From Atheism to Theism:
From Theism to Christianity:
From Atheism to Theism:
From Theism to Christianity:
Below are my thoughts that were inspired from watching a YouTube message from Timothy Tennent on living in a “seam of time” – between a change not just of government, or of financial status, or of global economics… but a change from the paradigms that have silently under-girded those systems for the past hundred years into a new paradigm or philosophy for the future.
If one would look closely at the landscape of our world, they will find that we are living between two folds or epochs in history. Despite our best efforts to sedate the symptoms of this paradigm change, we are faced everyday with the symptoms of a violent change in how we view reality.
The change isn’t just the gradual change of a season: the snow slowly melting away, the green grass returning to life, the sun radiating new heat, and spring flowers slowly break the surface. No these are tumultuous times of change: financial uncertainty, government incompetence, transnational corporations working a shadow agenda, and global wars and revolutions … all of which appear in stark constant to the serenade of the entertainment industry that lullabies us to sleep in the minority world (the West).
But what of faith? Do we have faith in anything anymore? Faith in each other, our neighbors, our sexuality, our government, our industries, our economy, our secularized culture, or our sanitized Christianity? Do we even have faith in faith anymore? How do we talk about truth for instance when we no longer hold to commonly understood categories of truth. What is truth? Even in the scientific community there are competing definitions of truth and conflicting findings from studies. There is a change that is happening (and has been happening since the 70s) in metaphysics (how we view reality). Are we still modern? Are we Postmodern? What, why, how, and who is truth?
Whether we stand like Pontius Pilate in judgment asking “What is truth?” or like Saul of Tarsus as one blinded by the truth, or like the Gerasene Demoniac as one delivered by the truth, or like the person outside of society who found acceptance in the truth, or like the nameless blind man who was healed by the truth, or like Peter who while fleeing from persecution was convicted by the truth… we stand not alone on this seam of time, but are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses to the truth: Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.
We are called not merely to consider, contemplate, and categorize claims about truth, but to embody the way, the truth, and the life of Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. We are called to incarnate the truth, to resist and subvert the current folds of time that seek to zipper out our witness of the Gospel. We cannot help but to be what we behold, despite what idols seek to stand in-between.
I recently read an article about Stephen Hawking entitled, “Heaven is a ‘fairy story.‘” It was short, blunt, and horribly dull. At one point in the article Hawking is quoted as saying, “I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.”
Notice the tactic here (which is common), loading the definition: “the brain as a computer.” But what are some of the assumptions here? The lack of a soul, the computer equating the entirety of personhood, the limit of the brain as merely a processor of sensory data, the brain as just a tool? If the brain is a computer, what about processor upgrades, memory upgrades, logic board repairs? If the brain is a computer what about hard drive transfers, reboots, and operating system upgrades?
I recently bought a new Macbook pro and was able to transfer ALL my data, preferences, and operating system from my old computer to the new one in a matter of moments. It’s the same computer … but not really. It has the same content, but has been “glorified” with 8 GB of memory and a 2.0 GhZ quad-core i7 processor.
No, even if you compare your brain to a computer like Hawking, it does not necessarily mean that when your parts fail all that awaits you is darkness. When the computer dies there is system information, personal data, unique preferences stored on the hard drive that are still in tact despite the computers ability to ‘turn back on.’ It is certainly within the realm of possibility, and my belief that even when our “computers” turn off, our consciousness will find new life in a new body.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I am taking a Philosophy class this semester on “Suffering, Tragedy and the Christian Faith.” A student responded to one of my posts on the Logical Problem of Evil in a way that suggested part of that problem is that God created both good and evil. Now, the logical set of the POE goes something like this: 1- God is omnipotent, 2- God is wholly Good, 3- And yet evil exists. Ancillary questions like why did God create good and evil (which assumes God did), what is omnipotence, how do we know God is good, and what is evil soon arise out of the LPOE. For a more robust handling of some of these questions check out an old paper I wrote on The Perversion of Good – A Practical Theodicy. In this post, I want to plant some ”seed thoughts” for later developments… so that said, please grant me some grace in your critique (for I will need to think this over more myself before it is defensible).
I like to talk in terms of “potential” and “actualization” when it comes to the origin of what we call evil. Humans had the potential to not fall into rebellion and thus continue in the original goodness of creation and enjoy unbroken fellowship with the triune God forever without actualizing evil (choosing contrary to God’s will). One of my favorite books of all times is Perelandra. In this second installment of C.S. Lewis’ space trilogy, Lewis’ character explores a world in which the original inhabitants have not fallen into rebellion/original sin.
