Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Posts on Christian Spirituality - 2004-2009


Here are posts I made on the broad theme of Christian Spirituality. Which means things like: spiritual formation, spiritual renewal, spiritual transformation, spiritual restoration (all these terms are different!), corporate spirituality, discernment, cultural discernment, spirituality and the church, and some others.

Miracles: The Majority World Doesn't Buy Into the Enlightenment Worldview

Maasai bracelet, given to me in Kenya

Last week I read more in Candy Gunther Brown's Testing Prayer: Science and Healing. This is an excellent piece of scholarship. It is, simply, the text to read on empirical claims re. the efficacy of prayer (Candy's focus is on "proximal prayer" - PIP [Proximal Intercessory Prayer]).

Today I re-picked-up Craig Keener's massive study on miracles and the supernatural - Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts.

I'm slow-cooking in these two texts, reading them hand-in-hand. They are the two studies to read, for all who want to look at claims about healing and miracles that are empirical and supernatural (the two are not, of course, mutually exclusive). Plus, in these books you will get a gargantuan, exhaustive bibliography that could send you on expressways and rabbit trails for the rest of your life.

I'm now into Craig's chapter on "Majority World Perspectives." By "majority world" he means: those parts of the world where Christianity predominates. It's not the U.S., BTW.

I'm underlining way too much in this book!

Here's a quote that represents this chapter.

"Most Christians in the Majority World," writes Keener, "less shaped by the modern Western tradition of the radical Enlightenment [esp. Hume], find stories of miraculous phenomena far less objectionable than do their Western counterparts. These other cultures offer a check on traditional Western assumptions; as Lamin Sanneh, professor of missions and history at Yale Divinity School, points out, it is here that Western culture 'can encounter... the gospel as it is being embraced by societies that had not been shaped by the Enlightenment,' and are thus closer to the milieu of earliest Christianity. Encounters with non-Western societies have increasingly challenged the hegemony of many assumptions that the Enlightenment treated as universals. Thus even various Western scholars are increasingly challenging the hegemony of the traditional Western approach of demythologizing, in light of the very different hermeneutical approach of African readers." (221)

Craig gives an example of what this looks like. He writes: "When some Western students pressed a guest speaker from the Kenyan Maasai culture whether he genuinely believed in traditional Maasai healing practices, he laughed and retorted, 'It worked.'" (220)

As I'm typing this I'm still wearing the bracelet a young Maasai pastor placed on my wrist when I was in Kenya a year and a half ago. When I taught my Spiritual Formation class to 60-70 Kenyan and Ugandan pastors, it was easy to see that they had zero buy-in regarding regarding the 19th-century anti-supernaturalist philosopher David Hume (whom Keener thoroughly debunks in the Part 2 of his book).

Does It Make a Difference If Your Parents Are Straight or Gay?


On June 11, 2012, Dr. Mark Regnerus, a sociologist at the University of Texas, had an article published in Slate - Queers as Folk: Does it really make no difference if your parents are straight or gay? Regnerus's sociological study answered: "Yes." He writes, e.g.: "One notable theme among the adult children of same-sex parents, however, is household instability, and plenty of it. The children of fathers who have had same-sex relationships fare a bit better, but they seldom reported living with their father for very long, and never with his partner for more than three years." (Ib.) You can read the Slate article for yourself.

Regnerus's study appeared in the journal Social Science Research. (You can read it in its entirety!) It challenges the "no difference" answer.

