Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Real Belief In God Stains Everything

Detroit Institute of Art

One of the best books I've read is by agnostic writer Julian Barnes - Nothing To Be Frightened Of. Barnes is an excellent, beautiful writer. This was a book I could not put down, and which elicited much feeling in me.

Even though Barnes does not believe in God, he finds himself longing for God. He is blunt about certain liberal Christian ideas of God (e.g., deistic thinking). Barnes rightly understands that if God exists, this reality will shape all of life. 

He writes:

“There seems little point in a religion which is merely a weekly social event (apart, of course, from the normal pleasures of a weekly social event), as opposed to one which tells you exactly how to live, which colors and stains everything.” (64). Barnes asks: “What’s the point of faith unless you and it are serious — seriously serious — unless your religion fills, directs, stains and sustains your life?” (81)

The only religion worth embracing is one which stains everything.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Swinburne's 5 Types of Religious Experience (Mediated and Unmediated Access to God)

Pond circles, in my back yard
In making a cumulative case for the existence of God I include religious experience. Increasingly, as time passes, this is important to me. I believe that experience, not theory, breeds conviction.

I know there are persons who claim to have never experienced religiously. And, some have  something like "Einsteinian wonder," but interpret this naturalistically. These things being true, they don't present a defeater to my encounters with God, and my interpreting them as being from God.

My watershed religious experience came when, at age twenty-one, someone told me "God loves you." I had heard and read these words many times before. But this time was different. They  set off an inner revolution that continues to this day. 

A large portion of my life has been dedicated to understanding the nature and source of this experience. One thing that has helped me is teaching my philosophy of religion courses, and occasionally presenting a section on religious experience. 

What does religious experience look like? Here is Oxford philosopher Richard Swinburne's 5 types of religious experience, from the perspective of the experiencer. (Taken from Reason and Religious Belief; An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion, eds. Michael Peterson, William Hasker, Bruce Reichenbach, and David Basinger; 29 ff.)

1. Experience of God or Ultimate Reality mediated through a common, public, sensory object. For example, one might claim to see God in an icon, sunset, or ocean. Icons or sunsets are not God, but objects in and through which God or the transcendent is encountered.

My journals are filled with God-experiences mediated through sense experience. History, modern and ancient, is populated with these kind of theophanies. Here, for example, is Nehemiah 9:6 - You alone are the LORD. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you. Verses like these melt the hearts of some of us.

2. Experience of God or Ultimate Reality mediated through an unusual, public, sensory object. For example, one might claim to experience the transcendent through an appearance of the Virgin at Lourdes, a figure seen in a cloud formation, or in a bush that burned but was not consumed.

3. Experience of God or Ultimate Reality mediated through private sensations that can be described in normal sensory language. Visions, dreams, locutions, and the like, despite being described in sensory language, are available only to one person. For example, a person might claim to experience God in a dream or vision, as did Peter, who, in a trance, saw a cloth filled with unkosher animals lowered from heaven.

God has, on occasion, spoken to me through a dream. I have a few of them that I interpret as being from God (via inference to the best explanation).

4. Experience of God or Ultimate Reality mediated through private sensations that cannot be described in normal sensory language. Here one feels or claims to experience something, but it cannot be spoken about; it is ineffable.

These are non-discursive experiences. I have had some of them, and written about this here and here.

5. Experience of God or Ultimate Reality that is not mediated by any sensations. The person claims to be intuitively and immediately aware of God or the One.

I've had this kind of experience as well.

Experiences are existentially convincing in ways theoretical reasoning cannot provide. 

In my coming book I have an entire chapter given to "The Case for Experience" (Leading the Presence-Driven Church is now at the publisher, and should be available in Dec. 2017).


Note: Charles Taylor's work influences me; e.g., his majestic "A Secular Age." Taylor has recently collaborated with the great philosopher Hubert Dreyfus in Retrieving Realism. See a review here. Taylor and Dreyfus critique mediational theories of knowledge and argue for unmediated access to reality. Perhaps this work can, by logical extension, validate experiences of unmediated access to God. See # 5 above.

Friday, October 27, 2017

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

Image may contain: one or more people, people sitting and indoor
Linda, in Artifactory, Corktown, Detroit

(For my MCCC Philosophy of Religion class, from William Rowe's "The Evidential Argument From Evil.") 

