Wednesday, June 29, 2005

A Fictitious Dialogue Between Paul Helm and John Sanders on Divine Providence (Part 1)

A good way to check how well you understand an opposing viewpoint is to try to make the strongest case you can in its defense. This is also a good exercise for cultivating charity toward those with whom we disagree. Intellectual virtue requires that while we contend vigorously for our own convictions, we nevertheless present our opponent's arguments in such a way that he or she feels that we've at least taken the time to understand them.

A few years back I took a class on divine providence and human action in which the professor assigned the task of writing a fictitious dialogue between John Sanders, an outspoken advocate of open theism, and Paul Helm, a Reformed theologian, with ourselves serving as moderators. Since I love efficiency and recycling, I thought I'd post it here.

If this is of interest to you, be sure to read Tim Challies' informative article on open theism in his series on challenges to the church.


KP: Dr. Helm and Dr. Sanders, it's a pleasure to meet you both. I've read your books on the providence of God and count it a great privilege to be able to discuss this matter with you. Thanks so much for taking time out of your busy schedules. Dr. Sanders, I know from reading The God Who Risks that you're familiar with Dr. Helm's The Providence of God. Dr. Helm, have you read Dr. Sanders' book?

PH: Yes, I have.

KP: Very good. Before we proceed, it might help if I tell you a little about why I'm so eager to discuss this subject with you. The bulk of my responsibilities as a pastor consists of counseling. Of course, the question of God's relationship to the events of life comes up frequently in the course of my counseling ministry. I can't tell you how many times I've sat across from someone whose life has been severely disrupted by such tragedies as sexual abuse, the death of a child, or the walking out of a spouse and been asked, "Where was God in all this?" Honestly, it's a question I've often hoped would never be asked and one that I often skirted. On one hand I wanted to distance God from any involvement in such atrocities, upholding his holiness and love as well as human freedom and culpability. Yet, I wanted, too, to affirm his power and sovereignty.

JS: I understand what you're saying, Keith. However, I don't think that we necessarily have to conceive of God's goodness as being in conflict with his sovereignty. Yes, he is fundamentally opposed to sin and evil. That is without question. Similarly, if we are to be faithful to the Bible we must also affirm His sovereignty. But a conflict only arises if by sovereignty we mean that God exhaustively controls everything that happens in the universe including the thoughts and actions of human beings. I reject this understanding. According to my view, God is sovereign in that he freely chose to create the kind of world that he has; a world inhabited by significantly free creatures capable of entering into genuinely personal relationships with Him; a world in which the future is open, waiting to be determined both by him and them.

I agree with you that what we're talking about here is far more than theoretical philosophy and theology. Suffering is real and anyone who has looked intently at the injustice, cruelty, and grief that is all too often a part of human existence, can't help but question what God's relationship to it all is. In fact, my own brother's tragic death a few years ago was a major factor in my thinking about divine providence as much as I have.

KP: When I read about that I couldn't help wondering how big a part the loss of your brother played in the formulation of your model of providence.

JS: Well, as I mention in the book, I was a nominal Methodist at the time and didn't believe that God caused everything that happens so it's not like the accident led me to significantly alter my beliefs.

KP: That may be so. But I did find it interesting that your initial response was to ask God why he killed your brother.

JS: Well, the view that God exercises specific as opposed to general sovereignty so permeates our culture that I probably just reacted that way out of conditioning.

KP: I see. Well, I'm getting ahead of myself, anyway. I want to come back to the problem of evil later but for now I'd like to focus on the broader issues that lead the two of you to think so differently. Dr. Helm, you've been quiet. Is there anything you'd like to add?

PH: Yes, there is. I agree with John that God's goodness and sovereignty are not in conflict with one another. He does not delight in sin for his very nature is the absolute standard of righteousness and justice. I also understand the Scriptures to simultaneously affirm that humans are morally accountable for their actions and God is absolutely sovereign over all that comes to pass, including the free actions of human beings. This is a substantial difference between John and me. I hold to a compatibilist view of freedom according to which human choices are free to the extent that they are in accordance with the subject's desires. In other words, I am free in making a particular choice if I choose what I really want and am not forced to choose something against my will.

John, on the other hand, believes that people are only free if they have what is called libertarian freedom. According to this notion of freedom, a choice is only free if it is not causally determined. All things being equal, a person could choose contrary to what he actually did in the exact same circumstances. I don't mean any offense, but in my opinion, it's the desire to preserve this preconceived and unbiblical concept of human freedom that motivates John and other proponents of so-called "relational" or "freewill" theism to advocate the model that they do.

JS: Paul, that's a very common accusation from those from the theological tradition that you represent but I have to say it's simply untrue. It's not the wish to protect some cherished view of human freedom that leads me and others to arrive at the conclusions we do. Rather, it's the desire to be faithful to what God has revealed concerning his divine project. Although God is self-sufficient and in need of nothing outside of himself, and although there has always been love and fellowship between the members of the Trinity, nevertheless, he freely chose to create us for the purpose of entering into a genuine, give-and-take love relationship with him.
Love cannot be forced or manipulated. The nature of personal relationships requires that they be reciprocal and that both parties in the relationship are capable of freely responding to each other. I don't think anyone here will deny that the Scriptures throughout portray God as one who longs for the love of his people and responds to their actions, taking their requests into consideration. He grieved over the sin that entered the world through Adam and Eve's rebellion. The Bible even goes so far as to say that his heart was filled with pain in Genesis 6:6. This was obviously his reaction because something he did not intend occurred. When Moses interceded with him concerning his plan to exterminate the Israelites, the Lord changed his mind. These are just a few examples that demonstrate that God is somehow conditioned by human actions.
Now, I know that the classical theists will say that these are only anthropomorphisms, but my question then is how he knows that they are not to be taken literally. I think that what leads him to conclude that such language is only figurative is a greater reliance on extrabiblical, abstract reasoning about the divine nature than on God's revelation in history especially in the person of Jesus Christ. Underlying the classical theistic model is the Platonic assumption that perfection must be static since any change would necessarily be a change toward imperfection. I submit that this assumption is logically fallacious, not to mention contrary to the portrait of God offered in the Old and New Testaments.

