Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Bop to the Top

Aside from some small difficulties with the sound system, today's 3rd Grade Talent Show at Superior Elementary School was a smashing success.

Of course, I think that my Anna was the most beautiful singer and dancer of them all. Her "Bop to the Top" duet with classmate Julie Dunn was simply breathtaking. The outfits! The vocals! The choreography! I don't think the school had ever seen anything like it.

I've got it on home video, so if you've got 2 minutes, just ask and I'll be more than happy to relive it with you.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Book Review: Death in the City

Talk about relevance! Schaeffer wrote the first edition of this book the year that I was born and I am astonished at how directly he speaks to my life and ministry today, over 37 years later. In Death in the City, the church is called to a Spirit-wrought reformation, revival and constructive revolution. “There cannot be true revival unless there is reformation; and reformation is not complete without revival”(28). While many in my local church may not be inclined to listen to Schaeffer because of his cessationist doctrine of the Holy Spirit, his prophetic gifts have much to say to us and to Boulder’s postmodern culture. This review will consist of selected quotes from Death in the City, followed by my personal reflections on them.

“Ours is a post-Christian world in which Christianity, not only in the number of Christians but in cultural emphasis and cultural result, is now in the minority…When we begin to think of [Boulder, or anywhere else in America] and preach the gospel to them, we must begin with the thought that they have no clear knowledge of biblical Christianity” (30-31). When the building that my church meets in was built in the early 1960’s, evangelists and preachers might safely assume that many of their South Boulder hearers possessed some understanding of the Biblical storyline. But it is no longer safe to assume so. Whether church visitors or others I meet in places like the Southern Sun Pub, people are not thinking of God in terms of creation, fall, redemption and the glories of heaven. The truth of God as divine creator (which may be seen daily by the sublime beauty of the changing light on the flatirons) continues to be suppressed in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18). Schaeffer is right. Our country is under the wrath of God. It has been under the wrath of God since he spoke and wrote these words the year that I was born. The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all our ungodliness and unrighteousness. Lord, have mercy.

“Jeremiah…is called the ‘weeping prophet,’ for we find him crying over his people. And his attitude must be ours: we must weep over the church as it has turned away and weep over the culture that has followed it…if you are a Christian looking for an easy ministry in a post-Christian culture, you are unrealistic in your outlook” (49-51). When was the last time I wept over the state of people’s souls in Boulder County? Lord, please soften my heart. Ministry is not easy here, nor is it easy anywhere. We live among people who reject any propositional revelation of God, the church has ceased to use words like apostasy, and we are reticent to speak against the prevailing sins of the post-Christian world. We are not following Jeremiah’s example. “Our generation needs to be told that man cannot disregard God, that a culture like ours that has had such light and then has deliberately turned away stands under God’s judgment” (60).

“It is not possible [to avoid cultural pressure] whether one [proclaims the Word of God] with his music or with his voice, whether one plays an instrument or speaks out behind a pulpit, whether one writes a book or paints a picture. To think that one can give the Christian message and not have the world with its monolithic, post-Christian culture bear down on us is not to understand the fierceness of the battle in such a day as Jeremiah’s or in such a day as our own” (77). “But if one really preaches the Word of God to a post-Christian world, he must understand that he is likely to end up like Jeremiah” (81). Weeping. Sinking in the mire of a dungeon. “If you love God and you love men and have compassion for them, you will pay a real price psychologically.” (84) Frankly, there have been many days when I have desired to quit the ministry. One of my shepherding gifts seems to be that people trust me with their secret stories of guilt and pain and sorrow. In myself I have nothing to help them with. All I can do is cry with them and point them to Jesus and encourage them to keep trusting him, even when nothing makes sense. I have paid a real price psychologically in recent years. Thank you, Father for not allowing me to quit when I have wanted to. “The world is lost, the God of the Bible does exist; the world is lost, but truth is truth. Keep on! And for how long? I’ll tell you. Keep on, keep on, keep on, keep on, and the KEEP ON!” (92).

“When modern man (whether he is educated or not) thinks he needs salvation, usually he is not thinking of salvation from moral guilt, but rather relief from psychological guilt-feelings” (107). Perhaps this is why so many who make “decisions for Christ” or are baptized are no longer found among the fellowship of believers. The salvation they experienced was not real conversion of the soul, instead it was therapeutic religious pragmatic solutions for guilt-feelings they once had but no longer experience. “God is holy. There is a moral absolute. I am significant. I have deliberately sinned. I am under the wrath of God. Note it well: unless by God’s grace I have taken advantage of this unexpected and totally surprising answer to the dilemma [namely, the person and work of Jesus], I am under the wrath of God” (133).

Thank you, Father, for the prophetic ministry of Francis A. Schaeffer that still bears fruit today through his writings to the church. Help us to hear the words of Jeremiah and Paul so that Spirit-empowered reformation and revival may revolutionize your church and our culture. In Jesus name, Amen.

Death in the City, Francis A. Schaeffer, Crossway Books, 2002

Book Review: Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament

Wright, Christopher, J.H. Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament, Downer’s Grove, IL:
InterVarsity Press, 1992, 256pp.

British Old Testament Scholar Christopher Wright seeks to influence all Christians in this book written in a popular, yet still scholarly style. Wright’s goal is to help the Old Testament not only become a living book for contemporary Christians, but more specifically to provide a remedy for the problem of Jesus being cut off from the historical, social and religious context of his life. A foundational premise of the book is that we cannot truly know Jesus without knowing his story. “The more you understand the Old Testament,” he writes, “the closer you will come to the heart of Jesus.”[1] Wright believes that a better knowledge of the story of Israel is key to helping Christians come closer to the heart of Jesus, since Jesus brings that story to completion. Thus a deeper study of the Old Testament is essential for believers be able to know Jesus better. Furthermore, Wright is concerned that the picture many Christians have of Jesus today is one where “He is cut off from the historical Jewish context of his own day, and from his deep roots in the Hebrew scriptures.”[2] As he develops this theme of Jesus and the Old Testament, Wright explains Jesus relationship to the story, promise, identity, mission and values of the Old Testament. Near the end of the book, he states, “Our whole purpose has been to see how much Jesus was shaped in his identity, mission and teaching by his Hebrew scriptures.”[3]

Wright effectively introduces the reader to the broader Old Testament story behind Jesus through an initial discussion of the oft-overlooked genealogy of Matthew 1. By highlighting this familiar text that is confusing and perhaps seems irrelevant to most modern readers, he peaks their curiosity and then launches into a faithful overview of the Biblical storyline and the historical context it is played out within. Here the reader can observe Wright’s method of interpreting the New Testament and the life of Jesus as that which fulfills the Old Testament story. Wright starts with the person of Jesus, who in Matthew (the gospel written for Jewish Christians, in Wright’s estimation) is a real Jew, a real man (here he notes the four foreign women included in Jesus’ genealogy), and the Son of David.

“So much of significance, then is contained within Matthew’s opening seventeen verses. In its own way, though more indirectly, it is rather like the prologue of John’s Gospel, pointing out the dimensions of the significance of Jesus before introducing him in the flesh.”[4]

As readers see more clearly the story-in-progress that Jesus enters into, they also see that he is the completion of that story that is left unfinished by the Old Testament.

