Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Zombie Argument Against Physicalism

In my Philosophy of Religion class I recently presented, as an example of logical argumentation, David Chalmers's "zombie argument" against physicalism. I'm going to try th argument again with my students tomorrow night, this time giving them the handout below.


P1. If physicalism is true, then it is logically impossible for p-zombies to exist.

P2. It is logically possible for zombies to exist.

C. Therefore, physicalism is false.

If it is logically possible for zombies to exist, then consciousness cannot be explained reductively.

1. A philosophical zombie or p-zombie is a hypothetical being that is indistinguishable from a normal human being except that it lacks conscious experience, qualia, sentience, or sapience. When a zombie is poked with a sharp object, for example, it does not feel any pain. It behaves exactly as if it does feel pain (it may say "ouch" and recoil from the stimulus), but it does not actually have the experience of pain as a person normally does. (See “Philosophical Zombie,” in wikipedia -

2. According to physicalism, physical facts determine all other facts. This means, on physicalism, that there are no non-physical facts. Therefore, since all the facts about a p-zombie are fixed by the physical facts, and these facts are the same for the p-zombie and for the normal conscious human from which it cannot be physically distinguished, physicalism must hold that p-zombies are not possible. Therefore, zombie arguments support lines of reasoning that aim to show that zombies are possible.

3. NOTE: The zombie argument against physicalism is, therefore, a version of a general modal argument against physicalism, such as that of Saul Kripke's in "Naming and Necessity" (1972).The notion of a p-zombie, as used to argue against physicalism, was notably advanced in the 1970s by Thomas Nagel (1970; 1974) and Robert Kirk (1974).

4. See the “zombie argument against physicalism” developed in detail by David Chalmers in The Conscious Mind (1996). According to Chalmers, one can coherently conceive of an entire zombie world: a world physically indiscernible from our world, but entirely lacking conscious experience. In such a world, the counterpart of every being that is conscious in our world would be a p-zombie.

The claim of Chalmers and others is a strictly logical claim. Which means: Since such a world is logically conceivable, Chalmers claims, it is possible; and if such a world is possible, then physicalism is false. (Note: “square circle,” or “married bachelor,” are examples of concepts that are logically inconceivable.)Chalmers is arguing only for logical possibility, and he maintains that this is all that his argument requires. He states: "Zombies are probably not naturally possible: they probably cannot exist in our world, with its laws of nature."It’s easy to imagine a “zombie.” A “zombie” is a creature physically identical to a human, functioning in all the right ways, having conversations, playing chess, but simply lacking all conscious experience.

So if a person can be physically identical to us yet without consciousness, then it would seem that consciousness is not a physical thing.“There is an explanatory gap here that is really something of an abyss,” says Chalmers.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Is Atheism Intrinsically Evil?

(Jember Teffera)

I have friends who were persecuted under atheistic regimes.

The first is Juan. That's not his real name, since he still is a pastor in Cuba. I met Juan when he enrolled in the doctoral program at Palmer Theological Seminary. He was a pastor from Cuba, and in my Personal Transformation class. I estimate, at the time Juan was in my class, he was 65 years old. He told the class the story of how, when he was a young pastor, the Castro regime moved to eliminate religion in Cuba. Juan and many other young pastors were arrested and placed in forced labor camps. Juan was there for several years. During the week of class I will never forget sitting in a Starbuck's with him and some other students, asking him the question "What was that like for you?", and hearing Juan describe life under atheism.

My second friend is Timothy Chung. Timothy is now 87 years old. When he was a young man in atheist-communist China, one day the authorities arrested him because he believed in God. Timothy was in prison for 21 years. He was hundreds of miles away from his wife and children. When Timothy spoke at our church he told the story of how his wife came to visit him (he saw her twice in 21 years). She took a train, and came carrying a bowl of rice for Timothy to eat. When she arrived, after traveling several hundred miles, the rice was rotten. Timothy said he ate it anyway. After 18 years in prison the authorities came to Timothy and told him that if he denied his faith in Jesus Christ, they would set him free. Timothy said, "I would rather spend the rest of my days in prison than deny Jesus."

Whenever I go to New York City to teach at Faith Bible Seminary, which is a Chinese seminary, I meet students who come from China and tell the stories of persecution under the atheistic regime that wants to eradicate, or control, religion. And, because students from all over the world have attended my classes at Palmer, I have heard other stories like this.

Such as, e.g., Jember Teffera, who was one of my students. Jember has been called "the Mother Teresa of Africa." Jember's husband, who was the mayor of Addis Ababa, was assassinated in a Marxist takeover of Ethiopia. Jember was imprisoned. It was there that she began her ministry to women and their daughters. It was my privilege to read Jember's spiritual journals, which she sent to me, as I functioned for a brief time as her spiritual director. It is heart-breaking to read of the tragedies she suffered under atheistic Marxism, and compelling as she writes of her faith in God in the midst of a movement dedicated to eliminating her faith.

What was clear to Juan, Timothy, and Jember, is that they all suffered under atheistic regimes dedicated to their eradication. Godlessness, as the "correct" ideology, abhorred God-belief.

Is atheism intrinsically more violent than theism? Dinesh D'Souza argues that "religion-inspired killing simply cannot compete with the murders perpetrated by atheistic regimes." He writes:

"I recognize that population levels were much lower in the past, and that it's much easier to kill people today with sophisticated weapons than it was in previous centuries with swords and arrows. Even taking higher population levels into account, atheist violence surpasses religious violence by staggering proportions. Here is a rough calculation. The world's population rose from around 500 million in 1450 AD to 2.5 billion in 1950, a fivefold increase. Taken together, the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the witch burnings killed approximately 200,000 people. Adjusting for the increase in population, that's the equivalent of one million deaths today. Even so, those deaths caused by Christian rulers over a five-hundred-year period amount to only 1 percent of the deaths caused by Stalin, *Hitler and Mao in the space of a few decades." (What's So Great About Christianity, 215)

When I first heard of some (not all) atheists who claimed that "religion" is the source of most of this world's evil I was stunned. How could such a naive claim be made, unless it was the work of political atheists who desired that religion be eradicated? If religious people were intrinsically evil, then it seems a short step to legislating their removal, if only by argument and ad hominisms. In the eyes of some atheists I live and breathe out of an evil worldview. Therefore I am dangerous.

As I see things, "religion" has made me a better person. While far from perfect, I am a more loving person today than when I was, at most, a deist. I have personally met hundreds of people of whom the same could be said. Jesus tells me to love even my enemies. That's my challenge today - to love in this way. For example the words of Jesus in Matthew 25 are the motivation behind my part in co-laboring with other local Christians to start our soup kitchen which feeds 100-200 people nightly. And, we're starting a food pantry this year that will ensure that no one in our community goes without food.

D-Souza writes:

"Whatever the cause for why atheist regimes do what they do, the indisputable fact is that all the religions of the world put together have in three thousand years not managed to kill anywhere near the number of people killed in the name of atheism in the past few decades." (Ib., 221)

Re. this quote, the debate will go back and forth on this. But when I read some atheists who seem to claim that no atheist regime has ever committed such atrocities, I find myself asking: then what happened to my friend Timothy in communist China?

*Was Hitler an atheist? Was Hitler a theist? I think, if the latter, Hitler's theism was nominal. See D'Souza, Ib., 217-221, where he takes on the arguments that claim Hitler was a religious person. See also the debate between D'Souza and Michael Shermer here. Watch the last segment at 29 minutes to see D'Souza on Hitler. D'Souza draws on historian Richard Weikart's From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany(which I have not read).

