Saturday, December 31, 2011

Worship in the New Year Tonight; Take Every Thought Captive to Christ Tomorrow Morning

Tonight at Redeemer we'll begin worship at 9 PM, and worship in the New Year, pausing at midnight to resolve some things in our lives.

Tomorrow morning I will preach out of 2 Corinthians 10:1-6, on taking every thought captive to Christ. What an amazing text!

Blessings to you all in 2012,


Thursday, December 29, 2011

This Sunday - Taking Every Thought Captive

I'm preaching this coming Sunday, Jan. 1, out of 2 Corinthians 10:1-6.

Vv. 3-4 read:
3For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. [Lit. - “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war acc. to the flesh.”] 4The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the flesh. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.

"Walking acc. to the flesh" is Paul's way of referring to life on earth in general; This is simply Paul’s way of describing our basic human condition that applies to everybody. If you are a human being, you “walk in the flesh.”

NTW translates vv. 3-4 as: “Yes, we are mere humans, but we don’t fight the war in a merely human way. The weapons we use for the fight, you see, are not merely human; they carry a power from God that can tear down fortresses.”

When Paul describes waging spiritual war “according to the flesh” he’s thinking not merely about the physical body or our common physical condition as men and women. He's thinking about human methods and human strategies and human resources, as opposed to God’s methods and God’s ways and using God’s resources.

Yes, we all live in this world; this world is the arena of our activity. No, this does not mean that the world dictates our agenda. And no, it does not mean that this world provides the tools for the job. So Paul denies that he wages war acc. to the flesh, precisely because of its impotence to effect the needed transformation.

The Corinthian Jesus-followers, influenced by false apostles, accused Paul of doing life and ministry “acc. to the flesh.” What did they mean?

·         They likely meant his lack of verbal eloquence,

·         …his alleged reliance on self-commendation,

·         …his bodily weakness,

·         …his choice not to accept money for his ministry to them,

·         …and the absence from his resume of supernatural encounters and ecstatic revelatory experiences.

Paul accuses the false Corinthian teacher-apostles (aka "super-apostles") of ministering according to the flesh. Today, what does ministry “acc. to the flesh” look like?

"Christian flesh-ministry" today can be: 

·         Human ingenuity-guided ministry. (Instead of Holy Spirit-led ministries.)

o   A reliance on human brainpower… pure human strategizing… 

·         Self-promoting ministry. (Instead of Jesus-exalting.)

·      Money-ministry, motivated by greed. (Instead of being content with what we have.)

·      Numbers-ministry.

o   Any message that threatens to turn people off, and lower the attendance, is set aside, even if it’s radically biblical.

·       Comfort ministry. (Instead of a willingness to take up the cross and even suffer for Christ’s sake.)

o   Choices are made based on what makes the people feel good.

·         Power-status ministry. (Instead of human weakness, in which Christ is strong.)

o   The desire for power shapes what leaders do.

o   Whatever increases the leader’s grip on the church or elevates their influence is what is really prized.

·         Fame ministry. (Instead of the willingness to work for Jesus anonymously.)

·         Secular culture-guided ministry. (Instead of continuous morphing into Christlikeness.)

·         Naturalistic ministry (Instead of drawing on divine power.)

o   The supernatural activity of God is not allowed. Or dismissed. There is skepticism about healing, demonic presences, prophetic words (1 Cor. 14:1-3), and so on.

(Adapted from Sam Storms, A Sincere and Pure Devotion to Christ, Volume 2.)

Paul is out to demolish such things, and make all thoughts captive to the mind of Christ. Vv. 5-6 read:

5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 6 And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete.
I am looking forward to preaching on these verses this Sunday. We'll be collectively capturing a bunch of false thoughts and making them obedient to Christ.

Job (by artist Chris Koelle)

Job and his three interlocutors

by Chris Koelle

See Koelle's work here.

Word Bible Designs, by Artist Jim LePage

Here's some cool artwork depicting each biblical book, by Jim LePage.

Some are pretty in-your-face. But then, so is the Bible.

You can order prints of LePage's Bible book art here. And framed. Even on canvas!

Merry Christmas from our Redeemer Staff!

Here's a fun Bible reserch website -

It's got:
  • Bible Geocoding - find every place mentioned in the Bible on GoogleEarth.
  • Topical Bible - type in a topic, the relevant passages come up. 
  • Realtime Bible Verse Search - "How people are quoting the Bible in 38,405,936 posts since April 2009." This is a feature I can't see myself using.
  • Bible Book Browser - "Hover over each book. Move left and right to go to different chapters. Click to go to that chapter." Click on it and it takes you to Bible Gateway. That's cool, since you don 't have to type in chapter/verse.
  • Verse Photo Composites - check it out. It's interesting. Even though I'll never use it (I think). Read the purpose-of-this-page link.
  • Bible Sentence Paths - "This visualization reduces each word from the ESV Bible to a single pixel. Each line is one sentence. The line turns 90 degrees to the right after every sentence. Colors indicate metadata." Wow! And... am I missing something here?
  • Bible Translation Googleshare
  • Bible Translation Personas
  • Bible Cross References. Note - I don't use cross-reference Bibles, since they are misleading and misinterpretive.
  • Average Year of Text
I might use Topical Bible and Bible Book Browser... we'll see.

