Monday, May 23, 2022

Praying - Core Beliefs About God


(One of my praying places - our state park, on Lake Erie)

(This is from my book Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.) 


Since 1981 my extended praying day has been Tuesday. On Tuesday afternoons I go alone to a quiet place, away from distractions, and talk with God about what we are thinking and doing together. 

Solitary praying is one-on-one, God and I, for several hours. As I meet with God I carry certain core beliefs with me. They are the following: 

1. God exists. God is real. There is a God. God is. Without this, praying is an illusion. In the act of praying I am keeping company with the all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving, necessarily existent (everlasting; without beginning or end), personal agent who created and sustains all things. This is no small appointment I have! 

2. God is a personal being. God desires relationship. The Christian idea of God as a Trinity makes sense of God as essentially relational. God, in his being, is three relating Persons in One. God, as a Three-Personed Being, makes conceptual sense of the idea that God is love. Everlastingly, the Father has been loving the Son, the Son has been loving the Spirit, the Spirit has been loving the Father, and round and round in the Big Dance. To pray is to accept God’s invitation to the Big Dance. 

3. God made me. For what? For relationship with him. God desires relationship. He made me for such a partnership as this. When I pray I am living in the heart of God’s desire for me. 

4. God knows me. In praying God’s Spirit searches me out. God is aware of my deepest thoughts and inclinations, many of which are beyond me. God knows me better than I know myself. This would be devastating, were it not for the fact that… 

5. God loves me. God, in his essence, is love. Therefore, God cannot not-love. This is good news for me! As I put 4 and 5 together I’m singing “Amazing Grace” accompanied by tears of gratitude and joy. 

6. God desires me to love and know him in return. God has called me into a reciprocal relationship. Between God and me is a give-and-take. 

This is where praying comes in. To pray is to enter a loving-knowing relationship with God.

Jesus Was a Binary Thinker

 


(Flowers in our front yard)


At Redeemer we have been preaching through the five "discourses" of Jesus. As we near the end of a lot of study on these verses, I continue to be struck by the many binary statements of Jesus. 

Jesus was a binary thinker. Jesus used binary examples in his teachings. For example, on this coming Sunday (5/29/22), our focus is on "the wise and wicked servants" in Matthew 24:46-51. A follower of Jesus is either wise, or they are wicked. They are either prepared, or they are unprepared. That's binary logic. (See Aristotle, "law of excluded middle.")

Jesus's actual teachings were not "fluid," not on a continuum. One cannot read Jesus and think differently. As regards Jesus's self-understanding, you are either for him, or against him. You are either walking in the light, or walking in darkness. Hence, when it comes to allegiance to himself, there are not fifty shades of gray.

I am talking about how we are to read the teachings of Jesus. This has nothing to do with cultural acceptance. Non-binary thinking doesn't fit Jesus, or his culture. We know that because, e.g., the parables are lush gardens of binary thinking.  Progressive strivings to interpret Jesus as fluid and non-binary are anachronistic and anthropomorphic. Whoever Jesus was, he surely wasn't a 21st-century progressive, (To go deeper into the hermeneutical issues involved, a good place to start would be here.)

There's a whole lot of binary thinking going on in the world. Science is filled with it. Moral pronouncements exemplify it. (For example, Racism is wrong.) Computers are binary creations. (See here. And, I don't think I am here equivocating on the term 'binary'. It's "either/or" that I am thinking of.)

And then, there is logic. I taught logic at our local community college for eighteen years. Logic is still employed, often tacitly, even by postmoderns who reason that binary thinking is oppressive, and use logic to prove so.

Jesus was a logician. (See Dallas Willard, "Jesus the Logician." See J. P. Moreland, Love Your God with All Your Mind: The Role of Reason In the Life of the Soul.) I now present some thoughts about logic. 

I believe the following propositions (i.e. 'statements') are true:

1 - God exists.

2 - Jesus is God incarnate.

3 - The only way to God is through Jesus (Jesus is, e.g., "the door").

These beliefs marginalize many people. To marginalize someone or something means to draw a line and exclude them. Proposition 1 (P1) marginalizes atheists. P2 marginalizes atheists, Muslims, and most Jews. P3 marginalizes all non-Christians and even some Christians who deny the truth of P3.

