I am now blogging at a new blog: erdman31.com

If you post comments here at Theos Project, please know that I will respond and engage your thoughts in a timely manner.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church

A review of Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church (2005)
D.A. Carson
My Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

In Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church Carson seeks to “become conversant” with the emergent church. I first note that the title does not accurately reflect Carson’s tone and objectives. For example, it is hard to find any suggestions made by Carson for conversations and dialogue between mainline Evangelicals and those in the E/emerging/Emergent church. This is essentially Carson’s final word on the subject, not a book meant to stimulate further dialogue. Carson’s final charge is particularly revealing and a bit condescending as he speaks to the Emergent Church: “They need to spend more time in careful study of Scripture and theology than they are doing, even if that takes away some of the hours they have devoted to trying to understand the culture in which they find themselves.” (234)

In this book there is primarily one aspect on which Carson rests his case, and it has much less to do with Scripture or theology than it does with philosophy. Throughout the book it is abundantly clear that for Carson the issues of church/Scripture/theology/culture all come back to an epistemological issue. That is, for Carson the church must privilege knowledge. I am not suggesting that Carson discards experience or spirituality or emotional aspects of the faith. Rather, I am submitting that Carson privileges knowledge as first philosophy. For Carson it is right and correct epistemology that drives his theology and hermeneutic.

Carson begins by taking as a given that it is epistemology that is the distinction between modernity and postmodernity: “The majority view is that the fundamental issue in the move from modernism to postmodernism is epistemology…In my view it is this epistemological contrast between the modern and the postmodern that is most usefully explored, as it touches so many other things.” (27)

This is a fundamental point for Carson, and it is followed through for the remainder of the book. (crf. 27-33, 40-41, 57-58, 122-124, 188ff.) Most of what Carson does can be seen as a defense of privileging knowledge as the most foundational pursuit. This is most particularly the case when Carson speaks of truth. (“The discussion in this book could be recast as a debate between the claims of truth and the claims of experience.” 218) “Truth” on Carson’s development is always propositional and related to knowledge.

Carson’s treatment of Lindbeck’s Crusader example on page 144 is particularly revealing. The scenario is of a Crusader who is bashing in the skull of an infidel and crying out, “Christ is Lord.” Carson comments:

The statement “Christ is Lord” is in fact true, objectively true, insofar as it refers to the extra-textual realities: the (objective) Christ is Lord of the universe, its Maker and final Judge, regardless of whether he is confessed as such or not or, as in this instance, confessed as such while an action is being undertaken by the confessor that flies in the face of what it means truly and faithfully to confess Christ as Lord…The statement, in other words, is objectively true…” (144)

This example is very telling, for a few reasons. First, it reveals Carson’s bias towards propositional truth. For Carson the truth of the statement is found in the proposition, and this has nothing to do with the context in which it is uttered, or it furthermore has nothing to do with the person who is uttering it or their own existential relationship to truth. For Carson it is the truth of the proposition that we must be primarily concerned about. This is a theme that runs throughout the book. (See especially 218ff.)

Also note that Carson has no problem, whatsoever, in abstracting propositions from their context in the stream of life and evaluating them for their propositional truth content. But it is at this point that Carson tips his hand and reveals his failure to understand the contemporary culture. For the emerging culture, and for many in the postmodern world and church there is little interest or desire to abstract propositions from their context in life. That is, the proposition that the Crusader utters is not relevant if the life-style and spirit of that same Crusader is untruthful. I think this is a key point. Many, like Carson, from mainline Evangelicalism and conservative church backgrounds who do not understand the current culture seem to believe that “postmoderns” are all relativists, and this is the typical polemic leveled against the so-called postmodern culture. The first thing wrong with this is that there is no uniform “postmodern” movement. But more importantly, there are some in the culture that are simply looking for a truth that is more holistic and authentic. For many of a “postmodern” ilk there is nothing true about the Crusader. To rip his objectively true statement out of the context of his infidel-bashing just seems wrong. Yet Carson seems content to disconnect statements from the reality in which they are embedded.

