Sunday, June 29, 2014

Friday, June 27, 2014


Monroe, Michigan (where I live) is a small community. Proof of this is the headline on our newspaper, which reads: "Monroe Invaded by Mayflies." In  contrast, the New York Times headline reads "Iran Fractures." While the world is crumbling around us our greatest concern in Monroe in mayflies.

Mayflies live near water - they are aquatic insects. Monroe is on Lake Erie. Therefore... 

Once, years ago, my son Josh and some of his friends were camping at Sterling State Park, on the shores of Lake Erie. That night the mayflies hatched. Billions of them. Josh described the mayfly invasion as descending in biblical (Exodus-like) proportions. Mayflies landed upon them like a plague. One of Josh's friends resorted to punching them with his fists. One good strike on a mayfly's jaw and the thing is down for the count. Unfortunately, the deceased mayfly has a million siblings, and you've just killed their brother.

The lifespan of a mayfly varies from 30 minutes to one day. People who hate mayflies can take comfort in this, The mayfly that now irritates them will soon be lying in a coffin, mourned by its one billion dying siblings. "The primary function of the adult is reproduction; the mouthparts are vestigial, and the digestive system is filled with air." (See here, if you want to study mayflies.)

If, during the Great Mayfly Hatch Moses-esque Plague, you drive at night in downtown Monroe or, worse yet, in Luna Pier, the mayflies are as thick as snow. People literally shovel them off the sidewalks. Some years ago, feeling bored on a summer night, I asked Linda, "Want to go downtown and watch the mayflies?" She said, "No."

If you were a bug and had a day to live what would you do? A mayfly heads for a gas station and spends its life there, on the outside, looking in. Some get up close and personal with street lights. For a mayfly this defines "freedom." A mayfly's bucket list contains only one item: light. 

Franz Kafka would love this. In Kafka's The Metamorphosis Gregor Samsa wakes up one morning to find out that he has morphed into a big bug. His parents freak out. Gregor's presence inspires disgust and fear. Gregor is confined to his room and eventually dies there. If you are an insect you do not fit in.

Some people's lives are, by their own choosing, the social equivalent of an insect's.

  • Brief. 
  • Asocial. 
  • Monomaniacal
  • Obsessive
  • Irrelevant. 
  • Primary function: reproduction.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

7 Terrible Countries for Christians

See CNN's article here.

Praying to an Everlasting God (Prayer Summer 2014)

Petal in a can of paint

When I pray I am addressing an all-powerful (omnipotent) being. (See here.)

I am known by an all-knowing (omniscient) being. (See here.)

I am being spoken to by an all-loving (omnibenevolent) being. (See here.)

When I pray I am conferencing with a necessarily existent (everlasting) being.

God cannot not-exist. Existence is of God's essence. This gives God an ontological stability nothing else has.

God's everlastingness means that God never began to exist and will never cease to exist. God never came into being, because God IS. 

When Moses asked God "Who are you? What is your name?" God responded by using the verb "to be." 

God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: 
I am has sent me to you.’”

Exodus 3:14

God said to Moses, "My name is I IS." 

I'm not forcing Greek philosophy onto the Hebrew text. The Hebrew hayah is hard to translate. It could mean "I will be who I will be." It's a form of the verb "to be." God is BEING. 

No wonder God has no fear. Nothing could ever, in  principle, harm God. In this way God is like a rock, except more solid.

This morning I am conferencing (= praying) with an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving, everlasting, necessarily existent God. I am dialoguing  with a quite-secure Person. This gives me confidence and strength, to think and thank that such a God loves me as well.

Realizing this, who wouldn't have time to pray?


Occasionally I hear someone who thinks they have come up with a trick question ask "If God made the universe, who made God?" The answer, of course, is that this is a nonsense question. For if God is necessarily existent than God never began to exist. Only things that begin to exist have a cause. God is a Uncaused Being (in this sense akin to Aristotle's metaphysically necessary "Unmoved Mover."

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Jesus-Followers & Culture Wars (Notes)

Here are notes I'm using for my presentation today on "Jesus-Followers & Culture Wars." (In our HSRM conference.) 