Loosely following the tradition of Walter Eichrodt of selecting a center by which to structure an Old Testament theology, Wright then enters into an overview of covenant theology spoken of primarily in terms of “promise-fulfillment” and then later developing a good, basic analysis of each “covenant” according to its scope, substance and the response of the people whom God made the covenant with. Wright sees Genesis 12:1-3 as a hinge-point in the Biblical storyline: Genesis 1-11 poses the question of how God’s purposes for mankind might prevail, while the rest of the Bible answers that question. Wright understands the Exodus to be the primary model of what redemption means in the Bible.[5] Wright sees “Salvation-History” as the primary point of continuity between the Old and New Testaments.[6] Therefore he concludes that

“another dimension of the Old Testament promise is the way it leads to a recurring pattern of promise-fulfillment, fresh promise-fulfillment, repeating and amplifying itself through history. Like some science fiction, time-travelling (sic) rocket, the promise is launched, returning to earth at some later point in history in a partial fulfillment, only to be relaunched with a fresh load of fuel and cargo for yet another historical destination and so on.”[7]

Wright sees God’s covenant with Abraham partially fulfilled by the time of the Exodus. He sees the Israelite covenant at Sinai partially fulfilled in the conquest of Canaan. He sees the Davidic covenant as not failing through the exile through the prophetic vision of the new Covenant. Here his promise-fulfillment paradigm seems to fall a little short. One can see how his distinction between prediction and promises helps him to come to his theological conclusions. While he does see an overall unity in the covenants of the Old Testament, as he discusses promise-fulfillment of each of the covenants, Wright stays true to the ideals of Biblical Theology when he acknowledges, “The tension between the universal goal and the particular means is found throughout the Bible and cannot be reduced to either pole alone.”[8] Once again beginning with texts from the New Testament and then moving to the old, he avoids discussion of a covenant of creation since “the text itself never speaks of a covenant, and it is not described that way anywhere else in the Old or New Testament.”[9] Wright faithfully portrays that God has kept the promises he had made and that “the old testament declared the promise which Jesus fulfilled.”[10]

In discussing Jesus and his Old Testament identity, Wright makes a strong case that “it was the Old Testament which helped Jesus to understand Jesus.”[11] (Emphasis his) On pages 110-116, a significant detour is taken to discuss the hermeneutical principle of typology, summarized in the following quote. “Typology is a way of helping us understand Jesus in the light of the Old Testament. It is not the exclusive way to understand the full meaning of the Old Testament itself.”[12] Wright asserts that typology:

1) is not a theological or technical term, meaning a range of examples, models and patterns of correspondence.

2) is a normal and common way of knowing and understanding things,

3) is already a feature of the Old Testament itself (Jer. 7:12-15, Hos. 2:16ff, Gen. 15:6)

4) is a matter of analogy,

5) is a matter of history, and

6) is not just prefiguring or foreshadowing.

In the sixth and final description of typology, Wright distinguishes his understanding of typology from those which view a type as “any event, institution, or person in the Old Testament which had been ordained by God for the primary purpose of foreshadowing Christ.”[13] By making this distinction, Wright enables his readers to avoid the errors of 1) failing to find meaning in the Old Testament events, institutions and people themselves, and 2) engaging in far-fetched efforts to interpret every detail of an Old Testament ‘type’ as in some way foreshadowing some other obscure detail about Jesus. Wright offers this summary of a properly handled typological interpretation.

“Typology…is a way of understanding Christ and the various events and experiences surrounding him in the New Testament by analogy or correspondence with the historical realities of the Old Testament seen as patterns or models. It is based on the consistency of God in salvation-history. It has the backing of Christ himself who, on the authority of his Father, saw himself in this way. But typology is not the way of interpreting the Old Testament for itself. This is because it is selective in the texts it uses from the Old Testament (i.e. those which particularly help us to understand Christ), whereas the New Testament itself tells us emphatically that the whole of the scriptures are written for our profit (2 Tim, 3:16f.) and partly because it is limited in the meaning it extracts from those selected texts (i.e. again, meanings which specifically relate to Christ.”[14]

By engaging in such a detailed discussion of typology, Wright may leave much of his popular audience behind, but nevertheless his method of interpretation appears to be sound.

By discussing both the expectations of the Jewish society of his day and Jesus’ “creative and original way of handling the Hebrew Scriptures”, Wright helps the reader understand what Jesus believed his mission to be. He effectively argues that Christ came first for the restoration of Israel, which is then immediately followed by the blessing of the nations through the preaching of the gospel. The “already but not yet” principle is also addressed here in a helpful way.

To make the case that Jesus’ values (ethics) flow from Old Testament revelation, Wright accurately reminds readers “to love your neighbor as yourself, is not a revolutionary new love ethic invented by Jesus. It was the fundamental ethical demand of Old Testament holiness which Jesus reaffirmed and sharpened in some cases.”[15] He also properly emphasizes that “Obedience flows from grace; it does not buy it. Obedience is the fruit and proof and sustenance of a relationship with the God you already know.”[16]

On page 76, Wright enters into a polemical argument against “those who look for future fulfillments of Old Testament promises in a manner as literal as the original terms themselves.” While his motor car/horse analogy is helpful, he does not sufficiently develop his arguments against those who insist on literal fulfillment of prophecies. In a day when Left Behind is the best-seller at the local Christian bookstore, Christians who have been exposed to more literal interpretations of prophecy will most likely require a closer look at the passages in question before they jettison the portrayal of the end times they’ve been entertained with.

Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament effectively communicates to its readers a more complete understanding of Jesus. Though not a book about “Christian living”, by giving readers a more accurate picture of the Lord and providing a covenantal framework for thinking about the entire Bible, they will be helped to know the Lord and His word better. And we can trust that the Spirit will use that to transform lives. The book would be a helpful supplementary text for a Sunday School class on “Jesus and Redemptive History”.

[1]Wright, Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament, p. 108.

2 Ibid, p. ix.

[3] Ibid, p.242

[4] Ibid, p.8.

[5] Ibid, p.10

[6] Ibid, p.33-34

[7] Ibid. p.72.

[8] Ibid. p.43.

[9] Ibid, p. 80.

[10] Ibid, p. 110.

[11] Ibid, p. 108.

[12] Ibid, p. 116.

[13] Ibid, p. 115.

[14] Ibid, p. 116.

[15] Ibid, p. 201.

[16] Ibid, p. 193.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Why Megan Likes Sewing So Much

1) Shiny sequins that break your needles
2) The challenge of adjusting the tension on the sewing machine that her mom bought her when she graduated from college
3) Bobbins...just the word, not the real things.

At the moment, Megan isn't enjoying her sewing so much. But Anna loves the fact that her mom is sewing the costume for her upcoming talent show. Thanks to my Proverbs 31 woman, Anna will be singing and dancing "Bop to the Top" in a shiny sequined skirted leotard thingy. Look for an update on the talent show later this week.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Book Review: Postmodern Times

I should have read this book 10 years ago. I could have made more sense of my life if I had. I was a teen in the 80’s and a young adult in the 90’s, one of many who have been thoroughly affected by the postmodern age. My high school and university experiences were prototypically postmodern. Many of my teachers, professors and friends held to mutually inconsistent ideas and rejected any claims of absolute truth. Sometimes I did too. Overused generic terms in my vocabulary, like “dude” and “whatever,” were only given meaning by their usage in my social group. Style was much more valued than substance. Sure, when I walked onto the university campus, I thought I was there to study, research and reason. But when I walked through my graduation ceremony, what I had learned was that the university culture was ruled by ideologues, political correctness and power struggles. Postmodernism is the spirit of the age in which I live. In Postmodern Times, Gene Edward Veith, Jr. has done the church a great service by guiding us through our culture with scriptural wisdom and a missional heart.

