Friday, October 31, 2008

Archeologist Finds 3,000-Year Old Hebrew text

I'm still teaching in NYC and don't pull out my laptop much. But I saw this article in today's today - "Archeologist finds 3,000-year old Hebrew text." I always find this stuff interesting. When we were in Israel last winter I told Linda if I wasn't a pastor and teacher I think I could have loved being an archaeologist.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Child & Family Expert Richard Dawkins Speaks Out on Child Abuse Again

Linda and I are in NYC where I'm teaching apologetics at Faith Bible Seminary. I did a critique of Richard Dawkins today. I'm in out hotel waiting for someone to pick us up adn take us to dinner. I just found this little news brief on Dawkins. He's writing a children's book on "how to think about the world, science thinking contrasted with mythical thinking." His new book is out to "demolish the "Judeo-Christian myth"."

Dawkins will be funding a series of atheistic advertisements on London buses.

Dawkins is on his "teaching religion is a form of child abuse" thing again. His children's book is out to combat religious child abuse. For Dawkins it's child abuse to tell children about hell. So the alternative is tell little kids that there's no meaning to their lives and they'll slip in to non-existence when they die? And because there's no God there's no purpose to any of this?

Dawkins says: "Do not ever call a child a Muslim child or a Christian child – that is a form of child abuse because a young child is too young to know what its views are about the cosmos or morality." So I presume his kids book will not let them in on the bleak nihistic ending that's waiting for them. He's just going to debunk what he thinks are myths and present his idea of science. Dawkins is the James Dobson of atheists except, unlike Dobson, his Ph.D has nothing to do with families.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Flying to NYC Today

Linda and I fly to New York City today where I will be teaching apologetics at Faith Bible Seminary Tues - Fri. I'll speak at FBS's 13th anniversary on Saturday, and then speak twice at Faith Bible Church on Sunday.

I'm taking our Redeemer Ministry School students with me for the week. Our worship leader, Holly Benner, will also be joining us. Holly will teach a seminar on worship Wednesday night. Then on Friday night Oct 31 and Saturday night November 1 our worship band will rock out in Queens NYC - we're hoping for a lot of people to come.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Proverbs 3:5-6

(My back yard)

One of my very favorite parts of the Bible is Proverbs 3:5-6, which states: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”

I find so much wisdom in these words that I don’t know where to begin in explaining them. When I became a Jesus-follower many years ago someone showed these verses to me and, like many others I suspect, they became part of my spiritual DNA.

“Trust.” This is a heart attitude that cannot co-exist with “control.” Every time a person trusts, they let go of controlling. This is a challenge, since for many “control” is their DNA-default-setting that overrides trust.

One might ask, why not just control everything? My response is: the parts of our life and experience that we control amount to what - 5%, if even that? We don’t control the weather, the stock market, other people (though many try here), our physical bodies, what others think of us, insects, diseases, hurricanes, our solar system, the global economy, … and of course we don’t control God (though some treat God as their butler, which he’s not).

Everyone trusts something. Everyone has to trust something. The question is not “to trust or to control?” The question is: “What do I place my ultimate trust in?”

The correct answer is: God.

Trust in the Lord. Trust… in God. Everyone trusts in someone or something. Everyone has someone or something they place their ultimate trust in. Many years ago Bob Dylan wrote a song that said everyone has to serve somebody. I think that’s true. The question is not to trust or not to trust. The question is: who or what do we place our trust in. Do we place our trust in our own self? In other people? In money? In sex? In power?

If God did not exist then all we’d be able to trust in are finite things. The problem then would be that finite things have their limitations, breakdowns, inconsistencies, and failures. Place your trust mostly or entirely in your own self and you’ll quickly be disappointed. Should we place our trust in people’s abilties to manage the global economy? Should we place our trust in money and the stock market? I’m not saying the market won’t rebound. But I don’t know. My understanding is that even economists don’t know for certain. If someone has placed their trust in the economy then I think that trust is now being eroded. What can a person do? Where can one place their trust today?

The most solid thing a person can place their trust in is God. And what do we mean by “God?” I mean: 1) creator of this universe; 2) a Being whose essence is to exist (God cannot not-exist; and therefore is a-temporal and unchanging); 3) an all-powerful Being (God can do everything that is possible to do); 4) an all-knowing Being (a being who knows everything that is possible to know); 5) an all-loving Being (God IS love; God’s essence is to love; God - within his being - is relational [here's the Christian idea of the Trinity]); 6) the source of objective moral values (if God did not exist, all moral values would be merely subjective, and thus matters of personal taste, and thus non-binding).

