Monday, November 29, 2010

A Different Way to Read a Book

I've referred to William Lane Craig's website a time or two before now. It's full of great stuff. It's possible that there is too much great stuff there, actually. I've still not looked at all of it because, when I think of going there, I usually decide that I don't have enough time to peruse it all.

The podcasts are a different story, however. Averaging about 20 minutes a piece, Craig and the host of the podcast, Kevin Harris, talk about a specific issue in theology, philosophy or apologetics, giving listeners a good general overview, often mentioning some key resources that contain more info for further investigation. Listen online, download or subscribe to the Reasonable Faith podcasts; they're super.

One of great things that Craig does from time to time is to review a recently released book of his and give a detailed overview of its contents. I find this extremely helpful in deciding whether or not I want to buy the book. 20 minutes is not a sufficient amount of time to discuss everything but it is certainly sufficient for determining whether the book is unique enough to add to my library. If the book is extremely lengthy or wide-ranging, Craig will sometimes do 2 podcasts on one book, giving even greater depth and detail.

Now to the point. In the fall of 2007, Craig did a 9-part review of the 3rd edition of his apologetic standard, Reasonable Faith (which came out in 2008). Yes, that's right, a 9-part review. Oddly, the podcast discussion sometimes veers from the contents of the book and addresses other apologetic topics. For example, part 7 of the podcast is about the historical reliability of the NT, while that chapter was dropped altogether from the 3rd edition of the book. Similarly, part 9 of the podcast is all about the New Atheism (a topic not addressed in the 3rd edition of the book) while the resurrection of Jesus (the subject of chapter 8 of the book) is not discussed in the podcasts at all. Oddities notwithstanding, when you are done listening to these 9 podcasts, which takes about 3.5 hours, you will have basically consumed the contents of Reasonable Faith, the book. You may not get as many details as you would have from actually reading the book, but you wouldn't remember all of the details if you had anyway. So, especially for those short on time, I recommend this new approach to "reading" Craig's book. And, in a world where "postmodernism" — both the term and the sociological ethos — is ubiquitous, I especially recommend giving your attention to part 6. Craig emphasizes the inconsistencies and absurdities of postmodernism, as well as the fact that philosophy, the hard sciences and historical studies are all more or less rejecting postmodernism in the academy. This will take time to trickle down to the masses. In the meantime, instead of directing all of our intellectual and ministerial resources toward accommodating and compromising the truth for the sake of reaching a supposedly postmodern culture, we should be taking a firm and convincing yet engaging and relevant stand for the truth.

Below are links to each individual podcast with the corresponding chapter title from the book, or else a description of the contents of the podcast when there is no correspondence with the book.

Part 1 — Chapter 1 — How Do I Know Christianity Is True? (Faith & Reason)

Part 2 — Chapter 2 — The Absurdity of Life without God

Part 3 — Chapter 3 — The Existence of God (1) (Cosmological Arguments: Contingency & Kalam)

Part 4 — Chapter 4 — The Existence of God (2) (Design, Moral & Ontological Arguments)

Part 5 — Chapter 6 — The Problem of Miracles

Part 6 — Chapter 5 — The Problem of Historical Knowledge (Skepticism, Relativism & Postmodernism)

Part 7 — The Historical Reliability of the NT

Part 8 — Chapter 7 — The Self-Understanding of Jesus

Part 9 — The New Atheism

Happy "reading."

Saturday, October 16, 2010

When You're Stuck In the Scholarly Muck ...

...remember this:

"Elegant, academic discussions may appeal to us as an intellectual exercise. But the only thing that finally matters is truth."

If you're interested, you can read the rest of Archbishop Chaput's thoughts here. Unfortunately, you have to have a subscription to FT to access this particular article. If you don't have a subscription, you should get one. That, or you can come visit us in Ukraine and read my copy.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Check Us Out

Here at Kyiv Theological Seminary we are still plugging away at our official Talbot School of Theology-Kyiv Extension website. We hope to see at least some of the site go live in a month, or so. In the meantime, check out the TST-KE info page at the official Talbot School of Theology site. Pictured are about half of our current M.A. students and Dr. Ralph Alexander, SEND International missionary in Russia and superb Old Testament prof.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


The Angels got swept by the last-place Orioles last week, and that pretty much put the icing on the disgusting carrot cake that is our 2010 season. Bad defense, bad offence and bad luck are throwing a huge party in the Angel organization as Texas marches toward the AL West championship. I was pretty down about it, until I read a recent article in First Things. David B. Hart—himself an Orioles fan—waxes philosophical on the perfection of baseball in an essay that is as intelligent and reflective as it is light-hearted and humorous. For those of you whose baseball teams have no shot at a pennant, step back a bit, read this article and be glad you are a fan of the perfect game and not one of those "oblong games." Here's a little taste ...

