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    Entries in Christianity (92)


    Truth as Criterion for Christian Belief

    John Stott, in Why I Am a Christian, writes:

    In our tolerant, pluralistic society, whenever someone becomes a Christian, the usual patronizing comment is, "How nice, dear!  I'm sure it will be a great help to you.  One needs the comfort of religion in our hard and threatening times."

    Well, I don't for a moment deny that Jesus Christ is an enormous help and comfort to his followers.  But he also poses a radical challenge.  So the second reason why I am a Christian is not that it is nice but that it is true.

    Among Stott's other reasons are God's pursuit of him, the cross of Christ, the explanatory power of Christianity for the essence of our humanity, Jesus as the key to true freedom, and the ability of Jesus to fulfill our deepest longings.

    Last summer I had a very interesting interaction with a high school student.  He had recently been confronted with the central claims of Christianity, and had been around a group of people who lived out before him those claims, including service, love, encouragment, and worship.  However, he was holding back on making any type of commitment, because he seemed to be waiting on some type of religious high, or experience--a "born again" moment.  And while I do not deny that such an experience has been included in the testimony of other Christians I know, I also know other Christians who do not have so much a moment as a quiet, long, renovation and revolution of the mind.

    Stott makes an interesting point.  Christian conviction is not simply a useful tool that provides some type of emotional comfort.  It is rooted in claims about the nature of reality and the person of Jesus Christ.  It may be the case that Christian belief and conviction does not arise from psychological pragmatism, but is rather the result of cognitive reflection, investigation, and ultimately warrant--a finding that Christian convictions are true.

    It should not only be the case that we are able to claim we are Christian based upon some type of experience of Christ.  We should also be able to say that, following extensive and proper reflection, we have found Christianity to be true, not only in experience, but in that it makes the most sense of reality.


    Ministerial Temptations :: Buying God's Acceptance

    There are many temptations for pastors and church leaders.  Foremost among them is amnesia with regard to the grace of God.  We forget.  We forget.  We think that we owe God a debt in order to earn our acceptance before the throne of the Almighty, rather than relying wholly on grace, the grace that saved us and is saving us through Jesus Christ.

    In his book A Kingdom Called Desire: Confronted by the Love of a Risen King, Rick McKinley writes:

    It didn't take me long to veer off the path of responding to the grace given to me in Jesus and head down the path of works, striving to get God to like me by trying hard to obey him.  The church had needs, the world had needs, there was a lot of sin and a lot that was broken, and I was happy to accept the job of making things--or people--right.  And I was not overly religious in all of this, at least not outwardly.
    But inwardly I was playing religious games as well as any Pharisee.  In my mind, God had done his job, and now it was time to do mine.  Without really knowing it or paying attention to it, I woke up most days hoping I could keep it together enough to get God to accept me.

    Don't play religious games.  Don't think you have to work with people and enter their hurts, their brokenness, and their sin in order to somehow earn favor before God.  Rather, become a willing partner in the work of the Holy Spirit to bring your people in to the presence of grace.

    You don't have to buy God's acceptance, because your acceptance has already been bought.  You have already been reconciled to God through Christ.  You are a new creation.


    Brief Thoughts on 'Love Wins'

    Rob Bell has caused a stir, and if you've missed it, should I say you are among the lucky ones?

    Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived is, and will continue to be, a controversial book.  That is because Rob Bell says, essentially, that we've missed the boat on hell and heaven.  Hell can't possibly be a place of eternal punishment, and, in fact, hell is a place someone will reside as long as someone continues to resist the never ending and always pursuing love of God.  Even after someone dies, the opportunity to turn and to be enfolded in to the love and presence of God will never cease.  Heaven is everyone's eventual destination, and our present calling to heaven has much more to do with obedience to divine command, or bringing heaven to earth, seeing God's reign manifest in our present reality.  Anyone who thinks otherwise has failed to grasp the meaning of the orginal language, has done bad exegesis, has a wrong conception of God, has missed Jesus' point, and is a peddler of a fear-based religion that seeks only to control and burden ordinary people, or, at least, so Bell suggests.

    There are many people that may find this book compelling, for it is indeed a "fresh take", or, should I say, a fresh incarnation of an old idea, and is largely opposed to the common stereotype of "old time religion"--hell-fire and brimstone preaching that presents God as a bloodthirsty tyrant more eager to condemn people to an eternal fire bath than to actually bring them in to his presence.  Instead, Bell wants us to see that God is a loving God, that God desires to bring all people to eternal salvation, that heaven and hell are temporal realities that come into play in our everyday, rather than eternal realities that one enters upon death (though they are that, too).  And this is an idea many Christians might find pertinent, and a welcome alternative to modern evangelical theologies that have denied our responsibility to work for justice and to live faithfully in this world.  This idea may also draw those in who have a multitude of friends that are "good" non-religious people, or who are adherents of other religions.

