Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Craig Evans on Jesus' Miracles

New Testament scholar Craig Evans, in his book Fabricating Jesus, has a nice chapter called “Diminished Deeds: A Fresh look at Healings and Miracles.” How can we understand Jesus, he asks, if we do not take his miracles into account? The good news is that “today, scholars are more open to talking about the miracles of Jesus because they rightly recognize that the task of the historian is to describe what people reported and recorded. It isn’t the historian’s task to engage in science and metaphysics.” (139) Why were people drawn to Jesus? Not because of his teaching, says E.P. Sanders, “but because of his reputation as a powerful healer.” (139)

Did Jesus’ mighty deeds actually happen? Evans says the historian uses the following criteria to draw conclusions. Some of the criteria are:

1) Multiple attestation. “The mighty deeds of Jesus are found in all of the NT Gospels, including Q (the sayings source used by Matthew and Luke). The attestation of miracles in Q is significant, for miracles do not play a significant role in this source.” (140)
2) Dissimilarity. “If the NT Gospel stories reflected invented tales, we should expect them to reflect what people usually experienced.” (140)
3) Embarrassment. This “refers to sayings or deeds that are not easily explained as inauthentic creations of the early church, simply because there are aspects about them that would have been potentially embarrassing. One such event in the life of Jesus was his baptism by John.” (140)

Evans then states 5 things important to know about Jesus’ mighty deeds.

1) “His healings and exorcisms were an intrinsic part of his proclamation of the kingdom (or rule) of God. The mighty deeds and the proclamation must go together; neither can be understood without the other.” (141)
2) “The miracles were viewed by Jesus and others as fulfillment of prophetic Scripture. His miracles were in step with what was expected of God’s Messiah. (141)
3) “The mighty deeds of Jesus were revelatory; they revealed things about Jesus and his mission… to discount the mighty deeds is to lose sight of important aspects of Jesus and his work.” (141)
4) “Jesus’ mighty deeds were different from and more impressive than those of his near contemporaries.” (141)
5) “Jesus’ reputation as a healer and exorcist was such that long after his ministry was concluded, his name was still invoked by Christians and non-Christians alike, thus attesting to his lasting reputation and power.” (141)

Evans then writes about each of these five points. This forms the rest of his chapter on Jesus’ mighty deeds.

Some individual bullets from the rest of this chapter are as follows.

The essence of Jesus’ message was the kingdom (or rule) of God.
The coming of God’s kingdom means the collapse of the kingdom of Satan.
Jesus’ proclamation of the rule of God is associated with exorcism and healing.
Jesus’ disciples are sent out to do the same things Jesus is doing; viz., proclaim the gospel of the rule of God, and heal the sick and deliver people from demonic oppression.
Jesus’ “ability to cast out demons is not through magic or gimmickry, but it is “by the finger of God,” the same power that had worked long ago through Moses and Aaron. This is an astonishing claim, for Jesus has not only distanced himself from magic; he has claimed that the greatest power that god ever worked through a human being was at work through him.” (145; cf. Exodus 7-8, esp. Ex. 8:18-19)
“The miracles were not some sort of sideshow by which Jesus impressed crowds or silenced critics. The miracles were essential… to prove that the ministry of Jesus was in fulfillment of ancient prophecy.” (146)
“It was through is power to heal that Jesus demonstrated to skeptics that he possessed the authority to forgive sins.” (148)
“Jesus did not pray in order to bring about healing, He never bargained with God… In contrast to Eleazar the exorcist, Jesus made no use of paraphernalia – no ring with a seal, no smoldering root, no incantations handed down from Solomon. Jesus simply touched someone or spoke a word and the healing or exorcism took place.” (153) This was received as a “new teaching,” and with “authority.”

Evans concludes the chapter with:

“The conclusion to be drawn from the evidence is that Jesus was known as a healer and exorcist throughout his ministry and beyond, and that theswe mighty deeds clarified in important ways the significance of his proclamation of the rule of God and the significance of his own person. If we hope to understand the historical Jesus fully and accurately, his mighty deeds must be given their proper place. Mighty deeds diminished is a Jesus diminished.” (157)

This is an excellent, scholarly defense of the healings, miracles, and exorcisms of Jesus. Any Jesus-follower interested in such things will do well to ingest Evans’s scholarly contribution to the discussion.

