Saturday, January 30, 2021

Postmodernism Pollutes Progressive Christianity (An Example)

 

                                                                (Bolles Harbor, Monroe)

Postmodernism despises metanarratives.

When I am talking to someone who self-refers as a 'progressive Christian', I often discern postmodern motifs exuding from their mouths. Indeed, I have heard and seen and read so postmodern thinking in progressive Christianity that it is hard, at times, not to equate the two.

Here's one example.

Me: (I present the Jesus story to the progressive Christian.)

Progressive Christian: "That's your narrative. My narrative is different."

Me: "I don't care about your narrative. I don't care about my narrative. I want to get at The Narrative, The Jesus Event."

To do that is to engage in Christological studies.

I am interested in Historical Jesus studies. In terms of Jesus, I am uninterested in viewing the Gospels like a Rohrshach Test that measures our subjective feelings about the four Gospels.

I had a progressive Christian tell me, in an intoxicated postmodern moment, that we all ought to just sit around the table and share our narratives about Jesus. That's not for me, unless I am counseling someone. Or something like this. Then, I can begin by hearing their story. But I am not there to "affirm" their story. I'm not there to say, 'Wow - you see things differently!"

No one does Historical Jesus studies that way. I have a pile of key books written by Christological scholars. Not one of them contains a chapter called, "Other Peoples' Social constructs About Jesus." 

I have been engaged in Historical Jesus studies for five decades. I want to know what Jesus said, what Jesus did, and not how you or I feel about it. One current example is Craig Keener's The Historical Jesus of the Gospels.

Criticism about postmodernism is not just a Christian thing. See, e.g., the recent book by atheists Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay, Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything About Race, Gender, and Identity - and Why This Harms Everybody. They write,

"We begin in the late 1960s, when the group of theoretical concepts clustered around the nature of knowledge, power, and language that came to be known as postmodernism emerged from within several humanities disciplines at once. At its core, postmodernism rejected what it calls metanarratives—broad, cohesive explanations of the world and society. It rejected Christianity and Marxism. It also rejected science, reason, and the pillars of post-Enlightenment Western Democracy." (No, I am not pro-Marxist. But Marxism, and any forms of Hegelianism, put forth a metanarrative of how reality is, not as some social construct.)

Pluckrose and Lindsay further say,

"The progressive left has aligned itself not with Modernity but with postmodernism, which rejects objective truth as a fantasy dreamed up by naive and/or arrogantly bigoted Enlightenment thinkers who underestimated the collateral consequences of Modernity’s progress...

Postmodernism has, depending upon your view, either become or given rise to one of the least tolerant and most authoritarian ideologies that the world has had to deal with since the widespread decline of communism and the collapses of white supremacy and colonialism."

Can anything good come out of postmodernism, in terms of Christianity? James K. A. Smith does his best to find something good here

Ironically, to me at least, I side more with Richard Dawkins, who writes (his blurb for Pluckrose's book): "Is there a school of thought so empty, so vacuous, so pretentious, so wantonly obscurantist, so stupefyingly boring that even a full-frontal attack on it cannot be read without an exasperated yawn? Yes. It is called postmodernism." 


Friday, January 29, 2021

My February Devotional Booklet on Discipleship

 


My 28-Day Devotional Booklet on Discipleship is available to download HERE.

(Thank you Eugene for formatting this!)

It's free.

If you would like the pdf in a non-booklet format please send an email request to - johnpiippo@msn.com. 

Share with others as you feel led.

Blessings!

JP



Thursday, January 28, 2021

Deconstructing Progressive Christianity: Point #2

 


ABOUT ME

I am a husband (to Linda, since 1973). A father. A father-in-law. A grandfather! A pastor (since 1970). A professor (taught at several seminaries around the world; taught philosophy at Monroe County Community College for 18 years). A philosopher, and a theologian. (PhD, Northwestern University, in Philosophical Theology, 1986).

I have studied people, and biblical and theological issues, and culture, for over fifty years. I am a constant reader and observer. 

