Thursday, October 29, 2020

David Bennett's A War of Loves

 


                                                         (Downtown Monroe)

Since the 1970s I have read, extensively, all sides of the gay marriage discussion within Christianity.

Yesterday I picked up yet another book on this issue. It's free, on Kindle, if you have prime.

A War of Loves: The Unexpected Story of a Gay Activist Discovering Jesus, by David Bennett

The Foreward is by N. T. Wright, who says, "This is a brave and wise book."

Editorial Reviews

Review

David Bennett’s page-turning writing gripped me from beginning to end, and I feel sure that his perspective on what it means to give our sexuality to God is something that every Christian of our generation needs to consider. -- Dr. Amy Orr-Ewing, director, Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics, Dr. Amy Orr-Ewing, director, Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics

This is an incredibly raw and authentic book! David paints a beautiful and compelling picture of what it looks like to desire Christ above all else. His affections for Jesus make me excited to be a Christian. -- Preston Sprinkle, president, Center for Faith, Sexuality, and Gender, Preston Sprinkle, president, Center for Faith, Sexuality, and Gender

A refreshing and powerful book. This is one of the top books I will recommend to Christians who want to know how to better love their LGBTQI friends and also to seekers---whether gay or not---who are open to considering Jesus’ invitation. -- Sean McDowell, professor, Biola University; speaker; author, Same-Sex Marriage, Sean McDowell, professor, Biola University; speaker; author, Same-Sex Marriage

A timely, thoughtful, and often moving story which will be hugely helpful to a lot of people. David’s honesty and humanity shine through these pages, even as he handles difficult questions through the lens of his experience. This is a gift to the contemporary church. -- Andrew Wilson, teaching pastor, King’s Church London, Andrew Wilson, teaching pastor, King’s Church London

Here is a voice as countercultural as it is compelling, capable of engaging the whole Christian community, whether gay or straight, in a vital debate. I have no doubt that David Bennett’s story is going to become an essential part in a complex jigsaw for many. -- Pete Greig, 24-7 Prayer International and Emmaus Rd, Guildford, Pete Greig, 24-7 Prayer International and Emmaus Rd, Guildford

Many lesbian, gay, and bisexual people feel they cannot be true to both their sexuality and the Christian faith. David demonstrates that integrity and authenticity are possible for gay Christians, sharing beautiful insights about love, friendship, and following Jesus too. -- Rev. Dr. Sean Doherty, Christian ethicist; author, The Only Way Is Ethics, Rev. Dr. Sean Doherty, Christian ethicist; author, The Only Way Is Ethics

This book is designed to make all of us think about our ultimate love and to work through how we should engage in a long debated area, whether inside of the church or outside of it. It is well worth the read. -- Darrell L. Bock, Senior Research Professor of New Testament Studies, Dallas Theological Seminary, Darrell L. Bock, Senior Research Professor of New Testament Studies, Dallas Theological Seminary

David Bennett’s book presents a particular lived Christian experience which deserves hearing. I am grateful to all who are contributing their learning, experience, study, and prayer to help us all to proclaim afresh the gospel of Jesus Christ. -- Sentamu Eboracensis, Archbishop of York, Sentamu Eboracensis, Archbishop of York

One of the most significant books on one of the church’s most pressing subjects by one of today’s most inspiring young thought leaders. David Bennett is a prophetic witness, a truth teller, a tender pastor, and a faithful follower of Jesus. This generation needs to hear this man. -- Rev. Simon Ponsonby, author; pastor of theology, St. Aldates Church, Oxford, Rev. Simon Ponsonby, author; pastor of theology, St. Aldates Church, Oxford

This is the searingly honest story of one romanced by God against all expectations. Bennett’s example of giving his whole self, including his sexual self, to the Christ who died for him is an act of Christian witness for our time. -- Rev. Dr. Michael P. Jensen, rector, St. Mark’s Darling Point, Sydney; author, Martyrdom and Identity, Rev. Dr. Michael P. Jensen, rector, St. Mark’s Darling Point, Sydney; author, Martyrdom and Identity

About the Author

David Bennett is from Sydney, Australia, and is reading for a DPhil (PhD) in theology at the University of Oxford. He is a fellow at the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics and holds an Oxford postgraduate degree in theology, as well as a master’s degree in analytic theology from the University of St. Andrews, Scotland.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

How to Have a Civil Discussion on Gay Marriage


(Rail road bridge, Monroe, MI)

(I periodically re-post this, to keep it in play. Over the years I have written several blog posts affirming marriage as between and man and a woman.)