1. Rowe believes Mackie's logical argument fails, having been defeated by Plantinga's Free Will Defense. Rowe, therefore, does not believe theism is logically incoherent.

2. Instead, Rowe's presents an "evidential" argument from evil against the existence of God. His argument is based on the evidence of:

a) the kind of horrendous evils there are in the world; and

b the amount of such horrendous evils in the world (= gratuitous suffering, or pointless suffering).

3. Rowe's argument is:

i. There exist instances of intense suffering which an omnipotent, omniscient being could have prevented without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.

ii. An omniscient, wholly good being would prevent the occurrence of any intense suffering it could, unless it could not do so without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.

iii. There does not exist an omnipotent, omniscient, wholly good being.

4. Premise 2 – "This premise is, I think, held in common by many atheists and nontheists... (and even) theists." (Pojman, 202) I think Rowe is correct on this. The controversial premise is P1.

5. P1 – Rowe uses the "Bambi example" as an illustration of the rationality of pointless, or unjustified, suffering. Rowe says we cannot "prove" P1. But he believes it is rational, or reasonable, to believe P1 is true. Even if we can't see that his Bambi example works, surely, thinks Rowe, there are instances of pointless suffering among all the suffering in the world. He says: "The idea that none of this suffering could have been prevented by an omnipotent being without thereby losing a greater good or permitting an evil at least as bad seems an extraordinary absurd idea, quite beyond our belief." (Pojman, 203)

It seems, therefore, "that we have rational support for atheism, that it is reasonable for us to believe that the theistic God does not exist." (Pojman, 203)

6. Rowe calls his position "friendly atheism." This kind of atheism holds that a theist can also be rational in believing in an Omni-God. (Pojman, 205-206) A friendly atheist can believe this even while thinking the theist is wrong.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Hearing God: The Distinction between Discernment and Decision-Making

My Book on Prayer Is Available As a Kindle Book

My back yard

My book on prayer is available on Kindle - Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

Cost: $9.99.

In 1977 I began taking extended times alone in praying and meditating on Scripture. This evolved into regular Tuesday afternoon prayer times, sometimes as long as six hours. 

During these 40 years of praying times I recorded my interactions with God in over 3000 pages of journal entries.

I took those journal entries, plus my seminary teachings on prayer, and distilled them into my book. My prayer is that it would assist followers of Jesus in their own praying lives.

My book Leading the Presence-Driven Church is now at my publisher, and hopefully will be out in Nov/Dec 2017.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Humanity Is Made In the Image of God (ONE-HOUR SEMINARY NOTES)

Butterfly in my back yard

Last evening my brother-in-law Grady Hauser gave an excellent presentation on what it means to be made in God's image, and why this is important to understand. During Grady's presentation one of my thoughts was that this is giving great dignity to humanity.

Here is Grady's teaching outline.                                                                                                                               
Initial text:   Gen. 1:27.   Psalm 8.

Being Made in His Image: 

10 Things That Set Us Apart from the Rest of God's Creation.

1.       We have a moral compass at birth.
2.       We can think and reason.
3.       We speak and write---like God.   (Ex. 31:18)W
4.       We have authority over all of creation, including the animals.  Gen. 1:28    Stewards (reference - Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, by Kenneth Bailey)
5.       We make and keep promises---like God.                                                                                               
6.       We make choices based on spiritual criteria---leading to sin or glorifying God. (Animals don’t sin)
7.       We make and appreciate music, art and general beauty.  Animals can’t---birds don’t sing.
8.       We have an eternal soul and destiny.
9.       We understand the past and anticipate the future---we contemplate death.  Past = regret  Future=worry
10.   We work, by God’s perfect design, because God works.  Retirement is a transition to other efforts.

Major doctrines that emerge from our being made in God’s image.

1.       The doctrine of work.  (Keller background info)
2.       Marriage.  Only humans marry by choice, for life, for the purpose of extending God’s family.  The scripture uses marriage as the picture of Christ and the Church, God and Israel.  In both cases “his chosen bride”.
3.       Justice and Grace.  God is both of these.  Only humans are commanded to give and respond to both. 
4.       All of the Biblical covenants: Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic, hinge on our being Made in God’s Image.  God makes promises and we are to keep our end of the covenant because---we are made in his image. 
5.       The sanctity of life.  We are inherently valuable---whether pre-born or old, wise or challenged, because of his image.  Animals are not.  This distinction in worldview is not clearly understood by many.
6.       The Gospel.  His image both in humans and in creation has been marred by sin.  The Good News is that through Jesus (on the cross and in the future) he will fully restore his image.
7.       Eschatology.  The crowning doctrine in this subject promises that because we are of his “kind”, and related through his Son (family), he goes to prepare a place for us (work),  and will come again and receive us unto himself (marriage), that where He is, we will also be.   John 14:2,3  (1st century marriage picture)

