Monday, March 31, 2008

Nietzsche's Dead Body May Be Relocated

I tell my philosophy students that, were I an atheist, I'd follow Nietzsche (among a few others). I'm a fan of Nietzsche even though he had it wrong about God.

Nietzsche's dead. I know this because his remains lie in a grave in the eastern German village of Röcken. Now his grave and therefore remains are being threatened because the entire village of Röcken may be relocated due to the discovery of lignite under the village.

Today's Speigel Online says: "It's hard to say what the philosopher himself would have to say about all this. While being disturbed in one's final resting place can't be nice, Nietsche was no fan of what he called "monumental history." In his 1873 meditations "On the use and abuse of history for life," he warned against the kind of history that "serves the life of the past in such a way that it buries further living.""

Larry Norman

I was 21 years old, off drugs, a new follower of Jesus, and prepared to lay down my electric guitar. I was so desperate for help that I was willing to follow God even if it meant singing old hymns the rest of my life. Then came Larry Norman.

I think I saw Larry in concert 5-6 times. Once was with a relative handful of people at a county fair. There he was, with his long white hair and skinny physique. He was an OK guitar player and not-so-great piano player. His voice was memorable. His presence was something else. He was not only a Jesus-radical, he was just plain radical. Revolutionary. Controversial. Independent. Dependent on God. Outspoken. Funny. Charismatic. A very good lyricist.

I think Larry cared a lot about what God thought and not so much about what people thought. Larry created a lot of contoversy, and so did Jesus. The LA Times's obituary said: "Norman was dubbed the "father of Christian rock," but he didn't gain widespread acceptance from the religious establishment. "The churches weren't going to accept me looking like a street person with long hair and faded jeans," Norman said in an interview with CCM magazine. "They did not
like the music I was recording. And I had no desire to preach the Gospel to the converted. I wanted to be out on the sidewalk preaching to the runaways and the druggies and the prostitutes."

God sent Larry Norman to America to help people like me. God, through Larry, put the guitar back in my hands and told me I could sing about Jesus in bars if I was led to.

Larry died on Feb. 24, 2008.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Philosophy Oral Exams This Week

(MCCC, La-Z-Boy Center)

This week, in my Western Philosophy class and Philosophy of Religion class at MCCC, I'll give 65 students 10-minute oral exams. Students have the questions in advance. The questions form the subject matter of my in-class lectures. For me the best way to evaluate my philosophy students is by oral exam. I find out, in ten minutes, what a student does and doesn't know. I give them instant evaluation (I "grade" them). For me it's something good to look a student in the eyes and say "You did a great job," or "You failed this. Here's how you can do better if you want."

Philosophy of Religion Oral Exam Questions:

1. Explain Mackie's logical argument from evil against the existence of God

2. Explain the Buddhist idea that evil is an illusion

3. Explain Plantinga's refutation of Mackie

4. Explain Rowe's evidential argument from evil against the existence of God

5. Explain Wycksta's "no-seeum" argument against Rowe

6. Explain Hick's Soul-Making theodicy

Western Philosophy Oral Exam Questions:

1. Explain Aristotle on Eudaimonia

2. Explain Kierkegaard's Existentialism

3. Explain Nietzsche's "Madman" and the Death of God

4. Explain Camus's "Absurd Reasoning"

Oral Exams Rooms will be:

3/31/2008 Z 259 Conference Room

4/1/2008 Z 259 Conference Room

4/2/2008 Z 258 Conference Room

4/3/2008 Z 259 Conference Room

Chastity as a Rational, Intellectual Option

Today's New York Times Magazine has a long, excellent article on a significant sexual abstinance movement at Harvard, Princeton, and MIT. Student leaders use rational arguments to lift up the idea of refraining from pre-marital sex. “College abstinence programs are growing out of this awareness that disconnected sex is not as pleasurable as the media (and sometimes college administrators) have led us to believe.”

The Anscombe Society of Princeton is named after one of the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein's student, G.E.M. Anscombe. The articles states: "Anscombe’s arguments against premarital sex are as impressive as they are difficult to summarize, and the students so admired her logic, they named their society after her. Robert George, a professor of jurisprudence at Princeton, is one of the Anscombe Society’s informal faculty advisers. Himself a Catholic thinker, George says that society members employ “philosophical-ethical arguments” to support their belief that promiscuity “deeply compromises human dignity,” and psychological and sociological rationale to justify the claim that casual sex leads to “personal unhappiness and social harm.” The students are some of Princeton’s most gifted, George says, and “even people who don’t accept their conclusions recognize that the arguments being advanced by the Anscombe students are serious and cannot be easily dismissed.”"

