Tuesday, June 30, 2009

J.P. Moreland #2 - Romans 12:1-2

Yesterday morning I heard the best presentation of Romans 12:1-2 that I have ever heard. It was given by J.P. Moreland. J.P.'s mentor is Dallas Willard, so his presentation has roots in Willard's The Spirit of the Disciplines, esp. his chapter on Paul's Psychology of the Body.

I don't have time to write this out now, as I'm at the conference and came to a computer to pick up my e-mails. I can tell you I am really, really thinking about what God spoke through J.P. It was, for me, a difference-making moment.

Monday, June 29, 2009

A Few Days with J.P. Moreland

Linda and I and a lot of people from our church family are in Green Lake, Wisconsin this week for a conference with J.P. Moreland and Chris Overstreet. J.P. spoke yesterday morning and evening. His first talk was on "happiness" - "Happiness is overrated." J.P. showed how the biblical & classical understanding of happiness changed in the 18th-19th centiuries to mean a personal feeling, rather than meaning a life well-lived, a life of integrity, purpose, and truth. the quest for "happiness" is never-ending and, oddly, the quest itself leads to more and more unhappiness. Hence unfulfillment and depression. The "American Dream" has been fulfilled, but as a people Americans are deeply unfulfilled. The conclusion? There must be something wrong with the "American Dream."

Last evening J.P. presented point #1 of his "Kingdom Triangle" idea, which is: Love God with all your mind. J.P. said this is his "life's message." This morning he'll give #2 (recovery of the Christian soul) and tonight he'll present #3 ("recovering the power of the Kingdom of God").

J.P. is an excellent speaker, a brilliantly gifted person who is able to take deep ideas and communicate them to us all. I think we're all loving what God has given us in just the first day!

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Bridge in Minneapolis: A Calvinist - Arminian Dialogue

Want to see some of the differences between a Calvinist and Arminian approach? Read here the responses of Greg Boyd (Arminian) and John Piper (Calvinist) to the bridge disaster in Minneapolis.

What do you think?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Alister McGrath's New Book On the Fine-Tuning Argument for God's Existence

Alister McGrath is an excellent writer and a great scholar, holding two doctoral degrees - one in biology, the other in theology, and has taught at Oxford and now at Cambridge. He's also a Christian theist.

His new book is A Fine-Tuned Universe: The Quest for God in Science and Theology. Of it Francis Collins says, “A superb contribution to the science/faith conversation.” John Polkinghorne adds, “[Alister McGrath’s] book will be of great interest to all concerned with the relationship between science and religion.”

Amazon.com's product description says: "Are there viable pathways from nature to God? Natural theology is making a comeback, stimulated as much by scientific advance as by theological and philosophical reflection. There is a growing realization that the sciences raise questions that transcend their capacity to answer them—above all, the question of the existence of God. So how can Christian theology relate to these new developments?In this landmark work, based on his 2009 Gifford lectures, Alister McGrath examines the apparent “fine-tuning” of the universe and its significance for natural theology. Exploring a wide range of physical and biological phenomena and drawing on the latest research in biochemistry and evolutionary biology, McGrath outlines our new understanding of the natural world and discusses its implications for traditional debates about the existence of God.The celebrated Gifford Lectures have long been recognized as making landmark contributions to the discussion of natural theology. A Fine-Tuned Universe will contribute significantly to that discussion by developing a rich Trinitarian approach to natural theology that allows deep engagement with the intellectual and moral complexities of the natural world. It will be essential reading to those looking for a rigorous engagement between science and the Christian faith."

I hope to read McGrath's book before I teach the fine-tuning argument this fall in my philosophy of religion class at MCCC.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Loving God With Your Mind (+ Signs & Wonders)

(Downtown Monroe)
I like this quote from John Rankin on loving God with not only our hearts and souls but also our minds, with signs and wonders following behind.

