Saturday, March 29, 2008

Animal Intelligence: My Cats Were Smarter Than Your Honor Students.

Last July, Parade Magazine published an article entitled "How Much Do Animals Really Know?" The piece was a brief summary of current scientific studies of animal intelligence. The findings of various studies indicate that animals know more than we give them credit for. They may also experience the emotion of empathy. While one can doubt these findings, my own experience with my own pets lines up with the article's assertion, while my own observations concerning my pets does not always fit in with the specific findings of the studies cited in the article.

A case in point: various animals were tested to see whether they could recognize themselves in the mirror. Dolphins, great apes and elephants were reported to understand that they could recognize themselves, while monkeys, cats and rats reacted as if they were encountering another one of their species. Yet my Siamese cat, Meiling, displayed the same behavior of recognition as did dolphins, great apes and elephants; she moved her head from side to side to see how her mirror image would react. My family and I noticed a smile on her face as she did so. (Yes, dogs and cats do smile.) She seemed quite pleased with her appearance. She was a neat freak, always bathing herself, getting annoyed when a tuft of hair was out of place. When she was unaware of being observed, she would stare at herself for a long time. Once she realized she was being watched, she stopped looking in the mirror and acted as if she were engaged in other activity, like sniffing around the area or looking the other way. (She behaved in a similar fashion with catnip. If she thought no one was looking, she reveled in the catnip high as other cats. But when she saw us watching, she stopped and just sat there acting as if she was just exploring the usual garden smells.) She never did understand that when I was in front of the mirror, I could see her behind me, observing me, incognito, she thought. When I saw her watching me, I would call her name. She would turn her head away for a minute, than return to observing her master. (She worshipped the ground I walked on.) Then I would call her name again, and she would momentarily turn her head. She never figured out how I knew she was watching me. That was fun. Intelligent as she was, she could not tell the difference between real birds and fake ones. Twice one Thanksgiving, she leaped onto the dining room table, ignored the human food, and snatched the plastic bird from the center-piece.The second time we chased her down, we placed the fake bird in a drawer. She saw which drawer we placed it in. She sat in front of the drawer and howled.

Our other cat, a grey tabby named Rebel, was as messy as our Siamese cat was neat. (He died in the litter box.) Yet he displayed great intelligence at times. The most remarkable display occurred one night as my family and I sat at the dining room table. The cat came in and stared intently for about five seconds each at each member of the family seated around the table. Then he disappeared. As we discussed what that was all about, from the kitchen, we heard a resounding CRASH! He was in the trash can retrieving what food he could. I am not stating that this cat actually counted us, yet he was smart enough to make sure all humans were out of sight. Unfortunately, he forgot about the human ability to hear. (After that, we put up a cheap, folding door to keep the cats out of the kitchen. The cats hated it; the Siamese hissed at it. One night, the Siamese, which happened to be a runt, succeeded in dislodging the door from its hinges and brought it down. There was nothing then that stood between her and human food. Yet she was not prepared for the loud crash the door made when it hit the floor.)

Can animals remember things beyond the things necessary for survival? My cats could. The Siamese resented the Tabby's presence. (The day we took the Tabby in, the Siamese claimed all the objects in the basement in the usual manner of cats, then sat in a corner for a couple of hours with her paw in her mouth.) After the Tabby's death, sometimes I would tease the Siamese by reaching around the corner where she could not see my hand. Then I would move my arm as if I was petting and say "Good boy, Rebel!" several times. Meiling, the Siamese, would rush around the corner and sniff the entire area. She appeared quite annoyed with me when she realized Rebel was not there. She was not one to bear a grudge. But one day, my Dad and I took her to the Vet. She did not like the Vet. The rest of the day she would follow me around yet ignored me at the same time. That evening, I was on my bed reading. She was sitting in the window. She decided she wanted on top of the dresser. She jumped onto the bed, walked across it and stopped when she realized that she would have to step over me to get where she wanted. She didn't want to touch me. I had taken her to the Vet. For about a minute, she stared at the dresser, she stared at me, she stared at my legs, then she stared into the air, then she repeated the cycle. Then, as if she were possessed by a spirit of "snootiness", she leaped over me and and made it to my dresser. Then she looked at me with an expression that seemed to convey "I sure showed you." She did show me. She remembered.

