Sunday, March 30, 2008


I'm happy, happy, happy.
I know that I am.
After all, I'm an American.

I've been liposucked,
tummy tucked.

I've been Starbucked,
Prozaced, Pro-zapped,

My happy face is on FaceBook.
My snappy space on MySpace is happy
Just look at all my "friends."
There is no end.

It's great; it's nice,
Just the right price.
Don't think twice.

I'm a values voter,
a self-promoter,
a happy camper,
a big grin-maker,
a risk taker.

My lips are plumped.
My melancholy dumped.

I'm a thrill seeker,
a fast talker,
a power walker,
a sensation stalker.

My blackberry is flashing.
My Bluetooth is beaming.
My iPod is rocking.

I must be happy.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Academic Conference Politeness

Having just attended an academic conference, it may be helpful to list some things not do to in that rather odd and contrived setting. Conference participation is a unique kind of performance art, and conferencing (if that’s a verb) has dangers to avoid.

1. Try not to dress like a hobo (I mean street person). We know that academics are often unkempt and idiosyncratic, but wrinkled clothes that don’t fit are a bit much.
2. If you are a female, don’t dress like an aspiring harlot. Dress professionally, which means smartly, but modestly. Your body is not supposed to be on display, but your mind.
3. When giving a paper, don’t tell the audience what you are skipping. Give them a talk; don’t explain what they would get if you had more time.
4. Don’t complain for not having enough time. That simply shows you didn’t prepare well.
5. Don’t show video clips from Harry Potter.
6. Don’t rely on technology for your presentation; it will too often go wrong, especially for video clips.
7. Speak well in giving a paper. Eliminate “sort of,” “you know,” “um,” “I mean,” and the like. They are annoying and unprofessional. Whatever happened to oratory?
8. Stand up when you read a paper and look at the audience once in a while.
9. If you ask a question after a talk, make it pertinent to the talk. Do not say things merely show what you know in some other area.
10. If you haven’t finished the paper by the time you get to the conference, cancel the talk. Do not fake it. It is too painful for everyone.
11. If you like someone's paper, tell them what you appreciated. This helps the speaker. Don't just say, "Good paper" or "I liked it." This makes the presenter feel good, but doesn't help her better understand what you take to be the strength of your paper.
12. If you are chairing a session, try not to fall asleep during the presentations. This may require a near supernatural effort in some cases.
13. Try to encourage younger scholars who are just getting initiated into all this academic strangeness.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Real Men or Followers of Jesus?

A new movement is afoot, inspired in part by John Eldridge, author of Wild at Heart. Call it the Christian men's movement. The thesis is simple and wrong: the church is feminized and, therefore, cannot attract me (or at least cannot attract "real men"). The solution is simple and just as wrong: to masculinize the church and create separate associations where men can beat their chests, spit, scoff at all things “feminine,” and glory in the power of testosterone.

One Brad Stine has formed a group called GodMen (sounds a bit pantheistic), which, according to Christianity Today, “provides a space in which ‘men can be men; raw and uninhibited; completely free to express themselves in a uniquely male way that only men understand’” (Brandon O’Brien, “A Jesus for Real Men,” April, 2008, p. 49). Pastor Mark Driscoll says that men are drawn to Jesus’ “calloused hands and big biceps.” This is, he says, “the Ultimate Fighting Jesus” (p. 49). I have never been drawn to these features of Jesus, if he even had them. They are not the point of the Incarnation. I am drawn to Jesus’ holy personality (perfect love and justice), his truth, his miracles, his death, his resurrection, his ascension—none of which require macho muscles and calloused hands. Those hands were pierced for us; that body was broken for us. That is what counts—for men and for women—for time and eternity.

The problem with the church is not that it is presenting a feminine Jesus, although some of the depictions of Jesus are such (another argument for not making any image of God.) The problem is that the biblical Jesus, in all his uncomfortable glory, has been eclipsed by worldliness. Now Jesus is not the crucified and risen Lord, but an idea to comfort us, inspire us to be who we already want to be. Instead of coming with a whip and driving out the money changers, he helps us make money to spend on stuff. Instead of heaving with paroxysms of grief and outrage over the death of Lazarus, he is saying nice things to get us to distract ourselves from the brutal realities of sin and death in our broken world. One could go on.

The answer is not to create a Jesus that fits the stereotypes of today's masculinity. That is just more worldliness and should be repented of. Humans, male and female, are equally made in the image of God. The fruit of the Spirit is for both sexes. The gifts of the Spirit are for both sexes. The way of life for both women and men is to deny themselves (and the current worldly views of masculinity and femininity), take up their crosses and follow Christ.

Yes, men and women are different, each tend to have different strengths and different weaknesses in some areas. For example, how many women are addicted to pornography? How many men over idealize romance? But the answer is not to become more masculine or more feminine (unless one has sexual identity problems). The answer is to become more broken before God, more biblical, more filled with the Spirit, more of a sold out agent of the supernatural Kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33).

Groothuis on Jesus and Buddha

I will be teaching on "Jesus and Buddha" at Scum of the Earth Church, Sunday, March 30. This talk will be very similar to the one given recently in Boulder. Here is their information.

PLACE: Church In The City
ADDRESS: 1530 Josephine St. Denver, CO 80206
CORNER OF: Colfax & Josephine

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Book Review of "The Kingdom Triangle" by J.P. Moreland (corrected)

[This was just published at Denver Journal.]

J.P. Moreland, Kingdom Triangle: Recovering the Christian Mind. Renovate the Soul, Restore the Spirit’s Power. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007. Reviewed by Douglas Groothuis.

J.P. Moreland is a highly esteemed, well-published, and extremely active Christian philosopher. For years I have profited greatly from his books and articles, and for fifteen years I have used his books as texts for courses at Denver Seminary. Unlike many Christian academics, Moreland maintains a passionate concern for the church, evangelism, and the state of culture at large. To that end, he divides his writing and speaking between the highly academic and the more popular or semi-academic. In so doing, he is able to build a bridge between scholarly pursuits and the questions and concerns of laypeople. Os Guinness refers to this area of endeavor as “intermediate knowledge.” While proponents of intermediate knowledge are few, the need for such is great. Few non-philosophers are likely to read Moreland’s book on universals, for example, but many thoughtful Christians will be drawn to his other books, such as Love Your God With All Your Mind (NavPress, 1997), which is a stellar apologetic for a robust and spirit-filled engagement of the intellect for the glory of God, the good of the church, and the winning of the world.

Moreland’s new work is both profound and controversial. The controversy will largely stem from his endorsement of the charismatic dimension of Christian experience. It is highly unusual to find an analytically trained philosopher with a Th.M. from Dallas seminary who endorses the “third wave” form of the charismatic movement!

Kingdom Triangle is a passionate and knowledgeable summons to the church to engage God, the world, and the self in a deeply biblical and profoundly meaningful manner. To this endeavor, Moreland brings the resources of philosophy to bear fruitfully on the exigencies of the Kingdom of God. This is both rare and wonderful. The book is divided into two sections. The first explains “the crisis of the age” in America and the West in general. The second section gives the answer: a kingdom triangle of intellectual engagement, spiritual formation, and supernatural spiritual power.

In explaining the contemporary crisis, Moreland writes that we have moved from the “thick” world of the biblical worldview to the “thin” worlds of naturalism and postmodernism. A biblical worldview provides the knowledge of God, existential meaning, and authentic drama to all of life. We are creatures of a good and holy God, placed on earth to manifest the virtues of the Kingdom of God. We are immersed in and engaged with a life and death struggle with the forces of evil, yet God is our strength and hope. We are not groping in the dark, but have been given knowable truth in Scripture and elsewhere.

But both scientific naturalism and postmodernism—each in its own way—eviscerate the world of any objective meaning or genuine drama. Naturalism denies the reality of anything outside of what materialistic science can observe. The cosmos is reduced to merely material properties. All must be explained by impersonal change and necessity. There is no soul, no God, no angels or demons, and no afterlife. As Peter Berger put it, it is “a world without windows” because the universe is self-enclosed. Morality is not rooted in the Designer and in human nature, but is merely the result of natural selection. Knowledge is limited to what can be known through scientific methods (scientism).