Perhaps the propositional statement is true in a propositional sense, but why privilege “truth” as merely propositional? Can we not say that the Crusader’s actions were untrue? Or that the untruth in his soul and spirit denied Jesus Christ, who proclaimed himself to be the way, the truth, and the life? Furthermore, even if we grant the truth of the proposition uttered it is meaningless. It is meaningful for Carson and others who privilege the proposition, but this is simply not the case for the emerging culture.

This move by Carson is indicative of much of the popular, conservative Christian response to so-called postmodernism. Truth exclusively refers to propositional truth, and these propositions can be freely and liberally ripped from their context in life and examined for their “truth value” regardless of whether or not the person speaking the truth is hacking away at someone’s skull in a blood-thirsty rage. What this really goes to is that in this so-called postmodern era there has been a significant shift from epistemology to ontology. From knowing to being. I would suggest that the quest for true propositions has been replaced by a quest for an authentic life.

I believe that Carson is wrong about privileging epistemology. But keep in mind that this book is reactionary. It does not project a vision for reaching the emerging culture, and furthermore it is simply reacting to the mistakes of many in the E/emerging/Emergent movements who, themselves, seem to think that the postmodern turn is about epistemology! It is interesting that for all of the clamoring very few (if any) of the pop-Christian writers (on either side of this argument) seem to understand the nature of the philosophical and cultural shift from propositional knowledge to authentic being. It seems to be a rather obvious shift, and one that should deserve more attention.

For example, take Carson on page 219: “Truth and experience do not have exactly the same sort of footing. Truth itself, rightly understood, may correct experience, but not the other way around.” Carson’s statement is disturbing on many levels. Once again Carson only allows “truth” to be defined on propositional terms – truth as knowledge. But worse than this is that Carson dichotomizes and pits “truth” (propositional) over and against experience. I am at a loss to understand this move. Surely we may think we have possession of true propositions, but experience could certainly serve as a corrective. The Pharisees thought that they possessed many true propositions, but when they experientially confronted the physical embodiment of truth, Jesus Christ himself, they remained unmoved. (John 8) Carson has tried to cover for himself by saying that the truth “rightly understood” cannot be corrected by experience. But he is merely begging the question because as finite beings we must remain humble and open to experiences that might correct what we think are true propositions. We may think that we posses true propositions “rightly understood,” but it would seems na├»ve to suggest that we could collect a few true propositions and then close ourselves off to any corrections from the experiences of life. Is it not a basic trait of wisdom that one learns and gains insight from one’s experience? Yet for Carson it would seem that we could store up a warehouse of untouchable propositions that we take as true and then reject any corrections that our life experiences might offer.

But the real point is this: Why pit these two (propositions and experience) against each other? My own study of Scripture is that the human person is a whole being – a thinking, feeling, experiential being. And while knowledge might certainly serve as a corrective I do not think that the evidence of Scripture suggests that we should allow ourselves to give knowledge the pride of place that Carson gives it. Rather, I would suggest we do better to view ourselves more holistically as spiritual creatures who are connecting with God and others on multiple levels.

In Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church Carson does offer some helpful insights on issues related to the study of Scripture as well as the necessity of knowledge/epistemology. Yet it remains very difficult for me to get past the fact that he dichotomizes epistemology/ontology as well as propositions/experience and then proceeds to privilege epistemology, knowledge and propositions as the more sure thing for the life of faith. He takes this for granted and then proceeds to make his case against the E/emerging/Emergent church. But I submit that what he takes for granted is precisely the point of contention. In this generation and in especially in the current cultural context the church needs to more carefully consider the place of knowledge and the place of being. Too often pop-Christian books like Carson’s duck the primary issue and then spend the vast majority of pages working under a presumed assumption. This sells books, makes money for publishers, and gives us something to argue about, yet I fail to see how it advances the kingdom or cultivates a truly reflective Christian faith. Instead we become merely a reactionary church.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Kissing gets Gere in trouble

Gere is the subject of arrest warrants in India after a resident in the city of Jaipur filed a complaint about his public display of affection for Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty.

The two shared a platonic embrace at a public function, which the complainant called "an obscene act" that offended local sensibilities, reports said.

Judge Dinesh Gupta issued the arrest warrants after subpoenaing footage of the event last week.