Charles Taylor Won't Be Seen On "The Atheist Bus"

Charles Taylor is interviewed in Philosophy Now and asked about what he thinks of the "atheist bus" signs such as, "There's probably no God: now stop worrying and enjoy your life." Taylor responds:

"I heard about that! It’s hilariously funny. It’s very odd, isn’t it? I’m trying to figure out why this is happening in our time. This new phenomena is puzzling – atheists that want to spread the ‘gospel’, and are sometimes very angry. I think it may be rather like the response of certain bishops to Darwin in the 19th century. The bishops had a sense that the world was going in a certain direction – more and more conversion, and so on – and then they find they’re suddenly upset in their expectation and they get very rattled and very angry. Similarly, we’re seeing this now among the secularising intelligentsia – liberals who felt that the world was going in a certain direction, that it was all going according to plan – and then when it seems not to be, they get rattled. So you get these rather pathetic phenomena. Putting things on buses as though that’s going to make people somehow change their view about God, the universe, the meaning of life and so on. A bus slogan! It’s not likely to trigger something very fundamental in anybody."

Divorce Has Ruinous Consequences That Remarriage Cannot Heal

Over half of the marriages in America end in divorce. Divorce is hellish. Getting remarried cannot help this.

Linda Waite of the University of Illinois-Chicago says: "Losing a marriage or becoming widowed or divorced is extremely stressful. It's financially, sometimes, ruinous. It's socially extremely difficult. What's interesting is if people have done this and remarried, we still see, in their health, the scars or marks -- the damage that was done by this event. Divorced people have more chronic conditions, more mobility limitations, rate their health as poorer than people like them in age, race, gender, education who've been married once and are still married."

For the research, data, etc., see the CNN report here.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Brad Pitt - 80% Agnostic, 20% Atheist, 100% Heart for Others

Brad Pitt is interviewed at and asked:

BILD: Do you believe in God? Brad Pitt (smiling): “No, no, no!”
BILD: Is your soul spiritual? Brad Pitt: “No, no, no! I’m probably 20 per cent atheist and 80 per cent agnostic. I don’t think anyone really knows. You’ll either find out or not when you get there, until then there’s no point thinking about it.

A few thoughts.

1) The idea that we'll find out whether or not there is a God "when you get there" sounds like, to a small degree, philosopher of religion John Hick's idea of "eschatological verification." Hick said that the existence of God and the reality of an afterlife with God can be empirically verified, not in this life, but eschatologically. Of course if there is no God than half of Pitt's dichotomy fails since, on the atheism I am familiar with and respect, there will be no "I" to verify anything. If God does not exist "I" won't be "finding out" that God does not exist.

2) Pitt says: "Until then there's no point thinking about it." I interpret this as Pitt saying he thinks there is no point in thinking about God and God's possible existence. For myself, and even certain philosophical atheists and agnostics as I understand them, we think about this a lot. Dawkins wrote an entire book dedicated to thinking about this (even if his "thinking" was philosophically uninformed). Should Pitt think on such things? I believe so. Here's one reason why. I admire, from a distance, Pitt and Angelina Jolie's compassion for this world's "least of these." If atheism is true (philosophical naturalism) then there is not value in what they are doing. If reality is non-telic then helping others is absurd in the sense that the thoughts and feelings that say it is "good" to help others are at most neural happenings in their particular brains. Admittedly it's unfair to judge Pitt on the basis of a few sentences in an interview. Does he have any good reasons for his agnosticism? My personal guess is that he does, at times, think about such things, as most humans do. He would do well to look at what reasons he has that lead to his agnostic worldview. His starting point would be the philosophical agnosticism of Paul Draper, who writes well on this issue.

3) Pitt, apparently, has concluded that his "soul is not spiritual." Inchoately, he's a mind-brain identity theorist but probably does not know why. This theory "holds that states and processes of the mind are identical to states and processes of the brain... The identity theory of mind is to the effect that these experiences just are brain processes, not merely correlated with brain processes." (See here.) More correctly Pitt, on his 20% atheism, should have said not that the "soul is not spiritual" but that there is no such thing as the human "soul" because there is no such thing as non-physical ("spiritual") reality.

