Monday, August 31, 2009

Replace Facebook with Soulbook

(Thinking, in Sioux Falls)
Thomas Merton wrote that the inmost secret of our being need not become manifest or public to all. (Seasons of Celebration) Indeed, most people are far from being in touch with the deep waters of their own hearts (Proverbs 20:5). Which means, I think, that multitudes open their mouths and out comes thoughts from the surfaces of their hearts. Hence, the barrage of Internet trivialities and rumors and sophomorisms that now prevail.

The human heart is a deep thing. It is a slow cooker, not a microwave. Getting in touch with mysteries that lie within requires time, and this time must be spent in a certain way. Merton writes: "We are most truly Christian persons when our inmost secret remains a mystery shared by ourselves and God, and communicated to others in a way that is at the same time secret and public." We are not "to root out the inner secret of the individual in order to put it on display in a spiritual beauty contest."

Merton calls this way of thinking "Christian personalism." (Merton's personalism has similarities to the philosophy of Personalism.) For Merton Christian personalism "is the sacramental sharing of the inner secret of personality in the mystery of love... [It is] the discovery of one's inmost self, and of the inmost self of one's neighbor, in the mystery of Christ." This is "a discovery that respects the hiddenness and incommunicability of each one's personal secret." (Ibid.)

In America today too much is on display. And that which is on display is not essential, but superficial and mostly trivial. What is needed is not more "information" but wisdom, and wisdom is slow-cultivated in the deep waters of the human heart and authentic community where such things can be discovered. Instead of "Facebook" we need "Soulbook."

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Facebook Exodus

I joined Facebook. Then I left Facebook. I re-joined Facebook. That's the story of my life.

I joined Facebook because I could see the pictures of Japan that Dan and Allie posted, plus a few other things.

I left Facebook because I could not stomach the voyeurism. I didn't care then and I don't care now about knowing whether Sean hates Ashleigh because she texted Jason while he was with Hannah who supposedly loves Sean.

I re-joined Facebook for the photo-thing again and a few more things I like. I just have to close my eyes when the voyeurism shows its shallow face.

Today's nytimes says there is a "Facebook Exodus." Good. As an introvert whose roots are from Finland, the fewer people the better. My hope and expectation is that one day, not too far into the future. Facebook will be old school, uncool. A few stragglers will be left, leaving Facebook with a digital terrain like northern Finland. Facebook will then be a long walk in the woods with animals and birds and few people in sight. That's what I'm looking for!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Logic & Religion

Yesterday I began my 10th year of teaching philosophy at MCCC. I'm teaching two courses: Intro to Logic, and Philosophy of Religion. I love teaching these courses!

It's helpful for students to have some background in philosophical logic prior to taking philosophy of religion, since the latter involves some very technical, high-powered logical arguments. So along the way I explain some basic logical concepts to my phil or religion students.

In my logic class I supplement my brute teaching of logic with various logical arguments that illustrate logic. For example, last evening I presented this argument:

1) The more trainable an animal is the smarter it is.

2) Dogs are more trainable than cats.

3) Therefore, dogs are smarter than cats.

Note first that this argument is "logical." What that means is: if P1 and P2 are true (premise 1 & premise 2), then the conclusion follows inexorably. Thus the statement Dogs are smarter than cats would be true. Further, it would be true for everybody.

I find it interesting that in both classes yesterday some students brought up the idea that something could be "true for you but not true for me." Philosophers,k especially logicians, are not interested in this. In logic "truth" is a function of statements, and a "statement" is a sentence that is either true or false. If it is true that Dogs are smarter than cats than this is true for you and for me and for everyone on the planet even if they have been educated otherwise.

So I'll be introducing a lot of students this fall to truth-issues. Such as: God exists. That sentence is statement. Therefore it's either true or false. Both theistic and atheistic philosophers agree on that. Both theists and atheists then try to either logically prove it to be true or prove it to be false. I think the statement God exists is true. This means, in the philosophy of religion and logic sense, that one can formulate an argument (supporting premises made of statements) that leads to a conclusion (a statement). I always invite challenges and disagreement, and we always present the relative counterarguments and let students know how they can pursue further studies.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

"Doubt" is Better Than "Elf"

Recently I presented the following inductive logical argument to my daughter-in-law Allie. The argument is:

1. Any movie with Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman is probably better than any movie with Will Farrell and Bob Newhart.

2. "Doubt" has Streep and Hoffman.

3. "Elf" has Farrell and Newhart.

4. Therefore "Doubt" is probably better than "Elf."

2 & 3 are true.

If 1 is true, then 4 logically follows.


