Monday, January 31, 2005

New Philosophy Blog

I don't know how new this actually is, but it looks like a great blog.

The Conservative Philosopher

Thanks to the Lazy Logician for the notice.

Apologetics and the Blogosphere

Jeff over at a great blog, Dawn Treader, has posed some interesting questions about the use and usefulness of apologetic work through blogging. He is welcoming comments, and I wanted to write out a couple of thoughts in response. He poses a set of questions to get the conversation started:

1) What potential does blogging bring to apologetics?

2) What drawbacks and limitations are there to apologetics blogging?

3) What is the most significant challenge to apologetics blogging?

4) Is apologetics blogging really just another form of "preaching to the choir"? If yes, why do it? If no, do you think has an impact based on your own experience?

Number 1. One of the advantages blogging has is easy and almost instantaneous interaction. The Apologetics Aggregator and the online collaboration of Vox Apologia are some of the latest vehicles for interaction. Aggregators in general provide an opportunity for interaction, but the smaller more focused aggregators provide a great opportunity for more in-depth interaction. I think one potential benefit blogging brings to apologetics is the necessary activity of iron sharpening iron.

It also creates a kind of searchable database for apologetic information. Certain topics don’t “float my boat” and as a result I don’t spend a great deal of time reading and writing on those subjects, but there are certainly those out there in the blogosphere who do. I have been able to find information and links to information on things I would not by books about, and I have found excerpts of books and authors which have inspired me to research them further and possibly even purchase.

Number 2. The primary drawback that I see is the same drawback that all virtual technologies have in common-lack of face-to-face interaction. There is, in my opinion, no real substitute for personal interaction. In the virtual netherland of the internet it is easy for some to substitute forum boards, email, and comments for real contact, and I don’t think that is beneficial for the Christian cause. Christ came in the flesh, and our outreach to people should be in the same manner. Clearly there are advantages that the blogosphere has; I will “talk” with people through my blog that I would never interact with limited to just my physical proximity. But a face, a smile, a tear-these are the intangibles which communicate the love and grace of Christ as much as anything I might say or write.

Number 3. Off the top of my head I can come up with two serious challenges. First, a lack of personal interaction tends to make people less charitable and benevolent than they would otherwise be. The worst interactions I have had with Christian acquaintances and friends have invariably been via e-mail. It is amazing what people feel free to say when they don’t see you as opposed to what they are willing to say when you are sitting across a table with them. This phenomena is another result of the drawback in Number 2. When we don’t see the sincerity in our interlocutor’s eyes, or the gestures of frustration, disagreement, or acquiescence, we don’t know when to stop or when to go. From time to time, Christians who are supposed to reflect the grace and longsuffering of their Messiah are far more vitriolic and offensive than they need to be.

Second is what is now being called the ghetto-effect. We end up preaching to the choir without really engaging with others (or each other-more on that below) in a helpful manner. As far as I can tell, there is more and more thought being put into the purpose and audiences of Christian blogs and whether they are achieving either. This issue on Dawn Treader is a part of that reflection.

Number 4. Now that I have complained a bit about preaching to the choir, I want to encourage it-at least encourage it be done in a thoughtful and deliberate manner. Simply as a result of how God has chosen to use me thus far, I have had far more “success” using apologetic arguments in Christian circles than outside them. Preaching to the choir is not, in itself, a bad thing. It is what you preach to the choir that can make or break the experience.

Plenty of Christians have unresolved issues in their faith, and I have discovered that they are willing and eager many times to air those issues in a safe and helpful environment. If they know that their pastor or Christian friend is willing to deal with questions and issues honestly and without condemnation, their floodgates might just open.

Even if an individual is not experiencing any kind of real existential crisis, apologetic work among believers helps them love their God with all their minds and establish a solid base for their belief system. All of us will eventually come into contact with anti-Christian sentiment be it though a class, the media, or other friends, and if we have at least a modest foundation of solid Christian thinking, then we are less likely to be blown around by every wind of doctrine.

Vox Apologia III Is Up

The latest in the apologetics blogger conglomeration is up at The Revenge of Mr Dumpling.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

A Culture of Life

Euthanasia is not an easy issue to deal with, in large part because of the high level of emotional engagement that is typically involved. In this way, euthanasia is similar to the problem of evil in that there is an analytical way to deal with the issue and a more “pastoral” way to deal with the issue. Because the pastoral angle is far more circumstance specific, I want to touch on one of the more analytical issues involved. I think we will find, though, that the two are not entirely disassociated.

Hospice Culture vs. Euthanasia Culture.

Some deny it, but there is a moral difference between allowing nature to take its course and actively killing a patient. My grandfather died of a long, consuming disease after being in hospice care for over a year-an unusually long time for someone to be in hospice. I still recall my first surprise with their care-if my grandfather began to die of something natural, they would not stop the process. They would manage daily care and pain, but if something happened that would eventually take his life, they would allow it to take its course.

In stark contrast are the growing reports of elder-care in Europe where active euthanasia is practiced. In those scenarios, when a doctor or group of physicians determines that a life is not worth living, they simply euthanize the subject. I wonder how long my grandfather would have lasted.

The moral difference between hospice care and euthanasia may be nuanced at times, but it is an important distinction. Robert George in his book, Clash of Orthodoxies, argues that a culture that euthanises instead of caring for the sick has become a culture of death. On the other hand, to manage pain and daily life and allow nature to take its course, a culture will honor and celebrate life.

It is becoming axiomatically true in our sound-bye world that the “brave” and “courageous” thing to do is to euthanise. Nothing could be further from the truth. In the face of great odds, constant pain and discomfort, and certain death, the brave thing to do is choose life. I have watched as friends and family have gone through the excruciating decisions involved with long-term terminal illness, and the most courageous and difficult decisions made were for life.

Isn’t the choice for hospice-style care a decision for death? After all, you are allowing death to come naturally without doing what you can medically to stop the process. I don’t think so. It is true that we are able to do many amazing things medically, and we are able to stop death in its tracks over and over. But, as many people discover, there comes a point where the aid of medical science is simply a thin and transparent veil. My grandfather’s condition was unalterable, and in his scenario, heavy medical intervention would have been a detriment, possibly an evil, and certainly not a good.

Overall, when anyone’s life reaches a point where euthanasia is a real issue, there are literally dozens of medical, ethical, and theological issues to weigh in the balance, and every situation will be different. And we have reached a point where our culture as a whole is faced with these issues and the consequences that will result. One of the issues involved that casts a shadow across them all is the basic decision that faces our culture-to become a culture of death or a culture of life.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Lions and Tigers and Bear-Boys, Oh My!

I love the headline to this story, “Animal-Human Hybrid Sparks Controversy.” I guess we can be thankful for small things.