Brad Pitt seems like a loving, caring person. He gives out of his resources to help the poor and needy. He does work with Jimmy Carter's "Habitat for Humanity." Truly, I am impressed. I think this lies at the heart of why I'm interested in what Brad thinks about God. Habitat is a theistic organization at root, founded by theist Millard Fuller and championed by theist Jimmy Carter. Fuller died this past February at age 74. The Washington Post writes: Fuller's understanding of needs and wants -- what he called the "Theology of Enough" -- was grounded in his Christian faith. "God's order of things holds no place for hoarding and greed," he wrote. "There are sufficient resources in the world for the needs of everybody, but not enough for the greed of even a significant minority.""

Because God exists we have reason and purpose that undergird this felt need that we should spend ourselves on helping others. I thank God for what Brad Pitt is doing in this regard. I think a theistic worldview would supply the metaphysical foundation for his heart about such things. (I recommend he read J.P. Moreland's The God Question: An Invitation to a Life of Meaning.)

Stewart Goetz On Why "Mind" Is Not the Same as "Brain"

(Linda, in Windsor, Ontario)

Way back when I was 21 and a new Christ-follower I was plugged in to two campus ministries at Northern Illinois University, Judson Fellowship (led by John & Ruth Peterson), and Campus Crusade for Christ. John Peterson was one of the most influential persons in my entire life. He's a real Jesus-follower with an active faith and a sharp mind. Thanks John for your friendship and mentorship and, among other things, taking me deep into C.S. Lewis.

My CCC mentors were Marshall Foster (who introduced me initially to the Real Jesus), Steve Kovic, Bill Craig, Stu Goetz, and others. I'm eternally grateful to them all for their input into the early shaping of my life.

Stu went on to get a Ph.D in philosophy and has become a great scholar and apologist. I just finished reading his brilliant book Naturalism, which intends to show the failure of metaphysical naturalism to provide an adequate account of human action. (Co-authoried with Charles Taliaferro.)

Stu writes, among other things, on brain-mind-soul issues. On naturalism the mind is identical. Recently he responded to this question: Doesn't neuroscience justify the claim that our minds are identical with our brains? Stu wrote: "I am not convinced that evidence from neuroscience supports the view that our minds are identical with our brains. The reasons for my not being convinced are several." Here, in brief, are his reasons.

"First, neuroscience contributes nothing substantively new to our understanding of ourselves and our relationship to our bodies."

"Second...: not everything that goes on in our minds is causally determined by what goes on in our bodies."

"Third, is important to note that some of the world’s foremost neuroscientists have believed that the mind is immaterial."

Fourth, "there is no good reason to believe that psychological events are identical with brain events simply because the two are correlated."

Check out the link above to get Stu's explanations of these four points. See especially Naturalism for a full treatment of this issue that is much-discussed and extremely relevant today.

Jupiter - Our Cosmic Protector

Here's an article on the "Jupiter Effect," which forms part of Rare Earth Theory. On July 19 Jupiter took a hit and got a black eye. "An object, probably a comet that nobody saw coming, plowed into the giant planet’s colorful cloud tops, splashing up debris and leaving a black eye the size of the Pacific Ocean. This was the second time in 15 years that this had happened."

But is Jupiter really our "King of Planets as father-protector?" Some say yes, others aren't so sure.

J.P. Moreland & the Miraculous

(Linda and I went on a date in Windsor, Ontario, last Friday night, where I took this picture of the Detroit skyline.)

OK - I'm on a bit of a J.P. Moreland kick right now. Having spent some days with him at a recent conference I wanted to read some more of what he's written.

J.P. has a brilliant mind. I love how he uses it to do kingdom-of-God things. But for J.P. it's not only about good thinking, but also about the presence and power of God. J.P. gave a number of personal, experiential examples for us at the conference. He gives some in his book Kingdom Triangle, and also in The Lost Virtue of Happiness (with Klaus Issler).
I loved his chapter in the latter book called "Defeating Anxiety and Depression." Since I've struggled some with these as well (but not to the extent J.P. has) I very much appreciated what he has to say here.
He also has journaled for 30 years, as have I. He records, among other things, events that can best be described as supernatural and miraculous. J.P. is, to me, a credible witness to the reality of such things. He's certainly a brilliant logician and reasoner who evaluates slowly and cautiously and is not someone who just embraces every claim to a miracle. But he's personally experienced and seen them, saying that "after thirty years of journaling I have hundreds of [miraculous] stories."