As for the Tabby, he remembered his former owners. Before he moved in with us, he was owned by a family with two very little girls who didn't know how to treat him. Often we would have to stop them carrying him by his neck, sometimes in the nick of time. Years later, when the older girl was a teenager, the Tabby saw them approaching from way off in the distance. Alarm bells went off somewhere in his brain, and off he ran. He remembered.

I know a someone who owns a Golden Retriever. Every night, this friend watches television in the exact same spot, laying on the floor. One night he would not allow the dog into the bedroom. The dog was displeased. When my friend woke up, he saw that his dog had left his droppings in the exact spot where my friends head would be if he had been watching television. I agree with my friend's opinion: "That took a lot of doggie thought and planning."

A reader commented on the article online. She chided the article's author for ignoring creatures, such as parrots, who can associate human words with certain situations. She claimed this ability exclusively for birds. Yet I must disagree. Before the cats joined our family, we owned a Cocker Spaniel. She knew the word "bath." Every time we mentioned the word in various tones of voice, she would hide under the kitchen table. Bath times always required us to drag her out from under the table. She knew the word, and knew what it meant. That she would be subjected to an experience she did not like.

Some people reject the idea that animals possess intelligence. To some, to assert animal intelligence is to state that there is no real difference between them and us, that we are equal, that their lives are just as important as humans, that animals have souls and are going to be with us in Heaven. I am making no such claim. Nor am I advocating vegetarianism or the end of all animal experiments in laboratories. But God did make animals to be our companions and instruments. To be the very best of companions to man, animals need both intelligence and emotions. "God is good all the time, and all the time, God is good!" How like our God to give us such companions. Evolution could not have produced such compatible beings. Why should we have a problem thinking animals have empathy. Animals were created for man and if they are to be our companions, why would anyone want to deny that animals possess this trait? After all, many a human being has been deprived of empathy from their fellow humans. Why wouldn't a good God provide another source of empathy for those who have received none from where they should have received it? Remember that animals are part of creation that is groaning for man's salvation to come (Rom. 8:22). The animal world will be apart of the created world that will be redeemed. No, I am not claiming that animals go to Heaven. But would you like to know how to send a five year old to Hell? Just tell him or her that their pets will not be in Heaven. One of the stupidest things a pastor could do is to state from the pulpit that animals are excluded from heaven. Little kids cannot handle that. John Wesley believed that animals went to heaven. You could agree or not agree. If you agree with Wesley, no one could say that you are not in good company.

Monday, March 17, 2008

A Speculative Sermon: John 12:12-18.

(Since Yesterday was Palm Sunday, I thought the republishing of this sermon would be appropriate.)

Why Speculative? I am wondering what was going through the mind of Christ as he entered Jerusalem for what he knew would be the final week before his death and resurrection. What was his emotional state? Usually when a sermon on this passage is preached the pastor will observe that in one week the people who are celebrating their Messiah will be shouting "Crucify Him!" Was Jesus reflecting upon this as he rode upon the donkey and the palm branches were spread before Him? Possibly. Yet I believe this was not in the forefront of what He was thinking at the time. Some may chastise me for speculating upon what we cannot know for sure, yet I believe the following had to be reflected upon by Jesus as He rode into Jerusalem that day, and that one can support this view through the reading of scripture.

Many went out to see Jesus that day because they had heard that Jesus had raised Lazurus from the dead. Jesus had raised people from the dead before. He raised the son of the widow of Nain. He also raised Jairus's daughter. But no one before had raised one who had been dead for four days and whose body had started to decompose. Jesus knew that the miracle He had performed caused people to seek Him out. He also knew that the miracle shook up the Pharisees even more than anything else He had done. Not only did they plot to kill Him, they also sought the life of Lazurus as well! There was also something unique about this miracle: this event concerned not total strangers, but those who were closest to Jesus, those whom scripture states that Jesus loved. It could not have been easy for Him to delay going to Lazurus and his sisters when he knew that Lazurus was sick. He had to have mourned for the death of the one He loved even though He knew He would raise him from the dead. After all, He was just like us in our humanity, though without sin. The grief of Mary and Martha must have caused Him great pain. Here were two of His closest followers, yet they did not have a full understanding of who Jesus was. They did not fully understand His power over death. They knew he could have raised Lazurus if Jesus had been there, but they did not fully grasp that Jesus is the resurrection and the life. The despair death brings was staring Jesus in the face as perhaps no other event in scripture demonstrates. Jesus knew He could have spared them these feelings by healing their brother from afar. Then there were those who stood by accusing Jesus of doing nothing. Jesus could have been tempted to justify His actions. But He did not. He knew what He was about to do and the glory it would bring to God. Yet in this situation Jesus was emotionally involved more than at anyother time in scripture; He truly felt the pain that death brings to man more than ever before. The experiencing of these emotions must have been on Jesus's mind as he rode into Jerusalem.