"Everything is so perfectly calibrated that almost every play is a matter of the most unforgiving precision; a ball correctly played in the infield is almost always an out, while the slightest misplay usually results in a man on base. The effective difference in velocity between a fastball and a changeup is infinitesimal in neurological terms, and yet it can utterly disrupt the timing of even the best hitter. There are Pythagorean enigmas here, occult and imponderable: mystic proportions written into the very fabric of nature of which we were once as ignorant as of the existence of other galaxies."

Read and be consoled.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Saying It Plainly

I spend most of my time dealing with theology, philosophy and apologetics. In all 3 of these areas it's not hard to detect the constant need for Western Evangelical Christianity to confront Her intellectual, moral and spiritual foes. In the literature, the greatest contemporary foe of Evangelical Christianity goes by many names: modernism, materialism, naturalism, physicalism, scientism, etc. To each of these can be added innumerable adjectives, as well.

But I just finished a book that is about as far away from theology, philosophy and apologetics as I am prone to get. Lest you think that I've found the time for some fiction or maybe a classic, I must say that the this book will seem to most to be just like all the rest of the stuff I talk about on this blog. It's not. Here's the info:

Eric L. Johnson & Stanley L. Jones, Psychology & Christianity: Four Views (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000).

[There's a revised edition with a 5th view, but I don't have it yet. Since the 5th view is presented by some Biola folk (one of whom is John Coe, the most sincere, transparent and spiritually penetrating man you'll ever meet), I'll have to get it soon and finish the debate started in the first edition.]

Each of the authors discuss psychology, or Christianity in psychological categories, which is not something I'm used to. It is an interesting and engaging discussion, one that makes me wish I had paid a little more attention in the one psychology course that I took in college. But at the outset, the editors made a statement that related the psychology discussion to the aforementioned task of Western Evangelical Christian theology, philosophy and apologetics of confronting Her greatest modern foe. And the statement is much simpler, straightforward and revealing than some of the unnecessarily convoluted statements often made by theologians, philosophers and apologists. At the very least, it's a reminder of how clearly the battle lines have been drawn. What's more, it's a glimpse into another discipline where the battle rages and where Christians must be ready to engage.

"Over the lat 150 years an alternative worldview has competed [with the biblical worldview] for cultural influence, and over the course of this century it has become the dominant paradigm for understanding ourselves in Western culture, a worldview now called modernism. One feature of modernism [is] its secularism; that is, its tendency to empty culture of its religious significance, discourse, and symbols ... The secularism that has pervaded the significant writings and major institutions of the Western culture in the twentieth century is evidence that modernism has superseded Christianity in influence ... Gradually, beginning in the early twentieth century, unwritten rules developed that excluded religious views from expression in the main forms of media, education, and science in the West. As a result, religious speech was relegated to private life and to religious institutions and media ... Beyond that, with few exceptions religious considerations were dropped from public discourse."

"This move away from a religious worldview to a secular one also happened to coincide with another very significant cultural development: the application of natural science methods to areas of the world to which they had not been previously applied ... These methods began to be applied to the study of society, human consciousness and behavior, economics and business, and education ... Secularism combined with the methods of the natural sciences in the study of human nature resulted in a number of sciences being newly formed or reformed in ways that excluded reference to the supernatural beliefs or assumptions. This mix of secularization and the application of scientific methods to the understanding of animal and human behavior, emotion, personality, and thought shaped the modern version of psychology. And it is this combination which has led to the present debate among Christians about how the findings and theories of secular psychology should relate to Christian belief and practice" (p. 13-15) (author's emphasis in italics, my emphasis in bold and italics).

Let's do our best, in psychology or wherever God has placed us, to combat secularism and stand for the truth of the Christian worldview in an informed and intelligent, yet winsome and convincing manner.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Personal vs. Experiential

First of all, if you've never done it, go to William Lane Craig's Reasonable Faith website and start catching up on all that you're missing. He's got blog posts, podcasts, full lectures and articles galore. Unless you are independently wealthy and live in the mountains with nothing to do and no friends, you will never be able to consume all of his stuff. But, no matter your schedule or life stage, you'll only be better off for whatever of Craig's you are able to consume. He's sharp, spiritually insightful, winsome, very well-rounded and worth every bit of time you can give to him.

