Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Not Wanting to Become What Everyone Else Wants to Become

I love this quote from Thomas Merton's No Man Is an Island.

“The deep secrecy of my own being is often hidden from me by my own estimate of what I am. My idea of what I am is falsified by my admiration for what I do. And my illusions about myself are bred by contagion from the illusions of other men. We all seek to imitate one another’s imagined greatness. If I do not know who I am, it is because I think I am the sort of person everyone around me wants to be. Perhaps I have never asked myself whether I really wanted to become what everybody else seems to want to become. Perhaps if I only realized that I do not admire what everyone seems to admire, I would really begin to live after all. I would be liberated from the painful duty of saying what I really do not think and of acting in a way that betrays God’s truth and the integrity of my own soul.”

Friday, April 20, 2007

Evel Knievel Overcome with Good

On Palm Sunday at Robert Schuller's Crystal Cathedral Evel Knievel gave his testimony.

Knievel said, "I don't know what in the world happened. I don't know if it was the power of the prayer or God himself, but it just reached out, either while I was driving or walking down the sidewalk or sleeping, and it just—the power of God in Jesus just grabbed me. … All of a sudden, I just believed in Jesus Christ. I did, I believed in him! … I rose up in bed and, I was by myself, and I said, 'Devil, Devil, you bastard you, get away from me. I cast you out of my life.' … I just got on my knees and prayed that God would put his arms around me and never, ever, ever let me go."

Schuller then stopped the service and said, "I believe there is someone here who now wants to be baptized." Between 500-800 people came forward.

You can read about it here.

Christians Murdered in Turkey

Three Christians were murdered yesterday in eastern Turkey. They worked at a Christian publishing house that distributes Bibles. One was from Germany, the other two were Turks who converted to Chrsitianity. The killings were done by Islamists to "protect Islam."

Turkish media often portray Christians as trying to break up Turkey. One unidentified suspect is quoted as saying: "We didn't do this for ourselves, but for our religion. Our religion is being destroyed. Let this be a lesson to enemies of our religion."

I am also personally aware of recent persecution against Christians in Istanbul. The CNN report says "Christians expressed fear that growing nationalism and intolerance could lead to more violence against them."

Since visiting Istanbul a year ago one of my favorite Turkish websites is Today's Zaman. Go here to read what Turks themselves are saying about the brutal murders. Here's a quote from Today's Zaman.
"In 2001, a [Turkish] National Security Council (MGK) meeting chaired by then-prime minister B├╝lent Ecevit included "missionary activity" on its list of national security threats, making it a widespread concern across the country. A wide range of ideological groups from nationalist, neo-nationalists and Islamists, started claiming that missionaries were carrying out separatist activities and turning millions of Muslims into Christians. Some even went so far as to suggest that the 2002 killing of a neo-nationalist academic was the doing of Christian missionaries. All the aggravation directed at missionaries finally worked, and Christians across the country came to be eyed suspiciously by all segments of society, sometimes manifesting itself in outright criminal activity. Attacks against churches became more frequent and the long process hit its peak when Italian priest Andrea Santoro was killed in Trabzon last year in February by a 16-year-old whose mother later commented to the media that her son would "do jail time for Allah."

And, pray for the Christians in Turkey, and for Turkey.
(The photo shows Turks protesting the massacre in Istanbul.)

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Those Incredible Atheists

Here's a sweet essay on the militant atheistic position that atheists are superior beings in every regard.

Charles Moore writes "I feel that atheism may be acquiring precisely those characteristics that atheists so dislike about religion - intolerance, dogmatism, righteousness, moral contempt for one's opponents."
"Intelligence is a great gift, and should be cultivated, if possessed, by all possible means. All these atheist thinkers I have mentioned are conscious of possessing big, bulging brains and I share their admiration for them. They are the mental equivalent of bronzed body-builders on the beach, kicking sand in the face of us seven-stone weaklings."

