Sunday, February 28, 2010

Herman Melville, "Moby Dick," chapter LXVIII

Oh, man! admire and model thyself after the whale! Do thou, too, remain warm among ice. Do thou, too, live in this world without being of it. Be cool at the equator; keep thy blood fluid at the Pole. Like the great dome of St. Peter’s, and like the great whale, retain, O man! in all seasons a temperature of thine own.

But how easy and how hopeless to teach these fine things! Of erections, how few are domed like St. Peter’s! of creatures, how few vast as the whale!

Too Many African American Abortions

The racial case against abortion, from The NY Times.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

This, not That

not dazzled.

not rejoicing.

not prevailing.

not comprehending.

not growing.

not promoted.

not welcomed.

not astonished.


Looking up--
while beaten down.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Bruce Shelly on Vernon Grounds

In memory of Dr. Bruce Shelley, who recently died at the age of 82, I am posting this review of his last book, Transformed by Love, which is about Dr. Vernon Grounds. Dr. Shelley was a master teacher, church historian, and faithful churchman.

Bruce L. Shelley, Transformed by Love: The Vernon Grounds Story. Discovery House Publishers, 2002. 285 pages. $10.95 paper. Published in The Denver Post in 2002.

It has been said that if you want to know a person, you must identity that person’s “ruling passion”—that which unifies their personality and sets their course for life. Yet in our fickle age of reinvention and frequent lifestyle changes, one wonders if some folk even possess a fixed core at the heart of their being. Historian Bruce Shelley, senior professor of history at Denver Seminary, claims to have discerned the ruling passion of his longtime colleague and evangelical senior statesman, Dr. Vernon Grounds (b. 1914), a Denver resident since 1951. That passion is the moral virtue of love—not love in a vague or sentimental sense, but rather Christian love, which is rooted in the understanding of Jesus Christ as the revelation of God’s love for humanity.

While Dr. Grounds’ doctoral dissertation at Drew University addressed the concept of love in the thought of Sigmund Freud, his concern for this great virtue has been far more than academic. Love has been a demonstrable way of life for Vernon Grounds’, as this book amply attests. Shelley credits this transformation by love to Grounds conversion during his college days, which occurred only after considerable intellectual struggles.

Shelley’s narrative skillfully situates the long and eventful life of Vernon Grounds in the context of both twentieth-century America and American evangelicalism specifically. (The book includes a rewarding appendix of Dr. Ground’s writings on a variety of subjects, as well as a select bibliography.) Emerging from his working-class roots in New York through his university and seminary education, Grounds became a significant figure in the development of American evangelicalism (or theologically conservative Protestantism). Although associated with more fundamentalist institutions in his younger years, Dr. Grounds became increasingly disenchanted with fundamentalism’s tendencies toward cultural separatism, anti-intellectualism, and lack of love toward those outside its opinions. Out of these concerns, he and his wife Ann moved to Denver in 1951 where he joined the fledgling Denver Seminary faculty as Dean. The seminary had only a handful of students and was located in an old and ornate mansion in downtown Denver, where it remained until 1968 when it moved to its present location in Englewood.
Fundamentalist backers tussled with the school until it eventually broke free from them to pursue a more open path. It now serves over six hundred students annually.

While highly gifted intellectually, Dr. Ground’s love for his institution pulled him from the life of a pure scholar to that of a leader when he became Denver Seminary’s second president in 1955, a position he held until 1979. Nevertheless, he taught (and continues to teach) a wide variety of classes in philosophy, theology, and counseling and published widely in these areas as well. In addition to his heavy leadership and teaching responsibilities, Dr. Grounds traveled nearly every weekend to churches around the country to preach, teach, and promote the seminary. (When asked how she coped with her husband’s constant traveling, Ann is quoted as saying, “I’d rather have Vernon Grounds ten percent of the time than any other man one hundred percent.”) For many people—in Denver and around the world—Denver Seminary and Vernon Grounds are virtually synonymous.

