Saturday, December 31, 2005

An American Irony: Yoga, Yes; Design, No

A few years ago, the Aspen, Colorado, public schools implemented a program in their elementary schools to teach yoga. A local pastor led a fight against this and argued very wisely. He claimed that yoga is intrinsically and inextricably religious. That religion, of course, is Hinduism. The teaching of a religious practice—such as yoga or Christian prayer—in a state school is unconstitutional. Of course, the yoga proponents typically labeled him as a fearful fundamentalist who was against peaceful practices that were merely for relaxation and cultivating good health. Sadly, yoga is now a tax-supported part of elementary education in Aspen, Colorado, thus flagrantly providing state support for the religion of Hinduism. (Yoga has become so mainstream in American culture that a good number of Christians practice it, thinking they can separate the religion from the exercise. They are wrong, as I was quoted as saying in a The New York Times story this summer. See also my Christianity Today essay on this.)

Now consider the controversy over intelligent design (ID). While the theory appeals to empirical evidence and proven principles of design detection used in sciences such as archaeology, cryptography, and SETI, the critics claim that it is inherently religious and, thus, unscientific. This, of course, begs the question as to whether a religious belief might have some scientific support. Moreover, critics of ID inflate the claims of ID far beyond what ID claims for itself: namely, that some features of the natural world are better explained on the basis of intelligent causes as opposed to unintelligent causes (chance and necessity in tandem and without assistance). That is a minimal, modest, and retiring sort of claim metaphysically, since it does not specify who or what the design or designers might be. (That debate can be carried out philosophically.) Nevertheless, opponents of ID claim this violated the establishment clause of the Constitution by “establishing religion.” This is Nonsense. It attempts to disestablish the de facto religion of naturalism.

Anyway, back to yoga. Why is it that something so deeply rooted in Hinduism can be accepted in the public schools (and unopposed by the ACLU, who should have supported the pastor), while ID is considered an offense to the very marrow of the American system of law? Why this egregious double standard? Whether or not a belief is designated “religious” depends entirely on whose interests are being served by it. Yoga, it is believed, confers benefits to anyone who practices it. It can help the atheist or agnostic become relaxed and healthier. There is the payoff. And why not let the children in state schools share in yoga’s benefit? ID, however, does not serve any interest of secular people. On the contrary, it brings the secularist worldview (philosophical materialism) into question on the basis of empirical evidence. It directly challenges the stranglehold that materialism has over established science. Of course, it does serve the interests of the First Amendment (freedom of speech: in this case, the speech of those who would challenge Darwinism in tax-supported schools) and it in no way establishes any religion, since it leaves open who or what the designer might be and makes its argument not from any sacred scripture, but from nature. That is hardly an altar call. Nevertheless, ID is a direct assault on the citadel of materialism: the premise that unintelligent causes can exhaustively explain biological systems.

Now, in light of the above let us think of a new strategy. Maybe we can claim that yoga is really based on the idea of a designing intelligence that instructs us on how to use our designed bodies better. Yoga could only work if the sages who intuited it knew how to open the body to optimal function by perfecting it according to a design plan and that design plan is yoga. Then, the ACLU might come running! And perhaps we can present ID as a mental exercise that helps calm the nerves—an emotional tonic that relieves the stress of thinking that humans only happen to emerge after eons of purposeless and unguided evolution. Students could chant, “I am designed. I am designed,” over and over again—or just chant “I am D I am D” until a higher level of consciousness is achieved. No, I think the ACLU would still smell blood.

  • Douglas Groothuis

Friday, December 30, 2005

Letter on Intelligent Design in the December 30, 2005, Rocky Mountain News

'Design' does make testable hypotheses

Dr. Andrew Ross' letter of Dec. 22, "Intelligent design can't meet scientific criteria," says that intelligent design does not conform to the scientific method, particularly concerning testable predictions and the modification of hypotheses according to evidence.
First, there is no iron-clad scientific method. Scientific enterprise is more untidy than Ross apparently thinks, as many philosophers of science, such as Thomas Kuhn, have noted. Second, intelligent design does predict that certain organisms will display certain empirically detectable signs of design, such as irreducible complexity, where all the component parts must be present at once in order for the organism to have the necessary function.

Moreover, intelligent design predicts that biological features deemed vestigial will be found to have function. Consider "junk DNA." Darwinism predicts that DNA will contain large areas of useless material left over from previous organisms. Intelligent design predicts that if DNA is designed there would be very little or no "junk." Scientists have now found that there is no "junk" in DNA.

Furthermore, intelligent design theorists such as biochemist Michael Behe, are attuned to the evidence and are quite willing to revise their hypotheses on that basis.
  • Douglas Groothuis Professor of philosophy, Denver Seminary Littleton

He is Back At It

Today while looking around at an electronics store (not common for me), I remembered that I had my partially rehabilitated TV-Be-Gone in my pocket. Well, well… I had followed some advice on line on how to replace the batteries and put a larger than standard battery on top and only one of two smaller batteries on the bottom (because I ran out of the smaller ones and had not yet bought another one). Nevertheless, my newly equipped device performed well in an unnamed store. I lost count, but I must have zapped about twenty sets! Someone at mentioned that Sony’s go off almost immediately, and I found that this is true. Oh joy, Oh bliss! One of my well-aimed shots turned off about ten intelligence-reducers at once, all of which were perched a hellish wall of TVs. That felt so good. It was probably a personal best for single zap result. The performance of this subversive device will probably only improve when I get that other battery.

After a long and sad hiatus from TV zapping (due to battery failure), I am back. TV world beware. You never know when or where the public TV screen may go blank—so that minds may not go blank.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

TV-B-Gone May Not Be Gone!

A techno-savvy friend of mine emailed and alerted me to the fact that there are two more batteries underneath the top battery (the only one visible when you take off the cover) that need to be replaced as well. So, I should be back in the TV-zapping business. The saga continues.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Telling Editorial on the Dover Decision

Here is an editorial from The Seattle Times by David Klinghoffer on the egregious Dover intelligent design decision. It is well worth reading.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Ralph Waldo Emerson

[The following is by the famous Transcendentalist. While I don't share this overall worldview, this quote deserves curmudgeonly approval.]

"...but truth is handsomer than the affectation of love. Your goodness must have some edge to it---else it is none."--from "Self-Reliance."

Friday, December 23, 2005

Clarification on ID Letter

My letter to The Philosopher Magazine lacked an important nuance. The Discovery Institute folks (whom I generally endorse on the ID issue) only want the public schools to allow ID as a challenge to Darwinism. They do not want to mandate that both be taught, partially because ID is not an full-fledged theory as yet. This was one of the problems in the Dover case, which would have made a statement about ID mandatory in the classroom. That statement also refered to a book that may have not been the best for the public schools. The Discovery Institute was not behind the strategy used in the Dover case.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Letter on ID in "The Philosophers Magazine"

[This was published in most recent issue of The Philosophers Magazine. I corrected one typo in the first sentence.]

Dear Editor:

I must both commend and correct comments in the same issue and on the same subject. In his column “Provocations” (Issue 30) Michael LaBossiere rightly claims that Intelligent Design (ID) theory is a legitimate scientific competitor with Darwinism. Darwinism claims that life shows no signs of designing intelligence, and ID advances the opposite thesis on the basis of empirical evidence and principles of scientific explanation.

However, in a news story on Flew’s rejection of atheism, we are told that ID theorists are “leading a partially successful campaign to stop the theory of evolution being taught as fact in the schools.” This isn’t quite right. It makes it sound like ID advocates want to censor Darwinism. Rather, ID theorists argue that Darwinism should be presented as a scientific explanation for the development of the biosphere—but only along with ID as an alternative scientific theory. Both theories claim to best explain the facts of the matter. ID proponents believe that they should both be taught as claimants to fact and judged by their explanatory virtues. Neither should be taught alone as dogma.

Douglas Groothuis
Professor of Philosophy
Denver Seminary

Debate over Intelligent Design Theory

[This is a story from the December 21, 2005 Rocky Mountain News called "Debate Over Intelligent Design." I am quoted at the end, and quoted correctly.]

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Fallacy Finders Dream

[This letter was published in The Rocky Mountain News today as as response to my Dec. 10, 2005 article, which is posted on this blog. Please identify the logical fallacies in this diatribe and share this with the blogosphere.]

'Design' column shows we're getting dumber

Douglas Groothuis' Speakout column of Dec. 10 on intelligent design, " 'Design' critics often employ straw men," is further evidence of the dumbing down of America. Remember the last time religion intruded itself into science, when the church condemned Galileo for teaching that the Earth revolved around the sun? How did that turn out?

Five hundred years ago the Muslim countries were the scientific leaders of the world. Why did this change so drastically? Because the Western world began the scientific revolution when it rejected supernatural explanations and sought natural causes that would be amenable to testing and verification, the essence of science. This tradition has served us so well, why would we want to abandon it now?

If people like Groothuis insist that schools teach nonscientific alternatives in science classes, then why stop at intelligent design? Why not teach the flat Earth theory in geography class? How about astrology as an alternative to astronomy, and shouldn't alchemy be taught in chemistry classes? Maybe Groot- huis and others would prefer seeing a doctor trained in voodoo as an alternative to traditional medicine?

When we allow the possibility of supernatural agents, anything goes and nothing can be logically disputed or verified by others, so scientific progress stops.
If we start mixing science and religion in the public schools, then we had better make sure that our children and grandchildren start learning Chinese. Because America will have unilaterally disarmed itself in the future battle for scientific and technological supremacy.

James J. Amato Woodland Park

Monday, December 19, 2005

More on Christmas Loneliness

[This is not written by me, Doug Groothuis; it is written by someone who wanted to remain unnamed. It worth pondering.]

