Sunday, January 30, 2011

One More Evening in Sioux Falls

Photo by H. Benner
Linda, Holly and I are loving being in Sioux Falls at the Sioux Falls Regional Outpouring this weekend. We're leading worship, I'm speaking on John 14-16 and staying connected to Jesus as the #1 thing Jesus-followers are to do, and we've eaten too much incredible food (Minerva's salad bar & their addictive burnt cream custard, a fabulous buffet today that ended with bananas foster). So I've grown this weekend.

Tonight is our last meeting. We wake at 4 AM to watch our 6 AM flight - direct from SF to Detroit. Back home at 9 AM.

For all of us this has been an amazing January of ministry!

Friday, January 28, 2011

World Muslim Population Doubling, But "Eurabia's" Not Coming

Twenty years ago, the world had about 1.1 billion Muslims. Twenty years from now, it will have about twice as many - and they'll represent more than a quarter of all people on earth, according to a new study released Thursday. (CNN)

The growth is mostly due to birth rate.

Europe is not going to becomr "Eurabia." In 2030 8% of Europe will be Muslim.

In 2030 Christianity will remain the world's largest religion, with 35% of the global population.

Christianity and Islam may be growing at the same rate.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Sioux Falls Regional Outpouring

Linda, Holly & I are flying to Sioux Falls tomorrow morning. Tomorrow night we'll lead worship at the Sioux Falls Regional Outpouring. Then I'll speak Saturday morning and evening, and Sunday evening, with a lot of worship as well.

We're thankful for our many HSRM friends in Sioux Falls and can't wait to be with them. Hopefully the weather there will be warmer than it is here in Detroit. (Right...)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Rhapsody's Top 20 Christian Albums of 2010


Michael W. Smith


His 22nd career project, produced by Bryan Lennox, finds Michael W. Smith returning to the kind of story-based pop ballads that made his career. "I'll Wait for You" is a raw, real take on the desperation and uncertainty so many people feel on a daily basis, while "Welcome Home" is a musical memorial to those who've left us, often seemingly too soon. The heaviness of "Leave," inspired by the touchy topics of abuse and bullying, is balanced by a pair of love songs written for Smith's wife of 29 years. The hurt we feel is real, Smith acknowledges, but it doesn't overshadow the hope found in God. — Wendy Lee Nentwig



Bebo Norman


We first fell in love with this Southern boy's "aw-shucks" charm, but Bebo Norman has grown up a lot since his 1999 debut. Now a married father of two, his music reflects that life change. His seventh studio project, Ocean, tells the story of navigating the choppy waters of adulthood, while still managing to stay afloat. Topics range from getting real and empty nests to love and insecurity, with Norman juggling faith and fear through it all. Coproduced by Bebo and Jason Ingram, Ocean is full of poetic folk-rock gems, but don't miss the Brandon Heath collaboration "Here Goes." — W.L.N.



Hillsong Live

A Beautiful Exchange

A Beautiful Exchange marks several firsts, including the group's first radio single and U.S. tour. As with Hillsong Live's previous releases, the album was recorded live with the talented team at Australia's Hillsong Church. The group's 19th disc includes the confessional "Forever Reign," written by Reuben Morgan and Jason Ingram, as well as the Joel Houston-penned title track and "Like Incense/Sometimes by Step," which borrows from the classic Rich Mullins tune. What has always been most important to Hillsong remains: this is less an album and more a group of people seeking God together. — W.L.N.



Israel Houghton

Love God. Love People.

Israel Houghton has set the bar pretty high for himself. Fortunately, he flies right over it with this release. Tapping the talent of guest stars including Kirk Franklin, Fred Hammond and Take 6, he effortlessly weaves together gospel, pop and worship sounds to create tracks like the retro-sounding "Name of Love" and the emotional "Others." Houghton wrote or co-wrote all but one of the songs for this collection, and his background as a composer, musician, worship leader and producer combines to make this a multifaceted project with a depth that's rare in today's music world. — W.L.N.




Born Again

Newsboys' 14th studio album, Born Again, marks a new beginning for the Grammy-nominated, Dove-winning band. It's the first recorded with frontman Michael Tait (DC Talk, Tait) and features a wonderfully rejuvenated sound. Produced by The Write Brothers and Mark Heimermann (DC Talk, TobyMac, Michael W. Smith), the album is jam-packed with energetic rock made for live performances. Auditory treats include the funky "When the Boys Light Up" and the redemptive "Build Us Back." Also listen for a cover of "Jesus Freak" and, on the deluxe version, the Tait version of "Glorious." — W.L.N.



The Choir

Burning Like the Midnight Sun

The Choir are back with their 12th studio disc, produced by members Steve Hindalong and Derri Daugherty. The follow-up to 2005’s O How the Mighty Have Fallen, this latest release from the Grammy-nominated group masterfully integrates the diverse artistic personalities of all five members. The result is an album that shows why these iconic elder statesmen of the Christian music world continue to burn bright when others have long since faded away. Don’t miss Burning Like the Midnight Sun’s stunning cover image by New Orleans-based visual artist R.R. Lyon. — W.L.N.



Chris August

No Far Away

There's always room for another talented singer-songwriter on the scene, and Chris August's debut disc is likely something you didn't even know you wanted. From the earthy, organic "Winter Time" to the oh-so-personal "7x70," August spins a web that draws listeners in and doesn't let them go. The Ed Cash-produced project (August coproduced) showcases the singer-songwriter's understated style and his vocals, which bring to mind Michael Buble or Mat Kearney. But he's not mimicking; August has his own authentic vibe that will make you want to keep No Far Away close at hand. — W.L.N.



