Vietnam and Afghanistan: A Reminder and Jeremiad

Some compare the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban to the fall of South Vietnam to the Communist North Vietnamese in 1975. There is one titanic difference. 


The United States had defeated North Vietnam, and this was sealed at the Paris Peace Accords. It was not an unwinnable war. But the victory had to be secured by keeping the peace, which mean giving ongoing US aid to South Vietnam. The US Congress (controlled by Democrats) refused do that, over the pleas of President Gerald Ford. Then Hanoi fell. The Viet Cong took over South Vietnam. Millions fled or tried to flee. Remember the “boat people,” escaping yet another worker’s paradise? Vietnam became another Communist prison state that imprisoned, tortured, and killed untold numbers. Then, because South Vietnam fell, Cambodia fell to Pol Pot, another Communist (trained in France), who killed about two million of his own people for being counterrevolutionary. That was about 25%-30% of the population. Mao killed the most, 70,000,000, but Pol Pot holds the record for killing the highest percentage of his own people. They can argue in hell whose achievement was greater.

This may surprise you, since Vietnam has been falsely depicted by the press and in films. The war was procured to stop Communist aggression. It was not imperialism. What I write is true. America was humiliated without reason; it betrayed its allies; and it sentenced millions to tyranny and death. 

Today, the world faces something similar, but different. The war in Afghanistan was longer than the Vietnam war, but I’m not sure it was ever won. The US presence insured a more stable and more tolerant government. The war started because Afghanistan, controlled by the Taliban, gave save harbor to ben Ladin, the mastermind beyond the 9/11 attacks on America. That war had to be fought. 

However we assess all this, the armed forces departure from Afghanistan is an unmitigated disaster and human rights tragedy, sentencing the brave Afghan people to untold oppression and misery under a Taliban demonocracy. Joe Biden is the Commander in Chief. It is ultimately his fault. We can pray and we can welcome as many refugees to our shores and into our homes as possible. 

America is imploding at home and abroad. Our liberties are at stake, given the rise of statism and surveillance. Our taxes support abortion on demand. Our streets were ablaze and may be again. We have insecure borders. Our standing abroad is further blemished if not poisoned by the Afghanistan apocalypse. The Executive Branch is occupied by a radically incompetent man (or worse), who is failing mentally and falling America and falling the world. 

“Titanic” and Christian Faith

Believe it or not, I had never seen “Titanic” (1997), one of the most well-known films of all time–until yesterday and tonight. It’s long, so we divided it. I shall make but a few theological comments.


Near the end of the film, a man with a clerical collar is shown speaking to a small group of people on board the sinking ship. They are not clamoring for a life boat, but simply listening. He recites the “Hail Mary” but later, he quotes from Revelation from memory (!), which speaks of a time when there is no more sea, when every tear is wiped away, and death is no more.


This was the only reference to Christianity–besides the profaning of God’s holy name—I found in the film up to that point. Neither Jack nor Rose ever cry out to God for help. None of the major characters give the slightest indication of Christian conviction.


The cleric was leading his little doomed flock to remember and count on what was to come for the faithful. I often read from Revelation 21-22 to my dying wife, Rebecca. It is no mere desperate or romantic hope. It is as real as the resurrection of Jesus Christ (see 1 Corinthians 15), which is a well-established fact of space-time history. (See my chapter, “The Resurrection of Jesus” in Christian Apologetics. This has become two chapters in the 2nd edition of the book.) 


The Titantic’s string quartet finishes their performance by playing, “Nearer my God to Thee,” a Christian hymn. (Whether this happened is debatable, but it is another upsurge of truth in an otherwise secular film. People not familiar with hymns will not catch this.)


The final scene features a dream or perhaps an afterlife experience of the surviving Rose, who is now elderly. She returns to the great banquet hall of the Titanic and is greeted by all who died and by her beloved Jack, who died just before she was rescued. They kiss to the applause of all. You cry. (This is similar to the final scene of “Places of the Heart,” which is more specifically Christian, since all are taking the Eucharist.)

Yes, there will be a great eschatological reunion. This is why followers of Christ do not “grieve as the world grieves.” We have hope. This hope, however, is not some vague, misty, romantic wish that all will turn out well. This hope, as the Apostle Paul affirms, “does not disappoint us.” But this hope is reserved for those who have been redeemed through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Lord and Savior. It is not automatic for all. You must be converted.


The elderly Rose says that “Jack saved me in every way I could be saved.” That is false. Jack inspired her, inflamed a deep bound of friendship and romance. But only Jesus Christ can save us from the curse of the law, since the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is the work of Jesus Christ’s death on the cross on our behalf. We are saved, rescued, and redeemed by lifting up the empty hands of faith, trusting in his saving achievements. By God’s grace and love, I did this in June of 1976. Have you done so?

Kindle and the Writer

I long resisted any reading of books in electronic form. Books are superior in many ways—their ability to carry memories, hand-written annotations, their physical heft, their inability to have more than one set of messages per page (unlike screens), and more. I wrote of this in The Soul in Cyberspace (Baker, 1997). However, using Kindle has advantages for the writer.

  1. Kindle is more portable than a book. When one travels or is away for the summer (as I am), Kindle supplies needed information without the bulk of a book. Still, I miss my voluminous library.
  2. Kindle may provide the complete works of a noteworthy philosopher theologian for a small amount of money. 
  3. Kindle allows the writer to search a huge corpus quickly and efficiently. I found this invaluable when researching the atonement of Jesus. Assuming the search technology is accurate, I could look for references to “imputation” or “atonement” in the collected works of John Owen, Jonathan Edwards, Augustine, and others, as well as particular books by Charles Hodge, John Calvin, and others. A Kindle search is comprehensive, unlike the index to a book, which is selective. (And some books that need indexes lack them.) However, a Kindle search is only as good as what you decide to search for. A book index supplies the names and topics for you to consider.
  4. My publisher (InterVarsity) and some others (Cambridge) allow Kindle citations in references. Kindle enables the writer to capture and paste text quickly. Thus, if I want a Francis Schaeffer reference to “open system of cause and effect,” I can search for it, capture it, and paste into a chapter I am writing. 

However, one must be sure that the Kindle text and citation format are worthy of being referenced in a book or article. Some of the Kindle texts are junky and unreliable. But that is true of some books as well.

So: “Two Cheers for Kindle.”

Give Profits a Chance

As I was driving on Santa Fe in Littleton, I passed a light rail station and read this on an RTD car, “Caring for people, not profits.” Is that a good motto for Denver’s light rail system? Or is it a false dichotomy? I am not complaining about the RTD service per se. Rather, I am raising the basic issue of profits and social benefit—a question germane to Colorado politics and to all politics. 

To many, “profit” is a dirty word and must be paired with “greed,” which is always vice. So, if you want to make a profit, you are greedy or will become greedy if you make profits. Is that right? We need to move beyond images of the greedy old Mr. Potter of “It’s a Wonderful Life” to get a better picture.

First, to greed. Even if someone is greedy (which is a vice), he still needs to provide goods or services that are markable to people’s needs. His greed may lead him to expand production and thus hire new workers who would otherwise be unemployed. Yes, his greed is a moral vice, but it may translate to a public good. But one may seek profit and not be greedy, but rather act out of legitimate self-interest. As Adam Smith said in The Wealth of Nations (1776).

“It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest. We address ourselves not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities, but of their advantages.”

Those who make vast amounts of money through savvy self-interest may also become great benefactors. Whatever you think of Bill Gates, and whatever his motives may have been, his great wealth came from profits made through Microsoft products. These products benefitted his many workers and consumers. He and his wife now dedicate much of their time and give large sums to philanthropic enterprises. 

Second, let’s get clear on what making a profit means and what it does not mean. Profits indicate economic success and allow businesses to produce goods and services demanded by the market, and the consumers generally benefit from this. A business’s profit is not like stealing that amount from the consumer. 

Third, to make a profit in a fair market means that the producer is providing goods or services to consumers who find these items worthwhile enough to purchase. Businesses have to care about people to the extent that they provide them with items they desire and can afford to purchase. Further, some measure of profit is needed for a business to stay in business at all.

Fourth, profits fuel innovation. If business merely break even or fail to make significant profits, they are unable to dedicate much money to research and development in the products they provide. Had Apple gone broke in 2000, there would be no iPhone.   

Fifth, if a service like RTD is controlled by the civil government– which does not need to make a profit—that does not automatically make the service better than what private profit-making business might do. The saying, “Close enough for government work,” may ring true. When services are not accountable to consumers in order to make profits, and when they are not in competition with other private businesses providing the same service, the quality of these services may suffer. Why should be think that the motto, “Caring about People, not Profits,” will motivate RTD managers and workers to care more about people than the profit motive would motivate them?

Since Colorado has turned from blue to red, the prevailing mentality of politicians is to take a dim view of profit-making ventures and to favor government-run services. I say, give profits a chance to profit people.

Easter Life and the Facts of History

Easter commemorates and celebrates a historical event unlike any other: the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.  But what is the significance of the resurrection? And how can we know it really happened? 

The four Gospels report that Jesus predicted his death, burial, and resurrection. He was born to die. All of his wondrous teachings, healings, exorcisms, and transforming relationships with all manner of people—from fishermen to tax collectors to prostitutes to revolutionaries—would be incomplete without his crucifixion and resurrection. Shortly before his death, “Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priest and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life” (Matthew 16:21). Peter resisted this grim fact, but Jesus rebuked him.  There was no other way (vs. 22-23).  For, as Jesus had taught, he “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).

And give his life he did, on an unspeakably cruel Roman cross—impaled for all to see before two common criminals. We call this day Good Friday because it was good for us; but it was dreadful for Jesus. Before I became a follower of Christ, I always associated this day with the Alaskan earthquake on Good Friday, 1964, one of the largest ever in North America. I was there in Anchorage. After the death of Jesus, the earth quaked on the first Good Friday as well, heaving with a significance that far exceeds any geological upsurge in world history. As Jesus’ disciple Matthew recounts: “And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from the top to the bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split” (Matthew 27:50-51). When the guards at the crucifixion experienced the earthquake and the other extraordinary phenomena, “they were terrified, and exclaimed, ‘Surely he was the Son of God!’” (v. 54). Yet another miracle was waiting, waiting—as the dead Messiah was pried off his bloody cross, embalmed, and laid in a cold, dark tomb, guarded to the hilt.

All seemed to be lost. The one who had boldly claimed to be “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), the prophet who had announced that “God so loved the world that he sent his one and only son that whoever believes in him would not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16)—this man now had died.  The man who had raised the dead was dead.

On the first day of the week, two women, both named Mary, came to visit the tomb of their master. They had stayed with him as he died; now they visited his tomb in grief.  Yet instead of mourning a death, they celebrated a resurrection announced by an angel, who rolled back the stone sealing the tomb and charged them to look at its empty contents.  He then told them to tell Jesus’ disciples of the resurrection and to go to Galilee where they would see him. As they scurried away, Jesus himself met them, greeted them, and received their surprised worship (Matthew 27:8-9).  He directed them, “Do not be afraid. Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me” (v. 10).

The rest is history, and it changed history forever. The fact that women were the first witnesses to the resurrection puts the lie to the notion that the idea of Jesus’ resurrection was concocted at a later point to add drama to his life. Women were not taken to be trustworthy witnesses in courts of law at that time (although Jesus always respected them).  If someone had wanted to create a pious fraud, they never would have included the two Marys in their story. Moreover, all four Gospels testify to the factual reality of the resurrection. They were written by eyewitnesses (Matthew and John) or those who consulted eyewitnesses (Luke and Mark); they were people in the know, not writers of myths and legends (see Luke 1:1-4; 1 Peter 1:16).

After the resurrection, the gospel of the risen Jesus was quickly proclaimed in the very area where he was crucified.  This upstart “cult” would have been easily refuted by someone producing the corpse of Christ, which both the Jewish establishment and the Roman government had a vested interest in doing, since this new movement threatened the religious and political status quo. But we have no historical record of any such thing having occurred.  On the contrary, the Jesus movement grew and rapidly spread. Christian Jews changed the day of worship from Saturday to Sunday, in honor of Jesus’ resurrection. Pious Jews would never do such a thing on their own initiative, because it would set them against their own tradition and their countrymen. Nor would they have ceased offering the prescribed sacrifices their Scriptures required had not Jesus proven himself to be the final sacrifice for sin, the lamb of God (see John  1:29 and the Book of Hebrews). The resurrection best accounts for this change in their day of worship, their manner of worship, and the transformation at the core of their lives.  Moreover, the two key rituals of the earliest church—communion and the baptism—both presuppose the historicity of the resurrection and are very difficult to explain without it.

The Apostle Paul, a man revolutionized through an encounter with the risen Christ (Acts 9), taught that “if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (1 Corinthians 15:14).  Paul listed many witnesses of the risen Christ, some of whom were still living when he wrote (1 Corinthians 15:3-8), and confidently affirmed that “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead” (v. 20).  He also proclaimed that Jesus “through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:4).

Easter is the core of Christian faith and life.  Without the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ, there is no gospel message, no future hope, and no new life in Christ. With the resurrection, Christianity stands unique in all the world: no other spiritual movement is based on the resurrection of its divine founder.  When Jesus announced, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 10:25), he meant it and he demonstrated it.  Let us, then, leave our dead ways and follow him today and into eternity.

Spiritual Dangers of New Age Meditation and Yoga

Harper’s ran an in-depth article on the fate of a young woman who did intensive Easterm meditation at a retreat and contacted mental illness as a result. It ended tragically. The piece reviews significant scientific literature on the deleterious effects of meditation.


I warned of the psychological, physical, and spiritual dangers of yoga and meditation in my book, Confronting the New Age (InterVarsity Press, 1988). Back then, a New Age organization was set up to help people who experienced mental problems through New Age involvement, The Spiritual Emergency Network. I also quote yoga teachers who warn of the psychological and physical dangers of yoga when (in their mind) done wrongly. I have excerpted part of that book below from the Kindle version. (Sadly, the footnote references do not appear, but they will if you purchase the book from Amazon, which is only $2.99.)

We were made for worship, relationships, and work. We were not made to sit for hours on end focusing on our breath, having little external stimuli, and blanking out our God-given minds. Our minds are to be renewed through the Holy Spirit and according to the Word of God (Romans 12:1-2; 2 Timothy 3:15-17; Hebrews 4:12; Psalm 119), not annulled or deconstructed into oblivion.

The article mentions that Buddhist writers of old warned of “demonic” dangers of meditation. Remember that “Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light and his ministers as ministers of righteousness” (2 Corinthians 11:14; see also 2 Peter 5:8; 1 John 4:1-6). 


Please read the Harper’s article with what I wrote in mind–in mind! Don’t waste your mind or direct your consciousness to nothing or Nirvana. “The mind is a terrible thing to waste.”

Spiritual Dangers (from Douglas Groothuis, Confronting the New Age)

Those who trust in Christ are given access to spiritual discernment and power in spiritual combat. Yet those outside of Christ are fair prey of the enemy. In communicating to New Agers it is sometimes wise to warn them that psychic sojourns may lead them into raging spiritual storms. 

As New Age seekers dive into their spiritual experiences, they leave themselves vulnerable to both fraud and spiritual deception Some seekers are primed for deception because they are desperate, hurting people looking for an answer—any answer. If Christians encounter such souls, a word of warning is a good tonic. Even if we can’t lead them to Christ just then, we can warn them of occult dangers and offer the safety of knowing Christ as victor over sin and Satan. 

It should be made clear that the Bible prohibits all occult activities for at least two reasons. First, God alone is worthy of worship, and he is rightfully jealous of our affections and obedience. Since he is supremely good, this jealousy translates into a desire both to glorify himself and to have his creatures live as they ought to live. Second, God also knows the reality of fallen spiritual beings who entice humanity to follow their destructive ways. For these reasons he vetoes any suggestion of occult involvement. Although many biblical passages condemn the occult, this passage from Deuteronomy, originally given to God’s people who were to possess the Promised Land, is the most exhaustive: 

When you enter the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD, and because of these detestable practices the LORD your God will drive out those nations before you. You must be blameless before the Lord your God. (Deut 18:9–13; see also Lev 19:31; 20:6) 

Isaiah echoes this and points us in the right direction: “When men tell you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living? To the law and the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn” (Is 8:19–20; see also 47:8–15). 

Although there are scores of other biblical warnings, consider the stark finality of Jesus Christ’s words concerning those who will not enter the eternal city: “Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood” (Rev 22:15). If the biblical warnings are not heeded, cautions can be given from New Age literature itself. For instance, if a friend wants to take a yoga class at the local YMCA to help calm her nerves, we might quote the following, written by an advocate of yoga: “Yoga is not a trifling jest if we consider that any misunderstanding in the practice of yoga can mean death or insanity.”26 Practitioners of yoga often warn of the power of the kundalini energy, represented as a serpent coiled at the base of the spine. The purpose of many forms of yoga is to “awaken the kundalini” and release its energy upward through the seven chakras (energy centers) of the body. But the yogis themselves caution that this is no child’s play. One might get burned (literally!) by the serpent’s hot breath—or go insane.27 

In an issue of ReVision, a scholarly New Age journal, consciousness researchers Christina and Stanislav Grof speak of “transpersonal crises” that are often linked to “various meditative practices which are specifically designed to activate spiritual energies.” These include “the practice of yoga, Zen, various movement meditations, pranayama, Kundalini maneuvers, Tibetan Buddhist psychoenergetic exercises, Christian prayer and other forms of deep and systematic spiritual involvement and self-exploration.”28 (Given the substance of their article, it is clear their concept of “Christian prayer” is not a biblical spirituality, but pantheistic introspection falsely labeled Christian.) 

The Grofs believe these “emergencies” are merely difficult stages often required for greater growth, which they interpret as New Age enlightenment Yet their descriptions of the “crises” are bone chilling, especially when describing the “awakening of the Serpent Power (Kundalini)” which they say “can be accompanied by dramatic physical and psychological manifestations called kriyas,” which include “powerful sensations of heat and energy streaming up the spine, associated with tremors, spasms, violent shaking, and complex twisting movements.” They also mention “involuntary laughing or crying, chanting of mantras or songs, talking in tongues, emitting of vocal noises and animal sounds, and assuming spontaneous yoga gestures (mudras) and postures (asanas).” Other physical manifestations include “nausea, diarrhea or constipation, anal or uterine contractions, clenching of the jaws, rise and drop of temperature, and bulimia or loss of appetite. The entire body can be rigid or limp, and feel unusually large or small.”29 

Although the Grofs also list supposedly positive benefits of kundalini such as “ecstasy, orgiastic raptures, and states of indescribable peace and tranquility,”30 one must risk a total breakdown (or worse) for that prize. Yet all the subjective enjoyment in the world cannot yield the forgiveness of sins or the peace of mind offered by Jesus Christ, who requires no such psychological and physical violence from his followers. 

The Grofs found these “transpersonal emergencies” prevalent enough among New Agers that in 1980 they founded “the Spiritual Emergency Network” to help enlighten the “psychotherapeutic community” to the reality of the issue and to offer assistance through education and referrals to those undergoing various crises. The headquarters for the Spiritual Emergency Network is on the campus of the California Institute of Transpersonal Psychology in the San Francisco area and has 42 regional centers worldwide.31 

Yoga may also open up a person to spiritual contacts and all manner of occult activity. Transcendental Meditation—while claiming to be a neutral, psychological technique—uses yogic methods to alter consciousness. Maharishi, its founder, has said that the purpose of chanting the mantra in Transcendental Meditation is “to produce an effect in some other world, to draw the attention of those higher beings or gods living there. The entire knowledge of the mantra . . . is devoted to man’s connection, to man’s communication with the higher beings in a different strata (sic) of creation.”32 

If a person says he is interested in yoga simply as a physical discipline, he should be told that it was not invented by the mystic masters of old simply to cultivate better physiques. Yoga teachers such as R L. Hittleman admit that any health benefits are secondary He also admits to having used the health angle to hook Westerners on the Hindu world view.33 

An article in Yoga Journal on parapsychology even warns psychic sojourners that the use of divination (through Ouija boards, automatic writing and other methods) “in a frivolous or disrespectful manner” makes one “liable to attract ‘lower’ discarnate communicators, including ghosts or poltergeists, and one runs the risks of becoming obsessed or possessed.”34 Christians need not use quotation marks for the word lower, because they believe in an active “Lowerarchy.”35 of demonic mischief-makers capable of possessing, obsessing and oppressing those outside the protection of the risen Christ. Although the article in Yoga Journal issues a small warning, it falls tragically short of Christian discernment It tantalizes readers by saying that “two of the most famous ‘channeled’ teachings of recent years—the Seth books and the ‘messages from Michael’—got their start on the Ouija board.”36 

Christians may challenge New Age aspirants by concretely relating dangers of various New Age practices. Many of these—channeling, psychic healing, mind-altering meditations and so on—are nothing but modernized occultism, and occultism exacts too high a price in the end. The late Kurt Koch, Christian theologian and occult counselor for over forty-five years, has given hundreds of examples of occult bondage in his many writings. His seasoned analysis was that “no one makes use of occult powers without harm.”37 We are not suggesting that all people involved in some occult/New Age practice will suffer similar symptoms, but that these practices are outside the will of God and thus generally dangerous. 

Confronting the New Age: How to Resist a Growing Religious Movement (pp. 76-80). InterVarsity Press, 1988. Kindle Edition.

Mike Shreve on Yoga, Christianity, and the New Age Worldview

Mike Shreve was deep into eastern religion and yoga before he converted to Christianity in 1970. He has since written books and done many media and speaking appearances to expose the errors of eastern mysticism and yoga and to promote the Christian gospel. Although I have been writing and researching in these areas for decades, I have just discovered his work through his excellent booklet, Seven Reasons I No Longer Practice Yoga. I asked Michael several questions related to yoga, Christianity, and the New Age worldview and found his answers insightful and needful for Christians today.

  1. Tell us about your life before you converted and how you got involved in Eastern religion.

I was raised Roman Catholic and very devoted, anticipating a day when I would probably enter the priesthood. However, having never been “born again,” I was easily wooed by the world as a teenager and drifted away from religions altogether, eventually becoming a keyboardist in a rock band. It was just a matter of time before I got swept up in the megatrend of psychedelics so dominant in the latter 60s. This eventually resulted in a near-death experience at the age of 18, but the “curse” became a “blessing,” because it showed me the brevity and frailty of life, and put me on a search for truth and ultimate reality. In desperation, I dropped out of college to study under an Indian guru named Yogi Bhajan in a sect referred to as “Kundalini Yoga.”

  1. How did you come to hear and accept the message of Jesus?

Several events led to my personal encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ and my salvation. Because I was running a yoga ashram in Tampa, Florida, and teaching Kundalini Yoga extracurricularly at four colleges in the Tampa/Sarasota area (University of South Florida, University of Tampa, Florida Presbyterian, and New College), the Tampa Tribune newspaper did a half-page story on me. I thought it would dramatically increase my class attendance. Instead, it alerted a local 24-hour Christian prayer group to start praying for me. Every hour of every day someone was interceding in my behalf.

Then the second link in an amazing Holy-Spirit-inspired chain of events took place—I received a random letter from an old college friend explaining to me how he had been “born again,” emphatically insisting that Jesus was and is the only way. Trying to politely refuse that concept, I countered that Christianity was a lesser “Bhakti Yoga” path (devotion to an individual god), and that I embraced all religions as being equally legitimate and effective means of achieving oneness with God. However, Larry’s letter kept resounding in my mind until one day I decided to deal with it. Attempting to push my way through all the objections I had to the exclusivity of Jesus Christ, I decided to open my heart to the possibility that His teachings were true. Also, it dawned on me that if He really did die on the cross for the sins of humanity, I owed it to Him to at least explore His claims.

