Tuesday, June 25, 2019

The Church Must Be Experiential if it Wishes to Be Biblical

Image result for john piippo photos
With Joe LaRoy in Bangkok
Craig Keener's Spirit Hermeneutics: Reading Scripture in Light of Pentecost, is amazing, confirming, and encouraging. If you are a pastor and would like to study this with me this summer please email me at johnpiippo@msn.com. I'll be setting up a phone conference call on the book for latre July, with Craig Keener joining us (looks like!).

The whole point of the biblical text is to usher us into the presence of God, in experience. This is what the Bible means by "knowing God." With this in hand, Craig reasons that those who know God by experience (meaning the kind of experiences found in the Bible) will more accurately understand and interpret the Scriptures. This is "readng Scripture in light of Pentecost."

Craig writes:

"Scripture itself models an experiential appropriation of its message." (1)

"All of u as Christians should read [Scripture] from the vantage of Pentecost and the experience of the Spirit." (3)

"All Christians should read Scripture as people living in the biblical experience - not in terms of ancient culture, but as people living by the same Spirit who guided God's people in Scripture."

"While careful study of Scripture helps encounter the unbridled subjectivism of popular charismatic excesses, study that does not lead to living out biblical experience in the era of the Spirit misses the point of the biblical texts." (5)

"Many churches that in principle allow that the gifts are for today are, with respect to public worship, practical cessationists on any biblical gifts that do not fit their traditional order of service. This is true of many Pentecostal and charismatic churches..." (9)

"Life is full of subjective experiences, and those who genuinely heed Scripture cannot neglect spiritual experience. The Bible itself is full of dynamic experiences with God, and the broader church regularly needs to be reminded of these." (11) 

"Ideally, the entire church must be experiential if it wishes to be biblical." (11)

"An approach sterilized from any direct faith in the supernatural differs significantly from how the biblical writers intended their works to be read." (11)

Martin Luther said that "experience is necessary for the understanding of the Word," which must "be believed and felt."

See also my chapter "The Case for Experience" in Leading the Presence-Driven Church

It is the present Voice 
which makes the written Word all-powerful.

A.W. Tozer (14)

The words of Scripture,
though they are the Word of God,
do not give us life unless Jesus speaks them to us.

Oswald Chambers (14)

"Arsenokoitais" (ἀρσενοκοίταις) in 1 Timothy 1:10 (et. al.)

I'm re-posting this for some friends. In response to this. The fallacy in this argument is that New Testament scholars pay far less attention to how a Greek word was translated historically (in various versions of the Bible) then how the word was understood in its first century context. We study words in their original context so as to understand their meaning. How, e.g., a particular German Bible translates a word is largely irrelevant. Or, how the King James translates a eord is largely irrelevant to the scholarly discussion of the meaning of the text.
The intra-Christian discussion on the acceptability of same-sex marriage inevitably goes to the meaning of the word arsenokoitais. Someone asked me about this, again, recently. It is, arguably, the intra-Christian dialogical issue. Because Jesus-followers value highly the biblical text. (Note: everyone has their sacred authoritative texts, even atheists. For Jesus-followers this means the words and ideas of Jesus.)


We read in 1 Tim. 1:9-11:

9 We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, 10 for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine 11 that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.

The Greek word translated here as "homosexuality" is arsenokoitais (ἀρσενοκοίταις). In the Christian theological discussion about homosexuality there is debate over the meaning of this word. This sends me running after commentaries and scholarly studies about this term. Here's what four of my most admired New Testament scholars say. But first, a few remarks.

1. My interest is: What does the biblical text say. My interest is not: What would I like the biblical text to say. I'll admit to often discovering things I wish the text did not say because, for example, it severely confronts or challenges me. So be it. This is not always easy. I wrestle with the biblical text every week preparing for Sunday mornings. Note also: My core interest is not what various Bible translations say (KJV, NIV, etc.). No New Testament scholar looks to (in the sense of dependence) on translations of the Bible, but to the original languages, and the socio-cultural, socio-rhetorical context.

