Tag Archives: God

‘When the church is where the war is’

Hope is where the door is

When the church is where the war is

Where no one can feel no one else’s pain

– U2, “Sleep Like A Baby Tonight,” Songs of Innocence

GOD: Concrete or Abstract?

Colin Foote Burch:

Here’s a good explication of C.S. Lewis’s understanding of God as Being and Personality and Reality, with reference to language in the senses of concreteness and abstraction:

Originally posted on While We're Paused!:

The "Trinity Knot": Three in One

The “Trinity Knot”: Three in One

C. S. Lewis wants to combat the modern tendency to associate transcendent being with abstraction so badly that he boldly calls God “concrete.” If God is a spirit, this word cannot be meant literally in its normal meaning of tangible. But Lewis wants us to think of God as something more solid than physical reality, as something at the opposite pole from nebulous. He conveys this idea effectively in his portrait of heaven in The Great Divorce, where the grass pierces the feet of the spirits from the gray town. So if we take “concrete” metaphorically, it is one of Lewis’s more brilliant descriptions of God as the One who is ultimately real. There is nothing nebulous about Him; He has a definite what-ness. “He is ‘absolute being’—or rather the Absolute Being—in the sense that He alone exists in His own right. But there…

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Louis C.K. on Saturday Night Live: skeptical of skeptics

Last night, Louis C.K. was the guest host on Saturday Night Live. Here’s an excerpt from his very funny opening stand-up comedy:

“I’m not religious. I don’t know if there’s a God. That’s all I can say honesty is, I don’t know. Some people think that they know that there isn’t. That’s a weird thing to think you can know. ‘Yeah, there’s no God.’ Are you sure? ‘Yeah, no, there’s no God.’ How do you know? ‘Because I didn’t see him.’ There’s a vast universe. You can see for about a hundred yards when there’s not a building in the way. How could you possibly — did you look in everywhere? Did you look in the downstairs bathroom? ‘Nah, I haven’t seen him yet.’ I haven’t seen 12 Years A Slave yet. It doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.” (To the best of my DVR transcription skills.)

And a bit earlier in his opening act, this:

“I don’t think women are better than men, but I do think men are worse than women.”

Take a look at this New York Times article on Saturday Night Live: “The God of ‘SNL’ will see you now.”



In this new world of protecting everyone’s feelings, am I allowed to say, “The times when absolutely no one cared & God completely vanished were the times I grew the most?” Nope. Suggesting that sadness and loneliness could contribute to personal growth would hurt someone’s feelings. Continue reading

‘The Cultivation of Christmas Trees’ by T.S. Eliot

Drawing of T. S. Eliot by Simon Fieldhouse. De...

Drawing of T. S. Eliot by Simon Fieldhouse. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“The Cultivation of Christmas Trees” was a later addition to T.S. Eliot’s “Ariel Poems,” an addition I wish were better known. Here’s an excerpt and below is a link to the full text: 

“The child wonders at the Christmas Tree:
Let him continue in the spirit of wonder
…So that the reverence and the gaiety
May not be forgotten in later experience,
In the bored habituation, the fatigue, the tedium,
The awareness of death, the consciousness of failure,
Or in the piety of the convert
Which may be tainted with a self-conceit
Displeasing to God and disrespectful to children….”


See  T. S. Eliot’s “The Cultivation of Christmas Trees”: A Rare 1954 Gem, Illustrated by Enrico Arno (brainpickings.org)




Revitalizing liturgical worship: Stephen R. Holmes on history and location

“Because of the doctrine of creation, historical locatedness is something good. The tradition we inherit is part of our location in history, and so in doing theology it is necessary to relate to the tradition.” — Stephen R. Holmes in Listening to the Past: The Place of Tradition in Theology

Notice the assumptions in the title of the book: Theology is somewhat abstract and intellectual, while tradition is somewhat tangible and embodied.

Also, consider what Holmes is saying, and I’ll put my own interpretative spin on it: even if you don’t believe in “sacred spaces,” you can appreciate that many people have worshipped within a certain place, and you can appreciate that all the symbolism within a place points to Christ or to the Trinity, and you can appreciate that someone, whether the craftsman or just the purchaser, cared that tangible things would be symbols for God, for Christ, and for the glory of God. After all, in Christian belief, the printed word “Jesus” is not the Incarnated God, yet the word stands as a symbol for the Incarnated God. If words can refer to God, than other symbols can, too, and a place with many symbols can be considered special without being considered idolatrous. We don’t fix a flood with a drought, as Thomas Howard said in a quotation I posted the other day.