Wright's "Two Options" Re. the Resurrection Narratives

Obviously I am quite taken by nearly everything N.T. Wright writes. Scholars like this are, in my opinion, rare. Wright's comprehension of the requisite background knowledge is stunning, and his total life-immersion in the subject matter shows what can happen when a person life-dedicates themself to a focused area of study. If I could quote all 738 pages of his The Resurrection of the Son of God I would. This week I am into this book. So, here's some more Wright-stuff.

On pp. 608 ff. Wright is looking at the resurrection narratives in the gospels. He writes: "There are only two options that will account for these stories being what they are; and I find the first frankly incredible." Option #1 is: the resurrection stories are late inventions. Wright gives a number of examples here to argue against this explanation. Here's one. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John share "the strange absence of any mention of the future post-mortem hope of Christians. Supposing a Christian group, or several individuals, who had pondered the developing resurrection-belief of the early church, not least as we see it in Paul, were to write a story about 'what really happened' as a way of turning into an aetiological myth the burgeoning belief that Jesus' resurrection was the model and the means for the future Christian hope." (610) By the 50s, Christians who thought of Jesus' resurrection also thought of their own resurrection. Arguably, were they to invent the resurrection story, they would have written in their hope of their own personal resurrection. Wright says: "It is completely unbelievable that four writers would have come up with very different Easter stories and that each one, by a kind of tacit agreement, would have omitted all mention of this increasingly important theme." (610) As another example, Wright believes that no one writing after twenty years, let alone thirty or forty, would have placed the women at the empty tomb. These and other examples argue against option #1.

Option #2 - "Try running the movie back to front... I find this second option more probable at the level of sheer history... The very strong historical probability is that, when Matthew, Luke and John describe the risen Jesus, they are writing down very early oral tradition, representing three different ways in which the original astonished participants told the story. These traditions have received only minimal development, and most of that probably at the final editorial stage, for the very good reason that stories as earth-shattering as this, stories as community-forming as this, once told, are not easily modified. Too much depends on them." (611)
Well, that's too much quoting of Wright and not enough explanation. Wright of course does give his reasons to support option #2. I especially love the series of rhetorical questions he asks on pp. 611-612, and felt tempted to quote it in its entirety.

It's important to note that, in all of this, Wright is not making an argument for the historical accuracy of the accounts. "It is," he says, "an argument for the accounts being chronologically as well as logically prior to the developed discussions of the resurrection which we find in Paul and many subsequent writers...  [T]he strong probablity is that the Easter stories they contain go back to genuinely early oral tradition." (612)

N.T. Wright On the Women At the Empty Tomb

("Empty Tomb," by He Qi)

I am filling up a good portion of my Easter week by reading the passion and Easter Gospel accounts, and adding to these ongoing studies things like N.T. Wright's massive, meticulous The Resurrection of the Son of God. Crucial to understanding Wright is his attempt to avoid an anachronistic approach that brings a modern fundamentalist hermeneutic to the text, and to read the text out of a hermeneutic that strives to be faithful to the time it was written and read.

I'm on p. 607, where Wright devotes some time to "the strange presence of women in the [resurrection] stories." Wright states: "It is, frankly, impossible to imagine that they were inserted into the tradition after Paul's day... Even if we suppose that mark made up most of his material, and did so some time in the late 60s at the earliest, it will not do to have him, or anyone else at that stage, making up a would-be apologetic legend about an empty tomb and having women be the ones to find it." One needs to appreciate the full impact of the point that "women were simply not acceptable as legal witnesses." (607)

Far better it would have been to have "fine, upstanding, reliable male witnesses being first at the tomb." (608) Critics of Christianity, as Origin and Celsus note, would have picked up on the story of the women and scoffed and the whole thing. Wright asks: "Would the other evangelists have been so slavishly foolish as to copy the story unless they were convinced that, despite being an apologetic liability, it was historically trustworthy?" (608)

Wright argues that this story "goes back behind Paul, back to the very early period, before anyone had the time to thnk, 'It would be good to tell stories about Jesus rising from the dead; what will best serve our apologetic needs?' It is far, far easier to assume that the women were there at the beginning, just as, three days earlier, they had been there at the end." (608)

A final note: all historical reasoning is inductive, probableistic. Therefore doubts can be raised. The raising of doubts in historical reasoning is to be expected. One can always find something to wonder about. Yet in this case it is more probable that the women were at the tomb than that this story was a later, made-up addition.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Redeemer Ministry School - Apologetics

On Wednesday in Redeemer Ministry School I will begin teaching my Apologetics class.  The word "apologetics" does not mean learning how to say things like, "I'm really sorry I'm a follower of Jesus" (as your shame-filled head hangs down). The Greek word apologeo is found in 1 Peter 3:15: "in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect." Here in the NIV apologeo is translated as "to give an answer." It can also be translated as "to make a defense," or "to make an argument."

I love teaching apologetics! As a new Jesus-follower (40 years ago!) one of the first books I read was C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity. I was fascinated by Lewis's reasoning. It had such an impact on me that I changed my college major from music theory to philosophy. "Philosophy" was where the action was in terms of addressing the big questions of life. To this day, this has not changed for me. (I will add theology and religious studies, of course.)

William Lane Craig was my campus pastor, and began introducing me to apologetics. I have followed Bill's career and writings since then, and often thank God for the opportunity to be mentored by him in my early philosophical days.

On this Wednesday I am going to present, to my RMS students, an extranbiblical defense for the resurrection of Jesus. I'll follow a lot of Bill's reasoning here, plus add some other things.

For the second part of my Wed. class I will present the case for the existence of Jesus. A current internet-atheist thing is to claim, and argue for the idea that Jesus never existed. I'll show our students why such reasoning is specious.

(If you are intersted in attending Redeemer Ministry school for our 2010-2011 school year, please check out the information here.)

Philosophy of Religion - Oral Exam #2

For my Philosophy of Religion Students

Oral exams will be in room Z 272.

Exams are held Wed., March 31, and Monday, April 5.

The oral exam questions are:

1) Mackie's logical argument from evil against the existence of God
2) Buddhism's idea of evil as illusion
3) Plantinga's defeat of Mackie's logical argument
4) Rowe's evidential argument from evil against the existence of God
5) Wyckstra's "no-seeum" argument against Rowe

Extra credit (if needed): David Chalmers's zombie argument against physicalism

Friday, March 26, 2010

Me, Two Buddhists, a Muslim, a Roman Catholic nun, and an Atheist

I'll be at MCCC's La-Z-Boy Center auditorium with these panelists April 22, to discuss the problem of evil. They're going to correct the misspelling of my last name when this flyer gets posted next week. It should be interesting. Mary Hungerman has a Ph.D, a Muslim surgeon, two Buddhists, and an atheist. Could it be more diverse? :)

Why Science Can't Tell Us Everything

(My favorite coffee cup, given to me by one of our MSU students, circa 1982. The handle broke off years ago. Coffee tastes better in this cup than in others!)

On occasion I read or talk with someone who has the over-inflated and naive idea that "science" can tell us "everything." It cannot. Here's why.

Particle physicist John Polkinghorne was Professor of Mathematical Physics at the University of Cambridge, and the discoverer of quarks. In a recent interview Polkinghorne states: "Scientists who make arrogant claims that science tells you everything worth knowing are making a boastful claim that just doesn’t stand up. Science tells us how the world works, but it really doesn’t try to tell us about matters of meaning or value or purpose, which are equally important." The science can do things like weigh, measure, analyze properties, and quantify. For example, a scientist could weigh the coffee cup that is now before me. He could analyze its molecular composition. But when the scientist says "That's a very nice coffee cup," at that point he has left science and entered into the world of value, meaning, and purpose.

