Thinking Out Loud

July 17, 2017

Conservative Christians in Germany

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:54 am

It was interesting to learn that if anything frustrates Evangelicals in Germany, it is the emergence of conservative Christians who have decided to march under the banner of six day creation instead of, well, perhaps the message of Jesus.

Also at issue is the sovereignty of God. Perhaps this was really dumb on my part, maybe I was tired and missing something, or maybe I’d been away from my computer and the Christian blogosphere for too may days, but I didn’t see this as framed in terms of Calvinism vs. Arminianism — which I never thought to mention — but more in terms of a very narrow view of what constitutes man’s freedom in the everyday; perhaps something more akin to the debates on open theology.

On returning home however, I connected the dots and realized that Neo Calvinism is certainly having an influence there as it is doing here. Probably just as well we didn’t go there, as we had other places to visit and things to see.

But it was the creation thing that rather irked me. I am being greatly influenced by many writers who would belong to the theistic evolutionary view on this, but it’s too early to say I’ve changed my views. If God wanted to do what he did — and the not-so-peripheral issue of intelligent design has to always be on standby in any discussion of this nature — in six twenty-four hour days, then he certainly could. He wouldn’t need a secondary agency in order to accomplish this and he could certainly give this created world an apparent age. But why would he leave us so many indicators that point to something different?

Again, I’m somewhat undecided, or perhaps even apathetic. Let me explain.

My Christianity doesn’t hinge on the first two chapters of Genesis. Not for a moment. I no longer think I can see that as the Genesis so much as our Genesis. As a science professor who was also a Christian explained to me so clearly, to believe the Bible you have to include an Adam who walked with God in the cool of the evening.” I like that Genesis 3:8, which uses that phrase, also introduces our sin story.

But now we’re into the third chapter of the Pentateuch, long past the origins narrative.

What if I had grown up in a culture where evolution is a settled fact? Upon being given a Bible, how would I deal with the conflict or contradiction of Genesis 1 and 2? Perhaps I wouldn’t see it. Hopefully, the person who gave me the Bible would direct me to Mark and John and Luke and Matthew. Hopefully I would meet Jesus first and then, as I gained a deeper understanding of what God’s bigger plans and purposes are — the book of Hebrews would provide the perfect introduction — I would understand the system that was in place prior to the incarnation of the Christ.

To decide to that young earth creationism is the hill to die on is simply to walk into the arena of religious thought looking to pick a fight. There are better ways to be Evangelical than this.


Hunting for a graphic image to associate with this article I came across this article which raises some issues not discussed here. I don’t agree with some of the more inflammatory nature of his approach, but I think he’s making some good points.

The actual image used was from this Seventh Day Adventist article.

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February 29, 2016

Andy Crouch on the Strength/Authority Continuum

Filed under: books, Christianity, reviews — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:45 am

Just when I was really comfortable thinking about strength vs. weakness as a linear continuum, Andy Crouch comes along with another dimension — a second dimension — that challenges my basic assumptions, and in his words, challenges a false choice or false dichotomy many of us held to.

Andy Crouch - Strong and WeakThe result is a vertical axis labeled “authority” and a horizontal axis labeled “vulnerability.” This in turn creates four different quadrants, and the one you want to strive for is “up and to the right” which he calls “flourishing.”

All that brings us to the title (and probably more importantly, the subtitle) Strong and Weak: Embracing a Life of Love, Risk & True Flourishing (IVP, hardcover, March 2016).

There’s no spoiler here, the two-dimension model is presented at the outset. Much of the first half of the book defines each of the four quadrants. Vulnerability without authority is suffering. High authority with low vulnerability he calls exploiting. Low authority and low vulnerability he terms withdrawing.

But the big payoff is the second half of the book. Once you get inside the mindset of the paradigm — and an appreciation for it grows more enhanced the further you read — the rest of the narrative is powerful within the model’s context.

…I get to choose the books I want to review, and unless there’s a major disappointment, it’s already a given that I’m going to give a favorable review. So the answer here is a big ‘yes’ to those who ask, ‘Did the reviewer like the book?’ I found this very engaging reading.

But another question I seek to answer here is, ‘Who is this book for?’ In other words, I want readers to know who, in their sphere of influence, would be a likely candidate to be a recipient of a particular book. It’s hard for me to answer that succinctly, because I’ve been told I often think about things that nobody else considers.

In many respects, that is the nature of the titles which bear the InterVarsity Press (IVP) imprint. They publish books for thinking people. (Andy Crouch’s last two books, Culture Making and Playing God are also with IVP.)