It’s all well and good for healthy families that churches close so all can stay home this year on a Christmas Sunday. But many do not realize the sense of normalcy and essential fellowship Sundays provide for many single parents. Many do not realize the chaos and heartache single parents live with, which is exacerbated by the Christmas holiday season. Yes, we have children but they are torn between two worlds, often worlds that are threatening to them or which try to work alienation from us into their hearts. When this heart-alienation is successful, even having them with us on a Christmas can be very difficult to bear. When they are not with us, we worry and cannot enjoy a family gathering, or worse, we sit at home alone.

I have gone home alone after almost every Christmas Eve service in the past 20 years since my family celebrates on Christmas Day. At times I wished the service were 3 hours long. I can say I have learned to love that quiet time at home though; it has become a necessary time in the presence of God, a healthy ritual release of sorrows built up over the year. These days, even if I get an invitation I turn it down for that reason. I need that sacred space that comes only once a year. Now that the children are grown and gone, a different kind of heartache sets in; one of years that cannot be regained and dreams of happy intact family life that will never be experienced. As they marry, they are again divided between two more worlds, spending time with in-laws. Family gatherings become triggers for painful memories, year after year accumulated, and creating a lump in the throat as I watch other family members with their children happily hugging both mom and dad, and mom and dad kissing and showing off gifts and exchanging knowing glances. I look away. I should be happy! And I am, really, for them. I have a wonderful, large family. I get by quite well, I tell myself. It could be far worse, I say. And tomorrow, this will all be over, for another year. It’s like a recurring dream from which I awaken grateful, December 26th morn.

If you know someone who is a single parent, and you find out they will not be alone on Christmas don’t assume everything is fine: let them know you understand that they have struggles and give them a hug and pray for their hearts and tell them they are loved –and show them! Sorrow can be very serious business this time of year.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Christmas Loneliness

Christmas time is here,
Happy time of year.

Or so the song goes... But for many among us—more than some might imagine—Christmastime is a season of extended and burning unhappiness called loneliness. Happiness is not triggered by the beginning of the marketing blitz for Christmas shopping. Nor are those with small or sad or nonexistent families especially heartened by all the riot of required family festivities and family feeling. The lonely are asked what their Christmas plans are. The reply is in so many words, “There are no special plans. We will just hunker down at home—alone, again; and wait for it to end.” That’s a bit lacking in holiday cheer, is it not? And some do not even have a house in which to sulk. Others have houses, but no homes, but rather prisons. Many languish in prisons of other kinds.

For many, loneliness is intensified at just the time when a culture (supposedly) celebrates the Great Visitation, “God with us.” But are we with each other? Do we know each other? Can we see past the surface into the inner pain of our brothers and sisters? Loneliness is the great secret of postmodernity, and it deepens during times when we pretend mightily otherwise. As many critics have noted, community is breaking down in contemporary America. Community means (in part) civic participation: attending PTA meetings, voting, knowing your neighbors, volunteering, reading and grading student papers (instead of relying on machines to grade multi-guess charades), and much more. (See the revealing book, Bowling Alone.) Instead, we tend to cocoon: people whirl about in their iPod worlds, charge around in huge metal behemoths within a cacophonous cauldron of loud, rude, over-amplified sounds, stalk about in public muttering into the air (that is, to a distant cellular phone recipient), stare into video screens, playing video games with no one.

That is enough, or more than enough. Is there a solution? No, there is no grand solution—this side of the Eschaton. But there are small, simple steps to break up the glaciers of loneliness in our midst.

I leave it to you to tell this web log what these small acts of kindness might be. I further bid you divulge a few sentences of loneliness this holiday. It’s a poor excuse for the richly-textured realities of embodied community, but it might help. Or perhaps not.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Groothuis on Intelligent Design

Speakout: 'Design' critics often employ straw men

By Douglas Groothuis, Special to The Rocky Mountain News December 10, 2005

Ever since President Bush advocated that the intelligent design critique of Darwinism be allowed in public schools, a riot of public pronouncements has condemned the design perspective as retrograde, unscientific and downright ominous.

A number of logical fallacies are routinely employed in efforts to debunk intelligent design. In such cases, intelligent design is criticized and dismissed on the basis of an argument that is illogical and therefore false. One need not be an expert in Darwinian biology to sniff out these basic blunders. In this brief space I will note just one: the straw man argument.

In the straw man argument a position is made to look ridiculous and then the caricature is knocked down. Intelligent design is repeatedly presented as a plan to institute religious and unscientific dogma in the public schools. The facts, however, speak otherwise. Intelligent design's think tank, The Discovery Institute, says this: "The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection." The controlling premise is the effort to discern the best explanation for a natural phenomenon, given the available empirical evidence: a fundamental precept of scientific investigation. Unlike creationism, intelligent design makes no appeal to religious texts, but invokes empirical evidence, as well as the principles of design detection, which are already used in sciences such as cryptography, archaeology, forensics, and in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.

Mathematician and philosopher William Dembski argues that certain features of the natural world exhibit patterns that are best explained on the basis of design (or intelligent causes), rather than on the basis of mindless nature (or unintelligent causes).

For example, even if we didn't know from history that an eccentric artist was responsible, we would identify the presidential faces carved into Mount Rushmore as designed because natural patterns of erosion cannot explain them. The complexity of the phenomenon fits a specifiable pattern: the faces of the presidents, which we recognize from other sources. Similarly, archaeologists distinguish ancient artifacts from naturally occurring objects on the basis of design detection. The complexity discovered in certain objects fits a specifiable pattern indicating that intelligent causation was at work.

Intelligent design proponents argue that some organisms indicate specified complexity, and that these organisms are better explained by intelligent causes than by natural law and chance alone. The DNA code is an example of specified complexity. It contains a language that is not reducible to the laws of chemistry and physics, which do not specify its content. The odds against all the factors required for DNA to come together through the operations of mere matter and chance are vanishingly small.

Similarly, biochemist Michael Behe argues in Darwin's Black Box that certain molecular machines are irreducibly complex, which means that all of its basic parts are required for its function, as with a mousetrap. The bacterial flagellum, for example, is a highly complex outboard motor attached to a bacterium. A gradual process of mere chance and natural law is insufficient to explain this irreducible complexity, Behe argues, since the motor function could not exist in evolutionary predecessors that lacked any of the many necessary parts.

However, Darwinists insist that intelligent design invokes God to cover ignorance of natural processes. This is exactly wrong. The design inference is not based on ignorance, but on increased knowledge of the microscopic realm and on the well-established principles of design detection. When Darwinists refuse to admit intelligent cause as a possible explanation for specified complexity, this only reveals that they define science such that intelligent causes are disallowed in principle. But this approach is not a discovery of science itself. It is rather a philosophical commitment to materialism (the belief that reality is reducible to impersonal physical laws).

May these few considerations spur readers to assess rationally intelligent design's actual arguments and to avoid the logical fallacies so often employed in place of intelligent thought about life's origins.

Douglas Groothuis is professor of philosophy at Denver Seminary.
site map

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Discussion of propositions, philosophers, postmodernism

Susan Arnold gives some reflections on metaphysics on her blog. The responses address propositions, the worth of philosophy, postmodernism. and more. I posted a fairly long response to this (mostly about propositions), which can be found at:

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Paul Campos, Against Materialism

Paul Campos, columnist for The Rocky Mountain News, has written an outstanding critique of philosophical materialism, which takes Sam Harris's book, The End of Faith, as its point of departure. If you appreciate the article, please send him an email.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Blaise Pascal on Flies

366. The mind of this sovereign judge of the world is not so independent that it is not liable to be disturbed by the first din about it. The noise of a cannon is not necessary to hinder its thoughts; it needs only the creaking of a weathercock or pulley. Do not wonder if at present it does not reason well; a fly is buzzing in its ears; that is enough to render it incapable of good judgement. If you wish it to be able to reach the truth, chase away that animal which holds its reason in check and disturbs that powerful intellect which rules towns and kingdoms. Here is a comical god!

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Rebecca Merrill Groothuis's Comments on Feminism

Christians for Biblical Equality has published some excerpts from Rebecca Merrill Groothuis's 1995 booklet, The Feminist Boogeywoman. This summarizes some of the arguments made in her first book, Women Caught in the Conflict. If carefully considered, these comments deflect about 90% of the worries about what is now called "Evangelical Egalitarianism." The essay can be found here:

O, My! Charles Colson on Oprah

Charles Colson has a commentary on Oprah Winfrey in his Breakpoint column today.

His comments are on target, except near the end when he says, "I'm not saying not to watch Oprah. She has wholesome guests, etc." This is wrongheaded in the extreme. O has sponsored more New Age authors--Deepak Chopra, Marianne Williamson, Gary Zukov, etc. --than anyone else in the history of television. She brought on her yoga teacher to lead the audience in yoga exercises. (I know these things from reading or hearing about them; no, I have never watched the program and will not.)

I know of a person (who will remain nameless) who wrote a bang-up proposal and several chapters for a book that critiqued O's worldview. It was rejected by two publishers, largely because they feared reprisals from O herself or her throng of entralled sychophants. I know of a thinking Christian woman who dared criticize O in a Christian's woman's group and was taken to task because "She does so many nice things." Since when is that a test of godliness or biblical orthodoxy?

Let us face the facts: O is a false prophet, whose status as a cultural and spiritual icon is a sad commentary on America's theological stupefaction (not to put a fine point on it). Yes, she raised herself out of poverty and abuse. Good for her. Yes, she give a way a ton of money, but probably far less than 10% of her income. Yes, she is relentlessly positive--and relentlessly present on her magazine covers. But these considerations do not excuse her sponsoring of ungodly philosophies or justify her role as a New Age guru to the mindless and mesermized masses.

