Saturday, March 25, 2023

How to Communicate in Conflict

                                                                        (Ypsilanti, MI)

(Linda and I studied with David Augsburger in seminary. Here is one of the most important things God taught us through David.)


Ephesians 4:15 says: “therefore speak the truth in love; so shall we fully grow up into Christ.” Here we are told, in communication, to be both loving and truthful, caring and confronting.

Work at communicating both caring and confronting in the middle of marital or relational conflict.

Here are the attitudes to have and hold to.


Friday, March 24, 2023

Obsessed With the Worship of Our Own Moral Ignorance



Thank God for people who do not get their moral values from the majority. Thanks to those who do not infer from The majority believe X is right/wrong, to Therefore, X is right/wrong.

Yet, this is what most people do; viz., infer from the majority. The opinion poll is their shepherd, and that's why in America we are morally wanting.

Writing in the 1830s, Alexis de Tocqueville said, "In America the majority builds an impregnable wall around thinking." (In Os Guinness, Renaissance: The Power of the Gospel However Dark the Times, p. 40)

Novelist James Fennimore Cooper wrote, “It is a besetting vice of democracies to substitute public opinion for law.” (Ib.) The Supreme Court is not my shepherd.

The philosopher John Stuart Mill warned that “the price paid for this sort of intellectual pacification is the sacrifice of the entire moral courage of the human mind.”(Ib.) 

Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard wrote in his journal, “The trend today is in the direction of mathematical equality.” (Ib.) Which means: utilitarianism; Bentham's hedonic calculus; the metricization of morality.

Everyone's moral opinion is not equal, just as everyone's opinion is not equal. Physicist Robert Jastrow was lecturing in support of President Reagan's plan to develop space-based missile systems. An undergraduate student challenged Jastrow. When the student realized a world-class physicist was not going to change his mind after a few minuts arguing with a sophomore, the student said, "Well, your guess is as good as mine." To which Jastrow responded emphatically, "No, no, no, my guesses are much, much better than yours." (In Tom Nichols, The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters, p. 83)

Some people's moral judgments are much, much better than others. Some have moral expertise. Most do not.

"The United States," writes Nichols, "is now a country obsessed with the worship of its own ignorance." This includes a rapidily growing moral ignorance that is as unstudied and unreflective as an emoji. 

If you are a follower of Jesus, listen to the plea of Os Guinness. "For the Hebrew prophets, “Thus says the Lord” was decisive, not the opinions of the people. And in fact, the pursuit of truth, beauty, excellence, whether in art, science or spiritual growth, has rarely taken its cue from John Q. Public or from Mr. and Mrs. Average. It aspires to the standards of the few and the exceptional—the great masters, the inspiring heroes and the extraordinary saints." (Op. cit., p. 41)

A Post to Christians About Gentleness and Respect

(Ancient war helmets, Detroit Institute of Art
Looks like someone took a spear in the forehead.)

Some Christians - maybe many - have this edge to them, a judgmental harshness, which is not from God. I see this happening everywhere, to include, sadly, in the Church. 

It speaks to me as well. Perhaps I am writing this for my own instruction? To remind myself of The Standard? If so, I can accept that. 

I agree with Dallas Willard, who once confessed that he had not loved others enough. Me either.

When you feel anger, be gentle and kind. That's the fruit the Holy Spirit produces. Harshness and unkindness is sin. In your anger, do not sin. 

Here's an example.

I embrace the traditional definition of marriage as between a man and a woman. Other revisionist definitions are, therefore, wrong. Some people feel anger towards me because of what I affirm. What shall I do? How shall I respond?

How I talk about what I affirm is important. In Romans 12 we are told to not conform our hearts to the pattern of our culture. God's kingdom, as Jesus repeatedly demonstrated, is not of this world.

One of this world's patterns has always been harshness and disrespect. Especially when it comes to disagreement. Much of this is seen on social media. It gets unloving and hate-filled. And anti-Christlike. Followers of Jesus who descend into the ugly side of social media are conforming to the world's modus operandi.

The Jesus way, on the other hand, includes beliefs and attitudes such as...

Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.

All the awesome spiritual gifts are nothing if you don't have love, as a heart attitude that leads to behavior.

Love is the greatest thing. Therefore, if you are on social media, be great.

