Sunday, September 30, 2012

Scientism & the March of a New Culture


I strongly recommend Claes Ryn's "Notes On the Cultural Revolution." Readers of my blog (thank you) know of my concerns to understand scientism and its elimination of values. Ryn accurately analyzes this, calling it no less than a cultural revolution. "The reorientation of the human mind that results from this process is so drastic, and carries such far-reaching implications, that one may speak of the march of a new culture."

Two things:

1. I think Ryn is correct.
2. In spite of scientism's shortcomings and their implications for scientistic people. (See, as but one example, The Waning of Materialism, eds. Robert Koons and George Bealer)

Saturday, September 29, 2012

September 29 - The Christmas Season Has Officially Begun!

Taken today (9/29/12) in Carson's in Monroe (formerly Elder-Beerman; soon to be Bronner's)


Me and Linda, whale-watching off Boston

Linda and I have a wedding to do this afternoon. I'm officiating, and she's playing piano. I look forward to this, and admire the couple that is getting married. God is going to give me words to share with them and all who gather, and the result will be that people who have not thought about God's Kingdom for years will be captivated by it. As that happens it will be God's Spirit, not me.

This means I will miss the Michigan State - Ohio State football game (I am an MSU fan). !!! But, thanks to DVR, I'll see it later.

Something else happened today. A friend from many years ago e-mailed; call him Q. Q is in trouble in his marriage. It is falling apart. Q needs help. He is desperate. His world is falling apart. So I sent Q my cell #. "Please call." I told Q about the wedding. He can call afterwards if he wants.

We have two situations:

1. I will watch the big football game tonight after the wedding.
2. Q will call, and we'll talk (it won 't be a brief conversation).

In the scheme of things, in the arena of God's Kingdom, which is more important: the outcome of the football game? Or, the outcome of Q's marriage?

Friday, September 28, 2012

Christian Mysticism as a Direct, Transformative Presence-of-God Experience

Bernard McGinn

I just picked up a copy of Bernard McGinn's The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism. McGinn, arguably, is the greatest living scholar in this area. I became familiar with him when I was studying Christian mysticism at Northwestern U. with Richard Kieckhefer (esp. an independent study I did with Kieckhefer on Meister Eckhart).  

I'll be reading McGinn's book devotionally. It ties in with areas I'm invested in, experientially and scholarship-wise. These areas include:
  • encountering God
  • spiritual formation, transformation, and renewal
  • non-discursive experience
  • the argument for God from religious experience
McGinn describes "mysticism as that part, or element, of Christian belief and practice that concerns the preparation for, the consciousness of, and the effect of what the mystics themselves have described as a direct and transformative presence of God." (xiv)

From about 500 CE on Christian mystical theologians spoke of "the knowledge of God gained not by human rational efforts but by the soul's direct reception of a divine gift." (Ib.)

My own scriptural studies, historical research, and personal and corporate experience tell me this is possible and true.

"Evil God" as Incoherent

Lighthouse, Holland State Park (MI)

Months ago, at Oxford University, theistic philosopher William Lane Craig debated Oxford atheist philosopher Stephen Law on the existence of God. In the debate Law presented his "evil God" argument against the existence of God using, among other things, a reverse free will defense.

I made a post on Law's website arguing that the notion of "evil God" is incoherent; there is not an isomorphism between omnibenevolent God and greatest possible evil God.

Here's a post by an ex-atheist who saw Law present his argument, and found the idea of "evil God" incoherent - "Exploring Stephen Law’s Evil God Challenge."We'll be hearing more about this, since Law is on the lecture circuit presenting this argument.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

A Challenge for My Logic Students

Right now in my MCCC Logic classes I'm teaching out of Vaughn's chapter 2 - Obstacles to Critical Thinking. One type of obstacle that hinders the ability to think rationally and clearly is emotion. Emotion is not against logical thinking, but over-emotion can cloud good thinking.

I like to give examples that stimulate discussion and represent logical reasoning. So tonight I presented a logical argument against abortion.

If a student sends me, by e-mail, a logical evaluation of my argument (either for or against), then I will give them some extra points on the coming exam, plus post their evaluations on my blog (anonymously). Then we'll dialogue about these things in next Tuesday's and Wednesday's classes. (

The argument, in the form I gave it, used hypothetical syllogism, the form of which is:

1. If A, then B.
2. If B, then C.
3. Therefore, if A then C.

For example:

1. If it rains, then the ground gets wet.
2. If the ground gets wet, then we won't have the picnic.
3. Therefore, if it rains, then we won't have the picnic.

All that's needed for the picnic to be cancelled is for the statement It is raining to be true.

Now consider this argument against abortion, following the non-religious reasoning of Baylor U. philosopher and jurisprudential professor Francis Beckwith.

1. If X is a conceptus, then X is a person.
2. If X is a person, then X has a right to life.
3.. Therefore, if X is a conceptus then X has a right to life and abortion is wrong.

All that's needed for abortion to be wrong is for the statement The cenceptus is a person to be true.

The crucial premise is 1. Most agree that 2 is true.

Is the statement The conceptus is a person true?

Here I briefly presented the reasoning of Christopher Hitchens who, though an atheist, argued for the truth of 1. Hitchens stated his interest in the well-being of the unborn person because, as he writes, "I used to be one." All of us, Hitchens says, began our careers as a "blastocyst." All of our needed encoding for life was present, in us. A person's life, thought Hitchens, obviously begins at conception. The fertilized egg ("conceptus") was a person; that person was "us," inchoately.