1. Oscars won: Streep - 2; Hoffman - 1; Farrell - 0; Newhart - 0.

2. Oscar Nominations: Streep - 10; Hoffman - 2; Farrell - 0; Newhart - 0.

3. Score: Streep & Hoffman 13, Farrell & Newhart 0.

4. From P 1-3 we conclude, inductively, as follows: Streep & Hoffman are better actors than Farrell & Newhart.

5. From 4 we conclude: the acting is better in "Doubt" than it is in "Elf."

6. The play "Doubt" won a Pulitzer Prize. The 32-page book "Elf" has won no prizes.

7. From 6 we conclude that "Doubt" is more well-written than "Elf."

8. From 1-7 we conclude that "Doubt" is a superior piece of writing with superior actors, and "Elf" is less-than-superior with less-than-superior actors.

Therefore P1 in my original argument stands.

Therefore my conclusion stands.
NOTE: That some will still find "Elf" superior to "Doubt" only points to their inability to render true aesthetic judgments.

Satanic Inspiration of Annoyance


For several months my spiritual focus has been on the love of God. To know the love of God, and to love others with the same love.

I am stunned by the love of Jesus who, hanging on the cross, still exhibited a heart of love towards his crucifiers. Here is one reason why the "WWJD?" bracelets don't work. They minimize, and even trivialize, the Real Jesus. Jesus loved his enemies! He didn't wear a bracelet saying "WWID?" ("What Would I Do?") The heart of Jesus was love. My heart is not. I see this clearly since I get irritated and annoyed with people who are not my enemies. One wonders what I might do when I actually encounter someone who is out to bring me down.

C.S. Lewis, in The Screwtape Letters, addresses this issue in terms of the marital relationship. Here the demon Screwtape gives advice to a subordinate demon on how to push the evil-button on a Jesus-follower:

"When two humans have lived together for many years it usually happens that each has tones of voice and expressions of face which are almost unendurably irritating to the other. Work on that. Bring fully into the consciousness of your patient that particular lift of his mother's eyebrown which he learned to dislike in the nursery, and let him think how much he dislikes it. Let him assume that she knows how annoying it is and does it to annoy - if you know your job he will not notice the immense improbability of the assumption. And, of course, never let him suspect that he has tones and looks which similarly annoy her. As he cannot see or hear himself, this is easily managed."

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

God's Presence at First B - Sioux Falls

Linda and I arrived home last evening from our visit to Sioux Falls. We were with the people of First B - Sioux Falls, and had a wonderful time. God was speaking to me over the weekend, and I'll be processing some of these things today. Thoughts include:

We made some new friends!

Sioux Falls is a beautiful community. Yesterday morning I walked from our hotel to the falls - I wish they were here in Monroe; they would become my new favorite place to sit down, slow down, read the Bible, listen to God, pray...

The First B people were so gracious to us. If you're from First B - thank you for your great hospitality. You accepted us and made us feel at home.

I spoke Sunday morning on Living In the Presence of God. For Jesus followers the distinguishing characteristic is to be that we host the preence of God. Christ, the hope of glory, resides in us by God's Spirit. I am really thinking about this right now.

Every teacher has moments where, while speaking to others, are themselves being spoken-to. So God was addressing me this weekend, and is doing so even now as I write. I want, more than anything, to live and breathe out of the presence of God.

This is very practical for me. For example, I'm far from loving as Jesus loves, and cry out to God for him to produce greater love within me.

And, I have so many people I care for that are now struggling and hurting, and whatever natural abilities I have are not able to pull them out of their darkness. So, for these people, I want to access God's powerful, loving, personal presence, and then be used by God to bring freedom to them. God will get all the credit, and I'll be personally blown away that God would work through me to bring any good to anyone.

Look at this. We read, in Exodus 33:15-19 - "Then Moses said to him, "If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?"

See that? The God-follower's distinctive, the mark of the real Jesus-follower, is not personal intellect or ability or skill. What is to make us different is not that we are nicer than other people (because we're not, at least not always, and I've met non-Jesus-followers who are nicer than myself).

It is true that the "mark of the Christian" is that "we love one another." Jesus said, "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:33-35) True. But this love is from God and "by His Spirit." I John 3:23-24 - "And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us."

That's true. We are to love as Christ loves. But this kind of love, which is supernatural, is "by the Spirit."

To sum it up: 1) Jesus-followers have Christ in them. We have the indwelling Holy Spirit. We host the presence of God. 2) Hosting God's presence is key to loving like Jesus loved and still loves. It's key to doing the "greater things" Jesus predicted we would be doing. 3) Today, host God's presence. Desire it. Welcome it. Be led by God. Experience God. Know God. God, give me some of that this morning, and I'll be good to go. I bless my new friends in Sioux Falls with a day of God with you all!

