Faith Unconfined by Time or Place

From a book I’ve been reading this week, remarking on John 4:

“The woman asked our Lord whether Samaria or Jerusalem was the true place of worship. He answers that henceforth worship is no longer to be limited to a certain place: ‘Woman, believe Me, the hour cometh, when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem shall ye worship the Father.’ As God is Spirit, not bound by space or time but in His infinite perfection always and everywhere the same, so His worship would henceforth no longer be confined by place or form, but importance.

How much our Christianity suffers from this, that it is confined to certain times and places. A man, who seeks to pray earnestly in the church or in the closet, spends the greater part of the week or the day in a spirit entirely at variance with that in which he prayed. His worship was the work of a fixed place or hour, not of his whole being. God is a Spirit: He is the Everlasting and Unchangeable One; what He is, He is always and in truth. Our worship must even so be in spirit and truth: His worship must be the spirit of our life; our life must be worship in spirit as God is Spirit.”

Andrew Murray, With Christ in the School of Prayer, 7.

As I shared this paragraph with my group of high school campers yesterday, they (and I) were struck by the concept of a faith unconfined by time or place. What does it mean to be a Christian person who does things, rather than merely a person who does Christian things? How do these students fully integrate their faith into their mindset so that nothing escapes the Christ filter: that we see all things through the lens with which Jesus saw them?

I remember the fall semester of my Sophomore year in high school… coming up on four years ago… when this change happened in me. Oswald Chambers had written about exactly this concept in MUFHH one day. I distinctly remember ignoring my math teacher to read instead. It took a real work of the Spirit to affect this change in me, especially at that time in my life, but the perspective shift was clear and long lasting. It still lasts today; it is how I see the world.

The eternality and omnipresence of God are considered two of his incommunicable attributes; ‘incommunicable,’ meaning, we cannot experience them in the same way he does. We also cannot really be faulted for failing to be eternal or to be everywhere at once. Is anyone going to blame you for those ‘failures’? No reasonable person would, because they are not possible. But like all the incommunicable attributes of God, they are only relatively incommunicable, because we can experience something like them.

This is what Murray means when he says “As God is Spirit… so his worship would henceforth no longer be confined.” Another way to put this statement is to generalize it as “As God is a certain way… so our worship should be too.” Our consistency as people and our ‘lifestyle’ of worship are not done just because they are considered good things, or their alternatives are worse, or they look good to non believers, or even because they are commanded. Rather, we are emulating the very Being of God himself in the best way we humans can.

ἀγαλλιάω (Agalliao)

A quick word study on ἀγαλλιάω (Agalliao; Strong #21) in the New Testament.

Definition

Thayer: to exult, rejoice exceedingly, be exceeding glad

Strong: From ἄγαν agan (much) and G242 [leap; spring up]; properly to jump for joy, that is, exult: – be (exceeding) glad, with exceeding joy, rejoice (greatly).

Mounce: to be filled with delight, with great joy

Usage

It appears that there are 11 New Testament uses:

Matthew 5:12 Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad [agalliao], because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Context — immediately after the Beatitudes (or the final statement of them?) in addition to the other “Blessed are…” statements.

Luke 1:47 And Mary said: ‘My soul glorifies the Lord / and my spirit rejoices [agalliao] in God my Savior, / for he has been mindful / of the humble state of his servant.’

Context — in the Magnificat, the song sung by Mary after she meets with Elizabeth. (Interesting, John the Baptist is described in the verses before as “the baby in my womb leaped for joy” which sounds suspiciously like the word agalliao, but is instead each word used individually (eskirtēsen en agalliasei (noun), leaped in exultation) rather than this portmanteau.

Luke 10:21 At that time Jesus, full of joy [agalliao] through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.

Context — Jesus has just received back the 72 whom he had earlier sent out as missionaries. The antecedent to “these things” appears to be specifically the power of God to overcome the enemy (and snakes), but more general the “all things” later in verse 26.

John 5:35 You have sent to John and he has testified to the truth. Not that I accept human testimony; but I mention it that you may be saved. John was a lamp that burned and gave light, and you chose for a time to enjoy [agalliao] his light.

Context — After a section on the authority given by the Father to the Son, Jesus makes this statement in reference to John the Baptist, and then says that the person testifying that Jesus’s words are true is the Father, because the Father validates Jesus’s ministry through the miracles (“works”?) that he does.

John 8:56 Your father Abraham rejoiced [agalliao] at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” “You are not yet fifty years old,” they said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!” “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!”

Context — Right after Jesus accuses the Pharisees of being the children of Satan. They naturally object, saying that they are the children of Abraham. Here Jesus makes the claim that he existed before Abraham and then uses the title “I am” which almost certainly refers to the burning bush in Exodus 3. The author of Hebrew also has something to say about Old Testament figures looking forward to or rejoicing over seeing Jesus’s day.

Acts 2:26 [quoting Psalm 16] David said about him: “‘I saw the Lord always before me. / Because he is at my right hand, / I will not be shaken. / Therefore my heart is glad [agalliao] and my tongue rejoices; / my body also will rest in hope, / because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, / you will not let your holy one see decay. / You have made known to me the paths of life; / you will fill me with joy in your presence.

Context — At Pentecost, Peter is quoting Psalm 16 (from the LXX) and saying that David prophetically hinted at the eternal life of one of his descendants.

Acts 16:34 At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized. The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy [agalliao] because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole household.

Context — The Philippian Jailer who turned to Christ after an earthquake and hearing the testimony of Paul and Silas.

1 Peter 1:6, 8 In all this you greatly rejoice [agalliao], though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy [agalliao], for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Context — the beginning of Peter’s epistle (or perhaps encyclical) to the various exiles in Turkey. Peter is saying that believers are filled with joy (“inexpressible and glorious joy”) in both happy times and in the midst of suffering.

1 Peter 4:13 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed [agalliao] when his glory is revealed.

Context — roughly the same as before; later in the letter.

Revelation 19:7 Let us rejoice [agalliao] and be glad / and give him glory! / For the wedding of the Lamb has come, / and his bride has made herself ready.

Context– Babylon falls, which is probably symbolic of all of Sin itself being destroyed, near the end of Revelation. Then, several praise choruses break out in Heaven, including this one. We are to rejoice because the consummation of all things (wedding feast and bride imagery being relevant for this reason) is then about to happen soon.

The best rendering of this word in the NIV is either the above use of “overjoyed” in 1 Peter 4:13, or Jesus being “full of joy” in Luke 10:21.

Here are the non-apocryphal Septuagint (LXX) uses: 66 verses with 50 uses in the Psalms and 10 in Isaiah. (2 Sam. 1:20; 1 Chr. 16:31; Ps. 2:11; 5:11; 9:2, 14; 13:4f; 14:7; 16:9; 19:5; 20:5; 21:1; 31:7; 32:11; 33:1; 35:9, 27; 40:16; 48:11; 51:8, 14; 53:6; 59:16; 60:6; 63:7; 67:4; 68:3f; 70:4; 71:23; 75:9; 81:1; 84:2; 89:12, 16; 90:14; 92:4; 95:1; 96:11f; 97:1, 8; 98:4, 8; 118:24; 119:162; 132:9, 16; 145:7; 149:2, 5; Song 1:4; Isa. 12:6; 25:9; 29:19; 35:1f; 41:16; 49:13; 61:10; 65:14, 19; Jer. 49:4; Lam. 2:19; Hab. 3:18) (source)

The Precept Austin source (immediately above) also notes that “Agalliao is not used by secular Greek writers” and comments that this is likely because they did not have things to be so joyed about to need this strong of a word. Rienecker adds that agalliao “appears to be used always with the connotation of a religious joy, a joy that springs from the contemplation of God or God’s salvation.

