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!

16 December 2013

History, and Being Doomed and All That

Most everybody knows the saying I've alluded to in my title. I believe the saying to be inherently true, and not just in terms of repeating your history CLASS, but repeating the negative lessons of history itself.

It was Chesterton, I think, who said something like, "The wit of man in insufficient to invent a new heresy." I'm not positive my wording is exact, or even that someone other than G. K. said it originally, but either way, I love the saying because it seems to incorporate truth in a very consistent manner.

If we look around at all the various weird religions, pseudo-Christian cults, and spiritualities that are around today, it seems all of them (that I've found) have a strong parallel, if not are an exact duplication, of a heresy from the first five (or so) centuries of the church.

So, with all that in mind, I constantly push my Sunday School class along with anyone else who will listen to be well-versed in the history of the Christian Church, especially where it concerns aberrant teachings. Tim Challies has started what promises to be a very useful series on the seven great church councils on his blog. The first post can be found here. I sincerely hope many will read these posts, and they will be helpful in the edification of the church.

Obviously, we as Christians should have a good command of the Bible, and the Bible should be the primary locus of our study. But one of the ways of correctly understanding the Bible is to know and understand way it has been misinterpreted in history. These posts will give a good non-seminary-level overview of these misinterpretations.

May I suggest a few good books that I've used on this topic as well (each title is a link to the book on Amazon.com):

   1. Heresies, by H. Brown
   2. Heresy, by A. McGrath
   3. Turning Points (first four chapters) by M. Noll
   4. Historical Theology, by G. Bromiley
   5. Historical Theology, by G. Allison
   6. Historical Theology, by A. McGrath

08 November 2013

The Evangelical Resistance to Obamacare in a Nutshell

I've seen some new debate in the blogosphere on whether or not the evangelical resistance to Obamacare is legitimate or not, prompted mostly by a quote from 'out there' theologian N. T. Wright.

Wright got some immediate pushback, and rightly so. But even then, those pushing back got pushed themselves, and the debate seemed to get muddier. What is missing is a concise explanation of why evangelicals must oppose Obamacare, single-payer healthcare, and any other related scheme the left (or the right) might come up with that puts the government in charge of healthcare.

Pay attention here...this is going to be quick, and I don't want you to miss this-

Nationalized health care and freedom of religion, speech, etc., CANNOT both exist at the same time and in the same relationship.

Why not? Think about it in simple, logical terms rather than convoluted social arguments. Health care is directly related to health, and health is a direct consequence (among some other things) of behavior.  Religion is directly related to religious beliefs, and religious beliefs have the direct consequence of influencing behavior.

In a theocracy, there is no religious freedom because behavior (outward expression of religious belief) is restricted to the religion that is in charge. In a democracy, religious freedom can exist as long as the government is tolerant of various expressions of religious belief via behavior (what people say, do, etc.). But when the democracy adopts nationalized health care, it assumes authority over certain behaviors, and when these behaviors conflict with the best interests of the government, they are subdued or prohibited. These might include religious speech, such as opposition to certain medical procedures; they might include domestic behaviors such as keeping and bearing arms; or they might include social behaviors, such as disapproval of certain lifestyle behaviors (like for example, not wanting to photograph a wedding).

Some will make all kinds of logical-acrobatic arguments about these things, but they all boil down to the simple fact that when a government becomes the arbiter of behaviors associated with health care, they necessarily become the established religious authority in the nation. No loop-holing will change that fact.

07 November 2013

The Rub of the False Mega-Church Pastor

Recently, there's been a dust-up over a mega-church pastor in Charlotte and his new mansion. The reporting has been kinder than one might expect, which says a few things I won't go into here.

Being a mega-church pastor, aside from the spiritual implications, is not a bad gig. You can make a ton of money and you don't have to work very hard. Granted: there are spiritual implications, but from a completely secular, pragmatic point of view, its a nice way to earn a living.

But there's a problem that I haven't seen discussed yet. It is not simply that one can choose to be a mega-church pastor, and go open a mega-church. You see, almost all of these folks have built their church from the ground up. In other words, not just any Tom, Dick, or Steven can be a mega-church pastor. One needs to be gifted. (I didn't say talented. More on that shortly.)

So what's the problem? Aren't NFL athletes gifted, and that's why they make a bunch of money? Well, yes. But don't forget about all the hard work they have to do to take advantage of that gift and the additional hard work to stay at the top of their game. And I suppose you could argue that some of these mega-church pastors work hard too, as performers, as stand-up comedians, and so on. But let's get back to the gifted part. Where do you suppose that gift comes from?

