Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Chuck Colson on Moral Equivalency: Christian Left and Right

BreakPoint | Moral Equivalency

I alert readers to this commentary because it highlights what I think is a growing and significant division in the evangelical church. More and more, the issues of social justice and traditional "moral conservatism" are played against each other in the political realm among Christian organizations and denominations.

No matter your opinion about what Colson concludes, I think it is unarguable that this growing rift is a false dichotomy, and we would be fools to separate over it.

I think it would be interesting to do some ethical thinking about the two issues and their place in the church and politics today.

Suits Filed to Stop Stem Cell Institute In California

Suits Filed to Stop Stem Cell Institute

This is another cause to rally behind. In the last election California passed a law granting $3 billion in embryonic stem cell research to state institutions. As is typical for legislation like this, nothing was mentioned of the embryonic component or the cloning allowances unless you listened to the dissenters. And, again typically, the dissenters were brushed aside as religious kooks and their claims not addressed.

The fact is, this legislation is all about embryonic stem cells and, as I understand it, embryonic cloning. All the typical pressures are at play in this case. Several of the members of the board that is granting the $3 billion have either diseases or conditions which have been promised a cure through embryonic and embryonic stem cell research alone. In fact, the law suit is not going after the ethics of the legislation, but the apparent conflict of interest issues involved. California does not allow people to legislate or distribute money when there is an obvios conflict of interest, and there appears to be one in this scenario.

Interestingly, one of the backers of the suit is Joni Eareckson Tada, an advocate for the disabled and a profoundly faithful Christian. This statement of hers is exactly right, but she will be dismissed for the simple, and prejudicial, reason that she is a Christian.

People need to get the message that this proposition is an enormous expenditure of money in a financially strapped state for human embryo research that is increasingly seen as problematic and hypothetical.

They really do. Lives are at stake.

Another incarnation of this article will appear on Blogger News Network

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Links Sans Context 2.22.05

Here are some recent gleanings...

Joshua at Razors Kiss writes more on Schaeffer and culture - Equipping vs. Fighting.

Steve continues his provocative series on Messy Scriptures. It will be challenging to engage!

The Lazy Logician adds his thought on the Terri Schiavo case from a husband's perspective.

Jeff at the Dawn Treader writes a second post on Os Guinness and the place for doubt in a believer's life.

Here is one off the typical evangelical map-Test Geek has written a lot on cognitive and performance issues. Very interesting stuff indeed!

ETC Redux
Is the best moral solution for our society to create an atmosphere of moral liberation? This post was in response to some analysis done in the NY Times after the 2004 election.

Terri Schiavo: Creating a Culture of Death?

There has been a lot of attention given lately to the Terri Schiavo case and all of the details involved between the husband, her parents, the Florida government and the Florida courts. The latest appears to be the news that the Florida courts have ruled in such a way that her feeding tube will be removed today, Feb 22nd. Though she is likely to have it reinserted after further court battles, it is a real set-back nonetheless. Any period of court mandated starvation is barbaric.

We must be a culture which affirms life, even in the most difficult of cases. A culture which refuses to acknowledge the inherent value of life at all of its stages, especially at the margins, will become a culture in which the margins will take over. A culture of death defines more and more human beings in more and more circumstances as expendable.

It is not the case that an exception here and an exception there will relieve the political and ethical pressure inherent in these situations. Instead, they will set a precedent which will make it easier to set the bar lower in the next scenario. If we are willing to starve someone to death who is breathing on her own now, will be begin suffocating the elderly who cannot breathe without assistance but who can feed themselves?

End of life decisions make for notoriously difficult decisions, but that is exactly why we should draw a line defining life well in the distance and not shy away from the complications. If we cannot draw that line defining life now, then we will find ourselves not knowing where that line is at all and the unthinkable will become the next matter-of-fact headline. Making difficult decisions now as a culture will help abate barbaric choices in the future.

This post is not a prayer for the future, it is a prayer for the present. Terri Schiavo is starving to death right now. This is not a prayer just for our children and their children and the choices they will face in the future, it is a prayer for our parents and grandparents in the here and now.

Lord Have Mercy.


The removal of the tube has been postponed one day.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Vox Apologia VI

Because we only had one official entry this week, I decided to put together a bit of a link round-up for posts covering biotechnology related issues. Many of them are related to Terri Schaivo and her struggle for life.

My own post on the VA topic will be coming soon-I want to make sure not to burry this post.

VA Update:

The Minor Prophet wants to continue the conversation...

My entry is my first on Terri Schiavo and her struggle for life.

Thanks Catez for the great entry!

Allthings2all gives us Junk DNA Appears Vital for Life!
Summary: So called "junk DNA" has had scientists puzzled, and it was thought it was an evolutionary feature. Now new findings indicate that the junk sequences could be vital for life.

Terri Schaivo related posts:

Catez adds this call to bloggers to wield their influence in the court of public opinion in her post, Will You Help Wash Her Feet?
She includes contact information to the powers that be in Florida and some suggestions on writing in support of her life. This is a critical time for Terri!

Dory at Wittenberg Gate has her latest on the Bloggers Best for Terri Schaivo up.

bLogicus has some great thoughts in their latest post on Terri Schaivo.

Over at Wheat And Chaff we have this great point:
The devaluing of life continues. We are rapidly entering a world where the high priests of science tell us who's worthy of life and who's not.

Other Biotech posts:

The Crux Sci-Phi blogger Bobby Maddex writes on cloning pets.

