Friday, March 30, 2012

Easter and the Clash of Worldviews

Fish, in Istanbul
  I once met a woman who was raised from the dead. I was teaching in a large village in India. There, a man pointed to an older lady and told me her story.

When she died her body was dressed in a white gown and carried in a funeral procession through the village, along with her grieving family and friends. She was placed on a funeral pyre to be cremated. Then, just prior to the point of immolation, she sat up. The village people believed that God did a miracle. The woman and many villagers became followers of Jesus. What shall we make of this? It depends on your worldview.

If you are thinking, “There’s no way that woman was actually dead and then came back to life,” then welcome to the worldview of atheistic philosophical naturalism (APN). For APN-ers, it’s not that miracles do not happen; rather, miracles cannot happen, in principle. “Nature” is all there is. There are no “super-natural” realities. In philosophy this is called “philosophical naturalism.” I grew up in this worldview  (not from my parents, but from culture) and lived and breathed it for the first twenty-one years of my life.

In America and Europe today we have a clash of worldviews. “Naturalism” says dead people cannot return to life. Including the woman in India. Including Jesus. Easter, on the other hand, is about a “supernatural” event: Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Both sides can agree that Jesus’ tomb was empty. But how it got that way depends on which worldview you embrace.

The apostle Paul knew this. In 1 Corinthians 15:13-14 he writes, “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” Now Paul did not find Easter preaching and faith useless. Neither do I. Why?

I intellectually abandoned APN years ago, for a number of reasons. Here's one, briefly.

If naturalism is true, then there is no "divine orchestrator" of life and no ultimate "purpose" for anything. One can then doubt that our cognitive faculties have "naturally" developed so as to be reliable when it comes to truth. Because natural selection is only interested in adaptive behavior and not true belief, it is logically self-defeating for a naturalist to claim that their naturalistic worldview is "true." See, for example, philosophers Alvin Plantinga and Victor Reppert if you want to study this further.

Darwin knew this. "With me," he said, "the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man's mind, which has developed from the mind of lower animals, are of any value or are at all trustworthy. Would anyone trust in the convictions of a monkey's mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?" (1881 letter of Charles Darwin to William Graham)

More personally, forty-one years ago my naturalistic worldview suffered a setback that led me to write a doctoral dissertation on worldviews and paradigm theories. The watershed moment of my life was when, at age 21, I prayed and asked God to set me free from two years of near-daily drug and alcohol use. From that very moment until now I have been drug-free. Clinical psychiatrist Gerald May, in his brilliant book Addiction and Grace, documents clients who, like myself, are deep in addiction one day and free the next. He admits this does not always happen. But he has seen it happen, and attributes it to the grace of God. It happened to me, and I believe God graciously healed me.

I have kept a journal for the past 35 years that now totals over three thousand pages. It is a personal record of the supernatural activity of God. I have seen people who have illnesses like cancer prayed for and healed, and have the medical records to document it.

A few years ago a marathon runner friend of mine broke his foot, as an x-ray showed. We prayed for him. The next week the x-ray showed there was no break.(For this story see Craig Keener, Miracles, p. 440 )  Two weeks ago a man in my church asked for prayer because medical tests showed a problem in his heart. After receiving prayer, his next visit to the hospital revealed his heart to be perfectly healthy. After years of seeing such things happen, to the frustration of my anti-supernaturalistic paradigm, I have come to believe, not only that God exists, but that God intervenes supernaturally in the world today.

And, I once met a woman who was raised from the dead.

If you believe in a God who made the universe, it is but a short logical step to conclude that this is possible. I find this hopeful. This is Christian Easter faith, which is about meeting a Man who was raised from the dead, and now lives to demonstrate the power of the resurrection in the lives of all who embrace him.

See also
Dr. Candy Brown's (Indiana U.) Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Proximal Intercessory Prayer (STEPP) on Auditory and Visual Impairments in Rural Mozambique (Brown, Candy Gunther PhD; Mory, Stephen C. MD; Williams, Rebecca MB BChir, DTM&H; McClymond, Michael J. PhD). Candy is interviewed on this study here.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Feeling God As a Way of Knowing God

One of these men is incapable of loving.
As a young Jesus-follower 41 years ago I was warned not to trust in my feelings, since feelings mislead. The emphasis, in one of the campus ministries I was involved in (not your's, BTW, J.P.) stressed rationality over emotion.

I loved this emphasis, since I was Finnish (Finns don't smile, don't cry, don't show anger, don't emote), and a philosophy major. Non-emoting Christianity was a perfect fit for my logic-wannabe brain.

Slowly, over time, I have rejected the myth of the superiority of reason over emotion. I still value logic. I teach it at our community college. This week, e.g., I gave an exam on elementary symbolic logic which, to me, is fun puzzle-solving. Tonight I'll introduce students to informal logical fallacies. And today I'll send in the chapters I have been contracted to review for a new logic text to be published by Oxford University Press. So, I still like logic. Speaking in "Star Trek" language, I still admire Spock. But I also admire the emotional Kirk. And, just as feelings can mislead and are not to always be relied on, so also logic deceives, in the sense that 99% of the world's peoples do not because they cannot think logically. That's why we teach logic and critical thinking in colleges. The over-whelming majority of my students are not logical creatures. What they think is good thinking is mostly not.

