Thursday, March 31, 2022

Metaethical Studies and Moral Nihilism


Image result for john piippo atheism
Most atheists I know want to be moral. They make strong moral claims, saying "_______ is wrong," or "We ought to do ________." And, "Putin is a war criminal." Indeed, atheists like Richard Dawkins claim religious beliefs are morally repulsive and ought to be discarded. 

But it is questionable if atheism can take us this far. Probably not. Atheism can support utilitarianism, and emotivist ethics, but atheists overreach when they claim some acts are morally wrong. The atheist cannot, without warrant, call certain acts "good" or "evil."

This is a metaethical issue. Here are three books that help me understand this. 

Atheist Overreach: What Atheism Can't Deliver,  by University of Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith. Smith argues that "the naturalistic cosmos that is the standard operating worldview of atheism cannot with rational warrant justify the received humanistic belief in universal benevolence and human rights." (P. 124)

Science and the Good: The Tragic Quest for the Foundations of Morality, by University of Virginia professors James Davison Hunter and Paul Nedelisky. They write:

"When it began, the quest for a moral science sought to discover the good. The new moral science has abandoned that quest and now, at best, tells us how to get what we want. With this turn, the new moral science, for all its recent fanfare, has produced a world picture that simply cannot bear the weight of the wide-ranging moral burdens of our time." (Kindle Location 112)

This, say Hunter and Nedelisky, is "moral nihilism."

Scientism and Secularism: Learning to Respond to a Dangerous Ideology, by theistic philosopher J. P. Moreland. Moreland writes: "Given scientism, moral knowledge is impossible. And the loss of moral knowledge has meant a shift from a view in which duty and virtue are central to the moral life, to a minimalist ethical perspective." (Kindle Location 422)

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Christ Is the Atoning Sacrifice for Our Sins

                                                                (Middlebury, Indiana)

He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

1 John 2:2 (NIV)

I write this, dear children, to guide you out of sin. But if anyone does sin, we have a Priest-Friend in the presence of the Father: Jesus Christ, righteous Jesus. When he served as a sacrifice for our sins, he solved the sin problem for good—not only ours, but the whole world’s.

1 John 2:1-2 (The Message)

It was through His sacrificial death that our sins were atoned. But He did not stop there—He died for the sins of the whole world.

1 John 2:2 (The Voice)

And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.

1 John 2:2 (NKJV)

He himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins—and not only our sins but the sins of all the world.

1 John 2:2 (New Living Translation)

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Conspiracy Theories Fail the Criterion of Simplicity

(Car destroyed as the Twin Towers fell - picture in NYC at the site.)

Whenever I hear "conspiracy theory" I doubt it.

In logic classes (like the one I taught for seventeen years) students are taught to reject conspiracy theorizing. It exemplifies irrational thinking.

For example, NBA basketball star Steph Curry once denied that the US landed on the moon. It was all a conspiracy! That loony claim got him lots of push-back. Then, he denied that he meant anything about it - it was a joke. 

Yes, there are true conspiracies. But, in general, pay no attention to conspiracy theorists. Here's why.

Several years ago, after the tragedy of 9-1-1, a handful of Monroe-area skeptics stood on a street corner holding signs that said, "Impeach Bush." Why? Because, they "reasoned," what happened on 9-1-1 was a conspiracy. 

They were quoted in our local newspaper: “It was probably a cruise missile that went off [launched by the U.S.!], and they didn’t want anyone to see that. They did it so they could justify attacking Iraq. Probably, that happened?” 

It didn't. 

Here’s the “thinking”:

1.Probably a cruise missile sent by the U.S. hit the Pentagon.

2.The U.S. government didn’t want people to see that.

3.So, they suppressed the videos, which actually showed a cruise missile hitting the Pentagon. (That’s why we have not seen any more videos of the incident.)

4.The motive: The U.S. did this deliberately to justify attacking Iraq!

