Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Nietzsche's Critique of Christian Ethics

Some years ago, I wrote an essay on Nietzsche's view of Christian ethics. It is on my web page.

It was once accepted for publication in a journal, but the journal went out of print!

Os on Target--Again.

The Christian faith is not true because it works. It works because it is true. No issue is so fundamental both to the searcher and to the believer as the question of truth. The uniqueness and trustworthiness of the Christian faith rest entirely on its claim to be the truth. God, who is the father of Jesus Christ, is either there or he is not there. Either he has spoken or he has not spoken. What his revelation claims is either true or false. Jesus either rose from the dead or he didn't. There are no two ways about it.

Os Guinness: God in the Dark (1996)

Monday, May 29, 2006

Philosophy for the Confused

Robert Velarde, author of The Lion, the Witch, and the Bible (NavPress, 2005) and student in the Philosophy MA at Denver Seminary, has published an excellent introductory essay on the merits of philosophy called, "Does Philosophy Matter?" at the TrueU web page. I commend it to you.

http://www.trueu.org/dorms/stulounge/A000000292.cfm

A Preternaturally Bizarre Juxtaposition: Close Down Call-Outs

The less-than-comatose book reader (assuming one still reads books at all) may have noticed that many books now contain call-outs within the main text. (This has long been common in magazines and newspapers, but is more rare in books.) In fact, some have so many call-outs that one wonders if there is a main text at all. In these cases, the texts have been decentered, destabilized, and rendered eccentric--and, of course, rendered thoroughly postmodern: no linear line of thought is privileged; it is all pastiche, patchwork, fragmented. I seldom read these kind of books, since I'm not a postmodernist. Nevertheless in a preternaturally bizarre juxtaposition, the best book I have read this year, the one meriting the most underlining and notation—the one that more people I know need to read than any other I’ve read in recent memory—is pocked with call-outs. While the book is adamantly and intelligently critical of postmodernism and its effects on the church, one thing about the book is essentially postmodern: the use of call-outs.

The book is David Well's, Above All Earthy Pow'rs: Christ in the Postmodern World (Eerdmans, 2006). I hope to review it elsewhere, but suffice to say it is a work of profound theological depth and cultural astuteness. Yet, it features a fair number of call-outs. Mind you, the call-outs are not sound bites, or slogans; they are rich statements by social critics and theologians. Yet, the call-out disorients the reader from the logical flow of the text, even when the call-out is in thematically harmony with the surrounding text (as it always is in this book). You don't know when to read it, since it interrupts the main text. It is disorientating. This was pointed out by one of my young students in Introduction to Philosophy, which I taught last term at Arapahoe Community College. When asked to comment on the text, Questions that Matter by Ed Miller and Jon Jenson, a young coed said, “It is hard to know what to read when because of all the boxes and call-outs.” She was quite right.

We already inhabit a culture of perpetual perceptual interruption: we are interrupted by cell squawkers, commercials, songs not allowed to finish in the radio, pop-ups bombarding out Internet use, photographs of female models wearing tight tea shirts with conservative slogans in the middle of editorials at www.townhall.com, and so on. The book, one hopes, is an entity, a place, where interruptions should not occur—even textual interruptions. But that is what a call-out is: a textual interruption. If an author wants to feature a thought, it should be incorporated into the structure of the argument; it should be well-fitted into the exposition of ideas. Thoughts should not be flashed on the page without a clear connection to what comes before and after.

Subtitles are not part of the running text and are usually not complete sentences, yet they introduce what follows, and if not overused, are quite apt. Subtitles provide markers or a signs for cognitive navigation. Call-outs, on the other hand, are based, essentially, on the marking methodology (something Wells rightly denies has any place in the church): the consumer’s attention must be grabbed by the outstanding, the exceptional, the hypertrophied. So, the call-out is larger and darker than the rest of the text. You eyes are drawn to it, as they might be drawn to a photograph. (Above All Earthly Powers, mercifully, has no photographs.) But as your eyes are drawn, your thoughts are distracted. This postmodern infection could be easily arrested by simply transforming all the call-outs into elements of the running text. One hopes that a second edition of Above All Earthly Power will do just that.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

The Atonement of Jesus Christ

Mark Dever has written an important piece on the atonement of Jesus Christ, publishedin Christianity Today called, "Nothing But the Blood." CT ditches their typical trendiness - endless stories on Christian celebrities, etc. - and gets serious about the heart of Christian theology. Good for them:

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2006/005/9.29.html

Saturday, May 27, 2006

How to Write a Non-Fiction Book Review

Book reviews are an excellent way for aspiring writers to break into publication. They further provide a needful service to readers who are seeking to determine whether a book is worth reading or for readers who are looking for other perspectives about a book they have already read. I have written dozens of book reviews over the last twenty years or so in diverse publications such as Christianity Today, The Denver Post, The Rocky Mountain News, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, Philosophia Christi, The Christian Research Journal, The Philosopher’s Magazine, and Books and Culture. My first publication was a book review in Radix in the early 1980s. I continue to find writing book reviews rewarding and worthwhile.

