Tom Gilson is a missions strategist, speaker, and author with Campus Crusade for Christ, currently on assignment to BreakPoint/The Colson Center. He holds an M.S. in Industrial and Organizational Psychology from the University of Central Florida, and hosts the Thinking Christian blog. His home is in Yorktown, Virginia, where the Revolution was won (or, if you're one of our British readers, was lost). He and his wife have two teenaged children who are trying to survive as aliens in a foreign land: the local public high school and community college.
From the Pew Forum’s report “‘Nones’ on the Rise: One-in-Five Adults Have No Religious Affiliation” (PDF), released this morning:
In the last five years alone, the [religiously] unaffiliated have increased from just over 15% to just under 20% of all U.S. adults. Their ranks now include more than 13 million self-described atheists and agnostics (nearly 6% of the U.S. public), as well as nearly 33 million people who say they have no particular religious affiliation (14%)….
However… many of the country’s 46 million unaffiliated adults are religious or spiritual in some way. Two-thirds of them say they believe in God (68%). More than half say the often feel a deep connection with nature and the earth (58%), while more than a third classify themselves as “spiritual” but not “religious (37%) and one-in-five (21%) say they pray every day. In addition, most religiously unaffiliated Americans think that churches and other religious institutions benefit society by strengthening community bonds and aiding the poor.
With few exceptions, though, the unaffiliated say they are not looking for a religion that would be right for them. Overwhelmingly, they think that religious organizations are too concerned with money and power, too focused on rules and too involved in politics.
No comment for now, except to say that God is at work regardless, and this is another good reminder to pray for our neighbors.
Joseph Knippenberg raised a serious concern at First Thoughts last week about the way University of Central Florida professor Charles Negy reacted to students arguing for the validity of Christianity. Professor Negy sent a sharply worded email to some 500 students, complaining about the “bigotry” demonstrated by Christians who had “argued the validity of Christianity” in his classroom.
Last Spring semester at the university I teach at, an incident occurred in my cross-cultural psychology class related to my discussion of religious bigotry in society. The incident prompted me to send an email to my students later that evening that ended up “going viral” and initially was posted on Reddit and more recently (August 16) was posted on the Huffington Post. My message to students in that email addressed various issues — issues that I will be blogging on in the upcoming weeks. For now, I want to comment on the issue that was addressed pertaining to the purpose of a university because so many professors nationwide have emailed me indicating that they plan on reading my email to their students on the first day of classes in order to orient them to the role of a university and their roles as students.
“So many professors” are planning to read his email to their students. The mere fact is amazing. It’s bad enough that Professor Negy missed seeing his own multiple contradictions and ironies, but for “so many professors” also to have overlooked them speaks poorly for higher education.
Professor Negy’s blog post settles one question, though. Mr. Knippenberg had wondered what kind of behavior it was that provoked the email. One has to question whether one is getting enough of the story from a message like that. Now it appears we have an authoritative answer to that question. The professor gives every indication in this blog post that he approves of other faculty members reading it to their classes sans context. If that’s the case, that means he believes the email stands on its own. It is what it is.
And its message is clear. Professor Negy’s chief complaint seems to have been with Christians “arguing that Christianity is the most valid religion.” Though he himself seems not to consider context very important, it’s worth noting that the words “most valid” seem to fit better with (at least an attempt toward) reasoned discussion than a lecture-disrupting rant. Have you ever heard anyone ranting, ”My view is the most valid!”?
“So many professors” across the country, then, are echoing Professor Negy’s instruction these first days of school: Feel free to examine ideas and think critically, but for you who are Christians, don’t even think of arguing in favor of your beliefs.
The Internet has made it easier than ever before to catch and correct misinformation. Dan Rather’s false reporting on George W. Bush’s National Guard experience was exposed by a blogger. On my own blog earlier today, with the help of some Facebook friends, I had a quick answer to an atheist’s false claims about philosophers’ beliefs.
That question has been bothering me especially this week, as David Barton’s errors have been brought into morepubliclight. My experience blogging has taught me that if I don’t know what I’m talking about I’d better not talk about it. Someone will challenge me and I’ll have to yield. It has its value as a learning experience but it doesn’t do much for my credibility.
From the other side, the Internet is overrun with writers saying that Christians who accept the injunctions in Leviticus against homosexuality should stone their daughter if she’s not a virgin on her wedding night. Here’s a sample search for you. This misinformation persists even Christians (also appearing on that same Google search) show its purveyors that they don’t understand the Bible as well as they think they do. I could share a thousand more examples like this one.
Confirmation bias is a well established psychological phenomenon. We tend to see that which we agree with more clearly and more openly than that which we disagree with. Atheists, believers, and everyone in between are all subject to it. I find that when I’m reading complex material, if I agree with where the author is taking it I can understand it much more easily than if it’s something I disagree with—even if the two are equally challenging, on a neutral, objective standard. I’m pretty sure that contributes to bias.
Sometimes we pursue “facts” that we want to be true, whether they are indeed factual or not. Many Christians, especially politically conservative Christians, have done this with David Barton. Presumably, though, most of us would much rather pursue what’s actually true. I commend to you a simple three step plan for topic areas on which you may need to form an opinion:
1. If you know what you’re talking about—if you have expertise in the subject area—then go for it.
2. If not, then use caution. Do some research. Don’t jump to conclusions. Find out who disagrees with whom, and why.
3. Having done that research, speak according to what you know.
(For topics on which you don’t really need to form an opinion, “I don’t know” works just as well.)
Someone asked me a couple months ago what I thought about David Barton. I said, “I’ve heard him speak, I know pretty much what his themes are, I’ve heard others raise concerns about his accuracy, I haven’t studied it enough to know what to make of those concerns, so I’m taking a cautious stance.” Now, with a lot more information available, I’m more convinced he’s been guilty of stretching facts (to put it charitably).
The same principle would ease tensions in the young earth-old earth debate. Whatever the topic, it would have the virtue of preventing a lot of us from speaking more than we know.
Meanwhile errors will persist on the Internet and beyond, because too many of us think we know more than we actually know, and we’re not listening to the other side. To suppose there could be any other outcome would be foolishly idealistic.
I’ve been hearing the charge recently that there are no non-religious reasons to oppose same-sex “marriage,” and therefore there are no constitutionally valid reasons to oppose it. I’m not about to enter into the constitutional question; it’s not my field. First Things readers need no one to tell you that there are indeed many non-religious reasons to oppose SSM and support true marriage. That’s been said often enough here.
But there is a question in here somewhere that calls for consideration: If secular reasons against SSM are any good at all, why is it that religious people so much more likely to oppose SSM than non-religious people? Could it be that our secular reasoning is a kind of game, a smokescreen behind which to hide the essential religiosity of our purpose?
If that were true, then it would be best that we admitted it and got out of the debate, or else shifted over to the constitutional side of it instead. But it’s not. For one thing, good secular reasoning against SSM is good secular reasoning, regardless of who puts it forth or why. For another thing, there are other explanations for the religious divide. On my Thinking Christian blog I’m offering two such explanations, the first of which is that religious people are far more likely than non-religious people to accept that there is something that marriage essentially is, and which is not up to us to decide. What follows is an adapted version.
