Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A Waking Nightmare

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How many times have all of us come within a hairsbreadth of what this individual experienced?
Assuming it was unintentional, empathy, if not sympathy, consumes me.
Whether it is the radio, food, cell phone or just fixation on a road side object, distractions have more than once caused me sheepishness and guilt.
Does that prevent me from muttering under my breath when someone else does it?
Alas, I confess that the immediate assumption made when I am cut off or nearly missed is a curiously angry one.
Though reconsideration often follows, my instinctive reaction is invariable and unforgiving.
The offending party is any one of the following: jerk, idiot, stupid idiot, moron, unspeakable moron, etc.
I posted a blog a looong time ago that asked the question Do automobiles cause us to channel our true nature? If that is the case, I feel I need a nice, long sabbatical in some nice Franciscan monastery.
But about this alleged hit-and-run driver; I'm sure you can imagine the fevered rationalizing.
It's a safe bet that whoever was driving the vehicle has a family. Perhaps in the shock that followed the thought process progressed along the following lines: terror, overwhelming remorse, deadly guilt, dawning fear, imagined consequences, involuntary manslaughter conviction, ten year prison term, iron bars, brutal cell mates, sobbing family members . . . . and before long, out comes the notebook and the pen.
Barring a supernatural fear of the long arm of the law, or the rare, indeed, near extinct impregnable conscience, any one of us might have written the same note on the same tear-stained paper.
The million dollar question is, in a vacuum, with no consequences, who remains after it is discovered that there is nothing to be done short of calling the morgue?

Friday, March 27, 2009


I had been considering a certain passage of Scripture and its implications.
It grew upon my young mind, a burgeoning paradox, until it could be contained no more.
"You know that verse," I asked of my friend, Darren, "that says that the Son of Man cometh at an hour when ye think not?"
"Well, it seems that everyone is expecting Him all the time. . . . . sooo, how can He return when at every hour of every day, someone, somewhere is expecting Him?"
Darren, somewhat less enamored of abstract paradoxes than I, and somewhat more enamored of common sense than I, considered this.
"Well," came his response, "You can't keep Him from coming back just by thinking about it all the time."
Whether or not he had discerned my motivation for so eagerly considering this idea I don't know, but he had effectively put his finger on it. In my insecurity at the prospect of His return, I thought I might forestall Him by expecting Him.
Imbecilic, yes, but no more than supposing that you might prevent His return by not expecting Him.
It is true enough that I have been expecting Him with varying degrees of trepidation and anticipation for twenty years or so, and others no doubt precluded my expectancy by looking for Him years before I was born.
Let's talk about this elephant. When I, and I suspect other Christians, grow a little weary of the struggle, we turn with greater eagerness to the idea of His imminent return. No less exhausted but some less resigned than Sisyphus himself, we begin to wish not that the rock might finally be laid to rest, but that the rock and the mountain might disappear and the endless task of living might be resolved at last with our final rest. It is the same desperation that prompts a dreamer, when presented with an untenable nightmare, to awake rather than confront whatever horror awaits him in the dream.
Unfortunately, the exchange of our present reality for the next is not so easily attained.
It is easy for some to conclude that considering the ulterior motive or the self-interest that Christians stand to gain by His return nullifies their objectivity.
Could it be that the convergence of world events could always, since the Ascension, have been plausibly construed to fit all the signs of His Second Coming?
It has long been the contention of the elderly that things are getting worse all the time. And I suspect their parents said the same, and theirs the same, and so on.
Historic evil does not seem so much to have inclined as it has risen and fallen and risen and fallen. There is nothing new under the sun.
However, the view that the world will grow more evil and more evil until the Abomination of Desolations cannot help but occur is no more logical than the postmillenial view of Christian socialists that contends that the world will improve until it is finally ready for the eternal reign of Christ.
No, I think that whatever evil exists in the world today compared to the evil that will saturate our world with the reign of Antichrist is analogous to the crime that rampages under a democracy compared with the organized, authorized crime that is necessary for the existence of a corrupt dictatorship.
So, to acknowledge that the world is no more evil than it was one hundred years ago, or that America is no more debauched than ancient Greece is not to place the return of Christ further in the future. It simply has no bearing on the issue.
But, in a sense, those who would prove that His return is not imminent by pointing out the sometimes over eagerness of Christians to place it soon, are no more logical than I when I thought to prevent Him by expecting Him.
Certainly, the overall cause of Christ is not helped by those who fix dates. Not only because they always turn out to be wrong, but because Christ informed us that we could not know.
But, too often, those like Joel Rosenberg who rationally point out the convergence of prophesy and events are classed with the date-fixers.
And could it not be the Father of Confusion himself who prompts people to unthinkingly blurt out date-specific predictions? The passing of those dates robs the lost of a little more dread each time.
It's no good asking if I think it might be tomorrow. The point is, it is an unavoidable event. It is fixed by the Father. Everything that happens; time, events, false predictions, saber-rattling, regime changes, elections, solar storms, Mayan calendars, Middle East tremors, whether or not these things in and of themselves signify the immediacy, they bring it closer.
The absolute uncertainty is the unsettling method of God to bring us into a state of dependence, of hopefulness, and of faithfulness.
So, as unsatisfactory as it sounds, it could be a thousand years from now, and it could be . . . . .