What book should you review? The first concern is to review a book that some publication would likely want to review. The subject of the book should fit the ethos of the publication, both with respect to the subject matter and the intellectual level. So, a thoughtful book relating religious faith and public policy is a natural fit with First Things or Books and Culture. This would not be the case for a youth ministry magazine.

The book review should be strategically placed for the best effect. For example, a book review in a non-Christian publication (such as a local newspaper) praising a book that makes a significant apologetic argument for the Christian worldview could have a profound impact. On the professional side, one should consider the academic quality of the periodical. A book review published in a refereed, academic journal is “worth” more on your resume than a review in a newspaper or a magazine.

Timing is crucial for book reviews. Academic journals may take several years to publish a review (my book, On Jesus, was reviewed three and a half years after it was published!), so there is no great rush to review the book quickly (although you should contact the journal as soon as possible, so that no one beats you to the book you want to review). On the other hand, magazines and especially newspapers review only books that have been published recently.

Your second concern in selecting a book is your interest in and expertise regarding the book. You need not be an expert on the subject matter of the book to write a competent review, but you should have an interest in the material and some background knowledge. (You should be fair and accurate in your description of the book and not use it as a pretext to write an essay on some other topic. A few of my books have been “reviewed” in this unfair way.) I was once asked to write a book review for The Denver Post on a book about the creation of the King James Bible. It was outside my area, but I thought it was worth a try. After reading a chapter or so, I realized that is was far beyond what I could intelligently discuss, so I declined to write it.

Some books are not worth reviewing because they are inconsequential. However, one may want to review a book that one disagrees with vigorously if that book is written by a noteworthy person (and is likely to find a large audience) or if the book addresses a topic of importance. I write many negative book reviews. My basic thought is, “This is terrible. Someone has to refute it!” So, I launch into a review of a Ken Wilber book, for example. (Wilber is a prolific and influential nondualist.) There is a place for this. On the other side, one may find a book to be superb and worth praising in public. Some books are important more because of the status of the author than because they are extremely good or bad. Many people—or significant people in a particular discipline—will read this book, so you want to weigh in on it intellectually.

In most cases, you should write a query letter about the book you want to review. This should state (1) the full bibliographic material for the book, (2) its basic subject matter, (3) why it is important for the journal or magazine to review, and (4) why you are the person to review it. That is, you should explain your qualifications for writing the review. If your review request is accepted, make sure to find out what your word limit is (and don’t go over it!) and the due date (and don’t miss it!). You should realize that almost no academic publications pay for book reviews, although they may be able to send you a complimentary copy of the book you review. Other periodicals may offer a small fee for book reviews. For example, The Denver Post and The Rocky Mountain News pay (me at least) $50 for a review of about 700 words.

A book review worth reading follows a basic pattern. First, it should clearly explain what the book is about and perhaps how it fits into the larger genre of books on its topic. For example, I wrote a review of Thomas Woodward’s excellent Doubts About Darwin (Baker/Brazos, 2003). Since there are many book on the Intelligent Design movement, I made it clear that this book was unique in that it was a rhetorical history of the movement. You need not discuss every chapter of the book to explain what it concerns. With longer books this may not even be possible, given your space concerns. You should also explain the intellectual level of the book. Is it very technical, thoughtful but not academic, or more popular? Second, you should evaluate the book as to the cogency of its arguments, the quality of its writing, the adequacy of its documentation, and so on. Does the book make a significant new contribution? How does it relate to similar books on similar topics? Does it omit anything essential? Does it commit any egregious logical or factual errors?

A book review may be your first publication. On the other hand, established academics often write book reviews that are taken very seriously by scholars in their discipline. For example, Richard Swinburne recently reviewed Alvin Plantinga’s magnum opus, Warranted Christian Belief (Oxford, 2000), for Religious Studies. Intellectual heavy weights are sometimes brought in to critique other intellectual heavy weights.

