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.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Shoot me

A few years back, Dr. Dave Plaster, a professor of mine, relayed a story to our class of a time when he was at Dallas Seminary working on his Ph.D. several years back. Dr. Plaster is a Grace Brethren and a pacifist. That was a bit of a problem because he was in a classroom full of non-pacifists and his wily Professor who was a bit antagonistic toward pacifists. The Professor assigned topics for a research assignment that included defending one's thesis in the classroom. Naturally, the wily Professor assigned Dr. Plaster the topic of pacifism. When it was Dr. Plaster's turn to defend, he presented his case for pacifism and then the floor was open for fellow students to open fire, if you will, on his case against war. The Professor was first to interject and embarked upon a lengthy polemic against the points presented, expounding every jot and tittle whereby Dr. Plaster (and other pacifists) were so clearly mistaken.

Dr. Plaster absorbed the barrage and responded with a scenario and a question: Let's say that my country is at war, and that I am a soldier. Let us further suppose that I have the enemy in my sites, and that all I must do is pull the trigger and effectively eliminate the enemy's life. This, of course, is my job as a soldier and my duty to my country. But now let's suppose that the enemy is a fellow brother in Christ. Are you telling me that I am obligated to pull the trigger and kill my fellow brother in Christ?????

The Professor gathered together his few things, rose from his seat, and exited the classroom.

Sunday, October 28, 2007


Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius
Ray Monk
My Rating: 5 of 5 Stars

The entry on Ludwig Wittgenstein by The Shorter Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy (and by "shorter" we mean a mere 1,077 pages of small-type, double-column entries) states the following, "His writings have aroused great devotion because of the honesty and depth which many find in them. But it is important not to treat them with superstitious reverence. Rather they should be read in the spirit in which he intended, namely as an invitation to explore with as much integrity as possible one's own perplexities and what would resolve them."

Reading the above gave me pause. Why would a reputable philosophical encyclopedia feel compelled to provide a disclaimer against "superstitious reverence" toward a past philosopher? I can only imply that the author is concerned about a cult-following around the person and work of Wittgenstein. But doesn't this strike us as extremely odd? That at the end of the 20th century and as we embark on the 21st there are intelligent students of philosophy religiously devoting themselves to a philosopher not yet 50 years after his death? Admittedly, philosophy students are typically devoted to teachers and professors and even to philosophers of the past who write with the force of logic and truth. And yet I find no similar disclaimer in the Routledge entry on Plato, Locke, Kant, Hegel, or Russell. What is it about Wittgenstein that inspires such "superstitious reverence"?

The answer, I believer, is not simply to be found in the work of Wittgenstein but more so in his life. And this is where the Monk biography comes in. It bridges the gap between philosophy and life: "By describing the life and the work in the one narrative, I hope to make it clear how this work came from this man, to show - what many who read Wittgenstein's work instinctively feel - the unity of his philosophical concerns with his emotional and spiritual life." (xviii)

After reading Monk's biography I can understand why the philosophical establishment would see themselves obliged to disclaim any sense of religious devotion to Wittgenstein. Such devotion is simply the mirror reflection of a man completely dedicated to the questions of life that perplexed him, even tortured him. "Philosophy, one might say, came to him, not he to philosophy. Its dilemmas were experienced by him as unwelcome intrusions, unable to get on with everyday life until he could dispel them with a satisfactory solution." (3) Wittgenstein's ultimate solution to the problems of philosophy was to suggest that philosophy, itself, could not solve them. Or, at the very least, that philosophy has limits and parameters that it should not push beyond.

"What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence." (Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, section 7)

In brief, the life of Wittgenstein was one of passion and complete dedication to pursue the deepest and most meaningful questions of life. He was religious, deeply committed to his own ethical purity, and above all things he was a man who brought a relentless intensity to everything that he deemed important enough to warrant investigation. For example, Wittgenstein would engage the most brilliant philosophical minds of his day and simply wear them down. He had the mental, physical and emotional capacity to sustain the pursuit of a line of thought for hours and hours on end. In many cases, philosophers like Bertrand Russell would simply not have the capacity (or even the desire in some cases) to follow Wittgenstein until he was satisfied to conclude.

How many philosophers inspire "superstitious devotion"? How many thinkers are truly worthy of the dedication of their followers? When compared to Wittgenstein, most philosophers appear to approach philosophy as though it were a mere hobby. Wittgenstein's life displayed a sheer force of intellectual passion.

Rather than attempt to review the life and work, exhaustively, I will pick and choose a few interesting portions of Monk's biography that I found particularly intriguing.

Here I highlight a comment by Wittgenstein on belief in God and its relation to science and proof:
"Wittgenstein did not wish to see God or to find reasons for His existence. He thought that if he could overcome himself - if a day came when his whole nature 'bowed down in humble resignation in the dust' - then God would, as it were, come to him; he would then be saved....Both the atheist, who scorns religion because he has found no evidence for its tenets, and the believer, who attempts to prove the existence of God, have fallen victim to the 'other' - to the idol-worship of the scientific style of thinking. Religious beliefs are not analogous to scientific theories, and should not be accepted or rejected using the same evidential criteria." (410)

The above line of thought is intriguing in its own right, and certainly a matter that has come under a great deal of debate over the years. But, aside from the substance of what Wittgenstein says, what is particularly interesting to me is the context within which Wittgenstein developed these ideas. He was working at Cambridge in the early 20th century, where a scientific approach was presumed (in some form or another) by virtually all serious thinkers. To our "postmodern" ears the above statements seem less radical and a matter to be taken seriously for thought and discussion. I don't know that we can appreciate the degree to which these thoughts would have deviated from the philosophical orthodoxy of the day. Of course, deviating from philosophical orthodoxy was the least of Wittgenstein's concerns!

Wittgenstein began his Philosophical Investigations by engaging the Confessions of St Augustine. Says Monk, "For Wittgenstein, all philosophy, in so far as it is pursued honestly and decently, begins with a confession. He often remarked that the problem of writing good philosophy and of thinking well about philosophical problems was one of the will more than of the intellect - the will to resist the temptation to misunderstand, the will to resist superficiality. What gets in the way of genuine understandings often not one's lack of intelligence, but the presence of one's pride." (366)

Monk continues on this line of thought and cites Wittgenstein, himself:
"If anyone is unwilling to descend into himself, because this is too painful, he will remain superficial in his writing: Lying to oneself, deceiving yourself about the pretence in your own state of will, must have a harmful influence on [one's] style; for the result will be that you cannot tell what is genuine in the style and what is false....If you are unwilling to know what you are, your writing is a form of deceit. (366-67)

The Liar Paradox is a problem that develops when someone says, "I am lying." Is the statement true or is it false. If it is true, then it is necessarily false. If it is false, then the person has told the truth. It is a simple little game of logic, but it creates great problems for various theories of propositions. Personally, I have wondered whether or not such paradoxes do not reveal a fundamental flaw in ascribing truth value to propositions, that perhaps this implies that truth is a matter greater than propositions. Or perhaps it is simply a manifestation of the absurdities of the universe. In any event, here is Wittgenstein on the issue:

"It is very queer in a way that this should have puzzled anyone - much more extraordinary than you might think: that this should be the thing to worry human beings. Because the thing works like this: if a man says 'I am lying' we say that it follows that he is not lying, from which it follows that he is lying and so on. Well, so what? You can go on like that until you are black in the face. Why not? It doesn't matter." (420)