I have also written many "signs and wonders" down over the years in my journal. I have found that remembering them can work as an antitdote to worry and depression. J.P. agrees, and writes that meditating on such things "can create faith and expectation when one brings one's hardships before the Lord. It also creates hope because it reminds us that God is a living God who shows up to care for His children!" (Happiness, 175)

I think J.P. is now an important witness to evangelical Christianity of, not only the reasonability of faith in Jesus, but also the experiential reality of a God who, yes, heals the sick and delivers the oppressed.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

When the Church Is At Its Best

"History teaches that the church is often at its vibrant best in competitive, pluralistic environments, where it has to be at the top of its game."

See some real-Jesus stuff happening in Portland which just happens to be "Jesus' favorite city."

(Thanks DJ for this link.)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Lael Arrington & Rick Davis's Excellent Website

(Sidewalk at Michigan State University)

Thanks to Rick Davis and Lael Arrington for their radio talk show The Things That Matter Most. They have compiled a feast of audio interviews, to include things like:

What Spiritual Knowledge Can Do for You - Dallas Willard

The Lost Gnostic Gospel of Judas - Bart Ehrman and Darrell Bock

Beyond Death: Evidence for Immortality - Gary Habermas

Understanding the Muslim Next Door - Sumbul Ali-Karamali

Pastor Turned Atheist Talks to Atheist Turned Pastor - Dave Schmelzer and John Loftus

A Dispassionate and Respectful Discussion about Evolution’s “Flaws" - Paul Nelson and Karl Giberson

Darwin Day: Can You Believe in Evolution and Still be A Christian? - Karl Giberson and Paul Nelson

What is Evil (or Good) and Where Does It Come From? Part I - Michael Shermer and Ben Wiker

What is Evil (or Good) and Where Does It Come From? Part II - Michael Shermer and Ben Wiker

Author of On Bullshit discusses new book, On Truth - Harry Frankfurt

What Does it Take to Believe in God? - Bill Craig

"God the Failed Hypothesis" Part 2 - Victor Stenger and Hugh Ross

How Can We Know What Is True? - J.P. Moreland

Lead Guitarist from Nu-metal band KORN Finds Jesus - Brian "Head" Welch

VeggieTales Creator Offers Evidence for the Reality of God - Phil Vischer

...and A LOT MORE (Deepak Chopra, Sam Harris, Os Guinness, Ravi Zacharias, Paul Maier, A.J. Jacobs, Alister McGrath, Michael Behe, Erwin McManus, John Eldredge, Francis Collins, and so on...).

Dallas Willard On the Good Life

(The River Raisin in Monroe)

Dallas Willard is interviewed in regard to the Atlantic Monthly's essay on the recent Grant Study about how to live a good life, and on the problem of divine hiddenness here. The second interview is based on Willard's newest book Knowing Christ Today: Why We Can Trust Spiritual Knowledge. You can listen to an interview with Willard on his book here - "What Spiritual Knowledge Can Do For You."

Thanks to Lael Arrington for linking me to her websites The Things That Matter Most (with Rick Davis), and A Faith and Culture Devotional (with Kelly Kullberg).

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Way Out of Wheeler-ism

The "Wheelers" are the married couple in "Revolutionary Road" played by Leonardo DeCaprio and Kate Winslet. Outwardly they appear as the perfect couple. How could they have any problems, since they are "the Wheelers?" Ahhh... little do others know that, in their individual selves as in their marriage, they've got nothing. Nothingness defines their lives. Inwardly they are empty. This is significant because they have fulfilled the "American Dream" in what may go down as the most economically prosperous place and time in all of history. The film shows that, if there's not a whole lot more to life than the American Dream we're all in a lot of trouble.

Philosopher J.P. Moreland, in The Lost Virtue of Happiness, writes: "Since the 1960s, for the first time in history a culture - ours - has been filled with what have been called empty selves. The empty self is now an epidemic in America (and in much of Western cultuyre). According to Philip Cushman, "The empty self is filled up with consumer goods, calories, experiences, politicians, romantic partners, and empathetic therapists... [The empty self] experiences a significant absence of community, tradition, and shared meaning... a lack of personal conviction and worth, and it embodies the absences as a chronic, undifferentiated emotional hunger." (Moreland, 17-18)

Moreland gives four traits of the empty self.