The book underscores that throughout his distinguished career, Dr. Grounds has been known for his commitment to academically excellent seminary education, his passion for social justice concerns, his path-breaking desire to integrate Christian faith with the best of psychological insights, and his voluminous knowledge. His legendary library of many thousands of volumes occupies the vast majority of his office space, where he regularly meets with a steady stream of alumni and students—and anyone who desires his warm and rewarding company.

I once met a man who introduced himself as “one of Vernon Grounds’ “twelve hundred close, personal friends.” After reading this book, one can see that this probably was not an exaggeration. It may have been an understatement.

--Douglas Groothuis heads the Philosophy of Religion MA at Denver Seminary and is the author of On Jesus and On Pascal.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Holiness of God

I will be speaking on "The Holiness of God" (Isaiah 6:1-8) at Auraria Master Plan (AMP) Tuesday, February 16. The meeting starts at 7:00 in room 440 of the Tivoli. This is located up the Tower elevator on the 4th floor at the Auraria campus. AMP is a campus ministry for the Auraria campus and sponsored my talk, "The Deniable Darwin," last term.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Tebow TV

A 34-second TV add with no argument, which was difficult to follow (I had to watch it twice on YouTube to even understand it), with a slapstick, tasteless, cartoon-like scene as a climax was deemed controversial as a "pro-life message." There was hardly any message in the sense of cognitive or even aesthetic content. I suppose the back story was significant, but that is something I know little about, hating football as I do.

Over a hundred million watched this and it cost millions to air it. To what end? I am simply asking you to consider the form of the media event and what purpose it might serve. What else could be done with the millions it cost to air?

Monday, February 08, 2010

Doug Groothuis on Ken Wilber

My review of Ken Wilber's book, A Brief Theory of Everything is on line at The Christian Research Institute. I think it was only put up recently, or perhaps I missed it before. Wilber is the leading pantheistic theorist today, whose previous book, A Brief History of Everything (which I have also reviewed), is recommended without qualification by Rob Bell in Velvet Elvis. This is tragic given Bell's influence and Wilber's defense of a worldview that totally contradictions Christian theism.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

George Will on Football

Football combines the two worst things about America: it is violence punctuated by committee meetings. --George Will.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Football, Baseball, and the Culture of Violence (back by no demand whatsowever)

My counter-cultural premise is that cultural forms are not neutral. Whether we are addressing communication technologies, art-forms, or sports, all must be exegeted and analyzed according to their form, nature, and structure. Television, for instance, is neither intrinsically good, intrinsically evil, nor neutral. It has a nature as a medium that makes is suitable for entertainment and generally unsuitable for edification and instruction. It tends to foster intellectual impatience, a sense of unreality, and an image-orientation to life that “humiliates the Word” (Jacques Ellul). Goth music and culture, for example, is inextricably rooted in the symbolism of death, decay, and destruction, however skillful the musicians may be. It celebrates and generates darkness and despair. Therefore, the notion of “Christian Goth” is oxymoronic in the extreme. The cultural form is not redeemable. It must be condemned and replaced with something better. And, yes, we must do all we can to communicate the truth in love to Goths (if there are any left).

Cultural forms shape our sensibilities and our mindsets in countless and typically covert ways. As a culture riven with senseless violence and mayhem, as evidenced at Columbine High School, we need to discern the cultural forces that pull people away from God’s shalom and toward the abyss of rage, revenge, and the devaluing of human life made in God’s image. Sin lies in the heart, but it also becomes institutionalized and systemic in many cultural forms. These must be exegeted and exposed to the light of truth.Now on to sports, a topic that is virtually never discussed in terms of cultural form, whether moral or aesthetic. Whatever features unite all instances of sport, each sports differs from every other sport in some distinctive ways. Rather than give an detailed ontology and ethical assessment of the major team sports, I want to draw from comparisons between football and baseball in relation to cultural violence and entertainment.

I will not be discussing the ethical character of players, managers, owners, and fans. This is incidental to a formal or structural analysis of these two sports. We find “good Christians” playing baseball and football and “good Christians” watching both sports. This is a trivial point, however, if we endeavor to discern the nature of these two sports.The argument is brief, sharp, and probably unpopular. Baseball is both aesthetically and morally superior to football as a cultural form. Moreover, football is not only inferior to baseball, but possesses deficits that should cause Christians to consider their participation in the sport—whether as players, managers, owners, or fans—in principle. As an ideal, a team sport should evince aesthetic beauty, moral virtue, and intellectual value. Now consider baseball and football.