Express your reasons for the hope you have, but always do it in gentleness and with respect.

Avoid the argumentative person. (Proverbs)

Speak the truth? Yes! But always in love!

If it has flesh and blood, it is not our real enemy. (Do not be sucked in by social media about this. On social media we see people fighting against people.)

When disagreeing, be patient with others, as you work to listen and understand them. (1 Cor. 13)

In disagreement, never dishonor others.  (1 Cor. 13)

Remove your anger buttons. (1 Cor. 13)

Grow up spiritually, and put the ways of children behind you. (1 Cor. 13:11)

When in conflict and disagreement, see HERE for how to be both truthful and loving. 

Remember that, contrary to much media, to disagree is not to hate.

If, when dialoguing and disagreeing, you fall into hatred, dishonor, and diminishment of the other, repent, and ask them for forgiveness.  

The superior conflict-discussing, understanding-and-forgiving environment is face-to-face. Phone conversation comes in second. Email and texting is a distant, inferior third. The worst way, the incendiary way, is on social media, for the world to see. True, that's more interesting and attention-getting. Which is part of our world's disease.

Read, again, 1 Corinthians 13. Apply.

(Maybe...   one more suggestion...  take some philosophy classes. In my experience these classes had much debate and disagreement, but done civilly. Because, in logic, ad hominem abusives are irrelevant to truth-seeking.

Rudeness adds NOTHING to an argument, except to further polarize.)

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)

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Abortion Is Not a Political Issue for Me


(Bolles Harbor, Michigan)
(I'm re-posting this to keep it in play.)

I have a Bachelor's degree in philosophy (Northern Illinois University), and a PhD in philosophical theology (Northwestern University). I was Adjunct Professor of Philosophy at Monroe County Community College for eighteen years. I have taught courses in theology at several seminaries since 1977. I recently taught, again, at Faith Bible Seminary in NYC, and will teach, again, at Payne Theological Seminary in Wilberforce, Ohio (Feb. 28-March 3).

Philosophers study morality and ethics. Here, e.g., is a book I read last summer on metaethics - The Morality Wars: The Ongoing Debate Over the Origin of Human Goodness.  Theologians do the same. Here is a famous book on biblical and theological ethics, which I read several years ago - The Moral Vision of the New Testament: Community, Cross, New Creation, A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics

Philosophers and theologians study morality and ethical systems without reference to political outcomes. Then, they often state the implications of certain moral judgments for human existence, some of which concern how to govern the polis. (See, e.g., Plato's Republic; or Hobbes's Leviathan; et. al. ad infinitum.)

Occasionally, someone accuses me of being political when I speak out against abortion. My response to them is to explain the distinction between moral matters and political matters. Yes, moral beliefs can influence certain political outcomes, But many, to include myself, have long believed abortion to be immoral and unrighteous, regardless of whether a vote is involved.

Philosophers mostly use logic to formulate and evaluate moral claims. Christian theologians use Scripture, and logic, to formulate and evaluate moral claims. All this kind of discussion precedes political application, and can be done without spinning political implications into  the discussion. (An exception to this might be utilitarianism.)

The statement It is morally wrong to kill innocent, defenseless human beings requires no support from political thinking. Moral judgments, such as Abortion is wrong, stand independently of political implications. 

I have, and will continue, to write against abortion because I believe it is wrong to kill innocent, defenseless human beings. Anyone who thinks such a philosophical and theological position is "political" simply does not understand the distinction.


Abortion - Links to Some of My Posts

(Bolles Harbor, Michigan)

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

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Richard Dawkins on Wokery, Sex, and Gender


If you don't like this, take it up with evolutionary biologist and atheist Richard Dawkins. He can handle it. 

He likes to discuss. And, he knows more about genetics than you do. ( For Dawkins and theistic geneticist Francis Collins in dialogue, go here.)

Dawkins is still the world's most famous intellectual atheist. And, his book The Selfish Gene has been used in university biology classes.

Dawkins was interviewed yesterday by Piers Morgan. The full interview is here. I find it interesting.

Here's a snippet, on sex and gender.

Piers: They (woke-ists) want to de-gender and neutralise language, but they're doing it from a completely false pretext that you can somehow pretend biology doesn't exist, particularly when it comes to someone's sex. A small group of people have been successful in reshaping swathes of the way society talks and is allowed to talk.

