Friday, January 30, 2009

Ted Haggard Is Right (About One Thing)

Ted Haggard is back in the news. He shouldn't be, but he is. He's been on ABC news, Oprah, Larry King, and the HBO documentary "The Trials of Ted Haggard." Why? I can't help but think he's out there on his own making these decisions, and accountable to no one who is credible.

He and his wife are saying their story is a story that needs to be shared and heard. Why? This looks, to me, like an act of self-promotion rather than God-promotion. Of course I can't know this. It just feels like it to me. Something in me doesn't like it, and it's not because I can't forgive Haggard. I can forgive him. I just don't trust him. For me, if he had mentors who I respected and they said "We feel it's a God-thing for Ted to be on TV sharing his story," then that would make me consider it.

This is what happens when trust is violated in a relationship. Forgiveness? Of course. Trust? "Trust" is not a decision. It takes a long time to rebuild trust. So when Haggard says "I'm doing better now" I don't, ipso facto, trust him. Trust is like an emotion - one can't will the thing. I don't have a clue whether or not he is truth-telling since he's just coming off living a two-faced double life while responsible, not only for a church of thousands, but an organization of millions. For this reason, rather than going on "Oprah," Ted should stay small.

But there is one thing Haggard is right about, whether he knows it or not, and whether he is lying or not. It's this: all of us are filled with duplicity. When Haggard confesses "I am a failure" he is "Everyman." C.S. Lewis warned us that every true Christian must keep his nostrils constantly attuned to the "inner cesspool." Swiss psychologist Paul Tournier wrote that, within every human heart, there is the repressed, rotting stuff of humanity. Within us we all have "seeds of destruction" (Thomas Merton). BEWARE OF ANYONE WHO DOESN'T AGREE WITH THIS.

My own belief, after 38 years as a follower of Jesus, is that there's not one person walking the planet who isn't hiding something. Put in Jesus-language, only He was "without sin." Not you. Not me. If we had a machine that could be hooked up to our hearts and minds and project all that's inside of us, good and bad, who would want all of America to see it? Remember 1 John 1:8-9 - "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." Fuller Theological Seminary New Testament scholar Marianne Meye Thompson, in her commentary on 1 John, writes: "The recognition of what is impure and false in us ought to lead us to confess our sins... What many of us have left behind is a pervasive sense of sin." (46) If it were true that I was a perfectly transparent, spotless, sinless, together person (i.e., if I was now Jesus incarnate minus his love), then I'd be looking for some stones to throw at Haggard.

This exposes the problem of the church. Haggard's church, like most churches, was one where he was allowed to hide, because, as Thompson says, most American Christianity is a "Pick-and-Choose Christianity," with "sin" being low on the list. Consider instead what a real "church" is supposed to look like, as expressed in James 5:13-16:

"Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective."

Over the years I've met Christians who can't admit they are sick because of a false teaching that people of faith don't get sick. I've met Christians who can pray for the illnesses of others but don't reveal their own inner and outer brokenness. I've rarely seen a church where people get up and confess their sins before they've been caught at them. Most "Christians" I've known hierarchize things and place the "pastor" at the top of the moral ladder. Some pastors actually want this image. Others feel the pressure. I know. I've read the journals of hundreds of them that have been sent to me. We love praying for the drug addict who comes off the streets while firing and shunning the pastor who's got a drug problem. Pastors know this. Make one moral blunder and there's a church member who shouts "crucify him."

But if a pastor has a drug problem should he remain a pastor? I think the answer is: it depends. If he or she is humble and broken and asking the flock for prayers and help, then the discernment-meter leans towards "Yes."

I've many times talked with people who attend Alcoholics Anonymous who say that organization is a lot more real than any church they've ever been in. There, people are expected to be real and openly confess their sins and love on each other and support one another. Sadly, this won't happen in most churches. If your's is transparent and real and forgiving and loving, then you are truly blessed. Forget how big or that church is - never leave it and invite others to it! SWhen it comes to real Jesus-stuff size doesn't matter.

Here's a thought, using Haggard's former church in Colorado Springs as an example. If the invitation were given to come forward and confess your sins on a Sunday morning, and the people got real about this, everyone would be up front with something to say, not about someone else like Ted Haggard, but about their own selves - their sin, their failure, their struggle.

In no way should Haggard ever be the pastor of that church again. That's my opinion. Because of what he did his ministry is seriously compromised. But to be asked to leave, not only the church but also the city, and not only the city but also the state? Why not the country? Beyond that, send Ted Haggard to the moon. What is that about? If that's the response of Haggard's church "family," it's but the fruit of his own duplicity and hiding. Which is, I'm guessing, the condition of most churches. We shoot our wounded instead of sharing our wounds. We all bleed to death quietly and privately while casting the openly bleeding out of our sight. It's all a facade of purity sans real cleansing.

I've heard it said that the real church is not a "country club for saints" but a "hospital for sinners." If this is true, does it mean for even the worst of sinners? Is it even... for one like me? I hope so. I believe so. That's what it was for me many years ago. And it still is. I'm a human who is a pastor. I'm not Jesus. How open can I be about this?

Redeemer Ministry School - 2009-2010

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

At Redeemer we have a Ministry School that 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 two theological seminaries (Palmer Theological Seminary in Philadelphia; and Faith Bible Seminary [Chinese] in New York City. I've also taught at Payne Theological Seminary (African-American) in Dayton); Asia Theological College (Singapore), Northern Baptist Theological Seminary (Chicago), and elsewhere,
- I am Adjunct Professor of Philosophy at Monroe County Community College
- I’ve taught at conferences and seminars 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.

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 excited about RMS. Why not pray about taking 10 months of your life and learning about God and Jesus in the most intensive way ever?

And, 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!

Blessings,Pastor John Piippo, Ph.D


Thursday, January 29, 2009

Rejecting a Spirit of Religion

(Mask in a store, La Jolla, California)

In Mark 11 we see Jesus riding on a donkey down the Mount of Olives. Crowds of people are shouting “Hosanna to the king!” The word “Hosanna” means, literally, “Save us!” Today we think of this word as a word of praise and celebration. At the time of Jesus it was more a desperate pray-cry for help. These people were living under the oppressive occupation of Rome. Imagine today living in America but under another nation’s rule? The people are hoping for Jesus to be the king that frees them from all of this.

After the donkey-procession Jesus slips, alone, into Jerusalem and the outer temple courts. Mark 11:12 says: Jesus entered Jerusalem and went to the temple. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve. What did Jesus see when he looked around at everything in the temple? The answer is: a lot of religious activity. He saw Jews wearing prayer shawls and phylacteries and robes with tassels and who were bobbing up and down and genuflecting and reciting Torah and doing a lot of other religious activities Jesus had been in the temple before, where he said things like “I am the light of the world” and “If anyone is thirsty let him come to me and drink.” Here was the Son of God, the Messiah, in the temple as God had foretold, only to be ignored and rejected. In Mark 11:12 Jesus is there only to observe. What’s missing in the temple is the presence of God. It would never be there again. This background explains what happens next.

