Friday, September 30, 2011

Stephen Colbert on a "Christian Nation"


OK. But remember - there can be no such thing as a "Christian nation." Jesus came to establish his Kingdom, and his Kingdom is "not of this earth." Yet Colbert has a point. Real Jesus-followers actively care for the poor and the "least of these." Want proof? Re-ponder Matthew 25.
And: here.

Getting "Saved"


My recent 5-year preaching/studying/meditating journey through the 4 Gospels got me thinking about a lot of things. One of them is the meaning of "salvation," or getting "sozo-ed." I believe in salvation; I've been rethinking its meaning in light of the Gospels and Paul (which should be, of course, our beginning point). Going through the biblical texts with a fine-toothed hermeneutical combs does wonders for any pre-existing folk theology.

In this regard New Testament scholar Jason Whitlark's coming Getting "Saved" looks like a relevant read. Here's an interview with Whitlark.

On another note: I just discovered the EerdWord website, from Eerdmans Press. It's good! Check out the author blogroll on the left.

10 Commandments For Pastors Leaving Their Congregations

  1. Thou Shalt Know When It Is Time to Go
  2. Thou Shalt Explain Thyself
  3. Thou Shalt Not Steal Away
  4. Thou Shalt Affirm Thy Congregation’s Ministry
  5. Thou Shalt Try to Mend Fences
  6. Thou Shalt Help Thy Successor Have a Good Beginning
  7. Thou Shalt Be Gentle with Thyself
  8. Thou Shalt Attend to Thy Family
  9. Thou Shalt (Usually) Stay Away Once Thou Hast Left
  10. Thou Shalt Grieve
- Lawrence Ferris

Sexual Abstinence In Our Pornified Culture


Young Christians today are not waiting for marriage to have sex. That's the report given in Relevant Magazine and duplicated by CNN. This is not a shock for anyone who is a pastor or youth leader.

The report says:
  • 80 percent of unmarried evangelical young adults (18 to 29) said that they have had sex.
  • Many young Jesus-followers who take purity pledges abandon their pledges.
  • "Relevant theorizes about why it’s so hard for so many young Christians to wait, including the saturation of sex in popular culture, the prevalence of pornography and a popular “do what feels good philosophy.”" (CNN)
  • In biblical times people married earlier. The average age for marriage in America has been increasing over the last 40 years. New Testament scholar Scot McKnight says: "Sociologically speaking, the one big difference – and it’s monstrous – between the biblical teaching and our culture is the arranged marriages of very young people. If you get married when you’re 13, you don’t have 15 years of temptation."
So what can we do? Here are some ideas, a few of which have been field-tested.
  • Have compassion. Always love. Many older Christians have been there, done that.
  • Forgive, as you have been forgiven.
  • Put together and communicate a biblical theology on sex. My opinion is that many of today's Jesus-followers do not understand the biblical ideas on sex as reserved for marriage. If they think they are doing something wrong by engaging in premarital sex, it may only be because some Christian authority figures are upset about this. We need to give today's young Jesus-followers a compelling story. Do more in helping them understand the reasons for chastity.
  • Encourage new beginnings and "renewed abstinence."
  • Don't belittle or misunderstand how difficult it is to abstain in today's sex-obsessed culture.
For more see:

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Craig Keener's Coming Book on Miracles - Reviews Are Coming In


Craig Keener's Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts will be out in November. Here are some of the reviews.

"Seldom does a book take one's breath away, but Keener's magisterial Miracles is such a book. It is an extremely sophisticated, completely thorough treatment of its subject matter and, in my opinion, it is now the best text available on the topic. The uniqueness of Keener's treatment lies in his location of the biblical miracles in the trajectory of ongoing, documented miracles in the name of Jesus and His kingdom throughout church history, up to and including the present. From now on, no one who deals with the credibility of biblical miracles can do so responsibly without interacting with this book."
--J. P. Moreland, Talbot School of Theology, Biola University

"An exhaustive treatment of the subject, encompassing a range of sources from antiquity to contemporary times, from the Bible to modern Africa. It brilliantly serves not only biblical scholars but also--equally important--mission thinkers and practitioners."
--Wonsuk Ma, Oxford Centre for Mission Studies

"From the very beginning of the modern approach to the Gospels, the question of miracles brought controversy. Over the last few centuries, most historical-critical scholars have dismissed them out of hand. However, in recent years, the tide has turned for a growing number of Gospel scholars. It is within this context that Craig Keener's new two-volume work can be fully appreciated. Those familiar with Keener's past volumes will not be surprised by the remarkable level of scholarship in this work. The depth and breadth of research is stunning. The interdisciplinary synthesis is as careful as it is brilliant. The arguments are evenhanded and nuanced. In short, this work takes scholarship on miracles to a new level of sophistication and depth. A truly amazing set of books."
--Paul Rhodes Eddy, Bethel University

"This book is the kind of performance that reviewers of opera like to call 'bravura' or 'virtuoso' and that philosophers call a tour de force. After putting it down, I'm standing up, clapping, and shouting, 'Bravo! Bravo!'"
--Leonard Sweet, Drew University; George Fox University

