Tuesday, September 29, 2009

More on Multiverse Theory

Here's an article in Seed called "The Multiverse Problem," that suggests a multiverse might cause theists to be in even more awe towards our creator God.

It also acknowledges the controversial nature of multiverse theory as evidenced, for example, by this quote from Princeton physicist Paul Steinhardt, who has called multiverse theory “a dangerous idea that I am simply unwilling to contemplate.”

I was unaware that Wheaton College had a conference in March 2008 on the theological implications of string theory and multiverse theory.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Ancient Egyptian Coins Found Bearing Joseph's Name & Image

Today's Jerusalem Post reports that "archeologists have discovered ancient Egyptian coins bearing the name and image of the biblical Joseph... A thorough examination revealed that the coins bore the year in which they were minted and their value, or effigies of the pharaohs [who ruled] at the time of their minting. Some of the coins are from the time when Joseph lived in Egypt, and bear his name and portrait."

From the Middle East Media Research Institute: "Among these, there was one coin that had an inscription on it, and an image of a cow symbolizing Pharaoh's dream about the seven fat cows and seven lean cows, and the seven green stalks of grain and seven dry stalks of grain. It was found that the inscriptions of this early period were usually simple, since writing was still in its early stages, and consequently there was difficulty in deciphering the writing on these coins. But the research team [managed to] translate [the writing on the coin] by comparing it to the earliest known hieroglyphic texts… Joseph's name appears twice on this coin, written in hieroglyphs: once the original name, Joseph, and once his Egyptian name, Saba Sabani, which was given to him by Pharaoh when he became treasurer. There is also an image of Joseph, who was part of the Egyptian administration at the time."

Amazing *Eisegetical Effort on John 14:12!

(The Mediterranean Sea, from Caesarea, Israel)

I am reading the NLT and get to John 14:12 - "Anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father." I then read the explanatory footnote for this verse, which reads: "Jesus is not saying that the disciples would do greater works - after all, raising the dead is about as amazing as you can get. Rather, the disciples, working in the power of the Holy Spirit, would carry the Good News of God's Kingdom out of Palestine and into the whole world."

Wow! My thoughts include:

1. Jesus is saying: We will do the same works he has done. Which means, we should expect to see miracles, signs, wonders, deliverances, etc.

2. Jesus is saying: We will do "even greater works." Amazingly (but I think I know why), the NLT commentary directly contradicts what Jesus clearly says. This is the evangelical reductionism I learned in my early years as a Jesus-follower and have broken free from, thanks to studying the biblical texts.

*Eisegesis - to read into the text something that is not there, such as one's own ideas.

A Week of John 14-17

(Green Lake, Wisconsin)

I am taking time this morning to again read John chapters 14-17. In these great chapters Jesus instructs and counsels his disciples about kingdom-living after he leaves them. I invite you to join me in this. Use John chs 14-17 in your devotional time. Saturate yourself in these scriptures.

When God speaks to you, write down what he says in your journal. If you would like to share with me what God is saying to you, please do this. Thanks to those of you who are already sharing your thoughts with me!

At Redeemer we'll be spending several months in these verses. Why so much time? Because here we have single Jesus-sentences that contain entire worlds of meaning. Like, e.g., the one verse we looked closely at yesterday, John 14:1, where Jesus says "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in me." Personally, I think I could spend several weeks just on that one Jesus-thought alone!

This coming Sunday I will preach on John 14:5-7. Is there a higher, richer thing in the New Testament than what Jesus says in John 14:6? I am thrilled to think that I get to spend this week prepping for this, and then share what God is telling me with my church family.

Much Love, and Blessings for a God-saturated week!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Explanatory Power of Ontology

(University of Michigan)

More from Alister McGrath's A Fine-Tuned Universe...

Ontology is "an understanding of the way things are, of the fundamental order of things. It is by discovering the "big picture" that its individual elements are able to be both known and understood." (McGrath, 56)

A study of the history of science discloses this pattern: viz., that theories that seem to have no fundamental connection are forged together as they are "recognized to be part of a bigger picture, which explains them, while they in turn reinforce the plausibility of the bigger picture. In other words A explains B while B justifies A." (Ib.)

Note also, and for further study: "Inference to the best explanation[IBE]," for example, appears to have a significant advantage over Bayesian approaches in being able to illuminate the context of scientific discovery." (McGrath, 57; cf. fn 25 for references) McGrath sees IBE as gaining esteem in science. IBE posits varying ontologies and reasons that one better explains an observation such as, for example, the fine-tuning of the universe.

Inference to the Best Explanation (Abductive Inferential Reasoning, as explained by Alister McGrath)

Tonight I'm spending time reading Alister McGrath's new book A Fine-Tuned Universe: The Quest for God in Science and Theology. McGrath is an excellent writer and great scholar, with two doctoral degrees, one in molecular biophysics and the other in theology (both from Oxford). McGrath is also a Jesus-follower.

In F-TU McGrath begins by devoting several chapters to his method, which is arguing by inference to the best explanation, or what has also been called abductive inference. Traditional theological arguments use deductive inferential reasoning, such as William Lane Craig uses in the Kalam Argument for God's existence. (McGrath, 40) While such an argument can be compelling, it remains that there are difficulties with this approach, "not least that it is obliged to invoke at least one strong a priori causal principle as a premise (such as the "principle of sufficient reason"). For these and other reasons, many have drawn the conclusion that it is not possible to deduce the existence of God from general principles." (Ib.)

OK. Such arguments give us no logical certainty. But in my mind they do not intend to. Admittedly this is unclear since the use of a valid deductive argument form, such as the Kalam Argument uses, still depends on premises that are only inductively arrived at. So I think the Kalam Argument is an inductive argument for God's existence, albeit a very strong inductive argument.