Strong and Weak - Andy CrouchAs the following excerpt — from the unnumbered chapter between chapters five and six — shows, one certain target reader would be someone involved in leading others:

Leadership does not begin with a title or a position. It begins the moment you are concerned more about others’ flourishing than you are your own. It begins when you start to ask how you might help create and sustain the conditions for others to increase their authority and vulnerability together. In a world where many people simply withdraw into safety, where others are imprisoned in the most extreme vulnerability, where others pursue their own unaccountable authority, anyone who seeks true flourishing is already, in many senses, a leader.

If you’re looking for something that will challenge your assumptions and get you thinking about life differently, this is the title for you.

May 23, 2015

Do We Have a Right to Happiness? — Part Two of Two

You need to click back to yesterday for part one, but knowing a few of you won’t, I’ve begun by repeating the introduction. Thanks again to Martin and Nancy for allowing us to run this. To read the whole thing at their blog, Flagrant Regard, or leave them a direct comment, click the title below.


C.S. Lewis For The 21st Century (2)

Have you ever, on the recommendation of a teacher, book-review website, or a friend, began to read an old book – a classic – only to discover a few pages in, “I just can’t get into this … the language is so archaic!”

Nancy and I thought it would be a challenging exercise to modernize one of our favourite essays from C.S. Lewis found in his compilation of short works, entitled ‘God In The Dock’.

The essay we chose was “We Have No Right To Happiness”. I set out to rework the article in a way that I thought would align closely with C.S. Lewis’ original style, but with a modern spin via sentence structure and word choices.

Nancy read my modernized version and felt that she too could bring some 21st century life to the piece by structuring it more like a blog post.

Below represents each of our individual attempts to present the powerful, highly prophetic message penned by Mr. Lewis that examines humankind’s pathetic attempts to justify that which is unjustifiable – that we have the supposed ‘right’ to be happy in this world.

Please feel free to provide feedback with respect to our efforts to modernize the essay and, more importantly, share with us your reflections on C.S. Lewis’ thoughts re the society-eroding, self-entitlement posturing that so many among us now eat, breathe and sleep in this present day.


We Have No “Right to Happiness” by C.S. Lewis
Adapted from the article of the same name by Nancy Douglas of Flagrant Regard

“Well, I just think everyone has a right to do what makes them happy …”

So said my girlfriend the other day when we were chatting over lattes. Luke had divorced Laura to be with Michelle who had likewise divorced her husband to be with Luke. They were hopelessly, madly, in love and, barring unforeseen health or employment issues, they were set for life in the happiness department. My friend continued giving her opinion that it was abundantly clear that neither Luke nor Michelle had been happy in their marriages. It didn’t matter that they were in love with their exes at the outset – because life happens, time passes, and looks get lost by the wayside. Things had changed.

There are any number of reasons why marriages fail and people get kicked to the curb but it does always seem to be an outworking of someone in the relationship deciding that they have the right to do what makes them happy.

Sadly, Laura committed suicide some months after her marriage dissolved. Of course, Luke was distraught but never showed regret that he had left the marriage. He always maintained they had grown apart and were floundering in the proverbial loveless marriage. When Luke had serendipitously met Michelle, she was like no one he had ever met before and leaving his marriage was, as he saw it, his only chance – his last chance – at real happiness.

I began to think about the idea of having the ‘right’ to be happy.

We live in a world where our happiness and, conversely, our misfortune is often predicated on circumstances beyond our control. That being the case, it seems that to expect – to have a ‘right’ – to be happy doesn’t seem like something that can or should be depended on; any more than we can expect or depend on perfect weather every Saturday in June so that all brides will be smiling. You pick your date, send out your invites, and take your chances.

I believe we can have ‘rights’ as far as what is legislated and guaranteed by the laws of the society we live in. For example, we have the ‘right’ to basic education because, here in Canada, we are given that privilege through taxation and public policy. That is why it is called ‘public’ education.

I can also understand a ‘right’ as it relates to a contractual obligation. If someone hires me to design a logo for them and I design it and charge them $100, then I have the ‘right’ to expect to be paid $100 for my work.

Back to my friend’s statement – “Well, I just think everyone has a right to do what makes them happy …”

What my friend was not saying was that, however you need to find happiness, whatever you need to do to be happy, is not to be held up for criticism or judgement beyond a bit of neighborhood gossip – because nobody knows the ‘whole story’.

