Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Redeemer Ministry School Graduation This Sunday!

This Sunday Redeemer Ministry School will graduate its fourth class of students.

6 PM.

Redeemer Fellowship Church
5305 Evergreen
Monroe, MI


Interested in being part of the RMS class of 2012-2013? Go here for information.

Humanities Feed the Hunger for Meaning and Value

In my philosophy classes I find many students who just want to talk about life, its ultimate meaning and purpose, and value. Indeed, they want to talk about their value in the universe, and whether or not this life is worth living. Put simply: I find many college students who want to talk philosophy and religion. Because science cannot help them here. And if a student thinks science can derive "ought" from "is" they need to have this myth shattered.

Enter Andrew Delbanco's new book College: What It Was, Is, and Should Be, reviewed here by Angus Kennedy.

College used to be a place "where the humanities took first place." Delbanco charts "how the incessant demands on the college to take in more and more students and to produce more and more specialised knowledge is not just a tale of increased equity and access and much needed specialisation; it is also a tale of the fragmentation of knowledge and the development of a profound uncertainty about values." To me this includes both ethical and meta-ethical issues.

Sadly, "scientism" has usurped the humanities, and colleges are places "where facts are held as truths and research studies are set up as instruction manuals in how to live." Specialised graduate researchers labor "like ants bringing twigs to the heap. Or, as Delbanco has it, runners in a relay race. The problem – especially for the humanities – is whether this model can place value on the dawdlers and the ruminants rather than just the sprinters and worker ants."

The humanities, according to Delbanco, have not responded well to scientism and, in general, the challenge of the sciences. Which is sad and troubling, since the sciences tell us nothing about meaning and value. "Despite the growing influence of neuroscientific explanations of every aspect of our lives, we do need to remember that science has precisely nothing to tell us about values, about love, about the meaning of a life, of death. It has nothing to do with meaning at all in fact. As Camus puts it in The Myth of Sisyphus, whether the Sun goes around the Earth, or the other way, is a matter of profound irrelevance to the meaning of life. If it did so determine meaning then we would not be free. There is no ought from is."

Delbanco argues for the meaning of "learning" as inclusive of and grounded in, soul-stuff. "Our starting point must be the re-establishment of the authority of the professor as someone with something to say worth hearing. If that means traditional education, even religion – at least in the sense of striving for the apprehension, even a glimpse, of the sacred, of non-ordinary reality – then let it be so. College should be a place where we are offered a chance of going beyond the real and the quotidian, not a place that needs to be dragged any further into the real world. It is a sad fact but one well known to parents all over the American and Western world that faith schools and colleges retain a conviction as to the seriousness of the business of educating the young that is markedly absent from the secular institutions of today."

Our learning institutions must revive the intentional education of ought-issues. Students will respond positively to this. They are deeply interested in matters of meaning and value (witness, e.g., "The Hunger Games"). Here the Humanities must rise to the challenge, since the sciences will be of little or no help.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Science and Progress

Dragonflies on the river

(The quotes are from the excellent article in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “Scientific Progress.” Anyone interested in the discussion would do well to consult this, in its entirety. I also recommend, for a general text on the main issues of the philosophy of science, Philosophy of Science: The Central Issues. The classic essays are contained therein.)

Science progresses (perhaps); the humanities do not. But this is no criticism of the humanities, and no easy thing to see regarding the sciences (hence "perhaps").

“Science is often distinguished from other domains of human culture by its progressive nature: in contrast to art, religion, philosophy, morality, and politics, there exist clear standards or normative criteria for identifying improvements and advances in science. For example, the historian of science George Sarton argued that “the acquisition and systematization of positive knowledge are the only human activities which are truly cumulative and progressive,” and “progress has no definite and unquestionable meaning in other fields than the field of science” (Sarton 1936).”

But even the idea of science “progressing” has been challenged. “The traditional cumulative view of scientific knowledge was effectively challenged by many philosophers of science in the 1960s and the 1970s, and thereby the notion of progress was also questioned in the field of science. Debates on the normative concept of progress are at the same time concerned with axiological questions about the aims and goals of science.”

“Progress” is an axiological, not a scientific, concept. “Progress” is a humanities-concept, not something discovered by the brute study of matter. ““Progress” is an axiological or a normative concept, which should be distinguished from such neutral descriptive terms as “change” and “development” (Niiniluoto 1995a). In general, to say that a step from stage A to stage B constitutes progress means that B is an improvement over A in some respect, i.e., B is better than A relative to some standards or criteria.”

The Kuhn-Popper-Toulmin idea is thatscience does not grow simply by accumulating new established truths upon old ones. Except perhaps during periods of Kuhnian normal science, theory change is not cumulative or continuous: the earlier results of science will be rejected, replaced, and reinterpreted by new theories and conceptual frameworks.” At this point the idea of “progress” in science gets sticky, with Kuhn and Popper themselves disagreeing on the meaning of scientific “progress.” Here naïve, unstudied, simplistic village-ideas of scientific progress will not do.