Jesus is on his way back to Jerusalem with his disciples. He’s walking from Bethany, up the Mount of Olives, then down the Mount of olives into the Kidron Valley, from where one gets an incredible view of Mount Zion and the temple. He sees a fig tree with leaves on it. This gives Jesus an expectation of fruit. Fig trees produce “pre-figs” that are edible. These pre-figs, which are really the “flowers” of the fig tree, come before leaves are formed. The sight of leaves on the tree announces that, at least, edible pre-figs are there. Jesus is hungry. As they near the tree they see there are no pre-figs. This means this particular fig-tree is sterile and, for all practical purposes, useless. It’s all leaves and no fruit. So Jesus says to the tree, "May no one ever eat fruit from you again." (Mark 11:14)

Then Jesus goes and cleanses the temple, saying “My house shall be a house of prayer.” The temple is like a fig tree with all leaves and no fruit. It’s just a bunch of religious activity and religious rituals and gestures. Someone hungry for God’s presence would not find God there. Which is the point of the whole thing.

He and the disciples leave the temple, and walk past the sterile fig tree once again, noticing it now has withered from the roots. The disciples are amazed at the raw power of Jesus. Jesus then says, "Have faith in God. I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him.” Note that Jesus does not say “If anyone says to “a” mountain.” This is about “this” mountain, which is Mount Zion. Upon which is the temple. Which has become a sterile, barren place. Therefore, it’s now worthless, because God’s not in the house. It might as well be cast into the sea. Jesus is telling his disciples that they can pray and cast out a spirit of religion. Ben Witherington writes, “One could not simply repudiate the temple without provoking the most fundamental crisis regarding God’s (Yahweh’s) presence in the world. Jesus directly challenges this identification, arguing that to abandon faith in the temple is not to abandon faith in God.”

To follow the Real Jesus is not about engaging in religious rituals and activity. It’s all about the presence of God. If you have been captivated by a spirit of religion, then you are like a fig tree that produces no figs. For Jesus, it’s all about the fruit and being fruit-bearing people. Put your faith in God, say to the spirit of religion “You are out of here,” and embrace Jesus and following after Him.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Q&A With Francis Collins & Richard Dawkins

I'm again teaching the teleological argument for God's existence in my MCCC Philosophy of Religion classes.

I re-looked at the Time interview with Richard Dawkins and Francis Collins and again found it helpful and interesting. Here you have an atheist (Dawkins) who is, it almost seems at times, incapable of believing in God, and a theist (Collins) who converted from atheism to theism. Both are scientists (with Collins being an actual scientist and Dawkins more of a historian of science).

It's a good read, and helps clarify some issues and some of the differences.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

In San Diego

Linda and I flew to San Diego Thursday night, where I spoke at a conference today and will speak again tomorrow.

We're staying in Chula Vista, which is 10 miles away from Tijuana. When we got here we had not eaten and stopped at a place called Tacos del Gordo. These tacos are the real thing! After eating one of them you'll never eat at Taco Bell again in your life.

On Friday we had a day together and began by going to San Diego Zoo. Wow - what an incredible, lush tropical paradise!

Then we went downtown San Diego and walked and browsed around.

Next we went about 5 miles north of San Diego to Torrey Pines Beach in Del Mar. We went to a crepes place and carried out some great food and took it to park on the highway facing the Pacific Ocean. We spent about 4 hours here and say a beautiful sunset. We had a long walk along this beautiful beach in 65-degree weather. Spectacular!

On Mondy I attend HSRM Executive Committe meetings all day... Linda will relax, sit in the sun, maybe do a little shopping, and reading. Plus, I hope to go to Tacos del Gordo at least one more time.

Home late Tuesday afternoon. Then recover from jet lag.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Is it Possible For A Timeless God To Choose To Create A Temporal Universe?

In one of my MCCC Philosophy of Religion classes yesterday I was presenting William Lane Craig's Kalam Cosmological Argument for God's existence. Craig believes he has proven that our universe had a cause. Whatever caused the universe to come into being must be sufficient to explain the effect of the universe. Craig believes whatever caused the temproal effect of the universe must itself be "an eternally existent agent." How can a temporal effect arise from an eternally existing agent? Or, as one of my students asked yesterday, how can a timeless being make a choice to create something like a universe?

Craig's answer is that there is nothing incoherent about, say, a person sitting from eternity who wills to then stand up. But doesn't such an act indicate a change in the eternally existing agent? Craig thinks not. He writes: "Indeed, the agent may will from eternity to create a temporal effect, so that no change in the agent need be conceived." So Craig thinks that there is nothing logically incoherent in the idea of an eternally existing agent who chooses to create a temporal effect, such as our universe.

Someone asked Bill the following questions:

1) I don’t understand how “a man sitting from eternity could will to stand up”? Again, wouldn’t that imply that endured through a period of time before standing up? Similarly, if “a finite time ago a Creator endowed with free will could have willed to bring the world into being at that moment” wouldn’t that imply that the Creator endured through a period of time before bringing the world into being?

2) I don’t understand how anyone could do anything if there was no time?

3) I am having trouble comprehending ‘By “choose” one need not mean that the Creator changes His mind but the He freely and eternally intends to create a world with a beginning’? Do you mean that by “choose” all that is meant is “intend”? That God always wanted to create a world with a beginning and never changed his mind about this? If so, why wasn’t the world created from an infinite time ago?

Bill's response was as follows.

Prior to creation there was no time. "So the question is asking, “What happened at a moment of time before the first moment of time?”, which makes no sense. It’s like asking, “What is the name of that bachelor’s wife?”"

Re. the "timeless man" who chooses to stand up Bill writes: "Free will doesn’t require any antecedent determining conditions. The very nature of free will is the absence of causal determinants. So a free choice has the appearance of a purely spontaneous event. [Emphasis mine] The man can simply freely will to stand up. Thus, you can get a temporal effect from a changeless cause, if that cause is a free agent. Now in God’s case, God exists changelessly without the universe. Creation is a freely willed act of God that, when it occurs, brings time into being along with the universe. Thus, to say that “a finite time ago a Creator endowed with free will could have willed to bring the world into being at that moment” does not imply that there was time prior to that moment."

Bill writes: "What timelessness entails is that one doesn’t do anything different, that is, that one does not change. Timelessness implies an unchanging state of being. Now some activities don’t require change and time. For example, knowing something doesn’t require change or time. God can know all truths in that timeless state without any change."

Finally. Bill says: "By “choose” I mean that God has a free intention of His will. Its timelessness does not negate that this is, indeed, a choice. For one can conceive of possible worlds in which God has a quite different intention, namely, to refrain from creating a world at all. Initially, I thought that this was all that was needed to explain the origin of the world; but reflecting on agent causation leads me to think that in addition to that timeless intention there must also be an exercise of causal power on God’s part. That act is simultaneous with the moment of creation - indeed, it just is the act of creating - and brings God into time. If you ask, “But why didn’t God execute His intention sooner?”, you’ve fallen back into the Newtonian view of thinking of God as existing temporally prior to creation."

See Bill's complete response here. For more see Bill's extensive writings on the relation of God to time. See also Bill's Time and Eternity: Exploring God's Relationship to Time.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Either God Or A Multiverse

I just read an article by Tim Folger in Discover called "Science's Alternative to an Intelligent Creator: The Multiverse Theory." Here are some quotes and things I'm now thinking about this discussion.

  • Here's the anthropic principle: "Everything here, right down to the photons lighting the scene after an eight-minute jaunt from the sun, bears witness to an extraordinary fact about the universe: Its basic properties are uncannily suited for life. Tweak the laws of physics in just about any way and—in this universe, anyway—life as we know it would not exist." in other words, it looks like the universe is fine-tuned for our existence. Physicist Andre Linde says: "We have a lot of really, really strange coincidences, and all of these coincidences are such that they make life possible.”

  • This incredible situation might be a fluke. It might be a miracle. Call it a mystery. "Or call it the biggest problem in physics. Short of invoking a benevolent creator, many physicists see only one possible explanation: Our universe may be but one of perhaps infinitely many universes in an inconceivably vast multi­verse. Most of those universes are barren, but some, like ours, have conditions suitable for life."