So, one day, instead of following my normal yoga routine (14 hours daily of asanas, mantra-chanting, pranayama, raja yoga disciplines, reading of the Bhagavad Gita and the Vedas, etc.). Veering drastically from the norm, I only read the Bible that day (the Gospel of John and the book of Revelation primarily) and only prayed to Jesus—pleading that if He was the only way, He would give me a supernatural sign.

high-school-picture-with-yogi-picture

That afternoon I was hitchhiking to teach a yoga class at the University of South Florida. One of the members of the prayer group was two miles away walking in a laundromat when God spoke to him to get back in his van and start driving. Thinking it quite strange for God to direct him that way, he reluctantly got back behind the wheel and started driving, turning whenever he felt an impulse. Then everything fell into place—he saw me hitchhiking, felt compelled to pick me up, and pulled over. When I opened the door to climb in, the first thing I noticed was a picture of Jesus he had taped to the ceiling. I knew it was my answer. Within a few minutes he began witnessing to me and shortly after that, I was on my knees asking Jesus to dwell within my heart. It happened! I was born again. I had a genuine encounter with the true God, and everything changed. I went back to all my yoga classes, explaining that I had unknowingly misled them and that from that point forward, classes would no longer be held. I also shut down my yoga ashram. Many of my main students became followers of Jesus as well. Thank God, He brought me out of darkness into His marvelous light!

  1. What kinds of spiritual battles have you experienced since becoming a Christian?

In fifty years of walking with the Lord, I have faced numerous spiritual battles, but I have learned through the Word of God how to overcome them all (Romans 8:37, 1 John 5:4). One of the first major spiritual attacks I experienced occurred about two weeks after I was saved. I was laying in bed, reading the Bible, when a demon spirit visibly appeared and attempted to re-inhabit my body and pull my soul out into something referred to as “the astral realm” (an experience I had previously pursued as a student of yoga called “astral projection”). I was deeply concerned if that spirit achieved its purpose, I could lose control completely. I felt paralyzed. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t even open my mouth to rebuke the demon. But at that critical moment, I remembered counseling I had received from some mature believers and acted on it. Though I couldn’t talk, in my mind I declared, “The blood of Jesus be upon you.” When I merely formed those words mentally, the evil spirit backed away from me. That freed me up enough so that I could speak those same words out loud, commanding the spirit to depart from me and flee from the room—which it did, and I was never attacked that way again. So, I learned early on the authority that rests in the blood of Jesus. I know this story may sound a little farfetched to those who have never experienced a literal demonic attack, but things like this really do take place. In fact, people contact me from all over the world asking me to pray for their deliverance from something they call “spontaneous kundalini awakenings”—uncontrollable surges of spiritual energy that feel very evil and demonic in nature—that began happening to them because of their involvement with yoga.

  1. What is the key to freedom if someone has been oppressed by demons through the practice of yoga or other pagan practices?

There are several keys to freedom. Shortly after becoming a follower of Jesus I burned all of my books on eastern religions and new age practices and all my yoga paraphernalia, which is a biblical pattern for severing ties to the evil spirits behind occult practices (Acts 19:19). Also, being prayed for by mature believers who understand deliverance can be very helpful and needful. Fasting has always been a key for spiritual cleansing to take place also—coupled with lengthy times of focused prayer.

  1. Why do think yoga is so popular today?

I believe there are at least four reasons yoga has become so popular: (1) many versions of yoga have deemphasized the connection to Hinduism and emphasized just the physical and health aspects of the practice, but it still becomes a door to demonic intrusion, spiritual oppression, and religious contamination. (2) often people turn to yoga because they have never been exposed to authentic New Testament Christianity. They have only experienced a brand of nominal Christianity that offers information about a historical Christ, but fails to inform seekers about the transformation available to them spiritually through His indwelling (Ephesians 3:17). (3) I personally believe the hugely popular yoga movement is a satanic strategy helping to prepare humanity for a “one-world religion” that accepts all paths as legitimate approaches to God. I feel this will be one of three pillars supporting the platform of the Antichrist (a one world religion, a one world political system, and a one world currency).

  1. Do you think there can be Christian versions of yoga?

I believe the very term “Christian yoga” is an oxymoron. It is impossible to extricate it completely from its Hindu foundation. Through the years I have talked with many people practicing what they called “Christian yoga” and often discovered their worldviews contain a mixture of biblical ideas and far eastern concepts (such as a belief in chakras). I actually caution believers never to practice yoga. There are low impact exercise regimens that are helpful alternatives offering similar physical results without the spiritual trappings. Even if classes seem benign, with Bible readings and Christian music going on, attending “yoga” sessions is an endorsement of the entire belief system out of which yoga springs, which is very non-Christian.

  1. What does the church need to know about yoga and New Age religion in order to stay true to her calling?

The very word “yoga” means yoke or union and implies “union with God”—but the “God” (ultimate reality) enshrined in the Hindu worldview is usually Brahman—an impersonal life force, not a personal God. Educating believers about the true nature of practices such as these is essential to sharpen the discernment in the followers of Jesus. As a yoga student I often did “breath meditation” in the hope of increasing intimacy with God through an increased intake of prana (a Hindu word for the elemental life force in all creation, which the Chinese call Chi). Now as a Christian, I explain the fallacy of this belief by using the following acrostic for the word yoga:

Y = you
O = only
G = get
A = air

You cannot “breathe” your way into an intimate relationship with God. You must use the biblical plan of salvation and approach Him from the heart.

Furthermore, believers need to be informed about the nature of the New Age Movement so they can interact intelligently with those who embrace that worldview and show the uniqueness of Jesus. It is very important to approach New Agers and yoga advocates in a very peaceful and loving way—which are characteristics they value, instead of resorting to arguments over theological points—something I call “confrontational apologetics.”

8.  What resources do you suggest for those who want to be more knowledgeable in this area?

I invite anyone reading this short explanation of my personal transformation story to visit my comparative religion website: www.thetruelight.net. There are many helpful articles and personal testimonies featured on the site.

On that website also, you can download a free mini-book titled The Highest Adventure: Encountering God that goes into more detail about my former beliefs as a yoga teacher and the biblical response to those beliefs. This mini-book is available in other languages including Japanese, Portuguese and Spanish.

For those who want a very in-depth examination of these issues, I suggest my 336-page comparison of over 20 religions titled In Search of the True Light.

My ministry website is www.shreveministries.org

My YouTube channel is Shreve Ministries where our two series of television programs are posted: (1) In Search of the True Light TV programs, and (2) Discover Your Spiritual Identity TV programs, a biblical study of the names and titles of the children of God.

Philosophy of the Lecture Outline

Having been a public speaker for over forty years, I have realized that offering an audience a lecture outline can fortify and increase the knowledge the speaker wants to communicate. Outlines help the listener follow the speaker, as well as giving the listener the opportunity to follow up on the topic presented. Consider the parts of a lecture outline—or at least how I make them. 

1. The speaker should be identified by his or her full name, title, and institutional affiliation. This helps give a strong ethos to the presentation, if the speaker is so qualified. You can also include contact information. For my outlines, I write:

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D., Professor of Philosophy at Denver Seminary. DouglasGroothuis.com

2.Putting the date and occasion of the lecture grounds it in history and place, which may end up being important.

Vertitas Forum, Anchorage, Alaska, April 10, 2021.

3. The title of the lecture should be accurate, interesting, but not too cute, since unnecessary wit can detract from one’s gravitas. The title may include a subtitle.

Critical Theory: A Biblical and Logical Critique

4. An opening quote can set the tone for the lecture. It may be a Bible verse or a quote from a noteworthy figure, such as Blaise Pascal. 

5. Sections and subsections structure the lecture and assist the listener in following the speaker. Be consistent in the form you use. I use the following:

  1. God and Suffering
    1. The biblical view
      1. Creation (Genesis 1-2)
      2. Fall (Genesis 3)
      3. Redemption (Romans 4-8)
    2. Philosophical issues
      1. God’s perfect goodness
      2. God’s unlimited power
      3. The existence of evil
      4. Are (1), (2), and (3) logically compatible?

6. Leave space between each major section so that the listener can add notes if desired.

7. The outline may include more quotations from the Bible or other sources, but they should not be too long. It is good to give the reference to the quotation, so the listener can look this up.

8. Ending the lecture outline with a bibliography encourages the listener to follow up on the topic with further reading and discovery. I emphasize books and journals, but sometimes include DVDs and web pages. I don’t usually give a full bibliography reference—as would be required in academic writing, but enough to properly identify the source.

For Further Study

  1. Francis Schaeffer, The God Who is There (InterVarsity Press, 1968).
  2. Apologetics web page for Reasonable Faith, the ministry of William Lane Craig: reasonablefaith.org. 
  3. Videos on Intelligent Design by Illustra Video. Illustra.org.

Lecture outlines are not required for every public lecture or sermon, but the more demanding the material, the more a clear and compelling outline is needed. Some argue that lecture outlines should be avoided, since listeners may get distracted by the outline and not listen to the speaker. True enough, but if the speaker and listener follow the outline and the lecture is compelling, this is unlikely to occur. 

I view lecture outlines as part of God’s mission to bring truth and reconciliation to the world (Matthew 6:33). As such, we should value them highly and work on them diligently. 

Apologetics After the Two Deaths of Ravi Zacharias

Apologetics After the Two Deaths of Ravi Zacharias

Douglas Groothuis, Professor of Philosophy, Denver Seminary

I am a Christian philosopher who has defended the Christian worldview for nearly forty-five years. I have a compelling interest in the well-being of my fellow apologists and their ministries. I lead a master’s degree in apologetics and ethics that has trained many young philosophers and apologists in the last thirty years. When Christian apologists and apologetics thrive, I rejoice. I have seen my students get doctorates, secure academic and ministry positions, become colleagues, and publish articles and books. I exult in their achievements and in those of my seniors and peers. I regularly pray for apologists, well-known and otherwise (Ephesians 6:19). When apologists fail, either through bad arguments or bad living, I mourn. But the moral failures are harder to take and more damaging. Ravi’s shameful downfall raises many questions I cannot answer here. I address what I know best: apologetics. 

The Two Deaths of Ravi Zacharias

Ravi Zacharias and I never met or interacted. I had esteemed him as our preeminent itinerant apologist-evangelist. Others, such as settled academics, could go deeper intellectually, but Ravi presented solid arguments in winsome ways and around the world for decades. He consistently published credible books and built the largest apologetics organization in the world, which, at its height, employed one hundred apologists worldwide. 

Then Ravi was diagnosed with aggressive cancer and died shortly after in May of 2020. Millions mourned but thanked God for his life and for the ministry that would live on. Although allegations of sexual impropriety (and the inflating of his academic credentials) had surfaced before, further accusations of sexual abuse were made shortly after his death. They ended up being true, and Ravi died again. This is not the place to catalogue the extent and heinousness of his sins. You can find it all online in the official report released by RZIM. Suffice to say that Ravi was guilty of using his position to manipulate and abuse dozens if not hundreds of women over many years, leaving a long trail of heartbreak and betrayal—even before it was revealed to the general public. And he used ministry funds to pay for his pleasures. So, after the death of the man came the death of his reputation. Even The New York Times aired it for all to see. But, what of his ministry and what of apologetics after the two deaths of Ravi Zacharias—that savvy, successful, suave, and intelligent man we took to be an exemplary apologist?

Apologetics after Ravi Zacharias

I will not speculate about the fate of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM), which, even with the highest ideals and deepest contrition, may face an impossible task of preserving a once-flourishing ministry which was so associated with a man now twice-dead. Some of the publishers of Ravi’s books have withdrawn his books from print. Lee Strobel will remove his interview with Ravi featured in his book, The Case for Faith. Ravi’s videos, audio recordings, and other writings will be removed from official platforms. His once-secret life lives after him and threatens to undermine everything he stood for. If someone this good at apologetics turns out to be this bad morally, what good is left for apologetics?

To answer, let us start by considering the three essential elements of rhetoric (or the art of persuasion), according to Aristotle: ethos, pathos, and logosEthos concerns the credibility of the speaker or writer. Ravi had, we thought, a strong ethos. He was articulate, humble, and presentable. We trusted him and deemed him worth listening to. Now we know of a dark and sinister side of the man that, had it been known during his lifetime, would have disqualified him for ministry and destroyed his ethos. Pathos is the ability of a speaker or writer to rouse an audience’s affections, to make them care about the subject. Ravi excelled at pathos, illustrating his points from poetry, literature, and personal stories. Yet he did not manipulate his audience and seemed to care for them. He also applied rational force (logos) as well as pathos.

Logos addresses the rational arguments or logic presented. Ravi’s basic method in apologetics was sound and he did not accentuate ethos or pathos at the expense of logos. Ravi’s apologetic method is called “The 3.4.5 Grid.”  In a nutshell, this grid tests a worldview logically (Is it consistent?), factually (Is it empirically adequate?), and existentially (Is it livable and meaningful for life and death?). This agrees with my apologetic method I articulate in Christian Apologetics. Ravi used the 3.4.5 grid to great and global effect. But where does that leave us?

Arguments have rational power or lack rational power irrespective of the arguer’s ethosor pathos. We test logos by stating the argument in premise-conclusion form and then assessing its cogency. Are the premises well supported? Do the premises lead to the conclusion through some inductively, deductively, or abductively valid manner? If so, it is a good argument and should be believed. It matters not who gives that argument, even Ravi Zacharias. So, the first point is that Ravi’s moral catastrophe do not, in themselves, affect any of the rational arguments he gives, since his logos and his pathos remain credible. Those Christians who discovered apologetics through Ravi—and I know many of them—need not repent of their discovery. Those who found Christ as Lord and Savior through the Holy Spirit’s use of Ravi’s apologetics need not question their conversion or the worth of apologetics. Moreover, all of Ravi’s best argument can be found in the work of other apologists whose reputations have not been sullied by sin. 

Another problem still hounds us, though—and it was a question that Ravi often took up in his apologetics; it is the problem of evil. Why does an all-good and all-powerful God allow so much evil in his world? Why did God allow Ravi Zacharias success as a speaker and writer given his long record of sexual abuse? Why did the God allow so many of us to respect and be grateful for Ravi when he did not deserve it? The Apostle Paul gave part of the answer two thousand years ago when he said that he rejoiced whenever the gospel was preached, even when preached by those with bad motives (Philippians 1:15-18). This is because the gospel possesses an intrinsic power irrespective of the character of those who explain or commend it (Romans 1:16-17). But, since God is not a utilitarian, this in no way justifies immorality on the part of the messenger.

But tough questions remain. Given the character and power of God, why did he not bring Ravi to repentance? Why did he allow him to sin so badly in the first place? Why did God allow Ravi to bring so much misery into the lives of so many through his secret sexual sins? I ache as I think of what his family, friends, co-workers, and many victims, must be feeling. 

Although the apologetic case for Christianity is strong and stronger than any other worldview, it is unrealistic to expect finite and fallible mortals to be able to read the mind of God in everything. Mysteries remain, as much as we hate it. The Apostle Paul has another word for us.

 Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
    How unsearchable his judgments,
    and his paths beyond tracing out!
   “Who has known the mind of the Lord?
    Or who has been his counselor?” 
   “Who has ever given to God,
    that God should repay them?” 
   For from him and through him and for him are all things.
    To him be the glory forever! Amen

Romans 11:33-36; see also Deuteronomy 29:29

Ravi Zacharias is accountable to God for his life. God is accountable only to himself. We are accountable to live within the circle of what we can know, given God’s revelation and the use of our God-given powers to know what matters (Hebrews 5:11-14). Nonetheless, we should also be good stewards of our ineluctable ignorance, and part of that ignorance involves God’s ways with Ravi Zacharias (Ecclesiastes 5:18-20).

Why Do Leaders Fall?

Those with external ministry success coupled with secret lives of sin may deceive themselves by thinking that they need not repent since God is still blessing their ministry. They may feel God’s power as they teach or preach, and see objective results. God must be overlooking their sins, they think. Or, as Kierkegaard wrote, these ministers may put off coming to terms with God since they tell themselves that “there is an eternity in which to repent.” On the contrary, today is the day of repentance and salvation (2 Corinthians 6:2; Hebrews 3:7-19). Tomorrow may be too late. We have no evidence that Ravi repented.

I will not venture to fathom what lead Ravi into such egregious sin for so long. However, I think it had much to do with pain. Ravi had chronic back pain which was exacerbated by constant travel. (He should not have traveled so much, but I’ll leave that aside for this essay.) Pain, whether physical or emotional, offers us a dramatic choice. If God will not take away the pain, we can choose to identify more deeply with the sufferings of Christ and to seek his grace. That grace is sufficient, as the suffering Paul well knew (2 Corinthians 12:9). Or we can alleviate or ameliorate the pain through the pleasures of the sinful flesh. The Devil always has many options at hand, which is why we must resist him always (1 Peter 5:8). Ravi may have needed physical therapy for his back, but that turned into something more and something terrible, as has been revealed. 

Pain, whether physical or emotional, offers us a dramatic choice. If God will not take away the pain, we can choose to identify more deeply with the sufferings of Christ and to seek his grace.

Ravi’s second death further underscores our need for a theology of suffering and pain that instructs to lament and suffer well before God and others. We need to pray the psalms of lament (22, 39, 88, 90, etc.); we need to own the depths of our suffering; and we need to seek healing in godly places. And we need to cultivate the habit of eschatological hope. In the end, all things will be well for the redeemed, come what may in the here and now (Revelation 21-22).

Living Above Reproach and Before God

If we abhor the sins of Ravi Zacharias, we should abhor our own sins even more and seek to repent of them. True doctrine and godly living are equally necessary for ministry and all of life. As Paul wrote Timothy, “Watch your life and doctrine closely” (1 Timothy 4:16). Paul stipulated that an overseer must be “above reproach” (Titus 1:6-7, ESV). That applies to all Christian leaders. 

Those with high callings need high standards, lest the messenger discredit the message and the messenger lose integrity. Christians continue to sin, but no Christian should be controlled by sin (1 John 1:8-10; 3:6). High profile leaders fall hard when they fall and often drag down many others with them. “Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12, KJV). 

Since we are all vulnerable to immorality, we should heed Jesus’ words: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3, NIV). Paul paid close attention to his own integrity. “I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize” (1 Corinthians 9:27, NIV). Christian ministers should fear being disqualified and take radical measures to defend themselves against it. We do so by guarding our hearts and being accountable to wise friends, counselors, and leaders (Proverbs 1:7; 4:23-27; 27:17; Matthew 5:27-32). We must regularly have fellowship, worship, and partake of the sacraments (Hebrews 10:25). If one’s ministry travel schedule forbids it, then that schedule should be forbidden.

Ravi Zacharias and his good name are dead. This double-death is tragic. We should grieve and consider our own lives before “the audit of Eternity” (Kierkegaard). But apologetics lives on. We should rejoice and keep our hand to the plow, our hearts pure, and our eyes on the Lord. 

The Reality Czar Speaks

I have appointed myself as Reality Czar. Remember, reality stands independent of your whims, wishes, loves, hates, and apathy. Here are my first fourteen imperatives for straight thinking and reality apprehension. 

1. The laws of logic are unbending. They are necessary for thought and communication. You can break them, but they will break you. Learn what the law of noncontradiction is and abide by it.

2. You need rational arguments that appeal to logic and evidence to make a point count as knowledge.

3. To know something means you have a justified and true belief about it.

4. For a statement to be true, it must correspond to objective reality. You do not make a belief true by your own opinion, skin color, gender(s), passion, politics, power, or anything else. 

5. Learn the basic logical fallacies, such as false dichotomy, ad hominem, straw man, begging the question, and others, and avoid them. Expose them wherever you find them. 

6. Learn the basic means of argumentation: deduction, induction, and appeal to the best explanation. 

7. Read more than you watch.

8. Listen more than you talk.

9. Think more than you speak.

10. Pray for knowledge and wisdom.

11. Beware of clichés, factoids, and talking points.

12. If you hold to a position on religion, politics, or whatever, as yourself what the strongest objection to your position might be, Then try to refute it.

13. In discussions and writing, try to define and illustrate important terms in order to avoid ambiguity.

14. For any of your beliefs, determine how strongly you hold that belief and whether or not you have good reason to hold it in that manner. We may strongly hold some beliefs, not because of reason or evidence, but on the basis of feelings, tradition, or ego.

It’s All About Sex

The leading secular account of the world in the West denies any normative or sacred order. Freedom is found, not in following a divine design, but in indulging the unfettered self. Self-restraint, especially erotic self-restraint, is repressive and must be eliminated. Pleasure of the strongest kind is what matters most, since we need not fear God or conform ourselves to some alien pattern of behavior written in a heaven of ideas.

Thus, any viewpoint that opposes the totally free expression of sexuality must be silenced–not refuted, silenced. On this view, free speech is not a right; in fact, it can be ruse for the repressive ones (Christians or those believe in any sacred ordering of life). Any view that denies the erotic urgencies has no right to be heard. Herbert Marcuse advocated this in 1965 in his essay on “repressive tolerance.”

Thus, it all comes down to sex. Anyone who opposes abortion in any way wants to hinder women’s sexual freedom, since abortion allows for sex without the moral responsibility to bring a child to term. The expressive self is all that matters. Killing a viable fetus at nine months is fine, since women’s sexual freedom must be upheld at all costs.

Further, it is not enough to be tolerant of people who act in non-heterosexual ways. Legalizing same sex marriage is not enough either. Rather, everyone must endorse every sexual identity, because that is the more important thing about people–their erotic orientation and the pleasure therein. If a Christian baker will not decorate a cake for a gay wedding, he must be punished by force of law, since he is refuting to endorse two gay men’s sexual identity. How dare he?

The untrammeled will, fired by uninhibited eroticism, has the final say and shouts with a loud voice. You are not allowed to disagree with this power from below, this meaning-making faculty. Eros must be let loose in a world without design or constraint.

Along the way, Rousseau, Blake, Wadsworth, Shelley, Marx, Darwin, Freud, Nietzsche, Marcuse, Reich, Simone De Beauvoir, and others play their part to make a world safe for pansexuality.

For more on these themes, see Carl Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self (Crossway, 2020).

Virtuous Ignorance

Being charged with being an ignoramus is no compliment. However, some ignorance is virtuous. One should cultivate being an ignoramus in a few areas.

First, curiosity is often a sin. For example, you do not need to see the person lying on the side of the road being attended to by first responders. It is none of your business. Use the golden rule: Would you want people staring at you if you were in that condition? You can look away, but be sure to pray.

Second, you should be ignorant about what is in the realm of others’ privacy. There is no need to know, so you should not know. “Thou shalt not covet anything of thy neighbor’s (that you don’t need to know).” One’s medical history should not be public knowledge. Only God can know everything virtuously since he is perfect.

Third, it is not virtuous to know or make known unflattering, but irrelevant, matters about others. That is gossip, a serious sin in the New Testament. Think of how much of American popular culture feeds on and starves without gossip. What dysfunctional, idiotic, or criminal things have this or that celebrity done now? You should not want to know. You may know too much. Try to forget in order to make more room for virtuous knowledge.

I give the Apostle Paul the last word: “I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil” (Romans 16:19). Amen.

Presidential Prayer

Rev. Dr. Silvester Beaman gave the homily and closing prayer at Joseph Biden’s presidential inauguration on January 20, 20121. He closed the prayer with this:

To your glory, majesty, dominion, and power, forever. Hallelujah! Glory! Hallelujah! In the strong name of our collective faith, Amen.”