Right. (Conspiracy theories are wastelands of innuendo and suspicion.)

What's wrong with conspiracy theories like this? Let's look to logic (actual reasoning) for an answer.

In my Intro to Logic class I used Lewis Vaughn's The Power of Critical Thinking. Chapter 9 is called "Inference to the Best Explanation" (also called abductive reasoning; or the likelihood principle). This is about theories, and how to evaluate them. 

In theory-evaluation there are "criteria of adequacy." Vaughn writes:

"Applying the criteria of adequacy to a set of theories constitutes the ultimate test of a theory's value, for the best theory is the eligible theory that meets the criteria of adequacy better than any of its competitors." (356-357)  

For Vaughn these are:

  1. Testability - there is some way to determine whether the theories are true or false.
  2. Fruitfulness - the yielding of new insights that can open up whole new areas of research and discovery.
  3. Scope - it explains more diverse phenomena.
  4. Simplicity - a theory that makes fewer assumptions is less likely to be false because there are fewer ways for it to be wrong.
  5. Conservatism - other things being equal, the best theory is the one that fits best with established beliefs.
Vaughn shows how conspiracy theories usually fail the criterion of simplicity because they...

..."try to explain events by positing the secret participation of numerous conspirators.... Some conspiracy theories, of course, have been found to be true. But most of them are implausible... They would have us raise numerous assumptions that raise more questions than they answer: How do the conspirators manage to keep their activities secret? How do they control all the players? Where is the evidence that all the parts of the conspiracy have come together just so?" (365)

Vaughn calls the United States "Conspiracy Central." In America, conspiracy theories abound. Here are some of the things we are told are the center of a massive conspiracy:
  • Elvis's death
  • Martin Luther King, Jr.'s, assassination
  • The Oklahoma City bombing
  • Princess Diana's death
  • The earth is really flat
  • Bill Gates is behind the coronavirus, wanting to use a vaccination program to implant digital microchips that will somehow track and control people (No Christian leader or thinker that I admire promoted this.)
  • The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001
Re. the latter: 

1) How did Pres. Bush and his numerous supposed cohorts keep their activities secret?; 

2) How did Bush and his partners control all the players involved?; and 

3) Where is the evidence that this massive, complicated plan came together just so? 

The answer: it didn't happen that way.

I'm challenging you to think clearly, and critically.

One more thought. When these conspiracy theories prove to be false, those who have spread them and injected fear into people rarely, if ever, go public and apologize.

Monday, March 28, 2022

Rightly Handling God's Word - A Few Tips


Every pastor I know desires to follow 2 Timothy 2:15 - Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.

Here are a few tips on how to do that.

Atonement and Jesus, the Suffering Servant


Jesus saw himself as the suffering Servant of Isaiah 53, who “makes himself an offering for sin” (Is 53.10).

Jesus said of himself, “the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mk 10.45).

William Lane Craig writes:

"The Son of Man is a divine–human figure from Daniel’s prophecy whom “all peoples, nations, and languages should serve” (Dan 7.14). In his paradoxical statement, Jesus stands things on their head, declaring that the Son of Man has come in the role of a servant and, like the Servant of Isaiah 53, gives his life as a ransom for many.

Jesus evidently saw his death as a redemptive sacrifice, like the Passover sacrifice, and himself as a sin bearer, inaugurating, like the Mosaic sacrifice, a fresh covenant between God and the people."

Craig, William Lane. The Atonement (Elements in the Philosophy of Religion) (p. 9). Cambridge University Press. Kindle Edition.

Craig Keener says this big word "redemption" refers to the liberation of slaves, as in the exodus. (See Keener, Romans, p. 67)

Sunday, March 27, 2022

The Powerlessness of Will Power for Spiritual Transformation

                                               (2021 - 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.)

Saturday, March 26, 2022

Now Re-Reading, and Reading


In 2020 my book-of-the-year was Carl Trueman's The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution. I am re-reading it, because it is that important.

