Saturday, July 30, 2005

Iraq's Problem with Pluralism

I don't know the solution. Religous pluralism is a hairy problem. The fascinating thing is to watch the same scenario America has wrestled with for years playing out in Iraq. Those currently in the majority (Shi'ite) would like a religious state, but the minority (Sunni) want a secular state.

In America, most Christians are not longing for theocracy, but I think many envision something like a national embracing of Judeo-Christian mores. Lowest-common-denominator values are an abysmal failure as a social experiment. That view produces a morality so thin, you couldn't even spread it on a cracker. The (legitmate) fear of disenfranchising a large number of Americans, however, keeps us from moving toward a clear and unified moral vision.

Iraq faces the same question. The deadline for the new constitution is swiftly approaching. If the Shi'tes, who hold a majority in parliament, vote for an Islamic state (of the Shi'ite flavor), they will alienate a huge segment of the population. If the Sunnis have their way, however, the religious character of the nation will be watered down to a mere shadow of Islam -- a result hardly palatable to a majority of Iraqis, in my understanding.

I'm not in favor of the creation of another Islamic state, per se, but I am very interested in the tension between religious pluralism and civil liberties. How will Iraq sort this out? How should they sort it out?
Thursday, July 28, 2005

The Fad-Driven Church

Reading some great posts by Joe Carter and Pyromaniac have inspired me. Joe and Pyro have pinpointed a nasty problem in evangelicalism today, and have skillfully played the role of critic. Here is an insightful quote from Pyromaniac lamenting the ubiquity of Christian fads :

Not one of those movements or programs even existed 35 years ago. Most of them would not have been dreamed of by evangelicals merely a generation ago. And, frankly, most of them will not last another generation. Some will last a few short months (like the Jabez phenomenon did); others may seem to dominate for several years but then die lingering deaths (like Bill Gothard's movement is doing). But they will all eventually fade and fall from significance. And some poor wholesale distributor will be left with warehouses full of Jabez junk, Weigh-Down Workshop paraphernalia, "What Would Jesus Do?" bracelets, Purpose-Driven® merchandise, and stacks and stacks of "emerging church" resources. . . Most of the stuff you are currently being told you must read and implement will soon seem as hopelessly out of date as it currently seems well-suited to the fashions of the day.

Amen. But, when the diatribe is done and the dust clouds have settled, what do we do?

Read old books.
Read old books?
That's it?
Yup. If you want to fortify yourself from the onslaught and allure of Christian fads, then read old books.
You mean like from the 80's?
The 1780's, maybe.
Oh. But those are hard to read.
Steak takes more work to eat than twinkies, too.

This is not original to me. Here are some choice nuggets from C.S. Lewis' essay "On the Reading of Old Books":

"A new book [or fad] is still on its trial and the amateur is not in a position to judge it. It has to be tested against the great body of Christian thought down the ages, and all its hidden implications (often unsuspected by the author himself) have to be brought to light."

"Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that
will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books."

"None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern [current] books. . . The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books."

Lewis even recommends that for every new book you read, you should read one old book. I think that prescription is expired. I recommend two old for every new book. That's what I usually try to do. Don't worry about staying "current." There are more "Christian" books published each month than there are people to read them. Ignore them. If you must read a new book, look for authors who have nourished themselves on the classics -- Dallas Willard, J.P. Moreland, Peter Kreeft, Os Guiness, R.C. Sproul, D.A. Carson, etc.

Maybe I'll post a "recommended reading" list sometime. Anyone interested?

("On the Reading of Old Books" is found in God in the Dock, 1970.)
Wednesday, July 27, 2005

New High-Priests of Evangelicalism

I recently read an excellent post by Mike Russel in which he points out a new trend within the evangelical church. I felt rather dull for failing to notice this myself. The observation is this: for the past decade or so, the high-priests of Christianity have been the psychologists and counselors -- Crabb, Cloud, Narramore, Allender, Dobson, etc. That ethos is shifting now, to philosophers. Here's how Mike put it:

Now the garb of high priesthood is being passed to another, perhaps more fitting group of Christian experts that appear to be poised to take the Christian community in a different direction. The new high priesthood, if I am correct, are those Christian philosophers who books are becoming more and more popular and whose voices are being heeded with greater and greater frequency.

It is an impressive group, including such solid thinkers as Willard, Moreland, Craig, Geisler, and Groothuis. There are many more. (The patron saint, arguably, is Alvin Plantinga, the Notre Dame professor of philosopy whom
Christianity Today stated was the leading philosopher - Christian or otherwise - of our day.) Whether intentionally or not, this group stands poised to assume the garments of high priesthood, thereby consummating an betrothal made decades ago with Francis Schaeffer.
As a disciples of these philosophers, I can say, "Amen." Now, don't get me wrong. I think I have all of Larry Crabb's books -- Inside Out changed my life. I would not want to see good Christian psychology tossed into the church's recycling bin. But the new guard of philosophers will be able to blaze trails that were simply inaccesible to others. They will bring a clarity and precision to Christian thought that is desperately needed.

In a very real sense, philosophers are better suited for this task than anyone. To be a philosopher is to be someone who thinks deeply about everything. Philosophers think about psychology, theology, spiritual formation, ecclesiology, academic integration, etc. Philosophers can help to make all these disciplines more proficient, more precise. Philosophers can help bring thinkers from all these various fields together, since philosophy is the foundation upon which they all rest.

