Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Pray for Darren Wilson in Israel

Darren Wilson praying for Robbie Dawkins
at "Furious Love"
Darren Wilson just sent this prayer request, with a link below. Darren writes:

"Well, I'm about to leave for the last shoot of the last film in the Finger/Furious/Father trilogy, and we're ready to roll. I'm writing you all to ask a simple favor. We need prayer, and lots of it. I'm asking God to do something spectacular while we're in Israel next week, something that has never been seen before. My desire is to get an enormous body of believers around the world standing with us in prayer to break open the heavens while we film. All I'm asking for is prayer.

Since this is our last shoot, I'm humbly asking if you all might be willing to post a quick link on your social media and/or websites that simply takes people to our prayer request for this shoot. I will be happy to return the favor 10 times over whenever you need me or Wanderlust to step up the prayer support for you as well.

Thanks everyone. The Lord specifically told me to go to Israel to film the ending (he even gave me a vision of how to film it--that's rare for me!) so I know we're going where He wants us to go. Thank you, so much, for your help and your friendship. I love being a part of a unified Body!

Here is the link:

And if you can't do it, no worries. I totally understand the busy lives you all lead!

Darren Wilson

If a Person Is Cremated, What Kind of Body Will They Have At the Final Resurrection?

Michele, one of our Redeemer family members, wrote me this:

Hi Pastor John,

So the dead rise on the last day and we get new bodies. [I preached the last two weeks out of 1 Corinthians 15 on this - PJ.] But what happens if you are cremated and you have been scattered, let's say, in Comerica Park? [Go Tigers!]

What kind of body would you get? Also if you have been cremated, what kind of body would you have in paradise?



Hi Michele - here's what I think.

First of all, you might get resurrected wearing a Tiger's jersey - not bad!
More seriously, remember the "seed" analogy Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 15. The verses say:

"When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. 38 But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body."

God gives the "seed" a "body." The "body" looks very different than the "seed" does. For example, if I plant a rose seed, what eventually comes out of the ground looks very different than the seed I planted. We have a beautiful rose!

Using this analogy, I think this way. When we die and are buried in the ground, it's like our body is a "seed" planted in the ground. But when Christ comes and we are resurrected, we will look very, very different than when we were "planted" in the ground. We will have undergone a great metamorphosis, a great change of form, and not simply a "reconstitution." Some scholars say there is both a continuity and a discontinuity; that is, the plant comes from the same seed, but there is an amazing transformation - the plant looks nothing like the mere, naked seed.

But what about someone who is cremated? Or, what about someone who dies in a plane crash and whose body is incinerated and noy physically buried? My answer is this.

Paul knows and believes that, when a person dies and are buried, their bodies "turn to dust." Jewish burials happened in two stages. Stage one: the body is laid in a tomb. Stage two: a year or so later, have the flesh on the body has disintegrated (returned to dust), the bones are collected and placed in a "bone box" (called an "ossuary'). Eventually, even the bones decay and decompose. So our bodies, from Paul's Jewish viewpoint, all become dust anyway. Our bodies are very "perishable." Paul knows this, so he writes, asking us to remember his "seed and plant" analogy:

"So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body." (1 Corinthians 15:42-44)

God is able to take that which has "perished" and decayed and turned to dust and resurrect it or reconstitute it. Cremation will form no barrier to this, for God.

Thank you for your question - I hope this helps.



P.S. - Another Redeemer friend asked about what happens to a baby when it dies. I'll be posting my thoughts on this soon.

The Dismal Prospect of Trying to Ground Morality If Atheism Is True

In Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality, theistic philosophers David Baggett and Jerry Walls cite Yale's Arthur Leff on the difficulties of postmodern morality. Leff shows that " coming up with a suitable moral substitute for God is no easy task. What is required is some convincing account of who, short of God, has the authority to provide normative moral evaluations and obligations. When finite, fallible beings attempt to take that role, they invariably invite “what is known in barrooms and schoolyards as ‘the grand sez who’?”"

If all we have when it comes to morality is ourselves, and no God-as-Moral-Lawgiver, Leff finds our prospects "dismal." To express this Leff writes a poem:

As things now stand, everything is up for grabs.
Nevertheless: Napalming babies is bad.
Starving the poor is wicked.
Buying and selling each other is depraved.
Those who stood up to and died resisting Hitler, Stalin, Amin, and Pol Pot—and General Custer too—have earned salvation.
Those who acquiesced deserve to be damned.
There is in the world such a thing as evil. [All together now:] Sez who?
God help us.

- Arthur Allen Leff, “Unspeakable Ethics, Unnatural Law,” Duke Law Journal 6 (1979): 1229. Cited in
Baggett, David; Walls, Jerry L. (2011-04-15). Good God : The Theistic Foundations of Morality . Oxford University Press, USA. Kindle Edition.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Meditative Road Trip

Today I drove to Wilberforce, Ohio for a Payne Theological Seminary faculty meeting. It's four hours there, a three-hour meeting, and four hours back. We evaluated my Spiritual Formation M. Div. class, saw how it fits in to Payne's curriculum. took time for the full-time faculty to dialogue wiht me and ask questions. so it was important for me to be there. Plus, I really like being with thse talented people.

On the way there and back listened to about a third of a 7 1/2 audio cd series called The Living Wisdom of Howard Thurman: A Visionary for Our Time, narrated by Vincent Harding and Alice Walker, with some of Thurman's sermons as he gave them. Thurman is a spiritual giant whose work has deeply influenced me. Thurman is deep, and speaks very slow and majestically.

I also brought the "Tree of Life" cd (I love it!), some of jazz pianist legend Bill Evans' tunes (like "Piece, Peace"), and Samuel Barber's lush, evocative "Adagio for Strings."

All this, with a cup of coffee. It was a nice, meditative road trip!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Logic, Language, and Truth

I'm teaching again at Monroe County Community College. I am so thankful for the opportunity to do this.

I teach Intro to Logic, and Philosophy of Religion. I started off Logic by giving some basics. Here they are.

Logic, in philosophy, is about the making and evaluating of arguments.

An argument has one (and only one) conclusion, and one or more supporting premises.

The conclusion and premises need to be statements, also called propositions. A statement is a sentence that is either true or false. Aren't all sentences either true or false? No - many sentences have no cognitive value. such as, for example, requests. If I'm at your home for dinner and request of you, "Please pass the salt," your response should not be: "True." Requests are neither true nor false. That I made a request can be either true or false, but ot the request itself, as stated.

If a statement is true, it is true for everybody; if it is false, it is false for everybody. For example, consider the statement: The lights in this room are on. If that statement is true, it is true for everybody. Or, consider this statement: I think the lights in this room are on. If true, it's true for everybody; viz., it is true that I think the lights in this room are on.

Try this statement: God exists. If that statement is true, it is true for everybody, and atheists are wrong. If it is false, then it is false for everybody, and theists are wrong. Such is the logical character of statements.

This is a hard one for a lot of students, who are relativists at heart (and unreflectively so). So I give another, easier-to-see example. The temPerature outside is now 70 degrees F. This statement is either T or F. If T, then (isn't this obvious?) it is T for everyone. If F, then it is F for everyone. What if someone says, For me the temperature is 71 degrees F. That statement, if it expresses a truth about the person uttering it, is true, and true for everyone. It changes nothing about the statement The temperature is 71 degrees F.