Following Pascal, Kirk has his reasons that Spock cannot logically understand. Le cœur a ses raisons, que la raison ne connaît point. On le sent en mille choses. C'est le cœur qui sent Dieu, et non la raison. Voilà ce que c'est que la foi parfaite, Dieu sensible au cœur. "The heart has its reasons, of which reason knows nothing. We find this in a thousand instances. It is the heart which feels God, and not the reasoning powers. And this is faith made perfect : — God realized by feeling in the heart." (Pascal, Pensees, #277)

There's factual knowledge, and then there's relational knowledge. For example, it is a fact that God loves you. We can reason this way:
  1. God so loved the world.
  2. I am part of the world.
  3. Therefore, God loves me.
That's one way of knowing that God loves you. But it is, on its own, inferior to heart-knowledge. Hebrew thinking is more Kirkian than Spockian; more Pascalian than Cartesian. For example: "hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us." (Romans 5:5)

The word here "poured out" refers to a rainstorm of God's love that is deluged, not into our nous (mind), but into our kardia (heart). Here we expect an experience of being loved by God. A feeling. A very, very strong feeling. Because love, without feeling, is senseless. Spock, remember, is near-entirely incapable of love.

Something we know in the heart is more than a conclusion we logically infer in our mind.

This is how my own life in Christ began. One day a campus minister spoke these words into my little quasi-logical philosophical mind: "God loves you." Instantly, I "knew" this was true, I felt its truth like I had never felt or known anything before. The inner revolution had begun.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Study On-Line With Me During Easter Week

Beginning this Sunday, April 1, and ending Sunday, April 8, I am going to post daily reflections and thoughts on the days leading up Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection from the dead.

I'll also be sending some notes and instructions by e-mail to persons on my Redeemer E-prayer team and my Spiritual Formation E-groups.

If you would like to be included in these e-mailings please send me a request with your e-mail address at:

Every year of my Jesus-life I have carved out time to do more study, research, meditation, and prayer on the matters of the last earthly days of Jesus. For me, Easter Week is the great heart and soul of all I believe.

If you want to dive in with this with me let me know.

NOTE: I also invite you to come to our Redeemer building on Tuesday, April 3, from noon-1. I will be presenting a Historical Argument for the Resurrection of Jesus. My RMS students will be there. This is something I have been studying for 41 years! Part of my Ph.D work was in this area. I look forward to sharing this information with you. I think you will find it to be faith-building, and make your Easter celebration even better.

Building Addition and Prayer Room at Redeemer

I, and our church's leaders at Redeemer, believe God has told us to build an extension to our current facility that will include a Prayer Room.

Here are some slides of what our proposed building extension could look like. Note: This design is not something that has been decided on. As the process moves along this will probably change.

I am praying that God will show us how this will happen. I do not feel God telling us to start a building fund campaign. Please join me in praying for us about this. God can make it happen, right?

Here's how I view this, leadership-wise.

  1. God told me, and us, to build this extension with the Prayer Room.
  2. I am placing my trust in Him, and that He can make this happen. This is important to me; viz., to do it this way. Because when it happens, we'll be able to see that God has built the house, and not us. For me, this is a way of "not laboring in vain." (Psalm 127:1)

Here's what this extension can look like.

On the lower level there is a large meeting room, surrounded by classrooms, bathrooms, and a kitchenette.

Upstairs is a large room that could hold 200+ people. We envision this as a prayer room. When Angela Greenig was with us she said she saw a healing room at Redeemer.

Thanks to Joe and Jeremiah Werstein for collaborating on this!

What Spiritual Formation Is

Monroe County

"Spiritual formation is our continuing response to the reality of God's grace shaping us into the likeness of Jesus Christ, through the work of the Holy Spirit, in the community of faith, for the sake of the world."
- Jeffrey Greenman, Life in the Spirit: Spiritual Formation in Theological Perspective, 24 

Greenman's book is a collection of the presentations given at Wheaton College's 2009 Theology Conference on Spiritual Formation.

You can (or may be able to) view or listen to all of the talks here.

  • Dallas Willard - Spiritual Formation as a Natural Part of Salvation
  • Jim Wilhoit - Centering Prayer: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
  • He Qi - An Artist Searches for Peace and Finds Christ in the Arts
  • Cherith Nordling - “Renewed in Knowledge in the Image of Our Creator”: Christ-Like Formation through “Psalms, Hymns and Songs of the Spirit"
  • David Gushee - Spiritual Formation and the Sanctity of Life
  • Susan Phillips - Spiritual Direction as a Navigational Aid in Sanctification
  • Kelly Kapic - Walking with God: John Owen's Vision of the Christian Life
  • George Kalantzis - Spirituality and the Mimetic Imp
  • Bruce Hindmarsh - True Religion: Early Evangelical Devotion and the Modern World
  • Chris Hall - The Theological Foundations of Lectio Divina: Reading Christ into the Heart
  • Jeffrey Greenman - Spiritual Formation in Theological Perspective: Classic Issues, Contemporary Challenges
  • Gordon Fee - On Getting the Spirit Back into Spirituality

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Host the Earth-Shattering Presence of God

Point Mouilee, Monroe County
"When I entered your church's sanctuary I felt the presence of God."

Over my 20 years at Redeemer I have heard these words many times, and in many variations, spoken by people new to our Jesus-community.

"I sensed God's peace as I approached your building."

"I encountered God's power as I worshiped with your people."

"Surely the Lord is in this place."

I experience this, too. This is how it should be. Jesus-followers stand in fields of grace (Romans 5:1-2); they encounter, regularly, the earth-shattering presence of God.

This is not essentially about a physical building, but about a people who host the presence of God. Remember that Jesus changed the whole Temple thing from a physical structure to a people, individually (1 Cor. 3:16) and corporately (1 Cor. 6:19). (In the first verse the word 'you' is singular; in the second verse the word 'you' is plural.) God has come to dwell among His people, to inhabit His lovers, in their singular hearts, and in their plural midst.

