Sunday, May 31, 2009
Saturday, May 30, 2009
Introducing the Wiki Bible!
In the mercurial and serendipitous spirit of the Wikipedia (that great boon to human knowledge and hipness and participatory epistemology and metaphysics), the Wiki Bible solicits your take on God, the cosmos, humans, salvation and anything else that floats your boat. The categories are completely open; the perspective are diverse (we worship diversity for diversity's sake), and the content is ever-changing, ever-new, ever-surprising, never boring--like those old chapters and verses marooned on pages stuck in books.
Create the WikiBible: from keyboard to theology with no holds barred, no ideas forbidden, no logic required! There are no limits as to what our shared reality may be, may become. You can deconstruct, reconstruct, resonstitute, reinvent, revamp, revise, redress the wrongs of an old God who never changes and never gets with it. God is waiting to be defined, illustrated, and massaged--by you, by us. Get busy, you hyperactive digitopians!
Friday, May 29, 2009
Thursday, May 28, 2009
Listen to this Man
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
What About Water Boarding a Fetus?
A Few Thoughts on Design (Outtake from my Book)
1. The universe as a whole and/or significant parts of it, evidence certain patterns and structures that indicate design (such as complexity, simplicity, beauty, human rationality, and so on); that is, the work of intelligence.
2. Alternative naturalistic explanations for this apparent design—essentially some combination of impersonal chance and impersonal natural laws—cannot adequately explain this phenomena.
3. Therefore, these phenomena are best explained by a designing, personal intelligence outside of nature.
4. This designing, personal intelligence outside of nature is God.
Along with the other theistic arguments, the argument from design (or the teleological argument) had been dismissed and ridiculed by many philosophers until recent decades. For example, Russell’s famous essay, “Why I am not a Christian,” devotes less than two pages to refuting the argument. After invoking Darwin’s account of nature, he says, “It is not that their environment was made to be suitable to them [living creatures] but that they grew to be suitable to it, and that is the basis of adaptation. There is no evidence of design about it.” He then appeals to the “defects” of the world—such as the Klu Klux Klan and the Fascists—to argue that this cannot be “the best that omnipotence and omniscience have been able to produce in millions of years.” Russell's points, though terse and sharp, form the backbone of objections to design arguments. (1) Nature can be explained perfectly well, without a designer, especially since Darwin. (2) The evils of our world speak against a Designer.
The first point should be addressed first, because if we find evidence of design that cannot be reduced to natural processes, the universe becomes the mouthpiece for something beyond itself. Only in that context should we then address the question of nature’s “defects,” cruelty, suffering, and evil. Many, however, simply appeal to a less than perfect world—by picking out their favorite defects—and claim that the universe cannot be designed at all. This does not follow logically.
I once owned a 1976 AMC Gremlin X. When I sold it, it was well beyond its prime, and was never an automotive exemplar. It was defective in many ways. But no one would doubt that it was designed and assembled by intelligent agents. Its defect and decay can be explained only in the context of its design.
Admittedly, it is a heavy burden for Christian theists to explain the decay and defects of our world in light of the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient, and all-good deity. Why would such a Being allow so much that cuts against the grain of his own power and goodness?
Notwithstanding, the Christian worldview describes a bent world, a world torn by sin—yet under divine guidance. Nevertheless that burden is more easily shouldered after a solid case for design is marshaled.
Monday, May 25, 2009
Break Free from False Freedom
Sunday, May 24, 2009
Review of Mark Levin, Tryanny and Liberty
Part of the answer to our plight is to return to first principles, the truths that animated the founders of America--and they are conservative, not liberal. Mark Levin knows this history and brings these titanic ideals to bear on our present situation. The goal of just civil government is liberty, not comprehensive control. Statism is the enemy of liberty, and is a form of political idolatry wherein the state (not God, the individual, family, church, and so on) is taken to be the ultimate provider and protector and regulator of society.
Levin, while an often acerbic radio host known for high-pitched denunciations of his clueless callers, is neither petulant nor strident in this book. He rather makes arguments deeply rooted in history, our American history, which so many, to their peril, either forgot or never knew (thanks to public--read statist--education and the stupor brought on by popular culture).
Levin illustrates the move toward tyranny in the philosophy and policies of Barack Husein Obama, the most statist president in the history of our Republic. If you oppose Obama's ideology, don't just complain or pine away until the next election: education yourself in the principles that lead to liberty and human thriving that are articulated in this vital book. Moreover, read some established classics in this genre such as Bill Buckley's Up From Liberalism" and Barry Goldwater's, The Conscience of a Conservative. And do so...before it is too late.
Labels: Book review
Unmasking the New Age Jesus
Those enamored of New Age spirituality usually find in Jesus a kindred spirit. Rather than exiling Jesus to the legendary lore of religious imagination or debunking him as a messianic pretender, New Age writers see Jesus as an enlightened master who manifested a divine power—a power potentially available to all who enter the New Age.
The New Age movement is not a conspiracy but an eclectic configuration of spiritual seekers who have despaired of finding personal and cosmic satisfaction in either religious orthodoxies or secular materialism. Instead, they have turned to unconventional and esoteric sources in the hopes of finding what they seek in the ambiance of the mystical, magical and metaphysical.[i] Given these tendencies, the Jesus of orthodox Christianity may seem inadequate. Jesus must be rescued from a pedestrian and parochial orthodoxy that demands he monopolize the deity.
Jesus in the New Age
Because of its diversity, the New Age has no single view of Jesus, but it offers a family of related views whose common factors may be summarized.
