Monday, June 02, 2014

This Blog Has Moved!

Please join me on my new website,, which will be the new site of The Constructive Curmudgeon blog. While I will no longer post here, the old blog will remain as an archive.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

“The book, that stubbornly unelectric artifact of pure typography, possesses resources conducive to the flourishing of the soul. A thoughtful reading of the printed text orients one to a world of order, meaning, and the possibility of knowing truth.” - Douglas Groothuis

Monday, May 26, 2014

On Miles Davis

Miles Dewey Davis was born on this day eighty-eight years ago. This musical genius excellent at playing his trumpet, composing, and leading various bands with members such as John Coltrane, Bill Evans, Tony Williams, John McLaughlin, and Wayne Shorter. No one could play the horn with such sweetness--and such fire. Miles's work on mute is without peer as well. He brought out the best in nearly all the musicians in his bands. A book of his paintings was recently released as well.

Sadly, Miles the man was another story. He was famously moody, fathered several children out of wedlock, was foul mouthed, beat at least one of his three wives, and was for long periods addicted to drugs.

I suggest that you listen to some Miles Davis today or tomorrow. The classic is "Kind of Blue," but his early fusion was remarkable as well. Consider "In a Silent Way" and "Bitches Brew."

Davis illustrated the Pascalian principle of "deposed royalty." He was a prince of a musician, but a pauper in his moral life. There is no evidence that he sought the grace of God in Christ for his redemption. Nevertheless, we can receive much of his music as gifts from the Giver of every good and perfect gift. 

Sunday, May 25, 2014


Jazz makes up only a small part of the music market; but it makes up a giant part of American history and culture. It is something uniquely American, although it thrives offshore in places like France and Japan.

After attending a jazz performance last night, I realized again the hospitality and conviviality of jazz--the easy enjoyment, fellow-feeling, and buoyancy of the music. Jazz musicians tend to smile at each other during performances--and root each other on--more than any other musical form I have seen. Jazz musicians know the standards--the canon of traditional tune--and can play them without rehearsal. They esteem history and deep feeling.

I love jazz. You should, too.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Beyond Crood: A Film Review

The film, "The Croods," is based on the general assumption that humans evolved from sub-human creatures. This is the humorous story of their ascent. While I don't accept this Darwinian explanation of man, the film is worth seeing for several reasons.

First, the computer animation is stunning (at least to me). The characters' expressions and gestures, the landscapes, and the animals (all hybrids of known animals) are so far from the animation that I saw as a child that it seems to come from another civilization. (Maybe it does.)

Second, while the films assumes a naturalist view of the world, it undermines itself wonderfully. The Crood family begin as fear-based pre-humans (or semi-humans) whose only goal is not to die. But their teenage daughter wants more. She wants to live and be curious. By meeting a more evolved character, the Croods begin to think about "tomorrow" and end up "following the light."

It is all delightfully done, mind you--the hyper-slapstick and constant verbal and physical humor can be nearly hysterical. But it does not fit Darwinism, which allows for no transcendence of the material world. The Croods, you, see begin to act beyond instinct and conditioning. They dream; they explore; they hope. They are not merely evolved animals.

Thus, the human essence, made in God's image and likeness, shines through even this supposedly Darwinian tale, which makes it even better. This also chimes in with a New York Times article which recently related that an atheist group was holding "services" and wanted more of a sense of "transcendence."

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Almost everything I need to know I learned from my mother (1930-2010):

1. Pray.
2. Say "please" and "thank you."
3. Ladies first. That means opening doors in and out.
4. Write thank you notes.
5. Don't interrupt people.
6. Italian food is the best.
7. Show special concern for older people.
8. Finish what's on your plate. I had an intuitive sense of this.
9. Stay in touch with family and friends.
10. Write letters to the editor.