Here's some more of the essay:

  • "You probably know some people with high IQs. You may even have met members of the Royal Society. Does it strike you, brilliant though they are, that they have a deeper understanding of truth, beauty and all that you need to know about life than the rest of us?"
  • Dawkins also tells us that "there are very few atheists in prison". He suggests that "atheism is correlated with higher education, intelligence or reflectiveness, which might counteract criminal impulses".
  • "What begins to emerge - and it lurked strongly behind the anti-religion side of the Intelligence Squared debate - is the idea that atheism is an elite state, a superior order of being, a plane of enlightenment denied to thickoes.
  • This seems to me to present certain problems. A religious faith is not, primarily, a set of propositions, although it will contain such propositions and must use all human intellectual resources to understand and explain them. It is a belief about what governs the whole of life, indeed the whole existence of everything.
  • It therefore matters not only how we reason, but how we feel, how we act towards others, how we speak, sing, dance, laugh, cry, eat and wash, how we die, how we pray and how we love.
  • Does anything in our actual human experience tell us that clever people do these things better than anyone else? It is surely what people call "clever-silly" to argue that they do. In fact, in all this I hear the voices of a university high table - and almost invariably male voices at that - proving something to their own satisfaction while other people cook the lunch."
  • What sort of a belief system is it that asserts the superiority of Richard Dawkins, Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at the University of Oxford, over the woman who toils in paddy fields, or the child who begs in the dirt, or the prisoner in his chains?"

Monday, April 16, 2007

Don Feder's USA Today Essay on the New, Militant Atheism

Linda and I went out for breakfast this morning and I picked up today's USA Today. There's a very nice editorial on the rise of atheism written by theist Don Feder. Among other things Feder states is that the Dawkinsian and Harrisian idea that if the world were run by atheists it would be a kinder, gentler place is absurd on historical grounds.

Craig on Plantinga's "Son of Great Pumpkin Objection"

This week in my Philosophy of Religion classes I am teaching on Alvin Plantinga's argument that belief in God is rational because it is a "properly basic belief." Then, I'll teach philosopher Michael Martin's criticism of Plantinga, which has become famously known, in philosophy, as the "son of Great Pumpkin objection."

I e-mailed Dr. Plantinga last week and asked how might he respond to Martin's criticism. I was delighted that he corresponded with me about this. I'll present this to my class this week.

Today, in doing research on the "son of Great Pumpkin objection" I stumbled on this very good article by William Lane Craig on "Religious Epistemology." Craig has a nice explanatory section on Plantinga, and the notorious objection.

Friday, April 13, 2007

A Low Cost Trip to Paris

-- Go to Google.com

-- Click on Maps.

-- Click on get Directions.

-- From New York, New York

-- To Paris, France.

-- And read line # 23.

(Thanks, Dennis, for sending this to me!)

Erwin McManus and Following Jesus into Revolutionary Abnormality

Yesterday I read half of Erwin McManus's little book The Barbarian Way. I cannot recommend it highly enough for all who want to know the Real Jesus and what actual Christianity is. If you're part of our Redeemer family you will really enjoy reading this, as it will supplement what I and Josh have been saying in our Real Jesus messages.

McManus says, "If Jesus has come to dwell within you, you are no longer suited for a normal life." How true this is. Pick up the book and see how McManus beautifully and provocatively spells this out.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Europe's Missionary Atheism

On the front page of today's Wall Street Journal: "As Religious Strife Grows, Europe's Atheists Seize Pulpit: Islam's Rise Gives Boost to Militant Unbelievers."

You have to subscribe to access the entire article. I've got the paper in front of me and will give some highlights + comments.

"Passive indifference to faith has left Europe's churches mostly empty. But debate over religion is more intense and strident than it has been in many decades." "True" to both of these statements. And, I think, America is heading in that direction. Real, actually Christianity (= people who follow the Bible's red letters) is hard to find. In America we see a lot of "American consumerist-materialist 'Christianity'," which misleads.

There is "anxiety over Europe's growing and restive Muslim populations and a fear that faith is reasserting itself in politics and public policy."

This "new" atheism is "missional"; Karen Armstrong calls it "missionary secularism." These atheists are trying to make converts to the true way.