Potential for Application

We cannot draw many applications just from an analysis of a word itself. This term and its positive usage in the New Testament do seem to indicate, at least, that our threshold for joy should be high. It is possible to reach this high threshold for joy. I would even make the stronger claim that we can understand joy this powerful through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, like in the Luke 10:21 section.

That this term does not appear in secular Greek texts (if true) implies either that it was an idiosyncratic term used only by people who had contact with the first person to coin the word, or that there was truly no “jumping for joy” absent of the power of God. I am not sure which is more reasonable. Peter advised Mark in writing his Gospel, yet both Matthew and Luke include variations on the Beatitudes while Mark does not; this eliminates the main potential source of downstream influence for use of this term, but even still, it could have just generally been in use during the first century in the region.

Three of these passages (Matthew and both the 1 Peter passages) describe joy in the midst of suffering. This joy is not just the usual word for joy (χαρά, chara), but instead the colorful word picture of “jumping for joy,” which goes further. In our times of sorrow, we want to do much less than be joyful, but Jesus and Peter both imply here that our joy should be further increased than normal.

Answering Objections 3: Faith is Unbelievable

Objector:

And for faith.. Can’t you believe in anything using faith?

Response:

Faith, Belief, Knowledge, having a Hunch, and Speculation are not distinct concepts, but rather, differing degrees of the same concept. We accept a thing as truth — call it X — on the basis of some other thing — call it Y — also being true and being at least somewhat indicative of X. How indicative does Y have to be on X? Well, that depends. If you are shooting for a Speculation, then not really very indicative at all; if a Hunch, then slightly indicative; if Faith, moderately indicative; if Belief, very indicative; if Knowledge, completely indicative. Think of these terms according to a sliding scale, not as distinct processes.

So then, we use “faith” in one of these ways every day. The classic though flawed example is that we daily sit in chairs even though — technically… — we have little reason to believe that that specific chair will hold us up this particular time.

Scientists, then, use faith all the time. Not in their science itself, as such; but nonetheless that all scientists depend upon a set of unfalsifiable beliefs. These beliefs are equally as questionable as the theist’s beliefs. Philosophers tend to call these “metaphysics” as a catch-all term, but others have come up with more clever terms like “worldview” or the “spectacles” through which one views the world. A person’s basic core beliefs in metaphysics cannot be disproved using the scientific method, which according to nearly all atheists is the way to prove everything. This sounds familiar… oh yeah.

So, the question is not “should we use faith to believe X,” but instead, “do we have a strong enough Y to not be exercising BLIND faith in X.” The answer to that question for Christianity, I am convinced, is yes. We may never fully establish the claims of Christianity beyond the faith level — as in, the arguments for Christianity may never become deductive, they may always retain some amount of slippery inductive flexibility. But even still, this retains the ability to reasonably believe without mere speculation or hunch holding.

Answering Objections 2: the Bible Supports Slavery

Objector:

the bible supports slavery

and later on in the debate:

It also says that you may beat your slave as long ad they don’t die.

further down:

It says that you can beat your slave.. That’s what it says.

 

Response:

  1. The objector, probably unintentionally, equivocates the term slavery across two different historical contexts. Slavery in the ancient world is not equal to slavery in the nineteenth century. This mistake is understandable, considering that in school we exclusively learned about slavery in US History. The differences are numerous, but to keep it simple, a helpful comparison is to indentured servants. These were people who sold their labor for 7 year blocks of time, became “slaves”, and were released again at the end of their due time. Here are some additional ways: slavery in the ancient world was unrelated to race, whereas in the US is was almost immediately about race; a slave in the ancient world could have any job, like being a poet, a farmer, a guard, a tutor, and so on, whereas in the US slavery was restricted to manual labor. (Granted, most jobs at the time were agricultural anyways, so this is only marginally true). There are more differences than these.
  2. Does the Bible “support slavery”? For the Bible to support something, it would be necessary to find a commandment that states “You can have slaves.” Now, such a commandment is nowhere to be found.
  3. Of course, the Bible still talks about slavery without outright endorsing it. Could the Bible implicitly nod to slavery, giving sanction to the practice without making the statement “You can have slaves”? Of course it could. But these are murky waters, for now we have to intuit the intention behind every reference to slavery — even when the text itself is silent. In these cases either scenario tends to be a valid interpretation. For example, moral codes like “An eye for an eye” can be seen as giving people the right to seek vigilante retribution against their enemy, and endorsing violence as the best way to deal with violence. OR, those same moral codes can be seen as a limit that bars the offended from extracting disproportionate punishment from the offender; the code could equally be read as “AT MOST an eye, for an eye” which is an equally valid reading.
  4. More complexity comes about when we distinguish between prescriptive and descriptive discussion in the text. Do we really think that, because the Bible so much as mentions a topic, it endorses that topic? Clearly not. For example, the Bible records various people engaging in polygamy throughout the Old Testament… but does that give license to polygamy? No, because we can see the consequences of those actions (which are numerous for Solomon) and use other Biblical principles to come to a more full understanding of the general topic (like that monogamy is represented in the beginning, and in parallel at the Wedding Feast in Revelation, etc.) which have importance for how we understand that general topic.
  5. My friend Kristina Olsen points this out: “the same passage that you mentioned about the slave beatings (Exodus 21) also mentions that if a master knocks his slave’s tooth out or destroys his slave’s eye, the slave must go free. Clearly, there are strict boundaries for harm. And that passage also says the slave shall be avenged if he dies by his master’s hand (vs. 20).” So, while the Bible does not, in this particular case, denounce slavery, it does place limits on the practice that likely exceeded the limits already in place.
  6. The Bible does depict slavery in a negative light at various points. The Israelites are slaves set free from Egypt (which later becomes a rallying point during the abolition movement). Joseph is sold into slavery by his brothers (which is called “evil” in the text itself). The Israelites again become slaves during the Exile to Babylon, which is presented as being roughly the worst thing ever.
  7. An important place to look things in the Bible is also the New Testament. Most obviously we have Philemon, in which Paul requests that Philemon accept his former (runaway) slave Onesimus back into his household, not as a slave but as a freeman. This letter does not support or denounce slavery, though it was used heavily by both sides of the abolition debate in the US.
  8. If the Bible does not support or denounce slavery, then we could possibly look to history to see how Christians have used the Bible to support or denounce slavery. Now, this has exited the original discussion about the content of the Bible, but it could be helpful to examine anyway. This, too, is a jumbled mess. But I can at least point out that William Wilberforce in the UK along with almost all of the abolitionists in the US (Garrison, Douglass, Tappen, etc.) were both devout Christians and held their abolitionist perspective from a specifically Christian foundation. Consider also that abolitionism was first popularized (or, made more popular, since it was not actually “popular” until after it happened) during the Second Great Awakening and was mostly born (in the US) during the First Great Awakening. This is not a comprehensive case, but these are still good counterpoints to the claim that the Bible was always used to support slavery. See the book “America’s God” by Mark Noll for more on this.

The Bible does not “support” the nineteenth century institution of slavery with which we are all familiar. It does remain, on balance, mute regarding the legitimacy of economic bond-servitude as done in the ancient world. Particular rules are given to prevent the mistreatment of the slaves that are owned, which may or may not permit slavery, but certainly place a cap on its practice.

Answering Objections 1: Monotheism is almost Atheism

Yesterday during facebook argument #25014968076 of my life, some friends and I argued about atheism, faith, meta-ethical theory, scriptural inerrancy, and so on.