Take, e.g., the statement Science has value. In itself, that is not something science could discover. The scientist cannot take his analytic tools and find "value" in the way Polkinghorne found quarks. The statement Science tells us everything cannot be true since it is itself a non-scientific statement. So, since meaning, value, and purpose are important, and science cannot give us answers in these areas, we must look elsewhere. Welcome to the worlds of religion and philosophy.

Could value, meaning, and purpose be emergent properties of the physical brain? (Which would mean they are irreducible with respect to the physical brain.) With this question we enter into what Owen Flanagan and others call the "really hard problem of finding meaning in a material world." Underline the words "really hard." The matter is  hard because science only studies material events, of which meaning, value, and purpose are not. But discussions of meaning, value, and purpose abound and are inextricably part of what it is to be human. If you think what I have just written is "nonsense" your claim is non-scientific. Here scholars like Polkinghorne and Flanagan, while respecting science and knowing its limits, turn to the "humanities." 

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Linda Piippo at Newport Beach Cafe

This Friday night at Newport Beach Cafe my beautiful wife Linda will be preaching. Kellie Robinson will lead worship.

9 PM

Redeemer Ministry School - Holly Benner & Gary Wilson Teach History of Worship

Holly Benner and Gary Wilson will begin teaching our Worship III class in Redeemer Ministry School tomorrow morning.

Holly is our Worship Leader and, in my estimation, one of the great worship leaders of today. She's not only a talented keyboardist with a beautiful voice, but a growing scholar in the area of worship. And, she's a great songwriter! We're expecting her cd to be ready for our Randy Clark Conference in late June.

Gary is Professor of Art at Monroe County Community College. He's an extremely talented and creative artist him. When you add to this Gary's deep biblical knowledge and ever-growing faith in Jesus, you have an exceptional combination. I am especially excited about the new revelatory things Gary is teaching. I've never heard such insights before in my life.

All students who study with Holly and Gary will be doubly blessed!

Worship III - History of Worship

Description: How do the previous moves of God affect the way that we worship God today? Beginning with the Old Testament, we will look at how history up to the present day has brought us to what God is doing now in worship. We will study the tabernacle of Moses, the tabernacle of David, the temple of Solomon and how they relate to the new covenant given in the New Testament. Other topics will include studies of revivals in history - how God moved, and how His people responded in worship.

Meeting Information: Friday; 9:30am - 1:00pm

For more information contact: 734-242-5277

Redeemer Ministry School - Jim Hunter Teaches Leadership

I've attended a lot of leadership seminars over the years. Last spring I took Jim Hunter's Leadership class. For me, this was the best leadership training and empowering experience I have ever had, both in terms of content and experiential application. Jim is literally all over the world, by invitation, to teach leadership. All students in this class will gain many things that will last a lifetime.

At Redeemer Ministry School - first class is tonight, 5 PM.


Description: This course will introduce students to servant leadership principles. Our basic assumption will be: leaders for Christ are themselves led by Christ. Students will not only study leadership principles but will engage in the practice of authentic servant leadership.

Meeting Information: Thursday; 5:00pm - 7:00pm

Instructor: Jim Hunter

For information call: 734-242-5277

A.J. Ayer Was Nicer After He Died

Way back in the 1970s, as a philosophy undergraduate, I read A.J. Ayer's Language, Truth and Logic. Ayer, an atheist, was a logical positivist, and famous for his "verification principle." The verification principle eliminated, as cognitively meaningful, metaphysical philosophy. I was a new Christian, and interested in metaphysics. The v-principle set me off on a course of studies in analytic philosophy and philosophy of language, to include reading Wittgenstein, J.L. Austin, and issues in "the problem of religious language." This area of study has never ceased to intrigue me, and on the way to today I did my doctoral dissertation on metaphor theory, relating it to Ayerian issues of language and cognitive meaning.

I just read Peter Foges's "An Atheist Meets the Masters of the Universe," an essay on A.J. Ayer's death, vision, and comeback from the dead. On June 6, 1988, the elderly Ayer swallowed a piece of fish and died. He flatlined (cardiac arrest and asystole). He was clinically dead for four minutes.

Ayer was not just any old atheist. He was one of the greatest atheists on the 20th century. "Ayer had spent most of his adult life putting the case very publicly on radio and television, as well as in print, for the “non-existence” of God—indeed arguing that the very idea of “God” was devoid of meaning, a position known in theology as igtheism. He had gone twelve rounds with the best and the brightest of the bishops and theologians in the land—and in the public mind he was thought, in the main, to have triumphed." Famously, in 1949 Ayer debated Roman Catholic philosopher F.C. Copleston.

While dead, Ayer had a vision that affected him so much he said, "My recent experiences have slightly weakened my conviction that my genuine death, which is due fairly soon, will be the end of me, though I continue to hope that it will be. They have not weakened my conviction that there is no God.” While Ayer said this publicly, privately he confided in his physician, Dr. Jeremy George, that ‘I saw a Divine Being. I’m afraid I’m going to have to revise all my various books and opinions.’

“He clearly said ‘Divine Being,’” said Dr. George. “He was confiding in me, and I think he was slightly embarrassed because it was unsettling for him as an atheist. He spoke in a very confidential manner. I think he felt he had come face to face with God, or his maker, or what one might say was God. Later, when I read his article, I was surprised to see he had left out all mention of it. I was simply amused. I wasn’t very familiar with his philosophy at the time of the incident, so the significance wasn't immediately obvious.”

After Ayer had been released from the hospital his friends and family noticed he had changed. A friend, Dee Wells, said, “He became so much nicer after he died. He was not nearly so boastful. He took an interest in other people.”

Ayer began spending much time with his old opponent F.C. Copleston. Copleston became Ayer's closest friend. They spent many hours together, "talking and arguing about who knows what."

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?

Monroe County's "Big Read" for this year focuses on Thornton Wilder's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel "The Bridge of San Luis Rey." On Thursday evening, April 22, I'll be on a panel with Terry Beamsley of the Ann Arbor Zen Buddhist Temple and Sister Marie Gabriel Hungerman (and perhaps a Muslim and Jewish panelist) discussing the problem of why bad things happen to good people, which is what "Bridge" is about. You can read about this here.

Bethel School of Supernatural Evangelism in Monroe

Redeemer Fellowship Church will be hosting the Bethel School of Supernatural Evangelism (BSSE) lead by Chris Overstreet, Robby Dawkins, Chad Derdmon, and Anne Evans from May 26 to May 29 for a second year. In addition, Chris will be preaching on the following Sunday (May 30). This conference will equip and empower attendants to reveal the Kingdom of Heaven through love and power. If you desire to see God move in power touching lives through His love, you will want to attend. There is no registration for this conference. For information on the area read the visitor page, and for information on BSSE check out their website. To contact Redeemer Fellowship regarding the conference email

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


In Mark 14 Jesus, agonizing in the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives, addresses the Father as "Abba." “Abba” is not “Daddy,” if that means in some childish sense. “Abba” is an intimate family word. R. T. France says it means “the respectful intimacy of a son in a patriarchal family.” (France, Mark, 584)

No Jew prior to Jesus had addressed the Father so intimately. Ben Witherington states that this implies “a filial consciousness on the part of Jesus that involved a degree of intimacy with God unlike anything we know of in Judaism prior to Jesus’ day. So far as we can tell from our limited evidence, no one had previously addressed God as abba.” (Witherington, Christology of Jesus, 220) Witherington adds: “Jesus saw himself as the unique mediator of a relationship with the Father that could express itself by using the intimate term abba.” (Ib.)

