Friday, June 30, 2023

Harshness Polarizes; Gentleness Disarms

                                                                               (Grand Haven, MI)

I begin the day reading from Proverbs 15.

A gentle answer turns away wrath, 
but a harsh word stirs up anger.

Proverbs 15:1

Harshness adds nothing to a disagreement.

Harshness subtracts from the truth.

Harshness polarizes; gentleness disarms.

Harshness depletes; gentleness adds.

Gentleness subtracts nothing from a disagreement.

Gentleness provides the atmosphere in which truth can shine.

Avoid harshness. Exude gentleness.

I read this verse from my NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible. Below it is a link to the following list.

Character Traits in Proverbs 

Traits to be avoided 

  • anger 29: 22 
  • antisocial behavior 18: 1 
  • beauty without discretion 11: 22 
  • blaming God 19: 3 
  • dishonesty 24: 28 
  • greed 28: 25 
  • hatred 29: 27 
  • hot temper 19: 19; 29: 22 
  • immorality 6: 20– 35 
  • inappropriate desire 27: 7 
  • injustice 22: 16 
  • jealousy 27: 4 
  • lack of mercy 21: 13 
  • laziness 6: 6– 11; 18: 9; 19: 15; 20: 4; 24: 30– 34; 26: 13– 15 
  • maliciousness 6: 27 
  • meddling 26: 17; 30: 10 
  • pride 15: 5; 16: 18; 21: 4, 24; 29: 23; 30: 13 
  • quarrelsomeness 26: 21
  • self-conceit 26: 12, 16 
  • self-deceit 28: 11 
  • self-glory 25: 27 
  • self-righteousness 30: 12 
  • social disruption 19: 10 
  • stubbornness 29: 1 
  • unfaithfulness 25: 19 
  • unneighborliness 3: 27– 30 
  • vengeance 24: 28– 29 
  • wickedness 21: 10 
  • wicked scheming 16: 30 

Traits to be promoted 

  • avoidance of strife 20: 3 
  • compassion for animals 12: 10 
  • contentment 13: 25; 14: 30; 15: 27 
  • diligence 6: 6– 13; 12: 24, 27; 13: 4 
  • faithful love 20: 6 
  • faithfulness 3: 5– 6; 5: 15– 17; 25: 13; 28: 20 
  • generosity 21: 26; 22: 9 
  • honesty 16: 11; 24: 26 
  • humility 11: 2; 16: 19; 25: 6– 7; 29: 23 
  • integrity 11: 3; 25: 26; 28: 18 
  • kindness to others 11: 16– 17
  • kindness to enemies 25: 21– 22 
  • leadership 30: 19– 31 
  • loyalty 19: 22 
  • nobility 12: 4; 31: 10, 29 
  • patience 15: 18; 16: 32 
  • peacefulness 16: 7 
  • praiseworthiness 27: 21 
  • righteousness 4: 26– 27; 11: 5– 6, 30; 12: 28; 13: 6; 29: 2 
  • self-control 17: 27; 25: 28; 29: 11 
  • strength and honor 20: 29 
  • strength in adversity 24: 10 
  • teachableness 15: 31 
  • truthfulness 12: 19, 22; 23: 23
(From the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible)

Thursday, June 29, 2023

Nine Things to Consider Before Marriage

(Cancun sunrise - 2/28/19)

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

Linda and I took last week to celebrate 49 years of marriage. Here are some of things we teach premarital couples, or persons who may one day be married.

1. Marriage is a lifelong commitment.  "So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate." "Why then," they asked, "did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?" Jesus replied, "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning." - Matthew 19:6ff. Marry someone who has "covenant" in their soul.

2. Your marriage will go through tough times. This is a lifelong commitment - "for better, for worse." There will be both. It is important to go through tough times before you are married. "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance." - James 1:2-3 

3. Be a servant to your spouse, putting his/her needs before your own. Lay down your own "rights" long before you stand at the altar and say "I do. "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs." - 1 Cor. 13:4-5

4. Learn to forgive. This is FOUNDATIONAL. Never marry someone who cannot let go of old wounds and holds on to grudges. "For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins." - Matthew 6:14-15

5. Admit when you are wrong, and seek reconciliation with your spouse. NEVER marry someone who can't say the words "I was wrong." You need to find this out before you walk down the aisle. "Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift." - Matthew 5:23-24

6. Make plans together, but don't be surprised when things don't turn out the way you planned. "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will." - Romans 12:2

7. Communicate often, but don't try to change your spouse. Instead, encourage and strengthen each other. You can't change the other, but you can be changed yourself. NEVER, EVER marry someone with the hope that you can change them and they will be different once you are married. "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,' when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye." - Luke 6:41-42

8. Don't depend on your spouse to fill all your needs. Only God can do that. Marry someone who loves God and finds their life in God more than they love and find their life in you. "Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the LORD." - Jeremiah 17:5

9. Mutually submit to one another. "Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself." - Ephesians 5:22-28  

One more thing - for the person who says "But nobody's perfect!"