The American Declaration of Independence laid down at the outset that one of the basic rights of any American citizen is the right to ‘the pursuit of happiness’. That did not mean that people should be entitled to pursue happiness outside of the law (i.e., through murder, rape, robbery, etc.) – but by lawful means. But this is too broad-based for what my friend meant. My friend is not philosophically deep. She watches The Bachelor and thinks the Tea Party is the party at Witzend in Alice in Wonderland. What she simply and solely mused was that people have the right to be happy when it comes to sex. Her view has been ‘trending’ for some time now and you have to look no further than the plethora of partnering change-ups in Hollywood at large.

There is no room for a counterpoint in today’s society. But, if you could get a word in, the counterpoint would be that, happiness aside, Luke’s leaving Lisa for Michelle was done in direct contravention of their marriage vow. That overarching solemn promise made up of subsets of conditions wherein two people promise that they will never leave each other – no matter what. This promissory social contract is sealed either in a civil ceremony or before God and, in both cases, before witnesses. Happiness is not even figured in to the marriage vow which is one of duty of care for the other – again, no matter what.

Today, our sexual impulses and proclivities have been put on a pedestal of preposterous privilege. And where sexual ‘happiness’ is not the order of the day, heinous acts have occurred. When lack of sexual happiness has been the motive behind murderous and unjust actions, the headlines have still – even in this day and age of post-modernism – spoken loudly and clearly in defense of the innocent. We don’t have to look past Susan Smith and the drowning of her two young sons so that she could pursue a relationship with a local wealthy man to find where the utilitarian doctrine of the ends justifying the means is so egregiously lopsided in favor of the means.

The problem with sex is that it makes more towering promises than any other emotion. All our desires make promises – that new car, that new house, that new job, that next You Tube video with over a million views – but none more so than the promise of sex. To be in love involves the irrational yet irresistible conviction that it will last forever and that our beloved will supply us with deep-rooted, passionate, lifelong sexual happiness. Everything is at stake. If we miss the chance to be in love or, as we are speaking of here, to get back in love, life will not have been worth living. Anything in the way has got to go – and fast. So thought Luke and Michelle. So thought Susan Smith.

But, if we establish a ‘right to (sexual) happiness’ which supersedes all the ordinary rules of behavior, we are chasing after the wind because the object of our behavior (erotic passion) is illusory and wishful. In the movie, The Life of David Gale, in a soliloquy on happiness, the main character portrayed by Kevin Spacey warned, “Be careful what you wish for. Not because you get it, but because you’re doomed not to want it once you do. Living by wants will never make you happy.”

As time permits, those experienced at long-term relationships know that erotic passion can sometimes last a good long time but that it will most certainly wane. For those relationships that continue long after erotic passion has waned, it is not because of the promises made at the outset. It is because the two people have found true love and contentment outside of the sex act, and have otherwise strived to make their relationship both mutually beneficial and sustainable.

In a few years, it is likely that Luke will leave Michelle to fulfill another last chance at sexual happiness. Or she him. And, again, my friend will say that she believes they have a right to be happy. That is, if her husband, Chris, doesn’t decide in the meantime that he has a right to be happy with that bubbly new hire in the Corporate Marketing Department. That could change her perspective.

For the here and now, the ‘right to happiness’ is predominantly the dominion of the sexual impulse. But, what if this ‘feel good’ principle creeps into other areas of our lives to the point where every impulse in every person has the ‘right’ to be indulged?

I hear the ticking of the doomsday clock …

————————————————————-

For the original article and other incredible essays and thoughts from C.S. Lewis, you can purchase “God In The Dock” at your local Christian book seller or online via any number of online book retailers.

May 22, 2015

Do We Have a Right to Happiness? — Part One of Two

I’ll keep my intro short so you can get right into this. Thanks to Martin and Nancy for allowing me to reproduce this here, but if you want to send them some link love — or not have to wait until tomorrow for part two — click the link in the title below. Comments here are open, but to communicate with the authors directly, use the link below as well.


C.S. Lewis For The 21st Century

Have you ever, on the recommendation of a teacher, book-review website, or a friend, began to read an old book – a classic – only to discover a few pages in, “I just can’t get into this … the language is so archaic!”

C. S. LewisNancy and I thought it would be a challenging exercise to modernize one of our favorite essays from C.S. Lewis found in his compilation of short works, entitled ‘God In The Dock’.

The essay we chose was “We Have No Right To Happiness”. I set out to rework the article in a way that I thought would align closely with C.S. Lewis’ original style, but with a modern spin via sentence structure and word choices.

Nancy read my modernized version and felt that she too could bring some 21st century life to the piece by structuring it more like a blog post.  (Click the link above to read today, or wait until tomorrow’s post for part two.)