Postmodernism recoils from the aridity of scientific naturalism and tries to find meaning in the meaning-creation of communities and individuals. Like scientific naturalism, it denies that there is any objective meaning to life, but instead of trying to find meaning in science, it affirms the contingent constructions of human beings, variously situated. Each community—or person—has its own narrative or language game, none of which is superior to any other, but all of which are acceptable. However, there is no objective meaning to be found and no knowledge of objective reality to be had. While scientific naturalism is a form of realism (we can know something of objective reality, which is only material), postmodernism is a form of nonrealism (there is no objective reality, scientific or otherwise, to know). Both deny the knowledge of God.

These two worldviews rob us of objective moral values, the dignity of human beings, and any concrete hope for our existence. As a result, instead of moral agents deeply rooted in objective reality, we find around us—or even within us—“empty selves” that are restless, easily distracted, infantile, and narcissistic. Moreland ardently argues that both worldviews are both empty and false. Christianity not only provides meaning and drama for life, but is true and rational and knowable. The knowledge of God is available to errant humans. While the book does not give a full-fledged apologetic for Christianity or against scientific naturalism and postmodernism, it does powerfully demonstrate the intellectual weaknesses of these two worldviews with respect to epistemology, metaphysics, and ethics.

In the second half of the book, Moreland advocates the kingdom triangle as the proper response to “the crisis of our age.” The first leg of the triangle is the recovery of the Christian mind. As a Christian philosopher and apologist, Moreland is in an exemplary position to offer advice. We must reclaim Christianity as a knowledge tradition; that is, we must not be content with leaps of faith or merely true beliefs about God and the Bible. To acquire knowledge we need to justify our beliefs (in various ways). Moreland provides a short but clear run down on various ways to know things and the importance of the mind to the Christian life. (On this, see also his book, Love Your God With all Your Mind, as well as James Sire’s Habits of the Mind [InterVarsity, 2000].)

The second leg of the kingdom triangle is the devotional life or spiritual disciplines. Moreland advocates the classical disciplines of retreat (such as solitude) and engagement (such as service) and speaks of ways one can understand the heart or affective side of one’s personality. This interior understanding of the affect has become important to Moreland in recent years. From his own experience, he speaks of the need not only to apply the mind to the things of God, but also to bring one’s emotions under the Lordship of Christ. Some may find his “heart meditation” a bit strange, since it emphasizes focusing on the heart muscle itself as a place of emotion. However, there is nothing necessarily New Age or otherwise dangerous about such a meditation if it is done prayerfully and thoughtfully. Nevertheless, this practice may not be appropriate or helpful for everyone. If so, one may ignore it, and I am sure Moreland would not mind. My lone criticism of this chapter is that it did not emphasize adequately the neglected discipline of prayer with fasting. If the essence of spirituality is denying ourselves, taking up our cross, and following Jesus, then there is no better way to deny ourselves in an age of over-indulgence and narcissism than to deny ourselves food in order to give ourselves more fully to the Lord.

“The restoration of the Spirit’s power” fills out the last leg of the kingdom triangle. Although Moreland graduated from a seminary that teaches that the supernatural gifts of the spirit (such as healing and prophecy) have ended (cessationism), in the past few years he has experienced some of these gifts himself and has reevaluated what the Bible teaches on these matters. He has come to believe that this dimension of Kingdom living is crucial if we are to respond effectively to the deadness and darkness of our time. I completely agree. While Moreland does not give a detailed exegetical or theological argument for the ongoing manifestation of supernatural gifts, he points out that the old cessationism has been losing its credibility among many, that Christians in the global south are experiencing these gifts in powerful ways, and that he himself has experienced or witnessed the miraculous dimension of the Kingdom of God in the past few years. What Moreland advocates is not classical Pentecostalism or the Charismatic renewal of the 1960s and 1970s, but the “third wave” approach of the Vineyard movement. This is an orientation that does not emphasize a second “baptism of the Holy Spirit” or insists on the speaking of tongues. It rather seeks God’s supernatural agency for healing, prophecy, and other signs and wonders.

Although I am also a proponent of signs and wonders as part of the dynamic of the ongoing manifestation of the Kingdom of God, I wish that Moreland had given a few more warnings about potential and actual abuses in these areas. Moreland alludes to the dimension of spiritual warfare, but one wishes he had fleshed out this aspect of Kingdom living in more detail, since the contemporary world is awash in false forms of religion that are inspired by “the god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4). But to his credit, he provides references to works that tackle this area.

Kingdom Triangle has many strengths and no significant weaknesses. Moreland writes with a confident, compelling, and courageous voice. He does not avoid strong judgments when he deems them necessary. This may be off-putting to tender souls accustomed to terminal tentativeness in Christian writing, but it should not be. Moreland has paid his dues and knows of what he speaks. For example, as a robust proponent of Intelligent Design, he refers to theistic evolution as “intellectual pacifism,” since it gives so much ground to Darwinism, a naturalistic understanding of biology that is not warranted by the facts. Likewise, Moreland has no patience with Christians who adopt postmodernist views of truth or knowledge, because such an approach marginalizes Christianity as merely another language game or perspective on reality. Christianity is, rather, a knowledge tradition that can and should be rationally defended according to objective principles of rationality. Moreland is not afraid to offer tough judgments against elements of popular culture—such as celebrity-ism and sports worship—when they reveal the hollowness and shabbiness of lives poorly lived (see Romans 12:1-2; 1 John 2:15-17).

If read, pondered, preached, taught, and applied, the teachings of Kingdom Triangle could spark revival, reformation, and reform in the church, as well as in the world at large. This is a triangle that Christians must not ignore.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Mountainous Apologetics

Climing for Christ is sponsoring a climbing trip that focuses on Christian apologetics! This is lead by Jim Doenges, a student of mine at Denver Seminary. It should be a beautiful combination of beholding the glory of God's creation as well as finding intellectual satisfaction in learning that the Christian worldview is true, rational, and pertinent to all of life.

He Heard Them Say (About Himself), "He's Dead."

A man who was pronounced "brain dead" lived to tell of it and is now recovering. This speaks to the fact that it is difficult to determine from third person accounts of the brain--a fantastically complex organ--what a person's first person experience actually is. This young man heard the doctors pronounce him dead! The benefit of the doubt must always go to the living human being, no matter how damaged or compromised his or her body may be. The burden of proof must always be on those who would let the person die. "Thou Shalt Not Murder."

Moreover, consciousness is not exhausted by brain states; there is a mind or soul that is distinct from, but related to, the material states of the brain. This is supported by Scripture, science, and philosophy. For a paper on this topic, see my "Brains, Minds, and Persons." For more details, see J.P. Moreland and Scott Rae, Body and Soul (InterVarsity, 2000).

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Recovering from Historical Amnesia

Cicero: "To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child."
Churchill (not Ward): "Study history. Study history."

Where to start? Read Paul Johnson.

My Vision for a Christian College

[Although I teach at a seminary, not a Christian college, some time ago I drafted a document on what I thought a Christian college should be. Now if someone out there has several million dollars, we can get started.]

A Christian college is place where teaching and learning honors God, is Christ-centered, is faithful to the gospel, and serves to extend Christ’s Kingdom into the entire world. Every disciple should come under the liberating discipline of Jesus Christ and his living and active word, the Bible. The classroom should offer students edification, joy in learning life-changing and world-changing truth, and preparation for glad Kingdom service.

