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.


Tuesday, January 26, 2021

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.


***

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.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Tolstoy on Victimization and Self-Pity

 

Tolstoy on Victimization and Self-Pity


                    (Green Lake Christian Conference Center, Wisconsin)

All of us have been victimized. Someone has done something hurtful to us that we did not bring about or deserve. We've all had that experience, probably more than once. And, surely, we have victimized others. We have punished someone wrongly, with our words and actions.

There are true victims.

There are also people who hold on to their victimization. It becomes a badge of their identity. They are a victim. Call this a spirit of victimization. They don't get over it, and they won't get over it. Victimization has become an illness.

A spirit of victimization exudes self-pity. Tolstoy, in The Death of Ivan Ilych, describes the sickness of self-pity in exquisite detail: 

"What tormented Ivan Ilych most was the deception, the lie, which for some reason they all accepted, that he was not dying but was simply ill, and he only need keep quiet and undergo a treatment and then something very good would result… The awful, terrible act of his dying was, he could see, reduced by those about him to the level of a casual, unpleasant, and almost indecorous incident (as if someone entered a drawing room defusing an unpleasant odor) and this was done by that very decorum which he had served all his life long. He saw that no one felt for him, because no one even wished to grasp his position… [W]hat most tormented Ivan Ilych was that no one pitied him as he wished to be pitied. At certain moments after prolonged suffering he wished most of all (though he would have been ashamed to confess it) for someone to pity him as a sick child is pitied. He longed to be petted and comforted."” (Emphasis mine.)

In Luke 9:23 Jesus tells us, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Self-denial is necessary to take up the cross and follow Jesus. It needs to be happening every day.

Healthy self-denial involves removal of negative aspects of the self. These are things like self-love, self-hatred, and self-pity. All are forms of self-obsession. The more self-obsession, the less following of Jesus there will be. Following Jesus is in inverse proportion to self-obsession.


Self-pity is one of the more punishing forms of self-obsession. Self-pity cannot coexist with spiritual renewal and transformation. 


In one of my seminary classes I was talking about holding “pity parties,” when a pastor named Samuel from Ghana asked, “What do you mean by “pity party?”” I said, “Samuel, the next time I host one for myself I’ll invite you.” Unfortunately, I could write an essay on How To Host Your Next Pity Party.


To be self-pitying is to live life as a victim. While it’s true that sometimes we are victims, there is a spirit of victimization (self-deprivation) that is to be distinguished from the real thing. It looks like this: "Poor me! They are not treating me right - and after all I've done for them!" Such is the self-pitying, angry person. 


In this regard Henri Nouwen asks, "What else is anger but the response to the sense of being deprived? Much of my own anger comes from the fact that my self feels deprived."

When one chooses to express this anger by hosting a pity party, the self-obsession has begun.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

The Angry Blamer Is the Imprisoned Victim



(Sleeping Bear Dunes, Michigan)

A year ago we read of another beautiful demonstration of the power of forgiveness. A police officer accidentally shot and killed a man in their apartment complex. The deceased man's brother was in the courtroom when the officer was sentenced to ten years in prison. When it was the brother's turn to speak after the sentencing, instead of raging at the officer, he said, "I forgive you." Then he asked the judge if he could give the officer a hug. (See here.)

The maturity of this man contains many messages. One is: We don't have to live as angry victims the rest of our lives. That... is true freedom! (As opposed to what is commonly seen - like the person who leaves their spouse, or their friends, or their parents, or their religion, claims to now "be free," but demonstrates their bondage by unleashing hatred against the spouse/friends/parents/church that hurt them.)

To better understand how to be free from a victim mentality Linda and I strongly recommend John Townsend's book The Entitlement Cure: Finding Success in Doing Hard Things the Right Way.

One of the bitter fruits of entitlement is externalization. Townsend writes: "People with an attitude of entitlement often project the responsibility of their choices on the outside, not the inside. The fault lies with other people, circumstances, or events. They blame others for every problem." (p. 61)


The worship songs of externalization are...


"It's Them, It's Them, It's Them O Lord, Standin' in the Need of Prayer," and...

"Change Their Hearts, O God." 

Externalization-people fail to look at their part in their problems. "Instead, they default to answers outside their skin. The result? They tend to be powerless and unhappy. They tend to see life through the eyes of a victim. And their suffering is unproductive — it doesn’t get them anywhere." (Ib.)

The classic victim mentality is:


"Yes, I did what was wrong. But you forced me to do it." This is a testimony to human character weakness. The characterless "victim" persists in recruiting other characterless people for the self-justification of evil. They engage in perpetual destruction of others, not to mention their own soul.