Aim higher than that.

Have a covenental soul.

Go through, not around, tough times. 

Serve others.

Forgive, as you have been forgiven.

When you are wrong, admit it. When the other person is wrong, relate to it.

Be flexible. Move with the Holy Spirit.

Focus on your own transformation into Christlikeness.

Make Jesus your everything, your all in all.

Humbly submit to one another.

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

God Does Not Affirm All Behaviors

                                                                    (Redeemer Monroe)

In this post I attempt to establish one point, using 'pedophilia' as an example. 

"Pedophilia is an ongoing sexual attraction to pre-pubertal children. It is a paraphilia, a condition in which a person's sexual arousal and gratification depends on objects, activities, or even situations that are considered atypical. Pedophilia is defined as recurrent and intense sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors involving sexual activity with a prepubescent child or children—generally age 13 years or younger—over a period of at least six months. Pedophiles are more often men and can be attracted to either or both sexes." (Psychology Today)

Does God love the pedophiliac? Yes. 

Does God affirm sexual activity with a child? No. 

The Christian belief is that pedophile activity is sin. That is, it misses the mark God places before us. (See, e.g., what in ethics is called "divine command theory.")

This troubling, yet simple, example proves the following: God does not affirm all behaviors

Neither do people affirm all behaviors. 

Whether they believe in God or not, good parents morally screen what beliefs are to be championed in their home. The good parent will not allow their child to be taught the beauty and happiness of pedophilic beliefs and behaviors. 

All institutions have moral filters. These moral filters emerge from worldviews. People may differ in their worldviews. People do not differ in having moral filters rooted in a social imaginary. (See Charles Taylor here.)

Churches are no different. As a pastor of a church, I testify that we would not allow someone to teach our children, youth, and adults, that God affirms sexual activity with children. Obviously.

Every person, every institution, embraces some things and excludes other things. (On this, see Amy Chua's Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations.) That's what doctrine does, and why doctrine is important. Understand this: Real love embraces and excludes.

The matter than becomes how, as Christians, we are still to love the pedophile, while establishing moral boundaries. To begin with, a lot will depend on how the pedophile views pedophilia. And, do they want us to embrace this belief, or exclude the belief? If the latter, do they want help?

Now, instead of 'pedophilia', plug in any sin.

Sunday, June 25, 2023

Non-Discursive Experiences of God

(Kitty Hawk, NC)

A non-discursive experience is an experience that is felt and "known" as real, but which cannot be captured in the steel nets of literal language. One has such experiences, but cannot discourse about them. (On religious experiences that "I know that I know that I know" but cannot speak of, see James K.A. Smith, Thinking in Tongues.)

I experience God in a variety of ways, many of which are non-discursive. This is how it should be, right? None of us has epistemic access to the being of God. We fail to fully understand what it's like to be all-knowing, or all-loving, or all-powerful.

The expression of a non-discursive experience is confessional and testimonial. There is a sense in which it cannot be refuted. What does this mean? Say, for example, that I now feel joy. I make the statement, “Now I feel joy.” It would be odd, in a Wittgensteinian-kind of way, for someone to say “You’re wrong.” That would be leaving the language-game I’m now playing. (Wittgensteinian “playing” is what I have here in mind.)

Consider the statement, “I felt God close to me today.” Even a philosophical materialist could not doubt that today I had some kind of numinous experience which I describe as God being with me. They could doubt that what caused my experience was “God.” I understand this. But their doubt has no effect on my experience and the interpretation of it. Their doubt does not make me a doubter, precisely because I am not a philosophical materialist. I see no reason to disbelieve my experiences because others do not have them. This relates, I think, to Oxford philosopher Richard Swinburne's "principle of credulity."

