Monday, December 31, 2007

Be a Revolutionary in 2008

(The River Raisin in Monroe, taken from the back of our property)

Want to do something radical and revolutionary in 2008? Why not follow Jesus?

I am not talking about being a “Christian.” Can we admit that there are a whole lot of people in America, and probably right here in Monroe, that call themselves “Christians” but do not really follow Jesus? Personally, I don’t think the word “Christian” is worth a lot anymore. As the atheist Nietzsche said years ago, for him it was Christians who gave Jesus a bad name.

Just follow Jesus. I am not talking about perfection or a holier-than-thou-ness. None of us are perfect. Being imperfect is not being hypocritical. Calling yourself a Christian and not following Jesus, not actually following Him and embracing Him and worshiping Him - that is hypocrisy. Hypocrisy hurts the cause of Christ more than atheism does.

I am talking about the heart. My heart, and your heart. A heart that is passionate about… Jesus. A heart that longs to know Jesus. A heart that longs to make Jesus known to others. A heart that has come to Jesus and been flooded by living waters. A heart that knows Jesus. Jesus rejected the superfical self-righteousness of the Pharisees. He always went deeper than that. He was going after the heart. My heart, and your heart. Your heart was made by Him and for Him. He wants your heart. This can be you!

I am not talking about intellectual “knowledge.” In the Bible, “knowing” is an intimate experiential thing. Do I know my wife? Oh yes. Her name is Linda, she’s 5′6″ tall, she loves sushi, she plays piano, she grew up in Illinois, etc. etc. ad infinitum. But of course that kind of knowledge is superficial knowledge, and if that’s all I know in regard to Linda both I and she are in trouble. The real question is: do I know her heart, and does she know my heart?

Do you know Jesus? Not… “know about” Jesus. The demons know about Jesus, maybe more than you or I do. Are you close to Jesus? Does Jesus have your heart? There will be some to whom Jesus says, “I never knew you.” Meaning: “you never got close to me and followed after me.” Where are you with this?

I am not talking about using Jesus to find “prosperity” for your own self. That’s neither revolutionary or radical. That is not the real Gospel. How do I know this? You can see this for yourself simply by reading Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. A lot of what is on TV in the name of Jesus is not really about Jesus. It’s just American materialism co-opting the message of Jesus to advance their own earthly kingdoms. Reject that. Find it truly dull and uninteresting. Jesus is far, far more radical and revolutionary than this.

Why not join Jesus’ real family in 2008? What might that mean? Jesus Himself said that whoever does the will of God are His brothers and sisters. It’s all about following Jesus as King and Lord. It’s all about being a disciple. If someone is not a disciple, an actual follower, are they a “Christian?” More and more, I doubt it. Of course I am not the judge of any of this. But again, read the 4 Gospels and show me where someone is a “Christian” and not a disciple. You won’t find it.

Obey Jesus. To do this you’ve got to die to your own self. You’ve got to deny your ego-self every day and take up the cross and follow Him. But must we be flawless in this? No. Remember, it’s all about the heart, your heart. Does God captivate you? Does He fascinate you? Do you hunger and thirst for God? Is it #1 for you to seek after the kingdom of God and His righteousness?

Personally, I want to be a better, truer follower of Jesus in 2008 than I have ever been. I want God to use me to release people from the darkness of going after money, sex, and power. I want to be further released from the dark power of these things in my own soul. And I want the “Christian-religious” stuff cast out of me so that I might be encountered by the Living God. The more I read the actual words of Jesus the more I see the distance between what I understand and my flawed heart. Yet, because I (and you) are hugely loved by Jesus, I am drawn to be more like Him.

Reject the false gods of Money, Sex, and Power. They enslave. They are not radical, but commonplace. Increasingly I find them boring, tedious, and harsh. They create addicts who are never, ever satisfied in this life. Show me a money-addict, a sex-addict, or a power addict who got satisfied and achieved contentment - I don’t think you can. Personally, I have known addiction, and I want out. I am more interested than ever in the way out of that kind of slavery. I believe the way out is found in Jesus. It’s all about freedom, and Jesus said, if we follow after Him, we will know the truth, and the truth will set us free from our dark addictions.

Be a radical in 2008. Be a revolutionary. If any historical figure was, surely it was Jesus of Nazareth. Follow after Him. Put down all the Christian books for a while and read the original documents. Read and re-read Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in 2008. Discover Jesus. be discovered by Jesus. Don’t compare your life with with any mere human (like me or anyone else); measure yourself by the Real Jesus. He is the light of the world; indeed, He is the light of life. He is the way, the truth, and the life.

Friday, December 28, 2007

"I Am Legend," God, and Evil

(Queen Anne's Lace - Monroe County, Michigan, 12/2007)

In “I Am Legend” Will Smith plays Dr. Robert Neville, a scientist who was part of developing a cure for cancer that instead turned into a killer virus, wiping out most of mankind. Neville is immune to the virus, and stays in NYC working to find an antidote.

A woman and her mute son find Neville. This woman claims to hear from God and be led by God. Neville says to her, “There is no God.” Later on Neville, when talking about the virus, says “God didn’t cause this.” Which is correct. The question this film raises but never adequately deals with is: does the reality of massive evil argue against the existence of God?

The wiping out of mankind causes Neville to turn to atheism. I assume Neville was a theist, as we see his wife praying for his safety as he is separated from her and his daughter. Now, in the face of mass extermination and the residual suffering of humans turned into “Dark Seekers,” Neville apparently has concluded God could not exist. For if God did exist, he could have stopped this horrible thing from happening. Such evil shows that if there is a God he is either not all-loving or not all-powerful. Or, there is no God.

When Neville says “God didn’t cause this” he is, in my mind, at least entertaining the idea that, even though there is this mass suffering, it doesn’t mean God doesn’t exist. Humans caused this suffering, he being one of them. Neville thus presents a form of what is called The Free Will Defense against the argument from evil. God has given persons free will, because love is only possible if persons have free will, and love is the highest value for God. This is risky for God since persons can use their free will to either deliberately bring about evil or inadvertently bring about evil. Neville and his colleagues were trying to bring about a great good, and instead brought about a great evil.

This reminds me of atheist Albert Camus’s The Plague. The main character, Dr. Rieux, labors to help infected people in their homes and in hospitals. Father Paneloux tells people the plague is an act of God against the sins of the people. The story can be read as being about the essential irrationality and absurdity of the world. No cure is found, and Dr. Rieux’s wife dies as well. Where was God?

In “Legend” the cure finally comes, and Neville becomes a God-believer again. From my Christian paradigm, the “cure” has already come. There is an antidote for our darkness-diseased souls in Christ. (Neville himself becomes a bit of a Christ-figure, bringing the antidote to save the world from sin and darkness, and giving his life in the end to accomplish this. But his earlier self-doubt and God-doubt is more like the bumbling Willem Dafoe Freudian Jesus in "The Last Temptation of Christ.")

As for the atheist Camus, read Howard Mumma’s Albert Camus and the Minister, which records Camus’s interest in God and Christianity in his later years.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

A Meditation on the Question "Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing?"

Today the thought came to me, as it sometimes does, that I exist and a universe exists and that seems amazing to me. This was an existential, experiential kind of thing for me rather than an evidentialist argumentative thing. Yet the experience usually leads to a reasoning about it.

I consider it a fact that I exist. I find such a fact outrageous. Improbable. Astounding. This is the old "Why is there something rather than nothing?" question. I read it in Heidegger many years ago, and it stays with me. (Yes, Heidegger's definition of "Nothing" would here need to be more thoroughly explained.)

Something exists. Why? Why... not nothing? It does not seem illogical that nothing might be the case. But nothing is not the case. Again, I exist. And, a universe exists. And this "I" that exists can self-reflexively note my existence and reflect on it, and this seems to me at times absurd in the sense of being rationally inexplicable. To me, scientific and philosophical explanations do not resolve this absurdity for me. Two such examples are given by Victor Stenger (who defines nothingness as a simpler form of somethingness) and Bede Rundle (who argues that somethingness is far more probable than nothingness).

