Sunday, April 29, 2007

Review of "Christianity and the Postmodern Turn" by Doug Groothuis

Myron B. Penner, editor. Christianity and the Postmodern Turn: Six Views. Brazos Press, 2005. 240 pages. Paperback. Reviewed by Douglas Groothuis, Professor of Philosophy, Denver Seminary.

For about two decades, evangelicals have pondered and debated what approach they should take toward postmodernism. While many have conflated postmodern culture (or postmodernity) with postmodern philosophy (or postmodernism), this academically-oriented book sticks almost entirely to the philosophy of postmodernism.

Christianity and the Postmodern Turn collects six perspectives on postmodernism and its relationship to Christian thought. Three contributors are enthusiastic supporters of postmodernism (James K.A. Smith, Merold Westphal, and John Franke), two are strong critics of postmodernism (R. Douglas Geivett and R. Scott Smith), and one is situated somewhere between the both groups (Kevin Vanhoozer). Vanhoozer, who is more closely aligned with the critics than the enthusiasts, responds to all the other contributors, while the others exchanges consist of mostly J. Smith, Franke, and Westphal arguing against Geivett and R. Smith. (Geivett, R. Smith, J. Smith, and Westphal are philosophers. Vanhoozer and Franke are theologians. Vanhoozer evinces more philosophical acumen than Franke, who stumbles when articulating philosophical arguments, particularly concerning foundationalism, as Geivett and R. Smith note.)
Including this many authors—all of whom are called to respond to the other authors—makes for a bit of a jumble. This is a debate book with too many voices. Had there been only two or three contributors—one pro-postmodernist, one anti-postmodernist, and perhaps someone in the middle—it might have pushed further into the issues.

Given the plethora of perspectives, it is impossible to do justice to the arguments of each author. One can, however, chart two essential epistemological items of debate: realism and foundationalism. Geivett and R. Smith are realists in epistemology. They argue that language refers to and (when true) corresponds to an extra-linguistic realm through propositions. Both take this feature of language (there are, of course, other features) to be nonnegotiable for the Christian worldview and its rational defense. (I have defended these claims as well in Truth Decay.) They also defend a modest foundationalism: the theory that our knowledge is divided between basic (non-inferential) beliefs and those derived from them. Postmodern thought in its many forms is non-realist (or antirealist) and non-foundationalist in epistemology.

Geivett and R. Smith focus like laser beams on epistemology, carefully defending their own account of knowledge and critiquing those who oppose it. J. Smith, Westphal, and Franke accuse them of hitching Christianity to a defective modernist program and claiming a hubristic “God’s eye” view of the world that is impossible for finite, fallen mortals. We must rather, they claim, emphasize our contextual and enculturated situation and our immersion in language. Westphal, in an intemperate rhetorical flourish, even accuses Geivett of being like the Pharisee who “justified himself” before God instead of humbly admitting his sin (page 239). Of course, trying to justify a proposition about God intellectually is a far cry from trying to justify oneself morally before a holy God.

To my mind, the pro-postmodernists fail to demonstrate the compatibility of postmodernism with Christianity. This is largely because they fail to undermine realism or foundationalism. The claim that one must be postmodern to be epistemically humble is a non sequiter. Even realist/foundationalists admit the limits of knowledge and the defeasibility of many of their beliefs. Moreover, the postmodern perspective endangers knowledge itself, collapsing language and meaning into cultural contexts, thus rendering objective truth unattainable. The pro-postmodernists’ claims to the contrary are unconvincing.

Despite my philosophical agreement with the two strongest critics of postmodernism, I must state that the rest of the contributors are able exponents of their respective viewpoints. A careful reader of this volume—despite its overabundance of contributors and the ensuing over-stimulation—will come away with a solid acquaintance with the core issues at stake in this debate. One hopes she will also come away with a measure of wisdom as well.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Details on the Debate on Intelligent Design

Intelligent Design - Douglas Groothuis, David Eller, and Earl Staelin.