“Apart from Jesus as Son of God and Son of Man, the three most powerful men in the Bible are Moses, Daniel, and Paul. In each case they a) knew the Hebrew Scriptures inside out, b) they knew the pagan political cultures in which they lived inside out, c) they knew the pagan religions in those cultures inside out, and d) they were folowed by signs and wonders. These were robust men, compromising nothing in the pursuit of wisdom and character, loving the Lord their God with heart, soul, mind, and strength. And Jesus their Messiah fulfilled and transcended all they pursued.” (In A Faith and Culture Devotional, 47)

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

No Need to Dress Up for Church

(Me, ca. 1974)

If you are a follower of Jesus does this mean you have to spend money buying expensive and really nice-looking clothes so you can "dress up" for "church?" The answer is: No.

Dressing up for "church" is "a mindless custom. It is purely the result of nineteenth-century middle-class efforts to become like their wealthy aristocratic contemporaries, showing off their improved status by their clothing. It has nothing to do with the Bible, Jesus Christ, or the Holy Spirit." (Barna and Viola, Pagan Christianity, 148)

Whew - I just saved a lot of money!

Youth Suicide Attempts High in Michigan

Michigan youths are more likely than the average American youth to commit suicide, according to a Detroit Free Press report. "In its last survey in 2007, 9% of Michigan youths surveyed admitted attempting suicide (compared to a national average of 7%) and 27% said they had been depressed."

Monday, June 22, 2009

John & Kate - Please Call

For the last two years Linda and I have enjoyed watching "John & Kate + 8." Last summer I bought their book for Linda to read - Multiple Bles8ings: Surviving to Thriving with Twins and Sextuplets. About the book: "Kate admits, "I was a bit of a control freak," yet also quickly draws on and receives the "peace of God... like a security blanket" through her months in the hospital, Jon's job loss and the impending arrivals... The Gosselins' life is a whirlwind, with their book reflecting the fast-paced, faith-filled approach they take to raising their twins and their miracle sextuplets... In addition to their uphill medical battle, the family suffered many emotional setbacks such as the loss of Jon's job, forcing the pair to look to God as their sole provider and sustainer of life."

It was the God-thing that kept my interest. And I started to love these children.
Now John & Kate are "separating." If you didn't know this you've never looked at a magazine rack. For all the world to see. When their kids get older they'll be able to watch repeats of their mom and dad sharing their marital struggles before the entire world. All their friends will see their family implode. I can't imagine being one of these kids and watching mom and dad complain about the paparazzzi while their foundation crumbled, and telling the world their kids are what's most important. Soon they'll be 8 more people in the world to counsel...

John & Kate say: "Our kids are what matters." "Our kids are the most important thing to us." "John won't talk to me." (Kate is a control freak; John is passive-aggressive.) "We've been spending quality time alone with the kids." "I don't hate Kate..., but..." "I have to do what's best for me and my kids" (says John). "This is the hardest episode ever." "I was too passive - I just let her rule the roost." "I will do anything for my kids."

Right. I feel angry.

John & Kate - get off TV and save your marriage. For your kids' sake. They need you both. For the sake of God. Time to look to God (not the media, which you've chosen to embrace) as the sole provider of your lives. God can help you now. Your marriage can be saved. Contact me. I'll show you how.

Striving for Perfection

(Downtown Monroe)

The composer Giuseppe Verdi (1812-1901), at age 18, wrote: "All my life as a musician, I have striven for perfection. It has always eluded me. I surely had an obligation to make one more try." At 18 Verdi was already an accomplished musician.

Peter Drucker writes that Verdi's words became his "lodestar" in life. Drucker says" "I resolved that if I ever reached an advanced age, I would not give up, but would keep on. In the meantime, I would strive for perfection even though, as I well knew, it would surely always elude me." (The Daily Drucker, 190)

Paul, in Philippians 3:12, writes: "Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me."

Paul here presents himself as a runner, straining towards the finish line. Gordon Fee says "Paul's point is not winning as such; rather, his focus is on the runner, who runs so as to win." (Fee, Paul's Letter to the Philippians, 347) "Christ is both the means and end of God's call; and "knowing him" is finally and fully the "prize" toward which Paul stretches every nerve. (Ib., 350)

This is not about "perfectionism." It is, for me, about a goal, a prize in life to be attained, which is Christ. Thinking of Verdi's words, even though I fall short, I owe it God and others to give it one more try. Paul's words, and Verdi's and Drucker's, are about escaping the illusion that the mountain of excellence in life has already been summitted.