Is Cheetah With the Lord?

Maureen O'Sullivan ("Jane"),
Cheetah ("Cheetah"), &
Johnny Weissmuller ("Tarzan")
If I close my eyes I can hear Johnny Weissmuller's "Tarzan" voice, and the sounds "Cheetah" the chimpanzee made. I am sure, as a kid, I watched every Tarzan movie, in black-and-white.

That was a long time ago! Today I read in the nytimes that Cheetah died, at age 80.

"Cheetah, a chimpanzee who was one of the most famous animal stars of the 1930s and appeared with Johnny Weissmuller in such Depression-era adventure films as “Tarzan the Ape Man” and “Tarzan and His Mate,” has died, The Tampa Tribune reported. Debbie Cobb, the outreach director at the Suncoast Primate Sanctuary in Palm Harbor, Fla., where Cheetah lived, told The Tribune that Cheetah was about 80 years old and died of kidney failure on Saturday."

Cobb said Cheetah was "very compassionate," an "outgoing ape with a gentle personality, who had long outlived the 35 to 45 years that chimpanzees typically survive in captivity."

Apparently, Cheetah knew the Lord. Cobb said "Cheetah was soothed by Christian music and also enjoyed fingerpainting and football, though she was unsure if the chimpanzee had any favorite teams."

How theological shall we get here? When Christ returns, he comes to restore all creation. There will be a new, recreated heavens and earth. That includes Cheetah, and your pet dog.

In addition, Jesus doesn't have any favorite football teams. So I think the chimp got it right.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

More On the "Pure for God" Seal

Here's a better photo of the first century Jewish seal, with the words "Pure for God" written on it. A seal like this would be placed on an item, such as a vessel of oil, indicating its ritual purity and fitness to be used in the Second Temple in Jerusalem. See's article here.

"The item is stamped with an Aramaic inscription consisting of two lines – in the upper line “דכא” (pure) and below it “ליה” (to G-d) – and is probably the kind of seal referred to in the Mishnah as a “seal (Tractate Shekalim 5:1-5), according to excavation directors and archaeologists Eli Shukron of the Israel Antiquities Authority and Professor Ronny Reich of the University of Haifa."

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Worship In the New Year at Redeemer

Join our Redeemer Worship Team this coming Saturday night, Dec. 31, and worship and pray 2012 in with us!

Worship begins at 9 PM.

Ends at... ???

Redeemer Fellowship Church
5305 Evergreen
Monroe, MI

Monday, December 26, 2011

Redeemer Ministry School - Winter 2012 Classes


Teaching and Preaching
Description: This course will apply the systematic methods taught in the first course toward teaching and preaching the bible as well as leading bible studies of different sizes and types.
Meeting Information: Tuesdays, 9:30-1
Instructors: Tim Curry & John Piippo

Biblical Lifestyle of Worship
Description: How do the previous moves of God affect the way that we worship God today? Beginning with the Old Testament, we will look at how history up to the present day has brought us to what God is doing now in worship. We will study the tabernacle of Moses, the tabernacle of David, the temple of Solomon and how they relate to the new covenant given in the New Testament. Other topics will include studies of revivals in history - how God moved, and how His people responded in worship.
Meeting Information:  Wednesdays, 9:30 - 1
Instructor: Holly Benner

The Spiritual Gift of Prophecy
Description: This course will survey the role of prophecy in The Old and New Testaments, the biblical criteria and guidelines regarding prophecy, as well as surveying the purposes and function of prophecy in the present day. This course will combine study, teaching, dialogue, and practical application.
Meeting Information: Thursdays, 9:30 - 1
Instructors: John Piippo, Sharon Lloyd, and Josh Bentley

Kingdom of God II - Healing & Deliverance
Description: In this course emphasis will be given on the demonstration of the kingdom of God, especially in the areas of healing and deliverance from demonic oppression. It will include study and teaching and practical application and experiential situations.
Meeting Information:  Fridays, 9:30-1
Instructor: Josh Bentley

To register for a class call: 734-242-5277
Or e-mail John Piippo at:

Today Is Another Day of Christmas

My first Christmas happened in the Spring of 1970. I was 21. I believed, experientially, in an all-loving, all-knowing, all-powerful, necessarily existent Being, which we in the English-speaking West call "God."