Many years ago I chose to place my trust in God. The immediate result at that time was that I got out of a drug lifestyle and never turned back. To me, this was amazing. I attribute this to God. This set me off on a life-long pursuit of God - to know about God, to know God, and to be known by God. The result to this point is that, as best as I am able, I give every day to God. I trust in God. My trust is in God. I’ve found God to be trustworthy, or worthy of placing my trust in.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart.” Rely on God with your entire being. This means, among other things, that a person who really believes in God will live their life in full reliance on God. This is not just about the words we say, or what we say we believe in. It’s not about belief in God in the sense of someone who says “Yeah, of course I believe there’s a God.” It’s much more than that. For someone who actually, really beliueves in God will, necessarily, live a life of God-reliance. Because: God is the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving creator of the universe. Who wouldn’t place their life-trust in him?

We must distinguish between theoretical God-belief and a life of radical dependence on the living God. For me, many years ago, I converted from theoretical God-belief to actual belief, which meant that I now desired to live each day in reliance on God and in touch with God. I mean, if God is for me, who can be against me, right?

Real followers of Jesus are whole-hearted towards God. Are they perfect? Of course not. Do they actually trust in God all the time? I know I still fall short of doing this. Have they made God the thing they trust in when it comes to their existence? Yes. This makes all the difference to me. God is my hope. In the middle of a world where things come together and fall apart all the time, God becomes the anchor to attach one’s heart to.

“Lean not on your own understanding.” Don’t put too much weight on what you understand. Why not? Because: what you and I understand is phenomenally small.

Some years ago when I was in Chicago I stopped at my all-time favorite bookstore which is adjacent to the University of Chicago. It’s in the basement of an old building, and it’s filled with books you’d never find at Borders or Barnes & Noble. This bookstore is an academic wonderland of brilliance. On this particular day as I wandered around this store I had a sense of of my own great ignorance. I’m not trying to be humble now. The truth of how very, very little I know was revealed to me. I felt like the self-made man in Sartre’s novel Nausea, whose goal was to read every book in the library beginning with the ‘A’s’ and working through to ‘Z.’ At the end of his life he hadn’t gotten out of the ‘A’s’ because more books with titles beginning with ‘A’ kept being published. I looked at all these old and new scholarly books on every subject you can think of, and realized I’ve read hardly any of them. And if I did read them I wouldn’t come close to understanding them all. If ever I thought I understood a lot of things, this bubble got burst that day.

Just be born and it won't be long before you face a situation that no human understands. I meet people in such situations all the time. Drug addicts, sex addicts, terminally ill people, impossibly broken-down marriages and families, and the dirt-poor. The collective wisdom of humanity cannot help. So where can one turn? And as they come to me for answers, where can I turn when all understanding fails? My experience is that we are not left hopeless here. Here’s the answer of Proverbs: 1) Lean not on your own understanding, precisely because there’s not much there to lean on anyway; 2) Instead, trust in God. Place your trust in God today.

“In all your ways acknowledge God.” Take God into account. Look to God for life direction. I began to do this when I was 21. Everyone looks somewhere for direction in life, for someone or something to guide their way. For me, if God did not exist there wouldn’t even be such a thing as a “way” in life and a direction to go in. The idea that your life and my life has a “way” at all depends on the existence of a Creator God who made you for a purpose.

When I came to really believe in God I was at a point where I needed big-time direction. My life was screwed up because I was a self-directed person. I came to see that I didn’t know what I was doing, and that’s when I decided to try God, if there really was a God, and see if that would help.

It did. At least, that’s how I interpret it. I know everyone doesn’t believe this. As a philosophy professor I’m always dialoguing with students and others about these issues. There are people who think God does not exist, there are people who believe in God but think God is not into helping us (that’s called Deism), and there are other variations of God-belief and disbelief. What can I say to them? I can tell them my story, which is this: 1) I once followed my own desires only; 2) I got in a lot of trouble and felt like I lost my way in life; 3) I chose to place my trust in God and not in my own ideas; 4) I saw my path starting to straighten out and got direction and still get direction from God; 5) I cannot disbelieve that it was God who has done all this for me.

As I look around I see a lot of examples of the failure of trusting in human understanding. Looks like we’re in global trouble now. Why not try trusting in God?

"God will make your paths straight." This cannot mean "God will endorse whatever your heart desires." What kind of things is God interested in? The answers include: 1) his kingdom; 2) worship of him; 3) love of him and he loving us; 4) righteousness and holiness; and 5) truth. Trust in God, acknowledge God in all your ways, and God will direct you to himself. This will be good for you, since God made you and you were made to love and worship God. Such things define your life's purpose. Find that, and the result is peace and joy.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Jeff Dieselberg & Darren Wilson at Redeemer Sunday Night

Jeff Dieselberg of Night Light Bangkok and filmmaker Darren Wilson (”Finger of God“) will be at Redeemer Fellowship Church in Monroe, this Sunday night, Oct. 19, 6 PM.

Darren will share at 6 about the new film he is now making.

Worship will follow.

Jeff will share after worship about the work he and his wife Annie are doing rescuing young women out of the sex trafficking industry in the red light district of Bangkok.

Friday, October 17, 2008

N.T. Wright and Ben Witherington on the Authority of the Bible

Ben Witherington, to begin his The Living Word of God: Rethnking the Theology of the Bible, cites this long quote from N.T. Wright. I very much like Ben's book, and very much like this NTW quote. Having been trained in some of the ideas Wright is speaking against, I am so thankful for this perspective which is far more biblically accurate. Here it is:

"The question of biblical authority, of how there can be such a thing as an authoritative Bible, is not, then, as simple as it might look... A regular response to these problems is to say that the Bible is a repository of timeless truth. There are some senses in which that is true. But the sense in which it is normally meant is certainly not true. The whole Bible from Genesis to Revelation is culturally conditioned. It is all written in the language of particular times, and evokes the cultures in which it came to birth. It seems, when we get close up to it, as though, if we grant for a moment that in some sense or other God has indeed inspired this book, he has not wanted to give us an abstract set of truths unrelated to space and time. He has wanted to give us something rather different, which is not (in our post-enlightenment world) nearly so easy to handle as such a set of truths might seem to be. The problem of the gospels is one particular instance of this question. And at this point in the argument evangelicals often lurch towards Romans as a sort of safe place where they can find a basic systematic theology in the light of which one can read everything else. I have often been assured by evangelical colleagues in theological disciplines other than my own that my perception is indeed true: namely, that the Protestant and evangelical tradition has not been half so good on the gospels as it has been on the epistles. We don’t quite know what to do with them. Because, I think, we have come to them as we have come to the whole Bible, looking for particular answers to particular questions. And we have thereby made the Bible into something which it basically is not.... into a set of abstract truths and rules - abstract devotional doctrinal, or evangelsitics snippets here and there."

Monday, October 13, 2008

Christians Persecuted in India

(Christians driven from their homes by fears of forced conversions prayed at a refugee camp last week in Bhubaneshwar, India. )

From today's

"The family of Solomon Digal was summoned by neighbors to what serves as a public square in front of the village tea shop.

They were ordered to get on their knees and bow before the portrait of a Hindu preacher. They were told to turn over their Bibles, hymnals and the two brightly colored calendar images of Christ that hung on their wall. Then, Mr. Digal, 45, a Christian since childhood, was forced to watch his Hindu neighbors set the items on fire.

“ ‘Embrace Hinduism, and your house will not be demolished,’ ” Mr. Digal recalled being told on that Wednesday afternoon in September. “ ‘Otherwise, you will be killed, or you will be thrown out of the village.’ ”"

Why Philosophy of Religion Pays No Attention to Evolutionary Biology

Ronald Bailey, in religiononline, has an article called "Does Religion Make People Nicer: Only If They Think Sky Big Brother Is Watching." Bailey especially refers to an article by University of British Columbia social psychologists Ara Norenzayan and Azim F. Shariff. They argue that "religions do appear to encourage generosity and honesty."

Stop here. For two reasons. #1 - That's like observing that robins eat worms. Of course they do. But thank you for pointing this out. Because of #2 - Hitchensian philosophy pronounces religions evil. This evo-bio observation says: they're not.

As for me and my religion, I concur. "Religion" has made me more generous and more honest. I said "more," not "enough." For Bailey, evo-bio explains this. But I see a difference between the hypothesis Bailey puts forward and Jesus-followers like myself. Bailey writes:

"Religion encourages people to sacrifice their individual fitness for the benefit of unrelated individuals or for their group. For example, young men may risk sacrificing themselves in war to protect their tribe. So how does religion encourage prosociality? The answer is that being watched by a Big-Brother-in-the-Sky tends to make believers nervous about being selfish."

Not for me. I've become a lot less selfish since becoming a follower of Jesus, but not because "Big-Brother-In-The-Sky" is watching me. I'm more like the apostle Paul who wrote, "Christ's love compels me." I want to give my life to others and for others because God, in Christ, has spent his life on me. The difference is not about being "nervous about being selfish," but about being compelled to be unselfish. I think that's an important difference. and I think this difference is especially exemplified by Christianity.

Bailey cites "studies that find that invoking an unseen watcher enhances moral behavior. In one amazing experiment, when participants were told that the ghost of a dead student was haunting the experimental room, they cheated less on a computer test. Other researchers report that when experimental subjects were primed with religious words, they cheated significantly less on a subsequent task. Similarly, Norenzayan and Shariff found that subjects in experimental economic games were more generous when God concepts were implicitly activated before play."

I'm sure this happens. But here's where Christianity distinguishes itself from other religions. As a Christian I follow God because of what God has done for me, in history. Personally, the idea that I'm more moral and nicer now then before I became a Christian because "God is watching me" has rarely been something I've thought of. Instead, when I have thought about the omnipresence of God and "Christ in me, the hope of glory," I end up thanking God for how much he loves me and accepts me in spite of my failures.

But now to my philosophy of religion point. The concern is truth, and truth is a property of statements. The philosophy of religion truth-question is: "Does God exist?" If God exists and is omnipresent, then persons who believe this is true will likely be more generous. But that people seem more generous as they believe in an omnipresent God, while it may be a sociological truth, has no effect on the discussion about God as it takes place in the philosophy of religion. And if someone tries to use this to discredit the idea of belief in God or as a way of explaining why people believe in God or maybe invent "God," that's an example of the genetic fallacy.

Christians Under Attack In Iraq

Thirteen Christians have been slain in the past two weeks in the city, which is located about 420 kilometers (260 miles) north of Baghdad.

At least 900 Christian families have fled in recent days, reportedly frightened by a series of killings and threats by Muslim extremists ordering them to convert to Islam or face possible death, Iraqi officials said.

Today's CNN report is here.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Second Temple Fragment Found in Jerusalem

Today's Jerusalem Post has a video of a one-of-a-kind archaeological discovery. A fragment of a sarcophagus from the Second Temple, about 30-70 A.D., was found. Words on the sarcophagus say "Son of the High Priest." See also here.

God and the Current Economic Crisis

The struggling global economy is both out of my control and beyond my understanding. This makes it doubly troublesome for me. There are some things I can understand and yet are out of my control. I understand what inoperable cancer is and humanly I can do nothing about it. My understanding makes the thing for me seem a bit easier to handle. But since I’m not a global economist the fact that it’s both out of my control and I am vastly ignorant about it tempts me to fear and despair. What can I do?

I’ve been in situations like this before in the sense of being both unable to understand something and unable to affect the situation. Like being with someone I love who is dying, such as my mother a few years ago and my father some years before that. And, I lost a son many years ago. To be honest, and I do not mean to trivialize the present moment or minimalize its effect on people, I’d gladly go through an economic depression if only I could have my son David back with me. In fact, this week I’ve talked with some friends of mine who are, as I write, fighting issues of physical life and death. For them the economic situation is not their first area of concern.

Thinking like this puts some things in perspective for me. I have spent the last 38 years of my life learning what it means to place my trust in God and not in outward circumstances. I’m not saying this is easy. But note that, if you are a follower of Jesus, you see this all over the Scriptures, from Israel wandering for 40 years in the wilderness, to the prophets telling Israel to trust in God and worship Him only when they are in Babylonian captivity, to the disciples freaking out in the boat during the storm on the Sea of Galilee while Jesus is sleeping, to the apostle Paul telling us that there’s a way to live this life and be content in all circumstances. Can I say that again? ALL circumstances. Is that possible? If so, that would be freedom!

I say it is possible. The alternative for me would be that my faith in God is not real. From this faith-in-God perspective the current declining economic circumstances test me. I cannot believe that my God-faith is supposed to go up and down with the global economy or anything for that matter. If it does, this tells me something about where I’m really placing my trust.

Let me try to be clearer about this. I say with my mind ”I trust in God.” The arena where such trust is placed is: ”in all circumstances.” Intellectually I believe in the God who, as Genesis 1:1 says, created the heavens and the earth by just uttering a word. Could such a God be trusted in today? Of course. But I need this truth to descend from my mind into my heart so that it becomes an experiential reality. Another way of saying this is: I want to “know” God in the sense of experiential immediacy, and not simply as an intellectual belief or theory that only actually works when things are going well for me.

I believe God exists and that we can trust God today. For what? That God will repair the global economy? I don’t think so. What, then, can God be trusted to do if we rely on him? I understand the answers as follows. Put your trust in God and you can be sure that God will be with you in all circumstances, even in the valley of the shadow of death. You can be sure that God will love you. You can be sure that God will morph you into greater and greater Christlikeness. You can be sure that God will free you from the love of Money and captivate you by the real treasures of heaven (read Matthew chapters 5-7 for what this means). You can be sure that God will want to use you to help set people free from oppression, to include the oppression of poverty. You can be sure that God will free you and free others from all social hierarchizing that rank-orders humanity in terms of rich and poor, popular and unpopular, loved and despised. In short, God will reveal his beautiful Kingdom to you and make you fit for that Kingdom and work through you to influence others into that Kingdom. Jesus said that his Kingdom was not of this world. Jesus has not come to repair existing earthly kingdoms but to bring in the Kingdom of God.

As that happens, the values of this world we live in will be turned upside-down. We will experience his Kingdom coming now, on earth, as it is in heaven, not completely so, but as a taste of heavenly realities. The problem is not the economy. The problem is us and what is of ultimate concern to us. I’m choosing the place my trust in God. Please pray that I do so, as I will pray for you also.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

In Solitude God Morphs the Human Heart

Spend meaningful time in solitude, for the sake of encountering God, and your heart will be transformed.[1] I know this from – to this point – thirty years of taking much time alone in the presence of God. God can metamorph the human heart. If there has been any morphing of my heart into Christlikeness, a main reason for this is the many hours I have spent alone with God and focused on God.