What if scientific theory A is false, and takes us in the wrong direction? What if our goal is to drive from Detroit to New York City, but we head towards Los Angeles? In that case, in that temporal moment, we cannot be said to be making progress towards our goal. So it seems that some, maybe many scientific theories do not “progress” us. “If science is goal-directed, then we must acknowledge that movement in the wrong direction does not constitute progress (Niiniluoto 1984).” In the history of science many examples of this can be cited.

I don’t think “progress” is the best, and indeed not the only, concept to be used regarding “science.” “Progress is a goal-relative concept. But even when we consider science as a knowledge-seeking cognitive enterprise, there is no reason to assume that the goal of science is one-dimensional. In contrast, as Isaac Levi's classic Gambling With Truth (1967) argued, the cognitive aim of scientific inquiry has to be defined as a weighted combination of several different, and even conflicting, epistemic utilities… [A]lternative theories of scientific progress can be understood as specifications of such epistemic utilities. For example, they might include truth and information (Levi 1967; see also Popper 1959, 1963) or explanatory and predictive power (Hempel 1965). Kuhn's (1977) list of the values of science includes accuracy, consistency, scope, simplicity, and fruitfulness.” (The Logic text I use at MCCC, Vaughn’s The Power of Critical Thinking, has a nice section on these criteria of adequate explanation. All need not apply.)

I think that:

·        Overall, perhaps, it could be said that science makes “progress.”

·        “Progress” must be defined. It cannot be defined by using science qua science.
·        Religion, philosophy, and the humanities are not “progressive” realms of knowledge. To critique them as not “making progress” while science “makes progress” is to misunderstand their nature and, I think, overestimate one’s own coming-to-terms with scientific “progress” (its nature, definition, its non-scientific status, and so on…).

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Is Progress a Virtue?

Worship at Faith Bible Church, NYC

I met a few weeks ago with one of my MCCC philosophy students who told me that one reason he sees little use for religion and much use for science is that science progresses, while religion does not. I think it is true that religion, and philosophy does not progress. I think it is true that science does progress, but understanding the nature of progress in science is not that easy. For example, the history of science is the history of error. A scientific statement that today is A may well be Not-A tomorrow. I'm not certain that "progress" is the word to use regarding this.

Assuming science progresses (using "science" metonymically to mean something like "scientific knowledge, in terms of scientists who are the knowers), religion and philosophy do not progress in the same way. But to think this makes religion and philosophy inferior to science is like saying chess is inferior to football because in chess we don't kick field goals. This is to commit, in Gilbert Ryle's sense, a category mistake.

Consider this. One branch of philosophy is ethics. Religion is related to this in that religions prescribe moral values. Religion is prescriptive, science is descriptive (or intends to be; again, it's not quite that simple). Philosophical ethics and religious belief have prescribed that It is wrong to kill. We see this in Judaism from 3000 years ago. Has there been any moral progress on It is wrong to kill during the last 3000 years? No. One should not attempt to use "progress" as an epistemic framework through which to view ethics. The questions remains; viz., is the statement It is wrong to kill true or false? Philosophy deals with that. But humanity has not "advanced" beyond that, whatever that might even mean.

Progress, therefore, while it may be a virtue in science, is not a virtue in philosophy and religion. It is simply wrongheaded to reject religion for the reason that it has not progressed.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Lynching in America

Tree, in my backyard

I'm still slow-reading through James Cone's sad, beautifully written The Cross and the Lynching Tree. This read is informative, but mostly all self-examination for me. Search me, O God, and know my heart. See if there be any wicked ways in me.

Cone writes:

"The say a picture is worth a thousand words. Perhaps that accounts for the powerful impact of James Allen's Without Sanctuary (2003), a photographic account of "the lynching industry," a phrase that W.E. B. Dubois used as the subject of one of his editorials in The Crisis magazine, February 1915... Allen's collection of lynching photos was also shown at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Site in downtown, Atlanta to 176,000 viewers who reacted with tears, anger, resentment, and clenched jaws... When I saw these pictures in New York and Atlanta, there was a hushed silence among the black and white viewers, as they marched slowly, contemplating the contorted agony of black bodies hanging from trees, bridges, and lampposts." (98)

See Allen's Without Sanctuary website.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Shocking illusion - Pretty celebrities turn ugly!

Keep your eyes fixed on the cross between the photos.

This won second place in the Best Illusion of the Year Contest, 2012!

Religious Intolerance Increasing in Indonesia

Lady Gaga's recent concert in Indonesia
was cancelled due to the
outcry by Islamic groups.

I have Christian friends in Indonesia (many of you know who I'm talking about). Let's pray for them, since it is becoming increasingly dangerous in Indonesia to be non-Muslim. See the nytimes - "Indonesia's Rising Religious Intolerance."

"The majority of Indonesian Muslims remain moderate, and are appalled by rising intolerance. But three factors are undermining religious freedom: the silence and passivity of the majority, growing radicalization, and the weakness of the government at every level."       

