Friday, September 30, 2005

Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane

This week an historic and sublime jazz recording was released: "Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall." This was recorded in 1957, and the sound quality is superb. About all I will say (for now) is: Please listen to this NPR story about it, which features the enthusiastic and astute comments of T.S. Monk, Thelonious's musician son. The intelligence and beauty of this music is compelling. Put it on...and do nothing else.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Addendum to "Blue Like Jazz Review" by Rebecca Merrill Groothuis

Whether there is no objective truth at all (an utterly nonsensical assertion), or no objective truth that is knowable (Miller’s view), the consequences are the same. Either way, “truth” must be constructed, not discovered (since discovery of objective truth is deemed impossible). Either way, biblical authority is ruled out. Either way, one must choose to believe in Christ, or not to believe in Christ, on the basis of one’s personal proclivities and not according to the objective truth value of God’s word.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

"Blue Like Jazz"--Reflections by Rebecca Merrill Groothuis

[After showing Rebecca Merrill Groothuis the paragraph in Donald Miller's Blue Like Jazz that sparked my recent essay and the flurry of responses to it, she has written her own response. Some you asked for more of her reflections on this web log. Here is a meaty one. --Edited on September 29, 2005.]

On page 103 of Blue Like Jazz, Donald Miller says essentially that Christianity is not an intellectual issue for him any more. He has grown past that. Having intellectual discussions and debates about God is just an exercise in arrogance and ego; it's only about who's the smartest. "Who knows anything anyway?" he says. If I walk away from God, he says, I will not walk away for intellectual reasons. Rather, "I will walk away for social reasons, identity reasons, deep emotional reasons, the same reasons that any of us do anything."

If there is no objective truth that is knowable, if there is only the endless, pointless argumentation of "smart guys" who disagree with each other on the one hand, and only the smarmy, pseudo-righteous opinionating of those who shun such argumentation on the other hand, then what else is there at bottom? Nothing. There is nothing else. Any Christian who has capitulated to this postmodern cultural view of the nature of "belief" can say he believes in biblical authority or biblical inspiration, but the words will be meaningless. And this individual's interpretation of Scripture will basically be free floating, unmoored by the bedrock articles of faith that, from the beginning of God's covenanting with his people, have been taken to be true regardless of anyone's opinion. The notion of mind-independent, objective truth necessarily grounds belief in biblical authority.

Biblical authority has to do with author-ity, the author's intended meaning in writing what he wrote. The postmodernist view of truth as merely a social or personal construct (a constructivist view of truth) renders the author's intended meaning utterly irrelevant. What counts on this view is the reader's understanding and perspective of the matter. So much for biblical authority. So much for the full inspiration of the biblical text. Hello, theological liberalism.

So, you see, evangelicals who want to be culturally hip and intellectually cutting-edge cannot succumb to the truth-eviscerated notion of "belief" propagated by the likes of Donald Miller and Brian McLaren (who endorsed Miller's book) while at the same time arguing for a particular interpretation of Scripture based on the authority of Scripture. A constructivist view of truth does not permit Scripture to have any intrinsic authority; it can only have the authority that the reader chooses to impute to it. Someone who holds this cultural view of truth will not hold to Christian “belief” because of the truth and authority of Scripture, but because of his or her “social reasons, identity reasons, deep emotional reasons.” This is not a stand that is either honoring to God or edifying for the church.

Donald Miller’s comments cleverly turn a deep theological error into a point of “righteousness.” What he says strikes a chord. It sounds wise, profound, countercultural even. But that is exactly what it is not. The insidious element in this culturally constructivist view is that it appeals to some things that are true: Modernist notions of objective truth are in some ways arrogant, false, and unworkable. Much debate over the existence of God is carried on by arrogant, know-it-all guys who do nothing to further people's faith in or knowledge of the true God. Faith in Christ is more than intellectual assent. But to skip from these observations to the assertion that no one knows anything anyway, and all belief is based on purely personal notions and needs, is a classic example of a non sequitur: the conclusion does not follow from the premise. But, of course, this would not bother the truth-constructivist, because logic—along with biblical authority—has necessarily disappeared with the demise of objective truth.