It's unclear what punishment Gere might face, if any. He's since left India but is a frequent visitor to the conservative country as a promoter of health issues and a supporter of the Dalai Lama, whose headquarters is in the Indian town of Dharmsala.

A public obscenity conviction in India could carry punishment of up to three months in jail, a fine, or both.
[taken from http://www.citynews.ca/news/news_10323.aspx]

On kissing the English

More from Lingamish on kissing and the English and something about the English dental plans....

This bounces off of the study on chocolate and kissing that we recently explored.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Are you wearing Johnny's class ring?!!?

I know that no one who reads my blog follows the show 24, but seeing as I have an incredible platform with this blog and the (potential) ability to influence and manipulate millions of readers, I must express my feelings on my favorite tv show. On the whole this has been another awesome season. Excellent show last night, despite the fact that it was relatively low on action. The intrigue of the politics is fascinating. And those dang Chinese always seem to be one step ahead of the game.

One complaint, however, that I must express: Can we please lose the Valley High, adolescent behavior of CTU? I am becoming increasingly irritated by the fact that nobody at CTU can do their job without finding some petty reason to bicker with someone else. And in most cases it takes a "If you are supposed to be going to the dance with me on Saturday night why were you talking to Suzie in the hall" type of tone.

Exasperating! Grow up and do your jobs! Or at the very least the writers need to write in some grown up problems and issues.....But then again.....maybe adolescent behavior is more normative for adults these days. Are the writers of 24 merely reflecting the immaturity of adult society in the United States???

Monday, April 23, 2007

More on kissing

Why I keep posting on this ridiculous topic escapes me...perhaps others can enlighten me on my Freudian slips into kissing posts....

A guide to Biblical kissing

I'm not sure about what follows below because I know from experience (well, not that kind of experience) that not all Africans seem all that adverse to kissing...anyway, here is the excerpt from the above link:

Kissing is by no means a universal human behavior. Some ethnic groups kiss and some don’t. Take greetings for an example. A lot of the European cultures use some sort of kiss to greet someone. But in African culture kissing is a totally strange activity...In most of Africa, kissing is an imported activity. Kisses are not used for greetings nor is it an intimate activity between lovers. In ciNyungwe there is no word for kiss at all. So the word we use in our Bible translation is -mpsompsona which means suck or breastfeed. So Judas’ betrayal of Jesus in Luke 22:47-48 comes out sounding something like: “Then Judas went to suck on Jesus. And Jesus said, ‘Judas do you betray the Son of Man by sucking on him?’” If that sounds strange to you, imagine how weird it sounds to someone completely unfamiliar with Biblical culture! In such situations translators have a couple strategies:

1. Be more general: “Judas greeted Jesus.”
2. Explain: “Judas greeted Jesus by kissing him”
3. Translate as directly as possible and use a footnote.

Thanks to Brazilian soap operas, Mozambicans are learning about the practice of kissing as a form of intimacy between lovers. But a man kissing another man as a form of greeting is still pretty foreign to them.


Here are a few interesting posts from a scholarly pro-Gnostic blog:

The study of Gnosis and Gnosticism is a fascinating one. As the above links point out there was no such thing as "Gnosticism". We use the term "Gnosticism" to label a general set of similar beliefs that developed a radical dualism (recall Plato, but with a unique, anti-cosmic twist!), and focussed on the personal connection and participation in the divine through gnosis (knowledge, secret knowledge) available to only the elect few, typically the elite. However, there was no tangible "Gnostic" religious group, per se. At least, no major religious movement that defined themselves as such. It was primarily a diverse set of groups that were involved with various segments of Judaism and Christianity.

Gnosticism seems to have had mixed reactions from the church fathers. Irenaeus condemned it to hell, while others like Clement of Alexandria and Justin Martyr seem more sympathetic to Gnostic theology due perhaps to Clement/Justin's Platonic sympathies. Ultimately, though, it was thoroughly rejected by the church and their writings were largely lost - lost, that is, until they were found by two Egyptian brothers in the deserts of Nag Hammadi. Their mother burned a few of the documents in her stove, but an extensive number of manuscripts survived giving us some fascinating looks into the various forms of Gnostic philosophy.