There is more, but thank you again, Mom.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Displaying WorldReligionsCourse.jpg

How to be a Bad Teacher

How to be a Bad Teacher

1. Fail to be taught by good teachers.
2. Fail to study the teaching of good teachers.
3. Think that teaching is easy because the best teachers make it look easy.
4. Do not prepare.
5. Forget that God is watching and holding you accountable for every word.
6. Forget that you are informing the eternal destiny of all whom you teach.
7. Model yourself on characters you watch on television.
8. Fail to police your mannerism, speaking voice, and verbal ticks
9. Try to speak in an informal, casual way.
10. Think that the classroom should copy what is going on in the rest of the culture.
11. Enslave your teaching to "learning styles" of students.
12. Be more concerned with "getting through" the outline than in imparting knowledge.
13. View questions from students as interruptions.
14. Use pointless video clips.
15. Abandon lecturing since it is no longer cool.
16. Never improvise because you are not deep enough to do it well.
17. Use a small vocabulary.
18. Teach on line.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Christianity and Art-Making

The Gordon Lewis Center for Christian Thought and Culture will host a seminar on Christianity and art-making in later May. Please stay tuned to find out the details. The instructor and discussion leader will be R. Wesley Hurd, painter and philosopher and my long-time friend and ministry partner.

Friday, April 25, 2014

The Essence of Spiritual Formation

"The Word of God well understood and religiously obeyed is the shortest route to spiritual perfection. Nothing less than a whole Bible can make a whole Christian."
—A. W. Tozer

Jars of Lies

My response to the Jars of Clay singer who endorses same-sex marriage:
The love of Jesus is never expressed against his character and that of the Bible, which fulfills and authorizes. God ordained heterosexual monogamy as the pattern of God's creation and design. Same sex couples can no more be married than a square can be a circle. To pretend otherwise, is simply sin. To be an influential Christian and to claim otherwise is an especially heinous sin. This is further evidence of the decline of American civilization and the apostasy of so many who name the name of Jesus Christ.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Theism and Personality

If we, as theists, believe that the universe is fundamentally personal in character, it follows that our ultimate understanding will not be in terms of things, which occupy space and may or may not possess certain properties, but of persons, who characteristically do things. Action, not substance, will be our most important category of thought. It is a truth too long neglected by philosophers--J. R. Lucas, Freedom and Grace, p. 111 (as quoted in Nicholas Wolterstorff, Art in Action)

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Evidence for Easter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Outline for my Talk at University of Colorado Law School Today



A.    Declaration of Independence: inalienable rights granted by our Creator

B.     The Nuremberg war trials and Nazi “crimes against humanity” (See John Warwick Montgomery, The Law Above the Law)

C.     Martin Luther King and the reform of civil law based on higher, moral law

D.    Questions of jurisprudence: philosophical basis; justification of law; meta-ethics


A.    “The modernist impasse” or the secularization of law in the West (see Phillip E. Johnson, “Nihilism and the End of the Law”)

1.      Law as independent of God: “We’re free of God”

2.      Law as expression of contingent human arrangements only: “Oh God, 
      we’re free”

                  B.  Arthur Leff’s “Unspeakable Ethics, Unnatural Law,” Duke Law Review

1.      Thesis: Authority of law depends on an ultimate Evaluator; without this      
                       Evaluator all law is arbitrary, however it is formulated.

                 2.   This God would have to be personal, moral, and communicative.

                       3.   Moral statements as “performative utterances”

                       4.   The conditions of performative success: authority in a situation

                       5.  The absence of God in the moral sphere: no moral authority

C.     Other non-divine principles for establishing the law

1.      Descriptivism/conventionalism: leaves everything alone; no outside judgment upon established legal systems. Legal positivism.

2.      Personalism: authority in individuals (godlets)—anarchy

3.      Majoritarianism: no basis in a moral principle beyond godlets

4.      Constitutionalism: not infallible, requires interpretation; not exhaustive


A.    All other evaluators fail to perform; morality and law are unjustified, unauthorized.

B.     No one can replace God as the ultimate Evaluator and justification of moral
                        law and civil law (“There is none like unto the LORD”).

                 C.  Nevertheless: evil exists; heroism exists (“Sez who?”).

                 D.  Either God or nihilism (“God help us”)


A.    An argument for the Ultimate Evaluator (by modus tolens)

1.      If there is no God (P), then morality and law lose their foundations and there is no objective good and evil (Q). (Leff and other arguments: Nietzsche, Sartre, Dostoyevsky.) If P, then Q.

2.      There is objective good and evil. Leff: “There is in the world such a thing as evil.” (See Romans 2:14-15 on the law written on the human heart.)