OK, enough gushing.

We Evangelicals are fond of emphasizing that a person ought to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. But what does that really mean? I think, for a lot of people, it means that we should have a relationship with Jesus that is similar to the relationships that we have with other people. In certain respects, this is true. I should feel free to express my feelings and emotions with Jesus as freely and openly as I can share them with my wife.

[I'll now start using the term relationship with God, implying that Jesus is God and that I intend Him, the Father and the Holy Spirit when I use the term.]

But there is a bit of a problem with the comparison. When I say something honoring or disrespectful to my wife, something in jest or with harshness to my son, something pleasant or offensive to another person, such things often result in an immediate response that is physically and/or verbally manifested and that often results in further conversation (or an immediate cessation of the same). But we don't—at least I don't—experience this in our relationship with God. There is no physical aspect to my personal relationship with God and He certainly doesn't communicate verbally with me in the same way that my wife, my son or my neighbors do. For example, I don't go back and read old letters and cards that my wife wrote or narratives that others wrote about my wife and mediate on them in hopes to better understand who she is and what she wants from me. But I do that with God. So, I think there is a bit of a disconnect between our blanket usage of the term, personal, and what we are intending to say when we use it.

In a recent podcast, a newly converted atheist asked just how she was to understand this personal relationship that she now had with God. I was expecting Craig to give something like the standard line that we often hear. Instead, he took a totally different approach to explaining the personal aspects of our relationship with God. Here are some of the things he put in the personal category:

-Individual reconciliation with God
-Peace with God
-Forgiveness from God
-Connection with God (no longer estranged)
-Adoption by God

Not what we're used to hearing when we talk about a personal relationship, right? All of the standard things that we intend when we use the word, personal, Craig put into the category of our experiential relationship with God. But this experiential relationship is decidedly different than what we experience with others due to the fact that God is immaterial and utterly transcendent. The experiential is a vital component to our relationship with Him but we shouldn't compare it to our experiential relationship with others and we should not confuse it with our personal relationship. The personal refers to our individual, positional standing before God while the experiential refers to our communication and interaction with Him, which is based on that individual, positional standing. Clear and beautiful. Furthermore, Craig emphasized that all of the personal, objective realities are true for believers, whether we feel them experientially or not, which is deeply encouraging when it seems that our experiential relationship with God isn't as dynamic as we think it should be.

Thank you, Dr. Craig.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Not to Be Negative or Anything

I would much rather be talking about how great the Angels are doing; about the hot bats, the sharp offense and the lights-out pitching. But that seems to be descriptive of the Angels in an alternate universe. The real Angels are like the walking dead right now and we're all watching Texas (with not a little bit of help from Vladdy) run away with the AL West. It's a sad, sad sight. (We're currently listening to the Angels and they're about to lose their 4th straight game in a 4-game series to the White Sox after having lost 2 of 3 to Kansas City. Did I say it was sad? I'm wrong; it's depressing!

So, instead of singing the praises of the team I have to find something to complain about. But I don't want to take it out on the players just yet, so I'll focus on the announcing. I never thought that we could have a worse TV caller than Rex Hudler, but we do—at least when it comes to calling home runs. And home runs are about all we get to hear the TV guys call while we watch the "highlights" of the games on (We do get the audio feed, love Terry Smith and can put up with José Mota.) Victor Rojas gets to call the home runs for TV and man is it embarrassing. Here's a list of the 4 worst. You tell me if this makes you happy that your team just hit a home run.

After a 3-run home run by Torii Hunter:

"Torii Hunter with a 3-run JIMMY JACK!"

After a lead off, opposite field home run by Howie Kendrick:

"Howie Kendrick with a lead-off OPPO-TACO!"

After any home run by Kendry Morales (may he heal miraculously):


And, the most recent display of baseball-calling idiocy, after a grand slam by Hideki Matsui:

"Godzilla goes BOOM!"

Seriously. Shut up already! Can you imagine Vin Scully or Jon Miller saying these things? Actually, it must be that the players are tired of hearing this nonsense and have stopped hitting home runs to silence the madness. So, Victor, for the sake of the team, please just call it a home run and leave at that. For the sake of the team and for the sake of our sanity.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

A Word From the Inside

It's pretty easy for Christians in religiously free countries to take that freedom for granted. Even when we are made aware of the terrible circumstances that our brothers and sisters in Christ face in countries or environments that are hostile to Christianity, we can be tempted to ignore it since all it does is make us feel sad and guilty. But the fact remains, the world is hostile to the Christian faith and many faithful believers die each day because they consider Jesus Christ more important than anything else.