This is a visceral, experiential reality, and not just a theory or a propositional truth. One feels God, within and without. As God lavishly pours out His love into our hearts, this is, precisely and Hebraically, best understood as a feeling. (Note: part of my evangelical heritage is to pause at this point and warn me about the dangers of "feelings." I respond to this by noting the dangers and vacuity of theory and intellect without feelings. I want to know God-feelings as experience, since experience, not theory, breeds conviction. All talk about God's "love" is meaning-deficient if it does not include feeling.)

Consider these words from Robert Barclay, written in 1701.

"When I came into the silent assemblies of God's people, I felt a secret power among them, which touched my heart. And as I gave way to it, I found the evil in me weakening, and the good lifted up. Thus it was that I was knit into them and united with them. And I hungered more and more for the increase of this power and life until I could feel myself perfectly redeemed." (Barclay - see here, p. 357; cited in Richard J. Foster, Sanctuary of the Soul: Journey into Meditative Prayer, Kindle Locations 302-304)

Welcome God's presence into your life today.

Host the earth-shattering presence of God.

Get ready to "know" in the sense of to "feel."

Monday, March 26, 2012

Apologetics at Redeemer Ministry School

Tomorrow morning, in my RMS Apologetics class, I will:

Standing In the Fields of God's Grace

Yesterday morning at Redeemer I spoke out of Romans 5:1-5. These are beautiful, deep verses. As I was preparing for this message, and in the midst of it, I realized how much I need to hear these truths. Paul writes:

1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

The points are:
  1. Everyone who trusts and places their faith in Christ is "justified." Rectified. That is, made right with God. From this it follows that...
  2. Followers of Jesus have peace with God. We are brought into relationship with God. We have here the Jewish idea of shalom. Shalom is a robust, physical concept. The image is of two hands meeting in a handshake, of two persons who were once enemies coming together in an embrace. While we were once God's enemies (Romans 5:10), and sin caused us to fall short of the glory of God, now the atoning sacrifice of Christ on the cross has reconciled us to God. We are brought into the presence of God, not as a result of our performance or lack thereof, but as a result of the grace of God. Keep this in your heart and mind. God loves you. Period.
  3. By placing our faith in Christ we have gained access into the fields of God's grace. New Testament scholar Ben Witherington puts it this way: “Grace here seems to be seen as a sort of sphere which the believer enters and stands within. The image may be of a weak person who is able to stand up and withstand whatever life brings through the divine power and love of God.” (BW, Romans, 134) If you are a Jesus-follower, you stand in those gracious fields now.
  4. So, as a Jesus-follower, you have been made right with God, brought into shalom with your Maker, and stand in His fields of grace. N.T. Wright says: This is the beginning of something so big, so massive, so unimaginably beautiful and powerful, that we almost burst as we think of it. When we stand there in God’s own presence, not trembling but deeply grateful, and begin to inhale his goodness, his wisdom, his power and his joy, we sense that we are being invited to go all the way, to become the true reflections-of-God, the true image-bearers, that we were made to be.” (NTW, Romans) This is what we were created for; viz., to host the presence of God. (See, e.g., C.S. Lewis's beautiful "The Weight of Glory.")
  5. But there is more than this. "When we are reconciled to the God who is our Father, we discover that he wants not simply to enjoy this one-to-one relationship, but to enlist us in his service in working for his kingdom. And that will bring all kinds of pressures and problems which will require us to hang on in faith and hope even when we don’t sense his presence, even when it doesn’t ‘feel’ as though there’s anything happening." (NTW, Ib.) In other words, we suffer, for the cause of God's Kingdom and the Gospel. For me it's important to note here that the suffering of a Jesus-follower, as they are engaged in the Mission, is not for nothing, as an atheist's suffering ultimately is. The purpose of life is not to avoid suffering and achieve happiness, as, e.g., much of our culture and the Dalai Lama says it is. We go through suffering, through the "valley of the shadow of death." In our suffering we have real hope, and we boast of it.
  6. What we boast in affects how we suffer. Some boast in their own wisdom, strength, and riches. (Jeremiah 9:23-24) In the middle of suffering these personal accomplishments have their limitations. Ultimately, in death, they all fail. But for those who trust Christ, have been made right with God, are in shalom with their Maker, and stand in the fields of His grace, suffering looks and is different. When my son David died at birth, and his twin Joshua was fighting for his life, Linda and I looked at each other and said, "How could anyone go through this without Christ?" In that difficult time we not only stayed with Jesus, but it strengthened our resolve to do so. Because at such times one's personal trophies mean nothing. As for me, I have learned to glory ("boast") in the hope of the glory of God.
  7. In suffering, with Christ, endurance is formed. Character is developed. The Greek word Paul uses for character is dokimos. This word is used to describe the fiery purification of precious metals. God redeems our suffering and uses it to burn away all that is peripheral in life to establish His moral and spiritual being and glory within us. As this happens, "I finally find where I belong, to be with You, to be with You."
  8. Because of this we have hope. Eschatological hope.Which means: future hope. As I remember, the first biblical verse that stood out to me when I turned to Jesus at age 21 was Romans 8:18 - "I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth being compared to the glory that will be revealed to us." Today, 41 years later, these words come back to me, and mean much more than ever. I am not ashamed to say that I have placed every one of my eggs into this basket of hope. (Cadbury eggs not included, which I place into my mouth.)
  9. One existential reason for the hope I have is this: God's Spirit has poured out His love for me, into my heart. My verification for this is my first-person subjective experience. The words "pour out" are used, in other contexts, to describe a rainstorm's deluge of water. God's love does not come as a meagre trickle, but as an Outpouring. I have exprienced this, and did so yesterday. The language of God's love is pure, experiential language. It is one thing, and not a bad thing, to intellectually acknowledge that "Yes, I know God loves me." But "love" is not essentially an intellectual thing, though it includes that. God's love, real love, is a visceral-experiential-encounter thing. The reality of God's love, poured into every Jesus-follower, is undeniable. A Love-Outpouring is something that is felt.
Yesterday morning God told me, before the service, "This is the Outpouring." It has begun. A new, fresh, rain-deluge of the love of God, flooding the fields of God's grace, in which we stand with the One who made all things right between us and our Creator.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Lawrence Krauss Doesn't Understand "Nothing"

One of the Fermi towers, Monroe, MI
Wow - here's a very fun and deep essay by Columbia University theoretical physicist and philosopher of science David Albert -  "On the Origin of Everything" (a review of A Universe From Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing, by Lawrence M. Krauss).