I feel a profound déjà vu every time these topics come up. Have they really been exhausted, or does everyone just learn 3/5 of the arguments and then point out the 2/5 hole in their opponent’s claims? We aren’t that comprehensive anyways; it all feels too familiar.

Oh well. Defending the faith is a long-time favorite topic of mine. (It is, roughly speaking, one of my college majors). So this debate makes a good springboard into writing about that for a while. This will be the first post of many, so click the apologetics tag at the bottom to see them all.

 


 

Objector:

There are about 100,000 gods..( actually more) atheist believe none exist.. You believe 999,000 don’t exist.. So you’re nearly as atheistic as i am..

Response:

I will call this argument the “Monotheism is almost Atheism” argument, and I think I remember Christopher Hitchens first saying it.

The numbers in the above statement are woefully incoherent unless you change the second number to be 99,999, after which it makes sense. The claim is that there are zillions of proposed gods throughout human history, and Christians reject nearly all of them on the grounds that there is no evidence, there were merely folklore, they served as a usual coping mechanism for the death of relatives in that society, etc.

Yet, says the objector, those are exactly the criticisms lobbed against the Christian God all the time. So, on what grounds does the Christian reject other gods without rejecting their own? This also bends the perspective, so that instead of saying “Christians believe in one more god than atheists” we are left with “atheists believe in one fewer god than Christians.”

The rephrasing has rhetorical power because it puts Christians into the middle position and simultaneously implies that no middle positions in this scenario are rational. But is that claim true? I have three replies:

  1. There is a lurking false dichotomy here: either believe in no gods and be an atheist, OR, believe in every god that humans have ever believed in. It is feasible that 20,000 gods could exist and yet humans have made up another million. It is feasible that every god proposed does actually exist and humans have never made another up. It is possible that 1 god exists and humans just have varied ways of articulating their experiences with it. All of these positions are feasible and distinct.
  2. Remember that God, in Christianity, is the only being in the category called “things that are divine.” The entire debate over theism is whether that is a legitimate category or not — not, as this objection implies, how we fill that category. Here is another way to say it: the debate is between Naturalism on the one hand, and Naturalism Plus on the other hand. Do things outside the physical observable world exist? By understanding the debate in this way, we see that the real gulf is between atheism and theism, not between monotheism and polytheism. The defeat of atheism (and thus all atheists believing in one more god) would be far more significant than all monotheists becoming bi-theists (and thus believing in one more god) because the real categorical hurdle is between (a)theism.
  3. Consider the way that Anselm and Aristotle conceived of God: he is that than which nothing greater can be conceived; he is the unmoved-first-mover. When we define God as equal to something which is logically necessary, rather than just a humanoid floating around somewhere, it becomes easier to see that the Christian God is more like All The Gods At Once of the other polytheistic religious, a sort of Divinity Itself. This is what makes monotheism distinct from polytheism: not just that they believe in less gods, but that the one god remaining is given Infinity for all his characteristics. Atheism is therefore does not just lose the last divine humanoid being, but loses Divinity itself and becomes naturalism.

So then, this objection’s rhetorical punch masks a deeper misunderstanding about the Christian idea of God’s being. Fix that mistake and the objection loses both its shock effect and its validity.

“The Current Crisis” in theoretical physics

grqm

“Like spouses,” Mitch Stokes writes concerning quantum physics and general relativity, “each completes the other.” His new book How to be an Atheist explores the relationship between atheism and skepticism generally — arguing that atheists, though broadly skeptical, fail to employ their skepticism across the board into epistemology and ethics. If they did this, the atheist must reduce these fields to reject most of what atheistic leaders propose — namely, evolution by natural selection, M-theory, and moral values that do not originate from atheism, like equality, or justice.

One chapter stands out in particular. Can we use the scientific method to find out the fundamental nature of reality? No, Stokes argues, for various reasons over a few chapters. Moreover, in the outstanding chapter, he presents the case that even if science could answer these questions, we know anyway that “according to science itself, important aspects of our current physical theories are incorrect” (119).

Stokes writes,

General relativity and quantum mechanics shocked the world with their appearance in the first three decades of the 1900s, and together they account for the entire universe, including nature’s four fundamental forces and all the elementary particles out of which the universe is made — whether these particles are entirely at rest or approaching the speed of light. Although Newtonian mechanics is an excellent approximation for medium-sized dry goods at velocities far below the speed of light, when we address the most fundamental aspects of physical reality — when the universe “red lines” — physics becomes an extreme sport and we need quantum mechanics and general relativity (120).

Yes. Newton’s laws of motion did explain much more than Aristotle’s theories of motion, but they didn’t tell the whole story. We cannot blame Newton, of course, because the extremes of outer space and inner atoms had not been discovered. So he explained everything that had been discovered at the time. When those extreme phenomena were discovered, a more comprehensive theory came along to describe space (general relativity) and subatomic particles (quantum theory). But notice, these are two theories, not just one.

They need one another. Neither of them can account for physical reality alone, and so there’s a division of labor between them. Quantum mechanics takes care of the subatomic world; general relativity handles everything else. General relativity also treats gravity, which doesn’t exist in the eyes of quantum theory. Like spouses, each completes the other.

But the marriage has been rocky from the start. In fact, it began with a shotgun wedding. The division of labor, despite its practical success, was forced upon physicists, really. Our two pillars of physics are logically incompatible with one another, and so at least one of them is wrong. They tell different stories about the observable world (120-121).

The reason why these theories can coexist so well despite their underlying inconsistency is that physicists do not need to use both. What physicist uses both sets of tools, and how at once?

Rather inconveniently, there are scenarios that require both quantum mechanics and general relativity.

There are physical situations where physicists would really like to use both theories simultaneously. These are, as Greene points out, “extreme physical situations that are both massive and tiny.” Two such extreme cases are, he says, “the center of a black hole, in which an entire star has been crushed by its own weight to a minuscule point, and the big band, in which the entire observable universe is imagined to have been compressed to a nugget far smaller than a single atom.” Normally, in the quantum realm, the force of gravity is negligible because it’s so weak, being vastly overpowered by the other three (e.g., even a small magnet can overcome the force of gravity when it lifts a paper clip off the desk). But when the mass of a star or universe is packed into a volume smaller than an atom, we have to take gravity into account along with quantum effects. In other words, we need a theory of quantum gravity (121-122).

Nice. The two most important and empirically verified fields of science are incompatible and require some larger theory, perhaps we could call it a theory of everything?, that conatins both and synthesizes all the data into one explanatory framework. Man, people should really get on that, I bet it would make for a good life quest and —

toe

Oh yeah, never mind. Someone’s already been on that for a while.

But Stokes remains unimpressed by Hawking’s solution. String theory in general does not seem to be falsifiable: the versions of string theory we can test have been disproved, and the ones we cannot test are so numerous (as many as 10^500) that no experiment or set of experiments can disprove them all save the true one. M-theory in particular seems to be one step forward and two steps back: it is

a network of theories in which each theory is good at describing phenomena within a certain range. Or course, this sounds very much like our current situation, where general relativity and quantum mechanics each adequately deals with its respective domains, yet in some ways worse. Instead of merely two patches in the theoretical quilt, we now have five (124).

But, curiously, the same atheists who propose radical skepticism on the existence of God claim M-theory as the multiverse framework for the creation of a universe without a creator. Does that not also require non-skepticism? Stokes uses this point to support his claim that atheists are just not skeptical enough — and on precisely the issues that matter.

Why believe what false theories (allegedly) imply about topics even further removed from the topics they get wrong? Good skeptics will be wary of both.