I present to you a series of posts I am calling "Deconstructing 'Progressive Christianity.'" Here are reasons why I could not be a "progressive Christian." The first two posts are especially about this, using semantics and some deconstruction thrown in. (See here.) Post #1 was: "'Progressive' is not a word that fits into a Christian eschatological worldview." Post #3 will be - "Progressive Christianity Wrongly Diminishes Confidence in the Bible." In the third post I will critique progressive Christianity's approach to the Scriptures. I am still putting together Post #4, and maybe a fifth post.

A final note before I begin this first post. I have read, as a theologian myself, several of the theologians who are usually associated with progressive Christianity. (Postmodernism, deconstruction, critical theory, linguistic semantics and philosophy of language (my dissertation was in this area), and, yes, political progressivism.) Some of them have written books and articles that I have benefitted from. But then, along the way, some of them turned away from some core beliefs that I see as important to our faith. Some of them were "deconverted" from evangelical Christianity. That has saddened me. 

I want you to know that there are many theologians and biblical scholars, such as myself, who have not departed from what we see as essential. This is not out of ignorance. We are quite familiar with, and have wrestled with, all the questions progressivists raise. And wow! We see things differently. Which means: we disagree with each other. Which means: we think each other is wrong about some things. (For example, see Brian McLaren's vicious disagreement with The Nashville Statement, where he even brings in the KKK, implicating the 24,000+ theologians and biblical scholars, and even Francis Chan, J. I. Packer, and people like me, who agree with the Statement.)

I hope you gain from these posts. I will do my best to revolve around one main point per post. I'll do my best to make it accessible. 

Blessings!


John Piippo

Redeemer Fellowship Church, Monroe, MI

johnpiippo@msn.com


***

POINT #2 - The term 'Progressive Christianity' is woefully vague, and therefore cognitively useless. 

I could never refer to myself as a 'progressive Christian', for several reasons. In my first post I questioned the word 'progressive' as not fitting a Christian eschatology. And, I questioned the idea of moral and spiritual progress in the human race, over time, finding the idea of moral and spiritual progress mythical and utopian.

In this second post, I find that the term 'progressive Christian' is unacceptably vague, and therefore not useful. Basically, my point is simply this: I am unable to identify with a group if the meaning of the group is vague and amorphous. 

In this post I am going to explain why I believe this. And, I will again suggest removing 'progressive Christianity' from our theological vocabulary. Instead, I choose to self-refer as 'follower of Jesus'. This term is focused and clarifying and, therefore, helpful. It does not suffer the interminable vagueness of calling oneself a 'progressive Christian'.

Let me define "vague'. It's a term encountered in Logic texts. (Note: I had a self-identified progressive Christian tell me they didn't like logic. I asked, why not? They then used logic to make an argument that logic was just another social construct. Which is, of course, self-contradictory. But this is what we are today dealing with.)

It was my great joy to teach Logic for eighteen years at our local community college. At universities, Logic is also called Critical Thinking. Critical thinking is needed to excel in any field. We want our physicians to be able to reason clearly. The same goes for our auto mechanics, psychologists, computer technicians, home builders, political leaders, chefs, sports coaches, parents, economists, lawyers, scientists as they develop vaccines, and more. 

The more there is clarity of reasoning, the less there is vagueness.

So, what about 'vagueness'? 

In my Logic classes I used Patrick Hurley's A Concise Introduction to Logic. Hurley dedicates an entire chapter to linguistic errors, and how they contribute to faulty reasoning. One such error is vagueness. Again, my point in this post is to establish unacceptable vagueness about the term 'progressive Christianity'. 