JESUS-FOLLOWERS & CULTURE WARS: In this workshop I will share how I respond to “culture wars.” How do we respond when the surrounding culture threatens to steamroller over us with values that are antithetical to those of Jesus? I will identify some of the existing, emerging, and to-come cultural battles we are facing, and especially share how I am responding to the matter of gay marriage.
Led by John Piippo.

Culture defined:
Culture is the secondary environment that humanity builds upon the creation, to include: language, habits, ideas, beliefs, customs, social organization, inherited artifacts, technical processes, and values.

When Jesus arrived on the scene there was a clash of cultures.
          Jesus’ kingdom is “not of this world!”
          So there were culture wars. (In the OT as well.)
Jesus-Followers have always had culture wars.
Biblically, culture is “the world.”
Rom. 12:1 – Do not be conformed to the standards of this world/age
          αἰών,n  \{ahee-ohn'}
1) for ever, an unbroken age, perpetuity of time, eternity  2) the worlds, universe  3) period of time, age 
In this sense we’ve always had “culture wars.”
          A clash of kingdoms. Kingdoms in conflict.
BTW: Christianity in the 1950s was NOT exemplary of God’s kingdom in many ways.

I’m not at all interested in going back to “the way things were,” unless you mean by that Acts chs. 1 & 2.

EXAMPLE: African American Christianity faced hundreds of years of culture wars.

From the beginning of the Church until the present, J-F-ers have wrestled with a fundamental problem: how to relate to the world and its culture.

How do we act in and interact with the society which surrounds them, and of which they are a part?

Have you heard the saying: Christians are to be in the world, but not of it. But what does that really mean?

Today it seems that many believers are of the world, and not in it.

If you are “of” something, then you are not “in” it.

          E.g., There is coffee in this coffee.

That is, many Christians are identical w. culture…,

We are more like our surrounding culture than ever before, though we don’t realize it or think so.

The Church then gets contaminated with our unconscious worldliness.

We have this problem of “Christ and culture.” (H. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture)

This problem is created, at least in part, by New Testament warnings against worldliness, and by its simultaneous exhortation to have an impact upon the world for the gospel.

Regarding warnings about worldliness, note these admonitions:

Rom. 12:2 - And do not be conformed to this world [aion; age], but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

2 Cor. 6:14-17 - 14 Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? 15 What harmony is there between Christ and Belial[b]? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God…. “Come out from among them and be separate”…” 

“Belial” is a Hebrew word meaning “worthlessness.” In the Intertestamental period this word was used to refer to Satan. (David Garland)

Col. 2:8 - See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ. [Lit. “the elements of this world.”]

James 1:27 - Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

          κόσμος,n  \{kos'-mos}
1) an apt and harmonious arrangement or constitution, order,  government  2) ornament, decoration, adornment, i.e. the arrangement of the stars,  'the heavenly hosts', as the ornament of the heavens. 1 Pet. 3:3  3) the world, the universe  4) the circle of the earth, the earth  5) the inhabitants of the earth, men, the human family  6) the ungodly multitude; the whole mass of men alienated from God,  and therefore hostile to the cause of Christ  7) world affairs, the aggregate of things earthly  7a) the whole circle of earthly goods, endowments riches, advantages,  pleasures, etc, which although hollow and frail and fleeting,  stir desire, seduce from God and are obstacles to the cause  of Christ  8) any aggregate or general collection of particulars of any sort  8a) the Gentiles as contrasted to the Jews (Rom. 11:12 etc)  8b) of believers only, John 1:29; 3:16; 3:17; 6:33; 12:47  1 Cor. 4:9; 2 Cor. 5:19 

1 John 2:15 - Do not love the world [kosmos] or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them.

On the other hand, the New Testament commands us to engage culture:
Matt. 5:13-16 - You are the salt of the earth… 14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
Matt. 28:19-20 - 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

John 17:15-16 - 15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world [kosmos] but that you protect them from the evil one.16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.

2 Cor. 5:20 - 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.

Col. 4:5 - Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.

SO…  Culture is not an unqualified evil.

          We are to incarnate ourselves in culture.

          John 1- the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

Kosmos is used in John 1 – the Word was in the world but the world did not know him.

1 Corinthians 9:20-23
20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law.22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

There are good godly things in pagans, or in other religions.

Romans 2:14-15 – here is the idea that even non-J-F-ers have a God-consciousness.
14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.)
Romans 13:3-4
For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.
The Roman Empire allowed Paul religious freedom to spread the Good News about Jesus.