I used to think that the best thing to do for the persecuted Church was to raise awareness and, of course, pray for the persecution to lessen or cease altogether. The former is necessary but, I just read a book that changed my perspective about the latter. The book is Back to Jerusalem by Paul Hattaway, titled after the Chinese house Church movement that goes by that moniker. I won't say much about the book other than I think that anyone interested in what God is doing in the world must read this book. God's Church may finally breakout in the Muslim and Buddhist world through these faithful brothers and sisters who will do anything to bring their Savior to the lost.

But what I want to share here are a few words from one of the leaders of this movement who has suffered a good deal of persecution for his faith. This representative perspective should cause us to rethink our prayers for the persecuted Church. Rather than praying for the persecution to cease, we should pray for faithfulness and perseverance in the midst of the persecution.

From Brother Yun:
"Sometimes Western visitors come to China and ask the house church leaders what seminary they attended. We reply, jokingly yet with underlying seriousness, that we have been trained in the Holy Spirit Personal Devotion Bible School (prison) for many years."

"Sometimes our Western friends don't understand what we mean because they then ask, 'What materials do you use in this Bible school?' We reply, 'Our only materials are the foot chains that bind us and the leather whips that bruise us.'"

"In this prison seminary, we have learned many valuable lessons about the Lord that we could never have learned from a book. We've come to know God in a deeper way. We understand his goodness and his loving faithfulness to us." (p. xi-xii)

"The past fifty years of suffering, persecution, and torture of the house churches in China were all part of God's training for us. He has used the government for his own purposes, molding and shaping his children as he sees fit. That is why I correct Western Christians who tell me: 'I've been praying for years that the Communist government in China will collapse, so Christians can live in freedom.' This is not what we pray! We never pray against our government or call down curses on it. Instead, we have learned that God is in control of both our own lives and the government we live under. ... Instead of focusing our prayers against any political system, we pray that regardless of what happens to us, we will be pleasing to God."

"Don't pray for the persecution to stop! We shouldn't pray for a lighter load to carry, but a stronger back to endure! Then the world will see that God is with us, empowering us to live in a way that reflects his love and power."

"This is true freedom." (p. 57-58)

My prayer life will certainly be different as a result of Brother Yun's testimony and that of the other members of the Back to Jerusalem Movement. May they stand firm and may the Kingdom increase as they continue their service to the Lord.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

And the Lion Shall Lie Down with the ...

Lev Eleos Oldenburg was born on Friday, May 28 at 2:25 AM. Here he is with his brother who, until that Friday, seemed like the smallest three-year-old boy in the universe.

Now picking up Dietrich is like picking up a big bag of rocks and I feel like Lev is simply one of Dietrich's stuffed animals. Everything was new with D but, with time, a lot of those new and "unforgettable" experiences have been forgotten, or at least pushed way back in the memory. With Lev it is all coming back again and it is all precious and "unforgettable," just like the first time.

OK, enough with the comparisons. Lev is a Slavic name that means lion, hence the title of this post. We wanted a name that worked well here and, once we thought of Lev, we couldn't get it out of our heads. He is not named after Leo Tolstoy, although Lev was Leo's real name. From what we've been told, Lev is a rare, dignified and manly name around these parts, but we just like wildlife, and the Messianic connotations. Eleos is the Greek word for mercy, which we feel Lev represents after our previous, tragic birth experience. A great passage using the word is I Peter 1:3-5. All of the beautiful descriptions of the salvific realities in which Christians abide are all by the mercy of God. For us, Lev exemplifies that mercy.

We love Lev and, whether you pronounce it with a Russian tongue, like me (Lyehv), or with Ukrainian tongue, like Josie (Lehv), we think you will love him too.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Too Much Passion

It's always fun to read brand labels and clothing messages in this part of the world. Lots of it is black market and made by people who don't know English well enough to get their intended thoughts just right. Remember this great one?

Yesterday I saw a label on a pair of jeans that made me laugh, but not because of any grammatical or spelling errors. The company is as genuine as they come; they're Italian and, I assume, probably quite fashionable. But, for jeans manufacturers, I think they are investing a little too much passion and emotional energy. Here's how the label reads:

Free Soul

Jeans Community

Crafted with Love

"Soul," "community," "love?" Aren't they just pants?