For Wittgenstein, then, the issue was really a non-issue. But why? Monk says that it is because what needs to be explained is also why the question matters. In other words, justification is needed for the theoretical constructs that demand an answer to the question. "His [Wittgenstein's] point was rather that a contradiction cannot lead one astray because it leads nowhere at all. One cannot calculate wrongly with a contradiction, because one simply cannot use it to calculate. One can do nothing with contradictions, except waste time puzzling over them." (421)

Wittgenstein was also interested in Freud and dream interpretation. "It was the idea that dream symbols form a kind of language that interested him - the fact that we naturally think that dreams mean something, even if we do not know what they mean." (448) Monk continues, "What puzzles us about a dream is not its causality but its significance. We want the kind of explanation which 'changes the aspect' under which we see the images of a dream, so that they now make sense. Freud's idea that dreams are wish fulfilments is important because it 'points to the sort of interpretation that is wanted', but it is too general." (449)

Says Wittgenstein, "Freud very commonly gives what we might call a sexual interpretation. But it is interesting that among all the reports of dreams which he gives, there is not a single example of a straightforward sexual dream. yet these are as common as rain." (449) Monk continues summarizing Wittgenstein: "This again is connected to Freud's determination to provide a single pattern for all dreams: all dreams must be, for him, expressions of longing, rather than, for example, expressions of fear. Freud, like philosophical theorists, had been seduced by the method of science and the 'craving for generality.'" (449)

This next statement in regard to Freud is interesting to me: "There is not one type of dream, and neither is there one way to interpret the symbols in a dream. Dream symbols to mean something - 'Obviously there are certain similarities with language' - but to understand them requires no some general theory of dreams, but the kind of multi-faceted skill that is involved, say, in the understanding of a piece of music." (449)

The above reflections in relation to Freud and dreams are in line with Wittgenstein's approach of going to the particular thing rather than the general. Furthermore, Wittgenstein does not necessarily go to the particular thing with the intent of using it to develop overarching theories, perhaps what we might call a "metanarrative" - an overarching explanation for all things. This simply wasn't Wittgenstein's primary concern, and as such I think he is able to demonstrate insight into the "skill" required to interpret dreams.

More on Wittgenstein's religious outlook. Monk cites W:
"An honest religious thinker is like a tightrope walker. He almost looks as though he were walking on nothing but air. His support is the slederest imaginable. And yet it really is possible to walk on it." Says Monk, "Though he had the greatest admiration for those who could achieve this balancing act, Wittgenstein did not regard himself as one of them. He could not, for example, bring himself to believe in the literal truth of reported miracles:
'A miracle is, as it were, a gesture which God makes. As a man sits quietly and then makes an impressive gesture, God lets the world run on smoothly and then accompanies the words of a saint by a symbolic occurrence, a gesture of nature. It would be an instance if, when a saint has spoken, the trees around him bowed, as if in reverence. Now, do I believe this happens? I don't. The only way for me to believe in a miracle in this sense would be to be impressed by an occurrence in this particular way. So that I should say e.g.: "It was impossible to see these trees and not to feel that they were responding to the words." Just as I might say "It is impossible to see the face of this god and not to see that he is alert and full of attention to what his master is doing." And I can imagine that the mere report of the words and life of a saint can make someone believe the reports that the tree bowed. But I am not so impressed.'" (464)

The above can be a bit confusing in several places, but I added bold/italics to the second to last sentence because it seems to emphasize the main point of Wittgenstein's approach to miracle, namely, that the event may not necessarily occurred, but the religious significance of those involved impressed them to the point that it was as though it had actually happened.

Monk continues and notes that Wittgenstein's belief in God "did not take the form of subscribing to the truth of any particular doctrine, but rather that of adopting a religious attitude of life. As he once put it to Drury: 'I am not a religious man but I cannot help seeing every problem from a religious point of view.'" (464)

Can one "sum up" Wittgenstein's philosophy? Likely not! However, this one sentence, perhaps might be a start in understanding Wittgenstein's reflections as they relate to his contemporaries: "Partly under Wittgenstein's influence, the Theory of Knowledge had been subordinated to the analysis of meaning." (472) So, in this sense, the study of theories of epistemology eclipse into analyzing meaning: meanings of words and meanings of objects and the meanings of anything that we encounter in life that yields meaning. In this sense we are talking about a focus on interpretation. Interpretation was also the occupation of Heidegger and Gadamer in their own ways, and from there, philosophical thought (and even non-philosophical thought) seems to take of in a variety of directions.

In Zettel, Wittgenstein states, "Only in the stream of thought and life do words have meaning." For Wittgenstein, Monk notes, "Practice gives the words their sense." (573) This is a comment on context. Here, Monk comments on this idea of context and follows this by citing Wittgenstein: "The thrust of Wittgenstein's remarks is to focus the attention of philosophers away from words, from sentences, and on to the occasions in which we use them, the contexts which give them their sense:
'Am In not getting closer and closer to saying that in the end logic cannot be described? You must look at the practice of language, then you will see it.'" (578-79)

The above goes to the idea of a "framework" for thinking and interpreting. Monk states Wittgenstein as follows: "A framework itself cannot be justified or proven correct; it provides the limits within which justification and proof take place....We cannot make sense of anything without some sort of framework, and with any particular framework there has to be a distinction between propositions that, using that framework, describe the world, and those that describe the framework itself, though this distinction is not fixed at the same place for ever." (571) This reminds me of Gadamer's insistence that "tradition" and "prejudice," far from being things we should despise are the very preconditions under which all thought takes place. Interesting that for Wittgenstein we need to distinguish the propositions within the framework from those that describe the framework, and yet this cannot ever be "fixed." Monk cites an analogy that Wittgenstein uses for this point: "...the river-bed of thoughts may shift. But I distinguish between the movements of the waters on the river-bed and the shift of the bed itself; though there is not a sharp division of the one from the other." (571)

The life and philosophy of Wittgenstein is intense. His works, though short in length and few in words, are dense. Monk's biography, however, is highly readable and comes highly recommended. It traces Wittgenstein's philosophy as it relates to his contemporaries, however, it is not simply a portrait of the development of philosophy. Monk skillfully combines life and thought in such a way that one cannot help but be impressed by the person. This biography is helpful for its philosophical reflections, but it is fascinating for the portrait of the person - a person whose life and works have inspired a "superstitious reverence" that should make all establishment philosophers wary!

All that philosophy can do is to destroy idols.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Friday, October 26, 2007


Ok, just because everyone cares so much, I am writing to update you on the ipod situation. A few months back when I was having all that trouble with my ipod nano and the related Worst Buy Warranty, I wrote a review on Amazon.com entitled "igotscrewed"....for some reason it hasn't shown up yet.....Remember the recent rants??? My old, ridiculously unreliable ipod nano continued to malfunction at every turn, resulting in a trip to Best Buy to get the stupid thing exchanged - sorry, looks good to us: Yes, you morons! But it doesn't work when I go for a run!
Sorry, sir, you'll have to wait for the Geek Squad.
Uh, what??? Ok

....and waiting and waiting....and leaving the store.....

So, the stupid ipod finally died. With that I realized how much I was relying upon technology to make my running a satisfying venture. So, I said, "screw it" - I'm running with only a stop watch. (My runs, of course, have been slow and short due to my recovering knee from the last Half I ran.)

Having recovered the joy of the pure run, I went to Worst Buy yesterday with my dead ipod and believe it or not a righteous dude helped me at the service desk and said I could have $199 in store credit.


So, for the $199 I was able to double the storage and I now have a nifty 8 gig 3rd generation ipod.