3.      Therefore: it is false that morality and law lose their foundations and there is no objective good or evil. (not-Q)

4.      Therefore: God exists as the Ultimate Evaluator (Leff, illogically, to the contrary). By modus tolens: not-Q; therefore, not-P.

5.      Therefore; nihilism is false.

B.     An argument against atheism, the claim that there is no Ultimate Evaluator

1.      If there is no God (P), then morality and law lose their foundations and there is no objective good and evil (Q). If P, then Q.

2.      There is no God. (Leff: “It looks as if we are all we have.”) (P)

3.      Therefore: morality and law lose their foundations and there is no objective good and evil (nihilism: “God help us”). By modus ponens: P; therefore, Q.

4.      But: Leff: “There is in the world such a thing as evil.” Objective good and evil do exist. (not-Q)

5.      If not-Q; therefore: not-P. By modus tolens

6.      Therefore: God does exist as the Ultimate Evaluator (same conclusion as the previous argument).

7.      Therefore, nihilism is false (same conclusion as the previous argument).

C.     The simplified argument (disjunctive syllogism)

1.      Either God exists (P) or nihilism is true (Q). P or Q.

2.      Nihilism is not true. (not-Q)

3.      Therefore, God exists. (P)

D.    Responses to three objections to God as the basis of morality and law

1.      Making God the ultimate Evaluator makes morality and law arbitrary.

a.       God’s commands are based on God’s character and the nature of the
      world God has created. “I the Lord do not change” (Malachi 3:6).

b.      God’s evaluations and commands are not arbitrary edicts of 
      changeable divine will, but are based on wisdom (Proverbs 8).

c.       Christian perspective: God’s character is demonstrated historically in Jesus Christ (Luke 1:1-4; John 1:1-3; 14-18).

2.      Moral truth can exist objectively apart from God’s existence.

a.       Moral law needs a Law-giver, imperatives, claims upon us, duty.

b.      A godless world coupled with human knowledge of objective moral principles is exceedingly unlikely give an impersonal, chance universe.

3.      Recognizing God as the Evaluator would lead to a dangerous theocracy.

a.       A theological basis for law does not entail a theocracy; consider early 
      American law and jurisprudence.

b.      An unacceptable nihilism seems to be the only other alternative;
      consider the USSR. Law and rights were created by the State alone.


A.    Modernist impasse is not solvable given its own premises: “God help us.”

B.     God as Ultimate Evaluator gives a solid basis for morality and civil law.

C.     Two qualifications to my argument

1.      Not a complete apologetic for Christian theism, although a foundation for personalist theism and some suggestions. Many other arguments available.

2.      Much more is required for a good society than well-rooted, authorized civil law: moral and spiritual renewal and consistency.


A.    Stephen L. Carter, The Culture of Disbelief: How American Law and Politics Trivialize Religious Devotion (New York: Basic Books, 1993). Examines the secularization of law and how it marginalizes religion.

B.     Douglas Groothuis, Truth Decay: Defending Christianity Against the Challenges of Postmodernism (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000).  See especially, chapter eight, “Ethics Without Reality, Postmodernist Style,” on postmodernist attempts (particularly by Rorty and Foucault) to establish morality apart from God and objective moral truths.

C.     Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011). See especially, “The Moral Argument for God,” which draws on Arthur Leff’s essay, “Unspeakable Ethics, Unnatural Law.”

D.    Douglas Groothuis, “Thomas Nagel’s ‘Last Word’ on the Metaphysics of Rationality and Morality,” Philosophia Christi, 2nd series, no. 1 (1999):115-122. A critique of one attempt by a notable philosopher to establish objective morality and rationality apart from the existence of God.

E.     Phillip E. Johnson, “Nihilism and the End of the Law,” First Things, March 1993, 19-25. A reflection on Leff’s dilemma and how it relates to contemporary debates about civil law in America.

F.      Arthur Leff, “Unspeakable Ethics, Unnatural Law,” Duke Law Journal, 1979, no. 6 (December):1229-1246. A pivotal and penetrating analysis.

G.    John Warwick Montgomery, The Law Above the Law (Minneapolis, MN: Betheny Publishers, 1975). Considers the relationship between civil law and theology.

