Tuesday, March 29, 2005

More on Human Personhood and Current Bioethics

I ran across this article on the Mars Hill Audio Journal page, and it makes some salient points concerning personhood and how it is/is not defined in our present culture. It quotes Gilbert Meilaender:

“Our personal histories begin in dependence—first within our mother's womb and then as newborns. Often our life ends in the dependence of old age and the loss of capacities we once had. Personhood is not something we 'have' at some point in this history. Rather, as embodied spirits or inspirited bodies, we are persons throughout the whole of that life. One whom we might baptize, one for whom we might still pray, one for whom the Spirit of Christ may still intercede 'with sighs too deep for words' (Rom. 8:26)—such a one cannot be for us less than a person. Dependence is part of the story of a person's life." [2nd edition, page 6]

I think it is an important point to note that personhood is not something that comes and goes with our state. There may be extreme cases on either end where that may be fruitfully debated, but in my opinion, it is debated in far too many cases.

And again:

"Those human beings who permanently lack certain empowering cognitive capacities—as well as all human beings in stages of life where those powers are absent—are simply the weakest and most needy members of our community.”

Their inability to display certain cognitive abilities does not make them less a member of the category “human being.” Very thoughtful article.

You will also want to check out this frightening article at National Review Online.

Links Sans Context 3/29/05

Razors Kiss is announcing the inauguration of Voxapologia.org. This site will not only host future symposiums, but it will (I believe) quickly become a great apologetics resource. James Brown is often introduced as "the hardest working man in showbiz"--I think Joshua should be introduced as "the hardest working man in the blogosphere." Way to go!

The Conservative Philosopher links to a provokative and thoughtful essay on how to mix religion and politics.

Dr. Reynolds, a philosopher at Biola, also posts a provocative essay on picking a Christian college.

I have been reflecting recently on the role of church authority, creeds and biblical interpretation, and Letters From Babylon has a good post on the issue.

ETC Redux:
I thought it would be timely to revive a post inspired by an article by William F. Buckley on the Pope, Death, and Dying.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Defining Humans Down

One of the nasty little realities resulting from the Terri Schaivo case is that we are becoming more and more comfortable with bad definitions of what it means to be human. As I hear commentators and talking heads deal with what is at stake here, Terri is talked about in some pretty unflattering terms.

I have heard the argument made often that she is costing taxpayers a lot of money and should therefore be let go. Money is always a bad way to value human life.

The Daily Show mocked senators who referred to her by her first name on the Senate floor. Are they supposed to de-humanize her in order to make a political point? Isn’t that what many are doing to support her death?

As far as I have been able to tell, one of the fulcrum points for the court rulings has been the “husband’s” claim that Terri did not want to live this way. He first claimed this almost seven years into her current state and has since refused to relinquish legal guardianship to her parents and move on. There is absolutely no way of knowing what Terri really wanted or wants. So now we are down to what one person values in another person’s life. This is not all that different from the “every child a wanted child” abortion and contraception campaign of the 1990s. Apparently unwanted Homo sapiens are not quite human persons.

In my opinion, because we are loosing our understanding of human beings as special creatures among the rest of creation, we are loosing the ethical and moral intuitions that keep us humane.

Christian Carnival 62

Christian Carnival 62 is up at A Nutt's View. There is a load of potentially good reading up for viewing.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Postmodern Culture and the Church Experience

"The Age of Egocasting" by Christine Rosen

In this wonderful article, Christine Rosen takes us through a critical look at our technological culture and the growing ability we have to shape our experiences of the world around us. She takes a close look at the technologies of remote controls, TiVo and the iPod.

The title, “The Age of Egocasting,” is a great thought provoker in and of itself. A large part of Rosen’s thesis is that we have become far to comfortable with shaping our experiences to ourselves rather than experiencing the world as it really is. Deleterious consequences follow for those who are more connected to their technologies than the outside world.