If you read books on a steady basis (and you should), why not review some of them? Doing this also helps you evaluate and internalize what you have read. It increases your own understanding. And by reviewing a book, you can also plant some seeds of truth and rationality for the Kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33).

Friday, May 26, 2006

American Idolatry

It is a sad and telling commentary that one of the most popular television programs in America (of course, I've never seen it) is called "American Idol." I cannot escape this rampant idolatry because news of it is in the newspaper (which I read; I'm over forty) and on AOL news (which is unavoidable if you use the service).

Idols are counterfeits, impostors, which lack reality but command obedience. Eric Fromme, the German psychologist and atheist, one wrote that the Old Testament was one long tirade against idols. (Of course it is that only because it demands theocentricity.) John Calvin opined that the human mind was "a perpetual forge of idols." Such wayward minds need constant monitoring and repentance. The Apostle John ends his First Epistle by warning his readers, "Little children, keep yourselves from idols." The Apostle is unheard by too many today.

Now idols are a way of life (and death). Having abandoned the Real (in art, in religion, in music, in politics, in relationships), we revel in the unreal, making it "real" to us. Heroes are out; idols are in. The knowledge of people with commendable character passé; reveling in media personality is hip. Some Americans even consider TV "personalities" to be their "friends." Over sixty million people voted for their idol of choice on "American Idol" and cannot get enough of their instant celebrity. Instead of reading books together, or singing around the piano, or reciting poetry, or just conversing or praying together, people sit mindlessly, but breathlessly in front of multiple idols: the television itself is an idol and a keeper of a myriad (its name is Legion) of restless and rampaging idols. In fact, the entire "living room" (oxymoron now, for most homes) is configured to honor and worship the television: all is directed, not heavenward, but television-ward. No seat is out of range of the TV.

"Little children, keep yourselves from idols." Idols obscure deeper, richer, better realities. But idols are more assessable, more popular, and nearly omnipresent in American culture. They cater to impatience, lust, greed, and all the vices of the flesh. However, finitudes claiming ultimacy ultimately trade on lies; they are pretenders, fakes, frauds; they are hollow, shallow, and shabby--although noisy and well-lit. Idols, for all their pretense, have no place in the Kingdom that is to come. They should have no place in the lives of Kingdom people, who have tasted of the heavenly realities that are now bearing on the bounties of the earth.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

“American Idol” to Air Special Program

After spending a weekend retreat reading Plato’s "Republic" and Kierkegaard's "The Sickness unto Death" (condensed versions), “American Idol” producer, Rip-theme Offe, has decided to produce a special two-hour “Philosophy Idol” segment. “I was quite stricken,” Offe said, chocking back tears. “All that attention given to cleavage, supernatural hair, and shameless pop culture imitators... We need to get serious about the 'love of wisdom.’ That is what philosophy means, you know.”

Offe has not yet settled on a format for the “Philosophy Idol” segment, but is considering five-minute lecture competitions, interspersed with video clips from TV programs and special effects illustrating key points, such as “the good” (Plato) and “despair” (Kierkegaard). “We can’t break away from the old format entirely,” Offe admitted. “But we do want to add depth and reality to it.”

Tots totaled by TV

Many Parents Encourage Tots to Watch TV
By LAURAN NEERGAARD
AP

WASHINGTON (May 24) - One mother stopped watching "ER" reruns when her preschooler tried to give her little brother CPR. Another mom laughed that her 15-month-old sang the McDonald's jingle - "ba, ba, boppa, ba" - every time they drove past the golden arches.

One-third of the nation's youngest children - babies through age 6 - live in homes where the television is on almost all the time, says a study that highlights the immense disconnect between what pediatricians advise and what parents allow.

TV in the bedroom is not even that rare for the littlest tots anymore. Almost one child in five under 2 has a set, even though the American Academy of Pediatrics advises against any TV watching at that age...

-------------

And on it goes. This is no less than systemic, multi-billion dollar child abuse. The level of stupefaction concerning television is supernatural. "If it is everywhere, why shield children from it?" many think. "It's here to stay." "Make sure its good TV." The mindless cliches swarm likes flies on dung. TVs for tots means "the end of childhood" (Neil Postman), increased ADD and ADHD, less literacy, less learning to communicate face to face, mind to mind, soul to soul with real, living (unmediated) human beings, less physical activity in unmediated nature, and far more money for the endlessly self-justifying, self-righteous Beast of Television Culture. "Never unplug," it commands. "Take the mark."

