Thursday, November 30, 2017

Entitlement People Find Eternal Separation From God Reprehensible

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My office

When I preached out of Revelation 14:6-13 - on judgment and eternal separation from God - I shared one reason people (even some Christians) find these verses difficult and unfair on behalf of God: viz., entitlement.

John Townsend, in The Entitlement Cure, defines "entitlement" as:  

"The belief that I am exempt from responsibility and I am owed special treatment. Entitlement is: The man who thinks he is above all the rules. The woman who feels mistreated and needs others to make it up to her.”  (p. 19).

The characteristics of entitlement are:

1.   An attitude of being special.

2.   An attitude of being owed, of deserving something.

3.   A refusal to accept responsibility.

4.   A denial of one’s impact on others.

The less entitlement in a person, the more a cry for God’s mercy and grace.

The less entitlement, the more compassion. The more entitlement, the more the attitude "I'm deserving, others are undeserving."

The less entitlement, the more like the tax collector in Luke 18:11 who cried out, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”

The less emtitlement, the more one understands sin, its reality, and its consequences. 

Townsend writes: “Whatever the cause of the sense of entitlement, the end result is that the person believes that he or she doesn’t have to play by the rules of responsibility, ownership, and commitment.” (21)

A person with "global entitlement" will find reprehensible any idea of a God who would allow people to suffer consequences of eternal separation from him. 

Is sin a real human condition? I like what G.K. Chesterton says: "Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology that can really be proved."

The truth is that sin separates. Always. Sin separates us from other people, divides our inner self, and creates a relational breach between us and God. Such are the inexorable consequences of sin (or whatever word you want to use). The globally entitled person cannot see this. 


Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Morality Needs God


(This Sunday at Redeemer [12/3/17] I am preaching on where we get morality from, and how we come to know right and wrong. On Tuesday, Dec. 5, on Facebook Live, 9-10 EST, I'm presenting the Moral Argument for God's Existence.)

One Isis horror story goes like this. Isis members raped a mother in front of her children. She was crying and screaming while being raped. The one of the Isis persons beheaded her baby in front of her and placed the baby on her lap.

Call this example X. Write X into a moral claim: X is wrong.

Is X objectively wrong? If so, then the claim X is wrong is true for everyone, just as I'm now typing these words is true for everyone. 

Many believe that if God does not exist, then there are no objective moral values. On atheism X is wrong is not an objective claim; viz., it is not true for everyone. 

It's not hard to find intellectual atheists who believe that God and objective morality stand or fall together. That is, who believe that if God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist. Here are some examples.

Jean-Paul Sartre: “It [is] very distressing that God does not exist, because all possibility of finding values in a heaven of ideas disappears along with Him.” (Sartre, Existentialism and Human Emotion, 22)

Friedrich Nietzsche: “There are altogether no moral facts”; indeed, morality “has truth only if God is the truth— it stands or falls with faith in God.” (Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols and the Antichrist, 55, 70)

Bertrand Russell rejected moral realism and retained the depressing view that humanity with all its achievements is nothing “but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms”; so we must safely build our lives on “the firm foundation of unyielding despair.” (Russell, "A Free Man's Worship," in Mysticism and Logic and Other Essays, 41)

J. L. Mackie: “Moral properties constitute so odd a cluster of properties and relations that they are most unlikely to have arisen in the ordinary course of events without an all-powerful all-powerful god to create them.” (Mackie, The Miracle of Theism, 115)

Richard Dawkins concludes that a universe of “just electrons and selfish genes” would mean “there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.” (Dawkins, River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life, 132-133)

Because real atheism is philosophical naturalism, and nature (matter) is valueless, "why think that value would emerge from valuelessness?" (Paul Copan, "Ethics Needs God," in Debating Christian Theism, 86)

The atheist who, e.g., accuses Christians of being "intellectually dishonest," tacitly assumes the existence of God, without which his moral accusation is logically incoherent. Such an "atheist" is precisely the despicable, intellectually dishonest "village atheist" Nietzsche writes about. 

God Is the Plan (The Presence-Driven Church)

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Dundee, Michigan
In a presence-driven church the people lead by being led. God leads us. And that is enough.