Such is the nature of truth. Truth always marginalizes. 

"Truth," whatever it is (e.g., as a property of statements), is not all-inclusive. (See, e.g., philosopher Simon Blackburn's book Truth: A Guide.) Every statement draws a line. Every statement expresses a belief. Every belief excludes someone, or something. This is often good. 

Motor oil is not a soft drink. Motor oil is excluded, banned, from the soft drink aisle. A line has been drawn. This is good. 

Only children are allowed on the playground equipment. A sign is posted, saying: No adults on the playground equipment. A line is drawn. I am excluded.

Here is something that shocks most of my logic students, because they are so postmodern-relativistic: If a proposition (statement) is true, it is true for everyone. Truth, in logic, is binary. Either true or false. We may not know which.  That doesn't change the binary nature of a proposition. (See this, e.g., on truth-functional propositional logic.)

Consider the statement Detroit is the largest city in Michigan. This statement is either true or falseIf it is true, it's true for everyone, everywhere, cross-temporally. If someone thinks this statement is false (while it is true), then they are wrong

But aren't some things "true for me," but "false for you?" For example: For me, it is false that God exists. But this statement, if true, is true for everyone; viz., X thinks it is false that God exists. If that is true, then it's true for everyone. Note what is not being claimed here; viz., It is false that God exists. That's an entirely different proposition. And, if it is true, it is true for everyone. On the "subjectivist fallacy" see the text I use to teach logic - The Power of Critical Thinking, by Lewis Vaughn; Chapter 3.

All persons have a worldview, a belief system. One's beliefs can be articulated in a series of statements. The beliefs of other people marginalize me, because I think they are false. Consider these three beliefs (propositions).

4 - God does not exist.

5 - Jesus is not God incarnate.

6 - There are many ways to God.

P4 marginalizes all theists, such as myself. P5 marginalizes most Jesus-followers. P6 marginalizes Christian exclusivists such as myself. (See here Alvin Plantinga's essay "Pluralism: A Defense of Religious Exclusivism," Found in Louis Pojman's Philosophy of Religion: An Anthology.)

To say that P4, P5, and P6 "marginalize" me is to say they do not include me. They draw a line, and I stand in opposition to the beliefs. I am outside the margins of any worldview that believes P4, P5, and P6. 

P6 may sound inclusive, but it is not. I am not included in the inner circle of P6-ers, because I believe P6 to be false. If P6 is good news to some, it is not good news to me, and I am not included in the celebration. (I think P6 is untenable, for reasons that, e.g., Stephen Prothero gives in his book God Is Not One.)

Every proposition has a certain level of arrogance attached to it. Consider, e.g., the following:

7 - I am now writing this sentence.

P7 is, I believe, true. Or, a moment ago P7 was true, but now P7 is false. But still, P7's truth was only prob
able, and someone could reasonably believe it was false. Nonetheless P7's arrogance-level seems to me to be low. Which means that most would accept P7 as having been true a moment ago.

Now try this:

8 - One should never try to convert others to one's own way of thinking.

P8 seems to have a high arrogance-level. Because P8 is itself a way of thinking that is being forced on someone like me who thinks P8 to be inherently false. P8 functions for me in the same way that P3 functions for others.

Let me try one more.

9 - Christian theists like Piippo think they are right, and that people who disagree with them are wrong.

But of course. And so what? That is the nature of propositional thinking. 

A proposition is a sentence that is either true or false. In logic there's no "true for me" stuff (i.e., don't commit the "subjectivist fallacy"). Every proposition contains a level of epistemic arrogance that necessarily marginalizes those who dissent.

This is unavoidable. Every proposition marginalizes. Every belief that engages you disengages someone else. Every belief disinvites someone to the party. This is binary thinking.

Every statement draws a line. Don't freak out about this.

Power Encounters and the Presence of God - June 5-6 in New Jersey

 


Linda and I travel to Edison, New Jersey, on July 5-6.

I'll be speaking at Stelton Baptist Church on "Power Encounters and the Presence of God."