1. The empty self is inordinately individualistic. Healthy individualism is a good thing. "But the empty self that populates American culture is a self-contained individual who defines his own life goals, values, and interests as though he were a human atom, isolated from others with little need or responsibility to live for the concerns of his broader community.... But as psychologist Martin Seligman warns, 'The self is a very poor site for finding meaning'." (Moreland, 18-19)

2. The empty self is infantile. "The infantile part of the empty self needs instant gratification, comfort, and soothing. The infantile person is controlled by cravings and constantly seeks to be filled with and made whole by food, entertainment, and consumer goods. Such a person is preoccupied with sex, physical appearance, and body image. He or she tends to live by feelings or experiences.... [P]ain, endurance, hard work and delayed gratification are anathema. Pleasure is all that matters, and it had better be immediate. Boredom is the greatest evil; amusement the greatest good." (Moreland, 19-20)

3. The empty self is narcissistic. "Narcissism is an inordinate and exclusive sense of self-infatuation in which the individual is preoccupied with his or her self-interest and personal fulfillment... Self-denial is out of the question." (Moreland, 20)

4. The empty self is passive. "The couch potato is the role model for the empty self... From watching television to listening to sermons, our primary agenda is to be amused and entertained." (Moreland, 21)

True happiness, on the other hand, comes from "squandering ourselves for a purpose." Here Moreland draws on Jesus' words in Luke 9:23 that we are to deny ourselves and take up our cross daily.

Moreland has written a great chapter that's worth the price of his book on happiness. This is important because "The Wheelers" have been fruitful and multiplied. They are everywhere. American culture is now full-blown Wheeler-istic. Revolutionary Road is brilliant in depicting this. Moreland's work explains it, and shows us the way out.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Planting of the Seeds of Our Discontent: The Empty Self in "Revolutionary Road"

Linda and I just watched "Revolutionary Road." It does an excellent job portraying "the empty self." which is the self that is nothing, the self that has nothing. Leonardo DeCaprio and Kate Winslet are so convincing that I fell like calling them and asking "Are you guys OK?"

In the movie DeCaprio and Winslet "feel" nothing. This causes them to despair because they've come to believe, like most in America today, that the summum bonum of existence is: to feel... something... anything. DeCaprio works at a job and a marriage and family that "bore" him. He's not found his reason for living. The children barely appear in the film and are, essentially, a non sequitur. It's all about two vacuous people who not only still haven't found what they're looking for but have mostly given up looking, and probably wouldn't recognize "it" if they found it.

DeCaprio's wife Winslet sees some kind of greatness in him, and thinks if they just pack up and go live in Paris DeCaprio's greatness will get unpacked. The thought of Paris gives her strong feelings. But these feelings eventually get dashed, and she becomes the Queen of Non-Feeling. At that point in the film she's worse than a Stepford Wife.

"Revolutionary Road" takes place in the 1950s in a Norman Rockwell America. Here, in our land of unlimited abundance and growth and peace, the seeds of our discontent were planted. There's no "revolution" happening on this road, only restlessness and anomie ("an erosion, diminution or absence of personal norms, standards or values, and increased states of psychological normlessness," here).

Now, in 2010, we in America are in full-blown anomie. Emile Durkheim defines this as: "If the rules of the conjugal morality lose their authority, and the mutual obligations of husband and wife become less respected, the emotions and appetites ruled by this sector of morality will become unrestricted and uncontained, and accentuated by this very release." (Here)

I love (in a sense) the way philosopher J.P. Moreland describes the empty self in his book The Lost Virtue of Happiness. I'll share this in a future post.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Francis Collins - Named NIH Chief by Obama

Barack Obama has chosen Francis Collins to lead the National Institutes of Health. "Obama called Dr. Collins "one of the top scientists in the world" in announcing his nomination Wednesday. "His groundbreaking work has changed the very ways we consider our health and examine disease," Obama said."

Collins, former head of the Human Genome Project, is author of The Language of God, which argues for God's existence on the basis of language-like DNA.

'"It is humbling for me, and awe-inspiring, to realize that we have caught the first glimpse of our own instruction book, previously known only to God," he said at a 2000 White House ceremony marking release of the genome's first draft."