McGrath then states that abductive inferential reasoning provides a way of reasoning that avoids the pitfalls of deductive-causal argumentation. He writes: "Yet an argument that proves unable to compel assent by demonstrating the existence of God as a necessary inference can nevertheless still be the best explanation of what is observed. Its public performance lies not in its deep logical structures, but in its capacity to bring in to harmony the often-conflicting in the human experience of reality. The explanatory capacity of the natural sciences and Christian theology rest in part on their ability to disern coherence or unity within what otherwise might seem epistemic turbulence and phenomenological chaos." (Ib., 40-41)

Very nice. Abductive, inference-to-the-best-explanation reasoning, avoids some of the epistemic pitfalls of deductive reasoning. Consider this from McGrath, whicd really sums up nicely what he is doing: "Whether we consider anthropic phenomena or theories of the origin of ethics, it proces impossible to make any form of deductive argument from what is observed to either naturalism or theism. Yes it remains perfectly fair to ask what the best explanation might be of these matters." (Ib., 41)

I am impressed and interested. I'm now thinking that one could make nice, fruitful comparisons between what McGrath here gives us and what N.T. Wright offers us by way of his discussions of competing "narratives."

Michael Sandel's Harvard "Justice" Course Online

Michael Sandel of Harvard is an example of a brilliant teacher who captivates and inspires students. His famous class, "Justice," has engaged 14,000 students. Now this class is available - gratis - online. See the nytimes article here. Sandel's website where you can catch his classes is found here at justiceharvard.org.

The first two classes are: The Moral Side of Murder / The Case for Cannibalism, and Putting a Price Tag on Life / How to Measure Pleasure.

Friday, September 25, 2009

"Drawing Closer" Marriage Conference


A Marriage Conference
led by John & Linda Piippo

Discover how two different persons can overcome their differences and partner together to advance God’s Kingdom.

•October 23 – 7 PM – 9:30 PM
•Oct. 24 – 10 AM-7 PM
•$25/couple (includes Sat. dinner together)

•WHERE: Indian Trails Lodge, Monroe, MI
•Register by October 16
•For registration & information call 734-242-5277

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Demski's Refutation of Hume's Criticism of Paley's Design Argument: As a Failed Inductive Generalization

David Hume’s second criticism of Paley’s design argument for the existence of God was that it constitutes a failed inductive generalization. For example, if I reason that, because I have interviewed one college student and found that they like Coke better than Pepsi, I cannot conclude that all, or even most, students like Coke better than Pepsi. In fact from my knowledge that there is one college student that likes Coke better than Pepsi I cannot inductively conclude anything. I can, of course, conclude that there is one student who likes Coke better than Pepsi, but this follows deductively and, as a tautology, is trivial.

Because William Dembski, following Elliott Sober, concludes that Paley’s argument is not to be construed as an inductive argument/inductive generalization, Hume’s second criticism also fails to refute Paley.

Hume’s second criticism goes as follows. If we are to reason that the organisms in our world are the product of intelligent design then we need to have looked at lost of other worlds and observed intelligent designers producing organisms there. (See Demsbki, Intelligent Design, 275) But we have not even observed one other world. So “the inductive argument is as weak as it possibly could be; its sample size is zero.” (Sober, in Ib.) Using our analogy above, this would be like interviewing zero students and concluding that most students like Coke better than Pepsi. And that would be absurd.

In response to Hume Sober writes: “Once again, it is important to see that an inference to the best explanation need not obey the rules that Hume stipulates.” (Ib.) Why not? Sober gives the example of concluding that a large meteorite brought about a mass extinction at the end of the Cretaceous period. But we have never witnessed meteorite strikes causing mass extinctions? True. But this face is “irrelevant,” says Sober. “Inference to the best explanation is different from an inductive sampling argument.” (Sober, in Ib., 275-276)

Dembski agrees that the design argument is best construed as “inference to the best explanation.” (Ib., 276) Dembski goes on to say that “design is not merely an argument but also a scientific theory. Specified complexity in particular provides an information-theoretic apparatus for understanding the designed features of the physical world.” (Ib.)

Well, we know how this argument is going. Personally, I am still very much interested in it.

Demsbki's Refutation of Hume's Criticism of Paley's Design Argument: As an Argument from Analogy

David Hume argued that the teleological (design) argument for God's existence is either:

1) an argument from analogy; or
2) an inductive generalization based on a sample of size zero

These were Hume’s two main criticisms of the argument from design. The first is that the design argument is based on a weak analogy. This, says William Dembski, “is still the criticism that for many philosophers of religion remains decisive against design.” (Dembski, ID, 271) Dembski sets up the argument from analogy like this:

1. U has property Q.
2. U and V share properties A, B, C and D.
3. Therefore, V also had property Q.

Translating this into Paley’s argument we have:

1. Watches are intelligently designed.
2. Watches and organisms are similar.
3. Therefore, organisms are also intelligently designed.

The main problem with arguments from analogy is that there are also and always disanalogies. “If U and V were identical there would be no question about V having property Q if U has that property.” (Dembski, ID, 272-273) But U and V are not identical. So there are properties that U has but V does not have. And, as the argument shows, U has property Q. Does V have Q, or is this an area of disanalogy? “Without additional information the argument from analogy has no way of deciding this question.” (Ib., 273)

Dembski agrees that “if the design argument is nothing but an argument from analogy, then it is a very weak argument indeed.” (Ib.) But, say Dembski and Elliott Sober, the design argument is “much more” than an argument from analogy. Sober says it is not even an argument from analogy, but is “an inference to the best explanation.” (Ib.) Sober writes:

Hume did not think of the design argument [as an inference to the best explanation]. For him… it [was] an argument from analogy, or an inductive argument. This alternate conception of the argument makes a great deal of difference. Hume’s criticisms are quite powerful if the argument has the character he attributes to it. But if the argument is, as I maintain, an inference to the best explanation, Hume’s criticisms entirely lose their bite. (cited in Ib., 273-274)

Sober holds that Paley’s argument compares two different arguments, one argument about a watch, and a second argument about living things. The statements involved in the watch argument are:

A. The watch is intricate and well suited to the task of timekeeping.
B. The watch is the product of intelligent design. (This is one possibility)
C. The watch is the product of random physical processes. (This is a second possibility.)

