Monday, October 31, 2016

The Presence-less Church (The Presence-Driven Church)

“We can’t dispense with the formalities, George—there’d be nothing left.”

From the New Yorker, 10/31/16

A month ago Linda and I went to P.F. Chang's in Ann Arbor. I ordered a meal that I mostly get when I'm at this restaurant. After completing my order the waiter said, "I am sorry, sir. We are out of rice."

I was stunned. I thought of logical impossibilities like square circles and married bachelors. An Asian restaurant with no rice? 

I saw the manager walking from table to table, confessing ricelessness to the patrons. When he got to us I had to ask, "How is this possible?" He said, "They are having trouble in the kitchen."

My thought was, "Then you had better get in that kitchen and fix this barren situation!"

On a sunny morning in the 1980s, when Linda and I lived in East Lansing, we went to breakfast at International House of Pancakes. I ordered pancakes. There was no maple syrup on the table.

When it comes to pancakes I am a purist. I don't want the strawberry syrup or the blueberry syrup or the fruity syrup. So, desiring maple syrup, I asked:

"May I have some maple syrup please?"

"Sorry," said the waitress. "We're out of maple syrup."

My response was: Image result for the scream parody

The Big Absence happened two summer ago.

Linda and I were driving from Monroe to Chicago. We were on the Indiana Tollway, and stopped at one of the rest areas for lunch. Linda went to one of the fast food places and got a burger. I got in line at Kentucky Fried Chicken.

I can see the scene as if it were happening now. Three of us were in line. There was a man in front of me at the counter, I was behind him, with a third man behind me.

"I want a three piece chicken dinner," said the first man.

Often, in life, we view events through the framework of what we are currently immersed in. At Redeemer I was in the thick of preaching through the book of Revelation. I was thinking about Revelation all the time! I was reading and re-reading the text, looking at it in the Greek language, and studying the very best commentaries on the subject. The Greek title of this book is The Apocalypse. Apocalypto means "an uncovering," an "unveiling." Like someone who lifts the lid on a simmering pot of stew to see and smell the ingredients, in The Apocalypse God lifts the lid of what is to happen, and John the Apostle is allowed to look inside.

"I am sorry, sir," said the hostess at the KFC on the Indiana Tollway in the summer of 2015. "But we are out of chicken."

With those words the lid was lifted, and a fiery abyss appeared to my right. I heard the hoofbeats of Four Horsemen thundering to my left. The man at the counter did respond. He just walked away, like a floating, drifting planet that just lost its sun, or perhaps his faith.

Then I felt a tap on my shoulder, and a voice spoke to me. I did not turn around as the voice said, "Did you hear what I heard?" Speechless, I nodded my head up and down.

My expectation, when going to Kentucky Fried Chicken, is to be served chicken. Anything less than this is unacceptable. It is the same with God's presence.

When I am with the Church I need to encounter God. I need to experience God's presence. I am like Moses, who despaired at the thought of God withdrawing His presence from the people. Moses pleaded with God, saying,

“If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.  How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?” (Exodus 33:15-16)

Every Sunday morning at Redeemer people are there who are desperate for God. They long and hunger and pant, like deer in the Judean wilderness thirst for water, for an experiential encounter with God. Anything less than this is unacceptable. 

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Square One

Aslan brings Edmund back to Square One
When a person loses their way we sometimes hear them say, “I’ve got to get back to “square one.” For them “square one” means something like: the place of origin; the place where it all began; the beginning place from where the journey began; and so on. Square one is: the beginning. Eugene Peterson, in Subversive Spirituality, uses the idea of “square one” to make some excellent spiritual points.

Peterson writes: “Square One is the place from which we begin learning how to live with Absence with the same ease with which we have come to live with Presence. The generic word that we use for this is Faith – in its classic and never yet improved upon definition, “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1).” (Subversive Spirituality, 18)

“The characteristic element of Square One is this: God said.” (Ib., 19) When we live at Square One “the absolutely indispensable word that we learn is: God.” (Ib.)

When we “return to Square One” we return not only to a realization that God or of God, but to a listening. Listening to what God says. “God said.” (23) Now… we’re at Square One! Everything meaningful, relevant, and authentic follows from this. At Square One it’s not about spiritual chatter or spiritual platitudes or talking “Christian-eze.” It is a being-addressed, a being-talked-to, by God. This is not about us talking or even bragging about our spiritual experiences and accomplishments, but rather about “listening to God call us, heal us, forgive us.” (27) Peterson writes:

“This is hard to get into our heads. We talk habitually to ourselves and about ourselves. We don’t listen. If we do listen to each other it is almost always with the purpose of getting something we can use in our turn. Much of our listening is a form of politeness, courteously waiting our turn to talk about ourselves. But in relation to God especially we must break the habit and let him speak to us. God not only is; God Says. Christian spirituality, in addition to being an attentive spirituality, is a listening spirituality.” (27)

Christian spirituality begins with God. God speaks. We listen. We respond. In obedience. To not listen to God is to not respond to him. One can’t respond to a voice they don’t even hear. “Non-listening obedience” is self-contradictory. Henri Nouwen has pointed out that the word “obedience,” from the Latin ob + audire, contains the idea of “listening” (audire, from which we get “audio”). An audiologist tests our hearing. Of course if we cannot hear then we cannot be expected to obey. Not to be in a continual listening-relationship to God is to be in perpetual dis-audire; dis-obedience. If that’s the case, it’s time to get back to Square One, the place of listening, the place where God Says.