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Danny DeVito's Otiose "Penguin"

I've been out all day - meeting with people, studying Matthew 25:1-13 (which I'll preach on this coming Sunday), doing some administrative things, a little but of lawn work on this stunning summer day, played two games of softball in Monroe's city league, and just got home.

I microwave a Dearborn hot dog and put it on multigrain bread - my dinner. I turn on the TV to see if the Tigers are playing. The channel comes on. It's a movie: "Batman Returns."
I saw this movie at the theatre a long time ago. The villain appears. I feel sickness... it's Danny DeVito as the Penguin. This is the WORST "villain" in all movie-dom. "Worst" = revolting. Not revolting because the thing is so frightening, but revulsive and disgusting to watch because of hyper-overacting, horrific makeup that is difficult to look at with that little beak and rotting teeth, dangerous not as a movie villain but as simply something to watch. This smarmy little creature disengages me from the movie and makes one think "I don't like watching this bird." It's as if it is not actually in the movie but appears like a hairy centipede physically crawling on a poorly done painting of which it is not a part. DeVito-Penguin makes me want to go brush and floss my teeth, then take a shower as a purification ritual. Is there, in the entire movie corpus, a greater malapropism than this?

On my list of ten lousiest movie villains #1 is Danny DeVito's interpretation of "The Penguin." Got a lousier villain? Let me know.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Hummingbirds, and Dallas Willard On the Bible

Two weeks ago I and others got to spend 4 days with philosopher J.P. Moreland. He spoke out of his books Kingdom Triangle and The Lost Virtue of Happiness. Kingdom Triangle expresses three things that have been on my heart for many years. A balanced, full life in Christ will: "recover the Christian mind, renovate the soul, and restore the Spirit's power." J.P. is a brilliant and excellent communicator, an example of someone who is able to take deep truths and make them understandable to the average person.

J.P.'s presentation on Romans 12:1-2 is the best I have ever heard on this text. It contained echoes of his mentor, Dallas Willard, especially Willard's The Spirit of the Disciplines, "Spiritual Life: The Body's Fulfillment" (ch. 6) and "St Paul's Psychology of Redemption - The Example" (ch. 7).

I am still thinking deeply about all of this stuff. It has, I believe, impacted me in a way that has not happened for a while.

This morning I am sitting on our back porch. We have 3 1/2 acres of trees and lawn on a river. There's a large, old pine tree adjacent to our back deck. I've got 4 bird feeders, a corn squirrel feeder, and a hummingbird feeder hanging from this tree. The hummingbird that has claimed my feeder comes every few minutes to feed. Chickadees arrive with their young babies begging for food. The same goes for a downy woodpecker family. I regularly see nuthatches, cardinals, redpolls, sparrows, grackles, starlings, robins, a baltimore oriole, even an occasional hawk.

I read my devotional literature, soaking in God's creation and his presence, with me. I read a quote from Dallas Willard on the Bible from A Faith and Culture Devotional. Willard writes:

"On its human side, I assume that [the Bible] was produced and preserved by competent human beings who were at least as intelligent and devout as we are today. I assume that they were quite capable of accurately interpreting their own experience and of objectively presenting what they heard and experienced in the language of their historical community, which we today can understand with due diligence.

On the divine side, I assume that God has been willing and competent to arrange for the Bible, including its record of Jesus, to emerge and be preserved in ways that will secure his purposes for it among human beings worldwide. Those who actually believe in God will be untroubled by this. I assume that he did not and would not leave his message to humankind in a form that can only be understood by a handful of late-twentieth-century professional scholars, who cannot even agree among themselves on the theories that they assume to determine what the message is.

The Bible is, after all, God's gift to the world through his church, not to the scholars. It comes through the life of his people and nourished that life. Its purpose is practical, not academic. An intelligent, careful, intensive but straightforward reading - that is, one not governed by obscure and faddish theories or a mindless orthodoxy - is what it requires to direct us into life in God's kingdom." (pp. 78-79)

I finish typing this. There's the hummingbird again. He hovers, maneuvers, flies backwards, sips the sugar water mixture, moves three feet from my face and stares at me, then bullets away.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Thomas Merton on Writing

(Rockford East High School, Rockford, Illinois, where I graduated from high school in... 1967!)