Sunday morning and Sunday evening

Monday evening

For more information:

STELTON BAPTIST CHURCH

334 Plainfield Ave.

Edison, NJ, 08817

732-985-1484

steltonbaptistchurch@gmail.com 

Saturday, May 21, 2022

"Relevant" Is Not a Kingdom Word




                                             (Worship at Redeemer)

T
he word for me is not "relevant."


rel·e·vant

ˈreləvənt/
adjective
  1. closely connected or appropriate to what is being done or considered.

    "what small companies need is relevant advice"

    synonyms:pertinent, applicable, apposite, material, apropos, to the point, germane; More
    • appropriate to the current time, period, or circumstances; of contemporary interest.

      "critics may find themselves unable to stay relevant in a changing world"

If "relevant" means "connected," we are disconnected.

If "relevant" means "related," we are unrelated.

If "relevant" means "appropriate to the current circumstances," we are strangers.

If "relevant" means "linked," we are aliens.

"The Christian," writes Eugene Peterson, "is a witness to a new reality that is entirely counter to the culture. The Christian faith is a proclamation that God's kingdom has arrived in Jesus, a proclamation that puts the world at risk. What Jesus himself proclaimed and we bear witness to is the truth that the sin-soaked, self-centered world is doomed.
Pastors are in charge of keeping the distinction between the world's lies and the gospel's truth clear."
- In Marva J. Dawn, The Unnecessary Pastor: Rediscovering the Call, Kindle Locations 64-66

"My kingdom," said Jesus, "is unplugged from this culture."

"My kingdom," said Jesus, "is from an alternate reality." (John 18:36)

In Prophetic Untimeliness: A Challenge to the Idol of Relevance,  Os Guinness writes that, in our uncritical pursuit of relevance, Christians have actually become irrelevant. By our determined efforts to redefine ourselves in ways that are more in line with the modern world than are faithful to Christ, we have lost not only our identity but our authority and significance. 

The Idol of Relevance turns on us and emasculates us. The Church becomes domesticated. We become one of Relevance's pets. Aslan may not be a tame lion, but we are.

Is that too strong? Watch the secular media see if the Church and its leaders appear as anything more than just another evil to be eradicated. It's as if Jesus said, I came not to be served, but to serve the American dream. (This is also called Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.)

Peterson writes:

"Our place in society is, in some ways, unique: no one else occupies this exact niche that looks so inoffensive but is in fact so dangerous to the status quo. We are committed to keeping the proclamation alive and to looking after souls in a soul-denying, denying, soul-trivializing age. But it isn't easy. Powerful forces, both subtle and obvious, attempt either to domesticate pastors to serve the culture as it is or to seduce us into using our position to become powerful and important on the world's terms.: (Ib., Kindle Locations 67-70)


Friday, May 20, 2022

Scientists Reject Postmodernist Theory


                                                               (Comerica Park, Detroit)

When we were in East Lansing, as campus pastors at Michigan State University, our church was filled with scientists. Over the years I was privileged to do book studies and Bible studies with many of them. The dialogue we had deeply informed and enriched me.

One common thread was their reaction to the postmodern 
anti-realism. 

"Metaphysically, postmodernism is anti-realist, holding that it is impossible to speak meaningfully about an independently existing reality. Postmodernism substitutes instead a social-linguistic, constructionist account of reality. Epistemologically, having  rejected the notion of an independently existing reality, postmodernism denies that reason or any other method is a means of acquiring objective knowledge of that reality. Having substituted social-linguistic constructs for that reality, postmodernism emphasizes the subjectivity, conventionality, and incommensurability of those constructions." (Stephen Hicks, Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault, Kindle Location 292)

We cannot speak about a reality that exists independently of the human mind? No method can give us objective knowledge of that reality? (Especially, for postmodern theorists, the scientific method.) For a scientist this is absurd, since science is the study of objective reality (trees, viruses, planets, global warming, the physical brain, etc. etc.)