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Michael Chicken Little Spencer

So evangelicalism is in danger of imminent collapse.
What, you haven't heard?
A former Baptist minister by the name of Michael Spencer experienced a meteoric rise to e-mortality when his January blog entry dealing with the coming deflation of evangelicalism was honed in on by the Christian Science Monitor. Within 1 day of the refurbished blog, now titled, The Coming Collapse of Evangelicalism, Matt Drudge linked it and the rest is history.
I was instantly intrigued when I saw the headline on Drudge.
The article led me then to his blog, internetmonk.com.
I've been reading ever since, and . . . my head is starting to hurt.
First, let me say that Michael Spencer is saying a lot, a LOT of good things.
He is decrying the mile width, inch depth of evangelicalism.
He disagrees with the mega-church model.
He insists that in our preoccupation with the culture war, Christians have diminished the message of the Gospel.
He is disgusted with over-emotionalism.
He points out that Christianity actually predates America and thus is not necessarily synonymous with U.S. citizenship, or patriotism.
(He scored a big point with me by pointing out the superficiality of that nice-looking young man with the year-round tan who pastors a large church in Dallas. Goes by the name Joel Osteen.)
More off-putting, he doesn't subscribe to young-earth creationism.
He does not believe that keeping the Sabbath is a New Testament requirement.
He does not believe that tithing should be taught as a ten-percent necessity.
He is sometimes unnecessarily provocative. For, example, in a post titled 25 Sort of Random Things I Do and Don't Believe, number 4 states: "I don't like or use the word inerrancy." Elsewhere he explains that he does not question Scripture, he simply dislikes the terminology.
This is the reason my head hurts.
I agree with about fifty percent of what Michael Spencer blogs.
The other fifty percent sends me scuttling for my Bible or just causes me to stop and consider why I disagree with him. His frankness is charming, his provocation is needless, but his insistence on depth and solid doctrinal foundations is what makes him truly a seismic event in evangelical culture.
So, take a couple aspirin and check it out.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


Here in Kentucky, we are experiencing the warm-up for a 2010 election that I think will prove very interesting.
It stands to serve as a harbinger of what wilderness-exiled Republicans are going to do to stop encompassing the mountain and pass over into Canaan.
We have a Republican incumbent senator, one Jim Bunning, formerly a Hall of Fame baseball pitcher, currently the GOP counterpart to the human gaffe machine, Joe Biden.
Some of his faux pas include referring to his 2004 Democratic opponent, dark-complected Daniel Mongiardo, as looking "like one of Saddaam Hussein's sons." He also characterized the would-be Uday or Qusay as "limp-wristed."
More recently, he told an audience that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg would likely be dead in nine months, in addition to using profanity in a press conference call.
In December of last year, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported that Bunning's non-profit foundation, appropriately titled the Jim Bunning Foundation, had given less than 25% of its proceeds to charity.
He is not known for putting in time on any particular issue in the Senate unless it is related to baseball.
He is also ranked as the second-most conservative member of the Senate, taking a back seat only to Jim DeMint.
To say that he is vulnerable is to say that McCain was not charismatic.
However, he maintains he plans to run for a third term.
Likely to jump in the race sometime next month is Kentucky State Senate President David Williams.
Williams is a Republican, but he has taken a beating from local talk-show hosts recently for acting too much like Barack Obama. Among other things, he supported a hike in Kentucky's cigarette and alcohol tax. This led Lexington talk-show host Leland Conway to refuse to allow Williams back on his show unless he first apologized to drinking, smoking Kentuckians for raising their taxes. Williams refused, and forfeited this public venue.
What pins this as such a bellwether for me is the contrast presented between Bunning, the stodgy conservative and Williams, perhaps this state's quintessential representative of a party that is seen by so many to be abandoning its principles.
What could serve to make the race more interesting still is the possible departure of Bunning from the primary.
In this event, waiting in the wings are two potential candidates.
Perhaps the most viable is Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson. Grayson was an anomaly last election. He stood in a wind that blew Republican Governor Ernie Fletcher out of office with a 17% loss. Grayson won reelection by 14%.
By and large, Grayson has made no great enemies within his own party. He shrewdly neither enthusiastically endorsed nor, as many Republicans were doing that year, expressed public doubt about Governor Fletcher's chances.
But, we have another, wilder card: Rand Paul. Yes, that Paul, son of presidential candidate Ron Paul, and certainly his father's son.
Should Bunning remain in the race, his primary contest with Williams will serve to illustrate Kentuckian, and perhaps national, Republicans' appetites for traditional fare.
Will they order KFC, or go to Starbucks for a snack?
And if Bunning steps aside, we could have a 3-way between a man seen currently as a RINO, a Kentucky golden boy, or, perhaps the future of the GOP; a lean, mean conservative/libertarian cross.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Col. 2:8

Warning: This is a long one.

One accomplishment (who's counting) gained through my temporary unemployment is reading.
I read all the time, employed or not, but I have taken the time to plow through a few books that I would consider tedious when picked up for a half-hour at bedtime after a ten-hour work day.
Not to say I haven't continued the purely gratuitous reading. I more or less try to alternate escapism with literature.
For example, I rewarded myself with Stephen Lawhead after Dostoevsky. I'm not intellectual enough to regard Crime and Punishment as "hard to put down," but, considering its credentials, I considered it worth my time, especially since I have so much of it at present.
I expressed my literary goals to my dad, and he, (perhaps in an attempt to call my bluff) handed me The Life and Times of Jesus The Messiah by Edersheim.
It is a substantial book, numbering over 900 pages. I keep it beside my bed so as to make it readily available for a few pages at bedtime or, a lethal weapon against intruders in the night.
Against such a housebreaker, I have then the option of shooting him with a snub-nosed .357 magnum, or, if I deem him especially dangerous, clubbing him over the head with the five pound tome.
Anyway, in slogging through Book 1, chapter the 2nd, in which the author discusses the influence of Hellenism on Jewish thought and literature around the time of the birth of Christ, I find an especially pertinent discourse on the effect that Grecian thought had upon Judaism and Scripture itself.
(Having gotten only so far, I hope to avoid jumping to conclusions and corrupting a valid point of Edersheim's, but what he had to say spoke directly to an ongoing debate in my mind about the value of philosophy.)
Greek had become more common than Hebrew, if not in Jerusalem, then certainly in almost all other lands and cities. It became practical, then, to publish the Scripture in Greek and to expound the Scripture in Greek. And it became as impossible to divorce the Greek worship of logic from the exposition and exegeses of the Word of God as it would be to make an authentic gyro sans the cucumber sauce or lamb. For the philosophy of a culture is marbled in its language.
(Which is a distracting concept when you consider the English language. No wonder we're so confused. We incorporate almost every major language on earth.)
At first glance, especially the first glance of a Western Christian, this cannot be all bad.
We currently employ logic and reason as our first line of defense against atheism, and are accordingly heavily indebted to the Greeks for this instruction.
But, the problem arises when Edersheim notes, "When the Jew stepped out of the narrow circle which he had drawn around him,"
(It is interesting, if unnecessary, to note what the author discusses preceding this. He has spent the last page or two portraying the inherent nationalism and ethnic pride of the Jewish race. Even dispersed throughout the East and West, and even profoundly affected by the different countries throughout which they were scattered, they still maintained a fierce determination to preserve their identity as Jews.
Interesting concept, when you consider the argument over assimilation in America.)
Moving on, "-he (the Jew) was confronted on every side by Grecianism. It was in the forum, in the market, in the counting-house, in the street, in all that he saw, and in all to whom he spoke. It was refined; it was elegant; it was profound; it was supremely attractive. He might resist, but he could not push it aside. Even in resisting, he had already yielded to it. For, once open the door to the questions which it brought, if it were only to expel, or repel them, he must give up that principle of simple authority on which traditionalism as a system rested. Hellenic criticism could not so be silenced, not its searching light be extinguished by the breath of a Rabbi. If he attempted this, the truth would not only be worsted before its enemies, but suffer detriment in his own eyes. He must meet argument with argument, and that not only for those who were without, but in order to be himself quite sure of what he believed. He must be able to hold it, not only in controversy with others, where pride might bid him stand fast, but in that much more serious contest within, where a man meets the old adversary alone in the secret arena of his own mind, and has to sustain that terrible hand-to-hand fight, in which he is uncheered by outward help."
Regarding the latter portion of the passage, my parents always viewed it as indefensible to bid or forbid me something on the grounds of "Because I said so." and for that I respect them. I appreciate their respect of their own child exhibited in their willingness to defend their position with reason. Furthermore, as Americans, we will accept no edict issued on such infuriating grounds. Practically, we are all Missourians.
(And as to the very latter portion, I have had no greater arguments than those within myself.
My early Christian experience was a lonely one, as I ill-advisedly took on everyone from Darwin to Satan on the battleground of my own mind.)
But, to the point, Edersheim is showing us the dichotomy confronting Hellenistic Jews.
It is the same untenable position we are in today.
While we have, and must maintain, every political and legal right to demand that everything be weighed by logic and reason, this "show-me" mentality becomes a little questionable when applied to the question of God.
Now, Edersheim thus far has not ruled on the advisability of combining the critical thinking of the Greeks with the theology of the Jews.
In fact, he says "-there was the intellectual view of the Scriptures, their philosophical understanding, the application to them of the results of Grecian thought and criticism. It was this which was particularly Hellenistic. Apply that method, and the deeper the explorer proceeded in his search, the more would he feel himself alone, far from the outside crowd; but the brighter also would that light of criticism, which he carried, shine in the growing darkness, or, as he held it up, would the precious ore, which he laid bare, glitter and sparkle with a thousand varying hues of brilliancy."
Here we see the attraction, and admittedly, some benefits, of applying critical thinking to Scripture. Dimensions hitherto unseen are laid bare to our excited eyes. But, note the word "excited." How excited, and why? I'll return to this.
He continues, "What was Jewish, Palestinian, individual, concrete in the Scriptures, was only the outside-true in itself, but not the truth. There were depths beneath. Strip these stories of their nationalism; idealise the individual of the persons introduced, and you came upon abstract ideas and realities, true to all time and to all nations But this deep symbolism was Pythagorean; this preexistence of ideas which were the types of all outward actuality, was Platonism! Broken rays in them, but the focus of truth in the Scriptures. Yet these were (emphasis mine) rays, and could only have come from the Sun. All truth was of God; hence theirs must have been of that origin. Then were the sages of the heathen also in a sense God-taught --and God-teaching, or inspiration, was rather a question of degree than of kind!"
Now, I believe that. I do believe that "in a sense" the sages of the heathen were God-taught.
It is remarkable to note how closely Platonism and so many other philosophies resemble the teaching of Jehovah.
But there is a door opened best left shut.
When you begin to look for truth, not necessarily excluding Scripture or ignoring it, but looking for other truth in conjunction with Scripture, extreme caution is warranted; to such an extremity, in fact, that it can be ill-advised.
Because, it is so easy to unintentionally begin to ascribe more gravity to philosophy to the displacement and detriment of theology or just faith, if you will, and critical thinking will slip to the bottom and theology floats to the top like fizz. It becomes the root of our doctrine; theology then becomes the fruit or, the structure and not the foundation.
It is precisely so easy because reason is the currency in which we deal in every other aspect of our lives! And it is very difficult to maintain the preeminence of faith.
On every hand, we are challenged to justify God, to defend our faith.
And we must!
But the problem lies in defending our faith to ourselves.
Philosophy must be exploited, not trusted absolutely. It is not the original language in which our faith was written, and when we begin to translate that virtually unspeakable language into a philosophical one, it corrupts the integrity, the purity of it. It vulgarises our faith.
Yes, we must learn their language. But, we must not forget our own.
Do not assimilate to that extent where you begin to except their premise, their terms.
Now, to return to an earlier allusion, what does this new light of philosophy flung against formerly observed doctrines and concepts reveal?
Well, it might be as simple as donning 3-D eyeglasses. The concept is the same. We are given the opportunity to view old things in a new way.
You might have always just simply been told "God exists" and expected to accept it.
It is understandable, then, why it is invigorating to be able to explain this insistence with Pascal's Wager or Descartes' ruthless crucifixion of assumption.
It is rewarding and exciting to study philosophy. In the same way, it is rewarding, not quite as much for myself as other more enthusiastic scientists, to study the physical universe and see the hand of God, much as you can see the mind of God in philosophy.
But, when a biologist goes from seeing God in a flower to resting his belief in that God on the proof of design in the flower, he has put the cart before the horse. The weight of God will not rest on the stem of a flower, nor will the entire created complex universe sustain the weight of God. But God can most certainly bear the weight of it all and be not diminished for it.
It is the same when a Christian accepts the world's terms of debate in his own heart and mind and begins to justify God based on anything.
Faith is the evidence of things not seen. That "not" isn't merely incidental, it is necessary to the birth of faith. We don't get to know, based on verifiable evidence, that God exists.
The moment God lets us see, all is lost in terms of His plan of faith through Christ. We would then become shackled by evidence to serve Him.
I was struck by an epiphany reading Kant and Descartes years ago. Weary of that lonely battle that Edersheim talked about, the arrival of the reinforcements, that cavalry of philosophy tempted me to lay aside my own shield and sword and leave the battle of the mind to logic. I felt I had been given the ultimate weapon. I could now bandy words in the parlance of the provable.
Now I understand how such a concept is justifiable!
But really, I hadn't been asked to justify the concept, and as Edersheim put it, I had now given up that simple authority.
In so doing, I anthropomorphize the vessel, and endue it with the ability to ask questions of the Potter.
God can be defended by the laws of philosophy, but ultimately, He doesn't recognize the authority of our court and will not be judged by it.
To distill all of that, now, again I say, philosophy and apologetics is the language we are given to introduce God to the neophyte. And, for this reason, I heartily encourage fluency in all dialects.
But don't forget your native tongue. Speak it in your heart.

To distill it further, as Paul said "See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the traditions of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ."
Well, you ask, mightn't you have simply quoted Paul and forgone all this?
Well, don't forget, I'm currently unemployed.

Monday, March 02, 2009

The Inevitable Sack of Athens

Democracy is the recurrent suspicion that more than half of the people are right more than half of the time. E.B. White
Since he also wrote Charlotte's Web, and Stuart Little, we may be certain Mr. White spoke this with his tongue tucked firmly in his cheek.
Garrison Keillor illustrates our sometime difficulty with democracy thusly: The trouble with a democracy is that people will often vote the wrong way when they think no one is looking.
Of course, it may be said, in a perfect world, a dictatorship would be a governmental system approaching perfection.
Taking into account the unfortunate consideration that no one immediately accessible has ever lived in such a flawless place, we are left with the consolation that democracy, as Winston Churchill put it, is the worst form of government except all those other forms which are tried from time to time.
After all, according to Reagan, even socialism boasted of two successful experiments; heaven and hell, respectively.
We will all be given, accordingly, the opportunity to see first-hand the workings of those
However, democracy is currently functioning as well as might be expected, recent election results aside.
It served Greece well, and gave the Roman empire a promising start before being sacrificed to ambition.
That is the lion's share of the problem with democracy; it is a delicate balancing act in a strong wind on a high wire strung over a bottomless pit. The gales of whimsy, mob-rule and ambition constitute a vicious cross-wind.
At the moment, we're teetering, and no amount of well-intentioned faith in "democracy" will save us if, God forbid, we're ever knocked off and fail to grab the wire on our way down.
C.S. Lewis approved of democracy not because he trusted man to govern himself, but because he distrusted the nature of man to such an extent that it becomes necessary to risk anarchy to guard against the level of evil that may be achieved while power is in the hands of one man.
At least every man is given a fighting chance.
It is a poor bargain, but it is the only one we have.
Personally, I have no great affection for democracy.
I simply much prefer it to anything else.
What I would really like is a theocracy, and am expecting our current system of government to fall to an invading benevolent Dictator at any time now.

I'm well aware that the above could be described as rambling; what the average person might accomplish on the telephone or . . . Facebook.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Mitt Romney??!

I may very well be wrong.
Perhaps the GOP may not be tracking libertarian.
Judging from the presidential straw polls at C-PAC, they must just be tracking stupid.
I confess I do not understand why favoring a certain former Massachusetts governor constitutes a fresh new direction.
Jindal, people, the word is Jindal.

I feel better now.