I really cannot understand the appeal of the postmodernist worldview. When I hear that Donald Miller believes in Christ for mere "social reasons, identity reasons, deep emotional reasons" (since these are the reasons he does anything), I have zero interest in hearing anything else he has to say. What have his social, identity, and emotional issues to do with what I should believe? If no one "knows anything anyway," then Mr. Miller simply has no way of knowing what he's even talking about! He has no way of even knowing what he should believe, much less what anyone else should believe. And if his deep emotional issues should somehow steer him away from Christian "belief," then there is where he will be going. Away. What incentive would anyone have to ground his or her faith in such an utterly groundless faith?

Rebecca Merrill Groothuis is the author of Women Caught in the Conflict and Good News for Women. She co-edited Discovering Biblical Equality.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Philosophy of this Web Log

Given recent posts of mine and responses to them, I should give you a minimal philosophy of the web log.

1. Since it is my web log, I decide what to post and whether to allow some responses to the post. I have deleted some posts because of their uncivil and uncharitable tone. I don't have the time or patience to get into protracted debates, especially over character issues (at least in this format). People may be frustrated when I delete a post, but as editor (so to speak) that is my prerogative. Remember, you are not paying for this forum. When I send a letter to the editor, there is no promise that it will be published. That, I take it, is a proper analogy.

2. I don't live for this web log. I am a full time professor in addition to my other speaking engagements and many writing assignments. I do it my spare time or when I want an instant forum for some idea (which can be dangerous). Please don't expect me to respond to your personal emails or to every post you make to one of my logs. I will do my best, however. There are genuine limitations to the goodness of this medium for engaging significant ideas. On that, see my book The Soul in Cyberspace.

3. Nevertheless, I welcome your readership and participation.

Doug Groothuis

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Friday, September 23, 2005

John Coltrane: Real Jazz

Today would have been John Coltrane's 79th birthday. I lament his early passing at age 40 in 1967, as do so many jazz lovers. His relentless dedication to his art, his willingness to always grow and take risks musically, and his utter brillance as a composer and musician should never be forgotten. Even if John Coltrane has no place in The World to Come, I believe much of his music will be there as a testimony to aesthetic genius, one of God's manifold gifts. Much of his music requires a cultivated taste to fully appreciate, but once you really hear the cry of his soul coming through the horn, you will never forget it. And you will never listen to Kenny G again. Selah.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Losing Our Letters

Amazing as it may seem to many of us now, human beings wrote letters to each other before the arrival of electronic mail. My mother, who is 75, still does. Along with her letters (sometimes typed on a typewriter, sometimes in long hand), she sends me clippings from her local newspaper—another print medium that is in jeopardy—about my old high school friends, how the moose are taking over Anchorage, Alaska, and other items she finds noteworthy. She is a lifelong correspondent, and thus a dinosaur. God bless her for it. But there are a few far younger “dinosaurs” out there, including one of my students who hates email and cherishes letter-writing (“my correspondence,” she affectionately calls it).

What do we lose when we exchange email—or incessant cell phone chatter—for the writing and receiving of letters? We all know what we gain from email and cell phones—speed, transferability (ugly word, that), volume of data, and more. But what features of a good life do we forfeit in the process? As with all communicative technology, there is a trade-off between gains and losses.

For one thing, we tend to replace reflection with rapidity. Email is fast, very fast—and often, too fast. No intermediary object is required for an email. We type letters on a screen and launch them into cyberspace. With letters, we must inscribe symbols onto a page, a distinct physical object that takes up space and which has a marked history of its own. Writing by hand takes time, and is, therefore, inefficient given contemporary quantitative standards. However, the time and effort is takes to write a letter demands a slower pace and allows for more deliberation on what one is writing. In days of yore, many a letter was written only to be torn up and thrown out because one thought better of it. Or perhaps it was tucked away as memorabilia.

