Monday, February 28, 2011

Created Things Cannot Fill the Abyss of Interior Solitude

There's a Kenyan pastor I met on my recent trip to Africa. He is extremely poor. Titus and his family live on about $1 or two a day. He is full of life and full of Christ and has an infectious smile. He is being used by God in his small village in western Kenya near the Ugandan border. He rides a bicycle wherever he goes. He really could use a small motorcycle. He's praying for the finances to get one. Then he can take his wife with him to church services, which are miles away from his house. I've begun to do some long-distance teaching with Titus, for he has no formal education because he has no money.

He is very intelligent. He translated for me for my four days of teaching in Eldoret, Kenya. We talked a lot together. There was one moment in our dialogue when I asked him, "Where did you learn that?" He had shared something very deep and profound. He said, "When I was praying today I felt God tell me that." I thought, "Titus hears from God. And, he is very intelligent. We need to get him resources and more education!"

So I am doing a little bit of that. I recently sent him a package with a book - Eugene Peterson's The Message. He wondered if I could get one for him. I just got a letter from him, and he thanked me for it. You would have thought I'd sent him a bar of gold! (Titus, if you are reading this, I'm putting some books together and getting ready to send them to you, along with a plan of study.)

If he were here, now, in my home, I think I'd be embarrassed about all the material stuff I have, even stuff stored in our attic that would be valuable and usable in his Kenyan village. I have a roof over my head; the Son of Man had none. I've even got a den of foxes living underground on my property, and they have a place to sleep. What's going on here?

Thomas Merton wrote that "the abyss of interior solitude can never be satisfied with any created thing." I am certain that is true. Remember that Jesus instructed us to store up treasures in heaven, and not on earth.

1. If created things (material things; "stuff") could satisfy the deepest longings of the human heart, then Americans should be the most satisfied people who have ever lived.
2. Americans are not the most satisfied people who have ever lived.
3. Therefore (by premise 1 and premise 2, using modus tollens, material things cannot satisfy the deepest longings of the human heart.

All our stuff has not made us, and cannot make us, content.

The Prophet Zechariah's Tomb May Have Been Found

There is a possible world in which I am a biblical archaeologist. In Israel.

Here's a recent piece from The Jerusalem Post: "Experts say Zechariah's tomb was found in a new excavation." (Thanks Matt C. for pointing to this.) Accompanying this is a nice 3-minute video of the area, with explanation.

The article says: "Israel boasts an exceptionally high concentration of archaeological sites, including Crusader, Islamic, Byzantine, Roman, ancient Jewish and prehistoric ruins." Indeed! When we were in Israel we say them everywhere. And, there are multitudes of non-excavated areas waiting to be uncovered.

John Dominic Crossan

Back in the 1970s, when Linda and I lived in the Chicago area, I became familiar with the Christological historical-Jesus studies of John Dominic Crossan. He was teaching at DePaul University. I read his book on Jesus' parables, which Crossan considered as "subversive literary gems." (In Parables: The Challenge of the Historical Jesus - first publioshed in 1973, republished in 1992) has a nice article on Crossan ("John Dominic Crossan's 'blasphemous' portrait of Jesus"). Because a major portion of my doctoral work was in Christology, and I was studying at Northwestern U. in the Chicago area, Crossan and the notorious "Jesus Seminar" was always on the radar screen.

Famously, Crossan does not think Jesus rose from the dead. But he does affirm that Jesus was a "major healer." In this way Crossan is like NT scholar Marcus Borg who believes in the miraculous but not in the resurrection of Jesus. How is this possible? It's possible, for Crossan and Borg, for textual reasons. For them, one can't read the biblical texts and arrive at a historical resurrection.

NT scholar Ben Witherington is quoted in the cnn piece. Witherington says: "Crossan's work allows people to sidestep questions like: Did he come to save the world? Is he the son of God? "It's a user-friendly Jesus that doesn't make demands on someone," he says. Witherington says Crossan is trying to find a nonsupernatural way to explain Jesus and Scripture, and "the shoe doesn't fit." "The stories are inherently theological," he says. "They all suggest that God intervenes in history. If you have a problem with the supernatural, you have a problem with the Bible. It's on every page.""

A good book to read to see Crossan's position as compared with a more Witherington-type position is: The Resurrection of Jesus: John Dominic Crossan And N.T. Wright in Dialogue. And: Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up?: A Debate between William Lane Craig and John Dominic Crossan.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Memoir as the Consummate Pentecostal Theological Genre

Driving across Kenya.
James K. A. Smith, in Thinking in Tongues, continues his idea that "testimony" is central to pentecostal spirituality. He writes:

"Thus one might suggest that memoir is the consummate pentecostal theological genre. Or at least, something like testimony is integral to even pentecostal theorizing, even if this is not properly "academic." In fact, this is just one performative way that pentecostal theroretical practice evinces an aspect implicit in pentecostal spirituality: against the Enlightenment ideal of the impersonal, impartial, abstract "knower," pentecostalism affirms an affective, involved, confessing knower who "knows that she knows that she knows" because of her story, because of a narrative, she can tell about a relationship with God."

In embracing the centrality of testimony shuns "academic decorum..., seeing such narratives... as integral to the sensibility that characterizes a pentecostal philosophy."

Now that... is nice! And I'm with Smith here. Linda and I love the testimonial character of our American Baptist pentecostal church family. We had, just this morning, a beautiful testimony from Beth Bentley that led to forming prayer teams during our worship time and praying for many people to be healed. We have found that testimonies have power, in the sense that God inhabits and empowers them to go beyond the testimony-giver and heal and deliver people.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

"Testimony" as "The Poetry of Pentecostal Experience"

Linda, Holly, & I in a 3-seated chair in Sioux Falls.
Does it belong in "The Shack?"
I am reading philosopher James K. A. Smith's Thinking in Tongues: Pentecostal Contributions to Christian Philosophy. This is going to be, I think, an incredible read! And note this: Smith, a pentecostal himself, teaches at Calvin College. A sign of the Second Coming?

He is a brilliant and beautiful writer. Here he talks about his "experience of pentecostal worship and spirituality wherein testimony played a central role in the shape of gathered worship and in the narration of one's identity in Christ." Such testimonies form "the poetry of Pentecostal experience."

"Testimony is central to pentecostal spirituality because it captures the dynamic sense that God is active and present in our world and in our personal experience while also emphasizing the narrativity of pentecostal spirituality. This is also bound up with what Hollenweger has called the "orality" of pentecostal spirituality. As he acerbically comments, "the Pentecostal poor are oral, nonconceptual peoples who are often masters of story. Their religion resembles more of the early disciples than religion taught in our schools and universities." And there is something irreducible about this mode of testimony - it cannot be simply reduced to a mere pool for extracting philosophical propositions, nor can it be simply translated into theological dogmas."