H.    J. P. Moreland, Scaling the Secular City: A Defense of Christianity (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1987). See especially, chapter four, “God and the Meaning of Life,” for a defense of the claim that the existence of God is required for objective morality and existential meaning.


Friday, April 04, 2014

Film Review: "God's not Dead"

This film weaves several plots around the main story of a philosophy student who is challenged by an atheist philosophy professor to give arguments for God's existence. The young man takes the challenge, which exacts a cost on him, including the loss of his long-term girl friend. Other subplots relate to people considering Christian commitment in one way or another. (There is spoiler alert. I'll let you see how the movie resolves.)

The best actor is the atheist professor. However, he does not act much like a professor, since he is overly arrogant and gives few arguments for atheism. The student ends up studying apologetics and gives some decent arguments for God, including the argument from the Big Bang and biology. I could quibble, but I won't. How many movies list "apologetics research" in the credits? Rice Brooks is listed. I had not heard of him before, but he has written a book called God is not Dead. (I kept waiting for the student to check out my book, Christian Apologetics, in his research, but he did not. I will get over it.)

The rest of the acting is fair to poor and the film is overly cheesy in parts. Some of the characters are pretty thin and predictable. Nevertheless, it deals with ultimate matters with some wisdom, so it is not a bad film for both believers and unbelievers.

Let this encourage us to enter the secular world with the Christian message through films, books, articles, poems, plays, and in ever other way. Time is short; eternity long; our task is great.

I am thankful that my prediction that the movie would contain no apologetics was false!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Final Freedom

Inspired by Viktor Frankl:
The first and final freedom is how you, at the innermost core of your being, respond to ineluctable suffering. That is the measure of your character, formed in the crucible. Looking back on your life, how would you have wanted to live: in apathy in the face of crushing events or in responsible activity in the face of crushing events?

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Help for Becky Groothuis

Folks: If you missed it, here is the fund created by a friend to help us with Becky's medical and housing expenses. We are looking for a full-time facility for her and hope to place her there as soon as we can. 

That will be far better than what we could do at home. We are thankful to all those who have given so far. It makes this nightmare more livable.

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Death of Fred Phelps

Fred Phelps is dead. How should a good person respond to his demise?

The death of any creature made in the image and likeness of God (all of we humans) is a lamentable thing. Sin, long ago, brought human death into God's good world. The consequences are ubiquitous, touch every person every day their entire lives. But death is the exclamation point of sin, its natural result. 

Everyone sins, but, despite the dad commonalities of sin (lust, greed, cruelty, perversity, murder, rape, and more), we each sin in our own way. Some of these affronts to God's holy and perfect character are public. Some are not. One Day, all will be known. The sins of Fred Phelps were egregious and well known: twisting Scripture, hating wrongly, judging wrongly, and more. He was the poster boy for the press's desire to find aberrant expressions of Christianity. He was in an infinitesimal fraction of Christians in his approach to life. In nearly thirty-eight years of Christian life, I have never met anyone who heralded the hatred of men on his terms.

No, God does not hate homosexuals. No, we cannot claim that an American soldiers death is God's revenge against America. Yes, Fred Phelps was a despicable human being. Yet a human being he was, and is. His sins were broadcast across the globe and his false church became a byword, a symbol of bigotry and religious extremism.

Fred Phelps is in the hands of a just and loving God--as we all are. Given his recent death, he is also in the thoughts of we creatures under the sun and awaiting the coming of the Son of Man. Only then, will all the secrets of men and the judgments of God will be perfectly known. The wisest way of pondering the death of this sad and bad man is not to ridicule him, not to jest at his and his family expense, and certainly not to gloat. "Ask not for whom the bell tolls, for the bell tolls for thee."

We, too, shall die. Most of us will die without media attention. But we will not die without God's attention. He is the ultimate audience, the audience of One. May we all search our own conscience for cruelty, perversity, and the false handling of the Holy Bible, remember that but One lived a holy and perfect life; and he alone is the One who offers hope based on the realities of his life, death, resurrection, ascension, session, Second Coming, and eternal reign.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

So Far

The far-way one,
Gone, not quite here,
Now, not quite now.
to be taken away from being
far away.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Everything You Know is Wrong

1. The minimum wage is good for the poor. It eliminates jobs because many potential employers cannot meet it. Thus, there are few jobs available.