My response: Refuse it. Be creative. Read. Be silent and alone. Attend unmediated events--lectures, concerts, games, prayer meetings. Pray for deliverance--with the TV off.

As Jesus said in Luke 17:2:

It would be better for you to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around your neck than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Yearning for Liberia's Liberation

When I met Tony Weedor in 1993, I didn't even know that Liberia was a country. But I learned that Tony was from Liberia, an African nation founded by freed slaves from the United States. Tony was a student at Denver Seminary, having fled the civil war in his native country along with his wife and young daughter. The atrocities and horrors of that war and its aftermath are bone-chilling: beheadings, rapes, torture, and so on. Tony and his wife have lost dozens of family members to this senseless violence. Tony, Beth, and Abbie fled on foot for one year and were separated several times. They were then in a refugee camp for two years. While there, Tony read the collected works of Francis Schaeffer five times!

But God, through his mercy and power, brought them through it all. Tony graduated from Denver Seminary in 1997 and served with his family for four and half years in Ethiopia with SIM. They returned to the United States in 2004 and have been planning to set up an educational ministry in Liberia,now that the country has had free elections and that the country seems to have an honest president, the first woman president in an African nation: Ellen, "the Iron Lady." Nevertheless, the country is in ruins, with no infrastructure, and little hope, humanly speaking.

Tony is now in Liberia with a group of pastors from several American states. They are, not unexpectedly, experiencing multiple hassles and problems. The powers of darkness would like to hold on to Liberia (which means "land of freedom") and keep it from the light and liberation that only Jesus Christ can bring (Acts 4:12).

I am asking all my readers to visit the CenterPoint web site and to pray for this desperately needed ministry in Liberia. Please consider supporting it financially as well. Tony Weedor is a godly, wise, and intelligent man who has the requisite character and biblical worldview to help reconstruct Liberia from the ground up--and that is exactly what is required. Here is the CenterPoint web page:

http://www.centerpointinternational.org

Monday, May 22, 2006

Perspectives on the Constructive Curmudgeon

My students often hear me say, "Exegete the technology." So, as I did a short time after starting this blog, I will ask you, the reader, to comment on its nature and quality. Alan Jacobs recently wrote a piece in "Books and Culture" explaining why he gave up on blogs for serious thought. But how seriously should be even take blogs--and this blog?

I try to make this a forum for connecting to other sources, either on line or off, for advancing short essays, for and some satire. Through it all, I hope truth will be served. There is no time to waste in this short and preparatory existence. This blog is not my life, although I'm not cavalier about it either.

A friend of mine encouraged me to continue the blog because "a lot of people read it." That, I take it, was not his only reason (a lot of people read web pages on Paris Hilton as well), but I wonder who reads it and why. Some of you post some astute and insightful comments, for which I am grateful.

For two years running, I've been asked to participate in forums at Biola University on "God-blogging." However, since they wouldn't cover any expenses and didn't offer a plenary address (you never know how many come to lowly "seminars"), I passed up the offer. I was assured that I could promote blog's "products," but since I don't have any products (besides a few references to my books), that didn't tantalize me.

So, my dear readers, please tell me what you think--and I'm not posturing for a compliment either. Iron sharpens iron, but can it do so in cyberspace?

Sunday, May 21, 2006

"Learning from an Apostle: Paul in Athens"

My article on Paul at Athens (Acts 17) is now posted at the TrueU website. The article looks at Paul's apologetic strategy and how we can apply his principles today. http://www.trueu.org/Academics/LectureHall/A000000459.cfm.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Doug Groothuis "Rocky Mountain News" Editorial on "Da Vinci" and other Errors

Speakout: Unlike the Gospels, these latest tales don't have deep roots

By Douglas Groothuis
May 20, 2006

Jesus is back in the headlines. The fantastically popular novel and movie, "The Da Vinci Code," asserts that the Gospel accounts of his life are untrustworthy, that Jesus was not divine, and so on.

A spate of other books claim that Jesus' disciple Judas was not really a traitor, but the most illuminated disciple ("The Gospel of Judas"), or that Jesus did not die on the cross, but survived ("The Jesus Papers"). One movie sensationally claims that Jesus never existed (“The God Who Wasn't There”). No end to the revisionism is in sight.

