers, are portable sanctuaries through which God is doing his fresh, new thing. Pitch yourself, like a tent, in that place. Let Stephen-things come forth.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Humanists' New "Godless" Campaign

Logo from the "Godless Campaign"
See, at cnn.com, "Humanists launch huge 'godless' ad campaign."

Here's what this is about, with a few comments.
  • The American Humanist Association this month said they are launching "what it calls the largest, most extensive advertising campaign ever by a godless organization."
  • But why would they do such a thing? Because "The Bible and the Quran contain "horrific material, and to say you get your morality from there" is a problem."
  • This will be a $200,000 campaign that will be in newspapers and on NBC TV.
  • The point is to "challenge the fundamentalists" who "spout  their backward ideas."
  • The target audience is: people who may not know they are themselves humanists. (In other words, non-reflective, thoughtless humanists. A humanist who did not know she was actually a humanist would not be very bright; perhaps, an "anonymous humanist" like Karl Rahner's "anonymous Christians.")
  • Now here is where, to my thinking, the whole humanist godless-campaign begins to go wrong.  ""We're targeting for criticism those who read the Bible literally, not those who pick and choose what they like," [AHA head Roy Speckhardt] said. "We're telling (people who pick and choose), 'You're more like us.' Biblical literalists and Quranic literalists are holding us back." The wrongness of this is: we have here a false dichotomy. The choices are: either read the Bible literally, OR pick and choose what you like. But that's ridiculous, since there are other alternatives. And again, we have here a humanist organization having to tell people that they may really be a humanist but they just don't know it. If they need to be persuaded by TV ads that they may actually be a humanist I have the feeling this won't last, or will engender a few nominal humanists who are about as effective as the many nominal "Christians" who fill our churches' pews.
  • Here comes some more bad humanistic thinking. Speckhardt says: "We know that you can be good without God, but many folks in America don't know that." Of course a person can be good without God. But without God we have no metaphysical foundation for goodness. A Godless metaphysic leaves us with no reason to be good. Many atheists have themselves seen this. For example, to cite a modern one, see atheist philosopher Joel Marks new revelation that, if there is no God, then "morality" does not exist. Sans God, "there is no such thing as right and wrong," says Marks.
  • "The campaign features violent or sexist quotes from holy books, contrasted with more compassionate quotes from humanist thinkers, including physicist Albert Einstein." Sounds like a bit of spin-doctoring to me.
  • "We don't expect to convert people from the billboard signs," Speckhardt said.
If I were a "humanist" would I be spending money on such things? I hope not. But that they are lauching this "campaign" does make it fun and interesting, in a way. It may provoke some philosophical and religious conversation, which I am immersed in all the time in my philosophy of religion classes. Perhaps I will be able to use some of the examples from the godless-campaign, while not losing sight of the fact that their campaign will not affect the serious philosophical discussion about religion.

What effect might the campaign have? I think: little or no effect. Just as few of my philosophy students know much about the Real Jesus, even fewer have ever heard of the names of those media darlings, the notorious "new atheists." Most students have never heard of Richard Dawkins and The God Delusion, no one has even heard the name "Daniel Dennett," and not one student (I exaggerate, but only slightly) has heard of Christopher Hitchens and that Hitchens is now dying. Today's youth are so busy tweeting around in the shallows of life that they are in no danger of being affected by the attempted (and occasionally challenging) deep-thinking of the new atheists.

Pray for Asia Bibi

In one of my Palmer Theological Seminary Personal Transformation classes two of my students were pastors from Pakistan. Among our many discussions was Pakistan's infamous and evil "blasphemy law." The pastors told me that anyone could report a Christian to the police if they wanted to accuse them of blaspheming Mohammed. As a Jesus-follower it hurts, at times, when someone mocks Jesus. But I'm not to execute them for that, since my Jesus was already himself executed out of love for those who blaspheme him.

Not so with Pakistani Muslims. Consider the case of Jesus-follower Asia Bibi. "Bibi, who has been jailed for nearly 15 months, was convicted in a Pakistani court earlier this month of breaking the country's controversial blasphemy law by insulting Islam's Prophet Mohammed, a crime punishable with death or life imprisonment, according to Pakistan's penal code. She was sentenced to death."

"Prosecutors say Bibi, a 45-year-old field worker, insulted the Prophet Mohammed after she got into a heated argument with Muslim co-workers who refused to drink from a bucket of water she had touched because she is not Muslim. In a brief news conference at the prison where she's being held, Bibi said last weekend that the allegations against her are lies fabricated by a group of women who don't like her. "We had some differences and this was their way of taking revenge," she said."