For a few years now, scientists have been combining the human genome with various animal bits and pieces to create different kinds of chimeras. One of the more bizarre creations mentioned in the article is a mouse with a human brain. Speaking of a Stanford scientist, the article states:

Weissman has already created mice with brains that are about one percent human.

Later this year he may conduct another experiment where the mice have 100 percent human brains. This would be done, he said, by injecting human neurons into the brains of embryonic mice.

Why would these creatures be created? The article continues with Weissman’s activities:

Before being born, the mice would be killed and dissected to see if the architecture of a human brain had formed. If it did, he'd look for traces of human cognitive behavior.

A little bit of alarm-sounding and ethical reflection is in order. What used to be the purview of science fiction and dystopias is now a reality. The article cites the director of Stanford’s Center for Biomedical Ethics as stating that we are on the cusp of being able to do really odd things like implant a human egg into a mouse, thereby giving a human child mice parents. But, he continued, no one is remotely considering such odd experimentation, so no one need be alarmed. Does someone hear the voice of Custer in the background saying, “We should be home by lunch, boys!” or is that just me? The problem with proclamations like his is there are stronger voices in the foreground shouting for all to hear that all possible scientific research is morally permissible for the potential lives it may save. To pick one poignant example, the article returned to the Stanford scientist (do these two communicate with each other?) Weissman. His view on ethical considerations and scientific progress is crystal clear:

Irv Weissman, director of Stanford University's Institute of Cancer/Stem Cell Biology and Medicine in California, is against a ban in the United States.

"Anybody who puts their own moral guidance in the way of this biomedical science, where they want to impose their will—not just be part of an argument—if that leads to a ban or moratorium. … they are stopping research that would save human lives," he said.

There is so much here to dissect-but there isn’t the time or the space. Weissman has things turned around, ethically. According to his sound-byte above, he would have made a good Nazi. It is exactly ethical concerns and reflection that keep us humane and kind and keep us from enacting the atrocities the world has condemned over and over and which make us ashamed of certain parts of our collective past.

A couple of thoughts are in order, though. The article called these chimeras “new species.” Has anyone bothered to classify and catalogue them, or are they in existence just to be killed and dissected?

At what point do these new species become more human than not? This one is a fascinating issue-what is it that comprises an instance of the human species? In this context, at what point would this process of chimera production, experimentation and destruction be subject to laws against enslavement, torture, and murder?

Reading dystopias like Brave New World should be required reading across the board. That book is labeled a “dystopia” for a reason-the world imagined in its pages is the exact opposite of a uptopia. “People” are genetically created to perform the lower levels of needed work, and therefore suffer the prejudice of the purer race of humans. How far away are we from a specie that has the physical form of an ape but the brain and reasoning capacity of, say, a 10 year old human? Wouldn’t they be great for certain unsavory jobs? At the very least, they would be far more expendable than “real” humans.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Stem Cell Update: Bone Marrow

Here are some of the latest developments on the stem cell research front.

Bone marrow is doing a lot of work in actually curing diseases and ailments. Here and Here

For those of you who think all this stuff about the evils and failures of embryonic stem cell (ESC) research is fabricated by right-wing religious radicals, this article from sounds the alarm concerning immune system problems related to ESC. Here are a couple of excerpts:

Most human embryonic stem-cell lines, including those available to federally funded researchers in the United States, may be useless for therapeutic applications. The body's immune defences would probably attack the cells, say US researchers. When embryonic stem cells are added to serum from human blood, antibodies stick to the cells. This suggests the cells are seen as foreign, and that transplanting them into the body would trigger the immune system to reject them. "We've found a serious problem," says Ajit Varki, a cell biologist at the University of California, San Diego.

The problem arises from contamination from the growth and creation process in the lab. There have been no such difficulties with adult stem cells and their cultures.

The hope of miracle cures brought about as a result of ESC research remains a glimmer in the eyes of those who have a lot of money to make if the Federal Government releases the ban on new ESC lines.

Back to the Bookshelf-Love Your God With All Your Mind

JP-Love God
Originally uploaded by Phil Steiger.

From time to time I want to make some form of a book review or a set of reflections from a book a regular part of this blog. The underwhelmingly clever name for these posts I have come up with is Back to the Bookshelf. In any event, the first book I want to bring to people's attention is J.P. Moreland's Love Your God With All Your Mind. Besides being an accessible read, this book raises some crucially important issues which face evangelicalism today. Much has been made of the crisis of the evangelical mind, and there are many books which address and attempt to rectify the issue. I am discussing this one because of its succinct and poignant organization and because J.P. Moreland is a name evangelicals should know.

The burden of the book is to help the reader expand the life of their mind when it comes to spiritual matters. The three major sections of the book are: "Why The Mind Matters In Christianity," "How To Develop A Mature Christian Mind," and "What A Mature Christian Mind Looks Like." Within each section Moreland does a wonderful job of describing and encouraging a sharper use of the believer's mind as well as offering plenty of useful aids in accomplishing the task.

Personally, this is a book I buy as a graduation present for almost every high school grad I know. Because of the typically sorry state of youth groups when it comes to equipping graduates for college, I have tried to stick this volume in as many hands as possible.

From time to time I become sorely disappointed in the state of the Christian mind in the evangelical culture. Catholicism and Orthodoxy have long and powerful traditions of applying reason and worldview thinking to contemporary issue, and the evangelical church is still struggling to find a lasting and weighty voice. In my opinion, the lack is due to the distinction between describing contemporary culture and prescribing a culture of relevance for the church.

Lately, the lack of thoughtfulness in the evangelical church arises when the topic of the shape of postmodern culture comes to the surface. What needs to be done with postmodernism is the same thing that needs to be done with each and every cultural trend-it needs to be judged against a Christian worldview. But instead, too many church leaders are collapsing under the weight of postmodern pressure and suggesting that what we need is a new kind of Christianity. As I have said before, there is an important difference in agreeing that there are a significant number of people in our culture who are postmodern and then arguing that what must therefore happen is the church must become more postmodern.

Overall, this is a book worth picking up, reading (more than once), and passing onto some friends and young people who need to learn how to better worship and love God with all their minds.

Vox Apologia II Is Up

Vox Apologia II is up over at Razor's Kiss-thanks Joshua for hosting and doing all the leg work this week. It looks like another great collection of posts.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Digital Salt-Where To From Here?

Vox Apologia II is being hosted at Razors Kiss over the weekend. The topic for this week, “Digital Salt,” is at the center of an interesting crossroads for evangelical blogging. Joshua, among others, has been ruminating on this issue recently to great effect, so what I want to do is simply add some thoughts concerning the penetration of digital salt.