Final thought:   We are Physical, Mental, Spiritual, Social, Emotional creatures made in God’s image.  A major weakness in any of these areas compromises our ability to minister.   Ref.  Emotionally HealthySpirituality”,by Peter Scazzero.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Healing of Shame - Part 2 (Sermon

The Rift Valley, in south central Kenya

My second sermon on "Healing of Shame" can be heard HERE.

"Grace" Is Empowerment

The Rift Valley, in south central Kenya

The focus of the Fall 2010 edition of the Journal of Spiritual Formation & Soul Care is "Dallas Willard and Spiritual Formation." In the Introduction Willard's definition of "grace" is given. "Grace is God acting in our lives to bring about what we do not deserve and cannot accomplish on our own." (126)

I know that "grace" has the core meaning of "gift." A gift is, precisely, something I have not earned and thereby do not deserve. But God's grace is also an empowerment. The gift of grace is given so that God might work through me, and you, to accomplish Kingdom-things we could not have done by our own wisdom and strength. 

In this sense God's grace manifests itself. The spiritual gift of prophecy, e.g., is the divine enrichment of our speech and knowledge so as to share words that are not reducible or attributable to our own abilities.

To emphasize grace as only something done to me is to treat it passively. To add to this the idea that grace accomplishes God-things is to see it as dynamic and active. 

Grace is an appearance, a showing-up. Grace is the concrete manifestation of the activity of God in the life of a submitted Jesus-follower.

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

I submitted my manuscript for Leading the Presence-Driven Church to my publisher last week.

ONE-HOUR SEMINARY - "Made In the Image of God"

Image result for grady hauser


Tuesday, Oct. 24, 9-10 PM EST

On Facebook Live

“What does it mean to be made in the image of God? Why is it important to understand this?”

Thirty minutes of live teaching, thirty minutes of live Q&A.

My brother-in-law Grady Hauser will be my guest speaker on this One-Hour Seminary.

Grady Hauser has served in several church and para-church leadership roles.  His book, Passing the Baton – 100 Life Principlesand Skills Every Father Needs to Teach His Children, has been used in churches and men’s conferences around the country.  Grady received an economics/management degree from Trinity International University in 1978.  He has worked in the printing industry for his entire career and is the Principal of Personalized Printing, Inc., a brokerage based in Northfield, IL.

Grady and his wife Lora have two married sons, three grandchildren and live in the western suburbs of Chicago.  They are members and serve at Wheaton Bible Church.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Smartphones and the Coming Mental Health Crisis

Image result for smartphone addiction cartoon

What are cell phones doing to our kids? See "Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?" by psychologist Jean Twenge (San Diego State University).

Twenge calls those born between 1995 and 2012 "iGen." "Members of this generation are growing up with smartphones, have an Instagram account before they start high school, and do not remember a time before the internet." 

Here are some quotes. See the entire article for more.

Today's teens are on the brink 
of a mental health catastrophe. 

Twenge writes:

"Some generational changes are positive, some are negative, and many are both. More comfortable in their bedrooms than in a car or at a party, today’s teens are physically safer than teens have ever been. They’re markedly less likely to get into a car accident and, having less of a taste for alcohol than their predecessors, are less susceptible to drinking’s attendant ills.
Psychologically, however, they are more vulnerable than Millennials were: Rates of teen depression and suicide have skyrocketed since 2011. It’s not an exaggeration to describe iGen as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades. Much of this deterioration can be traced to their phones." (Emphasis mine.)

Smartphones make teens seriously unhappy.

"There is compelling evidence that the devices we’ve placed in young people’s hands are having profound effects on their lives—and making them seriously unhappy."

"Teens who spend more time than average on screen activities are more likely to be unhappy, and those who spend more time than average on nonscreen activities are more likely to be happy. 
There’s not a single exception. All screen activities are linked to less happiness, and all nonscreen activities are linked to more happiness."

Smartphones are related to the increase 
in teen loneliness and depression.