Logic has no necessary connection with the disciplines of psychology, sociology, or anthropology. The truth or falsity of a statement has nothing to do with issues like what a person believes, how they were raised, where they were raised, how many believe certain things, and so on.

Thus Logic is the philosophical tool for discovering truth.

What Happens When Someone Who Is “In Christ” Dies?

If someone who is "in Christ" dies now, where are they? Here is, as far as I can tell, what Scripture says about this.

• They are, immediately, “with Jesus.” This is, of course, prior to the final resurrection. As Paul wrote, “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.” (Phil. 1:22) So when a Jesus-follower dies they do not go to heaven as a one-stage postmortem journey. (But NT scholar Joel Green [Fuller Theological Seminary] diagrees with Ben Witherington, N.T. Wright, et. al. who interpret immediate post-mortem existence as I do. Green does not think Scripture gives us an intermediate state.)

• This ‘departing and being with Christ’ is not the same thing as the eventual resurrection of the body, which Paul describes vividly later in the same letter (Phil. 3.20-21). The dead in Christ have ‘departed’ and are ‘with Christ’.

• They are ‘sleeping in Christ'. Paul uses this idea frequently. (1 Corinthians 11.30; 15.6, 18,20,51 – Paul speaks of “those who have fallen asleep in Christ.”) See  1 Thessalonians 4.13-15 – 13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep.

• This is not an unconscious, but a conscious state. See Rev. 6.9-11-  9 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. 10 They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?”

• Luke 23.43 – to the thief on the cross - ‘Today,’ he said, ‘you will be with me in paradise.’ ‘Paradise’ is not the final destination; it is a beautiful resting place on the way there. Jesus assures him of his place in paradise, not in a few days or weeks, not if his friends say lots of prayers and masses for him, but ‘today’.

N.T. Wright’s view is this: “all the Christian departed are in substantially the same state, that of restful happiness. This is not the final destiny for which they are bound, namely the bodily resurrection; it is a temporary resting place.”

See N.T. Wright: "Rethinking the Tradition," and Surprised by Hope.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Joel Green's Neuro-Hermeneutics

I finished Joel Green's Body, Soul, and Human Life: The Nature of Humanity in the Bible. It's excellent - I strongly recommend it. Green's book is an "essay in neuro-hermeneutics."

Green looks at the "mind-body" problem, and says that alternative viewpoints can be found along a continuum that runs like this: Reductive Materialism---------Radical Dualism.

Green provides some definitions.

Reductive Materialism - "People are nothing but the product of organic chemistry." (30) The human person is a wholly physical entity. All moral, spiritual, emotional, and first-person (qualia) experiences can be in principle explained by the natural sciences. I love the Francis Crick quote, affirming reductive materialism: "You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and ambitions, your sense of identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules." (30-31)

Radical Dualism - the soul is metaphysically (entirely) separate from the body. "The body is nothing more than a temporary and disposable holding tank (or shell) for the soul." (31)

Wholistic Dualism - This is a form of substance dualism. The human person, though composed of discrete elements, is to be identified with the whole which constitutes a functional unity. Green quotes J.P, Moreland as representative of this view: "The soul and the body are highly interactive, they enter into deep causal relations and functional dependencites with each other, the human person is a unity of both." (Ib.)

Monism - the phenomenological experiences we refer to as "soul" "are neither reducible to brain activity nor evidence of a substantial, ontological entity such as a "soul," but rather represent essential aspects or capacities of the self." (Ib.)

Friday, August 26, 2011

Eternity From the Jesus POV

What heaven (and hell, for that matter)
will NOT be like.
An old worship song, "I'll Fly Away," says that one day, when this life is over, "I'll fly away to a home on God's celestial shore." This is misleading, and a non-Jesus, definitely non-Hebraic idea. It's more Greek than Jewish. It promotes the idea of "heaven" as some place far away and essentially other than earth.

Contrary to this Greek idea, the hope of everyone who is "in Christ" is that, on Christ's coming again, we who are in Him shall be bodily resurrected to life on a reconstituted, restored earth.

I'll probably begin this Sunday's message by giving these bullets from New Testament scholar Craig Blomberg, which are echoed by many other NT scholars.

What eternity with God will be like.

1. God created the physical world, including human bodies, as good. (Greek dualism said that matter is essentially bad/evil.)

2. Humans were intended, by God, to live in bodily form in a physical, material world.

3. Eventually God is going to restore His creation. There will be a new heavens and a new earth, physically and materially. Thus God’s original creative purposes will not be thwarted.

4. The biblical hope is for believers to experience all of the wonders and glories of a fully re-created heavens and earth (Rev. 21–22). (Not a Greek ethereal place where people sit around on clouds playing harps.)

5. A full physical bodily resurrection of all who are in Christ is needed so Jesus-followers will live eternally in the restored, physical heavens and earth.

6. Craig Blomberg says: “We will enjoy one another’s fellowship as well as God’s presence in perfect happiness. We will not sit on our private clouds with wings and harps periodically to dispel our eternal boredom! The new earth is centered in the new Jerusalem, a city of bustling activity.” (Blomberg, 1 Corinthians, Kindle Locations 6819-6822)

Blomberg writes: “Too many pew sitters in contemporary conservative churches think of and represent heaven as an “airy-fairy,” ethereal kind of existence to which they do not really look forward. Even referring to the life to come simply as “heaven” points out a serious misconception." (Ib.) 

The Hypnotic, Bamboozling Effect of Ad Hominem Fallacies

This October William Lane Craig will be presenting the truth of the Christian faith and God's existence around the U.K., including at Cambridge University and Oxford University. It should be especially interesting when Bill speaks at Oxford. That's where media-famous atheist Richard Dawkins teaches. Bill has invited Dawkins to debate him, but Dawkins has refused. So Bill will give a lecture presenting an alternative view to that of Dawkins. "Craig will lecture on the weakness of Dawkins’ arguments in his book, The God Delusion. A panel of Oxford scholars will respond to his talk, before members of the audience are invited to ask questions from the floor." (From here.)

Dawkins has, however, come forward to call Bill a “deeply unimpressive...ponderous buffoon,” who uses logic for “bamboozling his faith-head audience.” (Ib.) Dawkins has not actually responded to Bill's arguments and counter-arguments for God's existence and the Christian faith.

The Dawkins' quote, containing the words "deeply unimpressive," "ponderous buffoon," "bamboozling," and "faith-head audience" are called, in logic, ad hominem fallacies. While they are funny - especially "ponderous buffoon" - they are simply examples of name-calling plus a bit of bullying and, I psychologize, expressed anger and bitterness. To name-call is, precisely, to have left the land of clear-thinking logic. Any standard logic or critical thinking text warns us of the "bamboozling effect" of informal logical fallacies such as the widely-used ad hominem abusive. If Bill Craig is anything he is hyper-logical and hyper-rational. Dawkins, on the other hand, has a remarkable gift for creatively degrading people.

Use logic to attack the argument, not the person.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Nature of the Resurrection Body

This Sunday at Redeemer I'll be preaching out of 1 Corinthians 15:29-49. I'll especially focus on the kinds of bodies Jesus-followers will have at the final resurrection from the dead.

