Saturday, March 31, 2007

Advertizing Blitz!

My yearly royalty statement from Wadsworth/Thompson Learning reveals that On Pascal (2003) sold eight copies in 2006. It is part of the Wadsworth Philosophers Series. (I also wrote on Jesus, which sold a 404 copies during the same time.) At least it is still in print. It has sold a little over 1,000 in five years. The grasshopper drags himself along...

All modesty and self-restraint aside, I believe it is a far better book than that. It is readable, but well-documented, and it raises many interesting themes related to his life story, philosophy of science, the nature of Pensees, ethics, views of human nature, the infamous wager (which I defend in a modified version), and his views of Jesus Christ.

So, given the vast and influential audience of The Constructive Curmudgeon, let us try to increase sales by:

1. Buying a copy yourself (and not a used one!).
2. Giving one to a friend, Christian or non-Christian.
3. Consider using it for a text in the classroom (apologetics, history of modern philosophy, adult ed in the church, etc.)
4. Write up a review of it on your own blog.
5. Starting a "The Pascal-Driven Life" series in your church and require church attendees to buy it. Create T-shirts, mugs, and action figures as well.

This is not a plan to make money. The contract reeked; I wrote it for spreading the ideas, not lining my pockets. My pockets are lined with gum wrappers and tissues. This is a rallying cry to get the word out about a little book that celebrates a profound and timely thinker: Blaise Pascal.

If you get a copy, let me know and tell me what you think of it.

My next book will be: On the Sublime Perils of Writing Obscure Books Which Fall Still-Born from the Presses.

Jean Baudrillard is Dead: Reflections

Jean Baudrillard, the often incomprehensible, but sometimes oracular, French sociologist is dead at age 77. I first encountered his work in 1994 when I happened upon The Transparency of Evil, which, at times, was thrilling in its insights into the vicissitudes and perplexities of media culture. This thoughts on hyperrealities are arresting and useful for media analysis. These are roughly images with no concrete references. Think of video game characters. I quoted him a few times in Truth Decay, to good effect, I hope.

Through the years, I read several of this books, but recently decided to read no more. The signal to noise ratio was not high enough on the side of signal. The noise could be deafening. As a recent and merciless obituary in The Chronicle of Higher Education by Carlin Romano put it, Baudrillard was a member of the French "Master of Thought" school, where opacity is taken for profundity, thus excusing all manner of esoteric bombast. Derrida was a more celebrated, but equally obfuscating, member.

As an analytic philosopher (of sorts), I typically have little patience for such stultifying stunts, but with Baudrillard, the pearls amidst swine were sometimes worth the hunt through BS (in Harry Frankfurt's sense of the term). I often quote his line from America, "In America, the laugh track is always running" Quite so. We laugh when we should blush or weep or sit silently.

Baudrillard was called (by some) the French McLuhan. Perhaps at times that would fit, but McLuhan, even at his most obscure, was more clear that Baudrillard at his most clear. Nevertheless, reading McLuhan's Media: The Extensions of Man and Baudrillard's, The Transparency of Evil is recommended for those who desire some insights into the culture of electronic media. They will not give you a Christian critique. Baudrillard was a nihilist; McLuhan was a Catholic who tried to keep his theology out of his theorizing, but not entirely successfully (to our benefit in some cases). But they provide fodder for reflection in developing an understanding to the thought forms and cultural matrix in which we live.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

That's It! Enough!

I've had it with AOL. In the last few weeks I've seen photos of a woman grabbing another woman's breasts on TV and just now of two celebrity women kissing each other. (I was looking for the weather both times.) What is an alternative service that does not have this kind of idiotic obscenity?

Truly, too many Americans have lost the ability to blush--a prelude to judgment if not repented of. Read Francis Schaeffer's Death in the City on the judgment of God against the West and what this means for Christians. We need more weeping prophets (like Jeremiah adn Schaeffer), not wimpy puppets. See Jeremiah 20:9.

Public Lecture by Doug Groothuis at Denver Seminary

"What Philosophers Wish That Biblical Scholars and Theologians Knew About Philosophy."

Hear Dr. Doug Groothuis speak and engage in Q&A on this provocative topic at the next Christian Thought Colloquium -- Thursday, April 5, 12:00-12:50pm, Executive Board Room at Denver Seminary, 6399 S. Santa Fe Drive, Litteton, CO. Bring your lunch, a friend and your comments and questions.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Philosophers Guide to Easy Money

All the books out on making money simply, naturally, supernaturally impress me. Everyone has an angle on the mighty art of capital accumulation. Everyone has their own secret for manifesting material bounty. Why not philosophers?

Easy Money the philosophical way:

1. Read big, difficult, much-known, but little read books--like The Critique of Pure Reason and The Meditations. People will throw money at you out of respect and awe and fear.

2. Teach philosophy at a medium size Christian college. That means teaching four to five classes per term at very low pay. You will probably not be able to write much either, since you will be helping students to differentiate their syllogisms from their aphorisms and Transcendental Idealism from Transcendental Meditation. But one of your students may become rich--after changing their major from philosophy to business--and end up hurling money at you out of deepest gratitude. It could happen.

3. Start a philosophy blog and include a link to a wish list on Just wait for the goodies--philosophy books, of course, but also protein powder, Farberware, and jazz CDs--to arrive by the truckload in the mail.

4. Ask friends and relatives difficult philosophical questions, such as, "How do you know that this state of affair is, in fact, the case?" or "Did you know that your postulate is based on a particularist epistemology?" or "What do you think of the Gettier problem after all these years?" These juicy chops are sure to win you a free dinner or glass or wine quite often.

5. Build a philosophical T-Shirt business. There isn't very much competition. Put philosophical one-liners on the front and/or back of the T-Shirts such as, "Nothing, nothings"--Heidegger. "What is, is"--Parmenides. "Nothing is more to me than myself"--Max Stirner. "I pose, therefore I am"--Bono. "I believe everything--just a little bit"--Marilyn Monroe. And so on. It has to work.

After using these guaranteed, sure-fire, have-never-failed principles, be sure to launch some cash in my direction, because I'm just a poor philosopher to seeks to find truth through reason for the purpose of benefiting existence.

