Friday, April 29, 2005

Sara Groves: A Thoughtful Christian Singer

Remember in Toy Story 2 when Jessie reminisced about once being loved by a little girl who eventually grew up and forgot about her? The song that accompanied that moving scene (I admit it. I brushed a tear or two away), "When She Loved Me," was performed by Sarah McLachlan, a singer of whom I had been previously unaware. I fell in love with her voice. Why am I bothering to tell you this? Because when I first heard Sara Groves, the very talented Christian singer and songwriter, she reminded me of Sara McLachlan, a comparison that others have noted as well. That was the first thing that caught my attention.

More important than her vocal quality, however, are her down to earth yet God-focused lyrics wedded to great music. C. S. Lewis once wrote about prayer that we must bring before God what is in us, not what ought to be in us. Sara writes honest songs about what's in us as we seek to become what we ought to be - songs about fighting with our spouses, worrying about our children, questioning God's goodness, and convincing ourselves that we need more stuff. Throughout, she points to God's trustworthy promises to complete what He has begun and thereby stirs gospel-rooted hope, gratitude, and praise.

Her appreciation for the past is evidenced by her creative blending of classic hymns with contemporary style as in one of my favorites, "He's Always Been Faithful." Dr. David Larsen, a former professor of mine, recently described the mindset of many young Christians as: "What's old is mould and what's new is true." Thankfully, such a charge doesn't stick to Groves. In an article for Relevant Magazine she wrote:
I'm just wondering, if we can't keep up, maybe we're not supposed to. I?m not saying the church should settle in for years and years of "this is how we do it, so there", but I wonder what would happen if we quit focusing on the new and focused on the true. There is capital "T" Truth to be found in the old and the new. The old and new can co-exist, and I believe that the church is where that should happen the most. Our churches should reflect the body of Christ, who in its intended form operates like a healthy family. Elders should mentor the young, youth inspire the old, and all of us should build each other up in the faith. (Ephesians 4).
Sara Groves is fresh on my mind because two days ago I had the joy of attending a concert sponsored by Trinity International University and Food for the Hungry (Sara has been sponsoring a child since her college days). Her talent, along with that of her husband Troy and the other members of her band, was captivating. And the expressions of her love for Jesus, sung and spoken, were convicting, encouraging, and edifying. I was so glad my children could share that experience with me. This was their first real concert and they were champions! They listened attentively, especially when Sara told stories about her children. I wondered what was going on in their young minds as they listened to this lady singing what my son affectionately calls "God songs" and caught their dad wiping tears from his eyes with a smile on his face. I pray that in God's providence that night will be link in a chain that will one day lead them to make music in their hearts to God because they are trusting His Son.

If you're not familiar with Sara Groves, I encourage you to check out her website where you can find out more about her, hear some of her music, and find articles about "music, culture, and worthy causes."

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Christians and the Left: Who's Warring Against Whom?

National Review Online contributing editor Stanley Kurtz relates his reaction to Harper's Magazine's May cover stories on "The Christian Right's War on America":
I fear these stories could mark the beginning of a systematic campaign of hatred directed at traditional Christians. Whether this is what Harper’s intends, I cannot say. But regardless of the intention, the effect seems clear.
The following excerpt illustrates points I made in recent posts on the inconsistencies of relativism and the myth of religious neutrality:
The Left is loathe to treat Islamic terrorists as moral reprobates, but when it comes to conservative Christians, Hedges calls on his fellow liberals to renounce their relativist scruples and acknowledge “the power and allure of evil.”
....For a very long time now, secular liberals have treated conservative Christians as the modern embodiment of evil, the one group you’re allowed to openly hate. Although barely noticed by the rest of us, this poison has been floating through our political system for decades. Traditional Christians are tired of it, and I don’t blame them. That doesn’t justify rhetorical excess from either side. But the fact of the matter is that the Left’s rhetorical attacks on conservative Christians have long been more extreme, more widely disseminated, and more politically effective than whatever the Christians have been hurling back. And now that their long ostracism by the media has finally forced conservative Christians to demand redress, the Left has abandoned all rhetorical restraint.
Read the rest here. Then, read Jesus:
A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant about his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household. So have no fear of them... (Matthew 10:24-26a).

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Stem Cells & The Myth of Religious Neutrality

An article by Nicholas Wade in today's NY Times perpetuates the fallacious notion that religious belief is inherently antagonistic to scientific progress. It also sustains the popularly held opinion (unfortunately, even among some Christians) that those who profess adherence to a particular religion are irrationally biased while the members of the scientific community are objective, dealing only with hard facts and free from unscientific precommitments.

The article reports that the National Academy of Science yesterday proposed a list of ethical guidelines for performing embryonic stem cell research (hereafter ESCR). They believed this was necessary in the absence of leadership from the federal government. The following excerpt displays the "good, objective, science/bad, irrational, religion" dichotomy:

Scientists have high hopes that research with those all-purpose cells, which develop into all the various tissues of the adult body, will lead to treatments for a wide variety of diseases by enabling them to grow new organs to replace damaged ones.
But because of religious objections - human embryos shortly after fertilization are destroyed to derive the cells - Congress has long restricted federal financing of such research; President Bush has allowed it to proceed, but only with designated cells. As a result, the government has not played its usual role of promoting novel research and devising regulations accepted by all players.
It would be more accurate to say that many scientists are optimistic about ESCR's potential and are eager to proceed. Wade gives the impression that there is a consensus among researchers concerning the promise and ethics of this research. But this simply isn't true. The Coalition of Americans for Research Ethics, for example, consists of numerous researchers and physicians who question both its potential benefits and its ethical permissibility. You can read their reasons here. (See also the Center for Bioethics & Human Dignity in the links section to the right.)

The following quote from Dr. David Baltimore, president of the California Institute of Technology is further evidence of an assumed antagonism between scientific progress and religion:

This shows how far this country has gone toward being controlled by religious precepts rather than scientific opportunity.....It is a terrible omen for our being able to maintain our position as the country that leads in biomedical technology.
Dr. Baltimore's comments also represent the widespread insistence that religious convictions have no place in the shaping of public life. As long as religious beliefs are privatized, giving individuals a sense of purpose and meaning, they can be tolerated. But the moment religion claims to be a source of knowledge about the nature of things and how things ought to be, it has overstepped its boundaries. Religious conviction is like a puppy being housebroken. It's cute and tolerable when it stays on the paper but all hell breaks loose if it steps over the edge onto the linoleum.

I suspect Dr. Baltimore and his cohorts would vehemently deny that their conclusions concerning the ethics of ESCR are products of their own religious beliefs but I think that's the case and I'll tell you why.