I and Josh Bentley are preaching through the Christology of the letters of Paul. We'll be wrapping up 1 Corinthians on September 4, and on Sept. 11 begin 2 Corinthians.

One Reason to Believe the Tomb of Jesus Was Empty

"Without a genuinely empty tomb, it is incredible that Christians never came to venerate a holy site in which their founder was supposedly buried, as did most other world religions."

- Blomberg, Craig L. (2009-05-19). 1 Corinthians (Kindle Locations 6760-6761). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Redeemer Ministry School - Laying a Foundation for Life

One way to understand the purpose of Redeemer Ministry School is this.

  1. We teach students to abide in Christ, and show how this is done.
  2. We teach students how to hear God's voice.
  3. Out of abiding in Christ, and discerning God's voice, comes obedience. "Obedience" answers the Jesus-followers' question: "What am I to do now?"
  4. In this way we teach students how to trust in God.
While this, to me, sounds simple (as it should), it is far from simplistic. It is also, in our culture, counter-intuitive and radical. The one thing every Jesus-follower is to do is to abide and trust in Christ. (See John chapters 14-16) This is our spiritual "being." Out of our spiritual being comes our "doing." This is the opposite of doing things and later baptizing them in prayer. All "doing" that emerges from abiding in Christ is authentic and relevant. It is a good thing to be relevant in the Lord.

When a student graduates from Redeemer Ministry School their relationship with Christ should be stronger then when they arrived. We present students with a Certificate of Graduation. What will they do with this once they graduate? The answer is: display the Certificate on the wall and live the abiding-in-Christ life. With the God-relationship strengthened, life's primary foundation has been laid.

RMS will not help a person "find a job," but it will greatly help a person to find Christ and to be found in Him. This is the essence of the Jesus-life; viz., to live as a "branch" attached to Jesus, the True Vine.

At RMS we believe in this logical progression:

  1. If a person trusts in the Lord with all their heart, God will make straight their paths.
  2. You trust in the Lord with all your heart.
  3. God will make straight your paths.
RMS teaches #2.

Trusting God is not about striving or "trying harder." It is all about relationship: with God, with others. Learn this relationship, we at RMS believe, and then watch what God does with your life!

Religious Faith in America - Not Changing

The book to read on the current condition of religious faith in America is American Religion: Contemporary Trends, by Duke University's Mark Chaves.

For a review see here.

Chaves writes (from the book, Ch. 1) - "By world standards, America remains remarkably religious." And, Chaves says little has changed, re. religious beliefs and practices in America, from 1980 to the present. After reading chapter 1 I think the heading of the cited review ("American's religious faith waning") has an overly pessimistic spin to it. Chaves writes: "It should make us sceptical when we hear that American religion is changing dramatically or suddenly." American religiosity is neither experiencing a "dramatic resurgence" nor has it "declined dramatically." (Chapter 1)

America is becoming more religiously diverse. There are a growing number of people who are religious but claim no religious affiliation.

A growing number of young people call themselves "spiritual" but not "religious."

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Redeemer Ministry School Faculty/Staff Meeting

I'll be meeting tomorrow morning with Redeemer Ministry School faculty and staff. We'll be re-visiting our program, re-envisioning, talking about room for improvement, and more.

If you are one of our incoming RMS students for the 2011-2012 school year and have any specific questions please e-mail them to me at: We'll address them tomorrow.

Out of this meeting we will generate an Incoming Student letter with, hopefully, all the information you need to prepare for the year. I'll be e-mailing this out in a day or two.

In the meantime - we can't wait to join you in our coming school year!

Freedom Is For Something

It is hard for us to be free. It takes some getting-used-to. This is because our bondage and imprisonment has become our comfort and purpose. Many freed people return to their prisons. Think of the old man named "Brooks" that got released from prison in "The Shawshank Redemption" and hung himself. He was physically free, yet not whole-being free. Brooks's life was prison.

"Freedom" without a reason to be becomes another prison. It is false freedom. "Freedom" is not the capacity to "do nothing and enjoy life." True freedom is a matter of the heart, and is not dependent on circumstances. True freedom is freedom to act for the sake of a high calling.

Jesus told us, "You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (John 8:32) When we are set free, in this Jesus-sense, it is for something. Freedom has a telos, a purpose, a reason. What is it, from the Jesus POV?
  • In Jesus I am free to engage in the redemptive activity of God. To be used by God to set other captives free.
  • I am free to love God and enter into his presence.
  • I am free to love others, as I have been and am loved.
  • I am free to be God's servant, living in obedience to his desires and commands.
  • I am free to give my life away to others.
  • I am free to be used by God. The prayer of a free person becomes: "Here I am, Lord. Use me!"

How One Atheist Lives Without Morality

In "Confessions of an Ex-Moralist," atheist philosopher Joel Marks writes of his moral deconversion from an atheist who believed morality existed even without God to an atheist who came to see that, without a God, morality cannot exist.

Marks quotes atheist Louise Antony as exemplary of the kind of atheism + objective morality that he has left behind. Antony writes: “Another charge routinely leveled at atheists is that we have no moral values. The essays in this volume should serve to roundly refute this. Every writer in this volume adamantly affirms the objectivity of right and wrong.”

Marks responds: "But I don't. Not any longer." He describes how he changed: "In my most recent published book, I defended a particular moral theory – my own version of deontological ethics – and then “applied” that theory to defend a particular moral claim: that other animals have an inherent right not to be eaten or otherwise used by humans. Oddly enough, it was as I crossed the final “t” and dotted the final “i” of that monograph, that I underwent what I call my anti-epiphany."

Since "essential to morality is that its norms apply with equal legitimacy to everyone; moral relativism, it has always seemed to me, is an oxymoron. Hence I saw no escape from moral nihilism." For Marks it's like two people watching the same sunset, one finding it awe-inspiring, the other finding it banal. Marks came to see the ideas of objective "right" and "wrong," on Antony's kind of atheism, as just another form of religion; the "Godless God of secular morality, which commanded without commander, whose ways were even ore mysterious than the God I did not believe in, who at least had the intelligible motive of rewarding us for doing what He wanted."

Indeed. And correct, logically. What can be more irrational then an atheist who believes in "objective morality?" Marks says he "is no longer in the business from trying to derive an ought from an is." Now it's simply a matter of what one likes or dislikes. Marks writes: "My outlook has therefore become more practical: I desire to influence the world in such a way that my desires have a greater likelihood of being realized... I will be moved by my head and my heart. Morality has nothing to do with it."

I think:
  1. Marks is correct that, on atheism, objective moral values do not exist.
  2. It's correct that, on atheism, the ideas of "right" and "wrong" only concern what a person likes or dislikes.
  3. With this we're heading towards the views of the atheistic existentialists; viz., imposing one's own will on others. Marks uses the softer word "influence" - influencing others so that his desires get realized. I feel certain this, also, is true; viz., that atheism's only alternative is the exertion of power to get one's way.
  4. I applaud Marks's logically consistent atheism, and appreciate his view that an atheist who reasons that morality is "objective" have themselves posited a "God" who is even stranger than the God of theism.
  5. Finally, since I believe in God, I have reason to believe objective morality exists. Marks's view adds confirmation to Premise 1 of the Moral Argument for God's Existence which reads: 1) If there is no God, then objective moral values do not exist.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Europe Must Recover Its Christian Identity Or Remain Impotent

Without Roots
On September 27 Italian atheist philosopher (philosophy of science) Marcello Pera's Why We Should Call Ourselves Christians: The Religious Roots of Free Societies will be published. It will be, I think, a shocking book.