Very, very nice. Add a little N.T. Wright to this and good things will happen.

And, BTW, we have testimonies nearly every week at Redeemer. For the most part they are more listened to and better than my preaching.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Furious Love Schedule (at Redeemer April 6-9)

Jesus Never Called Us to Be Comfortable

Inside a car wash
Greg Boyd is like the little kid student in your classroom that asks the questions that make you feel uncomfortable, the ones everyone is thinking about but dare not ask. Imagine Greg in your class with Tony Campolo sitting next to him. There's an uprising coming.

This morning I'm reading another chapter in Greg's excellent book The Myth of a Christian Religion. He writes:

"When did Jesus ever call us to be comfortable or encourage us to make nonbelievers comfortable in order to get them to accept the Gospel? And when did Jesus ever call us to be focused on growing large churches?
The answer is, never.
To the contrary, Jesus was perfectly willing to make people profoundly uncomfortable and to let people walk away when they understood the high cost of following him. His one and only concern was to be obedient to his Father's will, not to be efficient at acquiring a large following. And since we are called to imitate him in all things, this must be our one concern as well.
We are called to manigest the "one new humanity" Jesus died to create - whether it makes people comfortable or not, and whether it increases or decreases the size of our congregations."

After 5 years of preaching through the 4 Gospels there are many Jesus-moments that stay with me. One of them I occasionally think of is, ironically, John 6:66. Jesus, in a non-seeker-sensitive moment, has just told his disciples some hard things. We read: "From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him." Did Jesus run after them, offering to install a coffee bar, throw a pizza party, watch "Lord of the Rings" and play a few rounds of "Sardines?" Not quite. Instead, Jesus looked at the Twelve and asked, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Peter gave the answer: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Actually following after Jesus should and will make us feel uncomfortable. It's counter-flesh activity. The flesh says, "I'll dress myself and go where I want to." But look at what Jesus says to Peter in John 21.

"Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”"

This is what happens when you lose your religion and become part of the Revolution.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Divine Command Theory and P1 of Craig's Metaethical Argument

Ice storm in Monroe
Premise 1 (P1) of William Lane Craig's Metaethical Argument for God's existence is: If God does not exist, then objective moral values and duties do not exist.

I explain this in my philosophy of religion classes using this example.

Imagine you are a student in a class where the professor is never seen. Every day you come to class and assignments are written on the board, such as: "Do problems 1-50 on p. 100." One day you ask, "Who is teaching this class?" Someone replies: "No one. This class does not have a teacher." At that point you respond: "Then I see no reason why I have to do these problems."

Analogically, if there is no God who issues moral commands, then moral values are only invented by "the students." Thus they are not binding on us. As Ivan Karamazov never said, "If there is no God, then everything is permitted." Craig cites ethicist Richard Taylor:

"A duty is something that is owed . . . . But something can be owed only to some person or persons. There can be no such thing as duty in isolation . . . . The idea of political or legal obligation is clear enough . . . . Similarly, the idea of an obligation higher than this, and referred to as moral obligation, is clear enough, provided reference to some lawmaker higher . . . . than those of the state is understood. In other words, our moral obligations can . . . be understood as those that are imposed by God. This does give a clear sense to the claim that our moral obligations are more binding upon us than our political obligations . . . . But what if this higher-than-human lawgiver is no longer taken into account? Does the concept of a moral obligation . . . still make sense? . . . . the concept of moral obligation [is] unintelligible apart form the idea of God. The words remain, but their meaning is gone."

Conversely, if God exists, then God’s commands make things right and wrong. This view is called Divine Command Theory.

For an introduction to Alston's, Adams's, and Quinn's reasonings that Divine Command Theory does not fall by the sword of Plato's Euthyphro Dilemma, see this article in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Philosophy & a Pentecostal Worldview

James K. Smith's new book is Thinking in Tongues: Pentecostal Contributions to Christian Philosophy. I'm pleased and excited to see this. James is interviewed at the Evangelical Philosophical Society's blog.

"Thinking in Tongues not only seeks to articulate a "pentecostal worldview" (more on this below), but it also tries to envision how that worldview can contribute to philosophical discussions on epistemology, science and religion, ontology, philosophy of religion and philosophy of language."

Smith, who teaches at Calvin College, describes himself as a "Reformed charismatic." AKA "square circle?" Wow!

Smith connects a pentecostal worldview with Christian spirituality. He says: "I’m arguing that Christian philosophers should not just look to the resources of Christian concepts; we should recognize that there are philosophical “intuitions” (for lack of a better term) implicit in Christian practices, in Christian spirituality. As implicit, these are not necessarily articulated (indeed, in some sense they might be inarticulable). But by “exegeting” the understanding that is implicit in Christian spirituality, we can make explicit (per Robert Brandom) the wisdom embedded in our practices and then sort of “run” that wisdom philosophically to tease out its unique implications."

Another "must read" for me. But since I don't golf anymore it's more affordable.

Furious Love Event - April 6-9

On April 6-9, 2011, nine internationally renowned speakers will be coming to Monroe, Michigan. The Furious Love Event, which was conceived and is being produced by Monroe native Darren Wilson, and his film production company, Wanderlust Productions, will feature four days of world class teaching on the many subjects highlighted in Darren’s first two feature films, Finger of God and Furious Love. The Event will be held at Redeemer Fellowship Church. Registration is required.

The movies, which have been seen by millions around the world, cover a wide range of experiences Darren and his film crew have had while traveling the world in an attempt to film the various moves and character of God. Whether it be miracles, demon possession, spiritual warfare, or radical love, the two films have helped ignite a shift in Christians and churches all around the world towards love and compassion, as well as a new understanding of the power of God.

The speakers will include Heidi & Rolland Baker (Mozambique), Philip Mantofa (Indonesia), Mattheus van der Steen (Netherlands), Shampa Rice (India), Angela Greenig, Will Hart, Robby Dawkins, and Greg Boyd.

For more information or to register, the website for the Event is Group rates and discounts are also available.

For more information on Wanderlust Productions or their films, visit or call 847-628-1142.

Below are details on each speaker for the Event:

Heidi and Rolland Baker, who have seen thousands of miracles in Mozambique, including nearly 100 people raised from the dead. They also care for nearly 10,000 orphans through their ministry, Iris.

Philip Mantofa, who pastors a church of 30,000 in Indonesia, the most Muslim nation in the world.

Angela Greenig, who has been a part of thousands of demonic deliverances over the years. Her story of leading a prominent Satanist to Christianity is highlighted in Furious Love.

Mattheus van der Steen, a Holland evangelist who regularly preaches to tens of thousands all over the world, and has preached alongside noted evangelist Reinhard Bonnke.

