Sunday, April 30, 2006

Professors Making Their Mark: A Thought Experiment

Professors want to make their mark on the world, their profession, and on their students. They spend years perfecting their talents and often receive far less remuneration than those in more lucrative fields who prepare for careers in far less time (such as lawyers). They often sacrifice money (and security, at least before tenure) for meaning. The vicissitudes and foibles of academia are aptly chronicles in places like "The Chronicle of Higher Education." We read of scholars in the limelight, on the witness stand, in print, out of work, promoted, demoted, outraged, accused, excused, and, of course, always wanting to be taken seriously—to make their mark.

Let us engage in a thought experiment taylored for the humanities, where written papers are necesary for students. What if a professor's imprint was limited to one thing, a thing seldom discussed in "The Chronicle" (or anywhere else, for that matter), but something paramount to all of their students: the professor’s comments on their papers. What if all the copious documentation of personal achievement of the curriculum vitaes were wiped away and all that remained was what these various scholars wrote on their student’s work? What would remain? It is these words, never published or celebrated by the guild, that often strike into their student’s souls, imprinting them for life—for good or ill.

I vividly remember a comment that Professor Arnulf Zweig (a Kant scholar) made on a portion of one of my undergraduate philosopher papers: “This is an assertion, not an argument.” He was exactly right. I had stated an opinion without rational support. It was not philosophy at all. I cannot count the number of times I have written just that line on my student’s papers. It inflicts a wound that can heal the mind. While struggling to come up with a doctoral dissertation chapter that would please my advisor, I was thrilled to find a short vertical line next to a few sentences of my text besides which Professor Robert Herbert had written, “Good patch.” I lived on that for weeks. A bit later, he remarked that an entire chapter was “heartening.” This has become of one my favorite words. (And eventually the dissertation, “To Prove or Not to Prove: Pascal on Natural Theology,” was accepted in 1993.)

I cannot here expand on my philosophy of professorial comments on student efforts (perhaps someday I will), but I simply commend to you the thought experiment. What if every professors written worth was gauged only by comments he or she wrote on student papers?

Cheerful Curmudgeon Weighs In

[This response by Cheerful Curmudgeon to my previous post was so insightful that I am posting center stage.]

I enjoy your blog and I often find it to be instructive for insights about our culture. I also agree with the majority of your definitive and descriptive statements that you presented in your most recent post: “Curmudgeonhood for the Masses”.

However, I believe that curmudgeons who claim Christ as their model must also be prayerful and careful to be led, empowered and adorned by the Fruit of God’s Spirit (i.e., love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control) while exposing all pretenses. Yes, Jesus was the Truth Teller extraordinaire, but He was so empowered by God’s Spirit that He did not sin nor could He sin (not true of the curmudgeon) because Jesus was in essence fully Divine and fully human simultaneously as one congruently connected being fellowshipping in oneness. As Truth Teller extraordinaire, He also showed mercy and faith as a high priest and atoned for our sins (Heb 2:17). As Jesus the Truth Teller spoke, His actions showed mercy and faith and were congruent with the truth that He told.

Moreover, Jesus used Scripture to demonstrate why humanity should trust the Bible as true and enduring (Mt 5:18; Lk 16:17). Jesus taught that lack of knowledge of the Scriptures creates a likelihood of error in one’s thinking (Mt 22:29). Thus, believers are taught by Jesus to trust the guidance of Scripture for both faith and practice. Scripture is efficacious, living, and active (Heb. 4:12) in that the Spirit and the Word work together. Therefore, I also suggest that the Christian curmudgeon should be a prayerful and careful ongoing student of God’s Word while testing everything to Scripture in context when exposing pretenses.

Additionally, the Christian Curmudgeon must strive to ongoingly close the gap between what they write and speak and what they demonstrate in their personal relationships. This requires an ongoing battle in sanctification (the curmudgeon will not arrive at complete sanctification this side of glory). The process of sanctification is a joint-effort (divine and human, Phil. 2:12-13). God imparts righteous justification. The believer struggles and strives to follow His will, but at the same time retains the sinful nature. Even Paul fought this overwhelming battle (Rom. 7:14-24). Curmudgeons must constantly remember that they also have a sinful nature and so apart from God’s Spirit in exposing all pretenses, the Christian curmudgeon (acting in the sinful nature) might simply be a pretend servant who actually masquerades as a servant of righteousness (2 Cor. 11:14). This non-Spirit empowered action allows the curmudgeon to simply use their passions to vent frustration about what seems nonsensical or illogical resulting in acidic behavior and destructive action rather than constructive behavior and action.

Last, the Christian curmudgeon must clothe themselves with humility toward one another, because, "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (1 Peter 5:5)" The Christian curmudgeon must regularly seek repentance and humility because when pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom (Prov. 11:12). The Christian curmudgeon must fear the Lord and seek His wisdom because “the fear of the Lord teaches a person wisdom” (Proverbs 15:33). The Christian curmudgeon must serve the “Lord with great humility and with tears” (Acts 20:19), because you will be severely tested by the plots of those who oppose His will. Just prayed for all of you in the Christian curmudgeonhood masses.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Curmudgeonhood for the Masses

Let me re-explain the purpose and meaning of this blog.

My blog is called "The Constructive Curmudgeon" because truth-tellers, no matter how maligned or ignored, are crucial for living a serious and honest life. The curmudgeon is ever bothered by poppycock, humbug, bovine excrement, and every form of lies or intellectually lazy communication or inauthentic living. Curmudgeons have little tolerance for trendiness, cliches, or fashionable nonsense. Although they may be old and jaded, their hero is the little boy in the fable who said, "The emperor has no clothes." Indeed, curmudgeons denude pretense and prevarication for the sake of truth. That is the aim, the goal, the ideal—however inadequately realized. The curmudgeon himself needs to be corrected by fellow curmudgeons.

The curmudgeon is constructive in that half-truths, bovine excrement, fashionable nonsense, unfashionable nonsense, and other offenses to the Good, the True, and the Beautiful need to be exposed so that the light may dawn and reality be revealed. Reality denudes us all in the end, no matter how much we hate it. The curmudgeon tries to love reality, deep reality—whatever the cost. She or he encourages others to love reality as well, come what may.

In this sense, Jesus was the ultimate Constructive Curmudgeon. He brooked no spin. He exposed all pretense. His life was in perfect harmony with Reality. In fact, he was Reality Incarnate. He loved what was good; he hated what was evil. He was the Truth Teller extraordinaire. If you knew him, you either loved him or hated him. He is my model, although I will fall far short.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Silence and The Concept of a Public Library

Incivility abounds unabated in postmodern America. Having gone to our public library to grade some of my mountain of papers on an uncluttered desk, I was greeted by a noisy group who just got out of a meeting in a small room. They opened the door, talked loudly for some time, then even talked loudly outside the room on the way out. I used the once universal "Shhhhhhh!"--but to no avail. They may have never heard me. Pointless banter prevailed.

Americans simply cannot shut up in public, even in libraries. They abominate silence and have no respect for it. The concept of a public library, a place for reading to be done in quietude, is beyond (or beneath) them.