Gnostic theology raises many interesting questions relevant to contemporary discussion:

  • How do we interpret texts? Do we go for the strictly literal meaning, or is there "deeper" meaning hidden in the symbols and metaphors that give us insight into the "deeper" things of the divine?
  • What is the role of religious experience? And what if our religious experience is at odds with established religious circles? Does my experience trump the community?
  • Was Gnosticism heresy? And for that matter, what is heresy? Is it simply those who do not agree with me and my church, thank you very much, or can we establish criteria to evaluate the legitimacy of the religious experience of others?
  • And what about canonicity? How do we decide whose religious writings are the "right" ones and whose are the wrong ones?
Obviously, there are many hot-button topics in the Gnostic discussion related to contemporary philosophy of religion and postmodern culture.

Friday, April 20, 2007

I don't give a damn that you're 12-years-old

Tender Moments with your Children
by Alec Baldwin


From TMZ.com:
After Ireland failed to answer her father's scheduled phone call from New York on April 11, Alec went berserk on her voice mail, saying "Once again, I have made an ass of myself trying to get to a phone," adding, "you have insulted me for the last time."
Switching his train of thought, Baldwin then exercised his incredible parenting skills and took a shot at his ex-wife, declaring, "I don't give a damn that you're 12-years-old or 11-years-old, or a child, or that your mother is a thoughtless pain in the ass who doesn't care about what you do." The irate Baldwin went on to say, "You've made me feel like s**t" and threatened to "straighten your ass out."

Let's not try to pass judgment on Alec Baldwin. Apparently, no one ever told Alec Baldwin that parenting was not all about Alec Baldwin....

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Richard McBeef

The Virginia Tech shooter Cho Seung-Hui wrote a rather bizarre play. See The Smoking Gun:

APRIL 17--The college student responsible for yesterday's Virginia Tech slaughter was referred last year to counseling after professors became concerned about the violent nature of his writings, as evidenced in a one-act play obtained by The Smoking Gun. The play by Cho Seung-Hui, a 23-year-old English major, was submitted last year as part of a short story writing class. Entitled "Richard McBeef," Cho's bizarre play features a 13-year-old boy who accuses his stepfather of pedophilia and murdering his father. A copy of the killer's play can be found below. The teenager talks of killing the older man and, at one point, the child's mother brandishes a chain saw at the stepfather. The play ends with the man striking the child with "a deadly blow."

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

UPS and Jay-Z

Sometimes after I finish a major Hebrew interpretation/exegesis paper late at night I lay awake for a little while and think strange thoughts.

Last night as I rolled around for a few minutes before catching a few hours of sleep two commercials popped into my head. They are both similar, but I can't quite figure out exactly how. So, I thought I would post them for your consideration.

The first commercial is the UPS commercial. You know the one. The guy with the bad haircut is drawing sketches on a whiteboard and explaining what we all already know: That you can ship your stuff in packages using UPS.

I couldn't find any video on this, so I had to settle for a very bad immitation/parody.

The second commercial is Jay-Z's laptop commercial. I was able to find the actual spot on youtube. So, this one is authentic.

What do these two commercials have in common? What is the appeal? Why do I associate these two together? I think there is a creativity commonality here, but I'm not sure exactly what it is.

What hath Jay-Z to do with UPS???

Monday, April 16, 2007

What's better? Chocolate v. Kissing

Dawn says that a good kisser is where its at.

I found an article that says otherwise:

LONDON, April 16, 2007 (UPI) -- A British study suggests that allowing chocolate to melt on a subject's tongue is a more stimulating experience than kissing a sweetie.

The researchers found that when allowing chocolate to melt on their tongues, subjects experienced longer-lasting spikes in heart rate and significantly more intense boosts in brain activity for all regions of the mind than when kissing a lover, the BBC reported Monday.

"There is no doubt that chocolate beats kissing hands down when it comes to providing a long-lasting body and brain buzz," said David Lewis, who led the study.

"A buzz that, in many cases, lasted four times as long as the most passionate kiss."