“Trickle-Down Effect”
I have become convinced that engagement in the apologetic and philosophical area has a particular kind of effect on different people given their place in the conversation. In general, the people actively engaged in the debate, the “presenters” so to speak, will not be persuaded one way or the other. The conversation takes place, from an apologetic point of view, for the listeners. So what does this mean for the blogosphere?

First, we should be willing to engage other bloggers on matters important to our faith. We hope and pray that they will be touched by God’s Spirit and come to a saving knowledge of Christ, but in all probability, we will more than likely touch the readers of the blog before we reach the blogger him or herself. In this sense, then, it is never “fruitless” to engage a blogger who never sees things the way you do.

Second, we should learn how to handle flamers with grace and wisdom. I still recall how I felt when I was first flamed on this blog and it was quite frustrating. It became clear to me that it was going to be impossible to answer everyone of their challenges, so I quickly learned to keep to the point and try to avoid reciprocal flaming. As in my first point, we will probably not reach a flamer, but people will read the back-and-forth and if we are wiser and more gracious, I think it will come through. So if flaming frustrates you, you might do well to have the mindset where you wisely and graciously engage with a flamer for the sake of the readers.

Encouragement of the Saints

Dory has also made this kind of point, and I don’t think it can be overlooked too quickly. When we do apologetic work well, we encourage the faith and evangelistic fervor of fellow believers. Personally, I have had the most lasting effect with believers when it comes to the heavy-duty issues in apologetics. How do science and Christianity work together? Can I take the entire Bible seriously? How can I think about the problem of evil? These are not just questions non-believers ask-plenty of believers have these issues in the backs of their minds somewhere.

As a pastor, I have to remind myself from time to time that the adage, “you never know who is listening” is true. You, as a blogger or a Sunday school teacher, may not be the next C.S. Lewis, but if you are faithful in your work and presentations that person may be encouraged by what you have to say and how you say it.

Overall, the blogosphere promises to be a virtual space of increasing influence. More and more church members will keep in touch with their pastors/leaders through their blogs. More and more churches will keep their people informed about the life and activities of the church through blogs. More and more virtual small groups will have a place to “meet” when they don’t have a chance to meet fact-to-face. More and more Sunday school teachers will be able to disseminate their lessons through blogs. More and more theological, apologetic and philosophical interaction and collaboration can take place across the world within circles of interest (much like the Apologetics Aggregator).

We are on only the ground floor of what the blogosphere can do for the Church. Let us be wise, winsome, and creative in how we proceed!

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Stem Cell Research and Personhood-A Symposium

The New Atlantis - Acorns and Embryos - Robert P. George and Patrick Lee

The New Atlantis is a great and relatively new resource on the web. The latest edition contains this article on embryos and personhood as part of a symposium on the issue. I would encourage you to read through these essays thoughtfully if you have the interest to do so.

In my opinion, what Natualistic Darwinism and Evolution were to the 20th century, Bioethics will be to the 21st. (Not to the exclusion of the evolution issue...)

Robert P. George (quickly becoming one of my favorite authors/thinkers) and Patrick Lee have several insightful things to say about this debate. Here are a couple of snippits to whet your appetite:

Absent the appropriate framing of the issue, there is little likelihood of generating an illuminating public discussion.

If we were to contemplate killing mentally retarded infants to obtain transplantable organs, no one would characterize the resulting controversy as a debate “about organ transplantation.” The dispute would properly be characterized as a debate about the ethics of killing retarded children to harvest their vital organs. The issue could not be resolved by considering how many gravely ill non-retarded people could be saved by extracting a heart, two kidneys, and a liver from each retarded child. The threshold question would be whether it is unjust to relegate a certain class of human beings—the retarded—to the status of objects that can be killed and dissected to benefit others.


But are human embryos human beings?

Indeed they are, and contemporary human embryology and developmental biology leave no significant room for doubt about it.

I hope to get around to reading the entire symposium and commenting further on it in the future.

Are All Religions One? Depends on Who You Ask!

Over at Weapons of Warfare, our fellow apologetics blogger has posted some very insightful and thought provoking thoughts from John Warwick Montgomery’s Tractatus Logic-Theologicus regarding the diverse religions of the world and the drive to view them all as the same.

The characteristic most fully shared by the religions of the world is their incompatibility with each other.

This reality cannot be underestimated in our floppy-thinking American culture. It is overly common for people to think that the “enlightened” religions view all religious views as the same, or at the least, as aiming at the same god. The corrective to this view is that there is no religion, when allowed to speak for itself, that thinks this is the case. Only in the watered-down Americanized versions of Buddhism, Hinduism, Zen and Christianity, do religions view all as one. Without fault, a genuine Buddhist will tell you that you need to follow the teachings of Buddha in order to be enlightened. Confucius and Jesus are not enough.

That is to say, the question of religious unity depends not upon practice but upon teaching, or (expressed more accurately) it depends upon the teaching which gives the practice its meaning; but the teachings are the focal center of disharmony among the world’s religions.

This point is especially poignant given some of the trends in contemporary evangelicalism. It has become trendy to say that what makes a Christian community genuinely Christian is its practices. Montgomery is right on the nose here when he argues that what differentiates religions are their teachings and that it is their teachings which lend value to their practices. Every religious community imaginable can be a wonderful place to be as a result of all kinds of great and loving practices. But that avoids the crucial issue of which ones are wrong about ultimate reality and salvation.

There is a lot more in the post listed above-it should provoke a lot of thought!

Are Apologetics Still Necessary? Pt 5: Lovers of Truth

Series Posts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

2 Thessalonians 2:10 “…because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.”

In some circles of evangelicalism, truth is suffering the same fate Ralph Nader suffered in the 2004 Presidential race-nobody is paying attention. Many are proclaiming that the idea of truth, as it has been understood for centuries, has been successfully pulled apart by various forces in the postmodern world. I, however, read things differently.

First of all, not only is truth a vital concept biblically, but it is an objective, universal notion of truth is vital biblically. If believing in the truth saves us, and there are some who refuse to believe in the truth, then truth is not socially or linguistically constructed. It would be impossible for 2 Thessalonians to be accurate if truth were a by-product of a linguistic community because if truth were constructed, it would be literally impossible for someone to not believe in the truth. Everyone would believe what their community believes, and would therefore believe in what is true for them. Hence, it would be logically impossible for someone to fit the description in the verse above.

But, sadly, there are and will be plenty of people who do fit the description of 2 Thessalonians 2:10. The consequence for us philosophically is that there is truth “out there” that we need to believe in and which we need to strive to relate to others regardless of their faith/language community. This reality makes a couple of philosophical theories very important to the Christian faith.