The Afters

Light Up the Sky

The third studio release from Texas popsters The Afters may have its origins in a dark place, but Light Up the Sky shimmers and shines. The 10-track album deals with new beginnings after the death of the band's former manager and another close friend, as well as some lineup changes. Talented producer Dan Muckala (MercyMe, Amy Grant) helmed the project, and award-winning songwriters Jason Ingram and Brandon Heath collaborated. The title track garnered attention long before the disc's release, thanks to a featured spot on MTV's The Hills. — W.L.N.



Jeremy Camp

We Cry Out: The Worship Project

This is technically only Camp's second worship release (following Carried Me), but in his heart he's always been a worship leader. In contrast to Camp's rock fare, his worship projects feature more collaborations and covers, providing a truly corporate experience. We Cry Out marks the first time Camp has recorded with his touring band in the studio, delivering a more "live" sound. It's also marked by collaborations with artists like Brenton Brown and Matt Maher. Near the end of the album, two originals, "King Jesus" and "Unrestrained," are both destined to become classics. — W.L.N.



Third Day


Arguably the most high-profile of Christian music's Southern rock acts, Third Day continue to create meaningful music that reaches far beyond the Bible Belt. This project is the first to come out of their new Atlanta-area studio, and it marks a return to Third Day's classic rock sound. Producer Paul Moak (Mat Kearney, Matt Maher) helped steer the band in a direction that highlights their 18-year history without feeling like a throwback to their early days. Don't miss the rocker "Gone," featuring a guest appearance by brothers Bo and Bear Rinehart of Needtobreathe. — W.L.N.



Sanctus Real

Pieces of a Real Heart

For their fifth studio album, this Toledo-based quintet continues to evolve, relying on the producing expertise of Chris Stevens, Jason Ingram and Rusty Varenkamp to help them move past the radio-friendly power-pop of past albums to a more guitar-driven sound. While Pieces is decidedly more aggressive, it's still melodic. "Take Over Me" has a heavy rock edge, while "I Want to Get Lost" lightens the mood and "Keep My Heart Alive" is nothing short of anthemic. This is the album that proves these guys are more than just one-time Dove Award winners; they have staying power. — W.L.N.



Charlie Hall

The Rising

Charlie Hall has been part of the Passion movement since 1997, and his talents run from rap to country to spiritual singer-songwriter music. Whatever the style, his songs all stem from his desire to encourage others (and himself) to live like Jesus in a fragmented world. On The Rising, Charlie and his merry band of misfits explore deep questions raised by rubbing up against the world around them, urging listeners to embrace the broken in their midst and love others the way God would. Part album, part social justice message, The Rising is about restoration and reaching out as a form of true worship. — W.L.N.




The Generous Mr. Lovewell

The Generous Mr. Lovewell is a concept album with a kick, based on a fictional character who encourages each of us to change the world through little acts of kindness. The disc began to take shape in a rental cabin on scenic Lake Tahoe before producers Brown Bannister and Dan Muckala put their stamp on it. The result is a mix of dance-friendly pop tunes ("This Life"), retro rock (the title track) and fresh worship ("All of Creation"), all tied together through a message of "extravagant selflessness and faithful optimism." Don't miss the Thad Cockrell cowrite "This So Called Love." — W.L.N.



Audrey Assad

The House You’re Building

This stunning debut is filled with piano-driven pop and introspective worship born from collaborations between Assad and her buddy Matt Maher, as well as Phillip LaRue, Ben Glover, Marc Byrd, Sarah Hart and the album's producer, Marshall Altman (Marc Broussard, Natasha Bedingfield, Bethany Dillon). Recorded in Los Angeles, the project draws inspiration from the writings of St. Augustine, the poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins and Francis Thompson, and Assad's own feelings of being an outsider. But don't worry: both misfits and homecoming queens will feel like Assad is singing directly to them. — W.L.N.



Chris Tomlin

And If Our God Is for Us ...

In between helping to found a church, planning his wedding and continuing to participate in popular Passion events, Chris Tomlin recorded his seventh album. This disc is Tomlin's first recorded in his own studio, a cabin next to his home in Atlanta. Providing continuity is the return of producer Ed Cash, who shared duties this time around with Dan Muckala (Amy Grant, MercyMe). The album is permeated by Tomlin's belief that "If you really believe in God, you know that everything is possible." The track "I Will Follow" reminds us why his songs are the gold standard in the worship world. — W.L.N.



Matthew West

The Story of Your Life

Singer-songwriters make their living mining their own lives for fodder for their next big hit, but what if they decided to tell your story instead? Matthew West did just that, locking himself away in a cabin in the woods outside Nashville, where he pored over letters he solicited from listeners. The topics ranged from heavenly to heartbreaking, and the best ones inspired the songs on The Story of Your Life. Don't miss "Family Tree," a track that traces the family dysfunction of a listener before reminding her (and all of us) that our legacy is determined by our role as children of God. — W.L.N.



Mavis Staples

You Are Not Alone

She's a gospel great, a Grammy Lifetime Achievement recipient and arguably one of the greatest singers of all time. You Are Not Alone reminds us why. Produced by Wilco's Jeff Tweedy, this project takes on poverty, joblessness other social ills, hoping to make them better through music. It's something she's been doing for more than 60 years. Staples credits this album, recorded with her own band and augmented by Wilco members and friends, with taking her back to her childhood. Don't miss "Only the Lord Knows," a Tweedy composition written just for Staples. — W.L.N.