MCCC students - how would you logically argument against this? Or, what additional logical support could you add to this?

The Insanity of Partial Discipleship

Thomas Merton quotes the Russian Christian mystic Vladimir Soloviev as saying: “The importance of a truth lies, of course, not in the truth itself, but within us, in our inconsistency. By not carrying out a truth to the end, we limit it—and any limitation of a truth provides an expanse for falsehood. It is madness not to believe in God; it is the greater madness to believe in Him only in part.” (Merton, A Year with Thomas Merton, Kindle Locations 4178-4181)

In the biblical Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, & John) we see Jesus looking for followers, for "disciples." From Jesus' POV a follower is, by definition and in essence, "all in." Total commitment. 100%. For a real disciple of Jesus, He is their "Lord." A Jesus-follower submits to the lordship of Jesus. Using Old Testament imagery, He is their "shepherd." His sheep hear his voice and follow.

This idea of following is an "either-or," an all-or-nothing. One either follows, or does not. This is a disjunctive situation: Either X follows Jesus, or X does not follow Jesus.

So, "partial discipleship," "partial following" with Jesus as one's occasional "lord," is logical madness. Real Jesus-followers are characterized, not by their own perfection, but by their "all-in-ness."

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

(More) In Praise of Singleness

Store in Columbus, Ohio

A few days ago I wrote a post entitled "In Praise of Singleness." I've been thinking of saying more about this.

So today I pulled up Ben Witherington's recent post - "Family First!— Not a Biblical Viewpoint." Correct. Which means, marriage isn't first either. The Scriptures consistently and persistently point us to #1 as: God, and life in Christ. I like what Ben writes on marriage.

"Anyone who has carefully read 1 Corinthians 7 will know that Paul says that being married in the Lord or being single for the sake of Christ are both good stations in life, and BOTH require a certain ‘charisma’ or grace gift to live in such a state. That is, Paul does not agree that marriage is the normal default for every believer. He doesn’t think we should think that way at all. It is not the highest goal that everyone should strive to reach. Frankly, says Paul, I would prefer various of you be single like me, for the sake of the Kingdom. But each according to his gift.
What is radical in its day, and even now, about the teaching of Jesus and Paul (remembering Jesus in Mt. 19 says disciples can be eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom) is what they say about the viability and goodness of never marrying, or remaining single after you lose your spouse. Frankly Jesus would have been appalled at the name of a Sunday school class at my old church— ‘Pairs and Spares’. Single persons are not like spare tires. They are not like fifth wheels.
Indeed the NT warns us that some people are just not cut out for or gifted [or called] to be married, and we should stop trying to goad all believers in that direction. [Stop doing this please!!!!!]  Instead, we need a more viable theology of and support for single persons. We need to stop exalting marriage as if it were the only good state of being for any true believer. It isn’t. As Christians our highest good and highest calling is to follow the example of Christ and the teaching of Christ, and neither of these things encourage us to put up banners that say ‘Family first!’. Rather the body of Christ needs desperately to get on with being a family towards all of its members and learning what in fact that means and entailed." [Parenthetical remarks and emphasis mine.]

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

I've Never Met a Postmodern Scientist

Fermi, Monroe County

What is "postmodernism"? Theistic philosopher J.P. Moreland writes:

"As a philosophical standpoint, postmodernism is primarily a reinterpretation of what knowledge is and what counts as knowledge. More broadly, it represents a form of cultural relativism about such things as reality, truth, reason, value, linguistic meaning, the self, and other notions. On a postmodernist view, there is no such thing as objective reality, truth, value, reason, and so forth. All these are social constructions, creations of linguistic practices, and as such are relative not to individuals, but to social groups that share a narrative." (Moreland, "Truth, Contemporary Philosophy, and the Postmodern Turn," 79)
I just finished reading Karl Giberson's wonderful The Wonder of the Universe. Near the book's end he claims that no scientist he knows of would affirm such postmodernist ideas. He writes:

"The obvious truth of so many scientific claims explains why strong versions of postmodernity are so irrelevant to science. I have never, in fact, met a postmodern scientist. Not one. Most scientists don't know what postmodernity is, and when it is explained to them, they are skeptical that anyone could hold such beliefs. Scientists who think about the nature of knowledge claims-and this includes me-almost all sign on to an idea known as critical realism." (Karl Giberson, The Wonder of the Universe: Hints of God in Our Fine-Tuned World, Kindle Locations 2083-2086)

In other words, scientists believe there is a real world out there to be studied, and that we can make statements (claims) about that world which are true, independently of culture.

The Key to Victory When Facing Trials

Lake Erie, Monroe County

"Human life is a struggle, isn't it?"
- Job 7:1, The Message

Thomas a Kempis comments on this verse, writing:

"And yet temptations can be useful to us even though they seem to cause us nothing but pain. They are useful because they can make us humble, they can cleanse us, and they can teach us. All of the saints passed through times of temptation and tribulation, and they used them to make progress in the spiritual life. Those who did not deal with temptations successfully fell to the wayside." (The Imitation of Christ)

So how does a Jesus-follower deal with temptations and trials successfully? A Kempis writes: "The key to victory is true humility and patience; in them we overcome the enemy." (Ib.)

This is the way Christ dealt with everything that was thrown at him, and overcame the enemy of our souls. Therefore we who follow after him can choose this kind of loving non-resistance and expect victory to follow.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Spiritual Formation - A Suggested Study Bible

For my spiritual formation students and friends I strongly recommend The Life With God Bible. I'm now reading through the Bible using this.

