Sunday, July 21, 2019

A Letter to Christians About Gentleness and Respect

Ancient war helmets, Detroit Institute of Art
Looks like someone took a spear in the forehead.

(I'm re-posting this for some friends.)

This is for followers of Jesus. Because I see this happening everywhere, to include, sadly, in the Church. And note: it all speaks to me, as well. Perhaps I am writing this for my own instruction? To remind myself of The Standard? If so, I can accept that. On this I agree with Dallas Willard, who once confessed that he had not loved others enough. Me either.

I embrace the traditional definition of marriage as between a man and a woman. Other revisionist definitions are therefore wrong. I have written extensively on this, on this blog. That is what I affirm.

How I talk about what I affirm is important. In Romans 12 we are told to not conform our hearts to the pattern of our culture. God's kingdom, as Jesus repeatedly demonstrated, is not of this world.

One of this world's patterns has always been harshness and disrespect. Especially when it comes to disagreement. Much of this is seen on social media. It gets unloving and hate-filled. And anti-Christlike. Followers of Jesus who descend into the ugly side of social media are conforming to the world's modus operandi.

The Jesus way, on the other hand, includes beliefs and attitudes such as...

Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.

All the awesome spiritual gifts are nothing if you don't have love, as a heart attitude that leads to behavior.

Love is the greatest thing. Therefore, if you are on social media, be great.

Express your reasons for the hope you have, but always do it in gentleness and with respect.

Avoid the argumentative person. (Proverbs)

Speak the truth? Yes! But always in love!

If it has flesh and blood, it is not our real enemy. (Do not be sucked in by social media about this. On social media we see people fighting against people.)

When disagreeing, be patient with others, as you work to listen and understand them. (1 Cor. 13)

In disagreement, never dishonor others.  (1 Cor. 13)

Remove your anger buttons. (1 Cor. 13)

Grow up spiritually, and put the ways of children behind you. (1 Cor. 13:11)

When in conflict and disagreement, see HERE for how to be both truthful and loving. 

Remember that, contrary to much media, to disagree is not to hate.

If, when dialoguing and disagreeing, you fall into hatred, dishonor, and diminishment of the other, repent, and ask them for forgiveness.  

The superior conflict-discussing, understanding-and-forgiving environment is face-to-face. Phone conversation comes in second. Email and texting is a distant, inferior third. The worst way, the incendiary way, is on social media, for the world to see. True, that's more interesting and attention-getting. Which is part of our world's disease.

(Maybe...   one more suggestion...  take some philosophy classes. In my experience these classes had much debate and disagreement, but done civilly. Because, in logic, ad hominem abusives are irrelevant to truth-seeking.)

My three books are:

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

Encounters with the Holy Spirit (co-edited with Janice Trigg)

After a break I'll continue writing Transformation: How God Changes the Human Heart.

Then: Technology and Spiritual Formation.

Then, the Lord willing, Linda and I will write our book on Relationships.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Amazon Bans Joseph Nicolosi's Books (but retains Hitler's Mein Kampf)

I just received, as a gift, theologian Stanley Grenz's book Welcoming but not Affirming: An Evangelical Response to Homosexuality. This afternoon I made coffee and sat outside in our new "floating chair" (comfortable!), and began reading the book.

Grenz mentions and quotes, several times, the research and work of clinical psychiatrist Joseph Nicolosi. I put the book down and googled Nicolosi, and discovered that, just this month, Amazon removed all of Nicolosi's books. They banned him.