A preview of Pera's thesis is found in Without Roots: The West, Relativism, Christianity, Islam, co-authored with Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI). Europe, says Pera, is in trouble. It's trouble is that it is "half-hearted." It's half-heartedness is because "relativism has wreaked havoc... [and] paralyzed the West." (Without Roots, 33)

The atheist philosopher Pera writes:

"It is true that almost all the achievements that we consider most laudable are derived from Christianity or were influenced by Christianity, by the message of God become Man.

In truth, without this message, which has transformed all human beings into persons  in the image of God, individuals would have no dignity.

In truth, our values, rights, and duties of equality, tolerance, respect, solidarity, and compassion re born from God's sacrifice.

In truth, our attitude toward others, toward all others, whatever their condition, class, appearance, or culture, is shaped by the Christian revolution.

In truth, even our institutions are inspired by Christianity, including the secular institutions of government that render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's. And the list goes on." (Without Roots, 36-37)
In 2004 Pope John Paul delivered a series of statements saying, in essence, this: "The Christian faith has shaped the culture of the continent [of Europe] and is inextricable bound up with its history, to the extent that Europe's history would be incomprehensible without reference to the events which marked first the great period of evangelization and then the long centuries in which Christianity, despite the painful division between East and West, came to be the religion of the European peoples." (35)

Pera agrees. And, "unfortunately, these words went unheeded." Why? Pera writes: "My own explanation is that in the age of triumphant relativism and "silent apostasy," belief in the true no longer exists: the mission of the true is considered fundamentalism, and the very affirmation of the true creates or raises fears." (Ib., 37)

The philosophy of relativism has rendered Europe "impotent." (Ib., 43)

Pera was also President of the Italian Senate from 2001 to 2006. I think his book will create a significant impact on Europe when it arrives in a month. Among other things, there will be spinoff studies on the political and cultural effects of philsophical relativism.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Living Above our Illnesses

Lisa Dubois
Our dear friend and sister in Christ Lisa Dubois died last Tuesday, August 16. She was 48. At age 21 she was hit with cancer - Hodgkin's lymphoma. She lived 27 years with this cancer, having many treatments, going in and out of remission, and finally, around 2004, refusing any medical treatment and trusting in God.

But Lisa lived as if she did not have cancer. People who met or hung around Lisa would not necessarily know of her struggle. This cancer, for Lisa, was an unwanted enemy, and she refused to acknowledge that it had any power or influence over her. Her excellent physician at the University of Michigan Medical Center, Dr. Henry, told Lisa and her husband Marty that she lived way beyond what would normally be expected of someone with untreated stage 4 cancer.

During Lisa's cancer years, 27 of them, she was a world traveler, political activist, counselor, friend to many, wonderful wife to Marty, prankster, servant, and most of all, God-and-Jesus lover. Lisa worshiped God. Her worship of God was not contingent on her expectation that God would heal her. Lisa just flat-out loved Jesus.

All who knew and loved Lisa were deeply influenced by her. One thing I am taking away from Lisa's life is her radical, monocular focus on Jesus and the victory of God. Here's how God is putting this together for me.

We are all diseased people. Our infirmities may be physical, mental, spiritual, emotional, structural, political, economic, or situational. These troubles call for attention. Since we are never really without something going wrong in our lives, it is easy to live dominated by them.

While we are to be responsible regarding these things, we are not to make these things our life or identity. I am not my illness. Rather, God has raised me up with Christ and seated me with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:6) In Colossians 3:1-4 Paul writes:

1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Many of us saw, in Lisa, a life actually lived this way. A life not obsessed with one's infirmities. A life not controlled by them. Of course she knew cancer was there. But it would not dictate to her or rule her life. Christ was and is her life, and she set her mind on that. You had to see it for yourself to know that one's life can be lived to fullness in the midst of our many distractions, be they small or large.

This is huge for all of us who freak out when our favorite sports team loses the big game and "ruins our day," or who cannot attend to the worship of God when we have a cold.

It is what we live for that determines the quality of our lives. From a faith-in-Jesus perspective the glory of the victory of Christ far outshines and overwhelms the darkness. Nothing, wrote Paul, can separate us from the love of Christ; not famine, or persecution, or nakedness. (Romans 8:35)

Today I know, more than ever, that such a life is possible.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Debating William Lane Craig

My friend Bill Craig (AKA William Lane Craig) is arguably the greatest current defender of the Christian faith. Many years ago, when I first became a Jesus-follower, Bill was one of my first pastoral mentors (along with John Peterson). I was a philosophy major at Northern Illinois University. Bill (and Stu Goetz, I believe) would meet with us and teach us apologetics (defending the Christian faith).

Bill is now touring the U.K. Fox News has this article on the refusal of certain and famous U.K. atheists to debate Bill.

Bill is a great debater. Not only does he understand persuasion and debate, he has a brilliant mind, two outrageous doctoral degrees (one with John Hick, the other with Wolfhart Pannenberg), and a huge cross-disciplinary understanding. Some who think Bill is only about his debating style seerely misunderstand him.

Bill has already debated some of the world's most scholarly atheists. By personality he not only has no fear of debating others, he positively relishes the challenge.

On Bill's U.K. tour he will debate Oxford atheist philosopher Peter Millican and Oxford chemist and atheist Peter Atkins. Richard Dawkins continues to refuse to debate Bill.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Science Qua Science Cannot Give Us Morality

Sam Harris's new book to the contrary, Alister McGrath here expresses the general view among scientists that "science" qua "science" cannot give us value. McGrath writes:

"Is science able to determine what is right and what is wrong? Most scientists would affi rm that their discipline is fundamentally amoral – that is, that the scientifi c method does not extend to moral questions. For example, Richard Dawkins succinctly confi rmed that “ science has no methods for deciding what is ethical ” ( Dawkins, 2003, p. 34). Stephen Jay Gould made a similar point in his important essay “ Nonmoral Nature ”:

"Our failure to discern a universal good does not record any lack of insight or ingenu-ity, but merely demonstrates that nature contains no moral messages framed in human terms. Morality is a subject for philosophers, theologians, students of the humanities, indeed for all thinking people. The answers will not be read passively from nature; they do not, and cannot, arise from the data of science. The factual state of the world does not teach us how we, with our powers for good and evil, should alter or preserve it in the most ethical manner. ( Gould, 1994, p. 42)" (McGrath, 3)

Thursday, August 18, 2011

One Thing That Can Make Me Laugh (just a little...)

I was watching "Woodstock" on TV tonight and Joe Cocker came on to sing "A Little Help From My Friends." My vocal coach/teacher wife Linda and I agreed that Cocker's enuciation is poor. What is he singing?

The answer is seen in this captioned video. I am Scandinavian; more precisely, Finnish. Finnish people do not smile and are never seen to laugh. They are very serious people. But this video actually makes me crack a smile. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Christian Roots of Free Societies

Thanks to J.B. for pointing me to “A ‘Christian’ Europe Without Christianity,” by David Gibson.