Stenger's answer to the question is that "nothing" actually is a simple state of "something." He writes: "Then why is there something rather than nothing? Because something is the more natural state of affairs and is thus more likely than nothing-more than twice as likely according to one calculation. We can infer this from the processes of nature where simple systems tend to be unstable and often spontaneously transform into more complex ones. Theoretical models such as the inflationary model of the early universe bear this out." Stenger seems to beg the question, arguing that: 1) "something" is a more natural state of affairs than "nothing"; 2) Thus "something is more likely than "nothing." But of course, if "nothing" is a "state of affairs."

Stenger defines "nothing" as follows: "This suggests a more precise definition of nothing. Nothing is a state that is the simplest of all conceivable states. It has no mass, no energy, no space, no time, no spin, no bosons, no fermions-nothing... As Nobel Laureate physicist Frank Wilczek has put it, "The answer to the ancient question 'Why is there something rather than nothing?' would then be that 'nothing' is unstable."

But that's not what I mean by "nothing." "Nothing" could not be unstable; only "something" could be unstable. By defining "nothing" as "the simplest of all conceivable states" with an inherent instability Stenger declares that such nothingness could not be the case. He defines nothingness as the simplest form of somethingness. But that is not what has fascinated people about the question. I am interested in the possibility, even the probability, that no state of affairs could be the case. Rundle addresses this in Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing, and finds it not improbable but logically impossible that nothingness should be the case.

Commenting on Rundle, Eric Lund writes:

"How does Rundle defend his central claim that nothingness is not a genuine possibility? The general idea is that the expression "There is nothing" fails to express a genuine claim unless something more is added that completes it but that any such completion leaves us with something. One way of completing the expression is by specifying where there is nothing, as in "There is nothing in the cupboard". But as soon as we say where there is nothing, we thereby also grant that there is something, namely, the place in physical space which is claimed to be unoccupied. One might think that "There is nothing at all" would do the job, but this statement, too, raises the question of where the state-of-affairs that is described obtains (where there is nothing at all), at least this is what I think Rundle would say in response."

To this Lund responds that
"perhaps it is true that the logical grammar of ordinary language does not allow us to express complete nothingness and that everything we can say is relative to a presupposed non-empty domain, but it is not clear to me why this linguistic fact must be taken as an indication of a fundamental conceptual barrier or, indeed, as a constraint on reality itself. To some extent at least Rundle solves one mystery by introducing another."

It seems true that ordinary language cannot get away from existence presumptions. But philosophically I can conceive of my own nothingness when I begin to think of what it was like for me to live in medieval Europe. I did not exist during that time. My non-existence was actual. I can thus, it seems to me, philosophically conceive of all things and all contexts as nonexistent. I may be grammatically constricted, but there seems to be no inherent logical contradiction in the idea of absolute nothingness.

Is it that I am amazed that something rather than nothing exists because I am ignorant of philsophical and/or scientific arguments re. nothingness's implausibility? Surely this is possible. In that case I would be like the man in "The Gods Must Be Crazy" who was amazed that the coke bottle fell from the sky. Yet I personally cannot seem to get away from the idea that nothingness seems prima facie more plausible than somethingness. It is this thought that causes me to be more than intellectually interested that something exists; indeed, that I exist.

(By the way, I am not using this an an argument for the existence of God. In this regard I am interested to see if J.P. Moreland addresses this issue in his forthcoming Consciousness and the Existence of God.)

Is it that I am amazed that something rather than nothing exists because I am ignorant of philsophical and/or scientific arguments re. nothingness's implausibility? Surely this is possible. In that case I would be like the man in "The Gods Must Be Crazy" who was amazed that the coke bottle fell from the sky.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

What I'll Be Reading and Studying in 2008

When it comes to reading books I have always multi-tasked. So now I am reading, as usual, 5-10 books at a time. I do this to learn. And, reading for me is relaxing and a hobby. Sitting down with a good book and reading slowly through it takes the place of a lot of other things for me.

My reading emphases are as follows:

  • Christology and New Testament studies, to include regularly reading the Bible. I'll finish the excellent book by Greg Boyd and George Eddy - The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition. And, I hope to finally work through N.T. Wright's The Resurrection of the Son of God. I've also got Eugene Peterson's Eat This Book ready to go.

  • More focused biblical-theological studies on the Kingdom of God. I remain impresseed with J.P. Moreland's Kingdom Triangle: Recover the Christian Mind, Renovate the Soul, Restore the Spirit's Power. Moreland articulates what I have found myself doing for many years. I strongly recommend this book to you if you have not yet read it.

  • Certain problems in the philosophy of religion - esp. the existence or non-existence of God, the problem of evil, Plantingian warranted belief, the soul-body problem, and others. I'm now reading University of Montreal neuroscientist Mario Beauregard's The Spiritual Brain: A Neuroscientist's Case for the Existence of the Soul. I hope to be making some specific posts on this book in the future.

  • Certain Old Testament issues - e.g., I've read and will be reading studies on the Exodus tradition as historical and counter-claims that it is not historical. I've got a number of the minimalist texts already. I'll pick up James Hoffmeier's Ancient Israel in Sinai: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Wilderness Tradition.

  • Issues of Christian spirituality. I've purchased some new Howard Thurman books and will finish them. Thurman is especially good on showing how authentic Jesus-spirituality and outward social action are inextricably linked. Tony Campolo and Mary Darling have written a Thurman-esque book - The God of Intimacy and Action: Reconnecting Ancient Spiritual Practices, Evangelism, and Justice. I've got that in my shelf and will give it slow read soon.

  • Finally, I'll hope to read through the Bible again. My friend Craig Keener says: "We live in an "instant" culture that delights in shortcuts, but we cannot settle for prepacked verses we have heard quoted by others—even by "everyone else." . . . We must study the Bible passage by passage and book by book. Only then will God begin to open fully the treasures of wisdom and knowledge He has given us in Scripture." The version I will use for this is The Books of the Bible (with the orange peel cover!). This is a unique Bible in the following ways, and it's only $8.99 online:
    - Chapter and verse numbers are removed from the text(A chapter and verse range is given at the bottom of each page)
    - Each book's natural literary breaks are shown instead
    - There are no notes, cross references, or section headings in the text
    - Text is presented in one column rather than two or more
    - Books that have historically been divided into parts are restored
    - Books are presented in an order that gives readers more help in understanding

Monday, December 24, 2007

Last Minute Gift - "The Bible Experience"

One of today’s great New Testament scholars is Scot McKnight. I regularly check out his excellent blog. Scot strongly recommends picking up The Bible Experience, which is an audio Bible unlike any other.

For a sampling, watch the 11-minute video here or here.

John Maxwell says: “Inspired By…The Bible Experience is exactly what its title indicates, an experience. I’ve listened to many audio Bibles over the years, but none have achieved what The Bible Experience has, which is to bring the Bible to life in a very real, compelling, accessible and experiential way. I would strongly recommend that you listen to it and share it with others. I guarantee it will change the way you and they engage with the word of God.”

Thursday, December 20, 2007

William Lane Craig on How Noetic Structures Either Allow or Disallow Epistemic Certainty

In his monthly e-letter William Lane Craig explains how noetic structures allow or disallow for confidence in our reason. I think what he says is good. It's similar to the kind of things Plantinga writes about noetic structures, esp. in Plantinga's work on properly basic beliefs and the "Great Pumpkin objection."

Craig writes:

"I presented a well-attended lecture [at the annual convention of the Evangelical Theological and Philosophical Societies] on the question "Is Uncertainty a Sound Foundation for Religious Tolerance?" My target here was certain philosophers who claim that religious tolerance should be based on two factors: (1) our grasp of moral principles which state that persecution of other religions is wrong and (2)uncertainty that one's own religion is true.