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Dear Film Industry,

If you are considering giving Ben Affleck a lead role in a film and that film involves him crying, please, PLEASE reconsider. We all still appreciate Good Will Hunting and some agree that Kevin Smith (sorry, no non-offensive links available) knows how to cast Ben to get a decent comedy performance out of him. But you all now seem to think that he can play serious roles and that he doesn't look embarrassingly ridiculous when he tries to tear up and pretend to be sad. He does. Please don't make us watch that anymore.

Most recent example: State of Play.

(Since I can't find the relevant clip, watch this if you need evidence.)

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Pedagogical Milestones

So, we're about 3 weeks away from the close of the spring semester. Unless my mind completely shuts down before then, I will be able to say that I've reached the goal of teaching all my courses in Russian without major assistance from an oral translator (I did request one to correct me when my mistakes were really bad). This is a definite milestone and it definitely would not have been attained without the contributions of countless Russian-speaking language teachers, conversation partners, coworkers, preachers, congregants, supermarket and convenient store employees, willing-to-converse passersby, etc., not to mention all of the family members and supporters (financial and prayer) that make it possible for us to serve here in Ukraine. If you fit any of the above categories, I thank you from the depth of my being.

I should be encouraged by this, right? Well, I also recently attained another pedagogical milestone that seems to be taking the wind out of my Russian language sails. I actually taught something in my philosophy class last week that caused a student to respond, "and there's more proof that all blasphemies come from America." Last I checked, that kind of comment does not top the list of most-desired student reactions for most theological educators, at least not in our missions organization. Yes, there are countless reasons to disregard this student's comment. What I said wasn't that alarming and poses no major threat to any Evangelical tenets of the faith. Nonetheless, attaining this latter milestone at the same time as the former is definitely humbling and will help to ensure that I don't get all, you know, like that, about my long-awaited achievement of minimal fluency in Russian.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Eat That, Daddy!

If you give Dietrich a piece of paper and some crayons or, as pictured, a whiteboard and some markers, this is what you usually get ...

The other day, he was doing more of the above and I asked him if he wanted to go play a game in the living room. He did, but first wanted to finish up the masterpiece. As I watched his "creative chaos," I thought, "Hmmm, maybe it's time to work with Dietrich on some circles. He really should be able to draw something that could at least be recognized as an attempt at one." So, I sat down with him, intending to hold his hand around the marker and guide it while putting up a nice circle that would help him get used to the feeling. Just before doing that, however, I felt the urge to let him have a shot at it unassisted. "Dietrich, go ahead, try and draw a circle by yourself." Uh ...

Please understand, I'm not saying that Dietrich is doing something that other kids his age can't. I'm sure the above circle is standard 3.5-year-old fare. But it's definitely not what we're used to and it was certainly an occasion for paternal humiliation. Needless to say, Dietrich can humiliate me like that whenever he wants.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Illuminating the Abstract (An Anselmian Reflection)

Well, I made it through March, which was about as busy a period as we've had since we've been in Ukraine. Now I'm back to writing lectures for the philosophy class that I'm teaching. It's been an amazingly rewarding process, personally, to work through all of the introductory philosophical issues—I hope that I am making it somewhat rewarding for my students, as well.

The lecture I'm working on now addresses the arguments/proofs for God's existence. After giving a general intro and explaining what theistic proofs are, what we should expect from them and why they are valuable, I will take one argument and go deeper with it. Like a true novice, I'm choosing the hardest one for this project, i.e., the ontological argument. Here's my modification of Steven T. Davis' reconstruction of Anselm's version of the argument:

1. Things can exist in only 2 ways—in the mind and in reality.
2. The Greatest Conceivable Being (GCB) can possibly exist in reality, i.e., the GCB is not an impossible thing.
3. The GCB exists in the mind.
4. Whatever exists only in the mind and might possibly exist in reality might possibly be greater than it is (by existing both in the mind and in reality).
[5-8 attempts to disprove premise 5 by reductio ad absurdum]
5. The GCB exists only in the mind.
6. The GCB might be greater than it is.
7. The GCB is a being than which a greater is conceivable.
8. It is false that the GCB exists only in the mind.
9. Therefore, the GCB exists both in the mind and in reality.

Stephen T. Davis, God, Reason & Theistic Proofs, Reason & Religion series (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1997), 21-26.