On Sunday 13 May 2007, at 7:00 PM, Earl Staelin and David Eller and Doug Groothuis will discuss Intelligent Design and Darwinism at the First Universalist Church of Denver: 4101 E. Hampden Ave., Denver CO 80222-7262.

Does a proper understanding of some aspects of biology require a designing intelligence?

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D., Professor of Philosophy at Denver Seminary and the author of ten books, will argue the affirmative. He has written editorials and book reviews on intelligent design in The Rocky Mountain News and The Denver Post, as well as giving lectures on intelligent design at Colorado State University and Colorado School of Mines.

David Eller is a professor of anthropology at Metro State College and Community College of Denver. He received his Ph.D. in anthropology from Boston University, and conducted field research in Australia on Aboriginal religions. He’s published two books in anthropology, plus a forthcoming book on anthropology of religion; also Natural Atheism, and numerous articles on religion, culture, and science. Debated Stephen Meyer of the Discovery Institute on the subject of intelligent design for an episode of Lee Strobel's TV show, "Faith under Fire". He is the former Colorado Director of American Atheists. He will argue the negative of intelligent design.

Earl Staelin is a trial attorney who has handled many cases involving medical, chemical, and scientific issues. He has a background in nutrition. He has published articles and/or given professional presentations on “Calcium and Osteoporosis”, “A Nutritional Solution to AIDS”, nutrition and other health disorders, “Health and Light”, “The Amazing Role of Microbes in Biology”, “Observational Evidence against the Big Bang”, and “Resistance to Scientific Innovation”. He will present a position recognizing intelligence in the rapid development of new species, but as something intrinsic in nature.

Curmudgeon on "The Secret"

I am quoted rather extensively (and correctly) in this newspaper story about the new and egregious New Age rubbish called, The Secret.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Rude Things Students Do

Here are some inappropriate, disrespectful, and noneducational things students have done in my college or graduate school classes. You teachers out there, add your own horror stories.

1. Walk in 15 minutes late with the iPod so loud that all the students can hear it until the student tums it off some time after getting seated.

2. Checking IMs or cell message during class--repeatedly, even when I am standing right in front of them in the front row.

3. Playing with or cleaning one's toenails while in class.

4. Playing video games or doing on-line shopping while in class. (Hey, ask me want. My Coltrane and Miles collection is not complete.)

5. Clipping fingernails in class.

6. Asking for the assignment two days before it is due when it was handed out two weeks earlier.

7. Looking at the clock repeatedly--within the first ten minutes of class. (I called on this student, who also liked to yawn loudly. He dropped the class rather quickly after that.)

8. Eating entire meals in class--and not during break.

9. Read a book--not the textbook--while the teacher (me) is lecturing.

Can you top these? I'm afraid some of you can.

Doug Groothuis on "Point of View"

I just finished a two-hour interview for the "Point of View" radio program, hosted by Kerby Anderson and Carmen Pate. They should soon archive the program. It was mostly about postmodernism, but covered many topics, especially when we turned to the callers. Kerby and Carmen are excellent co-hosts, giving me time to speak, plugging my book, and making intellligent comments.

This is the five hundredth post on The Constructive Curmudgeon, which was born in July of 2005. How should we celebrate--or should we celebrate at all?

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Media Promiscuity and Idiocy: Making the Massacre Maker a Celebrity

Shortly after the gun shots had ended, the smoke had cleared, the bodies were identified and recovered, the blood stains washed out, and just as the family, friends, and Virginia Tech community began to feel the shock waves and begin their lamentation and grief, NBC releases video provided by our newest posthumous celebrity, the Massacre Maker (MM) himself (who does not deserve to be named).

MM may have been desperately evil, but he could read the media culture. He remembered Columbine, the endless depictions of the killers, their afterlife celebrity. He knew how to cash that deadly check. Send them a video. It would be irresistible. Now those who watch television (I not among them) are inflicted with the venomous and homicidal ravings of a mass murder. The trauma is pointlessly exacerbated. To what end?