I love how Peterson expands on this as he describes the causal efficacy of God Says. He writes:

“Something remarkable takes place when we return to Square One, to the place of adoration and listening – a terrific infusion of energy within us; a release of adrenaline in our souls which becomes obedience. The reason is that the word that God speaks to us is the kind of word that makes things happen. When God speaks it is not in order to give us information on the economy so that we will know how to do our financial planning. When God speaks it is not as a fortune teller, looking into our personal future and satisfying curiosity regarding our romantic prospects or the best horse to bet on. No, when God speaks it is not in explanation of all the things that we have not been able to find answers to from our parents or in books or from reading tea leaves. God’s Word is not, in essence, information or gossip or explanation. God’s Word makes things happen – he makes something happen in us. The imperative is a primary verb form in Holy Scripture: “Let there be light… Go… Come… Repent… Believe… Be still… Be healed… Get up… Ask… Love… Pray…” (28)

And the consequence, the intended result, of God Says? It is: obedience. “I will run in the way of your commandments, when you give me understanding.” (Ps. 119:32) Peterson says:

“Yes, run. Square One, with its attentiveness and listening, is that place of understanding – we know who we are and where we are… and who God is and where he is. At that place and in that condition, there is an inward gathering and concentration of energy that on signal from God’s imperative expresses itself in, precisely, obedience – running in the way of God’s commandments.” (28)

Get back to Square One. Stay there.

On Counseling Relationships


Linda and I have many people asking us for relationship or marital counsel. If they are part of our church family, we work with them. We don 't counsel people who don't come to Redeemer since, for us, coming to Redeemer is part of our counseling package. We want to get to know the couple, and have them begin to know us.

When we begin to meet with a couple we first work on understanding them. Only after we feel understanding has been achieved do we point them in a direction. Because they have asked us, we tell them what to do. Of course, since we are their counselors.

At this point it gets interesting, since sometimes one or both don't want to do what we are asking them to do. If that happens, then obviously we are no longer their counselors. The individual or couple wanted us to affirm what they want to do, rather than follow what we think they ought to do. At this point we part ways, wondering why they wanted us to counsel them in the first place.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Philosophy of Religion - Oral Exam #2

To: My MCCC Philosophy of Religion Students:

Last evening I passed around the sign-up sheet for the second oral exam.

The exam review is this coming Tuesday, Nov. 1. Students who have missed no more than once may attend the exam review.

The oral exams will be on Thursday, Nov. 3, and Tuesday, Nov. 8.

The exam questions are:

Mackie's Logical Argument from Evil Against the Existence of God

Buddhism's Idea that Evil Is an Illusion

Plantinga's Refutation of Mackie's Argument

Rowe's Evidential Argument from Evil Against the Existence of God

Wyckstra's Critique of Rowe's Argument

A Consumer Church Is an Antichrist Church

I was a Eugene Peterson fan before he translated the Bible into The Message. In his book The Jesus Way: Conversations on the Ways That Jesus Is the Way Peterson writes about the Real Jesus, and the distinction between the Real Jesus and the American Jesus. Peterson is correct about this. He is one of God's prophets for such a time as this. 

  • “The ways Jesus goes about loving and saving the world are personal…; …The ways employed in our North American culture are conspicuously impersonal.”
  • In churches today “the vocabulary of numbers is preferred over names…” A "number" is an impersonal abstract object; a person is flesh-blood-and spirit real.
  • “Jesus is an alternative to the dominant ways of the world, not a supplement to them.” The Real Jesus cannot and will not be used to build kingdoms alternative to his kingdom.
  • “The North American church at present is conspicuous for replacing the Jesus way with the American way.” Which is the Consumer Church.
  • In America “we are the world’s champion consumers, so why shouldn’t we have state-of-the-art consumer churches?… [T]his is the best and most effective way for gathering large and prosperous congregations. Americans lead the world in showing how to do it. There is only one thing wrong: this is not the way in which… we become less and Jesus becomes more.” The American consumer mentality runs so deep that many churches unreflectively replicate it.
  • Is this bad? Yes. How bad? Peterson writes: “A consumer church is an antichrist church.... We can’t gather a God-fearing, God-worshiping congregation by cultivating a consumer-pleasing, commodity-oriented congregation.”
  • “North American Christians are conspicuous for going along with whatever culture decides is charismatic, successful, influential - whatever gets things done, whatever can gather a crowd of followers - hardly noticing that these ways and means are at odds with the clearly marked way that Jesus walked and called us to follow.” To verify this simply read the four Gospels and use them as a lens through which to evaluate American churches. American churches are largely dictated to by American culture. Here is where "relevant" becomes a bad idea.
  • “Jesus’ metaphor, kingdom of God, defines the world in which we live. We live in a world where Christ is King. If Christ is King, everything, quite literally, everything, every thing and every one, has to be re-imagined, re-configured, re-oriented to a way of life that consists in an obedient following of Jesus.” (To re-orient our people at Redeemer I preached through the four Gospels, chronologically. This took us seven years.)
  • “The ways and means promoted and practiced in the world are a systematic attempt to substitute human sovereignty for God’s rule. The world as such has no interest in following the crucified King.”
  • “Once we start paying attention to Jesus’ ways, it doesn’t take us long to realize that following Jesus is radically different from following anyone else.” 
Follow Jesus, not our schizophrenic culture. Influence culture, via Jesus.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Language Is Constitutive of Reality - The Presence-Driven Church