"Abba" is Trinitarian perichoretic-union language, a word of intimate union. A unitive family word. Jesus the Son is "in" the Father, and the Father is "in" him. So where does that leave us? Looking through the outside window at the family dance of the Trinity? No. Remember that, in John 14-16, Abba comes to make his home in us. In you, if you are a Jesus-lover.

This is huge. So huge that Paul writes, in Romans 8:15: "For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, "Abba, Father."" R.T. France explains: “Paul introduces ‘Abba’ as the sign of an amazing and hitherto inadmissible relationship of the individual believer with God.” (France, Mark, 584)

I have read Amy-Jill Levine's interpretation of "Abba" in her book The Misunderstood Jew. Levine says this:

  • "Still popular is the view that only Jesus would have dared to call God 'Father' and that only Jesus would have done so with the daring use of the Aramaic term Abba, meaning 'Daddy.' The claims are hopelessly flawed." (Levine, The Misunderstood Jew, 42) How so?
  • During the period of Second Temple Judaism there is an increasing use of addressing God as 'Father.' So Malachi 2:10 states, "Have we not all one father?"
  • Levine says to translate Abba as "Daddy" is incorrect. "The term means 'father,' and it is not an expression associated primarily with little children." (Ib., 43) I think Levine is right on this. But Abba is still a filial term.
Levine provides no evidence that, prior to Jesus, Jews addressed God as 'Abba.' If it means just the same thing as 'Father' then she seems to think using the Aramiac word is no big deal. Witherington, who applauds Levine's work on the back of the book jacket, seem to believe that 'Abba' is more intimate, as indicated from the quote I used above.

Levine thinks Jesus' use of 'Abba" "has a political edge." (Ib., 44) She writes: "The Caesars on the throne in Rome were called "Father" - as Washington was called "father of our country" or as the Russian czars by their populations (with relative degrees of warmth) "little father"... By speaking of the "Father in heaven," Jesus also insists that Rome is not the "true" father." (Ib., 44-45)

The issue, as it seems to me, is even if God is addressed in Second Temple Judaism as "Father": 1) was God addressed as 'Abba,' and if so, then 2) is 'Abba' a more intimate familial address?

"Furious Love" Conference at Redeemer in Monroe

Filmmaker and friend Darren Wilson has just announced: "It's official. Furious Love conference is a go, and it will be truly unique. April 6-9, 2011 in Monroe, Michigan. More details coming soon."

Josh Bentley of Redeemer is working with Darren on this. Our expectation is that many of the speakers in "Furious Love" will be at this event.

More details will be given as they unfold.

Redeemer Ministry School - We Mentor Students to Preach

Tomorrow morning at Redeemer two of our RMS students will preach - Joy Bergeson and Patt Busenbark.

Our RMS students and other Redeemer young adults regularly preach at our Friday evening meetings at Newport Beach Cafe - 9 PM.

Josh Bentley and I mentor our young adults and RMS students to preach. We guide them through a process of: preparing a sermon, how to study the text, how to be clear and coherent in the presentation, seeking God for what he wants to do when the word is preached, and discerning what the Spirit wants to do when the sermon is done.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Redeemer Ministry School - Historical Survey of the Moves of God

(Azuza Street Mission)

Tomorrow the third trimester of Redeemer Ministry School begins with my colleague Josh Bentley teaching his class:

Kingdom of God III - Historical Survey of The Moves of God

Description: This course will survey the way that The Kingdom of God has advanced historically from the Acts of the Apostles until today. There will be great attention paid to the origins, characteristics, and demises of each move of God. Meets Tuesday/Thursday; 9:30am - 11:00am

Personally, I don't know someone who knows more about this subject, studies it as hard, and is so passionate about it. All students taking Josh's class will be privileged to learn under someone who is a growing scholar in this area.

C.S. Lewis on Pride

C.S. Lewis writes:

"The Christians are right: it is Pride which has been the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began. Other vices may sometimes bring people together: you may find good fellowship and jokes and friendliness among drunken people or unchaste people. But pride always means enmity - it is enmity. And not only enmity between man and man, but enmity to God.

In God you come up against something which is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself. Unless you know God as that - and, therefore, know yourself as nothing in comparison - you do not know God at all. As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you."

James 4:6 says - "God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble."

Francis Frangipane has called pride "the armor of darkness."

Pride keeps, by an act of self-will, God out, and self in.

Lewis calls pride "the complete anti-God state of mind." "Pride is spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense."

"Pride," on the surface,  seems cool, like something one would want to have, since it declares "I am better than other people!" But to want this is like saying "I want to have cancer inside of me." Pride is corrosive. Pride eats away. Pride alienates. Pride is always the teacher, since, essentially, pride cannot learn because it is convinced that it is the fountain of all learning.

The proud person is a person in bondage who cannot see their own prison walls. To rescue a proud person one must engage in the prison ministry of humility. When humility meets pride, freedom meets bondage.

Nietzsche despised the kind of things I am saying. He did not understand the strength and power of humility. "Christ humbled himself, taking on the form of a servant." (Phil. 2)

Lewis concludes: "If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can, I think, tell him the first step. The first step is to realise that one is proud. And a biggish step, too. At least, nothing whatever can be done before it. If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed."

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Preachers Who Don't Believe In God

(Linda and I with some of my Faith Bible Seminary students in NYC.)

Daniel Dennett and Linda LaScola have published a study called “Preachers Who Are Not Believers.” It's done in the name of The Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University. There’s a dialogue re. their study at’s “On Faith.”

I read the document today and have some thoughts.

1. The burning question is: “Are there clergy who don’t believe in God?” Without seeing the study, my answer would be “yes.” Of course. “With the help of a grant from a small foundation, administered through Tufts University, we set out to find some closeted nonbelievers who would agree to be intensively --and, of course, confidentially–interviewed.” (1)

2. Dennett and LaScola (D&S) are both atheists. Will this skew their research? Possibly. But since we all interpret out of a “grand narrative,” there’s no intrinsic reason to protest. Theists can study ex-atheists, so atheists can also study ex-theists.

3. D&S call this a “pilot study.” Which means it functions as a prototype for more studies. “For this pilot study we managed to identify five brave pastors, all still actively engaged with parishes, who were prepared to trust us with their stories. All five are Protestants, with master’s level seminary education. Three represented liberal denominations (the liberals) and two came from more conservative, evangelical traditions (the literals).”

4. The five pastors all think there are more clergy-closet-unbelievers. But, admittedly, they can’t verify this. D&S think there are more. I say, of course there are. How many more? We don’t know. My guess is that it would be a small percentage. One reason is this. For the past 30 years I have functioned as a spiritual coach/director for 800+ clergy. They have been from every part of the world, all over the U.S., male and female, old and young. I have given them assignments re. prayer, meditation, and journal-keeping. They have submitted their journals to me. While I allow them to edit the journals, 99% have chosen not to edit them. The coaching period has been, minimally, six weeks, and in a few occasions a year or more. Most of my coaches have been in my spiritual transformation courses taught at four theological seminaries (one of which is a Chinese seminary). Two of the four seminaries are multi-racial, multi-ethnic evangelical Protestant, one is Chinese, the other African-American. The journals have been a window into the hearts of church leaders. One result of my spiritual mentoring experience has been to boil down the inner struggle into a number of what I call “ontological dichotomies.” While I have at times seen various kinds of doubts in the journals, I have hardly ever (if ever) seen unbelief. Not even between the lines. I’ll add that I think I have a nose for that kind of thing.

5. Throughout the document D&S make several judgments that I find questionable. Because I work closely with seminaries (as, e.g., I am currently Project Director for the Doctor of Ministry Program at Palmer Theological Seminary), I find D&L narrow. For example, they write that the five interviewees and other potential interviewees seemed, generally, confused about the definition of “believer.” D&S write: “Are they perhaps deceiving themselves? There is no way of answering, and this is no accident. The ambiguity about who is a believer and who a nonbeliever follows inexorably from the pluralism that has been assiduously fostered by many religious leaders for a century and more: God is many different things to different people, and since we can’t know if one of these conceptions is the right one, we should honor them all. This counsel of tolerance creates a gentle fog that shrouds the question of belief in God in so much indeterminacy that if asked whether they believed in God, many people could sincerely say that they don’t know what they are being asked.” I don’t doubt that D&S discovered some who could not tell the difference. And yes, a number of religious leaders have fostered pluralism. And yes, there are a number of religious leaders who do not foster pluralism. Remember that “mainline churches” are, mainly, pluralism-fostering environments. (But we must be cautious here as, e.g., Lutherans are so diverse – they all have their own seminaries, some of which do not foster pluralism.) Non-mainline churches do not turn on the fog machine “that shrouds the question of belief in God.” See hear, e.g., USC sociologist of religion professor Donald E. Miller’s Global Pentecostalism. Also Penn State professor Philip Jenkins' The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity. In short, I agree that there is a “fog” out there in some theological institutions. But that fog does not linger over evangelicalism and global Pentecostalism. I see the absence of this fog in the spiritual journals that are sent to me, and the many other theological contexts I teach and minister in. I do, however, think D&L identify the fogginess of what has been called “liberal” Christianity. I think it would be good for mainline seminaries to pay attention to the non-directed nature of what they do and the existential wilderness they leave some of their students in. To me, as I now think of this, I am reminded of a generation of parents who raised their children to “make their own decisions” while all the time these children needed some mentors, in a more directed way.

6. Some of D&L’s conclusions of this small pilot study are:

a. “The loneliness of non-believing pastors is extreme.” I’ll qualify this to say: The loneliness of five non-believing pastors is extreme. It may be that the loneliness of most or all is this way. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that it was so. I suspect the loneliness factor will be a function of the particular theological environment they serve in.

b. There is a “gulf… between what one says from the pulpit and what one has been taught in seminary.” OK. Sometimes the gulf is an intellectual one. While I was in seminary I took some independent studies; e.g. one on a reading of Heidegger’s Being and Time, one on a reading of Gadamer’s truth and method, and one on the “problem of religious language.” To this day I never mention “Heidegger” from the pulpit, yet I continue to read, on occasion, Heidegger. But D&L specifically mention the seminarian’s studies on textual-critical issues. Some seminarians, a few at least, freak out over these things. Others, like myself, continue them to this day. Many of us have not become “Bart Ehrman’s.” That’s our testimony. And of course Bart has his. What’s the difference between a “Bart Ehrman” and a “Craig Keener?” Both are brilliant. Some have made guesses as to the difference. No ad hominems allowed, please.

c. D&L talk about the responses of people when an unbelieving clergy-person comes out of the closet. They liken this to Mother Teresa. D&L write: “And of course Mother Theresa encountered the same response from those to whom she confided her loss of faith. Nobody in any church wants to learn that a person of God has lost their belief in God.” But Mother Teresa did not lose her faith. I’ve read her journals. Having read hundreds of journals over the past 30 years, I suspect that anyone who thinks, on reading Mother Teresa’s journals, that she became an unbeliever, have themselves never read a spiritual journal in their life.

d. D&L describe the five nonbelieving clergy as “brave individuals who are still trying to figure out how to live with the decisions they made many years ago, when they decided, full of devotion and hope, to give their lives to a God they no longer find by their sides.” Probably it does take courage to admit you have committed to a “profession” the heart of which is belief in God, and now you no longer believe in God. Had this happened to me, I would have to resign from my congregation, since it is a group of passionate God-believers. It would be unethical for me to stay as their “pastor” and, when one of them asks me about “heaven” I become “very good at holding my tongue” (as one of the interviewees said). One interviewee, Jack, says things like “Well, that’s very nice of you to say that,” as the young widow says she believes her husband is in heaven. “Wes,” an unbelieving pastor, says: “I don’t feel like a hypocrite. I feel very authentic and very credible when I say things to my people. . .” As I read this I feel the fog settling in, the thick obscuring cloud that blurs the distinction between hypocrisy and authenticity.

D&L’s document is 28 pages long, with moments of helpful insight and some stretches of fog.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Nagel on the Self-contradictoriness & Vacuity of Relativism

NYU Professor of Philosophy & Professor of LawThomas Nagel writes:

"Many forms of relativism and subjectivism collapse into either self-contradiction or vacuity - self-contradiction because they end up claiming that nothing is the case, or vacuity because they boil down to the assertion that anything we say or believe is something we say or believe. I think that all general and most restricted forms of subjectivism that do not fail in either of these ways are pretty clearly false. It is usually a good strategy to ask whether a general claim about truth or meaning applies to itself. Many theories, like logical positivism, can be eliminated immediately by this test. The familiar point that relativism is self-refuting remains valid in spite of its familiarity: We cannot criticize some of our own claims of reason without employing reason at some other point to formulate and support those criticisms."
For those unfamiliar with "logical positivism," it is a philosophical position of the early-to-mid twentieth century that claimed setences were cognitively meaningless unless empirically verifiable or tautological (analytic staements, such as defintions, where the predicate is contained analytically in the subject). But by its own principle of verification the "verification principle" of logical positivism itself was cognitively meaningless, and therefore obviousyl self-contradictory. It was eventually rejected by Wittgenstein who had esposed it in his earleir work Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.

Friday, March 19, 2010

An Evening of Prophetic, Redemptive Activity

If you are one of Jesus' followers who is in need of strength, comfort, or encouragement from God, then I invite you to join me tomorrow evening, March 20, 6-8 PM, in our church's sanctuary. We are going to worship, pray, and invite the Holy Spirit to minister to us.

A few months ago, during one of my extended prayer times, I heard God speak to me about this: set apart March 20 (our normal Worship Intercession Night [WIN]) for an evening of worship and welcoming the prophetic.

Biblically ths is on target since we are to welcome prophetic activity. In the Old Testament God spoke through prophets. In the New Testament God gives his called-out people the spiritual gift of prophecy. We are told, in 1 Corinthians 14:1, that we are to desire spiritual gifts, and especially that we might prophesy. Why? Because, as Paul goes on to say in 1 Cor. 14:3 - through prophecy God can speak so as to strengthen, encourage, and comfort his people.

Last spring I had another one of those moments where a scripture that I had read many times became highlighted for me. It was 1 Cor. 14:1-3. At that moment my desire to prophesy increased. Here is how I now understand this.

Linda and I, every week, every day, help people who are struggling. We love doing this. Over the years we have seen many successes. These moments become the best moments of our lives. For us it doesn't get any better than to engage in redemptive activity. It has also happened, many times, that God has given us just the right words to say that do a redeeming work in the person we are helping. And, we've had our moments of felt incapacity and inability. Even now we have friends that we love who are in deep struggles, and lack the words and ideas that would set them free. So - God, can you help us?

At this point the gift of prophecy becomes sought-after. I want this gift, operating in my life, now more than ever. I do not want it to be some "prophet." I do want it because I long to see greater redemptive activity in the lives of people I care for and love. Surely God has the keys to a person's suffering heart. Surely God knows the way out of bondage and darkness. What if, instead of just using our intellects, God, out of his all-knowingness, revealed words that functioned as agents of freedom and hope? That, for me, is 1 Corinthians 14-type "prophesy." Who wouldn't want something like that?

I have a sense of expectation about tomorrow evening. It's been placed in my heart, by God. If either you or someone you know needs a word from God, I invite you to join me.

Is Paul Copan A Moral Relativist?

Hector Avalos recently pointed me here in response to my post on Paul Copan’s essay "Are Old Testament Laws Evil?" One of Hector’s claims is that Copan’s position is itself an example of moral relativism.

Avalos says: “As an atheist, I don’t deny that I am a moral relativist. Rather, my aim is to expose the fact that Christians are also moral relativists. Indeed, when it comes to ethics, there are only two types of people in this world:

A. Those who admit they are moral relativists;
B. Those who do not admit they are moral relativists.”

Now that... is an astounding claim. All persons are moral relativists? Can he be serious? Plato was a moral relativist? I don’t think so. At least it is phenomenally unhelpful and misleading to claim this. Avalos reduces all philosophical ethics courses to one note. Call it: Varieties of Moral Relativism.

My son is currently taking an ethics course at his university. I am now holding the text in my hand. It’s Contemporary Moral Problems, by James E. White. Chapter One is called: “Ethical Theories.” This chapter has ten essays, all primary source materials. One of the ten (not all) is called “Ethical Relativism,” by William H. Shaw. Apparently, on Avalos’s theory, the other nine should be titled the same.

Shaw writes: “ethical relativism is the normative theory that what is right is what the culture says is right. What is right in one place may be wrong in another, because the only criterion for distinguishing right from wrong – the only ethical standard for judging an action – is the moral system of the society in which it occurs.” (White, 35)

OK. Well-said. But Plato did not believe that, as every philosophy student knows. So, Plato was not an ethical relativist. Neither Plato nor Platonists (like C.S. Lewis, e.g.) hold to the theory of ethical relativism.

Should Avalos write a book called “Everyone Is Really an Ethical Relativist” I suggest it will not be taken seriously by most philosophers. Some, however, might take it seriously. They would be, of course, ethical relativists who know they are ethical relativists (as opposed to lying ethical relativists which, it seems, is no crime on ethical relativism). Like Avalos, who confesses to hold to ethical relativism. He seems like the man whose only tool is a hammer and sees every problem as a nail. I am guessing that he sees ethical relativism in everything. It’s not. But it leads to a lot of question-begging.

Avalos writes: “Dr. Copan fails because he cannot admit that he is a moral relativist.” The reason Copan doesn’t admit to it is because he’s not. Copan is an ethical objectivist. (See Copan, "A Moral Argument," in To Everyone An Answer, in Beckwith, Craig, and Moreland)

Perhaps Avalos says what he says because he thinks Copan should be a moral relativist. Perhaps Copan’s reasoning wanders away from ethical objectivism into ethical relativism? Maybe Copan sounds, at times, more like an ethical relativist than an ethical objectivist? Maybe Avalos hears Copan that way? Is Copan saying he’s an ethical objectivist but he’s really inconsistent? When I read him it does not appear that way to me. But even if Copan is inconsistent I don’t see that he should admit he’s an ethical relativist. Inconsistency is transgression from one’s thought-out position. Probably, it happens to everyone. I know as I read some atheists I find them sounding like ethical objectivists, like the atheists Nietzsche’s madman encountered in the “village.”

Avalos, as an atheist, is committed to ethical relativism. I agree that, if atheism is true, then moral values are only subjective, and ethical relativism logically follows from this. But Avalos begs the question by saying Copan cannot admit he’s an ethical relativist precisely because Copan is a theist. This is what I think is going on here. As someone who believes the statement "God exists" is false, Avalos is thereby committed to ethical relativism. If it is false that God exists, then there are no objective moral values, even if people like Paul Copan think there are. But Copan, and I, think it is true that God exists. Therefore ethical relativism is false, and ethical objectivism is true. When Avalos, operating out of his noetic framework, calls everyone an ethical relativist, it's like a theist who tells Avalos he really believes in God even thought the atheist protests. I don't see that following that path of reasoning will get us anywhere. Because it begs the question.

Perhaps, when Avalos says all persons are really ethical relativists, he is making some kind of inside joke that I don’t get. It’s happened to me before. If that’s the case then those who get the joke are having a very good time at my expense. If it’s not a joke and Avalos is serious, then I think the joke is on him, since he seems to think that the set of "closet relativists" includes everyone from Plato to Kant to divine command theorists to even atheists who hold that there are objective moral values. If Avalos were right a lot of things would need to change in the area of philosophy of ethics. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy essay on “Moral Relativism” itself would have to be rewritten, since it assumes some philosophers (like, e.g., Martha Nussbaum) has “objectivist credentials.” I'll have to go back to a lot of my former philosophy professors and accuse them of lying as they refused to admit that they, too, were really moral relativists disguised as Kantians, Platonists, Aristotelians, etc.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

"Furious Love" Showing at Redeemer March 19

Darren Wilson's film "Furious Love" will be showing at Redeemer Fellowship Church Friday evening, March 19, 9 PM.


For information call 734-242-5277.

Redeemer Ministry School - Jim Hunter's Leadership Class

I would love to see many of you experience Jm Hunter's Leadership Class this spring, as I did last spring.

If you feel God wants you to attend please either respond back to me by e-mail ( or let call Stella at our church office.

The class will meet: Thursdays, 5-7 PM.

If you are not a full-time RMS student and wish to take the class the cost is: $75.

If you feel God wants you to take the class but cannot afford this please contact me to make arrangements.

First class session - Thursday, March 25, 5 PM, at the church building.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Come Study With Me For 9 Months!

If you'd like to have nine months of intensive academic and experiential studies focused on the Real Jesus and his Kingdom, check our our website - Redeemer Ministry School.

Study not only with me, but with Josh Bentley, Holly Benner, Jim Hunter, Gary Wilson, Jim Collins, and others.

Sept 2010 - June 2011

Monday, March 15, 2010

Bart Ehrman's Anachronistic "Jesus, Interrupted"

You can hear Bart Ehrman talk about his book Jesus, Interrupted on NPR here.

Then, you can read NT scholar Ben Witherington critique Ehrman's book here. Witherington's critique is voluminous, coming in five parts. Mostly, Ehrman's approach is seen as anachronistic, as are approaches that attempt to harmonize apparent discrepancies.

Ben Witherington On the Bible as "The Grand Narrative"

Here's a very nice article by NT scholar Ben Witherington called: "Jesus' Narrative Thought World and Message." Ben has placed a second title for this piece, which reads: "The Grand Narrative: The Storied World of Jesus and His Message." Witherington lines up with the kind of biblical work N.T. Wright is doing, the point being: read the scriptures as narrative, since that's how they were originally read. Do not read them, as Brian McLaren rightly says, "constitutionally."

Further Adventures in Neuroscience

I am no neuroscientist. But I have been long interested in brain studies and their relation to philosophy and theology. Back in the 1980s James Ashbrook was on my dissertation committee and exposed me to neuro-theological work. He was way ahead of his time.

In my last post I quoted psychologist Michael Gazzaniga as stating a claim I've heard many times now, which is:
  • The brain acquires information and makes decisions well before we are consciously forming choices.
  • We're all on a little bit of taped delay between unconsciousness and awareness.
  • We think we are in charge, but we're really not.
I think I understand the meaning of that. So I have this problem, which may just be me. Logically, it forms like this:

1. The brain is the decision maker, not "I."
2. Gazzaniga's brain made a decision to communicate the idea that we think we are in charge, but we're really not.
3. Gazzaniga, therefore, is really not in charge.
4. Are we then simply to believe Gazzaniga's brain on such things?