First I want to clarify who I am talking about here and who I am not. On both sides of this issue there are some who have taken their stance only because “that’s what my kind of people think about this.” Make no mistake: support for gay “marriage” has a lot to do with aligning with one’s social group. So does opposition to it. I’m not talking about that kind of support or opposition, but about that which is well informed and thought through.
President Obama declared his affirmation of same-sex “marriage” last week. His opinion changes nothing except the legal and political environment. More specifically, it has no effect on what marriage actually is, because the meaning of marriage is not up to anyone to decide—not even the President. It’s above his pay grade. (more…)
One of the great puzzles about our future in heaven is, won’t we be bored? I know there will be lots of joy and love and worship. I’m not worried about heaven being bland and stale; surely God loves us more than to let that happen! It’s just that I can’t imagine how it will be. Specifically, if there’s no danger, no difficulty, and if we always know the outcome will be good, then where’s the interest or excitement? Where’s the challenge?
A couple nights ago I was listening to Saint-Säens’ Third Symphony, the Organ Symphony. As a trombonist I fell in love with this music in college: it’s loud and brassy in all the right places, but it also calls on the trombone for one of the sweetest soft melodies in all classical music. I’ve heard this symphony often. I know what’s coming next, all the way through it. There will be no surprises in it for me ever again, except (I hope) the kind of new discovery that comes from catching some inner part I’ve never noticed before.
What’s your favorite song or composition? I’m hoping you can think of something longer and stronger than the typical rock, pop, or country songs, because the longer and better the piece is, the more likely it will illustrate what I’m saying here. Pat Metheny’s First Circle is a great jazz example.
Whatever your favorites might be,
Have you ever noticed how time stops during great music—even as it flows onward?
Have you ever felt the conflict, dissonance, even discord in it?
Have you ever felt the anticipation of your favorite part coming up soon? There’s desire there, isn’t there? You feel a strong sort of wanting, yet you know it’s right that it take its time coming. Even the wanting is good.
Have you ever felt the satisfaction of the music reaching its goal in the end?
Such things are part of the universal experience of music—and they happen while everything is exactly the way it should be. Amazing, isn’t it: perfection can include discord, anticipation, conflict, and resolution! These are the very things that keep interest alive in the life that’s familiar to us.
Further, we might wonder whether there will be any challenge and any personal growth in heaven. I think there will be. The Bible says there will be no more sin there, and no more crying. It does not say there will be no more trying. I’m speculating of course, but I won’t be at all surprised if musicians make mistakes there. To have trouble with a difficult passage is not sin. Some of my favorite hours on earth have been spent struggling my way through a tough passage to play it better than before. These struggles have been good, not bad.
Not all of those struggles, by the way, have been about getting the notes right. I’ve tried many times to play Bach’s Cello Suite in D Minor. It lays fairly well on the trombone (not like it does on the cello, but close enough for a trombonist’s purposes). The notes are not the problem. I can get through them easily enough (or I could when I was practicing more often). But there’s music in there to which I’ve never attained. Bach’s genius is beyond me. It might just take forever to get to it. Nevertheless, trying to reach it has always been terribly satisfying. It’s always been a labor of love and delight, even as far as I have been from the goal. I think I could be that way for a long, long, long time.
What will heaven be like? I still don’t know. But the lesson of music assures me that perfection really can include conflict, anticipation, dissonance, resolution, challenge, even failure, and continuing growth. Knowing that such things are possible in the midst of perfection, I am pretty sure the way they will manifest in heaven will be deeper, richer, more involving and interesting than we can imagine. It won’t be boring there.
My son, Jonathan, and I bumped into him at his BreakPoint ministry office a few years ago. It was my first visit there, just dropping in on Travis McSherley, the editor who had published some of my work on BreakPoint’s website. I had no idea then how unusual it was to see Chuck there—he traveled widely and was rarely in the office. He spent several minutes with us, graciously including Jonathan in the conversation, not seeming to be in a hurry, and making for me a solid impression of being a gracious and caring person.
I did not know then that within a few years I would be sitting with him in his office, explaining why I wanted to spend a year or two helping him and his team build a network of worldview ministries and foster a movement of Kingdom discipleship through them. My favorable five-minute impression from a few years ago was more than confirmed then, and in the several subsequent meetings I was privileged to be in with him. One of my more unforgettable moments was at the 2010 National Conference on Christian Apologetics, where he greeted me with a hug.
Someone once asked me, “Don’t you know he’s a convicted felon?” The question made me laugh. Yes, I knew that. I was a senior in high school when Watergate happened. We watched the proceedings on TV in my Government class. I read his autobiography, Born Again, not long after it was released, and I heard him speak about it at the Governor’s Prayer Breakfast in Lansing, Michigan; I think it was in 1976.
Chuck Colson himself never lost sight of the fact that he was a convicted felon. He also never lost sight of God’s gracious forgiveness through Jesus Christ. He founded Prison Fellowship Ministries, and led it to become a powerful force for spiritual, educational, and social change in prisons throughout American and around the world. But that is not the ministry or the realm in which I came to know and appreciate him. Rather it was in his leadership in Christian worldview thinking. In his Lansdowne, Virginia office, carefully protected in a glass case, there is one of C.S. Lewis’s pipes. I believe history will recognize Chuck’s place in a very small group of men including Abraham Kuyper, Francis Schaeffer, and of course Lewis, as leaders most responsible for framing evangelical Christians’ thinking about our faith in relation to the world.
I don’t know of anyone in our generation who has so effectively coupled Christian compassion with Christian intellectual leadership.
Over the last couple years he was much concerned about the legacy he would leave. Some of us might think what he had done would have been plenty, and if it had been for the sake of his own name, he might have thought so, too. It wasn’t about his name, though. For him it was about taking the opportunity his unique public platform afforded him to bring Christian leaders together in unity. What he prayed and worked for most over the past few years was to see a movement of Christian churches, ministries, and individuals working together for the purposes of Christ’s kingdom, to bring about renewal, awakening, and transformation in our culture. He was at it until the end. He was speaking on “Breaking the Spiral of Silence” when he fell ill and was taken to the hospital a few weeks ago. I’m told that he was talking about it with BreakPoint leaders who visited him in the hospital late last week.
I think we’re on track toward seeing this movement develop; at least, I pray that we are. There is much to be done.
There is opposition. The spiritual and cultural transformation Colson sought, and which we continue to pursue in Christ’s name, is not welcomed by all. I have been grieved to see the rank cruelty some commenters have expressed in discussions attached to reports on his poor health recently. (I will delete any such comments left here. He was a friend to me and to many of us, and this is not the time and place for that unkindness.) Many of those who applaud immorality have also cheered for his desperate illness. The connection is sickening but unmistakable. It stands in stark contrast to his own reaction to opposition: grief, yes; intense concern, yes to that, too; but never hatred, always grace and hope for the opposing person instead.