2. It's easy to find persons who support what one might like the text to say. I know that there are scholars with contrary opinions. What, then, shall I do? My answer: look to scholars I have found credible over the years. I am not always in agreement with them. But when they speak, I am listening.

3. I also read scholars I admire who argue against what I think the text says. (See, e.g., the Gagnon-Via book below.) One must read the counter-arguments to one's position.

4. Remember that most (nearly all) words are polysemous; i.e., they have multiple meanings. For example, 'bear' can mean 1) to carry (a load); 2) to endure; 3) an animal (noun); et. al. That in itself does not make the word 'bear' exceptionally "tricky," or any "trickier" than translating a word like arsenokaitais.

5. I expect this discussion will only interest those who embrace Jesus and follow after him. For all of us in this camp, issues like this are important. And, of course, there's a whole lot more to following after Jesus than this issue. Over the years I have dialogued with many homosexually oriented Jesus-followers who want to know what the text says, more than what do others think it says. That, too, has always been my passion.

6. And... homophobia is a sin. Can we discuss, in love? 

Here we go...

Ben Witherington

"The word [arsenokoites] literally and graphically refers to a male copulator (cf. Sib. Or. 2:73; Greek Anthology 9.686), a man who has intercourse with another man... It is true that this term can refer to a pederast (an older man who has sex with a younger man or a youth), but the term is not a technical term for a pederast; rather, it includes consenting adult males who have sexual relationships in this manner, as well as any other form of male-to-male intercourse." (Witherington, Letters and Homilies for Hellenized Christians, Volume 1: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on Titus, 1-2 Timothy and 1-3 John, 198)   

Some want arsenokoitais to mean "pederasty." Witherington thinks that, while it can, in the Pauline context this is not what it means. Remember: words are polysemous, having mutliple context-dependent meanings.

Andreas Kostenberger

Kostenberger has a lengthy section on arsenokoitas in God, Marriage, and Family: Rebuilding the Biblical Foundation (with David Jones). After summarizing various views on the meaning of arsenokoitas, Kostenberger concludes:
  1. "In light of the discussion of teaching in the Old Testament and the book of Romans above, it appears very unlikely that what is universally condemned in the Hebrew scriptures might, in New Testament times as well as ours, be acceptable." Arsenokoitas most likely refers to "the general practice of homosexuality."
  2. "It appears like that the term arsenokoitas, which does not seem to appear in the extant literature prior to the present reference, was coined by Paul or someone esle in Hellenistic Judaism from the Levitical prohibition against males "lying or sleeping with males" (Lev. 18:22...). This suggests that the term is broad and general in nature and encompasses homosexuality as a whole rather than merely specific aberrant subsets  of homosexual behavior." This is important since some want to make arsenokoitas refer specifically to pederasty.
  3. The argument that Paul's use of arsenokoitas refers to pederasty falls short on six counts: a) There was a clear and unambiguous word for pederasty, the term paiderastes; b) "The attempt to limit Paul's condemnation to pederasty... is contradicted by Paul's reference to the male partners' mutual desire for one another in Romans 1:27"; c) "In the same passage in Romans 1:26, Paul also condemns lesbian sex, which did not involve children, so that an appeal to pederasty does not adequately account for the prohibition of same-sex relations in this passage.";  d) "Even if (for argument's sake) Paul were to censure only pederasty in the passages under consideration, this would still not mean that, as a Scripture-abiding Jew, he would have approved of homosexuality as such. Quite the contrary. In contrast to the surrounding Greco-Roman world (which generally accepted homosexual acts). Hellenistic Jewish texts universally condemn homosexuality and treat it (together with idolatry) as the most egregious example of Gentile moral depravity."; e) "Not only is Paul's view of homosexuality as contrary to nature in keeping with the foundational creation narrative in Genesis 1 and 2, but it is also illumined by prevailing views of homosexuality in contemporary Greco-Roman culture." (See the entire text for much more on this); and f) "Ancient sources do not support the idea that homosexuality was defined exclusively in terms of homosexual acts but not orientation." Paul refers to both. Some scholars erect a false dichotomy between the two, and then use the false dichotomy to reason that the concept of "homosexuality" has changed, thus arsenokoitas should not be translated as "homosexuals."
For "these and many other reasons" Kostenberger concludes that attempts to limit arsenokoitas to "a narrower subset of aberrant homosexual behavior must be judged unconvincing."