BK at Cadre Comments reflects on Does Exodus 21 Teach That Unborn Children Have Less Value Than Born Children? as a result of a debate on Faith Under Fire.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Announcing the Next Vox Apologia

This weekend's Vox Apologia will be hosted right here at ETC. The topic this week is...

Christian Thought in the Biotech Century

The opportunities and challanges of biotechnology are multifold and present believers with a chance to engage the culture in some new and profound ways. What will that look like philosophically, theologically, politically, socially, pastorally, ethically, etc.?

Here is the entry info:
e-mail: phsteiger ATT yahoo DOT com
Subject: Vox Apologia
Blog name and URL
Post name and URL
Summay of post

Deadline for entries will be Sunday the 20th at midnignt EST.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

The Emergent Church, Apologetics and Stanley Grenz: Pt 1

Part 2 Part 3

This article by Stanley Grenz in the Enrichment Journal (the pastoral journal of my denomination) got me thinking about the emergent church, postmodernism and apologetics again. Without rehashing some of my previous thoughts on this subject, I would like to discuss one particular issue: has the EC movement set up a kind of a straw man? Are they barking at a scarecrow?

The typical line, and the one that Grenz takes in his article, is that the church of the last century was held captive to Modernism and the Enlightenment. The apologetic task in particular was molded in many ways by the faulty principle of the superiority of reason and failed to recognize a fuller breadth of thought and life that was available in Christianity. Ultimately, in their view, that captivity has lead to the irrelevance of traditional apologetics in our postmodern world.

To clarify the burden of this post, let me quote from the end of Grenz’s article conclusions with which I mostly agree:

First, we must move to a more invitational approach. We must invite people to join with us and together pursue a relationship with God rather than seek to win intellectual arguments.

Second, we must move to a conversational approach. We must refrain from confronting those who are destitute of truth with dogmatic declarations of the truth we possess. We must become more intentional in listening to their stories to see where our narratives intersect.

Above all, we must move from being well-equipped apologists to becoming a believing community.

I agree with the relational, conversational, and communitarian components. It is the “rather than”s that I find to be false dichotomies based on a trumped up history of apologetics. For a detailed and scholarly look at the historiography of emergent thought, see Reclaiming the Center.

Grenz begins his brief survey of modernist apologetics with this claim:

The first approach [to apologetics as a result of the Enlightenment] followed either classic liberalism or an evidentialist Christian apologetic.

I find that an interesting, if not odd, classification. It is true that both of the approaches he mentions contain either “reason” or “rationalism” as major components, but they differ in some vital and fundamental ways. Liberalism (the attempt in the 19th century to remove embarrassing supernatural references in Scripture) was guided by Rationalism, the principle that reason is the end all and be all of knowledge. As a result, the Bible got “demythafied” and the supernatural was stripped from theology.

On a very different hand, the apologetics of people like Josh McDowell (the apologist Grenz mentions as a typical example) followed a philosophically distinct path. Instead of being bound by the Naturalism resulting from Enlightenment rationalism, this other strain of apologetics recognized the unity of truth and the universality of reason. Utilizing reason and being captive to Rationalism are two distinct philosophical positions. The evidentialist apologetics that Grenz lumps together with theological liberalism comes from a very different, and more ancient source.

The Emergent Church, Apologetics and Stanley Grenz: Pt 2

Part 1

This is how Grenz typified evidentialist apologetics:

Conservatives disagreed vehemently with what they saw as a blatant attack on the integrity of the Bible. Nevertheless, with the same zeal as their liberal antagonists, they also sought to incorporate faith in a realm ruled by reason. To this end, they devised what is known as evidentialist Christian apologetics. This strategy shows how scientific findings support or even confirm the truths of Christianity.

He then goes on to cite Josh McDowell as a typical example of this kind of apologetics. There is a lot to deal with in this quote. First, Grenz is certainly right that theological conservatives reacted strongly to the liberal take on biblical inerrancy, miracles, and so forth. In many respects it was that reaction which gave rise to the fundamentalism of the early twentieth century.

Secondly, I am not so sure that the assessment “they also sought to incorporate faith in a realm ruled by reason” is accurate in this context. I think the problem with this statement harkens back to the distinction between Rationalism and the use of reason. Grenz may be equivocating at this point in order to argue that evidentialist apologetics of the last century is an extension of Rationalism. Evidentialist apologetics certainly, and unashamedly, makes use of reason in all its traditional forms, but it does not, in its best incarnations, agree to the tenants of Rationalism.

In support of my point, I would like to observe that most of what passes for evidentialist apologetics now is an extension of Medieval theology, most notably the work of Anselm and Aquinas. Many of the standard arguments which now comprise the core of philosophy of religion and Christian apologetics are repetitions of and modifications upon their work. What Grenz is associating with and attributing to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in actuality extends back much further than that. So to say, “they devised what is known as evidentialist Christian apologetics,” may be overstated.

Now it can be objected that even though the roots of contemporary evidentialism extend back through the Middle Ages, it may be that Aquinas and Anselm presaged the worst parts of the Enlightenment project. If one were to so argue, I would think that the equivocation clarification again comes into play. It may be true that Aquinas was extremely rational, but one simply cannot level the charge of “rationalistic” against him. Even though Aquinas had his “Five Ways” (the five arguments for the existence of God based on general revelation), he was also clear about the mystery of specific revelation. So again, Medieval theology may have been deliberately rational, but it was not in step with Rationalism.