Why I argue with ministers

“The clarity and cogency that philosophy brings is accordingly something that has a potentially positive role to play in every impartial area of human endeavor, Christianity by no means excluded. No church can exist in easy comfort with its intellectuals and theologians, but no church can be a thriving concern among thinking people if it dispenses with their services.” — Nicholas Rescher, in Philosophers Who Believe

But I don’t think that requires an attempt to wear smartness on one’s sleeve. I’m thinking this through with a few questions: I’m already in my church, but would I join it today? Is my church the kind of place where I would feel comfortable inviting my colleagues? What if answering both of those questions affirmatively did not involve a conference on apologetics or brainy sermons? So what would it involve?

Revitalizing liturgical worship: Loren Mead on fads and worship

“When the new way is considered the only way, there is no continuity, fads become the new Gospel and in Paul’s words, the church is ‘blown to and fro by every wind of doctrine’.” — Loren Mead, in The Once and Future Church

The historical continuity and connections have meant the most the me, regardless of changes in the liturgy over time. The changes within various liturgies are no where near as radical as the changes in approaches to worship. As Mead suggests, emotional highs have taken the place of both the solemnity and the education within the liturgical worship services.

One should ask why emotional highs are important to God, why emotional highs are important to individual spiritual growth, and why (for many churches) worship has become inextricably tangled with emotional highs.

Why is my rock concert experience worth duplicating in church? Why is my Super Bowl experience worth duplicating in church? Our emotions ebb and flow but God remains constant.

Revitalizing liturgical worship: C.S. Lewis on ritual

Following Iain‘s announcement that he’ll invest in conversations about the 11 a.m. service at Trinity, here is some good food for thought from C.S. Lewis:

“A parallel, from a different sphere, would be turkey and plum pudding on Christmas day; no one is surprised at the menu, but every one realizes it is not ordinary fare. Another parallel would be the language of a liturgy. Regular church-goers are not surprised by the service — indeed, they know a good deal of it by rote; but it is a language apart. Epic diction, Christmas fare, and the liturgy, are all examples of ritual — that is, of something set deliberately apart from daily usage, but wholly familiar within its own sphere…. Those who dislike ritual in general — ritual in any and every department of life — may be asked most earnestly to reconsider the question. It is a pattern imposed on the mere flux of our feelings by reason and will, which renders pleasures less fugitive and griefs more endurable, which hands over to the power of wise custom the task (to which the individual and his moods are so inadequate) of being festive or sober, gay or reverent, when we choose to be, and not at the bidding of chance.” — C.S. Lewis, from A Preface to Paradise Lost

Don’t blame the rapist — the rape was God’s idea, after all

In this enlightening video clip, famous preacher and author John Piper explicitly describes the inescapable conclusion of the Reformed doctrine of sovereignty: God has predetermined every sin.

After watching the video clip, consider this: in Reformed theology, a rapist will experience conscious, eternal torment unless he repents of his sins, and yet God chose the rapist to be an agent for the rape; therefore, the rapist had to rape because God predetermined it; and furthermore, God may have chosen (back before the first human being became conscious) to damn the rapist. (Better yet, the rapist is due for the same punishment as an average American middle-class Joe who never commits a crime, but that’s another matter.)

So, rapist, repent from what God forced you to do according to his perfect will, or, repent from being an agent for God’s perfect will. Oh, and it’s still the rapist’s fault, not the fault of the almighty, all-powerful sovereign God of the universe, who made the rapist rape.

You have to be angry at sin and God’s will at the same time.

Have you ever seen a horror movie in which the evil creep forces someone to do something despicable?

Of course this view of sovereignty doesn’t make sense. The ultimate end of Reformed views of sovereignty is to ask us to believe in a God who created goodness while also having a completely different definition of goodness — a definition that has not the slightest bit of analogy to our definition.

Can we even understand Christ’s sacrifice without analogies? Many people understand a soldier sacrificing himself for others during a battle, or a mother sacrificing herself for her children. Some people have described Christ’s sacrifice as a judge issuing a sentence on me and then taking the punishment himself.