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Ancient Bethlehem Seal Unearthed in Jerusalem

Israeli archaeologists have discovered a 2,700-year-old seal that bears the inscription "Bethlehem," the Israel Antiquities Authority announced Wednesday, in what experts believe to be the oldest artifact with the name of Jesus' traditional birthplace.

The tiny clay seal's existence and age provide vivid evidence that Bethlehem was not just the name of a fabled biblical town, but also a bustling place of trade linked to the nearby city of Jerusalem, archaeologists said.

(From here.)

Testing Prayer; Science and Healing, by Candy Gunther Brown

Lake Erie
I'm now reading through Candy Gunther Brown's Testing Prayer: Science and Healing.

For all interested in the efficacy of prayer as regards healing, this is the definitive study. It is arguably the best single text now available on the subject.

The two scholarly books that should be read are:

Testing Prayer
For all interested in and influenced by the Toronto Awakening and the healing streams that flowed from it, Brown's first chapter is an excellent summary - "From Toronto Blessing to Global Awakening: Healing and the Spread of Pentecostal-Charismatic Networks."

From Harvard U. Press:

When sickness strikes, people around the world pray for healing. Many of the faithful claim that prayer has cured them of blindness, deafness, and metastasized cancers, and some believe they have been resurrected from the dead. Can, and should, science test such claims? A number of scientists say no, concerned that empirical studies of prayer will be misused to advance religious agendas. And some religious practitioners agree with this restraint, worrying that scientific testing could undermine faith.

In Candy Gunther Brown’s view, science cannot prove prayer’s healing power, but what scientists can and should do is study prayer’s measurable effects on health. If prayer produces benefits, even indirectly (and findings suggest that it does), then more careful attention to prayer practices could impact global health, particularly in places without access to conventional medicine.

Drawing on data from Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians, Brown reverses a number of stereotypes about believers in faith-healing. Among them is the idea that poorer, less educated people are more likely to believe in the healing power of prayer and therefore less likely to see doctors. Brown finds instead that people across socioeconomic backgrounds use prayer alongside conventional medicine rather than as a substitute. Dissecting medical records from before and after prayer, surveys of prayer recipients, prospective clinical trials, and multiyear follow-up observations and interviews, she shows that the widespread perception of prayer’s healing power has demonstrable social effects, and that in some cases those effects produce improvements in health that can be scientifically verified.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Argentinian "Miracle Baby" Still Alive

The newborn baby that was pronounced dead but found alive 12 hours later is still alive.

See here - "Argentine "miracle baby" tiny but stable a month on."

For the original story see: "Newborn Baby Pronounced Dead, Placed in a Hospital Freezer, and Comes to Life 12 Hours Later." 

The Meaning of Marriage - Book Discussion

Students walking adjacent to
Monroe County Community College
This summer I'll be meeting with a small group to discuss: The Meaning of Marriage: Family, State, Market, and Morals, by Robert George and Jane Bethge Elshtain (eds.). If you're in the Monroe area I invite you to join! 

This book's concerns are the legality and societal ramifications of allowing same-sex marriage. "An underlying presupposition for the essayists featured here—who range from moderate liberals to traditional conservatives—is that if we alter the institution of marriage as it is understood in our laws, there will be profound and perhaps unintended consequences for the ways in which we think of ourselves as men and women, and for the kind of society we live in." (Kindle Locations 95-97)

Book Description: The movement for same-sex marriage has triggered an unprecedented crisis in the social norms and laws governing marriage. All great civilizations have sought to unite, in the institution of marriage, the goods of sexual intimacy, childbearing and childrearing, and life-long love between adults. But the last five decades have witnessed the erosion of marriage as a public institution in the developed world. The separation of the goods previously united in marriage has led thoughtful people to question why marriage should be denied to homosexuals.
This volume brings together the best of contemporary scholarship on marriage from a variety of disciplines—history, ethics, economics, law and public policy, philosophy, sociology, psychiatry, political science—to inform, and reform, public debate. Rigorous yet accessible, these studies aim to rethink and re-present the case for marriage as a positive institution and ideal that is in the public interest and serves the common good.
The essays in this volume were presented to an audience of scholars, journalists, public policy experts, and other professionals, at a conference sponsored by the Witherspoon Institute. The authors are among the most eminent authorities on marriage and public policy in the English-speaking world.

First meeting is: Thursday, June 7, noon-1, Panera Bread in Monroe.

Assignment: Read Foreward, plus chapters 1 and 2.

I contacted Dr. George this morning and he is willing to receive and respond personally to questions we have re. the book. This is an exciting opportunity to learn! In the group we will be formulating questions to ask him.

If you want to join me in this book discussion e-mail me:

Dr. George is Princeton's celebrated McCormick Chair in Jurisprudence and is the founding director of the James Madison Program. He has served on the President's Council on Bioethics and as a presidential appointee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights. He has also served on UNESCO’s World Commission on the Ethics of Science and Technology, of which he continues to be a corresponding member. He is a former Judicial Fellow at the Supreme Court of the United States, where he received the Justice Tom C. Clark Award. He has authored many books and articles.