"When teens spend more time on smartphones and less time on in-person social interactions, loneliness is more common.
So is depression. Once again, the effect of screen activities is unmistakable: The more time teens spend looking at screens, the more likely they are to report symptoms of depression."

Smartphones are related to 
an increase in teen suicides.

"Teens who spend three hours a day or more on electronic devices are 35 percent more likely to have a risk factor for suicide, such as making a suicide plan. (That’s much more than the risk related to, say, watching TV.)" 

Parents should limit teen smartphone use.

"The correlations between depression and smartphone use are strong enough to suggest that more parents should be telling their kids to put down their phone. As the technology writer Nick Bilton has reported, it’s a policy some Silicon Valley executives follow. Even Steve Jobs limited his kids’ use of the devices he brought into the world."

See Twenge's book, 

iGen: Why Today's Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy--and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood--and What That Means for the Rest of Us.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Fake (Faux) Renditions of Jesus

Wilberforce, Ohio

In our attempts to introduce people to the Real Jesus we battle against a number of folk beliefs that have little or no connection to the Jesus of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Here are some "folk Christian" things I see, followed by a few methodological considerations.

Folk (faux) Christian ideas include:
  • The "prosperity Jesus"; viz., the idea that Jesus wants to make you rich, as if that were on his kingdom-expanding agenda. The Son of Man didn't even have a roof over his head, remember? Haven't you read that everything Jesus says about money is negative? Money, said Jesus, is an alternative god. (See, e.g., Ben Witherington, Jesus and Money.)
  • The "drug Jesus"; viz., the idea that we can "smoke a little Jesus" and get high on Jesus, and that abiding in Jesus is somehow analogical, physically and mentally, to drug-induced highs. I used to drug out and get high. I feel insulted when a comparison is made between being filled with the Spirit and being high on drugs. Are you kidding me?
  • The "alcoholic Jesus"; viz., the idea that "getting drunk on Jesus" is like an alcoholic drunk who staggers around incoherently and just generally makes a fool of himself and alienates himself from other sober people (as if that was the kind of behavior seen in the early church when they were accused of drunkenness, which of course it was not). In Acts 2 it's true that people thought the Jesus-followers were drunk, but it was because they were speaking in other languages, not because they were staggering around and falling into gutters like a bunch of alcoholics. It's hard enough to understand the slurred speech of a drunk much less add them speaking French or Coptic. Haven't you heard that part of the fruit of the Spirit is self-control?
  • The "rule-concerned Jesus"; viz., the idea that, e.g., the clothes we wear are either especially displeasing or pleasing to God; that wearing hats and slacks in the sanctuary is hated by God; that Jesus is primarily concerned with external physical appearance at all. Jesus looks on the human heart, not the clothes or the hairstyles or hats of people. Read the Gospels and see the Real Jesus battling against such Pharisaical legalism.
  • The "hymn-singing Jesus"; viz., the idea that Jesus was especially fond of the "old hymns," with "old" meaning the 19th century in Europe and America. Jesus and the early Church didn't sing the old hymns, because they lived 1800 years before them. 
  • The "orderly Jesus": viz.,  the idea that Jesus is really concerned about the length of religious services and especially bent out of shape when the service "runs too long." What difference does time make if God is in the House? If God actually showed up in our houses of worship people (not all) would hang around. Remember that Jesus never followed "Robert's Rules of Order," and that the Greek word for 'Holy Spirit' is not 'Robert.'
  • The "pageantry Jesus"; viz., the Jesus who desires that buku bucks be spent on lavish, panoramic church programs that entertain "audiences" of people. Remember that Jesus and his disciples had very little money, and what $$$ they actually had was not used on "ministry programs." Jesus didn't need money to be effective.
  • The "mega Jesus"; viz., the idea that size = relevance as regards God's Kingdom, and that size is needed to change the world. Remember John 6:66, where the True Church gets downsized because it's hard to follow Jesus through the narrow gate.
  • The "balanced Jesus"; viz., the idea that Jesus came to show us how to balance our lives (while in actuality the Jesus-life is fundamentally imbalanced, with the love of God encompassing all things). The Real Jesus lived and lives a very unbalanced life. (See "Prayer and the Unbalanced Life.")