Krauss claims that the laws of quantum mechanics explain why there is something (a universe) rather than nothing. Albert says, "I kid you not" (referring to Krauss's non-scientific claim). Richard Dawkins, upon hearing Krauss's boast, has come to worship this non-event like a blind person who runs after a faith healer. Dawkins writes: "“Even the last remaining trump card of the theologian, ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?,’ shrivels up before your eyes as you read these pages. If ‘On the Origin of Species’ was biology’s deadliest blow to super­naturalism, we may come to see ‘A Universe From Nothing’ as the equivalent from cosmology. The title means exactly what it says. And what it says is ­devastating.”"

Not really. In fact, not at all. Krauss's extravagant title denotes nothing, as do the terms "current living dinosaur" or "present King of France." Albert explains this. Read the entire thing for yourself. Here are the bullets.
  • Relativistic quantum field theories do not count "material particles among the concrete, fundamental, eternally persisting elementary physical stuff of the world"
  • For Krauss, according to the relativistic quantum field theory vacuum states consist of no physical particles at all. 
  • Such vacuum states, then, are "nothing."
  • Albert says "That's just not right." He writes:
  • "Relativistic-quantum-field-theoretical vacuum states — no less than giraffes or refrigerators or solar systems — are particular arrangements of elementary physical stuff. The true relativistic-quantum-field-­theoretical equivalent to there not being any physical stuff at all isn’t this or that particular arrangement of the fields — what it is (obviously, and ineluctably, and on the contrary) is the simple absence of the fields! The fact that some arrangements of fields happen to correspond to the existence of particles and some don’t is not a whit more mysterious than the fact that some of the possible arrangements of my fingers happen to correspond to the existence of a fist and some don’t. And the fact that particles can pop in and out of existence, over time, as those fields rearrange themselves, is not a whit more mysterious than the fact that fists can pop in and out of existence, over time, as my fingers rearrange themselves. And none of these poppings — if you look at them aright — amount to anything even remotely in the neighborhood of a creation from nothing."
  • Krauss says that “some philosophers and many theologians define and redefine ‘nothing’ as not being any of the versions of nothing that scientists currently describe,” and that “now, I am told by religious critics that I cannot refer to empty space as ‘nothing,’ but rather as a ‘quantum vacuum,’ to distinguish it from the philosopher’s or theologian’s idealized ‘nothing,’ ”    
  • Albert writes that "Krauss is dead wrong and his religious and philosophical critics are absolutely right. Who cares what we would or would not have made a peep about a hundred years ago? We were wrong a hundred years ago. We know more now. And if what we formerly took for nothing turns out, on closer examination, to have the makings of protons and neutrons and tables and chairs and planets and solar systems and galaxies and universes in it, then it wasn’t nothing, and it couldn’t have been nothing, in the first place. And the history of science — if we understand it correctly — gives us no hint of how it might be possible to imagine otherwise." (Emphasis mine.)
Albert concludes with a comment about the likes of Krauss and Dawkins. "It seems like a pity, and more than a pity, and worse than a pity, with all that in the back of one’s head, to think that all that gets offered to us now, by guys like these, in books like this, is the pale, small, silly, nerdy accusation that religion is, I don’t know, dumb."

Krauss and his acolyte Dawkins, it seems, really know nothing about "nothing."                  

The Fallacy of Scientism

Ladybug, on my laptop power cord.

I sometimes run into someone who believes that science will eventually answer all of life's Big Questions (such as free will, purpose, meaning, and morality).  I hear this I wonder things such as: What does this person mean when they use the word 'science'? Do they understand that 'science' cannot give us 'value'? And that, since 'science' is a tool in the hands of 'scientists," 'science' explains nothing, but 'scientists do'?

I remain forever thankful to my undergraduate exposure to issues in the philosophy of science. They forever exorcised the demon of scientism out of me.

There's a nice article on the fallacy of scientism and the limits of science in today's nytimes - "Seeing Is Unbelieving," by Columbia University philosopher Philip Kitcher.

"Scientism" is the belief that:
  1. microphysics determines all of reality;
  2. Darwinian natural selection explains human behavior; and
  3. neuroscience shows us as we really are.
To illustrate the limits of science Kitcher uses the "evangelical scientism" of Alex Rosenberg's The Atheist's Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life Without Illusions. Because, for Rosenberg, science explains all, "morality, purpose and the quaint conceit of an enduring self all have to go."

Kitcher finds such conclusions "premature." And, in some cases, in principle impossible. He writes:

"Although microphysics can help illuminate the chemical bond and the periodic table, very little physics and chemistry can actually be done with its fundamental concepts and methods, and using it to explain life, human behavior or human society is a greater challenge still. Many informed scholars doubt the possibility, even in principle, of understanding, say, economic transactions as complex interactions of subatomic particles. Rosenberg’s cheerful Darwinizing is no more convincing than his imperialist physics, and his tales about the evolutionary origins of everything from our penchant for narratives to our supposed dispositions to be nice to one another are throwbacks to the sociobiology of an earlier era, unfettered by methodological cautions that students of human evolution have learned: much of Rosenberg’s book is evolutionary psychology on stilts. Similarly, the neuroscientific discussions serenely extrapolate from what has been carefully demonstrated for the sea slug to conclusions about Homo sapiens. "

The natural sciences do command admiration. The Big Questions (purpose, free will, morality) remain, and may be forever out of the reach of any scientific knowledge the future may bring.     