Lewis said the findings were consistent for both sexes.

"These results really surprised and intrigued us," he said.

[Story from the United Press]

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Tears of the Oppressed

I was rather impressed with the perspective of Reade W. Seligmann, one of the Duke Lacrosse players who was cleared of recent charges:

At an emotional news conference of their own on Wednesday, the three former teammates, flanked by defense lawyers and families, spoke of relief and vindication, but also of their lingering anger toward Mr. Nifong and many in the news media for what they described as a rush to believe the worst about them.

“This entire experience has opened my eyes up to a tragic world of injustice I never knew existed,” Mr. Seligmann said. “If police officers and a district attorney can systematically railroad us with absolutely no evidence whatsoever, I can’t imagine what they’d do to people who do not have the resources to defend themselves. So rather than relying on disparaging stereotypes and creating political and racial conflicts, all of us need to take a step back from this case and learn from it.

“The Duke lacrosse case has shown that our society has lost sight of the most fundamental principle of our legal system: the presumption of innocence.”

[taken from nytimes.com]

Why was I impressed with Mr. Seligmann? Instead of simply whining about how he had got a raw deal, something, no doubt that I would have done quite a bit of if I had been in his position, he spoke from the heart and spoke to the gross injustice that occurs in our world everyday. Mr. Seligmann is practicing what we have been discussing recently on this blog: Listening to the voices of those who will never be heard.

Again I looked and saw all the oppression that was taking place under the sun: I saw the tears of the oppressed — and they have no comforter; power was on the side of their oppressors — and they have no comforter. Ecclesiastes 4

Of course, we don't have time for justice. We don't have time to contemplate the ramifications of injustice or this case or the tears of the oppressed.....we are already moving on to the next news story or the next celebrity screw up or the next big game or the next tv show or the next installment of Ocean's Eleven or the next hurdle in my life or the next big headline.......

Welcome to hyper-culture, baby. There's no time for the tears of the oppressed.

Listening for what you don't hear

Postmodern theorists take a lot of flak from my fellow conservatives for undercutting the intent of the author. Much of this is deserved. After all, Barthes did eulogize the death of the author...er, actually, he celebrated it.....However, let me simply say that from postmodern literary theory we can see the emergence of a closer reading of the text. Ironic? No doubt. However, one thing we are now paying closer attention to is to what is not said. Doyle had a post on this a few days back on the anti-creeds. What did the ancient Christian creeds not say? What did they leave out? He and I had some interesting disagreements, and as such I was thinking about it this morning.

Now, we have always known that we should "read between the lines" and that sometimes it is what is not said that is more important than what is said. For example, any guy in a long-term relationship knows that the most important things to his girlfriend will not be stated in words! However, he is just as culpable (if not more so) for whether he is able to interpret and apply the unspoken.

Ironically, another example of the unspoken was in my inbox this morning. This summer I will finish my Master's degree in biblical studies, and as such I am applying to some Christian high schools as a Bible teacher. My biggest drawback is no teaching experience. So, I received this response to one of my resume submissions:

Thank you for your interest. We have a number of candidates with
teaching experience. Please contact us in a few years if the Lord

Ouch! He didn't say, "We are not interested in interviewing you because you don't have teaching experience," but he didn't have to. As is typical amongst us Christians he took an indirect route and couched it in spiritual terms, rather than stating directly what he wanted to say. An example of communicating by what is not said.

How 'bout an example from the advertising world?? This is where it gets really interesting. Remember Mars Blackman and Michael Jordan way back in the 80's? "It's gotta' be the shoes!" Back in those days, the shoes were in our face for the whole commercial! It's a thirty second spot and we see the shoes how many times???

But now a days we don't have to see the shoes anymore. We have been trained by Mars and Michael to identify with our sports heros by wearing their gear and especially the shoes. So, take this LeBron James commercial. LeBron is the heir to Jordan's Nike throne. (Nike nicknamed him "The King.") This commercial is absolutely brilliant. But it has nothing to do with shoes. (We see one quick cut of the shoes, themselves.) The focus is on the fictional characters and the ongoing narrative and dialogue.