The study notes are very helpful, especially as they highlight the spiritual disciples (prayer, silence, solitude, fellowship, worship, etc.)


Many people are looking for a new way to read the Bible, not as a text to be mastered. but as a story to enter into and a lifestyle to pursue. This unique Bible, previously published as The Renovare Spiritual Formation Bible and spearheaded by bestselling authors Richard Foster (Celebration of Discipline) and Dallas Willard (The Divine Conspiracy), introduces the concept of life with God - or the "with-God life" - a model for seeing the whole of Scripture as the unfolding story of God′s plan for our loving relationship with the Creator. This central theme weaves throughout the essays, introductions, notes, and exercises, powerfully revealing how God is present to his people today and throughout history.

Yet our relationship with God should not be passive. Concrete practices - Spiritual Disciplines - have been used throughout church history to guide disciples of Jesus. This Bible integrates the Spiritual Disciplines into the Christian life by showing how they are central to the Bible′s teachings and stories. Abraham and Ruth, Moses and Deborah, Jesus and the disciples all provide amazing examples of the life-changing power of prayer, worship, fasting, celebration, and many other Spiritual Disciplines. Scripture thus becomes a primary means for the discovery, instruction, and practice of these disciplines as well as a tool for spiritual formation.

Combining the highest possible biblical scholarship with the deepest possible heart devotion, this new Bible project seeks to nourish inner transformation by unlocking and revealing the profound resources within Scripture for changing our hearts and characters and bringing them in line with what God wants for our lives. The Life with God Bible will redefine what the Bible means for Christian discipleship.


“The Renovaré Spiritual Formation Bible … is unrivaled as a classic work of biblical theology suffused with a pastoral heart.” (Brennan Manning, author of Ruthless Trust )

“…[T]he most spiritually-impactful Bible of our time.” (John Ortberg, Teaching Pastor, Menlo Park Presbyterian Church, author of If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat )

“This Bible is greatly needed.” (Tony Campolo, author of It's Friday but Sunday's Coming )

“With great enthusiasm, I open The Renovaré Spiritual Formation Bible. One could not assemble a finer team to compile it.” (Max Lucado, author of Come Thirsty and Traveling Light )

“This Bible helps us desire intimacy with God, not just know the typical facts and knowledge. (Dan Kimball, author of The Emerging Church, and Pastor of Vintage Faith Church )

“[An] outstanding resource...Christians of many different traditions will appreciate this ecumenical resource devoted to spiritual renewal.” (Publishers Weekly )

“...Many original and stimulating insights for the spiritual lives of contemporary Christians.” (Christian Century )

“This study Bible is both serious and accessible.” (Tulsa World )

Alienation - Reconciliation - Discipleship

Great white heron - north Monroe County near Lake Erie

What is, exactly, the "gospel?" What is the Good News? This coming Sunday (9/30/12) will be looking at some basic, foundation Christianity and deepening the meaning of the core message. It's found in Colossians 1:21-23 and reads:

21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through
death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation — 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.

1. Alienation from God.
2. Reconciliation by Christ.
3. Discipleship. (Following after Jesus)

This coming Sunday at Redeemer.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Jesus' Wife (or... Wiffle Ball?)

A 400-year old Coptic fragment contains the words, supposedly out of the mouth of Jesus, "My wife." But no more. So it could fully read this:

"My wife? I don't have one."

Anyway, it is 400 years after the fact!!!

Here's a cartoon from Tom Toles (my favorite political cartoonist" on another possibility.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Preaching on Colossians 1:19-20 Tomorrow

Monroe County

Tomorrow at Redeemer I'm preaching on Colossians 1:19-20. These last two verses complete the great, exalted Christological worship song that was sung in the early church. These lyrics were ancient versions of "How Great Thou Art" and "How Great Is Our God."

Verses 19-20 read:

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Verses like Col. 1:19 set off the "Christological controversies" of the first five centuries that dealt with the nature of Christ as divine and human. I'll be saying some things about this tomorrow, hopefully so people can understand!

It's important to understand the nature of Christ. I like how John Piper expresses this:

“There is no more important issue in life than seeing Jesus for who he really is and savoring what we see above all else.” (John Piper, in Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ, Bowman and Komaszewski, 73)

Tomorrow I am expecting we will have greater revelation of the Real Jesus.

Neuroscience Good; Neurobabble Bad

Storm clouds above our house

I tell my philosophy students that, if you want an interesting career, go into neural studies. Neuroscience, for example, and its application.

I began my neural studies in the early 1980s. My dissertation was on metaphor theory, and included some research on the neural processing of metaphor, and how metaphor was processed different than other tropes such as simile. In current metaphor theory 'metaphor' is not an 'elliptical simile,' as many thought (following Aristotle) prior to the 1970s. I was my great privilege to have James Ashbrook on my committee. Dr. Ashbrook, a psychologist, was a pioneer in neuropsych studies as applied to theological matters such as the experience of God. (See "James B. Ashbrook: Pioneer in Neurotheology.")

After my dissertation was finished I laid off metaphor studies and neural studies for several years, wanting to research other things. But in the last 15 years my love for these things has again blossomed, and I'm doing ongoing reading in these areas. (See, e.g., Zoltán Kövecses, Metaphor: A Practical Introduction; and Language, Mind, and Culture: A Practical Introduction.)