Jesus has been controversial ever since he uttered a word in public. As the late Yale scholar Jaroslav Pelikan wrote in "Jesus Through the Centuries," "Regardless of what anyone may personally think or believe about him, Jesus of Nazareth has been the dominant figure in the history of Western culture for almost 20 centuries. If it were possible, with some sort of super magnet, to pull out of that history every scrap of metal bearing at least a trace of his name, how much would be left?"

Nevertheless, many strive to pull Jesus out of history and into fantasy. Despite their popular appeal, these strange new tales about Jesus ring historically hollow.

Rather than taking blind leaps of faith or making audacious contrarian assertions concerning Jesus, it is wiser to consider which theory about Jesus makes the most sense, all things considered.

The primary documents about Jesus of Nazareth are the four Gospels. Some claim that these documents have been translated from one language to another until we have no idea what the originals said. This is false. The Gospels (and the rest of the New Testament) are better attested to by manuscripts than any other piece of classical literature.

There are more than 5,000 Greek manuscripts of these books in existence. Scholars draw their translations from these sources. A fragment of the Gospel of John dates to the early second century, probably only a few decades after it was originally written. By comparison, the recently published Gospel of Judas (like all Gnostic documents) has no such manuscript pedigree; it dates from the third century, has no history of manuscript transmission after that, and is difficult to reconstruct given its spotty quality.

But who wrote the Gospel accounts and when did they write them?

The Gospels are quoted so extensively by second century Christians it is clear that the Gospels and 25 of the 27 books of the New Testament were in circulation by A.D. 100. There is good evidence that the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke (and the book of Acts) date before A.D. 70. The Gospel of John was written perhaps 20 years after that.

Given the importance of memorizing the teachings of religious authorities in that ancient oral culture, we have reason to trust that Jesus' words and actions were accurately preserved.

The most ancient traditions claim that Matthew and John were written by Jesus' disciples, that Mark was a colleague of the apostle Peter, and that Luke was the companion of the apostle Paul (many of whose New Testament letters probably predate the Gospels). In the New Testament we have the testimony of eyewitnesses or those who carefully consulted eyewitnesses. Besides this, numerous facts from extra-biblical writers (Josephus, Tacitus, Thallus, Suetonius and Pliny the Younger) and from archaeology confirm many aspects of the Gospel record.

These are some of the historical credentials of the Gospels.

The Da Vinci Code to the contrary, the Council of Nicea did not rig the selection of New Testament books. Rather, they were selected on the basis of their perceived historical veracity.

Strange tales about Jesus notwithstanding, this Gospel story hangs together; and for Christians it continues to ring true.

Douglas Groothuis is professor of philosophy at Denver Seminary and the author of "Jesus in an Age of Controversy" and "On Jesus."

An Apologetic Encounter

"Littlest Apologist" has a heartening report on an apologetic encounter. The writer has recently recommitted his or life to Christ and is learning how to engage in apologetics. I love it.

http://littlestapologist.wordpress.com/2006/05/19/a-skirmish/

Doug Groothuis on "Da Vinci Code," et al

Here is my editorial in "The Rocky Mountain News": http://www.rockymountainnews.com/drmn/speak_out/
article/0,2777,DRMN_23970_4712846,00.html.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Moderated Chat Room on "Da Vinci Code"

On Friday, May 19, from about 11:00-12:00, I participated in a moderated chat room with "The Rocky Mountain News" religion reporter, Jean Torkelson, about "The Da Vinci Code." The technology was a bear, but I think I got a few good apologetics points in. You be the judge. Here is the link.

http://blogs.rockymountainnews.com/denver/rockytalklive
/archives/2006/05/jean_torkelson_and_doug_grooth.html

Sorry, but the link highligher still doesn't work on this blog. I'm tempted to switch to another (free) blog site. Does anyone has any suggestions?

On "The Da Vinci Code"

"The Rocky Mountain News" should publish my "Speak Out" editorial on Saturday, May 20, about The Da Vinci Code and the related revisionist material about Jesus so popular today. The title I gave the piece was "Strange Tales About Jesus," but they may use another one. The author does not control this. Please let me know what you think of the editorial.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Ward and Paris: The Unreal Real

Ward Churchill, the University of Colorado at Boulder Professor of Ethnic Studies, has been officially accused of serious academic misconduct by an official panel, including plagiarism, making up facts, and misrepresenting sources. Members of the panel studying his case have recommended unpaid leave or dismissal. Churchill gained infamy after his comments that victims in the World Trade Center were "little Eichmans," who were complicit in the evils of American capitalism, militarism, well, you know the rest. Then people started investigating the man and his words. Then the yogurt hit the fan.

