Monday, December 31, 2007

DVDs and Early Onset Dementia

My wife uttered the following epigram after commenting on the demented and spastic expression on a young child's face, which is featured on the instructional booklet to a DVD player. The child is, of course, looking at a screen.

"These days excitement passes for enjoyment, and
overstimulation passes for excitement."

--Rebecca Merrill Groothuis

Concluding Benediction for 2007

20 Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, 21 equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.--Hebrews 13:20, TNIV.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Space, Room, Silence

The Constructive Curmudgeon will take an indefinite recess.

Use the time you might spend here to lament the lot of this fallen, broken world,
to cry out to the Trinity for wisdom and courage,
and to search your own heart for pockets of rebellion against
the Holiest of All.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

"Woe to you..." --Matthew 23.

Most become television characters,
Automatically defering to self, for self, in self, by self.
"My story..."
Memoirs, ubiquitous--in reviews, essays, editorials.
The imperious "I" as axiomatic, autosoteric.

Self intrudes, extrudes,
struts, whines, wishes, whistles, imposes.
"My story..."
Self permeates, as a way of life,
as way of (socially acceptable and normal) death--a noisey decay.

Why self? Why, it's self!
It's me.
Who else?
Theology as autobiography.
Theology as psychology.
No theology at all.

Selfism, solipsism, solecism.
First-person, firmly personal.
I am not lonely!...Am I?

Gaining the whole world through verbal theft,
Stealing self from God.
Steeling oneself from God.
Refusing to live in God, before God...
That self might find its rightful place,
And learn silence, solace, and more silence
In the One who is not silent, but demands
that self shut itself up and

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Top Ten Bad Events of 2007 (corrected)

Near the end of the year, we are assaulted with a number of lists concerning noteworthy events of 2007. Here is my curmudgeonly list of obnoxious realities from 2007. These items by no means are meant to exhaust the list of "bad events," nor are they the most evil things that happened in 2007. They are simply things that really ticked me off. Since my sensibilities are not perfectly calibrated to objective reality, I cannot claim too much for the list. Please add a few of your own.

1. Hilary Clinton running for president. She is the quintessentially unprincipled politico: all political machine, no character, no vision.
2. Bill Clinton writing a book on giving. This defies belief. It is like the Marquis de Sade writing a book on abstinence. Clinton has no shame, but plays a mean game of narcissism.
3. The on going media fascination with stupid, sex-crazed, and drug-addled celebrities. Don't expect this to change any time before the millennium.
4. The baseball steroid scandals. "Take me out to the drug game, take me out to the show..." Here is another evidence of the death of character in America.
5. Barry Bonds breaking Hank Aaron's home run record. I don't like tattoos, but an asterisk on Barry's head would be just fine.
6. The growth of "the new atheism" perpetuated by writers like Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens. They don't give the best arguments for atheism, but they have raised the volume, sharpened the knives, and gone for the heart of religion--all religion. Their errors are legion, their books best-sellers. (I have reviewed recent books by Harris and Dawkins in The Christian Research Journal. I have a review of Hitchen's God is Not Great forthcoming there as well.)
7. The continued ideologically rich, but intellectually poor, pummelling of Intelligent Design by the established media and educational mandarins, particularly Iowa State University's denial of tenure to the stellar scholar, Guillermo Gonzalez. Read about this at: 8. The major television networks air the video of the evil ramblings of a mass killer, who devastated his university. He became the postmortem celebrity he desired. The national addiction to video continues--without shame, without knowledge of the truth, without respite.
9. There seems to be no presidential candidate who is both pro-life and has a realistic view of international terrorism--the two greatest issues facing the country.
10. Of lesser consequence: I was given a free Kenny G CD when I ordered a Jack Bruce recording on line. It remains unopened in my office--an object suitable for hurling across the room during a lecture on aesthetics.

Six Wrong Reasons to Give (Title Correction)

America on Line ran an egregious story about reasons to give to charities. It devilishly transforms altruism into egoism--ingenious and ignominious. There is no mention, of course, of God's commands to give, God's love of a cheerful giver, or God's ultimate gift of himself when "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth" (John 1:14).

Please see through this, then see to it that you give as the Bible teaches: "It is better to give than to receive." I have appended curmudgeonly commentary to each point.

Six Surprising Reasons to Give to Charity

Everyone knows there are lots of good reasons to give to charity, especially at the end of the year when there are tax benefits to reap and holiday good will to spread. But this year, many charities are doing quite a bit of giving themselves.Non-profits are trying harder than ever to make donating fun. They have little choice since their costs are rising as charitable donations remain fairly flat. These organizations realize you have to give something to get something.

But before you decide to help your fellow man, check out the charity with Charity Navigator or the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance to make sure that your donation will be spent prudently. The following are some surprising reasons to give to charity:

1) Meet Celebrities: Want to meet Bruce Springsteen, Robin Williams or Bill Clinton? Chances to shake hands with these and other notable people were recently auctioned off at the Web site Charity Folks and Charitybuzz. Be forewarned, these experiences don’t come cheap.

I don't want to meet any celebrities. I am already trying to avoid them in popular culture. If I met Bill Clinton I would say, "Thou art the man," then probably get arrested.

2) Do interesting things: For example, Charity Folks recently auctioned off a chance to shadow the elite Special Operations Division of the New York Police Department, watch the NBC Nightly News from the control room, or attend the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show and a party with the super models. Chances to hang out with the cast of the Howard Stern Show and win a day of beauty with celebrity stylist Rita Hazan were sold recently on Charitybuzz. People with more modest budgets can get in on the fun as well. Aquariums and zoos offer special behind-the-scenes tours for donors, as do some museums.

I can do interesting things by buying the opportunity (going to a concert) or simply doing them (teaching my classes). I won't pretend that I am giving when really all I am doing is getting something.

3) Get cool stuff: Local charities often hold auctions for autographed merchandise from local professional athletes as a way to raise money. If sports aren't your thing, eBay's Giving Works auctions off a huge variety of items. Recent offerings include a Civil War bayonet, a set of porcelain pigs, and a hooded sweatshirt for a dog. Charitybuzz was recently offering teddy bears designed by celebrities, such as "My Name Is Earl" star Jaime Pressly. Many local charities, such as hospitals, operate thrift stores where bargains can sometimes be found.

I'll buy things if I want them, not pretend I am giving.

4) Meet interesting people: Charities are finding that people donate because of encouragement from friends and family. Sites such as for Network for Good, which AOL helped found, bring together donors, volunteers and charities. Even smaller groups are looking to get people more involved through special events.

This one has something going for it, perhaps. But we should find our deepest fellowship in the church, which is a community of giving and receiving. But much of our giving may not translate into meeting interesting people. We are helping people, though; that is enough.

5) Feel real good: Believe it or not, donating to charity helps stimulate the regions of the brain associated with pleasure, according to a study published in the magazine Science by scientists and economists at the University of Oregon. Plus, it's the right thing to do.

Worldly hedonism stalks us everywhere and strikes at will. The comment also assumes physicalism concerning consciousness. Instead of growing in virtue through generosity, we are told to stimulate parts of our brains. There is nothing like a "happy" machine.

6) Enjoy great tax benefits: Maybe it's not that surprising to most people, but remember that you have until December 31 to make a donation and get a deduction on April's tax bill. Uncle Sam likes it when you do the right thing, but it's important to follow the rules. The terms "non-profit organization" and "charity" aren’t synonymous. For example, the IRS doesn't allow people to deduct contributions to political candidates, foreign organizations, civic associations or "groups whose purpose is to lobby for law changes." People should consult IRS Publication 526 or their tax preparer if they have any questions. There are lots of reasons to give to charity other than tax benefits. And no matter which charity you choose or why you decide to ante up, you will likely find it rewarding in ways you never expected.

This is an aftereffect, not a reason, Christianly speaking.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Prophetic Modes

A prophet
in a muzzle
is a puzzle.

A prophet
on the docket
is a rocket.