I am sure that many passages from scripture concerning His mission were running through His mind. One of them might have been Hosea 13:14. "I will ransom them from the power of the grave, I will redeem them from death. O Death, I will be your plagues! O Grave, I will be your destruction! Pity is hidden from My eyes." Here is our Messiah, the second person of the Godhead, who has just experienced the pain of death as we ourselves experience it. Jesus must have been thinking "Satan, you are about to get what you deserve." "O, Death, I will be your plagues! O Grave, I will be your destruction!" This prophecy talks of a time when death and ultimately Satan Himself will get what is due them. Jesus will deal with His enemies, including those that torment man, with no pity. And as Jesus was riding into Jerusalem that day, He had to be reflecting on the fact that in one week, Satan was going to have his power crushed forever. And Jesus was going to accomplish this by giving His body as a ransom; He was going to die in our place on the Cross. But because He had no sin, death was not going to be able to hold Him. He will be raised from the dead by the Holy Spirit on the third day. And because He was raised from the dead, we who repent of our sins and place our faith in Jesus and what He did on our behalf, we will be in His presence for eternity. Death and the grave will not be our destiny. As Paul states in I Cor 15:52-57, the sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. Sin brings fear and uncertainty. Sin brings regrets and pain. The law shows us that we on our own cannot live up to the standards of a holy God. But sin forgiven is sin that no longer has power to hurt. One who knows their that their sins have been put under the blood knows where he or she is going at life's end. And they know that they will worship in the presence of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit forever with all those whom they have loved and who also have had their sins forgiven. This scene of those whose sins are forgiven worshipping in heaven and experiencing no more pain must have been before Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem that day.

John Wesley's Advice To Young Emergents

Last year I had a civil exchange with one of my fellow seminarians over Biblical interpretation. My friend correctly laments the individualism that pervades the Protestant Church regarding obedience to Biblical commands. He blames this current state of affairs on the Protestant concept of "every man (or woman) a priest." Ignoring the historical background out of which this Protestant distinctive arose, he agrees with an Emergent Church concept of the entire community replacing the individual in determining what scripture means.

My explanation for today's situation of doing what is right in our own eyes is to be blamed on the culture making inroads into Church life. Although Catholics pledge allegiance to the Pope, today's Catholics decide for themselves what they will and will not obey concerning Catholic teaching. They are just as individualistic as today's Protestants. In Central and South America, long dominated by the Catholic Church, society is disintegrating and the authority of the Catholic Church, along with other institutional authorities, are losing influence over the citizens' behavior and beliefs.

To blame disobedience to scripture on the Protestant Reformation is to ignore the historical background from which it arose. This charge against Protestantism is not new. The Catholic Church has repeated it for centuries, and now, ironically, the Emergents, who are suspicious of traditional authority, repeat the charge and would remedy the situation by interpretation by the Church Community. (How would they deal with a Church community divided by different cultures? Who would determine which cultural lenses are to be ignored when determining truth? If Africa, Central and South America and China are to be the power centers of The Church during this century, and if many from this region immigrate here and to Europe, than this question is not off the beam.)

I thought John Wesley can better counter this Emergent understanding of scriptural interpretation better than I. The following is from Wesley's "A Roman Catechism Faithfully Drawn Out of the Allowed of the Church of Rome with a Reply Thereto." paraphrased into modern language by myself. ( I have added references to the Emergent Church in bold type. )

"...Under the Law, the people had the Scriptures in the common language of the people; and they were required to read the law, and to be conversant in it: "These words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart," &c. (Deut. vi. 6;) and accordingly our Savior sends his hearers to search the scriptures for they shall find in them a testimony concerning Him (John 5:39). Paul required his letter to be read to "all the bretheren;" (I Thess. 5:27) and, if so, it was written in the language they understood. And it was so in the primitive Church; therfore John Chrysostom exhorts his hearers, though secular men, to provide themselves Bibles, the medicines of their souls, to be their perpetual instructers..."