Veith’s “walking tour” of American thought and culture takes the reader through postmodern philosophy and its impact on the arts, postmodern society and contemporary religion. Veith contends that he remains open to the postmodern, even as he is critical of postmodernism. This openness is evident in his analysis of postmodern thought and survey of the arts, where he doesn’t label everything postmodern as “all bad.”

This book helped me to see more clearly how postmodernism finds its philosophical basis in existentialism. Both deny that there is any meaning or purpose to life. But while existentialism said that meaning was created by the individual, the postmodernist version says that meaning is constructed by a social group and its language. So while earlier generations sought a stable foundation for knowledge in God, and successive generations sought this same foundation for knowledge in personal experience or reason, now my postmodern generation denies that any foundation for knowledge exists apart from the constructions of one’s particular culture and language. Thus any meaning to be found in life is merely a social construct. Furthermore, since my generation has accepted the postmodern, deconstructionist assumption that all societies are inherently oppressive, every claim of universal truth is automatically treated with suspicion. That makes preaching the Bible more difficult, but it also makes even relational evangelism more difficult.

If I had read this book 10 years ago, I could have made better sense of the artistic and architectural worldview I encountered on a number of trips I have taken, from the Hundertwasserhaus in Vienna to the Swan and Dolphin Hotels at Walt Disney World. I have always enjoyed architecture, since I grew up among a family of builders. Veith’s insights help me to interpret postmodern art and architecture more insightfully, particularly when he reminds us that postmodern art does not take itself too seriously. Buildings like these (and on a much smaller scale, a number of the custom homes that I helped build in my former life as a realtor and homebuilder) are playful in design, with eclectic facades that make reference to things other than the real building itself. Postmodern buildings lack integrity and are in-your-face about how they value style over substance. I agree with Veith and prefer postmodern architecture to modern architecture, but my favorite buildings are still the pre-modern ones, like the Nathaniel Russell House in Charleston, with its self-supporting elliptical spiral staircase.

Just as postmodern art is eclectic, so is postmodern culture, which helps me understand why on any given Saturday, I might order Chinese food from a Hispanic waiter at P.F. Chang’s, listen to some R&B by Steve Wonder while driving in my Japanese-built minivan, watch a British-accent fantasy filmed on location in New Zealand, and take a nap on my southwestern leather couch in my neo-traditional tract home. But my culture is not only eclectic, it is also increasingly segmented. Since truth is merely a social construction and primarily a matter of personal preference, I see the people around me aligning themselves ever more deeply with various groups they participate in. In South Boulder, among the people I serve through my church, I observe a startling diversity of individuals who have happened to find other individuals just like themselves: Mountaineering-wannabees, left-wing political activists, home-schooling mothers of six children, and beer-goggling college students. This multicultural atmosphere is fertile ground for a gospel-seed sowing church concerned about how its corporate worship and witness are perceived by their postmodern culture. Heaven will certainly be a redeemed multicultural celebration (Revelation 5:9-10), the Kingdom of God obviously is multicultural and even the local church can be a glorious display of Jesus’ lordship over all cultures.

But the most helpful insight that I gleaned from Postmodern Times is how evangelical churches like mine and how pastors like me are affected by this culture we find ourselves in. How often do I see my people rejecting Biblical truth and embracing something else, simply because “it works for me”? How often do I ignore Biblical instruction for leading the church and embrace other church growth strategies, simply because “it works for us”? How often am I drawn to the potential power of the church and my leadership role in it, rather than to the truth of God and his revealed word? Far too often, I confess. Veith rightly directs Christians in this age to embrace a “confessional Christianity,” one that exults in truth over experience, doctrine over therapy, and “live orthodoxy” over “consumerist religious community.” In a culture that tends to deny truth altogether, an overemphasis on truth, the proclamation of God’s law and the Gospel of Jesus is hardly a danger.

Postmodern Times: A Christian Guide to Contemporary Thought and Culture, Gene Edward Veith, Jr., Crossway Books, 1994

Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Joy of Hospital Visits

I just returned from Boulder Community Hospital, where I visited a man who underwent surgery yesterday. He is enduring trials of all kinds right now, and yet I left him more joyful than when I came to visit him. I think some of his joy rubbed off on me. He quoted Job 1:21 to me with a smile. "And he said, 'Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD." Hospital visits are becoming something I love to do very much, because I often get to be around souls like this man, and in the process the Holy Spirit strengthens my own soul.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Simplify Your Spiritual Life

This month I am finding a lot of joy in leading a group at Cornerstone Church on Sunday mornings called Simplify Your Spiritual Life. It is based on Donald S. Whitney's book of the same name. But it hasn't just been a book study. We've listened to Yo-Yo Ma, examined the life of an aging Breckenridge ski bum, and focused on that "one thing" that the old cowboy Curly talks about in City Slickers. You know what we've discovered? That Jesus is the one thing needed (see Luke 10:42). Our goal? To have our souls renewed by pursuing "a sincere and pure devotion to Christ." (see 2 Corinthians 11:3). Our method? Recommitting ourselves to the spiritual disciplines and seeing them not as a duty, but as a Spirit-empowered path to freedom. You're invited to join us for our homework this week -- to take a prayer walk! Here's the assignment.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Ski Missouri!

Yes, it's true. The obsessive skier has returned to the hill where he skied away many high-school nights. After four days in classes, I rented gear last night and met my brother at Hidden Valley Golf & Ski in Eureka, Missouri. There's nothing like carving through that frozen granular machine tilled snow. More often than not it looks and feels like ice. Learn to ski here and you can ski anywhere. Peak Resorts has upgraded the place and added a back side with some serious steeps for my home state. Go Hidden Valley Ski Team! My only complaint is that they don't sell Hostess Cherry Pies in the snack shop anymore.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

An Enlarged View of Apologetics

There is much I could say about what I'm learning this week as I study under Jerram Barrs at Covenant Seminary in St. Louis. But I'll try to sum it all up in one sentence:

"Apologetics is not just for brains, it is also for hearts."

"You shall love the Lord your God will all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment." - Matthew 22:37-38 (ESV)

Book Review: Introducing Postmodernism

In the words of the great Mr. Slinger, the wise teacher in the picture book Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse, “Wow, all I can say is wow.” That simple exclamation is about all I have left to communicate the shock I’m feeling after reading this extended comic book designed to introduce us to postmodernism. I can honestly say that I’ve never read a book like this one. No table of contents. No chapters. No end to the black and white cartoon illustrations and use of captions to make the authors’ points. My eyes are tired, but not from reading a lot of words. My eyes are as tired as if I had just stared at a television for a few hours. In many ways, that’s what reading this book is like. With multiple images on every page, it is visually over-stimulating. Obviously the authors had a pedagogical purpose in mind with this bold new form of page layout, but I’m left too exhausted to figure it out.