"Craig Keener has produced an impressive work that is meticulously researched, ambitious in historic and geographic scope, and relevant to current cultural concerns. Keener's bold exploration of the plausibility of past and present miracle claims should provoke interest--and debate--among a wide range of readers."
--Candy Gunther Brown, Indiana University


Book Description (from amazon.com):

"Most modern prejudice against biblical miracle reports depends on David Hume's argument that uniform human experience precluded miracles. Yet current research shows that human experience is far from uniform. In fact, hundreds of millions of people today claim to have experienced miracles. New Testament scholar Craig Keener argues that it is time to rethink Hume's argument in light of the contemporary evidence available to us. This wide-ranging and meticulously researched two-volume study presents the most thorough current defense of the credibility of the miracle reports in the Gospels and Acts. Drawing on claims from a range of global cultures and taking a multidisciplinary approach to the topic, Keener suggests that many miracle accounts throughout history and from contemporary times are best explained as genuine divine acts, lending credence to the biblical miracle reports."

Our Summer 2012 Conference With Philip Mantofa, J.P. Moreland, and Darren Wilson


Our annual Holy Spirit Renewal Ministries Summer Conference is June 23-29, 2012.

Our speakers are Philip Mantofa, J.P. Moreland, and Darren Wilson.

Conference information and registration is here.

Philip Mantofa at Redeemer

We've just finished a wonderful three nights with Indonesian pastor Philip Mantofa. I love Philip's heart, and his passion for Jesus. I do think God has given Philip a voice to speak to the too-busy-to-pray American church.

I have taught and spoken in a number of Asian Jesus-contexts. Asian leaders, if they have not yet succumbed to Western materialism, actually pray. For long, extended periods of time. Philip challenged all of us to do just that. Philip's messages will soon be on iTunes. Go there, and search for "Redeemer Fellowship." If you have trouble send me an e-mail. (johnpiippo@msn.com) Philip especially wants you to listen to his first message (9/26/11).

I also got to play a little basketball with Philip. He is very aggressive on the court. We need to pray for Philip to show mercy, since on the b-ball court he showed none. But I was on Philip's team, so I supported this. :)

Philip Mantofa, swaggering after scoring yet another basket.

Holly Benner gave a 3-hour seminar on worship yesterday morning. I heard many comments of how great it was, and what an excellent teacher Holly is!

Downhere's Marc Martel Auditions for Queen

Freddie Mercury
Marc Martel

Downhere's Marc Martel submitted his entry in the contest to replace deceased Queen singer Freddie Mercury in Queen's upcoming Queen Extravaganza Tour.

Watch Martel's amazing vocal chops in the YouTube video, which has 3 1/2 million hits and counting.

Iranian Judge Demands That Christian Pastor Recant

Pastor Yusef Nadarkhani
& his family

Students in my philosophy classes at MCCC know I am a Jesus-follower, a "Christian," and a pastor of a local church. I do not feel disrespected by them, for the most part, even though my classes have non-believers, atheists, agnostics, etc. I receive little persecution for being open about this, and what little I receive is emotional, not physical. (Most of my students do not know what a "Christian" is. And for a number of them, the word "Christian" has negative connotations. "Christians" are viewed as intolerant, unloving, judgmental and, frankly, no different in lifestyle and behavior from other people. Who on earth would want to be a "Christian" or associate with "Christians?" So I mostly use the term "Jesus-follower.")

One reason for the relative lack of religious persecution American Jesus-followers receive is that America has learned to assimilate religious beliefs. Europe has not. And certain Arab nations are positively intolerant of non-Muslims. (On the European failure to assimilate Muslims see Christopher Caldwell, Reflections on the Revolution In Europe: Immigration, Islam and the West.) 

An example of the latter is that today, in Iran, Pastor Yusuf Naderkhani faces possible execution in just a few days. He is accused of having once been a Muslim, but leaving Islam to follow Jesus. One report gives us the dialogue between the judge and Naderkhani.

"When asked to repent, Naderkhani stated: "Repent means to return. What should I return to? To the blasphemy that I had before my faith in Christ?"
"To the religion of your ancestors, Islam," the judge replied, according to the American Center for Law & Justice.
"I cannot," Naderkhani said."

I present to you Pastor Yusef Naderkhani, who would rather be executed than deny his loyalty to Jesus.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

One More Evening With Philip Mantofa


Tonight - worship begins at 7; then Philip preaches.

Philip has shared with us that he sees Redeemer as his home church in America. We surely do love him and are thankful for him. I see him as bringing a fresh voice to America and especially the church in America.

Philip wants us all to pray for him this evening. It will be our honor.

For information call Redeemer Fellowship Church - 734-242-5277
5305 Evergreen
Monroe, MI

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Spiritual Maturity - It Takes a Lifetime


A weed,
in my backyard.
I've recently met some young adults who are brand new Jesus-followers who have self-proclaimed their spiritual maturity. I'm glad these young people are following Jesus. I cringe at their over-estimation of themselves. If they only knew that what they think they are is impossible at both their spiritual and chronological age. This is not to condemn them, but part of me wants to watch out for them.

Regarding spiritual maturity, consider this. The pears on our neighbor's pear tree have been falling onto the ground. It has taken a whole season of connectedness for the pear to mature from what began as a flower. The pear-as-flower-bud is immature. It is far from fully formed.