There are atheists and secularists in Europe that are not, of course, believers in the royal proclamation that Jesus is Lord, but who embrace "Christianity as a cultural, social, identity and moral platform." This embrace is necessary if Europe is to make its stand against radical Islam.

Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci “liked to describe herself as a "Christian atheist" -- an interesting turn of phrase -- because she thought Christianity provided Europe with a cultural and intellectual bulwark against Islam.” Niall Fergusen, a self-described “incurable atheist,” is “a vocal champion for restoring Christendom because, as he puts it, there isn't sufficient "religious resistance" in the West to radical Islam.”

European identity is fading, and some atheists are championing a return to the values of Christianity as their only hope.

Gibson writes: “One of Christendom's most prominent atheist advocates is the Italian philosopher and politician Marcello Pera. In 2004, he delivered a series of lectures with then-Cardinal Ratzinger that set out their shared view of the need to restore Christian identity in Europe in order to battle both Islam and moral degeneration. Later, Benedict wrote a forward to Pera's book, "Why We Should Call Ourselves Christians : The Religious Roots of Free Societies," which promotes Benedict's argument that Western civilization can be saved if people live "as if God exists," whether they believe that or not.”

That sent me scurrying to to find Pera’s book. It’s coming out in September. Here’s from amazon’s review:

“Not only is anti-Christian secularism wrong, it is also risky. It's wrong because the very ideas on which liberal societies are based and in terms of which they can be justified—the concept of the dignity of the human person, the moral priority of the individual, the view that man is a “crooked timber” inclined to prevarication, the limited confidence in the power of the state to render him virtuous—are typical Christian or, more precisely, Judeo-Christian ideas. Take them away and the open society will collapse. Anti-Christian secularism is risky because it jeopardizes the identity of the West, leaves it with no self-conscience, and deprives people of their sense of belonging. The Founding Fathers of America, as well as major intellectual European figures such as Locke, Kant, and Tocqueville, knew how much our civilization depends on Christianity. Today, American and European culture is shaking the pillars of that civilization.”

Pera, remember, is an atheist.

For certain European secularists, who are watching the Islamification-waters rising around them, secularism lacks the moral strength to stand against those waters. So they are advocating a “Christian atheism.”

Now that is interesting, isn’t it? I will be following this idea, with its many ramifications.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Only One God is Needed

Here's a little day-dreaming about something Hume said in regard to the theistic hypothesis.

"Theism" is the belief that there is one being who is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving, and who created all that exists. David Hume objected to the theistic paradigm. Hume especially responded to the design argument for God's existence, as that argument was formulated at the time. One of Hume's criticisms is that the design argument cannot lead us to the belief that only one God created the universe. He writes: "Nor can we attribute unity to the original cause of the universe on the basis of any analogy to human artifacts such as houses; as they are often built by a number of people working together. Perhaps, therefore, there is more than one God involved in the creation of the universe?" (Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, 68-69)

Hume's "perhaps" is correct, but we need not follow it in order to be rational in our theistic belief. It is true that, in building a house, often more than one person is involved. But this is not necessarily so. Paley's "watch" example might serve us better here, since ordinarily a single watchmaker makes a watch. During Hume's time should we see a watch and ask "Who made it?" we expect that some individual person did. A single watchmaker is sufficient to explain the existence of a watch.

Analogously, if there is an all-powerful, all-knowing being, then such a being is sufficient to create a universe. No more gods need be posited. Using Ockham's Razor, it is not necessary to multiply causes unnecessarily. One Supreme Being will do. It is therefore rational to believe that such is the case. Just as, for example, while the pan of warm brownies on our kitchen table could have been made by ten people, nonetheless it is rational to believe they were made by only one person; in this case, my wife Linda.

If Hume's possible multiple gods were all omnipotent and omniscient, it is hard to see just what the difference would be between these many Supreme Beings and one Supreme Being, since they would all "be on the same page" when it comes to a knowledge of universe-making. If Hume's multiple gods were finite in power and knowledge, and furthermore if some of them were not loving, then we should expect the universe to look much different than it does today. For the issue is not simply the creation of our universe, but its design. One might, in such a case, expect to see far more diversity in our universe than uniformity.

The Match & the Candle: A Major Element in Christian Worship

I'm reading N.T. Wright's beautiful, helpful After You Believe. In Ch. 7 he's writing about the nature of "worship." Listen to this:

"Just as a man in love will enumerate to his beloved the hundred and one things about her that he finds so delightful, so Christian worship consciously stands in the presence of the living God and declares who he is and what he’s done that has so swept us off our feet. Just as a couple in love will go back over the story of their first acquaintance, courtship, and mutual discovery, telling and retelling the narrative of “how it all happened,” so the worshipping heart will naturally want to tell and retell the story of God and the world, of God and Israel, of God and Jesus, of God and one’s own personal story. This is a major element in Christian worship." (After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters (p. 220). HarperCollins e-books. Kindle Edition.)

I love that! But Wright goes on to talk about the biblical analogy of God-worship and human love. As everyone knows, romantic and erotic love do not keep their "initial buzz." "The excitement of romance is like the excitement of striking a match. It’s sudden, sparky, and dramatic—and it doesn’t last long. The question is, What are you going to do with the match once you’ve struck it? The answer—which has obvious resonances with Christian worship, beyond the metaphorical meaning!—is that you will use the match to light a candle." (p. 221)

A candle is more beautiful, long-lasting, and evocative than a match. A match goes out quickly, and lovers (whether of another person or of God) need to understand that, when this happens, the answer is not to find another match and light it. Wright says that "those who have found their hearts warmed with the love of God need to learn that the virtues of faith, hope, and love, as expressed in worship, are to be worked at, thought through, figured out, and then planned, prepared, and celebrated with a new depth that will stir passions which the “matches” of quick, romantic attraction could not reach." (p. 221)

A candle has staying power. As does a marriage where love is understood as a feeling to be learned. The love and worship of God is not something that will just "come naturally," but is cultivated and grown into. There is a "mature, deep, and long-lasting love for God" that looks and feels different than the sparks of infatuation. God-worship has great depth-possibilities, waiting to be fathomed.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Idolatrous Cult of King James-Onlyism

Our church sign on Telegraph Road reads: "Biblical Greek Seminar - Aug. 16-17-18."

Seeing our sign, a couple of "King James Only" (KJO) people clandestinely leafleted the cars in our church parking lot two Sundays ago. Why?

Because KJO-ers believe the only authoritative biblical text is the 5th edition of the one written in the 17th century in English. So we must only study the a particular version of the KJV, and not go back to the original autographs. "We don't have the originals," they claim. OK. But we are very, very close. All relevant biblical scholars look to them, and not the KJV or any other translation for that matter.

KJO-ism is small, narrow, cult-like, idolatrous and heretical. KJO philosophy is akin to Muslim fundamentalism in its view of the Qur'an. In that version of Islam the Qur'an has the place that Jesus has in Christianity. The Qur'an is the perfect, untranslatable word from God, to be read only in Arabic. KJO-ism worships one translation of the Bible. That's been called "bibliolatry."

The leaflets told us that, if we read any translation other than the KJV, we are going to hell. I am serious.