Along the way to prison, Chuck Colson discovered how desperately he needed the grace and life of Jesus Christ. I’ve never been behind bars except to visit, but my need is no less. Neither is yours. Chuck’s purpose in all his ministry was to lift up the powerful and saving name and life and ethics and truths and glory of Jesus Christ. Now he is raised up with Christ.
Please pray for Chuck Colson and for his family members, who have been called to his bedside in Fairfax, Virginia. Please pray also for the staff at Prison Fellowship and the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, who call him founder, brother, and friend.
Somebody uploaded a video on YouTube to send a message that scientists ought not believe in God. The speaker is Neil DeGrasse Tyson. He is an astrophysicist and the director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York.
Some of the lecture was cut out, so I will not hold Tyson responsible for the error I’m about to describe. If I did, I would be guilty of the same error that I’m about to describe (drawing a conclusion on incomplete evidence). I will instead direct my comments toward the person who uploaded the video, who apparently intended us to conclude from it that religion hinders science. By extension, what I have to say here applies also to everyone else who has made the same mistake in any comparable way. And that includes a lot of people.
What I want to say is that this message about religion hindering science is completely unscientific; and the more it gets propagated, the more science is hindered.
Here’s why I say that. The error of which I speak is very painfully clear in this video, and it is quite specifically a scientific error. What the video does is to propose, on the basis of one snippet of history, that belief in God is harmful to the progress of science.
This is a statement that belongs in the field of social psychology and/or sociology. The claim goes like this: If a person (society) believes in God, the result in that person (society) will be deleterious to the progress of science.
I want to know where that has been scientifically measured and assessed.
The test could be run. The study could be done, though it would be difficult. It would require a good-sized representative sampling, measurement of their religiosity, and a correlative measurement of their attitudes toward, knowledge of, and contribution to science.
I want to know where that study has been conducted.
Carson Weitnauer writes at the Gospel Coalition blog about the Irony of Atheism, including,
The contrasts are clear: atheists claim that religion is the main barrier to reason. Christians believe our capacity to reason comes from being created in the image of an all-knowing God, and the active use of reason is an important way to honor him. Atheists brand themselves as a community united by reason. Christians marvel at how this group rallies together even as their most prominent leader, Richard Dawkins, argues that evolution favors the selfish gene, not the reasonable group. Atheists work hard to eradicate religion for the sake of a brighter future. Christians are amazed that atheists so blissfully ignore the scientific fact that, if religion is a false consolation, the future always ends in death.
The organizers of the upcoming secularist Reason Rally have placed themselves in a pickle. It will be interesting to see how this plays out for these who portray themselves as the defenders of reason and science.
Every scientist knows it’s unprofessional to draw conclusions from a non-representative sample, and that it will lead to false results every time. In a word, it is both unscientific and unreasonable.
Now we have news that a vice-president of the National Atheist Party has invited the inflammatory fringe “church,” Westboro Baptist, to the rally. Notably no such invitation has been sent to the True Reason group that’s planning to bring a non-disruptive, reasoning Christian presence there. (Full disclosure: I’m involved in leadership of that initiative.)
So what will the Reason Rally representatives do with the Westboro Church’s shouts, picket signs, and expressions of hatred? The scientifically responsible, reasoning thing for them to do would be to say, “Okay, folks, draw no conclusions about Christianity or religion from this group! They are a non-representative sample! There’s no reason for us to think Christianity is at all like that!”
I’m sure that’s why they invited them there–so they could do exactly that. Right?
David Cross earned new bragging rights at the White House a while back, according to a Fox News report yesterday. That’s what he was after, and that’s what he gained, when he did cocaine at a dinner there in 2009: “It was just about being able to say that I did it, that I did cocaine in the same room as the president,” he said in a recent interview.
He is an actor—a famous one. I have known aspiring actors who have thought a TV role would mean that they had really arrived. It does not seem to have been so for him. He was invited to a White House dinner. Many of us would consider that all we could ever need to boast about. But apparently for David Cross, that wasn’t quite enough, either. He needed to score one more point: to be able to add to his being a famous TV star, and his having been to dinner at the White House, “I did cocaine in the same room as the president.”
And what does it feel like to be able to make that boast? “I’m not proud of it, nor am I ashamed of it,” he said. If I’m reading him right, it didn’t mean all that much after all. It was nothing to get excited about, just one more thing he had done. That’s not so surprising, for why should it mean more than that? Still the emptiness makes my heart ache.
It hurts in part because of how very human it is, and how close it hits to home. I look back on my aspirations year by year throughout my career so far, and I see how getting what I’ve wanted has always left me wanting something more. I started out as a trombonist in a Christian band, part of a major missions organization. I thought it would be great to lead a band like that, and I had the opportunity, but then I thought it would be great to be involved more with higher-level leadership in the organization. For a few years I was on a mid-level national leadership team, where I discovered that there were other leaders I’d like to be associated with, and others doing work I thought I’d like to do, too. I got promoted, and then—you guessed it—I discovered there was another level yet to reach.
I don’t want to misrepresent the organization or the leaders I have worked with, whom I consider among the most humble and godly men and women in all the world. I’m not talking about them but about myself, and how I see in David Cross’s empty quest an image of myself.
C.S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength is, among other things, an insightful portrayal of one man’s deathly drive to enter the “Inner Ring.” It is an ambition made hideous by the fact that its fulfillment is forever out of reach; for there is always another ring further in. (Not “further up and further in,” for those who have read The Last Battle; just further in.) There is no arriving at the inner ring. Not for musicians or missionaries; not for TV stars or White House dinner guests. There is only the empty discovery that each level of achievement leaves one in touch with others who can boast about a bit more than you can.
This constant hunger and thirst for more is a very human thing. Its successes lead inevitably to failure; for it is a nearly universal principle that there is always more to be had, and more to want, than what one has, whether that be position, prestige, money, popularity, or whatever one might seek.
How astonishing it is in light of that that there is an exception. There is something for which fulfillment is assured, precisely because of desire. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” The Psalms (16, for example), the Prophets (Jeremiah 29:12-13), and the Lord (Luke 11:9) promise satisfaction in God for those who seek it in him. Is there anything else of which we can say, “The more you want, the happier you’ll be?” Is there anything more surprising than a promise like that?
It is a human thing to want more. In humanness there is always the trace of the image of God; so in fact it can be good to want, when one wants what is good, what is right, and what is promised. Thankfully I have also seen this confirmed in my experience. It is possible to find satisfaction—whatever position I am in—if I seek it in what is sure to fulfill.
This whole article is interesting, but one point in particular provided a new perspective for me to consider. Frank Furedi is a British sociologist and author.
The claim that religion scars children for life is symptomatic of the tendency of New Atheists to express themselves through the language of victimhood and therapeutic culture. Time and again, they use the idiom of therapy to pathologise religion. Their use of terms such as ‘toxic faith’ and ‘religious virus’ are symptomatic of their medicalisation of strong religious commitment….