So why aren’t they? (129).

Two Definitions of Racism

racism

When liberals and conservatives use the word racism, they tend to mean different things.

A conservative using the term racism is probably meaning something along the lines of people making race-based comments, committing race-based crimes, hiring an employee because they are one race or another, or something like a person’s college admissions status (which usually has a racial component snuck in there somewhere). For them, racism is specific and active. Racism is specific because it happens to specific people; a person can have very racist attitudes but not actually be “a racist” if they never act upon them, because, in their mind, racism is a thing that happens in the particulars of life, like the examples above. It is active because it requires a person to intentionally want it to happen, and anyone who has agency (activity-ness) can do racist things. Racism isn’t something that “just happens,” because someone has to decide to do it.

A liberal tends to use the term racism, not to put too fine a point on it, in the complete opposite way. For a liberal, racism is general and passive. Racism can be general because a single person is no longer the regular focus, in this definition. Instead, entire groups are viewed in aggregates (on average) and work together. “Whites are _____” and “Blacks are _____” can be meaningful, reasonable statements under this definition (whereas before, it could not). Accordingly, racism can be passive because those groups do not have collective agency (cannot act all together). The general setup of society is the way that it is, for various historical reasons, of course, but it means that nobody alive today planned on racial difference being this way.

The difference in these definitions are profound, and understanding the two definitions will cut away most disagreements before they really get started. For example, if a liberal says “you can’t be racist against blacks”, they don’t mean that you cannot say a racist word to a black person. Of course you could do that, and of course it would be morally wrong, but in the liberal’s mind, that is not enough to count as racism. You see, the liberal scheme of racism is that Racism = Hate based on race + Power. But, and this is the inconvenient truth, the conservative scheme of racism is that Racism = Hate based on race. Conservatives either deny that such a power disparity exists, or, more often, they neither agree nor disagree with the idea, as they have not had it explained clearly to them.

In shorter words, the conservative is talking about bigoted racism, and the liberal is talking about systemic racism. The term “racism” has these two parts, and so it is usually irresponsible to argue that something “is racist” or “is not racist.” Instead, it would be much clearer or everyone if we said that certain things “are racially bigoted” or “are not racially bigoted,” and that they “are systemically racist,” or  “are not systemically racist”.

I believe in the value of precise language.

So the next time someone uses the term racism, ask, “well, possibly, but which kind of racism do you mean? Bigotry, or systemic?” and then most of the friction will go away. You are now left with a claim that can be proven right or wrong, given the relevant facts and data, rather than a debate over categories and definitions, which are the worst.

The metaphysical dilemma of foundational epistemic claims

Modernist or Christian apologists tend to use an argument along these lines:

The claim that “all truth is relative” is an absolute, non-relative claim. If it is true, it proves that at least one claim (itself) is not relative, and therefore it is false [self-refutation]. On the other hand, if it is false, then it is false [tautology]. Therefore, no matter what, it must be false.

More generally, the argument is that any argument about epistemology — any bedrock claim about how to prove claims — cannot depend upon any epistemic claim besides itself. For example, if I believe that “everything can be known through the rational intuition of the mind” then I had better justify that statement using the rational intuition of the mind. If, say, I justified that claim using the five senses, then I have undermined myself.

Sure. Fair enough. Makes for a good satire article every now and again. In an eighth grade literature class discussion about Lord of the Flies my teacher made the claim “there is no absolute truth.”

(How we got there from LOTF?)

It could be said that my entire philosophic training up to that point had been aimed at preparing me for exactly this situation. They had trained me to pounce, and my opportunity was now: Ambush philosophy!: “BUT THAT STATEMENT IS AN ABSOLUTE TRUTH CLAIM,” I blurted out. My teacher paused. She had no response. After a beat she said, and six years later I remember the exact quote: “man, Ross, I could listen to you talk all day,” which in retrospect was exactly the worst thing to say to the kind of person who would employ that kind of argument.

But I digress. There are two fatal problems with the argument.

First, the claim “there is no absolute truth” almost never means truth-at-all. The person speaking means that “there is no absolute meta-narrative truth.” They do not claim that we cannot know the specific facts of life. Who would think that? Perhaps Berkeley? Instead, the postmodernist argues that we cannot know how to compile those specific facts into something meaningful.

Go read the essay Amateur Sociology Considered Harmful by Ozy Frantz. I’m not kidding, it demonstrates a postmodern rejection of meta-narratives better than Foucault or Derrida, who created it. (Or, maybe, a less sophisticated rejection?)

A relevant excerpt:

Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, the young sociology student takes her first theory class. The first week, she reads Smith, who presents a plausible and insightful argument that the invisible hand of the market causes goods to be distributed in the way that best benefits everyone. The second week, she reads Marx, who presents a plausible and insightful argument that capitalism is a product of bourgeoisie ownership of the means of production which alienates the proletariat from their labor. The third week, she reads Durkheim, who presents a plausible and insightful argument that industrialization leads to anomie, a condition in which society provides little moral guidance to individuals. The fourth week, she reads Weber, who presents a plausible and insightful argument that the capitalist spirit originates in a Calvinist urge to find signs whether or not one is a member of the elect. The fifth week, she reads Mills, who presents a plausible and insightful argument that the ordinary citizen is a powerless tool in the hands of corporate, military, and political leaders who control society for their own ends.

At this point, if all goes well, she storms into her professor’s office and says “okay, I can kind of harmonize Smith and Weber, or Marx and Durkheim, but mostly these authors not only don’t agree with each other, they don’t even seem to be describing they same thing! They are at utter disjoint! None of them even agree about what categories we should be using! And yet when I read Weber, he makes sense, and when I read Marx, he makes sense, and when I read Smith, he makes sense! HOW CAN THIS BE? AAAAAAAAAAAAAA!”, and a sociologist is born.

In this sense, the postmodernist is not rejecting specific truth. As you see later on in the article, Ozy does not have any problem with attaining facts, and I’m sure that they hold to the same mindset as a secular humanist, who argues that reason and evidence are the two and only two methods for justifying claims. (Since Ozy is a rationalist, I am sure this is the case).

What, then, is the difference between a secular humanist and postmodernist? They can both assent to the warrant of particular claims, but the latter does not assemble those particular claims into something meaningful. How can we? they ask. The postmodernist engages in a “stark refusal to cultivate a nostalgia for the unattainable” (Putt) while the former seeks to systematize and formalize all truth into what would traditionally be considered a philosophically coherent and confident model.

Second, The other problem is that the claim “there is absolute truth” is itself an absolute truth claim, and therefore commits the converse fallacy, that of circular reasoning. I think that Karl Popper was the first to point this out, though I have since lost the blog link when my other computer died and my bookmarks fared accordingly. Popper formulated it like this:

To prove any epistemic claim, one must
1. Use the claim itself (which is circular reasoning)
2. Use another claim (which undermines the original claim’s purported status as an epistemic foundation)
3. Leave the claim unproved (which does not prove the claim)

That critique does not really have a satisfactory answer, that I have yet seen. I have found so far one good answer, and that involves applying Bayesian rationality, describing all beliefs in terms of a probability between zero and one, testing, feeding the outcome back into the original equation to adjust priors, and repeating until the event incident reaches 0.00 or 1.00.

MAYBE that works. It is a fairly new concept to me, and I’m not sure how we can use that type of reasoning on an extremely abstract, (perhaps unfalsifiable?) level like the foundations of epistemology, or even a few layers up the ladder on issues like the reliability of reason or the degree to which the senses accurately perceive the world. The next thing I am set on uncovering is whether someone can prove than Bayes’s formula is a priori synthetic knowledge on par with 2+2=4, Kant style. Can that be done?