Dr. Elshtain is one of America's foremost public intellectuals, Jean Bethke Elshtain is the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Professor of Social and Political Ethics, Divinity School, The University of Chicago, with appointments in Political Science and the Committee on International Relations. She has written many books and articles.

Both Dr. George and Dr. Elshtain have receoved many honors and awards.

Monday, May 21, 2012

"Father of Lights" - Coming This Summer to Detroit (Date Change)

"Father of Lights," the new film by Darren Wilson ("Finger of God," "Furious Love") will show in the Detroit area:

Sunday evening, July 15

Redeemer Fellowship Church
Monroe, MI
5305 Evergreen

My RMS Apologetics Class Meets at My Home Tomorrow

Clouds reflected in the River Raisin (5/21/12)

Hello RMS Apologetics Class:

We'll meet tomorrow morning at my house from 10-1.

We'll meet outside, back by the river.

I'll have Panera coffee for you.

If you have an acoustic guitar and want to bring it to play worship songs with me - please do it.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Heidi Baker - Miracles in Mozambique

Iris Minstries, near Pemba, Mozambique
You can acess the entire Christianity Today article on Heidi Baker here - Miracles in Mozambique: How Mama Heidi Reaches the Abandoned. It's very good!

One of the things that I value with Heidi and Rolland Baker is that they are actually investing their entire lives in helping the world's poor. So they're not televangelists trying to fleece the people of God so they can maintain some lavish lifestyle.

CT has some great photos of Heidi and the people she loves here - What Mama Heidi's World Looks Like in Mozambique.

We were blessed to have Heidi at Redeemer in April 2011.

Heidi Baker at Redeemer

Friday, May 18, 2012

Baptisms in the River Raisin on Saturday (5/19/12)

Ty & Wendy will be married under this arch.

Tomorrow (5/19/12) it is my great honor to do the wedding ceremony of Ty Guthrie and Wendy Wren. Their stories are of the redemptive work of God and how they have been sozoed (rescued; saved) out of lives of darkness into light.

The wedding is at 2, and it's on our property by the river.

Ty wanted to be baptized on his wedding day. His mother Terri will also be baptized, and maybe a few others. We're expecting 200+ and I'm going to give a general invitation for any who follow Jesus and have not yet been baptized.

If you want to come witness these baptisms, or be baptized yourself - it should take place sometime between 4 and 5.

We're at 2739 North Custer in Monroe - the white house with red shutters across from Munson Park's skateboard area.

Park at Munson and walk across the street, all the way back to the river.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Peter Hitchens Once Set Fire to His Bible

Our backyard, by the river

A few months ago I picked up Peter Hitchens's book The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me to Faith some time ago. Peter is a writer for the U.K.'s Mail Online. He's also the brother of the recently deceased vocal atheist Christopher Hitchens. I'm just now getting to Peter's book.

He's going to explain how he turned from atheism to Christian theism.

Then, he writes: "I then intend to address the fundamental failures of three atheistic arguments. Namely, that conflicts fought in the name of religion are always about religion; that it is ultimately possible to know with confidence what is right and what is wrong without acknowledging the existence of God; and that atheist states are not actually atheist." (p. 11)

I'm familiar with his first two points, and will be interested in seeing how he develops them. I don't know what he's up to re. point 3.

Peter writes: "The difficulties of the anti-theists begin when they try to engage with anyone who does not agree with them, when their reaction is often a frustrated rage that the rest of us are so stupid. But what if that is not the problem? Their refusal to accept that others might be as intelligent as they, yet disagree, leads them into many snares." (p. 12)

Peter, like Christopher was, is a very good writer. Look how he begins Chapter 1: "I set fire to my Bible on the playing fields of my Cambridge boarding school one bright, windy spring afternoon in 1967. I was fifteen years old." (p. 17)

I think I'm hooked.

Coffee Drinking Linked to Long Life

One of my favorite coffee mugs

When my grandmother found out that I drank coffee (I was 21), she wept. For joy! I grew up in a coffee-drinking culture, but didn't partake of the java myself. Then, I got converted. This was like a religious thing for my grandmother. Finally, the prodigal son had returned. Put on the coffee pot!

Today we have good news from the New England Journal of Medicine (which is the medical equivalent of the Bible). My grandmother would say, "See, I told you so." See the CNN article here.