The Christian college should be a city set on a hill, a center for Christian witness and action in the world. Students should be educated to view spirituality holistically, such that all of life brought under the Lordship of Christ, as Abraham Kuyper and Francis Schaeffer taught. The “crown rights of King Jesus” (as the Puritans put it) should be lovingly and courageously applied to every aspect of life. I agree with Duane Litfin, in Conceiving the Christian College, that a truly Christian college is “systemic.” The systemically Christian institution aspires to doctrinal consistency (but not uniformity) among its faculty members. It will “seek to make Christian thinking systemic through the institution, root, branch, and leaf.” Every student should be encouraged to develop a Christian worldview (or philosophy of life) as well as the ability to defend Christianity as true, rational, and pertinent to all of life. Every course taught at the Christian college should integrate a biblical worldview with the subject matter through its manner of instruction, class materials, and assignments. The syllabus for every class would state how this goal is to be achieved.

George Barna, George Gallup and others have noted that most Americans and even a large number of self-identified Christians are biblically illiterate and lack a biblical worldview. A Christian college built on the foundation of a deeply biblical worldview can help reverse this trend and be a constructive force for godly change in the church and in the rest of society. Faculty should also be encouraged to engage in interdisciplinary explorations, which would include workshops, collaborative writing and teaching, and attending each others classes.

Christian Faculty: Character and Competence

Faculty should have a solid Christian testimony and adhere an evangelical statement of faith in good conscience. They must have the spiritual gift of teaching, be deeply committed to Christ and biblical truth, be avid churchmen or churchwomen, and be active scholars. The college culture should support all these goals by public recognition and financial incentives and rewards. A “teacher of the year” could be named every year on the basis of student voting. This teacher would give a public address presenting his or her philosophy and practice of teaching as well as recounting memorable classroom experiences. Another faculty member could act as a respondent and the rest of the time be open to audience questions and comments. The address and response could be published in a college magazine or on-line or both.

Faculty should be nurtured through a yearly retreat in which a gifted outside speaker is brought in for spiritual and intellectual inspiration. These times of learning, praying, worshipping, and reflecting help build up the team of teachers in their common task.

Faculty should also be encouraged to be public intellectuals. This means that they should bring their gifts and expertise into the marketplace of ideas, particularly before the unbelieving world. This can be done through public lectures, forums, debates, letters to the editor, editorials, appearances on radio and television programs, Internet postings, quotations in newspapers and magazines. For many years, I have endeavored to do these things and I desire to mentor others in this regard as I continue to seek other venues for the public presentation of Christianity as true, rational, and meaningful for all of life.

Spiritual Formation: Prayer, Chapel, and Chaplain

A prayer chapel is a vital place for renewal and reflection on a Christian campus. Students need a quiet and beautiful place to pray and meditate. Along these lines, the school should be periodically challenged to seek God through focused prayer and fasting, lest we end up depending on ourselves instead of God or exchanging our own agendas for the Kingdom of God.

Chapel speakers should come from the faculty and qualified staff as well as from local pastors and other fitting speakers. Apart from special circumstances, chapel speakers should be able to sign the school’s doctrinal statement. Student involvement would be encouraged at the level of testimonies, presentations, and involvement in worship and prayer.

The Christian college needs a spiritually deep and intellectually competent chaplain. This woman or man needs to be well-educated and to have a well integrated theology and practice of spiritual formation, prayer, and discipleship. He or she could also teach a class in the area of spiritual formation possibly evangelism.

Mentoring: Life-on-Life for Spiritual Development

Students would also be involved in a mentoring program, which connects them with professors and local Christian leaders, and provides a structure for learning and growing as a disciple of Christ. Students need not only the informal mentoring provided by professors, but also a more structured program for spiritual challenge and development. For the past decade, Denver Seminary has been a leader in developing a mentoring program for all students, and its model has been an inspiration to several other schools as well as other institutions. I have participated in this program and have a solid familiarity with how it works. This basic model could be adapted for the undergraduate experience.

Classrooms: Ambiance for Edification

The physical classroom ambiance should be conducive to teaching and discussion. Rooms should be designed in a warm and congenial manner, preferably with soft lighting (not florescent, which is impersonal and bothersome to many people). Each classroom should also be fully accessible by any physically handicapped student. Classrooms should have Internet access for the professor and a computer for presentations. However, these technological aids should never undermine the centrality of the face-to-face, person-to-person classroom environment, a place where ideas are engaged through words, silence, and prayer.

The Library: Truth to Give

The Christian college benefits from a healthy, friendly, attractive, and well-stocked library, which serves as reservoir of knowledge for the teachers and students. It can also be made available to local pastors and church workers and perhaps to the public at large. In a culture of spiritual learning the library is highly prized, open for long hours and staffed by Christians with a deep theology of library service. I have served on the library committee at Denver Seminary for many years and have been active in interviewing staff workers.

Visiting Inspiration

The Christian College should also bring in top-notch and faith-filled scholars, teachers, and writers to edify the staff and students as well as to draw community members to the school and to deeper Kingdom service. Yearly lectureships in various disciples can be established, including the following:

Christian philosophy and apologetics
Speakers might include: William Lane Craig, J.P. Moreland, Lee Strobel, William Dembski, Greg Koukl.

Christianity and social issues: bioethics, philosophy of technology, politics, and so on.
Speakers might include: Nancy Pearcey, Nigel Cameron, Kenneth Myers, Charles Colson

Evangelism and missions
Speakers might include: Ravi Zacharias, Franklin Graham, Rebecca Pippert, Charles Kraft

Biblical studies
Speakers might include: N.T. Wright, Ben Witherington, Craig Blomberg, Darrell Bock.

These lectureships should be widely promoted in the community. Where appropriate, especially related to philosophy, apologetics, and social issues, speakers should craft their message to address unbelievers as well as Christians. These sorts of lectures should be promoted to the nonChristian world. Professors can either require students to attend these presentations or give extra credit for attendance and reporting on the events. Visiting scholars could be invited to speak in various classrooms or at a faculty lunch or dinner.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

"Issues, Etc." Executed!

For the last fifteen years or so, I have been a frequent guest on the Lutheran radio program, "Issues, Etc," first with Don Matzat and later with Todd Wilken, both Lutheran pastors. This is sponsored by the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. The program intelligently addresses cutting edge cultural and theological issues from a solidly Lutheran perspective. (I am not Lutheran, but was a welcome guest because of my commitment to Protestant orthodoxy.) It was refreshingly free from commercials. I always looked forward to these interviews. Now, for some reason, the program has been yanked--out of the blue. Even the archives were taken down, but are now back from what I read.

Several years ago, I was on the program when Pastor Wilkens suprised me by asking what I thought of Bill Clinton (then President) speaking at a Willow Creek "leadership" conference. This was shortly after the time of his impeachment. I said, "Are you serious?" Todd assured me that he was. To that I replied, "Well, I wouldn't ask a pig to give a lecture on cleanliness." Todd appreciated my answer.

I encourage Constructive Curmudgeon readers to consult the following links, one of which is a petition to reinstate "Issues, Etc." It would be a shame to lose this fine and courageous Christian radio program. There are too few like it!

Here is the petition.
This is The National Review blog.
This is the First Things blog.

Os Guinness on C-Span

One of my heroes, Os Guinness, was recently on C-Span discussing his superb and important book, The Case for Civility. The program runs 48 minutes and has no commercials. Os is given enough time to develop ideas, and he does so admirably (as always).

Sadly, the host is not very sharp or adept, but this doesn't bother Os. Os takes several questions, some of which ramble or make odd claims. Nevertheless, Os patiently listens and extracts something worth musing on from each one. Here is a great Christian statesman in action. However, I question whether or not "Obama is better than his pastor."

Thursday, March 20, 2008


I am taking a blog holiday until after Easter. Please spend some unplugged time in church and by yourself meditating on the passion and resurrection of the Son of God.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Understanding, Resistance, and Lament: Three Christian Themes for Encountering Evil

[This is the abstract to a paper I didn't have time to write (yet). I have been ruminating on these ideas for years, and wanted to lay them out in simple, thematic form.]

Horrendous evils, such as the events of September 11, 2001, require theological depth on the part of Christians. The Christian worldview affords three essential and profound modes for encountering this manner of evil: understanding, resistance, and lament.