Kant's Transcendental Idealism

After many years, I have gotten a short essay on Kant's transcendental idealism into electronic form, thanks to a secretary at Denver Seminary. This was done to prepare for my comprehensive exams for the doctorate in philosophy at the University of Oregon in 1990. (I passed, by the way.) It is not publishable material, since it lacks full documentation and doesn't break any new ground. However, my students have found it helpful in getting some kind of a grip on Kant's difficult philosophy. If you would like a copy, please email me at

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Big Gift, Big Read

My friend, Tony Weedor, gave me a copy of the Durants' The Story of Civilization! This set was in terrific condition, even retaining the original dust jackets. Tony found it wonderfully underpriced at a garage sale. (Thank God for some kinds of ignorance.) He already had two sets, and he has read the entire set twice.

This brings to mind the idea of actually reading multi-volume sets. Who does this anymore? If I read 5-10 pages a day, I might be able to finish it in a few years--assuming I live that long. The specifics of timing require calculations not yet made. (The book mark is on page 31 of volume one for now.)

How many of you read or have read large sets of books? What do you you make of the idea? I read the first four volumes of Carl Henry's God, Revelation, and Authority in the summer of 1981. That was the last big conquest.

Friday, March 23, 2007

A Refreshing Conversation in a Renovated Bookstore

While roaming about Denver today (it's spring break, which is all-too-quickly ending), I went into an old bookstore I have visited many times since living here. It used to be called Ichabod's--a strange name, since that means "God forsaken." The store had changed radically. There was a new name (which I forgot, but the address is 2 S. Broadway in Denver). It was more open, cleaner, and had old albums organized alphabetically at the front of the store. This was all good. The old store was claustrophobic and as musty as it could get.

So, I talked to the friendly owner, Jack, about the changes. He explained that he wanted to broaded the appeal of the store by increasing visibility, cleaning up the stock (some books had been stuck to the walls by mold), and displaying local art that could be purchased on the spot. He also spoke of "listening to the community" concerning what the store should be like. That seemed good to me. I spent some time inspecting the paintings on the walls, which were done by local artists. Most of them seemed hopelessly opaque and/or ugly, but some were not so bad. (Admittedly, I'm not an art critic, but still...).

I purchased an old Jim Hall album along with a Charlie Parker recording, each for $3. (I still have my 1973 turntable connected to an old stereo system.) I found a hardback edition of Francis Schaeffer's How Should We Then Live in the stock. If it is there next time I go in, if it is still there, I think I'll commend it to the owner, given his interest in art--something Schaeffer was especially concerned with. (See also his Art and the Bible, which has been recently reissued by InterVarsity Press.)

What struck me about all this was the emphasis on local culture: listening to the community (South Broadway) and providing a place for artistic work. It wasn't a chain; it wasn't a box store. They played KUVO, the stellar jazz station of Denver. But rest room was "out of order," so I didn't stay as long as I wanted.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Preaching: Soft and Hard

Pastor John MacArthur was preaching on what makes a good church on his radio program this morning and came up with this: "Soft preaching makes hard hearts. Hard preaching makes soft hearts."

He is on to something. If a preacher (male or female; MacArthur doesn't believe in female pastors and preachers, sadly) preaches the deep and difficult things of Holy Scripture, even the painful things, people may, through the Holy Spirit, repent and embrace those things and do mightly exploits for God. I recently heard one of our senior preachers, Kiara Jorgensen, do just that in chapel at Denver Seminary. She carefully unpacked a text that taught that God's people must reach out to the unlovely, the outcast. It was hard, good, challenging, and right.

Contrariwise, when preachers (or, better, pulpiteers) preach an easy word, give a soft and comfortable message, the congregation is not challenged to the root of their being to be holy as God is holy. They then become hard, complacent, comfortable. This, tragically, is most of North American preaching.

Jerram Barrs reflects on the preaching of Francis Schaeffer (1912-1984) this way:

I will never forget some of the sermons I heard him preach. The fact that his voice was high and often would crack as he emphasized a point, the reality that no-one could describe him as ‘charismatic’ or ‘strikingly handsome’ in appearance - these things were completely unimportant. I would listen to a message, often for well over an hour, and be captivated by the truth from God’s Word that was communicated with such clarity and power and with such relevance to our own moment of history and such immediate application to my life. One sermon on Rahab often comes back to me: ‘we are all harlots’ Francis declared, ‘we have all prostituted ourselves constantly to other gods.’ There are many others of his sermons that have left this same indelible impression on my mind.

That was hard preaching.

Oh, Christians! Expect more from your preachers. Don't settle for "the pillow prophets" (as David Wilkerson puts it). Don't heed those who cry, "Peace, peace when there is no peace," those who purport to "heal the wounds of God's people lightly." Expect more. Pray for more. Demand more.

O preachers! Forsake all pulpiteering, people-pleasing, culture-aping, dumbed down and entertaining "messages." Whose message is it? Not your own, but God's. As Paul said:

10 Am I now trying to win human approval, or God's approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ. --Galatians 1:10.

Fine article on Francis Schaeffer

Here is an excellent overview of the life and work of Francis A. Schaeffer b Jerram Barrs, "Francis Schaeffer: The Man and His Message." Barrs teaches at the Francis Schaeffer Institute and worked with the Schaeffers. He is co-author of Being Human.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Fischer on Schaeffer

John Fischer, musician and author, has written a piece on Francis Schaeffer for Christianity Today. I have mixed reactions to it, and may comment more later. Nevertheless, it is worth reading for its basic thesis: Schaeffer had compassion for lost people and a lost culture. Do we?

More on reading

1. Here are two solid books on reading books:

A. Mortimer Adler, How to Read a Book.

B. James W. Sire, How to Read Slowly (InterVarsity Press, 1980). I'm not sure if this is still in print, but it is a wise read on how to read, especially related to discerning the worldview of the writer of any book.

2. Seek God as to what books you should purchase and read. Ask God to give you wisdom as you read to sort out the true from the false and to remember what is important for God's Kingdom work. See Colossians 3:17; 1 Corinthians 10:31; Matthew 6:33.