The first is some form of modest foundationalism. Typically, when postmodern/emergent writers attack foundationalism, they are after an extreme view that came about through the Enlightenment, and which most thoughtful evangelical theologians and philosophers have not embraced. The most common epistemological replacement for foundantionalism is coherentism. Coherentism is the view that beliefs are true if they cohere with each other in a web of belief-they each support the truth of the others. There are things attractive about Coherentism, but it has at least one infamous flaw. In court, for instance, it is entirely possible to construct a case against a defendant in which all the evidence points to their guilt and no piece of the evidence contradicts any other piece. The catch, however, is that the defendant is actually innocent. What we have is a coherent but false belief that the defendant is guilty.

The second philosophical consequence is the need to hold to some form of realism and/or correspondence to reality point of view. There will be plenty of things in our language that don’t matter when it comes to actual correspondence. What makes a walking stick a walking stick? Well, people name it such and use it as such. But reality is not as fungible as pomos would like us to think. Can anything make a slug a walking stick? Can naming an orange “walking stick” make it thus? What if we want to really cross categories of reality and try to name the color blue as a walking stick? What we find is that reality determines itself for us in many important ways. We can’t use blue on a hike because reality tells us it is impossible.

In the same kind of way, this proposition is true: “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself.” (2 Corinthians 5:19) This proposition carries meaning that translates what reality is like across cultures and time. There is no faith/linguistic community for whom this statement is not true. In my opinion, some are far to ready to give up on an objective notion of truth in exchange for a linguistic and postmodern theory in which language and community determine truth for its adherents. Part of what I find ironic is that many of them will utilize the meaning-carrying power of propositions to argue that propositions carry no ultimate meaning and cannot map onto reality.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Vox Apologia I

I want to thank everyone for their entries! This is a great response for our initial offering.

Enjoy reading and engaging! I hope to get a chance to read all of these in the next couple of days and get to commenting and interacting myself.

Here are the submissions in no particular order:

Lenni at XBIP give us "Apologetics Is Absolutely Essential."
Summary: Apologetics is absolutely essential to the Christian church today. Pastors need to use it to show the congreation Christ. More importantly, each believer must know how to defend the Faith.

Rich Poupard at Imago-Dei gives us "What does apologetics mean to today’s Christian church?”
Summary: I believe that apologetics has a necessary but not sufficient role to play in today's church. It is necessary in order to combat the cultural forces that continually provide challenges to the Christian worldview, and should be looked at as a spiritual discipline like prayer and fasting. However, apologetics can only be effective if we continually study and apply to truths of Scripture, as well as allow ourselves to be guided by the Holy Spirit.

Ed Heckman at The Greatest Pursuits gives us "Apologetics: Agreeable Debates"
Summary:My post began life as a quick reference to an article by Thomas Sowell where he bemoaned the increase of ad hominem attacks in public discourse and pointed out that rational, logical discourse with a focus on facts and the pursuit of truth during a disagreement leads to the betterment of everyone involved. From there, it careened on into the fact that Jesus used logic and facts in his disagreements with the scribes, then pointing out that knowledge is required for such discourse, that apologetics is studying to acquire such knowledge, and finishing with the conclusion that Christianity cannot accomplish its primary mission of sharing the good news without the use of apologetics.

Joshua Whipps at Razors Kiss gives us "Apologetic Apologists, or Defenders of Truth?"

Jeff Burke at firstPete315 gives us "Some Color Among the Gray."
Summary: In the post, I discuss that we as Christians are all apologists...that we bear the same burden and responsibility to prepare our hearts and minds and ultimately that we are willing to share them joyfully with others.

Rusty Lopez at New Covenant gives us "Apologetics as experience...;"
Summary: I briefly (very briefly) examine how our Christian faith is rooted in reason, which should complement the emotional aspect of our faith.

Catez at Allthings2All gives us "Post Modernism and Christianity."
Summary: Does Christianity outdo post-modernism? This post says yes, and shows not only that post-modernism is a derivative of Christianity, but that Christianity has always answered the questions post-modernism raises.

Dory at Wittenberg Gate gives us "Apologetics Benefits for Believers."
Summary: We usually take up the study of apologetics for evangelistic purposes. However, in the process of learning to bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Jesus Christ, the believer is also blessed and sanctified.

Puddle Pirate at Brain Shavings gives us "Apologetics? What's That?"

David Goodwin at Revenge of Mr Dumpling gives us "Purpose Driven Apologetics."
Summary: The Church finds itself in a different time with a different audience, and its apologetics must reflect that.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Vox Apologia I Invitation

I don't want to burry the invitation to the first Vox Apologia.

Are Apologetics Still Necessary? Pt 4 - The Example of Jesus

Series Posts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

In the fourth part of this series I am going to point out that Jesus made use of argumentation in such a way that we are even able to categorize the kinds of arguments he made. Initially, though, a point should be made about the role of argumentation. Dallas Willard notes in his essay, “Jesus the Logician,” that, “Jesus’ aim in using logic was not to win battles, but to achieve understanding or insight in his hearers.” Too often those who disparage the place of apologetics in the life of Christianity fail to make this kind of distinction. Argumentation and logic, when applied in a humble and faithful way, are intended to part the clouds, not bludgeon people.

Utilizing some of the sections of Groothuis’ book, On Jesus, I want to outline and demonstrate a few ways in which Jesus used argumentation in the Gospels.

Escaping the Horns of a Dilemma

A classic way to corner an opponent and force them into an unfavorable position is to try to get them to answer a question that is formed with only two options, when in fact, there are more options available. The classic example is the Euthyphro dilemma in which Socrates asks whether God commands what is good or if things are good because God commands them. The best way out of a dilemma is to provide a third option.

This issue shows up most often in the Gospels between Jesus and his opponents. In Matthew 22:17 the Pharisees ask, “Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” Just a couple verses earlier we learned that they asked this in order to trap him. The dilemma formed here was a “yes” or “no” answer. How did Jesus reply? “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” (Matt. 22:18-22) Jesus did not accept the terms of the question put to him. Instead, he found a third way out of the dilemma.

A Fortiori Arguments

An a fortiori argument is an argument “from the stronger.” Here is how Groothuis describes this form of argument:

1. The truth of A is accepted
2. The support for the truth of B (which is relevantly similar to A) is even stronger than that of A.
3. Therefore, if the truth of A must be accepted, then so must the truth of B.

One well-known example of this argument in the Gospels is where Jesus defends his healing of a woman on the Sabbath in Luke 13:10-17. In this passage Jesus argues that it is an accepted truth that a person can untie an animal and lead it to water on the Sabbath. In addition, the well being of a woman is more important that untying a beast of burden, so it should be an obvious truth that Jesus healing the woman on the Sabbath should be an acceptable act.

Modus Ponens Arguments

The basic form of a modus ponens argument is:
1. If P then Q
2. P
3. Therefore, Q.