Sober says that Paley is arguing that the probability of A given that B is “much bigger” than the probability of A given that C. Paley then reasons that “the same pattern of analysis applies to the following triplet of statements:” (Sober, in Ib., 274)

D. Living things are intricate and well-suited to the task of surviving and reproducing.
E. Living things are the product of intelligent design. (This is one possibility.)
F. Living things are the product of random physical processes. (This is a second possibility.)

Sober writes: “Paley argues that if you agree with him about the watch, you also should agree that” P(D/E) >> P(D/F). (Ib.) Both arguments are inferences to the best explanation. So, Sober thinks Hume’s criticism of the design argument fails.

Dembski notes that this does not lead Sober to accept the design argument, since for Sober, because of Darwin, we have a third possibility G: Living things are the product of variation and selection. Sober admits that “perhaps one day [design] will be formulated in such a way that the auxiliary assumptions it adopts are independently supported. My claim is that no [design theorist] has succeeded in doing this yet.” (Ib., 275) To which Dembski responds that the burden of his writing “has been to show that design remains a live issue and can once again be formulated as the best explanation for the origin and development of life.” (Ib.)

Yet for both Sober and Dembski Hume’s criticism fails because Paley’s design argument is not best construed as neither an argument from analogy nor an inductive argument.

Monday, September 21, 2009

John 14-17 (#1)

(My father's house - I grew up in this house on 20th Avenue, Rockford, Illinois)

Yesterday I preached on John 13:31-38. Here Jesus points once again to His imminent glorification, which is the event of the cross. He gives us a command: Love one another, as He has loved us. He tells Peter that Peter will betray Him. Then begins John chapter 14. This will set us off on a great adventure together! Next Sunday morning we begin John chapters 14-16. These chapters are called the "farewell discourses" of Jesus. Jesus is showing His disciples what it all means for their future life, their own sadness and joy and mission in the world. This ends with the great prayer in John ch. 17. Then the story picks up with Jesus’ arrest in the garden.

These chapters (John 14-17) are incredible and beautiful. N. T. Wright says, “These chapters have often rightly been seen as among the most precious and intimate in the NT. They are full of comfort, challenge, and hope, full of the deep and strange personal relationship that Jesus longs to have with each of his followers. We shouldn’t be surprised that they are also full of the richest theological insights, of a sense of discovering who the true God is, and what he’s doing in the world and in us.”

At Redeemer I and Josh Bentley will be preaching on these chapters for the next six months. Personally, I will be using them for my own prayer and devotional life. I’ll be reading them over and over, studying them, and meditating on them. They will be my “spiritual food” for many weeks.

Yesterday morning I invited people who were at our worship service to join me in reading and studying these four phenomenal John-chapters. Here are some suggestions if you want to join with me in doing this.

1. Take time daily to read out of John chapters 14-17.
2. Read slowly, with an open heart and a listening ear.
3. Stay with these chapters until our Sunday morning preaching gets through them. You will probably end up reading through them more than once. I believe there is so much depth and good stuff in them that you will not exhaust them or tire of these words of Jesus.
4. As God speaks to you through these chapters, write down what He says to you in a spiritual journal. (A spiritual journal is a record of the voice of God speaking to you.)
5. As you have insights that you would like to share please send them to me. With your permission, I may pass them on to the 200+ Redeemer people on my e-mail prayer team.

I love reading, studying, and meditating on God’s Word. I felt God say to me, “John, invite the Redeemer family to do this with you. Out of this I will produce deeper, richer understanding and experience.

This coming Sunday: John 14:1-4

Sunday, September 20, 2009

A few Thoughts About Logical Truth & Contingent Statements

What are logical truths? "Logical truths are sentences that are true simply in virtue of their logical form. One example of a logical truth in classical logic is the law of non- contradiction, ~ ( p ~ p) ( not both p and not p, or colloquially, it can't be the case that a sentence and its negation are both true)." (Jennifer Fisher, On the Philosophy of Logic, 55)

In my Logic classes I am working to get this point across to students. Some are having a tough time grasping the idea of logical form. It's important to understand this to grasp the idea that logical truth has nothing to do with anthropological or sociological studies regarding the history of ideas. Such as, e.g., how some particular was formed and has been transmitted.

"Contingent sentences are sentences that are made true or false by the way the world is.... These truths are said to be contingent because they might have been otherwise." (Fisher) For example, ‘ John Piippo has a dog’ is false, but it might have been otherwise. I might have a dog, and if I did have a dog, then the sentence would be true.

Even though the truth or falsity of contingent statements depend on the way the world is, they are in no way dependent on sociological or psychological studies as to how John came to believe that the sentence "John has a dog" is false. Nor are they dependent on John's psychological condition when he claims that "John has a dog" is false. So while the truth or falsity of contingent statements depends on some fact or facts about the world, this does not concern the genesis of our ideas about worldly facts. It's important to maintain these distinctions so as not to fall prey to the genetic fallacy.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A Simplistic Piece on Shane Claiborne & The Simple Way

Here's a fairly worthless and shallow article on Shane Claiborne and The Simple Way and band mewithoutYou in Atlantic Monthly. No analysis here; no real context. Just some personal impressions, feelings, and loosely associated sentences about a very significant and prophetic Jesus-happening in Philadelphia.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Islamic Burka: Symbol of Male Power

(I took this picture of two Muslim women in Jerusalem.)

Marnia Lazreg, in her new book Questioning the Veil: Open Letters to Muslim Women, argues that the Islamic burka "stands for political ideology and male power." Lazreg is a professor of sociology at City University of New York. She says that piety has little to do with the burka, the full-face-and-body veil. And, the burka is never mentioned in the Koran.