Thanks to the recent explosion of neuroscience and neural-applications to almost everything, there is now a feast of literature being generated from this exciting field. But there's also a lot of neurobabble going on. Therefore, be careful. See "Your brain on pseudoscience: the rise of popular neurobollocks."

Friday, September 21, 2012

Science Cannot Determine What Is Right and Wrong

Point Mouilee, Monroe County

Science has its limits. So does religion. It's hard to find people who understand this.

As for science, Alister McGrath writes:

"Is science able to determine what is right and what is wrong? Most scientists would affi rm that their discipline is fundamentally amoral  – that is, that the scientific method does not extend to moral questions.

For example, Richard Dawkins succinctly confirmed that  “science has no methods for deciding
what is ethical ” (Dawkins,  2003, p. 34).

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

(From McGrath, Science and Religion: A New Introduction , 3)

The Core Identity of a Jesus-Follower

Note: I don't use the word "Christian" much anymore, especially in secular contexts. Because it is so misunderstood. In our culture it connotes nominalism, layered over with judgmentalism and hatred. That is what a significant number of people think about Christianity and "Christians." So instead I'm often referring to "Jesus-followers." I like this because, literally, the term means: follower of Jesus.

Anyone who does not follow after Jesus is not a "Christian." And the way of Jesus is, primarily, love. Love does require making judgments. All people make judgments. My logic course is all about evaluating "judgments" (i.e., statements - sentences that describe states of affairs). One can and should, if they are a Jesus-follower, defend their worldview judgments (beliefs) with "gentleness and respect" (1 Peter 3:15). But love is the heart of the real thing.

Love is the rule of authentic Jesus-followers. Real Jesus-love has three aspects:
  1. The knowledge and experience of being-loved by God.
  2. Loving God in heart, soul, mind, and strength.
  3. Loving others with the love of God.
#1, writes Henri Nouwen, is the core moment and experience in the life of every Jesus-follower, since it was so in the life of Jesus. At Jesus' baptism the Father told the world that "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased." (Matthew 3:17) Nouwen says:

"I think his whole life is continually claiming that identity in the midst of everything. There are times in which he is praised, times when he is despised or rejected, but he keeps saying, "Others will leave me alone, but my Father will not leave me alone. I am the beloved Sonof God. I am the hope found in that identity."

Prayer, says Nouwen, iis listening to the voice of the One who calles you "my beloved." "I love you," says God, often. Prayer includes constantly going back to that truth of who we are (I am God's beloved son/daughter) and claiming this for ourselves. So Nouwen writes:

"I'm not what I do. I'm not what people say about me. I'm not what I have.... [In the end] my spiritual identity is not rooted in the world, the things the world gives me. My life is rooted in my spiritual identity. Whatever we do, we have to go back regularly to that place of core identity." (Nouwen, The Only Necessary Thing: Living a Prayerful Life, 67)

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Angels - A Book Recommendation

Lightning over our house

I so much appreciate the writing and teaching of Christian theistic philosopher J.P. Moreland. I've been able to speak at a couple of conferences with him. He's one of the best pure teachers I have ever seen. And, he's got a strong intellect, as seen, for example, in a book like his Consciousness and the Existence of God: A Theistic Argument. (See my "The Argument from Consciousness for the Existence of God.")

J.P.'s Kingdom Triangle represents the heart of a lot of what I believe. On his website he recently posted some readings that supplement the teachings of Kingdom Triangle. One of them is Judith MacNutt's Angels Are for Real: Inspiring, True Stories and Biblical Answers. (I've also been privileged to do a conference years ago with Judith and her husband Francis.) J.P. writes:

"While I don’t agree with all that MacNutt writes, I do agree with 90% of it. But more importantly, Judith and her husband, Francis, are well-educated, thoughtful, credible witnesses to the supernatural, and this book is extremely edifying. It will give you solid biblical teaching about angels (including dark ones) (though some of her insights derive from Medieval speculation and do not seem credible to me), it will equip you to be more intentional in regarding angels in your daily life, and it will increase your faith that angels are actually real. This is a wonderful faith-builder."

On J.P.'s recommendation I just ordered (Kindled for $6.99) a copy of Judith's book.

Will Science Rule Out God? (No.)

Moon over my house

T.A. (thanks!) linked me to this article: Science & God: Will Biology, Astronomy, Physics Rule Out Existence Of Deity? Tha answer is "No," for reasons that follow.

There are so may things wrong with this article that one does not know where to begin. Here's a few.

  • There's an underlying "scientism" here. Which is: the idea that "science" can explain everything. That is patently false, as many scientists acknowledge. Too much has been written here. I've addressed this a number of times on my blog. E.g., the article talks of "a complete scientific theory that accounts for everythig in the unvierse." Sorry, that's naive "scientism."
  • Multiverse theory is far from being accepted. Many scientists and physicists don't thinkit is even "science" since it can not be in principle emprically verified. And, anyway, multiverse objections have been sufficiently addressed when it comes to the fine-tuning argument.
  • A "description"of the history of the universe does not, in principle, answer the "WHY A UNIVERSE AT ALL?" question. Science describes; it does not, it cannot, prescribe.
  • The Blackwell Companion to Science and Christianity (which the article cites) contains counter-arguments to Sean Carroll. Just citing Sean Carroll in this article is quote-mining for support of one's pre-existing belief. (See, in Blackwell, e.g., the essay "Objections to Multiverse Theory."
  • The article says: "Even if cosmologists manage to explain how the universe began, and why it seems so fine-tuned for life, the question might remain why there is something as opposed to nothing. To many people, the answer to the question is God. According to Carroll, this answer pales under scrutiny. There can be no answer to such a question, he says." But... I just finished reading Jim Holt's Why Does the World Exist?: An Existential Detective Story. It's on the question "Why is there something rather than nothing?" Holt interviews some of the world's greatest minds that have addressed this question. Simply to dismiss it is, I think, a display of sheer ignorance and unfamiliarity with the literature that addresses it.