2. The Bible says, "God helps those who help themselves." Do a computer search; it does not. The Bible says we are helpful to help ourselves. See Ephesians 2:1-10.

3. You can derive morality from science. You cannot derive an "ought" from an "is." See chapter two of C.S. Lewis,The Abolition of Man.

4. Copernicus dethroned the earth from its privileged position in the universe, thus refuting biblical views. The church never deemed the location of the earth to have any positive moral or spiritual status.

5. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. There are objective aesthetic qualities. God is objectively beautiful and the source of all beauty.

6. Non-heterosexual couples can be monogamous. The word monogamous means one spouse of the opposite sex. Further, social science shows that non-heterosexual couples are far more unfaithful to their partners than heterosexual couples. 

7. The God of the Old Testament is wrathful and the God of Jesus is not. See Acts 5 and the Book of Revelation.

8. If something does not work well, then the state can do it better. See the Obama administration's statist regime of corruption, moral capitulation, and anti-Christianity.

9. Pascal said, "Everyone has a God-shaped vacuum that only God can fill." That is a paraphrase. What he said was more involved. See Pensees.

10. Christ did not come to make bad men good, but to make dead men alive. No. He did both. That is a false dichotomy. He came to justify and to sanctify. See Francis Schaeffer, True Spirituality.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Apologetics is a necessary discipline for the Christian faith. Jesus and the apostle Paul regularly defended their beliefs through rational arguments. The apostle Peter tells us to be ready to give a reason for the hope we have in Christ (1 Pet. 3:15). This lost world needs to hear and believe the gospel of God, so, when unbelievers ask questions about the truth and rationality of Christianity, we must be ready with sufficient answers, trusting in the Holy Spirit to apply the message to their souls (Acts 1:8). - Douglas Groothuis

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

The End of Religious Freedom

After reading an editorial in The New York Times from last Sunday, along with a column by Ross Douthat, I realized that those who believe in heterosexual marriage as the only form of marriage are being bullied into supporting a practice they reject on the basis of conscious, usually a religiously-informed conscience. Those who hold such principles are being lumped in with racists and other bigots. "Gay is the new black, " read one distressingly revealing sign.

Therefore, in just a few decades, the most widely held social institution in the world's history, heterosexual marriage, has been legally rendered just one choice among many. (Yes, polygamy and poly-amorous liaisons will soon by legalized and given marriage status). Further, those who adhere to traditional marriage will be forced--even in their private businesses, and against their religious beliefs--to abide by a secular state's edicts. As this happens, The First Amendment's provision for "the free exercise of religion" (the right of religious citizens to influence all of culture and have their conscience honored) is deconstructed to mean "the freedom to worship" (what you do in private is your business--as long as you do not discriminate against homosexuals, lesbians, transsexuals, etc.).

Welcome to a nightmare that would have horrified the founders of the United States of America. The "American Experiment" (Abraham Lincoln) is close to failing. Ordered liberty under law has become tyranny in the name of equality.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

American Today: 1984 and Brave New World

George Orwell's novel 1984 and Aldous Huxley's Brave New World are each prophetic dystopian works. Both have come true in different ways in these United States.

Orwell wrote of the omnipotent state--"Big Brother is Watching"--that controls the population from the top down. (C.S. Lewis wrote of the threat of "the omnicompetent state" in The Abolition of Man,) Privacy is nearly dead and the state aspires to omniscience to control its slaves.

Huxley warned of a culture that self-medicates itself to death by entertainment: "the feelies" (full sensory immersion) and soma (the recreational drug). In his vision, the population denudes itself of critical faculties through voluntary oblivion.

America has realized both nightmares. Through "amusing ourselves to death" (Neil Postman) we have lost our ability to critique the omnipotent state seen in the Obama regime. Given our immersion in entertainment technologies, our shortened attention spans and "low information voters" (that is, ignoramuses), we have led a power-mad manipulator become President, a man who flagrently disregards and violates the Constitution of the United States. Why care? If one is sleepwalking or sleep-running, distracted by endless stimulation, there is no reason to care--if we still have our toys. The legalization of canabis is another indicator of the passive, escapist mentality.

Ala 1984, spying on citizens has reached a new low. Cameras are everywhere. Drones can spy and kill.