1. The New Age highly esteems Jesus as a spiritually attuned or evolved being who serves as an example for spiritual discovery and evolutionary advancement. Jesus is referred to by various positive terms and titles including Master, Guru, Yogi, Adept, Avatar, Shaman, and Way-show-er. He is revered along with other religious leaders such as Buddha, Krishna, Confucius, and Lao Tze.
2. Many argue for the separation of Jesus the individual person of history from the universal and impersonal Christ Consciousness, or Christ Principle. His consciousness of God and miracles were evidence he tapped into a higher level of consciousness. But if Jesus tapped into this cosmic power, he did not monopolize it. New Age philosopher David Spangler, echoing the ancient Gnostics, said that, “The Christ is not the province of a single individual.”[ii] As Joseph Campbell put it in his best-selling book The Power of Myth (1988), “We are all manifestations of Buddha consciousness or Christ consciousness, only we don’t know it.”[iii] Christhood comes through self-discovery; we may all become Christs if we tap into the universal energy, the Christ consciousness.
3. The orthodox Christian affirmation that Jesus is the supreme and final revelation of God is questioned. Although Jesus is respected, he is not worshiped. Janet Bock complains that “the position that Jesus was the only ‘Son of God’ . . . is, in effect, a limiting of the power of God, a shackling of divinity to one physical form for all eternity.”[iv]
4. Jesus’ crucifixion, if accepted as historical, is not deemed essential to restore the spiritual wholeness of humanity. Jesus’ suffering on the cross is either rejected as unhistorical or reinterpreted to exclude the idea that he suffered as the Christ to pay the penalty for human wrongdoing in order to reconcile people to a holy God. Elizabeth Clare Prophet, leader of The Church Universal and Triumphant, states emphatically that the idea of a blood sacrifice is “an erroneous doctrine,” actually “a remnant of pagan rite long refuted by the word of God” and never taught by Jesus himself.[v] Since the New Age worldview denies both human sinfulness and a personal God who is ethically perfect, Jesus’ crucifixion loses its traditional significance.
5. Belief in Jesus’ resurrection and ascension is denied or spiritualized to remove them from the realm of the physical and the historical. Many others besides Jesus are recognized as “Ascended Masters” on the spiritual plane. Joseph Campbell interprets the Ascension to mean that Jesus “has gone inward . . . to the place from which all being comes, into the consciousness that is the source of all tings, the kingdom of heaven within.”[vi] For Campbell, Jesus does not ascend to the right hand of the Father but descends to the divine depths of the collective soul.
6. The idea of Jesus’ Second Coming is spiritualized and democratized to refer to the evolutionary ascent of an awakened humanity. Soli, billed as an “off planet being” channeled through Neville Rowe, offers this esoteric insight: “You are God. You are, each and every one, part of the Second Coming.”[vii] The notion that “this same Jesus” (Acts 1:11) who literally and bodily ascended to heaven will himself return in like manner on Judgment Day is rejected as narrow-minded literalism (see also Philippians 3:20-21). Furthermore, final judgment after death is denied in favor of reincarnation.
7. New-Age thinkers accept extra-biblical documents as sources for authentic information about Jesus. Although the Bible is often cited, its function is secondary to other texts. Instead, the spiritually inquisitive often turn to alternative records of Jesus’ life. This quest for a “lost Christianity” follows several routes converging at key points.
Many believe that Gnostic texts provide a trustworthy record of Jesus as a spiritual catalyst who came to awaken the spark of divinity locked in our bodily prison. Self-knowledge, or gnosis, is the means of salvation. Since people hear of titles such as The Gospel of Thomas or the Gospel of Peter, many assume the Gnostic materials are historically trustworthy documents that were expelled from orthodoxy by defensive clerics. Professor Elaine Pagels, long an advocate of Gnostic materials over the canonical Scriptures, recently drew attention to The Gospel of Thomas in her best-selling book, Beyond Belief (2003).
Another strand of revisionism harks back to a book called The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ, published in 1894 by a Russian journalist, Nicholas Notovitch. This book claims to unveil an ancient Tibetan record of Jesus’ “lost years” (between ages 13 and 29), which he spent studying, teaching and traveling in the mystic East. This Jesus bears little resemblance to the biblical Jesus.
Others find the key to Jesus in the ancient Essene community at Qumran, near the Dead Sea. Claiming to base their interpretation on the Dead Sea Scrolls or other material, they see Jesus as part of a mystical remnant preserved from the Jewish fundamentalism of his day. Shirley MacLaine writes that “Jesus and the Essenes, with their teachings on love and light and cosmic laws along with the Golden Rule of karma, sound very much like metaphysical seekers in the New Age today.”[viii]
These esoteric materials are often augmented or eclipsed by revelations thought to originate beyond history entirely. Channelers or mediums receive messages about Jesus from personal spirit beings. Others, such as Edgar Cayce and Rudolf Steiner, keyed into an impersonal plane of higher consciousness called the Akashic Records or the Collective Unconscious, to extract a picture of Jesus not in harmony with that of the New Testament. The popular three-volume set A Course in Miracles (1975), popularized by Marianne Williamson, claims to have been dictated by Jesus himself. Yet it denies historic Christian teachings such as original sin, the sacrificial death of Christ, reconciliation with God by faith in Jesus, and a literal heaven and hell.
8. When the Bible is cited with reference to Jesus, an appeal is made to an esoteric dimension lost on those holding traditional interpretations. The Bible must be decoded to discern its secret substratum. So, when Jesus said that John the Baptist was Elijah, he was saying that John was the reincarnation of Elijah, not that John simply came with the same “spirit and power of Elijah” without being literally Elijah (Luke 1:17).[ix] When he said, “the kingdom of heaven is within you,” he really meant the soul is divine, not that the kingdom was breaking into history through Jesus (Luke 17:20-37).[x]
In the New Age, Jesus is understood apart from biblical moorings and placed in an alien intellectual and spiritual atmosphere. He is a Christ without a cross or physical resurrection, preaching a gospel without repentance or forgiveness, before an audience of potential equals who have no sin and are in no peril or perdition. Is this the genuine Jesus?