KP: May I jump in here, Dr. Sanders? We all agree that the Bible does, in fact, use language that describes God as changing his mind, being ignorant of certain facts, and vacillating in his emotional life in response to human decisions. It also portrays people as acting contrary to God's will. There are also a number of texts that affirm that God is unchanging, knowledgeable of not only the past and present but also of the future, and in control of all things. Now, Dr. Sanders, you charge the classical model with neglecting or misinterpreting some biblical texts due to a precommitment to certain philosophical assumptions. I'm curious about the criterion you use to decide that those passages that speak of God as being subject to change and disappointment should take precedence over those that don't. I realize that you couldn't possibly have dealt with all of the relevant texts in your book, but I have to say that I was surprised by your failure to deal with some of the most problematic ones for your thesis. Take Ephesians 1:11, for example: "In him we were also chosen having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will." This appears to be very good support for specific sovereignty, doesn't it?

JS: As for the criterion we should use to determine which set of biblical texts should serve as "control" texts, again I'd have to say that we have to interpret everything in light of what it is that God has revealed is His purpose for creating the world He has. And you're right, I couldn't possibly have dealt with all the relevant biblical material. However, I really don't see the verse you mentioned as being at all problematic for my position. Of course God works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will. But we have to be clear about what that purpose is. As I've already said, his purpose is to invite and persuade individuals into a loving relationship with him through Christ. He cannot guarantee that people will favorably respond but he makes use of all his wisdom, competence, and resourcefulness to accomplish that purpose as best he can. In creating the kind of world in which such relationships are possible, God chose to limit his power. Could he have created a world in which He controlled every detail, including the actions of people? Of course! However, this would not have allowed for authentic personal relationships between God and humans.

To be continued....

No Books but THE Book?

I've long been curious about why some Christians are more suspicious of extrabiblical literature than they are of extrabiblical oral communication. It's as though there's something about committing Bible teaching to the printed page that makes it more deserving of scrutiny. A comment I read recently resurrected my curiosity about this matter.

For a number of reasons, one of which is to insure consistency in what is taught, our church uses prepared curricula (either Bible study guides or complete books) for most of our adult education classes. At the end of each quarter we ask participants to fill out evaluation forms that ask how, if at all, the class has assisted their spiritual maturity. For those classes in which a workbook or text was used, one question asks how well it helped the student to understand and apply the subject. In response to this question an anonymous party replied "Better steer clear of books and study with the Book and let the Spirit do the speaking." This same sentiment lies behind aversion to the use of biblical commentaries. However, I have yet to meet anyone who consistently applies the mistrust of written materials to other forms of Christian teaching about the content of the Bible.

I've asked other Christians who've voiced this view whether they attend a church. When they replied affirmatively I asked whether their pastor uses the sermon time to simply read extended portions of Scripture without making any explanatory comments about a text's meaning and application or using illustrative material that doesn't come directly from the Bible. Of course, the answer is no, yet this doesn't seem to bother those suspicious of books. But it should if, in fact, the only words the Spirit uses to teach are those of Scripture. What is it that makes oral explanation of the Bible's message acceptable and written teaching suspect? Would a transcript of a biblically faithful message suddenly become unspiritual simply because it is now in print? A related question is how are we to understand the nature and purpose of the spiritual gift of teaching if we are restricted to using only the words of Scripture? 

I understand and share the concern that we recognize the Bible as our ultimate authority but the use of books, like sermons, does not necessarily undermine that conviction. No books but the Book? No. All books judged by the Book? Most definitely.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Naming Problems "Sin"

"When we think of naming problems 'sin,' we tend to react in one of two ways. One reaction is to punish sin. We become moralistic and condemning, morbidly curious about others' failings, morbidly depressed about our own failings. When we assume a punitive stance toward sin and assume that others do the same, then calling something 'sin' necessarily involves condemnation of self or others. We all know, however, both by Scripture and instinct, that those who would help others need to love them, and that those who would find help need to know love. In the interest, then, of bringing sweet necessities - grace, kindness, gentleness, patience, acceptance, tender solicitude and sympathetic understanding - we must come up with categories other than sin. The unexamined and ultimately bizarre logic of this reaction is that we assume that we can be Christlike toward others and ourselves only if we define a problem as something other than sin - as a psychological problem, a mental illness or an addiction.

People who would understand a problem as sin must presumably be punitive. But how curious it is that Jesus, whose gaze was utterly conditioned by the sin analytic, brought grace and kindness! In fact, to be conscious that sin is the problem is the only way to experience grace for oneself and the love as Jesus loved. When we know ourselves accurately, we become recipients of spectacular grace that we are able to give away freely and patiently. Because he knew his own sins and God's grace, the high priest was able to 'deal gently with the ignorant and wayward' (Heb. 5:2; cf. Heb 4:12-5:3). May we learn to know and do likewise.

The second reaction is to excuse sin. We euphemize, whitewash, re-label, evade, rationalize and blame. We get defensive about ourselves and we try to excuse others. This strategy is at work throughout the modern psychologies. It is part of their allure that they pretend to reflect deep and determinative knowledge about the human soul, yet they evade the essential problem of the soul. But when we know grace, we have no reason not to look in the mirror frankly and no reason not to help others look in the mirror. Indeed, we look in the mirror so that our hearts might be remade as we shout with exultation."
- David Powlison, "Questions at the Crossroads: The Care of Souls & Modern Psychotherapies" in Care for the Soul: Exploring the Intersection of Psychology & Theology, ed. Mark McMinn and Timothy Phillips (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP, 2001), pp. 50-51.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Joel Osteen Responds

Apparently a number of Joel Osteen's ministry supporters voiced concern about the ambiguity of his comments on Larry King Live (see yesterday's post), leading him to post this letter of clarification. He writes in part:
Jesus declared in John 14; I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father but by me.   I believe that Jesus Christ alone is the way to salvation.  However, it wasn’t until I had the opportunity to review the transcript of the interview that I realize I had not clearly stated that having a personal relationship with Jesus is the only way to heaven.  It’s about the individual’s choice to follow Him.
God has given me a platform to present the Gospel to a very diverse audience.  In my desire not to alienate the people that Jesus came to save, I did not clearly communicate the convictions that I hold so precious.
I still have major disagreements with the content and emphases of Osteen's ministry - enough that I do not commend it to others. Nevertheless, I admire the manner in which he dealt with this situation.

I've felt the desire to which Osteen refers - that of not wanting to alienate those I'm seeking to win to Christ. I'd like to think that the desire has always been pure but I know better. It's tainted by the fear of man - the dread of being thought a fool for the sake of Christ.