I believe the core issue is one of authority. What is your authoritative text. Whose voice or voices do you bow before? 

Pause here. Everyone has their authoritative text, whether it is written or not. So do you. Most do not reflect on this.)

So...

For a Jesus-follower the question is: Does the Bible affirm sex-same unions? 

If you are not a follower of Jesus, or if you are an atheist, then - of course - this question has no relevance for you. But, again, you still have a worldview. The philosophical question is: Is your worldview correct?  

Is it possible to get beyond a shouting match and have a civil discussion?

I believe so. Here are the steps to take, as I see things. 

Below is my flow chart for having a civil discussion on gay marriage. (BTW - our culture has already decided on this one, sans understanding. But, in matters of Christian understanding, the moral pronouncements of the prevailing culture are irrelevant. It's like using the sport of throwing horseshoes to critique the game of tennis. Within the worldview of Christian theism, this remains a discussable issue.)

This process is a slow-cooker. In my case it has spanned almost five decades of thinking, studying, researching, dialoguing, and praying. You probably do not have the time to do this. But note this: If you are unfamiliar with the relevant literature, then do not hastily judge me. (Like, "How hateful John is!") 

Here's the template. 





STEP 1

On a scale of 0-10, how authoritative is the Bible for you (with '0' being no authority, and '10' being fully authoritative). This is the first matter that must be discussed, without which there will be no meaningful outcome.

STEP 1a

If the Bible has no authority, or very little authority, then the Christian discussion is over. Because, of course, we will disagree on same-sex marriage. There will be a kind of "clash of civilizations" (following Samuel Huntington - see below*).

However, I am interested in the person who gives the Bible little or no authority. I want to ask them: "What text (narrative) is authoritative for you? Have you thought about this?"

Again, if someone goes to Step 1a, then the intra-Christian discussion is over. But, since everyone has a worldview, a narrative they live by, what is theirs? And, should one respond "I have no guiding narrative," that itself is a guiding narrative, to which I will ask for some justification.

After years of teaching philosophy, I have concluded that few people understand and evaluate their worldview. And note again: the rejection of all worldviews is itself a worldview. Like, e.g., the rejection of all metanarratives is itself a metanarrative (contra Foucault, et. al.).

STEP 1b

To say that the Scriptures have great authority is to say they guide and influence our faith and life. They are not just occasionally read, but studied and looked to and lived by.

STEP 2

We must handle the Word of God correctly, or rightly.

To do this requires study. Two good books on how to interpret the Bible are:


That is, to enter more fully into this discussion at this point, one should have some understanding of principles of biblical interpretation. Everyone cannot invest decades of study into this. But it helps avoiding horrendous mistakes in reading the Scriptures. For example, context is important in the interpretation of anything, to include interpreting the Bible. Because a text without a context is simply a pretext to say what you want the text to say.


STEP 3

This is the question for followers of Jesus who give the Scriptures great authority.

As Craig Keener writes"My primary vocation is as a Bible scholar, and I need to explain the text faithfully."

Correct. The issue here is: what does the biblical text say, as opposed to what we might wish the text would say.

This is why, e.g., what the prevailing cultural wisdom says is irrelevant to the interpreting of the Bible, and any text, for that matter.

STEP 3a

The person who ends up here must justify their interpretation of Scripture, and conclude that God affirms same-sex unions. They might find themselves agreeing with people like Dan Via (presents view #2) and Matthew Vines, et. al., for example.

STEP 3b

The person who ends up here must justify their interpretation of Scripture. 

At this point I have long laid out my cards on the table. I'm with Keener (and N.T. WrightBen WitheringtonTim KellerRobert GagnonWesley Hill, Francis Chan, et. al) when Keener writes: "I believe that the biblical passages about homosexual behavior are fairly clear... most exegetes, whether they agree personally with Paul or not, still regard Romans 1 as disagreeing with homosexual practice... I would be happy to be persuaded otherwise, but so far it continues to appear to me that this is where the exegesis strongly points."