In responding to some another set of questions from another student, I thought up the following example for the “perversion of good” motif:
Nuclear energy. A scientist altruistically discovers the equations to make atomic energy possible for all people. He understood if he shared his mathematical equations they had the potential for good, but also for evil. He decides to share the equation with others and allow them to decide how they will use this knowledge.
The scientist’s initial good discovery (which would have provided cheap energy to the nations for a very long time) was entrusted to others with the intention of it only being used for clean energy and not for weapons; however, it was instead perverted into weapons of mass destruction by those he entrusted it with. So there exists today what appears to be a bifurcated view of nuclear power: the good (energy), and the bad (nuclear weapons). The scientist did not create the nuclear weapons, but allowed others the choice. The potential existed to choose according to the will of the scientist, but also the potential to choose against that will and thus in that decision actualized/created evil.
If you push this example too far it will break-up since it is an anthropomorphic example to describe something that epistemologically is beyond our comprehension (in fullness not part).
As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, Thursday night I was invited to an early showing of The Adjustment Bureau. In this morning’s post, I would like to suggest a few symbols and themes that I noticed in the movie (please share any you may have in the comments section below).
1. Water – Water played a significant role in the movie. It disrupted the “adjusters” powers and abilities to track the plans of humans. What does this symbol suggest? Baptism? The Holy Spirit? Some Primal Force that all life arose from?
2. Race and Gender. An interesting theme and possible social critique arose with the selection of characters. All the members of the Adjustment Bureau are all men and most of the antagonists are White old men, except one who is Black that turns out to be a “good guy.” Likewise, the only main character who is a female is the love interest of Matt Damon’s character and is an up-and-coming dancer in modern ballet. There are also hints of men (damon) deciding what is the best for women (ie- a dance career or a life together and teaching 6th grade dance).
3. Doors. The agents in the movie (imagine angels who work for the FBI) move throughout our world, adjusting decisions and ensuring people stay on their “life plans” by crossing through doors. They must wear hats (see #5) and turn the door knob to the right to cross space and time to locations. They can travel across the city by walking through an ordinary door. Also, they can travel to another realm of reality by entering these doors (think Narnia). What do the doors represent? Opportunity? Sacraments/Spiritual Practices? Prayer?
4. Books and Maps. The “plans” for humans that the agents ensure we stay on are disclosed on what appears to be books that have a moving map on them much like a GPS. This is another limitation of the angels/agents in the movie. To see the plans of humans they must look on these books/maps, so they rely on technology to succeed in their mission. What do these books represent? Knowledge? Power of information? Accessible Wisdom? Limited Foresight? The Bible? The Quran?
5. Hats. Another revelation of the “angels”/agents lack of power in the movie is the presence of hats. To travel through the doors and utilize their powers, they must be wearing a hat. What does this represent? Head coverings? Power coming only from God (or the”chairman”)? Privilege? Election?
6. Colors. The colors in the movie are always contrasting with one another. The final agent called in to deal with Matt Damon’s case views things clearly as “Black and White.” This is evidenced in the attire, architecture, and grit that is present with the agents. Contrasting this are the Blue of Damon’s character and Red of his romantic interest played by Emily Blunt. Liturgically speaking colors matter, and in this movie they are repeatedly brought up.
7. The Chairman. You never explicitly “see” the Chairman (who the agents/angels suggest could be “god”); however, in the end of the movie it is suggested that Matt Damon has seen The Chairman at some point in the movie… since the Chairman appears in various forms to different people (I missed this, so keep your eyes peeled). But who is the Chairman? The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? The Father of Jesus Christ? A distant impersonal God? Is it Satan? Is it the collective consciousness of all creation? Or is the chairman a really powerful agent? Is the chairmen just “the man” of society?
8. Fundamentalism. As JD Walt (www.jdwalt.com) mentioned during the talk-back session after the screening, The Adjustment Bureau takes a swing at forms of religious fundamentalism. The agents (except one) view the world according to a certain black/white plan for all people and are ruthless in their pursuit of keeping people on their paths.