  • "Drinking a daily cup of coffee -- or even several cups -- isn't likely to harm your health, and it may even lower your risk of dying from chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease."
  • "Overall, coffee drinkers were less likely than their peers to die during the [NIH/AARP] study, and the more coffee they drank, the lower their mortality risk tended to be. Compared with people who drank no coffee at all, men and women who drank six or more cups per day were 10% and 15% less likely, respectively, to die during the study."
  • "Even moderate coffee consumption was linked to better survival odds. Drinking a single cup per day -- which was much more common than a six-cup-a-day habit -- was associated with a 6% lower risk of dying among men and a 5% lower risk among women."
  • "It's plausible that coffee drinking actually improves health. Coffee contains some 1,000 compounds, many of which are health-promoting antioxidants, Freedman says.
    "There's some data showing that some of these components may prevent insulin resistance and have a role in diabetes," he says."

Heidi Baker on Cover of Christianity Today

The cover story of this month's Christianity Today is on Heidi Baker and her ministry in Mozambique.

Unfortunately, you have to subscribe to access it.

Tim Stafford writes: "There are credible reports that Heidi Baker heals the deaf and raises the dead. One thing is for sure: She loves the poor like no other in this forgotten corner of the planet."

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Millennials Might Be Wrong

Ann Arbor

One of my current favorite theistic philosophers is James K.A. Smith. His Thinking in Tongues was the best book I read in 2010.

I follow his blog - here's a little piece "Generational Blackmail." Very good.

This Sunday at Redeemer: Romans 8:31-37

Sunrise over Lake Erie

I'm preaching this Sunday at Redeemer on Romans 8:31-37. This is another message in the multi-year series The Christology of Paul."

This beautiful text reads:

31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Two Arguments Against Same-Sex Marriage

Truck on North Custer in Monroe
President Obama's admission that he supports same-sex marriage has prompted me to put together my thoughts on the issue. The President has created a platform for this discussion. So, I discuss.

I think there are two broad reasons to be against the legalization of same-sex marriages. One is legal, another is religious.

Re. the religious reason, those of us who are Christian theists and affirm the biblical text as being authoritative and this from God are concerned about the question: What does the biblical text say about this? For an introduction to this see a post I've made - "N.T. Wright on the Bible as Narrative." This reason of course will mean nothing to those who do not embrace Christian theism as the Grand Narrative of life. (Everyone has a worldview...)

Re. legal reasons, here are some links to the writings of Princeton Professor of Jurisprudence Robert George.
  • The Meaning of Marriage: Family, State, Market, and Morals, ed. Robert George and Jane Bethke Elshtain. Elshtain write, in the Introduction: "An underlying presupposition for the essayists featured here - who range from moderate liberals to traditional conservatives - is that if we alter the institution of marriage as it is understood in our laws, there will be profound and perhaps unintended consequences for the ways in which we think of ourselves as men and women, and for the kind of society we live in." 
  • What is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense, by Sherif Gergis, Robert George, and Ryan T. Anderson. Forthcoming. "Originally published in the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, this book’s core argument quickly became the year’s most widely read essay of more than 300,000 scholarly articles posted on the Social Sciences Research Network. Now expanded to address a flurry of prominent responses, What Is Marriage? stands poised to meet its moment as few books of this generation have. If the marriage debate in America is decided in the next few years, it will be either with this book’s help, or despite its powerful arguments. Rhodes Scholar Sherif Girgis, Princeton University professor Robert P. George, and Ryan T. Anderson, editor of the online journal Public Discourse, provide a devastating critique of the claim that equality requires redefining marriage. They point out that any assessment of what “marriage equality” demands depends on first determining what marriage is—what sort of relationships must be treated as essentially the same. They defend the principle that marriage, as a comprehensive union ordered to family life, requires a man and a woman. And they argue for the great social benefits of enshrining this principle in law. Most compellingly, they show that those who embrace same-sex civil marriage leave themselves no firm ground—none—for not recognizing as marriages every relationship type describable in polite English, including multiple-partner (“polyamorous”) sexual unions. Finally, What Is Marriage? decisively answer common objections: that the historic view is rooted in bigotry (like laws forbidding interracial marriage); that it is callous to people’s needs; that it can’t show the harm of recognizing same-sex couplings, or the point of recognizing infertile ones; and that it treats a mere “social construct” as if it were natural, or an unreasoned religious view as if it were rational.
  • See the just-published essay Marriage and the Presidency, by Sherif Gergis, Robert George, and Ryan T. Anderson.
  • See also Francis Beckwith, "Interracial Marriage and Same-Sex Marriage: Why the Analogy Fails."

He's Our Nation's President, But Not Our Nation's Pastor (And I Pray for Him)

I have always understood that the chief duty of all real Jesus-followers, regarding our political leaders, is to pray for them. Paul instructs Timothy: I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. (1 Timothy 2:1-2)

Remember that Paul writes this as he lives under a government that is far, far, far from the values of Jesus. Yes, there is the Pax Romana, and Paul prays it will be sustained, for he is free to preach the Gospel. All who love the Gospel and desire to share it now can give thanks to God for the Pax Americana.

Why, then, do some who say they love Jesus engage in ad hominem bashing of political leaders who do not stand for the values of Jesus (or do not support their own personal political, earthly kingdom preferences)?

So, regarding President Obama and Vice President Biden, join me in praying for them.

