Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Furious Staff Meeting


Tomorrow

11:15 AM

Darren Wilson at Redeemer This Sunday

Film-maker Darren Wilson will be at Redeemer:

This Sunday, Dec. 4

6 PM

Worship first, then Darren speaks.

The Universal Urge to Philosophize

Grand Palace area,
Bangkok
“In all men, as soon as their reason has become ripe for speculation, there has always existed and will always continue to exist some kind of metaphysics.”
- Immanuel Kant

The desire and need to philosophize is universal, according to Kant. The urge to engage in metaphysics is part of our humanity and wonder.

Metaphysics. Meta - physika.

"Meta" - "beyond."

"Physika" - "physical reality."

The metaphysical urge causes people to wonder things such as: Is this life all there is? What is right and what is wrong to do? Is empirical reality all there is?

Consider the second question: Is empirical reality all there is? The answer to that must be: No. This is because the claim that Empirical reality is all there is, as a truth-claim, is not itself empirical. That is, one cannot verifiy this claim by seeing, smelling, tasting, touching, or hearing. Philosophy came to this conclusion in its rejection of the verification principle of Logical Positivism.

Early 20th-century philosophers like A.J. Ayer and the early Wittgenstein presented us with the famous "verification principle," adapted from David Hume. The verification principle states: A sentence can only be meaningul if it can be empirically verified. If it cannot be empirically verified, then it is either a tautology ("analytical") or it is meaningless (all metaphysical claims). But the problem with the verification principle was that, on its own criteria, it is either tautological or metaphysical, since it cannot be empirically verified.

Welcome to metaphysics. Welcome to the Big Questions. In this we are, epistemically, eternally children. Sad is the day when childlike wonder is quenched in a human soul.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Objective Moral Values - Another Example of Proper Basicality

Matsika Katsuva

I understand that one can't prove, evidentially, the veridicality of properly basic beliefs such as objective moral values.

We can, however, give examples. Consider this horror story of rampant rape in the Demcratic Republic of Congo, written by Fiona Lloyd-Davies.

"Eastern Congo has been called the "rape capital of the world" by U.N. Special Representative Margot Wallstrom. Reports record that 48 women are raped every hour. I have been working in the region for 10 years and have seen a tragic development in this unpunished crime against the heart of society...

... A week hearing terrifying stories of torture and rape. Multiple rapes. Violent, brutal rape. Rape with sticks and guns, even bayonets. Women told me of their daily choice -- to stay at home and face starvation. Or, go out to the fields for food and be raped. Most women chose the latter. It had become the norm...

... I returned to make a film about rape and found a disturbing new trend.
Women told me how they expected to be raped. Not once but many times. The women I met, spoke of gang rapes, three or four times. Sometimes it was "only" two soldiers, more often gangs of men,10, 20, over and over again. Many had conceived children and the girl children, some just babies only a few months old, were being raped as well...

... women survivors... are living with the consequences and stigma of rape. Not least one particular woman, Masika Katsuva. She's tiny, barely five foot tall but is a giant of a personality. Her story has inspired many of us, it is so bleak but also hopeful because she's providing an answer to these women.
... Like so many women survivors, she too was rejected when she and her two teenage daughters were raped by militia men. Her husband was murdered in front of her, chopped up and she was forced to eat his private parts."

Enough.

That... is wrong. Morally wrong. Objectively wrong; that is, wrong for everyone. Anyone who thinks it is not morally wrong is just as mistaken as someone who thinks it false that 1+1=2.

Thank God for Masika Katsuva.

See Lloyd-Davies's film on Katsuva's work to hep DR Congo's rape survivors to find healing and an independent income through farming

On Objective Moral Values

Prostitute sleeping on a Bangkok street,
early in the morning

One of my MCCC philosophy students is writing a paper for another class. It's on the existence of God and objective moral values. He's asked me to respond to these questions. Here they are, plus my responses.

Here are a few questions for you to answer:

1. How can we know objective moral values exist?

First, I'll define "objective moral value." (OMV)

By "objective moral values" we mean: moral values and duties that are obligatory for all persons, whether they know it or not. For example: It's wrong to boil babies for fun. If that is an OMV then it is binding on all persons.

If no moral values are objective, then all moral values are subjective. They are like matters of personal taste. For example, I like Coke, you like Pepsi. That may be true. But it's only a personal truth. Therefore those who disagree have no duty to agree with it.

Now, how can we know OMVs exist? Which is to say, for example, how can we know that It is wrong to boil babies for fun is not merely someone's subjective truth, but is an OMV and binding on all persons?

The answer is: OMVs function as properly basic beliefs. A properly basic belief is one that we believe to be true even though we can provide no evidence for its truth. Examples of properly basic beliefs include: mathematical truths (e.g., 1 + 1 = 2), the laws of logic (e.g., modus ponens), and sense experience (viz., that we can trust our senses to give us true knowledge of the external world). Consider the third example, that of our sense experience. Our trust in the veridicality of our senses cannot be evidentially proven, since to do so would be to rely on (trust in) our senses.

We just see that Boiling babies for fun is wrong. BTW, we operate this way all the time. If the Penn State U Assistant Football Coach sodomized boys, then we believe it was morally wrong to do that, that no one should be allowed to do that, and we adjudicate against such immoral behavior.

2. What are the implications of objective morals?

The existence of OMVs ensures that we can write laws that punish those who violate them. For example, the moral command It is wrong to sodomize boys for one's own sexual gratification is true, and true for everybody. (Note: in logic, all truths are true for everybody. Not to think so is to commit the "subjectivist fallacy." See, e.g., Lewis Vaughn, The Power of Critical Thinking: Effective Reasoning About Ordinary and Extraordinary Claims, Ch. 2.) 

Another implication of the existence of OMVs is that the best explanation for their existence is God-as-Moral-Command-Giver.

3. If everyone seeks the same objective goals would this eliminate diversity?

Not when it comes to morality. No civilization desires diversity when it comes to morality, in the same way that no culture desires diversity when it comes to mathematical truths such as 1+1=2. Diversity on properly basic beliefs would bring chaos.

4. What is the source of objective morality?

I think the best, and only, explanation for the existence of OMVs is that there is a God who issues commands. In philosophy this is called Divine Command Theory. If moral values exist independently of persons (objectively), then where do they exist? Plato thought OMVs existed. He knew they could not exist in human minds. Thus he posited the realm of the Forms. Both divine command theorists and Platonists agree that OMVs must be explained as non-subjective realities. I think the existence of an all-good God best explains their existence.