3. For the discipline of reading and study consider the conjunction of these two verses:

A. 24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. --1 Corinthians 9:24-27.

B. 11 The words of the wise are like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails—given by one shepherd. 12 Be warned, my son, of anything in addition to them. Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body. --Ecclesiastes 12:11-12.

Those called to study must discipline their bodies to that end--for the glory of God.

Saturday, March 17, 2007


Here are eleven short principles for how to read a book. I just gave these to someone who asked me by email about how to read.

1. Read often, giving adequate time for the nature of the work.

2. Stop watching TV (if you do). It tends to rot the mind. Read the appendix to Truth Decay on that as well as the contemporary classic, Amusing Ourselves to Death, by Neil Postman (1985).

3. Mark up your books, underlining key ideas and jotting ideas in the margins. Keep an index in the front of the book of the most important ideas. If the book is especially profound, take detailed notes on it.

4. Try to use the ideas from good books in letters, essays, teachings, and conversations. Form a book club. Keep the ideas alive. Aspire to write a book yourself, if it is needed and you are the person to write it.

5. Reread important books. This is a mark of the literary person, as CS Lewis notes in An Experiment in Criticism. I have been rereading much of Francis Schaeffer recently, a man I first read nearly 30 years ago as a young Christian. It is well worth it.

6. Never get rid of a book you have read. I have thousands of books, but lament that have I let go of some I have read (and some I didn't).

7. Read and reread old books. Don't be taken captive by fashion. Savor the classics.

8. Ask smart people what their favorite books are and why. Then read them.

9. Read in silence. Carve out a private place if need be.

10. Always look up and learn unfamiliar words you find in your reading. From 1976-1994 or so, I filled a blank book of over a 100 pages with such words. Use such words in conversation, even if the person you are conversing with may not know them.

11. Spend time in books stores, new and old. Get a sense and feel for what is out there.

12. When in doubt, buy a book.

Friday, March 16, 2007

A good chop from one of my students

In a paper for my class Christian Ethics and Modern Culture, an adroit student wrote, "Christians should humbly try to be the smartest people on the planet."

Teaching does have its rewards.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Quiet Passing of Kurios Coffee

Kurios coffee: 2003-2007.

A song of ascents. Of David.

1 How good and pleasant it is when God's people live together in unity!
2 It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron's beard, down on the collar of his robe.
3 It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the LORD bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.

Why must small, but good things die?

Kurios Coffee is an independent coffee shop set up by Joel Newton (a seminary student) at Denver Seminary. Sadly, Friday, March 16, will be its last day of service. Joel could not keep up financially, given the lack of patronage. This says several things about our culture.

Not enough students felt loyal to their own coffee shop. Servers told me of seeing many students with their Starbucks cups in the student center. The problem is not that students or faculty don't drink coffee, but where they buy it. In our mobile and in-transit society, the idea of loyalty to a place, to a locality, is rare. It is all functionality: get the coffee, quickly, and take it with you. McWorld strikes again, to the detriment of local, small-scale culture.

Another problem is likely that few students take the student center to be a place to regularly convene and converse. They are perpetually on the move. Years ago, one of my African students told me how surprised he was that students didn't remain after class to talk over the lectures. They did this for hours in Africa while he was in Bible school. Here, we are too busy, too frenetic, too much in-transit. Time is money, you know.

Now I'll have to remember to stop at Starbucks on the way to work--unless I ever get off the evil-wonderful brew. But thanks to Kurios Coffee for four years of caffenation and hospitality, despite its impending expiration. McWorld wins yet another round.

What is the answer to the octopus of McWorld? It is not socialism. It is not governmental regulation. It is conviviality.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

A Courageous and Important African Woman: Aynna Hirsi Ali

[Like the case of the late Oriana Fallaci, I cannot agree with Ali's atheism, but I do respect her courage and forthrightness. How I wish I could talk to her about the truth, rationality, and pertience of the Chrstian message. May God lead someone to do so. Atheism cannot stand up to Islam in the long run.]

From The Wall Street Journal


Free Radical

Ayaan Hirsi Ali infuriates Muslims and discomfits liberals.


Saturday, March 10, 2007 12:01 a.m.

NEW YORK--Ayaan Hirsi Ali is untrammeled and unrepentant: "I am supposed to apologize for saying the prophet is a pervert and a tyrant," she declares. "But that is apologizing for the truth."

Statements such as these have brought Ms. Hirsi Ali to world-wide attention. Though she recently left her adopted country, Holland--where her friend and intellectual collaborator Theo van Gogh was murdered by a Muslim extremist in 2004--she is still accompanied by armed guards wherever she travels.

Ms. Hirsi Ali was born in 1969 in Mogadishu--into, as she puts it, "the Islamic civilization, as far as you can call it a civilization." In 1992, at age 22, her family gave her hand to a distant relative; had the marriage ensued, she says, it would have been "an arranged rape." But as she was shipped to the appointment via Europe, she fled, obtaining asylum in Holland. There, "through observation, through experience, through reading," she acquainted herself with a different world. "The culture that I came to and I live in now is not perfect," Ms. Hirsi Ali says. "But this culture, the West, the product of the Enlightenment, is the best humanity has ever achieved."

Unease over Muslim immigration had been rising in the Low Countries for some time. For instance, when the gay right-wing politician Pim Fortuyn--"I am in favor of a cold war with Islam," he said, and believed the borders should be closed to Muslims--was gunned down in 2002, it was widely assumed his killer was an Islamist. There was a strange sense of relief when he turned out to be a mere animal-rights activist. Ms. Hirsi Ali brought integration issues to further attention, exposing domestic abuse and even honor killings in the Dutch-Muslim "dish cities."

In 2003, she won a seat in the parliament as a member of the center-right VVD Party, for People's Party for Freedom and Democracy. The next year, she wrote the script for a short film called "Submission." It investigated passages from the Quran that Ms. Hirsi Ali contends authorize violence against women, and did so by projecting those passages onto naked female bodies. In retrospect, she deeply regrets the outcome: "I don't think the film was worth the human life."

