Thursday, June 21, 2018

A Part of Something Greater

A Part of Something Greater
This post lays out the reasons I pursued ordination in the Church of the Nazarene as well as a brief foray into some of the more controversial subjects associated with ordination, such as apostolic succession and the ordination of women. It’s my hope that this post provides a bit of a corrective to the all-too-often underdeveloped ecclesiology of many Evangelicals. At the end, I also included my lineage of apostolic succession traced all the way back to Jesus. Enjoy!

This past weekend I loaded my family into the minivan and we made the three hour drive up to Denver, where I was ordained an elder in the Church of the Nazarene. During the long drive, I had time to reflect on just what all this meant, and how I had come to the place where I would soon be formally consecrated to a lifetime of service. If you had asked me in High School or even in College if I was going to be a pastor, I probably would have laughed at the idea. But God has the habit of making funny ideas stick, and as I was drawn more and more into ministry, I eventually experienced the call to full-time pastoral ministry while deployed with the Army to Afghanistan in 2013.

During this time, I also reflected on what ordination really means. In our individualistically American flavor of the Evangelical faith, community often takes a back seat and authority figures are mistrusted. After all, one of the central foundational beliefs of the Protestant Reformation was the affirmation of the priesthood of all believers (1); and with it, the belief that the Holy Spirit enables Christ followers everywhere, whether lay or ordained, to study and interpret scripture for themselves. Unfortunately for many, the individual becomes the highest authority for scriptural interpretation, with no regard for historical, cultural, or textual context or how the text was received through the tradition of the Church. Add to this juicy narratives of corrupt clergy in popular culture and it’s a wonder anyone would seek ordination at all.

The “Why?” of Ordination
So why do we need ordained elders and deacons? Well, frankly because it is biblical. Not only is communal fellowship, worship, and support extolled repeatedly in scripture as necessary to the Christian walk (2) with Paul even calling it “the law of Christ” in Gal. 6:2; but the two-fold ordination system is itself prefigured in the designation of Jesus’ closest twelve followers as Apostles (3), and his extended seventy-two followers who are likewise “sent" and  who, along with the twelve, prefigure the spread of His Gospel, first to Israel and then to the whole World (4).

Those who are “sent” in this way find their model in the Apostle Paul himself, who is called by God and whose call is then confirmed through the work of the Holy Spirit in community (5). It is clear in Paul’s treatise on the uniquely different roles of members in Christ’s body, that not all are called in this way (6) but all are called to be ministers of the Gospel in their own unique way. For those called to be sent out as leaders in the Christian community, their call is to be recognized and initiated by the apostolic laying on of hands (7) an act which is itself understood to be a means of grace by which the recipient is enabled by the Holy Spirit to minister with special authority in the Church (8).

That this ordination initially consisted of a dual system (of presbyter-bishops and deacons) rather than a tripartite one (of deacons, presbyters, and bishops) is evident in Titus 1:5-8 and 1 Pet. 5:1-2, where both presbyteros (translated “elder” and transliterated “priest”) and episkopos (translated “overseer” or “superintendent” and transliterated “bishop”) are used interchangeably to refer to leaders of congregations. This is further confirmed by the fact that a council of elders ordained Timothy in 1 Tim. 4:14, rather than explicitly bishops. Additionally, in Phi. 1:1 overseers and deacons are greeted, but not elders, presumably because elders are the same as overseers. Finally, the qualifications for overseers and deacons outlined in 1 Tim. 3 clearly envision a system of dual ordination rather than tripartite ordination.

The Sacred Responsibility of Ordination
The sacred responsibility associated with the authority received through laying on hands is grave enough to warrant detailed instructions on the required character of those to be ordained (9), as well as a warning that the one ordaining another shares responsibility for their actions (10). This authority has been passed on through the laying on of hands from the original apostles to every elder-overseer since as a confirmation of the special calling by the Holy Spirit to certain women and men throughout the ages.

That’s right, I said women. That the call to the orders of elder and deacon are open to women as well as men is evidenced by Paul’s recognition of Junia as an apostle in Rom. 16:7, Phoebe as a deacon and Paul’s emissary to Rome in v. 1 of the same chapter, and the New Testament’s repeated references to the missionary team Priscilla and Aquila who also led a house church, where Prisca is often listed first in precedence (11). Jesus regularly pushed the cultural gender barriers of his time, and women formed an integral part of his ministry. The argument that Jesus had twelve male apostles (to the exclusion of women) ignores the limited scope of his ministry which was initially restricted only to Jews as well (12). But just as the Gospel message was opened to the Gentiles in the apostolic era, an act which was prefigured multiple times in Jesus’ ministry; so also was it opened to women. After all, the division between Jew and Gentile at the time was at least as large as that between men and women, and yet the Gospel message was to transcend all these divisions.

The argument that 1 Cor. 14:33-35 and 1 Tim. 2:11-14 explicitly prohibit women from speaking in churches (13) ignores the great redefining statement of human relationships in Gal. 3:28 (ESV) that in Christ “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female.” Additionally, the placement of the emphatic challenge in v. 36 of the 1 Cor. passage suggests that Paul may have been quoting (and correcting) a popular slogan among the Corinthians, as he does later in the same letter (14). As for the passage in 1 Tim., it may be that the writer is referring only to the churches over which Timothy is to take charge, as a concession to cultural expectation. From context, it is evident that Timothy was not being charged to lead the Church Universal, but rather was tasked with the leadership of a particular grouping of churches (likely around Ephesus, where tradition holds he was later martyred), and so it would make sense that instructions to him be contextualized as well (15). The fact that his reasoning includes the fallen submissive state of Eve seems to contradict the understanding set forth in Galatians and elsewhere that in Christ, the curse which afflicted human relationships with inequality is lifted. Finally, it is worth noting that the very Incarnate Word of God was brought into the World by a woman (16), and that it was women who first preached the risen Christ to the apostles (17). If the Apostles themselves received the Word from women, then who can say that women are unable to preach the Word today?

The Safeguard of Apostolic Succession
The term “apostolic succession” is one which most Protestants probably aren’t at all familiar with, even though it governs the theology of ordination for 72% of all Trinitarian Christians (18)(19). This means that almost ¾ of all Christians believe that it is essential that an ordained minister can trace their lineage back to the original apostles through the laying on of hands by bishops (or, as I argued above, elder-bishops) throughout the ages. It’s such a big deal for the majority of Christians, that one of the common arguments against churches with Congregational or Presbyterian polities (which includes the vast majority of Reformed, Baptist, Pentecostal and Non-Denominational congregations) is that they don’t have apostolic succession, and so their clergy have no authority. This objection to the authority of a significant number of Protestant elders (and the legitimacy of their preaching and sacraments) is a major stumbling block to Christian unity.