Understanding. The biblical model of creation, fall, and redemption puts evils—even the most horrendous of evils—into a larger understanding of reality not afforded by other worldviews. This is a good world, one that is created by a good God, and one that has gone radically wrong because of the incursion of sin. Yet Christians need not despair, since we have good reason to believe that God is at once all-good, all-powerful, and lovingly engaged with the world. This is argued on the basis of natural theology and the achievements of Jesus Christ. Mysteries—dark mysteries—remain, but in the context of our knowledge of God.

Resistance. The Christian can resist and respond to all manner of evil without thereby fighting against God himself. This is because the fall has disordered the world, causing it to become abnormal with respect to its original design. God’s action of redemption in Christ reveals his own participation in the restoration of the world, a project with which we should engage with all our might.

Lament. Despite the understanding that the Christian vision gives of the reality of horrendous evils, and despite the motivation that the Bible gives Christian to resist and respond to evil, we must also lament the sad facts of a fallen world. To lament means to grieve over the horrible effects of heinous realities in a world east of Eden and to call out to God for restoration. Much of the Bible is dedicated to lament (including entire Psalms—such as 22 and 88—and The Book of Lamentations), although contemporary Christians often fail to understand the profundity of this activity and the theology on which it rests.

Possibility Junkies: Or Stop and Think

[This is from Ken Myers, of Mars Hill Audio, which provides superb recorded interviews on cultural matters to subscribers. I read the article he reviews and was deeply impressed with its wisdom and pertinence to pedagogy.]

Ideas, we are frequently told, have consequences. We are less often encouraged to reflect on the equally significant if more elusive relationship of ideas to their antecedents. Ideas come from somewhere, and they are able to take up residence in our lives because they find friendly surroundings. So if bad ideas are plaguing our society (and having bad consequences), we ought to ask about their origins. And we need to ask what it is about the shape of our lives that make bad ideas seem plausible.

Ideas and cultural moods or sensibilities often live together in a kind of harmony. Sometimes ideas evoke cultural moods (think, for example, of the quality of music written during the Enlightenment), but surely the influence can flow in the other direction as well. Cultural moods, established by nothing more than changing conditions in the quality of everyday life, can render certain beliefs more plausible. C. S. Lewis once observed that the increasing presence of machines in the lives of nineteenth-century Europeans, and the rapid rate of change introduced by those machines, encouraged the rise of a positive attitude toward novelty. Belief in the inevitability of progress in all things may have been a consequence of relatively mundane improvements in things mechanical.

University of Virginia English professor Mark Edmundson has a keen eye for cultural ecosystems. He has written perceptively about how changes in the texture of the everyday lives of his students affects the orientation of their souls. In a 1997 article in Harper's, "On the Uses of a Liberal Education," he described how the conditioning of his students by consumer/entertainment culture (and their desire to be cool) made it hard for them to acquire a passion for learning. He followed this up in 2000 with a wry, sly article in The Hedgehog Review called "A Word to the New Humanities Professor." ("Students should be assured continually that by virtue of living later in time than the author, they naturally know a great deal more than she possibly could. . . . The professor should continually make self-mocking references to her authority and her stock of learning. . . . But, of course, answers are not really the point. The point is learning to work together and to get along.")

Now Mark Edmundson has again taken stock of the mood of his students in an article called "Dwelling in Possibilities," published in The Chronicle of Higher Education. In it, he portrays his students as energetic anti-slackers, eager "to study, travel, make friends, make more friends, read everything (superfast), take in all the movies, listen to every hot band, keep up with everyone they've ever known. . . . They live to multiply possibilities. They're enemies of closure. For as much as they want to do and actually manage to do, they always strive to keep their options open, never to shut possibilities down before they have to."Edmundson believes that this voracious omnitasking makes the lives of his students both highly promising and radically vulnerable to living lives that leave no room for reflection and self-knowledge. "Our students rarely get a chance to stop. They're always in motion, always spitting out what comes first to mind, never challenging, checking, revising." In Edmundson's view, the tyrants most responsible for this condition are not rigorous professors or even parents with unrealistic expectations. The tyranny is exercised in a mood of possibility enabled by web browsers and cell phones. These technologies are less about communication and more about enlarging desire. "Skate fast over the surfaces of life and cover all the extended space you can, says the new ethos," which is why the drugs of choice on campuses are increasingly ADD pharmaceuticals, which are "on sale in every dorm at prices that rise exponentially as the week of final exams approaches."

Edmundson's article explores the ways in which this pattern of velocity is evident in sports, music, and sexual habits of students. Underlying the entire essay is Edmundson's conviction that "life is more than spontaneity and whim," and that a college classroom is one of the best places to learn how to stop, think, and reflect on the task of living deliberately.

If Edmundson's diagnosis of the ethos of our culture is accurate, there are at least two avenues of response available to parents, teachers, clergy, and others in positions of Church and cultural leadership. One is to try to figure out how to go with the flow (although "flow" may not be the best word, what about "rampage" or "tsunami"?). But if the absence of thickness, depth, and commitment encouraged by fast skating is really not in keeping with the shape of human flourishing, if there is something truly unnatural about this mentality, something in it that is not consistent with our nature, then we need to attend to the maintenance of counter-cultural institutions and practices. Reading and re-reading books, slowly, keeping personal and private journals (not public blogs) which invite true introspection without the distraction of self-presentation, face-to-face conversations that linger and dwell, conversations that achieve some contrapuntal pleasure, attentive listening to musical works that require us to slow down and perceive subtle resonances and formal nuance: these are monotasking practices of closure, commitment, and contemplation. Their loss is one of the ways our contemporaries are becoming figurative widows and orphans (see James 1:27). The pursuit of actuality rather than infinite possibility will not come easily, and will require repudiation of the ways of life that characterize our moment. Those Christian leaders who discourage such repudiation in the name of "cultural engagement" need to be able to explain to people like Mark Edmundson why the Church is indifferent to the plight of students who cannot stop and think.Posted by Ken Myers on 3/17/08

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Ponder This for a Week

I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.--Ecclesiastes 9:11 (KJV).

The Sabbath Rediscovered

Here is a fine, short article by Mark Early on the rediscovery of the sabbath principle.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Obama to Give Speech on Race

This is from a New York Times article on Obama's speech on race, to be given on Tuesday.

Mr. Obama has also pitched himself as a candidate who can attract religious voters back to the Democratic Party, one who speaks the language of the Bible fluently and testifies about what he says is the impact of Christianity on his own life.

“What better way to try to undercut the way he integrates faith and political vision than to say we should all be secretly afraid of his church?” said Jim Wallis, a left-leaning evangelical who has had longstanding relationships with both Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton, and who says that Mr. Wright has been unfairly caricatured in recent portrayals.

1. Speaking the language of the Bible should be distinguished from presenting a biblical worldview and ethics, something Obama does not do. Case in point: he is for the ongoing, unlimited carnage of abortion on demand. He would do nothing to limit is legality; he would do everything to fund it federally. And remember, there are six justices on the Supreme Court in their late sixties. Any appointees he would make would endorse Roe v. Wade.

2. Jim Wallis misses the point and begs the question. There is nothing wrong with bringing one's religious beliefs into politics, if this honors the American ideal of so doing. The question is how it is done. If a man sat under extremist racial teaching for twenty years, this should lead us to question how he relates his faith to politics. His church affirms "black values" as mentioned in a previous post. The Declaration of Independence affirms "unalienable rights" given by God to all. Martin Luther King brought that nation back to this commitment and said we had to "cash the check." Indeed. But he never appealed to "black values" against other kinds of values.

I make a prediction: Obama speech will wow the crowd with soaring statements on race, faith, and politics. But remember the man's history and don't get lost in emotion untethered from reason.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Obama Denounces his Pastor: What Does it Mean?

Young Sarah Scott, budding social critic, has a spot on post about Obama's denouncing the racist remarks of his pastor of 20-years. She lays out the logical possibilities very well--and all of them show Obama in a very poor light.