1. Football is intrinsically violent. It cannot be played without heavy padding and physical punishment. Professional players typically undergo multiple surgeries for repeated injuries. Many of these injuries are permanently debilitating. The nature of the sport encourages a toleration for, and even promotion of, violence. Players attempt to injure each other to take them out of the game. Many young men are seriously injured while playing football. Why risk the damage to a growing body? If the body is “fearfully and wonderfully made” and the temple of the Holy Spirit for the Christian, why should anyone treat one’s own body and other’s bodies to so much physical abuse? We were not designed for this kind of punishment.

2. Baseball is not intrinsically violent, but only contingently violent; it much less violent than football overall. No physical contact of a brutal nature is required of the sport. No pitcher must bean (intentionally hit) a batter, although there is a risk of this happening accidentally. No batter tries to injure a fielder with a hit. No fielder intentionally throws the baseball into a runner, although this may happen by accident. And so on. Yes, there is physical contact between offense and defense. A runner barreling home from second base on a single to the outfield may need to collide with the catcher in order to attempt to score. However, his is not necessitated by the game as such, and the catcher is well-protected by his pads and mask. Many games are played where this kind of contact never occurs. Further, many runners will try to avoid the catcher entirely with a hook slide.

3. Baseball is intellectually superior to football, because of the degree of strategy, finesse, and intelligence required to play it well. Football knows of many plays and patterns, but most of them reduce to speed, strength, and coordination--as opposed to intelligence. In baseball, a pitcher with less than a cannon arm (such as Greg Maddox) can be one of the best pitchers in baseball in light of his intelligence in pitch selection, control, knowledge of batters, and fielding ability. Nothing analogous is the case with football, to my knowledge.Historically, intellectuals have been drawn to write and reflect on baseball. A recent example is columnist and author, George Will. I doubt there is anything of this nature to be said of football. (This, of course, does not imply that no intellectuals like football or than only unintelligent people do.)

4. Aesthetically, baseball is superior because of its unique sense of time. There is no clock in baseball. Time never runs out, only opportunities do. When Yogi Berra famously said, “It ain’t over till it’s over,” he was not uttering a tautology. Since the game is not terminated until the final out is made, it is always possible to come back or to blow a huge lead. In football, the game is often over (determined) before it is over (temporally), rendering the final minutes meaningless and pointless. In baseball, as in the Christian world view, a measure of hope is always alive until the game is over. Near-miraculous comebacks are possible. When they occur, there is no greater drama in all of sports.

5. The pace of baseball is far more deliberate and delicate than football, given that there is no time clock. It is thus more conducive to patience and reflection. This assumes that you are not watching on an evil television network where commercials are now jammed in between batters; thus violating the ontology of the game itself.

6. Both baseball and football require athletic skill for their performance, but I venture to say that an expertly turned double-play, a diving catch in the outfield, or a deftly stolen base (particularly of home) demonstrates more athletic and aesthetic excellence than anything in football. Moreover, nothing in any sport has the dramatic effect of a grand slam home run, especially in a close game.

7. No one can hog the ball or exclude other players from play in baseball. This is largely because baseball is the only team sport where the defense controls the ball. The defense never knows where the ball will end up after the next pitch. This adds an element suspense and intrigue that is lacking in football. The batter or base runner has no possession of the ball. The ball must be outsmarted by being hit (by the batter) or avoided (by the runner).

8. In baseball, apart from the aberration of the designated hitter (a recent perversion only used in one league), all the players must function on both defense and offense. Pitchers are not expected to be excellent hitters, but they can contribute in this way and also need to know how to bunt and run the bases. This adds depth to the athletic performance. Football players play either defense or offense, but not both (with possible rare exceptions).

