Archive for October, 2007
This is a must watch. D A Carson discusses sin, grace, the Cross and how misunderstanding of these can be threats faced by the church.
I came across this fun video at Thinking Theoblogically. It’s fun and humorous.
Have a great Reformation Day!
I first came across this at Uncommon Descent, but it is so good I thought it deserved its own place here: Atheism: An Intellectual Revolt or Pelvic Rebellion by Doug Giles at Townhall.com. I was especially intrigued by Giles’ comments about the atheist’s fear of accountability. I’ll note two such comments:
In addition, ladies, Darwin didn’t lose his faith because he discovered natural selection; he dumped God because he couldn’t stomach the doctrine of eternal accountability and damnation. That’s what made him switch teams. I think that was about ten years after he had married his first cousin. Git-R-Done, Charlie!
Look, I’m not buying that the atheists’ altruistic self-professed pursuit of reason is what undergirds their conclusion that God does not exist; I believe it’s because they want to believe that they’ll never be called into eternal accountability for their temporal actions by a holy God. Talk about an opiate for the masses!
The other day, I was commenting about why Christians ought to reject Darwinism. I wrote this:
If I believe that the Bible is not telling me the truth about God, about Creation, about Redemption, then I will live like that. I will likely care nothing for God. I may not commit murder or rape, but I will likely live without regard to what God has said about Creation, Redemption, God, Jesus Christ, Sin, and the like. In other words, I will live without regard for God, I will reject him, I will ignore him, I will blaspheme, ridicule, and mock him. I can personally think of nothing more offensive than to disregard God, and ignore or ridicule the work He accomplished through Jesus Christ at the cross. If God did not create, then just exactly how am I accountable to God? But if God did create, then I am wholly accountable to Him.
The same principle applies to atheism. Atheists think that if they just wish God away they can live however they want, with no ultimate accountability. In other words, there is no ultimate justice in the minds of the atheist. Life just goes on as it will: we’re born, we live, we die. That’s it.
In this scenario, is there any such thing as sin? To be sure, there is ‘crime’ which is merely a violation of law against a human for which we might be accountable before a human court. But there is no sin in the sense of a violation of God’s Holy Law, a transgression against the Holy One. “If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.” Or, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” So if there is no ultimate sin, then of what need is there for Redemption? And if there is no need for Redemption, of what need is there of Christ? Why, we might as well say Christ Jesus did not even exist if all that is true. And we might as well say that all that is in Scripture is untrue as well.
This seems highly, highly unlikely to be the case. This is part of the atheist’s dilemma. Who really knows what is right and wrong in the atheist’s system? Who will hold us accountable in the atheist’s system? (One another? OJ proves that notion is laughable.) How will justice be finally ‘worked out’ in the atheist’s system? Worse, where is grace in the atheist’s system? Where is life in the atheist’s system? Are we really to believe that death is the great equilizer?
October 31, 1517 is the best-known date in Protestant history. At high noon on October 31, 1517, Luther, a 33-year-old university professor, walked to the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, and tacked to it a document. The door served as the town bulletin board, and Martin Luther had an announcement to post. He called for a disputation on the power and efficacy of indulgences.
A few curious passersby drew near and scanned the words: Out of love for the faith and the desire to bring it to light, the following propositions will be discussed at Wittenberg under the chairmanship of the Reverend Father Martin Luther, Master of Arts and Sacred Theology. There followed a list of 95 items. Luther did not yet know what mighty blows he had struck. Morgan, R. J. (c1997).
Have a good day!
A while back I made quick reference at this blog to an essay published by Scientific American written by Michael Shermer: Darwin on the Right. It’s an older essay (published September 18, 2006), but I think the points he made then still need to addressed by thinking people who refuse to just give up. The overall tone of the essay, brief as it is, is just that: Christians ought to just give up the fight because, according to Darwinists, there is such a preponderance of evidence for Darwinian evolution that it seems silly for anyone to argue against it. Shermer writes:
According to a 2005 Pew Research Center poll, 70 percent of evangelical Christians believe that living beings have always existed in their present form, compared with 32 percent of Protestants and 31 percent of Catholics. Politically, 60 percent of Republicans are creationists, whereas only 11 percent accept evolution, compared with 29 percent of Democrats who are creationists and 44 percent who accept evolution. A 2005 Harris Poll found that 63 percent of liberals but only 37 percent of conservatives believe that humans and apes have a common ancestry. What these figures confirm for us is that there are religious and political reasons for rejecting evolution. Can one be a conservative Christian and a Darwinian? Yes. Here’s how.
Now, I realize these figures are severely outdated, and that Shermer’s essay is over a year old, but I doubt the figures have changed much. Shermer’s approach is kind of a ‘Awe, com’on you silly Christians (and Conservatives!) get with the program!’ He also seems to think that believing in evolution (or at least making it compatible with biblical Christianity) is a rather simple thing to do: “Just follow these six easy steps and, Presto! as if by magic the synthesis will be complete.” But is it really as easy as Shermer would suggest? I think not. I’d like to take his points one at a time which means that these posts may run a little longer and may, in fact, be broken up as I address each of his six points.
First, Shermer writes that ‘Evolution fits well with good theology.’ He writes:
Christians believe in an omniscient and omnipotent God. What difference does it make when God created the universe–10,000 years ago or 10,000,000,000 years ago? The glory of the creation commands reverence regardless of how many zeroes in the date. And what difference does it make how God created life–spoken word or natural forces? The grandeur of life’s complexity elicits awe regardless of what creative processes were employed. Christians (indeed, all faiths) should embrace modern science for what it has done to reveal the magnificence of the divine in a depth and detail unmatched by ancient texts.
Well, in fact it does matter a great deal–theologically speaking, and for a few reasons at least. First, because, as I have stated elsewhere, the premise of Darwinian evolution is that it does not require any god to be involved. (I sometimes think Richard Dawkins carries more dislike for theistic evolutionists than he does for Creationists.) The whole idea then that Christians should accept a system of belief that does not require God, even the God of Scripture, is absurd. Second, because the Scripture says that God Created the world by his Spoken Word! The Scripture does not say that God used ‘natural forces’ (whatever that means). Genesis 1 is ample testimony that God spoke the world and the universe into existence. Colossians 1 is further evidence. But there is also Hebrews 11:3: “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” (And, please, spare me the drivel about creationism being only a matter of faith because evolution is no less a matter of faith!)
Third, ‘modern science’ is not rejected! This is the straw-man that Darwinists continue to lob out at Christians. Christians do not reject science; we reject materialistic Darwinian evolution and those ideas and beliefs that reject the Word of God as true.
Fourth, it (evolution) is not good or even bad theology or even compatible with good theology because Darwinian evolution is not any sort of Continue Reading »
I can only imagine this is a joke, but an evolutionary theorist (aren’t they all?) named Oliver Curry from the London School of Economics has predicted that the human race is going to split…again. Human Race Will ‘Split Into Two Different Species’.
Says the article:
“Physical features will be driven by indicators of health, youth and fertility that men and women have evolved to look for in potential mates,” says the report, which suggests that advances in cosmetic surgery and other body modifying techniques will effectively homogenise our appearance.
Men will have symmetrical facial features, deeper voices and bigger penises, according to Curry in a report commissioned for men’s satellite TV channel Bravo.
Women will all have glossy hair, smooth hairless skin, large eyes and pert breasts, according to Curry.
Racial differences will be a thing of the past as interbreeding produces a single coffee-coloured skin tone.
Sadly, none of us will be around to prove such a theory–just like none of us were around to prove the first ‘split’. Around the year 3,000 or so we will have reached our peak and 100,000 years into the future sexual selection ‘could mean’ two distinct species of humans. His theory is that, basically, there will be pretty people and ugly people (there are already are!). This is nothing new.
This is really funny and what is even funnier is that someone is paying this idiot. Someone replying to the article wrote, “This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.” I agree. This has to be some sort of Halloween joke, but I suppose it makes for good tabloid print. This is a perfect way to end the evening. What a riot!
PS–did you notice those distinctive new features these new species will have? It’s almost as if he’s writing the script for a new p*** film!
Here’s some helpful stuff concerning evolution:
First, Intelligent Design is Not Creationism. (Blog entry by Robert Crowther.) I think this is significant. Said Philip Johnson, “Ralph, in my writings and public appearances I can’t even mention God much less Satan. I have a very specific battle to fight, namely, to take apart the logic of unaided evolution. That is all I am trying to do.” (See Ralph Winter: The Religion of Science: The Largest Remaining Frontier) Crowther & Johnson are right. ID is not about Biblical Creation. There may be ID’ers who happen to believe in Creation and use ID to argue against evolution, but ID should not be confused with a specific belief in the specific verses of the Bible found in Genesis and elsewhere.
Second, Casey Luskin has a series of blog entries concerning the so-called 1% difference in genetic material between chimps and humans. He is writing concerning Jon Cohen’s work and a recent Scienceessay (I’m not commenting on the Science essay since I don’t have full access to it. I’m merely referencing Luskin’s blog and pointing to it.) Follow these links: 1 % Difference Myth, Exchange with Cohen, pt 1, Exchange with Cohen, pt 2. Luskin also printed the letter he received from Cohen in the first part. For more information on this debate see Scientific American.
Third, even though this is ‘old news’ by now, I couldn’t leave out a reference to our good friend Dr Watson, and Dr Watson, and Dr Watson. I could probably put a hundred more links to this honest Darwinist, but why bother. It’s funny how every time a Darwinist is honest about the logical conclusions of Darwinism, the rest of the gang hurries to silence him or her. I at least appreciate honesty. Or read this or this or this.
Fourth, here is a brilliant blog entry by Bruce Chapman on the fears of Darwinists: Science Controversies and Public Burnings. He writes:
We all have to get over the childish assumption that scientists are superior beings immune from human pride and ambition, not to mention human guile and bile. Here’s a question though, do these negative qualities derive from evolutionary adaptation—and therefore must be excused—or from a human nature anchored to the very existence of man’s soul, and therefore must be confronted?
Brilliant point. You mean the very thing the Darwinists accuse Christians of is the very thing that they themselves are susceptible to?
Fifth, what about traditional morality? I’ve had Darwinists here tell me that one can be perfectly moral and believe in Darwinian evolution. True? Dr John West argues against this idea. I’ll even give Dr West a plug for his book Darwin’s Conservatives. (The first link will lead you to a page where you can listen to a podcast of Dr West’s ideas.)
OK. I think that is plenty for now. Some of this is for you to consider, some of it is for me to check on later when I have some more time. For now, have fun. Remember, the challenge of ideas is what spurs us on to better ideas. Here we are debating thoughts and ideas. I think you’ll have fun with these pages even if you don’t agree with all the ideas presented.
I wonder if anyone really understands what the ‘debate’ is? Here’s the closing paragraph from Avery Cardinal Dulles at First Things: God and Evolution.
The recent outburst of atheistic scientism is an ominous sign. If unchecked, this arrogance could lead to a resumption of the senseless warfare that raged in the nineteenth century, thus undermining the harmony of different levels of knowledge that has been foundational to our Western civilization. By contrast, the kind of dialogue between evolutionary science and theology proposed by John Paul II can overcome the alienation and lead to authentic progress both for science and for religion.
I wonder if anyone realizes that for most Christians the debate is not between ‘science’ and ‘religion’? The ‘debate’ is between Christ and Darwin. I don’t know a single Christian who is opposed to science. Not a single one! On the other hand, I know plenty of Christians (and not-Christians) who are opposed to Darwinian Evolution and its underlying materialism and all that goes along with it.
For the record, there is also a large population of Christians who couldn’t care less what the pope has to say about anything–let alone whether there should be dialogue between Christians and evolutionists. For example:
In a widely noticed message on evolution to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, sent on October 22, 1996, John Paul II noted that, while there are several theories of evolution, the fact of the evolution of the human body from lower forms of life is “more than a hypothesis.” But human life, he insisted, was separated from all that is less than human by an “ontological difference.” The spiritual soul, said the pope, does not simply emerge from the forces of living matter nor is it a mere epiphenomenon of matter. Faith enables us to affirm that the human soul is immediately created by God.
Yes, but the pope also things he is the voice of God in the church, that he is the head of the church, that what he says is gospel, and that we should pray to the virgin Mary. That John Paul would make such absurd statements says more about his willingness to compromise biblical teaching than it does of his leadership in forging ahead with such dialogue. And while I mean no offense to all the good catholic Christians in the world, I’d rather have them on my side than not, the pope does not speak, dead or alive, for all Christians in this matter. In fact, he was and is wrong.
But even if such ‘dialogue’ should take place, what would that mean? I don’t know a single, committed Darwinist who is willing to concede that God had anything to do with evolution. Ask them, and they will tell you that the ‘God-hypothesis’ is meaningless and unnecessary for Darwinian evolutionary forces. And for the Christian, Darwinian evolution is simply incompatible with biblical revelation. It defies the most basic, fundamental teaching of the Scripture: “In the Beginning God Created…” And our redemption in Christ is too closely tied to this verse for this verse to be ignored or explained away by materialist Darwinism. What dialogue, then, should there be? What dialogue could there be? It would be a staring contest to see who cracked first. And more and more, regrettably, it is the Christian who is cracking.
Again, this is not a matter of science vs religion. It is a matter of Christ vs Darwinism. We should at least define the parameters correctly. I need to read the rest of the essay, but these are some preliminary thoughts on the matter. Thanks for stopping by.
John 15:26-16:4 (Day 72, 90 Days with Jesus)
“When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning. “All this I have told you so that you will not go astray. They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God. They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me. I have told you this, so that when the time comes you will remember that I warned you. I did not tell you this at first because I was with you.
I mentioned in a post a few minutes ago that I am reading a book by William Willimon called Peculiar Speech: Preaching to the Baptized. This book is quite amazing and I am glad that I listened to White Horse Inn the other day (an older podcast) and heard them interview Willimon and reference the book. The book is about preaching and the peculiar language that preachers mustuse when preaching to those Willimon calls the baptized by which I think it is safe to assume he means Christians or, at least, those who are the church but something more than mere pew sitters. Consider well his words:
We are born, drowned, adopted, clothed, gifted so that we might be a people worthy of listening to a peculiar account of human life called Scripture…To begin to preach from the perspective of baptism, assuming that these words are not meant for everyone but only for those who have been or who are to be baptized, is to speak in a new key. It is to listen to Scripture with the expectation that we may well hear the unexpected. It is to preach to a congregation with the assumption that no conventional human gathering will be adequate to hear such words, that a new gathering will be necessitated by such language. Too much of our theology and preaching has acted as if we need new language in order to maintain our old, conventional means of human gatherings. Biblical language has shown, time and time again, that it has power, like the sacrament of baptism itself, to evoke that of which it speaks. The Bible is able to create, re-create the people it desires” (Willimon, 22-23).
My interest in Willimon’s comments is very simple. He sees a necessary connection between the baptized and the preached Word of God—assuming, that is, that the Word of God is being preached. I think he is right that congregations have lost, or at least do not listen, with any sort of expectancy when the Word of God is proclaimed. Preachers are thus ‘forced’ to dip into the thesaurus of modern pop-psychology or the dictionary modern pulp-fiction and find new ways and new words (read: exciting) in order that the congregation may be kept awake. Willimon’s contention, I gather, is that the language of Scripture is adequate enough to the task if the preacher will trust it.
This is not to say there are no boring preachers. This is not to say that we shouldn’t use dictionaries and a thesaurus. This is certainly not to say that we should deliver our Sunday sermons in the stout language of good ole King James himself. It is to say that the baptized, the Church, Christians, the Body of Christ, a peculiar people, strangers all, should be expectant when it comes to the word of God. But I suppose that Willimon’s book is directed towards the preacherand it is decidedly his responsibility first to have confidence in the Word of God. If the preacher doesn’t have such confidence, how on earth can the congregation be expected to? Willimon writes, “A distinctive community is being formed here by this reading and listening” (20).
It is to this ‘distinctive community’ that the Word of God has been given. It is to this ‘disctinctive community,’ this ‘community of the baptized’ that the Word of God has been entrusted. It is within this ‘distinctive community’ that the Spirit of Truth, who proceeds from the Father, ‘bears witness to Jesus.’ And, further, it is within this distinctive community that Jesus says that we ‘will bear witness also.’ At some point the words that Jesus spoke to the disciples that night, the words revealed and clarified by the Spirit of Truth, the words that were given to us to keep us from stumbling, these words he expects us to remember came from him, were written down and became Scripture (in the written sense). They were always the Word of God. These words were then preserved for generation after generation, and at the same time, these words shaped generation after generation of Christians. This is yet another important reason why the Word of God must not be shoved aside in favor of, well, not the Word of God or, worse, something other than the Word of God.
It is these words of the Spirit of truth that define and shape this distinctive community of the baptized. I say we are a peculiar people, a strange people, who have our own language and ways of understanding what is going on around us. So later Paul can write things like, ‘We do not grieve like the rest of men who have no hope’ (1 Thessalonians 4:13), and Jesus can say things like ‘Blessed are you when you are persecuted because of me’ (Matthew 5:10), and Peter can write things like ‘Be hospitable to one another without complaint’ (1 Peter 4:9) and they make sense. I don’t suppose though for a minute that all of our unique language will have any meaning for those who are not part of this peculiar body. This is a significant reason why I get so distressed when Christians try to impose certain moral standards on not-Christians and use the Bible as their justification for doing so. There is a place for Scripture in the ‘world,’ but it is not the same shaping, defining, and distinctive place that it has in the Body of Christ.
Finally, I note that these word of Jesus were entrusted to the disciples, they were confirmed by the Spirit of Truth who came from the Father. I also note that the Spirit’s main intent in confirming these words is to ‘testify to Jesus.’ There are, to be sure, a lot of different ideas floating about the church as to the nature of the Spirit. But here Jesus makes it rather clear that the primary role of the Spirit is to Testify concerning Jesus. To that end, He will lead us into truth. Furthermore, the Spirit will not lead us into lies and the Spirit will not testify to anyone but Jesus. The work of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit is the same and does not contradict itself, nor is it counterproductive.
The problem is that too much of our contemporary preaching has gotten off the beaten path. We are no longer content to preach the Scripture and mostly because we simply don’t trust the Scripture. There are too many preachers who are terrified of the words of Scripture. There are too many who are embarrassed of the language of the Scripture. There are too many who do not even know the Scripture. There are too many who are horrified that the Spirit of God might just lead people into the truth if the Scripture is preached! But if the Spirit is to remind us of Jesus’ Words, confirm them, and testify to Jesus Christ, then don’t you agree that it is the Words of Jesus that preachers ought to be preaching? How can the Spirit confirm words that are not the words of Jesus? How can the Spirit lead us into a truth that is not the truth he desires to lead us into? How can the Spirit testify to Jesus when the preacher won’t testify to Jesus? Even when it comes to so-called miracles and signs and wonders I have to ask: Are not those things done by the Spirit to confirm the Word of God? Is the Spirit, in those acts, testifying to Jesus Christ? And yet often those things are merely a means to their own ends.
I think the church, that strange peculiar people, needs a real introduction by her preachers, those strange, peculiar talkers, to the Word of God. Then again, many preachers themselves need an introduction the Word of God. Can we agree with Willimon that the Word of God can do it’s work of creating and re-creating as it desires? If we agree, then we need to preach it. If we don’t agree, we need to preach it so that we can be proven wrong.
Soli Deo Gloria!
I’m reading a fantastic book on preaching by William Willimon titled Peculiar Speech. I wish I could quote about every other sentence for you, but that would ruin the book. Anyhow, here’s something I came across in the reading today:
“We trivialize only that which we fear we can’t handle, especially God.” (54)
That says a lot and helps me to better understand why so many Darwinists and Atheists mock God. And it also helps me understand my own mocking and trivializing of Darwinists and Atheists who hold to their views very strongly.
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately. I’ll share more soon.
I realize this is an older book, and that it has been reviewed by hundreds of others. I had to write a review of it for a seminary class I’m taking and I thought perhaps some of my readers might appreciate another point of view. I have to be honest, I didn’t get much out of the book. The best chapter, The Discipline of Submission, should have been the first chapter and it was this chapter that gave me the most insight. There were too many unresolved questions for me in this book and the theology was also suspect as you’ll see in my review. Thanks to everyone who visited me while I was gone this week. I had a great 2 and half days in Cincy and in class. I can’t wait to go back in November. Wednesday, the day I left for Cincy, was my best blog day ever as far as page views are concerned. I can’t believe how this blog has grown over the last couple of months. Thanks again, I do appreciate your hits and replies.
October 18, 2007
Foster, Richard. Celebration of Discipline. 3rd ed. San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1998.
The book Celebration of Discipline raises a very important question perhaps without even intending to or without even being completely ‘aware’ that it is doing so. The question is this: Why do we do these things? We could phrase this question a hundred ways, perhaps, specifying what the ‘these things’ is: Why do we pray? Why do we fast? Why do we meditate? The author’s intent is summed up in his answer to these questions: “The classical Disciplines of the spiritual life call us to move beyond surface living into the depths. They invite us to explore the inner caverns of the spiritual realm. They urge us to be the answer to a hollow world.” (n1) While I agree that such a notion is true at some level, I disagree that this can be substantiated from a broad sweep of Scripture. (And I could probably make a pretty good case that ‘we’ are not the ‘answer’ the hollow world needs, but that is another essay.) That is, I don’t happen to agree that we pray or fast or study merely, or at all, to get in touch with the ‘spiritual realm’ especially if that spiritual realm is some cavern deep within the human psyche. John the Revelator found himself in touch with the spiritual realm once: “On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet…” (Revelation 1:10). It was precisely because he was in the Spirit that he found himself in touch with that realm.
So why do we pray? Why do we fast? Frankly, I’m not really sure after reading this book. Foster says on page 2, “Recent converts—for that matter people who have not yet turned their lives over to Jesus Christ—should practice them.” This led me to question what the point of these exercises actually is, then? If there is nothing decidedly or necessarily Christian about them to begin with, then exactly what ‘inner cavern’ of what ‘spiritual realm’ might such a person be seeking? I agree with Foster that ours is a world with a prevailing “materialistic base” (2), but I have sincere doubts about what he means by a person having the “ability to reach beyond the physical realm” (2). In my opinion, such reaching can be dangerous—even with a profoundly Christian worldview. (Space concerns obviously prevent a full-blown exploration of the dangers.)
Foster differed from Willard in a very key respect. Willard focused a lot on what he called ‘effort.’ He said on more than one occasion that “grace is not opposed to effort, but to earning.” Thus he used most of his space detailing how few Christians make a sincere effort to externalize obedience to Christ in all things. Foster, on the other hand, takes a somewhat different approach while not altogether denying the effort of the person practicing these disciplines. He wrote, “When we despair of gaining inner transformation through human powers of will and determination, we are open to a wonderful new realization: inner righteousness is a gift from God to be graciously received. The needed change within us is God’s work, not ours. The demand is for an inside job, and only God can work from the inside.” (n 2) He goes on, again in somewhat stark contrast to Willard, to write that “God has given us the Disciplines of the spiritual life as a means of receiving His grace. The Disciplines allow us to place ourselves before God so that He can transform us.” (n 3) Willard says grace enables us to make the effort; Foster says we make the effort to receive grace. KC Moser wrote, “Man does not believe merely in order to obey, but he obeys as an embodiment of his faith.” (n 4) Such it is with prayer, fasting, etc. To some extent, Foster’s idea is nearly not even Christian.
I had three main issues with this book aside from the aforementioned points. The first is, like Willard, Foster engages in no long, detailed exegetical study of Scripture. He, like Willard, approaches Scripture using the Rick Warren method of study: Quote only portions of verses, quote long verses out of context, quote dubious paraphrases of Scripture that ‘say what the author needs it to say.’ I think Scripture needs to be handled differently and, frankly, with more reverence. Foster’s approach to Scripture can essentially make Scripture say anything he wants it to say, and make it mean anything he wants it to mean. When it is all said and done, it ‘fits,’ ‘sounds good,’ and ‘makes the point.’ Scripture does not exist to justify us, but God. When we approach Scripture as a manual for making better people, I think we miss the point. On many occasions, Foster clearly misses the point.
Secondly, there was the place Foster began. If Foster had begun his book with the chapter, “The Discipline of Submission” (easily the best chapter in the book) instead of “The Discipline of Meditation,” he would have found a more welcome audience in me. Foster spends considerable space in “The Disciplines of Meditation” defending his version of meditation against the charge that it is merely Eastern TM with the adjective ‘Christian’ in front of it. Yet when I was finished reading the chapter, I was thoroughly unconvinced. One small example. He writes, “We simply must become convinced of the importance of thinking and experiencing in images.” (n 5) But in Scripture, the Biblical characters and authors do exactly the opposite: They meditate solely on God’s Word (see Psalm 1, 119). I also had great difficulty with his ideas of looking back on the body while the self “rose up through the clouds” (27). Foster’s version of meditation, I think, is fraught with great danger. And in beginning at this point, he immediately lost me.
The final issue is that I just could not really figure out why these disciplines are to be practiced. Then, ironically in the ‘The Discipline of Submission’ chapter I think was the best, he wrote this, “The disciplines in themselves are of no value whatever. They have value only as a means of setting us before God so that He can give us the liberation we seek. The liberation is the end; the disciplines are merely the means. They are not the answer; they only lead us to the Answer.” (n 6) However, even though he spends a significant amount of space talking about Jesus’ “cross-life”, he spends too little time talking about Jesus’ “cross-death.” I do not believe the Scripture justifies the idea that praying, fasting, and meditation set us before God so we can be liberated. Where is the cross? Didn’t Jesus say “the truth shall set you free”? And, furthermore, if anyone can practice these things (as he said on page 2) does this mean a person, even someone not submitted to Jesus Christ, can be ‘liberated’ by God merely by praying, fasting, serving, and submitting? Again, I have to ask: “Where is the cross at work in all this liberating.” But doesn’t he give it away by titling his first chapter, “The Spiritual Disciplines: Door to Liberation”? I thought we were liberated by the Cross work of Jesus.
Scripture exhorts us to be perfect (Matthew 5:48), holy (1 Peter 1:16), and pure (1 Timothy 5:22). We are to renew our minds (Romans 12:1-2) even while we are constantly being renewed (Colossians 3:9-10; 2 Corinthians 4:16-18). We are to pray (Matthew 6; Ephesians 6). Jesus expected us to fast (Matthew 6, Matthew 9:14-15). But why do we do these things? Eugene Peterson wrote in The Jesus Way that “[t]he prevailing ways and means curricula in which we are all immersed in North America are designed to help us get ahead in whatever field of work we find ourselves: sales and marketing, politics, business, church, school and university, construction, manufacturing, farming, laboratory, hospital, home, playground, sports.” (n 7) If we are doing these things to ‘get ahead’ then they are not being practiced for very good reasons at all and Peterson is convinced that these purely pragmatic ways will fail miserably and ultimately “weaken and enervate the community of the baptized.” (n 8 ) Like Willard’s book, Foster often led me to believe that his mere means (5) are little more than a vaguely spiritual, not specifically Christian, way to get ahead. “We can determine if we are praying aright if the requests come to pass.” (n 9)
I think we hope for answers to prayer, but I don’t think the answers are the reason to pray. We pray in expectation of Jesus’ return. What if he never answers the prayer at all? Does this mean that our prayer posture is incorrect? When we pray it is not simply a matter of ‘getting it right.’ Prayer is a matter of fighting, standing, expectation, hope, and faith. In other words, we pray from a position in Christ not for a position. Foster’s work is helpful in that it points out for the reader that importance practicing such disciplines, but I came away thinking, often, that the disciplines were an end in themselves. If Jesus sets us free, and we are free indeed, these disciplines will not need to be done in order to place ourselves before God. Instead they will be done from a context of Joy and Thanksgiving and Faith for what we have already received from Him.
1 Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline, 1
2 Foster, 5
3 Foster, 6
4 KC Moser, The Gist of Romans, (Delight, Arkansas: Gospel Light Publishing Company, 1957), 43
5 Foster, 22
6 Foster, 96
7 Eugene Peterson, The Jesus Way, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 3
8 Peterson, 3
9 Foster, 34
Thanks for stopping by and reading my drivel. I do appreciate it. Sadly for you, I will be gone for a few days. I am going to Cincinnati until Friday so I won’t be posting again until late Friday or possibly Saturday. There’s plenty of stuff for you to read here and at other blogs. Check these blogs:
And there are some others. These are ones that I happen to enjoy (especially the astronomy page!)
I’ll see you back here on Friday.
Here’s the review I promised for The Great Omission by Dallas Willard. It is non-technical and rather short. The book is not altogether bad, but it does have some issues that need to be addressed and perhaps there are other, longer, more technical reviews that will satisfy the need.
Willard, Dallas. The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus’s Essential Teachings on Discipleship. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2006.
In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis sums up his point in the next to the last chapter, a chapter he titled “Nice People or New Men.” He wrote:
For mere improvement is no redemption, though redemption always improves people even here and now and will, in the end, improve them to a degree we cannot yet imagine. God became man to turn creatures into sons: not simply to produce better men of the old kind but to produce a new kind of men.” (1)
The problem I had with The Great Omission is that I was often under the impression that this ‘effort’ we make in grace was merely about improvement and not about newness; or about becoming nice people and not new men. Willard does write, “Transformation into goodness is what the ‘Good News’ is all about…isn’t it?” (2) I think this is too shallow.
The author’s purpose can be summed up, I believe, by combining a few sentences from a couple of different places in the book. The first is found in the introduction, “We have a manual, just like the car owner. He told us, as disciples, to make disciples. Not converts to Christianity, nor to some particular ‘faith and practice.’” (3) The second quote is found twice, but I’ll cite only page 61, “To drive the point home I often put this challenge: I do not know of a denomination or a local church in existence that has as it’s goal to teach its people to do everything Jesus said. I’m not talking about a whim or a wish, but a plan.” (4) I gather, then, that his point is to present to us what ‘we’ have been missing, or omitting (hence, The Great Omission) in the practice of the church. The Church, he suggests, cannot be satisfied to think in small terms any longer about what it means to make disciples: Sunday School, Congregational worship, and pulpit preaching are not enough to ‘drive home this point.’ The church generally and individual Christians specifically must make ‘obedience to all [Jesus] commanded,’ under the cover of grace, a deliberate, proactive choice (see chapter 11). Aside from this deliberate choice, we will simply fall well short of Jesus’ intentions for disciples. Willard’s contention is that we have, and we are.
Thus it seemed to me that he was speaking more to a specialized audience and not just the general reader. The book contains ‘previously published articles and addresses’ which at times was more of a distraction than a help. I well understand his desire to reach and speak to those who are the so-called shapers of a Christian spiritual formation, but if spiritual formation (discipleship) is the responsibility of us all, then the book should have been edited better. There were, in my opinion, too many occasions in the book when, due to poor editing, the reader could tell that Willard was ‘speaking’ to someone who was not, in fact, the reader. An example is found on page 170, “I trust and hope and pray that the occasion of this colloquium, under the leadership of people at Harvard, will open the way to a renewal of that kind of depth of life and thought on earth.” I appreciate the overall point, but in leaving this sentence at the end of this ‘previously published’ paper I felt like Willard was no longer speaking to me (and he did this other times too.) I wonder if this detracts from the overall purpose to help ‘everyone’ become obedient to all the things Jesus said?
Another problem I had with the book is that Willard, for all of his quotation of Scripture and all of his otherwise fine points about Scripture, takes a very ‘Rick Warren’ approach to Scripture. I was immediately put on guard while reading the introduction and on page xiii Willard paraphrased the ‘Great Commission’ found in Matthew 28:18-20. His paraphrase lacked authenticity. Furthermore, aside from a couple of passages in chapter 15, “Jesus the Logician”, Willard makes no attempt at all at lengthy exegesis of Scripture to support his ideas. His points fall more along the lines of philosophical observations based upon the fact that “Jesus is the most intelligent man who ever lived” (180) or that Jesus is the “maestro of all good things” (191). But if we take Jesus’ interpretation of Scripture from Luke 24: “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about mein the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms” (Luke 24:44, NIV), then we see that Scripture is more than a ‘manual’ to help us get along better, be better, or do better. Scripture is about Jesus and merely yanking verses here and there out of a larger context, without doing detailed exegesis, and paraphrasing passages in strange, non-traditional ways (much like Rick Warren does), tends to reduce Scripture from Word of God concerning Jesus as God’s Revelation (See John 1:1-4; Hebrews 1:1-4) to a manual for improvement. We become not necessarily new men even if we become nice people.
Space limitations preclude a detailed discussion of other problems with the book. In short they are, in no particular order: 1) The use of ‘previously published material’ meant there was too much repetition in the book. 2) The use of ‘previously published material’ caused the book to lack any sophisticated logical flow. There was no ‘building upon’ each chapter in the next. 3) Although Willard did well to analyze the ‘problems’ the modern church faces when it comes to discipleship, I believe that he spent far too little time addressing how to solve the problem through spiritual disciplines. Here and there he spoke of them and expounded upon them, but not nearly as well as Foster did in his book. 4) I concede that this fourth objection may be a (too) personal complaint, but I wondered at times why he seemed to shy away from traditional language. What he was generally speaking of was sanctification and holiness (and he was not speaking of them in perfectly theological ways.) Yet I don’t recall seeing the former at all and the latter only a couple of times. 5) While I appreciate his oft-repeated phrase “Grace is opposed to earning, not to effort,” (5) he did place much of the burden for spiritual achievement on the human effort. After reading, I wonder if there is anything left for the Spirit to do after we have made our efforts?
On page 157, Willard writes: “To develop accurate knowledge of the human soul is the primary need of our times, and who should be in better position to provide it than the Christian psychologist? If we accept the reality of the soul, we can begin to explore its nature and to seek the means, of whatever kind, that are effective in its restoration.”(6) Dallas Willard had many well rounded, sound thoughts interspersed throughout this book. I think at this crucial point in the book, however, he fell flat. I don’t think I could disagree more with what Willard said in this paragraph. The truth is, the Gospel of Jesus has been so thoroughly psychologized in our culture that one can scarcely tell where Dr Phil ends and Jesus begins. If all we need is a sounder point of view on the psychology of humanity, or even the soul, then how can we ever begin to tell the difference between ‘nice people’ and ‘new men’?
Instead, I believe that God has ordained the preaching of the Gospel, the proclamation of his Good News, to be the catalyst behind the changes that are necessary to restore the soul. If Paul says that we cannot ‘call on the Name of the Lord’ without a preacher (Romans 10:5-17), he also says, “we are to offer ourselves as living sacrifices…not conforming to pattern of the world, but being transformed by the renewing of the mind” (Romans 12:1-2). Then he says we will be able to test and approve God’s good, pleasing and perfect will. In a left-handed sort of way, Willard has persuaded me all the more of the importance and necessity of preaching the ‘whole council’ of God. What the Church needs now is far less Christian psychology in the pulpit and far more prophetic preaching of the Word of God. Perhaps the reason that teaching, study, preaching and congregational worship have not done as well in making disciples is precisely because the Word of God has been co-opted by psychologists who are interested in making nice people, but not new men.
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1960), 182
Willard, 34 and elsewhere
I can only report secondhand these stories, but I’ll get them here so that perhaps some of you will pursue them a little more. First, Jerry Fodor on “Why Pigs Don’t Have Wings“. You can get a good ‘take’ on this essay by reading Paul Nelson at Uncommon Descent. (Maybe read this by Fodor: The Trouble with Psychological Darwnism.)
Here’s a little more on the indoctrination efforts of educators by George Will at Townhall.com. He writes:
They are teachers at public universities, in schools of social work. A study prepared by the National Association of Scholars, a group that combats political correctness on campuses, reviews social work education programs at 10 major public universities and comes to this conclusion: Such programs mandate an ideological orthodoxy to which students must subscribe concerning “social justice” and “oppression.”
Get a little more commentary on this story from Denyse O’Leary. Will concludes by writing:
In the month since the NAS released its study, none of the schools covered by it has contested its findings. Because there might as well be signs on the doors of many schools of social work proclaiming “conservatives need not apply,” two questions arise: Why are such schools of indoctrination permitted in institutions of higher education? And why are people of all political persuasions taxed to finance this propaganda?
I’m shocked that there is actually indoctrination going on at such high levels of educational institutes! I wonder if there is indoctrination taking place at other levels too? I wonder why people are so afraid of dissent? O’Leary is right: It’s not just the ID guys who are being silenced: It’s anyone with a brain. Stunning, isn’t it, that a nation that prides itself on diversity is so closed-minded when it comes to different points of view in the educational system. And if people are fired up about paying tax dollars to support this sort of stupidity in the university, imagine how irritated we are when we have to pay property taxes to pay for it at the local public school level.