For some, this might not be a big deal. But I, like the vast majority of Christians, including the Church of the Nazarene, affirm the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed’s statement that there is only “One, Holy, Universal, and Apostolic Church” (20)(21). And I take seriously Jesus’ prayer in John 17:21 (ESV) that we “may all be one” just as Jesus and the Father are one (22). This means that there is only one Church and it must be Apostolic.

Many of the communions with an episcopal polity believe that their distinct communion is the only true Church. Other churches with valid apostolic succession, and therefore valid sacraments, are defined as “particular churches” by the Roman Catholic Church, while those without are defined as “ecclesial communities. They generally understand catholicity (universal character) and oneness to refer to practical polity as well as spiritual reality; and apostolicity as being defined by both a valid line of succession from apostles to bishops, and through them to priests and deacons, as well as orthodox belief (23).

However, since I believe there are only two orders of ordination (that of elder-bishop and deacon) as affirmed by the New Testament and by John Wesley (24)(25), with the order of bishop being a later development which essentially delegated the tasks of bishops to those who had already been ordained into the order of elder-bishop; that means that I also believe any elder can lay hands on another and ordain them (as long as they also maintain the stream of orthodox belief as affirmed by the scriptures and early creeds). For the sake of order, if a church has bishops, then its elders should refrain from ordaining; but if necessity arises, I believe any elder has the apostolic authority to ordain. I also believe that ordination within the Church of the Nazarene does not simply mean I am ordained into the Nazarene denomination, but that I am ordained through the Nazarene denomination into the Church Universal (26).

Essentially, I believe most ordinations within Trinitarian churches have valid apostolic succession, even if many in those churches don’t fully understand what that means. This paves the way for better inter-church relations between denominations. Though I don’t think it necessary for all churches to merge into one polity, I do think it is essential to the biblical mandate to Christian unity that we at least recognize the legitimacy of other orthodox denominations’ ordinations, sacraments, and right to exist. And to that end, a mutual understanding of apostolic succession among all the churches becomes necessary.

Why the Church of the Nazarene?
So, why did I get ordained in the Church of the Nazarene? Well, number one, because the Holy Spirit called me to a lifetime consecrated to full devotion to Christ and the service of His Church in Word and Sacrament. It’s true that I could have done that in a number of denominations, but after much study, I decided that Nazarene doctrines best reflect scriptural orthodoxy: especially in its Wesleyan-Holiness emphasis that God can free us from sin in this life by the consecrating, sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit (27); its affirmation of the early ecumenical creeds (28); its Arminian belief that God has restored the human will to be able to either receive or reject grace (29); that grace can be walked away from after having been received (30); that that the Sacraments are means of grace and not only symbols (31); its use of both infant and believer’s baptism (32); and its dual system of ordination for both women and men (33).

To address each of these (often contentious) theological assertions would require a bunch more posts, but they were instrumental in my move away from a more Reformed understanding of Scripture. And though the manual never explicitly mentions “apostolic succession”, I believe history demonstrates that our succession is valid along the theological lines I laid out in the paragraphs above.

My Spiritual Lineage
So without further ado, both to outline my claim to apostolic succession and for pure historical curiosity, I’ve included the line ordination from me going all the way back to the apostles below:
I was ordained June 16, 2018 through the laying on of hands at the Colorado District Assembly of the Church of the Nazarene by Dr. Gustavo A. Crocker, who used these words:

“Ian Devlin Leigh Hyde, I charge thee before God and before the Church, preach the Word, watch thou in all things, endure affliction, do the work of an evangelist, discharge the duties of your ministry, and take thou authority to administer the sacraments and to lead in the Church of Jesus Christ. And now, Ian Devlin Leigh Hyde, by the power vested in me as a General Superintendent of the Church of the Nazarene, I ordain thee elder in the Church of God, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

Of the Nazarene General Superintendents…
Dr. Gustavo A. Crocker was ordained in 2003 by General Superintendent Paul G. Cunningham. Paul G. Cunningham in 1965 by Gen. Sup. Hugh C. Benner. Hugh C. Benner in 1923 by Gen. Sup. Roy T. Williams. Roy T. Williams in 1908 by Gen. Sup. Hiram F. Reynolds. Hiram F. Reynolds in 1886 by Bishop John Fletcher Hurst (Methodist Episcopal Church) (34).

Of the Methodist bishops…
John Fletcher Hurst in 1862 by Bishop Thomas Asbury Morris (35). Thomas Asbury Morris ca. 1820 by Bishop Robert Richford Roberts (36). Robert Richford Roberts in 1802 by Bishop Francis Asbury (37). Francis Asbury in 1784 by Superintendent Thomas Coke (38). Thomas Coke in 1784 by Rev. John Wesley (Church of England) (39)(40). John Wesley in 1728 by Bishop (of Oxford) John Potter (41)(42).

Of the Anglican bishops…
John Potter was consecrated bishop in 1715 (43)(44). Jonathan Trelawney in 1685. William Sancroft in 1678. Henry Compton in 1674. Gilbert Sheldon in 1660. Brian Duppa in 1638. William Laud in 1621. George Montaigne in 1617. George Abbot in 1609. Richard Bancroft in 1597. John Whitgift in 1577. Edmund Grindal in 1559. Matthew Parker in 1559. William Barlow in 1536. Thomas Cranmer in 1533.

Of the bishops before the English Reformation…
John Longland(s) in 1521 (Roman Catholic Church). William Warham in 1502. Richard Fitzjames in 1497. John Morton in 1479. Thomas Bourchier in 1435. Henry Beaufort in 1398. Roger Walden in 1398. Robert Braybrooke in 1382. Thomas Brentingham in 1370. Simon Sudbury in 1362. William Edendon in 1346. Ralph Stratford in 1340. Robert Wyvil in 1330. Roger Northborough in 1322. John of Halton in 1292. Anthony Beck in 1284. Henry in 1255. Walter Kirkham in 1249. Walter de Gray in 1214. William of S. Mere L’Eglise in 1199. Gilbert Glanville in 1185. Peter de Leia in 1176. Roger of Cloucester in 1164. Thomas Becket in 1162. Henry of Blois in 1129. William of Corbeuil in 1123. Richard de Belmeis in 1108. Anselm in 1074. Thomas in 1070. Lanfranc in 1070. Siward in 1058.

Of the English bishops before the Great Schism…
Stigand in 1043. Eadsige in 1035. Ethelnoth in 1020. Wulfstan in 1003. Elfric in 990. Aelphage in 984. Dunstan in 957. Odo in 927. Wulfhelm in 914. Althelm in 909. Plegmund in 891 (45).