For Princeton's Anscombe Society go here.

MIT's Anscombe Society is here.

Harvard's True Love Revolution is here.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Abdullah's Call for Interfaith Dialogue

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia is quoted in today's Jerusalem Post as calling for serious interfaith dialogue between the three monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Abdullah states: "The 21st Century is posing economic, political and environmental questions, but also a religious question: Can Judaism, Christianity and Islam make room for each other? [I]f you can't solve it at the religious level, I doubt we'll be able to solve it at the political level."

From the Jesus-perspective I'm all for loving one another. We'll never agree on a number of core beliefs unless we all become Baha'is. But working to understand, disagree, even try to persuade, while loving - I think that's good.

I find it interesting that part of Abdullah's appeal is in response to the evangelistic atheists. He says: "I have noticed that the family system has weakened and that atheism has increased. That is an unacceptable behavior to all religions, to the Koran, the Torah and the Bible. We ask God to save humanity."

Abdullah adds: "The idea is to ask representatives of all monotheistic religions to sit together with their brothers in faith and sincerity to all religions, as we all believe in the same God." Ahhh... now that's where interfaith dialogue gets very tricky. The Koran's version of monotheism denounces Christian trinitarianism as non-monotheistic. While this is no problem if you're Eckhart Tolle and declare that you've got a belief system that's not really a belief system, for serious theologians to agree that "we all believe in the same God" will not only not be easy but will in many cases be impossible in principle.

A Question About Free Will & God's Omnipotence

One of my Philosophy of Religion students wrote me the following question: Okay, so you know how there's the argument that it is possible to have an all-loving God, an all-powerful God, and for evil to exist if you factor in freewill? Well if you do factor in freewill, isn't that a contradiction to an all-powerful God? God gave us freewill, but he cannot use his power to interfere with what we choose to do in any given situation. We have the power to choose to do good or choose to do evil and there's nothing he can do to change that, right? So wouldn't considering that suggest that we hold some power, however small it may be, over God? He has the power to give us freewill, which he possibly has, but he doesn't have the power to take that freewill away once it's given. Therefore, wouldn't he not be an all-powerful God in a sense?

Here's my response: Okay, so you know how there's the argument that it is possible to have an all-loving God, an all-powerful God, and for evil to exist if you factor in freewill? Well if you do factor in freewill, isn't that a contradiction to an all-powerful God? (NO) God gave us freewill, but he cannot use his power to interfere with what we choose to do in any given situation. (If God did this, then we would not have free will. God has chosen to give us free will. Which means, God has chosen to allow us to make choices with which he will not interfere or change. Because if he did interfere or change, then we would not have free will. For God to change what we freely choose is a non-logical possibility, like "square circle." Therefore it is in no way a diminishment of God's omnipotence, since an all-powerful being like God can do all that is logically possible. Put another way, God can't make a burrito so hot that he can't eat it. The reason is because such a thing is a nonsense idea, a nonlogical possibility.) We have the power to choose to do good or choose to do evil and there's nothing he can do to change that, right? So wouldn't considering that suggest that we hold some power, however small it may be, over God? He has the power to give us freewill, which he possibly has, but he doesn't have the power to take that freewill away once it's given. Therefore, wouldn't he not be an all-powerful God in a sense? (God could take away our free will. He has the power to do that. But should God take away our free will then, if we have no free will, God would not interfere with what we do. The fact that God has given us free will and therefore God can't interfere with what we freely choose in no way entails that God is less than all-powerful. Make sense? Thanks for asking!)

How Can We Tell When God Is On the Move?

(This is a picture I took a few weeks ago of Cave #4 at Qumran, in Israel, on the Dead Sea. This is the cave where the Isaiah Scroll was found.)

First of all, if you’re someone who reads what I write on this blog - thank you. I have been out of the loop recently. One reason is my Israel trip. Then, as a pastor, sometimes it gets very busy, and that’s how it’s recently been. Add to this that our beloved dog So-Fee has been struggling health-wise. We’ve already planned to euthanize her twice, only to have her rebound. We love this dog who is, in many ways, a family member to us.