  • Looks like, for many, the explanation of the fine-tuned universe is: Either God or a multiverse. "Advocates argue that, like it or not, the multiverse may well be the only viable non­religious explanation for what is often called the “fine-tuning problem”—the baffling observation that the laws of the universe seem custom-tailored to favor the emergence of life."

  • Is multiverse theory "science?" Some think not, "because the existence of other universes cannot be proved or disproved."

  • Perhaps multiverse theory is more indebted to finding an alternative to God than it is to science?

  • "The idea that the universe was made just for us—known as the anthropic principle—debuted in 1973 when Brandon Carter, then a physicist at Cambridge University, spoke at a conference in Poland honoring Copernicus, the 16th-century astronomer who said that the sun, not Earth, was the hub of the universe."

  • Linde gives a natural (non-supernatural) possibility for the fine-tuning: "If there are vast numbers of other universes, all with different properties, by pure odds at least one of them ought to have the right combination of conditions to bring forth stars, planets, and living things."

  • Most physicists at the time Linde was talking about a multiverse disagreed. But then came the discovery of "dark energy." Dark energy appears calibrated for stars, galaxies, and us." "“If [dark energy] had been any bigger, there would have been enough repulsion from it to overwhelm the gravity that drew the galaxies together, drew the stars together, and drew Earth together,” Stanford physicist Leonard Susskind says. “It’s one of the greatest mysteries in physics. All we know is that if it were much bigger we wouldn’t be here to ask about it.”"
    "Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg, a physicist at the University of Texas, agrees. “This is the one fine-tuning that seems to be extreme, far beyond what you could imagine just having to accept as a mere accident,” he says."

  • As a result of the discovery of "dark energy" it has now become "impossible to ignore the multiverse theory." But this seems like begging the question. "Dark energy" provides evidence of outrageous, faith-defying fine-tuning. Therefore, there must be a multiverse? The wildly improbable fine-tuning just got more improbable with the discovery of dark energy. So, if someone already is certain God does not exist then, more than ever, there must be a multiverse. And for someone like myself who believes God exists, the discovery of dark energy further strengthens my already-existing beliefe in God.

  • Back to the top of the article. Folger writes: "Our universe is perfectly tailored for life. That may be the work of God or the result of our universe being one of many."

  • So, evidence of our universe being fine-tuned for human life mounts.

  • To be continued...

Work On the War In Your Own Heart


We're not becoming better, morally and spiritually. People still cheat, lie, steal, rape, are greedy, are self-centered, hate, hierarchize, and make war. In these matters nothing has changed over hundreds of years except, perhaps, that we now have greater means to do all these things. The media gives access to instant hate. Technology gives access to mass destruction. I've heard it said that the 20th century broke all records for mass human destruction in wars. The 21st century will surpass all centuries when it comes to all of the above.

We need civilization, wrote Freud, to protect us from our selves. But with civilization's technological advances the means to harm others increases daily. Is there a solution?

As a follower of Jesus I don't see any biblical justification for expecting things to get better. Human nature remains human nature. The same problems Adam and Eve had are in you and in me. Were I an atheist I'd understand things via the lens of naturalistic evolution. In naturalistic evolution there's no such thing as moral progress. Were I a theistic evolutionist I'd think the same way.

The best answer I have is this. I need an inner moral-and-spiritual revolution. I need to change. As long as I view you as the one who needs changing we'll have a battle on our hands. I'm continuing to pick up my Bible and listen to Jesus and ask God to let his words descend from my mind into my heart. It's not that I don't understand a lot of what Jesus says. It's that what he says is so outrageously revolutionary that I need God to bring the revolution into my heart.

What if I actually had a heart to love my enemies? Everything inside me would be changed. Some things outside me would be changed. Everything must change. Everything won't change. But, with God's help, you and I can be changed. Work on the war in your own heart.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Disease Is Us

(Israeli soldier by the Wailing Wall)

Israel and Hamas are carriers of the disease. They are sick people. Violent people. "Never again," cry the Israelis as they slaughter women and children. "Destroy the infidels" cry the Palestinians as they launch missles into villages and terrorize and kill women and children.

Is the story of Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish the saddest story of the latest war? Read here and watch the video to have your heart broken... again.

The sickness is in us. The problem is... us. It's the "seeds of destruction" Thomas Merton wrote about, the "violence within" Paul Tournier wrote about. It's Elie Wiesel's "Night" and Haing Ngor's "killing fields." It's Macbeth meets Herod the Great meets Saddam Hussein meets Jim Jones meets Constantine meets Pol Pot, all of whom meet at the Hotel Rwanda where they go after money, sex, and power. It's in you and in me. Anyway you look at it. On Christianity it's the kingdom of darkness, on atheism it's genetic, on Buddhism it's human desire.

It's the sin-disease Jesus addressed.

We'd all be dead if we didn't defend ourselves and kill our enemies. So we send our sons and daughters to fight and kill and be killed so we're not all killed and can peacefully read about life in the Gaza strip on our laptops.

We're "free."

I used my freedom this past year to read This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War. It was a tough read. I kept projecting my sons into the bloodshed, empathizing from my side of the temporal gap between then and now. What's scary is that this book is normative, universal.

"Blessed are the peacemakers," said Jesus. Many are the peace-lovers who make war to wage peace.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire

When I landed in Mumbai I remember stepping out of the airport in the middle of the night looking for the bus that would take me 3 miles to another part of the airport for my connecting flight to Hyderabad. I was traveling alone, and was met by beggars standing in the dark. I felt vulnerable and, I confess, afraid.

In Hyderabad when I exited the airport I was greeted by a boy who was, I think, about 12 years old. He held out his hand, asking for money. I remember his teeth. They were brown and rotting. A 12-year-old boy, losing his teeth. The image stays with me.

I spent 10 days on the Deccan Plateau in central India, with the city of Kurnool being home base. Kurnool has a half-million people and no sewage system. I saw people urinating and defecating on the streets. The whole place smelled like a giant cat-litter box.

I traveled throughout the region speaking and teaching about God and Jesus. I was in villages that had no electricity and, I was told, had never seen a white man in person before. I can believe that, since the people in these villages don't get to travel like I do. Some of them are as poor as a person can be.

In one village my Indian host told me "The government does not care about these people." It sure looked that way to me. The caste system, though formally discredited by the Indian government, is alive and well. I think "caste system" is in our genes. We all hierarchize and rank-order people in terms of honor and shame, worth and worthlessness, value and expendability. I spoke to this issue in the villages I visited. Galatians 3:28 was the verse I proclaimed: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." This concept is so caste-breaking that I could see the people wondering if it could be true. Jesus descended to the bottom of the caste system and became an expendable. I told the people that they were loved by God and that, in Jesus, God has come to them. Everyone responded to this message of hope. But then that's part of India, too. It's hard to separate out the real thing from India's hyper-spirituality.

On my way out of India I spent one night in Mumbai, hosted by a Christian leader whose name I have now forgotten. When you fly into Mumbai you see a huge slum, a shantytown, directly adjacent to the airport runways. I was told by someone on the plane that this one slum held 10,000 people. 60% of Mumbai's twelve million people live in slums. I saw the poor everywhere as I rode through the streets of this city.

Last night Linda and I saw "Slumdog Millionaire." And I was transported back to India. It's an amazing story of a young boy who endures much loss and abandonment and suffering in the pursuit of love and loyalty and hope. In the end, the captives are set free and, unforgettably, dance. This movie is brilliant, beautiful, captivating.