Perhaps you will also join me also in disagreeing with them. We can pray and disagree at the same time. We can do this lovingly, and with gentleness and respect. If you are an American, as far as I can tell President Obama is still our President. But he's not our Pastor. He's definitely not my preferential Theologian. In terms of understanding the Jesus-walk no president has authority over me, no matter what his pronouncements from his place of power may be. In this way the Church has a prophetic responsibility over their nation and even the world.

Sadly, President Obama, this past week, made biblical and theological pronouncements in support of same-sex marriage. Therefore I, and others in my place, must speak out. I shudder at people being influenced by our President's theological reasoning.

Today I read that President Obama is calling pastors, especially African-American pastors, to "explain himself." (See "After Obama’s Decision on Marriage, a Call to Pastors") "He had struggled with the decision, he said, but had come to believe it was the right one. The ministers, though, were not all as enthusiastic. A vocal few made it clear that the president’s stand on gay marriage might make it difficult for them to support his re-election."

The President and his staff are now doing "damage control." Why, I wonder? He has stated to the world his position. It seems clear. He is not going to appease me by explaining this. I have for years studied this issue biblically and theologically (as many pastors have). Probably, I have considered all possible explanations in theological defense of same-sex marriage. There is nothing President Obama will to add to this. Indeed, his comments last week, which supposedly came "after much reflection, introspection and dialogue with family and staff and close friends," strike me as unreflective and relativistic. I think he was not prepared.

My protest is grounded in this. Yes, there are many other important issues on the table. But I don't view them as all being equal. I view moral issues as foundational to other issues. There is (from my theological vantage point) a principle I see running throughout Scripture, which is: Turning away from God and His moral commands leads to weakness and failure. (Even the Italian atheist Marcello Pera can see this. See Pera's ironic, prophetic call for secular, relativistic Europe to return to the moral foundation which Christian theism provides. See: Marcello Pera On the Moral Necessity of Assuming the Existence of God. President Obama, please take note.)

So, it's on to "damage control."

"The president’s strategists hope that any loss of support among black and independent moderates will be more than made up by proponents of gay marriage. But Mr. Obama’s aides declined to comment and opted not to send anyone to the Sunday talk shows for fear of elevating it further."

It's elevated and moving higher as I type.

See today's CNN report -  "Across country, black pastors weigh in on Obama's same-sex marriage support." The article begins by quoting Dr. Charles Wallace, a friend and person I taught under at Palmer Theological Seminary. "Addressing his large, mostly black congregation on Sunday morning, the Rev. Wallace Charles Smith did not mince words about where he stood on President Barack Obama's newly announced support for same-sex marriage: The church is against it, he said, prompting shouts of "Amen!" from the pews." (The Obama's spent last Easter Sunday in Charles's church in Washington, D.C.)

Let us pray...

Here are a few things I have written that relate to this.

"Arsenokoitais" (ἀρσενοκοίταις) in 1 Timothy 1:10 (et. al.)

Desire-Denial Is Not Only For the Homosexual Who Chooses Purity

Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality

Charisma Magazine on Homosexuality

William Lane Craig on Homosexual Behavior

(I'm working on a longer, more detailed piece on this issue, which may appear months down the road.)

In the Act of Obedience Experience the Spirit's Power

Wildflowers in my back yard
Sin-addictions can be defined as "misdeeds of the body." (Rom. 8:13) In its beastly addictive attachments the body misfires and shoots self and others. How can one get free from these ungodly habits?

Paul's claim is that, by the Spirit, the "misdeeds of the body" can be put to death. He writes in Romans 8:13 - if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.

I love the way Eugene Peterson interprets this in The Message. We read: 14So don't you see that we don't owe this old do-it-yourself life one red cent. There's nothing in it for us, nothing at all. The best thing to do is give it a decent burial and get on with your new life. God's Spirit beckons. There are things to do and places to go!

Sin-addictions can be crucified "by the Spirit." I have seen this happen, many times, in both myself and in others. When someone comes to me who is struggling with some sin-addiction I share three things with them, which I've posted here ("Treating the Beast of Addiction"). I'll always begin with the first, which is: Pray for God to graciously free them (because, again, I have seen this happen).

My counsel here includes leading them into the presence of God where spiritual formation takes place. This is about a lifestyle. I understand that lifestyle to look like this:

1. Abide in Christ.
2. Saturate in Scripture.
3. Listen.
4. Obey.
It is in the act of obedience, as prompted and led by the Holy Spirit, that we experience the Spirit’s power. The Spirit will never call you to do something, and abandon you like you’re some orphan left on your own. We see this throughout Scripture.

For example: When God rescued the Israelites out of Egypt he spoke to Moses:“Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on. 16 Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground." (Exodus 14:15) Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. (Exodus 14:21)

God spoke.

Moses listened.

Moses obeyed.

Upon Moses' act of obedience, God empowered.