Soon Bibi will stand before the Pakistani High Court. President Asif Ali Zardari said will pardon her if the High Court did not grant her request for mercy." Thank you! But, if he pardons her, inter-religious tensions will erupt into violence, say two prominent Pakistani Muslim leaders. ""If the president pardons Asia Bibi, we will raise our voices across the country until he is forced to take his decision back," nationally known mufti Muneer Ur Rehman said. Hafiz Ibtisam Elahi Zaheer, a leading cleric in Lahore, said pardoning the woman would be "criminal negligence" and would cause inter-religious tension."

Enter evil.

Pray for Asia Bibi.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Character Formation Happens in Relationships with Other People

The River Raisin, in my back yard
Many years ago, in another church I was in, there were two people who hated me. Mary and her husband Bob (not their real names) seemed to be against everything I was and stood for. One day when I went out for a five-hour prayer time I could not get Mary and Bob out of my mind. They were trying to undermine me! I was angry inside. "I hate these people," I told God, all the whole knowing how anti-Christ those words were. They hate me; I hate them too. If I had said it any other way it would have been a lie. So at least, on that day, I did not lie to God even though in my hatred our adversary's great lie was enfleshed in my heart. This sinful anger was not some aberration but was the real me.

I spent at least an hour just being angry. At some point I asked God to help me. This included asking him to forgive me for my disgust at Mary and Bob. I confessed, "God, forgive me for my hatred towards Mary and Bob. But I do not know how to love them!" Then, my prayer became this: "God, if you're not going to take Mary and Bob out of my life, at least change my heart so I can love people who dislike me, like Jesus did." And God told me, "John, I am trying to change your heart to be more loving, and that is exactly why I have allowed Mary and Bob into your life." That did it for me. My pain turned to praise as I thanked God for Mary and Bob being in my life.

I left that prayer time thanking God for forgiving me and feeling genuine compassion for them. I drove to our church. It was early evening. When I pulled into the parking lot Mary was, unexpectedly, there in her car. When I saw her I felt God tell me, "John, give Mary the devotional book you have been using." I got out of my car holding the book and walked towards her. She rolled down her window and said, "I just found out that my sister is very sick." She had tears in her eyes. "I want to give you this book," I said. She appeared grateful as I handed it to her. I thought, "God, you are now working, and healing, the pain between myself and Mary." Perhaps she and Bob had also been praying, asking God what they were to do with someone like me in their life?

"Character formation happens in relationships with other people." (David Augsburger, Dissident Discipleship, 73) Who we really are is who we are in community. God uses community to form our hearts into Christlikeness. One who shuns community because it is so hard to be with other people forsakes the formation of their own character. Augsburger says the real church is "to be a community of disciples obeying the particular ways of God that are revealed in Jesus. It models neighbor love, transformative redemptive justice, inclusion of the stranger , servanthood to each other and beyond, creative love, forgiveness and reconciliation, and the humility to recognize and confess its own need for repentance and forgiveness." (Ib., 75) Since you and I are the church we don't need to waste any time looking for some other church that models these things. And "going it alone" is never a Jesus-option, since he is the one who became flesh and dwelt among us.

Shortly after I gave Mary the book Linda and I got together with her and Bob. We confessed and forgave and got things right. We set a date to go out together for dinner. And we thanked God for bringing such different people together so we could all have our hearts formed more into the loving, grace-filled heart of our Lord Jesus.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Praying for Sudan...

The World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) has pledged action to ensure that the referendum taking place on Southern Sudan’s future next January is a success.


The WEA’s Secretary General, Dr Geoff Tunnicliffe, promised the measures in an address to Southern Sudan’s President, Vice President and other senior political leaders at the closing session of the Government-Church forum in Juba last week.

The referendum on January 9, 2011, is taking place to determine whether Southern Sudan will become independent from the North.

The Shack Redux (Mark Driscoll's Illogical Overreaction)

A friend sent me this video of Mark Driscoll critiquing William Young's The Shack, and asked me what do I think of what Driscoll says? Here are thoughts I wrote as I watched the first 2:48 minutes and decided I'd seen enough.


The Shack is a literary work, a story, not a series of logical propositions. And, BTW, so is Scripture. Scripture is The Grand Narrative. This does not mean it does not contain propositional content. But it is big-time anachronistic to approach Scripture via Western logic. One will misread it if that happens.

Approaching minute 2 Driscoll has yet to say anything meaningful re. his disagreement with The Shack.

