25 September 2014

The Tyranny of the Affective in Contemporary Religion

I ran across a short survey on the Biola website that I thought would be fun, so I dived in. The survey was called, "Are You Intellectually Humble?" As soon as I started, I noticed something amiss, which was ironic since the website is the blog for the Center for Christian Thought. Here are the questions, with my responses in italics...see how quickly you pick up on what was amiss:

   Even when you feel strongly about something, are you still aware that you could be wrong? Yes. (Though I don't usually consider 'feelings' to be logically held ideas.)

    Do you trust that truth has nothing to fear from investigation?  Yes. (But truth cannot fear or not fear...it is not an ontological being.  I'm interpreting your question to be about my own fear.)

    When someone disagrees with your beliefs, do you view it as a personal attack? If so, why?  Sometimes, because sometimes, it is a personal attack. These are not usually hard to identify.

    Think of a recent time you became defensive when someone disagreed with you. What may have been underlying your feelings in that moment?  This is a slippery slope. 'Defensiveness' is not necessarily a fully emotional response but can be, and inserting emotions in the place of logic is always dangerous. But I often do have an emotional reaction to poor logic and poor assumptions, or the use of falsehoods in place of facts. These destroy the ability to have a civil debate about an issue.

    Do you reserve the right to change your mind? Or do you feel weak or ashamed to change a strongly held opinion? Yes. No, as I've done it on occasion when I've been wrong.

    Is it difficult to respect people whose beliefs differ from your own? Sometimes, depending on the belief itself. For example, I don't respect those who view killing unborn children as an amoral decision. I don't respect those who, in the name of religion, cut peoples' heads off on camera.

    What is a specific step you can take to better understand someone who disagrees with you on an important issue?  I ask them to explain their position, logically. I protest anytime emotion comes up in the discussion.

    Do you feel insecure when others disagree with you? Again, this is asking about an emotional response to an intellectual problem. I'm not that concerned with how I feel, but with what I know, think, or believe. When someone I respect holds a different opinion, it makes me rethink my own opinion and how I arrived at it. 'Feeling insecure' is a juvenile response to someone disagreeing.

    Do you feel like you need to hide past errors in your thinking?  No, nor present errors. (But it's not about what I feel, it is about what I know.

    What would it take for you to feel more comfortable acknowledging to others when you’ve been wrong in your thinking?  Why all the 'feeling' questions? I thought this was about intellectual humility. It is easy to acknowledge being wrong; the feelings don't matter unless you allow them to control you. When did Christian Thinking become primarily affective?

    Do you feel less worthy when you realize you’ve made a mistake in your thinking? Another 'feeling' question. Do you feel that maybe this survey needs some work? Are you sure you are getting at the information your title proposes? Perhaps you should change the title to, "Are you emotionally humble?"

    Do you approach others with the idea that you might have something to learn from them?  Yes, always, and I usually do.

    Are you open to learning new things every day? Even if it means changing previous ideas?  Yes, but I have a standard that doesn't change (scripture). I am willing to re-interpret my ideas of what scripture says, but I am not willing to throw out two millennia of orthodox Christian thought in order meet current cultural demands. Two million Frenchmen can indeed be wrong, and often are.

After pulling this together, I was browsing other sites I like to read, and found this on the Gospel Coalition (The Gospel Corp?) website.

Why has the affective (the emotional domain) become central in contemporary Christianity? Might this shift explain much of the weirdness we see in evangelicalism these days? Folks, the gospel is a story, about historical people, places, and events; it is not an emotion. Faith (belief) is not an emotion either. Certainly, we might have emotional responses to a hearing of the gospel, or to our faith, but when we make the emotion the primary measure of our faith, we don't understand the gospel. Faith has content. We must have faith IN something (someone, actually); otherwise we make faith a work.

I don't have a problem with emotional responses. I have them. When I hear about unborn babies being killed for 'any reason or no reason at all', I get angry. Hatefully angry. When I watch what our central government is doing to our freedoms, I get some other emotional response that I can't name. When I worship, whether it be through song or listening to the preaching of God's word, I have emotional responses that are somewhat complex. But these aren't the focus of my faith, they are responses to my faith.

This whole thing bothers me greatly.

11 September 2014

Where Were You on That September Morn?