Do you think there are any additional spiritual implications for those who are gifted at that level and choose to take advantage of the gift in a secular (that is, financial) way? Joyce Meyer is a gifted speaker. Creflo Dollar is a charismatic personality (no pun intended...really). Kenneth Hagin was a convincing preacher. All these have used their gifts for personal financial gain well beyond just about anyone's definition of 'paying the worker their wages'. There's even a new TV series about a certain group of these folks. (Disclaimer: I haven't watched an episode, and likely won't.)

Kinda makes me nervous. Shouldn't it?

22 October 2013

Settled Science?

So evolution is settled science, the experts all (publically, at least) say.

Well, if so, there's a slight problem. All that 'settled science' is about to need a re-write, again.

This story of a find in Georgia (the one South of Russia, not East of Alabama) is the enzyme in the reaction.  This is going to be interesting.

Celebrity or Servant?

I don't like publishing a blog article that is in content basically just a link. But this post by Jared Moore was too good to pass up.

I could re-list his points here, but I can't say it any better than he has, so I'll just redirect you to his page.

02 October 2013

Ever Been Up a &$!# Creek?

Well, I hadn't either, until Monday.

I looked out my office window at about 10am on Monday, and saw what looked like a water line break in my parking lot. But there was more.  The water didn't look real clean.

Turns out, the restaurant next door was having some plumbing problems with their bathrooms, so they called a local plumber. The local plumber (unnamed, to protect the guilty) pulled the cleanout plug for the line, which is in my parking lot, and started pumping raw sewage into my lot. He pumped at least 700 gallons of raw sewage, most of it solid waste, onto my lot, which then ran down the slope in front of the Enterprise Rent-a-Car location and into the access road for I-27.

I went outside and (hand over nose) asked the plumber what he planned to do about the mess, and he basically said it wasn't a big deal, he would clean it up, but he was going to lunch.

I then learned that sometimes government can be your friend. I called the city Health Department. It was only about five minutes after the HD inspector got off the phone with the plumber's headquarters that haz-mat cleanup vehicles started arriving. One giant vacuum sweeper and one trailer full of chlorine disinfectant later, all is back in order.

But next time someone refers to that proverbial creek, I'll be able to give them some details on the experience.

20 September 2013

Is There Increasing Turmoil In the Darwinist Camp?

On his blog today, Tim Challies posted a blurb about the success of a recent book by apologist Stephen Meyer. One of the commenters posted a comment about how much turmoil there is in Darwinist camps, "...as it is increasingly recognized how flawed their theory is."

Is there increasing recognition of flaws in Darwinism? The short answer is, no.

Is there increasing turmoil in Darwinist camps because of this recognition? Well, obviously, no.

I think the comment is wrong on both premises.

But there's more to the story. I'm a working scientist, even though I spend most of my energy in administration now. I can tell you for certain that recognition of the flaws in Darwinist theory is not recent. But over the last century or so, the problems with Darwinism have been kept to an in-house debate. What is 'recent' is the internet. Because of the rise of the internet and alternative sources for news and information, the ability to keep these kinds of things in-house has been lost.

So yes, there is turmoil, but it isn't over the problems in Darwinism, it's over the problems of keeping the public out of the debate. Just about anyone can now eavesdrop on scholarly conversations about things like this, and many do. Most of us would agree that this is a good thing. It keeps people honest.

While there are some scientists who would support their agenda by hook or crook, I would say that a majority of scientists, even when faced with philosophical or religious objections to their worldview, are mostly honest about it. Unfortunately, those who are all about an agenda are the most vocal, so a minority makes the rest of us look bad. (There's a great lawyer joke buried in that, but I won't digress at this point.)

Bottom line: Yes, there are problems with Darwinist theory, and yes, these problems are recognized. But the problems have been dealt with quietly in the past, and now are out in the open where others have entered the debate. I think this is good for everyone involved, as I believe truth wins over time, even in the face of some pretty organized propaganda. But don't expect secular scientists to bow a knee just yet; even if Darwinism collapses completely (not likely in the short run), the won't adopt a theistic worldview. They'll find another atheistic explanation for reality. That's because evidence doesn't, and has never, determined one's worldview, but rather one's worldview determines how evidence is interpreted. As one famous anthropologist said, "I wouldn't have seen it if I didn't believe it."