Overcoming Spiritual A.D.D.

I don't allow texting in my MCCC philosophy classes. You cannot multitask and learn philosophy.

In spite of my ban on texting some students cannot stop. They are addicted to texting. They are neurally incapable of focusing on one thing.

Superficiality was the curse of the modern age. The curse of the postmodern age, says Richard Foster, is distraction. "With the Internet and entertainment, so many different ways to keep people's minds constantly shifting, they don't have to think. And, of course, churches sometimes play right into that—with fast-paced services that keep people jumping all over the place. That's why solitude and silence are among the most important spiritual disciplines for today."

Introduce people to solitude and silence. Open the doors to a life of actual prayer. God's Spirit can work in these things to cure this culture's spiritual A.D.D.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

"The Hunger Games" & Our Generation of Soul-Searchers

Linda, Josh, and I went to see "The Hunger Games" yesterday. We went to a 5:45 show in Toledo. The theatre was packed, with a lot of kids.

I interpret "Hunger Games" this way.

Today's children are unprotected and mentorless. Our parentless generation, our divorce world, leaves kids on their own to face a life where valueless, clownish, shallow adults use them for their own entertainment. Their parents, if they have any, passively submit to and watch the carnage. No one protests. Such is life in this dystopian culture. No one has a moral clue.

Except for one fatherless teen-aged girl who stands against this. In her, and in some of the other chosen children, we see a spark of love and justice. She's about to ignite a revolution.

The tons of American kids who love this movie will do so because they relate to being abandoned to a life of non-discipleship, having been forced to find moral values and character mostly on their own. Welcome to the Generation of Soul-Searchers.

(Note: I'll be speaking on "Character and Integrity" to the 400 students of Airport High School on April 3.)

On Saying "I Love You" 140,525 Times

Our front yard

In our 38 1/2 years of marriage Linda and I have said the word "I love you" to each other 140,525 times. That is my conservative estimate. Our phone conversations always end with one of us saying "I love you," and the other responding "I love you, too." We tell each other this when we go to bed. And throughout the day. Averaging only 5 "I love yous" a day, apiece, totals 140,525 of them. I love Linda; Linda loves me.

I'm thinking of this additive love this morning as I'm reading a chapter of Jerry Sittser's A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows through Loss. Sittser lost his wife, his mother and a 4 year old daughter in a car crash. A drunken driver ran head on into his minivan. He and 3 of his children survived, but 3 generations were wiped out instantly. He writes:

"When someone suffers the loss of a relationship, they lose something that is both precious and incomplete. This problem of incompleteness is aggravated in the case of those whose relationship at the time of loss is at a low point. A spouse is killed just after an argument at home. A wife tries to work out the differences with her husband but finally gives up, settling for a divorce. Parents of a wayward teenager regret how much they neglected her as she was growing up. The saying may be trivial: "You can never say 'I love you' too much, because you never know when you won't be able to say it anymore," but it touches on a truth. Loss takes what we might do and turns it into what we can never do. Loss freezes life into a snapshot. We are stuck with what was instead of what could have been." (96)

By this time tomorrow, if God allows: 140, 535.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Philosophy of Religion Exams

Next week's Philosophy of Religion exams are in room A153.

The exam questions are:

  1. Mackie
  2. Buddhism
  3. Plantinga
  4. Rowe
  5. Wyckstra
  6. Hick

Loss Clarifies

Storm clouds over our house.

Jerry Sittser, in A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows Through Loss, writes about the loss of his wife, daughter, and mother in a head-on collision with a drunk driver. He believes that "however painful, sorrow is good for the soul." (74) How so?

"Deep sorrow often has the effect of stripping life of pretense, vanity, and waste. It forces us to ask basic questions about what is most important in life. Suffering can lead to a simpler life, less cluttered with nonessentials. it is wonderfully clarifying. That is why many people who suffer sudden and severe loss become different people." (74)

That is good. We all need to become different people. The death of my baby son made me, in several good ways, a different person. My interpretation is that my Redeemer God redeemed that great loss; God took a bitter lemon and began to squeeze it and make some lemonade out of it.

"Loss provides an opportunity to take inventory of our lives, to reconsider priorities, and to determine new directions." I have heard it said that "Few people wish at seventy that they had worked more hours at the office when they were forty. If anything, they wish that they had given more time back then to their family, friends, and worthy causes. They wish they had dared to say 'no' to pressure, competition, and image and 'no' to their selfishness." (In Ib., 76)

"What good," asked Jesus, "is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet forfeit his soul?"

Here are the questions Loss invites us to ask:
  • What do I believe?
  • Is there life after death?
  • Is there a God?
  • What kind of person am I?
  • Do I really care about other people?
  • How have I used my resources - my time, money, and talent?
  • Where am I headed with my life?
  • What is the meaning of my life?
  • What is my purpose in life?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Catastrophic Loss and Spiritual Formation

Our back yard
I purchased A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows Through Loss by Jerry Sittser several months ago. Linda read it and found it amazing. I'm sitting down with it now. "This book is about catastrophic loss and the transformation that can occur in our lives because of it." (17)

Note to my Spiritual Formation companions: This book serves, among other things, as an extended meditation on Ps. 23's "even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death..."