Lots of people don't like the ontological argument; they think it's either too difficult and abstract or they think it is so baldly question-begging that it isn't worth considering or they think it is just false because you can't use it to prove the existence of anything else. But there are a good many throughout philosophical and theological history who have found it sound and successful. I'm in the latter group. But, at the same time, I'm also sympathetic to the view that it is amazingly complex, abstract and hard to grasp because I myself feel that way about it most of the time.

But in this latest wrestling match with the argument, after reading through some heavy philosophical stuff about it, I went back to the source. I re-read Anselm's, Proslogion, just to make sure that my understanding of the argument bears close resemblance of that of the author, since that is what I will be presenting to my students. What I found was striking.

When acknowledging that Anselm is the originator of the argument, philosophers will usually inform readers that the proof is presented as part of a prayer to God. The entire Proslogion is a prayer, in fact. Being a prayer, the ontological argument wasn't packaged in logical form when Anselm penned it. That's why any logical form of it is only ever a reconstruction, as is my modification of Davis' above. But this is usually where philosophers leave it. They mention that it was originally written as a prayer, which explains why there are so many different logical forms of Anselm's argument, and then they move on.

But what I realized with this reading is that the conclusion of the ontological argument is foundational for almost all of the other theological reflections made in the remainder of the book (the argument is presented in beginning chapters). Rather than using the ontological argument simply to prove the existence of the GCB and then moving on to discuss the attributes of the GCB, Anselm weaves the conclusion of the argument into his reflections on each attribute. God is necessary, unified and eternal because it is greater to be those things than to be contingent, complex and temporal for the GCB. In fleshing out the implications of the ontological argument, Anselm makes it as theologically and spiritually meaningful as it is philosophically groundbreaking. Below is an example of how Anselm uses the argument to show how God has to be good to the not-so-good.

"Surely in the deepest and most secret place of Thy goodness there lies hidden the source from which the river of mercy flows. For though Thou art wholly and supremely just, yet Thou art kind even to the evil, just because Thou art completely and supremely good. For Thou wouldest be less good, if Thou wert not kind to any evildoer. For he who is good both to the good and to the evil is better than he who is good only to the good, and he who is good to the wicked both by sparing them and by punishing them is better than he who is good only by punishing them. Thus Thou art merciful, just because Thou art wholly and supremely good. And though it might be apparent why Thou dost reward the good with good things and the evil with evil things, it is altogether wonderful that Thou, who art wholly just and lackest nothing, shouldest bestow good things on those who are evil and guilty in Thy sight. O the height of Thy goodness, O God! We see the ground of Thy mercy, but we do not see it fully. We see whence the stream flows, but we do not observe the source whence it is born. Out of the fullness of Thy goodness Thou art kind to those who sin against Thee, and still the reason lies hidden in the height of that same goodness. It is, of course, of Thy goodness that Thou rewardest the good with good things and the evil with evil things, but this seems to be demanded by the very nature of justice. But when Thou givest good things to the wicked, we know that the supremely good has willed to do this, and at the same time we marvel that the supremely just has been able to do it."

Anselm of Canterbury, Proslogion, chapter IX, in Eugene R. Fairweather, ed., A Scholastic Miscellany: Anselm to Ockham (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1956)
, 78-79.

Beautiful stuff. I will certainly be emphasizing to my students the fact that theistic proofs should lead to theologically joyous exaltation as much as they lead to philosophically rational justification. Thanks, Anselm. As you've been influential for a thousand years since you've passed, may you be influential for yet another thousand.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Why I'm Not a Rock Star

When I woke up this morning, it interrupted a dream I was having. In that dream I was singing in a band. The sound was super cool, like a really good Flaming Lips song. But the words were s-t-u-p-i-d!!! So stupid, in fact, that any flicker of hope that I may have had about being in a band is now completely snuffed out. And now I present to you exhibit A:

"If you need a boat,
Don't steal a boat.
'Cuz if you steal a boat,
Someone's gonna steal your boat."

See, I told you so.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

If Stranded On A Desert Island ...

Living half a world away, we're sometimes a little slow with American pop culture. While all of our friends were raving about The Office a few years ago, we didn't know what they were talking about. We've since come to love it, as well. We've now watched seasons 4, 5, 1, 2 and half of season 3, in that order.