The New Atheism is very selective about who it targets. So although it claims to challenge irrationalism and anti-scientific prejudice, it tends to confine its anger to the dogma of the three Abrahamic religions. So it rightly criticises creationism and ‘intelligent design’, yet it rarely challenges the mystifications of deep environmentalist thinking, such as Gaia theory, or the numerous varieties of Eastern mysticism that are so fashionable in Hollywood. Since the New Atheism is culturally wedded to the contemporary therapeutic imagination, it is not surprising that it has adopted a double standard towards spiritualism.
Not long ago I ran across a modern translation of Hamlet’s famous soliloquy on death. Shakespeare’s original is on the page above it, providing a most instructive comparison.
The translation does a fine job of capturing the passage’s propositional content. I can imagine how much it might help a student reading Shakespeare for the first time. What’s a fardel? or a bare bodkin? The modern rendition clarifies such things nicely. It is, one might say, perfectly not wrong.
It is a good thing to be not wrong. If this page had translated “fardels” as long and burdensome journeys, or “contumely” as fancy, foppish fashion, it would have been misleading, useless, even dangerous in a way.
Still it is possible to be not wrong and at the same time be perfectly dry and colorless, practically dead. This translation page illustrates the point magnificently. Read the translation; then read the original. On one level they mean quite the same thing, yet they could hardly be more different. There is a rightness to Shakespeare’s original that far transcends the not-wrongness of its propositional content as conveyed in the translation.
I think many Christians work hard at translating the Gospel’s propositional content into modern language. We can recognize error a mile away, and we’re quick to correct it. We make it our business, one might say, to be perfectly not wrong.
It is important that we be true in this way. To be wrong is, well, wrong.
Still there is a rightness that transcends not-wrongness. It is the artistry of living a full-color life: a life of creativity, a life of exploration rather than of self-protection, a life of abandonment to God and to others. It is not only not wrong: it is right.
There is a school of thought that says physics is the ultimate reality; that everything reduces to subatomic particles mindlessly subject to natural law.
The story is told—I don’t remember where I heard it—of two young women sitting in the front row of a concert hall, holding the score for the music the orchestra was about to play. The conductor saw them and stepped off the podium. He leaned over and whispered to them, “You will not find it in there.”
I was a professional musician earlier in my career, and in the course of my studies I learned enough music theory to be able to describe music mathematically. I’ve studied some acoustics, and I understand how to describe music in terms of pressure oscillations in the air. But there is something to music—the “it” of which that conductor was speaking—that is not to be found in vibrations, in mathematics, or even in the score.
Listen to Chopin. Listen to Coltrane. Listen to Crosby, Stills & Nash. In it you will hear reductionism’s rebuttal.
He was an ardent opponent of Christianity, but I will miss him.
I sat in the front row for his debate with Dinesh D’Souza in Charlotte, NC last year (or was it in 2009?). Hitchens spoke first. It may have been the only time he had D’Souza completely flat-footed and unable to disagree with him. The reason was the debate topic: Is radical Islam a threat to America? It wasn’t a point they held in dispute.
D’Souza began his first speech essentially by saying, “I agree with Christopher, and since that doesn’t make for much of a debate, and since he already expressed my own opinion so well, I’m just going to go ahead and change the subject.”
Hitchens smiled and rolled with it. He was always quick on his feet that way. I don’t know of anyone who was more effective with the use of rhetoric. It was in many ways his undoing, I’m afraid, at least as far as most of the world could see.
In debate he relied heavily on rhetoric in the form of emotionally loaded language. Religion bothered him. God bothered him. I don’t know how well he was able to separate one from the other.
I can understand his feelings, at least to some extent. Religion bothers me: too much of it is shallow, sterile, and false, even within Christianity. Religion outside of Christianity is just wrong and (I am convinced) deadly.
God bothers me, too, though in a different way altogether. God places demands on me. The worst demands are not the moral ones, as you might think. The hardest demand he places on me is that I accept his love while acknowledging it is entirely his own initiative. I want to be the kind of person who can earn his love, but God loves me even though I am not. His love is very good—and it is also thoroughly humbling.
Though I’ve read Hitchens’ book God Is Not Great, I have no way of knowing what bothered him more: God or religion. He regarded God as religion’s invention, but from the way I understand reality to be, he had encounters with God, whether he accepted or rejected the reality of the experience. God was present in all the Christians he interacted with, including the believers he debated, and his own believing brother, Peter.
Tragically, he chose against God.
I will miss his brilliant repartee. I will miss the strong challenge he kept raising against religion, for we who believe need corrective criticism. I will miss his sense of humor. I grieve for the life he has lost.
Why study the Bible on computer? I’ve written previously about significant negatives associated with electronic study, especially Bible study. I don’t find it especially conducive to prayer and worship; it doesn’t draw me quickly into a sense of fellowship with God. Now I’m about to turn around and explain why that’s not so true after all.
Here’s the short version: deep study is a matter of focusing, expanding, meditating, and ultimately applying and/or presenting, and all of them are entirely wrapped in and around prayer and worship.
I’ll come back to that later, after I spend some time on focusing, expanding, meditating, and presenting. This is where great resources can be a great help. I’ve spent time lately with two top Bible applications, Logos (available for Windows and Mac) and Accordance for Mac. In what follows I’ll be assuming the position of a layman, although one who is serious about studying Scripture. Those who have a more extensive background in Bible or biblical languages will have no trouble seeing how this would apply at their level.
Let’s focus first on focusing.
To study the Bible requires, well, study. I’m sure it hasn’t escaped your attention that God’s primary revelation to us is in the form of a book. My pastor tells me the difference between reading the Bible and studying the Bible is a pencil: writing what you see, think, wonder about, conclude, apply, and so on.
Well, that might work for him. For me there’s a problem. A pencil is no good without paper. Once I write something on a piece of paper, I have to decide where to keep it, so I can find it when I need it. I’m not very good at that dauntingly difficult, nay, oppressive life skill. I don’t get along well with paper, and paper doesn’t get along well with me. As I’m writing today I can turn my head and glance around the office, and I see seven stacks of paper. (I’ll organize it all someday, I promise.)
So the first time I downloaded an open-source Bible study application years ago, I had one question: can I make notes on a passage of Scripture, and can I tie those notes to that passage so I can find them next time?
It seems so simple, and in fact there are free software packages have made this possible now. Howard Hendricks, the great discipler/teacher from Dallas Theological Seminary, has a line for that, though: “Don’t let the simplicity fool you.” To me this is the most basic and most crucial service required of any Bible study system. If you’re like me—if keeping track of your study notes is a major life challenge, or even a minor one—then get yourself a good Bible study application and make good use of it. (I mentioned some free applications last time, and a reader suggested I add Olive Tree software to that list.)
After a pencil, or the on-screen equivalent, the next great difference between reading and studying the Bible is the resources you call on as aids. Top-tier software packages allow you to dig underneath the English, without requiring years of Greek or Hebrew study. You could find the following on Ephesians 4:15, for example: the Greek word translated “speaking the truth,” according to multiple sources,“has the widest sense of being true.… It it almost impossible to express it satisfactorily in English.” It is “holding the truth”; “following the truth”; opposed to “error” or “deceit” (Ephesians 4:14); it is “truthing it;” or being “followers of truth,” though not in the sense of searching for it; “lit., ‘truthing in love,’ which has the idea of maintaining truth in love in both speech and life”
That insight came out out of perhaps half a dozen sources—dictionaries, commentaries, alternate translations—but just one computer screen. Not incidentally, it also corrected my erroneous understanding of what that verse was about. I thought it was really about speaking, but I was wrong; it’s much more than that.
