Monday, October 31, 2016

The Presence-less Church (The Presence-Driven Church)

“We can’t dispense with the formalities, George—there’d be nothing left.”

From the New Yorker, 10/31/16

A month ago Linda and I went to P.F. Chang's in Ann Arbor. I ordered a meal that I mostly get when I'm at this restaurant. After completing my order the waiter said, "I am sorry, sir. We are out of rice."

I was stunned. I thought of logical impossibilities like square circles and married bachelors. An Asian restaurant with no rice? 

I saw the manager walking from table to table, confessing ricelessness to the patrons. When he got to us I had to ask, "How is this possible?" He said, "They are having trouble in the kitchen."

My thought was, "Then you had better get in that kitchen and fix this barren situation!"

On a sunny morning in the 1980s, when Linda and I lived in East Lansing, we went to breakfast at International House of Pancakes. I ordered pancakes. There was no maple syrup on the table.

When it comes to pancakes I am a purist. I don't want the strawberry syrup or the blueberry syrup or the fruity syrup. So, desiring maple syrup, I asked:

"May I have some maple syrup please?"

"Sorry," said the waitress. "We're out of maple syrup."

My response was: Image result for the scream parody

The Big Absence happened two summer ago.

Linda and I were driving from Monroe to Chicago. We were on the Indiana Tollway, and stopped at one of the rest areas for lunch. Linda went to one of the fast food places and got a burger. I got in line at Kentucky Fried Chicken.

I can see the scene as if it were happening now. Three of us were in line. There was a man in front of me at the counter, I was behind him, with a third man behind me.

"I want a three piece chicken dinner," said the first man.

Often, in life, we view events through the framework of what we are currently immersed in. At Redeemer I was in the thick of preaching through the book of Revelation. I was thinking about Revelation all the time! I was reading and re-reading the text, looking at it in the Greek language, and studying the very best commentaries on the subject. The Greek title of this book is The Apocalypse. Apocalypto means "an uncovering," an "unveiling." Like someone who lifts the lid on a simmering pot of stew to see and smell the ingredients, in The Apocalypse God lifts the lid of what is to happen, and John the Apostle is allowed to look inside.

"I am sorry, sir," said the hostess at the KFC on the Indiana Tollway in the summer of 2015. "But we are out of chicken."

With those words the lid was lifted, and a fiery abyss appeared to my right. I heard the hoofbeats of Four Horsemen thundering to my left. The man at the counter did respond. He just walked away, like a floating, drifting planet that just lost its sun, or perhaps his faith.

Then I felt a tap on my shoulder, and a voice spoke to me. I did not turn around as the voice said, "Did you hear what I heard?" Speechless, I nodded my head up and down.

My expectation, when going to Kentucky Fried Chicken, is to be served chicken. Anything less than this is unacceptable. It is the same with God's presence.

When I am with the Church I need to encounter God. I need to experience God's presence. I am like Moses, who despaired at the thought of God withdrawing His presence from the people. Moses pleaded with God, saying,

“If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.  How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?” (Exodus 33:15-16)

Every Sunday morning at Redeemer people are there who are desperate for God. They long and hunger and pant, like deer in the Judean wilderness thirst for water, for an experiential encounter with God. Anything less than this is unacceptable. 

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Leaving Church Is Anti-Christian

Image result for johnpiippo photos
Amish youth in Ohio

Now and then I meet a person who says they follow Jesus but they will have nothing to do with the church because they see the church as so messed up. So they leave.

Let's call this what it is: absurd. Ridiculous. Heretical. Unloving. Hypocritical. Anti-Christian. Cowardly. Arrogant. Judgmental.

Jesus came to build his church, not leave it. Real Christianity is a community thing. It's the word "you" in the letters of Paul, which is nearly always plural.

If you see something wrong in your church community, then help it, for God's sake.

Real church forges Christlike character. This is part of how Jesus builds his church.