This is Wesley's response to the Catholic/Emergent arguement that individual interpretation of Scripture would produce personal perjudices rather than truthful intepretation: "In the Apostles" times there were some that "wrested the Scriptures to their own destruction;" and yet the Apostle thought of no other expedient than to give the Christian a caution, that they were "not also led away with the error of the wicked" (IIPet 3:16-17). The way to prevent this, therefore, is, not to keep the Scriptures from the people, which "were written for our learning" (Rom. 15:4), but to exhort them to a diligent perusal of them.: "ye err, not knowing the Scriptures" (Matt. 22:29).

How would Wesley answer the question as to who should be the interpreters of Scripture since Scripture can be misunderstood? "The Catholic Church would say that the Church of Rome is the only correct interpreter of Scripture. The Emergents would contend that interpretation belongs to the community of believers, not to the individual. While the Apostles were alive, the Churches of Christ, in matters of dispute, applied themselves to Scripture, as in the point of circumcision (Acts 15:2), but since they of the Church of Rome can never prove the like infallibility in their Church, nor can Emergents claim Community infallibility, nor can either direct us where infallibility lies, we think ourselves as well in our Church as they can be in theirs; and that as long as we have the Scripture, the Church is to be referred to the Scripture, and not the Scripture to the Church; and that, as the Scripture is the best expounder of itself, so the best way to know whether anything be of divine authority, is to apply ourselves to the Scripture." Wesley ends his comments with a quote from a Church Father: "The way for understanding the Scriptures, is to demonstrate out of themselves, concerning themselves." Wesley quotes Augustine on this issue: "If I would have the Church demonstrated, it is not by human teachings, but by the divine oracles."

Wesley would make use of these quotes if he could speak to Emergents. And while we are on the subject, he would argue the same with today's Evangelicals who are contemplating leaving their Evangelical Church tradition for a more sacramental one. Wesley would be the first to point out the current powerlessness of today's Protestant Evangelicals, yet he would not condone the abandonment of this branch of the Church which emphasizes the supremacy of God's Word read and preached.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Monday Morning Devotions

Ps. 84:12- "For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord will give grace and glory; no good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly. O Lord of hosts, blessed is the man who trusts in you!" (NKJV)

Try to put yourself in the shoes of those who heard this psalm for the first time; to a Jew, or gentile, who had known no religion but the paganism of the surrounding peoples, the words of this verse would be liberating. The "gods" of the surrounding nations, who were supersized versions of their inhabitants, cared not at all for the plight of individuals. These gods had to be placated by man before they would move on man's behalf, if these gods chose to move at all. This was the belief of the pagan nations concerning their gods. Whether one walked upright or not, these gods were fickle, their worshippers could not be sure how their gods would act towards them. Men and women had no promises regarding the gods that they could rely on.

What a contrast to those who followed the God of the Jews, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. There was no way this God could be bribed to act in a certain manner. If one walked upright, there was nothing God would not do to protect that one. Total trust on the part of the upright man or woman removes the uncertainty experienced by the pagans of the ancient world and that experienced today by those who have not yet chosen to follow Him. God is not like man. He does not change his mind concerning those who trust in Him. All that man needs to live in safety as well to experience a life of abundance and joy, God is happy to supply. This life of freedom was certainly a revelation to those who only knew the bondages provided by other religions. These two verses taught them, as well as ourselves, that God is real, and those who trust in Him can have a real relationship with Him.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Friday Night Frozen Dinner And An Intellectual: Michael Novak's Web Page

