Both/And and In-Between

Cover of "My Utmost for His Highest"

Cover of My Utmost for His Highest

Quote from Oswald Chambers, “My Utmost for His Highest

 In mission work, the great danger is that God’s call will be replaced by the needs of the people, the the point that human sympathy for those needs will absolutely overwhelm the meaning of being sent by Jesus. The needs are so enormous, and the conditions so difficult, that every power of the mind falters and fails. We tend to forget that the one great reason underneath all missionary work is not primarily the elevation of the people, their education, nor their needs, but is first and foremost the command of Jesus Christ– “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…” (Matthew 28:19)

Now, my first response to this is that I certainly agree with it. However, it is also true that I could agree with almost the exact opposite as well.  Try this made up quote (by myself):

In mission work, the great danger is that God’s call be replaced by a sense of grudging obedience. This will replace concerns for the needs of the people, to the point that human sympathy for those needs, the meaning of being sent by Jesus, will absolutely be overwhelmed by a form of legalistic duty. The needs are so enormous, and the conditions so difficult, that every power of the mind falters and fails. We tend to forget that the one great reason underneath all missionary work is the love of God that compels us to reciprocate with love for Him and all people. In response to that love, we seek the elevation of the people, their education, and their needs. After all, it is because of God’s love for all people that came the command of Jesus Christ– “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…” (Matthew 28:19)

As I said, I am not disagreeing with the quote by Oswald Chambers. We do missions as an act of obedience. Yet the Great Commission was given because of God’s love… a love that we are supposed to share and reciprocate (the Great Commandment). Which is the higher perspective… giving primacy to obedience of a command or giving primacy to the reason for the command? For example, does one love and care for one’s children because the Bible says we “gotta?” Or does one love one’s children because God loved us and created us to love (especially our own children) in like fashion?

It is hard to judge which should take first place. But maybe we shouldn’t worry about that. After all, Jesus served the Father as an act of duty, but also as an act of compassion for those in need (Matthew 9:36, 14:14). And the call for Jesus to serve came from God’s prior love (John 3:16).

Instead of arguing which is the higher or primary motivation, it may be best to see them as interconnected to the extent that separating them is dangerous. We obey because we love (and were loved by God first). And obedience to God is an act of love.

Article on Elijah and Crisis Care

Wrote an article, “Divine Intervention: The Flight of Elijah in the Context of Crisis Care.” If you want to read it, it is in the magazine that can be downloaded (pdf) at the link below. I think it is a pretty decent article on the topic (although even after about 5 or 6 cycles of editing there are still some annoying grammar… ah well.)

You can read it in the E-copy of magazine: You can download the whole magazine by right-clicking on this sentence.

Or can go to the article on academia.edu. It is located HERE

God of the Story

IN THE BEGINNING GOD CREATED THE HEAVENS AND THE EARTH

This is how the Bible starts. The term “in the beginning” (b’ereshith) has a subtle mystery associated with it. The
beginning of what? Here are a few possibilities. The Beginning of God. This appeals to a pantheistic
understanding of God, but appears to be Biblically unsound. The God of the Bible is a Creator God, and
world is His creation.
The Beginning of the Heavens and Earth. This holds more promise, especially if one assumes that Genesis
1:1 is describing creation ex nihilo (out of nothing) as opposed to giving structure to a formless dark universe.
Still, it seems a bit redundant. “In the beginning of the heavens and the earth, God created the heavens and
the earth.”
The Beginning of Space-Time. In this era of Modern Physics, the interaction between space and time
provides fuel for another viewpoint. God exists, and creates space-time. At one end of space-time is “THE
BEGINNING.” The other end of space time is “ETERNITY.” Before (if that is a correct term) the
beginning there was God and whatever was with God, but space-time, the universe we call our home, did not
exist. In the fullness of time, space-time will end and we will have eternity, with whatever characteristics it will
have. This seems plausible.
The Beginning of the Story. Before Genesis 1:1, the story, or grand narrative, that is related in the Bible, has
not started. The story starts with the creation of earth, with the associated heavens, and ends with the new
heavens and earth– and eternity. Eternity, then, would not be the cessation of time, but the end of the Great
Story.
I am not sure we always have to choose one interpretation. I certainly believe looking at the Bible as a story holds merit. A story is:

“an account of characters and events in a plot moving
over time and space through conflict toward resolution.”