On 9/11/01, I was the Director of Sports Medicine at Missouri Baptist University in St. Louis. As I was pulling out of my driveway on the way to work, the radio DJ interrupted the music to say that a plane had just hit one of the world trade center buildings. About 30 minutes later, just as I was crossing the Missouri river bridge into St. Louis county, all the music stopped as they announced the impact of the second plane. No one had to be told at that point what was going on. I hurried in to the office to find a group of students and other science faculty crowded around a TV set with the rabbit ears up (you could still get broadcast TV back in those days). In what we later decided was the best use of our time, the faculty members and students sat together and talked about what it meant. Classes were cancelled; not officially, but by about noon much of the campus had crowded into the science building to be a part of our group instead of going to class. It was a great time of fellowship, somber but still bonding, between the faculty and the students, and I won't forget it. (Yes, the Provost forgave us.) The weight of what happened did not hit me for a couple days. 9/11 was on a Tuesday, and on that Saturday morning, I was on my riding mower mowing my 3 acre lot, and I glanced up at the sky. There was nothing there. It finally hit me how big a deal this was, and how much everything had changed. I had to stop the mower and have a little cry. This was one of only about three times I've cried as an adult. It was an unusual moment, to say the least. I've gotten cynical since then about stuff; it is good to stop and remember and lose the cynicism. Some things are bigger than our petty gripes.

09 September 2014

On Turning Half a Hundred

Oh, what a night.  Remember that song? Well, all of us who were conceived in late December, 1963, will be turning 50 years old this month. I'm one of 'em.

(If you want something a little more contemporary, try this version-)

Anyway, turning 50 is awfully anti-climactic.  Forty is the age when everyone is mean to you (black stuff everywhere, and so on). At fifty, nothing much changes.

(That's all. I think an anti-climactic post is suitable for an anti-climactic birthday.)

01 August 2014

"You Didn't Build That"

Our pastor, Steve Olsen, is preaching through the book of Ephesians this Summer. He's about to start Chapter 2, and in thinking through the text, the following illustration came to me.
You didn't build that!

Remember when Obama, in his 2012 campaign, made the statement to business owners that, "You didn't build that", in reference to the businesses that they built? Remember how full of hubris it seemed, and how most thinking Americans (rightly) rejected it?

He said what?

Well, there's a time when, "You didn't build that" is not only true, but true with eternal consequences. It is true when it comes to our faith. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast."

If we approach our faith with an American Ideal, we are going to be theologically completely backwards.  And that's un-American, and that's how we are wired to think. But it is Biblical, and we'd better 'get it' or we will miss the heart of the gospel. We really didn't build that faith which is in the process of saving us.

06 June 2014

The Longest Day in History

Many men came here as soldiers
Many men will pass this way
Many men will count the hours
As they live the longest day

Many men are tired and weary
Many men are here to stay
Many men won't see the sunset
When it ends the longest day

The longest day, the longest day
This will be the longest day
Filled with hopes and filled with fears
Filled with blood and sweat and tears

Many men, the mighty thousands
Many men to victory
Marching on, right into battle
In the longest day in history

"The Longest Day", written by Paul Anka

05 June 2014

On Divisiveness, in the Church and in General

Growing up, I often heard Romans 16:17 cited as a reason not to argue about stuff in church. Even though that explanation didn't sit well with me, I took it at face value and (usually) kept my mouth shut.

It wasn't until some time later that the reason it didn't sit well with me was because it was fallacious reasoning, based on bad exegesis. Paul is not saying that disagreement is divisiveness. If someone comes up with a 'new' way of doing worship music (for example), and I don't find the new way to be scriptural, then I speak up and give a reason why it isn't scriptural, I'm not being divisive. The one holding to orthodox teaching is never divisive in the defense of orthodoxy. He's saying (look closely) that the one who teaches "contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught" is the divisive one.

In my current reading, one of the books I'm partway through is The Creedal Imperative by Carl Trueman. Trueman gives a good example of this on pages 67-68. In giving us a propositional rendering of belief in Romans 10:9-10, Paul states we should confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised him from the dead. Trueman writes this:

Words and content are thus significant. What Paul does not say is: if you have a warm, incommunicable feeling in your heart and express this by incoherent sounds from your mouth, you will be saved. No. There is propositional content here-- publicly expressed in a manner comprehensible to others.

I've heard just this bit of bad reasoning used to accuse John MacArthur of divisiveness for his Strange Fire conference recently. But Dr. MacArthur is the one defending orthodoxy; the nuevo-spritism is the divisive party.