Earlier this month a post by Macht at Prosthesis prompted me to reread portions of a book whose argument I find persuasive. The book is Roy Clouser's The Myth of Religious Neutrality: An Essay on the Hidden Role of Religious Belief in Theories. Clouser maintains that all theorizing, whether scientific or philosophical, rests on presuppositions that are essentially religious. According to Clouser:

This means that theories about math and physics, sociology and economics, art and ethics, politics and law can never be religiously neutral. They are all regulated by some religious belief. The effects of religious beliefs therefore extend far beyond providing the hope for life after death or influencing moral values and judgments. By controlling theory making, they produce important differences in the interpretation or issues that range over the whole of life.
What makes belief religious? Clouser addresses this question in his first chapter. He rejects popularly held ideas that in order to count as religious a belief system must include an explicit ethical code or inspire worship. The ancient Epicureans, for example, acknowledged the existence of gods but did not believe they cared about human affairs. Japanese Shintoism is a more contemporary counterexample.

Clouser also denies that religion is characterized by belief in a Supreme Being, noting that Hinduism's concept of the divine (Brahman-Atman) is not considered a being but rather "the being-ness or "being-itself" which is in all individual beings and which makes them possible."

What is common to all religion is belief in the divine, where "the divine is whatever does not depend on anything else for its existence, so all that is not divine depends for its existence on the divine." According to this definition, matter would be "the divine" in a materialistic philosophy, not because it is regarded as deity but because it that which is considered by materialists as that upon which all else is dependent and in terms of which all else can be explained. This is why, in a previous post, I presented the affirmation of materialist philosophy in the form of a religious creed.If Clouser is right, then it's really silly to talk about whether religious belief has any place in shaping public life. The more appropriate question becomes whose religious belief will be applied.

Even if one rejects Clouser's thoughts concerning what constitutes religious belief, the fact remains that all theorizing rests on presuppositions or ultimate commitments concerning the nature of reality, knowledge, and ethics. The assumptions made in one of these areas has consequences for the other two. For example, if one presupposes a materialistic universe, it follows that there are no such things as ethical absolutes and thus some form of ethical relativism will be appealed to. Nor will revelation be considered a valid source of knowledge since there is no supernatural personality from which revelation could come.

Proponents of ESCR would have us believe that theirs is the objective, religiously-neutral, and compassionate stance. I wonder. Is it not at all possible that they have been blinded, and that not by science?

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Good Question

From Opinion Journal's "Best of the Web":
It seems songstress Britney Spears is pregnant. Well, hooray for her. We just have one question: How come news reports refer to her baby, whereas if she were Jane Doe it would be her fetus?

Monday, April 25, 2005

The (Fragmentary) Christian Mind

Mike at Eternal Perspectives commented: "BTW, great quote in your masthead." Since Francis Schaeffer has played such an influential role in my Christian life, I'm particularly appreciative of the quote displayed in the masthead of Mike's blog. It's from Schaeffer's The God Who Is There:
True education means thinking by associating across the various disciplines, and not just being highly qualified in one field, as a technician might be. I suppose no discipline has tended to think more in fragmented fashion than the orthodox or evangelical theology of today.
Schaeffer was concerned that increased specialization tended to emphasize the parts at the expense of the whole. One of the potential dangers of focusing intently in one area of study is that that area's relationship to other subjects can be overlooked if not forgotten. Think of each discipline as one of the over 3 million dots of color in Georges Seurat's familiar painting "A Sunday in the Park on the Island of La Grande Jatte" (above). How foolish (not to mention unsatisfying) would it be for art students to set out to become experts in one point of paint? Standing with their noses pressed against the canvas, scrutinizing their particular dot, they would miss the grandeur and beauty of the entire piece.
The "today" Schaeffer was referring to was almost forty years ago. The information explosion presents even more obstacles to the kind of cross-disciplinary thinking he was advocating. Millard Erickson, in Christian Theology, describes the impact on theological scholarship:
Theology is now being done in a period characterized by, among other things, a "knowledge explosion." The amount of information is growing so rapidly that mastery of a large area of thought is becoming increasingly difficult. While this is especially true in technological areas, biblical and theological knowledge is also much broader than it once was. The result has been a much greater degree of specialization than was previously the case. In biblical studies, for example, New Testament scholars tend to specialize in the Gospels or in the Pauline writings. Church historians tend to specialize in one period, such as the Reformation. Consequently, research and publication are often in narrower areas and in greater depth.

The mass of theological data is too great for any one person or group of persons to master. I'm not so naive as to question that. What I do question is where the integrative task is being done. Where and how does theological Humpty Dumpty get put together again once we've analyzed his yolk, white, and shell? Are our seminaries aiding future pastors to become truly educated as Schaeffer defined true education? Are we training leaders who will be capable of teaching others to make the connection between their respective vocations and biblical faith?
In a previous post I quoted from the preface of Craig Bartholomew's and Michael Goheen's book The Drama of Scripture in which they warn of the consequences of approaching the Bible atomistically. Assuming that there's at least one person who hasn't gone back in this blog's archives, I'll post it again. It's that important:
Many of us have read the Bible as if it were merely a mosaic of little bits - theological bits, moral bits, historical-critical bits, sermon bits, devotional bits. But when we read the Bible in such a fragmented way, we ignore its divine author's intention to shape our lives through its story. All human communities
live out of some story that provides a context for understanding the meaning of history and gives shape and direction to their lives. If we allow the Bible to become fragmented, it is in danger of being absorbed into whatever other story is shaping our culture, and it will thus cease to shape our lives as it should. Idolatry has twisted the dominant cultural story of the secular Western world. If as believers we allow this story (rather than the Bible) to become the foundation of our thought and action, then our lives will manifest not the truths of Scripture, but the lies of an idolatrous culture. Hence, the unity of Scripture is no minor matter; a fragmented Bible may actually produce theologically orthodox, morally upright, warmly pious idol worshippers.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Earth Day & Imago Dei

I had no idea that today is Earth Day until I read Greg Koukl's insights about the inconsistency of Darwinian theory and the belief that humans are morally obliged to care for the environment:
The moral obligations underpinning Earth Week activities simply do not follow from the naturalistic world view that embraces Darwinism. It follows, rather, from a theistic world view in which God has created man as unique and given him responsibility over the Earth to care for it. Earth Week makes sense for Christians, not for Darwinists.
I've been reading in Anthony Hoekema's Created in God's Image. In it, he notes that while in one sense post-Fall humanity retains God's image (Gen. 9:6; James 3:9), that image has been severely perverted and stands in need of being renewed in Christ (Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10) who perfectly images God. This progressive renewal manifests itself in three relationships: with God, with each other, and with nature. Concerning the last he writes:
The renewal of the image means, in the third place, that man is now enabled properly to rule over and care for God's creation. That is to say, he is now empowered to exercise dominion over the earth and over nature in a responsible, obedient, and unselfish way. This means that man is now enabled to look upon himself as a steward of the earth and all that is in it, rather than an overlord with absolute and completely arbitrary power. This includes holding property, tilling the soil, growing fruit trees, mining coal, and drilling for oil not for personal aggrandizement but in a responsible way, for the benefit and welfare of one's fellowmen. In our present world this also includes concern for the conservation of natural resources, and opposition to all wasteful or thoughtless exploitation of those resources. It includes concern for the preservation of the environment and for the prevention of whatever hurts that environment: erosion, wanton destruction of animal species, pollution of air and water. It includes concern for adequate distribution of food, the prevention of famine, and the improvement of sanitation. It also embraces the advancement of scientific investigation, research, and experimentation, including the continuing conquest of space, in such a way as to honor God's commands and to give him praise.
A dear Christian woman who enjoys gardening and is very good at it recently told me that other believers have insinuated that the time she spends working the soil could be better used evangelizing. The implication is that such (trivial) pursuits are obstacles to authentic spirituality. I think this reveals how desperately evangelicalism needs to consider the doctrine of creation as something more than the apologetic answer to evolution. Since the Bible presents redemption as a restoration of creation (not just individual souls) then it's imperative that we understand the beginning of the biblical story. In his excellent book, Heaven is a Place On Earth Michael Wittmer reminds us that: is good for us every now and then to revisit our theological footer and check for cracks in our doctrine of creation. Even small problems there, if left unattended, will cause exponentially larger difficulties upstairs, in our understanding of the fall and redemption. In short, to the extent that we misunderstand the story of creation we will also be confused about the gospel.
Wouldn't it be wonderful if as part of our discipleship we encouraged followers of Christ to garden to the glory of God?