Richard Hays

In The Moral Vision of the New Testament: Community, Cross, New Creation, A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics, Pauline New Testament scholar Hays writes:

Arsenokoitai "is not found in any extant Greek text earlier than First Corinthians. Some scholars have suggested that its meaning is uncertain, but Robin Scroggs has shown that the word is a translation of the Hebrew mishkav zakur ("lying with a male"), derived directly from Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 and used in rabbinic texts to refer to homosexual intercourse. The Septuagint (Greek Old Testament) of Leviticus 20:13 reads, "Whoever lies with a man as with a woman [meta arsenos koiten gynaikos], "they have both done an abomination." This is almost certainly the idiom from which the noun arsenokoitai was coined."

See also Hays's article "Homosexuality: Rebellion Against God." Hays tells the story of a homosexually oriented Jesus-follower named Gary. Gary was dying of AIDS and visited Hays while he was still able to travel. They discussed together, and Hays writes:

"[Gary] had read hopefully through the standard bibliography of the burgeoning movement advocating the acceptance of homosexuality in the church. In the end, he came away disappointed, believing that these authors, despite their good intentions, had imposed a wishful interpretation on the biblical passages. However much he wanted to believe that the Bible did not condemn homosexuality, he would not violate his own stubborn intellectual integrity by pretending to find their arguments persuasive.
The more we talked, the more we found our perspectives interlocking. Both of us had serious misgivings about the mounting pressure for the church to recognize homosexuality as a legitimate Christian lifestyle. As a New Testament scholar, I was concerned about certain questionable exegetical and theological strategies of the gay apologists. As a homosexual Christian, Gary believed that their writings did justice neither to the biblical texts nor to his own sobering experience of the gay community that he had moved in and out of for 20 years."

Note: I think Wesley Hill's Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality is an important text in the broader discussion. 

Craig Keener

"Scholars have disputed the meaning of the term translated "homosexuals," but it seems to mean those who engage in homosexual acts, which were a common feature of Greek male life in antiquity." (Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, 464) 

An important text to read, for any who are interested, is Homosexuality and the Bible: Two Views, by NT scholars Robert Gagnon and Dan Via. Note that while Via takes the pro-gay marriage stance he agrees with Gagnon that if one simply took the biblical texts one could not arrive at that conclusion.

One result of reading this book is that I picked up Gagnon's massive study The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics.  

Here are some reviews of Gagnon's book. It's important to see these lest we think that Gagnon is just some uneducated spin-meister trying to force his own opinion down our throats.

Here are some reviews of Gagnon's book:

"...In its learnedness, [Gagnon's] book will...be in the vanguard of its position and cannot be ignored...." -- Martti Nissinen, University of Helsinki, and author of Homoeroticism in the Biblical World (From the Jacket Flap)

"...the fullest and best presentation of the conservative position....expressing the case same-sex intercourse sympathetically and convincingly." -- I. Howard Marshall, Professor of New Testament, Emeritus, University of Aberdeen, Scotland (Blurb Inside Book)

"...the most thorough examination of the scriptural and theological...perspectives on same-sex relations....a tour de force." -- Marion L. Soards, Professor of New Testament, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary (From Jacket Flap)

"Gagnon has offered a learned, judicious, and comprehensive examination of the biblical testimony....fair and compassionate...a major resource...." -- Brevard S. Childs, Sterling Professor of Divinity (Hebrew Bible), Emeritus, Yale Divinity School (From Inside Book)

"Gagnon's book is an extremely valuable contribution to the current debate....I recommend this book wholeheartedly." -- C. E. B. Cranfield, Professor of Theology (New Testament), Emeritus, University of Durham (From Inside Book)

"Gagnon's incisive logic, prudent judgment, and exhaustive research should make this book a dominant voice in the contemporary debate." -- Jerome Murphy-O'Connor, O.P., Professor of New Testament, Ecole Biblique, Jerusalem (From the Back Cover)