On that day I believed. That Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah. I believed in Christ. I placed my trust in him. That trust has not proven to be misplaced. My trust, my hope, is in Christ as the revelation of God to humanity.

On that day, 42 years ago, Christ was born. In me. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:27) God has come to make our hearts his home. (See this little booklet by Robert Munger, which I read many years ago.)

Before my Jesus-encounter, what was I, Weltanshauung-wise? A deist? Probably, and unthinkingly so. A hedonist? Yes. A wandering, lost soul not knowing what he was doing, unconsciously looking for love and meaning? Indeed I was that.

Then, on that day, walking from my apartment into the campus of Northern Illinois University, I got sozoed (see here, and here); I was "born again" (see John chapter 3). I was a "new creation." Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Corinthians 5:17)

The old ways of alcohol abuse and drug use fell off me, never to return. I went to my parents' home and got the Bible that was given to me when I was 12. And, I washed the dishes for my mother after lunch, to her shock. SomeOne was at work within.

I pause now to give thanks. I did not expect this to happen. I was unprepared for the practical act of redemption. I knew I was screwed up; I just didn't anticipate my unscrewing to actually happen, immediately. But it did. It does.

This forms my argument from religious experience. Something freeing and dramatic and life-changing and lasting happened to me, and I have never been the same. And, it is ongoing, even today, even now. On that first Christmas Day the needle of freedom was inserted into history. On my Personal Christmas Day I got transfused by the blood of Christ.

My faith and trust in him is not mere theory. It forms my ongoing experience. Now. Today.

It's Monday, December 26. Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

"Pure for God"

I'd like very much to be an archaeologist were I given the chance to begin this life again. In the Middle East. Especially in Israel and Egypt.

Today Israeli archaeologists (such as Ronny Reich) announced the discovery of a rare clay seal found beneath Jerusalem's old city.

"The coin-sized seal found near the Jewish holy site at the Western Wall bears two Aramaic words meaning "pure for God."" (See here.) The words are written in Aramaic.

"Archaeologists say the seal was likely used by Temple officials approving an object for ritual use — oil, perhaps, or an animal intended for sacrifice. Materials used by Temple priests had to meet stringent purity guidelines stipulated in detail in Jewish legal texts, which also mention the use of such seals."

See the Jerusalem Post's article here. See the accompanying video where Reich (prof. at Haifa University) explains this.


Linda and I just warched the movie "Warrior" this afternoon. I was touched. What an excellent movie!

On the surface it's about Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), but it's really about overcoming the bitterness of unforgiveness and moving into the freedom of forgiveness and love.

See nytimes's A.O. Scott's review here. Scott writes: "This movie wants to knock you out. It will."       

Holy Infant, So Tender and Wild

On Christmas Day the Revolution began. So did the Resistance.

 "When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people's chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born."

The dark kingdom rises up.

The lie - "Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.""

This is a pretense of worship, religious ingenuousness. Fake worship is always undermining. It is a dangerous thing to sing "Here I Am to Worship" when one is not there to worship. Such is the nature of the Resistance.

The Revolution - ""Having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. "Get up," he said, "take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him." So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt..."

Danger  = when the Revolution meets the Resistance. Spiritual sparks are going to fly when the Overcomer of our souls greets our souls' Underminer.

The weapon of the Revolution is love. "It is time for a love revolution. It is time for a new constitution." (Lenny Kravitz)

"When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd." (Matthew 9:36)
  • "When Jesus landed (on the shore) and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick." (Matthew 14:14)
  • "Jesus called his disciples to him and said, "I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way."" (Matthew 15:32)
  • "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you." (Ephesians 4:32)
In Philippians 2:1-3 Paul wrote: "If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves."

The baby born this day is "tender." Compassionate. Love incarnate. Where such love is born is where the Resistance rises. But this baby is also "wild," not mild and meek. Is he submissive? Of course. But only to his Father.

1. This babe submits to no one else.
2. Therefore, this babe is dangerous.

In C.S. Lewis's "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe," the fawn named Mr Tumnus is explaining that Aslan cannot be understood. Tumnus says, "He is not a tame lion." "No," replies Lucy, "but he's good." This is get-behind-me-Satan and go-before-me-God stuff. That, precisely, is what the Christmas Revolution is about, and why there is Resistance.

Love is born.
Love is loved and hated.
Love gets crucified.
Love chooses to get crucified.
Love sets free.
Love dies.
Love rises.

There is nothing "meek" about this story. Christmas is worship given to this holy infant, both tender and wild.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Album of the Year - Josh Garrels

Christianity Today gives its Album of the Year Award to Josh Garrels's Love and War & the Sea In Between. It's available for free at Garrels's website here.

Here are CT's top 12 albums of 2011, with links to their original reviews.