TobyMac just can't stop outdoing himself. His fourth album builds on what is already a Grammy-winning solo career. Don't let his laid-back demeanor fool you: it hides a perfectionism that allows him to deliver stellar tracks, such as the heartfelt "City on Our Knees" and "Changed Forever" as well as trademark tunes like "Funky Jesus Music" and "ShowStopper." The disc features an eclectic mix of rap, rock, pop, funk and even reggae, and addresses topics of faith as well as the hard work of building a good marriage. Guests include Israel Houghton, Skillet's John Cooper and Relient K's Matthew Thiessen. — W.L.N.



Jars of Clay

Jars of Clay Presents The Shelter

Some artists make music that is here today and gone tomorrow, while others craft songs that stand the test of time. Jars of Clay make the latter, and The Shelter is just further proof. Known for holing up in a room together when they create, this time around the foursome threw open wide the doors of the studio, inviting in friends old and new. More than just guest stars, though, this community of artists took the task seriously, offering input on writing and recording. The result is a perfect picture of how we can embody God's call to care for each other, providing shelter from life's storms. — W.L.N.



Dave Barnes

What We Want, What We Get

His fourth studio album may be the first Christian fans hear about, but they should definitely start making up for lost time. With the help of longtime producer Ed Cash, this Nashville-based singer-songwriter has crafted a collection that is perfect for a windows-down drive on a warm spring day and deep enough for a contemplative afternoon at the coffeehouse. What We Want, What We Get straddles that fine line between pop and pulpit, asking the question, "What do we do when life doesn't turn out like it should?" The answer: crank up more of this addictive pop and sing along. — W.L.N.

Tonight's Logic Class - "Doubt" (or any movie for that matter) Is Better Than "Elf"

Tonight in my Logic class I will present my logical argument that the movie "Doubt" is better than the movie "Elf." The argument can be found here.

A few additional comments:

  1. To compare "Elf" with "Doubt" is surely unfair, a bit like "Godzilla vs. Bambi."
  2. I have to this day never watched the movie "Elf." I did see "Doubt." I doubt that "Elf" is any good, for reasons I give in my argument.
  3. How can I argue that "Doubt" is better than "Elf" if I have never seen "Elf?" The answer is: my argument is an a priori argument. Philosopher Galen Strawson described an a priori argument this way: "You can see that it is true just lying on your couch. You don't have to get up off your couch and go outside and examine the way things are in the physical world. You don't have to do any science." Kant showed us that there is such a thing as a priori knowledge. The statement "Doubt" is better than "Elf" is an analytic statement, not a synthetic statement. Analytic statements (or propositions) are true in virtue of their meaning alone. Such as, e.g., A bachelor is an unmarried man. Therefore one does not need to see "Elf" to know it is a poorer movie than "Doubt" (or any other movie, for that matter).

For Matt H. (Re. his recent Facebook request...)

1 Timothy 2:12 - Part 2

1 Timothy 2:12 is a verse that generates a lot of theological heat. I'm following Craig Keener's analysis in his Paul, Women, and Wives. Here are ythe highlights from his section "Specific Situation or General Rule?" (109)

1 Tim. 2:11-12 "clerly forbids women to teach in some sense." (Ib.) "Probably it only forbids them to teach in a way that usurps authority, and so seeks to domineer, although this is not absolutely clear." (Ib.) Did Paul mean thse words to apply only to the women who were directly addressed in his letter, "or was he depending on a general principle applicable to all women at all times?"

Some argue that Paul's instructions apply to all women in all cultures. Others argue that "this passage addresses a specific situation in the church at Ephesus." (111) If the latter is true, then there are reasons why the women in this congregation may not teach. One reason Paul may not have wanted these women to teach is "that much of the false teaching in Ephesus was being spread through women in the congregation... [I]n that culture the uneducated women seem to have provided the network the fslse teachers culd use to spread their falsehoods through the congregation (1 Tim. 5:13; 2 Tim. 3:6-7)." (111-112)

If Paul is prohibiting women in this congregation from teaching because they are unlearned, then presumably he wants to correct this situation by "learning in quietness and full submission." "Women unlearned in the Bible could not be trusted to pas on its teachings accurately, but once they had learned, this would not be an issue, and they could join the ranks of women colleagues whom Paul elsewhere commends." (112; cf. the list of women, e.g., in Romans 16; see Keener, Ib., Appendix A for a more complete explanation of women in minustry that Paul commended.) Keener adds: "The percentage of women colleagues Paul acknowledges is amazing by any ancient standards." (Ib., 113)

Keener asks us to note that Paul does not assume that Timothy already knows this rule. If it were a unversal prohibition against women teachers, how could Timothy not know this after having worked with Paul for so many years? (For more see Keener, Ib., 112)

1 Timothy 2:12

1 Timothy 2:11-12 says: "A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet." This verse is a hot one that has caused a lot of ink to be spilled over it. How shall we interpret this? Here are some thoughts.

