Thursday, January 31, 2008

10 Months That Will Change Your Life


Come spend 10 months with us that will change your life!

At Redeemer God has called us to begin Redeemer Ministry School (RMS). Our first class will arrive this coming September. I’d like you to consider being a part of it. Here are some reasons why.

I will personally be giving you the best of my own training and ministry experiences. These include:

- Ph.D in Philosophical Theology, Northwestern University

- 11 years in Campus Ministry at Michigan State University
- I currently teach at three theological seminaries (Palmer Theological Seminary in Philadelphia; Faith Bible Seminary [Chinese] in New York City; and Payne Theological Seminary (African-American) in Dayton)
- I am Adjunct Professor of Philosophy at Monroe County Community College
- I’ve taught in India, Singapore, Vancouver, and other places around the planet.
- RMS will be unique in its academic component.
Because of my academic training and experience I will shape RMS to have a high level of excellence, especially in the area of biblical studies, spiritual transformation, and apologetics. This will not be your basic Bible study class. We’re going to take you deep into the things of God.

This academic component will be complemented by a focus on experiencing God and demonstrating the power and life of the Kingdom of God in the real world.

In this sense I believe in the total gospel of the Real Jesus, to include the two ways Jesus brought in the kingdom, which are: 1) Proclamation of the good news; and 2) demonstration of the power of God.
I have assembled a great team of leaders and teachers that will give you a lot of things you could not get in other ministry environments.

We have some special things lined up for you. For example, in late October I’ll travel to New York City to teach and preach at a very large, dynamic Chinese church in the heart of Queens. What’s exciting for me is that I’m working with the NYC Chinese leaders to bring our RMS students there for the week. What you will learn about Jesus, about leadership, and about communicating Jesus in another culture will be something you could never get out of a book.
You will be in our church’s culture for 10 months and be a part of the amazing things God is doing in our own ministry environment. Which is cool for me, since God has given us an amazing church family.

Here at Redeemer we are very exited about having our very first RMS class. Why not pray about taking 10 months of your life and learning about God and Jesus in the most intensive way ever?

We’ll develop community along the way, plus have a lot of fun.

If you’d like to talk with me personally, I’d love to hear from you!


Pastor John Piippo, Ph.D

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

John Allen Paulos on the Cosmological Argument

John Allen Paulos (if that's really you!) was kind enough to make a few comments on my blog. I referred to two reviews of his book Irreligion and stated that, as a result of the nytimes review, it was one book I would not read. I was thinking, I’ve read Dawkins and Harris and Dennett – no need to read Paulos, not after what this review says. Paulos told me I would find Irreligion interesting.

So, I’ve got it in hand, and have finished the chapter “The Argument from First Cause.” Here’s my evaluation.

Paulos states the argument as:

1. Everything has a cause, or perhaps many causes.
2. Nothing is its own cause.
3. Causal chains can’t go on forever.
4. So there has to be a first cause.
5. That first cause is God, who therefore exists.

In my philosophy of religion classes I do not teach CA this way. Instead, I find the Kalam Cosmological Argument (William Lane Craig, in Pojman) a stronger argument. KCA goes like this:

6. Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
7. The universe began to exist.
8. Therefore, the universe had a cause.

Paulos hints at KCA when he writes: “A slight variation [of CA]… states that whatever has a beginning must have a cause and since the universe is thought to have a beginning, it must have a cause.” (4) It seems that “whatever has a beginning” is the equivalent of “everything that begins to exist.”

Paulos then says, “So have we found God?... The argument doesn’t even come close.” Why?

Paulos’s first reason is a criticism of (1). Which states: Everything has a cause, or perhaps many causes. But KCA only claims that: Whatever begins to exist has a cause. So, if there is something that did not begin to exist, it would not necessarily have a cause. Since KCA is the form of cosmological argument I find most persuasive, Paulos’s first criticism does not apply.

Paulos writes: “Either everything has a cause, or there’s something that doesn’t. The first-cause argument collapses into this hole whichever tack we take.” But this is only a “hole” on P1 of CA. It does not create a problem for KCA, which depends on the distinction between things that begin to exist and things that do not begin to exist.

What if there is something that doesn’t have a cause? Then “it may as well be the physical world as God or a tortoise.” But surely that doesn’t follow. KCA claims the physical world (“universe”) began to exist, and whatever begins to exist has a cause. If these claims are true it can’t be the physical world that doesn’t have a cause.

Paulos asks: “Why cannot the physical world itself be taken to be the uncaused first cause?” The answer is: on CA this may apply, but on KCA this is impossible.

Paulos then asks the famous question, “If God caused the universe, then what caused God?” But on KCA this is a nonsense question, since only that which begins to exist has a cause. If God did not begin to exist, then ipso facto God did not have a cause. Paulos’s funny Saint Augustine story doesn’t apply here.

Paulos gives a second objection to the cosmological argument. He states that “the uncaused first cause needn’t have any traditional God-like qualities. It’s simply first… Even if the first cause existed, it might simply be a brute fact – or even worse, an actual brute.” (5) Again, not on KCA. See Craig’s explanation of KCA, and the reasoning that whatever caused the universe to come into being must be, e.g., atemporal, immaterial, very powerful, and personal. Craig’s KCA directly addresses Paulos’s second objection, while traditional historical versions of CA do not. Since KCA is the more powerful version of CA, Paulos needs, in my mind, to address it. Otherwise the most that can be said of this chapter in Irreligion is that Paulos may have defeated a certain traditional version of CA.