This means we do not need to know where we are going. This is what faith is. It is Abraham, who was called to a place where he would receive an inheritance. He obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. (Hebrews 11:8

Richard Foster says our choice is either to trust our plans with all our heart, or trust our God. "Not only do the best-laid plans fall to pieces, but often enough God prompts us to act without any plans in place and with no guarantee that everything will come together as it should." (Foster, Year with God: Living Out the Spiritual Disciplines, Kindle Locations 501-503. Just $1.99 on Kindle!)

As the Hebrews were being pursued by the Egyptians, they could only trust that God was going to do sometjhing. Foster writes:

"Suppose they had insisted that, before they left Egypt, scouts sent in advance report back that the route was clear, the Red Sea parted and waiting? They would have remained slaves. The water was only parted once they had acted in faith and followed God. They could not count on any plans, because God gave them none. He only gave them himself. God was the plan." (Ib., Kindle Locations 504-507)

What is the plan? We will place our trust in God.

William Lane Craig's Moral Argument for God's Existence

Monroe County (MI)
For my MCCC Philosophy of Religion students.

Craig's essay is: The Indispensability of Theological Meta-Ethical Foundations for Morality.

First, state the argument.

P1 – If there is no God then objective moral values and duties do not exist.
P2 – Objective moral values and duties exist.
C – Therefore, God exists.
Second, explain how Craig defends premise 1 (P1).

- Many atheists affirm P1.

- If there's no moral lawgiver, then we're just making moral values and duties up. Such things are only subjective. If they are only subjective, then they are not binding.

Third, explain how Craig defends premise 2 (P2).

- Objective moral values are properly basic beliefs.

- Moral duties logically imply that there is someone to whom we are morally responsible.

How does Craig defend premise 1? 

Premise 1 (P1) of William Lane Craig's Metaethical Argument for God's existence is: If God does not exist, then objective moral values and duties do not exist.

I explain this in my philosophy of religion classes using this example.

Imagine you are a student in a class where the professor is never seen. Every day you come to class and assignments are written on the board, such as: "Do problems 1-50 on p. 100." One day you ask, "Who is teaching this class?" Someone replies: "No one. This class does not have a teacher." At that point you respond: "Then I see no reason why I have to do these problems."

Analogically, if there is no God who issues moral commands, then moral values are only invented by "the students." Thus they are not binding on us. As Ivan Karamazov never said, "If there is no God, then everything is permitted." Craig cites ethicist Richard Taylor:

"A duty is something that is owed . . . . But something can be owed only to some person or persons. There can be no such thing as duty in isolation . . . . The idea of political or legal obligation is clear enough . . . . Similarly, the idea of an obligation higher than this, and referred to as moral obligation, is clear enough, provided reference to some lawmaker higher . . . . than those of the state is understood. In other words, our moral obligations can . . . be understood as those that are imposed by God. This does give a clear sense to the claim that our moral obligations are more binding upon us than our political obligations . . . . But what if this higher-than-human lawgiver is no longer taken into account? Does the concept of a moral obligation . . . still make sense? . . . . the concept of moral obligation [is] unintelligible apart form the idea of God. The words remain, but their meaning is gone."

Conversely, if God exists, then God’s commands make things right and wrong. This view is called Divine Command Theory.

For an introduction to Alston's, Adams's, and Quinn's reasonings that Divine Command Theory does not fall by the sword of Plato's Euthyphro Dilemma, see this article in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

How does Craig defend premise 2?

NOTE HERE that evolutionary explanations claiming to explain how moral reasoning evolved do not affect Craig's argument, and if intended to they commit the genetic fallacy.

“Objective moral value” defined: a moral value that is valid independently of our apprehension of it. An OMV says is something that is good or evil independently of whether any human being believes it to be so.

• A moral value is about whether something is good or bad.
o This has to do with the worth of something.
• A moral duty is whether something is right or wrong.
o This has to do with the obligatoriness of something.
o Right and wrong are not the same as good and bad. Right and wrong have to do with moral obligation, what I ought or ought not to do.

“Objective”: to say that something is objective is to say that it is independent of what people say or perceive.