I just picked up, and have begun reading, Trueman's new book Strange New World: How Thinkers and Activists Redefined Identity and Sparked the Sexual Revolution

Tim Keller Describes Discipleship, from Luke's Gospel



This past winter I have focused, personally, on discipleship. During this time I wrote a book on discipleship, 31 Letters to the Church on Discipleship. Pastors and Christian leaders - you could use this resource with your people in May, which has 31 days. 

The core of a pastor's ministry is making disciples. (See Matthew 28:19-20; and Ephesians 4:11-13.) "Church" is about making Jesus-followers. Here's an excellent resource from Tim Keller - "The Call to Discipleship: Luke 9:20-25, 51-62," He begins:

"There is a growing recognition in churches today about the need for discipleship. In what follows, I would like to describe from the Gospel of Luke what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Luke has some helpful insights about discipleship. The first eight chapters are focused on “who is Jesus?” But there’s a shift in chapter 9, where Peter with the help of the Holy Spirit realizes that Jesus is not one more in a succession of prophets and teachers. Peter says, “You are the Christ of God.” You are the Messiah, the one who is bringing the ruling power of God back into the world to heal and repair all the brokenness—whether it’s spiritual, psychological, social, or physical. 

From the time Jesus’ identity is revealed, he begins to say, “Follow me.” If he is who he says he is, what does it mean to follow him? Being a disciple of Jesus Christ means setting a new priority, finding a new identity, and living a new mercy. All three are critical; they all fit together. Let’s look at them."

And then, he does. This is an excellent read!

Ministry in Jesus' Name Looks Different than Keeping People Happy


(Cancun sunrise)

"I am pretty sure a smart, productive atheist 
could do my job well."

- A successful pastor, quoted in 
(P. 127)
(I am re-posting this for a friend.)

Ministry, in the name of Jesus, transcends our abiltiies and talents. Sadly, claim Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel (and Francis ChanDallas Willard, Eugene Peterson, and Tozer, et. al.), the American Entertainment-Consumer Church has abandoned this power.

Goggin (and Strobel and Chan) came to a place where 

"he was disturbed by the notion that he could succeed in ministry without depending on God; 
it troubled him that he could do ministry 
in the flesh and be praised for it. 
Even more disconcerting was the fact 
that he could lead confidently, 
think strategically, 
and cast an exciting vision for his church
—and none of this required he even be a Christian. 
It wasn’t that he was doing ministry in the flesh 
that unnerved him, 
although that was certainly enough. 
More disturbing was that his view of ministry 
didn’t depend on God even existing 
for things to work well."

Goggin and Strobel, p. 127 

Ministry in the name of Jesus looks different and is different from trying to attract people to church and keep them happy.

Goggin and Strobel interview Willard, who says this about ministry.

"What is ministry? 
Ministry is bringing the life of God, 
as it would be understood in terms of Jesus and his kingdom, 
into the lives of other people. 
That’s ministry. 
We minister the kingdom of God. 
That gives you a new way of thinking about ministry 
because now you are a carrier of the kingdom of God, 
which is how Jesus trained his first disciples. 
You are a carrier of the power of God, 
the kingdom of God, 
and the grace of God; 
and so you watch that work with people 
and try not to get in its way. 
But that is the secret of ministry. 
You bring the power of God, 
the truth of God, 
and the presence of Jesus 
into the lives of other people 
and you watch it work."

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Atonement and Expiation


                                                          (Jerusalem, the Temple Mount)

Have you heard of the Jewish holy day Yom Kippur? This is translated as, "Day of Atonement." Or, Day of Expiation. What does this mean?

William Lane Craig, in his book The Atonement, quotes Jacob Milgrom's Leviticus commentary. He writes:

“For the complete annulment of the sin..., for the assurance of divine forgiveness (sālaḥ), sacrificial expiation (kippēr) is always required” (1991, p. 377). Kippēr in its most abstract sense thus comes to mean atone or expiate. “The meaning here is that the offerer is cleansed of his impurities/sins and becomes reconciled, ‘at one,’ with God” (Milgrom, Leviticus, p. 1083).