If you are attentive, Jesus makes a lot of use of this simple logical structure. Possibly the most common form of the argument is in terms of what the Messiah will do when He arrives. In a logical structure it might look something like:
1. Actions of type X will be performed by the Messiah
2. I am performing X-type actions
3. Therefore, I am the Messiah.

It is in these kinds of dialogues, by the way, that we probably find the most Scriptural evidence that Jesus thought He was God and that the NT writers thought He was divine. John chapter 5 is replete with these kinds of examples. In John 5:21, the Father gives life, and the Son gives life to whom He will. In 5:22-23, the Father is worthy of honor, and the Son is worthy of honor. In 5:27 the power of judgment is in the hand of the Father, and he has given that power to the Son.

Clarifying the Terms of a Discussion

Another important task in discussion or argumentation is definition. Nothing kills productive discussion like equivocation, evasion and propaganda. Jesus had a way of working a conversation to the point where people understood what he meant in new, unique, and powerful ways.

Take the Samaritan woman for example. She didn’t understand what Jesus meant when he used words like “drink,” “water,” and “worship,” but He was able to speak to her in such a way that she went away with a powerful grasp of who He really was claiming to be. A similar thing happened with Nicodemus and their conversation regarding birth.

A cousin to this category might be Jesus’ use of parables. Intelligent communicators are able to express deep thoughts, effective communicators are able to express deep thoughts intelligibly. Parables were a powerful and memorable tool that Jesus used to communicate truths about His kingdom to those who were willing to listen and learn.

Joe over at Evangelical Outpost is collecting posts and evidence along the lines of Jesus the Logician. Check it out.

WMDs: Weapons of Mass Diphtheria

Pentagon reveals rejected chemical weapons

This is the kind of government research I could really support.

Announcing the First Vox Apologia!

It is time for the inaugural Vox Apologia! This is your chance to get in on the ground floor of the latest blogging apolpgetics collaboration. Joshua at Razors Kiss also has some of the details up on his site.

The initial theme will be:

“What does apologetics mean to today’s Christian church?”

Please send all entries to the following address: phsteiger ATT yahoo DOT com

The deadline for entries will be Sunday, at midnight, EST the 16th.

To enter, please provide me with the following information:

1. Your name
2. Your Blog name and URL
3. The Post Title and URL for the post
4. A brief summary of your post/argument

I will try to have all the entries up by early Monday afternoon the 17th.

To support the spread of solid Christian apologetics Joshua has established an aggregator. I have added the blogroll and the link for the aggregator on the right crawl of this site. I would encourage you to visit Razors Kiss and add your site to the aggregator.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

When Missing the Point Leaves Lives At Stake

There is a case before the courts in Michigan in which a 16 year-old boy gave his girlfriend an abortion by beating her on the stomach with a baseball bat. She was 6 months pregnant. Beyond the horror of that situation is the moral abhorrence exemplified by their attorney, Miranda Massie. She was interviewed on the Bill O’Reilly show last night and when she was asked for her explanation of the situation, she proceeded to blame pro-life policies and abstinence education.

I was utterly shocked by her lack of an ethical sense as well as her total inability to actually address the issue involved-a boy beating a girl with a baseball bat to kill a child. Her description of the kids: “these are gentle and great kids.” She referred to the event as a miscarriage. There is not a transcript up of the entire show at this point, but there are other articles which reference the case and Massie’s stumping.

This article quotes her as saying,

"The bottom line is this: if this country keeps rolling back freedom of choice and rolling back abortion rights, what you're going to see is more children attempting to perform back alley abortions on themselves," she said.

After the abortion was complete, the girl helped burry the child in their backyard like a dead pet:

The 6-month-old male fetus was delivered around Oct. 4, and Michigan State Police found the body buried in the back yard of the boy's home in November, prosecutors said.

And this snippet from the Bill O’Reilly web site:

The boy's attorney Miranda Massie argued that he does not deserve punishment. "These are gentle and great kids," Massie said. "You don't prosecute two desperate kids who are already traumatized." Instead Massie turned the episode into an indictment of anti-abortion activists. "We can provide teens with access to safe and legal abortions and access to intelligent information about sex, or we are going to see more back alley abortions like this one. Parental notification laws and abstinence-only sex ed(ucation approaches) add up to desperate acts like these."

These kids need love and consequences. They shouldn't be hidden behind the political holy grail of some lawyer.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Are Apologetics Still Necessary? Pt. 3: The Role of Arguments in a Post-Argument Culture

You can find the first two in this series here and here.

As apologetics have been traditionally understood, it has been comprised of arguments for doctrines like the existence of God, God’s creation of the universe, the Virgin Birth, and the Resurrection. And indeed, from the very inception of Christian thought, those arguments have played an important role in staking out the doctrinal territory of Christianity.

Many are claiming that we live in an era in which arguments, as they have been traditionally understood, are passé. For one reason or another they are declared to be pointless and/or philosophically corrupt. Does argumentation still have a place in a world where arguments are supposedly a thing of the past?

Apologetic Arguments Specifically

By “specifically” I mean the traditional arguments for God’s existence and so forth. First of all, there has been a recent success, if you will, when it comes to one of the oldest arguments for God’s existence, the Design Argument. The noted and erudite atheist Anthony Flew has decided that some form of Higher Being exists as a result of the science behind the ID movement and the argument from design. There are those who are denying that apologetics had a role to play, but if you read the interview I linked to in that post, it should be abundantly clear that it did.

Secondly, there is a certain kind of fallacy involved when someone says or implies that the culture does not understand or like argumentation any longer. Cultures are not monolithic things like giant globs of cheddar cheese. Saying that we are now a postmodern culture can entirely miss the reality that many people (yours truly included) simply are not. There may be dominant cultural trends, but never a homogenous one. So if we were to abandon apologetic arguments for reasons of postmodern deconstruction, we would leave a great deal of the culture behind.

And third, apologetic arguments have served to identify the boundaries for Christian theology. What makes us different from Mormons? Muslims? Buddhists? This was actually a matter of great concern for the early church fathers such as Irenaeus and Augustine. They went to incredible lengths to clarify what was true Christian teaching over and against false philosophies and religions. There is no good reason to change this exercise.

Argumentation in General

For the purposes of this post, I want to mention two serious lacunae in the pomo/emergent view on apologetics and argumentation.

First, they fall on their own rhetorical sword when they argue for an end to argumentation. Argumentation is one of those realities that cannot be avoided no matter the philosophical leanings of the interlocutor. When they assert that I should change my mind and agree that apologetic arguments are a thing of the past, they produce reasons why I should do that. What they have done is argue for a certain point of view and lined up reasons for one point of view and against another. To produce an argument against argumentation is to argue yourself out of the argument.