Of the Roman Catholic Popes…
Formosus in 864 (46). Nicholas I in 858 (47)(48). Benedict III in 855. Leo IV in 847. Sergius II in 844. Gregory IV in 827. Valentine in 827. Eugene II in 824. Paschal I in 817. Stephen IV (V) in 816. Leo III in 795. Adrian I in 772. Stephen III (IV) in 767. Paul I in 757. Stephen II (III) in 752. Zachary in 741. Gregory III in 731. Gregory II in 715. Constantine in 708. Sisinnius in 708. John VII in 705. John VI in 701. Sergius I in 687. Conon in 686. John V in 685. Benedict II in 684. Leo II in 682. Agatho in 678. Donus in 676. Adeodatus (II) in 672. Vitalian in 657. Eugene I in 655. Martin I in 649. Theodore I in 642. John IV in 640. Severinus in 640. Honorius I in 625. Boniface V in 619. Deusdedit (Adeodatus I) in 615. Boniface IV in 608. Boniface III in 607. Sabinian in 604. Gregory I in 590. Pelagius II in 579. Benedict I in 575. John III in 561. Pelagius I in 556. Vigilus in 537. Silverius in 536. Agapetus I in 535. John II in 533. Boniface II in 530. Felix IV (III) in 526. John I in 523. Hormisdas in 514. Symmachus in 498. Anastasius II in 496. Gelasius I in 492. Felix III (II) in 483.

Of the Popes consecrated before the fall of the Western Roman Empire…
Simplicius in 468. Hilarius in 461. Leo I in 440. Sixtus III in 432. Celestine I in 422. Boniface I in 418. Zosimus in 417. Innocent I in 401. Anastasius I in 399. Siricius in 384. Damasus I in 366. Liberius in 352. Julius I in 337. Marcus in 336.

Of the Ante-Nicene Popes…
Sylvester I in 314. Miltiades in 311. Eusebius in 309. Marcellus I in 308. Marcellinus in 296. Caius in 283. Eutychian in 275. Felix I in 269. Dionysius in 260. Sixtus II in 257. Stephen I in 254. Lucius I in 253. Cornelius I in 251. Fabian in 236. Anterus in 235. Pontain in 230. Urban I in 222. Callistus I in 217. Zephyrinus in 199. Victor I in 189. Eleutherius in 175. Soter in 166. Anicetus in 155. Pius I in 140. Hyginus in 136. Telesphorus in 125. Sixtus I in 115. Alexander I in 105. Evaristus in 97.

Of the Apostolic Fathers to the Apostles…
Clement I in 88. Anacletus (Cletus) in 76. Linus in 67. Peter in 32. Jesus!

(1) Cf. Mat. 28:18-20; 1 Pet. 2:5; Rev. 5:9-10.
(2) Cf. Gen. 2:18; Ecc. 4:9-10; Eph. 4:2-3.
(3) The word “apostle” comes from the Greek apostolos used first in Mat. 10:2 in reference to the twelve closest followers of Jesus and is continually used throughout the New Testament, referring not only to the original twelve, but also specifically Paul and Barnabas in Acts 13:1-3, where they are also consecrated (“set apart”) and ordained through the laying on of hands.
(4) Luk. 10:1-16.
(5) Acts 13:1-3.
(6) 1 Cor. 12:27-31.
(7) Referenced in Acts 6:1-6 when the first seven deacons are ordained by the apostles, and in Acts. 13:1-3 when Paul and Barnabas are ordained as apostles.
(8) 1 Tim. 4:14; 2 Tim. 1:6.
(9) 1 Tim. 3; Titus 1:5-8.
(10) 1 Tim. 5:22.
(11) Acts 18:18, Rom. 6:3, 2 Tim. 4:19; cf. Acts 18:2-3 and 1 Cor. 16:19 where Aquila is mentioned first.
(12) Mat. 10:5-6; 15:24.
(13) “Speaking in churches” or preaching is a fundamental task associated with the apostles. Cf. Acts 6:2.
(14) Cf. 1 Cor. 15:29-34.
(15) “Apostle Timothy of the Seventy.” Orthodox Church in America. Web. Retrieved Jun. 21, 2018.
(16) Cf. Mat. 1:18-2:23; Luk. 2:1-20, John 1:14.
(17) Luk. 24:9.
(18) Out of 2.385 billion Trinitarian Christians, 1.726 billion belong to either the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, or Anglican Communions. The number of churches which adhere to apostolic succession is actually a little higher, as the Assyrian Church of the East, as well as some Lutheran and Methodist bodies emphasize its importance as well.
(19) “List of Christian Denominations by Number of Members.” Wikipedia. Web. Retrieved Jun. 21, 2018.
(20) “Historical Statement.” Manual 2017-2021. Church of the Nazarene. Web. Retrieved Jun. 21, 2018.
(21) “The Nicene Creed.” Creeds of Christendom, with a History and Critical Notes, Vol. 1. Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Web. Retrieved Jun. 21, 2018.
(22) Cf. John 10:30.
(23) I define “orthodox belief” as that which affirms the validity of scripture, the writings of the apostolic fathers, and the pre-schism creeds of the 4th century in ordering Christian belief and practice. After the schisms, beginning with the separation of the Assyrian Church of the East, and continuing through the schisms with the Oriental Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant churches, I believe no single polity can lay claim to full catholicity or oneness as laid out in the Nicene Creed.
(24) Through whom I also trace my apostolic succession. Wesley observed that for two centuries the Alexandrian Church (which all major communions agree still holds apostolic succession) ordained through presbyters alone.
(25) McClintock, John. Cyclopaedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature. Vol. 6. P. 170. Web. Retrieved Jun. 21, 2018.
(26) Para. 502. “Theology of Ordination.” Manual 2017-2021. Church of the Nazarene. Web. Retrieved Jun. 21, 2018.
(27) Ibid. Para. 10.
(28) Particularly the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed and the Apostles’ Creed.
(29) Ibid. Para. 7.
(30) Ibid. Para. 8.
(31) Ibid. Para. 12-13.
(32) Ibid. Para. 12.
(33) Ibid. Para. 502.
(34) “General Superintendent (Church of the Nazarene).” Wikipedia. Web. Retrieved Jun. 21, 2018.
(35) “John Fletcher Hurst.” Wikipedia. Web. Retrieved Jun. 21, 2018.
(36) “Thomas Asbury Morris.” Wikipedia. Web. Retrieved Jun. 21, 2018.
(37) “Robert Richford Roberts.” Wikipedia. Web. Retrieved Jun. 21, 2018.
(38) “Francis Asbury.” Christian History. Christianity Today. Web. Retrieved Jun. 21, 2018.
(39) Though ordained Superintendent in 1784 by John Wesley, Coke had already been ordained a presbyter in the Church of England in 1772. If one affirms that elders and bishops form a single order, then this should be the date recorded. But since he took on the role out of necessity, due to the lack of Anglican clergy available to administer the sacraments in the United States after the American Revolution, Wesley confirmed the call by consecrating him in 1784. It was this necessity which also prompted Wesley’s move to take on the role of bishop, which had lain dormant in his role as presbyter in the Church of England, but which was nonetheless valid by virtue of his ordination as presbyter-bishop.
(40) “Thomas Coke (Bishop).” Wikipedia. Web. Retrieved Jun. 21, 2018.
(41) “John Potter (Bishop).” Wikipedia. Web. Retrieved Jun. 21, 2018.
(42) There is hotly debated evidence that John Wesley may have been consecrated a bishop in 1763 during a private meeting with an Eastern Orthodox bishop named Erasmus of Arcadia. The validity of this evidence would require a whole other paper, but if it is true, then the rest of the lineage would be through the Eastern Orthodox bishops of Arcadia and the Patriarchs of Antioch (rather than through the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church); though they would still end at Peter just as the line through the Popes of Rome does.
(43) “Potter, John.” Encyclopaedia Brittanica. 1911 ed. Web. Retrieved Jun. 21, 2018.
(44) Drews, Carl. “The Apostolic Succession of the Anglican Mission in America.” 2004. Web. Retrieved Jun. 21, 2018. Used as the source for John Potter through Nicholas I.
(45) The first Archbishop of Canterbury in this line of succession.
(46) The last Pope of Rome in this line of succession.
(47) The dates for Nicholas I to Peter correspond to their consecrations as Pope of Rome. Whether they were consecrated bishops before this date is unknown in many cases.
(48) “List of Popes.” New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia. Web. Retrieved Jun. 21, 2018. Used as the source for Nicholas the 1 through Peter. Agrees with the list by Carl Drews, cited above.

