Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Look Past the Face Into the Heart

Philosophers, by Steve Pyke
Years ago, during my "tennis-playing days," a friend from our church asked if I'd like to play him. My tennis-playing days were days of average-to-mediocre, occasional, tennis-playing. But I was certain I could whup my church friend. He was 15 years older than I, and did not look athletic. Just by looking at his face I knew I'd have to take it easy on him. His face was, for me, a face that a good tennis player would not have. Just looking at him, I would never mistake him for a tennis player.

We played. He crushed me. His ground strokes ran me ragged. It was a great aerobic workout for me. I can't remember if he broke a sweat. He was an actual tennis player even though he did not look like one. I conclude: it is stupid to judge someone by their face. And, BTW, what does a tennis player look like?

I get The Chronicle Review sent to me online (from The Chronicle of Higher Education). The current edition has an article by the well-known philosopher Arthus C. Danto, called "Faces of Philosophy: A Photographer's Gallery of Minds." It's on the photography of Steve Pyke. I had never heard of Pyke before. Here is his very cool website. I clicked on "philosophers."  Here are a few. (Years ago I was given, as a gift, photographer Yousuf Karsh's amazing Regarding Heroes. It's selling new for $228! Looking at Pyke's portraits reminded me of Karsh.)

I've read some of Donald Davidson's work. Here is the brilliant Davidson.

Wow - I didn't think he'd look like that... so ordinary...!

Here are the amazing, intellectual philosophers Elizabeth Anscombe and Peter Geach.

But... they look so very drab and dull.

I've seen this famous photo of the brilliant John Rawls many times. I just didn't know Pyke took it.

Rawls looks as if he's just been done an injustice.

Here's the ridiculously brilliant John Searle. I read his Speech Acts back in the 1980s.

Tell me - does that look like a man that knows anything?

I can't resist showing Karl Popper. I was not expecting this, especially after reading, years ago, his revolutionary philosophy of science text The Logic of Scientific Discovery.

It was when Pyke met and photographed British philosopher A.J. Ayer that he was opened up to "philosophers as a species, and... embark[ed] on a project of photographing not just philosophers, but philosophers' philosophers—the men and women whose philosophical achievement was respected by other philosophers. The result is the book Philosophers, a unique study of what roughly 100 practitioners, mainly of the analytical school of professional philosophers, actually look like to the Pyke-eye, to use the artist's e-mail designation. It is a thrilling examination of the physiognomy of thought."

Of the 100 analytic philosophers Danto says "everybody looks fiercely smart." I'm not sure about that. Actually, not to me. I don't think "fiercely smart" looks like anything.

Danto continues. "We [do] have testimony regarding the great thinkers of the past that they didn't always look as clever as they actually were. Most readers of the Scottish seer David Hume would give him the highest marks in acuity and inferential daring, but his looks were another matter altogether." Hume's face was broad and fat and expressed "imbecility, his eyes, vacant and spiritless, and the corpulence of his whole body was far better fitted to communicate the ideal of a turtle-eating Alderman, than of a refined Philosopher."

Now that... is funny.

That women were attracted to Hume "baffled his contemporaries."

As I surfed through Pyke's website I loved his portrait photography. Danto writes:

"What makes Steve Pyke the great artist that he is are his reflexes, which his collaborative camera—a Rolleiflex 2.8 Planar—seamlessly transmits. He is not the kind of photographer we see in movies, clicking madly and saying, "Hold it! That's it! One more! Smile!" He is as patient as a tiger, no pounce without prey. His setup, he says, is pretty low tech. Natural daylight, with the subject next to the window, with the camera usually set at f8 and 1/8 of a second, here using Tri-X black-and-white film. A few inches only separate face and camera. The rest is skin, muscle, and bone, which life sculpts into the sort of face philosophers wear. There are smiles—now and then—but not the kind we see in glossy official portraits of chairmen of the board. Some philosophers have wonderful natural smiles, which express a complex of thought and feeling, rather than forming masks."

I like how Danto concludes his review of Pyke's book:

"To turn the pages of this remarkable album is to experience the look of deep cogitation as a mode of being. In actual life, sitting across the table from any of these figures, young or old, male or female, is to expose one's innermost convictions to the cutting edges of minds sharpened in the dialogues that make up philosophical education. Finding the truth may be undergoing cruel stabs and slashes, and reaching surprising conclusions. The men and women looking out of their frames, wearing thin smiles, are unrelenting. How we are to live, how we are to think, how we are to act are in the balance. Not to mention the meaning of life, the possibility of knowledge, the attainability of truth, and where beauty lies."

If you met any of these faces on the street they would not stand out to you. But the minds behind the faces are extraordinary. They are going after the Big Questions.

Now consider Jesus.

In John 7 the Jewish religious leaders are trying to find something wrong with Jesus in his violation of their Sabbath laws. They end up accusing him of being demon-possessed. Jesus finds them to be self-contradictory, and defends the God-ness of healing a man on the Sabbath. He concludes by saying, "You need to look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly." (John 7:24, NLT)

It takes time to get behind the face to the indwelling spirit. Don't judge a soul by its face. Learn to make a deep judgment. Don't stop at a person's face.

Feeling a bit smarter than I look...

Monday, May 30, 2011

Friends Across the Generations

2 friends - Ashleigh Bentley & Holly Benner

At Redeemer, almost every Sunday morning, we have visitors who have driven some distance just to be with us. It happened yesterday.

A few weeks ago a woman who was with us at "Furious Love" came back for a visit. She said, "One thing I love about Redeemer is that I see ALL the generations worshiping here.

This is true. We have a lot of young people and a lot of old people and a lot of in-between people. I love this! It is how things should be in God's Kingdom. Our young people need old, on-fire Jesus-lovers to mentor them. Older Jesus-Movement-people need to see young J-followers serving in the body of Christ.

Let all the generations come together and praise God!

Counsel to the Pastors of America

Sterling State Park
I'm paraphrasing Eugene Peterson, from his The Pastor: A Memoir (K, 89%). Peterson says that, if he were asked to give a brief word of counsel to the pastors of America, this is what he would say.

Be an unbusy pastor. Be a patient pastor.

Have eyes to see and ear to hear what God is doing in peoples' lives.

Don't judge them in terms of what you think they should be doing. Instead, be a witness to what God is doing in their lives, not a schoolmistress handing out grades for how well they are doing something for God.

Be the one person in your community who is free to take men and women seriously just as they are, appreciating them just as they are, and giving them the dignity that derives from being the 'image of God,' a God-created being who has eternal worth without having to prove uselfulness or be good for anything.

Don't be so impatient with the mess that you are not around to see the miracle being formed.

Do not conceive of your life as a pastor so functionally that the mystery gets squeezed out of both you and your congregation.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Michael Boylan on: Are There Natural Human Rights?

Michael Boylan has written an interesting essay in today's nytimes entitled "Are There Natural Human Rights?" If human rights are only invented by humans then they are only arbitrary social constructions that apply only to societies that choose to adopt them. "Under this scenario the concept of natural human rights is not a legitimate universal category by which to judge societal or individual conduct."

