Thursday, December 20, 2007

Totally. Cosmic. Man.

There is an assumption in our modern (postmodern) society that all of us have tacitly accepted whether we are openly "religious" or not. It is an assumption born in the Enlightenment and nurtured through three or four hundred years of modern philosophy, medical breakthroughs, and technological innovation. The assumption is this: That the physical world is all that really exists. The logical follow-on to that assumption is that science will eventually provide us answers to our most profound questions. This, as I have discussed many times, is the foundation of Naturalistic/Materialistic worldview. Though many of us claim not to accept this view, and though we may even vehemently argue against it, this is a difficult assumption to overcome because it is built into the fabric of our culture.

When we hear of an inexplicable healing, or an answered prayer, or an eerie "coincidence," our initial reaction is to seek a scientific explanation. Though we study and do our best to honor and defend a high view of Scripture, we secretly wonder if the walls of Jericho really just fell down; if the Red Sea really parted or (though we would be loathe to admit it) if Jesus really rose from the dead. We are hard-wired to be skeptical of claims like those.

"Test everything," Paul told us, and we take him up on it. That's OK. But in our knee-jerk reaction to do so we sometimes forget that the Christian view of the world is not limited to materialistic causes for things. Ultimate reality is not physical -- it is spiritual. Ours is a worldview that encompasses both the physical and the non-physical. Neither the physical nor the non-physical is, by itself, adequate to describe us as persons. Likewise, neither can explain the makeup of all we know and experience.

The modern, rational, naturalistic culture we have been steeped in disdains such a view and does its best to belittle and destroy it. The result is an ongoing battle of ideas in which we are perpetually engaged. The philosopher Francis Schaeffer addressed this conflict as being rooted in a post-Enlightenment split in the way we think. Though Schaeffer didn't originate this notion, he did popularized it in a form we all recognize when we talk about someone taking a "leap of faith."

Faith, Schaeffer said, is relegated by the secular to an "Upper Story" class of thought consisting of: values, spirituality, religion, faith and the like. The "Lower Story" ideas consist of the converse of the upper. In the lower story are facts, physical reality, science, and knowledge.

UPPER STORY: Values - Spiritual - Religion - Faith -- Private

LOWER STORY: Facts - Physical - Science - Knowledge -- Public

And here's the key: To the naturalistic, secular way of thinking, the lower story is the only place we can know true things. For that reason it is public and verifiable. It describes the only philosophically acceptable areas of our lives. Upper story ideas are private and subjective, having no business seeping into the "real world." To take a "leap of faith" is to ignore rational thought and the scientific method by leaping upstairs and believing on faith alone. While no one is permitted to question the thoughts or ideas of your "private world," neither are you free to allow those ideas to influence how you understand the lower story.

Unfortunately, most of us accept these notions without even realizing it. We tacitly accept the idea that our personal faith or religion should be disallowed from addressing public issues because private values have little relevance to a fact-based world. But this is a bifurcated understanding of what we know and experience in our lives. It is a corruption of the Christian view of the world which sees: facts and values, the spiritual and physical, religion and science, faith and knowledge; as all comprising a total, integrated view of reality.Though in our hearts we know this is true, the culture continues to denounce it. We know we should fight the battle but sometimes we don't know how. Sometimes we get no help. Some of our thinking assimilates. Some of our leaders and scientists accommodate. Some of our churches capitulate. And with each baby step in the naturalistic direction, the idea of the miraculous diminishes into a faintly held belief we have little hope of defending.

And then Christmas comes ...

Though it took me a bit to get here, I believe the ultimate message of Christmas is the cosmic-sized revelation that human-centered ways of thinking are inadequate to address the human condition. It is humanistic thinking that created our earthly problems from the beginning. It is humanistic philosophy that has exacerbated those problems by manufacturing a "two-story" view of the world -- a view that denies ultimate reality by dividing that which was made to be indivisible.

At Christmas we are reminded that it all can be fixed in only one way. We are shown an ultimate example on a cosmic scale of how the world was meant to work. At Christmastime, the floor joists are shattered and a thundering shock wave pierces the night. The ceiling above our human-centered world collapses and the ghosts who have been rattling around in our attics come crashing into our living rooms.

The divine is united with the human in one person -- a person who offers us the perfect example of how we were made in the divine image and meant to function as an integrated whole. That person offers us a way out of our self-made morass of idiotic ideas and worldly wisdom. The infinitely perfect man bridges an infinite gap between divine perfection and human failing.

Only He can do such a thing. And when He does, the world all makes sense again.

Monday, December 10, 2007

We Need More Of These Guys!

Yes, we (Navy) won the Army-Navy game handsomely. That requires no comment. With a son at West Point I think it would be piling on to point out that Navy has won the last 6 in a row and currently leads the series between the two rivals by 3 games (52-49-7). It would also be rude to point out that Navy will be participating in its 5th Bowl game in as many years. So I won't even mention any of those things. It just wouldn't be right.

