Friday, April 30, 2021

My Summer Book Reading

 


My summer reading includes... 

Why We Are Restless: On the Modern Quest for Contentment, by Benjamin Storey and Jenna Silber Storey

A Prayer Journal, by Flannery O'Connor

A Burning in My Bones: The Authorized Biography of Eugene H. Peterson, Translator of The Message, by Winn Collier

Goodnight Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown

This summer I am studying (again!)... 


In addition to looking at commentaries, I am reading Paul and the Faithfulness of God, by N. T. Wright.


If you haven't read these yet, I recommend...




LOVE IN AN AGE OF OUTRAGE VIDEO


I'm re-posting this, to keep it out there.

Why I Am Still A Christian


(Glen Arbor, Michigan)

(I re-post this periodically, with slight edits. If you are not a follower of Jesus, I invite you to join me on this beautiful journey that will make sense of your life, give your life meaning, and provide you with a life purpose. If you want to email me about this, please do!  johnpiippo@msn.com)

At the end of one of my Philosophy of Religion classes a student asked me, "Why are you a Christian. Why, among the world religions, would I choose Christianity? Why be religious at all?" My answer went like this (I'm expanding on it here). 

My Christian faith is based on the following.


1. My Conversion Experience

2. My Subsequent Studies.
3. My Ongoing Experience

I came to believe because of a powerful experience that changed my life and worldview. The result of this experience included subsequent study and increasing experience. Credo (I believed); Intelligam (I grew in understanding).


Credo: My Conversion Experience


From ages 18-21 I was heavily into alcohol and drugs. I flunked out of college. Things were falling apart as a result of my substance abuse. I was in a deep hole, dug by myself. I was afflicted, and didn’t know where to turn. And, amazingly, I didn't think I needed help.


One day I hit a low. I thought, "I am screwed up." I prayed and said, “God if you are real, and if Jesus is real, then help me. If you help me, I’ll follow you.” 


Onj that day, almost exactly fifty years ago, something unexpected happened: that was the last day I did drugs.

My worldview was rocked! My life has never been the same. This was my turning point. I attribute this to Jesus.


I see similarities between my conversion from godlessness to Christianity, and C.S. Lewis's conversion from atheism to Christianity. Lewis wrote:


"As the dry bones shook and came together in that dreadful valley of Ezekiel's, so now a philosophical theorem, cerebrally entertained, began to stir and heave and throw off its grave cloths, and stood upright and became a living presence. I was to be allowed to play at philosophy no longer. It might, as I say, still be true that my "Spirit" differed in some way from "the God of popular religion." My Adversary waived the point. It sank into utter unimportance. He would not argue about it. He only said, "I am the Lord"; "I am that I am"; "I am." People who are naturally religious find difficulty in understanding the horror of such a revelation. Amiable agnostics will talk cheerfully about "man's search for God." To me, as I then was, they might as well have talked about the mouse's search for the cat." (From Surprised By Joy)

The cat found the mouse. God found me. I was receptive. God exists. God loves me. (My conversion story is written in more detail in chapter 1 of my book Leading the Presence-Driven Church. You should be able to read chapter 1 for free at Google books here.)


Intelligam: Understanding What Happened to Me 


This didn't happen in a vacuum. The soil of my heart had been softening for some time. I was looking for help. Help came. My life forever changed. What shall I make of this?