There are actually three major sections in the book, each surveying the genealogy of something postmodern: first art, then theory and finally history. In terms of art, the book is helpful to understand why some people call strange things “art”. I’m hopeful that I’ll be a better student of this “art” the next time I visit Daniel Leibeskind’s new pavilion at the Denver Art Museum. In terms of theory, the book gave me a firmer grasp on why people speak of postmodernists as being skeptical of all metanarratives (a particularly helpful thing since I spend much of my life trying to teach others how the biblical storyline is the one true overarching story we all find ourselves in). In terms of history, the book helpfully reminds us that postmodernism is more than an over-hyped church growth opportunity (as many spoke of it at last year’s National Church Planting Conference I attended in Orlando, FL). Were you aware that the term was first used in the 1870’s? Neither was I. Postmodernism is part of the spirit of the age we live in. Along with remnants of the Pre-Modern and Modern worlds, Postmodernism is still here with us and a better understanding of it will enable us to live more fruitful missional lives.

Here is one of the most helpful quotes from the chapter surveying Postmodernism’s history. “This is the postmodern paradox – doubt which is itself in doubt and which therefore ought to be more tolerant of others beliefs (but isn’t, really).” (159)

Don’t let this book fool you. There is a real metanarrative that offers hope, meaning and love – things that we were made for but that postmodernism ultimately strips away from humanity. That overarching story is God’s story, the metanarrative of the redemption of a fallen creation that starts in Genesis and ends in Revelation.

Introducing Postmodernism, Richard Appignanesi & Chris Garratt, Icon Books, 2004

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Do You Remember Being Born?

I don't. But I just remembered that I'm spending my week less than 400 yards from the hospital where I was born. Covenant Seminary is located at the Northwest corner of the intersection of I-64 and I-270 just west of St. Louis and Missouri Baptist Hospital is located at the Southeast corner. Over 37 years ago, on October 4th in the year 1969, I was born there. No, I don't remember that day. It makes me think about the span of my life. "Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath! Selah Surely a man goes about as a shadow!" - Psalm 39:5-6

Book Review: The Face of Truth

Having just read Five Views on Apologetics, I’m tempted to immediately categorize the apologetic methodology of William Edgar into one of Steven Cowan’s five views. But that is not as easy as we might hope it to be. The quick and dirty method would be to read Edgar’s bio, find out that he’s a professor at Westminster Theological Seminary and assume that he embraces reformed epistemology apologetics. But that would be lazy, the assumption might be wrong and we definitely wouldn’t learn anything. And why bother classifying the book at all? Why not interact with it and think about what we learn? That’s where this review is headed.

Based on the vocabulary and choice of illustrations, The Face of Truth appears to be written to university-educated spiritual seekers who have been affected by postmodernism, whether consciously or unconsciously. I often get to select gift books for visitors and newcomers to my church in Boulder, but nothing on our welcome tables reads like this. Edgar playfully combines the gospel with a scholarly assortment of theological terms, philosophical analysis, cultural insights, pop culture illustrations and occasional historical anecdotes. At the end of his quick-reading 132 pages, I feel like I’ve been all over the place and I think I liked the trip. At the beginning he expresses his hope “that readers will see the face of truth, ultimate truth, and seeing it will love it.” (2) Truth has a face because truth is a person, and a lovely person at that. What a compelling (and biblical) way to first introduce his readers to God! God revealed in the bible is good, true and beautiful – worthy of love in every way.

Edgar starts his apologetic where the Bible starts, with arguments supporting the existence of God as creator, but he doesn’t start with a plainly logical exposition of the Kalam cosmological argument like a William Lane Craig. His jumping off point is a story about a young academic defending his thesis, but then like a music video on MTV, Edgar quickly cuts to an illustration from Jodi Foster’s movie Contact. Then another quick cut takes the reader to a brief biblical theology of general revelation, which is followed by reflections on the universal human experiences of self-awareness and a guilty conscience. Edgar’s explanations are nowhere near exhaustive, but they are biblical and therefore have the cumulative effect of weakening the strongholds that exist in many unbelieving readers’ minds.

In the chapters that follow, Edgar writes in a similar manner. He surveys the history of impressionistic art to make an analogy about the philosophy of knowledge. He discusses Thomas Kuhn’s term “paradigm shift” to expound on the true nature of repentance and faith in conversion. He compares the postmodernist Michel Foucault with Pontius Pilate and quotes theologian John Murray to solidify the notions of objective truth in the Lordship of Christ. Edgar probes the historical context of Galileo versus the Roman Catholic Church as well as the Scopes Monkey Trial to shake the foundations of scientific methodological naturalism and open a door in the reader’s mind to the credibility of intelligent design theory. The lyrics of Bob Dylan and Isaac Watts introduce two chapters dealing with the problem of evil. Unexpectedly, reformed characters like John Calvin, the Huegenots and Jonathan Edwards appear to the reader not as enemies but as potential friends. Occasionally, theological terms like atonement and expiation are used without shame in the context of Christian explanations of the human condition. Throughout the book, Edgar illustrates with aspects of culture that still reflect the image of God in mankind even though they are ruined by the fall. From these points of contact, he consistently shows his readers how the Christian view of things makes the best sense of the world we find ourselves in.

The Face of Truth contains a unique, but clear presentation of the Christian gospel and multiple calls to repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Students of popular evangelical apologetics works might be a bit surprised at what they come across in this book, but in the end our truthful God's face shines bright and clear. And of course, His loveliness is unbeatably satisfying.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Things You Can't Eat In Boulder

My taste buds are enjoying being in St. Louis this week. Here's a short list of my favorite things to eat here that you can't get in Boulder.
  • salty-seasoned Lion's Choice roast beef sandwiches
  • paper thin Imo's Pizza with provel cheese
  • cheese fries and a chocolate malt at Steak-n-Shake
  • Toasted Ravioli (okay, it's really deep-fried breaded ravioli, but mmmm it's good)
  • Ted Drewe's Frozen Custard (there's no way to describe it...)
Yes, I'll be doing some extra time on the treadmill next week, but this hobbit is feeling like it's time for second breakfast.

Book Review: Five Views on Apologetics

One of the most frustrating aspects of being a Christian today is living amid the divisions that exist within the body of Christ. Nearly two thousand years after Jesus prayed for the oneness of we who believe in the gospel (cf. John 17:21), there is a growing market for a large number of “views” books like those in Zondervan’s “Counterpoints Series.” A wearying list of titles includes Four Views on Hell, Five Views on Sanctification, and Four Views on Eternal Security. One wonders what area of Christianity remains that does not require a “views” book to outline the positions of Christians who disagree with one another. I long for the day when Jesus prayer for our oneness will be reality. I also long for the day when the Holy Spirit will have completed His work of guiding Jesus’ followers into all the truth (John 16:13). It was with this sense of weariness and longing that I picked up Five Views on Apologetics.

Ironically, one of the first things that I learned in the book was that there even exists a disagreement among Christian apologists about where to draw the lines between their various positions. Should we follow Gordon Lewis and classify apologetic methods by the religious epistemology they employ? Should we follow Bernard Ramm’s classification into apologetic families grounded on (1) the uniqueness of the Christian experience of grace, (2) natural theology or (3) revelation? Editor Steven Cowan attempts to build a taxonomy based on argumentative strategies, but this doesn’t appear to work that well. At various times the five contributors are claiming that at least one of the others is actually a member of their camp and is not a distinctly alternative position after all. Lord, help us!