The main test of love is how you do community. How you live and get along with others. How you further the corporate movement. How you work together. How you serve one another.

One another.

Think of all the "one anothers" in the New Testament. There are fifty-nine of them. (For example, here.) Fifty-nine exhortations to do loving things to the others in your community. Leaving people is not one of them. Nowhere in Scripture does it say, "Love one another by getting mad at them and leaving them." When that happens the gates of Hades are prevailing.

What spiritual immaturity. What biblical ignorance to view church leaving as an option. And, since you, as a Jesus-follower, are the church, how irrational to think of leaving yourself.

New Testament scholar scot McKnight writes that
  • "Everything I learned about the Christian life I learned from my church."
  • "A local church determines what the Christian life looks like for the people in that church."
  • "We all learn the Christian life from how our local church shapes us."
  • "These three principles are a way of saying that local churches matter far more than we often know."
Yes, some individual churches are toxic. Some pastors and Christian leaders are controlling and abusive. Have nothing to do with them. Find an imperfect church where an imperfect person like yourself can serve and grow.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Square One

Aslan brings Edmund back to Square One
When a person loses their way we sometimes hear them say, “I’ve got to get back to “square one.” For them “square one” means something like: the place of origin; the place where it all began; the beginning place from where the journey began; and so on. Square one is: the beginning. Eugene Peterson, in Subversive Spirituality, uses the idea of “square one” to make some excellent spiritual points.

Peterson writes: “Square One is the place from which we begin learning how to live with Absence with the same ease with which we have come to live with Presence. The generic word that we use for this is Faith – in its classic and never yet improved upon definition, “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1).” (Subversive Spirituality, 18)

“The characteristic element of Square One is this: God said.” (Ib., 19) When we live at Square One “the absolutely indispensable word that we learn is: God.” (Ib.)

When we “return to Square One” we return not only to a realization that God or of God, but to a listening. Listening to what God says. “God said.” (23) Now… we’re at Square One! Everything meaningful, relevant, and authentic follows from this. At Square One it’s not about spiritual chatter or spiritual platitudes or talking “Christian-eze.” It is a being-addressed, a being-talked-to, by God. This is not about us talking or even bragging about our spiritual experiences and accomplishments, but rather about “listening to God call us, heal us, forgive us.” (27) Peterson writes:

“This is hard to get into our heads. We talk habitually to ourselves and about ourselves. We don’t listen. If we do listen to each other it is almost always with the purpose of getting something we can use in our turn. Much of our listening is a form of politeness, courteously waiting our turn to talk about ourselves. But in relation to God especially we must break the habit and let him speak to us. God not only is; God Says. Christian spirituality, in addition to being an attentive spirituality, is a listening spirituality.” (27)

Christian spirituality begins with God. God speaks. We listen. We respond. In obedience. To not listen to God is to not respond to him. One can’t respond to a voice they don’t even hear. “Non-listening obedience” is self-contradictory. Henri Nouwen has pointed out that the word “obedience,” from the Latin ob + audire, contains the idea of “listening” (audire, from which we get “audio”). An audiologist tests our hearing. Of course if we cannot hear then we cannot be expected to obey. Not to be in a continual listening-relationship to God is to be in perpetual dis-audire; dis-obedience. If that’s the case, it’s time to get back to Square One, the place of listening, the place where God Says.

I love how Peterson expands on this as he describes the causal efficacy of God Says. He writes:

“Something remarkable takes place when we return to Square One, to the place of adoration and listening – a terrific infusion of energy within us; a release of adrenaline in our souls which becomes obedience. The reason is that the word that God speaks to us is the kind of word that makes things happen. When God speaks it is not in order to give us information on the economy so that we will know how to do our financial planning. When God speaks it is not as a fortune teller, looking into our personal future and satisfying curiosity regarding our romantic prospects or the best horse to bet on. No, when God speaks it is not in explanation of all the things that we have not been able to find answers to from our parents or in books or from reading tea leaves. God’s Word is not, in essence, information or gossip or explanation. God’s Word makes things happen – he makes something happen in us. The imperative is a primary verb form in Holy Scripture: “Let there be light… Go… Come… Repent… Believe… Be still… Be healed… Get up… Ask… Love… Pray…” (28)

