Thursday, December 10, 2015

At Advent May We Never Fail To Be Thankful

Trafalgar Square Tree

While preparing for Advent this week I ran across this beautiful story I had never heard before. Every year Norway sends a tree - a huge tree often groomed for years - to England to say thank you for their role in preserving and liberating their nation during WWII. For years they waited under tyranny for their freedom to come, and once it did they have never failed to say thank you.

During Advent we are reminded that we wait in the now and not-yet. Our world is broken and full of sin, but the Messiah has come. Abundant life and freedom have been given to whosoever believes in him for this life now. Jesus the King was born. And yet we still wait for the complete coming of his kingdom when he will reign in righteousness and justice, and of his peace there will be no end.

Advent allows us to never fail to be thankful for what has been given, and what is promised and sure to come.

HT: Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics, The Time Is Now

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Links with Little Context

Bedeviled by my Wife's Dementia
By Douglas Groothuis
"Through these trials, Becky struggled to write and edit. As her health declined, each work became more difficult than the previous one. After writing two books, she labored for four years co-editing a major work on the theology of gender, contributing a long and carefully argued chapter. That was the last thing she wrote for publication. But page after page of my writing—books, reviews, essays, and academic papers—were marked by her corrections, questions, and deletions. We seldom argued over any of it. She made my work better, and we both knew it. Only God, Becky, and I know how much of her wisdom is woven into my work.

But she did not edit this essay."

Perception and the Cartesian Theater
by Michael Egnor
[Warning: Philosophy Ahead. Materialist and non-Materialist philosophies make a difference.]

"Locating perception in the sense organs and/or in the brain is a central fallacy of modern neuroscience and philosophy of mind. The study of perception -- central to cognitive science -- is itself unmoored from reality by the implicit or explicit presumption of the Cartesian theater. A scientist trapped in a Cartesian theater can have no sure knowledge of external reality, which is the very object of science, and even the study of the Cartesian theater itself entails merely an infinite regress of Cartesian theaters, a Lowes multiplex of subjectivity and exclusion from reality."

How Yale University Became a Savage, Bigoted Tribe
by John Zmirak

"America is ruled by a political and media elite that takes as self-evident truths a long list of outrageous fallacies. Like post-hypnotic suggestions, these false beliefs linger beneath the surface of lazy minds. They wouldn’t withstand ten minutes of sustained intellectual argument. Luckily for them, they’ll never have to. These cobbled-together opinions aren’t passed on through reasoned discourse, and rarely have to make their way through the rational sieve of the mind. Instead, they travel from person to person on a transmission belt of fashionable sentiment and self-congratulation, attracting new subscribers by dangling the hope of membership in a self-selected elite of “decent” people who hold “enlightened” ideas that make them sophisticated and praiseworthy. These views lurk in bumper stickers and status updates, are transmitted in winks and nods, retweets and likes, rarely brushing against the sharp edge of opposition. When you dare to contradict such a precept, its believer won’t hunker down to engage you. He’ll roll his eyes, nod condescendingly, and silently cross your name off his “list” of respectable human beings. The dialogue ends there."

Monday, December 07, 2015

Like a Tree Planted by Streams of Living Water

What a cacophony of pressures is the pastor’s life! What a job exposed to the conflicting expectations of people whose whims and moods change! What a vocation where many of the best-selling authors write books about “leadership” and volunteer management as though they were writing a manual for an international conglomerate of toothpaste makers, and simultaneously the prophets warn against such crass reductionism of the pastoral task.

The moment a pastor feels at ease with the prophet’s words, the pressures of week to week volunteer management and “leadership” raise their heads. It’s like a never-ending game of whack-a-mole against Cerberus.

I want to pastor souls and see humans made in God’s image grow in that image. I want to see them find healing – deep, real healing like they cannot get anywhere else but in Christ. I want to disciple and pray for people. I am unwaveringly committed to expositing Scripture every change I get while the “bigger” church across the way has chosen to use Star Wars for their Advent series. Seriously. I want to apply my vocation in the ways I believe Scripture lays it out for shepherds of souls, but some of those souls are rarely around. And when I come into contact with them, many are far too happy for a glancing conversation and empty promises.

Even when I feel like I know what a pastor is supposed to do, don’t I need others to know as well so we can get along doing God’s work together? Should I be concerned about that? If they don’t know, is that my fault?

I grow more and more convinced of the necessity of the Church’s role in our world as the bearer of the knowledge of God – both in what we talk about when we are together and how we live our lives. But very few seem similarly convinced. And I mean pastors and churches. Should I be concerned about that? Is it even my job to be concerned about that?

I will wake up striving to be at ease in the sovereign grace of God instead of trying to make myself at ease with my ability to manipulate people, programs, or budgets. I will pray more. I am more and more thankful for faithfulness and endurance when I see it. I am more and more thankful all the time for God’s great gifts of family and friends.

This Advent I will meditate on what it means to wait on and work for an all-good, all-benevolent, and all-powerful promise fulfiller.

I want to be like the tree planted by the streams of living water whose leaves never wither and who bears his fruit in his season.

Saturday, December 05, 2015

One of the World's Great Cataclysms Produced Two of its Great Authors

I read a lot of books. I read a lot of history, theology, biography, and philosophy. I cannot remember the last time I wanted a book to be longer that it was, but that is what happened to me in the last pages of Laconte's book. I believe the most useful kind of biography is one that pays careful attention to the history of ideas passing through the life of the subject. This means a good biography will not only mention historical and philosophical context, but find significant ways to relate it to what happened in the life or lives under scrutiny. This book does a marvelous job of doing just that.