At this point I’m influenced by theistic philosophers Alvin Plantinga and William P. Alston. For them, belief in God is properly basic if the noetic framework of Christian theism is true. Plantinga’s work on “warranted belief” and Alston’s work on the “experiential basis of theism” is helpful here. Alston writes: 

“the relatively abstract belief that God exists is constitutive of the doxastic practice of forming particular beliefs about God's presence and activity in our lives on the basis of theistic experience.” 

For Alston, experiential support for theism is analogous to experiential support for belief in the physical world. He explains what he means by “theistic experience.” He writes:

I “mean it to range over all experiences that are taken by the experiencer to be an awareness of God (where God is thought of theistically). I impose no restrictions on its phenomenal quality. It could be a rapturous loss of conscious self-identity in the mystical unity with God; it could involve "visions and voices"; it could be an awareness of God through the experience of nature, the words of the Bible, or the interaction with other persons; it could be a background sense of the presence of God, sustaining one in one's ongoing activities. Thus the category is demarcated by what cognitive significance the subject takes it to have, rather than by any distinctive phenomenal feel.”

For Plantinga, if the noetic framework of Christian theism is true, then I can expect to experience God. God exists, has made us in his image, has placed a moral consciousness within us, has revealed himself in the creation, and desires for us to know him. Plantinga, of course, believes this noetic framework is true. As do I. One then expects experiential encounters with God. They come to us, as Alston says, like sense-experiences.

This is to argue for the rationality of theistic experiences. One can have “warrant” for the belief that such experiences are from God. But these experiences do not function as “proofs” of God’s existence.

Non-discursive experiences, and experiences in general, cannot be caught in the steel nets of literal language. “Experience” qua experience has what French philosopher Paul Ricoeur has called a “surplus of meaning.” “Words” never capture all of experience. All experiencing has a non-discursive quality. Here the relationship of words to experiencing leads to volumes of discussion in areas such as linguistic semantics and philosophy of language.

Even a sentence as seemingly simple as “I see a tree” is, phenomenally, incomplete. Consider this experience: sitting on an ocean beach watching the sun set with the person you are falling in love with. Ricoeur called such experiences “limit-experiences”; viz., experiences that arise outside the limits of thought and language. But people want to express, in words, these events. For that, Ricoeur says a “limit-language” is needed, such as metaphorical expression. So-called “literal language” cannot capture limit-experiences.

Every person has limit-experiences that are non-discursive.

Experience, not theory, breeds conviction. Theorizing either for or against God is not as convincing as the sense of the presence of God or the sense of the absence of God. This is why I keep returning to my “conversion experience.”

Among the God-experiences I consistently have are:
- A sense that God is with me
- Numinous experiences of awe and wonder (not mere “Einsteinian wonder”)
- God speaking to me
- God leading me
- God comforting me
- God’s love expressed towards me
- God’s Spirit convicting me
- God directing me
- Overwhelming experience of God
- God revealing more of himself to me

These experiences are mediated through:
-Corporate worship
-Solitary times of prayer
-Study of the Christian scriptures
-Observing the creation
-In difficult and testing situations

Sometimes I have experienced God in an unmediated way.

I discern and judge such things to be experiences of God because...
-I spend many hours a week praying
-I have heavily invested myself in prayer and meditation for the past 42+ years
-I saturate myself in the Christian scriptures
-I study the history of Christian spirituality
-I keep a spiritual journal and have 3000+ pages of journal entries concerning God-experiences
-I hang out with people who do all of the above
- I've taught this material in various seminaries, at conferences, in the United States & elsewhere around the world. I've gained a multi-ethnic perspective on the subject of experiencing God.

All this increases one’s diacritical ability (dia-krisis; “discernment”; lit. “to cut through”). Spiritual diacritical ability is mostly acquired. It is in direct proportion to familiarity.

The more we live in connection with God, the more familiar we will be with the presence of God. We will speak of it, and our words will fall short of expressing it, which is how it should be.


My 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)

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

We Live In an Age of Cheap Grace


                                                         (Woman, praying in Jerusalem)

(This is from my book Deconstructing Progressive Christianity, p. 201.)