Now for something constructive--a shock to some of you, I know. Insert silence into your life. If you teach or preach, take a few moments of silence at the beginning, middle, or end of your presentation. Do not fear it; listen for it; listen to it; listen in it. Spend time reading, thinking, and praying with no sound track, no visual wallpaper, no unnecessary noise. When someone pauses to find the right word in a conversation, let them find it; do not insert your own word to break up the their contemplative search.

The Book of Revelation rather inexplicably says that at one point in John the Revelators vision, "There was silence in heaven for about a half an hour." That is part of what makes it heaven. Why not try to bring some of it to earth?

Friday, April 21, 2006

Review of an Egregious Book About Television. First Published in Denver Journal

Nick Pollard and Steve Couch, Get More Like Jesus by Watching TV. Waynesboro, GA: Damaris, 2005. 127 pages, paperback.

"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"—Blaise Pascal, Pensées.

This little book, despite its good intentions, exemplifies nearly perfectly the central problem with much evangelical engagement with popular culture. The authors assume that electronic media—in this case television—is culturally neutral. That is, there is nothing about the nature or form of the medium itself that should give us pause, or cause us to critique its very nature or form. (Not surprisingly, the book has no references to the insightful media analysis of Neil Postman or Jacques Ellul.) On top of this is the ever-present evangelical cliché that we cannot “reach unbelievers” unless we are conversant with the popular culture in which they are immersed. Further, “There are things in our culture that we just can’t seem to get away from no matter what we do. TV is one of those…” (p. 46). When these three assumptions are combined, the conclusion becomes that we must watch television in a way that honors God and is holy: “…that is what it means to be holy—to be set apart in our hearts for God, and to let nothing take the place of that bond which we have with him. And that is what we will then want to apply to our TV watching. Whilst there is nothing intrinsically wrong with watching TV, or studying TV, or being involved in TV production, or even in developing a reputation for one’s knowledge and involvement in TV, we will want to ensure that we do nothing that damages our covenant relationship with God” (p. 37). Therefore, the book is peppered with illustrations from popular programs and seeks desperately to draw significant ideas from them.

While many evangelicals rightly object to television on the basis of its content (gratuitous sex, violence, materialism, and blasphemy), the more profound question is what the form of this medium does to one’s soul and to our culture. Anyone who still believes in the authority of the Ten Commandments, and who is not comatose must admit that there is much with which to object on television: homosexuality depicted as normal (or even morally superior to heterosexuality), Christianity as incorrigibly stupid and intolerant, the occult as exciting and fulfilling, and so forth. In fact, David Myers has documented the fact that extensive viewing of such behaviors increase the likelihood (amazingly enough) that viewers will engage in these behaviors. (See David Myers, “The Supply Side of Television and Film,” in Don Eberly, editor, Building a Healthy Culture [Eerdmans, 2001], 424-449.)

But Pollard and Couch are not too concerned about moral content. Consider their statement about sexual depictions on television: “…some programmes which contain swearing, nudity or sex scenes can actually build people’s relationship with God because of the message at a far deeper level (although we should still be very wary of the effect such images can have upon us…)” (51). Despite the qualification, this statement is questionable at two levels. First, it is unlikely that programs containing such crassness will be edifying at “a deeper level.” Second, when one watches television, one cannot really “decide” whether to watch crudeness and lewdness; it is everywhere (including especially commercials) at some level. Remember Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” a few years ago. If one is at all attempting to heed Jesus’ warning about lust (Matthew 5:27-30), the pandemic of immodesty on television should render that medium as nothing less than a moral mine field.

It is commendable that the authors encourage their readers to discern the worldview of whatever program they are watching and to compare it to biblical Christianity. They repeatedly quote and refer to Romans 12:1-2 in this regard: we should not be worldly, but transformed in our thinking (see also 1 John 2:15-17). However, the book never interprets the sensibilities that constitute television. These are the very elements that make it problematic and thus not neutral, inevitable, or necessary for Christians to consume, however hard they may work at it (see p. 88). I have addressed these features of television in the appendix of my book Truth Decay: “Television: Agent of Truth Decay.” In brief, rapidly moving images can never match reading or unmediated face-to-face communication concerning depth of analysis and the discernment of truth and error. These four features dominate the medium of television:

The moving image trumps or humiliates the written and spoken word (see Exodus 20:1-4; John 1:1). Images are limited in their power to communicate truth, although they may be very persuasive. On television, the image always “humiliates the word,” as Jacques Ellul put it. The inimitable curmudgeon Malcolm Muggerridge, who was well acquainted with television from the inside out, declared in his later life that “The camera always lies.”

On television, discontinuity or fragmentation replaces linear development of ideas (see Luke 1:1-4). This is what Neil Postman in Amusing Ourselves to Death called “a peek-a-boo world,” in which ideas are not explored carefully but rather are thrown almost haphazardly at the viewer. A two-minute news story on famine in Africa is followed by a panty hose advertisement, which is followed by a teaser for a “reality TV” program. This mentality tends to lead to intellectual impatience and recklessness.

Television trades in hypervelocities—jump cuts, scene changes, special effects (see Psalm 46:10). This is the video equivalent of caffeine. Television images move faster than we can assess them rationally, despite what the authors claim about “working hard” at watching television. These high speeds are out of sync with our God-given natures. When we become habituated to this sensibility, it leads to decreased attention spans. This is one reason why many preachers will never preach longer than the length of a half-hour television program and will litter their sermons with “commercials” (light-hearted “breaks” from anything too serious).

An entertainment orientation rules all of television. Amusement dominates all other values (see 2 Tim. 3:4). Everything on television is crafted to stimulate and please us in some way. Nothing is too difficult; after all, we may switch channels if we do not like what we see. This entertainment mentality is epidemic in our culture. Everything becomes a show, a presentation geared to amuse. As French philosopher and social critic Jean Baudrillard wrote in his book America, “In America, the laugh track is always running.” Yet amusement is not appropriate for many aspects of life, such as serious study and the occasions that demand lament, not laughter, such as funerals, illness, and the sinful shattering of close relationships. There is nothing funny about hell—or about the antidote to hell: repentance.

Yet Pollard and Couch never even begin to address such structural features of contemporary television, as is painfully obvious when they write that there is nothing wrong with “developing a reputation for one’s knowledge and involvement in TV” (p. 37). But given both the content and form of television, one should question this seriously. Such activity is, at best, a waste of time. One could be reading, exercising, praying, or conversing with another human being about things that matter most. At worst, being an expert in television means that one is becoming worldly in myriad ways. Moreover, it is not necessary to partake of television culture to “reach” unbelievers. The primary way to communicate Christ to unbelievers is to love them, pray for them, converse with them, and to present the truth to them in love. Unbelievers are often interested in Christians who are different, those who march to the beat of a different—and untelevised—drummer. It is, then, ironic that the authors so frequently invoke a classic text on avoiding worldliness (Romans 12:1-2) when the very thing they advocate (television watching) typically leads to worldliness.

But television is neither irresistible nor inescapable. Each year in the spring, an organization called TV Turn-Off Week ( challenges people to unplug from the tube for one week. So, instead of reading Get More Like Jesus by Watching TV or (worse yet) watching television, I urge my readers to go TV-free for one week (or more) and discover what might be in store for you.