The life in question was that of Van Gogh, a prominent controversialist and the film's director. At the end of 2004, an Islamist named Mohammed Buyeri shot him as he was bicycling to work in downtown Amsterdam, then almost decapitated him with a curved sword. He left a manifesto impaled to the body: "I know for sure that you, Oh Hirsi Ali, will go down," was its incantation. "I know for sure that you, Oh unbelieving fundamentalist, will go down."

The shock was palpable. Holland--which has the second largest per capita population of Muslims in the EU, after France--had always prided itself on its pluralism, in which all groups would be tolerated but not integrated. The killing made clear just how apart its groups were.

"Immediately after the murder," Ms. Hirsi Ali says, "we learned Theo's killer had access to education, he had learned the language, he had taken welfare. He made it very clear he knew what democracy meant, he knew what liberalism was, and he consciously rejected it. . . . He said, 'I have an alternative framework. It's Islam. It's the Quran.' "

At his sentencing, Mohammed Buyeri said he would have killed his own brother, had he made "Submission" or otherwise insulted the One True Faith. "And why?" Ms. Hirsi Ali asks. "Because he said his god ordered him to do it. . . . We need to see," she continues, "that this isn't something that's caused by special offense, the right, Jews, poverty. It's religion."

Ms. Hirsi Ali was forced into living underground; a hard-line VVD minister named Rita Verdonk, cracking down on immigration, canceled her citizenship for misstatements made on her asylum application--which Ms. Hirsi Ali had admitted years before and justified as a means to win quicker admission at a time of great personal vulnerability. The resulting controversy led to the collapse of Holland's coalition government. Ms. Hirsi Ali has since decamped for America--in effect a political refugee from Western Europe--to take up a position with the American Enterprise Institute. But the crisis, she says, is "still simmering underneath and it might erupt--somewhere, anywhere."

That partly explains why Ms. Hirsi Ali's new autobiography, "Infidel," is already a best seller. It may also have something to do with the way she scrambles our expectations. In person, she is modest, graceful, enthralling. Intellectually, she is fierce, even predatory: "We know exactly what it is about but we don't have the guts to say it out loud," she says. "We are too weak to take up our role. The West is falling apart. The open society is coming undone."

Many liberals loathe her for disrupting an imagined "diversity" consensus: It is absurd, she argues, to pretend that cultures are all equal, or all equally desirable. But conservatives, and others, might be reasonably unnerved by her dim view of religion. She does not believe that Islam has been "hijacked" by fanatics, but that fanaticism is intrinsic in Islam itself: "Islam, even Islam in its nonviolent form, is dangerous."

The Muslim faith has many variations, but Ms. Hirsi Ali contends that the unities are of greater significance. "Islam has a very consistent doctrine," she says, "and I define Islam as I was taught to define it: submission to the will of Allah. His will is written in the Quran, and in the hadith and Sunna. What we are all taught is that when you want to make a distinction between right and wrong, you follow the prophet. Muhammad is the model guide for every Muslim through time, throughout history."

This supposition justifies, in her view, a withering critique of Islam's most holy human messenger. "You start by scrutinizing the morality of the prophet," and then ask: "Are you prepared to follow the morality of the prophet in a society such as this one?" She draws a connection between Mohammed's taking of child brides and modern sexual oppressions--what she calls "this imprisonment of women." She decries the murder of adulteresses and rape victims, the wearing of the veil, arranged marriages, domestic violence, genital mutilation and other contraventions of "the most basic freedoms."

These sufferings, she maintains, are traceable to theological imperatives. "People say it is a bad strategy," Ms. Hirsi Ali says forcefully. "I think it is the best strategy. . . . Muslims must choose to follow their rational capacities as humans and to follow reason instead of Quranic commands. At that point Islam will be reformed."

This worldview has led certain critics to dismiss Ms. Hirsi Ali as a secular extremist. "I have my ideas and my views," she says, "and I want to argue them. It is our obligation to look at things critically." As to the charges that she is an "Enlightenment fundamentalist," she points out, rightly, that people who live in democratic societies are not supposed to settle their disagreements by killing one another.

And yet contemporary democracies, she says, accommodate the incitement of such behavior: "The multiculturalism theology, like all theologies, is cruel, is wrongheaded, and is unarguable because it is an utter dogmatism. . . . Minorities are exempted from the obligations of the rest of society, so they don't improve. . . . With this theory you limit them, you freeze their culture, you keep them in place."

The most grievous failing of the West is self-congratulatory passivity: We face "an external enemy that to a degree has become an internal enemy, that has infiltrated the system and wants to destroy it." She believes a more drastic reaction is required: "It's easy," she says, "to weigh liberties against the damage that can be done to society and decide to deny liberties. As it should be. A free society should be prepared to recognize the patterns in front of it, and do something about them."

She says the West must begin to think long term about its relationship with Islam--because the Islamists are. Ms. Hirsi Ali notes Muslim birth rates are vastly outstripping those elsewhere (particularly in Western Europe) and believes this is a conscious attempt to extend the faith. Muslims, she says, treat women as "these baby-machines, these son-factories. . . . We need to compete with this," she goes on. "It is a totalitarian method. The Nazis tried it using women as incubators, literally to give birth to soldiers. Islam is now doing it. . . . It is a very effective and very frightening way of dealing with human beings."

All of this is profoundly politically incorrect. But for this remarkable woman, ideas are not abstractions. She forces us back to first principles, and she punctures complacencies. These ought to be seen as virtues, even by those who find some of Ms. Hirsi Ali's ideas disturbing or objectionable. Society, after all, sometimes needs to be roused from its slumbers by agitators who go too far so that others will go far enough.

Mr. Rago is an editorial page writer for The Wall Street Journal.

Monday, March 12, 2007

No Gnostics Here: Rebecca Merrill Groothuis's Response to "Crosstalk" Radio Program

[On March 8, 2007, the "Crosstalk" radio program interviewed two women who said false things about Rebecca Merrill Groothuis and myself in their supposed expose of "Evangelical Feminism." They accused us of being sympathetic to goddess worship and to Gnosticism, believe it or not. Below is Rebecca's email to the host of the program, which includes an earlier response to Jill Ritsche.]