At our church (Redeemer Fellowship in Monroe) we’re beginning a 5-night teaching/study on “The Moves of God in History.” Tomorrow is our first session. I’ll be teaching on Acts chapters 1-4. What we see there is, obviously, God on the move. Are there certain things in these chapters that define any real move of God? I think so. Are there things that were needed at that time but are not essential to every actual God-move? I think so. Tomorrow night I’ll separate out the essential things from the contingent things.

If you want to join the discussion it’s at:

Redeemer Fellowship Church

5305 Evergreen



6 PM - 7:30 PM

Monday, March 24, 2008

Redeemer Ministry School Update


March 23, 2008

As an update, here are some things I want you to know about our Redeemer Ministry School.
When I was in Israel I talked with David Halder, the head of the 400-child orphanage in Bangladesh. David still wants to send two of his best students to spend 10 months with us in our Ministry School.

Linda and I will be taking RMS students, plus Josh Bentley and Holly Benner, to New York City for a week – October 28 - November 11. We will work with and learn from Dr. John Hao and Pastor Greg Woo of Faith Bible Church and Faith Bible Seminary. I will teach Apologetics in the seminary from Tuesday – Friday. Then, I’ll speak at their 13th anniversary celebration on Saturday, plus speak at two of their seven worship services on Sunday. RMS students will interact with FBC’s Chinese young adults. We’ll learn a lot of things you can’t get out of a textbook!

I, along with our staff, are praying about various opportunities that God may send our way to make RMS a special experience. For example, I recently talked with my friend Paul Albrecht, who is a pastor and a teacher of biblical Greek. Paul is willing to come to Monroe and RMS and give our students a 2-3 day introduction to biblical Greek. If this works out we may also do a 2-hour special biblical Greek session for Redeemer people. Paul is a great scholar and really knows how to teach this stuff. He studied with the great New Testament scholar Bruce Metzger.

Personally, I’ll be doing a lot of RMS teaching. One of the classes I will teach is Apologetics. The word comes from 1 Peter 3:15 and means, “to defend.” To learn apologetics is to learn to defend our faith in God, in Jesus, and in the Bible as the Word of God. I have studied apologetics from the day I became a follower of Jesus. My first mentor was William Lane Craig, who was my campus minister when I was an undergraduate university student. (See Craig’s website –

RMS will have three Trimesters.
Weekly classes will be held T-F, 9 AM – 1 PM
The schedule looks like this”
9-9:20 – worship
9:30 – 11 – Class
11-11:15 – break
11:15 – 12:45 – Class
12:45-1 - Prayer
I am greatly looking forward to our very first RMS students! Pray for them, and pray about whether you should be part of this class. It will be ten months of training, learning, and experiencing, that will transform your life.
Pastor John Piippo, Ph.D


Fall Trimester
i. T-Th classes
1. Personal Spiritual Life
2. Worship I
ii. W-F classes
1. Kingdom of God I
2. Bible Study Methods

Winter Trimester
i. T-Th classes
1. Kingdom of God II
2. Worship II
ii. W-F classes
1. Counseling
2. Bible Study Methods II: Application
a. Preaching/speaking
b. Teaching

Spring Trimester
i. T-Th classes
1. Kingdom of God III
2. Worship III

ii. W-F classes
1. Leadership
2. Apologetics
Trimester Schedule:
· Fall 2008
o 9/7/08 – Students arrive and are introduced on Sunday morning
o 9/6/08 – Week One integration
o 9/15/08 – 12/19/08 – Classes, with Thanksgiving week off
o 10/28 – 11/2 – A week of ministry and study in New York City
· Winter 2009
o 1/6/09 – 3/6/-9 – Classes,
· Spring 2009
o 3/16/09 – 6/21/09 (with a break, to be determined)
o Final week – 6/16/09 – 6/21/09 – Graduation!

For registration and tuition information see:

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Albert Camus (for my Western Philosophy students)

To my Western Philosophy Students at MCCC: Here are the Camus notes I will be lecturing from. The essay is "An Absurd Reasoning," from The Myth of Sisyphus; in Jerry Gill, The Enduring Questions, pp. 167 ff.


“An Absurd Reasoning”

How difficult, even impossible, “to distinguish what is true from what is false.”

If we assert: All is true. Then this statement’s contrary (All is false) is true.

But that is absurd.

If we assert: All is false. This is contradictory, because then the statement “All is false” is false. Which is absurd.

But… what if we say something different than this.