In the spiritual life things are the same. The new Jesus-follower is young and, ipso facto, immature. This is not a criticism, it is just a reality. Just as Mc-Pears don't exist, neither does Mc-Spirituality. Yes, they can know Christ and be known by Christ. No, they are not and cannot be, e.g., a "mature worshiper." And note this: Just because a new Jesus-follower is a great musician does not mean they should be your church's worship leader. They will not have the needed spiritual maturity.

As a pear-flower matures into an edible pear, so can a baby Christian mature into Christlikeness. But this is a process, and it takes time. Praise God for Jesus-followers who are young adults. If they live lives that abide in Christ, like branches attached to Jesus the Vine, they will grow towards maturity. But they cannot, at their age, be "mature," because this takes time. "Maturing" is not some "quality time" thing, as if a pear would decide to just spend a few quality hours attached to the tree. One sign of real spiritual maturity is that a person has been broken and re-broken by God, over time, so as to be more greatly formed in Christ. This is how spiritual oak trees are made.

The flower-blossom-pear is in it for the long haul. To mature spiritually requires a lifetime. Be patient. Continue dwelling in Christ.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Garden of My Heart That Is Jesus


In my back yard,
growing along the river.

Christ met me when I was 21. Now, 41 years later, Christ still meets me.

At age 21 I began to read the gospels. I still read them. I have found that I understand them less and I understand them more.

I understand less of Christ than I did 41 years ago. I'll quote, in sympathy, Thomas Merton here: "It does no good to use big words to talk about Christ. Since I seem to be incapable of talking about him in the language of a child, I have reached the point where I can scarcely talk about him at all. All my words fill me with shame." (The Sign of Jonas)

Merton expresses the heart of the Christian mystical tradition, which has deeply affected me. "Mystic" comes from the Greek muo, which means "to conceal." It has the sense of "can't talk about it, but I know it." This is non-discursive, experiential knowledge. In terms of knowing God, the more real experiential knowledge there is, the less there is talking about it. Christ has been solidly planted deep inside me, and as I grow older seeds of experience produce fruit every week. Often, now, I just am in silent awe and gratefulness, wanting more. This is important because experience, not theory, breeds conviction.

I understand more of Christ than I did 41 years ago. My knowledge of Christ is growing exponentially, week by week. I see, more clearly, that Christ far surpasses any human knowledge I might have. This growth comes because of the hyper-watering and fertilizing of the garden of my heart that is Jesus, with the water and the fertilizer being: extensive Scripture study and meditation, prayer, and fellowship (esp. my Home Group). The biblical verses that express this for me are Ephesians 3:16-19. They read:

16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

A. I can't speak of Christ because he surpasses knowledge.

B. I can speak of Christ because I am beginning to know him and his love.

A and B go together, and work together dialectically, with the dialectical movement being between head knowledge and heart knowledge, study and encounter. The inner garden is still growing. Attend to it.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Philip Mantofa at Redeemer - Monday, Tuesday, & Wednesday


One of the many highlights of our "Furious Love" event was the final evening, when Philip Mantofa spoke to us. It was a night Linda and I will never forget!

During his message Philip, for about 15 minutes, did not preach. Instead, he took a "quiet time" alone with God. Then he challenged us on the importance of reading our Bibles. This challenge was given in a way that moved us all deeply. At one point Linda leaned over and said to me, "This is one of the three greatest God-gatherings I have ever been to." Me too.

With this fresh in our minds we are delighted that Philip will be with us tomorrow night, and then the next two evenings. I invite you to join us.

Holly Benner will lead us in worship, beginning at 7 PM. Then Philip will do something. Or, nore correctly, God will do something through Philip. I am looking forward to it!

There's no charge for this - it's free. We will take some love offerings - give as God leads you to.

We're also offering somethig special on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings.

Tuesday morning. Sept. 27, 10 AM - 1 PM - I invite you to come to my Spiritual Formation workshop - on How God Forms and Transforms the Human Heart. I will teach my theory of spiritual formation and transformation. This is a class I have taught in many contexts, seminaries, around the U.S. and the world.

Wednesday morning, Sept. 28, 10 AM - 1 PM - Our worship leader Holly Benner will teach on: Worship and the Nature of Giod; and "It is Finished: Now what?" This will be about who we are in Christ living in the completed work. All are invited to come.

AND... all this is subject to how God leads. As we have found at Redeemer, everything can change!

Philip's book is Warrior for Revival

For more information:

E-mail me at johnpiippo@msn.com

Call our church office: 734-242-5277

Redeemer Fellowship Church
5305 Evergreen
Monroe, MI

Real Love Is Sincere

Our friend Barb, holding the
abandoned squirrel we found
in our front yard.

Some of the newly-birthed Corinthian Jesus-followers were accusing Paul of proclaiming the gospel for money. In his second letter to the Corinthians Paul defends himself against this charge.

He gives a catalogue of his sufferings for the sake of the gospel. In chapter 11, these include:


§  Been in prison frequently

§  been flogged more severely,

§  been exposed to death again and again.

§  Five times received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one.