The gospel is intrinsically offensive in that it assaults self-righteousness. I have only to think back to how bitter I once found the gospel whose taste is now sweet. There's simply no way to state God's assessment of our condition in a positive, upbeat way that avoids offending those who hear. The preaching of the need for an alien righteousness will always alienate sinners. But by the sovereign grace of God that same preaching will draw men and women to saving faith in His Son.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Joel Osteen Waffles on the Gospel

James White introduces this excerpt from Larry King's recent interview with Joel Osteen by saying that most everyone has already seen it. I hadn't. In case you're also in the minority, check it out and keep in mind that this is a prominent "evangelical" author and pastor. Hold up your Bible and say "relativism."
Addendum: I realized after posting the above that those unfamiliar with Osteen's television ministry might not understand my reference to holding up your Bible. Before he preaches, Osteen instructs the members of his congregation to hold up their Bibles and join him in reciting the following mantra: "This is my Bible. I am what it says I am. I have what it says I have. I can do what it says I can do. Today I will be taught the Word of God. My mind is alert. My heart is receptive. I will never be the same, in Jesus' name."
Justin Taylor has an informative post on Osteen, the Larry King interview, and how Christians should respond here.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Sovereignty and Responsibility

One of the most frequent objections to the doctrine of unconditional election is that it violates human freedom. Without checking whether our ideas about the nature of human freedom have biblical support, we reason that God cannot possibly be in control of who comes to faith because then humans wouldn’t be free in the way we understand freedom. Instead of superimposing our ideas of freedom onto the pages of Scripture, we should be willing to conform our understanding of human freedom to the teaching of God’s word.

The first Christians didn’t have such an adverse reaction because they were steeped in the Old Testament Scriptures throughout which the Lord is portrayed as the Ruler over all creation, including the wills of men. So many disputes about the doctrine of election are limited to the New Testament, neglecting the vast storehouse of Old Testament literature that should serve as the background for our understanding of God’s redemptive work in Christ. The following are just a few Old Testament texts showing that even human decisions are not independent of the Lord’s sovereign control.

When discussing the issue of the relationship between the divine and human wills, it's necessary to first acknowledge that there is more than one definition that can be attached to the word "freedom." Too frequently when believers debate this issue, they toss that word around as though both parties mean the same thing by it when in actuality, that may not be the case. When Arminians speak of the will being free, they usually mean that the motions of the will are undetermined. Some have referred to this as libertarian freedom, meaning that the will is equally able to move in any of a number of directions. From a Reformed or Calvinistic perspective, freedom of the will refers to the ability to choose what I desire without being coerced or made to choose contrary to my wishes. The Calvinist affirms that the will is free in that we act in accordance with our own motives, desires, etc. while simultaneously affirming that God is sovereign even over the actions of people. Calvinists take this view of freedom because we believe that it best accounts for numerous biblical accounts of human actions and decisions that are ultimately ascribed to God's purpose or will.

Take Eli's rebellious sons, for example. According to 1 Samuel 2:25, they did not heed their father's rebuke "for it was the will of the LORD to put them to death." Note that the author says that they acted as they did (or did not act as they should have) because of what God willed. Did they act freely? Yes, in that they acted in accordance with their nature and desires. Nevertheless, their acting as they did fulfilled God's purpose. By the way, we see here the coexistence of human responsibility and divine responsibility. The sons were judged for their rebellion even though the text says that their disobedience was ultimately due to what God had purposed.

The account of Joseph and his brothers provides yet another biblical affirmation of divine sovereignty over human choices and actions coexisting with human responsibility. While acknowledging the evil intentions of his brothers (i.e., their moral responsibility) Joseph also acknowledges God's sovereign purpose for their actions: "And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance. Now, therefore, it was not you who sent me here but God..." (Gen. 45:7-8). "And as for you, you meant evil against me but God meant it (i.e., your action) for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive" (Gen. 50:20). Take note of what Joseph does not say. He does not say "You meant evil...but God used it...." This is how the verse is often rendered when people refer to it but it is not true to the text. Joseph used the same verb ("meant," "purposed," or "intended") with reference to Joseph's brothers and to God. God intended their actions in order to accomplish his good will.

These are just two of the numerous biblical texts that show God holding someone morally responsible for acts that he had ordained that they would perform. Another instance is David's census which, according to 2 Sam. 24:1, was incited by the Lord. Related to this whole discussion is the fact that another biblical text, 1 Chronicles 21:1, claims that it was Satan who incited David to so act. Which is true? Both are. One simply has to distinguish between ultimate or primary causes and proximate or secondary causes. If we are to avoid contradiction between biblical texts, we have to conclude that the Lord used the agency of Satan in order to accomplish his will with respect to David and Israel. Note too that David is judged for the very action that the text says the Lord incited him to perform. Again we see the simultaneity of divine sovereignty over human actions and human responsibility for those actions. This is completely in keeping with Calvinistic theology but I fail to see how the Arminian conception of freedom can account for it.

The above treatment of secondary causes is also relevant to your questions about whether Greg as a Calvinist feels the responsibility to evangelize, takes apologetics seriously, calls people to make commitments of faith in Christ, and calls people to live their lives as if their choices have real consequences. None of these things are inconsistent with the realization that while God does decree whatsoever is to come to pass, he also determines the means by which those things will be accomplished. He chose in eternity past those whom he would save and calls them through the gospel. This conviction is what motivated the Apostle Paul in his evangelistic ministry: "Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory" (2 Tim. 2:10). This is why Jesus said so assuredly "All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out" (John 6:37). This is also why Jesus, on the heels of affirming his sovereign prerogative to reveal the Father to whomever he chooses in Matthew 11:27 offers the well known invitation of v. 28: "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Veith on Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

I know I said I wasn't going to be posting this week but I came across this during one of those increasingly more frequent study breaks and wanted to pass it on.

Gene Veith reflects on the study that gave rise to the book Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers. He suggests that the prevalence of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism among church-attending teens may not be due to their ignoring what's being taught. It may be an indicator that they're just obeying. Veith calls us to a three-fold consideration:

Consider how many Christian publications, sermons, and teachings are nothing but moralism. Sometimes morality is reduced to the simplistic MTD commandment "be nice," though often real morals are inculcated. But the common assumption is that being good is easy, just a matter of knowing what one should do and trying harder. The biblical truth that bad behavior is a manifestation of sin, a depravity that inheres in our fallen nature, is skimmed over. And so is the solution to sin: a life-changing faith in Jesus Christ.
Consider how many Christian publications, sermons, and teachings are primarily therapeutic. It is true that Christ can solve many of our problems. But much that passes for Christian teaching says nothing about Christ. Instead, it consists of pop psychology, self-help platitudes, and the power of positive thinking.
Consider how many Christian publications, sermons, and teachings talk about God in a generic way, but say nothing about the Father, who created and still sustains the world; the Son, who became Incarnate in this world to win our salvation; and the Holy Spirit, who works through the Word of God to bring us to faith.
The psychologizing of the faith is a topic never too distant from my mind. I intend to share some thoughts in the not too distant future. OK, back to the books.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

This Week

I won't be blogging as at long last I'll be taking comprehensive exams (9 hours over three days - Monday, Tuesday, and Friday). I would appreciate your prayer on my behalf. Surprisingly, my anxiety level is low. At this point I just want to jump in and get this behind me. See you on the other side!