It was transparent early on that Churchill was a full professor and head of his department with a six-figure income only because he was a leftist ideologue at a famous leftist school. He does not hold an earned doctorate and was given tenure without the normal strictures. (As a tenured professor with an earned Ph.D., this more than burns me up.) But even Boulder--ten square miles surrounded by reality--seems to have had enough. The hollow and noisy man has been outed.

So, I have an idea for Ward. If no other academic institution snaps up the pseudo-scholar and faux revolutionary, he could team up with Paris Hilton in a new "reality" TV show. Both Ward and Paris gained notoriety and great success despite possessing no known abilities in their fields. Hilton can neither act, nor sing, nor dance, nor play an instrument, yet she is known as an entertainer (I suppose). At least she is a celebrity, "famous for being famous" as Daniel Borstin put it years ago in "The Image." (Her pornography video does not qualify as acting, by the way. I know this on general principles, not because I have seen it.)

So, the aging and outed Ward meets up with the young and never-to-be-outed Paris (because she never pretended to have any talent--besides mastering the "come hither" look) who counsels him on staging a come back--and, of course, revitalizes his damaged male ego... I don't watch enough TV of any kind to take it further than this--in fact, I don't watch any TV at all--but my gut tells me this is a very promising pairing. Mr. Unreality meets Ms. Unreality on a reality show with much more unreality sure to follow. Jean Baudrilliard would lap it up: simulations all the way down.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

You and Your Key Chain

What does your key chain say about you? This is an exciting and empowering new dimension of social and psychological analysis, sure to revolutionalize the American psyche and all of culture... Excuse me, I lapsed into hyper-advertizing speak. This toxin is everywhere and hard to avoid. Let me begin again.

What is on your key chain? In an unfallen world, we would likely have no locks and thus no keys for them. The same goes for the New Heaven and Earth: no curse, no tears, no TVs, and no keys (except possibly in museums). But what do we lock up and why? What possessions do we prize and thus guard?

What else is on the key chain? I have little blue light that I love (for unknown reasons) and which my wife hates. There is also my trusty weapon of cultural subversion: TV-B-Gone, which I employed twice today (I was two-for-two) in a record store, zapping a "Sesamme Street" program from the 1970s. Neal Postman would have been proud. One can also find a small wooden carving in the shape of Africa, given to me by my beloved friend Tony Weedor, a native of Liberia who has been periodically returning there to set up a study center in that beleaguered country. My students, Jedd and Michelle McFatter, and my pastor, Don Sweeting, are on their way to Uganda as well. I have several friends in or from Ethiopia. So, this reminds me to pray for that great Continent. Given its people, its natural resources, and its possibilities, if Africa truly submitted to Christ, it could lead the world. Thus said Francis Schaeffer many years ago, I am told. (I'm sure that many Africans have no locks, no keys, and no key chains. Or, if they do, they do not have many of our electronic devices on them.)

So, what is on your key chain? What does it say about you and about your culture? Please let me know. I'm going to write a best-selling book about it--"Keys to Unlocking Your Chains"--and go on "Oprah" as well. There I go again.

PS: May 17, 2006: I forgot the most interesting thing on my key chain. I carry a small metal flask of annointing oil. This was suggested to me by my student and Anglican minister, Tom Hall. I sometimes ask people if they would like to be annointed with oil before I pray with them for healing. This is a biblical practice and helps us to remember God's presence. Maybe I should annoint the TV-G-Gone for greater effectiveness.

A Christian Philosophy of Education

As a Christian philosophy professor, my aim is to lead students into a deeper understanding of truth through the pursuit of critical thinking about the things that matter most. This should be done to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:17), who is the Revealer of truth—through both special and general revelation—and the only source of true wisdom (Proverbs 8; James 1:1-18). Moreover, God has endowed us with reasoning capacities as part of our being made in his image and likeness (Genesis 1:26-28). Although some Christians wrongly fear philosophy in toto, the intellectual discipline of philosophy can and should serve as a means to love God with all of our minds, as Jesus commanded (Matthew 22:37-40; see also Isaiah 1:18; 2 Corinthians 10:3-5). Jesus himself evidenced philosophical prowess in how he reasoned with his interlocutors and in the depth, profundity, and consistency of his own worldview. (On this, see my book "On Jesus.")