Now he gives a reason at minute 2. “Do not make a graven image of God.” The Shack, he says, is guilty of this! He looks totally dumbfounded and incredulous that such a thing could be done. OK. So just how is The Shack an example of this? True, God is spirit – “God doesn’t have a physical body.” Correct. God’s not a lion, either, e.g.; like C.S. Lewis’s Aslan. But… Aslan is Jesus, not God. Will people start worshiping literal, physical lions as a result of reading the Narnia stories? How about this: destroy all children’s books that depict God? Driscoll says: “You can’t take God and try to represent him in a picture.” A kid… can’t draw a picture of God? Not… “If you make God look like an old man, that’s a graven image.” Now I am thinking of all the idolatrous Jesus-kids in this world...

I decide: That’s all I’m going to listen to re. Driscoll’s Shack-critique. I’ll stop at minute 2:48. The Shack is an overt literary work that disclaims the literal physicality of God. Dricoll’s logical error is: 1) mistaking the telling of a story for a literal physicalism, and then; 2) confusing the prohibition against making graven images of God and worshiping them with narratival-fictive-anthropomorphic (even biblical) ways of understanding God. In a fictive way it does a wonderful job of expressing Trinitarian theism. It is story-art. Scripture itself speaks figuratively of God as having:

• Hands – “Into your hands I commit my spirit; deliver me, Lord, my faithful God” (Ps. 31:5)

• A face – “May the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace” (Num. 6:26)

• And so on…, with many body parts used in many Bible verses to figuratively express the being of God.

A lot of Christian art would be tossed into the flames if we followed Driscoll’s anachronistic and narrow reading of Scripture. And, BTW, The Shack does not actually draw a picture of God, does it? But even if it did, it wouldn’t be to literally worship. Great Christian art (which The Shack probably is not…) leads us to worship, not the art itself, but God. Driscoll’s fears that people will read The Shack and come away viewing God as an African-American woman + Middle-Eastern man +Asian woman are unfounded.

Driscoll says The Shack is essentially a book about The Trinity. No it’s not. It’s a book about the problem of evil and forgiveness. It uses biblical truths like John 14-16 to illustrate God as a three-personed Being, and the Jesus-invitation to join the Big Dance (perichoretic union).

Driscoll would do well to engage in the study of: 1) figurative language in general; and 2) figurative language in Scripture. Re. (1), I'm continuing my own figurative language research (my dissertation was on metaphor theory, esp. analzying Pannenberg's study of metaphor and resurrection). I'm in the midst of reading Metaphor: A Practical Introduction, by Zoltan Kovecses.  

Sunday, November 21, 2010

More On the Nonscientific Foundation of "Science"

It's Sunday night and I'm ready philosopher + theist + Jesus-follower Dallas Willard. Sometimes I feel I want to just quote everything he says! So, just read Knowing Christ Today: Why We Can Trust Spiritual Knowledge. It's perceptive, prophetic, and, I think, passionate and desperate.

I just read something that relates to a recent post I made - "Science Has Its Limits." Willard writes: "Nothing would be more helpful in the midst of today's confusions than a thorough understanding of the nature and limitations of "science" itself." (K 901-9) Now that's quite a statement! "Nothing" would be more helpful than this? Willard continues:

"But the sciences themselves cannot provide such an understanding, because each one is limited to its particular subject matter (which certainly is not "science"), and so the necessary work cannot be done in any way that is "scientific" under current understandings." A biologist, e.g., make specialize in the study of DNA. He studies DNA scientifically. That's good. But such study is not of "science," since by the tools of science one cannot empirically study science. We can see the double helix under a powerful microscope, but in the process do not observe "science."

Willard writes: "That reveals the impasse of modern life. Science is the presumed authority on knowledge, but it cannot provide scientific knowledge of science." (Ib.) That's, in my mind, basic philosophy of science stuff I learned as an undergraduate. Willard's complaint is that few understand this, and it is rarely taught. In the meantime "bright and well-meaning people often make claims for science that are far from logically warranted. Such is the cultural prestige of science." (Ib.)

Persons who hold to the idea that science is omnicompetent are not scientifically-minded enough. "Actually, what we see here are the influences of an unsupported worldview." (Ib., K 917-26)

Note: it won't do to retreat to the idea that science "works." See here.

For Brown University biologist Kenneth Miller on the limitations of science see here.

Malaria

I began taking malarone two days before arriving in Kenya and continued taking it seven days after arriving home. Malarone is an anti-malarial drug. It may or may not help. The CDC says: "No antimalarial drug is 100% protective and must be combined with the use of personal protective measures, (i.e., insect repellent, long sleeves, long pants, sleeping in a mosquito-free setting or using an insecticide-treated bednet)."