"I believe that this volume will become a classic in the ongoing discussion of the church's...response to homosexuality." -- Duane F. Watson, Professor of New Testament, Malone College (From Inside Book)

"I know of no comparable study of the texts and interpretive debates that surround homosexual behavior." -- Max L. Stackhouse, Stephen Colwell Professor of Christian Ethics, Princeton Theological Seminary (From the Jacket Flap)

"No Christian concerned with homosexuality can afford to ignore this book." -- John Barton, Oriel and Laing Professor of the Interpretation of Holy Scripture, University of Oxford (From the Back Cover)

"This is a brilliant, original, and highly important work,...indispensable even for those who disagree with the author." -- James Barr, Distinguished Professor of Hebrew Bible, Emeritus, Vanderbilt University (From the Back Cover) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Monday, June 24, 2019

In the Absence of God's Presence, Church Becomes a Circus

(Green Lake Conference Center, Wisconsin)

The first class I taught on prayer was in the M.Div. program at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary. That was 1977. Today, after forty-two years of teaching prayer and spiritual formation to four thousand pastors and Christian leaders, my discovery is that 80-90% of them do not have a significant prayer life. They, like most, say "I don't have time to pray."

If a pastor or Christian leader is from a non-Western, Third World context, the odds are they do have a significant prayer life. The general rule is this: the more stuff a person has, the less they pray; the less stuff a person has, the more they pray. There are exceptions, but not many. As Jesus said, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.

In the absence of a deep life of prayer-connectedness to God, what does Christian ministry look like? Henri Nouwen writes:

"Most Christian leaders are used to thinking in terms of large-scale organization: getting people together in congregations, schools, and hospitals, and running the show as a circus director. They have become unfamiliar with, and even somewhat afraid of, the deep and significant movements of the Spirit within. I am afraid that in a few decades the Church will be accused of having failed at its most basic task: to offer people creative ways to communicate with the divine source of human life." (Nouwen, Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit, Kindle Locations 207-210)

The #1 thing a pastor-shepherd must do is plant themselves by the living waters and green pastures of God's earth-shattering presence, and then lead their people there.

Teach them, as Jesus instructed, to abide in Him. (John 14-16)

Then their lives will bear much fruit.

My three books are:

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

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

I'm now working on Transformation: How God Changes the Human Heart.

Then: Technology and Spiritual Formation.

Then, the Lord willing, Linda and I will write our book on Relationships.

J. P. Moreland's Argument From Consciousness for God's Existence

(Green Lake Conference Center, Wisconsin)
(If you're interested in this check out U of Notre Dame's Christian Smith, What Is a Person? Smith explains emergent properties, and how they are irreducible to their components.)

I was privileged to have neuropsychologist-theologian James Ashbrook on my dissertation committee. My research was on metaphor theory and included neural studies on how the brain processes language and, especially, metaphor (in distinction from the other tropes, such as "simile"). Ashbook (now deceased) was immersed in brain-mind-personality studies and a pioneer in theological mind-brain issues. (See his The Humanizing Brain: Where Religion and Neuroscience Meet.)

Today we are immersed in a sea of neurophilosophical and neurotheological issues. A core question that is much-discussed is: Is "mind" fully reducible to the physical brain? The moral implications of answering "yes" to this are huge. 

Philosopher J.P. Moreland answers in the negative. We see this in his dense Consciousness and the Existence of God, his little article "The Argument From Consciousness,"  his contribution to the recent Debating Christian Theism (Moreland, Khaldoun Sweis, and Chad Meister, eds.), and his recent book The Soul: How We Know It's Real and Why It Matters

Moreland argues against philosophical naturalism (atheism) and for the existence of God via mind-body dualism (supernaturalism). The question is, as philosopher-naturalist Colin McGinn asks: "How can mere matter originate consciousness?" On naturalism, finite mental entities ("minds") seem inexplicable. This is not so on theism. Thus the existence of finite mental entities provide evidence for the existence of God, via inference to the best explanation.