“Subjective”: to say that something is subjective is to say that it is not objective; that is, it is dependent on what human persons think or perceive.

If moral values are only subjective, then they function like personal tastes, such as, e.g.: I like Coke better than Pepsi.

If moral values are only subjective, then I have no moral obligation or duty to follow them.

Is P2 true? Do objective moral values exist?

I think so, for the following reasons.

Moral values are “properly basic.” Like, e.g., sense experience, or the laws of logic.

A “properly basic belief” is one that we assume to be true even though we cannot evidentially prove it to be so. (This is anti-W.K. Clifford stuff.)

We assume, for example, sense experience to be veridical (true). We cannot evidentially “prove” it to be so. Because that would require using our sense experience to “prove” its own veridicality.

Likewise we assume, e.g., modus ponens to be logical. (“If P, therefore Q. P. Therefore Q.”) We can’t prove it to be so by using logic, since that would require we trust in logic to “prove” that we can trust in logic. The claim here is that we are to view our apprehension of objective moral values in just this way, and that it is reasonable to do so.

To further explain, we are wise to assume that our senses, our powers of reasoning (Plantinga calls this “our belief-forming mechanisms), and our most fundamental moral instincts are not systematically deceiving us. They are all to be trusted in the absence of a defeater. Even the most radical skeptic trusts in his sense experience and in logical reasoning. Thus statements like “I perceive a world external to myself” and “1+1=2” are “properly basic.” While it’s certainly true that we can misperceive things and make logical mistakes, such mistakes hardly call into question the general reliability of our sense or reasoning powers; indeed, they presuppose it. The ability to detect error presumes an awareness of truth.

Just as we can be mistaken re. our senses and our reasoning, so also we can by mistaken re. the making of moral judgments. In spite of this there still are certain moral truths that we can’t not know unless we suppress our conscience or engage in self-deception. We possess an inbuilt “yuck factor” – basic moral intuitions about the wrongness of torturing babies for fun, of raping, murdering, or abusing children. We can also recognize the virtue of kindness or selflessness.

Today, e.g., President Obama referred to the bombing in Boston as an act of "evil." That such an act is evil implies "for everyone." The statement bombing innocent people is evil is objectively true.

But what about the person or persons who did this evil act? What about people who can’t tell the moral difference between Mother Teresa and Joseph Stalin? Craig's (and others') answer is: Those not recognizing such truths as properly basic are simply wrong and morally dysfunctional, like someone who believes that “1+1=3.” Note: we imprison persons who like to rape little girls.

Are moral values, like sense experience and logical reasoning, properly basic? Is our moral awareness epistemically foundational and “bedrock?” Even some atheists think so. Atheist David O. Brink states: “Our commitment to the objectivity of ethics is a deep one.” Atheist Kai Neilsen writes:

“It is more reasonable to believe such elemental things [as wife-beating and child abuse] to be evil than to believe any skeptical theory that tells us we cannot know or reasonably believe any of these things to be evil… I firmly believe that this is bedrock and right and that anyone who does not believe it cannot have probed deeply enough into the grounds of his moral beliefs.”

If this is true, then basic moral beliefs are “discovered,” not “invented.” Just as a person who cannot understand the logic of a disjunctive syllogism is logically dysfunctional, and just as a person who is skeptical that they are now eating breakfast when they are, so also are persons morally dysfunctional who cannot see that torturing and raping little girls for fun is objectively wrong.

In my experience the person who protests against this usually does so because they think we have not discovered but invented moral values. The common explanation of the inventing of moral values is that of evolutionary theory. For example, atheist Michael Ruse states that “morality” has evolved as an aid to survival and allows our species to perpetuate itself? What can we say about this?

• At its worst, this kind of reasoning is an example of the genetic fallacy.
• At its best it only proves that our subjective perception of objective moral values has evolved.
• Craig – “If moral values are gradually discovered, not invented, then our gradual, fallible apprehension of the moral realm no more undermines the objective reality of that realm than our gradual, fallible perception of the physical world undermines the objectivity of that realm.”
• Many of us think we do apprehend objective moral values.
• Even Ruse writes: “The man who says that it is morally acceptable to rape little children is just as mistaken as the man who says, 2+2=5.” (Ib., 92)

What if there are objective moral values, and we evolved, without God guiding the process, to apprehend these moral values? Craig says that such an idea is “fantastically improbable.” The odds of blind evolutionary processes evolving creatures that perceive objective moral values is hard to believe. It is more reasonable to believe we are created by God to apprehend moral values.”