Laura Ingram, to her credit, refused to air the audio from MM on her talk radio program. She showed a sense of decency in this. Apparently, she is alone. Other programs are giving MM plenty of airplay. When Dennis Miller talked about it, he had the perpetual snicker in his voice, despite the gravity, the insanity, the terror of it all. I turned him off. This is no comedy; it is a tragedy.

One cannot possibly come to terms with an evil of this severity through the medium of television. It can only make matters worse. The talking heads have nothing to say. (If, perchance, a wise person were interviewed, she would not be given enough time to develop any cogent comments.) But the violence is rehearsed. MM is celebrated and made yet another celebrity--there for all his imitators to see.

The media culture of the United States rarely has the courage to say, No. No, to obscene scenes of mass murderers. No, to sticking microphones in the faces of shocked students. (They did it after Columbine, too.) No, to instant reporting with nothing to report. No, they cannot say, No.

Horrendous evils call for strong measures: for deep introspection; for serious prayer; for meditation on the shortness and fragility of life, the culture of death that stalks the United States, for lament; for action that might prevent further atrocities in the midst of what is supposed to be a hallowed institution meant to ready young people for responsible adulthood--the University. Yet much of the secular university is teaching nihilism: nothing is sacred, nothing is true, nothing is worth living for. And some act it out, amazingly enough.

Nihilism is a lie; but don't expect the television networks to explain this to you. They cannot; it would be death for their ratings. But Christianity explains the origin and meaning of good and evil; it gives hope based on objective realities. It promotes courage and offers the knowledge of God, the human soul, and much more. Let this be a call to redouble our efforts to bring this liberating truth to the university, to the media, and to the world at large. Time is running out, and things are getting worse...

Addendum (4-20-07): Hugh Hewett has also refused to run any audio of MM and even refrains from using his name unless necessary.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Program on Intelligent Design and Darwinism in Denver

On Sunday 13 May 2007, at 7:00 PM, Earl Staelin and David Eller and Doug Groothuis will discuss Intelligent Design and Darwinism at the First Universalist Church of Denver: 4101 E. Hampden Ave., Denver CO 80222-7262.

Each participant will give a 15 minute presentation and be involved in cross-questioning. This is sponsored by Humanists of Colorado and will involve questions from the audience.
For further information, call HOC Vice-President Earl Staelin at 303-794-5565.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Monk, Ambiance, and Apologetics

I recently purchased (for a very low price) yet another recording by Thelonious Monk, the inimitable and unforgettable jazz pianist, called simply, "Monk." Listening to it in my car (which is not graced with a world-class sound system), I wondered if I had listened to enough Monk. Did he even sound cloying?

Then, tonight, I listened again, but this time through headphones in my reading study in the basement. The magic reappeared; it is one of the first with Charlie Rouse's on tenor sax, one of Monk's most apt interpreters (although not a virtuoso in his own right, as was Monk's most famous, if short-lived, collaborator, John Coltrane). The collaborative genius, the incomparable Monk feel of the his compositions, the gentle swing, and quirkiness of his sense of time were all there in their glory. How did I miss it before?

Monk doesn't play that well in the car. One is too distracted by driving, and the music cannot be heard, cannot be appreciated, for its subtleties in that ambiance. Joe Satriani can; Thelonious Monk cannot. (Yes, horrified jazz fans, I do appreciate Joe as a master of his--admittedly lesser--genre: instrumental heavy metal guitar.)

The same is true for the best apologetics (or Christian witness in general): it requires the proper ambiances to be received properly. One needs to carefully listen, to weigh ideas, and to discern connections between thoughts. That is, one must attend critically in the proper environment. Certainly, God is his sovereignty can convince a ruined soul of the truth and attractiveness of the gospel in any setting, but an engaged discussion--with a minimum of distractions--makes the most sense for apologetic interactions.