Monday, November 21, 2005

My Tribute to My Father (revised, 3-18-06)

What can I say about my father—so long gone, so impossible to forget? Harold Fred Groothuis was born on December 28, 1927 in New York. He died in a small plane crash near Point Barrow, Alaska on this day in 1968. Walter Cronkite ended the evening news that day with a short comment to the effect that "Alaska labor leader, Harold Groothuis, was killed in a plane crash in Alaska today along with several others who were serving on a government commission to investigate labor abuses." I watched that in my bedroom on that dreadful, world-changing day. I was not quite twelve years old.

Dad was leaving Point Barrow, Alaska along with other volunteers who were part of the Governor’s Employment Advisory Commission, created by then Governor Walter J. Hickel. They where investigating charges of the mistreatment of Alaska native workers there. Only one of passengers of the propeller plane survived. Not long ago my mother sent me a letter from Alaska native leaders in Point Barrow, which expressed their sorrow and thanks for my father's commitment to their people. At Dad's funeral, a Presbyterian minister eulogized Harold Groothuis as a man who represented "people who worked with their hands." So he did. First Presbyterian Church of Anchorage, Alaska was filled and overflowing with mourners.

Dad came to the territory of Alaska in the mid-1950s (it became the forty-ninth state on my second birthday—January 3—in 1959), worked as a laborer, and lived in a packing crate with a few other men. He then went back East for a visit to friends and family. There he met a young Italian woman named Lillian Cominetto, who would become my mother. It was love at first sight for both. He returned to Alaska, but wrote Mom love letters. They married in New York 1955 and then traveled back to the frozen north, leaving behind all their relatives. Why write of my father now, thirty seven years after his tragic, unexpected, and unforgettable death? I am a man of many written words—too many, perhaps—but I have never written of my father in anything but personal letters. I want to pay a short tribute to his short life of forty years, without becoming maudlin or sentimental.

Dad was a big man—big in size (six feet, four inches and well over two hundred pounds) and big in personality. Many were drawn to his love of life, his strong opinions, and his commitment to causes and friends. As my mother said today on the phone, "He would do anything for his friends." He was a union man all the way, and a staunch Democrat. This, to my mind, was the right thing to do at that time. The Democratic party of that day—the party of Hubert Humphrey, for example—was a far cry of what we see now. Dad campaigned for Humphrey's candidacy for President in 1968 by delivering two speeches on Anchorage, Alaska television, which were broadcast live. I remember that Dad mentioned that Nixon refused to debate Humphrey. This was a character defect in Dad's eyes. I agree. Well, HHH (as Hubert Horatio Humphrey was called) lost, and Dad was killed a few weeks later. "There is a time for every purpose under heaven," as Ecclesiastes reminds us.

Dad had a fierce love for his family, for his job, for his friends, for Alaska, for food, and for life. He was an avid sportsman (hunting and fishing) and camper. He once shot a huge Kodiak Black Bear that was charging him. That bear (or part of it) ended up on our living room floor. (For those who don't like hunting—and I don't—this can be construed as self-defense; although they were on a hunting trip.) He was an intense man who neither suffered fools gladly nor could be accused of being low key or nonchalant. Because of his strong opinions, he had a few enemies. One of his enemies (a union malcontent) once threatened to blow up our house. We spent the night elsewhere. Dad had a temper that could get the better of him. He had attended a Presbyterian church as a child, but only attended sporadically as an adult. I was sent to Presbyterian Sunday School for a few years. However, Dad believed in God and had deep moral convictions. As a Christian, I can only hope he made his peace with God before that small plane hit the ground. Dad was a faithful husband, a good provider, and a loving—if sometimes imperious—father. I loved him deeply and I miss him every day of my life in one way or another. He wasn't there for the turning points in his only child's life: the graduations, the wedding, the achievements (such as they are). My dear mother says—and she is the expert, of course—that he would have approved. In any event, I can claim the truth of Romans 8:28 for my life no matter what.

This is my tribute to Harold Fred Groothuis, who died on this day in 1968, serving the laborers of Alaska and loving his small family. I will never forget him, nor will anyone else who knew him well.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

TV, Violence, and Women

Dear Ms. Ostrow:

Re: "Mayhem for Profit: TV's Assault on Women," by Joanne Ostrow, Denver Post, November 20, 2005.

I do not watch television, but I try to discern what is going on in "the vast wasteland" through reading articles such as yours. I was further horrified, sickened, and repulsed by the heinous acts described in your piece. It seems that most in America have lost any sense of moral discernment, outrage, or restraint. They do not know how to attend to their souls. (Yet Jesus warned that it is possible to lose one's very soul.) These television depictions of atrocities are gratuitous and worse: they desensitize us to real evils perpetrated against women (and others).

Thank you for bringing these things into focus through your article--and for not condoning the insanity that has swept through our culture. I have critiqued the form (apart from specific content) of television in my book, Truth Decay. You can read a chapter from that book here, if you are interested.

Douglas Groothuis
Professor of Philosophy, Denver Seminary

Saturday, November 19, 2005

The Cellular Telephone and High-tech Cretins

Yesterday, while looking through Barnes and Noble, I heard something we all too often hear--one side of a conversation moving around a public place. Yes, it was the cellular telephone: the bane of contemporary existence. It would not be a bane if people were civil and tasteful, but typically they are not. While trying to locate the new live Cream recording (the first in 38 years), I heard the stuttering, mumbling sounds come near me. Again, I was haunted by unwanted words... (The man could not complete a sentence in one try--or even three. He had a vocabulary of at most ten words, all of which were clustered in various cliches. It was pathetic just on that level. I wouldn't mind overhearing the polysyllabic pundit William F. Buckley speaking on a cell phone, but he probably won't be doing that in public.)

I hoped against hope that the incoherent acoustic blasts would move on and way from me. But they didn't. So I moved into the books section--only to be haunted by the cell yell still. At least three times this roving rude-machine intersected me in that haunted place. I learned (against my will) that Shawna and her spouse were "a piece of work" and that Shawna was generally screwed up, as did other helpless listeners who were attempting to find music or books or even read books. (How often is it possible to read books in public any more?)

What can be done about these high-tech cretins? Perhaps someone--even I--should have simply said, "Excuse me. Your conversation is bothering people. Please stop." Of course, that could have triggered fisticuffs and/or a law suit. Calling down "fire from heaven" would have been less embarrassing (since I could pray it under my breath), but probably less effective--given God's mercy and all.

Does anyone have any suggestions?

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Open Letter to "The New Yorker" by Robert Velarde

[My student and author, Robert Velarde, has written an insightful response to a recent article in The New Yorker about C.S. Lewis. This is a model of what a good apologetic letter to the editor can be.]

Dear Editor,

Thank you for the recent article "Prisoner of Narnia" by Adam Gopnik. As a C.S. Lewis scholar, I appreciated many of his insights.

One particular area of disagreement, however, involves this statement regarding his conversion to Christianity: "Converted to faith as the means of joy, however, Lewis never stops to ask very hard why this faith rather than some other." Although Mr. Gopnik does briefly mention an argument set forth by Lewis regarding Christ being who he claimed to be (i.e., God), it is not true that Lewis did not think "very hard" about the truth of Christianity as opposed to other religious and non-religious options.

In his book Miracles, for instance, Lewis makes a case against naturalism(the material world is all that exists) and for supernaturalism. In thatbook Lewis observes that the explanation for reason provided bynaturalism--that reason is a product of chance and time--is not viable. On the basis of naturalism, there is no reason to trust reason. (A contemporary defense of this argument is found in C.S. Lewis's Dangerous Idea by Victor Reppert.) Lewis also argued against pantheism, referring in Mere Christianity to its explanation of evil as illusory as "damned nonsense."

Lewis also utilized a form of logic known in philosophy as "abductive reasoning" in order to arrive at his conclusions regarding Christianity. Abductive reasoning, used in much scientific endeavor, appeals to the best explanation. This line of reasoning is clear in Lewis' argument from longing or desire. In Mere Christianity he writes, "If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world."

In short, Lewis did indeed think "very hard" about the intellectual optionsopen to him. He became a Christian, at least in part, because he believed Christianity offered the best explanation for reality, not because ofpersonal preference or because he failed to carefully consider alternatives.

As a minor correction, the article refers to the Lewis book A Grief Observed incorrectly as A Grief Portrayed.

Robert Velarde,
author, The Lion, the Witch, and the Bible: Good and Evil in the Classic Tales of C.S. Lewis (NavPress, 2005)

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Review of "One Nation Under God," from The Denver Post

Study of prayer paints a portrait of America

By Douglas Groothuis Special to The Denver Post

One Nation Under God, by James P. Moore Jr., tackles a big subject in a unique way. It is not simply about prayer: how and when and why to pray or even to what being one should pray. It doesn't even offer advice beyond what can be sorted out from its many examples of prayer. Nor is it a standard history of America or some aspect of American experience.

Rather, Moore looks at the history of America in light of its prayers. He notes that despite "the role of prayer in American life, historians, even religious historians, have neglected this important part of the country's past, as well as the spirituality and even patriotism to which it is so often joined."

The author is a professor of business at Georgetown University. Nevertheless, he demonstrates deep knowledge of his subject by addressing America's hymns, anthems, art and literature related to prayer.

"If prayer represents the most private, innermost thoughts of an individual or of a people, then it must convey something rather special about us as Americans and the times in which we have lived," he writes in the prologue. Each chapter takes a period in American history and considers the role of prayer during that time, ending with "The Innocents: September 11, 2001, and Beyond."

Moore does not limit his investigations to the prayers of the clergy but considers a variety of people from many walks of life, including American Indians before the arrival of the Europeans, Benjamin Franklin, Elvis Presley, Frank Lloyd Wright, J.C. Penney, Cesar Chavez, Jackie Robinson and many others.