A prophet
in a corporation
is a consternation.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Groothuis on Flew: There is a God After All

My review of Anthony Flew's remarkable book, There is a God, has been published in The Denver Post (the same day another review runs in The New York Times). You may guess which one is more sympathetic to Flew. The Post also ran an excerpt of Flew's book.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

How I Became a Philosopher: Installment One

How does one become what one now is, or at least what one thinks one is? That seems to be a philosophical question. So how did I become a philosopher (assuming I am one, for the sake of argument).

This is not easy to answer. First, one must understand what a philosopher is. I tried to do that in On Jesus (0n the way to arguing that Jesus was a genuine philosopher). I wrote:

I propose that the necessary and sufficient conditions for being a philosopher (whether good or bad, major or minor, employed or unemployed) are 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. The last proviso is added to rule out those who may fancy themselves philosophers but cannot philosophize well enough to merit the title. Even a bad philosopher must be able to philosophize in some recognizable sense. By “philosophical matters” I mean the enduring questions of life’s meaning, purpose, and value as they relate to all the major divisions of philosophy (primarily epistemology, metaphysics, and ethics).
Well, well. If this is so (which is a matter of philosophical debate), then what lead me to become a philosopher? The answer is not simple, since it ensnares me in puzzling over the exigencies and vicissitudes of a half century on earth. But here is my first (and perhaps last) installment.
I flunked a typing test. This was not, perhaps, the pivotal factor or condition, but it may have been necessary. I had taken three philosophy classes during my first year of college at the University of Northern Colorado, although I went there for their journalism program. By the third class (taught by Frank Morelli) I got the bug in my gut. I liked writing these papers (as abysmal as they were), and I received some commendation. (This wasn't Harvard, after all.)
But I continued in my journalism major the next year at the University of Oregon (or "the mail order school" as one wag on this blog put it). Back in antiquity (1977), a journalism major needed some facility with an ancient technology: the manual typewriter. One can now find these in museums or, I suppose, near the bottom of garbage dumps. I was never a good typist. To be more blunt, I was (and am) a terrible typist, sometimes making multiple errors per word. But to get into the University's journalism program, one needed to type something like twenty-five words per minute with only a certain number of errors.
So, I practiced and practiced. I took the test--and failed. The next year, I changed my major to something more practical: philosophy. I could type as slowly and badly as I wanted in that major, so long as the final product was acceptable. Having read some Francis Schaeffer by this time, I had confidence that Christianity could hold its own in the world of ideas and that being a philosopher and being a Christian were not incompatible. In fact, I had a sense of mission and calling about this. Flunking the typing test gave me a strong existential push in this direction.
Now, given computers, my typing skills are irrelevant. My philosophical skills--such as they are--are not.


The new volume, "Lost" and Philosophy, contains two essays by friends of mine: Rebecca Vartabedian (MA in Philosophy from Denver Seminary) and David Werther (Ph.D. from The University of Wisconsin-Madison). The later essay (on the cosmological argument) cites my chapter, "Metaphysical Implications of Cosmological Argument," from In Defense of Natural Theology. This is about as close to TV as I get.

If you are going to watch television...then at least get philosophical about it.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Constructive Curmudgeon Reviews "Crazy for God" by Frank Schaeffer

My long review of Frank Schaeffer's book, Crazy for God, is now posted at The Pearcey Report. This is written by the son of Francis and Edith Schaeffer. For the record, I did not chose the title of the review or the subtitles. I am grateful for the opportunity to give this troubling book a fairly thorough evaluation.

For a healthier perspective on Francis Schaeffer's ministry, see Rick Pearcey's fine essay:
Francis Schaeffer: A Student's Appreciation of a Distinct Approach.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Slavery in the US

The AP reports that a wealthy couple (who seem to be East Indian, but no mention is made of this) have been convicted of holding slaves in the United States. A similar verdict came down in Denver recently.

Think. Weep. Pray.

Welcome to the downside of globalization. This kind of thing is sadly all too common in other parts of the world.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Dark Loneliness of the Chronically Ill: A Challenge

Few know of the depths of despair, of darkness, of hopelessness of the chronically ill souls among us (and apart from us). They are removed from normal life, trapped by debilitating, crushing woes unknown and unfathomable by most mortals.

They pray Psalm 88, a lament of Heman, a man chronically ill and miserable, crying and calling out to a heaven that seems remote and inaccessible. (Darkness was his closest friend.) Their loved ones flail about as "the healthy one," praying, fasting, or trying to divert themselves from the pain and loneliness they cannot take away. They hate themselves for not doing more, for not being more empathetic, for losing their tempers, for giving up. They ask for divine forgiveness and more strength. The cycle repeats.

And most others do nothing. They ignore pain they cannot fix; despair they cannot cheer up with cliches and mass marketed or niche-marketed props. They stay away, afraid their own fragile happiness will be imperilled in the weeping, contorted faces of the wounded who will not heal.

Bleeding wound that will not heal.
Lord, spit on our eyes so we can see
And wake up from this tragedy.

--Bruce Cockburn, "Broken Wheel."

They are right. Their happiness will vanish. Normality will disappear when you suffer with another whose pain, bitterness, and loneliness you cannot withstand. You will suffer, too, and in a new mode of fallenness. You will cry out to a seemly absent heaven amidst a near hell on earth.

Can you lay claim to the Psalm that reveals that light shines in the darkness for the righteous? Can you walk into the darkness of a seemingly ruined life and bring some life and light into it? Are you willing to try? Are you willing to fail? For this ministry of presence, even failing may be succeeding.
For more on this subject, see: James M Rotholz, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Christianity, and Culture: Between God and an Illness. New York: The Hawthorne Press, 2002. 141 pages. I reviewed this fine book at Denver Journal a few years ago.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Suffering and Listening

1. If you listen to who address you with their suffering, you will suffer more yourself. But you will also put yourself into a sympathetic or even empathetic position.

2. If you listen to those who address you with their suffering, you will decrease the suffering of the one suffering.

3. If you fail to listen to those who address you with their suffering, you will increase the suffering of the one suffering.

Now, what of a religion whose aim is to alleviate suffering through detachment from it?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

A Hospital Chapel: 30 Minutes

Today I spent thirty minutes--praying, memorizing, and reciting Scripture--in a hospital chapel. It was small, seating about thirty people. It was empty, and remained so the entire time I was there. To the left and right of a large nature photograph (no Cross was in sight) were the mission and value statements of the hospital, neither of which mentioned God, the Bible, or the soul. I could find no Bibles. It was clean. It appeared to be new or seldom used (or both). There was a small, modest, but attractive lectern in the left corner. I wondered who said what and when. (Most every time I see a lectern or pulpit, I imagine myself speaking there.)

I sat for about ten minutes, praying about a doctor's appointment going on upstairs, seeking God for divine newness and restoration and illumination. I later knelt for the rest of the time. (There were no kneelers.)

It was somewhat quiet, but the sounds of the hospital intruded a bit. It was not the hub of the hospital, but the on the margins, it seemed, humanly speaking. One could read a long list of doctor's offices near the entrance of the hospital, but there was nothing on the chapel that I could see. But someone at the information desk knew where it was.

Later this struck me: A hospital is a place of illness seeking healing, a place of fear seeking consolation, a place where death can become more real, a place fear and darkness in many ways. Yes, one can pray anywhere--and one should (1 Thesalanions 5:17). Yet how often and how biblically do people pray--together or separately--in this small place? I do not know; but given its diminutive size and pristine appearance, I wonder if it is neglected, if prayer itself is neglected, if the Great Physician is ignored in favor of the MDs...

Many years ago, I occasionally prayed in the large chapel of a hospital near the University of Oregon-Eugene campus (Sacred Heart). After the expansion and renovation of campus, the chapel was scrapped and replaced by a small room. Archetecture speaks.

Sunday, December 09, 2007


"Even now," declares the LORD, "return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning." --Joel 2:12

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Prayer, Fasting, and Suffering

Postmodern Western culture habituates the unwary to develop ungodly responses to suffering as their second nature. We flee it through diversions, of which there is a plethora. Some suffering can be alleviated through natural means. But much suffering cannot be so dispatched; it stubbornly resists what is at hand. Think of serious illness, chronic illness, demonic oppression. "This kind only comes out through prayer and fasting," said Jesus. For the Christian, this should drive us to our knees--and out of our kitchens and restaurants.