I propose that the necessary and sufficient conditions for being a philosopher are a strong and lived-out inclination to pursue truth about philosophical matters through the rigorous use of human reasoning, and the ability to do so with some intellectual facility. By “philosophical matters” I mean the enduring questions of life’s meaning, purpose, and value as they relate to all the major divisions of philosophy (primarily ethics, epistemology, and metaphysics). Not all Christians can be philosophers, but all should think philosophically (i.e., critically and carefully) about their own worldview and how it relates to the intellectual challenges they face from other worldviews. To this end, I teach philosophy as a Christian.

Christians can come to better appreciate their own biblical worldview by grappling with the perennial questions raised in the history of philosophy, as well as the questions raised today in the marketplace of ideas. Just as the Apostle Paul understood the culture and philosophy of the ancient Greeks (Acts 17:16-34), Christians should be able to articulate a Christian perspective in the face of alien and often hostile ideas (Colossians 2:8-9; Jude 3; 1 Peter 3:15-16).

As Alvin Plantinga argued over twenty years ago in his pivotal essay in "Faith and Philosophy," “Advice to Christian Philosophers,” Christian philosophers should also philosophize within their worldview commitments and puzzle out issues that may not always seem directly germane for unbelievers. This is part of the task of building up the Body of Christ through teaching (Titus 2:7-8: James 3:1-2). It is exciting and heartening to note that in the last twenty-five years Christian philosophers have been coming into their own in this regard.

Christian philosophers have also been challenging unbelieving philosophical perspectives, as is evidenced by their testimonies in Philosophers Who Believe and God and the Philosophers and by the philosophical arguments advanced in journals such as "Philosophia Christi" and "Faith and Philosophy." I often engage in this endeavor through my published articles and public lectures and debates.

The logical rigor of philosophy provides an essential analytical tool for the integration of a Christian worldview with every intellectual discipline, whether in the sciences or the humanities. The principles of logical analysis are necessary in every field, and philosophy helps sharpen our intellectual discernment in areas such as biology, physics, chemistry, history, psychology, and sociology.

My philosophy of pedagogy focuses on the engagement of key texts in and out of the classroom. The professor should lead a dialogue on matters philosophical by clarifying the material, asking pointed questions, and eliciting sound reasoning from his or her students. The professor should also exemplify and call his or her students to intellectual virtue—habits of the mind such as intellectual patience, rectitude, humility, studiousness, and courage. (On this see Jay Wood, "Epistemology: Developing Intellectual Virtue"; and James Sire, "Habits of the Mind.")

I attempt to do this through lecturing (with plenty of room for students’ comments), as well as through role-playing, small group discussions, and student presentations in smaller classes. Following Mortimer Adler’s advice from "How to Speak, How to Listen," I endeavor to speak just a bit over students’ heads, so that they can reach up and grab it. I hope never to insult the intelligence of a student (or anyone else). Concerning testing, I believe that essays and papers best fit the subject matter of philosophy, as opposed to multiple-choice or true/false tests. Students need to master the basic facts, but also need to be able to express their ideas clearly and convincingly in writing (and speaking). To that end, I carefully comment on student’s papers, desiring that they learn from the assignments and not simply receive a letter grade. In the smaller classes, I allow students to rewrite papers for a higher grade. Smaller classes are also amenable to directed discussions, rather than a strictly lecture-oriented approach.

Having written on the philosophy of technology as it relates to education (see "The Soul in Cyberspace"), I aim to use technology in an intentional and careful way. I was the first professor at Denver Seminary to create a fully functional web page for a class taught on campus, but I want never to diminish the critical importance of face-to-face interaction and dialogue in teaching philosophy. Web pages and emails help direct students in various ways—and link them to other sources—but there is no substitute for philosophical discussion (with all its splendid serendipity) in real time (see Romans 1:11, 2 John 12, and 3 John 13 on the important of face-to-face ministry).

As a philosophy professor who follows Jesus Christ, the Great Shepherd of the Flock, I am a shepherd of souls, intent on bringing people into a deeper immersion in the Truth for the sake of the world, the church, and the glory of God.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Blaise Pascal from Pensees

526. Misery induces despair, pride induces presumption. The Incarnation shows man the greatness of his misery by the greatness of the remedy which he required.

527. The knowledge of God without that of man's misery causes pride. The knowledge of man's misery without that of God causes despair. The knowledge of Jesus Christ constitutes the middle course, because in Him we find both God and our misery.