Jim Holt's New Book on Why a Universe at All and Not Nothing?

Why Is There Something Rather than Nothing?

 Mathematical Platonism

Giving Up on Derek Parfit


Religion Is Intrinsically Evil?


The evil suggestion that religion is intrinsically evil again shows itself to be abstract, ivory tower atheistic nonsense in today's CNN report "Sister Gives Hopes to Trafficked Migrants."

A note: I remember meeting with one of our local atheist leaders who proceeded to argue with me that religion is evil. (I've always found atheistic talk about "evil" interesting...) After our discussion I asked him if he wanted to help do something about the systemic evil of poverty and hunger in our community. "We have begun a soup kitchen that feeds 100+ every night here in Monroe. I would love to have you serve with me."

He declined.


Spiritual Formation - A Definition

Spiritual formation is: the ongoing process of Christ forming himself in our heart (spirit); the ever-increasing heart-morphing into Christlikeness.

Galatians 4:19 is a key verse here. It reads: My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you,...

I like how Renovare's Life With God Bible expresses the meaning of this verse and the nature of spiritual formation.

"A hallmark verse for spiritual formation, Gal. 4:19 provides an image of the process of growth for Christians. In this picture it is Christ who is growing in us, rather than we who are growing in Christ. Christ is formed in us by the power of the Holy Spirit as we respond to his ever-present grace in our lives. This occurs in daily, ordinary life as we "practice the presence of God" in our work, our play, our relationships, and all of life. By the Spirit in our hearts we cry out to God "Abba! Father!" (Gal. 4:6) many times throughout the course of a day, acknowledging who we are and whose we are. Christ is also formed in us as we present ourselves as living sacrifices to him through the Spiritual Disciplines, which, far from being the binding legalism Paul condemns in this letter, are the loving response of disciples to God's grace.

Steadily, gradually, Christ looms larger and larger within us. We find ourselves thinking, feeling, believing, serving, and living ore like him. Not only are we becoming more like Jesus; we are becoming more human, more ourselves.

The work of spiritual formation is the subject of this letter [Galatians]. That the Galatians were submitting again to a yoke of slavery - the opposite of spiritual formation - prompted Paul to couch his commuication in the vocabulary of freedom. Spiritual formation and freedom have a dynamic relationship. Curtail one, and the other is stifled. Grow in one, and the other flourishes. Five dimensions of spiritual formation emerge from the text as a result of Paul's emphasis on freedom. These are seismic shifts in the core of his being as Christ is formed in him, in the Galatians, andin us."

- The Life with God Bible NRSV,  Renovare (Author), Richard J. Foster (Author), Dallas Willard (Author), Walter Brueggemann (Author), Eugene H. Peterson (Author), Bruce Demarest (Author), Evan Howard (Author), James Earl Massey (Author), Catherine Taylor (Author), Rebecca Gaudino (Illustrator)

Recommendations for this study Bible include:

“The Renovaré Spiritual Formation Bible … is unrivaled as a classic work of biblical theology suffused with a pastoral heart.” (Brennan Manning, author of Ruthless Trust )

“…[T]he most spiritually-impactful Bible of our time.” (John Ortberg, Teaching Pastor, Menlo Park Presbyterian Church, author of If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat )

“This Bible is greatly needed.” (Tony Campolo, author of It's Friday but Sunday's Coming )

“With great enthusiasm, I open The Renovaré Spiritual Formation Bible. One could not assemble a finer team to compile it.” (Max Lucado, author of Come Thirsty and Traveling Light )

“This Bible helps us desire intimacy with God, not just know the typical facts and knowledge. (Dan Kimball, author of The Emerging Church, and Pastor of Vintage Faith Church )

“[An] outstanding resource...Christians of many different traditions will appreciate this ecumenical resource devoted to spiritual renewal.” (Publishers Weekly )

“...Many original and stimulating insights for the spiritual lives of contemporary Christians.” (Christian Century )

“This study Bible is both serious and accessible.” (Tulsa World )

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

If a Philosophical Naturalist Did Your Funeral

Thanks John Kermott for sending this to me.

Of course, not all physicists are atheists. But imagine that a philosophical naturalist does your funeral.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Jesus Was Not Married

Today's nytimes has an article - "A Faded Piece of Papyrus Refers to Jesus’ Wife."  Here's a picture of Harvard's Karen King holding "a fragment of papyrus that she says was written in Coptic in the fourth century and contains a reference to Jesus' wife."

Shame on the New York Times for this headline, which implies that Jesus had a wife. This document, if authentic, was written hundreds of years after Jesus lived on the earth! King knows this, and "repeatedly cautioned that this fragment should not be taken as proof that Jesus, the historical person, was actually married. The text was probably written centuries after Jesus lived, and all other early, historically reliable Christian literature is silent on the question, she said."

Of course it is interesting as a fourth century piece of cultural information. As for the nonsensical claims of Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code, King simply says: “At least, don’t say this proves Dan Brown was right.” 