I conclude...
  • If this event had not happened, I don't know that I would have become a Jesus-follower. I needed something experiential that could waken me. It happened. 
  • I agree with William James who, in his Varieties of Religious Experience, writes: "A mystical experience is authoritative for the one who experiences it. But a mystical experience that happens to one person need not be authoritative for other people." I'm good with that. (With the exception that the mystical-religious experiences of certain other persons have carried authority with me because of their credibility.)
  • My initial religious experience ripped me out of non-reflective deism into full-blown Christian theism. I now believed in God, and in Jesus. This experience-based belief had an evidential quality, propelling me to go after an understanding of what had happened. Now, fifty years later, this has not stopped. Today I am a deeper believer in God and Jesus than ever.
  • True religion (not the jeans - they are too expensive) includes experience. Theory without experience is empty. Hebrew-Christianity is essentially about a relationship with God; a mutual indwelling experiential reality. This includes prayer-as-dialogue with God, the sense of God's presence, being-led by God, and so on. (I write a book on my experiences of God - Praying.) And worship. Worship is experiential and logical in the sense that: If God is love, and God is real, and love is about relationship (love has an "other"), then it follows that one will know and be known by God. ("Know," in Hebrew, means experiential intimacy, and not Cartesian subject-object distance. For more see, e.g., the writings of James K.A. Smith. See also Notre Dame philosopher Alvin Plantinga's chapter of faith as knowledge, in Knowledge and Christian Belief. See Craig Keener's Miracles, and his Spirit Hermeneutics.)
  • I realize certain atheists claim to have no religious experience at all. John Allen Paulos, for example, in his Irreligion, claims not to have a religious bone in his body. I don't doubt this. This fact does not deter me, just as I am certain C.S. Lewis's religious experiences don't budge Paulos from his atheism. (I'm now thinking of Antony Flew's conversion from atheism to deism. Flew was moved by the logic of the fine-tuning argument for God's existence. And, the case of the famous and brilliant British atheist A.J. Ayer who had a vision and began to be interested in God.)
  • I keep returning to my initial God-encounter. It functions, for me, as a raison d-etre. Philosophically, it's one of a number of "properly basic" experiences I've had, still have, and expect to have. (See, e.g., philosophers like William P. Alston.)
I began to study about Christianity. Is there any epistemic warrant for my God-encounter experience? To accelerate this , I changed my major in college from music theory to philosophy (from one money-maker to another. And, I left majoring in engineering and math for this!)

My studies confirmed my initial act of faith. Here are some things I now believe to be cogent.



  • Good reasons can be given to believe in God. I believe it is more rational to believe in God than to disbelieve. (As a philosophy professor I have examined nearly every argument for and against the existence of God. And, I have something to say about "rationality," having taught logic in our community college for seventeen years.)
  • The New Testament documents are reliable in their witness to the historical person Jesus. (The recent minority Facebook claim that Jesus never existed is sheer unstudied goofiness.) (See, e.g., something like Richard Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, or Craig Keener's The Historical Jesus of the Gospels. And, see Craig's book, Christobiography: Memory, History, and the Reliability of the Gospels.)
  • A strong inductive argument can be made for the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead. (I shared briefly about this in my response to the student's question.)
  • Christianity is qualitatively distinct from the other major world religions. Only Christianity tells us that God loves us, not for what we do or where we live, but for who we are. The Christian word for this is “grace” and, to me, this is huge. The other major world religions are rule-based; Christianity is grace-based. And, in distinction from other religious alternatives, Christianity's claim is that God has come to us. These kind of things make Christianity more plausible than the other alternatives.
My initial life-changing encounter with God led to a lifetime of Jesus-following, God-knowing, and God-seeking. God did, and continues to, reveal himself to me. My faith is experiential, relational, and rational/reasonable. And life-giving, exhilarating! (Note: it's not without questions. Anyone who studies their own worldview will have intra-worldview puzzles. This includes me.)

For these reasons, and more I am sure, I became a follower of Jesus and remain one.


Once again - want to join me on this adventure? 

johnpiippo@msn.com

Thursday, April 29, 2021

EXPLAINING POSTMODERNISM


If you want power point slides to go with my presentation, 
request by emailing me. 

johnpiippo@msn.com

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

54 Thoughts About Prayer


(Our front yard - snow a week ago in April!)