528. Jesus Christ is a God whom we approach without pride and before whom we humble ourselves without despair.

Incorrect Pascal Quotes

While rummaging around the internet looking for Pascal quotes, I found several inaccurate ones, and not properly attributed. They were little more than paraphrases or were just wrong! For example, Pascal did not say, "There is a God-shaped vacuum in all of us..." He said something similar, but not that! Here is the real thing, from the Penguin edition of Pensees.

"What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself" (148/428).


So, you quotation hunters, beware! Try a site that has the whole of Pensees in an established version. Or, hold your breath, just read a book of Pascal. I, of course, have done the latter, but wanted a quote I could "copy" and "paste" on my blog. Dangerous business, that.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Cell Ban Causes Uproar

New York's School Cell Phone Ban Causes Uproar
By NAHAL TOOSI, AP

NEW YORK (May 12) - A ban on cell phones in the nation's biggest school system is creating an uproar among parents and students alike, with teenagers smuggling their phones inside their lunches and under their clothes, and grown-ups insisting they need to stay in touch with their children in case of another crisis like Sept. 11.

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Finally, someone is taking a principled stand against cellular insanity and inanity in public places. If the children could control their telephonic comportment, this kind of measure would not be necessary. But few children today have any sense of boundaries or limits on their use of technologies. Many are fully-wired zombies, who stalk about while absent where they are, but "present" with someone else through text or voice. Or they are not present at all except in the virtual world of video games or other video entertainment (which is often gruesome, destestable, and ungodly beyond civil description). They are dis-incarnating themselves from locality, physicality, and spatiality. This is good for neither soul nor body.

As Neil Postman argued in "Teaching as a Conserving Activity" (1979), the classroom should be thermostatic (and not chameleon-like). It should correct the abuses found in other aspects of culture. It should conserve what the culture is losing, "restore the ancient ruins," to wax biblical. So, it must honor unmediated physical and mental presence; it must honor the text over the image; it must honor the live voice over recorded noise; it must honor exposition over entertainment; it must honor the dialogue and discourse practiced through centuries of teaching-and-learning and reject prefabricated, formulaic presentations; it must honor the face-to-face over the face-to-screen.

In fact, the church should do the same thing. "Remember to turn off your cell phones." Remember to turn on your minds, open your ears, and, as Jesus said, "Consider how you hear."

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Spiritual Abuse

Pat Knapp, a very thoughtful person concerning cults and spiritual aberrations, has posted an essay "Spiritual Abuse" on his blog. I recommend interested souls read and possibly post about this topic: http://www.soulcrafteastofeden.blogspot.com. Pat has a Masters of Philosophy Degree from Denver Seminary and was formerly the member of a Bible-based cult group.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Diversion

The only thing which consoles for our miseries is diversion, and yet this is the greatest of our miseries. For it is this which principally hinders us from reflecting upon ourselves and which makes us imperceptibly ruin ourselves. - Blaise Pascal.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Against Wikipedias (For Scholarship)

Wikipedias are so much the rage that students are citing them in a philosophy papers. This occasioned a mini-sermon from me in one of my classes. The key excerpt was, “Never, ever, ever cite a Wikipedia in a philosophy paper.” Wikis (as they are abbreviated; our culture abbreviates everything) are unedited and unauthorized internet articles in which anyone can contribute, delete, or alter previous material. They are unregulated and ever-changing amalgamations, contingent configurations. Some of them—as least some of the time—may be well written and knowledgeable; but they lack any editorial protocol to insure decent material that conforms to standards. Thus, they are worthless as sources that one would cite in a paper are article of a scholarly nature.

However, one could use a Wiki as a way to link to more solid information. For example, a Wiki article on “epiphenomenalism” (a topic often discussion on television) might have a link to The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, a reputable on-line source. Or it might make reference to—dare I say it?—books and journal articles. Moreover, one could use a Wiki to get basic information on a kind of music—say progressive, instrumental rock—where scholarly standards are essentially irrelevant. One could glean the names of a few groups and further investigate. But this is not the stuff of a footnote.

The upshot is that democracy is not good across the board. Scholarship requires hierarchy: experts need to have editorial control. Yes, experts may be wrong (consider 95% of biologists who think Darwinism is well-established evidentially) and may even exclude legitimate ideas (consider the guild of biologists that excludes intelligent design a priori because it violates their philosophical naturalism). Nevertheless, moderated intellectual venues are necessary for intellectual pursuits. Wikis, whatever their worth, are not welcome in this realm.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Dog TV

This kennel offers TV for dogs: http://www.clubpetkennel.com/cgi-bin/vTour.pl?5. Surely, the End is near.