But he does not neglect the prayers of theologians such as Jonathan Edwards or evangelists such as Billy Graham.

Moore does not address "the efficacy of prayer" (a topic of many books and studies) nor does he propose a detailed theology of prayer. Instead, he chronicles the prevalence of prayer in American life without offering much commentary or correction, except to reprimand the secularists who discount it.

Moore seems to believe prayer is more than a person's psychological need for cosmic significance. He never debunks prayer or tries to explain it away.

It is true that theistic religions emphasize prayer as communication with a personal being. However, there are many forms of non-theistic religion - many of which make up a significant minority in American history. Buddhism is one such religion. The Dali Lama, a spiritual exemplar for many, says that Buddhism has no need for a creator and so does not encourage prayer but rather meditation.

The fact that theistic religions have similar practices of prayer does not clearly support the notion that prayer is their unifying factor and their truest meaning. Christians pray in Jesus' name, considering him the divine mediator between God the Father and sinful humans. Muslims pray directly to Allah according to the teachings of Muhammad, and find no need for a mediator. Jews pray to neither Allah nor Jesus, but to the God of the Covenant.

These are not minor differences that can be erased by noting their common practice of addressing a deity. One might consider the possibility of praying wrongly, just as one might vote wrongly or invest wrongly.

Prayer is not simply a personal and private practice by some or most Americans. On the contrary, our sense of prayer and the worldview behind our prayers have decisively shaped the nature of American history and will continue to do so. As such, this is a fruitful area for study and reflection.

Douglas Groothuis is a professor of philosopy at Denver Seminary and the author of On Jesus.

Friday, November 11, 2005

From Douglas Groothuis, "On Jesus" (Wadsworth, 2003), chapter 5

Jesus' Epistemology: Character and Knowledge of God

In recent years, philosophers have begun to rediscover the role of moral character in epistemology. Philosophers still rightly ask what makes beliefs qualify as knowledge (truth plus justification or warrant), but more philosophers are now asking what makes believers good candidates for knowledge. What qualities best suit a person for attaining knowledge? What traits taint a person’s capacity to know what ought to be known? This is called virtue epistemology; it has a long pedigree going back to Aquinas and Augustine in the Western tradition. Intellectual virtues have classically included qualities such as patience, tenacity, humility, studiousness, and honest truth-seeking. Vices to be avoided include impatience, gullibility, pride, vain curiosity, and intellectual apathy.[i]

There is a strong emphasis on character—both virtue and vice—
in Jesus’ epistemology, which is closely intertwined with his teachings on ethics and the knowledge of God. He not only gives arguments and tells parables, he calls people to intellectual rectitude and sobriety. Jesus’ familiar moral teaching about the dangers of judgmentalism contains an epistemological element easily overlooked.

Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way as you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in someone else’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from the other person’s eye (Matthew 7:1-5).

This passage is often taken out of context to forbid all moral evaluation, as if Jesus were a relativist. But Jesus has something else in mind: a clear-sighted self-evaluation and a proper evaluation of others based on objective standards. Jesus stipulates that all moral judgments relate to the self as much as to the other. Therefore, when one judges others, one is implicitly bringing oneself under the same judgment. One will be measured by the same measurement one employs. In light of that, a person needs first to search her or his own being for any moral impurities and seriously address them (“take the plank out of your own eye”). Only then is one in a good epistemological and ethical position to evaluate another, to “see clearly” the speck in someone else’s eye.

If one fails to evaluate oneself by one’s own standard, one cannot rightly discern the moral status of others. In other words, proper moral evaluation requires a knowledge of the self, and allows no special pleading. The hypocrite is not only morally deficient, but epistemologically off-base as well. By failing to be subjectively attentive to one’s conscience, one fails to discern moral realities objectively. Thus people will often condemn others overly because they ignore or obscure their own transgressions.

Jesus gives further incentive to evaluate situations justly—that is, to be virtuous knowers—when he warns that people will be held accountable before God for every word they utter. Their judgments issue from their character, and their character will affect their destiny.

Good people bring good things out of the good stored up in them, and evil people bring evil things out of the evil stored up in them. But I tell you that people will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned (Matthew 12:35-37).

Jesus sometimes deemed the character of his hearers as interfering with their ability to know and apply the truth of his words and actions. In a quarrel over his own identity, Jesus accused his hearers of not understanding their own Scriptures or the testimony that John the Baptist gave on Jesus’ behalf. Nor did they have “the love of God in their hearts.”

I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me; but if others come in their own names, you will accept them. How can you believe [in me] if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God? (John 5:43-44).

One might think this is an ad hominem fallacy. Jesus is attacking the person, not the argument. But Jesus does not replace an argument with a negative assessment of character; rather, he explains their inability to believe in him according to their over-concern with social status, which precluded their seeking truth. Giving more evidence or arguments does not serve Jesus’ purpose here; instead, he ferrets out their character defect and its epistemological consequences.

While Jesus warns of vices that keep people from understanding his message, he also lauds certain virtues as conducive to spiritual knowledge, as when he says, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from him who sent me. Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own” (John 7:16-17). A willingness to conform one’s will to God’s will is a requirement for discerning Jesus’ authority in relation to “the Father”—a key to understanding Jesus’ identity. He makes a comparable, though broader, statement in the Sermon on the Mount concerning persistence in seeking.

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened (Matthew 7:7-8).

He similarly ties the knowledge that leads to freedom to whether or not one will be his disciple: “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). Fidelity to Jesus leads to knowledge that liberates.

Yet in several cases, Jesus refuses to grant a sign or answer an argument because his hearers would not learn anything from such a response. They are not seeking truth, but resisting it. So he does not owe it to them. When pressed for a miraculous sign on demand, Jesus demurs and accuses his audience of being spiritually unfaithful (Matthew 16:1-4). A sign would have had no beneficial effect. Similarly, when Jesus is questioned as to his authority, he says he will answer only if his questioners say whether they take John the Baptist’s activity to be from heaven or merely human. This sets up a dilemma from which they cannot escape. If they say John’s authority is from God, Jesus will ask why they didn’t follow John. If they say John’s authority is only human, the crowds who rightly accept John as a prophet will reject them. “So they answered Jesus, ‘We don’t know.’ Then he said, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things’” (Matthew 21:23-27). Jesus smoked out their presuppositions and forced a dilemma instead of providing an answer they would not have accepted anyway. In so doing, he uncovered their bad character that hindered their knowing.

[i] See Jay Wood, Epistemology: Becoming Intellectually Virtuous (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998).

Report on Doug Groothuis Lecture

On the evening of November 9, I spoke for about an hour on “Christianity and Science: Strangers, Enemies, or Friends?” to about 250 people at the Student Union building at Colorado State University. I also showed about 14 minutes (about the bacterial flagellum) of video from the remarkable Intelligent Design DVD, “Unlocking the Mysteries of Life,” which can be purchased at Access Research Network: Timberline Church (Fort Collins, Colorado) sponsored the event and made copies of the audio portion (minus the DVD part, I think). If you are interested in purchasing this, you can contact them: If you’d like a copy of my detailed lecture outline (with links and bibliographical material), please email me:

Monday, November 07, 2005

Afterword to "Meltdown" by Marcus Honeysett, published by Kregel, 2004

Marcus Honeysett has written an engaging and important primer on postmodernism, a subject that typically resists lucid introductions. While other books by evangelicals put postmodernist thought into historical and intellectual context, they often lack the requisite apologetic critique so evident in Meltdown. Yet a successful Christian apologetic requires the refutation of the postmodernist denial of objective truth and normative rationality. This is because apologetics must appeal to rational arguments to defend the objective truth revealed in the Bible. Without objective truth (or what Francis Schaeffer called “true truth”) and rationality, apologetics has no tools with which to work.

Meltdown is an extraordinary book for at least two reasons. First, the author’s assessment of postmodernism (the philosophy) and postmodernity (the set of contemporary cultural conditions in the West) is dead-on. Unlike not a few evangelical authors, Honeysett discerns that postmodernism is not our great liberation from modernist metanarratives. Rather it is a truth-denying, authority-denying philosophy set against the truths authoritatively revealed in Holy Scripture and in Jesus Christ. Instead of fruitfully opening people to all kinds of spirituality (Christianity included), postmodernity discourages rational discourse, is hostile to Christian truth-claims, and encourages relativism and philosophical pluralism. Against the flow of many evangelical trendsetters, Honeysett has not made his peace with postmodernism—and for this we should be grateful.

Second, Honeysett states his case in an understandable but intellectually responsible and deeply challenging fashion. This combination of being both accessible and accurate on challenging topics is indeed rare. (He also exhorts when needed, which is refreshing in a book not lacking in academic substance.) This is no simple task when dealing with such daunting themes and authors as complex (and often opaque) as Derrida, Baudrillard, Foucault, and Butler. Honeysett navigates the conceptual terrain deftly, summarizing difficult material without over-simplifying, analyzing it logically (often exposing internal contradictions in postmodernist theory), and assessing it biblically. He shows a knack for discerning just where postmodern thought collides with Christian truth, why this matters (and not just to academics), and what we should think about it.

It is encouraging that postmodernism is vigorously opposed by a number of Christians, especially among those leading the renaissance in Christian philosophical work in the analytic tradition—a tradition that is antithetical to the continental waters in which postmodernism was spawned.[i] Yet too many evangelical theologians have been accommodating to postmodernism in significant ways. For example, after discussing 1 John 1:1-3, an evangelical theologian, attempting to engage in apologetics, writes, “Postmodernity concurs. No human being knows anything for certain”[ii] The author implausibly sees John as merely giving his own impressions of Jesus, not as marshalling convincing and evidence for the objective reality of Christ. He thinks that the posture of epistemological uncertainty is appropriate for doing apologetics in the postmodern world. But this is ill advised for at least five reasons.

