Friday, January 30, 2015

#50 Shades Is Abuse: National Center on Sexual Exploitation's New Promotion

The National Center on Sexual Exploitation has a new website devoted to 50 Shades of Grey with the tagline 50 Shades is Abuse.  This is a message that needs to get out.  They have a number of graphics they want shared across social media.  Here a few of them:

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Adam, the Apostle, and Authority: Paul's Authoritative Ministry

1      As we’ve seen, Peter Enns (and others) acknowledge that Paul (and others—Jesus, Luke) believed in the historicity of Adam.  For Enns this is not determinative.  Paul is a man of his time and the understanding of his time.  Enns seems to think that on this issue Paul was simply another second-temple Judaism interpreter who is bounded by the same constraints as any other first-century person.

With respect to the Adam story, Paul was hardly the first Jewish interpreter to try to come to terms with it, and there was considerable diversity in how the story was read…When viewed in the context of the larger Jewish world of which Paul was a part, his interpretation is one among several, with nothing to commend it as being necessarily more faithful to the original.[1] 

Mark D. Thompson affirms Paul’s authority in an important essay: Mark D. Thompson “The Missionary Apostle and Modern Systematic Affirmation” in The Gospel to the Nations: Perspectives on Paul’s Mission edited by Peter Bolt and Mark D. Thompson (IVP, 2000).  Although Thompson is not directly dealing with the historicity of Adam his comments have relevance. Thompson's remarks are especially important in answering those who would seek to drive a wedge between Jesus and Paul--no matter what the issue.

Paul’s apostolic commission demands that we recognize that his letters derive ultimately from the risen Lord and are thus eschatologically positioned, not just historically located.  As Paul wrote or dictated his epistles, he was doing much more than simply sharing his experiences or even using the Old Testament to construct ‘an argument in support of what on the basis of his missionary experience he thought was right’.  He was fulfilling his commission as a spokesman for the risen Christ, conveying the address of God to men and women in the last days.  His epistles to individuals and congregations caught up in the great eschatological ingathering of the nations are part of the final act of divine self-revelation before the end.  This is why, for all the incidental and occasional remarks, his words, arguments, and overall theological perspective cannot be confined to the immediate situations he faced in the mid-first century Mediterranean region.  The continuing relevance and authority of Paul’s epistles are tied to his particular role in the purposes of God.[2]

It is Paul’s apostolic commission which sets his epistles apart from other letters in the first century.  As letters of an apostle, indeed the apostle to the nations, they are placed alongside the other apostolic documents and continue to exercise a unique and normative role in the church of Jesus Christ.  The Pauline epistles should not be viewed as simply as some of the earliest ‘unchallengeable instances’ of gospel-speaking.  In and through their undoubted particularity the risen Christ continues to address his people.[3] 

What is more, Paul himself did not see a qualitative difference between his personal teaching ministry and his letters (2 Thess. 2:15).  His words, whether spoken or written, carry the authority of the one who had commissioned him, an authority that later theological reflection does not share.  Paul’s letters have an eschatological context and not simply an historical one.  These are the words by which the divinely appointed apostle to the nations addresses men and women in the last days concerning the gospel and its implications.  Whatever other particularity may attach to them, they have a unique role in the eschatological ingathering of the nations.

Herein lies a second inadequacy in modern theologies.  They frequently fail to realize that Paul writes to our situation.  We too are people of the last days, and our common eschatological position with his first readers underlines the truth that these words of Paul are the word of God to us.  Of course, the twenty-first century is significantly different from the first.  The cultural and intellectual challenges to the gospel in our own time comes from quarters our forbears could hardly have imagined.  Conversely, the earliest Christians faced particular struggles that were later resolved in one way or another.  Nevertheless, in the later terms of God’s eternal purposes we, like they, stand between the ascension and the promised return of the Lord.  The context of our Christian thought and life is similarly the eschatological ingathering of the nations.  Among other things this means we must test our proclamation of the gospel, our reflection upon its implications, and our lives lived as gospel people against a responsible reading of the words of Scripture, not least among them the words of Christ’s apostle.[4] 