If so, there might be an answer there. But either way, the original objection to the person denying absolute truth is, at best only half the full picture, and at worst a complete misunderstanding of the meaning of the words in use.

Flagged paragraphs from textbooks this year

Here are all the paragraphs I flagged in my course textbooks this year.

(“This year” is inaccurate; I gradually stopped flagging my readings as the year continued, and in retrospect it looks like all of these come from first semester).

 

Kenneth Berding and Matt Williams, eds. What the New Testament Authors Really Cared About. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publishing. Second edition: 2015. 

19-20:

Daniel 5 begins recording the second story that is essential for understanding those living during the time of Jesus. Here we read of the Persian king, Cyrus II, who surprisingly overtook the great city of Babylon and her king, Belshazzar, in 539 B.C. Unlike the Babylonian Empire, the Persian Empire was more tolerant, allowing 42,360 Jews to return to Jerusalem. According to Ezra 1-4, an altar was set up in 537 B.C., and approximately twenty years later the temple, while far from the glorious Solominc temple, was reconstructed.

Imagine the flood of emotions as the Jews returned to their home and began rebuilding their beloved temple. Ezra tells us that when they laid the foundation of the temple, the people sang together in praise, giving thanks to the Lord for his mercy and goodness (cf. Ezra 3:11). Pro-Jewish sentiment prevailed throughout the Persian monarchy; and in 445-444 B.C., Nehemiah began to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. These years were marked with great sacrifice on the part of those who resettled the land. While certainly not free from foreign control, the Jews were at liberty to worship once again in their temple and celebrate their festivals in the land given to them by their God. The story of the return from exile and rebuilding the temple impacted the Jewish people all the way down to the first century, becoming a rallying point for the Jews for centuries. As a result, it is not surprising that several generations later the Jewish religious leaders would not take kindly to Jesus’s threats to destroy the temple (Matt 27:40).

27:

The Zealots are the last of the important Jewish sects of this time period. Similar in many ways to present-day terrorists, these Jewish fanatics did anything possible to advance the cause of God in the midst of pagan rulers in Israel. Josephus, a Jewish historian who lived during the latter part of the first century, blamed the Zealots for the downfall of the Jewish people under Rome in the Jewish War of A.D. 66-70. The story of the Zealots is important for understanding the story of Jesus and his disciples because Simon (not Simon Peter) was called a Zealot (Luke 6:15), while Matthew was a tax collector, formerly aiding the Roman cause.

46-47:

Matthew recounted that Jesus called twelve disciples and gave them authority to continue his ministry. Remarkably, the disciples’ mission would replicate Jesus’s in almost every detail: they would drive out evil spirits, heal diseases, preach the kingdom of heaven, raise the dead, and cleanse leapers ([Matthew] 10:1-8). Like Jesus’s own mission, the disciples’ mission would provoke persecution, but the disciples could rest in Jesus’s promise that the Holy Spirit would enable them in times of crisis (10:18-20).

The disciples’ remarkable power and authority is to be understood against the background of the Semitic Shaliah principle, which maintained that persons sent carried the authority of the one who sent them. With this understanding Jesus was able to tell the disciples, “He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me” (10:40).

74:

Mark 8:22-10:52 is central to Mark’s presentation of discipleship. Within this section, mark repeatedly described Jesus as “on the way” (8:27, 9:33, 10:17, 32, 46, 52). He was on his way to Jerusalem, where he would suffer and die (10:32-33). While Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem, he also taught about the way of discipleship, about the pattern of life expected of all those who desire to follow him.

In this section, Mark arranged his material around Jesus’s three predictions in which he looked ahead to his suffering, death, and resurrection (8:31; 9:31; 10:32-34). Each prediction led to an action on the part of the disciples that revealed their lack of understanding. After the first prediction, Peter rebuked Jesus in response to his teaching on the suffering of the Messiah (8:32-33). After the second prediction, the disciples discussed among themselves which one of them was the greatest (9:32-34). After the third, two disciples, James and John, asked Jesus for the most honored positions in his kingdom (10:35-41). This angered the other disciples because they coveted the same honor. Jesus responded to each instance of misunderstanding by teaching about the nature of true discipleship (8:34-38; 9:35-50; 10:42-45).

133:

Jesus’s sacrificial death, however, did not automatically bring eternal life to everyone in the world. In order to receive that life, one had to believe in Jesus (20:31). John never used the noun “faith”; he always used the verb, “to believe” or “to have faith” (ninety-eight times!). By constantly using the verb, John emphasized the active response of believing.

The idea of “believing” in today’s church is often seen as an action that is performed solely by the brain, that is, an intellectual action. Belief certainly includes the intellectual assent to facts, but John showed that real belief in Jesus always leads to obedience. For example, it was only because the royal official believed Jesus that he could leave him and return to his son (4:50). It was only because the blind man believed Jesus that he went to the pool of Siloam to wash (9:7, 38).

 

Vaughan Roberts, God’s Big Picture: Tracing the storyline of the Bible. Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity Press. 2002.

105:

‘The time is coming,’ declares the LORD,
‘when I will make a new covenant
with the house of Israel
and with the house of Judah.’
(Jeremiah 31:31)

This covenant will not be a completely new start. God is not abandoning the promises he has made in the past. But how can he fulfill those promises to bless his people? In his faithfulness, he must do so if he is to keep his word. And yet he is also bound to punish the Israelites if they disobey him. So how can he bless them, given their continued sinfulness? The new covenant will make this possible. It will be unbreakable. God will find a way of dealing with sin, so that all his people will be forgiven and know God intimately. he will change them from within: ‘I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts’ (31:33). Ezekiel and Joel make it clear that this is a promise of the presence of God’s Holy Spirit in the lives of all God’s people (Ezekiel 36:26-27; Joel 2:28-32). This new covenant was to be inaugurated by Jesus’s death. When he took the cup at the last supper he said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you’ (Luke 22:20).

114-115:

The New Testament never leads us to expect that there will be any fulfillment of the Old Testament promises other than their fulfillment in Christ… We are not encouraged, for example, to look for their fulfillment in the State of Israel and to expect a new temple to be built there. That is to expect a renewal of the model that has now been dismantled. The permanent reality is found in Christ. Graeme Goldsworthy has put it like this: ‘For the New Testament the interpretation of the Old Testament is not “literal” but “Christological”. That is to say that the coming of Christ transforms all the kingdom terms of the Old Testament into gospel reality.’

Another writer draws an analogy with a father a century ago, who promises his young son that he will give him a horse on his twenty-first birthday. Cars are subsequently invented, and so, when the birthday finally comes, the boy is given a car instead of a horse. The promise has still be fulfilled, but not literally. The father could not have promised his son a car because neither could have understood the concept. In a similar way, God made his promises to Israel in ways they could understand. He used categories they were familiar with, such as the nation, the temple, and material prosperity in the land. But the fulfillment breaks the boundaries of those categories. To expect a literal fulfillment is to miss the point: “To look for direct fulfillment of, say, Ezekiel in the twentieth-century Middle East, is to bypass and short-circuit the reality and the finality of what we already have in Christ as the fulfillment of those great assurances. It is like taking delivery of the motor car but still expecting to receive a horse.” All the promises of the kingdom of God are fulfilled in Christ; he is God’s people, God’s place and God’s rule.