1.  You will learn more about prayer by actually praying than you can get from a book.
2.  Prayer is talking with God about what God and I are thinking and doing together.
3.  Praying is revolutionary activity whereby I revolt against the kingdom of this world as I meet with the true Lord of heaven and earth.
4.  If you believe God is all-powerful and all-knowing, then you believe God is powerful enough and knows enough to address your struggles.
5.  If you believe that God is all-loving, then you believe that God desires to address your struggles.
6.  What we think about God affects how we worship and pray.
7.  Prayer is not a religious duty, something I “have” to do, but a relationship with God.
8.  In praying I must let go of control and trust God.
9.  The focus of praying is not prayer itself, but God.
10.             I can meet God at a conference. I can also meet the same God wherever I am.
11.             Assume God is doing something in you, now.
12.             Praying is the act of interfacing this world with the kingdom of God.
13.             I can hear the voice of God, speaking to me.
14.             Hearing God’s voice is a function of intimacy with God.
15.             Humility is needed to hear the voice of God.
16.             Discernment is the capacity to recognize and respond to the presence and activity of God, both in the ordinary moments of life and in the larger decisions of life.
17.             As intimacy with God increases, discernment increases.
18.             Discerning should always come before deciding.
19.             In praying, God changes me.
20.             I pray to be able to see God’s Bigger Picture of my life and reality.
21.             I pray for my heart to be shaped into a heart of God’s love.
22.             Praying for people is a God-given, holy burden.
23.             In praying I bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.
24.             I pray for others because I believe that where prayer focuses, power falls.
25.             Blessed are the mono-taskers, for they shall see God.
26.             Praying is a slow-cooker, not a microwave.
27.             Teaching people to pray in solitude is one of the greatest needs and challenges of the church today.
28.             Solitary times with God prepare us for fellowship with people.
29.             If you commit to praying God will lead you deeper into community.
30.             One’s personal prayer life can never be understood if it is separated from community life.
31.             In praying we cry for the in-breaking of the kingdom into the brokenness of the present.
32.             In praying God aligns our heart with his kingdom heart.
33.             To pray is to explore and venture into the vast, limitless regions of God’s beautiful kingdom.
34.             Authentic praying is an act of self-denial.
35.             To pray is to let go of control.
36.             When God reveals personal faults it is never to condemn us, but only to rescue us.
37.             There is a “spiritual Alzheimer’s disease” which results in forgetting the many times God has rescued and delivered us.
38.             A main antidote to fear is remembering.
39.             In praying I enumerate things I am thankful for and give thanks to God.
40.             I pray because Jesus prayed.
41.             I pray for protection and guidance.
42.             In praying I am detoxified and released from burdens.
43.             Renewal can begin with one follower of Jesus, praying.
44.             The more Westernized a person is, the less they pray.
45.             Prayvailing – Travailing prayer brings prevailing in a person’s life.
46.             I need to set aside some time very day for active talking and listening to God. Just ten minutes each day can bring about a radical change in my life.
47.             Nothing can stop me from praying today.
48.             If I humble myself and pray, turning from any wicked ways, God will hear from heaven and heal the land.
49.             The antidote to spiritual burnout is time alone with God, praying.
50.             Pray even when, especially when, it seems or feels like God is absent.
51.             God isn’t in a panic room when you or I have doubts.
52.             Life is best lived when death is acknowledged.
53.             Kick the “bucket list” and live for a greater purpose.
54.             How a life begins and ends is important. Don’t forget the ending part. 



Tuesday, April 27, 2021

American Universities Are Fighting for Free Speech, Too

 

                                                                (Our front yard)

Religions are not the only groups fighting for free speech today. Universities are, too.

See "Speaking Power to Truth: Academic Freedom's Most Determined Adversaries Are Inside Academia," by Princeton Prof. of Politics Keith Whittington. 

Universities, writes Whittington, now face an existential threat. That is, a threat to the very existence of the "university."

Historically, universities exist to lead in the pursuit of truth, and to equip and empower students to think critically about such matters. Contrary viewpoints are not merely tolerated, but seen as essential to cognitive growth and epistemic ability. I remember, as a young philosophy major in the 70s, classes where a skilled professor would lead us in a back-and-forth, give-and-take discussion, allowing different ideas to be expressed, that lasted, in our minds, well beyond the class.

Not any more, at least as some postmoderns would have it. Whittington writes:

"A growing army on college campuses would like to restrict the scope of intellectual debate by subjecting academic inquiry to political litmus tests. Over the 20th century, American universities’ students and faculty pushed to make them havens for heretics, dissenters, iconoclasts, and nonconformists. In the wake of their success, many scholars now demand that campuses adhere to their own orthodoxies."

To postmodern professors, "Speech is not, or at least not merely, a means by which we discover and communicate what is true and false. Speech can also be an instrument of power. Contemptuous of pursuing truth through speech, the demagogue, like the postmodernist himself, is concerned with manipulating the thoughts and feelings of his audience so as to advance his own political goals. If speech is an instrument of power, then perhaps it should be taken away from those who would wield it for disreputable purposes."

But, according to whom? As Alisdair MacIntyre once asked, "Whose Justice? Which Rationality?"

Perhaps, thanks to Whittington and other professors like him, free speech and philosophical liberty will recapture the narrative and, in doing so, become unlikely allies with those of us who see religious freedom slipping away, in the name of who-knows-what?

Whittington has written a brilliant essay. Read it in its entirety. His closing words are,

"American universities have evolved over time, and there is no reason to think that the intellectual openness that has characterized them for the past half-century will characterize them a half-century from now. The buildings might survive, but there is no guarantee that free and open inquiry will."

Monday, April 26, 2021

The Powerlessness of Will Power for Spiritual Transformation



                                               (One week ago - snow in Monroe in April!)