Craig writes,

The text [Leviticus] repeatedly promises, “the priest shall make atonement on your behalf for the sin that you have ​committed, and you shall be forgiven” (Lev 4.35; cf. 4.20, 26, 31, etc.). The word translated “make atonement” (kippēr) has a range of meanings – to purge, to ransom, to expiate – but what is significant here is the result: the person’s sins are forgiven. The ritual sacrifice has removed his guilt.

(Craig, The Atonement, pp. 11-12)

You Need to Change if Things Are Going to Get Better

(Kibera, in Nairobi, Kenya)

This principle applies to all relationships:

You need to change if things are going to get better.

Repeat after me.


need to change....

if things....

are going to get better.

J. Doe (not their real name) contacted me. J said they wanted help. Their marriage was failing.

But J did not really want help. To be helped, J would have to change. In J's eyes, their spouse, K. Doe, was the problem. K needed to change, not J. J wanted me to affirm their ways of doing marriage, and join them in blame-heaping their significant other.

I told J, "If you want your marriage to be rescued and upgraded, you will need to change some things. You will need to do things differently." 

I gave J this assignment: Make a list of things you have done wrong in your marriage. A list of things you have done to hurt K. Then, confess them one by one, asking for forgiveness for each one. 

I told K to do the same thing.

The underlying idea here is: If J and K keep doing marriage the way they have been, the results will be the same. J and K both need to learn new skills if their marriage is to come together. Nothing gets better without change.

J refused to follow my counsel. 

J contacted me and asked to meet again. I explained that J had not followed through on our first session. I am not J's counselor if J refuses to follow my counsel. We would not meet again.

J was a hammer, K was a nail. This was their marriage. 

Both needed to change. 

Change is hard. 

Life without ongoing change in the right direction is harder.

For further reading see - 

The First Two Steps In Relationship Restoration

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Did Paul Change the Gospel of Jesus?

Someone talked with me about the relationship between Jesus and Paul. This Michael Brown video is for you.

See also N.T. Wright - HERE.

See Scot McKnight - HERE.

There's no disjunction between the gospels and Paul's letters. See John Piper, Tim Keller, and D.A. Carson HERE

Keller refers to Simon Gathercole's essay "The Gospel of Paul and the Gospel of the Kingdom." "Paul’s gospel can be seen to have the same content at its centre as the gospel in the Gospels."

Adultery: It's Not Complicated (Some Moral Truths Don't Change)

Worship at Redeemer - it's not as complicated as it looks

(I'm re-posting this for X.)

When it comes to "sin," things have pretty much been the same over the centuries. Stealing is still experienced as wrong. Lying, too. Hating, as well. Also, killing innocent people for fun. And so on.

And adultery, too. It's not really complicated. And, there's a lot of moral subjective relativism involved, which is something logicians abhor. (See, e.g., the logic text I used at MCCC - Vaughn's Critical Thinking.)

As far as I can tell, Facebook popularized the response, "It's complicated." I remember reading a woman's Facebook page. She described her extramarital affair as, "It's complicated." 

This silly meme fails to get at the truth, which is: It's not complicated. Not really. Adultery boils down to one truth: she chose not to keep her vows. 

But what about the reasons underlying the breaking of the wedding promise? Are the reasons for the deception complicated? Not really. Adultery is unoriginal and uncreative. It's boring. Reasons for adultery are easy to unravel. They boil down to the binary algorithm "either-or." At some point a choice is made. Adultery presents us with nothing new under the sun.

Truth is not complicated. It may be hard to understand at times, but not because it is complicated. Truth is binary. Truth is either-or. 