Image result for john piippo photos
In my doctoral work on metaphor theory and my long interest in philosophy of language (Wittgenstein, J.L. Austin, John Searle, et. al.) I became familiar with the Sapir-Whorff hypothesis. The idea is that the language we use affects the ways we think and shapes our perception of the world. One's language changes one's view of reality.

Take, for example, the term "marriage equality." This term was virtually nonexistent a few years ago. Now, it is commonly heard, and it changes our way of looking at marriage. The term itself covertly redefines "marriage," without justification. It has become acceptable, thoughtlessly. This is the power of words as propaganda, the intent of which is to get people to see reality differently.

The Sapir-Whorff hypothesis is not only about how terms shape experience. The semantic structure of a language shapes or limits the ways in which we form conceptions of the world. More recently, Stanford neo-Whorffian cognitive scientist Lera Boroditsky has been arguing for the effects of language on cognitive processes. (She does not believe, as Noam Chomsky does, that all languages share the same deep structure of thought.) 

The semantic structures and the words we use frame how we see things. Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor, in his recent book The Language Animal: The Full Shape of the Human Linguistic Capacity, argues for language as constitutive of reality. He writes: This "gives us a picture of language as making possible new purposes, new levels of behavior, new meanings, and hence is not explicable within a framework picture of human life conceived without language." (The "framework picture" of language holds that words enframe or capture reality as it is, rather than constitute reality.)

Language, writes Taylor, is constitutive of the reality, is essential to its being the kind of reality that it is. Thus, the language we speak is important. To understand a culture's language is to understand how that culture sees and experiences reality.

This applies to church culture; e.g., the Entertainment Church. Words like "program" and "stage" are lifted from the theater and employed in church. "Church" then becomes an event that is timed and predetermined. The controlling metaphor is Sunday morning is a production, and the terms that fit within this language game are utilized. When the words and phrases generated by the controlling metaphor become the deep, embedded social imaginary of the people, the people become an audience, and say things like, "The service went too long," "I didn't like the music," "I did like the music," "I like his preaching," and so on.

In transitioning from an Entertainment Church to a Presence-Driven Church the language must change. The vocabulary of the Presence-Driven Church is different from the Entertainment Church.

Instead of the word “success,” speak words like “connectedness” and “obedience.” If “success” is used at all, redefine it in terms of connectedness and obedience, not in terms of numbers, size, and finances.

In the Presence-Driven Church use...

“disciple” rather than “decider,"

“influence” rather than “numbers” (of attendees) and “size” (of the church budget and building), 

“abiding” before you use “doing,” 

“being instruments of righteousness” rather than “getting tools for ministry,” 

“discernment,” not “decision-making” (“What is God saying to us?” rather than “What do we think we should do?” and “Let’s vote on this”),

“God-seeking” rather than “brainstorming”), 

“listening” before you use “speaking,” and “relationship” (with God), not “rules of order.” 

Words create. (See my post "God's Commands are Authoritative Words That Have Illocutionary Force.")

(To be further developed in my book Leading the Presence-Driven Church.)


Wednesday, October 26, 2016

"Passion Pursuit: Intimacy in Marriage"

Nicole Griffith's Profile Photo
Nicole Griffith


A group for married women, led by Nicole Griffith, will begin Wed., Nov. 3, 7 PM, at Redeemer in the Orange Room.
The group is called "Passion Pursuit: Intimacy in Marriage."
Child care will be provided.
This group will meet every other week.
Contact Nicole for more information - 734-344-8802.

The Meaning of "Presence-Driven" Church

Image result for johnpiippo presence
Monroe County
(I had some thoughts on the P-DC over the weekend, which are helping me clarify things, hopefully. To be further developed...)

New Testament scholar Gordon Fee has made a case for what he calls "the presence motif" as the core thematic river that runs through the Christian theistic Grand Narrative. From Genesis to Revelation, the point of the whole thing is God and his empowering presence. (See, e.g., Fee, God's Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul.) 