The PanAfric hotel in Nairobi was fairly nice. The Sirikwa hotel in Eldoret was nice compared to other hotels in Eldoret. The Sirikwa came with mosquito netting in the rooms should you want to use it. At the conference center where I taught I saw mosquitos in the evening. Upon seeing my first one on me I reached into my backpack and coated my arms and neck with 40% DEET. Had one bitten me? Could I contract malaria? If so, I wouldn't know for a week. "Malaria symptoms will occur at least 7 to 9 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito. Fever in the first week of travel in a malaria-risk area is unlikely to be malaria; however, you should see a doctor right away if you develop a fever during your trip." (CDC, here)

I did not get malaria. But I'm reading a book review (in the Wall Street Journal, by W.F. Bynum) of Sonia Shah's The Fever: How Malaria Has Ruled Humankind for 500,000 Years, and Bill Shore's  The Imaginations of Unreasonable Men: Inspiration, Vision, and Purpose in the Quest to End Malaria. What I am learning is:
  • "It is no coincidence that the most intensely malarious locations in the world today—sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, parts of South America—are also some of the poorest. This connection between poverty and malaria is undeniable, but their causal chain is problematic. Does malaria cause poverty through premature death, chronic disability and low productivity? Or does poverty itself cause the social chaos and unhealthy conditions that permit malaria to take a stranglehold on a town, region, country and even a continent? This seemingly straightforward question has been fiercely debated for a century and more."
  • How one comes down on this debate results in how malaria is treated; viz., either "vertically" or "horizontally." The vertical treatment of malaria comes from the view that malarial areas create poverty. If that's so, then wipe out malaria with, e.g., DDT. The horizontal approach assumes poverty leads to malaria. "If prosperity brings health along with it, Western aid for developing countries ought to be devoted to helping provide modern infrastructure." Shah argue that this approach has not, for the most part, been effective.

  • Malaria is "complex." "Four different species of parasites can cause it, and each evokes a different response in its human host. More than two-dozen species of Anopheles mosquitoes can transmit the parasite, and each species has its own breeding patterns and favored habitat... The treatment that works best in one location may not work elsewhere—and "elsewhere" may be only a few miles away."
  • In India, spraying with DDT reduced incidences of malaria. But "the mosquitoes gradually grew resistant to DDT, while the parasites themselves became resistant to anti-malarial drugs such as chloroquine and atebrin." Malaria returned with a vengeance.
  • Shah feels that, now, neither vertical nor horizontal approaches are succeeding. Re. the latter, most mlaria-infested countries lack the medical infrastructure needed for effective treatment.
  • Shore's book is about "naive vertical" hope that, with the assistance of well-meaning groups like the Bill Gates Foundation, western science will develop a malaria vaccine. "What comes through very clearly [in Shore's book] is that the Gates money has transformed American malaria research. "The Gates Foundation very much acts like the general contractor responsible for eradicating malaria," Mr. Shore writes, "using a wide variety of subcontractors who specialize in vaccines, drugs, diagnostic techniques, and public health systems."" Can this work?
  • "Most malariologists agree that malaria cannot be eliminated without a vaccine. But that does not mean that a vaccine will necessarily eliminate malaria. The depressing fact is that both mosquito and parasite are highly adaptable, and malaria has been central to human life for (to borrow from Ms. Shah's subtitle) 500,000 years. Our battles with it have been written into the human genome: Sickle cell anaemia and other similar disorders, for instance, are genetic evidence of how humans and malaria have evolved together. Given this history, it is optimistic to think that the disease can be easily stamped out, especially considering that whatever magic solution might be discovered will still need to be delivered via a social infrastructure that doesn't exist in much of the world."
  • Bynum, who is professor emeritus of the history of medicine at University College London, concludes: "In most of the world today, malaria is a disease of poverty, and any doctor knows that the best way to get rid of a disease is to attack its cause." 

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Pain of Being an African Woman


Zaina Niangoma, 46, who was raped along with her 15-year-old daughter by three members of the Hutu rebels of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and congolese Mai-Mai militia that attacked her village of Luvungi on the night of July 30, 2010 poses on September 3.