  • The "non-7-11 Jesus"; viz., the idea that Jesus despises repetition (7 verses sung 11 times) in worship singing. Remember that tribal worship is repetitive, and Hebrew culture was tribal. Repetitive worship functions as a form of meditation which is, essentially, repetitive. Jesus isn't angry when we repeat "Yes Lord, Yes Lord" over and over and over again, right?
  • The "butler Jesus"; viz., the idea that Jesus is a divine butler sent to satisfy all our human goals and the establishing of our own personal kingdoms. This is the Moralistic Therapeutic Deism that U. of  Notre Dame's Christian Smith has told us about. It's the religion of choice among a lot of adolescents today. But it's not Jesus. Not at all.
  • The "political Jesus"; viz., the idea that Jesus places his hope in nations and political systems, and that our hope is in achieving "Christian nations." Recall that Jesus is the one who refused the offer of forming a Christian nation when he was tempted by Satan. Remember that Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world."
  • The "American Jesus"; viz., the idea that "America" is the summum bonum of Jesus' plans and purposes (while saying, again, that his kingdom is not of this world... not at all). Note that whatever positive Christian influence America may have had has been lost - see Philip Jenkins's important The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity. 
  • The "rule-giving Jesus"; viz., the idea that Jesus came not to set us free, but to pile on more rules for us to follow, thus increasing our current oppressed condition. 
  • The "King James Jesus"; viz., the idea that Jesus himself spoke in King James English and anyone who reads the Christian Scriptures, even in their original autographs, has just purchased a ticket to hell. Note that no biblical scholar worthy of the title looks to the KJV as the standard of accuracy. While the KJV is wonderful and has been greatly used by God, the original manuscripts are what scholars do and should study. And yes, we do (inductively) have access to them.
  • The "striving Jesus"; viz., the idea that Jesus did what he did and said what he said because he tried a lot harder than we do. Remember what Jesus said about himself in John 14-16, and his teachings there on remaining/dwelling/abiding in the perichoretic Triune unity of the Godhead. Abide "in the Father," not "strive."
  • The "make a decision Jesus"; viz., the idea that Jesus wants us to make some decision for him, and then live like hell. As if that was the essence of "salvation" (getting sozo-ed). Praise God that "salvation" is a huge, vast idea that involves way more than "making a decision." 
  • The "angry-at-you Jesus"; viz., the idea that Jesus gets really ticked off at you and at times is in a very bad mood regarding you, and then appoints religious fault-finding people to point this out to you and judge you and condemn you. How about this as an alternative: Jesus loves you. This you know. For the Bible tells you so. Little ones to Him belong. You are weak. He is strong.
  • The "formulaic Jesus"; viz., the idea that there are a series of steps involved in the real following of Jesus. Remember that it's all about relationship with Jesus, and relationships can never be reduced to a mere formula.
  • The hipster Jesus; viz., the idea that Jesus is just the coolest thing or person out there who would wear hipster clothes and listen to hipster music and ghettoize himself if he walked the earth today. Please note: there is not an ounce of trendiness in the real Jesus. Jesus didn't have or want or impart the "shopping anointing." That's part of what makes Jesus stand out, and why he is so different, and so radical. Jesus isn't cool. Jesus imitates no one. He's either your enemy, come to overthrow the rule of self, or he's your Lord and God. 

A Few Methodological Considerations in the Quest to Escape Folk Christianity and Follow the Real Jesus

  • Read the 4 Gospels. There you will encounter the Real Jesus
  • Read the Pauline letters as further complementary and supplementary revelation about the Real Jesus
  • Identify core elements of the Real Jesus. For example, Jesus warns us about money, and has a preferential option for the poor.
  • Interpret following Jesus through his basic message, which is the message of the kingdom of God/heaven. To know Jesus, everything stands or falls with this.
  • Discern nationalistic, ethnic, and temporal frameworks that spin the Real Jesus in the wrong way.
  • Be in daily relationship with Jesus (see John 14-17).
  • Soak yourself in Jesus' words in Matthew 5-7 (the incredible "Sermon on the Mount").
  • Hang around and fellowship with people who, above all, want Jesus and his kingdom.
  • Finally, never presume to have the final word on Jesus. History is filled with good people who put a spin on Jesus that we now see to be historically conditioned. Probably you and I are doing that to some extent, too.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Healing of Shame - Part 1 (Sermon)

Image result for redeemer fellowship monroe mi

My sermon "Healing of Shame: Part 1can be heard HERE.

I preached Part 2 of this message today - it should be online in a week.