Robby Dawkins, a Chicago Vineyard pastor who travels the world teaching on deliverance and power evangelism.

Will Hart, a young evangelist who has spent the last 12 years of his life traveling to some of the most remote places in the world to spread the good news of Christ.

Shampa Rice, a former “slumdog” who now runs a children’s home and other ministries in her native India. She has seen incredible miracles and transformations simply through what she describes as “hugging ministry.”

Greg Boyd, noted author of books such as Letters From A Skeptic, God At War, and The Myth of a Christian Nation.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Philosophy of Religion Oral Exams on Wed., Feb. 23 - ROOM CHANGE

Because Monroe County Community College was closed on Monday, the oral exams for my Philosophy of Religion courses will be given today (Wednesday, Feb. 23)

The time of your exam will be the same. Room A 173.

Students who have already taken their exams - see you next Monday in class!

What Porn Does to Relationships

Relevant magazine posted a former porn addict's confession here. The article, by John Buckingham, begins with this:

"Hi, my name is John, and I was a sex addict. I am also a believer in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and am married to an amazing and beautiful woman of God."

John's wife Rachel writes a follow-up here. She describes her reaction when her husband told her about his porn addiction.

"Within minutes, the foundation of our marriage was shaken. The trust we had built was destroyed. I no longer felt safe or loved. I was suddenly bombarded with lies—he doesn't find me attractive; it's my fault he strayed; I'm not beautiful; I'm not sexy; I am a horrible wife; I'm a failure; he is stuck with me; he doesn't love me ... these seemed to instantly go from ridiculous to quite possibly true."

CNN comments here.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Sociology of Miracles in Modern Christianity

Ice storm in Monroe
Mike Vincent, a recent graduate of Princeton University, did his Bachelor's thesis on: How God Shapes Society: A Sociology of Miracles in Modern Christianity. Mike graciously interviewed me for his research. He's done a great job of putting this information together.

Release The Kraken!

The Identity of the Kraken

Liam Neeson utters his most memorable movie line.
The Kraken - finally released!

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Argument from Evil Against God's Existence

Ice storm!
(For my MCCC Philosophy of Religion students.)

Next week in my Philosophy of Religion course at MCCC I'll begin presenting what is arguably to strongest philosophical argument against God's existence; viz., the argument from evil. My experience is that students will be easily engaged in this discussion since it has so many practical ramifications.

First, I'll explain the fairly standard philosophical definition of "evil" as: pointless suffering. Pointless suffering is suffering that is neither needed to allow for there to be a greater good nor needed to prevent a greater evil from happening. My own position is that, on Christian theism, there is pointless suffering from a purely human point of view. If, e.g., I hit you over the head with a shovel for no reason other than it's just fun (which I would never do!), then there is no point to your suffering. Christian theism defines my act as "sin" which is, precisely, "to miss the point" (to miss the "mark," as in archery).

Second, we'll look at J.L.Mackie's famous, a priori, logical argument from evil. Mackie posits a "triad" of statements" which, he claims, cannot all be affirmed at the same time without contradiction. They are:
1. God is all-powerful.
2. God is all-good.
3. Evil exists.
He adds two assumptions to this, which are: a) an all-powerful being would be able to stop evil from happening; and 2) an all-good being would desire to stop evil from happening.
That being true, what's the deal with evil? Mackie s certain evil exists, and I see no reason to deny this.
He says we would have no "problem" of evil if just one of the three statements was false. If 1 is false, then 2 and 3 could logically be true, since God might desire to stop evil but could not do so since he would not be all-powerful. If 2 were false, then while God could stop any evil from occurring he would not desire to. If 3 were false and evil did not even exist, then of course we are not left with a "problem of evil" any more than we have a "problem with unicorns." And who might deny that evil exists? Buddhism does, at least in its virgin, culturally unpolluted form. I'll explain this idea to our students, which always proves to be head-twisting.

Third, I will present Alvin Plantinga's famous "Free Will Defense" in which he decisively refutes Mackie's sheer logical argument. It's important to understand just what Plantinga needs to do to refute Mackie, which is: show that there is no logical contradiction in affirming 1, 2, and 3. Nearly everyone, to include atheists such as William Rowe, agree that, after Plantinga, Mackie's argument fails. Plantinga shows how it is logically possible to say "True" to all three at once. This is an exercise in modal logic and the language of logical possibility.

Fourth, I will present William Rowe's classic "evidential argument from evil." Rowe agrees that an a priori logical argument such as Mackie's fails. But he believes there are enough instances of intense suffering to inductively conclude that an all-loving, all-powerful God does not exist. He calls his view "friendly atheism," which states that one is not irrational in affirming theism in the face of evil.

Finally, I'll presernt Stephen Wyckstra's argument that Rowe commits a "no-seeum fallacy." Rowe, thinks Wyckstra, reasons like this:
1a. As far as I can see, there is no point to X's intense suffering.
2. Therefore there is no point to X's intense suffering.
Wyckstra says one can only reason this way if one has "reasonable epistemic access"; viz., that if there were a point to the suffering one would be in an epistemic position to see it. Because the argument is about an all-knowing God we cannot expect to have all-knowing epistemic access. Therefore Rowe's argument fails in that there is no claim of inference from 1a to 1b.

My classes intend to serve as introductions to basic issues in the philosophy of religion. These five arguments can propel a student towards relevant philosophical inquiry should they choose to learn more.

I will not mention a number of things, to include Greg Boyd's Satan and the Problem of Evil: Constructing a Trinitarian Warfare Theodicy, which influences me, and Marilyn McCord Adams's Horrendous Evils and the Goodness of God.

Is God a Moral Monster?: #4a

It's a day off + a snow day for my MCCC teaching. I went out for a few hours this morning and took photos of the ice storm. Photographic conditions were poor (gray skies) but I got some shots of the quarter-inch icing coating everything. If the sun had been shining the whole earth would have glistened, reflecting the light in a myriad of ways.