Today is a new day. A day of pressing on and embracing the Perfect One, Christ in you, the hope of glory.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Christian Group Denied Access to Dearborn's Arab International Festival

Sunday night Linda and I are going to the annual Dearborn Arab International Festival. Arab Christians will not be allowed to hand out Christian literature. See the news report here.

Worship the Giver, Not the Gifts

(Our house, ca. 1863)

I’m reflecting on the weekend we had with Shampa Rice of Iris Ministries. Shampa was with us Saturday evening, June 13, and then Sunday morning and evening, June 14.

On Saturday evening Shampa began by telling a miraculous story involving herself and her suitcase that had been lost upon her arrival in the U.S. The missing suitcase appeared after she asked God for help. It was quite a story that amazed the airline attendants. Shampa asked God who and what this story was for. Was it for herself? For the others who saw the thing happen? God clarified this, telling her He was giving her a word for the Church in America. That word was: do not be so enamored by the gifts and the miracles, signs, and wonders, so that you forget God, who is the Giver.

When I heard this I said “Yes! Shampa has it right!" We have so many Christians in America that are chasing after miracles, signs, and wonders instead of chasing after God first. Shampa took us back to basics when she said: “It’s all about the Great Commandment.” Which is: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. And the second commandment is this: you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Do these things, Shampa told us, and miracles, signs, and wonders will follow after you. She did not present this to us as a formula. Actually, Shampa said that even if we do not experience a lot of the miraculous we still are to walk in the love of God.

On Sunday morning Shampa continued this theme, which is: Love God first. Chase after God. Receive God’s love. “Love is the greatest” (1 Corinthians 13). Shampa told us a story about a gong in a symphony concert that, during a three-hour concert, was only struck once. She wondered what was the purpose of this huge gong if it were only to be used once? She asked someone about this, who told her, “Shampa, this gong makes so much noise that it would overwhelm the orchestra if it were struck continuously.” The point being: if we do not major on the love of God, we’re nothing, as worthwhile as a clanging, noisy gong.

God has given Shampa Rice and Heidi & Rolland Baker miraculous experiences, yes. But the center of their ministry is: love. The love of God. God is love. Love people. Love your enemies. There’s great power in the love of God. God’s love eventually conquers all hatred. God so loved the world. Love is the greatest.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Intelligent Design Revisited

(Torrey Pines Park, Del Mar, California)

Obviously I've not much to do tonight since I'm power-surfing the Internet for whatever.

One site I visited is pandasthumb.org. I haven't been there in years. Not much seems to have changed. When a serious scientific post is made few people comment, since few people can understand enough to intelligently respond. (This usually excludes me, too.) But when the creation-bashing begins, and "creationism" is once again equated with Intelligent Design Theory, the ad hominems are unleashed. I find this boring, and at times funny. (Note: if some panda's thumb lover somehow happens to read this I and all my descendents will be labeled as the most ignorant persons ever to come out of Finland.)

I revisited William Dembski's uncommondescent.com. I'm glad I dropped in, since I got connected with yet two more books that I would love to read. (Note: the same ad hominen stuff happens here, too, esp. in the comments. My theory is this: character assassination is in inverse proportion to scientific knowledge.)

Book # 1 is: The Nature of Nature: Examining the Role of Naturalism in Science, by Bruce Gordon and William Demski. Here's the book description:

" Unmatched in its breadth and scope, The Nature of Nature brings together some of the most influential scientists, scholars, and public intellectuals—including three Nobel laureates—across a wide spectrum of disciplines and schools of thought. Here they grapple with a perennial question that has been made all the more pressing by recent advances in the natural sciences: Is the fundamental explanatory principle of the universe, life, and self-conscious awareness to be found in inanimate matter or immaterial mind? The answers found in this book have profound implications for what it means to do science, what it means to be human, and what the future holds for all of us."

I am hugely interested in this question.

Book #2 - Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design , by Oxford Ph.D Stephen Meyer. A website for this book can be found here. Yes, I am still very interested in ID theory. And yes, I remain very interested in the things Francis Collins and Kenneth Miller et. al. are writing.

The Resacralizing of the World

(I took this picture of a praying woman in The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem.)