Richard: It's bullying. We've seen the way JK Rowling has been bullied, Kathleen stock has been bullied. They've stood up to it, but it's very upsetting the way this tiny minority of people has managed to capture the discourse to talk errant nonsense.

Piers: What's the answer?

Richard: Science. There are two sexes. You could talk about gender, if you wish and that's a subjective.

Piers: But when people say there are 100 genders?

Richard: I'm not interested in that. As as a biologist, there are two sexes and that's all there is to it.

Piers: Why have we lost that ability to actually have an open and frank debate?

Richard: There are people for whom the word discuss doesn't mean discuss, it means you've taken a position.

Again, If you don't like what Richard Dawkins is saying here, I recommend you take it up with him. I simply report this to you. 


A heads-up. To dialogue with Dawkins you must understand what he means by 'science' and its limits.

Remember also that Dawkins, as a scientist, despises postmodern thinking.

Called to Live Above the Culture


                                                (Linda and I were in Cancun a week ago.)

You've had people persecute you, right? Some person has come against you, in sinful ways.

I don't mean people who disagree with you. I've had people (in my own family!) disagree with me on something, without a hint of persecution.

I am thinking now of someone who, decades ago, verbally persecuted me. In that particular instance I could not understand what, if anything, I had done to hurt them. 

When that kind of thing happens, my mind is quickly reoriented from a desire for vengeance to Jesus' call for compassion. I remember that Jesus has instructed me to pray for people who persecute me. I am to love my enemies. (Matt. 5:44) This is so hard! I am still too much conformed to the low standards of this world.

What hope is there for me? It lies in conformation to the character of Christ. (Rom. 12:1-2; Gal. 4:19) I am promised that there is a way to live that transcends our culture's hate/vengeance reactions. It is found in living an abiding-in-Christ life. Henri Nouwen expresses it this way.

"You are called to live out of a new place, beyond your emotions, passions, and feelings. As long as you live amid your emotions, passions, and feelings, you will continue to experience loneliness, jealousy, anger, resentment, and even rage, because those are the most obvious responses to rejection and abandonment." (Nouwen, The Inner Voice of Love, p. 14)

Monday, March 20, 2023

Giving Advice as a Form of Judgmentalism

(Our kitchen - I tool the photo of the damselfly)

(I re-post this periodically.)

Unasked-for advice is usually received as criticism.

Imagine I come to you and say, "Did you know there are some really nice shirts on sale at Kohls today?" 

The thought comes to you: "He doesn't like my clothes." 

This "friendly advice" is received as a form of criticism and judgmentalism.

Often (but not entirely), people give unasked-for advice in an attempt to change people. If you want to advise someone because you see they are having a problem and you've got the answer, try asking their permission: "May I suggest something?" Or, I may ask you "What is a good restaurant to eat at?" Then, you give me your thoughts on this.

Or: "I advise you not to drive down Telegraph Road today. There's major construction going on." To which I say, "Thank you."

That's cool. But a lot of advice-giving is about control and manipulation. It produces anger and bitterness. Who likes a controlling person who is out to change them? 

Linda and I ask each other for lots of advice. We give each other permission to speak into our lives. When this happens, we don't feel criticized, because we don't criticize each other.

Sometimes, giving advice comes out of a person who is angry (frustrated, irritated). A person who advises you with a smile on their face may be upset with you. Not always. But this is common. 

On changing other people: you cannot do it. Period. You can force people to do something. You can threaten them, imprison them, and guilt-manipulate them. But the human heart, the human spirit, cannot be changed by other people. 

The human heart is influenced by other people. That's different. Many people have influenced me. One now comes to mind. 

He was in my church. I was privileged to be in a small group with him and his wife that met weekly. He was a great scholar, which I admired. He spoke when asked, and never advised when not asked. I found this intriguing because he was a psychologist, and psychologists (so I thought) were there to give advice. His character and demeanor, humility and Christ-in-him were compelling. So much so that, eventually, I sought him out to advise me about some things. Which he did, with wisdom and love.

Instead of advising others whether they ask for it or not, focus on connecting with Jesus, and allow Jesus to work on the stuff inside of you that he knows about and is able to change.