Another lesson of the book is realizing the importance of acknowledging how philosophical and theological commitments relate to our position on what is proper apologetic methodology. Craig and Habermas seem committed to a great deal of rationalistic philosophy and give much more weight to logic and reasoned argument than Clark and Frame. Feinberg seems committed to a kind of sanctified evangelical pragmatism that is most concerned about what will work in persuading the unbeliever to consider Christianity. Each contributor addresses the role of the Holy Spirit, and all but Frame and Clark avoid delving too deep in the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, particularly regarding the order of salvation. Whether regeneration precedes faith or not is certainly relevant to the task deciding upon an appropriate apologetic methodology, but Craig, Habermas and Feinberg don’t get anywhere near that topic. I think this is because their theological precommitments against anything that might resemble 5 point Calvinism are greatly affecting their apologetic thinking. But sadly the impact of their theological precommitments is only minimally discussed.

Frame comes across as the one most concerned about the role of Scripture in apologetics, and strikes me as the one who is most willing to acknowledge his theological and philosophical presuppositions. For these reasons, I humbly throw my hat in the presuppositional ring as well, knowing that there are some close to me in my church likely to attack my “circular” reasoning as I do so. But I see no other way out. Every person on the planet knows that there is a God through creation (cf. Psalm 19, Romans 1:19-21). We are faced with the reality of creation before we learn to critique or defend the Christian faith. Though many millions suppress the truth of God’s existence by their unrighteousness (Romans 1:18), it is nevertheless rational to presuppose that God exists and to acknowledge that this presupposition affects every other aspect of our worldview, especially our epistemology. If a creator God exists, then the moral argument immediately comes into play. If God made us, then he rules over us and we are accountable to him. This is as far as human reasoning will take us. If we are to know any more about this God to whom we must give an account of our lives, he must reveal himself to us. So we need the Bible and we need preachers and heralds of God’s revealed truth. This is the world we live in. I applaud Frame for proclaiming the sufficiency of scripture for epistemic questions and for being the only one of the five to attempt to argue primarily from the scriptures.

When comparing the examples of apologetic methodology provided in the book, again I commend Frame as the best teacher of apologetics and the one most clearly presenting the gospel. His sketch of an apologetic on pages 223-231 is worth the price of buying the book. Be aware that at the end of his sketch, he unnecessarily takes the focus off the gospel and puts it on presuppositionalism (apparently to attempt triumph via his written argument), but I would be surprised if he would go that far while talking with a nonbeliever. Feinberg offers a helpful chart of the witness of the Holy Spirit on page 157. Frankly, I chuckled numerous times when Craig repeatedly appealed to Bayes’ Theorem. This complicated probabilistic formula reminds me of a scene from The Dead Poets’ Society where a stodgy English professor attempts to chart the beauty of a poem on the vertical and horizontal bars of a graph. I don’t doubt that Craig understands and uses this theorem in his work, especially since his arguments for the resurrection are so bullet-proof. But it is absurd to imagine someone like me actually using Bayes’ Theorem in a coffee shop conversation with a nonbeliever.

Books like Five Views on Apologetics can be helpful as they create a forum for believers to interact and critique one another’s perspectives. But since they offer no resolution of the conflicts they address, they can be unhelpful as they perpetuate disagreements among brothers and sisters in Christ. Such is the book-selling world we find ourselves in. Even so, come Lord Jesus!

Five Views on Apologetics, Steven B. Cowan, Editor, Zondervan 2000

Saturday, January 13, 2007

‘T-bar’ lives

Did you see the article T-bar Lives from Thursday's Summit Daily News?

What's that you say? You don't read the Summit Daily News that often!?! Then you might think it's a bit obsessive to be up before dawn reading the ski-town newspaper online. You're probably right.

Anyway, there's this guy Tommy 'T-bar' Larkin, who has been a ski bum in Breckenridge for over 35 years. To qualify for the label 'ski-bum' in Breckenridge you have to be seriously devoted to skiing. 'T-bar' is seriously devoted to skiing. He works two low-paying jobs, only owns two forks and decorates his tiny apartment with his old ski gear. Tommy skis a lot -- more than 200 days a year. He's been living the dream in Breckenridge for over 30 years. Locals call him the king of ski bums.

But just as death comes for the archbishop, so it also comes for ski bums. Tommy had a massive heart attack while skiing last week and crumpled in a heap on the cold Colorado snow. Providentially, the spot where his body slid to a stop was in the ski-path of a doctor from Louisiana who gave him CPR until the ski patrol arrived with a portable defibrillator. That got his pulse going again until the flight for life helicopter took him to a Denver hospital. And happily, that day last week was NOT the day that God had chosen to end Tommy 'T-bar' Larkin's life on earth.

Now skiers are not usually known for making profoundly reflective theological statements, so we shouldn't be surprised that Tommy's new-found perspective on life and death leaves a few important things out.

“Skiing is ... skiing is life, y’know?” he says. “It gives you that grasp, y’know? Not even skiing the whole day, but just to get out there for two hours. It gives you that cosmic grasp that you need. It grounds you.”

Dude. Sweet. Totally.

Seriously, I don't get it. I'll be the first to admit that I'm a bit of an obsessive skier. Ask Megan for proof. But I'm not getting that same 'cosmic grasp' through skiing. And I don't think any other sane person is either.

Perhaps there are some things to admire in Tommy's devoted commitment to his beloved winter sport and lifestyle. One must exercise a lot of discipline to ski 200+ days a year. The sacrifices he has made to be a mid-50's ski bum have been great. No wife. No family. No meaningful career. No complete set of flatware. Yes, Tommy has a sincere and pure devotion to skiing. But is skiing all that there is? Is skiing life?

Most certainly not. Tommy, my skiing friend, you're missing something very important. I love skiing a lot too. It's an exhilarating gift from God. But our souls need something more than skiing to be grounded in life. We need Jesus. The Apostle Paul talks about sincere and pure devotion in 2 Corinthians 11:3. This devotion is similar to your devotion to skiing, but the object of the devotion is so different. It's not a sport, place or lifestyle. It's a person. "But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ."

To live a simple and devoted life, like 'T-bar' does, can be a good thing as long as the simple life is devoted to something that lasts longer than a few inches of powder snow. A wise man once said that God, the Word of God and the souls of men will last for eternity. That's cosmic. The eternal God is the only one able to truly ground us.

I'm praying for you, 'T-bar'. God has a reason for not letting you die on that green run last week. I'm praying that your simple devotion to skiing will be overcome by a new simple devotion -- to Jesus.

Friday, January 12, 2007

The Essential 100 Challenge

Scripture Union USA has created a Bible reading plan that leads readers through 100 readings that paint the big picture of the Bible without getting bogged down. 50 passages are from the Old Testament and 50 passages are from the New Testament. A good number of people in my church accepted the challenge to read "The Essential 100" with me this month. If you'd like to join us, post a comment and I'll send you a copy of the weekly reading plan. It's not dated so don't worry about when you start.

Today I read the story of Jacob stealing Esau's blessing. The deceitful Jacob is certainly not the hero of this story, even though God repeats to Jacob the promise He had earlier given Abraham. "I am the LORD...the land on which you lie I will give you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed...behold I am with you..." Our gracious God is the hero. He chooses to show his love and faithfulness to people with messed up families like Jacob...and like me.

Reading this text today reminds me of this hymn: Grace Greater than Our Sin

Marvelous grace of our loving Lord,
Grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt!
Yonder on Calvary’s mount outpoured,
There where the blood of the Lamb was spilled.


Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that is greater than all our sin.

Sin and despair, like the sea waves cold,
Threaten the soul with infinite loss;
Grace that is greater, yes, grace untold,
Points to the refuge, the mighty cross.


Dark is the stain that we cannot hide.
What can we do to wash it away?
Look! There is flowing a crimson tide,
Brighter than snow you may be today.


Marvelous, infinite, matchless grace,
Freely bestowed on all who believe!
You that are longing to see His face,
Will you this moment His grace receive?


To all my friends at Cornerstone Church who have joined me in The Essential 100 Challenge, keep reading! You can increase your enjoyment of God this year by faithfully reading His Word. If you think you've fallen behind in your reading a bit, please don't quit! God wants to meet with you today as you read the Bible and pray to Him. Please let me know how I can help you.

Doctrine on Draught

Some people drink to forget. We gather in a local pub to remember all that God has done for us in Jesus.

"God has not called us to be hogs or to wallow in the same mire as hogs. God has called us to ' the courts of his holiness." - Jim West, Drinking with Calvin and Luther, Oakdown 2003

Doctrine on Draught is a group of Christian friends that gathers regularly at Boulder Pubs and hosts lively conversations about contemporary theological issues with special attention given to the application of biblical doctrine to our daily lives.

Doctrine on Draught is open to, women, college students, Cornerstone attenders and non-attenders. You are invited to join us Thursday nights from 9 to 11pm at the Southern Sun Pub and Brewery, 627 S. Broadway in Boulder.

The Doctrine on Draught community commits to live together in a manner that is self-consciously distinct from the world and sees itself as a part of the body of Christ that is Cornerstone Church of Boulder Valley, embracing its responsibility to protect the purity, witness and doctrines of our church and will not hesitate to follow the Biblical practice of corrective church discipline should circumstances so require.

Ministry Values:

  • God-centered - not beer-centered - Biblical fellowship (I Corinthians 10:31)
  • Respect for one another’s convictions, opinions & practice regarding the use of alcohol (Romans 14:1-12). It is perfectly acceptable for any group member to not order an alcoholic beverage during our meetings together.
  • Not even a hint of drunkenness (Ephesians 5:18) and absolutely no underage drinking (Romans 13:1). We see no edifying reason for consuming more than one alcoholic beverage during our meetings together.
  • Lively, yet respectful discourse with one another (Colossians 4:6)
  • Open Bibles (Ephesians 6:17 and Isaiah 55:10-11) and a conscious pre-commitment to the authority, inspiration, infallibility and complete inerrancy of the Bible over any man’s theology.
  • Missional/Missionary posture in our relationships with people we meet at whatever pub we may be meeting in. (Matthew 28:18-20)
  • Weekly Readings dealing with contemporary theological issues and Spirit-led discussion of those readings with particular attention being given to the application of Biblical theology to our very lives.
  • Ecclesia Reformata, Semper Reformanda Secundum Verbum Dei (Translated: The Church reformed, always reforming according to the Word of God)

See the Holy Spirits article in the Boulder Daily Camera.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Devotions: Who is the authority? - John 19:8-12

Today I read John 19:8-12 and was struck by Jesus' responses to Pilate. At first he is silent. He gives no answer to the man with the political authority to put him to death. Not getting an answer from Jesus obviously frustrates Pilate, who asks a silly question to the eternal Son of God. "Why won't you speak to me? Don't you know that I have the authority to release you and the authority to have you crucified?" Silly Pilate, of course Jesus knows that. He is wearing a CROWN OF THORNS on his bleeding head. His back is STILL bleeding from the flogging he received earlier that night. Yes Pilate, Jesus knows that he is going to die and experience the weight of sin and the pain of separation from His Father. That's what he was so distressed about while praying in the garden before all this violence of his arrest and crucifixion began. But now in John 19:11 the real authority shows itself. Jesus finally answers Pilate and says, "You would not have one bit of authority over me if it were not given to you from above." From here on out Pilate seems confused. His next series of decisions are a lesson in what leaders ought not to do under pressure. And Jesus' words echo true from then to now. Read through the last few chapters of John's gospel and you'll see that Jesus is the one in authority. Sure, he dies a horrible death by crucifixion. But, listen to the authoritative words of Jesus in John 5:26-29, "For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment." These words about Jesus' authority over his life are now proven to be true. The tomb was empty. The accounts are historically reliable and there is no other reasonable explanation. He is Risen!

Father you are the sovereign God of the universe who sent your son to suffer under Pilate and accomplish our redemption. You have now given Jesus your son all authority in heaven and earth. We repent of our abuse of authority and trust in him today. We recognize that whatever authority we have as parents, employers and leaders in your church has been granted by you. We humble ourselves and submit to your authority. Help us to exercise the authority that you give to us in ways that are not self-serving. Glorify your Son Jesus who has life in himself and authority to execute judgment. In Jesus name, Amen.

Book Review: Worship in Spirit and Truth, by John Frame

By being committed to both reformed doctrine and what many would call a “contemporary” worship style, some evangelical Christians may consider John Frame to be somewhat of an enigma. Frame’s major premise in Worship in Spirit and Truth is found in the conclusion of his fourth chapter entitled, “The Rules for Worship”.

“I will not urge anyone to conform to the Puritan style of worship or to any other style…Rather, I shall present the regulative principle as one that sets us free, within limits, to worship God in the language of our own time, to seek those applications of God’s commandments which most edify worshipers in our contemporary cultures. We must be both more conservative and more liberal than most students of Christian worship: conservative in our holding exclusively to God’s commands in Scripture as our rule of worship, and liberal in defending the liberty of those who apply those commandments in legitimate, though, nontraditional ways.”[1]

The book is primarily targeted towards conservative Presbyterians who hold a more strict interpretation of the “regulative principle” than Frame does. While remaining committed to his reformed evangelical Christian tradition and addressing the arguments of his critics within Presbyterianism, Frame also provides a brief Biblical theology of worship and a ministry philosophy that would help many evangelical Christian worship leaders do a scriptural reevaluation of how their own church worships.

In his first chapter, Frame outlines “basic principles” for Christian worship that are also biblically, theologically and philosophically sound. Worship is to be 1) God-centered, 2) Gospel-centered, 3) Trinitarian (worship of the Father, in the name of the Son, by the Holy Spirit), 4) Vertical and Horizontal (“Loving God involves loving our neighbors as ourselves”[2]), and 5) Broad and Narrow (I Corinthians 10:31teaches that, broadly, all of life is worship. Hebrews 10:25 also commands believers to gather together regularly for worship in the narrow sense.). These principles are a very helpful primer for thinking theologically about worship.

In practice, Frame’s reinterpretation of the regulative principle leads him to give the following answer to the question of what ought to be on a worship leader’s “to do list” for a service.

“The answer is not terribly hard to find. It is simply to obey everything that God says in Scripture about worship – to follow the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27; compare Matt. 4:4). God reveals to us general principles, such as I Corinthians 10:31. But he also reveals many relatively specific principles, such as James 2:1-4, where we are told not to discriminate in worship against people with poor clothing. Where specifics are lacking, we must apply the generalities by means of our sanctified wisdom, within the general principles of the word. Where specifics are given, we must accept them and apply them even more specifically to our own particular situations.”[3]

Thus, on his worship “to do list” he includes: greetings and benedictions, scripture readings, preaching and teaching, prayer, song, vows, confession of faith, sacraments, church discipline, collections/offerings, and expressions of fellowship. Yet Frame holds that to require that each of these be present in every service goes beyond the requirement of scripture.