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Relativism, Rights, and Roe - Oh, My!

One of the fortunate outcomes of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger's election as Pope is the airtime that the subject of moral relativism is receiving. His comments about our moving toward "a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one's own ego and one's own desires" set off a firestorm of media conversation about, of all things, philosophy. Shortly after the announcement that Cardinal Ratzinger had been selected as John Paul II's successor, Chris Wallace of Fox News, referring to the cardinal's pre-conclave homily noted that relativism isn't a topic that's discussed much in the news and then asked one of his guests, a Roman Catholic priest, what relativism is.

As expected, a lot of the talk about the new Pope's deep convictions about the reality of objective moral truths has to do with the impact this is likely to have on American politics, especially the debates over life issues such as abortion, euthanasia, and embryonic stem cell research.

Adherents to moral relativism like to present themselves as objective and neutral, free from the rigidity that afflicts absolutists. However, relativists are in actuality ardent absolutists who at some point inevitably undermine their profession that all beliefs about what is right and wrong are either personally or socially constructed. This is inconsistent, however, with the belief that individuals have rights that should not be infringed upon by others. To get around this difficulty, many pro-choicers will try to ground a woman's "right" to abort in the fact that it is legal. But press harder and you'll find that they don't really believe that this alleged right is conferred by the state. Ask if Roe v. Wade were overturned whether they would consider that a violation of a woman's rights and honest proponents will answer affirmatively. The problem for them is that such a response reveals that they believe in some objective standard that transcends the law of the land, a belief completely incompatible with a relativistic worldview. William Watkins makes this point in his book The New Absolutes:

Human rights belong to the world of absolutists, not relativists (although absolutists would readily grant that even relativists have human rights whether they believed in them or not). True relativists cannot appeal to human rights. At best, they must try to ground their rights beliefs in culture or the individual, but even then the best they can do is say rights are conventional - we simply decide what we will consider a right, then agree to act accordingly. If we change our mind about that right being a right, then it will not be a right any longer. (p. 41)
What follows is an online dialogue with an abortion rights activist whom I've chosen to call PC (for either Pro-Choice or Politically Correct) that illustrates some of the problems mentioned above. My initial question was in response to the frequently heard claim that abortions are justified in order to prevent unwanted children.

KP: Do you think we should exterminate other unwanted human life as well?

PC: First, abortion, according to the law of the land, is not murder.

KP: You didn't really answer my question. If someone's being unwanted is justification for ending his life, then why should this just be the case with preborn human life?

PC: Because after they are born it's murder. And need I remind you that most people in prison, and ALL the mass murderers were unwanted and/or unloved children?

KP: You seem to be assuming that whatever is legislated is morally right. Am I correct?

PC: Not always. But to approach this from a different angle...are you saying that women are not smart enough to make the right decision on this topic?

KP: I'm saying nothing of the sort. I'm saying that the taking of innocent human life is wrong and should not be allowed in the name of allowing an individual to exercise choice.

PC: That is your opinion and your perception. That is fine. I honor that. Why can't you honor a difference of opinion? Outlawing this would be invoking your opinion on millions of women.

KP: And legalizing it is invoking death on millions of human lives. And let's be honest. You don't really "honor" my opinion. You think it's wrong just as I think yours is. Do you think that we should make taking all life legal and justify it by saying "Well, people are smart enough to make their own decision about these things?"

PC: No, you are wrong. I believe that you do have the right to your opinion. Personally, I disagree, but, I don't think it is wrong. By having a choice though, you can exercise your rights. If your choice becomes the law of the land, though, people lose those choices

KP: Do we have the right to choose to do whatever we want regardless of its impact on others? (And how, exactly, does one disagree with a position and not think it's wrong?)

PC: No..absolutely not

KP: So the right to choose should only be protected in cases where choice does not infringe on the life and welfare of others?

PC: Infringing on whom? Are you gonna take all those kids? Probably not. But you, as a taxpaying member of society, will pay for the results.

KP: You didn't answer my previous question. How would you feel about our making the taking of all life legal on the grounds that we believe that people are smart enough to make the right decisions concerning which lives to take? And are you suggesting that anyone that I'm not willing to care for can be killed?

PC: I believe I did answer it. And don't we already do that with the death penalty?

KP: You see, whether or not I'm willing to take all the kids is really immaterial to the issue of whether killing them is morally justified. How would you feel about our making the taking of all life legal on the grounds that we believe that people are smart enough to make the right decisions concerning which lives to take?

PC: No, it isn't immaterial. You outlaw abortions, you have to find something to do with those children unwanted by the birth mother. And adoption is not an option in many cases...especially non-whites

KP: So again we're back to saying that what determines whether a life should be protected is whether or not it's wanted by someone else? What if I should cease wanting my own born children? Can I kill them?

PC: I would not be in favor of it. That would be murder. But, once again, it has been determined that the aborted fetus is not a life.

KP: What's the difference between a preborn and a born human life? Are you denying that the fetus has a distinct genetic identity and is alive?

PC: I am neither a Supreme Court judge nor an attorney in the Roe v. Wade decision.

KP: So you don't know whether the fetus has a unique genetic code, distinct from that of its mother and whether it is alive? If it is not a human being, what kind of being do you say it is?

PC: have your right to do what you can within the law to change the law. I have to right to oppose you. But you don't see any pro choice people bombing Right to Life rallies, do you?

KP: I don't advocate such violence. Immaterial to the topic at hand. Now, if the fetus is not a human being, what kind of being is it? And no, you haven't advocated violence. It's just a shame so many in your cause have.

PC: No, it is material. What we are talking about here is rescinding someone's right to make a decision concerning their body.

KP: Oh, but they're not just making a decision about their body. They're making a decision to terminate the life of a body not their own. So, if the fetus is not a human being, what kind of being do you suggest it is?

PC: If it cannot survive independent of that body, than it IS their body. I don't make that leap.

KP: You're wrong. The fetus does not have the same genetic constitution as the mother. He or she has a unique genetic identity.