I'm settling in to some reading. I've got Paul Copan's Is God a Moral Monster? in hand, and am reading ch. 7 - "The Bible's Ubiquitous Weirdness?" What's the deal with all those wild dietary laws?! Copan takes two chapters to answer. The first chapter focuses on gthe calling of Israel as a people to be "set apart," "marked off," or "unmixed" from its surrounding nations; viz., Canaanite culture. Here are the bullets from ch. 7 as I see them.
  • Ancient Israel had a tribal and kinship structure. The Canaanites "had a kind of feudal system with a powerful elite at the top and peasants at the bottom." (70) "Israelite society was 'socially decentralized and non-hierarchical' until the time of Solomon onward. By contrast, Canaanite kings owned all the land. Peasants had to work the land as tenants and pay taxes." So? It's this, among other things: Israelite law was a "dramatic improvement" over the Canaanite system. (71) Israel's un-mixedness dramatically improved moral and living conditions.
  • At Sinai God bound himself to Israel in a loving covenant, the Mosaic law. We read about this from Exodus 20 to Numbers 10. Here we see some odd laws, at least fromm our POV. The atheist Bertrand Russell, e.g., wondered about the command not to boil a kid in the milk of its mother (Ex. 23:19; 34:26; Deut 14:21). This is weird, and seemingly arbitrary. Out of context, of course it is. In context, it is not.
  • In order to understand such things we must keep this in mind: The law of Moses is not eternal and unchanging. "Despite what the New Atheists assume, Old Testament sages and seers themselves announced that the law of Moses was intentionally temporary." (71) OT laws are not for universal application to post-OT times. The dietary laws do not and could not apply today.
  • The law of Moses was not a-contextual. "It is interwoven into a dynamic historical narrative of a covenant-making God's activity through Israel from its beginning." As usual, in textual studies one must understand the context. (We here reject postmodern hermeneutics that imposes its own context on the text.)
  • God had called apart a people, a nation, for the sake of revealing his love to all nations. Israel's environment helped to "prepare the cultural and theological context for God's revelation of Jesus of Nazareth "when the fullness of time came" (Gal. 4:4)." (73)
  • This "calling apart" of a people is captured in the word "holy." "Holy" means "set apart," or "marked off." "Holiness" affected every area of life. And, it "wasn't just for official priests; it was for the entire people of Israel... We could rephrase the command 'be holy, for I the LORD am holy' (Lev. 19:2) this way: "You shall be my people and mine alone, for I am your God and yours alone." This relationship can be compared to... serious marriage vows... Being God's people meant living lives dedicated to God in every aspect of life." (74) This "every aspect of life" thing is important.
  • With this in mind, we must remember that God's underlying moral and spiritual concerns were primarily about justice, mercy, and walking humbly before God (Deut. 10:12; Micah 6:8). We read that God hated rituals and eating kosher foods if the worship of God and treatment of others weren't kosher." (74) But note: "This underlying moral concern didn't cancel out ritual prescriptions - with their rich theological meaning - even much later in Israel's history after the Babylonian exile." (75) So the rituals and dietary laws were not the summum bonum of God's revelation to us. They were, as N.T. wright would say, a necessary chapter in the biblical Grand Narrative.
  • So what's the point so far? God called and was preparing a people through which to display his love. He "set apart" this people. For them all of life was sacred and holy. Including what you eat. As Copan writes, "God isn't cordoned off to some private, religious realm." (75)
  • What about the distinction between "clean" and "unclean?" The underlying idea is this: "For the Hebrew, life wasn't mere biological existence." (75) "Uncleanness symbolizes loss of life." (Ib.) "Life" means "being rightly connected to God and to the community - and properly functioning, whole, or well-ordered within (peace = shalom)." (76) So re. food, e.g., carnivorous animals were connected with death. Therefore, they were "unclean."
  • "Cleanness" was essentially a heart issue. "The nearer one came to God, the cleaner one had to be... The pursuit of cleanness was a kind of spiritual 'dressing down' - an inner unveiling or internal examination of where one stood in relation to God." (Ib.)
  • Israel's food laws and sacrificial laws and even the land itself "all had social and theological significance. Israel's various boundaries were to remind her of her relationship to God and to the nations around her. Just as God was set apart from human beings, Israel was to be set apart in its behavior and theology from the surrounding nations. Just as the tabernacle represented sacred space within Israel, so the land of Israel itself represented a set-apartness in contrast to the nations around it." (Ib.)
  • Just as a parent today might instruct his child not to "mix" with a certain crowd, the word "holiness" is about living the unmixed life. Understanding Israel's historical and social context and the unmixed life in relation to that context is needed to get the logic of the "weird" dietary laws.
All of this, for Copan, is setting the stage for the next chapter on the dietary laws.

Prophecy Class at Redeemer Ministry School

Tomorrow's RMS Prophecy class will be taught by Jim and Sallie Collins.

RMS students - please read Mike Bickle, Growing in the Prophetic, chapter 9 to prepare.

Jim and Sallie were part of Mike's church (Kansas City Fellowship & IHOP) prior to moving to Michigan and joining us at Redeemer.

Worship at 9 AM.

Class - 9:30 - 1.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Ken Rockwell on Photography

Green Lake, Wisconsin
  I love taking photographs. I am an amateur photographer.

My main learning resource is Ken Rockwell's website. I don't remember how I came across him, but am glad I did. He's the reason I bought my tiny Canon SD780 IS before I went to Bangkok. Last week I got my refurbished Nikon D40 from adorama, on Ken's recommendation.

He packs a lot of readable, practical, and technical information on his site. Here are a few of his articles that have especially helped me.

Points of No Return

Thomas Merton wrote of his journey into ever-increasing solitude: "I go forward. I don't believe I would go back." Merton, in his solitary life, had "reached a point of no return."

As I read this I thought that, in many areas of my life, I have also reached a point of no return. Here are some of them.

  • Every week for the past 30+ years I have spent many hours alone, praying. Talking with God. Many years ago I was "too busy to pray." One day that changed. Now, I could never go back to a prayerless life. This alone-life with God is the most precious thing I have. It has become my life. Any life I have to give to others comes from this.
  • I could never go back to the program-driven church. I have not only sat in but led church meetings where little is accomplished except the need for yet another meeting, where a one-minute prayer opens the meeting, where the Holy Spirit's name is discovered to be "Robert" (as in "Robert's Rules of Order), and where disagreements escalate into hostility as we fight over the color of the new carpet and bring it, finally, to a polarizing "church vote." (But there's no voting in the Bible?) I have many moments of gratitude that I'm no longer part of church-as-institution.
  • I could never go back to non-charismatic worship. I love the dancing, shouting, arm-raising worship environment at Redeemer. I come from statuesque, emotion-controlled, anti-physical worship. My roots are Finnish Lutheranism. Need I say more? I grew up with that. I was instructed in its virtues and warned about charismatics. Now, in my heart, I have become one. Even with its particular problems I remember that it's easier to teach a bucking horse than raise a dead one. 
  • I could never return to Christian Deism. Which is: Christianity sans the miraculous. I am less interested than ever in collective, non-miraculous human abilities. Of course we must think as best we can. But our best thinking will not and is not bringing in the Kingdom of God. I want God to move in our midst. I'm not so threatened by this as I used to be. The Kingdom of God is not a matter of talk, but of power. Correct?
This is about "leaving." Whenever Jesus calls and says "Follow me" there are some nets to be left behind. Peter could never go back to fishing for fish.