JESUS AND CULTURE: Our relationship to Culture
3 Possible Christian attitudes toward culture:
1)   We should reject and/or condemn the culture.
2)   We should accommodate ourselves to the culture as much as possible.
3)   We should seek to transform the culture with Christian principles.
I think…  We should seek to transform the culture with Christian principles.
1)   What is the church's role as an institution?
                                         i.    2 Corinthians 5:18-20 – God was in Christ reconciling the  world to himself. We are Christ’s ambassadors.
1.   E.g. – Islam.
a.   Note: the cultural air we breathe is pluralism.
2.   I prayed for Eide Alawan.

                                        ii.    2 Corinthians 10:3-5
1.   For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

2)   What is our role as J-F-ers?
                                         i.    Matthew 5:13-14
1.   13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. 14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.
2.   NOTE: For me, in some ways these are exciting times to live in.


THE SECULARIZING OF CULTURE – 3 kinds of “secular”
(A Secular Age; ‘secular’ = temporal, rather than eternal)
          Immanent, rather than transcendent.
How deep this thing is.
Charles Taylor – 3 kinds of “secular.”
Secular1 – E.g., when a pastor pursues a religion vocation, while an auto mechanic pursues a “secular” vocation.
          This is the so-called “sacred/secular” divide.
          ‘Religious’ – in the church, but not in the workplace.
“Secular” here means something like “temporal.” Or, perhaps, “worldly” as opposed to “spiritual.”
Here we have the withdrawal of the religious worldview from the public sphere. The move from enchanted reality to de-enchanted reality.
This is the disenchantment of the cosmos.
          Secular2 – Having no religious affiliation or “religious” beliefs.
The second stage is seen in the decline in personal religious practice and commitment.
This is different from secular1 – In secular2 there is no religious sphere at all, for the individual who is secularized in this way.
This is an individual's withdrawal from the community. People shift the source of meaning away from external 'eternal' sources to more personal choices.
The world becomes more and more disenchanted.  
According to secularism, political spaces (and the constitutions that create them) should carve out a realm purified of the contingency, particularity, and irrationality of religious belief and instead be governed by universal, neutral rationality. Secularism is always secularism2. And secularization theory is usually a confident expectation that societies will be become secular2 — that is, characterized by decreasing religious belief and participation.
People who self-identify as “secular” are usually identifying as areligious.
-      Smith, James K. A. (2014-05-01). How (Not) to Be Secular (Kindle Locations 467-473). Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. Kindle Edition.

Secular3 - society is secular3 insofar as religious belief or belief in God is understood to be one option among others, and thus contestable (and contested).
          This is the most recent development.
This is the shift in the culture away from assuming Religious Faith is the norm, or the default expectation of how to live your life. Faith is now one option among many. This is society living in a universe which has no central point around which it revolves.
We live in a society where belief in God is unchallenged and indeed, unproblematic, to someone in whom it is understood to be one option among others, and frequently not the easiest to embrace” (p. 3). It is in this sense that we live in a “secular age” even if religious participation might be visible and fervent. (Smith, 478-480)
Taylor writes: “For the first time in history a purely self-sufficient humanism came to be a widely available option. I mean by this a humanism accepting no final goals beyond human flourishing, nor any allegiance to anything else beyond this flourishing. Of no previous society was this true (Secular Age, p. 18).
Terry Eagleton – “SOCIETIES BECOME SECULAR not when they dispense with religion altogether, but when they are no longer especially agitated by it.” Eagleton, Terry (2014-02-01). Culture and the Death of God (Kindle Locations 53-54). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.