Such philosophers want to foster as much uncertainty about religious beliefs as they can and as much certainty about moral beliefs as they can as a way of increasing tolerance. I pointed out that this strategy backfires in a number of ways.

In the first place, with respect to a religion like Christianity, which commands us to love our neighbor and even our enemy, it's not uncertainty but certainty of that religion's truth that will increase religious toleration. Fostering uncertainty about such a religion will actually decrease people's motivation to be tolerant. In fact, for any religion which sees morality as based in God, undermining people's belief in God will undermine their confidence in the very moral principles which state that persecution is wrong!

In the second place, for people in many of the world religions, likeHinduism or Buddhism, increasing their confidence in the truth of certain moral principles will actually falsify their religions. [Emphasis mine] For these religions hold that moral values and the distinction between right and wrong belong to the realm of illusion. In reality, there is no distinction between good and evil: all is One. So you can't be a Hindu or a Buddhist or a Daoist and believe that persecution is really, objectively wrong. If you do believe that, you've falsified your religion. So you can't hold to those religions (even with uncertainty) and believe in the moral principle of tolerance. So this approach is really quite hopeless."

Put in a George Mavrodes way, in a Hindu or Buddhist or Taoist world (i.e., if the world were actually as these religions say it is), then being confident of certain moral principles would be weird.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Charles Taylor's Deconstruction of Nietzsche's Death of God

Today's nytimes reviews philosopher Charles Taylor's massive, 856-page book A Secular Age. Taylor deconstructs the "death nof God" idea as put forth by Nietzsche, arguing that, without God, life is meaningless.

From the review: "Taylor’s deconstruction of the death-of-God thesis rests on his conviction that “the arguments from natural science to Godlessness are not all that convincing.” He has no patience with atheists like Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett, who argue that science, particularly the theory of evolution, has consigned religion to the ash heap of history. Taylor, in contrast, sees science as reinforcing religion, since God is implicated in a social existence where the contemplation of meaning and order suggests “something divine in us.”"

"“A Secular Age” is a work of stupendous breadth and erudition..."

Of especial interest to me is the distinction taylor makes between Max Weber and Emile Durkheim. Some of my studies which I incorporated into my doctoral thesis were of Weber's idea of "disenchantment," and the resultant "dull, routine, and flat" universe. The sociology of Durkheim proves to be more optimistic, and sees value in "religion as providing a framework of meaning, a realm of unifying symbols and a sense of belonging."

Taylor writes: “Our access to the will of God, through his design is crucial to the story of the modern moral order and to the new neo-Durkheimian understanding of God’s presence among us.”

This review, plus the comments below (emphases mine), tell me that this is a book I will have to read, as will anyone who wants to go deep into the heart of secularism so as to understand the current condition of Europe and North America.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review) : If the author had accomplished nothing more than a survey of the voluminous body of "secularization theory," he would have done something valuable. But, although Taylor clearly articulates his disdain for the view that modernity ineluctably led to the death of God, he goes far beyond a literature review...In addition to its conceptual value, this study is notable for its lucidity. Taylor has translated complex philosophical theories into language that any educated reader will be able to follow, yet he has not sacrificed an iota of sophistication or nuance. A magisterial book.

Publishers Weekly (starred review) : In his characteristically erudite yet engaging fashion, Taylor takes up where he left off in his magnificent Sources of the Self (1989) as he brilliantly traces the emergence of secularity and the processes of secularization in the modern age...Taylor sweeps grandly and magisterially through the 18th and 19th centuries as he recreates the history of secularism and its parallel challenges to religion. He concludes that a focus on the religious has never been lost in Western culture, but that it is one among many stories striving for acceptance. Taylor's examination of the rise of unbelief in the 19th century is alone worth the price of the book and offers an essential reminder that the Victorian age, more than the Enlightenment, dominates our present view of the meanings of secularity. Taylor's inspired combination of philosophy and history sparkles in this must-read virtuoso performance.

The Economist : One finds big nuggets of insight, useful to almost anybody with an interest in the progress of human society...A vast ideological anatomy of possible ways of thinking about the gradual onset of secularism as experienced in fields ranging from art to poetry to psychoanalysis...Taylor also lays bare the inconsistencies of some secular critiques of religion.

Baltimore Sun : Sophisticated, erudite...with excursions into history, philosophy and literature, A Secular Age is a weighty and challenging tome. It is also a brilliant account of the "sensed context" in which secularization developed. And a moving meditation, by a believer, on the "ineradicable bent" of human beings to respond to something beyond life, to keep open "the transcendent window."--Glenn C. Altschuler

New York Sun : A salutary and sophisticated defense of how life was lived before the daring views of a tiny secular elite inspired mass indifference, and how it might be lived in the future.--Michael Burleigh

Vancouver Sun : [A] big, powerful book...[Taylor's] book is massive in its historical and philosophical scope. Penetrating and dense, it would take months to fully digest. Loosely structured, it's crammed with original insights. Taylor, 75, can pack more into one of his complex paragraphs than most prevaricating, deconstructing academic philosophers can say in a chapter, or even a book...The book explores the immense ramifications of how the West shifted in a few centuries from being a society in which "it was virtually impossible not to believe in God" to one in which belief is optional, often frowned upon.--Douglas Todd

Los Angeles Times : In A Secular Age, philosopher Charles Taylor takes on the broad phenomenon of secularization in its full complexity...[A] voluminous, impressively researched and often fascinating social and intellectual history...Taylor's account encompasses art, literature, science, fashion, private life--all those human activities that have been sometimes more, sometimes less affected by religion over the last five centuries.--Jack Miles

Montreal Gazette : The real genius of this erudite and profound book resides in its grandeur of theme and richness of detail. For all its imposing intellectual density, it is a delight to read; at times, it was literally impossible to put down. Yet it is also a work that ought to be read by degrees--one chapter at a time, with ample pause for reflection.--Lorenzo DiTommaso

American Prospect : In an idiosyncratic blend of the philosophical, the historical, and the speculative, Taylor describes the shift from a world brim-full with spirits and magic to a world where divinity is absent. His account resists the idea that the rise of secularism is a process of subtraction, of loss, and of disenchantment. Rather, Taylor describes secularity's birth as the migration of ideas, subtle changes in those ideas, and the opening of new possibilities. If Taylor's communitarian scholarship celebrated historical and social rootedness, A Secular Age is an encomium to the sheer happenstance of how those circumstances arose.--Azziz Huq

Slate : Taylor's masterful integration of history, sociology, philosophy, and theology demands much of the reader. In return you will be convinced that Charles Taylor is one of the smartest and deepest social thinkers of our time.--Tyler Cowen

Cleveland Plain Dealer : A culminating dispatch from the philosophical frontlines. It is at once encyclopedic and incisive, a sweeping overview that is no less analytically rigorous for its breadth. Its subject is a philosophical history of the past, present and future of Western Christendom. As such, it begins with a deceptively simple question: How did it become possible for anyone to not believe in God?...A Secular Age recounts the history of an idea, in other words, but in it the past is not an inert, settled fact, but a reservoir to be drawn upon to shatter the sameness and the apparent inevitability of the present. As a history it clarifies crucial intellectual and theological divisions that continue to structure debates about divinity, but with the aim of reforming the way we think about them, "to show the play of destabilization and recomposition." Though this isn't a book you take to the beach [but why not?], it remains eminently readable. As philosophers go, Taylor is a kind of behaviorist, more concerned with elaborating the implications of a way of thinking than with showing its contradictions. Unlike most philosophers, though, Taylor seems at pains to remain accessible to a general audience to capture complex philosophical debate in ordinary language. An important part of Taylor's argument is that religion and the belief in God, most particularly the experience of transcendence, are not at all outmoded...Though it avoids predictions or prescriptions, A Secular Age leaves us with the sense that the future will be a far poorer, less human place, if we do not discover some expression for that transcendent otherness.--Steven Hayward

The Tablet : A Secular Age is a towering achievement...It shows the ways we have traveled from the automatic certainties of 1500 to the fragile alignments of today. It transforms the secularization debate.--David Martin

Friday, December 14, 2007

On Extraterrestrials & Dinosaurs

(The Sombrero Galaxy)

Recently one of my former MCCC philosophy students wrote and asked me a couple of questions. I thought I'd post my response here.