Dallas Willard writes:

"It is not the growth of “will power” we are looking for in spiritual formation, but transformation of all dimensions of the self under the direction of God, through a will surrendered to Him and applied appropriately to bring about personal change." (Dallas Willard, Getting Love Right, Kindle Locations 222-226)

We are not to work harder or try harder to self-transform into Christlikeness. To think that trying harder will achieve, e.g., the kind of love Jesus had is to devalue Christ and diminish expectations. "Will power" (Richard Foster calls it "will worship") won't work.

But as we surrender to Him He transforms us. He produces spiritual "fruit" in us, which are qualities of His own being. As we abide in Christ He gives us precisely what we cannot achieve in our own strength; viz., the ongoing meta-morphing of our heart into a heart like His.

(Click on the link and get Willard's beautiful little book, on Kindle, for $1.)

(On the powerlessness of will power to conquer addictions see Addiction and Grace, by Gerald May.)

Avoid the Arguer Without and Within

(Torrey Pines)

I taught Logic for eighteen years at Monroe County Community College. Logic is about evaluating, and formulating, arguments. In my first class session I would explain this, and the difference between evaluating and formulating arguments and being argumentative.

"Get away from a man who argues every time he talks."
- Thomas Merton, The Wisdom of the Desert

Do not partner with the argumentative person. The argumentative person is not to be your companion. Love them, but do not be influenced by them.

Enter not into the arguments of the argumentative person. The argumentative person is fishing for an argument. Don't take their bait.

Relationships in the New Community are not to be like living in a court of law. Reason together? Yes. And always in love. Argumentative? No.

Don't go looking for a fight. Wage war against the devil, not people. If it has flesh and blood, it's not your real enemy.

More than loving peace, be a peacemaker. Lay down your swords. Beat them into plowshares. Convert your military weapons into instruments of righteousness and peace. Anyone can love peace. Peace-makers who are God's active agents of peace, on the other hand, are rare. They are blessed and called the offspring of God. 

  1. Be at peace with God.
  2. Peace with God brings peace within.
  3. Peace within leads to peace with others.

Or:

  1. Abide in Christ.
  2. Christ gives you his peace, a peace unlike this world gives.
  3. Bring this heart of peace into your flesh-and-blood relationships.
Or:
  1. As a Jesus-follower you are "in Christ."
  2. In Christ there is peace (everlastingly so, in the perichoretic Triune being of the Godhead).
  3. Thus fulfill the prayer of Jesus in John 17 to "be one" with others, as Jesus and the Father are one.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Benefits of Practicing Gratitude

(Jax, Josh and Nicole's cat)

Be thankful.

In this stormy season, I find many things to thank God for. I find myself, sometimes unconsciously, whispering "Thank you Jesus" as I move through the day. This is becoming more and more common. It is increasing in me. The pandemic has not changed this.

Thankfulness, from the heart, is pleasing to God. In his pleasure, God adds benefits to our thankfulness. In his beautiful, healing, helpful book Finding Quiet, J. P. Moreland writes:

Here are some of the benefits of the regular practice of gratitude:

 • increased feelings of energy, alertness, enthusiasm, and vigor 
• success in achieving personal goals 
• better coping with stress 
• a sense of closure in traumatic memories 
• bolstered feelings of self-worth and self-confidence
• solidified and secure social relationships 
• generosity and helpfulness 
• prolonging of the enjoyment produced by pleasurable experiences 
• improved cardiac health through increases in vagal tone 
• greater sense of purpose and resilience (pp. 112-113)

A thankful heart produces so many benefits one could think God intended us to live thankfully.


“For everything God created is good, 
and nothing is to be rejected 
if it is received with thanksgiving” (1 Timothy 4:4). 


“Let us come before him with thanksgiving 
and extol him with music and song” (Psalm 95:2).

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Revival and the Transformation of Desire

                                                  (Our grandson Levi.)

I have been praying for revival for a long time. The pandemic has not changed this. Here is Michael Brown's definition of "revival."

"Supernatural renewal" includes the transformation of desire. Then, as Jesus said, If you desire me, you will keep my commands. (My translation.)

It looks like this.

"Have you ever played in a swimming pool and tried to hold a beach ball under the surface? Its tendency—you might even say its penchant and desire—is to rise to the surface. It is “restless” when it is held under the water. It keeps trying to sneak up from under your feet or hands, bursting toward the surface. It wants to be floating." (James K. A. Smith, You Are What You Love) 

True revival produces a lasting desire that cannot be contained. It's like this. As the deer pants for the water...

Matthew 6:21 says,

For where your treasure is, 
there will be your heart also.

Look at what a person treasures, and you will find their heart.