Below represents each of our individual attempts to present the powerful, highly prophetic message penned by Mr. Lewis that examines humankind’s pathetic attempts to justify that which is unjustifiable – that we have the supposed ‘right’ to be happy in this world.

Please feel free to provide feedback with respect to our efforts to modernize the essay and, more importantly, share with us your reflections on C.S. Lewis’ thoughts re the society-eroding, self-entitlement posturing that so many among us now eat, breathe and sleep in this present day.

We Have No “Right to Happiness” by C.S. Lewis
Paraphrased by Martin Douglas of Flagrant Regard

“After all,” said my friend Clare, “they had a right to happiness.”

We were discussing something that once happened in our own neighborhood. Mr. A, had deserted Mrs. A and got his divorce in order to marry Mrs. B, who had likewise gotten her divorce in order to marry Mr. A. And there was clearly no doubt that Mr. A and Mrs. B were very much in love with each other. It was equally clear that they were not happy with their former partners. If the newly formed couple continued to be in love and if nothing failed with respect to their health or financial security, they might expect to be very happy.

Mrs. B had adored her husband at the beginning, but then he was severely injured in the war. It was said that he had lost his virility and had also lost his job. Life with him was no longer what Mrs. B had bargained for.

Poor Mrs. A, too. She had lost her looks was no longer her vivaciousness self. It might have been true what some had said – that she had become worn down by having and raising Mr. A’s children and nursing him through a long illness that overshadowed the early years of their married life. But please don’t think that Mr. A was the sort of man who nonchalantly threw a wife away like the peel of an orange he’d sucked dry. Her suicide was a terrible shock to him. We all knew this, for he told us so himself. “But what could I do?” he said. “A man has a right to happiness. I had to take my one chance when it came.”

I went away thinking about the concept of a ‘right to happiness’. At first, this sounds to me as odd as a ‘right to good luck’. I believe (whatever any particular brand of moralists have to say) that for the most part our happiness or misery hangs on circumstances outside all human control. A right to happiness doesn’t, for me, make much more sense than a right to be six feet tall, or to have a millionaire for your father, or to have good weather show up whenever you want to have a picnic.

Now, I get that a ‘right’ is a freedom guaranteed me by the laws of the society I live in, therefore I have a right to travel along the public roads because society gives me that freedom (that’s what we mean by calling the roads “public.”)

I can also understand a ‘right’ as a claim guaranteed me by the laws, and as it correlates to an obligation on someone else’s part. If I had a right to receive $100 from you, this is another way of saying that you have a duty to pay me $100. If the laws allow Mr. A to desert his wife and seduce his neighbor’s wife, then, by definition, Mr. A has a legal right to do so, and we need not bring in talk of ‘happiness’.

But of course that was not what my friend meant. She meant that Mr. A had not only a legal but a moral right to act as he did. In other words, Clare is (or would be if she thought it through) a classical moralist after the style of Thomas Aquinas, Grotius, Hooker and Locke.

She believes that behind the laws of the state there is a Natural Law. I agree with her and I hold this conception to be common knowledge in all civilizations. Without it, the actual laws of the state become an absolute. They cannot be criticized because there is no norm against which they should be judged. The ancestry of Clare’s maxim, “They have a right to happiness,” is high-minded in nature. In words that are cherished by all civilized souls (but especially by Americans), it has been laid down that one of the rights of man or woman is a right to “the pursuit of happiness.” And now we get to the real point.

Just what did the writers of that grandiose declaration mean? We’re quite sure what they did not mean. They did not mean that everyone was entitled to pursue happiness by any and every means including, say, murder, rape, robbery, treason and fraud. No society could be built on such a basis. They meant “to pursue happiness by all lawful means”; that is, by all means which the Law of Nature eternally sanctions and which the laws of the nation shall sanction.

Yet here is where I disagree with my friend: I don’t think it’s obvious that people have some sort of unlimited “right to happiness”, as she has suggested.

For one thing, I believe that when Clare says “happiness,” she means simply and solely “sexual happiness”, partly because people like Clare never use the word “happiness” in any other sense. But also because I never heard Clare talk about the “right” to any other kind of happiness. With respect to her political views, Clare, being rather leftist in her approach, would have thought it scandalous if anyone defended the actions of a ruthless financial tycoon on the grounds that his happiness consisted in making money and he was pursuing his happiness. I also never heard her (a serious non-drinker herself) excuse an alcoholic because he was ‘happy’ when he was drunk.