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D.
Professor of Philosophy
Denver Seminary
April 2006

Monday, April 17, 2006

Groothuis Review of Gary Wills's book, "What Jesus Meant"

By Douglas Groothuis, Special to The Rocky Mountain News

April 14, 2006

Jesus of Nazareth was a man who shook up and continues to shake up the established order: religious, social and personal.
Garry Wills, a prolific and provocative writer, presents such a portrayal of Jesus in What Jesus Meant, a short book that is, in turn, insightful, idiosyncratic and iconoclastic. While the book raises many substantial topics, in the end it too often fails to back them up sufficiently through the New Testament.

Wills, a practicing Catholic and scholar of New Testament Greek, intends to capture the meaning of Jesus - a Jesus he believes is too often enshrined in religious pieties that fail to recognize his radical life and teachings. To that end, Wills supplies copious quotations from the New Testament Gospels in his own colloquial translation, along with other biblical references.

He writes: "This is not a scholarly book but a devotional one. It is a profession of faith - a reasoning faith, I hope, and a reasonable one; what Saint Anselm called 'faith out on a quest to know.' "

While not technically scholarly (there are no footnotes or bibliography), Wills is no sappy purveyor of precious thoughts about Jesus. He is, rather, a learned provocateur who has little patience with those who want to deny much of what the Gospels teach us about Jesus in favor of picking and choosing a Jesus that suits their scholarly or political tastes. He thinks that such artificial editing of the Gospels "tames the real, radical Jesus, cutting him down to their own size."

Rather, "the only Jesus we have is the Jesus of faith," he says. "If you reject the faith, there is no reason to trust anything the Gospels say."

Nevertheless, Wills does not accept everything written in the Gospels at face value. He seems to view demons and Satan as personifications of evil and not as real spiritual entities (a reading hard to justify from the texts themselves), and he uses some literary criticism to reconstruct events. Still, he takes the Gospels as trustworthy historical accounts of Jesus' life.

Wills' central thesis is that Jesus is not safe; he shatters our shabby securities. His teaching grates against much of what is taught and practiced by Christians today and throughout history. In the chapter "Against Religion," Wills argues that Jesus challenged much of the religiosity of his day: touching the unclean, associating with various outcasts and breaking various religious rules.

Wills argues that since Jesus broke some of the holiness codes by accepting those deemed "unclean," he would also have accepted homosexuals without any judgment on their sexual behavior. This argument, while passionately presented, is speculative and based on a questionable inference. It doesn't follow that, simply because Jesus broke some of the ceremonial laws of the Jews when he touched the untouchable, he would have overturned the Hebrew moral law concerning marriage and sexuality.

In the Gospels, Jesus ratified heterosexual marriage as God-ordained and presents no evidence of accepting any other form of sexual behavior. Although Jesus did closely associate with outcasts, he always called his followers to repentance and faith as the means of entering the Kingdom of God - a fact that Wills generally ignores.

Wills posits that Jesus was apolitical and that there can be no "Christian politics." Yet he also argues that Jesus brought the Kingdom of God - the divine reign and rule - to Earth in a new and powerful way. If the Kingdom of God reaches into all areas of life (including the state), there should be a legitimate means of engaging the political order that is faithful to the teachings of Jesus and his Apostles. Wills' treatment is overly simplistic and a bit dismissive.

Wills also claims that Jesus was not interested in establishing any kind of hierarchical church structure, noting that Jesus never ordained any priesthood and that his earliest followers were not arranged in any tight hierarchy.

Sounding almost Protestant, Wills contends that the present pope's understanding of the Eucharist is contrary to the teaching of Jesus himself and that the doctrine of apostolic succession is not endorsed by Jesus.

But Wills writes much to inflame many Protestants as well, claiming that Jesus' death by crucifixion had nothing to do with appeasing God's anger at sinners, but only with God's love for them. If this were so, one wonders why Jesus cried out from the cross, "My God, My God. Why have you forsaken me?" - a text that Wills avoids. Moreover, many biblical texts, in both the Gospels and the rest of the Bible, indicate that Jesus' death was a sacrifice that atoned for sins.

Much more could be said about this incendiary book. But if What Jesus Meant draws readers back to the Gospels to learn of and learn from the Jesus found there, Wills will have done his audience a service.

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

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Evidence for Easter

Millions of Christians celebrate Easter every year, a day commemorating an event that distinguishes Christianity’s founder from all other religious leaders—the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s not about colored eggs or cute bunnies. It’s about one who claims authority over all creation as the living Lord. Is there good reason to believe this?

In a pluralistic culture, diverse religious ideas are often viewed as merely products of subjective faith. A religion is “true” if it “works,” if it gives a sense of meaning to life and a connection to a community of faith. Matters of objective fact are dismissed in order to avoid controversy and strife. However, Easter makes no sense apart from the reality of a historical event. The Apostle Paul wrote to the early Christians, “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (I Corinthians 15:14).

In a free society every religion is allowed to make its case publicly without fear of censure. All have the constitutional right to practice any religion or none. But this does not answer the question of what faith—if any—one ought to embrace. Easter offers an answer based on the compelling evidence that the story of Jesus coming to earth to redeem his people from their failures is vindicated by his space-time resurrection from the dead.

No blind leap of faith is required to believe that the resurrection of Jesus is more than a nice religious idea. The Gospel accounts that attest to the resurrection were written by people in a position to hunt down and check out the facts. They were either disciples of Jesus (Matthew and John) or individuals who carefully interviewed those closest to the event they described (Mark and Luke). These accounts were written shortly after the events they narrate; there was insufficient time for such mythological additions as a resurrection. The Apostle Paul, writing sometime in the 50s, spoke of Christ publicly appearing to many people, many of whom were still living at the time he wrote (1 Corinthians 15:1-8). Had there been no resurrection, this kind of statement would have been suicidal, since hostile witness could have refuted Paul’s claim. We have no record of a refutation.

Moreover, all the New Testament books have been accurately preserved over time. Scholars have access to thousands of ancient Greek manuscripts from which to translate our modern versions of these books.

The earliest record of the Christian movement (the Book of Acts) reports that the church proclaimed a resurrected Christ as the source of its courage and drive. The first Christians weathered intense persecution for their resurrection-faith; yet they persevered—some even unto death. Had the notion of the resurrection been fabricated, it would have unraveled under the relentless social and political pressures it faced. As former Nixon aide Charles Colson has pointed out in his book Loving God, he and the other White House conspirators could not pull off the Watergate cover-up, despite their unmatched political clout. When the crunch came, the truth was quickly flushed out. The early Christians had no such power to obfuscate or intimidate; but they never recanted. Their resolve is best explained by their knowledge of the resurrection.

Those hostile to these determined followers of Jesus could have easily refuted the nascent movement by simply exhuming the dead body of Jesus and displaying it as the decisive evidence against any claim to his resurrection. Both the religious and the political authorities of the day had reasons to resent these Christians and to stop their evangelism. But there is no evidence that anything of the kind occurred. The tomb was empty.