Atheist Daniel Dennett has written that, if there is no God and evolutionary naturalism is true, ethical decision-making “holds out scant hope of our ever discovering a formula or an algorithm for doing right.” (Copan, 145)

Someone who freaks out when I say that a person who can’t see that torturing and raping little girls for fun is morally wrong does so, I think, because they view such acts as personally invented subjective preferences, such as “I like Pepsi.” It would be arrogant of me to say that someone who likes Pepsi more than Coke is wrong. Surely the affinity for Pepsi is a subjective taste and not some objective truth.

But if the statement Torturing and raping little girls for fun is morally wrong is only someone’s subjective preference, then it is absurd to accuse people who disagree with this and engage in raping and torturing little girls for fun.

I also think it is odd, if not logically absurd, for someone to think I should not call someone “morally wrong and dysfunctional” if they think moral values are only subjective.

As for me, when I meet a person who thinks torturing and raping are only subjective preferences, I won’t let them near my kids. Philosopher Paul Copan puts it this way: “Although basic moral principles – to be kind, selfless, and compassionate; to avoid torturing for fun, raping, or taking innocent human life – are accessible and knowable to morally sensitive human beings, some improperly functioning individuals may be self-deceived or hard-hearted sophists.” (144)

Copan says: “Thus, we should reasonably believe what is apparent or obvious to us unless there are overriding reasons to dismiss it – a belief that applies to our sense perception, our reasoning faculty, and our moral intuitions/perceptions.” (144) Just as we perceive a world external to us, and intuit certain laws of logic that are properly basic, so also we apprehend certain moral truths to be objective.

Finally, philosopher Thomas Reid “claimed he did not know by what reasoning – demonstrative or probable – he could convince the epistemic or moral skeptic.” (Copan, 144)


Paul Copan, “God, Naturalism, and the Foundations of Morality.” (In The Future of Atheism: Alister McGrath and Daniel Dennett in Dialogue, 141-161)

William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith; “The Indispensability of Theological Metaethical Foundations for the Existence of God”

William Lane Craig & Paul Copan on: Objective Moral Values Exist

(Some lecture notes for my Philosophy of Religion class)

William Lane Craig’s metaethical argument for the existence of God is:

1) If God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist.
2) Objective moral values (OMVs) do exist.
3) Therefore God exists.

How can we argue for the truth of the second premise?

How do we know there are OMVs?

We recognize them. Like we recognize (1) “The lights in this room are on.”

The truth or falsity of (1) is objective, not subjective.

Consider (2) Racism is wrong. Is (2) true or false? The correct answer is: true.

But how do we know this?

Philosophers like Craig and Paul Copan (as well as Alvin Plantinga and William P. Alson) say that we just recognize that (2) is wrong, in the same we that we recognize the truth or falsity of (1).

So, moral values are apprehended. Like we apprehend, by sense experience, that the lights are either on or off. Moral values function like Plantingian properly basic beliefs.

Objection: you can’t prove that (2) is right.

This argument does not claim to indubitably prove this.

There are very few things in this life about which we can be absolutely (deductively) certain.

E.g., Craig says, “How do you know you’re not just a body lying in the Matrix and that all you see and experience is an illusory, virtual reality?” (All Craig quotes from "How Can God Be the Ground of Morality?")

- Yes, it’s possible that is true.

- But I have no good reason to doubt what I see.

- “The mere possibility provides no warrant for denying what I clearly grasp.” (Craig)

So, while I cannot deductively prove that (2) is right, I have no good reason to doubt that (2) is right.

Objection: moral values differ from culture to culture.

This is partially true. Not entirely. Because nearly all cultures believe, e.g., (3): Stealing is wrong.