This is one good way of understanding the postmodern world, and more specifically, what is wrong with the pomo culture. Instead of being able-or being “forced”-to listen to a full symphony from beginning to end, for example, we listen to highlights-the bits we like the best-as our CD shuffler or iPod moves us on to the next highlight from the latest country song we like. One of the best ways of understanding what it means to be postmodern is that we are shaping reality instead of reality shaping us-and it looks as if our technologies give us that option on a regular basis.

My concern here is not to rail on technologies, but ask a couple of questions with regard to church experience and relevance. If it is often argued that we need to be relevant to culture, and our culture is growingly egotistical and random, how far should the church follow suit? Is it “allowable” and possibly right to shape a church service experience around random and sound-byte media experiences in order to make people feel “at home” when they come through the doors, only to intend to grab them later on with the deeper world of full-blooded Christianity? Is that approach even tenable? Is it just another form of bait-and-switch marketing?

What if the church decided that this characteristic of pomo culture is harmful to human souls and it decided to stick out like a sore thumb? It seems to me that the basic message of the Gospel is antithetical to egocasting-we need to die to ourselves and encounter a God who demands to be understood on His terms and not ours. Reaching out to culture is not just building bridges people can use to cross over into the Church, but building the right kinds of bridges in the right places and the right kinds of walls in the right places. Now that is a challenge.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Links Sans Context 3/21/05

Vox Apologia X is up at Razor's Kiss. Presuppositional apologetics is a hairy topic, and if I get a chance to today, I will try to add my .02 cents.

There is a growing surge of conservatice philosophers hitting the blogosphere. The latest I know of is Right Reason. Looks to be a great resource!

I have recently become a part of an aggregation of blogging pastors over at Mark D. Roberts.

Steve reviews Boyd's book, God At War. As many of you know, Boyd is a controversial figure in some ways. Steve's review makes the book look very interesting-in fact, it sounds much like a traditional pentecostal/charismatic view on spiritual things.

Jeff at Wheat and Chaff has some thoughts on Judicial Tyrrany. Important subject!

In case you were needing more examples of the convoluted world of political correctness, censorship and the public realm, Crux-Signs has some information for you.

Dory at Wittenberg Gate continues to be part of the vanguard fighting/blogging for Terri's life.

Huntington Apologetics writes on the Brain/Mind topic. Although this can be a philosophically complicated topic, it is an important one indeed!

Friday, March 18, 2005

Terri Schiavo Letter to the Editor

There are many people standing up for Terri Schiavo's life, and I thought I would try to get a letter to the editor published which does that very thing. I was motivated to do this today when I heard of public opinion polls which pretty overwhelmingly favor the removing of the feeding tube-trully horrible! We shall see if anyone chooses to publish it:

The current debate over Terri Schiavo’s life is revealing a deadly paradox which has taken hold of our culture. In a world where technology promises to enrich and lengthen our lives, we are trying to kill a human being who can be saved by those very technologies. We live in a world that, at the same time, touts human potential and debases its nature to nearly nothing. By in large we have defined “person” out of “human person” and we are viewing Terri in terms of economics and convenience instead of the inherent value she holds as a person and the love her parents are dying to show her. Because we are convinced that our value is wrapped up in the things plastic surgery fixes, we are learning to get rid of those cases it can’t.

Through this debate, we must fight to become a culture of life instead of a culture of death. If we are unable to save this life-one that doctor after doctor deems savable-we will be well on the path toward defining life out of our margins. If we cannot draw the line with her life, we will be less and less able to draw the line with other disabilities and conditions we routinely treat today.

Decisions about life and death are never easy, but here we have a woman who, according to her doctors and therapists, should be able to someday eat and speak on her own. This one seems to me to be a decision we should make in favor of life.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

The Comprehensive Character of Mission

I am continuing to enjoy The Continuing Conversion of the Church by Darrell L. Guder. The major burden of the book is to look at theology through the lens of evangalism/witness/mission, which is proving to be an extremely fruitful way of talking about the Kingdom of God, God’s revealed Word and the life of the church.