116-117:

When Jesus is a child, Joseph and Mary take him to Egypt to protect him from Herod’s persecution. Matthew comments ‘So was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son”‘ (Matthew 2:15). Some commentators suggest that this is an unprincipled use of Old Testament prophecy. The question is from Hosea 11:1, which is not a messianic promise referring to an individual. The original context makes it very clear that it refers to the exodus of the nation of Israel. But Matthew is neither naive nor unprincipled. He knows exactly what he is doing. He is deliberately identifying Jesus with Israel. But Jesus is different. He too is temped, as the Israelites were in the wilderness, but, unlike them, he does not fall (Matthew 4:1-11).

Michael Anthony, ed., Christian Education: Foundations for the Twenty-first Century. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic. 2001.

28:

George Knight has cited seven hallmarks of a Christian epistemology. In a slightly adapted form, they are:

1. The biblical perspective is that all truth is God’s truth. Therefore, the distinction between sacred and secular truth is a false dichotomy.

2. The truth of Christian revelation is true to what actually exists in the universe. Therefore, the Christian can pursue truth without the fear of ultimate contradiction.

3. Forces of evil seek to undermine the Bible, distort human reasoning, and lead individuals to rely on their own inadequate and fallen selves in the pursuit of truth.

4. We have only a relative grasp of the absolute truths in the universe. In other words, while God can know absolutely, Christians can know absolutes in a relative sense. Thus, there is room for Christian humility in the epistemological enterprise.

5. The Bible is not concerned with abstract truth. It always sees truth as related to life. Therefore, knowing in the biblical sense is applying perceived knowledge to one’s daily life and experience.

6. The various sources of knowledge available to the Christ — the special revelation of Scripture and the person of Jesus Christ, the general revelation of the natural world, and reason — are complementary and should be used in light of the biblical pattern.

7. Given the unity of the truth, the acceptance of a Christian epistemology cannot be separated from the acceptance of a Christian metaphysics and vice-versa. The acceptance of any metaphysical-epistemological configuration is a faith choice, and it necessitates a total commitment to a way of life.

118:

The art of teaching is reflected in a competent teacher’s excellence in balancing the complementary, though often conflicted, attributes of the teaching task. The teacher as artist is constantly working out the right combination of exhorting and complimenting, warning, reassuring, and supporting. The teacher must avoid the desire to control or to remake another person in his or her own image. Integrity demands that an artist-teacher should take very seriously the responsibilities of the career. Any marks of insincerity are displaced by a more thoughtful style marked by realistic judgement calls and underlined by warmth and gentle humor. This sort of sincerity can become warmly appreciated, even eagerly anticipated. Ultimately, it will come to reside in the learner’s own capabilities for self-direction.

126:

Contrary to the popular belief that the Holy Spirit’s voice is primarily a subjective expression of a person’s inner spirit, the Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit represents an objective manifestation of the truth of God that never contradicts biblical truth. While the Spirit often expresses himself in subjective ways within an individual, his voice can be tested as to its authenticity by comparing it to truth from the Word of God. The Holy Spirit’s teaching never contradicts God’s objective revelation in Scripture.

 

Tremper Longman III and Raymond B. Dillard, An Introduction to the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan. Second Edition: 2006.

60:

In Genesis 22, God commands Abraham to take this son of the promise to Mount Moriah in order to sacrifice him. Abraham shows that he now trusts God completely when the narrative informs the reader that he silently and without complaint carried out God’s request. The reader is left to make the connection between the Mount Moriah of the sacrifice (Gen. 22:2) and the location of the future site of the temple (2 Chron. 3:1).

76:

Attempts like those of a movement called theonomy to impose the laws and penalties found in the Book of the Covenant to contemporary society… are ill-founded and dangerous… They simply do not take into account the radically different cultural and, more importantly, redemptive-historical differences between Old testament Israel and contemporary society. Theonomy used to be an attractive lens through which to read Scripture for many Christians, particularly in Reformed and Pentecostal circles in the 1970s and into the 1990s, among those who looked with horror at the secularization of society and longed for a more powerful Christian influence. Fortunately, as we begin the twenty-first century this movement has lost significant influence.

The law remains relevant for today, however, as the principles behind the various stipulations are summarized in a general way in the Ten Commandments. The Christian is now given a specification of the law in the New Testament along the lines of the Book of the Covenant or the other law codes of the Pentateuch. The Christian must think through contemporary ethical issues with the Ten Commandments as a guide. How does the commandment not to steal apply to computer theft? How does the commandment not to kill apply to the abortion pill? Nuclear arms?

The New Testament, of course, is not bereft of comments on law. Jesus shows that he is God himself as he deepens our understanding of the law in his Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7). Certainly, the most startling news in the New Testament about the law is that Jesus Christ has freed his followers from the curse of the law (Rom. 7). Thus the law, which was never the means to a relationship with God, becomes for Christians a guide to God’s will for their life.

 

James W. Sire, The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog. Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity Press. Fifth Edition: 2009.

43-44:

Looked at in this way, history itself is a form of revelation. That is, not only does God reveal himself in history (here, there, then), but the very sequence of events is revelation. One can say, therefore, that history (especially as localized in the Jewish people) is the record of the involvement and concern of God in human events. History is the divine purpose of God in concrete form.

This pattern is, of course, dependent on the Christian tradition. It does not at first appear to take into account people other than Jews and Christians. Yet the Old Testament has much to say about the nations surrounding Israel and about God-fearers (non-Jewish people who adopted Jewish beliefs and were considered a part of God’s promise). And the New Testament stresses even more the international dimension of God’s purposes and his reign.

101-102 n13:

The scientific concept of chance is vexed. The Heisenberg principle of indeterminacy holds that one cannot determine with accuracy both the location and the momentum of any given electron. One can have precise knowledge of either, but not both at the same time. It is an epistemological principle. But many scientists, including Werner Heisenberg, drew ontological implications from the epistemological principle that are clearly not warranted. Heisenberg himself said, “Since all experiments are subjected to the laws of quantum mechanics,… the invalidity of the law of causality is definitely proved by quantum mechanics” (quoted by Stanley Jaki, “Chance or Reality,” in Chance or Reality and Other Essays [Lanham, Md,: University Press of America, 1986], pp. 6-7). The implication is that not only is the universe not understandable at a fundamental level, but the universe is itself irrational or, even, unreal.

Heisenberg, along with at least some other scientists and popularizes of science, has moved from ignorance of reality to knowledge about that reality. I cannot measure Xtherefore does not exist. It is just such a movement from the limits of knowledge to the declaration that we have no justification for thinking we know anything that constitutes much of the postmodern pattern of thinking… Reality has to conform to the human mind in a theoretically completely knowable way or it does not exist. In fact, solipsism “has for long been recognized as an inevitable implication of the drastic meaning of Heisenberg’s principle” (Jaki, “Chance or Reality,” pp. 12-13).

One way out of the dilemma was taken by Niels Bohr, who insisted that “all statements about ontology or being must be avoided” (ibid., p. 8). As Jaki says, W. Pauli agreed “that questions about reality were as metaphysical and useless as was the concern of medieval philosophers about the number of angels that could be put on a pinhead” (ibid., p. 10).

Another way out, taken by Albert Einstein and other scientists, tried to get around the principle itself by finding ways of conceiving how measurements could be complete and accurate at the same time. Their attempt failed. All that could be said is, in Einstein’s words, “God doesn’t play dice with the universe” (ibid., p. 9). But this was more a pretheoritical commitment, a presupposition, than a conclusion drawn from successful theorizing from either laboratory or thought experiments. This then left the ontological conclusion to be drawn as many did: the universe is not fundamentally understandable (ibid., p. 8).

A premodern humility about the human ability to know might have prevented this rash and illogical move. Think of the apostle Paul’s caution (“Now we see through a glass darkly”) and then hope (“but then face to face”; 1 Cor 13:12 KJV).