Moreland argues that mental states "are in no sense physical since they possess five features not owned by physical states:

(a) there is a raw qualitative feel or a “what it is like” to have a mental state such as a pain; [See Thomas Nagel's "What Is It Like to Be a Bat?"]

(b) at least many mental states have intentionality—of-ness or about-ness–directed towards an object;

(c) mental states are inner, private and immediate to the subject having them; [The "problem" of first-person subjective consciousness; aka "the really hard problem" Pinker and Owen Flanagan, among others, write about.]

(d) they require a subjective ontology—namely, mental states are necessarily owned by the first person sentient subjects who have them;

(e) mental states fail to have crucial features (e.g., spatial extension, location) that characterize physical states and, in general, cannot be described using physical language."

How, on naturalism (atheism), can one explain "mind" coming from brute matter? Stephen Pinker at times seems to think it could never, in principle, be done. Moreland offers four reasons "for why there is no natural scientific explanation for the existence of mental states (or their regular correlation with physical states)." They are:

a) The uniformity of nature. Briefly, Moreland asks: "How can like causes produce radically different effects? The appearance of mind is utterly unpredictable and inexplicable. This radical discontinuity seems like an inhomogeneous rupture in the natural world."

b) Contingency of the mind/body correlation. Moreland writes: "For the naturalist, the regularity of mind/body correlations must be taken as contingent brute facts. But these facts are inexplicable from a naturalistic standpoint, and they are radically sui generis compared to all other entities in the naturalist ontology. Thus, it begs the question simply to announce that mental states and their regular correlations with certain brain states is a natural fact." Mental states are unique. On naturalism, as naturalist Terence Horgan states, "supervenient facts must be explainable rather than being sui generis.”

c) Epiphenomenalism and causal closure. "Physical effects have only physical causes... [I]f mental phenomena are genuinely non-physical, then they must be epiphenomena–effects caused by the physical that do not themselves have causal powers. But epiphenomenalism is false. Mental causation seems undeniable..."

d) The inadequacy of evolutionary explanations. "[B]oth the sheer existence of conscious states and the precise mental content that constitutes them is outside the pale of evolutionary explanation."

Real atheism is philosophical naturalism (PN). On atheism-as-PN there are no non-natural events. It is difficult, if not in principle impossible, to deny mental causation (such as "choosing" to argue against the existence of God). Atheism is, therefore, false.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

In Essentials Unity, in Nonessentials Liberty, and in All Things, Love

Antioch University, Yellow Springs, Ohio

When I was growing up my parents did not allow a deck of playing cards in the house. Card-playing was wrong. It was sin. I didn't know why this was so. As a child I didn't question it or find it weird. It was when I became a Jesus-follower that I began to wonder.

I found out that, among the Finnish Lutherans of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where my family was from and where I was born, card-playing was associated with drinking and gambling. Someone who was a Christian didn't drink, gamble, or play cards.

Sociologically, that made sense to me. But I no longer felt card-playing was a sin. Card-playing lies way out on the periphery of mere Christianity. God may tell a few to avoid a deck of cards, but it is a non-essential. You can be a Jesus-follower and have a deck of cards in your house, unless God specifically (for some reason you may or may not know) tells you not to have one. 

Here's how I have come to view the bigger picture about such things.

For a long time I've seen the Christian faith as a set of concentric circles, circles within circles. On the outer circles we find nonessentials of Christianity. These matters may be important for a few, but do not apply to all. In the inner circle, Circle 1, we find the heart of mere, true Christianity. If one does not affirm Circle 1 statements, then probably one is not a Christian, just as I am not now playing tennis as I'm typing on my laptop.

The set of propositions that fit within Circle 1 include:

1. God exists. (Viz., an all-powerful, all-loving, all-knowing, necessarily existent, without-beginning-or-end, creator and sustainer of all things, incorporeal, personal agent.)
2. Jesus the Messiah is God incarnate.
3. Jesus died on a cross, was buried in a tomb, and was raised on the third day.