§  Three times was beaten with rods,

§  once was pelted with stones,

§  three times was shipwrecked,

§   spent a night and a day in the open sea

§  have been constantly on the move.

§  in danger from rivers,

§  in danger from bandits,

§  in danger from his fellow Jews

§  in danger from Gentiles

§  in danger in the city

§  in danger in the country,

§  in danger at sea

§  in danger from false believers

§  labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep

§  known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food

§  been cold and naked

Finally, Paul crowns this depressing list with this: "Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.”

Capping off his defense in v. 17, Paul writes: “We aren’t mere peddlers of God’s word, as so many people are. We speak with sincerity; we speak from God; we speak in God’s presence; we speak in the Messiah.”  

Others preach the gospel for their own gain. They rip off their people because they don't care about or for their people. Paul, meanwhile, goes through hell to bring the gospel to the Corinthians and others. For me it's like this.

Last Friday Linda, Josh and I were heading out to dinner. Linda and I were in the car when we saw Josh waving his hands and signalling us not to move. There was a squirrel underneath the car, and Josh didn't want me to run it over.

Josh got down on his hands and knees. "I see it in the wheel well," he said. Then he began to call it, like someone would call a dog to come. I was thinking, "Josh, what are you doing. This thing is not our pet!" To my surprise, the squirrel came. It walked towards Josh. Josh backed up the stairs to the door of our house. The squirrel tried to get up the stairs, but it was small, not a baby, but an adolescent. It was a teen-aged squirrel, identified to us by its size, plus its attitude of "No fear" and its obvious immortality complex.

I got out of the car and the squirrel came up to me. I went to pick it up. It climbed over my hand and onto my leg and climbed up my leg almost to my waist. It loved me, I thought, as I shook it off!

While we were out to dinner we thought of this little thing many times. Where were its parents? Is it doing OK? When we came home it was not there.

On Saturday morning I heard the little squirrel crying in our front yard. Just then one of our Redeemer friends, Barb, pulled into our driveway but stopped, because the squirrel was in the driveway in the path of the car. I came out of the house and told Barb not to touch it, because I was going to pick it up. "You're not going to kill it, are you?" asked Barb. "No."

Barb ended up picking it up. She brought it to our front porch, where we all sat down to have some time holding and petting our new family member. When Barb said she would take it home and care for it Linda, Josh, and I felt there would be no better person to love this creature of God. We rescued it. It did not have a family, but now it does. The thought of it being uncared for and alone was unacceptable.

This is why Paul went through fiery trials; viz., because he loved all the baby Jesus-followers he had been a part of birthing. He was their spiritual parent. The thought of them struggling was, says one commentator, "excruciating." Paul said he had no "peace of mind."

Fake Christian leaders do it for the money, causing their people to suffer as they spiritually and economically violate them. Real leaders for Christ sacrifice their own lives for the sake of others, just as Christ sacrificed himself for them. Real love is sincere. It actually cares.

"Planet Narnia," Buddhist Violence, Monsters, and a Few Other Books On My Wish List

In my MCCC mailbox I received the newest Religion Catalogue from Oxford University Press. I just spent some time reviewing and discovered (shock!) more books I'd like to read. Here are some I highlighted, that look interesting to me and are relevant to my Jesus- and - academic interests. If anyone wants to buy all these for me and send Linda and I away to some island paradise for a month, I'll welcome it.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

A Cruciformed Life: Don't Expect to Be Crowned With Glory By the World


N.T. Wright writes: To begin with, you have to grasp the fact that Christian virtue isn’t about you—your happiness, your fulfillment, your self-realization. It’s about God and God’s kingdom, and your discovery of a genuine human existence by the paradoxical route—the route God himself took in Jesus Christ!—of giving yourself away, of generous love which constantly refuses to take center stage." (Wright, N. T., After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters, p. 70).

One would be hard pressed to find this on "Christian TV," or in "Christian" media. Yet it is the heart of the Real Jesus and mere, un-Americanized Jesus-following.

Jesus told his followers to take up their cross daily and following. Read the Scriptures for yourself. Paul's letters to the Corinthians, especially the second one, is about Jesus' followers being paraded before the world as prisoners in a procession. (2 Cor. 2:12-17) I love what New Testament scholar David Garland says, in his commentary on 2 Corinthians, as he comments on 2 Cor. 2:12-17:

“Paul has incarnated his apostolic message of the cross of Christ. The cross determines both his message and his style of ministry, and those who preach Christ crucified cannot expect to be crowned with glory by the world which crucified him.” (146)

