30 May 2013

Are we getting smarter?

Clint Roberts, at Reclaiming the Mind, wrote an excellent essay on the belief that, as a society, we are getting smarter over the generations.

Roberts writes,

There’s no disputing that people across history held wrong beliefs about lots of specific things at various times. That’s as obvious as anything I could say about any time period, including our own. The myth is that we now are better than everyone in bygone generations because we have somehow ‘evolved’ past their ignorance and cognitive limitations. Their age was dark, ours is enlightened; their time was harsh and cruel, ours is nice and friendly; their intelligence was not quite up to the task, but now we’ve arrived and know what it’s all about. They had biases and blind spots they did not realize, but we have overcome that and replaced their shortcomings with openness, tolerance, unbiased neutrality and understanding.

This is an especially beloved part of the received wisdom among contemporary anti-religionists whose motivation for propagating the mantra is rather obvious. After all, if nearly everyone in Western history’s past generations was more spiritual and theological in orientation toward the world (including their ethics, politics, family life, etc.), and if those same people from the past were not as ‘evolved’ in their thinking as we are, then it must follow that having a more religious worldview equals being less evolved. Very simple and very tidy. To be truly intellectually advanced must mean to be distanced from the old traditional ways of thinking such that you are largely ignorant of the Scriptures, the arguments, the theological categories and even basic terminology that were so familiar and important for so long. Full secularization is the trademark of progress.

Just ask the ‘sheeple’ who sit in Bill Maher’s audiences and cheer when he describes as stupid and outdated the kinds of beliefs held by the majority of important thinkers whose ideas formed the foundation of our whole civilization. I suspect they haven’t paused to consider that so many of the great poets (like Milton, Wordsworth, etc.), philosophers (like Aquinas, Locke, etc.), scientists (like Copernicus, Newton, etc.), Renaissance humanists (like Erasmus, More, etc.), political leaders (like Washington, Adams, etc.) theologians (like Calvin, Edwards, etc.) and social reformers (like Wilberforce, MLK, Jr., etc.) were adherents and advocates of the very sorts of beliefs being scoffed at by a pretentious comedian whose clever cynicism apparently convinces his dimwitted viewers that he’s super-smart, when in fact he is hardly worthy, intellectually speaking, to clean the latrines of any of these men.

I would commend the whole thing to you.  

29 May 2013

Gems Magnify the Sun

The diamond has no inherent brightness; it cannot shine and be brilliant by itself. It requires the light of the sun to show off its various facts and reveal its beauty. But then, to a very large extent, the beauty of the diamond is really the glory of the sun's light, working in and through the diamond to show its own splendor. Just so the virtue and holiness that we discover in the lives of the people around us are expressions of God's glory, being attributes communicated from Him to them, and manifested through them by His spirit at work in them. God delights to see Himself thus reflected in His creatures, and we should be quick to glorify and praise Him whenever such attributes come to light. We must not think that such divine radiance in any way originates with us; people are, rather, the reflection of the light and glory of God, to Whom alone praise is due.

-TM Moore, Consider the Lilies: A Plea for Creational Theology, page 142

26 May 2013

A Fly in the Ointment

The other day, I saw this picture and I thought, as much as I love coffee, I think I might have to take a long fast from coffee if I were ever to see this.  For what it's worth, I don't know if this is a real picture, but just the thought of it makes me shudder.  The coffee would be gone.

Ecclesiastes 10:1 says, "Dead flies make the perfumer's ointment give off a stench; so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor." Perfumer's ointment is something that smells good.  It is desirable, but something small can make it undesirable, even repulsive. This verse tells us that like those small bugs that can turn something good into something repulsive, "a little folly" can outweigh wisdom and honor.  In other words, a person who is otherwise well thought of, wise, and honorable can mess it up by engaging in just a little folly. Harsh words, adultery, a critical spirit, selfishness--any of these things can lead to becoming a stench to others.  We should seek to be above reproach and be quick to confess sin and seek forgiveness when we stumble. 

25 May 2013

Science, philosophy, and selling bad cars

One of my fellow Centurions, Regis Nicoll has written an excellent little piece over at Breakpoint.  The article begins, "On the floor of the Darwinian exchange, traders bark, 'Evolution is fact, Fact, FACT!' But it’s a fact that has proven to be a hard sell.

"After 150 years of scientific 'evidence,' decades of inculcation in public education, and a raft of books, like The Dragons of Eden, The Selfish Gene, and The Blind Watchmaker, only 16 percent of Americans believe that humans developed from an unsupervised process of variation and natural selection. Belief that God had some part in the process has held steady over the last 30 years, at around 80 percent."

Nicoll discusses the consternation that these evolutionary evangelists have that it is not just us dumb Americans who believe this, but even some scientifically-minded individuals who just cannot reject that pesky problem of "apparent" design.  One way they have responded is by switching tacks; they have started talking instead about how our death anxiety contributes to our continued belief in a higher power and how we must find meaning by "looking around".  Our scientists are becoming philosophers and bad ones at that.  (Does anyone remember the recent proclamation from Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow that "philosophy is dead?"). They have become car salesmen--if you can't sell them on the car, sell them on the image--then maybe people will buy in. 