Rev. Dr. Silvester Beaman, Presidential Inauguration Prayer

Just when we had stopped reeling from “Amen and A-woman,” we are greeted with something even worse—prayer not in the name of God, but “in the strong name of our collective faith.” What a reversal that is! Our faith in God is what causes us to pray in the name of God—more specifically, in the name of Jesus Christ if we are Christians. The name of our collective faith means nothing, since our collective faith does not rule the universe. God does. Faith is only as good as its object. Moreover, what we need is not collective or generic faith, but saving faith in the name of Jesus Christ, the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world, the name that is above every name.

The priest who gave the opening prayer did not mention Jesus’ name, let alone pray in that name. This is what happens when biblical religion is diluted and distorted by the desire to not offend anyone and to please everyone. Well, it fails, since those of us who pray in Jesus’ name and who attribute our salvation to Jesus alone, are offended and not pleased by these kinds of prayers. But no matter, many of us will continue to pray in Jesus’ name, knowing that he is the one Mediator between God and humans and the one who will return to judge the living and the dead.

Groothuis Reading Guide to Political and Cultural Discernment

Deep reading is required for wise thinking and courageous action, even action against the odds. Political authoritarianism cannot work itself out in a well-educated, intellectually alert, and spiritually energized people. One line of defense against the jack boot crushing the face of humanity forever (Orwell) is the knowledge of what matters most, for time and eternity. The world was changed for Christ forever when St. Augustine heard a little child sing, “Take up and read. Take up and read.” He took up the Bible, read it, converted, and proceeded, through his life and writings, to do more to convert a pagan world into a Christian one than any one of his age.

“Take up and read.” What should we read today? I offer a short—and it is hard to keep it short—list of works that will spark the intellect, quicken the nerves, and expand the understanding for our times. Deep reading requires asesis (əˈskēsəs), at least for those whose habits are not literary. Jesus requirement for Kingdom service apply to reading as well as to everything else, “Deny yourself. Take up your cross daily, and follow me.”  I divide my reading list into spiritual reality, intellectual engagement, cultural development, and political judgment. Of course, these categories overlap. I assume a regular and deep reading and study of the Bible. As C. S. Lewis said, the Bible is an education in itself.

Spiritual Reality

  1. St. Augustine, The Confessions
  2. J. P. Moreland, Kingdom Triangle
  3. Francis Schaeffer, True Spirituality

Intellectual Development

  1. J. P. Moreland, Love Your God with All Your Mind.
  2. John Stott, Your Mind Matters
  3. Os Guinness, Fit Bodies, Fat Minds

Cultural Discernment

  1. Os Guinness, Renaissance
  2. Douglas Groothuis, Truth Decay: Defending Christianity Against the Challenges of Postmodernism.
  3. Francis Schaeffer, Death in the City
  4. Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death

Political Judgment

  1. Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451.
  2. Rod Dreher, Live Not by Lies
  3. Aldous Huxley, Brave New World
  4. Francis Schaeffer, A Christian Manifesto
  5. George Orwell, 1984 and Animal Farm
  6. George Orwell’s essay, “Politics and the English Language.”
  7. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, A World Split Apart: Commencement Address Delivered at Harvard University, June 8, 1978.

Take up and read. The fate of your soul and the fate of your world depends on it.

Jesus and Logic

In On Jesus (Wadsworth, 2003), I argue that Jesus was not an irrational mystic, but was a kind of philosopher who valued reason and who had an well thought out worldview. Moreover, he engaged in rational arguments with his interlocutors. Here is a section of that book from chapter five, “Jesus’ Epistemology.” May it encourage us to highly value truth and rationality.

Noncontradiction as a Test for Truth

Jesus reasons from the Scriptures and he reasons against his critics. When presented with an apparently irresolvable dilemma concerning the resurrected state or political allegiance (Matthew 22:15-22), he finds a tertium quid that avoids either horn of the dilemma. In this, and in all his other use of argument, Jesus implicitly endorses the law of noncontradiction as a necessary test for truth. A statement and its negation cannot both be true in the same way at the same time. Jesus never accepts a proposition and its negation as both true; nor does he revel in irreconcilable paradoxes as a way to disarm rational thought and make room for faith. Jesus at no time invokes an irresolvable paradox when pressed into a logical corner—although he will often employ a paradox to give a memorable ending to a pertinent teaching. When accused of holding contradictory teachings or of opposing the Hebrew Scriptures, Jesus argues in order to resolve the apparent contradiction and vindicate his teaching.

Nevertheless, some interpreters attempt to make Jesus into a Jewish Zen-Master or guru by claiming that he employed mind-stopping contradictions. They compare several paradoxical sayings of Jesus to Zen koans. A koan is a riddle having to do with a logical impossibility; it is given to a Zen student in order to induce the student to transcend normal logical analysis and rational processes. Zen epistemology involves transcending all dualities and antitheses through various practices, such as contemplating koans and sat-zen (meditating on a blank wall for hours) in order to attain the state of “no-mind.” A famous Zen koan is, “What is the sound of one hand [clapping]?” This question has no resolution, because one hand cannot clap (in any standard sense of clapping). 

Jesus utters statements that are prima facie similar to koans, such as, “But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first (Matthew 19:30). But Jesus’ use of paradox is pedagogical, not illogical. It has nothing to do with Zen or any other kind of mystical practice that abandons rational categories as a means to enlightenment. Jesus’ paradoxes are given not as epigrams, but as memorable conclusions to his teachings. They have an intellectual context and communicate propositional knowledge. The statement, “Many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first” is not affirming that “first equals last” (a contradiction), as would a Zen koan. Rather,  Jesus is speaking of the final reward of those who give up much in this life to follow him. This reward more than compensates for the losses they experience. Therefore, many who are “first” (or fortunate in this life) will be “last” (or unfortunate in the next), and vice versa. Jesus’ phrasing is paradoxical, and, therefore, pedagogically provocative; but it has a determinative and intelligible meaning (see Matthew 19:16-30).

Please Don’t Say or Think This: “Let’s Take Back America”

While watching a political documentary I shall not name, one Christian said that if enough evangelicals would register and vote, we could “take back the nation.” I started expostulating so loudly to my wife that my dog Sunny went over to her and climbed into her lap. He was even shaking. 

Now, I wasn’t angry at my wife or at my dog. I was angry with the rank idiocy of this statement. Here’s why:

First, evangelicals are not in agreement on the significance of issues or on who best represents their views. For example, black, Hispanic, and white evangelicals tend to vote differently. 

Second, this is America, not a theocracy. If you are a Christian and a citizen of the United States, you have the religious liberty (for now) to organize, contribute, and vote your conscience under God and before man. But so do other religious believers and those of no religious beliefs. So, we don’t “take back” the country from anyone. We never had it to begin with, despite the Christian influence on the country. If we mean that we want Judeo-Christian values to have more influence, then good. But skip the “take back” language, please. 

Third, the language of “taking back America” may concern non-Christians who think that Christians who get their way politically will put others in jeopardy in one way or another. But if we support the Constitution and the rule of law, that will not happen.

Fourth, there is a lot more to reforming and renewing America than winning political battles. In many races, both major candidates are debauched and it turns out (again) to be the lesser of two evils, which is also the evil of two lessers. Further, even good laws only go so far to improve society. Much must be done in the pre-political or non-political realms. As a Washington insider once told me, “There are a lot of dead bodies floating downstream by the time they get to Washington, DC.” He meant elected officials!

There is nothing wrong with educating and mobilizing Christians in politics. There is plenty wrong with “taking back America.”

Tom Gilson, Too Good to be False?

I asked Tom Gilson, author and editor at The Stream, to answer several questions about his intriguing book, Too Good to be False (DeWard Publishing, 2020) which takes a unique approach to the character and teachings of Jesus. I have found the book to be insightful and apologetically helpful. It has been endorsed by Lee Strobel and J. P. Moreland.

Click here can purchase Tom Gilson’s Too Good to Be False?

1. What is the central thesis of Too Good to be False?

It’s a two-part thesis with a coda. The first part stands alone, and occupies about the first half of the book: Jesus is greater than you knew. I’m hearing from many Christian readers, from everyday bloggers to seminary professors, that this portion of the book has genuinely surprised them with new insights into Jesus’ extraordinary character.

The second part builds on the first: Jesus’ character as portrayed in the accounts, is too unique, too consistent, too unexpected, and too good to have been produced the way skeptics think the story was developed, through legendary processes.

It’s not only that he’s “too good to be false,” though that’s part of it. The skeptics theorize legendary processes as the source of the Jesus story, but I say these processes are inherently story-scramblers, and Jesus’ character is manifestly not scrambled. He is very recognizably the same Jesus from beginning to end, in all four accounts, maintaining a stunning, detailed level consistency in a long list of traits.

The coda? He’s worth following no matter what. That’s part three of the book. I think we’re heading toward a stage in history where Western Christians will have to face the “no matter what” question like never before. But he is extraordinarily good no matter what, his truth is certain no matter what, and we must keep following him no matter what.

2. What most surprised you in your research?

Many things. I took an approach to Jesus that may never have been published before. (If it has, I’d be very happy to hear about it.) Instead of focusing on what Jesus did and said, I looked for what he didn’t do and didn’t say. 

For example, I was astonished to find out there is no reference anywhere in the Bible to Jesus having faith. Silence on a given topic isn’t always significant, but this one is, in my studied opinion. He taught faith even more often than he taught love. His love is mentioned often, but his faith? Never. There has to be an explanation for it. The best I’ve found has been in connection with Jesus’ deity. I won’t go into details on that here, though. 

Even more stunning was the discover Jesus never used his extraordinary power for his own benefit. Satan was right about one thing: Jesus could have turned the stones into bread. The mockers at the cross were right: He could have come down from there. If power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, then by that rule Jesus should have been a tyrant. Instead he was the model of love. I try to imagine being that good, having even an infinitesimal fraction of his power, and I crumble, knowing I could never be that perfectly other-centered. It brings me to my knees in absolute worship.

3. Why do you think some aspects of your argument have not been used in recent decades in apologetics?

I wish I knew. It’s a complete mystery to me. What I do know is that the argument is stronger now than it was when Paley or Schaff used it, because skeptics have hardened into a position that’s more vulnerable to it.

I don’t know exactly what led me to it, though I wonder if it has something to do with not being a specialist in New Testament studies, which may have allowed my mind to wander more freely into new territory. 

For example, I used to do organizational assessment work for a major mission organization. Seeing what’s there in a team’s operations is easy, my partner and I quickly learned. The hard part — the skill we kept working to develop — is seeing what’s not there. It’s possible that might have helped me along in this study. 

4. How does your argument challenge the skeptical view that Jesus never existed?

I take the story seriously as a story. Every story has a backstory, a place, person or group that produces the story within its culture, and related in some way to that culture’s norms, expectations, restrictions, and so on. But the backstory has to fit; that is, if you view the story as the effect and the backstory as the cause, the backstory has to be the kind of cause that could produce that story as an effect. And I don’t think the skeptics’ legend theory is the right kind of cause to produce a story with a main character as unique, consistent, unexpected, and good as Jesus. 

Take away that skeptical backstory, and for now at least it leaves one live option: The Gospel accounts are true. Maybe skeptics will offer a new and better-fitting skeptical backstory. It’s hard to imagine what that would be, though. 

5. What has been the response to your book so far?

I keep hearing words like “surprising,” “refreshing,” “fascinating,” “compelling,” and even (from Gary Habermas) “a fun read.” Many are saying it’s helped them fall in love with Jesus all over again. One reader said she’d been sliding into spiritual apathy, but this view of Jesus, “totally shook me up.” It’s been so gratifying to hear of readers seeing Jesus in a new light through it. I’ll tell you, the same thing happened to me as I was studying for it. 

Meanwhile those who are more familiar with apologetics have expressed similar surprise at the originality of the argument. It’s new to our generation, at least. 

6. Have skeptics responded to it?

Some think they have, but they’re only responding to interviews I’ve done, though. So far I haven’t heard from any who have taken the trouble to read the book. 

From those who’ve tried to respond, the most common response has been, “Jesus isn’t actually that good. Just look how Christians have practiced slavery in his name!” But Jesus completely knocked the legs out from under slavery through his strong version of the Golden Rule, by teaching love for neighbor, and by condemning greed, pride, and self-centeredness. He demonstrated love for all, at every level of society. Christians (self-styled or otherwise) have failed horribly at living up to his example, but the book is about Christ, not about Christians.

Besides that, a couple of YouTubers have mounted massive takedowns of arguments I don’t make. Sometimes I wonder what’s so entertaining about that. You’d think it would be more interesting to engage with what people actually say instead.

Just today I heard one going on and on about a comment I’d made in an interview about Jesus being perfect from beginning to end in the accounts. “That’s bad literature!” he repeated in a half-dozen different ways. “Perfect characters are the worst characters. They’re boring!” 

It was sad and hilarious, both at the same time. He doesn’t know I made precisely the same point in my book! Except I also noted what this skeptic, too, should have seen: Billions of people in thousands of cultures across thousands of years would tell you Jesus is the single most compelling character they’ve ever encountered, in life or in literature. So if the rule is that perfect characters are boring characters, then Jesus breaks that rule into a billion tiny shreds. 

And that makes his character incredibly extraordinary on that one count alone. Still the skeptics think his kind of story is so easy to write, any old legendary process could have come up with a man like him. Funny thing: It’s never happened anywhere else. Not even close. Not in legend, not even flowing from the pens of the greatest poets, playwrights, or novelists, from Homer to Sophocles, from Shakespeare to Dostoyevsky to Dickens and beyond. Jesus, I say, is just too good to be false.

Your Jesus, My Jesus?

Shock, anger, sadness, and fear came over me as I watched a clip of a group of protesters curse “your Jesus” in unison with the F-word. Has it come to this? And what is this? Who is Jesus?

Jesus of Nazareth does not belong to anyone, so there is no “my Jesus” or “your Jesus,” there is only the genuine Jesus—the Lord of history and eternity, the man who walked the earth in ancient Palestine, who died on a cross and who rose from the dead. Whoever we are, we must not take God’s name in vain or paint the one true Messiah in false colors that represent us more than him.

Jesus was not a man of means and social standing, for he stood outside the religious establishment. He was a traveling teacher, preacher, prophet, and healer, and he had nowhere to lay his head. He was accused of being possessed by demons—this one who cast out demons as no other ever did or will do. He knew what was in the heart of people, and he had no need for their acclaim to fulfill this mission, which was “to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10).

Jesus was no nationalist. He warned that his own nation, his own beloved people, would be judged once again for their refusal to recognize their day of visitation, their rejection of the Messiah. He claimed to have authority over every nation, calling them repent and have faith in him (Matthew 28:18-20).

Jesus was no racist. His ministry focused on his Jewish people, but encompassed others; and he commissioned his followers to be his witnesses “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). He spoke with and revealed his identity to a Samaritan women, a racial and social outcast to most Jews (John 4). Jesus is the man for others, all others. 

Jesus was no violent revolutionary (a zealot), otherwise his followers would have taken up the sword and stumped for political power over Rome. He said to render to Caesar what belonged to Caesar and to God what belongs to God (Matthew 22:18-23). The state is not God, and neither are his followers anarchists who want to burn it all down. “Vengeance is mine, says the Lord” (Romans 12:19).

The way of Jesus is the the way of Cross—self-sacrifice, daring hope, and bold love. It does not burn down; it builds up. It does not hate, but makes the necessary sacrifices of love. It is not content with injustice; it works for justice, but justice with knowledge and wisdom. It eschews the irrational reflexes of unreflective rage for fits of rage are the work of the sinful fallen nature. (Galatians 5:20). 

There is no “your Jesus” or “my Jesus.” We must content with the real Jesus—now and at the gateway to Eternity. We can get Jesus wrong, and he warned of those who claimed to follow him who would be exposed as frauds at the Last Day. Listen to Jesus.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”

Matthew 7:21-23

We can only speak of “my Jesus” when we have made him Lord of our lives, when we have accepted his death on our behalf to forgive our sins and give us a new start on justice, wisdom, and love. Is “my Jesus” the real Jesus? Is “your Jesus” the real Jesus?

Joni Mitchell

Kathleen and I have been watching specials about and interviews with Joni Mitchell. I have been listening to her music, especially from her jazz period: “Shadows and Light” and “Mingus.” On the former, her band is Pat Metheny, guitar, Jaco Pastorius on bass, Lyle Mays on keys, Don Alias on drums and percussion, and Michael Brecker on tenor sax. Let that sink in your consciousness. Better: let the music itself sink in. She has also recorded with Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter.

One inept interviewer pivoted any time Joni said something philosophical, which was often. He was more concerned with her relationship to fame (which she hates) and her creative process. She is a painter and a poet and a songstress. As an artist, she had the courage to never rest on her laurels, which are considerable. Like John Coltrane, she restlessly seeks more.

As far as I can tell, she has a Buddhist worldview mixed with astrology and with an appreciation for Nietzsche, who she quotes from memory.. She said, “I’m doomed by astrology to be a deep thinker.” What a sad viewpoint. Astrology dooms no one, since God is the “lord of the star fields, Ancient of Days” (Bruce Cockburn). She is seething with words and images and music. Who knows, but I imagine her words-to-length-of-songs ratio is very high (at least in one period of her career) when compared to other singers. She says a lot about many matters, and always poetically.

Oh, Joni Mitchell! Your songs are our companions. Your voice is unparalleled. Your sorrows run deep. She said her basic message was “You’re on your own. And that’s OK.” But we aren’t, and thinking otherwise is not OK. One of her songs has the lyric, “We’re gonna raise up Jesus from the dead.” What an odd idea. Too late! He has been raised and he will come again, bringing his own with him in great glory, a glory that makes the majesty of Joni Mitchell’s voice seem as almost nothing.

I wish I had an hour–at least–to listen to and talk with Joni Mitchell–and not because she is famous or talented or beautiful. Of all her words, some have spoken of God or the church. In the 1980’s she was angry about “snake bite evangelists.” So was I. Of all her words, I cannot think of any that recognized, let alone worshiped, the God who gave her the gift of being “a deep thinker” and the gift of being a singer extraordinaire. But I don’t know here entire oeuvre—so many words, moods, textures, voices.

Perhaps, I really don’t know Joni Mitchell at all.

Spiritual Warfare and the Christian

No matter how dark the times, we should remember and celebrate that Jesus has indeed defeated Satan and the demonic hordes John declares that “the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (1 Jn 3:8) Christ triumphed over sin, death and the devil by his crucifixion and resurrection (Hebrews 2:14; Colossians 2:14–15). It is in his power that Christians wage their spiritual war as loyal soldiers of the risen King. Any other allegiance is to no avail. Our real enemy is invisible, but real.

Paul should inspire us in this. When opposed by false teachers seducing the Corinthian church, Paul wrote:

For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every prevention that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:3–5; emphasis added; see also Colossians 2:8-10).

Paul takes on false teaching, not in his own strength, but by wielding God’s weaponry. He is on the offensive. Confrontation with dark forces requires the same empowerment.

Because of Christ’s victory over Satan, James can say to Christians, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you” (James 4:7–8). As we submit to Christ’s lordship we are given authority to scuttle Satan. Christians are no longer under “the dominion of darkness” (Colossians 1:13). God alone has ultimate cosmic authority, and he teaches citizens of his kingdom to pray that his “kingdom [may] come . . on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). After his resurrection, Jesus charged the disciples to “make disciples of all nations” because he had “all authority in heaven and on earth” to make it happen (Matthew 28:18–20). He still does.

Jesus is Victor, but the victory is being progressively executed through his people. The outcome is sure, but the battle rages on. The German theologian Oscar Cullman likened Jesus’ crucifixion-resurrection victory to D-Day, the turning point of World War II when the victory of the Allied forces was assured. Yet from this decisive point until the actual end of the war in Europe (called V-E Day) the combat continued. The soldiers still fought, but with a renewed vision for victory. Such is the Christian’s position: all will be completed at Judgment Day, and so we should fight the good fight of faith today.

Paul gives us the essentials for Christian combat in Ephesians 6. He reiterates that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but . . . against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (v. 12). Therefore, he urges us to “stand [our] ground” by putting on “the full armor of God,” which includes (1) “the belt of truth”—a deep knowledge of God’s character and will as applied to our lives; (2) “the breastplate of righteousness”—a godly character; (3) “feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace”—a willingness to proclaim the gospel; (4) “the shield of faith”—the protection of complete trust in the Commander-in-Chief that “extinguish[es] all the flaming arrows of the evil one”; (5) “the helmet of salvation”—the assurance of a right relationship with God through faith in Christ; (6) “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God”—the offensive weapon of scriptural truth applied to all situations (See Hebrews 4:12). Paul also adds that we should “pray in the Spirit” that our spiritual suit of armor might not slip off due to lack of closeness to God.

Psalm 91 also offers rich assurance of the protection of the believer in the “shelter of the Most High” and in the “shadow of the Almighty” (v. 1). The psalmist later declares the believer’s power over evil: “You will tread upon the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent” (v 13; see also Romans 16:20).

The armor clad Christian is ready for encounters with the enemy, and there will be encounters any time the gospel is brought to bear on a Satanic stronghold such as the New Age movement Many involved in the New Age may not believe in Satan or may not consciously contact spirit guides or may have no overtly ill intentions, but inasmuch as they reject the gospel of Christ for a counterfeit gospel they are of their “father the devil” (John 8:44).

Acts 13:6–12 gives us an example of a confrontation between opposing spiritual powers, which might be called a “power encounter.” We see Paul confront an occult deceiver, “a sorcerer and false prophet” known as Bar-Jesus or Elymas We should remember that at that time the gospel was spreading like wildfire over the known world, as Jesus’ resurrected power was being unleashed in preaching, healing, signs and wonders. The kingdom of darkness was being displaced by the kingdom of God. Conflict necessarily ensued. Paul and Barnabas had come to Cyprus to preach the gospel. At Paphos they met a sorcerer who was “an attendant of the proconsul, Sergius Paulus” (v. 6). It was then common for political leaders to enlist occult assistance; and this was part of the demonic design that Jesus came to destroy. The proconsul sent for Paul and Barnabas because he was interested in the Word of God. But Elymas the sorcerer “opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith” (v 8). Perhaps he figured that if his superior were converted he would be out of a job Paul, filled with the Spirit, sprang into spiritual action. Staring down the official “secretary of sorcery,” he condemned him as a “child of the devil” hell-bent on “perverting the right ways of the Lord” (v. 10). Paul then pronounced that he would be shut up by being blinded for a time. He was. At this, the proconsul “believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord” (v. 12).

This power encounter manifests several critical points. First, the gospel was opposed by the sorcerer; spiritual warfare erupted. Second, Paul rose to the occasion, not by an outburst of human anger, but as he was “filled with the Holy Spirit.” Then, and only then, did he have the authority to bind the evil attacker. Third, both the message and the miracle convinced Sergius Paulus, and he was converted. God’s power through God’s minister overcame the power of the enemy.

As Christians do battle with dark spiritual influences throughout Western culture they dare not forget that they are dealing with power encounters, not just interacting with ideas, individuals and events. We triumph “not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD Almighty” (Zechariah 4.6)

Adapted from Confronting the New Age: How to Resist a Growing Religious Movement (pp. 39-43). InterVarsity Press, 1988. Kindle Edition.

Law, Love, and Justice

A politician recently said that racism will only be solved through conversion Christ. Since the problem starts within, in the heart, the heart needs to be radically changed through the supernatural regenerating power of Jesus Christ. He is both right and wrong in saying this, and the difference between what is right and what is wrong is no small matter when the world is blowing up around us.

Sin starts within and works itself out in myriad ways. As James wrote:

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures (James 4:1-4).

Fights, quarrels, murder and more are rooted in inner discontent and strife. Coveting disorders the soul and does not allow it to rest in God. The best way to change behavior is to change the man or the woman from the inside out, one by one. We need peace with God through Christ to demonstrate peace with others. As Paul wrote:

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand (Romans 5:1-2).