Is the New Testament Reliable?
Before considering the claims and credentials of Jesus, we should consider the reliability of the New Testament, since New Age sources impugn its integrity. The New Testament is often undervalued because of its antiquity and its manner of compilation. It is deemed unreliable because of the number of translations and editions. Some will reject its authority by saying, “Well, it has been translated so many times.” Yet the New Testament is the best-attested collection of literature from antiquity. Some 5,366 partial or complete Greek manuscripts of the New Testament have been recovered, dating as far back as the end of the first century. This plethora of manuscripts gives scholars ample material for reconstructing the original texts. No doctrine is affected by the small number of variant readings listed in modern Bibles.[xi]
Although numerous translations of the New Testament are available, each modern translation appeals to the best ancient manuscripts available. They do not simply refer to the latest in a succession of translations. In fact, as time goes on more and more manuscripts are uncovered by archaeologists.
The date of the original composition of the New Testament books is quite close to the events described—in most cases, not more than a generation. We know that nearly all the twenty-seven books of the New Testament were in circulation by the end of the first century, because early church theologians such as Ignatius and Clement (writing at the turn of the century) refer to them or quote them. The original writers of the New Testament were also in a good position to ascertain the truth of their research, being either eyewitnesses (such as the apostles Matthew, Peter and John) or (like Luke) privy to eyewitnesses. Luke’s affirms that the material he used was “handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word” that he might present an “orderly account” of Jesus’ life (Luke 1:2-3).[xii]
Concerning the canonization of the New Testament, New Age writers protest is that it was the product of a fourth-century theological elite which excluded legitimate sources such as Gnosticism for purely self-serving reasons. But this scenario doesn’t bear historical scrutiny. The canonized documents were not given authority as much as they were recognized as already functioning in the churches with authority. These books predate the church councils that canonized them by several hundred years. They were not produced or altered ad hoc. Furthermore, books were excluded from the canon for specific reasons, such as late date of composition, questionable authorship, doctrine at odds with the primitive “rule of faith,” and lack of use in the early church; they were not rejected for merely political motives.[xiii]
In light of this evidence, the burden of proof lies on any other purported record of the life of Jesus that contradicts the New Testament. Can the New Age revisionist documents bear historical scrutiny?
Testing New Age Documents
The New Testament is far better attested than Gnostic texts. The Gnostic texts are second- or third-century documents that editorially alter an already existing orthodox view of Jesus. None of the Nag Hammadi texts, for instance, is an actual gospel of the form of the canonical Gospels. Rather, they are largely metaphysical discourses that for the most part bear little resemblance to the New Testament either stylistically or theologically.[xiv]
The Notovitch material (claiming to reveal “the lost years of Jesus”) was roundly condemned as unreliable by such noted orientalists as F. Max Muller and others shortly after its publication because of its contrived and unhistorical character. Despite continued interest in The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ, the supposed Tibetan original manuscript has never been available for scholarly study; there exists no adequate verification of its existence, let alone its credibility. Most scholars have flatly rejected it as a fraud. It is better to have 5,366 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament in the hand than (at most) one exotic manuscript lost in the Tibetan bush.[xv]
Claims that Jesus was an Essene do not hold up either. The Essenes of the Dead Sea Scrolls were not proto-New Agers. Rather, they were monotheistic Jews who, despite sectarian idiosyncrasies, affirmed human sinfulness, an eternal hell and a predestinating, personal God. Despite some similarity between Jesus’ teachings and the Essenes’ (due to their common belief in the Old Testament), there is a deep rift between them concerning asceticism, ethics, salvation and other issues. The Essenes were not New Agers, and Jesus was no Essene.[xvi]
With regard to channeled material, we should question why credence should be given to a revelation with no historical verification over documents with considerable historical verification—especially when channeled sources deny the central tenets of what Christians have affirmed for two thousand years. Because of this danger, the Apostle John warns: “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). He goes on to encourage his readers to test the purported revelations by their views on Jesus; if they reject the biblical Jesus, they must be rejected as false messages, whatever their supposed source (1 John 4:2-3; see also Colossian 2:8).[xvii]
The simple fact is this: The evidence supports the reliability of the New Testament over the materials concerning Jesus given weight in New Age circles.
The Claims and Credentials of the Christ
But who is the Jesus of the New Testament? He speaks with a voice of authority based on both his claims and credentials.
Jesus calls himself God’s “one and only son” who was sent in love by the Father to bestow eternal life to those who believe in him (John 3:16). No other shares that status. This is no idle matter, since Jesus goes on to say that “whoever does not believe [in Jesus] stands condemned already because he has not believed in God’s one and only Son” (v. 18). Peter declared: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Paul affirms that “Christ Jesus” is “the name that is above every name” (Philippians 2:9; see also Ephesians 1:18-23).