And... show us all Your glory...

("And the LORD said to Moses, "I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name."
Then Moses said, "Now show me your glory."
And the LORD said, "I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion."")

Friday, August 21, 2009

John Walton's Excellent Book on Genesis 1

Linda and I are in Sioux Falls speaking and leading worship at a prayer and worship conference. We were supposed to arrive at 4:30 yesterday but, due to weather delays in Minneapolis and Sioux Falls, didn't gete here until 9:30.

So, we sat in airports and read. I finished John Walton's The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate. What a phenomenal book. I am deeply impacted by it. I'll be thinking about this for a very long time. Walton's proposal is that a "cosmic temple inauguration" best interprets Genesis 1.

Thank you John for writing this for us all.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Horizontsverschmelzung & Fundamentalist Hermeneutics

(Genesis 1:1; Painting with Light, by Mark Lawrence)

A few minutes ago I opened my front door, walked onto our front porch, and picked up the package that arrived today from Inside was the new book by Wheaton College professor of Old Testament John Walton - The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate.

I brought the book upstairs to the room I use as my office and began reading. The Introduction alone, to me, is well worth the price of the book. It's clear and brilliant on the nature of interpretation. I'll pull a few quotes and make a few comments, but I suggest that this little 6-page introduction is a primer on biblical hermeneutics. Here we go!

"The Old Testament was written for us, but it was not written to us." Stop here. Absorb that thought, follow it, and the words of Scripture will begin to open up in a new way.

  • The OT is written in a language most of us don't understand; therefore the OT requires translation. But translation is far from enough. Because "language assumes a culture, operates in a culture, serves a culture, and is designed to communicate into the framework of a culture." (9)

  • "Translation involves lifting the ideas from their native context and relocating them in our own context." (10)

  • "The minute anyone (professional or amateur) attempts to translate the culture, we run the risk of making the text communicate something it never intended. Rather than translating the culture, then, we need to enter the culture." (11) This seems akin but not necessarily equivalent to Hans-Georg Gadamer's of Horizontsverschmelzung, or the fusing or merging of horizons of meaning. (Found in Gadamer's Truth and Method).

  • "Truly learning the [Hebrew] language requires leaving English behind, entering the world of the text and understanding the language in its Hebrew context without creating English words in [our] minds. [We] must understnad the Hebrew as Hebrew text. This is the same with culture. We must make every attempt to set our English categories aside, to leave our cultural ideas behind, and try our best (as limited as the attempt might be) to understand the material in its cultural context without translating it." (11)

  • We should not think of Israel as being "influenced" by ancient Babylonian and Egyptian culture; rather, they were all part of that culture. "For example, we do not borrow the idea of consumerism, nor are we influenced by it. We are consumers because we live in a capitalist society that is built on consumerism. We don't have to think about it or read about it." (14)

  • On "mythology." We label certain literature "myths" because we do not believe the world works that way. "But for the people to whom that mythology belonged, it was a real description of deep beliefs. Their "mythology" expressed their belief concerning what made the world what it was; it expressed their theories of origins and of how their world worked. By this definition, our modern mythology is represented by science - our own theories of origins and operations." (14-15)
My experience with fundamentalist hermeneutics is that such things are not only not acknowledged but fundamentalist interpreters of Scripture have been largely ignorant of them. A kind of cultural speciesism causes them to favor their own cultural and temporal horizon of meaning, thus abusing the biblical texts by forcing them, anachronistically, into a place where they don't fit in the sense of retaining their meaning.

Of Walton's book Davis Young of Calvin College writes: "Every theologian, every pastor, every Christian in the natural sciences must put aside all other reading material this minute and immediately begin to absorb the contents of John Walton's The Lost World of Genesis One. He has blown away all the futile attempts to elicit modern science from the first chapter of the Bible." Well, that's exacty what I have just done!

Finally, Bruce Waltke of Reformed Theological Seminary writes: Walton's "view that the seven days refers to the inauguration of the cosmos as a functioning temple where God takes up residence as his headquarters from which he runs the world merits reflection by all who love the God of Abraham."

Sioux Falls Conference on Prayer, Transformation, & the Presence of God

Linda and I travel to Sioux Falls tomorrow where we'll speak and teach at a conference on prayer, listening to God, and living in the presence of God.

The conference link is here.

Conference Schedule

DRAWING CLOSER: A Prayer and Worship Weekend Leading to Spiritual Transformation

Friday Evening
Registration ($10)
6:30-7 p.m.