Long ago I said "good-bye" to the non-Jesus life. Since then my life has become a series of farewells. Currently I am leaving the non-prophetic life, and heading to yet another point of no return.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

I Wish I Could Be There...!

Bart Ehrman and Craig Evans in Dialog: "Can We Trust the Bible on the Historical Jesus?"

This coming Friday and Saturday, Feb. 26 & 27
New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary

Ehrman, of course, say "No."

Evans says "Yes."

If you are unfamilar with Evans, he is one of our greatest NT scholars. So it should be quite a dialogue!

Also speaking at this conference will be Craig Keener and Ben Witherington.

Want to study, academically, the real, historical Jesus? Necessary to read are:
  • Craig Evans
  • Craig Keener
  • Ben Witherington
  • N.T. Wright
  • Richard Bauckham
  • Greg Boyd
  • James Charlesworth
  • Scot McKnight
  • Craig Blomberg

Friday, February 18, 2011

Is God a Moral Monster?: #3

Lake Michigan
I'm continuing to read through theistic philosopher Paul Copan's Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God. I've made a couple of posts here and here.

This week I read chapters 4-6. Here are some of the main points I am interested in.
  • Some accuse the OT God of being angry and jealous. OK. But anger and jealousy in themselves are not evil, or bad. We ought to feel the emotion of anger when injustice happens. Copan says, "Jealousy can be a bad thing or a good thing. It's bad to protect the petty; it's good to fiercely guard against the precious." (34) So "God's jealousy is other-centered." (40)
  • On Anger: "anger isn't necessarily wrong (Eph. 4:26) - indeed, at times it is virtuous. The never-angered person is morally deficient. The slow-to-anger person is the virtuous one." (38)
  • In Ch. 5 Copan interprets the story of Abraham and Isaac. Anyone wondering about the ethics of this story will do well to read Copan's explanation. Note first that: it is contextual. One cannot meaningfully interpret simpliciter it from the 21st century. Therefore: examine the surrounding biblical texts. Understand the cultural context, especially the moral (and lack thereof) context. Look closely at the words in the text.
  • Copan has a nice section where he adds philosophical reflections on the A & I story. Could taking an innocent life ever be permitted? 
  • I like how Copan reasons re. the Bible in his Ch. 6. He draws, explicitly and implicitly, on N.T. Wright's idea of the Bible as understood as a "5-Act Play." E.g., "by the Old Testament's own admission, the Mosdaic law was inferior and forward-looking." (59) The ways God addressed the patriarchal structures, primogeniture (rights of the firstborn), polygamy, warfare, servitude/slavery, and a number of other fallen social arrangements "were not [considered as] ideal and universal." I find Copan and Wright as hermeneutically correct on such issues. Again: "The Mosaic law was temporary [by its own admission] and, as a whole, isn't universal and binding upon all humans or all cultures." (61) If you're interested read this chapter for yourself!

Reading About the Real, Historical Jesus

I was just asked: what books would be good to read on the historical Jesus? I suggest:

Begin with these three books. They will take you deep into current historical Jesus research. They will suggest many resources to check out.

Two Hours of Worship Because: It Is Your Calling

If you are a Jesus-follower then your ultimate calling is expressed in 2 Thessalonians 2:12: "We pray that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ."

 Real Jesus-followers live lives that glorify Christ. Christ is glorified in them. This speaks not of "fame" in the sense of accomplishments, but refers to a quality of being. God, e.g., is glorified for who he is. For such reasons Paul rejoices about "Christ in him, the hope of glory." A Jesus-follower's life reflects Christ.

The calling of a real Jesus-follower is, ultimately, this: Christ glorified in you, and you glorified in Christ. God and man sharing in the same love. Ben Witherington calls this a theology of "interpenetration."

To "glorify" God is to worship him for who he is in the first place. Our future glorification, which one day will be complete, affects our present lives. Because this is our calling, our destiny, we live in the light of this calling now. We live lives that reflect the glory of God and express his glory.

Tomorrow night at Redeemer we have another opportunity to live out our destiny. We'll gather in our sanctuary at 6 PM and worship for 2 hours. For me this will feel good. Increasingly, it feels natural. I was made for this. So were you.

WIN - Worship Intercession Night
Sat., Feb. 18, 6-8 PM
Redeemer Fellowship Church
5305 Evergreen

Thursday, February 17, 2011

If Someone Doesn't Believe Jesus Healed People

Someone recently wrote me and said: "I believe that Jesus existed, but I don't believe Jesus healed people or did miracles." How would I respond to someone who said this?

  1. Are they an atheist or a theist, or something else? Explain that atheism as philosophical materialism/naturalism necessarily rules out divine activity. So if they are an atheist, it follows that they are a philosophical naturalist or materialist. (The two ideas of "naturalism" and "materialism" can be understood as not referring to the same thing. See The Waning of Materialism, eds. Robert C. Koons and George Bealer). By definition (by logical extension) divine healings and miracles are impossible. As Bertrand Russell famously said, "All that exists is matter and its various collocations." I would ask them if they understand this? On philosophical naturalism (aka philosophical materialism) "nature" is all there is. All possible events are 100% natural; the super-natural (beyond nature) does not exist. But if the questioner is not an atheist, then they should be able to acknowledge, at least in principle, things such as divine healings and miracles.
  2. If they are an atheist, are they a philosophical materialist? I would present current arguments against materialism, such as Lawrence Bonjour's "Against Materialism." (In Ib.) In this essay Bonjour argues that the most popular materialist explanation of consciousness ("functionalism") does an inadequate job of explaining the qualitative content of consciousness ("qualia"). Philosophical materialism (all that exists is matter) is in deep, troubled waters when it comes to explaining consciousness. If such materialism cannot explain consciousness we are left with the conclusion that there exist non-material realities. In my opinion this opens a door for super-natural (non-natural) realities.
  3. In studying historical texts one will do well to put aside biases caused by one's worldview. I would want to discuss the Jesus story historically. To do this one does not have to accede to the theological claim that the Bible is God's Word. If, historically, the best explanation of a certain event in the Jesus story such as the resurrection is best explained by a divine miracle, then it is rational to believe such a miracle happened.
  4. Present examples of divine healing. See, e.g., the current and ongoing research of Candy Gunther Brown. In my church context we have several examples, and have confirmed some of them with medical documentation. But note this: documentation is one thing; interpretation is another thing. The materialist worldview will strive to reduce the documentation to pure natural explanations. The theistic worldview (esp. if charismatic or pentecostal) will tend to see divine intervention in nearly everything.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Parenting Conference with Craig Miller

Why can the most important job in your life also be the most frustrating and challenging job you will ever have? That’s because raising children comes with no instructions (except the Bible)! If you want to learn straightforward practical ways to have a stronger, loving, and closer relationship with your children, to build a lasting legacy, attend the parenting seminar on May 6th and 7th.