In an email age, we may be losing a literary fixture: the collection of noteworthy people’s correspondence, as The New York Times recently noted in an essay by Rachel Donadio called, “Literary Letters, Lost in Cyberspace” (September 4, 2005). I have read entire books made up of the letters of C.S. Lewis (who was always in good form), Francis Schaeffer (the consummate thinking pastor), and others. It is not unusual to find the letters of literary figures or philosophers, such as Bertrand Russell, bound for posterity or included in biographies. “Men of letters” were almost invariably men (or women) of letters. Letters of note tended to be saved or duplicated. Emails, on the other hand, are so multitudinous and so disposable (click or “oops!”), that often they are not translated into a more permanent form. (Digital storage is less permanent and more fragile than paper, since it often decays, is fragmented, or becomes unreadable due to new software. I take this up in The Soul in Cyberspace.)

Letters carry the literal touch of the person who wrote them. Even a typed letter is signed. It is crowned by the signature: one’s own name in one’s own hand. If a letter is hand-written, the sign of the personal is made more manifest. In writing a letter recently (a rarity, I admit), I realized that I seldom write by hand more than a few sentences at a time, usually on my student’s papers. Besides that, I may make a list (for shopping items or articles due to editors), check boxes for various purposes, or fill out forms. My hand writing is poor; in fact, I do not write cursively, but print. It is slow and cumbersome. I must work at making my inscriptions intelligible, and any aesthetic features are out of reach. Nevertheless, our handwriting—heavenly or ghastly or somewhere in between—is our creation, the inscription of our identity placed on receptive material. We may choose the type of pen, color of ink (or inks), and make idiosyncratic notations. Yes, email gives us a plethora of choices, such as fonts, emoticons (now animated), text size, photograph-pasting, and so on, but these are pre-selected for us by others. They are not created by us specifically for another. The manner of writing itself—apart from its overt intellectual content—may be revealing. A good friend of mine told me that her mother discerned the disheveled state of her soul not by the content of her writing, but by the contours of her handwriting.

Simply because letters are irrepressibly personal, most of us still get a small (but not cheap) thrill from finding a letter in our mail box addressed to us in handwriting (and not machine produced)—a letter that often has a telltale thickness, indicating that it houses several pages, folded and written by human hands. Perhaps we should send and receive fewer emails, yell into the cell less often, and instead give and receive the small but tangible joy a letter can afford. Perhaps (to consider something quite radical for most) we should even work on our penmanship as a way of working on our relationships.

Douglas Groothuis is Professor of Philosophy at Denver Seminary and the author of On Jesus (Wadsworth, 2003).

Saturday, September 17, 2005

New York Times Article on "Christian Yoga" Quotes Curmudgeon

Here is a New York Times article from September 17, 2005 on "Christian yoga." It briefly quotes me, but doesn't completely capture what I said to the reporter. But it isn't that bad, given some previous experiences with the press. This is the gist of what I told her, which was only partially captured in the story.

"If it is really Christianity and it is really yoga, the two are incompatible because they represent two opposing worldviews."

Yesterday I was asked to be video taped for comments on the same topic for some national news production company. I declined for reasons my loyal readers will probably understand. The story would have been a whopping 2.5 minutes and they would taken a few "sound bites" for my "perspective." My perspective cannot be captured in soundbites, however, and it might have been distorted in the process, as has happened to me in the past.

Here is my Christianity Today article from last November on Christian and Eastern meditation: Dangerous Meditations - Christianity Today Magazine

Friday, September 16, 2005

Seeking God, Obscurity, and the Knowledge of God.

If [God] had wished to overcome the obstinacy of the most hardened, he could have done so by revealing himself to them so plainly that they could not doubt the truth of his essence, as he will appear on the last day. . . .This is not the way he wished to appear when he came in mildness, because so many men had shown themselves unworthy of his clemency, that he wished to deprive them of the good they did not desire. It was therefore not right that he should appear in a manner divine and absolutely capable of convincing all men, but neither was it right that his coming should be so hidden that he could not be recognized by those who sincerely sought him. He wished to make himself perfectly recognizable to them. Thus wishing to appear openly to those who seek him with all their heart and hidden from those who shun him with all their heart, he has qualified our knowledge of him by giving signs which can be seen by those who seek him and not by those who do not.

‘There is enough light for those who desire only to see, and enough darkness for those of a contrary disposition’ (Blaise Pascal, Pensees, 149/430).