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Cultural Apologetics: Not Just for the Lost

I encourage you to read the recent fundraising letter from Ken Myers of Mars Hill Audio Journal. He compares and contrasts cultural and traditional apologetics, defining the former as "systematic efforts to advance the plausibility of Christian claims in light of the messages communicated through dominant cultural institutions, including films, popular music, literature, art, and the mass media." We're aware that ideas have consequences but Myers points out that they have antecedents as well - cultural forms and institutions that incline us to find some beliefs more plausible than others.
While acknowledging the value of understanding our culture for evangelism, Myers says it's even more crucial for discipleship because:
....our culture also conveys pervasive and subtle challenges to Christian faithfulness. So it is important for us not simply to be able to rebut the errors of bad thinking, but to identify the ways we believers have unwittingly conformed the shape of our lives to the patterns of practice and affection encouraged by the culture around us, and thus have come to embrace a mentality, a sensibility, an array of deeply held assumptions about God, about Creation, and about human well-being that are contrary to those found in Scripture.

I think Myers is painfully on target with the following assessment:
It is tempting for believers to live with a small package of Christian assertions on top of a huge foundation of anti-Christian assumptions. We want to make Christian claims about a few things without doing the hard work of reforming our conscience and our consciousness in ways that fully honor God.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Boasting in What Should Make Us Humble

Skip the last pages of a novel and you're left clueless. You don't know how the story ends and what ultimately becomes of the characters whose lives you've followed throughout the book. Reference works are different. Especially when each chapter is a self-contained unit, there's not as much at stake if you choose not to read the three to four page wrap-up at the end.
Last night I was reading about the final states of the righteous and the wicked in the second edition of Millard Erickson's Christian Theology. Upon completing that section I noticed the title of the next and final chapter - "Concluding Thoughts." I had more studying to do in other volumes and I didn't think I'd find anything in those few pages that would be of aid so I was close to closing the book. I'm so glad I didn't. In my opinion, the content of this chapter should have been put up front. Erickson discusses the importance of ideas, describes the relationship between orthodoxy (right belief) and orthopraxy (right conduct), and shows how theology is integral to appreciating God's grandeur. He also warns of the dangers associated with the study of theology:
There are certain theological diseases to which one is exposed and which one may contract as a result of this endeavor. Helmut Thielicke has described several of them quite vividly in his Little Exercise for Young Theologians. One of the most common and most serious is the sin of pride. When we have acquired a considerable sophistication in matters of theology, there is a danger that we will regard that knowledge as something of a badge of virtue, something that sets us apart as superior to others. We may use that knowledge, and particularly the jargon we have acquired, to intimidate others who are less informed. We may take advantage of our superior skills, becoming intellectual bullies. Or our knowledge of theology may lead us to a type of theological gamesmanship, in which the arguing of one theory against another becomes our whole purpose in life. But this is to convert what should be the most serious of matters into a sport (p. 1251).
Usually, the ultimate end of playing a game is to win - to beat one's competitors thereby proving superiority and gaining acclaim. The proper goal of theological education (whether formal or not) should be to become a better worshiper of the triune Lord and a better lover of fellow image bearers. If my study of theology doesn't lead to greater conformity to the character of Christ, if what drives me is the desire to amass weapons of theological destruction to improve my "record," something is seriously wrong. Debate is necessary, to be sure. Jesus' followers have a divine mandate to contend earnestly for the faith and to refute doctrinal error. There's no doubting that. But we must guard our hearts with all diligence in the process. I will never outgrow the need for reminders such as Erickson's.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Spiritual Maturity by the Numbers

A new national survey by the Barna Group asked respondents to rate their spiritual maturity in seven areas: worship, sharing their faith, Bible knowledge, living consistently with the principles of their faith, serving others, maintaining healthy relationships, and providing spiritual leadership to the family. Not surprisingly, the majority of those surveyed ranked themselves as either "Completely or Highly Mature" or of "Average Maturity" in each of the areas considered. Evangelicals claimed to be more mature than average in worship (61%), living their faith principles (61%), maintaining healthy relationships (55%) and serving other people (55%). Numbers were down when it came to sharing their faith with non-Christians. Thirty-two percent claimed to be above average while 14% said they were below.

Barna has done some commendable work in alerting the church to the extent to which it suffers from the lack of a biblical outlook on life. This is something he sought to address in his book Think Like Jesus in which he describes a biblical worldview as "a means of experiencing, interpreting, and responding to reality in light of biblical perspective." Given his expressed concern for the cultivation of a comprehensive biblical perspective on life, I find it surprising that Barna constructed the survey in question as he did.

Notice that worship is segmented from the rest of life. This kind of compartmentalizing is definitely not consistent with the Scriptures according to which worship entails all of the other dimensions asked about. A truly biblical worldview finds the thought of isolating worship from the quality of my relationships unthinkable. This is why the author of Hebrews portrays our good deeds and readiness to share as "sacrifices [which] are pleasing to God" (Heb. 7:16). Yes, worship includes the "sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name" (7:16) but it is so much more than that. Paul conceived of his evangelistic efforts among the Gentiles in priestly terms (Rom. 15:16), indicating that sharing our faith is also an aspect of worship.

Unfortunately, by asking its subjects to consider worship independently from the rest of life, this survey perpetuates the kind of fragmented, unbiblical thinking that already riddles the minds of Christ's followers. If we are to think with a Christian mind, we must see worship as that which calls for the totality of our lives as Paul affirms in Romans 12:2. Biblical worship doesn't demand a portion of my life. Biblical worship demands the totality of my life. I have no doubt that George Barna would agree with this but that conviction does not come across in how this survey was crafted.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Good Point. Wrong Text!

Peter Bogert at Stronger Church reminds preachers of the importance of attending to a biblical author's intent by paying close attention to a passage's literary context. Failure to do so results in sermons that lack textual authority and congregations who follow the poor example of biblical interpretation modeled from the pulpit. Read this even if you're not a preacher. [HT: Transforming Sermons]

Monday, June 13, 2005

An Atheist's Problem with the Problem of Evil

"My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such violent reaction against it? A man feels wet when he falls into water, because man is not a water animal: a fish would not feel wet. Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too - for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist - in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless - I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality - namely my idea of justice - was full of sense. Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning."
--C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

The following online exchange began with Mark (not his real name) claiming that even if the Genesis account were true, it would have been wrong for God to penalize Adam for eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil since prior to that time he would have had no moral understanding.
KP: You realize your objection is based on certain ethical assumptions which are also at odds with your atheistic faith. You're reasoning that one shouldn't be blamed for what he doesn't know is wrong. But as an atheist, what is the foundation for your making such moral claims?