Another authoritative affirmation comes from Jesus’ lips: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6; see also Matthew 11:27). In context, the exclusivity of this statement cannot be honestly avoided, although some, through “esoteric interpretation,” assert that Jesus is not speaking of himself as the way, but of the impersonal “I Am presence” (or God) in us all. Such interpretive innovation, often practiced in New Ager circles, is the result of “world-view confusion”—an entirely alien philosophy, in this case pantheism, is superimposed onto the text.[xviii]
Esoteric interpretation is countered by common sense. If nothing stated in the text indicates the esoteric meaning, and we have good independent evidence indicating that the document is written in code language, what grounds can be given to support the esoteric interpretation, besides wishful thinking? Although the Bible is not always easy to understand, no secret code is needed to decipher it.[xix] Peter warns of those who distort the Scriptures to their own destruction (2 Peter 3:16).[xx]
By what credentials did Jesus back up his claims? Because those involved in the New Age movement grant the reality of a paranormal, dimension that affects the natural realm, they should be impressed with Jesus as an unsurpassed wonder worker. Jesus restored the blind, deaf, dumb and leprous, cast out demons with a word, commanded the elements to obey him, and summoned Lazarus from the grave. In the grandest miracle of all, he himself rose from the dead on the third day, just as he predicted. There would be no Christianity without the Resurrection.[xxi] A reading of the Gospels will disclose Jesus as another shaman or mystical holy man. He is far greater.
Jesus never claimed to tap into an impersonal realm of power. His demonstration of power was thoroughly personal. Jesus miraculous power was grounded in his identity as God’s only Son, his relationship to God, the Father, and his empowerment by the Holy Spirit. His miracles displayed his compassion and integrity. This is seen when declared that a crippled man’s sins were forgiven—an act only God could perform—and backed it up by healing him on the spot (Mark 2:1-12). Jesus healed both soul and body, and in the process forgiven the man’s sins, declaring the prerogatives of deity.
The sheer number, power and attestation of Jesus’ miracles put him in a category by himself; but the miracles alone are not sufficient to establish Jesus as Lord. We must also consider Jesus’ unrivaled authority as a teacher; the certainty of his words regarding his mission, his identity and the need for human response; his fulfillment of prophecy;[xxii] and his love toward those he came to rescue. These factors show Jesus as a man of integrity and compassion as well as a man of power. He claimed to have the power to save the lost, whom he loved.[xxiii]
Jesus’ View of Salvation
Jesus was on a redemptive mission. However, New Age theology to the contrary, his mission was not to convince humans that they were really divine. He declared, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10). Jesus understood being “lost” as sinfulness. He catalogued thirteen items of infamy—such as adultery, greed, impurity—as “coming from within” and making a person unclean before a holy and personal God (Mark 7:21-23). Where the New Age sees a sleeping god, Jesus finds a tempest of transgression. It is no wonder that Jesus often warned of the horrors of hell (Matthew 25:31-46; Luke 16:19-31).
Jesus presented himself as the answer. “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Speaking of his impending crucifixion, Jesus said, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28). Christ’s crucifixion offers something alien to a New Age theology, which understands God as an impersonal and amoral Force, Principle or Vibration. From this perspective, humans all partake of the divine essence, but the ultimate reality is impersonal and inhuman. The Great Void makes no friends and sheds no blood. Yet we all yearn for loving relationships with other persons, for love, intimacy and acceptance.
We find our highest meaning in the inter-personal realm, not the im-personal realm. The Cross of Christ announces God’s sacrificial love toward us. God’s uncompromising holiness demands that a price be paid for sin: Jesus goes to the cross to bear that penalty. Yet God’s love provides a sinless sacrifice for a guilty race. As Paul said:
When we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his love toward us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8)
Finding the Genuine Jesus
The gospel of Jesus Christ is an objective claim on every individual (Acts 17:30). Christ offers the life we crave but which we cannot achieve by looking within ourselves. He said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). Although Jesus singled himself out of the spiritual crowd through his exclusive claims and unmatched credentials, he issues an inclusive invitation:
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28)
Christ promises and provides rest from the futile human quest for Christhood. We may, by his grace, become his friends, but never his peers. We must surrender our quest for autonomy, turn from our selfishness, and turn toward the only one who can forgive our sins, give us eternal life, and equip us for good works for the glory of God. The first word of the gospel is repentance. Jesus said, “Repent for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). If we admit our sin, repent of our wrongdoings, and put our faith in the sinless sacrifice of Jesus, we can find eternal life—beginning now and continuing for an eternity in paradise with Jesus. Only through faith in Jesus can a new age truly begin (2 Corinthians 5:17).[xxiv]
[i] For more on the New Age as a movement and a worldview, see Douglas Groothuis, Unmasking the New Age (Downers Grove, Ill,: InterVarsity Press, 1986), and Douglas Groothuis, “New Age Spiritualites,” in Christopher Partridge, Douglas Groothuis, eds., Dictionary of Contemporary Religion in the Western World (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 278-280.
[ii] David Spangler, Reflections on the Christ (Glasgow, Scotland: The Findhorn Foundation, 1977), 103.
[iii] Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth (New York: Doubleday, 1988), 57. This material, based on an interview with Bill Moyers, was also made into a PBS television interview, which is still shown during pledge drives.
[iv] Janet Bock, The Jesus Mystery (Los Angeles, Calif.: Aura Books, 1984), 112.
[v] Mark L. and Elizabeth Clare Prophet, The Science of the Spoken Word (Livingstone, Mont.: Summit University Press, 1986), 86-87.
[vi] Campbell, 56.
[vii] Quoted in Otto Friedrich, “New Age Harmonies,” Time, December 7, 1987, 66.
[viii] Shirley MacLaine, Going Within (New York, N.Y.: Bantam, 1989), 181.
[ix] See Douglas Groothuis, Confronting the New Age (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 95-98.
[x] See Douglas Groothuis, Jesus in an Age of Controversy (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2002), 227-228.
[xi] See Groothuis, Jesus, 38-41.
[xii] For more on the reliability of the New Testament see Groothuis, Jesus, 17-63, and F. F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents—Are They Reliable? 6th ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1987).