If someone thinks any one of these three propositions are false, then I think they are not a Christian. (Yes, I am aware [amazingly, to me] of the "atheistic Christianity" of, e.g., Paul Van Buren and Thomas J.J. Altizer. I read their books back in the 1970s. Altizer, in The Gospel of Christian Atheism, wrote: "every man today who is open to experience knows that God is absent, but only the Christian knows that God is dead, that the death of God is a final and irrevocable event, and that God's death has actualized in our history a new and liberated humanity." At this point I would argue that Altizer has left Christianity in the same way one who travels by foot cannot be said to be flying in an airplane.)

Basic to mere Christianity is belief in God.

Also basic to mere Christianity is a recognition that Jesus is Lord, in the strong sense of being from God. Jesus is God the Son. I don't think one must fully grasp this concept to be a Christian. I'm still growing and learning such things. But mere Christianity includes the realization that one needs saving, and Jesus is the Savior.

To disaffirm the cross and the resurrection surely disqualifies one as a Christian. How odd it seems to me to say, "I don't believe Jesus died on a cross for my sins. I don't believe Jesus was raised from the dead. But I am a Christian." Why, I would ask? Why insist that you're playing tennis while typing on your laptop?

Central to mere Christianity are statements 1, 2, and 3. They (and some others) belong in the center circle of the Christian faith. But the statement card-playing is wrong does not belong there. It orbits on some distant curve many circles from the center.

Outwardly adjacent to and encircling the Circle 1 is Circle 2, which involves very important issues that we should rightly feel passionate about, and upon which Jesus-followers have disagreed.

Circle 2 are important but non-essential to salvation. They 
  • The meaning and means of baptism
  • The meaning and means of the Lord's Table
  • The doctrine of the person and work of the Holy Spirit
  • The theology and practice of the gifts of the Holy Spirit
  • The nature and expression of worship
These (and others) are important. It's in this second circle that denominations form. Churches have split over these things! While they are very important they are not, I think, essential to true Christianity. Surely if one heart-affirms Circle 1's third proposition (and, by implication, affirm propositions 1 & 2), they are a "Christian." No futher doctrinal understanding is needed. 

When I gave my heart and life over to Jesus as Lord, I had no clue of the deep matters of Circle 2. So, I think we can disagree on the things of the second circle and still affirm one another as brothers and sisters in Christ,

if we agree on Circle 1 things. (And even things beyond the second circle, such as the age of the earth, which no one in the Bible seems interested in [while being very interested in the truth that God has made it all].)

My parents were Jesus-followers. I loved them, and did not disrespect their wish that a deck of cards not be in their home. I like the way Pope John XXIII counsels us to do this: "In essentials unity, in doubtful matters [nonessentials] liberty, and in all things, love [charity]."

My three books are:

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

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

After a break I'll continue writing Transformation: How God Changes the Human Heart.

Then: Technology and Spiritual Formation.

Then, the Lord willing, Linda and I will write our book on Relationships.

A Letter to Christians About Gentleness and Respect

Ancient war helmets, Detroit Institute of Art
Looks like someone took a spear in the forehead.

(This is for followers of Jesus. Because I see this happening everywhere, to include, sadly, in the Church. And note: it all speaks to me, as well. Perhaps I am writing this for my own instruction? To remind myself of The Standard? If so, I can accept that. On this I agree with Dallas Willard, who once confessed that he had not loved others enough. Me either.)

In Romans 12 we are told to not conform our hearts to the pattern of our culture. God's kingdom, as Jesus repeatedly demonstrated, is not of this world.

One of this world's patterns has always been harshness and disrespect. Especially when it comes to disagreement. Much of this is seen on social media. And it gets unloving and ugly.
And anti-Christlike. Followers of Jesus who descend into the ugly side of social media are conforming to the world's modus operandi.

The Jesus way, on the other hand, includes beliefs and attitudes such as...

Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.

All the awesome spiritual gifts are nothing if you don't have love, as a heart attitude that leads to behavior.

Love is the greatest thing. Therefore, if you are on social media, be great.

Express your reasons for the hope you have, but always do it in gentleness and with respect.

Avoid the argumentative person. (Proverbs)

Speak the truth? Yes! But always in love!

If it has flesh and blood, it is not our real enemy. (Do not be sucked in by social media about this. On social media we see people fighting against people.)