We will wait to see if it actually works. It looks cool. But "ipod without works is dead."

The 3rd generation ipods are now square (or very close to square), which is unlike the tall, rectangular shape of the 2nd generation ipods (my old piece of trash ipod was 2nd gen). This, of course, means that I have the privilege of purchasing a new $30 armband from Nike!

Well, that's all the Grrrrrrrrrr I have for today. Have a good weekend.

Oh, yea, there's one more thing. The last thing the guy at Worst Buy asked me as I was checking out was, "Do you want to buy the Warranty with that, sir?"

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Black Hole Sun

This is a group called The Section Quartet. Compare with Smells Like Teen Spirit video.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Stamp me stupid

Does anyone remember the danged stamp rate??? I've got like three or four different stamp types each with a frakin' different postage rate on it...I finally found one that says "First-Class" and "Forever," so hopefully that will work......

Sunday, October 21, 2007

You Do Not Belong Here

"...so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others..." Romans 12:5

After eleven chapters of dropping theological bombshells the after shocks of which the church is still trying to understand, Paul begins chapter 12 of his letter to the Romans by urging each believer to present his or her body as a "living sacrifice." This imperative to present one's body is followed up by an appeal not to "conform to the world," but to be transformed (think "metamorphosis") by a renewal of the mind (the nous). The result is mind and body sacrificially dedicated to God.

Then verse 3 shifts us into our discussion of the body of Christ. First off: Don't think more highly of yourself than you ought to. And then we move into the metaphor of a body. One body with many "members" or "parts." We all have various functions: The body has a purpose and each part of the body has a different function. And yet we are all somehow working together. This is something of a task-oriented Christianity. No surprise that Paul would begin commenting on the fact that the body is here to do something; that we all work together. Paul was the first major missionary. He was a "go getter" as we say here in rural Indiana. Paul fearlessly plowed forward into new territory to spread the Gospel and establish new converts and new churches. The same energy that he had put into squelching the faith and persecuting members of the Jesus movement known in some circles as "The Way" was now redirected toward the spread of the "good news" of reconciliation to God through faith and through Jesus.

Generally speaking, I think that most American churches resonate with the idea of function. Each church has an all-you-can-eat buffet of ministries and programs to get involved with, often listed in helpful summary format within your weekly bulletin.



Rick Warren writes a book entitled The Purpose Driven Church and the danged things get bought off the shelf like Spock-ears at a Star Trek convention.

Back to the passage.

The task-oriented Paul now makes an interesting move: He follows function with belonging. We who are many form one body. Oh, and by the way, "each member belongs to all the others." This is the translation from the NIV, which focuses on "belonging." Function is critical for Paul, but it is rooted in our belonging one to another. What does this "belonging" entail, I wonder?

Commentator J.D.G. Dunn finds this belonging (or "one another") terminology to be "a slightly odd variation of the body metaphor." However, it serves very effectively to bring out the degree of interdependence which Paul regards as the most important point to draw from the body imagery (here as in 1 Cor 12; also Eph 4—note v 25; “each member belongs to all the others”—NIV), thus underlining the fact that the body language is primarily for Paul an ecclesiological rather than Christological concept (hence again the variation in terminology as between 1 Cor 12:12-13 and Rom 12:4-5). The consequence for ecclesiology also needs to be borne in mind: as K√§semann notes, “No ecclesiastical hierarchy can be deduced as constitutive from the motif of Christ’s body.” (WBC p. 724)

I find it interesting that Dunn calls this idea of interdependence and belonging to be the "most important point to draw from the body imagery." Why is this the most important point? I would venture to suggest that without interdependence that a sense of real "belonging" that is its foundation, the body of Christ merely becomes a task-oriented church that may get things done. At this point we lose a true sense of belonging amongst our members. "Church" takes on something of the corporate model where we clock in, do our job, then clock out and go about living our own lives and going about our own personal business. Without feeling a true sense of belonging a member of the body of Christ finds that a wedge is driven between "church life" and "personal life." We have a working relationship with the other members. But we don't really belong.

Dunn also comments that the "body" is more than a mere metaphor, but is rooted in the real-life context of the community of the early church: "the body imagery is actually an expression of the consciousness of community and oneness experienced by the first Christians as they met 'in Christ.'" (WBC p. 724)

Interesting comment by Mr. Dunn. Though the early church had a sense of purpose and function, they lived in a very closely connected community. We recall Acts chapter 2:
They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Therefore, when Paul speaks of "belonging," he is not necessarily issuing an imperative, but is expressing something that already had occurred and was currently being experienced in the early church - the communities understood belonging because they lived it out. This may also shed light on the imperatives in the book of Hebrews. Perhaps the encouragement to "not give up meeting together" in 10:25 refers to the exhortation to "encourage one another daily" back in 3:13. Do these references provide another instance of the early church living out community and developing a true sense of belonging? By living in such close proximity as to be able to actually encourage each other daily? Lane indicates that this may be the case: "The admonition 'encourage one another every day' may actually presuppose a daily gathering of the house church, which would provide the occasion for mutual encouragement (cf. Windisch, 31; Michel, 106)." (WBC, p. 87)

So, where does that leave us as churches here in America? I would argue that most churches are "busy." Some more busy than others. Some more active than others. Some more purposeful than others and some who get much more done. We have tasks that accomplish things and make a real difference in the world, while there are others of us that are just kind of busy without any true impact. Essentially though, I think we all have tasks that we are trying to do. Ministries, programs. More ministries, more programs. But all without true belonging.

Do you truly experience belonging in your local fellowship?

Are there other believers who know the real you? Your hopes and dreams, your deepest fears? Are there people who understand your weak points? People who know what gets you excited in life (no matter how quirky or strange!)? Are there people who have your back? Who care about your soul? People who know your soul?

But then we could flip it around? Do you have souls for which you care for? Can you say that there are other believers who belong to you?

Not likely.

Belonging simply isn't a priority. And why should it be? The early church faced serious persecution in some cases. In other cases, they were religiously ostracized from fellow Jews or viewed with suspicion by local Gentile governments. You really need community when community is all you've got.

We don't have persecution in America. (And no, the existence of the Democrat Party and the release of the Al Gore movie does not, it turns out, qualify as persecution.) We've got cable channels we never watch and huge vehicles that can drive us places that we will never go. We don't really need belonging, do we???

Also, in the early church there was a lot to work out in regard to this new Christian faith and way of life. Who was Christ? God or man? What do we do about food that has been sacrificed to idols? What about the Law of Moses? Circumcision? There was a lot to talk about, and then there was the whole aspect of understanding what the new birth meant and how salvation worked out in the living of this new life of servanthood and discipleship to Christ.

Thankfully we have this all worked out these days. Have a doctrinal question? Go ask your pastor - he went to seminary. We have weekly sermons that tell us how we are to live and surely that has to be good enough.



But perhaps all is not well in paradise. Sin issues seem prevalent in churches. For example, those that are "good conservative" churches (see Ted Haggard) are not immune from issues of marital infidelity. Marriages crumble at such a fast rate that even "the world" has a tough time keeping up. And it ain't because people don't know better, either. I have a hard time believing that "good Bible preachin'" is the answer to all of the marriage woes - as if people didn't already know that a broken marriage is not a good thing. And although I have zero experiences in the area of marriage (and by God's good graces I never will!) it strikes me as a bit silly to think that using "biblical counseling" as a catch all is going to have a real impact on layers upon layers of distrust and anger that builds up between two people.