[xiii] F. F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1988), and Groothuis, Jesus, 307-312.
[xiv] For more on the historicity of the Gnostic texts see Groothuis, Jesus, 102-118.
[xv] For more on the lost years of Jesus see Ibid., 119-151.
[xvi] For more on Jesus and the Essenes see Ibid., 152-180.
[xvii] For more on channeling see Ibid., Jesus, 181-214.
[xviii] See James Sire, Scripture Twisting: Twenty Ways Cults Misinterpret the Bible (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 23-30, 127-44.
[xix] On proper biblical interpretation see Gordon Fee and Stuart Douglas, How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1993).
[xx] For more on esoteric interpretation see Groothuis, Confronting, 87-91; Groothuis, Jesus, 282-284; and Sire, 107-115.
[xxi] See Groothuis, Jesus, 272-282, and Gary Habermas, The Risen Jesus and Future Hope (Lanham, MA: Rowman and Littlefield, 2003), especially Part I.
[xxii] On Jesus’ fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, see John Ankerberg, John Weldon and Walter Kaiser, The Case for Jesus, the Messiah (Chattanooga, Tenn.: The John Ankerberg Evangelistic Association, 1989).
[xxiii] For more on the claims and credentials of Christ, see Groothuis, Jesus, 237-260.
[xxiv] On coming to terms with Jesus, see Groothuis, Jesus, 285-306.
Labels: New Age
An Author You Should Know
Walter R. Martin (1928-1989)
Pioneering cult apologist, evangelist, and author who founded the Christian Research Institute in 1960. Martin is widely considered the father of the American countercult movement. Beginning in the 1950s when few others were advancing this cause, Martin challenged Evangelical Christians to develop biblically faithful and apologetically solid approaches to those involved in cults, nonChristian religions, and the occult. He was known as an outgoing and articulate defender of the faith.
Martin became a Christian under the ministry of Dr. Frank Gaebelein at the Stony Brook School and received a bachelor’s degree from Shelton College and a Master’s degree from New York University and Biblical Seminary in 1956. His first book, Jehovah of the Watch Tower (1953), was followed by many other books, booklets, and tapes, including the standard reference work, The Kingdom of the Cults (1965), which remains in print in a revised edition; it has sold over 500,000 copies.
Martin was well-known for his live, call-in radio program, “The Bible Answer Man,” which began in 1965. His impact has been felt on world missions through ministry trips to Europe, Latin America, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and the Far East in which he warned of the challenges of cults on the missions field and through the translation of his books into several foreign languages.
After Martin’s death in 1989, he was succeeded by Hank Hanegraaff now hosts “The Bible Answer Man” radio program and serves as the president of the Christian Research Institute in southern California.
Humility: The Heart of Righteousness (from Christianity That Counts)
Without humility, Christ will be scarcely detectable in our lives. No matter what our gifts may be--teaching, preaching, writing, organizing, counseling, leading--and no matter how expertly we exhibit them, they are hauntingly hollow without humility. Without humility, others may hear of Christ from us, but they will not see him in us. He will remain more of a rumor than a reality. If we want Christ to become a public reality in us, we should seek to understand just what humility is and how to cultivate it.
Things valuable and rare, such as money and precious stones, are often counterfeited, and so humility is counterfeited by inept imitators. Someone who publicly bemoans his inadequacies with predictable regularity, is probably not humble. He is, rather, disgusted with himself and seeking to have others build him up. Nor is the one who is forever solemn and glum a good candidate for humility, because humility does not consist in perpetually pondering the somber and unpleasant. Such a dour soul is probably too wrapped up in melancholy to be meek.
We could expose other impostors of humility. But although counterfeits should be unmasked, they can provide no solid food for humility; one can avoid poison and still not know what makes for manna. The manna of humility can be understood as based on two doctrinal pillars known to us all: that we are creatures of the Creator, and redeemed by Christ the Redeemer.
Humility is a condition of the heart in which a person is disposed to receive all good things as a bestowal of grace. The humble refuse to take credit where it is not due, and recognize that "every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights" (James 1:18). Humility is based on our relationship with God. We are humble before God as a result of apprehending who God is in relation to who we are.
HUMILITY AS CREATURES
Humility is rooted not only in our being rescued from sin by the Savior; it is equally rooted in our position as creatures of the Creator. We are not the source of our own existence nor of any good that greets us. All is a gift from Another--the thunderous rush of the surging waves of the ocean, the luminous smile of a wife or husband, a good night's sleep, a moonlit night, a child's laughter. All is received by mere mortals. Adam and Eve in all their unfallen splendor owed worship and thanksgiving to their Maker. As do we.
It is a short step from thanksgiving to humility; conversely, it is quite a strain to be thankful and prideful at one sitting. Thanksgiving lifts us out of ourselves and into the graces of another where we find joy in the recognition of goodness bestowed. We are the recipients, not the Benefactor. As Andrew Murray put it: "But as God is the ever-present, ever-active One, who upholdeth all things by the word of his power, and in whom all things exist, the relation of the creature to God could only be one of unceasing, absolute, universal dependence."
While a reflection on this dependence naturally triggers thanksgiving and worship, pride is rooted in ingratitude and claims for itself what it can never merit. The book of Acts tells of the pride of Herod who, after an ostentatious public address, was lauded by his subjects as a god: "Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died" (Acts 12:21-23). Although God rarely judges so quickly, pride itself eats away at those who are intent on promoting themselves. Pride deems that no promotion is ever good enough, no accomplishment satisfactory, and no victory final. When we try to fill ourselves with ourselves we remain empty--if noisy. As Pascal put it regarding our need for grace, "this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself."