The Emergent Church, Apologetics and Stanley Grenz: Pt 3

Part 1 Part 2

Grenz noted:

This strategy shows how scientific findings support or even confirm the truths of Christianity.

Concerning using modern science to confirm the claims of Christianity, at least the ones that can be, I think there are at least two things to say in response to Grenz’s claim. First, that kind of project simply seems like a responsible reaction to scientific advancements. There are many in the scientific and philosophical communities who utilize their interpretations of scientific advancement against the truth of Christian claims; so what exactly makes countering that trend an incorrect or invalid approach?

Secondly, and more deeply perhaps, is the doctrine of the Unity of Truth. This is a doctrine understood and explicated since the earliest of Christian writers which states that “all truth is God’s truth.” In other words, if God exists and he is who he says he is, then any and every thing which is actually true is a result of God’s nature and creative work. Therefore, the truths about scientific advancements and findings will simply be a result of God’s handiwork. So it seems not only reasonable to do what Grenz apparently derides, but it could be described as an act of worship.

Ultimately, I think the typical EC/postmodern argument against traditional apologetics is based on some faulty premises. First, it is not true that evidentialist apologetics are based on the same Rationalism as many portions of the Enlightenment. Secondly, it is not true that there is no place for traditional apologetics in our postmodern world. (I have dealt with this in other posts, and Grenz admits in the article that there are still moderns in our culture who will respond to rational argumentation.) Thirdly, it is not true that utilizing reason is the same as admitting to a philosophy of Rationalism. I firmly believe that God’s command to love him with all our minds includes the application of the gift of reason.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Intelligent Design in the Public Square: Op-Ed Piece and Responses

In the interest of being on the cutting edge of the news from three weeks ago, I have complied a few thoughts on Behe’s Op-Ed piece in the NY Times, or more appropriately the responses. The article has apparently been archived on the Time page, but the whole thing can be found elsewhere. There are also several blogs that watch the ID movement which have lent their $.02. (here here here)

Behe’s article itself is relatively modest. It strives to delineate four major claims of ID and educate people about what the science is and is not about. Most importantly, given the political atmosphere today, he claims that ID makes no overt claims about religion. I have pointed to this fact in greater detail in another post. Francis Beckwith, for instance, has produced and explanation of ID in purely scientific and falsifiable terms.

In the responses, we find many of the misunderstandings and misrepresentations Behe was trying to clear up. It still surprises me how many people don’t seem to want to handle the science of ID, and rather head to the ad hominum attacks or claim some form of separation of church and state and then ignore the science of their ID interlocutors. Here are a few snippets from the responses and a few thoughts.

"Design will be a real science when we have testable answers for these questions."

Testability is a squirrelly and difficult concept to hide behind. Many will argue that there is little in traditional evolutionary theory that is testable either. How do you test fossils? You might look at them and analyze them looking for transitional species, but that hasn’t produced any results, and it certainly is not “testability” in the same way combining two chemicals in a test tube is. How do you test a spontaneous generation to the universe? It can be hypothesized and possibly modeled, but again, it is not a traditionally “testable” or repeatable event.

On the other hand, if we do consider mathematical models and hypotheses as within the scope of “testing,” then ID produces plenty of testable concepts-specified complexity and irreducible complexity among the more important ones.

"Assertions about intelligent design fall into an area of faith and belief outside the scope of science." The writer is chairwoman of the department of anthropology, University of Delaware.

If you don’t like ‘em, categorize ‘em and marginalize ‘em. Good tactic.

"I must have missed the concept of "if it looks, walks and quacks like a duck, then, absent compelling evidence to the contrary, we have warrant to conclude it's a duck" in my studies of the scientific method." The writer is a research assistant professor, Laboratory of Molecular Cell Biology, Rockefeller University.

Apparently he did miss that one class on inductive logic. I wonder if the writer is aware of the epistemic concept of warrant and the inductive process of evidence lending weight to a conclusion/hypothesis?

"Michael J. Behe demonstrates why the so-called theory of intelligent design should stay out of our science classrooms. His claims of physical evidence are spurious. We see clocks and outboard motors in cells not because they are clocks and motors, but because we have no better analogy."

If we have no better analogy, then what would the naturalistic conclusion be?

Additionally, it is not that the point is that they are clocks and motors, but that they share some very important properties, namely intelligent design. Don’t get hung up on clocks, motors and mouse traps; get hung up on the directed assemblage of pieces to a useful end.

And finally:

"But the designer, whoever she may be, must surely be infinitely more complex than the products of her creations. One then wonders who designed the designer. And that line of questioning never ends. Nor does the ultimate mystery."

Classic philosophical difference. When speaking of an ultimate being who has all great making properties, by definition, that being is necessary and not contingent. In other words, it holds existence as a necessary property and therefore exists necessarily and was not designed or created by any other thing or being.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Links Sans Context 2.15.05

Pastor Steve has a cool series going at his blog, Out In The Sticks. When is the last time we seriously dealt with the difficult passages in Scripture? Here Here Here

The Dawn Treader wraps up his conversation with a lost boy.

The Huntington Apologetics team makes an important distinction about judging.

Rusty continues to write cogently and effectively about Intelligent Design.

Three new blogs from the editors of Crux Magazine:
Signs of the Times
Situation Critical
Sci-Phi (I wish I were that creative...)