And the consequence, the intended result, of God Says? It is: obedience. “I will run in the way of your commandments, when you give me understanding.” (Ps. 119:32) Peterson says:

“Yes, run. Square One, with its attentiveness and listening, is that place of understanding – we know who we are and where we are… and who God is and where he is. At that place and in that condition, there is an inward gathering and concentration of energy that on signal from God’s imperative expresses itself in, precisely, obedience – running in the way of God’s commandments.” (28)

Get back to Square One. Stay there.

How to Save Your Failing Marriage

Our back yard

Linda and I are always meeting with couples whose marriages are failing. We consider it a privilege to do this. We also feel with these couples and at times agonize with them. We feel a holy desperation about the state of marriages in America today. In America Christian marriages are in no better shape than non-Christian marriages.

If your marriage is struggling to the point that you are wondering if you will make it, we suggest the following six things.

  1. Look at your own self. Be open to the idea that you are the problem, and not your spouse.  You are your marriage and the reason your marriage is failing. If you do not have this heart-insight then expect no more from your marriage than what it already is.   If you don't see yourself as 100% contributing to your marital failure your marriage will not be saved. Of course the same is true for your significant other. It will take two to do this. But you are not the one to give them this insight.
  2. You won't be able to help yourself. If you keep being "you" in your marriage your marriage will keep seeing the same results. Therefore, get help for your marriage. If you are a Jesus-follower your pastor can pray for you and love you as a couple but may not be skilled enough to counsel you. In Southeast Michigan the two places I recommend are here and here
  3. Get help for yourself even if your spouse won't. It's not unusual for only one partner to realize #s 1 and 2 above.  
  4. Trust your counselor. Be helpable. Be open and willing to look at your own marital failure. Your counselor will not be shocked by anything you say and will not condemn you.
  5. Trust God. Enter deeply into God's presence. Pray. Read Scripture and meditate on it. Read John chapters 14-15-16 and follow Jesus' advice.
  6. Know that your marriage can be saved. Linda and I have never met a marriage that we thought could not be rescued and transformed. This should give you hope! I have written some things about this here.

On Counseling Relationships


Linda and I have many people asking us for relationship or marital counsel. If they are part of our church family, we work with them. We don 't counsel people who don't come to Redeemer since, for us, coming to Redeemer is part of our counseling package. We want to get to know the couple, and have them begin to know us.

When we begin to meet with a couple we first work on understanding them. Only after we feel understanding has been achieved do we point them in a direction. Because they have asked us, we tell them what to do. Of course, since we are their counselors.

At this point it gets interesting, since sometimes one or both don't want to do what we are asking them to do. If that happens, then obviously we are no longer their counselors. The individual or couple wanted us to affirm what they want to do, rather than follow what we think they ought to do. At this point we part ways, wondering why they wanted us to counsel them in the first place.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Prayer and Boredom: The Antidote to Boredom is the Acquisition of Meaning

Will eternity with God be boring, with all that repetitive worship going on? I've had people ask me this, and wondered it myself. I think the answer is "No." We see this on the definition of "boredom."

"Boredom" is not: having little or nothing to do. It is not: doing the same thing over and over again. You can have a lot to do and not feel bored (like spending all day in your garden); you could engage in repetitive activity and not be bored (like, e.g., practicing your guitar because you love it).

"Boredom" is: finding no meaning in what you are doing. The meaning of "meaning" is: fitness within a coherent context. 

So the antidote to boredom is the acquisition of meaning.

Philosophy of Religion - Oral Exam #2

To: My MCCC Philosophy of Religion Students:

Last evening I passed around the sign-up sheet for the second oral exam.