Hi ____ -

You asked: do I believe other life forms exist on other planets? Here's my position, which has nothing to do with belief in God or Christianity.

I am currently a "rare earth theorist." What does that mean? It's the position of astrophysicists Ward and Brownlee (University of Washington) as expressed in their book Rare Earth, as well as the position of Guillermo Gonzalez (Iowa State) in his book The Privileged Planet. Which is: definitely, most likely, "life" exists outside of earth, but such life is, most probably, no more than a flatworm. Probably, because of the vast improbability of all the needed rare earth factors coming together, there's no other intelligent life in the universe, outside of earth.

Note: This is a purely scientific theory, not a religious idea. For me, as both a theist and a Christian, whether or not there is intelligent life outside of earth has no effect on my philosophical and theological views.

Coming at this in another way, I see no biblical or theological reason to argue for or against life outside of earth.

Second, you ask: do I believe dinosaurs used to exist? Yes. Right now, my position would be similar to that of astronomer Hugh Ross. I do not see that the existence of dinosaurs at all negatively affects my belief in God and my Christian faith. For example, the word for "day" in the book of Genesis is the Hebrew word yom. "Yom" can be translated as "24-hour-period" or, e.g., "period of time" or "epoch" (like, "in the day of Abraham Lincoln). I choose to translate "yom," as used in the Genesis creation account, as "period of time." See Ross's website here for some points of view that interest me re. such discussions.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Steve Gaines on the Power of the Holy Spirit Without Physical Manifestations

A recent issue of Christianity Today had an article by Steve Gaines on praying for the power of the Holy Spirit to show up when we gather together as Jesus-followers. His article has many things I affirm. It also has some things I feel are misguided.

I've quoted the entire article below. My comments and concerns and questions are in bold.

"When God Comes to Church Is it wrong to pray that God will show up?"

by Steve Gaines

It was a warm spring Wednesday night in West Tennessee. Fifty or so of us faithful Southern Baptists were in church for prayer meeting. I was the 20-year-old college intern. It was part of my job to show up for these kinds of things. "Our spring revival starts in just a week and a half," the senior pastor was saying up front. He named the evangelist who would be coming to preach and told some of his credentials. "We sure want people to come to Christ during this series of meetings. In fact, before we start the prayer time, let's make a list of people here on the chalkboard.

Who of your relatives and friends and neighbors do you want to mention?"

A middle-aged woman with dark hair near the front raised her hand.

"I'm going to invite my neighbor in the next apartment. She's having lots of trouble in her life, I know. She really needs the Lord."

The pastor turned to write Lorene's neighbor on the board. A man in a denim shirt spoke up next. "We could pray for my brother-in-law to come. He's got a drinking problem. I don't know if he'd ever show up or not. I sure wish he would." Roy's brother-in-law was added to the list.

"Who else?" the pastor asked. I raised my hand.

"Yes, Steve?" the pastor said. "Who would you like us to pray for?" I knew that if God showed up, sinners would be touched and Christians would be stirred.

With all seriousness I replied, "Let's pray that God will show up at our revival."

I wasn't trying to be a smart aleck. I meant it with all my heart. Awkward silence. Heads swiveled toward me, then faced the front again. "Well, yes, we know the Lord will be here," a deacon declared, setting the record straight. I could tell I had committed a major boo-boo.

Though I had been a Christian only two years, I had heard enough sermons to know that God, of course, is everywhere. I even knew the word for it, omnipresent. But I also knew I had been at some meetings where God's presence was undeniably real, and others where it wasn't. At times it was almost palpable enough to reach out and touch with your hand.

In those special, holy times, you didn't want to move or cough for fear of breaking the moment. The leaders or singers on stage were eclipsed by the presence of one greater than they. It was not exaggerating to say that "God was in the house." I yearned to have this happen at our spring revival meeting. I knew that if God truly showed up, sinners would be touched and Christians would be stirred.

Unfortunately, the week came and went, the evangelist preached solid messages, we sang "Just as I Am," but not much happened. It turned out to be just another set of meetings. The next Wednesday night, one of the dear saints was blunt enough to ask out loud, "So why didn't we have a better revival this year?" I wanted to raise my hand and say, "Because God didn't show up!" But I knew I'd already said too much for a rookie youth intern. I held back. The thought did cross my mind, however, that if I ever served as pastor of a church, I hoped to lead people to hunger for the presence of God more than anything else. It's as if the church motto is "Come as you are; leave as you came."

Here I am now more than 25 years later, a fully credentialed, seminary-trained veteran of pastoral ministry. The various diplomas hang in nice frames on my office wall … still, in one sense I haven't changed from that night long ago. The cry of my heart is still for God to show up.

I once heard an old-time preacher speaking about God sending fire from heaven onto Mount Carmel during the prophet Elijah's day (1 Kings 18). He said that the manifest presence of God is "when God shows up, and he shows off!" He comes in not to take sides but to take over. When he arrives in splendor and glory, it is obvious to everyone that he is present and he is in charge. The human agendas fade away in the overwhelmingly awesome presence of the King of kings.

For years now this has been my primary prayer for every worship service. The longer I live, the less interested I am in how many people we have in the sanctuary. What is far more important to me is how much of God we have in the place. If he comes, we will have a wonderful service, no matter if there's only a handful.

I am not suggesting that God's people engage in fleshly emotionalism. God gets blamed for a lot that takes place in today's churches when in reality he had nothing to do with it. The Bible does not support Christians barking like dogs, rolling on the floor, laughing uncontrollably, or jerking and contorting. Nor does it mention angel feathers appearing at the church altar, gold dust forming on the minister's hands, or images of Mary appearing on the side of a building.

[OK - the Bible does not mention gold dust. So...? One cannot conclude, "Therefore, God would never, ever bring gold dust." In the Bible there are a lot of things that would appear very strange in a Western Eurocentric Enlightenment paradigm. "The Bible does not support... laughing uncontrollably, or jerking and contorting." How does the Bible not support this? Because such things are not mentioned? Acts chs. 1 & 2 describe, e.g., behaviors that again would not fit in to the Enlightenment worldview. The author simply states that the Bible does not support such things. But he gives no support for such a statement. I doubt that he could support his statement biblically. In the actual Bible a lot of strange and weird things happen.]

Something else is at work there; God should not be held responsible.

[You mean, Satan? Or, "the flesh?" If we really want God to come and heal and deliver, then we should be open to God's choice of methods to do this. And, let's say God does come, and someone gets healed. Like the brother-in-law with the drinking problem. Should he not laugh or twitch or move if God actually heals him, and he knows he has been set free? Should he not jerk or contort or roll on the floor? To me, such a healing could be so overpowering that it would necessarily affect him physiologically. Since we are not mind-body dualists like Descartes and all Cartesians, we would expect a freedom of the heart to be accompanied by something physical going on. But if minds are metaphysically detached from bodies, then of course when a mind is touched and healed of an addiction the body would not have a clue that something amazing and glorious and powerful has happened.]

But when God is in the house, it's not fleshly emotionalism. It's far beyond some talented soprano nailing a high B-flat at the pinnacle of her solo. It's not just a speaker revving up the audience. All of these things are fairly easy to manufacture by someone who has secular stage presence.

[Emotionalism? Let us reject that. Displays of emotion? All non-Cartesians should expect that. Were you healed of alcoholism might you smile, displaying some faint emotion? Might you actually be happy? Could you even be ecstatic and "embarrass" yourself in an overwhelming physical display of emotion? I think so. But if this pastor really wants God to show up and sets limits on the display of emotion I imagine God saying, "No..., that won't be possible."]

I'm talking instead about something that is real.

[Which implies: emotional responses are not real? How false because, again, Cartesian.]