The Knowledge Argument, Part 1

An important component to the Christian worldview philosophically speaking is the notion that naturalism/physicalism/materialism is false. These monikers denote the idea that physical facts are all that exist-that atoms and the void comprise the bottom level explanation for everything. Clearly, if God exists and if humans have eternal souls not identical to their physical bodies, then these philosophies should be false.

Enter one of the more trafficked arguments against physicalism. The “Knowledge Argument” as it is sometimes called is deceptively simple and carries a fair deal of intuitive weight. It claims to show that a person can learn all the physical facts about the universe and still not know everything there is to know. In other words, there are facts about the universe that are not reducible to physical bits of knowledge. Here is a version of the argument along with a friend’s explanation of the thought experiment behind it. (I take full responsibility for any and all misrepresentations and so forth...)

We have poor Mary, an uber-brilliant neuroscientist who, from birth on, is confined to a black and white room in which she receives instruction and tutoring (by TV, radio, books, etc. - all in black and white). These lessons teach her all about physics - that is, she comes eventually to learn everything there is to know about physical facts. Or to put it differently, at a certain point in time, Mary knows all physical facts.

Now physicalism is the (ontological) thesis that everything that exists is physical. Or to put it differently, physicalism says that all facts are physical facts. Given the thought-experimental setup, we've stipulated that Mary has learn all the physical facts (according to an "ideally completed" physics, some years in the future). A fortiori, Mary knows all the facts.

Once she's done learning all of (an ideally completed) physics, Mary is released from the room (free at last!) Soon thereafter she encounters a bright red flower (or tomato, etc.). Mary exclaims "WOW! So THAT'S what it's like to see red!" It seems Mary has learned something new. But if Mary knew all the physical facts already, and if physicalism states that all facts are physical facts, then Mary coming to learn an additional fact - what the experience of red looks like - implies physicalism is false. Some facts are not physical facts (e.g. this new "phenomenal" fact Mary comes to know), so physicalism is false.

[Assumption: physicalism says all facts are physical facts; assume the facts stipulated in the Mary scenario]

Premise 1: Before leaving the room, Mary knows all the physical facts
Premise 2: After leaving the room, Mary learns a new fact
Conclusion: Therefore, not all facts are physical facts; Therefore, physicalism is false.

As I mentioned earlier, this argument carries a lot of intuitive weight (which typically counts for something in the philosophical world), but there are a few counter arguments. I will list those in my next post on this subject, but at this point I want to raise some other thoughts.

I have liked the thrust of this argument since I first encountered it. It seems to me that there is an important difference between knowing the wavelength of the color red-being able to describe it mathematically-and being able to visually pick out a bright red flower. When we use the words “bright” and “red” for instance, do we have a wavelength equation in mind, or do we have an experience in mind? Physically both “bright” and “red” can be quantified scientifically, but the experience cannot be captured in the equations.

Another concept that might be helpful at this point is the “Identity of Indiscernibles.” This is a deceptively powerful axiom which states that if two described things have all the same properties, then they are not two, but one. (The common response at this point is, “No duh.”) The present import of this idea comes to bear when we ask the question, "do the mathematical equations of 'bright red' have all and only the same properties as the experience of 'bright red'?" According to what we have seen thus far, they do not, and therefore, they are not the same thing.

Vox Apologia Is Up

The latest Vox Apologia is up at Wittenberg Gate. I didn't have a chance to contriubte this time, but there appears to be some quality contributions up on the post.

Have fun reading and responding!

The next VA will be held here-topic to be determined.

Friday, February 11, 2005

The Pope, Death and Dying

A recent column by William Buckley on the state and health of the Pope has recalled to mind the issues of death and dying, especially when it comes to extension of life technologies. Mr. Buckley provocatively asserts at the beginning of the essay that he is not praying for the Pope to live any longer. He concludes his essay with his explanation.

What to do includes clinging to the papacy as a full-time cripple, if medicine, which arrested death by only 10 minutes, can arrest death again for weeks and even months. But the progressive deterioration in the pope's health over the last several years confirms that there are yet things medical science can't do, and these include giving the pope the physical strength to coordinate and to use his voice intelligibly.

So, what is wrong with praying for his death? For relief from his manifest sufferings?

Please note that Mr. Buckley is a good and outspoken Catholic, and has no ill-will for the Pope. His point is that the best course of action for the Pope and the Papacy at this point may be no extreme medical action at all.

It has been noted by several in the last few years that if it were not for recent medical technologies, the Pope probably would have passed a long time ago. Not too recently there was talk of picking a successor while he was still alive and on the papal throne out of concern for the toll Parkinson’s would have on his mental capacity. This kind of concern is a uniquely recent development.

We are able, given medical and biotechnological advances, to extend life beyond what might be termed a “natural” point. As a friend, as a pastor, and as a grandson, I have witnessed people torn over the decisions of medical treatment and hospice when a loved one’s life is clearly near the end. One friend darkly joked that his decision would have been much easier (and certainly less expensive) one hundred years ago; “We just would have put him out to pasture.”

I attended a conference recently where the director of bioethics for a major evangelical parachurch ministry unequivocally noted that one of the benefits of technological advance is longer and healthier life. I think that deserves a little attention.

I agree that one of the clear benefits of biotechnology is health-I am personally counting on science to save me from diseases such as Alzheimer’s. The current situation with the Pope, however, provides us with a possible example of life extending technologies not being an unqualified good. We might be up against a wall that will be difficult, if not impossible, to overcome-the inevitability of aging and decay. There are two important and conflicting forces at play when we decide to extend life beyond what may be “natural.” On the one hand is the inevitable fact that as we age we decay and deteriorate physically, and on the other hand are technologies which seek to extend physical life. In other words, the promise of life extending technologies is that we will lead longer lives healthier-we will be younger longer. But the reality at this point is that we lead longer lives without our health-we are older longer.