The exam review is this coming Tuesday, Nov. 1. Students who have missed no more than once may attend the exam review.

The oral exams will be on Thursday, Nov. 3, and Tuesday, Nov. 8.

The exam questions are:

Mackie's Logical Argument from Evil Against the Existence of God

Buddhism's Idea that Evil Is an Illusion

Plantinga's Refutation of Mackie's Argument

Rowe's Evidential Argument from Evil Against the Existence of God

Wyckstra's Critique of Rowe's Argument

A Consumer Church Is an Antichrist Church

I was a Eugene Peterson fan before he translated the Bible into The Message. In his book The Jesus Way: Conversations on the Ways That Jesus Is the Way Peterson writes about the Real Jesus, and the distinction between the Real Jesus and the American Jesus. Peterson is correct about this. He is one of God's prophets for such a time as this. 

  • “The ways Jesus goes about loving and saving the world are personal…; …The ways employed in our North American culture are conspicuously impersonal.”
  • In churches today “the vocabulary of numbers is preferred over names…” A "number" is an impersonal abstract object; a person is flesh-blood-and spirit real.
  • “Jesus is an alternative to the dominant ways of the world, not a supplement to them.” The Real Jesus cannot and will not be used to build kingdoms alternative to his kingdom.
  • “The North American church at present is conspicuous for replacing the Jesus way with the American way.” Which is the Consumer Church.
  • In America “we are the world’s champion consumers, so why shouldn’t we have state-of-the-art consumer churches?… [T]his is the best and most effective way for gathering large and prosperous congregations. Americans lead the world in showing how to do it. There is only one thing wrong: this is not the way in which… we become less and Jesus becomes more.” The American consumer mentality runs so deep that many churches unreflectively replicate it.
  • Is this bad? Yes. How bad? Peterson writes: “A consumer church is an antichrist church.... We can’t gather a God-fearing, God-worshiping congregation by cultivating a consumer-pleasing, commodity-oriented congregation.”
  • “North American Christians are conspicuous for going along with whatever culture decides is charismatic, successful, influential - whatever gets things done, whatever can gather a crowd of followers - hardly noticing that these ways and means are at odds with the clearly marked way that Jesus walked and called us to follow.” To verify this simply read the four Gospels and use them as a lens through which to evaluate American churches. American churches are largely dictated to by American culture. Here is where "relevant" becomes a bad idea.
  • “Jesus’ metaphor, kingdom of God, defines the world in which we live. We live in a world where Christ is King. If Christ is King, everything, quite literally, everything, every thing and every one, has to be re-imagined, re-configured, re-oriented to a way of life that consists in an obedient following of Jesus.” (To re-orient our people at Redeemer I preached through the four Gospels, chronologically. This took us seven years.)
  • “The ways and means promoted and practiced in the world are a systematic attempt to substitute human sovereignty for God’s rule. The world as such has no interest in following the crucified King.”
  • “Once we start paying attention to Jesus’ ways, it doesn’t take us long to realize that following Jesus is radically different from following anyone else.” 
Follow Jesus, not our schizophrenic culture. Influence culture, via Jesus.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Language Is Constitutive of Reality - The Presence-Driven Church

Image result for john piippo photos
In my doctoral work on metaphor theory and my long interest in philosophy of language (Wittgenstein, J.L. Austin, John Searle, et. al.) I became familiar with the Sapir-Whorff hypothesis. The idea is that the language we use affects the ways we think and shapes our perception of the world. One's language changes one's view of reality.

Take, for example, the term "marriage equality." This term was virtually nonexistent a few years ago. Now, it is commonly heard, and it changes our way of looking at marriage. The term itself covertly redefines "marriage," without justification. It has become acceptable, thoughtlessly. This is the power of words as propaganda, the intent of which is to get people to see reality differently.