Mark: Adam had the intelligence of an infant or maybe an animal until he ate from the Tree of Knowledge, no? How is he to be blamed for disobeying God? He was simply not capable of differing right from wrong yet. And my raising this objection is not a problem when we're discussing the internal consistency of the Christian story. Then the ethical norms in question are the Christian ones

KP: It doesn't follow that eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil meant that prior to that Adam had no knowledge of what is right. If you pay attention to the context and the literary cues, it's clear that eating from the tree was tantamount to Adam and Eve deciding for themselves what was good and evil as opposed to submitting to God. This is why, for example, the formula "And God saw that it was good..." is repeated in the first chapter and then in Chapter 3 the transgression is preceded by the words "When the woman saw that the tree was good for food...." Prior to this God alone saw what was good but the nature of the transgression was that man autonomously determined what was good for himself. That's the nature of sin.
[Many thanks to John Sailhamer, a former professor, for alerting me to this. In his The Pentateuch as Narrative, he notes: "Thus the temptation is not presented as a general rebellion from God's authority. Rather, it is portrayed as a quest for wisdom and "the good" apart from God's provision."]

Mark: Why does God impose it as a law that his creation should obey him like a dictator?

KP: Do you find that morally objectionable? And if so, on what basis?

Mark: KP, yes very much so. God creates us without asking our permission then plays dictator on us. He has no right to do that

KP: No right? What moral authority are you basing that judgment on? If all that exists are matter, motion, time, and chance, then there are no objective moral rules are there?

Mark: God's own moral norms. Oppression is not good

KP: You assume that God's law binds him in exactly the same manner that it does humans but this is not in keeping with biblical teaching. For example, God commands us not to steal but how is it possible for God to steal when all that he has made belongs to him?

Mark: OK, stealing example is nice but it doesn't fit to the problem of oppression.

KP: Biblically speaking it is not oppressive for God to demand obedience of those created for his purposes. So again, no internal contradiction. You just find it oppressive because you don't like it but that's hardly an argument against it.

Mark: That's true I don't like it. It sounds like oppression to me and I think it is. He is going to burn half human kind in hell. If that is not oppression then what is?

KP: What's wrong with oppression of any kind? Let's not just limit it to the question of God. If evolution is true, as you have said it is, then isn't oppression natural and amoral? Survival of the fittest, you know.

Mark: Oppression is wrong because you violate another person's rights.
KP: What is a right? Is it a physical entity? Is a right capable of being scientifically verified? When you refer to these things called "rights" how exactly do they cohere with a materialistic philosophy?

Mark: Rights are something that exist within a state

KP: Oh, so rights are conferred by the state?

Mark: Yes.

KP: Are you pro-choice?

Mark: Yes.

KP: If the state were to pass anti-abortion laws, would you still argue that a woman has the right to choose?

Mark: Uhm, yes.

KP: But if rights are conferred by the state, then women wouldn't have that right, would they? So you'd be arguing that women have a right that is not granted by the state.

Mark: OK, you have a point.

KP: So you don't really believe that all rights are conferred by the government, do you?

Mark: I guess not.

KP: You really believe that people have inherent rights. Would that be fair?

Mark: We have to believe that.

KP: But this poses another problem for your atheistic philosophy. For, given your view of things, there are no such things as rights. There is only the natural world but no transcendent origin of rights. So again I ask you, what do you mean when you refer to rights and how do they cohere in an atheistic framework?

Mark: You are right there. We have to accept rights without asking of an account of their origin.

KP: No, I don't. You do. So, you live as though such things as intrinsic rights exist even though you know they have no rational basis. Another dissonance that leads me to reject atheism.

Mark: There must be another way other than accepting theism

KP: Wishful thinking. Why MUST there be another way?

Mark: Because theism just doesn't make sense

KP: So far it has made a whole lot more sense than atheism. It has provided the necessary presuppositions for such things as ethics, science, rationality, etc.

Mark: I think if theism were true atheism wouldn't exist at all because theism's truth would be obvious to all

KP: Again, you overlook the effects of a little word called sin.

(At this point, someone else asked Mark if he felt the same way about atheism. In other words, if atheism was so obvious, why would there be theists.)

Mark: No, atheism's truth is not that obvious

KP: But you said it was obvious that there is no God. That's how this conversation started. You said it was obvious that god-belief was made up.

Mark: When you consider the problem of evil and the biblical stories that sound like myths, then yes.

KP: Now you say atheism isn't that obvious? We've dealt with the problem of evil and you've conceded that there is no necessary logical inconsistency.

Mark: Right

KP: The pendulum is swinging. Atheism is obvious and not obvious at the same time.

Mark: But still some things don't sound right to me. A good God wouldn't let innocent people suffer even if the Fall happened. God would forgive that sin of Adam's. What was God doing before he created the universe anyway? I can't imagine a God sitting in eternity without doing anything then suddenly deciding to create a universe to play with.

KP: Some of the most ardent atheistic philosophers have acknowledged that the so-called logical problem of evil is no longer a problem with the addition of another proposition: "God has a morally sufficient reason for the evil he allows." Now, unless you can demonstrate that God has no such morally sufficient reason, then your objections are pointless.

KP: Is your inability to conceive of something evidence that it is not or cannot be true?

Mark: OK, then I step back on the problem of evil.

KP: Good move

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Blogdom of God Undergoing Major Overhaul

Adrian Warnock announced that major changes are coming to the Blogdom of God Alliance and is requesting that folks email him lists of URL's of Christian blogs. Whatever this top secret development (to be unveiled later this week) is, Adrian believes it will enable Christian bloggers around the world to work together. Check out his blog for details. This is almost as suspenseful as the season finale of LOST!

Friday, June 10, 2005

Warfield on Prayerful Study

"Nothing could be more fatal, however, than to set these two things over against one another. Recruiting officers do not dispute whether it is better for soldiers to have a right leg or a left leg: soldiers should have both legs. Sometimes we hear it said that ten minutes on your knees will give you a truer, deeper, more operative knowledge of God than ten hours over your books. "What!" is the appropriate response, "than ten hours over your books, on your knees?" Why should you turn from God when you turn to your books, or feel that you must turn from your books in order to turn to God? If learning and devotion are as antagonistic as that, then the intellectual life is in itself accursed, and there can be no question of a religious life for a student, even of theology."