This Electronic Student series is for those who, like me, are not trained in the original languages of the Bible. Those who do know Greek and/or Hebrew will find much more to like in commercial Bible software’s Greek and Hebrew tools: parsing, diagramming, explaining, analyzing.
Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., an outspoken pro-life advocate, is preparing to do battle again on Capitol Hill.
On Tuesday, he’ll chair a House hearing in support of his latest legislative effort, the Prenatal NonDiscrimination Act (PreNDA). The measure would ban abortions done on the basis of gender or race.
“It would simply say that you cannot discriminate against the unborn by subjecting them to an abortion based on their race or sex,” Franks says.
The response from Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights:
“This bill is a cynical and offensive attempt to evoke race and sex discrimination when actually it’s about taking women’s rights away,” said Northup.
She says that protecting young girls from sex-selection abortions is “about taking women’s rights away.” We don’t know whether she has a position on racial discrimination. I suppose she probably does. I’ve done a web search on her name and on the name of the House bill, though, and I can’t find anything on that.
Anyway, I find her response patently absurd. I could even consider it comical in a way, if I could get past its injustice, its coldly hypocritical cynicism, its rhetorical manipulativeness, and its deadly background and intentions. She’s claiming to defend the rights of women, but she’s willing to throw baby girls under the bus for them.
Clearly she’s not supporting females’ rights. She has a particular and exclusive interest in the rights of “women,” meaning, females old enough to bear children. Of course that’s why we protect individuals’ rights, isn’t it—so that we can take care of the physically mature and able, at the expense of the weak? No. That’s as upside-down, legally and historically, as any view of rights could possibly be.
I can’t imagine what she thinks about girls’ rights. I’m thinking about, say, nine-year-olds.
Something seems unseemly and inappropriate about that question, as if it really shouldn’t be asked. I’m trying to track down why it feels that way. Maybe the question is sexist. I can’t imagine what would be wrong with that, though, when the rhetoric is already sexist (“women’s rights”). Is it age-ist, then? But Northup approves of age-ism—it’s only those who are of childbearing age who have “women’s rights”—so that ought to be okay, too. Sexism is fine. Age-ism is fine. Killing babies is fine. What’s not fine anymore?
The abortion rights lobby has always been about the powerful trampling on the defenseless. Formerly its members could play it the other way around, as if it were about protecting women, as the historically politically underprivileged sex. How do they think they can maintain the pretense now?
The Internet is the best and worst thing that could have happened to serious study, I wrote last time in this series. The benefit is in the sheer quantity of information available. The chief problem is distraction. There are other risks, including that of becoming a Google scholar.
Studying the Bible on computer is another issue yet. Maybe this is less of a factor for younger students, brought up as natives in the digital world. Maybe the personal reflections I’m placing on this page won’t make sense to every reader—that’s a risk I’m taking—but I have a suspicion they’ll resonate with at least some. I’ll start with some difficulties I have with electronic Bible study, and end with some discoveries that have made it very worthwhile nevertheless
The Computer and the Printed Page Computer-based Bible study feels strange to me. It has the wrong set of associations attached to it. I have been taught and trained that Bible study and prayer are two sides of the same coin; that the two together serve as our most intimate personal connection to God. So I have grown up connecting Bible study with prayer and the devotional life. I will always love holding a physical Bible in my hands.
In the 25 or so years I’ve had a personal computer, I’ve never connected computer use with prayer. Not in the same way, at least. Maybe you have, and maybe—since we’ve been instructed to pray continually—I could have and should have. But I haven’t. As a writer, I love what I can do with this Macbook I’m typing on right now, yet I am sure I will never love holding a computer in my hands.
And now, even as I write this I am learning things about myself; or at least, I’m recognizing important questions I need to ask of myself. What is it about the leather binding and the printed page that makes such a difference to me? Isn’t my focus supposed to be on the text? Am I at risk of a form of bibliolatry, making the physical book such an important factor in my devotional life?
And yet God has placed us in physical bodies, to live in a physical rhythm on earth. He instructed the Hebrews to maintain ceremonies and rituals to remind them of his presence and providence. When Christ came, he came in a real human body and participated in the same ceremonies. Before he died he gave us a new physical remembrance of himself, the Communion practice (or sacrament, depending on your tradition). His death was a real physical death. The body in which he was raised from the dead was a glorified one, transcending the physical by containing and surpassing it, not by denying it.
The point is, our physical lives matter to our spiritual lives. Furthermore, the media by which we acquire information are neither transparent nor neutral. If it were only about the text on the page, then it wouldn’t matter one bit how we approached it; but everything we experience is in a context, and context carries freight.
If holding a printed Bible in my hands draws my attention toward God, then that’s a genuine aid for me in focusing upon God. Now, it could also draw my attention toward my feelings about God, which is not the same thing; or perhaps toward some inward state of mind that I mistake for spiritual connectedness, or even to a sense of self-satisfied pride over doing a commendable thing. To live in a physical body is to live with continually confused sensations and motives. But God knows our frame. We do the best we can, we try to grow through it all, and we rely on his grace for all of our failures.
A Treasure Trove of Resources So then what about using the computer to study the Bible? It’s an environment fraught with distractions, and for me at least it doesn’t have the same helpful associations as a printed Bible. Is it worth it anyway?
The answer is a resounding yes; for although the propositional text on the page is not the only thing that matters, when it comes to Bible study, it certainly is the main thing. If my devotional life is not directly aided by interacting with a keyboard and a screen, still my life as a student may be; and my devotional life is richly fed by my growth as a student.
Everything we experience is in a context, I have already said, and the text itself is in a context. I can’t get enough information from the text alone to grasp all that the text is about; but oh, what a wealth of knowledge there is available in computer-based Bible study resources!
Two software companies, Logos and Accordance, have granted me review copies of their Bible study applications. I have reviews of each forthcoming. I’ve spent several hours with each of them, focusing on just a few verses in Ephesians, and these applications have led me to unearth things from the text I had never suspected were there. I’ll share some of them later, by way of illustrating what the software can do.
Many, though not all, of the resources included in these packages are in the public domain and available on the Internet. There are free (open source) Bible study applications available, too. The Sword Project is the best I’ve encountered, and it’s not bad at all. I can sum up the difference I’ve found in Logos and Accordance this way: working with these commercially developed applications, it’s much less of a fight to find what I’m looking for, and much easier to organize the results. That’s in addition to the fact that much of what they offer, depending on which package you buy, just isn’t available in open source.
Since It’s Black Friday The rhythms of life have invested today, the day after Thanksgiving, with a new meaning in America: let’s go shopping! Maybe you’re thinking of buying one of these packages as a Christmas gift for your spouse, your child, your pastor—or yourself. Here then is the short preview of my upcoming reviews. If you’re running a Windows-based computer, you have my deepest sympathy for that misfortune, but never mind that; Logos Bible software is rich with resources, and I would certainly consider it a worthwhile investment.
Mac users have a choice: Logos and the Apple-only application Accordance. Either one would be a fine choice, though naturally they each have their pluses and minuses. Personally I lean toward Accordance, mostly because unlike Logos it was designed for the Mac from the beginning, and the difference shows in both the interface and the learning curve. With either package, on either operating system, you have a choice of the size and price of “library” you invest in.
Apparently even an old guy like me can learn something new. As it turns out, with the right resources on board the computer can be a good tool for Bible study after all.
If Christianity were my religion, I wouldn’t thank God for the Cross. But it’s not my religion, and on Thanksgiving Day here in the U.S. tomorrow, I will be giving God all the thanks I can for the Cross of Jesus Christ.
I know I need to explain that, and I will. First I’ll need to clarify what I mean about “my religion.”
Choosing Our Religions We live in a world of religious pluralism. A recent Gallup poll says that 70% of North Americans believe that many religious could lead you to God. The Pew Forum surveyed Americans who belong to various religions in 2008. They found that 57% of Americans who attend Bible-believing churches (evangelical or black churches, in their study) believe that many religions can lead to God.
I take it that those 57% believe their choice of Christianity is an expression of their personal preference. Maybe it has to do with their culture, upbringing, friends in church, or what they’re comfortable with. As far as spiritual life goes, though, they think they have a choice, and the choice they’ve made is evangelical Christianity. They picked it out, and it’s their religion.
For my part, I follow Jesus Christ and his teachings, to the best of my capacity in Christ. I am a Christian. I do not, however, consider Christianity my chosen religion. I didn’t choose it off some religious clothes rack; I didn’t say, “I don’t really feel like a Buddhist or a Muslim for this life; I’m a traditional American, so the Christian thing just seems to fit me better.”
No, I didn’t buy it and I’m not trying to make it my own. Christianity is too big, too grand, too filled with God for that. I am a Christian because the one God has called me to relate to him in that unique way.
So as you see, my opening statement hinges on what i mean by “my religion.” If Christianity were my choice from a list of options, if it were my religion in that sense, I wouldn’t thank God for the cross.
History’s Most Despicable Act of Injustice? How could I? Remember how at Gethsemane Jesus prayed that this cup could pass from him? He was asking the Father (though he knew the answer already), “Couldn’t there be some other way?!” He was arrested in humiliation and betrayal. Couldn’t that have been avoided? He was humiliated in trials before the Jewish court, Pilate, and Herod. Did he really have to go through that? He was mocked, beaten, tortured. Was that really necessary? He was hung on the Cross until he screamed the agony of forsakenness; and he died. Why, God? WHY?
Why? Because he loved us and wanted to bring us to God, and because there was no other way.
What if there had been another way? What if these 57% believe correctly that Christianity is one of many true ways to God? Then it should never have happened. The cup should have passed from the hand of the Son of God. There would have been no need for his brutal passion experience. Far from being something to thank God for, the Cross would have to been the worst of all needless atrocities in history.
Do not, I repeat, do not say, “All religions lead to God, but since I’ve grown up a Christian, I’ll follow that path for myself.” Do not make Christianity your religion that way. If you do, it is as if you are glorifying history’s most despicable act of cosmic cruelty. If you think there are multiple paths to God, then for Christ’s sake (I mean that reverently and literally), don’t choose Christianity! Don’t choose the religion that includes his torture and execution!
Or History’s Most Astonishing Declaration of Love and Justice
The question hinges on whether Jesus really did die on the cross for our sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God. If he did, then we can be sure he did it because it was the only way to God. He said so himself in John 14:6. I am convinced that he did; that the God who created us entered human history in the form of a child who grew to be a man; who taught, healed, and demonstrated a life given wholly to God; and who died on the Cross, was raised from the dead, and was glorified into heaven.
I am convinced he did it because it was the only way we could come to God. He did it for love; for the joy set before him, knowing the life it bring to us whom he loves. He was willing to endure it because it was necessary in order to reconcile humans to God. The Cross was good, but it was only good because it was the only good way to bring us to God.
I do not follow Christ because Christianity is my religion of choice. I have chosen to follow Christ, yes; but that doesn’t make Christianity my religion. It’s God’s. It’s his initiative, it’s his action, it’s his grace, it’s his revelation, it’s his plan; and I’m thankful he has given me grace to enter into the relationship he has called me to.
For that reason, tomorrow on Thanksgiving, as an every other day, I will humbly and heartily thank God for the Cross of Christ, where I was rescued from death. I thank God, too, that the story did not end in death, but in resurrection, glory, and a mission for us to pursue until Christ returns.
Finally: If like me you are thanking God for the Cross, but at the same time you’re trying to hold on to the impossible belief that other religions can lead to God, it’s time to make your choice.
If learning is the key to human flourishing, then the age of electronics ought to be our long-awaited golden age of social renewal; for when in history have we had so much knowledge right at our fingertips?
You’re not buying that, I can tell. Here I am kicking off a multi-part series on learning in the electronic age, and I’ve lost you already in the first sentence.
Never mind that human flourishing encompasses far, far more than intellectual advancement (though the deepest and most lasting spiritual awakenings in history have been accompanied by some of Christianity’s wisest, most thoughtful writings). We all know that the Internet has not turned out to be our golden key to knowledge and wisdom. Information, yes, the Internet has that in abundance. This really is an unprecedented golden age for data on just about everything. There are facts galore, in every description. New facts, old facts, true facts, false facts. (Please don’t ping me on that contradiction; I’m aware of it.) Does anybody remember having to (gasp!) go to the library to look something up?
Over the next several weeks I plan to post a series on what I’ve learned about being a student in this electronic age: What’s helpful? What’s not? What are some of the best resources to call on? What are the some of the most serious obstacles?
I won’t try to make this anything like a grand unifying perspective. I’m 55 years old, I use a Macintosh computer, and I have a couple other electronic gizmos (a wifi-only Nook ebook reader and an iPhone) that I’ll bring into the discussion. I’ll be talking about various software options, and I’ll have reviews of two of the top Bible study software packages. That’s what I’m qualified to speak on.
I won’t be able to talk about the Kindle or the iPad (not unless someone wants to send me one :)). Most importantly, I won’t be able to convey the perspective of today’s “digital natives,” those who were born a couple decades later than me; though I’m not exactly a stranger to these cyber-neighborhoods myself.
Focus Or Not I got my Nook as a birthday gift about six weeks ago. I had a Sony reader before that, one that had also been gifted to me, which my daughter is using now. A friend saw me using my Nook, and he asked me why I hadn’t gone for an iPad or one of the other Internet-enabled readers. I said, “That’s exactly the point.” He looked puzzled, so I explained it to him, as I’ll do again now.
The Internet is the best and the worst thing that ever could have happened to serious study. The really good thing about it is all that you can find there, and all thjat you can do. The really bad thing about it is all that you can find there, and all that you can do. I’m not even talking about the seamy side of the web (that’s bad in ways that extend far beyond our topic today). I’m talking about good material that becomes distracting.
My favorite two features in my Nook are that it holds a lot of books, and that it can’t surf the web or check email. I thank God that it can’t surf the web or check email! Would you believe that right in the middle of writing the paragraph before this one, I checked my email, found out that there’s an update available for one of my Mac’s applications, went to the web, and started the download process? Do you know how dumb I feel, known that I did that right while I was writing about distractions on the Internet?
The Web is a fascinating playground, sometimes too fascinating. I’m expecting two or three very important email replies sometime today or tomorrow. I thought I’d take a quick peek over there and see if one of them had come in. What I found instead in my inbox was a nice bright shiny object: an application upgrade with some cool new features. It’s not the application I’m using to write this, and it’s not one I’m planning to use in the next few days, but the upgrade was bright and shiny and distracting nonetheless.
Maybe you’re not subject to that kind of distraction; maybe you’re more naturally disciplined and focused than I am. But for me, distraction is by far the top issue to overcome as an electronic student.
Oops—I just checked again for new emails. I really am eager to get those replies I mentioned earlier. This is not just a matter of shifting attention. The eagerness itself, the sense that something interesting might pop up right here at any second and I had better be on the lookout for it! has me slightly on edge. It’s not conducive to good thinking or good study.
Freedom, Blessed Freedom I have two defenses against this. One is the shareware application Freedom. Its developer (who has not paid me to say any of this) describes Freedom as
a simple productivity application that locks you away from the internet on Mac or Windows computers for up to eight hours at a time. Freedom frees you from distractions, allowing you time to write, analyze, code, or create. At the end of your offline period, Freedom allows you back on the internet.
I describe it as my sigh-of-relief, now-I-can-think software program. I run it frequently through the day, typically for 45 minutes at a time. I can’t get on the Internet while it’s running, and thank God for that! When it lets me back on the network, typically I check my email, respond to blog comments, and so on; and then I’ll start Freedom back up again. I don’t always do that: some days, for example, I stay connected and engaged in comment discussions for a large part of the day. But if I have serious reading or original writing to do, I do far better at it with the Internet out of reach.
For me, this is essential background for everything else that has to do with being an electronic student.
I’ll come back to this series in a few days, when I’ll share some surprising ways you may never have known to use an e-book reader for serious study. There will be much more to come after that.
Joe Paterno has been fired as football coach at Penn State. It happened at about 10 pm yesterday. News reports say he was notified of his dismissal by phone. The situation evokes grief over all that has been lost, astonishment over the absurd disproportionality of it all, and of course outrage over crimes reportedly committed and condoned. Meanwhile, as you’ll see below, there are serious questions about the context in which this has all occurred.
Paterno is the winningest coach in major college football history, and had been a shining fixture at Penn State since he began there as assistant coach in 1950, six years before I was born. Angry students rioted for hours.
I can’t ignore the football side of the story, which has been so great a part of Paterno’s life. Penn State’s team is on track to win the Big Ten Leaders Division. Michigan State, my alma mater, is in good position to win the Legends Division. The thought of my school playing for the Big Ten championship against a team in such deep turmoil ought to be encouraging, from a fan’s point of view. Penn State was looking pretty tough, up until this week. But if you’re not playing against Joe Paterno, you’re not playing against Penn State. From today’s perspective, if that championship game happens, it will be the emptiest, most meaningless contest in college football history.
But that’s only a game. It doesn’t begin to touch the depth of the tragedy.
Let’s get the obvious out on the table. What Jerry Sandusky allegedly did was wrong, horrible, and incalculably harmful to many. The university’s response appears to have been criminally lacking. If reports are true, the victims were harmed in ways most of us could never grasp—especially since such a powerful institution was (again, allegedly) backing the perpetrator. From what we’ve been told, Joe Paterno seems to have done what was required of him legally, but he fell far short of doing the right thing morally.
What strikes me about this whole sad mess is the disproportionality I see everywhere I look. College football is out of proportion; everyone knows that, including fans out of proportion like myself. Assuming the accounts are true as alleged, Paterno’s initial action and his follow-through were disproportionately weak. His bosses’ response to his report was nonexistent, as far as I know. Really, now, though: did Joe Paterno have a boss? When Tim Curley, Paterno’s last athletic director, was hired, did he sit Paterno down in his office and tell him, “Look, Joe, you’ve gotta understand one thing: you work for me now!”? No, Joe Paterno was (and remains) a legend. Legends don’t really have bosses. Legends are people out of proportion.
Paterno had handled his legendary status well. His reputation was beyond superb. He graduated more athletes than any other AP top 25 football coach. He gave millions of dollars away. He was known for the caring side of his character. Penn State loved him, other schools’ fans (like me) respected him mightily—and now he has taken a disproportionately tragic fall from that height.
The board’s dismissing such a man by phone seems terribly, carelessly out of proportion. Students’ rioting was horribly out of proportion.
I do not think it is out of proportion to discipline and/or prosecute those who are responsible for sex crimes.
There’s one question of proportionality I’m having trouble with, though. Penn State’s student newspaper added a sex columnist almost exactly a month before this scandal came to light. It may be the most disproportionately proportionate fact in the whole debacle. (That’s oxymoronic, I know, but maybe as you read on you’ll understand what I mean.) In her inaugural column on October 6, Kristina Helfer wrote this and more:
Often, sex is taboo. We can’t discuss what goes on behind the closed doors of the bedroom, or in my case, under a crabapple tree once.
At Penn State, it’s more than in the bedroom — it’s a lofted bed, a walk-in closet at a fraternity or the Nittany Lion Shrine.
It’s time to break society’s chains (or not), and look at sex from a different perspective. Losing control draws me toward all of this.
There is no better time to have a little fun and explore than in college. We have few responsibilities, and there will never be as many willing people around to experience the same things with.
Let’s get our minds — and … [deleted] … — moving, and really delve into what’s important.
Kristina Helfer is a junior majoring in English and Spanish. She is The Daily Collegian’s Thursday columnist for the Collegian’s sex column….
Believe it or not, I edited out more than one especially offensive portion from that set of quotations from her column, including an unsubtle reference to sexual thoughts about “cute kids.” I could not include the last line in particular, a carelessly composed sentence (as I take it to be) whose author certainly did not intend it to be interpreted literally. If she had, its implications could be criminal. Since I’m sure she did not mean it that way, I’m willing to regard it as merely horrendous. (The source is here. Click with caution.)
This came (I remind you) from a weekly columnist in the Penn State Daily Collegian. Hypocrisy is only considered a sin when it’s committed by conservatives.
Sexual sin is wrong. When it involves minors, it’s a crime, and it needs to be treated that way. An out-of-proportion culture struggles with knowing what to do about it, though; especially when that culture gives a platform to a woman who thinks college means “few responsibilities,” and that sex is “what’s important.”