Hurley writes:

"Now that we have distinguished emotive meaning from cognitive meaning, let us explore some of the ways that cognitive meanings can be defective. Two of them are vagueness and ambiguity. A linguistic expression is said to be vague if there are borderline cases in which it is impossible to tell if the expression applies or does not apply. Vague expressions often allow for a continuous range of interpretations. The meaning is hazy, obscure, and imprecise. For example, words such as ‘‘love,’’ ‘‘happiness,’’ ‘‘peace,’’ ‘‘excessive,’’ ‘‘fresh,’’ ‘‘rich,’’ ‘‘poor,’’ ‘‘normal,’’ ‘‘conservative,’’ and ‘‘polluted’’ are vague. We can rarely tell with any precision whether they apply to a given situation or not. How fresh does something have to be in order to be called fresh?" (7th edition, p. 79. Emphasis mine.)

A "continuous range of interpretations." (Think of the postmodern, progressivist word 'fluidity' here. Think also of the cognitively challenged word 'affirmation'.) Let me illustrate, this time using 'progressive Christianity'.

Linda and I worked as campus pastors, for eleven years, at Michigan State University. I was a member of MSU Religious Advisors group. We had every Christian denomination represented, plus Hindus, Muslims, Jews (the rabbi became a good friend of mine), Buddhists, Bahais, and an atheist group. The group was, to say the least, theologically diverse! And, I enjoyed meeting with all these people. The truth is, I have spent a lifetime studying religions, whether they be major or minor. I love doing this!

We were all under the umbrella 'MSU Religious Advisors Association'. But, because the diversity of beliefs was so vast, we did not have a theological umbrella, or a worldview umbrella that, by our own admission, contained us all. In this group there was a "continuous range of interpretations," often conflicting and contradicting each other. 

Now, imagine this group was called "MSU Christian Advisors Association." This would mean that Buddhists and Hindus and atheists would be excluded. If everyone, regardless of their beliefs, was a 'Christian', the term would diminish in its cognitive meaning. (Note: anyone who believes "all the religions lead up the same mountain" simply has not actually studied the comparative religions. See, e.g., Boston University scholar Stephen Prothero's God Is Not One: The 8 Rival Religions that Run the World - and Why Their Differences Matter.)

That's how I see it when I research progressive Christianity. There is too much theological and even non-theological diversity to make the term meaningful. This does not mean that God does not love all these people. It does not mean several of these people have not said some true things, or done some good things. 

Sociologist Laura Edles has identified a spectrum of identities within Progressive Christianity, with "self-proclaimed spiritual progressives" like John Spong or Marcus Borg on the far left and "prophetic/progressive evangelicals" like Jim Wallis and Tony Campolo on the far right of the progressive spectrum. (See Edles, "Contemporary Progressive Christianity and Irts Symbolic Ramifications." Edles writes:  "I argue that in addition to their structural disadvantages, progressive Christians face thorny dilemmas regarding authority/legitimacy, rationalization, de-mystification, disenchantment, charisma (or the lack thereof), and profanation that, though not insurmountable, are not easily resolved.")

When I research 'progressive Christianity using Google, the first item to appear is ProgressiveChristianity.org. I scroll down a bit and see a recommended book called With or Without God. It's by Gretta Vosper. I typed her name in the website's search engine and came to this. To Vosper, "god is a metaphor for goodness and love lived out with compassion and justice, no more and no less." (See here.) 

Well, I don't agree with that. I would never teach my people that. I cannot affiliate with that. Plus, I like metaphors. My PhD dissertation is "Metaphor and Theology: A Multidisciplinary Approach." (Northwestern University, 1986)

Alisa Childers writes: "Progressive Christianity is tough to define, because there isn’t a creed or list of beliefs that progressive Christians officially unite around." I agree. 

I know there are progressive Christians who do not agree with Vosper. They still believe in the God of theism. Nor would they agree with Michael Gungor, who testifies to no longer believing in the theistic God. But that's my point. Gungor says he now is an “apophatic mystic Hindu pantheist Christian Buddhist skeptic with a penchant for nihilistic progressive existentialism.” (See here.) 

Really? I'm now restraining my philosophical impulses. Note that Gungor uses 'Christian' and 'progressive' in the same self-description. I have studied (doctoral work) on apophatic (and kataphatic) mysticism. But... he has a leaning towards "nihilistic progressive existentialism?" Really? 