It may be that much of our defending and commending the gospel--when we attempt it at all--rings hollow because the setting is wrong. We need to bring apologetics into the home, into conviviality and into deep conversations. And apologists need to develop their chops, such that they are worth listening to in the first place.

Monk found a voice that was uniquely his and that was true to the art of jazz. But one must listen hard to hear it. When you do, the joy follows. How many apologists have found a voice that it theirs (given their spiritual gifts), is true to the Bible, and in which one hears the joy and beauty of heaven?


Thursday, April 12, 2007

Eugene Peterson on The Kingdom of God

[This was posted by Howard Baker in the Denver Seminary Campus News this week. It gives us much to ponder. Peterson is, to my mind, the best devotional writer of our day. I have not read this book, though.]

"Jesus' metaphor, kingdom of God, defines the world in which we live. We live in a world where Christ is King. If Christ is King, everything, quite literally, every thing and every one, has to be re-imagined, re-configured, re-oriented to a way of life that consists in an obedient following of Jesus. This is not easy. It is not accomplished by participating in a prayer meeting or two, or signing up for a seven-step course in discipleship at school or church, or attending an annual prayer breakfast. A total renovation of our imagination, our way of looking at things---what Jesus commanded in his no-nonsense imperative, 'Repent!'---is required."
---The Jesus Way, p.9

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

European Apologetics Network

You will find a listing of the speakers (of which I am one) and topics at the 2007 European Apologetics Network here. Your prayers for this important conference are much appreciated. It is held in Hungary in June of this year.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Sunday, April 08, 2007

The Madwoman: A Parable--With Apologies to F.N.

A certain madwomen went from church to church in many town across the United States. She only entered evangelical churches. "Whither is God?" she cried. Where is the evidence of God's presence in your midst?" She was greeted with jeers and taunts: "Are you mad? We are the church! Do you think we could lose God?" And so they ridiculed her, without a second thought. "Our attendance is growing every week. God is obviously at work."

Undismayed, she answered, "I seek God, the God of fire and grace, the God with wounds, the God who turns everything upside down, the God who summons repentance and faith to move mountains. I must find the God of the Holy Book. I must find a holy people." But her divers interlocutors were unmoved: "We have no need for such a judgmental and extremist deity. Our God is our comfort. We have contextualized God. What else could we do? It is the twenty-first century, after all. You are insane and off of your medication!"

She thundered back in tones that frightened many, "A contextualized God is no God at all! Let God be God, though everyone a liar!" This was too much for the evangelical churches. Many further scorned her by saying, "What woman could be a prophet of our God?!" She was forced out of all the churches or escorted out by police who warned her to desist lest she be charged with disturbing the peace. She always peacefully left, never physically harming anyone or anything. But she lamented, "Woe to those who say, 'Peace, peace' when there is no peace. Woe to those who have domesticated God. Woe to those who have reinvented God in their own image. Woe to those are a sleep in the storm and do not know how to repent. Has not the church been untethered from God? Where is it moving now? Away from God, toward other gods who destroy their worshippers? Is it not spinning endlessly, blown by every wind of popularity--away from the holy, away from the serious, away from the sober, away from the truth?"

They laughed at her poetic explosions and congratulated themselves on their piety. "You have been reading the wrong writers," they screamed. I come too late," she cried. "Truth decay takes time; bone rot takes time; compromise takes time; cancer takes time. And then time escapes--and it is too late. Or is it?"

The madwomen went from church to church, undaunted by her rejection, yet weeping bitterly as she went. "What are these churches," she mused, "if not the sepulchers and tombstones of God...?

But she spoke to her soul again and again: "I must keep looking, watching, praying. But hope deferred makes the heart sick."

Curmudgeon on "Backbone Radio" to Discuss the Resurrection

I will be appearing on John Andrew's KNUS-AM (710) program, "Backbone Radio" today, April 7, from 5:00-6:00 PM (Mountain time), to discuss the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and its meaning. Those outside of the Denver area can listen on line.