Nicolosi's son, a clinical psychologist, writes about the banning of his father's books here. He writes:

From 1981 until his death in 2017, my father was the driving force behind reparative therapy. He invented, refined, and used this innovative counseling method to help thousands of men overcome the effects of sexual abuse and other deep-seated childhood traumas.
These men told my father that his scientifically sound practices helped re-orient their sexuality away from obsessions with pornography, and helped them reduce their unwanted same-sex attractions. 
The books Amazon banned are the continuation of my father’s legacy and of the changes that can take place through his methods. The books have hundreds of endorsements, from typical readers to past presidents of the American Psychological Association.
In one comment, which Amazon has now “banned,” a man said the book “Reparative Therapy of Male Homosexuality” saved his marriage.
What if this is true, to the horror of the book-banners? 
Meanwhile, you can still purchase Hitler's Mein Kampf on Amazon and read how Jews are "scum" and to be eliminated through ethnic cleansing. And countless other morally questionable books. Sounds Orwellian, right? How will Amazon's Thought Police adjudicate this?
Some House Republicans want Amazon to end its ban on “gay conversion therapy” books, and they are asking lawmakers to use their political power to pressure the online retailer. (See here.)

Michael Brown asks "Will Amazon Ban the Bible Next?"

Meditative Praying Converts the Entire Self to God

Image may contain: 2 people, including Linda Piippo, people smiling, people sitting and outdoor
(Me and Linda, in Ludington, Michigan)

When I was a youth pastor in the 70s at First Baptist Church of Joliet, Illinois, we had a big kid named Dan, who one day boasted, "I can put an entire Big Mac in my mouth and swallow it whole." We said "No way!!!" So, we drove to McDonald's and bought a Big Mac for Dan.

Was this an idle boast because he wanted a free meal? Dan - who was a football player at Joliet Central H.S. - inserted the Big Mac in his mouth. That was the last we saw of it. I am certain Dan saw more of it later than he wanted. If you don't take small bits and chew your food it will not get assimilated to your physical body.

The Psalmist wrote, "Lord I love your law. I meditate on it day and night." (Psalm 119:97) Meditation is a slow-cooker, not a microwave. Meditation is like a cow chewing its cud, not a kid inhaling a Big Mac. Meditation on God-thoughts allows the Spirit to assimilate them to your spirit, and even to your physical body.

Thomas Merton says it this way. "All good meditative prayer is a conversion of our entire self to God. One cannot, then, enter into meditation, in this sense, without a kind of inner upheaval... [which results in] a liberation of the heart from the cares and preoccupations of one's daily business." (Thoughts in Solitude)

To meditate on God's thoughts in Scripture is to be self-exegeted by Scripture. Bible "study" can keep God's thoughts at an objective distance. Meditative Scripture reading is my spirit simmering in the flavors and spices of the mind of Christ. As I am studied by Scripture I am empowered by the Spirit.

Meditative praying produces inner change. I must choose this day what my meditation shall be, for so shall the shape of my heart be formed. 


Leading the Presence-Driven Church

Encounters with the Holy Spirit (a book I co-edited with Janice Trigg)

I''m now giving attention to Transformation: How God Changes the Human Heart

Followed by... Technology and Spiritual Formation

Then, Linda and I will co-write our book on Relationships.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Feinberg’s Defense of God Against Unattached Natural Evil

Image result for john piippo weather
(Our back yard, on the river)
In my Philosophy of Religion classes at MCCC I taught on the argument from evil against the existence of God. Here is one response to the question of natural evil.

Theistic philosopher Paul Feinberg, in The Many Faces   Systems and the Problems of Evil, writes helpfully on the problem of “unattached natural evil.” By this term he means: evils that cannot be defended via the Free Will Defense since such evils don’t have desires, intentions, etc.

Feinberg thinks there are four kinds of natural evils. They are:
1.       Evils attributable to human agency.

a.       Sometimes humans start fires that injure people; sometimes blindness is caused by something another person has done; some birth defects are caused by a mother who chose to use drugs during the pregnancy; and so on.

2.       Disorders caused by some genetic malfunction.

a.       Here nothing the parents did or did not do cause some genetic malfunction. A genetic defect may have been passed down through generations. Whatever the evil here, it doesn’t happen as a result of intentional wrongdoing on anyone’s part.

3.       Natural disasters produced by some process within nature but outside of human beings.

a.       Things such as bolts of lightning, earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, crop failures, and so on.

4.       Diseases.

a.       Caused by bacteria or viruses, etc.
Some natural evils are “attached” to some form of free agency. These kinds of evils reduce to the problem of moral evil. That would be category #1 – natural evils attributable to human agency. Natural evils 2-4 are “unattached natural evils.”