Gungor's self-definition is, I assume, his embracing of universalism. Even though I know of a few PCs who deny being universalistic, my intuition is that there is some kind of path that easily runs from PC to universalism.

I here confess that, as for me, I just don't belong here. It's not helpful. 

Vagueness is, analytically (in Kant's sense), obfuscating, or non-clarifying.

Still, I can love all these people. But I cannot wear the progressive Christian t-shirt. 


***

My next "Deconstructing Progressive Christianity" post shows why I could not identify as a PC because of its way of utilizing the historical-critical method in biblical interpretation. Greg Boyd expresses a similar concern in his new book on the inspiration and authority of the Bible. Greg defines progressive evangelicals as:

"A very diverse group of people who continue to embrace many of the distinctives of evangelicalism, including the importance of having a personal relationship with Jesus, but who tend to emphasize the social justice aspect of the Gospel while embracing at least aspects of the historical-critical approach to Scripture." (Boyd, Gregory A.. Inspired Imperfection, p. 177) 

I'll explain in the next post, coming sometime before summer.  :) 

You can read my first post HERE

A Wise Person Holds Their Tongue


Thursday morning, January 28, 2021.

8 AM.

I begin my day reading in Proverbs chapter 11. I have been in this chapter for two weeks.

I am in search of wisdom. I do not have enough.

This wisdom quest began in me in 1970. Fifty years ago, almost exactly to this date, I became a follower of Jesus.

I changed my university major from music theory to philosophy.

Philo-sophy. Literally, "the love of wisdom."

Flourishing people are wisdom collectors.

Proverbs 11:12 instructs:

Whoever derides their neighbor has no sense, 
but the one who has understanding holds their tongue.

There is a time to speak, and a time to be quiet. Wisdom knows the difference.

Old Testament scholar John Walton comments:

"Proverbs frequently teaches that foolish speech has dire consequences and inevitably results in disorder. In some proverbs, as here, the nature of the speech is not specified, but on other occasions it is described as lying, gossip, slander, rumor and other socially destructive behaviors. Egyptian sages also recognized the connection between evil speech and negative results. A good example is from Any: “A man may be ruined by his tongue, Beware and you will do well.”"  (NIV, Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible)

This verse contains enough wisdom for me today.

I write it on a 3X5 card, and slip it in my pocket.


The Difference Between Making Judgments and Judgementalism

Downtown Monroe

Jesus tells us to stop judging other people. (Matthew 7:1) Here are some thoughts I have about this.
§  We can, and will, make “judgments” in life. This is unavoidable, and is not the thing Jesus warns us against doing. Consider this judgment: Killing people for fun is wrong. I judge that to be “true.” 
Every day we make hundreds of judgments, ranging from moral judgments such as "Sex trafficking is wrong," to “This cup of coffee is too weak,” or "That color looks better on you." When Jesus says “Judge not” he is not referring to making moral judgments or aesthetic judgments or legal judgments or scientific judgments, but is referring to judgmentalism. Judgmentalism is different from making judgments.

§  A “judgmental” person weighs in on the hearts of other people and pronounces, like a trial judge, a verdict. (See James 4.) Such as: “guilty.” Or: ”That person is bad.” Or: "You deserve punishment." A judgmental person sees themselves as both judge and jury over others. Judgmental people feast off making moral and spiritual judgments about the motives of other people. Judgmental people see the worst in others irregardless of evidence to the contrary. Judgmental people make pronouncements without evidence, without understanding and compassion, even in the face of counter-evidence, and even on the basis of manifestly false evidence. Judgmentalism is the bedfellow of gossip and slander.