In 1970 (yikes!) I became a follower of Jesus. I was twenty-one. (You do the math.) One of the first books recommended to me was Dietrich Bonhoeffer's monumental The Cost of Discipleship. I didn't grasp it all at the time. I did understand Bonhoeffer's distinction between "costly grace" and "cheap grace." It reminded me of the apostle Paul, when he wrote, What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? (Romans 6:1-2)  

Eric Metaxas, in his biography of Bonhoeffer, argues that the Lutheran Church's drift into cheap grace was a factor in allowing Hitler to come to power. (See Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy) Metaxas says that cheap grace means "going to church and hearing that God just loves and forgives everyone, so it doesn’t really matter much how you live." Anyone who believes that, and self-refers as a follower of Jesus, has drifted into heresy. Yes, orthopraxy is important. 

Tim Keller writes that, today, we live in an age of cheap grace.  "Many Christians want to talk only about God’s love and acceptance. They don’t like talking about Jesus’ death on the cross to satisfy divine wrath and justice. Some even call it “divine child abuse.” Yet if they are not careful, they run the risk of falling into the belief in “cheap grace”—a non-costly love from a non-holy God who just loves and accepts us as we are. That will never change anyone’s life." (Foreword to Metaxas.)

Monday, June 19, 2023

Deconstructing Progressive Christianity: The Myth and Ideology of "Progress"


(I'm re-posting this for a friend. For a more complete presentation, see my book Deconstructing Progressive Christianity.
For the meaning of 'deconstruction' (because it is NOT what you think it is), see HERE.
You can throw some 'ex-vangelicalism' into this mix too.
And, sprinkle some liberalism over the entire thing.
Garnish with postmodernism.)


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). 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. 

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. 

There are many theologians and biblical scholars, such as myself, who have not departed from what we see as essential. We could never be "exvangelicals." This is not out of ignorance. We are 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.)

For a more complete repudiation of progressive Christianity see my recent book Deconstructing Progressive Christianity. 


John Piippo

Redeemer Fellowship Church, Monroe, MI


The term 'progressive,' as a modifier linked with 'Christianity', is misleading, even false.

“Progressive” is not a word that fits into a Christian eschatological worldview.

Humanity, throughout history, has not morally and spiritually progressed.

The term "progressive" implies some kind of advancing, a moving forward towards some goal. My understanding of Christianity is that, while individuals and even communities can improve morally and spiritually (= Christ's character being formed in them), there will be nothing morally new under the sun until Christ returns.

This is because of the human sin problem. Every new generation has to deal with this. The next generation, and the generations beyond that, will not have progressed beyond this. (Note: I read one self-identifying progressive who thought humanity has progressed and will further advance so much that we can question whether or not we even need a Savior.)

Let's look more closely at the idea of "progress." Progress only makes sense in relation to a "goal." Such as: "I have made progress in my weight loss strategy. I am closer to my goal weight of 180 pounds." 

There are countless examples of this kind of progress. Someone’s goal is to play guitar like Eddie Van Halen. They take lessons. They practice. They are improving. They are making progress towards this goal.

“Progressive” implies “advancement”; “moving forward.” Towards some goal.

Someone else is constructing a house. Today they began digging the foundation. Next week they pour the cement. They are making progress toward the goal of building a house. That can be good. (It depends on what the house is used for.)

But "progress," in itself, is not always good. For example, I am overweight. My doctor has advised me to lose twenty pounds. But instead, my goal is to gain even more weight. This morning I step on the scale, and see I gained ten pounds over the holidays. Progress! Let us all cheer, and celebrate and affirm John's story! But, arguably, that’s not a progressive story to be celebrated. (FYI – I did not gain ten pounds over the holidays!)

Someone else researches the internet. Their goal is to build a bomb that will destroy buildings in downtown Nashville. Today they began constructing the bomb. They are making progress. They are moving forward. They are advancing toward their goal. Remember that 'forward' and 'backward' only make sense in relation to a goal.

What is the goal of progressive Christianity? And who sets this goal? In reading the literature of those who self-identify as progressive Christians, it’s not always clear to me that it is Christ. Perhaps, the goal for humanity is Love? For a Jesus-follower, it’s true that love is great, and greater than faith and hope. But I see the goal of history as Christ, not Love. Love is not greater than Christ. (See here.) 

My understanding of Christianity is that, in the lifetime of every person, the goal is the formation of the character of Christ in us, individually and collectively. As I read and talk with some who refer to themselves as progressive Christians, I hear them elevating Love and Desire-fulfillment to heights that should be reserved only for Christ. (For Desire-fulfillment as a "progressive" idea, and how this has come about historically, see especially Carl Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self.)