Richard Wolin of CUNY has written a superb essay on today's resurgence of religion. Religion has, citing philosopher Jurgen Habermas, "remarkable staying power."

Wolin writes: "Today academe is rife with discussions of "political theology," a term popularized during the 1920s by the German jurist Carl Schmitt. Schmitt meant by it that all modern political concepts — sovereignty, natural rights, the social contract — are secularized versions of theological concepts."

Wolin deals extensively with Charles Taylor's A Secular Age, disagreeing substantially with it yet citing it as an example of the current, ongoing resacralization of the world.

Wolin critiques the neo-Darwinian atheists. He writes: "to reject belief in the name of science potentially aggravates the crisis of meaning, with its attendant upsets and dislocations: alienation, social disorientation, anomie."

"The return of the sacred is in large measure a response to modernity's failings. However, religion's neo-Darwinian detractors seem unable to fathom the correlation. Moreover, they are peculiarly tone deaf, or "unmusical," when it comes to comprehending the very real attractions of belief and spirituality for a great many denizens of our hyperrationalized, disenchanted cosmos. Thus, in The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins's portrayal of belief is so dismissive and simplistic that one wonders why anyone would embrace such demented and malicious ideals."

I especially value Wolin's insights that the scientific method may be intrinsically incapable of grasping the reality of the sacred. He asks: "Who would really want to inhabit a totally enlightened universe, denuded of mystery, plurality, and sublimity? What if ultimate reality weren't attainable by the prosaic methods of cognition or secular reason? What if, instead, the Absolute had more to do with the faculties of the imagination, intuition, or the unfathomable mysteries of the human unconscious?"

Nice writing.

3 More Books to Read

(Linda, my wonderful wife of nearly 36 years.)

I read books instead of watching TV. This is especially true after the Red Wings lost in game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals.

I make this note to myself. For future reading:

Peter Berger's The Desecularization of the World: Resurgent Religion and World Politics.

Berger's Questions of Faith: A Skeptical Affirmation of Christianity (Religion and Spirituality in the Modern World).

Jurgen Habermas's Between Naturalism and Religion: Philosophical Essays.

Years ago I read Berger's books, especially enjoying The Social Construction of Reality and The Sacred Canopy. He's a brilliant scholar and an excellent writer. I haven't read Berger in quite a while, and look forward to connecting with his thinking again.

Habermas, the brilliant political philosopher who most identify "as one of the most influential philosophers in the world," was until recently teaching in Northwestern University's philosophy department where I studied. When I was there Habermas wasn't there, but I was nevertheless excited when he joined NU's already-excellent department. In his new book Habermas "questions whether modern societies possess the moral resources to persevere without relying on their religious roots — the Judeo-Christian basis of secular ethics, for example."

My Morning Routine to Bring Focus to My Day: 4 Daily Readings

I'm starting each day using four books that have daily readings through the year. They are:

Through the Year With Thomas Merton. I got this book on August 28, 1990. It's lost its back cover. Merton always brings me to the heart of life in Christ. I read Merton and I am in the woods, contemplating God's creation; I am in the presence of God being sought-out by God's Spirit. There is a distinct "feel" in reading Merton, who sought after God in the quiet place, the inner temple of God that lies within. Here's Merton from today's June 16 reading: "God utters me like a word containing a partial thought of himself." (New Seeds of Contemplation - get this book and read it, slowly...)

A Year With C.S. Lewis. I would liike very much to spend a year with C.S. Lewis. In reading some Lewis every day I am taken back to 1970 and my beginning with Christ. Someone told me to read Mere Christianity, which I did. Because of what Lewis and Francis Schaeffer sparked inside of me I changed my undergraduate major from Music Theory to Philosophy. Lewis, to me, makes sense of ths change. He was creative, and philosophical. I love that combination! Lewis is logical, and mystical. Here's Lewis from today's reading: "[Miracles] come on great occasions: they are found at the great ganglions of history - not of political or social history, but of that spiritual history which cannot be fully known by men." (Miracles)