§  Behaviors can and should be judged, but the human heart is difficult to assess. If someone steals from you it is not wrong to say, “They stole from me; stealing is wrong; therefore what this person has done is wrong.” But why did they steal from you? Here’s where caution is advised. Because you and I do not have access to the human heart. Judge the behavior; refrain from judging the person’s heart. How many times I have been either positively or negatively surprised when a person’s true heart becomes evident. Which leads me to say…

§  I have, at times, assessed the hearts of people incorrectly. When my assessment has been negative I’ve built a case against that person. That’s neither good nor helpful. It breeds bitterness. I have made mountains, not only out of mole-hills, but out of no-hills. 
Consider Proverbs 20:5, which says that “the purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters.” You and I lack epistemic access to the deep waters of another person’s heart. I can’t at times figure my own heart out! How then can I expect to accurately read the hearts of other people? If you wonder why someone did something that affects you negatively, why not ask them rather than put them on trial in your own mind and before others? 

§  If God reveals to you some negative aspect of another person’s heart it is only so that you can pray for them or, with permission, help them. God doesn’t entrust such privileged information to judgmental people.

§  In John 7, in one of his confrontations with the Jewish religious leaders, Jesus asks them to “Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment.” They have, again, misjudged Jesus. This is because what is seen with the eyes is not equivalent to what lies in the heart. It may “appear” to me that a person has just given me a nasty look. I should not conclude from this that they have a nasty heart. Maybe, maybe not. 
Many years ago, when Linda and I were dating, one of her friends told Linda that it appeared I did not like this friend because of the look on my face. Linda assured the friend that I did like her and, by the way, that’s how my face normally looks. You can’t judge a book by the cover. 

§  Judgmental people are fearful people. Judgmentalism works as a barrier erected to ward off self-scrutiny. If I deflect attention away from my own sin and failure and get people to look at the surface-appearance of sin and failure in someone else, I can breathe easier. Instead of crying out “Search me O God, and know my heart,” the cry becomes “Judge them, O God, for I know their hearts.” Probably not.

§  It’s hard work being the judge of the world. I have spent too many hours trying to figure out what is going on in the brains of other people. Now I am more and more giving this responsibility to God. What a relief! He calls me to love others, not judge them. God is able to speak into the hearts of all the people I find myself wondering about. In the meantime I will do well to allow him to speak to my own heart, and leave the judging of others to him.

I am asking God for freedom from judging the hearts of others. I can make judgments about things without being judgmental towards people. But note this: one cannot make a reasonable judgment without first understanding. It is foolish to judge without understanding. 

#1 – Understand.

#2 – Evaluate if needed.

***
SEE ALSO:

Judgmentalism Is a Form of Violence 

Judgmentalism and Making Judgments 

Judgment Grows In the Soil of Forgetfulness 

Understanding People Is Superior to Judging People



***

My two books are...

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.

Leading the Presence-Driven Church.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

How to Be a Pastor

Image result for john piippo eugene peterson pastor pray
(I spent several hours praying in this spot when I was in Eldoret, Kenya - gum trees, I was told.)

Are you a pastor? Do you feel called to be a pastor? What does "pastor" mean?

I love being a pastor.

I am still learning how to be a pastor.

I have looked to some pastors about how to be a pastor. One is Eugene Peterson. I never met him. I did I talk with Eugene on the phone once, for less than five minutes. I was inviting him to speak at a pastors conference in Michigan. He was gracious as he told me he would like to to it, but could not. He said, "I'm out of gas." 

Peterson was out of gas, but his words start fires.

Peterson's book The Pastor has been important to me. He shares what kind of pastor he wants to be.

  • "I want to be a pastor who prays. I want to be relaxed and reflective and responsive in the presence of God."
  • “I want to be a pastor who reads and studies. This culture in which we live squeezes all the God sense out of us. I want to be observant and informed enough to help this congregation understand what we are up against."
  • “I want to be a pastor who has the time to be with [people] in leisurely, unhurried conversations so that I can understand and be a companion with [them] as [they] grow in Christ—[their] doubts and [their] difficulties, [their] desires and [their] delights."
  • "I want to be a pastor who leads in worship, a pastor who brings [people] before God in receptive obedience, a pastor who preaches sermons that make scripture accessible and present and alive, a pastor who is able to give [people] a language and imagination that restores in [them] a sense of dignity as a Christian in [their] homes and workplaces and gets rid of these debilitating images of being a ‘mere’ layperson."
  • "I want to be an unbusy pastor." (P. 278)


I like this. I want to be a pastor like this. 