Fee defines "Holy Spirit" as "God's Empowering Presence." I like this. But God's presence is this and more. God's presence is his all-encompassing Trinitarian being; viz., the three-in-oneness of Father, Son, and Spirit. Wherever God manifests himself, he is there in his totality. When God is among us, the Father does not leave the Son and the Spirit in heaven.

Because of this, what I am calling a Presence-Driven Church is vaster than a Spirit-led Church. "Spirit-led" is subsumed under "Presence of God." "Spirit-led Church" is necessary but insufficient to describe "Presence-Driven Church." (Like having three sides is necessary but insufficient in describing a triangle. That's just an explanatory analogy. In no way do I think a triangle is a good analogy for the Trinity.)

By "Presence-Driven Church" I mean a community of Jesus-followers whose doing is "driven" by God, presently. This involves all of God - Father, Son, Spirit. The Presence-Driven Church finds its "doings," its raison d'etre, in its relational connectedness with the Trinitarian being of God. Which includes, of course, the power of the Holy Spirit.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Pursuit of Happiness Is Making Us Miserable

Trees in my backyard
Happiness is a lousy goal but a wonderful byproduct.

American are so anxious, reasons British author Ruth Whippman, because they are pursuing happiness. See Whippman's America the Anxious: How the Pursuit of Happiness Is Creating a Nation of Nervous Wrecks, and a review in the nytimes of her book, "Why Are Americans So Anxious?

The problem with our pursuit of happiness is that it is making us miserable. Studies by psychologists at the University of California, Berkeley, show that "paradoxically, the more people valued and were encouraged to value happiness as a separate life goal, the less happy they were." (nytimes)

I agree, as I have written elsewhere.

What to do about this? My answer, and what I have been doing for forty-six years: Pursue Christ, and experience blessedness (Matthew 5:1-12)

My new book is Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

I'm now writing my book Leading the Presence-Driven Church

Monday, October 24, 2016

Pastors - The Grass Is Not Greener on the Other Side (The Presence-Driven Church)

Groundbreaking at Redeemer

My friend Jim Hunter says that a leader is either "green and growing" or "ripe and rotting." University of Michigan professor Robert Quinn told us that organizations are either experiencing "deep change" or "slow death." 

This implies that pastors, as leaders, should not be thinking that the "grass is greener on the other side." As leaders, they should be themselves green and growing, involved in deep ongoing transformational change, and grow grass and bring change into the churches they have been called to serve.

Growing a beautiful lawn takes time. The soil must be worked up. Seeds of the the Kingdom, the Real Jesus, and Real Church must be planted in the hearts of the people. All this must be watered and nurtured. And we must trust God. Seeds that are growing secretly are out of our control.

In the meantime, the pastor must focus on his or her own connectedness to God. This will keep them in ongoing renewal and transformation. When the pastor and the leaders (which, in the church, are everyone) are green and growing, and changing deep in their hearts, grass is growing around them.

This will give the pastor staying power. 

Pastors - stay and grow where God has planted you. If you can't grow grass there, don't assume you can elsewhere.

I'm now writing my book Leading the Presence-Driven Church

My new book is Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Meaning of "Nothing" in Heidegger

Martin Heidegger
Michael Gelven introduced me to Martin Heidegger's Being and Time when I was an undergraduate at Northern Illinois University. Gelven is one of the best teachers I've ever had. He combined brilliant scholarship with an ability to communicate it to lesser beings like myself. His method of teaching and evaluating become the one I now use in all my teaching.

In my seminary studies I did an independent study with theologian Tom Finger on Being and Time. Thank you, Tom, for taking that time with me. I'm certain I understood very little of what Heidegger was saying and doing. Yet being-taught by Gelven and Finger served and still serves as helpful in now understanding Heidegger, I think, more than I did forty years ago.

Let me try with some "later Heidegger" bullet-points + auto-commentary.