For those of us who are Christian theists, how can we explain or account for such evils? Feinberg gives us three aspects to handling them.

I.                    An appeal to the Christian doctrine of the fall and its results.

a.       People ultimately die because the human race fell into sin.

                     i.      In a fallen world people die.

                    ii.      If they die, they must die of something.

                   iii.      One cause of death is disease.

                   iv.      “People may also die in fires, floods, earthquakes, or famines. Had sin not entered the world, I take it that biblical teaching implies that natural processes wouldn’t function in ways that contribute to or cause death.” (p. 195)

                   v.      The ultimate reason for these “unattached natural evils” is that we live in a fallen world.

                  vi.      Feinberg believes this justifies God as allowing these evils to happen to us. “When these evils occur, it is because we live in a sinful, fallen world.” (196) When God hinders these evils from happening, it is an expression of his grace. God owes no one grace, only justice. Feinberg says, “Hence, I can’t see any reason why God is obligated to remove these natural evils in order to show that he is good.” (196)

                   vii.      There are people who will not buy into this explanation because they are not Judeo-Christians. But all that is needed is an explanation that is possible, and that would remove any apparent inconsistency between God and these evils. An atheist, e.g., won’t believe this stuff about “the fall of man” and its effect on the natural order. They don’t share our metanarrative.  Of course not. But for those of us who accept the theistic metanarrative, we have an answer to the problem of unattached natural evil. And since we do not believe in the atheistic narrative we do not hold to core atheistic belief such as, e.g., All that is real is only material (philosophical naturalism), Morality does not exist (Joel Marks, Nietzsche, et. al), and so on. All intra-metanarratival beliefs look weird from the outside.

b.      Because of the fall there are negative consequences for the natural order. For example, humanity must work harder to grow crops, because "thorns and thistles" infest the land. (Genesis 3:17-19)

c.       The entire creation was subjected to futility and waits for the time when it will be set free from its slavery to corruption. (Rom. 8:18-22)

II.                  God created a world which is run by various natural processes that fit the creatures God placed in it.

a.       “Sometimes these processes produce unattached natural evils, so perhaps a way to get rid of these evils is for God to change natural processes. (196)

b.      While this might sound good, “there are serious objections to it… There is no guarantee that new processes would be incapable of going awry and producing natural evils that are just as bad as or worse than those we already have.”

c.       “It is foolish to jettison processes that work well most of the time for the sake of the relatively few times they malfunction and result in evil, especially when we have no idea of what we might get in their place.” (197)

d.      For example, since there is rain in our world, there can be too much rain: floods result and crop failures can stem from those floods. Feinberg writes: “God can get rid of these problems by ridding our world of these natural processes, but why would we want that? We do need rain, sunshine, and the like to survive in our world. Most of the time when there is rain, wind, sunshine, etc., it isn’t harmful. Moreover, not even every earthquake or flood is harmful to us or to other life forms. So why should we expect God to remove these processes altogether? We need them to sustain life as we know it, and there is no guarantee that life as we know it could survive with different natural processes.” (197)

e.      Take, e.g., bacteria. Sometimes they cause disease. But often they do not, and often they perform helpful functions, such as breaking down ingested food so that it can be digested. Feinberg, following Bruce Reichenbach, suggests that were God to eliminate bacteria, the world would have to run according to different natural laws. “Therefore, to prevent natural evils from affecting man, man himself would have to be significantly changed, such that he would be no longer a sentient creature of nature.” (198)

f.        “In short, to rid the world of the negative results that can accrue from these natural phenomena we must also forego the benefits they bring. Hence, it isn’t wise to request their removal, especially when we have no idea of what might replace them.”

g.       Therefore, “I conclude that unattached natural evils are also justified in that they stem from natural processes which most of the time don’t produce natural evils and which are necessary to life as we know it. In a fallen world, it is possible for these processes to malfunction, and empirically, we know that they occasionally do. Still, to remove these processes from the world would remove life as we know it without any guarantee that what would replace these processes would avoid natural evil. Our world, then, is a good world, because it includes natural processes which make life for human beings possible.” (199)