For more on this idea, see Douglas Groothuis, On Pascal (Wadsworth, 2003).

Wednesday, September 14, 2005 Reviews

Since the late 1990s, I have been writing reviews for in my spare time and mostly for fun. However, there is a purpose in my writing, as one may detect. I take these reviews seriously (I even go back and edit them now that these feature is available) and try to make some philosophical and theological points, usually a bit indirectly. Amazon has censored a few of my more overt comments about morality and Christianity, sad to say. I once briefly cracked the "top 1000 reviewers" a few years ago. I must have had too much time on my hands. Anyway, if anyone is interested in these 107 reviews on books, music, and one movie ("Babette's Feast"), you may go here:

Amazon is a very mixed bag, but a decent percentage of the reviews are serious. What think ye of this endeavor? Have you done it? Is there any point to it (beyond helping Amazon sell products)?

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Christians, Philosophy, and Denver Seminary

[Permit me a short essay related to the program I administer at Denver Seminary.]

The evangelical world has endured the ups and downs of a love/hate relationship with philosophy. Evangelicals rejoice when an intellectual, such as C.S. Lewis, defends the faith rationally and persuasively. How many readers have given a copy of Mere Christianity, a perennial bestseller, to an inquiring friend? (The first section gives a philosophical argument for the existence of God based on morality.) On the other hand, evangelicals often view philosophy with suspicion, if not hostility, deeming it merely human thinking that attempts to come to terms with reality apart from divine revelation. After all, some claim, no less an authority than the Apostle Paul condemned philosophy as “hollow and deceptive” (Colossians 2:8). Moreover, many secular intellectuals disdain any consideration of Christianity in the classroom, the courtroom, or the press.

Philosophy pursues truth about ultimate realities—the things that matter most in life. A philosopher must have a strong and lived-out inclination to pursue truth about philosophical matters through the rigorous use of human reasoning, and to do so with some intellectual facility. This is a laudable goal for all Christians. It is my passion to articulate a biblical view of philosophy as well as a Christian worldview to my students at Denver Seminary.

While philosophies and philosophers may be secular or pagan in their worldview, the practice of philosophy itself is not “hollow and deceptive.” In Colossians 2:8, Paul condemned worldly and pagan philosophy, not philosophy itself. When teaching on Mars Hill, Paul—as a good public intellectual—showed that he understood the philosophies of his day and even cited non-Christian thinkers where they agreed with a Christian worldview (Acts 17:16-34). In On Jesus, I show that Jesus himself was a kind of philosopher, since he often used arguments (always cogent ones) in his disputes, and because he evidenced a well-formed worldview. Being God Incarnate, he did not pursue truth fallibly in the manner of Socrates and philosophers after him; but Jesus did esteem rational argument and never denigrated the intellect. Jesus beckoned us to love God with all of our being, including our minds (Matthew 22:37-39). He would not call us to do something he himself shunned.

Within the last three decades, Christian philosophers have moved from the shadows into the limelight within their discipline by defending the rationality of the Christian worldview in very compelling and sophisticated ways. The journal of the Evangelical Philosophical Society, Philosophia Christi, now has the largest subscription base of any philosophy of religion journal and has quickly become well respected in the field.

I applaud this academic success, but I also see the need for Christians to defend the Christian worldview at street level through teaching in the church, public lectures, debates, editorials, and person-to-person witnessing. Denver Seminary’s philosophy of religion degree equips students either to go on for a doctorate in philosophy in order to teach at the university level or to pursue ministry in the church or parachurch or marketplace. Like Paul, we encourage our students to “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5) in the hopes of outthinking the world for Christ.

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D., directs the Philosophy of Religion masters degree at Denver Seminary, where he has served since 1993. You can learn more about Denver Seminary at:

When Curiosity Becomes Sin

A few years ago I heard a devotional speaker mention a person on a "reality-based” TV show, whom he compared to the Apostle Paul—because Paul, you see, was also a “survivor.” He then asked if we had seen the photographs of this person posing nearly naked for a magazine. “No!” I loudly—and maybe rudely—exclaimed. I had heard much about “Survivor,” but never watched it. Although I was a bit curious about this very popular program, this curiosity was vain. However “interesting,” the show might be, it was tasteless and pointless—a waste of time. I read a few articles about it (there is that column on culture to write), but avoided visual images.