If the brain makes a decision prior to some "self" "consciously forming a choice," can we choose against the brain? If so, then it seems that "I" am in charge, and not the brain. But if the brain really is in charge, then "I" do not have free will about this (in the sense of consciously forming a "choice." "Choice-making" then is but epiphenomenal activity, itself having no causal effect on the physical brain. "Michael Gazzaniga" did not make some "choice" between competing viewpoints and "decide" for the theory "he" is putting forth.

Certain neuroscientists such as U. of Montreal's Mario Beauregaard believe there is an "I" that makes choices that then effect changes in the physical brain. But if Gazzaniga is correct how could "we" ever know it? Why should we believe his brain? And how could one ever reason about the truth of competing theories?

The Humanities Are Morphing Into Neuroscience

Need a job in the future? Become a neuroscientist. Because all things sociological, psychological, philosophical, and theological are morphing into the neurological. The social ramifications of this are huge. Consider, e.g., issues of law and ethics. What is the nature of "responsibility" if persons don't have free will?

An example of this is USA Today's little article "Who Killed John Lennon? Science Looks At the Brain and the Law." Who killed John Lennon - the person or the brain? Is there such a thing as a "person" apart from the brain.

Psychologist Michael Gazzaniga asks "whether brain scans be accepted in court. What's the veracity of eyewitness testimony? Do we need to revisit the 166-year-old definition of the insanity defense, given what we're learning now about free will and culpability?"

Gazzaniga's view, as is the view of some neuroscientists, "is that the brain acquires information and makes decisions well before we are consciously forming choices. Gazzaniga says, "We're all on a little bit of taped delay between unconsciousness and awareness. But none of us believe it. We think we are in charge.""

If we are not in charge, who or what is? Answer: the brain.

With those words a universe of questions, problems, and controversies arises. If decision-making is fully reducible to neural matter than is anyone (whoever "anyone" might be) ever responsible for anything? Why punish someone for something their "brain" did, but "they" did not do (because there is no "they")? Consider intra-neuroscientific controversies, such as illustrated in the book Neuroscience and Philosophy, where Maxwell Bennett and Peter Hacker accuse Daniel Dennett and John Searle of committing the "mereological fallacy" when they equate the "mind" with the physical brain.

George Orwell would have loved all of this. Or at least, his brain would love it.

Host the Loving Presence of God


This morning I preached on John 17:25-26. Here Jesus concludes his prayer for his followers. He says he is giving the love the Father has for him to be "in" his followers.

I spent some time developing the nature of the love the Father has for the Son. The Christian conception of God is: God is a three-personed being. This means: three individual persons sharing one essence. AKA the "Godhead."

The essence of the Godhead is: love. On Christian theism God is love.Trinitarian love is:
- other centered
- freely given and freely received
- unconditional

To say that Trinitarian love is other-centered is to say it is, of course, not self-centered. Love this of the other. Love is not entertained by questions like "What's in this relationship for me?"

To say that love is freely given and freely received means that God's love for us is not out of any need God has for our love. What can that mean? To begin, "love" is relational. In love, one subject loves an other. Because God is a three-personed being, this makes conceptual sense of the idea that God is love. In the Trinity the Father loves the Son, the Son the Father, the Spirit the Son, and so on. In this sense, because God is love, God is not out looking for love in all the wrong places. Stanley Grenz says: “Because God is triune, the divine reality already comprehends both love’s subject and object.” (Stanley Grenz, Theology For the Community of God, 72).

To say that God's love is unconditional is to say that love is not merit-based. It is NEVER based on the merit of the one receiving it. Rather, it is based on the loving nature of the one giving it. If the love of God were merit-based, then God would NOT BE LOVE. This therefore means there is no “striving” in the being of God. Within the being of the Godhead the Son, e.g., is not trying really hard to earn or deserve the love of the Father.

This has implications for you and I. When you feel you’ve got to strive to get God’s approval and love, you’ll start to compete with other Christians around you and judge them. That’s the bitter fruit of merit-based love. You see that when people start talking about others who either “deserve” or “don’t deserve” their love. There are a lot of ministries and churches and individual Christians out there trying to “outdo” each other for God’s approval, to impress other people, or to feel better about their own corporate selves. All of that is totally foreign to the being of the Godhead.

God's love is also everlasting. It has always existed, and always will. And, its manifestation has been a 24/7 thing (understanding this metaphorically, since "time" is non-applicable in a being whose existence is everlasting). There has never been even a tiny micro-second where the love of God has slacked off.

Now think, as much as you can, about love within the Godhead. What if such love were in you? As outrageous as that sounds, that is precisely the claim Jesus makes when he says, in John 17:25, that the love the Father has for him will be in his followers. I love what New Testament scholar D.A. Carson has said about this. Carson writes:
“Jesus’ revelatory work will continue (through the Holy Spirit), so that God’s gracious self-disclosure in his Son will not be reduced to a mere datum of history, but will be a lived experience." (Carson, The Gospel According to John, 570)  
Now watch this, as Carson writes:
“The crucial point is that this text does not simply make these followers the objects of God’s love, but promises that they will be so transformed, as God is continually made known to them, that God’s own love for his Son will become their love. The love with which they learn to love is nothing less than the love amongst the persons of the Godhead.” (Ib.)
Remember that Jesus, in John 14:23, has already told his disciples, "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” I take all of this to mean that we are not to spend our prayers asking for a visitation from God. This is because God wants to make, with us, in us, a "habitation." This is not "Guess who's coming to dinner?" This is: "Guess who's moving in with us, forever and ever and evermore.
When God moves in to your heart and makes his home there he brings his stuff. I want you to think… tonight… as you are in your home… that God lives with you… in you… “Christ in you, the hope of glory”… and He’s there with suitcases full of his stuff. And what wouold be in those suitcases? Things like: his peace, his joy, his all-knowingness, his all-powerfulness, his all-lovingness. And his love is grace-filled, good, truthful, righteous, pure, other-centered, freely extended, non-merit-based with no strings attached.

In short – When God moves in and unpacks his bags he brings his “glory.” "Christ in you, the hope of glory. The word “glory” means – the attributes of God. God's resources and attributes and, above all other things, his everlasting love. The love of eternal Three-in-One God is in you and in me as we dwell in and with him, like branches attached to Jesus, the True Vine.

This an experiential thing. It is not some theory. It is not a bunch of words. Accept this as truth.

But, you may wonder, "I don’t comprehend it all? You don’t need to. For example, a few weeks ago I was watching a guitar instructional dvd that had some amazing guitar work on it that is, currently, beyond me. I saw it with my own eyes. I heard it. It was glorious. And I did not understand it. I wondered – “How does he do that? I cannot comprehend it. But it is so, so beautiful.” I'd love for that to get inside of me! What i saw was real and beautiful and I wanted it. But I did not "know" it in the sense of comprehending it and being able to do it. It's the same kind of thing when it comes to Trinitarian love.

Think now of the real and Incomprehensible love of God. Paul experienced it, knew it, and did not fully comprehend it. So, in Ephesians 3:16-19, Paul wrote:

"I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God."

Jesus closes his prayer by adding, "…and that I myself may be in them." D.A. Carson writes: “This is nothing less than the ancient hope that God would dwell in the midst of his people.” (Carson, 570-571) We see that ancient hope in a text like Isaiah 66:1:

"This is what the LORD says:
"Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool.
Where is the house you will build for me?
Where will my resting place be?

Here Craig Keener quotes Carson:

“Jesus’ departure does not have as its goal the abandonment of the disciples to solitary isolation. Far from it: his goal is to sweep up those the Father has given him into the richness of the love that exists among the persons of the triune God.” (In Craig Keener, The Gospel of John, 1064)

I am being swept up in the Trinitarian love of God. It's for every follower of Jesus. It's not merit-based. So...

