Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Christian Professors: Some Thoughts from "A Grander Story"

 A few thoughts on the importance of Christians in higher education.  From the book A Grander Story: An Invitation to Christian Professors.

"If you think about it, so much of what we love and cherish is downstream of the American university:

  • Every child and grandchild, for generations to come, even if they don't attend college, will be shaped by our universities' contributions to culture.
  • The belief systems and values of our nation flow largely from our universities.
  • Almost all our civic, judicial, and business leaders are shaped in our universities.
  • The greatest challenges and crises facing our nation and the world are addressed through research in our universities.
  • Scholars in our universities serve as primary arbiters of what is good and true for the rest of our society.
  • Professors establish the culture or 'climate' that encourages or prevents the gospel from taking root.

Other reasons could be offered as well.  It is difficult to conceive of an institution with greater potential to shape (and bless!) the world than the university.

"In Luke 6:40, Jesus remarked, 'Everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher' (emphasis mine).  Personally, we wouldn't have concluded this; we would have suggested, 'Everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teaching.'  But according to Jesus, teachers indelibly shape students.  There are two sides to this coin: If students become like their teachers, what are the ramifications of generation after generation of university students graduating without ever having met a single professor they knew to be a Christian?  Conversely, what would be the impact if every university student in America had the opportunity, at least once, to study under a Christ-following professor?  This reason alone, that our universities shape every future generation, is decisive evidence for the critical importance of the university as a mission field." (pp. 10-11)

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Some Thoughts on Deconstruction and Deconversion (Pella Communities College Group Presentation)

Some Thoughts on Deconstruction and Deconversion

Richard Klaus

November 2022


1.     Deconstruction… what it is not, what it is 


a.     What deconstruction is NOT:


                                               i.     Not mere deepening of one’s theology or theological development


                                             ii.     Not mere doubt, confusion, disorientation


b.     What deconstruction is:


                                               i.     Repudiation of faith or key elements of the faith


1.     Mark 4.13-20: Four soils


a.     Second soil: receive with joy but are temporary; fall away because of persecution


b.     Third soil: “worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful”


2.     2 Timothy 4.10: Demas… “having loved this present world has deserted me…”


                                             ii.     Reconfiguration of the faith or key elements of the faith


1.     Acts 20.29-30


2.     2 Corinthians 11.3-4, 13-15


3.     Galatians 1.6-9; 2.4-5; 3.1 (cf. Philippians 3.2)


4.     1 Timothy 4.1-3


5.     Titus 1.10-16


6.     2 Peter 2.1


7.     2 John 10


c.     New Testament on false teachers:


                                               i.     Romans 16.17-18


                                             ii.     2 Timothy 2.23-26


d.     Spiritual warfare in the realm of ideas


                                               i.     2 Corinthians 10.3-5


                                             ii.     Colossians 2.8


                                            iii.     1 Timothy 4.1-3


2.     The book of Jude as relevant to this issue


a.     Contend earnestly for the faith in light of false teachers (vv. 3-4)


b.     The necessity of the Scriptural revelation—OT and NT


                                               i.     “Remind” (v. 5)—three OT examples (cf. v. 11)


                                             ii.     “Remember” (v. 17)—“the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ.”


                                            iii.     “Certainly both Jude (here [v. 5] and verse 17) and 2 Peter 1:12-13, 15; 3:1-2) lay great emphasis on ‘reminders’.  They are crucial for a historical religion.”  Michael Green, 2 Peter and Jude (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries), 177.


                                            iv.     Beware of those who would separate Jesus from the OT scriptures or from his apostolic representatives (i.e., “Red-letter Christians”)


3.     False teachers in Jude


a.     “Jude effectively reminds us that defectors from true revelation and sound morals are to be expected in every generation.”  D. A. Carson and Douglas Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, 694.


b.     Verse 8—“Yet in the same way these men, also by dreaming, defile the flesh, and reject authority, and revile angelic majesties.”