The Sapir-Whorff hypothesis is not only about how terms shape experience. The semantic structure of a language shapes or limits the ways in which we form conceptions of the world. More recently, Stanford neo-Whorffian cognitive scientist Lera Boroditsky has been arguing for the effects of language on cognitive processes. (She does not believe, as Noam Chomsky does, that all languages share the same deep structure of thought.) 

The semantic structures and the words we use frame how we see things. Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor, in his recent book The Language Animal: The Full Shape of the Human Linguistic Capacity, argues for language as constitutive of reality. He writes: This "gives us a picture of language as making possible new purposes, new levels of behavior, new meanings, and hence is not explicable within a framework picture of human life conceived without language." (The "framework picture" of language holds that words enframe or capture reality as it is, rather than constitute reality.)

Language, writes Taylor, is constitutive of the reality, is essential to its being the kind of reality that it is. Thus, the language we speak is important. To understand a culture's language is to understand how that culture sees and experiences reality.

This applies to church culture; e.g., the Entertainment Church. Words like "program" and "stage" are lifted from the theater and employed in church. "Church" then becomes an event that is timed and predetermined. The controlling metaphor is Sunday morning is a production, and the terms that fit within this language game are utilized. When the words and phrases generated by the controlling metaphor become the deep, embedded social imaginary of the people, the people become an audience, and say things like, "The service went too long," "I didn't like the music," "I did like the music," "I like his preaching," and so on.

In transitioning from an Entertainment Church to a Presence-Driven Church the language must change. The vocabulary of the Presence-Driven Church is different from the Entertainment Church.

Instead of the word “success,” speak words like “connectedness” and “obedience.” If “success” is used at all, redefine it in terms of connectedness and obedience, not in terms of numbers, size, and finances.

In the Presence-Driven Church use...

“disciple” rather than “decider,"

“influence” rather than “numbers” (of attendees) and “size” (of the church budget and building), 

“abiding” before you use “doing,” 

“being instruments of righteousness” rather than “getting tools for ministry,” 

“discernment,” not “decision-making” (“What is God saying to us?” rather than “What do we think we should do?” and “Let’s vote on this”),

“God-seeking” rather than “brainstorming”), 

“listening” before you use “speaking,” and “relationship” (with God), not “rules of order.” 

Words create. (See my post "God's Commands are Authoritative Words That Have Illocutionary Force.")

(To be further developed in my book Leading the Presence-Driven Church.)


Wednesday, October 26, 2016

"Passion Pursuit: Intimacy in Marriage"

Nicole Griffith's Profile Photo
Nicole Griffith


A group for married women, led by Nicole Griffith, will begin Wed., Nov. 3, 7 PM, at Redeemer in the Orange Room.
The group is called "Passion Pursuit: Intimacy in Marriage."
Child care will be provided.
This group will meet every other week.
Contact Nicole for more information - 734-344-8802.

Feinberg’s Defense of God Against Unattached Natural Evil

Myself, fighting evil in Monroe

Theistic philosopher Paul Feinberg, in The Many Faces ofEvil: Theological Systems and the Problems of Evil, writes helpfully on the problem of “unattached natural evil.” By this term he means: evils that cannot be defended via the Free Will Defense since such evils don’t have desires, intentions, etc.

Feinberg thinks there are four kinds of natural evils. They are:
1.       Evils attributable to human agency.

a.       Sometimes humans start fires that injure people; sometimes blindness is caused by something another person has done; some birth defects are caused by a mother who chose to use drugs during the pregnancy; and so on.

2.       Disorders caused by some genetic malfunction.

a.       Here nothing the parents did or did not do cause some genetic malfunction. A genetic defect may have been passed down through generations. Whatever the evil here, it doesn’t happen as a result of intentional wrongdoing on anyone’s part.

3.       Natural disasters produced by some process within nature but outside of human beings.

a.       Things such as bolts of lightning, earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, crop failures, and so on.

4.       Diseases.

a.       Caused by bacteria or viruses, etc.
Some natural evils are “attached” to some form of free agency. These kinds of evils reduce to the problem of moral evil. That would be category #1 – natural evils attributable to human agency. Natural evils 2-4 are “unattached natural evils.”