Oh, and of course there are the addictive and compulsive behaviors that we don't really talk about because....uh...because those things are kind of uncomfortable to talk about....and, well, yea.....better to just deal with stuff like pornography, compulsive eating, anxiety, and that "indiscretion" with the co-worker.

But seriously, though. Where would you go if you really wanted to deal with your stuff? Yea, I mean that kind of stuff. The stuff that you are too ashamed or embarrassed to admit to anyone except....well, except to people with whom you experience authentic belonging. Do you really belong to a group of believers who know you as well or better than you know yourself?

The fact is that for all of the money we pour into our churches we have little to show for it in terms of belonging. Where are the forums and opportunities to truly guard against the "deceitfulness" of sin, as Hebrews 3 talks about? This deception is most often self-deception. But where are the caretakers of our souls? To whom do we "belong"? Again, more Bible isn't always the answer. Many of our conservative Christian churches use "Bible" as a band-aid for a flesh wound. What we really need is a chance to understand how the Bible works out in my life and the lives of those who belong to me. I think the complexity of the current age demand it. Preprepared answers don't cut it, anymore. No matter how Biblical they are. Each age and culture faces issues that require the Scriptures to be examined anew. Not to study simply to find out "what it meant back then," but to explore the implications of faith for the now.

The American church today is a social gathering alongside a desire to get some things done. But what does this mean for a pomo generation? Issues of isolation and compulsive/addictive behavior are common place. It's all amplified. But how do we deal with these things within institutions where we don't belong to anyone and they don't belong to us.

The fault of the weakness of the church in the postmodern age has nothing to do with so-called "godless" postmodern philosophers like Nietzsche, Derrida, or Baudrillard. I no longer take any conservative Christian leader seriously who believes that abstract philosophy can stand up to the church and create the current moral impotence that plagues us. Our failure is not a failure of abstract ethical theorizing or a need to take a stand for the "correspondence theory of truth." This is just silly. I say the following with no apology or reservation:

If the gates of hell cannot stand up against the church, then no postmodern theorist can either

But Postmodern theory is not the problem. The threat is not external, the issue is internal. It is a pride in institution that supersedes authentic relationship.

American Christianity has no belonging. Consequently the body has weakened and atrophied. We are attempting our tasks and striving to fulfill our function in an anemic state. How unfortunate. The body of Christ was meant to represent Christ. Yet, for all practical purposes Christ's body is still wheezing in the grave, too weak to emerge and make a difference in the world.

The most fundamental aspect of the body of Christ is true belonging. It is only when we truly belong that we can begin to make a real difference in the lives of the 21st century believer and demonstrate to the world that the body of Christ is, in fact, alive and no longer lying, weakened and cold, in the grave. But this cannot occur until each member belongs to all the others.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Sunday, October 14, 2007

"God did not make Adam and Steve"

Over at "Not That There's Anything Wrong With That!" Sam presented us with the following scenario:

Here's the thing: John comes to church, he is a new convert. The pastor asks him after the service to tell a bit about himself and he says that he is a successful businessman, basically an agnostic, who has been feeling a sense of conviction for some time and started reading the bible and decided that he believes in Jesus, that Jesus is his savior.

The pastor is really excited. A new convert, someone who can be discipled!

Then he says that after having been in love for 2 years, finally, 5 years ago he married Jack and they have one adopted child Julie, that they got from Sri Lanka, who is now 4 years old.

What/how would you want your pastor to continue the conversation?

The above situation reminds me of various mission efforts to the Native Americans a century or two back. As I understand it, certain missionaries encountered polygamy among various tribes. They elicited converts to Christianity and then had a problem: there were families with multiple wives and children from these wives. The problem? Polygamy is a sin. The solution? "Send away the slave woman!"[1] So, they had to pick a wife, perhaps the first one they married, and send the other(s) away with their children. As I understand it, this created a great deal of difficulty and poverty for the families that were sent away and had no means of supporting themselves.

The above "solution" strikes me as cruel and shortsighted. But what then do we do with Sam's "Adam and Steve" scenario of the new convert (John) who brings to the church a relationship with Jack that involves a child, Julie?

My primary thought is that the American church has very little organizational capacity for correctly and compassionately engaging John and his family. For example, the current church model is that believers meet on Sunday morning and may or may not have other "ministries" or "programs" that they are a part of. So, basically, if you believe that homosexuality is wrong or perhaps not the best way to do things, then you have to ship the guy (in this scenario, John) off to "counseling" (or some other such ministry/program) or else you just kind of lay down the law (in a nice way) and say that we don't do things that way in these here parts so you can shape up or ship out.

So, we either have to issue an ultimatum or else send John to counseling. In the former situation I think we force a hasty decision on a new believer that he may not be entirely ready to deal with, in all of its many ramifications (i.e. the moral issue, issues of family/love, caring for a daughter, splitting a home, etc.). In the case of sending him to counseling right away this makes him feel freakish from the very beginning, and this is very unfair. The fact is that anyone who comes to Christ is going to have baggage, and they need a close-knit community and a group of individuals to share their faith with and to work through baggage that they bring in and baggage that they accumulate while being a believer. (The little-known secret, of course, is that most of us in nice churches have even more baggage that usually gets lost in the shuffle, and my experience is that you accumulate quite a bit of baggage in church circles because we often do not have the contexts for dealing real issues.)

The point thus far is simply to say that the current Sunday morning Christianity in America has no human or even biblical way to appropriately deal with Sam's scenario because we are an event-oriented institution. At our most fundamental level we are not relational. At our most fundamental level we are institutional and obsessed with "events."

Ideally, all believers are not simply a hodge-podge group of people that meet once a week to sing and watch a sermon. Rather, the best scenario that I can see would be that when John enters into a fellowship of believers he is immediately plugged in with a group of believers with whom he can meet regularly and begin to share his life. In fact, in my mind's eye I imagine that it was probably through contact with this group of believers that he was able to come to faith, rather than on Sam's scenario where the guy happens across a Bible and starts reading.

Within this very small group of caring believers John can begin to explore who he is with people who are ready to care for his soul and impart grace into his life. These would be people who would be primarily interested in getting to know John, the person, and finding out what faith looks like for his situation. They would be interested in John, regardless of where they stood on the homo issue. If they believed that God stands against homosexuality, they would present their reasons and interact with various biblical passages. But then they would allow John the respect as a fellow believer to work through these issues himself. (This fulfills the Galatians 6 "bear each other's burdens" exhortation, as well as the Philippians 2 encouragement to "work out your salvation.") Furthermore, this caring yet insightful group of believers would suspend judgment and allow themselves to reexplore and reexamine an issue that needs to be reexamined.

In John's case there is no simple "solution," the matter requires time and care. I would also suggest that the answer is not clear, either. In the case of the Native Americans, I would suggest that the missionaries should have continued to allow the practice of polygamy for those who already had multiple wives. The alternative brought pain and disruption to the existing family and culture. One could move the people towards monogamy, but this would be a movement over time.

This same line of reasoning must be a part of the consideration of John's relationship with Jack and to their daughter Julie. John needs to have room to understand his scenario for himself and in relation to all of the various facets of his life. He needs to take the time to explore and discuss with a group of believers who can get to know him and minister with him over a period of months and years.

Unfortunately, Sam's scenario cannot be answered in the existing church framework. One is hard pressed to find an American church that truly acts in unison as the body of Christ. We have many "churches" but no body. And the sad thing is that there is no reason for someone like John to ever have any interest in Jesus Christ, because the Body of Christ is completely impotent. We have nothing to call John to - no true community or real fellowship. So, as unfortunate as it is, I believe that Sam's scenario remains an impossible quandary. Until the power of Christ is displayed in authentic relationships and true community we should expect very little.