                                               i.     “… it probably indicates that the false teachers supported their antinomianism by laying claim to divine revelation in their dreams.” Michael Green, 2 Peter and Jude (TNTC), 182


                                             ii.     Dreaming in OT as that which is opposed to the Word of God


1.     Deuteronomy 13.1-5 (esp. vv. 3, 5)


2.     Jeremiah 23.25-32; 27.9; 29.8-9


3.     God’s Word comes from the outside—outside human authority and experience.  False teachers generate their own word


c.     For Jude the measuring rod is the deposit of the faith which is grounded in Christ Jesus as defined by his apostles and pre-dated and predicted by the Old Testament.  


                                               i.     The content and contour of the faith is the standard by which to judge personal experience.


                                             ii.     This is a dividing line of discipleship.  This needs to be a settled conviction for the individual Christian.


4.     Jude’s perspective on how to deal with false teachers and those influenced by them—guidance for those who are (or know those who are) deconstructing


a.     Verses 17-22—Perspective on…


                                               i.     False teachers (vv. 17-19)


                                             ii.     Yourselves as believers (vv. 20-21)


                                            iii.     Those who are being influenced by false teachers (vv. 22-23)


b.     “In vv. 17-19 Jude reminded his readers that the apostles predicted the opponents would arrive.  Their presence did not constitute a surprise nor, ultimately, a threat to the faith once for all handed down to the saints.  Then in vv. 20-21 he gave positive exhortations to believers.  They must not think the faith will be preserved simply by attacking the false teachers and revealing their errors.  The readers must be attentive to their own relationship with God.  They must remain in God’s love by growing in their understanding of the faith, by praying fervently in the Holy Spirit, and by waiting eagerly for Jesus to return and grant them his mercy.  We come to the third stage of the argument in vv. 22-23.  Verses 17-19 focus on the opponents; and vv. 20-21, on the readers.  Now Jude explained to the readers how they should respond to those who had been affected by the false teachers and perhaps even how they should treat the false teachers themselves.  The exhortation is threefold.  First, those who were wavering under the influence of the false teachers should not be rejected or ignored.  By showing mercy to them, as they struggle with doubts, such people could be reclaimed.  Second, others were close to being captured by the teaching and behavior of the opponents.  Believers must not give up on them.  Their lives could still be salvaged, and they could be snatched from the fire that threatened to destroy them.  Third, others had already been defiled by the false teachers.  Perhaps Jude even spoke here about false teachers themselves, although this seems less likely.  Probably Jude spoke of those who had fallen into the libertinism of the false teachers.  Even in this case mercy should still be extended.  But the readers should be extremely careful, avoiding the danger of being stained by the sin of these opponents.”  

      --Thomas Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude (New American Commentary), 487


5.     Why do people repudiate the faith (deconversion)?


a.     Scot McKnight and Hauna Ondrey, Finding Faith, Losing Faith: Stories of Conversion and Apostasy(Baylor University Press, 2008)—chapter one: “Leaving Church, Finding Freedom: Anatomy of Apostasy” (pp. 7-61)


b.     Why people leave (or, say they leave):


                                               i.     Scripture


                                             ii.     Science


                                            iii.     Christians


                                            iv.     Hell


                                              v.     God of the Bible


c.     “In my study, at least one and nearly always a combination of the above five major elements forms the core of a crisis in the viability of one’s orthodox Christian faith.” (p. 42)


6.     Why do people reconfigure the faith (Progressive Christianity)?


a.     Many of the same reasons as above.


b.     LGBTQ issues


7.     KEY Book!  In Search of a Confident Faith: Overcoming Barriers to Trusting in God by J. P. Moreland and Klaus Issler (Intervarsity Press, 2008).