Worship with FBC Worship Band
7-7:30 p.m.

How to Hear the Voice of God - John Piippo
7:30-9 p.m.

Saturday Morning

Registration (if not already, still $10)
8:30-9 a.m.

Worship with FLC Worship Band with John and Linda Piippo
9-9:30 a.m.

How to Have an Effective Prayer Life - John Piippo
9:30 a.m.-noon

Saturday Afternoon

For an Audience of OneWorship Workshop with John & Linda
3-5:15 p.m.

Worship Workshop Attenders' Supper with John & Linda
5:30-6:30 p.m.

Saturday Evening

Worship with John, Linda and workshop attenders
7-8 p.m.

Role of Worship in Spiritual Renewal & Transformation - John Piippo
8-9 p.m.

Sunday Morning

Sanctuary ServiceWhat it Means to be in the Presence of God
8:45 a.m.

Family Life Center WorshipWhat it Means to be in the Presence of God
11 a.m.

Sunday Evening

Worship in Family Life Center

Fresh Anointing for New Intimacy in Prayer Life
7 p.m.

Questions and Answers with Coffee and Dessert

Let us know you're coming!Register Here!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

"Knowing" Leads to Un-knowing

Last night I dreamt that I was in a foreign country with Linda and my sons. I left them for a moment. Suddenly, there were evil people with guns surrounding me, separating me from my family. As if in a dream (which I was), I escaped the bad guys, and searched for the family. Finally I saw them. That's when I awoke out of the dream, still feeling its fearful effect on me. Where did this dream come from?

It came from watching one of the worst movies I've ever seen. Yes, worse than the Indiana Jones - Crystal Skull thing (if anything could ever be worse than that!); yes, worse than "Elf." Before going to bed last night Linda and I watched Nicholas Cage in "Knowing." I chose it because on the dvd cover Roger Ebert gives it a thumbs-up. After watching it I am dumbfounded. Did Ebert and I watch the same movie? Is Ebert out of his crystal skull?

Stop here for a moment. Because I find this astonishing. Ebert writes: ""Knowing" is among the best science-fiction films I've seen -- frightening, suspenseful, intelligent and, when it needs to be, rather awesome... The plot involves the most fundamental of all philosophical debates: Is the universe deterministic or random? Is everything in some way preordained or does it happen by chance? If that questions sounds too abstract, wait until you see this film, which poses it in stark terms: What if we could know in advance when the Earth will end?" I cannot believe I am reading this. "Knowing" is an insult to philosophy as well as acting and writing and creativity and intelligence. Ebert's former partner Gene Siskel, who had a B.A. in philosophy, now cries out from the grave...

I fell asleep half-way through "Knowing." I knew I would miss nothing. I came out of unconsciousness as the film was, mercifully, nearing its end. But oh, what a sorry ending. I asked Linda if we could fast-forward to the credits so I could see if anyone would want to take credit for the thing. The film's end combines ET, Close Encounters, crystal-skull-istic moods, Gladiator-type digital wheatfields with children running through them, New York City being again destroyed by a tsunami of fire, Times Square once again going down in the inferno, Nicholas Cage with a silly blank look on his face akin to Tom Cruise's mono-face in "Valkyrie," arguably the most ridiculous disconnect of background music and end-of-the-world annihilation ever, ending with earth as a french fry.

Then, for me, a tsunami of relief as I realized that this has ended. Then to bed. Then "Knowing" launches one more attack in the form of my nightmare. Now, I write as self-catharsis. Some things in life must be un-known.

Redeemer Ministry School Fall Classes

Redeemer Ministry School's 2009-2010 school year will be starting soon. If you are interested in being a full-time RMS student please let me know as soon as possible. Full-time in our RMS house: $3200; full-time living elsewhere: $1600. Part-time students: $240/class (books provided in tuition cost).

Classes begin Tuesday, September 22.

Worship I - taught by Holly Benner - T - Th, 9:30 - 11 AM.

Spiritual Formation - taught by John Piippo - W - F, 9:30 - 11 AM.

Bible Study Methods I - taught by Josh Bentley - W - F, 11:30 - 1.

Kingdom of God I - taught by Jim Collins - Thursdays, 4:30 - 7:30.

Title: Worship I - Intimacy and Worship
Description: True worship and adoration comes from intimacy with God. Intimacy and Worship will focus on building and furthering that love relationship with Him while defining what a lifestyle of worship looks like. Studies will include the life of David, the Psalms, Song of Solomon, and others.