Robert Fulford, reviewing Lazreg's book in the National Post, writes: "A woman wearing a mask is a woman declining to be human. Unable to look anyone in the eyes, lacking peripheral vision, her hearing muffled, she becomes an abstraction. Encouraging a woman to wear the burka is like offering her a portable isolation cell."

Lazreg shows how, historically, the veil comes and goes with the rise and fall of ideologies, male perceptions of women, and women's perceptions of themselves. And, wearing the burka leads to health problems: "Women who hide every inch of their skin from the sun often suffer from a Vitamin D deficiency and develop early osteoporosis, a syndrome noted by doctors in several countries." Lazreg says that "the veil is a man's problem more than a woman's."

Finally, Lazreg argues against Muslim theologians who put a happy spin on the burka, saying it empowers Muslim women. Lazreg concludes that "the revival of the veil does nothing for the rejuvenation of Muslim civilization; "it degrades Islam" and impoverishes its spirit."

(More On) True Greatness

(My friend Hal Ronning, in Jerusalem)

Luke 22:24 - "Also a dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest." Jesus responds to this by making an analogy between the kings who lord it over the Gentiles, and his own disciples. Jesus tells his disciples that they are not to be like these kings, who exert power over their "subjects" and personally gain from their "benevolence." That... is evil. Punishing.

The disciples are not talking about what true greatness is, but about which one of them is greater than all the others. In this they show themselves to be still top immersed in the comparative, competitive world-system that produces the agonies of pride and shame.

C.S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity, wrote an entire chapter on pride called "The Great Sin." Lewis says:

"The heart of Christian morality is… Humility. The opposite of this… the Kingdom of Darkness thing… is Pride... Pride is the complete anti-God state of mind... Each person's pride is in competition with everyone else's pride... Pride is essentially competitive… Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the other person. We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better-looking than others. If everyone else became equally rich, or clever, or good-looking, there would be nothing to be proud about. It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition has gone, pride has gone."

I think the other side of pride is shame. Both pride and shame are forms of self-obsession, and all self-obsession punishes one's self and others and hinders the ability to love and be loved. Lewis Smedes, in his beautiful book Shame and Grace, says that “shame is a ‘heavy feeling’ of not measuring up that can easily lead to a feeling of self-disgust and fundamental unacceptability. Shame is a vague, undefined heaviness that presses on our spirit, dampens our gratitude for the goodness of life, and slackens the free flow of joy.” (5, 8)

Jesus wants to free his disciples from the pride-shame continuum by which people rank and compare themselves with others. I have found that many people who are proud and posture themselves as superior to others actually have deep-seated inferiority and worthlessness inside of themselves. These dark things make if difficult to serve other people in the purest sense, which is, expecting nothing in return from them. To serve others without expecting to receive honor and glory and praise from them is freedom. To serve others without wallowing in self-degradation is freedom. Jesus' kingdom has nothing to do withy such things. In the Kingdom of God honor, for everyone and towards everyone, prevails.

Aim low. Submit to one another and love one another. Be great for God. Do great things for God. Be free from comparing yourself with others. Celebrate when others do great things for God.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

PCs Are Better Than Macs

PCs are better than Macs.

Macs have better advertisements and very cool stores.

All PCs have is "betterness."

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Key to What the Real Jesus Is All About

(I took this picture in Jerusalem)

I'm preaching tomorrow out of Luke 22:24-30. Jesus' disciples are arguing among themselves as to which one of them is the "greatest." Jesus, because he is conferring a kingdom on them (just as God the Father bestowed a kingdom on Jesus), instructs them that such competitive rivalry that wants power over others is not what the Kingdom of God is all about.

How important is this for us to understand? N.T. Wright says, “This standing on its head of the world’s idea of greatness is central not only to all Christian work and ministry; it is the key to what Jesus was about.” (NTW, Luke for Everyone, 267)

God Sent Larry Norman

I'm approaching my 40-year anniversary as a follower of Jesus. Way back in 1970 I was a drug-using, alcohol abusing, guitar-playing pseudo-hippie who had flunked out of college because of partying too much. Then, at age 21, Jesus found me. My life has never been the same.

At the time I thought that was it for my love for rock-'n- roll. I was so screwed up inside that I was even willing to put down the guitar for the sake of Jesus even if it meant I had to sing 18th-century hymns to organ music the rest of my life.

Then God sent Larry Norman. He was in a psycheldelic rock band in San Francisco called "People" when Jesus found him. He had long blond hair, played guitar and piano, had a unique, impassioned voice like his singing was speaking words of truth to you, and an electric stage presence. And there was I, stuck forever in the world of organ-hymn music. I heard a song by Norman called "Why Don't You Look Into Jesus." One line was, 'You've got gonorrhea on Valentine's Day [VD] and you're still looking for the perfect lay. ... Why don't you look into Jesus? He's got the answer.'" Whoaaa... here was someone speaking truth and pointing to Jesus - "Why don't you look into Jesus, He's got the answer?" Larry was a real Jesus-follower who was willing to sing the truth about life and how Jesus is life, and he didn't seem to care what other people thought. Many of us were captivated by that. Larry Norman became a leader for a lot of us.

Check out this article on today's cnn.com. "Larry Norman was a Christian rock musician before the genre existed, combining faith with a backbeat and social consciousness. Think of him as rock music's street preacher, often referred to as "the father of Christian rock." "Between 1969 and 1979, Larry Norman was the Christian rock scene's answer to Bob Dylan, John Lennon and Mick Jagger," said Emmy-nominated director David Di Sabatino, who takes a critical look at Norman's career and life in his documentary "Fallen Angel: The Outlaw Larry Norman." "He set the standard. He created the space for others to exist. ... The vision he created for where Christian rock music could go still resonates today."