For example: If we say, God does not exist. Call this statement X.

Then, we apply truth to that statement only, and we get: X1 - It is true that God does not exist.

But then: is X1 true? If we say yes, we then generate statement X2, which is:

X2 – It is true that it is true that God does not exist.

“For the one who expresses a true assertion proclaims simultaneously that t is true, and so on ad infinitum.”

People want to understand reality. This means, for a person: to reduce reality to thought.

Only then is the mind satisfied.

“The mind that aims to understand reality can be considered itself satisfied only by reducing it to terms of thought.” (168)

“To understand is, above all, to unify.” (168)

“That nostalgia for unity, that appetite for the absolute illustrates the essential impulse of the human drama.” (168)

But the problem is this:

· The mind asserts total unity
· This very assertion proves its own difference and the diversity it claimed to resolve
· This is a “vicious circle” that “is enough to stifle our hopes.”

BUT NOTE: Camus is using logic/reasoning to make this very point. If this point can itself be made, then it seems that we’re really not so hopeless and helpless to get at truth. In other words:

Camus thinks his reasoning is true
Therefore, we can get at truth without slipping into some vicious circle

As Camus writes: “These are again truisms… I know another truism: it tells me that man is mortal.” (168-169)

Camus instructs – constantly keep before you the great gap between what we think we know and what we really know. (169)

This is the epistemological issue.

Camus thinks that “practical assent” and “simulated ignorance” allow us to live with false and contradictory ideas.

If we only knew all the false stuff in our minds, “if we truly put them to the test,” this “ought to upset our whole life.” (169)

“So long as the mind keeps silent in the motionless world of its hopes, everything is reflected and arranged in the unity of its nostalgia.” (169)

“But with its first move this world cracks and tumbles: an infinite number of shimmering fragments is offered to the understanding.”

“We must despair of ever reconstructing the familiar, calm surface which would give us peace of heart.”

History is a series of “successive regrets and its impotences.”

(“The history of science is the history of error.”)

“Of whom and of what indeed can I say: “I know that!””

NOTE: Camus makes a lot of knowledge claims in this essay.

“This world I can touch, and I likewise judge that it exists. There ends all my knowledge, and the rest is construction.” (169)

One can’t, e.g., define the “self.” One cannot get a hold of the self.

“This very heart which is mine will forever remain indefinable to me. Between the certainty I have of my existence and the content I try to give to that assurance, a gap will never be filled.” (169)

“Forever I shall be a stranger to myself.”

OK. But what about empirical reality? Can’t we know that?

“And here are trees and I know their gnarled surface, water and I feel its taste. These scents of grass and stars at night, certain evenings when the heart relaxes – how shall I negate this world whose power and strength I feel?” (169)

“Yet all the knowledge on earth will give me nothing to assure me that this world is mine.” (169)

Which means?

· You describe the world to me
· You reduce the things described to the atom
· You reduce the atom to the electron
· “You explain this world to me with an image” (169)
· Your “science” has been reduced to poetry. Thus, “I shall never know.”
· The paradox of analysis
· “I realize that if through science I can seize phenomena and enumerate them, I cannot, for all that, apprehend the world.” (169)
· “You give me a choice between a description that is sure but that teaches me nothing and hypotheses that claim to teach me but are not sure.” (169)

“Hence the intelligence, too, tells me in its way that this world is absurd.” (170)

But… “I had said that the world is absurd, but I was too hasty.

The world in itself is not reasonable, that is all that can be said.

But what is absurd is the confrontation of this irrational and the wild longing for clarity whose call echoes in the human heart.

The absurd depends as much on man as on the world.” (170)


1. The mind cries out for clarity and unity
2. The world defies clarification
3. THIS… is the absurdity, that we should so much want understanding but can never, ever get it.

“From the moment absurdity is recognized, it becomes a passion, the most harrowing one of all.” (170)

There’s no proof yet that human reason works to bring real understanding and unity of mind.

There is much proof that the mind is intense in its hopes for understanding. (170)


2. A VISION OF THE “WALLS ENCLOSING HIM” (i.e., understanding is not possible, and this is becoming clearer and clearer)


1. “I want everything explained to me or nothing.”
2. Human reason is powerless when it hears this cry from the heart.

“The mind aroused by this insistence seeks and finds nothing but contradictions and nonsense.”