Join Craig Miller at Redeemer Fellowship Church May 6-7 for this Parenting Conference.
Some of the things you will learn:

· Making your children mind, before you lose yours.
· The influence of a dad, the influence of a mom
· Building ‘self-worth’ in children, teens, and young adults.
· Identifying and dealing with depression and ADD
· Loving your children when they’re not loving you.
· Tips about step-parenting and disciplining
· Improve your attitude to improve your atmosphere
· Improving relationships with your adult - children.
· Improving communication with family members.
· .Express feelings to improve your relationships.

There will be opportunities for questions.

This seminar is for:
Parents of children and teens
Empty nesters with adult children
Want to be parents
Grand parents
Anyone thinking of having children in the future!


For thirty years Craig has been counseling with individuals, families, and couples in both medical and mental health settings. He has served as the Director of Social Work at Herrick Memorial Hospital in Tecumseh, Michigan, and currently is the co-founder, Administrative Director, and a therapist for MASTERPEACE.

Craig continues his passion for helping people through his syndicated radio talk show "Insights From the Heart" (North American Broadcasting Company), TV program, Better Life Spotlight (WLMBTV-40) copyrighted material, National speaking in the USA and Canada with PESI Education Seminars and Cross Country Education, and his books: "When Feelings Don't Come Easy" and "When Your Mate Has Emotionally Checked Out."

Craig has been speaking in churches and to the general public with topics such as, Finding the Joy of Christ in a Hurting World and Living with an unemotional mate. He speaks with professionals with topics such as, Integrating Faith Based Principles with Clinical Mental Health Issues: A Christian approach for improving treatment outcomes. For information about his speaking engagements, books, and DVD material log on to:

Over the years Craig has learned the unique ability to successfully combine his skills as a Christian and mental health practitioner to bring healing and restoration to the spirit, mind, and body. Craig desires to work with each person, couple, and/or family to receive emotional and physical healing to bring restoration of your heart and relationship, renewal of your soul and revitalization of your faith.

How the Prophetic Voice Increases

At Redeemer
When you spend much time with God the prophetic voice within increases. You begin to hear from God. God gives you a voice that will uniquely distribute his voice.

If you are too busy too spend time with God then you will hear little or nothing from God. What you hear will likely be: "Be still and know that I am God." "Stop striving." "Come back to me." "Spend time with me." When you hear these words, do not refuse this offer.

God has much to say to you. Today. One experiences this by being sheep-like. Jesus said, "My sheep hear my voice." How do you grow in learning to hear the voice of God?

1. Saturate yourself in the Scriptures.
2. Spend much time in God's presence.
3. Hang around people who do #s 1 & 2.

For me the desire to prophecy was given to me and increased in me as a result of doing 1 & 2. One day, a few years ago, I was reading 1 Cor 14:1-3 and - prompted by the Spirit - wanted to prophesy. Which means: I wanted to hear more clearly from God so as to be used by God to strengthen those who needed strength, confort those who needed comfort, and encourage the discouraged. The simplicity and practicality of these verses hit me.

I remain convinced that the prophetic voice of God grows within us as we abide deeply and closely to him. Connect with God today. He has much to say to you.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Philosophy of Religion Oral Exams

Tomorrow and Monday I will give 60 10-minute oral exams to my Philosophy of Religion students.

Tomorrow (Wed.) the exams will be in room A 173.

On Monday the exams will be in room A 153.

Exam Questions:

  1. Anselm's Ontological Argument for God's existence
  2. Gaunilo's criticism of Anselm's argument, plus our criticism of Gaunilo
  3. Kant's criticism of the Ontological Argument
  4. Craig's Kalam Cosmological Argument for God's existence
  5. The Anthropic Teleological Argument for God's existence
  6. Craig's Moral Argument for God's existence

Monday, February 14, 2011

Self-Love as Boredom

Here's a Thomas Merton quote that I read many years ago and just now re-read. Merton's deep insights continue to nourish my spirit. They come out of Merton's quiet, abiding heart. Out of a "still" place, a place in one's soul that is not striving. Remember that Ps. 46:10 says, literally: "Cease striving, and know that I am God."

Merton, in The Waters of Siloe, writes:

"If you discover any kind of love that satiates you, it is not the end for which you were created. Any act that can cease to be a joy is not the end [purpose; telos] of your existence. If you grow tired of a love that you thought was the love of God, be persuaded that what you are tired of was never pure love, but either the same act ordered to that love or something else without the order altogether.

The one love that always grows weary of its object and is never satiated with anything and is always looking for something different and new is the love of ourselves. It is the source of all boredom and all restlessness and all unquiet and all misery and all unhappiness - ultimately, it is hell."

  • The love we were made for and are all looking for is to be found in God. Such love will never cease to be a source of joy and wonder.
  • All other loves that lose their joy and wonder (that one tires of) are, ipso facto, not loves we were made for.
  • The ultimate tiring, unsatisfactory, boring love is love of one's self.
  • Merton here reminds me of C.S. Lewis's idea of heaven as being a place of infinite exploration, wonder, and joy, so that in life after life after death (N.T. Wright) we are always moving "further up, further in."

Sunday, February 13, 2011

How High a Flea Jumps

"When fleas jump, it is no ordinary leap. The insects can shoot as high as 38 times their body length, about three inches. And the acceleration is so intense that fleas have to withstand 100 Gs, or 100 times the force of gravity. “You and I pass out if we experience five Gs,” said Malcolm Burrows, an expert on insect jumping at the University of Cambridge...

[T]he insects turn themselves into catapults, storing up energy that they release as they push off the ground with what passes, in fleas, for feet...

Dr. [Gregory] Sutton [Cambridge] thinks that superior springs are just one of several important lessons fleas can teach engineers. They might also learn how to build robots that can leap over rough terrain. “Insect jumping is incredibly precise and incredibly fast,” said Dr. Sutton. “If you could build a robot that could do that, it would be fantastic.”

But Dr. Sutton acknowledged that some of the most important secrets of fleas remain to be worked out. No one knows how fleas lock their springs in place and then release them, for instance. And no one knows how fleas snap their two rear hindmost legs at the same time. If they weren’t so precise, the insects would spin wildly off course.

“If you’re half a millisecond off, you’re done, and we have no idea how they do it,” Dr. Sutton said. “It’s one step at a time — we’re just going have to take on the next problem and solve that.” "


Friday, February 11, 2011

Baptisms This Sunday at Redeemer

We're having baptisms this Sunday at Redeemer.

If you're a Redeemer person and want to be baptized let me or Josh know.

It's going to be a great Sunday morning!

Apologetics 315

Here is an excellent apologetics site.