The truth that many moral values differ from culture to culture does not cause us to believe moral values are not objective. Just as, should we find a culture that believes the earth is flat, we should not thereby reject the objective truth that the earth is round.

What if some culture believes (2) is wrong?

- The answer is: that culture is wrong. The reason we can say “racism is wrong” and “racists are wrong” is because “the ability to detect error presupposes an awareness of truth.” (Paul Copan, “God, Naturalism, and the Foundations of Morality,” in The Future of Atheism; Alister McGrath and Daniel Dennett in Dialogue, 142. Note: Copan's essay is one of the best I have ever read on this subject. He's an excellent writer and a very good thinker.)

- Copan writes: “Humans may misperceive or make logical missteps. However, such mistakes hardly call into question the general reliability of our sense or reasoning powers; indeed, they presuppose it.” (142)

Copan: “We possess an in-built “yuck factor” - basic moral intuitions about the wrongness of torturing babies for fun, of raping, murdering, or abusing children. We can also recognize the virtue of kindness or selflessness, the obligation to treat others as we would want to be treated, and the moral difference between Mother Teresa and Josef Stalin. Those not recognizing such truths as properly basic are simply wrong and morally dysfunctional.” (143)

Atheist Kai Neilsen writes: “It is more reasonable to believe such elemental things as [wife-beating and child abuse] to be evil than to believe any skeptical theory that tells us we cannot know or reasonably believe any of these things to be evil… I firmly believe that this is bedrock and right and that anyone who does not believe it cannot have probed deeply enough into the grounds of his moral beliefs.” (in Copan, 143)

Which means: basic moral principles are discovered, not invented.

We would expect this sort of thing if God exists. We would not expect this sort of thing “if humans have emerged from valueless, mindless processes.” (Copan, 143)

Objection: evolution has programmed us to believe in certain values. Therefore those values are not objective.

- This commits an informal logical fallacy - the genetic fallacy.

- Craig says it’s “at worst a textbook example of the genetic fallacy and at best only proves that our subjective perception of OMVs has evolved.”

- The “genetic fallacy”: when someone tries to invalidate a view by explaining how that view originated or came to be held.

- Such as: “You only believe in democracy because you were raised in a democratic society.”

- Compare: “You believe the earth is round because you were born in a scientific age.”

Objection: But if evolution is true why should I think moral values are objective?

- Answer: because you clearly apprehend them. Evolutionary theory gives you a reason to doubt the objectivity of moral values ONLY IF naturalism (atheism) is true.

- This objection “begs the question” (an informal logical fallacy) because it presupposes that naturalism is true.

- Craig agrees that, if naturalism is true (if there is no God), then our moral experience is illusory. That, precisely, is Craig’s first premise in his metaethical argument for God’s existence.

Which is: If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.

If God does not exist then a moral universe is far less likely.

But, as Copan writes, If humans are God’s image-bearers, then it’s not surprising that they are capable of recognizing or knowing the same sorts of moral values – whether theists or not. (142)


Rawls' Rejection of Utilitarianism

I found this article on John Rawls' interesting, especially regarding his attack on utilitarianism.

The pre-Rawls preference was utilitarianism, which seeks to answer the question: how can we maximize people's preferences. How can we achieve the most satisfaction possible for everyone. But utilitarian theory "has some odd consequences." Why, e.g., is rape "wrong?" The article states: "A utilitarian would have to answer that the pain to the victim outweighs the pleasure to the rapist. Surely, though, this is not why rape is wrong; the pleasure the rapist gets shouldn’t be counted at all, and the whole thing sounds ridiculous. (By the way, Judge Richard Posner, who might be called Jeremy Bentham redivivus, accepts just this view of rape in his Sex and Reason.)"

Consider this. Executing a few Danish cartoonists may bring pleasure to a Muslim mob, giving them pleasure. Doing this would achieve greater satisfaction for a greater number of people. "A utilitarian would have to endorse the execution." Herein lies the problem. "As Rawls says, “there is a sense in which classical utilitarianism fails to take seriously the distinction between persons.”"
Rawls, thus, rejects utilitarianism, and puts forth his own theory in his famous book A Theory of Justice. The rest of this essay presents Rawls' theory and objections to it.

