Wednesday, January 31, 2007


"Are there any worldviews that don't contradict themselves?" This astute question came from a young student in my Ethic class at a local college. We have been discussing the meaning of life, worldviews, and ethics through the readings in Vice and Virtue in Everyday Life, 7th edition, edited by Sommers and Sommers.

I have filled in the worldview dimension of things through my lectures and outlines. We are asking which worldview can give an adequate support for moral values. We have assessed Eastern religious views and atheism (Bertrand Russell, Camus, Sartre).

I answered, "I think so, but you need to think it through for yourself. The rest of this class will be a way to do that."

A philosophy professor can live on a good question like that for quite some time. Ah, the serendipity of the enchanted classroom!

New book by Phillip Jenkins

[This review was just published in DenverJournal.]

Philip Jenkins, The New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. 252 pages with index.

Philip Jenkins, Distinguished Professor of History and Religious Studies at Pennsylvania State University, is a prolific author and a clear, engaging writer who has addressed a host of different topics in his many books. Recently, however, he has captured the attention of many evangelicals because of two of his recent works. In 2001 he published Hidden Gospels, a blistering attack on revisionist interpretations of Jesus. He convincingly argues that headline-making scholars of the Jesus Seminar sort traded far more heavily on novelty and sensationalism than on critical and judicious scholarship. In 2002 he made even more waves with the publication of The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity, which brought acclaim from many sources, evangelical and otherwise. The thesis of that book—that Christianity is exploding in unprecedented and often heterodox ways outside of Europe and North America (that is, in “the global south”)—is further elaborated in this fascinating and important book on how these new expressions of Christianity are appropriating the Bible for themselves, often apart from Western influences. Jenkins is a Roman Catholic whose own theological perspective is fairly muted throughout the book. He writes more as a chronicler than as a theologian or philosopher, although his own take on the global south’s engagement with Scripture does come to surface in several places, as I will note below.

Jenkins begins by noting that African Anglicans are far more conservative than the bulk of their American counterparts. While American Anglicans (Episcopalians) may tolerate or endorse homosexual behavior, abortion, and other liberal shibboleths, African Anglicans take the Bible in a more straightforward way. Bishop Benjamin Nzimbi of Kenya says, “Our understanding of the Bible is far different from them. We are two different churches.” Generally speaking, those in the global south—African or otherwise—approach the Bible without the secular influences that have pressed down on Western forms of Christianity. These Christians are thus far more open to the supernatural reports of Scripture—given the spiritual worldview of their native cultures--and take the Bible to have a supernatural power of its own not often considered by Western Christians, even of a more conservative bent.

After considering the more conservative theological approach of Christian movements in the global south in the chapter, “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?” Jenkins presents chapters on the basic view of those in the global south on the efficacy of Scripture, the understanding of the Old Testament in light of the New, the understanding of poverty and wealth, the engagement of good and evil, their theology of persecution and vindication, the struggle between good and evil, and the relationship of women and men. He concludes with reflections on the global south’s understanding of Scripture can challenge American Christians.

Each chapter is richly illustrated with stories and ideas from Christians in Africa, South America, Korea, and elsewhere. Jenkins realizes that he must simplify and generalize considerably to speak of the global south’s take on the Bible, since these many Christians do not all speak with one voice. However, he does discern common themes and finds areas in which Western Christians can learn from these other believers. Jenkins is not romantic in his exposition, however. While his editorial voice is generally soft, he does highlight areas of concern for those in the West. For example, a pressing ethical question for Christians in much of Africa is polygamy. Besides the occasional headline in the United States about Mormon-influenced polygamists, this seldom gets our attention, and practically stimulates a protracted debate. When I participated in an apologetics question-answer session with a small group at Denver Seminary in 2004, the first question was asked by a student from Ghana. What should be done with a man who converts to Christianity who already has several wives? In my many years of teaching ethics, I had never spoken on that topic and had never been asked about it. The answer I gave, however, was far different from that given by many native Africans who read the stories of the polygamous patriarchs and find justification for polygamy as an ongoing institution. (Jesus speaks against this in Matthew 19:4-6 where he recognizes the monogamy as the original and blessed order of creation.)

While Jenkins seems skeptical of the realities of the demonic and the need for direct spiritual engagement with these realities, many in the global south see the situation very differently. In this sense, they are far closer to a biblical worldview than most American Christians who somehow read over or relativize the many biblical passages that speak to the realities of the struggle between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of darkness and which declare the cosmic victory of Jesus Christ (see Acts 13:1-12; Ephesians 6:10-18; Colossians 2:13-15, and so on). As Jenkins writes, “…precious little is left of the New Testament after we purge all mention of angels, demons, and spirits. Shorn of healing and miraculous cures, the four gospels would be a slim pamphlet indeed” (99). Jenkins reports that one Western Christian leader was surprised to find that upon his arrival in Africa he was expected to cast out demons, something with which he had no familiarity. While Jenkins’ handling of this material on the engagement of the supernatural is uneven (he does not fathom very clearly the dynamics of the occult world), a reader more deeply rooted in the inspiration, authority, and inerrancy of Scripture should come away with a more profound respect for the workings of the spiritual world.