Today's Daily Nation (Nairobi) has an article on African women and rape.
  • "This year Africa provided the setting for two shocking mass rape incidents in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). In July and August, 242 rape incidents were reported in and around a village called Luvungi, although that figure is now believed to be closer to 500. Again, the UN has recently announced that throughout September and October, an estimated 600 individuals had been raped along the Congo-Angola border. These figures are a dreadful reminder of the ways in which women’s bodies have been used as another battleground, and rape a weapon of terror."
  • Rape is an act of terror. It is also thought that raping a virgin will "cure" HIV. And, it's a form of domestic violence.
  • "Rape is prevalent in conflict and situations of socio-economic instability, making it an increasingly common occurrence in Africa. According to Interpol, South Africa has the highest number of declared rapes in the world, with nearly half of the victims younger than 18. Gang rapes are also common in the country, and the crime is said to be a form of ‘male bonding’ between teens. In 2009, a nationwide survey was conducted by the country’s Medical Research Council in which one in four men questioned said they had raped someone."
  • One South African doctor invented the Rape-aXe - a female condom with teeth - to thwart rapists.
  •  "In South Africa in 2006, there were close to 55,000 reported rape cases."
  •  South African men, over the centuries, have been socialised into forms of masculinity. "Men are meant to be strong and tough and the use of force to assert dominance and control over women, as well as other men, is seen as the norm."
  • "In Kenya, earlier this year, Amnesty International released a report titled ‘Insecurity and Indignity: Women’s Experiences in the Slums of Nairobi, Kenya’. It emerged that women living in slums were so afraid to leave their homes that they would avoid using communal toilet facilities because of the fear of being raped." (See the report here.)  
  • "The Lord's Resistance Army" has raped many women. "Since late 2008, the United Nations has estimated that the LRA has abducted more than 2,000 people. Rebel activity has also led to the premature marriage of young girls in Uganda since marriage is now regarded as way to avoid abduction — you may still be raped, but the chances are you will be left at home."
  • "In some African countries, rape is associated with a ritual or belief. In Ghana and some parts of Nigeria, for example, a type of slavery exists known as Trokosi — the literal meaning of this is wives are slaves to the gods. The ‘Trokosi Tradition’, as it’s formally called, is a practice whereby families give their young girls to the village priests to ‘atone’ for the sins committed by family members. If a girl is not available, boys or adults are sometimes, although rarely, used. The girls can stay with a priest for years and sexual exploitation is standard practice. The terror of rape is very real in Africa, and the horror of the act cannot be redressed under slogans of beliefs."



















Thursday, November 18, 2010

Conspiracy Theories Fail the Criterion of Simplicity

Car destroyed as the Twin Towers fell
A few years ago two or three Monroe-area skeptics stood on a street corner holding signs "Impeach Bush." Why? Because, they "reasoned," what happened on 9-1-1 was a conspiracy. Quoting our local newspaper:  “Mark Farris of Monroe had a theory about the Pentagon videos. “It was probably a cruise missile that went off (by the U.S.) and they didn’t want anyone to see that,” he said. “They did it so they could justify attacking Iraq.”” “Probably that happened?” You have got to be kidding me!

Here’s the “thinking”:
1.Probably a cruise missile sent by the U.S. hit the Pentagon.
2.The U.S. government didn’t want people to see that.
3.So, they suppressed the videos, which actually showed a cruise missile hitting the Pentagon. (That’s why we have not seen any more videos of the incident.)
4.The motive: The U.S. did this deliberately to justify attacking Iraq!


Right. So, what's wrong with conspiracy theories like this? Let's look to logic for an answer.

This fall in my Intro to Logic class I switched books from Hurley's classic A Concise Introduction to Logic to Lewis Vaughn's The Power of Critical Thinking. Hurley's is an excellent text. His sections on propositional and symbolic logic are far more complete than Vaughn. Vaughn's main advantages include: 1) bringing in philosophical-worldview issues; 2) presentation (more colorful, up-to-date re. illustrations); and especially, for me; 3) the chapter on inference to the best explanation. Even though Vaughn's anto-religious spin is present I still very much like his book.

In a week I'll begin to teach the sixth and final seciton of my Logic class, on Vaughn's ch. 9 - "Inference to the Best Explanation." It's about theories, and how to evaluate them. In theory-evaluation there are "criteria f adequacy." "Applying the criteria of adequacy to a set of theories constitutes the ultimate test of a theory's value, for the best theory is the eligible theory that meets the criteria of adequacy better than any of its competitors." (356-357)  For Vaughn these are:

  1. Testability - there is some way to determine whether the theories are true or false.
  2. Fruitfulness - the yielding of new insights that can open up whole new areas of research and discovery.
  3. Scope - it explains more diverse phenomena.
  4. Simplicity - a theory that makes fewer assumptions is less likely to be false because there are fewer ways for it to be wrong.
  5. Conservatism - other things being equal, the best theory is the one that fits best with established beliefs.
Re. conspiracy theories, Vaughn says they usually faily the criterion of simplicity because they "try to explain events by positing the secret participation of numerous conspirators.... Some conspiracy theories, of course, have been found to be true. But most of them are implausible... They would have us raise numerous assumptions that raise more questions than they answer: How do the conspirators manage to keep their activities secret? How do they control all the players? Where is the evidence that all the parts of the conspiracy have come together just so?" (365)

Vaughn calls the United States "Conspiracy Central." Here are some of the things we are told are the center of a massive conspiracy:
  • Elvis's death
  • Martin Luther King, Jr.'s, assassination
  • The Oklahoma City bombing
  • Princess Diana's death
  • The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001
Re. the latter: 1) How did Pres. Bush and his numerous supposed cohorts keep their activities secret?; 2) How did Bush and his partners control all the players involved?; and 3) Where is the evidence that this massive, complicated plan came together just so? The answer: probably it didn't happen that way.

Flying Over Mitochondria

This video using molecular animation is so interesting.

55% of Kenya's Urban Population Lives in Slums

Kibera, Nairobi
Today at cnn.com we read that the number of people living in slums is "surging": "Urban migration drives surge in world's slum dwellers." "A third of the urban population in developing regions lives in slums, according to U.N. Habitat, the United Nations department that focuses on urban development."

One of the slums pictured is Kibera In Nairobi, which I just saw when in Africa.

98% of Central African Republic's town-people live in slums, and 82% of its city people are slum-dwellers. Incredible...

Why Did the Sadducees Deny the Idea of Resurrection?

New York City
I'm preaching this Sunday on Acts 4:1-12. Peter and John are thrown in prison for teaching "in Jesus the resurrection." This "disturbed" the Temple leaders, among whom were Sadducees. It was the teaching of "resurrection" that disturbed them. Why? The best answer to this I have found is in N.T. Wright's gigantic The Resurrection of the Son of God. Here is Wright's answer as to why the Sadducees denied the idea of resurrection from the dead.
  • The OT "mostly denies or at least ignores the possibility of a future life. (129) Only a few texts come out strongly for a different view.
  • During the period of second-Temple Judaism the position re. resurrection "is more or less reversed." (Ib.)
  • "By the time of Jesus... most Jews either believed in some form of resurrection or at least knew that it was standard teaching. Comparatively few remained sceptical." (Ib.)
  • During second-Temple Judaism the Daniel 12 idea "burst into full flower... That text, indeed, seems to stand behind a good deaql of the later development." (130) Daniel 12:1-4 says: "1 “At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered. 2 Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. 3 Those who are wise[a] will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever. 4 But you, Daniel, roll up and seal the words of the scroll until the time of the end. Many will go here and there to increase knowledge.”
  • "Those who [now] believed in resurrection believed also that the dead, who would be raised in the future but had not been yet, were alive somewhere, somehow, in an interim state." (130) So what happens when a person dies? They continue to exist, in some sense, after death. They have, in this way, life "after death." But it's not yet resurrection life. Here Wright says: "Resurrection, we must again insist, meant life after 'life after death': a two-stage future hope, as opposed to the single-stage expectation of those who believed in a non-bodily future life." (130)
  • Such were the expectations if second-Temple Jews. It is those expectations that form "the grid of meaning within which the early Christians' use of resurrection-language must be plotted." (130)
  • The Sadducees, however, denied that there would be a future life. In doing this Wright says they were "conservatives." That is, they held on to a pre-second-Temple view that did not teach the idea of a future life after death. "They followed a quite strict interpretation of the Old Testament, and denied any significant future life at all." (131)
  • What information do we have about the Sadducees? "The three best sources for the beliefs, positive and negative, of the Sadducees are the New Testament, Josephus, and the rabbis." (131)
  • We see the differences between the strictly conservative Sadducees and the more modernist Pharisees in the conflict of Acts 23:7-9: "When he [Paul] said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. 8 (The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, and that there are neither angels nor spirits, but the Pharisees believe all these things.) 9 There was a great uproar, and some of the teachers of the law who were Pharisees stood up and argued vigorously. “We find nothing wrong with this man,” they said. “What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?”"
  • So why did the Sadducees not believe in resurrection? After looking at alternative answers to this question, Wright settles here. 
  • 1) The real problem was that "resurrection from the beginning was a revolutionary doctrine." (138)
  • 2) "For Daniel 12, resurrection belief went with dogged resistance and martyrdom. For Isaiah and Ezekiel, it was about YHWH restoring the fortunes of his people. It had to do with the coming new age, when the life-giving God would act once more to turn everything upside down... It was the sort of belief that encouraged young hotheads to attack Roman symbols placed on the Temple, and that, indeed, led the first-century Jews into the most disastrous was they had experienced." (Ib.)
  • To the Sadducees, belief in the resurrection-as-revolutionary-doctrine "threatened their own position. People who believe that their God is about to make a new world, and that those who die in loyalty to him in the meantime will rise again to share gloriously in it, are far more likely to lose respect for a wealthy aristocracy than people who think that this life, this world and this age are the only ones there will ever be." (138)
  • The doctrine of "resurrection" is not some "pie-in-the-sky" idea of a fully future hope. "Resurrection," Daniel-style, has implications for present living. It concerns "the creator God acting within history to put right what is wrong." This is subversive and revolutionary and, therefore, threatening to people like the Sadducees, who held much power.
  • So we see that Wright gives us a much richer idea of the meaning of "resurrection" than simply "life after death" or even, as he clarifies, "life after life after death."
     