PC: Being an arts and humanities graduate, I avoid the science aspect of it. Ok, so does a cancer, cyst and mole.

KP: You avoid the science aspect of it? How can you say that it is permissible to kill something without dealing with what it is? And, BTW, a mole does not have a distinct genetic identity from the rest of one's bodily cells.

PC: Do you really think you will make a convert of me?

KP: No. It's obvious that you don't really care about the facts. I was just hoping that you'd be honest with the weakness of your position.

PC: Try on this fact: it is currently legal. Try this one: the majority of Americans want the right to choose. Another fact: it is within your rights to try to change it. And it is within my rights to try to stop you.

KP: Are you saying that whatever is legal OUGHT to be?

PC: You discount any contrary opinion as "not being honest"

KP: No, I don't. I find it odd that one would admit that he doesn't involve himself in the scientific question of what the fetus is before condoning its killing.

PC: There are laws I disagree with. I have the right to try to change them. This is not one of them

KP: But does the fact that something is legal mean that it is necessarily right?

PC: At that point, it becomes an issue of personal opinion..i.e. prohibition

KP: So the fact that abortion is legal doesn't necessarily mean that it is morally justified, does it?

PC: By it being a legal option it becomes a personal decision. It is an individual moral choice.

KP: So, when slavery was legal, for example, it was simply a matter of personal choice?

PC: Outlawing it would impose one groups definition of "moral choice" on the entire nation.

KP: And legalizing it is also to impose someone's morality on an entire nation by saying that it is justified to take innocent human life. All legislation imposes someone's moral views.

PC: As a matter of fact, it was a matter of personal choice for those that could own slaves...just like it is for those that are pregnant.

KP: But was it wrong?

PC: You just don't get it. IT IS NOT CONSIDERED A HUMAN LIFE!!!!

KP: What is it?

PC: It is considered a fetus.

KP: To say that it is a fetus is just to speak of one stage in human development. That doesn't mean that it is not a human life. Is the fetus a member of the human species, having the genetic composition essential to humanness?

PC: Can it live independent of the mother?

KP: Answer my question first and I'll answer yours. Is the fetus a member of the human species, having the genetic composition essential to humanness?

PC: Not according to law.

KP: LOL...the law denies that the fetus has human DNA. Please refer me to the books for that one. If it doesn't have the DNA of a human, what species DOES it belong to?

PC:'s one for you...why does it matter? I assume you make your opinion made known at the ballot box. So do I.

KP: It matters because if it IS a member of the human species and it IS alive (as opposed to dead) then you are defending the right to take its life in the name of choice. Why can't you just answer the question? Do members of the human species procreate and conceive other members of the human species?

PC: I have answered your have the courts. That is why abortions are not allowed after a certain time frame. See you in the ballot box.

KP: No, you haven't answered the question. If you are saying that the fetus is not a HUMAN life, what kind of life is it? Gorilla? Starfish? Border Collie?

PC: Thank you. You have expressed your opinion. That's fine. I have expressed mine. I respect your right to yours, unfortunately, it doesn't appear that you are willing to show any for the other opinion. I suggest you do what you feel you need to do to change the law. I will legally resist you and your closed-minded cohorts. Good night.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Fired by WORD for the Word?

My friend Steve Luker makes some perceptive observations about the recent firing of Pittsburgh-area Christian talk show host, Marty Minto. After raising questions about the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church in response to a caller asking if Pope John Paul II was in heaven, Minto was let go by WORD-FM (a Salem Communications station) for "alienating" listeners.

Baby Got Book

My friend PT sent me this video, a Christian parody of Sir Mix-A-Lot's rap hit "Baby Got Back." I think it's hilarious if only a spoof but sad if an attempt to get young people into the Bible.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Forthcoming Book Promises Balanced Analysis of Purpose-Driven Phenomenon

Here's an excerpt from a press release I received yesterday:
Harvest House Publishers has reached an agreement with bestselling author Richard Abanes (The Truth Behind the Da Vinci Code, April 2004) to publish a new book about Rick Warren, his Purpose Driven® message, and the ongoing controversies surrounding his multi-million copy bestseller, The Purpose Driven® Life.

Abanes’ new book, Rick Warren and the Purpose That Drives Him: An Insider Looks at the Phenomenal Bestseller (July 2005, ISBN 0-7369-1738-1) offers a fair and balanced look at the various criticisms that have been made against Warren’s Purpose Driven® concepts, examining closely what he really believes about God, faith, evangelism, and “doing church.”

Harvest House Publishers recognized the validity of publishing such a work after learning that Warren’s book, despite its popularity, is now drawing increasingly vocal criticism from some influential Christian leaders who are concerned with what they perceive to be Warren’s attempt to: “water-down” the message of the gospel, ignore important doctrines of traditional Christianity, and rely too heavily on “seeker-sensitive” models for church growth. Are such criticisms fair?

Noted author and researcher Richard Abanes—a former staff member at Warren’s Saddleback church and a well-respected authority on cults and new religions—is in a unique position to answer this question. “I’ve heard Rick preach for ten years and I’ve seen first-hand how his church is run,” Abanes states. “Criticism is a good thing and can be beneficial—if it is accurate. So I just want to help everyone get their facts straight.”

In Rick Warren and the Purpose That Drives Him, Abanes offers a concise history of Warren’s work and an inside view of the man behind the Purpose Driven® message. He then provides a balanced treatment of the most common criticisms and concerns leveled against Warren’s book and ministry, enabling readers to discover the facts that clarify the misconceptions. Also included is an exclusive interview with Rick Warren, who sat down with Abanes to talk about the phenomenon of The Purpose Driven® Life and to answer the questions that so many are asking.

Thinking About Linking

As a neophyte blogger, I'm very appreciative of advice offered by the more seasoned members of the blogosphere. Joe Carter offers very helpful tips on linking. Of course, I'm violating one of them by linking to a site that most of the readers of this one probably check out frequently.

Joe's post reminded me of some of Doug Groothuis's reflections in The Soul in Cyberspace. Here are some quotes from a chapter called "Hypertext Realities and Effects":