a.     Distractions of the Head and Distractions of the Heart (chapters 2 & 3)


b.     Distractions of the Head: Two kinds


                                               i.     Vague doubts


                                             ii.     Specific doubts


8.     Vague Doubts and cultural plausibility structure


a.     Plausibility structure


                                               i.     “Every culture has a set of background assumptions—we call it a plausibility structure—that sets a tone or a framework for what people think, how they feel and how they act.  It directs what they will entertain as plausible, what they will habitually notice or disregard without thinking about what they are doing, and how they form and retain their beliefs.  This plausibility structure is so widespread and subtle that people usually don’t even know it is there even though it hugely impacts their perspective on the world.  The plausibility structure is composed of thoughts (e.g., scientists are smart; religious people are gullible and dumb), symbols (a flag being burned, a picture of Paris Hilton, tattoos), music and so forth.  It is so deeply internalized and widely adopted that it is taken for granted.  It is so subconscious that it is seldom noticed.” (Moreland and Issler, 45-46)


                                             ii.     “Here’s the problem this raises for trust in God.  Without even knowing it, we all carry with us this cultural map, this background set of assumptions, and our self-talk—the things that form our default beliefs (ones we naturally accept without argument), the things we are embarrassed to believe (if they run contrary to the authorities in our cultural map), and related matters—create a natural set of doubts about Christianity.  Most of these factors are things people are not even aware of. In fact, if this cultural map is brought to people’s attention, they would most likely disown it even though, in fact, it constitutes the internalized ideas that actually shape what people do and don’t believe.” (Moreland and Issler, 46)


                                            iii.     Naturalism as the aura and aroma of our plausibility structure


b.     Vague doubts due to the background plausibility structure


                                               i.     “In contrast, other doubts are unknowingly fed by ideas absorbed from the plausibility structure of the surrounding culture.  People with these kinds of doubts are unaware of how they have been influenced by the assumptions made by the surrounding culture (and, as we said above, they may not even recognize those assumptions even when made explicit).  Even though such assumptions are usually easy to answer, finding such answers does not, by itself, resolve the doubts.  This can only be done by making those cultural assumptions explicit, by exposing them for the intellectual frauds they actually are, and by being vigilant in keeping them before one’s mind and spotting their presence in the ordinary reception of input each day from newspapers, magazines, office conversation, television, movies and so on.  Said differently, it is not enough to find good answers to these doubts as it is for more specific intellectual problems.  The real solution here is the conscious formation of alternative, countercultural ways of seeing, thinking and being present in the world.  If this is not done, these background assumptions will bully us Christians to live secular lives, and they will squeeze the spiritual life out of us.” (Moreland and Issler, 47-48)


                                             ii.     Seven main doubt-inducing background assumptions (Moreland and Issler, 48)


1.     It is smarter to doubt things than to believe them.  Smart people are skeptical.  People who find faith easy are simplistic, gullible and poorly educated.  The more educated you become, the more you will become a skeptic.


2.     University professors are usually unbelievers because they know things unrecognized by average folk that make belief in the Bible a silly thing to have.


3.     Religion is a matter of private, personal feelings and should be kept out of debates—political and/or moral—in the public square.


4.     Science is the only way to know reality with confidence, or least it is a vastly superior way of knowing reality than other approaches, e.g., religious ones.  And science has made belief in God unnecessary.


5.     We can know things only through our five senses.  If I can see, touch, taste, hear or smell something, then it’s real and I can know it.  But if I can’t sense it in one of these ways, I can’t know it’s real and I must settle for a blind, arbitrary choice to believe in it.


6.     If we can’t get the experts to agree on something like the existence and nature of God, abortion, or life after death, then we just know anything about it.


7.     Enlightened people are tolerant, nonjudgmental and compassionate.  They are unwilling to impose their views on others.  Defensive, unenlightened people are dogmatic, ugly polar opposites of enlightened folk.


c.     Challenging these vague doubts and the background assumptions generating them—a four-step procedure (Moreland and Issler, 49)


                                               i.     Step One: Spot the activating source (e.g., the evening news, TV show, movie, conversation at work) and be alert while being exposed to it.


                                             ii.     Step Two: Explicitly state to yourself exactly the doubt-inducing cultural assumption that lies beneath the surface of the activating source (start with the list of seven above).


                                            iii.     Step Three: Challenge and question the truth of the cultural assumption.  Is that really true?  Doubt the doubt!


                                            iv.     Step Four: Replace the cultural assumption with a biblical truth—the correct alternative way of seeing reality—and make it your goal to grow in God-confidence about the alternative.