Clare is, in fact, simply doing what I think the whole western world seems to have been doing for the last forty-odd years. When I was a kid, all the progressive people were saying, “Why all this prudishness? Let’s treat sex just as we treat all our other impulses.” I was simple-minded enough to believe they meant what they said. I have since discovered that they meant exactly the opposite. They meant that sex was to be treated as no other impulse in our nature has ever been treated by civilized people. All the others, we admit, have to be restrained.

For instance, absolute obedience to instinct for self-preservation is considered cowardice. An ever-increasing desire to collect things will have us in the grip of greed. Even sleep, normally a welcomed respite, must be resisted if you’re a officer on guard duty. But every unkindness and breach of faith seems to be condoned provided that your object is to have “four bare legs in a bed.” It is like having a moral standard where stealing fruit is wrong except if you steal nectarines. And if you protest against this view? You are usually met with rhetoric about the legitimacy, beauty and sanctity of “sex”. You get accused of harboring some Puritanical prejudice against it – that you view sex as something disreputable or shameful. (I vehemently deny being guilty of such a charge: Venus, Aphrodite, Our Lady of Cyprus – I never breathed a word against you!)

If I object to kids stealing nectarines, must I then be thought of as someone who disapproves of nectarines in general? Or even of kids in general? It might be the stealing I disapprove of, you figure?

The real situation is skillfully concealed by saying that the question of Mr. A’s “right” to desert his wife is one of “sexual morality.” If I may continue with the fruit analogy, robbing an orchard is not an offense against some special morality called “fruit morality.” It is an offense against honesty. Likewise, Mr. A’s action is an offense against good faith (to solemn promises), against gratitude (toward one to whom he was deeply indebted) and against common humanity.

Our sexual impulses are thus being thrust into a position of preposterous privilege. The sexual motive is taken to condone all sorts of behavior which, if it had any other outcome in view, would be condemned as merciless, treacherous and unjust.

Now though I see no good reason for giving sex this privilege, I think I see a strong cause, and it is this: the nature of a strong erotic passion, which is completely distinct from any heat-of-the-moment, fleeting appetite, makes more towering promises than any other emotion.

No doubt all our desires make promises, but not so impressively. To be in love involves the almost irresistible conviction that one will go on being in love until one dies, and that possession of our beloved will supply us with not just merely frequent ecstasies, but settled, fruitful, deep-rooted, lifelong happiness. Hence, all seem to be at stake. If we miss this chance we shall have lived in vain. At the mere thought of such a doom we sink into fathomless depths of self-pity.

Unfortunately these promises are often found to be quite unfounded. Every experienced adult knows this to be the case with regard to all erotic passions (except the one he/she is feeling at the moment). We discount the world-without-end pretentiousness of our friends’ romantic liaisons easily enough. We know that such things sometimes last and sometimes don’t. When they do last, it is not because they promised at the outset to make it last. When two people achieve enduring happiness, this is not solely because they are great lovers but because they are also – I must put it crudely – good people; controlled, loyal, fair-minded, mutually adaptable people.

If we establish a “right to (sexual) happiness” that supersedes all the ordinary rules of behavior, we do so not because of what our passion shows itself to be in experience, but because of what it professes to be while we are in the grip of it.

So while the bad behavior is real and works miseries and personal ruin, the happiness which was the object of the behavior turns out again and again to be illusory.

Everyone (except Mr. A and Mrs. B) knows that Mr. A, in a year or so, may have the same reason for deserting his new wife as he did for deserting his old one. He will again feel that all is at stake. He will again see himself as the great lover, and his pity for himself will exclude all pity for the (current) woman.

Two final points remain:

1. A society in which marital infidelity is tolerated must always be in the long run a society adverse to women. Whatever a few songs composed by men and/or satirical offerings might say to the contrary, women are more naturally monogamous than men; it is a biological necessity. Where promiscuity prevails, they will therefore always be more often the victims than the culprits; domestic happiness is more necessary to them than to us. And the quality by which they most easily hold a man – their beauty – decreases every year after they’ve reached maturity, but this does not happen to those qualities of personality we find in women. In the cut-throat promiscuity war that rages on, women are at a double disadvantage – they play for higher stakes and are also more likely to lose. I have no sympathy with moralists who frown at the increasing lewdness of female provocativeness. These are signs of desperate competition and fill me with pity.

2. Secondly, though the “right to happiness” is claimed chiefly for the sexual impulse, it seems to me impossible that the matter will remain there. Once such a fatal principle is condoned in that department (our sexual natures) it will sooner or later seep through into our whole lives. We therefore advance toward a society where not only each person but every impulse in each person claims no-holds-barred permissions. And at that time, though our technological skill may help us survive a little longer, our civilization will have died at heart, and will – don’t even dare add the word “unfortunately” – be swept away.