First, the Apostle John would never agree with the statement, “No human being knows anything for certain,” since he himself evinces certainty that Jesus is the Christ and endeavors to make this known throughout his apostolic writings (John 20:30-31; 21:24-25). Second, most postmodernists are not skeptics, but nonrealists or antirealists. Roughly speaking, skeptics hold that objective truth exists, but that it is not knowable. For nonrealists or antirealists, knowledge is not difficult but easy. Just assent to the language game (or social construction) in which you find yourself—unless you deem it a totalizing metanarrative like Christianity—and stop worrying about what doesn’t exist: objective truth. (Philosophical realism, on the contrary, claims that objective truth exists and can be captured through the right methods.) Honeysett clearly makes this point about nonrealism and antirealism throughout Meltdown. Third, if one is certain that no human being knows anything for certain, then it is not clear how one could know this proposition to be true. It looks self-refuting. If so, the statement is necessarily false, and falls into the same illogical ditch that so many postmodernists already occupy, as Honeysett adroitly notes. Fourth, there are plenty of counter examples of propositions that we know for certain to be true: (1) “Torturing the innocent for pleasure is always wrong,” (2) “The law of noncontradiction is universally true,” and (3) “There is a physical world.” Fifth, Scripture repeatedly promises that confident knowledge of God is possible for humans rightly related to their Maker (see Romans 8:15-16).

Honeysett’s treatment of Jean Baudrillard (who is something like an updated French nihilistic version of Marshall McLuhan) is, to my knowledge, the only Christian critique of this important thinker who challenges the very notion of objective reality in our media-saturated environment. Baudrillard has recently emitted some egregious statements about the twin towers of the World Trade Center committing suicide on September 11, 2001,[iii] which some have taken as grounds for dismissing him without reflection or critique. But despite his penchant for flamboyance and his tortuous prose, Baudrillard is a thinker with which to reckon.

Honeysett also keenly assesses key aspects of postmodern culture, which is every bit as important to understand as postmodernist philosophies. Few may read the philosophers, but all imbibe the culture. First, Honeysett investigates the postmodern ethos of the university culture—something he knows well as a thoughtful campus minister—and shows how to respond to it with integrity and intellect. I especially appreciated this advice in light of my twelve years of involvement in campus ministry. Sadly, evangelical campus ministries often fail to engage the intellects of students, leaving them prey to “arguments and every proud obstacle raised up against the knowledge of God” (2 Corinthians 10:5). This must change if Christianity is to win a fair hearing on intellectual matters.

Second, in discussing “postmodern Bible reading,” Honeysett rightly argues that too many Christians have swallowed a postmodernist rejection of all objective authority, which has corrupted their understanding of the Bible as God’s authoritative revelation of objective truth. The answer is to return to Scripture as the ultimate source for truth; it should not be deemed a subjective, self-help tool. This cannot be underscored too strongly. A popular and contemporary evangelical writer claims that a strong view of biblical authority is merely a modernist invention that postmodernist Christians should throw off as an aberration.[iv] This leaves the Christian in the postmodern ocean with neither an anchor nor a rudder for navigating the intellectual storms of the day. The question of biblical authority is a crucial issue at all times. Postmodernism has not rendered it a moot point.

Third, Honeysett notes that postmodern ideas have similarly undermined a biblical understanding of the church, which is too often viewed as more of a consumer item than as an institution founded by the divine Son of God for his glory (Matthew 16:13-19). Since American evangelicals are notoriously weak on ecclesiology (given their proclivity for individualism, innovation, and parachurch entrepreneurialism), this reminder comes as a needed tonic.
Fourth, Honeysett forthrightly attacks postmodern influence in culture as “immoral,” because it rejects God and fills the void with the autonomous self and its God-denying principles. Although he does not quote him, Pascal’s warning fits the spirit of Honeysett’s critique. “When everything is moving at once, nothing appears to be moving, as on board ship. When everyone is moving toward depravity, no one seems to be moving, but if someone stops he shows up the others who are rushing on, by acting as a fixed point”[v]

Fifth, Honeysett observes that a leading engine of the postmodernist rejection of truth and authority is television, in both its nature and its content. Christians should, therefore, engage it critically and carefully and not be swept away with its unreality (as Baudrillard warns). Honeysett is one of the few evangelicals who understands that communication media are not neutral, but invariably shape their content according to their form. As McLuhan said, “The medium is the message.” As long as evangelicals have their minds shaped by the medium of television (which favors the graphic over the textual and the titillating over the edifying), they will remain intellectually enfeebled and unable to discern and disarm the deceptions of postmodernism.

Honeysett concludes this rousing and thoughtful primer by emphasizing the need to proclaim
the “authentic Jesus” in a postmodern world of pluralism, syncretism, and outright hostility to the gospel. The authentic Jesus must be presented to the watching world in terms of a fully biblical and philosophically defensible concept of truth, a concept that cuts against the grain of postmodernism. While so many evangelicals scavenge for food among postmodernist philosophies, the worldview outside of Christianity that is gaining the most adherents has no truck with postmodernism whatsoever. It wins converts and promotes a view of civilization based on the concept of authoritative, universal, absolute, and objective truth. That worldview is Islam.[vi]

My hope and prayer is that Meltdown will be read and discussed by high school seniors in preparation for college, Christian university students and campus ministers, and by anyone who wants to make sense of the postmodern world and speak to it in the name of Jesus Christ, who is nothing less than the Truth Incarnate and the only hope for erring mortals east of Eden (John 14:6).

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D., is Professor of Philosophy at Denver Seminary, where he chairs the Philosophy of Religion Masters Degree program. He is the author of ten books, including Truth Decay: Defending Christianity Against the Challenges of Postmodernism (InterVarsity Press, 2000).

[i] For an excellent example of Christian philosophy in the analytical tradition, see J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003).
[ii] John Stackhouse, Humble Apologetics (Oxford University Press, 2002), 166. See also 232.
[iii] Jean Baudrillard, The Spirit of Terrorism, Chris Turner, trans. (New York: Verso, 2002), 8.
[iv] See Brian McLaren, A New Kind of Christian (San Francisco: Josey-Bass, 2001), 52-56.
[v] Blaise Pascal, Pensées. A. Krailsheimer, trans. and ed. (New York: Penguin, 1966), 699/382, p. 247.
[vi] See Irving Hexham, “Evangelical Illusions: Postmodern Christianity and the Growth of Muslim Communities in Europe and North America,” in John Stackhouse, ed. No Other Gods Before Me? (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2001), 137-160.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Doug Groothuis to Speak at Colorado State University

I am slated to give a lecture called, "Christianity and Science: Friends, Enemies, or Strangers" at Colorado State University (Fort Collins) on November 9 at 7:00 PM at the Lory Student Center Theater. The event is free and will include a detailed lecture outline with many sources and links. You can find directions here: The event is sponsored by Timberline Community Church. Your prayers for this outreach are much appreciated (Ephesians 6:18).

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Review of Brian McLaren, "A Generous Orthodoxy"

Jeremy Green, a 2005 MA gradute of Denver Seminary (Philosophy of Religion), has posted his excellent review of Brian McLaren's book, A Generous Orthodoxy, at Denver Journal. You can find it here:

Doug Groothuis Review of "Restless Souls"

My review of Lee Schmidt's book, Restless Souls, was published in The Rocky Mountain News on November 2, 2005. It can be found here:

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Critique of the Megachurch

Pastor Susan Arnold, worship Pastor of New Day Church in Boulder and Denver Seminary philosophy student, has written a superb critique of the megachurch on her web log. I highly recommend reading it.

--Doug Groothuis

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Reincarnation article

TrueU, a ministry of Focus on the Family, has just posted an apologetic article by me on reincarnation. You can find it here:

Baseball, Where Art Thou?

A Time for Lamentation:

For the first time in about twenty-five years, I did not watch a single second of the World Series of 2005. For years, I have been watching less and less of them. While baseball is a commendable form of sport (unlike football, which is intrinsically violent and ugly, despite its egregious popularity—or perhaps because of it), putting baseball on television now essentially ruins the game. Advertisements crow in everywhere like a hungry fungus, even between batters. Digital adds are placed behind the batters and changed every inning (or more). The camera work cuts back and forth far too often, which makes one dizzy and disoriented (especially if one never watches television any other time). And the commercials—need one say anything here? Thus the medium cuts against and deface the ontological nature of baseball itself, which is slow, deliberate, and focused. One cannot even attend a major league game in the flesh without being beaten down and overwhelmed by the monstrous video screen in the outfield.

Besides these pollutions by the medium of television, the players themselves have been polluting themselves and the game by illicit drug use. The greats of days past—Ruth, DiMaggio, Mays, Aaron—did no such thing. They relied on pure talent and hard work. Moreover, most of today’s players jump from team to team in order to make increasingly more money—more money per game than most American will make a year. By and large, there is no loyalty to a city, a place, a tradition. Money-making is the only tradition recognized. The sense of Place is once again trumped by postmodern conditions, as Wendell Berry has taught us.

It has been said—and this may be contested—that America will be remembered for contributing three seminal realities to civilization: (1) the Constitution, (2) jazz, and (3) baseball. The original intention of the Constitution has nearly been abandoned in recent years by revolutionary judges who, as aspiring godlets, create law ex nihilo and ignore the original document. Jazz now constitutes about 4% the music market (and that might include the hollowed out, shabby, pseudo-jazz of Kenny G). And then there is baseball. Thank God baseball exists in other forms that what is televised. Yet given the cultural domination of television, what is viewed on the abominable tube is bound to affect the sensibilities of other baseball players as well—and their fans.