The last two Friday evenings have been spent drinking coffee at a cafe, listening to bad music and reading Michael Novak's web page. (Biographical information on Michael Novak can be found at his website, , or in the Links section of this blog.) His style is one that I would wish to emulate. He brings a contagious enthusiasm to each subject that cannot fail to be transmitted to the reader. Novak displays a wide range of interests that by reading him one can broaden his/her horizons. In this, he is much like the recently deceased William F. Buckley. The tone of Novak's writings reminds me of the speeches of Ronald Reagan. Novak understands, as Reagan did, that even as one marshalls arguments against liberal ideas and policies, a clear articulation of what conservatives are for must be made. The audience must feel that they have come away from a positive presentation rather than a negative one. A positive presentation will move readers and listeners to support a positive agenda; this support will be more long lasting than support garnered from a negative presentation. As Novak expresses this in his article, 'Neocons: Some Memories', "...The party better placed to win is the party with the most attractive and realistic picture of future goals." The positive presentation is not just the result of the one who has the right style, but it is made possible by those who have trained their minds and hearts to be positive in outlook. Not only that, one must also have the confidence in ordinary people to bring about change for the better. Reagan understood this; from the tone of Novaks' articles, Novak seems to possess this same understanding.

A good illustration of the above points is Novak's article 'The Spirit of Capitalism.' His defense of capitalism is not merely utilitarian. He presents capitalism not just as the most efficient of economic systems, but as a system that liberates the human spirit to advance itself out of of a poverty that has enslaved great majorities of populations continuously up to the present time. How does capitalism accomplish this? Novak points to the trait that allows capitalism to accomplish what other economic systems cannot:
"What is distinctive about capitalism is its central dynamism, the focus of a host of practical, empowering institutions and practices. That central dynamism, that vivifying focus, is the act of a creative practical, intellect, in the virtue of enterprise. Enterprise (the virtue of an acting person, for which in some languages a proper name does not even exist) is the intellectual habit of noticing, discovering, inventing--of seeing new practical possibilities before others do. What makes capitalism so dynamic is its source in this powerful, innovating habit of mind. Thus the system is well-named for caput- in the sense of wit, inventiveness, discovery."
To illustrate this point, Novak points out that when Reagan became President, much of the large industries connected with our ever increasingly computerized society, such as cell phones and the internet, didn't even exist. Yet a capitalistic system allowed many fortunes in this area to be made as a result of personal innovation. I would add that these new fortunes created many new jobs as well. Novak also points to the success of Asia over the past few decades as evidence of capitalism's power to liberate whole populations from poverty. Novak includes statistics comparing Asia to Africa. While Asia has become increasingly capitalist, much of Africa has been governed by socialist economies. In 1970, Asia contained 76% of the world's poor as compared to 11% in Africa. By 1998, the situation had reversed itself. In 1998, Asia has 15% of the world's poor while Africa contains 66% of the world's poor.

Most people, pro and anti-capitalist, think of capitalism as exclusively focused upon the individual. But Novak reminds us that this just is not so. He reminds us that Adam Smith asked not "What is the source of wealth for individuals?", but "What is the source of wealth for nations?" Smith was searching for a system of universal application that would raise whole populations from poverty. "He was the first man in history to conceive of a world from which poverty will be banished," Novak writes. "...a world of 'universal affluence' (his phrase), a world in which every woman, man, and child will be liberated from the prison of poverty; that was his goal. That is capitalism's goal. That is the chief source of capitalism's morality." There is no better example, in my opinion, than the United States. Here, in the States, a family can arrive in the direst of economic circumstances, and in a generation or two, enjoy unprecedented prosperity.

There are some in the Christian world who show a disdain for democracy. Some of my fellow seminarians blame democracy for the individualistic spirit now rampant within all denominations. Many blame democracy for the world's moral decay. Novak would be in disagreement with these views. Like Francis Schaeffer, Novak correctly points out that democracy is the natural outgrowth of a Christian world view. If one believes in punishments and rewards after death, then one must accept that man has freedom of action while living in this world. If one is not free to disobey God, but disobeys because God pre-programed him to do so, then how can eternal punishment for the man be just? This belief in man's ability to make choices inevitably leads to the belief that man should be free to govern himself. Democracy is the natural result of such thinking. This line of thinking causes Novak to be optimistic about the future of the Muslim world and its relationship with the West. Like Christians and Jews, Muslims believe in rewards and punishments in the afterlife. This belief will eventually undermine the deterministic aspects of Islam and its militancy toward the rest of the world as ordinary Muslims fight to gain autonomy to run their own lives. The enthusiasm Iraqis and those who live in Afghanistan to vote, in the face of death threats, is proof that this change is underway, according to Novak. Does this necessarily mean that Muslims will become decadent as they embrace democracy? From what I read of Novak's columns, he would probably say that such a scenario would not be necessary. Novak does not blame democracy for decadence. The blame for decadence lies in the falling away from faith in God. Faith in God is a bulwark of democracy. Without it, society is liable to degenerate. As Novak puts it:
"...How can a people who cannot govern its passions in their private lives govern their passions in their public life together? There is an intimate relation between self-government in private life--strong moral habits among individuals--and self-government in political life."
Novak contends that the welfare state and the media's promotion of immorality break the link between self-government and democracy:
"It is not democracy that undermines the search for truth, but the moral corruption of democracy from within. The fact that democracy depends on moral agency makes democracy fragile and weak. It is in need of endless vigilance and moral reawakening." (Quotes from and paragraph based on "Michael Novak on the Hunger for Liberty" from Michael Novak's site.)