Two Cheers for Xenos Christian Fellowship

Two days ago I recommended a book by Xenos Christian Fellowship's lead pastors. Today I learned that my friend Byron Harvey is there attending a conference. (I was wondering why his blog was so quiet.) Byron has some complimentary words about their approach to ministry with which I agree. I join him in encouraging you to check out the resources available at their site. I particularly admire their "Conversation & Cuisine" outreaches.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Interview with Soul Searching Author, Christian Smith

Thanks to STR's Brett Kunkle for notifying us that Youthworker Journal interviewed Christian Smith, leading sociologist and author of Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (about which I wrote here). Smith says:
My sense is that most youth ministers are knocking themselves out to do their best. Many also tell me they're under pressure from all sides to entertain their teenagers, which isn't a great context for sustained, solid teaching in faith. But for whatever reasons, the bottom line is that the majority of teenagers, including many evangelicals, turn out to be pretty clueless and inarticulate about their own faith perspectives.
Since not everyone will be inclined to read the book, a video format is in the works:

We're thinking the video will be the kind of thing that a youth minister could show parents and other key people in a congregation, hopefully as a catalyst to change priorities and generate some discussion and energy around teenagers. I expect the video to be available sometime in the fall of 2005. We'll announce it on our Web site: . People can sign up there for free notifications of such things.

The Real Me

I continue to make my way through One Nation Under Therapy when I'm not doing required reading. I'm currently in a chapter titled "From Sin to Syndrome" which deals with the various ways in which violent and immoral behavior is either medicalized or explained in terms of some psychological deficit. The authors quote Anthony Daniels, a British psychiatrist who works with prison inmates:

That criminals often shift the locus of responsibility for their acts elsewhere is illustrated by some of the expressions they use most frequently in their consultations with me. Describing, for example, their habitual loss of temper, which leads them to assault whomever displeases them sufficiently, they
say, "My head goes," or "My head just went."
Sommers and Satel go on to say that Daniels has observed that many of the convicts he works with share a distinct theory of the self that he calls the doctrine of the "Real Me":
The Real Me has little or nothing to do with the self who breaks into houses, uses drugs and alcohol, and beats his wife and children. "No, the 'Real Me' is an immaculate conception, untouched by human conduct: it is the unassailable core of virtue that enables me to retain my self-respect whatever I do."
This morning at World Net Daily, I read an article about Mary Carey, a porn star (whose real name is Mary Ellen Cook). You may recall that she was among a host of unlikely candidates in the running to become California's next governor following the recall of Gray Davis. Now she's in the news because she is scheduled to attend next week's President's Dinner and Salute to Freedom, a $2,500 per plate event sponsored by the National Republican Congressional Committee. Carey says that it would be an honor to meet President Bush with whom she'd like to talk about freedom of speech and the crackdown on the adult film industry. She'd also like to get some pointers from the Commander in Chief as to how she might advance her political career.

Carey claims to be a Christian whose daily routine consists of Bible reading and prayer. She dismisses the thought that her lifestyle is at odds with her profession, saying:
"I probably have less sex with those guys than any college girl [typically has]. It doesn't make me less moral," she said. "I'm sure a lot of Christians have had sex before marriage. God reads my heart. I'm a good person. ... I think I have more morals than the politicians in office. I don't rob, steal, hurt, or lie - a lot of politicians do that."

That Carey adheres to the doctrine of the "Real Me" is evident in her reaction to a question about how her pornographic occupation is consistent with the biblical prohibition of adultery: "Bill Clinton committed adultery. [Doing] adult movies is acting, portraying a role. It's not Mary Ellen Cook, the real me."

Interesting that Ms. Carey uses everyone but God as her moral point of reference - promiscuous college coeds, politicians, and, last but not least, former President Bill Clinton. She has established a self-righteous system that allows her to soothe her conscience by telling herself she's not as bad as those "truly evil people."

Of course, we don't have to go to prison inmates and porn stars to find instances of this kind of self-justifying activity. Proverbs tells us that it's universal: "Every man's way is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the hearts" (21:2). Each of us is prone to self-deceptive pride that entices us to preserve the illusion of a pristine "Real Me" while attributing our wicked actions to factors outside our selves.

I hope Mary Carey does read the Bible every day. Likewise, I hope she'll soon read and consider Jesus' teaching in Mark 7:21-23: "For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person."

Carey's right. God does read our hearts - but he doesn't compare them to the texts of other lives. He judges them by the standard of his own moral purity. This is why we need the Savior.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Why Should Christians Blog?

Adrian Warnock answers that question and offers a list of ways blogging can serve the church. Adrian says, "I would love to see christian bloggers linking to each other more and working to increase the coherrance of the group as a whole and the emergance of an online christian mind." I'm all for that!

Eros is Blind

Continuing with the theme of marriage, I'd thought I'd recommend the book I've been using in pre-marital counseling for some years now. It was originally published under the title The Myth of Romance (which I liked better) but now goes by Spiritual Relationships That Last: What the Bible Says About Dating and Marriage. (OK, I know the Bible doesn't say anything about dating, per se, but overlook that unfortunate choice of a subtitle. The content is excellent.)

The authors, Gary DeLashmutt and Dennis McCallum, are pastors at Xenos Christian Fellowship . The book is the outgrowth of a class they put together to help single Christians understand what biblical love is and how drastically it differs from the cultural notion of love as an involuntary, emotional experience. This understanding of love as something that just "comes over us" is, according to the authors, the primary, if not the sole, criterion for marriage choices even among believers:

Using this standard, a couple can justify even the most hazardous marriage plans with the plea, "But we're in love!" The concept is so ingrained in modern culture that even strong Christians find themselves asking, "How do I know when it's really love?" Such a question reveals that they believe in a romantic attraction so powerful that nothing can change it. They think the key to success is making sure they find "true" love - eros so true it will never fade.
A chapter titled "Is Love Enough?" contains a list of questions to help readers know if they're being excessively influenced by the romance myth in their dating or marriage choices. One of the questions is related to what I blogged about yesterday - the necessity of realistically acknowledging your partner's weaknesses:
Are you unable to articulate your dating partner's weaknesses? Do your friends say you react with excessive defensiveness to those who offer a criticism? Couples who are "in love" often say that because they never fight or disagree their love is the "real thing." Eros is notoriously blind to a lover's weaknesses, and those under its spell tend to respond with outrage to any who poke holes in their idealized image of the other person. Some Christians spiritualize this blindness by claiming that God has "shown them" he approves of their relationship in spite of overwhelming objective evidence that they are in trouble. By contrast, dating couples who are forging a relationship based on Christian love temper their feelings of attraction with realism. They will not feel compelled to ignore or defend their partner's character weaknesses, because their love is a commitment to do good to the other person rather than an emotional state to be maintained at all costs. They make constructive criticism, along with encouragement, a part of their relationship from the beginning.
I appreciate this volume's sober and honest look at the difficulties of marriage (the first chapter is called "Marriage Success Today: What Are Your Chances?") as well as its consistent emphasis that biblical love is something that can and must be learned (a hope-giving emphasis that makes it worthwhile reading for married couples as well).