As I stood up in the theatre to leave a woman behind me said "You can be certain that I am never going to visit that country." I know how she feels. Who would ever want to leave all that we have and pitch their tent among the poor? In all my life I've only heard of one person who has done that in such a way that the slumdogs get set free.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Peter Enns on Rightly Handling the Book of Genesis

(The River Raisin this morning at -13 F)

Here's a nice quote from Peter Enns's Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament with a few parenthetical comments by me.

"The question is not the degree to which Genesis conforms to what we would think is a proper description of origins. It is a fundamental misunderstanding of Genesis to expect it to answer questions generated by a modern worldview, such as whether the days were literal or figurative, or whether the days of creation can be lined up with modern science, or whether the flood was local or universal.... It is wholly incomprehensible to think that thousands of years ago God would have felt constrained to speak in a way that would be meaningful only to Westerners several thousand years later. [Now THAT is a beautiful statement..., so true...] To do so borders on modern, Western arrogance.... [Here Enns helps us overcome a fundamentalist-evangelical hermeneutic that would not lay aside our Western interpretative framework.]

To argue, as I am doing here, that such biblical stories as creation and the flood must be understood first and foremost in the ancient contexts, is nothing new. The point I would like to emphasize, however, is that such a firm grounding in ancient myth does not make Genesis less inspired; it is not a concession that we must put up with or an embarrassment to a sound doctrine of scripture. Quite to the contrary, such rootedness in the culture of the time is precisely what it means for God to speak to his people.... [I like this a lot. We must try to hear the word as the people AT THAT TIME heard it.] This is surely what it means for God to reveal himself to people - he accommodates, condescends, meets them where they are."

[Note: Part of the misguided evangelical hermeneutic was a response to what was called the "new hermeneutic" {Ernst Fuchs, Gerhard Ebeling, following Bultmann and succeed by Hans-Georg Gadamer} which questioned attempts to "fuse horizons" {Horizontverschmelzung} and led to a reconstruction of the biblical text within one's own horizon of meaning. In reaction, the evangelical idea of the "inerrancy" of the Bible was for many (including me) the only alternative, even though it was a concept {in its structural aspects} that was foreign to the actual biblical text. A false dichotomy was created, which was: Either we can get at the biblical meaning of a text within our own horizon of meaning, or we can never fuse horizons and therefore can only existentially interpret the biblical texts. The words of Enns here and the work of N.T. Wright, Ben Witherington, Craig Keener, et. al., show us another way which, for me, is exciting and eye-opening; viz., that we can get at the biblical context and re-capture the operative hermeneutic within that ancient horizon of meaning.]

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Jim Rayburn

A young friend of mine asked me to read the biography of Jim Rayburn, called From Bondage to Liberty. I ordered it and began it today. In just 20 pages I can see I'm going to like it.

It's written by Rayburn's son. Of his father he writes: "He was a man who had a love affair with Jesus Christ, a man who pioneered a reolvutionary movement within an utterly stagnant religious system, and a man whose warmth and love inspired thousands. Yet, he would die a lonely, ridiculed, and rejected man, scorned by many of the people he most loved."

Hmmm... sounds like someone else I know (the only difference being the one I'm now thinking of did not have a love affair with himself).

Looks like the story of Jim Rayburn is the story of a real follower of Jesus who breaks free from "religion" and all the religious rules that some equate with a "Christian life."

Philosophy of Religion Websites; the Ontological Argument

(This cartoon, while cute, doesn't understand the Ontological Argument. For why Gaunilo's criticism of Anselm's OA does not work, see below.)

For my Philosophy of Religion classes:

The two best philosophical websites are:

We're now studying the Ontological Argument for the existence of God. Go to these websites to the "Ontological Argument" essays.

Note: They are academic essays, not watered down.
NOW... why Gaunilo does not refute Anselm's OA. I quote from the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy essay on "Ontological Argument."
"Gaunilo's argument is incoherent. The problem here is that the qualities that make an island great are not the sort of qualities that admit of conceptually maximal qualities. No matter how great any island is in some respect, it is always possible to imagine an island greater than that island in that very respect. For example, if one thinks that abundant fruit is a great-making property for an island, then, no matter how great a particular island might be, it will always be possible to imagine a greater island because there is no intrinsic maximum for fruit-abundance. For this reason, the very concept of a piland is incoherent.
But this is not true of the concept of God as Anselm conceives it. Properties like knowledge, power, and moral goodness, which comprise the concept of a maximally great being, do have intrinsic maximums. For example, perfect knowledge requires knowing all and only true propositions; it is conceptually impossible to know more than this. Likewise, perfect power means being able to do everything that it is possible to do; it is conceptually impossible for a being to be able to do more than this.
The general point here, then, is this: Anselm's argument works, if at all, only for concepts that are entirely defined in terms of properties that admit of some sort of intrinsic maximum. As C.D. Broad puts this important point:
'[The notion of a greatest possible being imaginable assumes that] each positive property is to be present in the highest possible degree. Now this will be meaningless verbiage unless there is some intrinsic maximum or upper limit to the possible intensity of every positive property which is capable of degrees. With some magnitudes this condition is fulfilled. It is, e.g., logically impossible that any proper fraction should exceed the ratio 1/1; and again, on a certain definition of "angle," it is logically impossible for any angle to exceed four right angles. But it seems quite clear that there are other properties, such as length or temperature or pain, to which there is no intrinsic maximum or upper limit of degree.'
If any of the properties that are conceptually essential to the notion of God do not admit of an intrinsic maximum, then Anselm's argument strategy will not work because, like Guanilo's concept of a piland, the relevant concept of God is incoherent. But insofar as the relevant great-making properties are limited to omnipotence, omniscience, and moral perfection (which do admit of intrinsic maximums), Anselm's notion of a greatest possible being seems to avoid the worry expressed by Broad and Guanilo."

Philosophy of Religion Room Change

Philosophy of Religion Students:

My main campus Phil of Religion class has a room change.

PHIL 253-01, Philosophy of Religion
5:30-6:55 pm, MW
Moved from C-6 to C-228

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Mark Driscoll's Choice of "Real Man" John Calvin Over Jesus

Today's nytimes magazine has an article on Mark Driscoll. I knew NOTHING about him until I read this. Here are some excerpts, with some additional thoughts from me.

"His message seems radically unfashionable, even un-American: you are not captain of your soul or master of your fate but a depraved worm whose hard work and good deeds will get you nowhere, because God marked you for heaven or condemned you to hell before the beginning of time. Yet a significant number of young people in Seattle — and nationwide — say this is exactly what they want to hear. Calvinism has somehow become cool..."

Before Oklahoma City murderer Timothy McVeigh was put to death he quoted from a poem called "Invictus" - "I am the captain of my ship, the master of my fate." The idea that this is untrue is solid Christian theology. Calvinistic depraved-worm theology is, at its dark extremes, extrabiblical untruth.

"Driscoll is adamantly not the “weepy worship dude” he associates with liberal and mainstream evangelical churches, “singing prom songs to a Jesus who is presented as a wuss who took a beating and spent a lot of time putting product in his long hair.”"

Looks like Driscoll may not understand that: God loves Mark Driscoll and you and me. Intimately. Passionately.

"God called Driscoll to preach to men — particularly young men — to save them from an American Protestantism that has emasculated Christ and driven men from church pews with praise music that sounds more like boy-band ballads crooned to Jesus than “Onward Christian Soldiers.”"

Personally, I hope to never sing "Onward Christian Soldiers" ever again. If a steady diet of this song brings men back to church, I'll stand amazed.

"What really grates is the portrayal of Jesus as a wimp, or worse. Paintings depict a gentle man embracing children and cuddling lambs. Hymns celebrate his patience and tenderness. The mainstream church, Driscoll has written, has transformed Jesus into “a Richard Simmons, hippie, queer Christ,” a “neutered and limp-wristed popular Sky Fairy of pop culture that . . . would never talk about sin or send anyone to hell.”"

Do we have a false dichotomy emerging here? In our context we sing love songs to the real Jesus and preach out of the 4 gospels about Jesus.

Driscoll critiques the "seeker churches." Probably I'm in a lot of agreement with him here. I know I'm not personally interested in being a pastor of a "seeker church."

Uh-oh... here comes the Calvinism thing...

"Human beings are totally corrupted by original sin and predestined for heaven or hell, no matter their earthly conduct. [I don't have the time or right now the energy to comment on this... There's a billion books on the topic if you're interested.] We all deserve eternal damnation, but God, in his inscrutable mercy, has granted the grace of salvation to an elect few. While John Calvin’s 16th-century doctrines have deep roots in Christian tradition, they strike many modern evangelicals as nonsensical and even un-Christian. [I'd be one of those...] If predestination is true, they argue, then there is no point in missions to the unsaved or in leading a godly life. And some babies who die in infancy — if God placed them among the reprobate — go straight to hell with the rest of the damned, to “glorify his name by their own destruction,” as Calvin wrote. Since the early 19th century, most evangelicals have preferred a theology that stresses the believer’s free decision to accept God’s grace. To be born again is a choice God wants you to make; if you so choose, Jesus will be your personal friend."

Yes, that's correct, we have a choice. The gospels are replete with volitional situations.

Apparently, Driscoll believes that God gives people things like cancer. FYI - we'll now resist again entering into a monstrous biblical-theological discussion. Let me just express my opinion: God is not that kind of God.

"Calvinism is a theology predicated on paradox: God has predestined every human being’s actions, yet we are still to blame for our sins; we are totally depraved, yet held to the impossible standard of divine law."

Fortunately the actual Bible does not lead us in such a predicament. The basic error is made by: trying to understand the biblical texts without entering into the socio-cultural context of the Bible.

"Nowhere is the connection between Driscoll’s hypermasculinity and his Calvinist theology clearer than in his refusal to tolerate opposition at Mars Hill... In 2007, two elders protested a plan to reorganize the church that, according to critics, consolidated power in the hands of Driscoll and his closest aides. Driscoll told the congregation that he asked advice on how to handle stubborn subordinates from a “mixed martial artist and Ultimate Fighter, good guy” who attends Mars Hill. “His answer was brilliant,” Driscoll reported. “He said, ‘I break their nose.’ ” When one of the renegade elders refused to repent, the church leadership ordered members to shun him. One member complained on an online message board and instantly found his membership privileges suspended. “They are sinning through questioning,” Driscoll preached."

Yeah, right. Sure sounds like the real Jesus to me. In this regard I recommend: Choose Jesus over Calvin. And I hope he doesn't send some "real men" over to beat the crap out of me.

Steven Pinker on Personal Genomics & the Self

I like Steven Pinker. I really like his hair. I wish I had hair like that, but it's not in my genes.

Pinker is a very important figure in the current discussion about mind, brain, consciousness, free will, and neuro-ethics. He's on the co er of today's, and he writes the lead article - "My Genome, My Self." Note the title. the "self" is no more than one's genome. The genome is not only necessary but sufficient to explain the self. "Self" = "genome." That's the logic of neuro-reductionism.

But Pinker does not want to embrace "determinism." He writes: "Nor should the scare word “determinism” get in the way of understanding our genetic roots. For some conditions, like Huntington’s disease, genetic determinism is simply correct: everyone with the defective gene who lives long enough will develop the condition. But for most other traits, any influence of the genes will be probabilistic. Having a version of a gene may change the odds, making you more or less likely to have a trait, all things being equal, but as we shall see, the actual outcome depends on a tangle of other circumstances as well."

I made a recent post where certain sociologists claimed the nature-nurture debate is alive and well. Pinker seems to think otherwise. Nature has won. "The most prominent finding of behavioral genetics has been summarized by the psychologist Eric Turkheimer: “The nature-nurture debate is over. . . . All human behavioral traits are heritable.” By this he meant that a substantial fraction of the variation among individuals within a culture can be linked to variation in their genes."

But Turkheimer is "quick to add that many of the differences among people cannot be attributed to their genes. First among these are the effects of culture, which cannot be measured by these studies because all the participants come from the same culture, typically middle-class European or American. The importance of culture is obvious from the study of history and anthropology." OK..., maybe. Doesn't this admission show the nature-nurture debate is not over?

Pinker writes: "Behavioral genetics has repeatedly found that the “shared environment” — everything that siblings growing up in the same home have in common, including their parents, their neighborhood, their home, their peer group and their school — has less of an influence on the way they turn out than their genes. In many studies, the shared environment has no measurable influence on the adult at all." So, nature wins. or, nature is far more powerful than nurture. "Perhaps our genes affect our environments, which in turn affect ourselves."

Are there nongenetic causes of individuality? If there are any, Pinker says, no one knows what they are. And, "the two traditional shapers of a person, nature and nurture, must be augmented by a third one, brute chance... Our genes are a big part of what we are. But even knowing the totality of genetic predictors, there will be many things about ourselves that no genome scan — and for that matter, no demographic checklist — will ever reveal."

The substance of Pinker's essay is on "Personal Genomics." If, e.g., you could know that you have the gene for Huntington's Disease (if you have it, and live long enough, you will get the disease), would you want to know?

For me, I'm fascinated by the philosophical issues implied by the coming genomic revolution. What about free will? We seem to be able to "choose" against our genotypes. Pinker gives me a morsel when he writes: "The self is a byzantine bureaucracy, and no gene can push the buttons of behavior by itself. You can attribute the ability to defy our genotypes to free will, whatever that means, but you can also attribute it to the fact that in a hundred-trillion-synapse human brain, any single influence can be outweighed by the product of all of the others."

I can't help but agree with these closing words of Pinker: "Our genomes truly are a fundamental part of us. They are what make us human, including the distinctively human ability to learn and create culture. They account for at least half of what makes us different from our neighbors. And though we can change both inherited and acquired traits, changing the inherited ones is usually harder. It is a question of the most perspicuous level of analysis at which to understand a complex phenomenon."

I think Christian philosophers and theologians should be able to agree with this. The ongoing work of genomist Francis Collins, who believes genomic analysis is "the language of God," encourages me. The result is that I'm now diving into neuro-studies and genomic studies as deeply as I can.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Soren Kierkegaard & Jim Carrey

The December issue of Atlantic magazine has an article by James Parker on Jim Carrey called "The Existential Clown."

"Jim Carrey will loom large in our shattered posterity, I believe, because his filmography amounts to a uniquely sustained engagement with the problem of the self." When it comes to clown-actors like Will Ferrell, Adam Sandler, and Ben Stiller, Carrey is "the go-to guy for high-concept metaphysics, for Hollywood’s sci-fi of the self."