“Losing control draws me toward all of this,” she wrote in October, oblivious to what that would soon mean to Penn State. “Breaking society’s chains” and losing control were what Sandusky did (if the crimes took place as alleged) while multiple victims never had any control to start with. Joe Paterno and his bosses took no control over the situation, we’re told. When the board finally did take control last night, students really lost control. Losing control drew Penn State toward all of this.
I have wept over this—without much control, I am unashamed to say.
Artist and self-styled experimental philosopher Jonathon Keats is hoping to persuade the art world to join scientists in the Copernican Revolution—nearly 5 centuries late. In 1543, Nicolaus Copernicus made the humbling observation that the Earth revolves around the sun. Modern physicists often cite the “Copernican principle” that, as nature’s rules are the same everywhere, the human viewpoint isn’t unique.
But the art world, Keats says, is still stubbornly Ptolemaic, in that it emphasizes the “exceptionalism” of humans and centers on stories about ourselves. So, in “The First Copernican Art Manifesto,” an exhibit that opened Thursday at the Modernism gallery in San Francisco, California, Keats will feature art that reflects banal, average truths about the universe.
So, the Copernican Revolution showed that “nature’s rules are the same everywhere, the human viewpoint isn’t unique;” art ought to catch up with science; and all of that leads to the conclusion that there is something unseemly about promoting “human exceptionalism” in art. Rarely does one see the effects of worldview so neatly encapsulated in so short a snippet.
Let’s dispense quickly with the obvious errors. The Copernican Revolution was not the “humbling observation” we make of it today. The center of the universe was, in those days, the humble position, and Copernicus lifted that stigma from us. The “Copernican principle,” scientifically speaking, says that the human vantage point (the physical location from which we observe the universe) is not unique; but that is not the same as saying the human viewpoint is not unique. That is a philosophical conclusion, one that is fed not only by science but by many streams of thought; and the science contributing to it is at least as much Darwin as Copernicus.
Beyond that, there is something deeply troubling about the implication that art needs to get in step with science. Science is very good at what science is good at, while art is (or can be) very good at other things. Science knows how to deal with impersonal, law-governed regularities. Art is for personality, for freedom, and for surprise. Science per se knows nothing of beauty. Scientists do; and they often experience it in their investigations, their discoveries, even their equations. But this is a human experience, accessible only from a human viewpoint. It is not a laboratory finding.
To say that art should follow science is to say that personality, freedom, surprise, and beauty must decrease, while that which is statistical, predictable, and banal must increase. At least Keats seems to recognize this:
One canvas is painted a bland tan, the average color of the starlight of all stars measured by astronomers. Hydrogen gas released from glassware suspended above otherwise empty pedestals assumes a form invisible to human eyes. A quarter of the notes in a once-orderly Bach composition are rearranged—reflecting the increasing entropy of the universe since its tidy, pre–big bang singularity.
Though I haven’t seen it, I can easily imagine that his art feels dead, or at least deadening.
His personal style (see the Google images), ironically enough, appears sharp, personal, individual. He looks just as he is: really alive, and fully human. He has a viewpoint, a unique one, a personal one. He decries human exceptionalism, but in the very act of persuading others to adopt his opinions, he practices Jonathon Keats exceptionalism.
It is not only Copernicus that he gets wrong. He contradicts himself, as anyone must do who would deny what it is to be human.
There is much that could be said about this, but I will stick with one thing, based on discussion at about the 2 minute mark:
When atheists insist that atheism does not drive behavior, and then then campaign on behalf of atheism, ridicule religion and religious believers in the name of atheism, seek to change laws in favor of their atheistic positions, recommend the extermination of religion, and practice falsehoods like Dawkins’s in support of atheism, they prove that their atheism drives their behavior and that their premise is false, disingenuous, and (as far as I can tell) useless for anything but giving atheism rhetorical cover from being implicated in atheists’ atrocities.
Michael Licona is a highly respected Christian apologist, and the author of the massively researched The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. He has come under intense fire from two other estimable scholars, NormanGeisler and Albert Mohler, for what they consider to be dangerous compromise in his interpretation of Matthew 27:52-53. It is a minor theme in a very long book, but they have brought it under major public scrutiny. Dr. Licona has interpreted the events in that Matthew passage as probably belonging to a figurative and eschatological genre: apocalyptic, in other words, as he clarified later in his response to Dr. Geisler. Apocalyptic literature is often intended not to be taken literally.* Drs. Geisler and Mohler say that in this context, such an interpretation represents a denial of biblical inerrancy.
I have high respect for all three men. Full disclosure: I am somewhat personally acquainted with Dr. Licona through mutual friends and a couple of passing conversations we’ve had at conferences. He has responded to both challenges. The first of those responses is undersigned by an impressive list of Christian scholars who support him in terms of the inerrancy question.
Though I cannot rehearse all the issues here, I need to note that The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy recognizes that figurative and non-literal apocalyptic interpretations are valid where they reflect the intent and genre of the text. I will also point out that Dr. Licona stated his view tentatively, using the language, “it seems to me that [this interpretation] is most plausible.” In his response to Dr. Geisler, he moderated his view to make it even more tentative. He is treating it as a question to be pursued, in other words.
It is question that is outside of my expertise: I don’t know whether Dr. Licona’s interpretation is more likely to be correct than Dr. Mohler’s and Dr. Geisler’s or not. I have questions of my own, though, about the process by which this is playing out:
1. Is the apocalyptic interpretation entirely impossible under the standard of biblical inerrancy, is it known to be entirely impossible under the standard of inerrancy, and is there reasonably strongconsensus among trustworthy, inerrancy-affirming scholars that it is known to be entirely impossible under that standard?
Dr. Licona’s list of supporting academics would seem to demonstrate that such a consensus among Bible-believing scholars does not exist.
2. If the answer to any of the above is either no or we’re not sure, doesn’t that imply that there is at least some possibility that the apocalyptic interpretation might be better than the historic, non-apocalyptic interpretation?
3. If there is a possibility that the apocalyptic interpretation is better than the literal-historic interpretation, doesn’t it follow that there is an open question here that can be legitimately pursued?
That brings me to my questions about process.
4. If Bible-believing, inerrancy-affirming scholars can be subjected to such intense public pressure for raising issues that can legitimately be regarded as open for discussion, where does that leave biblical scholarship? Is it okay to pursue such questions or not? If not, why not?
5. Where does that leave the biblical scholars themselves who raise questions that should be open questions? Is this kind of public pressure helpful or fair to them and their families? Is it good for the church at large?
6. Given that a certain amount of disagreement is inevitable among students of the Bible, isn’t there a better way to approach it?
I close with a note regarding the discussion that might follow this blog post. We could talk about whether Dr. Licona’s interpretation is correct or not, and that’s certainly a good question, but it’s not the one I’ve raised. What I’ve brought up here, and what I hope we discuss, is whether or not it’s okay for scholars to raise interpretive questions like this one.
*The Bible is literally true in all that it affirms, but in the case of figurative language, what it affirms is to be understood figuratively rather than literally. The Psalms tell us that our God is a rock, and there is definite meaning being affirmed there that is really true, but it is not that God is primarily composed of silicates.