I'd like to think this idea transfers over to the secular realm. If you hold to a well-proven idea, and someone comes along and challenges it without any grounds other than, "I said so", you are not being divisive when you argue in favor of the established idea you held. But in today's culture, you'll be accused of all sorts of things for defending orthodoxy, whether religious or secular.

Funny how those seem to go together in a postmodern mindset.

27 May 2014

Summer, Not a Bummer (Summer Reading List)

In the interest of miming the good ideas of others, I'm going to post my Summer reading list. (After all, if they are good ideas, why not copy them?)

One of my favorite SRLs is the one published by Al Mohler. He seems to have an affinity for some of the same topics I like (history, military, 19th and 20th century culture, etc.). A few of my selections come right off his list. There are many other lists out there, so go find someone who has reading tastes similar to yours, and get busy.

Now for my list:

1. Phillip Jenkins, The Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious Crusade (HarperOne, 2014).
This book comes right off Dr. Mohler's list. It is a new book on the cultural relevance of the religious nature of World War I. Sounds fascinating, and touches on an era of history often overlooked in our country.

2. R. C. Sproul, Everyone's A Theologian (Reformation Trust, 2014).
I just got this one in, and have read a chapter. It is basically a systematization of Dr. Sproul's many years' worth of lectures on theology. I hope to start a theology reading/discussion group at church and use this book as the starting point for it (but that remains to be seen).

3. Bill Sloan, Given Up for Dead: America's Heroic Stand at Wake Island (Bantam,2004).
This falls into one of my most favorite categories, the US Marine Corps. It also hits another favorite category, World War II.

4. John C. McManus, The Dead and Those About to Die — D-Day: The Big Red One at Omaha Beach (NAL Caliber, Penguin Group, 2014).
Same as above, but without the Marine Corps angle. This is a new book, so I need to get it read rather than leave it for (years) later like a few others on this list.

5. Andreas Kostenberger, The Heresy of Orthodoxy: How Contemporary Culture's Fascination With Diversity Has Reshaped Our Understanding of Early Christianity (Crossway, 2010).
This book was published about four years ago, and I have had it on my shelf for some time, but haven't gotten around to reading it. Apparently, it is more applicable to the culture today than it was when it came out. Time to get it read.

6. Stephen Ambrose, Crazy Horse and Custer: The Parallel Lives of Two American Warriors, (Doubleday, 1975).
This is one of the few Ambrose history books left that I haven't read.

7. D. A. Carson, The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism, (Zondervan, 2009).
Another book on contemporary culture and the Christian Worldview, this book has been begging to be read for five years. I'm going to set aside the time this Summer to finish it.

8. Phil Newton, Elders in the Life of the Church: Rediscovering the Biblical Model for Church Leadership (Kregel, 2014).
My pastor is leading our church toward an elder model of leadership, which I welcome. But he's getting some resistance, mostly of the, 'we've never done it that way before' kind. A bit of the other resistance is simply historical illiteracy. I hope this book can arm me with some cogent arguments to deal with the objections as they arise.

9. Richard Rhodes, Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrodgen Bomb, (Simon and Schuster, 2012).
The past three summers I've read one book on the Manhattan Project, and this will be the fourth in a row. It is a fascinating historical topic, and one which would seem to be coverable in a book or two, but may in fact be almost inexhaustible. 

10. Peter Hathaway Capstick, A Man Called Lion: The Life and Times of John Howard Pondoro Taylor, (Safari Press, 2002).
P. H. Capstick is one of my favorite authors. This book isn't as highly rated as some of his others, but is a biography about a person who interests me, as do many of the leaders in 19th and early 20th century Africa. 

11. Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (Penguin, 2005).
 This book was originally published in 1985, and has become a cult classic because of how accurate Postman's predictions about culture have been. I've read excerpts, and many, many quotes from the book, but have never sat down and read it all.  Time to knock it out. It is too important to skip.

What books would you add to this list, or put on your own Summer reading list?

31 March 2014

More Technology

I just got issued an iPad. I had decided the device was one of those things I could do without, so I'd never bought one. But the administration thought differently, so I got one anyway, and didn't have to pay for it. 

So now, I'm composing my first blog post on it. Time will tell how much it gets used for stuff like this. But I can already tell I. Going to need a full-size keyboard!