When it comes to the Emergent Church, I have appreciated the emphasis on the life of the church needing to be missional. It is easy for a church to become enrobed in its own establishment and to turn the vast majority of its energy inward instead of outward. There are many voices calling us to refocus ourselves missionally-to see the life of the church as a witness to Christ. Gruder makes this very point.

Although the predominant meaning of witness has to do with oral communication, there is ample reason to understand witness in a much more comprehensive sense, as defining the entire Christian life, both individually and corporately. (55)

He quotes this gem from William Abraham:

…to think of evangelism in terms of mere proclamation fosters the practice of disconnecting evangelism from the life of the local church. (56)

In this spirit, then, Gruder goes on to note the comprehensive character of mission or witness in Scripture. As a partial extraction of his list, he mentions: Witness is theocentric, Witness is Christocentric, Witness is pneumatological, and Witness is historical. Given my own concerns about the direction of the EC, Seeker/Church Growth movements, and other waves in evalgelicalism, I was thrilled to read this list of Gruder’s. Every true revival, restoration or reform of the Church begins exactly where his list begins-with God at its center.

I wonder if any readers have thoughts or experiences to share about missional church? As you may have seen I am part of a team planting a church, and I am praying that we take on a missional character. Any thoughts?

P.S. Guder makes some additional comments about “universals” and history which refine my earlier criticism. I will get to those soon, but I want to see if we can get any discussion flowing on missional church before I do.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

The Emergent Church and Fear of Universals

Darrell Guder
Originally uploaded by Phil Steiger.
In my quest to better understand the shape of the latest thoughts and trends in the church world, I picked up what is proving to be an interesting book, The Continuing Conversion of the Church by Darrell L. Guder. I have made my way through about a third of the book so far and would like to comment on a couple of things as I go along.

So far I have greatly appreciated Guder's emphasis on evangelism as a theology, or more accurately, a practical theology, for the church. He encourages us not to loose sight of the evangelistic core of the New Testament. I am looking forward to reading his insights regarding the implications for the church with regard to the shifts in American culture and the shifts in church culture.

My one complaint so far has to do with a passage in which Guder repeats what is becoming a mantra from Emergent Church circles. I do not know myself if Guder 'officially' aligns himself with the EC, but he just might given his take on some of these central issues. The passage I would like to deal with comes at the beginning of his chapter, "God's Mission Is Good News." My first quote here is, I think, essentially true as far as it goes:

This good news about God is rooted in a particular history. Although the modern mind has been affronted by the biblical emphasis upon a particular, specific history as the event of God's self-disclosure, it is essential to the goodness of this news that it be historical....Through the particular encounter of God with Israel, the good news that God is loving and purposeful enters into human history and becomes knowable.

I think such a statement is true in a pretty straightforward kind of way. God revealed Himself to humanity through the people and history of one particular group of people. What Guder says in the next paragraph, however, corrupts his own argument:

Apart from such a particular history, Christianity has no universal message to proclaim. The Bible is not a collection of universal ideas cloaked in a particular history.

I find such an argument not only demonstrably false, but false in such a way as to make the rest of Guder's book pointless if you were to take it seriously. To limit my thoughts to a few nutshells:

To which culture do we limit God's revelation? One might assume that Guder is referring to Israel when he writes "a particular history," but then the New Testament disagrees with that when the Greeks are a crucial part of God's revelation in history. What about the half-Jews of the Diaspora? What about the barbarians, Scythians, slaves or freemen? The point is, although it is hip in Emergent circles to speak of "culture" and how God reveals Himself within a culture, the term "culture" is notoriously difficult to define. If you are going to base a crucial point of an argument on the notion of "culture" then you had better try to define it. I haven't yet read an Emergent author do so. God revealed Himself to Nebuchadnezzar in the OT and I don't think he was Jewish in any discernable way whatsoever.

The very fact that within God's revealed Word there are multiple cultures proves that there are "universal ideas" within His revelation to those cultures. Paul, a Jew, translated the "universal ideas" received in the Jewish Scriptures to Greeks.