     

     

A Night of Worship & Thanksgiving

Joe LaRoy & I want to invite you to join us and our worship team led by Holly Benner...

...this Saturday, Nov. 20...

...6-8 PM...

...Redeemer Fellowship Church (5305 Evergreen, Monroe, MI)...

...for a time of worship and thanksgiving.

We will give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.

He has displayed his goodness to us as a family in this past year. We'll give testimony and thanksgiving for that!

He has done great things in our midst! We will praise and honor him for these.

It is good to pause and give thank to God, who is the Great Giver of every good and perfect thing.

We hope you will join us this Saturday... to worship our God...  to lavish praise and thanksgiving upon him...

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Dissimiliar Knowledge-Claims of the World Religions

Bangkok

I'm reading Dallas Willard's Knowing Christ Today: Why We Can Trust Spiritual Knowledge. I want to say, "Thank you, God, for giving us Dallas Willard!" What a well-written and well-reasoned book this is.

Here's a Willard-thought that will be evident to anyone who has actually studied the world's great religions. They are not the same. They are not... "equal." When people say "All religions are equal" "what is meant is that all religions are equally devoid of knowledge and reality or truth. In fact, however, no known religions are the same; they teach and practice radically different things. You only have to look at them to see that. To say they are all the "same" is to disrespect them. It is a way of claiming that none really matter, that their distinctives are of no human significance." (K, 322-340)

Some years ago I publicly dialogued with the imam of northern Ohio in U of Toledo's Rocket Hall. At one point the imam said to the student audience, "I think John and I really believe the same thing." I said, "We do not, on a number of major points." The imam shook his head "yes." I looked at the audience and said, "The imam says we believe the same things, but at essential points we do not. His Islam claims Jesus did not die on a cross; my Christian faith finds this cross-event central." The imam just smiled as I said this, shaking his head "no." I thought, "I just got disrespected!" In the guise of amicability. What the imam and I were then engaged in was not "dialogue" but was spin-politicking.

Willard writes: "What is true of Christianity in its inception and history is true of other religions as well. They all present themselves as providing knowledge of what is real and what is right. To think otherwise is to falsify the very nature of religious consciousness and religious life as well as the claims of the particular religions. If religions only called people to "faith" or commitment (or profession!) as those are now generally understood, they would have no claim whatsoever on the attention of humankind. Instead, they offer - whether they are right about it or not - knowledge of certain profound truths, and they call people to act on the basis of that knowledge." (K, 358-66) The Buddha, for example, "promises knowledge of how things really are." (K, 366-74)

Religions and philosophical worldviews make big-time truth-claims that intend to be true for everybody. Religions are not simply about "mere belief or commitment." (K, 366-74) They all make knowledge-claims.

Philosophy of Religion Oral Exams (On Religious Experience)

For my MCCC Philosophy of Religion Students:

Oral exams will be this Thursday and next Tuesday on campus, room A 153.

Exam questions are:

1) Teresa of Avila
2) William James
3) William P. Alston (religious experience as doxastic)
4) Michael Martin (Martin's critique of doxastic religious experience)

Monday, November 15, 2010

Injecting Christ-in-Me into Africa

Eldoret, Kenya
Sudan borders northern Kenya. While in Kenya I was told of a coming referendum in Sudan that will potentially devastate Sudan even more than it is now. For 50 years Sudan's Arab-dominated Islamic north and its non-Muslim black African south have been warring. On January 9, 2011, southern Sudan will vote for independence and self-determination.

Key oil fields are involved, so our country is politicking in Sudan.