Belief in the resurrection of Jesus is entirely different from the fascination many people have in supposedly supernatural events (of "The X Files" variety) that have no logical support. When Christians observe Easter they stand on the solid ground of history, looking upward with rational hope for a better life in the world to come.

Groothuis on "Backbone Radio" for Easter

I am slated to be interviewed from a little after 7:00 PM to 7:30PM, April 16, on John Andrews's live, radio talk show, Backbone Radio: AM 710 in Denver and on The topic is the significance of Easter.

Television: Agent of Truth Decay

Taken from "Truth Decay" by Douglas Groothuis. © 2000 by Douglas Groothuis. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515-1426. The blog would not accept the footnotes; please see the book for the details.

"TV Guide" published a short manifesto - actually, an advertisement by ABC - on the goodness of television, just in case anyone doubted it.

For years the pundits, moralists and self-righteous, self-appointed preservers of our culture have told us that television is bad. They've stood high on their soapbox and looked condescendingly on our innocuous pleasure.... Well, television is not the evil destroyer of all that is right in this world. In fact, and we say this with all the disdain we can muster for the elitists who purport otherwise - TV is good.

TV binds us together. It makes us laugh. Makes us cry. Why, in the span of ten years, TV brought us the downfall of an American president, one giant step for mankind and the introduction of Farrah Fawcett as one of "Charlie's Angels." Can any other medium match TV for its immediacy, its impact, its capacity to entertain?[1]

Indeed, no one can dispute television's unrivaled immediacy, impact and entertainment capabilities. But it is exactly these features that make it a potent agent of truth decay in postmodernity. Television is an unreality appliance that dominates our mentality. We then take this unreality mentality and impose it on the rest of the real world. That is, we (mis)understand the world in terms of the mentality inherent to the form of communication that is television.

Throughout this book, I have distinguished between postmodernity as a truth-decaying social condition and postmodernism as a truth-decaying philosophy, as well as emphasizing that these reinforce each other in various ways. One primary engine or dynamo for truth decay is the cultural system of television. I will highlight five ways in which television contributes to the loss of truth, and then give three practical suggestions for overcoming these effects.

Television seldom, if ever, directly addresses postmodernist philosophy (or any other philosophy). However, its very nature contributes to a loss of truth by reinforcing certain crucial themes in postmodernism. Television has become a commercial and cultural institution in American life; as such, it is unproblematic to the vast majority of Americans and, therefore, highly influential. Jacques Ellul is right that 'television acts less by the creation of clear notions and precise opinions and more by enveloping us in a haze.'[2] Neil Postman captures our sad situation: 'Television has achieved the status of a 'meta-medium' - an institution that directs not only our knowledge of the world, but our knowledge of the ways of knowing as well.'[3] While many have noticed and object to the content of television fare (too much sex, violence, anti-Christian material, etc.), television's nature as a medium is largely ignored, thereby granting it a kind of epistemological immunity from criticism. Yet Scripture calls us to 'test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.' (1 Thess 5:21-22).

The medium of communication matters since it always shapes the messages it carries, and these mediated messages shape us. A novel and a television series based on a novel differ in crucial ways, for example. Therefore, any medium should be exegeted to determine its nature, function and structure. Only in this way can we ascertain what it does well, what it cannot do and what it does poorly. This is what Marshall McLuhan meant by his hyperbolic slogan, 'the medium is the message.'[4] Taking his cue from the discussion of idolatry in Psalm 115, McLuhan also remarked that, 'We become what we behold'[5] (see also Ps 1). When we become habituated to a particular form of communication, our mentalities and sensibilities bear its mark.

A raft of studies from several decades indicate that Americans consume vast quantities of television - an average of about four to five hours per day, with many taking in much more. Televisions are also becoming nearly omnipresent, imperialistically colonizing automobiles, airports, restaurants, classrooms, bars, daycare centers and computers.[6] They are even being placed on some gasoline pumps. Once, while attempting to explain a family member's strokelike symptoms in the triage area of a hospital emergency room, I found myself competing with a blaring television. After I turned it off (without asking permission), the attendant behind the check-in desk huffily turned it back on. Nearly 100 percent of American homes have at least one television, and three out of four have more than one. Eighty-four percent of households have at least one VCR. Many have elaborate home-theater systems costing thousands of dollars. And half of all Americans say they watch too much television![7]

The Image over the Word: Discourse in Distress

What is there about the nature of the television medium that shapes its message? First, television emphasizes the moving image over written and spoken language. It is image-driven, image-saturated and image-controlled. This is precisely what television does that books, recordings and pictures cannot do; it brings us visual action. However, when the image dominates the word, rational discourse ebbs. We are attracted to the incandescent screen just as medievals were attracted to stained glass windows. As McLuhan noted, the light comes through them as opposed to light being shown on them (as with books and photographs and other objects in the physical world). These technologically animated images move and combine in ways unknown only a few decades ago, thus increasing their power to mesmerize.

Ellul observes that the 'visionary reality of connected images cannot tolerate critical discourse, explanation, duplication, or reflection' - all rational activities required for separating truth from error. Cognitive pursuits 'presuppose a certain distance and withdrawal from the action, whereas images require that I continually be involved in the action.' The images must keep the word in check, keep it humiliated, since 'the word produces disenchantment with the image; the word strips it of its hypnotic and magical power.'[8] Words can expose an image as false or misleading, as when we read in a magazine that a television program "re-created" an event that never occurred. Novelist Larry Woiwode further develops the implications:

The mechanics of the English language have been tortured to pieces by TV. Visual, moving images - which are the venue of television - can't be held in the net of careful language. They want to break out. They really have nothing to do with language. So language, grammar and rhetoric have become fractured.[9]
When the image overwhelms and subjugates the word, the ability to think, write and communicate in a linear and logical fashion is undermined. Television's images have their immediate effect on us, but that effect is seldom to cause us to pursue their truth or falsity. Television's images are usually shorn of their overall context and meaning, and are reduced to factoids (at best). Ideas located within a historical and logical setting are replaced by impressions, emotions and stimulations. While images communicate narrative stories and quantitative information well (such as graphs and charts), words are required for more linear and logical communication. Propositions and beliefs can be true or false; images in themselves do not have truth value. The persuasiveness of the image on television led media theorist Tony Schwartz to claim that truth is now an outmoded concept, since it belongs to a time when print communication was dominant.[10]

Media critic Malcolm Muggeridge understood this well:

The one thing television can't do is express ideas.... There is a danger in translating life into an image, and that is what television is doing. In doing it, it is falsifying life. Far from the camera's being an accurate recorder of what is going on, it is the exact opposite. It cannot convey reality nor does it even want to.[11]

The images of television may be arresting, alluring and entrancing, but they are prefabricated presentations that shrink events into factoids or outright falsehoods. This is a feature of the very nature of television, as Francis Schaeffer pointed out:

TV manipulates viewers by its normal way of operating. Many viewers seem to assume that when they have seen something on TV, they have seen it with their own eyes....
But this is not so, for one must never forget that every television minute has been edited. The viewer does not see the event. He sees ... an edited symbol or an edited image of that event. An aura and illusion of objectivity and truth is built up, which could not be totally the case even if the people shooting the film were completely neutral .[12]