9. Chance. What is chance according to the Adjustment Bureau? At one point an unanticipated meeting occurs that the agents/angels chalk up as “according to chance”; however, you later will find out that there is no chance, but only “ripples” (remnants) of previously adjusted plans (this opens an interesting sidebar, that I may explore on middle knowledge). So is there such a thing as chance? How do chance, choice, and determinism exist together?
10 Who are we in the story? This brings me to this final question. Who are we (humans) in the story? Are we the “adjusters/angels” or are we the humans? Can we be both? Instantly we would be compelled to say the humans, right? But could it be that we also are meant to identify with the agents? Could the agents represent the Church or a particular religion (power from God, head coverings, books of wisdom, plans for people’s lives, ability to go near God through portals in the ordinary)?
Are we Matt Damon’s character filled with emptiness that only a vocation can fulfill until we find that love can better satisfy that longing? Are we the minority who embraces love in a world controlled by rules? Is this movie not about God/Angels as much as it is about society/culture?
There are definitely other symbols/motifs/images that are being conveyed in the movie, but these are a few to consider.
Last night I got to attend a special screening of The Adjustment Bureau that will be released to the general audience on March 4th. The event was hosted by Asbury University and was followed by a talk-back session with faculty and staff from the University (and JD Walt from the Seminary).
The story is yet another brilliant adaptation from Phillip K. Dick’s writings and seeks to play with some important human themes such as: levels of reality; fate/destiny and free-will/choice; love and career/vocation; gender & race and society; and of course how “God” is sovereign and is he “Good”. The Adjustment Bureau is an entertaining synthesis between Minority Report and a Romantic Drama. I would recommend you go see it in theaters and take some time afterwards to unpack some of the strong themes and symbols used in the movie with your friends. The movie is much like a Christian icon – the more you look the more you will see…. I will be unpacking some of these symbols in a later post.
Mundus vult decipi. This Latin phrase means, the world wants to be deceived. I came across this phrase again this afternoon while reading an introduction written by Walter Kaufman in Martin Buber’s classic, I and Thou . Kaufman observes that truth is often frightening when one actually encounters it. When we encounter a truth (albeit ‘gospel’ or ‘transcendental’) we have the choice to encounter it and thus be transformed by it or to retreat from it and thus transform the truth into untruth.
Truth is not a taste that one is born with, but must be acquired like the taste of a stout beer. The world system innately creates static in our human capacity to receive truth through structural patterns of untruth:
Truth to a Christian is as visceral and physical as it is conceptual and spiritual. Truth is a person, a spirit, a reality that once encountered demands a choice: to either abide in it or to retreat from it.
Recently I was at conference at a local Church where the speaker was talking about the Holy Spirit. He made the comment that people treat the Holy Spirit as, “the crazy uncle of the trinity.” This observation struck me as hilarious, but very keen. Perhaps such an observation of the western Church is due to people not being able to differentiate between the human responses to the Holy Spirit and the divine person. Perhaps also the lack of embrace of the Holy Spirit in the western Churches is because of our recent “ontological hangover” caused by two hundred years of getting drunk on Enlightenment philosophy. I say all this to highlight that an adequate Doctrine of the Holy Spirit is not based human responses any more than a Doctrine of Jesus Christ or YHWH are. Also, an adequate Doctrine of the Holy Spirit shouldn’t be limited to an anthropocentric (interpreting reality based on human values, experiences ) view of reality. The Holy Spirit, being of the same essence with the Son and Father (homoousios), deserves as much attention in our Theology and Worship as the other members of the trinity. The following is a simple (and incomplete) Creed on the third person of the Trinity taken from the saga of Scripture.
“We Believe in the Holy Spirit.”
We believe the Old Testament proclaims… that before anything was created, the Spirit of God swept over the formless and dark void that was to become the universe (Gen 1:2). Pharaoh testified to his servants that Joseph, the interpreter of dreams was “one with the Spirit of God in him.”(Gen 41:38) Joshua was set apart and led Israel because he had the “Spirit in him” (Num 27:18). The Spirit of the Lord gave Samson great strength and power to defeat the Philistines during the time of the Judges (Judges 13:25,14:6,14:19,15:14,15:19). When Samuel the prophet anointed the shepherd David with oil, the Spirit of the Lord forevermore dwelt with David the future King of Israel (1 Sam 16:13). The Psalmist cries out to God for the Holy Spirit not to be taken from Him (Ps 51:10). Elijah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Daniel, Hosea, Jonah, Habakkuk, Haggai, Amos, and all the prophets, prophesied in the Spirit of the Lord. The Prophet Isaiah wrote concerning Christ that the Spirit of the Lord shall rest on Him (Isaiah 11:2; Lk 4:18).