Theistic philosopher Dallas said:

"The early church did not get stuck in a Cartesian box. Aristotle thought there was a real world and a real mind that could know it. And that is what disappears. I have watched scientists listen to postmodernists and it is a constant display of thinly veiled disgust.” (Willard, Eternal Living: Reflections on Dallas Willard's Teaching on Faith and Formation, Kindle Locations 230-232)

The idea that there is not an objective reality outside of us, and that it can be studied and known, is absurd (even while taking into account how our experience of that reality is socially constructed).

(For an interesting and brave attempt to rescue postmodern ideas, and apply them to a Christian worldview, see James K. A. Smith, Who's Afraid of Postmodernism? See esp. Ch. 2, "Nothing Outside the Text? Derrida, Deconstruction, and Scripture.")

Thursday, May 19, 2022

The Final Test of Compassionate Prayer

 


(Redeemer Monroe

My unChristlike deficiency is seen in my struggle to forgive my enemies. "Enemy" means not only those who want to see me defeated, but those I dislike, those I am irritated with, those I look down on. At the top of my personal prayer list is the transformation of my heart that would increase my capacity to not only forgive others who have wounded me, but to love them, from the heart, as well. 

This, as I see things, is the Big One. 

Henri Nouwen writes,

"The final test of compassionate prayer goes beyond prayers for fellow Christians, members of the community, friends, and relatives. Jesus says it most unambiguously, “I say this to you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44); and in the depth of his agony on the cross, he prays for those who are killing him, “Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Here the full significance of the discipline of prayer becomes visible. Prayer allows us to lead into the center of our hearts not only those who love us but also those who hate us. This is possible only when we are willing to make our enemies part of ourselves and thus convert them first of all in our own hearts."

See that last sentence? This is the love-of-Jesus part, which envisions, from our hearts, a flourishing, Christlike life, for those who are emotionally and physically killing us. As that happens, we will know the truth, and it will set us free.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Now Reading...

 

I have always been a reader. I remember my mother taking me and my brother Mike to the library, and  getting us more books to read. My parents bought Mike and I all the Hardy Boys books, which we devoured. As I got older I read science fiction books. And then there were sports magazines, especially Sport magazine.

My mother saw the value of reading. I became a reader.

Here's what I am now reading, as we enter another summer. Thankfully, Linda loves to read, too. We will find some beaches, set up our chairs, and read.

I'm now reading...

Embodied: Transgender Identities, the Church, and What the Bible Has to Say, by Preston Sprinkle

The Case for Heaven: A Journalist Investigates Evidence for Life After Death, by Lee Strobel

How God Became Jesus: The Real Origins of Belief in Jesus' Divine Nature - A Response to Bart Ehrman, by Michael Bird

Losing Our Dignity: How Secularized Medicine Is Undermining Fundamental Human Equality, by Charles Camosy

Strange New World: How Thinkers and Activists Redefined Identity and Sparked the Sexual Revolution, by Carl Trueman

Religious Experience and the Knowledge of God: The Evidential Force of Divine Encounters, by Harold Netland

Deconstruction, by David Gunkel

...with a cup of coffee...





What to Do When My Demands Are Not Met

(Flower, in my back yard)

Unsurprisingly, things in my life have not all gone the way I desired them to go. How am I to handle all these disappointments?

Thomas Merton, in his journals, wrote about life in the monastery of Gethsemane, in Kentucky. One theme was his struggle with the CEO of Gethsemane (the "Abbot"), Dom James. Dom James had problems, as Merton saw things. Merton knew he had to accept Dom James's leadership, and wrote:

"I do not criticize Dom James – his nature is what it is, and he must see things as he does. And he is the Abbot God has willed for me." (Merton, Thomas (2010-10-19). Learning To Love: Exploring Solitude and Freedom, The Journals of Thomas Merton, p. 27.)  


Then Merton had this insight: "I know I will never have things exactly as I wish they ought to be – and as I would take pride in them." (Ib.)


In that singular sentence, I see a free person. Merton was free of the terrible burden of always having to have things go his own way. (This is how Richard Foster puts it in Celebration of Discipline. This is how Jesus puts it, when he tells Peter, "One day someone will tie a belt around your waist and take you where you do not wish to go.")