  • Heidegger-studies are usually divided into study of the Heidegger of Being and Time, and the "later Heidegger."
  • I'm looking at Heidegger apart from his involvement in Nazism, an unfortunate development.
  • Theologically, to understand Bultmann and Tillich one must understand Heidegger.
  • If Heidegger is interested in God, his is a non-metaphysical God.
  • Traditional ontology understood persons in terms of their relationship to "things"; in terms of the way things are. In doing this humanity was "led astray" by being.
  • "Being" was the center of Heidegger's thought.
  • Heidegger's term for human being was the German word Dasein. Literally, Dasein simply means "being-there." Heidegger uses this term to indicate that humanity must be studied in terms of its own structure rather than in relation to other "things."
  • Heidegger speaks of Dasein as being "thrown." That does not mean there is a "thrower." Rather, as James Robinson has written, Dasein's "thrown-ness" "relates it to Dasein's own projection of itself. Dasein is grounded in nothing outside itself." ("The German Discussion of the Later Heidegger," by James Robinson; in The Later Heidegger and Theology, eds. James Robinson and John Cobb. I find Robinson's writing on Heidegger clear, and am using his essay for my bullet-points.) With this in mind, consider this quote from Heidegger, who says that the aim is "to let that which shows itself be seen from itself in the very way in which it shows itself from itself." (In Anthony Thiselton, The Two Horizons, 26)
  • This is the meaning, in Heidegger, of "nothing." Dasein is grounded in "nothing" outside itself. For Heidegger there is "nothing" beyond Dasein. Robinson writes: "Dasein, held out into nothing, is beyond all beings, and has in this sense attained ultimate transcendence, the goal of metaphysics." Heidegger explains this in his lecture What Is Metaphysics? (Sartre's "nothingness" in Being and Nothingness is both indebted to Heidegger's phenomenology of being and misunderstands Heidegger and goes in a direction that is non-Heideggarian.)
  • For Heidegger, there is nothing beyond Dasein, not a transcendent God, not to the universe as "the sum total of all beings" (Robinson, 11), and not to some Cartesian subject from which a world of things can be established. Beyond Dasein, nothing lies. The answer to the metaphysical question that haunted philosophers from Plato to the present is: "nothing." As Robinson says, "the answer to the metaphysical question is at the same time the end of metaphysics." (12)
  • Keep all of this in mind in order to understand Tillich's idea of God as the "ground of being."
  • Bultmann is indebted to Heidegger's phenomenology of being in the being of Dasein. The idea of hermeneutics is purely descriptive. Bultmann says, in regard to Heidegger's hermeneutics, "I learned from him not what theology has to say but how to say it." (In Thiselton, 28)
Serious students of Christian theology need to come to grips with the influence of Heidegger's anti-metaphysical phenomenology of Being.

As for "nothing," two interesting (but non-Heideggarian) studies are: Nothing: A Very Short Introduction, by physicist Frank Close; and Jim Holt's excellent Why Does the World Exist? An Existential Detective Story

The Presence-Driven Church & the Lost Art of Worship

Chicago restaurant
You can't program or predict how the Holy Spirit will lead. On Sunday mornings, for example, we have some things in place: an opening worship song, we pray for our children, announcements (if any), praise & worship, preaching, then a time of ministry. But all this can change.

Recently, during the opening song, I was drawn to a person in our sanctuary. I did not know them, but sensed God's presence doing a good thing in them. I felt led to share this with them. At that point the worship meeting was changing before my eyes.

We begin with a simple, basic structure. That's OK and, I think, good. God has led us to prepare this way for his manifesting presence. But within this structure there is room for the Spirit to do his thing. And He does. Always, in our context.

In that sense we do not have an "order of service," or a "program" to be followed. The reason is, while God can and does pre-order what happens in our corporate gatherings, it is God, not me or a committee, doing the pre-ordering. We can't order or program God.

A.W. Tozer looked at the "Program-Driven Church" in dismay. Tozer wrote:

"Thanks to our splendid Bible societies and to other effective agencies for the dissemination of the Word, there are today many millions of people who hold ‘right opinions,’ probably more than ever before in the history of the Church.Yet I wonder if there was ever a time when true spiritual worship was at a lower ebb. To great sections of the Church the art of worship has been lost entirely, and in its place has come that strange and foreign thing called the ‘program.’ This word has been borrowed from the stage and applied with sad wisdom to the type of public service which now passes for worship among us." (A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God, Kindle Locations 46-51)

Tozer wrote that in 1948.

Needed: some modern-day Tozers.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Oregon Church Bans Overweight People from Their Worship Team

See "Church Apologizes, Asks Forgiveness for Banning Fat People from Worship Team."

This is another example of the non-Jesus, Performance-Driven Church. In Performance-Driven churches appearance is more important than God's presence. (The significance of "the stage," the ambiance, the mood, etc. etc.)

How absurd to think God won't show up unless we shed those extra pounds and look good. And by the word "good" here is meant, according to current cultural valuations. Because "looking good" varies. My "looking good" in the early 70s meant paisley bell bottoms. 

(Thanks, Lora, for the heads-up on this.)

Pastors - Better a Slave of Christ than a Slave of Culture

Uh-oh! Someone caught Linda and I having fun in Times Square on Monday.

There was once a woman in my church who saw me on a Wednesday afternoon in the grocery store. Uh-oh, I thought. I've been caught shopping for food! She had an angry sneer on her face. She hustled out of the store and immediately reported me to one of our church's Elders. "I saw John in the grocery store in the middle of the day when he should have been in his office at the church building!" She didn't have a clue.

Most people in the church who write job descriptions for the pastor have never read and immersed themselves in the Scriptures. They don't understand what "pastor" is really about, and write the job out in terms of this world's power structures, or from a secular business model. They don't have a clue. Inadvertently, these job descriptions shape us into this world's mold.

I don't have a formal job description (yay and hallelujah!). Yes, I do things, and these doings come out of my being-with-Jesus. Some of the things I do are... 

  • I pray.
  • I study.
  • I preach.
  • I teach classes in our church.
  • I meet with people in our church family and disciple them.
  • I (along with Linda) help people in our church family.