It requires a long obedience. In the same direction.

Nothing Has Separated Us From the Love of Christ

Image result for john piippo first baptist church joliet illinois
(Redeemer sanctuary)

When Linda and I were pastors at First Baptist Church in Joliet, Illinois (back in the mid-70s), our church hosted a coffee house. Every Saturday night, twenty to fifty young adults would gather in the basement of our building. Someone would bring a teaching. And, we would worship.

The worship stayed with me. We had great instrumentalists, and some phenomenal voices. Some of those songs, repeated over and over, have become the furniture of the room that is my heart.

One was a simple worship song that repeated Romans 8:35:


Who can separate us from the love of Christ? 
Can affliction or hardship? 
Can persecution, hunger, nakedness, peril, or the sword?


Follow Jesus long enough, and you will go through some of these things. Most have experienced affliction, hardship, persecution, and peril. Linda and I have had the death of loved ones. We have experienced persecution, sometimes coming from within our church families. We have known financial hardship (many pastors have, BTW). I have encountered perilous situations while ministering to people in dark environments.

And... there are these days we all are now in.

Still, through it all, the experience of God's love remains.

Love is an experience, not a theory. (See Leading the Presence-Driven Church, Chapter 2, "The Case for Experience.")

God's love is felt. It is known, in the Hebrew sense of knowing. 

Linda and I have never been cut off from this.

Dallas Willard writes:

"When our first child was born, I realized painfully that this beautiful little creature was separate from me and nothing I could do would shelter him from his aloneness in the face of time, brutal events, others’ meanness, his own wrong choices, the decay of his body and, finally, death. 

That would be the last word on the subject, except for God. He is able to penetrate and intertwine himself within the fibers of the human self in such a way that those who are enveloped in his loving companionship will never be alone." (Willard, Hearing God Through the Year: A 365-Day Devotional, p. 51)

Paul concludes with these words. Write them on a card. Carry them with you today. Read them often. Ingest them. Draw them on a poster. Hang the poster on the walls of the room that is your heart.

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors 
through him who loved us. 
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, 
neither angels nor demons,
neither the present nor the future, 
nor any powers, 
neither height nor depth, 
nor anything else in all creation, 
will be able to separate us from the love of God 
that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:37-39

***
My first two books are...

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

Leading the Presence-Driven Church (January 2018)

I am now writing...

Technology and Spiritual Formation

How God Changes the Human Heart: A Phenomenology of Spiritual Transformation

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

To Disagree Is Not to Hate


(Tree roots - Lake Erie - Monroe)


(I'm reposting this to keep this ball in play.)

Here's a note to all who want to sit around the table and have interfaith dialogue. Interfaith dialogue is hard work, because you have to address different religious beliefs. The way you address them is not to affirm disparate beliefs. There will be no authentic interfaith dialogue if that happens. 

When I was a campus pastor at Michigan State University (1981-1992) I met with many religious leaders. We all held different core beliefs. In some cases, our worldviews were diametrically opposed. Obviously, we did not agree on many things. Did this mean we hated each other? Of course not. To label someone a "hater," or accuse them of "hate language," just because they don't agree with whatever your position is, is uncivil and irrational. (Welcome to the new world of microaggressions and cancel culture. See The Chronicle of Higher Education for university examples.)

We who are followers of Jesus are called to agape love. This love is so radical it even instructs us to love our enemies! People in my church, and those who follow me on this blog, know I have been praying to love even those who are my enemies. Jesus' command to love tells me it is possible to love people who hate me and come against me. Surely, then, I can love people who disagree with me.

To feel anger is not to hate. Over our forty-seven years of marriage, Linda and I have had moments of anger towards each other. But this does not entail that we hate each other. What we do with our feelings of anger can lead to hatred, which is not what God wants. When we are told to "be angry, but don't sin," this means anger does not equal hatred. To still love, even when in disagreement, even when angry, is a sign of spiritual maturity and freedom.