Is that really a terrible burden? Wouldn't it be ideal to have everything go our own way? As interesting as these questions are, they are irrelevant, because everything in life will not go the way you want them to. More than that, everything in life should not go your way, unless you are a God who always knows the way the world and people need to go.


The person who needs things to be exactly as they wish them to be will be forever weighed down by the fact of a mighty non-happening. They will be everlastingly miserable, as demand after demand remains unmet. And, they will be angry.


But one who learns how to be, in and through whatever comes their way, is the free person, living transcendent to life's circumstances. (Also called: living by faith.)

Pray to be free of the need to have things always go as you demand them to go.


**
My books are:

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

Encounters with the Holy Spirit (co-edited with Janice Trigg)


Sunday, May 15, 2022

10 Reasons I Pray for the Sick

Chicago


Why pray for the sick? Here are ten reasons.

1. I pray for the sick because Jesus prayed for the sick.

2. We pray for the sick because I love people.

3. I pray for the sick because, in Normal Church, that's what is done. (See, e.g., the book of Acts.)

4. I pray for the sick because God commands me to heal the sick.

5. I pray for the sick because I have testimonies of the sick being healed. (This encourages me, creating faith and expectation.)

6. I pray for the sick because I am a person of faith, not sight.

7. I pray for the sick because my concept of God, while incomplete, is vast. (I believe God is omnibenevolent, omniscient, and omnipotent. Hence, by using logic, God loves us, knows if we are sick, and has more than enough power to heal people.)

8. I pray for the sick because I do not believe sickness is a sign of God's working all things together for good. (No sickness in eternity, right? Yes, we live in a fallen creation. So, sickness exists. God can redeem our sickness. But I have problems with the idea that God is the causal agent of sickness. At least at Redeemer I'm not telling people, "Yay, you have cancer! God is working all things together for good in you!" That, to me, is so non-Hebraic. Luke 4:40 does not read: "At sunset, the people brought to Jesus all who had various kinds of diseases, and laying his hands on some but not others because he wanted those others to stay sick, he healed some of them." The theological position that comprehensive healing (a Hebraic idea) is in the atonement helps here. See Bruce Reichenbach's contribution in The Nature of the Atonement: Four Views.)

9. I pray for the sick because I love seeing God glorified.

10. I pray for the sick because medicine, as wonderful as it is, is unable to cure everything.

Note: All this is out of my comfort zone. I am becoming comfortable with that, since nearly everything Jesus is and does is out of my comfort zone.

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Be Free of Trying to Change Other People

 

                                                   (Woman, selling sock, in Istanbul, Turkey)

Years ago God told me, “John, why are you trying so hard to change other people when you can’t even change your own self?” I have come to the freeing conclusion that: we cannot change other people. Only God can. So I can let go of trying to do that.

One result of this insight is that Linda and I rarely, if ever, “advise” others. We only do it if requested. This is because unasked-for advice is usually received as criticism. For example, if I saw you today and said, “Did you know that Macys has some nice shirts on sale?”, you would think, “John doesn’t like my shirt.”

If I want your advice I’ll ask for it. I do ask people for advice, on a variety of things. If the advice is about something personal, I ask people who know me, love me, are themselves vulnerable and open, and trustworthy. When Linda gives me unsolicited advice (like, “Your pant zipper is down”) it always comes out of care for me.

In relationships, and in ministry, the desire to change other people is toxic. I like how Thomas Merton puts it. Merton writes: “Nothing is more suspicious, in a man who seems holy, than an impatient desire to reform other men. A serious obstacle to recollection is the mania for directing those you have not been asked to reform… Renounce this futile concern with other men’s affairs! Pay as little attention as you can to the faults of other people and none at all to their natural defects and eccentricities.” (New Seeds of Contemplation, 255)

If God shows you another person’s fault it’s mostly so you can pray for them.

Before God, be concerned with your own transformation into Christlikeness. Pray "change my heart, O God." That prayer will keep you occupied all your life. To such a person, God will send people who desire change. That's called influence.

(The parent-child relationship is different. As is the teacher-student relationship. As are hierarchical-authority relationships, when acknowledged and willingly submitted to. Like, e.g., a sports coach who shows their athlete what they need to do to perform at a higher level.)