I'm referring to what I read about on the day of dedication at the new temple, when "the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of God" (2 Chron. 5:14).

[Well..., if the priests could not stand..., did they fall down?]

That's one of the best definitions of revival I can think of: the glory of God filling the house of God. The Lord invaded the ceremony and basically took over, so that men and women fell to their knees and faces in reverent worship.

[Yes..., but surely they did not fall to their knees as a result of making a logical choice like, "Hmmm., the glory of the Lord is filling the house of God, so I will assume the proper position." Rather, the priests COULD NOT STAND. They were overcome physically as well as emotionally. In Hebrew psychology, the two are not metaphysically distinct.]

The New Testament tells about a prayer meeting where, as the early disciples poured out their hearts to God, "the place where they had gathered to gether was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness" (Acts 4:31). Those people lacked screens and microphones and all kinds of things we enjoy today in church life, but they had the manifest presence of God.

[The place was "shaken." Sounds rather upsetting to me. Hearts might have been beating faster, bodies might have twitched just a bit..., ]

What if the Holy Spirit would come and shake out the sin, the apathy, the pride, the self-centeredness, the satisfaction with church as usual. We don't need a bigger facility or a larger budget nearly as much as we need the presence and power of a holy God.

[I'd like this too. I don't find it odd, should the Holy Spirit come and "shake out the sin," that a physical body might shake just a bit as this is happening.]

Through the years I have seen glimpses of what I'm trying to describe. I remember one morning in Jackson, Tennessee, we had enjoyed a wonderful time of worshiping the Lord through congregational singing. When the choir began its song, I don't know how to ex plain it except to say that God walked in the room. You could sense his presence. People, without any human prompting, began to stand with their eyes closed, worshiping the Lord. Some slipped quietly to the front of the church, knelt at the altar, and prayed. At the end of the service, several lost people gave their hearts to Christ and became believers. It was like a little touch of heaven on earth, and we all left wanting more. I also experienced these "heavenly invasions" during a 14-year pastorate in Gardendale, Alabama. In the mid-1990s, many people in that church began to fast, pray, and seek the Lord's presence. People started getting right with the Lord and with one another. God began to bless our worship services with his presence. The Lord knew he was welcome at any time to do anything he wanted among his people.

[Except for... falling, laughing, twitching, gold dust, and a host of other banned physiological manifestations that would embarrass the heck out of Descartes and many Enlightenmentized Evangelicals???]

After all, it is his church, isn't it? He graciously enthroned himself on our praises (Ps. 22:3) and met with his people who were hungry for him. Again, I want to be clear that I'm not talking about anything unbiblical or weird.

[Nothing "weird?" Does "weird" = "unbiblical?" If so, we're reading different Bibles.]

What I'm speaking about is the real deal found in Scripture—the manifest presence of God.

[The "real deal" found in Scripture has some pretty strange stuff in it...]

When he shows up, no true believer in Jesus has to ask, "Is this really God?" The Holy Spirit within us confirms the obvious: Jesus is here. I am convinced that one of the reasons so many people are turned off from the idea of church these days is that it is all so explainable.

[Ban physiological manifestations and it will all remain quite explainable.]

Too many churches are growing simply because they are well-oiled machines. Church programs, in and of themselves, will not change one person's life for eternity. Rather, what causes a thief to quit stealing from his employer, what causes divorced people to soften their hearts and remarry each other, what causes a man to stop using pornography, what causes a homosexual to turn away from his lifestyle, what causes grown men to reconcile after not speaking to each other in years is the touch of God.

If the Lord is truly our focal point, needy people can come into the house of God and feel his convicting power even during the time of singing, before the preacher ever starts. James 4:8 says, "Draw near to God and he will draw near to you."

We have to focus on him first of all. It does no good to reach out to human beings ahead of reaching out to God. That's backwards. When we get close to God, he moves close to us—and peo ple come running to get in on the action. A lot of churches in America have become like the Wal-Mart Supercenter down the street. They desire to be efficient, offer a dizzying array of products, and be smooth at the checkout lanes; but there's little if anything that transcends the ordinary. There's no awareness or focus on the presence of God in the place. It's as though the motto of some churches is "Come as you are; leave as you came." They haven't been touched in their soul by Jesus Christ. It makes me wonder if God can find anybody who wants to pay attention to him. God's people, not unbelievers, are the ones holding back revival.

God wants to return to his people and to his houses of worship in great power and glory. He is graciously knocking at the door of our churches. Are we willing to let him inside?


Steve Gaines is pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church near Memphis, Tennessee.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The "Imposter God" of "The Golden Compass"

Here Christianity Today's "Golden Compass" review.
I picked up and am now reading the "His Dark Materials" trilogy, of which "Compass" is the first volume.
I also got two books analyzing HDM and Philip Pullman's views - Killing the Imposter God: Philip Pullman's Spiritual Imagination in His Dark Materials (Jossey-Bass), by Boston U. professor Donna Freitas, and Dark Matter: Shedding Light on Philip Pullman's Trilogy, His Dark Materials (IVP), by Tony Watkins.
A cursory look through these books reveals that the "God" Pullman kills off in HDM is an "imposter God" who is a hyper-authoritarian Medieval deity. It may be (I shall soon see) that the "God" in HDM that is raged against is an idea that I also reject.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Darren Wilson's Film to Premiere at Redeemer This Sunday Night!

Darren Wilson, and MHS graduate, is currently a professor in the communication arts department at Judson College, Elgin, Illinois.
Darren has traveled the world doing a documentary movie on what God is doing in the world today. I have seen the film already, and view it as an expression of the love of God manifested in many ways of compassion and healing. And, it has to me a "Michael Moore-ish" feel; that is, if Moore were a Jesus-follower then this is what his films would look like.
The film is one hour and 50 minutes long.
The world premier is here in Monroe: This Sunday, Dec. 9, 6:30 PM, Redeemer Fellowship Church, 5305 Evergreen, 734-242-5277.
For more information here is the film’s website.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Atheist Sunday Schools

Time magazine has an article on atheist Sunday schools - go here. The essay also mentions "Camp Quest," an kids summer camp for atheists. We have a Camp Quest in Michigan. I know a man who sent his grandchild to it.

The Golden Compass: A Parody

The movie "The Golden Compass" comes out this week. Here's a UK parody on youtube.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The God Delusion #45: Dawkins's Mouth Puts Publisher in Danger

Richard Dawkins has made Turkish Muslims angry. An Associated Press report today says this:

"A Turkish prosecutor has launched a probe into whether a book by best-selling atheist writer Richard Dawkins is an attack on religious values — a move that could lead to the prosecution of the book's Turkish publisher.

Publisher Erol Karaaslan said Wednesday he would be questioned by an Istanbul prosecutor on Thursday as part of the official investigation into Dawkins' book, "The God Delusion."

Karaaslan could face trial and up to one year in prison if the prosecutor concludes that the book "incites religious hatred" and insults religious values, Milliyet newspaper reported. Karaaslan is both the publisher and translator of the book."
Whoops - the ad hominem abusive mouth of Dawkins gets someone else in big trouble. That's not a very nice thing to do. Surely Dawkins's book is hate-filled and insulting, which has scandalized even other atheists.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Spirituality of Howard Thurman

For years I have taught seminary courses and led retreats and spoken at conferences that have to do with Christian Spirituality. Topics I both teach and practice include: Personal Transformation; History of Christian Spirituality; Prayer; Keeping a Spiritual Journal; Biblical Meditation; Hearing the Voice of God; Entering Into the Presence of God; and so on.
One of the authors who has influenced me is Howard Thurman. Thurman, to me, is THE African-American scholar on all things spiritual in the sense referred to above. I am now, daily, reading through Thurman's beautiful Meditations of the Heart. Waiting next to be read is Howard Thurman: Essential Writings.
Thurman was mentored by Quaker prayer-scholar Rufus Jones. Thurman's work is dead-on biblical. He reminds me a lot of Henri Nouwen and Thomas Merton. Thurman leads us to the necessary foundation for all truly authentic and relevant Jesus-following; viz., a life that consistently dwells in the presence of God.
Here's a Thurman quote to digest, slowly: "What a man is, what his plans are, what his authentic point is, where his life goes - all is available to him in the Presence. How foolish it is, how terrible, if you have not found your Island of Peace within your own soul! It means you are living without the discovery of your true home." (Meditations of the Heart, 18)

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Tony Blair's Belief in God

Tony Blair has admitted his belief in God played a "hugely important" role during his decade as prime minister.