Parker writes well. For example:

"Movie after movie finds Carrey either confronting God (“Smite me, O mighty Smiter!” he roars in Bruce Almighty) or enacting, violently and outrageously, some version of the dilemma identified by the Spanish existentialist José Ortega y Gasset—that man, as he exists in the world, is “equivalent to an actor bidden to represent the personage which is his real I.” One wonders what the French make of him. Here in America, we’ve been content to regard him as a blockbustering goofball, but in France, beautiful France, where philosophy is king and Jerry Lewis is awarded the Légion d’Honneur, might not they be readying garlands for Jim Carrey?"

A few weeks ago I watched the Conan repeat when Jim Carrey got radically politically incorrect and wished everybody "a christy, christy Christmas." That was for everyone who wants to take "Christ" out of "Christmas." I wondered - Gee, Jim Carrey sure seems interested in the existence or non-existence of God.

"Here, buzzing in his shoulder sockets, is the struggle for authenticity; there, warping his tongue, is the torment of becoming. At his most Carrey-esque, he is always trapped mid-metamorphosis, wrestling visibly with the sort of transformative inner pressure that in another context would produce a superhero—or a man-size cockroach."

Today, to a group of 20 of our ministry school students, I confessed that I thought "Dumb and Dumber" was brilliant. (Note: This summer I read some books by Jaques Derrida, who was brilliant too.)
Jim Carrey IS funny. Did you ever see Carrey (on Leno or Letterman - I forget) imitate CSI's David Caruso? The result for me is that I can no longer watch the gore of CSI Miami without feeling like I want to bust out laughing. "Then there’s earnest Carrey, low-voltage Carrey, Carrey the Oscar chaser, dutifully dialing it down for The Majestic and muting himself in The Truman Show. This Carrey excites a peculiar anxiety: you sit there with your scalp prickling, waiting for him to go off." That's it - perfect.

Stand in awe of Parker's Carrey-analysis. "Carrey’s dream sequence of movies is a prophecy, a warning that this clanking ego-apparatus in which each of us walks around, this fissured, monumental self, half Job and half Bertie Wooster, cannot be sustained. Out of his own seemingly bottomless disquiet, Carrey writhes and reaches into the bottomless disquiet of his audience. An oracular bum holds up a handwritten cardboard sign in Bruce Almighty: LIFE IS JUST. We know we’re frauds; we fear a reckoning is due."

This is a nice essay. I think it's on target - really I do. Read it and see "Jim Carrey" alongside Kierkegaard, Samuel Beckett, Kafka, Martin Buber, and Jose Ortega y Gasset. Fun stuff! Great writing. Man's continual search for meaning.

Addressing the Evil Empire as Both Monetarily and Metaphysically Materialistic

(The Flying Spaghetti Monster)

Rob Bell and Dan Golden (B&G), in Jesus Wants to Save Christians: A Manifesto For the Church In Exile, argue for the true church needing to be "not of this world." The real church does not acquiesce into the shape of this culture. Church's that do this become like the "consumer church" Eugene Peterson describes in The Jesus Way. "The consumer church is the antichrist church," says Peterson.

B&G are making a case for the biblical church, to be distinguished from "seeker churches" and other kinds of not-so-Jesus-like churches. Jesus didn't come to serve up Starbuck's and ask us if we're quite satisfied with everything. B&G, like Shane Claiborne, Jim Wallis, Tony Campolo and others, are scandalized at materialist churches whose sanctuaries resemble movie theatres where passive spectators watch religio-theatrical productions and, hopefully, give the productions 4 stars.

I like how B&G describe the biblical text as, essentially, an "oppression narrative." Sounds right to me. Jesus came to form a community that would set captives free from things like loneliness and hunger and poverty. I would add - physical and mental illnesses, and even death (ultimately in the age to come and sometimes - for a period - in this age). The empire of darkness is materistic and self-centered and war-making and other things. I agree.

I want to add this to the discussion: the empire of darkness is also, currently in Europe and North America, materialistic in the metaphyical sense; viz., that all that exists is matter and its various collocations. On philosophical materialism such things as the following have no reality: "soul," "mind," "spirit," "angels and demons," and the like. All reality is natural; there are no supernatural events.

But in the Bible-as-oppression-narrative there are supernatural events. There are pillars of fire and tablets of stone and manna in the wilderness and waves rebuked and demons cast out and blind people coming to non-metaphorically see and dead people non-figuratively raised. The present empire of darkness dismisses such things. I think this is important, because such dismissal provides philosophical warrant for the consumer/materialistic church. In fact, if this part of the evil empire of darkness is not challenged evidentially, I think that all the preaching about the selfless empire of God will struggle. Paul himself said that, if Christ is not really raised from the dead, then our theologies are in vain. At this point all we have left is to worship and preach at the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

So I think B&G's theologizing runs the risk of being another exercise in vanity if the supernatural now-activity of Jesus (as Tony Campolo calls it) is not embraced and made a necessary, not merely sufficient, condition for the real church to emerge. If this is not made one of the central experiential realities, then I find it hard to see how B&G's theology for the exiled church will not itself remain in exile precisely because the secular air we now breathe cannot embrace the supernatural. (See Charles Taylor, again, here.) The "Jesus Way" is not only anti-materialistic in the monetary sense, it's also anti-materialistic in the philosophical/metaphysical sense. Today's followers of Jesus need to give equal attention to both. (J.P. Moreland helps us here in his Kingdom Triangle.)

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Jesus Wants to Save Christians

I just finished reading Jesus Wants to Save Christians: A Manifesto For the Church In Exile, by Rob Bell and Don Golden.

My primary reasons for reading it were: 1) I agree with the title; viz., that there are a lot of Christians who have not been sozo-ed yet; and 2) what Rob Bell has been saying is important for the church to hear.

Some thoughts, as I give the book a browse and look at my notes...

1. Bell and Golden (B&G) work out of a "New Exodus perspective" and attribute it to theologian Tom Holland. I don't know anything about Holland. I wonder how influenced he is by N.T. Wright, who uses the exodus event as a hermeneutical key to understanding Jesus and the kingdom of God.

2. "For a growing number of people in our world, it appears that many Christians support some of the very things Jesus came to set people free from." (18) I agree. American "Christianity" is largely far, far from the Jesus story.

3. "The Ten Commandments are a new way to be human." (34) I like what B&G say about this.

4. "God measures their faith by how they treat the widows, orphans, and strangers - the weak - among them. God's desire is that they bring exodus to the weak in the same way that God brought them exodus in their weakness." (35) I agree. But here's where I find B&G's book incomplete. What B&G's book lacks, for me, is a presentation of spiritual authority (exousia) and power (dunamis) in the kingdom work of setting captives free. In this regard, for me, B&G's work is too human. The kingdom of God is not a matter of talk, but of power. I need to see more of this. Precisely because I read of it in the Exodus story. (This is also my personal problem with Shane Claiborne and Brian McLaren when they write about the kingdom of God. I want, George Ladd-like, both the proclamation of the kingdom and the demonstration of the kingdom in signs and wonders. As I'm reading through Charles Taylor's brilliant A Secular Age I can't help but now think that B&G, Claiborne, and McLaren work out their theologies within our disenchanted world.)

5. B&G write: "Jesus speaks of a new kingdom as he shows what its like to be human in this new reality. He heals the sick, gives sight to the blind, helps the lame walk... Power is flowing through Jesus to the broken, blind, and lame..." (82) Of course. Today Jesus wants to save Christians from the disenchanted world we live in. Of course the message that the true church is not a consumer church but spends its resources on the poor and needy and marginalized is central to the message of Jesus. I would add - people are delivered from demons and healed of diseases. In our secular age talking about Jesus' preferential option for the poor is palatable (even if not actually practiced), while talk of demons and healings is mostly weird. Personally, I'm interested in opening up the entire kingdom package.