Solitude is not “loneliness.” Solitude is one-on-one time with God and no one else. Go to a lonely place and be alone with God, just the two of you. Enter into solitude for the sake of drawing near to God. This kind of thing takes us into the “deep waters of the heart[2],” arguably in ways fellowship and corporate worship do not.

To verify the transforming power of the Spirit while in solitude with God, go alone to a quiet place away from your home, work, and place of ministry for a day. Leave your I-phone behind. Take only your Bible and journal. Tell God you are open to whatever he wants to say to you and do within you. Then watch what happens. As Merton said, there will be an encounter with the subconscious depths of your will, where ancient selfish motives move comfortably like forgotten sea monsters in waters where they are never seen.

This will be both threatening and purifying. Dallas Willard notes that the most challenging environment in a prison setting is solitary confinement.[3] For many people solitude is dangerous. It can feel punishing to be alone with themselves and God. Our world does not train us for this. Our busyness is often used to cover up the deep waters of the heart that are painful to us. Solitude threatens to reveal the pain lying deep below the surface of our outward activity.

Solitude is also purifying. It can be, as Henri Nouwen says, the “furnace of spiritual transformation.” God wants to open our hearts up and examine them like a Great Physician. When we’re alone with God in this way the results are always cleansing and healing and loving and directive and challenging. Any inner pain and hurting we have gets exposed and removed. We may fear the exposure. But the exposure is needed for the healing to take place.

The human heart, as Proverbs 20:5 says, is a deep thing. God has made it this way. Depth is good as well as dangerous. For God the good outweighs the danger, for the human heart is a majestic thing. Consider the deepest of the Great Lakes, Lake Superior. Its turbulence, danger, majesty, and glory are a function of its great depth. Lake Superior is known for its dangerous waves that have sunk many a ship. If it were only ten feet deep it wouldn’t have such huge waves. It would be far less threatening, as well as far less dramatic and glorious. The great depth of Lake Superior makes possible the great dangers and possibilities that lie on its surface.
Analogically, the human heart has great depth. In it lie both great potential for evil as well as possibilities of moral and spiritual heroism. Solitude has the potential to move a person into the deep and potentially dangerous waters of the human heart. In solitude a shallow life can get examined and deepened.

In our 21st-century American culture of lots of meaningless doing we are not taught the value of much time alone with God. Solitude is viewed as “doing nothing.” Yet solitude is something God calls every real Jesus-follower to practice. Here are eight reasons why we need to take time alone, in solitude, with God.

1. Jesus Spent Time Praying in Solitude.

Why choose times of solitude? Isn’t it an option that might be good for some but not needed for others? The answer to this is that Jesus spent time in solitude. Jesus began his ministry by spending 40 days alone in solitude (Mt. 4:1-11). Before choosing the 12 he spent the entire night alone in the desert hills (Lk. 6:12). When he heard of John the Baptist's death he "withdrew from there in a boat to a lonely place apart" (Mt. 14:13). After feeding the 5000 he dismissed the crowd and "went up into the hills by himself" (Mt. 14:23). After a long night of work, "in the morning, a great while before day, he rose and went out to a lonely place" (Mk. 1:35). After healing a leper, Jesus "withdrew to the wilderness and prayed" (Lk. 5:16). Before his time on the cross he went alone to the Garden of Gethsemane (Mt. 26:36-46).

If our Lord took times of solitary prayer out of his own need to be in contact with the Father, should we do any less? For me this first reason is enough. But we can say more.

2. Our World Does Not Value Solitude.

In our world, "doing" is more important than "being," and speaking is more important than silence. I have met many people (mostly men) who work “7 – 12s”; that is, 7 days a week for 12 hours each day. People spend their lives working and doing and eating and sleeping and then starting the same cycle over again. This structural evil leaves no time for getting alone with God. We have many people who say they have no time to pray. Such hearts are formed into the mold of this world.[4]

In our world words win out over silence. Henri Nouwen has said that we live in an increasingly "wordy world." My experience is that the constant barrage of words that come at us day after day not only do not serve to enrich our souls, but actually produce a kind of spiritual deadness, an insensitivity to the things of the Spirit.

I believe that what the Bible calls "wisdom" is largely cultivated in solitude. We need lots of pondering and processing time. I like the way Eugene Peterson expresses this: "All speech that moves men was minted when some man's mind was poised and still.”[5] This can happen in time alone with God. You need it, as do I. Without much time in solitude with God we’re in danger of becoming thoughtless as we spit out data and information but no wisdom.