Maybe you think this is all a bit premature. Maybe you think this shift is problematic. Let me know.
Sunday, July 10, 2005

Porn Star Spirituality

Christianity isn't something we do on Sunday. One of my greatest passions is helping people see that there is no division between "sacred" and "secular." Our faith should permeate every square inch of our lives. When I read the following story about porn star Mary Carey, it highlighted how desperately the church needs this kind of revolution.

"I read the Bible and pray every night," Carey told WorldNetDaily in an
exclusive interview. With a Lutheran grandmother, Carey says she
attended church regularly until the age of 12, and still considers herself a
Christian in spite of her occupation. "I probably have less sex with those guys
than any college girl [typically has]. It doesn't make me less moral," she said.
"I'm sure a lot of Christians have had sex before marriage. God reads my heart.
I'm a good person. ... I think I have more morals than the politicians in
office. I don't rob, steal, hurt, or lie – a lot of politicians do that." When
asked about Bible verses condemning adultery, she responded, "Bill Clinton
committed adultery. [Doing] adult movies is acting, portraying a role. It's not
Mary Ellen Cook, the real me."

This is endemic in the Christian culture, although I'm not speculating on whether Carey is actually a "Christian." Is this really what God created us for? Is this the abundant life? Does this kind of life contribute to human flourishing? I don't fault Carey for promoting such irresponsible tripe, but anyone who sincerely calls themselves a Christian should be able to see the utter nonsense of thinking that you can live two seperate lives, one spiritual and one secular. "Only one life, t'will soon be past; only what's done for Christ will last."

The ultimate test is Colossians 3:17 -- "Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father." Can Carey honestly say that she engages in these activities in the name of Jesus Christ? After she makes a movie, can she say, "Thank you God, for the oppotunity to make this film."

Lest you think you are better than Carey, can you say the same about every part of your life?

The Absurdity of Life Without God, Pt.1 *OR* Celebrity Deathmatch No.1: Pascal vs. Russell

Blaise Pascal, French mathmetician and physicist, commented on the human condition in his Penses. He imagines what sense we can make of our existence in a seemingly godless universe.

I see the terrifying immensity of the universe which surrounds me, and find myself limited to one corner of this vast expanse, without knowing why I am set
down here rather than elsewhere, nor why the brief period appointed for my life is assigned to me at this moment rather than another in all the eternity that
has gone before and will come after me. On all sides I behold nothing but infinity, in which I am a mere atom, a mere passing shadow that returns no more. All I know is that I must soon die, but what I understand least of all is this very death which I cannot escape.
Pascal portrays the apathy of men who, in the face of such questions, seek mind-numbing diversions and cannot be bothered to take one step towards discovery. Are there any more significant questions in life than these? With this backdrop, Pascal goes on to lay out his famous "wager" argument. Given a 50/50 possibility that God exists, we should bet that he does, since we will lose nothing if we are wrong, and we will enjoy infinite gain if we are right.

However, if there is no God, then there are no answers for these questions other than those we invent by make-believe. Life demands either suicide or the charade of a children's fantasy. Any atheist who claims otherwise is deluded or inconsistent. As Bertrand Russell wrote:

That Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the
end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his
loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms;
that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an
individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the
devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are
destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole
temple of Man's achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a
universe in ruins--all these things, if not quite beyound dispute, are yet so
nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only
within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of
unyielding despair, can the soul's habitation henceforth be safely built.

Amen, Professor Russell.
Saturday, July 09, 2005

Cosmic Despair

"This can't happen!" The images pulsated in my head. It was sickening. All the while, something inside me shouted, "This can't happen!" But could it?

The power of a movie like War of the Worlds is rooted in the idea of a godless universe in which there is nothing certain except despair. The utter annihilation of the human race is the ultimate nightmare, and yet in a cosmos without God, it is inevitable. Wells' story simply multiplies the effect. The aliens don't simply wipe us out, they desecrate our bodies and our earth by the most horrible means imaginable. The idea of human beings being used in this way, a la The Matrix, seems inconceivable to us. It violates some innate sense of goodness and purpose in the universe.

To the degree that one has embraced a naturalistic worldview, one will be horrified by the real possibility of alien invasion and annihilation. To the degree that one holds to a Christian worldview, one will see this movie as an amusing, albeit disturbing, fiction. I felt the conflict in my soul between the two beliefs. But deep down, there was a resounding "NO," I knew this was impossible.

I know this because the total obliteration of humanity is an act with no possibility of redemption. God does nothing without redemption. Not only that, but God has shown us a glimpse of our ultimate destiny and the return of his Son, and so we know the story cannot end without that chapter.

War of the Worlds is a vision of a purposeless, meaningless universe without God. One in which despair is the only foundation and truth. I am glad for the periodic sci-fi movie that illustrates this, if only to show the absurdity of life without God.

Did anyone else feel the tension?
Saturday, July 02, 2005

Is This A Bad Sign?

Anakin Skywalker




Mace Windu


Obi Wan Kenobi


General Grievous




Clone Trooper






Padme Amidala


Emperor Palpatine


Darth Vader


Which Revenge of the Sith character are you?