Friday, September 23, 2011

Bart Ehrman - No Serious Scholar Doubts that Jesus Actually Existed

In this audio interview Bart Ehrman thinks it's strange that some associate him with the idea that Jesus never actually existed. It's strange, says Bart, because he wrote an entire book on what he believes Jesus said and did. "For Jesus to say and do anything, he had to exist."
Ehrman says: "I don't think there's any serious historian who doubts the existence of Jesus. But there are a lot of sensationalist people who want to make a lot of money by saying that Jesus didn't exist. I don't know any serious scholar who doubts the existence of Jesus."
This is a cool interview, and Reginald Finley sounds as if he's having his "nonexistence of Jesus" theory shattered by Ehrman the historian.
Ehrman says, "I know thousands of historians who agree that Paul wrote Galatians." This astonishes Finley. Simply put, Finley is not a scholar; Ehrman is.
Finley asks Ehrman, "What do you think of Robert Price?" (Price argues that there is good reason to think Jesus never existed.)
Ehrman: "I don't know of him."
Finley (seemingly astonished): "You don't know of him?"
Ehrman: "No. Why would I?"
Finley presses Ehrman, bamboozled that Ehrman doesn't buy into his "Jesus didn't exist" theory, and Ehrman's certainty that Paul wrote Galatians.
Ehrman responds: "I know thousands of biblical scholars. I know all the important scholars in this area."
Finley, feeling very, very pressed, says, "I guess it depends what circles you are in."
Ehrman: "It sounds like you're grasping at straws. You can doubt anything you want to." But, again, no serious scholar Ehrman knows of doubts that Jesus existed.
Finley seems very uptight and agitated. He's seems like an example of someone who knows nothing about the actual field of New Testament scholarship (Ehrman indirectly keeps suggesting this) but has picked up internet stuff to justify his own ideas. Ehrman just destroyed one of them. Finley can't accept it. He brings up the "doubt" and "skeptic" card, which Ehrman repeatedly says anyone can do. Any inductive claim can be doubted. It does not take a rocket scientist to raise a possible doubt. But for Ehrman the historian this is all Finley has, and while doubt has a place in the historian's toolkit, it is not the weapon the non-scholarly Finley thinks it is. Inductive, historical reasoning is always probableistic.

Imposing a Logical Worldview on Others


I told the students in my two logic classes that I assume they are all moral relativists and don't know it. Moral relativism is the air they breathe, the water they swim in. Today's adolescents are subjectivists. You can hear it in the way they interact, in the questions they ask, in their suspicions and in their beliefs. This is sad and troubling, since subjectivism is illogical, hence irrational (where "irrational" follows from "illogical").

I shared this with my students before teaching the section in Chapter Two of Lewis Vaughn's The Power of Critical Thinking (Oxford), called "Obstacles to Critical Thinking." When I teach Vaughn on the following, I sense the resistance and incomprehension, the unfamiliarity and incredulity, of many of my students.
  1. Everyone has a worldview. "A worldview is a philosophy of life, a set of fundamental ideas that helps us make sense of a wide range of important issues in life." "Even the rejection of all worldviews is a worldview." (Vaughn, 49)
  2. "Subjective relativism" (SR) is a worldview. SR is "the idea that truth depends on what someone believes." (50) Someone who utters sentences such as "This is my truth, and that's your truth," or "This statement is true for me," is a subjective relativist. (Ib.) To say such things is to commit "the subjectivist fallacy." (Ib.) This is the idea that truth depends not on the way things are, but on what persons believe. "Truth, in other words, is relative to persons." (Ib.) On SR "truth is a matter of what a person believes - not a matter of how the world is." (Ib.) If you think dogs can fly, then it is "true for you" that dogs can fly. If I believe dogs cannot fly, then it is false for me that dogs can fly.
  3. Logic, in philosophy, is unconcerned about what people believe. The concern is  whether determining whether statements are true or false. A "statement" is a sentence that describes a state of affairs. If a particular state of affairs obtains, then the statement is "true." If the state of affairs does not obtain, then the statement is "false." Consider, for example, this statement: The lights in this room are on. As referring to room I am now typing in, this statement is either true or false; i.e., the condition of the lights now being on either obtains or does not obtain. If it does obtain, then the statement is true. And if the statement is true, it is true for everybody. When I speak such words to my students, I sometimes feel like I've committed the unforgivable sin. Nonetheless, in logic, such is the nature of truth, in critical thinking. And this is what all philosophers are after.
  4. Vaughn writes: "Most philosophers see the situation this way: We use critical thinking to find out whether statement is true or false - objectively true or false. Objective truth is about the world, about the way the world is regardless of what we may believe about it. To put it differently, there is a way the world is, and our beliefs to not make it. The world is the way it is, regardless of how we feel about it." (Ib.) So what if a person believes the statement The earth is flat is true? Simply put, they are wrong, since the statement The earth is flat is false.
  5. I think some of my students, perhaps many, feel such talk is arrogant and marginalizing. How dare we tell someone else that they are wrong! Another way of putting this, in the vocabulary of the subjective relativist, is that we should not "impose our views" on others who think differently. My response to this is: Logic, aka "critical thinking," is fully unconcerned about the beliefs of other people. It's sole concern is about "the truth about states of affairs." (Ib.) And if a "state of affairs" does not obtain, it obtains for no one.
  6. Vaughn agrees that some objecgtive truths are about subjects states of affairs. It might be true, for example, that right now the statement I am feeling pain obtains for you. If it obtains for you, this does not mean it obtains for me. But note this. The statement X now feels pain, if true, is true for everybody, everywhere. It is an objective truth that describes X's subjective experience of pain. "The claim that you are feeling pain right now is an objective truth about your subjective state." Or, consider this. "You may like ice cream, but someone else may not. Your liking ice cream is then relative to you. But the truth about these states of affairs is not relative." (Vaughn, 50, emphasis mine) It is very hard for students to grasp this and agree with it, for at least two reasons: a) it does involve abstract thinking; and 2) many of them are solid, unthinking subjective relativists, and so any talk of objective truths is not the air they breathe. When it comes to logic they are, using another metaphor, "fish out of water."
  7. Vaughn points out two problems with SR: a) If we could make a statement true just by believing it to be true, we would be infallible. we could not be in error about anything. But "personal infallibility is, of course, absurd; and 2) SR is self-defeating. "It defeats itself because its truth implies its falsity. The relativist says, "All truth is relative." If this statement is objectively true, then it refutes itself because if it is objectively true that "All truth is relative," then the statement itself is an example of an objective truth. So if "All truth is relative" is objectively true, it is objectively false." (Ib., 51) SR, then, is akin to believing in "square circles" and "married bachelors."
  8. When it comes to "social relativism," the same criticisms apply. Social relativism claims that "individuals aren't infallible, but societies are. The beliefs of whole societies cannot be mistaken. But this notion of societal infallibility is no more plausible than the idea of individual infallibility. Is it plausible that not society has ever been wrong about anything...?" (Ib.)
  9. Finally, logic is also unconcerned with how people came to believe what they believe. To think that how people came to believe what they believe has relevance to the truth or falsity of their beliefs is to commit "the genetic fallacy." (See Vaughn, 177) Example: "You only believe in Christianity becuse you were raised in a Christian family. If you were raised in India by a Hindu family you would be a Hindu." Probably, that is true. But this sociological truth, from logic's POV, has absolutely no bearing on the truth of one's beliefs. I engage in a mighty struggle in my philosophy classes to explicate this.
(See atheist Marcello Pera's forthcoming (next week) Why We Should Call Ourselves Christians: The Religious Roots of Free Societies.  Pera attributes Europe's weakness to its incipient, thoughtless moral relativism.)