If you live long enough in life you will experience catastrophic loss. Some encounter it sooner than later. Suffering and mega-loss is a "universal experience." "As surely as we are born into this world we suffer loss before we leave it." (Ib.) The "walk through the valley of the shadow of death" experience is universal.

Sittser writes:

"It is not, therefore, the experience of loss that becomes the defining moment of our lives, for that is as inevitable as death, which is the last loss awaiting us all. It is how we respond to loss that matters. That response will largely determine the quality, the direction, and the impact of our lives." (Ib.) Sittser chose to walk through that valley rather than around it (you can't do that anyway) or avoid it (can't do that either). He writes: "I knew that running from the darkness would only lead to greater darkness later on. I also knew that my soul had the capacity to grow - to absorb evil and good, to die and live again, to suffer abandonment and find God. In choosing the face the night, I took my first steps toward the sunrise." (52)

We never "get over" catastrophic loss. Forget trying to "help" people do that. But we can "live in and be enlarged by loss, even as we continue to experience it." (18) That's true. Linda and I have never gotten over our baby son David's death. We never will. And, by the way, we don't want to. Our great loss did not condemn us forever to bitterness and lifelessness, as God has helped us find our way in and through this dark valley. For both of us it became essential to learn to trust Jesus, to abide in Him, and to do so now, not later.

"If we face loss squarely and respond to it wisely, we will actually become healthier people, even as we draw closer to physical death. We will find our souls healed, as they can only be healed through suffering." (18)

Sittser writes: "Lynda, my wife of nearly twenty years, loved to be around her children... In the fall of 1991 Lynda was teaching a unit of home school to our two oldest children, Catherine and David, on Native American culture." (24)

Sittser's catastrophic loss is about to happen. It will forever transform his life. He's hit head-on by a drunk driver going 85 mph. His wife, his daughter, and his mother are killed. He lies at the scene with his other children for two hours, watching his loved ones die, caring for his surviving children.

He's in the darkest valley, the valley of nothingness, with God.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Are We Only Biochemical Puppets? (Is Free Will an Illusion?)

I took this shot last night of myself walking to get the mail.
I assumed I used my free will to choose to do this.
Perhaps I didn't, and free will is as illusory as
my physical body shown here?
The Chronicle of Higher Education just posted this - very, very cool, and timely.

"Is Free Will an Ilusion?" 6 Thinkers Weigh In.

"Free will has long been a fraught concept among philosophers and theologians. Now neuroscience is entering the fray.
For centuries, the idea that we are the authors of our own actions, beliefs, and desires has remained central to our sense of self. We choose whom to love, what thoughts to think, which impulses to resist. Or do we?
Neuroscience suggests something else. We are biochemical puppets, swayed by forces beyond our conscious control. So says Sam Harris, author of the new book, Free Will (Simon & Schuster), a broadside against the notion that we are in control of our own thoughts and actions. Harris's polemic arrives on the heels of Michael S. Gazzaniga's Who's In Charge? Free Will and the Science of the Brain (HarperCollins), and David Eagleman's Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain (Pantheon), both provocative forays into a debate that has in recent months spilled out onto op-ed and magazine pages, and countless blogs.
What's at stake? Just about everything: morality, law, religion, our understanding of accountability and personal accomplishment, even what it means to be human. Harris predicts that a declaration by the scientific community that free will is an illusion would set off "a culture war far more belligerent than the one that has been waged on the subject of evolution."
The Chronicle Review brought together some key thinkers to discuss what science can and cannot tell us about free will, and where our conclusions might take us."

The essays are:

Redeemer Ministry School - Spring 2012 Classes Begin This Week

Our Redeemer Ministry School Spring Trimester begins tomorrow, March 20.

Our Spring courses are:

Apologetics - John Piippo.
Tuesdays, 9:30-1.
First class - March 20.
Description: The word “apologetics” means: to defend one’s faith. In this course students will especially learn to defend: 1) the existence of God; 2) the existence of and person of Jesus Christ, with emphasis on the historical resurrection; 3) the belief that God is all-loving and all-powerful even though there is evil and suffering in the world; and 4) that the Bible is the Word of God and not simply another book.

Kingdom of God III - Historical Survey of The Moves of God - Josh Bentley.
Wednesdays, 9:30-1.
First class - March 21.
Description: This course will survey the way that The Kingdom of God has advanced historically from the Acts of the Apostles until today. There will be great attention paid to the origins, characteristics, and demises of each move of God.

Worship III - Creativity in Worship - Holly Benner and Gary Wilson.
Thursdays, 9:30-1.
First class - March 22.
Description: Have you ever noticed how many different methods of worship are found in the Bible? Singing, clapping, dancing, building, shouting, kneeling, playing instruments, giving… the list goes on! We are the Body of Christ, and God has fashioned each one of us to give Him a facet of praise that is unique from the person next to us. Creativity and Worship will explore how to find the creativity inside of you and to use that to honor God.

Leadership - Jim and Denise Hunter
Fridays, 9:30-1.
First class - March 23.
Description: This course will introduce students to servant leadership principles. Our basic assumption will be: leaders for Christ are themselves led by Christ. Students will not only study leadership principles but will engage in the practice of authentic servant leadership.

Classes are $150. This covers all materials/books/etc.

To register call Redeemer Fellowship Church - 734-242-5277.

See our website for more information.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Moses Illusion

One of the books I am now reading is Daniel Kahneman's Thinking Fast and Slow. I'm getting familiar with System I and System II.

Here's a mind-question from Kahneman: "How many animals of each kind did Moses take into the ark?" (See below for answer...)

