Thursday, December 30, 2004

Learning How to Read

I'm officially excited. Very soon I will begin reading Mortimer Adler's classic How to Read a Book. A number of people I respect have said that it was very useful and/or influential for them. I'm looking forward to it because my current reading habits leave something to be desired. I retain things fairly well but not because I work at it or have a good method. It's just always been a minor talent of mine.

I tend to read in what I consider to be an American consumerist kind of way. I read like someone in a hurry eats a Big Mac. In other words, I cram as much into as little space as possible. Obviously this does not maximize my ability to understand the content of the book. Hopefully How to Read a Book will help me learn a method that can slow me down and read in a way that is conducive to mastering the material.

Now excuse me while I finish the last 50 pages of Scientific Creationism...

Thursday, December 23, 2004

The Huntington Apologetics Team

Hey, I just wanted to make a quick post about the new blog I'm participating in. It's called the Huntington Apologetics Team (the HAT) and we are going to post answers to some basic apologetic questions and current issues in Christianity. We'll probably start slow, but I hope everyone will stop by.

The HAT is the official apologetics team of Living Hope Bible Church in Huntington, WV. We want to do our part in restoring a vibrant life of the mind to God's Church. Check it out!

Friday, December 17, 2004

Sports, War and ESPN Radio

During the noon hour yesterday I was driving about town, on a dual mission to pick up some medicine for my wife and lull my older son to sleep in the SUV. As is sometimes the case, I was listening to ESPN radio. Around that time of day Colin Cowherd is on. Usually Cowherd isn't funny enough for me to give an extended listen, but I suppose I was feeling "sports-talky" because I didn't change the station or pop in a CD.

Cowherd was having an argument with his listeners over the nature of pro atheletes. In his opinion pro atheletes are entertainers and so if we hold them to a different standard of behavior than we hold actors or rock stars we are being hypocritical. I agree that pro atheletes are nothing more than entertainers, but the topic got me thinking: why do we hold pro atheletes to the aforementioned different standard? My conclusion has to do with the different "traditions" actors, rock stars, and atheletes fall into.

Actors and rock stars fall into an artistic tradition. In this tradition pushing the envelope is a part of the package. Rock and roll especially was weaned on rebellion. Acting has been a haven for the odd and/or immoral for centuries. We expect actors and rock stars to follow in this tradition. For many this is one of the main factors for becoming an actor/rock star.

On the other hand, sports fall into a militaristic tradition. Think about it: How many war metaphors are used in describing athletic achievement? Atheletes are considered heroes in the vein of ancient warriors. Warfare now is far removed from us in America (thankfully) and even when we see broadcasts of battles all we see are rolling tanks, flying planes and firing rockets. We never see and rarely hear of the heroics of warriors in battle. Additionally, war is thankfully more rare than it was in the ancient past. It also relies less on the physical abilities of individual combatants. In order to replace these combatants in the popular mind, we choose our atheletes. I suppose it's because the physical "battle" that sports entail.

We hold Kobe Bryant to a higher standard because deep down we want him to be Hector, running out in defense of Troy. Brett Favre with his 200 straight starts under center is the invincible Achilles (if his career ends with an ankle injury don't blame me). Culturally we seem to need these heroes, and we need them to be legendary.

Am I arguing that we should look to atheletes to be examples for our children? Not necessarily. We should evaluate atheletes the same way we would examine any other potential hero. We would probably be better off if we could just get past the need to hero-worship others, but I wouldn't hold my breath. Every culture needs myth, and the world of sport is one of our most fertile and accessible gardens.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

A Confused Kind of Christian

Somebody told me there was a revolution on in Christianity. Being that I'm a product of that famous revolution that happened 'round about 1776 I decided to see if this new revolution was worth joining. I managed to get my hands on a copy of Brian D. McLaren's book A New Kind of Christian, which is apparently the first in a series of books that advocates a shift from 'Modern Christianity' to 'Postmodern Christianity' (this shift is the aforementioned revolution). I read the book relatively slowly, taking notes and trying to see what McLaren had in mind. After reading ANKoC I must say that his vision is not exactly clear (I've been told he is more clear in his subsequent books). I'll explain as we go on.

The book opens with a frustrated pastor who befriends a high school science teacher named 'Neo.' Neo is the postmodern Christian hero of the book, and he introduces the pastor to new way of ministering. Supposedly the Modern Era epistemology that includes pigeon-holing, dissecting God in the name of theology, and reading the Bible as an answer key in the back of text book is out of touch with where the culture is going and if we are going to continue to minister we need to take the postmodern turn.

I find it interesting that almost all of the problems McLaren pointed out I have pointed out to others in the past (and McLaren would certainly put me in the modernist camp). I agree that we do pigeon-hole things and try to make difficult things too black and white. I agree that in the pursuit of theology we often lose emotional connection with God (though I wonder what McLaren would say about me, since my most intense emotional experiences in recent years have come in my theology classes). Again, I agree that the Bible is not to be read as a cheap and easy answer book. What I never heard McLaren state is a compelling reason to go postmodern. The closest thing I read was that this is where our culture was heading, which reminds me less of the early church and more of those who kowtowed to the logical positivists in the early 20th Century. I suspect that postmodernism is going to meet a fate similar to that of logical positivism. Neither are tenable.