Prayer with fasting is entirely countercultural, and urgently needed today. We are systematically ensnared by worldly enticements: comfort foods, endless amusements, chemical escapes, religion without reality. We get along--or pretend we do--without recourse to the supernatural, without desperation for a manifestation of God's holy Kingdom. We have marketing, technique, salesmanship, sin.

But there is an ancient, Christian discipline: prayer and fasting. We deny ourselves in order to seek God with all our being. We empty ourselves to be filled more with the Holy Spirit and the Holy Scriptures. We throw ourselves back into the Scriptures to guide and rebuke our thoughts, to reorient our imaginations, to alter our wills. We feed on the Word of God, not physical food. We hunger for the Bread of Heaven. We talk to God more than to others. We wait; we wail; we wonder. We seek God for our only provision, our only solution, our only resolution. We seek God, denying ourselves of what usually distracts, distorts, and deranges us.

Do American Christians pursue God in this way? Do our pastors exhort us to do so? Do small groups fast and pray? Jesus said, "When you fast...," then gave instructions. It was assumed that his disciples would do this after he ascended to heaven. Prayer and fasting preceded Paul's great missionary outreach that began in Acts 13. The church "ministered unto the Lord" through prayer and fasting. Then the Spirit spoke, commissioning Paul and Barnabas. This is our problem: we are not commissioned, because we have not sought God on God's terms. Instead of being commissioned, we are scheduled; instead of being edified, we are entertained; instead of fasting we are feasting (on ashes).

Resources on "The Golden Compass"

The atheist movie, "The Golden Compass" will soon be out. Here are some resources on it. Don't be taken unaware.

The Golden Compass: A Primer on Atheism
Russ Wise

Russ Wise explains The Golden Compass as a primer of Atheism, and presents suggestions of how Christians, especially parents, can respond.

Atheism For Kids
Gene Edward Veith

Gene Edward Veith examines the attack on C.S. Lewis and The Chronicles of Narnia as the behind the scenes passion of author Philip Pullman.

Friday, December 07, 2007

The Witch Trial of Dr. Gonzalez

The Discovery Institute has posted an updated document detailing the reasons why Dr. Guillermo Gonzalez was denied tenure at Iowa State University. It is simple. Despite his very impressive publication record, he was targeted because he advocates Intelligent Design--even though he never does so in the classroom. This is ideological assassination. There is no intellectual tolerance at state institutions when it comes to arguing against naturalism in the sciences.

I have an unpublished paper on why ID should be taught at state universities. It is called, "Intelligent Design and the State University: Accepting the Challenge," which is available on my web page. This was originally read on October 6, 2007, at “The Crisis of the University,” University of Colorado—Boulder.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

The Kindle Challenge

Amazon has just released what they claim to be a revolutionary e-book reader (and much else) called a Kindle, which Newsweek reviewed. It claims to be user-friendly and has cell phone like access to a huge number of books, magazines, and more. You can also search books with the technology. I wrote about the difference between the page and the screen in The Soul in Cyberspace, but Kindle is a bit beyond what I (or anyone) had in mind in 1997.

Well. For any wealthy Constructive Curmudgeon reader out there, I challenge you to buy me one for Christmas, so that I can blog about what I take its strengths and weaknesses to be. It only costs $399!

(The chances are small, since no one took the hint about my wishlist on Amazon. But, you never know...)

Sex in Robo-space

Just how bizarre can this unhinged world become? Are there any limits left? The New York Times today reviewed a new book by David Levy called, Love and Sex With Robots.

Yes, it will happen; and yes--not to worry--it is just fine. In fact, it is already happening in rather low-tech modes. (No details will be given.) Why? Because humans personalize their pets and their stuffed animals, even their laptops. So, why not personalize a robot as a sex partner--at least when the technology makes it enjoyable (and safe) enough? After all, we accept all sorts of other sexual kinkiness, so there is nothing wrong with robotic sexual encounters (even if no one is home on the robotic end).

The reviewer is a bit chary about this, but (of course) does not reach the level of astonishment or outrage. The New York Times reserves these responses for Christianity, Intelligent Design, and the Republican Party. Maybe the author is embracing this robo-love too uncritically. Just maybe...

The very idea of robo-sex trades on three themes, all of which undermine culture and sanity, all of which have receded into the intellectual background (thus giving them greater power than when they were merely controversial).

The first notion is that technological innovations are almost entirely good and "progressive." If you can build a better (and sexier) robot, then why not? Are you against progress, you Luddite prude?

The second idea is that sexuality is entirely for personal enjoyment, apart from any encounter with genuine otherness (that is, another human being) and apart from any sense of given-ness, of normativity, of original design. We have a sexual urges; what we do with them is up to us. Sexual expression (the key word) is not reserved for certain human relationships, but is open-ended and experimental.

The third claim is that sex is the same as love; the concepts are conflated. So, one may "love" one's robotic "partner."

The lost self thus luxuriates in a technopology of polymorphic perversity. Freud meets Frankenstein (with better technology). Having sought out every possible permutation of strange flesh, the untethered self now sniffs out strange circuits. Instead of "the flesh pots of (ancient) Egypt," we have the "circuit pots of (postmodern) Babylon." Perhaps these new robotic partners can outperform their fleshly counterparts. Of course, no one is performing, no one is enjoying, and no one is loving. Instead of a marriage covenant, you have a guarantee (and maybe an extended warrantee).

Welcome to the brave new world of robotic wonders.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

An Atheist Who Wants Atonement: The Testimony of Human Nature

[From The New York Times Magazine.]

Questions for Ian McEwan
A Sinner’s Tale

Published: December 2, 2007

Q: Your novel “Atonement” — the story of Briony Tallis, a novelist who tells a lie in her girlhood and hurts her older sister in a way for which she can never atone — has been made into a film. . . .

Q: It seems to me that the impulse to atone is a religious one, and yet you are a self-declared atheist.

Yes, I am an atheist, and probably Briony is, too. Atheists have as much conscience, possibly more, than people with deep religious conviction, and they still have the same problem of how they reconcile themselves to a bad deed in the past. It’s a little easier if you’ve got a god to forgive you.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Important correction in previous post

A reader pointed out an egregious error in the previous post. I referred to Shelby Steel's book as White Racism, when it is White Guilt. Steele does not believe that white racism is the main race problem today. Please read this superb book.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Slice From An Autobiography That Will Never Be Written or The Year of Reading Dangerously

In March of 1976, I started filling an old blank, lined black book with vocabulary entries. The place was Greeley, Colorado, and I was attending The University of Northern Colorado (for one and only one year, thank goodness). Entering college as an abject ignoramus (my high school GPA was 2.4, and that was because of grade inflation), I found that my textbooks were replete with words I did not know (including not a few sesquipedalians).

I still have this book, and I sometimes show it to my students, whom I always encourage to expand their vocabularies in order to expand their understanding of reality. The book sports 132 pages of entries, starting with "autonomy" and ending (in 1994) with "demotic." Yes, I continue to learn new words (I picked up "gimcrack" from Shelby Steele's stellar, White Guilt), but now write the definitions in the books where I find them. I still often use the dictionary my mother gave me when I went off to college in 1975: The American Heritage. We are old friends.

I have known the general whereabouts of the vocabulary book since 1976, but I only recently found something else within its musty and chaffed covers--a list of books I read in 1981. This was entered near the very back of the book, which I had not entirely filled with new vocabulary conquests. During 1981, I worked in a campus ministry in Eugene, Oregon, called The McKenzie Study Center. I was twenty-four years old, with a Bachelor's degree in philosophy from The University of Oregon (the mail order school). My duties included teaching a class each quarter at the University as part of a special program that let community people teach classes for credit. I also did some evangelism and discipleship. But mostly I read as much as I could on a plethora of topics, all related to my class, "The Twilight of Western Thought: A Christian Response" (Sociology 400). I made about $400 a month, which was spent on rent, food, and books, books, and more books.

What an idyllic life it was. I was single, had very few responsibilities, very few needs, and a wealth of time for study and reflection. My black book records that I read 116 books that year. I cannot make out a few of the titles, but the topics included comparative religion (R.C. Zaehner), the New Age movement (I was researching my first book, Unmasking the New Age), philosophy (mostly Existentialism, Camus, Sartre and William Barrett), theology (Carl Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority), apologetics (Van Til, Schaeffer), ethics, economics, education, art, church history, sociology, and more.