  • It is not exactly clear what the Greek term translated as "assume/take authority" means. Does Paul mean "accpet a position of authority?" Does Paul mean "seize authority in an overbering way?" Craig Keener says "Scholars are divided on the issue." (Keener, Paul, Women, and Wives, 108) The word here is authentein. This word is found only once in the New Testament. Other words were commonly used to speak of "taking authority," such as exousia. So it is likely that authentein means something different than "take authority." (Or "have authority.") "In other early Greek sources, this word is often associated with violence. According to lexicographers, authent─ôs is synonymous with “to dominate someone". Paul is most likely prohibiting women from teaching men in a manner that is domineering." (See here.)
  • The late New Testament scholar David Scholer of Fuller Theological Seminary (who was a friend of mine) says that this term (authentein) usually has a negative sense of "domineer" or "usurp authority." Keener says "On this reading, Paul, who wants women to "learn quietly," does not want them to teach disruptively - something he also would have forbidden men to do." (Ib., 109)
  • The Greek word authentein is not Paul's normal word for "take authority." So Paul may be prohibiting teaching being done in a domineering way. Keener says: "That Paul wants women to learn submissively and shortly thereafter invokes the Genesis language about Ever probably indicates that these women are not submitting to their husbands but rather are seeking to lord it over them... The context, which helps us reconstruct the situation, suggests that Paul may here be warning against a domineering use of authority, rather than merely any use of authority." (Ib.)
  • Here is the great NT scholar Gordon Fee on this issue.
Many years ago I read the statement on biblical equality from the Christians for Biblical Equality. I thought it was correct. Endorsers of CBE include: Gordon Fee, Greg Boyd, Lee Grady (of Charisma Magazine), Manfred Brauch (one of my former NT professors and friend), Richard Foster, Scot McKnight, and my friend Craig Keener.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Global Animism

Philosopher Stephen Asma has an interesting essay "The New Atheists' Narrow Worldview" in The Chronicle of Higher Education. It's on the global prevalence and therapeutic value of animism.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

What Does It Mean to Live a Good Life?

NYU philosopher Ronald Dworkin, in "What Is the Good Life?," makes the Platonic-Aristotelian distinction between morality and ethics. "Moral standards prescribe how we ought to treat others; ethical standards, how we ought to live ourselves. The happiness that Plato and Aristotle evoked was to be achieved by living ethically; and this meant living according to independent moral principles." Even if one does not support these interpretations of "morality" and "ethics" Dworkin thinks we cannot avoid the distinction.

Should we be moral in order to be happy? That seems too self-serving. Why be moral? Because morality requires us to be so? That seems circular, although Dworkin does not think it is viciously circular. Is virtue its own reward; that is, the virtuous life is the good life? Should we be moral simply because that is what morality demands? "It seems sad to say this." Because it is so epistemically unsatisfying. Dworkin writes: "Philosophers have pressed the question “why be moral?” because it seems odd to think that morality, which is often burdensome, has the force it does in our lives just because it is there, like an arduous and unpleasant mountain we must constantly climb but that we might hope wasn’t there or would somehow crumble. We want to think that morality connects with human purposes and ambitions in some less negative way, that it is not all constraint, with no positive value."

Morality, Dworkin believes, cannot be "categorical." That is, "we cannot justify a moral principle just by showing that following that principle would promote someone’s or everyone’s desires in either the short or the long term." "Morality" need not serve our own interests. For Dworkin, as for Plato and Aristotle, ethics (how we ought to live; aka living the good life) cannot be a "matter of psychological fact about what people happen to or even inevitably want or take to be in their own interest, but [is rather] itself a matter of ideal." So Dworkin seems to reject moral subjectivism as inadequate. If this is a correct reading of him, then it seems odd foe him to give us an idea of morality and the good life without reference to God.

"We need, then, a statement of what we should take our personal goals to be that fits with and justifies our sense of what obligations, duties, and responsibilities we have to others. We look for a conception of living well that can guide our interpretation of moral concepts. But we want, as part of the same project, a conception of morality that can guide our interpretation of living well."

- We need a conception of living well that can guide our interpretation of moral concepts.
- We need a conception of morality that can guide our interpretation of living well.

That's circular. Dworkin says, when it comes to the morality-ethics question, circularity is inevitable. That, of course, is debatable.

Dworkin dismisses the religious idea that morality is related to an ideal outside of itself; viz., God. He does not deal with divine command theory, which would be what I hold to, for reasons such as this one.

We all desire to live a good life. Dworkin says "we can explain this ambition only when we recognize that we have a responsibility to live well and believe that living well means creating a life that is not simply pleasurable but good in that critical way." After saying this he asks the obvious: "You might ask: responsibility to whom? It is misleading to answer: responsibility to ourselves."

"We must instead acknowledge an idea that I believe we almost all accept in the way we live but that is rarely explicitly formulated or acknowledged. We are charged to live well by the bare fact of our existence as conscious creatures with lives to lead. We are charged in the way we are charged by the value of anything entrusted to our care. It is important that we live well; not important just to us or to anyone else, but just important. We have a responsibility to live well, and the importance of living well accounts for the value of having a critically good life." (Emphasis mine)

This language is, of course, metaphorical. If there is no God-as-personal-agent to "charge" us with responsibility, and if self-charging is unacceptable, then, literally, we are "charged" by no one to do anything. I find his reasoning too circular at this point.

Dworkin's attempt to give meaning to a life lived well and ethical responsibility without bringing in God ends up being, to me, non-persuasive; indeed, I find myself wanting there to be a God so that there is such a thing as a good life, along with objective moral values.