McLaren also has the tendency to waver back and forth between epistemologies, grabbing Modern concepts whenever it suits him. His idea of theology involves asking questions like "if God is like this, what would the universe be like?" Funny, it seems to me that many of my 'modern' compatriots are asking this question and that others have been asking it for centuries! This very question is the sort of question that gave rise to science! It seems that McLaren comes perilously close to 'dissecting God' who supposedly can't be studied (p. 161).

As I read I kept waiting for a 'postmodern bombshell' that could readily identify where McLaren was coming from, but I never got it. I never read phrases like "reality is a construct of our language" although he did come close on page 162 when he was talking about his 'dream seminary.' "We'd help students construct their own models of reality..." he said, but added "...their model isn't reality." But McLaren, through Neo, never says if he believes we can get at reality at all.

There were some good things in the book, such as Neo's recommendation that the Church become more involved in the community and that people should stop 'head-hunting' in evangelism. I particularly liked the comment about how viewing someone as a project takes the friendship out of 'friendship evangelism'. We can adapt culturally to those who have a postmodern bent, but embracing it would be just as much a mistake as fully embracing modernism. It's maddening that McLaren seems so happy to dive head first into this new epistemology while criticizing those who dove headfirst into the last one.

The sad fact of the matter is that postmodernism as a philosophy is a dying paradigm. It will certainly have its adherents for the next half-century or so, but ultimately it will not survive because God has built rationality into us. Finding truth is far too important to humans, even postmodern ones like Neo.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Does God Care What Shirt You Wear?

The following is a short book report written for my Pastoral Theology class.

Every day Christians from all over the world wonder, “What is God’s will for my life?” The pursuit for the will of God can be maddening at times, and downright depressing at others. This is why many Christian leaders have undertaken the task of clearly laying out the way to understand God’s leading. Gary Friesen’s Decision Making and the Will of God is just such a book, but, like a good novel, it has a twist.
In the beginning of the book Friesen uses a character, Pastor Bill Thompson, to present what he calls the ‘traditional view’ of discovering God’s will. According to Friesen the so-called traditional view presents to us God’s threefold will: the sovereign will, the moral will, and the individual will. The sovereign will includes everything that God has unilaterally decreed to come to pass. God’s moral will is presented in the Bible. “Moral will” means everything that is accordance with God’s character. For instance, it is God’s moral will that we read His word, but He does not override our wills to make us do so. The individual will of God is God’s specific will for each individual. Again, He does not force every individual into his perfect will (that would make it His sovereign will).
Finding God’s individual will is what frustrates many Christians. Through Pastor Thompson, Friesen explains how to find said individual will via the traditional view. There are supposedly seven signs that lead the Christian to God’s individual will. First is the Bible, then an inner witness, personal desires, circumstances, mature counsel, common sense, and special guidance. Special guidance, however, was more for men like the Apostles and Prophets. We don’t hear from God in the same way today.
The traditional view has the advantage of “feeling right” to a great many Christians today, but Friesen holds that the traditional view is hopelessly flawed. This is the ‘twist’ of Decision Making and the Will of God. For him the traditional view is a non-starter. He demonstrates that the scriptural evidence marshaled in its support is usually interpreted wrongly.
Another major problem, according to Friesen, is that there is no such thing as an ‘individual will’ for every Christian. Rather, there is much room for freedom within God’s moral will. This means that all those Christians who hold the traditional view are basically chasing rainbows that will only move further and further away as they grasp at them. This is indeed a frustrating state.
Friesen goes on to demonstrate the untrustworthy nature of the guideposts used to find God’s individual will. Many people play fast and loose with Biblical texts as they apply them to their own situations without consideration for what the author originally meant. The internal witness is easily twisted to fit with one’s own desires regardless of God’s will. Circumstances, mature counsel and common sense are given so many qualifications they are rendered nearly useless in decision-making. Another key criticism is the abandonment of the traditional view in the little decisions of every day life. According to Friesen if proponents of the traditional view want to be consistent they should seek God’s will for what shirt they should wear that day.
On Friesen’s view (the ‘wisdom view’) all God wants us to do is to make decisions that fit within the framework of His moral will. Not only does this relieve a great deal of stress, but it also provides great motivation for Bible study. How can we know the moral will of God if we have not read the book in which He reveals that will? Our task as Christians is to make sure we are making the most wise, godly decision as is possible.
Tradition is a powerful thing. Humans often resist giving up tradition because it has the sense of propriety and rightness, since our parents and grandparents believed it. That is why it is so remarkable when someone can come along and fully dismantle a tradition, which is what Friesen has done in my opinion.
Friesen first removes the scriptural foundation for the traditional view and then provides a strong base for the wisdom view. A close reading of Scripture reveals that the “still small voice” heard by Elijah was still an audible voice, not some ambiguous inner prompting. There is nowhere in Scripture that such a prompting can be shown to exist.
I am now fully convinced that the traditional view of God’s individual will for our lives is a false paradigm. Instead we are to live by the precepts outlined in Scripture. I fear that many Christians, in trying to comply with the traditional view, have put themselves in the bondage of superstition. Though we may not ever be rich, or we may suffer from some terrible disease we can be sure that if we follow the moral principles He has given, God will take good care of us.