A Faith and Culture Devotional: Daily Readings in Art, Science, and Life, by Kelly Monroe Kullberg and Lael Arrington. I just got this "daily reading" book a few weeks ago and am enjoying it. Many writers have contributed to it, to include Francis Collins, Michael Behe, William Lane Craig, Dallas Willard, Hugh Ross, John Stott, Francis Schaeffer, Erwin McManus, and so on and on... Today's reading is "A Conversation With Muslims," by Erwin McManus. McManus writes: "There's only one reason for God to come [to us] himself, because in issues of love, you just can't have someone else stand in for you. When it comes to love, it has to be face-to-face. Love cannot exist where there is only distance. Love can survive distance, but only by the strength of what comes through intimacy. Like Solomon's lover, God is going up and down the streets of the city, traveling the most obscure paths and untamed wilderness, searching for the one he loves - and that one is you and it's me."

The Daily Drucker: 366 Days of Insight and Motivation for Getting the Right Things Done, by Peter Drucker. Drucker (1909 - 2005) is generally considered to be the top management thinker of modern times. Years ago I read his The Effective Executive, and was moved by it. I later found out that Drucker was a follower of Jesus, and was a personal mentor to Rick Warren. The combination of leadership brilliance and spiritual insight permeates Drucker's writings. His practical wisdom serves daily as a guide for me. Here's some Drucker from today's daily reading: "The person who invests in what already exists is, in effect, trying to minimize risk." That's quite a sentence! John Wimber defined "faith" lke this: "Faith = RISK."

After these 4 readings I'll turn to the Scriptures I preach on this coming Sunday.

It's a good start to my day. I'm reading and typing on my backyard deck that overlooks pine trees and oak trees and maple trees. There's a lot of birds at my multiple feeders. A number of squirrels are hanging around, plus a few rabbits. One of these squirrels is getting braver and approaching me as he/she gets to feel safe with me. I'm trying to get it to eat bread out of my hand. Soon, perhaps, I'll be writing out of experience like Francis of Assisi.

American Christianity's Greatest Sin: Richard Stearns on The Hole In Our Gospel

Christianity Today's Mark Galli interviews World Vision president Richard Stearns about his new book The Hole in Our Gospel: What Does God Expect of Us? Stearns sees the American church retreating from the world, not engaging its struggles. American "Christians" are mostly self-serving. Surely this is true. Our collective Jesus-following towards this world's "least of these" is anemic. And sinful. Sin-filled.

Stearns says: "Our church bulletins read like the table of contents for Psychology Today: support groups for pornography addictions and eating disorders, Taekwondo aerobics, and on and on. Our churches are increasingly meeting all of our needs but decreasingly going out to change the world. The gospel was meant to be a social revolution."

The Real Gospel "was meant to send us out as the vanguards of the social revolution, the salt and light that Jesus talked about that would transform the world. And my conclusion, after all of my experiences in 23 years in the corporate world, 10 years at World Vision, and visiting 50 countries, is that we've fallen short."

"While we're going into our huge megacathedrals in the United States, African churches are suffering greatly. Our brothers and sisters in Christ are meeting under trees. They are dying of HIV and AIDS. Their children are dying because of unsanitary water, lack of health care, and lack of nutrition. This disparity in the body of Christ alone is appalling. I am sure it breaks the heart of God that Christians aren't even taking care of Christians as we could, let alone taking care of non-Christians."

"The sin of my parents' generation in the United States was racism. The sin of our generation will be apathy."

"If Jesus were living today and tithing, what would his check register say? I am pretty sure [his money] wouldn't be going to the symphony. I am pretty sure it wouldn't be going to his alma mater as a first priority. I think it would be going to the least of these."

"Ironically, many of the millionaires who give us gifts of $100,000 a year can't give this year because their $20 million fortune is only worth $10 million. The irony of the widow's mite is that the people that can't really afford it keep giving and the people who could afford it feel like they can't."

"It gets back to priority. There are certain things that really are not optional. We are not commanded to be a docent in the art museum. We are commanded to love the poor. To bind up the brokenhearted, to care for the widow, the orphan, and the stranger. Those are pretty strong commands in the Bible. So you almost have to do those first."

Stearns is a former corporate executive who is now descending into the greatness of the glory of God and His Kingdom. His actions line up with the Jesus found in the 4 Gospels. As I read the CT interview I see Stearns is not some bitter, angry person, but is consumed by the heart of God and God's preferential option for the poor.
Stearns's book has its own website and blog.