The issue, Jaki concludes, boils down to a confusion of ontology and epistemology. “The science of quantum mechanics states only the impossibility of perfect accuracy in measurements. The philosophy of quantum mechanics states ultimately the impossibility of distinguishing between material and non-material, and even between being and non-being… At any rate, if it is impossible to distinguish between being and non-being, then efforts to say anything about freedom and determinism become utterly meaningless” (Jaki, “Chance or Reality,” p. 14).

134-136:

As in atheistic existentialism, theistic existentialism emphasizes the disjuction between the objective and the subjective worlds. Martin Buber, a Jewish existentialist whose views have greatly influenced Christians, uses the terms I-Thou and I-It to distinguish between the two ways a person relates to reality. In the I-It relationship a human being is an objectifier. “Now with the magnifying glass of peering observation he bends over particulars and objectifies them, or with the field-glass of remote inspection he objectifies them and arranges them as scenery, he isolates them in observation without any feeling of their exclusiveness, or he knits them into a scheme of observation without any feeling of universality.”

This is the realm of science and logic, of space and time, of measurability. As Buber says, “Without It man cannot live. But he who lives by It alone is not man.” The Thou is necessary.

In the I-Thou relationship, a subject encounters a subject: “When Thou is spoken [Buber means experienced], the speaker has nothing for his object.” Rather, such speakers have a subject like themselves with whom to share a mutual life. In Buber’s words, “All real living is meeting.”

Buber’s statement about the primacy of I-Thou, person-to-person relationships is now recognized as a classic. No simple summary can do it justice, and I encourage readers to treat themselves to the book itself. Here we must content ourselves with one more quotation about the personal relationship Buber sees possible between God and people:

“Men do not find God if they stay in the world. They do not find Him if they leave the world. He who goes out with his whole being to meet his Thou and carries to it all being that is in the world, finds Him who cannot be sought. Of course God is the “wholly Other”; but He is also the wholly Same, the Wholly Present. Of course He is the Mysterious Tremendum that appears and overthrows; but He is also the mystery of the self-evident, nearer to me than my I.

So theistic existentialists emphasize the personal as of primary value. The impersonal is there; it is important; but it is to be lifted up to God, lifted up to the Thou of all Thous. To do so satisfies the and serves to eradicate the alienation so strongly felt by people when they concentrate on I-It relations with nature and, sadly, with other people as well.

This discussion may seem rather abstract to Christians whose faith in God is a daily reality that they live out rather than reflect on. Perhaps the chart in figure 6.1 comparing two ways of looking at some basics elements of Christianity will make the issues clearer. It is adapted from a lecture given by theologian Harold Englund at the University of Wisconsin in the early 1960s. Think of the column on the left as describing a dead orthodoxy contrasted with the column on the right describing a live theistic existentialism.

When put this way, the existential version is obviously more attractive. Of course, traditional theists may well respond in two ways: first, the second column demands or implies the existence of the first column and, second, theism has always included the second column in its system. Both responses are well founded. The problem has been that theism’s total worldview has not always been well understood and churches have tended to stick with column one. It has taken existentialism to restore many theists to a full recognition of the richness of their own system.

137:

The full truth is in the paradox, not in an assertion of only one side of the issue. Presumably this paradox is resolved in the mind of God, but it is not resolved in the human mind. It is to be lived out: “God, I rely completely on you; do your will. I am stepping out to act.”

The strength of stating our understanding of our stance before God in such a paradox is at least in part a result of the inability most of us have had in stating our stance nonparadoxically. Most nonparadoxical statements end by denying either God’s sovereignty or human significance. That is, they tend either to Pelagianism or to hyper-Calvinism.

The weakness of resting in paradox is the difficulty of knowing where to stop. What sets of seemingly contradictory statements are to be lived out as truth? Surely not every set. “Love your neighbor; hate your neighbor.” “Do good to those who persecute you. Call your friends together and do in your enemies.” “Don’t commit adultery. Have every sexual liaison you can pull off.”

So beyond the paradoxical it would seem that there must be some noncontradictory proposition governing which paradoxes we will try to live out. In the Christian form of existentialism the Bible taken as God’s special revelation has set the bounds. It forbids many paradoxes, and it seems to encourage others. The doctrine of the Trinity, for example, may be an unresolvable paradox, but it does justice to the biblical data…

Among those who have no external objective authority to set the bounds, paradox tends to run rampant. Marjorie Grene comments about Kierkegaard, “Much of Kierkegaard’s writing seems to be motivated not so much by an insight into the philosophical or religious appropriateness of paradox to a peculiar problem as by the sheer intellectual delight in the absurd for its own sake.” Thus this aspect of theistic existentialism has come in for a great deal of criticism from those holding a traditional theistic worldview. The human mind is made in the image of God’s mind, and thus though our mind is finite and incapable of encompassing the whole of knowledge, it is yet able to discern some truth. As Francis Schaeffer puts it, we can have substantial truth but no exhaustive truth, and we can discern truth from foolishness by the use of the principle of noncontradiction.

 

Michael P. Schutt, Redeeming Law: Christian Calling and the Legal Profession. Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity Press. 2007. 

20:

Lawyers no longer think theologically about the substance of the law and therefore are blind to the goodness (or wickedness) of their daily work, which might otherwise be apparent in light of Scripture and the teachings of the church through the centuries.

The failure of attorneys and students to think biblically about the law and their daily work opens the door for confusion about the lawyer’s calling and the goodness of the lawyer’s work. Does God have a purpose in tort law? What is a contract? Is there a biblical reason for corporations, and should I participating in creating one? For the most part lawyers don’t ask these questions about the meat of the law; that is, they fail to develop a theology of their work. This is a failure in the life of the mind, and it is a problem running through the entire church, not just the bar. A decade ago Mark Noll documented this failure in The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind: “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.”

43-44:

The real problem posed by the law school culture is the insidious fruit of the two conditions discussed. After exposure to the unspoken amoral assumptions inherent in the law school climate, students are often deadened to the potential for Christian service in the law. They leave law school with a profound inclination toward a sort of spiritual apathy, fostered by the law school experience. It is a sluggishness about the pursuit of first things, about pursuit of ultimate goodness, truth, and beauty. Medieval scholars used the Latin term acedia for this spiritual sloth.

We are created to pursue the One who is good, who is the truth, and who is beauty. Our chief end, according to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, is to glorify him and enjoy him forever. This includes seeing his hand in the natural world, its laws and our duties. In our pursuit of the highest good, we pursue the good things and the noble and the true in the world, in our lives, and in our calling. Our stewardship of this material world is related in part to understanding that we were “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10 ESV). Our good works are in this world; they are here are now. Our great joy is to seek and knock, to search with our hearts, to discern our calling to serve God and others in what we do with our daily work. To abandon this quest is to reject the very privilege that comes with being created in God’s image. Yet acedia steals that joy and wrests the privilege of seeking and knocking from our hands.

This is the joyless state in which many lawyers find themselves. One reason they’re in this position is that, as law students, they gradually came tot understand that any desire for eternal truth in the law should be suppressed as irrelevant. This is a form of spiritual sloth.

Thomas Aquinas discusses this acedia in the context of the sin of despair: “The fact that a man considers an arduous good impossible to obtain, either by himself or by another, is due to his being downcast… [I]t seems to him that he will never be able to rise to any good. And since sloth [acedia] is a sadness that casts down the spirit, in this way, despair is born of [acedia].”