Kahneman writes: "The number of people who detect what is wrong with this question is so small that it has been dubbed the “Moses illusion.” Moses took no animals into the ark; Noah did." (p. 73)

Most people don't get the right answer because of the automatic "associative machine" in our mind's System I.

Desert Spirituality

(I took this picture of the Negev Desert while in Israel.)
There's a nice little article on on desert spirituality. I was introduced to this in the early 1980s by reading Richard Foster's brilliant Celebration of Discipline. Then I discovered Henri Nouwen. Nouwen's works have influenced me greatly, as have Thomas Merton's. Nouwen's little book The Way of the Heart: Desert Spirituality and Contemporary Ministry, is an excellent book to begin with. Read slowly and listen.

I had, as a student in my Personal Transformation class at Palmer Theological Seminary, Father Bishoy El-Antony. Father Bishoy is a Coptic monk from the monastery of St. Antony of the Fourth Century in Egypt. He's a modern desert father, who sometimes sleeps in the desert and spends time praying for days in a cave. He came to class every day dressed up in full Coptic garments. One day I taught a lesson on St Antony of Egypt, the original desert father. After my presentation Father Bishoy told me, "You did a good job. I learned something." He then said, "We would like you to come to Egypt and teach us more about prayer." I responded, "Father Bishoy, I'm not sure that I would have much to teach you about prayer." Father Bishoy said, with a twinkle in his eye, "We are so humble that we can even learn from a person like you."

Any serious follower of Jesus would do well to spend some time immersed in the wisdom-from-God that was dispensed into the hearts of these early Christian desert fathers, who left a culture they viewed as decadent for the sake of finding God in a non-corrupted environment, for the sake of bringing God's truths back into their culture.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Want to Study Apologetics With Me This Spring?

My Apologetics class at Redeemer Ministry School for our Spring Trimester begins next week.
  • Tuesday mornings, 9:30-1 (with a half hour break)
  • Begins Tuesday, March 20; last class is Tuesday, May 22.
  • Cost: $150 - covers all materials + an occasional cup of coffee.

I'm expecting to teach on some or all of the following subjects, from the POV of Christian theism.

  1. Biblical Foundation for Apologetics
    • 1 Peter 3:15
    • Acts 17:16-32
  2. Introduction – the Ontological Argument for God’s Existence and the Nature of God
  3. The Failure of Atheism as Philosophical Naturalism; The Logic of Atheism
  4. The Fine-Tuning Argument for the Existence of God
  5. The Moral Argument for the Existence of God
  6. The Problem of Evil (how can evil exist if God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving?)
  7. Is the God of the Old Testament a Moral Monster?: On the Nature of God as Presented In the Old Testament (Paul Copan)
  8. A Historical (Extrabiblical) Case for the Resurrection of Christ
  9. How Can Jesus Be the Only Way to God When There Are Other World Religions? The Nature of Religious Exclusivism (With special emphasis on Islam - we may take a trip to the Islamic Center of America to learn about Islam from one of their teachers, as we did last year.)
  10. How Can the Bible Be From God, and Therefore Authoritative? N.T. Wright On the Judeao-Christian Scriptures as Grand Narrative
  11. Why Religion and Science Are Not Incompatible: From Alvin Plantinga's Where the Conflict Really Lies

Exorcising the Self-Seeker

9-1-1 Memorial, New York City
The prayer that is most often on my heart in these days is this: "God, grow your love in me so that I will love others as you do." To love as Christ loved and still loves is to be a free person. Only a free person could hang on the cross, view his tormentors, and say "Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they do." Only a free person could view screwed-up people like us with compassion, as sheep without a shepherd.

This morning I'm reading out of Longing for God: Seven Paths of Christian Devotion, by Richard Foster and Gayle Beebe. Foster and Beebe cite 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, and then reverse it to make a point about love. The text says:

  • Love is patient.
  • Love is kind.
  • Love does not envy.
  • Love does not boast.
  • Love is not proud.
  • Love does not dishonor others.
  • Love is not self-seeking.
  • Love is not easily angered.
  • Love keeps no record of wrongs.
  • Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
  • Love always protects.
  • Love always trusts.
  • Love always hopes.
  • Love always perseveres.
Now observe what happens when we substitute "a self-centered person" for "love" and reverse the action.

  • A self-centered person is not patient.
  • A self-centered person is not kind.
  • A self-centered person is envious.
  • A self-centered person is boastful.
  • A self-centered person is arrogant.
  • A self-centered person is rude.
  • A self-centered person insists on his or her own way.
  • A self-centered person rejoices in wrongdoing.
  • A self-centered person does not rejoice in truth.
  • A self-centered person does not believe anything.
  • A self-centered person does not hope in anything.
  • A self-centered person does not endure anything.
  • A self-centered person always fails.
Foster and Beebe write: "What a dramatic contrast! This inversion simply yet dramatically illustrates that God's agape love is beyond any capacity we possess as humans. We cannot on our own sustain the kind of love that originates in God alone." (18)

My failure to love others as Christ loves reveals the self-seeker in me. I'm praying for its exorcism, and belieiving that God can accomplish in me what I cannot do on my own.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

How Your Brain Looks When You Think New Thoughts

Thanks Lin for sharing this with me!

John Hick's Soul-Making Theodicy

(For my MCCC Philosophy of Religion students)

Explain John Hick's Soul-Making theodicy (in Peterson, Philosophy of Religion, pp. 316 ff.).

1. Hick gives us a "theodicy." Which means: a defense of God. In this case, specifically a defense of one's already-existing belief in God and the reality of a world that contains all kinds of evil.

2. Hick says it is possible that God has created us in his image, but not in his likeness. Two results of this are: 1) there is epistemic distance between us and God; and 2) persons are morally deficient. We are born as "immature creatures living in a challenging and therefore person-making world."