I found myself overwhelmed with Laconte's description of the setting leading up to the Great War and the blood-letting facts of the War itself. It does not take much effort to overwhelm an attentive reader with the horrors of the world's first mechanized and modern war, but Laconte does a wonderful job of laying just enough groundwork to let the reader understand what it would mean for both Tolkien and Lewis to have been in the thick of some of the worst fighting. The Western world was awash in trust in the progress of humanity and all that we could achieve under our own steam when the War To End All Wars turned that optimism into deep and abiding pessimism at what humans are capable to doing to each other.

So, how do two of the English language's greatest authors not succumb to that humanistic nihilism, and instead turn to the Christian faith and hope in their work? In many ways, this is the track of the book as Laconte traces their faith, their friendship, and their writing. Throughout the book, he is able to relate the realities of WWI to the themes and characters of Tolkien's and Lewis' works. Laconte discusses the much neglected topic of friendship through what is possibly the most literarily productive friendship in the 20th century. Both authors know loss and grief and fold those lessons inexorably into their fictional works. Both of them know what it costs to overcome evil and pursue the good. Both of them know how hope in Christ works in a world full of false hope in human progress. The battlefields of France shaped those characters and stories. Their friendship shaped each other's work. And their faith becomes stronger than the humanism all around them.

If this review was helpful, please say so on Amazon.

Friday, December 04, 2015

Opposing Evil is Hard. Sometimes, Very Hard.

If I name something as evil, a necessary corollary is the moral duty to oppose it.

When you name something as evil, that label comes with necessary moral obligations. Because of the very nature of evil, when you call something evil you are saying that it ought to be opposed where it can be, stopped when it can be, and that you will oppose and stop it where you have the ability to do so. This is an inherent and necessary moral obligation with evil. If you pick up a single coin it has two sides; if you name something evil and flip the coin over, the other face is the moral obligation to oppose it. It follows that the greater the evil, the greater the moral burden to oppose it. And it also follows that the greater the evil, the greater the possible cost at opposing it.

So, when a culture looks radical and murderous evil in the eye and cannot name it as evil, what is going on? Simultaneously, what is going on when a culture looks at an evil and mislabels it in the light of clear facts to the contrary?  The refusal to name it as evil is a sign of moral weakness or even turpitude. And over time the refusal to name real evils as evils turns into a corroded ethical system and becomes the inability to name real evils as evil.

Yet, the human is incapable of living in a world without recognizing some things as right and some things as wrong (it is simply the way we are created). So what does the person who is incapable of naming real evil do? They put the label of real evil on either minor evils or things that are not evil. This is one of the universal actions of the human intellect – we cannot avoid doing it no matter how tolerant we think we are – and it is the move that allows most of the great evils in human history to do the most damage. While the bull is charging the crowd, these folks would have us worried about the mouse in the corner.

For example, our current Federal Administration looks at the same evil we all do, perpetrated by Islamic radicals who (almost always) are heard yelling, “Allah is Great!” and hesitates to the point of foolishness to name it correctly. Two current favorite fallback positions are to call that kind of evil either “workplace violence” or “gun violence.”* The first fallback makes extraordinary evil seem common and easily done by any properly disgruntled employee, and the second is a self-serving political ploy. Both moves serve to distract millions from the root of the evil, and thus allow those in power to avoid dealing with the evil altogether. Simultaneously they raise other, much more debatable or minor evils, to the fore acting as if they have done something about terrorism by addressing their politically convenient evil while not actually doing anything about terrorism at all.

Take this one step further and we get what happens in parts of the cultural left. When Islamic radicals kill dozens of people, they step in front of cameras or turn to their keyboards and say that Christians are as dangerous as Islamic radicals. No facts are given because no facts can possibly be given in support of such dangerous foolishness. In fact, lies are told to support this meme. Hitler was not a Christian. But now that we know how naming evil works, we know at least one reason why these people will stare at real, murderous evil, and name the peaceful among them, and even the victim, as evil. The cost of calling a Christian evil is far, far less than calling an Islamic terrorist evil. In fact, in Progressive, elitist circles, calling Christians evil is haute couture. You are the smart gal in the room if you manage to slip that socially acceptable lie into a conversation. If you want to fit in, why utter an unacceptable truth? (Another theory of mine – everything is high school. Peer pressure does just as much intellectual and moral damage in our 40s and 50s as it does in our teens, if not more.)

Part of the philosophical power of Christian theology is that it predicts this kind of behavior for us and thus helps us avoid it if we are wise. If we are conversant in our theology and reasonably faithful to it, we are not at all surprised that the human heart is capable of naming evil good and good evil. We are equally not surprised when humans are willing to make mincemeat of other, less fortunate, humans for personal gains in power. It is all there for the attentive mind to see. But if Christians are the bad guys, who wants to listen to them?  

*Talking about gun control and gun violence today is a very popular and hotly debated issue. It is true that evil and mentally unhinged people do violence with guns. But we need to be much more careful in our thinking than we typically are in this debate. Imagine a widget that, in the hands of craftsmen, does much good, but in the hands of cruel novices, does much damage. If we are smart, we would want to limit the use of that widget to craftsmen; the morally significant variable in the equation is not the widget but the person wielding it. It is no different with guns. We can have a legitimate debate about who ought to own guns and how, but to make guns the morally significant detail (and yes, often the only variable discussed), is to miss the point and to miss an opportunity to talk about where the evil really lies. It becomes a form of intellectual dishonesty, and in cases of real ideological evil, it becomes dangerous.