Secondly, and this is a point I want to expand on later, Jesus himself laid out arguments. In addition to that, the apostles caught on and did the same in their Gospels and Epistles. As a couple of examples (I may stop to produce more later), John says he wrote his Gospel and included certain things so that people would be convinced of the divinity of Christ, “But these are written that you may
believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” John 20:31. Paul lined out an extensive and fairly complex argument for the doctrine of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15. Again, I don’t see any good reason to not continue to do the same.

Evangelical Outpost is hosting a symposium of sorts on “Jesus the Logician.” You may want to check back there to catch the updates to his virtual database.

Calling all Apologetics Bloggers

Joshua over at Razor's Kiss is doing the leg work to arrange an Apologetics Aggregator. He is also beging an Apologeitcs Symphony-something akin to the Christian Carnival but aimed directly at Christian apologetics. Somewhere between his blog and this one, we will host the first Symphony, so check back to see the first wave of submissions and or collaborations.

I would encourage you to head over to his post, read what he has in mind, and join the aggregator! As iron sharpens iron, it will be helpful and encouraging to get together at the virtual round table of the blogosphere and learn from each other. In addition to that, you will be gathering exposure for your blog and supporting other apologetics-minded bloggers.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

The Lure and Evil of False Hope-Stem Cell Update

A Catholic Bishop in Brazil recently went on the record concerning his nation’s debate over the use of fetal/embryonic stem cell research. The article states:

Cardinal Agnelo approved of research using adult stem cells, which according to the latest studies are more effective in treating and curing diseases, and he called the creation of embryos through in vitro fertilization for therapeutic reasons "horrific." "It is one of the horrors produced in this environment of technological sophistication, which requires large amounts of resources and reaps enormous economic profits," he added.

His point needs to be taken seriously-the drive behind technological progress is oftentimes a false sense of utopianism. It promises consequence-free solutions if people will simply climb on board the wagon. But, as we have discussed before, the ethical concerns cannot be avoided. Either they are dealt with now, before the technology is fully developed, or they are dealt with then they come back to bite us on our collective posteriors.

Charles Krauthammer is a veteran of the D.C. scene, columnist, trained M.D., and a member of the President’s Council on Bioethics. He is also paralyzed. You might recall the Kerry campaign’s promise to pull people out of their wheelchairs if they voted for them because they would push ahead on fetal/embryonic stem cell research. Krauthammer’s response to the rhetoric is right on the mark. He states:

In my 25 years in Washington, I have never seen a more loathsome display of demagoguery. Hope is good. False hope is bad. Deliberately raising for personal gain false hope in the catastrophically afflicted is despicable.

And again:

Politicians have long promised a chicken in every pot. It is part of the game. It is one thing to promise ethanol subsidies here, dairy price controls there. But to exploit the desperate hopes of desperate people with the promise of Christ-like cures is beyond the pale.

This paragraph is worth the article:

As a doctor by training, I've known better than to believe the hype -- and have tried in my own counseling of the newly spinal-cord injured to place the possibility of cure in abeyance. I advise instead to concentrate on making a life (and a very good life it can be) with the hand one is dealt. The greatest enemy of this advice has been the snake-oil salesmen promising a miracle around the corner. I never expected a candidate for vice president to be one of them.

And this comes from a man who suffered an injury which caused his paralysis-he was not born that way.

Many of those who press for embryonic stem cell (ESC) research are playing on the hopes of vulnerable people for the sake of their economic and political gain. Doubtless there are many whose motives are as pure as they can be. But what continues to be lost in the din of propaganda is that there is no need for ESC research when adult cells are doing the yeoman’s labor in the real world.

This is a bell that I, and many others, have tolled over and over, but it needs to be rung until people listen. Lives are at stake.

Update: bLogicus has a great post in the same vein here.

Americanism and Maintaining Religious and Political Pluralism

Joe Carter over at Evangelical Outpost has arranged a symposium on an article entitled, “Americanism-and Its Enemies” by David Gelertner appearing in Commentary magazine. You can find an aggregation of the posts here.

The article argues that what the author calls “Americanism” is a direct doctrinal descendant of Puritanism. This sentence is a straight-forward formation of this history:

And so we circle back to the beginnings of Protestantism, which begot Puritanism, which begot Americanism.

A sense of America’s divine and moral destiny can, in the author’s eyes, be traced directly back to the Zionism of colonial Puritanism. Mr. Gelertner does a good job of tracing explicitly Christian references through some crucial political moments in American history. It is still said today that we are a nation based on Judeo-Christian values, and when one reads the kinds of quotes contained in the article, that point is well supported.

The issues I want to briefly tackle as a result of the argument in the article are religious and political pluralism and what I call “confusing kingdoms.”

Religious and Political Pluralism

How can it be that we can maintain a civil level of religious freedom in a nation that is politically pluralistic? We are not, and as a Union have never really been, a theocracy. Even though Christian thought has permeated the halls of power throughout the history of our nation, we have never been ruled by priests. But some would argue that a rule by religious principle is a kind of theocracy; even though the priests are not Senators and Presidents, they are influential to the point where they might as well be. How is it that a rule by religious principle, specifically Christian principle, is different from rule by priests?

In short I believe it comes down to a well-developed tradition of natural theology in the Christian religion. Mr. Gelertner says the same, I believe, without using the term itself. In his article he argues that the principles of liberty, equality, and democracy are direct descendants of a careful reading of Scripture. Because the early founders were familiar with the biblical principles which applied to all people regardless of their faith or birth, these rights were, at least theoretically, extended to all.

And that, I think, is the key to a civil religious pluralism-recognizing principles which apply to all people regardless of their position in life. Of course the task gets harder from this point, but when we take a close look at the teachings of natural theology and the creation of our republic, we see a close overlap of ideas which allow for religious liberty in specifics, and civil liberties based on the universal fundamentals.

Francis Schaeffer famously/infamously (depending on who you ask) argued that a democracy such as we have here could only have been developed as a result of Christian natural theology. For instance, in order to create the kind of political pluralism we experience today, the Christian doctrine of creation was necessary. Despite our nation’s failure to always apply the doctrine of creation to all people, it was built into our fabric from the very beginning. We have always believed, at some level, that every person was created by God and was therefore worthy of respect and dignity. This is a fairly unique political principle, and it is one that does not interact well with many other religious and political systems (as we are discovering).

Confusing Kingdoms

One more point I would like to add is that it becomes easy for Christians, especially those caught up in “American Zionism” to confuse the political régime of the U.S. with the Kingdom of God here on earth. The U.S. is not, nor will it ever be, God’s Kingdom. It will disappear with all the rest of the earthly kingdoms when Christ comes to establish His reign. Our hope for redemption is fundamentally eschatological. True, we strive to be redeeming influences where we can, and we do what we can to bring the principles of natural theology to bear upon our political system, but if we place our hope in political systems we have gone astray. The hymn is still true, “My hope is built on nothing less/than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.”

