Friday, April 08, 2016

The Presence-Driven Church Does Not Try to Program God

Here are some things I know about logic, as it is understood in philosophy. (For 15 years I've taught Logic at Monroe County Community College.) I'm going to use them to talk about the Christian theistic idea of "being led by the Holy Spirit."
  • Logic is about arguments - formulating and evaluating them.
  • When philosophers use the word "rational," they mostly mean "logical." by "logical" they mean certain specific things. You can find these things in a basic logic text. For nine years I used Hurley's classic A Concise Introduction to Logic. It's a great text, but has no colorful pictures or funny jokes. So a few years ago I switched to Vaughn's The Power of Critical Thinking: Effective Reasoning About Ordinary and Extraordinary Claims.  Vaughn is excellent on informal logical fallacies, and especially wonderful on "the subjectivist fallacy." Most students freak out and need cognitive therapy after being introduced to the subjectivist and genetic fallacies, since they form the heart and soul of their own culturally acquired irrationality. When I teach those sections I feel like Klaatu in the original "The Day the Earth Stood Still," trying to explain to the students that the core of their thinking is incoherent. 
  • Logical arguments are composed of statements. A statement is a sentence that is either true or false; or, put another way, a statement is a sentence that describes a state of affairs. Using logic one can reason that State of Affairs X either obtains or does not obtain. Not all sentences make truth claims. Requests, for example, are neither true nor false. If we're out for dinner and I request "Please pass the salt," you're irrational if you answer "That's false."
  • An argument has one (and only one) conclusion. In this way, at least in logic, multi-tasking does not apply, as if one could give one argument that logically leads to ten conclusions. An argument has at least one supporting premise. That premise should have a "claim of inference," meaning: if the premise is true, then the conclusion follows, either necessarily or probably. The classic Aristotelian argument form is called modus ponens, which means: to affirm the antecedent. It goes: 1) If A, then B. 2) A (the antecedent is affirmed). 3) Therefore, B. Like: 1) If it rains, the ground gets wet. 2) It's raining. 3) Therefore, the ground gets wet. Using a Jesus-example, consider this. 1) If you love me, you will keep my commands. 2) You love me. 3) Therefore you are keeping my commands. Just as certainly as raining makes the ground wet.
  • Arguments are either deductive or inductive. A deductive argument is one such that if the premise or premises are true, then the conclusion must be true. ("Must" = "necessarily.") An inductive argument is one such that if the premise or premises are true, then the conclusion probably, more or less (depending on the claim of inference in the premises), is true. Such as: 1) I am now writing this piece on my laptop. 2) I intend to finish the piece with a half hour. 3) Therefore the piece will be finished in a half hour. The conclusion is only probably true, since there are a number of reasons that could come against my finishing the piece. I may be interrupted, for example. Or, I may die before I finish, in which case you would not even know I was writing the piece in the first place.
  • Humans are wired to think logically. There's a current debate on the nature of such wiring. Stephen Pinker says that logic is hard-wired, neurally, in our physical brains. It's really hard to think non-logically, even when one's logic is twisted or confused, just as one could add a column of numbers and get the wrong total. If one were to argue against the reality of the innateness of logic then one would have to use logic to arrive at the conclusion, which might be: Logic does not exist. The truths of logic function like "properly basic beliefs." 
  • We are logical beings. Our logical ability allows us to predict and conclude many things. We do it all the time. Logic gives us a sense of control and security. In this regard note the inner chaos that results in fictional characters like "Alice" who enter a world where (but not entirely) logic seems not to apply. Were our lives like that, instability would be the norm. Logic helps to stabilize things. If I know that if it rains the ground gets wet, and also know that it's raining, I (logically) will not go out to water the lawn. That may seem simple but it's not simplistic. We take it for granted. Were this not so, and if we did not have logical capacities, we'd all be out watering our lawns in Seattle in the winter during the rainy season..
  • "Life" is not all logical. There are many things we cannot conclude. One of them is, speaking from the POV of Christian theism, what is called the "leading of the Holy Spirit." It is important to understand this, because if it is not understood then one will try to make sense of the Spirit in terms of human logic. That would be fatal to real, full life in the Spirit. This mistake leads to "the program-driven church."
  • At the heart of the biblical Book of Acts is the person of the Holy Spirit. In Acts the "acts" of the Jesus-followers (e.g., the "apostles," the "sent-from-God-ones") are grounded in the leading of the Holy Spirit. A paradigm case of this is found in Acts 10, the story of Cornelius the Roman centurion.