Elsewhere Dworkin has written: "If you do not believe in a religious foundation for life's importance, then you must say that the importance of your having a good life is axiomatic and fundamental. It is important for no further reason than that you have a life to live." (Is Democracy Possible?, 15)

OK. So if there is no God, what's left? One wants to live a good life. That's the bottom line. The importance of having a good life is grounded in your having a life to live. That may be true, but it seems odd to say we have a "responsibility" to live a good life.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Payne Theo Sem Spiritual Formation Class Jan. 2011

Sorry - I do not have a photo where you can see everyone's face!

Ben Witherington on Spiritual Formation and Sanctification

I greatly value NT scholar Ben Witherington. He's writing some things on spiritual formation and its connection to sanctification. He is concerned about an overemphasis in spiritual formation literature on a monastic approach. He seems to place Henri Nouwen and Richard Foster in this group. I don't think Ben is correct about this. I wonder if he has a false dichotomy going between solitude and community.
The way I teach spiritual formation is as a dialectical movement between solitude and community. I coach pastors to take much alone-time with God, just them and God. Jesus "spent time alone in the woods." So I think if Jesus needed to do this, we should too. In my seminary classes the students re-group after alone time with God and share together about their experience with God while alone with God. This is my community piece. Alone, together; alone, together; and so on. Surely that describes Nouwen and Foster. They are not true monastics, but were and are heavily invested in community.

I think alone-time with God IS "the stuff of spiritual formation," or at least essential stuff.

Ben mentions "busy normal Christian people." My idea is that this is, in general, not a good model. I see a whole lot of "Christian doing" that does not come out of a deep, abiding God-relationship. Such "doing" later gets baptized in prayer. Jesus went to a lonely place to find out what the Father wanted him to do. So should we. And of course authentic community helps us with this.

My interest is not in finding a view of spiritual formation that fits with "busy normal Christian people," or "busy normal clergy." The latter are flaming out all around us. In my classes we call them back to the richness of alone-time with God. I'm seeing great benefits from this. In this regard I especially value Eugene Peterson's The Contemplative Pastor.

Ben is writing a book on this subject. I look forward to reading it.

Back Home From Teaching at PTS

I'm back in Monroe from a week of teaching Spiritual Formation at Payne Theological Seminary. For me it was a great blessing being with twenty-eight students who fully entered into the experience of praying, solitude, hearing the voice of God, and encountering God.

The testimonies of how God moved among them were powerful, emotional, and real.

Tomorrow morning at Redeemer I'll share a few of the things we saw God do this week.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Psalm 23:1

I've sent the Payne seminary students out to pray for an hour, using Psalm 23 as their meditative focus. Here are some thoughts I have about this deep text, which contains nearly all a person needs to know to live this life.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
  • 40% of the pastors and seminary students I have taught over the years do not get beyond this first verse, because God asks them the question: "Am I really your shepherd?" This is the foundational question of our life. Henri Nouwen asks the dsame question this way: "Who do you belong to?"
  • The Jesus-POV is this: I am a sheep; Jesus is my Shepherd.
  • Therefore, be shepherded.
  • This means: trusting Jesus. Trusting God. It's at this point that one must, logically, give up control.
  • It also means one will leave some things behind, since to follow after someone is to leave the place you were once at.
  • The shepherded sheep is not in a heart-condition of lack. As I make God my Shepherd, I am not in a place of wanting.
  • This means: My heart does not want. I've learned to be content in all circumstances.
  • This is not, for me, some theory, but an experiential reality. For the most part in my life, I feel led by God. He speaks to me; I, one of his sheep, hear his voice. As we have followed that voice Linda and I experience adventure and abundance. We often talk about this together. I would now not live my life any way other than to be shepherded by God!
  • Related to this, for me, is Paul's claim to have found the sevret of contentment irregardless of the circumstances. I want that so much! I have ecperienced some long, deep tastes of it. Circumstances will always change. I do not want to live life going up and down with life's circumstances.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Ricky Gervais (Briefly) on the Meaning of "Good"

There's an interesting dialogue on cnn between Piers Morgan and Ricky Gervais.

Morgan told Gervais that he (Morgan) did believe in God. Gervais, as he has made known, does not.

Let's applaud Gervais for being honest about his disbelief. Let's not applaud him for having good reasons for his disbelief. At least if he has them, he didn't give them tonight.

For example, Gervais said, rhetorically - "Some people ask "What is 'good'? He responds to the rhetorical question by saying, "I do. I'm good." OK. No explanation here. In one sense he's correct, from the atheist POV. If there's no God then there are no objective moral values. We just make them up ourselves. But if that were true, then it's rather odd to argue for truth, as Gervais claims to do. "I just present the truth," he said. And how could one meaningfully be outraged at "moral injustice" if we are the sole arbiters of "good?" For example, Gervais's act on the Golden Globe Awards was not seen as "good" by some.

It might be interesting to follow Gervais occasionally, especially if he critiques religious people as "bad."

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

In Sioux Falls Jan. 28, 29, 30

Either Deep Change or Slow Death

I'm teaching 28 African American seminary students at Payne Theological Seminary. What a beautiful group of students this is!

At the heart of my Spiritual Formation class is Galatians 4:19, where Paul states that he is in childbirth-like pain until Christ is formed in the hearts of the Galatian Jesus-followers. Romans 12:1-2 is crucial too, implying that one's heart has a "shape" - either of the world or of Christ. God wants to meta-morph the shape of our heart into Christlikeness. To have a heart-meta-morphing means: the shape of one's heart has changed (experiences a change of form).