6. Sometimes B&G make connections I just don't get. My not getting it could be due to ignorance on my part. I confess to not understanding how they connect the early church's "drunken" behavior with Jesus' first miracle at the wedding and then connect the Levites' killing of three thousand with the three thousand saved at Pentecost and somehow tying all this together with Sinai and the Exodus. I read all of this pn pp. 98-99 and confess to not even wanting to try to figure this out, and just kept on reading.

7. "The gospel for these first Christians is an economic reality. It's holistic and affects every area of their lives." I agree. Sozo is a holistic thing.

8. The Bible is an "oppression narrative." (121) I like that.

9. "Human history has never witnessed the abundance that we consider normal." (123) Indeed. That being true, what's the deal with "Christians" on TV whose messages are about how much more we can have if we only "sow some more seeds?" What a disconnect!

10. "Followers of Christ missing the central message of the Bible? It happened then, and it happens now. And sometimes the reason is, of course, empire." (131) Agreed. I'll add that Christians doing theology and biblical interpretation out of the current empire's disenchanted world (cf. Charles Taylor) is to inevitably miss an essential aspect of the central message of the Bible. Where I live good theology doesn't set captives free. It's all talk, no power. That's the empire of darkness.

11. I just don't know what to do with B&G's analysis of the book of Revelation. (131 ff.) But I do agree with this: "Were the people in John's church reading his letter [Revelation] for the first time with Roman soldiers right outside their door, thinking, 'This is going to be really helpful for people two thousand years from now who don't want to get left behind"?" (134) Of course not. And, very funny in a sad sort of way.

12. "How do kids who are surrounded by more abundance than in any other generation in the history of humanity take seriously a Messiah who said, "I have been anointed to preach good ews to the poor"?" A great, guiding question. And I'll bang my drum loudly again: How do kids swimming in the waters of philosophical naturalism take seriously a Messiah who turned water into wine and rose from the dead?

13. "It is very dangerous when a church becomes known for being hip, cool, and trendy." (156) B&G have some good things to say here. I'm thankful they are saying them.

14. "A church is not a center for religious goods and services, where people pay a fee and receive a product in return. A church is not an organization that surveys its demographic to find out what the market is demanding at this particular moment and then adjusts its strategy to meet that consumer niche." I think that's true. Thank you B&G for saying this. Even if we make some qualifications re. the doing of demographic analysis I think it can be said that such analysis has some God-validity if it allows us to better incarnate the kingdom message in culture, but does not have God-validity if we become the "consumer church," as Eugene Peterson calls it (=, for Peterson, the "antichrist church").

15. Uh-oh... "The church says no to the animating sprit of religious empire, the one which leads Christians to look no different than the world around them. Churches can easily become centers for assimilation, where the seats in the sanctuary are eerily similar to the seats in the cinema, the website offers all of the programs to met your specific needs, and the coffee in the hallway is just as good as in the shops across the street." (164-165) And all the seeker churches came tumbling down... I mostly, if not entirely, agree with B&G here.

16. I'll end with this. "The church is the living, breathing, life-giving, system-confronting, empire-subverting picture of the new humanity." (169 Truly. And not without the Holy Spirit's power. Otherwise we might as well start waving candles and singing "Imagine."

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Neuroscience, Jesus, and Watchmen

I pre-ordered two books I am very excited about.

First, there's Neuroscience and Philosophy: Brain, Mind, and Language.

This is a dialogue between Maxwell Bennett and Peter Hacker (co-authors of the famed Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience) and Daniel Dennett and John Searle. The debate "encompasses a wide range of central themes: the nature of consciousness, the bearer and location of psychological attributes, the intelligibility of so-called brain maps and representations, the notion of qualia, the coherence of the notion of an intentional stance, and the relationships between mind, brain, and body." I browsed it in Ann Arbor's downtown Borders today.

Secondly, there's Jesus, the Final Days: What Really Happened, by the two great New Testament scholars Craig Evans and N.T. Wright.

I just received Watchmen in the mail today. I picked it up because my son Dan got it for Christmas and told me Time magazine listed it as one of the top 100 novels of all time. Time says:

"Watchmen is a graphic novel—a book-length comic book with ambitions above its station—starring a ragbag of bizarre, damaged, retired superheroes: the paunchy, melancholic Nite Owl; the raving doomsayer Rorschach; the blue, glowing, near-omnipotent, no-longer-human Doctor Manhattan. Though their heyday is past, these former crime-fighters are drawn back into action by the murder of a former teammate, The Comedian, which turns out to be the leading edge of a much wider, more disturbing conspiracy. Told with ruthless psychological realism, in fugal, overlapping plotlines and gorgeous, cinematic panels rich with repeating motifs, Watchmen is a heart-pounding, heartbreaking read and a watershed in the evolution of a young medium."

Monday, January 05, 2009

Nature vs. Nurture (Redux)

The Chronicle Review just published an article entitled "The Nature-Nurture Debate, Redux: Genetic research finally makes its way into the thinking of sociologists." This is an excellent, helpful introduction to the current discussion.
The first sentence reads: "If sociologists ignore genes, will other academics — and the wider world — ignore sociology?" The answer is: many of them will.

In case you haven't noticed nature is outstripping nurture. For example, psychology (lit. the study of the "psyche") is historically interesting but functionally irrelevant because, on neuropsychology, there is no psyche, just as there's really no "mind" and no "soul."

Historically, first came sociology, then came sociobiology, and now comes bio-sociology. "A see-no-gene perspective is obsolete."

Do genes shape human lives? (Nature, not nurture) Do genes interact with environmental forces? (Nature and nurture) Or do genes get overpowered by environmental forces? (Nurture, not nature) Haven't we debated such things before? Yes. For me, it happened back in the 70s when we were looking at B.F. Skinner's "nature" argument , E.O. Wilson's Sociobiology, and even the popular, mostly not-read, ultimately ignored Julian Jaynes's The Origin of Consciousness In the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (Whew - what a title! And I read the entire thing...)

We're still discussing such things, except for many "nature" is now God. Philosophy and theology are explicable in terms of neuro-philosophy and neuro-theology. There's a gene for everything, to include a gene for genetic research (neuro-neuro-biology).

Intellectually we're in the stream of a genetic revolution. The American Journal of Sociology (Vol 114, Number 51, 2008) has a supplement dedicated to the nature-nurture discussion as it stands today - "Exploring Genetics and Social Structure." Three of the essays are free. It seems that, generally, sociology departments are of course acknowledging genetic constraints but are leery of giving genes too much power lest we become a "bell curve" culture. Sociology can protect us from the "increasing authority of reductionist science." "If anything defined sociology, [NYU sociologist Troy] Duster said, it was its role as "century-long counterpoint" to such efforts to connect the roots of social problems to biology."

This essay is a very good introduction to the heavyweight match of the millenium - social contraints vs. genetic constraints. which is the more powerful? Scholars are cited on both sides, all having their data. On the extreme ends are those who worry that their polar opposite might gain strength and win the next round.

What do I think? I think philosophers and theologians would now do well to quickly move to study Intro to Neurobiology in order to be relevant in the days ahead. That's what I'm doing.

Craig vs. Hitchens - 4/4/09

(Christopher Hitchens)

Bill Craig and Christopher Hitchens will debate at Biola University on April 4, 2009.

Some Of My Early Philosophical Mentors

One of the many blessings God has given me was to have had Bill Craig as my first philosohical mentor. That was in 1971. I'd just become a follower of Jesus while at Northern Illinois University. Bill was one of the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ at NIU, of which I was now a part.