One much-heralded technology, known as hypertext, is especially potent in its ability to fragment literary meaning and textual authority. Hypertext allows users to have access to various parts of a document, or of several documents at once, by merely pointing and clicking. This function tends to encourage a swift skimming, surfing, or scanning or information according to nonlinear association (p. 65)
Because texts in cyberspace are so malleable and movable, we can easily lose the sense of a unitary author as the source of meaning. This shift in emphasis dovetails with the postmodernist or deconstructionist attack of objective meaning, on the legitimacy of comprehensive worldviews, and on the integrity of literary texts as expressing the determined intention of their authors (p. 68).
Cyberspace offers the promise of a kind of cognitive ubiquity - the world at our keyboard and screen - at the cost of depth. This encourages one to become a cognitive tourist, who visits many sites on the Net, downloads and combines many bits of data, but understands very little . . . the cognitive tourist of cyberspace may easily visit (and possibly record) information without digesting it (pp. 73-74).
Quentin Schultze raises similar concerns in Habits of the High-Tech Heart:
In cyberspace, we approach communication superficially, like surfers skimming through Web pages. One of the most influential Web-design gurus, Jakob Nielsen, claims that only 16 percent of Internet users actually read Web pages word-by-word. He concludes that Web writers should compose about half as many words for the Web as they would for the printed page. Internet researchers similarly discovered that Web surfers are too impatient to read much; surfers are "basically scanning. there's very little actual comprehension going on." [Quote from "The No-Book Report: Skim it and Weep"] Such brevity may be a virtue if the purpose of communication is purely instrumental, such as conveying information about stock market conditions, baseball scores, and weather forecasts. But what if our purpose is noninstrumental and intrinsically moral - such as becoming genuinely intimate with a person or community, conversing about life, sharing in the fellowship of kindred spirits, mentoring colleagues, and nurturing children? Cyberspace is then at best an ancillary messaging medium rather than a prime location for cultivating shared knowing and moral wisdom. The real value of online communication, then, is largely instrumental - such as getting information, sending a message, setting up appointments, and making contact (p. 65).
I know of the impatience of which these authors write. I have always been an avid reader but I fear that my extended time online has habituated my mind such that at times I have greater difficulty to read even books I enjoy with sustained attention. It's like my mind is racing. The pace isn't fast enough. Has anyone else experienced that? If this is so for those who enjoy reading, what of those for whom reading was a challenge before they went online? Years ago I read a book called Preaching to Programmed People that sought to help pastors understand how the expectations and thinking of their congregations were conditioned by large doses of weekly television viewing. I wonder what the implications are for preaching (or any other means of biblical/theological education) to "cognitive tourists."

Joe Carter advises that linkers use "must read" sparingly. At the risk of violating another tip, I think Groothuis's and Schultze's books fall into that category.

Monday, April 18, 2005

The Other CIA

After partaking in light refreshments, the members took their seats in a large circle. The group consisted of Christians from many of the churches in the area. Every time the door to the room in which they were meeting opened, conversation halted and eyes turned nervously in that direction. Would they be found out? What would other believers think if they knew what the members of this group had in common? "Unspiritual" and "impractical" were charges leveled against most of the group's members. Many of them knew the hurt of being prematurely judged as arrogant or, as it was more commonly put, "puffed up," so they tried to hide their mutual condition until they felt it was safe. Panic turned to relief when familiar faces appeared.

Steve, one of the regulars, arrived with a guest, a friend from work named Evan. Evan didn't know what to expect and had come with apprehension. Steve had told him about the group many times before, urging him to check it out as he thought he would benefit from it. Evan had consistently declined the invitations, politely insisting that he didn't have the same problem as the others in the group. Many nights when he couldn't sleep, he'd read the flier Steve had given him that explained why and for whom the group existed. It contained the following excerpt from Cliff Williams' book, The Life of the Mind: A Christian Perspective:

People who engage in the life of the mind - those who think and learn - read, visit libraries, buy books, explore new topics, talk to others about what they are thinking, listen to lectures, and join discussion groups. They like ideas. And they like talking about ideas. What fascinates them is a new discovery, an old classic, the thoughts of an astute observer of human nature, or research into how things work. They like to learn, and they like being with others who like to learn.

Christians who think and learn participate in these same activities and have these same interests. They, too, read and explore. They want knowledge, both of topics that are directly connected to Christian concerns and those that are not. And they like talking with others about what they learn. If you were to ask them what their life passions are, they would mention reading, thinking, and talking about ideas, including Christian ideas (p. 15).
One night, after reading the description, the walls of denial came tumbling down. "That's me! That's me!" Evan thought to himself, tears welling in his eyes. The next day he told Steve he'd like to go with him to the next meeting, an announcement Steve was excited to hear.

"I see you have a guest with you tonight, Steve," the leader said.
"Yes, this is a friend of mine from work. His name is Evan."
"Welcome, Evan. We're glad to have you with us. Would you like to tell us why you came?"
Evan seriously considered answering "No" but knew that he'd regret it if he let the opportunity pass. He had to face the truth. Nervously he stood as all eyes in the circle were turned on him. "Hi," he started. "Well, like Steve said, my name is Evan......and I'm a Christian intellectual..."

For years I've imagined such meetings of Christian Intellectuals Anonymous, only with myself as the confessor. I frequently felt ashamed of my cognitive leanings. Christians who enjoy thinking and consider it a vital part of what it means to follow Christ are often stigmatized. In some Christian circles, "intellectual" is a pejorative. Reason, study, and learning are regarded with suspicion as though inherently antagonistic to Christian faith. I was reminded of this anti-intellectual trend this past weekend by the following paragraph in Al Mohler's review of Brian McLaren's A Generous Orthodoxy:

McLaren is also honest about the fact that he lacks any formal theological education. As a matter of fact, he seems rather proud of this fact, insinuating that formal theological education is likely to trap persons in a habit of trying to determine right belief.
Haughtiness is a temptation against which every believer, regardless of his or her level of education, must be on guard. Poverty, whether material or intellectual, is no more cause for boasting than is wealth.

Reflecting on this subject made me recall having read of a note given to John Wesley by another evangelist. It read: "The Lord has told me to tell you that He doesn't need your book learning, your Greek and Hebrew" to which Wesley replied:
Thank you sir. Your letter was superfluous, as I already knew the Lord has no need of my 'book learning' as you put it. However, although the Lord has not directed me to say so, on my own responsibility I would like to say, the Lord does not need your ignorance either.
In Habits of the Mind: Intellectual Life as a Christian Calling, James Sire defines an intellectual as one:
...who loves ideas, is dedicated to clarifying them, developing them, criticizing them, turning them over and over, seeing their implications, stacking them atop one another, arranging them, sitting silent while new ideas pop up and old ones seem to rearrange themselves, playing with them, punning with their terminology, laughing at them, watching them clash, picking up the pieces, starting over, judging them, withholding judgment about them, changing them, bringing them into contact with their counterparts in other systems of thought, inviting them to dine and have a ball but also suiting them for service in workaday life (pp. 27-28).
"A Christian intellectual," he adds, "is all of the above to the glory of God."