  • God sends an angel to Cornelius, who is a pagan God-fearer. Cornelius is more than interested in the God of Judaism. He worships and prays constantly, and participates in the regular, daily Jewish prayer times. He gives generously to the poor. The angel appears to Cornelius and says: "Cha-ching! Your prayers and offering to the poor have registered as a memorial offering before God!" In other words, "Cornelius, what you are doing is acceptable to God." 
  • The angel instructs Cornelius to send three men thirty miles south of Caesarea to Joppa, to a man's house by the sea whose name is Simon the Tanner. Simon, aka Peter, is there. The angel says - "Bring Peter to your home. He has something to tell you." Cornelius obeys. But note this: Peter knows nothing about this. He has no rational premises from which to conclude anything. He's sitting on the rooftop of Simon the T's house, hungry as the meal is being prepared. Then God gives Peter a vision. This is the unbeknownst-to-Peter orchestrating activity of God. God has the Big Picture. God waved his conductor's baton over Cornelius, and now points it thirty miles to the south over the heart and mind of Peter. God's got a little symphony going on here, and is directing Cornelius and Peter.
  • God gives Peter the shocking, paradigm-shattering-and-shifting vision of the unclean animals. "Eat them, Peter," the voice from heaven says. "No way!" respond Peter. The voice says, "Don't call things unacceptable that I have called acceptable." OK. Peter sits there, stunned. Meanwhile, the three non-logical men from Caesarea come knocking on Simon the T's door. Peter comes down from the roof. He does not know why they are there. He concludes nothing.
  • The men tell Peter about their master, Cornelius, and about the dream Cornelius had. Peter then concludes something. Somehow, perhaps by experience or intuition, he sees the orchestrating hand of God in this. He goes with them, into the unknown. There is some reasoning going on here, but it's like this: 1) I think God sent these three men to me. 2) I don't know what for, but I am to go with them, because I think this is God and I trust God. If Peter logically concludes anything here, it's only that "This seems like God to me, so I will trust my intuition. Besides, I just had this shocking, seemingly anti-Jewish dream, and now these guys show up and invite me to take a road trip."
  • Peter arrives at Cornelius's house. His entire household is there, which includes family and soldiers and servants. Peter says, "Uhhh..., you all know a Jewish boy like me is not supposed to be here with pork-eating pagans like you, right? But God told me not to call you 'unclean'. So here I am." Cornelius says, "Now that we're all here in the presence of God, tell us what you are supposed to tell us." If I were Peter I might ask for a few days to put together some notes and an outline and then get back to him. What Peter does is simply open his mouth and begin talking. In doing this he is trusting that this is God, and God is now going to orchestrate and guide and "lead" what God wants to say to these pagans through Peter. There's no planned program here. And it's not been "inferred," in the sense of logical predictablity, which is: given these premises we can conclude this. The only premise needed for Peter is: If this is God, then I will obey. I will follow. But I do not know the logical outcome. I do not know where this is going. In the Book of Acts, this is what it means to be "led by the Spirit." You can't program the Holy Spirit like you can program a thermostat to turn the heat on at 9 AM. Being led by the Spirit is like having a God Positioning System (GPS) that includes your starting point and the next steps to take but does not give you the destination.
  • We see this clearly in what happens next. Peter tells C's household about Jesus, and about forgiveness of sins. As he continues talking the Holy Spirit gets poured out in that place, and C and his household begin praising God and speaking in tongues. This giving of the Holy Spirit is the sign of God's ultimate acceptance. In the giving of the Spirit God says things like, "I've come to make my home in you. I want you to host my presence. You are now a portable sanctuary." Peter not only did not or could not logically predict this outcome, he didn't even recognize initially what was going on as he just kept on preaching. Peter stayed with the program-as-he-knew-it. Then: Deus Interruptus.
This is the non-programmatic "church." 

I'm not against "programs." If God says "start this," then obey. But in my Jesus-following context we don't hand out "programs" with the "order of service" on Sunday mornings, because I do not presume to be able to program the Holy Spirit. 

Do I plan for Sunday morning? Oh yeah. My plan is: abide in Christ; hear his voice; follow; preach...  and remember, John, remember... that God is the Orchestrator, who knows the song he wants his people to sing, So watch the Baton of God closely. Follow. Let God have the baton, for God's sake! Trust. Be led by the Spirit whom humanity foolishly tries to control and predict. Logically conclude only one thing: If this is God, then I'll follow because it's going to be very good.

The Day the Church Stood Still. And God had his way.