Blogoneutics - "Snurfing"

Here at the Theos Project we track the current shifting of culture by observing the change of language - or vica versa. This is particularly true in relation to how technology over the last 100+ years has changed the way we live and think.

Our current word is "snurfing." I take it from a recent Comcast commercial. Comcast is currently running commercials where they coin terms (like "televisiphonernetting") that relate with how we use technology. "Snurfing" is surfing online when one is supposed to be on the phone. This most often occurs by members of the male gender when talking to their significant female other. Or is it???? Regardless, I must raise my hand as being guilty of this quite often. Even as recently as last night. (Sorry, Mom!)

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Warranted Christian Belief - Kant

Alvin Plantinga
Review of Warranted Christian Belief (2000)
Chapter 1 - Kant

The interest of Plantinga's book, Warranted Christian Belief (referred to here as WCB) is whether Christian belief is rational, reasonable, justifiable, or warranted. (p. 3) The first two chapters form Part 1 address whether there is a question. That is, are we even able to talk, sensibly, about "God." Says Plantinga,
"It seems many theologians and others believe that there is real difficulty with the idea that our concepts could apply to God - that is, could apply to a being with the properties of being infinite, transcendent, and ultimate. The idea is that if there is such a being, we couldn't speak about it, couldn't think and talk about it, couldn't ascribe properties to it." (4)

The first chapter addresses that great philosopher, Immanuel Kant:

"It seems to be widely accepted, among theologians, that Kant showed that reference to or thought about such a being (even if there is one) is impossible or at least deeply problematic, or at any rate much more problematic than the idea that we can refer to and think about ourselves and other people, trees and mountains, planets and stars, and so on." (5)

The first thing that Plantinga notes is that Kant, himself, seems to refer to "God" and to issues of "faith." Plantinga references Kant's famous statement, "I have therefore found it necessary to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith." (9 note 13)

The next matter is a problem of interpreting Kant. Specifically, it has to do with his concept of noumena (or Dinge an sich) and phenomena. Plantinga differentiates two interpretations: A "Two World View" and a "One World View." The more traditional view is the Two World perspective. Here the noumena is completely separate and distinct from the phenomena. We can experience the phenomena, but not the noumena. Plantinga explains by way of summary the Two World View:

"This is the more traditional way of understanding Kant, the way Kant was taken by his great successors. To put it briefly and all to baldly, there are two realms of objects; our experience is only of one realm, the realm of phenomena, which themselves depend on us for their existence; if we should go out of existence, so would they. That is because the phenomenal realm is somehow constructed by us out of the given, the date, the raw material of experience. The noumenal realm, however, is not thus dependent on us but is also such that we have no intuition, no direct experience of it." (12)

Yet on the One World view the noumena is basically the world, while the phenomena is the way that we perceive that same world. Of this view Plantinga says,

"There is only one world and only one kind of object, but there are (at least) two ways of thinking about or considering this one world. All objects are really noumenal objects, and talk about the phenomena is just a picturesque way of talking about how the noumena the only things there are, appear to us. The phenomena-noumena distinction is not between two kinds of objects but, rather, between how the things are in themselves and how they appear to us." (12)

Plantinga's concern is not with which interpretation of Kant is correct, but whether either interpretation of Kant, so taken, constitutes a reason that we cannot think about God or discuss the question of who God is. As such, Plantinga deals with both the One World and Two Worlds interpretations as they relate to the question of whether or not it is possible to speak of God.[1]

Plantinga dismisses the One World view rather quickly stating that the issue of "God" on this view poses no special problem, for if everything is noumena then this includes God and there is no problem with knowledge of God that is not true of other knowledge:

"For present purposes, what we need to see is that on this way of thinking, it would not really be the case that our concepts fail to apply to God in such a way that we cannot refer to and think about him. What would follow, given that he is a noumenon (of course, in this way of thinking, everything is a noumenon), is that God would not have any of the positive properties of which we have a grasp....Here there would be nothing at all special about God; what holds for him also holds for everything else." (16)

The Two World interpretation becomes more interesting, particularly the more "radical" view. Plantinga sees two different forms of the Two World interpretation. The first is the "moderate" subpicture. Here, we may refer to the Dinge (the noumena), but it is merely a matter of speculation. There is no real knowledge of Dinge, rather it it is reduced to opinion and conjecture. "God" would be a part of the Dinge and all of the concepts we apply to "God" is just guess work. Still, Plantinga does not find in this moderate view the suggestion that our concepts do not, in fact, apply to God, and as such it does not represent a threat to any project (such as Plantinga's) that seeks to inquire as to whether it is rational/reasonable/etc. to believe in God.

I find the moderate subpicture very interesting because it does not eliminate the "speculation," but rather makes the more mild (and perhaps more threatening) suggestion that such speculation is trivial. In this way, then, we have a reflection of much of the greater American culture at large, that is, that our speculation about God is only as important as the meaning that it produces within the believer. So, the speculation is "trivial" because what we say about God is nothing that we know. If, however, it produces something significant for the believer then it becomes valuable.

On to the more "radical" subpicture.

"On both versions of the two-world picture, the appearances are distinct from the things in themselves. The appearances are objects; they exist; they are empirically real. But they are also transcendentally ideal. And what this means, in part, is that they depend for their existence on us (on the transcendental ego[s]) and our cognitive activity. We ourselves are both noumena and phenomena: there is both a noumenal self and an empirical self." (18)

This view becomes more complicated. For example, we are now "transcendental egos" such that we are both noumena and phenomena. As a transcendental ego we undergo experiences, which is a result of the things in themselves impinging upon us. This "impinging" is the experience. This is a rather confusing state of affairs, as Plantinga notes, "As it is initially given to us, this manifold of experience is a blooming, buzzing confusion with no structure." (18)

That we are both noumena and phenomena, then, implies to me that we have the noumena impinging upon us, but that we also impinge upon other(s) is some way. Regardless, we have the manifold of experience, which is a blooming and buzzing confusion. So, what do we do? Impose structure, of course: "We impose structure and form on it, and in so doing we construct the phenomena, the appearances. So the phenomena, the things fur uns, are constructed out of the manifold of experiences." (18)

Interestingly, for Kant this structuring does not necessarily occur at the conscious level: "Kant says we are largely unconscious of the activity whereby we structure the manifold and construct the phenomena. Still, it proceeds by way of the application of concepts to the blooming buzzing manifold of experience."[2] (18)

How does the structuring occur? Through "rules" and "law." Plantinga cites Kant as saying, "Sensibility gives us forms (of intuition) but understanding gives us rules." (19) What is the relation of "rule" and "law"? Again Plantinga cites Kant,

"Rules, so far as they are objective...are called laws. Although we learn many laws through experience, they are only special determinations of still higher laws, and the highest of these under which the others all stand, issue a priori from the understanding itself. They are not borrowed from experience; on the contrary, they have to confer upon appearances their conformity to law, and so to make experience possible. Thus the understanding is something more than a power of formulating rules through comparison of appearances; it is itself the lawgiver of nature." (19)

So, Plantinga suggests that the rules synthesize the manifold of experience. The lawgiver of nature structures the blooming and buzzing confusion of experience. Plantinga calls this the heart of the radical subpicture. On this view, the process of structuring experience results in the "phenomena."