This Sunday morning I reassured our church family that our eternal destiny, our salvation, comes from embracing the gospel, and not some translation of the Bible. The Bible is not to be worshiped; Jesus is. And we are sozo-ed by embracing the good news that Christ died for our sins, was buried, and was raised on the third day. (1 Cor. 15:3-4) The Bible contains the gospel; it is not itself the gospel. Remember that when Paul write the Corinthians in the first century and told them about the "gospel," they did not have King James Bibles. They had no Bibles at all. Yet they were saved as they embraced the good news.

If you want more, my colleague Josh Bentley has written a nice, clarifying piece on his website.

Biblical Greek Seminar at Redeemer This Week

Our 3-night Biblical Greek Seminar begins tomorrow evening, Aug. 16, at 6:30 PM. It will last to around 9.

Paul Albrecht is our guest teacher. Paul has taught years of biblical Greek at Eastern University, Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and in a number of church settings.

If you are coming please bring your Greek flashcards.

You will receive a workbook that Paul has put together.

On Wed. and Thurs. evenings we will have a basket available if you wish to give a love offering of thanks to Paul. He is willing to do this for free! But I know we can bless him for coming to teach us. (Checks should be made out to "Redeemer," with "Greek Seminary" noted on the check.)

I look forward to being with some of you this Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday!

For questions call 734-242-5277.

Redeemer Fellowship Church
5305 Evergreen
Monroe, MI

The Reign of Christ & the Destruction of Death, the Final Enemy

This Sunday, August 21, I'll be preaching on 1 Corinthians 15:21-28.

For our Redeemer family: Carry these verses with you this week. Meditate on them. Ingest and digest them. Ponder. When God speaks to you, write it down in your spiritual journal. And, if God gives you some insights you would like to share with me, please e-mail them to me. (

Here's the text:

21For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27For he "has put everything under his feet." Now when it says that "everything" has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. 28When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.

Our Vocation Is: Royal Priesthood

Monroe sunset
N.T. Wright, in After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters, begins the 7th chapter by summing things up so far. He writes: "The main point I have been making throughout, is to show what it means to develop the virtues, in the present time, which genuinely anticipate those of the “royal priesthood.” We are designed to be, in the end, fully renewed, image-bearing human beings." (p. 219)

Here is the Pauline idea that:
  • Christ would be "formed" in us (Gal. 4:19)
  • That we might have the "mind of Christ" (1 Cor. 2:16)
  • We would be renewed by the metamorphing of our minds (Rom. 12:1-2)
And it is the Jesus-idea, put forth in John chapters 14-16, and expressed in Jesus' prayers in John 17, that we might dwell in Trinitarian union as the Son does.

This is the destiny for every Jesus-follower, and we must keep our hearts and minds set on that. Because the future shapes the present, we are to engage in those spiritual practices that usher us into the presence of God today, so as to be further shaped by the Spirit into what we will one day be.

Wright's ch. 7 begins to spell those things out in more detail. He writes:

"First, what does it mean in the present to behave as the royal priesthood, and what are the habits of heart, mind, and life which contribute to that? Second, how does this vocation not only engage the wider world, by holding before it a vision of a new way of being human, but also visibly upstage the classical (and modern) tradition of a secular virtue ethic, retaining the best emphases within that tradition but transforming them within the new framework? Third, how does this larger vocation give shape and body to the particular habits which generate specifically Christian behavior and help us to avoid specifically pagan behavior? How, in other words, does following Jesus in the vocation to royal priesthood both necessitate and generate a life of genuine Christian holiness?" (pp. 219-220)

Our true vocation, our high calling, is to be a royal priesthood.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

"Infinite" as Polysemous

In my last post I referred to a video that fails in an attempt to debunk William Lane Craig's Kalam Cosmological Argument for God's Existence. Craig is accused, falsely, of contradicting himself. The video thinks these three Craig-claims form a contradiction: 1) Actual infinites are impossible; 2) the cosmic singularity is of infinite density and temperature; and 3) God infinite. If 1 is true, then how can Craig claim 2 and 3 without contradiction? The answer is that the video equivocates on "infinite." Craig explains this elsewhere:

"When theologians speak of the infinity of God, they are not using the word in a mathematical sense to refer to an aggregate of an infinite number of elements. God's infinity is, as it were, qualitative, not quantitative. It means that God is metaphysically necessary, morally perfect, omnipotent, omniscient, eternal, and so on. "

Like most words, "infinite" is polysemous. The video does not understand this.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Failing to Debunk the Kalam Cosmological Argument of William Lane Craig

This video claims Craig is self-contradictory in his use of the mathematical idea of infinity.

Craig draws on Vilenkin's (et. al.) understanding of the "singularity." But Vilenkin speaks of temperatures in the singularity being "infinitely high" and the density of space becomes "infinitely high." The criticism is: Craig believes infinities do not exist, but he endorses the view of a cosmic singularity "which is riddled with infinities." (Says the video) Plus, says the unnamed woman doing the commentary, Craig and theists claim their God is "infinite and eternal." Re. the unnamed woman, I'll call her "Gretchen."

1. Craig affirms (following mathematician Lawrence Hilbert) the impossibility of an actual infinite.

2. Craig affirms Vilenkin's understanding of the cosmic singularity as being infinitely dense and having an infinitely high temperature.

3. Therefore, Craig contradicts himself.

But I think Gretchen commits a fallacy of equivocation on the term "infinite," as modifying "density." This means the singularity is a single point, with no denumerable points. I don't think Gretchen understands the Craig-Hilbert point which is that, conceptually, actual infinities are incoherent and lead to logical absurdities. Like, e.g., Hilbert's famous "hotel." But to couple "infinite" with "density" is to use the term, not to apply to any set of discrete entities, but metaphorically to describe the fully singular nature of one partless entity.

When conjoined with "temperature" to describe the heat of the singularity, it must be taken to mean somethign like "immeasurably high temperature." The temperature of the singularity could, in principle, be measured had we access to it and the instruments capable of measuring it. The temperature in the singularity would have a number, like all other physical events. Therefore the temperature would not be, literally, "infinite" (whatever that might mean, if anything).

One more point: many theologians do not claims God is "infinite and eternal." Gretchen here lacks theological and philosophical understanding. In the literature "infinite" and "eternal" do not mean the same thing. If, e.g., God is non-temporal outside his relation to creation, then "infinity" does not apply to God's existence. Bill Craig has written a lot about this subject. Gretchen, obviously, is ignorant of it.

After five minutes of watching Gretchen set this up, thinking she has shown a logical contradiction in Craig's reasoning, misunderstanding some basic terminology, and equivocating on "infinity," I see that she doesn't understnad what's going on, so I've decided not to watch any more.

The Agony of Secularism; The Thrill of Secularism

Secularists try to cook up
a little joy and meaning
without God
James Woods has written a nice essay in the New Yorker: "Is That All There Is? Secularism and its Discontents." He begins by telling a story of a friend who is an analytic philosopher and an atheist. She sometimes wakes up in the middle of the night asking questions like: “How can it be that this world is the result of an accidental big bang? How could there be no design, no metaphysical purpose? Can it be that every life—beginning with my own, my husband’s, my child’s, and spreading outward—is cosmically irrelevant?” That's an atheist who has doubts. That doesn't mean she's on the way to being a theist, or that her atheism is wrong. Doubt is, I am certain, part of our human condition. Anyone who believes something strongly will have doubts about their belief. They may doubt more than most. And their doubts will be different because of their deep personal investment in the issue. I think Woods and others (like Charles Taylor) affirm this in the talk of secularism and the "disenchantment" of our world. One faces death more positively in an enchanted world.