James Houston writes of the 4th-century Desert Fathers, whose aim was to surrender one's self-will (the "old do-it-yourself life") to the Spirit of God. They experienced this through a life of prayer and fasting. Houston writes: "Solitude is an important part of all this, as it allows space for us to listen to God. Through listening, we are able to identify the addictive, compulsive habits that tyrannize us, and from which we must be freed to practice the presence of God." (The Transforming Power of Prayer: Deepening Your Friendship with God, 64) 

Make it your lifestyle, your modus operandi, to dwell deeply in God's presence. As a Jesus-follower the Spirit of God resides in you! That same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead is able to not only resurrect you on that coming Day, but is well capable of crucifying your sinful misfirings and producing new life.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Text Until You Become Mentally Ill

I don't text. Yay!!! This feels like a victory to me, even if only a minor one. I do not receive texts; I do not send texts. I do not text, therefor I am.

Some people are text addicts. I have had them in my classes. They cannot not-text. What is so important to them that they must text? The answer is: nothing of any real cultural relevance. They are not texting about the Big Ideas of life. Their texting contributes nothing of enduring value to anyone.

For the most part.

Bryan Burrough, in today's nytimes, reviews psychologist Larry Rosen's book iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession with Technology and Overcoming Its Hold on Us. Burrough asks: "What about all those young people who spend hours upon hours texting and sexting and Facebooking? What kinds of adults will they become?"..What did we once do with all the hours we now spend obsessively checking e-mail and texts? Smoke?"

Rosen's concern is with "the very real possibility that all these new personal gadgets may be making some of us mentally ill — especially those who are prone to narcissism, for example, or to depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder."

I love this: "For those combating some form of techno-addiction, Dr. Rosen advises regularly stepping away from the computer for a few minutes and connecting with nature; just standing in your driveway and staring at the bushes, research shows, has a way of resetting our brains."               

Happy Mother's Day!

This morning I gave the moms at Redeemer a 5X7 of this photo I took of a red admiral butterfly on the lilac tree in our front yard.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The President Is Mistaken on His Use of the Golden Rule

Clay pots

President Obama, in stating his support for same-sex marriage, made this exasperating theological statement re. the Golden Rule:

"[Y]ou know… we [the First Lady and I] are both practicing Christians and obviously this position may be considered to put us at odds with the views of others but, you know, when we think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the Golden Rule, you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated. And I think that’s what we try to impart to our kids and that’s what motivates me as president and I figure the most consistent I can be in being true to those precepts, the better I’ll be as a as a dad and a husband and hopefully the better I’ll be as president."


Thankfully, Francis Beckwith corrects President Obama here (Beckwith is Prof of Philosophy and Judisprudence at Baylor University. Beckwith writes:

"[President Obama's] appeal to Christ’s Golden Rule, however appropriate, audacious, and praiseworthy, does not succeed in justifying his change of mind. The Golden Rule – “do to others whatever you would have them do to you” (Mt. 7:12) – is not a quid pro quo for preference satisfaction reciprocity. Otherwise, it would mean that if one were a masochist, for example, then one should inflict pain on others.
When Christ offered the Golden Rule as part of his Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5-7:27), he knew his listeners would understand it the same way they understood the other parts of that homily, including this question: “Which one of you would hand his son a stone when he asks for a loaf of bread?” (Mt. 7:9a).
If the Golden Rule were just about a mutual self-interest pact to protect everyone’s preferences, then a good response to Christ’s question would have been, “But Jesus, what if my son did ask for a stone because he preferred to eat the stone rather than the bread?”
This would be a foolish question because the Golden Rule is not about merely protecting your neighbor’s preferences, but rather, advancing your neighbor’s good. The president, ironically, must rely on this latter, and ancient, understanding in order to make sense of the appeal he makes to his responsibilities as a “dad” and “husband.” For the received meanings of these terms are embedded in an inherited moral tradition that he did not invent, but now rejects."
See Beckwith's entire article for more clarification.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Gary Wilson's Pottery Garage Sale... Tomorrow!

My friend Gary Wilson the artist and MCCC art professor is having an art garage sale tomorrow. Here's the flier Gary and Linda are putting out.

(AKA - The Pottery Garage Sale)
Saturday - May 12, 2012
9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
(Rain or shine)
327 S. Macomb Street
Monroe, Michigan 48161
HELP!!!! I’ve made “too much stuff” and it is time to make way for new inventory.
Soooooo.......... I am having a 50% off sale (and sometimes more!) of my overstock
because I need storage space for my new work.
* Functional ware of all sizes\
* Older “one of a kind” vessels that I am known for
* Wall reliefs - from small to large
* Seconds (pots with small flaws)
* Yard vessels
* Work from my private collection of other artists that I no longer have room for
This will be a “No Frills” sale - no cookies, no goodies, no coffee - NUTHIN!!! Just raw pots!!!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Paul Did Not Invent Christianity

On occasion I've read someone who claims that Christianity is an invention of the apostle Paul. Here is why that idea is a bad one, from Richard Bauckham's Jesus: A Very Short Introduction. BTW - Bauckham's little book is a must-read for all interested in the historical Jesus.