For the article, which is in The Australian, go here.

Blair notes that it's taboo in British politics to talk about God. One will think you are a "nutter."
See this article by John Humphrys, who wonders about Blair's recent statement that, in politics and government, "we don't do God."

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Does Atheism Have a Happy Face?

As an undergraduate studying philosophy in the 1970s I spent much time reading atheistic philosophers. Some of these readings were required for classes, and others I read on my own.

I was introduced to Nietzsche and Sartre and Camus, to Flew and Humean skepticism (whether or not Hume was an atheist is questionable). I read Kafka and watched the films of Ingmar Bergman. I immersed myself in atheistic and theistic existentialist literature, finding it fascinating and challenging and compelling. I also found it, personally, despairing. And I respected the reasoning and thinking as regards the logic of atheism which, for me, still means this: If there is no God, then this life is meaningless and absurd. One can coherently imply nihilism from atheism.

Consider Bertrand Russell's famous quote from "A Free Man's Worship": "That Man is the product of causes which had not prevision of the end they were achieving; are but the outcome of accidental collocation of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the age, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man's achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins -- all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul's habitation henceforth be safely built."

I felt years ago and still feel today that, if the truth is that there is no God, then Russell is correct about this. One seems left with the oxymoronish truth that our lives stand on a "firm foundation of unyielding despair."

I remember reading Camus' "myth of Sisyphus" and thinking, "but of course if God does not exist then this is my life." I read Kafka's "Metamorphosis," even picking it up in German (Die Verwandtlung), and thinking that here was yet another expression of the logic of atheism as Gregor Samsa wakes one morning to find he is a beetle.

None of this is an argument against atheism. Rather, it is the logic of atheism as some see it and as I see it.

I have no doubt, indeed I am quite certain, that there are strong atheists who feel happy today, who are happier than I am. As for weak atheists, those who say they disbelieve but can give no compelling reasons for their disbelief, I view their lives as admixtures of proclaimed godlessness and inherited religious ideas; that is, atheism polluted by theism. But that an atheist feels happier and more alive than I ever have means nothing to me since I have never found belief and unbelief to be functions of one's moods. Does atheism lead to a life of inner emotional despair? Not necessarily. But if there is no God does our life rest on a foundation of unyielding despair? Of course.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Christmas in the Light of Theocapitalism

I read, therefore I am.

Well, not quite. But one of my great loves is reading. I read when I drive. I even underline what I read when I drive. I like reading multiples books at once. None of this makes me any better than you. My reading habits disallow me from understanding some basic car and home repair things that would, over time, save me a lot of money.

I'm still reading Brian McLaren's Everything Must Change. I've underlined and noted for myself a lot of things in his book. I think it is a very good book. I think it is a must-read for any ivory-tower theologian who spends their time wondering if people like McLaren are heretics because they have a postmodern epistemology.

The truth is, McLaren is very, very biblical. More biblical to me than a lot of evangelicals I read. He doesn't always get it right, but who does?

On pp. 190 ff. McLaren uses Tom Beaudoin's analysis of what he calls "theocapitalism." Theocapitalism is "godlike consumer media capitalism." Theocapitalism functions like a religion; indeed, it is a very real and very strong religious kind of thing. Here's why (and I quote directly from pp. 190-191).

1. It gives us identity, helping us find or create our true selves - as the kind of man who wears cologne X, or the kind of woman who wears dress Y, or the kind of teenager who buys music Z, or the kind of senior citizen who bonds her dentures and heals her hemorrhoids with Product Q or Product H.

2. It helps us belong to a community of kindred spirits who share our faith - whether that faith is in the power of a cosmetic to produce youth, or the power of a car to produce sex appeal, or the power of an investment firm to give us security.

3. It develops trust by making and keeping advertising promises, and thus reduces the anxiety of making choices, so when we purchase deodorant A, electric drill B, or computer C, we can do so with joy and anticipation.

4. It helps us experience ecstasy - when we step out of a plane on vacation, when we bite a chocolate bar, when we sip a fine wine, when we click into an XXX website.

5. It communicates transcendence through sacred images and symbols - the mystical Nike swoosh that directs us toward transcendence through footwear, the holy cardinal red of a coke sign that saves us through sugar, the iconic Target bulls-eye that draws our concentration to the Center of All Things in the housewares aisle, or the heavenly Golden Arches that guide us to bliss through beef and cheese.

6. It promises us conversion to a new life if we try their product and jouin their brand "family."

7. Ultimately, theocapitalism promises rest for the restless heart - a rest that replaces Augustine's Confessions with a thirty-minute infomercial featuring the testimonials of satisfied customers and believers in the product, complete with dramatic before-and-after photographs.

Theocapitalism, through marketing and advertising and brainwashed word-of-mouthing, creates, ex nihilo, powerful wants and desires for things and products and experiences one does not actually need. And off we go a-shopping again. "Christmas" becomes the "holiday season" of the Chia Pet, for me the ever-resurrected symbol of the god of theocapitalism.
I now have news for you: you do not have to bow before this God. There is another world out there, another kingdom, and it is light and truth and love and it will only cost you your life. It will set you free. It will turn "Black Friday" into "Good Friday." The result will be that theocapitalist things will grow strangely dim, credit card indebtedness will decrease, and you'll have more free time.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Searching for God in the Brain

I'm still reading - slowly - Mario Beauregard's The Spiritual Brain.

Here's a nice essay on neuroscientific studies on the brain and religious experience in Scientific American.

Monday, November 19, 2007

McGrath's Dawkins Delusion Reviewed

Christianity Today just published a review of Alister McGrath's The Dawkins Delusion.

J. P. Moreland Accuses Evangelicals of Bibliolatry

Here's an interesting article on the recfent presentation J.P. Moreland made at the Evangelical Theological Society's annual meeting. Moreland's talk was called "How Evangelicals Became Over-Committed to the Bible and What Can Be Done About It.” The Chrsitianity Today article says: "While the average breakout session seems to be attended by fewer than 50 people, easily more than 200 packed the room to hear Moreland’s talk, with dozens standing and more listening outside the door."

Moreland accuses evangelicals of being "over-committed to the Bible." Moreland said: “In the actual practices of the Evangelical community in North America, there is an over-commitment to Scripture in a way that is false, irrational, and harmful to the cause of Christ. And it has produced a mean-spiritedness among the over-committed that is a grotesque and often ignorant distortion of discipleship unto the Lord Jesus.”

This is good, important stuff. My own take is that evangelical inerrantists hold an anachronistic view of the biblical text that distorts the actual meaning of the text. I'm more interested in the work of Keener/Witherington/N.T. Wright/et. al. who strive to hear, e.g., the authentic voice of Jesus by studying the socio-cultural environment in which Jesus spoke.

A lot of what Moreland said is found in his excellent new book Kingdom Triangle.

The Coming Environmental Apocalypse

I have at times looked around me at the cars and businesses and homes and hospitals exgurgitating their fumes into the air and asked myself two questions: 1) how much oil can be left after such daily mega-consumption; and 2) what can be the net effect of such mega-pollution. Then, last week, I downloaded the new report put together by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. I read as much as I could understand. And I thought, and now think, that I have been and am an abuser of God's creation who has basically cared less about the environment even though, as a Jesus-follower, the God of Judeo-Christianity asks me not to be gluttonous and to be a good steward of God's creation.

Summary articles are now coming out, like this one. Which say things such as:

"Humanity is rapidly turning the seas acid through the same pollution that causes global warming, the world's governments and top scientists agreed yesterday. The process – thought to be the most profound change in the chemistry of the oceans for 20 million years – is expected both to disrupt the entire web of life of the oceans and to make climate change worse."

"The world's oceans are probably now more acidic that they have ever been in "hundreds of millennia", and that even if emissions stopped now, the waters would take "tens of thousands of years to return to normal"."

"Climate change is well under way, and is accelerating. It concludes that the warming is now "unequivocal" and "evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea level"."

Coming soon...

Arctic - Greenland ice sheet will virtually completely disappear, raising sea levels by over 30 feet, submerging coastal cities, entire island nations and vast areas of low-lying countries like Bangladesh

Latin America - The Amazon rainforest will become dry savannah as rising temperatures and falling water levels kill the trees, stoke forest fires and kill off wildlife

North America - California and the grain-producing Midwest will dry out as snows in the Rockies decrease, depriving these areas of summer water

Australia - The Great Barrier Reef will die. Species loss will occur by 2020 as corals fail to adapt to warmer waters. On land, drought will reduce harvests

Europe - Winter sports suffer as less snow falls in the Alps and other mountains; up to three-fifths of wildlife dies out. Drought in Mediterranean area hits tourism

Africa - Harvests could be cut by up to half in some countries by 2020, greatly increasing the threat of famine. Between 75 million and 250 million people are expected to be short of water within the next 30 years

"The report also concludes that, while some climate change is now inevitable, its worst effects could be avoided with straightforward measures at little cost if only governments would take action. It says that the job can be done by using "technologies that are either currently available or expected to be commercialised in coming decades". It could be done at a cost of slowing global growth by only a tenth of a percentage point a year, and might even increase it.

The missing element, virtually everyone agrees, is political will from governments. Next month they meet in Bali to start negotiations on a new treaty to replace the current provisions of the Kyoto Protocol, which run out in 2012."

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Redeemer Ministry School - Coming September 2008

In September 2008 our church's ministry school will take in its first class of students.

We’re looking for students from the Monroe area and beyond to consider spending 10 months with us. Redeemer Minstry School will be an in-depth program with academic excellence combined with experiential knowing, a combination of theory and practice, of proclamation and demonstration regarding the realities of the kingdom of God that Jesus spoke about.

We are looking for people, and especially young people, who are passionate followers of Jesus to be with us for a 10 month period and be mentored by us. If that’s you, check out the information at our website and contact me personally if you like at 734-242-5277.
For details and updates see Redeemer Ministry School's website.

Monday, November 12, 2007

How to Study Atheism

In my Philosophy of Religion classes at MCCC we study classic and contemporary arguments both for the existence of God and against the existence of God. If one wanted to dig deeper into atheistic reasoning, how would one go about it? Here are some suggestions.

1. Pick up a good philosophy of religion anthology. Try this. Here's the text I use for my Philosophy of Religion classes. (Get an older edition used for less $$$.)

2. Read The Evidentialist Argument from Evil, by Daniel Howard-Snyder.

3. Read the debates between prominent atheists and William Lane Craig.

4. Read atheist William Rowe's Philosophy of Religion: An Introduction.

5. Read the debate between William Lane Craig and atheist Walter Sinnott-Armstrong.

6. Forget the neo-atheists Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Battle for Antony Flew's Mind

I greatly enjoyed Antony Flew's There Is a God, especially as Flew traces his own journey, revisiting his famous arguments against God's existence, showing how he came to doubt those arguments, and "followed the evidence to where it leads"; in Flew's case, to the existence of God.

In the Nov. 4, 2007 New York Times Magazine Mark Oppenheimer writes about Flew's odyssey in "The Turning of an Atheist."

Right away Oppenheimer's essay gives one the feeling that he's not thrilled that Flew now believes in God as he writes that, over his lifetime, Flew was a professor at "a series of decent regional universities." "Decent?" This reminds me of a time when I was teaching in India. One night I strolled the streets of the city of Kurnool and saw a furniture store called "Decent Furniture." I assume the owners misunderstood the meaning of this word, at least in English. "Decent" furniture is, well, "decent," you know, "OK furniture." But not exceptional by any any means.

Oppenheimer says that Flew's book is "written in simple language for a mass audience." Not really. Perhaps a lot of people will buy Flew's book but the masses will fail to understand its most crucial elements. Flew's arguments will be "user-friendly" only to those who already have a philosophical background sufficient to frame them. I think Flew's book is well-written, but will remain obscure to the masses.

Oppenheimer asks: "But is Flew’s conversion what it seems to be? Depending on whom you ask, Antony Flew is either a true convert whose lifelong intellectual searchings finally brought him to God or a senescent scholar possibly being exploited by his associates." Oppenheimer visited with Flew, and writes: "With his powers in decline, Antony Flew, a man who devoted his life to rational argument, has become a mere symbol, a trophy in a battle fought by people whose agendas he does not fully understand." So, either Flew is a vibrant scholar or he is a senescent scholar. But perhaps this is a false dichotomy? And it "depends on whom you ask?" How about asking Flew himself. But if Flew is "senescent" then of course he will not know it.

Flew, believes Oppenheimer, has been exploited by evangelical theists. Oppenheimer implies that, indeed, Flew is a "senescent scholar," which means a "less than decent scholar." Thus, if such is true, then it takes much if not all away from his "conversion." ["Senescence refers to the biological processes of a living organism approaching an advanced age (i.e., the combination of processes of deterioration which follow the period of development of an organism). The word senescence is derived from the Latin word senex, meaning "old man" or "old age" or "advanced in age"."]

Oppenheimer writes of Flew's senescent state as one of "blissful unawareness": "When Flew met Christians who claimed to have new, scientific proof of the existence of God, he quickly became again the young graduate student who embarked on a study of the paranormal when all his colleagues were committed to strict rationalism. He may, too, have connected with the child who was raised in his parents’ warm, faithful Methodism. Flew’s colleagues will wonder how he could sign a petition to the prime minister in favor of intelligent design, but it becomes more understandable if the signatory never hated religious belief the way many philosophers do and if he never hated religious people in the least. At a time when belief in God is more polarizing than it has been in years, when all believers are being blamed for religion’s worst excesses, Antony Flew has quietly switched sides, just following the evidence as it has been explained to him, blissfully unaware of what others have at stake."

So does one have to "hate religious people" to be a real atheist? That is, does one have to take on the spirit of Richard Dawkins to be truly atheistic? I think not, as many anti-Dawkins atheists are saying. And to bring up Flew's Methodist upbringing commits the ad hominem circumstantial fallacy. If only Flew had hated religious people and had not been brought up as a Methodist he never would have signed such a document! But then, of course, had Oppenheimer never been raised/trained/etc. as he has, he'd never write an essay like this. Perhaps to be in one's "right mind" one must: 1) be an atheist; and 2) hate religious people. In that case Flew has truly lost his mind.

NOTE: Stanley Fish wrote this response in the nytimes to Oppenheimer: "In an article published Sunday — November 4 — in the New York Times Magazine, Mark Oppenheimer more than suggests that Flew, now in his 80’s, did not write the book that bears his name, but allowed Roy Varghese (listed as co-author) to compile it from the philosopher’s previous writings and some extended conversations. Whatever the truth is about the authorship of the book, the relation of its argument and trajectory to the argument... stands."

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Would the Real Jesus Wash Osama Bin Laden's Feet?

Greg Boyd has posted an article with this picture on it (thanks Bill for letting me know about this!).

Boyd writes:

“Brad Cole is a friend of mine who runs a ministry called Heavenly Sanctuary. This ministry puts on Conferences around the country on the Character of God — and they get it right. This year they hired an artist named Lars Justinen from the Justinen Creative Group to paint the above picture to use on posters advertising their conference. Under this picture they had captions like “Follow the Leader,” “God IS Great,” and most accurately, “Jesus - Still Too Radical?”

Heavenly Sanctuary had contracts with several malls in the Seattle area to hang these posters advertising their conference, but no sooner had the posters gone up than angry calls began flooding the malls. Many people — but, it seems, mostly Christians — were offended at the image of Jesus washing Osama Bin Laden’s feet. There was such an outcry that each of the malls decided to go back on their contract and take the posters down. The Christian College that Heavenly Sanctuary was renting space from to host the Conference also canceled their contract. Brad had to scramble to find a secular venue (which, ironically, had no problems with the poster).

What does this say about how many American Christians envision Jesus? Obviously, the protesters believe that Jesus would not wash Osama Bin Laden’s feet. But Jesus died “not only for our sins, but for the sins of the whole world” (I Jn 2:2) — and this obviously includes Osama. So if Jesus died for Osama, how are we to imagine him being unwilling to wash his feet?”

To read Boyd’s entire post go here.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Antony Flew: Einstein Was Neither a Pantheist Nor an Atheist

I very much enjoyed Antony Flew's book There Is a God, especially as I became acqainted with Flew's atheism as expressed, e.g., in his philosophically famous "Theology and Falsification" essay back in the 1970s.

The speculation re. Flew's change of mind can now be put to rest. Flew is a self-confessed God-believer. On p. 1 Flew writes: "Ever since the announcement of my "conversion" to deism, I have been asked on numerous occasions to provide an account of the factors that led me to change my mind... I have now been persuaded to present here what might be called my last will and testament. In brief, as the title says, I now believe there is a God!"

Flew seems as sharp as ever. He writes clearly and compellingly. Here is a great intellectual who, as much as anyone, understands the reasons for atheism. He repeatedly says that the evidence has led him to belief in God. [Note: Oppenheimer's nytimes essay questions Flew's mental sharpness, and argues that Flew is being used by theists. In other words, Flew is not really so sharp anymore, Roy Varghese wrote nearly if not all the entire book for Flew, and that's a very bad thing to do. So now the study of Flew's mind will begin, generating who-knows-how-many articles.]

One of the things Flew discusses is what Einstein thought about God. Flew writes: "In his book The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins propounds my old position that Einstein was an atheist. In doing so, Dawkins ignores Einstein's categorical statement... that he was neither an atheist nor a pantheist." Quoting Einstein himself: "I'm not an atheist, and I don't think I can call myself a pantheist." (100) Another Eisntein quote: "What really makes me angry is that they [people who say there is no God] quote me in support for their views." (100)

Monday, November 05, 2007

When Brian McLaren & J.P. Moreland Come Together...

J.P. Moreland, in his excellent book Kingdom Triangle, critiques the “Emerging church” which, he says, “appears to have hitched its wagon to postmodernism in a way that is fraught with difficulties seldom appreciated.” (67)

Moreland writes: “I do not wish to be harsh or inappropriately critical of my brothers and sisters who are part of the Emerging church. There is much good in the problems they are bringing to the surface and in some of the solutions they are offering. For now, I simply register my concern about what I believe is their unnecessary association with postmodern language.”

What, for Moreland, are his main objections to postmodernism (which he admits “is a variegated movement with many stripes”)? Postmodernism:
Rejects objective truth construed as a correspondence with reality
Rejects the rational objectivity of reason
Rejects the reality of simply seeing, and the human ability to be aware of and know reality directly, unmediated by “conceptual schemes,” language, or their surrogates. (67)

Moreland holds to a correspondence theory of truth. Which means: “In its simplest form, the correspondence theory of truth says that a proposition is true just in case it corresponds to reality, when what it asserts to be the case is the case. More generally, truth obtains when a truth bearer stands in an appropriate correspondence relation to a truth maker.” “Truth bearers” are what, in logic, are called “propositions” or “statements.” A “truth maker” is what makes a proposition or statement true. Moreland, in his philosophical work, writes much to explain the correspondence theory and argue for its plausibility. In Kingdom Triangle, see especially pp. 80-85.

Moreland especially looks at, among others, Emerging church leader Brian McLaren. For McLaren, absolute truth-claims cannot be made. Moreland quotes McLaren: “I think that most Christians grossly misunderstand the philosophical baggage associated with terms like ‘absolute’ or ‘objective’ (linked to foundationalism and the myth of neutrality)… Similarly, arguments that pit absolutism versus relativism, and objectivism versus subjectivism, prove meaningless or absurd to postmodern people.” (78)

McLaren-ist postmodern epistemology seems to say that “no one approaches life in a totally objective way without bias. Thus, objectivity is impossible, and observations, beliefs, and entire narratives are theory-laden. There is no neutral standpoint from which to approach the world… Knowledge is a construction of one’s social, linguistic structures, not a justified, truthful representation of reality by one’s mental states.”

In this regard Moreland’s manifesto pleads that Jesus-followers reclaim the Christian mind.

I like the way Moreland develops this in Kingdom Triangle. I find him loving and gracious, and concerned. McLaren’s postmodern rejection of objective or absolute truth is confused in two ways. (see p. 83 ff.) This section of Moreland deservers to be studied. Moreland himself is working through these things. One can see, on reading him, that he is growing in his understanding of the real issues that underlie the discussion.

Brian McLaren, in his (to me) wonderful and challenging book Everything Must Change, responds to the Moreland-type criticisms. McLaren, like Moreland, focuses on Jesus and the Kingdom of God.

McLaren is concerned in learning what the message of Jesus is and applying it here on earth. He seems especially disdainful of Christians who overspend time debating “religious esoterica.” (20) Yet he does spend some time responding to the issue of “postmodernism.”

McLaren argues that philosophers and theologians whose epistemologies concluded that one could have absolute, certain knowledge, contributed to a cultural confidence that was arrogant and “excessive.” While this may be true, surely it does not follow that one cannot have certain, objective truth about things. What follows, at most, is that one in possession of such truth should be careful so one’s confidence does not become “a dangerous, malignant confidence.” And this cuts both ways. Surely one could become excessively arrogant as regards any theory of knowledge that one believes is true.

McLaren argues that the opposite of “postmodern” is not best understood as “modern,” but as “postcolonial.” “Postmodern” is one side of the coin, “postcolonial” the other. (44)

McLaren cites non-Eurocentric Christian leaders who don’t “focus on philosophical questions of truth and epistemology, but rather on social questions of justice, which are ultimately questions about the moral uses of power.”

Here, to me, is the heart of McLaren’s thinking: “This integration of postmodern and postcolonial concerns – for both justice and truth, for both a proper confidence and a proper use of power – made it possible for me to turn from a set on intramural arguments (which had preoccupied me for several years) to the more global exploration articulated in my two preoccupying questions: ‘What are the biggest problems in the world today?’ and ‘What do the life and teaching of Jesus have to say about these global problems.’” (45)

I very much like what both Moreland and McLaren are writing about, and how their thinking is developing. Moreland’s new emphasis on the urgent need to reclaim the demonstrative power-acts of Jesus and the Kingdom is welcome (McLaren gives a few sentences in acknowledgement to this in his The Secret Message of Jesus. A such, his work is excellent but imbalanced). And Moreland’s Dallas Willard-like call to reclaim the human soul is important. McLaren’s emphasis on the kingdom of God, here, now (both future and present), is important, and Moreland would agree. McLaren’s great fear that a correspondence theory of truth has and yet could create an epistemological hyperconfidence can be balanced by a serious call to a devout and holy life.

I like what McLaren writes in a footnote. “Conservative critics of postmodernism – including many critics of my work – rightly realize that one can so successfully undermine a culture’s excessive confidence that it eventually lacks sufficient confidence… [On the other hand] we have many modernist defenders backing away from the dangers of relativism and nihilism, only to fall backward into an immoral defense of cultural chauvinism, colonialism, and empire. One hopes we can all work together in more balanced, both-and ways in the future.” (303, fn. 3)

I am now thinking of what Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13:11-12: “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”

I’d like to see J.P. Moreland and Brian McLaren come together and advance God’s Kingdom on earth together. I think it will happen soon...