Woods thinks that, as death approaches, doubts and uncertainties increase. "As one gets older, and parents and peers begin to die, and the obituaries in the newspaper are no longer missives from a faraway place but local letters, and one’s own projects seem ever more pointless and ephemeral, such moments of terror and incomprehension seem more frequent and more piercing, and, I find, as likely to arise in the middle of the day as the night." My guess is that such doubts occur more for unbelievers than believers. The person who has an existential cetainty that their life has cosmic relevance will more likely go gently into that good night.

Woods notes Julian Barnes's brilliant "Nothing to Be Frightened Of" as exemplary of agnostic autobiography in the face of impending death. That book was, for me, a wonderful read. Woods also mentions Terence Malick's "oddly beautiful film" 'Tree of Life.' For me, it was beautiful and not odd.

Woods brings in Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor's excellent A Secular Age.  Calvin College philosopher James K. A. Smith has recently devoted Calvin's senior philosophy seminar to the study of this text. Woods writes: "Taylor, a practicing Catholic, presents a narrative in which secularism is an achievement, but also a predicament: modern Godless man, deprived of the old spirits and demons, and thrown into a world in which there is no one to appeal to outside his own mind, finds it hard to experience the spiritual “fullness” that his ancestors experienced."

But hold on - could there be a special "joy of secularism?" That's the title of George Levine's recent The Joy of Secularism: 11 Essays for How We Live Now. Can secularism fill the enchantment void? Levine argues, rightly I think, that the militant atheist who thinks they have refuted the idea that there is a God need to do far more than that. This "far more" especially means: fill the void that the disenchantment of our world has left. People still need comfort and assurance. Levine's book attempts to provide such a thing.

But, says Woods, "this is no small task." This is because life without God seems to be devoid of meaning. Taylor has written that modern secular life “is beset with the malaise of meaninglessness.” Taylor has an essay in Levine's book, and doubts that "an “upper language,” in which we describe altruism as noble and admirable, can be fully captured by a “lower language,” of instrumental and biological explanation, a language that scrupulously avoids the vocabulary of purpose, intentionality, design, teleology."

With that I am in full agreement. Secularism, try as it might, cannot fill the God-void.

Friday, August 12, 2011

This Sunday at Redeemer... & our Biblical Greek Seminar T-Th

Sunday, August 14, 2011
  • I'll preach out of 1 Corinthians 15:12-20 in the morning worship service.
  • Spaghetti dinner fund-raiser for Josh Lewis and his Ireland trip, following the worship service
  • Our Annual Softball Game - 4 PM (David Moede and I are coaches)
Tues., Wed., Thurs., Aug. 16-17-18
  • Biblical Greek Seminar at our church building
  • Paul Albrecht, Instructor
  • 6:30 - 9 each evening
  • Register by sending me an e-mail (, or calling the church office (734-242-5277)
  • Attendees will receive a workbook
  • A love offering will be taken to be given to Paul

The River Raisin Jazz Festival 2011

One of the coolest things our Monroe community has is its annual River Raisin Jazz Festival. It's in a beautiful setting by the river, and - unbelievably - it's free! The quality of the performers is world-class. Last year, for example, we saw saxophonist David Sanborn, who was accompnaied by the phenomenal, jaw-dropping Hammond B-3 virtuosity of Joey DeFrancesco. Crazy wow!

Probably 10,000 people will be there Saturday evening to see Kenny G accompany Alexander Zonjic.

River Raisin Jazz Festival Lineup

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Treating Depression: An Integrative View

I just read an essay by Donald Calbreath called "Serotonin and Spirit: Can There Be a Holistic Pentecostal Approach to Mental Illness?" (in James K. Smith and Amos Yong, eds., Science and the Spirit: A Pentecostal Engagement with the Sciences) Calbreath earned a Ph.D in Physiological Chemistry from Ohio State University, and has taught at several universities, to include Duke.

Calbreath proposes an integrative approach to dealing with depression. After presenting the biochemistry of depression, he offers the following holistic approach, which I personally am attracted to. This model integrates:
  1. Biochemical issues (both neurochemical and endocrine)
  2. Psychological problems
  3. Spiritual healing
Calbreath does not claim that this model will apply to all cases of depression.


Antidepressants may alleviate some of the symptoms of depression.

Regarding the biochemistry of depression, are the changes in biochemical processes the cause of one's depression or the result of one's depression? Calbreath writes: "it is becoming increasingly apparent that both alterations in the HPA axis biochemistry and in the amounts of neurotransmitters available at the synapse are state functions (a result of the primary precipitating event in depression) and not trait functions (a cause of the depression). These data may help explain the confusing literature on the therapeutic effectiveness of various antidepressants and could help us better understand the high placebo effect seen in studies of drugs used to treat depression." Psychological

If this is correct, then we can see how biochemical treatment of depression will not be enough, and psychological and spiritual counseling and treatment will be needed.

But underlying stress must be resolved. Calbreath says that "one of the major stressors frequently encountered in depression is guilt. The DSM lists excessive feelings of unworthiness and/or guilt as one of the diagnostic criteria for depression. Guilt (real or otherwise) can place tremendous stresses on an individual. The link between depression and guilt has been widely explored in Christian thinking." (144)

"If the guilt is real, the stress needs to be resolved by repentance and seeking forgiveness. Through cognitive-behavioral therapy (a form of counseling that has its counterpart in pastoral ministry), the individual learns to recognize triggers to depressive behavior and develops successful coping strategies (changes in behavior). The patient acknowledges wrong-doing and seeks to resolve the situation." (145-146)

If the guilt is not real but assumed, "resolution comes when the person understands the erroneous source of the guilt and finds healing from that mistaken idea." (146)

Calbreath highlights the role of forgiveness in the treatment and healing of depression. First, individuals must forgive themselves. "Forgiveness has been shown to be a very effective approach to dealing with many issues in depression where someone else has done the wrong (and that may be yet another avenue that needs to be explored-letting go of the stress event and not revisiting it)." (147)

Secondly, "the individual needs to experience the power of forgiveness and the cleansing of the soul that comes from being truly forgiven." (147)


Spiritually, Jesus-followers in general, "and Pentecostal and charismatic Christians in particular, can draw upon the power of the Holy Spirit for enlightenment. Romans 8:26 tells us "In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words."" (147)

Calbreath makes the interesting suggestion that the metamorphing of the heart promised in Romans 12:1-2 ("transformation") can be understood in neurophysiological terms. "Cognitive behavioral therapy (mentioned above) and its spiritual counterpart in effective pastoral counseling can literally renew the brain. There is a growing body of literature that suggests actual regeneration of brain tissue after treatment for various disorders including depression." (148) The renewing of brain tissue accompanies the lessening of one's depression.