Note: A special thanks to Jared K. Henry, whose own efforts to trace his lineage of apostolic succession in his post “My Ordination Means Something...” on his blog, Taking the High Road, inspired me to do the same.

#Apostles #Ordination #Women #OrdinationOfWomen #ApostolicSuccession #Nazarene #ChurchOfTheNazarene

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

The God Who Nurtures

Mother’s Day is right around the corner. It’s a time when we honor those women who brought us into the world, nurtured us as we grew, and loved us even when the things we did were unlovable. In fact, a mother’s love is so unique and legendary, there’s an idiom for those of us blessed with rougher features better suited for radio. We have “a face only a mother could love.” There’s nothing quite like a mother’s love, and to be honest, to honor them one day a year is much, much less than they deserve.

Now when we think of God, we often don’t think of Him in motherly terms. There’s a solid theological reason for using fatherly language when we pray or talk about God. Jesus repeatedly refers to God as “the Father” especially in John’s Gospel, and the Old Testament prophets often refer to God as a Father to Israel (cf. Jer. 31:9, Isa. 63:16, 64:8, etc.). And there’s good reason for this. Fatherly terms serve to highlight both the Father’s closeness to Christ and through him the Church in the New Testament and to Israel in the Old, while also highlighting his roles as Protector, Provider, Redeemer, and Creator (who did not need a consort, unlike many of the pagan creator deities popular at the time).

But what many people aren’t aware of are the many instances in which scripture uses motherly terms to describe God’s relationship to us. For instance, the verb translated as “Maker of heaven and earth” to describe God in Gen. 14: 19, 22 (RSV) is the same verb Eve uses when she describes herself giving birth to or “making” Cain in Gen. 4:1.

Additionally, the same verb is used to describe God’s creation of personified Wisdom in Prov. 8:22, and God is described as both “fathering” and “giving birth” to the people of Israel in Deu. 32:18. Finally, and perhaps most beautifully, God is compared to a mother comforting her son in Isa. 66:13 and to a compassionate, nursing mother in Isa. 49:15.

It is clear from scripture that God is not only a valiant Protector, Provider, and Redeemer; God is also our Birth-Giver, Nurturer, and Comforter. Just as humanity is not fully represented by either male or female alone, but rather both together were created in the image of God (cf. Gen. 1:27); so also God is not fully reflected in our theology or Christian lives unless we recognize that He models both perfect fatherhood and perfect motherhood for us.

So, this Mother’s Day, as we remember those who gave birth to us,  and spent their lives nurturing and comforting us; let us also remember to praise the One who gives birth to the new life we are promised in the Spirit, which our spirits and even all creation groans for (Rom. 8:22-26).

#MothersDay #Motherhood #Theology

Friday, March 09, 2018

Lent: Finding Your Rhythm

Originally delivered as a sermon on March 09, 2018.

Many of you don’t know this, and it’s a fact that I’ve attempted to keep well hidden since I got here, but I play the drums… badly. I play the drums badly. I rush, I get tripped on on fills, I compete with the bassist for the pacing and back when I was single, I competed with the lead singer for the attention of the ladies!. You would think that after all these years, I would have gotten better at playing; but no, I think I’ve gotten worse! It’s because I have an almost uncanny knack for completely missing the rhythm of a song. It’s not just restricted to drums, when I go to weddings and am expected to dance, Marcia has to wear steel-toed boots!

Now, admit it, we’ve all been there. How many of us have, when singing a worship song, come in a half measure on the chorus before everyone else. Anyone here done that? Just me? Well, I can tell you it can be a little bit jarring. One second, our attention is focused on God (or on what we’re going to eat for lunch), and the next we’re snapped out of the song and we begin wondering how many people around us heard that slip up. It can be confusing and embarrassing, as we stumble to get back on track with everyone else in the song.

You know, life is like that. We feel most comfortable when we are in a rhythm. We get up, brush our teeth, maybe quickly eat breakfast, rush out the door, work, come home, plop in front of the TV for a bit, and then go to bed. Or maybe instead of work, it’s school. And instead of TV it’s social media. And instead of breakfast, it’s a quick cup of coffee because we woke up ten minutes late. But just like when singing that song, something jars us out of our routine. Maybe it’s a bad diagnosis from the doc, maybe it’s a new baby, or it might be news that we just got accepted into the college that we want, or that we got a promotion, but we have to move to a new town. Or maybe it’s a personal or family tragedy. All of a sudden, we are reeling with the changes and trying to figure out how we could possibly get our rhythm back.