For example, more than knowing we are to love our enemies, a Christ-formed heart does love its enemies. That's why Jesus never wore a "WWID" bracelet ("What Would I Do?"). He didn't wear one since he was the Christ.

When I sent the Payne students out for an hour of prayer today I also prayed. I was thinking of how God has changed me over the years. I was reminded of a denominational leadership retreat I was at two years ago. A colleague who had not seen me for over fifteen years told me, "You have really changed since I last saw you."    That made me feel good, since in the spiritual life (as in organic life) we're either green and growing or ripe and rotting. As U-Michigan professor Robert Quinn has written, it's either deep change or slow death.

A few months ago some film students from the University of Michigan interviewed me for a film they are making on our Monroe community. They asked me the question: "As one of this community's leaders, what is the number one problem you see that needs to be addressed?" I responded: "The number one problem I see is me." I am serious about this! If I change to be more like Christ our community will improve. I now think of the ancient hymn "It's me, it's me, it's me O Lord, standing in the need of prayer." I embrace that perspective.

I am changing as I write these words, just as the oak tree on my front yard is growing. How so?

  • Forty years ago I came to believe in a living, active God. That has not changed. But how I view God has changed, and it needed to change. 
  • Forty years ago I came to believe that Jesus is God incarnate on earth. I still believe this. But my understanding over the years has shifted and changed. Christological studies remain at the heart of what I do. I want to know Jesus. And by "Jesus" I mean the Real Jesus. I did Ph.D work in Christology - that was in the late 70s and early 80s. But after just finishing 5 years of preaching chronologically through the four Gospels my understanding of Jesus has changed into something more compelling and beautiful than it has ever been. I am thankful for this change.
  • I have experienced change as the further formation of a core belief, such as the nature of God, or the nature of Christ. Some of my earlier beliefs about Jesus have been tossed out, and what are to me more accurate understandings have taken their place. Honestly, during the recent 5 years of intense Jesus-studies it seemed as if every week involved the recognition, "I guess I was wrong about that one too." I see this as good. Surely it would be false and arrogant to claim that my Christology at age twenty-one adequately represented who Jesus really is.
A little child can understand Jesus as their Lord, and that Jesus loves them. A lifetime of loving and knowing and studying Jesus cannot fully grasp him. We don't need to feel threatened by this. If our limited cognitive faculties could contain all the reality and being of Jesus we would have cause for concern.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Jesus-Morphing at Payne Theological Seminary

Payne Spiritual Formation Students
July 2010

This morning I'm in Wilberforce, Ohio, with 28 seminary students. I'm teaching Spiritual Formation at Payne Theological Seminary. For me it is a great privilege to do this!

I've taught this course for so many years that I can easily do four days of non-stop teaching without referring to a note. The course is rooted in Galatians 4:19, where Paul longs to see Christ formed in the hearts of the Galatian Jesus-followers. I am convinced that this heart-morphing only happens, and only can happen, when one deeply and consistently abides in Christ. Human effort not only cannot accomplish this, it will eventually distort and mislead the heart. Self-striving to self-morph into Jesus-likeness will only harm one's own soul as well as the souls of others.

I just sent the Payne students out for their first hour of prayer, using Psalm 23 as their meditative focus. Here is the handout I gave them.


Dr. John Piippo

  1. The purpose of this exercise is to enter into the presence of God for the sake of deepening your relationship with God alone. My assumption is that you need God. You need to spend much time in God’s presence. And that time is to be spent in a certain way.
  2. Find a “lonely place apart.” When you get to that place, spend one hour with God.
  3. Take with you only Psalm 23 and your journal. You may also take a Bible with you. But I want you to use Psalm 23 as your focus of meditation.
  4. Leave any cell phones, computers, books, palm pilots, shopping lists, and xerox machines behind. They will be waiting for you when you return from this time.
  5. Use Psalm 23 for meditation.
  6. Your purpose is not to exegete Psalm 23, but to be yourself exegeted by the Holy Spirit.
  7. When God speaks to you, write it down in your spiritual journal. A spiritual journal is a record of the voice of God to you.
  8. If your mind wanders, you may wish to write down where it wanders to. Your wandering mind is a barometer of your true spiritual condition. Your mind will never wander arbitrarily, but always to something like a burden or a hope.
  9. When the hour is over, return to our class.

Psalm 23

A psalm of David.
 1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
       he leads me beside quiet waters,

 3 he restores my soul.
       He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

 4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
       I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
       your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

 5 You prepare a table before me
       in the presence of my enemies.
       You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

 6 Surely goodness and love will follow me
       all the days of my life,
       and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Comedian-Atheist Evangelizes at the Golden Globe Awards

Linda and I watched most of tonight's Golden Globe awards tonight. We muted atheist-comedian Ricky Gervais, who was hosting it.

I forgot to mute the end, and heard Gervais declare, "Good night. And I thank God that he made me an atheist." This is Gervais's confessional, his testimony. I'm glad I heard it.

Recently he gave us the reasons why he is an atheist. I commented on them here. He doesn't actually have, at least in his writing on his atheism, any good reasons to be an atheist. He's a comedian, so we should not expect much here.

Note: no tu quoques allowed. They are irrelevant.

It's hard not to psychologize Gervais here. I know that, logically, psychologizing someone is irrelevant. But his last comment struck me as preaching the good news of atheism via the bad news of religion. Since Gervais lacks good reasons to be an atheist one wonders about his past, and what's made him so angry.