Another Paulos-concern is this: “Efforts by some to put God, the putative first cause, completely outside of time and space give up entirely on the notion of cause, which is defined in terms of time.” (5) But this is not the only option. Craig asks: “If time therefore began to exist, how is God's relation to the beginning of time to be construed? [I argue] that God is plausibly timeless sans the universe and temporal with the universe. This paradoxical conclusion is defended against objections.” Craig and others spend much time addressing how such a view of God and his relation to time relates to causality. Paulos needs to address these concerns. At least he ought to let his readers know that there are views of God’s timelessness that precisely do not “give up entirely on the notion of cause.”

Paulos writes: “The notion of cause has still other problems.” Those problems are the ones David Hume raised. Because of Hume “we can’t move as confidently from an event to its cause(s) as we might have believed.” (7) OK. But we can presume that events have causes. More precisely, on KCA, that whatever begins to exist has a cause. Confidence, if any is lacking here, is, on Humean skepticism, surely lacking re. many other things as well.

Paulos mentions, in one sentence, that certain quantum theories that rule a first cause, and some give us a multiverse theory. All that in one sentence! To this I would say, in one sentence, that multiverse theory is controversial. Craig (again!) goes into detail re. quantum-theoretical issues and KCA.

So I do not see that Paulos has defeated the cosmological argument precisely because he has attacked a weak version of it. KCA is stronger. KCA addresses a number of his concerns. So much so that atheist Paul Draper, in his criticism of KCA, still concludes by finding KCA "promising." (In Pojman)

Monday, January 28, 2008

John Allen Paulos & Steven Weinberg Forget the Unabomber

Mathematician John Allen Paulos's new book Irreligion gets another review here.

The reviewer ends the article with the famous Steven Weinberg quote, and adds a bit to it. We read:

As for the problem of good and evil, he defers to fellow atheist, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Weinberg: "With or without religion, good people will do good, and evil people will do evil. But for good people to do evil, that takes religion." Or as Paulos might say, no mathematician has ever deliberately flown planes into buildings."

How silly, and how hard atheists work to put an irrational spin on things, making religious people the most evil of all. Because, e.g., it was a mathematician who became the Unabomber.

An Explanation of Hume's Empiricism (for my History of Western Philosophy class)

(My back yard)

A simple way to understand Hume’s empiricism

Plato and Descartes were Rationalists. Truth and knowledge can be obtained by reasoning watched from empirical observation. One can arrive at some very important facts just by using reason in an a priori way.

Hume is an empiricist. All knowledge, for Hume, is grounded in sense experience.

There is no knowledge about which this cannot be said.

This means that for Hume, ultimately, there is no such thing as pure metaphysical knowledge. Even “pure” mathematics is grounded in the idea of causation, which proceeds from sense experience.

If any ethical, religious, metaphysical, or aesthetic judgments are to be called rational, it must be shown how they are grounded in sense experience.

Hume’s central example is that of causation, or cause and effect. How do we arrive at the idea of cause and effect?

The idea of cause and effect is not a priori. Hume writes: “Causes and effects are discoverable, not by reason but by experience.”

But, “There is no impression conveyed by our senses, which can give rise to that idea.”

This means: for any object set before us we can see it, smell it, taste it, touch it, and hear it. We can measure it and weigh it and discover its physical composition. But we will never, by mere sense observation, find “causality” in it.

For example, when a scientist studies DNA under a microscope and refers to it as “elegant,” he has just left science; he has just left the world of sense observation. A strand of DNA may have a certain length, but it does not contain some property called “elegance.”

Hume uses this kind of empirical reasoning to ask the question as to the nature of the human “self.” Since all knowledge is fundamentally sense knowledge, one never encounters something called a “self.” All we really do encounter are bundles of sense experiences; we feel pain or pleasure, we hear noises outside of us, we see colors and shapes. From all these sense observations, over time, we infer the idea of the “self.”

For Hume, ideas like that of a “self,” are but weaker versions of sense impressions.
Note: Whereas from Descartes we have a mind-body dualism, from Hume we have, ultimately, the elimination of "mind" in the sense that what we call "mind" is but an epiphenomenon of the material brain.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

I Won't Be Reading John Allen Paulos's "Irreligion"

Another atheist has written a book against religion. This time it's mathematician John Allen Paulos, and the book is called Irreligion: A Mathematician Explains Why the Arguments for Religion Just Don't Add Up.'s book description says: "Are there any logical reasons to believe in God? Mathematician and bestselling author John Allen Paulos thinks not. In Irreligion he presents the case for his own worldview, organizing his book into twelve chapters that refute the twelve arguments most often put forward for believing in God’s existence. The latter arguments, Paulos relates in his characteristically lighthearted style, “range from what might be called golden oldies to those with a more contemporary beat. On the playlist are the firstcause argument, the argument from design, the ontological argument, arguments from faith and biblical codes, the argument from the anthropic principle, the moral universality argument, and others.” Interspersed among his twelve counterarguments are remarks on a variety of irreligious themes, ranging from the nature of miracles and creationist probability to cognitive illusions and prudential wagers. Special attention is paid to topics, arguments, and questions that spring from his incredulity “not only about religion but also about others’ credulity.” Despite the strong influence of his day job, Paulos says, there isn’t a single mathematical formula in the book." has a review here.

From the review: "In his opening chapters Mr. Paulos uses simple logic to point up the gaping holes in the so-called first-cause argument. “Either everything has a cause, or there’s something that doesn’t,” he writes. “The first-cause argument collapses into this hole whichever tack we take. If everything has a cause, then God does, too, and there is no first cause. And if something doesn’t have a cause, it may as well be the physical world.”" Well, this ignores the Kalam Cosmological Argument, which is, arguably, the strongest first-cause argument. KCA says that everything that begins to exist has a cause. If something does not begin to exist it would, ipso facto, not have a cause. But what about the universe? Could the universe be causeless? Not our universe. It began to exist. Could there be an infinite series of universes going back in time? Thus, the entire series could be causeless? Not according to William Lane Craig's KCA, which argues that an actual infinite is impossible because it would lead to absurdities. It looks like Paulos perhaps did not take on KCA or is unfamiliar with it.

A God, argues Paulos, could not be both omnipotent and benevolent. Paulos just re-warms the old Euthyphro dilemma of Plato. It looks like he does not deal with Yale University Robert Adams and divine command theory which avoids the two horns of the E-dilemma.

The nytimes review closes with: "Still, there is something perfunctory and hurried about all of Mr. Paulos’s arguments, which will be shrugged off by anyone who has made the leap of faith into belief, and which will seem obvious to anyone who is already a proud heathen. Indeed, the reader finishes this volume with the suspicion that it was a rushed and cursory project, turned out quickly in an effort to catch the coattails of Messrs. Hitchens, Dawkins and Harris."

Looks like, with all the really good books to read, I won't be reading this one.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Jazzy Blue Donald Miller

There's an article on Donald Miller in today's Personally I agree with Miller as he revisits the meaning of "Christian" and "Christianity." The article, e.g., states: "Watching TBN one night on TV, Miller, 36, realized the conservative religious network was many people's baseline for Christianity. He wanted to change that."These people are absurd. I've been a Christian all my life and I don't even know Christians this weird," said the Portland, Oregon-based writer, who is single."

As for myself, when I watch "Christians" on TV I see some things that connect with actual Christianity and I see a whole lot of things that make me go, "Nooo! That's not the real thing!!!" In this regard I challenge people to read for the first time Matthew/Mark/Luke/John. That's our baseline; viz., the life and ministry and words and deeds of Jesus. Get that stuff deep into your soul. Then, note the great disconnect between the actual Jesus and some of the stuff on TV that's, sadly, done in his name.

Miller has some importance in the Jesus-dialogue thing in America. A bit more from the article that highlights his importance and expresses some concerns:

""People like Donald Miller are speaking almost like a prophet of a new age and describing the landscape in a way people who feel comfortable in that landscape really couldn't articulate before," said David Kinnaman, a researcher for The Barna Group and author of "Unchristian."

Critics call Miller's works casual and glib and that he strays from biblical truths when he downplays homosexuality and other sins.

One such critic, Shane Walker, says Miller presents Jesus as a "nice fellow who meets one at the campfire and swaps stories." He forgets to remind readers that Jesus is also a judge and avenger who "wants to save you from his just wrath," according to his review for "Blue Like Jazz" , an organization designed to help local churches re-establish their biblical bearings."

Check out Miller's very classy and artsy website here.

"Don has teamed up with Steve Taylor and Ben Pearson to write the screenplay for Blue Like Jazz which will be filmed in Portland in the spring of 2008 and released thereafter."

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Christians Are Being Persecuted Today in India

(Valley Forge National Park)

Our church has been sending some mof our leaders to India for several years now, working in conjunction with India Bible Literature. As a church we’ve been all over the nation of India, reaching many people.
I also traveled to India once by myself, and spoke in a number of churches and villages in central India.

So, we have many friends over there. And in one of the areas we reach out to, the Indian state of Orissa, Christians are in great danger. Some have been murdered. All this by Hindu extremists. (Please pause here for a moment and give thanks for our country and the idea of freedom of religion. We don’t murder others who disagree with us.)

For the story, see this article in Christianity Today. “Over 90 churches and Christian institutions have been burned and vandalized, over 700 Christian homes destroyed, and the number of pastors and Christians killed is yet to be known…”

Can Science Produce Life from Non-Life?

(Sterling State Park, Monroe, MI)

In today’s there’s an article in the Science section that begins with this: “Taking a significant step toward the creation of man-made forms of life, researchers reported Thursday that they had manufactured the entire genome of a bacterium by painstakingly stitching together its chemical components.”
“Synthetic biologists envision being able one day to design an organism on a computer, press the “print” button to have the necessary DNA made, and then put that DNA into a cell to produce a custom-made creature. “What we are doing with the synthetic chromosome is going to be the design process of the future,” said Dr. J. Craig Venter, the boundary-pushing gene scientist.”
Note, especially, the word “design.” And the idea of “painstakingly stitching together… chemical components.”
So, it’s not an easy thing to design life. But it is designed. Which, for me, argues against such a phenomenally difficult thing happening without a Designer.
And, by the way, evolutionary theory says nothing about this sort of thing. Evolutionary theory is about actually existent life. The word ”abiogenesis” is used to describe life coming from non-life. This is NOT an easy thing to have happen.
But now look at this. The nytimes article states: “The synthetic genome made by Dr. Venter’s team was not designed from scratch, but rather was a copy, with only a few changes, of the genetic sequence of a tiny natural bacterium called Mycoplasma genitalium.” Ah, so it’s not really an act of abiogenesis. Now THAT would really be painstakingly difficult. “George M. Church, a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School, said, “Right now, all they’ve done is shown they can buy a bunch of DNA and put it together.” ”
Somewhere along the way life came from non-life. That is, from no DNA there came DNA. Psalm 139:13 expresses it this way: “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” You and I have been stitched together in our mother’s wombs. It was not an easy thing, at least from our human perspective. So if scientists accomplish this painstaking process of designing life it will show that, minimally, scientists have painstakingly designed human life. From this one cannot conclude that life is undesigned.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Foreknowledge, Free Will, and Modal Logic

(Briarwood Mall, Ann Arbor)

I like the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy's article on "Forekowledge and Free Will."

A few quotes:

Ultimately the alleged incompatibility of foreknowledge and free will is shown to rest on a subtle logical error. When the error, a modal fallacy, is recognized, and remedied, the problem evaporates...

...Once the logical error is detected, and removed, the argument for epistemic determinism simply collapses. If some future action/choice is known prior to its occurrence, that event does not thereby become "necessary", "compelled", "forced", or what have you. Inasmuch as its description was, is, and will remain forever contingent, both it and its negation remain possible. Of course only one of the two was, is, and will remain true; while the other was, is, and will remain false. But truth and falsity, per se, do not determine a proposition's modality. Whether true or false, each of these propositions was, is, and will remain possible. Knowing – whether by God or a human being – some future event no more forces that event to occur than our learning that dinosaurs lived in (what is now) South Dakota forced those reptiles to take up residence there."

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

When There's a Water Emergency In Your Soul

(Lake Erie at Sterling State Park)

In John chapter 7 Jesus is in the Temple in Jerusalem on the last and greatest day of the Feast of Tabernacles. This Jewish festival was a celebration of God’s leading the nation of Israel out of Egyptian bondage into freedom and the promised land.

Jewish pilgrims - thousands of them - converged on Jerusalem for this 8-day event. They set up “tents” (”tabernacles”) in the city and lived in them, much as their ancestors lived in tents during the 40 years of wilderness-wandering. They remembered how God provided food for their ancestors, and how, in a dry wilderness, God provided water, having Moses strike the rock at the base of Mount Horeb.

Every day of the Feast of Tabernacles the high priest would lead a procession from the Temple to the Pool of Siloam. He would fill a golden urn with the water of this pool (which were supposed to bring healing). He would lead the large procession back to the Temple. He would pour the water on the altar. And the people would thank God for the provision of water.

All this happened at the end of the harvest season, so thanks for water that grew the crops was given. There were also prayers asking God to send water in the coming year.

It was on the 8th and final day of the festival that Jesus stood up. He announced: “If any of you are thirsty for water, come to me. I will give you streams of living water which will flow out of you.” John tells us that by “living water” Jesus meant the Holy Spirit. And by the Holy Spirit N.T. Wright means: “God’s refreshing personal presence”; and Gordon Fee means: “God’s empowering presence.”

Yesterday in Monroe there was a water emergency. The intake pipe, located a mile off shore in Lake Erie, froze. Monroe residents were asked to not use water unnecessarily. As I drove down Telegraph Rd last night a number of restaurants were closed because of little water to use. And I thought of Jesus at the Feast of Tabernacles.

The human spirit needs watering. Every day. The soul can get dry. It can get dry in a such a way that no earthly thing or accomplishment can nourish it. But Jesus says that, come to him, and streams of living water will flow in your spirit. He gives us the Holy Spirit, the refreshing personal presence of God. It’s water for the soul. It’s fresh rain falling on the deserts of this life.

“On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” By this he meant the Spirit…” (John 7:37-39)

Monday, January 21, 2008

Worship-Intercession Nights

(National Christian Conference Center, Valley Forge, PA)

Our church’s first monthly Worship-Intercession Night (WIN) is this coming Saturday, Jan. 26, 6-8 PM.

Two hours of worship & prayer in an IHOP format. (International House of Prayer)

Why It Is Not Evil to Teach My Children That God Exists

(At Ground Zero in NYC)

For Christopher Hitchens (as for Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris) religion is evil. Their reasoning goes like this:

P1. (Premise 1) The statement "God exists" is false.
P2. Religious people teach their children that "God exists" is true.
P3. It is evil to teach your children false things. (Dawkins thus calls religious education to children a form of "child abuse." And, ipso facto, child abuse is evil.)
C. (Conclusion) Therefore, religious people are evil.

What can we say about this?

About P1 - we can give reasons that support the truth of the statement "God exists." So, for many of us, we think P1 is false. More personally, I believe P1 is false.

About P3 - This statement seems false. The following statement seems true: "It is evil to teach as true something that one believes to be false." But even with this there seem to be cases where it would not be evil to do this; e.g., to tell a patient, if asked, that the stock market has not fallen (when it has and they have really lost all their money) as they are on the verge of having a heart attack.

If a parent believes P1 is false, as I do, then it does not seem evil for a parent to teach their children that P1 is false, and that the statement "God exists" is true. Indeed, it would seem wrong for them not to do so. For example, assume Hitchens teaches his children that there is no God. If the statement "There is no God" is false, then Hitchens teaches his children an untruth. But surely it is not evil for Hitchens to do this. Only if Hitchens believed that the statement "God does not exist" is false and then taught his children that the statement "God does not exist" is true could we think that what Hitchens is doing is evil.

I believe it is true that God exists, and that it is false that God does not exist. Because of this it surely is not evil that I teach my children what I believe is true. Precisely to not do so seems the evil thing. This means that Hitchens, also, is not evil in teaching his children that God does not exist. We just disagree on P1.

How might Hitchens reply to this? He might, as he has, point out all the evils that have been done by religious persons who think P1 is false. Two responses, at least, can be given to this.

1 - Non-religious persons have committed horrendous evils. See, e.g., the catalogue of such atrocities in Dinesh D'Souza's (Stanford University) What's So Great About Christianity.

2 - Religious persons have created great good. Read, e.g., USC sociologist Donald Miller's Global Pentecostalism: The New Face of Christian Social Engagement. I just finished this book and was deeply moved by it. Miller reports on what he has seen around the world as Christian pentecostals have taken Jesus' words in Matthew 25 and created powerful ministries to AIDS victims, the poor and the hungry and the homeless, the sick, the uneducated, and so on. Sometimes these churches partner with local governments. The results are that systemic changes are being made. The foundation for these changes is a personal encounter with Jesus.

Friday, January 18, 2008

2500-Year-Old Temech Seal Found (Nehemiah 7:55)

Yesterday's Jerusalem Post reports (for the full article go here):

“A stone seal bearing the name of one of the families who acted as servants in the First Temple and then returned to Jerusalem after being exiled to Babylonia has been uncovered in an archeological excavation in Jerusalem’s City of David, a prominent Israeli archeologist said Wednesday.

The 2,500-year-old black stone seal, which has the name “Temech” engraved on it, was found earlier this week amid stratified debris in the excavation under way just outside the Old City walls near the Dung Gate, said archeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar, who is leading the dig.

According to the Book of Nehemiah (7:55), the Temech family were servants of the First Temple and were sent into exile to Babylon following its destruction by the Babylonians in 586 BCE.”

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Teaching About the Presence of God in Valley Forge

(Valley Forge National Park)
I’m in day 4 of my teaching at the National Christian Conference Center in Valley Forge. I am greatly enjoying the 10 doctoral students in my class. We have a great diversity in the class, which makes it a very rich experience. And, we are experiencing God’s presence and God encountering us. Which is, for me, what this class is all about and, by the way, what life is all about.

How does God transform and renew the human heart? Here’s what I teach about this.

1. Realize how needy you are for transformation. Little or no renewal and transformation will happen if this recognition is not there.
2. Realize the magnitude of the needed transformation. Which is into Christlikeness.
3. Realize you can’t do this on your own; you can’t self-transform.
4. Therefore get into the presence of God. You cannot consistently dwell in God’s presence and remain unchanged.

5. The transformation and renewal happen in the "deep waters of the heart" (Proverbs 20:5).

6. This transformation includes: a) a deconstruction of the negative aspects of the self; and b) a resolution of what I call ontological dualities (from fear to faith; from control to trust; from life to death; etc.)

Here are the notes about what it means to be in the presence of God that I gave to the class this morning. Of course I commented on them, added to them, and so on. Hope they are helpful!


Only God can transform us. To be transformed by God we must enter and live in his presence. But what is it in us that gets transformed? The biblical answer is: “spirit.” In this chapter I will present an understanding of “spirit” by using what I refer to as biblical metaphors of spiritual transformation.

David cried out to God, “What is man that you are mindful of him?”[1] While the emphasis in this verse is on God’s loving care for persons, David wonders, anthropologically, about the meaning of persons: “What is man?” To ask the question of our self-identity is to be in a bathysphere floating towards the ocean’s floor. Simply put, it’s a profoundly deep question. Many claim that gaining a biblical answer to this question takes us a long way towards spiritual and emotional stability.[2]

Christian theists believe that, as persons, we are qualitatively different from the rest of God’s creation.[3] Scholars have written volumes attempting to identify the exact nature of this qualitative distinction. We will say that persons are spiritual creations. “Spirit” is that which separates persons from plants and animals.[4] This question of our spiritual nature is not merely academic. When we pray we may find the question rising in our hearts, “God, who am I?” For this reason Thomas Merton felt that developing a theological anthropology was important for a life of prayer.[5]

If persons are essentially spiritual creations, what is “spirit”? The Bible provides us with many “metaphors of spirit.” These metaphors do not give definitions or point-for-point descriptions of “spirit,” but rather gesture towards the nature of persons as spiritual creations. A “metaphor” is the use of a word, phrase, image, or object to create a framework through which we express or view some aspect of reality or experience.[6] Metaphorical description is necessary because most, if not all, of our common experience cannot be captured in the steel nets of literal language.[7]

To refer to spiritual experience we must often speak metaphorically. Consider, as an example, this metaphorical description of the spiritual life from Thomas Merton: “I consider that the spiritual life is the life of man’s real self, the life of that interior self whose flame is so often allowed to be smothered under the ashes of anxiety and futile concern.”[8]

Here Merton uses three biblical metaphors:

1) The spiritual life is that which is most real about persons.

2) The spiritual life is something interior (”below the surface”; “deep inside”).

3) Spirit is “energy,” “fire.” Thus it can be “smothered” or “quenched.”

This brief metaphorical description of the spiritual life issues an invitation to consider viewing one’s life through its lens. The biblical metaphors of spirit, while not providing exact definitions, gesture towards the life of the spirit and invite us to participate in this life. They are all grounded in a common understanding of spirituality, which is: To be “spiritual” is to be in God’s presence; to be “unspiritual” is to be apart from God.[9]

We can further categorize the biblical metaphors of spirit into types. Our first example is a type of volitional metaphor and is found in Psalm 46:10: “Be still, and know that I am God.” To “be still” means, literally, to “cease struggling.” This means that if we are to be transformed we must surrender to God. Therefore, spirit is something that can either surrender to God or resist God.

Our second metaphor of the spiritual life is a type of activity metaphor: “Rest in the Lord, O my soul.” As Hebrews 6:19 says, “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” To be in God’s presence means to cease from certain activities so our spirit, like a ship, might be anchored to God who is the dock. To be spiritual is to live securely anchored to God’s Holy Spirit. Conversely, our spirit is lost when it becomes a “restless, drifting, wandering soul.” This is spiritual insecurity. Therefore, spirit is something that can be either securely anchored or drift.

Our third metaphorical description is a type of part/whole metaphor, and speaks of having an “undivided heart” or a “whole heart” (Psalm 86:11). The implication is that we cannot both be in God’s presence and simulataneously attend to someone or something else. I believe this concerns who or what we love. As Henri Nouwen has said, the basic question of the spiritual life is: Who do we belong to? To live out of God’s presence is to be, as James 1:8 says, dipsuchos. It is to have “two psyches,” or be “two-hearted.” In such a condition the spirit is divided regarding its allegiance, and is said to be “fragmented.” In a state of spiritual dipsuchos the human spirit has two lovers. I have found it often happens that when we go alone to a quiet place to pray we are shown how divided our spirits are. Therefore, spirit is something that can be either whole or divided into parts.

Our fourth metaphor of spirit is the central biblical one of energy. “Spirit” is fire. When in God’s presence there may come “tongues of flame.” We can be “on fire” towards God. Nouwen often speaks of our need, therefore, to “tend the fire within.” Conversely, spirit can be “quenched,” or it can “burn out.”[10] A colleague in ministry, speaking of his need for spiritual renewal, once said to me, “What I feel I now need in my life is a burning bush.” Spirit burns, therefore we must tend it to keep it from burning out and guard it so it will not be quenched.

Our fifth example is a type of cathartic metaphor: “Create in me a clean heart, O God.” “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.”[11] The implication is that we truly dwell in God’s presence only with pure hearts. To have a pure heart, as Kierkegaard wrote, is “to will one thing.” Conversely, our hearts can be “stained,” “blemished,” and covered with “blots,” thus “impure.”

The central biblical image of sin is “stain.” Many agree that the first step to spiritual renewal always involves confession, repentance, and receiving forgiveness. Clean hands and pure hearts are necessary preconditions for loving God. Therefore, spirit is something that can be spotless or stained, clean or unclean, acceptable or unacceptable to God.

Our sixth and seventh examples are both types of dwelling metaphors. The first speaks of “remaining in” or “abiding in” Jesus: “Remain in me, and I will remain in you.”[12] We can be said to dwell with Jesus if we are branches, connected to the True Vine. To be out of Jesus’ influence is to become “disconnected” from the vine, possibly to attach oneself to other sources for sustenance. Therefore, spirit can attach itself to God or be detached from God.

Another dwelling metaphor speaks of God as “our fortress and strength.” When we live within the walls of God’s protective fortress, “what shall we fear?” Thus Nouwen asks the question, “Do you live in the house of God or the house of fear?”[13] It is in God’s house that our spirits find comfort, encouragement, and strength for the journey. But when we dwell outside these protective walls and life’s attacks come, fear and anxiety predominate. It is in this light that Nouwen offers his “proof” that prayer works. We know that prayer works because when we do not pray our lives are more filled with fears and anxieties.[14] Therefore, spirit has a home, and is endangered when it makes its home anything but God.

Our last three metaphors of spiritual transformation are spatial, and indicate the “location” of spirit. The first concerns “creating a space in your heart” for God. Jesus said, “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen” (Matt. 6:6). This “upper room” or “secret place” is a heart where Jesus is allowed to live. Our heart is allowed to be Christ’s home. As an old hymn asks, “Have You Any Room for Jesus?” But our “rooms” can be “cluttered,” with no space for God. Therefore, spirit is a roomy space that can be cluttered with so many distractions that God has no opportunity to enter in.

A second spatial metaphor is found in the Quaker expression “to center down.” In both the Old and New Testaments the heart is the “center” or “seat” of all that is unique to persons, to include the will, the passions, thought, and the religious center to which God turns.[15] We are to “love the Lord with all our heart.” God, Who seeks out all things, “knows our hearts.”[16] The movement of our spiritual life should be “centrifugal,” proceeding from the center of our being, rather than a “centripetal” movement that begins with the surface things of life and attempts to move through them to the heart of life. Because we so easily stray from center it is no wonder we often find little meaning in our activity. Therefore, spirit concerns the central reality of persons, and determines all activity and desire. It is the source of being which, in the spiritual life, precedes doing.

Our final metaphor of the spiritual life is also spatial, and speaks of there being “a temple within.” Paul tells the Corinthians that, individually and corporately, they are temples of God’s Holy Spirit.[17] Paul Tournier refers to this inner temple as “the holy sepulchre within.” Tournier refers to this by asking, “What is there then within this sepulchre where all the repressed rubbish of all humanity as well as our own is rotting?”[18] Jesus said we can “whitewash” this sanctuary. To do this would be to live a life of facade, pretense, what Merton called the “false self.” Therefore, spirit is a holy place where God’s Spirit dwells. To be “spiritual” is to allow God to reign in one’s spirit, which is God’s rightful dwelling place. To be “unspiritual” is to occupy that dwelling place with our own ego as king, while painting the outside so as to appear to be spiritual.

There are many metaphors of spiritual transformation.[19] Those we have looked at tell us that spiritual transformation comes as we:
- Surrender to God- Anchor ourself to God
- Be whole-hearted towards God
- Tend the fire within
- Remain clean before God
- Attach ourself to God
- Dwell in God’s fortress
- Make room in our heart for God
- Center our life on God
- Walk in holiness.[20]

[1] Psalm 8:4a
[2] See Christ-Centered Therapy, by Neil Anderson,
[3] This is important to state since contemporary atheists such as Richard Dawkins deny that there is any qualitative distinction between human beings and animals.
[4] Other candidates for the uniqueness of persons include: “reason”; “speech”; “self-consciousness”/”self-reflexivity”; rationality + freedom + immortality (the early church Fathers); a “destiny into which man was created to grow into” (Irenaeus; memory + intellect + will (Augustine, using the 3-fold structure of the Trinity); and rational understanding + moral obedience + religious communion. See also William Sanford La Sor, David Allan Hubbard, and Frederic William Bush, Old Testament Survey (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982). The understanding of “the image of God” in Genesis is more functional than conceptual. As a result of being created in God’s image we are to do certain things: e.g., subdue, explore, rule the creation in God’s name, etc.
[5] See Higgins, John J., Thomas Merton on Prayer.
[6] See Piippo, John Paul, Metaphor and Theology: A Multidisciplinary Approach. Unpublished doctoral dissertation,Northwestern
University, 1986. Here the nature of metaphor and its use in expressing and describing religious aspects of experience and reality is more fully explained.
[7] Much of our language is metaphorical in origin. For example, when we speak of the “leg” of the table we have forgotten that at some point somebody used the human “figure” to speak of the table’s leg. Paul Ricoeur has shown in The Rule of Metaphor that “figurative language” is language which uses the human “figure” to speak of experience.
[8] Merton,
[9] See especially Gordon Fee’s commentary on 1 Corinthians. Fee says that Paul’s basic question for the Corinthian church is, “What does it mean to be “spiritual” or pneumatikos.”
[10] On spiritual “burnout” and ways to rekindle the flame, see Louis Savary and Patricia Berne, Prayerways.
[11] Psalm 51:7, 10.
[13] See Nouwen, Lifesigns; A Cry for Mercy. No one is better in articulating the emotion and spirit of fear than Henri Nouwen.
[14] See Nouwen, Gracias! A Latin American Journal, p. 44.
[15] See Geoffrey W. Bromily, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985), p. 416.
[16] Luke 16:15.
[18] Tournier, Paul,
[19] Another metaphor is: To be in God’s presence one must have a “quiet heart.” To be out of God’s presence is to “have ears, but not really hear.” When the human heart is filled with many voices and noises it is difficult to hear the single voice of God. Heart-stillness is the condition where only God’s voice is attended to. “Spirit,” therefore, is something that can be either quieted or chaotic.
[20] When we reverse the positive biblical metaphors of the spiritual life we see those spiritual conditions which will render prayer-as-relationship-with-God less effective. Relationship with God is blocked when our spirits are:
…focused on life’s peripheral issues
…stained (by sin)
…disconnected from the Vine
…dwelling out God’s fortress
…and so on…

Brian McLaren and Ahistoricism

John Wilson has written a brief critique of Brian McLaren's Everything Must Change in Books and Culture. I thin k it's fair-minded and makes a few good points.

The point that especially struck me is Wilson's insight that McLaren's work tends towards being ahistorical in the sense that, I now exaggerate to make the point, no one in Christian history has got the Real Jesus thing right since the early church. Until now. We, viz., McLaren and a few others, are understnading Jesus correctly.

Wilson writes: "McLaren is particularly misleading when he's suggesting, as he does quite emphatically at times, that somehow the church went off the rails early on, and that only now are (some) Christians beginning to understand what Jesus was really saying. While McLaren occasionally adds nuances and qualifiers, this ahistorical account runs through the book. In this respect, his message is oddly reminiscent of the ahistorical narrative of church history that dominated the evangelical/fundamentalist churches of my youth. Between an idealized first-century church and the present moment, when the preacher was calling on you to make a decision for Christ, there loomed a great wasteland—all those centuries in which the church failed to heed the plain words of Scripture."

I feel certain that Wilson is right about this. He's not harsh toward McLaren. He just points this out. I think I have at times been guilty of this. So Wilson's counsel serves as a good corrective for me, too.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Bruce Cockburn

One of my favorite all-time singer-songwriter-guitarists is Canadian artist Bruce Cockburn. I began listening to him in the early 80s, and bought everything he put out.

As a lyricist Cockburn is brilliant, stunning, shocking, subtle. Cockburn is a champion of the mixed metaphor. In his music, Cockburn mostly asserts rather than suggests.

His music is spiritual - God-and-Jesus-oriented. It's political and social, grounded in Cockburn's spirituality.

I'm listening tonight to these tunes:

- "Feast of Fools" - try this one for starters. The great, final apocalyptic banquet and who gets invited. Watch how he strings the words together. And be in awe.

- "Lord of the Starfields" - the glory of God in creation. A song of praise to the Creator. Not your ordinary worship song due to its brilliant poetic lyrics. "Oh Love that fires the sun keep me burning"... why can't others write like this?

- "Lovers In a Dangerous Time" - Peril and glory, fragility and stability, finitude and grace, all mixed together in a real-life portrait of authentic, non-denial-filled love.

- "Red Ships Take Off In the Distance" - great guitar stuff.

- "One Day I Walk" - Man, do I love this song! Again, watch the lyrics. Truth...

- "Rumors of Glory" - Here's Cockburn at his mixed-metaphorical best. Metaphor 1 is the light, cheerful, Latin-type music. Metaphor 2 is the horror of war.

- "What About the Bond?" - This is my all-time favorite wedding song. I have imagined signing it at a wedding. It's a total in-your-face statement about covenant and vows. If you are married, are you a person of truth? If I had this song when I married Linda I'd have sung it at my own wedding.

- "Grim Travellers" - The socio-political alienation of ordinary people from the makers of money and war. Against the Nietzschean Robert-Duvallian Apocalypse Now-ish power and control addicts.

- "Festival of Friends" - When I think of my real friends I usually think of this song. The eschatological reality of life after death. The meaning of fellowship. The GREAT HOPE.

- "The Strong One" - The loneliness & responsibility of the leader...

- "Nicaragua" - The mixed metaphors create severe cognitive dissonance if you really listen to this one. Sweet, beautiful Spanish melodies form the background for extreme pain and death and violence.

Has anyone else poured more sheer creativity and brilliance into a song? If so, who are they? Thank you Bruce for sharing your gifts with we mortals.


Personal Transformation & a Cheesesteak

Today I'm at the National Christian Conference Center in Valley Forge. I'm teaching for Palmer Theological Seminary's Doctor of Ministry Program. My class is called: "Personal Transformation: How God Transforms the Human Soul."

I've taught in this program since its inception - about 13 years (I think!).

I love coming here and doing this.

And, last night my friend Bob DeMarco treated me to a real cheesesteak sandwich at Tony Luke's in south Philadelphia. Before I ordered he instructed me to order a "cheesesteak," NOT a "Philly cheesesteak." So I am very thankful for this wisdom and advice which, had I not heard it, would have immediately identified my as a non-indigenous person.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Scot McKnight on the Kingdom of God in the Synoptic Gospels

Looks like Scot McKnight is commenting on all 85 "distinguishable references" to the "kingdom of God" in the synoptic gospels.

See his website here. Look for his "Keys of the Kingdom" posts.

Kingdom of God Theology in Queens, NYC

It was my privilege to instruct 27 students at Faith Bible Seminary last week in Queens, NYC.

I'll make a post this coming week that has a detailed outline of my course.

In the meantime, many thanks to Pastor John and Rosie Hao, Greg Woo, Ray (my translator), and the many students and friends who were so very gracious to me and Linda. We loved being with you and look forward to seeing you again!

Friday, January 11, 2008

D'Souza & Hitchens Debate

I just watched the one and a half hour debate between Christian theist Dinesh D'Souza and anti-theist Christopher Hitchens on "Is Christianity the Problem?"

This debate is interesting, spirited and lively, a lot of fun to watch. You can see the entire thing here.
Watch Hitchens, at minute 37, raise the objection that if atheism is true than there is no metaphysical foundation for ethics. Hitchens speaks as if it's only theists who have raised this objection. But Nietzsche recognized it, as it seems Bertran Russell also did in his "A Free Man's Worship." After raising this objection Hitchens never really answers it but rather does, it seems to me, a tu quoque, pointing out how religious teachings seem self-contradictory. The question Hitchens raises is a good one. But he never answers it. I think it's because, on atheism, it cannot be answered.

Monday, January 07, 2008

So Antony Flew Is Not Senile & the Ideas In "There Is a God" are Actually His?

Some time ago I wrote about Mark Oppenheimer's nytimes article "The Turning of an Atheist," in which oppenheimer accuses Antony Flew of turning senile, which would mean that Flew's book There Is a God is the result of deceptive and manipulative Christians who are using the mentally incapacited Flew for their own apologetic ends.

HarperOne publisher Mark Tauber responded to the Oppenheimer essay: "We were pretty upset and frustrated by the piece. It's one thing to review, question and debate the arguments of a book, but Oppenheimer didn't do that—he went after the integrity of our author and our integrity. It seems like he just saw this as an opportunity to make a name for himself, and it was out of line."

Flew himself made a statement: "My name is on the book and it represents exactly my opinions. I would not have a book issued in my name that I do not 100 percent agree with. I needed someone to do the actual writing because I'm 84 and that was Roy Varghese's role. The idea that someone manipulated me because I'm old is exactly wrong. I may be old but it is hard to manipulate me. This is my book and it represents my thinking."

Is God Unfair in Sending People to Hell if They Have Never Been Exposed to Jesus?

I'm in New York City speaking and teaching at Faith Bible Seminary and Faith Bible Church. This church and seminary is Chinese and led by dynamic and visionary Jesus-follower John Hao.

On Saturday I made some presentations at their annual conference. One of them was called "The Uniqueness of Jesus Among the World Religions." I ended this presentation by raising the objection that it seems unfair that God would send some people to an eternity out of his preence if they have never had a chance to hear about Jesus. But is this really unfair? The answer is: no.

See William Lane Craig's essay "Politically Incorrect Salvation." Briefly, the reasoning is this: It is possible that God has counterfactual knowledge. God has given persons free will, for the sake of love. But this free will has a risk; viz., some created agents might choose to reject God's offer of salvation in Christ. But because God has counterfactual knowledge God is not unfair if he does not expose someone to Jesus if he knows they will freely choose to reject him. This means God cannot create world where such a person would be exposed to Jesus and embrace him, since that would violate their free will.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

If There Is No God Then There Are No Moral Facts

(The River Raisin near my home in Monroe, Michigan)

Science qua science reveals no value-information. I can measure something, weigh it, analyze it into physical structures and components, but the moment I call it, say, "elegant," I have left science.

Nietzsche understood this. His "madman" knows that, sans God, values do not exist, since the metaphysical underpinning for such values is taken away.

Philosopher Thomas Metzinger states it this way on

"There are no moral facts. Moral sentences have no truth-values. The world itself is silent, it just doesn’t speak to us in normative affairs — nothing in the physical universe tells us what makes an action a good action or a specific brain-state a desirable one. Sure, we all would like to know what a good neurophenomenological configuration really is, and how we should optimize our conscious minds in the future. But it looks like, in a more rigorous and serious sense, there is just no ethical knowledge to be had. We are alone. And if that is true, all we have to go by are the contingent moral intuitions evolution has hard-wired into our emotional self-model. If we choose to simply go by what feels good, then our future is easy to predict: It will be primitive hedonism and organized religion."

If there is no God, then Metzinger's logic follows.