Christian intellectuals don't belong in a recovery group but in churches, homes, classrooms, boardrooms, offices, studios, stages, and all facets of society. As Nancy Pearcey reminds us in her excellent book Total Truth: "A religion that avoids the intellectual task and retreats to the therapeutic realm of personal relationships and feelings will not survive in today's spiritual battlefield." So if you're in "the other CIA," come out. We need you.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Boundless Webzine

One of Focus on the Family's lesser-known ministries is their Boundless Webzine. A recent email notification of updates to the site made me think that it's the kind of resource that readers of a blog like this would be interested in. Here's their description of what they're about:
The time between the home of your youth and the home you'll make for yourself someday is a time of adventure, discovery and excitement; but also loneliness, longing and uncertainty.
From college to career to relationships, we at Boundless want to cast a vibrant vision for the single years, helping you navigate this season while preparing for the challenges and responsibilities of the one to come. That requires living intentionally with purpose by bringing your gifts, talents and Christian worldview to bear on your whole life.
Our contributing authors are renowned journalists, scholars and thinkers from around the globe who are here to help you enjoy the journey.
J. P. Moreland and J. Budziszewski (One day I'll no longer need to look at one of his books to properly spell his name) are among the regular contributors. Even though the site is designed to target Christian college students and singles in their twenties and thirties, it's worthwhile reading for those of us who are hitched and/or just a tad older.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

I Believe in Matter Almighty

World Magazine's Marvin Olasky interviews Alvin J. Schmidt, author of How Christianity Changed the World (originally published as Under the Influence). Responding to the question of how Christians can counter the widely held belief that Christianity and science are incompatible Schmidt says:

Alfred North Whitehead (a non-Christian philosopher of science) said that without Christianity's "insistence on the rationality of God" there would be no science. The first experimental scientists, beginning with the 13th century, were all confessing Christians (Roger Bacon, Occam, Francis Bacon, Kepler, Boyle, Simpson, Pasteur, etc.). They related their scientific findings to biblical theology. Not until the 18th century, when many scientists bowed to philosophical materialism, were Christianity and science defined as incompatible.
If Christians don't understand how to identify and refute the materialistic faith that underlies much of what goes by the name of science, we'll be running down a myriad of rabbit trails, arguing over particulars while overlooking core worldview considerations. As Phillip Johnson observes in The Right Question: Truth, Meaning & Public Debate: "Christians often think the controversy is primarily a dispute about scientific facts, and so they become trapped into arguing scientific details rather than concentrating on the fundamental assumptions that generate the evolutionary story."

Surprisingly, many adherents to the materialistic faith are ignorant of their faith commitments. They claim to be just following the facts wherever they lead, unencumbered by philosophical precommitments. This is why Cornelius Van Til insisted that one of the primary tasks of apologetics is to make unbelievers "epistemologically self-conscious," that is, aware of their own presuppositions about the nature and extent of knowledge.

The following online exchange with a self-professed "scientific materialist" (SM) illustrates the "faith" of a materialist at work:

KP: I've been thinking...although you say that you and other scientific materialists would willingly alter your position given enough counter evidence or the inability (in principle) of naturalism to account for observed phenomenon, haven't you really posed the issue in such a manner that it is practically unfalsifiable? I mean, at times you appeal to what you believe is evidence in favor of your position but when faced with information that appears to counter it, you can always retreat to the claim that a naturalistic, though currently unknown, explanation exists.
SM: I don't think so. Science has undergone some remarkable changes in thinking...from the Newtonian universe to the Einsteinian, for example...Paradigms change in response to an accumulation of evidence that cannot be explained under the present system, and which points to phenomenon outside the present knowledge.
KP: But again, I'm speaking specifically of the naturalistic presupposition. I still maintain that that is the most strongly held belief of contemporary science. I'm not denying that there are in the field of science.
SM: Because there's nothing that has yet been unexplainable. I am not going to give up a system that works very well all over the place lightly or happily and certainly not unless there is positive evidence that falsifies it, or at least that points clearly to things beyond the paradigm. I think most scientists do indeed make naturalistic assumptions although the trend towards theories of information, complexity, and so forth makes the assumptions of today much less mechanistic and much less reductionist then has been the case in the past.
KP: You sometimes speak as though science and Christianity are incompatible. Why is that? I fail to see what it is about the Christian worldview that would make the scientific enterprise impossible. Science would "work" just as well under a Christian theistic framework.
SM: That's true. And that's why many scientists are able to maintain religious beliefs, often strongly held and sincere, from what I can see. The scientific method can be applied at work, without falsifying one's commitment to Christianity.
KP: Then it's kind of misleading to speak as though science only works well or even best with naturalistic assumptions.
SM: Ah...but one must make the assumptions of science in one's work, otherwise, one is doing something other then science. But science does not entail a set of ultimate commitments. Certainly, it does not need to. Anyone who can apply the standards and methods of their particular field can practice science. And, if they wish to have religious beliefs beyond that, I see no problem there. If religious beliefs determine the science, well, that is a problem.
KP: And is it a problem if science makes religious/theological assertions? And what do you mean by "the assumptions of science"? Is naturalism a necessary assumption for the application of the scientific method?
SM: If you make supernatural assumptions about things, your work won't go very far in modern science. What a person believes in their private, personal life is irrelevant to their science so long as it conforms to the standards of their field. If it does not, then their work will need to be good enough to overthrow the dominant paradigms or they will not get far.
KP: No doubt about that. If one adheres to a supernatural worldview, he/she won't go far in modern science because of the naturalistic bias. Those who are vocal about their religious convictions are ostracized as pseudo-scientists. There is an "in-house" pressure to conform to scientific materialism but this says nothing about the truth of that position. You see, what you're saying? You're saying that religion is to be privatized but has no bearing on anything beyond the subjective experience of the one who holds to a particular faith.
SM: The difference between science and other fields of study is that science checks itself against an objective/physical reality which actually exists. The option to ignore someone because you do not like his views (i.e. if he is religiously inclined) is limited by the "reality check" function. If someone's science is good, it will win out...not necessarily at once, but it will win out in the end.
KP: I really don't understand you. You talk about this objective reality as though there is no interpretation involved on the part of those doing the observing. The naturalistic viewpoint is not the result of scientific inquiry unless of course one assumes it prior to making his observations. We're talking about the philosophical, non-empirically verified, assumptions that we bring to our experiences. Mind you, I'm not denying that there is an objective reality that exists apart from our minds. What I am saying is that this reality check you speak of seems to overlook the philosophical dimensions I'm speaking of.
SM: Science is not about ultimate commitments. It's a practical and opportunistic attempt to make descriptions and models of the world. I don't think practicing scientists worry much about the ultimate assumptions of science. The scientific method is really a method - a collection of methods, even and certainly not something to be seen as timeless truth.
KP: And again, your saying that science is different from all other disciplines in that it is referring to an objective reality is to again assume materialism, not conclude it. You assume that the ethicist is not dealing with an objective standard of ethics and that the theologian is not dealing with an objective reality because they are not dealing with physical entities.
That scientists may be unconscious about their ultimate commitments, is really "immaterial" (pun intended). The fact is that they have them and they make pronouncements about them that are received authoritatively. Sagan's comment that the cosmos is all that exists, all that ever existed, and all that will ever exist is not a scientific statement but a philosophical/religious one.
SM: That is definitely a philosophical comment on Sagan's part, perhaps an aesthetic observation even. Sagan was quite a romantic, and a bit of a dreamer. Many scientists are, in some sense. Physicists seem almost addicted to romanticizing their subject.
KP: Your original comment was not that science tests physical objects but rather that what distinguishes it from other studies is that it has an "objective reality" to check against. Do you see that you assume that objective reality = physical existence and physical existence alone? And that is not a scientific conclusion but an a priori.
SM: That's what distinguished it. Where is the physical or external reality against which ethics might check itself? Theology...metaphysics....I do think that the difference between such systems of knowing and scientific knowing is exactly that ability to check against a physical world which exists in and of itself. Whether there's a non-material "reality" somewhere does not seem a useful postulate to me.
But we have already established that assumptions must be made before any investigation of any sort...certainly as true of theology, ethics, sociology, as it is of science. simply concerns itself with things that can be checked against external physical reality?
KP: And are the assumptions of science themselves known scientifically?
SM: I would say that every time an airplane is able to take off the ground, the "materialist/naturalist" assumptions that went into designing that airplane are validated just a little bit more.
KP: And a theist could not have discovered and applied the laws of physics and aerodynamics without adopting a naturalistic worldview?
SM: I suspect a theist could have done so, but only up to a point. A theist, depending of the type of theistic beliefs we are talking about, would have no necessary reason to go beyond theistic assumptions about how nature works. As science has advanced, it has progressed towards greater and greater tendency to explain natural phenomenon in natural terms.
KP: Modern science was founded upon theistic presuppositions. Does that, according to your reasoning, validate theism?
SM: In fact, much of physics has been developed by theists, certainly classical physics. Modern science has been successful largely to the degree that it abandoned theistic assumption. Science was founded by theists but it was founded by people who looked to nature to validate their hypotheses.
KP: You're not making a very good case here. Of course a theist would have reason to explore the working of nature. That is exactly why modern science was born in the context of Christianity.
SM: Science has been successful largely because it abandoned theistic explanations and substituted explanations of natural phenomenon in natural terms.
KP: And what theistic assumptions are threats to the progress of science? One doesn't have to presume naturalism to look to nature to verify claims about nature. The theist isn't bound to deny the validity of empirically derived knowledge, is he?
SM: The power of scientific explanation has grown in almost direct proportion to the degree that the role of "god" as a practical explanation has declined.
KP: And is it conclusive that that growth is due to the abandonment of theism or could it not be the result of time? One doesn't want to commit the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy.
SM: Conclusive? It is a pretty strong historical phenomenon. History does not generally provide "conclusive" proof of anything, but that doesn't at all mean that we can't understand what's going on. All history risks post hoc fallacies.
KP: Well, I think you're committing it now. You're saying that science has advanced BECAUSE theism has largely been abandoned and I don't think you can substantiate that claim. If what you are saying is true, we would not have expected science to have been founded by and flourishing among Christian theists.
SM: Really? How does theism yield knowledge of nature? If it's possible to invoke god at some point as an explanation, then why investigate at all? It seems to me that the history of science is a long and difficult attempt to overcome such thinking as applied to nature.
KP: Why investigate? Reformed theologians see the investigation and harnessing of nature as a fulfillment to the divine command to subdue the earth. Also, the classical theistic scientists set out to investigate the natural world because they believed that it was the product of a rational mind and therefore had an order to it. They also believed that we are created in the image of this God and therefore could, as Kepler said, "Think God's thought's after Him". The idea that theism is somehow hostile to scientific inquiry is simply unsubstantiated.
SM: The association between declining use of theistic assumptions and rising explanatory power of scientific knowledge is clear. The matter of which is cause and which is effect, or whether there might be no association at all, is one of judgment, like most historical problems (at least those spanning such a long and complex period.) But is that not theism reflecting the influence of what are really non-theistic ways of seeing things? That's theism exhibiting some flexibility, which I certainly think is a good thing.
KP: You have consistently created a straw man of the theistic position and have sought to make Christian theism an enemy of real science. That's not so. Granted, there have been Christians who have been hostile to science but such a stance is in no way inherent within the Christian worldview. The Christian can only be said to be hostile to science unless one identifies science with naturalistic philosophy.
SM: If theism invokes supernatural explanations for natural phenomenon, I don't see how it can be accommodated in science.
KP: What non-theistic way of thought is that reflecting?
SM: Any viewpoint that is bound up in revealed wisdom and absolute truth, which theism certainly is, is going to be very hard to reconcile with scientific exploration. The view that hypotheses should be checked against the world, and that when they conflict with revealed wisdom, revealed wisdom loses. I can't see the value of making supernatural assumptions about the universe. Where do such assumptions lead us? What kind of knowledge comes from them? How is it to be validated? That's pretty much all I'm saying.
KP: But why? You have yet to show any substantive conflict. And, as I've pointed out, if what you say is true, then science would have never been born in the bosom of Christianity.
SM: I don't think I understand your point about the development of science from Christianity and I really don't think science was born in the bosom of Christianity at all. Seems to me that science came about despite massive and systematic resistance from orthodox Christian churches.
KP: This has been very stimulating and I appreciate your willingness to take this time with me. Right now, though, I have to go. I'd love to pick this up with you soon.
SM: OK...see you later. Have a good weekend, if i don't see you again.. : )