Then, Regnerus got blasted. Uh-oh... it is politically incorrect to study such things! The Slate article got hundreds of angry responses by (mostly) non-sociologists. Periodicals like The Chronicle of Higher Education weighed in. A sleazy feast of ad hominem abusives and ad hominem circumstantials made their expected appearance. "Unsurprisingly, some of Regnerus' colleagues want to drive him out of academia on a rail." ( "Challenges to same-sex marriage," in today's Chicago Tribune [7/31/12])

A number of academic social scientists responded in defense of the credibility and value of Regnerus's research:

Byron Johnson, Baylor University
Douglas Allen, Simon Fraser University
Peter Arcidiacono, Duke University
John Bartkowski, University of Texas at San Antonio
David Eggebeen, Penn State University
Michael Emerson, Rice University
Ana Cecilia Fieler, University of Pennsylvania
Alan Hawkins, Brigham Young University
William Jeynes, California State University at Long Beach
Loren Marks, Louisiana State University
Margarita Mooney, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Stephen Robinson, University of North Carolina at Wilmington
Christian Smith, University of Notre Dame
Rodney Stark, Baylor University
James Stoner, Louisiana State University
Peter Uhlenberg, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
W. Bradford Wilcox, University of Virginia
Bradley Wright, University of Connecticut

These scholars affirm: "To be clear: We do not think that these new studies settle the nation’s ongoing debate about gay parenting, same-sex marriage, and the welfare of children. In fact, research on same-sex parenting based on nationally representative samples is still in its infancy. But we think that the Regnerus study, which is one of the first to rely on a large, random, and representative sample of children from parents who have experienced same-sex relationships, has helped to inform the ongoing scholarly and public conversation about same-sex families in America."

The Chicago Tribune piece says: "This is a debate-changing study, especially because it challenges more recent court findings in which judges cite the "no difference evidence" as a reason for overturning laws that define marriage as between a man and a woman."

For many there are simply some truths that are best left hidden.

See also:

"Social Scientists Defend Mark Regnerus' Controversial Study on Same-Sex Parenting"

"Revenge of the Sociologists: The perils of politically incorrect academic research"

Monday, July 30, 2012

On "Marriage": Abandon the idea of "law" as an essentially redefining, recreative device

A couple celebrates a birthday
I think Jennifer Roback Morse's "Why Unilateral Divorce Has No Place In a Free Society" is brilliant and illuminating. (In Robert George and Jean Bethke Elshtain, The Meaning of Marriage; Morse taught economics at Yale University and George Mason University)

The basic idea is that "marriage" is something unavoidable because "natural," i.e., according to nature. Marriage happens, in all cultures. And what is marriage? Morse writes: "I define marriage as a society’s normative institution for both sexual activity and childrearing. Marriage is an organic, pre-political institution that emerges spontaneously from society."

In culture, marriage emerges “spontaneously.” It’s not some human invention. It will happen, whether there are laws or not. But, “the state may still need to protect, encourage, or support permanence in procreational couplings, just as the state may need to protect the sanctity of contracts.” (Kindle Locations 1450-1451) "Law" enters to protect something valuable that is already there. In this sense "law" does not define. It protects. Morse writes:

One of the functions of the state is to protect such spontaneous emergence. Just as state government must protect and not “ignore violations of property rights, contracts, and fair exchange. Apart from the occasional anarchocapitalist, all libertarians agree that enforcing these is one of the basic functions of government. With these standards for economic behavior in place, individuals can create wealth and pursue their own interests with little or no additional assistance from the state. Likewise, formal and informal standards and sanctions create the context in which couples can create marriage, with minimal assistance from the state.” (Kindle Locations 1452-1455)

Morse asks us, analogically, to consider the issue of socialism or capitalism. The debate here is not asking us to decide which is best. Instead, the debate is "over how the economy actually works. Everything from the law of contracts to antitrust law to commercial law will be a reflection of some basic understanding of how the economy works in fact." (Kindle Locations 1460-1461)

With that idea established. Morse makes the analogy to marriage. She writes, beautifully I think:

"There are analogous truths about human sexuality. I claim the sexual urge is a natural engine of sociability, which solidifies the relationship between spouses and brings children into being. Others claim that human sexuality is a private recreational good, with neither intrinsic moral nor social significance. I claim that the hormone oxytocin floods a woman’s body during sex and tends to attach her to her sex partner, quite apart from her wishes or our cultural norms. Others claim that women and men alike can engage in uncommitted sex, with no ill effects. I claim that children have the best life chances when they are raised by married, biological parents. Others believe children are so adaptable that having unmarried parents presents no significant problems. Some people believe marriage is a special case of free association of individuals. I say the details of this particular form of free association are so distinctive as to make marriage a unique social institution that deserves to be defended on its own terms, and not as a special case of something else." (Kindle Locations 1462-1470)

Which side is true? We know where Morse and I stand. Both sides can't be true. She writes: "We will be happier if we try to discover the truth and accommodate ourselves to it, rather than try to recreate the world according to our wishes." (Kindle Locations 1472-1473)

Abandon the idea of "law" as an essentially redefining, recreative device.

Redeemer Ministry School - Experiential and Academic

RMS 2011-12 students

Redeemer Ministry School will begin its 5th year (!) on September 11, 2012. On that day I will begin the Fall trimester of classes with my Spiritual Formation class (scroll down to Part II, which I teach). This is a class I have taught at many seminaries, retreats, conferences, and churches all around the world. Most recently (last week) I taught this material at Payne Theological Seminary, the oldest Afro-centric seminary in the nation. (A.M.E. - African Methodist Episcopal)

The content of my course is both experiential and academic. These are the two necessary wings of the plane we at Redeemer are now flying in. God is after both your heart and your head.

There are two kinds of "knowing," both of which are needed. First, there is knowing about God, and about the things and ways of God. So, in RMS, we do some serious academic study. We look at church history, theology, Scripture (interpretation and understanding), leadership, philosophy, culture, and many other things. We read about these things and teach them to our students.

The academic thing is about loving God with your mind. Not to do this will take you down the road to biblical and theological heresy.

While academic knowing is necessary, such objective knowledge without actual experience of God is dry and sterile. The head is needed, but so is the heart. Secondly, experiential knowing is needed. This kind of knowing has to do with personal acquaintance of a subject. Such as, e.g., knowing how to ride a bike, or knowing how to swim.

The purpose of knowing about God's nature and ways and will is to actually know God, relationally. The point of the whole thing is to be in relationship with God, and to experience Him. Experiential knowing is needed, without which the whole ministry school thing becomes a mere intellectual activity.

In RMS we value the God-encounter. Sometimes it breaks out in the classroom. God, after all, is still God, and will have His way wherever it is embraced. Our academic foundation then helps us to evaluate that which we so highly value. In RMS we have a unique way of flying by utilizing both wings of the Kingdom-plane.

Experiential - personal knowing of the Living God, now.

Academic - a deep study of Scripture, theology, history, and culture that allows us to evaluate our experience and prevents us from sliding into the pit of heresy.

If this appeals to you and you'd like to study with us in the coming year we'd love to have you!



Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Logic of Inner Peace

Ann Arbor Art Fair, 2012

Linda and I are spending one more day reading and relaxing poolside after a week of teaching at Payne Theological Seminary. We'll return home to Monroe tonight.

Last evening we saw "The Dark Night Rises." We enjoyed it, even though in the beginning we both were thinking of all who saw it that horrific night in Aurora, Colorado. When you pull up the film's website this note from director Christopher Nolan appears:

"Speaking on behalf of the cast and crew of The Dark Knight Rises, I would like to express our profound sorrow at the senseless tragedy that has befallen the entire Aurora community. I would not presume to know anything about the victims of the shooting but that they were there last night to watch a movie. I believe movies are one of the great American art forms and the shared experience of watching a story unfold on screen is an important and joyful pastime. The movie theatre is my home, and the idea that someone would violate that innocent and hopeful place in such an unbearably savage way is devastating to me. Nothing any of us can say could ever adequately express our feelings for the innocent victims of this appalling crime, but our thoughts are with them and their families."
-Christopher Nolan