(To declare the analogy imperfect doesn’t matter — the analogy is being used to communicate what is said to be the most important message, ever.)

If not the slightest analogy exists between our understanding and God’s understanding, the doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture has to go because language itself becomes moot — and mute. Without some semblance of analogy, no bridge between our minds and God’s mind can exist.

Elsewhere, Piper has made a plea for us not to let our minds build “implications” too far out from Biblical teachings, a softened version of other statements he has made.

But biblical interpretation itself is the building of implications. That’s not hard to figure out. Why did Piper say that about “implications”? Why do people listen to him? It must be an ideological thing, like, as long as you’re against taxes, you’ll have the favor of Republicans, or as long as you’re pro-choice, you’ll have the favor of Hollywood, never mind the reasoning behind your position or your other positions.

And when an interpretation or implication nauseates our moral consciences, we ought to be able to say it’s a wrong interpretation or implication.

(This remains confusing to me: the Reformed folks, and many others, demand that we systematize the Bible’s teachings, and then they pull back at convenient moments and declare “mystery.” They specialize in rationalistic interpretations of Scripture while Scripture itself has for too many textual variations and outright contradictions to stand in a strictly rationalistic manner. To say the Scripture should be seen as poetic truth would probably be misunderstood because people today have too low of a view of poetry, similar to the degradation of the word “myth,” which was enormously valuable to C.S. Lewis.)

Of course, Piper’s view isn’t the only available view. In his book The Beauty of the Infinite, Eastern Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart writes, “At a critical moment in cultural history — not that there were not various fateful moves in the history of Western theology that led to it — many Christian thinkers somehow forgot that the incarnation of the Logos, the infinite ratio of all that is, reconciles us not only to God, but to the world, by giving us back a knowledge of creation’s goodness, allowing us to see again its essential transparency — even to the point, in Christ, of identity — before God. The covenant of light was broken. God became, progressively, the world’s infinite contrary. And this state of theological decline was so precipitous and complete that it even became possible for someone as formidably intelligent as Calvin, without any apparent embarrassment, to regard the fairly lurid portrait of the omnipotent despot of book III of his Institutes – who not only ordains the destiny of souls, but in fact predestines the first sin, and so brings the whole drama of creation and redemption to pass (including the eternal perdition of the vast majority of humanity) as a display of his own dread sovereignty — as a proper depiction of the Christian God. One ancient Augustinian misreading of Paul’s ruminations upon the mystery of election had, at last, eventuated fatalism.”

In Piper’s mind and in many evangelical and Reformed minds, God is “the world’s infinite contrary,” to the point where not the slightest semblance of analogy exists between our use of “good” and God’s “good.” Rape is bad for us, but good for God.

My church, full of feeling, does not think of these things, and offers Piper’s books, and quotes Piper in its materials. Which is worse — the belief that rape is good for God, or the insanely liberal theology of a denomination’s national church? Please tell me this is a false dilemma.

‘We can’t argue with personal experience’

An excerpt from the recent Strange Days column:

“I’m sure this woman believes she is in touch with God when she speaks in tongues, and I’m sure she feels righteous in dismissing science. I’m not going to judge her faith or religious practice. I probably won’t ever have to converse with her or occupy the same space as her. Right now, somewhere else in the world, someone is rubbing a rabbit’s foot or reading a horoscope or begging a dead relative for rain — and these activities are equally meaningless to me and my obligations to my community and my family today.”

Read all of “See me, feel me.”

Behavior modification is ‘Godly character’

A lady with Proverbs 31 Ministries was doing a little infomercial on the “positive, encouraging” Christian radio station, K-Love (my daughters insist on listening).

The lady’s concern on this occasion was the motherly embarrassment of poorly behaved children. Her solution was to tell her children how to behave and state clear consequences for not behaving properly, so being polite was a better option than not. This, she said, was a way to instill “Godly character” in children.


Most people should (but probably don’t) realize this woman’s solution has nothing to do with theology, doctrine, or faith. Any parent of any belief system can use behavior-modification methods. No God, “biblical” or otherwise, is required for training children (and some pets) to believe one behavioral option is better than another. The brains and central nervous systems of most mammals can respond to that method.