As a follower of Jesus, I am not allowed to say these words to anyone - "I hate you." 

Conversely, saying "I agree with you" is not to love. Agreeing or disagreeing has nothing to do with love or hate. Love and hate concern how we respond when in disagreement, when feeling anger.

I learned a lot about disagreeing with others in studying philosophy. Philosophy classes are arenas of formulating arguments and evaluating them. Every formulation is subject to evaluation. Evaluation produces tension and a conflict of ideas. Many times, in those sometimes-intense discussions, I heard words like, "I believe you are wrong about that," or "I disagree with what you just said, because..."  

Of all the philosophy professors I had, only one was unwelcoming of disagreement and dialogue. The rest were dispassionate and, as much as anyone can be (because no one can perfectly be), objective.

Philosophical disputing was welcoming and inviting. And, there was significant questioning and disagreeing.

Lying in the background of all this are the Platonic dialogues. Here is where the art of respectful disagreement was learned. All philosophers have been shaped by these forums.

Philosophy classes taught me how to disagree without hating. I learned that disagreement is not logically equivalent to hatred. Hatred, when it happens, is a sad non sequitur to disagreement. It was sad that Socrates was killed by the hatred of some who failed to understand him. The way Socrates handled this has been a model of disagreeing while not hating.

My philosophy professors expected disagreement and questioning. They made the classroom a safe place. I learned that a safe place is not a place where everyone agrees about everything. A safe place is a place where people can disagree and learn and grow in wisdom.

A safe place is a place where disagreement is accompanied by love and respect. An unsafe place is a place where disagreement breeds hatred.

A safe place is a place for civil discourse. An unsafe place is a place where you don't have a voice.

A safe place is a place where people come first to understand, and only after understanding is achieved, to evaluate. An unsafe place is where people judge without understanding.

A safe place is a place where you can be angry, but sin not.

Anger is not hatred. A parent can be angry with their child, and not hate them at the same time.

Anger is the emotion you feel when one of your expectations has not been met. Hatred is rooted in anger. Hatred is not the emotion, anger is. Hatred is a sinful expression or response or reaction rooted in anger. Anger is an emotion you feel. Hatred is expressed in something you do.

To disagree is not to hate.

To feel anger is not to hate.


***

My three books are:

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

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

I am writing... (because I believe God has called me to write)...

Transformation: How God Changes the Human Heart

Technology and Spiritual Formation

Linda and I will then co-write our book on Relationships

Welcoming and Sometimes Disaffirming


                                         (Redeemer - getting ready to worship!)


(I am re-posting this to keep it in play.)


I was asked the question, "Would a Muslim be welcome in your church?"

My answer is: "Yes!"

And Buddhists and Hindus and atheists, too.

I would be thrilled if people of differing beliefs came to my church. Even atheists. When I was teaching at MCCC, some atheists would sometimes come on Sunday morning to check us out. I was so glad to see them there. And a few atheists became followers of Jesus as a result!

I loved them. And obviously, my love for them did not include affirming the belief that there is no God.

Someone asked me this. "If a Muslim came and asked you to affirm their belief that Jesus was merely a prophet (and not God the Son), and that Jesus did not die on a cross (the Koran says this), would you affirm this?"

My answer is: "Of course not." And, BTW, the serious, practicing Muslim would not affirm my belief that Jesus died on a cross to atone for the sins of humanity. I have dialogued with some Muslims about this, even with a Muslim leader from the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn.

What does it mean to "affirm" something, or someone?" "Affirm" can mean, to agree with. Or, "affirm" can mean, "I value you." But this does not mean I value all your beliefs. From my Christian point of view, I want to affirm what God affirms. As far as I can tell, God does not affirm the following Muslim beliefs: Jesus was only a prophet, and Jesus did not die on a cross. (Note: If you want to have true interfaith dialogue with a Muslim, you disrespect them if you do not talk about how our core beliefs are different, and expect them to affirm your core beliefs. But there are those who know more about this than I, one of them being my friend J. S.)