The translated legible text reads:

not [to] me. My mother gave to me li[fe]
The disciples said to Jesus
deny. Mary is worthy of it
Jesus said to them, “My wife
she will be able to be my disciple
Let wicked people swell up
As for me, I dwell with her in order to

The Prayer Life of Westernized Pastors

Lake Michigan, off Holland State Park (MI)

Although I've been a Jesus-follower for 42+ years, it was 35 years ago that I got a significant prayer life. It happened with Northern Baptist Seminary asked me to teach a class on prayer. I accepted, and knew in that kind of class we had to actually pray, not just agree that prayer is good, and not just read some great books on prayer. Real prayer is an act, not a theory.

Let me define "significant prayer life" as: a life of going apart to 'lonely places' and spending several hours a week praying. By 'lonely place' I mean a place apart from one's office, home, and workplace. Included in "going apart" is: leaving the cell phones behind. Can you pray while texting someone else? Of course. But it's like spending a candelight dinner with my wife and my 907 Facebook friends. Does that count as a "date?" Not really.

For a Jesus-follower (one who follows after Jesus, in practice) "prayer" is: talking with God about what God and I are doing together. “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:16)

Underline "often," "withdrew," and "prayed."

I'm now around the 2,000 mark for pastors and pastoral candidates taught in seminaries, conferences, and retreats. My classes have been on prayer and spiritual formation. I have found that 80% of Westernized pastors do not have a significant prayer life. Many have confessed this to me. 80% of non-Westernized pastors do have a significant prayer life. I think it works like this. The more stuff a person has, the less they actually pray. Conversely, the less stuff a person has, the more they pray. The less stuff, the more sense of dependency; the more stuff, the more sense of independence.

As a result of taking a class like mine I educatedly guess that, among Westernized pastors, 40% acquire a sigificant prayer life that will last the rest of their life. I have had some of them share with me that the prayer life "took," and they've never gone back to prayerlessness.

Monday, September 17, 2012

N.T. Wright Calls for Reasoning About Homosexuality

Spiritual Formation Bibliography (updated 9/17/12)

Lake Michigan sunset
(from Holland State Park  MI)

Here's my SPIRITUAL FORMATION BIBLIOGRAPHY – I have highlighted my Top 14 Best in bold print.

Arnold, Eberhard. Inner Land: A Guide Into the Heart and Soul of the Bible (Rifton, N.Y: Plough Publishing House, 1976). A classic in Anabaptist spirituality.

Blackaby, Henry T., and King, Claude V. Experiencing God. An excellent, clearly written text that is especially good for church study.

Boyd, Greg. Satan and the Problem of Evil: Constructing a Trinitarian Warfare Theodicy (IVP: 2001). An excellent study on the kingdom of God, esp. on spiritual battle and the kingdom of Satan. A coherent Christian response to the philosophical problem of evil.

Boyd. Present Perfect: Finding God In the Now. (Zondervan: 2010) This is an excellent, clearly written little book that contains some deep spiritual insights that are not found in other spirituality texts. Greg’s meditation on “death” is worth the price of the book.

Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection. The Practice of the Presence of God (Garden City: Image, 1977). A spiritual classic by a 17th-century monk that is still relevant today, and is especially good at knowing God in the everyday, mundane tasks of life.

Buechner, Frederick. Godric (New York: Harper and Row, 1980). A beautiful novel, spiritually deep and uplifting. The character of Godric reminds me of Thomas Merton.

Campolo, Tony, and Darling, Mary Albert. The God of Intimnacy and Action: Reconnecting Ancient Spiritual Practices, Evangelism, and Justice. Nicely puts together the spiritual disciplines and social activism.

Collins, Kenneth J. Exploring Christian Spirituality: An Ecumenical Reader (Baker Book House: 2000). An excellent one-volume text.

Cone, James. A Black Theology of Liberation.

Cone. The Cross and the Lynching Tree.

Cone. God of the Oppressed.

Costen, Melva Wilson. African American Christian Worship.

Dawn, Marva. Unfettered Hope: A Call to Faithful Living In An Affluent Society (Presbyterian Publishing Corporation: 2003). This is a deep, profound study allowing us to see our materialistic world and our spiritual place in it through God’s eyes.

Deere, Jack. Surprised By the Voice of God: How God Speaks Today Through Prophecies, Dreams, and Visions (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996). A very good, clearly written biblical and historical presentation of how one hears God speaking to them.

Dillard, Annie. Pilgrim At Tinker Creek (Harper and Row). This makes my personal top ten ever-read list. A beautiful meditation of the creation, especially its microscopic aspects.

Fee, Gordon. God’s Empowering Presence (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1994). This massive text is, arguably, the definitive statement of the apostle Paul’s spirituality. A detailed study of every Pauline reference to the Holy Spirit.

Fee. The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987). Superb, meditative, scholarly commentary on what it means to be pneumatikos (“spiritual”).

Felder, Cain Hope. Stony the Road We Trod: African American Biblical Interpretation. (Augsburg: 1991) This edited collection does an excellent job distinguishing the Eurocentric bias in biblical hermeneutics from an African American perspective which gives place to the now-experiential reality of God’s Spirit speaking to us through the written text.

Foster, Richard. A Celebration of Discipline (San Francisco: Harper and Row). The modern classic on the spiritual disciplines. If you have not yet read this it should be one of your choices.

Foster. Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home (Harper and Row: 1992). Examines several different types of prayer that are both biblically and historically Christian.

Foster. Life With God: Reading the Bible for Spiritual Transformation. (HarperOne: 2010)

Foster. Longing for God: Seven Paths of Spiritual Devotion. (Intervarsity Press: 2009)

Foster. Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home.