I've written about such things before; viz., the oddness of the "evangelistic atheist." I've studied with some philosophically brilliant atheists who actually had reasons for their unbelief, and who could care less about mocking religion via ad hominen abusives. The evangelistic atheist who resorts to jokes humors me in their oddity. I'd never really seen this in atheistic philosophical literature, which has often made me really think. (I remember, e.g., as a young philosophy student and new Jesus-follower reading Spinoza's ethics and not only thinking but in a way experiencing the logic of his version of pantheism. I was truly shook by this.)

Redeemer Ministry School Winter Trimester Classes

Redeemer Ministry School's Winter trimester begins this week.

Classes are:

  • Tuesdays, 9:30-1 Prophecy – (John Piippo & Josh Bentley)
  • Wednesdays, 9:30 – 1 - Kingdom of God II (Healing & Deliverance) (Josh Bentley)
  • Thursdays, 9:30 – 1 - Teaching/Preaching (John Piippo)
  • Fridays, 9:30 – 1 - Worship II (Holly Benner)

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Randy Clark at Redeemer Tonight and Tomorrow Morning

Last night we had a packed house as Randy Clark gave a great message on "The Biblical Basis for Healing," and many said they experienced physical healing.

Randy is with is again tonight and tomorrow morning.

7 PM tonight

10:30 AM tomorrow morning

Redeemer - Monroe

Friday, January 14, 2011

Spiritual People are More Resilient

At there's a report of a study that shows spiritual people are more resilient than non-spiritual people. 

"Researchers have found that spiritual people have decreased odds of attempting suicide, and that spiritual fitness has a positive impact on quality of life, on coping and on mental health."

Thus, soldiers who have more God-belief cope with war better.

This doesn't surprise me.

If someone believes there is a God and God loves them and guides them and so on, then such belief will have an effect on how one responds to adversity.

The military's use of this finding is creating controversy, since the more spiritual a person is the better soldier (in general) they will make.

There's No "True for You, but Not for Me" in Logic

I began another semester of Logic-teaching at Monroe County Community College. I'm using Vaughn's

The Power of Critical Thinking: Effective Reasoning About Ordinary and Extraordinary Claims

Right at the beginning we have a claim that is logical but seems extraordinary to, I believe, many students. It is the logical claim of the non-relativity of truth. I explain it like this, and as I do I have the sense I am stepping on some of our relativistic culture's most cherished beliefs.

Logic is about evaluating and formulating arguments.

An argument is a series of sentences that are statements.

A statement (also called a "proposition") is a sentence that describes a certain (as Vaughn puts it) "state of affairs." A statement makes a claim that a certain state of affairs obtains. Another way to put it is like this: a statement is a sentence that is either true or false. 

For example, consider the statement The lights in this room are on. This statement describes a certain state of affairs; viz., the lights in this room now being on. Now here comes the subjective-relativist crusher. If this statement is true (that is, if the state of affairs of the lights now being on obtains), then it is true for everybody. And if it is false, then it is false for everybody.

Consider the statement God exists. If that statement is true, it is true for everybody, even for persons who think it is false. And if that statement is false, then it is false for everybody, even for people who "know" there is a God.

But what about these statements? It's true for me that Pepsi is better than Coke. But it's true for you that Coke is better than Pepsi? Here the words It's true for me are redundant, unnecessary. At most they mean I believe, or I think. Such as: I think Pepsi is better than Coke. Now note this: If that statement is true, then it is true for everybody. And we have this state of affairs: John likes Pepsi better than Coke.

Vaughn's text is excellent at defeating subjective relativism and showing it to be illogical.

The "Gold Standard" on the Pentecostal & Charismatic Healing Movement

I just pre-ordered Candy Gunther Brown's coming book Global Pentecostal and Charismatic Healing (Oxford).

Oxford's website says:

"This volume reveals that the primary appeal of pentecostalism worldwide is as a religion of healing. Contrary to popular stereotypes of flamboyant, fraudulent, anti-medical "faith healing" televangelists who preach a materialistic, "health and wealth" gospel, handle serpents, or sensationally "exorcize" demons, this book offers a more nuanced portrait. The collected essays illumine local variations, hybridities, and tensions in practices on six continents, and depict the extent of human suffering and powerlessness experienced by people everywhere and the attractiveness to many of a global religious movement that promises material relief by invoking spiritual resources.

This is the first book of its kind. Achieving the twin goals of thick description and comparative analysis of global practices is best achieved by bringing area experts into conversation. This volume's distinguished, international team of contributors includes sociologists, anthropologists, historians, political scientists, theologians, and religious studies scholars from North America, Europe, and Africa. Read together, these essays set the agenda for a new program of scholarly inquiry into some of the largest forces of change at work in the world today-globalization, pentecostalism, and healing-each of which is extremely powerful in itself and which together are reshaping our world in vastly significant ways."


  • Offers important theoretical insights about the interrelatedness of globalization, pentecostalism, and healing
  • First edited volume that brings together essays focused on divine healing as it is practiced by Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians in diverse cultural and geographic contexts


"There can now be no doubt that Pentecostal-Charismatic healing will continue to flower all over the world. It is something no thoughtful person can afford to ignore. We need careful, accurate, empathic, and unprejudiced studies of this reality in all its multitudinous expressions, including healing. And this volume provides the gold standard against which all future efforts will have to be judged."-- Harvey G. Cox, Jr., Hollis Research Professor of Divinity, Harvard University 

What It Means to Be "Led By the Spirit"

Here's a video of the message I gave at Faith Bible Church in New York City on Jan. 9. Thank you Stanley for translating it into Mandarin for me!

My Busiest January Ever?

Linda & I in Times Square

FYI, here are some things I am doing. This January is one of the busiest months I have ever had!

1. Last week (Jan. 3-9) Linda, Holly Benner, and I traveled to New York City. I taught at Faith Bible Seminary, a large Chinese seminary in NYC. I taught my Personal Transformation class to 20 Chinese students. My teachings were translated into Mandarin. Classes ran from Tues - Fri, 9 - 4. I spoke at Faith Bible Church on Tuesday night. Then I spoke 4 times at their annual conference on Saturday, plus twice on Sunday morning. We also took 15 ministry school students with us. I believe the entire week will prove revolutionary for this church and seminary. 

2. On Jan 9 we flew back to Monroe where we had a beautiful ordination service for Josh Bentley.

3. This week at Redeemer Randy Clark is with us. He has brought an excellent team and his School of Healing and Impartation. Wednesday and Thursday were long, wonderful days of teaching, ministry, healing, and impartation. Probably, in two days, 100 people have said they experienced either full or 80% healing. Last night an elderly man who had not been able to hear without a hearing aid for 20 years began to hear and placed his hearing aid in his pocket. In the midst of this Dr. Candy Brown and I have been communicating re. research and documentation of healing. Candy (University of Indiana) sent me medical release-of-information documents which we will ask people who have been healed to fill out. Candy is a brilliant scholar. She and Randy have already connected and are working together. Watch for her name now and in the days ahead. We have full meetings again today (Friday) and tomorrow. Then, Randy will preach at Redeemer Sunday morning. About 250 conference attendees have come from all over the U.S. and world. The evening sessions are open to the public and have been packed out. We're expecting more tonight and tomorrow and have chairs stacked ip on the sides to use as needed. I am so thankful Randy was with us last summer in Green Lake, and ill again be with us this coming summer.

4. On Monday I travel to Wilberforce, Ohio, to teach my Spiritual Formation class at Payne Theological Seminary (near Dayton). Payne is the oldest free-standing African American seminary in our nation. It is part of the A.M.E. (African Methodist Episcopal). I am expecting great, revolutionary Jesus-things to happen next week!

5. On January 28-30 Linda, Holly and I travel to Sioux Falls to bring worship, teaching, preaching, healing, words from God, and impartation to the Sioux Falls Outpouring. We are so excited about this, and can't wait to see our many HSRM friends who are there!

In the midst of this I continue to teach Logic and Philosophy of Religion at Monroe County Community College. As I openly teach (as the curriculum) about the existence of God to my 60 philosophy of religion students it seems as if everyone is listening. Many students hang around after classes to talk with me. Some check out our church.

My Kenya trip was wonderful! It looks like Kenyan leader-for-Jesus Cliff Msioki will come to Redeemer Ministry School next year.

In Feb. and March we get a traveling break. Then on April 6-9 Darren Wilson brings the "Furious Love Event" to Redeemer. Darren is at the Randy Clark week and was telling me last night how he is going to transform our sanctuary into a "furious love" place for the filming of that event. If you can be there we'd love to have you!

Love and blessings,


Thursday, January 13, 2011

Randy Clark at Redeemer Again Tonight

Randy Clark will again speak at Redeemer tonight - 7 PM.

It was pretty much a packed house.

If you're coming tonight I'd say get there early to get a seat.

There are conference attendees from all over the U.S. and even Germany, Aruba, and other places.

Last night approximately 60 people said God healed them in some manner. Bring anyone you know in need of healing.

One of the things I value about Randy (among many things) is his gathering of empirical evidence and follow-up to verify authentic healings from not-the-real-thing. I know that, e.g., he is doing some collaborating with Dr. Candy Brown of the University of Indiana.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Randy Clark at Redeemer Tonight

Randy Clark will be speaking at Redeemer this evening.

Open to the public (free).

7 PM.

Is God a Moral Monster? #2

Are the New Atheists still relevant? Cool? My sense is... they are not. They are so "2006."

How big are they? When I poll the 100 students in my three philosophy classes no one has heard of Richard Dawkins. At most, one or two have. And they have not read his books. Absolutely none of them has heard of Sam Harris. And not one of them has or ever will hear of Daniel Dennett. Christopher Hitchens is also, among these students, unknown.

A few (just a few) of my students have issues with the God of the Old Testament. Maybe 1-2% of them. And, among those few, it's virtually guaranteed none of them has actually studied things either pro or con re. the character of the OT God.

Today some Christian theists are writing in response to Dawkins-type complaints. Dawkins writes:

"The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all ficiton: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynist, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully." (Quoted in Paul Copan, Is God a Moral Monster? 21)

Copan has "accumulated quite a working list of charges coming from the New Atheists:

  • Canaanite "genocide"
  • the binding of Isaac
  • a jealous, egocentric deity
  • ethnocentrism/racism
  • chattel slavery
  • bride-price
  • women as inferior to men
  • harsh laws in Israel
  • the Mosaic law as perfect and permanently binding for all nations
  • the irrelevance of God for morality
Copan's book addresses these charges. I'll be reviewing them chapter by chapter.