I read that another such television program, “Temptation Island,” put attractive men and women on a romantic island in situations where each one’s current “relationship” (none are married) is challenged by the shameless seduction of members of the other sex. Scripture tells us to flee temptation, but even our curiosity concerning what these pathetic souls may do on camera should be mortified. Even though we may never expose ourselves to such foolish enticements, the very act of watching the temptation of others is debasing. The Psalmist said, “I will set before my eyes no vile thing” (Psalm 101:3).

Yet far too many Christians know too much about worldly things and too little about matters pertaining to eternity. Although Paul admonishes us to reflect on what is objectively good and true (Philippians 4:8), many Christians drink in huge amounts of popular culture because they think they must satisfy their curiosity. But curiosity in a sinful world may be sinful. There are many things we should not see or hear, read or think about. In exhorting Christians “to live as children of light,” Paul says that “it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret” (Ephesians 5:12). By walking in the light, our lives expose darkness by way of comparison. When he writes of “exposing” the “deeds of darkness” (v. 11), Paul does not mean seeking these things out—or televising them! The NIV Study Bible note reads: “Christians should not dwell on the evils that their lives are exposing in others.” But this is exactly what our culture does. It exposes everything indiscriminately for the sake of satisfying sinful curiosity.

The media coverage of the 1999 Columbine massacre—which occurred in my hometown of Littleton, Colorado—also catered to sinful curiosity. Painful scenes of hysterical and grieving teens and parents were televised repeatedly and recklessly. News helicopters buzzed the scene and inhibited the rescue. Worse yet, a scene of a blood-soaked boy falling out of a window into the arms of policemen was aired over and over. No one asked that young man or his family or his friends if they wanted this scene televised to appease the curiosity of a television- and violence-addicted culture. Although my wife and I desired to know what had happened at Columbine, we quickly stopped watching television coverage and instead focused on praying and coming to terms with the tragedy. The curiosity to see such evil was itself a lesser evil we needed to resist. The media never even tried to resist the temptation. They would have photographed the dead bodies if the police had not barricaded the area.

Sometimes a graphic image will teach an important lesson, such as the prize-winning photograph of the burned and naked young Vietnamese girl running from the bombing of her village. But this rarity hardly justifies all that we are exposed to in the name of being “informed.”

In his autobiography, The Confessions, Saint Augustine warned of “the lust of the eyes” (1 John 2:16, KJV), which he understood to involve sinful curiosity. His autobiography, unlike so many today, never panders to curiosity. It is a sober reflection on his life. When he recounts his sinful past before conversion, he does so to confess it before God, and also to teach his reader how to avoid sin and follow Jesus Christ.

The old phrase, “Curiosity killed the cat,” carries a current lesson. Curiosity can hurt us, too, polluting our souls and interrupting our fellowship with One who is, above all, holy. “Remember Lot’s wife” (Luke 17:32).

Monday, September 12, 2005

More Thoughts From Blaise Pascal

Man is obviously made for thinking. Therein lies all his dignity and his merit; and his whole duty is to think as he ought. Now the order of thought is to begin with ourselves, and with our author and our end. Now what does the world think about? Never about that, but about dancing, playing the lute, singing, writing verse, tilting at the ring, etc., and fighting, becoming king, without thinking what it means to be a king or to be a man (Pensées, 620/146).

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Extremism USA

A few years ago a rock guitar player, Joe Satrini, released a recording called “The Extremist,” featuring a photograph of himself on the cover. The extremism was the selling point—a virtue, not a vice, it seems.

When my wife and I take walks in our suburban neighborhood, we marvel at the number of oversized vans and trucks parked on streets and in driveways. They do not fit in the garages originally constructed in the 1970s for civilized vehicles. These beasts are not used for construction or heavy work. They are extreme—for no functional reason. Given the rise in gas prices, we may soon see them up on blocks, serving as playground de facto equipment.