This important book deserves much more discussion, since Jenkins covers so much ground so provocatively. Jenkins is not, however, without his faults. For example, he makes several summary statements about Islam in relation to Christianity that reveal both his lack of awareness of Islam’s utter incompatibility with Christianity and Islam’s intrinsically militant nature. (For a better informed and insider perspective in Christianity and Islam see Mark Gabriel, Islam and Terrorism [Lake Mary, FL: Frontline, 2005].) Nevertheless, the book provides a needful cartography of the new, sprawling, global, Christian landscape. Given the expansion of Christian faith in the global south and its waning influence in the West, the global south’s perspective on Scripture should be of central concern to Christians who take the Bible seriously as the epistemological foundation for their faith. What can these sisters and brothers teach us? How might we help correct and instruct them? Where has their interpretation of Scripture fallen prey to syncretism? Where has ours fallen prey to secularism and its anti-supernatural prejudices?

Jenkins does not straightforwardly consider the objective authority and meaning of Scripture, although he mercifully does not adopt a postmodernist approach that dissolves every text into endless social contingencies. It is not clear whether he thinks that the Bible has a determinate meaning that is ascertainable through proper study (exegesis). However, if this is not the case, the danger is that Scripture becomes a wax nose that can be twisted into many different shapes. Scripture itself warns against this (Jeremiah 8:8; Matthew 15:1-4; 2 Peter 3:16). Therefore, in learning how nonwestern Christians approach the Bible, Western Christians should consider whether their interpretations and appropriations truly fit the objective meaning of the text. (On the philosophy of hermeneutics, see William Klein, Craig Blomberg, and Robert Hubbard, Introduction to Biblical Interpretation: Revised and Expanded. [Nashville: Nelson Reference, 2004].) This engagement should be neither a call to unthinking conservatism (“We’ve got all the truth already, thank you.”) nor to unanchored liberalism (“It’s all up for grabs, since orthodoxy is what you make it.”). Rather, as a Puritan of old put it, “There may yet be more truth to break forth from God’s word.” Notice the emphasis on “truth” in that statement. The inspired truth has always been there; however, it may have gone unrecognized because of our cultural blinders. However, we will also find errors, ignorance, and turpitude in the global south, since they, too, “see only a reflection as in a mirror” (1 Corinthians 13:12). But By considering how those in the global south are reading, believing, and applying the Bible, we may be able to find more truth in Scripture than we might have otherwise. (Consulting the new Africa Bible Commentary, Tokunboh Adeyemo ed. [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006], which is edited and written by Africans with a uniformly high view of the Bible, can assist us to this end as well.)
Douglas Groothuis Ph.D.
Professor of Philosophy
Denver SeminaryDecember 2006

New Book about Francis Schaeffer's Apologetics

[This was just published in DenverJournal, the on-line book review journal of Denver Seminary.]

Bryan A. Follis, Truth With Love: The Apologetics of Francis Schaeffer. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2005. $15.99 paperback. 206 pages, no index.

As one who awoke to the intellectual richness and cultural depth of the Christian worldview in the mid-1970s through the writings of evangelist-apologist-activist Francis Schaeffer (1912-1984), I often worry that the next generation will fail to heed the challenge and receive the inspiration Schaeffer gave us through both his writings and his life of discipleship. Truth With Love is thus heartening because it winsomely explains both the rational and the relational apologetic of Francis Schaeffer to those who may not have otherwise heard the good news.

This book is a revised doctoral dissertation, but one that succeeds in being both intellectually meaty and existentially appealing to those outside the strictly academic crowd. There are plenty of quotations and footnotes, as well as personal interviews with those who knew Schaeffer well. While such a well-documented book needs an index of names and subjects as well as a bibliography, unfortunately, it has neither.

The promotional sheet put out by the publisher claims that the book can help ingratiate Schaeffer to “the emergent conversation” (or the emerging church movement). While the book itself does not take this particular angle (except to say that Schaeffer’s approach is appropriate for reaching postmodern unbelievers), Schaeffer should appeal to those in the emergent movement who are weary of religious cliches, formulas, legalism, and dead orthodoxy, since Schaeffer left those things behind when he abandoned the Fundamentalist movement in the early 1950s. Schaeffer’s approach will also offer them a theological and philosophical depth not always encountered in “the emergent conversation.”

Follis begins with a chapter called “Schaeffer in Context,” which traces briefly Schaeffer’s historical and theological background. Schaeffer came of age during the Fundamentalist/Modernist split and was a Fundamentalist Presbyterian minister until the early 1950s when he and his wife Edith formed the L’Abri (which means “shelter”) community in the Swiss Alps as a safe place for those seeking “honest answers to honest questions,” as Schaeffer put it.