I see every generation of humanity as having a sin problem, which can only be addressed by the cross of Christ. My studies and observations indicate that humanity has not progressed, and will not progress, beyond that. And, my sense is that some progressive Christians are not thrilled about talking of sin. Affirmation? Yes! Desire-fulfillment? Yes! Sin? Meh...

I do not see the word 'progressive' as being part of what N.T. Wright describes as the "five act play" that is the Bible. Yes, in eternity we shall be like Jesus. But, in this present age, we are not progressing morally and spiritually. I view it as phenomenally difficult to demonstrate moral progress, over the years. Have we gotten better? Are we getting better?  The term “progressive” implies that we are. 

Yes, I know that Steven Pinker thinks that humanity, over time, has gotten kinder and gentler. I, and many others who have reacted to Pinker, do not. (See here.) Violence has declined, says Pinker, because humanity is getting less and less violent. 

This reminds me of what was perhaps the height of progressive optimism, in the early twentieth century. The Enlightenment belief was that human reason was now progressing to make a better world. And then came World War 1. And theologian Karl Barth was moved to write his commentary on Romans, with its teaching that all humanity sins and falls short of the glory of God. And then, Germany changed (progressed?) from a democratic republic in 1932 to a racist tyranny in 1934. And then, according atheist and scholar David Berlinski, the 20th century progressed into being the most murderous, violent in human history. (See Berlinski, The Devil’s Disciple: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions. See also footnote [1] below.)

But… we have massively progressed technologically, right? Correct. But it is still humans who use and wield technological artifacts. A hammer is a piece of technology. Its appearance advanced us, assisting in doing things like building furniture and ships and homes and you name it. But the human being holding the hammer could also use it to hurt and destroy. I see morally unadvanced, non-progressed humanity as still doing that, only with greatly advanced artifacts with massive destructive capabilities.

I don’t think progress is necessarily good, in itself. When you hear the word "progressive" you should not automatically think "positive." Yes, we seem programmed to think that way. But truthfully, it all depends on the goal. And here is where the word “progressive” is of no help to me, because it functions as a euphemism that should not be attached as a modifier to the term 'Christianity'.  

I know the word "progressive" is politically popular. But I don't like it, because I see it as mythical at best. Jeffrey Burton Russell, in Exposing Myths About Christianity, writes:

“The predominant superstition of our times is Progress. Belief in lower-case ‘progress’ is reasonable, for progress can be made toward definable goals in specific fields, such as electrical engineering, plumbing or surgery. But people often believe in upper-case Progress, as in “The Progress of Humanity.” This is a superstition. Upper-case Progress implies moving toward an undefined capital-G Goal.”

One of the myths about Christianity that Russell exposes is that progress was something Jesus was trying to bring about. Scholar Terry Eagelton calls this the “ideology of Progress.” Russell writes that “the natural goodness of humanity is an illusion based neither in history nor biology, and the empty center of most Progressivism is the delusion that radical evil does not exist. Progressivism can become utopianism, which always sacrifices liberty for its ends, as Stalin did. Those who deny evil will be overtaken by it.”

Ahhh... the natural goodness of humanity. What an anti-Hobbes idea! What an anti-Freud idea! And, what an anti-Christ belief. From such a belief comes the ideology of affirmation. But, I ask, who in their right Christological mind could believe that Christ came, not to rescue us out of bondage to sin, but to affirm us?

Progressive Christianity is too utopian for me. Many, including me, believe that we are “regressing” in our humanity. To call progressive Christianity too utopian is to locate its roots in Hegel and Marx, who both thought humanity was inexorably progressing, but who disagreed on the engine driving the progression, as well as the goal or outcome.  Anyone want to join me in a "Regressive Christianity" movement?

Again, if the goal of life is to embrace the Lordship of Christ and have his character formed in us, I think one can view our time as one of regression, division, and polarization. In fact, I, and many others, see progressive Christianity as divisive (e.g., I am aware of some young people who identify as progressive Christians and tie this in with their newfound belief that the Old Testament is just a bunch of made-up stories. I'll say more about this in my third post.) 

Is humanity progressing? Or regressing? Or decadent and stagnant? (See New York Times writer Ross Douthat's recent The Decadent Society.) You need to know this has always been a topic of discussion among scholars. The answers are not obvious. If we are talking about moral and spiritual development or regression, it is far from obvious that some kind of progressive movement is actually happening. I submit to you that it is not. And I can see, without much effort, that progressive Christianity is aiding the regression. (See footnote [2] below.)