The Bible obviously has characters and events, which takes place over time and space. It moves through conflict to
resolution. To me, the bigger question is whether there is a plot.
A plot to me suggests a couple of things. First, it suggests intentionality. A recording of stuff happening does not make a plot. A plot, for fiction, involves crafting of events in a coherent fashion so that the early events link, and mean something, within the timeline of the story. In non-fiction, history, events are chosen and displayed in (again) a coherent fashion to give the events meaning within a timeline.
Because the Bible has God, working within history, as the main character, the protagonist, the story of the Bible has
aspects of both fiction and non-fiction. The story of the Bible is non-fiction in that it claims, on the whole, to describe what happened, is happening, and will happen. The story of the Bible is like fiction because God is more than a character in the Bible, and more even than a historiographer, but the author of history. Thus, the story is more than simply the collecting of events, but the crafting/creating of events for the plot.
The dual qualities of fiction and non-fiction are difficult for some. Some focus on the human element of the story where
God becomes more of a character and less of the author. On the other hand, some focus on God as sovereign author to the extent that people become nothing more than characters in a play— props–, plot devices. It seems to me that the Bible works in “creative tension” between God as author and God as character.
Second, a plot suggests connectedness. On first reading, the Bible does not appear to be connected. It was written by different people over a long period of time utilizing different genres, in different languages, and set in different cultures.
Does the Bible have a sustained plot with intentionality, giving meaning to events, and connectedness giving causation of events? I believe so. The plot elements seem clear enough. The most basic flow of a story involves;

    story

The Bible as a story can be seen as

Paradise

Paradise Lost

Paradise Restored

Harmony between God, Man, and Creation

Disharmony/Chaos

Restoration of Harmony

Purity/Perfect

Sin/Imperfection

Purity/Perfection

and more.

The basic flow of the plot can be argued about to some extent depending on the perspective of the reader. Even the antagonist can be argued about. Many point to Satan as the antagonist. However, most of the Bible seems focus on us as humans as our own worst enemy. Satan provides little more than guiding element in the chaos of rebellion.

However, the resolution event is more clear. It is the death and resurrection of Jesus. This event provides the clarity to the thread of God’s work in history. The divinity and humanity that is described as existing in Jesus brings the threads together. God is both author and main character of the story. Yet it is our story as well. We are characters in the story. We are also partly antogonist and protagonist. The divine and human are inseparably intertwined.

This book is a look at stories, not a look, primarily, at the Bible. But I believe it helps to start from the grand story and then work to the little stories within the grand story.

<From my Book, “Theo-Storying:  Reflections on God, Narrative, and Culture.” If you are interested in it, you can go to my AMAZON PAGE.>

A Rational Faith? Part II

Visual identity

Visual identity (Photo credit: *spo0ky*)

<This post is the continuation of a thought done previous in another post, “A Rational Faith? Part I.” However, since the two were written months apart, don’t be surprised if you find some overlap and disagreement.>

The term “faith” is hard for people.  I have told people who are atheistic (or at least closed agnostics) that they have faith… it is just the object of their faith that is different. Some accept the statement (with caveats), but some actually are offended at that. Much of this probably is a matter of definition. Consider the following definition by John Krakauer in “Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith

“Faith is the very antithesis of reason, injudiciousness, a crucial component of spiritual devotion.”

“All religious belief is a function of nonrational faith. And faith, by its very definition, tends to be impervious to intellectual argument or academic criticism.”

One might say that this is FAITH AS IRRATIONALITY.

One close to this is the faith as formulated by Kierkegaard. In “Fear and Trembling” he described something that could be seen as FAITH AS AN IRRATIONAL LEAP. Rationality takes you to a certain point. That point leaves you looking, as if from across a chasm, at where you want to be, but rationality can’t get you there. To get where you want to be, you must leave the rational and leap irrationally to your goal, regardless that it doesn’t make sense.

Related to this is the quote by Mark Twain that “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.” This could be seen as FAITH AS EMBRACING FALSEHOOD.

Less inherently irrational, but still problematic is the thought of FAITH AS THE ABSENCE OF DOUBT. Since doubt is a cognitive process while faith certainly seems to have a volitional component, this seems strange. And if faith is “the evidence of things not seen” as it says in Hebrews 11:1, then faith is at the very least birthed by doubt. One can hardly imagine having faith if one does not have (or at least have had) doubt. Doubt recognizes our limitations. Infinite doubt may mean no faith. However, zero doubt does not lead to infinite faith. Arguably it does not lead to faith at all. Without doubt, we don’t have faith, we simply have things that we know. Of those things we know, some we know correctly and some we know incorrectly. To know things to be true without accepting the possibility of error is still a form of irrationality.