When disagreeing, be patient with others, as you work to listen and understand them. (1 Cor. 13)

In disagreement, never dishonor others.  (1 Cor. 13)

Remove your anger buttons. (1 Cor. 13)

Grow up spiritually, and put the ways of children behind you. (1 Cor. 13:11)

When in conflict and disagreement, see HERE for how to be both truthful and loving. 

Remember that, contrary to much media, to disagree is not to hate.

If, when dialoguing and disagreeing, you fall into hatred, dishonor, and diminishment of the other, repent, and ask them for forgiveness. Do not do this on social media. 

The superior conflict-discussing, understanding-and-forgiving environment is face-to-face. Phone conversation comes in second. Email and texting is a distant, inferior third. The worst way, the incendiary way, is on social media, for the world to see. True, that's more interesting and attention-getting. Which is part of our world's disease.

Finally, In Essentials Unity, in Nonessentials Liberty, and in All Things, Love. Read, again, 1 Corinthians 13. Apply.

(Maybe...   one more suggestion...  take some philosophy classes. In my experience these classes had much debate and disagreement, but done civilly. Because, in logic, ad hominem abusives are irrelevant to truth-seeking.)

My three books are:

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

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

After a break I'll continue writing Transformation: How God Changes the Human Heart.

Then: Technology and Spiritual Formation.

Then, the Lord willing, Linda and I will write our book on Relationships.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Prayer and the Basic Question of Psalm 23

I'm re-posting this this video I made in July 2013 when I taught Spiritual Formation at Payne Theological Seminary.

Today Linda and I are at our summer Green Lake conference. 


Encounters with the Holy Spirit by [Piippo, John]

Encounters with the Holy Spirit  (co-edited with Janice Trigg) is now available on Kindle - $3.99.

This book is a collection of essays on the Holy Spirit from Christian leaders who are active in Holy Spirit Renewal Ministries. It is the story of a conference that became a family. The chapters present a biblical and theological understanding of the Holy Spirit, with stories of experiencing and encountering the Spirit. 

Like both wings of an airplane are needed to get off the ground and soar, soaring with God’s Spirit requires good thinking about the Spirit and encounters and experiences with the Spirit. We believe you will discover both in this collection of essays. You will gain deeper understanding of the Holy Spirit’s ways.

We pray this will culminate in a life of greater experience with God. May the Holy Spirit encourage, strengthen, illuminate, and empower you as you read this book!

Friday, June 21, 2019

Secularism Rules in Western Churches

Duck family in my front yard

Two years ago I read The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation, by Rod Dreher.

Dreher said the culture wars are over, at least in the West. The sexual revolution and the technological revolution have won. I agree, at least for the extended moment.

The American Church was not prepared for this. "The public square has been lost." (P. 9) American churches have succumbed. 

C.S. Lewis referred to the secular world as "enemy-occupied territory." The enemy is within the camp, ruling over hearts and minds. Many churches are not safe places for followers of Jesus. They are "mostly about improving one’s self-esteem and subjective happiness and getting along well with others." (P. 10)

Dreher writes:

"Not only have we lost the public square, but the supposed high ground of our churches is no safe place either...  The changes that have overtaken the West in modern times have revolutionized everything, everything, even the church, which no longer forms souls but caters to selves. As conservative Anglican theologian Ephraim Radner has said, “There is no safe place in the world or in our churches within which to be a Christian. It is a new epoch.”" (P. 9)

"Don’t," warns Dreher, "be fooled by the large number of churches you see today... If the demographic trends continue, our churches will soon be empty."

In my book Leading the Presence-Driven Church my concluding chapter is, "God's Presence Will Win the Day." I believe this. What is needed is:

1) decolonization; and 
2) return.

Dreher writes, "many of the churches that do stay open will have been hollowed out by a sneaky kind of secularism to the point where the “Christianity” taught there is devoid of power and life." (P. 10)

Needed: God's power and life. Not human staging and hype.

Dreher writes about how Moralistic Therapeutic Deism has colonized the Church. (Years ago I read Christian Smith's Soul Searching, which introduced MTD.)