In my logic classes I demystify the nature of rationality and clear away the foggy delusion of "complicated." I explain that a statement is a sentence that is either true or false. A statement describes a state of affairs that either obtains, or it does not. Period. (If that astonishes you, then I wish you had taken one of my Logic classes at MCCC. Or, pick up any university Logic text and begin to read.)

"It's complicated" presents the adulterer as some kind of mysterious genius who has woven a web of relationships that only they understand. They are a complicated person, epistemically inaccessible to common folks. As if they have figured this horror out, when all they really did was old-fashioned cheating and hiding. 

Cheat and hide. Again and again, as they faced ever-growing waves of *Kierkegaardian either-ors and, simply and as old as humanity, chose evil. That's not very complicated, right?

Some things just don't change. Some moral values have not "evolved." And, if moral truths did keep changing, then the moral truths of today will be unpopular moral falsehoods tomorrow, so why adhere to any of them? (Some philosophical atheists would agree here.)

(The same, of course, goes for men.)


*Shall we choose the feeling/aesthetic life, or the ethical life? See Kierkegaard, Either-Or. A choice may be difficult, but not because it is "complicated."

Healing For Damaged Relationships

Image result for john piippo transformation
(Green Lake, Wisconsin)

Years ago a family came to us for help. Their situation was dire. The family members had hurt one another. The damage seemed irreparable.

And complicated. 

A twisted, tangled, thorny mess held this family captive. They had no hope for healing the broken relationships. This family was fragmented by a series of sinful choices. Some were heard saying, "We will never be a family again."

This is how things often appear from the inside. We've done damage, and been damaged, and nothing can fix us. No amount of money can buy what we need. No material thing can assuage our pain. No substance can cover over the scars.

I remember saying to one of the family members, "It seems there is no way out. That's what the enemy wants you to think. But actually, the way out is simple to understand." It's this.

1. Turn again to Jesus. (Read this, and this,)
2. Be accountable for your own failures. (Read this.)
3. Confess your sins to one another. 
4. Forgive one another. (Read this, or this, or this, or this.)
5. Get additional outside help with the healing process. (In the SE Michigan area go here, or here.)  

The goal is reconciliation and restoration of relationship. With the courage and humility to do 1-5, and with God's help, this family can come together again.

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Confess and Forgive

Store, in Ann Arbor

When Linda and I are asked "What makes for a good marriage?" we respond: confession and forgiveness. C&F.

C&F is more important than clear communication. When X says to Y, "You are stupid" and Y responds with "I hate you" (with a four-letter word added), they are communicating clearly. But this kind of clear communication does not make for a good marriage. 

Here's how I confess to Linda (and she to me). I say the words, "I was wrong to (do or say this specific thing)."

Then I request, "Would you forgive me for doing/saying this?"

She responds with, "I forgive you."

C&F is more powerful than apologizing. Apologizing can be a one-way street; C&F moves two ways. Every confessor needs a forgiver. A certain kind of loving response is needed.

To confess requires humility. In confessing I take responsibility for my hurtful actions, and do not blame the other for "pushing my buttons." After all, those buttons are mine, and if I didn't have them I wouldn't have reacted the way I did. 

It's also destructive to look for hot buttons on others, and use words or actions to set them off. 

A confessor admits their own culpability in wrongdoing. This requires humility, accompanied by regret ("I am sorry I did that to you. Would you forgive me? I never want to treat someone I love that way.") Don't let pride keep you from doing this.

To forgive means: to cancel a debt. When Linda and I forgive one another (which we have done many times over 45 1/2 years), we release the other from any indebtedness. Forgiveness cancels indebtedness. If the Federal Government forgave your student loan you would not have to make any more payments. When X forgives Y, X will not in the future "make Y pay" for whatever Y did. Again, don't let pride keep you from doing this.