I do these things within my church family. I don't shepherd other flocks. (This is different from speaking and teaching at different churches, which I am called to do and love to do. But I am not the shepherd of those congregations.)

Eugene Peterson writes:

"Pastors have an extremely difficult job to do, and it's no surprise that so many are discouraged and ready to quit. Though it may not seem like it at face value, pastors are persecuted in North America, and I don't believe I am exaggerating when I say that it is far worse than in seemingly more hostile countries. Our culture doesn't lock us up; it simply and nicely castrates us, neuters us, and replaces our vital parts with a nice and smiling face. And then we are imprisoned in a mesh of "necessities" that keep us from being pastors." (Peterson and Marva J. Dawn, The Unnecessary Pastor: Rediscovering the Call, Kindle Locations 2175-2178)

Some of these "necessities" are laid on emasculated pastors by church boards (not my leaders!). These things are burning pastors out.

Peterson's mission is to set pastors free from these pseudo-necessities. Because "being a slave of Christ is far better than being a slave of culture." (Ib.)

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Narcissistic Pastors and Christian Leaders Refuse to Accept Where God Has Called Them

Times Square, New York City
Years ago (1979) I read Christopher Lasch's The Culture of Narcissism. Lasch said that bureaucratic structures fuel narcissism. He writes:

“The narcissist has many traits that make for success in bureaucratic institutions, which put a premium on the manipulation of interpersonal relations, discourage the formation of deep personal attachments, and at the same time provide the narcissist with the approval he needs in order to validate his self-esteem. Although he may resort to therapies that promise to give meaning to life and to overcome his sense of emptiness, in his professional career the narcissist often enjoys considerable success." (Quoted in Ruth Haley Barton, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry, pp. 110-111)

Ruth Haley Barton says our churches function like bureaucracies, and therefore "it is not surprising that clergy are sometimes rewarded, not punished for their narcissistic behaviors." (Op. cit., 111) Barton writes: "There is a lot of narcissism among leaders—even Christian ones—and the truth is that we are driven by our grandiosity more than we think." (Ib., 110)

Narcissistic pastors and leaders view themselves as worthy of deserving something "greater" than where they are. Barton writes:

"One of the ways to recognize narcissism within ourselves is to notice when we have not yet accepted the field, the sphere of action, that God has given us—the opportunities and the limits of life in this body, this community, this set of relationships, this financial situation, this place where we have been called by God to serve. Narcissistic leaders are always looking longingly at someone else’s field as somehow being more worthy or more indicative of success. They are always pushing the limits of their situation rather than lovingly working the field they have been given." (Ib., 111; emphasis mine)

Over the years God has purged me of many narcissistic attitudes and behaviors. I don't know if it's all out of me yet. But I do know that, in my extended praying times over the years, God has labored to defeat the self-idolatry that constructs a throne in my mind.

I am a pastor at Redeemer Church in Monroe, Michigan. This is my twenty-fifth year here. How thankful I am for this. This is good news for me! As Barton says, "The good news is that there is something deeply spiritual about living and working within our God-ordained limits—or to put it another way, living fully and acceptingly within our own set of realities." (Ib., 112)

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Alvin Plantinga Weighs In on Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion

This is a post I made when Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion was popular, among some people. 

I thought it would be worth revisiting, since some people continue to be influenced by Dawkins's vast irrationality.

The brilliant Alvin Plantinga reviews Dawkins' God Delusion here.

Here are a few of Plantinga's points.

Plantinga writes: "Now despite the fact that this book is mainly philosophy, Dawkins is not a philosopher (he's a biologist). Even taking this into account, however, much of the philosophy he purveys is at best jejune. You might say that some of his forays into philosophy are at best sophomoric, but that would be unfair to sophomores; the fact is (grade inflation aside), many of his arguments would receive a failing grade in a sophomore philosophy class. This, combined with the arrogant, smarter-than-thou tone of the book, can be annoying."

Yes, Dawkins' philosophizing is simply horrible, as I pointed out in 40+ posts.

Plantinga shows that Dawkins's argument that "there is almost certainly no God" (GD ch. 3) makes no logical sense. Plantinga writes: 

"What he [Dawkins] does in The Blind Watchmaker, fundamentally, is three things. First, he recounts in vivid and arresting detail some of the fascinating anatomical details of certain living creatures and their incredibly complex and ingenious ways of making a living; this is the sort of thing Dawkins does best. Second, he tries to refute arguments for the conclusion that blind, unguided evolution could not have produced certain of these wonders of the living world—the mammalian eye, for example, or the wing. Third, he makes suggestions as to how these and other organic systems could have developed by unguided evolution." 

Then Plantinga shows that it does not logically follow, supposing these three things true, that the universe could not have been designed. Which is what Dawkins concludes, falsely.

Dawkins argument boils down to one premise and a conclusion.

The premise is: 1. We know of no irrefutable objections to its being biologically possible that all of life has come to be by way of unguided Darwinian processes.