Here's where I land on this. This has been our church's position since its inception. Marriage is a covenant relationship between a man and a woman, established by God as the foundation of family and human society reflecting the nature of Christ’s sacrificial love and devotion for His bride, the Church.

Does this mean I hate people who disagree with me? Of course not. (See here.)

Does loving someone mean I affirm all of their beliefs? Of course not. (See here.)



***
* "It is my hypothesis that the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. Nation states will remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations. The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics. The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future.

Samuel P. Huntington. The Clash of Civilizations? The Debate: 20th Anniversary Edition (p. 3). Foreign Affairs. Kindle Edition. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

There's No Such Thing as "True for You, but False for Me"

Image result for johnpiippo monroe county community
(Monroe County Community College)

I taught Logic for seventeen years at Monroe County Community College. I used Hurley's Logic for ten years. Then, I switched to Lewis Vaughn's The Power of Critical Thinking: Effective Reasoning About Ordinary and Extraordinary Claims

In the first class session I presented a claim that is logical, but seems extraordinary to many students, because, unbeknownst to them, they are subjective relativists. They think that truth is relative to persons. That some things are "true for you, but not for me." 

That is absurd. I explain it like this, and, as I do, I have the sense I am stepping on some of our relativistic culture's most cherished beliefs.

Here we go!

Logic is about evaluating and formulating arguments.

An argument is a series of sentences that are statements.

A statement (also called a "proposition") is a sentence that describes a certain (as Vaughn puts it) "state of affairs." A statement makes a claim that a certain state of affairs obtains. Another way to put it is like this: a statement is a sentence that is either true or false. 

For example, consider the statement The lights in this room are on. This statement describes a certain state of affairs; viz., the lights in this room now being on. Now here comes the subjective-relativist crusher. If this statement is true (that is, if the state of affairs of the lights now being on obtains), then it is true for everybody. And if it is false, then it is false for everybody.

Consider the statement God exists. If that statement is true, it is true for everybody, even for persons who think it is false. And if that statement is false, then it is false for everybody, even for people who "know" there is a God.

But what about these statements? 

It's true for me that Pepsi is better than Coke. But it's true for you that Coke is better than Pepsi? 

Here the words It's true for me are redundant, unnecessary. At most, they mean I believe, or I think. Such as: I think Pepsi is better than Coke

Now note this: If that statement is true, then it is true for everybody. And we have this state of affairs: John likes Pepsi better than Coke.

Consider this statement: God told John, and no one else, that he is to start a ministry to the homeless. Isn't that statement just for John and not for everyone? Yes. Of course. But watch this: the truth of that statement is for everyone. That is, it is true for everyone that God told John individually, and no one else, that he is to start a ministry to the homeless.

What a person believes is irrelevant to the truth of their belief. Otherwise we would have the idea that believing something makes that state of affairs true. And then,  we'd all be infallible, which is absurd. In that case, if I believe I can flap my arms and fly, then I can flap my arms and fly. But it is false that I can flap my arms, vigorously, and ascend into the heavens. Even if I believe I can do this! 

The point here is: Beliefs do not make a state of affairs true. If that were the case, then I'm going to try this: I believe I am the world's strongest, wealthiest, most interesting man. But that is false on three counts. 

Beliefs are statements that are either true or false and - watch closely now - if a belief is true, it is true for everyone, whether they know it or not, or whether they believe otherwise.

Take this statement: There are an even number of stars in the universe. That's either true or false. What we believe about it is irrelevant to its truth or falsity, since believing something does not make it true. 

Now the truth or falsity of this statement cannot be known. But even though we can't know if it's true or false, it is either true or false. And if it is true, then it is true for everyone (because believing it to be either true or false is irrelevant to the actual state of affairs).

Therefore, a statement cannot be "true for you, but false for me." I might believe that a certain statement is true, while you might think it to be false. But a statement in itself is either true or false, and if true, it's true for everyone, whether they realize it or not.