Plantinga provides an example of a "rule" providing structure: "Consider your concept of a horse: it instructs you to associate, think together a variety of representations, a variety of items of experience, thus unifying that bit of manifold into an empirical object: a horse." (19)

In the One World view and also on the moderate subpicture Plantinga did not see a threat to applying our concepts to God. However, such is not the case on the radical subpicture. On this view God is noumenon: "God would not be something we have constructed by applying concpets to the manifold of experience (God has created us, we have not constructed him.) So, on the radical subpicture, we can't refer to, think about, or predicate properties of God." (20)

The results of the radical view might be damaging and stop us in our epistemological tracks, but Plantinga concludes that the radical view "displays a deep incoherence." (20) After discussion various possible solutions to the perceived incoherence Plantinga concludes by way of summary: "If we really can't think the Dinge, then we can't think them (and can't whistle them either); if we can't think about them, we can't so much as entertain the thought that there are such things. The incoherence is patent." (29)

One of the issues that I see as problematic for the radical viewpoint is how it is that the noumena "impinge" on us while at the same time remaining unthinkable and distinct. That is, if they are truly distinct and disjointed - if the noumena is truly transcendent - then it would seem problematic that it could still "impinge" in such a way as to create "experiences" for us to structure. I do note, however, that this problem is the same that theology must reckon with. For example, how is God truly and wholly Other - transcendent - and yet immanent enough to intrude into our reality and impact the world in which we operate. So, it seems as though some of these problematic issues surface in various areas of thought.

Having concluded that the radical subpicture is incoherent, Plantinga concludes this chapter by noting, "It doesn't look as if there is good reason in Kant or in the neighborhood of Kant for the conclusion that our concepts do not apply to God, so that we cannot think about him. Contemporary theologians and others sometimes complain that contemporary philosophers of religion often write as if they have never read their Kant. Perhaps the reason they write that way, however, is not that they have never read their Kant but rather that they have read him and remained unconvinced." (30)

Notes and References
[1] In regards to whether the One World or Two World interpretation is correct Plantinga does say the following regarding the One World interpretation: "Although this second picture is perhaps now the majority opinion, it seems a bit difficult to reconcile it with Kant's own view that his thought constituted a revolution - his famous second Copernican revolution." (13) Plantinga also cites Kant regarding the "Copernican" nature of his thought: Hitherto it has been assumed that all our knowledge must conform to objects. But also attempts to extend our knowledge of objects by establishing something in regard to them a priori, by means of concepts, have, on this assumption, ended in failure. We must therefore make trial whether we may not have more success in the tasks of metaphysics, if we suppose that objects must conform to our knowledge. We should then be proceeding precisely on the lines of Copernicus' primary hypothesis.

[2] This idea of "unconscious structuring" raises many important issues in the history of philosophy as far as it relates with psychology. The fact that structuring occurs at the unconscious level is an obvious are of intrigue for those of us Post-Freud. Yet the idea that there is "structure" to this unconscious activity raises an issue of debate that finds a full expression in various postmodern philosophy and psychology. I would recommend three posts by John Doyle, who currently practices psychology and holds a Ph.D. in the field. These intriguing posts by Doyle integrate this philosophical issue of "structure" with the psychological implications of the un/conscious, while sifting through various implications for counseling:
"The Self as Something Spoken"
"Decentering the Self"
"The Anxieties of Free Play"

In comment 10 from "Decentering the Self" Doyle states, "Descartes placed consciousness at the center of the self. He followed a long tradition dating back at least to Plato and Aristotle, for whom the rational self resonates with pure Logos that is the center of the universe. Certainly for the Greeks the passions were of lower quality than reason; the challenge of the virtuous man was to subject the passions to the mastery of reason. The Greeks were very structural in their tripartite topography of the self: body, passions/emotions, mind/spirit. Freud was too, though his categories were different: id, ego, superego. For Freud the reasonable ego was demoted from master to arbiter, balancing the more powerful structures of id and superego."

In "Anxieties of Free Play" Doyle notes, "Derrida begins by contrasting structure with event, stability with “rupture.” Historically, structures have been constructed around a center, a fixed point of origin. The center serves as the basis for coherence and balance within the structure. Having a fixed center makes it possible to “play” with the elements of the structure, but this play is also limited by needing to remain compatible with the center. The center, while giving shape to both the form and the freedom of the structure that surrounds it, isn’t really part of the structure....The rupture, says Derrida, came with the realization that the center was not the center, that the actual center was the desire for security rather than the specific presence on which this desire happened to land."

The above citations go to the overlap and interaction between one's view of "structure" and the activity of the "conscious" or "unconscious" mind. All of these are issues of our philosophy of "self" and the questions that Kant is raising in regards to how the self interacts with the world. Plantinga notes that for Kant the impinging of the noumena/Dinge produce "experiences", which is a "blooming and buzzing confusion" until it is structured by the unconscious (though perhaps at times by the conscious) mind.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Always right on!

I received this Dilbert comic from a fellow blogger friend who said she thought of me when she saw it.

Ironically, we can quote her most recent post where she says of herself, "I am brilliant!" Perhaps she is projecting just a bit, eh???

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Big Mac Attack

So, I'm watching a CNN special, "Big Mac - Inside the McDonald's Empire"

In 2002 McD's posted first quarterly loss. A few years back two CEO's died within a short period of time. But now McD's is on track and making a Big Mac come back.

The beginning of the Mac:
The McDonald's brothers noticed that people in California wanted their food faster. In those days everyone had the drive-in thing, with a girl who took your order and brought your food back out to you. The McD's bros. knew they needed to get the food out faster. After all, this was the 1040s - this was life in the fastlane! So, they reduced the menu. Fewer items, make 'em faster. Mass production. Rock and roll.

Ray Kroc signed on not too long after rock and roll. Quality, Service, Cleanliness was the motto of the day for Ray. Hamburger University was eventually founded: a strong training ground for training management. Uniformity. Conformity.

These days McDonald's has culinary chefs to develop ideas for great food....uh, well, sort of.....you see, if McDonald's is going to release a product, the food item must be easy to duplicate. Did I say "duplicate"? Well, that's what I meant. Every food item must be the same. No deviation. Hence, a food item that reaches the restaurant goes through some 200 tests and years in the pipeline to make it perfect for mass production. It must taste the same. You must be able to purchase the exact same hamburger in Seattle that you purchase in Kokomo, Indiana. It must taste exactly the same.

BIG PORTIONS! All the fast food restaurants are serving lots of big burgers and super size meals. There's nine million fat kids in America. The CEO says, "We've all got to make responsible decisions." Oh, and after that one movie where the guy ate all the McD's food - remember that one? I still can't figure out why people were shocked and appalled that the guy was unhealthy after a month of non-stop fast food. Well, anyway, after that one movie McDonald's got rid of the super size line!

Marketing the Mac to Kids: Critics call it "manipulative" and "insidious" - kids can't tell that marketers are out to get them until they get to be about the age of 9.

These days McD's is global. In China, they had to train customers how to use McDonald's. We just take the drive-through for granted 'cause it's the American way. So, now McD's is worldwide, and some day we will all be eating the same food.

My eyes begin to water as this CNN special report comes to an end, and the realization sinks in that one day the world may unite and together eat a Big Mac in unison. Yes, my brothers and sisters, we can get there. Keep buying up the Big Macs and realize that you are making a down payment on world peace. Solidarity. Uniformity. That's the Big Mac.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Consume unto others

One of the key components to the religious Consumerism within which we live and move and have our being is that every need/desire/impulse/urge has a corresponding product. If you have a need or desire the marketplace will rise up to fill it. If you can afford it (or get the credit!) you can have the product that meets your need, fulfills your desire, or satisfies your craving. Once the product is in hand you are free to consume. Consume, consume, consume.