Is that really what we are after? Of course not. Admittedly, there might just come a time when someone somewhere discovers how to “turn off” an aging gene or set of genes, and we will, in fact, live longer younger. But by that point, other considerations will come into play. For instance, in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, there were those among the Yahoos who lived forever and instead of their lives being rich, full and amazing, they were the creatures to be pitied.

The speaker at the conference I mentioned above did say something fairly profound which has stuck with me. She noted that bioethics is a prayer asking God into our suffering. While the promises of biotechnology continue to swirl, this is the kind of focus that will be of real benefit to people spiritually. If we are able to conform our theology and our own spiritual lives around God-in-suffering, then we will have reached a point far beyond the promises of mere medical science.

Mr. Buckley closed with this quote from Muriel Spark:

When a noble life has prepared old age, it is not decline that it reveals, but the first days of immortality.

Lord may it be.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Links Sans Context 2.08.05

Jeff over at Dawn Treader has been doing us all a favor by blogging. He has a two part series (so far) on his discussion with a Sudaneese refuge. A fasinating and necessary read. Here Here

He is also a part of an interesting new project called Christian Cadre. He posted some thoughts on emergent properties recently.

Between Two Worlds recently posted some findings concerning the popular views on happiness and self-worth. It contains this salient quote from Al Mohler:

"The Christian worldview completely reverses this cycle. The Christian finds satisfaction, not in a sense of self-worth, but in knowing the one true and living God. Human beings are indeed made in God's image, and every single human life is thus worthy of respect and dignity. Nevertheless, the gospel makes clear that the Christian's identity is found in Christ--not in the self."

Then for the ID enthusiasts, Michael Behe has made a wave or two in the NY Times.

ETC Redux:
A while ago I posted a series of thoughts based on Chesterton's Heretics. One of those posts had to do with the popular notion that to disagree with someone, espeically on a moral level, is to hate them as a person. I could not disagree more, and I was glad to find that Chesterton agreed with me (or maybe it was the other way around). You can find the post here.

Outdated ideas are so...outdated!

A friend of mine sent me the information on this upcomming debate. Some of you might actually get a chance to check it out, but I wanted to pass it along to note the pair of arguments represented. As many of you know, Bishop Spong is a standard-bearer for the Jesus Seminar, and Craig is a leading Christian philosopher and apologist. Note especially the cool, non-emotive language used to describe Spong's position. (I have no way of knowing if Spong penned this description or if some grad student did.)

The Great Resurrection Debate

Bethel College and the Division of Religion and Philosophy are hosting a debate between Dr. William Lane Craig and Bishop John Shelby Spong on the meaning of the resurrection of Jesus. Dr. Craig will make the case, based on historical evidence, that Jesus literally rose from the dead. Bishop Spong will argue that the literal resurrection is a myth and that it is outdated, barbaric, and in need of a new interpretation.

The debate will be held on Palm Sunday (the week before Easter), March 20, at 6 p.m. in the Everest-Rohrer Chapel/Fine Arts Center. It will also bebroadcast live, via satellite, across North America through the CCN satellite network.

Being outdated is always a good reason to disbelieve something, as in, "boy, gravity sure is outdated!", or "man, grandpa sure is outdated!"

I made the point recently in a Bible study that we as a culture have an innate and almost unshakeable sense that if something is new, then it has to be better than whatever it was replacing. Old=bad, New=good! Os Guiness called this attitude "chronological snobbery."

Monday, February 07, 2005

Links Sans Context 2.07.05

Here are a few gleanings from the blogosphere today:

The Counter Cult Blog has a great set of resources regarding the Joel Osteen controversy.

Dory at Wittenberg Gate is announcing the next Vox Apologia.

The current Vox Apologia is up at firstpete3:15.

21st Century Reformation has some great thoughts in a post called "Blogging on Blogging." Content is a good thing!

ETC Redux:
Since blogging is an inherently narcissistic activity, I will probably add a link to an old post of mine from time to time that seems relevant or received some interesting notice.

A while ago I blogged about Justice Scalia and Religion in the Public Square. The comments included some semi-flaming from my favorite, anonymous atheist.

Worship and Church Pressures

Mere Comments has been dealing with the topic of worship recently, and while I am not part of a liturgical tradition, I have found a great deal of what has been said to be helpful and certainly insightful. Below I have quoted from one of their posts in length due to the train of thought contained in the passage as well as the importance of what they are saying for the evangelical church.

As an evangelical pastor I can attest to the fact that there is always the pressure, either overtly or covertly, to grow a church. Clearly large churches can be God’s will for many congregations, but what I find important about this pressure is that it is far more prevalent than the pressure to be a good, or doctrinally accurate, or deep pastor. As the following passage rightly notes, no humble and behind-the-scenes pastor of a small, non-expanding church is ever seen as successful, and thus as a model for emulation. I am afraid we are becoming (have become?) captive to a “size equals success” mentality which may work great for capitalistic business ventures, but really has no place, as a philosophy, in the church.