If we have been reconciled to God through the work of Jesus Christ, we can live in God’s grace, knowing his love for us. We than, therefore, live conscientiously before the face of God without self-deception. Being “born again” through faith in Christ gives us a new position before God. It also changes our motivations and desires. Thus, the ultimate answer to racial injustice and all strife is the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit to change our attitudes and feelings about others, such that we truly love our neighbor as ourselves. James also speaks against favoritism concerning wealth. But the principle applies to race as well.

My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? (James 2:1-4).

 

Free Speech and Rightful Protest

America has more opportunities and avenues for free speech and political action than anywhere else in the world, despite all our problems and injustice. Let us, therefore, use these freedoms and not resort to violence. And let our civil government protect these freedoms, enshrined in the First Amendment.

If you think destroying other people’s property and threatening their livelihoods is right, then you are bewitched by a debauched utilitarian ethics: The end justified the means. You are not respecting the dignity of individuals (made in God’s image) or their property. If you want to be respected, then show respect. It is the Golden Rule of Jesus, the greatest nonviolent and constructive revolutionary of all time. If you worship him, love your neighbor, even your enemy.

You have a voice, so don’t use a fist.
Speak, even yell, but don’t hit or throw.
Make a sign and show it. Don’t make a bomb and throw it.
You have a vote, so don’t use a torch.
You can protest, but do not destroy.
Be angry, but in your anger, do not sin.
Govern yourself as you seek to reform our civil government.

Street brutality is no answer to police brutality, which is real and must be addressed.

Pray and work. Work and pray. Pray while you work. Work while you pray.

May God bring justice and peace.

 

Moral Theory for Church Leaders

            As pastors and teachers in the church seek to exposit and apply the Bible to their congregations, they need to handle wisely the moral matters discussed in the Scriptures. We need wise positions on hot-button topics, such as abortion and same-sex marriage, but we also need a sound theoretical understanding of morality rooted in the Bible. As Paul told Timothy:

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15; see also Titus 3:5-6).

Some parts of the Bible are more directly related to ethics than others. Questions of conduct cannot be avoided when teaching on the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-18; Deuteronomy 5:1-21), the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), or the greatest commandment (Matthew 22:37-38). All of Scripture is profitable for guidance on how to live well before the face of God (2 Timothy 3:15-17; Hebrews 4:12). Therefore, all of Scripture, in one way or another, concerns the moral life—our obligation to do good and to avoid evil, our need to learn to become a virtuous person, and our doing of good works.

            It may not be obvious, however, that moral theory can help ground and organize the church’s teaching on ethics.1 Teaching ethics at Denver Seminary—and elsewhere—for nearly thirty years has convinced me of this. So, let me explain and illustrate a few basic elements of moral theory in the hope that preachers and teachers will appropriate them for solid and clear teaching for God’s people.

            In the first paragraph, I said that Scripture concerns “our obligation to do good and to avoid evil.” That phrase captures the deontological aspect of ethics. Deontology concerns moral duties or responsibilities. In the biblical context, duties are based on God’s commands. Our actions should conform to his directives. The Ten Commandments are the moral backbone of biblical ethics.2 Eight of the Ten Commandments are negative: You shall not have another God, take God’s name in vain, worship an image of God, commit adultery, murder, bear false witness, steal, or covet.”3 Positively, you shall keep the Sabbath and honor your parents (Exodus 20:1-18). These commands all address actions to be done or avoided. When Jesus was asked what the greatest command was, he replied:

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40).

Jesus is not replacing the Ten Commandments, but rather getting to the heart of them. Loving God and neighbor needs the structure of God’s specific commands, lest “love” be reduced to untutored and unhinged sentiment (as it is so often today). For example, it is never loving to commit adultery, to dishonor one’s parents, or to murder. And Paul writes that “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth (1 Corinthians 13:6). It cannot be loving to delight in what breaks God’s commands.

The demands and commands of God’s law for our behavior always call us up short and point us to the Cross of Christ for forgiveness and new life. In fact, we are commanded to repent and come to Christ. As Paul preached, “God…now commands all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30; see also John 6:29).

Since the Bible is so insistent on obeying the commands of God, some Christians have neglected two other elements of ethical theory that are revealed in Scripture. The first is virtue.

Virtue theory dates to the ancient Greeks, principally to Plato and Aristotle. For them, someone cultivates particular character traits by finding a moral model and following his lead in the context of a virtue-forming community. The cardinal virtues of this tradition are justice, prudence, temperance, and fortitude. Christian thinkers added the virtues of faith, hope, and love to this list (taken from 1 Corinthians 13). While Christians should obey God’s commands in their actions, we are also called to be a particular kind of people on the inside. Our characters should be so shaped by the Holy Spirit that we obey God gladly and habitually and learn to respond affectively to situations in a God-honoring way. We may know well that we should not covet anything that belongs to our neighbor (deontology), but learning to be content—through prayer and mental discipline—is a matter of virtue. Thus, the virtues assist us to want to obey God’s law and to do so in the right way, with a heart of love and service.

The second element of moral theory besides deontology is consequences or the consequential aspect of morality. Some moral theories, such as utilitarianism, make the achievement of good consequences the entirety of ethics. Utilitarianism teaches that we must bring about the greatest good for the greatest number. Now the question becomes, “What is the good to be brought about for the masses?” Utilitarians may answer this differently, but the standard model claims that the good is pleasure. God is not against pleasure, since he invented it as good in the beginning, but what fallen humans take pleasure in may not be truly good—for themselves or for anyone else. Think of the pleasure some derive from pornography or the pleasure derived from being a ruthless and heartless businessperson, who will do most anything to make more and more money. 

Christians can agree what we should do as much good to as many people as possible, but we should not attempt this apart from moral duties (deontology) and moral virtues. James tells us that our saving faith is verified by our good works (James 2:14-26; see also Ephesians 2:1-10). Jesus tells us to serve “the least of these” who are his “brethren” (Matthew 25:31-46). God told the Jewish exiles to seek the welfare of the city to which they were banished, because when it prospered, they would prosper, too (Jeremiah 29:7). Only as we our definition of good goes beyond mere pleasure can we bring about the greatest good for the greatest number. We cannot violate the law of love to bring about more pleasure for more people. Moreover, our moral goal is not pleasure per se, but the service of God and neighbor through lawful and virtuous obedience to God. One abolitionist, John Brown, said that American slavery had to be abolished even if all Ten Commandments had to be broken to accomplish it! Of course, no thinking Christian would every believe that. 

Christians can sometimes seek results at the expense of principles and godly character. I was in an evangelistic meeting where the teacher asked for eyes to be closed while he asked people to put up their hands if they wanted to become Christians. I kept my eyes open. Just after he asked people to raise their hands if they wanted to accept Jesus as Lord, he said, “I see hands going up everywhere.” They weren’t. I looked. After he lied, other hands went up. Only God knows how many people were born again that evening, but deception is never the proper method for evangelism or disciple making. Paul made this clear when he wrote to the church in Thessalonica:

For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts. You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness. We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority. Instead, we were like young childrenamong you (1 Thessalonians 2:3-7). 

Much more can be said about moral theory in relation to the Bible, but I hope I have shown that the categories of deontology, virtue, and consequences are pertinent to moral decision making and moral action for the Christian. Teachers and preachers in the church can help clarify the moral vision of the Bible by explaining these terms and showing how the Bible’s teachings about ethics can be understood in these terms.  


1 For an in-depth treatment, see Scott B. Rae, Moral Choices, 4th ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2018), chapters 1-3.

2 To defend this claim, see the exposition of the Ten Commandments in The Westminster Longer Catechism.

3 On the significance of this negativity, see Rousas John Rushdoony, “The Negativism of the Law,” in The Institutes of Biblical Law (Nutley, NJ: Craig Press, 1973).

In Defense of Fear

Too often we hear that we should not be affected by fear, especially in the pandemic. No, fear–of the right kind–is good.

“Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” the Bible tells us. We should be in awe and hold God in the highest respect, even though he is our friend through Jesus, and even our Father in heaven. We fear not Gods wrath if we are covered in Christ’s righteousness, but we should still fear God.

Fear of the professor’s bad grades is the beginning of academic wisdom, even if the professor is kind and helpful. This fear leads to improvement and academic safety.

Fear of death from a deadly disease is wise. Altering your behavior accordingly is right, given a severe threat. Being cautious and controlling your urges is the better part of virtue.

Going out in public without precautions and screaming about the loss of your “rights” in a pandemic is unwise, imprudent, and potentially harmful to others.

Remember, if you get the virus because you were careless, it may not hurt you too much. However, in so doing, you weaponize yourself and you may give the virus to someone who becomes very ill or who may die from it.

So, be afraid. Be very afraid.

 

Hospitality During the Corona Virus Crisis

Hospitality means primarily the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines—Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out.

Although I am an introvert who doesn’t fear long hours alone in study and writing, I long to welcome people into my home. After long years of my residence being more of a hospice than a home, it has been recently transformed into a bright and warm place for others—a place for hospitality. That means a place to offer food and drink, a place for studying and a place for intellectual exploration as I show people around my capacious library and offer to loan books. In the last sentence, I kept writing a place. But now, in virus lockdown, this place is only for my wife, myself, and my dog, Sunny. Any hospitality I now offer is crimped by aloneness. Even time outside is hampered by fear of contagion and the ill-named “social distancing.”

Hospitality is the public outgrowth of love. Compassion and caring always moves outward, towards the other in hopes of friendship, fellowship, service, and community. As Pascal said, “Respect means put yourself out.” How much more does love mean “put yourself out”? Hospitality is a Christian virtue and without it, there is little if any spiritual life in the church and witness to the world. The Apostle Peter writes this:

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. (1 Peter 4:8-9).

So many other texts could be cited, but we need to realize that the imperative to be hospitable is rooted in God’s own hospitality in offering us hospitality through Jesus Christ. The eternal Son took on a human nature and dwelt among us full of grace and truth, making the Father known (John 1).

Hospitality means welcoming or restoring someone into our good graces—or at least offering this. We can extend kindness to others through all the media available to us and perhaps reach into the lives of others we have neglected. We may seek reconciliation with those with whom we are estranged, as Jesus taught us to do in the Sermon on the Mount. Since “love covers a multitude of sins,” we should not hold others sins against them. By so doing, we become hospitable and refuse to grumble. Even in our aloneness and retreat, we can ponder and pray about the meaning of hospitality being eager for its return to our homes, schools, places of worship, and our life together.

 

 

Crisis, Virus, and Ideology

With social media, anyone can post anything about anything. You are your own editor, publisher, and promoter. Everyone is an expert or can pose as one. Or perhaps the idea of an expert is dead. Since ethos is essential in persuasion, let me “speak as a fool” (as Apostle Paul put it) about myself before making some comments about crisis, virus, and ideology.

I speak for no organization. I am not an ordained minister, not a physician, and not a scientist. I belong to no political party. I am an evangelical Christian who is a philosopher, author, and professor. I am sixty-three years old and have been a Christian since 1976. I have taught full-time as a professor of philosophy since 1993 and have been an adjunct professor at three secular colleges. I have published and taught on many topics, including the philosophy of religion, the philosophy of technology, theology, moral philosophy, social issues, postmodernism, theology of culture, Jesus, Blaise Pascal, and political philosophy. I’ve been around the block a few times. So, here are a few reflections on responses to the current pandemic.

I see people’s political views eclipsing their reasoning and this concerns me greatly. Conservatives are tending to downplay the crisis, fearing that it is some kind of ruse for liberal politics. Criticisms of the President’s handling of the corona pandemic are taken to be merely political. Some seem to think that if you voted for Trump and are not a Democrat, you must never criticize him. Or they think that if you criticize Trump, you support a far-left ideology. That is the fallacy of a false dichotomy. That is not how reality or democracy works. Facts are more important than ideological conformity. Being ideologically blinded is marked by at least four tendencies. (1) You dismiss out of hand views contrary to your own. (2) You consult only news and opinion sources that share you views. (3) You see the world in only stark binary terms (us and them). (4) You are quick to attack the motives of those you disagree with.

For some, measures taken by governments to hinder the spread of the virus are taken as a gateway to totalitarianism. As a conservative, I have long criticized statism—the notion that the state is the central institution for order and meaning in society. Other forms of government are just as important as civil government: self-government (virtue), family government, church government, school government, and the governments of private organizations. However, the state or civil government has its proper place and—because of its coercive power—can accomplish much that the private sector cannot. Thus, when lives are at stake, it is appropriate for the state to restrict activities, such as closing down businesses, taking economic measures, and restricting public meetings. The public good demands this and all decisions cannot be left to private choices. Remember what Apostle Paul wrote about civil government.

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience (Romans 13:1-5).

This does not give the governing authorities carte blanc permission to take away basic human rights or to control the church. May it never be! Scripture tells us of godly people standing up to the state (Exodus 1; Acts 5:26). Citizens must sometimes rise up against tyrannical governments or secretly disobey them. (On this, see Francis Schaeffer, A Christian Manifesto.) But the issue today is not so much about civil liberties, as it is about public health and common sense. If the mayor of a city limits the operation of businesses—even though there are only a few reported cases of corona virus in the state—that is no reason to accuse her of tyranny. Rather, the she should be complimented for being conservative in protecting the health of citizens. When the stakes are high—dying of the virus—the measures should be aggressively conservative, because so much is at stake. This is Prudential Reasoning 101.

In times of crisis, critical thinking is often a causality. But the greater the crisis, the greater the need for cool heads—and for warm hearts, wise action, and faithful prayer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jesus On Publicity and Public Virtue

We live in the great age of endless self-promotion. Anyone can ego-cast through the Internet by projecting images, talking points, endorsements, slogans, memes, pseudo-events, and more. But what is genuine virtue, and how should it be manifested in public? Followers of Jesus must seek out another way that avoids the dangers of image manipulation and various forms of puffing oneself up before the masses.

Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount charts another path for his followers. After he sees the crowds who are following him, he sits down to kindly teach them what the world would never forget: the beatitudes.

 Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
  Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
  Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
  Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
  Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
  Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

  Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you (Matthew 5:3-12).

These God-bestowed blessings are countercultural, but they define Christian virtue. I commend to you John Stott’s book, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, to elucidate these profound teachings, but suffice to note that the God-blessed life in Christ is one of God-focused gentleness, humility, and good works, even to the point of experiencing blessing in persecution for following the way of blessings. This way of life ensures blessings that move far beyond this present age, extending into the age to come in which the meek will inherit the earth and all who mourn before God will be comforted.

Jesus goes on to teach that this pattern of existence has public implications. Individuals can experience the divine endorsement as they follow Christ in meekness, mourning, peacemaking and more, but these spill over into the marketplace, the highway, the school, on capitol hill, and everywhere.

You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:13-16).

Blessed people are salt (seasoning and preserving society) and light (exposing darkness and giving a medium for sight). Their virtue is to be public. This is holy publicity based on public virtue, not worldly publicity based on clever advertising. Virtuous influence is based on godly character and not on worldly celebrity—being “well known for their well knowness,” as Daniel Boorstin put it in The Image (1961).

Paradoxically, not trumpeting your virtue leads to godly influence through the discipline of secrecy. Later in the sermon, Jesus says:

Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you (Matthew 6:1-4).

We ought not seek our reward through the attention we receive by doing good works. God knows our hearts and our acts and will respond accordingly, with or without the attention of the world. Our good lives and good deeds come through being people of the beatitudes. There is no need to announce it with trumpets or through the internet or to seek the honor given by others. If we do, we forfeit the way of Jesus and any true effectiveness we might achieved.

God wants the kind of publicity that comes when his people submit to his rule, are filled with his Spirit, and obey his Word. Public virtue comes from private devotion and the discipline of secrecy. Jesus began the Sermon on the Mount by seeing the crowds who came to him. This perfectly holy man drew many people to himself through nothing but his virtue. We should do the same in his holy power.

Letting others know how you can serve them is apt. Reporting on how God is using your gifts is fine. Selling yourself is neither. Let us follow Jesus.

 

 

 

 

Presence

You and I need media to communicate with one another. Speech is one medium to bring thought into oral expression. Writing is another medium to bring thought into the world through inscription of various kinds. When electricity was pressed into communicative service long ago, new media were added to the human scene: telegraphy, radio, telephones, television, cell phones, and the Internet.

All mediation creates a new environment, which changes the communication and changes the people communicating. Those who first used telephones felt it odd that a voice could be so radically separated from a human being who was speaking somewhere in the general vicinity.

Electronic mediation allows for informational extensions beyond that of the immediate. I have FaceTime with a friend in Czech Republic, because we cannot meet at the local pub for now. However, all these electronic mediations separate as well as unite. FaceTime shows me a face and gives me a voice, but I cannot shake hands, put a hand on a shoulder, or pick up the kinetic subtleties I would experience if I were in a room with my friend. Moreover, I depend on the camera to give me the angle of vision. When face to face, I can move around the room, literally lean into the conversation, and communicate with my full body in ways not available through face time. Mediation gives, and mediation takes away.

Now let us open our Bibles. The Apostle John ended two of his three letters with a desire we may read over too quickly.

I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete (2 John 12).

I have much to write you, but I do not want to do so with pen and ink. I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face (3 John 13-14).

John realizes the limitations of quill and parchment—that ancient kind of mediation that we understand as pen and the paper—and now, more and more, as keyboard and the screen. His realization was based on his experience of the Incarnation itself, as he tells us.

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete (1 John 1:1-4).

The Apostle, Paul, said much the same in two places.

I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong—that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith (Romans 1:11-12).

Paul was about to write the book of Romans, the most thorough account of Christian theology in the entirety of holy Scripture. Yet even that was not the same as seeing the recipients of his letter. Paul yearned for the “mutual encouragement” that comes from face-to-face fellowship. He writes the same to his young charge, Pastor Timothy:  “Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy” (2 Timothy 1:4).

Examples like this could be multiplied. They reveal that personal presence cannot be replaced by any medium of communication. Being with someone is not identical to any other form of communication. I am not devaluing letters, emails, texts, or even tweets. However, we gain wisdom when we understand the nature of the medium we are using—its weaknesses and its strengths. But we should not be so deceived as to think that the on-line classroom is exchangeable for the in-person classroom or the on-line church service is exchangeable for the in-person church service. Presence matters because matter matters. It matters to God, and it should matter for us. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). Thus, we should practice the presence of God and practice the presence of other people.

For more on these ideas, see Douglas Groothuis, The Soul in Cyberspace (Baker, 1997).

A Revolution

Here is a revolutionary activity: listen to people who experience suffering beyond your reach. Do not try to put their experience in your categories. Stifle any cliché responses. Rather, listen; then, listen again.

Try to walk in their limping shoes. Try to live in their imprisoned body. Then, be quiet, and listen. Ask questions. Do not try to repair anything right away. Thousands of others have already tried and failed. They are sick of hearing pat answers.

Then, commiserate. Do not say, “It isn’t so bad.” How do you know? How can you know? You are a stranger to their misery and anguish. But you can be a compassionate companion along life’s way. Do not even say, “I understand.” You probably do not.

But, you can be the one in a hundred who dares to suffer well with others, to enter into their misery with no game plan, with no sure path to healing, and with no agenda apart from love.

Coming Soon! The Groothuis App

No more need for the living Groothuis, who can be irascible and curmudgeonly. After all, he can only be in once place at one time. We have now digitized him so that you can have him 24/7/365 without the need to navigate his quirky personality. All you need of Groothuis without Groothuis, thanks to new technology.

That’s right. From videos, articles, books, and interviews, we have captured his core ideas, illustrations, and even jokes (at least the good ones)! No need to actually read any of his books or articles. Hey, some are long! Just get the app, ask a question, and Groothuis own (simulated) voice will answer the apologetics or philosophy question—and in less than three minutes. Unlike real life, when Groothuis would often pause to think or find the right word or even say nothing, all Groothuis App answers come pause-free. You can even vary the rate of voice, just like on Audible.

Only $5.99 per month.

 

Texts, Graphics, and Culture: On the Decline of Reading and Civilization

Inscripturation is part of being human, or at least it has been for a long time. We inscribe words on bark, papyri, codices, human skin (tattoos), books, magazines, bracelets, and automobiles. These are the media for our messages. We use pens, markers, pencils, printing presses, and spray paint to do our writing. These are the tools by which to inscripturate. We employ graphics for our inscriptions done by various tools on various media. You are reading this online and in a font. The headline of this essay is larger and bolder than the text. A few words have already been placed in italics.

Patterns of inscripturation tell us much about ourselves. Consider books. Most thoughtful books from thirty or more years ago had few subtitles, lacked boldface, and relied on the words themselves (as semantic abstractions) for the meaning—rather than relying on the variation of typeface, odd spacing, or special effects. The text in a book does not move around on the page and cannot be altered apart from annotations. It is ruthlessly linear and requires decoding (reading). We might find endnotes or footnotes, none of which stand out on the page.

Consider books today. Some remain similar to books published thirty years ago, with their unadorned text and high volume of information per page. But many books ape the sensibilities of a computer screen when online. I am now reading an insightful piece of Christian social criticism, which considers how renewal might take place in our postmodern world. I have other books by this thinker. However, the book does not trust its words to do the work of knowledge. Each page has several different graphical effects to make its points: different colored text, boldfacing, and indented text. It is annoying and interrupts the flow of thought rather than ensuring it.

Why is the book thus marred? The assumption is that readers are conditioned by the activity on screens and will be reluctant to submit to the discipline of pure textuality. They need headlines, call-outs, textual variations, and other brain candy in order to remain remotely conscious through the ardor of deciphering the meaning of the inscriptions.

The book I am reading does not plug in. There is no internet connection. It is not an e-book. It is the equivalent of an e-book—or a paper book in e-book drag.

This kind of graphic clutter has been accruing for years. A Hal Lindsey book from about thirty-five years ago that had almost as many words in subtitles as words in the main text. (His failed prophesies are best forgotten, but Christ will come again.) The special effects cater to and encourage intellectual impatience and the skimming mentality. Here we face a vexing challenge.

All writing must be aimed at an audience. If the audience is addled by screen addiction, it will be difficult for readers to adjust to unmoving, linear, and demanding textuality. Yet we ought want these souls to learn from good books—books like the graphically cluttered book I am now reading and which prompted this essay. At the same time, we ought to challenge readers to bear down, turn off the phones, turn off the music, and let themselves be immersed in reading worthwhile words for long periods of time.

I know that none of my books will be pocked by multiple typefaces, odd spacing, and different colors. I will stick with what I know best for what I do. I will write words crafted for meaning. I am not against apt graphic illustrations, subtitles, italics once in a while, and so on. But when text hypertrophies into a riot of contending inscripturations, we lose too much of what matters most in writing. In so doing, we betray our literary patrimony (and perhaps without evening knowing it) and become high- functioning, digitally-savvy, well-informed illiterates.

 

 

 

The New Age Jesus

Those enamored of New Age spirituality usually find in Jesus a kindred spirit. Rather than exiling Jesus to the legendary lore of religious imagination or debunking him as a messianic pretender, New Age writers see Jesus as an enlightened master who manifested a divine power—a power potentially available to all who enter the New Age.

The New Age movement is not a conspiracy but an eclectic configuration of spiritual seekers who have despaired of finding personal and cosmic satisfaction in either religious orthodoxies or secular materialism. Instead, they have turned to unconventional and esoteric sources in the hopes of finding what they seek in the ambiance of the mystical, magical and metaphysical.[i] Given these tendencies, the Jesus of orthodox Christianity may seem inadequate. Jesus must be rescued from a pedestrian and parochial orthodoxy that demands he monopolize the deity.

Jesus in the New Age

Because of its diversity, the New Age has no single view of Jesus, but it offers a family of related views whose common factors may be summarized.

  1. The New Age highly esteems Jesus as a spiritually attuned or evolved being who serves as an example for spiritual discovery and evolutionary advancement.  Jesus is referred to by various positive terms and titles including Master, Guru, Yogi, Adept, Avatar, Shaman, and Way-show-er.  He is revered along with other religious leaders such as Buddha, Krishna, Confucius, and Lao Tze.
  2. Many argue for the separation of Jesus the individual person of history from the universal and impersonal Christ Consciousness, or Christ Principle. His consciousness of God and miracles were evidence he tapped into a higher level of consciousness. But if Jesus tapped into this cosmic power, he did not monopolize it.  New Age philosopher David Spangler, echoing the ancient Gnostics, said that, “The Christ is not the province of a single individual.”[ii]  As Joseph Campbell put it in his best-selling book The Power of Myth (1988), “We are all manifestations of Buddha consciousness or Christ consciousness, only we don’t know it.”[iii]  Christhood comes through self-discovery; we may all become Christs if we tap into the universal energy, the Christ consciousness.
  3. The orthodox Christian affirmation that Jesus is the supreme and final revelation of God is questioned.  Although Jesus is respected, he is not worshiped.  Janet Bock complains that “the position that Jesus was the only ‘Son of God’ . . . is, in effect, a limiting of the power of God, a shackling of divinity to one physical form for all eternity.”[iv]
  4. Jesus’ crucifixion, if accepted as historical, is not deemed essential to restore the spiritual wholeness of humanity.  Jesus’ suffering on the cross is either rejected as unhistorical or reinterpreted to exclude the idea that he suffered as the Christ to pay the penalty for human wrongdoing in order to reconcile people to a holy God. Elizabeth Clare Prophet, leader of The Church Universal and Triumphant, states emphatically that the idea of a blood sacrifice is “an erroneous doctrine,” actually “a remnant of pagan rite long refuted by the word of God” and never taught by Jesus himself.[v] Since the New Age worldview denies both human sinfulness and a personal God who is ethically perfect, Jesus’ crucifixion loses its traditional significance.
  5. Belief in Jesus’ resurrection and ascension is denied or spiritualized to remove them from the realm of the physical and the historical. Many others besides Jesus are recognized as “Ascended Masters” on the spiritual plane. Joseph Campbell interprets the Ascension to mean that Jesus “has gone inward . . . to the place from which all being comes, into the consciousness that is the source of all tings, the kingdom of heaven within.”[vi] For Campbell, Jesus does not ascend to the right hand of the Father but descends to the divine depths of the collective soul.
  6. The idea of Jesus’ Second Coming is spiritualized and democratized to refer to the evolutionary ascent of an awakened humanity. Soli, billed as an “off planet being” channeled through Neville Rowe, offers this esoteric insight: “You are God.  You are, each and every one, part of the Second Coming.”[vii]  The notion that “this same Jesus” (Acts 1:11) who literally and bodily ascended to heaven will himself return in like manner on Judgment Day is rejected as narrow-minded literalism (see also Philippians 3:20-21). Furthermore, final judgment after death is denied in favor of reincarnation.
  7. New-Age thinkers accept extra-biblical documents as sources for authentic information about Jesus.  Although the Bible is often cited, its function is secondary to other texts.  Instead, the spiritually inquisitive often turn to alternative records of Jesus’ life.  This quest for a “lost Christianity” follows several routes converging at key points.

Many believe that Gnostic texts provide a trustworthy record of Jesus as a spiritual catalyst who came to awaken the spark of divinity locked in our bodily prison. Self-knowledge, or gnosis, is the means of salvation. Since people hear of titles such as The Gospel of Thomas or the Gospel of Peter, many assume the Gnostic materials are historically trustworthy documents that were expelled from orthodoxy by defensive clerics. Professor Elaine Pagels, long an advocate of Gnostic materials over the canonical Scriptures, recently drew attention to The Gospel of Thomas in her best-selling book, Beyond Belief (2003).

Another strand of revisionism harks back to a book called The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ, published in 1894 by a Russian journalist, Nicholas Notovitch. This book claims to unveil an ancient Tibetan record of Jesus’ “lost years” (between ages 13 and 29), which he spent studying, teaching and traveling in the mystic East. This Jesus bears little resemblance to the biblical Jesus.

Others find the key to Jesus in the ancient Essene community at Qumran, near the Dead Sea.  Claiming to base their interpretation on the Dead Sea Scrolls or other material, they see Jesus as part of a mystical remnant preserved from the Jewish fundamentalism of his day. Shirley MacLaine writes that “Jesus and the Essenes, with their teachings on love and light and cosmic laws along with the Golden Rule of karma, sound very much like metaphysical seekers in the New Age today.”[viii]

These esoteric materials are often augmented or eclipsed by revelations thought to originate beyond history entirely. Channelers or mediums receive messages about Jesus from personal spirit beings. Others, such as Edgar Cayce and Rudolf Steiner, keyed into an impersonal plane of higher consciousness called the Akashic Records or the Collective Unconscious, to extract a picture of Jesus not in harmony with that of the New Testament.  The popular three-volume set A Course in Miracles (1975), popularized by Marianne Williamson, claims to have been dictated by Jesus himself. Yet it denies historic Christian teachings such as original sin, the sacrificial death of Christ, reconciliation with God by faith in Jesus, and a literal heaven and hell.

  1. When the Bible is cited with reference to Jesus, an appeal is made to an esoteric dimension lost on those holding traditional interpretations. The Bible must be decoded to discern its secret substratum. So, when Jesus said that John the Baptist was Elijah, he was saying that John was the reincarnation of Elijah, not that John simply came with the same “spirit and power of Elijah” without being literally Elijah (Luke 1:17).[ix]  When he said, “the kingdom of heaven is within you,” he really meant the soul is divine, not that the kingdom was breaking into history through Jesus (Luke 17:20-37).[x]

In the New Age, Jesus is understood apart from biblical moorings and placed in an alien intellectual and spiritual atmosphere. He is a Christ without a cross or physical resurrection, preaching a gospel without repentance or forgiveness, before an audience of potential equals who have no sin and are in no peril or perdition. Is this the genuine Jesus?

Is the New Testament Reliable?

Before considering the claims and credentials of Jesus, we should consider the reliability of the New Testament, since New Age sources impugn its integrity. The New Testament is often undervalued because of its antiquity and its manner of compilation. It is deemed unreliable because of the number of translations and editions. Some will reject its authority by saying, “Well, it has been translated so many times.” Yet the New Testament is the best-attested collection of literature from antiquity. Some 5,366 partial or complete Greek manuscripts of the New Testament have been recovered, dating as far back as the end of the first century. This plethora of manuscripts gives scholars ample material for reconstructing the original texts. No doctrine is affected by the small number of variant readings listed in modern Bibles.[xi] Although numerous translations of the New Testament are available, each modern translation appeals to the best ancient manuscripts available. They do not simply refer to the latest in a succession of translations. In fact, as time goes on more and more manuscripts are uncovered by archaeologists.

The date of the original composition of the New Testament books is quite close to the events described—in most cases, not more than a generation. We know that nearly all the twenty-seven books of the New Testament were in circulation by the end of the first century, because early church theologians such as Ignatius and Clement (writing at the turn of the century) refer to them or quote them. The original writers of the New Testament were also in a good position to ascertain the truth of their research, being either eyewitnesses (such as the apostles Matthew, Peter and John) or (like Luke) privy to eyewitnesses. Luke’s affirms that the material he used was “handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word” that he might present an “orderly account” of Jesus’ life (Luke 1:2-3).[xii]

Concerning the canonization of the New Testament, New Age writers protest is that it was the product of a fourth-century theological elite which excluded legitimate sources such as Gnosticism for purely self-serving reasons. But this scenario doesn’t bear historical scrutiny. The canonized documents were not given authority as much as they were recognized as already functioning in the churches with authority. These books predate the church councils that canonized them by several hundred years. They were not produced or altered ad hoc. Furthermore, books were excluded from the canon for specific reasons, such as late date of composition, questionable authorship, doctrine at odds with the primitive “rule of faith,” and lack of use in the early church; they were not rejected for merely political motives.[xiii]

In light of this evidence, the burden of proof lies on any other purported record of the life of Jesus that contradicts the New Testament. Can the New Age revisionist documents bear historical scrutiny?

Testing New Age Documents

The New Testament is far better attested than Gnostic texts. The Gnostic texts are second- or third-century documents that editorially alter an already existing orthodox view of Jesus. None of the Nag Hammadi texts, for instance, is an actual gospel of the form of the canonical Gospels. Rather, they are largely metaphysical discourses that for the most part bear little resemblance to the New Testament either stylistically or theologically.[xiv]

The Notovitch material (claiming to reveal “the lost years of Jesus”) was roundly condemned as unreliable by such noted orientalists as F. Max Muller and others shortly after its publication because of its contrived and unhistorical character. Despite continued interest in The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ, the supposed Tibetan original manuscript has never been available for scholarly study; there exists no adequate verification of its existence, let alone its credibility. Most scholars have flatly rejected it as a fraud. It is better to have 5,366 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament in the hand than (at most) one exotic manuscript lost in the Tibetan bush.[xv]

Claims that Jesus was an Essene do not hold up either. The Essenes of the Dead Sea Scrolls were not proto-New Agers. Rather, they were monotheistic Jews who, despite sectarian idiosyncrasies, affirmed human sinfulness, an eternal hell and a predestinating, personal God. Despite some similarity between Jesus’ teachings and the Essenes’ (due to their common belief in the Old Testament), there is a deep rift between them concerning asceticism, ethics, salvation and other issues. The Essenes were not New Agers, and Jesus was no Essene.[xvi]

With regard to channeled material, we should question why credence should be given to a revelation with no historical verification over documents with considerable historical verification—especially when channeled sources deny the central tenets of what Christians have affirmed for two thousand years. Because of this danger, the Apostle John warns: “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). He goes on to encourage his readers to test the purported revelations by their views on Jesus; if they reject the biblical Jesus, they must be rejected as false messages, whatever their supposed source (1 John 4:2-3; see also Colossian 2:8).[xvii]

The simple fact is this: The evidence supports the reliability of the New Testament over the materials concerning Jesus given weight in New Age circles.

The Claims and Credentials of the Christ

But who is the Jesus of the New Testament? He speaks with a voice of authority based on both his claims and credentials.

Jesus calls himself God’s “one and only son” who was sent in love by the Father to bestow eternal life to those who believe in him (John 3:16). No other shares that status. This is no idle matter, since Jesus goes on to say that “whoever does not believe [in Jesus] stands condemned already because he has not believed in God’s one and only Son” (v. 18). Peter declared:  “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Paul affirms that “Christ Jesus” is “the name that is above every name” (Philippians 2:9; see also Ephesians 1:18-23).

Another authoritative affirmation comes from Jesus’ lips: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6; see also Matthew 11:27). In context, the exclusivity of this statement cannot be honestly avoided, although some, through “esoteric interpretation,” assert that Jesus is not speaking of himself as the way, but of the impersonal “I Am presence” (or God) in us all. Such interpretive innovation, often practiced in New Ager circles, is the result of “world-view confusion”—an entirely alien philosophy, in this case pantheism, is superimposed onto the text.[xviii]

Esoteric interpretation is countered by common sense. If nothing stated in the text indicates the esoteric meaning, and we have good independent evidence indicating that the document is written in code language, what grounds can be given to support the esoteric interpretation, besides wishful thinking? Although the Bible is not always easy to understand, no secret code is needed to decipher it.[xix] Peter warns of those who distort the Scriptures to their own destruction (2 Peter 3:16).[xx]

By what credentials did Jesus back up his claims? Because those involved in the New Age movement grant the reality of a paranormal, dimension that affects the natural realm, they should be impressed with Jesus as an unsurpassed wonder worker. Jesus restored the blind, deaf, dumb and leprous, cast out demons with a word, commanded the elements to obey him, and summoned Lazarus from the grave. In the grandest miracle of all, he himself rose from the dead on the third day, just as he predicted. There would be no Christianity without the Resurrection.[xxi] A reading of the Gospels will disclose Jesus as another shaman or mystical holy man. He is far greater.

Jesus never claimed to tap into an impersonal realm of power. His demonstration of power was thoroughly personal. Jesus miraculous power was grounded in his identity as God’s only Son, his relationship to God, the Father, and his empowerment by the Holy Spirit. His miracles displayed his compassion and integrity. This is seen when declared that a crippled man’s sins were forgiven—an act only God could perform—and backed it up by healing him on the spot (Mark 2:1-12). Jesus healed both soul and body, and in the process forgiven the man’s sins, declaring the prerogatives of deity.

The sheer number, power and attestation of Jesus’ miracles put him in a category by himself; but the miracles alone are not sufficient to establish Jesus as Lord. We must also consider Jesus’ unrivaled authority as a teacher; the certainty of his words regarding his mission, his identity and the need for human response; his fulfillment of prophecy;[xxii] and his love toward those he came to rescue. These factors show Jesus as a man of integrity and compassion as well as a man of power. He claimed to have the power to save the lost, whom he loved.[xxiii]

Jesus’ View of Salvation

Jesus was on a redemptive mission. However, New Age theology to the contrary, his mission was not to convince humans that they were really divine. He declared, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10). Jesus understood being “lost” as sinfulness.  He catalogued thirteen items of infamy—such as adultery, greed, impurity—as “coming from within” and making a person unclean before a holy and personal God (Mark 7:21-23). Where the New Age sees a sleeping god, Jesus finds a tempest of transgression. It is no wonder that Jesus often warned of the horrors of hell (Matthew 25:31-46; Luke 16:19-31).

Jesus presented himself as the answer. “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Speaking of his impending crucifixion, Jesus said, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28). Christ’s crucifixion offers something alien to a New Age theology, which understands God as an impersonal and amoral Force, Principle or Vibration. From this perspective, humans all partake of the divine essence, but the ultimate reality is impersonal and inhuman.  The Great Void makes no friends and sheds no blood. Yet we all yearn for loving relationships with other persons, for love, intimacy and acceptance.

We find our highest meaning in the inter-personal realm, not the im-personal realm. The Cross of Christ announces God’s sacrificial love toward us. God’s uncompromising holiness demands that a price be paid for sin: Jesus goes to the cross to bear that penalty. Yet God’s love provides a sinless sacrifice for a guilty race. As Paul said:

When we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his love toward us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8)

Finding the Genuine Jesus

The gospel of Jesus Christ is an objective claim on every individual (Acts 17:30). Christ offers the life we crave but which we cannot achieve by looking within ourselves. He said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). Although Jesus singled himself out of the spiritual crowd through his exclusive claims and unmatched credentials, he issues an inclusive invitation:

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.  (Matthew 11:28)

Christ promises and provides rest from the futile human quest for Christhood. We may, by his grace, become his friends, but never his peers. We must surrender our quest for autonomy, turn from our selfishness, and turn toward the only one who can forgive our sins, give us eternal life, and equip us for good works for the glory of God. The first word of the gospel is repentance. Jesus said, “Repent for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). If we admit our sin, repent of our wrongdoings, and put our faith in the sinless sacrifice of Jesus, we can find eternal life—beginning now and continuing for an eternity in paradise with Jesus. Only through faith in Jesus can a new age truly begin (2 Corinthians 5:17).[xxiv]

[1] For more on the New Age as a movement and a worldview, see Douglas Groothuis, Unmasking the New Age (Downers Grove, Ill,: InterVarsity Press, 1986), and Douglas Groothuis, “New Age Spiritualites,” in Christopher Partridge, Douglas Groothuis, eds., Dictionary of Contemporary Religion in the Western World (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 278-280.

[2] David Spangler, Reflections on the Christ (Glasgow, Scotland: The Findhorn Foundation, 1977), 103.

[3] Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth (New York: Doubleday, 1988), 57. This material, based on an interview with Bill Moyers, was also made into a PBS television interview, which is still shown during pledge drives.

[4] Janet Bock, The Jesus Mystery (Los Angeles, Calif.: Aura Books, 1984), 112.

[5] Mark L. and Elizabeth Clare Prophet, The Science of the Spoken Word (Livingstone, Mont.: Summit University Press, 1986), 86-87.

[6] Campbell, 56.

[7] Quoted in Otto Friedrich, “New Age Harmonies,” Time, December 7, 1987, 66.

[8] Shirley MacLaine, Going Within (New York, N.Y.: Bantam, 1989), 181.

[9] See Douglas Groothuis, Confronting the New Age (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 95-98.

[10] See Douglas Groothuis, Jesus in an Age of Controversy (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2002), 227-228.

[11] See Groothuis, Jesus, 38-41.

[12] For more on the reliability of the New Testament see Groothuis, Jesus, 17-63, and F. F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents—Are They Reliable? 6th ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1987).

[13] F. F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1988), and Groothuis, Jesus, 307-312.

[14] For more on the historicity of the Gnostic texts see Groothuis, Jesus, 102-118.

[15] For more on the lost years of Jesus see Ibid., 119-151.

[16] For more on Jesus and the Essenes see Ibid., 152-180.

[17] For more on channeling see Ibid., Jesus, 181-214.

[18] See James Sire, Scripture Twisting: Twenty Ways Cults Misinterpret the Bible (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 23-30, 127-44.

[19] On proper biblical interpretation see Gordon Fee and Stuart Douglas, How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth, 2nded. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1993).

[20] For more on esoteric interpretation see Groothuis, Confronting, 87-91; Groothuis, Jesus, 282-284; and Sire, 107-115.

[21] See Groothuis, Jesus, 272-282, and Gary Habermas, The Risen Jesus and Future Hope (Lanham, MA: Rowman and Littlefield, 2003), especially Part I.

[22] On Jesus’ fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, see John Ankerberg, John Weldon and Walter Kaiser, The Case for Jesus, the Messiah (Chattanooga, Tenn.: The John Ankerberg Evangelistic Association, 1989).

[23] For more on the claims and credentials of Christ, see Groothuis, Jesus, 237-260.

[24] On coming to terms with Jesus, see Groothuis, Jesus, 285-306.

The Vapidity of Pop Spirituality

My Audible.com subscription offers free audio for “finding bliss” every day. Out of curiosity—and not in hope of edification—I began to listen as I exercised at the recreation center. This bliss-promising offering ill fit with my audio books by Os Guinness, C. S. Lewis, Timothy Keller, Francis Schaeffer, and their edifying kin. My interest didn’t last more than about two minutes (my crap detector was ringing too loudly in my ears to go on), but during that time a sense of spiritual disgust came over me. Oh, the vapidity and vacuity of the pop spirituality of bliss, yoga, self-esteem, mindfulness, and the rest!

To truly live in, and through. and by the Spirit, to be spiritual, comes only through faith in, submission to, and friendship with the triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who has mercifully come to us in the flesh in Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus warned of false Christs and counterfeit gospels, as did his Apostles (Matthew 7:15; Colossians 2:8; 2 Peter 3:16; 1 John 4:1-6). Christ confronted the twisted, but pious, religiosity of both the Scribes and Pharisees with the gospel of repentance from dead works and faith in himself as the source of eternal life (Matthew 4:17; John 3:16-17). But what is pop spirituality?

I have studied New Age spirituality for many years. When I began research just after my conversion in 1976, the worldviews and spirituality of Hinduism, Buddhism, and occultism were beginning to flower like a poisonous plant. Yoga was viewed as a bit exoteric and exotic. Buddhist mindfulness were not mainstream. But even then, when these Eastern philosophies hit American soil, they tended to be diluted by American values and ideals—especially our optimism and boosterism. Today, we are sold a pop spirituality that fails to rise or fall to the level of any one religion, but which combines religious ideas with American sensibilities to form something nearly insufferable. Let me explain.

Second, pop spirituality is simplistic and deceptive. Real peace, it claims, can be found merely by practicing yoga, visualizing what you want, or cultivating a new, positive self-image. The program I heard told the listener to say, “I am grounded. I am grounded.” But you may not be grounded in the good, the true, or the beautiful. You may be about to run aground into one of the many unpleasant realities out there. You might intone “I am grounded” over and over and not realize that your children are strangers to you, your wife is having an affair, and the IRS is about to ambush you. Worse yet, you can feel at peace but not be at peace with your neighbor or with your Creator. That is no small matter.

You might intone “I am grounded” over and over and not realize that your children are strangers to you, your wife is having an affair, and the IRS is about to ambush you.

Third, pop spirituality can be dangerous when it plays with spiritual practices not grounded and sanctioned by the one, true God. Any so-called meditative practice that shifts your mind into intellectual neutral provides an opening to deception and even spiritual bondage. It is one thing to de-stress a bit through getting relaxed and not worrying about life. Jesus told us to ponder the birds and the flowers, remembering that if God cares for them, he will care all the more for us (Matthew 6:25-34). It is something else entirely to “let go of your thoughts” and enter a state without judgment or evaluation.

The mind is as much a battleground as it is anything else. Since “the heart” includes the mind, consider this wisdom: Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it (Proverbs 4:23; see also Philippians 4:8). We guard our hearts through treasuring the truth and resting in the God of all truth, not by emptying our minds or letting it run free. The enemy of our souls is all too eager to find a mind idling in neutral and to shift it into reverse and over a cliff (John 8:44). Surely, we can do better. It is the truth of Jesus that sets us free (John 8:31-32). We do not find freedom by floating on the dangerous sea of consciousness without Jesus as the anchor of our souls (Hebrews 6:19).

Pop spirituality must give way to cross spirituality, the way of Jesus himself.

Pop spirituality must give way to cross spirituality, the way of Jesus himself. He is too wise to assume that we are fine the way we are and that he merely provides a means to our own autonomous ends. No, he calls us to deny ourselves, take up our cross daily, and to follow him (Luke 9:23-26). And while the gospel is simple, it is not simplistic or one-dimension, unlike pop spirituality. You can never get to the bottom of God, Creator, Designer, Redeemer, Judge. The Christian life is a deep voyage into meaning, truth, and life. In self-denial, there is self-liberation. In truth, there is love. Even in suffering, there is meaning. Abandon vapidity, all you who enter here!

 

 

 

 

 

Fire in My Bones

“Without fire, nothing.” I often say this to my students in the context of motivation for ministry. I have felt this fire for over four decades. It has gotten me through many rejections, depressions, and my own foolishness. “Fire in my bones,” comes from the prophet Jeremiah, a man with a rather miserable ministry of declaring God’s judgment. He was “the weeping prophet” and was often in trouble with the rebellious people of Israel. Yet through it all, Jeremiah wrote:

You deceived me, Lord, and I was deceived;
you overpowered me and prevailed.
I am ridiculed all day long;
everyone mocks me.
Whenever I speak, I cry out
proclaiming violence and destruction.
So the word of the Lord has brought me
insult and reproach all day long.
But if I say, “I will not mention his word
or speak anymore in his name,”
his word is in my heart like a fire,
a fire shut up in my bones.
I am weary of holding it in;
indeed, I cannot (Jeremiah 20:7-9).

The observant reader will note that this prophet was angry with the one who made him a prophet. He would rather do something else, since the cost is so high and painful. But, indeed, he cannot! I have sometimes decided to serve God even when I did not like him very much. He is my Lord, whatever my feelings may be. I’m grateful that I have not felt this way for some time now.

Similarly, when Paul entered Athens, he was upset at their idolatry. While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols” (Acts 17:16). Athens was not at the height of her glory, but was still a center of philosophy and learning. It was the home of Zeno, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle as well as being a center of culture given its architecture, poetry, and more. Yet Paul was more exercised by its idolatry than by its celebrated achievements. As a loyal Jew, he knows that God commanded his people not have no other God besides himself and to not make idols (Exodus 20:4-6; see also Romans 1:18-32; Isaiah 42:8).

But instead of throwing a theological tantrum, Paul channels the first in his bones into courageous and brilliant witness. Luke tells us that because of his “distress,” Paul “reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there” (Acts 17:17). He went on to give his classic apologetic address at Mars Hill, in which he continues to reason with his well-educated and philosophically-astute audience (Acts 17:22-34).

Many more examples of “fire in the bones” can be culled from Scripture. Instead of doing that, let me say that this divinely-authorized fire is never bombastic, arrogant, or mean-spirited, since that would mean grieving the Holy Spirit (see Galatians 5:13-26). Rather, the fire is a holy intensity to explain and promote the truth of the living God, come what may. Let me reflect on what this idea has meant in my life and ministry.

The fire is from God, not myself. I ask God to give it to me and to protect me from vainglory and self-promotion. As a writer, teacher, and preacher, I want to make a wide, deep, long and holy mark on the world. That cannot be done through the work of the flesh and the ways of this fallen world. I have long said that we should pray that our influence would never exceed our competence or our calling.

The fire burns even when all else is dark. At the worst times of my journey through my first wife’s dementia, I still yearned to see God’s truth shed abroad in people lives and in the world at large. Yes, the fire dwindled a bit at times, but it could not be put out. What else could I live for? After many defected from Jesus’ ministry, he asked Peter

“You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.

Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:67-69).

During many years of hardship and fatigue, I would often intone this verse about myself from Ecclesiastes, “The grasshopper drags himself along” (Ecclesiastes 12:5), which is part of a poetic description of the trials of aging. But the grasshopper still had fire in his exoskeleton. Now, thank God, that is no longer my go-to verse; but the fire remains. I used to sign my letters to a good friend as “The Grasshopper” and he would address me as such. Now that I am experimenting with happiness, I’ve asked him to give up that appellation and I no longer use it myself. (See my essay at Christianity Today, “The Risk of Happiness.”)

The fire is a creative spark for ministry. Paul told the Romans: “It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation” (Romans 15:20). Yes, I teach at a seminary where many other Christians minister. I write for magazine for which many other Christians write. I preach at churches were many other Christians have preached. But I seek to bring Christianity places where it is rare or scares, such as in secular publications, in the secular classroom, and talking to those who may seek quite far from the gospel. Ecclesiastes has encouraged me in this.

Ship your grain across the sea;
after many days you may receive a return.
  Invest in seven ventures, yes, in eight;
you do not know what disaster may come upon the land.

Sow your seed in the morning. . . .
and at evening let your hands not be idle,
for you do not know which will succeed,
whether this or that,
or whether both will do equally well (Ecclesiastes 11:3, 6).

What the text advises for finances, I apply to ministry ventures. I ask if I can speak at a Buddhist university. They ignore me (twice). I submit a creative article to a secular philosophy magazine. They say Yes! And so it goes, the first remaining constant in my ventures, however quixotic they sometimes seem. (See my article, “Casting Your Bread on the Waters” from The Christian Research Journal).

If you have no fire for the things of God, ask him for that fire. Jesus promised:

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 7:7-12).

One way to acquire the fire is to discern and emulate its works in others. Of course, the biblical characters of Jeremiah, Paul, and, of course, Jesus, will warm turn up the heat in our cool bones, but there are many exemplars down through history. I have found that the life and ministry of Francis Schaeffer (1912-84) to be exemplary. He had fire in his bones, but also tears in his eyes. It could write in The Great Evangelical Disaster that “truth demands confrontation,” but add “loving confrontation.” I recommend, Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life by Colin Duriez (Crossway, 2008).

Whatever it takes, find the fire—and you will never be the same. Nor will the world be the same.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Elizabeth Warren, Democratic Candidate for the Presidency, on Abortion

“I believe that abortion rights are human rights. I believe that they are also economic rights. And protecting the right of a woman to be able to make decisions about her own body is fundamentally what we do and what we stand for as a Democratic Party. Understand this: When someone makes abortion illegal in America, rich women will still get abortions. It’s just going to fall hard on poor women.” From the New York Times.
Here are some points against the madness

  1. What grounds human rights, Mrs. Warren? Do you create them out of whole cloth? Are they determined by those in power? If human rights are objective and universal, then they need to be philosophically grounded in more than individual or collective preference or power. God alone is the guarantor of human rights.

 

  1. God has made all humans in his own image and likeness (Genesis 1:25; 5:1-3). As such humans, at every stage of development or decrepitude, have

an Intrinsic,
Incommensurable,
Inexpugnable, and
Incorrigible
right to not be murdered.

  1. Yes, Mrs. Warren, if abortions are harder to get or made illegal in some states if Roe V. Wade is overturned and the abortions laws go back to the states (where they belong constitutionally), then more wealthy women may have easier access to illegal abortions. For example, a woman who can afford it may travel to another state that allows abortion if her state forbids it.

However, this is absolutely irrelevant to the essential moral question of the rightness or wrongness of abortion. If an act is unjustifiable killing, which abortion is, then it should be illegal for the sake the the innocent and voiceless living human beings who are being killed. Laws against abortion can help restrict its occurrence. They cannot eliminate it, since illegal means are available. Perhaps heroin procurement and use is easier for wealthy Americans than for poor Americans. But that is irrelevant to making heroin use illegal.

  1. If abortion is, in fact, “what we do and what we stand for as a Democratic party,” I advise one of two actions. A. Reform the Democratic Party or B. Leave it and work for a more morally sane party or be an independent (as I am).

Why I Am an Evangelical Egalitarian

I became an egalitarian through a long study of the issue in the early 1990s. My first wife, Rebecca Merrill Groothuis (1954-2018), led the way through her research and writing, but we thought through every aspect of the issue over many years—first to come to the position of egalitarianism and second to defend it from frequent and multifaceted attack. Rebecca’s earthly work is over, but I sense a need to continue to encourage gifted women to serve God with all their abilities, even despite opposition from other Christians. As a Christian man with some influence through my writing and teaching, I offer this brief statement—not as a thorough defense, but as a statement of principles and as an outline of an apologetic for egalitarianism.

An evangelical egalitarian believes that gender, in itself and in principle, does not restrict women from any position of leadership in the church or society. Nor does gender determine a women’s subservient place in the home under the authority of her husband. As Rebecca put it:

Evangelical egalitarianism, or biblical equality, refers to the biblically-based belief that gender, in and of itself, neither privileges nor curtails a believer’s gifting or calling to any ministry in the church or home. In particular, the exercise of spiritual authority, as biblically defined, is deemed as much a female believer’s privilege and responsibility as it is a male believer’s.

As Rebecca and I thought this through we realized there were several obstacles to clear. A non-egalitarian believes that women, as women, cannot legitimately hold some positions of leadership in the church nor are they equal partners in marriage.

Non-egalitarians were called traditionalists until about twenty years ago when they coined the term complementarian. The latter term, however, is a misnomer that does not distinguish the view from egalitarians simply because both views consider men and women complementary to each other. The burning question is whether men, as men, have some unique authority over women. Egalitarians deny this. So, the better and more descriptively accurate term for the non-egalitarian is hierarchialist. Granted, this does not sound appealing, but it is truer to the position.

First, any such claim will be rejected as “feminism” by many evangelicals and thus associated with liberal theology and politics. Rebecca and I called feminism “the F-word.” But we found that the egalitarian view predated secular feminism and was held by leading evangelicals in the nineteen century. The secular feminism of the 1960 and onward has had no effect on our being egalitarians. We both tended towards being contrarians and curmudgeons, so going with the cultural flow never appealed to us (see Luke 16:15). Rebecca addressed this at length in Women Caught in the Conflict (Baker, 1994). This book was a prolegomena to her direct defense of egalitarianism in Good News for Women (Baker, 1997).

Second, egalitarians need to wrestle with texts that seem to contradict the claim that women should have access to leadership in the church and mutuality in the home (especially 1 Timothy 2:11-15). Rebecca and I held to biblical inerrancy on the order of the classic Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy of 1978, which was endorsed by stalwarts such as Francis Schaeffer (1912-1985) and Carl Henry (1913-2003), two of my heroes. But, on the other hand, complementarians (as they call themselves), must come to terms with the many passages that depict women leading, prophesying, and teaching (such as Judges 4-5, Acts 2:17-18, and Acts 18).

There are formidable exegetes of impeccable evangelical prestige on both sides of this issue, but I am convinced that no biblical text forbids women from leadership in the church or from having an equal voice in the home as a matter of eternal and cross-cultural principle. Now is not the place to cite authorities or give footnotes, except to note a multi-author volume edited by Rebecca Merrill Groothuis and Ronald Pierce, Discovering Biblical Equality (InterVarsity, 2004). Rather, let us consider one theological matter, which is crucial and decisive.

Complementarians are committed to saying that God restricts women from some positions of leadership because of their gender. This view leads to the following.

  1. Women are equal to men in their essential human being as females.
  2. Women are barred from some leadership roles simply because they are females.
  3. Therefore (A): Women are unequal to men because they are female human beings.
  4. Therefore (B): Women are both equal to men in their human being as females and unequal to men in their human being as females. This is a contradiction and is, therefore, false. That is, the conjunction of (1) and (3) is necessarily false.

Since 1-4 shows complementarianism to be contradictory, there are only two possible ways to address the issue and be logically consistent concerning women and their authority.

  1. Women are equal to men in their essential being; therefore, there is no basis to restrict them on the basis of their female human being. This is the biblical equality position.

 

  1. Women are to be restricted based on the basis their female human being. This can only be justified by saying they are not essentially equal to men in their human being. Women lack, in their essential being, something men have in their essential human being. That means they are inferior to men. This is the older theological view of women in relation to men, a view today’s complementarians usually want to reject.

Complementarians, qua complementarians, cannot affirm (1) or (2). However, these are the only logical choices they have, given that I have ruled out their essential “equal in being, unequal in function” principle as illogical. Therefore, they are stuck in a logical pickle. Biblical equality provides the way for them to be un-pickled—that is, logically consistent.

The biblical equality view avoids these insuperable difficulties by saying that men and women are equal in their essential human being and that being a woman in and of itself never restricts a woman from exercising leadership gifts. (However, in some specific situations it will not be wise for a woman exercise some of her gifts, since this would produce unnecessary controversy.) The use of gifts is determined by God-given ability and the Spirit’s call on someone’s life.

While the final case for women’s equality rests on the Bible, I (and we) cannot deny the testimony of faithful, godly, and gifted women today who serve Christ and love his word. As a seminary professor since 1993, I have taught and gotten to know many women who are skilled in preaching, teaching, and leading. I have seen them win preaching awards, excel academically, and serve in churches where they sometimes do receive the respect they deserve. During one doctrinal interview, my colleague said to a woman we were examining, “I would love to have you as my pastor.” I concurred. During another doctrinal examination, I once asked a seminary student who held the complementarian view if he thought God had gifted some women with leadership skills equal to that of men. He agreed. I then said, “Let that haunt you.” I hope it has haunted him into changing his position.

 

Losing our Letters

Amazing as it may seem to many of us now, human beings wrote letters to each other before the arrival of electronic mail. My mother did. Along with her letters (sometimes typed on a typewriter, sometimes in longhand), she sent me clippings from another print medium that is in jeopardy—the local newspaper. She sent clippings about my high school friends, the moose are taking over Anchorage, Alaska, and other noteworthy items. She was a lifelong and consistent correspondent, and thus a dinosaur. Her Christmas cards arrived a month in advance. God bless her for it. But there are a few far younger “dinosaurs” out there, including one of my students who hates email and cherishes letter writing (“my correspondence,” as she affectionately calls it).

  What do we lose when we exchange email—or incessant cell phone chatter—for the sending and receiving of letters? We all know what we gain from email and cell phones—speed of communication, instant access, and more. But what features of a good life do we forfeit in the process? As with all communicative technology, there is a trade-off between gains and losses.

  For one thing, we tend to replace reflection with rapidity. Email is fast, very fast—and often, too fast. No intermediary object is required for an email. We type letters on a screen and launch them into cyberspace. With letters, we must inscribe symbols onto a page, a distinct physical object that takes up space and which has a marked history of its own. Writing by hand takes time, and is, therefore, inefficient given contemporary quantitative standards. However, the time and effort is takes to write a letter demands a slower pace and allows for more deliberation on what one is writing. In days of yore, many a letter was written only to be torn up and thrown out because one thought better of it. Or perhaps it was tucked away as memorabilia.

  In an email age and texting age we may be losing a literary fixture: the collection of noteworthy people’s correspondence, as The New York Times noted in Rachel Donadio’s essay, “Literary Letters, Lost in Cyberspace” (September 4, 2005). I have read books made up of the letters of C. S. Lewis (who was always in good form), Francis Schaeffer (the consummate thinking pastor), and others. It is not unusual to find the letters of literary figures or philosophers, such as Bertrand Russell, bound for posterity or included in biographies. The letters between painter Georgia O’Keeffe and photographer Alfred Stieglitz, released in 2006, are voluminous, and worthy of some reflection—even though neither was known for their writing. This is explored in Letters Like the Day by Jennifer Sinor.

  “Men of letters” were almost invariably men (or women) of letters. Letters of note tended to be saved or duplicated. Emails, on the other hand, are so multitudinous and so disposable (click or “oops!”), that often they are not translated into a more permanent form. (Digital storage is less permanent and more fragile than paper, since it often decays, is fragmented, or becomes unreadable due to new software. I took this up in The Soul in Cyberspace way back in 1997).

  Letters carry the literal touch of the person who wrote them. Even a typed letter is signed. It is crowned by the signature: one’s own name in one’s own hand. If a letter is handwritten, the sign of the personal is made more manifest. In writing a letter recently (a rarity, I admit), I realized that I seldom write by hand more than a few sentences at a time, usually on my student’s papers. Besides that, I may make a list (for shopping items or articles due to editors), check boxes for various purposes, or fill out forms. My handwriting is not superior. I do not write cursively. I print. It is slow and cumbersome. I must work at making my inscriptions legible. Nevertheless, our handwriting—heavenly or ghastly or somewhere in between—is our creation, the inscription of our identity placed on receptive material. We may choose the type of pen, color of ink (or inks), and make idiosyncratic notations. Yes, email gives us a plethora of choices, such as fonts, emojis  (now animated), text size, pasting photographs, and so on, but these are pre-selected for us by others. They are not created by us specifically for another. The manner of writing itself—apart from its overt intellectual content—may be revealing. A good friend of mine told me that her mother discerned the disheveled state of her soul not by the content of her writing, but by the contours of her handwriting.

  Simply because letters are irrepressibly personal, most of us still get a small thrill from finding a letter in our mail box addressed to us in handwriting, and not machine produced. These letters often have a telltale thickness, indicating that it houses several pages, folded and written by human hands. Perhaps we should send and receive fewer emails, yell into the cell less often, and instead give and receive the small but tangible joy a letter can afford. Perhaps—to consider something quite radical for most—we should even work on our penmanship as a way of working on our relationships. Perhaps.

In Conversation with Dr. Donald T. Williams

Dr. Donald T. Williams is a friend of mine, a kindred spirit, and a Renaissance man, being well versed in literary studies, philosophy, and theology. He can recite sections of classic poems and novels from memory and even composes sonnets on airplane rides. Professor Williams is the author of nine books and has written the most extensive exposition and analysis of C. S. Lewis’s theology (Deeper Magic: The Theology Behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis) as well as a book on Tolkien called, An Encouraging Thought. The Christian Worldview in the Writings of J. R. R. Tolkien. Because I am one of the sad people who could never read Lord of the Rings and have been feeling bad about it for forty or more years, I read An Encouraging Thought and was encouraged by it. Perhaps I can bluff my way through Tolkien a bit now.

He holds a BA in English from Taylor University, an M.Div. from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and a PhD in Medieval and Renaissance Literature from the University of Georgia. He is the R. A. Forrest Scholar and Professor of English at Toccoa Falls College in the hills of NE Georgia. I was intrigued to see how he would answer the following questions. You will be as well. I encourage you read his books, see him lecture, and invite him to speak on the many subjects about which he is competent.

Bold print = Douglas Groothuis, Professor at Denver Seminary and author of Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive case for Biblical Faith and other books

light print = Donald T. Williams.

  1. What is God’s calling on your life?

When I was in high school I had a really good pastor, Paul R. Van Gorder (later an associate teacher with Radio Bible Class).  He did such a good job of explaining the Scriptures and showing the majesty of their theology, the beauty of the Christ they presented, and the practical relevance of their teaching for life, that I found myself praying, “Lord, it would be really neat if someday you would let me do for others what this man is doing for me.”  That was the first hint I had that I might be called to the ministry.

But I learned later that it was not the beginning of that calling at all.  By the time I was in college, I loved Jesus, the Gospel, and the Bible, and thought that there was nothing I would rather do than preach them, teach them, and write about them if God would open the doors.  And it seemed that He was doing so.  It was only later that I learned what Paul Harvey would call “the rest of the story.”

The day I graduated from seminary (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, June, 1976)), my father took me aside.  “Your grandfather,” he said, “always wanted a son to go into the ministry.  But I was not called in that way.  Then when you were born, he took you into his arms and said, ‘This is the one.  This boy will be the answer to my prayers.’  He died when you were five.  And I have never told you this, because I did not want it to influence you—if you were called, I wanted it to be from the Lord and not from some pressure we had put on you.  But today, I think I should tell you this story.”  

Make of that what you will.  I was floored.  I still don’t think I have ever quite gotten over that moment.  And I am forever grateful for my pastor’s example, my grandfather’s faith, my Dad’s wisdom, and God’s grace, without which the other factors would have been wholly in vain. 

  1. How would you describe yourself as a scholar and communicator?

As a scholar I am truth-driven, and I think that truth is never fully seen as truth until it is seen in relation to God and His glory, which means being seen in relation to Christ.  So I don’t fit very well into the scholarly world, even the Evangelical scholarly world.  I am always trying to promote Renaissance (a recovery of the life of the mind), Reformation (a recovery of sound doctrine), and Revival (a recovery of vital Christian spirituality).  I’ll pursue those goals through any medium open to me, whether it be a book, a scholarly article, a sermon, a lecture, a conversation, or a poem.  I consider them all of a piece.  I hope each one gives some small glimpse of the Vision: the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.  

  1. Do you really read Lord of the Rings every year, and if so why?

I read The Lord of the Rings twice the year I discovered it, 1968, and have read it almost every year since (I think I’ve missed two or three).  I’ve written a whole book on why: An Encouraging Thought: The Christian Worldview in the Writings of J. R. R. Tolkien (Cambridge, OH: Christian Publishing House, 2018).  In brief, it keeps me grounded in the ability to see the world as it is: full of goodness and beauty by its creation but corrupted and fallen, subject to horrible evil but never without hope because “Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and not by its maker.”  It is the setting of a Quest that is “not wholly in vain.”  I am subject to melancholy and pessimism and need to be reminded that there is a Light from beyond the circles of the world that Sauron’s clouds can never put out—not just by being told that it is so, but by being shown it: by having the reality of it presented to me through incarnational imagination.  

  1. What should every Christian know about the power of the imagination?

C. S. Lewis taught that reason is the organ of truth, and imagination is the organ of meaning.  Reason tells me whether a proposition corresponds with or contradicts other propositions I have come to accept—more importantly, whether it corresponds with or contradicts the world itself.  That correspondence is truth.  But without imagination I would not know what those propositions meant in the first place. I think he was right. 

As I said above, I don’t just need to be told the truth; I also need to be shown it.  When imagination faithfully does that, it makes it possible for us to have meaningful truth, which not only convinces us but moves us.

For more on this topic see my essay “Meaningful Truth: The Critical Role of Imagination in the Work of C. S. Lewis,” Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity 31:6 (Nov./Dec. 2018): 34-37.   

  1. If you could design a college curriculum for the humanities, what would it include?

Latin.  Logic.  The classics.  Scientific literacy.  Competence in all those skills, not just exposure to them.  Then as much history, philosophy, and literature as you can fit in on that foundation (assuming these course are not taught by Post-Modern ideological hacks more interested in indoctrination than education). 

I’ve heard admissions counselors from seminaries, law schools, and journalism schools consistently give the same advice to college students:  out of English, Philosophy, and History, major in one and minor in one of the other two.  That will be the best preparation for graduate study you can get.  If it’s taught right, it’s also pretty good preparation for life.  If you know how to think and you are not always reinventing the wheel when you do your thinking, i.e., not doing it in a vacuum but in the light of what we have learned over the years, you can excel at just about anything.

For more on this topic, see my essay “To Spread His Glory: Four Theses on Christian Education,” Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity 32:4 (July/August 2019): 30-34.

  1. What do you find most important about the work and life of C.S. Lewis?

Nobody ever has outdone Lewis as a role model for the integration of reason and imagination.  We have some really good rational apologists.   We have not done so well as an Evangelical movement in fostering those who work with imagination.  But what nobody in any movement has ever done as well as Lewis is show us both working in tandem the way they are supposed to do.  You get superb rational arguments in the popular apologetics advanced by means of apt analogies that come from the imagination (the hall and rooms of a house for the church and its denominations).  You get rational apologetic argument seamlessly embedded in works of fantasy like Narnia (Professor Kirk’s use of the Trilemma, Puddleglum’s use of the ontological argument with the Green Witch).  Neither set of books would be as good without the cooperation of both reason and imagination.  

I’ve written a whole book on this and other reasons why Lewis matters:  Deeper Magic: The Theology behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis (Baltimore: Square Halo Press, 2016).    

  1. What is the biggest mistake Christians make in the realm of the intellect?

It is twofold.  First we despise the intellect, and then we over-react to that rejection of it by trying too hard to be seen as respectable by our secular peers in the academy.  For too many of our Evangelical intellectuals, that quest for respect drives our work more than the quest for faithfulness.  It is a pathology we see playing out again and again.  Respect from the enemies of truth is not affirmation; it is shame.  

  1. What are the five books that have influenced you most and why?

It is hard to say if these are really the top five—a number of others are complaining loudly that they have an equal claim to be in the list.  But these five were certainly very important in my development.  In chronological order of composition:

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion.  I was prejudiced against it when I first read it, but I discovered to my surprise not a man in love with religious determinism but a man in love with the glory of God and the grace of Christ.  He also bases his systematics on being the greatest exegete of his generation.  Even if you don’t always end up agreeing with him, you need to learn these things from him!

Sir Philip Sidney, Defense of Poesy.  The foundation of a Christian approach to literature and to education.  The philosopher has the precept, but he is “so misty to be conceived that you may wade in him until you be old before you find sufficient reason to be honest.”  The Historian deals with concrete reality, but is limited to what has been and cannot talk (as a Historian) about what ought to be.  “Now doth the peerless Poet perform both.”  Like the Historian, he deals with a story conveyed by concrete imagery, but unlike the Historian and like the Philosopher, he is free to pursue the Ideal.  Thus he wins the prize in pursuit of “the end of learning,” which is “virtuous action.”   I wrote a whole book, Inklings of Reality: Essays toward a Christian Philosophy of Letters (Lynchburg: Lantern Hollow Press, 2012), trying to show why this matters.

C. S. Lewis, Miracles.  Not Lewis’s most popular work of apologetics (that would be Mere Christianity), but in my mind his best, the most profound, and most stimulating.  This is how apologetics should be done.  He not only teaches you the content of apologetics; he teaches you (by example) the craft.

J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings.  We already discussed this book above.

Francis Schaeffer, The God Who is There.  I’ll discuss this book below.

Honorable Mention:  Augustine, Confessions; Dante, The Divine Comedy; Baldassare Castiglione, The Boke of the Courtier; Shakespeare, Works; John Milton, Paradise Lost; Jonathan Edwards, A Treatise on the Religious Affections; Gerard Manley Hopkins, Poems; G. K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man;  Robert Frost, Poems; C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man; The Chronicles of Narnia; The Space Trilogy; Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge.

9. Who is the most important author that Christians never read?

It’s getting to be Francis Schaeffer.  I used to teach a course called Humanities 103, which was a survey of Western culture heavily informed by Schaeffer’s cultural apologetic, required of all freshmen.  For a quarter of a century after his death, they would start out knowing that he was an important apologist and opponent of abortion, and a few would have already read him.  Starting about ten years ago, they would never even have heard of him without that course.

Why does it matter?  Schaeffer understood that in a post-Christian, post-truth world, Christians could no longer afford to be ignorant of issues once the province only of philosophy majors.  He understood how worldview impacts life and culture.  He understood that unless we are presenting the Gospel as “true truth,” we are not presenting the Gospel.  He understood that unless the Lordship of Christ touches all of life and all of culture, it is an empty slogan.  He understood these things with a combination of cultural insight and biblical faithfulness that was unprecedented in his day and which we have not seen since.  We still need very much to hear his voice.

We should read all of Schaeffer, but we should start with The God Who is There and True Spirituality, the books he held as the foundation of all his work.  Later provocative books like The Great Evangelical Disaster or The Christian Manifesto read very differently as the extensions and applications of principles laid down there than they do in isolation.  Schaeffer might have been naïve to expect people to read his books in the order he preferred, but friends of his work today will do well to urge their students to read The God Who is There first and often.

Dr. Williams’s latest book is The Young Christian’s Survival Guide: Common Questions Young Christians are Asked about God, the Bible, and the Christian Faith Answered (Cambridge, OH: Christian Publishing House, 2019).

Tales of Plagiarism

The practice of taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing them off as one’s own. Recorded from the early 17th century, the word comes from Latin plagiarius ‘kidnapping’—Oxford online dictionary.

The eighth of God’s Ten Commandments is “You shall not steal” (Exodus 20:15). The ninth is, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16). Lives well lived under God avoid theft and lies. Virtuous people honor others’ right to their property and strive for veracity over mendacity in their words. Plagiarism violates both the eighth and ninth commandments, as well as being driven by what the tenth commandment forbids as well—covetousness. Incidentally, the penalty for kidnapping, which is the Latin root for plagiarism, under the Mosaic law was death (Exodus 21:16).

God alone knows all the word kidnappings that have occurred under the sun, but professors and writers have their tales of plagiarism. So, I will tell of a few—none of which are tall, all of which are true, and all of which are told in my words. 

My school and many others use a technology for detecting plagiarism in student papers called Turnitin. Their motto is  “Education with Integrity. Your culture of academic integrity begins with Turnitin.” I thought it began with honesty, but we’ll let that go for now. This digital conscience arose with the opportunities for plagiarism in the online word. Plagiarism required more work before the Internet—reading books and copying by hand what they said. Now it is so simple: cut, paste, arrange. Thus, the technologies fight each other, as they often do. 

I don’t bother with Turnitin. I tell my students at Denver Seminary that they are Christian adults who should not cheat. And if they do, God will get them. I have not used it at other schools, but I did detect a blatant example a few year ago while at Metro State University teaching Introduction to Ethics (how fitting).

The paper began with barely intelligible prose. That was enough for an F. He said that he was a moral relativist because he was a Christian. That, too, was enough to merit an F, but it got better/worse. The next two pages defended relativism in clear (if unconvincing) philosophical prose. I entered a few of these oddly placed sentences into Google and found the material at an atheistic web page. Plagiarism merits an F as well, so this paper was an F-cubed. In other words, its failure was overdetermined. It was a kind of perverse achievement in academic ineptitude. Poor soul.

As I was reading a paper written for me at Denver Seminary, I thought, “This is good. I really agree with this….Oh, this is me!” The benighted student has copied two pages from my vastly ignored book, The Soul in Cyberspace (Baker, 1997) verbatim and without attribution. A tense discussion with the student followed. He uttered excuses, but no apologies.

Some books supposedly written by Christian celebrities are not written by them, but by unnamed authors. Ghost writing is common and not a few publishing houses are haunted. A man once confessed (although I don’t think he felt guilty) that he had written a book for a well-known Christian personality with no little social clout. I challenged his ethics. He was paid for his work, he said, and the practice was common. The same could be said for mercenaries and hit men.

I was once asked to write a book for a famous Christian “author.” Of course, this is, strictly speaking, impossible. You cannot author a book you do not write. The rationale was that the author was busy with other things and more people would read it with his or her name on the cover than with someone else’s name (the real author) on the cover. I was not enlisted to this cause, suffice to say, since I am not a utilitarian.

One could go on, but I give one more personal anecdote. I received an email from someone asking me to look over a manuscript which the author hoped I would co-write with him. Although the book was not under contract, the wily fellow had gotten (or pretended to get) several notable authors to endorse his writing. I wished the man well but declined since I was too busy with other projects to consider co-writing a book. He responded by assuring me that he did not expect me to write anything. I could simply add my name as an author! That would be good for me, for him, and the Kingdom of God, of course. I don’t know what happened to his manuscript.

I said that plagiarism breaks (at least) three of the Ten Commandments: not to steal, not to bear false witness, and not to covet. But can I plagiarize myself by reproducing my writing from one venue in another venue without saying so? I take it that I cannot steal from myself, since I have a right to dispose of my own property as I wish (within moral and legal limits). However, if I repeat writing done for one publication in another publication without mentioning this, I am, in a sense, lying, since the assumption by the reader is that this is new material. However, one might argue that if it was first published on your blog, it doesn’t count as being published or that you have reworked the material considerably, so the original source need not be mentioned. Well, maybe. While writing Walking through Twilight, my editor noted that some of what I wrote had appeared on my obscure blog years earlier. Apparently, they have Turnitin or something equivalent. Thus, a footnote was added. I get the point. (Now it would have been worse if I had cribbed something I wrote from a periodical that paid me for my work and which held the copyright.)

Other authors have been more egregious in self-plagiarizing. I know of an apologetics book that was lifted almost entirely from a book previously published by the author. (I don’t mean that the same ideas were rewritten. That is fine. I mean that they were copied word-for-word.) No mention was made of this. The implication is that someone—me in his case—could buy the derivative book without knowing of this duplication. If so, the buyer would be defrauded, since the presumption is that a book is made up of new material, unless otherwise stated.

Self-plagiarism, it seems, breaks the commands not to lie and not to covet. An author republishes himself without telling the reader because he wants more recognition, or more money, or both. By giving the wrong impression about the newness of the material, the author is lying. While breaking two of the Ten Commandments at once isn’t as bad as breaking three at once, it is still morally wrong in my book. And as James warns us, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (James 2:10). 

A question of identity remains, however. If I copy word-for-word from an unacknowledged source (my own or another’s), that is plagiarism. But what if I appeal more to the spirit of the original source, and not the word? If my source is not my own previous writing, it should be referenced (unless it is common knowledge). However, if I am reiterating my own ideas that have been previously published, I don’t take the standard to be quite as high. We all repeat ourselves, so we don’t have to say, “As I said before…” all the time.

God calls us all to be above reproach as truth tellers (Ephesians 4:15). That is the highest standard. May we not sink below it through plagiarism, no matter how popular or common it might be. 

A Prayer for Those Suffering from Unrequited Love

God of all comfort,
you know the pain of broken relationships.
Many of your own followers left you
at the time of greatest need.
You know what sin has done to us.
That is why you came to save us,
at such a great cost to yourself on the Cross.

 

Grant comfort to your servant [insert name],
who is smarting from rejection.
Give him patience in his grieve
and wisdom for other relationships,
through your life-giving Spirit
and in Jesus’ holy name.
Amen.

Jesus for Agnostics

Agnostics of the world, dare to know! Do not be content with an easy ignorance about what matters most. Life is too short for postponing the pursuit of truth. If you are not sure whether or not God exists, then please think through and study out the matter. Read the works of those who argue that God does exist and that his existence is the most important reality we face. I have written a rather comprehensive defense of the Christian faith called Christian Apologetics (InterVarsity Press, 2011). I offer over two-hundred pages arguing for the existence of God; I do this by looking at theories of  cosmology and design, as well as moral, ontological and religious experience. Also consider watching one or more of the debates done by William Lane Craig with atheists such as Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and others. Craig is an eloquent defender of Christianity and a high-level philosopher. Mathematician and philosopher, John Lennox is worth watching in debate form as well, especially his debate with arch-atheist, Richard Dawkins,

A lot is at stake. More consequences flow from the existence or nonexistence of God than from any other question. If a personal and moral God exists, then life has objective meaning—for time and eternity—and there is hope for the universe and for your life. If this God does not exist (as affirmed by atheism and pantheism), then there is no objective meaning and there is no hope for the universe, since it is ungoverned and unaccountable to a Creator. Death is the end of everything.

Even if we question whether life has meaning, none of us can live as if it had none. We care for our loved ones and value them. We oppose immoral acts such as rape and genocide. If you take life to have any meaning beyond your immediate experience, then you are on the side of theism against atheism. Follow that up.

Yes, there are many God-candidates. However, the basic options come down to a personal God or an impersonal God. The latter is more like a principle, force, or substance than a being with thought, value, and volition. An impersonal God cannot satisfy our longings for love. It cannot even give value to human beings as persons, since the highest reality is amoral and impersonal (and, thus, uncaring). 

Christianity, alone among the religions, claims that a personal and infinite God came into his creation through Jesus Christ two thousand years ago by being born in an obscure village in ancient Palestine. God, who created humans in his image, took that image on himself by becoming man—the most remarkable man in history. In his name, people curse and in his name people bless. In his name, the faithful are baptized, married, and buried. Jesus is the most influential man in history, inspiring not only evangelism, but philosophy, art, literature, hospitals, universities, and a plethora of humanitarian causes. But why?

The ancient record of the New Testament depicts Jesus as a miracle worker. The blind saw, the deaf heard, and the dead were raised to life again. Jesus preached the gospel was preached to poor, to the rich, and to everyone in between. Jesus was hailed as a teacher with unimpeachable authority. The greatest minds of the day could not out-think him. The greatest sinners of the day could not escape him. He dined with them and brought the good news to them—tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers, and the like. 

He died young, but not unexpectedly. He was a man born to die—innocent of any wrongdoing but convicted as a criminal. He was crucified, not as a martyr for a cause, but for the sins of the world. Only in his death and his death-defeating resurrection could eternal life be found by those who trust in him and follow his teachings and example. As he proclaimed and asked:

I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies. And everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this? (John 11:25-26).

You agnostics, it is in your best interest to determine whether this greatest story ever told is true. If it is true, as I believe it is, then everything rides on your response to it. You have to do something with Jesus. He is that kind of man. Consider a few of his statements:

For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it (Matthew 16:25).

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it (Matthew 7:13-14).

For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10).

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened (Matthew 7:7-8).

Agnostics! Dare to investigate the claims and credentials of his remarkable and eternally significant man—this man who claimed to be the divine Lord and Savior of the world. Knowing him is life eternal. 

Encounter

Essay written in about 1978 for a college course

at the University of Oregon (Eugene). Unedited from that time.

It was the disturbing spring quarter of my first year in college [1976]. The cavorting of the wild ruffians in my dormitory waned as the stillness of the maturing evening guaranteed a lessening of their activity. Having separated myself from them, I was now quite alone in my room, even though on any other night I would have found myself taking part in the activities of my companions. Having dispensed with my more mundane studies, I sat gazing at my imprisoned fish companion as he swam his circuits of impossible escape. The welcome quietness vaunted me to a high level of contemplation. I reached for the volume that had completed captured my interest through my History of Modern Philosophy class: The Portable Nietzsche. The ripening of my mood demanded that I again embrace the deeply disturbing prose of this infamous philosopher.

Existentialism was a word that I could barely define three months previous, but now it had become the object of my infatuation. Nietzsche was the prophet of its most iconoclastic side, screaming of the death of God (whom we have killed) and exhorting the shipwrecked individual to fly above the sickening weakness of man-qua-man and thus aspire to the realm of the absolutely autonomous Antichrist-like “Overman”. This message was hammered into my psyche in no uncertain terms. In relentless fashion this progenitor and personification of atheistic existentialism was dynamiting the last vestiges of my tottering and vague theistic conception one by one. The impediments of tradition were jettisoned. Overman beckoned.

These warring thoughts had made an unexpected entry. They surreptitiously gained power in my thinking. They were new, alien and incorrigible – sucking everything into their vacuum. My journey into philosophy had occurred quite accidentally during my first quarter when, while groping for classes, I captured a Social Philosophy course that fit neatly into my schedule. Most of my present state of being had its origin in this innocuous event. But as the year progressed I could no longer objectively analyze the schools of thought I encountered; I had to live them. After all, they represented some of the deepest thoughts of men concerning the very meaning of existence. This could not be taken lightly. Philosophy was not written solely to fill college lecture rooms or generate opaque dilettantish arguments.

This deepening of my philosophical investigations (no matter how embryonic they may have been) had also lead me into various religious philosophies, particularly those of the mystic East. But these theologies were savagely swallowed up in the urgency of the moment. I was impassioned with anti-theology.

After consuming a few hours worth of Nietzsche I laid the book down, bowing to fatigue. Yet any physical tiredness was superseded by the uniqueness of my predicament. How had I arrived at this position? This man, seventy years gone, whose name I could scarcely spell or pronounce, had exacerbated every hidden bit of despair in my consciousness, mixing it with a Dionysian excitement that left me in uncharted regions – regions where God no longer mattered. I faced the abyss, unaided by hope in the traditional sense. Providence could no longer afford me any relief. Everything would not just eventually work out. These sorts of optimistic maxims were destroyed because I was being existentialized. I was looking beyond dependence, for I was totally free to myself and from God. I had quickly arrived at an unexpected crossroads. This “philosophy” had transcended its ordinary title. The pompous aloofness that this definition connoted was obliterated. This philosophy had to be lived, not pondered, experienced not analyzed, embraced and not entombed in the graveyard of inaccessible erudition.

But wasn’t this all too ridiculously serious? Wasn’t I but a freshman just scraping the surface of philosophical inquisition? How could I have arrived at such a position? These thoughts did little to allay my anxiety; in fact, no comfort was allowed whatsoever. This was the existential dilemma. The comforting fluctuation of intellectual agnosticism was no longer permitted, for Nietzsche had adroitly dismantled its shallowness.

Epigrams besieged me with pure poignancy rising up from uncharted depths of thought-colliding and cannibalizing each other, yet all the time miserably failing to integrate into a coherent system. I navigated without bearing, craving stability in a metaphysical wasteland. As confusion and frustration oftentimes manufacture the intellectual recline of a recuperative depression, I was progressively aghast at the incessant insurrection of my psyche. I was granted no rest. My respect for social sanction had been shaken over the course of a few years of interest in radical leftist politics, but now a more iconoclastic mental revolution was underway which avalanched and destroyed the very bulwark of my presupposition: Was there any real order in life? Where was the overriding and underlying purpose and meaning? What is really left when God has vanished? My often clichéd-like questions had disappeared and been replaced by ones which evinced a new earnestness and seriousness. This was no game. Truth eluded me, yet I craved it. Where did it hide? Could life ever vouchsafe enough time for me to discover it? Was eternity long enough? I was choked in the straitjacket of human finitude. Would even the most dedicated emulation of “the intellectual” ever assure me of certitude in any area of my life?

I sat motionless at my desk, prideful of my understanding of such a difficulty philosopher, yet quivering at the consequences of my understanding. I reread the title of the book: The Portable Nietzsche. How fond I was of toting it around with me, letting the unenlightened know my status! This dreadfully misunderstood philosopher, whose core of atheism most people refused to take seriously, had become part of my identity. Yes, I had understood what I had read and it refused to give me rest.

Yet rest is a necessity for a productive college life so, after jotting down a few painfully brief notes in my journal concerning my turbulence, I waited for sleep to remove me from this predicament. It did not comply to my wished; my subconscious was not so easily placated.

After the darkness of the room and my mental and physical fatigue had given me sleep, a strange dream began-one that would continue where my waking thoughts had ended. My feelings of complete solitude were deepened as the scene of my dream was my very room. Surprisingly, my late night ruminations were not directly manifested in the dream, but the subtlety of its content was striking. The extreme lifelike quality of this chimera added intensity to an otherwise commonplace scene. Reacting to a small tapping sound I left my bed and stood before my lone third story window. What greeted me was, by itself, not a particularly gruesome or frightening sight, but its location accentuated the bizarreness of its appearance. My stare had been reciprocated.

A nondescript face shrouded in darkness appeared in the window. But I lived on the third floor. How and, more importantly, why would anyone climb to this absurd position? Or did they have to climb? My questions ended as I awoke from my abbreviated encounter. The terror of discovering this incongruent face was limited to a short few seconds in “dream time” but the underlying bizarre and haunting presence that the face represented was to remain.

I stared at the ceiling. The murky shadings of my box-like room enfolded me in a blanket of terrorizing solitude. I had rejected that presence that secretly sought me. I was completely alone. My conscience, even in its tremulous condition, held back tears – besides, they were useless. That hideous new conscience also halted prayer, for I was commencing the execution of God. In this state self-pity was unattainable. I hated God as a nebulous word, a by-product of weak generalizations, but I dreaded his concreteness, for if he existed he knew all – even this special agony: the agony of an existential autonomy that was rejecting him.

At this frozen moment time succumbed to ego and perished in thought. All existence ceased but my own. This anguished, fragmented self was infinitely separated from all. It despised its own company but had no other. It loved its despair; it clung to it with desperation. The brute reality of this situation could not be avoided. It was zero hour.

Shivering out of bed I hit a light. Then, grabbing a pen and paper, I began the impossible task of recording these maddening thoughts. The pen, squeezed by clutching fingers, began its jagged flight over the blankness of white. Fearing the dissipation of this bothersome brain-work I wrote with frenzied determination. The blankness of a few pages was conquered, the blankness of my soul was not. No degree of descriptive elegance could manifest the ineffable. The visceral danced with the cerebral in a desultory dirge. Heightened emotions which had gone unvented tore me asunder. Could this ever be explained – should it? Would I ever want to promote such horror in another? The danger of sleep now equaled the confrontation of wakefulness and my bed was as much of an enemy as my writing pad.

Emptiness. The avenues were blocked. Things had become existentialized to the supreme degree. I was my only real audience – and my only motivation. But I remembered that man hidden in a book I had tried to forget. Shelved in a dark corner of my room was a work by Kierkegaard. I had previously ridiculed him in a philosophy essay with gleeful abandon. He was in the other camp, like the face in the window. Though an existentialist, like Nietzsche, he had nothing more central to his philosophy than the belief in, and the encounter with, God. My scorn for him went beyond a personal animosity over a philosophical position; it went to the core of his message. My antithetical attitude toward him was more a protection from his disturbing thoughts than a judicious analysis of them.

A slim volume was now in my hands, one from which I had previously fled. Its title, alienating to most at first blush, characterized my condition: The Sickness Unto Death. I leafed through to a random page and began reading. My reading was of a queer nature. It was not the vicarious enjoyment received through the admiration of the author’s style and/or message. After reading a few sentences I knew at the roots of my being that I must not sink into that merely aesthetic trap. This was not the breed of book that could be read for aesthetic gratification. Nor could it be read simply to add another title to a list of books read which supplies the dilettante with another piece of pseudo-intellectual baggage. I could not so maliciously insult the author by adopting any of these positions. Instead, I listened to the sermon, a sermon unlike any that I had experienced. The moral prodding did not come from the sententious admonishments of a dogmatic moralist, but form the profound observations of a perceptive and honest man. The pages became mirrors luminously reflecting and magnifying the exactness of my precarious posture.

The book spoke of a despair so acute, so piercing, that the God-rejecting individual internalized his despair by putting it onto the singularness of his being. He cherishes his despair because it is his and his alone. His pride drives him to unheard of heights of suffering. In this state, even if God in heaven would make himself directly known, offering to banish the suffering, the individual would reject him, opting instead to cultivate his odious despair. A reversal had occurred, the book was reading me, picking me apart with scrupulous exactitude.

I was laid bare – dissected and amazed. Was this newly discovered vital message a disclosure of Providence or a mere chance occurrence activated by my self-made freedom in a random universe? Legions of interpretations besieged me. I could not escape them, but I could escape the box that enclosed me.

It was early morning now. A time of roaring silence for me. Stark aloneness followed me out my door, down the three flights of gray stairs and on into the street. The hint of a new day loomed. I walked without direction as a physical automation possessing a mental maelstrom. Was I free to respond to this call to decision? What could I do with this awesome moral prodding? Yet I continued to love my autonomous despair with nauseating stamina. I had discovered the unthinkable: God was dead. Or was he? What was causing this crisis? Why was I thinking what I was thinking? No one could answer my query, no one except myself, or… God.

An occasional jogger broke the dawn’s quietude. The melodious tones of freshly awakened birds filled my path but failed to provide even an ounce of inner harmony. My gait was hulking but constant. The gravity of my thought had seemed to increase the gravity on my body. I carried too much to bear.

Chalkboards were filled and erased in my mind. A regiment of seminal thinkers fought to gain my attention. Their ideas, which had only recently gained my attention through the classroom, cartwheeled in my head. Karl Marx frowned and jabbed me, reducing the sum total of my experience to economic factors. My thoughts of God were nothing but a bourgeois illusion to him. Sigmund Freud appeared and spoke of my overactive superego. He labeled my thoughts about God as neurotic. Nietzsche doomed me to atheistic freedom. He instructed me to rebuke the God I could not destroy… And there was that melancholy Dane, Soren Kierkegaard. There was an infinite chasm between he and the others. He urged me to seek God with all of my heart and to stand naked and pleading before the creator, free from excuse. He was a Christian.

It was now nearing sunrise.

After an indeterminate period of time I discovered myself at the highest point on campus: the top of a hill next to the Student Union Building. I awaited the sunrise with passionate expectation. Feeling unalterably drained I desired renewal. Sunrises had always reminded of the beauty and intensity of the cosmic drama: the drama of creation and of its helmsman. I was dwarfed by the spectacle. Awe and mystery colored my perceptions as a tiny bit of red grew into a radiant orb of transformation. The final instant of night gave way to the newness of day. Tingling with a vague feeling of reverence, I signed deeply. My quest had not ended. Resolution had net yet appeared because the agony remained, but something had been beheld in a new and stunning way, something that I could never deny or rationalize into oblivion. My moral existence was not to gather any more strength from the defiance or denial of the divine.

Woodstock Fifty Years On

Woodstock happened a half century ago this month. I mean the rock concert, which was actually not held in Woodstock, but no matter. “Three days of fun and music,” as the owner of the property famously put it. The music spilled over into day four, when Jimi Hendrix, the headliner, played to a small and burned out group of several thousand at 9:00 AM. “Woodstock” supposedly defined the counterculture and what being a hippie was all about. The New Yorker recently ran a review of a 38-CD set which chronicles nearly every minute on stage of that mythic event. (No, I won’t be buying it.) So, having been a hippie and having seen the movie—I was too young (12) and too far away (Alaska) to attend—I offer a few reflections.

In case you missed the basic facts: The festival drew tens of thousands more people than expected, gate crashers forced it to become a free concert, the resources on hand were quickly exhausted, and it rained and rained, reducing the venue to a huge mud field. This great mass of hirsute humanity experience the best rock and folk music of the day (no jazz, sadly) by Santana, The Who, Ten Years After, Canned Heat, Joe Cocker, Jefferson Airplane, Mountain, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and many others, partook copiously of illegal drugs, immoral sex, and generally tried to “blow their minds” in the process. Joni Mitchell wrote a haunting song about it called “Woodstock,” (which is by turns anthemic, optimistic, and nihilistic), although occluded roads forbid her come.

Woodstock was hailed by some as a new Eden, a utopia, a temporary hippie paradise of music, free love, and a vision of a possible future for America. Half a million youth shared their goods (and drugs and bodies), got along well in tough circumstances, and experienced a respite from the rest of “straight” and “square” society. “It really is a city,” said one agog man on microphone. Woodstock, by this view, was the antidote to the Viet Nam war and the “plastic” keeping-up-with-the-Joneses society.

The Jefferson Airplane’s song, “Volunteers of America” affirmed that we “got a revolution” because “one generation got old,” but “this generation got soul and had no hesitation at all.” How successful was this revolution, of which Woodstock was the epitome?

While Woodstock was relatively peaceful and idealistic, other gigantic music festivals were not. An eighteen-year-old man was murdered near the stage by a member of the Hell’s Angels during a Rolling Stone’s performance at the Altamont Festival in 1969. In an act of unbridled and unequaled stupidly, the Hell’s Angels (aptly named) had been hired to do security. This event was widely hailed as the end 1960’s idealism. Of course, profiteering and egotism was never lacking from the production, promotion, and performance of such events. Original sin was not erased, nor even diluted.

The public nudity and sexual expressions at Woodstock represent an attempt to return to the garden without the mediation of Christ. Nudism has historically been an attempt to regain innocence without redemption. We don clothes in public because of the shame of sin, as Genesis teaches (Genesis 3). The body is not shameful, but sexuality in a fallen world needs to be guarded.

Woodstock did not regenerate America. Nor was it a pilot plant for a better world. It did give us some memorable music and an emblem for the impossible: peace on earth without Jesus at the center. I wonder how many Christians came who were interested in evangelizing the hippies. The Jesus movement was underway by this time, so it may have happened. No Christian rock groups performed at Woodstock, since Christian rock was still in its infancy. Pioneers Randy Stonehill and Larry Norman had yet to establish careers.

Woodstock was instrumental in legitimizing non-Christian forms of spirituality. The concert began, not with a pastor’s invocation, but with Swami Satchidananda, surrounded by meditators in traditional Indian garb, giving the official opening remarks and leading half a million American youth in chanting “OM.” He would later be known as “the Woodstock Guru” and was a leading figure in bringing yoga and Hinduism to America. The film Woodstock depicts a yoga teacher giving techniques to induce an altered state of consciousness through extreme breathing. Still, in 1969, yoga was an exotic practice. Today, it is mainstream and a supports a gigantic industry (consider yoga pants and mats), with its essential roots in Hinduism often obscured by the hawking of its purposed physical benefits. This domestication of yoga has done as much to bring the East to the West as any other factor.

The brilliant leader of The Who, Pete Townsend, performed at Woodstock and was a follower of the guru Meher Baba, who is credited as “Avatar” on their signature rock-opera album, Tommy (1969). Athough he advocated no particular religion, Jimi Hendrix exuded the mystical sensibility of a Gnostic or animistic sort, fueled by hallucinogenic drugs. He performed “Voodoo Child” at Woodstock, which he deemed in other settings as “a new national anthem until we can get a better one.”

The New Age movement was budding at Woodstock and the concert did much to speed it along the way to the “Me Decade” (Thomas Wolfe) of the 1970s, to prominence in the 1980s, and to mainstream status in the last twenty-five years. America has never been the same. Pew Research tells us that 25% of Christians believe in reincarnation. Oprah Winfrey is considered a spiritual guru to her millions of fans. Many Christians practice yoga without a second thought—or even first thought—concerning its origins or spiritual dangers.

The term psychedelic was coined to give a favorable interpretation of drugs that were technically called hallucinogens. The latter term means a chemical substance that when ingested produces hallucinations—that is, something that artificially produces delusions. But the term psychedelic connotes a substance that when ingested enlivens or augments the psyche. The Jefferson Airplane reveled in this notion in “White Rabbit,” which was performed at Woodstock, hauntingly sung by Grace Slick. The last lines of the terrible poetry are:

When logic and proportion

Have fallen sloppy dead

And the White Night is talking backwards

And the Red Queen’s off with her head

Remember what the Dormouse said

Feed your head

Feed your head

Francis Schaeffer observed that the ideology of drug taking in the counterculture required an “escape from reason”—as in the death of “logic and proportion” in “White Rabbit”—in order to find some ultimate meaning apart from either Christianity or in any rational philosophy. As Schaeffer wrote in How Should We Then Live?

Timothy Leary, for example, said that drugs were the sacraments for the new religion. Of course. . . this drug taking was really only one more leap, an attempt to find meaning in the area of non-reason. Charles Slack, writing of his long relationship with Leary, reported in Timothy Leary, The Madness of the Sixties and Me (1974) that Leary had said to him, “Death to the mind, that is the goal you must have. Nothing else will do.”[1]

This optimistic take on hallucinogenic drugs mostly died out by the mid-1970s and was replaced by recreational use and a return to pure hedonism. But it’s hard to keep a strong drug down. Hallucinogenic drugs are making a comeback.

In How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence, best-selling author, Michael Pollan advocates for “blowing your mind” once again.  The psychedelic-drugs-open-up-mystical-realities people never really went away (a lot of them went into computers), but the claim has come back with more establishment backing of late.[2] Some boosters of these drugs call them “entheogens,” taken from the Greek for “the divine within.” It’s Woodstock 2.0, this time with much of “the establishment” behind it. And, of course, pot is legal all over this land, and stoner speak befouls the air.

Christianity offers a worldview and way of life more true, rich, and bracing than anything the neo-romanticism of Woodstock has to offer.  Christians admit that we are a long way from the garden, but that we cannot find our way back unaided. Jesus Christ is the way back and the way forward, since he is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). The church, not any festival, is the pilot plant for a new order of being in the world in which true worship is returned to the Creator based on the mediatorial work of his Son and applied to our condition to us through the Holy Spirit. Here is the deepest loving fellowship. The taste of heaven on earth is experienced as we devote ourselves to “the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42).

 

[1] Schaeffer, Francis A.. How Should We Then Live? (L’Abri 50th Anniversary Edition) (Kindle Locations 2543-2546). Crossway. Kindle Edition. The best book-length treatment of the counterculture is Os Guinness, The Dust of Death (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1973).

[2] Michael Pollan Drops Acid—and Comes Back From His Trip Convinced See https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/04/books/review/michael-pollan-how-to-change-your-mind.html. On the idea that certain drugs lead to enlightenment, see Os Guinness, “The Counterfeit Infinity” in The Dust of Death.

Another Campaign Season

As we enter another season of political machinations, shouting matches, and incendiary idiocy, consider some meaningless phases that are and will be thrown in our faces.

  1. “I’ll fight for you.” How? Who is the “you’?
    2. “The rich must pay their fair share.” What is that? Who is rich? Why?
    3. “The American people want…” How do you know? Which ones? Should they want it?
    4. “When elected, I will do X.” Maybe you won’t be elected. You may want to do X, but will you? Can you do X? Can anybody do X, like end poverty in America.

You fill in the rest. Hold your nose as you engage your mind.

And, as always, read George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language” and On Bullshit by Harry Frankfurt. And never forget that Jesus was the ultimate and implacable enemy of all cant, evasion, and prevarication. He was, after all, Truth Incarnate.

 

The Good News is that Most of the Bad News is Wrong: A Review of The Myth of the Dying Church By Glen Stanton

Church leaders can become discouraged, or even desperate, when they hear repeatedly that “the church is in decline” or “we are losing the youth,” or even “we are one generation from the death of Christianity.” The sources of these Chicken Little reports may be anecdotal, informal, or from respected sources. Consequently, Christian workers may be dispirited, since they are trying to buck deep trends in reaching the lost and keeping the found. The declinist narrative seems to fit the coarsening of American popular culture, the debauchery of legal decisions on abortion and same sex marriage, and our general sense of malaise and fatigue.

Although I am something of a professional curmudgeon, I must say that the good news is that most of this bad news is wrong.  The United States is certainly not experiencing a religious revival. Nor can we be happy with larger cultural trends, which come under God’s judgment. As the prophet Isaiah warned:

Woe to those who call evil good
and good evil,
who put darkness for light
and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet
and sweet for bitter (Isaiah 5:20).

Still, according to several significant indicators, Evangelical Christianity is not losing ground in America. Reports of its decay, or even demise, are greatly exaggerated. We should thank Glenn T. Stanton for making this case in his new book, The Myth of the Dying Church: How Christianity is Actually Thriving in America and the World. Stanton, author of eight previous books and director of Global Family Formation Studies at Focus on the Family, makes a convincing case that the stats demonstrate growth; he is even optimism about the state of the church in America and the world. I will review some of his findings and add insights of my own.

To start, it has been known for at least twenty years that the  “secularization thesis” is false. This sociological theory, which was propounded in the 1960s, claimed that as societies became more modern—that is, more industrialized and pluralistic—they became more secular as well. Church attendance would decline. Christian beliefs would dry up and blow away in the winds of modernity. Liberal theologian Harvey Cox even wrote a book called The Secular City (1965) which celebrated a secular version of Christianity, which was no Christianity at all. More radically a “God is dead” theology (or a-theology) sprung up to accommodate this inexorable trend toward unbelief and atheism. The cover of Time Magazine sported the words, “Is God Dead?” on April 8, 1966.[1]  Beatle and wannabe philosopher, John Lennon famously said in 1966 that “Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. . . . We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first—rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right, but his disciples were thick and ordinary.”  The December 26, 1969 cover of Time said, “Is God Coming Back to Life?”

Sociologists such as Peter Berger, who had championed the secularization theory, later admitted it was wrong. He notes that some societies became more secular as they modernized, as in Western Europe, but many, such as America, did not. Berger, a confessed Lutheran, was happy to report the failure of his theory. This is old news, but new news to many who will read Stanton’s book.[2]

More recently, headlines tell us of “the rise of the nones” and that churches are in decline, partially because of this. What of the nones? This category describes those who claim no religious affiliation. They may or may not be atheists. On surveys, when asked for their religion, they will check “none.” They are sometimes called “nons” since they are non-affiliated. Their numbers are up, but what does it mean? Stanton, citing Ed Stetzer primarily, tells us that the nones are just being more honest about not being involved with the church. Stetzer calls this a “clarification” more than a decrease in church participation. That is, if she has almost no association with, say, the Baptist church of her youth, instead of identifying as “Baptist,” she says she has no religious affiliation.

More good news is that we are not losing young adults to the secular world in droves. Yes, some teenagers who go off to college stop attending church during that time. This may be part of exercising their independence and trying to get their sea legs as an adult. That doesn’t excuse their behavior, but many will return to the church, especially after they marry and have children. Further, fewer are failing to be involved with the church than is often reported. Stanton cites sociologist Christian Smith, the preeminent expert on the faith of teens and young adults, to make his case.

In more old news that is new news to many, Stanton reports that Christianity is not declining but exploding in what is called “the global south,” particularly in Africa. Here he draws mostly on the work of prolific  historian Philip Jenkins, whose 2002 book, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity alerted many to this heartening trend. But both Islam and Christianity are growing in African. Both oppose secularism, but neither can be reconciled to the other. These two most influential missionary religions will vie for the future of Africa in our century.[3] As I write, thousands of Christians in Nigeria are being martyred by Muslims. Muslims and Christians compete with each other using very difficult rules and strategies.

One other misleading factor should be noted. Some research claiming the decline of Christianity lumps all churches together in the data. But when liberal and conservative churches are sorted, it is clear that liberal churches (those that compromise biblical truth to be relevant) are in decline while evangelical churches overall are not. This, too, is old news, going back to Dean Kelly’s book 1972, Why Conservative Churches are Growing. But, the trend Kelly noted continues. Stanton speaks of the steep and rapid decline of an evangelical church that shifted its doctrine to accommodate LGBTQ morality.

I commend Stanton for bringing this research to a wider audience. His chapter on how to read social science research regarding religion is quite helpful, since so many are bamboozled by misleading research. Stanton writes: “I am a huge fan and advocate of teaching young people and adults apologetics and worldview. . . . But some of those offering help with apologetics—the very pursuit and explanation of truth—are ironically some of the biggest offenders when it come to the false Chicken Little narratives” (p. 165). As an apologist, I was challenged when I read this. After reading this book, I conclude that I have sometimes erred in this way, but I am happy to accept the good news that I was sometimes too pessimistic.

Stanton’s chapter, “The Holy Spirit is not Asleep At The Wheel,” offers an encouraging theology of the Holy Spirit’s power to advance the gospel no matter what the obstacles or the odds against it. Stanton reminds us that, as Jesus said, “the gates of hell will not prevail against the church” (Matthew 16:18). Who knows what Christians might do and how the church would grow if Christ’s followers fully submitted themselves to be filled with the Spirit of Truth? However, the book suffers from a few weaknesses, which, if addressed rightly, can help the church grow even stronger.

First, the author tends to put the cookies on a low shelf intellectually. The main points are repeated too often, and the sense is that the reader has to be cajoled into thinking hard about the matters at hand. I am all for popularizing important information, but some readers may feel a little insulted and wish that the author got to the point more quickly.

Second, despite the good news that much of the bad news is wrong, there is much bad news about the influence of Christianity in American culture that the author doesn’t take up in any detail. Church participation is one thing, but orthodox beliefs and intelligent social engagement are another. Stanton does note that “a very slight majority of evangelicals today say they believe many religions can lead to eternal life” (p. 47. Oddly, he does not give the exact percentage, but does rightly say that “is very troubling…” (p. 47). Indeed it is, since Jesus is the only way to be reconciled to God and because the Gospel must be preached to the nations (Matthew 11:27, 28:18-20; John 14:6; Acts 1:8, 4:12; 1 Timothy 2:5).

Many evangelical churches are weak in doctrinal preaching and apologetics. Even if many high school students come back to the church after college, it is a tragedy that many of them abandon the church during the time when they are most in need of the intellectual resources that only a robust Christian worldview can give them.

Third, Stanton does not address the rise of the “new atheism” of the past fifteen years or so. Led by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett (the group’s only real philosopher) and the late Christopher Hitchens, the new atheists have galvanized many unbelievers in the West to be more militant in their unbelief and to attack Christianity (and all religion) as not only false, but dangerous to society. For example, biologist and atheist scion, Dawkins likened parents teaching their children religion to child abuse. The rhetoric is often vitriolic. Some bookstores now have a separate section for “Atheism,” which usually come after the Philosophy section.

The wind may be out of the sails of the New Atheism, but it has motivated atheists to attack religion more aggressively. I am not sure that this movement increased the percentage of atheists or merely recruited more them for combat. Perhaps it is both. But, given the publication books such as Religion for Atheists by Alain De Botton and Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality without Religion by Sam Harris and in light of the rise of atheist clubs on college campuses, Christians should take this seriously as a challenge to a rational Christian faith. I recently talked to a young man for two hours who had lost his faith to the arguments of the new atheists. I endeavored earnestly to show him that none of these arguments held water. The arguments of the new atheists are neither new nor strong, but they are influential.[4]

Of course, Stanton’s book is not a work of apologetics, so we should not expect him to respond to specific attacks on Christianity. Still, it seems that he has discounted some rather significant recent anti-Christian trends that affect people’s willingness to come to Christ.

Despite its weaknesses, The Myth of the Dying Church is a tonic to the popular defeatism and pessimism that dogs too much of evangelicalism in the United States. Of course, even if everything is getting worse, we soldier on in the glad service of the gospel, come what may because “The gates of hell will not prevail against the church” (Matthew 16:18).

[1] See L. Lilly Rothman, “Is God Dead?” At 50” Time, 2016. https://time.com/isgoddead.

[2] For a careful look at secularization theory, see Harold Netland, “Secularization, Globalization, and Religion,” Christianity and Religious Diversity (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2015).

[3] Buddhism is the third most significant missionary religion. See Netland, “Buddhism in the Modern World” in Christianity and Religious Diversity.

[4] See Douglas Groothuis, “Understanding the New Atheism, Part I: The Straw God” at bethinking https://www.bethinking.org/atheism/understanding-the-new-atheism and Douglas Groothuis “Understanding the New Atheism, Part II : Attacking the New Testament” at bethinking: https://www.bethinking.org/atheism/understanding-the-new-atheism/2-part-2-attacks-on-the-new-testament. For an in-depth defense of the existence of God, see Groothuis, Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011).

Testimony

At some point in a life deeply lived, one cannot go back. The tracks are laid and now set in concrete that cannot be broken or laid once again. To rethink it all would be a betrayal, and a betrayal of this sort is unthinkable. One simply is what one is—and more so than before, since the weight of the past increases daily on the present.

Innovation is not excluded or anathema, but it can only occur within the framework of the given. Nothing else can be taken, but the given. Repentance is required, but has its limits, given the weight of one’s past. Still, Christ is the supernatural Lord.

One’s unique life must press itself on itself and on others—or the life is not gaining gravity and force. One wants to be “a force for good in the world” (Coltrane), and one cannot relive the past and make a new self.

This is not fatalism; it is providence, the sculpting of the self and presented to one’s world—before the face of God.

Jesus for Muslims

Mohammad claimed to be the last and greatest prophet, having received a revelation from God, which became known as The Koran. He wanted to restore pure worship of one true God and be rid of all idols.  Going against the Bible, he claimed that Jesus was a prophet, but not God Incarnate. All must submit to Allah in every area of life and have a strict pattern of obedience: (1) confess God and Mohammad as his prophet, (2) give a percentage of one’s income to the Mosque, (3) go on pilgrimage to Mecca once in a lifetime, (4) pray five times a day, (5) observe the Ramadan fast every year.

Muslims hope that their good works will outweigh their bad works so that they may attain eternal paradise. If not, they go to hell forever. But no Muslim can be sure, unless they die in a jihad. Then paradise is assured. It is a place of earthly delights oriented toward male desires. But Allah is not there, since he is utterly transcendent. To associate anything with Allah, especially Jesus, is the unforgivable sin, according to Islam.

Jesus claimed to be a prophet, but more than a prophet. He was the revelation of God himself in the flesh, full of grace and truth. Jesus proclaimed, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father!” (John 14:9). Instead of denying crucial teachings in the Bible, Jesus fulfilled the biblical promise of the coming Messiah, who would rescue his people and establish a Kingdom that could not be shaken. Jesus taught that there was one true God and that he made the Father known to the world.

Instead of demanding that his followers be saved by adding up good works, Jesus offered himself as the only way to God and faith as in him the way of forgiveness and eternal life.  He said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). While Islam denies that Jesus died on the Cross (against all historical evidence), Jesus wascrucified in our place and for our sins. By turning away from our selfishness and toward him in faith, we receive what we could never earn through good works. We find new life to live each day in the power of Christ within us! Unlike the Islamic paradise, God’s final Kingdom is a place of fellowship with God himself. He will raise us up and fill us with the joy perfect love.

Jesus for the Nominal Christian

Nominal means “in name only.” Some politicians, rightly or wrongly, are called RINOs: Republicans in name only. That is, they are not true Republicans. If there is a true and normative Christianity, then not everyone who says she is a Christian may be a Christian. Jesus warned that not everyone who says, “Lord, Lord” knows the living God.

We name ourselves many things, rightly or wrongly—a friend, a father figure, a good citizen, and a Christian. Before discussing what a true Christian is, let us consider some nominal versions.

A nominal Christian does not self-identify as anything other than a Christian. She is not an agnostic or Buddhist or Muslim or anything else.

She may consider herself a Christian because she believes in God. Perhaps she thinks Jesus was a master teacher, and she wants to love people. She prays, she was raised as a Christian, and she has spiritual experiences. She even becomes involved in religious events occasionally, such as church attendance or Christian concerts.

A genuine Christian will believe in God, esteem Jesus as a master teacher, want to love people; she will pray, have spiritual experiences, be involved in religious events, and more. However, she will not rest on how she was raised to define his identity. She might have been raised in an aberrant form of Christianity or no longer believe the true Christianity in which she was raised. She will certainly not deem herself a pretty good person, whose works are pleasing enough to God to merit heaven, since no one can be saved by the works of the law.

Jesus Christ, the founder of Christianity, called his followers to repent of their selfish sinful ways and turn to him as Lord. This was no small thing, no mere addition to life, no mere religious preference. Jesus’s first disciples rightly called him Lord and Master. Jesus cannot be domesticated. He issued radical statements. Anyone who wants to be his disciple must deny themselves, take up their cross daily, and follow him. His disciples worshipped him. A nominal Christian merely compliments or salutes Jesus.

Rather than worrying about how to get on in life (with a dab of religion here and there), Jesus told us to seek first his Kingdom of love and service to our neighbor. We are to love our enemies and be eager to help the least, the last, and the lost—just as Jesus was.

Jesus summons us to deny ourselves and die to sin because he died for us on the cross. On that cross, he said, “Father forgive them.” Jesus’ true followers cast themselves on God’s mercy by having faith in what he has done for them through his death and his resurrection from the dead. They do not trust in their own goodness to earn salvation or lean on their own strength to do good works.

If we name the name of Christ as the Jesus and Bible intend, we will be born again and become a new creation, eager to do what is good and to worship God with his church in spirit and in truth.

 

Detecting False Dichotomies that Hinder the Mission of the Church

Jesus excelled in reasoning and never committed a logical fallacy. Nor did he give his followers the option of intellectual slackness. The Holy Spirit would lead them into truth and give them the wisdom they needed. Studying with Jesus for three years meant learning to think on their feet.  But today, many Christians accept a logical fallacy that saps the church’s witness. It is called a false dichotomy.

Some affirm that the church should not engage in apologetics, but, rather, preach the gospel. They set up the relationship as “ether apologetics or gospel preaching” and affirm gospel preaching at the expense of apologetics. But this is a false dichotomy, since both preaching and apologetics have been staples of Christian practice in the early church and through the centuries. The relationship of these two ideas is both/and, not either/or. To hold this false dichotomy hobbles the mission of the church.

Consider another either/or mistake. Some write off apologetics by saying, “Rational arguments do no good in convincing an unbeliever of the gospel. Only the Holy Spirit can do that.” Thus, it comes down to the disjunction of rational arguments or the Holy Spirit. Since they want the Spirit’s work to prevail (and not the flesh), we deny apologetics. Yet what if the Holy Spirit works through rational arguments? If so, there is no disjunction. In the teachings of Jesus, the early church, and throughout the history of Christianity, we find sinners convinced of the truth of the Gospel through the use of apologetics of one kind or another. The best-selling author Lee Strobel was convinced to become a Christian by a careful investigation of the evidence. The fine film, “The Case for Christ” recounts this intellectual adventure. According to Jesus, the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth (John 15:26. Thus, it is not surprising that he often employs sound arguments to convince people of the truth of Christianity—although the hard-hearted can turn away from the best evidence for the Christian faith.

Finally, consider the nature of Christ. Heretics claim that Jesus is either God or human, not both God and human. Docetists say that Jesus was divine, but only appeared human. Muslims say that Jesus was human and not divine. On the contrary, the Bible affirms, and the creeds concur, that Jesus is both God and human. He is the God-man.

The divine Word became flesh in human history without ceasing to be divine (John 1:1-3, 14; Philippians 2:5-11). Orthodox Christian faith affirms that Jesus is one person with two natures; he is both divine and human. There is no either/or.

One of the most common errors in thinking is false dichotomy. Sadly, Christians are not immune to them. We must take seriously the commandment Jesus said was first and greatest—to love God with all of our heart, soul, and mind (Matthew 22:37-38). We love God by consecrating our minds to him. We take his commandment seriously by avoiding false dichotomies and all errors in logic. We must scrupulously avoid all sloppy, lazy thinking. The stakes are high indeed. Affirming a false dichotomy regarding apologetics, social action, the Holy Spirit, or the nature of Christ has dire consequences.