Welcome and love people? Yes. Even enemies? Read here. And here

Affirm every belief people have? No. To do that is neither loving nor truthful. And, BTW Jesus didn't affirm all the beliefs the people and religious leaders had.

Is it loving to welcome but not affirm? Of course. To love someone is not equivalent to affirming every belief they bring with them. That would be disingenuous. I have had a few atheists over the years tell me they respect the fact that I can be gracious towards them while not affirming their beliefs. One atheist looked me square in the eye and said, "I respect you for not affirming my atheism. That's why I am interested in you."

The atheist Christopher Hitchens said the same, and castigated both Christians and atheists who mindlessly and hypocritically affirmed everything, no matter what. (See The Faith of Christopher Hitchens: The Restless Soul of the World's Most Notorious Atheist.)

The philosopher skeptic David Hume said the same. There's the story of Hume getting up at 5 AM to travel to hear George Whitefield preach. Asked if he believed what the preacher preached, he replied, "No, but he does!"

No one affirms everything. Probably, people disaffirm more things than they affirm.

Much depends on a person's worldview. It is within a worldview that affirming and disaffirming find their place. Everyone has a worldview. Even the view that there are no worldviews is a worldview. The question becomes: Is my worldview true? That is, is my worldview the way things really are? This is not the special province of Christians. Everyone believes their worldview represents the way things really are.

Everyone affirms and disaffirms. It is unloving to expect, even force, someone who does not share your worldview to affirm it. But we can try to understand. And then, evaluate. And then, in a civil way, disaffirm. (Unlike life at American universities today, which mostly are disaffirming and not welcoming.)

"Could an atheist teach atheism in your church as something God affirms?" Of course not, for what seem to me to be obvious reasons.

"Could a Muslim be one of your youth leaders and teach your youth that Christ did not die on a cross?" Of course not.

"Would you, John, be allowed to be a youth leader at the Islamic Center of America, and tell Young Muslims that the Koran is wrong, and God is a Trinity of Persons, in One?" Definitely not!

"Could someone teach your people that marriage is not limited to a man and a woman?" No.

"Does that mean you don't love people who have beliefs contrary to the Jesus way?" Of course not!

The idea that we ought to love everyone, even our enemies, finds its most powerful formulation in Christianity.

The idea that we should affirm every belief is unloving, and pop-culture nonsense. If love meant affirming everything people believe, we would love no one, not even ourselves, not even God.


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Leading the Presence-Driven Church (January 2018)

With Janice Trigg - Encounters with the Holy Spirit  (June 2019) 

Monday, January 25, 2021

One Way Humanity Is Not Progressing, But Regressing


                                                                            (Detroit)

In 1977 I taught a course on prayer, to Master's students at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary. Since then I have taught countless seminary classes, seminars, and conferences on praying and spiritual formation.

Almost anyone who has done likewise admits that, in spite of all that technology has given us, tech-saturated humanity has spiritually regressed. Call this 'regressive', and 'regressivism'.

Here's a quote from Thomas Merton that confirms spiritual and moral regressivism.

"Though man has acquired the power to do almost anything, he has at the same time lost the ability to orient his life toward a spiritual goal by the things he does. He has lost all conviction that he knows where he is going and what he is doing, unless he can manage to plunge into some collective delusion ['progressivism'?] which promises happiness (sometime in the future) to those who will have learned to use the implements he has discovered." [Progressivism as a utopian myth?]

Further corroboration of regressivism can be found in Sherry Turkle (Reclaiming Conversation), and Greg Lukionoff and Johnathan Haidt (The Coddling of the American Mind).

I subscribe to The Chronicle of Higher Education. Regressivist concerns are regularly expressed there.

One can consider Orwell's 1984 and Huxley's Brave New World can be seen to support, not moral progressivism, but moral regressivism, in spite of technological advances, which are utilized by morally regressive humans.