Abortion and Mental Illness

The Royal College of Psychiatrists in England warns that abortions can cause mental illness, thus challenging the rational that abortions should be done to alleviate mental stress.

I doubt you will see these findings in the US, except on pro-life web pages.

The story begins:

Women may be at risk of mental health breakdowns if they have abortions, a medical royal college has warned. The Royal College of Psychiatrists says women should not be allowed to have an abortion until they are counselled on the possible risk to their mental health. . . .

Saturday, March 15, 2008


[This essay was written some years ago, and published in my book, Christianity That Counts (Baker, 1995).]

Early in my Christian life I sat under the preaching of Dr. Jack MarArthur who was doing a Sunday night series on non-Christian groups. As a university student trying to find a way to stand for my Christian convictions in a liberal and pluralistic environment, I found the apologetic and theological depth of his messages to be both uplifting and intellectually inspiring. I could take this material and actively apply it on campus and elsewhere. But this kind of intellectual substance is often lacking in the evangelical pulpit because the life of the mind has not taken its rightful place.

The apostle Peter urged his readers that "if anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God" (1 Pet. 4:11). These solemn words of God, spoken by a preacher, apply to all of us but especially to those who fill the pulpits in our churches. Preachers have a sacred duty to be God's mouthpiece for God's people, to be truth-tellers for truth-seekers. But many evangelical preachers are speaking less than "the very words of God" because the sanctified intellect has not been fully engaged for divine purposes.

Misology is a term used by Plato to describe the position of those who despair of reason's ability to discern or demonstrate truth. Misologists dislike and avoid logic because they deem it impotent, just as misanthropes dislike and avoid people because they deem them bothersome. To this, Plato warns in The Phaedo that we ought to be "careful of allowing into our souls the notion that there is no health or soundness in any arguments at all." But has misology gotten into the souls of those in the pulpit?

Few preachers would admit to despairing of reason entirely, yet some sermons speaks otherwise. Despite some blessed exceptions, it has been my observation that not enough sermons carefully develop arguments and explanations based on a sustained scrutiny of biblical materials. Instead, a biblical text is reviewed and illustrated with anecdotes and humorous asides--sometimes only faintly related to matters at hand. The congregation may be left with a vague warm feeling but receives little instruction. This doesn't mean that some truth isn't spoken, but that it is seldom presented in a rationally compelling manner or in its divine depth or breath.

I find at least three main reasons for this implicit misology. First, preachers unconsciously adopt the mentality and methodology of entertainment instead of rational exposition. This necessarily constricts content, simplifies presentation, and inhibits the intellect in favor of amusement. Things must be kept lively at all costs lest parishioners "turn the channel" in their minds. It's not coincidental that few sermons exceed thirty minutes, the length of the average television program. Second, preachers may labor under the misconception that rational argument is peripheral to biblical instruction. The Spirit blows where it wills and has no obligation to follow the lead of logic; the Spirit applies truth to hearts in a non-rational manner. Third, many who proclaim God's word fear that richer sermons are just too risky. People are not used to them and won't know what to do with them. It better to hit an easy and common target than risk hitting a more difficult one. I can understand this worry, but a diet of milk alone can be nothing but infantile.

As a hungry parishioner, teacher, and pinch hit preacher, I can sympathize with the preacher's plight. But let me make a few suggestions in order to encourage those who hold the sacred trust to speak "the very words of God" from the pulpit. I hope to also encourage those sermonized to expect and request more substance than is normally conveyed.

First, consider this theological justification for rational preaching. As astute theologians such as Carl Henry and R.C. Sproul have eloquently told us, the Greek word for "the Word" in the first chapter of John, logos, can just as accurately be translated as Logic or Reason. Whereas pagan philosophers considered the logos as an impersonal principle that ordered the cosmos and kept it from being chaos, the apostle John turns the tables on unregenerate philosophy and declares that the reason, meaning, and value of the universe are to be found a personal Creator God. Christ himself was the preincarnate Reason of and for the universe and is now the Incarnate and risen Reason. Just as it would be absurd for a journalist to disparage writing or an orator to disparage speaking, the disparagement of logic (mis-ology) is hardly fitting for one who confesses the Logos as Lord and Savior. Paul corroborates this when he affirms that in Christ "are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Col. 2:2-3).

Therefore, it behoves preachers to be daring and preach rich biblical content in a logical fashion. Instead of adapting sermons to suit the anti-intellectualism of the day, preachers should rebuke the culture by appealing to the intellects of their parishioners. As a seasoned lecturer in things that matter, philosopher Mortimer Adler advises in How to Speak, How to Listen that speakers aim a bit over their audience's head in order to stimulate them to reach up to catch the message. Why bother telling people what they already know so well? He gives good advice to preachers: "Always risk talking over their heads! By the emotional fervor of your speech, by its physical energy and your manifest bodily involvement with materials that are obviously abstract, you should be able to get them to stretch their minds and reach up for insights they did not have before."

Adler claims that the Great Books of the Western World, which he has done so much to propagate, are always over everyone's head all the time because of their perennial profundity. "This is why," he says, "they are endlessly rereadable as instruments from which you can go on leaning more and more on each rereading." How much more is this true of the Holy Scriptures, the greatest book of all, the very words of God? We must "reach up" in order to grow in our knowledge of the truth. If preachers don't provide this intellectual challenge they do a disservice both to the book they love and the congregations they serve.

But sermons that engage the sanctified intellect need not be a stuffy affairs devoid of passion or humor. If preaching is, as Philips Brooks tells us, "truth through personality" then the whole person can honor the depths of divine truth. Jesus, the master preacher, never lacked depth or profundity in his preaching; yet his messages were filled with warmth, a common touch, and even humor, as Elton Trueblood brings out in his classic book The Humor of Christ. A cool head goes quite well with both a warm heart and a ready wit.

Sermons are not academic addresses, and the pulpit is the worst place in the universe to exhibit egotistically one's intellect. Nevertheless, I believe that the people of God--with a little cognitive coaching--are able to understand and apply a deeper level of truth than they are accustomed to hearing. Two examples bear this out, one from the university and one from the church.

I taught a course a few years ago called "Christianity, Modernity, and the New Age." This was an accredited class through the experimental college at a state university that allowed me to articulate a Christian response to the New Age movement in a secular setting. I explained the biblical world-view which involved a theological and philosophical analysis of the Christian view of God, humanity, ethics, salvation, and history. After the last class a student gave me a letter which I'll never forget. She was a Christian who had struggled in her faith after her first pregnancy had miscarried. But through the knowledge she gained in the class about the nature of God and apologetics, she was able to better honor him and trust him as her sovereign and loving Lord. She thanked me for this revelation. I thanked the Lord for this opportunity.

I want to underscore that the lectures on Christianity were not homiletical. I was behind a lectern, not a pulpit, so I could not preach as I would in a church. Nevertheless, the sheer intellectual substance about the nature of God and the reasonableness of Christianity helped change her life. Although I taught little more than basic theology--which she had not heard from the pulpit--her encounter with living truth helped heal her. If theological truth in the academic setting can have this kind of effect, what can it do in the pulpit?

I know of a man who was asked to preach a guest sermon on the New Age movement at large evangelical church not known for the intellectual substance of its sermons. The guest preacher expounded basic Christian doctrines in relation to the heresies of pantheism, relativism, and reincarnation. He also engaged in apologetics in order to discredit these irrational falsehoods. Although he preached about fifteen minutes longer then the church was accustomed to, only a few left early, no one feel asleep, and almost none of the five hundred in attendance appeared to change channels.

I submit that if given the chance this church would have responded similarly on a weekly basis despite the fact that this kind of a message was rare from its pulpit.