Title: Personal Spiritual Life
Description: In order to be used by God as an agent of renewal and transformation one must be in a continual place of personal renewal and transformation. This course will combine times of personal prayer, spiritual journaling, and teaching from biblical and historical resources on what it means to dwell in the presence of God and be renewed and transformed.

Title: Bible Study Methods I
Description: This course will provide students with systematic methods of studying scripture. Through those methods students will also learn how to practically apply their understanding as they study different books of the Bible.

Title: Kingdom of God I
Description: The main teaching of Jesus was about the “kingdom of God” or “kingdom of heaven.” This course will present the major interpretations of the meaning of the kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed. Students will learn the kingdom's impact on their lives and ministry, discovering how Jesus is active today while the earth awaits the full consummation of His kingdom.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Demolition Derby & a Philosophy Lecture

It's county fair time here in Monroe County. A few nights ago I went with my son Josh and some of his friends to see Demolition Derby. As I was waiting for the destruction to begin I thought of a Philosophy Lecture I recently attended at the University of Michigan (Matthew Evans on Mind-Body Dualism in Plato's Phaedo). . I began to wonder: what are the similarities and differences between these two events?

1) Numbers. There were, maybe, 12 of us at the Philosophy Lecture (PL). This includes myself and three college students I brought with me. There were 5,000 at Demolition Derby (DD). If you conclude that DD is more popular than PL, you would be correct. Perhaps the vast difference in interest is an indicator of our greater societal problems. We are not, as Plato desired, a nation ruled by philosopher-kings.

2) Venue. PL was in the philosophy library at the U of Michigan. Two rows of about 20 chairs were set before a small podium. The PL organizers were not expecting many to come. DD was at the Monroe County Fairgrounds in a coliseum-type atmosphere. Grandstands and bleachers surrounded a large dirt area that was periodically watered-down so the cars would not achieve high speeds. This dirt area was encased in large cement barriers, much like the cement barriers that protect the White House from terrorists, only these barriers were meant to keep the terror inside the track. The U of M philosophy library was inside a large Greco-Roman style building with massive columns framing ascending steps. DD was held outside. There were mosquitos. There were no bugs in the philosophy library, just the smell of old philosophy books.

3) Understandability. The PL was challenging for me. While I have read the Phaedo, I am far from a Phaedo scholar. I am very interested in mind-body issues. So I felt I was able to keep up with Evans's presentation fairly well, due especially to the clarity of his presentation. But when the U-M philosophers began dialoguing with Evans there were times when I was totally lost. DD, on the other hand, was easy to understand. Which makes me think that this is one reason why more people were at DD than at PL (but not the only reason, as we shall see). There's an old child's game we used to play called "King of the Hill." The last person standing on top of the hill at the game's end is the winner. In DD the last car driving at the game's end is the winner. In this regard DD is to be applauded for its simplicity and clarity, which makes me think that if we want to be ruled by philosopher-kings then philosopher-kings must bring the philosophical ideas down to this level.

4) Food & drink. Food and drink were not provided at the PL. I have been at a few PLs where cookies were provided, but the cookies have never been homemade. At DD one could purchase: popcorn, elephant ears, funnel cakes, funnel sticks, pop, hot dogs, cheese nachos, cotton candy, snow cones, ice cream, corn dogs, caramel corn, lemonade, hamburgers, bratwurst, and more I am sure. PL-hosts might learn something from this if they desire at all to increase attendance at their PLs. But it is not at all clear that they wish to do this. I sensed no disappointment that only 12 attended the PL with Matthew Evans.

5) Purpose. The purpose of the PL was: learning. The purpose of DD was: entertainment and money-making.

6) Mood. The mood at the PL can be described as: cordial, polite, serious, academic, controversial, long-winded, at times boring, and individuated. The mood at DD was: raucous, violent, sexual (see the many teens and adult teen-wannabies constantly parading their assets before the throngs of people), occasionally exciting, loud, primitive, at times boring, long, and tribal.

7) People. At the PL - sitting in the chair in front of me was the brilliant philosopher Peter Railton. Victor Caston moderated the event. The rest were, I assume, U of M philosophy professors. I was sitting in a room of great Western philosophical minds - the ultimate individuated experience! At DD - I sitting in a grandstand with the Kierkegaardian "masses" and the Nietzchean "herd." The tribal experience par excellence.

8) Personal. I enjoyed the PL very much. I learned a few things and got some direction for personal research and study. I loved the environment. I'm glad I live close to one of the world's great philosophy departments so I can catch an occasional lecture or event. There's a familar "feel" about it for me, reminding me of my undergraduate philosophy classes that got smaller and smaller and the course numbers got higher and higher. I think of the very small Ph.D classes and seminars I was a part of when I attended Northwestern U. I enjoyed DD as a cultural event. I especially liked it when two cars would race towards each other and hit, full-force, head-on. It reminded me of some relationships I am trying help.