Monday, January 10, 2005

Intelligent Design in Public Schools: Can It Pass the Legal Test?

One of the cultural hotspots today is the topic of teaching Intelligent Design in public schools. At the center of the storm is the debate about whether ID is explicitly religious and would therefore be constitutionally excluded from public schools, or not explicitly religious and therefore fair ground for public school curriculum.

Francis Beckwith makes the legal argument that ID is not explicitly religious in the way the Supreme Court has defined things, and as a result would be able to pass the test necessary to become a part of public school classes. An extensive article he wrote on this issue for the Notre Dame Journal of Law, Ethics and Public Policy can be found on his website. A condensed version of the same argument can be found in his chapter, “Darwin, Design and the Public Schools” in the book, To Everyone An Answer: A Case For The Christian Worldview.

The argument has two fundamental components: How has the Supreme Court defined an explicitly religious teaching, and can the ID argument accurately be described in such a was as to pass that test.

First, the Supreme Court standard harkens back to Edwards v. Aguillard in 1987 from which four basic components can be drawn. A teaching about the origin of life is explicitly religious and cannot be taught in public schools if:

1. it has strong historical continuity with the Scopes trial and the creationism debate;
2. it has strong textual ties to Genesis;
3. the supporters have strong religious motivations (evangelism);
4. it supports illegitimate means (i.e. teaching religion) to reach legitimate means (i.e. freedom of speech).

Beckwith then continues to explain that ID would pass this test (the Edwards test) given the nature of the science. He outlines ID in this way:

A. If an apparently designed entity exhibits specified complexity (SC), one is warranted in inferring tha the entity is the result of and intelligent agent.
B. SC can be reliably detected by an explanatory filter.
C. The irreducible complexity of some biological systems and the fine-tuning of the universe for the existence of life are instances of specified complexity.
D. Presupposing methodological naturalism (MN) and relying exclusively on its resources (i.e. chance and necessity) cannot account for SC in the instances listed in C.
E. Thus one cannot exclude ID from serious consideration because it is inconsistent with an a priori commitment to MN.
F. Therefore, given A through E, ID best accounts for the irreducible complexity of some biological systems and the fine-tuning of the universe for life.

There is, in this accurate description of ID, no reference to Genesis, no shared ancestry with Scopes, no intent to convert people to a religious faith, and no Trojan Horse containing Christian doctrine. ID breaks from what is typically labeled creationism in these important ways, and places its emphasis on the science of its claims, not the theology of its claims. To be sure there are plenty of theists of one stripe or another in the ID camp of scientists and philosophers, but many of its prominent proponents are not theists at all. (Beckwith notes some of this in great detail in the article noted above.)

Because there is so much mud being thrown at the ID movement at this point in time, this argument is an important one to keep in mind. No matter the validity or soundness of ID’s arguments or science, it would pass the legal test allowing it to become a part of public school curriculum.

The Church Why Bother? - Christianity Today Magazine

The Church Why Bother?

This is a great article defending the necessity of church attendance for believers. One of the sentences which caught my attention was:

I would call it Gnostic faith. For them the spirit is completely separated from the body. They think your spirit can be with Jesus Christ while your body goes its own way.

In other words, people are believing more and more that they can be spiritual islands separated from the body of Christ. It is definitely worth a read.

Intelligent Design and PBS Video Angst

In the continuing debate about Intelligent Design in schools, the latest brouhaha has arisen as a result of PBS pulling a video it was selling and had aired which described the science of ID.

When I get a chance, I will post some of Francis Beckwith’s thoughts on ID passing what is known as the Edwards test for teaching religion in public schools. In short Beckwith points out that though the Edwards ruling by the Supreme Court bans teaching a science which appeals directly to Genesis for its arguments, the science of ID can accurately be described in such a way that no such appeal is made. On a fundamental level, ID argues from analogy: we consider contingent items in this universe to have been designed by a mind (e.g. watches and automobiles), and the universe portrays the same characteristics, so it is reasonable to conclude that there is an intelligent designer behind the universe.

For some more info, head over to the ID Update blog.

Are Apologetics Still Necessary? Pt 2: The Turn to Community

In navigating the transition between a Modern culture influenced by the Enlightenment and the Postmodern culture influenced by a deconstruction of the Enlightenment, the topic of Christian apologetics has come up in some circles as something which is up for grabs. It should not be too hard to find an Emergent or pomo writer who asks whether apologetics are still necessary, and more often than not the answer is that apologetics, as they are traditionally understood, are dead and outdated.

In its place it is quite common to replace the process of argument for and defense of the faith with some notion of the faith community. For instance, I have recently engaged in a forum board asking this very question, and one of the responses ended with this statement:

Point is: I would be more willing to try to wrap my head around the idea that the Earth is flat if a close friend of mine honestly believed and lived out his life like that were true. And i would definitely believe him if he bought 2 plane tickets, jumped onto a 757 with me, took me to the place that the world dropped off, pointed down and said "see there is the edge of the world.”

This individual went on to clarify his position in a latter post, but I think it highlights well what is becoming more and more typical in Emergent/Pomo circles. The basic train of thought is something like this:

1.Propositional truth is either non-attainable or irrelevant.
2.People in the postmodern world view their experiences as their greatest way of attaining knowledge or personal belief-value.
3.Christ said things like, “they will know you by your love…”
4.Therefore, trying to talk about truth is useless and what we should really be emphasizing is a person’s experience among the people of God.

First of all, the idea that the Body of Christ should be a loving, grace-filled and forgiving place to be is clearly biblical-I am not concerned with that fact. What I am concerned with is an epistemic emphasis on experience combined with statements 1 and 2. When we take away any kind of appeal to transcultural/objective truth, there is absolutely no way to distinguish between a wonderful Christian faith-community and, say, a Buddhist faith-community. In fact, this line of argumentation, if it is correct, would rule in favor of a loving Islamic community over a dysfunctional Christian community.

To see the need to develop a loving and Christlike body of believers is admirable and should be repeated in us all. But to use any kind of experience to be the end-all of truth value is not only dangerous, but it violates the kind of biblical community we are called to create-one in which people recognize their need of Christ and no other.

The first entry in this series is here.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Are Apologetics Still Necessary?

It is becoming more and more fashionable in the Emergent Church movement to ask this question. May feel, give their penchant for seeing the world through postmodern eyes, that the answer is some from of “no.” Those who say so typically point to the notion that apologetics have traditionally been an exercise in argumentation and at its worst, some from of intellectual bullyism. They will argue that apologetics are unnecessary for one of two, or both of the following reasons. First, the culture has strayed so far from Modernism that people no longer respond to arguments, premises and conclusions. If you tried to “reason” with a pomo, you would not get anywhere. The second reason is that, again given postmodern assumptions, the process of arguing toward a notion of objective, absolute truth is a waste of time. There either is no transcultural truth, or we simply can’t know whether there is.