Craig & Dennett on God's Existence

Craig, Dennett, & Alister McGrath
I just listened to the exchange between William Lane Craig and Daniel Dennett. Craig calls his presentation "In Defense of Theistic Arguments for the Existence of God." Those familiar with Bill's presentations will find little that is new here.

As for Dennett's response, I have these comments.

  • Dennett graciously called Bill's presentation a "stunning, virtuoso job" in presenting "dautingly difficult" issues.
  • He then added (to audience laughter) "Ironically, though, I think it proves my point."
  • Bill gave the statistically mind-boggling odds against philosophical naturalism being the best explanation for our fine-tuned universe (given multiverse theory). Dennett's response is: "Whatever the truth is, it is 'mind-boggling'. We know this in advance. The truth will be "jaw-droppingly improbable and counter-intuitive... So you can't use 'mind-bogglingness' as your litmus test."
  • My immediate response to this is: Bill is not simply using "mind-bogglingness" as a litmus test. For example, Penrose's example of the "100 sharpshooters" obviates this. That 100 sharpshooters missed you on the explanation that they randomly did so would be mind-boggling. But it would not be mind-boggling on the explanation that it was planned (designed) that they miss you. So I think Dennett does not understand the argument.
  • Dennett goes on to say, "Let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that the cosmological argument does favor the conclusion that the cause of the universe is a timeless, changeless, abstract, immaterial 'whatever.' At that point we have no idea what that might be, Maybe it's the idea of an apple? Maybe it's the square root of 7? But no, Craig says, because abstract things don't cause things. But who says that abstract things can't cause things? My favorite example of abstract things causing things is the principle of triangulation so that when you want to keep your house from going down you create a triangular structure to keep it up. It seems causal. This is an abstract principle of Euclidean geometry being invoked in a causal way."
  • Whether or not this is the kind of causality Bill is talking about is questionable. I am now guessing that Dennett equivocates on the term 'causality.'
  • Further, "the problem with a changeless God is that 'it' is changeless. Don't bother praying to it. Don't expect 'it,' in time, to hear your prayers and respond.
  • But here Bill has written much about God's relation to time as: without creation, God is timeless; in relation to creation God is temporal. It's complex. Go here to begin.

J.P. Moreland on Postmodernism, Deconstructionism, Et. Al.

Here's a link to a number of excellent, clear apologetic video presentations by some very good Christian-theistic thinkers. See especially J.P. Moreland and Francis Beckwith.

See Moreland on "Postmodernism" (and other issues) - J.P. is such a brilliant scholar and teacher! J.P. defines "postmodernism" philosophically as this: "The view that all truth, reality, and value is relagtive to your community." "'Deconstructionism' is the postmodern hermeneutic."

What does it mean to deconstruct human language?
Step 1 - you disregard the author's meaning in the text.
Step 2 - The reader brings questions to the text. I, the reader, get these questions from my ideology, my agenda. Say, e.g., that I am a lesbian. Out of my lesbian worldview I will ask the text questions. Now imagine that the text I am ideologically questioning is the book of Romans.
Step 3 - The reader creates a brand new text whose meaning reside in the reader's own community. For example: I will create a "Lesbian Book of Romans." That is, the reader creates a text from their own worldview.

One result of this is: students raised under postmodern thinking will be unable to read a text, but will be disgistingly good at talking about how they feel about the text.

See also: Francis Beckwith on "Abortion," "Relativism," and others. Beckwith, a professor of philosophy and jurisprudence, is a great thinker.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

I Google, Therefore I (do not)Think

This semester I have 90 undergraduate students in three philosophy classes. One of them is Logic, aka "critical thinking" (which is the name of the text I use). I love teaching this class. I feel as if I am giving them skills that can last a lifetime.

From my very narrow POV most students cannot think critically; i.e., they cannot think for themselves. My internet experience (e.g. Facebook; chat room discussions) tells me the same thing; viz., there's not a lot of real thinking going on out there.

There's a lot of "internet research" that mostly involves the following abilities: 1) the ability to "Google"; 2) the ability to cut and paste; and 3) the ability to make it look like your own thinking. How could you spot the non-thinking cut-and-paster? You could do this by actually getting together with them, face-to-face, and dialogueing. In a face-to-face environment we find out what people really have, cognitively.
Here, for me, is an example. A few years ago I reviewed atheist John Allen Paulos's Irreligion. Surprisingly, he wrote me. He was very cordial. He told me he doesn't care to "dialogue" on the internet. But if I was ever in Philadelphia he would enjoy going out for coffee and dialogue together. I think I would enjoy that. Paulos is brilliant, and seems kind. Yet I find some of his reasons to a-believe faulty. But here's the deal, for me. Paulos would find out if I was merely a googling cut-and-paster or could actually reason. The two are not the same.

That's why I give face-toface oral exams in my Philosophy of Religion classes. I find out "what students' got." There they sit, minus their laptops. If they google their own minds will there be anything there? It's tense, dramatic, and rewarding when you meet a young thinker, sans techno-crutches, who can actually reason.

In his new book Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, Richard Arum "determined that 45% "demonstrated no significant gains in critical thinking, analytical reasoning, and written communications during the first two years of college," and 36% showed no improvement over the entire four years. Including dropouts would have made the findings even worse."  

The Chronicle of Higher Education calls this "the most significant book on higher education in years. Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa's recently published Academically Adrift shows that for many students, four years of college make little difference in their ability to write and synthesize knowledge."

Data is not wisdom. Technology does not equal ability. The following is false: I google, therefore I think.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Your Marriage Represents Christ & the Church

To husbands and wives: If your marriage represented the love Christ has for the Church, his Bride, what condition would the Church be in?

Linda read this to me yesterday, out of John and Stasi Eldredge's Love and War: Finding the Marriage You've Dreamed Of.

"Being married costs you everything... We all know that loving is hard. Marriage is hard. It is hard because it is opposed. The devil hates marriage; he hates the beautiful picture of Jesus and his Bride that it represents. He hates love and life and beauty in all its forms. The world hates marriage. It hates unity and faithfulness and monogamy. Our flesh is not our ally here either - it rebels when we put others before ourselves. Our flesh hates dying.

But God loves marriage! The Holy Trinity is for it. God loves intimacy, friendship, unity, self-sacrifice, laughter, pleasure, joy, and the picture of the Sacred Romance that you have the opportunity to present to the watching world. God is with you. He is for you. He commands you to love and he says that with him and in him all things are possible."

Monday, February 07, 2011

Explaining Objective and Subjective Moral Values

This is a great text to
dig deep into the
moral argument as
presented by W.L.
In presenting William Lane Craig’s moral argument for God’s existence I used the following to explain objective moral values and subjective moral values. Consider these two statements.