The triumph of the televised image over the word contributes to the depthlessness of postmodern sensibilities. Reality becomes the image, whether or not that image corresponds to any objective state of affairs-and we are not challenged to engage in this analysis. The above-quoted ABC piece of propaganda advises us to 'celebrate our cerebral-free non activity.'[13] As a consequence of such nonactivity, truth suffers and truthfulness is downplayed, if not ignored. Joshua Meyrowitch, a professor of communication, complains that his students 'tend to have an image-based standard of truth. If I ask, 'What evidence supports your view or contradicts it?' they look at me as if I came from another planet.' This is because 'It's very foreign to them to think in terms of truth, logic, consistency and evidence.'[14] Such oblivion exists not only in the case with media students but is true of culture at large, as Kenneth Myers stresses: 'A culture that is rooted more in images than in words will find it increasingly difficult to sustain any broad commitment to any truth, since truth is an abstraction requiring language.'[15] In postmodernism, truth and logic are mere social constructions, which can be deconstructed and reconstructed at whim. Television gives a powerful object lesson in these notions of truth and so furthers truth decay in the souls of millions for hours every day.

Muggeridge commented that when the Israelites worshiped the golden calf instead of waiting for the Word from Moses, they attempted to televise (or make visible) God.[16] Biblically speaking, God commands that we not make graven images nor attempt to televise the invisible. In the beginning was the Word, not the image (Jn 1:1). God gave us a book, not a video. When, in any culture, written language is marginalized by television, biblical truth begins to lose its vibrancy. Christians must restore the primacy and power of the Word as an antidote to truth decay by television.

The Loss of Self: Truth Removed

Second, along with the displacing of the word by the flickering television image comes a loss of authentic selfhood, whereby the self is deemed as a moral agent inexorably enmeshed in a moral and spiritual universe. Instead the self is filled with a welter of images and factoids and sound bites lacking moral and intellectual adhesion. The self becomes ungrounded and fragmented by its experiences of television. This matches the postmodernist abandonment of a unified and normative self that is disciplined and directed by transcendent truths.

By contrast, a love of serious reading orients the self toward grand narratives and abstract truths - such as the holiness and mysteries of God, moral truth, the pursuit of virtue, the dangers of vice, immortality - and these truths place the self in a position of rectitude before them. People whose sensibilities and worldviews are adjusted through serious reading tend to live by what they have read. They live in conversation with great minds, even when they are not reading.[17] As William Ellery Channing noted, 'It is chiefly through books that we enjoy intercourse with superior minds.' Watchers of television, on the contrary, simply engage in the imitation of proliferating images and multiple personae. Barry Sanders sounds this grim theme: 'With the disappearance of the book goes that most precious instrument for holding modem society together, the internalized text on which is inscribed conscience and remorse, and, most significant of all, the self.'[18] Postmodern illiterates live their lives through a series of television characters (better: shadows of characters), and changing channels becomes a model for the self's manner of experience and its mode of being. Moral and spiritual anchorage is lost. The self is left to try on a pastiche of designer personae in no particular order and for no particular reason.

The reading of great literature immerses us in realities beyond ourselves, although not unrelated to our selves. But this life of reading requires an existential participation not permitted by television, which simply sweeps us along at its own pace. One cannot muse over a television program the way one ponders a character in Shakespeare or in C. S. Lewis, or a Pascal parable, or a line from a T. S. Eliot poem such as 'But our lot crawls between dry ribs/to keep its metaphysics warm.'[19] No one on television could utter such a line seriously. It would be 'bad television'- too abstract, too poetic, too deep, just not entertaining. As such, a serious selflhood - in which the self knows itself as a unique actor in a great cosmic drama that is larger than one's self - is rendered impossible. Inwardness and self-reflection are replaced by an outward compulsion for increasingly more mediated experiences that draw one increasingly further away from the essence of one's soul and its ultimate, eternal fulfillment. As fallen beings, we have always been mysterious to ourselves, but television can only exacerbate our sad stupidity. Kierkegaard perceived that the self is quite easy to lose in the ways of the world:

About such a thing as [the self] not much fuss is made in the world; for a self is the thing the world is least apt to inquire about, and the thing of all things the most dangerous for man to let people notice that he has it. The greatest danger, that of losing one's own self, may pass off as quietly as if it were nothing; every other loss, that of an arm, a leg, five dollars, a wife, etc., is sure to be noticed.[20]

Through television, oblivion to self is amplified and broadcast globally and ceaselessly. As a consequence, the self is destabilized, uprooted and hollowed out; it becomes ungrounded, weightless, truthless, opaque to itself - and it likes it that way, because no alternative is available (on television). Postmodernism prevails; the loss of the self in relation to truth is celebrated, not mourned, for 'TV is good.' But, as Jesus intoned, what is it worth if we gain the whole world (televised for all to see) and forfeit our souls (Mt 16:26)?

A Peek-a-Boo World: Discontinuity and Fragmentation

Third, television relentlessly displays a pseudoworld of discontinuity and fragmentation. Its images are not only intrinsically inferior to spoken and written discourse in communicating matters of meaning and substance, but the images appear and disappear and reappear without a proper rational context. An attempt at a sobering news story about slavery in the Sudan is followed by a lively advertisement for Disneyland, followed by an appeal to purchase pantyhose that will make any woman irresistible and so on, ad nauseum. This is what Postman aptly calls the 'peek-a-boo world'- a visual environment lacking coherence, consisting of ever-shifting, artificially linked images. In order to detect a logical contradiction, 'statements and events [must] be perceived as interrelated aspects of a continuous and coherent context.' When the context is one of no context, when fragmentation rules, the very idea of contradiction vanishes.[21] Without any historical or logical context, the very notion of intellectual or moral coherence becomes unsustainable on television.[22]

In reflecting on an essay by Walter Benjamin, social critic Jerry Mander discusses the implications of the detachment of image from context with respect to artistic values.

The disconnection from inherent meaning, which would be visible if image, object and context were still merged, leads to a similarly disconnected aesthetics in which all uses for images are equal. All meaning in art and also human acts becomes only what is invested in to them. There is no inherent meaning in anything. Everything, even war, is capable of becoming art.[23]

Since postmodernism thrives on fragmentation, incoherence and, ultimately, meaninglessness as modes of being and acting (since there is no God, no objective reality and no universal rationality to provide unity to anything), this facet of television serves postmodernist ends quite well.

The biblical conception of truth contradicts this surrender to incoherence, since truth is a noncontradictory, unified whole, and because God's universal plan proceeds in a linear (if often mysterious and unpredictable) fashion. The prologue to Luke's Gospel would have made bad television, since Luke claims that he 'carefully investigated everything from the beginning,' such that he could 'write an orderly account' of Jesus' life, so his original reader, Theophilus, might 'know the certainty of the things [he had] been taught' (Lk 1:3-4).