Nothing to do with the shoes? Are we kidding ourselves? It still has everything to do with the shoes. The shoes are the unspoken. Check out this one. More brand marketing. This time we don't get any clips of the shoes, at all. It is simply a LeBron hype. Exalt the person. Exalt the image.

What is not said is "buy the shoes." What is, in fact, said is "buy the shoes!" It is what is not said that is said the loudest.

I'm currently doing some exegesis and interpretation of Jonah chapter four. This is the part of the book where Jonah is angry (very, very angry) that God has not destroyed Nineveh, and Jonah has set up camp outside the city to watch it be destroyed. At the beginning of the chapter God asks Jonah an interesting question, "Do you have a right to be angry?" Or it can be alternatively translated as, "Do you do well to be angry?" Question: Does God ever give Jonah/us an answer?

Is it the things God does not say that he sometimes says the loudest?

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Audrey is back!

And here are a few clips to commemorate the occasion appropriately set to the tune of Kryptonite because as we all know Jack Bauer is the 21st century Superman.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Just add Jesus!

I've been chatting on email with Jason about the culture of addiction that we find ourselves in.

What is it about society and culture in the States that makes us more susceptible to addictions? Is it the rat race? The isolation and loneliness? The saturation with media? The expectations of success that often go unfulfilled? The advertising and marketing blitz of images? Consumerism culture that puts my short-term desires as the primary center of my being?

But what kind of annoys me is the "Just add Jesus" response of many Christians. Have an addiction? Jesus can help with that. Need to break free? Yeah, here's Jesus - that's his job.

This strikes me as particularly ridiculous. Not that it isn't theoretically possible, but for one thing it denies how interrelated the world is. We are what we are due in large part to who we run into, talk with, fight with, love, work with, compete against, etc. Who we are has to do with what we are in. We are people of our environment. Hence the function of the church as an environment of people whose job it is to truly care for each other.

Secondly, this is the wrong mindset because it seems to be an easy-escapism: Just pray a prayer and Jesus will help you. But this is simply reducing Jesus to a Formula-Savior. A kind of magic-Jesus who defeats my addictions whenever I need him. Is the root of this a self-absorbed desire to have a Jesus I can control and use for my own wants and needs?

It's not that I don't want Christ to be the center. I do. I really do. But we cannot expect Jesus to change us internally if we are not willing to change certain lifestyles. We are simply unable to live the Christian life and cultivate an intimate reflective and meditative spirituality if we are working 80 hours a week and saturating our minds with media and closing ourselves off to intimate relationships with other believers and spending all our money on ourselves and focussing our entire lives on personal success. The "Just add Jesus" thing just won't work. Sorry. That's fact. Christians need to take drastic action that is counter-cultural. The "Just add Jesus" becomes a quick fix that gives us an excuse to continue on the rat race. But it won't work. It can't work. Quick fix addictions are tailor made for the fast-food lifestyle. Jesus is a fine wine that you have to savor over time.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Good for goodness sake???

John left this comment over at the post on Ethical Egotism:

The non-Christians are self-centered, as are many of the self-proclaimed Christians. So does the circle of the elect gets smaller? Alternatively, if the non-Christian follows a Christian ethic without expecting to receive any of the promised benefits (eternal life being the big one, no doubt about it), then is this non-Christian less self-centered than the Christian? I know, I know, it's pride and the desire to achieve righteousness on your own. So say this non-Christian isn't even laying any claims to righteousness -- just doing the right thing because it's right.

Here's my response. I'm making it a new post because we are entering the territory where theology and sanctification intersect:

Interestingly enough, John, I think we are now entering Derridean territory. Specifically, I'm thinking of his philosophy of the Gift and Forgiveness (something we recently blogged on a bit here.)

Derrida claims the impossibility of purely giving a gift or of pure forgiveness. Pure forgiveness would only be possible for something that is truly unforgivable. With the Gift (and correct me if you see things otherwise) you always have some kind of economy of exchange at work whereby you always receive something in return in some way.

If we apply this to the Good do we have a similar philosophy?