Therefore (acc. to Dawkins): Conclusion: All of life has come to be by way of unguided Darwinian processes.

Huh? Plantinga writes: "It's worth meditating, if only for a moment, on the striking distance, here, between premise and conclusion. The premise tells us, substantially, that there are no irrefutable objections to its being possible that unguided evolution has produced all of the wonders of the living world; the conclusion is that it is true that unguided evolution has indeed produced all of those wonders. The argument form seems to be something like:

1.We know of no irrefutable objections to its being possible that p;
2. Therefore, p is true.

Philosophers sometimes propound invalid arguments (I've done a few myself). Few of those arguments display the colossal distance between premise and conclusion sported by this one. I come into the departmental office and announce to the chairman that the dean has just authorized a $50,000 raise for me; naturally he wants to know why I think so. I tell him that we know of no irrefutable objections to its being possible that the dean has done that. My guess is he'd gently suggest that it is high time for me to retire."

Plantinga has a lot of stuff in his review, to include some great thinking re. the fine-tuning argument.

He concludes: 

"The God Delusion is full of bluster and bombast, but it really doesn't give even the slightest reason for thinking belief in God mistaken, let alone a "delusion."
The naturalism that Dawkins embraces, furthermore, in addition to its intrinsic unloveliness and its dispiriting conclusions about human beings and their place in the universe, is in deep self-referential trouble. There is no reason to believe it; and there is excellent reason to reject it."

Presence-Driven Pastors Don't View People Functionally

Linda and I were in Times Square on Monday

Program-Driven Churches and Entertainment-Driven Churches view people more according to their doing, not their being. They are more concerned with using people than with spiritually discipling them. For example, she is seen as a "teacher," and he is seen as a "drummer." These kind of churches tend to see a person as "another warm body" to fill a slot in the Kids Ministry or on the Worship Team. 

This is bad. Eugene Peterson writes:

"If we identify people functionally, they turn into functions. We need to know our people for who they are, not for what they can do. Building community is not an organizational task; it is relational - understanding who people are in relation to one another and to Jesus and working on the virtues and habits that release love and forgiveness and hope and grace." (Eugene Peterson, The Unnecessary Pastor: Rediscovering the Call, Kindle Locations 2376-2378)

In the Presence-Driven Church relationship is more important than function. Presence-Driven pastors are concerned to deepen peoples' relationship with God (abiding in Christ) and with one another (community).

I'm now writing my book Leading the Presence-Driven Church. (I signed with Thomas Nelson/Westbow yesterday.)

My new book is Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Abortion: A Logical Argument

Backgammon, in Jerusalem

Here is Baylor University philosopher and jurisprudential scholar Francis Beckwith’s logical (not religious) argument against abortion. (See Beckwith, Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice.)

Beckwith’s argument does not depend on any particular religious beliefs. I think it’s a good argument to use in my logic classes because logical arguments are to be non-emotive. The abortion argument can get very emotional! 

In logic, the idea is - attack the argument, not the argument-maker. To do the latter is to commit the informal logical fallacy called ad hominem abusive. Attacking a person rather than the argument is, I think, mostly ineffective.


1. The unborn entity, from the moment of conception, is a full-fledged member of the human community.

2. It is prima facie[2] morally wrong to kill any member of that community.

3. Every successful abortion kills an unborn entity, a full-fledged member of the human community.

4. Therefore, every successful abortion is prima facie morally wrong.

This is not a religious argument, but a logical argument. No appeal to religion needs to be made.

By “full-fledged member of the human community” is meant that the conceptus[3] is as much a bearer of rights as any human being whose rights-bearing status is uncontroversial, like you or me. As Beckwith says, “the unborn entity is entitled to all the rights to which free and equal persons are entitled by virtue of being free and equal persons.” “Full-fledged member of the human community” cannot mean something like “viability,” since then we have two problems:

1) the arbitrariness of deciding who’s a full-fledged member and who’s not; and
2) the odd philosophical idea that there is suddenly a “moment” (call it time ‘t’) when the conceptus/fetus/inborn child becomes a person, which means at time ‘t-minus-1 second’ it was not. “Abortion advocates argue that the unborn entity is not a person and hence not a subject of moral rights until some decisive moment in fetal or postnatal development.” (Beckwith, 130) Such a position is incoherent and fraught with philosophical problems.

“Virtually no one disputes – including leading defenders of abortion-choice – that every mature human being was once an adolescent, a child, an infant, a baby, a newborn, a fetus, and an embryo.” (131) But the abortion advocate argues that it is morally permissible to end a human being’s life at the embryo stage of human life. How is this possible? Beckwith says they argue that not all human beings are equally intrinsically valuable (IV) because some do not have the present capacity to exhibit certain properties or functions that would make them IV. (130) Thus, the fetal self is not “intrinsically valuable.”

Beckwith holds to a “substance view of persons.” This means that a human being “is intrinsically valuable because of the sort of thing it is and the human being remains that sort of thing as long as it exists”. That is, an individual “maintains absolute identity through time while it grows, develops, and undergoes numerous changes”. To use another example, the term “universe” refers to one entity that goes through various stages. The universe at t + 1 second, though much smaller and far more inchoate then the universe now, was still at that time as much “the universe” as it is now. So, the term “universe does not suffer from vagueness. It is in precisely that sense that “person” does not suffer from vagueness as well.

Various functions and capacities, whether fully realized or utilized do not constitute a person. Thus a human being is never a potential person, but is always a person at different stages of development, whether potential properties and capacities are actualized or not.

To explain: a human being may never realize the ability to reason logically. It would then lack this ability. In contrast, a frog is not said to lack something if it can’t study logic, because by nature it is not the sort of being that can have the ability to do logic. But a human being who lacks the ability to think logically is still a human being because of her nature. A human being’s “lack” makes sense if and only if she is an actual human person. (E.g., a rock does not “lack” the ability to see.)Most pro-abortionists argue that personhood is not inherent or intrinsic, but based on certain capacities and functions, be it consciousness, sentience, self-awareness, the ability to reason, and so on.

WHAT ABOUT THE FOLLOWING POPULAR ARGUMENTS FOR ABORTION CHOICE? Beckwith says they many commit the informal logical fallacies of “appeal to pity” and “begging the question.”

“An argument from pity is an attempt to show the plausibility of one’s point of view by trying to move others emotionally, although the reasonableness of the position stands or falls on the basis of other important factors.” Here are some arguments from pity:

Argument from the dangers of illegal abortions

If abortion is made illegal then women will perform illegal abortions.If women perform illegal abortions then women will be harmed.Therefore if abortion is made illegal then women will be harmed.
This argument “begs the question.” Only by assuming that the unborn are not fully human does the argument work. “But if the unborn are fully human, this abortion-choice argument is tantamount to saying that because people die or are harmed while killing other people (i.e., unborn people), the state should make it safe for them to do so.” (94) Therefore, the argument begs the question.

Argument from financial burden

We can’t minimize the fact that there are tragic circumstances, like a poor woman with four small children who becomes pregnant by her alcoholic husband.“But once again we must ask whether the unborn entity is fully human, for hardship does not justify homicide.” (98)For example, if I knew that killing you would relieve me of future hardship, that’s not sufficient justification for me to kill you.

Argument from the unwanted child

This argument, again, begs the question.Because only if we assume that the unborn re not fully human does this argument work.It is extremely difficult to argue that the value of a human being depends on whether someone wants or cares for that human being.

Argument from the deformed and handicapped child

First, if this argument succeeds in showing that abortion is justified if a woman is pregnant with a deformed or handicapped fetus, it only establishes the right to abort in those kind of situations.But this argument again begs the question. “For if the unborn are fully human, then to promote the aborting of the handicapped unborn is tantamount to promoting the execution of handicapped people whoa re already born.”[4]Of course having a handicapped child can be a terrible burden. “But it is important to realize that if the unborn entity is fully human, homicide cannot be justified simply because it relieves one of a terrible burden.” (102)

Argument from interference in career

Again… this begs the question. “For what would we think of a parent who kills his two-year-old because the child interfered with the parent’s ability to advance in his occupation?” (104)

Argument from rape and incest

This is a horrible thing, of course.Note: this argument is not relevant to the case for abortion on demand.Note also this: “the unborn entity is not an aggressor when its presence does not endanger it’s mother’s life (as in the case of a tubal pregnancy). It is the rapist who is the aggressor. The unborn entity is just as much an innocent victim as its mother.” (105-106) Again… this argument begs the questions by assuming that the unborn is not fully human.

Another popular argument is the Argument from Imposing Morality.
This argument says: It’s wrong for anyone to “force” his view of morality on someone else. Pro-lifers, by attempting to stop women from having abortions, are trying to force their morality on others.
But this argument cannot be right. Because it’s not always wrong for the community to institute laws that require people to behave in certain moral ways. E.g., it’s not wrong to institute a law against child molestation. If the unborn entity is fully human, forbidding abortions would be perfectly just. Any law prohibiting abortion would unjustly impose one’s morality on others only if the act of abortion is good, morally benign, or does not unjustly limit the free agency of another. The real issue is: what counts as a “person,” a full-fledged member of the human community.

[1] All quotes from Francis Beckwith, Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice

[2] Prima facie is a Latin expression meaning “on its first appearance”, or “by first instance”. It is used in modern legal English to signify that on first examination, a matter appears to be self-evident from the facts. In common law jurisdictions, prima facie denotes evidence that (unless rebutted) would be sufficient to prove a particular proposition or fact.

[3] The fertilized egg

[4] See Peter Singer, who admits that “pro-life groups are right about one thing: the location of the baby inside or outside the womb cannot make such a crucial moral difference… The solution, however, is not to accept the pro-life view that the fetus is a human being with the same moral status as yours or mine. The solution is the very opposite: to abandon the idea that all human life is of equal worth.” (In Beckwith, 101)

My recently published book is Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.