In all this I am saying that I could never refer to myself as a progressive Christian because it commits a mistake… a category mistake… when the two words are placed next to each other. This is not a matter of mere semantics. The kingdom of God, said Jesus, was "not of this world." Therefore, the kingdom of God was not the end-result of an ever-progressive earthly kingdom.

I have a suggestion. I began following Jim Wallis in the early 1970s, when he began publishing what was to become the magazine Sojourners. Wallis is one who is often cited as a "progressive" Christian. But in the Times interview, Wallace says he would rather be called a "follower of Jesus."

Me too.

It's time to get rid of the term "progressive Christianity." And self-refer as "follower of Jesus." This would lead to interesting discussions, to include the morality of Jesus (see here, e.g.) and the relationship between Jesus and the Old Testament. Some progressive Christians, many of them unthinkingly, are on the "dismiss the Old Testament" bandwagon. Let's just focus on Jesus." The problem is, when you focus on Jesus, you see Jesus as not dismissing an authoritative Old Testament.  

Finally, in the term “progressive Christianity,” the word ‘progressive’ is a modifier. It modifies the word ‘Christianity.’ ‘Progressive’ is a euphemism. It puts a happy spin on Christianity. It also feels like a judgment on those who are not “progressive.” which provides another reason as to why I could never call myself a progressive Christian.

[1] On atheism (esp. atheistic existentialism) there is no goal in life. Thus, humanity is not progressing towards anything, nor is it regressing away from anything. Nor is it decadent. This leads to things like Theatre of the Absurd, and Camus’s Sysiphus, and Becket’s Waiting for Godot.

[2] For an interesting, illuminating article on whether or not humanity is "progressing," see atheist John Gray's excellent review of The Evolution of Moral Progress: A Biocultural Theory, by Alan Buchanon and Russell Powell. 

Saturday, June 17, 2023

In Praise of Singleness

(Circle of prayer)
(I'm re-posting this to keep it in play.)

There is nothing wrong with you if you are not married. There may be a lot right with you.

Some of our best friends are single. It's worth noting that Jesus, and the apostle Paul, were single. "Until the Reformation, most of the superstars of Christianity were single." (David Bennett, A War of Loves, p. 127)

When I became a Jesus-follower, God told me to lay off trying to hustle women, and take a full year away from dating. I did. 

That was a wonderful year for me. I began to find out about what Colossians 1:18 calls "the supremacy of Christ." Christ was my "head," I was part of his "body," the body of Christ, his "Church." (Col. 1:18 again)

I felt free from cultural pressure to date. My life-goal was no longer to find a "soul mate," because my soul was mated to Christ. The great quest was to find Christ, to be found in him. I was beginning to understand this. I was allowing God to change me in ways that would be good for any future relationship I might be in.

If you are not dating, or not married, give thanks to God. You have a Pauline opportunity (1 Corinthians 7:8) to draw so very close to the only One who purely loves your soul. Take advantage of this, and rejoice!

If you feel pressure to date and mate ask yourself, where does this come from? I have seen Christian parents who lay pressure on their children to date and get married. Too many times the child ends up marrying anyone, just to please, at least unconsciously, their mother and father. This pressure is not from God. It creates the idolatrous idea that marriage is life's greatest thing. It is not. Like any false god, this will let you down.

I've seen a lot of "Christian" marriages that are toxic, not because of "irreconcilable differences" or "incompatibility," but because of spiritual and emotional immaturity. These marriages are particularly hellish because both partners are Christians. If you are not in a marriage like this, give thanks. You have been spared from a dark existence. And, be thankful if you are not making babies with an adult baby.

Simply because a husband and wife are Christians does not guarantee their marriage will be wonderful. There is a ton of ongoing marital work to be done, and this never ends. Few people count the cost of marriage, and end up paying in ways they never imagined.

I don't want to minimize loneliness. I do want to inform you that there are plenty of lonely people in their marriages. 

There's nothing wrong in desiring and praying for a life partner. There is something wrong with the idea that life will never be flourishing without one. Imagine how Christ feels about that! David Bennett writes:

"Jesus was an unmarried, childless man in a Jewish society of family values, and a celibate in a Roman society of sexual liberation that mocked singleness. In a world of two-sided sexual obsession, Jesus invited others into pure intimacy, modeled loving friendship, and lived in life-giving singleness." (A War of Loves, p. 129) 

(What if you are in a marriage that is troubled? See my post - How to Save Your Failing Marriage.)