  1. Josh Garrels, Love & War & the Sea In Between (Small Voice Records)
  2. Gillian Welch, The Harrow & the Harvest (Acony)
  3. Over the Rhine, The Long Surrender (Great Speckled Dog)
  4. Burlap to Cashmere, Burlap to Cashmere (Jive Records)
  5. Joe Henry, Reverie (Anti)
  6. Paul Simon, So Beautiful or So What (Hear Music)
  7. Alison Krauss & Union Station, Paper Airplane (Rounder)
  8. Emmylou Harris, Hard Bargain (Nonesuch Records)
  9. Sara Groves, Invisible Empires (Fair Trade Services)
  10. Mutemath, Odd Soul (Teleprompt/Warner Bros.)
  11. Laura Marling, A Creature I Don't Know (Ribbon Records)
  12. Gungor, Ghosts upon the Earth (Brash Music)

The Difference Between Bedford Falls and Pottersville

Larry Taunton, author of The Grace Effect: How the Power of One Life Can Reverse the Corruption of Unbelief, has a nice essay on - My Take: When Bedford Falls Becomes Pottersville.  

"Bedford Falls" and "Pottersville" are the two fictional towns in the classic Christmas movie "It's a Wonderful Life." Financial pressure gets to George Bailey. Life in Bedford Falls is not good. He wishes he had never been born.

An angel appears to George and shows him what life would be like had George never been born. Welcome, George, to Pottersville. Taunton writes: "In Dickensian fashion, the angel takes him from one scene in that small town to another. The difference is stark. Indeed, Bedford Falls isn’t even Bedford Falls anymore, but a place called Pottersville. The town’s main street is a red-light district, crime is rampant, and life there is coarsened."

Taunton makes an analogy between contemporary America and Bedford Falls. We have people who wish religion had never been born. Taunton reasons such people don't know what they are wishing for. Such people "grossly underestimate the degree to which [their] own moral and intellectual sensibilities have been informed by the Judeo-Christian worldview."

Two connections come to mind. First, the "madman" in Nietzsche's chilling, prophetic parable. One can't leave Christian theism for atheism and reasonably retain Christianity's moral outlook. Secondly, Italian philosopher-atheist Marcello Pera's recent Why We Should Call Ourselves Christians: The Religious Roots of Free Societies. Pera claims that "the current moral crisis of Europe and the West is due to an apostasy of Christianity." (p. 61)

This weekend I'm thankful I have chosen to live, mutatis mutandis, in Bedford Falls.

The History of Science Is the History of Error

Skull, in a downtown Ann Arbor store

There's a fascinating article at on scientific "truths" that were once strongly held but shown to be wrong. 65 contributors are asked: "The flat earth and geocentric world are examples of wrong scientific beliefs that were held for long periods. Can you name your favorite example and for extra credit why it was believed to be true?" It was Benedetto Croce, I think, who once said that the history of science is the history of error.

George Lakoff is one of the respondents. Lakoff and Mark Johnson's Metaphors We Live By played an important role in my doctoral dissertation. Here's Lakoff's response, in full, which fascinates me.

Enlightenment Reason and Classical Rationality have been shown over and over in the cognitive and brain sciences to be false in just about every respect. Yet they are still being taught and used throughout the academic world and in progressive policy circles. Real human reason is very different.
Here are the claims of enlightenment reason, and the realities:
  • Claim: Thought is conscious. But neuroscience shows that thought is about 98 percent unconscious.
  • Claim: Reason is abstract and independent of the body. But reason is embodied in two ways: (1) we think with our brains and (2) thought is grounded in the sensory-motor system.
  • Yet, because we think with our brains and thought is embodied via the sensory-motor system, reason is completely embodied.
  • Claim: Reason can fit the world directly. Yet because we think with a brain structured by the body, reason is constrained by what the brain and body allow.
  • Claim: Reason uses formal logic. In reality, reason is frame-based and very largely metaphorical. Basic metaphors arise naturally around the world due to common experiences and the nature of neural learning. The literature on Embodied cognition has experimentally verified the reality of metaphorical thought. Real human reason uses frame-based and metaphor-based logics. Behavioral economics is based on this fact.
  • Claim: Emotion gets in the way of reason. Actually, real reason requires emotion. Brain-damaged patients who cannot feel emotion don't know what to want, since like and not like mean nothing to them and they cannot judge the emotions of others. As a result they cannot make rational decisions.
  • Claim: Reason is universal. Actually, even conservatives and progressives reason differently, and evidence is pouring in that one's native language affects how one reasons.
  • Claim: Language is neutral, and can fit the world directly. Actually language is defined in terms of frames and metaphors, works through the brain and does not fit the world directly. Indeed, many of the concepts named by words (e.g. freedom) are essentially contested and have meanings that vary with value systems.
  • Claim: Mathematics exists objectively and structures the universe. Mathematics has actually been created by mathematicians using their human brains, with frames and metaphors.
  • Claim: Reason serves self-interest. Partly true of course, but to a very large extent reason is based on empathetic connections to others, which works via the mirror neuron systems in our brains.
Given the massive failures of enlightenment reason, widely documented in the brain and cognitive sciences, why is it still taught and widely assumed?
First, it did a great historical job back in the 17th and 18th centuries in overcoming the dominance of the Church and feudalism.
Second, it permitted the rise of science, even though science doesn't really use it.
Third, unconscious mechanisms like framed-based and metaphorical thought are mostly not accessible to consciousness, and thus we cannot really see how we think.
Fourth, applications of formal logic have come into wide use, say in the rational actor model of classical economics (which failed in the economic collapse of 2008).
Fifth, we are taught enlightenment reason in our schools and universities and its failure is not directly taught, even in neuroscience classes. Seventh, most people just think and don't pay much attention to the details, especially those that are not conscious.
Sixth, most people just think and don’t pay much attention to the details, especially those that are not conscious.
Much of liberal thought uses enlightenment reason, which claims that if you just tell people the facts about their interests, they will reason to the right conclusion, since reason is supposed to universal, logical, and based on self-interest. The Obama administration assumed that in its policy discourse, and that assumption led to the debacle of the 2010 elections. Marketers have a better sense of how reason really works, and Republicans have been better at marketing their ideas. The scientific fallacy of enlightenment reason has thus had major real-world effects.