In a more recent (for us) episode, everyone is stuck in the parking lot and a number of the employees are playing, "If stranded on a desert island ..." They started off with what 3 books each person would bring but had to move to movies due to the lack of literary depth in the office. In any case, when discussing books, Angela—the stereotypically conservative Evangelical of the group—lists the Bible and Rick Warren's The Purpose Driven Life. She refuses to list a third book. It's a really funny Office moment but, I feel the compulsion to make a list that does a little more justice to the Christian tradition. So, for the sake of a fairer representation of my faith and the faith of millions, here are the 3 books that I think any Christian should take with them if stranded on a desert island:

Augustine, The City of God

Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion

I've read each of these authors but only a little of the above titles. However, the history of Christian thought would be drastically different if not for these monumental works. So, for their historical import alone, I'd make room for them. However, they are also all amazingly lengthy and would keep a reader busy for a long time, and a long time is presumably what you have in this kind of situation. Lastly, they are well known for their spiritual, theological and philosophical depth and insight which would be especially important in this case. Hmmm, the more I think about it, the more I'd like to be stranded on a desert island for a while so that I can invest some time in these classics.

[Note: For the person wondering why in the world I didn't choose the Bible, there's no need to worry about my Evangelical commitments. I take it as a given that a Christian would bring a Bible with them. So, I'm fudging a little by choosing 3 since I'd have to make room for the Word of God. But maybe I could get one of those microscopic Bibles that they used to smuggle into the former Soviet Union. There's probably one around here somewhere.]

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Good Press

Anthony Flew's conversion to theism from atheism is pretty well-known now and I made brief mentioned of it here, back when I was writing about the Craig-Hitchens debate. He (Flew) is very public and open about his conversion and still displays as much intellectual rigor as a theist as he did when an atheist. But this didn't keep Richard Dawkins from portraying Flew's conversion as the result of senility. Flew wrote quite the stinging (but apropos) response in the December '08 issue of First Things (yes, I'm that far behind). What I want to highlight here are Flew's comments about Biola University, my alma mater, former employer and current ministry partner in part of the work in which we are involved here in Ukraine. Here's what he had to say:

"In a monster footnote to what I am inclined to describe as a monster book— The God Delusion—Dawkins reproaches me for what he calls my ignominious decision to accept, in 2006, the Philip E. Johnson Award for Liberty and Truth. The awarding institution is Biola University in Los Angeles. Dawkins does not say outright that his objection to my decision is that Biola is a specifically Christian institution. He obviously assumes (but refrains from actually saying) that this is incompatible with producing first-class academic work—not a thesis that would be acceptable in either my own university of Oxford or in Harvard. ...

Finally, as to the suggestion that I have been used by Biola University: If the way I was welcomed by the students and the members of the faculty whom I met on my short stay in Biola amounted to being used, then I can only express my regret that at my age of eighty-five I cannot reasonably hope for another visit to this ­institution."

Way to go, Biola, and thanks for the more-than-kind words, Dr. Flew.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Philosophizin' 'Bout Jesus

In a few weeks I'll begin teaching a course called, Philosophy: Introduction & History. While excited and invigorated by all the philosophy I've been reading lately (yes, that puts me in rare category), I'm a little intimidated by this, having spent most of my graduate education focused on theology. My apologetics training and its association with and dependency on philosophy is the only reason why I even considered the idea of teaching a class like this. Nonetheless, it will be a tough first go (but the first go is always tough, right?). Hopefully, I can pass my enjoyment of philosophy on to my students, even if I don't do full justice to the grandeur of the content. And hopefully I'll get to teach the class in the future, honing my skills and teaching more Ukrainian Church leaders to love philosophy as much as I do.

In looking for some texts to use as I prepare my teaching material, I came across some recent stuff by Paul Moser, a Christian philosopher out of Loyola University in Chicago. I read a fabulous booklet by Moser a few years back on God's hiddenness and I know that he's one of the key players in getting Evangelical Christianity a place at the secular philosophical table. So, I asked for these books for Christmas. Well, I got 'em and I can't put 'em down. Moser is awesome and I can't recommend him more highly. He is unashamedly Evangelical when he writes, yet this doesn't minimize his philosophical rigor in the least. And for the believer skeptical of philosophy, as most of my Ukrainian students will likely be, Moser exemplifies how to engage the philosophical world without compromising the truths of Christianity in the least. Below are 3 poignant and powerful selections from his introductory essay to Jesus and Philosophy: New Essays, a collection edited by Moser.