It's a great system - really, it is! Works like a charm.

We recently talked about blogging unto others as you would have them blog unto you. Kind of a silly little catch phrase, but let's turn back to Jesus' words:

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you
Luke 16:31; Matthew 7:12

I suggest that Jesus issues this Golden Rule for the purpose of forcing his hearers to consider more carefully how they treat their fellow human beings. Because we tend o be prone to self-absorbed actions and thinking, we rarely reflect on the fact that our actions affect people. Life on this small planet is reciprocal. That is, all of the things we do and say affect each other. So, for sake of creating a better living space it is important to consider my neighbor. Furthermore, one should be concerned for their neighbor simply for the fact of caring for their fellow man. This is the Golden Rule, in a nutshell.

What Jesus does not say, but what seems implied and observable from human experience is that we do, in fact, tend to treat others the way that we expect them to treat us. That people often treat each other poorly is a reflection of their own low estimation of their own selves. They rob/kill/cheat/steal/destroy/lie toward others because they expect not much less from others. This is something that seems to lie beneath the conscious mind and we rarely reflect on. We can see a mirror into our own self-perception by observing our attitudes and behaviors towards others. How we perceive others reflects on how we perceive ourselves and the rest of humanity.

So, here is the conclusion and the damning truth: Treating others as a product reveals that we perceive ourselves to be mere items for consumption.

More than often we just roll with the waves of culture and don't think about it, but from time to time reality hits us - that we are hardly any more valuable to ourselves and others than a box of cereal or a jar of pickles in the grocery store. But it is at these rare moments of truth that we have the choice and opportunity to change or to just jump back in and rejoin the rat race. In my humble opinion, it sucks to live like that - another product on the shelf of society.

Consume unto others as you would have them consume you

Monday, October 08, 2007

Warranted Christian Belief - Preface

After blogging on Plantinga's God and Other Minds much stimulating and energetic discussion ensued that demands follow up. Plantinga has been a significant philosophical influence for me, and I have always wanted to do some serious blogging through his Warrant trilogy. Well, my friends, the time has arrived. As the leaves turn colors and the cool weather begins to push us indoors and into the company of good books and even better blogs, I would like to start working through Plantinga's third book in the Warrant trilogy, Warranted Christian Belief (WCB).

WCB was published in 2000, some seven years after the publication of Warrant: The Current Debate (1993) and Warrant and Proper Function (1993). These first two works were strictly epistemological, written within the tradition of Analytic philosophy for a scholarly and academic audience. The third book applies Plantinga's epistemology specifically to the Christian faith and asks various questions regarding the rationality of Christianity. Says Plantinga, "This book is about the intellectual or rational acceptability of Christian belief." (vii)

Plantinga recognizes the need to address the contemporary thinking and hence asks if Christianity is "rational" for the twenty-first century educated populace: "Our question is this: is belief of this sort intellectually acceptable? In particular, is it intellectually acceptable for us, now? For educated and intelligent people living in the twenty-first century, with all that has happened over the last four or five hundred years?" (viii)

As we move through the preface, Plantinga notes two, specific objections:
"Western thought since the eighteenth-century Enlightenment has displayed at least two distinct styles of objection. First, there have been de facto objections: objections to the truth of Christian belief. Perhaps the most important de facto objection would be the argument from suffering and evil.

Even more prevalent, however, have been de jure objections. These are arguments or claims to the effect that Christian belief, whether or not true, is at any rate unjustifiable, or rationally unjustified, or irrational, or not intellectually respectable, or contrary to sound morality, or without sufficient evidence or in some other way rationally unacceptable, not up to snuff from an intellectual point of view." (viii-ix)

The two objections, then are de facto and de jure. As the name implies, de facto objections deal with the issue of truth and falsity. Simply put, is Christianity in fact true? Or, can we establish from arguments (such as the argument from suffering and evil) that Christianity is false? De jure objections, on the other hand, deal with the idea of rationality. Even if one may not be able to establish that Christianity is false, perhaps one simply finds various aspects of the faith to be unreasonable or irrational.

As noted above, Plantinga's interest in this book is the de jure question - is Christianity rational? (see p. 3) But Plantinga's distinction between de facto and de jure - between truth and rationality - immediately raises the question of what the connection is between the two. Is not that which is rational also true? And is not that which is true always rational??? Why does Plantinga separate the two? Well, my friends, this question is a critical one. It forces us to ask what the relationship is between rationality and truth, and at this point I make an unprecedented move for my readers at the very outset of our investigation: I give away the ending! I cite Plantinga's last paragraph where he asks about the truth of Christianity:
"But is it true? This is the really important question. And here we pass beyond the competence of philosophy, whose main competence, in this area, is to clear away certain objections, impedances, and obstacles to Christian belief. Speaking for myself and of course not in the name of philosophy, I can say only that it does, indeed, seem to me to be true, and to be the maximally important truth."

Note first that for Plantinga the truth question is still important, indeed, it is "maximally important." And yet to say that the question of "truth" is settled by argumentation is not a contention that Plantinga makes. This will be important to keep in mind as we further into the book. Plantinga is no fideist. He believes in rationality and reason. He also utilizes argumentation and logic. Yet the critical issue carried throughout this book is in regards to the purpose, place, and use of reason within epistemology and the process of human thought and belief. It is this issue that requires us to explore the heart of the Modern epistemological debate. So in this regard, although I have cited the ending at the beginning, the critical issues of the book remain spread out before us. We must still ask about the rationality of Christian belief. But to even do this, we must ask about Plantinga's own ideas of rationality and how they fit within one's belief system.

My hope is to blog through WCB chapter by chapter. Each chapter raises its own fascinating issues related to knowledge and Christian belief, and hence there is much fodder for thought. If I may take a moment for self-promotion, I think I am in a unique position to blog on Plantinga. For one thing, I very much appreciate and respect the Analytic philosophical tradition from which Plantinga emerges. However, I have by no means sold my intellectual soul to some of the more detailed (and in my opinion "mundane"!) aspects of Analytic philosophy (symbolic logic being one area where my patience is worn very thin!). In Plantinga's philosophy and theology I find ideas and lines of thought that are not strictly limited to the realms of Analytic philosophy. One example of this is the concept of sensus divinitatis, which I have blogged on from time to time. It is my hope to open up these discussions beyond the circle of purely Analytic philosophy, and Plantinga's Warranted Christian Belief, makes this transition very smooth and quite natural.

Alvin Plantinga was one of the most significant figures in twentieth century Christian thought. So much of the last century's philosophical and theological thought was either unoriginal, uninspiring, or even downright embarrassing. (I think about how much ink was spilled plotting charts for the end of the age!) I think that Plantinga is an important point of departure for Christian thinking as we move into the 21st century. My goal is to open up these issues for our mutual exploration. I confess that I will likely defend Plantinga in most cases, but on some issues (important issues, even) I think he misses some critical points, particularly related to his perception and refutation of various postmodern perspectives. But this is, after all, the blogosphere and no one is safe! No man is an island unto himself

And so, my friends, let the games begin and the discussions ensue.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Not that there's anything wrong with that!