Pathologies of Velocity: No Time for Truth

Fourth, the increasingly rapid pace of television's images makes careful evaluation impossible and undesirable for the viewer, thus rendering determinations of truth and falsity difficult if not impossible. With sophisticated video technologies, scenes change at hypervelocities and become the visual equivalent of caffeine or amphetamines. The human mind was not designed by its Creator to accommodate to these visual speeds, and so the sensorium suffers from the pathologies of velocity. This means that one simply absorbs hundreds and thousands of rapidly changing images, with little notion of what they mean or whether they correspond to any reality outside of themselves. The pace of this assault of images is entirely imposed upon us; it bears little if any resemblance to reality. As Ellul notes, 'The person who puts the images in sequences chooses for you; he condenses or stretches what becomes reality itself for us. We are utterly obliged to follow this rhythm.'[24] This, of course, is the exact opposite of what happens in reading.

Habituation to such imposed velocities tends to make people intellectually impatient and easily bored with anything that is slow moving and undramatic - such as reading books (particularly thoughtful ones), experiencing nature in the raw and engaging in face-to-face conversations with fellow human beings. Hence, the apprehension of difficult and demanding truths suffers and withers. The pace of television's agenda disallows edification, understanding and reflection. Boredom always threatens and must be defended against at all costs. The overstuffed and over-stimulated soul becomes out-of-sync with God, nature, others and itself. It cannot discern truth; it does not want to. This apathetic attitude makes the apprehension and application of truth totally irrelevant.

On the other hand, the godly art of truthfulness requires a sense of pacing one's senses and thoughts according to the subject matter before one. As Augustine said, 'The peace ... of the rational soul [is] the harmony of knowledge and action.'[25] The acquisition of knowledge (warranted belief in what is true), requires intellectual patience and fortitude. One must linger on perplexing notions, work them through, compare them to other ideas and attempt to reach conclusions that imply wise and rational actions. Before God, one must shut up, listen and be willing to revolutionize one's life accordingly (see Eccles 5:1-7). God's word - 'Be still and know that I am God' (Ps 46:10) - simply cannot be experienced through television, where stillness and silence are only technical mistakes called 'dead air.' Television thus becomes a strategic weapon in the arsenal of postmodernist cynicism and apathy.[26]

The Entertainment Imperative: Amusement Triumphant

Television promotes truth decay by its incessant entertainment imperative. Amusement trumps all other values and takes captive every topic. Every subject-whether war, religion, business, law or education must be presented in a lively, amusing or stimulating manner. The best way to receive information interpersonally -through the 'talking head'- is the worst way according to television values; it simply fails to entertain (unless a comedy routine is in process). If it fails to entertain, boredom results, and the yawning watcher switches channels to something more captivating. The upshot is that any truth that cannot be transposed into entertainment is discarded by television. Moreover, even off the air, people now think that life (and even Christian ministry) must be entertaining at all costs. One pastor of a megachurch advises preachers that sermons should be roughly twenty minutes in length and must be 'light and informal,' with liberal sprinklings of 'humor and anecdotes.'[27] Just like television, isn't it?

The truth is that truth, and the most important truths, is often not entertaining. An entertainment mentality will insulate us from many hard but necessary truths. The concepts of sin, repentance and hell, for instance, cannot be presented as entertaining without robbing them of their intrinsic meaning.[28] Jesus, the prophets and the apostles held the interest of their audience not by being amusing but by their zeal for God's truth, however unpopular or uncomfortable it may have been. They refused to entertain but instead edified and convicted. It was nothing like television.

Becoming Untelevized: The People of Truth

As Postman, Ellul and other critics have noted, television is not simply an appliance or a business: it is a way of life and a mentality for approaching reality. As such, it amplifies and reinforces postmodernist themes of truth decay. Ellul is right: People are 'being plunged into an artificial world which will cause them to lose their sense of reality and to abandon their search for truth'[29] To thwart television's power, one must refuse its seductions. Television is good at some forms of entertainment but is very bad at helping us develop the habits of being that lead us deeper into truth for God's sake and the sake of our own souls. Mander does not overstate the cause when he claims, 'Television effectively produces a new form of human being-less creative, less able to make subtle distinctions, speedier, and more interested in things.'[30] Given this dire condition, some very practical steps can be taken to reverse television's truth-decaying effects on the human being.

1. Engage in a TV-free fast for at least one week and note the changes produced in your thoughts and attitudes. Discuss these effects with those closest to you and or record them in a journal. I require students in one of my courses to engage in a media fast of some sort, and most pick television. They almost uniformly report that the fast revealed a level of attachment to the tube they did not expect. They did suffer some withdrawal at first. However, they later experienced a calming effect and a more contemplative attitude to life; they found more time for friends, family and reading. When they went back to watching television, many were shocked to realize what they had not seen when they were habituated and desensitized to this medium: most television programming is insipid, illicit and idiotic.[31]

2. If either the will or the ability to go 'cold turkey' is lacking, create instead TV-free zones and times. For instance, many watch television when they are physically or emotionally drained. This is the worst time to do so, since television decreases intellectual vigilance and is not truly relaxing.[32] Therefore, one might make the two hours after returning from work a TV-free zone. The same could be done for the two hours before going to bed. Instead of having the television be the focus of the living room or family room (with all chairs drawn in its direction), place the television in another less-frequented room so that one has to go out of the way to watch it. This breaks the television reflex and leaves the way open to better things, truer things.

3. Replace television watching with truth-enhancing activities, particularly reading thoughtful books. The desire to read and the ability to read well suffer under the ruthless regime of television, as do writing skills.[33] Therefore, truth suffers. The very act of reading demands a deep level of intellectual engagement and bestows tremendous pleasure and benefit for the faithful. We watch television; we read books. Few have described the truth-conducive nature of print and reading as well as Postman:

Whenever language is the principle medium for communication - especially language controlled by the rigors of print - an idea, a fact, a claim is the inevitable result....Print is serious because meaning demands to be understood. A written sentence calls upon its author to say something, upon its reader to know the import of what is said. And when an author and reader are struggling with semantic meaning, they are engaged in the most serious challenge to the intellect. This is especially the case with the act of reading, for authors are not always trustworthy. They lie, they become confused, they overgeneralize, they abuse logic and, sometimes, common sense. The reader must come armed, in a serious state of intellectual readiness. [34]

The mental act of reading is not passive, but active. It engages the mind and the imagination in wondrous ways not possible through television - in ways that are, in fact, discouraged by television. Through reading, truth becomes possible and knowable. The discipline of wresting meaning from texts and assessing their truth is invaluable for people who aspire to '[speak] the truth in love' (Eph 4:15). Truth is restored by attending to the Good Book - whose authors are trustworthy, but not always easy to understand (2 Pet 3:16) - and to good books, which require the kind of cognitive criticism Postman describes (Phil 4:8).

The author of Hebrews chastised his or her readers because of their slowness and laziness in learning important biblical truths, which resulted in spiritual ignorance and immaturity. In our truth-decayed day when television hinders the acquisition, internalization and application of so much truth, we should transpose this ancient warning to apply to ourselves.

We have much to say about this [Jesus' priesthood], but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. (Heb 5:11-14)

Neutralizing the acids of truth decay means refusing the enticements of one of its chief postmodern agents - television.