III.                It is possible that God intervenes to prevent harm from unattached natural evils more than we suspect.

a.       Feinberg realizes that he can’t prove this. But it is not impossible that God’s miraculous intervention keeps more of these evils from happening than do happen. “Just because we don’t see the miracle doesn’t mean God isn’t working to preserve us. There is no reason that his intervention (miraculous or otherwise) must be observable in order for it to be actual, anyway.” (200)

b.      If a critic complains that it looks like God did not intervene and stop a natural evil from happening, the critic “shouldn’t suppose that he has raised a devastating blow to theism when he asks why God hasn’t intervened.” (200)

c.       Again, an atheist would object to this. But of course, since the atheist does not think God exists. Feinberg writes, “I note, however, that none of these objections points out an internal inconsistency in my theology. They are all objections on grounds external to the system. Moreover, many of these objections amount to a complaint that God didn’t make a better world than ours.” (204)

Here is Feinberg’s conclusion. He writes:
"In sum, when addressing natural evils, one must first divide between those that result from moral evil and those that are unattached to specific sinful acts that produce them. The former evils should be handled by one’s answer to the logical problem of moral evil. As for unattached natural evils, they result from living in a fallen world. God could have avoided our disobedience only by creating subhumans or superhumans, and neither is what he wanted. Moreover, unattached evils result from malfunctioning natural processes, but those processes function without harming anyone most of the time, and they are necessary for the survival of the creatures God created to populate our world. 
In addition, God wants his human creatures to be able to exercise freedom in order to function in this world. But the exercise of freedom requires a natural order that is predictable. Hence, God forgoes performing a miracle on some occasions in order to maintain that regularity. For all we know, on many occasions he may intervene to keep more of these evils from occurring. Since these evils stem from living in a fallen world, a world for which all of us are ultimately responsible, God isn’t obligated to remove any of them by miracle or otherwise. His preservation of us from more maladies is solely a function of his grace.
Complaining that this defense doesn’t cover every instance of unattached natural evil fails to see that the problem of unattached natural evils is about those in general. Asking for further explanation about why this evil happens to one person and not another changes the discussion to the religious problem of evil. Finally, whether dealing with natural evils that result from moral evil or with unattached natural evils, the defenses offered render my theology internally consistent and thereby solve its problems of natural evil.” (203-204)

Thursday, July 18, 2019

A Proof From Evil For the Existence of God

William Lane Craig presents an argument from the existence of evil for the existence of God. It looks like this.

  1. If God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist.
  2. Evil exists. (Therefore, objective moral values exist.)
  3. Therefore, God exists.
An atheist who objects that a good God would not allow evil assumes evil exists. But on atheism as philosophical naturalism evil does not exist. Therefore, evil actually proves that God exists. 

Craig writes: "If this argument is correct - and I think it is - it constitutes a decisive refutation of the problem of evil." Namely, not only does existence of evil not provide a reason for denying God's existence, it provides a reason for God's existence.

See Craig, Hard Questions, Real Answers.

(Because, on philosophical naturalism [atheism] objective morality does not exist.

Because, on philosophical naturalism, one cannot derive 'ought' from 'is' [in spite of the protests of Sam Harris].)

Evil Must Be Seen With Respect to the Goals Of God, Rather Than Those of Humanity

Image result for john piippo evil
(Battling evil in Monroe)
An atheist may object to the existence of God on the basis of evil in the world. By "evil" is meant "pointless suffering," or "gratuitous suffering." Gratuitous suffering is suffering that is not needed to either bring about a greater good, or prevent an equal or greater evil from happening.

This is an evidential (or probableistic) argument from evil. It  reasons that, 

1. Much pointless suffering exists.
2. Therefore, an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent God probably does not exist.

Why not? Because such a God would not allow gratuitous suffering; i.e., suffering that has no point to it.