SAVED BY HUMILITY
Humility is not only the appropriate response of dependent creatures, it is the Christian's invaluable inheritance in Christ. Our salvation was achieved through humility and for humility. Humility was the very instrument of redemption. Christ did not consider equality with God something to be grasped; instead, he humbled himself in order to serve us and his Father by leaving the perfection of heaven and dying on the cross to set us free from sin (Phil. 2:5-11). It may be difficult to fathom how God Incarnate could be humble, but this is only because our vision of humility is clouded. The humility of Christ is rooted in his servant heart. He came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for fallen people (Mk. 10:45).
The measure of Christ's earthly greatness was his obedience to the Father for our sake. He did not seek his own glory, although he deserved it; and he did not insist on his own will, although he could have commanded legions of angels to save him from the cross. Instead of demanding that the disciples kiss his feet, he washed theirs. Instead of slapping Judas at the last supper, he kissed him. Instead of silencing his opponents by summoning fire from heaven, he loved his enemies--even on the cross, asking his Father to forgive them.
Seen in this light we can better understand what Jesus meant when he said, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:28-30). This is Jesus' explanation of how we can receive his humility. His is the yoke of humility because he above all others was meek before his Father in heaven. And it is this humility that he offers to those who take up his yoke. We will miss the heart of this verse (as I did for years!) unless we see that Jesus both exemplifies and offers humility. Humility is a primary benefit of salvation. If we understand the terms of our salvation, our only response can be humility. One who is redeemed by the grace of God has no cause for boasting. As Paul announced, "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--not by works, so that no one can boast" (Eph. 2:8-9).
Pride is excluded in principle from first to last. As Jeremiah said, "Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness" (Jer. 9:23-24).
If we understand the gospel and know who we are in Christ, we can trust the kindness of God himself instead of pridefully seeking the flattery and approval of others. We are free to be humble in Christ because we are completely at peace with him through his crucifixion and resurrection. We can rest even while we work because we are justified by faith, not works. We are free to serve God and others because we know that Christ will meet our needs out of the riches of his love. Pride is eliminated when we remember that "those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again" (2 Cor. 5:15).
If humility involves knowing who we are as creatures of the Creator and as sinners rescued by the Redeemer, can humility be cultivated in such a way that Christ will be seen in us? Seeking humility is a delicate matter. We should guard against praying for humility in order to be seen as humble, for this is merely pride feigning humility for pride's sake. We can't pray for humility as we would pray for a pay raise at work. We must dig deeper because humility involves a fundamental adjustment of our inner being in accordance with the truths of the gospel. Let's consider several steps for detecting the pride that precludes humility.
First, we should beseech God to lay bare our offensive pride, as David did when he prayed, "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting" (Psa. 139:23-24). We may need to turn our prayers from requests for material blessings to requests for the spiritual blessing of humility. This is eminently reasonable since nothing can truly be enjoyed without humility; pride is far too petty and protective to enjoy anything. Building the kingdom of self is a dirty and dispiriting business. Finding humility in the Spirit glorifies God and brings life and peace.
Second, we should note what things particularly disturb us and then ask, "Am I bothered because this is evil and offense to God or am I upset because my pride is hurt?" Am I more outraged at not having my good deed applauded than I am over the fact that my friend was cheated by an employer? If so, my pride outweighs my humility. Andrew Murray puts it strongly: "All sharp and hasty judgments and utterances, so often excused under the plea of being outright and honest; all manifestations of temper and touchiness and irritation; all feelings of bitterness and estrangement--have their root in nothing but pride, that ever seeks itself."
Third, whenever we blow our own horns, we fall into pride and make humility impossible. Everyone needs approval and encouragement, but no one should manipulate others in order to gain it. Boasting is a particular snare for those in public ministry where popular approval is so important. Instead of glorying in God's work through us and in us, a subtle shift occurs and we instead recite our deeds of righteousness in order to receive applause. But Proverbs says to "let another praise you, and not your own mouth; someone else, and not your own lips" (Prov. 27:2); it is not honorable to seek your own honor (Prov. 25:27). We disgrace God's ministry when we succumb to pride. But humility comes when our self-esteem is grounded in God's gracious estimation of us rather than in the varying opinions of others.
There are several ways that we can protect our hearts from pride and seek humility in the Spirit. First, in a culture enamored of self, we must be ever watchful not to let the world squeeze us into its psychological mold. The fountain of the spiritual life is humility, not self-love. In Christ we are free to recognize good qualities in ourselves and enjoy them as we offer them to God for his use, but exercises in self-congratulation are never edifying. As the spiritual advisor Fenelon put it, "True humility lies in seeing our own unworthiness and giving ourselves up to God, never doubting that He can work out the greatest results for and in us." We are best used for God's great purposes by realizing that he is great and and we are not. This refutes the advice of a self-absorbed society which desperately seeks to inflate a sinful and unforgiven self to acceptable proportions. Paul put it best when he said, "We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us" (2 Cor. 4:7).
Second, we can study and meditate upon the lives and writings of great saints and heroes of the faith, both within and outside of the Scripture, who put flesh and bone on humility. Here we find that humility is not the enemy of greatness. Moses was called the meekest of men, but he was a world-changing instrument in God's hands. Paul was a humble bondservant of Christ, but bold to preach the gospel and risk all for God. As someone involved with the university, I find the example of Thomas Aquinas inspiring because I need to be watchful to avoid the competitiveness and intellectual pride that besets the academy. Aquinas was a great theologian and philosopher of the middle ages; yet one of his disciples wrote that he "owed his knowledge less to the effort of his mind than to the power of his prayer. Every time he wanted to study, discuss, teach, write, or dictate, he first had recourse to the privacy of prayer, weeping before God in order to discover the divine secrets." The great scholar was great only because he was humble. "Humility comes before honor" (Prov. 15:33).