24 May 2013

To be struggling is to be living

Comfort is a pursued virtue in most of our lives. We seek to avoid pain and displeasure as much as we possibly can. Anything the produces the least bit of discomfort in us must be rejected as bad. Christians also fall prey to this tendency. At least I do. It is very easy for me cozy up to my sinful behaviors because I presume that the ideal position is one of comfort or personal satisfaction. Whenever I have given in to overeating, lustful thoughts, or even impatience it is because that which I choose is immediately more comfortable and pleasurable.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that when I am struggling against sin, particularly the lusts of the flesh, I find myself asking "why is this so hard? God behaving well shouldn't be this difficult.  I must be doing something wrong." 

However, as I read the Bible, I think the struggle is a part of the normal experience. Fighting sin reminds us that we are alive. This morning, I was reading Romans 12 and verse 1 reads "I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship." Present my body as a living sacrifice.  It seems to me that a sacrifice involves giving of oneself, even painfully giving.  This is spiritual worship

Hebrews 12:4 is even more bold: "In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood." I have never struggled against my sin to the point of shedding blood, so I have struggled hard enough.  To be struggling is to be living.  Never give up.  Never, never, never give up, as Winston Churchill said.

Tim Keller--"Forgive Us These Faults"

Tim Keller, in reflecting upon the pastoral wisdom of John Newton, discusses several different personality styles or perhaps problematic ways of relating to others.

He writes:

Here I'll share my expanded list—based heavily on his Newton's original one. Since Newton gave each case study a slightly humorous Latin name, I've done the same.

Austerus is a solid and disciplined Christian but abrasive, critical, and ungenerous in dealing with people, temperamental, seldom giving compliments and praise, and almost never gentle. 

Infitialis is a person of careful and deliberate character but habitually cynical, negative, and pessimistic, always discouraging ("that will never work"), unsupportive, and vaguely unhappy.  

Pulsus is passionate, yes, but also impulsive and impatient, not thinking things out, speaking too soon, always quick to complain and lodge a protest, often needs to apologize for rash statements. 

Querulus is a person of strong convictions, but known to be opinionated, a poor listener, argumentative, not very teachable, and slow to admit wrong.  

Subjectio is a resourceful and ambitious person, but also someone who often shades the truth, puts a lot of spin on things (close to misrepresentation), is very partisan, self-promoting, and turf-conscious.  

Potestas gets things done but needs to control every situation, has trouble sharing power, has a need to do everything him or herself, and is very suspicious and mistrustful of others. 

Fragilis is friendly and seeks friends, but constantly gets feelings hurt, easily feels slighted and put down, is often offended and upset by real and imagined criticism by others.  

Curiosus is sociable but enjoys knowing negative things about people, finds ways of passing the news on, may divulge confidences, and enjoys confronting too much. 

Volatilis is kind-hearted and eager to help, but simply not reliable—isn't punctual, doesn't follow through on promises, always over-extended, and as a result may do shoddy work.

Read the rest of it here.  

09 May 2013

The Preeminence of Christ

He is the image of the invisible God
     the firstborn of all creation.

For by him all things were created
     in heaven and on earth
     visible and invisible
     whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities

ALL THINGS were created through him and for him.

And he is before all things
      and in him all things hold together.

He is the head of the body, the church.

He is the beginning
     the firstborn from the dead
           that in everything he might be preeminent.

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell
     and through him to reconcile to himself all things 
          whether on earth or in heaven

making peace by the blood of his cross.

Elizabeth Smart on Abstinence Only Education

I came across this piece this piece about Elizabeth Smart from the Huffington Post. Elizabeth Smart, the 14 year old girl who was kidnapped at knife point, forced into a polygamous marriage, and repeatedly raped before being discovered has blamed her abstinence only education, at least in part for the degree of trauma she experienced.

She commented that for those who receive abstinence only education, they are left feeling "dirty and filthy." My first comment would be that this is probably a universal, or near universal, experience for victims of rape. Feelings of shame are not isolated to, nor even more intense, for those who received abstinence education.

She said she didn't run because after being raped, she wondered who could ever want her now? Her education told her that premarital sex would make her like a chewed piece of gum. The message that she is trying to promote is that children should be taught that they have value, no matter what. In that goal, she is assuredly right. Children are valuable. Indeed, I would argue that it is only the Christian worldview that makes sense of universal value. It is grounded in the imago Dei--the image of God. Every person is created in God's image and therefore possesses intrinsic worth. It is the materialist viewpoint that has a grounding problem with regard to universal worth because the theory upon which it is based says that the strong rule over the weak. In Smart's case, the strong took what they wanted.

In a society where sex is devalued, merely mechanical, and a pleasurable end in itself, sex trafficking and rape will probably intensify in years to come. We have devalued personhood across the age spectrum. Christians need to be champions for the value of people, regardless of their circumstances.