    I have been asked by numerous friends what my thoughts are on this book.  I was actualy surprised by the number.  Because the book caused such a dust-up, I refused to buy it.  I waited patiently for it to come to me via my public library's hold system.  Therefore, I'm off pace, and these thoughts are anything but timely.  But for those who asked, this next paragraph is for you.

    Rob Bell's book, Love Wins, though interesting, compelling, and clearly written, is wrought through with mangled biblical exegesis, unfair stereotypes, and inflammatory rhetoric.  Bell "poisons the well" early and often.  He denies the certitude of others on matters of heaven and hell as unfounded, and then turns right around and boldly proclaims that he is right.  He tethers his position to the fact that other Christians in the past have likewise believed what he is proclaiming, thus seeming to weight his own authority by means of some consensus.  Never mind the fact that you could assume almost any position, orthodox, heterodox, or whatever, with regard to Christian theology, and find yourself in the company of someone.  It is always a question of whether you are in good company, not simply that you have company.

    I have read the "Bell corpus", if I may call it that.  While I credit him with stirring my thoughts at a critical stage, and while I continue to consider him a "brother from another mother" in Christ, I think his time is now past.  I stopped buying his books after Sex God.  Everything else has come from the public library.  While we, as Christians, may enjoy reading authors like Bell and Brian McLaren and picking apart their every word, we'd do well to spend as much if not more time reading the classics, reading people like Luther and Calvin and Wesley, and Augustine and others.  Their ideas are more worthy of debate, for in ten or twenty years, their words will still carry weight and hold relevance.  Rob Bell's books, on the other hand, will be collecting dust on the shelf.

    Interesting read.  But theologically, biblically, and pastorally, poor.


    The Next Story :: A Theological/Philosophical Conversation

    Tim Challies, a well known Reformed blogger with an extensive following, recently published The Next Story: Life and Faith after the Digital Explosion, and, unsurprisingly, the book has been well received, generating a healthy conversation on technology, Christian faith, and how Christian people can faithfully fulfill their calling as disciples of Jesus in light of the "digital explosion."  I have no doubt that such conversations are pleasing to Challies.  He does not claim to provide an all inclusive account of technology and its positive and negative benefits, nor does he claim to provide every answer to how Christians should regard, utilize, and leverage new media.  In this respect, there is a subtle trust in the Holy Spirit present within Challies' work, something I appreciate.  Yet, Challies does not abdicate his responsibility to provide his readers with solid reflection, to nudge them toward the Bible as a fount of wisdom, and even to provide a strong word against certain expressions, forms, and practices relating to technology that are deserving of critical attention. 

    The book received attention from Mere Orthodoxy, a league of extraordinary persons committed to providing an intellectual, timely, and well-informed philosophical and theological perspective to a broad range of inquiry, including, but not limited to, public policy, ecclesial concerns, theological movements, mass media, television and film, books, and evangelicalism.  Matthew Lee Anderson's Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to Our Faith has shown promise as a rare treatment of the body within evangelical circles, and will be, I hope, a springboard for additional investigation and discussion.  A review that appeared at Mere-O of Challies' The Next Story provided the impetus for this posting, and is in fact more of a response to Eric Eekhoff more than a direct review of Challies.

    Eekhoff provides an excellent overview of The Next Story, so if you'd like to breeze through a helpful and more extensive overview than I will provide, click here.  Following the overview comes the critiques, each of which are incredibly valid though I believe not without need for response.  Eekhoff is concerned with theology, with Challies' instrumentalist approach (and subsequent philosophical inconsistencies) with regard to media, and his rendering of mediation as exclusively something that "stands between".  I will outline and respond to each of these concerns in turn.

    Theologically Inadequate?

    First, I would like to challenge Eekhoff's claim that Challies has provided an inadequate theology of technology.  Eekhoff states:

    First, his theology of technology was quite inadequate.  While Challies says that our ability and desire to create are a good part of creation, the technological devices we actually make are fallen.  Mediated communication technologies are described as concessions and not ideal.  They are second-best to the non-mediated communication man enjoyed with God in the garden.  Challies seems to view technology as a necessary evil.

    The concerns in this short paragraph are manifold, but for the most part, are rooted in a particular approach to Christian anthropology and the doctrine of sin.  In some respects, I sympathize with Eekhoff.  Challies likens the digital explosion to the Russian detonation of Tsar Bomba, and uses this as his primary metaphor; an unfortunate choice.  This metaphor focuses our vision on the negative influences of technology, and frames technological usage as primarily destructive, and, thus, solely as an amplifier for human sinfulness.  Thus, as Eekhoff suggests, Challies' thoughts on technology undeniably are presented through the Reformed lens, strongly emphasizing sin.  Yet, Reformed theology also possesses a strong tradition of emphasizing the doctrine of common grace, and, if I am reading Eekhoff carefully between the lines, I believe he is suggesting he would have enjoyed seeing this emphasis applied to technology as well.  Technology, then, would not be presented as a "necessary evil," but as rather a gift of God that is utilized to positive as well as negative ends.  Stated differently, technology can be used redemptively.