"If a writer is so cautious that he never writes anything that cannot be criticized, he will never write anything that can be read. If you want to help other people, you have to make up your mind to write things that some men will condemn." (New Seeds of Contemplation)

It's the same with preaching. The point is not to deliberately write or preach things that are controversial. That's artificial and weird. I'm finding that as I preach through the 4 Gospels, just getting to the place where the words and actions of Jesus can be heard brings us to the critical points where decisions must be made.

Pray for Christians in Iraq

I am saddened by today's CNN report of another Christian church bombing in Iraq. This was "the seventh Christian house of worship in the country to be bombed in three days."

"Many of Iraq's estimated 1 million Christians have fled the country after targeted attacks by extremists. In October, more than a thousand Iraqi families fled Mosul after they were reportedly frightened by a series of killings and threats by Muslim extremists, who apparently ordered them to convert to Islam or face possible death. At least 14 Christians were killed in Mosul in the first two weeks of October."

Friday, July 10, 2009

The James Ossuary... as Genuine?

I've told Linda that if I do anything other than what I now do it would be to be a biblical archaeologist. My trip to Israel only solidified this nonsubstantial dream. So the never-to-be-fulfilled-wish arises in my nonphysical mind as I read Ben Witherington's new post on The James Ossuary. The trial continues. According to Ben the ossuary will be seen as genuine. He writes: "the James ossuary will once again provide us with vital extra-Biblical evidence about the holy family, its social status and inter-relationships, and of course the historical existence of James, Joseph, and Jesus. So much for the 'God who doesn't exist' documentary. History and archaeological evidence has a way of making liars of the more extreme skeptics eventually." Fun!

New Testament Resources I Use in Preaching About the Real Jesus

(Last evening's Lake Michigan sunset, St. Joseph, Michigan)

I shared with my friend Keith Cerk, who is a pastor in Waukegan, Illinois, that for 4 years now I've been preaching chronologically through the 4 Gospels on the Real Jesus. Keith asked me what commentaries and study helps I use. I thought I'd post them here.

Craig Keener, A Commentary On the Gospel of Matthew
N.T. Wright, Matthew for Everyone

R.T. France, The Gospel of Mark
N.T. Wright, Mark for Everyone
Ben Witherington, The Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary

Joel Green, The Gospel of Luke
N.T. Wright, Luke for Everyone
Luke Timothy Johnson, The Gospel of Luke

Craig Keener, The Gospel of John: A Commentary
Andreas Kostenberger, John
N.T. Wright, John for Everyone (2 volumes)

In general, the New Testament scholars I now look to, broadly, include: Greg Boyd, Scot McKnight, Craig Blomberg, Craig Keener, N.T. Wright, Craig Evans, R.T. France, Richard Bauckham, and Ben Witherington. Witherington has an excellent website where he makes scholarly book-length posts regularly. One wonders if he has a life outside of blogging. I just purchased Ben's book on the Lord's Table, to be used when I get to that part of the Jesus story. (Making a Meal of It: Rethinking the Theology of the Lord's Supper) Wright's growing, huge contribution to NT studies is invaluable. I use Blomberg's Jesus and the Gospels, finding it very helpful for background information. I use Craig Keener's excellent IVP Bible Background Commentary. Craig personally recommended Michael McClymond's Familiar Stranger: An Introduction to Jesus of Nazareth, and Greg Boyd's Cynic Sage Or Son Of God? I very much like Boyd's The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition, and this book's min-version Lord or Legend?: Wrestling with the Jesus Dilemma. I'll be looking closely at Wright's massive The Resurrection of the Son of God as I approach the end of my Real Jesus preaching. I very much like Craig Evans's Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels. I especially enjoyed Evans's chapter on signs and wonders. Recently I read the collaborative effort of Evans and Wright entitled Jesus, the Final Days: What Really Happened. McKnight's The Jesus Creed is a good read. Occasionally I check out McKnight the uber-blogger's website here. For example, McKnight had a very thorough series of posts on the Kingdom of God in the Gospels some time ago. Eugene Peterson's The Jesus Way is cool. Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels As Eyewitness Testimony is must reading. As is his Jesus and the God of Israel: God Crucified and Other Studies on the New Testament's Christology of Divine Identity. Lastly, I find Lee Strobel's The Case For the Real Jesus excellent.