To forgive is not to forget. But our experience is that, when this is practiced as needed (and it is needed in every marriage and friendship), a lot of forgetting happens. This is because C&F cuts loose the heavy anchor that had us stuck in that bad place, and now we're moving free from it. We no longer spend our hearts and minds brooding over the details of the struggle, because the matter has been settled and healed.

Why practice C&F? Linda and I do this because we are like the sinful woman who kissed and poured perfume on  Jesus' feet. She had been forgiven much. Therefore she loved much.

(Note: If you repeatedly keep hurting your loved ones, then get help for yourself. If a loved one keeps hurting you with their words or actions then: 1) forgive them; and 2) assist them in getting help for their repetitive harmful behavior. If you live in our Southeast Michigan area make an appointment to get help here.)

For scholarly, empirical data on C&F see University of Wisconsin scholar Robert Enright's The Forgiving Life: A Pathway to Overcoming Resentment and Creating a Legacy of Love; and check out Enright's International Forgiveness Institute.

The best practical guide to C&F is David Augsburger's Caring Enough to Forgive

How to Fail Well


Image result for john piippo failure
(Monroe County)

We all fail. I have. I will.

How we handle our failures depends on our self-image. A healthy self-image allows us to fail well. An entitlement attitude causes us to fail poorly.

John Townsend writes:

"You need to learn to fail in healthy and redemptive ways, because fail you will. People with a healthy and accurate self-image don’t have a big problem with failure." (Townsend, The Entitlement Cure: Finding Success in Doing Hard Things the Right Way, p. 132)

Here, writes Townsend, is how failure is handled by someone with a healthy self-image.

1. They experience disappointment.

2. They lean on God. "I need God's help and wisdom in this."

3. They find support. They talk with friends who have healthy self-images.

4. They learn. "What was my contribution to the problem? What do I need to change?"

5. They adapt. "It's time to swing the bat again and try things a different way."

"That’s how it should work when we fail. Since failure, and even repeated failure, is simply a given in life, then over and over again we go through these five steps, and each next time we fail well and at a higher level." (Ib., pp. 132-133)

The entitled person struggles to fail well. Townsend says they have two self-images, an external one, and an internal one. Then external image appears confident, even arrogant. The internal self-image of the entitled person is insecure and afraid. 

"Above all," writes Townsend, they are "risk-averse." "The entitled person is deathly afraid of taking a risk and failing... So he postures about his specialness, but he never gets anywhere because he remains frozen in his ability to take normal risks that everyone has to endure to get anywhere. His internal self-image says, “I can’t do this and I can’t try.”: (Ib., p. 133) 

Townsend counsels the following to help the entitlement person.

1. Understand that you are loved by God, not because of your competence, but because you are God's child. God loves you, by grace, not performance, success, or failure.

2. Try new things. No one does them well at first. As you struggle, even fail, keep the first point before you; viz., God loves you.

3. Practice, learn, get advice, fail, and adapt.

4. "Gradually, you begin doing things better. Now the self-image says, "I am loved, and I am competent."

Townsend concludes,

"This is what works. Love precedes confidence, but confidence can’t exist outside of failure and adaptation. When your self-image aligns with what is real and true about you — in other words, how God sees and experiences you— it works for you and not against you." (Ib., pp. 134-135)

Monday, March 21, 2022

Atonement: Colossians 1:21-23


(My grandfather's tombstone)

21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.

- Colossians 1:21-23


  • SEPARATION - Once you were alienated from God.
  • RECONCILIATION - Now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death. (The atoning death of Christ.)
  • ACCEPTANCE: To present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.
  • GOSPEL: This is the gospel, the good news, that you heard and has been proclaimed.

William Lane Craig writes: "The predominant motif used in the NT to characterize the atonement is the presentation of Christ’s death as a sacrificial offering to God on our behalf."

(Craig, The Atonement, p. 7)


My Renewal School of Ministry course begins 

next Monday evening, 

March 21, 8-9:30 PM. 


Six 1 1/2 hour zoom sessions.

$10 for the entire course.

Register HERE.