In another more upscale Denver neighborhood, it is common to see so-called Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs)—behemoth vehicles typically used for neither sport nor utility. I see many Lexus SUVs. This makes as much sense as a “Cadillac Jeep.” These are luxury cars that give the appearance of being “sporty.” But no one will take them into the wild. They are displays of extreme wealth pretending to be something useful.

While in a bicycle store to have some work done on my mountain bike (which I do not use for “extreme sports,” don’t worry), I noticed a cycle selling for over $1,000. This was probably was not the most expensive model. In another store I saw a poster of man on a mountain bike that read, “Life is excess.” A thousand dollars for a recreational bicycle is excessive. We can easily avoid making such purchases without missing out on anything. Have you ever seen the motto, “Extreme virtue”?

Portions at fast food restaurants are also becoming extreme. Health journalist Jean Carper notes that “a 1950s fast-food burger contained little more than 1 ounce of meat; a soft drink was 8 ounces (1 cup). Compare that with today’s 6-ounce burger patty and 32- 64-ounce drunks—a quart to a half gallon!” Extreme portions makes for extreme girth, which makes for poor health.

One could go on, but the point is this: Americans tend to be extremist and excessive, especially in times of general economic prosperity. Given the law of diminishing returns and our willingness to spend more and more, the extremism becomes increasingly extreme. It also reveals a disorder of the soul.

Extremism is an external attempt to compensate for a lack of inner peace or purpose in one’s life. We crave stimulation, bigness, and bravado to hide our inner emptiness and to impress others. But beneath it all is the same needy, shabby self, which can never be cured by the excesses of the flesh.

This should remind us of King Solomon, whose restless worldliness led him to extreme behavior. He amassed for himself great possessions, entertainment, political power, slaves, and illicit sexual conquests—all in the hope of finding meaning. “Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after wind; nothing was gained under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 2:11). He also observed that, “Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income” (5:10).

The prophet Isaiah understood this perennial problem and its solution: “Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare (Isaiah 55:2-3).

Jesus offers the deepest satisfactions to the needy soul—not on our materialistic terms, but on his spiritual terms. We must trust in him alone for our salvation, not in our possessions or our entertainment. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest,” Jesus promised (Matthew 11:28). We receive Jesus’ shalom rest, only when we repent of our selfish extremism, take up our crosses, and follow him. The fruit of the Holy Spirit that Jesus gives is self-control (Galatians 5:23). This produces a thirst for righteousness, not excess (Matthew 5:6).

Storing up treasures in heaven is far safer, saner, and more satisfying than indulging in the extremism of the world (Matthew 6:19-24). Through Christ, let us claim this holy reality for ourselves and share it with others.

Douglas Groothuis

Friday, September 09, 2005

A Different Kind of Fast

The purpose of fasting is to deny our normal desires for food in order to focus our prayer and attention on the Lord. However, the principle of fasting from things we desire is applicable to other areas of our lives. Many things can become our “food”—things we take for granted as our right.

America is so saturated with electronic media—the internet, movies, video games, television, radio, etc.—that we tend not to notice their effects. Although Scripture prizes silence and contemplation, modern media constantly fill up our minds, allowing us little room for quietness before God.

Yet God exhorts us to beware of worldliness and to embrace godliness (1 John 2:15-17; Romans 12:1-2). Jesus calls us to holiness. We should discern how our culture tempts us away from God. Because of this, I require my students at Denver Seminary to engage in a “media fast.” They abstain from an electronic medium for at least one week to note how it is affecting their lives. Most students choose television, since it is a widespread and powerful force. They note the changes that occur in their lives and reflect on several passages of Scripture that emphasize Christian virtues, such as the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).

Almost all my students report that they first suffer withdrawal symptoms. But they later become more peaceful and prayerful. Time is freed up for reading, spouses, children, and ministry. Lustful thoughts diminish. They are surprised at how much television (or some other medium) had affected them and what a difference the fast made in their awareness of God, themselves, and their culture. Many resolve to be more careful with these media.

I challenge you to offer your own “media fast” to the Lord and see what the Holy Spirit might teach you about worldliness and godliness in your life.

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

An Educational Moment

During the break during a class I was teaching today at Denver Seminary today (Defending Christian Faith, in other words: apologetics), a student said that he had learned how to speed read, but that he could not speed read my book, Truth Decay. Well, well... This, he said, was because he needed to stop and think about what was written. I told him to abandon trying to speed read any of our texts. Moreover, he should not think about time at all while reading, and that by all means he should stop and think when necessary. Radical thought, that.

The gods of chronos, efficiency, quantification, and rapidity let him down. May they stay down and trouble him no more when it comes to learning the deeper things available to human beings under heaven. Knowledge of what matters most requires other sensibilities.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

To be or not to be?

This web log has been running since about mid-July, and I have posted over 40 items. This has been an experiment. Many topics have been covered. I have republished previous works, written a few new items (some more substantial than others), and given links. I have also responded to your posts at some points.

So, what do you make of it? Should it continue? Should it change? It is helpful? Please tell me.

Doug Groothuis

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Making Nouns into Verbs

Has anyone else noticed that our lingusitically impoverished nation has a penchant for making nouns indiscriminately into verbs? The most recent one I heard is "tasked," as in "She was tasked to do X." A task is an activity, a state of affairs in which something is accomplished. But now it is a verb. As my wife says, "Any noun can be verbed." I still refuse to use "access" as a verb. One "has access." It is a noun! And you will never catch me saying, "He transitioned..." Well, having curmudgeoned, I'm done-- for tonight.

Monday, September 05, 2005

More Cultural Oblivion

[A letter I sent to Christianity Today concerning an article from their September 2005 issue.]

September 5, 2005

Dear Editor:

The article “High-Tech Circuit Riders” reveals a distressing cultural captivity among evangelicals. Leaders appeal to McDonald’s and other marketing models in defense of “satellite churches” that depend on absent preachers whose images are beamed onto huge video screens to large audiences. We should unmask the controlling presupposition at work here—functional rationalism. The idea is to create products that can be efficiently reproduced according to a standard model in multiple locations. This works well for mass-market behemoths such as McDonald's, but should we then embrace McChurch, McPastor, or (heaven help us) McGod? McDonald's is efficient, but what of the quality of its product? (Ministry is not a product, anyway.) Moreover, these electronically mediated services must be calibrated to the minute if not the second. Hence, the obeisance to the idol of Chronos. What of the serendipitous work of the Holy Spirit wrought through the personal encounter of a pastor with his or her flock? Yes, the giant screens are drawing crowds. This is no surprise since our culture is already addicted to video screens. But how many believers are going to be edified according to the face-to-face pattern of Jesus and his disciples? The claim that these electronically mediated McChurches are analogous to congregations set up by Methodist circuit riders is specious in the extreme. Those industrious men started churches in the flesh and returned to them in the flesh. The mesmerizing absent-presence of the video screen preacher—and its sundry unintended consequences—lay far in the future.

Douglas Groothuis

Friday, September 02, 2005

The Greatest Danger Facing the Church Today

First Published in Moody Magazine, January/February 2003

For my final “Culture Watch” column (2000-2003), I was asked to reflect on the greatest danger facing the church today. I believe that, more than anything else, the church is imperiled by its own failure to teach, to believe, and to live out the great truths of the Christian faith in a way that pleases God. This is true not only of theologically liberal congregations—which essentially abandoned the Bible long ago—but also of too many evangelical churches and institutions. When “truth stumbles in the public square” (Isaiah 59:14, NSRV), when the church succumbs to the larger culture’s trivializing of life’s greatest questions, then the gospel and all the truths of the Bible go unheeded. People lose their way and call good evil and evil good (Isaiah 5:20). As Jeremiah lamented, “Truth has perished; it has vanished from their lips” (Jeremiah 7:28).

The cultural indicators are clear. Religious involvement is high, but spiritual discernment is low. Knowledge of God is scarce. Occultism and gratuitous violence fascinate millions and are common fare on television, in popular music, movies, video games, and even children’s books. Immorality is evident and taken for granted at every level. Forest rangers ignite massive forest fires. Huge corporations ignore ethics for the sake of selfish profit. Serial killers terrorize us. Teenagers go on homicidal sprees in our schools—and commit suicide in record numbers. Although America is threatened by deadly terrorism, it refuses to get deadly serious about God, the soul, and matters of eternity. Many just want life to return to normal when “normal”—designer religion, materialism, crass sensuality, and relentless entertainment—is precisely what God wants us to repent of (1 John 2:15-17). Even after September 11, 2001, and even among supposed Christians, moral and religious relativism stills runs rampant. (Teenagers have been the hardest hit.)

Our pluralistic society has deceived many Christians into believing that all religions lead to God, Scripture to the contrary (Exodus 20:1-3; Acts 4:12; 1 Timothy 2:5-6). Many Christians take up yoga, ignorant of the fact that it is a Hindu spiritual practice. Biblical illiteracy is staggering—even when more Bibles and study tools are available than ever before.

Given the erosion of biblical truth, the church is in peril of losing its saltiness and snuffing its light (Matthew 5:14-16). But who else can explain, defend, proclaim, and apply the Gospel of Christ if not Christ’s own followers? Who else can offer an objectively true, reasonable, ethical, and truly liberating worldview to our religiously confused and ethically corrupted culture? Who else but Jesus Christ, the Lord of the universe (Colossians 1:15-20), can call people to repentance, forgive their sins through his sacrifice on the Cross, justify them before God, and empower them for true spirituality, faithful obedience, and world-changing service?

We must recover the truth of the gospel. And we must obey it—come what may. The gospel is only good news when the bad news of sin against a holy God is rightly taught. As C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity: “It is after you have realized that there is a Moral Law and a Power behind that law, and that you have broken the law and put yourself wrong with that Power—it is after this and not a moment sooner, that Christianity begins to talk.” If the church speaks with a muted voice concerning sin, it cannot speak in the name of Christ, the only Savior from sin (John 3:16; 14:6). Christians cannot accept relativism—in ethics or in religion (Exodus 20:1-17).

Salvation comes only through the grace of a loving and just God revealed in Scripture and through the perfect life, atoning death, and death-defeating resurrection of his divine Son. This Gift is received by faith alone in Jesus alone (Ephesians 2:8; Titus 3:5). There is no other gospel (Galatians 1:6-9). And this Gospel summons followers of Jesus to be disciples (not spiritual consumers), to submit to his lordship over all of life (Matthew 28:18), and to be transformed through the renewing of their minds and the offering of their bodies as a living sacrifice in God’s service (Romans 12:1-2).

The greatest danger facing the church today is the loss of the truth and power of the gospel. There is no greater loss.

· Douglas Groothuis is Professor of Philosophy at Denver Seminary, where he heads the Philosophy of Religion Masters program. He is the author of ten books, most recently On Jesus and On Pascal. He can be contacted at:

Harry Connick, Jr.'s Wisdom

This celebrity cretin was quoted on a clip from "The Michael Medved Show" as saying that if he were from the poor areas of New Orleans, he too would be stealing plasma TVs in the midst of the chaos. Think about that, please. Connick said this to excuse this behavior; but, in fact, he is really convicting himself of acute cretinism.

If one is poor, must one be more criminal than others? Is criminality thereby excused? Does this follow logically? And if one is hopelessly poor, would the best thing to steal be a TV? Think also of the sadly disordered souls who not only resort to violence and theft during a crisis--instead of helping their fellow sufferers--but chose to steal entertainment devices (thus further stupefying themselves).

Mr. Connick is considered a jazz singer. Boycott his recordings from now on. He is a disgrace to that superb music.

New Orleans and the surrounding areas need help at many, many levels--through financial support, through cultural and spiritual renewal, and more. This damaged land does not deserve further debasement through egregiously idiotic comments.

Muhammad and Joseph Smith Compared

Robert Velarde, author and Denver Seminary MA Philosophy student, recently gave an interview on the similarities and differences between Muhammad and Joseph Smith. This ties in to his recent article: "Are Mormons and Muslims Apples and Oranges? An Apologetic Assessment of the Similarities and Differences," by Robert Velarde and Eric Johnson, Vol. 28, No 4 (2005). I highly recommend this article and the interview.

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