Monday, June 15, 2009



Pagan Christianity: "Church" as Organic, not Institutional

(The Valley of Elah)

Today I began to read Pagan Christianity, by George Barna and Frank Viola. The book has been out for a while, a lot of people have read it and have discussed it. I'm liking what I'm reading so far.

I love the idea of the real church as organic, an organism, and not an institution. I remember teaching in Singapore in the late 1980s, eating a meal with Chinese pastor and leader Albert Kang. At one point in the meal, as Albert and I were discussing the meaning of "church," and noting that Albert's very powerful church met in a rented auditorium, Albert leaned towards me and said: "The church is a movement, not an institution!"

That has stuck with me.

Barna and Viola define "institutional church" as: "one that operates primarily as an organization that exists above, beyond, and independent of the members who populate it. It is constructed more on programs and rituals than on relationships." (PC, xxxi)

They write: "We believe that thge New Testament vision of church is organic. An organic church is a living, breathing, dynamic, mutually participatory, every-member-functioning, Christ-centered, communal expression of the body of Christ." (Ib.)

PC chapter two makes the point that "church" was never meant to be identified with a "building." "Church" is to be a revolutionary movement of people. That's what I have always wanted to be a part of, and what I see God growing, organically, in the people I move with.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

What Makes Us Happy? Relationships.

Joshua Wolf Shenk has written a very thorough and interesting article in The Atlantic called "What Makes Us Happy?" It's about the Harvard Study of Adult Development, an amazing 72-year longitudinal study on male mental and physical well-being. For 42 years the HSAD's chief curator, investigator, and analyst has been Harvard psychiatrist George Vaillant (72). Wolf Shenk "was granted unprecedented access to case files ordinarily restricted to researchers."

"What allows people to work, and love, as they grow old? By the time the Grant Study men had entered retirement, Vaillant, who had then been following them for a quarter century, had identified seven major factors that predict healthy aging, both physically and psychologically. Employing mature adaptations was one. The others were education, stable marriage, not smoking, not abusing alcohol, some exercise, and healthy weight."

Now watch this: It's all about relationships. What makes for happiness is: the power of reltionships. Yes. And thank you. Wolf Shenk writes:

"Vaillant’s other main interest is the power of relationships. “It is social aptitude,” he writes, “not intellectual brilliance or parental social class, that leads to successful aging.” Warm connections are necessary—and if not found in a mother or father, they can come from siblings, uncles, friends, mentors. The men’s relationships at age 47, he found, predicted late-life adjustment better than any other variable, except defenses. Good sibling relationships seem especially powerful: 93 percent of the men who were thriving at age 65 had been close to a brother or sister when younger. In an interview in the March 2008 newsletter to the Grant Study subjects, Vaillant was asked, “What have you learned from the Grant Study men?” Vaillant’s response: “That the only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people.”"

This whole article is worth a good read.

A.W. Tozer

"If Christianity is to receive a rejuvenation it must be by other means than any now being used. If the church in the second half of [the twentieth] century is to recover from the injuries she suffered in the first half, there must appear a new type of preacher. The proper, ruler-of-the-synagogue type will never do. Neither will the priestly type of man who carries out his duties, takes his pay and asks no questions, nor the smooth-talking pastoral type who knows how to make the Christian religion acceptable to everyone. All these have been tried and found wanting. Another kind of religious leader must arise among us. He must be of the old prophet type, a man who has seen visions of God and has heard a voice from the Throne. When he comes (and I pray God there will not be one but many) he will stand in flat contradiction to everything our smirking, smooth civilization holds dear. He will contradict, denounce and protest in the name of God and will earn the hatred and opposition of a large segment of Christendom."

- A.W. Tozer

Pagan Christianity

OK - I just ordered Pagan Christianity by George Barna and Frank Viola. A friend told me about the book this week. Then, I just saw Greg Boyd's comment on it. Then, I went to amazon.com and saw a lot of comments from people I respect praising the book.