9) Conclusion. When I was at DD I pulled out my 3X5 note cards and began writing. Things like DD, which is like life, always drive me to philosophy and theology and the humanities. I wish Peter Railton had been with me! I'd love to ask him, what are you making of this?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Missing Piece of Richard Dawkins's Brain

There's a nice article at, "Must Science Declare a Holy War on Religion?" by Chris Mooney and Sheri Kirschenbaum. It's on Richard Dawkins's forthcoming book The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution, and raises the questions as to who will actually read it and will it change anybody's mind?

Mooney and Kirschenbaum question the Dawkins - P.Z. Myers approach which is akin to Mixed Martial Arts fighting. For example Myers, responding to "fanatical Catholics," writes: "Don't confuse the fact that I find you and your church petty, foolish, twisted and hateful to be a testimonial to the existence of your petty, foolish, twisted, hateful god." Which leaves me now sitting here wondering if P.Z. could love someone like me...

Dawkins and Myers want to commit genocide against the American Assn. for the Advancement of Science and the National Academy of Sciences, who "take the stance that science and religion can be perfectly compatible." As does the National Center for Science Education.

Mooney and Kirschenbaum ask, what would Darwin have done in this situation? They write:

"It turns out that late in life, when an atheist author asked permission to dedicate a book to Darwin, the great scientist wrote back his apologies and declined. For as Darwin put it, "Though I am a strong advocate for free thought on all subjects, yet it appears to me (whether rightly or wrongly) that direct arguments against Christianity & theism produce hardly any effect on the public; & freedom of thought is best promoted by the gradual illumination of men's minds, which follows from the advance of science.""

Mooney and Kirshenbaum need to remember that, as wonderful and true as Darwin's idea here is, Dawkins is the king of projective psychology as he regularly claims in The God Delusion that, "Yes, ____ said this many years ago, but were ____ alive today he would agree with me." Dawkins's brain lacks the God-gene and, apart from a miracle of God, nothing will be able to change his "mind" about this.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Our 36th Anniversary - 5 Random Thoughts

(Linda and I in Israel)

August 11, 1973 - Linda and I got married in DeKalb, Illinois. Today we'll celebrate 36 years of covenant togetherness by going swimming (at a beautiful outdoor pool located on the shores of Lake Erie), eating together, strolling and shopping, and maybe catching a movie. I have some random thoughts...

1) On marriage - it's a covenant relationship, not a contractual relationship. "Covenant" is like two pieces of paper super-glued together, only parted by death. Life-allegiance is pledged before God, to one another, and to one's tribe. What then matters is - are the man and the wife truthful people, people of their word? Marriage-as-covenant takes such things seriously. When one covenant partner tears away from the other great psycho-spiritual damage is done. For evidence of this see the recent Time magazine article on marriage, as well as U-Columbia's Judith Wallenstein in her book The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: A 25 Year Landmark Study. In covenant-marital partnership much is at stake, and much is to be gained.

Contractual relationships, on the other hand, are like two post-it notes stuck together. Not so much is at stake, eternal promises before one's tribe have not been publicly declared, and when one partner pulls away from the other the other remains largely intact, perhaps to affix itself to another post-it-note-person.

2) In covenant marriage much can be learned that cannot be learned in cohabiting (shacking up for a season). In marriage the norm is that opposites have attracted. This explains "infatuation" as the feeling that the other has qualities I do not have and I am made "complete" by the other. While opposite-attraction remains in healthy marriages, opposite-tensions emerge. One wakes up one day to find that the other isn't normal like me. We don't see eye-to-eye on everything! For relationships this is normal and this is good, because without such tension character growth will be stunted and we'll remain "forever young" (eternal adolescents) in a bad way. Linda and I have grown immensely in marriage, and a lot of it has come through facing interpersonal conflict and working through it, learning deeper meanings of the word "love" along the way.

3) Humility is necessary. Linda and I have confessed to one another and forgiven one another innumerable times in our 36 years together. This is more important than communicating clearly. We still struggle with this. But we work at understanding each other. Which leads me to think...

4) Important in marriage: to understand, and to be understood. Deeper love understands and feels understood by the other. To love is to understand; to be understood is to feel and be loved. Again, real understanding requires humility. I am from Mars, Linda is from Venus, and as such we don't think alike all the time. It takes effort to understand the one you love so much yet who, at times, appears to arrived on your earth from a distant planet.