Dear Ingrid Schlueter:

I have been informed of the substance of Jill Ritsche's and Dwayna Litz's allegations aired recently on your radio program. Since Jill and Dwayna were quite inaccurate in their portrayal of my position and beliefs, I thought you might be interested in reading my 2/16/07 email to Jill (copied below), which I sent her in response to her repeated request for my email address and her query regarding my association with Christians for Biblical Equality. In the email to Jill, I also included a short essay that I had written, which clearly delineates my beliefs on the subject of God as Father. The essay is attached here as a file, and I have also provided a link to it, where it is posted on the Christians For Biblical Equality web page. Everything in this essay is based soundly and directly on Scripture. A cool head and a sound mind will readily perceive from this essay that I absolutely do not advocate worshipping God as Mother. Any charge that my views on this matter are "questionable" is without any warrant.

Dwayna and Jill also claimed that I believe Adam was originally androgynous. That, too, is false. In my book Good News for Women I present this briefly as the view of some, but state clearly that "we cannot know these things with certainty" (p. 125). I do not affirm this view; I merely offer an unbiased discussion of it. In any case, this has no bearing on the nature of God. Nor does this idea affirm or even suggest androgyny as any kind of ideal for humanity in general.

Further, in my book Women Caught in the Conflict (chapter 12), I thoroughly address the error and illogic of associating evangelical egalitarianism with androgyny and Gnosticism. There is no biblical, logical, or theological basis for the claim that biblical gender equality entails, derives from, or leads to androgyny and/or Gnosticism.

Time does not permit a response to the other falsehoods aired on this show. But I trust that the few remarks I have offered here will be helpful to you in properly assessing the merits of Dwayna's and Jill's claims.

Rebecca Merrill Groothuis


Dear Jill Ritsche:

You now have my email address, although it is available for one and all on my website, which also offers essays I’ve written critiquing goddess religions. Those essays—as well as both my books—make clear that I do not have any sympathy with goddess worship, which posits a divine feminine element present in every woman and throughout the universe (pantheism). This is certainly not compatible with biblical theology. Nor is it compatible with any of the teaching propounded by leaders in Christians for Biblical Equality. CBE does not advocate the worship of a mother God. That charge has no logical or factual basis. Recognizing that God is neither male nor female and that Scripture speaks of God in metaphorical imagery that is feminine and motherly is NOT tantamount to worshiping a mother God.

I would also like to clarify that I am on the Board of Reference for CBE; I am not on the governing board. I do not have, nor have I ever had any governing authority over CBE. The books and resources that they choose to offer, as well as their own publications, are not subject to my review. There are doubtless some books, resources and articles in their publications with which I would not be in entire agreement. I am not responsible for CBE’s public comments or publications or marketing decisions. However, I am on the Board of Reference because I stand behind CBE’s doctrinal statement, and their “Men, Women and Biblical Equality” statement, and their mission to build up the church by releasing all believers to serve God according to the gifting of the Holy Spirit without restrictions based solely on gender. CBE and I are in agreement that a true and proper understanding of Scripture requires that gender, in and of itself, will neither privilege nor curtail a believer’s opportunity to serve the Lord in ministry.

I have included my own understanding of God as Father in the short essay below.

I trust that the above material is helpful for you.

Rebecca Merrill Groothuis

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Nietzsche's Epigram and Ramm's Rebuke

A word for apologists:

“The most perfidious way of harming a cause consists of defending it deliberately with faulty arguments.” --Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, section 191.

Another word from Bernard Ramm's neglected classic:

"What is the devil’s due Evangelicals can glean from Nietzsche? It is the willingness to be driven like Nietzsche. It is the willingness to spare no pains in the search for truth. It is the willingness. . . .to work into the late hours of the night or to start in the earliest hours of the day; to pick up a new project as soon as we have finished an older one; to grow weary and exhausted in our quest for truth; to have...our eyes watery from too much reading, and our bodies bent over from long, weary hours at the study desk.

No Evangelical whose reading habits are a disgrace to the seriousness of the Christian ministry, or who spends more time before a television set than he does in serious reading in his study has the right to damn Nietzsche from the pulpit to some gruesome place in the Inferno."

--Bernard Ramm, The Devil, Seven Wormwoods, and God (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1977), 61-62.

Friday, March 09, 2007

"The Secret" and O!

Oprah has been promoting an egregious New Age piece of bunkum called The Secret. Salon has published a hard-hitting expose. I have written nearly 1000 pages against this worldview since the 1980s (but not that much in recent years; enough is enough). Sadly, it is still with us. It is still deceiving millions. It is still making millions for its more savvy promoters. The serpent in the garden was the very first promoter (Genesis 3:6).

And many think Oprah is a wonderful Christian woman. "You will know them by their fruits," Jesus said, including the fruit of their worldview.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Celebrities and Charity: Do the Math (You, too, Bono)

Advertizing Age

Costly Red Campaign Reaps Meager $18 Million

Bono & Co. Spend up to $100 Million on Marketing, Incur Watchdogs' Wrath

By Mya Frazier

Published: March 05, 2007 COLUMBUS, Ohio (

-- It's been a year since the first Red T-shirts hit Gap shelves in London, and a parade of celebrity-splashed events has followed: Steven Spielberg smiling down from billboards in San Francisco; Christy Turlington striking a yoga pose in a New Yorker ad; Bono cruising Chicago's Michigan Avenue with Oprah Winfrey, eagerly snapping up Red products; Chris Rock appearing in Motorola TV spots ("Use Red, nobody's dead"); and the Red room at the Grammy Awards. So you'd expect the money raised to be, well, big, right? Maybe $50 million, or even $100 million.

Try again: The tally raised worldwide is $18 million.

The disproportionate ratio between the marketing outlay and the money raised is drawing concern among nonprofit watchdogs, cause-marketing experts and even executives in the ad business. It threatens to spur a backlash, not just against the Red campaign -- which ambitiously set out to change the cause-marketing model by allowing partners to profit from charity -- but also for the brands involved.