Such a life of classical leisure is far beyond me today, although I have far more time to read than most humans; moreover, few people have probably ever experienced this amount of time for protracted reading. I know, however, that Joseph Campbell (the Jungian purveyor of mythical distortions of Christianity and much else) spent some similar years as a young man. What different trajectories we took. Looking back, I realize that this year of reading dangerously (and the whole period from 1979-84) was formative and foundational for me intellectually. I was an autodidact with a vengeance, untutored by any mentor, unanchored to any controlling ideology (beyond the Christian worldview), and consumed by an unquenchable thirst for knowledge (which I still possess). I had not yet begun to write very much--except in 1983-4 when I wrote Unmasking the New Age--so most of my time was buried in books.

I remember that at some time between 1979-81, the Director of the ministry came into my bedroom/study, where I was hunched over my desk, and said, "You need to get out there and spend time with people!" Well, I did some of that, but books took up most of the time. And I'm thankful that they did. Thanks, Wes, for letting me continue to read.


Thursday, November 22, 2007

Being Literate, Becoming Literate

Not only was the Teacher wise, but also he imparted knowledge to the people. He pondered and searched out and set in order many proverbs. The Teacher searched to find just the right words, and what he wrote was upright and true. The words of the wise are like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails—given by one shepherd. Be warned, my son, of anything in addition to them. Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.--Ecclesiastes 12:9-12.

But in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do.--C.S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism.

What does it mean to be literate? How many today can attain unto it? For how many is it simply too late, a lost cause?

To be literate means to seek knowledge and wisdom through literature, to live a certain kind of life. A literate person experiences life through the knowledge gained through reading great--and some not-so-great--works; she carries the works within and summons them (consciously or unconsciously) for the thoughts and emotions requisite for any given situation. Being literate expands the vocabulary, the semantics, and the syntax of the soul, allowing more of reality to be appropriated in more ways. It helps one see what is tragic, what is comic, and what is trivial.

This knowledge establishes a friendship with the best that humans have written; it lifts one out of the cave of individual stupor (self-stultification and self-stupefaction) by exposing the soul to fresher air, higher thoughts, deeper feelings. It opens the pores.

For many of the image bearers of God in our day being literate is neither a goal nor a possibility. They have been rendered functionally autistic through the diversions of digital media, hyper hedonism, and pseudo-education that is more concerned with indoctrination than with the invocation of the muse, whose presence can transport us to unexplored lands of truth, even to eternity.

The National Endowment for the Arts laments (again) that reading is in steep decline. How can I provoke in my students the love of learning, the thrill of discovery, the discipline of finding, testing, and applying ideas? How can I commend reading over watching or playing? I can attempt to be a model of a literate man--a very imperfect one, who got a late start, and who chronically feels his ignorance. I can pray for them to awaken, to begin to distain the cave they call a home.

My "Mail Order" Degree

Recently a person with an unctuous screen name made an obnoxious remark about my "mail order" degree (Ph.D. in philosophy, 1993) from the University of Oregon (Eugene). My wife did some research and found this on the University of Oregon web page:

The university is one of only sixty-two public and private institutions in the U.S. and Canada selected for membership in the exclusive Association of American Universities (AAU).

This isn't bad for a "mail order" school!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

JP Moreland on a Wrong View of the Bible in Relation to Knowledge

J.P. Moreland recently delivered a paper at ETS on the problem of evangelical "overcommitment" to the Bible. That may sound strange or wrong, but it isn't. Please read his short description of his paper on his Kingdom Triangle blog and click to the full paper, which I just read and which I find superb and much-needed.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

More on Flew Flying the Atheist Coop

Christian journalist, Doug LeBlanc has written a good blog piece on the Flew controversy. It comes down to this: The New York Times tried to smear Flew.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Controversy Over New Anthony Flew Book

Anthony Flew, prestigious British philosopher and nearly life-long atheist, has written a new book called There is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind. I have submitted a review of it to a newspaper, so will not post it as yet. The New York Times claims that Flew was manipulated by Christians. A recently piece in Publishers Weekly has a statement by Flew denying any manipulation. The book was written with Abraham Roy Varghese, but represents Flew's ideas, Flew claims.

I take this to be a very significant book, one that lays out clear scientific reasons why one should rationally believe in a Creator and Designer God. Flew is not yet a Christian, however--although the book concludes with a dialogue with no less than NT Wright on the deity and resurrection of Jesus. Please pray for Dr. Flew. He is in his eighties, so he needs to cram for finals.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

"Korean Boot Camp Aims to Cure Web Addiction"

Seokyong Lee for The New York Times

MOKCHEON, South Korea — The compound — part boot camp, part rehab center — resembles programs around the world for troubled youths. Drill instructors drive young men through military-style obstacle courses, counselors lead group sessions, and there are even therapeutic workshops on pottery and drumming.

Lee Chang-hoon, 15, runs an obstacle course at the Jump Up Internet Rescue School. He spent almost all of his time online before his mother sent him to the camp. “Seventeen hours a day online is fine,” he said at the camp.

But these young people are not battling alcohol or drugs. Rather, they have severe cases of what many in this country believe is a new and potentially deadly addiction: cyberspace...

Friday, November 16, 2007

Interview with John Coltrane!

Here is a technology to be praised: a six and a half minute interview with John Coltrane from 1960 on Youtube. There is no video, only audio (plus a slide show of many Coltrane albums and some book covers). He is soft spoken, but articulate; the host is rather flatfooted. But listen to Trane for yourself. I never heard his voice before in a conversation.

Audio from "Intelligent Design: Finding the Signature of God in Nature"

My recent lecture at Denver Seminary (November 8, 2007) is now on line. I used a short clip from Lee Stobel's video, "The Case for a Creator," which is one video I highly recommend because of its educational and apologetic significance.

Thursday, November 15, 2007


Given the low level of much of the "discussion" (that is, pointless insults) on this blog of late, I'm taking an indefinite holiday.

For Those Who Think I'm a Luddite

This is taken from my CV:

"I was awarded a technology grant of $1000 in 2001 for creating a fully functional web page for one of my courses. I was the first Denver Seminary faculty member to do so."

Moreover, I am the only Denver Seminary professor (to my knowledge) to have both a web page (since 1996) and a blog (since 2005).

Monday, November 12, 2007

Vidiot Village

Welcome to Vidiot Village!

Your stay will be fully visual, virtual, and value-added. There are no words to heed, nothing to read. We have video phones, video games, video homes for all your vidiocentricities.

You'll experience wall-to-wall, 24-7 vidiography, vidioscopy, vidiomancy, vidiosupremacy.

Look, look, look--always grove to what moves. It all moves--all the time. Never a typographic moment. Never a dead page, mere words. No dead ink. This place glows and grows and glitters.

We have video-volcanos, video tomatos, video tornados!

"You can check out any time you want, but you can never leave."

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Technological Losses Add Up: Curmudgeon at Full Tilt (corrected)

That did it. Having experienced another technological loss tonight at the King's Soopers, I must go into a full-tilt, curmudgeonly, ranting rampage. There are so many technological losses; they are so annoying; they are so unnecessary; and no one else seems to care. Or perhaps people care, but are powerless to stop the mindless technological juggernaut.

I did some late-night shopping at King Soopers, thinking it would be an opportune time, since no one else would be there. I stupidly assumed a checker would be there, though. I was wrong. The wonderful automated checkout machines were the only thing open. I had a full cart and the robot wasn't up for it. I drank an organic fruit drink during shopping. I scanned it and threw out the bottle. The robot didn't like that. "Please put the item in the bag," it insisted. Right, you mindless moron. I asked the attendant, but he was utterly clueless as to how to face this emergency. So, I took the empty bottle out and put in the bag. I guess that registered or the assistant ended up doing something. I won't bore you with more problems that ensued, but here is the point. Numerous new technologies rob us of functions better performed by their predecessors (or by mere humans). A regular checker (even the dimmest ones) can understand the idea of an empty bottle. Robots cannot. Consider other losses:

1. Cassettes are superior to CDs for listening to lectures. You simply stop them when you are done and they remain where they were--a determinate spot on the tape. Not so for CDs, unless you keep them in the player. Moreover, most CDs do not have individual tracks for lectures. Thus, you cannot stop where you are to continue.