In a nutshell, Brave New World leads to 1984. Those drugged into oblivion lack the resources to resist the intrusions and excesses of the civil government. So what can be done?

Work at rebuilding a foundation for a better civilization, which is probably long in the future. Be countercultural by educating your own children; do not give them over to statist indoctrination. Be critical of the technologies you use. Study the past so you are not controlled by the zeitgeist. Have a transcendent and true point of reference by submitting to the God of the Bible. Think through your philosophy of protest and resistance.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Schaeffer on Man and God

"Made in God’s image man was made to be great, he was made to be beautiful, and he was made to be creative in life and art. But his rebellion has led him into making himself into nothing but a machine." ~ Francis Schaeffer, Back to Freedom and Dignity

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

How to be a Good Idiot

1. Do not listen to people (or animals).
2. Do not read.
3. Multitask everything.
4. Pretend that acquaintances are friends.
5. Say "whatever" whenever religion, philosophy, or politics comes up.
6. Think that newer is better.
7. Avoid people in pain.
8. Put off thinking about death.
9. Know the cost of everything and value of nothing.
10. Prefer virtual reality to embodied reality.
11. Follow the crowd.
12. Substitute catch phrases for thought.
13. Hate silence.
14. Never sit still.
15. Pretend that all pleasures have equal value.
16. Think that all pain is bad.
17. Ignore history.
18. Ignore eternity.
19. Fear boredom.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

How to be a Good Teacher

1. Know your subject matter, but never be content with what you know.
2. Speak clearly; avoid stutter phrases.
3. Develop a rich and interesting vocabulary.
4. Listen to student's questions; answer; then ask if the answer was helpful. The last step is crucial.
5. Be jealous that the classroom be a sanctuary for learning.
6. Do not copy what the rest of culture is doing. The classroom should be different. Be a thermostat not a thermometer. (Thanks to Neil Postman for this.)
7. Do not be afraid of silence--either in your teaching or for the students.
8. Pray before class, either to yourself or publicly, given the situation. I usually emphasize God as "the Spirit of Truth" (John 14:26).
9. Improvise within a thoughtful form.
10. Do not let any student monopolize discussion. This can be awkward to correct, but it must be done. One say is to say "let's hear from some students who don't normally speak up."
11. Don't assume that students need to be entertained.
12. Dare to think on your feet. I have learned much while teaching.
13. Do not be afraid to admit your ignorance in class.
14. Always teach with a purpose. Make sure the students know this, either explicitly or implicitly.
15. Refer often to books, thus challenging students to become more literate. Sometimes as how many students have read a classic book. If no one has, call them ignoramuses.
16. When students make little sense while asking a question or making a comment, try to get their point by asking questions. If this fails, re-frame the comment to make some sense. No one should be humiliated in a class.
17. If the setting allows, pray with the class concerning particular needs as they come up in the lecture, discussion.
18. Refer often to Scripture, by quoting, alluding, or paraphrasing.
19. Do not let humor detract from learning, but use it to enhance learning. See A.W. Tozer's classic short essay, "The Use and Abuse of Humor."
20. Dress in such as way as to not draw attention to yourself, either by being too causal or too dressy. By all means, do not try to be sexy.

Monday, February 24, 2014

A Commentary on my Recent Debate

I need to give a clarification about my debate with Marvin Straus of the Boulder Atheists, held at The University of Colorado, Boulder on February 21.

Some are disappointed that I did not debate another philosopher or someone better at arguing. I have debates other philosophers and academics before. But let me explain why I debated Marvin. 

The only reason I debated Marvin Straus is that the Boulder Atheists wanted him to do it. The back story is that I originally wanted to do a question-answer time with the atheists, as Sean McDowell has been doing lately. They did not want that. Instead, they put forth Marvin, and I agreed. Perhaps I should not have, but I saw it as a good opportunity. Life permitting, I will consider debating stronger thinkers. But I do not take this lightly. It takes significant preparation, and my wife is in the hospital right now. I did talk to Wes Morriston about doing a dialogue about God and morality. We will see if that develops.

Moreover, plans are in the works for me to be on a panel discussion with Michael Tooley, another atheist and another Christian. Stay tuned on this.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Here is a simple spiritual discipline. Pray for people as you talk with them; pray for people as you see them in everyday life. Perhaps say a benediction for them silently: "May God bless you and keep you, May God's face shine upon you, and give you peace." This orients you to love God and people.