Enormous outlay

By any measure, the buzz has been extraordinary and the collective marketing outlay by Gap, Apple and Motorola has been enormous, with some estimates as high as $100 million. Gap alone spent $7.8 million of its $58 million outlay on Red during last year's fourth quarter, according to Nielsen Media Research's Nielsen Adviews.

But contributions don't seem to be living up to the hype. Richard Feachem, executive director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the recipient of money raised by Red, told The Boston Globe in December, "We may be over the $100 million mark by the end of Christmas."

Rajesh Anandan, the Global Fund's head of private-sector partnerships, said Mr. Feachem was misquoted, and defended the efforts by Red to increase the Global Fund's private-sector donations, which totaled just $5 million from 2002 to 2005. (The U.S. Congress just approved a $724 million pledge to the Global Fund, on top of $1.9 billion already given and $650 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.)

'Hugely frontloaded'

"Red has done as much as we could have hoped for in the short time it has been up and running," he said, adding: "The launch cost of this kind of campaign is going to be hugely frontloaded. It's a very costly exercise."

Julie Cordua, VP-marketing at Red and a former Motorola marketing exec and director-buzz marketing at Helio, said the outlay by the program's partners must be understood within the context of the campaign's goal: sustainability. "It's not a charity program of them writing a one-time check. It has to make good business sense for the company so the money will continue to flow to the Global Fund over time." She added that since many of Red's partners haven't closed their books yet on 2006, more funds likely will be added to the $18 million. But is the rise of philanthropic fashionistas decked out in Red T-shirts and iPods really the best way to save a child dying of AIDS in Africa?

Parody mocks Bono

The campaign's inherent appeal to conspicuous consumption has spurred a parody by a group of San Francisco designers and artists, who take issue with Bono's rallying cry. "Shopping is not a solution. Buy less. Give more," is the message at, which encourages people to give directly to the Global Fund.

"The Red campaign proposes consumption as the cure to the world's evils," said Ben Davis, creative director at Word Pictures Ideas, co-creator of the site. "Can't we just focus on the real solution -- giving money?"

Trent Stamp, president of Charity Navigator, which rates the spending practices of 5,000 nonprofits, said he's concerned about the campaign's impact on the next generation. "The Red campaign can be a good start or it can be a colossal waste of money, and it all depends on whether this edgy, innovative campaign inspires young people to be better citizens or just gives them an excuse to feel good about themselves while they buy an overpriced item they don't really need."

Fears of nonprofits

Mark Rosenman, a longtime activist in the nonprofit sector and a public-service professor at the Union Institute & University in Cincinnati, said the disparity between the marketing outlay and the money raised by Red is illustrative of some of the biggest fears of nonprofits in the U.S.

"There is a broadening concern that business is taking on the patina of philanthropy and crowding out philanthropic activity and even substituting for it," he said. "It benefits the for-profit partners much more than the charitable causes."

"The Great Evangelical Disaster"

In 1984 Franky Schaeffer (Francis Schaeffer's son) produced an animated film called, "The Great Evangelical Disaster" to go along with a book of that title by the senior Schaeffer (which was his last; he died a few months after it was released). I am interested to know if this film (which I somehow never saw) is available on DVD or video cassette. Does anyone know about this? Amazon has nothing.

Monday, March 05, 2007

God as Father

Rebecca Merrill Groothuis has written a short essay on the meaning of God as Father on the web site of Christians for Biblical Equality. An earlier version of this essay first appeared on The Constructive Curmudgeon. I commend it to you for an insightful and nuanced understanding of God with respect to gender.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Professor Ben Witherington from The Wall Street Journal


Tomb of the (Still) Unknown Ancients
More Jesus hype of the "Da Vinci Code" type.


Wall Street Journal. Friday, March 2, 2007 12:01 a.m.

Year after year in spring, a new crop of religious dandelions pop up in our post-Christian culture. Like the real ones growing in my yard, they make a colorful splash that briefly captures our attention, until we realize that they are only shallow-rooted weeds, not beautiful flowers planted long ago in the deep rich soil of the past, such as Easter lilies.

Last year, it was the Gnostic nonsense of the "Da Vinci Code." We've had the "Gospel of Judas Iscariot," written centuries after the eyewitnesses were dead. This year it's a variation on the "Da Vinci" theme. We are not only being told that there was a Mrs. Jesus (a k a Mary Magdalene). We are also informed that her tomb and that of Jesus have been found in Jerusalem; that DNA testing has proved that they are not related and so must have been married (how exactly does it prove that?) and that an ossuary or small casket of at least one of their offspring has been found as well. News at 11! Or, in this case, on the Discovery Channel's documentary "The Lost Tomb of Jesus," scheduled for Sunday night.

In a surreal moment on "Larry King Live" earlier this week, the film's producer, James Cameron (of "Titanic" fame), told us with a straight face that we should all be thankful that we now have tangible evidence that Jesus existed. Actually, no serious historian of biblical antiquity has ever doubted that there was a historical Jesus. Yet it tells us a lot about the state of our culture that Mr. Cameron's remark, backed by pseudo-science, could be seriously made on national television and that the film's companion book has already shot up to No. 5 on Amazon's rankings. We are a Jesus-haunted culture that is so historically illiterate that anything can now pass for knowledge of Jesus.

No doubt there are those who welcome "evidence" that undermines the foundation of Christianity. Many people, though, are simply beguiled by the "obsolescence factor" in our technologically driven society--the "newer" must be "truer" and "better." This outlook, when applied to a subject like the historical Jesus, attracts all sorts of unbridled speculation, and worse.

How momentous is the latest Jesus-as-you-never-knew-him story? Not very. It is simply not true, as Mr. Cameron's claims in his preface to Simcha Jacobovici's book, "The Jesus Family Tomb," that we have had no hard evidence for Jesus' existence before now except in the Bible. That ignores mentions in ancient Roman and Jewish historians such Tacitus, Suetonius and Josephus.