5) The importance of sharing a high ideal. When Linda and I got married we were both musicians. One day a friend told me "I see that your music has brought you together." False. Music, as wonderful as it is, won't hold a marriage together in covenant when the earthquakes of life hit. The higher the shared ideal, the stronger the marriage will be. Two people passionate about life's purpose and their own raison d'etre stand a far better chance of making it than the couple that merely shares a passion for sex. For Linda and I the idea is God and following Jesus. Of course we both think there is a God and that God has come to us in the form of his Son. But note this: even if that were not true it would remain that our life together is focused not on our own personal happiness (which I think never works) but on something outside of our own selves, even to, at times, the detriment of our own happiness. We sacrifice for the sake of the greater cause, which all marital couples do when they passionately believe in one. Note: this makes all the difference in marriage! Lack this, and the many tiny irreconcilable differences begin to eat away at the marital soul.

I'm always thankful to God for bringing Linda into my life and she, to my occasional amazement, is thankful for me!

FYI: if you are interested Linda and I will lead and teach a marriage conference we're calling "Drawing Closer." October 23-24, 2009. Call 734-242-5277 for information.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

The Case for Human Uniqueness

I've long understood that humans and chimpanzees are surprisingly similar in their genetic makeup. OK. What are the implications of this? For example, one can find physical similarities between a person and, say, a tree, just in terms of sheer matter. Because, ultimately, all material forms (rocks, trees, humans, etc.) come from the same raw stuff. Further, if we are so genetically like chimps why are so very different? Jeremy Taylor's coming book Not a Chimp: The Hunt to Find the Genes that Make Us Human addresses this, and is reviewed in The Spiked Review of Books.

From the review: "Taylor sets out to argue that it is ‘as wrong as it is misguided’ to ‘exaggerate the narrowness of the gap between chimpanzees and ourselves’: ‘It plays into the hands of our natural propensity to anthropomorphise our pets and other animals, and even our inanimate possessions, and it has allowed us to distort what the science is trying to tell us.’ His aim is ‘to set the record straight and restore chimpanzees to arm’s length’."

Taylor writes: "Though you may argue that all the differences between us and chimpanzees, from variation among neurotransmitter regulators to spindle cell populations and a host of genes to do with the nervous system, metabolism, and immunity, are a matter of degree – quantitative rather than qualitative differences – I think that these quantitative differences are of such magnitude that their combined effect is to produce a cognitive creature that is unique and whose mind is in a league of its own."

Thus, the genetic uniqueness of humans to chimps, which most of Taylor's book is about. This is certain to upset some whose worldview rejects any talk of such things. But such can be the results of science which, when done purely, is ignorant of politics.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Today's Christian Leaders Have Little Use for Prayer

("Asia," one of my dog-friends.)

Today's has an article on mega-churches and their effectiveness. In the article we read: "It's no secret that too many evangelical leaders are captivated more by business culture than biblical culture, spending more time absorbed in strategies and effectiveness and relatively little time in prayer."

Agreed. I know this to me true, from my POV. I estimate that 80% of today's pastors and Christian leaders lack a meaningful prayer life. The statistics are better from non-Westernized pastors and leaders. I base this on: 1) 30 years of teaching spiritual formation and prayer at various seminaries, conferences, churches, pastors' retreats, both in the U.S. and elsewhere; 2) functioning as a spiritual coach/director for 700 pastors and leaders, having them submit their journals to me for discernment and guidance, etc.

What this means, to me, is that there are a great number of "Christian leaders" who have little or not ongoing, deep relationship with God. Hence: relevancy in terms of culture but irrelevancy in terms of God. Hence: hypocrisy, if our leaders and pastors are telling their people that they need God in their lives. Which I hope they are. But which will not be credible if they "are more captivated by business culture than biblical culture."

I think we have a problem.

Monday, August 03, 2009

The New Yorker Tries to Resurrect the Gnostic Judas

In today's New Yorker Joan Acocella amazingly tries to resurrect "The Gospel of Judas" as but one viable alternative reading of Jesus. The "proto-orthodox" Christians (the ones who won out and took their favorite Jesus narratives with them) chose four gospels out of the many gospels circulating. Acocella writes: "Of the many gospels circulating, they chose four, called Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, which, by reason of their realism and emotional directness—their lilies of the field and prodigal sons—were most likely to appeal to regular people."