Greg says: "Viola, F. and G. Barna, Pagan Christianity (Tyndale 2008) is the best single source I know of that exposes how thoroughly pagan the traditional and contemporary understanding of the church is. Viola and Barna argue — rightly — that the passivity and impotence of the church today is largely due to this fact. Viola and Barna call us back to a New Testament understanding of church that is rooted in authentic communities in which believers share life and engage in ministry together."

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

David Augsburger

One of the top 5 spiritual influences in my life is David Augsburger. Dave was professor or pastoral counseling at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary when I was working on my M. Div. Linda and I were in a couples small group with Dave and his wife Nancy for two years. I learned so much during that time from Dave. Also, I was greatly influenced by his personhood and Christlikeness.

Dave is now Professor of Pastoral Care and Counseling at Fuller Theological Seminary. Is there anyone in the world who knows more about helping people deal with anger and conflict than Dave? I doubt it. I keep coming back to his little book Caring Enough to Confront, which teaches us how to effectively communicate with others when we are in conflict. Dave sees four communication options in conflict and finds them all lacking even though they are much used.He gives us a fifth option, using Ephesians 4:15, which says: “therefore speak the truth in love; so shall we fully grow up into Christ.” Here we are told, in communication, to be both truthful and loving or, in Augsburger’s words, both confronting and caring.

Practically, here’s what this means.Work at communicating both caring and confronting in the middle of marital or relational conflict. Here are the attitudes to have and hold to.


  • I care about our relationship & I feel deeply about the issue at stake

  • I want to hear your view & I want to clearly express mine

  • I want to respect your insights & I want respect for mine

  • I trust you to be able to handle my honest feelings & I want you to trust me with yours

  • I promise to stay with the discussion until we reach an understanding & I want you to stay with me until we've reached an understanding

  • I will not trick, pressure, manipulate, or distort the differences & I want your unpressured, clear, honest views of our differences

  • I give you my loving, honest respect & I want your caring-confronting response

Thank you Dave, from me and Linda.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Ben Witherington on Dispensationalism, "Prophet," and "Prophecy"

(My back yard)

This afternoon I'm reading Ben Witherington's The Problem with Evangelical Theology: Testing the Exegetical Foundations of Calvinism, Dispensationalism, and Wesleyanism.

His chapter on Romans 7 is paradigm-shifting for me, since he argues that Paul is not here being autobiographical, and the chapter is not about the struggle of living one's life as a Christian. I'll be re-reading it... slowly.

On Dispensationalism (a few quotes):

"Of the three theological systems we are examining in this book , Dispensationalism is in fact the new kid on the block , only dating back to the nineteenth century , and it is clearly the most exegetically problematic as well." - Page 93.

"Unlike the case with Calvinism , the Dispensational approach to the Bible did not arise after profound study of the Hebrew or Greek Scriptures or detailed scholarly exegesis of the text . It was a system that apparently arose in response to a vision and as a result of a pastoral concern about unfulfilled biblical prophecy , and was promulgated by various ministers and evangelists and entrepreneurs in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries." - Page 93.

"Many if not most Messianic Jews are Dispensationalists." - Page 94.

Re. the Dispensationalist "Left Behind" series, Witherington writes: "American Christians are looking for the theological equivalent of comfort food and escapist entertainment , and Dispensational theol- ogy is readily meeting these needs." Page 96.

And much, much more... I'm still reading.

I really like Witherington's views on "prophets" and "prophecy." He writes:

"I have found it important to distinguish between the prophetic experience , the prophetic expression , the prophetic tradition , and the prophetic corpus , all of which are part of the social phenomenon that falls under the heading of prophecy... To share a few of the conclusions of my earlier study , a prophet was an oracle , a mouthpiece for some divine being , and as such he or she did not speak for himself but for another . A prophet might also be many other things ( teacher , priest , sage ), but the role of prophet could be distinguished from these other roles and functions . Prophecy , whether from Mari or Jerusalem or Delphi or Rome , was spoken in known languages , usually in poetic form , and so was an intel- ligible , even if often puzzling , kind of discourse . It might involve spon- taneous utterances or a reading of omens or signs of various sorts , but in either case it was not a matter of deciphering ancient texts , which was the task of scribes and sages and exegetes of various sorts . Furthermore , consulting a prophet was an attempt to obtain a late word from one or another deity about some pressing or impending matter . In sociological terms the prophet must be seen as a mediatory figure , which therefore makes him very important but also subjects him to being pushed to the margins of society if the divine words involve curse rather than blessing , judgment rather than redemption. At least in the setting of Israel and early Christianity the prophet also is one who deliberately stands at the boundary of the community - the boundary between God and the community , but also the boundary between the community and those outside it . It is the task of the prophet to call God's people to account and to reinforce the prescribed boundaries of the community while reestablishing or reinforcing the divine-human relationship." - Pp. 98-99