Schaeffer was always a man of the Reformation. His break with the legalism and lack of love in Fundamentalism never severed him from his Calvinistic commitments, although he was never a doctrinaire or pugilistic kind of Calvinist (as many are today). Thus, Follis begins with a chapter called “Calvin and the Reformed Tradition,” which explores Calvin’s doctrines—particularly the image of God, the noetic effects of sin, and general revelation—as they relate to apologetics. Follis notes that those in the Reformed tradition interpreted Calvin in various ways, due possibly to some imprecision or ambiguity in Calvin’s writings on the subject. The Old Princeton school of A.A. Hodge, Charles Hodge, B.B. Warfield, and J. Gresham Machen found in Calvin incentive to develop a strong apologetic based on the deliverances of reason—reason that was accessible even to the nonChristian mind. This apologetic approach involved argumentation from natural theology and the giving of Christian evidences for the reliability of Scripture. On the other hand, Abraham Kuyper, the great Dutch theologian, journalist, and politician, took a presuppositional approach that granted no substantial common ground between the believer and the unbeliever. This method greatly influenced Cornelius Van Til (one of Schaeffer’s professors), who developed it through a long career at Westminster Theological Seminary and is known for his “presuppositionalism.”

With this foundation laid, the next three chapters assiduously analyze and defend Schaeffer’s apologetic method against various charges. Chapter two, “Arguments and Approach,” explains Schaeffer’s apologetic, which developed organically out of years of face-to-face evangelism with hundreds of questioning souls—mostly students and younger people—in the 1950s and 1960s. (His books came later and all grew out of his conversations, lecturing, and preaching.) The church was no longer communicating biblical truth to the younger generation because each employed different ideas of truth. The seismic cultural and intellectual upheavals of the twentieth century had brought formerly common sense notions of truth and its discovery into question. Schaeffer, ever the student of people in their concrete situations, realized that the battle for hearts and minds and cultures was being waged on a new level. Christians could no longer assume that unbelievers even understand the basic ideas of the Christian worldview. Therefore, Schaeffer traced the decline of the idea of objective truth as it affected philosophy, theology, and the arts, and sought to bring people to a realization of its implications for meaning, morality, and humanness.

Schaeffer argued that since we are made in God’s image and dwell in God’s world, we cannot totally suppress the objective truths of our unique humanity (“the mannishness of man,” as he put it). This includes our conscience and our desire for real love and significance. But insomuch as the unbeliever is consistent with his nonChristian worldview, he must deny one or more of these truths and put himself into a position of tension between the logic of his presuppositions and what he really takes the world to be like. Schaeffer aimed to highlight this by “taking the roof off” of the nonChristian worldview. This was preliminary to presenting the Christian message. Once one understands the inadequacies of one’s worldview, the Christian message will look far more credible, especially if it answers questions otherwise unanswerable. Schaeffer was particularly adept at this form of negative apologetics, but never practiced it in a combative or insensitive manner. In fact, he strictly warned against engaging in apologetics as a game. He always affirmed that Christianity must be lovingly presented as objectively true, rational, and meaningful to all of life. We need not put Christianity into a nonrational, mystical “upper story” untethered to facts and logic. No, Christianity explains all of life better than any rival viewpoint.

Follis’s next two chapters, “Rationality and Spirituality” and “Academic or Apologist?” take up matters of debate concerning Schaeffer’s apologetic method and whether or not it was consistently Reformed. Follis covers this contested terrain fairly well, although most of these debates are at least two decades old and of little interest to those not already interested in Schaeffer or in apologetic method. Nevertheless, Follis sizes up the key issue adroitly and defends Schaeffer’s apologetic approach, which he identifies as a nontechnical form of verificationism. That is, Christianity is presented as a hypothesis to be verified or refuted by various lines of evidence. In this, Schaeffer’s approach was similar to that of the brilliant apologist Edward John Carnell. But Schaeffer seldom quoted Carnell, and the similarity of method seems to be more coincidental than the result of studied emulation. Schaeffer was, therefore, neither a presuppositionalist nor an evidentialist, although he has been wrongly accused of being both. Although Schaeffer did build a cumulative case for the rationality and livability of the Christian worldview, he did not stress the specific historical evidences for the reliability of the Bible. While this dimension of historical verification has always been a vital part of apologetic endeavor, the need for a substantial apologetic from history has increased in light recent scholarly and popular interest in “the historical Jesus.” Follis would have done well to make this point, but he does not. Moreover, even the more philosophically developed verificationism of Carnell does not support natural theology per se. But in recent decades the various arguments for God’s existence—ontological, cosmological, design, moral, and religious experience—have been revived and formulated quite cogently. Any well-orbed contemporary apologetic should make good use of these cognitive resources.

Follis underscores the fact that Schaeffer was not an academic by training or vocation. He did not have endless leisure time to spend in the study in order to refine his theories. People were literally pounding on the doors wanting to talk about the meaning of life! Schaeffer painted with a broad brush, but seldom blurred the issues. He never claimed to be the last word on any subject, but always gave an important first word on how subjects should be addressed.

The last chapter, “Love as the Final Apologetic,” argues that Schaeffer’s apologetic was never a matter of abstract theorizing. Rather, it was born of person-to-person engagement in Schaeffer’s own home at L’Abri where he and Edith practiced radical hospitality. Schaeffer believed that “the final apologetic” was the love among Christians and of Christians of unbelievers. Decades before evangelicals began to write on “community,” Schaeffer advocated and lived out a radical dependence on God in community. The Schaeffers began L’Abri by simply opening their home to skeptics and inquirers. This became a full-time ministry as hundreds of people came to study, work, and eat with the Schaeffers and other Christian workers. There was a cost: family life was stretched, all the Schaeffer’s wedding gifts were trashed, and some of the pilgrims were less than pleasant to work with. Schaeffer’s later books and global influence stemmed from this lived-out reality. There was no grand plan for a series of books or an influential intellectual platform. There was, in fact, no methodology! Rather, the Schaeffers wanted to live in such as way as to demonstrate the reality of God. They did not solicit funds or advertise their ministry. Instead, they prayed, served, and sought God day by day.

Follis emphasizes that the principles they lived out are articulated in Schaeffer’s book, True Spirituality, which is crucial to Schaeffer’s entire apologetic. Schaeffer taught that one must live in total and constant dependence on the Holy Spirit for the entirety of the Christian life, including apologetic and evangelistic encounters. Prayer is as important as solid arguments. They must go hand in glove.

Follis wisely argues that Schaeffer’s wedding of rational argument with a loving personal presence is well suited to reach contemporary unbelievers influenced by postmodernism. In fact, in some ways, Schaeffer saw postmodernism coming without calling it by name. For example, in Escape from Reason, he critiqued Michel Foucault before most evangelicals had even heard of him. While many postmoderns seem uninterested in “consistency” (an important concept and word for Schaeffer), they are very concerned with “honesty.” So, one can use Schaeffer’s method of “taking the roof off” of nonChristian worldviews by appealing to honesty. For example, “Can you honestly value humans above animals on the basis of a materialistic philosophy? Are you being honest with your own beliefs about this?” Or: “Can you honestly affirm that love has genuine meaning if we are nothing but the result of time, chance, matter, natural law, and long periods of time? Can you honestly say that?”

Despite being timely, well-written, well-researched, and careful in its treatment of the topic of Schaeffer’s apologetic, Truth With Love has a few drawbacks. First, the book does not emphasis sufficiently the role of art and beauty in Schaeffer’s apologetics. Christianity, according to Schaeffer, must be commended through artistic beauty and the appreciation of the arts as much as it should be rationally defended through arguments. This element of beauty in the Christian life served as an integral aspect of Schaeffer’s overall apologetic. Follis makes some mention of this theme but, to my mind, does not do it proper justice. For example, despite copious references to the Schaeffer corpus, there is no reference to Schaeffer’s important and insightful booklet, Art and the Bible. Second, Follis mishandles a few matters of the philosophy of religion as well. He gives a caricatured description of foundationalism, not mentioning there are various versions of foundationalism. When Follis gives an excursus on Reformed epistemology (advanced principally by Alvin Plantinga) he does not sufficiently explain its relationship to Schaeffer’s method, which was not that of a Reformed epistemologist.

Despite these minor flaws, my hope is that Truth With Love will help initiate another generation of thinking Christians into the large and inspiring world of Francis Schaeffer.

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

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Conference for World Christians at Denver Seminary

Denver Seminary will be hosting a Conference for World Christians, featuring my good friend, Tony Weedor as the speaker. Tony has an M.Div. from Denver Seminary, with an emphasis in Philosophy of Religion. He is the Director of Centerpoint International, a ministry dedicated to rebuilding the moral, intellectual, and spiritual foundations of his native country, Liberia. I will be introducing Tony each day. Please attend for a richer understanding of the advancement of the Kingdom globally. Denver Seminary is located at 6399 S. Santa Fe Drive in Littleton, Colorado.

1/29 Conference for World Christians 11:00 am
Tony Weedor, speaker, "Overview of the Church Going Home"
Ministry Fair 12:00 noon - 1:00 pm

1/30 Conference for World Christians 11:00 am
Tony Weedor, speaker, "The Homeward Bound: Asia, Latin America, Africa"
Food from Around the World Lunch 12:00 noon - 1:00 pm

Friday, January 26, 2007

The First Ever: Curmudgeon Cruise

Book your spot now on the first ever annual Curmudgeon Cruise. Why bother with the chronic entertainment, endless overeating, celebrity speeches, predictably good weather, and perpetual sight-seeing offered by standard, boring cruises when you can have these lectures given in person with a scowl?

1. Eight principles on how to offend friends and enemies with the truth.
2. How to dissolve an audience in mirth without ever smiling.
3. Six principles for using the Bible to embarrass yourself and others.
4. How to insult others without them knowing it--right away.
5. Speed reading Kierkegaard (and other curmudgeons) for fun and profit.
6. Nine ways to denude celebrity Christians.
7. Seven ways to refer to obscure thinkers and jazz musicians in everyday language such that others are amazed, perplexed, and dismayed.
8. And much, much more!

This special, limited offer cruise offers absolutely no creature comforts, no self-congratulatory events of any kind, and will sail only in rainy, rough, windy weather--in order to toughen the soul for curmudgeonly enterprise.

Space is limited. Sign up today!

Kenny G (1.3): An Imprecatory Poem

Perm, pose,
and play

Kenny G.

Popular, programmed, spirit-less,

Mass delusion,
Mass confusion,
Mass contusion.

Aesthetic assault,
Aesthetic insult,
Aesthetic anesthetic.

Kenny G.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

A Small Demise: Shredding Thoughts

I threw out dozens and dozens--maybe hundreds--of thoughts today. They were inscribed on my student's papers from the last year and a half of classes (not counting last term, when I was on sabbatical). These were final papers from several semesters that students never bothered to pick up. I treat papers serious and mark them up copiously in many cases. Yet because these students did not give me self-addressed, stamped envelops nor came by my office to retrieve them, they hay unclaimed in a very large stack for a long time. Their time was up.

As I put bunches of about ten into the locked recycle bin slot, I was saddened that the students did not follow through enough to know what their professor said on their papers. Perhaps they kept the file of the paper on their computer. Who knows? They had their grade, but grades only tell a very small part of the story of learning. In fact, grades obscure the meaning of learning in many cases, reducing knowledge to a letter grade and a grade point average. Grades were not even used in education until a few hundred years ago, and I lament their invention, really. They mute concrete words about one's abilities, errors, and progress.

These papers, marked with thoughts, have the shredder as their destiny.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Homeless in Boulder in a Cold Winter

What is it like to be homeless in the affluent, sophisticated, and spiritually dark town of Boulder, Colorado? Having observed something of this today, I am musing on it.

After finding that my good friend, Pastor Doug White (a church planter) was preaching at "The Lamb's Lunch" at the First Presbyterian Church Annex in Boulder, I drove there at the last minute to see him in action and be supportive in prayer and in person. "The Lamb's Lunch" is a free meal offered to homeless people each Saturday afternoon.

About a hundred souls filled the room, drinking coffee and eating snacks before the full meal was served. Several folks were supplying everyone with name tags while a pretty, middle-aged blonde woman sang both John Denver and gospel songs, accompanying herself on guitar. "A tough crowd" does not quite capture it. It is a unique crowd, one that most of us don't rub shoulders with (or smell) very often. "The homeless" as a category of society, a social problem, is one thing. Being with the homeless, praying for them, or preaching to them is something else entirely--something of the Kingdom of God.

Men probably outnumbered women by about four to one. There were people in their twenties and much older ones as well. How many homeless people reach elderly status is unknown to me, but I'm sure their numbers are vanishingly small. They vanish before then. They were all bundled up and most did not take off their coats, scarves, and hats. Most of their lives are outside in the elements, and the outside has been extremely cold this season in the Denver and Boulder area. Having their warm clothes on is the norm, not the exception. If you get grouchy when it is unseasonably and perpetually cold, imagine (I mean really imagine it; think through it) what it would be like if you lived on the street: when staying warm--even staying alive--is a skill never formally taught, but necessary to learn.

Some were obviously drunk, as one African American who enthusiastically endorsed Doug White's preaching with "amens" and other slurred comments. Most looked haggard, that particular homeless look of the withered face, nearly vacant eyes, and unkempt hair. But not all looked thus. Some seemed alert: talking, laughing, walking about briskly. Each person is unique. As Kierkegaard said, the individual is a higher category than the universal (existentially conceived).

Pastor White spoke a few words through the microphone to rally attention, then abandoned it, relying on his unamplified voice and dynamic presentation, which had been soaked in prayer. He reviewed his previous two sermons here, asking if folks remembered. Some did--not a bad quiz score for this assembly. He then spoke on Jesus eating with and accepting tax collectors and sinners. Jesus is accessible; Jesus accepts the outcasts; Jesus wants to be in a living relationship with you. He came not to call the righteous, but sinners. Several in the audience added comments (some quoted Scriptures) and raised their hands when Doug asked for responses. No one heckled. The Pastor's message probably only lasted about ten minutes, but the truth of Jesus' grace was preached. I prayed for Doug and his congregation, before, during, and after the event, hoping the message could penetrate the souls of these creatures made in God's image, these pariahs in the sight of most "normal" people.

After the message, Pastor White greeted everyone in line for food, smiling (as he nearly always does, but genuinely) and saying encouraging things to people one-on-one. Doug and his wife Lesa (who also attended) know many of these folks through the Wednesday night meal they offer at New Day Covenant Church in Boulder. The singer I mentioned above was going to take the microphone and continue to sing, but "Reverend Friendly" (an older homeless fixture in Boulder) took it for himself and mumbled a few things about one universal God. Then an inebriated man took the microphone and said a few things that sounded like Bible passages. After this unplanned upsurge of homilectical improvisation, the microphone was returned to the singer as people got their food and found their seats. How often do they even have seats to sit on, let along beds to sleep on? The singer sang "Amazing Grace," which compensated for the previous John Denver songs. (If you read this, I wanted to thank you for serving and loving these people through singing, but I wasn't able to do so.)

I also saw a man roving about with a video recorder, pointing it in people's faces and asking them questions. I cannot give more detail than this. Perhaps this footage will become a video shown in a church about "the homeless" in Boulder. It would be better for people to be there. We are already so inured to video, so anaesthetized and lobotomized by it overall. Perhaps a homeless man in Boulder will appear on "YouTude." Then what?

Pastor White exhorts and ministers to this group once a month. He tells me that the ministry cannot find anyone else to do so the other three weeks of the month. Think about that. No pastor from the sponsoring church and no other pastor in Boulder is available to speak to the last, the least, and the lost--the very kind of people that Jesus so often talked with, healed, prayed with, and gave himself for. Boulder is rich in scenic beauty; real estate prices are through the ceiling; it sports a major university. But what is the measure of Boulder with respect to "the least of these, my brethren," as Jesus said?

Ministry at "The Lamb's Lunch" or to the homeless in other settings does not have "high returns" in a worldly sense. They are not model citizens. You would not want to go on vacation with them (the definition that Bill Hybels gave for the kind of people who should be recuited for a seeker-friendly church). If converted, they wouldn't be heavy givers to the church (they would be heavy takers); they smell bad quite often. They may be incoherent at worst. Yet with God all things are possible; the lost can be found; the blind can see. And the worldly rich are sent empty away...

God bless Pastor Doug White and those who served the poor at "Lamb's Lunch" today in affluent Boulder, Colorado. May their numbers increase; may their ability to communicate truth in love increase, even as the numbers of those without physical and spiritual homes decrease.

Curmudgeon in "The Door"

The January/February issue of The Wittenberg Door (a Christian satire magazine) has published a piece of mine first displayed to the world in The Constructive Curmudgeon. It was slightly edited, though, and they took out Rebecca Merrill Groothuis's contribution. Blast! Here it is:

"FaithMobileTM Announces The Relevant RevolutionTM: The alternative is unthinkable." This spoofs evangelicals relentless desire to be hip to "reach" youth. The article is not available on line.

I'm sure to get a call from an Ivy League School and The New York Times after this publication.

Review of Truth Decay

A web site called Faith Maps has posted a review of my 2000 book, Truth Decay. The site is an "emerging church" venue. The review summarizes the contents fairly clearly and thoroughly, but then goes on to attribute views to me that I do not hold and do not defend in the book. I know nothing about the author, nor can I find anything about him on Google (so he must not really exist). I have asked the editor for permission to write a response. Let me know what you think of the review, but only if you have read Truth Decay. If you haven't, then turn off the TV, the iPod, the IMs, etc., and do so as soon as possible.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Nontasking as a Way of Life

A few weeks ago while I was in the coffee shop of a Borders in the Phoenix area, I spied a young woman who was--as people strangely say--very "connected." She was wearing her earbuds (for her iPod); she was on her cell phone; and she was making acoustic blasts aimed in the direction of someone at another table. She was not "multitasking." She was nontasking. (Listening to music is not a task anyway, is it?) How can one attend to a converation in this manner? This is the absent pressence, the here-and-away condition, the hungry zombie identity of so many so often: YouConnectedWorld.

Some things should not be multitasked, such as God and philosophy and conversations. Be there or be nowhere; but don't be there and not there. There.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Death by Stupidity: Postmortem Revenge

A young woman has died after drinking two gallons of water in a short period of time without relieving herself. This was part of a contest to win a Nintendo Wii gaming console (whatever that is). Now her survivors want to sue the radio station that sponsored the bizarre self-torture-for-toys "contest." We have a new martyr to the absurd.

Perhaps this could only happen in post-sane, post-sensible, over-the-top-all-the-time-and-you-can't- stop-us America. People do idiotic things for silly prizes or just for a few minutes of fame or glamour. If they are hurt or killed, lawsuits are immediately filed. The hungry lawyers leap out of their caves, salivating. How many things are wrong with this?

1. The body is a creation of God and should not be abused.
2. Risks should not be take for frivolous purposes.
3. Law suits should not compensate for personal irresponsibility.
4. A life focused on the things that matter most would never abandon itself to utter inanities such as this.
5. Radio stations should not promote freakish behavior.

As with the fall of Rome, when a culture loses or abandons a transcendent orientation to life, all manner of oddities, perversions, and distortions take over. It is a descent into the abyss of meaninglessness. Life not lived under the audit of eternity soon becomes a theater of the absurd, but a theater without a director and in which the actors have no roles, but only random poses and frantic gestures. This is but one example of thousands that abound in American culture. Energy not spent on serving God and others is dispersed and dissipated into trivia, mania, eroticism, gossip (Donald verses Rosie) or endless self-promotion.

The Wisdom of God declares:

35 For those who find me find life and receive favor from the LORD.
36 But those who fail to find me harm themselves; all who hate me love death.

Proverbs 8:35-36.

This is a sad and pathetic story. I am not making light of this poor woman or her family. We should pray for her family. But it seems to be a frightening portent into a miasma of meaninglessness.




As a further tribute to the recently departed Michael Brecker, I commend to you his unaccompanied interpretation of John Coltrane's achingly and transcendently beautiful, "Naima" (named after his first wife) that appears on "Directions in Music: Live at Massey Hall" a Miles/Trane themed collaboration with Herbie Hancock, Roy Hargrove, Brian Blade, and John Patitucci . The dexterity, intelligence, speed, focus, force, and soul of this piece may bring tears to your eyes and goose bumps to your flesh. (It may be dangerous to listen to while driving, as I experienced today.) If you are not sure whether or not you are alive, listen to this. You will be sure afterward. And you should deem this music a gift from above, whether Mr. Brecker knew it or not.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Returning, Reflecting

Absence is revealing; reunion is revealing. One is away; one returns--to what, to whom?

I have returned from nearly five months away from home and work. I wondered how I would be greeted and how I would greet. Some coworkers acted as if I had not left at all, walking past wordlessly or giving a perfunctory grunt. (These I did not know very well; and I did the same to a few myself, of course. But they had not left; I left them. Does it matter?)

Some responses surprised me. A person I know mostly from brief conversations at her work in a supermarket--but not entirely so; we have met on a few other occasions and I have written brief notes--seemed positively overjoyed. I had never seen this melancholy soul look so happy. But the post of overseeing the scanning devices did not allow for much conversation. The machine and its obedient people must be attended to. Do we ever leave our machines?

Another person with whom I have only had brief, usually perfunctory conversations with over fourteen years at work, smiled broadly and asked questions. It felt good.

I have yet to see many of my students, the souls that (for good or ill) bear my imprint most deeply (outside of close friends and family). Being a one-man department, I had to be missed to some extent (all matters of affection aside). How much of a hole does one leave when one leaves? Students usually leave me (all too often before finishing their degree). But I left them for a sabbatical--left the entire state.

Think back to "It's a Wonderful Life." George Bailey is supernaturally led by an angel into a counterfactual world in which he was never born. Usually I can remember the lines verbatim (having seen it so many times), but will have to approximate Clarence's declaration, "Each man's life touches others in so many ways. When you are gone, you leave a terrible hole."

Of course, absence can be blessed. John Wesley was once asked if a preaching campaign resulted in many additions to the church. He replied, "No, but there were some blessed subtractions." Perhaps much of the meaning of one's life under the sun and before the Son is weighed by how much one's absence hurts and how much it heals (like the blessed subtraction of a painful tooth or the silencing of a constant dripping)--and by how much anyone notices one's absence at all.


Monday, January 15, 2007

Lament for a Saxophonist

It is 4:00 AM in a two star hotel in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I am on way back to Denver, Colorado after nearly five months away. My throat is sore and I cannot sleep. I am pecking away on the little, laptop keyboard. What better time for a lament?

While driving yesterday, I heard on NPR that tenor saxophonist extraordinaire, Michael Brecker had died. NPR, for all its faults--nasal, effeminate male reporters; female reporters with terrible, prissy voices; leftwing "analysis"; snobbery; and more--at least knows how to cover jazz. (For some of you, this may lead you to suspect jazz. Here is some advice: Don't do that.) Brecker, who appeared on over 900 recordings, was 57 years old. This career covered over three decades While he recorded on a score of popular albums, I knew him for his more straight-ahead jazz work, which was exceptional. Brecker possessed a stentorian tone, perfect intonation, and abundant energy and stamina. He imbibed heavily at the well of Coltrane without succumbing to mere imitation or replication. Like all stellar jazzmen, he entered and mastered the tradition, resonating with its residual greatness, while adding his own prodigious chops. As Ben Ratliff of The New York Times put it, he learned the Coltrane language. But he spoke his own words in that language. Yes, he was a virtuoso--and a versatile one at that.

Michael Brecker is dead; the life work is complete; another soul passes into eternity, finality--leaving this world different than he found it. This is part of the greatness of humanity. We are creative, creatures of a Creator. We shape what we find; we add to what is already there and stamp it indelibly with our personalities--for better for worse. The given is taken and bears our imprint.

Let us lament the passing of Michael Brecker, a musician whose music helped lighten a bit the weight of this poor world. He added some aesthetic beauty to compensate for the ugliness. I wish there could have been more, but there is so much to explore.

Friday, January 12, 2007

The Meaning of Gift Cards

Perhaps you, like me, received one or more gift cards this holiday season. Since my birthday is near Christmas, I received quite a few of them within a few weeks. The word to my Mom is: "Mom, there is no way you can imagine what books I want to read or what music I want to hear. Your batting average on both is not good. Your choices for clothing--outside of socks and scarves--are risky, both for size and style. So, please, send a Barnes and Noble gift card." No, I don't put it that sharply, but you get the idea. Mom is very generous and always gets me things besides gift cards, such as her famous Christmas cookies.(My Mom is off-line, so I'm not worrying too much, but some of her friends and relatives are not...It may leak out.)

I just read in The New York Times Magazine that a large percentage of gift card money is never used. I usually use mine within a few weeks or sooner. But that is not what interests me. What does the proliferation of gift cards say about our society, about our relationships? Gift cards cater to individualism and to ease. Let the receiver decide what she wants; it's easier. Yes, it is; but what is lost in the transaction? Gifts, at their best, are creative and involving. I think of a young wife who downloaded, copied, and pasted Jonathan Edwards's selected sermons into a blank book for her husband. That required a deep knowledge of her husband's concerns, considerable time spent, and creativity. (Michelle, you are something else.)

Now compare that delightful customized book to a gift card. With my card, I get to purchase what I want when I want it; or I can let the card expire or lose it. It is all up to me. MeWorld, it is--once again. There are no surprises, no sustained commentary on the appropriateness of the gift, no deep memories made through the giving and receiving. It fits neatly into my wallet. Christmas cookies, made especially by Mom, are in another category.