Friday, June 16, 2023

Don't Worship If You Hate Someone

Image result for john piippo worship
(Glass block, with light behind it.)

I'm reading Matthew 5:22-24. I have read this many times. I've taught this to people, and preached on it. Yet these words of Jesus are hitting me like I've never seen this before. I've done this long enough to know this is God, saying, "John, I want you to listen to this. These words are for you."

Jesus is saying,

  • Do not murder. If you do, it will be bad for you.
  • Do not hold on to anger against a brother or sister. Don't cling to it. Don't go to bed at night with it inside you. If you do, you are murdering your brother and sister. God hates this.
  • Do not demean or insult a brother or sister. Never talk about a brother and sister behind their back unless it adds value to their character. Or if you are meeting with a peacemaker for the sake of restoring relationship. Bitter slander and gossip hurt the family of God.
  • Gossip and slander and demeaning language are curses upon one of Jesus' followers. Do this, and you teeter on the brink of hell.
  • Don't worship on Sunday morning if you haven't taken care of relationships. You are not worshiping if you have hatred towards a brother or sister. That's hypocrisy. Drop the worship-act and reconcile with your brother or sister.
  • Don't stay away from worship just because you have not done what Jesus wants. Do the right thing. When you have done this, come and worship.
Really? Here's Jesus, from The Passion Translation. You can read any translation you want. It's all the same.

“You’re familiar with the commandment that the older generation was taught, ‘Do not murder or you will be judged.’ But I’m telling you, if you hold anger in your heart toward a fellow believer, you are subject to judgment. And whoever demeans and insults a fellow believer is answerable to the congregation. And whoever calls down curses upon a fellow believer is in danger of being sent to a fiery hell. “So then, if you are presenting a gift before the altar in the temple and suddenly you remember a quarrel you have with a fellow believer, leave your gift there in front of the altar and go at once to apologize with the one who is offended. Then, after you have reconciled, come to the altar and present your gift."

Thursday, June 15, 2023

Don't Read the Bible Through the Lens of Culture

(Weaverville, California)

Eugene Peterson writes, "North American religion is basically a consumer religion. Americans see God as a product that will help them to live well, or to live better." (Peterson, Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness, Kindle 19%)

Some pastors acquiesce to the American way. They work hard to develop a "product" that people will be attracted to and buy. Hence, they engage in public relations, image building, salesmanship, marketing techniques, and competition for buyers. (= the Consumer Church). 

The result is a "mindless cultural conformism [which]..., far from being radical and dynamic..., is a lethargic rubber stamp on worldly wisdom." (Ib.) This has led, as Chesterton saw ahead of his time, to "the degrading slavery of being a child of this age." (Quoted in Ib.)

Peterson, writing in 1992, saw that "we are immersed in probably the most immature and mindless religion, ranging from infantile to adolescent, that any culture has ever witnessed." (Ib.) That describes 2023 in America.

At Redeemer, one way we combat the religious mindlessness is to preach, on Sunday mornings, through the biblical texts. Several years ago, I and others preached through the four Gospels, verse by verse. This took us seven years. Since then we have preached through many of Paul's letters, the book of Revelation (took us a year to get through this), Hebrews (one year), and so on. Currently, we are preaching through the book of Acts. This is exhilarating, empowering, equipping, and encouraging for anyone who desires to interpret the vicissitudes of culture through the lens of The Enduring Word.

Biblical illiteracy fuels religious mindlessness and cultural conformism. The Bible is our distinctive, our text. In the Bible a follower of Jesus gets situated in the Grand Narrative.

We show our people how to speak to our culture through the biblical Narrative, rather than allow the culture to interpret and, thereby, trivialize the Narrative.

Peterson says that when Christians come from Third world countries to the American church, "what they notice mostly is the greed, the silliness, the narcissism..., the conspicuous absence of the cross, the phobic avoidance of suffering, the puzzling indifference to community and relationships of intimacy" (Ib.)

Pastors - revolt against our culture's systematic trivializing of what we are called to do.

People - do not allow our culture shape you into its mold.

And go back to a praying life - my book can help you with this. Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Is the Goal of Life Personal Amusement?

(Valley Forge, PA)

It is indeed a strange thought that the end should be amusement, and that the busyness and suffering throughout one’s life should be for the sake of amusing oneself. 