Larry was the major influence on musician Steve Camp. (I once played with Steve in a small coffee house in Joliet, Illinois.) His album "Only Visiting this Planet" was produced by Beatles' producer George Martin. Norman's music has influenced U2, Guns N' Roses, and Bob Dylan. "Black Francis of the alternative rock group the Pixies said Norman has been a lifelong influence. "I listened to his records growing up, and saw him perform many times. In fact, I used to dress up like him; long blond hair with bangs, sort of a grown-out British invasion look, with black jacket, black shirt, black pants and two-tone black and white cheerleader shoes," Francis said. "While Larry is always referenced by his Christian beliefs, to me he was always an entertainer ... humorous, poignant and always rock 'n' roll. His respect for the arena of entertainment is what gave him his power as a performer."

I saw Larry perform, probably, 10 times. There's one time I'll never forget. Linda and I traveled to a county fair somewhere in Illinois to catch him. Not a lot of people had heard of him. Maybe there were 50-100 people there. He played and sang his heart out to us that night. There before us was the beating heart of God with long hair and prophetic, paradigm-shifting, revolutionary words pouring out in love.

Thank you, God, for giving us Larry Norman.

(The documentary on Larry is scheduled for release in 2010. Go here.)

Friday, September 11, 2009

Synagogue From the Time of Jesus Discovered

If I wasn't doing what I'm doing I would like to be an archaeologist in the Ancient Near East. Here's the link (Jerusalem Post) to the discovery of an ancient synagogue (prayer house) in Migdala near the Sea of Galilee. Migdala is the city where Mary Magdalene (Mary of Magdala) lived. The photo is of a drawing of a menorah engraved in stone that was in the 2000-year-old synagogue.

Apocalyptic Language Is Revolutionary Language

(Apocalyptic Horizon, by Colin Miller)

Biblical apocalyptic language is not "other-wordly" language, but the language of revolution. N.T. Wright writes:

First-century Jewish apocalyptic, is not the same as “end-of-the-world.” Instead, it invests major events within history with their theological significance. It looks, specifically, for the unique and climactic moment in—not the abolition of—Israel’s long historical story. We must: renounce literalism, whether fundamentalist or scholarly. Apocalyptic is the symbolic and richly-charged language of protest, affirming that God’s kingdom will come on earth as it is in heaven—not in some imagined heavenly realm to be created after the present world has been destroyed. In particular, apocalyptic is the language of revolution: not that YHWH will destroy the world, but that he will act dramatically within it to bring Israel’s long night of suffering to an end, to usher in the new day in which peace and justice will reign.

“Apocalyptic” therefore is the natural context for a truly subversive “wisdom.” Wisdom and folly within this worldview are not abstract or timeless. They consist in recognizing (or failing to recognize) that the long-awaited moment is now arriving. Apocalyptic and wisdom fit snugly together, and are mutually reinforcing."

Philip Pullman's Old-School Angry Book on Jesus

Philip Pullman is at it again. Now he's publishing a book on Jesus, to come out at Easter 2010, called “The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ.” It's based on the idea that the account of Jesus’ life depicted in the Gospels was largely shaped by the Apostle Paul. Pullman told The Guardian that his Jesus book is “among other things, a story about how stories become stories.”

Pullman says: "Paul was a literary and imaginative genius of the first order who has probably had more influence on the history of the world than any other human being, Jesus certainly included. I believe this is a pity. The story I tell comes out of the tension within the dual nature of Jesus Christ, but what I do with it is my responsibility alone. Parts of it read like a novel, parts like a history, and parts like a fairy tale; I wanted it to be like that because it is, among other things, a story about how stories become stories."

Pullman is best remembered for his fictional His Dark Materials trilogy, and least remembered for the movie version of Vol. 1, "The Golden Compass" (48% rating at Rotten Tomatoes - Peter Travers of Rolling Stone says the movie "just blows.").

From the UK's Telegraph: "Pullman told The Times newspaper that the idea of Jesus being the son of God came from Paul's ''fervid imagination''." In lother words, Jesus was not God the Son. Paul made it all up.

"Jamie Byng from Canongate Books said: ''Philip Pullman has written a book of genuine importance, a radical and ingenious retelling of the life of Jesus that demystifies and illuminates this most famous and influential of stories.
''It strips Christianity bare, exposes the Gospels to a new light and succeeds brilliantly as a work of literature because it is convincing, thought-provoking, profoundly moving and beautifully nuanced throughout. The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ throws down a challenge and does what all great books do: make the reader ask questions.'' " (Telegraph.com)

What to make of this?

1. Pullman will surely not "strip Christianity bare and expose the Gospels to a new light." The idea that what we see of Jesus is a story fabricated by Paul is an old-school theological idea that no one is now using in contemporary New Testament Jesus-studies. (OK, someone is probably using it, the old "Jesus vs. Christ" theory, because Pullman is using it, but that leads directly to my second point...)

2. Pullman is not a New Testament scholar. Here's the life of Philip Pullman. 1) born in 1946; 2) lived as a child in Zimbabwe; 3) P's father died when P was 7; 4) P's mother remarried and they moved to Australia and lived there for 18 months; 5) P returned to go to school in Great Britain; 6) P studied English at Exeter College, Oxford, but did not enjoy it, and he posted average grades; 7) married Judith Speller and their son Jamie was born; 8) taught in two middle schools until 1986; 9) became a part-time lecturer in English at Westminster College, Oxford; 10) eventually gave himself to the task of full-time writing. But... no New Testament studies, no Christological studies, only "going to church and going to Sunday School and listening to Bible stories" while as a child he lived with his grandfather who "was a very good, old-fashioned country clergyman and a wonderful storyteller." (From Tony Watkins, Dark Matter: Shedding Light in Philip Pullman's Trilogy His Dark Materials, Chapter 2)

3. From 1 & 2, imagine this absurd scenario: Pullman's Jesus book comes out on Easter. New Testament scholars rush to get it. They read it and have their paradigms revolutionized because Christianity is "stripped bare" and the "Gospels are exposed to a new light." Right. And so shall the music of David Hasselhoff be recognized in Italy as the second coming of Luciano Pavarotti.