We believe the New Testament proclaims… that Jesus Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit (Mat 1:18,1:20; Lk 1:35,), was filled with the Holy Spirit (Lk 4:1;) cast out demons, healed, and performed miracles in the power of the Spirit (Mt12:28; Acts 10:38), and baptized people with/sent forth the Holy Spirit on believers (Mat 3:11; Lk 3:16; Jn1:33,Acts 1:15). After Christ’s ascension to the right hand of the Father, the Apostles were instructed by the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:2), received power from the Holy Spirit to be witness (Acts 1:8), preached boldly in the Spirit (Acts 4:8; Acts 6:10), remained faithful in martyrdom (Acts 6:5;), and performed healing, deliverance, and other miracles with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:4; Acts 5:13-15). After Paul’s eyes were opened by the Holy Spirit (Acts 9:17), he was filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:9).
We believe in the fruits and the gifts of the Holy Spirit today as it was recorded in the New and Old Testaments. The gifts of the Spirit are: prophesy, tongues, interpretation of tongues, healing, assistance, leadership, and discernment of spirits (1 Cor 12, 14). The fruits of the Holy Spirit are: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal 5:22-23). If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit (Gal 5:25).
There are some books that take me a long time to finish reading. Usually this is neither due to the number of pages nor the density of thought, but precisely because of the callousness around my heart in implementing the lessons held within. There are those books that you read, and then there are those books that you attempt to live out. Recently, I have been slowly working through Henri Nouwen’s book, The Return of the Prodigal Son. There is a question that has been haunting me on page forty-two, ” To who do I belong? To God or to the world?”
The proper Christian response comes to me as swiftly as the sun setting on the equator, “to God, of course, to God.” But lately I have been examining my responses to life events. As Socrates reminds us,” the unexamined life is not worth living.” My responses have been telling me a lot about the real answer to this question. I think of how quickly depressed I can get when someone critiques me or saddened by a friend or family member who make destructive choices. On the other hand, when my wife compliments me, or a professor praises me for my writing, I am all of a sudden confident and sure. The truth is that I am seeking love based on condition. If I just do this one thing, then _____ will respect me/accept me into their PhD program, ect. So to whom Do I belong?
The truth is that I am still much like the prodigal son, coming back from a far away place. The foundation of this present world we live in is one of conditional love. -What you do, determines how you are loved. As Nouwen shared in his book, ” I am the prodigal son every time I search for unconditional love where it cannot be found.” The addictions we see in the world arise from the world’s inherent inability to quench the heart’s need to be loved without condition. No matter where the son is in the story, he remains his Father’s son. We are never in a land that is so far away that we can never return to the unconditional love of our heavenly Father. His embrace awaits us.
An article from Christianity Today was sent to me recently from a dear friend, Joshua Toepper. The content of this article was an interview with the sometimes misunderstood pastor from Mars Hill, Rob Bell. You can read his interview, Tying Clouds Together, on how he comes up with his sermons here, http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/preachingworship/preaching/tyingcloudstogether.html?start=1
I skimmed the interview over and quickly popped off three points that the article could suggest (not that they are true about Bell, but that the interview could suggest them). 1- art and history are as (if not more) important in exegesis as a commentary or lexicon. 2- The “truth behind the truth” is what you want to preach (albeit, I argued it is a subjective and nebulous truth) 3- Rob Bell has a lot of good experience and knowledge to share, but at times he overutilizes metaphor and hyperbole which can lead to him being confused.
Well these quick responses were sent off to a group from the Seminary and I felt like I really had to firm up my points a bit, because I could have came across as “anti-Bell” which I most certainly am not. The main point I wanted to flesh out was this, Rob Bell is misunderstood a lot by evangelicals and mainline Protestant denominations, but understood well by his community (and those who give him time to finish his thoughts).
Rob Bell can teach us a lot about the application phase of Exegesis/IBS/ect… Not that we all should start making trendy modern day parable videos and wear cool black glasses when we preach, but perhaps we can talk to our black, rural, northern, southern, Hispanic, white, first nation, or suburban congregations in a way that allows them to understand the message most clearly. This doesn’t mean observing Rob Bell, but observing the community you are called to.
What is your take on Rob Bell’s methods to preaching?