“Scripture gives us not definitive list of “elements” that alone must be present in the “official” service. But it does tell us to avoid practices and attitudes that compromise the scripturally defined purposes of the meeting.”[4]

While he acknowledges that Christian worship contains elements both of God’s speaking and of the congregation’s responding (reminding us that salvation is by grace, by God’s initiative, and that our obedience is a response to that grace), Frame does not propose that the Christian worship service be structured as a dialogue because “there is no neat division in worship between some events at which God speaks and others in which we respond.”[5] The freedom allowed by Frame’s interpretation of the regulative principle is seen here as he concludes “there is no passage or principle in Scripture that dictates on invariable order of events in worship,” and asks “every biblical doctrine is involved in each of the others; why should we not explore the biblical paths from one to another in many ways, in many orders, from many directions?”[6]

However, like many of our Presbyterian friends, Frame corrupts the ordinances of worship through practicing infant baptism in worship because he underestimates the importance of believer baptism for upholding the ideal of a regenerate visible church. Frame asserts the following in his chapter “God Speaks to Us: The Word and the Sacraments”: “Receiving baptism and the Lord’s Supper unites one with Christ, his church, and his purposes.”[7] Because of the importance of faith in a sinner’s justification (cf. Romans 4), it is most reasonable to argue that an infant cannot receive baptism by faith, and therefore that the practice of infant baptism is less than fully biblical. Frame acknowledges that he does not enter into a full argument for infant baptism, and because he does not provide adequate scriptural support for infant baptism, he would have been better off not raising the subject at all. In the second point of his argument, Frame asserts that the “essence of baptism” is placing the name of God upon the person and identifying the person with God and with the covenant people. If that is true, in what sense was his earlier statement about a person uniting with Christ and his church a true statement? The Bible clearly speaks of our union with Christ by faith (Romans 3-6, Galatians), not baptism. Furthermore, the Presbyterian position is inconsistent in its approach to the sacraments. If baptism can be rightly administered to infants, what reasoning keeps small children from taking the Lord’s Supper before giving evidence of their regeneration? Frame and the Presbyterians fail in upholding biblical worship through continuing this tradition of infant baptism and constructing an extra-biblical theology of a “covenant family”. What is more, the witness of the universal church is compromised and lacks credibility as a result of their ecclesiological decisions, because this practice underestimates the importance of believer baptism and church discipline (which prevents people from taking the Lord’s Supper when the have not given evidence of being born again) in upholding the ideal of a truly regenerate visible church.

While that harsh critique is justified, the book is not “all bad”. In his concluding chapters on “Music in Worship”, Frame offers sound advice to “budding theologians” as they critique the music of their church.

“When hymns in new styles violate theological norms, however, the proper response is not to abandon the new style, but to produce (or edit) hymns in that style that are biblically sound. We should also try to be reasonable and fair in our evaluation of the theological content of hymns, in the following respects: (a) We should remember that hymns are poetry, not prose. We should not insist that a hymn state doctrines in perfectly literal terms. (b) It is wrong to insist that a hymn say everything about a particular topic. Scripture itself, in individual passages, does not meet that requirement.”[8]

Frame concludes the book with a helpful description of the process of planning and leading a worship service at his church in California. Overall, the book does a great service in helping evangelical worship leaders to worship God in Spirit and Truth.

[1] Frame, John M. Worship in Spirit and Truth. (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1996), p. 46

[2] Frame, p.8.

[3] Frame, p.54-55.

[4] Frame, p.61.

[5] Frame, p.70.

[6] Frame, p.71.

[7] Frame, p.97.

[8] Frame, p.118.

Book Review: Longing to Know, by Esther Meek

The full title of this book is Longing to Know: The Philosophy of Knowledge for Ordinary People.

After reading this “epistemology for dummies”, I’m afraid that I may be a little less than ordinary. I’m having the same feelings I had in the fall of 2000, when I was a first year seminary student listening to Professor Meek lecture at Covenant Seminary in St. Louis. I left her lectures unsure that I had understood everything that she said and feeling somewhat confused. Today, in the same way, having just finished a long, thoughtful reading of Longing to Know, I’m still not sure whether I understand everything that she has written. So reader beware. Since Meek’s philosophy of knowledge claims to be written for ordinary people, my difficulty comprehending this book may be evidence that this review that you are reading comes from someone whose grasp of these philosophical issues is less than ordinary.

The question at hand is: How do I know that I know something? I think every living person asks this question at some point in their lives, in their own way. To get through life, every person must perform acts of knowing. But only strange people who philosophize actually try to describe these acts in contemporary language. Nevertheless, the philosophy of knowledge (also known as epistemology) is worth thinking about, especially since our unexamined philosophical choices can greatly impact the way we think about our knowledge of God. If we don’t think rightly, doubt may grow unchecked in unhealthy ways and steps taken in faith may be reversed by steps of unbelief. If I can’t know something rightly, how can I have confidence that I really know Jesus as he truly is?

Meek candidly informs her readers that most of her philosophy of knowledge is built upon the work of Michael Polanyi, a Hungarian born scientist and philosopher whose main works were published from the 1940’s to the 1960’s. Her Polanyian thesis is that “knowing is the responsible human struggle to rely on clues to focus on a coherent pattern and submit to its reality.” (13 & developed throughout the book). She attempts (and succeeds, in my opinion) to avoid the errors of past philosophers (the ancient error of skepticism and it’s irrationality, the pre-modern error of traditionalism and it’s lack of critical thinking, the modern/enlightenment error of foundationalism and it’s reliance on the myth of certainty, and the post-modern errors of deconstructionism and it’s self-refuting and inconsistent denial that real communication is possible leading to hopelessness and meaninglessness). I wonder how her thoughts compare to those of the late Carl F.H. Henry, who espoused a “rational presuppostionalism” and wrote the 7 volumes of God, Revelation and Authority. If you’ve read Henry on these issues, and you read Meek also, I would love to know how they compare, and would appreciate you letting me know.

Rather than trying to answer these “How do I know that I know?” questions deductively, she repeatedly uses examples of knowing from everyday life to develop an integrative philosophical understanding of the epistemic acts that normal people do regularly. Knowing as a responsible integrative act that relies on clues, seeks coherent patterns and is willing to submit to the reality it comes to know, fits well within a Biblical worldview. In Meek’s opinion, it reunites “the ivory tower with the world of everyday human experience, seeing the jewels of the one return to the streets of the other, where they belong.” (185) Furthermore, “It helps us see that the risky placing of confidence in God that Scripture calls “belief,” the orienting of our whole lives toward him, just is the epistemic act, the ordinary act of knowing that we replicate repeatedly in weaving the tapestry of our lives. Knowing God is like knowing your auto mechanic. We can and do know our auto mechanic. Therefore, we can and do know God.”

Eventually, questions about knowing lead to the question “Can I know God?” Meek strives to answer that question in the affirmative, with a thoughtful and sound answer based on some of the best philosophy from the 20th century. But even better than that, she helps the reader keep that question in its proper perspective. On the last page of the book, she reminds us that “The ultimate question is not Do or Can I know God? It is Does he know me? It is right to ask questions. But expect to find that you are the one who needs to answer someone else’s questions – someone who has the right and power and reality to be answered. Expect that in seeking to know God, you are no longer the one in pursuit. You are the pursued.” (196)

In John 6:44, Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” Thank you, heavenly Father, for being the sovereign one who uses even the struggles of our restless hearts to bring our souls to rest in the knowledge of you.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Praise God for Gondolas!