In The Soul Winner, Charles Spurgeon, the great nineteenth century English preacher, lamented over preachers who were all fire and no light, and who too soon began to preach about what they hardly understood themselves. He urged preachers to fill their sermons with truth about the fall, the law, human nature, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Everlasting Father, the new birth, obedience to God, and how we learn it. I would add to this list: truth about apologetics and truth about the great social issues of the day such as abortion, homosexuality, race relations, sexual ethics, and our duties to the dispossessed. Christians need intellectual ammunition as well as subjective passion if they are to face a hostile world with biblical integrity. Let's consider in more detail the area of apologetics in preaching.

My observation in numerous churches over the years is that apologetics is usually not welcome in the evangelical pulpit. The gospel is proclaimed, but seldom defended in such a way as to resolve the doubts of the faithful or answer the objections of the sceptic. Sermons traffic in truths largely unrooted in rational reflection; preachers often deem such cerebral fare either unnecessary or impossible. But despite its rarity in the pulpit (and elsewhere), the rational defense of Christianity as objectively true is both necessary and possible.

It is necessary because the very idea of objective, universal, and absolute truth is eroding in pluralistic America. In What Americans Believe, George Barna reports that only 28 percent of his respondents expressed a strong belief in "absolute truth." Religion is then viewed as just another personal and subjective choice among innumerable other choices facing American individualists. Such relativists need to be convinced that Christianity is more than just a "lifestyle" or a "religious preference," if they are to surrender to Christ as "the way, the truth, and the life" (Jn. 14:6).

In our pluralistic setting sermons should set forth the exclusive claims of Christ as rationally superior, not just dogmatically demanding. This means building a reasonable case for the uniqueness and finality of the Incarnation which can withstand critical questions such as: Are the biblical documents reliable? Is Christ significantly different from other religious figures? Can't the pagan be saved? Aren't miracles fables? Isn't God in everyone? As preacher and apologist Francis A. Schaeffer taught us, "honest questions deserve honest answers," not a rejection of the questions. We should remember that although Schaeffer is best remembered as an apologist, his apologetic ministry grew out of his desire to pastor and evangelize those immersed in modern culture. May his example inspire us to do the same. Relevant preaching demands that the skeptical questions of the day be recognized and responded to in the pulpit.

Besides the practical and contemporary necessity, the Scriptures themselves report people of God contending for "the faith entrusted once for all to the saints" (Jude 3). An apologetic for apologetics is that we find apologetics in the Bible itself, often mingled with preaching (see Acts 17:16-31). The preacher Peter gave us this great apologetic charge: "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason or the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect" (1 Pet. 3:15).

F. F. Bruce's insightful book, The Defense of the Gospel in the New Testament, bears witness to the various strategies required by the early church to defend the faith amidst the task of proclaiming it. He says: "The men and women who commended the gospel in the first century 'had understood the times': the kingdom of God calls loudly for such men and women today."

It is not only necessary, it is also possible for pastors to preach apologetics in the pulpit. Whatever their level of formal training in apologetics, preachers can benefit from studying the relevant books, both ancient and modern, which intellectually advance Christianity. For instance, Blaise Pascal's Pensees is a neglected masterpiece which repays careful study. Pastors who take up apologetics will deepen their own spirituality by growing in their understanding of Christian truth, how it can lose credibility, and how it can be defended afresh by drawing on both ancient and modern resources.

Considering the demands on pastors, no one should require they become apologetic wizards. But given the severity of the need, the apologist G. K. Chesterton's quip should be heeded: "Anything worth doing is worth doing badly." Although his quip may not apply to brain surgery, but feeding the starving with something less than gourmet cuisine is no crime. A pastor need not have a Ph.D. in New Testament studies to give a defense of the New Testament as historically reliable. Nor does one need an advanced degree in philosophy to say something intelligent about the perpetually vexing problem of evil or whether the Bible is reliable.

The preaching of apologetics has two direct benefits. First, the doubting believers in the congregation (often the most thoughtful people) will find that doubt can be eased, if not resolved, because there are reasons to believe. Many in our congregations are praying, "Lord, I believe, but help my unbelief." Apologetics helps answer that prayer. Great doubts, honestly encountered and mastered, can lead to even greater faith.

Second, the preaching of apologetics will challenge unbelievers with arguments and evidence. Instead of simply hearing about Christianity or being urged to accept it, they will receive rational arguments to support it. In a culture which holds Christianity in intellectual contempt, a good deal of pre-evangelism (apologetics) is required before evangelism will stick. Imagine the surprise of the unbeliever who stumbles into a church on Easter to hear a compelling defense of the resurrection of Jesus as an objective fact of history! Instead of hearing only "He is risen!" he hears, "This is why you should believe he is risen!" Or think of the possibilities of a Christmas sermon that no only explains the meaning of the season but answers common objections that the virgin birth is nothing but a myth.

We should grant that the Holy Spirit often works in ways beyond our rational comprehension (Isa. 55:8-9) and that we should never count on bare logic to convert or edify a soul, yet this only undermines the idea that logic is sufficient in the pulpit; it does nothing to undermine the necessity of logic in the pulpit because God says "Come let us reason together" (Isa. 1:18). Biblical preaching certainly requires more than arguments and factual presentation; it must exhort if it is to convey the "very words of God" with power, but exhortation without argumentation is hollow, just as argumentation without exhortation is vain...and mere amusement with neither argument nor exhortation is worst of all.

The most effective kind of exhortation is built on truths reasonably presented. The order of exposition should be: 1. This is God's truth. 2. This is why we believe it. 3. This is how to put it into practice. We are more likely to listen to and obey the recommendations of our physician if he has reasonably explained and defended his description of our condition. If we find his diagnosis reasonable we are more likely to follow his prescription. Likewise, the preaching of reasonable conclusions is far more powerful than preaching mere assertions or opinions unsupported by explanation and argumentation, no matter how vociferously they may be urged upon us.

Until more rational conclusions find their way into our sermons, misology will continue its silent siege on truth; we will continue to find more fire than light in our pulpits; and congregations which should be rich in God's revealed truth will remain intellectually impoverished. But through prayer, repentance, and education the Spirit of truth may again fill our pulpits with "the very words of God." The dignity of that platform demands nothing less.

Easter Essay

I have an essay, written to be a church bulletin insert. It is called "Easter Life and the Facts of History."

I can send you this file if you are interested. it is apologetically and evangelistically oriented. I encourage those interested in Christianity to read it. Christians may want to send it to their unbelieving friends. If you are interested, do not post, but email me:

Erasure: It's Just a Click Away, Click Away...

I often wonder about the value blogs, especially The Constructive Curmudgeon. Maybe the time is better spent elsewhere, in more permanent and edited settings. So, here is a thought experiment. With one click of the mouse, I could erase all 750 posts along with all the responses to this blog: 2005-2008, RIP. What effect--if any--would this have on you? This is not a threat, but a query.

Friday, March 14, 2008


Here is a review by intrepid science reporter, Tom Bethell, on "Expelled: Intelligence Not Allowed," starring Ben Stein. The documentary investigates how proponents of ID have been treated by the Darwinian establishment, the case for ID, and more. I hope to see and review the film here when it is officially released.

(Bethell's book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science, is excellent.)

The Seven Habits of Highly Testy Philosophers

1. Forget everything except philosophical arguments.
2. Memorize logical fallacies and deploy them obnoxiously.
3. Use obscure Latin phrases for arguments whenever possible.
4. Quote philosophers at the most inappropriate times: "Take out the garbage? As Schopenhauer said..."
5. Give actual arguments in letters to the editor.
6. Assign philosophy texts to your students--and your friends and your family members.
7. Think Win/Win: You win all your arguments; and others get to feel the power of your winning.

Obama's Church Again: Pigmented Values?

Look at Obama's church's statement of "black values." What if you substituted "white" or "red" or "brown" for "black" in every case? Why not speak of "Christian values" or "biblical principles"? Is there a unique "black ethical system?" Are we not all humans made in God's image? Do not Christians have one Father, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and so on? Hasn't Christ broken down the walls of hostility between classes, races, and gender (Galatians 3:28)? Are we not "members of one another"? Notice that his church allows only "black leaders."

Is this a man who can "unite" the country racially?