The European "star" of all this is Michel Onfray, celebrity philosopher and France's high priest of militant atheism." Atheism, says Onfray, is now in its "final battle," which is against "theological hocus-pocus." Onfray's Atheist Manifesto is "a best seller in France, Italy and Spain."

"In Germany, a wealthy furniture manufacturer is funding a "think tank of Enlightenment," a group of scientists and others committed to debunking religion." Personally, I find this, on atheism, silly. Were I an atheist I would be intellectually swayed by the nihilism of a Nietzsche or Camus or Sartre and wonder why one should be missional about anything? Since, ultimately, life is meaningless, what real meaning could there be in going on a mission sent by nobody? Of course, I think an atheist could say "why not debunk theism?" OK. But who could take this seriously? I find "missionary atheism" intellectually bankrupt.

"Alarm over Islam has acted as the prime catalyst for much of the polemic." Europe's Muslim population is growing. Muslims are producing babies at a far greater rate than are atheists.

"The atheist cause won a big-name endorsement late last year when pop star Elton John said organized religion turned people into "hateful lemmings" and should be banned." But this did not happen to me, or for many I personally know. I am sure there's still hatred inside of me, but it's a lot less than my pre-Christian days. I want to be like Jesus, who even says "Love your enemies." Elton John's attitude seems hateful, don't you think? If his words hugely "endorse" atheism then I feel fearful: days of persecution may lie ahead. The thought of being flogged by Elton John as he sings "Someone Saved My Life Tonight" is frightening.

In February "Mina Ahadi, an Iranian-born woman in Cologne, Germany, set up the Continent's first Muslim atheist group, the National Council of Ex-Muslims. She immediately started getting death threats and was put under police protection." I would think so. It is arguable that Islam is inherently violent.

Ahadi says atheism must adopt the methods of religion. So, I expect that soon we will see The Four Unspiritual Laws.

"Christianity, once the bedrock of Europe's identity, has been losing worshipers on the Continent for at least half a century." Correct.

How many atheists in Europe? An estimated 3% of the population. Not many, but they are making a big media splash. So Christianity is losing ground, but not all are by any means atheistic about this. Perhaps the church has become truly irrelevant (= non-revolutionary) because institutionalized?

Well..., there's a lot more in this very long article (thank you Andy for giving me a copy!).

Monday, April 09, 2007

Catholicism, Islam, and Godless Europe

Yesterday's New York Times Magazine has an excellent cover story on Pope Benedict's vision of restoring Christian roots in a Europe that is in spiritual decline. (Here's a picture of a store selling postcards of the Pope.)

Especially interesting to me is the report of how Lay Catholic movements that provide spiritual nourishment, authentic community, are activists for peace, and reach out to society's marginalized do attract people. We read: "Data on declining church attendance obscure the fact that there is a good deal of spiritual hunger in Europe, but it is largely outside institutional religion, a phenomenon that the British sociologist Grace Davie calls “believing without belonging.”"

This article can instruct us about our country. America is in spiritual decline. Some think we will become like Europe spiritually. My own belief is that the common televangelistic distortion of Jesus and the Gospel, and its loss of the core teaching of the Kingdom of God, now contributes to youthful disinterest and even scorn of "Christianity." Real Christians who are actual followers of Jesus must continue to live out the Kingdom in the midst of the spiritual mess that is now America. As pseudo-Christianity wanes, great, ontological, spiritual hunger remains, as ever.

Friday, April 06, 2007

A. E. Harvey Reviews Bauckham's "Eyewitnesses"

The Times Literary Supplement this week reviews Richard Bauckham 's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony.

Bauckham's book is getting a lot of press. I have it and hope to get to it soon.

Here's A. E. Harvey's summary of his review: "Richard Bauckham’s careful and eloquent presentation of his argument, supported not just by careful scholarship but by admirable common sense, deserves earnest consideration by all who have the training and the perseverance to pursue the elusive explanation of one of the most tantalizing literary relationships in ancient literature, appropriately known since the nineteenth century as “the Synoptic problem”."http://tls.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,25349-2633034,00.html

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Francis Collins Interviewed on CNN

Biologist Francis Collins (M.D., Ph.D), head of the Human Genome Project, is interviewed on cnn.com today about his belief in God and belief in Jesus Christ. Here are a few Collins' quotes.