I suppose one should add FAITH AS A MYSTICAL EXPERIENCE. Afterall, some Christians (such as Calvinists or Augustinians) place a high importance on faith being a gift from God. In this case, “faith” is really more of a proper noun, or at least technical noun. The verb sense is missing, and its role as a cognitive or volitional state is removed. It is still in the irrational side of things.  It is something that mystically comes upon us.  It does not really describe what faith is (compared to thought, belief, resolve, trust, or hundreds of others.) Within the mystical experience, only people of a specific faith affiliation “have faith.” Yet we know that people other faiths have, well, other faiths. So defining faith in the general sense with a narrow experience isn’t very helpful for most. In effect, the mystical understanding is not faith as a concept but faith within a concept, “faith in ____.”

Another one can be FAITH AS ACCEPTING AUTHORITY. Kenneth Samples has a quote along these lines: “Faith is belief in a reliable source.”  <I got some of these quotes from a very nice blog.> Certainly, faith, as described in the Bible (such as in Hebrews 11) appears to be a source of evidence in rational thought, rather than a rejection of rationality. Some quote Tertullian “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” as evidence of rationality versus faith, but it is misunderstood in the context. It is not about rationality, but mixing of teachings.

Rational thought involves presuppositions, direct evidence, evidence from authority, and reasoning (data processing). We can come to almost no conclusions based on direct evidence (things we sense and experience). We have to accept the evidence from others as well… and who or what we accept as authoritative. It is hard to come to the conclusion that the earth is an oblate spheroid (or even spherical) based only on direct sensory evidence and reason. We have to accept certain authorities for rational thought.

W. K. Clifford is famous for saying “It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything on insufficient evidence.” Yet there is, arguably, insufficient evidence for nearly everything, including this statement that Clifford apparently believes. Eventually you have to trust what we haven’t personally sensed.

If rational thought involves presuppositions, direct evidence, evidence from authority, and sound reasoning, then one can ask what is the basis of presuppositions. Of course, one could argue that reason is iterative and so presuppositions must come from the reasoning process (bootstrapping of sorts). The problems is that one must start somewhere and these presuppositions will color and filter the interpretation of direct evidence, choice of authorities, interpretation of authority-based evidence, and the direction of the reasoning process. So one might describe FAITH AS ACCEPTING PRESUPPOSITIONS.

In math, one might call these axioms– things that can’t necessarily be proven. They may or may not be “necessary truths.” Some must be taken on as a matter of … well… faith, even where the accepting of these truths seems extremely justified or compelling. Cornelius Van Til is an example of a theologian that focuses on this idea of presupposition in terms of faith.

I would like to add another. FAITH AS BRIDGING REASONABLE AND COMPELLING. I suppose I should come up with a briefer description. However, returning to Kiekegaard, rational thought only takes one so far. With Kierkegaard, one jumps from the end of reasoning to where one wants to be. However, I would like to suggest that rational thought only takes one as far as something being “reasonable.” However, there is no unquestionable logic that will force that which is reasonable to be compelling. In Law, one speaks of seeking to “prove guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.” That essentially means that the evidence and reason produces a reasonable conclusion. That reasonable conclusion is one that the juror believes is solid enough so that a clear thinking reasonable person would find it compelling. However, there is no way by force of logic to go from a reasonable statement to a compelling statement.

This point is brought up in the stories of Achilles and the Tortoise by both Lewis Carroll and Douglas Hofstadter, where the fallacy that logic can compel one to accept a truth is demonstrated humorously.

For me, Faith is those parts of the rational thought process that require more than direct sensory input and rational mental process. These would include:

  • Accepting (tentative) presuppositions.
  • Determining what authorities will be accepted for non-sensory evidence.
  • Bridging the gap from reasonable to personally compelling… from cognition to affective.

All three of these are fluid. Time and experience may modify one’s presuppositions, sources of authority, and the process to be compelled. A living faith accepts our own weaknesses and limitations, and so must always be empowered by an aspect of healthy humility and doubt. Faith that does not have this quality probably should not be called true faith, but is indeed irrational.

Insults as a Missiological Strategy??? Part 2

Luigi Basco (J. Carrol Naish) and Pasquale (Al...

Luigi Basco (J. Carrol Naish) and Pasquale (Alan Reed) in the CBS-TV series Life With Luigi (1952) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I feel that Part 1 of this post was a bit unclear. I pointed out that, although I strongly disagree with the ethics of the method, insults have been successfully used as a means of reducing other minority (or marginalized) groups. I realize that this sounds really strange, but in fact is quite common. Violence has commonly been used by a majority group to ensure that a minority group is “kept in its place.” Legislation has also been used to place limits on minority groups (ghettoization, political power limitations, special taxes/fees, etc.).  However, stereotyping, humor, caricatures, and so forth have been used not only to make the majority group feel good about itself, but also to encourage members of the minority group to “main-stream.”