I was given this material by a mixed race, Christian couple (black and white), who are deeply disturbed about this racial ecclesiology.

Who is his pastor?

A New York Times writer claims that Obama's pastor is a bigot.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Antique Inscriptions (ca. 1880-1985)

Functions observable.
No mystery.

Tapping, hunting--for words, keys.
Paper in view, moving through the works.
From empty to full.

Ribbons inside.
You could see them.
Red ink; black ink; white out; tired out.

Writers hunched, punching keys
on popping machines.
No mouse, no cord.

Inscription, prescription
from finger to striker to page.

No screen, no gleam, no glitter.
No temptation to click out
to elsewhere on line.

One task, one keyboard, one mind.
No code, rich load.
Keys stick, paper smudges.

Text read,
Literary dread.
Typed page crumpled and
Thrown across the room.

More paper; more pounding,
sticking, smudging.

Off line. Right on. Write out.

The typewriter.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Monday, March 10, 2008

A Short Theology of Listening

In a world scrambled by aimless philosophical speculation and ever-more commercial and marketable religious apostasy and crass superstition, we should exult in our knowledge that we personally bear the very image of God (imago Dei). Consequently, we have the God-given capacity to reasonably and spiritually respond to the Creator-God’s revelation and to know Him personally. We can further rejoice that our Lord Jesus Christ, through His costly grace, has died for the sin that previously blinded our eyes and deafened our ears to spiritual reality (2 Cor. 4:3-6). The Lord has spoken: in creation, in the Bible, and by his Son—and we have heard and obeyed, by His grace. Jesus preached: “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24).

Yet how do we listen to Christ’s prophets and teachers and preachers? How do we respond to the spoken word of biblical teaching and preaching? Do we really hear?

In his classic text, Biblical Preaching, Dr. Haddon Robinson affirms the centrality and power of preaching the authoritative word. He says of the Apostle: “Preaching in Paul’s mind did not consist of a man discussing religion. Instead, God Himself spoke through the personality and the message of a preacher to confront men and women and them to himself.”

God has specially appointed teachers and prophets for equipping the saints and for the building up of the Body (Eph. 4:11, 14). They must be heeded, for they are no less than the spokespeople of God. In an age rebelling against all legitimate authority, during a time when error is enthusiastically embraced and Truth largely shunned, we must become disciplined, earnest listeners to the Truth. It is our privilege; it is our responsibility.

Our worship does not end with the last hymn or chorus before the teaching; rather, our worship shifts from vocally praising God to actively listening to Him. “Hear O Israel,” cried Moses, God’s prophet, “The Lord our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deut. 6:4).

Listen . . . with all your might; hear the living and active word. The teaching and preaching of God’s imperishable word is truly a sacred event whereby the Truth penetrates hearts and minds, consciences are quickened, sin is disclosed, salvation is offered, wisdom is imparted . . . if we listen, if we actively engage ourselves in hearing, if we participate as the Holy Spirit works in our midst.

We are all too accustomed to being entertained and passively amused. Television often hypnotizes or anesthetizes us; it demands little response and by its very nature stimulates stagnation, not spiritual encounter. Video games, cell phones, and Internet access offers an endless source of possible distraction. But when we come together as the Body of Christ we come as participants not as spectators, we come to hear and obey the Truth not to be entertained. Neither Moses nor Paul captured their audience through eloquence or style. They were not entertainers but Truth-tellers: they spoke God’s word with a power that provoked response. Our Lord, when teaching by parable, alerted his hearers: “Therefore, consider carefully how you listen” (Luke 8:18). We are to be engaged in listening, intent on hearing.

Just as it is ethically incumbent upon the teacher or preacher to diligently hunger and thirst after an exegetically and theologically correct message (James 3:1; Matt. 12:36, 37), so it is ethically imperative that the hearers receive and respond to the word—always considering the message according to Scripture. For no human is infallible, and all must be corrected biblically; yet God in His mercy uses these earthen vessels “to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (2 Cor. 4:7).

Sound biblical teaching and preaching when illumined by the Spirit is a transaction of grace: needed Truth is dynamically imparted to both redeemed and unredeemed sinners through the spoken word—a momentous event! It’s not just another Sunday’s half hour, not just another “religious” routine. The gracious gifts of the Spirit are to freely operate with the wind of the Spirit filling our sails and refreshing our hearts.

Practically, we must regain a biblical reverence, a fear and trembling before our Maker (Prov. 1:6). As a teacher and a preacher, I know the meaning of the congregation’s eye contact, facial expressions, and posture. Yes, in a way it is the speaker’s responsibility to provoke the interest of the hearers. But it is equally our responsibility to listen and to help the speakers by demonstrating an interest. This may require a sacrifice if you are not naturally captivated—but is not that the essence of following Christ—a sacrifice placed on God's altar for his own use(Romans 12:1-2)?

We obey what we have truly heard; we truly hear what we dedicate ourselves to hearing “and the message is heard through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). “Hear O Israel.” “Let everyone be quick to hear” (James 1:19) that the Lord may be honored, revered, and obeyed.

A Charge to Remember

In 1980, I was inspired by these words from Dr. Charles Malik, a Lebanese Christian, professor, and international statesman:

I must be frank with you: the greatest danger confronting American evangelical Christianity is the danger of anti-intellectualism. The mind in its greatest and deepest reaches is not cared for enough. But intellectual nurture cannot take place apart from profound immersion for a period of years in the history of thought and the spirit. People who are in a hurry to get out of the university and start earning money or serving the church or preaching the gospel have no idea of the infinite value of spending years of leisure conversing with the greatest minds and souls of the past, ripening and sharpening and enlarging their powers of thinking. The result is that the arena of creative thinking is vacated and abdicated to the enemy. Who among evangelicals can stand up to the great secular scholars on their own terms of scholarship? Who among evangelical scholars is quoted as a normative source by the greatest secular authorities on history or philosophy or psychology or sociology or politics? Does the evangelical mode of thinking have the slightest chance of becoming the dominant mode in the great universities of Europe and America that stamp our entire civilization with their spirit and ideas? For the sake of greater effectiveness in witnessing to Jesus Christ, as well as for their own sakes, evangelicals cannot afford to keep on living on the periphery of responsible intellectual existence. (“The Other Side of Evangelism,” Christianity Today, November 7, 1980, p. 40.)

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Statism Strikes Again: California Homeschoolers be Damned

The California courts have decreed from on high (or on low) that parents cannot homeschool their own children unless they have state teaching credentials. We must cut to the chase on this piece of legal vandalism: it is unvarnished statism, the worship of the state as an ersatz god.

But all ersatz gods, all idols, are truth-less and godless--and dangerous. Idols violate reality, exalting themselves and thus debasing everything in their wasting wake. The state of California claims ownership of the children of those families that live there. They claim ownership of education. They claim unlimited jurisdiction over knowledge. If they do not endorse education, it is illegitimate. Moloch needs its sacrifices; it must not go hungry. (To understand the divine judgment on political god-players, see Isaiah 14, Ezekial 28, Acts 12, and Revelation 13).

But the state (or civil government) is only one realm or sphere of government, alongside family government, church government, and self-government. (Abraham Kuyper, the great theologian, politician, and journalist, called this "sphere sovereignty.) All are under God, none are divine. Jesus told us to render to Caesar what was his and to God what is God's. Children are a heritage from the Lord; they are not a gift of the state. We are to train up children in the fear and admonition of the Lord, not according to the secular curriculum of the state schools, which have institutionalized naturalism as the reigning ideology and idol-ology.

In a representative republic, such as ours, legal recourse is available and necessary. The conscience must be free. May all Christians, and every citizen who loves responsible freedom under law, rise up and oppose this false God of statism that is now strutting its anti-family, anti-Christian stuff in California.

1. For a radio program with James Dobson and Michael Farris on this topic, click here.
2. For the Home School Legal Defense Association's take, click here.
3. You may sign a petition against this ruling.
4. Here are some statistics on the benefits of home schooling.