Foster. Sanctuary of the Soul: Journey into Meditative Prayer.

Foster, and Griffin, Emilie. Spiritual Classics: Selected Readings for Individuals and Groups on the Twelve Spiritual Disciplines (Harper and Row: Feb. 2000). A very good collection representing the great Christian types of spirituality.

Foster. Streams of Living Water: Celebrating the Great Traditions of Christian Faith (Harper and Row: 1998). On the following traditions: contemplative, holiness, charismatic, social justice, evangelical, and incarnational.

Frangipane, Francis. The Three Battlegrounds.

Frangipane. And I Will Be Found by You. On abiding in Christ.

Gutierrez, Gustavo. We Drink From Our Own Wells: The Spiritual Journey of a People (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1988). Excellent, especially in its emphasis on corporate spirituality.

Holmes, Urban T. Spirituality for Ministry. Still one of the best books on this subject.

Houston, James. The Transforming Power of Prayer: Deepening Your Friendship with God.

John of the Cross. Dark Night of the Soul. This spiritual classic is often misinterpreted because it has not been read. It’s about “dark knowledge” and non-discursive experience of God.

Jones, Cheslyn, et. al., eds. The Study of Spirituality (New York: Oxford, 1986). A very good one-volume source on the history of Christian spirituality.

Kelleman, Robert, and Edwards, Karole A. Beyond the Suffering: Embracing the Legacy of African American Soul Care and Spiritual Direction. (Baker: 2007)

Kelly, Thomas. A Testament Of Devotion (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1941). This brilliant, provocative little text makes my top ten ever-read books on Christian spirituality. A modern classic.

Kelly. The Eternal Promise.

Kraft, Charles. Christianity With Power: Your Worldview and Understanding of the Supernatural (Ann Arbor, Mi.: Servant, 1989). A brilliant study in paradigm theology by an anthropologist and missiologist at Fuller Theological Seminary.

Ladd, George. The Gospel of the Kingdom: Scriptural Studies in the Kingdom of God (Eerdmans: 1959). A classic, still-used examination of the kingdom of God as both present and future. Schoalrly, but it often reads devotionally.

Leech, Kenneth. Experiencing God: Theology As Spirituality (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985). An excellent historical study, from biblical times to the present, of the experience of God.

Leech. Soul Friend: The Practice of Christian Spirituality (New York: Harper and Row, 1980). The best book available on spiritual direction.

Leech. True Prayer: An Invitation to Christian Spirituality (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1980).

Lovelace, Richard. Dynamics of Spiritual Life: An Evangelical Theology of Renewal (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1979).

Lovelace. Renewal As a Way of Life: A Guidebook for Spiritual Growth (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1985).

Manning, Brennan. The Ragamuffin Gospel. A beautiful, very thoughtful meditation on the grace of God.

Manning, Abba’s Child. This book spoke deeply to me about my need for experiential knowledge of the love of God.

Manning, The Importance of Being Foolish: How to Think Like Jesus. Very good as it gets at the real Jesus.

May, Gerald. Addiction and Grace (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1991). An excellent, clearly written book with an especially helpful section on addiction to control.

May. Care of Mind, Care of Spirit: A Psychiatrist Explores Spiritual Direction (New York: Harper and Row, 1992). A very good text on the nature of spiritual direction.

May. Will and Spirit: A Contemplative Psychology (Harper and Row: 1987). An excellent text.

Mbiti, John. African Religions and Philosophy.

Mbiti. Introduction to African Religion.

McKnight, Scot, and Tickle, Phyllis. Fasting: The Ancient Practices. An excellent book on the spirituality of fasting.

McLaren, Brian. The Secret Message of Jesus: Uncovering the Truth that Could Change Everything (Thomas Nelson: 2007). I loved this book about the kingdom of God.

McManus, Erwin. The Barbarian Way: Unleash the Untamed Faith Within (Thomas Nelson: 2005) Don’t be put off by the title. I loved this book about what it means to be a real follower of Jesus.

Merton, Thomas. The Inner Experience: Notes On Contemplation (Harper: 2003). This is Merton’s final book. Few write about contemplation as well as he does.

Merton. New Seeds of Contemplation (New York: New Directions, 1961). Merton at his best.

Merton. No Man Is an Island (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1983). Contains the classic chapter, “Being and Doing.”

Merton. Seeds (Shambala: 2002). A killer collection of Merton quotes. A tremendous introduction to the depth, wisdom, and discernment of Thomas Merton. Prophetic.

Merton. The Sign of Jonas (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1981). One of Merton’s journals, containing many spiritual gems,

Miller, J. Keith. A Hunger for Healing: The Twelve Steps as a Classic Model for Christian Spiritual Growth (New York: Harper and Row, 1991).

Miller. Hope In the Fast Lane: A New Look at Faith in a Compulsive World (New York: Harper and Row, 1987). An excellent text on overcoming sin in one’s life. Especially good on identifying the deep source of stress and overcoming stress.

Miller. The Secret Life of the Soul (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 1997). About the vulnerability needed for the transformation of the soul.

Muse, J. Stephen, ed. Beside Still Waters: Resources for Shepherds in the Marketplace (Smyth and Helwys: 2000). An excellent text that uses Psalm 23 to speak to Christian leaders regarding spiritual issues. Very good on our need to care for ourselves physically.

Mulholland, Robert. Shaped By the Word: The Power of Scripture in Spiritual Formation (Nashville: Upper Room Press, 1985). An excellent book on how the Bible interprets us.