Now, a lot of quoting from Bauckham... (it's worth it):

"It is important to realize that there was never a time, after the death of Jesus, when his followers regarded him simply as a teacher who had died a martyr’s death and left them his teaching to live by. From the 19th century onwards, there have been recurrent attempts to cast the apostle Paul in the role of founder of Christianity. Paul, it is suggested, was the first to make Jesus the object of faith and worship. But all such theories founder on the fact that, apart from anything else, Paul did not have sufficient power and influence to invent Christianity. After coming to believe in Jesus the Messiah, Paul was a major Christian missionary, who did much to spread the Christian Gospel, especially among non-Jews, in the areas of modern Turkey and Greece. But there was already a large Christian community in Rome long before Paul visited the capital. Christianity must soon have spread to Egypt and to Mesopotamia, developments with which Paul had no involvement. Because the second half of the Acts of the Apostles, the only narrative we have of the early spread of Christianity, focuses on Paul’s missionary travels, it is easy to get an exaggerated sense of their scope. Paul’s letters, also preserved in the New Testament, are among the most impressive early expositions of Christian faith and influenced the later church immeasurably, but it was several decades before they circulated outside the churches Paul himself founded. The centre from which the early Christian movement developed and spread throughout the ancient world was not Paul, but the Jerusalem church, led initially by the twelve apostles and subsequently by James the brother of Jesus. What was common to the whole Christian movement derived from Jerusalem, not from Paul, and Paul himself derived the central message he preached from the Jerusalem apostles. The heart of Paul’s teaching was common early Christian faith, though he was undoubtedly a thinker of genius who shaped that faith into a characteristic form, as did a number of other major teachers in the early church (such as the author of John’s Gospel).

It was not Paul who made Jesus the object of Christian faith and worship. He is this in a variety of early Christian writings that were not influenced by Paul. Already, in the early Jerusalem community, Jesus was understood to be a living agent, not just a figure of the past. Though they continued to participate faithfully in the worship in the Temple in Jerusalem, these early believers also met to ‘break bread’, which meant to continue the table fellowship with Jesus that his disciples had enjoyed during his lifetime. Here his sacrificial death was remembered and appropriated. Here, he was addressed in prayer and even worshipped. This was an extraordinary development in a thoroughly Jewish context, for it was the first principle of Jewish faith that only the one God may be worshipped. Many scholars are therefore reluctant to conclude that the earliest Christians worshipped Jesus. But it was an understandable consequence of their belief that Jesus now sat at the right hand of God on the heavenly throne. This made him a participant in God’s own unique sovereignty over his creation. Worship of God the only ruler of all things could now include worship of Jesus who shared that rule." (pp. 110-112)

Give Me One Praying Person...

I heard today from someone who took my 1-month Winter Spiritual Formation class. The main assignment was: pray 1 hour a day, 5 days a week, for 6 weeks.

This person did it. They write: "I am still doing an hour of prayer a day ~ I love it!"

Great! This excites me, and gives me hope. I know this person. They have a busy schedule. They are grounding their life in the intimate God-relationship. They're doing this not out of hard duty, but in joy because of experience.

These are the kind of people God uses to change the world. These are the true abiders.

The prayer-abiding relationship with God lies before you today. Now. Now is the time to meet with God. Every meaningful "tomorrow" follows from this.

James Cone on Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit"

I'm still slowly reading James Cone's The Cross and the Lynching Tree. It's causing me, in a good, sad way, to self-examine and be further purged.

23 Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

- Psalm 139:23-24

I am hearing things I have never heard before, listening to things I have never attended to before.

Cone is, among many other things, a Niebuhr scholar. He writes: "Unless we look at the 'facts of experience,' as Niebuhr's own realism demanded, what we say about the cross remains at the level of theological abstraction, like Karl Barth's Word of God, separated from the real crosses in our midst." (63)

Cone says one who made the connection real was the singer Billie Holiday, with her song "Strange Fruit." This is her "signature song about southern lynching. "When she sang that song, in the words of Elijah Wood, 'You feel as if you're at the foot of the tree'." When Brigitte McCulloch heard Josh White sing "Strange Fruit" she said: "On those southern trees, along with black men, hung the murdered Jews, hung all the victims of violence. And one survived to tell the story, to tear our hearts apart, to make us feel and remember." (64)

After reading this I listened to both Billie Holiday and Josh White sing "Strange Fruit." It reminds me of a Bruce Cockburn song as it takes a soft, moody, jazzy melody and sets words of hellish violence to it.

Southern trees bear strange fruit
Blood on the leaves
Blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees
Pastoral scene of the gallant south
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
The scent of magnolia sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh
Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck
for the rain to gather
for the wind to suck
for the sun to rot
for the tree to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop

Composed by Abel Meeropol (aka Lewis Allan)
Originally sung by: Billie Holiday