1. Torturing and raping little girls for fun is wrong.

2. John believes that torturing and raping little girls for fun are wrong.

Both 1 and 2 are statements. As statements each describes a state of affairs. If the state of affairs they describe obtains, then the statements are true. If that state of affairs does not obtain, then the statements are false.

If 1 is true, it is true for everyone. If 1 is false, it is false for everyone. The same can be said for statement 2. That is, if it is true that John believes that torturing and raping little girls for fun are wrong, then it is true for everyone. If it is false it is false for everyone.

But even if 2 is true, this does not mean 1 is true. It only affirms that John believes that 1 is true. Therefore, on 2, the belief that one should not torture and rape little girls for fun is non-binding and, therefore, not objective.

Now if God does not exist the kind of ethical statements we have are only of the kind 2 represents. With no divine Lawgiver we are left with our own subjective beliefs about what is right and what is wrong. While we must admit things like “John believes… X is wrong,” which is not a moral judgment, we cannot arrive at the moral judgment “X is wrong.” Without a divine Lawgiver moral judgments are merely things we invent; i.e., they are subjective moral values. As such, they cannot be adjudicated in the sense of being morally binding.

It is for reasons such as this that the atheist philosopher Joel Marks affirms that, without God, morality does not exist. Since Marks believe there is no Commander God (i.e., a God who is perfectly good in essence and issues commands that are good), the metaphysical ground for morality is gone.

When You Wage Marital War, Obtain Guidance

(A marriage in trouble - Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner in "The War of the Roses.")

It's Monday morning, and snow is lightly falling upon the foot of snow we got last week. Linda and I are sitting in our quiet living room. She's reading Proverbs.

"Listen to this one," she says. "Plans are established by seeking advice; so if you wage war, obtain guidance."

"Wow! Where's that one at?"

"Proverbs 20:18."

In a tribal culture like that of the ancient Hebrews it was socially acceptable to seek advice and obtain guidance. In an individuated culture such as our's asking others for counsel, especially if we are "waging war," is more a sign of weakness. Especially, in general, for men. My experience is that women are more open to asking for help in the midst of marital battle than men are.

I'm applying this verse to marriages in conflict. If you are maritally battling you probably won't figure this out yourself. This is because who you are and what tools you've got have gotten you into this battle zone. What you need is another perspective from a wise counselor. If you are unable to achieve peace, obtain guidance. It takes humility to do this, and it is wisdom.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Paul, Judgment Day, & Eternal Consequences

Sioux Falls
Next Sunday morning at Redeemer I'll preach out of 2 Thessalonians 1:3-10. Which reads:
 6God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you 7and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels.
3 We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing. 4 Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring.

5All this is evidence that God's judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering.

8He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power 10on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you."

One of the texts I'll use to unravel and explain this verses in Ben Witherington's 1 and 2 Thessalonians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Witherington's scholarly output rivals that of Craig Keener and N.T. Wright. When I read them I feel I am getting the best possible understanding of the biblical texts.
Re. this passage Witherington says, “This is as stark a depiction of what happens on judgment day as any found in the Pauline corpus. Ch. 2 will build on it. Paul really does believe there are eternal consequences to having and persevering in faith in Christ or refusing to do so.”
Next Sunday morning I will especially address the concern that vv. 8-9 seem incompatible with a loving God.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Tomorrow's Message - 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

From my POV, out the window of our upstairs home office, we're getting 3-4 inches of pristine, windless, airy-light and white snow. It is beautiful!

True or false: This snowfall is beautiful.

I've been crock-potting in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 all week. We've just begun preaching, at Redeemer, the Christology of the Letters of Paul. This is high Christology, and makes so much more sense to me after our 5 years of preaching through the 4 Gospels. This is a great text, exemplary of the lasting relevance of Scripture.

One book in my exegetical arsenal is Gordon Fee's Pauline Christology.

I am going to enjoy tomorrow.

Know People, Not Know Everything

An elderly man in our church's neighborhood came to me this week and asked, "Who plows the snow out of your parking lots?" I said, "I don't know."

I wish I had a photo of the look on his face as he responded to me, incredulously, "You...  don't know.. who plows your parking lots?" This man was stunned at my ignorance!

"Nope. But he does a good job, doesn't he?"

I said, "I know who knows. His name is Joe. Joe has hired a friend to do our lots. I'll give you Joe's number."

The old man said, "Looks like he does a good job. I want to see if he'll come down the street and do my driveway when it snows."

As a leader I do not have to know everything or have my hands in everything. In fact, I cannot know everything. (Note: it is important to know this.) But I do know and trust Joe, who has the responsibility to see that our parking lots are plowed. This week my attention was drawn to our snow-plowed lots, and I saw that Joe chose a good person to do the job.

Everyone's Heart Is an Inner Cupboard

If you came to our house hungry we would look in the cupboard and refrigerator to see what we have, and feed you. Feed people with what you've got. That seems obvious.

Don't feed people with what you don't have. That seems obvious. How can you give people something you don't have to give? Yet it happens, I think, all the time.

Our local newspaper has a philosophy & religion internet chat room. I've entered it a few times. Most of the people dispense philosophical and religious wisdom they don't actually have. My suspicion is this: I face a thought-dilemma, therefore I Google. Then: cut, and paste. Philosophize out of an empty cupboard of wisdom and knowledge and appear wise. Having little within yet dispensing much, philosophical paupers serve up gourmet meals to the hungry, quoting Plato without having actually read him, and without understanding him.

When I was ten years old my hero was Elvis. One day I took an album cover with Elvis on it into our bathroom, leaned it against the mirror, and began to work on my appearance. I combed my hair like Elvis's and practiced his famous lip-curl. "I am Elvis," I thought. I emerged from that bathroom a new man and walked through my backyard to my friend John's house. When he saw me he said, "So you're trying to look like Elvis again?" The appearance of a full cupboard; the reality of it being empty.

I am not Elvis. Therefore I can't serve up to others what Elvis had. But I can give to others out of what I have. It's taken me a long time to realize this. Like Lionel says to Bertie the king in "The King's Speech," "You have a voice."

I think it takes years to "get a voice." The quasi-philosophers in the chat room lip-synch the voices of others. If they engage the original thinkers for years they may come to understand them and gain a philosophical voice of their own in relation to them. The shackles of Google-dependency can be broken and one can sit in the Agora and dialogue out of the shallows and depths of what one authentically has. Everyone's heart is an inner cupboard. Whether it is bare or stocked with food depends on how we spend our lives, on what we invest in.

To give to others the best of what I am and have been given feels like freedom to me. It's freedom from acting, freedom from comparison, and release from pressure. I do not need to pretend to give something I don't have. I am to freely dispense whatever spiritual food my heart's cupboard contains.