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

What Our Teens Believe (Or Don't)

Christianity Today posted an article about a book I mentioned in a previous post - Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers. Here's a quote:
In spite of their generally positive attitude toward religion, almost no teenagers, from any religious background, can articulate the most basic beliefs of their faith. This interview excerpt, with a 15-year-old who "attends two church services every Sunday, Sunday school, church youth group, and Wednesday-night Bible study," illustrates how vaguely most teenagers answered a question about their personal beliefs:
"[Pause] I don't really know how to answer that. ['Are there any beliefs at all that are important to you? Really generally.'] [Pause] I don't know. ['Take your time if you want.'] I think that you should just, if you're gonna do something wrong then you should always ask for forgiveness and he's gonna forgive you no matter what, cause he gave up his only Son to take all the sins for you, so…"
According to the article, the above was "one of the more articulate answers" the authors reported.

Mother's Day Reading & Other Thoughts on Literature for Christian Women

In yesterday's mail I received a sample of a gift book designed for distribution on Mother's Day. It's called God's Tender Promises for Mothers. According to the promotional flier that accompanied it: "This is the perfect gift to honor mothers for their godly work and remind them of one of God's important promises to them." If you're thinking, "I didn't know there were that many promises in the Bible addressed specifically to mothers," that's what I thought too. As it turns out, each page of the small paperback contains an inspirational thought of one or two sentences followed by a biblical verse that may or may not relate to it. Here's an example:

Mother always said that the
largest room in the world
is the room for improvement.
And that you, always having all sufficiency
in all things, may have an abundance
for every good work
2 Corinthians 9:8

Little promise books like this along with verse-a-day devotionals dissect the Bible into isolated bits and lend to the dangerous practice of divorcing small units of Scripture from their literary, historical, and canonical contexts. The result is that believers do not grow in their understanding of how the parts relate to the whole. Such a fragmentary approach impedes the formation of a coherent, comprehensive biblical outlook contributing to what Francis Schaeffer identified as the basic problem of American Christianity, the tendency to see things in "bits and pieces instead of totals."
Why is the market proliferated with such biblically and theologically light fare for women? Author and counselor Elyse Fitzpatrick offered a number of reasons in an article she contributed to the Spring '03 issue of the Journal of Biblical Counseling (""What is the use of a book," thought Alice, "without pictures or conversations?": Publications for Christian Women"). She writes:

I’ve heard numerous women say, “I’m so sick of fluff books.” So why does it seem that so many women read fluff? Because that’s the majority of what’s being written by women! Why are women writing fluff? In part, because that’s all that they can get published! The publishers who know that there is a market for deeply theological books generally don’t publish scholarly or theologically practical women. Other publishers who appreciate the women’s market generally don’t think that we have a taste for much of anything besides cotton candy, a cup of tea, and a cupcake with Bible-verse sprinkles.
Carolyn Custis James is another Christian woman eager to see women delve into the riches of the Word. If you're going to get Mom anything to read for Mother's Day I recommend her book, When Life and Beliefs Collide: How Knowing God Makes a Difference. She describes it as "a long overdue call for Christian women to reclaim their theological heritage." In the concluding paragraph of a chapter called "The Dreaded T-Word [theology] and Why Women Avoid It" she writes
The value of theology for women is growing clearer all the time. Women are tired of "stumbling and blundering" and riding an emotional roller coaster. We want to know the one who made us, who defines who we are and how we should live, and who hold our lives in the palms of his hands. We are ready to lift our arms, put on our theology, and wear it into the trenches where we need it most - where tight schedules, traffic congestion, runny noses and dirty knees, difficult relationships, bad news, discouragement, fatigue, and sagging red chairs throw us off balance and expose our need for God. Our goal is to bring knowing God out of the ivory tower and into the ordinary moments of our lives.
The cover of James's book is nowhere near as aesthetically pleasing as the floral design on God's Tender Promises for Mothers and therefore it may not be the best choice for a coffee table book. However, if you're looking to get Mom something that will aid her in better knowing and loving God, it's the better choice.

Monday, April 11, 2005

An Atheist's (Inconsistent) Moral Outrage with Jesus

Dialoguing with atheists is a lot like fishing but the odds are better. When you go fishing you cast your line into the water and patiently wait for a bite though you have no guarantee that you'll catch anything. When discussing matters of morality with an atheist, you know that if you wait long enough you'll catch something. Despite the atheist's claim that morality is simply a matter of social convention or personal preference, at some point she'll (a little gender sensitivity there) say something revealing that she really believes in objective moral truths. In other words, at some level, she lives and thinks in a manner consistent with the Bible and contrary to her espoused system of belief.

The following exchange illustrates this point. It began with Ron, the atheist, objecting to Jesus' saying that "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:26). Previously I had sought to explain the necessity of understanding a culture's linguistic practices if one was going to properly interpret literature from that culture. For example, in this case, the parallel saying in Matthew 10:37 makes it clear that Jesus was not calling his disciples to positively hate their parents but to love Him more: "He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthyy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me." Not surprisingly, Ron wasn't interested in literary lessons so I focused on his moral objection:

KP: Why do you think it's wrong for one to hate his/her parents?

Ron: It would be wrong for me to hate mine! but surely you jest!

KP: Why would it be wrong?

Ron: Are you serious?

KP: I'm serious in that I'm asking you to provide a justification for that belief in light of your worldview. I mean, you might think it's wrong, but in a universe that consists exclusively of matter, there are no absolute moral standards or ethical obligations, are there?

Ron: It is injustice, if not ingratitude to pay love, with hate, compassion with scorn, caring with indifference. I can only speak from a human point of view. I am not moral, I am ethical!

KP: But what is the basis of your concept of justice? What is justice in a materialistic world? And what is the foundation for your system of ethics?

Ron: My own sense of justice

KP: Oh, so returning hatred for love to one's parents isn't REALLY unjust as you said, it's just that it doesn't conform to your personal sense of justice, right? In other words, justice is whatever an individual decides it is?

Ron: Is there a problem with my sense of justice? Only a madman would say what Jesus said and if he existed at all, which I really doubt, he was one!

KP: So are you saying that justice is a matter of personal preference?

Ron: Justice is always a perception from the individual, whose other perception are you talking about,a god's? LOL

KP: So then it's not unjust in an objective sense to hate one's parents? If someone else thinks it's just to do so it is?

Ron: You have a point? make it!

KP: I'm asking a question? Care to answer?

Ron: Come on, what has this to do with the fact that you cannot produce that which you are talking about? [This is a reference to Jesus' body. In previous conversations Ron maintained that without it, there is no proof for the resurrection]

KP: Well, I see you want some time to think about that one so get back to me when you've done so. I've got to go. Hope we can talk soon.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Four Challenges for the Church

Today on Stand to Reason's blog Greg Koukl identifies four challenges facing the church and three of them are from within. Among them is an implicit relativism in the church due to valuing experience over truth:

This happened because there is an unhealthy hunger for an experience of personal revelation that has replaced our hunger for truth. Many Christians desperately want God to communicate with them directly. They are taught more and more from pulpits all around the country that this is what every Christian can expect to happen. This trend has seriously distracted Christians from focusing on the Word already given, the Bible.
A related problem I see is that of a faulty ecclesiology that fails to appreciate the corporate or communal nature of the church. Most of the "you's" in the New Testament are plural ("y'all"), addressing whole bodies of believers. However, we're prone to read them as though they're addressed to us as individuals in isolation from the rest of God's people . For example, Paul's admonition to not "let the sun go down on your anger" lest we give the devil an opportunity (Eph. 4:26-27) is frequently presented as a warning against the possible demonization of the Christian who nurses bitterness regardless of the fact that the whole chapter is a call to preserve the unity of the Spirit (Eph. 4:1-3). The thrust is corporate not individualistic. When Jesus' followers nurse bitterness against each other and refuse to pursue reconciled relationships, we give Satan an opportunity to disrupt our communion and mar our witness to the world and the principalities and powers.

In his book The Essence of the Church: A Community Created by the Spirit, Craig Van Gelder claims that the current emphasis on the individual believer is in large part due to the influence of Enlightenment thinkers such as John Locke. According to Locke's social contract theory, the only social obligations to which one is bound are those entered into voluntarily. Van Gelder quotes from Locke's "A Letter Concerning Toleration" in which he applies his theory to the nature of the church:
I take (it) to be a voluntary society of men joining themselves of their own accord in a church order to the public worshipping of God in such manner as they judge acceptable to Him....I say it is a free and voluntary society. Nobody is born a member of the church....since the joining together of several members into this absolutely free and spontaneous, it necessarily follows that the right of making its laws can belong to none but the society itself; or at least to those whom the society by common consent has authorized thereunto.
On the result of adopting this understanding of the nature of the church, Van Gelder writes:
In this view, while the divine aspects of the nature of the church may be included confessionally, the church's identity is shaped primarily by its social organization. Because of the voluntary, individualistic nature of joining this social organization, its focus tends to be on the rights and privileges associated with membership, not on a covenantal commitment to the community and its values.
Of course, the New Testament does have much to say about the ministry of the Spirit in the life of the believer. The issue is one of emphasis. Van Gelder offers the following clarification:
While the calling, saving, sealing, gifting, and empowering works of the Spirit can be developed biblically from the perspective of the individual, this is not the New Testament's primary focus in defining the relationship between the Spirit and the church. The Bible's focus is not on individual Christians but on the formation of a new type of community, a new humanity that is indwelt by the Spirit.