And yet, that is where we are in America today. And that is where many pastors and churches are. We must keep the people "happy." We are, as NYU professor Neil Postman wrote, "amusing ourselves to death."

Because life's goal has become amusement, "happiness" studies abound. In "Happiness: Beyond the Data," U of Notre Dame philosopher Gary Gutting writes:

Happiness studies are booming in the social sciences, and governments are moving toward quantitative measures of a nation’s overall happiness, meant to supplement traditional measures of wealth and productivity."

Gutting agrees that the pursuit of happiness does not lead to happiness. When the purpose of life becomes the bucket-list pursuit of pleasure, unhappiness and disquietude results. How so?

"The danger — particularly for a society as rich as ours — is making pleasure the central focus in the pursuit of a happy life. This is done explicitly in some versions of utilitarian ethics, which regard happiness as simply the maximal accumulation of pleasurable experiences. But pleasures themselves often induce a desire for their repetition and intensification, and without moderation from a reflective mind, they can marginalize the work that lies at the core of true happiness.
A pathology of pleasures is often signaled by an obsession with not “missing out” on particularly attractive pleasures and strong disappointment when a highly anticipated experience does not meet expectations. (Examples from the world of food and wine are widely available.) In my view, the best strategy to avoid “hedonic corruption” of happiness is to welcome wholeheartedly the pleasures that come our way but not to make the explicit pursuit of pleasure a dominating part of our life project. The same, of course, applies to the money that is so often the price of pleasure."

Life, real life, is not gained in the pursuit of pleasure.

Note for church leaders and pastors: Many of your people are happiness-seekers rather than Jesus-followers. Do not make it your objective to keep your people happy. It will lead to never-ending incompleteness, and burnout.  

The Great American Search for Happiness leads to unhappiness. That's what philosopher Eric Hoffer wrote years ago. Hoffer said: “The search for happiness is one of the chief sources of unhappiness.”

"This obsessive, driven, relentless pursuit is a characteristically American struggle — the exhausting daily application of the Declaration of Independence. But at the same time this elusive MacGuffin is creating a nation of nervous wrecks. Despite being the richest nation on earth, the United States is, 
according to the World Health Organization, by a wide margin, also the most anxious, with nearly a third of Americans likely to suffer from an anxiety problem in their lifetime. America’s precocious levels of anxiety are not just happening in spite of the great national happiness rat race, but also perhaps, because of it."
- Ruth Whippman, "
America the Anxious" (nytimes, September 22, 2012)

Whippman continues:

"The American approach to happiness can spur a debilitating anxiety. The initial sense of promise and hope is seductive, but it soon gives way to a nagging slow-burn feeling of inadequacy. Am I happy? Happy enough? As happy as everyone else? Could I be doing more about it? Even basic contentment feels like failure when pitched against capital-H Happiness. The goal is so elusive and hard to define, it’s impossible to pinpoint when it’s even been achieved — a recipe for neurosis."

This makes sense to me. Our age, writes Elaine Showalter in The Chronicle of Higher Education, is an 
age of anxiety.

How Everyone Became Depressed: The Rise and Fall of the Nervous Breakdown, medical historian Edward Shorter says that "It has not escaped many observers that today we are drenched in anxiety." Psychiatrist Jeffrey Kahn states that "commonplace anxiety and depressive disorders" affect at least 20% of Americans. That's 60 million people. In our pursuit of happiness we have become depressingly unhappy. (See Kahn, Angst: Origins of Anxiety and Depression) Woo-hoo, right?

Academics are particularly unhappy and depressed, argues University of Texas professor Ann Cvetkovich, in 
Depression: A Public Feeling. She writes:

Academe "breeds particular forms of panic and anxiety leading to what gets called depression—the fear that you have nothing to say, or that you can't say what you want to say, or that you have something to say but it's not important enough or smart enough."

Instead of happiness, opt for blessedness. The Jesus-idea of "happiness" is the promise of "blessedness." 

·                Blessedness is independent of material or social conditions. 
·                Blessedness is not to be pursued for its own sake, since to do so would cause it to suffer the same infelicitous fate as meets all whose life goal is "happiness." 
·                Blessedness is an indirect byproduct of the pursuit of God and the love of others, for their own sake and not for what you can get. One gives one's life away for God and others and thereby gains life. 
This is, precisely, anti-American in its non-consumerism. The result is a blessed life.