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.