Frank Schaeffer: Another Obama Casualty

Frank Schaeffer emotes away about Obama on The Huffington Post. Read the article and see that he gives no arguments except his own swooning over Obama. Schaeffer is another casualty of the Obama-charisma-smoke-and-mirrors-machine. This kind of emotive endorsement is shameful and embarrassing, especially for a columnist who is supposed to give reasons and arguments. At least that is what I want a columnist to do for his readership.

It is also ironic and sad that in the early 1980s Frank (then Franky) with his father, Francis A. Schaeffer, led the charge for evangelicals to care about human life issues. He produced a film series called, "Whatever Happened to the Human Race?" (still worth viewing; and the book of the same title should be required reading for anyone on the fence about abortion). But Frank now watches Obama for hours a day on TV--the same Obama who endorses abortion on demand, who, as President (God forbid) would appoint Supreme Court and federal justices who would agree with this pro-death agenda, who would issue executive orders to repeal any federal restrictions of abortion, and who would veto bills that are pro-life.

My question is, "Whatever Happened to Frank Schaeffer?"

Friday, March 07, 2008

Someone who is not suffering from fetus fatigue

I received this heartening letter from a pastor who read my post, "Fetus Fatigue." I am posting it with his permission.


Dear Doug:

Thank you for your article regarding the importance of maintaining the evangelical pro life stance. I have been a pastor of a small church in Midtown Memphis since 1981. Back in 1990, I became convinced that I had to get involved in a practical way, and so I helped launch Memphis Sidewalk Counseling. We have a presence in front of the three abortion clinics whenever they are open for business. About 80 people from various churches (agreeing to a basic doctrinal statement) offer a quiet, compassionate, Christian witness to those coming and going at the facilities. Each year, 80-100 people specifically tell us that they changed their minds in favor of life. I, too, have noted that the abortion issue is in danger of being marginalized by many in our churches. As if rotating off the "Flavor of the Month" list, the issue of abortion has become passe to some. It took 20 years of Roe v Wade for the church to figure out how important it is to stand for life. By then, we had allowed the culture of death to become entrenched. I have observed that people no longer argue that "it isn't really a baby." People know better. Technology and consistent proclamation have combined to get past the rhetoric of the "prochoice" people. And just as we are seeing the battle turning, some Christians appear to be losing interest and looking for other savvy-sounding causes. So...thank you for sounding the alarm. God will honor long obedience.

Warm regards,
Gary Starbuck
Open Door Bible Church
1792 North Parkway
Memphis, TN

Distorting Jesus

Obama says that the Sermon on the Mount justifies same sex unions. I suppose that follows from a man who believes in a "living constitution," meaning: it can be changed by activist judges to suit their will. The same goes for the Bible.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Recovering from Fetus Fatigue

It appears that millions of evangelicals, especially younger ones, are experiencing fetus fatigue. They are tired of the abortion issue taking center stage; it is time to move on to newer, hipper things--the sort of issues that excite Bono: aid to Africa, the environment, and cool tattoos. Abortion has been legal since they were born; it is the old guard that gets exercised about millions of abortions over the years. So, let's not worry that Barak Obama and Hillary are pro-choice. That is a secondary issue. After all, neither could do that much damage regarding this issue.

Evangelicals (if that word has any meaning), for God's sake, please wake up and remember the acres of tiny corpses you cannot see. Yes, the Christian social vision is holistic. We should endeavor to restore shalom to this beleaguered planet. That includes helping Africa, preserving the environment, and much more. However, the leading domestic moral issue remains the value of helpless human life. Since Roe v. Wade, approximately 50 million unborn humans have been killed through abortion. Stalin said, "One death is a tragedy. A million dead is a statistic." Too many are now Stalinists on abortion. The numbers mean nothing, apparently. The vast majority of these abortions were not done to save the life of the mother, a provision I take to be justified. Things have reached the point where bumper stickers say, "Don't like abortion, don't have one." It is simply a matter of private, subjective taste. But how about this: "Don't like slavery, don't own slaves"? Two human beings are involved in this matter, inescapably.

The biblical argument against abortion is direct and powerful:

1. The fetus is a person made in God’s image (Gen. 1:27; Psalm 139:13-16).
2. Murder is unjustly killing a person and is sinful (Exodus 20:13).
3. Abortion is (all things being equal) the unjust killing of a person. Exception: when life of
the mother is directly endangered.
4. Therefore: (a) abortion is morally wrong and sinful before God.
5. Therefore: (b) abortion should be illegal and stigmatized socially (Romans 13:1-7).

One can build a strong pro-life argument apart from the Bible as well, but I will not address that here. See the new book called Embryo by George and Tollefsen on this.

The Democratic contenders are both militantly pro-abortion. If one wins, he or she will likely appoint several Supreme Court judges. If so, you can forget about overturning Roe v. Wade, which would return the legality to the states. This is not as good as a Human Life Amendment (which Huckabee supported), but it is better than the moral and legal abomination that is Roe. v. Wade. Both Democrats would also fund stem cell research on human embryos and provide as much federal funding as possible for abortion. The president can also issue executive order that have tremendous power. William Jefferson Clinton did so a few days after talking office in 1993. Hillary or Obama would do something very similar. Obama even voted against a bill that would save the lives of infants born alive after a botched abortion. One could go on. Please see the blog entry, "Why Pro-Life Presidents Matter," by Joe Carter.

Evangelicals, for God's sake, please wake up. Remember the least, the last, and the lost: the millions of unborn human beings who hang in the balance (Matthew 25:31-46). No, this is not the only issue, but it is a titanic issue that cannot be ignored. Rouse yourself to recover from fetus fatigue. God is watching.

Bibliography of Note

Tim and Lydia McGrew have written an excellent bibliography on historical apologetics. Dr. Tim McGrew is a philosophy professor at Western Michigan University and a friend (as well as a contributor to this infamous blog).

Monday, March 03, 2008

Shut up and Perform

Charles Colson writes of the free speech ban on athletes at the next Olympics put in place by the Chinese government. This communist regime is repressive and inhumane, and it has designs on the world.

A Sunday in the Life of Reading

After returning from church today, I stayed home and read, pretty much the whole day. I don't do this enough. But this is what was read:

1. Two chapters on Francis A. Schaeffer, True Spirituality.
2. Two chapters from Alister McGrath, Christianity's Dangerous Idea
3. A chapter from Jonah Goldberg, Liberal Fascism.
4. One chapter from Dworkin, Artificial Happiness.
5. Two chapters from James Beilby, ed., Faith and Clarity: Philosophical Contributions to Christian Theology.
6. Two chapters from Francis Collins, The Language of God.

The total is about 217 pages, and I am not a very fast reader. Try it yourself some day when you have the time.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Book Notes: The Case for Civility

Instead of full-fledged reviews, from time to time I will post book notes, to let you know what I take to be worth reading.

Os Guinness, The Case For Civility. HarperOne, 2008. As an Englishman born in China, and as an astute sociologist and social critic, Guinness offers a wise and compelling vision for civilizing the public square and moving beyond the machinations of endless culture wars.

While writing as a Christian, Guinness charts a course for "a civil public square" in which citizens of any religion or of none are allowed and encouraged to let their voices be known and to respect those of others. He argues against both "the sacred social square" (where pluralism is defrocked and one religion dominates at the expense of others) and "the naked public square" (in which religious citizens are not allowed to participate socially and politically on the basis of their deepest convictions) .

Guinness grounds his reflections on a profound understanding of The First Amendment and its entailments. Contrary to many, he argues that civility is a higher virtue than mere tolerance. Moreover, civility requires knowledge and discipline; it is not the fruit of relativism, which despairs of objective moral knowledge and the pursuit of objective truth.

Readers of Guinness's previous and much larger work, The American Hour (1992), will find echoes in The Case for Civility, but the latter is far more than a digest of the former; it is, rather, a timely and clarion call to principled pluralism tied to the essence of the American experiment.