I received many gift cards this season. And I am thankful for them, please do not get me wrong! I am listening to the fruit of one right now: "Beyond the Wall" by Kenny Garrett, the best alto saxophonist around today, for my money (I mean gift card). But the prevalence of gift cards speaks in a sense to the loneliness and impersonality of our culture. We don't know each other well enough or invest ourselves in each other enough to find the "deep gift," as it were. Moreover, we usually purchase gifts instead of creating them--consumption once again. The Christmas cookies were created, not purchased.

(By the way, those who appreciate this blog, can purchase an Amazon gift card for me any time you like.)

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Under Age (Not a Serious Post)

The Sun City West vice squad came by the house today because a neighbor reported us for living here while under age. One must be 55 or live with someone 55 to be a resident here in Sun City West (a "retirement community"). Happily, I don't look 55; neither does my wife. I explained that we were "tenants" and were leaving soon. He apologized and wished me well.

Apparently, some people were worried that the neighborhood was going to seed. "Who is that fat guy with the stubby legs biking so fast around here all the time?! Time to call the cops! He's dangerous." There goes the neighborhood. And we are going back to Denver.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Blog recess, holiday, dead zone: A personal note

Since I am moving back to Denver, Colorado, in the next few days (having been in Sun City West, Arizona since late August), I will not likely be posting anything on this internationally ignored blog. Maybe you need a blog holiday, too. If so, read a book; stay off line for a spell.

I am rereading a modern classic: True Spirituality by Francis Schaeffer. If you have not read this book, you need to. If you have not read it in several years, you may need to read it again. Schaeffer is clear, biblical, and stirring. At the heart of all of Schaeffer's ministry was a rich and deep spiritual life, which is explained in this work.

If you are the praying sort, you might pray for a safe trip back, especially considering the blizzards that have hit Colorado recently. My loyal friend, Pat Knapp, is flying out and driving one of the cars back with me. (We bought a car here.)

I look forward to seeing all my Denver friends again after such a long time away, but I do not look forward to the Denver weather (I biked twenty miles today in 75 degrees) or to leaving many of the fine people we know here, especially Rebecca's family, my old friend Paul Adams (who bought me a fantastic Italian dinner tonight!), and those associated with Covenant of Grace Church, where I attended and volunteered during my time here.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Fifty years on this planet

The Constructive Curmudgeon (to obnoxiously speak in the the third person about oneself) has now turned fifty years old. Please tell me (back to the first person) what sort of crisis I should have or what manner of theological revelation I should receive or what kind of physical therapy (or psychological counseling) is appropriate. I did manage to hurt my back doing the strenous work of hunching over endless receipts--five months worth--that needed to be sorted out. I'm sure John Eldredge would be proud of my gallantry and warrior spirit in that. I couldn't find any cliffs to leap over or any Hummers to drive fast and burn up three miles a gallon. Wild at heart; sore at back; fifty in age; curmudgeonly in spirit. "The grasshopper drags himself along."

Monday, January 01, 2007

On Being a Christian Academic: Booklet Review

In his essay, "The Spiritual and Intellectual Crisis of the University," Professor Charles Malik wrote:

"The university is the most important institution in the Western world, indeed in the whole world. Leaders of government, church, industry, business and the media are all either graduates of universities or of schools whose teachers are themselves graduates of universities and whose textbooks are produced by such graduates. Even the ordinary citizen and the parents and children at home, regardless of whether they are or have been students of universities, are perpetually bombarded by university influence through the impact of the media. Man today never finds himself outside the direct or indirect influence of the university."

Christians who yearn for the reality of Jesus Christ to be known in the academy (and in all of life) should take this to heart and act accordingly. Distinguished evangelical philosopher, William Lane Craig, has done so, and has written an outstanding booklet called On Being a Christian Academic, published by Lewis and Stanley in 2004. This short treatment of twenty-six pages lays out cogently three concerns for the Christian academic after briefly highlighting the tremendous influence of the university on culture.

First, the Christian academic must dig deeply into his or her faith. Craig laments that many highly-credentialed Christian academics have little better than a "Sunday School level" understanding of their religion. (Sadly, this means it is superficial if not juvenile. Adult education should be a thing of depth and rigor in the church, but in most cases it is not. For some advise on how to change this for the better, see J.P. Moreland, Love Your God With All Your Mind.) To overcome this ignorance, Craig recommends a healthy diet of reading in the area of biblical studies, theology, church history, and apologetics and suggests appropriate texts, including his excellent work, Reasonable Faith.

Second, those who desires to honor Christ in the academic area must learn to integrate her discipline with a biblical worldview. That is, one must assess the presuppositions and general philosophy of one's specialty and bring it before the authority of Christian truth. Craig points out that much of modern physics is based on a philosophically faulty view called verificationism that claims that a proposition on physics is only meaningful if it can be empirically verified. This epistemological program has been decisively refuted in philosophy, but still reigns in the philosophy of physics.

Third, Craig strongly exhorts academics to develop their spiritual life, to not ignore it in the competitive world of the academy. This includes valuing one's family and not sacrificing family relationships for one's career, as so often occurs. Craig writes that we must learn to value who we are and not simply what we do academically. Indeed.

This booklet is an ideal tool for challenging Christian academics to be salt and light in their professions. As such, it deserves the widest distribution.