Let us now lament these terrible losses.

Thursday, October 27, 2005


To my loyal (and not so loyal) blog audience:

I haven't been posting much of substance recently because I am very weighed down with job responsibilities and other matters. It is hard to know when (or if) that will change. However, I hope to post soon an article on the Christian understanding of mystery and how it relates to the gender debate. This was written years ago, but only recently unearthed by me and edited by my wife.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Dr. Gordon Lewis's Talk at Denver Seminary

Dr. Lewis's talk was excellent and very well attended. Watch the Denver Seminary web page for a posting of his audio and written text in the near future.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Dr. Gordon Lewis to Speak at Denver Seminary

I am hosting the event to honor and learn from Dr. Lewis, long-time professor at Denver Seminary and the author of many books and articles.

Christian Thought Colloquia

Dr. Gordon Lewis on "How My Mind Has Changed and Stayed the Same" Join us for the 2nd of a four part series sponsored by The Division of Christian Thought. Come hear from and interact with long-time faculty members. The next session will be held with Dr. Gordon Lewis, on October 25, 12:00-12:50pm, in the Executive Board Room (2nd floor, Graber Administration Building).

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Pelikan on Jesus

In a work limited to Jesus’ influence in Western culture, the esteemed historian Jaroslav Pelikan wrote:

Regardless of what anyone may personally think or believe about him, Jesus of Nazareth has been the dominant figure in the history of Western culture for almost twenty centuries. If it were possible, with some sort of super magnet, to pull out of that history every scrap of metal bearing at least a trace of his name, how much would be left?[i]

[i] Jaroslav Pelikan, Jesus through the Centuries: His Place in the History of Culture (New York: Harper and Row, 1985), 1.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Against Multi-tasking

Americans are trying to do too many things too often and in front of too many other people. We value “multi-tasking,” an ugly word that indicates a commonly-accepted and much-prized skill in postmodern times. We talk on the cell phone while driving, while eating (maybe while driving as well), while cycling, while defecating or urinating. (I’ve seen it, to my horror), and so on. We stare at computer screens while uttering acoustic blasts in the presence of others, while eating (I’m not sure about using a laptop while defecating and urinating; that might be harder to pull off; it’s not an edifying thought), while trying to give lectures or sermons—but not me (that is another essay on technology and pedagogy).

This means that our attention is divided into two, three or more sections. As a result, since our powers of consciousness are limited, we put less effort into any one activity while we do many things at once. So, we live life in fragments. See that driver swerving a bit? Yes, she is on the cell phone. See that other driver meandering at a ridiculously slow speed? Yes, he is on a cell phone—and even gesticulating into the air as he meanders.

We are divided and further subdivided by simultaneously doing all these things. Consequently, we are less present in our environments. Some write of the phenomenon, increasingly common, of “absent presence.” A man utters sounds into the air as he walks through the mall. He is using his handless cell phone. He is somewhere else, while here (at least physically). We are in cyberspace—and in our study and in a conversation (so called) with our spouse.

Reality demands an attentiveness that multi-tasking does not allow. Human beings especially tend to be opaque and mysterious beings, whose inner recesses are not easily discerned. We can push a key and make the computer or cell phone do something. We cannot push a key and understand or help change a human being. That kind of being requires more attention, more patience, more suffering. This is because we are made in God’s image and likeness, yet we are fallen and disoriented by sin’s manifold manifestations. We are sinners in need or reorientation according to truth (that which describes reality). Some of the most important truths about ourselves and others and about God himself are not easily fathomed—or when fathomed, they are not easily remembered. The discerning of these truths requires attentiveness, patience, and studiousness. These truths demand, as Pascal noted, being quiet in our own room without distractions or diversions. Conversations concerned about truth and virtue require the engagement of two people who are attending, respecting, and responding to one another without mediation.

If all this is true and important, several things follow. We need to slow down and become less efficient and effective, at least as these terms are defined by popular culture. We need to unplug more often, endeavoring do just one thing at a time and to do one thing at a time well. Perhaps we should simply listen to music in order to discern its nature, structure, and aesthetic value. This requires a one-pointed immersion into its sonic reality. Just listen and think. Maybe we should simply listen to another person, laboring to exegete his or her soul and bring our soul to bear on another’s pain, yearnings, and boredom. Perhaps we should read the Bible in book form and not jump from text to text to image to image as we do while “reading” it in cyberspace. (Is that really reading or merely retinizing?) Maybe we need to talk to someone on the phone and not listen to music while talking, not type an email while listening, not exercise while listening. Maybe much should change—within and without. Much should change if we think truth is being lost, relationships are being cheapened, and virtues are being soiled by our incessant dividedness, fragmentation, and alienation known as “multi-tasking.”

Sunday, October 16, 2005

"In Defense of Natural Theology"

In the last two decades or so, some of the best contemporary philosophers have rehabilitated natural theology in the philosophical world. In that spirit, InterVarsity Press has recently released a scholarly volume edited by James F. Sennett and Douglas Groothuis entitled, In Defense of Natural Theology: A Post–Humean Assessment. The general thesis of the book is that Hume’s attack on natural theology is far weaker than is often imagined. We believe we have assembled a stellar group of philosophers for this task—one of whom argues for Hume. We included a Humean voice (who is not post-Humean!) in same way that In Defense of Miracles (edited by R. Douglas Geivett and Gary R. Habermas, InterVarsity Press, 1996) included a pro-Hume chapter by Anthony Flew.

After the Introduction, written by Sennett and Groothuis, the book is divided into two parts.

Part One Hume on Natural Theology

2. “Hume’s Criticisms of Natural Theology” by Terrence Penelhum.

3. “In Praise of Hume” by Todd Furman. This is the lone chapter that defends Hume.

4. “David Hume on Meaning, Verification, and Natural Theology” by Keith Yandell.

5. “Hume’s Stopper and the Natural Theology Project” by James Sennett.

Part Two: Hume and the Arguments:

6. “Metaphysical Implications of Cosmological Arguments: Exorcising the Ghost of Hume,” by Douglas Groothuis.

7. “Hume and the Kalam Cosmological Argument,” by Garrett DeWeese and Joshua Rasmussen.

8. “Giving the Devil His Due,” by James Madden.

9. “Hume, Fine-Tuning, and the ‘Who Designed God’ Objection,” by Robin Collins.

10. “Hume and the Moral Argument,” by Paul Copan.

11. “David Hume, Experiential Evidence and Belief in God” by Keith Yandell.

12. “The Argument from Reason and Hume’s Legacy,” by Victor Reppert.

13. “Hume and the Argument from Consciousness,” by J.P. Moreland.

13. “David Hume and a Cumulative Case Argument,” by R. Douglas Geivett.

James and I hope that this volume will significantly advance the cause of natural theology in the world of ideas. It is suitable for classes in philosophy of religion, theology, and apologetics--or for light bedtime reading.

Seeing Invisable Disabilities

[This essay first appeared in Moody Magazine in 2001. It relates to my recent post, "Suffering Well With Others.]

Jesus had a way of seeing what others missed and ministering to those who were forgotten, shunned, or misunderstood. He touched and healed lepers when everyone else scurried away. He cared for those with chronic afflictions - such as congenital blindness and incurable hemorrhage - while others gave up. He bestowed hope where others scattered the ashes of despair. He was love Incarnate (John 1:14; 1 John 4:16). We need that character of divine love if we’re to see and minister to the hurts of others.

America has made strides in recognizing and assisting people with disabilities. Most public facilities are now accessible to the handicapped. The pool where I swim has a lift for the disabled. The law rightly forbids discriminating against the handicapped (see Lev. 19:14, Deut. 27:18, Matt. 25:40).

In the Christian community, Joni Eareckson Tada has raised people’s awareness of the needs of those who suffer from severe disabilities. She has encouraged the afflicted not to despair, but to trust God to use their broken lives for the glory of God and the good of others.

Still, many disabled people continue to suffer both chronic physical distress and misunderstanding. Their suffering is masked by a healthy appearance. They are not in wheelchairs and do not use canes. Yet their pain and debility is real and chronic. They have "invisible disabilities."

It may be the soul-sapping fatigue, environmental sensitivity, and chronic pain of fibromyalgia, or lupus, or Lyme disease, or multiple sclerosis. These souls suffer not only from their diseases, but also often from the uninformed and hurtful reactions of others.

Those suffering from fibromyalgia, such as my wife, often ricochet from one physician to another, repeatedly encountering the impatience and defeatism that often characterize the medical community's attitude toward those whose ailments are intractable, invisible, and (usually) non-terminal. Insurance routinely refuses to cover needed treatments.

Worse yet, loved ones frequently do not understand the nature of their invisible disability and respond wrongly.When someone looks healthy, we are tempted to tell them to "just buck up" and do what we think they should do. Those with invisible disabilities are often expected to do what is beyond them. We would never tell someone who uses a cane to run a marathon, but just going to the store may be a marathon for someone with lupus.

A seminary student of mine looks healthy, yet he suffers from such chronic and extreme back pain that he lost his medical practice. He also lost a friend who could not accept the limitations that chronic illness put on their relationship.

What can Christians do to discern people’s invisible disabilities and display the love of Christ?

First, we can empathize with them, instead of lecturing or ignoring them. The Book of Hebrews tells us to remember those in prison as though we were shackled with them (13:3). Similarly, we must try to put ourselves into the prison of the chronically ill person’s life. This is difficult, and almost nothing in our hedonistic culture encourages it. Nevertheless, we need empathy to be agents of love and encouragement. Jesus wept; so should we (John 11:35).