The apostle Paul did not see himself as providing merely human commentary on the events of Jesus’ life in the light of the Hebrew Scriptures.  Nor was this the understanding of the other apostles who have contributed to the New Testament (2 Peter 3:14-16; 1 John 4:4-6).  Their unique commission invested their writing—as is did their preaching—with a particular authority tied to their distinctive role in the eternal purposes of God.  In fact, their writing even enabled the Old Testament to be seen in its proper light as preparation for and predictive of the Christ who has now been identified as Jesus of Nazareth.  The eschatological framework into which both Testaments are now properly set ensures that the genuine particularity of each component is respected without insisting that the relevance of each part of Scripture be confined to its original audience.  Furthermore, such a perspective will not allow the Scriptures to be treated as simply one early voice among many others.[5] 

[1] Peter Enns, The Evolution of Adam, p. 98.
[2] Mark D. Thompson, “The Missionary Apostle and Modern Systematic Affirmation” in The Gospel to the Nations: Perspectives on Paul’s Mission edited by Peter Bolt and Mark D. Thompson (IVP, 2000), p. 369.
[3] Ibid., p. 370.
[4] Ibid., p. 373.
[5] Ibid., p. 376.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Christianity and Buddhism: The Journey of John B. Buescher

On page 165 of James Sire's The Universe Next Door (5th ed) there is a footnote mentioning an article by John B. Buescher entitled Everything Is On Fire: Tibetan Buddhism Inside Out from the Jan/Feb 2008 edition of Books and Culture.

Buescher was raised Roman Catholic but spent forty some years pursuing Buddhism.  He then returned to Catholicism.  His article has a number of poignant comparisons between Buddhism and Christianity. Here a few pieces I found especially noteworthy and moving--my favorite is in bold.

Tibetan Buddhism has attracted devotees in the West. Its teachers offer insights into suffering and methods for cultivating mental equanimity and compassion. It appeals to Westerners' utilitarian pursuit of self-betterment because it seems, at first anyway, to set aside the necessity of faith and to ask the inquirer only to try its methods and see the results. It says that one can become a Buddha, an "awakened" one, by one's own efforts. Its goal is enlightenment about a truth beyond the limits of contingent reality. It is as dubious about objective reality as certain currents of Western philosophy have become. It proclaims impermanence and emptiness, and so fits our experience of upheaval. It questions the reality of the "self." Nowadays the West does too, and often conceives even the Gospel as a manual, not for the personal development of holiness, but for the impersonal engineering of social justice.

The Dalai Lama is an advocate of interfaith dialogue. One fruit of such conversations is The Good Heart: A Buddhist Perspective on the Teachings of Jesus, the edited transcript of the Dalai Lama's impressions of Gospel selections read to him at the 1994 seminar at the London Center of the World Community for Christian Meditation. In the introduction, the Center's director, a Catholic priest, writes:
When a Buddhist, perhaps especially a Western Buddhist, says that all religions are compatible because they represent the different personal or psychological needs of individuals, many may add or think "at different stages of their development." Behind this may be the feeling—which I never sensed at all in the Dalai Lama in either private or public discussion—that the notion of a personal God is acceptable, but that it represents a more immature, perhaps an earlier, stage of spiritual development, a kind of balancing third wheel on a child's bicycle.
The Dalai Lama, a good man, would not beat his hosts over the head with it, but that is indeed how Buddhists understand theism and even the various other schools or sects of Buddhism that they do not agree with. Such teachings, they believe, are potentially helpful to those who are not yet highly gifted but who will eventually, perhaps in a future lifetime, be able to comprehend and profit from the highest Buddhist teachings.