Let me give a simple example. One of my few hobbies is collecting and listening to Old Time Radio. I used to have several thousand episodes on CDs. Some of them have failed due to breakdown of CDs. Maybe they are old, or maybe the high humidity of the Philippines doesn’t work well with cheap media. Anyway, one of the Radio Series I have is “Life With Luigi.” It was on in the US from 1948-1953. Luigi is an Italian immigrant newly in the United States trying to adapt to the culture and become a “real American.” Many of his friends are fellow students in what we might call today an “English as a Second Language” class. Much of the comedy is built around the challenge of Luigi and his friends to adapt to the culture.

One episode was, I believe, Episode 70, where Luigi gets a cold. The episode has Luigi trying all sorts of “old country” cures for the cold, while his wise (?) teacher keeps telling him that he needs a shot (vaccination). Luigi doesn’t listen to his teacher and does all sorts of different things to try to get better. Finally, in the end, he does the American/scientific thing and gets a vaccination. Happy ending… Luigi is just a bit more like a real American.

Some would take the view that “Life With Luigi” is a racist comedy because it pokes fun at some racial stereotypes. On a certain level that is true… however, it finds humor with a lot of different cultural groups, not just one. The best argument for the racism is not that it pokes fun at certain groups, but that it tends to have the Americans (born and bred Americans) as smart and capable, compared to the others. I would argue that the radio program is not classically racist. Rather it is monocultural… promoting a certain culture while poking fun at those who haven’t fully adapted to that culture.

I chose episode 70 of this series for a specific reason, however.  The story has big problems. It promotes a certain activity, vaccination that, in fact, had no value in treating a cold. One of the old-timey “cures” for the cold was chicken soup… something that, while not being a cure, is better at dealing with symptoms than a vaccination. This is the problem when a minority group is swallowed up by a majority group. The majority culture tends to promote certain answers and denigrates minority group answers. In so doing, there is an underlying message that one should throw away culturally distinctive characteristics and embrace the dominant culture’s characteristics.

This does not always happen fast… in fact it can be very slow. When my ancestors came to the US from Sweden, they continued to speak Swedish among family members but struggled to use English with the larger culture. They changed their names to American sounding names to fit in. The next generation was raised bilingually but were encouraged to use English as much as possible. In the next generation, my dad knew how to read Swedish but could not speak it. My generation, I chose to learn to read Swedish when I was young (a skill I soon lost), but was not encouraged to do so. Now that we live in the Philippines, my children do not know any Swedish, but can speak Tagalog. If my kids stay here, their children will probably be comfortably bilingual (English/Tagalog). And so it continues.

Religiously, the same thing happens. Certain answers given by the majority culture seem to “just make sense.” They just make sense because of majority opinion, not because they objectively prevail over other possible answers. The weight of majority opinion creates a pressure to conform. This pressure is exacerbated by not too subtle insults (either humorously or maliciously) dealt towards those who are strangely traditional or quaint or out of touch with the way things “really are.”

It is tempting for a religion that is dominant in a region to use this form of pressure to conform. When Emperor Constantine I became a Christian (or at least Christianish), Christianity became in vogue. Christian apologists commonly (going back to the 2nd century AD) used insults to show that paganism was old-fashioned with silly ideas about the gods and silly practices. In subsequent decades after Constantine I, Christianity became the in-thing, and many drifted into it from societal pressure not personal conviction.

Obviously, Christianity is not alone in this. It would be difficult (impossible?) to find a major religion that doesn’t do this. All dominant ideologies and non-theistic “religions” do this as well. Cultures (religious or otherwise) tend seek to grow and function without constraints of opposing cultures.

We as Christians really were not tasked to witness through insult. We are to proclaim the truth effectively, demonstrating God’s love. Such proclamation can point out errors. However, it should be built on a foundation of respect. A missiological strategy that is founded on WHATEVER SEEMS TO WORK, is not well grounded. This I see as a major problem in Christian missions. It tends to be poorly founded. Much of Christian missions is justified by proof-texting. One could proof-text insults as a missiological method by referencing Pauls remarks to the Galatian legalists. But that would be a poor justification. We need a better foundation that Pragmatism and Proof-texts.

STM Book on the Philippines

Barry Phillips stopped by to talk about some future projects today. The Phillips work in a very provincial part of the Luzon, here in the Philippines. He wrote a book on doing Short-term Missions in the Philippines. The book is named, “I Planted the Seed (and Woody Squashed it),” definitely an enigmatic title, until you read it. I found it funny, real, and informative. They work with STMers far more than I do, and their place gives them a better perspective of Philippine culture (we live in Baguio, which is far more international than provincial).

If you are interested in knowing more, you can check the book:

Book at Amazon

Or you can check their Website:  Hands of Hope

Wait? Why should I advertise their site and not advertise our own site?