Prior to going to Kenya I knew nothing of this. One discussion came up about the great number of refugees from other African countries who have been displaced and settled in Kenya, who welcomed them. Many have come from Sudan to Kenya. In my mind I place myself as a parent in South Sudan. Would I still be alive? My children? My sons would be at war. Richard Dowden says, especially regarding Africa: "War or disaster sometimes injects dynamism into a society. Since the genocide, Rwanda has become one of the most focused and dynamic countries on the continent. Uganda and Ghana, too, freed from oppression and conflict, have forged ahead. War in South Sudan appears to have destroyed more than people and places. The will to make life better tomorrow seems tom have been a casualty, too." (Dowden, Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles, K 2147-51) 

What am I to do? I'm now helping four Kenyan pastors with ongoing education. It doesn't seem like much, but to these four it is something. They want so badly to learn and grow and be effective for God's Kingdom, yet lack financial resources and ed-opportunities. A tiny bit of Christ-in-me is being injected into Africa.

Give what you've got. As much as you can.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A New Heavens and a New Earth

I'm listening (for free!) to Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology on itunes. Topic: A New Heavens and a New Earth. I'm especially interested in Grudem's biblical understanding of the afterlife in contradistinction from the Platonist idea that Jesus is coming back to take us away from earth.
  • We will live eternally with God in a new heavens and a new earth.
  • Isaiah 65:17 says: “See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind."
  • 2 Peter 3:13 - "In keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells."

  • Does this mean that God just "vaporizes" the present earth like, in Star Wars, the "death star" did to Alderon? And then creates a new one? Grudem says, "I don't think so. I think the word "new" is to be understood in the sense of "renewed" rather than a completely new creation. We might call it an "upgraded earth" where things that are broken and not working right because of sin and the Fall get fixed."
  • Rev. 21:1-3 - "Then I saw “a new ["renewed"] heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away [i.e., they no longer exist they way they existed formerly], and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God."  In regard to "there was no longer any sea" Grudem thinks we should view it this way. In Israel during biblical times the Mediterranean Sea was a dangerous place to sail. There were storms, ships used to sink out there, and many people were killed on it. The "sea" in the sense of a place of danger, chaos, and death "was no more. There are other places in scripture that speak of water in the new heavens and new earth. Note that John sees an unbelievably beautiful and magnificent city coming down from out of heaven to join with the renewed earth.
  • So with these things in mind, Grudem asks, "What is 'heaven'?" "Heaven is the place where God most fully makes known his presence to bless or to bring blessing." Heaven is a place, not just a state of mind. But if heaven is a place, where is it? "Where do you point your telescope to look at it?" Grudem thinks it exists, but God has hidden it from us.
  • When scripture talks of a new heavens and new earth this means "the physical creation will be renewed and we will continue to live and act in it." See Romans 8:19-21 - "For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God." The creation's "bondage to decay" happened as described in the first chapters of Genesis. Not only did the death process kick in as a result of Adam and Eve's Fall, but so also was the "ground" cursed. The course of nature was disrupted. The earth wasn't like the Garden of Eden anymore. Grudem says: "There's something not exactly right with the earth and the way it works, because God changed the earth at the time of Adam and Eve's sin." But... Paul gives a promise that God is going to undo that when Jesus comes back. That's seen in Romans 8:19-21.
  • What about passages in the Bible that speak of things being burned up and destroyed? Like 2 Peter 3:10-13 - "The day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells." The words "laid bare" can also be translated as "exposed." Some translations say "burned up," but literally the text does not say or mean that. This passage says there will be some unbelievable explosions in the heavens, "but I don't think it means that the whole earth is going to be destroyed. It's preferable to think that the earth will be changed and renewed." It's odd to think of God annihilating is creation. "It seems to give the devil the last word by scrapping what God created to be very good." Evil works will be burned up, but not the whole earth which will be, as we have seen, renewed.
  • Grudem then spends time discussing what life will be like in the new heavens and earth, stressing the physicaliy of the place and our God-given creativity, inventiveness, and stewardship over the earth as exhilarating heavenly activity. The new earth will be a tremendous, endless place of discovery and creation for its inhabitants. It will far exceed the already-wondrous beauty of earth in its present, fallen condition. If you think strawberries are good now, wait until you taste them in the new earth!
So, when Christ returns he's not coming to take us off this planet and to some other-worldly Platonic heaven, but he comes to restore this earth. (Acts 3:21) The restoration includes our physical bodies being resurrected.

Grudem strongly recommends Randy Alcorn's book Heaven.