The following passage was written my M. Hutchens. Enjoy:

The practical measure of a pastor’s success among pastors is the size of his congregation. This is especially true among conservatives, the liberals, whose theology is killing their churches, having for the most part given up on it. Faithfulness, however, which is God’s measure of a man, does not translate directly into numbers, and pastors of un-large or un-growing congregations, who may be admitted in theory to be great and godly men, have little visible proof of their worth. They are not asked to speak at the conferences. They do not write slick little books on how to do ministry. They do not hold court in assemblies of their peers. The presumption that a large church is a sign of God’s favor (which it may be) is far, far stronger than the leveling suspicion that it might just as well be the sign of a Judas who has bargained away his Lord for an ephemeral reward, or an unjust steward, or a con-artist, or simply a talented showman.

Nor, in this context, is the question often raised of to what degree doing the right thing will make a man popular or expand the boundaries of his ministry. I know an Evangelical pastor who has made a strong attempt to moderate and control the runaway praise service, and he, one of the finest preachers I know, whose church has an ample and varied music ministry, has lost a third or more of his congregation to the far more exciting local megachurch, “where the action is.” A loss from Gideon’s army, perhaps, but readers will understand I think something is wrong here.

Having a service in good order does not secure the favor of the God who looks upon the heart, nor does silliness or confusion drive him away. But he calls upon us to seek and secure the good, true, and beautiful, to worship him in the beauty of a holiness to which sinners must learn to conform. While the reactions of those outside the Christian communion to its worship are to be considered, their understanding or appreciation can never be a principal goal or concern—it will always be a by-product of worship that must involve difficulties for them, not only because it will inevitably contain hard or unwelcome teaching, but because they cannot take part in its central Act. These are unavoidable facts of Christian worship, which cannot therefore be “seeker friendly” in the way this is customarily understood, and at the same time “worship.” Christian worship is not for seekers; it is, at its center, for believers only. It cannot avoid becoming malformed as such if it is designed around the perceived needs of others.

The actions of Christian worship are the actions toward God of Christians, that is, of the Church, and cannot take place properly outside the life of the Church as a universal, historical, theological, pastorally-ordered communion that is in its present form nearly two thousand years old. One cannot, in the name of the Spirit, do anything “new” in the way this term is customarily used among us, for the Spirit of God is not only new, but old, his newness and oldness being one, and not in contradiction.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Some More Thinking On Joel Osteen

Joshua over at Razor's Kiss has done his homework on one of the latest faces of popular evalgelicalism and has his thoughts posted here. Great job, Joshua!

Paul warned his readers over and over to test doctrine and not accept it if "even if we or an angel from heaven" should show up and teach something different. Joel Osteen has a huge church, a far-reaching TV ministry, and a best selling book. To far too many Christians, this equates to doctrinal purity.

Here is a snippit of Joshua's conclusion:

THAT is what is dangerous. If he will not stand for doctrinal meat, if he skips over doctrinal “hard topics", and he fails to teach, and only exhorts on a superficial level - he is failing in his calling. To teach the word of God, you need to rightly divide the Word of Truth. Which, incidentally, means dividing all of it. If he skips the meat, and stays with the milk, he will create a generation of spiritual infants, who teach other spiritual infants. Never will they grow up, and be “equipped” to fight the battle against the “principalities, and powers of this world".

This is a problem. Joel, as I read him, definitely preaches the Bible. Unfortunately - he is too centered on himself, on “the power of thinking", and on “faith healing". Too much concentration on “the power of faith".

Happy reading.

Thinking about World Religions

There is an interesting new resource in the world of apologetics blogging. The Counter-Cult Blog is a resource dedicated to apologetic work in the area of world religions and cults. This post is something I submitted to the blog. Swing by and check it out-it promises to be a growing and useful repository of information.

I have also sent this post to Vox Apologia IV being hosted at
FirstPeter3:15. There should be some great submissions listed there as well.

It is becoming more and more commonplace to view all world religions as basically the same. It is fashionable to believe that they all teach the same things, that their adherents all believe in the same god, and that all sincere believers wind up in paradise, utopia, heaven, or take your pick. Unfortunately, when one takes a closer look at the details, that belief simply can’t be true. What follows is a set of guidelines useful in thinking about world religions and human spirituality.

First, many use the fact that humanity through the ages and across all cultural lines has had some kind of religious drive in order to argue that all religions are basically the same. Every culture everywhere has believed in some kind of supernatural being and afterlife. Upon closer inspection, though, we will notice that some very important details rise to the surface. No major, historical world religion believes all major religions are basically the same. In other words, they all take themselves and their claims seriously and they do not teach that another religion, which might teach that god or the supernatural is something different, is just like they are. Regardless of what the Americanized version of, say, Hinduism or Zen is, neither teach that ultimate reality is both personal and nonpersonal at the same time, or that god is both separate from and the same as nature all at the same time. Only corrupted versions of these and other religions teach things like that.

A better way of understanding humanity’s innate drive toward the religious is not the see all religions as the same, it is to recognize the reality of some supernatural truth.

Contradictory statements cannot both be true in the same way at the same time-even if they are about religious beliefs. For several reasons many people have bought the notion that scientific statements and religious statements are not in the same category in the sense that scientific statements are about the real world and have truth value and religious statements are about subjective feelings and do not have truth value in the real world. On the contrary, the Christian belief, “God exists,” is a claim on reality and is either true or false. That statement is not reducible to “God exists for me.” Those are two different assertions making claims on two sets of things-objective reality and some individual.