Unlike many works on marriage that focus exclusively on the relationship between the husband and wife, DeLashmutt and McCallum remind Christian couples that their relationship is not to be insulated from the needs and counsel of the corporate body. Chapters on marriage and ministry and marriage and community highlight this point. Other chapters address distinguishing between sexual love and exploitation, the importance of spiritual compatibility, and overcoming issues from the past that could impede marital harmony such as substance abuse, materialism, sexual abuse, past relationships, promiscuity, and divorce.

You can read Chapter 9, Are We Moving in the Same Direction?, here.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

How to be a Constructive Influence in an Anti-Intellectual Church

Greg Koukl has some very helpful advice for believers in churches that don't see the importance of cultivating clear thinking. Don't grumble. Be a patient, exemplary, and strategic part of the solution.

Thinking Christian

I just learned of a blog I'm sure to be visiting regularly - Tom Gilson's Thinking Christian. Here's how he describes it: "Encouraging followers of Christ to engage in the historic tradition of excellent Christian thinking, and inviting others to think in a fresh way about their lives and beliefs." Check it out.

Marriage: What Did You Expect?

Last night I began pre-marital counseling with a young couple I'll be marrying later this summer. I brought last Sunday's Parade Magazine with me because it contains what I think is a valuable illustration. Each week the inside cover is home to answers to questions about celebrities' lives and careers mailed in by readers. The first question asked whether a popular morning show host's six year marriage is over. Here's how the magazine answered (I've omitted the names.):

Over? No. On the rocks? Yes. [wife]....resents [husband's] long absences on assignments for [the show]. He even cut short his coverage of Pope John Paul II's funeral to pacify his temperamental wife. Friends say [husband] will do anything to save the marriage for the sake of his kids...
Not to be insensitive to the Mrs., but the first question I had when reading this was: "What did she expect?" It's hard to believe that someone could be romantically involved with the host of a leading national morning news show for any length of time and be ignorant of how demanding his schedule is. Who knows? Perhaps she at one time found his globetrotting career intriguing. It may have been part of what attracted her to him in the first place. Whether or not that's the case, now, if what Parade reports is true, she resents that things now are as they were when she said "I do."

Our marriages may never be written about in a newspaper magazine but those of us who are married can probably relate on some level to what's going on with this celebrity couple. Caught in the throes of romance we might have played down those "minor irritants" we saw in our spouse-to-be, maybe even thinking to ourselves that given enough time we could eradicate them. Or maybe we didn't give thought to the potentially irksome side of what we initially found so captivating. The point I wanted to make to this young couple was that it's important to consider what their expectations of each other are and to enter into the covenant of marriage with their eyes open to each other's faults.

Those contemplating marriage (as well as those already bound) would do well to heed the counsel offered by Puritan pastor Richard Baxter in his The Mutual Duties of Husbands and Wives Toward Each Other. He gives a series of directives for maintaining love, the third of which reads, "Be not too hasty, but know beforehand all the imperfections which may tempt you to despise your future mate."

Monday, June 06, 2005

Purposeful Marketing

I just finished reading Tim Challies' well-researched description of the marketing strategy behind Rick Warren's Purpose Driven Life and urge you to make time to do so yourself.
Tim calls the marketing technique (known as "pyromarketing") "brilliant" because it takes advantage of the following factors in the church:
1. Naivete. This approach dupes Christians into becoming marketers, not for a book, but for a marketing approach, and ultimately for a profit-driven corporation. This marketing approach is supposed to work as easily with any product as with what is a supposedly-biblical book. There is nothing inherently Christian about the approach and it has no biblical basis.
2. Ignorance. This approach also benefited from the ignorance of evangelical Christians, that they were not able to see beyond the marketing and see a book that was, in many places, clearly unbiblical and which said little that had not already been said before, either by Christian or secular writers. Were
Christians properly-educated in the Scriptures, this approach would fall flat.

3. Pragmatism. This approach is, at its heart, pragmatic. This is the charge that has long been levelled at the Church Growth Movement, that success becomes the ultimate arbiter of truth rather than the Word of God. In a sense all marketing is pragmatic, especially when it is designed to sell a product.
This is not a caustic, "sour grapes" piece. It's a detailed look at the intersection of commercialism and Christian publishing including quotes from the head of the marketing team working with Zondervan. Regardless of where you fall on the continuum of reactions to Rick Warren, I hope you'll read it.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Stem Cell Debate Myths

In today's Chicago Tribune, editorial board member Steve Chapman identifies misinformation widely disseminated by proponents of embryonic stem cell research (ESCR). We're probably all familiar with the argument that rather than discarding 400,000 frozen, "surplus" embryos in fertilization clinics we should use them for potentially life-saving research. Chapman notes, however:
The truth is that most of them are anything but "surplus." According to a 2003 survey by researchers at the RAND Corp., a California think tank, 88 percent of them are being stored for their original function: to make babies for their parents. (See How Many Frozen Human Embryos are Available for Research.)
Just 2.2 percent of the embryos have been designated for disposal and less than 3 percent for research. The latter group amounts to about 11,000 embryos.
Chapman points out that given this significantly smaller number, embryo adoption is not as far-fetched an idea as ESCR advocates would have us believe.
The RAND study concluded that the 11,000 embryos would yield no more than 275 stem cell lines, far less than the "hundreds of thousands" of lines (derived from millions of embryos) that may be required according to a Scientific American article. I fear Chapman is right about the reason ESCR advocates pushed for the federal bill recently passed by the House. I also agree with his concluding note of caution:
....they want Americans to get used to the idea of destroying human embryos in research. Then it will be a small step to get the public to accept what they really want--creating human life in order to destroy it.
Maybe most Americans will support creating vast farms of tiny embryos that will be culled like cattle for their stem cells. But if that's where this train is going, we ought to know it before we get on board.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Correction: Some Religious Beliefs Are Permissible in the Stem Cell Debate

World Magazine has a story about the haste on the part of U.S. lawmakers to pass legislation allowing for federal funding of embryonic stem cell research after South Korea's Hwang Woo-Suk successfully engineered embryonic clones from which to extract stem cells. I find the following ironic given all the clamor about the impropriety of allowing religious beliefs to impede research:
The Korea Times described Mr. Hwang as a devout Buddhist whose beliefs helped him sort out the ethical questions of stem-cell research. The newspaper quoted one of Mr. Hwang's partners, Moon Shin-yong, as saying cloning represented a "different way of thinking about the cycle of life and rebirth."
For more about Dr. Hwang's ethical justification (and why he made sure someone talked to the embryos) read Steve Wagner's post at STR's blog.