Are there human rights that are not mere social conventions but have universal application? If not, in a Nietzschean move, all that would be left is power. "Each nation would be free to treat its citizens as it chooses, subject only to the rule of power. Hitler would not have been wrong in carrying out the Holocaust, but only weak because he lost the war. The logical result of such a position is a radical moral relativism vis-à-vis various cultural anthropologies."

Boylan wants to argue that universal human rights can have a natural basis. If universal natural rights exist, then evil dictators are wrong. If univeral natural rights do not exist, we can jettison attempts to apply our invented ethical "norms" to other cultures.

I'm not clear what Boylan means by appealing to "higher principles" like the Golden Rule. He concludes with this thought experiment.

"Imagine living in a society in which the majority hurts some minority group (here called “the other”). The reason for this oppression is that “the other” are thought to be bothersome and irritating or that they can be used for social profit.  Are you fine with that?  Now imagine that you are the bothersome irritant and the society wants to squash you for speaking your mind in trying to improve the community.  Are you fine with that?  These are really the same case.  Write down your reasons.  If your reasons are situational and rooted in a particular cultural context (such as adhering to socially accepted conventions, like female foot binding or denying women the right to drive), then you may cast your vote with Hart, Austin and Confucius. In this case there are no natural human rights. If your reasons refer to higher principles (such as the Golden Rule), then you cast your vote with the universalists: natural human rights exist."

Can there be universal human rights that are "natural?" I find this difficult without the idea of God. Boylan is familiar with this. See, for example, the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy's article on "Divine Command Theory," fast-forwarding to the last section, on Boylan's response.

Women's Head Coverings in 1 Corinthians 11 (For My Redeemer Family)

5/29/11 - The Head of Every Man Is Christ – 1 Cor. 11:3-16

(This morning at Redeemer I preached on 1 Corinthians 11:3-16. Here are most of the notes + links I used this morning. If you were there I think this will make sense to you!)
3Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. 4Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. 5And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is just as though her head were shaved. 6If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved off, she should cover her head.

7 A man should not wear anything on his head when worshiping, for man is made in God’s image and reflects God’s glory. And woman reflects man’s glory. 8 For the first man didn’t come from woman, but the first woman came from man. 9 And man was not made for woman, but woman was made for man. 10 For this reason, and because the angels are watching, a woman should wear a covering on her head to show she is under authority.

11In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God. 13Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, 15but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering. 16If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice—nor do the churches of God.


Paul turns from individual morality… to what corporate worship is. He deals with three problems.

The second problem has to do with abuse of the Lord’s Table. The third has to do with abuse and misunderstanding of the spiritual gifts. We're looking at the first one today.

Craig Keener writes: the main theme in all these verses is: “Do not cause your brother to stumble.” “Think of others before your own self.” Don’t use your freedom to bring glory to your own self.

OK. But if all kinds of people are causing you to stumble it might be because you have a critical spirit. We can’t please everybody.

Remember – Paul is writing to new Jesus-followers who have no Jewish or Christian backgrounds. All they know is their Greek culture. The “Everything is permissible because we are now free!” idea has gotten out of control. It’s true – In Christ we are now free from legalistic righteousness, from a gazillion Pharisaical rules and regulations, from cultural forms of ritual and ceremony. But our freedom is not an absolute freedom. Christian freedom is freedom for the other person, for the other’s good, for the growth of the fellowship in love and faith and hope. Our freedom is NEVER simply for our own personal selves. It’s freedom to think of others before your own self. Freedom to serve others. Freedom to forgive others. Freedom to say the word “No” to stuff that controlled us.

Paul sums this up in 1 Cor 10:31 – “Whatever you do, do all for the glory of God.” How do we live and act for the glory of God? By not causing anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks, or the church of God… for I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.” (10:32-33) This principle of Jesus-behavior is the source for Paul’s specific instructions which follow.


Do not study the Bible like it’s a Rohrshach test.

One of my favorite "Peanuts" cartoon strips goes like this.

Lucy: Aren't the clouds beautiful? They look like big balls of cotton. I could just lie here all day and watch them drift by. If you use your imagination, you can see lots of things in the cloud's formations. What do you think you see, Linus?

Linus: Well, those clouds up there look to me look like the map of the British Honduras on the Caribbean.

[points up]

Linus: That cloud up there looks a little like the profile of Thomas Eakins, the famous painter and sculptor. And that group of clouds over there...


Linus: ...gives me the impression of the Stoning of Stephen. I can see the Apostle Paul standing there to one side.

Lucy: Uh huh. That's very good. What do you see in the clouds, Charlie Brown?

Charlie Brown: Well... I was going to say I saw a duckie and a horsie, but I changed my mind.

We can do that with clouds. We should not approach the Bible that way. I’ve been in Bible studies where the question is mostly: “What do these verses mean to you?” It’s OK to ask that question. But only after you know what the verses mean. To do that, in many biblical cases… you need to get into the context. Into the situation.

FOR EXAMPLE: Today the word “bad” sometimes means “good.” Imagine you are a hip-hop person… you just had surgery… the surgeon comes in to talk with you. How did it go? He says… “That surgery was bad!” You breathe a sign of relief… and give thanks. To you, “bad” means “good.” That would be so hard to understand if you did not get the context. Keep this in mind.

3Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.

What does the word “head” mean here? Not: “authority,” not “in charge of,” not “boss.” “Head” means: “source,” or “source of life.” Like “headwaters.” Not “authority,” or “in charge,” or “boss.” This is not about an “honor hierarchy!” N.T. Wright says – “a good case can be made for saying that in verse 3 [Paul] is referring not to ‘headship’ in the sense of sovereignty, but to ‘headship’ in the sense of ‘source,’ like the ‘source’ or ‘head’ of a river.” (NTW, 1 Cor, 141)

We think of being the “head” of something means: being in charge. The “boss.” But in that ancient Greek culture Paul writes in… using the word “head” to mean “boss” is extremely rare. (Keener, Paul, Women, and Wives, 32) In the oldest Greek dictionaries… when you look up this word “head”… they do not include the definition “the one in charge; the boss.” (Keener, PWW, 32) “Leader” is not a common meaning for the Greek word “head.”

This is “source” or “origin” language. This is confirmed by vv. 8-9. For the first man [Adam] didn’t come from woman, but the first woman [Eve] came from man. NOTE! In v. 8 Paul is explaining what he’s saying (vv. 8-9, 12)… he refers explicitly to the creation story in Gen. 2, where woman was made from the side of man. (NTW, 1 C, 141) The source, the origin… the “head” of woman… is man.

SO… we can read 1 Cor. 11:3 like this: “I want you to understand that Christ is the source of man’s being; the man is the source of woman’s being; and God is the source for Christ’s being.” (Brauch, 140) If “head” meant “boss of” or “authority over” then one would commit a heresy called “subordinationism.” It denies the common, classical view of the Trinity (God as a 3-personed being).

LOOK AT VV. 11-12. We know that the correct meaning of “head” is “origin” or “source” because of what Paul says a few verses further on:

11In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. [We all had a “mom.”] But everything comes from God.

All things come from God. God is “source” or “origin” of all. God is Creator God. These verses are obviously about “source,” or “origin” things. Paul is thinking of Genesis here.

• God created Adam first.

• Eve the woman came from the rib of Adam.

• And in John 8:42, 13:3, and 16:27 Jesus is said to have come from God.