"One of the main ways that Dispensationalism repeatedly has violated the character of biblical prophecy is by taking poetry as prose , figurative as literal . There is in addition the problem of mistaking material that was fulfilled long ago in Israel or in general in biblical times as material awaiting a literal fulfillment as the Christian era nears an end." - Page 100.

Witherington goes on in more detail about prophets and prophecy. I think what he says just about this is worth the price of the book.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Detroit Pizza Is #3 In the Nation

I awoke this morning to good news: GQs Alan Richman rates Detroit as the third-best pizza city in America. The Free Press quotes Richman: ""No city has more consistently satisfying pies than Detroit. No city executes its particular style" -- also called Sicilian or pan pizza -- "as flawlessly as Detroit," Richman wrote in his blog, an online companion to his article and his list of 25 best pizzas."

So who is this Richman person? He "won two James Beard awards this year for magazine food reporting." And who is James Beard? Trust me - JB knew food.

Whoa - I did not know this! Having lived for years in Chicago (pizza mecca) I thought I existed in a pizza wasteland here in Detroit. Richman has given me a new hope. He rates 4 local pies among the nation's best. They are:

The Gourmet Veggie at Luigi's Original in Harrison Township was No. 13. Richman called it the best vegetable pizza he tasted anywhere.

Buddy's cheese pizza was 15th. Praising the company's crusts as "one of the best in America," Richman said they were "a little better than the competition's, and almost every pizzeria I tried in Detroit did them well."

• The pepperoni pizza at Tomatoes Apizza in Farmington Hills was No. 21. "The non-Sicilian crust was soft, slightly charred, and entirely appealing," he said, and he applauded the many thin slices of pepperoni allowed "to curl and crisp up in the oven." (He despised the common local practice of hiding the slices under sauce.)

• The cheese pizza with feta at Niki's in Greektown was 24th. It was that pie that convinced him of the excellence of feta as a topping, he wrote.

The Free Press links us to Richman's article - "GQ's June issue will be on newsstands Tuesday; read the article and blog at www.gq.com."

My Ongoing Adventures in God's Kingdom

These past two weeks have been extremely busy for me as I've been helping Linda with her annual piano/vocal recital that took place last Sunday evening, wrapping up Redeemer Ministry School year #1 (commencement this Sunday evening!), after-glowing about the 5-day Bethel School of Supernatural Evangelism at our church, studying/prepping/pondering for each Sunday's Real Jesus message (this Sunday we begin the Olivet Discourse - fun!), meeting with people, and so on.

I'm looking forward to summer reading and some good, long alone-times with God. And, because "church" is a movement of people and not an institution, my life following Jesus remains as adventurous as ever. This week I was invited to speak (fall 2010) at a pastor's conference in Kenya that involves 80 churches. More imminently, our church has been invited to have a prayer & counseling tent at Monroe County's Relay for Life this weekend, and I'll speak at 6 AM at the worship service there. Shampa Rice from Iris Ministries comes to Redeemer June 13-14. I do a wedding the following weekend. Then to our annual summer conference in Green Lake Wisconsin with J.P. Moreland and Chris Overstreet (June 27 - July 2). Linda and I fly out of Milwaukee to Philadelphia July 3 where I'll speak at a conference at Villanova University (July 3-5 - "Evangelism & the Kingdom of God"). Then we fly back to Milwaukee where we'll take 3-4 days to meander back to Monroe, have some pure vacation time.

As for today: the sun is shining, I'm living in God's beautiful kingdom, I get to do sermon work on the Olivet Discourse for several hours today, a few meetings with some Redeemer people, talking briefly tonight with our church's children, and the Red Wings in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. This is the day that the Lord has made; I will rejoice and be glad in it!