·       “We should read the Bible for various reasons.  It should be read for facts, and it should be read devotionally.  But reading the Bible every day of one's life does something else--it gives one a different mentality.  In the modern world we are surrounded by the mentality of the uniformity of natural causes in a closed system, but as we read the Bible it gives us a different mentality.  Do not minimize the fact that in reading the Bible we are living in a mentality which is the right one, opposed to the great wall of this other mentality which is forced upon us on every side--in education, in literature, in the arts, and in the mass media.”  He Is There and He Is Not Silent in Francis A. Schaeffer Trilogy (Crossway, 1990), p. 334.


d.     Strategies of defense and offense 


                                               i.     Defense: 


1.     Do not be a passive consumer of entertainment and media input into your lives


2.     Think and challenge the background assumptions


                                             ii.     Offense:


“A helpful strategy of offense is to develop a counterculture in which believers are regularly exposed to Christian scholars, sophisticated Christian alternatives to secular ideas, and thoughtful Christian books, magazines and journals.  Note, such exposure is not important merely so Christians can come to develop Christian alternatives to secular ideas.  It is not just secular ideas that must be countered.  It is the process of secularization itself that must be confronted, including the process of socializing Christians into thinking of themselves as marginalized, weak, gullible, uneducated people.  Thus, even if you are not yourself particularly well-educated, and even if you cannot understand the line of reasoning of articulate Christian scholars and carefully thought-out Christian books, exposure to the very existence of such things can provide you with confidence and remove doubt rooted in cultural background assumptions.”  (Moreland and Issler, 54-55)


·      “Over the last forty years a revolution has been occurring in Anglo-American philosophy.  Since the late 1960s Christian philosophers have been coming and defending the truth of the Christian worldview with philosophically sophisticated arguments in the finest scholarly journals and professional societies. And the face of Anglo-American philosophy has been transformed.”  J. P. Moreland and William Craig, Philosophical Foundations of a Christian Worldview—2nd ed. (Intervarsity Press, 2017), p. 5


9.     Dealing with specific intellectual doubts


a.     “Such a doubt has two characteristics: the doubting person is clearly aware of it, and he or she can write it down on paper.  The doubt is quite precise and specific.”  (Moreland and Issler, 55)


b.     Eight steps for removing these doubts and strengthening God-confidence (Moreland and Issler, 55-59)


                                               i.     Approach the issue with the hope that you will find an intellectually satisfying answer.


                                             ii.     Be sure the doubt is really intellectual.


·       “Here’s how to tell if your doubt is not largely intellectual: If you have received an intellectual answer to the doubt that satisfies most other believers, especially those more knowledgeable than you, and it doesn’t help you, it’s likely that the problem isn’t intellectual.”  (Moreland and Issler, 56)


                                            iii.     If the doubt is sourced in the challenges presented by another person, don’t assume he or she has considered fairly the available answers to the issue.


·       See my story: “Keeping Faith While Growing Up Evangelical: Reflections on My Journey”


                                            iv.     Write your doubt down on paper.


                                              v.     Doggedly find an answer.


                                            vi.     Doubt you doubts.


                                          vii.     Remember there is a communal dimension to knowledge.


1.     We can’t know everything


2.     Who are the evangelical scholars in the field who have answers?


                                        viii.     Remember that atheists and skeptics have as many doubts as we do or more.


1.     Atheist philosopher, Thomas Nagel: “I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers.  It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, I hope that I’m right in my belief.  It’s that I hope there is no God!  I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.”  (Quoted in Moreland and Issler, 59)


2.     Atheist, Douglas Coupland: “Now—here is my secret: I tell it to you with an openness of heart that I doubt I shall ever achieve again, so I pray that you are in a quiet room as you hear these words.  My secret is that I need God—that I am sick and can no longer make it alone.  I need God to help me give, because I no longer seem capable of giving; to help me be kind, as I no longer seem capable of kindness; to help me love, as I seem beyond being able to love.”  (Quoted in Moreland and Issler, 59)