For more about Truth Decay by Douglas Groothuis, visit

Douglas Groothuis is also the author of The Soul in Cyberspace (Baker) and Unmasking the New Age (IVP). More information about Dr. Groothuis is available at

1.'TV Is Good,' TV Guide, August 9-15,1997. No author is listed.
2. Jacques Ellul, The Technological Bluff, trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids,Mich.: Eerdmans, 1990), p. 336.
3. Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death (New York: Penguin, 1985), pp. 78-79. The dominance of television as a medium in American culture also fits into the category of what Ivan Illich calls a "radical monopoly." See Ivan Illich, Tools for Conviviality (New York: Harper & Row, 1973), pp. 54-61.
4. Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, reprint 1994), pp. 7-21.
5. Ibid., p. 45.
6. George Guilder believes the days of old fashioned television are numbered, because its basic functions will be absorbed by computers. See George Guilder, Life After Television (New York: W W Norton, 1994).
7. For these and more disturbing statistics about television watching, consult "Television Statistics," on the TV-Free American Web page 8. Jacques Ellul, The Humiliation of the Word, trans. Joyce Main Hanks (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1985), p. 142.
9. Larry Woiwode, 'Television: The Cyclops That Eats Books,' Imprimus, February 1992, p. 1.
10. Tony Schwartz, The Responsive Chord (Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor, 1973), pp. 18-22, cited in Kenneth Myers, All God's Children and Blue Suede Shoes: Christians and Popular Culture (Westchester, Ill.: Crossway, 1989), p. 162.
11. Malcolm Muggeridge, cited in Woiwode, 'Television: The Cyclops That Eats Books,' p. 3.
12. Francis Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live? The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture (Old Tappan, N.J.: Revell, 1976), p. 240; see also Ellul, Humiliation, p. 140.
13. "TV Is Good."
l4. Quoted in John Leo, 'Spicing Up the (Ho-Hum) Truth,' U.S. News & World Report, March 8,1993, p. 24.
15. Myers, All God's Children and Blue Suede Shoes, 164.
16. Muggerridge, Christ and the Media (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1977), p. 59.
17. On this theme, see Sven Birkerts, The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age (New York: Faber & Faber, 1994). This book is highly recommended.
18. Barry Sanders, A Is for Ox: The Collapse of Literacy and the Rise of Violence in an Electronic Age (New York: Vintage, 1995), pp. 77-78.
19 T.S. Eliot, 'Whispers of Immortality.'
20. Soren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling and The Sickness unto Death, trans. Walter Lowrie (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1954), p. 165.
21. Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death, p. 109.
22. Ibid., p. 110.
23. Jerry Mander, Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television (New York: Morrow Quill Paperbacks, 1977), p. 288. Mander is discussing Walter Benjamin's essay, 'The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,' from the collection Illuminations. See also Birkerts, Gutenberg Elegies, pp. 224-29.
24. Ellul, Humiliation of the Word, p. 141. Ellul is right to point out in a footnote on page 141 that this can be overcome to some degree if one videotapes a program and stops and starts it when one chooses. But this is only a small measure of control overall, and most people fail to use this function critically.
25. Augustine The City of God 19.13.
26. For more on the problems of speed in postmodern culture, see Mark Kingwell, 'Fast Forward: Our High-Speed Chase to Nowhere,' Harper's Magazine (May 1998): 37-48; Stephen Bertman, Hyperculture: The Human Cost of Speed (Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1998); and James Gleick, Faster: The Acceleration of Just About Everything (New York: Pantheon, 1999).
27. Discussed in Douglas Webster, Selling Jesus: What's Wrong with Marketing the Church (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1992), p. 83. This is not Webster's own philosophy of homiletics!
28. For a satirical treatment of this, see the chapter 'Making Repentance Fun,' in Tom Raabe, The Ultimate Church: An Irreverent Look at Church Growth, Megachurches, and Ecclesiastical 'Show Biz' (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1991), pp. 39-42. This is a neglected classic and a rare piece of thoughtful evangelical satire.
29. Ellul, The Technological Bluff, p. 337.
30. Jerry Mander, In the Absence of the Sacred: The Failure of Technology and the Survival of the Indian Nations (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1991), p. 96.
31. Ellul reports the beneficial effects of television depravation in a French study in Technological Bluff, pp. 338-39.
32. See Mander, Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, pp. 192-215.
33. See Woiwode, "Television: The Cyclops That Eats Books," p. 1.
34. Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death, p. 50; see also, Birkerts, Gutenberg Elegies, p. 122.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Wounded, Risen One

Please read Rebecca Merrill Groothuis's beautiful and theologically astute poem,"Wounded, Risen One," about Good Friday and Easter. Click here: The hot link function is still not working for my blog.

Publishing Agenda

My next books:

1. "The Purpose-Driven Internalist, Critical Realist, Cumulative Case Apologist, Interactive Dualist, Egalitarian, Foundationalist, Noncessationist, Kindgom theology, Calvinist, Conservative Protestant Philosopher--Who Loves Jazz and Hates Kenny G."

2. "Leaving Logical Fallacies Behind: A End-Times Guide to Godly Thinking."

3. "The Prayer of St. Anselm: Your Recipe for Maximal Modal Success."

4. "The Law of Noncontradition: the Hidden Way to Increase Marital Intimacy."

5. "Five Philosophers You Meet in Hell--and What they Think Now: Hobbes, Nietzsche, Stirner, Sarte, and Rorty (if he doesn't repent)."

6. "Rapture Before the Rapture." Rolling in the hay and waiting for the End. (Why Tim LaHaye has not combined these two themes thus far is beyond me.)

7. "Misquoting Pascal: Everything You Know About The Wager is Wrong--And Other Contrarian Complaints"

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

"Are All Religions One?" booklet

In 1996, InterVarsity Press published my booklet called, "Are All Religions One?" I just received a new printing of it with a card saying that this is the "seventh printing, bringing the number of copies in print to 56,062." This booklet has sold more than my last five (or more) books put together! The number in print is gratifying because the booklet makes a basic but necessary point for contemporary apologetics: All religions are not one. Rather, a person must assess their individual truth-claims and not lump them together. To make this case, I compare Christianity with Islam and Advaita Vedanta (nondualistic) Hinduism in terms of their views of ultimate reality, the human condition, and salvation. Then, I give a brief case for the reality of Jesus Christ. Perhaps this booklet will be of help to you in the apologetics mission of the church (1 Peter 3:15-16; Jude 3; Matthew 28:18-20). (By the way, if anyone is thinking that I am trying to make more money, please know that I received a small amount for writing it ten years ago with no provision for royalties.)

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Easter Life and the Facts of History

Easter commemorates and celebrates a historical event unlike any other: the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. But what is the significance of the resurrection? Can we know that it really happened?

The four Gospels of the New Testament all report that Jesus predicted his death, burial, and resurrection. He was born to die. All of his wondrous teachings, healings, exorcisms, and transforming relationships with all manner of people—from fishermen to tax collectors to prostitutes to revolutionaries—would be incomplete without his crucifixion and resurrection. Shortly before his death, "Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priest and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life" (Matthew 16:21). Peter resisted this grim fact, but Jesus rebuked him. There was no other way (vs. 22-23). For, as Jesus had taught, he "did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28).