I won’t venture a guess about whether some behavior modification methods are good or bad for children (or classrooms or even employees). My point has nothing to do with a judgment call on behavior modification in and of itself. The problem should be (but probably isn’t) clear: Once again in the arid lands of evangelicalism, character has nothing to do with a heart-felt response to a clear picture of divine grace, mercy, and love. “Godly” simply means “well-behaved.” And “character” means “not getting on mom’s nerves.”

What about character that lasts when no one is around to punish you for getting out of line? Trust me, I’ve seen children who were never given the choice to get out of line — at least not without facing significant punishment — and when they were older and on their own, all they could do is run wild.

There’s no chance to develop self-control when there’s too much authoritarian control.

But as we’ve seen in China and the late Soviet Union, authority can control many outcomes.

In my personal, limited observations, many unbelieving parents seem to stumble upon something like moderation and balance in their lives and their children’s lives — probably because they’re not listening to K-Love’s infomercials.


An ex-pastor’s salient point: ‘feelings, nothing more than feelings’

Feelings and experiences might just have more to do with conversion, and de-conversion, than critical thinking.

The truth is my personal experiences forced me to do what I should have been doing all along, critically examining my faith. It took these experiences because the power of delusion is that strong. So just because many of us leave the faith after some bad experiences, it does not follow that experiences alone caused us to leave the faith. The bad experiences merely caused us to wake from our dogmatic slumbers. They force us into actually thinking critically about our inherited faith for probably the first time in our lives,” writes John W. Loftus in Why I Became An Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity (italics in the original).

Loftus also notes that people usually have a conversion experience or conversion feelings, and then set out to try to justify them rationally.

And, Loftus says if feelings and experiences are grounds for conversion, they can be grounds for de-conversion, too. Or maybe he was saying feelings and experiences kind of cancel each other out in the faith-versus-skepticism debate.

Maybe all that isn’t surprising. Hume said reason is, and ought to be, slave to the passions.

But it’s more than just Loftus’s perspective on bad experiences. Consider, too, this video by Dr. Valerie Tarico, a former evangelical, and watch at least to the 3:49 mark. Tarico considers the nature of conversion experiences. If you watch about the first four minutes, you might be surprised by the research Tarico presents, at least if you consider similarities in conversion experiences to be a kind of evidence for the type of belief system you have.

Furthermore, Michael Shermer and Andy Thomson take a look at how and why the brain believes — typically not upon rational bases.

So what’s the point? The point is: our way of assessing feelings and experiences tends to be central to our appropriation or rejection of a belief, and feelings and experiences are shaky grounds in light of our best available understanding of the brain.

Footnote on the reliability of the Bible: Let’s say we met 30 minutes ago

Let’s say you and I met 30 minutes ago.

We met in a hotel lobby, and a passing comment about a sports car became a conversation.

I told you, “Hey, I just got a new Jaguar.”

You said, “Wow — that’s cool!”

Then we decided to share a ride somewhere.

We walked up to my car. It’s a Honda Accord.

You said, “Oh, I thought you had your Jaguar with you.”

I said, “No, I just have an Accord.”

You wondered if I’m crazy or a liar or what.

We got in the car, and I started driving.

We passed a convention center, and a sign for an upcoming concert turned the conversation to music.

You said, “I really love jazz.”

I said, “Awesome! I’ve got a massive collection of jazz in the back. We’ll get it out when we pull into a gas station.”

When we pulled into the gas station, I reached into the back and pulled out a small compact-disc holder. I handed it to you. You opened it. Inside, you found five CDs of 1980s pop.

“This doesn’t look like a jazz collection,” you said, a little exasperated.

“Oh, I don’t have a jazz collection with me — I have a few 1980s pop CDs,” I said.

You thought I was crazy or a liar or something.

Now, in the past 30 minutes, twice I’ve told you something, and then I changed my story.

Do you think I’m trustworthy?

Maybe, just maybe, some of the debates about Biblical discrepencies could be described this way:

The “liberal” text critics might say, “Look, in this passage, the Bible clearly says he had a Jaguar, and in this passage, the Bible clearly says he had an Accord. This is a problem.”

The “conservative” text critics might say, “Look, the important thing is that he had a car, just like he said.”

The “liberal” text critics might say, “How can you call this inerrant? He said he had a big jazz collection, and then he said he had a small 1980s pop collection! This is what you mean by inerrancy?”