Like you I initially think it is possible for someone to do a good thing simply for the sake of doing good. But is there something like an economy of goodness at work? Is doing a good thing similar to giving a gift? Often the two are synonymous, particularly when the good thing we are doing is an act of goodness for someone else.

Is there a "pure good work" that can be done? Is there something good we can do without engaging in some sort of economy of goodness? Can I really give money to someone or care for the poor/sick or selflessly do a good thing? This seems to me to be very closely related to the gift because "doing good" is so often a giving of ourselves in some way. In fact, can we conceive of good deeds that do not involve some sort of giving of.

Now, if we are going this direction it completely blows open Christian theology. Because on this construction the believer would probably be even more susceptible to being involved in an economy of goodness than would be the non-believer. Why? Because for the believer there is a much higher expectation of goodness. We build many sanctification theologies around the theory that as believers we should be better than we were before. But what if life doesn’t pan out that way? In Christian communities (particularly conservatives – believe me I know these kinds of circles like the back of my hand) there are also areas of sin and temptation that are unspeakable. In other words, there are “sins” and then there are “really bad sins.” No one may actually use this terminology, but it is present in the culture of the church.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Just call me Jeremy

You’re St. Jerome!

You’re a passionate Christian, fiercely devoted to Jesus Christ and his Church. You are willing to labor long hours in the Lord’s vineyard, and you have little patience with those who are less willing or able to work as you do. Your passions often carry you into temptation zones of wrath, lust, and pride.

Find out which Church Father you are at The Way of the Fathers!

Quote of the day

I pulled this off of Sam's site:

It is a good rule in life never to apologize. The right sort of people do not want apologies, and the wrong sort take a mean advantage of them.
P. G. Wodehouse

Question: Was this dude single all of his life?

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Moreland on Ethical Egotism

A brief blog by J.P. Moreland on ethical egotism. (Click on the picture of the people in hell to get to it.) JP starts out as follows:

As a matter of commonsense, must people recognize that if one does his/her moral dusty solely because of self-interest, then one has not really done one’s duty.

Fair enough.

To count as my moral duty, I must do an act at least in part because it is the right thing to do.

Yep. That's what we usually think. But what does that have to do with the Bible? Oh, ok here it is:

Some claim that the Bible, with its emphasis on avoiding hell and going to heaven and on securing eternal rewards for life on earth, implicitly affirms egotism as an appropriate moral standard for action. This is supposed to count as an argument against Christianity since, granting the inadequacy of ethical egotism, Christianity implies an incorrect moral theory. What should we make of this claim? It is clear that legitimate self-interest is part of Biblical teaching. But does this mean that Scripture implies egotism as a moral theory?

Moreland is a Christian philosopher and apologist. That's his thing. So, that's what his concern will be in regard to ethical egotism. As such, he seeks to defend Scripture against accusations of egotism.

Towards an answer to this charge, we need to distinguish between achieving what is in my self- interest as a by-product of an act vs. self-interest as the sole intent of an act....This observation relates to a second distinction between a motive and a reason.

Ah, a distinction! We have "motives" and "reasons". How does this work? J.P. cites Exodus 20:12

"Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you.”

In other words, the "long life in the land" promise is not the sole intent for honoring your father and your mother. Rather, it is the by-product of honoring. Live-long-and-prosper (I pause to raise my hand and divide my fingers in tribute to Mr. Spock) is not the motive for honoring. No. It is merely the reason for honoring. See the distinction?

Moreland sums it up:
Moreover, even if Scripture is teaching that self-interest is a reason for doing some duty, it may be offering self-interest as a prudential and not a moral reason for doing the duty. In other words, the Bible may be saying that it is wise, reasonable, and a matter of good judgment to avoid hell and seek rewards without claiming that these considerations are moral reasons for acting according to self-interest. In sum, it could be argued that Scripture can be understood as advocating self-interest as a by-product and not an intent for action, as a motive and not a reason, or as a prudential and not a moral reason. If this is so, then these Scriptural ideas do not entail ethical egoism.

A good argument.

I see at least two problems:

First problem: Is this even being true to the language and intention of the text? In normal conversation if someone says to me, "Give to the poor that you might feel good about yourself" there is a conditional statement being made: Do one thing so that another thing will follow. There is an implicit motive that will determine the action. I just wonder about whether JP's suggestion fits normal language use.