Does utilitarianism give us a metaethical foundation for objective moral values? I dont think so, for a number of reasons. Here's one post I made, where Rawls rejects utilitarianism.

And one more, related to this discussion...

The Return of Goodness; The Return of God

Edward Skidelsky has written an intelligent essay on virtue ethics - "The Return of Goodness." It's a call for an ethic based on goodness rather than a utilitarian ethic. For example, utilitarian philosopher John Stuart Mill wrote: "Neither one person, nor any number of persons," declared John Stuart Mill, the originator of this principle, "is warranted in saying to another human creature of ripe years, that he shall not do with his life for his own benefit what he chooses to do with it." In other words, do what you want as long as you don't hurt someone else.

"Mill's principle has come to shape western public doctrine. It lies behind the social legislation of the 1960s and the anti-discriminatory legislation of the past four decades. Neither left nor right dares reject it openly. Yet in historical terms, it is an anomaly, a departure from the common sense of our species." So "a man who, having fulfilled his obligations to others, settles down with a six-pack to watch porn on television all day may be foolish, disgusting, vulgar and so forth, but he is not strictly speaking immoral. For he is, as the saying goes, "within his rights.""

"Virtue" has no place in this philosophy of morality. So? Skidelsky, who also cites the support of Richard Reeves, suggests that our real problems in our nation are not economic, but moral. We lack the moral resources to better our lot in life.

Virtue ethics argues that some choices really are better than others. There is such a thing as "goodness." "Goodness" sounds like it's an objective moral value, contra utilitarian subjectivism. Skidelsky thinks we can agree to this without belief in God. He says "it is a religion - a religion without God."

Can we be good without God? Yes, I think we can. Does goodness make any sense without God? No, I don't think so. We need a metaphyscial foundation to be able to claim that there is such a thing as "goodness." It is precisely the loss of God that led atheistic philosophers to try to find an ethical theory without God. Hence utilitarianism. So it seems our real problems are not essentially moral, but religious.

Re. Craig, he considers, unsurprisingly, utilitarianism. See, for starters, Craig and Moreland, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Pastors Are Unnecessary in Three Ways


I am a pastor. I am thankful God called me to this. It is instructive to understand what I am not called to; viz., I am not called to be a custodian of the prevailing culture.

Pastors, writes 
Eugene Peterson, are "countercultural servants of Jesus Christ." He writes: "We want to be free of the Egyptian slavery to the culture and free to serve our wilderness world in Jesus' name." (Peterson and Dawn, The Unnecessary Pastor: Rediscovering the Call, Kindle Location 70)

Pastors, writes Peterson, are "unnecessary," in three ways.

1. "We are unnecessary to what the culture presumes is important: as paragons of goodness and niceness." (Ib.)

There's a man in my community who is a leader. He's not a follower of Jesus. Whenever he sees me he calls me "Reverend." I have asked him not to do this. "Just call me John," I say. He has a hard time complying with my request.

When he calls me this he reduces me to something kindly and benevolent. He puts me in a box. He doesn't understand that, while kindness and niceness can be good, I am called to subvert and overthrow his thoughtless secularism. He doesn't realize it, but I don't fit into his happy world. Or, he does realize it, sees me as a threat, and imprisons me as the benign "Reverend." Or, he mindlessly accepts the label which insulates him from me. 

As a pastor my world is about the realities of life and death, freedom and bondage, meaningfulness and meaninglessness, love and hate, hope and despair. My calling is to reality, not some role culture assigns to me.

2. "We are... unnecessary to what we ourselves feel is essential: as the linchpin holding a congregation together." (Ib.)

When I assign pastors to pray I request they leave their cell phones behind, because God wants to break them of the illusion of their indispensability. It is important for them to grasp the fact that none of us are indispensable. God doesn't need us. God loves us, and wants to use us for his kingdom's sake. But his redemptive activity does not rise or fall with us.

Peterson writes: "We have important work to do, but if we don't do it God can always find someone else - and probably not a pastor."

3. "We are unnecessary to what congregations insist that we must do and be: as the experts who help them stay ahead of the competition."