The place where your treasure is, 
is the place you will most want to be, 
and end up being. (Message)

Your heart will always pursue 
what you value as your treasure. (Passion)

You can't force desire. A person either has it, or they don't. When it is there, you don't need will power. Desire eats will power for breakfast. 

Desire desires. In this it is unstoppable.

A. W. Tozer writes, "The difference between coldness of heart and warmth of heart is the difference between being in love and not being in love." (Tozer, A. W.. Rut, Rot, or Revival, p. 156)

In real revival God brings a person's desires into alignment with His desires. I have seen this. 

I have become this.

J. Edwin Orr writes:  "Spiritual awakenings are exceedingly infectious, and proximity in time and place adds to the stimulation of desire for similar blessing." (Orr, J. Edwin, The Second Evangelical Awakening

The Ireland Revival of 1859 “created a thirsting desire for the Word of God, and it is their continual and increasing study to learn to read it for themselves. The spirit of inquiry is so great, that we have been induced to open the school two evenings during the week, for the purpose of communicating instruction.” (Ib.)

Martyn Lloyd-Jones said: “The inevitable and constant preliminary to revival has always been a thirst for God, a thirst, a living thirst for a knowledge of the living God, and a longing and a burning desire to see him acting, manifesting himself and his power, rising, and scattering his enemies.” (In Collin Hansen, A God-Sized Vision: Revival Stories that Stretch and Stir. Emphasis mine.)

Leonard Ravenhill writes that Charles Wesley seemed to be reaching on tiptoes when he said, ‘‘Nothing on earth do I desire, but Thy pure love within my heart!’’ (Ravenhill, Why Revival Tarries, p. 127)

In true revival the Holy Spirit changes the orientation of human hearts. The Spirit transforms what the heart desires. In revival, people long for  righteousness more than unrighteousness, purity more than impurity, Jesus more than the stuff of this world.

Tomorrow morning at Redeemer I am preaching on hungering and thirsting for righteousness. I see it happening in my people. Why not, right? And ,why not in you? Why not you, as a revivalist who carries the flame of true desire to your churches and your families?

Revival fires are burning. 

Revival is the New Normal. 

Friday, April 23, 2021

Needed: Pastors as Spiritual Directors

Detroit


What is a "pastor?" Eugene Peterson says a pastor is, essentially, a spiritual director. One who guides and leads his flock into the life of God's kingdom. A pastor is not to be understood as a CEO, religious shop-keeper, Bible expositor, apostolic entrepreneur, or counselor.

One book that has shaped my understanding of "pastor" is Eugene Peterson's 
The Contemplative Pastor. I've read this book at least three times. I place it on my Top Ten Best Books Ever Read list.

Today my attention is again drawn to Peterson via Scot McKnight's revisiting of him 
here.

Adjectives that would describe a pastor include: "unbusy," "subversive," and "apocalyptic." We don't see that in a lot of pastors. Peterson has said:

“If you listen to a Solzhenitsyn or Bishop Tutu, or university students from Africa or South America, they don’t see a Christian land. They see something almost the reverse of a Christian land. … They see a lot of greed and arrogance. And they see a Christian community that has almost none of the virtues of the biblical Christian community, which have to do with a sacrificial life and conspicuous love. Rather, they see indulgence in feelings and emotions, and an avaricious quest for gratification.”

Uh-huh.

As George Barna discovered, ongoing spiritual formation into Christlikeness is almost nonexistent in the American church. McKnight writes: 
"The assumption was that the reception of correct doctrine by people who sat “under the Word” would automatically create the expression of correct, Christ-following lives. “Preach the Word in season and out…” “Preach the whole counsel of God!” It was as if the Great Commission was “Preach the Word” not “Make disciples of all nations.” The church-at-large had become horribly ingrown and self-seeking."

McKnight once attended a Q&A session with Peterson in New York City. He writes:

"Peterson and his wife, Jan, were the main guests of Gabe Lyons’ Q-ideas sessions in New York City. Through the generosity of good friends, I was able to attend. I was struck by the attendance of many young, enthusiastic leaders who affirmed the steadfast vision that Eugene offered for the pastor. I was one of the older attendees. Peterson has weathered the storm of much contentious push-back on his vision of pastor, but his gracious, persistent voice is still strong and magnetic, kind and discerning. Eugene is now the pastors’ pastor."

Though I've never met him, Eugene is certainly one of my pastors.

See:

I'm working on:

How God Changes the Human Heart
Technology and Spiritual Formation
Linda and I then plan to write our book on Relationships