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Marriage, “From Here to Eternity”

Recently I have been teaching the book of First Corinthians in our adult Bible class at church. The seventh chapter contains Paul’s responses to various questions raised by the Corinthians regarding marriage, divorce, remarriage, and celibacy. Paul’s general recommendation is that in view of a crisis the Corinthians were facing – something he calls “the present distress” (v. 26) – that it is better to remain unmarried if a person is able to live in celibacy. But he also assures the Corinthians that if a person is not blessed with this capacity that marriage is not a sin.

In the midst of this chapter, Paul issues a shocking set of instructions:

This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away (1 Corinthians 7:29-31).

I say “shocking” because, taken at face value, each of these admonitions contradicts things Paul says in other places. Marriage is good (1 Timothy 4:3-5), rejoicing and weeping with each other are mutual obligations (Romans 12:15),and honest business dealings are part of providing for one’s family (1 Timothy 5:8). So if these commands are not to be taken literally, what do they mean?

Paul cues us in by the phrases at the beginning and end of this passage. “The appointed time has grown very short” (“the time has been shortened” NASB), and “the present form of this world is passing away.” What does Paul mean by these statements? Did Paul believe that the end was about to take place? No. As Richard Oster points out,

Even though the time was short, Paul continued to talk to the Corinthians about his own future plans to visit them (4:19; 11:34; 16:5-8) and the need for them to make and execute plans for a donation to aid in relief work among churches in Judea (1 Cor 16:1-4; cf. 2 Cor 8-9), plans whose consummation was two or three years in the future (1 Corinthians p. 180).

What then does Paul mean when he says that “the time  has been shortened”? In the framework of the Old Testament, history had an objective – the coming of the Messiah and the restitution of all things. When the Messiah came, the evils and injustices of this age would be made right in the age to come, and even death itself would be undone by the resurrection from the dead. But in a surprising twist, God did not send the Messiah at the end of history but in the middle of history, and – even more astonishing – permitted the Messiah to suffer and die, and then raised him from the dead.

What this means is that the blessings of the age to come have broken into the present age. Christ’s death and resurrection mean that God has already inaugurated the restitution of all things, though this will not be final until the second coming. Notice Paul’s description of this process in 1 Corinthians 15:20-26:

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

So the coming of the Messiah has launched the age to come. His resurrection in time is the firstfruits, the downpayment, of the general resurrection at the end of time. And what this means in practical terms is that we live in the tension of the blessings of the age to come that are already available, while looking forward to the final consummation of all things that has not yet occurred (theologians like to call this the already/not yet – theologians are very creative!).

Turning our attention back to 7:29-31, when Paul says that the “time has been shortened,” he is not making a quantitative statement about time (“there isn’t much time left”), but rather, he is making a qualitative statement about time (“we live in a new era”). In other words, the coming of Christ should have a profound effect on how we look at time, and how we prioritize our lives in view of this new reality. “Paul is not concerned about the duration of time…but the character of the time. He is talking not about how little time is left but about how Christ’s death and resurrection have changed how Christians should look at the time that is left” (David Garland, Baker Exegetical Commentary in the New Testament: 1 Corinthians, pp. 328-329).

Similarly, when Paul says that “the present form of the world is passing away” in 7:31, what he means is that the coming of Christ has set in motion the events that will reach their climax in the new heaven and earth, meaning that the present world’s days are numbered. The things of this world are therefore temporary.

Mr. and Mrs. Shane Scott

To put it all together, what Paul is saying in 7:29-31 is that Christians must evaluate all worldy concerns in light of the new age in which we live and the final destiny that awaits us as God’s people. So we feel sorrow and joy, but not as those who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). We work to make money, but as  those who know life is a vapor and what matters most is the will of God (James 4:13-16). And – most especially relevant to 1 Corinthians 7 – we marry (or remain single), knowing that as great a blessing as marriage is, eternity will be a greater glory, in which “in the resurrection [we] neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven” (Matthew 22:30).

Someone might imagine that prioritizing God’s kingdom and our future glory over marriage would make husbands and wives less loving and responsive to each other. But the opposite is the case. When we look at marriage as the pinnacle of all of human experience, we place a burden on our spouse that they are unable to bear. There’s an old Bryan Adams song called Heaven (!) that says:

And baby, you’re all that I want
When you’re lyin’ here in my arms
I’m findin’ it hard to believe
We’re in heaven

And love is all that I need
And I found it there in your heart
It isn’t too hard to see
We’re in heaven

Sounds great – until his lover makes a mistake, or fails to satisfy some need! By looking at his lover as someone who can do only what God can do – provide the eternally satisfying love of heaven – the person in this song is placing  crushing and unreasonable expectations on a mere mortal, and no relationship can withstand that kind of pressure.

But when we look at marriage as the means to an even greater end, eternity with God, then we do not hold our spouse to unreasonable and superhuman expectations. Instead, we realize that we are here to serve and glorify God, that marriage is a wonderful context in which to learn what Christlikeness is all about, but that there is a greater reality that awaits us and that we can help one another reach.

Several years ago one of our members here where I preach was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Normally, this is a grave diagnosis – most people don’t survive but a couple of years. Upon learning this, John and his family adopted the motto, “We shall be grateful for the gift of time.”  Whatever quantity of time John would have left, it would be reshaped by the quality of gratitude. As it turns out, John lived almost 15 years, years filled with thanksgiving. What Paul is saying here in 1 Corinthians 7:29-31 is that we must look at the affairs of this world – especially marriage – in light of the qualities of the new age. And paradoxically, living with a view toward the world to come will make us better husbands and wives in the here and now. That is the blessing of marriage from here to eternity.

Friday Favorites for May 5, 2017

Those of us born and raised in Kentucky love this weekend since it is Kentucky Derby time! Here are ten links that you can be sure will win, place, or show!

Regarding the Executive Order issued by the President yesterday, here are several critical commentaries:

Ryan T. Anderson explains why the order failed to protect any freedoms that are actually at stake.

David French shows that the order (ineffectually) targeted an obscure statute no one cares about while doing nothing regarding the issues most churches, colleges, hospitals, and businesses are actually concerned about.

The ACLU Put It Best – the order was “an elaborate photo-op with no discernible policy outcome”

The Dark Ages Are Here. David Brooks laments the decline of western civilization.

The Self-Destruction of Identity Politics. Speaking of the decline of western civilization…

Why Language Is Unique to Humans. Review of a recent work by Noam Chomsky and Robert Berwick which argues that complex language requires rationality that only human beings possess.

Interested in Switching to Apple from Android? Here’s how.

Babylon Bee Takes on College Protestors!

The Cost of the Trump Tax Plan. Deficits, shmeficits.

Bing and Satchmo! Watch two of the greatest musicians ever doing their thing.

The Problem of Evil and Suffering for Atheism

The most powerful argument against belief in God is the problem of evil and suffering. Its basic form goes like this:

  • If God is all-powerful He could prevent evil and suffering.
  • If God is all-good He would prevent evil and suffering.
  • But evil and suffering exist.
  • Therefore an all-powerful and all-good God does not exist.

In a previous post I explained that while the existence of evil and suffering poses a puzzle for believers (one that my wife and I are dealing with as she faces Stage 4 cancer), this puzzle does not disprove God’s existence.  In this post I want to flip the argument around as a problem for atheists by focusing on the third premise: “But evil and suffering exist.”

Last week I looked at the implications of atheism set forth by atheist philosopher Alex Rosenberg in his book, The Atheist’s Guide to Reality. Rosenberg believes that all that exists is the material world – particles of matter. Of course this means that there is no God, but as Rosenberg explains, it means much more than that. It also means that certain features of our existence that seem to be true, such as free will or consciousness or introspection, do not exist, either. That’s why his book is subtitled Enjoying Life Without Illusions. Free will and consciousness are merely illusions. All that really exists is the brain, and what we take to be experiences of consciousness are actually nothing more than the physical processes of the brain that are completely determined by the laws of physics.

Rosenberg freely acknowledges that this also means that good and evil do not exist.

We have to acknowledge (to ourselves, at least) that many questions we want the “right” answers to just don’t have any. These are questions about the morality of stem-cell research or abortion or affirmative action or gay marriage or our obligations to future generations. Many enlightened people, including many scientists, think that reasonable people can eventually find the right answers to such questions. Alas, it will turn out that all anyone can really find are the answers that they like. The same goes for those who disagree with them. Real moral disputes can be ended in lots of ways: by voting, by decree, by fatigue of the disputants, by the force of example that changes social mores. But they can never really be resolved by finding the correct answers. There are none (p. 96).

If this is so, then there is a major problem with the premise, “But evil and suffering exist.” If Rosenberg is right, evil does not exist. Not even the Holocaust – the premier exhibit of the problem of evil – can be described as evil. Rosenberg concedes that his view of morality – nihilism (the belief that morality, meaning, and purpose do not exist) – “can’t condemn Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot,” or anyone else (p. 98). The best Rosenberg can say is that fortunately, most people share a core morality that leads them to be nice, and that the real problem with the Nazis was “their wildly false factual beliefs about Jews” (p. 106, his emphasis).

This doesn’t really help Rosenberg, however, because four pages later he acknowledges that “natural selection is not very good at picking out true beliefs” (p. 110). In fact, his view is that according to evolution “racism and xenophobia are optimally adapted” by Mother Nature (p. 111). This means that:

If the environment had been very different, another moral core would have been selected for, perhaps even the dog-eat-dog morality…(p. 113).

This point was brought home to me recently while watching the Amazon series The Man in the High Castle. In the alternate history of the series, the Axis powers won World War II, and Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan rule the east and west coasts of America. In the first episode, one of the main characters blows out a tire in Nazi-controlled America. A Nazi police officer pulls off to help, and while they are talking, white flakes begin to fall from the sky. It isn’t snow – its ashes from the local hospital, where the terminally ill have been put to death and incinerated.

As a Christian, I believe that this is immoral and would be so in all possible worlds. But according to Rosenberg, this isn’t really evil, and in fact, if the evolutionary process had taken a different route, incinerating the weak and infirm might have been the “moral” belief that was chosen by natural selection. And so,

We have to accept that core morality was selected for, but we have to give up the idea that core morality is true in any sense (p. 113).

This means that an atheist cannot make the argument that “evil exists,” at least not in any meaningful sense.

But there is another aspect to the problem of evil – the problem of suffering. It isn’t just that women are raped, or children are murdered, or babies die from disease – it is that those who experience such evils also consciously suffer. As much as Kristi and I wrestle with the challenges of her illness, what breaks our heart is to see little children who are afflicted with this horrible disease. The suffering of little children is intolerable.

And yet, according to the radical materialism of Rosenberg, experiences like “colors, sounds, pains, smells, touches” do not really exist (p. 234). These are features of consciousness, but conscious experiences are only an illusion. Why? Because all that exists is matter (what he called “clumps of stuff”), and clumps of stuff aren’t conscious of anything.

“When consciousness assures us that we have thoughts about stuff, it has to be wrong” (p. 179, his emphasis).

In this light, it makes no sense for anyone to believe they are consciously suffering. We do not have thoughts about anything – including how much pain we are in. The most that we could say – as another materialist philosopher put it – is that “My C-fibers are firing.”

A couple of years ago I went to see an orthopedist about my knees. His assistant took some x-rays, then led me into the exam room. After a few minutes the doctor came in, looked at my X-rays, mumbled to himself while shaking his head, then turned to me and said (in an ominous voice), “You have many reasons to feel pain.” He sounded like a James Bond villain!

But of course, according to the perspective of Rosenberg, I do not consciously experience pain – that is impossible in principle. What the doctor should have said is, “Your C-fibers should be firing.” There can be physical processes, but not any kind of conscious suffering. And it would never make sense for the doctor or nurses to ask how much pain I am in – personal consciousness of pain is merely an illusion.

So then, consider once more this premise: But evil and suffering exist.

What Rosenberg says in his book is that neither assertion is true. “Evil” doesn’t exist because morality doesn’t exist. And “suffering” doesn’t exist because consciousness doesn’t exist. Since this is the key premise in the argument against belief in God, and since this premise is incoherent on Rosenberg’s account of evil and suffering, the argument fails.

It seems to me that atheists face three choices here:

  • Agree with Rosenberg that evil and suffering do not exist and concede that the argument fails.
  • Agree with Rosenberg that evil and suffering do not exist and change the premise to: “But according to Christians, evil and suffering exist.”
  • Disagree with Rosenberg’s contention that evil and suffering do not exist.

I suspect that most atheists would prefer the third option. I have met very few unbelievers who deny the reality of evil and suffering. But I am curious how “evil” and “suffering” can be coherently defined given the implications of pure materialism. That is the problem of evil and suffering for atheism.

Trinity Tuesday (a day late!) – An Ancient Analogy for the Trinity (Part 1)

(My apologies for being a day late – yesterday was a treatment day for my wife, and that tends to throw the week off for us a bit).

The Shield of the Trinity

The Bible teaches that God is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This teaching, commonly called the Trinity, is vital to the Christian faith. But since it deals with the inner life of the incomparable God, it is also beyond human comprehension. Just as the other characteristics of God’s nature boggle our imagination – His eternity, His omnipotence, His omniscience – the eternal love of the Father, Son, and Spirit as one God also stretches far beyond our limited capacity to fully understand.

In my previous post on the Trinity I cautioned against the use of analogies. It is only natural for us to try to understand God by relating Him to something in our experience. Scripture is full of analogies like this – God is a shepherd, God is a husband, God is a rock. And so long as we remember that these descriptions are analogies, images that picture God in terms similar to but not identical with our experience, they serve a great purpose.

But the problem with most analogies of the Trinity is that they rely on material objects (apples, eggs, water) to illustrate relationships that are immaterial. God doesn’t have a physical body, and He is not composed of parts. So the attempt to portray the Trinity in material terms inevitably distorts the Father, Son, and Spirit into fractions of God.

The ancient thinkers understood this problem. Yet, like us, they sought for a way to illustrate the Trinity in terms that made the doctrine easier to grasp. If only there was something in the human experience that was not material that could illustrate what the biblical text says about the Father, Son, and Spirit. Guess what – there is! It is the mind. Continue reading

What John 3:16 Teaches Us About Marriage

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

One of my preacher friends told me a story about a man who came by the church office to ask for money – not an uncommon occurrence – by explaining that he was the Lord and needed help to get back to Israel  – a very uncommon occurrence! When my friend suggested to him that since he was the Lord he could just dematerialize here and rematerialize in Israel, the would-be Messiah frowned, shook his finger, and declared, “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God – John 3:16!”

Everyone knows “John 3:16” (even of they don’t always know its content!). It is a classic statement of the message of the Bible. But it also concisely explains what “love” means, and this has important implications for how we should understand what it means to love each other, specially in marriage.

John 3:16 tells us three things about love.

First, love is primarily an act of the will, not a feeling of emotion. “God so loved the world, that he gave.” The word “so” here doesn’t mean what we intend when we say to someone, “I love you so much.” Instead, the Greek adverb (houtos) means “in this manner, in this way.” The New Living Translation captures the idea beautifully: “For this is how God loved the world.” How did God love the world? By giving His Son.

The “love” described in this passage is a commitment to give, to sacrifice. This sort of love is not sterile or unfeeling. Paul says that our adoption as sons in love is according to the “kind intention” of God’s will (Ephesians 1:5, NASB). But the love of God is not merely a feeling. It is expressed in the concrete act of giving.

Second, love is an act of will to meet the needs of others. “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son.” The mutual love between the Father and Son is so abundant that it overflows into an outpouring of love for the world (John 17:24). Love is not an incidental feature of God – it is His very essence (1 John 4:8).

This overflowing generosity is even more remarkable because it is directed toward the world. In John’s gospel, the world doesn’t know its Creator (1:10), it loves darkness rather than light (3:19), it hates Jesus (7:7), and is under the sway of the devil (14:30). And God loves it! And the reason He loves it is because – in its hostile rejection of God – the world faces judgment. Its inhabitants will “perish” as John 3:16 says. It is only through the Son that the world can be saved from this judgment (3:17). So God loved the world even though – and especially because – it was undeserving.

Third, love is an act of will to meet the needs of others by giving  all that it can. God did not give an animal for the world, or a holy person for the world, or even an angel for the world. He gave His Son. Since John 1:1 tells us that the Son (called “the Word” there) existed in relation to God but also as God, then when John 3:16 says God gave His Son, we are reading about a profound act of self-sacrifice that exceeds our comprehension.

John 3:16 therefore presents to us a template of what love looks like at the ultimate level. And Scripture calls upon each of us to love one another just like God has loved us in Christ.

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God (Ephesians 5:1-2).

God-modeling love is an obligation for all Christians, but it would obviously apply in a special way to the deepest of all human relationships, marriage (Ephesians 5:25; Titus 2:4). So consider how the message of John 3:16 applies to marriage:

  • In marriage, love is primarily an act of the will, not a feeling of emotion. While we fall in and out of love from a romantic point of view, we can nevertheless choose to do good to our spouse regardless of the mood of the moment. So the issue for a husband or wife is not, “Am I in love with my spouse?” The issue is, “Will I do good for my spouse?”
  • In marriage, love is an act of will to meet the needs of my spouse. But what are those needs? Too often, husbands and wives assume that what pleases them is what would please their spouse, that what they need is what their spouse needs. This results is selfish love rather than selfless love. Rather than assuming what your spouse needs, ask her. I often ask my wife if there is some need I am not meeting. It’s never easy to hear her say that such a need exists. But these conversations are vital if I am to know how to love her like God loves me.
  • In marriage love is an act of will to meet the needs of others by giving  all that it can. Scripture calls upon us to please our spouses (1 Corinthians 7:33-34). But we are not exempted from this command during those times we don’t feel like it, or we don’t feel like our spouse is deserving. Remember, God sacrificed for us precisely when we were our most undeserving. Sacrificial love is particularly the responsibility of husbands.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (Ephesians 5:25).

By the way, this principle exposes the evil of spousal abuse for what it is. Abusive husbands are an affront not only to the dignity of their wives as fellow image-bearers of God, they are also an insult to the very name of Christ whose love for the church they are called to emulate.

“John 3:16” cannot be just an empty slogan. As a densely packed expression of the gospel, it must resonate within us, not only in terms of our relationship with God, but also in terms of our love for each other. And in no relationship is its message of selfless, sacrificial love needed more than in marriage.

Friday Favorites for April 28, 2017

I can’t believe April is nearly gone! Time is flying by, but not so fast that I couldn’t find some great links for your perusal this week!

Wendell Berry Responds to Those Who Bash the South. Actually, to those who bash rural culture regardless of its location.

The First 100 Days of the Trump Administration Could Be Worse. Ross Douthat gives a cup-half-full review of the first 100 days.

Benny Hinn Attempts Jedi Mind Tricks to Avoid IRS. The Babylon Bee has been outstanding as of late.

Securing Amazon Echo and Google Home. 

Dealing with Extremists on Both Sides of the Climate Change Issue.

Everything You Wanted to Know About Smoking Pork Butt. I like pig butts and I cannot lie.

Gallup Poll Regarding Sermon Preferences. Turns out a lot of people would like to hear the preacher use the Bible!

President Trump’s Reversal on Foreign Policy. Pat Buchanan asks who is responsible.

My Favorite Babylon Bee of the Week!

Awesome Harmony! Check out my friends in Vocal Spectrum singing a classic ballad from The Music Man.

 

The Atheist’s Guide to Reality (or, Colorless Crayons)

In The Atheist’s Guide to Reality, Duke philosophy professor Alex Rosenberg embraces the implications of atheistic materialism, the view that there is no God and that all that exists is matter. The subtitle of the book is Enjoying Life without Illusions. What illusions does Rosenberg have in mind?

If all that exists is matter, then everything that we experience is actually nothing more than the result of the laws of physics coming to bear on particles of stuff. As the subtitle of the second chapter puts it, “the physical facts fix all the facts.” Consequently, quaint notions such as right and wrong are merely illusions. Moral beliefs – like everything else – are simply the product of natural processes, an evolutionary adaptation. But just as it would make no sense to speak of other evolutionary adaptations as right or wrong (lungs aren’t “moral” and gills aren’t “immoral”), it really makes no sense to speak of moral beliefs as right or wrong.

According to Rosenberg, polite society likes to think in terms of civility and decency, but the stark reality of materialism is much different.

“There are lots of moral values and ethical norms that enlightened people reject but which Mother Nature has strongly selected for. Racism and xenophobia are optimally adapted to maximize the representation of your genes in the next generation, instead of some stranger’s genes” (p. 110-111).

Rosenberg even concedes that his view of reality seems to undermine any effort to condemn dictators like Stalin or Hitler who decide to make racism and xenophobia the policy of the state (p. 98). Fortunately, Rosenberg says, most of us have agreed upon a nice form of nihilism (the belief that life, meaning, and morals are non-existent). But don’t be fooled by the illusion.

There is nothing morally right about being nice, but we are stuck with it for the forseeable future (p. 144).

So, morality doesn’t exist. But it gets worse.

If all that exists are particles of matter, then human beings do not have a soul or mind. All that exists is the brain, and what we call “the mind” is really nothing more than brain states determined by the laws of physics. This not only means that morality doesn’t exists, it also means that the ability to choose between right and wrong does not exist. Free will, like morality, is an illusion.

“Every state of my brain is fixed by physical facts…[There is] No free will, just the feeling, the illusion of introspection” (p. 236-237).

So, free will doesn’t exist. But it gets worse.

Consider this picture of one of the world’s great thinkers contemplating one of my favorite thoughts. But if clumps of stuff are all that exist, then what is the difference between Homer’s mind and the donut? Both are purely material objects subject to the laws of physics.

Does a donut “think about” anything? Of course not. But if the mind is just the material processes of the brain, then can the brain “think about” anything, either? Rosenberg raises the same question:

“How can one clump of stuff anywhere in the universe be about some other clump of stuff anywhere else in the universe?” (p. 173-174).

Good question. His answer? It can’t. Thinking is an illusion.

“The brain’s neural states, like the states of the semiconductor circuits in a Mac or PC…are not by themselves intrinsically about anything at all” (p. 189).

If you asked him, “Hey Professor Rosenberg, what are you thinking about?” his only response could be, “Nothing.”

So, thinking doesn’t exist. But it gets worse.

It seems silly to suggest that we don’t really think about things. After all, we can think about thinking! Just as Homer is contemplating what it would be like to eat the donut he is thinking about, we have conscious awareness of our thoughts. But Rosenberg says that this is also an illusion.

“So, when consciousness assures us that we have thoughts about stuff, it has to be wrong. The brain nonconsciously stores information in thoughts. But the thoughts are not about stuff” ( p. 179).

Wait – is he actually claiming we don’t really possess consciousness? That’s right. And to give Rosenberg credit, he is simply following his atheism to its logical conclusion. We think we have conscious experiences like pain, or color. But since all that exists is matter, only those things that are subject to physics have actual existence. An X-ray may tell me I have severe arthritis in my knee, but no machine can tell me how much pain I consciously feel. Only I can do that. But if there is no consciousness, there is no self to experience pain. All that exists is nerve fibers. So as another materialist says:

“The absurdity of saying ‘Nobody has ever felt a pain’ is no greater than that of saying ‘Nobody has ever seen a demon’…It would make it simpler for us if you would…say ‘My C-fibers are firing’ instead of saying ‘I’m in pain.’ [Richard Rorty, “Mind-Body Identity,” Review of Metaphysics, 1965 p. 30].

How would you like to have one of these people for your doctor! Talk about bad bedside manner! But this is the implication of the stark materialism advocated by Rosenberg.

So, consciousness does not exist.

Now, to bring these points together in a practical way, let me share an embarrassing story from my childhood. When I was in the third grade, I was coloring at a table with several other students. John Brooks had the crayons, and I wanted some different ones, but he wouldn’t give them to me. So I grabbed him around the throat and started wringing his neck (I told you it was embarrassing – but to be safe in the future, if I ask you for the crayons, you better give them to me). Consider, in light of the “atheist’s guide to reality,” the following statement:

I am reflecting on whether I should have chosen to cause pain to John Brooks to get the colored crayons.

Given the “illusions” that Rosenberg proposes, there is no such thing as morality. So concepts like “should” and “whether” don’t exist.

I am reflecting on whether I should have chosen to cause pain to John Brooks to get the colored crayons.

But neither does free will, so there was no choice to be made.

I am reflecting on whether I should have chosen to cause pain to John Brooks to get the colored crayons.

As we saw, “thinking about” things is also a mirage.

I am reflecting on whether I should have chosen to cause pain to John Brooks to get the colored crayons.

I also need to eliminate any terms that express consciousness, such as my conscious self (and John Brooks’s conscious self).

I am reflecting on whether I should have chosen to cause pain to John Brooks to get the colored crayons.

Since intentionality is also a conscious experience, I can’t really say I intended “to” do anything.

I am reflecting on whether I should have chosen to cause pain to John Brooks to get the colored crayons.

And remember, consciousness includes personal experiences like pain and color.

I am reflecting on whether I should have chosen to cause pain to John Brooks to get the colored crayons.

So, what is left in the atheist’s view of reality?

Colorless crayons.


Continue reading

Integrity – The Prerequisite for Worship

When I was a little boy my grandparents had certain routines they followed every Sunday morning as we prepared to go to church. My granddad, who was bald except for three strands of hair on top of his head, would meticulously comb them into place and then apply copious amounts of hairspray to keep them in place! And as we headed to church, he would always take the car through an automated carwash. I guess Pop wanted everything to look its “Sunday best” as we headed to worship.

Psalm 15 is a song about preparing to worship, but it doesn’t say anything about how you look on the outside. The focus of Psalm 15 is what you look like on the inside – a certain sort of character. Continue reading

Friday Favorites, April 21, 2017

Greetings from Newport News, VA! I am here this weekend to preach for the Harpersville Road congregation (and to visit with my niece!). I may not post again until the middle of next week, but until then, here are some links I found interesting:

Personalities or Ideas – Where Will Conservatives Turn? A great piece on the O’Reilly/Fox debacle by David French.

The Babylon Bee Was Oustanding Last Week. 

Interesting Info on Ancient Scrolls/Books and the Early Christians. Larry Hurtado is an expert in this filed.

Babylon Bee #2. This would be pretty awesome!

A Guide to Stopping Spam Calls.

Church Casseroles and the Food Pyramid. This may be the Bee I most relate to!

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The Catastrophe of Identity Politics

Earlier this month “Black Lives Matter” protestors prevented a conservative speaker, Heather MacDonald, from delivering a lecture at Claremont McKenna College. She was forced to make her presentation via web streaming instead. Sadly, this was nothing new. The Radical Left has made it a habit of stopping free speech on college campuses.

To its credit, the administration vigorously defended the right of free speech and academic freedom in an email sent out to students and faculty. But the Radical Left was unmoved. In a letter sent to the administration in response, the protestors claimed:

Your statement contains unnuanced views surrounding the academy and a belief in searching for some venerated truth. Historically, white supremacy has venerated the idea of objectivity, and wielded a dichotomy of ‘subjectivity vs. objectivity’ as a means of silencing oppressed peoples. The idea that there is a single truth–’the Truth’–is a construct of the Euro-West that is deeply rooted in the Enlightenment, which was a movement that also described Black and Brown people as both subhuman and impervious to pain. This construction is a myth and white supremacy, imperialism, colonization, capitalism, and the United States of America are all of its progeny.

So the quest for the “Truth” (scarequotes!!!!!!) is merely a construct of white supremacist culture.

My immediate question for these students is, Is that claim the “Truth”? 

If this claim is the “Truth,” then aren’t these students propagating the legacy of oppression and injustice inextricably linked to such truth claims? And if so, shouldn’t someone shut them down for this exercise in Euro-West cultural hegemony? And if this statement is not the “Truth” (scarequotes!!!!!!), why should I care?

Many profound injustices have been done in the name of the “Truth.” And many of these injustices have been perpetrated by whites against people of color. But the problem here is not the “Truth” per se, but the perversion of the truth in the quest for power and exploitation. To attack the concept of “Truth” (scarequotes!!!!!!) with claims that you expect to be taken as the truth is the very definition of self-refutation.

But the inherent and obvious self-contradictions are lost on these students. Later in the letter they claim:

The idea that the search for this truth involves entertaining Heather Mac Donald’s hate speech is illogical.

“Illogical”? That sounds an awful lot like someone is interested in “Truth” (scarequotes!!!!!!)!

Nor is this the only example of incoherence in the statement. The letter further asserts:

Non-Black individuals do not have the right to prescribe how Black people respond to anti-Blackness.

To these students, the cultural experiences of non-blacks are so different from blacks that non-blacks have no place to tell black students how they should act. But if there is such a great gulf between the black and non-black experience, then why would these students believe those who are not black would even understand their objections? Why bother writing such a letter?

This letter perfectly captures the two-fold catastrophe of identity politics. In the first place, it represents a grave challenge to freedom. By labeling those who disagree as “fascists” or worse, groups like “Black Lives Matter” can simply declare any opponent as unworthy of freedom of speech by definition and preempt the free exchange of ideas. In civil society, people can understand one another, and even feel for each other, but still disagree. But in the worldview of identity politics, disagreement itself is a form of oppression, and must be stopped by any means necessary, including violence. This is what is happening on college campuses around the country, and only the most courageous administrations will stand up to it. Otherwise, the mob rules.

In the second place, identity politics strikes at the common grace of our shared humanity. It reduces human beings to interest groups, to “tribes” that are incapable of understanding one another, much less pursuing mutually beneficial solutions. And of course, this means that no one from one “tribe” has the right to say anything critical about someone from a different “tribe.” Last summer during a Facebook exchange I was pilloried by a friend for daring to suggest that I could deeply empathize with African-Americans while at the same time condemning certain forms of protest. “I doubt you are racist, but….”

Even if I had never personally known someone of another race, is it not possible by virtue of the universal human endowments of imagination and conscience to nevertheless understand and feel for someone else? In my own experience, I have black members in my family. I had many non-white students when I taught in college. For many years as a preacher of the gospel I have ministered to non-white members of the churches I have served. If it is not possible for a person with these experiences to know, to feel, and to empathize with the concerns of people other than those of his or her own race, then how would it ever be possible for any of us to deeply feel for one another?

Sadly, I think there are many people on the Radical Left and on the Alt-Right who don’t believe it is possible – or desirable. I believe we are entering a very ugly time in our culture when the fabric of the “more perfect union” will unravel into frayed threads of racial and ethnic division and hostility. I hope I am wrong.

The ancient Christian writer Tertullian said that the pagans of his time hated Christians because – paradoxically – Christians loved each other irrespective of social standing.

But it is mainly the deeds of a love so noble that lead many to put a brand upon us. See, they say, how they love one another, for themselves are animated by mutual hatred; how they are ready even to die for one another, for they themselves will sooner put to death. They are wroth with us, too, because we call each other brethren… (The Apology, 39.7-8).

As we enter a period that resembles the pagan culture of Tertullian’s day, Christians must stand in defiant protest against all forms of tribal hatred. We cannot allow the racial or ethnic animosities of the world to seep into our thinking.

Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all (Colossians 3:11).

Christ is in all of His people, and Christ is the only identity that counts.