I need to be continually rescued from my own self. You, "the other," cannot do this. You are not my Savior. But if you remain connected to Jesus and allow him to change your heart about things, the chances increase that God will use you to effect real heart-change in me.

The life goal is to know Christ, not advise others. God can use the brokenness effected in you to bring breakthrough to the people around you.


Saturday, March 18, 2023


                                                (Caribbean Sea - Cancun)

"Hope," writes Miroslav Volf, "is love stretching itself into the future." (Volf, A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Public Good, Kindle location 978)

Hope involves expectation. When I hope, I expect something from the future. And that "something," when it comes to hope, is seen as good. "In our everyday usage, “hope” is, roughly, the expectation of good things that don’t come to us as a matter of course." (Ib.)

Hope is different than optimism. "Optimism has to do with good things in the future that are latent in the past and the present; the future associated with optimism is an unfolding of what is already there. We survey the past and the present, extrapolate about what is likely to happen in the future, and, if the prospects are good, become optimistic." (Kindle Locations 989-991) 

Hope is different. Hope "has to do with good things in the future that come to us from “outside,” from God; the future associated with hope— [Jurgen] Moltmann calls it adventus—is a gift of something new." (Kindle Locations 991-993)

Hope is about a promise, given to us from God. Because God is love, we trust in God's faithfulness. "God then brings about “a new thing”: aged Sarah, barren of womb, gives birth to a son (Gen. 21:1–2; Rom. 4:18–21); the crucified Jesus Christ is raised from the dead (Acts 2:22–36); a mighty Babylon falls and a new Jerusalem comes down from heaven (Rev. 18:1–24; 21:1–5); more generally, the good that seemed impossible becomes not just possible but real." (Kindle Locations 994-996)

Volf writes: "The expectation of good things that come as a gift from God—that is hope. And that is love too, projecting itself into our life and our world’s future. For love always gives gifts and is itself a gift; inversely, every genuine gift is an expression of love. At the heart of the hoped-for future, which comes from the God of love, is the flourishing of individuals, communities, and our whole globe." (Kindle Locations 997-999)

How does a person become a hope-filled person? By living in constant connection to God. Hopelessness is a dis-ease that breeds outside the house of God. But within God's house we live close to the heart and voice of God. This is where we hear and receive the multiform promises of God.

Hope is the emotion, as an orientation of my being, that arises in God's presence where I hear his promises to me and to us.

Friday, March 17, 2023

Dallas Willard Defines Spiritual Formation

The locus of spiritual formation and spiritual transformation is the human heart. 

Here is the link to Dallas Willard's "Spiritual Formation: What It Is, and How It Is Done." 

Willard writes: "Spiritual formation in the tradition of Jesus Christ is the process of transformation of the inmost dimension of the human being, the heart, which is the same as the spirit or will. It is being formed (really, transformed) in such a way that its natural expression comes to be the deeds of Christ done in the power of Christ."

This means that one's heart is formed, or morphed, into Christlikeness (Gal. 4:19). Spiritual formation, Jesus-style, is not about asking "what would Jesus do?" and then trying hard to be like Jesus and do the things he did. If a person had the heart of Jesus the results would be, inexorably, the kind of interior and exterior life Jesus had. With the "interior" being ontologically prior to the "exterior." As Willard says, "Christlikeness is established in the very depths of our being." This is about "change of the inner person, where what we do originates."

The interesting thing about this is that neither you nor I nor anyone can bring this about. To think that one could do so is to diminish the transcendence of the transformation. I might think that I could, given enough time to practice, transform myself into Lebron James. Had I this belief, you would question whether or not I have seen Lebron James play basketball. Who Christ is so far surpasses us that our formation into Christlikeness can only be achieved by Christ himself,

(Willard's entire article is profound, deep, and insightful. See also Willard's more recent "Spiritual Formation in Christ: A Perspective on What it is and How it Might be Done.")

Dallas Willard's Four Key Concerns


One author I keep coming back to is Dallas Willard. He was a brilliant philosopher (U. of Southern California), a passionate follower of Jesus, who lived a life of a perpetual student who balanced the academic and the experiential. And, what a writer, and what a teacher!

A few months before his death he met with theistic philosopher J. P. Moreland and shared the four key concerns that drove him in life. Here they are. (From Gary Moon, Becoming Dallas Willard: The Formation of a Philosopher, Teacher, and Christ Follower.)