    While I agree with Eekhoff that Challies does often cast technology in a negative light, I think that he has slightly overstated his case by saying Challies "seems to view technology as a necessary evil".  Challies does establish that our creative capacities, including our ability to produce various forms of technology, are a result of our standing as image bearers of the Creator God.  Challies acknowledges throughout his book the various ways technology is good, enjoyable, and can be leveraged for positive, Kingdom ends.  If anything, Eekhoff's impression has validity because Challies also spends time talking about the potential for destruction, idol-making and idol worship, and sinful tendencies of human beings in employing technology.  Yet, the impression itself is just that--an impression.  Rather than simply classifying Challies' posture toward technology as negative, I would rather say that Challies does not have a linear, sequential, or coherent view of technology present within his book, though, because of his Reformed lens, tends to bring out the darker tones concerning human nature, and thus highlights our need for redemption, including in our use of technology.

    Finally, this brings me to the charge that Challies' has not provided us with an adequate theology of media, and I will be brief.  What does Eekhoff mean by theology?  What is meant by "adequate"?  While I might agree with Eekhoff that Challies does not spend a great deal of time developing a biblical and theological account of why we create media, how and why we use technology, and how technology has been utilized historically to bring honor and glory to the God who gave us the capacity to create our tools, I cannot say that the book is devoid of "adequate" theology.  Simply put, Challies' book is filled with practical, theological wisdom concerning how we use and approach technology, and how technology in turn forms and shapes us.  I was impressed by Challies use of Old Testament wisdom.  His quotations from the Psalms and Proverbs left me with much to ponder.  Thus, with regard to practical theology, I think Challies' book is rich, and is an invaluable contribution to modern Christian thought.  As tools change, there is much here that will need to be adjusted and revisited.  But for the moment, there is plenty that is more than adequate as Christian theological reflection.


    Secondly, I will address Eekhoff's charge that Challies is an instrumentalist with regard to technology.  He states:

    It is how we use the technologies that determine whether they are good or bad.  For Challies, “it is not the technology itself that is good or evil; it is the human application of that technology.”  This position is known as the instrumentalist position by many philosophers of technology.  It is a position that is widely rejected.  Technologies embody values and politics and cultural norms.  The fact that technologies can be used for good or for bad things is a rather uninteresting point to make.  Technologies affect us and others in ways that may have nothing to do with how we use them.

    I am in agreement with Eekhoff, and I quote him in full because I think he has effectively made a point that church leaders should carefully consider.  While one might humorously think that the lesson to be learned here is that logical inconsistency is easy to expose, and thus should be avoided, the greater lesson is that we must remind ourselves that our technologies are not neutral.  They effect and affect us.  They shape us.  Oftentimes in ways that are very difficult to perceive.

    While I was reading The Next Story, I couldn't help but notice that Challies, in one breath, claimed technology's neutrality, and in the next echoed Postman and McLuhan in their assertions that technology formed and shaped us.  If technology is totally a-moral, then how are we to regard these effects?

    In this respect, I think Amish communities have much to teach the remainder of Christendom.  They understand that technology forms and shapes communities, and thus communities have a stake in what technologies they accept and utilize within their common life.

    Mediatory or Enabling?

    Challies extensively discusses mediation, an unavoidable topic when examining technology.  Yet, Eekhoff has problems with Challies' approach.  He states:

    Another concern I had with the book was how Challies talked about mediation.  As stated earlier, for Challies a medium is something that stands in between.  What he doesn’t quite get right here is that media don’t just stand in the way, they are enablers.  Phones don’t just stand between you and me, they enable us to have a conversation.  To view media as something that enables rather than something that stands in between allows us to see mediation in a more positive light.  For Challies, mediated communication is worse than unmediated or immediate communication.  He says that unmediated communications is the ideal to strive for and anything mediated is only second rate (at best).

    There are a number of things wrong with this position.  First, Challies provides almost no argument for why mediated communication is worse than unmediated communication.  He mentions one Biblical reference (Gen. 3:8) where Adam and Eve heard the sound of God walking in the garden.  Challies interprets this to mean that Adam and Eve enjoyed face-to-face, unmediated communication with God before the fall.  But Genesis 3:8 occurs after Adam and Eve had already sinned.

    Second, it isn’t exactly clear what Challies means by unmediated or immediate communications.  Presumably, given his definition of medium, unmediated communication means any communication where nothing stands between two people.  But how far do we take this?  Does clothing stand between two people?  How about cultures?  Or language?  Or air molecules?  Challies never indicates what he means by this or where the line should be drawn.