2. Old VCR machines are simpler than DVDs. Moreover--like the cassette--you can simply stop the video where you are, take it out, and put it back in at exactly the same place later. Not so DVDs.

3. My first printer for my first computer (A Kay Pro, a dinosaur if there was one--and still in my basement) was essentially a typewriter, which typed about 80 words a minute. The quality of the type was impeccable. Yes, it was slower and had only one kind of type. But so what?

4. Many automobile cassette players do not have the old fashioned fast forward and reverse. No, too simple for the Jetsons (yes, I watched cartoons as a benighted youth way back in the last century). We are now graced with an automated function--these things are killing us--that finds the next song or the previous one. This is terrific, except when you want to fast forward or rewind a lecture tape. Then, it does no good at all; and you must find an older, primitive cassette player to actually do the job.

5. Lapel mics work just fine, thank you. But now I sometimes--not too much yet, thank goodness--have to don a bizarre, tormenting device that hooks around your ear and juts out in front of your face (sometimes called a "Madonna mic"). I don't want to wear anything having anything remotely to do with Madonna. And what is the point? I already have my hands free with a lapel mic. Nor do I want to look like a football coach or a jet pilot.

6. Older cars--such as our 1976 Gremlin--had no computers. Thus, they were simpler and easier to fix. Not so for our 1994 Dodge Intrepid, which we ended up giving away in 2003, because its computer problems stumped the dealer and a "specialist." We sold the Gremlin for $300 in 2003.

7. I won't even comment on PowerPoint, since I am able to avoid it entirely when I teach (unless a church demands that my outline be "PowerPointed"--what an ugly word and ugly reality). See the on-line essay, "PowerPoint is evil."

8. Before automated voice messages, one could talk to a human and get information. Now, with endless menu options (which have all "recently changed," so you have sit through an exciting run-down of how the numbers relate to different categories of requests) you are doing well to get any information at all quickly. And consider the so-called "music" you have to listen to while you wait! It is usually right up there with water boarding.

9. Land phone lines sound much better than cell phone connection and land phones sound better than cordless phones.

One can go on. But tell me your stories. Go ahead: rage at the machine.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Christian Yoga Refuted

Denver Journal features a book review by Denver Seminary Philosophy of Religion graduate Priscilla Friedlander. She reviews An Invitation to Christian Yoga by Nancy Roth. Please read this excellent critique.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Intelligent Design: Finding the Signature of God in Nature

I will give this lecture on November 8, at 7:00 PM, at the Denver Seminary Chapel (6399 S. Santa Fe Drive, Littleton, CO 80120). It is part of "The Women's Forum" program, but I think they let in males. I don't plan to come in drag, anyway. The lecture will give the evidence for design in nature, focusing on the microscopic world of the cell. The poster child of the ID movement, the bacterial flagellum, will make another appearance in a short DVD clip, probably from Lee Strobel's superb DVD, "The Case for a Creator." I will give out a detailed outline and leave plenty of time for questions and answers.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Swinging in Class

[This essay was first published in The Philosophers Magazine earlier this year. If you have seen anything like it, let me know. It may be the most original thing I have ever written--for better or worse!]

I am a philosopher, a professor, and a jazz fan. In the midst of a philosophy class, I may wax enthusiastic about the transcendent qualities of a John Coltrane saxophone solo or the preternatural swing of drummer Buddy Rich. These comments are not merely idiosyncratic. They reflect a philosophy of pedagogy that is saturated in jazz sensibilities. The classroom should swing; students and their professor should spend time in the woodshed; the class will jam on philosophical themes deeply rooted in tradition, but be open to new chops.

It is difficult to fit jazz into a tight analytical definition in which necessary and sufficient conditions are stipulated. But jazz is known for at least three salient and laudatory features, all of which translate fruitfully into a philosophy of pedagogy.

First, jazz works from and creatively appropriates a revered tradition, the origins of which are not entirely clear. The call-and-response patterns of African slave songs and spirituals are evident in the ensemble creativity of jazz, for example. But jazz critic Stanley Crouch claims that indigenous African music does not swing. Swing possesses a certain glide or lightness to its rhythmic propulsion that is lacking in other rhythmic patterns. A jazz musician must master the jazz tradition to perform this demanding but delightful music. Listen to the conversations between jazz pianist Marianne McPartland and her musician guests (“cats”) on NPR’s “Piano Jazz’ to understand this.

Crouch also writes that you hear the entire history of the jazz saxophone in the playing of Charles Lloyd. To some extent this is true, mutatis mutandis, for any great jazz instrumentalist or vocalist. Every jazz musician must sit at the feet of the great bands and the virtuoso performers. To learn from such a varied and luxuriant tradition requires extensive study and practice. Jazz musicians speak of this as “time in the woodshed.” The angular, odd, and complex structures of many of pianist Thelonious Monk’s compositions sent Monk and his band mates into the woodshed for extended periods of time. John Coltrane was so fiercely dedicated to practicing that he would often fall asleep with his saxophone; he would also practice fingering when he was not in a situation where he could blow.

Philosophy is rooted in a far longer line of tradition, reaching back to the Presocratics. As such, it demands of its disciples a lifetime “in the woodshed” where they attempt to master its arguments, developments, and applications. The exemplary professor of philosophy (or of any other discipline) immerses himself in that history and finds inspiration from its virtuosi. Perennial philosophical themes of the good, the true, and the beautiful as engaged by philosophical giants become living residents in the soul, not static pieces of information. Teaching these classic ideas year after year is never boring if one engages them as philosophical “standards” (to use the jazz idiom)—treasures to which one repeatedly returns afresh. A philosophy professor who knows and savors the tradition becomes a philosophical contagion, infecting her students with a like passion.

Although I have taught Kant’s epistemology for many years, I return to the woodshed every time I teach it in order to reacquaint myself with this demanding work and to envision novel ways in which to make it clear to students encountering these jaw-dropping ideas for the first time—as well as to expose Kant’s philosophical clams (a jazz term for musical missteps). The woodshed can yield surprises. Just as a jazz musician may deepen his playing unexpectedly after years of performing—as John Coltrane dramatically did from around 1962 to 1965—a philosopher may return to a classic argument and discover something entirely new. After being skeptical of the ontological argument for God’s existence for years, I recently came under its metaphysical spell—while teaching introduction to philosophy, no less—and now enthusiastically present it to my sometimes baffled students.

Second, jazz is, at its best, highly creative in composition and in performance. Although jazz virtuosi are steeped in tradition, they must find their own voice in order to perpetuate that tradition in new forms—that is, to refract jazz through the prisms of their own unique personalities. Finding that voice requires moving from imitation to creation. Basic techniques must become second nature—the fingering of a saxophone, the strokes on the drums—but the artistic voice moves beyond technique and imitation. Jazz musicians must invent their own chops—a term invented by Louis Armstrong that refers to the musician’s distinctive performing abilities. Drummer Art Blakey mastered a chop so distinctive it became eponymous. According to the Impulse Records web page, “Blakey developed a press roll so exquisitely forceful and so unmistakably his that drum manuals give it a formal name, the Blakey Press Roll.”

Philosophy professors, as well, need creativity rooted in routine if they are going to stimulate their students to pursue the truth through reason over a lifetime. Just as jazz musicians need to learn their scales in order to use them as building blocks for their own style, so philosophers and their students require a common vocabulary with which to speak. This tradition is not a museum to visit—a place to polish and read plaques placed in front of the portraits of Heraclitus, Sankara, Locke, Kierkegaard, et al.—but a deep well from which to draw ideas for the ongoing dialectic, which is a kind of intellectual call-and-response performance. By so doing, both professor and students begin to find their intellectual voices. Some philosophical moves are so distinctive they become eponymous, such as Frankfurt counterexamples or Pascal’s wager or Searle’s Chinese room. Neither I nor my students may ever have philosophical chops named after us; nonetheless, a serious engagement in philosophy invokes the virtues of careful creativity.