Friday, February 21, 2014

What is the Human Condition?

On Friday, February 21, 2014, at 6:30 PM, I will be debating Mr. Marvin Straus, atheist activist, on the nature of the human condition. This will be held at The University of Colorado at Boulder campus. The event is free and open to the public. I will provide a detailed outline of my presentation.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Jazz and Apologetics

Learning to Lament

          A vast literature on happiness has emerged in recent years that is based on “positive psychology.” Instead of emphasizing neurosis and disorders, psychologists are exploring what leads to human fulfillment. One book is called Authentic Happiness. That is good in its place, but we have little instruction on the wise use of woe. There is no book called Authentic Sadness. Virtuously aligning human feeling with objective fact is no small endeavor, and it takes us far beyond pleasurable sensations. As C.S. Lewis wrote in The Abolition of Man.
Until quite modern times all teachers and even all men believed that universe to be such that certain emotional reactions on our part could either be congruous or incongruous to it—believed, in fact, that object did not merely receive, but could merit, our approval or disapproval, our reverence or out contempt.
If Lewis is right, then some objects and situations merit lament as well. But our affections are too often out of gear. We often weep when we should laugh and laugh when we should weep or we feel nothing when we should feel something. Decades ago, a pop song confessed, “Sometimes I don’t know how to feel.” We have all felt this confusion. Nevertheless, our affect should follow our intellect in discerning how to respond to a world of groaning in travail and awaiting its final redemption (Romans 8:18-21). We live in between times and “under the sun,” as Ecclesiastes puts it. Accordingly, we are obligated to know what time it is.
There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:
    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4).

Sadness has its seasons as does happiness; this is simply because God’s creation has fallen into sin and has yet to reach its culmination in The New Heavens and the New Earth (Revelation 21-22). Before then, we are still exiles, but living in hope. If we are to be godly stewards of our emotions, we must know the signs of the times, know our present time, and know what these times should elicit within us.

          Our sadness should be judicious and obedient, not hasty, melodramatic, or inane. This is a moral and spiritual matter, not one of mere feelings. Emotions easily err. After the Colorado Rockies baseball team was eliminated from a playoff game some years ago, a Rockies fan reported on television that this loss was like “a death in the family.” That struck me as pathetic, if not daft—a sadness spoiled by a disordered soul. I wonder how her family members responded to this, since the sadness was not rightly related to the event that occasioned it.

Sadness intrudes unbidden in a variety of dark shades. I cannot offer a taxonomy or hierarchy of it here. (Robert Burden did so in 1621 in his Anatomy of Melancholy.) Rather, consider one often-misunderstood form of sorrow—lament. What is it? Frederick Buechner wrote that “Vocation is the place where our deep gladness meets the world's deep need.” In that spirit, lament is where our deep sadness meets the world’s deep wounds. And this world has its wounds. The largest wound of all wounds was the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ, who suffered more than anyone ever had or ever will, and with the greatest possible effect. His cry was the apex of all laments, “My God, my God. Why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46; See Psalm 22:1). It is only because of this lament that our laments gain their ultimate meaning. If the perfect Son of God can lament and not sin, so may we. Further, that anguished cry was answered by his resurrection on the third day.

Christians lament because objective goods have been violated or destroyed. Creation is deemed good by God himself (Genesis 1). Yet humans have rebelled against God, themselves, each other, and creation. As the Preacher puts it, “All things are wearisome, more than one can say.” (Ecclesiastes 1:8). In Lament for a Son, Nicholas Wolterstorff notes that Jesus blessed those who mourn (Matthew 5:4), because they are “wounded visionaries,” seeking genuine goods that escape their grasp. In this sense, their godly frustration is their blessing—and the aching will one day be answered.

But when we lament, we do not do so in a void of meaninglessness. Even though many of our desires are disordered, and thus vain or evil, a good many of them remain in line with God’s desire to restore shalom. We cry out over the loss of a child, over war, over stupidity, cupidity, mortality, and more. Paul was in anguish over the unbelief his countrymen.