Here is another quote from Michael Novaks website:
Culture is even more fundamental than politics or economics, for without certain architectonic ideas, certain habits of the heart, a love of argument and evidence and open conversation , and a few other moral and spiritual dispositions, neither a republic respecting rights nor a dynamic capitalist economy can thrive, or even survive." (From "Neocons: Some Memories)
If this is the case, then we must work to change current attitudes towards the arts and history in the academic world. They are increasingly seen as irrelevant to the modern world and are losing funding. Without them, we will not be able to sustain this increasingly technological world as a democracy or a land where individuals govern themselves and determine their own destiny. The arts and history are one of the major vehicles that passes on the Christian ethical system to new generations.

If I were President of the United States, I would hire Michael Novak as my chief speech writer. He is able to articulate and inspire. When I ponder the present Cheif Executive's powers of persuasion, I can only mourn the loss of people like Novak in the speech writers' office at the White House. Imagine the President ending a speech on Iraq with this prose from Novak:
"Next time, doubters, remember this: in the face of virulent adversity, never bet against steadfast bravery. Bravery in the cause of liberty eventually receives admiration, even from doubters." (Quote taken from Novaks article 'More "Bad News" Out of Iraq...?)

An Explanation

This blog regularly features a column entitled "Friday Night Frozen Dinner and an Intellectual." Before it is begun anew for this year, some confusion concerning this title must be put to rest. On Friday evenings, I sit down with a book, magazine, or web page by a Christian or secular author. My impressions arising from my encounters with such material are written on this blog so that the reader may respond. Some have asked me, "Are you the intellectual?" No. The "Intellectual" referred to in the title is not me, but the writer whose work is being evaluated. "Fridays" and "Frozen Dinners" are included in the title because I am a single guy who cannot cook and who has nothing else to do on a Friday evening. Not that I mind reading on a Friday evening. Those who know me and have my number may call on Friday evenings and ask me what I am reading and express their own opinions. I might include these opinions when I publish this feature.

Articles From This Series (*Most Important Work) :

The Bible:

*Fundamentalism And The Word Of God, J.I. Packer, Parts 1-5: , , , ,
*No Final Conflict: The Bible Without Error In All It Affirms, Francis Schaeffer: 
The State And The New Testament, Oscar Cullmann:

*Holiness And Human Nature:
Sin, Sanctification, And Genetics:

Global Christianity And Non-Christian Societies:
The Next Christendom,Philip Jenkins:
*The New Faces Of Christianity: Believing The Bible In The Global South, Philip Jenkins: 
Among The Believers, V.S. Naipaul:

Forgiveness and Justice:
*The End Of Memory, Miroslav Volf, Parts 1-3: , ,

American History, Politics, Society, Race Relations,Church And State, Social Holiness:
*The Tragedy Of American Compassion, Parts 1, 2: ,
American Gospel, Parts 1-3: , ,
Black Rednecks And White Liberals, Thomas Sowell, Parts 1-4: , , ,
Michael Novak's Webpage:
*The Death Of Adam, Marylynne Robinson: 
Pious And Secular America, Reinhold Niebuhr:
Edward Gilbreath's Reconciliation Blog:
Reconciliation Blues: A Black Evangelical's Insider Account of White Christianity, Edward Gilbreath: Part 1 and Part 2.