3. In Solitude There Is An "Unmasking of Ourselves."

When we go to pray alone with God we leave behind the "masks": viz., those things that are devices for covering up the self. We leave behind the people with whom we pose and posture, perform before, and trivialize with. In solitude no one is there to affirm us or challenge us or shame us. No one, of course, except for God. In solitude we leave behind all those activities we hide behind and which keep us from facing ourselves. What is left? Things such as: our temptations, our fears, our reactions and reactiveness, our own unfaithfulness and disbelief, our own lack of trust in God, and our own demons. What is left is who we truly are, what we truly have become.

This is a good thing. Authenticity is impossible without it. In solitude with God we cry out “Search me O God, and know my heart.” Know me, God. One can’t be running around and doing whatever keeps you busy and authentically pray this. In fact, a person can’t be authentic without solitude. Because you’ll never get unmasked by God and known by God and reshaped by God.

4. In Solitude We Encounter Our Own Powerlessness and Need.

Psalm 40:17 says, "Yet I am poor and needy, may the Lord think of me. You are my help and my deliverer; O my God, do not delay." Only the person who recognizes he is needy can seek the Lord with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength. Only the person who feels thirst will crave water.

In solitude we see how powerless and needy we are. We see more clearly our need for transformation. This brings humility. This is very good, because it’s at this point that we begin to turn to God.

Consider Jesus, alone in the desert, tempted by Satan. It’s time to find out just what Jesus is made of. The fact that God allowed Jesus to be tempted in a desert alone instead of in a city surrounded by his disciples is significant. Jesus steps, alone, into the ring with Satan, and there are no spectators watching and cheering. In the desert Jesus doesn’t have some home field advantage. But he does have the Father. It’s Jesus’ dependence on the Father that is the key to the victory of Jesus over temptation.

In his solitude in the desert Jesus was tempted to do three things:
- Be relevant! ("Turn stones into loaves.")
- Be spectacular! ("Throw yourself down.")
-Be powerful! ("I will give you all these kingdoms.")

In solitude we see the reality of temptations like these. We see how easily we are tempted by far less trivial things than these. We see the reality of spiritual battle. In solitude strength is increased for victory over the enemy.

5. In Solitude We See That Being Is Spiritually Prior To Doing.

Henri Nouwen writes that, "In solitude we become aware that our worth is not the same as our usefulness."[6] In The Genesee Diary Nouwen says that solitude teaches us to develop a "presence" before people rather than having to give them a "performance."

In solitude we will hear God whisper our name and say the words “I love you.” I’ve heard this many times when alone with God. I’ve read hundreds of spiritual journals sent to me by pastors and Christian leaders, and have seen how God takes advantage of alone times with him to say “I love you.”

OK – that’s good. But so what? The importance of this is to hear the voice of God that says “I love you, and my love is not based on your doing or performance.” This is radically different from the conditional love of this world. Or at the time of Jesus, when there was a social hierarchy that Jesus came to overthrow in the name of God whose love is not performance-based.

For me this is crucial, since we live in a world that values what we can do more than who we are, and rewards us on that basis, and when the days of our doing are over discards us and marginalizes us. In solitude we can expect to have a daily God-revolution that frees us from measuring ourselves by what we do and tells us we are loved no matter what we do. This is freedom. It’s experience lies in solitude with our loving God.

7. In Solitude We Develop Compassionate Solidarity.

In solitary times of prayer God will show us the reality and depth of our own hatred, envy, jealousy, cruelty, lust, and so on. We will see within our selves these "seeds of destruction" and "the violence within."[7] In the great devotional literature there is the near-unanimous opinion that the spiritually mature person will have more compassion towards all kinds of people because God has identified the seeds of sinful behaviors within themselves. We see that we are "those kind of people" too. We realize we need the help, mercy, and grace from the Lord if we are not to give in to the violence within.[8]

Solitude is the foundation of all meaningful corporate spirituality. Why? Because in solitude one gets re-related to God. To return home after a solitary time with God means that many fearful, anxious burdens have been placed upon Him. What Kierkegaard called “the crowd” and Nietzsche denigrated as “the herd” becomes an unreal, phony place to be if people have not taken the time to be stripped away by God.

Richard Nixon used to appoint someone to enter a room filled with waiting people to “prepare the room for his entrance.” He wanted, apparently, all eyes to think of him and be on him. Conversely, the end result of people being around a follower of Jesus should be an experience of being, not in a great person’s presence, but in God’s presence. The compassion of Jesus towards the poor and needy and even towards enemies is felt in a human heart that’s been morphed into Christlikeness.