I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the people of Israel (Romans 9:2-4; see also 10:1).
But Paul never descended into despair or gave up the cause of Christ. Even having suffered terrible torments for Christ, he marched on, knowing that the End puts all the means into place and that our “labor in the Lord is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:48).
Lament is not only a literary genre of Scripture (consider the many Psalms of lament, such as 22, 88, 90, as well The Book of Lamentations), but is an indelible category of human existence east of Eden. It can be done well or poorly, but it cannot be avoided by any but sociopaths. Fallen mortals bemoan life’s suffering, often mixing their grief with outrage. Whether outwardly or only inwardly, they raise their voices, shake their fists, beat their breasts, and shed hot tears. The Negro spiritual intones, “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen. Nobody knows but Jesus.” The blues, leaning on the spirituals, lament in a thousand ways. “Nobody knows you when you’re down and out,” cries Eric Clapton. When Duke Ellington played his wordless lament, “Mood Indigo,” on his first European tour, some in the audience wept. Even heavy metal, full of thunder, rage, and debauchery, often laments life’s burdens. In Metallica’s “Master of Puppets,” the singer’s voice is that of cocaine. It lies, enslaves, manipulates, and pulls the strings of the addicted. This is a roaring, electronic lament. But there is no hope; it is protest without promise.

We all bewail the injustices, suffering, and terrors of this life, but not all worldviews make room for the full expression of human personality amidst these misfortunes. For instance, the Zen poet, Isa, lost several children and his young wife. In his deep sorrow, he went to a Zen master who told him that “Life is dew.” It all passes away and one must adjust to the inevitable.  This is the Buddhist teaching of non-attachment to the impermanent. But Isa, made in the image of God and wanting a better answer, wrote a short poem: “Life is dew, life is dew…and yet, and yet.” Isa could not accept the cure, because Zen did not understand the disease. Life is more than dew. Zen let him down, because it would not let him inhabit his sorrow.

If we have established something of the meaning of lament biblically and philosophically, we need delve into its practice in this world of woe and wonder, of weeping and laughing, morning and dancing (Eccles. 3:1-8).
First, those who take the Bible to be the knowable revelation of God about the things that matter most (2 Timothy 3:15-16) should discover the genre of lament in Scripture. Besides the Psalms of lament and Lamentations, perhaps Ecclesiastes is the richest biblical resource. The Teacher is weighed down by the seeming futility of life, but realizes that sadness gives needed, if unwanted, lessons.
It is better to go to a house of mourning
    than to go to a house of feasting,
for death is the destiny of everyone;
    the living should take this to heart.
  Frustration is better than laughter,
    because a sad face is good for the heart.
  The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,
    but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure (Ecclesiastes 7:2-4).
Ecclesiastes, more than any other book of Holy Scripture, has given me the perspective and language of lament necessary for my own sad sojourn during the last fifteen years. It is a deep well of tough wisdom for the weary soul.
Second, lament requires a deep knowledge of God, of the world, and of ourselves. It is often said that our hearts should break where God’s heart breaks. We should “rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15), and not the opposite.  To adjust our emotions to reality, we must gain knowledge from the Bible and sound thinking (Romans 12:1-2). We are not to grieve the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30). A corollary is that we should know what grieves the Holy Spirit, and grieve along with him.
Third, lament is not grumbling, which is selfish, impatient, and pointless. The children of Israel grumbled against God even as God was providing for their pilgrimage, just as he promised. Paul says, Do everything without grumbling or arguing” (Phil 2:14). While the distinction between grumbling and lament is not easy to make (I may defend my selfish outbursts as laments), it is a real distinction, since Scripture encourages lament and warns against grumbling.  Isaiah declares a lament was needed, “The Lord, the LORD Almighty, called you on that day to weep and to wail, to tear out your hair and put on sackcloth” (Isaiah 22:12). James says much the same to Christians who should lament over their sins:  “Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.  Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” (James 4:9-10).
One day God will lift up those who mourn and grieve before him on his terms. He will judge and resurrect the entire cosmos in the end (Daniel 12:2). On this, we place our trust and direct our hope. Yet the Lamb then in our midst was once scared and even forsaken by his Father for the sake of our redemption. God counts our tears before he takes them away (Psalm 56:8; Revelation 21:4). Learning to lament is, then, part of our lot under the sun. We and our neighbors are better for it, tears and all.