The Arts:
Beholding The Glory, Jeremy Begbie:
Truman Capote:
William Faulkner's Letters And Essays:

Evolution And Atheism:
The Language Of God, Francis Collins, Parts 1-3: , ,
There Is A God, Antony Flew, Parts 1-3: , ,

*How Should We Then Live, Francis Schaeffer, Parts 1-3: , ,

One Really Awful Book!:
The Politics Of Jesus, Parts 1-4: , , ,

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Monday Morning Devotions

Deut. 29: 29- "The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law."

If this verse becomes a reality in our lives, then we can say that we live in that perfect peace and contentment the Lord has always desired for us. When we are content to know no more than what the Triune God has revealed to us, and not seek to know what He has wisely hidden from us, then happy are we indeed. Eve sinned because she allowed Satan to convince her that God was holding out on both Adam and herself. Satan told her that God was keeping both of them from reaching their true potential, that of becoming like God. Eve had in creation all evidence she needed to know of the true goodness of God and that God wanted the very best for Adam and herself. Yet she allowed herself to be convinced that God was being stingy, and so the trajectory of her life and all her seed took a tragic turn. Our suspicions of God have not changed. Every day God gives us evidence of His love for us, but we convince ourselves that He is stingy, that He gives us rules to hem us in, to prevent us from enjoying all that life has to offer. So we fall into all kinds of sin thinking we will find what God has been hiding from us. But if we could just see all the evidence of God's love for us, we could learn to trust Him implicitly. We could trust Him to keep us from knowledge and experiences that can only bring us sorrow, harm and death. And we could remain happy that all the things that pertain to life and happiness God has not hidden from us, but has revealed them to us. The evidence of this is available to us; the evidence is tangible and can be passed down through the generations. And with what has been revealed to us, we have been given the keys to understand how we are to obey God. We have a tangible heritage from God that can be carefully preserved throughout all the many days man has on this earth.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Doctrine or Mission : Which Comes First.

If you are familiar with Emergent Church thinking, then you have come across the notion of some within the movement that human need must determine doctrine. The primary Christian witness to the world, as expressed by many of my Emergent brothers, is action, not a message. "Don't preach, but let Jesus love the world through you by your actions." That is the Emergent Credo. Witnessing primarily through preaching is thought to be an arrogant display of "us verses them", the saved telling the unsaved that they need to conform, to join the right group. This way of thinking did not originate with the Emergents; this mindset has been around and active for more than a century. This type of thinking sounds logical, seems most compassionate: Human needs determines right doctrine. Another way to express this: acts of charity or mercy are more important than the proclamation of the Gospel message. To be more precise: these actions are enough in themselves to spread the message of Jesus and cause the number of disciples to multiply.

One of the marks of being a true Wesleyan is to act upon Wesley's declaration that "there is no holiness without social holiness." The point that Wesley was driving home is that to actively seek to alleviate human suffering is an essential trait of a fully sanctified human being. The absence of such concern for the alleviation of human suffering is a sure sign that one is not holy as God is holy. But what is the origin of charitable acts that please God? Are they simply the result of the example of others doing the same? Are they the result of simply a desire to bring about change through helping others? And is this the primary means of spreading the gospel?

No. Reading Wesley's sermons on the Sermon on the Mount is instructive reading on this issue. In these sermons Wesley gives one of the Church's best descriptions of how sinners are saved and transformed into saints, from salvation to sanctification. Wesley describes how the grip of sin upon the human heart is broken, how the heart is cleansed, how the old man is to be put to death. And then, after full sanctification has taken place, we are free to undertake actions on the behalf of others with no sinful motives, to the glory of God. Only in this state can we see men and women as God sees them, as made in His image, but trapped in sin and suffering. Only then can we see injustice and suffering as God does. Only then, can we truly understand His wrath against injustice as He expressed it to the prophets of old. Only then can we have a motivation to truly alleviate human suffering that does not die when our emotional state changes. Holiness of heart and mind precedes holy action. Without holiness, our efforts on behalf of society's vulnerable are mixed with sinful motivations. Teaching through example is not enough. And the obtaining of holiness of heart and mind begins with a message proclaimed. Only when this message is proclaimed can one know what is their standing before God. Even if God does love each and everyone created in His image, it is His desire for us to know that our righteousness (including our acts of charity) are as filthy rags if we refuse to repent of our sins.

This is not to say that action alone is never the correct course for Christians. Prejudice and outright persecution by hostile governments and societies can limit the Church's proclamation of the Gospel. Sometimes the only thing a church can do is humanitarian relief. This relief then breaks down barriers of mistrust between people and the Church. And then the Church finds that it has a new freedom to proclaim the message.