8. Our time in meaningful solitude affects others.

A friend of Henri Nouwen named Sarah was leaving for a three month retreat in solitude. Nouwen writes: “I asked God that Sarah’s time in solitude would bear fruit not only in her own heart but in the hearts of many people. Sarah looked gratefully at me and said, “Yes, my time away is a time for others.” Then she drove off.”[9] (Nouwen, Sabbatical Journey, p. 20) What God does as you spend time alone with him is not only for you, but also for others. My wife Linda is grateful that I take time alone with God, because she knows during this time God can work out the struggles within me that I might bring home to her. Because of this my ministry to others can become more actual and relevant as my time away with God increases both temporally and spiritually.

Nouwen writes that "the great illusion of leadership is to think that man can be led out of the desert by someone who has never been there."[10] Do you want to be used by God to set captives free and deliver people out of oppression? Then get delivered yourself, by the hand of God. The deliverance and freedom God works in you as you spend solitary times with him will be used to set others free.

[1] Most of what I know about solitude comes from my own experience and the writings of Henri Nouwen.
[2] Proverbs 20:5 – “The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out.”
[3] Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines
[4] Romans 12:1-2
[5] Citing R.E.C. Browne, in The Contemplative Pastor (1999: Christianity Today, Inc.), p. 30.
[6] See Nouwen, Out of Solitude
[7] See Thomas Merton, Seeds of Destruction; and Paul Tournier, The Violence Within
[8] One of Merton’s most powerful spiritually transforming experiences occurred in Louisville as he had an epiphany causing him to feel a divine love for all humanity.
[9] Nouwen, Sabbatical Journey, p. 20
[10] Nouwen, The Wounded Healer,

Saturday, October 04, 2008

More on Craig's Leibnizian Cosmological Argument

(The Expanding Universe)

The Wolf said...
"Premise (2) is, in effect, the contrapositive of the typical atheist response to Leibniz that on the atheistic worldview the universe simply exists as a brute contingent thing. Athesist typically assert that, there being no God, it is false that everything has an explanation of its existence, for the universe, in this case, just exists inexplicably. In affirming that if atheism is true, then the universe has no explanation of its existence, atheists are also affirming the logically equivalent claim that if the universe has an explanation of its existence, then atheism is not true, that is to say, God exists. Hence, most atheists are implicitly commited to (2)."An atheist does not have to claim that if the Universe can be rationally explained then there is the possibility of God. There are both arguments that the Universe has no explanation and there are arguments that the Universe has a materialistic explanation. Both views can and are held by atheists who obviously have disagreements among themselves about the Universe."

Thank you for dialoguing with me! Here’s what I think. I don’t think you understand the argument. Craig says that if atheism is true then “the universe simply exists as a brute contingent thing.” Surely this is true. If we found someone who claimed to be an atheist and said something different, it would be because they don’t understand the implications of their atheism. They have a worldview; it has epistemic consequences. What Craig means is that, on atheism, there is no answer, in re. to the universe’s existence, to the question “Why.” Atheistic answer: “it just does.” “Inexplicably.” NOTE: Craig’s reasoning clearly does apply to the one-universe hypothesis. That’s where I could have been clearer. In his essay he discusses the “multiverse theory” as a possible, but greatly flawed, explanation for the existence of the universe. But again, as regards the one-universe hypothesis, there’s no scientific answer to why the universe exists. This is also the understanding of “one-universe” physicists.
But the universe does exist.

Combine that with P (1), and the contrapositive of “On atheism, the universe just exists as a brute contingent fact,” and you can see the logic of this argument.

Charles Toeppe said...
"This argument seems like it could apply to God itself. So what kind of response would you, or Craig, give to the idea that, "God exists, and therefore must have an explanation." An idea that, if accepted, I think we could both agree leads to an almost infinite absurdness, and even complexity, that is probably unnecessary.On a seperate note, I can testify as an atheist that I simply claim ignorance to the explanation for the universe's existance. I can't say God did or did not create it, but I certainly do not claim its existance to be inexplicable."

Hi Charles – thanks for the dialogue! On P(1) the answer to your first question is given. The explanation for God’s existence is in the necessity of its own nature. The universe is a contingent thing; God is understood to be a necessary being. Remember the reasoning here Craig gave in the Kalam Cosmological Argument. So the argument for the universe given here does not apply to God.

Re. your second, more personal, point: On the one-universe hypothesis the cause of our contigent universe is in principle inexplicable. On atheism it just popped into existence out of nothing, therefore denying the truth of P(1). But couldn’t it have come out of a “multiverse?” Ahhh, that’s a theory that has, acc. to Craig and others, serious problems. Craig gives his response to that in the essay I’ve cited.

Friday, October 03, 2008

The Invitation to Pray As God's Brilliant Idea

That God asks us to pray is, I think, a stroke of genius. I define prayer (following Dallas Willard) as: talking with God about what we are doing together. This raises the question, in my mind: why would God want to collaborate with you and me about anything? That would be like Einstein giving me a call and asking me to work with him on the theory of relativity. At one point in history God asks the prophet Isaiah, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” If I were Isaiah I think I’d respond back to God, “Why not send Yourself?” Wouldn’t that be a whole lot more effective than sending a mere human?