Know that God loves you.
Accept that, as you dwell in Christ, Trinitarian love makes its home in your heart.
Be the dwelling place of God.
Host the earth-shattering presence of God.
Let's God's love rule in your heart.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Healing: A Few Developing Thoughts


I'm just working some thoughts out here that are under continuous development...

A few years ago a man in our church named Carl broke his foot. Under any circumstances this is sad, but it felt especially so since Carl is a runner. Some years ago Carl ran in the Detroit Free Press Marathon and did well enough to qualify for the Boston Marathon. One time when I was at Carl's house he and his wife Sarah showed me pictures of Carl running his first Boston Marathon. Just to compete in that most famous of marathons is, to me, quite an accomplishment. I asked Carl about his training. "What did you do to train for these marathons?" Carl said: "Run." OK.

When Carl broke his foot the following sequence of events happened. I write them in an unembellished form, as I remember them, as they occurred.

1. One day Carl felt something bad happen in his foot.
2. Carl went to the hospital.
3. X-rays/MRI showed the foot was broken, and exactly where it was broken.
4. Carl asked people in our church to pray that God would heal his foot - so, on a Sunday morning, we prayed for Carl.
5. Carl went back to his doctor the next week.
6. New tests on the foot were taken.
7. X-rays/MRI showed there was no break in Carl's foot.
8. Carl believed God healed his foot in an answer to our prayers.
9. I have the medical records in front of me, on my desk, as I write.

Statements 1-9 are "factual." I put quotes around the word "factual" since, as a philosopher who is fairly acquainted with the discussion about what qualifies as a "fact" in the first place, I realize that whenever the word "fact is used an entire universe of meaning opens up that itself needs to be considered. Nonetheless, and with that in mind, I believe 1-9 are statements that are all true.

Let's pause here for a moment. An atheist who is a philosophical naturalist can agree that statements 1-9 are true. Even with #8, there is no reason to doubt that Carl believed, and still believes, that God healed his foot. The question then becomes: is it true that God healed Carl's foot. With that we have a tenth statement:

10. The cause of Carl's foot showing no break is that God healed his foot.

Carl believes 10 to be true, as do I. But #10 is a different kind of statement than are #s 1-9. Here we have a statement that is an interpretation of 1-9. 10 claims to be an explanation for the facts 1-9. 10 claims to be an "inference to the best explanation." Every interpretation is a function of some cognitive context. Which worldview or noetic framework best explains what happened to Carl?

When we talk of worldviews, noetic frameworks, or metanarratives, we have left the world of empirical realities discoverable (to a degree - because there's controversy here) by "science." "Science" qua "science" cannot give worldviews or metanarratives. One cannot see "theism" or "atheism" under a microscope. But it takes a metanarrative to interpret a "fact." Or, perhaps, something becomes a "fact" or not based on a metanarrative. All facts are theory-laden. As a theist I can see that it is probable that God healed Carl's foot. That explanation is not odd if theism is true. If atheism is true then 10 is, of course, false, and there must be some purely naturalistic explanation even if we cannot now see it.

This makes the central area of discussion that of adjudicating between worldviews. Statements 1-9 do not evidentially "prove" either theism or atheism; rather, it is "by" either theism or atheism (or some other worldview) that one comes up with statement 10. By inference to the best explanation we ask which way of seeing best explains 1-9? If I already believe there is no God then of course 10 above as false. If I already believe in God then, by the sequence of events (broken foot-receive prayer-foot not broken), I can accept 10 as true. If the atheist is stunned as to how someone like myself or even Carl could accept 10 as true, their being-stunned should not be as a result of some totally objective "facts."

Note this: If the atheist-naturalist claims "No one gets healed today" after reading a clinical case like Carl's, then I suspect this is but an epiphenomenon of their pre-existing worldview. "Evidence" gets filtered through their naturalistic metanarrative which removes any supernatural causes. Of course. And of course I rejoiced when God healed Carl's foot.

(I have collaborated with two scholars who are now writing, independently, texts on divine healing. They have Carl's medical records.)

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Background Music As Grand Narrative

(Robert DeNiro's moment of redemption in "The Mission.")

My mother loved music. I'm not sure if my father did. They started me on guitar lessons when I was five. I took lessons at Koster Guitar Studio, in Rockford, Illinois. Kay Koster was my instructor.

NAMM recognizes Kay on their website

"Kay Koster was a pioneering women retail owner, who not only successfully ran a business on her own beginning in 1940. She also personally repaired guitars and amps of all makes and models for decades –even after she closed her retail store. Koster’s Music in Rockford, IL was primarily a guitar store, perhaps the first such store in the country. As the Fender line developed, Kay was one of the first dealers in the state and soon became an expert of electric guitar repairs. In addition to her career in the industry, Kay has also been a respected guitarist, first in the big bands and then into rock and roll."

I was small, and could not hold a "real" guitar, so Kay started me on slide guitar. I took slide guitar lessons from her for three years. At times, over the years, I wish I would have continued when I hear the amazing things that can be done on the instrument! My old National Steel Guitar hangs on the wall in my office, intact, well-used, with a broken nut. The fingerstyle techniques Kay taught me as a boy laid a foundation for my entrance into fingerstyle picking when I finally got my first acoustic guitar. I used to display my fingerstyle prowess before the audience of my mother.

My mother loved to hear me play guitar. The environment might be just me, or Linda and I, in the kitchen, with my guitar, paying and singing for her. In her last month of life I brought my guitar into the nursing home where she was at. One evening she was lying in bed, and I was sitting in a chair playing exquisite, lyrical, spontaneous finger-style for her. A lady in the room next to us heard my guitar and shouted, "Shut that thing up!" I played softer. I played as well as I could for my dying mother, who had music deep in her soul, and had introduced me to music and invested in my musical career.

This morning Linda, who is a piano-vocal instructor, told me that one of her piano students wanted to learn a song called "The Crisis," by Ennio Morricone. I found it online and downloaded it. In the process I found out that Morricone wrote "Mission," the theme song for the movie "The Mission." Have you seen that movie? It has, for me, the most powerful scene of redemption there is on film, as a murderer played by Robert DeNiro is literally and spiritually released from his burden of sin that he carries with him.

I just downloaded Morricone's "Mission" and began to listen, and can hardly bear it. The whole narrative of that movie now comes to me: a humanly unpardonable sin of the murder of one's own biological brother in a fit of rage; imprisoned for the crime with nothing to do but sit in the filth of the unpardonable act, replaying it over and over; a tormented soul with life and meaning and future ripped out; physical release from prison but deep unrelenting bondage of the soul; until...  that amazing grace-filled moment... when the soul is unconditionally forgiven, the debt is cancelled, tears of gratitude flood forth..., redemption... another soul set free. I now listen to Morricone's haunting-beautiful melodic masterpiece, and I am the recipient of the Christ's redemptive activity. It feels like too much to bear, in a good way. It seems too good to be true. Yet it is true. It has become my entire life.

Every life is lived in some Grand Narrative. No one can escape the "metanarrative." I live by the life-giving biblical metanarrative. I stand with C.S. Lewis, who said that by the Grand Narrative of Judeo-Christianity "I see everything else."  N.T. Wright describes the Judeo-Christian scriptures as "a five-act play." It becomes like a piece of music, with the motif of redemption introduced, rebelled against, searched-for, accomplished ("It is finished"), and now lived-out in all of Jesus' followers who have the redemptive motif in their hearts and sing that song every day.

The Grand Narrative that makes sense of my life is remembered today, for me, in Morricone's inspired song that plays on the strings of my heart the song of redemption and release and freedom. I'm seeing things clearly again.