Peterson writes:

Congregations "want pastors who lead. They want pastors the way the Israelites wanted a king - to make hash of the Philistines. Congregations get their ideas of what makes a pastor from the culture, not from the Scriptures: they want a winner; they want their needs met; they want to be part of something zesty and glamorous...

With hardly an exception they don't want pastors at all - they want managers of their religious company. They want a pastor they can follow so they won't have to bother with following Jesus anymore." 

My fellow pastors, let us embrace the counterculture, the alternative kingdom of Jesus.

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

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Why People Doubt Christianity, and What It Will Take for Them to Believe

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Lake Michigan sunset
I was in Billings, Montana, last Sunday evening speaking on healing. My colleagues from Holy Spirit Renewal Ministries were there. One of them, Pastor Ross Lieuallen, hosted the event at his church.

After I preached on healing, I prayed for a woman who said she had multiple physical problems. She was healed in multiple physical, emotional, and spiritual ways. I am going to share her story next Sunday morning at Redeemer, and what her healing kick-started that night.

Stories like this will be especially important for the Church in the days ahead. I share why, in my coming book Leading the Presence-Driven Church (December 2017). 

The lack of such experiences in churches is the number one reason people doubt the truth of Christianity. J. P. Moreland writes:

"If you had to guess, what would you identify as the most prominent source of doubt in America today? Is it certain discoveries of science, incredulity about some stories in the Bible, the intolerance of Jesus’ claims to be the only way? These are not even close. In his study of doubt and defection from Christianity, sociologist Christian Smith claims that far and away the chief source of doubt comes from God’s apparent inactivity, indifference, or impotence in the face of tragedy and suffering in their life and in other’s lives, and the apparent lack of God’s interventions and help in the toil and fatigue of daily troubles." (J. P. Moreland, in Loving God with Your Mind: Essays in Honor of J. P. Moreland, p. 225)

The apparent lack of God's interventions and help... How sad, when many of us are witnessing the kind of things I saw last weekend in Montana.

Smith, the University of Notre Dame scholar, "claims that a major source of faith development and strengthening are spiritual experiences: “Very many modern people have encountered and do encounter what are to them very real spiritual experiences, frequently vivid and powerful ones. And these often serve as epistemological anchors sustaining their religious faith in even the most pluralistic and secular of situations.” (Ib.) 

We have them at Redeemer. I expect more this coming Sunday. They are powerful convincers and faith-builders.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Jesus Is Looking for Followers, Not People Who "Make a Decision"

Custer Airport, Monroe

To the Church in America: In 2018 focus on making disciples, rather than providing programs to entertain the deciders

Jesus commanded us to make followers. Invest resources in this. 

Many make "decisions" for Christ and stop there, or fade out. Some of these deciders become disciples - praise God! Others don't.

Jesus is not trying to get people to some decision point, with discipleship as a nice, but unnecessary, add-on. For Jesus it's all about being a disciple and following after him. It's in following Jesus that we come to see that a person's decision was real.

Is it possible to make a decision to follow Christ as Lord and not follow him? No, it's not. It makes as much sense as saying, "I have decided to take up the game of golf," and then not take up the game of golf. Or, proclaiming in front of hundreds of people, "I have decided to eat this banana," and then proceeding to not eat it.

Here is Dallas Willard's definition of a "disciple" of Jesus:

"A disciple is a person who has decided that the most important thing in their life is to learn how to do what Jesus said to do. A disciple is not a person who has things under control, or knows a lot of things. Disciples simply are people who are constantly revising their affairs to carry through on their decision to follow Jesus."

Disciple-making is not popular in American entertainment-driven, consumer churches. For one reason, disciples cannot be microwaved. But a life of slow-cooked Jesus-following is vastly more satisfying, as any of Jesus' disciples know.

My book Leading the Presence-Driven Church should be available in December 2017.

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

Friday, November 24, 2017

Followers of Jesus Get Baptized

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Dundee, Michigan
This Sunday at Redeemer some of our people are getting baptized. They are all followers of Jesus, and followers of Jesus get baptized.

Plus, I am looking forward to teaching our preschool - 5th graders about the what and why of baptism, during our Kids Church. They are going to learn a lot, and then go into our sanctuary to hear the testimonies and witness the baptisms.