Thus, someone who says Truth depends on the individual's perspective utters something incoherent. Anyone who thinks that truth is relative to individuals lives in a world of logical absurdity. The antidote to such a misconception is to show them that their statement (Truth depends on the individual's perspectivecannot be true, because it makes a truth claim that is for everyone. That is, it is self-refuting, hence logically incoherent.

***
My two books are Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God;




Monday, October 26, 2020

Our Concept of God Makes a Praying Difference


                                                                        (Grand Haven, Michigan)

Does my concept of God affect how I pray? Yes.

Does a praying life affect my mental health? Yes. The more I pray before the God I understand reduces fear and anxiety. 

For some recent empirical research to back up this idea see "Sociologist: Concept of God impacts power of prayer, anxiety-related disorders." Prayer seems effective in combating psychological challenges, like relieving anxiety. The level of effectiveness is connected with the person's concept of God.

Baylor University sociologist Matt Bradshaw received a Templeton Grant and published his findings in the journal Sociology of Religion - "Prayer, Attachment to God, and Anxiety-Related Disorders Among U.S. Adults." 

"According to his study, people who prayed to a loving and supportive God whom they thought would be there to comfort and protect them in times of need were less likely to show symptoms of anxiety-related disorders — irrational worry, fear, self-consciousness, dread in social situations and obsessive-compulsive behavior — than those who prayed but did not expect God to comfort or protect them."

Perceived characteristics of God - such as loving, remote, or judgmental - affect the relationship between prayer and mental health.

For the praying person, what we think of God makes a difference.

I write more extensively in chapter 2 of my book Praying - "Praying and the Nature of God."

Churches - Experience the "Is-ness" of God

(Linda, walking at Sterling State Park on Lake Erie in Monroe)

(I develop these ideas further in my book Leading the Presence-Driven Church.) 

In Worship and the Reality of God: An Evangelical Theology of Presence, theologian John Jefferson Davis calls 
for a return, in worship and in the people of God ("church"), for ongoing encounters with God. It's not about the preaching, or the musicians. It's not about the stage lighting, or the coffee. It's not about you or me.

Davis talks about the transcendent "heaviness" of God, and the comparative "lightness" of all material and human things. He writes: "To say that the God of the Bible is "heavy" is to draw an intentional contrast with the weightlessness of God in much of contemporary culture and church life." (Davis, Kindle Locations 481-482)

Davis refers to Exodus 3:14, where, when asked by Moses for his name, God replies, "I am that I am." Davis writes:

"My colleague Gary Parrett has remarked that in Ex 3:14 God is saying to Moses, in effect, "I am not who you may think I am, or who you may wish that I am; I am who I am, and you need to adjust your thinking accordingly."" (Davis, Kindle Locations 2572-2573)

Davis cites John Durham's commentary on Exodus.

"Durham states that "I AM WHO I AM" also connotes the sovereignty and freedom of God in his self-disclosure: "By revealing himself as `I AM WHO I AM' the Lord had in effect said, `Yes, I have committed myself to you to be actively present with you, but I am not at your unfettered disposal. My active presence is mine and mine alone to exercise as when and under what conditions I choose" (p. 70)." (In Ib., Kindle Locations 2574-2576)

You and I can dispose of any idea that we have power to control God, or control our relationship with God.

God cannot, and will not, be manufactured, marketed, hyped, billboarded, bought, sold, or controlled. God IS. "This "is-ness" has the sense of "active presence"; this divine presence and reality is not "a bare `is' but a living force, vital and personal." (Ib., Kindle Locations 510-511)

This is what is missing in the Second Temple Judaism Jesus encountered. This is what is needed for influence to activate in the Church.



***
In my book Praying I have a chapter "Prayer and the Nature of God," emphasizing how our ontological conception of God shapes how we pray.


Thursday, October 22, 2020

Life Is a Series of Interruptions

Monroe sunset

















Today in America, and around the world, we are still experiencing the Great Interruption. Normal life is no more.

Or, perhaps, normal life is a series of interruptions. And these interruptions, as the apostle Paul thought, can actually work to advance the Gospel. (See here, e.g.)