    Third, the lack of nuance in this position is unhelpful.  Challies even (briefly) mentions a tool elsewhere in the book that would help him better evaluate communications technologies but unfortunately decided not to use it in this case.  The tool I’m thinking of is McLuhan’s tetrad.  The tetrad is a set of four questions to ask of any technology.  These questions help determine what the technology enhances, what it makes obsolete, what it retrieves and what it reverses into.  As Ian Bogost points out**, the tetrad helps us resist “our temptation to pass judgment on [technology] crudely – as merely good or bad, productive or distracting, enabling or dangerous.  Such an analysis also reminds us that no technological object can be seen as a simple force of either progress or destruction.”

    There is much here of value.  Eekhoff wants more clarity.  He wants a better and more robust account of how exactly technology serves as a go-between or as a conduit.  Eekhoff also seems to have some bias here toward mediatory technology.  His comments suggest that he regards them as bringing a much more positive benefit than a detriment to humanity.  This is inference.  Yet, Eekhoff's preference for technology as enabling over and against technology as mediatory is telling.  I understand Eekhoff's preference for regarding technology as enabling, rather than simply mediatory.  The language of "enabling" is much more positive.  But are these categories mutually exclusive?  I don't think so.

    A technology can be enabling at the same time that it is mediatory.  Skype might enable me to have a face-to-face conversation with Matthew Lee Anderson, thought we are not face-to-face.  Pixels stand in between, mediating between us.  Technology allows us to do more than we might be able to without its assistance, but our connection is not without something that "stands between".

    Concerning biblical theology, I think Eekhoff's dismissal of Challies is weak.  While I might agree that more could have been done with the Bible (much more) on mediation, Genesis 3 is a beginning, and Eekhoff's critique of Challies' use of this text is flimsy.  Never mind that Genesis 3:8 does occur after the first man and woman sinned, but before the pronunciation of the curse.  Never mind that in Genesis 2, the first man does seem to have some type of communion with God that is unimpeded, and that the woman is "bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh," that together they were "naked and not ashamed," and that prior to the moment the first man and woman ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they were not engaged in the blame game.  If you are going to dismiss Challies' reference to Genesis 3:8, you cannot do so quite that easily.

    Final Words

    Eekhoff says this in closing concerning The Next Story:

    Challies has offered a timely book on a topic that many people are concerned about.  His chapters on distraction and informationism are especially helpful.  However, his generally negative view of technology and his lack of a robust theology of technology weakens many of his arguments.  What I missed the most from his theology was what is to be done about the fallen nature of technology.  He briefly mentioned our need to redeem technology but failed to follow through on what he meant by that.  Indeed, for Challies technology is fallen – like a nuclear bomb out of the sky – and we are forced to live in the landscape its explosion leaves behind.

    This is spot on.  It is a timely book.  More was needed on our calling to redeem technology (or, better, to pray and reflect on how Christ's redemptive work applies also to technology).  Eekhoff names a project that Challies, or perhaps someone else, like Eekhoff himself, could take up.

    One additional concern, as a final thought.  Challies' also discusses authority in his book, using the example of Wikipedia as reflective of our modern posture toward truth--truth by consensus rather than truth via established authority.  I found much of Challies' discussion ironic, for the very things that have made the Protestant tradition possible are the very things that, in their modern expression, Challies appears to denounce.  A priesthood of all people (Luther and his followers; Wikipedia and their mass of contributors), with access to previously restricted or unavailable information (the Bible; Google Books, internet searches, etc.), go about the business of interpreting that information and creating a world of meaning (tracts; blogs, other unoffical networks) that differ from what has come before, apart from established authority structures (the Pope and the Catholic Church; Brittanica).

    Challies would've done well at this point to filter his discussion of authority through his own approach to discernment and wisdom, or at least to have done so more thoroughly and more clearly.

    All in all, a good book, a good read, a needed resource, and worthy of discussion.



    If you are offended when I say that something you said is asinine, it isn't necessarily the case that your measure of offendedness is consistent with my statement, but only that YOUR interpretation of what I said is consistent with whatever your level of offendedness might be.  By calling your statement asinine, in fact, I may have not been saying anything of that kind.  If you would've understood what I actually said when I said that the words falling out of your mouth were asinine, then you would've heard me saying that everything you say is brilliant.  How could it have been that you misunderstood me?

    When you say your understanding is consistent with what I actually said, what you mean is that your understanding is consistent with YOUR interpretation of what I said, not with what I actually may or may not have said.

    This, my friends, is what we call a vicious circle.  Enjoy running laps.

    And this is why I'm frustrated with people who say things like this.

    P.S. - Christian love is hard.

    Is there a text in this class?