The "Jesus tomb" explorers trot out statistics on ancient Hebrew names, claiming that the ones in the tomb sound too much like known Jesus family members for the similarity to be a coincidence. But since we've only excavated a minority of archaeological and tomb sites even in Jerusalem, most ancient names are still buried in the earth, making meaningful statistical analysis difficult. What we can say for certain is that most of the names found in the Talpiot tomb on the outskirts of Jerusalem have been seen in many places elsewhere--in texts, on potsherds, in inscriptions, in the Bible itself. They are not rare even by the standards of the limited evidence we do have.

Any good scientific theory must account for all the evidence--in this case, all the names we find in the Talpiot tomb and not just the ones that match the holy-family theory. For instance, we have a Matthew in the tomb, but Jesus had no brothers named Matthew. And where are brothers like Simon, or the sisters mentioned in Mark 6, and where especially is brother James? We actually know that James was buried within sight of the Temple Mount, and Talpiot is miles from there. Eusebius, the fourth-century church historian, saw the tomb and the standing inscribed slab in front of it.

You also have to ask yourself: Why would most of the holy family from Galilee be buried in a middle-class tomb several miles outside of Jerusalem in some sheep pasture? They were, in fact, poor and could not afford an ornamental tomb like this one. This family was from Nazareth, too, with connections in Bethlehem. Why wouldn't its members be buried in one of those places?
We also know that crucifixion was considered the most shameful and hideous way to die, a blow from which one's family honor did not soon recover, if ever. So shamefully did Jesus die that his first followers and even most of his family abandoned him: He was not buried by family members or by the Galilean disciples. He was put in a tomb near the old city that did not belong to any of them.

Of course, the main implicit contention of the documentary and book is that the Resurrection is demonstrably a fraud--and thus, we must assume, people like Peter and James, the brother of Jesus, were prepared to be martyred in grisly ways to perpetrate a fraud. Resurrection had only one meaning for early Jews--a miracle that happens to a person's body so that they are raised from the dead.

To skeptics, no amount of counterargument will matter. Yet it wouldn't hurt for the rest of us to exercise a bit of skepticism when listening to each year's new theories about Jesus and the "true" history behind the biblical narrative. Amos Kloner, the archaeologist who supervised work at the tomb when it was first discovered in 1980, has called the documentary's claims "impossible" and "nonsense." As a New Testament scholar, I will trust serious scholars like him. Make no bones about it--they have not found Jesus' tomb.

Mr. Witherington is professor of New Testament Interpretation at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky., and the author of "What Have They Done With Jesus?"

A Test Case for Moral Relativism

There is, it seems, a verb in classical Japanese which means “to try out one’s new sword on a chance wayfarer.” (The word is tsujigiri, literally “crossroads-cut.”) A samurai sword had to be tried out because, if it was to work properly, it had t slice through someone at a single blow, from the shoulder to the opposite flank. Otherwise, the warrior bungled his stroke. This could injure his honour, offend his ancestors, and even let down his emperor. So tests were needed, and wayfarers had to be expended. Any wayfarer would do—provided, of course, that he was not another Samurai.

—Mary Midgley, “Trying Out One’s New Sword,” in Christina Sommers and Fred Sommers, eds. Vice and Virtue in Everyday Life, 2nd ed. (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Publishers, 1989), 163.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Dr. Craig Blomberg on the Bones of Jesus Controversy

[My colleague at Denver Seminary, Craig Blomberg, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor of New Testament, just published this response to the "bones of Jesus" controversy. This was first published on the Denver Seminary web page. Please spread the word.]

Did They Really Find Jesus’ Bones?

What will they think of next? Dan Brown writes a novel (The DaVinci Code) that fictitiously garbles Christian history and millions of people believe it is based on fact. The end-of-the-second-century Gospel of Judas is unearthed and the normally scholarly National Geographic Society produces a documentary so biased than even skeptics like Bart Ehrman have to debunk it.

Now various news sources and websites, accompanying a Discovery Channel documentary, tout the possibility of scholars having discovered Jesus’ family tomb. Ossuaries (small bone boxes into which people were re-buried after their corpses had rotted and their skeletal remains were exhumed) in a Jerusalem tomb allegedly contain the Hebrew names for Joseph, Mary, Matthew, Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Judah son of Jesus, with space for perhaps one more mini-coffin. DNA tests now demonstrate that the second Mary does not share any DNA with the remains found in the Jesus ossuary. Given the frequency of burying extended families together, it makes sense to think of this person as a wife of one of the other men, and given the location of her ossuary next to the one of Jesus, perhaps she was his husband.

One writer declares, “We’ve disproved the resurrection.” Another boasts, “At last, the first indisputable evidence that Jesus of Nazareth actually lived.” A third announces, “See, Jesus was married to Mary and they had a son named Judah.” Mighty wishful thinking on all three counts! Consider the following observations that also emerge as one reads the stories carefully.

(1) There is doubt about what some of the letters in the names’ inscriptions really say, particularly the name supposedly corresponding to Jesus. (2) The tomb (in the Talpiot neighborhood) is nowhere near the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, a highly likely candidate for the original site of Jesus’ death. Given ancient Jewish burial practices, the likelihood of Jesus having been buried anywhere other than close to where he was crucified is small. (3) Dan Brown’s fiction notwithstanding, there is not a shred of historical evidence to suggest that Jesus was married and much that says he was single. (4) The second Mary’s name isn’t Magdalene; it is actually three Greek (!) words that could be translated Mary the Master. But that is not a known title or form of address for the Magdalene anywhere else in antiquity.

(5) Normally when the information from tombs doesn’t match existing literary information about ancient people, the assumption is made that we haven’t found their tombs. For the sake of argument, let’s say that this tomb does contain the remains of a Joshua (the actual Hebrew) and a Miriam who had a son named Judah. That information alone virtually disproves that this tomb had anything to do with the “Holy Family,” since the Bible and serious Christian tradition unanimously agrees Jesus was unmarried and celibate.

(6) Speaking of reading carefully, most of the reports acknowledge that this tomb and all these ossuaries and their inscriptions were first discovered in 1980. And the information was made public then; there was no cover-up. So if there was any likelihood that these ossuaries had anything to do with Jesus of Nazareth, one would expect to find all kinds of hoopla in the scholarly literature and popular news releases from that day. In fact there was none. People in 1980 realized that the evidence didn’t add up.