So, if Islam claims, “God is One,” and Christianity claims, “God is Triune,” both cannot have the same truth value (in reality) just as "1=3" is false. Additionally, if Buddhism claims, “Salvation is through enlightenment,” and Christianity claims, “Salvation is by grace through faith,” both cannot have the same truth value just as “apples are fire trucks” is false.

It may not be popular to believe that only one thing can be true in a sea of falsehoods, but clear thinking and simple logic teaches us that it is true. That most religions teach that there is a supreme being is not proof that they all teach about the same supreme being, it is, instead, proof that there might just be some kind of supreme being.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Stem Cell Update: Adult Stem Cell Pluripotency?

There have been some recent updates in the world of adult stem cells and their usefulness. The issue of pluripotency is being addressed by researchers in their use of adult stem cells (thanks to Catez for the clarification on pluripotency and its importance to this issue!). Pluripotency is the ability of a stem cell to morph into other kinds of cells and thus have a wider array of applications. It has been thought from the beginning that embryonic stem cells have a (possibly) universal pluripotency, while adult stem cells have little to none. If it could be shown that adult stem cells taken from, say, a spinal cord, could be used to treat various kinds of tissues, it would be quite a breakthrough for its usage.

Such things are beginning to take place. From the
Boston Herald, we get this information:

In the Hub study, researchers extracted stem cells from human bone marrow and transplanted them into damaged rat hearts.

``We found that adult human bone marrow contains cells that are capable of differentiating into muscle cells and cells that form new blood vessels, which are the two principle things that are damaged during heart attack,'' Losordo said.

There is a degree of hesitation at this point from some circles:

One stem-cell researcher who reviewed the findings, published in yesterday's issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation, said he's not ``convinced that it is a bona fide stem cell.''
``I don't think it's a huge breakthrough,'' said Dr. Evan Snyder…

A couple of days later from Catholic World News, we get a more positive assessment of the experiment:

A type of adult stem cell has been isolated from bone marrow that shows all the characteristics of human embryonic stem cells. A team of researchers at Boston's Tufts University have found cells that come from adult donors that can change into many, if not all, of the different types of tissue in the human body. It was previously thought that only embryonic cells could produce these.

Given the advances of adult stem cell therapy (along with how far it may still need to go) combined with the ethical black holes involved with embryonic stem cell research, it is good to read lines like this from time to time:

Tufts cardiologist Dr. Douglas W. Losordo said, "I think embryonic stem cells are going to fade in the rearview mirror of adult stem cells." He said that bone marrow "is like a repair kit. Nature provided us with these tools to repair organ damage."

As always, blogicus is a great source for this information and a lot of the up-to-date findings.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Where the Emergent Church is Going Right

I realize that my criticisms of the EC can make it look as if I am a curmudgeon when it comes to the movement, and that I have nothing good to say about it. While I have plenty of concerns, which you can find at any one of my other EC posts, I feel like it would be good form to post some of the areas in which I agree-all of my agreements and disagreements are mere opinion anyway. Not only will this aid in any discussion that is generated on this blog, but it will help me formulate and express a more charitable view of some of my fellow pastors and church leaders. Regardless of what this list does for any reader, it will benefit me and my future formulations.

Keen Grasp of the Pomo Culture

Whether people like it or not, postmodernism really does have a grasp on a sizeable chunk of our society. The EC movement is keenly aware of the moral and religious relativism that results, and is bent on reaching these people for Christ. Understanding our culture is key to reaching it.

Strains of Worship Renewal

I have always been a fan of the Ancient-Future movement, which is sometimes seen as a sub-movement of the EC in general. There is in this wave of church thought the drive to return to a Christ-centered worship that emphasizes the glory and centrality of God over the individualism that is sometimes rampant in the evangelical church. The move to a more liturgical form of religious observance recognizes the benefits in ordering our lives according to our faith more than our consumer culture, and that can only be a good thing for the souls of American Christians.

One piece of McLaren’s writing that I have appreciated was an article written to worship leaders and song writers that appears to have disappeared from the net (at least when I returned to the links I knew of, it had been taken down). In it he challenged song writers to refocus their attention on the greatness and glory of God and take it off of our emotional wants and needs. He recognized in his article, and rightly so in my opinion, that most of the songs that get sung in the average evangelical church simply don’t give appropriate place to God.

Critique of the Consumer Culture

This is an extension of the last two points, but the attention that it is given in the EC movement deserves notice. Consumerism has a way of disconnecting us from the deepest and most important needs of our souls by filling us up and blurring our vision with a million smaller, and much less important, things. We are far too able to buy our way out of feeling a need for repentance, redemption, and so forth. The EC movement recognizes this and is making a stand against it in the evangelical church. We need our prophets to stand in and outside of our culture at the same time and warn us of where we are going wrong.

This is a short list, I know, and it is this way only due to my own time constraints. I have written in the past that there is a “battle” for the Emergent church, and since then I have been formulating what might be considered a constructive contribution to the fray. If I have a chance to put down something that is substantial and helpful, then I certainly will do so out of my desire to see the future of the evangelical church, whatever the label is, succeed.

Happy reading.

New Link for N.T. Wright

I have added the first new link in a while to the "Christian Philosophy and Philosophers" section on the sidebar. The link will take you to a site that collects papers and audio/video from one of the leading NT scholars alive today - N.T. Wright.

I encourage you to check it out.

Thanks to Mere Comments for the link.

Update: As Joshua has reminded me (in the comments) there is a caveat emptor with N.T Wright. One should at least know that his view on Paul's teachings on justification is controversial at the least.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

How Far Does Tenure Protection Extend?