5. Do you see objective morality more as a system of rules that are to limit amoral behaviors or as positive actions that seek to maximize objective good?

I see the latter as true; viz., God-issued OMVs are not for the sake of preventing us from doing things, but for allowing us to do things and to experience relative freedom.

Fred Craddock, Preacher


For anyone interested in preaching-as-telling-The-Story, there's a nice article at cnn.com today, "A preaching 'genius' faces his toughest convert." It's on revolutionary and still-living pastor-preacher Fred Craddock.

Craddock's toughest convert was his father.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Black Atheists

There's an article on black atheists in the "Fashion & Style" section of today's nytimes. Their numbers are few. 1.6% of America's total population identify themselves as "atheist." "Less than one-half of a percent of African-Americans identify themselves as atheists," according to the Pew Forum 2008 United States Religious Landscape Survey. "88 percent of African-Americans believe in God with absolute certainty, compared with 71 percent of the total population, with more than half attending religious services at least once a week."

"African-Americans are remarkably religious even for a country known for its faithfulness, as the United States is. According to the Pew Forum 2008 United States Religious Landscape Survey, 88 percent of African-Americans believe in God with absolute certainty, compared with 71 percent of the total population, with more than half attending religious services at least once a week."  

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Bald Eagle Photos

I pulled out our driveway a few hours ago and saw a bald eagle flying over the road (North Custer). It landed in a tree a few hundred yards away. I pulled into a driveway and took these shots. We've got a number of bald eagles in Monroe. It's common to see them, but this one gave me a good opportunity to use my zoom and get close!









Friday, November 25, 2011

The Jewish Annotated New Testament


A few years ago I enjoyed reading Amy Jill Levine's The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus. It's interesting how one remembers certain things and not others. For example, I've never forgotten Levine's analysis that "Abba" is not best translated "Daddy," as some Christians are wont to do.

Now Levine and co-author Marc Brettler have given us The Jewish Annotated New Testament. Why not, since Jesus was a Jew? The nytimes has an article on it here. "The volume includes notes and explanatory essays by 50 leading Jewish scholars, including Susannah Heschel, a historian and the daughter of the theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel; the Talmudist Daniel Boyarin; and Shaye J. D. Cohen, who teaches ancient Judaism at Harvard."

Levine says “the more I study New Testament, the better Jew I become.”         

Thursday, November 24, 2011

If You're Not Heavenly Minded You'll Be No Earthly Good

Cloud, over
Monroe, Michigan

Paul, in 2 Corinthians 5, instructs the Corinthian Jesus-followers for fix their eyes on what is unseen, not on what is seen. To live by faith, not by sight.

The Corinthians are living too much by sight. They are especially concerned with appearance. Paul's point is that, when it comes to people, what appears to be is not the case. These Greek converts were smitten by Sophistic rhetoric. Paul, on the other hand, has admitted that he is an uneloquent, bad speaker. And history records that Paul was physically unimpressive. The historian Tertullian describes Paul as short, bald, having a big nose, and possessing a unibrow (eyebrows that met, like the Muppets' "Bert"). All Paul had, he confessed, was the gospel + signs and wonders. The Corinthians saw and heard Paul and concluded that this cannot be a true apostle from God.

More than this, the Corinthians looked at Paul's beat-up physical body and all the stuff that body went through and wondered, what the heck is this about if Jesus is Lord and King? In 2 Corinthians Paul gives us those lists of all the suffering and struggle and persecution and bodily wear-and-tear he underwent. The Corinthians ask, "Why?" Paul's answer is: Because I fix my eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.

German philosopher Martin Heidegger told us that the way to live life was to fix on death. One's future demise casts either a shadow or a light on one's present existence and its meaning. Live focused on the future reality of death. Paul, in this way, is Heideggarian. Two future certainties lie before him. They are:
  1. I will one day be resurrected as Christ has been raised from the dead.
  2. I will one day receive a new, everlasting physical body to replace this fragile, itinerant "tent." It will be a house, not made by human hands, but by God.
I like how Ben Witherington and N.T. Wright express Paul's understanding of #2.

Witherington: “Paul seems to believe that believers’ resurrection bodies are already prepared in heaven, in heavenly cold storage so to speak. This is part of his overall view that what will yet be on earth is even now stored up in heaven, including the New Jerusalem.” (Conflict and Community in Corinth: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians, 391)

Wright: ’Heaven’ is not the place we go to when we die, but rather the place where God has our future bodies already in store for us.” (Paul for Everyone: 2 Corinthians, 52) 

Paul was certain of these two things. His certainty was not theoretical, but existential and experiential. This is important because experience, not theory, breeds conviction. Because Christ lives, I can face tomorrow.

The reality of our certain future with Christ, now unseen but one day known face to face, allows us to abandon our entire being to the Kingdom-cause of Christ today. If we cling to this life as the only life our effectiveness for Christ will diminish.

Paul believed that, when he stands before the judgment seat of Christ, it will be good. His desire was to be with the One who rescued him. The love of Christ compelled him, and therefore Paul made it his aim to please Him. The eschatological promise of life forever with Christ sustained him. That, argues Paul, is why he lives as he does in this present darkness.

From Paul's POV this is true: If I'm not heavenly-minded I will be no earthly good.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

End-of the-World Logic

(Yet) More on Free Will & Neuroscience


I tell my philosophy students: If you want employment in the days ahead, get a degree in neuroscience. In neuro-anything. Because anything and everything is getting reduced to the brain, to neural activity. Persons are, it is widely claimed, their neurons.

Michael Gazzaniga is a neuroscientist who thinks personal responsibility emerges from the interaction of neurons and mental states. His new book is Who's in Charge?: Free Will and the Science of the Brain. Gazzaniga is interviewed here in the Scientific American.

Free will, says Gazzaniga, "is on every thinking person’s mind." Not literally, of course, since it seems, for Gazzaniga, there neither is a "mind" and there is nothing "on" it. How misleading our language about "mind" is!

A main question is: are we responsible for our actions? Our are we like programmed robots who do not and cannot act on their own?

Why might a neuroscientist think we don't have free will? Here's the reason:

"Whatever your beliefs about free will, everyone feels like they have it, even those who dispute that it exists. What neuroscience has been showing us, however, is that it all works differently than how we feel it must work. For instance, neuroscientific experiments indicate that human decisions for action are made before the individual is consciously aware of them. Instead of this finding answering the age-old question of whether the brain decides before the mind decides, it makes us wonder if that is even the way to think about how the brain works. Research is focused on many aspects of decision making and actions, such as where in the brain decisions to act are formed and executed, how a bunch of interacting neurons becomes a moral agent, and even how one’s beliefs about whether they have free will affect their actions. The list of issues where neuroscience will weigh in is endless."

OK. And, of course, Gazzaniga's physical brain came up with these ideas before "Gazzaniga" (whoever he might be) wrote them down.

Gazzaniga talks about "mental states" and "neurons" as, in a famous computer metaphor, "software" and "hardware." In a computer, both are required. And they interact. So how doe "mental states" and "neurons" interact? We don't know. "How are we to capture an understanding how the two layers interact? For now, no one really captures that reality and certainly no one has yet captured how mental states interact with the neurons that produce them. Yet we know the top mental layers and the layers beneath it, which produce it, interact."

So... what about "free will?' It must be, it will be, abandoned. The idea of "free will," says Gazzaniga, is the "flat earth theory" of our time. "I think we will get over the idea of free will and and accept we are a special kind of machine, one with a moral agency which comes from living in social groups. This perspective will make us ask new kinds of questions."

Now that needs to be developed. What can that mean? Presumably Gazzaniga's book will shed more light on this. And, enter neurophilosophy and neurotheology. See, e.g., here and here (two recent books I've read).

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Desire-Denial Is Not Only For the Homosexual Who Chooses Purity


Wesley Hill's Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality is for us all, not just persons who are homosexually oriented. His thoughts run deep, and he's a very good writer.

I am with Hill on this: a Jesus-follower who is homosexually oriented is called to a life of sexual purity. This is hard. But, says Hill, it is no harder than life is for the rest of us, and to think so is to miss out on life. Hill writes:

"I’d suggest that living with unfulfilled desires is not the exception of the human experience but the rule. Even most of those who are married are, as Thoreau once said, “living lives of quiet regret.” Maybe they married the wrong person or have the pain of suffering within marriage or feel trapped in their situations and are unable to fulfill a higher sense of calling. The list of unfulfilled desires goes on and on." (p. 72)

Surely that is true. We all live with unfulfilled desires.

"Desire" is: wanting something that one does not have. "Desire" makes no sense without its object. Were I to now think "I desire to type on a laptop computer" while typing on a laptop computer, that is absurd. All desire is, precisely, the lack of an object or circumstance or event or relationship that one does not now have. All persons have desires. Every desire, in its moment, is unfulfilled. "Unfulfilled desire" is a tautology, a redundancy. Therefore all persons have unfulfilled desires. And many of them remain so.

Hill writes: "One of the ways I have received help in dealing with my particular struggle has been through reading about the unfulfilled desires of others and how they have dealt with them." (p. 73) Many heterosexuals would like to marry but cannot find the right partner. "Persons in that situation, if they are Christians, must struggle to subordinate their desires for sex to the gospel’s demands for purity. They must choose, again and again, to forgo sexual fulfillment. And there are many others in similar situations." (Ib.)

For Hill, stories of imperfect faithfulness and perseverance inspire him and give him hope. He writes: "I am not alone as a homosexual Christian. I am not the only one who has chosen voluntarily to say no to impulses I believe are out of step with God’s desires." (75)

Remember it was our Lord, Jesus, who told us to expect unfulfilled desire and to not acquiesce to it. "Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me."" (Luke 9:23) Self-denial includes denial of desires for the sake of following after Jesus. I don 't mean to triviliaize this as I give an example.

Way back in the 80s I was about to lead a group of college students for a day at Warren Dunes State Park in Michigan. This park is one of my favorite places to go. Linda and I have spent countless hours there. It's a wonderful, beautiful, recreational get-away playground. It was a Saturday morning, and I was packed and ready to go. But both our young sons were sick. Linda would have to take care of them all day while I got to play. I am sad to tell you that we argued over this, because the thought that I would have to deny my day of playing and stay home and help Linda with our boys upset me. I stayed home. God told me to. Of course that was the God-thing for me to do. My desires were to be put on hold. That's life in the Kingdom of God, and it is a very good life that is a self-denying life.

One more example. This past summer Linda and I had our suitcases packed. We were leaving for our annual summer conference in Green Lake, Wisconsin. Linda's father Del lives with us. He's been with us now for 5 1/2 years. On that morning his defibrillator went off, twice. Linda and I knew that we were not going anywhere. For me, this was disappointing. I do not think that my feeling of disappointment was troubling to God. My God is a compassionate God who feels with me when I am disappointed. It was clear that our desires had to be denied, for the sake of a greater calling. We stayed with Del, took him to the hospital, and eventually (though a few days late) were able to find care for him and go to our conference.

M. Scott Peck begins his famous and brilliant The Road Less Traveled with these words: "Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths." (15) For Peck the "road less traveled" is this: Delay gratification.

I think we can substitute Jesus' words here: Deny yourself. Deny your desires. Do not define your self by your desires. Do not say "Yes" to every desire that struts into your mind. It is rare to find persons who live this way in our sex-inebriated culture of exponentially unfulfilled desire. Our consumerism not only wants us to say "Yes" to our thirst and obey it, it creates countless other desires and convinces us that we walk among the perpetually unfulfilled. The person who says "Yes" to every desire is a slave, not free.

As a homosexual Christian Hill writes: "The sorrow and suffering we experience as homosexual Christians is that of saying good-bye to any sure hope of satisfying our sexual cravings. In choosing fidelity to the gospel, we agree to bear up under this burden for as long as is necessary." (p. 75) But in "being burdened" the homosexual Christian is not unique. This "dislodges our assumption that having sex is necessary to be truly, fully alive. If Jesus abstained and if he is the measure of what counts as true humanity, then I may abstain too—and trust that, in so doing, I will not ultimately lose." (p. 77)

If this stuff interests you then you will do well to read Washed and Waiting.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Praying for My People Tomorrow


For the past 30 years, on Tuesdays, I go apart to a place away from my home and office and pray, from three to six (or more) hours. All of our church staff do this weekly, too.

Yesterday, Sunday morning at Redeemer, I told our people that if they had something they'd like me and my colleague Pastor Josh Bentley to pray for on Tuesday, they can write it down on a 3X5 card and we'd pray for them. My instructions were:

Take a 3X5 card. Write your request, and your name. Add your ph. # because, if God gives Josh or I a word of knowledge or a word of prophecy (1 Cor. 14:3) then we may call you and share it with you.

As pastors we pray for our people, and consider it a privilege to do so. I see this as at the heart of what I am to do.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

"Life's a Happy Song," by Kermit the Frog


I do know a few Muppets fans. This is for them - Kermit the Frog singing a song from his new movie - "Life's a Happy Song." (With Bret McKenzie)

Saturday, November 19, 2011

J. Lee Grady's 15 Theses Call For a Charismatic Reformation


J.P. Moreland's recent post on his website points us to a recent article by Charisma's J. Lee Grady.
J.P. writes: Grady "has Spirit-filled courage to speak and exhort in truth for the sake of other people’s edification. His recent book, The Holy Spirit is Not for Sale (Chosen Books, 2010), is direct evidence of what I am talking about."

In honor of "Reformation Day" (Oct. 31) Grady nailed 15 Reformation-like theses to the door of the internet. Here they are, with some comments in parentheses.)

1. Let’s reform our theology. The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity. He is God and He is holy. He is not an “it.” He is not a blob, a force, or an innate power. We must stop manipulating Him, commanding Him and throwing Him around. (Agreed - the Holy Spirit is not some mist or cloud that we move around with hand gestures.)
2. Let’s return to the Bible. The Word of God is the foundation for the Christian experience. Any dramatic experience, no matter how spiritual it seems, must be tested by the Word and the Holy Spirit’s discernment. Visions, dreams, prophecies and encounters with angels must be in line with Scripture. If we don’t test them we could end up spreading deception. (Yup.)
3. It’s time for personal responsibility. We charismatics must stop blaming everything on demons. People are usually the problem. (I'll take issue with Grady here. For Paul, "people" are not the real problem; principalities and powers are.)
4. Stop playing games. Spiritual warfare is a reality, but we are not going to win the world to Jesus just by shouting at demonic principalities. We must pray, preach and persevere to see ultimate victory. (Therefore, "people" are not the real problem..., right?)
5. Stop the foolishness. People who hit, slap or push others during prayer should be asked to sit down until they learn gentleness is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. (Thank you. As if God needed us to knock someone down.)
6. End all spiritual extortion now. Christian television ministries must cease and desist from all manipulative fundraising tactics. We must stop giving platforms to ministers who make outlandish claims of supernatural financial returns, especially when Scripture is twisted, deadlines are imposed and the poor are exploited.
7. No more Lone Rangers. Those who claim to be ministers of God—whether they are traveling evangelists, local pastors or heads of ministries—must be accountable to other leaders. Any who refuse to submit their lives to godly discipline should be corrected.
8. Expose the creeps. Churches should start doing background checks on traveling ministers. Preachers who have been hiding criminal records, lying about their past marriages, preying on women or refusing to pay child support should be exposed as charlatans and shunned if they do not repent.
9. Stop faking the anointing. God is God, and He does not need our “help” to manifest Himself. That means we don’t sprinkle glitter on ourselves to suggest God’s glory is with us, hide fake jewels on the floor to prove we are anointed or pull chicken feathers out of our sleeves to pretend angels are in the room. This is lying to the Holy Spirit.
10. Let’s return to purity. We’ve had enough scandals. The charismatic church must develop a system for the restoration of fallen ministers. Those who fall morally can be restored, but they must be willing to submit to a process of healing rather than rushing immediately back into the pulpit.
11. We need humility. Ministers who demand celebrity treatment, require lavish salaries, insist on titles or exhibit aloofness from others are guilty of spiritual pride.
12. No more big shots. Apostles are the bondslaves of Christ, and should be the most impeccable models of humility. True apostles do not wield top-down, hierarchical authority over the church. They serve the church from the bottom up as true servants. (Exactly. Jesus came to serve, not to be served.)
13. Never promote gifts at the expense of character. Those who operate in prophecy, healing and miracles must also exhibit the fruit of the Spirit. And while we continue to encourage the gift of tongues, let’s make sure we don’t treat it like some kind of badge of superiority. The world needs to see our love, not our glossolalia.
14. Hold the prophets accountable. Those who refuse to take responsibility for inaccurate statements should not be given platforms. And “prophets” who live immoral lives don’t deserve a public voice.
15. Let’s make the main thing the main thing. The purpose of the Holy Spirit’s anointing is to empower us to reach others. We are at a crossroads today: Either we continue off-course, entertained by our charismatic sideshows, or we throw ourselves into evangelism, church planting, missions, discipleship, and compassionate ministry that helps the poor and fights injustice. Churches that embrace this New Reformation will focus on God’s priorities.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Freud's Pessimistic Take on Human Nature

I'm reading through Freud's The Future of an Illusion. Freud put a bad spin on human nature. It would be nice, he thought, if persons didn't need the constraining and coercive laws of civilization, and they would, by some human moral instinct, enjoy other people and care for them. Unfortunately, he writes, "that would be the golden age, but it is questionable if such a state of affairs can ever be realized." (Freud, Sigmund, The Future of an Illusion, Kindle Location 98).

In this regard Freud is in sync with Christian theism. He continues...

"It seems more probable that every culture must be built up on coercion and instinctual renunciation; it does not even appear certain that without coercion the majority of human individuals would be ready to submit to the labour necessary for acquiring new means of supporting life. One has, I think, to reckon with the fact that there are present in all men destructive, and therefore anti-social and anti-cultural, tendencies, and that with a great number of people these are strong enough to determine their behaviour in human society.
This psychological fact acquires a decisive significance when one is forming an estimate of human culture." (Ib., K location 101-104)

Yup. Destructive ways are within all; biblically, "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (BTW, it's questionable whether or not Frued was an atheist. See Harvard Freud-scholar Armand Nicholi's The Question of God: C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life.)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Miracles

The 2 volumes, unpacked and ready to read.
The 165-page bibliography of secondary sources
is enough to cause one's jaw to drop.

I'm excited! I just received my copies of my friend Craig Keener's 2-Volume Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts.

It's already received great reviews from scholars I admire. Once more, here they are plus stuff about Craig's book.

***
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. In this wide-ranging and meticulously researched study, Craig Keener argues that it is time to rethink Hume's argument in light of the contemporary evidence available to us.

"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

From the Back Cover


"Perhaps the best book ever written on miracles"
"Any history of the rise and growth of Christianity that fails to take account of the belief in miracles and healings and signs and wonders is missing a very large part of the story. That statement is truer than ever today when we look at the booming churches of Africa and Asia. Craig Keener's Miracles is thus a major contribution to understanding the Christian faith, past and present. The book is all the more valuable because of Keener's thoughtful and bold analysis of the scientific method and the means by which we can test the miraculous. This massively researched study is both learned and provocative."
--Philip Jenkins, Pennsylvania State University

"Craig Keener's discussion of New Testament miracles adduces a uniquely--indeed staggeringly--extensive collection of comparative material. That eyewitnesses frequently testify to miraculous healings and other 'extranormal' events is demonstrated beyond doubt. Keener mounts a very strong challenge to the methodological skepticism about the miraculous to which so many New Testament scholars are still committed. It turns out to be an ethnocentric prejudice of modern Western intellectuals. So who's afraid of David Hume now?"
--Richard Bauckham, St Andrews University; Ridley Hall, Cambridge

"Keener deals not just with the biblical evidence for miracles but also with the vast evidence from all over the world that miracles of various sorts happen. He shows that whatever the merits of Hume's claim in his own day, it can hardly be maintained today that 'miracles are not a part of normal experience and are not widely attested.' This book is a rarity in the scholarly world in that it is both rigorous in its scholarship and speaks with knowledge and passion about an exciting subject that demands our attention. We have here perhaps the best book ever written on miracles in this or any age. Highly recommended."
--Ben Witherington III, Asbury Theological Seminary

"Craig Keener's magisterial two-volume study of miracles is an astounding accomplishment. The book covers far more than the subtitle implies, because Keener places the debate over the biblical miracles in many different contexts, including the philosophical debate over miracles, views of miracles in the ancient world, contemporary evidence for miracles, and the relationship of the issue to science. Although this book is clearly the product of immense learning and a mind at home in many disciplines, it is clearly written and argued and shows good sense throughout."
--C. Stephen Evans, Baylor University

"This is vintage Keener--exhaustive research, expert command of and thoughtful interaction with both ancient and modern sources, impeccable analyses of all sides of the argument, and deft handling of the controversial issues--plus some! It will undoubtedly henceforth be the first stop for all serious researchers on this topic."
--Amos Yong, Regent University School of Divinity

"This monumental study combines historical inquiry into late antiquity, philosophical and existential criticism of antisupernaturalism and the legacy of David Hume's epistemological skepticism, and ethnographic study of the phenomenon of the miraculous throughout the Majority World. The result is a book that is important not only for the historical study of Jesus and the New Testament but also for our understanding of our contemporary world beyond the boundaries of our social location and its worldview."
--David A. deSilva, Ashland Theological Seminary

"Craig Keener has written arguably the best book ever on the subject of miracles. He places the miracles of Jesus and his followers in a full and rich context that includes philosophy, history, theology, exegesis, comparative religion, cultural anthropology, and firsthand observation and testimony. There is nothing like it. Keener's monumental work shifts the burden of proof heavily onto skeptics. This book is must-reading for all who are interested in the truly big questions of our day."
--Craig A. Evans, Acadia Divinity College

"In an age of a global church, the time has come for Bible scholarship to be enriched by considering the way Christians read and understand Scripture in non-Western countries and cultures. In Miracles, Craig Keener offers an invaluable example of how that enrichment can take place through hard scholarly work and a passion for integrity. He gives us an exhaustive wealth of historical understanding, anthropological richness, and missiological savvy."
--Samuel Escobar, Palmer Theological Seminary; Theological Seminary of the Spanish Baptist Union, Madrid

I Won't Be Watching the Golden Globes This Year

I enjoy, every year, watching the Golden Globe Awards. Except for last year, when comedian-atheist Ricky Gervais hosted.

Gervais is hosting again this year.  :(

I won't be watching...

I've posted on Gervais here and here.

Cornel West Returns to Union Theological Seminary

Union Theological Seminary in New York City has just announced the appointment of Cornel West as Professor of Philosophy and Christian Practices. Dr. West is "one of America’s most influential civil rights activists, authors, commentators and scholars." West has taught at Harvard, Yale, and "is currently the Class of 1943 University Professor in the Center for African American Studies at Princeton University and will maintain his ties to Princeton as Professor Emeritus." Princeton’s president, Shirley Tilghman, said that Dr. West had helped create “one of the world’s leading centers for African-American studies” at Princeton.       

Dr. Serene Jones, President of Union, says: “Some call Cornel West this generation’s Reinhold Niebuhr (a legendary Union Professor), but I think he’s in a class by himself. Cornel is, quite simply, the leading public theologian of our age.”

The nytimes reports this here. "The school, where the eminent theologian Reinhold Niebuhr taught, is also known as the birthplace of black theology. James H. Cone, a foremost scholar in that tradition, is still on the faculty."

West says that Union was “the institutional expression of my core identity as a prophetic Christian.”      

I feel excited about this. West is simply brilliant and radical and, I am certain, an important prophetic voice. I'll look forward to following him as he lives out his core identity. It will interesting to see if and how West and the equally brilliant Cone collaborate more intimately on things having to do with the kingdom of God.

BTW, it's freedom and joy to discover one's core identity. Serene Jones says, "as you get older, the more integrated your life is, the healthier it feels and the less time you have to spend waking up deciding who you’re going to be that day. At Union, he just has to be Cornel.”       

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Fine-Tuning Argument for God's Existence

Fountain, at
Monroe County Community College

(I'm giving this argument in my MCCC Logic class today as an example of reasoning by inference to the best explanation. Adapted from William Lane Craig and Robin Collins.)

THE FINE-TUNING ARGUMENT FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD

The argument can be stated this way.

  1. The fine-tuning of the universe is due to either physical necessity, chance, or design.
  2. It is not due to physical necessity or chance.
  3. Therefore, it is due to design.
Define “fine-tuning”

Almost everything about the basic structure of the universe – for example, the fundamental laws and parameters of physics and the initial distribution of matter and energy – is balanced on a razor’s edge for life to occur.

Our fine-tuned universe is an event that demands to be explained.

Examples of fine-tuning

  1. If the initial explosion of the big bang had differed in strength by as little as one part in 10\60, the universe would have either quickly collapsed back on itself, or expanded rapidly for stars to form. In either case, life would be impossible. (An accuracy of one part in 10 to the 60th power can be compared to firing a bullet at a one-inch target on the other side of the observable universe, twenty billion light years away, and hitting the target.)
  2. Calculations indicate that if the strong nuclear force, the force that binds protons and neutrons together in an atom, had been stronger or weaker by as little as five percent, life would be impossible.
  3. If gravity had been stronger or weaker by one part in 10\40, then life-sustaining stars like the sun could not exist. This would most likely make life impossible.
  4. If the neutron were not about 1.001 times the mass of the proton, all protons would have decayed into neutrons or all neutrons would have decayed into protons, and thus life would not be possible.
  5. If the electromagnetic force were slightly stronger or weaker, life would be impossible, for a variety of different reasons.
And so on…

Premise 1 seems to exhaust the alternatives. The soundness of the argument depends on the plausibility of premise 2.

Premise 1

Can cosmic fine-tuning be plausibly attributed to physical necessity?

By “physical necessity” we mean: the constants and quantities must have the values they do. If this is true, there was really no chance of the universe’s not being life-permitting.

But this alternative seems extraordinarily implausible. Because it requires us to believe that a life-prohibiting universe is physically impossible. But surely a life-prohibiting universe seems possible. That, e.g., the universe might have expanded just a bit more slowly does not seem physically impossible.

A person who claims that the universe must be life-permitting is taking a radically position that requires strong proof. But as of now there is no such proof.

NOTE: support for the idea of “physical necessity” being false is given, inadvertently, by multiverse theorists. Such theorists use multiverse thinking to show that, while nearly all possible universes are life-prohibiting, it’s possible that one or more could be life-permitting.

Can cosmic fine-tuning be plausibly attributed to chance?
 
Philosopher John Leslie gives an example, as an analogy, to show the implausibility of the universe coming into existence by chance.

Suppose you line up against a wall and 50 sharpshooters take aim at you and fire. All of them miss. This event demands an explanation, for their missing me is needed for my survival.

I shouldn’t at all be surprised that I observe that all the bullets missed me, since I am alive to observe that they did all miss me. There is nothing improbable about that at all.

But I should be very, very surprised that in fact all the bullets missed me. That seems very, very improbable.

It seems reasonable to infer: design. That is: the sharpshooters missing me was planned for my continued existence.

This is a case of “inference to the best explanation.”

Analogically, the fact of the fine-tuned universe means the universe is life-allowing rather than life-prohibiting. This is very imporbable on atheism. This is not improbable on theism.

 The main atheist objection to this is: multiverse theory. “If there is only one universe,” British cosmologist Bernard Carr says, “you might have to have a fine-tuner. If you don’t want God, you’d better have a multiverse.” (Discover, December 2008)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality

Praying, in our sanctuary
last weekend.

I'm reading Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality, by Wesley Hill. I just finished 50 pages, and think it's a good read. (Thanks J.R.)

For many years Linda and I have been privileged to know and meet with Jesus-followers who are homosexually oriented and want help, counsel, and fellowship. I think this book can be a help.

From the back cover: Hill "advocates neither unqualified "healing" for those who struggle, nor their accommodation to temptation, but rather faithfulness in the midst of brokenness. "I hope this book may encourage other homosexual Christians to take the risky step of opening up their lives to others in the body of Christ," Hill writes. "In so doing, they may find, as I have, by grace, that being known is spiritually healthier than remaining behind closed doors, that the light is better than the darkness."  

The Spiritual Life Consists of Practicing God's Presence

Anderson Gardens
Rockford, Illinois
I'm re-reading, devotionally, Brother Lawrence's spiritual classic, The Practice of the Presence of God. Lawrence, originally Nicholas Herman, was a 17th century French monk. Today I read his Second Letter. It's brief. It's deep.
  • He writes: "I still believe that all spiritual life consists of practicing God's presence and that anyone who practices it correctly will soon attain spiritual fulfillment."
  • To live in God's presence, 24/7, the heart must be emptied of everything that is not of God. Why? "Because God wants to possess our hearts completely. Before any work can be done in our souls, God must be totally in control."
  • Life doesn't get any better than living "in continuous communion with God."
  • Seek God, not for what benefits it can give you, but for God's own sake and out of love for him. God won't be used by us for our gratification and purposes.
  • Lawrence writes: "If I were a preacher, I would preach nothing but practicing the presence of God."
  • "If we only knew how much we need God's grace, we would never lose touch with Him. Believe me. Make a commitment never to deliberately stray from Him, to live the rest of your life in His holy presence. Don't do this in expectation of receiving heavenly comforts; simply do it out of love for Him." I am certain that the amount of grace God actually extends towards us far outweighs what grace we experience and are aware of.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The World's Most Expensive Photograph


This photo of the Rhine River, called Rhein II by Andreas Gursky, last week became the world's most expensive photo. It sold for $4.34 million at Christie's impressionist and modern art auction in New York.

I got linked to this from my favorite photographer Ken Rockwell. Rockwell writes:

This modern photo by a living artist is worth over $4 million because it is simple.

"It is valuable because it is art, not just a photo.

Rules are worthless. If he was just a photographer instead of an artist, he would have been crippled by the nonexistent "rule of thirds" myth, and put the horizon someplace else. In his case, the horizon slams right through the middle, which adds to the power by giving a sense of unease. Our minds ask "what's up with this? This is so barren and empty; where is this place?"...

... In this case, the world's best photo (as gauged by price, the way modern man values things) was shot on a Linhof large-format camera, not some SLR. Because his large-format camera allowed tilting the film and lens, everything from near to infinity was in perfect focus; no "depth-of-field" or stopping-down required.

If shot with a digital Nikon or Canon like amateur photographers, it would not have been art. If he used a zoom lens or many modern prime lenses, their distortion would have subtly curved the lines, weakening and destroying the artist's work."

BTW - this painting (below) sold for $43 million. Seriously.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Angela Greenig at Redeemer Tonight and Tomorrow

Linda and I really enjoyed Angela Greenig this morning as she shared a lot of things about spiritual warfare and deliverance ministry, and even more.

We're so glad to have her!

She'll be at Redeemer tonight at 6 PM.

And tomorrow morning at 10 AM.

And tomorrow night at 6 PM.

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

Open the Present

I stopped to photograph these flowers
in Rockford, Illinois

"Now is the time I must learn to stop taking satisfaction in what I have done, or being depressed because the night will come and my work will come to an end. Now is the time to give what I have to others and not reflect on it. I wish I had learned the knack of it, of giving without question or care. I have not, but perhaps I still have time to try." (Thomas Merton, October 2, 1962, A Year with Thomas Merton, Kindle Locations 5083-5086)

I think it was Annie Dillard, in her book The Writing Life, who wrote something like this: don't save your best writing, your best stories, your best illustrations, for later. Spend them now. I view preaching this way. This coming Sunday morning I will pour out all God has given me as today I pour myself into the biblical text and prayer. This is not about comparing yourself with others, or being worse or better than others. Comparison stalls the now-activity of God.

Spend the best that you have now on what God has called you to do. Don't save your best up for some great occasion or great moment in the unknown future. If you don't give of your best for Christ, now, in the present moment, that future great moment will never come. God has given you spiritual gifts. Unwrap them today, and behold as the Spirit builds up the Church.

God has told me, "John, you have much to give." Finally I have heard this. So I am giving all I can for the glory of God. Imperfectly, but truly. God has given you much. You are no spiritual pauper. Use what God has given you now for his Kingdom and glory.

Husbands, spend time with your wife today. Friends, befriend one another today. Church, move now. Come, now is the time to worship. It's not time for another meeting to discuss "movement"; today is the day of action, of rescue and salvation. Thank God for the past. Learn from the past. Don't wait for the future. The only moment you have is the present.

Present your life to God. Be present to God. Open the present.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Eating With Jesus as Entering the Kingdom

Anderson Gardens,
Rockford, Illinois
Richard Bauckham writes:

"While the Pharisees turned ordinary meals into a practice of ritual holiness, Jesus turned ordinary meals into a practice of the coming of God’s kingdom. They were especially suitable for this purpose because a familiar image of the messianic age to come was the great banquet that God would host, where all his faithful people would sit together with the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In Jesus’ practice of meal fellowship, he, so to speak, goes ahead with the love of God to welcome to the banquet everyone who will accept the invitation. Eating with Jesus was virtually tantamount to entering the kingdom and sitting at table with the patriarchs." (Bauckham, Jesus: A Very Short Introduction, pp. 46-47; emphasis mine)

I'll be breakfasting with Jesus to begin my day.

A Beautiful Little Book On the Real Jesus


New Testament scholar Richard Bauckham has written an excellent, accessible, and brief-but-packed-with-scholarship book on Jesus: Jesus: A Very Short Introduction. Bauckham is th author of the brilliant Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels As Eyewitness Testimony.

Here is a snippet:

"What is God’s rule like? For some of Jesus’ contemporaries, God’s priority must surely be the liberation of his people from the yoke of the Roman oppressor. He must establish his own sole rule over his holy people by defeating those who had no right to rule them. If this were seen to be happening, God’s kingdom might be said to be arriving. But for Jesus, there were other priorities. He saw the kingdom arriving in the sorts of things he was doing:
  • bringing God’s healing and forgiveness into the lives of people he met,
  • reaching out to those who were pushed to the margins of God’s people,
  • gathering a community in which service would replace status.
These are the sorts of things that happen when God rules." (pp. 37-38)

I say - in my life, let God rule!

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

P.Z. Myers and Bill Craig on Animal Suffering and the Prefrontal Cortex

Angry atheist biologist P.Z. Myers attacked William Lane Craig yesterday on the matter of animal suffering. Myers writes: "Kitties experience pain and suffering, which turns out to be a theological problem." The problem of the suffering of morally innocent animals presents itself as an argument from evil (of such suffering) against the existence of God.

Myers challenges William Lane Craig, who has written that "even though animals may experience pain, they are not aware of being in pain. God in His mercy has apparently spared animals the awareness of pain. This is a tremendous comfort to us pet owners. For even though your dog or cat may be in pain, it really isn't aware of it and so doesn't suffer as you would if you were in pain." This is because, supposedly, only humanoid primates have a prefrontal cortex, which is the part of the brain where self-awareness is located.

While Craig's claim may sound insensitive, especially to pet-owning anthropomorphists, it is really more sophisticated and subtle than one might imagine. Bill quotes, re. the prefrontal cortex, philosopher Michael Murray's recent Nature Red in Tooth and Claw: Theism and the Problem of Animal Suffering. I've got Murray's book, and as I've been reading it I'm learning a lot about the deeper discussion surrounding this issue. Myers himself shows awareness of some of these deeper issues, as seen by his objections to Craig.

One of Myers's objections is this:

"Craig (or possibly his source, Murray), misrepresent the science. They claim that the prefrontal cortex "is missing in all animals except for the humanoid primates." This is simply false! I've personally done histological work and surgery on the prefrontal cortex of cats, many years ago, and you can find papers describing the prefrontal cortex of opossums, and just about any common mammal you can think of. Craig has made a truly bizarre claim, like declaring that only people have noses or something."

I think Myers is correct on this, and Craig and Murray are wrong. Even though some have argued that
"The main difference between a human brain and that of other animals is the prefrontal cortex. Most mammals have little or no prefrontal cortex." (Xuxa Thorsen, "Prefrontal Cortex and Evolution")

Assume, as Myers and I do, that Craig's assertion is false. It forms a premise leading to the conclusion: Animals do not experience pain as humans do. Myers writes: "An assertion built on a false premise is likely to be false itself." Yes and no. Only if the premise is needed to establish the conclusion. In Bill's response it is needed; in Murray's text it is not.
For anyone interested in a theistic response to the problem of animal, Murray's book is must reading.
Myers, in angry atheist fashion, dismisses Bill as he writes: "As is usual upon reading any argument by William Lane Craig, I find myself wondering if we shouldn't, in the name of common decency, have him locked up or in some way isolated from the sane human population." Huh?

Teaching at Payne Theological Seminary in 2012


I will teach my Spiritual Formation class in the M.Div. Program at Payne Theological Seminary during the following weeks in 2012:
  • Jan. 17-21, 2012
  • July 23-27, 2012

Tinariwen - and Why We Make Music


I'm listening to Tinariwen's new cd, "Tassili." What a beautiful, haunting, all-acoustic very, very groovy thing it is! (And, can you hear echoes of old CSN&Y stuff?)

If you are a musician you must scroll down here and watch "Groove in G." This will remind you why you play music.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Angela Greenig at Redeemer - Nov. 11 & 12

November 11-12

Schedule:

Friday, Nov. 11
10 AM & 6 PM

Saturday, Nov. 12
10 AM & 6 PM

 "Angela has rescued many out of darkness. I thank Jesus for a woman who intercedes for those in darkness to come into the Glorious salvation and light of Jesus Christ" - Heidi Baker, PhD, Founding Director, Iris Ministries, Inc.


AND: Darren Wilson, Sunday evening, Dec. 5


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

What Is a "Person?"

There's a philosophical-theological vote taking place in Missouri today.

From CNN: "Mississippi voters are casting ballots Tuesday on an amendment to the state constitution that would define life as beginning at the moment of conception.
Initiative 26 would define personhood as "every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the functional equivalent thereof.""

I say "Yes."

The best single essay on this is Baylor U. philosopher Francis Beckwith's "The Nature of Humanness and Whether the Unborn Is a Moral Subject," in his book Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice

See some of my comments on Beckwith here.  

New Jesus Music - Nov. 2011

My portal to the music world is Rhapsody. Today they review 8 new Jesus-music cds. Here's the entire review.

And yes, Marc Martel's voice is amazing. ("Downhere")

by Rhapsody Editorial
Christian/Gospel Roundup: November 2011
By Wendy Lee Nentwig
November 02, 2011 02:03PM

As we head into the holiday season, the new releases will slow to a trickle, so enjoy this fresh batch of standouts while they're still plentiful. There's a new disc from the band behind Freddie Mercury impersonator Marc Martel, as well as a worshipful disc filled with watery Bible references from Casting Crowns. Singer-songwriters like Sara Groves bring a dose of reality, while Jason Crabb represents the Southern gospel side of things with a new live project. Read on to discover our entire octet of top picks.

1. Downhere
On the Altar of Love
This down-to-earth band of Canadians seems to be traveling back in time, as evidenced by their "mountain men" look on this album cover and their belief that true progress involves looking backward as much as forward. On the Altar of Love is built on a foundation of faith that spans thousands of years. That solid history makes for an album that manages to be pop-friendly and weighty at the same time, with a welcome vulnerability. By not allowing the latest cultural references to creep in, the band has created an album that is truly timeless. Don't miss the anthemic "Let Me Rediscover You."
2. Casting Crowns
Come to the Well
The Christian faith is full of references to water, so it's only natural that Casting Crowns would borrow that theme for their fifth studio album, encouraging us to let the living water of Christ well up in us until it spills over onto everyone around us. That's a lot to tackle on one disc, but they've always been ambitious when it comes to message, and they're only getting bolder. Their passion is front-and-center on tracks like "Jesus, Friend of Sinners" and "Already There," while "My Own Worst Enemy" finds them rocking out. Don't miss "So Far to Find You," cowritten with Steven Curtis Chapman.

3. Sara Groves
Invisible Empires
On her 10th album, Sara Groves continues her habit of laying bare her most intimate feelings and fears in hopes that her warts-and-all truth will inspire the rest of us to live more examined, thoughtful lives. Joining forces with producer Steve Hindalong for the first time, this underrated singer-songwriter sifts through the layers of life that pile up on us all to get to what's really important. This 11-track disc includes the gospel-inspired gem "Eyes on the Prize," a Civil Rights-era anthem that reminds us that the fight for social justice continues.

4. Jason Crabb
The Song Lives On
Jason Crabb really shines in front of a live audience, so on April 19, 2011, he took the stage at Nashville's Loveless CafĂ© Barn (after an intro by Southern gospel legend Bill Gaither) to record his first live disc. The songs are familiar — classics like "Who Am I," "Sweet Beulah Land" and "I Saw the Light" — many of them chosen because Crabb remembers singing them in church as a kid. Each is given this Kentucky boy's unique spin, and his powerhouse vocals more than do them justice. Special guests like Michael English and Oak Ridge Boy William Lee Golden round out this stellar project.

5. Phil Wickham
Response
For his fourth studio effort, Phil Wickham channels the psalmists of old, voicing appreciation and adoration for the different aspects of God that are seen throughout our lives and circumstances. Partnering again with Pete Kipley (MercyMe, Matthew West), Wickham also brought in Brown Bannister (Steven Curtis Chapman, Amy Grant) to coproduce, giving the album the benefit of a collective approach. That carried over to songwriting, too, with multiple collaborations representing more than just Wickham's heart. Don't miss "At Your Name (Yahweh, Yahweh)," a worshipful celebration of the power of God's name.

6. Shane & Shane
The One You Need
They say fatherhood changes you, and that's certainly true for Shane Barnard and Shane Everett, so it's only natural that these college friends would draw inspiration from their daughters for their latest album. The new music was shaped not only by their biological families but also by their church family — a Dallas-area congregation where they're on staff. The title track is a letter from daddy to daughter, sharing a father's hopes as well as the spiritual legacy he hopes to leave behind. As always, all songs stem from scripture and the Shanes' desire to spread the word about the God they love.

7. JJ Heller
Deeper
An artist can't predict when their music will catch on, so when a song from her year-old disc started garnering attention in 2009, the music JJ Heller had already recorded for Deeper was put in a drawer. Two years later, the album is finally seeing the light of day. It's true, five of these songs appeared on 2010's When I'm With You, but in a more polished format. Deeper features them as they were originally recorded, along with seven never-heard tracks, all boasting a wonderfully acoustic, organic vibe. The low-key guitar really allows Heller's voice — and the songs — to shine.

8. No Other Name
The Other Side
This much-anticipated debut features contributions by award-winning writer/producer Bernie Herms (Natalie Grant, Casting Crowns) along with Jason Kyle and Blake Bollinger, and includes songs chosen as much for their powerful message as for their vocal power. This isn't just music about everyday life from a Christian perspective, this is a spiritual call to arms. You'll hear it in tracks like "Let It Start With Me," tackling the topic of The Great Commission, and in the anthemic single "Lead You to the Cross." The latter could serve as the group's theme song.