On the Atonement:
"The Good News movement founded by Jesus offers a divine manifest-offering approach to divine-human atonement. According to its unique message, what is being made manifest is God's character of righteous and merciful love, and what is being offered, in agreement with that character, is lasting divine-human fellowship as a gracious divine gift on the basis of (a) the forgiveness manifested and offered via God's atoning sacrifice in Jesus and (b) God's resurrection of Jesus as Lord and Giver of God's Spirit. The manifestation of God's self-giving character in Jesus reveals the kind of God who is thereby offering lasting divine-human forgiveness and fellowship to humans. Although the death of Jesus can't bring about divine-human reconciliation by itself, it is presented, by Jesus, Paul and others, as supplying God's distinctive means of intended implementation of reconciliation via divine manifestation and offering. For the sake of actual divine-human reconciliation, according to Jesus and Paul, humans must receive the manifest-offering via grounded trust and obedience." (p. 8)

On the Greatest Commandment:
"These commands [to love God and neighbor], found in the Hebrew scriptures and in the Christian New Testament, give a priority ranking of what humans should love. They imply that at the very top of a ranking of what we humans love should be, first, God and, second, our neighbor (as well as ourselves). They thus imply that any opposing ranking is morally unacceptable. More specifically, they imply that human projects, including intellectual and philosophical projects, are acceptable only to the extent that they contribute to satisfying the divine love commands. ... Loving God and our neighbor requires eagerly serving God and our neighbor for their best interests. Characterized broadly, our eagerly serving God and our neighbor requires (a) our eagerly obeying God to the best of our ability and (b) our eagerly contributing, as far as we are able, to the life-sustaining needs of our neighbor. ... We humans, of course, have limited resources, in terms of time and energy for pursuing our projects. We thus must choose how to spend our time and energy in ways that pursue some projects and exclude others. If I eagerly choose projects that exclude my eagerly serving the life-sustaining needs of my neighbor (when I could have undertaken the latter), I thereby fail to love my neighbor. I also thereby fail to obey God's command, as represented by Jesus, to give priority to my eagerly serving the life-sustaining needs of my neighbor ... The lesson about failing to love applies directly to typical pursuit of philosophical questions. If my typical eager pursuit of philosophical questions blocks my eagerly serving the life-sustaining needs of my neighbor (when I could have undertaken the latter), I thereby fail to love my neighbor. I also fail then to obey the divine love command regarding my neighbor. In this case, my eager pursuit of philosophical questions will result in my failing to love God and my neighbor as God has commanded, at least in the commands summarized by Jesus. The failing would be a moral deficiency in serving God and my neighbor, owing to my choosing to serve other purposes instead, namely, philosophical purposes independent of loving God and others. Even if a philosophical purpose is truth-seeking, including seeking after truths about God and divine love, it could run afoul of the divine love commands. ... Not all truth-seeking, then, proceeds in agreement with the divine love commands. This lesson applies equally to philosophy, theology, and any other truth-seeking discipline." (p. 14-15)

On Jesus' Influence On Philosophy
"Philosophy in its normal mode, without being receptive to an authoritative divine challenge stemming from divine love commands, leaves humans in a discussion mode, short of an obedience mode under divine authority. ... As divinely appointed Lord, in contrast, Jesus commands humans to move, for their own good, to an obedience mode of existence relative to divine love commands. He thereby points humans to his perfectly loving Father who ultimately underwrites the divine love commands for humans, for the sake of divine-human fellowship. Accordingly, humans need to transcend a normal discussion mode, and thus philosophical discussion itself, to face with sincerity the personal Authority who commands what humans need: faithful obedience to the perfectly loving Giver of divine love commands, for the sake of divine-human fellowship. Such obedience of the heart, involving the conforming of a human will to divine will, is just the way humans are to truly receive the gift of divine redemptive love. Insofar as the discipline of philosophy becomes guided, in terms of pursuits, by that gift on offer, it becomes kerygma ["proclamation" or "message"]-oriented in virtue of becoming an enabler of the aforementioned Good News message of Jesus. According to Jesus, humans, including philosophers, were intended by God to live in faithful obedience to the divine love commands, whereby they enter into volitional fellowship with God and, on that basis, with others." (p. 17)

Paul K. Moser, "Introduction: Jesus and Philosophy," in Jesus and Philosophy: New Essays, edited by Paul K. Moser (New York: NY, Cambridge University Press, 2009), 1-23.

Friday, January 1, 2010

If I Had a Facebook Account

Happy New Year!!! I just finished giving Dietrich a second bath after discovering that he had, while on the potty attempting to wipe, instead, wiped his business on the wall and on himself. 2010 can only get better from here, right?