Dreher's book still resonates with me (except perhaps for his negative evaluation on the Reformation). At least he doesn't have his head in the sand.

My three books are:

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

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

After a break I'll continue writing Transformation: How God Changes the Human Heart.

Then: Technology and Spiritual Formation.

Then, the Lord willing, Linda and I will write our book on Relationships.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Marriage Is Not the Greatest Thing

Image may contain: bird, grass, outdoor and nature
(Duck in my back yard.)

When I became a Jesus-follower God told me to take a full year off from dating. I did. It was a wonderful experience. I focused on what Colossians 1:18 calls "the supremacy of Christ." Christ was my "head," I was part of his "body," the body of Christ, his "Church." (Col. 1:18 again)

I felt free from cultural pressure to date. My life goal was no longer to find some "soul mate," because my soul was mated to Christ. My desire was to know Christ, and be found in him. I was allowing God to change me in ways that would be good for any future relationship I might be in.

If you are not dating, or not married, give thanks to God. You have a Pauline opportunity (1 Corinthians 7:8) to draw close to the Only One who purely loves your soul. Take advantage of this and rejoice!

If you feel pressure to date and mate, ask yourself, where does this come from? I have met many who get into a relationship to satisfy cultural expectations, or to please their mother and father. Or, who have the idea that without being married I will be unfulfilled. This pressure is not from God. It's a very non-Pauline idea, since Paul himself seemed to do more than fine without being married. It creates the idolatrous idea that marriage is life's greatest thing. It is not. 

I've seen Christian marriages that are toxic, not because of "irreconcilable differences" or "incompatibility," but because of spiritual and emotional immaturity. These marriages are hellish. If you are not in a marriage like this, give thanks! You have been spared from a dark existence. Be thankful you are not in a world where adult babies are making babies, and then abandoning them in divorce (at a 50% rate).

Simply because a husband and wife are Christians does not guarantee a wonderful marriage. There is a ton of ongoing marital work to be done. This never ends. Few people count the cost of marriage, and end up paying in ways they never imagined.

There's nothing wrong in desiring and praying for a life partner. There is something wrong with the idea that life will never be flourishing without one. Imagine how Christ feels about that! Overwhelmingly, marriage is not God's greatest thing.

Ben Witherington understands this ("Family First!— Not a Biblical Viewpoint"). He writes: 

"Anyone who has carefully read 1 Corinthians 7 will know that Paul says that being married in the Lord or being single for the sake of Christ are both good stations in life, and BOTH require a certain ‘charisma’ or grace gift to live in such a state. That is, Paul does not agree that marriage is the normal default for every believer. He doesn’t think we should think that way at all. It is not the highest goal that everyone should strive to reach. Frankly, says Paul, I would prefer various of you be single like me, for the sake of the Kingdom. But each according to his gift. 
What is radical in its day, and even now, about the teaching of Jesus and Paul (remembering Jesus in Mt. 19 says disciples can be eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom) is what they say about the viability and goodness of never marrying, or remaining single after you lose your spouse. Frankly, Jesus would have been appalled at the name of a Sunday school class at my old church— ‘Pairs and Spares’. Single persons are not like spare tires. They are not like fifth wheels. 
Indeed the NT warns us that some people are just not cut out for or gifted [or called] to be married, and we should stop trying to goad all believers in that direction. [Stop doing this please!!!!!]  Instead, we need a more viable theology of and support for single persons. We need to stop exalting marriage as if it were the only good state of being for any true believer. It isn’t. As Christians our highest good and highest calling is to follow the example of Christ and the teaching of Christ, and neither of these things encourage us to put up banners that say ‘Family first!’. Rather the body of Christ needs desperately to get on with being a family towards all of its members and learning what in fact that means and entailed." [Parenthetical remarks and emphasis mine.]

What if you are in a marriage that is struggling? See my post - How to Save Your Failing Marriage.

My three books are:

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

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

After a break I'll continue writing Transformation: How God Changes the Human Heart.

Then: Technology and Spiritual Formation.

Then, the Lord willing, Linda and I will write our book on Relationships.