Christians also need to step up and tell people that God created sex as a good and honorable thing and because He doesn't want to see people cheapened, He places certain boundaries around it (namely in a monogamous marriage). But Christians also need to tell people that Jesus loved prostitutes, adulterers, and regularly pursued them. It is because of who God is that those children have value no matter what.

If you haven't seen this video, I would commend it to you.

08 May 2013

Look Up

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.-Phillipians 4:8

A short walk around the block can be refreshing. Over the lunch hour today, I took a slow stroll around block, specifically meditating on "whatever is lovely". I sought to be intentional about considering those things that seemed lovely. The warm Spring air, the breeze on my face, the blue sky with sparse clouds, and even the throaty call of a crow were beautiful.

Despite looking for beauty, I also observed many things that marred the beauty--discarded soda bottles, the final traces of melting snow stained like crude oil, the smell of cigarette smoke--each a sign of disrupted beauty. I was also acutely aware of my smart phone in my pocket, a misnomer if their ever was one, beckoning me to check my Facebook page. I refused its call. 

As soon as I re-entered the building, though, I quickly retrieved my phone. Facebook. Twitter. Email. All things that must be checked. Twenty steps from my office, I heard someone comment that I was stuck up...or something similarly pejorative. If I am honest, I don't actually recall what she said. I looked up to see two friends of mine sitting on a bench in the hallway. Admittedly, I did not even see them sitting there. My behavior and her comment-offered-in-jest were eye opening. She was, of course, right.  In my deliberate effort to step outside and appreciate my surroundings, I quickly reverted to something less lovely.

I was reminded that we often exchange real people for status notifications on a three inch screen. We exchange lovingly prepared cuisine for prepackaged monochromatic food products. We exchange marital intimacy for lewd, pornographic images. We exchange a never ending, never repeated three dimensional universe that features every shade in the color spectrum for a flat, lifeless television show, often that we've seen before.

How often do we do the same thing with God? We each have a script of Who God is, but that script  contains our edits. His inspired Word gives us glimpses of His steadfast love, His glory, His mercy, His Holiness, His tenderness. Glimpses. One day, we will see much more clearly (1 Corinthians 13:12), but now we have just hints, but even those are subject to our editing.  We correct who we think God should be and in doing so, flatten the picture.

Sometimes  We should seek to look up and behold His beauty, accepting what is for the moment, acknowledging that our two dimensional interpretations are merely hints at who He truly is. We should be grateful for His self-revelation in 66 books, but understand that His beauty is so much greater than we can possibly imagine. Rather than refining our edits, perhaps we would benefit from using God's word to help us anticipate Truth. Justice. Honor. Purity. Love. Commendability. Excellence. The One who is worthy of Praise.

07 May 2013

Reflections on Becoming a Centurion

Nearly 4 years ago, I heard Chuck Colson speak for the first time. I was at a large counseling convention and he was one of the plenary speakers. He talked about worldview and promoted a program he was passionate about--the Centurions Program. Chuck had a vision to raise up leaders from around the world who could speak prophetically into the culture at large. Each year, 100 people were selected to go through this rigorous program. I remember thinking to myself, if I ever have a chance to become a Centurion I will do so, but I did not give it much more thought.

In the intervening years, I have began to study apologetics in greater depth. I completed the Ambassador Basic Curriculum through Stand to Reason, the apologetics certificate program through Biola University, and the Foundations of Apologetics Course through RZIM, which I coupled with readings and audio materials. The information I gathered was  beneficial, but it was really just information.  There was no real opportunity to interact with those involved with these programs.

Last spring, I decided (finally) to apply to the Centurions Program. Shortly after I applied, however, Chuck passed into glory. I confess there was a part of me that wondered whether I should withdraw my application, but after some soul searching, I realized that Chuck was not the reason I was applying, it was the training (though I do look forward to meeting him some day). And so I began.

Centurions is an intense year. There is a lot of reading and writing about topics relevant to worldview. Each month, there are also conference calls where we heard from Christians working in a variety of contexts. For example, we heard from Joel Belz of World Magazine on interacting with the press and Joni Erickson Tada on ministry to persons with disabilities.

Aside from these opportunities, there were two program highlights for me. First, there is an online forum for the Centurions. I took full advantage of this community. I learned from what others posted. I was challenged to examine my own views on theological and cultural issues. Most importantly, however, was that I have developed, or I am developing, friendships with other Centurions from around the world.

The weekend residencies were the second highlight. Twice during the year, our Centurion class would descend upon Landsdowne, Virginia for three days of intensive training in biblical worldview. I expect these weekends are similar to standing in front of a fire hose. I was blessed to hear from many different speakers and to engage with my colleagues, or shall I say my friends, from around the world. Rather than single out the strengths of each of the faculty, let me just say they each bring a well developed understanding of worldview and a passion for Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God.

I cannot recommend this program strongly enough. It is intensive hard work. It will help you to sharpen your thinking, enflame your godly affections, and engage in work for our King. If you choose to do this, I promise you will never look at the world in the same way again.

And that is a good thing.