In case you have not heard about the ruckus caused by University of Colorado’s Professor Ward Churchill, you can catch up on his views here. If you have the time and the inclination, you can read his entire article here. Much of the controversy that has resulted from his comments about 9/11 surround the pressures between firing the professor and the protection of his tenure.

The Philosophy department at CU Boulder has released a statement concerning the protection of his tenure:

The recent controversy over Ward Churchill's essay should not obscurethe fact that the precise purpose of the tenure system is to secure theability of university professors to argue the most unpopular of cases,in the face of the most heated public sentiment. We urge the Regents tohonor that system in its consideration of this case, and not to take anyaction that would threaten Professor Churchill's job or chill the freeexpression of thought that is so vital within a university community.

So, what exactly does and does not tenure protect? Many have found Churchill’s statements morally abhorrent, but they are on the loosing end of the current political and academic climate. What if his comments had been along the lines of, “all women should be raped”? Would his tenure protect him then?

I don’t know quite what to think about the entire situation-specifically what the protection of tenure does or should do. Please chime in with your take on this issue, and if you have direct knowledge of the ins and outs of tenure protection, please pass them on!

If you are interested in a response to Churchill's claim that the U.S. is morally, and thus, causally responsible for 9/11, see this critique at The Conservative Philosopher.

The Open-Minded Emergent Church

Time Magazine issued its list of the 25 most influential evangelicals recently, and as a result, Larry King hosted a discussion between the LaHayes, Franklin Graham, T.D. Jakes, and Brian McLaren. The interview transcript is interesting on the whole for all kinds of reasons (not the least of which is King’s utter inability to think his way out of a wet paper sack). But one of the things which struck me most was McLaren’s seemingly unshakeable urge to be an open-minded evangelical. I have read this kind of thing over and over in his articles and books, but those are planned and edited, so I think they can sometimes be given a good deal of charity in their interpretation. But when he was faced with a national audience and direct questions which touched on doctrinal issues, he responded in the same, open-minded and noncommittal way.

I continue to worry about the lack of doctrinal boundaries in the Emergent Church movement. When the primary goal is open-minded compassion, then too many foundational issues get thrown out the window. In the words of the greatest Christian rock artist in the last three decades, “are you so open-minded/that your brain leaked out?”

Here is one important exchange and then the result in the perception of the viewers a little later in the interview:

CALLER: I was raised in the Christian faith, and I also happen to be a gay man. And I just heard one of your panel members say that there's no hatred towards the gay community, but that's not how I see it. All I see is hate. And didn't Jesus preach love? Aren't we to love one another?

KING: Brian.

MCLAREN: Yeah, I am very sympathetic with your call. I see, even though we might say that people don't individually hate, the language of culture wars -- war is a hate word. So I think we've got to get away from that kind of language. And I think one of the greatest things that Christians can do, especially Christians with the name evangelical, would be to start making some friends and invite their neighbors over, and get to know someone who's gay, get to know someone who's very different. And not to just fix them or argue with them, but really to understand them as a neighbor.

And then a little later, this call came in:

CALLER: Good evening, Larry. Good evening to your panel. I would like to preface my comment to Mrs. LaHaye by saying that I highly respect Reverend Jakes and Mr. McLaren because they seem to be the most compassionate, understanding and open-minded of the evangelicals. Mrs. LaHaye, with regard to abortion, I'd like to tell you that you cannot legislate morality….

Notice how the LaHayes (King’s whipping boy and girl) were immediately identified with a doctrinal stance and how McLaren was unequivocally identified with the non-doctrinal stance.

McLaren emphasized over and over the need to understand each other and love people, and all of that is right and good, but he couldn’t make a stand on orthodox doctrine when he was give a chance to at least twice. (Earlier in the interview McLaren was asked about sin, and he didn’t say anything about sin in his response.) The most loving and understanding thing we can do is love the sinner and hate the sin-but that involves hating the sinful actions that people engage in.

Being open-minded to the point where your listeners and readers feel fine about their lifestyle is a kind of profound neglect. Granted the line where we actually love people and hate sin is a hard one to find most of the time, but it is necessary that we find it.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Important Critical Thoughts on Joel Osteen

Michael Spencer: Outing Joel Osteen: A Challenge to the Evangelical Blogosphere

This is some important information and criticism of one of the leading characters in the evangelical movement. As the author in this blog notes, we cannot let this kind of teacher rise to prominence without raising a rucus. It makes for a good, and thought-provoking read.

Thanks to Jollyblogger for the notice.

Evolution Textbook Sticker

Sticker Shock by Francis Beckwith

This article by Francis Beckwith provides some insight into and critical analysis of the court's decision that the infamous "Evolution Sticker" in textbooks was unconstitutional. In case you haven't run across this sticker, it was placed in some biology text books in a public school system in Georgia and read:

This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered.

A couple of Beckwith's comments:

That’s too bad. [The unconstitutional ruling] The issues raised by this case go beyond the value of one little label. While the Cobb County sticker has its problems, what is far more troubling is how the court’s analysis unfairly limits the rights of religious citizens to participate in the political process.

Their real purpose is quite modest (and entirely constitutional): They want public schools to teach the children of their community that it is rationally permissible to entertain doubts that materialism is the whole story of the order and nature of things.

For some more information on the constitutionality of teaching something other than materialistic Darwinism in schools, see this post.