Or something entirely different might happen. Often, it isn’t just one jarring experience which throws us and leaves us reeling that causes us to lose our bearings. Sometimes, we just find ourselves swamped with work, chores, our schedules, or our own goal-driven and individualistic tendencies that we soon find we have drifted from those we consider to be close friends and families. This is very common and I would say almost endemic to our culture. We, as a society, paradoxically prize our independence and yet collectively tend to feel more alone than ever. Just a few years ago, for the first time in American history, more adults were living alone than with others in a family unit. The majority of marriages end in divorce. And social media, while technologically connecting us to thousands of people in ways not dreamed of in a previous generation, increases the alienation as relationships lack the face-to-face element we all crave. I actually think that the rising suicide rates over the past decades and the current opioid crisis are devastating reminders that our people carry deep, often hidden wounds of loneliness.

All of these worries, pressures, and feelings of isolation or alienation can make us feel like we have no rhythm. We are just trying to jump from one task to another, or from one crisis to the next. And this is why the Lenten Season is perhaps more important today than at any other time in our cultural history. Lent reminds us that we need rhythm. We were made for it and it is counter-cultural. Rhythms of life and of seasons.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-11 says,
“1 For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
2 a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
3 a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
4 a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
5 a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
6 a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
7 a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
8 a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
9 What gain has the worker from his toil? 10 I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man's heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.”(1)

Notice that this passage contains 14 pairs of opposites which is twice the number seven, and is often interpreted as signifying completion or perfection.(2) This tells us that Qohelet intends to speak to the wide range of human experiences and frame them within the natural rhythms of life. Additionally, no value statements are attached to the pairs.(3) When reading this, we may be tempted to insert a dualistic meaning into the passage, but  as verse 11 says, “He has made everything beautiful in its time.” In its time, mourning is as beautiful as dancing, weeping is as important as laughing, being torn up by the roots as inevitable as being planted in soft, rich soil.

This is the first purpose of Lent: to get us to carve out space and time to perceive and reflect on the rhythms of life, and to see how God is working through them to transform the way we see the world. To see that God is perfect even when our word and our circumstances are not. When we meet these rhythms with the understanding that there can be beauty even in the midst of suffering, and that God walks with us through it all, we can find comfort by reflecting on the eternal promise which God has placed within our hearts. Though our next moments are never guaranteed, we are drawn to a bright, beautiful hope beyond all this suffering.

But not only does Lent provide us with an opportunity to reflect on the rhythms of life, it calls us to do so together as a community. No matter how busy we are, the Lenten Season is a time when we are reminded that we were not created to handle it all alone. We need each other. And just as each individual is called to carve out space and time for repentance and reflection; we are also called to do so together. As Psalm 133:1-3 says,

“1 Behold, how good and pleasant it is
    when brothers dwell in unity!
2 It is like the precious oil on the head,
    running down on the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
    running down on the collar of his robes!
3 It is like the dew of Hermon,
    which falls on the mountains of Zion!
For there the Lord has commanded the blessing,
    life forevermore.”(4)

In a world that struggles to find meaning and connection, we have each other. We don’t have to do it all alone! Life is always more bearable when we have someone to share our burdens with; and it’s always more beautiful when we have someone to share our joys with. So tonight as we eat together, and in the coming weeks as we continue to incorporate the rhythms of prayerful reflection into our life, I encourage you to reach out to those around you, share the love of Christ and share the weight of each other’s burdens. Because when we share the fruits of the loving transformation God is working in us, those around us cannot help but be touched and transformed in some way too.

And this is the third purpose of Lent: to encourage us to carve out the space and time, not only for personal reflection, fasting and repentance, or mutual care and fellowship, but also for taking the love of Christ to the nations and those in our community who feel forgotten or abandoned by the rest of the world. For as Isaiah 58:6-7 says,

“6 Is not this the fast that I choose:
    to loose the bonds of wickedness,
    to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed[a] go free,
    and to break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
    and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
    and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?”(5)

While internal reflection and confession are essential to the Lenten experience, if our actions do not reflect the change we are experiencing inside, then it might mean we are holding something back from God. However if you act on your faith, and allow service to others to become as much an expression of prayer and fasting as your thoughts or words, then I think you will find God can transform us just as much through acts of love as he can during quiet reflection and prayer.

This might mean volunteering with a program at your church, or helping with a non-profit in the area. Or it could simply mean bringing a pan of brownies to neighbors you haven’t met, or helping run errands for the elderly in your neighborhood. Or it may mean comforting someone in your life who has experienced loss or is hurting, offering them not platitudes, but presence. It’s often not the grand gestures that mark the depth our faith, but the little daily actions that demonstrate just how much Christ’s love is transforming our lives and the lives of those around. us.

Now, before we go see what great soups our gracious volunteers have made for us, I’d ask that you please rise for a brief benediction.

May Christ’s transforming love shine through you and forever change your life and the lives of those around you. Never forget the fact that God loves you deeply and walks with you wherever you go. Amen.

(1) ESV.
(2)  Shepherd, Jerry E. “Ecclesiastes,” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Proverbs – Isaiah, Vol. 6. 3rd Ed. Edited by Tremper Longman III & David E. Garland (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), 288.
(3) Ibid.
(4) ESV.
(5) ESV.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

A Dialogue on Discussing Religion with Atheists

My previous post reflected on guidelines for discussing religion with Atheists, principally that any conversation should be characterized by grace, humility, and a genuine desire to listen and learn. In it, I briefly mentioned ontological and teleological arguments for God as evidence (though, I contended, not "proof") for the reasonable assertion that God exists.

This sparked a very interesting conversation today with an Atheist friend of mine, whom I will refer to as C.S., and which I thought was worthy of reproducing here. It delves into a number of subjects, including cosmology, quantum physics, psychology, philosophy, logic, and even comparative religion. If anything, it helped me to wrestle with my own thoughts on these diverse subjects as I continue to wrestle with and synthesize both my belief in God and my respect for science and logic.

Without further ado, here is the exchange in it's entirety. I hope you are able to get something out of it as well:

C.S.: Philosophical arguments like the Modal Ontological Argument have no bearing on reality. What we can and cannot meaningfully, logically say is a function of our language, not the universe.
Also, as an atheist, I think there are three issues that get mixed up all the time. The possible existence of gods, what’s the real definition of gods, and which religion/dogmas are correct and true.

Many of the debates I have seen in YouTube mostly deal with the question of god’s existence. Apologists rarely ever want to defend the existence of their specific god, or the validity of their specific religion.

Ian Hyde: C.S., I've actually been thinking about that quite a bit recently, but I'm going to break my response up into two parts. Your first point is one of the reasons I think it is important to distinguish between the philosophical application of logic and the scientific process.