Nelson, Alan. Broken In the Right Place: How God Tames the Soul (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1994). A very good book on how spiritual brokenness effects personal transformation.

Nouwen, Henri. A Cry for Mercy: Prayers From the Genesee (Garden City, New York: Image, 1981). A beautiful book of prayers expressing our heart’s fears, struggles, and longings.

Nouwen. Behold the Beauty of the Lord: Praying with Icons (Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 1987).

Nouwen. Gracias! A Latin American Journal (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1983). One of Nouwen’s spiritual journals.

Nouwen. In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership (Harper and Row). A brilliant little book, among the best I have ever read on pastoral leadership.

Nouwen. Lifesigns: Intimacy, Fecundity, and Ecstasy in Christian Perspective (New York: Image, 1986).

Nouwen. Making All Things New: An Invitation to the Spiritual Life (New York: Harper and Row, 1981).

Nouwen. Out of Solitude: Three Meditations on the Spiritual Life (Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 1980).

Nouwen. Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life (Garden City, New York: Image, 1976). An excellent text; a modern classic. On solitude, hospitality, and prayer.

Nouwen. Spiritual Direction: Wisdom for the Long Walk of Faith.

Nouwen. Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit.

Nouwen. The Genesee Diary: Report From a Trappist Monastery (Garden City, New York: Image, 1976). This book makes my top ten ever-read list in terms of spiritual impact. An excellent example of journaling that is of spiritual value.

Nouwen, The Inner Voice of Love (Image Books: 1999). I find it hard to express how much God used a slow, meditative reading of this book to effect changes in my life.

Nouwen. The Living Reminder: Service and Prayer in Memory of Jesus Christ (New York: Harper and Row). A tremendous book for pastors and Christian leaders.

Nouwen. The Only Necessary Thing: Living a Prayerful Life.

Nouwen. The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming (New York: Image, 1992). Simply put, one of Nouwen’s best and one of my very favorites.

Nouwen. The Way of the Heart (New York: Ballantine, 1981). A beautiful, meditative little book on solitude, silence, and prayer.

Paris, Peter. The Spirituality of African Peoples.

Payne, Leanne. Listening Prayer: Learning to Hear God’s Voice and Keep a Prayer Journal (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1991). A very good, well-written text on what it means to hear God’s voice.

Perkinson, James. White Theology: Outing Supremacy in Modernity.

Peterson, Eugene. The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction (Dallas: Word, 1989). I have read this book two or three times. It always reminds me of my priorities in pastoral ministry.

Peterson. Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology. The first of five books in Peterson’s summary of his spiritual theology.

Peterson. Eat this Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading.

Peterson. The Pastor: A Memoir. Peterson’s reflections on the meaning of “pastor” as servant leader and shepherd-leader. This book will exorcise the “mega” out of you.

Quinn, Robert. Deep Change (Jossey-Bass: 1996). A very good book, written from a leadership-business perspective, on the inner transformation required to lead effectively.

Senn, Frank, ed. Protestant Spiritual Traditions (New York: Paulist, 1986). Various authors writing from the following perspectives: Lutheran, Reformed, Anabaptist, Puritan, Pietist, and Methodist.

Sittser, Jerry. A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows Through Loss. One of the best books on grief recovery ever written.

Smedes, Lewis. Shame and Grace. (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1994). For me, a beautiful book on overcoming self-condemnation by a deeper understanding and experience of the grace of God.

St. Teresa of Avila. Interior Castle. (Image Books: 1972) A spiritual classic.

Thomas, Gary. Sacred Pathways (Zondervan: 2000). Very good on showing different spiritual styles and various ways persons experience God (the naturalist, sensate, traditionalist, ascetic, activist, caregiver, enthusiast, contemplative, and intellectual).

Thurman, Howard. For the Inward Journey: The Writings of Howard Thurman (Harcourt Brace: 1984). An excellent anthology of Thurman’s spiritual writings.

Thurman. Jesus and the Disinherited (Beacon: 1996). If you’re going to read one book by Thurman this is the one to read. He is brilliant, insightful, and extremely relevant for even today. There s a timelessness about Thurman’s writings.

Thurman. Howard Thurman: Essential Writings. (Orbis: 2006) Edited by Luther Smith. Smith is one of our great, if not our greatest, Thurman scholars. His introduction to Thurman’s writing is very helpful.

Thurman. Meditations of the Heart. (Beacon: 1999)

Weems, Renita. Listening for God: A Minister’s Journey Through Silence and Doubt (Simon and Schuster: 1999). An excellent reflection of the silence of God and intimacy with God.

West, Cornel, and Glaube Jr., Eddie S. African American Religious Thought: An Anthology. (Westminster John Knox: 2003)

Willard, Dallas. The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God (Harper Collins: 1998). What a deep, beautiful book on the kingdom of God.

Willard. Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God (IVP: 1999)

Willard. Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ (Navpress:2002). This excellent book is all about spiritual transformation and is especially helpful in defining biblical terms like “soul,” “heart,” “spirit,” and “body.”

Willard. The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives (Harper and Row: 1988). A great book, profound, clearly written. Richard Foster called it “the book of the decade.”

Wilmore, Gayraud. Black Religion and Black Radicalism: An Interpretation of the Religious History of African Americans.

Wimber, John. Power Healing (Harper and Row). An excellent, encouraging text filled with realism and hope.

The Cloud of Unknowing. Anonymous. This is a spiritual classic on non-discursive experience of God.