4. Pullman has got a personal thing against religion. He states: "I'm caught between the words "atheistic" and "agnostic." I've got no evidence whatever for believing in a God. But I know that all the things I do know are very small compared with the things I don't know. So maybe there is a God out there. All I know is that if there is, he hasn't shown himself on earth. But going further than that, I would say that those people who claim that they do know that there is a God have found this claim of theirs the most wonderful excuse for behaving badly. So belief in a God does not seem to me to result automatically in behaving very well." (In Killing the Imposter God: Philip Pullman's Spiritual Imagination in His Dark Materials, xvii)

And: "His anger towards God remains undimmed. It can sound frightening and immoderate, given his impeccably polite diction. The occasional thud of an F-word is really very funny. His rage comes across as that of someone with an authority problem - someone who has evidently exercised his own as a teacher and a father with restraint."

So Pullman's Jesus book seems to beg the question. a) God has not shown himself on earth. b) Therefore Jesus is not God come to earth. But of course. And, not a whole of scholarship here, right?

Today's Christological studies and Jesus research go to the Gospels first, and not Paul. So, methodologically, Pullman is misguided. He's living in a narrow world of old studies that were concerned with parsing Der Sogenannte historische Jesus und der geschichtliche, biblische Christus. Combine that with a life that is not that of a New Testament scholar, and the fact that's he's very, very angry, and we'll have, probably, some very good writing about some very wrong things. Pullman's Jesus book will tell us volumes about Pullman and nothing new about Jesus.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

If God Made the Universe, Who or What Made God?

(Ann Arbor)

Some people (usually not professional philosophers) ask the question, "If God made the universe, who or what made God?" The answer to this question is: it's a nonsense question. Here's why.

If God is a being that exists necessarily, this means God could not not exist. This is how theists view God; viz., as a necessary being. This does not imply that God actually exists. Even if God does not exist, this is how theists define God, much as all define a "unicorn" as a one-horned horselike creature. Even atheists can acknowledge that, by the term "God," is meant a necessarily existing being.

Following the idea of God as presented in the Kalam Cosmological Argument, God did not "begin to exist." If only what begins to exist has a cause, and God did not begin to exist (because God's existence is necessary), then to ask "What caused God?" is akin to asking "What color is the note C?" (See Moreland, 63)

So the question is incoherent. It is a "pointless category fallacy" (the ascription of a wrong feature to the wrong thing). (Ib.)

True Greatness

J. P. Moreland describes most people in our American culture as "empty selves, drunk with seeking happiness and, as a result, individualistic, narcissistic, infantile people who approach others as objects that exist merely to make themselves happy.”

When Jesus' disciples were arguing about which one of them was the "greatest," he likened them to Gentile kings who exert power over their subjects for the sake of personal benefit. They used people to gain people's honor which, then, made them personally happy. Jesus tells us, "Don't you be like that!" (Luke 22:26) Instead, aim low. Serve others.

Moreland says, “The only true happiness comes from squandering ourselves for a purpose. As followers of Jesus, if we want to flourish as persons, we must give ourselves away for Christ’s sake.” (Moreland & Issler, The Lost Virtue of Happiness, 23, 32)

In the Kingdom of God there's no spiritual competing. In God's Kingdom everyone gets honored. And, we all get set free from the dark kingdom's oppressive "power-over-others" system. As Jesus-followers we must get this new way of living into our hearts, because Jesus "confers a kingdom on us," and his Kingdom is "not of this world."

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

David Hasselhoff

Go here.

Study With Me at Redeemer Ministry School This Fall

Interested in taking an RMS class this fall? If so, please e-mail me or call (johnpiippo@msn.com; 734-242-5277)

Our Fall RMS classes are:

BIBLE STUDY METHODS - Josh Bentley - Fridays, 9:30 - 1 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.
WORSHIP I: INTIMACY & WORSHIP - Holly Benner - Tuesdays & Thursdays, 9:30 - 11 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.

KINGDOM OF GOD I - Jim Collins - Thursdays, 4:30 - 7:30 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 to understand the real Jesus from the perspective of God’s kingdom message. PERSONAL

SPIRITUAL LIFE - John Piippo, Wednesdays, 9:30 - 1 Description: In order to be used by God as an agent of renewal and transformation one must themselves by 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.
CLASSES BEGIN: Tuesday, September 22

The Character of the God of the Hebrew Bible

I would LOVE to be at U-Notre Dame this weekend for their Center for the Philosophy of Religion Conference called "My Ways Are Not Your Ways: The Character of the God of the Hebrew Bible." This conference will focus on the charge that the Abrahamic tradition should be rejected because of its foundation in the Hebrew Bible, which portrays God as immoral and vicious.
Their promo reads:
"Numerous critics of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have argued that God, especially in the Hebrew Scriptures, is often portrayed as what many of us nowadays would regard as a moral monster--committing, ordering or commending genocide, slavery, and rape among other moral atrocities, as well as bigotry, misogyny, and homophobia. How can these apparent commendations and commands of the Hebrew Bible be consistent with the claim that the Abrahamic God is perfectly good and loving? This is the question in focus at the present conference, "My Ways are Not Your Ways: The Character of the God of the Hebrew Bible"."
Surely a book will come out of this - hopefully soon!