Jesus told Peter that, one day, there will be a Great Interruption. In John 21, after Jesus tells Peter to "Feed my sheep," we see one of the most non-seeker friendly passages in the New Testament. Jesus forewarns Peter:

""Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”" (John 21:18-19)

And Peter followed Jesus.

A real following after Jesus, a real "moving with the Spirit," involves being led by the Spirit into places where we would not want or choose to go. It involves being interruptible, for the sake of the Good News.

Our lives and our plans will often get interrupted by the Spirit, who is non-programmable and unpredictable. Henri Nouwen once said he used to get upset at his life being interrupted, until God told him his life was a series of interruptions.

To be interruptible. That is one mark of true servanthood. 

I've met many church people who you would never ask to do anything. Your request is a great inconvenience in their plans. You hear it in their voices, and see it on their faces. 

I have also met Spirit-led people who are eminently interruptible, willing to follow the Spirit wherever he leads them, to include being led to places where they would not choose to go.

Thomas Merton wrote: "What am I heading for? Where am I going? The answer to that one is: I don't need to know...  God knows what he wants to do with me. Rest in his tremendous love - to know the savor and sweetness of God's love expressed from moment to moment in all the contacts between him and your soul... Rest in that union. It will feed you, fill you with life. He will lead you into perfect solitude in His own good time. Leave it all to Him. Live in the present." (A Year With Thomas Merton, July 3)

Be free from the terrible burden of always having to have things go your way. 

Follow the Spirit in all things, even small things, for the sake of His Kingdom and glory.

Discern how the inconveniences of today can advance the cause of Christ. 

Pray "God, interrupt me. Inconvenience me for your glory."

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

To Love Is to Suffer Together; to Suffer Together is to Love

Maple leaf from my driveway

One of the hardest things we've had to do was putting our dog So-fee down. She developed a urinary blockage, which was untreatable. I hated the day we brought her to the vet and said good-bye.

We suffered much that day. We suffered much, because we loved much. Only those that love much, suffer much. 

When you don't love, you don't suffer. The closer you are to someone spiritually and emotionally, the more you feel with them. This is why those who love others weep when others weep, and rejoice when others rejoice. 

This past August Linda and I celebrated forty-seven years together. We rejoiced together, because we love each other! Over the years we have laughed, and suffered, together. She enters into my pain and joy, and I enter into hers. Love embraces both the struggle and the victory.

This produces a bountiful fruit of a love that is fully exemplified in Christ. In love, Jesus suffered. In suffering, Jesus loved. If this isn't happening, then it's less than love.

Will Hernandez tells us about Henri Nouwen's understanding of suffering love. Hernandez writes:

"Much can be said about the aphorism that the one who loves much suffers much. For to surrender to love is akin to risking, to letting go of one’s proclivity to control, thereby opening oneself to vulnerable living, and consequently inviting the real prospect of suffering. It is equally accurate to say that only one who has known the experience of deep suffering can freely love and give love with true abandon. If suffering happens to be the consequence of true love, then that same love also becomes the fruit of real suffering. [Henri] Nouwen, from his own experience, reminds you and me: “Yes, as you love deeply the ground of your heart will be broken more and more, but you will rejoice in the abundance of the fruit it will bear” (IVL:60)." (Will Hernandez, Henri Nouwen and Spiritual Polarities: A Life of Tension, Kindle Locations 238-242)


***

Image result for john piippo books

My two books are:

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God (May 2016)

Leading the Presence-Driven Church (January 2018)

I am now writing:

How God Changes the Human Heart

Technology and Spiritual Formation

Linda and I plan to co-write our book on Relationships.

Image result for john piippo books

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Two Posts for Christian Parents on Influence and Investment

 

Church-Involved Parents Influence Their Children

(Monroe county)

This is a reality check.

If you are a Christian parent but don't have time to gather with other Jesus-followers (which means: "church"), don't expect your children to be Jesus-followers. They will grow up to be like non-attenders or sporadic attenders like you. 

"Non-churchgoing follower of Jesus" is a self-contradiction. This is because Jesus came to establish "church" and work through this community of his followers. The person who says, "I'm a follower of Jesus but don't go to church" is misguided. Every real Jesus-follower is the church. "Church," therefore, is not something you either go to or not.