Your “secular” neighbors aren’t looking for “answers” — for some bit of information that is missing from their mental maps.
To the contrary, they have completely different maps.
You’ve realized that instead of nagging questions about God or the afterlife, your neighbors are oriented by all sorts of longings and “projects” and quests for significance.
There doesn’t seem to be anything “missing” from their lives — so you can’t just come proclaiming the good news of a Jesus who fills their “God-shaped hole.” They don’t have any sense that the “secular” lives they’ve constructed are missing a second floor.
In many ways, they have constructed webs of meaning that provide almost all the significance they need in their lives (though a lot hinges on that “almost”). (JKA Smith)
This isn’t like the Mars Hill of Saint Paul’s experience (in Acts 17) where people are devoted to all kinds of deities and you get to add to their pantheon by talking about the one, true God. No, it seems that many have managed to construct a world of significance that isn’t at all bothered by questions of the divine — though that world might still be haunted in some ways, haunted by that “almost.” Your neighbors inhabit what Charles Taylor calls an “immanent frame”; they are no longer bothered by “the God question” as a question because they are devotees of “exclusive humanism” — a way of being-in-the -world that offers significance without transcendence. They don’t feel like anything is missing.
So what does it look like to bear witness in a secular age? Here is what I am doing.
1.   Abide in Christ.
a.   This brings discernment.
                                                 i.    Discernment is a function of intimacy.
b.   I am being led by God re. culture.
2.   One thing that happened to me is: I was led, by God, to teach at MCCC.
3.   I have found that a number of students have echoes of transcendence in them.
a.   They want to talk about God and God-things.
b.   I teach; and leave the results to God.
c.   I still “witness” to the reality of God.
d.   I have had atheists become God-believers.
4.   JKA Smith says that people today live in a “cross-pressured” situation — suspended between the malaise of immanence and the memory of transcendence…” Smith, James K. A. (2014-05-01). How (Not) to Be Secular (Kindle Locations 88-89). Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. Kindle Edition.
5.   JKA Smith - It is my sense that more of us live in worlds like those portrayed by David Foster Wallace than those mapped by either new atheists or religious fundamentalists. It is this sort of contested, cross-pressured, haunted world that is “secular” — not a world sanitized of faith and transcendence, flattened to the empirical. (How (Not) to Be Secular, Kindle Locations 416-418)
6.   This, BTW, is why I am Pentecostal. What can be convincing is: heaven invading earth.
a.   Power.
b.   More than apologetics?
7.   Love will win the day.
9.   A
10.       a

Secular3 – this is the soil in which the gay marriage idea is flourishing.
Love… always.
Don’t succumb to the “appeal to popularity” (“Everyone is accepting this idea.”)
A two-fold approach:
For Jesus-followers.
What does Scripture say?

Of critical importance in determining the relevance of 1 Cor 6: 9 and 1 Tim 1: 10 for contemporary discussions of same-sex intercourse is the meaning of the terms arsenokoitai and malakoi. Some scholars argue that the meaning of these terms cannot be known, or that they refer to something other than participants in same-sex intercourse, or that they designate only distinct types of homosexuals that bear little resemblance to contemporary expressions of homosexuality. If any of these positions were true, it might discredit their use by those opposed to homosexual practice. Gagnon, Robert A (2010-10-01). The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics (Kindle Locations 5671-5675). Abingdon Press. Kindle Edition.
1 Tim. 1:9-11 - arsenokoitais

9 We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, 10 for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine 11 that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me. 

The Greek word translated here as "homosexuality" is arsenokoitais (ἀρσενοκοίταις). In the Christian theological discussion about homosexuality there is debate over the meaning of this word.

1     Cor. 6:9 - malakoi
… do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men
9 οὐκ οἴδατε ὅτι ἄδικοι θεοῦ βασιλείαν οὐκληρονομήσουσιν; μὴ πλανᾶσθε: οὔτε πόρνοι οὔτε εἰδωλολάτραι οὔτε μοιχοὶ οὔτεμαλακοὶ οὔτε ἀρσενοκοῖται 
In the vice list of 1 Cor 6: 9-10, I have translated malakoi, which literally means "the soft ones," as "effeminate males who play the sexual role of females"; and arsenokoitai, which literally means "malebedders," as "males who take other males to bed." Advocates of homosexuality among Christians offer other readings. Some narrow the meaning and others expand it. - Gagnon, Robert A (2010-10-01). The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics (Kindle Locations 5677-5680). Abingdon Press. Kindle Edition.

For secular3-ists.
The core issue is the definition and proposed redefinition of “marriage.”
Advocates of redefining marriage to include same-sex relationships appeal to the principle of equality.

We cannot, however, understand what equality does and does not require without first determining what marriage is. (Robert George)

The discussion of “marriage equality” cannot logically happen until we agree on the definition of “marriage.”