I open up my Kindle and read some ore of A.W. Tozer's Pursuit of God. Today Tozer is reflecting on Matthew 5:3 - Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Tozer writes: "Our woes began when God was forced out of His central shrine and ‘things’ were allowed to enter. Within the human heart ‘things’ have taken over. Men have now by nature no peace within their hearts, for God is crowned there no longer, but there in the moral dusk stubborn and aggressive usurpers fight among themselves for first place on the throne. This is not a mere metaphor, but an accurate analysis of our real spiritual trouble." (Kindle Locations 167-170)

I'm certain he or correct. Today we in America have more stuff than any who have ever lived. Yet we remain unsatiated. How can this be so? If things brought peace then we should be overflowing peace children.

1. The more material things a person has, the more they will have inner peace.
2. Americans have more material things.
3. Therefore, Americans have inner peace.

The logic is there (modus ponens - it's valid deductive; viz., if 1 and 2 are true, 3 logically follows). But 3 is false. We are a restless people, with hearts of surging waves that never really settle down. Thus one or both of the two supporting premises must be false. 2 is true. 1, therefore, must be false.

So...  reject 1. Substitute as follows:

1. The more one knows and is known by God, the more one has peace within.
2. ________  knows and is known by God.
3. Therefore, _________ has peace within.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

On Dismissing "All the Other Possible Gods"

Linda and I, in Columbus
Call this Statement F: "I contend we are both atheists, I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours." --Stephen F. Roberts

In all my years of teaching philosophy of religion, and reading multitudinous numbers of theists, atheists, and agnostics, I never encountered Statement F. And for good reason, I think. It's just an internet sensation, fit for village atheists such as Nietzsche decried. It has no relevance for the philosophical discussion.

"Theism," in the philosophical discussion, is defined as: belief in an all-knowing, all-powerful, omnibenevolent, necessarily existent, creator of all that is, personal agent. "A-theism" is: the denial of the existence of the God of theism.This issue, therefore, is: Does an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving, necessarily existent, personal agent who has created all things exist? "Zeus" (et. al.) doesn't fit here. No philosophical theist or atheist I know of is interested in the question "Does Zeus exist?" So, intrinsically, Statement F commits something like a Ryleian category mistake. It would be like someone who chooses to play chess using the rules of checkers. Philosophical theism, from Plato onward, has not played by the language-game of Greek mythology.

See, for example, "Atheism" in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

"‘Atheism’ means the negation of theism, the denial of the existence of God. I shall here assume that the God in question is that of a sophisticated monotheism. The tribal gods of the early inhabitants of Palestine are of little or no philosophical interest. They were essentially finite beings, and the god of one tribe or collection of tribes was regarded as good in that it enabled victory in war against tribes with less powerful gods. Similarly the Greek and Roman gods were more like mythical heroes and heroines than like the omnipotent, omniscient and good God postulated in mediaeval and modern philosophy. As the Romans used the word, ‘atheist’ could be used to refer to theists of another religion, notably the Christians, and so merely to signify disbelief in their own mythical heroes."

Statement F is part confessional, part propositional. The propositional part is patently false; viz., "We are both atheists." No. I am not an atheist. That's false, unhelpful, and coercive. It's dramatic, theatrical, and untrue.

The class of academic philosophers who debate the matter of theism don't bring up Statement F. Internet atheists do. There's a vast epistemic gap between these two groups.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Bono's Conversion

Bono, U2's frontman, writes of his conversion to Christ.

"It dawned on me for the first time, really. It had dawned on me before, but it really sank in: the Christmas story. . . . There it was. I was sitting there, and it’s not that it hadn’t struck me before, but tears came down my face, and I saw the genius of this, utter genius of picking a particular point in time and deciding to turn on this. Because that’s exactly what we were talking about earlier: love needs to find form, intimacy needs to be whispered. To me, it makes sense. It’s actually logical. It’s pure logic. Essence has to manifest itself. It’s inevitable. Love has to become an action or something concrete. It would have to happen. There must be an incarnation. Love must be made flesh."