Shortly after I'd given my life over to Christ I changed my undergrad major from music theory to philosophy. Philosophy, to me, was where the big questions of life were being asked. That's where I wanted to park my soul. NIU's philosophy department was amazing. I was deeply influenced by studying with Michael Gelven, E.W. Van Steenburgh, and Harold I. Brown. Thanks to these people for being such excellent teachers. In fact, I was so influenced by Gelven's ability to impart knowledge (he could actually teach!) that my teaching today still owes much to him.

Bill Craig was very interested in what I was learning. He and I and others talked a lot about philosophical ideas as they especially related to our faith in Jesus. True philosophy is done around a cup of coffee, and much valuable philosophizing was my portion in those early years. When I see how God has used Bill's sheer brilliance to argue for the reasonableness of theism and Christianity I am thankful for how he influenced me years ago and set me off on a course that's lasted a lifetime.

"So Help Me God"

We've got some silly illogical things going on in the lawsuit that wants to prevent Barack Obama from saying "So help me God" to conclude his presidential oath. The lawsuit says in part, "There can be no purpose for placing 'so help me God' in an oath or sponsoring prayers to God, other than promoting the particular point of view that God exists."

Surely that's false. If I were to end an oath or prayer with "So help me God" I would never be doing this to "promote" the particular point of view that God exists. For me, I already believe God exists, and my pre-existing belief makes sense of the "So help me God" utterance. In other words, I would say it because I believe God exists, and would be uttering it as a prayer.

I do meet people who pay little attention to God and utter words like "So help me God." In such cases, such phrases function in a purely conventional way, just as some people ask "How are you doing?" but have no intent of desiring to find out how you are doing.

For some people saying something like "So help me God" is a genuine appeal to God for help; for others it's just a conventional way of speaking. But in neither of these ways is the person who utters the phrase trying to "promote the particular point of view that God exists." That simply does not follow. Therefore this point adds nothing to the reasoning of the lawsuit.

If a presidential candidate believes in God, which Barack Obama does, why disallow him from saying something that has importance to him? If Obama was an atheist, then I think it would be strange to require him to say "So help me God," unless he is able to do it purely in a conventional way. We'd all be looking at the tv watching the expression on his face as he says words he strongly disbelieves in.

What should we do? Why not allow elected officials to choose to say "So help me God" if they are God-believers, and allow atheists to refrain from doing so? To force an serious, non-village atheist to say "So help me God" would be like forcing William Wallace to say "I was wrong."

President-elect Obama actually believes in God. Why take this away from him? Sounds evil to me.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Heavy Metal Roman Catholic Monk

Here's me in a few years. It's a video of a 62-year-old Roman Catholic monk who sings in a heavy metal band, and recently performed with Iron Maiden.

See this BBC interview plus band footage - fun!

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Atheist Believes Africa Needs God

Atheist Matthew Parris writes in "Now a confirmed atheist, I've become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people's hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good."

Parris says this is "an observation I've been unable to avoid since my African childhood. It confounds my ideological beliefs, stubbornly refuses to fit my world view, and has embarrassed my growing belief that there is no God."

"Christians black and white, working in Africa, do heal the sick, do teach people to read and write; and only the severest kind of secularist could see a mission hospital or school and say the world would be better without it."

Parris lived in Africa as a child. He says that "the Christians were always different. Far from having cowed or confined its converts, their faith appeared to have liberated and relaxed them. There was a liveliness, a curiosity, an engagement with the world - a directness in their dealings with others - that seemed to be missing in traditional African life. They stood tall."

"Whenever we entered a territory worked by missionaries, we had to acknowledge that something changed in the faces of the people we passed and spoke to: something in their eyes, the way they approached you direct, man-to-man, without looking down or away."

Read Parris's entire article. it's well-written, gracious, and I believe it is true. While Dawkins/Hitchens/Harris talk about religion as "evil," Parris's account challenges this. Let me give a personal example. Before I became a believer in God and a follower of Jesus I was a not-very-nice-self-centered person. Christianity helped me realize this in the first place, and transform me in the second place to a more other-centered person. I don't think I'm fully selfless. One thing true Christianity teaches you is that one can never claim this sort of thing. As C.S. Lewis once said, "The true Christian's nostrils must be constantly attuned to the inner cesspool."

Isn't that too strong? I consider this insight as relevant as ever in a world where Israel and Hamas are bombing one another and kids are dying and suffering.

Reading the words of Jesus over and over and over for years has convinced me of Jesus' preferential option for the poor. You can't really follow Jesus and not see this. Some years ago I was privileged to be invited by a small group of Christians in my community to begin a soup kitchen to feed the hungry. Today we serve a meal a day, 7 days a week, to 100-200 people at each meal. Nearly all of the many workers in this project are Christians. Some years ago I invited a local atheist to serve with me in the soup kitchen. He wasn't interested. Of course one can't conclude from this that atheists are unconcerned for the poor. Perhaps Matthew Parris would not only approve of our soup kitchen but serve in it as well. But within the noetic framework of evolutionary naturalism (atheism) one he would be hard-pressed to find reasons to do so.

Hamas Legalizes Crucifixion: Another Urban Legend?

On December 24 the Jerusalem Post reported that "Hamas Pushes For Sharia Punishments." Israel Today and others reported the same. The JP said:

The Hamas parliament in the Gaza Strip voted in favor of a law allowing courts to mete out sentences in the spirit of Islam, the London-based Arab daily Al Hayat reported Wednesday.

According to the bill, approved in its second reading and awaiting a third reading before the approval of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, as the Palestinian constitution demands, courts will be able to condemn offenders to a plethora of violent punitive measures in line with Sharia Law.

Such punishments include whipping, severing hands, crucifixion and hanging. The bill reserves death sentences to people who negotiate with a foreign government "against Palestinian interests" and engage in any activity that can "hurt Palestinian morale."
According to the report, any Palestinian caught drinking or selling wine would suffer 40 lashes at the whipping post if the bill passes. Thieves caught red-handed would lose their right hand."

The JP then added: "The Jerusalem Post could not verify the veracity of the Al Hayat report."

Beliefnet picked up on this and posted that "Hamas Legalizes Crucifixion."

Yesterday the Dallas Morning News said it could not verify if the report was accurate. It links to an Islamic scholar, Nathan Brown, at George Washington University, who says: 1) "There is an effort to draft a penal code based on shari‘a and this is a significant development on many grounds. The pro-Hamas press in Gaza has reported on an effort to develop a new Palestinian criminal code based on Islamic law"; and 2) "The al-Hayat story was clearly based on a mistake. And it’s not hard to figure out the error. One of their reporters got a copy of the draft that was being prepared and mistakenly assumed that it had already been passed. This was clear from a clarification the paper issued the next day. Noting that the speaker’s office denied the parliament had passed the draft, al-Hayat claimed that the copy it had obtained was gussied up as if it had been passed by the parliament. But drafts produced by the Diwan al-Fatwa wa-l-Tashri‘ (the Bureau of Legal Consultation and Legislation, the PA body attached to the Ministry of Justice that is responsible for drafting legislation) routinely appear this way."

Israel National News today has posted "Hamas's Denial On Islamic Law Is a Lie." The Bureau of Islamic Law is preparing such a code.

So - what's the truth and what's the urban legend? I guess we'll see if and when this new penaol code is made public.

I don't like passing urban legends along. When certain sources claimed this I shared it with some people, in horror. Now I am not so certain about this story. We'll see.