Third, being open and accountable to another believer is essential to spiritual growth in humility. Humility is not a solitary project; it requires help from friends. My wife has on several occasions observed a sense of self-importance in my teaching and gently encouraged me to reform. I need to hear this--even though it stings--because the pain of correction is far better than the indulgence and deception of pride. Spouses and friends should prayerfully encourage each other to take up the yoke of Jesus in order to experience and express his restful humility.
HUMILITY IN THE PUBLIC SQUARE
Is the practice of Christian humility possible in the modern public square, the realm so often characterized by noisy, unprincipled, and power-mongering politicos who are more likely to believe that the earth inherits the meek than the meek inherit the earth?
Humility is not optional for Christians. The humility of Jesus secured a salvation which makes humility both possible and necessary. It is not simply one virtue among many, but the root of all righteousness--because only humility puts us in our rightful place before the Creator and Redeemer. And only humility puts us in the ethical position to represent our Master with authenticity. Empty vessels can be filled to overflowing with the Holy Spirit. Vessels brimming with pride can hold no grace. Blaise Pascal summarized the humble life when he said, "Do small things as if they were great, because of the majesty of Christ, who does them in us and lives our life, and great things as if they were small and easy, because of his almighty power." Amen.
Labels: Christian devotion
Saturday, May 23, 2009
Two New Book Reviews: Fear of Knowledge and Icarus Fallen
2. Jeremiah Heiser, a 2009 Master of Divinity graduate from Denver Seminary, has published a first-rate review of Icarus Fallen: The Search for Meaning in an Uncertain World by Chantal Delsol in Denver Journal.
Labels: Book review
Hurray For Liberty University (corrected)
Thursday, May 21, 2009
Go Ape, Young Man
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
The Return of the Perverse
Rapper Eminem, the scatological and misogynistic purveyor of all things crude, rude, and lewd, is, after a blessed five-year hiatus, back with another egregious recorded assemblage of acoustic excrement. What is almost worse is hearing critics defend this indefensible miscreant, as does a self-impressed and utterly unconvincing maven of the inappropriate on NPR. Yes, Emimimen raps (it isn't singing) of rape, murder, and more, our critic intones, but somehow this artistically gives voice to deep inner feelings. Does it really? Jack the Ripper and Ted Bundy gave their voice to these inner urges in their own ways as well. Jesus gave us the wise principle that to imagine evil deeds in one's heart is tantamount to performing them, and, as such, corrupts the soul. Better to listen to Jesus and shun the critic and his deformed loves.
You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brotherwill be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca,' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell. . . . You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.' But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.--Matthew 5:21-22, 28-32.
Eminem's sneering, sulking, fuming, monotone rhymes are distilled ugliness aesthetically, however difficult they may be to perform. Many ugly and immoral things are hard to pull off, after all. A homicidal marksmen may be a very good shot. You know that advanced cultural bone rot has set in when the ravings of perversity and outright criminality are justified as art. The "criminal as artist" is another mode of taking the perverse to be the prophetic. There was much of this foolishness afoot in the 1960s through the writings of R.D. Laing and later through Foucault. Anomalies become trophies of bogus transcendence when objective moral law and genuine virtue is shunted aside. The repressed urges of sociopaths become dignified when excused and even praised by public (pseudo) intellectuals who cannot bring themselves to condemn anything that breaks one of the Ten Commandments (or all of them). Art fails to serve the good, the true, or the beautiful, and instead becomes a weapon to shock, outrage, and stoke the dark stirrings of the fallen self.
So, this disturbed (and rich) young man is again assaulting the public with more sneering, sickening, and soul-polluting expressions of his diseased self--even though he claims to be out of rehab. May God have mercy on him--and us.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
In other words, "Take it to the streets," In Jesus’ name.
A Philosopher Worth Knowing About
Monday, May 18, 2009
Humans are sub-creators under God. Made in God's image, we bring our inner world to bear on the outer world through, song, poetry, painting, architecture, gardens, novels, and more. Sadly, much of mass-produced postmodern life siphons the creativity out of our souls and bodies. Instead of making and experimenting, we consume and adjust our entertainment preferences, thinking that this is creative...when it is merely agile and over-agitated consumption.
But there is more--right here in Denver. Creator's Cafe is a place to hear live music performed by in-the-flesh human beings. It also displays art by local young people, struggling to find their way after severe trama. Tony Lombardo recently visited and wrote a review of this unique place and its redeeming concepts.
It is not to late. You can still create culture and welcome the creations of others--even with our iPod and cell phone off and your laptop closed. I hope to see you there.
Shift in Beliefs on Abortion
Sunday, May 17, 2009
Deepak Chopra: The Wrong Jesus
Narcissis and Me
and wrapped it with care,
and gave it to
I was so pleased
to receive this...
and from Me,
Then my gift
dissolved into a mirror.
I looked and saw
and loved him fervently.
into a horror
with no honor
I smashed the mirror
and saw in its place a river
I jumped in
and found myself
in a torrent of Life,
not my own,
my true home.
Saturday, May 16, 2009
Friday, May 15, 2009
Coltrane on Strings
The European Nightmare
Thursday, May 14, 2009
Muslims and the BBC
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Defining Decency Down
Christians are foolish to sing the praises of Miss California, Carrie Prejean, simply because she uttered some inarticulate opinions against same-sex marriage and speaks of God. To find a heroine in her is to define decency down, just as social science defined deviancy down decades ago (as Daniel Patrick Moynihan pointed out in a ground-breaking article in 1993).