Both processes are essential to our understanding the cosmos, but where the scientific process discovers observable phenomena, philosophy orders them. The problem with the modal ontological argument is as you say, it's an application of logic without any direct bearing on phenomena in the universe as we find them.

I find it useful only in that it demonstrates that the idea of the necessary maximal greatness is at least logically coherent (if not evidentially demonstrable as a matter of fact). Therefore, it becomes necessary to link the ontological to the teleological, for it to have any bearing on the universe and not just the inner workings of our own minds.

This is where the dual process theory of the mind comes into play. Both the language of logical expression and the capacity for scientific reasoning are conscious processes (the so-called "System 2". They come with a choice. They can be embraced or ignored. But our abilities to instinctively distinguish order from disorder, life from nonlife, to perceive patterns, attribute meaning to events, or perceive intelligence are all unconscious processes (the so-called "System 1"). System 1 makes us conscious; System 2 makes us human.

Incidentally, it's also System 1 which provides the mechanism for perceiving the Divine, and it's the perceptions generated within System 1 which provide the foundation for the reasoning expressed by System 2. It's also the processes of System 1 which directly affect the results of the double-slit experiment or the results of the Schrodinger's Cat thought experiment.

Consciousness creates the reality which we then investigate using the scientific process. And if the presence of our consciousness defines the results of probabilistic outcomes experimentally in quantum mechanics; then it seems reasonable to infer a Divine Consciousness defined the almost immeasurably unlikely probabilistic outcomes leading to the creation of the Cosmos and us in turn.

That's how I link the ontological to the teleological, anyway; by understanding the observable universe to be a function of Divine Consciousness in a similar way as logical processes are a function of our own consciousness.

Ian Hyde: In response to your second point, I also agree that the three issues you listed are often conflated; though I also find the common atheistic argument that "Christians don't believe in 999 of the gods of other religions, while atheists just extend that logic to one more" based on a similar conflation of the issue.

If God is defined according to an ontological definition of "the maximally great Consciousness from which the cosmos is derived", then It is present in nearly every theistic religion. Even ancient pagan religions generally had one central deity from which all others were derived and which presided over all others. And almost all monotheistic faiths (and even non-theistic positions) today recognize the existence of elemental forces and the possibility of ultra-powerful beings which would seem to us as gods.

The primary distinguishing mark between monotheism and polytheism is not how many of these things exist, but what is worthy of worship. Monotheism (or its close cousin monolatry) simply state that only the Creator is worthy of worship and not the creature. Elemental forces or ultra-powerful beings, even in pagan mythologies, are generally understood as creatures springing from a singular Divine principle.

In turn, the distinguishing mark between Christianity and other forms of monotheism again does not revolve around which God exists, but rather how that God is self-revealed and expressed in the relational character of the Trinity (as opposed to other supposed self-revelations). We believe that the Father is self-revealed in the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ and that both in turn are communicated through the work of the Holy Spirit. All three exist relationally and eternally as distinct Persons, while all are fully One God.

This means that if I did not think the kerygma (teaching) of the Church as expressed in the Scriptures and the writings of the Church Mothers and Fathers was true, then I wouldn't be a Christian. I'd probably be something else, but I still wouldn't be able to be an atheist, materialist, or philosophical realist; since I'd still be convinced that God very likely exists and is worthy of worship.

C.S.: Just because we can perceive patterns and attribute meaning to events, and/or perceive intelligence doesn’t mean that the answers we come up with to explain them are correct. Our senses can and do deceive us. We are really good at coming up with patterns for things that aren’t there. And attribute meaning to things that have none. Have you been to an art gallery lately?

Also, are you implying that some people have problems with their System 1 if they don’t
perceive divinity?

And System 2, the conscious process, is affected by many things like education level/understanding, cultural background, biases, experiences, brain damage/disorders, etc. The scientific method helps take biases away when trying to answer hypotheses, and can provide a high level of certainty in some cases.

But we all don’t engage in that method at all times, and can’t account for supernatural events or beings with it.

So consciousness creates a reality, but it’s not the same reality for everyone. I still don’t understand how you make the jump from quantum mechanics to Divine Consciousness. I’m probably missing something.

I know close to nothing about quantum mechanics, but doesn’t it rely on mathematics and science to some extent?

You can infer almost anything if your System 1 and System 2 allow you to. Mine are telling something else.

C.S.: Point 2. I think the ontological definition of God is a presupposition and nothing more. They are just words. It obviously hasn’t been proven that God exist and what attributes it has.

Also, a difference between Christianity and other pagan religions is that followers were and are instructed to stop worshipping other deities. And not only that, but once in power, they made it a priority to convert whoever they came across, by force if necessary. That’s a big difference.

The same reason you don’t believe in Zeus and worship him accordingly, is the same reason I don’t believe in Yahweh. To me there’s no difference between the two. I would require the same kind of evidence for both if I was asked to believe in either.

Ian Hyde: I really should go to an art gallery soon. :) Anyway, all art has meaning, whether conscious or unconscious (our aesthetics are a function of System 1, while their analysis is a function of System 2).

Also, I think everyone actually does instinctively, unconsciously perceive Divinity within System 1; but they choose whether or not to suppress that perception using System 2 processes.

Here's a link to a published article called "The Development of Childrens' Prelife Reasoning: Evidence From Two Cultures" by Natalie A. Emmons and Deborah Kelemen on the research backing my claim up (namely that we, as a species, are biologically primed to perceive the supernatural).

I also recommend the book called Born Believers: The Science of Children's Religious Belief by Justin L. Barrett, who is a professor at the Fuller Graduate School of Psychology (Fuller is also where I earned my MDiv.).

To better understand the logical leap I made, I suggest looking up the double-slit experiment. Basically, when a coherent light travels through two slits in a metal plate unobserved, they exhibit an interference pattern when registered on a screen behind the plate (which means the light traveled through the slits as a wave). But when the beam of light is observed, the screen registers individual particles travelling only through one slit or the other rather than through both slits as a wave.

Even if the light is only observed *after* travelling through the slit, it registers as a particle hit, rather than a wave. This means that, even though the light should have moved as a wave unobserved through the slits, it uploaded a back-history as a particle when it was observed before hitting the screen.

This demonstrates empirically two things: 1) The act of conscious observation changes the outcome of the experiment, without physically manipulating the light. and 2) The act of conscious observation collapses the wave function deciding a probabilistic outcome and making it appear as if it had been a deterministic one.

This is perhaps best expressed in Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, which asserts there is a fundamental limit to our ability to predict outcomes, making them essentially uncertain and probabilistic until observed. The more precisely a particle's location is known, the less precisely its momentum can be known.