My current favorite scientific theory that proved false is: the idea that our uvierse did not begin to exist, held by Western scientists until the mid-20th century.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas at Redeemer

Linda and I wish for you all a blessed, Christ-filled Christmas weekend!

Redeemer events:

Christmas Eve, 6-7 PM - Communion and Candlelight service.

Christmas morning, 10:30 AM - We worship to Christmas songs old and new; Josh Bentley preaches on the Christmas story.

Tohu Wabohu & the Beginning of the Universe

I'm reading Dennis Overbye's Lonely Hearts of the Cosmos: The Story of the Scientific Quest for the Secret of the Universe. I'm still amazed that, as recently as the 1940s and 50s, the prevailing scientific view was that our universe had no beginning, and therefore had always existed. British astronomer and physicist Fred Hoyle was one who spoke against big bang cosmology when it began to emerge. Overbye writes:

"Hoyle absolutely detested the notion that the universe had a beginning. He compared it once to a party girl jumping out of a birthday cake; it wasn't dignified or elegant." (Overbye, 39) Hoyle coined the term "big bang" as one of derision. Aong with Thomas Gold and Hermann Bondi Hoyle developed an alternative to the expanding universe they called the "steady state."

Eventually, Hoyle came to change his mind. Overbye's account reads like a detective story. And, initially to some and even now to more than a few, this discovery sounded like the first chapter of Genesis, where God created the heavens and the earth tohu wabohu (Hebrew), translated as an "empty void," a "desolate" state of affairs. (See Goldingay, Old Testament Theology: Israel's Gospel, p. 80) 

Thursday, December 22, 2011


Our Redeemer Staff,
at T. K. Wu in Ann Arbor
Here are my priorities in life.
  1. 1. God
  2. 2. Linda
  3. 3. Family
  4. 4. Pastor
If you are a pastor, never get "Pastor" higher than #4.

This is my 20th year at Redeemer. When Linda and I met with the church leaders over 19 years ago I shared these priorities with them. They have not changed.
  1. God. I continue to take Tuesday afternoons, one of my "work days," to pray, seek God, listen to him, come before him, be led by him, and be loved and cared for by him. I need God; therefore I meet with God. My Tuesdays with God overflow into the entire week. During these times I'm not working on sermon material or church stuff; God is working on me and in me. If a pastor does not do this, or does not make this #1, he or she will quickly become inauthentic and irrelevant. And, they will burn out. Meet with God. Tend the fire within.
  2. Linda. I am married. Linda is my co-partner in life and ministry. People in my church know she's as valuable as I am, even moreso in many ways. "Pastor" means "shepherd." Linda is a true shepherd of people. We still date. Before marrying we knew each other for a year and a half. We've been married 38 1/2 years. That's 40 years of being together! For us, Friday night is date night. 40 years times 52 weeks a year = 2080 dates. If a dinner and a movie is $30, that's $62,400. Give or take a few dollars, depending on our economic circumstances. And this does not include other time we spend together. For us, this is money well-spent. We love each other. The consequences of not doing so would weaken our people, even devastate them. One time a pastor friend of mine called on a Thursday evening. He was in a panic. He said, "John, we have a conference tomorrow night. Our guest speaker is sick. Will you come and be our speaker?" I said, "No, I can't." Inappropriately, he asked, "Why not?" "Because," I responded, "Linda and I have a date." My friend was upset. We said good-bye. I felt angry with him. Five minutes later he called back and apologized. If a pastor is married and not investing in their marriage so that it is failing, they can forget speaking into the lives of their church's marriages.
  3. Family. Our sons are older now. But when they were growing up I played with them. I wore out many pairs of tennis shoes! Mostly, I savored parenting. When our boys were small I remember, many times, coming home from work, walking around the house to the living room window, and looking through it on the scene inside. There they were, with Linda, the ones I love most in life. I remember thinking, many times, "I will not let these precious times get away from me." If a pastor is married with children and does not invest much time and love with them he or she will be unfit to mentor the coming generation.
  4. Church. A few years ago two film students from the University of Michigan interviewed me for a movie they were making about our Monroe community. One of the questions they asked me was this: "What, as a pastor, is the most important thing you need to do for your people?" I answered immediately: "The most important thing I need to do for my people is: abide in Christ. Because what my people need is Jesus, not me. If I fail to do this my people will lose out and be led astray." That's why, for a pastor and, really, for any lover of Jesus, #1 must remain #1. 2 and 3 follow from that. "Church" will be stronger if 1, 2, and 3 are in place.
There have been times when these priorities have gotten out of order. Sometimes circumstances cause this. But I don't think that, for Linda and I, they have deliberately gotten out of order. "Church," like any labor, can be used as a way of avoiding 1, 2, and 3.

I will keep my priorities in order.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Santa Zentai Suit

I saw this Santa Zentai Suit today in Ann Arbor. I thought of getting it for myself, but didn't.

It's Wrong to Worship Fish

I saw this t-shirt today in a store in Ann Arbor. The thought came to me, "Purchase it." I did not.

And, the answer is, of course, "Yes."

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Plantinga's Devastation of Dawkins and Dennett

I am enjoying Alvin Plantinga's Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism. Plantinga, the brilliant analytic philosopher, devastates Dawkins's and Dennett's central claim, which is: "Given certain controversial assumptions about logical possibility (for example, that it is possible that mind come to be in a mindless universe), we don’t know that Darwin’s dangerous idea is astronomically improbable," from which it is concluded that from p is not astronomically improbable (it is not improbable that evolution is unguided) that p, therefore, is true (therefore evolution is unguided). (pp. 40-41)

This is delightful reading. Plantinga is one of our greatest analytic philosophers, and also possesses a wonderful sense of dry humor. 

Monday, December 19, 2011

Mission Impossible - Tomorrow Night

Tom Cruise, starring in "Mission Impossible"

Redeemer friends - Tomorrow night Linda, myself, and Holly Benner are going to see "Mission Impossible" and invite you to meet us at the theatre and join us.
Where: Rave Cinema - 4100 Carpenter Road - IMAX!!
Ypsilanti, MI 48197
(734) 973-8424

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Jesus-Followers Don't Deny the Reality of Death; They Deny Death's Finality

Richard Dawkins, in his eulogy to fellow atheist Christopher Hitchens, has written: "In the very way he [Hitchens] looked his illness in the eye, he embodied one part of the case against religion. Leave it to the religious to mewl and whimper at the feet of an imaginary deity in their fear of death; leave it to them to spend their lives in denial of its reality. Hitch looked it squarely in the eye: not denying it, not giving in to it, but facing up to it squarely and honestly and with a courage that inspires us all."

I think Hitchens did "look his illness in the eye." I also think his courage is inspirational. I've already written about my admiration of him and my sadness on hearing of his death.

However, contra Dawkins, this attitude of Hitchens does not form a premise in some argument against religion.

I presume Dawkins has never been at the bedside of a Jesus-follower as they are dying. I have been with many. I can't think of one who denied death's reality, or "mewled and whimpered at the feet of an imaginary deity." Here Dawkins is out of touch with reality in his obligation to defeat theism.

Followers of Jesus do not deny the reality of death. They do not embrace death's finality.

Alvin Plantinga on Science, Religion, and Naturalism

The River Raisin, in Monroe

There's a nice book review in the nytimes of brilliant philosopher Alvin Plantinga's new book Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism. I've got the book and am reading through it now.  

From the article: "Theism, with its vision of an orderly universe superintended by a God who created rational-minded creatures in his own image, “is vastly more hospitable to science than naturalism,” with its random process of natural selection, he writes. “Indeed, it is theism, not naturalism, that deserves to be called ‘the scientific worldview.’ ”"       

From the book, we have Plantinga's purpose: "My overall claim in this book: there is superficial conflict but deep concord between science and theistic religion, but superficial concord and deep conflict between science and naturalism." (K 89)

I've just finished a section on Richard Dawkins. Dawkins has claimed this: “The evidence of evolution reveals a universe without design.” Plantinga asks: "What makes him think this is true? How does he propose to argue for this claim?" (p. 17) Plantinga thinks Dawkins does not deliver on his claim. Plantinga shows that Dawkins's reasoning is like this.

1. p is not astronomically improbable.
2. Therefore, p is true

By 'p' is meant: evolution is unguided.

But from 1, 2 does not follow.

Plantinga writes: "What he [Dawkins] shows, at best, is that it’s epistemically possible that it’s biologically possible that life came to be without design. But that’s a little short of what he claims to show." (p. 25) Plantinga again:

"Dawkins claims that he will show that the entire living world came to be without design; what he actually argues is only that this is possible and we don’t know that it is astronomically improbable; for all we know it’s not astronomically improbable. But mere possibility claims are not impressive." (Ib.) 

The Meaning of "All You Can Eat Buffet"

Thanks Annie for posting this:

Compromised Jesus: The "Insider Movement" Creates "Spiritual Schizophrenics"


"Schizophrenia" - etymologically, "to split" (skhizein;σχίζειν) "the mind" (phren; φρήν).

Following a few links I discovered the book Chrislam - I'd like to read it. It gets excellent reviews by scholars I admire. It deals with what in Christian missions is called the "Insider Movement," as this strategy relates to Islam. Apparently some missionaries are promoting the idea that, when a Muslim converts to Christianity, they should remain a Muslim. Having last Sunday preached on 2 Cor. 6:14-18, the very idea of this troubles me.

This is about the perennial missionary dilemma between "cultural sensitivity" and "syncretism." For example, I've taken my guitar into bars and played and sang about Jesus. For me this is incarnating the Gospel, like the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. But I didn't get annihilated with the bar's patrons. For me the reception of the Real Jesus brought me out of alcohol abuse, never to return.

The Real Jesus-follower is "in the world" but not "of the world." New Testament scholar Darrell Bock writes: "The emotional line between cultural sensitivity and syncretism is thin, but the theological line between them is great. One (cultural sensitivity) is important to maintain, the other (syncretism) is crucial to avoid."

Moses Gbenu reviews Chrislam: "The insider movement does not produce disciples of Jesus Christ but spiritual schizophrenics. The Insider Movement is not inside Islam and is not inside the Gospel. It is, in fact, more an Islamic movement than Christian. It is another form of Islam. It is a perversion and disservice to Christ. Those who have the interest of Muslims at heart should read this book again and again."

William Lane Craig states: "The critical question concerning the so-called insider approach to missions is not the pragmatic question of what works but the theological question of what is essential to the New Testament Gospel."

Surely there are difficult choices to be made when it comes to bringing the Gospel to non-believers.

Surely non-believers will not want our Compromised Jesus if we present them with a schizophrenic situation.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Recommended General Texts on Christian Apologetics

A friend asked me: "Would you mind recommending some books from Christian apologists?  I endeavor to be more well-equipped to defend the faith in the world of ideas."

Here are my suggestions.

Paul Copan,When God Goes to Starbucks: A Guide to Everyday Apologetics.  

Paul Copan and William Lane Craig, Contending with Christianity's Critics: Answering New Atheists and Other Objectors.

William Lane Craig, On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision.  

William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith (3rd Edition): Christian Truth and Apologetics.  

William Craig and J.P. Moreland, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview.

Doug Groothuis, Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith.  

Lee Strobel, The Case for....   Christ, Faith, a Creator, & the Real Jesus.

These are all good, broad-based, general texts on apologetics. Copan, Craig, Moreland, and Groothuis are all excellent scholars with Ph.Ds. Strobel's books consist of interviews with great scholars.

Beyong this, there are many excellente books that focus on on certain apologetic issues such as, e.g., the problem of evil

Mark Pagel on the Loss of Creativity & Increasing Cognitive Docility

Genes replicate. Which is to say, they copy. Biologist Mark Pagel takes this idea and applies it to social learning today. We have become, largely, a culture of copiers. Innovators and creative people are vanishing. Pagel writes: "At no greater time in history than ever before, copiers are probably doing better than innovators. Because innovation is extraordinarily hard. My worry is that we could be moving in that direction, towards becoming more and more sort of docile copiers."


In my Philosophy of Religion classes I give one-on-one, face-to-face oral exams on the questions I teach on. For a few reasons: 1) this is the way to do real philosophy; 2) I can find out what the student really knows; and 3) I don't have to read papers which have been mostly cut-and-pasted from the Internet.  From a teaching standpoint, this is very interesting in a world of copiers (not original thinkers). On #3 - the cut-and-paste phenomenon is turning professors into Internet archaeologists who can now access programs to unearth whether or not a student is plagiarizng.

Pagel is not an Internet-basher. He's trying to understand culture. As I consider these words they ring true to me. I see this stuff unfodling before my eyes, in the classroom.

"As our societies get bigger, and rely more and more on the Internet, fewer and fewer of us have to be very good at these creative and imaginative processes. And so, humanity might be moving towards becoming more docile, more oriented towards following, copying others, prone to fads, prone to going down blind alleys, because part of our evolutionary history that we could have never anticipated was leading us towards making use of the small number of other innovations that people come up with, rather than having to produce them ourselves.
The interesting thing with Facebook is that, with 500 to 800 million of us connected around the world, it sort of devalues information and devalues knowledge. And this isn't the comment of some reactionary who doesn't like Facebook, but it's rather the comment of someone who realizes that knowledge and new ideas are extraordinarily hard to come by. And as we're more and more connected to each other, there's more and more to copy. We realize the value in copying, and so that's what we do.
And we seek out that information in cheaper and cheaper ways. We go up on Google, we go up on Facebook, see who's doing what to whom. We go up on Google and find out the answers to things. And what that's telling us is that knowledge and new ideas are cheap. And it's playing into a set of predispositions that we have been selected to have anyway, to be copiers and to be followers. But at no time in history has it been easier to do that than now. And Facebook is encouraging that."

From a theological POV the last thing the Church needs is even more docility.

Friday, December 16, 2011

How Peter Hitchens Found God

Peter & Christopher Hitchens

One more Hitchens post today.

U.K.'s Mail Online, where Peter Hitchens writes, posted Peter's article: "How I found God and peace with my atheist brother: PETER HITCHENS traces his journey back to Christianity."

It's an excerpt from Peter's The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me to Faith.  

Peter Hitchens's "In Memoriam: Christopher Hitchens, 1949-2011"

Christopher & Peter Hitchens

Peter Hitchens writes on the death of his brother Christopher, here.

Peter is an atheist-turned Christian theist. His book is The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me to Faith. Christopher is an atheist, and his book is God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.

Peter's In Memoriam is touching...

Christopher Hitchens Dies

Christopher Hitchens died today. He was 62 years old, the same age as I am. He died of esophageal cancer, the disease his father died of.

Hitchens was a brilliant writer, and a vocal atheist in his attacks on theism. I credit him for engaging theists and debating them, on their own turf, even when at times (as with William Lane Craig) he was a fish out of the deep waters of academic philosophy.

I feel a sadness and loss on hearing of his death this morning.

Here are some tributes from Mail Online.

Graydon Carter, editor of Vanity Fair: 'He was a gift from, dare I say it, God.'

Salman Rushdie: 'Goodbye my beloved friend. A great voice falls silent. A great heart stops.'

Science writer Richard Dawkins said: 'Christopher Hitchens, finest orator of our time, fellow horseman, valiant fighter against all tyrants including God.'

American pastor Rick Warren, who delivered the invocation at President Barack Obama's inauguration: 'My friend Christopher Hitchens has died. I loved and prayed for him constantly and grieve his loss. He knows the Truth now.'

Michael Shermer, the founding publisher of Skeptic magazine: 'We shall miss you, your voice, your pen, and most of all your mind Christopher. 'The world is better because of you.'

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said: 'I worked as an intern for him years ago. My job was to fact check his articles. Since he had a photographic memory and an encyclopaedic mind it was the easiest job I've ever done. 'He will be massively missed by everyone who values strong opinions and great writing.'

See Vanity Fair's "In Memoriam."

Also see Christianity Today's tribute to Hitchens here.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

How To Know If You Are Not Saved

Nairobi, Kenya

I'm preaching this coming Sunday morning out of 2 Corinthians 8:1-9. It's about the reckless generosity displayed by the Macedonian Jesus-followers, in spite of their "extreme poverty."

The famine of A.D. 46 had devastated Jerusalem and beyond, and the Jewish Jesus-followers there were suffering. The Gentile Macedonian Jesus-people received "grace" from God that motivated them to give beyond what they were capable of giving. Paul tells the Corinthians, "I want you to experience this grace of giving lavishly to human need."

New Testament scholar Craig Blomberg, explicating these verses in his commentary on 2 Corinthians, refers to the account of Jesus and the tax collector Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus had an authentic Jesus-encounter in his home. He emerged from his house and gave his wealth away. When Zacchaeus went into his house that day he was mastered by the desire to get; when he came out from his house that day he had been transformed and now was mastered by the passion to give. Blomberg writes: "Something had happened inside that house with Jesus." Jesus then interpreted the event by saying: “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” (Luke 19:9-10)

Blomberg comments: "Authentic salvation changes our orientation to wealth. If our professed salvation has not loosed our grip on material things so that we have become giving people, we are not saved, despite our protestations.” (Blomberg, 2C, K 2922)