"As the director of the Human Genome Project, I have led a consortium of scientists to read out the 3.1 billion letters of the human genome, our own DNA instruction book. As a believer, I see DNA, the information molecule of all living things, as God's language, and the elegance and complexity of our own bodies and the rest of nature as a reflection of God's plan...

...[I]n my 27th year... a search to learn more about God's character led me to the person of Jesus Christ. Here was a person with remarkably strong historical evidence of his life, who made astounding statements about loving your neighbor, and whose claims about being God's son seemed to demand a decision about whether he was deluded or the real thing. After resisting for nearly two years, I found it impossible to go on living in such a state of uncertainty, and I became a follower of Jesus."

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Did the Exodus Really Happen?

Today's nytimes.com posts an article called "Did the Red Sea Part? No Evidence, Archaeologists Say." Egyptian archaeologist Zawi Hawass says, "Really, it [the Exodus] is a myth."

We read: "But nothing was showing up that might help prove the Old Testament story of Moses and the Israelites fleeing Egypt, or wandering in the desert. Dr. Hawass said he was not surprised, given the lack of archaeological evidence to date. But even scientists can find room to hold on to beliefs.
Dr. Mohamed Abdel-Maqsoud, the head of the excavation, seemed to sense that such a conclusion might disappoint some. People always have doubts until something is discovered to confirm it, he noted.
Then he offered another theory, one that he said he drew from modern Egypt.
“A pharaoh drowned and a whole army was killed,” he said recounting the portion of the story that holds that God parted the Red Sea to allow the Israelites to escape, then closed the waters on the pursuing army.
“This is a crisis for Egypt, and Egyptians do not document their crises.”"

A counter-archaeological-historical argument is that of James Hoffmeier, in two texts - Israel in Egypt, and Ancient Israel in Sinai: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Wilderness Tradition (2005: Oxford University Press). I have read the first book. For a review of the second, go here.

Both of Hoffmeier's books are well-reviewed by some important scholars. Ancient Israel in Sinai is probably the book to get in defense of the historicity of the Exodus tradition. Here are some editorial reviews:

"Biblical Scholarship and Egyptology are brought together with uncommon skill in this important study. The book contains a wealth of evidence which is as fascinating as it is well-researched."--Richard H. Wilkinson, Professor and Director, Egyptian Expedition, The University of Arizona

"As the director of numerous archaeological surveys in North Sinai and current excavations at Tell el-Borg, James Hoffmeier is one of the world's foremost authorities on Egypt's northern border defenses during the New Kingdom (c. 1550-1069 B.C.). Any new work of his will be read with interest by Egyptologists and biblical scholars alike." --Ellen F. Morris, Department of Classics, Ancient History, and Egyptology, University of Wales Swansea

"Egyptologist and ancient Near Eastern scholar, James K. Hoffmeier, has produced an important work for the ongoing study of Israel's wilderness traditions. It is an excellent example of the integration of archaeology, philology, religion, history and biblical studies by a scholar who has demonstrated over the years his outstanding abilities in all these matters. While it gives an up-to-date accounting of what is known about Israel's wilderness traditions, it makes important contributions to the study of the toponymy and history of ancient Egypt's eastern frontier, as well as that of ancient Sinai. There can be no doubt that this volume will become the standard work in these areas for years to come."--K. Lawson Younger, Jr., co-editor of Mesopotamia and the Bible: Comparative Explorations

"Hoffmeier furnishes a sophisticated fresh approach to the Biblical Exodus traditions filled with detailed Egyptological background, and utterly indispensable because of its basis in recent, and in many cases as yet unpublished, archaeological data. This is a virtual encyclopedia of the Exodus." --Baruch Halpern, Chaiken Family Chair in Jewish Studies, Penn State