August 22, 2014

Who Will Answer? Relevant Today as it was in 1967

Filed under: music — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:56 am

This is a really quirky song you don’t hear on your local radio station’s ‘oldies weekend.’ Here are some details from Wikipedia:

  • released as a single in November 1967, is the title track of the 1968 album Who Will Answer? by the adult contemporary singer Ed Ames
  • originally written as the Spanish song “Aleluya No. 1” by the Philippines-born Spanish singer-songwriter, poet and painter Luis Eduardo Aute, it was adapted into an English-language version with new lyrics
  • It was Ames’ fourth charting single that year, following “My Cup Runneth Over” [and 2 others]
  • Billboard magazine, naming the song its “Record of the Week”, praised the topical lyrics and the unusual musical combination of “Gregorian-like chant … Johann Sebastian Bach and … hard rock”, saying the song “expresses the urgent feelings of our times and deals with such meaningful subjects as nuclear war, apathy, religious discontent and the underlying confusion of today’s generation.”

Hallelujah! Hallelujah!, Hallelujah!

From the canyons of the mind,
We wander on and stumble blindly
Through the often-tangled maze
Of starless nights and sunless days,
While asking for some kind of clue
Or road to lead us to the truth,
But who will answer?

Side by side two people stand,
Together vowing, hand-in-hand
That love’s imbedded in their hearts,
But soon an empty feeling starts
To overwhelm their hollow lives,
And when they seek the hows and whys,
Who will answer?

On a strange and distant hill,
A young man’s lying very still.
His arms will never hold his child,
Because a bullet running wild
Has struck him down. And now we cry,
“Dear God, Oh, why, oh, why?”
But who will answer?

High upon a lonely ledge,
a figure teeters near the edge,
And jeering crowds collect below
To egg him on with, “Go, man, go!”
But who will ask what led him
To his private day of doom,
And who will answer?

If the soul is darkened
By a fear it cannot name,
If the mind is baffled
When the rules don’t fit the game,
Who will answer? Who will answer? Who will answer?
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!, Hallelujah!

In the rooms of dark and shades,
The scent of sandalwood pervades.
The colored thoughts in muddled heads
Reclining in the rumpled beds
Of unmade dreams that can’t come true,
And when we ask what we should do,
Who… Who will answer?

‘Neath the spreading mushroom tree,
The world revolves in apathy
As overhead, a row of specks
Roars on, drowned out by discotheques,
And if a secret button’s pressed
Because one man has been outguessed,
Who will answer?

Is our hope in walnut shells
Worn ’round the neck with temple bells,
Or deep within some cloistered walls
Where hooded figures pray in halls?
Or crumbled books on dusty shelves,
Or in our stars, or in ourselves,
Who will answer?

If the soul is darkened
By a fear it cannot name,
If the mind is baffled
When the rules don’t fit the game,
Who will answer? Who will answer? Who will answer?
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!, Hallelujah!

August 16, 2014

How Do We Know What We Know?

David Peck - SoChangeIn many ways David Peck has lived several different lifetimes.

I met him years ago through the Christian concert scene in Toronto. At that time he was an apprentice electrician. Oh yes, and a magician. Dave did a magic show at our wedding. One of our favorite wedding presents. But later on he jumped into academics, getting a masters degree in philosophy, something that I majored in as an undergraduate until my head exploded in third year and I had to change my degree in my final year.

In his first book, Real Change is Incremental he draws on his background as an electrician and as a magician to create analogies to philosophical models of who we come to know what we know. While the book is a series of essays collected from different life stages, its general theme is epistemology, and the largest essay, based on his university thesis, is about tacit knowledge, the things we know that we don’t even realize we know. In many respects the title doesn’t directly betray the book’s content, while in other respects it is a rallying cry.

Real Change is Incremental.gifThe book also draws on his extensive travel which is a byproduct of his current work as founder of SoChange, an organization based in greater Toronto that works mostly with non-profits, including some very recognizable charities, to help them meet their objectives; something that fits my personal adage that every major institution should employ at least one philosopher, because they see things that others miss.

Real Change therefore occupies a middle ground between story anthology and philosophy text.

Usually the books I review here are supplied by Christian publishers and authors, and there is a frame of reference that readers here can connect with. David Peck has frequently guest-hosted “Canada’s most-listened-to spiritual talk program,” The Drew Marshall Show, but other than a couple of passing references to the faith in which he was raised, the book makes no pretense to be a Christian, religious or even spiritual title. However, what you read within in no way conflicts with that perspective.