If you are a Christian parent and follow Jesus (which means you know you are "church" and gather with Jesus' church),  then the odds are your children will do the same. This is the conclusion of Notre Dame University's Christian Smith. "Parents are the #1 influence helping teens remain religiously active as adults.


Smith writes: 



"The holy grail for helping youth remain religiously active as young adults has been at home all along: Parents.
Mothers and fathers who practice what they preach and preach what they practice are far and away the major influence related to adolescents keeping the faith into their 20s, according to new findings from a landmark study of youth and religion.
Just 1 percent of teens ages 15 to 17 raised by parents who attached little importance to religion were highly religious in their mid- to late 20s.
In contrast, 82 percent of children raised by parents who talked about faith at home, attached great importance to their beliefs and were active in their congregations were themselves religiously active as young adults, according to data from the latest wave of the National Study of Youth and Religion.

The connection is “nearly deterministic,” said University of Notre Dame Sociologist Christian Smith, lead researcher for the study.

Other factors such as youth ministry or clergy or service projects or religious schools pale in comparison.
“No other conceivable causal influence … comes remotely close to matching the influence of parents on the religious faith and practices of youth,” Smith said in a recent talk sharing the findings at Yale Divinity School. “Parents just dominate.”"

Smith adds: "One of the strongest factors associated with older teens keeping their faith as young adults was having parents who talked about religion and spirituality at home."



***

The Power of Investing Spiritually in Our Children

(Kitty Hawk, NC)

I have served for many years in our church's Children's Ministry. This is so good for me, as a pastor. I get to know our kids; they get to know me. I get to spiritually invest in their lives. This is among the most important things I do as a follower of Jesus.

Philosopher James K. A. Smith writes:

"Spiritual formation in Christ requires a lot of rehabituation precisely because we build up so many disordered habits over a lifetime. This is also why the spiritual formation of children is one of the most significant callings of the body of Christ. Every child raised in the church and in a Christian home has the opportunity to be immersed in kingdom-indexed habit-forming practices from birth. This is why intentionality about the formation of children is itself a gift of the Spirit. It’s also why carelessness and inattention to the deformative power of cultural liturgies can have such long-lasting effects. The “plasticity” of children’s habits and imaginations is an opportunity and a challenge."

(Smith, James K. A.. You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit. Kindle Location 1031. Emphasis mine.)

Sunday, October 18, 2020

DECLARATIONS OF IDENTITY

 



                                                               (Our office downstairs)

JOIN US at Redeemer this morning as we declare our identity in Christ!

https://www.youtube.com/c/RedeemerMonroe


DECLARATIONS OF IDENTITY

         At the cross I was made a new creation; therefore, I do not have to be influenced by any baggage of the past.

         I am not who my past experience says I am; I am who God says I am.

         I have been set free and released from all bondage through what Jesus has done for me.

         Today is the day of my breakthrough — I am free!

         I am clothed with Christ, therefore I release His presence everywhere I go.

         My touch releases the healing grace of Jesus.

         I am a God-pleaser, not a people-pleaser.

         I am able to prophesy, heal the sick, deliver the oppressed, and walk in increased wisdom, boldness, and creativity through the power of the Holy Spirit.

         God’s Kingdom will advance everywhere I go and in everything I do.

         I am constantly stumbling into the favor of God.

         My life overflows with God’s love, making it impossible for me not to love others.

         People’s responses to me do not determine how I love them.

         I am permanently tapped into Heaven’s infinite supply of love.

         I often experience an open heaven.

         I speak to any worry, stress, or anxiety, and I say you cannot stay. Peace reigns in this temple.

         My heart and mind are guarded and protected by God’s peace.

         As a child of God, it is my privilege and birthright to hear my Father’s voice.

         As I focus on Jesus and spend time in His presence, I am being transformed into His likeness.

         God’s love for me is not dependent upon worldly measures of success.

         It’s impossible for me to spend time in God’s Word and not be radically transformed.

         I encounter God’s love and power every time I am in His Word.

         I belong to Jesus. My identity is: Beloved child of God.