Jesus famously said, as recorded in Matthew 28:18-20:

"All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

So, Jesus-followers are to be baptized. And so it happened in the book of Acts. 

  • Peter preaches that the people are to "repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." (Acts 2:38-39)
  • New believers were immediately baptized. (Acts 2:41)
  • As Philip was preaching, as people believed, they were baptized. (Acts 8:12)
  • When Simon believed what Philip was saying, he was baptized. (Acts 8:13)
  • After the Ethiopian eunuch heard the good news about Jesus as presented by Philip, he asked, "What is to prevent me from being baptized?" It became chariot-stopping time, because Philip needed to baptize the man immediately. Why wait?
  • Saul met Jesus on the road, scales fell from his eyes, and he got up and was baptized. (Acts 9:18)
  • People who received the Holy Spirit were baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. (Acts 10:47-48)
  • Lydia's heart was opened up to Jesus, and she and her household were baptized. (Acts 16:14-15)
  • Paul's jailer gets saved, and immediately he and all his family were baptized. (Acts 16:32-34)
  • The synagogue ruler Crispus (!!!) gets saved, along with his household, and a lot of people in Corinth, and they get baptized. (Acts 18:8)
  • Some Ephesian Jesus-followers are baptized by Paul. (Acts 19:3-5)
  • Paul is preaching to his fellow Jews in Jerusalem, gives his life-witness, and says: 'The God of our fathers has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouth. You will be his witness to all men of what you have seen and heard. And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.' (Acts 22:14-16)
Disciple-making, that is, “making” people passionate Jesus-Lovers and followers, includes “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” This is important. 

I was baptized when I became a follower of Jesus, because Jesus commands me to identify with his death and resurrection in baptism. (See Romans ch. 6.) My pastors were teaching me to obey everything Jesus commanded me to do. My baptismal experience, witnessed by my family and friends, remains one of the most significant events in my life with Christ.

Baptism is an experiential sign, signifying the spiritual conversion that has taken place in a person, accompanied by an empowering of the Spirit, who can manifest himself in a variety of ways. Bruce Ware writes: "Baptism is the sign and seal of the new covenant, inaugurated by Christ's death and resurrection, signifying the promise for the one baptized that sins are forgiven, that new life in Christ is received, and that God gives the person a new heart and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, by faith." (In Baptism: Three Views, Kindle 520-29)

Daniel Reid, in his Introduction to Baptism: Three Views, writes of the most interesting baptism he has ever seen. It was in a Baptist church, where a young man was being baptized. Reid writes: "As the boy came up from the water, his father stood up in the congregation and in a loud voice declared, 'This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased!'" (Kindle edition, 120-130) 

I love that! 

This Sunday morning we're having baptisms at our church. To be baptized in Jesus' name is an important kairos-moment in the life of every real Jesus-follower. As this happens, God surely is very pleased. I expect that we'll be experiencing the pleasure of God at Redeemer this Sunday morning!

Thursday, November 23, 2017

The Ten Lepers and Giving Thanks (Sermon)

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Munson Park, across from our house

My sermon on the one leper (out of ten) who returned to thank Jesus can be listened to HERE.

Linda and I wish all of you a blessed Thanksgiving Day!

Eight Reasons to Believe God Exists

Antioch College, Yellow Springs, Ohio

A long, long time ago Bill Craig (aka William Lane Craig) was one of my campus pastors at Northern Illinois University, where I did my undergraduate degree in philosophy. I was honored to sing in Bill and Jan's wedding. 

In this essay in Philosophy Today Bill gives eight reasons to believe God exists ("Does God Exist?"). Read the essay for the reasoning. 

They are:

  1. God is the best explanation why anything at all exists.
  2. God is the best explanation of the origin of the universe.
  3. God is the best explanation of the applicability of mathematics to the physical world.
  4. God is the best explanation of the fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life.
  5. God is the best explanation of intentional states of consciousness.
  6. God is the best explanation of objective moral values and duties.
  7. The very possibility of God’s existence implies that God exists.
  8. God can be personally known and experienced.