In other words, acedia arises when we look at some worthwhile good thing as impossible to achieve. It is this very despair of achieving a worthwhile good that is fostered in law school. Recall that Judge Posner tells us that we should not despair when we renounce the metaphysical quest, because there is no mystery at the heart of existence “worth troubling our minds about.” Yet because we know that we were created to pursue that mystery and that our happiness depends on it, we do despair. And if we are told enough times that the good is unattainable or irrelevant, we adopt Posner’s acedia as our own and experience the despair that arises from it.

60-61:

I watched as Stephen, who had just turned nineteen, stood before his church on a Sunday evening service. “The Lord has gotten hold of my heart,” he said, “and I just want to publicly announce that I have surrendered to the ministry.” By this, Stephen meant that he believed that he would spend his life in “full-time Christian work,” that is, in the clergy. Stephen’s announcement reflects common practice at many conservative Protestant churches: young people who feel a call to a deeper level of submission in their faith are encouraged to “surrender to the ministry.” Thus they begin informal preparation for a career as a youth pastor, evangelist, preacher, or missionary. In these circles, there is little consideration — at least no direct discussion or instruction — that “surrendering to God” might best be accomplished through full-time Christian work as a physician, teacher, writer, or lawyer.

Most often, an announcement like Stephen’s comes from a young person whose heart has been stirred to deeper submission to God. This stirring may have little or nothing to do with career or secondary calling issues. More likely, it is the longing to respond to God’s primary calling to surrender one’s life, in every area, to God. Stephen and his church leaders simply assume that his secondary calling in everyday work, based on gifts, talents and ability — will be professional ministry in the church. At a time in their lives when students should be encouraged to broaden their education and perspective on the world, this “surrendering to the ministry” has the opposite result. The student narrows his or her focus to biblical studies or youth ministry, narrowing the options and focus during an important formative period of discovery. Rather than gaining a broad education and wisdom in applying the things of God to real-world experience, the student is often isolated from the opportunities to develop various gifts and talents. Even in churches where the encouragement to “surrender to the ministry” is not phrased in those terms and where the narrowing effect is less obvious, Christians often think of a serious call by God as a call into “full-time” Christian work.

66:

The gravitation of Christian lawyers to political organizations may be a sign of our narrow view of culture-changing vocation. Political activism is often a knee-jerk response to the cultural drift away from moral truth. Yet the culture is almost never changed by politics; the culture must change first, and then political solutions will follow. It’s not that political activity is wrong — indeed, we are called to participate in and influence our political institutions — but we need to beware of our own brand of social engineering, in which we seek to remake the culture in our image through political means. This is the very instrumentalism I criticized in chapter two for being at the root of a shift away from our religious moorings.

87:

Christian thinking must not intentionally politicize. Yes, the life of the lawyer’s mind usually has important political or legal consequences — of course it does. And if clear, biblical, Spirit-led, body-centered thinking leads you to agree with the Republicans, then agree. If it leads you to agree with the Democrats, agree. I am not warning against political involvement, which is one of the clear duties of the Christian. I am warning against equating truth with a particular political movement or goal rather than following the truth wherever it leads. One of the huge traps here is for Christians to follow leaders — presidents, professors, or politicians — because they are “Christian,” and therefore their ideas must be “Christian.” We need to worry about the truth, follow the person of Christ and his revealed Word, and stop worrying about the labels on others. Look to their conduct — is it right? Look to their ideas — are they true? Look to the fruit of their leadership — is it morally sound? We need, for example, to stop worrying about whether the Founding Fathers were Christians or deists or pagans and start faithfully evaluating their ideas and the consequences of their ideas.

126-127:

Many law students have the idea that the local congregation is unimportant during the law school years. This is simply one of the many little lies that flow from the big lie: I’ll never be any busier than I am now in law school. We need to get used to it, setting our priorities during our formal education so that we have habits that are worth keeping after graduation. Our interaction with church leaders is a great resource for us and a big help to them… Interact with leaders — give them the benefit of your thoughts regarding calling and scholarship. Law students must intentionally pursue belonging to a local congregation or parish. Anonymous attendance is not the point either: students should be involved in the in-going (singing in the choir, teaching Sunday school, assisting in the youth program) and out-going (visitation of the sick, working at the shelter or food pantry, volunteering with Christian Legal Aid) ministries of the local church.

155:

J. P. Moreland reminds us that the couch potato is a poor model for the person pursuing the disciple’s life of the mind: “We let other people do our living and thinking for us: the pastor studies the Bible for us, the news media does our political thinking for us, and we let our favorite sports team exercise, struggle, and win for us. From watching television to listening to sermons, our primary agenda is to be amused and entertained.” This passivity is just one of the seven traits of what Moreland calls the empty self, constituted by “a set of values, motives, and habits of thought, feeling, and behavior that perverts and eliminates the life of the mind and makes maturation in the way of Christ extremely difficult.” Part of his solution to the empty self, beyond recognizing the problem and choosing to be different, is a change of routine. He suggests that our routines can be changed to “get out of passive ruts” and replace them with habits that create physical and intellectual energy. In other words, turn off the TV and the Internet!

171:

Leisure is not vacation, napping, or even retreating, though each of these things may play a role in our pursuit of leisure. Leisure is a condition of the inner person, embracing what God has created him or her to be. Like Daniel, we can exhibit a worshiping heart as we work out the lawyer’s calling. We celebrate our roles in continuing creation work, we reflect on what it means to be human, we stop and consider, we struggle with motherhood or fatherhood, we contemplate the sunset, or wonder why God created gnats. leisure, in its true sense, is the quiet consideration of what is true, good, and beautiful, and it flows from worship of the One who is good.

Both workaholism and idleness are the enemies of leisure. We can pursue work itself out of a true heart of worship, as workers created in the image of God. Yet when we use work to fill empty souls, to replace our obligation to set our minds on things that are beautiful, or to avoid reflection on our lives and purpose, then work stands in opposition to our callings in life. True work compliments true leisure, but work as a tool for fulfillment or as an end in itself is acedia in the same sense that pure idleness is. Spiritual sluggishness can take either form: We might choose to fill our hours with mindless amusement, seeking to distract ourselves from the task of reflection and contemplation, or we might fill our hours with productive task after never-ending task, seeking to numb ourselves to the call to reflect and consider.

American culture is beset with both problems, and, in fact, they feed one another. We are obsessed with work as the means to happiness, and we fill our non-working hours with mindless distraction or expensive toys. Cultural observer David Brooks notes that there are “two work ethics” layered into the American psyche. The first is the perversion of the Puritan work-ethic we discussed in chapter three, filtered through “the secularizing pen of Benjamin Franklin” and moralists preaching the gospel of work. “According to this ethic, it is through work, and our contribution to society, that we define ourselves. Far from being solely a thing you do, work is a way of justifying one’s existence, of fulfilling one’s purpose on earth, and of creating one’s identity.” The other American work ethic, “layered on top of this Puritan sense of calling, ” is that work is the means to “grabbing the goodies.” Brooks calls this the “abundance mentality” that believes that “fanatical work is always worth it, because it can be lavishly rewarded.” Rising class status is part of the goal: if your neighbor can “pull himself up to the realm of Lexus drivers,” someday you can too. People fill their lives with the pursuit of abundance, waiting to be grabbed like candy in a candy shop. “It takes a force of willpower beyond that of most ordinary people to renounce all this glorious possibility. It’s easier to work phenomenally long hours and grasp at all the candies than it is to say no. It takes incredible dedication to renounce opportunity, get off the conveyor, and be content with what one is.” This observation is a prophetic word to lawyers. Stop working to grasp the candies and be content with what you are — and first, take the time to discover who and what you are! This is true leisure, the last of the lawyer’s disciplines.