Look at this list of participants:

Gary Anderson – University of Notre Dame
Louise Antony – University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Susan Brower-Toland – St. Louis University
James L. Crenshaw – Duke Divinity School (Emeritus)
R. Andrew Compton – UCLA
Thomas Crisp – Biola University
Edwin Curley – University of Michigan
Stephen T. Davis – Claremont McKenna College
Paul Draper – Purdue University
David Dudrick – Colgate University
Evan Fales – University of Iowa
Robert Garcia – Texas A&M University
John Hare – Yale Divinity School
Daniel Howard-Snyder – Western Washington University
Patick Kain – Purdue University
Conference Organizers
Joseph Levine – Univeristy of Massachusetts, Amherst
Michael Bergmann – Purdue University
Stephanie R. Lewis – Municipal Capital Management, LLC
Michael Murray – Franklin and Marshall College
Wes Morriston – University of Colorado, Boulder
Michael Rea – University of Notre Dame
Mark C. Murphy – Georgetown University
Alvin Plantinga – University of Notre Dame
Christopher Seitz – Wycliffe College, University of Toronto
Eleonore Stump – Saint Louis University
Richard Swinburne – University of Oxford
James VanderKam – University of Notre Dame
Peter van Inwagen – University of Notre Dame
Howard Wettstein – University of California, Riverside
Nicholas Wolterstorff – Yale Divinity School (Emeritus) and University of Virginia
Stephen Wykstra – Calvin College


University of Notre Dame
Center for Continuing Education
September 10-12, 2009

Monday, September 07, 2009

Baaba Maal

I'm listening to Baaba Maal's cd "Television." How cool is this. Great grooves! Very creative... fun, powerful music...

The Original Texts (Not Translations) Are What Matters

(My back yard)

Scot McKnight posts about the importance, in historical scholarship of any kind, of getting at the original texts. Translations won't do. Also, Webster's Dictionary is, basically, of no help. "There is a distinction between the text and a translation of the text. The authority is with the former; those who know that text are informed enough to decide about translations."

For example, I took a seminar in my doctoral work at Northwestern University on Aristotle's Metaphysics. My professor was the great Greek philosophy scholar Reginald Allen. I remember there were about six of us in that seminar, and on occasion various Northwestern professors would attend just to hear Allen teach. Allen would come to class without a copy of the Metaphysics. He could do this because he knew the entire text in Greek. This was very impressive. Note, for the sake of this discussion: Allen did not depend on commentaries on Aristotle, nor did he depend on translations of Aristotle, but taught out of the original text. Anyone who wants to seriously understand original texts must have a working knowledge of the original languages, without which they will have to understand they are handicapped to a degree.

McKnight says: "The authority is the original text, not the translation. The original texts are in Hebrew and Aramaic (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament). The authoritative text is not in English, regardless of how accurate the translation. No matter which translation you prefer, it is not the authoritative text for determining which translation is best. Yes, we need more to devote more time to study of the original languages.
The sweeping conclusion is this: unless you can read the original languages, you should avoid making public pronouncements about which translation is best. Instead, here's my suggestion: if you don't know the languages and can't read them well enough to translate accurately on your own but you want to tell your congregation or your listeners which translate is best, you need to admit it by saying something like this: "On the basis of people I trust to make this decision, the ESV or the TNIV or the NRSV or the NLT is a reliable translation."

McKnight uses James 3:1 as an example. Depending on which English translation you are reading, the word adelphos ("brothers," et. al.) has its tribal spin (because translations are "unofficially connected to tribes). McKnight writes:

"The point is which one best represents the intent of the original Greek, which has the Greek word adelphos? Unless you know what adelphos means in Greek, in the broad swath of the New Testament's use of adelphos and how it is used in the Greek-speaking (not to mention Hebrew-reading world) and about how James uses the word adelphos, any judgment is rooted in theology or theory but not in evidence. If you don't know the Greek, avoid standing in judgment. I'm not trying to be a hard-guy or an elitist, but let's be honest: only those who know Latin should be talking about which is the "best" translation of Virgil or only those who know Middle High German should be weighing in on the "best" translation of The Nibelungenlied. This isn't elitist; it's common sense."

I shudder to think that I, even after three years in seminary, would develop sermons using, at times, Webster's English Dictionary. I've come to my senses on this, and now immerse myself in as much original-language studies as I can, which further entails socio-cultural and socio-rhetorical studies. On Sunday mornings all this forms a background to the preaching of Scripture in, hopefully, a language even a child could understand.

My New Roof (and thanks to Brothers Construction)

It's Labor Day. I'm sitting in my upstairs office. Twenty roofers arrived a half-hour go. They're like ants swarming above me. Like thunder rumbling in the distance.

Our old roof was... old. How old were those shingles? George Custer's house is 400 yards to the west of us. He lived there. His famous horse "Dandy" lies buried in the backyard. One day Custer rode Dandy past our house, knocked on the door, and asked permission to climb on the roof and autograph the shingles. His signature is all over those things. The rumor is that Custer and his family, needing some extra money, actually roofed our house.

Out my window shingles are falling like rain. New wood is lined up around the house ready to replace rotting, damaged wood. I'm looking down at the crew, which looks like a team of ants that know what they is doing. Which makes me feel good.

We're getting a new roof today!

The old roof had some minor leaks. When it rained hard accompanied by strong winds, water crept through the flimsy singles. A number of times winds higher than 20-30 mph blew shingles off. I have climbed on my roof to "replace" them. Note the inverted commas around "replace." The idea of me replacing shingles or doing any roofing work is a joke. And it's become incrasingly dangerous. The slope on one part of my roof is steep, the shingles are slippery-shiny, and my legs are not in shape. I've sat on my roof's peak wondering what am I doing up here? I’m there thinking that I need to work out more and get in shape, not for my own physical health, but just to be a roofer.

My new roof means - I won't be up on this thing, probably and hopefully, ever again. My roofing career is officially over. If you need roofing work done don't call me.

I'm thankful for a roof over my head and food to eat and friends to love and be loved by and family. I'm thanking God on this Labor Day for these laborers, and for the wonderful people at Brothers Construction in Monroe County.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Norman Malcolm's Evaluation of Kant's Criticism of Anselm's Ontological Argument for God's Existence

(Lake Erie)

- For my Philosophy of Religion class

Currently I am teaching the Ontological Argument for God's existence.

Anselm's version is:

1) I have an idea of a being a greater than which cannot be thought.

2) Therefore, God exists.

Kant criticizes Anselm's argument by saying that "exists" is not an attribute or predicate... of anything. 20th-century philosopher Norman Malcolm agrees with Kant on this. Kant thinks Anselm's Ontological Argument therefore fails, since Anselm's argument depends on "existence" being an attribute or predicate. Malcolm thinks Kant does not understand that Anselm, elsewhere in the Proslogion, really means, by "existence," "necessary existence." "Necessary existence" = cannot not exist. If something had, as an attribute, necessary existence, that thing could not not exist; or, that thing would have to exist; or that thing would have always existed and will always exist no matter what, just as a triangle will always have three sides no matter what color it is, how long the base is, and so on.

So, according to Malcolm, "necessary existence" seems to be a "real predicate" (which is, according to Kant, a predicate that adds something to the concept of the subject). So Malcolm thinks the Ontological Argument has not been refuted by Kant.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Militant Islam Holds People Hostage

(The Islamic Center of Toledo)

CNN.COM has this report of a Muslim teen who became a follower of Jesus and now is afraid for her life. She says that her father wants her dead because she has left Islam.

I have heard of this before and talked with ex-Muslims who now fear for their lives because of their faith in Jesus. For example, a few years ago I was in a dialogue with the Imam of the Islamic Center of Toledo. The event took place in Rocket Hall at the University of Toledo. The Imam is from Egypt. I shared with him, and the students who were there listening, that I have three friends who are Christian leaders in Egypt, and they all suffer persecution from Egyptian Muslims. The Imam denied this. But I have evidence, and anyone who has studied this knows that Egypt is a fearful place to be a Christian.

If someone leaves the Christian faith our response is, usually, sadness. We don't threaten to take their life! I think there are a lot of Muslims who would consider becoming followers of Jesus were it not for the threat of persecution. So, they are held hostage by militant Islam. I am now reminded of the Dutch newspaper that printed political cartoons of Mohammed. The militant Islamic response to this was "Off with their heads!" So much for those of us who value inter-religious dialogue.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

P-Zombies On My Mind

I've got p-zombies on my mind! I'm just working stuff out, especially to present to my logic students. Here we go...

1. If physicalism is true, a philosophical zombie should be metaphysically impossible. (I.e., if physicalism is true, then p-zombies cannot possibly exist.
2. A philosophical zombie is conceivable.
3. Whatever is conceivable is metaphysically possible.
4. (From 2 & 3) A philosophical zombie is metaphysically possible.
5. (From 1&4, using modus ponens) Therefore, physicalism is false.

Philosophical zombie (p-zombie): a being that is, physically, exactly like I am.

If physical reality is all there is, and all phenomenal reality is nothing but physical reality, then there should be no difference between a p-zombie and myself.

But there is a difference between a p-zombie and myself, that difference being that I am conscious, sentient, and experience qualia.

Therefore such “mental” activity is logically not reducible to physical stuff; i.e., the phenomenal cannot be reduced to the physical.

Physicalism-as-atheism does not best explain this. Theism better accounts for non-physical reality then does atheism. (Physicalism logically entails atheism – see Evan Fales, e.g.)

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Dogs Are Smarter Than Cats

(Our beloved dog So-Fee, who is no longer with us...)

It's time for me to finally let the cat out of the bag. In my Logic courses I give, as an example of logic, the following 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.

My argument is logical. Which means: By P1 & P2, and using MP (modus ponens), C3 follows.

Is my argument sound? (= logically valid with true premises) That is the question!

Forgiving the Inexcusable

(Sioux Falls, South Dakota)

  • This past Sunday I preached out of John 13:18-31. It's the moment when Jesus is hosting the Passover meal for his disciples. Judas makes his choice to betray Jesus. "Betrayal," in this context, means: one who has all along professed to be on the side of Jesus now acts against Jesus. "Acting against Jesus" is not merely a physical thing that leads to Jesus' physical crucifixion, it also includes acting against or contrary to the Mission of Jesus and the way Jesus brings this about. To betray Jesus is to go against all He is and does and teaches.

    The result, in Jesus, is that He is "deeply troubled." His soul is agitated, like an "agitator" in a washing machine that goes back and forth. He is grieved.

    God gets grieved. We can grieve God. In Ephesians 4:30 we are encouraged not to "grieve the Holy Spirit of God." In verses 25-32 we have a partial list of things that cause God to grieve. It grieves God when we...
  • are not truthful
  • sin when we are angry

  • steal

  • do not share with others

  • talk in unwholesome ways

  • are bitter within

  • have raging, uncontrollable anger

  • slander other people

  • are unkind and non-compassionate to others

  • do not forgive others of what they have done to us

This last thing is huge. Unforgiveness is unacceptable in the Kingdom of God. C.S. Lewis writes, in his essay "On Forgiveness": "To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you." Forgiveness lies at the very heart of all that Jesus is, stands for, and has done. To not forgive others is, essentially, to betray Christ, to be anti-Christ. An unforgiving heart is a heart of darkness.

What is it to forgive someone for what they have done to you? It means: to cancel the debt that they owe you. When we forgive others it means they are no longer indebted to us; they don't owe us anything anymore. To forgive others does not mean we trust them now. We may or may not. But it does mean to release them from indebtedness, which is freedom for them but for us as well. When real forgiveness happens we don;t lie in bed at night thinking of ways to make them pay.

Why forgive someone else? For starters - because of what God has forgiven about us. I know that when I think about this it's easy for me to say, if God has forgiven me of all the stuff I have thought and done, then who am I not to extend this same forgiveness to others. To have a forgiving heart, and to walk in forgiveness, is freedom.