Well, these four were chosen over the Gospel of Judas, but not because they "were most likely to appeal to regular people." Ben Witherington writes:

"The Gospel of Judas is a document carbon-dated to the beginning of the fourth century and bearing all the earmarks of a Gnostic theology that did not exist before the second half of the second century. Judas, for example, is quoted as telling Jesus he will help him slough off the flesh and so get into the spiritual realm and condition more quickly if Judas will just betray him to the authorities. This sort of felsh/spirit dualism certainly characterizes much of later Gnosticism, but it in no way comports with the historical Jesus's view, for he was a proponent of a very different form of eternal life - life in a resurrection body." (Witherington, What Have They Done With Jesus, 7-8)

Witherington cites Jewish scholar Amy-Jill Levine, author of The Misunderstood Jew, as saying that the Gospel of Judas tells us nothing about the historical Jesus or the historical Judas. (Ib., 8) "She was equally clear that she didn't see anything in these documents that could or should shake the faith of modern Christians, because of course this document is not a first-century document written by anyone who knew Jesus or Judas." (Ib.) Contrast this with Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, all of which were written in the first century when there still would have been eyewitnesses to Jesus. (See, among other works, Richard Bauckham's brilliant Jesus and the Eyewitnesses.)

Craig Evans writes: "It is highly unlikely that the Gospel of Judas preserves for us authentic, independent material, material that supplements our knowledge of Judas and his relationship to Jesus. No doubt some popular writers will produce some fanciful stories about the "true story," but that is all that they will produce - fanciful stories. Even James Robison, who is no traditional Christian by any stretch, dismisses the Gospel of Judas as having no value for understanding the historical Judas. He is undoubtedly correct." (Evans, Fabricating Jesus, 244)

Acocella is one such "popular writer." She's a "dance critic," for God's sake. Here New Yorker article cuts and pastes stuff that's been in circulation for years. Except that her aesthetic writing churns out howlers like: "Far more shocking, however, was the book’s [Gospel of Judas] portrait of Jesus. We know Jesus from the New Testament as an earnest and charitable man. Here, by contrast, he is a joker, and not a nice one." But... GJ tells us nothing about the historical Jesus.

Acocella's aesthetic bias shows as she spend too much time on Susan Gubar's Judas: A Biography, which is basically an historical Rohrshak test showing how people make Judas into their own image. The Washington Post's review of Gubar's Judas said: "Gubar spends her first 75 pages just telling us again and again what she's going to say or prove. Phrases like "we will see" and "the chapters that follow will contend" seem like endless throat-clearing. Perhaps to balance her slow start, her last chapter also runs on like an endless coda, this time repeating one time too many the points already made. But don't miss Gubar's endnotes, which are crisp, concise and hugely informative. In one, for instance, she lists a score of contemporary pop songs that allude to Judas, including works by Bob Dylan, Depeche Mode, U2, Iron Maiden, Smashing Pumpkins and Dire Straits. Like Jesus, Judas is always with us." OK. Acocella, after spending way too much time on Gubar (which shows she's not really interested in the historical Jesus), writes: "it is Gubar who raises a crucial question unasked in most of the recent writings on Judas: Why shouldn’t we entertain the idea of an archetypal betrayer?" Anyone for a good old-time Jungian analysis of Judas? Can you see that Joan Acocella is herself a Gnostic?
Just as serious Jesus-scholars ignore the Gospel of Judas in their historical-Jesus-studies, so will they ignore the Gnostic Acocella on Judas & Jesus. Unfortunately some will probably feel she has given them more ammunition in their case against the historical Jesus.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

The Revolutionary Kingdom of God

The main message of Jesus was on "the kingdom of God." I love this beautiful statement on God's kingdom written by J.P. Moreland in The Lost Virtue of Happiness.

"THE GOSPEL OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD - these are not empty words; they are shorthand for a revolution. The gospel of the kingdom is an invitation to a different reality, a different way of living. The kingdom is a new way of relating to people. Where ordinary human life is based on competitiveness and defensiveness, domination and subjugation, treachery and violence, the kingdom is based on the self-giving love of God. This kingdom grows from the seed that falls to the ground and dies - it grows to new life from the death of Christ, which is God's love exhibited to us in its most brilliant glory (see John 12:23-24).

The kingdom brings liberation instead of confinement, celebration instead of despair, a crown of beuty instead of the ashes of mourning. It brings solace to the brokenhearted and the good news of hope for the poor (see Isaiah 61:1-3). The kingdom is a life of flourishing (see John 10:10), an experience of the ongoing presence of a tender, protecting Father, along with His Son and Spirit (see John 17). It means a life of love, peace, self-control, and virtue (see Galatians 5:22-23).

In short, the kingdom is a vision worth dying for. It is a life worth fighting for - against the vision of a world of isolated, self-centered, and empty selves, all vying for prominence and grasping for what they feel life owes them." (pp. 37-38)