From Calbreath's Jesus-and-Spirit-empowered paradigm, there is always the possibility of direct intervention by the Holy Spirit to heal. "The Spirit can bring direct healing, not just of the body but also of the mind. The attitudes of the mind can be changed. The person can receive insights into the reality of the situation. An understanding of the nature of the guilt taken on by the individual can then be extended to an experience of healing, both in terms of freedom from the pain of the stress experience and the acceptance of forgiveness for the assumed guilt. These roles of the Holy Spirit are integral to pentecostal/charismatic theology and are part of the ministry that we can bring to this segment of depressed individuals." (148)

I like the combination and possibilities of these three healing approaches in lots of the ministry to others I am engaged in. This means:
  1. I will refer persons to physicians who re skilled in the clinical treatment of disease, to include treatment of depression.
  2. Psychological counseling is often needed. In our area I refer persons to three counseling agencies that have a Jesus-framework. Calbreath points out that, often, physicians and hospitals that offer medical therapy to depressed patients often fall short of fail to psychologically and spiritually treat patients.
  3. Finally, we always pray for a person's healing. We have cases of persons who are healed of their depression as a result of prayer. I'm now thinking of a person in our church family who was directly healed and has not needed any more medications for the past seven years.
Calbreath's essay is scholarly and spiritually sensitive, and deserves to be read in its entirety, especially by pastors and Christian counselors and physicians.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Our 38th Anniversary!

Today Linda and I celebrate our 38th anniversary. We're planning to take a bicycle ride together in the morning, going to see "The Help" in the afternoon, then dinner together, and ending our evening by watching the finale of "So You You Think You Can Dance" (which we both love).

I am forever thankful that God gave Linda to me. We are co-partners in ministry. I love ministering with her. She brings so much to the table in terms of love, kindness, compassion, truth, and spiritual discernment, insight, and depth. Linda is truly a wise counselor. I have learned much from her!

God has been so gracious to me. At the top of the list of gifts is Linda. She loves me. We get to spend today together. I'll be savoring every moment.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

News - It's the Message, Not the Medium

The apostle Paul, by his own admission and others (ask Eutychus, e.g.), was not a good public speaker. He was not a media person. "The Apostle Paul Show" would not have done well on TV. No one was saying, "Hey, the Apostle Paul is in town. Let's go hear him preach!" But when all you are is a newsboy, you don't have to be a good speaker. You just need to deliver the news. In an oral culture like the first-century Middle East and around the Mediterranean, this meant opening your mouth and stating it.

News, by itself, is intrinsically "good," "bad," or neutral. Let's say your child is hospitalized and undergoing life-or-death surgery. You are in the waiting room. The receptionist says, "The surgeon is ready to see you." Anxiously you go to the little room to hear the news. How the surgeon delivers the news in the sense of oratorical ability means nothing to you. But what is about to come out of his mouth can change your life forever. Should he say "We lost her," this is, understatedly, bad news. Should he say "We saved her. She will be all right," this is good news. This is life-changing news.

All that "news" needs is stating; it needs no persuasion. Merely stating news moves people. Persuasive speeches, rhetorical skills, and a charismatic personal presence are not required. Actually, such things can detract from the news.

I remember sitting in an 8th grade geometry class when over the school's P.A. system came words that caused some to openly cry: "President Kennedy has been shot. He is dead." I will never forget that moment. All it was was words, two sentences, passed on to us by our school principal. This news was shocking.

"News" is something that, if it is relevant or powerful or important, gets shared. "News" gets passed around, preceded by the words "Did you hear that... " The apostle Paul was the bearer and sharer of news. He passed "good news" on to others which he had received. The biblical Greek word for "good news" is "gospel." The word "gospel" means: "good news," or "good message." The word is euangel. This is a put-together of a Greek prefix (eu-) and a Greek noun (angel). "Angel" means: message. An "angel" is a spiritual agent bearing a message from God. The prefix eu- means "good." In english we have a bazzilion words beginning with this prefix, such as: "euphoria" (good feeling), "euphonic" (good sound), and "eulogy" (good word). Paul brought "good news" (= Paul brought "the gospel") to, for example, the new Jesus-followers in Corinth. It is here that we have one of the clearest, if not the clearest, biblical statement of the nature of the good news.

1 Corinthians 15:14 states: "Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures..."

Paul "preached" or "proclaimed" "the gospel" to the Corinthians. They complained that Paul was not a great speaker, and could not compare to the Greek sophist-orators they were used to hearing. Apollos, probably, came close. But Paul was a long way off the Greek expectation when it comes to public proclaiming. He just carried and shared the gospel. And that gospel was:
  • Christ died for our sins
  • Christ was buried
  • Christ has been raised from the dead
Look at the first part of this good news: Christ died for our sins. This, says Paul (1 Cor. 15:1-2), is "of first importance." This is a "bedrock confession." This is Paul's "One Thing"; viz., "Christ crucified." (1 Cor. 2:2) New Testament scholar Gordon Fee writes: "'Christ died for our sins' is the primary tenet of the Christian faith." (Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 723)

“Christ died for our sins” is the language of “atonement.” This presupposes alienation between God and humans because of human rebellion and sinfulness. “Sin” always separates. The “just” penalty for this is death. I.e., “justice” must be done. To die for someone else’s sins means to die on behalf of another, to satisfy the penalty, and to overcome the alienation. This is the idea of “substitution.” Christ died in our place because of our sins to reconcile us to God. He paid the penalty so we don’t have to.

Therefore, our great indebtedness is gone! This is good news to every person who is troubled by their own sin. This is "gospel" to all of us who have looked inside and seen our own brokenness and failure and woundedness. This is "gospel" to we who have seen the inner, Mertonian "seeds of destruction" or the Tournier-esque "violence within."

I first had ears to hear this news when I was 21, and dwelt in the land of alcohol and drugs. It happened one night when playing in a band somewhere in the Chicago area. I was on stage, and thinking about my self and my life and how screwed up I was. "I have a problem." Those were the words that began to open my diseased heart to receive the good news. I was so opened up that all it took was one person to tell me "God loves you." I had heard those words a zillion times. Now, they hit me as "news." Headline news!

I embraced this good news. It was the message, not the medium; the present, not the presenter. I think the message is intrinsically more powerful than the messenger, even if the latter is an angel who appears and announces "I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people." (Luke 2:10)

The source of joy here is the news, not the angel.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Over-tweeting Breeds Narcissism

Social networking has an upside. It can help shy young adults socialize. It can be used for interactive learning. And so on...

That being said, consider its down-and-dark side.

  • "Teens who spend too much time on social networks like Facebook, are more likely to show narcissistic tendencies and display signs of other behavioural problems." (acc. to Larry Rosen of California State University, in a study presented to the American Psychological Association's 19th Annual Convention - see "Social Network Overuse 'Breeds Narcissism," in The London Telegraph, 8/9/2011)
  • "The negative effects of teenagers overusing social media include making them more prone to vain, aggressive and anti social behaviour."
  • "Scientists have found pre-teens and teens who overuse social sites and technology on a daily basis are also more likely to be prone to bouts of anxiety, depression and other psychological disorders."
  • "Excessive use of sites like Facebook can also lead to poorer academic performance. Teenagers who checked social networks at least once during a 15 minute study period, achieved lower grades, scientists found."

    No one who lives with a hyper-tweeter is shocked by this, right?