For those of us who are Christian theists, how can we explain or account for such evils? Feinberg gives us three aspects to handling them.

I.                    An appeal to the Christian doctrine of the fall and its results.

a.       People ultimately die because the human race fell into sin.

                                                               i.      In a fallen world people die.

                                                             ii.      If they die, they must die of something.

                                                            iii.      One cause of death is disease.

                                                           iv.      “People may also die in fires, floods, earthquakes, or famines. Had sin not entered the world, I take it that biblical teaching implies that natural processes wouldn’t function in ways that contribute to or cause death.” (p. 195)

                                                             v.      The ultimate reason for these “unattached natural evils” is that we live in a fallen world.

                                                           vi.      Feinberg believes this justifies God as allowing these evils to happen to us. “When these evils occur, it is because we live in a sinful, fallen world.” (196) When God hinders these evils from happening, it is an expression of his grace. God owes no one grace, only justice. Feinberg says, “Hence, I can’t see any reason why God is obligated to remove these natural evils in order to show that he is good.” (196)

                                                          vii.      There are many people who will not buy into this explanation because they are not Judeo-Christians. But all that is needed is an explanation that is possible, and that would remove any apparent inconsistency between God and these evils. An atheist, e.g., won’t believe this stuff about “the fall of man” and its effect on the natural order. They don’t share our metanarrative.  Of course not. But for those of us who accept the theistic metanarrative, we have an answer to the problem of unattached natural evil. And since we do not believe in the atheistic narrative we do not hold to core atheistic belief such as, e.g., All that is real is only material (philosophical naturalism), Morality does not exist (Joel Marks, Nietzsche, et. al), and so on. All intra-metanarratival beliefs look weird from the outside.

b.      Because of the fall there are negative consequences for the natural order. For example, humanity must work harder to grow crops, because "thorns and thistles" infest the land. (Genesis 3:17-19)

c.       The entire creation was subjected to futility and waits for the time when it will be set free from its slavery to corruption. (Rom. 8:18-22)

II.                  God created a world which is run by various natural processes that fit the creatures God placed in it.

a.       “Sometimes these processes produce unattached natural evils, so perhaps a way to get rid of these evils is for God to change natural processes. (196)

b.      While this might sound good, “there are serious objections to it… There is no guarantee that new processes would be incapable of going awry and producing natural evils that are just as bad as or worse than those we already have.”

c.       “It is foolish to jettison processes that work well most of the time for the sake of the relatively few times they malfunction and result in evil, especially when we have no idea of what we might get in their place.” (197)

d.      For example, since there is rain in our world, there can be too much rain: floods result and crop failures can stem from those floods. Feinberg writes: “God can get rid of these problems by ridding our world of these natural processes, but why would we want that? We do need rain, sunshine, and the like to survive in our world. Most of the time when there is rain, wind, sunshine, etc., it isn’t harmful. Moreover, not even every earthquake or flood is harmful to us or to other life forms. So why should we expect God to remove these processes altogether? We need them to sustain life as we know it, and there is no guarantee that life as we know it could survive with different natural processes.” (197)

e.      Take, e.g., bacteria. Sometimes they cause disease. But often they do not, and often they perform helpful functions, such as breaking down ingested food so that it can be digested. Feinberg, following Bruce Reichenbach, suggests that were God to eliminate bacteria, the world would have to run according to different natural laws. “Therefore, to prevent natural evils from affecting man, man himself would have to be significantly changed, such that he would be no longer a sentient creature of nature.” (198)

f.        “In short, to rid the world of the negative results that can accrue from these natural phenomena we must also forego the benefits they bring. Hence, it isn’t wise to request their removal, especially when we have no idea of what might replace them.”

g.       Therefore, “I conclude that unattached natural evils are also justified in that they stem from natural processes which most of the time don’t produce natural evils and which are necessary to life as we know it. In a fallen world, it is possible for these processes to malfunction, and empirically, we know that they occasionally do. Still, to remove these processes from the world would remove life as we know it without any guarantee that what would replace these processes would avoid natural evil. Our world, then, is a good world, because it includes natural processes which make life for human beings possible.” (199)

III.                It is possible that God intervenes to prevent harm from unattached natural evils more than we suspect.

a.       Feinberg realizes that he can’t prove this. But it is not impossible that God’s miraculous intervention keeps more of these evils from happening than do happen. “Just because we don’t see the miracle doesn’t mean God isn’t working to preserve us. There is no reason that his intervention (miraculous or otherwise) must be observable in order for it to be actual, anyway.” (200)

b.      If a critic complains that it looks like God did not intervene and stop a natural evil from happening, the critic “shouldn’t suppose that he has raised a devastating blow to theism when he asks why God hasn’t intervened.” (200)

c.       Again, an atheist would object to this. But of course, since the atheist does not think God exists. Feinberg writes, “I note, however, that none of these objections points out an internal inconsistency in my theology. They are all objections on grounds external to the system. Moreover, many of these objections amount to a complaint that God didn’t make a better world than ours.” (204)

I’m now going to quote Feinberg’s entire conclusion. He writes:
"In sum, when addressing natural evils, one must first divide between those that result from moral evil and those that are unattached to specific sinful acts that produce them. The former evils should be handled by one’s answer to the logical problem of moral evil. As for unattached natural evils, they result from living in a fallen world. God could have avoided our disobedience only by creating subhumans or superhumans, and neither is what he wanted. Moreover, unattached evils result from malfunctioning natural processes, but those processes function without harming anyone most of the time, and they are necessary for the survival of the creatures God created to populate our world. 
In addition, God wants his human creatures to be able to exercise freedom in order to function in this world. But the exercise of freedom requires a natural order that is predictable. Hence, God forgoes performing a miracle on some occasions in order to maintain that regularity. For all we know, on many occasions he may intervene to keep more of these evils from occurring. Since these evils stem from living in a fallen world, a world for which all of us are ultimately responsible, God isn’t obligated to remove any of them by miracle or otherwise. His preservation of us from more maladies is solely a function of his grace.
Complaining that this defense doesn’t cover every instance of unattached natural evil fails to see that the problem of unattached natural evils is about those in general. Asking for further explanation about why this evil happens to one person and not another changes the discussion to the religious problem of evil. Finally, whether dealing with natural evils that result from moral evil or with unattached natural evils, the defenses offered render my theology internally consistent and thereby solve its problems of natural evil.” (203-204)

The Meaning of "Presence-Driven" Church

Image result for johnpiippo presence
Monroe County
(I had some thoughts on the P-DC over the weekend, which are helping me clarify things, hopefully. To be further developed...)

New Testament scholar Gordon Fee has made a case for what he calls "the presence motif" as the core thematic river that runs through the Christian theistic Grand Narrative. From Genesis to Revelation, the point of the whole thing is God and his empowering presence. (See, e.g., Fee, God's Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul.) 

Fee defines "Holy Spirit" as "God's Empowering Presence." I like this. But God's presence is this and more. God's presence is his all-encompassing Trinitarian being; viz., the three-in-oneness of Father, Son, and Spirit. Wherever God manifests himself, he is there in his totality. When God is among us, the Father does not leave the Son and the Spirit in heaven.

Because of this, what I am calling a Presence-Driven Church is vaster than a Spirit-led Church. "Spirit-led" is subsumed under "Presence of God." "Spirit-led Church" is necessary but insufficient to describe "Presence-Driven Church." (Like having three sides is necessary but insufficient in describing a triangle. That's just an explanatory analogy. In no way do I think a triangle is a good analogy for the Trinity.)

By "Presence-Driven Church" I mean a community of Jesus-followers whose doing is "driven" by God, presently. This involves all of God - Father, Son, Spirit. The Presence-Driven Church finds its "doings," its raison d'etre, in its relational connectedness with the Trinitarian being of God. Which includes, of course, the power of the Holy Spirit.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Converts to Unbelief Always Tell Subtraction Stories Out of Religious Immaturity

Monroe County

One of my favorite writers is theistic philosopher James K.A. Smith (Calvin College). Having read philosopher Charles Taylor's epic A Secular Age, Smith's book is a great follow-up: How (Not) To Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor

Taylor has a nice take on persons who "deconvert" from Christianity to atheism because of "science." These converts to unbelief "always tell subtraction stories," and the faith they have converted from "has usually been immature." For Taylor the subtraction story of the deconverted is that one becomes "rational" and "secular" by subtracting "religion" and "superstition." (How very irrational.)This rings true in my experience of having deconverted students in my philosophy classes.

Smith writes: "If someone tells you that he or she has converted to unbelief because of science, don't believe them." I don't. Ever. Why not?

What usually captures the person is not scientific evidence per se, but the form of science. Smith writes: “Even where the conclusions of science seem to be doing the work of conversion, it is very often not the detailed findings so much as the form” (Taylor, p. 362). 

Indeed, “the appeal of scientific materialism is not so much the cogency of its detailed findings as that of the underlying epistemological stance, and that for ethical reasons. It is seen as the stance of maturity, of courage, of manliness, over against childish fears and sentimentality” (Taylor, p. 365)." (Smith, Kindle Locations 1673-1677)

The convert to atheism wants to "give the impression that it was the scientific evidence that was doing the work." But not so. "Converts to unbelief always tell subtraction stories." (Ib., 1677-1678) "Subtraction stories explain that "secular" is the subtraction of religious belief.

As I meet deconverted "freethinkers" and ask them what they left behind, they always describe something like a fundamentalist "Christianity" (hence modernist, because there's no one more modernist than a fundamentalist) that is near-completely anachronistic and, henc,e hermeneutically false. Smith writes:

"[T]he belief such persons have converted from has usually been an immature, Sunday -schoolish faith that could be easily toppled. So while such converts to unbelief tell themselves stories about “growing up” and “facing reality” — and thus paint belief as essentially immature and childish — their “testimony” betrays the simplistic shape of the faith they’ve abandoned. “If our faith has remained at the stage of the immature images, then the story that materialism equals maturity can seem plausible” (p. 365). But in fact, their conversion to unbelief was also a conversion to a new faith: “faith in science’s ability” (p. 366)." (Smith, Kindle Locations 1679-1684)

Persons who convert to atheism "because of science" are not so much convinced by data and reason but are more moved by the form of the story that comes with it; viz., rationality = maturity. 

Taylor and Smith suggest that our response to unbelief "is not to have an argument about the data or “evidences” but rather to offer an alternative story that offers a more robust, complex understanding of the Christian faith. The goal of such witness would not be the minimal establishment of some vague theism but the invitation to historic, sacramental Christianity." (Ib., Kindle Locations 1687-1689)

The Pursuit of Happiness Is Making Us Miserable

Trees in my backyard
Happiness is a lousy goal but a wonderful byproduct.

American are so anxious, reasons British author Ruth Whippman, because they are pursuing happiness. See Whippman's America the Anxious: How the Pursuit of Happiness Is Creating a Nation of Nervous Wrecks, and a review in the nytimes of her book, "Why Are Americans So Anxious?

The problem with our pursuit of happiness is that it is making us miserable. Studies by psychologists at the University of California, Berkeley, show that "paradoxically, the more people valued and were encouraged to value happiness as a separate life goal, the less happy they were." (nytimes)

I agree, as I have written elsewhere.

What to do about this? My answer, and what I have been doing for forty-six years: Pursue Christ, and experience blessedness (Matthew 5:1-12)

My new book is Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

I'm now writing my book Leading the Presence-Driven Church