Third, jazz is, according to the master jazz writer Whitney Balliett, “the sound of surprise.” A well-played piece of jazz music—even the most well-known standard—summons new ideas from jazz performers. The well-known need not be the well-worn, since the musical form, tied to the discipline of the musicians, can always yield something fresh and inspiring. This flows from the inherently improvisational nature of jazz, which involves the creativity of both the individual soloist and the ensemble as a unit. The difference between the two types of improvisation is vanishingly small if not artificial in a tight jazz group, since each musician is so highly attuned to the playing of the other musicians. A jazz musician who listens to and responds appropriately to fellow musicians is said to have big ears. The members of the classic Coltrane Quartet performed nearly telepathically in their ability to anticipate, complement, and inspire each other musically.

The individual and group improvisation of jazz makes it a kind of aesthetic high wire act. True jazz is never canned. Jazz performers compose in public. Ted Gioia calls jazz improvisation “the imperfect art.” Things can go wrong at these altitudes. Yet the possibilities are enticing and elevating. A book by Eric Nisenson dedicated to the improvisational artistry of saxophonist Sonny Rollins is appropriately entitled Open Sky. Even jazz musicians less known for their improvisational prowess may stun audiences and even themselves in moments of spontaneity, as did tenor saxophonist Paul Gonsalvas when he soloed for twenty-seven choruses during "Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue” with the Duke Ellington Orchestra at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1956.

Philosophy in the classroom should allow for and encourage the kind of intellectual serendipity celebrated by jazz. The professor (immersed in the tradition) along with the students (more recently initiated into the tradition) work to comprehend the great ideas in a structured but also free collaboration. With enough woodshed time, the toughest concepts and arguments can be performed winningly through lecture, discussion, and testing. The class readings become the musical score, the professor is the band leader, and the students learn to play the score and improvise on it. The professor needs big ears to read the students’ responses and to inspire them to jam hard on the chord changes (I mean concepts). The whole (students and professor) is greater than the sum of the parts, just as in jazz.

When the chemistry is right, I generate new ideas and experiment before the cats (I mean students). Thinking aloud in public is a performance. Students do it as well. They sometimes surprise me with their chops and I try—in the spirit of jazz—to let them take ideas in new directions. Of course, clams are also produced. But recently a student in my introduction to philosophy class raised an earnest question about the relationship between faith and reason that triggered an unplanned and very fruitful discussion. This kind of improvisation can be exhilarating; it can also fall flat. But in the realm of studied risk lies the promise of new flights into the open sky of rational argument. The idea of jazz pedagogy came to me in the midst of a lecture, and I have been in the woodshed with it ever since.

There are many more chops to develop and traditions to appropriate in drawing out the connections between the artistry of jazz and the artistry of professorial pedagogy. But if we attend to the jazz sensibilities of mastering and extending a tradition through a strong work ethic, if we labor to find our own philosophical and pedagogical voices, and if we savor “the sound of surprise,” we will be well on our way to swinging in the classroom.

Douglas Groothuis is Professor of Philosophy at Denver Seminary and an adjunct professor at several state and community colleges.

Friday, November 02, 2007

"Majoring in Submission" Exchange

Rebecca Merrill Groothuis has a long response to the comments of Steve Cowan under the post (below) "Majoring in Submission." She defends in more detail her claim that the traditionalist account of gender roles is logically incoherent. Please read it.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

No More New Films

I am quitting seeing new films. Not that I see many. The last one was about two years ago. Recently I viewed a film with a redeeming message called "Bella." It was well acted and touching in many ways; but one violent scene--with almost no blood and guts-is still haunting me. (I don't want give away the movie, so no details.)

Opting out of most of hyperactive, hyperbolic American culture has sensitized me to this kind of thing. It is too much. Yes, this scene was probably mild compared to most of the violence out there in films. And it was not gratuitous in that the event depicted was central to the movie. But it could have been done less emotionally, less devastatingly The pychic aftereffects of this scene are too great for me. No more.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Watch the Hyperactive Watch

Looking over some watches in Sears today, I noticed several that blinked and flashed (for no apparent functional reason). I said to the salesperson, "I'm already overstimulated by American culture. I don't need any more." This comment was probably lost on her, but maybe not on you, faithful reader.

Everything must move, must dance, must dazzle, must post-sane American culture. We twitch on command. It must be loud, large, and fast (as my wife just said on our walk).

I bought a watch with no day and month reading--too complicated for me to set--and no light show. It is not digital; too much is already digital. It is not garish. How about quiet, small, and slow--not loud, large, and fast?

Majoring in Submission

World on Line features a short article about a Southern Baptist college that offers an emphasis in homemaking. In it, you will find comments from author and editor, Rebecca Merrill Groothuis. They unfortunately included more quotes from Dorothy Patterson than by Rebecca.

In the comments Rebecca submitted to World, her final comment followed a succinct argument (which World declined to print). It went like this:

The Genesis creation account never says the woman was created to serve and obey the man. When God formed the woman out of the man, the man did not see her as his subordinate. No, the man identified the woman as one who was like him—in contrast to the animals, over which woman and man had joint authority. Yes, the woman is a help (Hebrew: ezer) to the man, but God is also an ezer to humans; yet God is not subordinate to humans!

The idea that God created the woman to serve the man and the man to have decision-making authority over the woman logically entails that women are not equal but are necessarily and intrinsically inferior to men (see Discovering Biblical Equality, chapter 18).

“Equal but different” makes a good slogan, but it doesn’t make good sense.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Debate: Christianity and Atheism

Dinesh D'Souza (author of What's So Great About Christianity) and Christopher Hitchens (author of God is Not Great) recently debated at King's College. I will not give a point by point commentary, but limit myself to three comments, the first of which is the most important.

1. At 1.26 D'Souza completely sells the farm epistemologically and apologetically--despite the many fine points he made throughout the debate. He claims that his religious belief is not knowledge. He does not know it to be true; he only believes it. In so doing, he seems to restrict knowledge to what is empirically verifiable. But there is no reason to do. We know many things apart from empirical evidence (such as basic moral claims). Moreover, we can infer the existence the supernatural from the natural (the project of natural theology; see In Defense of Natural Theology, which I co-edited and to which I contributed a chapter.) D'Souza goes on to say that while he leaps toward God, Hitchens leaps toward atheism. I groaned loudly to myself when I heard it (although my wife probably heard me). Many in the crowd applauded.

This is tragic. We must enter the public square making knowledge claims, not mere faith claims that are allowable, just as allowable as theism or some other worldview. We need to try to out argue the opposition by marshalling the strongest possible arguments for Christianity and against atheism. In fact, D'Souza gave some strong arguments not adequately rebutted by Hitchens by the time he sold the farm. There was no need to do so; and in so doing, he sets a terrible example for Christian persuasion in the public realm (despite the virtues he exhibited in the debate).

2. The form of the debate was poor. Neither speaker has enough time for opening comments or for rebuttal. The supposed "cross examination" devolved into haranguing at time, with the moderator (Marvin O'laski) failing to intervene to keep order. Serious debates should have strict rules.

3. Both speakers issued cheap shots by insulting the other speaker in ways not required by their arguments. This may get applause, but makes no logical point.

Apparently, D'Souza has come to a more mature Christian conviction recently. He is not known as a philosopher, but as a social critic and political writer. I never detected an overt Christian worldview in the several books I've read by him over the years. At that crucial time of 1:26 this weakness showed. I have not yet finished his book, however. Perhaps I'll say more then.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Crazed about God: Frank Talk about Frank (not Francis A.) Schaeffer

Frank Schaeffer (formerly Franky Schaeffer before the fall) has written a memoir savaging everything about his parents, Francis and Edith, and about evangelicalism in general. About fifteen years ago, the younger Schaeffer left Protestantism for Eastern Orthodoxy and began to write tasteless, loosely autobiographical novels satirizing and lampooning his family. That was bad enough. Now he has blessed us with a gossipy expose on his life and associations with famous evangelicals called Crazy for God. I'll spare you the precious subtitle.