William Lane Craig says this particular objection to God's existence is not difficult to respond to. Craig writes, 

"Since the problem is being presented as an internal problem for the Christian theist, there is nothing illicit about the Christian theist’s availing himself of all the resources of his worldview in answering the objection." (In Chad Meister, God and the Problem of Evil: Five ViewsKindle Locations 873-875.) 

The reason some think the argument from evil is so powerful is that they assume if God exists, then the goal for human life is happiness. Following John Hick's "soul-making defense" against the argument from evil, the atheist assumes that God's role is to provide a comfortable environment for his human pets. 

"But," writes Craig, "We are not God’s pets, and the goal of human life is not happiness per se but the knowledge of God— which in the end will bring true and everlasting human fulfillment." (Ib., Kindle Locations 879-880)

Many evils that happen may be pointless with respect to the goal of human happiness. But they may not be pointless with respect to a deeper knowledge of God.

"Because God’s ultimate goal for humanity is the knowledge of himself— which alone can bring eternal happiness to creatures— history cannot be seen in its true perspective apart from considerations pertinent to the kingdom of God." (Ib., 882-883)


Leading the Presence-Driven Church

Encounters with the Holy Spirit (a book I co-edited with Janice Trigg)

I''m now giving attention to Transformation: How God Changes the Human Heart

Followed by... Technology and Spiritual Formation

Then, Linda and I will co-write our book on Relationships.

The Meaning of "Presence-Driven" Church

Image result for johnpiippo presence
Monroe County

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.

(For more see my book Leading the Presence-Driven Church.)

On Relationship Counseling

Image result for john piippo people
(Me and Linda, in Leland, Michigan)

Linda and I have many people asking us for relationship or marital counseling. 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, and they, 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 do what we are asking them to do. If that happens, then we are no longer their counselors. Perhaps the individual or couple wanted us to affirm what they want to do, rather than follow what we think they ought to do. Maybe they wanted us to side with them, which we never do. At this point we part ways, wondering why they wanted us to counsel them in the first place.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Steve & Wendy Backlund at Redeemer - Sept. 20-21-22

Image result for johnpiippo steve wendy backlund september


Sept. 20-22

Redeemer Fellowship Church
5305 Evergreen
Monroe, MI

Go HERE for more on Steve and Wendy.

Freedom From Two Illusions

(Teaching in Eldoret, Kenya)
When I was teaching in Eldoret, Kenya, I told the Kenyan and Ugandan pastors that the #1 thing they need to do is stay tight with God. Abide in Christ. Dwell in the shadow of the Almighty. Send roots to the river of God. Live, 24/7, in the fortress of God. 
That's what you need to do. That's what your people need you to do. Because what they need is not you, but God. They need "Christ in you, the hope of glory."

Dwell in God's presence and he will free you of the illusion of your indispensability. 

I told these pastors that they are not needed by God. God is able to accomplish his purposes with or without them. Yes, God loves them and wants to use them. And God will, if they trust in him and abide in him.

We can't change other people. Only God can do that. I told the pastors: "Today you can let go of your striving to change other people."

Some told me how novel and freeing this was. I added, "But God can change you."

The change happens as we live connected to God. You cannot consistently nurture the "in Christ" relationship and remain unchanged. And, as you make God your Shepherd (in practice, not theory; viz., trust in him), he "restores your soul." So, you don't have to "work on your own self." Just step into God's presence, stay there, and the Restorer of Souls will strip away all that has covered over your soul to get to the original "in God's image," the psuche, which is you.

The changes God works in you will not be just for you, but for others. This is called influence. W
hat God works in you can and will influence other people, by God's Spirit.

Be free of two illusions:

  1. The illusion of your indispensability
  2. The illusion that you can change people

Today, abide in Christ. As he speaks, obey. This is the place of all authentic spiritual formation.


Leading the Presence-Driven Church

Encounters with the Holy Spirit (a book I co-edited with Janice Trigg)

I''m now giving attention to Transformation: How God Changes the Human Heart

Followed by... Technology and Spiritual Formation

Then, Linda and I will co-write our book on Relationships.