Rob Bell is Leaving Mars Hill Church


Rob Bell is leaving Mars Hill Church.

The church published this statement:

“Feeling the call from God to pursue a growing number of strategic opportunities, our founding pastor Rob Bell has decided to leave Mars Hill in order to devote his full energy to sharing the message of God's love with a broader audience.”

It's hard not to think that the impact of his new book Love Wins was the emotional and theological catalyst for this.

I wrote about one problem I had with Rob's overly generous orthodoxy here.

We should pray for Rob and his family. He is a creative, intelligent, Jesus-loving, Scripture-loving, imperfect (like the rest of us) follower of Christ.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Doing Worship Reps In the Spiritual Gymnasium


"Practice makes perfect" - Hezekiah 2:1.

24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
- Paul, in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27

"Train yourself to be godly."
- Paul, 1 Timothy 4:7

The Greek of 1 Timothy 4:7 is: γύμναζε δὲ σεαυτὸν πρὸς εὐσέβειαν. The first word of this phrase is gymnaze. We get the words "gym" and "gymnasium" from this. Paul instructs Timothy to exercise in the spiritual gymnasium. Do worship reps and prayer reps and Scripture reps (AKA meditation on Scripture).

In Christian spirituality, repetition (AKA "meditation") is good. We learn to pray and learn about prayer as relationship with God, not primarily by reading books on prayer or attending conferences on prayer, but by actually praying, and praying a lot.

"They all joined together constantly in prayer" - Acts 1:14.

Wanting to pray without engaging in lots of prayer means nothing. Desire without discipline is an illusion. Intentions minus actions = squat. (Thank you J.H. for this one.)

Speaking of "squat," serious weightlifters and bodybuilders do lots and lots of reps to build muscle. Analogically, praying constantly builds spiritual strength. Contrast this to a little McPrayer, which only builds spiritual plaque. McPrayer contributes to hardening of the spiritual arteries. Many prayer reps in God's Gymnasium makes for a strong heart.

Constant repetition forms habits. And, it creates new neural connections in the physical brain. I am pleased to see N.T. Wright writing about such things: "When people consistently make choices about their patterns of behavior, physical changes take place within the brain itself... Parts of the brain actually become physically enlarged when an individual’s behavior regularly exercises them." Wright, N. T., After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters,  p. 37). The physical brain is "plastic"; it is malleable. It changes. This is good news for anyone who want to change. For example, if you are a guitar player and want to play like Joe Satriani, then practice scales in the Lydian mode - over and over and over and over and... ad infinitum When you can play them without striving over them, that is the sign that, neurally, your physical brain has morphed.

Paul, without knowing a thing about contemporary neuroscience, would be pleased. Exercise unto godliness! Choose to go apart to pray and meditate on Scripture today. Then, choose this tomorrow. And the next day. And the next. God, by His Spirit, will morph your heart into a praying, Scripture-loving heart. Prayer and Scripture meditation will become "second nature." At this point striving and rule-keeping disappears. N.T. Wright refers to this as the development of Christlike "character." Wright writes:

"Jesus... speaks repeatedly about the development of a particular character. Character—the transforming, shaping, and marking of a life and its habits—will generate the sort of behavior that rules might have pointed toward but which a “rule-keeping” mentality can never achieve. And it will produce the sort of life which will in fact be true to itself—though the “self” to which it will at last be true is the redeemed self, the transformed self, not the merely “discovered” self of popular thought... In the last analysis, what matters after you believe is neither rules nor spontaneous self-discovery, but character." (Wright, N. T., After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters, p. 7). 