- In Finding God: A Treasury of Conversion Stories, forthcoming Aug. 31, 2012. 

The God-Encounter Is Not Delimited by Space and Time

Wilberforce, Ohio

Linda and I are staying a few extra days in the Dayton area. Today we're going to Columbus to explore the city and see the campus of Ohio State University. We love visiting college campuses. We've never seen OSU before, and are looking forward to it.

My Spiritual Formation class at Payne Seminary is over, at least the in-class instruction. What a beautiful group of students I had. And, God did great, even revolutionary things in our midst. Thank you God for this! And, thanks to my new friends for engaging in my class and for being so passionate and focused about abiding in Christ.

This morning I'm living in the afterglow of this week's God-encounter. I am stopping to thank God, for he has done great things.

And, I'm thanking God that such great things are not delimited by space and time. God is not only the God of yesterday; God is the God of today, of now.

This is so important to grasp. What is needed, and what is available, is the Now-Activity of the Living God. Temporally, THIS is the day the Lord has made; TODAY is the day of salvation. TODAY, not yesterday, is Preparation Day. Now prepare the way of the Lord. Now, in this moment, and in every moment, the Lord prepares a table before us in the presence of our enemies. And God's table-presence overflows onto our enemies, gathering them up in the great Redemptive Movement of God.

I needed God yesterday. But yesterday will not suffice, for I need God now, just as I needed oxygen yesterday but need it now to live. "This is the air I breathe..., Your holy presence, living in me." It's all there for the taking hold of... now.

Deconstruction & James Perkinson's "White Theology"

I just finished reading James Perkinson's excellent, thick White Theology: Outing Supremacy in Modernity. Jim taught some of this material at Payne Seminary this past Monday. I contacted him, since followed him for three days at Payne with my Spiritual Formation course. Jim Devries and I are reading Jim's book. He lives in Detroit, and we're all going to get together to discuss this text.

Perkinson is a great scholar and a beautiful, poetic writer. His is a deep book. Even though it's 250 pages, it seems as if he creatively labored over every sentence. It's also hyper-intellectual, in  a helpful way. I learned much from reading it.

Jim is indebted to deconstructive analysis, and it works to form an interpretive framework through which to see the culture of color. What is "deconstruction?"

The word "deconstruction" has become popular, and with its popularity it has lost its original philosophical meaning, which can be traced to Jacques Derrida via Martin Heidegger. See this essay by James Faulconer.

Faulconer writes: "For Derrida deconstruction is an attitude, in the root sense of that word. It is a position one has with regard to something."

" I take that to be the general meaning of the word deconstruction as Derrida has used it: not just using our words and concepts against themselves, but showing what has been left out or overlooked. In fact, better: showing that something has been left out or overlooked, that omission is structural to any text -- and that we can find those omissions in the structure of the text -- without necessarily being able to specify what has been omitted."

"Deconstructive criticism is not intended to suggest a way to make the book finally complete, but to show its necessary incompleteness. Deconstruction is used to show that a work does not adequately address something, not that it should have."

The word "deconstruction" is often used as a synonym for "destruction," or "tearing down." That's not what Derrida meant by it. Faulconer quotes Derrida: "I think that people who try to represent what I'm doing or what so called "deconstruction" is doing, as, on the one hand, trying to destroy culture or, on the other hand, to reduce it to a kind of negativity, to a kind of death, are misrepresenting deconstruction. Deconstruction is essentially affirmative. It's in favor of reaffirmation of memory, but this reaffirmation of memory asks the most adventurous and the most risky questions about our tradition, about our institutions, about our way of teaching, and so on."

Perkinson gazes through the hermeneutical lens of Derrida-ian deconstruction to show, e.g., what is unsaid in the encounter W.E.B. Du Bois had, as a young black boy, with a white girl. Excellent!