Second problem: Are not motives and results intertwined? Are we not motivated by the reasons that we do things? Are not our "interests" specifically directed at the "by-product"? In other words, these neat dichotomies break down in real life. As we live life we do not normally think to ourselves, "I am going to do this action for a specific reason....but I will not be motivated by that reason." Is it even desirable to fragment ourselves in this way? Which leads to my third problem (a bonus problem)...

Third problem: Is it realistic to suggest that egotism is such a bad thing? And what is so bad about mixed motives? Isn't it a fact of life? A part of the world?

This is not a world of pure motivations and anyone who would say otherwise is probably a bit confused. Egoism, I would argue, is a necessary-evil in moral theory. At times we are self-interested, and rightly so - and yet we must often fight egoism at every turn. But how this all pans out is contextual. What is an appropriate response is context driven. For example, why do people become Christians? I would argue that in the majority of situations we can locate egotism at work: We want to be forgiven our sins, to experience the peace of God, to be rational/reasonable, to escape judgment of hell, to be morally right with God, etc. Any one of these might be good reasons as well as simultaneously being slightly tainted motivations. I would suggest that it is over the passage of time (again, contextual) that the true believer maintains and grows in faith, and learns to personally understand when egotism should be acted on or when it is an evil self-infatuation.

In short, I think Moreland's distinction is helpful, but I would argue that in real life we must live with an understanding that the dichotomy breaks down quite regularly and "motivations" blend together with "reasons" and vica-versa.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Heidegger and the question

Taken from "Lectures to Heidegger's Sein und Zeit by Benjamin Waters:

“Every inquiry is a seeking. Every seeking gets guided beforehand by what is sought.”(Hei·BT,5) In fact, every genuine question has, according to Heidegger, already a prior understanding of three things: 1. that which is asked about, 2. that which is interrogated in the questioning, and 3. that which is to be found out by the asking (in German 1. das Gefragte, 2. das Befragte, 3. das Erfragte). Essentially the idea is that we don’t ask questions just out of the blue about things that we have no idea whatsoever about. Our enquiry begins with the things that we already have some knowledge of and which we are already dealing with on some level. If I ask even a simple question like ‘how high is this door?’, I already know quite clearly what this thing is that I am asking about—I know what a measurement of height is, and I know what a door is. I already know what it is that I am going to be doing in order to answer my question—that I will be interrogating the door itself with my tape measure. I already know what kind of thing my answer is going to be—a measurement in meters. So questioning or enquiry already starts out from a ground of knowledge, such that the answer comes as something more like the missing piece in a jigsaw than the surprise gift that confronts you when you unwrap a present. Often answering a question is in fact more like merely making connections between bits of knowledge that you already have. (emphasis added)

Just a regular jack-ass

I passed the asses today. Well, that's what they are - jack asses. Or "burrows" if you prefer.

I was out on my run, and I was feeling a bit sore in my joints and also in the muscles. Nothing threatening, but just a bit uncomfortable. I was just getting started, not even a mile and a half in, when I saw the two jack asses down, just down below off of the road. I'm in rural northern Indiana, and so there isn't a lot to see in the country. In order to make my own fun I said to the donkeys, "Hey, ass!" The one burrow didn't seem to mind me. The other jerked its head up in interest. He (or she...I didn't stop to check) seemed genuinely glad to see me! And the funny thing was that I could not detect the least bit of offense on the donkey's face. So, now the tables were turned: Now I felt like the jack ass for degrading these fine beasts with a condescending term that just so happens to be their descriptive name.

The jack asses just didn't know how offensive it was to be called an ass. They were oblivious as they stood there chomping on some patch of grass. The grass was much more interesting than any condescending term I could conjor up.

What does this say about life?

It's ok to just be a regular jack-ass, as long as your happy!

(Since I am once again on the subject of the jack-ass I thought I might re-post a link to a video I shot last December entitled "Everybody loves the donkey")

Sunday, April 01, 2007


Happy day of the fool.

Here are a couple of April Fool's Day pranks from the guys at Google: