Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Arianism Explained

It dawned on me yesterday, and it was confirmed today, that I should have taken the time to define my terms a bit in my post about the Emergent Church and Arianism.

Arianism is a teaching which arose early in the history of the Church which taught, among other things, that Christ was not co-equal with God, but was the first created being. It was quickly opposed by several of the leading theologians in the church at the time and a handful of the early church councils dealt with Arius and his theology. One of the things Arius had going for him was his ability to popularize his teachings. It is said that he would revise lyrics to the songs merchant men and sailors would sing and teach the new songs to them. In turn, they would carry them around the Mediterranean.

When Arianism is discussed with regard to its influence today, it is almost always in the context of Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witness, or some other cult with a similar view of Christ’s humanity.

If you want further information on the subject there is a good, concise entry in the Catholic Encyclopedia.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

The Emergent Church Movement and Arianism

For the uninitiated, the Emergent Church movement is a recent development among a typically younger set of pastors and Christians that takes a hard look at the shape of the Church at large in light of the Postmodern world we seem to live in today. There are a lot of resources out there on the web which document this movement in large part because the leaders, and many of the devotees, are very tech savvy.

In recent days I have run across a lot of reading material and writing fodder concerning the Emergent Church (EC) movement, and I hope to clarify many of my thoughts as time goes on in this blog, but at the moment, I would like to address some doctrinal issues I ran across on a popular EC web site/weblog. The site is called, in a very postmodern nod to antiauthoritarian communalism, The idea behind the site is pretty obvious-it exists to be a kind of community sounding board for theological issues. That is a noble goal, and I have a lot of fun with things like that. But when that kind of open discussion ideal is combined with the postmodern distaste for historical authority, current Orthodoxy, and “Westernism” in general, what results is sometimes pretty muddled.

For instance, take a recent discussion on the site regarding the possible similarities between EC and Arianism. The title of the blog is “Is the emerging church the new Arianiasm?”

Before I dive into the discussion specifically, I want to make a point or two about the EC movement in general. Like almost all movements within the Church it can’t be (and I don’t think it is) all rotten. It hopes to reach a new breed of person-the Postmodern-by thinking of the Church in those terms and pulling out the best of the communitarian spirit that is embodied in the culture of postmodernism. So this blog is not intended to be a slam on the movement as a whole, but I do think some serious thinking needs to be done about the direction of the EC movement. Secondly, at different times in history there have been various movements which have attempted to do what the EC movement is doing, namely take culture and the Church and find common ground. Historically, those attempts have met with varying degrees of success. What I find ironic about the weblog I am discussing is that Arianism was one such attempt. It was determined to be heretical and found its appropriate place in the garbage bin of rejected unorthodox theologies.

Back to the blog specifically…

To succinctly answer the question posed by the blog’s title, “Lord, I hope not.” The author lists several things that he throws out for discussion regarding the possible similarities between the two (he does not necessarily endorse any or all of them), and I would like to briefly comment on a few of them.

1.The work of theologians such as NT Wright has encouraged the emerging church to relocate Jesus in a plausible historical context.

As for paying attention to the historical surrounding’s in Jesus’ time, there is no shortage of precedent in all of Christian theology. It is true that there are tendencies to divorce Jesus from his historical settings, but there is no particular reason to believe that postmodern “narrative theology” has hit on something new and innovative here. Where it does become innovative, however, is when we see the author’s conclusions resulting from point 1: “As we come to understand more fully the worldview and motivation of Jesus the Jew, it becomes harder to think of him as somehow almighty God in human form.” This is a very bad sign indeed. It is not only a leap into the clearly unbiblical and historically heretical, it is bad thinking to boot. In other words, the jump seems to be that because Jesus was a human in historical conditions, He was a human just like we are. The majesty of the incarnation is that He was a human like we are, and yet God at the same time.

2. It is common now to hear people deliberately describe themselves as disciples or followers of Jesus. That has a strongly human orientation – you don’t ‘follow’ the second person of the trinity.

This point is just patently false. Again, we see the underpinnings of postmodern philosophy coming back to haunt a sincere believer. Due to the overemphasis postmodernism places on this material world, it is natural for postmoderns to loose touch with the actuality, reality and import of the supernatural. Paradoxically, at times it seems that they pay the most attention to the supernatural, but due to their unexamined and underlying metaphysic the supernatural is not as tangible and, ultimately, as real as the natural. For some reason the author thinks it would be easier and/or better to follow a human than God.

3. Rubenstein emphasizes the fact that Arianism represented a degree of continuity with Judaism, whereas the anti-Arian position, seeking to establish Christianity as a new religion for the Roman world, were anxious to break with the past and ‘update’ Christianity:

4. Nicene orthodoxy is much more closely associated with the rise of the state church.

I don’t know who Rubenstein is, but I am not sure I need to. The argument here is classic postmodernism at its best (worst). If a belief system is associated with the reigning political power, it has to be bad. The only good thoughts and systems of being can only come from the oppressed and doomed. I really don’t want to say much about this other than it is, again, horrible thinking. To associate the value of an idea with one’s perceptions of a political/socio-economic system is a classic, and yet somehow ubiquitous, fallacy. In other words, if Adolph Hitler believed that 2+2=4, then according to one of the basic tenants of postmodernism, we must reject the totalitarianism of 2+2=4.

5. Many in the emerging church will have more sympathy for the Arians’ interest in Jesus as ‘a loving advocate and friend’ than in the Nicene Christians need to present him as ‘a powerful, just ruler’ (146).

Once again, more sloppy associations and prejudicial editing. If this sound-bite was all you knew about Arianism and the Nicene Creed, then you would be compelled to take sides and reject the evil that is orthodox Christianity. The Nicene Creed is simply a codification of theology intended to fend off bad theology. There is absolutely nothing in any of the orthodox creeds which exclude or even eschew Jesus as a ‘loving advocate and friend.’ (This guy would make a good editor for the next Michael Moore film…)

6. Rubenstein, who is Jewish, argues that Nicene theology, particularly as it was developed by the Cappodocian fathers, had the effect of finally differentiating the Christian ‘Godhead’ from the ‘monolithic God worshiped by Jews, radical Arians, and, later on, by Muslims, Unitarians, Bahais, and others’ (209).

Another hyperbole designed to make Arianism look like the wiser of the two systems. It is in fact true that the early Church Fathers differentiated the God of the Bible from the god of Arianism, but only because they were two different things.

7. The Arians are characterized as being, on the whole, more tolerant and open-minded than the anti-Arians – qualities much prized by postmoderns.

Which, when understood in the postmodern context, is a bad thing

8. Arianism emerges as a more optimistic, down-to-earth, grassroots and socially-minded form of Christianity:

Survey says—“X”. Again, this is simply false. I have discovered that postmoderns, again ironically, for all their talk about returning to the historical roots of the Church (the Ancient-Future church movement for instance), have no real clue regarding actual historical fact. What about the Mennonites? the Quakers? the Waldenses? the Peitists? the Moody movement of Methodism? Pentecostalism in third-world countries? The Jesuits? The list could go on and on…

Because this blog has gone on for way too long, I will have to reserve my further critique of Postmodern philosophy for later. Suffice it to say that any point of view which bases itself on a system as vulnerable as postmodernism has a long way to go to show its value.

Monday, June 28, 2004

Whose Mind is Stayed on You

A devotional on Isaiah 26:3-4

3You keep him in perfect peace
whose mind is stayed on you,
because he trusts in you.
4Trust in the LORD forever,
for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock.

As I read this passage today, I was reminded of how often I fail to keep my mind on God. I recently read Brother Lawrence’s The Practice of the Presence of God and was moved by his dedication to keeping his mind and thoughts on God at all times. Brother Lawrence said that if we were in the constant presence of a close and beloved friend we would not dare to ignore them or act as if they were not there, but that is what we do with the constant presence of our Savior.

A sure sign of my inability to remain focused on God is the absence of perfect peace in my life. Anxiety and fretfulness constantly haunt me and they disrupt my life on a daily basis. But if I had a good grasp on the benevolence, faithfulness, and omnipotence of God, fear would be cast away from my life. My God is an everlasting rock-and He is the only One who is. I am not a rock, my career is not a rock, no other human being is a rock, so why would I try to stand on anything but my God?

My mind needs discipline and training. I need to work at keeping Christ at the forefront of my thoughts and actions at all times. I need to train myself, with the grace of the Spirit, to see all through the lens of Christ and Scripture. The views I espouse and the positions I take about things in this world and about the things of God should begin with God.

Friday, June 25, 2004

Making the Bible Boring

I can’t remember where, but I read somewhere that someone said it was a sin to make the Bible boring.

Having spent all my life in churches and multiple services a week, you would think that I have heard it all and at times, I think I have. But there are times when I am struck all over again by Scripture and God’s work in the world like it is my first epiphany. A large part of what contributes to those moments is the speaker. I can tell when a speaker is excited about his or her subject and I can usually tell when the speaker is simply not in touch with their material.

I would have to agree with the sentiment, and I would add that I think it actually takes effort to make something as alive as Scripture dead in the hearer’s ears. Maybe it is dead to the speaker or maybe they are not convinced of its power and majesty; maybe they simply haven’t put in the effort it takes to pay careful attention to the Word.

I was reminded of this point when I read this passage from Chesterton’s Heretics:

Suffice it to say here that the only serious reason which I can imagine inducing any one person to listen to any other is, that the first person looks to the second person with an ardent faith and a fixed attention, expecting him to say what he does not expect him to say. It may be a paradox, but that is because paradoxes are true. It may not be rational, but that is because rationalism is wrong. But clearly it is quite true that whenever we go to hear a prophet or teacher we may or may not expect wit, we may or may not expect eloquence, but we do expect what we do not expect. We may not expect the true, we may not even expect the wise, but we do expect the unexpected. If we do not expect the unexpected, why do we go there at all? If we expect the expected, why do we not sit at home and expect it by ourselves?

How often do people hear what they expect to hear week after week in their pastor’s sermon? How often have we pastors put in the effort it takes to get something fresh and inspired out of a book we have probably read several dozen times cover-to-cover? How often do people walk out of the doors of the church excited to get home and open their Bibles?

Stem Cells and Scientism

I returned to the Denver Post Letter to the Editor page today to see if there was any more buzz about fetal stem cell research and found a letter which parroted the conventional wisdom on not only fetal tissue but on science as a field of research today.

Concerning fetal tissue stem cell research, the writer said that the President is out of touch with mainstream thinking on the issue today. Given the context of his letter what he was implying is that Bush is simply ignorant of the best of science and refuses to pay attention to smart people. This clearly plays on the conventional wisdom that Bush is just a few IQ points away from mental retardation, and the sense that anybody who is anybody knows how valuable killing babies can be. Just like Kerry’s official position on the issue, the writer (and I don’t intend to slam the author of the letter-he is just parroting what is commonly accepted in too many circles) is exactly wrong. I happened to run across another article explaining the viability of adult stem cells, and this article is not from a body of scientists that some might find partisan (the online version of Nature magazine).

I am struck again about why people would push for baby killing when we can use adult stem cells. I earlier blogged that it is most likely due to ignorance concerning the facts of the issue; this letter might confirm another of my suspicions. I believe there is a political culture out there that will oppose a ban on fetal tissue research on entirely polemical grounds. Those in this camp make it sound like they are the ones in the know and everyone who disagrees with them should be mopping floors and selling slushies. Too often people take their stands based on really bad reasons like wanting to oppose a political figure they don’t like. So as a result, good science gets obfuscated behind propaganda.

The other issue which struck me in this letter was the belief that science is a methodology and not an ideology. This borders on a view called scientism-the belief that all we can know for sure about the truth comes only through science. There has been a lot of work done in the last few years which exposes the philosophical underpinnings of the scientific endeavor. Even the immortalized “scientific method” is a matter of philosophical assumptions more than it is a matter of science qua science. Don’t get me wrong-I am not arguing for any kind of relativistic view of science. Plenty of philosophies of science make for good and accurate science. What I do want to point out, however, is that the author of the letter has been duped into believing that science is truth and truth is science because all science is is observational.

If that truly were the case, the author would have observed that adult stem cells are not only scientifically viable, but they provide an ethically superior option.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Stem Cell Letter to the Editor

I just want to take a little time to express a snippet of frustration at the editing at the Denver Post. Senator Kerry recently visited Denver and stood on the stump for fetal tissue stem cell research. I wrote a short letter to the editor about the viability of adult stem cells and the moral vacuity of fetal tissue research. They published it, but they took out a few words which left me looking (at least in my opinion) a bit simple; at the very least, I didn’t come across as lucidly as I had hoped.

The Gazette, (our local paper) on the other hand, published it word for word. Here is the original text:

According to Senator Kerry, limiting funding for fetal tissue research on stem cells is a matter of being, “too focused on ideology, not facts.” I think he is exactly wrong on this issue. According to a leading body of scientists of our day, the President’s Council on Bioethics, adult stem cells provide as great (if not greater) an opportunity for harvesting viable stem cells. Senator Kerry was right to mention that this issue requires ethical oversight and reflection, but to actually do that leads to the conclusion that we should use adult stem cells.

Scientists have shown that they can use adult tissue that is routinely thrown away, such as umbilical chords, to harvest stem cells. So why should we destroy human life to get our hands on stem cells? I can’t think any good reason. Why don’t people push for adult stem cell research instead of fetal tissue research? I think it is typically because they have not been informed about the viability of adult stem cells.

That one sounds much better, in my humble opinion. Kudos to the superior editing at the Gazette (wink, wink).

The Rocky Mountain News is going to try to publish it in the near future, so we shall see how that turns out.

Chriatians and the Academy

Much has been made about the need for Christians to be involved in what are sometimes labeled the “culture wars.” It is a hotly contested issue among Christians, to say nothing of what the secular world thinks of Christians being a part of the public square. But when it comes to Christians “meeting the world” and doing so as outspoken believers committed to their world view, there is probably no more serious effort than in the fields of philosophy and, in some places, the academy in general.

When people find out that I have been a student in the CU Grad Philosophy program off and on for the last few years, I tend to get that reaction that usually translates into, “how do you put up with all those wackos?” My salvation was even directly questioned once-not because of my attendance at CU, but because of my degree in Phil of Religion from a Christian Seminary.

Without commenting too much on those attitudes within Christianity, I would like to point out that there are people who are taking their faith and their academic professions seriously. A recent article in Christianity Today entitled, Masters of Philosophy, documents one of the spear-heads of this movement. Another, God and Man at Baylor, describes a turn to deliberate faith in the academy at large.

These are the kinds of places where the culture wars will be won or lost in the long run. The politics, law, moral sensibilities, psychology, science, and so forth, of the future are in large part created on University campuses today. If we choose to neglect our faith in these realms, we might be left with a future where we will be forced to neglect our faith in these realms.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Discipleship Consumerism

I was reading a blog written by my cousin who pastors in Wray, CO, and was struck again by the sad state of discipleship in our churches today. I believe most Christians have been forced into one of two molds when it comes to their discipleship. First, they innately believe they have become a disciple at the moment of conversion. Second, they take a course, read a book, or sign a form and declare themselves discipled.

The basic form of pop Christian culture today encourages these kinds of views. Your book and/or program will sell if it has a measurable goal, can be achieved in a certain time-frame, and is easy to implement-none of which describe biblical discipleship.

In the blog linked above Steve quotes an interview with Dallas Willard in which he says the teacher/student relationship is basically nonexistent. Not only do most evangelical Christians have a basic suspicion of education (which translates into a suspicion of teachers), but in general they shy away from things which take a concerted effort over time. On top of that, the value of an educated pastor has gone steadily down hill. Evangelicalism has replaced training and mentoring with zeal and charisma. Ironically, Proverbs 19:2 warns us against this very thing, “It is not good to have zeal without knowledge, nor to be hasty and miss the way.”

Monday, June 21, 2004

WWJD Craze

The magical thing about a personal soap-box is that you never get tired of standing on it and looking at the world. I was reading today in Colossians 1:9-10, “And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.”

Like so many other places in his writings, Paul draws a direct link between spiritual knowledge and wisdom and the practical events of our daily lives. We walk in a manner worthy of the Lord as a result of being filled with the knowledge of our Lord. The equation is a fairly simple one-right knowledge of God is what leads to right behavior. Now this does not mean that we inevitably behave correctly if we “know correctly,” and it also does not mean that we will never act rightly if we do not know Christ as we should. So what does it mean?

First, to know how to walk in “his will” we need to pursue it as an object of knowledge. If we endeavor to apply our lives to the things God wishes to accomplish through us, it helps to know what those things are. We therefore are encouraged to increase in “knowledge and wisdom.”

Secondly, a good Christian Ethic is holistic, which means that our behavior does not stand alone as a gauge of what is morally right. Our motivations, our character, our circumstances, the consequences, and so forth, all help to comprise the standard by which our actions are judged. Did you give a cup of cold water to one in need? Great. Did you do it only to curry favor with a wrathful God? Not quite as great.

Thirdly, I do not think we are pleasing to God (in the fullest sense) if we “accidentally” do the right thing. In other words, it may be good to be ethical, but do we always glorify God with that behavior? It is entirely possible to do good deeds to draw attention to oneself, to advance an evil cause, or to pay service to a false religion or philosophy, and so on. For Paul, the direct link between knowing you are doing God’s will, and actually doing God’s will was of ultimate value.

This highlights the kind of issue I have with the WWJD craze. It seems like a great question to ask yourself often, but how many people can actually answer it? The only way that question becomes valuable is if the individual knows what the will of God is, and I am not so sure too many who wear the ubiquitous bracelets actually do.

Christians and Apologetics

The following is from Douglas Groothuis’ Christian Apologetics Manifesto 2003: Sixteen Theses:

8. Apologetics is meant just as much for believers with doubts and questions as it is directed toward unbelievers. Therefore, Christians with doubts should not be shunned or shamed, but given good apologetic arguments (as well as pastoral care) in dealing with their intellectual struggles (Matthew 11:1-11; Jude 22).

I can still remember one of the major drives behind my personal call into the ministry. I was 18 and graduating from High School. I had plenty of friends who were a year or two older than I was and who had been a great part of my youth group in my home church. But by the time I was ready to head to college, most of my friends has either grown luke-warm in their faith or had “lost it” altogether. I began to think that they were simply not prepared for life outside of the safe, pillow-padded walls of youth group and as I began my own ministry directed at college aged young people, I resolved to help them with the preparation work they had not received to that point.

Christians need to grow in their apologetic understanding of their faith. It is not only, I believe, a duty placed on the leaders and teachers in the Church, but it is a necessary part of well-rounded discipleship. From the day I began my ministry with that kind of conviction, my adherence to that idea has only strengthened. I strove for years to provide a safe place for young people to be faced with and discuss some of the more difficult and sometimes controversial issues of the day and of their faith. I would rather have Christians work out those difficult areas of their faith in faithful company than be faced with them for the first time in a possibly belligerent atmosphere. Believers neglect Christian apologetics at their own peril.

Friday, June 18, 2004

The Partial Birth Abortion Ban and Thoughtstoppers

A judge has recently ruled the President’s ban on partial birth abortions “unconstitutional.” Outside of the clear lack of actual Constitutional grounds for the ruling and the evident moral depravity of such a ruling, I am struck by the power of “thought-stoppers” in our culture. There are a few phrases which when thrown into a conversation, have the power to crush your opponents into silence and win the day for your side. But they don’t prevail because of the weight of their argument or the power of their clear and incisive reasoning; they win because the masses have been trained to stop thinking when they hear those phrases.

The first that comes to mind is “unconstitutional.” If something is labeled with that devastating moniker, it has immediately become evil, a threat to some important issue in our society, and must be stopped at any cost. Never mind, in the case of partial birth abortion, that there is no good theoretical argument for it and that it has been shown that it is never necessary to save the live or health of a mother. No. It is summarily pronounced as being unconstitutional and therefore evil.

Another one that makes my hair stand up on end is, “I have a right to…” fill in the blank with absolutely anything. It seems that there are plenty of people inventing rights left and right in order to be allowed (by force of Federal Government if necessary) to do anything they darn well please. And, of course, the notion of “rights” is all the argument they apparently need. This one really bugs me because human rights can actually be a robust and rewarding study in human nature, theology, philosophy and political science. But in the public eye today, it is being prostituted at the idol of self-whimsy.

Beware of phrases that stop your thought process!

Chesterton and the Virtue of Hope

I have recently gone through a period without a job, and am still in a kind of “holding pattern” waiting for a handful of things to take place which will go a long way toward fulfilling my personal dreams. Recently, another friend of ours has been let go at her job and doesn’t know where to go or what to do. As a part of the process I went through during that time, I reflected on the virtue of hope. We hear a lot about faith and love, but we rarely hear about hope.

Hope, like faith and love, is an interesting virtue in that it is only needed, and we only really get a chance to exercise it, when we least feel like being hopeful (or faithful or loving). We can certainly hope when all looks positive and the world is all as it should be, but that is not the virtue of hope. The virtue of hope is worked in us when we need to place all our hope in Christ and His omniscience and benevolence when there is nothing else in which to hope. We only truly know that God is our only hope when we have been sufficiently disconnected from the things of this world which vie for our hopefulness.

And I don’t think it is a coincidence that hope is described as a virtue. Our character goes through a great deal of alteration when we find ourselves in a position to need the strength of this virtue. Will we crumble under the circumstances and give up on God’s goodness and wisdom, or will we look to God’s unknown plan as something which is better than anything we could devise, especially in our seasons of distress?

Here is another great snippet from Chesterton’s Heretics on the topic of hope:

Hope is the power of being cheerful in circumstances which we know to be desperate. It is true that there is a state of hope which belongs to bright prospects and the morning; but that is not the virtue of hope. The virtue of hope exists only in earthquake and, eclipse….For practical purposes it is at the hopeless moment that we require the hopeful man, and the virtue either does not exist at all, or begins to exist at that moment. Exactly at the instant when hope ceases to be reasonable it begins to be useful.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Chesterton and Practicality

Some more advise from Chesterton’s Heretics regarding principle and practicality:

In this matter, then, as in all the other matters treated in this book, our main conclusion is that it is a fundamental point of view, a philosophy or religion which is needed, and not any change in habit or social routine. The things we need most for immediate practical purposes are all abstractions. We need a right view of the human lot, a right view of the human society; and if we were living eagerly and angrily in the enthusiasm of those things, we should, ipso facto, be living simply in the genuine and spiritual sense.

I think it is true that an over-emphasis on “practical” teaching in the Church leads to not only an oversimplification of the Gospel, but to the erosion of scriptural principles as well. There is obviously a lot of room in the Church for practical teaching and “life-lessons,” but that kind of philosophy of ministry, when it outgrows its place, can lead to a loss of the fundamentals of Scripture. After all, the universal question to practical advice is, “Why?” What can practicality say to that? The only good answers come from principle, and religiously speaking, from theology and good philosophy. I think Chesterton is exactly right when he points to the “abstract” as the best guide to practicality. We are most like Christ in our daily lives when we best understand the doctrines of sin and grace, of repentance and forgiveness. We are least like Christ on a daily basis when we know we should forgive, but do not have the faintest idea why.

Chesterton and the Politics of Common Sense

I am a blogging maniac today! But when one runs across such insight, one is compelled to share. This is a snippet from G. K. Chesterton’s Heretics concerning journalism and politics. I am of the opinion that politics on the National level in our country today is in a pathetic state, and it appears that things were not much different one hundred years ago. (The last line is priceless.)

I read yesterday a sentence which should be written in letters of gold and adamant; it is the very motto of the new philosophy of Empire. I found it (as the reader has already eagerly guessed) in Pearson’s Magazine, while I was communing (soul to soul) with Mr. C. Arthur Pearson, whose first and suppressed name I am afraid is Chilperic. It occurred in an article on the American Presidential Election. This is the sentence, and every one should read it carefully, and roll it on the tongue, till all the honey be tasted.
“A little sound common sense often goes further with an audience of American working-men than much high-flown argument. A speaker who, as he brought forward his points, hammered nails into a board, won hundreds of votes for his side at the last Presidential Election.”
I do not wish to soil this perfect thing with comment; the words of Mercury are harsh after the songs of Apollo. But just think for a moment of the mind, the strange inscrutable mind, of the man who wrote that, of the editor who approved it, of the people who are probably impressed by it, of the incredible American working-man, of whom, for all I know, it may be true. Think what their notion of “common sense” must be! It is delightful to realize that you and I are now able to win thousands of votes should we ever be engaged in a Presidential Election, by doing something of this kind. For I suppose the nails and the board are not essential to the exhibition of “common sense;” there may be variations. We may read—
“A little common sense impresses American working-men more than high-flown argument. A speaker who, as he made his points, pulled buttons off his waistcoat, won thousands of votes for his side.” Or, “Sound common sense tells better in America than high-flown argument. Thus Senator Budge, who threw his false teeth in the air every time he made an epigram, won the solid approval of American working-men.” Or again, “The sound common sense of a gentleman from Earlswood, who stuck straws in his hair during the progress of his speech, assured the victory of Mr. Roosevelt.”… All I wish to indicate is the abyss of mental confusion in which such wild ritualism can be called “sound common sense.”

Nancy Reagan and Stem Cells

It was recently reported that Nancy Reagan has begun a public push for stem cell research. The impetus, of course, is the horrid disease from which her husband suffered. This invites some profound issues into the public square about stem cell research and the ethics of infant and fetal life.

It is my experience that most people believe it to be the case that only fetal tissue can provide viable stem cells. Then combining that belief with the overwhelming emotional issues of dealing with Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s, it seems reasonable to many to allow the destruction of fetal tissue for research.

There are several serious issues with this, however. First, an emotional attachment to an issue does not necessarily impute actual value. For instance, I am a huge fan of the Avalanche hockey team. But no matter the emotional attachment I have to their success or failure, it does not therefore make their team or the sport of hockey inherently valuable. Inherent value must be discussed on its own terms. So we should lay aside the emotional connection with the disease when discussing fetal stem cells. Besides, I might think that parents, and at the least God, have an equal emotional attachment to a child that some would want to kill for their own emotional needs.

Secondly, it has been shown by no less than the leading scientists and bioethicists of our day, and infamously ignored, that adult stem cells are at the least equally able to morph into other forms of cells, and possibly more so, than fetal stem cells. It seems clear to me; we have an abundant source of adult tissue that is routinely thrown away (e.g. umbilical cords) which already provides useful stem cells for research, and the use of fetal stem cells kills a human being in cold blood. There should be no question.

But there is. Why? Well, (he said with a Reaganesque lilt to his voice and tilt of the head) people like Nancy Reagan most likely push for fetal research because they have never been told about the benefits of adult stem cells. And what about those who know and still push for fetal research? In my opinion, that has to do with a political agenda attached to abortion rights and the project to eliminate the Christian voice from the public square. But that is another blog…

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Postmodern Aftertaste

One of the unintended consequences of fully embracing a postmodern world view is sloppy thinking. I pay pretty close attention to a few postmodern thinkers and some in the church who advocate embracing that world view, and I have come to the conclusion that the relativism that is inherent in postmodernism has lead to a whole gaggle of people who can’t, and don’t care that they can’t, think.