What I don't entirely understand is the Emergent fear of "universal ideas." All that phrase simply conveys is that there are things in this world which are the case for all people at all times. Christians, of all people, should cling to the fact that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. If that proposition (gasp!) is not universal, then we of all people are to be pitied the most.

Guder goes on in the same paragraph:

Such universal ideas are merely the product of human imagination and creativity.

Such as that one? Is it universally the case (the case for all universals expressed by humans) that all universals are merely the product of human imagination? If the answer is yes, then Guder has pulled the rug out from his own argument, and if it is no, then Guder has pulled the rug out from under his own argument.

Again, it is hip in Emergent Church circles to assert that things like universals don't exist, but there is simply no getting around them. To assert that they do not is to assert something which you think is true universally.

Additionally, if you agree with Guder's assertion, you have left yourself in an unenviable position. You have no good reason to believe 2+2=4. Each time you get up in the morning, you have no good reason to believe the laws of physics are the same as they were yesterday. You have no good reason to believe that torturing babies for fun and profit is wrong all the time. I, frankly, don't want to be in that position.

It is unfortunate that Guder's book makes this philosophical move. I think there is a lot of intellectual and spiritual stimulation to be had from his project, and I look forward to what else he has in mind.

Links Sans Context 3.15.05

Today's links sans context merits two entries in order not to dilute these.

Vox Apologia IX is up at Razor's Kiss and there are some great posts out there on a wonderful topic. Keep an eye out for a change to the VA aggregator in the near future...

The wonderful Catez at Allthings2All has a fascinating aggregation herself in The Science and Christianity Showcase. The standards are pretty high, scientifically speaking, to post and as a result there are some real gems.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Stanley J. Grenz-With The Lord Today

Stanley J. Grenz-In Memorium

This is a true loss to the evangelical community. Grenz was a prolific author and defender of the faith and he will truly be missed. Though his ideas were sometimes controversial and hotly debated, he was an honest and genuine scholar who loved the Lord, the Church, and Pastors.

May God be with his family and friends through this time of loss.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

The Deadly Paradox of Humanism

This week’s VA topic is “Glory to Man In The Highest: The Dangerous Claim of Humanism” and is being hosted at Razor’s Kiss. Thanks again to Joshua for doing so much leg work on apologetics and the blogosphere.

My take on the topic this week is colored by some recent research I have been doing in the area of biotechnology and bioethics. One does not need to be a scientist to follow the ethical and technological implications involved in the ‘biotech century’ and frankly, the possibilities are frightening.

My basic thesis is that due to the excessive value placed on the progress of the human being, a natural result of Humanism, we have reached a place of deadly paradox. This paradox is currently highlighted by the conflicting realities of frighteningly amazing medical advances capable of extending life well beyond a point which used to be considered ‘natural’, and the morally horrific circus which is the Terri Schaivo case.

Humanism has, all at the same time, glorified the potential of the human being and debased its nature altogether. The basic thesis that the human can ‘do whatever is possible’ has reached a point where the inoculation of science is necessary. It is clear that we cannot live forever; enter genetic modification. It is clear we cannot stop disabilities; enter prosthetics and nanotechnology. It is clear we cannot stop disease; enter genetic modification of the environment. And it is exactly because we have learned that we cannot stop the decay of life that we have tried so hard to eliminate nature’s most difficult cases; we have learned to abort and euthanize what we cannot control.

As a result of Humanism, human nature has become infinitely malleable. And here the old saying is true, “Where everything is human nature, nothing is human nature.” We are beginning as a society to decide that the natures we have been given as a divine right are no longer good enough. Athletes need unnatural enhancement; models and actors need ‘plastic’ surgery (what a telling term for plastic careers!). And more and more we are all buying the Faustian bargain.

On the other side of the coin is human nature as defined by Christian tradition and our creation as beings in God’s own image. Our decaying physical bodies are only a portion of our natures, and to be honest, learning how to deal with that decay is an important part of the development of our humanity. Being created in God’s image means, at least in part, that my inner life is crucial, and there is nothing scientific which can modify my spirit. No gene therapy will ever enrich my soul; no nanotechnology will ever make me a better person.