If you've ever tried going skiing with kids, you've learned that the key to happy day on the slopes is minimizing the time it takes to get the kids from the car to the lifts. That's another reason why Arapahoe Basin is one of my favorite places to ski with my family...just back that minivan up next to the bunny slope, lift the tailgate, get'em dressed, step into your skis right next to the car and off you go. The only thing left to do at that point is fill the kids up with candy and snacks on the chairlift to keep their little furnaces running. But...if you've ever gone to one of those "fancy-schmancy" ski resorts where the free parking is a 15 minute bus ride away from the slopes, you know what a nightmare skiing with kids can be. Lost gloves, cold toes, strange and smelly people...these are not the makings of a happy day. So to my friends at Vail Resorts and the Town of Breckenridge, I give you my heartfelt thanks for installing the new BreckConnect gondola. Sophie and I tried it out this past Saturday and we loved it. Instead of waiting for a bus, riding 15 minutes and climbing 3 flights of stairs with gear in tow, my 6-year-old shredder and I strolled less than 100 yards to the gondola at the tailings lot, enjoyed the view from our airborne transport system for about 10 minutes and snacked away in warmth and comfort. Top that off with no steps up to the lift line at the peak 8 base and this daddy is one happy camper. Thanks again Breckenridge! You are the coolest ski town in Colorado.

My Favorite Podcasts

If you got an iPod for Christmas and have not yet explored the world of podcasting...repent.

Free audio and video from all over the world, downloaded every night while I sleep? What's cooler than that? Okay, a day off in Summit County with over 12 inches of fresh powder is cooler than that, but you know what I mean.

My favorite podcasts, by category:

  • NPR: 7am ET News Summary
  • This Week in The Economist
  • BBC: World Today Select
  • The Onion Radio News

  • Desiring God (The ministry of John Piper)
  • Capitol Hill Baptist Church (CHBC)
  • Mars Hill Church: Everything Audio
  • Covenant Life Church
  • The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Chapel Messages (I like the faculty much more than some of the visiting pastors who preach in chapel.)

Continuing Education for Any American:
  • 60-Second Science from the National Science Foundation
  • The Princeton Review Vocabulary Minute
  • Grammar Girls Quick and Dirty Tips
  • Brain Food
Entertainment & Culture:
  • BCO Morning Show Podcast
  • DontBeThatGuyFilms
  • The Onion Radio News (worth listing twice)
  • Ask A Ninja - iPod
Coolest Video Podcasts:
  • National Geographic Video Shorts (have you seen Octopus vs. Shark?)
  • Freeskier Magazine Podcast (the winner by far)
Let me know if you think any other podcasts are worth subscribing to.

Book Review: The Abolition of Man, by C.S. Lewis

The first thing I learned while reading The Abolition of Man was to remember that most contemporary issues in American thought are able to be traced back to the philosophers and theologians of our parents' and grandparents' generations. Lewis’ critique of “The Green Book” reminds me of the historical context of contemporary postmodernism. Language games are not new to our day. Postmodernism is a new label, but its contents are not that different than what previous generations have encountered. Lewis skillfully highlights the faulty philosophical presuppositions of “The Green Book” for the purpose of showing his readers how “Amateur philosophers” have begun representing themselves as “professional grammarians” (23). By his example, I learn that courage, correct thought and clarity of expression are required to proclaim God’s truth in our culture.

I found it helpful to reflect upon Lewis’ experience as a teacher: “For every one pupil who needs to be guarded from the weak excess of sensibility there are three who need to be awakened from the slumber of cold vulgarity. The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles but to irrigate deserts.” (24) I find the same to be true in my work as a pastor, especially in my teaching ministry at South Boulder’s Southern Sun Pub, at Superior’s Panera Bread store, and at the adult Christian education groups I oversee at Cornerstone Church. It’s not as if my people’s passions are too great. Rather, they come to our meetings burdened with half-hearted desires for many unsatisfying things and need help to see and become more passionate about the truth, goodness and beauty of our truly satisfying God.
Lewis critiques the textbook writers’ inability to show students the difference between good and bad writing. This obliviousness to standards in written art reminds me of the denial of objective standards of beauty so prevalent in American evangelicalism and postmodernism. Perhaps it is somewhat more effective for one of Oxford’s professors of English to elucidate the qualities of good English writing than it might be for a contemporary art fan to explain to his friends why he observes one piece to be objectively and aesthetically superior to another, but it is no less reflective of a Christian’s call to truth, goodness and beauty. Lewis reminds me that God is true, good and beautiful and that the good life is to be found when we reject lies, evil and ugliness.

I confess that I was a bit shocked when I read Lewis using the term “Tao” as a major point in his argument for the reality of universal moral standards and the existence of the conscience. As an American evangelical pastor, I don’t often find myself choosing terms from other religious cultures and then using them for my own communicative purposes. Most often, I find myself explaining the difference between words like justification and sanctification to people who identify themselves with Jesus somehow but don’t give much evidence of actually having been converted. But again I learned from Lewis’ example that one can improve communication to those of another worldview by strategically adopting a truth existing in the other culture for use in making a point within the Christian worldview. Once again, I learn from an historical example of a minister following Paul’s example in Acts 17 when he adopts the language of the Stoic and Epicurean philosophers.

Another learning point for me was Lewis’ helpful analysis of how the authors of "The Green Book" see the world of facts and the world of feelings confronting one another with no rapprochement possible. Lewis forces them to the logical conclusions of this philosophical position. There are no moral ought to’s, should not’s or appropriate responses unless there is a Tao/Truth. The ultimate effects of the unacknowledged philosophical and moral presuppositions expressed in "The Green Book" (and illuminated by Lewis) are the dehumanization of people who have been made in the image of God.

A rhetorical lesson I learned from Lewis was his effective use of language. His phrase “Men without chests” powerfully describes those who are not truly intellectuals, rather devoid of right emotional responses to truth as it is made known to them. “We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings to be fruitful.” (37) I want to learn how to communicate like that in my teaching and writing. Again, I am thankful for Lewis’ example.

Another lesson that I learned in reading this book was the apologetic effectiveness of leading people to the perilous logical conclusions of their worldview and then offering hope of rescue with the gospel of Jesus. In the last chapter/lecture, Lewis persuades his readers that the ultimate outcome of the progressive humanistic worldview is the denial of conscience, the rejection of truth and goodness and beauty, and ultimately the abolition of everything that it means to be human. “Either we are rational spirit obliged for ever to obey the absolute values of the Tao, or else we are mere nature to be kneaded and cut into new shapes for the pleasures of masters who must, by hypothesis, have no motive but their own ‘natural’ impulses…a dogmatic belief in objective value is necessary to the very idea of a rule which is not tyranny or an obedience which is not slavery.” (84-85) This apologetic is grounded upon the existence of a mind and conscience and taste. While it does not quote scripture, it is consistent with the biblical message of the gospel of Jesus. I would have liked to have read more of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus as the solution to these problems, but with Lewis’ extensive writings and lectures elsewhere, this great gospel can and should certainly be assumed by his readers.