A few clips from a classic Seinfeld episode:

At this point, I think it is quite obvious that the greater American culture holds Jerry's statement that "people's personal sexual preferences are nobodies business but their own!" This clip is an excellent summary of where the culture is at. Yet at this point, the debate on sexual orientation is very strong among Christians and within the church.

We are all adults here, so most of us in this year of 2007 have moved past the paranoia of stereotypes and exaggerated rhetoric. I enjoy a good fight as much as the next person, but perhaps we have reached the point of rational and civil discourse - well, at least for the most part. (After all, none of us want the classic Melody/Jason confrontations to end any time soon!)

So, let's direct the question somewhere intelligent: How would you recommend that a Christian go about deciding whether "there's anything wrong with that"? The related question is, How would you recommend that the church go about deciding whether "there's anything wrong with that"?

[Edit: The above questions are open to all, by the way. This is not a strictly "in house" Christiany-type forum.]

Even for those of us in conservative churches in small conservative towns, we will not be able to hide from the issue for too much longer. What happens when a homosexual shows up at your church doorstep? Don't look at them and hope that they go away? What about when groups of gay Christians start meeting together and form a church in our safe, little small towns? Then what? Give the youth group paintball guns and toilet paper and tell them to go do the Lord's work?!?!?!?

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Blogoneutics - Consumeristic blogging

Over the course of the last month or so my bbff has asserted various comments regarding the statistics of his blog, i.e. how much traffic is coming through in terms of hits and page loads. Usually these are somehow associated with his perception that my blog is becoming a super blog, on par with Super-Christian-Blogger, Scot McKnight, or that I am in some way stealing his traffic.

I interpret the comments variously, but usually I take them as passive-aggressive manifestations of personal angst. The charges are completely groundless. For one thing, my blog gets enough traffic to make things interesting, but I will never be a Super Blogger, nor would I want to be stuck with such a curse. Imagine leaving a post and then finding within an hour you have a hundred hits: That would suck! How would a blogger ever encourage serious thought and dialog on a post if it becomes a mess of comments like that?

But what has struck me was that my bbff seems to be sliding down the slippery slope of capitalism and slowly descending into the muck and mire of consumerism. Yes, my friends! The blogosphere cannot escape the inevitable fate of consumerism. In fact, it is already all around us. Blogging becomes about generating hits and pageloads and traffic and no more about content or substance: In short it has been turned over the fickle masses.

The "success" of a blog is now dependent upon what you can give to the consumer. Don't want to give the Consumer God her due? Fine. But you'll suffer with low traffic. Muuuuuuhahahaha! (That's code for a sinister laugh, something that comes from deep in the chest finish, rises up in the voice, and finishes back within the chest.)

Thus this post continues my explorations into blogoneutics, and in light of the evils of the religious Consumerism that has taken control of the blogosphere and tainted her pure heart and chaste mind, I suggest the following words of Jesus:

Blog unto others as you would have them blog unto you. (Luke 6:31, Matthew 7:12)

Admittedly, I have taken a bit of liberty in my translation in order to make the verse relevant to our current topic of discussion.

The above "Golden Rule" applied against American culture shames us for our rampant Consumerism, whereby "I" comes before "neighbor." It changes the mindset and flips the paradigm in a culture obsessed with desire.

Yet, bringing things back to the blogosphere, what might it look like to apply the above variation of the Golden rule to blogging? A few suggestions:

Resolved: A blog needs to be more about the dialog that follows a post than about the post itself. On the surface, this may sound like consumerism: That a post is more about generating and stimulating the consumer. But au contraire, my good friends! For a loving blogger must find satisfaction in allowing his or her neighbors to write and interpret, contributing to the over-all growth of the community, rather than becoming obsessed with becoming a Blogging Super Star.

Resolved: Invest as much in the blogs of others as I do in my own. Learning of and from my fellow bloggers to develop a community of care and concern.

Resolved: To never dish out more "fill-in-the-blank" than I can take in return, and to always deconstruct with love.

Perhaps there are more resolutions of a Golden Rule Blogger to be added to the list. These are just the ones that I need to work on so as to be "blameless and pure."

Long live the blogosphere! Death to Consumerism!

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

A God Ordained Spat?

Acts 15:36-41 relates the "sharp disagreement" between Paul and Barnabas:
Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, "Let us go back and visit the brothers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing." Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches. (NIV)

Barnabas was the "Son of Encouragement." In the above account there seems to be something of an implication that he was rather soft. Paul, on the contrary is driven. Ever the task oriented pioneer, the relentless missionary will let no one stand in the way of the Great Commission - and especially not the youngster, John Mark, a cousin of Barnabas. (Col 4:10) In the words of Michael Corleone, "It's not personal. It's business." And thus this pro-Paul passage tells us that Barnabas "took Mark and sailed for Cyprus," while Paul took Silas and was "commended by the brothers" and continued on in the mission, "strengthening the churches."

Interestingly, it wasn't all that long ago that the "son of encouragement" introduced the wet-behind-the-ears convert, Paul, to a timid group of church leadership suspicious that the Christian-killer they knew as "Saul" had ulterior motives in joining up with the Church. (9:27) Barnabas and Paul set out as missionaries together. And, in fact, in the early days it is Barnabas who takes the lead; his name is mentioned first in the book of Acts. That is, until the confrontation with Elymas, the Sorcerer: "At this point Luke begins to give Paul greater prominence than Barnabas in the mission narrative, calling their party 'Paul and his company' (13:13) and mentioning Paul’s name several times before that of Barnabas (13:43, 46, 50)."[1]

The dynamic duo made quite the pair. In Acts 14:27 we read that upon returning from a successful journey "they rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles." In Acts 15 they navigate and influence a critical church debate on circumcision and salvation. (Not exactly a "hot topic" today, but of no small matter for a movement emerging from Judaism where covenant fidelity was measured against the requirements of the Law, which meant debating issues related to keeping the Sabbath and whether to cut or not to cut.)

But despite bringing the Gospel to city after city, Paul and Barnabas are not immune from trouble. Hence there may have been more to the story than a simple disagreement over John Mark:
But the parting of ways between Barnabas and Paul may well have been occasioned by more than the personal disagreement mentioned in Acts. Although Acts hints at no disagreement between Barnabas and Paul on the conduct of a mission to gentiles, Paul’s letter to Galatia indicates that the two did not share identical views on the observance of Jewish dietary laws. Paul writes that at Antioch he was distressed when Peter refrained from eating with gentiles out of deference to representatives from James. Paul objected to Peter’s abrupt withdrawal from his practice of table fellowship and writes that “even Barnabas” sided against Paul (Gal 2:11–13).[2]

So, what do we make of Paul and Barnabas? How do we interpret their "sharp disagreement"? The book of Acts gives no more mention of Barnabas. Paul continues to dominate the center stage. Does this mean that Barnabas was in the wrong?


But is it also possible that this is something of a divinely inspired disagreement?

The Son of Encouragement followed instinct. He did what he had always done: encourage. He had encouraged Paul and he was going to show the same second-chance grace to John Mark, even despite JM's earlier desertion. And who's to say that this was the wrong move?

On the other hand, maybe JM really couldn't hack it? Maybe Paul needed another hardened old soldier to take the beatings and hunger and overnight stays at the local Super 8 Prison. (See Acts 16:22-24) I don't think the kid could've cut it.

So, what do we have? Different gifts going different directions. Different visions exploring different options? Is this disunity? Is this an unholy divide? Or is it possibly a God ordained split?

[1] Daniels, "Barnabas" Anchor Bible Dictionary (1:610)
[2] Ibid., 611