And give his life he did, on an unspeakably cruel Roman cross—impaled for all to see before two common criminals. We call this day Good Friday because it was good for us; but it was dreadful for Jesus. Before I became a follower of Christ, I always associated this day with the Alaskan earthquake on Good Friday, 1964, one of the largest quakes ever in North America. I was there in Anchorage. After the death of Jesus, the earth quaked on the first Good Friday as well, heaving with a significance that far exceeds any geological upsurge in world history. As Jesus' disciple Matthew recounts: "And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from the top to the bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split" (Matthew 27:50-51). When the guards at the crucifixion experienced the earthquake and the other extraordinary phenomena, "they were terrified, and exclaimed, 'Surely he was the Son of God!'" (v. 54). Yet another miracle was waiting, waiting—as the dead Messiah was pried off his bloody cross, embalmed, and laid in a cold, dark tomb, guarded to the hilt by Roman guards.

All seemed to be lost. The one who had boldly claimed to be "the way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6), the prophet who had announced that "God so loved the world that he sent his one and only son that whoever believes in him would not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16)—this man now had died. The man who had raised the dead was dead.

On the first day of the week, two women, both named Mary, came to visit the tomb of their master. They had stayed with him as he died; now they visited his tomb in grief. Yet instead of mourning a death, they celebrated a resurrection announced by an angel, who rolled back the stone sealing the tomb and charged them to look at its empty contents. He then told them to tell Jesus' disciples of the resurrection and to go to Galilee where they would see him. As they scurried away, Jesus himself met them, greeted them, and received their surprised worship (Matthew 27:8-9). He directed them, "Do not be afraid. Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me" (v. 10).

The rest is history, and it changed history forever. The fact that women were the first witnesses to the resurrection puts the lie to the notion that the idea of Jesus' resurrection was concocted at a later point to add drama to his life. Women were not taken to be trustworthy witnesses in courts of law at that time (although Jesus always respected them). If someone had wanted to create a pious fraud, they never would have included the two Marys in their story. Moreover, all four Gospels testify to the factual reality of the resurrection. They were written by eyewitnesses (Matthew and John) or those who consulted eyewitnesses (Luke and Mark); they were people in the know, not writers of myths and legends (see Luke 1:1-4; 1 Peter 1:16).

After the resurrection, the gospel of the risen Jesus was quickly proclaimed in the very area where he was crucified. This upstart Jesus movement would have been easily refuted by someone producing the corpse of Christ, which both the Jewish establishment and the Roman government had a vested interest in doing, since this new movement threatened the religious and political status quo. But we have no historical record of any such thing having occurred. On the contrary, the Jesus movement grew and rapidly spread. Christian Jews changed the day of worship from Saturday to Sunday, in honor of Jesus' resurrection. Pious Jews would never do such a thing on their own initiative, because it would set them against their own tradition and their countrymen. Nor would they have ceased offering the prescribed sacrifices their Scriptures required had not Jesus proven himself to be the final sacrifice for sin, the lamb of God (see John 1:29 and The Book of Hebrews). The resurrection best accounts for this change in their day of worship, their manner of worship, and the transformation at the core of their lives. Moreover, the two key rituals of the earliest church—communion and the baptism—both presuppose the historicity of the resurrection and both are very difficult to explain without it.

The Apostle Paul, a man revolutionized through an encounter with the risen Christ (Acts 9), taught that "if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith" (1 Corinthians 15:14). Paul listed many witnesses of the risen Christ, some of whom were still living when he wrote (1 Corinthians 15:3-8), and confidently affirmed that "Christ has indeed been raised from the dead" (v. 20). He also proclaimed that Jesus "through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead" (Romans 1:4).

Easter is the core of Christian faith and life. Without the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ, there is no gospel message, no future hope, and no new life in Christ. But with the resurrection at its center, Christianity stands unique and alone in the world. No other religion is based on the historical resurrection of its divine founder. When Jesus announced, "I am the resurrection and the life" (John 10:25), he meant it—and he demonstrated it. Let us, then, leave our dead ways and follow him today and into eternity.

• Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D., is Professor of Philosophy at Denver Seminary and the author of On Jesus. Web page:

Monday, April 10, 2006


Knowing What Matters Most Quiz:

1. Name the five main characters of the television program "Friends."
2. Name the five freedoms of The First Amendment.


I don't know the answer to (1.)--and am proud of my ignorance. Here is the First Amendment fo the United States Constitution.

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

Saturday, April 08, 2006

The Gospel of Brutus: A Revolutionary Revelation About the Real Jesus

The National Oceanic Society has recently released a long-lost and world-changing document, The Gospel of Brutus, which was found in a water-tight piece of pottery off the Greek coast. The Gospel, written by an unknown follower of Jesus named Brutus, reveals the inner teachings of Jesus that were long suppressed by the orthodox, power-mongering, and generally narrow-mined and anal-retentive clerics throughout history.

The document claims that Brutus was a secret Greek follower of Jesus, to whom Jesus disclosed the true, secret, inner, esoteric, and self-empowering teachings that he never revealed to his other disciples. In fact, what he told Brutus completely contradicts most everything in the four canonical gospels. The document, dated by scholars to have been written in about 300 CE, but composed about a century earlier, shows that Jesus was not Jewish in this worldview or sensibilities at all. For example:

"To you, Brutus, I reveal the mysteries, secrets, and inner realities of the Kingdom of Spirit—truths not known to those enslaved by the earth and its supposed Creator, Yahweh.”

Hence, the idea that Jesus was a Jewish Rabbi who frequently quoted the Hebrew Scriptures is just a bald-faced lie. That is merely what the orthodox power-players want you to believe. Jesus further says:

"O Brutus, it is the Greeks, not the Jews, who truly understand the ways of the inner kingdom. The body is a mistake, a trash heep. I have no body, but only the ignorant cling to it, as they cling to all errors, not knowing the fullness of the utterly unknowable, but desirable, Being of Being of Being."

The newly discovered Gospel, of which there are no known copies elsewhere, also gives a remarkable prophecy:

"Far later, O Brutus, my beloved, when the True Unknowable Being will be revealed to beings, after the Time of Darkness, a scholar of the Light, of Truth, of true Prophet and Profit, will make the message known. Her name is Sage Maureen Bagels. She will be the shepherd of this Treasure, and nothing of the refuse of earth will hinder her overcoming. Follow her star and it will become your living fire."

Quite predictably, orthodox scholars have questioned the Gospel of Brutus on the ridiculous grounds that its author is unknown; it must have been written long after the canonical gospels; that its portrayal of Jesus as more Greek than Jewish flies in the face of history (both biblical and extra-biblical); and that an esoteric document of dubious pedigree hardly overturns two thousand years of Christian tradition that begins in the middle of the First Century. Sage Bagels has already defended the credibility of The Gospel of Brutus in "The Old World Times" and is preparing a learned treatise on the subject. “The people who revered The Gospel of Brutus did not think they were heretics,” she wisely intoned. “Give esotericism a chance,” she also sagaciously pleaded.