I tend to go through review books with a blank half-sheet serving both as bookmark and a place to record observations while I read. Knowing this would be a different journey, I simply allowed the book to play like an album of ideas, some of which reminded me of things I have considered at different junctures in my own life. So it’s no surprise with that album theme, that an analogy about music stuck with me:

Consider the creative opportunity found in a piano octave: twelve simple notes, but a vast musical landscape waiting to be discovered.  This is open structure.  There are sharps, flats, major chords and minor chords, harmonies and dissonances, this scale and that scale.  There is an array of starting points and intervals giving rise to an infinity of tonal sequences that constitute melodies.  The pianist travels through the scale, returns and resolves.  Musical tension is created.  There are any number of tempos – adagio, allegro, largo – and any number of rhythms, combined in different ways.  There are texture and dynamics, crescendo, decrescendo, pianissimo, dolce, con brio, cantabile.  The structure is restricted by a finite number of keys, but is open and presents limitless possibilities.

In many respects that’s how I feel about David. Limitless possibilities. Our contact over the years has been somewhat sporadic and each time there are surprises. When I spoke with my wife last night at midnight about this, we decided the term ‘Renaissance Man’ probably best suits him. In addition to electrician, magician, philosopher, and agent assisting so many organizations that pursue relief, development and social justice; to all that he can now add writer, and good writer at that.

From time to time, everyone needs a philosopher in their life.

April 15, 2013

Who Are You Sleeping With? Tim Keller at Gospel Coalition

Filed under: issues — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:16 am

On the one hand, I no longer give a lot of space here to what the New Calvinists are up to.  My feeling is that when they finally reach consensus on the question, “What is the Gospel?” they can send up smoke signals like they do in The Vatican.

But there’s no denying the wisdom and influence of Redeemer Presbyterian (New York, NY) pastor and author Timothy Keller.  So there was a lot of excitement over the weekend over a post by Derek Rishmawy who has a Patheos blog Christ and Pop Culture, and wrote ‘Who Are You Sleeping With?’ My Conversation with Timothy Keller.  

First, here’s the context:

…Drawing on his experience in urban, culture-shaping Manhattan, Keller responded that one of the biggest obstacles to repentance for revival in the Church is the basic fact that almost all singles outside the Church and a majority inside the Church are sleeping with each other. In other words, good old-fashioned fornication.

The major substance of the piece comes in the second section:

Keller illustrated the point by talking about a tactic, one that he admittedly said was almost too cruel to use, that an old college pastor associate of his used when catching up with college students who were home from school. He’d ask them to grab coffee with him to catch up on life. When he’d come to the state of their spiritual lives, they’d often hem and haw, talking about the difficulties and doubts now that they’d taken a little philosophy, or maybe a science class or two, and how it all started to shake the foundations. At that point, he’d look at them and ask one question, “So who have you been sleeping with?” Shocked, their faces would inevitably fall and say something along the lines of, “How did you know?” or a real conversation would ensue. Keller pointed out that it’s a pretty easy bet that when you have a kid coming home with questions about evolution or philosophy, or some such issue, the prior issue is a troubled conscience. Honestly, as a Millennial and college director myself, I’ve seen it with a number of my friends and students—the Bible unsurprisingly starts to become a lot more “doubtful” for some of them once they’d had sex.

And it makes sense, right? When you’re engaged in behavior you’ve been raised to believe is wrong, but is still pretty fun, more than that, powerfully enslaving, you want to find reasons to disbelieve your former moral convictions. As Keller pointed out, Aldous Huxley famously confessed in his work Ends and Means that he didn’t want there to be a God and meaning because it interfered with his sexual freedom. While most of our contemporaries haven’t worked it out quite as philosophically as Huxley has, they’re spiritually in much the same place.

I’ve heard it said that one of the reason people love to debate Noah and the Ark and Jonah and the Whale is because they are looking for an out. If they can find a problem with the Biblical text in one section, it absolves them from responsibility in others. So much of the debate clearly is about something other than what it appears.

In one of the comments, I noted:

I’ve heard it said that one of the reasons churches are finding it so hard to get male volunteers is because a lot of guys don’t feel ‘worthy’ because of their online addiction to porn. Someone has already noted in the comments here its possible application in this situation as well.

In other words, spiritual intensity wanes as spiritual truth comes into conflict with actual individual behavior. 