#1 - Metaphysical realism. 

Willard "believed there is one mind-independent world “out there,” and it and the entities within it are what they are independent of our thinking about them. That means that invisible things such as soul, spirit, the Trinity, and the kingdom of God are as much a part of reality as apples, chairs, and snowflakes. This idea formed much of the background to his book The Divine Conspiracy." (Moon)

#2 - Epistemic realism. 

For Willard, "the intentionality of the mind places it in direct contact with its various objects of attention. Nothing stands between the knowing subject and items of knowledge in cases of direct awareness. Which means that it is possible to interact with realities such as the Holy Trinity in such a way that knowledge can be obtained and new habit patterns established. This truth stands behind Dallas’s books The Spirit of the Disciplines and Hearing God." (Ib.) 

#3 - Human Nature; Personhood.

Moon writes that Willard "was committed to the idea that our view of the nature and practice of formative beliefs and exercises should flow as naturally as possible from our view of the human person. He deeply believed in the need for the development of comprehensive, sophisticated, integrative models of the person. In other words, human beings are uniquely designed to experience God. His best work in this area is fleshed out in his book Renovation of the Heart." 

#4 - Spiritual Disciplines; Spiritual Formation.

"Finally, Dallas believed that spiritually formative Christian practices produce results that are objectively testable. He was deeply concerned to establish Christian spiritual formation and its practices as items of genuine knowledge. In short, spiritual formation could—and should—be measurable and have a place in the university alongside other domains of public knowledge. His book that begins to address this concern is Knowing Christ Today." 

Moon says "a case can be made that all of Dallas’s Christian writing is built around these four critical concepts—concepts that meant so much to Dallas that he felt it imperative to pass them on—and that each of his Christian books is an attempt to elucidate one or more of those core ideas." (Moon, pp. 193-194)

Trust Is a Cure for Fear, Anxiety, and Worry

                                                                (Moon over Cancun.)

(I'm re-posting this for a friend.)

I bought a new chair for my home office. I had the previous chair for twenty years. I trusted it. I knew it would hold me. Therefore, I had no anxiety in regard to it.
It would be contradictory to say, "I trust the chair I'm sitting in, but am afraid it won't hold me."

Where there is trust, there is no fear. 
This is true with my office chair. It is also true with God. Psalm 27:1 says, “The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?" 
The antidote to a fearful heart is to make God one's "fortress and strength," the result being, "what shall I then fear?"
We see the connection between trust and fearlessness throughout Scripture. 

Psalm 56:3 - Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You.
Psalm 56:11 - In God I have put my trust; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me? (I "put" my trust in the Lord, like I "put" the water in the glass. Trust is an action. This is a very Hebraic idea.)

Psalm 112:7 - He will not be afraid of evil tidings; His heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord.

Isaiah 12:2 - Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid; ‘For the Lord, is my strength and song; He also has become my salvation.’”

Where there is trust, there is an absence of anxiety. The person who is mostly filled with anxiety and fear is the person who does not *trust, or whose trust is misplaced. 

How do I make God my trust?

Trust is an action we take. I “put my trust in the Lord.”

          If God was a chef, I would eat his cooking.

          If God was a shepherd, I would listen for his voice and follow.

          If God was a rock, I would stand on him.

          If God was a fortress, I would make my home in him.

          If God was a river, and I a tree, I would send my roots to him.

If God was a vine, and I a branch, I would attach myself to him.

If God was a fire, I would be consumed by him.

If God was water, I would drink of him.

If I was a cup, I would be filled to overflowing by him.

         If God was a hidden treasure, I would seek him.

If God was a word, I would read him.

If God was my Lord, I would obey him.

If God was a chair, I would sit on him.

I would do these things every day…  after day…  after day.

There is a cumulative effect that results from a lifetime of trusting in God. A psychological confidence, a certitude, emerges. It is like the confidence I got as a result of sitting in the same chair for twenty years, and finding that, through it all, it still holds. 

*I recognize that there are clinical, neurophysical conditions that cause anxiety and fear. The antidote for such conditions may be medications. But even when medications stabilize a person's emotions, issues of trust may remain. Medication will not help a person when the only chair they have keeps breaking.

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