Since the role of temple worship plays such a central part in the Jesus story I find the following books helpful as providing background: James K. Hoffmeier's The Archaeology of the Bible, and Hershel Shanks's Jerusalem's Temple Mount.

Finally, read the original documents, over and over and over again. Get them inside of you. Pray them. Ponder. Listen to Jesus as He was heard in the first century. To read the 4 Gospels without chapter headings and verses (yeah!!!), try this version, called The Books of the Bible, from The International Bible Society.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Get Sozo-ed Rather Than "Accept Christ"

I'm reading through unchristian. It's a Barna report about the perceptions 16-to-29-year-olds have about "Christians" and "Christianity."

Here's a quote from Charles Colson on "getting saved" and "accepting Christ."

"The gospel cannot be merely a private transaction. God didn't break through history, through time and space, to come as a babe, be incarnated, and suffer on the cross just so you can come to him and say, "Oh, I accept Jesus and now I can live happily ever after." That's not why he came... Jesus came as a radical to turn the world upside down. When we believe it is just about Jesus and yourself, we miss the whole point. I even dislike using the words "accept Christ" anymore - because it is so much more than that. Christianity is a way of seeing all of life and reality through God's eyes. That's what Christianity is: a worldview, a system, and a way of life... It is the most exciting, radical, revolutionary story ever told." (unchristian, 87-88)

Indeed. "Sozo" ("salvation") is a huge, deep, wide, and long concept. "Making a decision for Christ" is, if it even fits at all, only a tiny part of being sozo-ed. And without living a kingdom life "accepting Christ" is irrelevant and fundamentally misleading.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Come Study With Me for 9 Months

Come study for 9 months with me from September 13 - June 6. We have a Ministry School that I’d like you to consider being a part of. Here are some reasons why.

Redeemer Minisry School will be unique in its combination of both the heart and the mind. God is bringing together the experiential and the academic.
The core of our training is about The Kingdom of God, as lived and taught by Jesus. The 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.

We 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. These leaders will introduce you to:
- Whole-being worship as a lifestyle
- Worship & Creativity
- Leadership as influence through community building
- Counseling that changes the human heart
- Spiritual transformation, renovation, and renewal
- How to study, interpret, teach, and preach the Scriptures
- Physical and emotional healing of the person
- The nature of spiritual battle, and deliverance from the demonic
- Apologetics – defending our belief in God & Jesus

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!

Sunday, July 05, 2009

What Are the Best Arguments Against God's Existence?

Linda and I are spending the night in the historic district of Philadelphia. We've just finished 9 days of "conferencing" in Wisconsin and, this weekend, in Philadelphia at Villanova University.

This weekend's conference was with my dear friends at Faith Bible Church in New York City. Dr. John Hao and his wife Rosie are the great leaders of FBC. This was their annual summer conference, and I was the main speaker for the English-speaking Chinese congregation.

As I was about the leave Villanova early this afternoon one of the young Chinese men asked me the question: what are the best atheistic arguments available today? My immediate answer was: 1) the evidential argument from evil; and 2) the argument from divine hiddenness. The two best books on these are: The Evidential Argument from Evil, edited by Daniel Howard-Snyder, and Divine Hiddenness: New Essays, edited by Howard-Snyder and Paul Moser. Both books are collections of essays written by atheists, agnostics, and theists. If you want to dive into these arguments these are the books to begin with. (Note: they are rigorous philosophically.)

I brought Divine Hiddenness with me on these trips, and read several essays. I was especially taken by philosopher Paul Moser's essay "Cognitive Idolatry and Divine Hiding." I think I'm going to give it a re-read. Especially since J.P. Moreland, who was the main speaker at the Wisconsin conference I was at, highly recommended the work Moser is now doing. I'd really like to read Moser's edited collection of essays Jesus and Philosophy: New Essays. Nicholas Rescher calls Moser's The Elusive God: Reorienting Religious Epistemology "a profound and illuminating treatment on as big an issue as issues get." To me it looks like Moser's "Cognitive Idolatry" essay in Divine Hiddenness is a brief version of his full-blown study done in The Elusive God. But... it's $72.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

The Justification Debate

There's a nice synopsis of "The Justification Debate" between N.T. Wright and John Piper here.

Download the creative PDF.

I have not yet read Piper's challenge to Wright and Wright's response yet.