I am neither a Buddhist nor a prophet. I have reverted to the Catholicism that gave joy to my youth. How did this happen? Buddhism focuses on the life of the monk and nun, who have renounced the world in an effort to achieve enlightenment and thereby climb out of the cycle of suffering transmigration through rebirth. Compared to Christianity, it has only a rudimentary teaching on the governance of society or on the value of the family. Throughout Asia, Buddhist clerics usually have a lot to say and do at funerals but little or nothing at weddings and births. This sensibility has found fertile ground in the West, where we have spent the last few centuries attacking the principles that encourage the regeneration of the given structures of society—especially of marriage and the family.

As a result, I achieved an odd kind of enlightenment. Or a number of small ones that added up to this: I realized that what I most urgently needed was repentance. Not for the sin of holding on to an infantile form of faith, but rather for turning away from the Faith and looking to myself for salvation. After almost forty years, I saw the smoke on a mountain pass. God, I felt very strongly, had lit the fire. And the trail of smoke led back home. All these inferential steps I am describing make it sound like a series of trap doors shutting, but really it felt more as if, in the dark, a person I knew was drawing closer and closer to me in silence—"anthropomorphic" though that may be. I made the sound of one (closed) hand clapping (the breast). Mea maxima culpa. And I began the "yoga" of genuflecting before Him at whose name every knee shall bend.

In religion it is not enough for people to do the best that they can. That can never be enough. Our life is more perilous than that. Everything is on fire. We cannot put out the flames, for we too are engulfed. I pray to Jesus Christ not because he was the teacher who showed us how to do the best we can, but because he is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Miserere mei, Domine.
 At least two of us have found our way into this pew. Paul Williams, author of The Unexpected Way: On Converting from Buddhism to Catholicism, is a former practitioner and continuing scholar of Tibetan Buddhism. He is also a relatively new Catholic. He writes about why the two religions are irreconcilable. Buddhists are not theists. And, despite talk about the unknowable "Other," Christians most certainly are theists—at least those who have not decided that God is a projection of a limited mind. Williams also argues that reincarnation cannot ultimately provide a basis for religious practice because it reduces the significance of individual lives to a vanishing point.
Buddhism has always needed to shore up "conventional" truth—including moral truth—because it is undermined by the doctrines of selflessness, impermanence, and emptiness. This is why Chesterton wrote that Buddhism was not a creed but a doubt. It is plain to me that Buddhist sages are similar to Christians in their capacity to sin. Buddhism, however, by locating our suffering in ignorance, rather than in the will, and its cure in knowledge, makes it difficult to think that one who had really experienced enlightenment could sin. Buddhists are often inclined, I believe, not to recognize enlightened beings' sins as sins, but to explain them away as "skillful means," actions that, to the unenlightened, look like sins but that spring from someplace beyond good and evil. Christians have sometimes broached this sort of rationalization—"To the pure all things are pure"—but have generally hesitated to insist on it. Christian doctrine weighs strongly against it.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

John Cage and His "Art"

I'm teaching an apologetics and worldview class for high schoolers.  One of the textbooks we are using is James Sire's The Universe Next Door (5th edition).

In discussing nihilism Sire talks about how "nihilism means the death of art" (p. 114).  Sire writes:
Art is nothing if not formal, that is, endowed with structure by the artist.  But structure itself implies meaning.  So to the extent that an art-work has structure, it has meaning and thus is not nihilistic.  Even Beckett's Breath has structure.  A junkyard, the garbage in a trash heap, a pile of rocks just blasted from a quarry have no structure.  They are not art.  (p. 115)
Since Sire mentions Beckett's Breath here is one renditon:

Sire goes on to state:
Some contemporary art attempts to be anti-art by being random.  Much of John Cage's music is predicated on sheer chance, randomness.  But it is both dull and grating, and very few people can listen to it.  It's not art.  (p. 115)
To get a flavor for John Cage's work here are few items.  The first piece is "Music of Changes--part one"

The next piece is an early work called "Water Walk"

This piece entitled "Imaginary Landscape No. 4" uses 12 radios to make random sounds

Perhaps John Cage's most famous piece is 4'33" in which the musicians do not play their instruments for four minutes and 33 seconds.  All that is heard are the ambient sounds of the environment.  Here are two renditions of 4'33"

In light of 4'33" this TED Talk by philosopher Julian Dodd of Manchester in which he asks, "Is John Cage's 4'33" Music?"