No, I have not yet read it. I don't know if I will. (I read the "sneeringly cynical"--to quote my wife--review of it in secular/leftist magazine, The Nation, which took to the book as judging the elder Schaeffers as hypocrites and all of religion as ingenuine and dangerous.) The writings and life of Francis Schaeffer have deeply shaped and inspired me, as regular readers know. Years ago, I read two of Franky's earlier books (Addicted to Mediocrity and Bad News for Modern Man), which, despite some merits, struck me as shrill and not as compassionate or insightful as his father's work.

Whatever the failing of Frank Schaeffer's family, there is a simple moral lesson here: "Honor your mother and father." As an Orthodox adherent, Schaeffer is not exempt from the Decalogue. Honor does not mean self-deception concerning the sins of one's parents, but it does not include distributing gossip. Yet junior Schaeffer endlessly exacts revenge on the purported failings of his parents, thus bringing misery on his siblings and others as well as delight to those who desire to sneer and hiss at the benighted Christians. He thus partakes of the rotten zeitgeist that drags everything supposedly exalted through the mud of resentment, anger, and rage. Call it debunk-ology, a putrid practice that is purely negative, self-serving, and (at least in this case) narcissistic.

I may have talked myself out of reading this book. It would just encourage him, although I am tempted to review it somewhere. Then again, as Walter Martin once wisely told me, "You can fight a skunk and win---but who wants to?"

Monday, October 22, 2007

Missing Persons: Thoughts on Impersonal Education

Personality is the fundamental fact of existence. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God" (John 1:1-2). God is a personal being; in fact, God is tri-personal without being three gods. This God breathed on the earth and created human beings in God's image and likeness, built for relationships with the Creator and the creation. Of course, the fall marred all of this by introducing a futile attempt to escape from God, resulting in the alienation from self, others, and nature. Nevertheless, "the Word became flesh and lived among us, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14), that human persons might be restored by the divine personhood of God, that the healing of relationships would break out everywhere, and truth be restored to the earth.

This theological prologue should inform and inspire our educational endeavors: our learning, teaching, studying, and writing. Education is meant to bring restoration of persons by persons, whereby knowledge is communicated in life-shaping ways. I love knowledge and I love students, and I want to bring the two together.Now consider the manifold degradations of persons in American education. I will only list several with minimal comment.

1. Grades replace careful comments about a student’s strengths, weaknesses, and potential for growth.
2. Class sizes often make it impossible to learn student’s names, to know them in any meaningful sense. But such knowing makes teaching and learning deeper, better.
3. Many courses exclude personal presence entirely--on line education. One may hear a lecture recorded or perhaps see a video, but there is no person-to-person ambiance. It is privatized, segmented from any sense of community.
4. Students typically travel to and from classes, often involving the traversing of great distances; they have little time to linger and discuss matters after class. They are too busy being in transit to be anywhere for long.
5. Our Western sense of time is so chronologically oriented that event time (or kairos) is eclipsed. Classes last a precise time; after that, it is "time to go." Students fidget. But perhaps it is time to remain, to linger, to sit in silence. But no, the clock says... And we obey.
6. Multiple choice and true/false tests fail to test persons for knowledge. One can guess correct answers. Students can be good "test-takers" (an impersonal method) and not good learners. This is also vanity and a grasping of the wind. This mode of reduction also inhibits writing skills. Writing is a distinct avenue for personal expression—for eloquence, for articulation in one's own voice. Standardized tests mute it.

One could go on, but what is the answer? I honestly do not know, so I lament and make the best of my opportunities--and dream a bit.

1. I attempt to find a few students to invest in more heavily, even if I cannot reach them all in a profound way.
2. I never assign reductionist tests, but only essays. I often allow students to rewrite them (if the class size is not too great). Few do so, but some improve considerably.
3. I pray for my students.
4. Thus far, I have avoided having to create any on-line classes. I wrote against this in The Soul in Cyberspace. I'm happy that my apologetics lectures are on line, but that is not the same as taking the course.But what is the ideal? Perhaps something like this:

1. Students and teachers live not too far from each other or perhaps even on the same compound. They spend protracted time together in many different situations, as Jesus did with the disciples.
2. Class sizes are fairly small, such that students get to know each other and the teacher is allowed into the lives of the students and vice versa.
3. Class timing is more elastic, more kairos oriented and less chronos dominated.Few institutions allow for such oddities. Most that approximate these ideas are probably not "accredited" by an official agency. This would include the L'Abris worldwide and ministries that are similar.

So, I lament...and wonder and dream for something different, something more in the shape of the Kingdom of God. Do you share this dream--as a teacher, as a student? Have you seen it lived out?

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Untouchable Children in India

[I received this from The Dalit Freedom Network. No, I seldom recommend TV programs, but this may help get the word out about the Dalits and their desperate needs.]

Advocate. It's a word we use a lot around the Dalit Freedom Network offices. It means speaking up on behalf of 250 million Dalits in India who struggle under 3,000 years of caste oppression. Sunday, October 21 at 8:30 p.m. EST, Nick News will help us spread the word.

The Emmy Award-winning kids’ news cast on the Nickelodeon TV network will air “The Untouchable Kids of India,” which focuses on the personal stories of five Indian teens. The segment will emphasize the efforts of Indian children to jump-start change in the caste system. The broadcast also includes a discussion with DFN partner Kumar Swamy.

Tune in to meet extraordinary Indian kids like Jayesh—a Dalit—and his good friend Asish—a member of the upper-caste. They’ll tell the story of their unexpected friendship and send an important message to American kids their age: the heart of transforming communities lies within kids.

Please forward this e-mail to a friend to help get the word out and remember to watch Nick News on Sunday at 8:30 p.m. EST.

Matt Mancinelli
Director of External Relations
The Dalit Freedom Network

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Comfort After the Loss of a Loved One

Arthur Pink, the noted biblical expositor, wrote a short meditation on Psalm 116:15: "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints." This comforted us much after the loss of my mother-in-law about a year ago. Pink's essay is on line and gives insight to those mourning for one who has departed the body to be with the Lord.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

"Romney's Strange View of Faith," from The Rocky Mountain News

October 16, 2007

By Paul Campos

The sociologist Peter Berger once observed that, if India is the world's most religious country and Sweden the least, the United States is a country of Indians ruled by Swedes.
He made this comment at a time when there was something of a consensus among our elites that religion was a basically private matter - one which ought to play little or no role in public policy debates.

That consensus has broken down, to the point where it's routine for presidential candidates to parade their supposed piety, and even to claim it's important that the nation be led by, as Mitt Romney recently put it, "a person of faith."

This view regarding the role of religion in American politics has given birth to its own set of rather bizarre orthodoxies. On this view, it's crucial that our political leaders be sincere religious believers. But apparently it's of no importance what religious beliefs they actually hold, as long as they have "faith."

When you think about it - which is something people like Romney don't want you to do, for reasons that will become clear - this makes no sense.

What would one think of someone who said that it was important for our leaders to be "persons of politics," while remaining indifferent to just what sort of political beliefs they held? Imagine taking the view that it made no difference whether one was a Maoist or a royalist or a Republican, as long as one's political beliefs were sincere.

Or consider a scientist who claims that, while he personally believes that global warming is going to destroy civilization, his opinion has no more value than that of a scientist who denies that global warming represents any sort of serious problem. The important thing, he says, isn't the truth or falsehood of their respective views, but rather that he and the holder of the diametrically opposed opinion are both "persons of science."

In the context of political or scientific belief such assertions would obviously be absurd on their face, but when it comes to religion, people say things like this every day. Just look at what happened to Ann Coulter when she was impolitic enough to point out that, as a Christian, she thinks Christianity is true, and therefore by logical necessity truer than, among many other belief systems, Judaism.

Coulter has a long history of making comments that are as idiotic as they are inflammatory, but in this case much of the criticism aimed at her illustrates the weird etiquette that dominates our public discussion of religion. For example, American Jewish Congress president Richard Sideman claimed "Coulter's assertion that Jews are somehow religiously imperfect smacks of the most odious anti-Jewish sentiment."

In other words, religious belief is apparently a unique kind of belief, which requires believing that one's views regarding the most important questions in the world - compared to which all political and scientific disputes are insignificant - are no better or worse than anyone else's views regarding these questions of supposedly infinite importance.

Which brings me back to Mitt Romney, Person of Faith. Romney is a Mormon, which means that, to the extent he adheres to the tenets of his religion, he believes in various doctrines which, in the eyes of orthodox Christians, are abominable heresies.

Now according to Romney this should be a matter of indifference, because, after all, what counts is whether or not one has "faith." In this way a disagreement about, for example, the divinity of Christ - something which innumerable people have been burnt at the stake for denying - is transformed into a trivial detail, of no real importance.

With "faith" like this, who needs atheism?

Paul Campos is a professor of law at the University of Colorado. He can be reached at .

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Integrity, Technology, and God

[The following essay was published in Denver Seminary Magazine (Fall, 2007).]

Keeping Integrity in a Compromised World:
Resisting Two Technological Temptations
By Douglas Groothuis

The renowned preacher Phillip Brooks astutely wrote that “preaching is truth through personality.” More than that, Christian ministry as a whole should be the demonstration of truth through personality. As followers of the Truth Incarnate (John 14:6), we should radiate God’s truth through a godly personality, one full of Christian virtues, such as faith, hope, and love. We should “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). We should live out Christian integrity, a personal wholeness of holy purpose, and refuse to use devious or improper methods (2 Corinthians 1:12). But keeping our integrity in a compromised world brings its challenges.

We cannot fill ourselves full of virtue any more than we can justify ourselves before a holy God. This is the work of God in Christ alone, as applied through the Holy Spirit first through the once-for-all justification received by faith alone (Romans 5:9; Ephesians 2:8) and then through the moment by moment dependency on God’s ongoing work for our sanctification unto greater Christ-likeness.[1] Jesus taught that we must abide in him and receive strength through the Holy Spirit in order to bear fruit for Kingdom activities (Acts 1:8; John 14-16). This requires knowledge of what God desires of his bride, the kind of fruit we should produce, and the discernment and courage to face down spiritual counterfeits and embrace only biblical beliefs and methods for ministry. Without this, integrity will elude us.

The contemporary scene offers a host of counterfeits in the ways of ministry and Christian living in general. I will focus on only ways areas in which pastors and other Christian workers may be seduced by the spirit of the age instead of relying on the Spirit of God: relying on Bible factoids instead of possessing a deep knowledge of Scripture, and sermon stealing.

Temptation #1: Computer technologies make access to the Bible fast and simple. We can search for Bible texts, import them into sermon outlines, and generally find what we need through quick searches online or through Bible software. While I am happy to use these technologies, they have a down side that may compromise our integrity as Bible-believing Christians.[2] This is illustrated by a student who took a doctrinal oral examination at a theological seminary. When pressed, he could not tell his professors where important events were found in the Bible, although he had memorized quite a few isolated Scriptures. He lacked a sense of the Bible as an unfolding story in book form. The Bible had become a storehouse of accessible facts. When asked him how he had studied for the examination, he said he had used a computer program to produce texts on various doctrinal themes, such as the character of God, salvation, and others. We advised him to abandon his computer generated lists and to read the Bible as a book, to chart its plot line.[3] We assured him this would give him a more well-integrated sense of the Scriptures. He later passed the examination in good form. This young man was a solid student who earnestly pursued Christian ministry. Nevertheless, he had been deprived of theological integrity through the misuse of technology.

Some also claim they do not need to memorize where key Scriptures are located—the book, chapter, and verse—since a laptop can find this in a flash. But knowing where a text can be found is an integral part of being biblically literate, of having God’s truth at our command. One should have this indispensable knowledge of Holy Scripture in one’s soul, not simply on one’s laptop. Biblical knowledge—what the Bible says, what it means, and where it says it—should become well integrated into our personalities, so that God’s truth may be brought to bear from the inside out in every situation.

Computers and the Internet have made the Bible more available to millions, both at the popular and scholarly level. I appreciate being able to click to the online version of the TNIV to find and download texts to use in my writing and teaching. (I used it to copy passages into this article.) However, we lose our theological integrity when we approach the Bible as a storehouse for isolated facts, instead of a rich collection of various types of literature, spread out over centuries and written by different authors in different situations—all inspired by the same Author (2 Timothy 3:15-16; 2 Peter 1:20-21). An integral knowledge of the Bible requires long-term study and reflection on the books of the Bible in their historical and literary context. This is exactly what Denver Seminary teaches its students to do.

Even though I can access any biblical text electronically, I meditate and memorize Scripture in its context, and challenge my students to do this as well. The living and active word of God (Hebrews 4:12; Isaiah 55:8-9) should be present in our thoughts as we teach, preach, write, and converse with others. We should be walking Bibles—even when we are unplugged. As King David affirmed, “Your word I have hid in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11).

Temptation #2: Although I lament it, some preachers are sinning against God in their methods of sermon preparation. From what I can gather, this may be fairly widespread. This, too, is encouraged by an irresponsible use of computer technologies; and it robs preachers of their integrity before God and their congregations. A recent article in The Wall Street Journal noted that various web pages are offering word-for-word transcripts of sermons by well-known preachers to those who desire to produce successful sermons. Instead of putting in the study time, prayerfully laboring to forge a godly message through the prism of one’s own character, some claim it’s better to acquire material from sermons that are “road tested.” One pastor said, “If you got something that’s a good product, why go out and beat your head against the wall and try to come up with it yourself?”[4]

There is nothing wrong with learning from others and incorporating their insights into one’s sermons. The Internet provides some solid resources for this, if one knows where to look. Some in the two-thirds world—who have very limited access to study tools that those in the United States take for granted—are helped by getting basic sermon outlines online. Nevertheless, we are commanded by God not to steal (Exodus 20:15). Lifting other people's sermons word-for-word without crediting the source is intellectual theft. It also commits the deadly sin of sloth (or acedia), since the one who takes other people’s sermons is not bothering to study out the material for him or herself.[5] By so doing, pastors lose their integrity and their divine authorization.

Denver Seminary has a long and rich tradition of educating its future pastors to craft sermons that are deeply rooted in a proper understanding of Scripture. We have helped shape strong biblical preachers for over fifty years. This process requires the long, hard, and rewarding study of the text, as well as developing faithful and creative applications of biblical truth that fit the congregation to which one is ministering. If preaching is “truth through personality,” the acquisition of truth from the Bible should be taken with the utmost seriousness, since Scripture calls us to integrity and excellence and warns us against shoddy teaching in the name of God (James 3:1-2; Titus 2:7-8). As Paul exhorted his younger co-worker Timothy, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15; see also Acts 17:11).

Pastors need sufficient time for sermon preparation. Without this, the temptation to cut corners becomes greater. Many pastors feel intense pressure to perform every Sunday and to compete with better known preachers whose sermons are readily available on line. In light of this, congregations should honor their pastors by giving them sufficient time to immerse themselves in the Scriptures so that they might produce fruitful sermons. Moreover, congregations should pray to that end and not compare their pastor to media superstars. When the great British preacher Charles Spurgeon was asked the secret of his preaching, he humbly replied, “My people pray for me.” Truly, there can be no integrity in any aspect of ministry without prayer, since prayer lays hold of the promises of God for our good, the good of others, and for God’s glory (1 Thessalonians 5:17; 1 Corinthians 10:31).

A ministry of integrity delivers truth through godly personality. It refuses to be compromised by yielding to temptations, technological or otherwise. As the great missionary Hudson Taylor put it, “God’s work in God’s way will never lack God’s supply.”


[1] On this, see the modern classic by Francis Schaeffer, True Spirituality (Crossway Books, 2001).
[2] I address this in The Soul in Cyberspace (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1999); see also Quentin Schultz, Habits of the High Tech Heart (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2002).
[3] D.A. Carson masterfully develops the plot line of the Bible in The Gagging of God (Baker Books, 1996), 193-252.
[4] Suzanne Sataline, “That Sermon Your Heard on Sunday May Be from the Web,” Wall Street Journal, November 13, 2006.
[5] On the sin of acedia (the Latin term for sloth) and how to combat it, see William Backus, What Your Counselor Never Told You (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 2000), chapter six. This book is a wise treatment of the seven deadly sins.