What I really want to point out is a quote I just uncovered by Naval Academy senior Adam Ballard in National Review. It is reported in the December 3, 2007 issue that Ballard, a big, bruiser of a power fullback, has been asked if he will attempt to forgo his military service obligation and pursue the interest that has been shown in him by the NFL. Here's what he said ...

"Being a Marine fits my mentality," he said, explaining why he's seeking a commission that would deny him a shot at a professional [football] career. "I don't see myself as someone who sits back. I like to be down in the dirt with a gun in my hand ... When I'm older, I want to be able to look at my kids and tell them why they can go to any church and why your mom doesn't have to wear a burqa."

Oo- rah

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Thinking Allowed

Because I try my best to adhere to the principle of being "tolerant of people, but intolerant of (bad) ideas," I will not identify the author of the following. I only quote said author to make a point about the self-defeating consequences of anti-intellectualism in the church. Check out this excerpt (sorry it is so long) from a book which contains a chapter entitled, "Confused Mind":

Reasoning Leads to Confusion

...O ye of little faith, why reason ye among yourselves? ... Matthew 16:8 (KJV)

A large percentage of God's people are admittedly confused. Why? As we have seen, one reason is wondering. Another is reasoning. The dictionary partially defines the word reason in the noun form as an "underlying fact or motive that provides logical sense for a premise or occurrence" and in the verb form as "to use the faculty of reason: think logically."

A simple way to say it is, reasoning occurs when a person tries to figure out the "why" behind something. Reasoning causes the mind to revolve around and around a situation, issue or event attempting to understand all its intricate component parts. We are reasoning when we dissect a statement or teaching to see if it is logical, and disregard it if it is not.

Satan frequently steals the will of God from us due to reasoning ... What God leads a person to do does not always make logical sense to his mind. His spirit may affirm it and his mind may reject it ...

Don't Reason in the Mind, Just Obey the Spirit

... the realization of how easily we can be led by our heads and allow reasoning to keep us out of God's will provoked in me a "reverential" fear of reasoning.

Let me point out that this author "has been teaching the Word of God since 1976 and in ministry since 1980." This author is the prolific writer of "more than 70 inspirational books" and has "released thousands of audio teachings as well as a complete video library." This author can be heard on national radio broadcasts, seen on national TV programs almost every day, and travels nationwide speaking and doing teaching conferences. This author has influenced a whole lot of people. I don't want to disparage the writer. I'm sure the writer has helped many people and is motivated to do so for all the right reasons. But, in this specific case, this person is just plain off-base. The teaching offered here is deeply flawed and destructive to any Christ-follower who adheres to it. Unfortunately, many new and vulnerable minds do just that.

Where do I even begin with this one?

First, the Bible verse quoted in the section heading (shown above: Matthew 16:8) is taken completely out of context. In keeping with the precept that you should be leery of anyone using a single Bible verse to prove their point (for a great discussion of this precaution go here: "Never Read a Bible Verse"), I would challenge you to look up the actual passage from which this quote was lifted. When you do, you will find it in the middle of a chapter devoted to the story of Jesus' continuing confrontations with the religious leaders who felt his ministry threatened them and their base of power.

Having just performed a miraculous feeding of four thousand seekers from a few scraps of fish and bread, Jesus tells his disciples to "be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees." The disciples, who having once again forgotten to bring bread with them (they are obviously slow learners -- like me), attribute Jesus' warning as being in reference to their failure in that regard. Exasperated when he overhears their discussion, Jesus utters the lifted quote. But let's look at the entire passage:
Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked, "You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread? Do you still not understand? Don't you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? How is it you don't understand that I was not talking to you about bread? But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees." Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
Does this passage in any way attribute confusion to the use of reason? Absolutely not! In fact, it does just the opposite. Jesus is admonishing his disciples to remember what has actually occurred, then think through what he said. Three times he challenges their understanding of his words. Finally, after thinking it through, they realize what he meant them to guard against -- the fallacious teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. The entire story is an exhortation to examine the evidence, think carefully about his words, and from that deduce that actual meaning of what Jesus said.

In the words of the Christian philosopher Augustine, and completely contrary to the so-called insight of the author I quote above, this is a textbook example of "faith seeking understanding."

Second, the writer implies that wondering and reasoning are anti-Biblical. This has absolutely no basis in Scripture. Would Cornelius, a "God-fearer," ever have been compelled to ask for Peter's intervention had he not been inquisitive about the vision he reported in Acts 10:3-4? Would Peter ever have recognized his commission to reach the Gentiles without his own vision (Acts 10:9-21)? This passage reports that Peter "was wondering about the meaning of the vision" as Cornelius' couriers approached his home. Why would God encourage Isaiah (Isaiah 1:18) to "let us reason together"? Why would Paul challenge those (1 Thessalonians 5:21) who questioned his teachings to "test everything. Hold on to what is good"? These are not tangential comments. They are at the heart of the Biblical worldview. Try to think of a character in either testament who is not given evidence and reasons for believing in and trusting God. I can't think of any. I do, however, know that we are called to engage the world in a certain way ...
For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

2 Corinthians 10:3-5

We are engaged in a battle of ideas. The Christian worldview is the most robustly evidenced-based, intellectually defensible, reality-coherent worldview that exists. Our call is to know, live, and defend that worldview. We do so because, in our humanity, we recognize that without a God who created and sustains the world, we are doomed to a meaningless existence. Though we may not know immediately why that is, we know that something is wrong. We wonder why that is. We seek answers. We pursue God with the mind he gave us. And though we will never know Him exhaustively in this life, we can reason our way to His truths and trust His answers because they are always aligned with the way the world He created really is.

Third, the writer implies that logic and clear thinking are destructive and contrary to "the will of God." To say this is to say that the Apostle Paul's entire life mission was contrary to the will of God. Take a look at Paul's missionary journeys. In nearly every town he visited, the first thing he did was approach the cultural and/or religious leaders (in most cases the Jewish leadership) and "reason with them from the Scriptures." In Romans 12, we are told to be "transformed by the renewing of [our] minds." This, Paul tells us, is our "spiritual act of worship." The word "spiritual" here is the Greek logikos which is (quite ironically) translated: "agreeable to reason, following reason, reasonable, logical."

The only way to defend the notion that clear, logical thinking is contrary to the will of God is to be caught up in the contemporary notion that faith and spiritual issues have been relegated to solitary confinement as "matters of the heart." Banished there, faith is left to flounder as a feelings-based inclination that is personal, private and beyond the reach of intellectual discernment. But the "heart" in a Biblical sense is much more than that. It is the core of our being; the place where our will resides and our choices are made. For that reason, the fashionable trend of separating the heart from the mind is not only unbiblical, but dangerous. It leads to vacuous pronouncements like these (from the same writer, in the same book) ...
I once asked the Lord why so many people are confused and He said to me, "Tell them to stop trying to figure everything out, and they will stop being confused." I have found it to be absolutely true. Reasoning and confusion go together.

... There is a big difference in head knowledge and revelation knowledge ... I don't know about you, but I want God to reveal things to me in such a way that I know in my spirit that what has been revealed to my mind is correct. I don't want to reason, to figure and to be logical, rotating my mind around and around and issue until I am worn out and confused. I want to experience the peace of mind and heart that come from trusting in God, not in my own human insight and understanding.
Here you notice a couple of things. The author claims direct, personal communication with God. Claiming this personal, two-way chat line serves to not only further entrench the idea that faith is a private matter, it also becomes a convenient asset in making the claim irrefutable. Who would dare question such a thing?! Any skepticism automatically renders the questioner a bad guy while simultaneously absolving the claimant of any requirement to defend themselves.

But, for the sake of argument, let's say the author is being absolutely truthful -- God has spoken audibly. Why then, would the hearer need to resort to "knowing things in the spirit" or "experiencing peace of mind and heart"? Neither of these is required if one actually hears the voice of God audibly. This leads to a follow-on objection ...

Fourth, the author's use of the slogan "Just Obey in the Spirit," is one of many similar (and all-too-familiar in Christian circles) exhortations that contains no actual meaning. Like others I could name, this phrase has become part of a kind of Christian-speak that is thrown around but that no one outside the church (or inside it, for that matter) can define. It is an empty slogan.

Humor me for a second and think about it ... how does one "obey in the Spirit" without engaging the mind? I welcome comments from those who can explain to me just how that is done.

This is not just a trivial objection to the author's view. It is a dangerous precedent to set. If "obeying in the Spirit" requires nothing but an inner, peaceful feeling, it can be used to justify any belief, thought, or action. There is no way to critique such a thing ... unless one uses reason and logic to do so. But that, we are told, is not allowed. Do you see how adhering to such a view is not only self-serving, but can be disastrous for those who hold to these ideas?

Being that I have listed the problems I find with this kind of teaching in logical order, and made a reasoned case why I believe it to be not only wrong but destructive, I'm sure that some would point out that my thinking is exactly the kind of thing the author is talking about. I am a living, breathing incarnation of the flaws the author is addressing. But in doing so critics, like the author they defend, help me make the fifth and final point I would like to address.

Fifth, the author has written a book meant to make a logically persuasive case for the point of view being defended. It always amazes me when folks write books meant to convince us all that there is no such thing as truth (so is their book true or not?); or that there is no such thing as an unbiased point of view (except theirs, of course); or that no one's "story" is any more authoritative than anyone else's (this is the strong-postmodern case for relativism); or, as in this case, that we shouldn't be using logic and reason. The idea that reason and logic are bad is dashed on the rocks of the very premise for which the author wrote -- or, for that matter, the reason anyone writes any book in the first place -- they want to convince you that what they are saying is true by logically and persuasively arguing their case!

I do not critique the author quoted here lightly. I used to subscribe to some of the ideas myself. But once one sees the fallacies and dangers in this type of thinking, it is hard to ignore it and look the other way. This type of mindset is destructive to the church. It makes us look foolish to the world and it needs to be stopped. Not because we are capitulating to the ways of the world, but because we are defying the faculty of reason God gave us when He created us in His image.