More could be said, but if these reflections are correct, baseball is superior to football as a cultural form. It is much less violent, more artful, and more intellectually stimulating. The intrinsically and inextricably violent nature of football makes it suspect morally, especially for Christians who ought to prize gentleness and peace as fruits of the Spirit. Despite my apologetic for baseball, I can find no moral imperative to be involved at any level of baseball. Any goodness or excellence found therein can be found, at least analogously, in other areas of life. Nevertheless, the moral implications of the argument are as follows:

1. If one participates in a team sport, baseball is a worthy choice, as is softball for similar reasons. One may play well or poorly, with good motives or bad motives, but the nature of the game is itself good.

2. Given the formal deficiencies and defects of football, one ought not play it or coach it or watch it or own it or support it (through stadium taxes, etc.). (This does not exclude touch or flag football, which are not intrinsically violent, though still aesthetically and intellectually inferior to baseball.) Football reinforces and perpetuates the culture of violence, which must be resisted in every form if we are to regain a measure of sanity and civility in our increasingly violent world.

One may wonder, then, if I am very involved in watching baseball. I am not. Television has nearly destroyed the sport (as it destroyed just about everything). I will did not watch the World Series last year, nor did I watch a single game. My argument is not a justification for any habit or addiction I may have; it, rather, addresses objective properties related to form. Attending an organic form of baseball, such as youth league, is another matter. That would be blessedly unmediated.

Anti-Superbowl Activities

As is part of the revered custom of the Constructive Curmudgeon, I once again offer my list of things to do besides watch the Superbowl, since football is evil, unedifying, and an utter waste of time and money. (See my essay on this posted above.)

1. Anything legal or moral.
2. Write a prisoner.
3. Pray for a prisoner.
4. Consider your mortality in light of Ecclesiastes 11-12.
5. Read a book in the Bible you typically dislike or cannot understand.
6. Exercise (while not watching TV).
7. Write a letter to someone you are out of touch with.
8. Take a nap.
9. Listen to rich, contemplative, and engaging music. Do nothing else while you do so. Kenny G and all "smooth jazz" is, of course, off that list.
10. Memorize several Bible verses.
11. Read chapters of Bible aloud unto the Lord.
12. Confess your sins to God.
13. Read a challenging book such as Crazy Love by Francis Chan.
14. Read an ultra-serious book like Purity of Heart by Kierkegaard.
15. Listen to any lecture by Os Guinness.

Groothuis Video

This link is to a video of a 1996 lecture I gave for the Veritas Forum called, "Are All Religions Created Equal." I didn't know that a video existed. However, I cannot get it to work. If you can, please let me know.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

What "Vegetables" Know

Humans are never vegetables!

An Email From "Think" Notice the first article mentioned.

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Who designed the designer?: A dialogue on Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion Douglas Groothuis

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A Dialogue on Immortality Mikel Burley

Justice as a Natural Phenomenon Ken Binmore

After my own heart: Dorothy Sayer's Feminism Susan Haack

The Golden Rule Brad Hooker

Morality with and without God Terence Thomas

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Is atheism a faith position? Piers Benn

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Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Words to Remember

It would be a great mistake to suppose that all men are equally well prepared to receive the gospel. It is true that the decisive thing is the regenerative power of God. That can overcome all lack of preparation, and the absence of that makes even the best preparation useless. But as a matter of fact God usually exerts that power in connection with certain prior conditions of the human mind, and it should be ours to create, so far as we can, with the help of God, those favorable conditions for the reception of the gospel. False ideas are the greatest obstacles to the reception of the gospel. We may preach with all the fervor of a reformer and yet succeed only in winning a straggler here and there, if we permit the whole collective thought of the nation or of the world to be controlled by ideas which, by the resistless force of logic, prevent Christianity from being regarded as anything more than a harmless delusion. Under such circumstances, what God desires us to do is to destroy the obstacle at its root.—J. Gretchen Machen, “The Scientific Preparation of the Minister,” The Princeton Theological Review, Vol. 11, 1913.

TV Worth Watching

You read the title correctly. This is an upcoming interview with historian Paul Johnson, one of best and most readable historians of our time--and conservative, too. However, since I don't have cable, I cannot watch it. Back to his books I go.