Wright gives, as an analogy of how God forms the human heart into Christlikeness (Gal. 4:19), the story of Captain Chesley Sullenberger and Flight 1549. When Sullenberger's Airbus A320 took off from New York's La Guardia Airport everything was fine. But the Airbus flew into a flock of Canada geese. Both engines were damaged and lost their power. Captain Sullenberger and his co-pilot had to make several major decisions instantly. Wright describes them:

"In the two or three minutes they had before landing, Sullenberger and his copilot had to do the following vital things (along with plenty of other tasks that we amateurs wouldn’t understand). They had to shut down the engines. They had to set the right speed so that the plane could glide as long as possible without power. (Fortunately, Sullenberger is also a gliding instructor.) They had to get the nose of the plane down to maintain speed. They had to disconnect the autopilot and override the flight management system. They had to activate the “ditch” system, which seals vents and valves, to make the plane as waterproof as possible once it hit the water. Most important of all, they had to fly and then glide the plane in a fast left-hand turn so that it could come down facing south, going with the flow of the river. And—having already turned off the engines—they had to do this using only the battery-operated systems and the emergency generator. Then they had to straighten the plane up from the tilt of the sharp-left turn so that, on landing, the plane would be exactly level from side to side. Finally, they had to get the nose back up again, but not too far up, and land straight and flat on the water." (Ib., pp. 19-20) 

How was Sullenberger able to pull this off? Wright says it was due to the "power of right habits." "You might say it was the result of many years of training and experience. You could call it “character,” as we have done so far in this book. Ancient writers had a word for it: virtue." (Ib., p. 20) 

"Virtue, in this strict sense, is what happens when someone has made a thousand small choices, requiring effort and concentration, to do something which is good and right but which doesn’t “come naturally”—and then, on the thousand and first time, when it really matters, they find that they do what’s required “automatically,” as we say." (Ib.) 

Consider this. When Jesus was hanging on the cross he looked at his torturers and asked the Father to forgive them. They don't know what they are doing. Here, in Jesus, was a heart of compassion. Jesus was not wearing a "WWID" bracelet, and asking himself, "In this situation What Would I Do?" On the contrary, his heart was compasionate and cruciform; his heart was love-shaped. Jesus actually loved (= felt love + acted on it) his oppressors and enemies. This is the amazing love of Jesus!

But another amazing Jesus-idea is found in Paul's hope that Christ might be formed in us; i.e., that our hearts might be Christ-shaped. If we have cruciformed hearts we will not have to ask "What Would Jesus Do?" We simply will act as Jesus acts. How does such a heart-transformation happen? Paul's answer is found in Romans 12:1-2.

1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed [meta-morphed; change of form] by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Choose, today, to move your whole being (this includes your physical body) to a quiet place and pray. Choose today to pick up Scripture and eat God's Word. Tomorrow, choose these things again. The next day, choose these things. And the next day. And the next. Wright decribes what happens like this:

"Virtue, in this strict sense, is what happens when someone has made a thousand small choices, requiring effort and concentration, to do something which is good and right but which doesn’t “come naturally”—and then, on the thousand and first time, when it really matters, they find that they do what’s required “automatically,” as we say. On that thousand and first occasion, it does indeed look as if it “just happens” but reflection tells us that it doesn’t “just happen” as easily as that. If you or I had been flying the Airbus A320 that afternoon, and had done what “comes naturally,” or if we’d allowed things just “to happen,” we would probably have crashed into the Bronx. (Apologies to any actual pilots reading this: you, I hope, would have done what Captain Sullenberger did.) As this example shows, virtue is what happens when wise and courageous choices have become “second nature.” Not “first nature,” as though they happened “naturally.” Rather, a kind of second-order level of “naturalness.” Like an acquired taste, such choices and actions, which started off being practiced with difficulty, ended up being, yes, “second nature.” (Ib., 20-21)

Dallas Willard has been writing about such things for many years. In Spiritual Disciplines, Spiritual Formation and the Restoration of the Soul, Willard describes a "disciple" of Christ as one who chooses to follow after Christ. A real disciple engages in the kind of spiritual disciplines Jesus engaged in while on earth. A Jesus-followers chooses to pray, chooses to get alone with God (solitude), chooses to fast as God leads, and chooses to memorize Scripture. God wants us to choose these spiritual behaviors so that, by the Spirit's power, the spiritual benefits of doing lots of prayer reps come to us. In this way spiritual strength and muscle is formed. Willard writes:

"What is discipline? A discipline is an activity within our power--something we can do--which brings us to a point where we can do what we at present cannot do by direct effort. Discipline is in fact a natural part of the structure of the human soul, and almost nothing of any significance in education, culture or other attainments is achieved without it. Everything from learning a language to weight lifting depends upon it, and its availability in the human makeup is what makes the individual human being responsible for the kind of person they become."

What happens as a result is "soul reformation." Willard says: "It is in union with these activities that God "restores my soul." The result is that I walk in paths of righteousness on his behalf as a natural expression of my renewed inner nature. Now my experiences and responses are all "hooked up" correctly. To develop a thorough understanding of this process and outcome on the basis of factual studies would be a major step toward attaining a genuinely Christian psychology or theory of the soul."

"Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training." Do you want to compete in life? If so, then today do many sets of prayer reps and worship reps, and then do them tomorrow, and train the day after that, and the next day, and the next...  It is precisely as Christ is more and more formed in you that the striving and self-will ceases.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Preaching on 2 Corinthians 2:12-17 This Sunday

I'm preaching this Sunday on 2 Corinthians 2:12-17.

From The Message (remember that Eugene Peterson is a great Semitic language scholar, having done Ph.D work with William F. Albright!):

12-14When I arrived in Troas to proclaim the Message of the Messiah, I found the place wide open: God had opened the door; all I had to do was walk through it. But when I didn't find Titus waiting for me with news of your condition, I couldn't relax. Worried about you, I left and came on to Macedonia province looking for Titus and a reassuring word on you. And I got it, thank God!
14-16In the Messiah, in Christ, God leads us from place to place in one perpetual victory parade. Through us, he brings knowledge of Christ. Everywhere we go, people breathe in the exquisite fragrance. Because of Christ, we give off a sweet scent rising to God, which is recognized by those on the way of salvation—an aroma redolent with life. But those on the way to destruction treat us more like the stench from a rotting corpse.
16-17This is a terrific responsibility. Is anyone competent to take it on? No— but at least we don't take God's Word, water it down, and then take it to the streets to sell it cheap. We stand in Christ's presence when we speak; God looks us in the face. We get what we say straight from God and say it as honestly as we can.

When the Act of Redemption Happens: Three Stories


STORY #1: I was, for seven years back in the mid-70s, one of the pastors at First Baptist Church of Joliet, Illinois. It was an inner-city church, located in a rough neighborhood. I have a lot of stories about helping street people who would drop in on us. Here's one.

Our staff was having a meeting at the church building when a man came through the door carrying an old, heavy-metal manual calculator. It was beaten up, like this man was, and looked like he had just rescued it from a junk pile. The man staggered towards us. He reeked of alcohol.

He asked, "Would you like to buy this?"

"No," I said.

He got angry and said, "Why don't you want to buy this from me?"

I said, "Because we don't need it. And, you're going to take the money and buy some more alcohol."

I told him we'd love to help him. We had many ex-alcoholics who got free of their addiction when they became followers of Jesus. "Can we really help you?"

It was clear that he did not want real help. He walked out of the church onto the streets of Joliet. We watched him out of the office windows. Then he stopped, turned around to look at us, raised his fist in the air and angrily shouted, "That's the last time I'm ever coming to this church!"

STORY #2 - In the 80s I was a campus pastor at Michigan State University. One day I received a phone call from a student who played on MSU's football team. When he told me his name I recognized it. He was an All-American football player. He wanted to meet with me for some advice.

We got together and he told me about his life and how he recently returned to following Christ. He said, "I'm going to play in the NFL. I'll be a role model for young people. I need to get my life together. I'm doing this by giving my life over to Jesus and following Him."

I was thrilled by this! But what advice did he want from me?

"I'm in love with a girl," he said, "and plan on marrying her. But we are living together and have a sexual relationship. What I want to know is - is this OK to do if I'm a Christian?"

"No, it's not OK. Because the Jesus-idea is about staying sexually pure before marriage. If you really want to follow Jesus, then follow Him all the way."

The look on his face changed. I did not tell him what he wanted to hear. He left, and that was the last I ever saw of him.

STORY #3 - A year ago I was shopping at a mall in the Detroit suburbs north of us. As I was walking into a store I heard a voice say, "Pastor John!" A man was walking towards me, obviously glad to see me.

"Do you remember me? I'm ________, and my wife is _________. You counseled with us many years ago. You tried to help me and save our marriage. Do you remember when my wife and I were in your office, and you told me I needed to break off the extramarital affair now? That was when I got up and just walked out."

I did remember that. This man ___________ was a violent man who was abusing his wife, and was having sex with other women. I had tried to help him by telling him the truth of what God wanted him to do. He told me he wanted help, but he really didn't want it. I have seen this so many times! It's sadly common for someone to ask for help but want to do life the way they have been doing it. The truth is that if we keep doing life the way we are doing it we will continue to get the same results. People who are really helped always change; there's no such thing as getting out of the mess we are responsible for without personally changing and doing things differently.

When _________ came up to me in the mall, years after he raged out of my office, I couldn't help but wonder, "Is he going to hit me, right here?"

Instead, words of gratitude came out of his heart. "John, you spoke the truth to me, and I wouldn't listen. You were right all along. Even though I didn't come back to you I thought about what you said and took your advice, and so did my wife _________. I want to tell you that our marriage is doing better than it ever has. Thank you."

We are, wrote Paul, to "speak the truth in love" to others. Doing this could get you crucified. But real, redemptive rescue will not happen without this. Remember that it is God who is the Rescuer, not us. We are his redemptive messengers. When the act of redemption happens, and you get to see it years later, maybe even only in eternity, you will again be reaffirmed in the reason for your existence and encouraged to keep truth-telling in Jesus' name and trusting Him for the outcome.