I am more than my genes, my zits and my myopia. I have a nature given by God endued with His image, and destined for eternal communion with Him.

Friday, March 11, 2005

New Resource on Biotechnology

I have stated in the past that in my opinion biotechnology and bioethics will be the new and dominant frontier for a Christian worldview in the 21st century. What Darwinistic Naturalism was to the 20th century, Biotechnology will be to the 21st. In fact, it might be more accurate to say that biotechnology will be/is the form Darwinistic Naturalism will take in our century.

A great new resource along those lines is The Council For Biotehnology Policy. There are a veritable plethora of articles and editorials up on their web site which cover a lot of the science as well as the public policy angles of the current issues. A good introduction to the purpose and mission of the Council is their Manifesto. Here are a few excerpts and some brief comment.

The debates over human cloning have focused our attention on the significance for the human race of what has been called "the biotech century." Biotechnology raises great hopes for technological progress; but it also raises profound moral questions, since it gives us new power over our own nature. It poses in the sharpest form the question: What does it mean to be human?

Bingo. The Naturalism of the 20th century addressed what it means to be human in many ways including the nature of the human species and its relation to animal species on the ‘evolutionary chain’. Biotechnology will allow human nature to be infinitely protean if we are not careful.

We strongly favor work in biotechnology that will lead to cures for diseases and disabilities, and are excited by the promise of stem cells from adult donors and other ethical avenues of research.

Biotechnology is not an unqualified evil.

We therefore seek as an urgent first step a comprehensive ban on all human cloning and inheritable genetic modification.

We also seek legislation to prohibit discrimination based on genetic information, which is private to the individual.

Agreed. I would also love to see this group encompass the question of the genetic modification of plant life and livestock. Such concerns may be out of the scope of their public policy mission, but I believe them to be vital concerns none the less.

Stop by the Manifesto and add your signature in agreement!

Links Sans Context 3.11.05

I am going to try and make my way back into the blogging world, so I thought I would begin with a little link love.

It looks like the new job bug is catching. Rusty at New Covenant is retooling his blog a bit.

Rusty had another great post about the sign of the cross verses a 'holy high-five.' I think his reflection on the matter is spot on!

Vox Aplologia IX is announced and ready for submissions over at Razors Kiss. I hope to get a good post in this weekend.

My favorite topic, the Emergent Church, is the subject of a good post by Jeff at the Dawn Treader. There is a lot of thought that still needs to go into the critique and construction of the EC.

Speaking of the EC, Steve at Out In The Sticks, has a telling post concerning the possible revival of exegetical preaching and teaching as a result of the postmodern shift in our culture. I have always been a fan of that style, and so I was obviously in agreement with the article he cites.

Huntington Apologetics has some good thoughts on God and Pain.

ETC Redux
One of the potential fatal flaws in portions of the EC movement is that they have aligned themselves too closely to a worldview that is inherently deconstructionist and does not have the philosophical tools to do any real reformation of the church. It is an irony that a movement which desires to renew and reform embraces a philosophy which argues that those things, in their substance, are false goals.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

New Career Path!

My blogging has taken a brief hiatus over the last few days while I have been in transition between two jobs. As some of you may have noticed, I pastor a church in the Springs, but right now it is a new plant and I have been pastoring in a bivocational role.

Just this week I have started another job, while keeping the pastoral position, that I have hoped for for many years now. I am spearheading the establishment of a campus ministry in town which offers college-level classes from a Christian worldview. The organization is Dayspring Center for Christian Studies.

I am incredibly excited about this opportunity. My job will be to direct the school/ministry in the Springs and to teach a few of the classes. This kind of thing has been my passion for a very long time. I believe there is a powerful need to help Christian students develop and fill-out their worldview as they exit high school and make their way into college and the rest of their lives. I am more and more convinced all the time that “worldview education” is crucial in our culture and its postmodern morphings.

So I apologize in advance if my blogging is a little erratic while I get used to my new schedule and responsibilities. But I hope that in the short run, my new position will actually enhance ETC.