“The world itself, whose single meaning I do not understand, is but a vast irrational. If one could only say just once: “This is clear,” all would be saved.” (171)

The mind reaches its limits.

Then, it must “make a judgment and choose its conclusions.

“This is where suicide and the reply stand.” (171)

The experiences Camus is writing about were “born in the desert.”
- “The desert” = the crying out for “water” when there is no “water.”
- The crying out for understanding when there is no understanding.
- “At this point man stands face to face with the irrational.”
- “He feels within him his longing for happiness and for reason.”

“The absurd is born of this confrontation between:
- The human need
- And the unreasonable silence of the world.” (171)

There is an encounter of:
- The irrational
- Human nostalgia (longing for the old understanding)
- The absurd

The “absurd” is the “divorce between the mind that desires and the world that disappoints, my nostalgia for unity, this fragmented universe and the contradiction that binds them together.” (171)

For Camus the question was: Can one live with this?

Or – does logic command one to die of it.

“I am not interested in philosophical suicide, but rather in plain suicide.”

Camus is certain of these things:

I have a desire for unity, a longing to solve, for clarity and cohesion.

The actual world resists such things.

“I don’t know whether this world has a meaning which transcends it. But I know that I do not know that meaning and that it is impossible for me just now to know it.”

Here’s what Camus knows:

What he understand is this – what he touches, and what resists him.

Camus has two certainties:
- He has an appetite for the absolute and for unity
- It is impossible to reduce this world to a rational and reasonable principle
- HE WRITES: “I know that I cannot reconcile them.” (172)

And this is absurd.

To live, or not to live, with this constant, hopeless absurdity?

COMMENTS, PP. 180-182

Existentialism is a philosophy of crisis.

People are “hungry for meaning, for identity, for some roots in existence, for some structure of purpose in human experience, for some protection against anxieties and frustrations.” (181)

NOTE: It is precisely at this point that the historical nature of Christianity is appealing to me.

In existentialism “there is a constant protest against what might be called the naïve optimism of all forms of Idealism, religious and nonreligious.” (181)

Existentialism has a “negative appraisal of the importance of empirical or scientific reason.” (181)

“Existentialist writers maintain a strict dichotomy between the factual and the valuational dimensions of human existence.” (181)

Critical reason is essentially irrelevant to valuational considerations.

“Critical reason, with its stress on objectivity, alienates the knower from the known and systematically avoids all questions of decision and commitment as hopelessly “subjective.”” (181)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Re-Judaizing Jesus - A "Seismic" Event That is Changing the World

This week's Time cover story is called "10 Ideas That Are Changing the World." Idea # 10 is: "Re-Judaizing Jesus." Now I am impressed! There is a renaissance happening in New Testament Jesus-studies which is, to me, very exciting. And transforming. And, it gets away from fundamentalist hermeneutics to a more authentic approach to the New Testament documents.

The article mentions Ben Witherington and Rob Bell. "Each regards sources like the Mishnah and Rabbi Akiva as vital to understanding history's best-known Jew: Jesus."

"This," the essay states, "is seismic." Why? Because "for centuries, the discipline of Christian "Hebraics" consisted primarily of Christians cherry-picking Jewish texts to support the traditionally assumed contradiction between the Jews — whose alleged dry legalism contributed to their fumbling their ancient tribal covenant with God — and Jesus, who personally embodied God's new covenant of love. But today seminaries across the Christian spectrum teach, as Vanderbilt University New Testament scholar Amy-Jill Levine says, that "if you get the [Jewish] context wrong, you will certainly get Jesus wrong.""

Having read Levine's book The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus, and reading Witherington's socio-rhetorical biblical commentaries, I'm excited about this direction in Jesus studies. I resonate with Bell, who says re. this approach, "Once in, you're in deep. You're hooked. 'Cause you can't ever read it [the Gospel stories] the same way again."

( Note: Witherington writes sympathetically and critically about Bell's Jesus re-Judaizing here.)

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Chuck Norris Weighs in on Oprah Winfrey and Eckhart Tolle

From a Christian standpoint, the teachings of Eckhart Tolle are scandalous. Seeing Tolle's Oprah-powered book A New Earth was #1 on the nytimes booklist, I browsed the book in an airport bookstore this past week. It's light reading for sure, quote-mining the words of Jesus for its own new agey quasi-Buddhist ideas.

Today I found this essay by (!) Chuck Norris which represents a pretty good resposne to Tolle and Winfrey from a Christian perspective.