"Blame," writes Townsend, "is a first cousin to entitlement." 


The constant blamer is the perpetual victim. The antidote to this bondage is to reject forces outside yourself and take responsibility for your own choices and attitudes. Be open to seeing yourself as the problem. Reject a global victimization that views yourself as someone who is always being "done to," and own your own part in your problems. 

Forgive those who have trespassed on your heart. Take responsibility for your own trespassing.


***
***

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


Then: Technology and Spiritual Formation.

Friday, January 22, 2021

Overcoming Fearfulness

 


(Downtown Monroe)


Many of my fears are irrational, in two ways. The first is like this:

1) I believe that Horrible Event X is going to happen.
2) I feel fearful of Horrible Event X.
3) Horrible Event X never happens.

The famous non-event of "Y2K" is an example. I was among those who did not believe this horrible event would happen. But some did, and the emotion of fear was real to them. Many went through that fearful time for no reason. Their fear was irrational. 

Many fears concern events that never happen. 

A second kind of irrational fear is this.

1) Horrible Event X is probably going to happen.
2) I feel fearful of Horrible Event X.
3) Horrible Event X happens.

For example, I might be facing a surgery. I experience fear while waiting for it. It is natural to feel fearful, but my fear does nothing to help the situation. My fearfulness makes the whole thing worse than it already is. In this sense my fearfulness is irrational. It is like pouring fuel on an already-existing fire. 

Consider a less toxic situation. Let's say that tomorrow I have to mediate in a conflict which threatens to split apart a family if it is not healed. (Which I do not, BTW.) I have trouble getting to sleep tonight, because I am fearful there will be a negative outcome. My fear is real, but irrational, since it contributes nothing to the healing, and may actually prevent me from seeing clearly in the act of mediation.

Both as a pastor and a human, I face fearful situations. There is always "something coming around the bend," imagined or real. I would like to face those situations minus the feeling of fear, which is unhelpful, unhealthy, and debilitating. Is this possible?

I believe it is possible to overcome fearfulness. The antidote to a fearful heart is to make God one's "fortress and strength," the result being, "what shall I then fear?" Henri Nouwen writes:

"The mystery of the spiritual life is that Jesus desires to meet us in the seclusion of our own heart, to make his love known to us there, to free us from our fears, and to make our own deepest self known to us... Each time you let the love of God penetrate deeper into your heart, you lose a bit of your anxiety." (Nouwen, The Only Necessary Thing: Living a Prayerful Life, 70-71)

Nouwen devotes an entire book to this theme, and asks the question, "Do you live in the house of God or in the house of fear?" We have a choice about which spiritual and emotional "house" we are going to call home. (See Nouwen's Lifesigns: Intimacy, Fecundity, and Ecstasy in Christian Perspective

Today, engage in those spiritual disciplines that connect you to Jesus. Make the house of God, not the house of fear, the dwelling place of your heart.

***
My two books are:

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Submit to God In the Present Moment



                      (I took this photo of Maracas Bay while in Trinidad.)

Greg Boyd, in his brilliant little book Present Perfect, writes:

"One of the reasons why many contemporary Western Christians place so much stress on hearing sermons, engaging in Bible studies, reading books, and attending seminars and conferences [is because] we believe that acquiring information is the key to helping us grow spiritually and solve our personal and social problems." (98)

While sometimes information does help people grow, and sometimes helps us solve problems, knowledge "does not on its own empower us to become more Christlike. When it comes to living in the Kingdom, moment-by-moment, our typical Western confidence in information is misplaced." (98-99)

In the West we are massively informed. "We have more data, more information, than Christians at any time in the past. But it is not evident that we are more spiritually mature than Christians in the past. Many have written about how the lifestyle and core values of Western Christians are no different from pagan, worldly non-Christians. And this, in spite of all our Christian bookstores and books and websites and seminars and conferences and Bible studies. We have a problem. It isn't due to a lack of information."

Greg asks, "Why do so many Christians today spend more time listening to sermons or reading books than they do feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, welcoming outcasts, visiting prisoners, or engaging on other activities Jesus said should characterize Kingdom people?" (98) The answer lies in the great gap being knowing about the Kingdom and knowing Jesus and living out the Kingdom.

Greg writes: "all the information in the world is worthless if it distracts from the simplest thing in the world, which is practicing the presence of God in the present moment." (100)

Submit to God, now, in the present moment. As we do this, God's "life flows in and through us," and "transforms us in a way no amount of knowledge can." (101)



***
My two books are:
Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God
Leading the Presence-Driven Church.
I'm working on:
How God Changes the Human Heart

Linda and I then plan to write our book on Relationships

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Reversing the Vengeance Motif

 

                                               (Butterfly House, in Whitehouse, Ohio)

We see the vengeance motif in many movies. It captures us. It goes like this.