Where I connect it to Divine Consciousness is that, just as our observation defines the reality with which we can interact and measure; Divine Observation was required for the definite moments (the Big Bang and subsequent events such as the rise of our particular physical laws, the condensation of matter, the formation of the Solar System, the creation of the Moon, the rise of life, and then humanity) which allowed our consciousness to be possible. Without Divine interaction, these definite events would have remained undefined, probabilistic realities.

Incidentally, both Heisenberg (the father of quantum mechanics) and Georges Lemaitre (the fellow who first postulated the Big Bang theory) were devoted Christians. That really has no bearing on their scientific theories, but it does suggest that these scientific observations were not seen as antithetical to their faith.

Now, it's totally possible that I am the one missing something, and not you. But I keep going over it all in my head, and it seems to be logically sound and backed up by empirical research.

C.S.: I will look into the stuff you provided, but I think that you’re assuming stuff. The double slit experiment demonstrated those two things you mentioned and nothing else. You say that Devine Observation was required for the big band to take place, but that’s just an assumption.

C.S.: Oh and by the way, when it comes down to children, I told my 6 year old the truth about Santa. He kept asking questions about it and the possibility of certain things, like how can he have enough presents for all the kids. So, I told him that I was the one who bought his presents, and that Santa didn’t exist.

A few days later, he still believes Santa is real. Go figure. Even with all the doubts and
questions he has about it.

Ian Hyde: It's an assumption based on how consciousness shapes reality within the Universe. In any case, it seems to be more plausible to me than the Many Worlds Interpretation supported by Lawrence Krauss, which is the only other alternative I've heard of which explains these observations.

The problem with the Many Worlds Interpretation is that it requires an infinite variety of universes, which is in contravention of Occam's Razor, the founding principle on which all scientific theories are based. Occam's Razor states that plurality should not be introduced into a theory or system without necessity. Or, as Isaac Newton said, "We are to admit no more causes of natural things than such as are both true and sufficient to explain their appearances. Therefore, to the same natural effects we must, as far as possible, assign the same causes." I can think of no greater plurality than an infinite
number of universes.

As to your response titled "Point 2" above, I agree that the ontological argument doesn't adequately provide attributes of character (though "Maximally Great Being" does imply attributes of being: namely omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence) or provide proof of God's existence (I think I tried, unsuccessfully, to state that in my original response). It's just meant to provide a basic working definition for God and to demonstrate that God's existence, at the very least, isn't illogical.

Also, it's true that Christians are instructed to worship no other deities, but the definition of deity in that context is altogether different than that which describes the Maximally Great Being of the ontological argument. Other deities are understood to be creature, rather than Creator, and ontologically limited in a way the Creator is not.

As for those who would kill to bring people into their religion, they do so in direct contravention to Christ's teaching. The very instant they kill someone for not believing what they do, they cease to be Christians (defined as someone who follows Christ's teachings).

Finally, Santa Claus does exist! St. Nicholas of Myra was a bishop in the 4th century. He was imprisoned for 8 years for his faith, upheld the cause of the vulnerable and the poor, and became a model for generosity. What he stood for, the essence of his character, lives on whenever anyone lives generously or cares for the less fortunate. I have as much proof for his existence as I have for anyone else's. :)

Ian Hyde: BTW, the other problem with the Many Worlds Interpretation is that even multiverses are subject to the expansionary characteristics of the observed Universe (as multiple possibilities branch off) and STILL require a single point of origin, as demonstrated by the Borde-Vilenkin-Guth (BVG) Theorem. Even a multiverse, it appears, calls for a single Creator.

#faith #science #philosophy #logic #ontological #teleological #consciousness #quantumphysics #cosmology #psychology #comparativereligion

Recommendations for Discussing Religion with Atheists

We've all seen internet comment sections get out of hand. I'm sure too many of us, if we looked at our own responses carefully and honestly, would admit that we have occasionally said something hurtful, not because it was right, but because we just wanted to win the argument or because we felt insulted by something the other party said.

But as more and more opinions are shaped, challenged, or reinforced through discussion online; the way we respond becomes just as important as the arguments we use. In fact, I would argue it becomes more important, as it is indicative of how we view people who disagree with us. If we cannot love those who disagree with us, then we certainly won't be able to love those who hate us, and our responses become antithetical to the gospel, even while trying to prove its veracity.

I’ve always found that the best way to have a discussion about God, or any other religious, philosophical, or even aesthetic idea with someone who differs in opinion from you, is to approach them with as much grace as possible.

Always assume the best in their intentions, and try to actively engage in a way that values listening as much as talking. It’s a little bit like taking marriage counseling. Instead of just waiting for them to quit speaking so that you get your turn, truly listen to them. Weigh what they say. Ask yourself, if you were in their shoes, with their reasons, and their experiences, would you feel the same way?

So let’s imagine I am having a discussion with an atheist. We likely have very different opinions about God, seeing as I am a devoted Christian. So when I write a response, I don’t think, “Man, I’m gonna trip his logic up good!” Instead I think, “Are there ways that he can legitimately challenge me to think more deeply about my faith?” “Am I willing to be honest with myself about the hard questions?” “Is there a way I can provide him with thought-provoking answers that helps him think about things from an angle he’s never considered?” “How can we both grow through this experience?”

I’ve found having this attitude generally leads to much more fruitful and edifying conversations for all parties involved. :)

As to practical matters of discussion, I try to keep this Dietrich Bonhoeffer quote in mind, “How wrong it is to use God as a stop-gap for the incompleteness of our knowledge. If in fact the frontiers of knowledge are being pushed further and further back (and that is bound to be the case), then God is being pushed back with them, and is therefore continually in retreat. We are to find God in what we know, not in what we don't know.”

This means that when we discuss God with someone who doesn’t believe, our reasoning should avoid arguments of infinite regression or appeals to a god of the gaps at all cost. There are good, objective reasons for thinking God exists based on the available scientific evidence (though I would argue that “evidence” and “reason” is quite different from “proof”).

For instance, the modal ontological argument at least demonstrates that God’s existence is logical and plausible; the double-slit experiment and the “Schrodinger’s Cat” though experiment both demonstrate that consciousness plays a defining role in structuring our physical reality (and when it is understood that we are in the same box as Schrodinger’s Cat, an Outside Observer to the Cosmos becomes a necessity. And I would argue that the dual process theory of the mind provides evidence that the very basis of that consciousness which plays an integral role in structuring the physical universe is at its most basic level (the so-called “system 1” or “unconscious mind) also geared toward finding patterns in our environment, distinguishing life from non-life, and providing a foundational belief in transcendent Deity.