Calibrate Your Me-O-Meter

Low self-esteem is a secular counterpart to Christianity's doctrine of depravity. Many are persuaded that it is the spring from which all kinds of corruption flow despite the absence of evidence in support of that conviction. In a recent USA Today opinion piece, Christina Hoff Summers, co-author of One Nation Under Therapy (to which I've referred previously), illustrates the consequences of this deeply ingrained cultural belief for the education of children. Here are some examples:
The National PTA recommends a cooperative alternative to the fiercely competitive "tug of war" called "tug of peace." Some professionals in physical education advocate activities in which children compete only with themselves, such as juggling, unicycling, pogo sticking, and even "learning to... manipulate wheelchairs with ease."
The Girl Scouts of America recently launched a major campaign "to address the problem of low self-esteem among 8- to 14-year-old girls." (Never mind that there is no good evidence these girls suffer a self-esteem deficit.) With the help of a $2.65 million grant from Unilever (a major corporation that owns products such as Lipton and Slim Fast), its new program, "Uniquely ME!," asks girls to contemplate their own "amazing" specialness. Girls are invited to make collages celebrating themselves. They can play a getting-to-know-me game called a "Me-O-Meter."
One normally thinks of the Girl Scouts as an organization that fosters self-reliance and good citizenship. Me-O-Meters? How does that promote self-reliance? And is self-absorption necessarily good for young people?

Yes, say the mental health experts at Girl Scout Research Center. The Uniquely ME! pamphlet tells its young readers, "This booklet is designed to help boost your self-esteem by celebrating YOU and your uniqueness. ... Having high self-esteem ... can help you lead a more successful life."

Now, wasn't this just an excellent post? I'd sure feel good about myself and would probably treat others a whole lot better if you'd leave an affirming comment. Wow! That therapeutic mindset really is contagious.

Homosexual Flies?

The New York Times reports that researchers have identified a master sexual gene in fruit flies. Males artificially given the female variation of the gene exhibit female sexual behavior directed toward other males. Likewise, females given the male version of the gene attempt to mate with other females. According to the study's lead author: "We have shown that a single gene in the fruit fly is sufficient to determine all aspects of the flies' sexual orientation and behavior."
Dr. Michael Weiss, chairman of the department of biochemistry at Case Western Reserve University expressed optimism that "this will take the discussion about sexual preferences out of the realm of morality and put it in the realm of science."
I find it interesting that Dr. Weiss is only hopeful that human sexual orientation might be accounted for biologically. If the findings of the fly study were applied consistently, sexual behavior of all kinds could be accounted for in terms of genetic determinism in which case it would be inappropriate (might we say "wrong?") to offer any moral evaluation whatsoever.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Theology, Theory, and Practice

A friend currently in seminary has told me about disagreements that sometimes arise between students preparing for the pastorate and those looking forward to an academic vocation. Members of the former group don't always appreciate the benefit and/or necessity of theoretical, abstract study whereas future academicians can overlook the necessity to relate their subjects of interest to concrete people, situations, and relationships. Most of my Christian life has been spent swinging between the two poles in search of equilibrium. There are aspects of both academic and church life that appeal to me. Likewise, there are elements of both I find frustrating. I don't think I fit squarely in either environment and I'm disheartened by the compartmentalizing that frequently pits them against each other, confining singing to the sanctuary and scholarship to the classroom.
I gravitate to Christian authors who are discontent with the all too frequent division between the life of the mind and life in the Spirit, between theory and practice. While I understand the need to make distinctions for the sake of categorizing, I can't stand the segmenting of theology into systematic and practical realms as though the former is not practical and the latter is not systematic.
John Frame is one of my favorite authors. My seminarian friend gave me a copy of an article he wrote in the Winter 2002 issue of Reformation and Revival Journal called "Studying Theology as a Servant of Christ." He offers the following helpful explanation of the relationship between theory and practice:
The broadest term I know to describe everything theology does is the term "application"; hence my slogan, "theology is application." Of course, the term "application" is susceptible to some misunderstanding. It has suggested to some a type of theology that abhors anything "theoretical" and focuses only on the "practical." So let me say here that that is not at all what I have in mind. Theoretical work in theology is very important. My only concern is to point out that even the most theoretical sort of theology falls under the label "application." For why do we develop theological theories, after all? Only because they address real questions people have on matters of spiritual importance. So theory is part of application.
So this way of looking at theology does not elevate the practical over the theoretical in any general way. On the other hand, neither does it elevate the theoretical over the practical. Theoretical and practical questions are on a par with one another, all fair game for the theologian
I also resist the notion that theory is somehow the basis of practice. A much more biblical view is that Scripture itself is the basis of both theory and practice, and that, under the authority of Scripture, theory and practice serve one another.
Theology is not a hindrance to the real work of the church. Theology, understood as Frame describes it, is the work of the church.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Phil Johnson on Quick and Dirty Calvinism

Phillip Johnson of Grace Community Church has started blogging with a bang. His first post,Quick-and-Dirty Calvinism, identifies some of the major differences between Internet and historic Calvinism. Among them:
Today's rank-and-file Calvinists are more in the mold of Pink, Boettner, and J.I. Packer than they are like Spurgeon or Whitefield. In other words, modern Calvinism is producing mostly students and polemicists, not evangelists and preachers. That's because Internet Calvinism is simply too academic and theoretical and not concerned enough with doing, as opposed to hearing, the Word (James 1:22). To a large degree, I think that's what the medium itself encourages.

What Then Shall We Read?

George Barna's findings about which books are having the greatest influence on pastors is stirring much-needed conversation about the general reading habits of Christians and the state of Christian publishing.

Peter Bogert at Stronger Church is asking for book titles pastors should recommend to their congregations. The categories he's looking for are: Bible reference, basic theology reference, God and salvation, following Christ, and home and vocation. Peter will post the results on his blog and Tim Challies will likely post them at Diet of Bookworms. Chime in with your suggestions.