Second, we should listen to and believe what the afflicted tell us. My wife looks so healthy and fit that someone in the locker room where we swim thought she was a woman who’d been swimming at top speed for an hour. But if you listen to Rebecca’s story — one of pain and frustration mixed with faith and determination — you’ll find things quite different from how they appear.

Third, we can look for ways to minister to those we know with such conditions. Sherri Connell’s web site, The Invisible Disabilities Advocate, ( offers a wealth of materials. Sherri, who suffers from an invisible disability, has a big heart, an indomitable spirit, and much practical and spiritual advice.

Let us seek to have the eyes of Jesus, so we may look beyond appearances and gaze deeply into the lives of those who are suffering. Then we can offer them our love, understanding, and encouragement.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Blogger Help

For a few weeks now, my personal information hasn't been appearing in the upper right of this blog. I emailed Blogger, then the material was right for about two days; but it has now reverted to putting the information at the very bottom right of the blog. Does anyone know how to fix this? Thank you. It could be that the Donald Miller fans are hacking me. -- Doug Groothuis

Friday, October 14, 2005

Against Harriet Miers for the High Court

Harriet Miers is a very bad choice for the Supreme Court. None of the arguments for her nomination given by the White House or by loyal Republicans are convincing. They are, rather, ideological rationalizations. This is why.

Conservatives have long argued that political liberalism, having largely failed to win the electorate, has used the courts to implement its leftwing ideology. Liberals have placed activist judges in position of power to make law instead of faithfully interpreting it according to the intent of the Constitution. John Whitehead forcefully made this argument over twenty years ago in The Second American Revolution, and it is taken for granted in most thoughtful conservative circles. The way to turn back this agenda is to appoint judges with a conservative legal philosophy. Charles Krauthammer forcefully makes this point in his October 7, 2005 column:

"For half a century, liberals have corrupted the courts by turning them into an instrument of radical social change on questions -- school prayer, abortion, busing, the death penalty -- that properly belong to the elected branches of government. Conservatives have opposed this arrogation of the legislative role and called for restoration of the purely interpretive role of the court. To nominate someone whose adult life reveals no record of even participation in debates about constitutional interpretation is an insult to the institution and to that vision of the institution."

The nominee’s legal philosophy means everything given this situation. One may be “personally opposed” to abortion, for instance, but support the supposed “right to privacy” invented by the activist jurists in the notorious Roe vs. Wade decision in 1973. This was the case with Judge Kennedy now on the high court. Or, one may personally not think abortion is morally wrong, but consider Roe vs. Wade a legal embarrassment because it is terrible law. This is true for someone like Charles Krauthammer.

Given this perspective, what is needed on the Supreme Court are great legal minds that can defend and implement an originalist philosophy of law. One’s political or even religious convictions are secondary to this fact. An evangelical Christian (and I am one) may make for a terrible jurist. The evidence is that Harriet Miers shows no evidence of legal brilliance, whatever her theology. She has written next to nothing on law, let alone on the sophisticated issues of Constitutional law. Excerpts from a column she wrote for The Texas Bar Journal are abysmal, as David Brooks pointed out in recent a column, which ran in the October 14 edition of The Rocky Mountain News. The language is weak, vague, and platitudinous—much like the language abominated in Don Watson’s acerbic critique of weasel and wimpy language, Death Sentences. She gives us no evidence of an incisive mind or pen. Brooks doesn’t pull any punches when he writes that “the quality of thought and writing doesn’t even rise to the level of the pedestrian.” George Will, in his October 4, 2005 column, makes a similar point while rebutting the idea that we should simply trust President Bush on this issue:

"It is not important that she be confirmed because there is no evidence that she is among the leading lights of American jurisprudence, or that she possesses talents commensurate with the Supreme Court's tasks. The president's "argument'' for her amounts to: Trust me. There is no reason to, for several reasons.

He has neither the inclination nor the ability to make sophisticated judgments about competing approaches to construing the Constitution. Few presidents acquire such abilities in the course of their prepresidential careers, and this president, particularly, is not disposed to such reflections."

This nomination could well determine the course of the Supreme Court for decades to come. What America needs is a well-qualified, road-tested, and sharp legal mind that adheres to a conservative Constitutional philosophy. Such a nominee would provoke a battle royal in the Senate. So be it. This truth is worth fighting for.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Suffering Well With Others

Right now many of my friends are suffering terribly in different ways. Bad news is breaking forth everywhere. Through this manifold of variegated tragedies it strikes me that many of us fail to minister to our friends who are suffering. We say and do things that hurt more than help. We dispense acid rather than balm. By and large, we do not know how to lament and grieve with others—although some saints excel in this grace. Popular culture teaches us next to nothing in this regard. It has no time for such realities. In the wake of the recent epidemic of natural disasters and given my many friends, relations, and students who are suffering deeply (from bereavement, marital crisis, cancer, and chronic illness), let us consider briefly a few ways to suffer well with others.

First, we ought to pray for wisdom before speaking or communicating in any form with one under the pressures of loss. Ask God to give you the heart and tongue that heals—or at least doesn’t multiply the pain. Consider a few egregious examples. Someone loses a spouse only to hear someone ask within a few weeks of the spouse’s death, “Are you grieving well?” Is this some kind of test? One should grieve with the sorrowful heart, not ask it for an internal audit. Or consider this. Someone is diagnosed with cancer and is trying to reorient their life to handle this. A member of the person’s church says, “Oh, if I had to have chemotherapy—just shoot me.” Perhaps the shooting should come before that… The dear person who received this body blow is now preparing for chemotherapy with courage and hope. Remember what The Book of James says about the power of the tongue (James 3:1-12).

Second, one should not over-interpret the dire situations of a fallen world by trying to read God’s mind. This only makes for hollow comfort. Yes, God will bring good out of evil for his people (Romans 8:28), but we don’t quite now how he will do this. As Os Guinness writes in his superb new book, Unspeakable, the silver lining of a dark cloud—if we can even find it—does not explain the full meaning of the suffering. In light of this, we must learn to silently stew in our ignorance instead of spewing forth our pious pronouncements on the specifics of divine providence. Job’s friends went wrong only when they broke their silence in his presence and began to speak without knowledge.

Third, learn to lament with people. Study the Psalms of lamentation and the many laments in Scripture, such as those uttered by King David, Paul, and supremely Jesus himself, “My God, my God. Why have you forsaken me?” (You can find a link to my sermon, “Learning to Lament” on this web log.) A lament is the cry of the anguished soul before God, which displays puzzlement as well as anger. It expresses disorientation in search of reorientation. However, a lament is directed to God and before the audience of God, “the audit of Eternity,” as Kierkegaard put it. Listen to the stories of the suffering and identify with them. Say un-profound, but appropriate, things like, “I am so sorry” and “That is terrible.” The American South has expression that captures this perfectly: “I hate it for you.” I hate the fact that two marriages are being ripped apart and are may be dying. I hate the fact that my friend’s spouse is going through chemotherapy. I hate it for all of them, and I should show them that I hate it. I hate it because I love them.

We should never try to tell people that losing a spouse or having cancer or facing a divorce isn’t really so bad. It is bad, very bad. This is a fallen world, a world that is still groaning in anticipation of its final redemption (Romans 8:18-26). As Nicholas Wolterstorff writes in his moving and profound meditation, Lament for a Son, we must sit on the mourner’s bench with the suffering and lament with them. This in itself provides a kind of comfort.

I am but babe in this healing skill—suffering well with others. Will you join me in the school of lament? Will you learn to sit on the mourner’s bench before God and with those whom you love?

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Dr. Gordon Lewis Lecture at Denver Seminary


Please note this. I am hosting the event to honor and learn from Dr. Lewis, long-time professor at Denver Seminary and the author of many books and articles.

Christian Thought Colloquia Dr. Gordon Lewis on "How My Mind Has Changed and Stayed the Same" Join us for the 2nd of a four part series sponsored by The Division of Christian Thought. Come hear from and interact with long-time faculty members. The next session will be held with Dr. Gordon Lewis, on October 25, 12:00-12:50pm, in the Executive Board Room (2nd floor, Graber Administration Building).

Audio of Groothuis sermon, "Learning to Lament"

If you go to this link, you can listen to a sermon of mine from September 26, 2005 called, "Learning to Lament." This was a chapel service for Denver Seminary. The texts read before the message (but not recorded, sadly) were Ecclesiastes 7:1-6; Romans 8:18-26. Please read those before you listen to the message.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

"Against the Crowd," Soren Kierkegaard, selection from "Provocations," edited by Charles Moore

We warn young people against going to dens of iniquity, even out of curiosity, because no one knows what might happen. Still more terrible, however, is the danger of going along with the crowd. In truth, there is no place, not even one most disgustingly dedicated to lust and vice, where a human being is more easily corrupted – than in the crowd.

Even though every individual possesses the truth, when he gets together in a crowd, untruth will be present at once, for the crowd is untruth. It either produces impenitence and irresponsibility or it weakens the individual’s sense of responsibility by placing it in a fractional category. For instance, imagine an individual walking up to Christ and spitting on him. No human being would ever have the courage or the audacity to do that. But as part of a crowd, well then they somehow have the “courage” to do it – dreadful untruth!

The crowd is indeed untruth. Christ was crucified because he would have nothing to do with the crowd (even though he addressed himself to all). He did not want to form a party, an interest group, a mass movement, but wanted to be what he was, the truth, which is related to the single individual. Therefore everyone who will genuinely serve the truth is by that very fact a martyr. To win a crowd is no art; for that only untruth is needed, nonsense, and a little knowledge of human passions. But no witness to the truth dares to get involved with the crowd. His work is to be involved with all people, if possible, but always individually, speaking with each and every person on the sidewalk and on the streets – in order to split apart. He avoids the crowd, especially when it is treated as authoritative in matters of the truth or when its applause, or hissing, or balloting are regarded as judges. He avoids the crowd with its herd mentality more than a decent young girl avoids the bars on the harbor. Those who speak to the crowd, coveting its approval, those who deferentially bow and scrape before it must be regarded as being worse than prostitutes. They are instruments of untruth.