All of these, when taken together argue (but do not prove) that God’s existence, and our foundational experience of religious belief, are both rational and even probable. Deciding to live one’s life on such a religious foundation then becomes what we call “faith.” Faith after all is not belief in spite of evidence, but rather relational trust based on the evidence that God exists and cares for us.

#atheism #faith #christianity #discussion

Thursday, December 14, 2017

The Repeal of Net Neutrality and Its Impact on Churches

Please bear with me, this is a bit of a long post on the grave impacts of today's repeal of #NetNeutrality, but I think it's important (perhaps even vital to the health of our Republic):

The FCC's decision to repeal Net Neutrality unfortunately means the Internet will be divided up into "media packages", much like cable T.V. packages today (this is already the business model used in countries that don't have net neutrality enshrined in law). A place that was once a haven for the underdog, the marginalized, and new ideas will now be ruled by a handful of companies, who will function as gatekeepers, marketing the most profitable, corporate websites over less-profitable, independent websites.

This means that non-profits, religious organizations, small political campaigns, individual bloggers and podcasters will likely be forced out of the market; either because the costs of internet access for developing their sites will be too expensive, or because people will naturally spend their internet budgets on access to the biggest sites (Amazon, Netflix, Google products, Facebook, etc.).

The proponents of the repeal claim this will lead to more innovation and more competition, by deregulating the internet. The problem is that ISP's are already well established in almost all markets, and maintaining equal access to the Internet (which is what Net Neutrality is) did not restrict them before. Instead, it will have the opposite effect: stagnation and monopolization, as independent voices no longer have a place to express themselves and be heard.

And the consequences could be much darker than we realize. ISP's would now legally be able to restrict access to websites which promote Net Neutrality (or whatever ideological view which irks their corporate owners), so that people who want to organize in opposition to this (or any other) decision would have to do so without the powerful tool of the internet (while their political opponents would naturally have full, free access).

As a pastor, this directly affects my ministry. Websites will likely no longer be an effective tool for outreach, as people unacquainted with our faith will now have to pay an extra fee (or buy a different media package) through their ISP to visit these types of sites. And let's be honest, they would probably rather spend it on a Social Media package, or to have access to Hulu or Netflix.

Now this doesn't mean an end to the Church by any means, as churches have always been built through the expression of love for one another found in personal relationships. The Church doesn't survive because of marketing, it survives (and thrives) as people are transformed by the Gospel through the work of the Holy Spirit. But it does mean that people curious about what we believe will likely no longer have access to our sermons or blog posts, and people who may want to attend events, won't see our calendar unless they pay for access to these types of sites.

Most of the ideals I care about will suffer in one way or another: religious freedom, the free exchange of ideas, the cultivation of art, music, philosophy, and theology, and even democracy itself.

Sunday, December 03, 2017

The Real Santa Claus

This morning in Sunday School, I introduced the kids to the real Santa Claus; a pastor named Nicholas, who lived in Myra, Turkey (then the Eastern Roman Empire) in the 4th century.

Nicholas was passionate about his faith, and giving himself up to save his congregation, was imprisoned and tortured for it. In an age when many great theologians are remembered for their eloquent words, he was remembered for his courageous acts: defending the innocent and self-sacrificial generosity. In fact, paradoxically, when so many men and women have sought to make a name for themselves at any cost, his simple acts of anonymous generosity ensured that his name has been honored continuously for 1,700 years.

On Dec. 6th, many Christians all over the world will honor the real man behind the modern myths. On that day, I encourage everyone to think of a creative, simple act of "guerrilla generosity." Give in a way that is anonymous, but which is meaningful to those around you.

For kids, it could be buying easy-to-make cookies and sneaking downstairs before your mom wakes up to bake them, and leave a note saying you love them. For adults, it could mean secretly shoveling your neighbor's walks, or putting together a gift basket and anonymously leaving it on the doorstep of a poor family or widow in the neighborhood.

In doing so, we remember that little acts of kindness change the world, and we honor the man who lived Jesus' words in Matthew 6:2-4: "So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you," (NIV).

#Christmas #StNick #StNicholas #SantaClaus #GuerrillaGenerosity #Nazarene

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Problem of Evil and Epicurus' Trilemma

I've been musing over the problem of evil and that popular maxim put forward by Epicurus, 2300 years ago, as an argument against an all-knowing (omniscience), all-powerful (omnipotent), and all loving God. The argument is still popular today among many of my atheist friends (even being referenced in the movie Superman vs. Batman), so I thought it worthwhile addressing.

First, in case you are unfamiliar with the argument, Epicurus basically posited that if God is willing to prevent evil, but not able, He is not omnipotent. If He is able, but not willing, He is not all good. If He both able and willing, evil should not exist. If He is neither able nor willing, then He is not God.

The problem with the Epicurean trilemma (leaving aside the fact it is first quoted in the writings of a Christian theologian arguing against it, and was possibly never uttered by Epicurus) is that it rests on a few (unproven) assumptions: 1) the future is something which can be known, 2) omniscience is properly defined as knowing the future, and 3) evil can be objectively defined.

The reason this is a problem is that, if the future is something which can be known ahead of time (either because it is predetermined, or "exists" in the mind of its Creator), then free will does not exist. If free will does not exist, no action can be good or evil. A predetermined universe negates the initial premise of the argument.

However, it seems that quantum mechanics shows us "the future" is probabilistic in nature, rather than deterministic. This means it is essentially uncreated. While an omniscient God can know all the possible futures, there is no way a single future could be known ahead of time. A thing can only be known if it exists; so it follows that if the future does not exist, it cannot be known. In this case, a probabilistic universe negates the argument's definition of omniscience.

Finally, if evil can be objectively defined (especially as something within the created order), this suggests a moral reality beyond human social contract, which can only apply to functionally free beings in a probabilistic universe. Since humans are (said to be) free beings, then the burden of evil rests entirely on them.

But if there is no God, then there can be no moral reality beyond transitory human social contract. And again, the burden of breaking any such contract (defined as an act of evil) would rest only on its constituent parties, i.e. human beings. In either case, human beings are to blame for evil's existence, rather than God (whether or not God exists).

It seems to me that the God of Christianity (the faith with which I am most familiar) is generally described as creating humanity to reflect God's "Image", i.e. to be free beings which possess the ability to make moral decisions, to live in community (with God, fellow humans, and creation), and to create or destroy.

But the existence of free beings carries with it the implicit risk of evil, broken relationship, and immoral decisions. If Christianity's claims are correct, then the best explanation for the existence of evil is that God loves humanity so deeply, He figured it was worth the risk that we would dork everything up.
#philosophy #God #atheism #Christianity #theodicy #Epicurus #evil