I first learned of John Cage from reading Francis Schaeffer's The God Who Is There (1968).  Here a few of his comments:

Back in the Chinese culture long ago the Chinese had worked out a system of tossing coins or yarrow sticks by means of which the spirits would speak.  The complicated method which they developed made sure that the person doing the tossing could not allow his personality to intervene.  Self-expression was eliminated so that the spirits could speak.

Cage picks up this same system and uses it.  He too seeks to get rid of any individual expression in his music.  But there is a very great difference.  As far as Cage is concerned, there is nobody there to speak.  There is only an impersonal universe speaking through blind chance.

Cage began to compose his music through the tossing of coins.  It is said that for some of his pieces, lasting only twenty minutes, he tossed the coin thousands of times.  This is pure chance, but apparently not pure enough; he wanted still more chance.  So he devised a mechanical conductor.  It was a machine working on cams, the motion of which could not be determined ahead of time, and the musicians followed that.  Or as an alternative to this, sometimes he employed two conductors who could not see each other, both conducting simultaneously; anything, in fact, to produce pure chance.  But in Cage’s universe nothing comes through in the music except noise and confusion or total silence.  All this is below the line of anthropology.  Above the line there is nothing personal, only the philosophic other, or the impersonal everything.

There is a story that once, after the musicians had played Cage’s total chance music, as he was bowing to acknowledge the applause, there was a noise behind him.  He thought it sounded like steam escaping from somewhere, but then to his dismay realized it was the musicians behind him who were hissing.  Often his works have been booed.  However, when the audience boo at him they are, if they are modern men, in reality booing the logical conclusion of their own position as it strikes their ears in music.

Cage himself, however, is another example of a man who cannot live with his own conclusions.  He says that the truth about the universe is a totally chance situation.  You must just live with it and listen to it; cry if you must, swear if you must, but listen and go on listening.

Towards the end of The New Yorker Profile we read this:

In 1954 … the sculptor David Weinrib and his wife moved into an old farmhouse on a tract of land in Stony Point, Rockland County, forty miles from New York, which the Williamses had brought.  Cage lived and worked in an attic room that he shared with a colony of wasps, and often took long, solitary walks in the woods.  His eye was caught right away by the mushrooms that grew so abundantly in Rockland County, in all shapes, and sizes and brilliant colors.  He started to collect books on mushrooms and to learn everything he could about them, and he has been doing so ever since.  After all, mushroom hunting is a decidedly chancy, or indeterminate pastime.

No matter how much mycology one knows—and Cage is now one of the best amateur mycologists in the country, with one of the most extensive private libraries ever complied on the subject—there is always the possibility of a mistake in identification.  “I became aware that if I approached mushrooms in the spirit of my chance operations, I would die shortly,” Cage said not long ago.  “So I decided that I would not approach them in this way!”

In other words, here is a man who is trying to teach the world what the universe intrinsically is and what the real philosophy of life is, and yet he cannot even apply it to picking mushrooms.  If he were to go out into the woods and begin picking mushrooms by chance, within a couple of days there would be no Cage!

Francis Schaeffer The God Who Is There [1968] in Francis A. Schaeffer Trilogy (Westchester, Ill.: Crossway, 1990), 77-79.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Grieving: Some Thoughts by Steve Hays

Steve Hays of Triablogue has an interesting post on grieving and how the process is influenced by differing worldviews.  He offers some wisdom for Christians in this regard as well.  The post is entitled You Are My Sunshine, My Only Sunshine.