The Church will never make disciples just by making the world feel grateful for its social action on its behalf alone. Listen to the words of Ajith Fernando from a recent Christianity Today article as he proclaims the Church's need to put proclamation before social action:

"Yes, I praise God that evangelicals have discovered the AIDS challenge. I am only sorry it took so long. In biblical times, God calls his people to pay special attention to sojourners, widows, orphans, and the oppressed. AIDS patients are the equivalent to such people today.

"However, we must remember that today our society has accepted AIDS ministry and social development as attractive avenues of service. Evangelism will never have that attraction. Those wanting to follow Christ in seeking and saving the lost will always be despised for their supposed arrogance.

"We Christians in Asia, Africa, and Latin America get very sensitive when we are accused of being arrogant. We do not like to be associated with the colonial rulers who look down on us and our cultures...That is why I am calling for a fresh commitment to proactive evangelism. We can't wait for people to come to us-we must urgently go to them. We must look for ways to make contact with them and use all our creativity and determination to communicate the gospel...I fear that many evangelicals have fallen into Satan's trap of upholding kingdom values to the diminution of God's call to proactively go after the lost and proclaim the gospel...The tendency among evangelicals to downplay verbal proclamation-including persuading people to receive Christ's salvation-demands a fresh call for evangelicals to emphasize the urgency of proactive evangelism."

Even William and Catherine Booth knew better than to think that their labors on behalf of the poor were enough to spread the Gospel. In their day, when the poor were fed at Salvation Army posts, they had to listen to the proclamation of the Gospel; they were urged to repent of their sins. A message came with the meal. Jesus commanded us to do all that he did and TAUGHT. A careful reading of scripture reveals that His mission was mainly a preaching mission. Chris Bounds, in his blog, makes the Biblical case for this assertion:

What Jesus preached was not popular, and we ourselves must preach that same message without giving in to the fear that we will appear arrogant before a sinful world. When we make proclamation central, and then engage in ministries of compassion, then we shall see the fruit of our labor on behalf of the lost.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Monday Morning Devotions

IPet. 3:8-9 "Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous, not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you are called to this, that you may inherit a blessing."

Both Peter and Paul command us to be "of one mind." Today we will examine how Peter describes this mandatory state of mind; next week Paul's exhortation in Romans twelve will be examined.

Peter is reminding his readers that Christ's disciples must be of one mind on this point: all disciples must truly love one another. When a brother or sister in Christ causes offense, the offended one does not lash out, does not retaliate. Not against the brethren, not against those among Christ's enemies. The same applies to the Church today. If you or I are wronged, we are to bless those who do us wrong. (IPet 3:9) Why? Peter answers this question by quoting Ps. 34: 12-16. He who would live a long life shall keep his tongue from speaking evil; he will repay evil with good. This is the kind of life we are called to, that we may inherit a blessing. This psalm further informs us that God hears the prayer of those who obey on this point; these obedient ones are declared righteous. The psalm warns that God is against those who refuse to practice these things.

Practicing non-retaliation against our accusers is not easy. Peter tells us two things we can do to make the love of enemies a way of life. First, sanctify the Lord God in your hearts ("But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord", NIV) and be ready to give defense for the hope that is in you. Can you somewhere, sometime, give defense of the hope that is in you unless you have already stepped out in faith? Your past experiences of God's deliverance allows you to have peace of heart when facing persecution. Instead of cursing, you will have cause to praise God before God's enemies who persecute you. (IPet. 3:13-15)

Just what are the results when we refuse to return evil for evil? Our persecutors see our good conduct "in Christ" and experience shame. When they see Christ in us, it is as if they look into a mirror and see themselves, and what they see produces this experience of shame. (IPet. 3:16)

It is only fitting that we act in this manner towards our persecutors. Christ died for our sins on the Cross. As He hung on the Cross, He did not revile His persecutors, but said "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do." He prayed this so that ALL men and women may experience the Father's forgiveness. Those of us who suffer at the hands of others on account of our faith in Jesus must likewise practice forgiveness publicly so that we may help bring our persecutors to a state of repentance and forgiveness of sins. (IPet 3: 18-22)

(Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture quotations are from the NKJV.)