Person B hurts Person A. Either directly, or, often, indirectly (hurts one of their loved ones).

Person A is going to "get even." To pay them back. To hurt them, we find ourselves hoping, far worse than what was done to them. This appeals to an ancient desire, beyond which humanity has not progressed.

We see the vengeance motif in Genesis 4, in a man named Lamech. We read,

Lamech married two women, one named Adah and the other Zillah. Adah gave birth to Jabal; he was the father of those who live in tents and raise livestock. His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all who play stringed instruments and pipes. Zillah also had a son, Tubal-Cain, who forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron. Tubal-Cain’s sister was Naamah. 

Lamech said to his wives, “Adah and Zillah, listen to me; wives of Lamech, hear my words. I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for injuring me. 

If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times.”

We don't know who Lamech killed. We do know that, if someone tries to get back at Lamech, he will make them pay 77 times worse than what he did to the young man who hurt him. (Think here of Clint Eastwood, in the movie "Unforgiven.")

Centuries later, in these postmodern times, the vengeance motif still captivates human hearts. And often, it gets enacted on. Jesus came to reverse this. We see it in Matthew 18:21-22.

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, 

“Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? 

 Up to seven times?” 

Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

Craig Keener comments on this, saying: "Some scholars argue that Jesus here reverses the principle of vengeance in Genesis 4:24 (77 times). Hyperbole reinforces the point." (Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, Kindle Locations 220322-220324)

Jesus reverses the vengeance motif. He overthrows the human desire to get even. He heals the bleeding wound that want to strike back.

Jesus shows us, not only by these words, but by his life, that forgiveness is more powerful than vengeance.

The Coddling of the American Mind Redux










One of the best books I've read in the past few years is The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Ideas and Bad Intentions Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure, by Greg Lukionoff and Jonathan Haidt,

I find myself referring to it often, as a lens through which to interpret things like microaggressions and victimhood culture. 

Their book is a more thorough follow-up to their famous Atlantic essay, "The Coddling of the American Mind." This article provoked much discussion. So does the book.

Read the article to get the idea. 

If you find Haidt valuable, see also The Rise of Victimhood Culture: Microaggressions, Safe Spaces, and the New Culture Wars, by Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning.

I also subscribe to The Chronicle of Higher Education, and read it cover to cover. There's much there, written by university leaders and professors, on how to handle the growing microaggression and victimhood mentality in students, which shackles the free exchange of ideas.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

What I Do When I Go Out to Pray

 


Image result for john piippo lake erie
One of my praying places on Lake Erie

Someone who attended one of my conferences sent me this question: "When you go out to pray, what steps do you take?"

Here's what I do.

I go to a "place of least distraction," which is away from my home and office. One of these places for me is at our local state park on Lake Erie. I go there to pray even in winter, but usually stay in my car, facing the lake.

I bring three things: my Bible, my journal, and a devotional book (like a Henri Nouwen, Thomas Merton, Dallas Willard, or Eugene Peterson book). 

I often bring a cup of coffee with me.

I find a place facing the lake. I sit. At this point I am almost always focused on God. I have done this for so many years that I am filled with expectation.

Currently I am slowly, meditatively, reading through Proverbs and the Gospel of Luke.

As I read, it is common for God to speak to me, either mediately through the Scriptures, through the creation, or immediately. When this happens, I write it down in my journal. My journal is a record of the voice and activity of God, for me.

If my mind wanders, I note where it wanders to. When it wanders it is always to a burden. Sometimes the burden is from God, and I pray about this (e.g., I feel burdened by what a friend is going through). Otherwise, following 1 Peter 5:7, I burden-cast.

When I am deburdened and detoxified (confession of any sins), hearing God happens more often. I may at that time read out of a devotional book. Usually, I get only a few pages (if that far), when I feel God is again speaking to me. At that point I write in my journal what I hear God saying.

All this is my usual experience. It does happen, occasionally, that I hear little or nothing. At other times, I cannot write my thoughts fast enough.

I feel no pressure to make something happen. I do not evaluate my time with God quantitatively. It is always productive, even if I see no immediate results.

Almost always (99%), I am refreshed, renewed, healed, directed, corrected, at peace, with great thanksgiving.

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

Leading the Presence-Driven Church 

I am now writing How God Changes the Human Heart (A Phenomenology of Spiritual Transformation) (Hopefully summer 2021).