Ah, but now we have two new pieces of scientific data, we are told. Besides the “Jesus” and “Mary” DNA being tested and found unrelated, some patina (a fancy word for the encrustation of junk built up on the surface of an object made of wood or metal over the centuries) from the ossuaries appears to match that found on the famous James ossuary that came to light just a few years ago and that was at first highly touted as belonging to “James, son of Joseph, the brother of Jesus.” That is, until it was pointed out that the inscription adding “brother of Jesus” appeared to be in a different form of handwriting and to have come from a later date. So if the James ossuary did come from this “Jesus family tomb,” that would probably be one more reason (7) for not believing it had anything to do with the famous characters by those names.

For the coup de grace, however, the sensationalizers trot out statisticians who compute some astronomically miniscule likelihood of all these names being found together in one place and having them all correspond to the biblical names associated with Jesus’ family. Of course, nothing is said about (8) the missing brothers and sisters of Jesus from this tomb. Nor does (9) any plausible explanation emerge for why one (and only one) disciple, Matthew, unrelated to this family, would show up in their tomb. Be all that as it may, unless you know something about (10) the frequency of ancient Hebrew names in Israel during the centuries surrounding the birth of Christianity, to have Joseph, Mary, Jesus, another Mary, Matthew and maybe James all crop up in one place seems just too unlikely to be coincidental.

It’s time to do some real historical research. In 2002, the Israeli scholar Tal Ilan wrote the book that will never be a bestseller (at $220 even through Best Buy) but becomes an invaluable resource in debates like this: Lexicon of Jewish Names in Late Antiquity, Part I: Palestine 330 BCE—200 CE (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck). Richard Bauckham’s outstanding 2006 volume, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans)—which is affordable and which I have reviewed in the Denver Journal, accessible from the seminary’s homepage—provides the excerpts most relevant for New Testament studies.

For example, Bauckham reproduces the 99 most popular male names among Jews in Israel throughout this period from every known inscriptional and documentary source preserved or recovered. Here’s the list of the top eleven, in order, beginning with the most frequent: Simon, Joseph, Eleazar (Lazarus), Judah, Yohanan (John), Joshua (Jesus), Hananiah (Ananias), Jonathan, Mattathias/Matthias (Matthew), Menahem (Manaen), and Jacob (James). The names in parentheses are the English equivalents of the Greek versions of the Hebrew names that precede them. Notice anything interesting? Indeed, every male ossuary name from the Talpiot tomb is on the list, in positions 2, 4, 6 and 9, respectively, and, if James belonged there, too, he is number 11. Or, to use raw numerical data, we know of 218 Josephs from this period, 164 Judahs, 99 Joshuas, 62 Matthews and 40 Jacobs. And, of course, only the tiniest fraction of ancient evidence has survived the centuries.

What about the women you ask? Mary is number one! Then come Salome, Shelamzion, Martha, Joanna, Shiphra (Sapphira), Berenice, Imma and Mara. So two Marys in an extended family calls for about as many raised eyebrows as a modern Hispanic family with two Marías. For that matter, would anyone bat an eye if that same family had a José (Joseph) and a Jesús as well? Would this prove that such a family included the long lost descendants of Jesus himself?

Or take a more chronologically relevant example. Scholars have long known about (and tourists can still visit) the tomb in Bethany where inscriptions were discovered referring to Mary, Martha and Lazarus (and others). But every scholar worth his or her salt, no matter how conservative, acknowledges that those names were just so common that even to find them together in one tomb in the very town that the Bible says the three New Testament characters by those names lived proves statistically insignificant. It’s entirely possible that it happened completely by chance. There may easily have been a whole bunch families in Bethany with lots of children, including three with those names, in an age when parents had as many children as they could in hopes that a few might survive to care for them, if necessary, in their old age,

The same approach must be taken with the cluster of names in the Talpiot tomb. In fact, Bauckham’s tables extracted from Ilan’s monumental reference work add one very interesting footnote. The Hebrew woman’s name listed as ninth most common (actually tied for eighth with Imma) was Mara, like the form announced to have been found with the second Mary in the Talpiot tomb. Not only does Mara not mean Magdalene but, although it could be the Grecized feminine equivalent to the Aramaic masculine mar or “master,” it actually appears on one ossuary, discovered elsewhere in Israel much longer ago, as an alternate form of the name Martha. And the feminine form of “master,” in a highly patriarchal culture, was not used nearly as often as the masculine form. So the “Mary” that may have been a spouse to this Joshua/Jesus more likely was named Mary Martha, not Mary Magdalene, and not Mary the Master.

One of the best kept secrets in the last quarter of a century from those who try to learn history exclusively from the popular media is the massive amount of evidence that has come to light or been more accessibly compiled supporting the accuracy of the New Testament documents. For details just on the Gospels themselves, see the first book I ever wrote, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (Downers Grove: IVP, 1987), which will be appearing this year in substantially revised form for a twentieth-anniversary edition. Recent works by Darrell Bock, Craig Evans, Ben Witherington, Tom Wright, and a host of others all rely on solid, sober scholarship of a kind Dan Brown, National Geographic and the Discovery Channel will apparently never care to publicize. Bolstering conventional belief about anything has never made much money and that’s all it’s really about in these endeavors. (Lest you think I’m being too cynical, Darrell Bock has shared stories with me of what representatives of the major networks told him face to face he’d have to raise in millions of dollars before they’d ever consider doing it.). In a postmodern world, post-Communist world truth gives way to fiction to fuel capitalism. It is tragically reminiscent of the comment Russians used to make during their Communist era when their two major news organs were Pravda (meaning “Truth”) and Izvestia (meaning “News”): “there is no pravda in izvestia and there is no izvestia in pravda!” My, how far things have deteriorated in this country in the seventeen years since the fall of the Soviet regime!

Craig L. Blomberg
Distinguished Professor of New Testament
Denver Seminary
Littleton, CO
March 2007