Keller’s thesis did not sit well with Rachel Held Evans.  In a piece titled Is Doubt an STD? — the title itself confuses the cause and effect — she challenges the sweeping generality of Keller’s response:

Keller seems to assume that thoughtful questioning among young people are typically the result of sexual activity and their desire to justify it. This was not true for me, and it is not true for many of the young adults who leave college with questions about science, philosophy, politics, and religious pluralism that challenge the fundamentalism with which they were raised…

…Furthermore, learning that a college student is sexually active does not somehow discredit his or her faith experience.

But while she accuses Keller of being dismissive of the real spiritual concerns of young people, I felt she was just a little too dismissive of Keller.  I wrote:

Keller is teaching us to look for “the question behind the question,” not unlike Jesus with the woman at the well in John chapter 4. I think he may be on to something; but Rachel, I agree that this approach could backfire if it is dismissive of genuine questions and spiritual concerns. I think you have to earn the right to ask someone who they’re sleeping with.

There was a lot of push-back on Rachel’s take on Keller, and so yesterday, she published some of the highlights of the critiques she received.  You can read those here.

If you don’t know it, read the story of the Woman at the Well in John 4 here.

March 28, 2013

Rob Bell Talks About God

Filed under: books — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:22 am

Once you get past an extended section dealing with various disciplines of science, there are a couple of chapters in the middle of Rob Bell’s What We Talk About When We Talk About God, where he seems to be making a strong case for the centrality of God in every conversation, and when he says God, he’s clearly talking about God as revealed in Jesus Christ.

Rob Bell - What We Talk About When We Talk About GodBut if you’re expecting the evangelism to reach a crescendo in the final ten to twenty pages, Bell doesn’t exactly deliver. The ending is disappointingly soft. There’s certainly no organist playing “Just as I Am” behind the final paragraphs. So what are we left with?

We’re left with a book that I would be more than happy to have at least one atheist I know read. Yes, there are better books of Christian apologetics, but I don’t know if they would connect with those outside the inner circle as well as What We Talk About…  This book and all Bell’s book are now published under the HarperOne imprint, and  seem tailor-made for browsers in the religion section at Barnes and Noble in the US or Chapters in Canada. I have to say, he gets his audience.

We’re left with a book that — at least in the middle — contains sufficient allusions and direct quotes from scripture to place it safely within the Christian book genre. There were several pages I thought would fit in well at my devotional blog, were it not for the expected backlash.

We’re left with a book that generously acknowledges the range of religious belief in the marketplace, but chooses to deliberately focus on a faith rooted in the teachings of Jesus.

Having said all that, this is not the book for the average Christian book reader. But if you want to think about faith from a different perspective, or you want to hone your own apologetics, I would suggest it’s far better to own a copy than to rely on those who criticize the book from the safe distance of never having skimmed a chapter.

If there’s someone in your household, your workplace, your neighborhood, your school or your extended family with whom you want to engage a deeper faith conversation, you should read this, and then pass on the copy to them to read. I guarantee it will get you both talking about what it is to talk about God.

September 25, 2012

A Response to the COEXIST Poster

source: Stand to Reason (STR) Blog

UPDATE (Dec. 4, 2012) As noted in a comment below, if you want to know more about the origin of this graphic visit contradictmovement.org

July 12, 2012

To My Skeptic Friend

Filed under: Religion — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:38 am

Dear __________,

Here’s an idea.

There’s nothing I can say or do today that will convince you that God exists, that the Bible can be trusted, or that Jesus has a legitimate claim to be God. But humor me for a moment.

All I’m asking today is that you begin with a God-exists hypothesis. Not the Bible. Not Jesus. Just that there is a God, in the more or less traditional way that’s understood.

Now then, ask all your questions, and frame your answers along the lines of the hypothesis. In other words, “Why is there so much evil and suffering in the world?” becomes, “If there is a God, why does he permit so much evil and suffering in the world?”

And so on.

What possible answers might you come up with to your various questions? Maybe some fairly crazy ones!

I’m not saying assume anything or commit to anything. I’m just saying take your toughest questions, your philosophical questions, your metaphysical questions, your ethical questions; and instead of framing them within a vacuum, frame them within the hypothesis.

Oh yeah, one more thing: For 48 hours. Do this for a couple of days, not a couple of minutes.

You might even want to say this — don’t think of it as a prayer, but more as a role play to get you in the right head space — “God, I don’t believe you exist, but for the next couple of days, I want to see how the world adds up if I were to believe you’re really out there.”

Think of this ‘let’s pretend’ game as meeting me halfway.

~Paul

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