He is risen. He is risen indeed!

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Philosophers Gone Wild

Not to be underdone by the various instantiations of the "Girls Gone Wild" phenomenon, philosophers have started their own extreme movement, "Philosophers Gone Wild." Why let Paris and Brittany get all the glory?

These ostentatious philosophers have been known to drink in the heady brew of Plato, Aristotle, Sankara, Anselm, Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Pascal, Nietzsche, Russell, and even lower luminaries such as Max Stirner and Fichte, and to inflict their ideas at random on unsuspecting bystanders in public places.

Here are some scenes of extreme philosophy:

1. At a McDonald's, Professor Blowhard assails a cashier with the ontological argument and refused to pay until she says whether the argument is sound and valid. She refuses and the police are called. Blowhard badgers the police with Descartes' first meditation, asking them how they know they are not being deceived by an evil demon god. The police put on the cuffs and radioed ahead for a psychiatrist to be on hand at the station.

2. A a laundromat, Professor Pompous corners clothes washers with the question as to whether the number of items they have to wash should be understood in nominalistic or realistic terms. He offers to pay for the wash if the stunned patron will think about it. "You have 12 items. Is the number 12 just a name for a collection or does it exist in its own right in a world of ideas?" One person took him up on it, the others hurled epithets not found in a philosophical dictionary.

3. At a recreation center Professor Know-it-All asks the life guard whose life they would save from downing if they could only save one life: Pascal or Nietzsche. The lifeguard, turning down the rap on her boom box, says she has never met either person. Know-it-All then proceeds to explain the lives and philosophers of the respective philosophers for about ten minutes until the lifeguard pushes him into the water (the deep end).

4. Professor A. Posteriori stands on a street corner in Denver and recites (with passion) from memory Nietzsche's parable of "The Madman" A small crowd gathers and asks her where is begging cup is. She replies, "I have no cup, but we have killed God, you and I! What does it mean?" A few people throw money at her feet and go back to work. Surrounding beggars ask her to share her chops.

5. Professor InnateIdeas has an idea. He takes the light rail back from school and asks a passenger whether Leibniz concept of the principle of sufficient reason is an apriori truth, a contingent proposition, or something else. The passenger pushes the emergency button and Professor InnateIdeas is arrested for disturbing the peace.

6. Professor Antithesis vows to do for three days doing nothing but asking everyperson in his immediate vicinity, "But how do you know that?" He then denies their answer--if there is one. He arrested for public drunkenness, but continues his vow in jail.

7. Distinguished Professor OntologicalUltimate corners a student at a community college who is listening to his iPod while eating. "Are you listening to apologetics or logic lectures?" he cried. "What the *&#," came the reply: "I'm hanging with Snoop Dog." "Dog excrement, it is," replied a smug Professor Ultimate--shortly before receiving a swift kick to a region of the body that Dog often raps about.

8. Professor Meta asks his waitress at The Outback what the ontological relationship is between her monads to his monads. She slips then him a piece of paper with her phone number on it and winks. Meta is nonplussed and begins excitedly reciting portions of Leibniz's Monadology from memory, mentioning also that he is happy married. The waitress then calls the police and Meta is arrested on sexual harrassment charges.

Philosophers are going wild. Are you?

Friday, April 06, 2007

Lecture outline and MP3 available

I have an MP3 file and outline of my lecture, "What Philosophers Wish Theologians and Biblical Scholars Knew about Philosophy" available to anyone who would like one or the other or both. You may use it as you wish. I gave this lecture at Denver Seminary on April 5, 2007, before a group of about fifty people, including students and faculty.

A stationary mic was used, and I wondered around a bit; so, the sound quality is somewhat variable, but discernible. Hey, it's free.

Does anyone know if Blogger allows for an MP3 file to be posted on it?

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Easter Life and the Facts of History

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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