This young woman is a beauty queen, both ensnared by and loving that sad and silly skin game. However, the category should not exist. American society has created an unreal and cruel standard for women to reach: the beauty queen--a woman known for curves and perfect skin, heavenly hair and preternatural teeth. They prance and pose and preen; the cameras churn and burn; the media salivates and speculates. My stomach turns. It is all sinful a waste of the short time we have on this fallen planet. Moreover, in addition to the intrinsic immodesty and vanity of the beauty queen persona, this woman apparently posed for even more indecent photographs. This model is no model (of character).
Carrie Prejean is no heroine. She does not deserve any more attention. To give it to her, whether you are James Dobson or Sean Hannity, reveals the paucity of both real virtue and Christian discernment today. We have defined decency down. Perhaps we should lift some prayers up.
Monday, May 11, 2009
This reminds me of the comment by theologian and social critic Reinhold Niebuhr: Those who cannot see the moral distinction between the United States and the Soviet Union are not capable of any significant moral distinctions.
Saturday, May 09, 2009
Conceived but not Conceived as Conceived
the unaided eye,
but not unfelt by the
Uncared for by over
hosts a year.
Body cut, burned, dismembered.
Or live birth,
left to die.
Mother and father,
It's over; taken care of.
Unburied, but not
unmourned or unremembered.
Silent, but the
flood of blood
and is heard.
Thursday, May 07, 2009
Autobiographical, Bibliographical Remembrance
I was assigned this book in the spring of 1976 for a History of Modern Philosophy course at the University of Northern Colorado. Having cut my philosophical teeth on Nietzsche, Marx, and Freud, and being in the heady environment of the state university (albeit not a distinguished one), I had, in a protracted fit of post-adolescent pseudo-intellectualism, thrown of the light religion of my youth and was endeavoring to embrace atheism. Thank God, I would eventually fail in this Promethean task.
I wrote a short essay against SK for my class, but had not taken on this formidable volume, relying only on secondary sources. But then one night, after a bizarre dream that covertly indicated my alienation from God, I picked up the book and began reading--not at the beginning, but at a random place. Then the book began to read me. It explained my "despair" as form of rebellion against God. "Defiant despair" is what SK called it: despair that finds its meaning in being miserable in its rebellion against God. He called it the most "potentiated" (or full-bloodied) form of despair.
I saw myself in the dense and psychologically thick description. SK read my soul in Christian terms, and it disarmed and alarmed me. This marked a turning point; about a month later, I gave up this despair and instead embraced the Christian message. A few years later I taught through this demanding and rewarding book in a class at the University of Oregon--the only time I have done so in all my years of teaching.
I must part company with SK's rejection of rational apologetics (natural theology and historical evidences for Christianity); however, his divination of the soul, his art of uncovering the soul's escape mechanisms, his ability to bring one before God through this writing...is uncanny. Call it subjective apologetics. Call it brilliant.
Wednesday, May 06, 2009
Curmudgeon on the Tube?!
Colson on Kemp: A Man of Virtue
Old Book; New Interview
Tuesday, May 05, 2009
Contrast (for Allan Bloom)
have baffled and dazzled
with profound phrases,
given in slow stages,
Pundits, politicians, and celebrities
now impress and depress
with idiotic inanities,
flashed in quick images,
Monday, May 04, 2009
The Death of Jack Kemp (link fixed)
National Right to Life has written a short eulogy to Mr. Kemp, who was staunchly pro-life. I had the honor of meeting Mr. Kemp in 1999 when I spoke for a Board retreat for Prison Fellowship. One morning, he greeted me in his gravely voice by saying, "Good morning, Doctor!" I got a kick out of that. He was an enjoyable person to talk with. His wife served on the Board of Prison Fellowship.
Given the leftward slide toward authoritarianism, statism, and socialism, we need more men and women like Jack Kemp as political leaders. How Long, O Lord?
Sunday, May 03, 2009
Believe me, it is not my idea. Can anyone explain this to me? Not that I take Facebook that seriously, of course. Somehow, I think the honor is not quite up there with giving the Gifford Lectures or winning the Templeton Award for Progress in Religion.
Dog, Meat, and Prayer
Saturday, May 02, 2009
The Dust of Death
I first read the book (in paperback) in about 1977, while getting my sea legs in apologetics and cultural criticism in the midst of the very secular University of Oregon, where I was a newly-converted undergraduate. We studied the book for a course taught by a Christian at the University. Guinness's assessment of Western culture was trenchant, deeply researched, and confident--not only challenging both the establishment and the counterculture, but offering a uniquely Christian way of being in the world. He did not shrink back, but stuck his neck out into the world of ideas. On that neck was a formidable and incisive intellect, one that I would benefit from for decades to come.
I mark this book (along with several others mentioned elsewhere on this blog) as giving me intellectual confidence as a Christian while I was immersed in the secular university. Guinness was interdisciplinary without being anything like dilettante--assessing his broad and deep subject matter historically, philosophically, sociologically, psychologically, and theologically. Guinness interrogates the likes of Herbert Marcuse, Sigmund Freud, Friederick Nietzsche, Jacques Ellul, Marshall McLuham, and many others. While he drew inspiration from Francis Schaeffer, Guinness was his own man, and took Schaeffer's critiques to a deeper levels and addressed topics not tackled by that great man.
Call me a book fetishist, but I relish this well-kept (but never read) edition of The Dust of Death, with the modern art on the front cover and the granular photograph of the young Englishman on the back. I plan to reread and re-appreciate it.