My basic thesis is that the first reason is an important cultural observation which should help us understand what kind of role apologetics will play in our world today, but that the second reason is, well, basically hogwash. In a short series of posts I want to argue that apologetics are still necessary, and will always be a necessary part of the life of the Christian disciple but that the cultural observation made above will guide us in our understanding about what is important about apologetics today. In short, apologetics are still a necessary and important part of the Church, but it may take on a slightly different face that it has in the past century.

For now, a brief definition of apologetics is in order. “Apologetics” is a slightly unfortunate moniker for the contemporary American because the way we use the word on a regular basis has almost nothing to do with what it traditionally means in relation defending a belief system. It is originally derived from a Greek word which means “to defend.” So when we speak of “Christian apologetics” we are speaking of the exercise of developing good reasons to believe in Christianity, good reasons to not believe in other faith-systems and answers to the attacks on Christian faith.

So, are apologetic arguments still a useful tool for the believer, or have they gone the way of the Dodo bird? In my next post on this issue, I will discuss the typical postmodern alternative to traditional apologetics-the turn to the community.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

The Many Faces that are the Emergent Church

In the irenic spirit of postmodern deconstruction, my word-smith buddy and I have come up with some "alternate" titles for the Emergent Church.

Satire warning! Please behold the tongue in cheek...

"uh merging" - the ecclesiological equivalent of the guy who stops on the freeway onramp
"amerging" - stopping the merging of postmodern ideas with the Bible
"submerging" - they're going down!
"e-merging" - if it's on the web, it must be true
"diverging" - moving away from the truth
"ember Gent" - a British gentleman who is on fire
"emHERgent" - the feminist version
"emerperson" - the nongendered version
"detergent" - washing away the burden of truth from discourse
"convergent" - bringing together the Bible and lies, in the spirit of theological peace
"emerchant" - the true nature of the movement
"e-merchant" - ibid, on the web
"immergent" - theological xenophobia (extra credit for getting the Sweet reference...)
"em-urgent" - the church must change or!

Stem Cell Update: Adult Stem Cells Still Doing Most of the Real Work

The world of stem cell research continues to spin, and the successes of non-embryonic stem cells continue to grow.

In this news rats were effectively treated for heart attacks with umbilical cord cells.

In this interesting twist of information, women were successfully treated for incontinence with cells from their own arms.

Research also continues to progress with embryonic stem cells. Monkeys are being treated for Parkinson’s Disease.

And just in case you did not know that this has already happened, South Korean scientists have cloned human embryos for the sole purpose of extracting stem cells.

As I have blogged before, I believe the ethical considerations weigh so heavily against embryonic stem cell research, that even if they were the only medically viable option, they should not be used. But in reality, adult stem cells are out-performing their fetal cousins.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Harry Connick Jr. - Other Hours

Originally uploaded by Phil Steiger.
To lighten this blog just a bit today, I thought I would recommend a great CD I bought for my wife this Christmas. We are fans of Connick's big band and vocal work, and so I was surprised to find this CD to be such a high quality departure for him. The entire CD is combo jazz (him on piano, drums, bass, sax) and no vocal work at all. Connick shines with his compositions and improv work. There are still hints of Thelonious Monk in his playing, but he branches out a bit on this CD.

If you enjoy good combo jazz, this would be a great aquisition.

Pragmatism and Current Christian Theology-Reflections on Reclaiming the Center

Originally uploaded by Phil Steiger.
This is the third in a series of reflections inspired by Reclaiming the Center. The other two can be found here and here.

In his chapter, "Postconservatism: A Third World Perspective," Kwabena Donkor makes the argument that postconservative theology is inherently pragmatist. Given what I understand about the leaders discussed in this book and elsewhere, I would wholeheartedly agree. What I find dangerous about a theology that is pragmatist is that pragmatism as a school of thought is, I believe, inevitably incompatible with orthodox Christian thought.

Pragmatism as a philosophy is probably the only uniquely American school of philosophy and although postconservatism does not call itself Pragmatist, it holds some very important traits in common. (There are clearly nuances to the following list, but I think this boils a lot of it down to its essentials.) Pragmatism does not believe that anything substantial can be said about current, transcultural reality; postconservatism agrees. Pragmatism believes that we are held hostage by our language to the point that "truth" cannot be conveyed across cultures; postconservatism agrees. Pragmatism believes that the most important factor in an individual's belief structure is their given community-communities construct reality; postconservatism agrees. (For a more in-depth look at Pragmatism and a critique thereof, read this paper by Douglas Groothuis.)

What I find ultimately interesting is that Pragmatist philosophers understand and embrace the logical extensions and conclusions of their beliefs while postconservatism has yet to do the same. Modern-day Pragmatists such as Richard Rorty have long laid aside any attempt at what he calls "systematic philosophy" and have given up the search for truth as literally meaningless. If we cannot get to any sense of truth beyond our culture/language community, then it is literally meaningless to talk of it.

Current postconservative theology and philosophy is combining two very dangerous beliefs which, when taken to their logical conclusions, lead us to an island of metaphysical relativism. As I have pointed out in the other posts, many of the leading thinkers in the movement hold to a postmodern view of language. Add to that the view that the faith community is formative theologically (not subsequent to theology, but either co-creative with or prior to), and you have a recipe for theological and ecclesiological disaster.

Currently, postconservative thinkers and writers still speak in objective and transcultural terms, but that is, I believe, because they have not yet embraced their beliefs completely. Take this passage from Rorty's aptly named book, The Consequences of Pragmatism, where he lays out in no uncertain terms some logical extensions of his philosophical system:

Pragmatists doubt that there is much to be said about this common feature [the notion of truth]. They doubt this for the same reason they doubt that there is much to be said about the common feature shared by such morally praiseworthy actions as Susan leaving her husband, America joining the war against the Nazis, America pulling out of Vietnam, Socrates not escaping from jail, Roger picking up litter from the trail, and the suicide of the Jews at Masada. They see certain acts as good ones to perform, under the circumstances, but doubt that there is anything general and useful to say about what makes them all good. The assertion of a given sentence -or the adoption of a disposition to assert the sentence, the conscious acquisition of a belief -is a justifiable, praiseworthy act in certain circumstances. But, a fortiori, it is not likely that there is something general and useful to be said about what makes All such actions good-about the common feature of all the sentences which one should acquire a disposition to assert.

Whether postconservatism will go as far as this in the development of its theology and philosophy is yet to be seen, but I would imagine that the best thing to do is to stay as far away from it as possible.