Maybe. Probably. OK - certainly it would. But God doesn’t do it this way. He wants us to co-labor with him. Why? Because God is love. Love requires relationship. God loves us, and is on a mission to develop his character in us. More than just wiping out the dark forces that work against him, God is shaping a people that morph into his own heart.

Once, when one of my sons was very ill, so ill that we wondered about his life, I personally researched his illness, looking for a solution. My son’s doctor was THE neonatal surgeon of mid-Michigan, a brilliant man I respected very much. I met with him once, the fruit of my research in my hands. I presented an idea I had found to him, one which I thought would help resuce my son. He said, “No, that doesn’t apply.” I shared a few more ideas, to which he responded - “No, those aren’t applicable to what’s hurting your boy.” Then I presented another thng I’d found. He paused. He said, “Hmmm, I am interested in that.” And he took the information I found and used it to help save my son’s life. I will eternally thank him for that. I am amazed that such a great surgeon would even listen to me and allow me to help in the process of saving a life. My son is alive and well. I got to be a part of it, and that did a lot for me.

I think God is like that. Yes, maybe he could do it all. But if “doing it all” includes the development of a people that love him and know him, then I think it’s outrageously brilliant that he would incorporate our assistance in the process. He invites us to pray. Prayer is talking with God about what we are doing together. Which is very, very cool.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

A Leibnizian Cosmological Argument

I like this Leibnizian cosmological argument for God's existence, as presented by William Lane Craig in The Future of Atheism: Alister McGrath and Daniel Dennett in Dialogue.

1. Anything that exists has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause.

2. If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God.

3. The universe exists.

4. Therefore, the explanation of the existence of the universe is God.

A very fun argument! Fun, because of Premise 2. Craig writes:

"Premise (2) is, in effect, the contrapositive of the typical atheist response to Leibniz that on the atheistic worldview the universe simply exists as a brute contingent thing. Atheists typically assert that, there being no God, it is false that everything has an explanation of its existence, for the universe, in this case, just exists inexplicably. In affirming that if atheism is true, then the universe has no explanation of its existence, atheists are also affirming the logically equivalent claim that if the universe has an explanation of its existence, then atheism is not true, that is to say, God exists. Hence, most atheists are implicitly commited to (2)."

Premise (3) is, of course, obvious.

Premise (1) "merely requires any existing thing to have an explanation of its existence." What it does not allow is the idea that there could be things that just exist inexplicably. (1) states that there are two kinds of beings: viz., necessary beings and contingent beings.

Therefore, God exists.

Chicago, God's Kingdom, and Real Pizza

I'm flying to Chicago today to connect with my colleague Clay Ford. Clay and I will be the speakers tomorrow and Saturday at a conference for pastors and Christian leaders. We'll be speaking on the power of God and living in God's Kingdom. We're looking to proclaim the good news of God's Kingdom, and then looking for God to demonstrate his power in our midst.

Maybe I'll be able to have some REAL pizza while I'm there. Southeast Michigan pizza doesn't come close to Gino's East, Giordano's, or Lou Malnati's in Chicago.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

John Calvin on Demons

Today, in my RMS "Kingdom of God I" class I mentioned that John Calvin believed demons existed in New Testament times but no longer existed. I did not state that correctly, so I'm writing this to clarify things.

Francis MacNutt writes: Calvin "taught that demons had been banished from this world after the resurrection; so, in addition to calling for the abolition of the healing ministry, he also did away with exorcism and deliverance, at least for Christians." (The Healing Reawakening, 141)

Why "for Christians?" I'm now thinking because of what Calvin writes here:

"Yes, the devil is called the prince of this world. But what of it? Jesus Christ holds him in check for He is King of heaven and earth. There are devils above us in the air who make war against us. But what of it? Jesus Christ rules above, having entire control of the battle. Thus, we need not doubt that He gives us the victory."

Here, in The Institutes Ch. IV, Calvin says:

"As angelic host help in God’s plan, so demons are in opposition to His work, though under His control. Scripture warns us against the adversary and equips us for combat against the adversary. Scriptural references to devils (in the plural) remind us of the vast host of enemies against us, that we may not slacken our efforts and the references to Satan (in the singular) set the king­dom of wickedness over against the kingdom of righteous­ness, the church of the saints over against the faction of the impious. Yet, the devil stands under God's power and Satan can only act with God's permission and sufferance."

My current thought is that Calvin believes demons exist now, but for those of us in Christ they have little or no effect on us personally. On non-believers? Yes. On believers? No. And, I don't think MacNutt's quote is very helpful because it's inaccurate (imprecise). It seems like Calvin's high views on the sovereignty of God render the need to battle demons superfluous. God governs all creatures, to include the devil himself.
If anyone has some good resources on Calvin's demonology I'm interested.