The “conservative” text critics might reply, “He said he had music in his car, and he did, and that’s the importance of this passage. Ergo, inerrancy preserved!”

Of course, this analogy doesn’t work for every instance of factual discrepency, but it might just apply to some.

Could it be that the “conservatives” have a very broad, liberal view of what makes a text trustworthy?

(And why don’t we talk about this in church? It’s like the elephant in the room.)

God has lousy aim? Profs consider natural disasters

Food for thought from Lawson G. Stone, Professor of Old Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary:

“When the Bible speaks of God directing the winds and controlling the weather, this imagery is intended to celebrate the supreme power of God, which vastly dwarfs the power of any created force. But to say God is utterly powerful over nature is not at all the same as saying God manipulates nature or directly causes every weather event. The belief that God directly causes every event in nature or human life is known as the doctrine of ‘meticulous providence’ and not only is not taught in scripture, it makes any serious belief in an all-good, all-powerful God virtually impossible to maintain. The Bible reveals a God who has created the world gifted, by his grace, with its own inner powers of fertility, energy and change, all of which function according to their own inner laws, implanted there by the God who created them. Even though the creation was wounded by sin, knocked off its balance and subjected to death, this does not mean that God now must directly cause every event. If these natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornados and earthquakes express his judgment, then God has lousy aim, since these events harm as many faithful Christians as non-Christians. We live in a world where natural disasters and tragedies simply happen. God’s power is seen when he meets suffering in the midst of tragedy, and most clearly when his church embodies that redemptive power and compassion in the midst of suffering.”

See several more Asbury professors comment on the recent tornado outbreak here.

I still like U2’s ‘Pop’ — Part 5

Discothèque (song)

Image via Wikipedia

Looking for the one
But you know you’re somewhere else instead.
You want to be the song
The song that you hear in your head…

But you take what you can get
‘Cause it’s all that you can find.
Oh you know there’s something more…

-“Discotheque,” U2

Numerous times, Bono has woven the theme of searching in his lyrics. The above lines from “Discotheque” are one example; another example comes from the Pop‘s third track, “Mofo,” which says in part, “Looking for to fill that God-shaped hole.”

Related articles

‘Living in the Era of Control Freaks’ — smoking in bars and tax-free candy

From my latest Strange Days column:

“You know the type — Enlightened Ones who believe they can make the world a better place by meddling in other people’s lives.

“Sure, they have good intentions. Shoot, they might even have great intentions.

“But their means just don’t make sense, and God save us from the outcomes.

“Think I’m kidding? Consider a few things the control freaks have been up to lately…”

Read it all here.

Your own personal Jesus in the hall of mirrors

Preliminary speculations — not from an expert witness — but from a mind that wandered and wondered during a church service: 

Corcovado jesus

Your Jesus is constructed from your interpretations of Bible passages about Jesus, your imaginative appropriation of Jesus, and your experiences related to an intentional focus on Jesus. In other words, you cannot escape your own subjectivity in your beliefs about Jesus, no matter what label you attach to those beliefs. When you look for Jesus, you find a single image from overlays of your interpretations and your imagination and your experiences. Maybe the outcome of these overlays provides some accuracy. I’m not sure anyone can overcome some degree of fiction in his beliefs — about anything, including Jesus. I’m not sure which one becomes the greater source of fiction, the imaginative appropriation or the experiences related to intentional focus. Then again, even the wildest, imaginative fiction has a root in the world as it is commonly experienced. Furthermore, common source materials make for similarities between different overlapping points of view. How does one evaluate the source materials, like the Bible passages? That I won’t attempt to answer here.

To turn this same central point in another direction: An individual becomes who she is by believing what she needs to believe. As she grows spiritually, she might choose to believe new things and to discard old beliefs. What she needs to believe now might not be what she needed to believe in a previous time.

But do humans get clearer perspectives and perceptions as they grow? These days I’m doubting it. For one thing, is it possible to refine a point of view without reading and studying its opponents? Probably not, and few really do. Furthermore, what passes for aged wisdom within one worldview is folly within another worldview. But then the need to believe a particular belief is based in a subjective need, not  in an unattainable, objective view of truth.

All this has nothing to do with the question of God’s existence.