For this reason, I could weep, even want to die, when I think about how the public, with its daily press and anonymity, make things so crazy. That an anonymous person, by means of the press, day in and day out can say whatever he wants to say, what he perhaps would never have the courage to say face-to-face as an individual to another individual, and can get thousands to repeat it, is nothing less than a crime – and no one has responsibility! What untruth! Such is the way of the crowd.

Monday, October 10, 2005

More Coltrane from the Vault

The New York Times has a short notice on a new Coltrane release, "Live at the Half Note." I have heard parts of this set in incomplete (and unofficial) form. Now Impulse! has taken control of the release and it is sure to dazzle the jazz connoisseur.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

The Crucifixion

[This essay, "Crucifixion," was written for a reference work, but never published. It focuses on the heart of Christian faith. May we never forget the Cross of Christ.]

Crucifixion is the act of public execution by nailing someone to a stake (or cross), which is planted into the ground. This was widely practiced as a form of capital punishment in the Roman Empire at the time of Christ. It was the most painful, slow, and cruel form of punishment imaginable. “The crucifixion” refers to the death of Jesus Christ in approximately 30 AD at Golgotha (the pace of the Skull) outside of Jerusalem. He was crucified between two criminals and before a large crowd of onlookers, both hostile and grieving. Jesus warned his disciples that he would be betrayed, killed, and would rise from the dead (Matthew 16:21; Mark 8:31; Luke 9:22).

The Gospel accounts devote considerable space on the events leading to the crucifixion because of the unparalleled importance of this historical event. After his mock trail, Jesus was severely beaten, then forced to carry his own cross to the place of execution. When his strength failed, Simon carried it the rest of the way (Matthew 27:32; Mark 15:21; Luke 23:26). The Gospel accounts of the crucifixion itself are brief and without detail: “They crucified him” (Matthew 27:35; Mark 15:24; Luke 23:33; John 19:18).

On the cross, Jesus uttered several memorable statements. He committed his mother to the care of his disciple John (John 19:25-27). To the repentant criminal crucified next him, Jesus promised, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). He cried out to the Father, “My God, My God. Why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34) and “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Lastly, Jesus prayed to the Father, “Into your hands, I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46). From the sixth to the ninth hour before Jesus’ death, darkness descended on the scene (Matthew 27:45; Mark 15:33; Luke 23:44). After his death, one of the Roman guards thrust a spear into Jesus' side, producing the flow of blood and water, a verification of death (John 19:31-37). The curtain of the temple was also torn in half from top to bottom (Matthew 27:51; Mark 15:38).

The crucifixion is the once-and-for-all event in which Jesus, the Suffering Servant, in love bore the sins of the world, so that his followers would not have to pay the eternal penalty for their sin against an absolutely holy God (John 3:16; Philippians 2:5-11; Hebrews 10). The crucifixion confirmed the Old Testament prophesy that “by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). Through the cross of Christ, Christians are reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:17-18), their sin is canceled (Colossians 2:14), they are justified and forgiven (Romans 3:26), and declared righteous (Romans 4). Christians are called to take up their crosses and follow Christ (Matthew 10:38; Mark 8:34; Luke 14:27), which includes crucifying sinful tendencies (Galatians 5:24; Ephesians 5:1-18).

Jesus’ crucifixion cannot be separated from his resurrection; both were historical and essential for salvation (1 Corinthians 15:1-8). Christians worship and serve a crucified and risen Lord of the universe (John 11:25-26; Revelation 1:8).

Douglas Groothuis

Friday, October 07, 2005

A Definition for Curmudgeonhood

Cur-mud-geon [origin unknown]

1. archaic: a crusty, ill-tempered, churlish old man.

2. modern: anyone who hates hypocrisy and pretense and has the temerity to say so; anyone with the habit of pointing out unpleasant facts in an engaging and humorous manner.

Taken from Jon Winokur, The Portable Curmudgeon (New York: NAL Books, 1987).

Comment: (1) should be avoided; (2) should be embraced by those who can withstand it.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

George Will on Preemptive War

For many years I have appreciated the editorials of George Will, whose erudition and literary skills put him a level above most syndicated columnists. In the most recent edition of Imprimus, a journal of Hillsdale College that transcribes speeches given there, Will presents a brilliant analysis of the war on terror and the need for preemptive war. The piece is historically deep, well-crafted, carefully nuanced (Will is no ideologue), and morally wise. The longer format allows Will to develop his ideas more fully than in a typical 600-700 word editorial. I commend this piece to you, which is on line here:

More Blaise Pascal

It is not in space that I must seek my human dignity, but in the ordering of my thought. It will do me no good to own land. Through space the universe grasps me and swallows me up like a speck; through thought I grasp it (Pensées, 113/348).

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Bible Verses for Times of Stress

For quite a few years, we have been sending this collection of Bible verses to people suffering in one way or another. They were collected and recorded by Rebecca Merrill Groothuis. God, of course, is the author.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Ken Myers on Popular Culture: A Review of A Modern Classic

[This originally appeared in The Christian Scholars Review some time ago. I have taught from Myer's book every year since I arrived at Denver Seminary in 1993. I have updated the biographic reference to Myers.]

All God's Children and Blue Suede Shoes: Christians and Popular Culture. Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1989. xvi + 213 pp., including index. ISBN 0-89107-538-0. Reviewed by Douglas Groothuis.

This book does not fit easily into any set category, and therein lies much of its significance and strength. It concerns at once, theological, aesthetic, historical, and sociological issues relevant to a Christian critique of modernity. Myers, formerly editor of This World and Genesis, and presently host of Mars Hill Audio (, breaks new ground by developing a Christian perspective on American popular culture. The genius of the book is its analysis of popular culture, not primarily according to its content (what is presented), but according to its style or form (how it is presented).

Any non-comatose Christian can discern that the lyrics of popular rock music or the "plots" of situation comedies don't exude Christian principles. Myers' concern is that popular culture shapes not only our cognition but, more subtly and insidiously, our sensibilities. As Robert Coles notes in his Harvard Diary: "The constraints of culture are often invisible; they coerce us, but we don't think of them in connection with our ideas, our values, our inclinations, our likes and dislikes."

Myers takes his task seriously. He says, "I believe that the challenge of living with popular culture may well be as serious for modern Christians as persecution and plagues were for Christians of earlier centuries." The sobriety lies in our predilection for idolatry: "Idols and myths can take the form of moods and sensibilities as well as stone and creed, and there are many disturbing signs that many contemporary Christians have made the limited and limiting sensibility of popular culture their own." Adopting neither an ascetic nor libertine perspective toward modern popular culture, Myers analyzes what is distinctive about popular culture, assesses its displacement of high culture, argues for a deeper awareness of its pervasive effects, and advocates greater appreciation for traditional high culture.

Before the cultural assaults of the 1960s, Myers argues, popular culture honored and imitated high culture. Thus Walt Disney's "Fantasia" was set to classical--not pop or folk--music. Since the 1960s, popular culture has dominated our sensibilities, usually covertly. The essence of popular culture is instant gratification, intellectual impatience, ahistorical immediacy, and the incessant pursuit of novelty. The gimmick prevails over the artistic as enduring aesthetic norms are set aside in favor of immediate sensations and pleasurable stimulation.

High culture, on the contrary, has traditionally been marked by abiding aesthetic norms. The art of high culture, whether in literature, music, or elsewhere, demands careful attention and the cultivation of certain sensibilities for its enjoyment. Whereas one is immediately gripped by the booming bass and pulsating beat of rock and roll music, the appreciation of an organ piece by Bach is more of an acquired taste, and one that is ultimately--though not immediately--more rewarding and even ennobling. He writes, "Great art reveals something about human nature because it is forced to conform to created reality." In this way, high culture is better suited to communicate the profundities of both biblical and general revelation. Because it can delve no deeper than instantaneous titillation, popular culture is ill equipped to bear the message of transcendence or holiness.

Nevertheless, Myers' finds that modern Christians thoughtlessly adopt popular culture as a bearer of the gospel without considering whether the medium is worthy of the message. Television, which Myers' rightly regards as popular culture's dominating medium, is unblinkingly esteemed as a ready means to Christian ends. Yet the very nature of the medium itself, whatever its content might be, "encourages the aversion to abstraction, analysis, and reflection" because of its dependency on fleeting visual images over written words. Here Myers makes good use of the penetrating criticisms of television--and image-oriented culture in general--made by Jacques Ellul and Neil Postman.

But Myers is not arguing for cultural snobbery or aesthetic moralism. Although he argues for the virtues of high culture, he distinguishes moral goodness from aesthetic goodness and realizes that the moral landscape is populated by both uncultured saints and cultured pagans. Still, Myers maintains that the disciplined attending to reality required by high culture may spill over into the moral virtues. The proclivities of popular culture, while sometimes harmless, have no such potential. However, Myers doesn't praise high culture in toto. He cites the decline and even nihilism of much of contemporary high culture as one reason for the ascendency of popular culture. As modernism made high culture increasingly esoteric, enigmatic, and irritating to the uninitiated, it became less accessible and appealing, thus giving opportunity for the domination of popular culture.

Because of its interdisciplinary range, thorough documentation, engaging style, and sophisticated analysis, All God's Children and Blue Suede Shoes is a needed antidote to worldliness, especially in its less detectable and socially acceptable forms. It would make a fine text for sociology, aesthetics, and evangelism courses at the college and graduate levels.