I think it is a natural result of the beginning principles, the major of which is that there is no metanarrative, and if there is, there is no way we can know it. That view is either epistemological relativism or relativism pure and simple. But irregardless of the philosophical position, the person on the street embraces that principle as raw relativism. They then apply that to their ethical standards and their views of religion. The basic view, “that is ok for you, this is ok for me, and that is as far as it goes,” belies a severe apathy concerning truth and moral rectitude. It is laziness disguised as tolerance. And where there is apathy concerning truth and morality, there follows close behind it the inability to think seriously about those things.

I know there are many authors in the Christian church who advocate embracing a postmodern view of things and consider themselves profound thinkers. But what is profound about deliberate ignorance? That kind of intellectual maneuver is as old, and as full of holes, as the Sophists. It is more profound to strive to apply the faculties God gave you to truth and morality. That is the kind of thing that changes people’s lives. Postmodernism not only leaves them exactly where they are, but it tells them to be comfortable there.

But, it is said, “postmodernism is the spirit of the age and Modernism has failed miserably. Therefore, the Church must change or die.” The issue of how much the church should appropriate culture is a large one, but I wonder if the Church should be neither Modernist nor Postmodern. There has to be a third way; a way in which the Church can embrace the truths embodied in the best of philosophy and the best in the communitarian spirit expressed by postmodernism.

In my opinion, the challenge before the Church today is how to pull people out of the mental and spiritual malaise they are in and set them toward the light. Our culture is continually settling toward the lowest common denominators, and humans love it there. John 3:19 states, “men loved darkness instead of light, because their deeds were evil.” The context is illuminating-people rejected Christ because they would rather stay in the dark. May the Church turn on The Light instead of dimming the faders.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Relevant Church

A recent study by the Barna group grabbed my attention today. I typically don’t pay too much attention to studies and polls, but this one made some interesting observations about the unchurched. In sum, not only are there more and more of them, but they are not drawn to the style of church we might most commonly associate with a “seeker sensitive” model.

I have long suspected that the unchurched don’t care at all for programs and events, and I am convinced that church drama/media programs can’t compete with what the rest of the world provides. Barna’s research seems to agree:

They are wholly disinterested in church life – often passionately so. Stirring worship music won’t attract them because worship isn’t even on their radar screen. More comfortable pews cannot compete with the easy chair or the bed that already serve the unchurched person well. Church events cannot effectively compete with what the world has to offer.

After all, was the church placed on this earth to out-entertain the rest of the world? Or was it placed here in order to look out for the souls of God’s children? The Bible will always make for bad PR simply because the only way to get to the “good parts” about grace and eternity are through conviction and repentance.

Os Guiness deals with this well in his book , Prophetic Untimeliness where he argues that the surest way of being culturally irrelevant is to worship at the idol of relevance. It is like trying to keep up with the latest fad or fashion; by the time you buy the newest style shirt, it is out of date and you look silly. The remedy then for the church is one of striving for fidelty to Scripture and God’s Spirit on earth. Only then will we be able to hit the culture between their eyes and change lives.

Monday, June 14, 2004

Spiritual Direction

I feel a little giddy now being a part of the blogging world. My profile page will probably give most of this away, but I intend to use this blog as a chance to reflect on the contemporary church, doctrine and philosophy. I think these three are too often estranged and need to be reunited.

I recently finished Peterson’s "Working the Angels." One of the things I appreciated most about it was the final section about Spiritual Direction. I have been thinking recently that pastors should pour more time into the spiritual health of their congregations as opposed to simple counseling. I don’t think there is anything specifically wrong with the counseling profession, but it holds too high a place in the pastoral world today. Too many pastors have given up the hard and prayerful work of directing souls and have replaced it with the more culturally appropriate practice of pop-psychology. I believe my job as a pastor to be much more concerned with discipleship and the bearing of spiritual fruit than with analysis. I firmly believe that counseling has its place, and as pastors, we will always be counselors to some degree, but I can’t let that interfere with my concern for the souls in the church. As a result of his work and others (Dallas Willard and so forth) I have decided to pay much more attention, at least try, to the “soulishness” of those around me.