• John 8:42 - Jesus told them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, because I have come to you from God. I am not here on my own, but he sent me.”

• So this is a temporal, sequential thing.

In a much more significant way, “all things,” both man and woman, “come from God.”

What does God think about this? God thinks THIS IS VERY, VERY GOOD. MAN AND WOMAN… COME FROM GOD. So what, then, is the big deal about the head covering and hair thing?

N.T.Wright says that, in Paul’s day (as, in many ways, I ours), gender was marked by hair and clothing styles.

o This changes according to place and time, right?

o Here are some of the hairstyles of GREAT LEADERS FOR GOD! (Charles Finney, B Graham, John Wesley, Charles Wesley, John Calvin, Martin Luther, D.L. Moody)

John Wesley - nice, long curly hair

Billy Graham - he  changed hair styles
through the decades

John Calvin - now THAT is a beard!
A precursor to Z.Z. Top?

Charles Wesley - very cute!

D. L. Moody - a great beard.

Martin Luther - influenced The Beatles

Charles Finney - precursor to
Jack Nicholson in 'The Shining'

What kind of clothes define a man change acc. to time and place. Does anyone really want to say William Wallace was not a man? (He wore a skirt!)

15 years ago this is what a real man looked like.

But today, in America, this is what a real man looks like. How the times have changed!

In Greek Corinth, during Paul’s time, men wore short hair and women wore long hair. Women wore head coverings, or wore their hair tied up in a bun. In Paul’s time… Head coverings were outward expressions of the differences between men and women – outward expressions which were commonly recognized in that society at that time. In Paul’s time the only women who appeared in public w/o some kind of headcovering, and with their hair unbraided and hanging down, were prostitutes. (Obviously, this is not true today in America.) That may have been in the back of Paul’s mind when he wrote these things. Remember all the sexual immorality going on in the Corinthian church.

But Paul taught that, in Christ, there is “no male or female,” because we are all one in Christ, right? NTW says – maybe the Cs who knew this… that Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female… were all equal welcome and equally valued… Maybe some of the Cs took him so literally that women, when they prayed or prophesied aloud in church meetings, decided to remove their normal head coverings, and even unbraided their hair… to show they were free from all social conventions.

The problem within Corinth was this: “It seems that the Corinthian slogan, ‘everything is permissible,’ had been applied to meetings of the church as well, and the Corinthian women had expressed that principle by throwing off their distinguishing dress.

My former New Testament professor Manfred Brauch writes (Hard Sayings of Paul [IVP]): “We assume that social, cultural or ritual norms were being ignored or deliberately set aside in the context of worship. It is possible that their libertine enthusiasm, which had led them to a demeaning or total rejection of male-female sexuality and distinctions, had also led then to reject other cultural and religious norms. Thus, perhaps in a deliberate attempt to wipe out distinctions, some men may have worn a head covering [a shawl] in worship (1 Cor 11:4), while some women rejected the covering prescribed for them by cultural or religious conventions (1 Cor 11:5).” (Brauch)

NOTE: This is not about “hats.” It is about men dressing like women in the worship service. As odd as that sounds, C-men were wearing shawls. It would be like me standing up in front of my church family and preaching while wearing Linda’s wedding dress.

THE POINT, TO ME, IS THIS: Every missionary comes to understand social and cultural conventions. When I went to India, and spoke many times in church gatherings, only men were on the platform, and we all had to take off our shoes on the platform. I did that. No way was I going to deliberately dishonor the people who invited me there. Even though it’s just a cultural thing. If I dishonored this in India because of my “freedom” in Christ, you would not say “Good job.”

SO… Paul doesn’t congratulate the C-women for doing this. NTW – “He insists on maintaining gender differentiation during worship.”

In Paul’s time… in Greek Corinth… these head coverings were just a temporary, cultural distinction about the created, eternal distinction between male and female. People invent the cultural things like dress codes and honor-shame hierarchies. But people DID NOT invent humans as male and female. What is abiding is the eternal relationship between men and women which Paul depends on to support his teaching on the head coverings, the temporary expression.”

Men were NOT to wear shawl head coverings in worship. Because women did. These maintained the cultural distinctions between men and women. That is NOT true in American culture today. So these things do not apply today. If that WERE true then women would have to wear shawls over their heads…, and men could not wear shawls… even if they wanted to use their freedom to do so!

A main part of Paul’s reasoning here is: God created us male and female. God saw that this was very good. In the C church these distinctions were not being maintained. As we’ve seen, they had all kinds of sexual immorality problems. It was coming into their worship services. The Cs are using their “freedom” to blur the distinction! In our worship we need to maintain those distinctions. Now I’m going to show you why.

7 A man should not wear anything on his head when worshiping, for man is made in God’s image and reflects God’s glory. And woman reflects man’s glory. 8 For the first man didn’t come from woman, but the first woman came from man.

The woman is not man’s subordinate here; she “reflects man’s glory.” Ultimately, this is a worship thing. This, again, is “origin” or “source” language. Now pay attention to this.

In biblical thought, that which is made, or emerges out of another, manifests or reflects the glory of its maker or origin. For example, when we look at a piece of art made by Gary Wilson… and see its beauty and creativity…this reflects on Gary… right?

Thus, “the heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork” (Ps 19:1 RSV). Worshipers are exhorted to declare God’s glory (Ps 96:3–8). But when false worship happens… it perverts God’s glory and distorts human living… and people who worship that way stand under God’s judgment. Roman 1:22–32).

According to both John and Paul, Jesus’ life reflected God’s glory (Jn 1:14; 13:31–32; 17:4; Col 1:27). Since in Christ the fullness of God expressed itself (Col 1:19), Paul could say that “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God [was revealed] in the face of Christ” (2 Cor 4:6).

This is a “glory thing.” In 1 Cor 10:31-33 Paul writes: So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 32 Don’t give offense to Jews or Gentiles[f] or the church of God. 33 I, too, try to please everyone in everything I do. I don’t just do what is best for me; I do what is best for others so that many may be saved.

The BASIC IDEA IS: In worship, indeed in all things, give up personal rights and personal freedoms to honor others. In that way God will be honored and glorified. NTW – “In worship it is important for both men and women to be their truly created selves, to honor God by being what they are and not blurring the lines by pretending to be something else.

Obviously, Paul writes this because the C J-followers are not doing this. Paul is emphasizing the distinctiveness of “male” and “female.” How God has created things. Which from God’s POV is very good. This is Genesis-language: Genesis 1:27 - So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.

Now… going deeper… NTW says Paul assumes that, in worship, the creation is being restored. And in worship we are anticipating its eventual restoration. IN WORSHIP… heaven comes down to earth. As it is in heaven, let it be the same on earth. NTW – “In worship, the church anticipates how things are going to be in that new day… God made humans male and female, and gave them [both] authority over the world. If humans are to reclaim this authority over the world, this will come about as they worship the true God, as they pray and prophesy in his name, and are renewed in his image, in being what they were made to be, in celebrating the genders God has given them.” (NTW, 1 C, 142)

THE MAIN POINT: Ben Witherington writes: “Paul places little value on social or cultural conventions, or social status. Paul places MUCH value on the way God has made human beings and is remaking them in Christ.” (BW, 1 C, 236) Human maleness and femaleness is good, and to be celebrated. God’s created order should be properly manifested, not obliterated. Why? Because God’s created order REFLECTS HIS GLORY! It is this concern which motivates Paul’s thought in this difficult passage.

Because the Corinthian church’s distortion of this troubles God. It troubles God’s messengers, the angels, too.


1 Cor. 11:10 – here are four translations – from poorer to better. Here's the Greek. (My church family is so smart that they all read biblical Greek.)

τοῦτο ὀφείλει ἡ γυνὴ ἐξουσίαν ἔχειν ἐπὶ τῆς κεφαλῆς διὰ τοὺς ἀγγέλους.

NIV - For this reason, and because the angels are watching, a woman should wear a covering on her head to show she is under authority. NOT a great translation.

NKJV - For this reason the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. BETTER (even though the word 'symbol' is not in the Greek text).

The KJV says - For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels. VERY INTERESTING! Because of the Greek word for 'authority' or 'power,' exousia.

NTW translates it brute-literally – “That’s why a woman must have authority on her [physical] head, because of the angels.” (!!!) NICE!

The KJV’s “power” (exousia) is not a bad translation. “Power” means “ability.” In this case, Gordon Fee thinks it means the ability to freely choose. The C-woman can freely choose to prefer others over her own self… wear the culturally distinctive mark of her femaleness… and reflect God’s glory in His creation.

As I was worshiping at Redeemer today the thought came to me that: In the Corinthian church, when women prayed and prophesied with the head covering on, they had access to God’s power. It is a God-empowered thing to worship as God’s creation reflecting God’s glory.

But what about the angels?

One of the things the Dead Sea Scrolls told us was that there was a branch of ancient Judaism that assumed when God’s people met for worship, angels are there, too. A lot of people here at Redeemer not only believe that… they have seen it!

It’s not a cool thing to be an unholy people in worship… with holy angels worshiping with us. Ben Witherington writes: “Angels, as guardians of the creation order, are present in worship, perhaps even participating in it. So for us, in our worship, the created order should be properly manifested.” (BW, 1 C, 236)

BECAUSE: The creation reflects the glory of God.

What’s this about?

In 1 Cor. 6:3 Paul writes - Don’t you realize that we will judge angels? Hold on, because this gets deep!

NTW – “In worship, the church anticipates how things are going to be in that new day… When a woman is praying or prophesying, in the presence of angels, she needs to be truly what she is, since it is to male and female alike, in their mutual interdependence as God’s image-bearing creatures, that the world, including the angels, is to be subject. (NTW, 1C, 142-143)

This is not about some kind of hierarchy, where women are under men. Humans create social hierarchies. But God DID create male and female. And that creation reflects God’s glory. “God’s creation needs humans to be fully, gloriously and truly human, which means fully and truly male and female. This, and of course much else besides, is to be glimpsed in worship.” (NTW, 1 C, 143)

This morning I felt God say to me: “John, I want to give the angels present today a glimpse of this.”

I called men forward to sing “We Exalt Thee.” I asked Joe Laroy to pray over our men and bless them.

I then asked the women to come forward and do the same. I asked Sharon Lloyd to pray over our women and bless them.

For me, and for Linda, this was very powerful! I believe the angels were pleased as they worshiped with us.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Psychology of Atheism: Part I

I just read "The Psychology of Atheism," by Paul Vitz, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at New York University. (In Dallas Willard, ed.; A Place for Truth) Vitz talks about the psychological reasons for unbelief. "Most psychologists view with some alarm an attempt to propose a psychology of atheism. At the very least, such a project puts many psychologists on the defensive and gives them at least a small taste of their own medicine. Psychologists are always observing and interpreting others, and it is time that some of them learn from their own experience what it is like to be put under the microscope of psychology theory and evidence." (136)

Vitz begins by giving two points that bear on his basic assumptions. First, Vitz assumes "that the major barriers to God are not rational but in a general sense can be called psychological... I am quite convinced that for every person strongly swayed by rational argument, there are countless others more affected by nonrational, psychological factors. The human heart: no one can truly fathom it or know all of its deceits, but at least it is the proper task of the psychologist to try." (Ib.) Psychological barriers to belief in God are both many and "of great importance." (Ib.) Further, "people vary greatly in the extent to which these factors have been present in their lives." (137)

Secondly, "in spite of serious psychological barriers to belief, all of us have a free choice to accept or reject God." (Ib.)

Vitz believes there is "a widespread assumption throughout much of the intellectual community that belief in God is based on all kids of irrational, immature needs and wishes, but that somehow or other skepticism or atheism is derived from a rational, non-nonsense appraisal of the way things really are." (137-138) He then gives his own story of how he became an atheist as an undergraduate at the University of Michigan in the 1950s. One of the major factors for this was "general socialization," though Vitz was unaware of it at the time. He was embarrassed about his upbringing in Cincinnati and "wanted to take part and be comfortable in the new, exciting, glamorous, secular world into which I was moving at that time at the University of Michgian as an undergraduate." (139) Such "socialization pressure" has pushed many people away from God-belief "and all that this belief is associated with for them." (Ib.)

Another kind of socialization matter for Vitz's atheistic turn was that he desired to "be accepted by powerful and influential psychologists in my field. In particular, I wanted to be accepted by the powerful and influential psychologists in my field." (139)

A final, superficial-but-very-strong-irrational-pressure to become an atheist, was "personal convenience." (139) Simply put, it is inconvenient "to be a serious believer in today's powerful neo-pagan world." Which meant, for Vitz, the world of academia. "It's not hard to imagine the pleasuresthat would have to be rejected if I became a serious believer." (140) And the time it would require.

For Vitz, his "decision" to become an atheist was more a matter of his will than his intellect. Because of his "personal needs for a convenient lifestyle," and his "professional needs to be accepted as part of academic psychology," "atheism was simply the best policy." (141) But there are deeper psychological reasons for atheism, to which Vitz then turns.

Vitz has sympathy with atheists who have deeper psychological reasons for being an atheist. They are often the most passionate of atheists, and not just casual, internet atheists. Vitz begins by talking about Sigmund Freud's psychology of religious belief, because Vitz is going to use Freud in forming a psychology of atheism.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Church of Oprah & the Good News of Suffering

Mark Oppenheimer, in "The Church of Oprah Winfrey and a Theology of Suffering," considers the idea that Oprah Winfrey, on her TV show:
  • might be a false prophet... because her stable of self-help gurus treated suffering as something beneficial
  • "turned the black church’s ethos of self-reliance in the face of suffering into an exaltation of suffering itself" so that "suffering becomes a desirable experience"
Women, according to Oprah, can transcend their sufferings by trying harder. If this is so, "then people have only themselves to blame for their misery.”

On "Oprah" “guests are forced to admit their worst transgressions.”

Oprah's self-help partners included:
  •  Louise Hay, who once said Holocaust victims may have been paying for sins in a previous life.
  • Caroline Myss, who claims emotional distress causes cancer.
  • Rhonda Byrne, creator of the DVD and book “The Secret,” who teaches that just thinking about wealth can make you rich. (I read this despicable, misleading, money-making book in an hour sitting in a Borders. At one point I imagined someone walking up to me and giving me $10,000. It did not happen. And, I wondered why I did not wish for more?)
  • “Psychic medium” John Edward, who helps mourning people in her audience talk to their dead relatives.
Oppenheimer failed to mention outrageous New Agey pop mystic gazillionairre Eckart Tolle (not his real name). I reviewed Tolle's shallow book here.

David Chalmers on Consciousness

This is a nice interview with David Chalmers, a leader in the analytic philosophy of consciousness. I sometimes present Chalmers's famous "Zombie Argument Against Physicalism" in my philosophy classes.

Release From Addiction to Control

Gerald May
I've read Gerald May's Addiction and Grace: Love and Spirituality in the Healing of Addictions twice. Both timed I read for myself. For my freedom. The freer I become from my self, the freer I will be to love and serve others. I'm holding the book in my hand and thinking, "I should read this again."

I remember first reading May in the late 1980s. I was reading his section on addiction to control and underlining everything. God was speaking to me and, by his Spirit and through May's writing, showing me my own control-freakness and beginning to release me from it. Thirty years later I see that the heavy chains of bondage to my "need" to be in control have fallen away.

Radical engagement in the spiritual disciplines became vehicles of grace and healing for me. As Richard Foster wrote in A Celebration of Discipline, "God wants to free you from the terrible burden of always having to get things your own way." Initially that did not sound like a big burden to me. Who wouldn't want everything to go one's own way? It would seem wonderful to have the Burger King slogan "Have it your way" metaphysically instantiated into one's life.

But alas, Henri Nouwen told me that, by his estimate, 90% of life is out of our control. So we really only control 10% of all that happens? I doubt things are even that good. I am certain that most of life and my life and your life and what happens in life are out of control; i.e., out of our control. So to be addicted to being in control sounds like the hell of a dangling carrot placed before a rabbit and held by Samuel Beckett.

May writes: "Addiction is any compulsive, habitual behavior that limits the freedom of human desire. It is caused by the attachment, or nailing, of desire to specific objects. The word behavior is especially important in this definition, for it indicates that action is essential to addiction... [A]ttachment of desire is the underlying process that results in addictive behavior." (24-25)

What then happens neurophysiologically is the same irregardless of the object of attachment. Neurally, addiction to nose drops, potato chips, control, pornography, or heroin looks the same. May has an entire chapter on the neurophysiology of addiction.

In trying to defeat addiction "willpower" is useless. "As soon as one tries to control any truly addictive behavior by making autonomous intentional resolutions, one begins to defeat oneself... A fundamental mind trick of addiction is focusing attention on willpower. In very complicated ways, the mind asserts that it in fact can control the behavior. At certain points, it even encourages making resolutions to stop. it knows such resolutions are likely to fail, and when they do, the addictive behavior will have a stronger foothold than ever. It make take many such defeats before one realizes how truly out of control one is." Ironically, a control addict is under the illusion that they can control their addiction to being in control, and in this grand delusion don't realize how truly out of control they are.

May, a clinical psychiatrist (M.D.) who was also a Jesus-follower, shows the way out of addiction and into freedom. His ch. 7, entitled "Empowerment: Grace and Will in Overcoming Addiction," is beautiful. It begins: "For the power of addiction to be overcome, human will must act in concert with divine will. The human spirit must flow with the Holy Spirit. Personal power must be aligned with the power of grace." May gives clinical examples of people breaking free from unholy attachments. As for myself, I believe more than ever that my branch-attachment to Jesus the Vine is the answer, and has proven itself experientially over the past 30 years.

The Meaning of "Head" in 1 Corinthians 11:3

One of my favorite "Peanuts" cartoons is the one where Lucy, Charlie Brown, and Linus are lying on a hill looking up at the clouds. The dialogue goes like this.

Lucy: Aren't the clouds beautiful? They look like big balls of cotton. I could just lie here all day and watch them drift by. If you use your imagination, you can see lots of things in the cloud's formations. What do you think you see, Linus?

Linus: Well, those clouds up there look to me look like the map of the British Honduras on the Caribbean.

[Linus points up]

Linus: That cloud up there looks a little like the profile of Thomas Eakins, the famous painter and sculptor. And that group of clouds over there... [Linus points] ...gives me the impression of the Stoning of Stephen. I can see the Apostle Paul standing there to one side.

Lucy: Uh huh. That's very good. What do you see in the clouds, Charlie Brown?

Charlie Brown: Well... I was going to say I saw a duckie and a horsie, but I changed my mind.

When people look at clouds, or at inkblots in a Rohrshach test, they see different things. In the same way when people read texts, they often see different things. It is common to read a text out of one's own life experience. When that happens we find out more about the interpreter than we do the meaning of the text. 
In my preaching I see my challenge to include getting at the textual meaning as the original hearers or readers would have understood it. I don't want to "read in" to the text ("eisegesis"), but "read out" of the text ('exegesis").
For example, in current American culture the word "bad" is not necessarily a negative term. The sentence You were bad today cannot be immediately interpreted to mean Your behavior was immoral today. It could mean: You were really good today, since "bad" can mean, depending on the context, "good." Future interpreters of American culture will need to understand this distinction so as to not misinterpret 21st-century American texts.
I'm preaching out of 1 Corinthians 11:3-16 this coming Sunday at Redeemer. I cannot approach these difficult verses a-contextually. It's not a matter of what they mean to me. And I want to avoid reading my historical-cultural context into them. Consider v. 3: Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. The key word to understand here is "head." One way of interpreting it would be as "authority," or "in charge of," or "boss." Indeed, "head" has been interpreted that way. I think that is incorrect. Why?
Keener and Fee (et. al.) say that, in ancient Greek lexicons, "head" rarely meant "authority" or "boss." The more common meaning was "source," or "origin." One reason for preferring the more common interpretation here is that, if "head" meant "boss," then v. 3 reads: Now I want you to realize that the boss of every man is Christ, and the boss of the woman is man, and the boss of Christ is God. It would be especially unfortunate regarding the last phrase, and would commit the heresy known as "subordinationism." This interpretation would end up denying the classical idea of the Trinity (God as a three-personed being).
It seems clear that Paul wants to make a point by using "headship" temporally, as in "source of," like the "headwaters" of a river or stream is the place where the water in the river or stream originates. So in v. 12 Paul writes, For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.
Following the likes of Keener and Fee, Manfred Brauch interprets v. 3, correctly I think, as: I want you to understand that Christ is the source of man's being; the man is the source of woman's being; and God is the source for Christ's being." (Brauch, Hard Sayings of Paul, 140) 
(I realize that broader issues of textual interpretation come into play here. We can extend "text" beyond written texts. The matter of whether it's possible to get back into the "horizon of meaning" out of which a text originates is controversial. [See Gadamer's Truth and Method, e.g., and the possibility of Horizontsverschmelzung - "fusion of horizons." At one extreme lies Derridaean deconconstruction, which claims that we can not only get at original textual meanings but that they are unimportant.)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Christian-Muslim Dialogue

Last evening I took 15 Redeemer Ministry School students to the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn. Our host was Eide Alawan, whose work focuses on interfaith understanding and dialogue. I like Eide very much. He is so gracious - he spent two hours with us. The Islamic Center is a beautiful facility. I think it represents the beating heart of Islam in North America.

In our Ministry School I have been teaching on Islam. Eide helped our students fill out their understanding last night.

Does Christianity have similarities with Islam? Of course. Muslims believe, e.g., that Jesus is the Messiah, and that the Messiah is going to return. Do we Jesus-followers have differences with Islam? Of course. Here's one thing: Muslims do not believe Jesus died on a cross to atone for our sins. So, on that point, we feel the Quran is in error. And, regarding the above similarity, of course we'll be differing on the meaning of "Messiah." We agree, therefore, on a word.

With that admission we have a Big Problem. To a Muslim the Quran is not to be questioned. It is the final revelation, which abrogates all previous God-given revelation that stands in conflict with it. As a Jesus-follower the heart of my faith is: Christ crucified. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 2:2: "For I decided that while I was with you I would forget everything except Jesus Christ, the one who was crucified." Rip that out and I have no Christianity. That's what Islam does for me.

To call this a "difference" between Jesus-following and Islam is misleading because it is grossly understated. Islamic teaching on this rips the Christ out of everything I believe. It takes away my center, my hope, my joy, my worship, and my Savior. And for me to call the Quran in error strikes at the heart of Islam, which is, essentially, about their book. How do we dialogue about that? We must, in authentic Christian-Muslim dialogue, admit how great the differences are and how vast the gap between us is.

I not only like my friend Eide Alawan but love him. I respect him. I pray for him. If he asked me to come stand with him against the "Terry Joneses" of the world I would do it. And at the most fundamental, foundational level, I believe his faith is wrong. Paul, remember, talked to the Corinthians about the "one foundation" he laid in them, which is Jesus Christ and him crucified. Take this foundation away and all we have left, in Christianity, is a Kafkaesque castle.

As the two hours came to an end I asked Eide one more question. "What is your favorite restaurant in the area?" He said, "Al Ameer," on the corner of Ford Road and Inkster. We went there after leaving the Islamic Center. Was it good? I had the best chicken schwarma I've ever had, which is saying a lot since Dearborn is the mecca of Mediterranean food in this hemisphere. Open this up and behold...

Join Me With Randy Clark and Rachel Hickson June 26-30 in Wisconsin

I'll be at our annual HSRM Summer Conference June 26-30 at Green Lake Conference Center, Green Lake, Wisconsin. Our conference theme is "That the World May Know." Our guest speakers are Randy Clark and Rachel Hickson.

For conference information and registration go to hsrm.org.


Randy Clark, international renewal leader, pastor, author, and Holy Spirit fire-starter: We are very excited to announce that internationally known speaker, leader, and Holy Spirit fire-starter Randy Clark is returning for the first 2011 Holy Spirit Conference at Green Lake next summer. Randy's latest book, There is More: Reclaiming the Power of Impartation, should be read by all who are hungry for more of God and who yearn to see His kingdom come from heaven to earth. On January 20, 1994, an unassuming pastor from St. Louis walked into a small storefront church near the Toronto airport. Originally scheduled for 4 days, his meetings have turned into a worldwide revival that has impacted millions of people. Randy was utterly surprised when God began to use him in a powerful healing ministry. What amazed him even more, however, was the fact that the people he touched through the laying on of hands ended up doing even more astonishing things! Now an international speaker and leader (Global Awakening), Randy Clark demonstrates the Lord's sovereign power to heal. From his American Baptist roots to the Westminster Chapel in London, to the St. Thomas the Apostle Roman Catholic Church in Australia, Randy has been welcomed into a plethora of different streams. Randy has traveled to over 36 countries and continues to travel extensively to see that God's mandate on his life be fulfilled.


Rachel Hickson, outstanding British speaker, author, leader, and pastor: Rachel Hickson traveled the world with her husband Gordon, working with Reinhard Bonnke in Africa and the Far East . They returned to England in 1990 and were the Senior Pastors of a group of 4 churches in the Watford area for 8 years. During this time God began to open doors into Europe and the nations and they traveled with their ministry called 'HEARTCRY'. Rachel has a passion to see cities transformed through the power of prayer and evangelism. One of her projects links churches and prayer ministries across London, which has developed a city strategy called the London Prayernet. Rachel and husband Gordon now live in Oxford. Rachel has published five books - Supernatural Communication - The privilege of Prayer, Supernatural Breakthrough - the Heartcry for Change, Stepping Stones to Freedom, Eat the Word,Speak the Word and Pathway of Peace.

Rachel nearly died in a road accident at 24 years old but lived and experienced God's healing power in Zimbabwe . Rachel ministers with a passion for Jesus and a desire to see His purposes fulfilled in our day. Rachel has been married to Gordon for 30 years, and they have 2 children, their daughter, Nicola (who is married to Tim and lives in Australia ) and their son, David, who is married to Jenny and lives in Peterborough . Rachel, is a daughter of missionaries, and lived in India as a child. Check out her website: http://www.heartcryforchange.com/.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Give Yourself to the Timeless Issues of the Human Spirit

North Custer, in Monroe
In my MCCC Philosophy of Religion classes I begin by introducing my students to Anselm's Ontological Argument for God's existence.

Which is:

1. I have an idea of a being a greater than which cannot be conceived.
2. Therefore God exists.

I love teaching this to my students. And, for the most part, they love learning it, coming to understand it, and pondering it. Many have told me they end up sharing this argument with their parents and  friends, which stimulates a lot of discussion. Unfailingly, I see that my college students desire to talk about God and his possible existence or non-existence. I often say to Linda, before the very first class session: "I can't wait to share the Ontological Argument with the students and see the expressions on their faces!"

41 years ago, when I became a Jesus-follower, I was a music theory major. While I loved studying and making music, I changed my major to philosophy and graduated with a B.A. in philosophy. The reason? I now wanted to immerse myself in the Big Questions of life, Such as: Does God exist? If so, how can we know this? If not, how could we know that? What does it mean to "know" anything at all? How ought a person live? How can we say that life has meaning? Why do some philosophers reason that life is meaningless? What is "right" and "wrong," and how can we know the difference? Do we have a metaphysical foundation for morality? And so on and on and on...

My fascination with life's Big Questions not only has not changed, it has increased. I spend my life on them, with joy and trembling.

One of my spiritual Big Question heroes, Howard Thurman, was once advised by Prof. George Cross to: “Give yourself to the timeless issues of the human spirit.” (Luther Smith, Introduction, Howard Thurman: Essential Writings, 13) He did. Thurman gave himself to ontological issues, developing his own ontology of the human spirit. This is why Thurman's writings are so deep. Which makes him the kind of writer I want to read. I need some deep people in my life.

I think, at the end of every person's life, given they can anticipate death's nearness, the Big Questions surface. The BQs become focal. Primary. Shallow human stuff and accomplishments recede; issues regarding the meaning of it all face us and call for clarity. At that point one searches for a deep person, a true "elder" regarding life's meaning.

Invest in the Big Questions.

1 Corinthians 11:2-14 - This Sunday

This Sunday at Redeemer, next up in our multi-year "Christology of Paul" preaching series, I'll preach on 1 Corinthians 11:2-14. This is a challenging, difficult, and controversial text! Hopefully I won't get run out of Monroe. Maybe a lot of people won't show up because it's Memorial Day weekend?

I look forward to preaching it. I love studying, preparing, and seeking God for his ideas about these verses.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Ending Religion Will Not End or Lessen Wars

Sean Lennon says his father
John Lennon had a
volatile "hair trigger" temper.
Recently someone said to me, "John, if we end 'religion' we will put an end to wars." I think that statement is false. Here's four reasons why.

  1. I think "warlikeness" (violence) is endemic to humans. The atheist Freud agreed, and posited our need for civilization lest we destroy one another. Can we really believe people would be less violent if "religion" disappeared from the earth?
  2. Atheists, says atheist David Berlinski, face an "awkward fact." It is this: "The twentieth century was not an age of faith, and it was awful. Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, and Pol Pot will never be counted among the religious leaders of mankind." Historically, in the name of "ending religion" horrible atrocities have been committed. So as a "religious" person myself I shudder a bit when someone says we'd be better off if we ended religion.
  3. Some of us religious folk are a lot less violent because of our religious faith than when we had no religious faith. That would include me. I am a better person with my Jesus-belief than when I was irreligious.
  4. "Religion" is not going to be eradicated. The atheistic "Four Horsemen" have ridden into town and are now riding off into the sunset, leaving the town no less religious than when they rode in. I think desiring to end religion is like saying "If people did not breathe we would have less problems. So let's work to end breathing. Imagine there's no breathing." "Religion" is part of the air we breathe. The Big Questions are still with us and, I predict, will not go away. In fact, atheistic regimes that have tried to stamp our religion actually ended up fueling underground movements of faithful people. When it comes to religion it actually seems to do better when atheists try to eradicate it.

RMS Students Studying Islam; Visit the Islamic Center of America Tomorrow

Today Linda and I travel four hours south to Payne Theological Seminary where I will attend a faculty meeting. I will present my Spiritual Formation class - what I do, my teaching method, how it's going, for review and assessment. Because PTS is an African-American seminary I integrate into my teachings the spiritual and prayer lives of Howard Thurman and Martin Luther King, Jr. I was introduced to Thurman in the early 1980s. To me, he is the African-American equaivalent of a Thomas Merton (without a monastery). Thurman and King were deep thinkers who had deep prayer lives and rich experiential encounters with God. I am influenced by them.

Linda and I will stay overnight in Dayton. I look forward to driving with her and being together.

On Wednesday we'll come back to Monroe. We'll be at Redeemer's building at 5 PM and meet with current RMS students and some of our RMS alumni. From there we will travel to The Islamic Center of America. Eide Alawan will greet and host us on a tour of the Center, the Mosque, and explain Islam to us. In my RMS Apologetics class we have been studying Islam. This is a great opportunity for us all, since the ICA is the beating heart of Islam in North America. Eide is a very gracious host, and the Center's Director of Interfaith Affairs. I spent three hours with him a year ago.

FYI - the Imam of the ICA is Imam Hassan Qazwini. I bought his biography at the ICA's bookstore a year ago - American Crescent: A Muslim Cleric on the Power of His Faith, the Struggle Against Prejudice, and the Future of Islam and America.

Afterwards we'll find a place for a snack and tak about our experience.

Monday, May 23, 2011

My Sermons On-line

You can hear my sermons here, and on Itunes. (Type "John Piippo" in "Search Store.")

The Common English Bible Is Fuller's Choice

Ben Witherington notes that Fuller Theological Seminary has adopted the Common English Bible as its translation of choice for its biblical studies program. Fuller says:

“Fuller’s mission is to prepare men and women for the manifold ministries of Christ and his church. We work out this calling with an eye toward both academic excellence and service to the church. The Biblical Division’s decision to approve the Common English Bible for classroom use reflects these commitments,” says J. R. Daniel Kirk, assistant professor of New Testament at Fuller. “We’ve approved the Common English Bible because it’s an academically excellent translation, because it communicates the underlying Greek and Hebrew texts in a clear and accessible fashion, and because it reflects the reality that the communities for which the Bible was written consist of both women and men.”

See the CEB website here.

Ben reviews it: "This translation is deliberately simply much like the old TEV or NIV and concentrates on readability for almost any audience. My only real beef with it is that it messes up the phrase ‘Son of Man’ as applied to Jesus, and it too falls into the trap of simply going along with earlier translations in places where the translation is not warranted (e.g. in Hebrews 12 the Greek does not say Jesus is the author and finisher of ‘our’ faith). But on the whole this is a fine translation. Here is the press release about Fuller’s decision."

Biblical Numerological Silliness

I am 62. What can this mean?
A man named Harold Camping interpreted the Bible as "guaranteeing" a "rapture" would happen on May 21, 2011. It did not. And a "rapture" will never happen. (See here.)

Camping supposedly used biblical numbers to deduce this. Mathemathematical conclusions possess deductive certainty. That's why the Camping billboards stated "The Bible guarantees it."

In all my biblical training and studies I was never introduced to Camping's idea that, e.g., '5' represents "atonement," '10' represents "completeness," and '17' represents "heaven." "Biblical numerology" never entered serious textual discussions, except for things like all cultures have; viz., symbolic numbers like '911.' In the NT we have "the 12" (the disciples), and '40' becomes not hidden but symbolic.

I've never read "Bible code" literature. Look at this silliness, e.g., about a book called Bible Code III: "Saving the Word is the focus of this riveting new book about the Bible Code, a miracle proven real by modern science. For 3000 years a code in the Bible remained hidden. Now it has been unlocked by computer and may reveal our future. The code was broken by a world-famous Israeli mathematician, and then confirmed by a senior code-breaker at the top secret U.S. National Security Agency. And it keeps coming true." (I refuse to link you to this one.)

Re. Camping biblical numerology there's a nice little interview here with Clay Schmit of Fuller Theological Seminary.

I can assure you that people like N.T. Wright and Ben Witherington and Craig Keener are not right now crunching biblical numbers to unlock secret biblical codes that give us mathematico-deductive eschatological certainties.

Time to Leave the Rapture Theory Behind

Lake Erie
I left the "rapture theory" behind many years ago. Why? Biblical-textual reasons. The Christian scriptures do not suport this. R-theory is narrow, modernist, and mostly found in American. It's un-Hebrew, this being important since the Christian scriptures are Jewish documents and must be understood in a Jewish context.

If you want to study this biblically read first, of course, the Judeo-Christian eschatological texts (Daniel, Revelation, Jesus' eschatological words, and Paul's.

Get some good bibilical commentaries on these texts. For the NT Gospel commentaries I use see here.

See a post I have made here

Read N.T. Wright's Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the
Church. Wright's more scholarly, in-depth presentation of NT eschatology (Jesus' eschatology) is found in his Jesus and the Victory of God.  

Read Ben Witherington on the problem with rapture theology in The Problem with Evangelical Theology: Testing the Exegetical Foundations of Calvinism, Dispensationalism, and Wesleyanism.

See this little article by Wright - "Farewell to the Rapture."   (Thanks to Chris Butson for pointing me to this.)

It's time to leave rapture theory behind, not because there was no "rapture" on May 21, 2011, but because there's not going to be one at all.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Every Worldview Has Its "Doomsday"

Atheistic Doomsday
Now that the media-hyped "doomsday" predictions of Harold Camping have again proven false I have a few thoughts.
  • Atheists and skeptics who choose to skewer Christians because of this falsehood will be guilty of an ad hominem fallacy. We're not all like that. And remember...
  • Every worldview has its version of "Doomsday." Consider atheism, perhaps psychologically the most doom-and-gloom worldview of all (if one would only meditate on it French-existentialist style). Atheist Bertrand Russell may have expressed this best. Russell's famous atheistic doomsday statement is found in his "A Free Man's Worship." Russell writes: "Such, in outline, but even more purposeless, more void of meaning, is the world which Science presents for our belief. Amid such a world, if anywhere, our ideals henceforward must find a home. That man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man's achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins -- all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand." Russell's 4 points are: 1) humanity is not a "creation," therefore having no telos;  2) humanity is a cosmic, random accident; 3) there is no personal existence after death; and 4) "Doomsday" IS coming in the eventual end of this universe. Russell says this is indisputable. And I agree, if the atheist worldview is true.Sprinkle in some Franz Kafka, Nietzsche, Sartre, and Camus and we have a fairly bleak and doomy situation. Why not put Russell's statement on the sides of buses for all to see (with a smiley face and "Have a Nice Day")?
  • I think all will have to agree in the reality of a "Doomsday." To adjudicate between prevailing D-Day claims requires adjudicating between worldviews or noetic frameworks. On that basis I think Russell is wrong. I do not accept his version of Doomsday. But I think every atheist should. An atheist who doesn't embrace this is just as obfuscated as a Christian theist who believes God is not going to ultimately intervene and set the world right. We don't therefore need to make fun at Doomsday theories per se. We can ask: which view of Doomsday do you believe in? But Russellian atheists are, for me, false prophets. I do not expect what they expect. "Expectation" is a function of "worldview," and I think atheism is false, and that theism is true. My expectations form within the framework of Christian theism. I have been working and writing this out in many ways on this website.
  • Every worldview has its prophetic failures. In this regard I think the atheistic "4 Horsemen" (Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, and Dennett) got it wrong. "Religion" is not on the way out, and cannot rationally be seen as the root of all evil. And for me  "Zeitgeisters" might be the on-the-fringe bad news-bringing Harold Campings of atheism.
  • "Rapture" theory is false. Harold Camping self-admits he is no Bible scholar, and it shows. If you want to see how Christian scholarship interprets Doomsday you would do well to read N.T. Wright's Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. Note again: Wright's discussion is intra-noetic framework talk. There is: 1) belief in a worldview; and then 2) conversation within the worldview. That's how it is with all worldviews. And everyone (no one is excluded) has a worldview. If you don't accept someone else's worldview you will find their intra-noetic dialogue strange, unbelievable, even funny and worth mocking. Words like "weird," "normal," and "wacko" all find their meanings within a worldview.
  • FYI, and for what it's worth: intra-noetically I find less doominess within Christian thesim than atheism. I don't mean to say that if one is an atheist then they are necesarily more depressed than your average Jesus-follower. But within my worldview there is hope. "Hope" concerns expectation. My life is filled with a blessed sense of expectation that is ever-increasing. It is true that a "Day" is coming. God exists, God made our universe and made us, and God is going to eventually intervene. There's nothing wacko or illogical about this. It is all about the worldview I have come to believe is true. This worldview, and the hopefulness intrinsic to it, casts its light upon every "today," and has become my reason to live.
  • Today sceptics will gleefully behold the prohetic wreckage that is Harold Camping and his (in this instance) truly mis-guided followers. What on earth is that behavior about? Both worldviews (atheism and Christian theism) have their respective explanations.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Choose Which Table to Covenant With

I'm preaching this Sunday morning (5/22/11) out of 1 Corinthians 10:14-22. I read and re-read and re-read the text. I meditate on the text. I study the text. I listen for God's voice, for his leading.

In addition to looking at the Greek text I am using these commentaries for 1 Corinthians. Not all commentaries are equal. I use, for by far the most part, no older commentaries, because our biblical knowledge is deepening, especially socio-cultural and socio-rhetorical studies.

I want to preach, as much as possible, "for everyone" who comes on Sunday mornings. And I want to take the people to a deeper place than they have been before. Hopefully this happens. One reason I think it does is that, week after week of preaching this way, I am consistently taken into deeper and new places, theologically and spiritually, that I have never been before. It always feels very fresh to me. I don't warm up old sermons. Even in my early years of preaching, when computers did not exist and all we had were things called "typewriters," I threw my sermons away after preaching them. I felt God tell me to do that. God wanted me to struggle with the text all over again, and be renewed in the struggle.

Today, in terms of this text, 1 Cor. 10:14-22, I am thinking that...
  • I will make a distinction between "participation" (koinonia) and "partaking" (metechein).
  • I'll re-explain "covenant" - God as a covenant God, a covenant-making God. This is precisely why, in God's eyes, there's no such thing as "casual sex," and there's no such thing as "casual worship." I want my people to understand this, to know this in new ways this Sunday.
  • It then becomes danger and absurd to covenant (participate) in God (the Lord's Table) and in pagan deities.
  • Of course pagan "gods" are not real. Paul acknowledges this. But demons are. So I'll say something about demons. FYI: I believe in the demonic realm. My belief in demons is part of the logic of the noetic framework that has captured me. Personally I remain uninterested in any theology that demythologizes the demonic and supernatural. And yes I have studied Bultmann and Tillich, and their Heideggarian and Humean roots.
  • I will say more about "participation" in relation to the Lord's Supper. This is a "wow" time for me, having been raised in a Lutheran church that emphasized such participation, rejected it for a symbolic interpretation, and am now back to a more participatory understanding. Why? Textual studies. It's like I'm hearing Paul's words in 1 Corinthians re. the Lord's Table for the first time.
  • We'll gather around the Lord's Table at Redeemer on Sunday. we will "partake" of the common loaf of bread (take a part of it), and "participate" in Christ (this is shared, abiding, indwelling covenant-language). I am expecting good, God-things to happen! (And, I fully expect to have survived the false J-Day scare.)

String Theory & M-Theory

I'm reading M.I.T. physicist Walter Lewin's For the Love of Physics: From the End of the Rainbow to the Edge Of Time - A Journey Through the Wonders of Physics. The hyper-brilliant Lewin might be the greatest physics teacher of all-time.

Lewin is not big on string theory or "its souped up cousin superstring theory." He writes: "Theoretical physicists, and there are some brilliant ones doing string theory, have yet to come up with a single experiment, a single prediction that could test any of string theory's propositions. Nothing in string theory can be experimentally verified - at least so far. This means that string theory has no predictive power, which is why some physicists, such as Sheldon Glashow at Harvard, question whether it's even physics at all."

Lewin mentions Brian Greene's The Elegant Universe as being "charming and beautiful." And "Edward Witten's M-theory, which unified five different string theories and posits that there are eleven dimensions of space, of which we lower-order beings see only three, is pretty wild stuff and is intriguing to contemplate."

M-theory is Stephen Hawking's answer, but Lewin finds it "way out there." It reminds him of his grandmother, so he goes on to tell a story.

So far Lewin's book is, for me, a great read. I was taken aback when he wrote about how most of his family members were murdered in the Holocaust.