3. God has made our world a soul-making world. God places persons in a world, our world, which is conducive to soul-making. If we are created as free creatures, that is as persons possessing free will, then we must not be brought into the immediate divine presence of God, but at a "distance" from God. Were the former true God would be coercive; viz., we would not be able to resist God or choose against God or choose to deny God's existence altogether. A world where there is not a full revelation of God but divine hiddenness is needed if God is to give us free will to choose or not choose God. Our world is "religiously ambiguous, capable of being seen as a pure natural phenomenon and of being seen as God's creation and experienced as mediating God's presence." Hick writes: "within such a situation there is the possibility of the human being coming freely to know and love one's Maker." (319)

4. God places free creatures in a world that contains "moral friction." We do not inhabit a "morally frictionless" environment, involving no stresses or temptations. Persons are created as morally deficient.

5. Virtues that are developed through free will choices are intrinsically more valuable than virtues created ready-made. Mackie and Hume think God would have done much better to create a world that is morally frictionless. Hick thinks that was not possible, given God's purposes. Because "virtues which have been formed within the agent as a hard-won deposit of her own right decisions in situations of challenge and temptation are intrinsically more valuable than virtues created within her ready-made and without any effort on her own part." For example, there's a great difference between someone who plays a video game of firemen going into burning buildings to rescue children and a fireman who actually is faced with such a decision, and choose to rescue the child. Or, there's a great difference between the latter's display of courage in the face of danger, and someone who was just born with courage fully developed.

As a way of explaining this, Hick rejects the Humean pet analogy. Hick writes: "The development of human personality - moral, spiritual, and intellectual - is a product of challenge and response. It does not occur in a static situation demanding exertion and no choices." He gives an example of a test involving two kittens from the same litter. Both are placed in a challenging environment that contains danger. One is allowed to explore the environment; the other is placed in a kind of "gondola" which moved whenever and wherever the free kitten moved." "Thus the first kitten learned in the normal way to conduct itself safely within its environment, [while] the second did not. with no interaction with a challenging environment there was no development in its behavioral patterns." (322)

6. Hume wonders why God could not have placed humans in a pain-free environment. Hume thinks the very existence of pain is evidence against the existence of God. Hick responds: "But such an assumption overlooks the fact that a world in which there can be no pain or suffering would also be one in which there can be no moral choices and hence no possibility of moral growth and development. For in a situation in which no one can ever suffer injury or be liable to pain or suffering there would be no distinction between right and wrong action." (323)

In summary, Hick concludes: "Thus the hypothesis of a divine purpose in which finite persons are created at an epistemic distance from God, in order that they gradually become children of God through their own moral and spiritual choices, requires that their environment, instead of being a pain-free and stress-free paradise, be broadly the kind of world of which we find ourselves to be a part." (323)

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Turtle Story

(Matt Holladay, one of our Redeemer family members, shared this story with our Spiritual Formation class. I asked him to write it up so I could share it with others. Here it is.)

Hi Pastor John,
Here it is... The turtle story.
I can't believe that it has been 6 weeks since your Spiritual Formation class began. As I read through Psalm 23 on the first night the first thing I was faced with was "Do I really trust God?" In every single verse -- Do I trust that he is my shepherd? Do I trust that I can hear him? Do I trust that He will provide for me? After 6 weeks I'm still in Psalm 23 and I'm still praying about trust issues.

It almost seems like I never really trusted God before this experience. But there was one event that occurred during the first week that has really made a big difference in my life.

Most of my prayer time is spent in an unused lobby in the first floor of the building where I work. On one particular day during the first week I was confronted with the question "Do you trust that I am always listening?" I was forced to admit that no, I really don't trust God that way. I trust him for the big, important things. But not with little things that don't matter to anybody but me. Not like someone I can talk to at the end of a bad day at work. I prayed for God to change that. And I felt like He asked me to take a "trust fall." "Ask the dumbest, most useless question you can think of. Something that you think I wouldn't answer. Something that you don't think you could even recognize an answer if I did. I'll answer."

The first thing I thought of was the collection of toy turtles I have on my desk at work. I purchased the first one years ago, and people have slowly added to that collection. I have about a dozen now. So I wrote in my journal - "God, which of the turtles in my office do you like the best?" That was the end of my prayer time for that day -- the alarm on my cell phone went off and I got up to leave.

When I turned around, the first thing I saw was the sign on the office across from the lobby I've been using. I never noticed it before. I had to take a picture because I thought nobody would believe me (sign.jpg). It says "TURTLEROCK GREENTECH."

I have exactly one turtle on my desk that is made of rock (turtle.jpg). It just happens to be green. It is the only one that really works as a paperweight, so it is usually sitting on a pad of graph paper or a stack of note cards. Turtle. Rock. Green. Tech... A specific answer to a ridiculous prayer less than 5 minutes after the prayer was written down. All coincidence? I guess you could make that argument. But that also has to take into account how I accidentally started collecting these turtles over 10 years ago, how I ended up at this company, how it ended up in this building, how I ended up in this lobby...

And while the answer to this little prayer may not seem very meaningful, it raised the level of trust in my heart. Since that experience there are things that I have been able to pray about that I always considered off limits before. I've been able to ask why certain people were not and have not been healed. I've been able to ask about some things in my past that I've never been able to get over, and for at least one of those God revealed exactly why I was still carrying around that hurt and how to let it go. I've even been able to trust God enough to pray for someone in public. Six weeks ago I think I would have rather died than say to a stranger "Can I share something that I think God just told me to share with you?"

Not all my questions have been answered. But now I trust that God is listening. And answering.
-- matt