Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Open...or Closed?

So I have been thinking a lot lately about the beliefs that I hold key and how strongly I believe, or even should believe them. While learning a lot about epistemology I have come to the conclusion that, though I do have justification for most of the beliefs I hold, I think I do hold some rather dogmatically (that is, without proper epistemic justification). The issue that comes mainly to my mind is the debate between Calvinism and Arminianism. I have been dogmatically against Calvinism pretty much ever since I discovered what belief in that theology entails. While holding the belief in Arminianism rather dogmatically, I still do maintain several lines of argumentation to justify my overall rejection. I do have to admit that I have just as many philosophical misgivings about the theology as I do theological misgivings. However, I am afraid that I have come to the point where there is no amount of information that could change my mind on this issue. This scares me because I want to maintain an openness about the issue that allows me to change positions based on where the evidence, biblical, theological and philosophical, leads. While I do know that several of my dogmatic beliefs are properly, and justifiable, lodged in the "unchangeable" section of my mind, I'm not sure if this belief belongs there or not.

Of course, this kind of closed-mindedness about certain beliefs isn't a bad thing. In fact it is called foundationalism, which is the major epistemological theory of justification for knowledge-claims that many of us hold, especially the theists among us. Basically, foundationalism holds that there are certain key beliefs that do not need justification and instead provide the foundation for all other knowledge. Strong foundationalism has been shown to be sorely lacking in philosophical sophistication and subsequently rejected by most scholars since not ALL of our beliefs can actually be traced back to these basic or foundational beliefs. However, a weaker form of foundationalism can, I believe, be rationally defended and maintained. This weaker form (also called moderate or broad foundationalism) just holds that we do indeed have beliefs that do not need justification and are just "given". It's really up for grabs how many beliefs that really encompasses. Recognizing that I can't make a strict case for theological beliefs being so foundational as to lack the the need for justification (because I think most are, and need to be, justified) I think their is a parallel between foundationalism in regards to basic beliefs and a sort of theological foundationalism (those beliefs we take as a given) in theologizing. For instance, some of the beliefs that I hold, while I feel they are completely justified, cannot be rejected based on any amount of evidence - no matter what form that comes in. Some of these beliefs are: the proposition that God exists, the deity of Christ, the historicity and salvific accomplishment of the Cross, etc. And I don't know where to stop adding beliefs. Are there ones I have included (in my stock of knowledge, not in this list) which need to be open to amendment? This issue bothers me because I want to be open new issues. I can't decide where Calvinism falls in this matter. Though I completely affirm those who do hold this view, I wonder how far we have all come from being open to contradictory evidence. I know, for instance, that there is a Calvinistic response to every argument or verse I could bring up - as the Calvinist knows in regards to my own view. But on something like the deity of Christ there are also secular liberal critics who could probably argue quite effectively that this fact is a myth. And on the issue of divinity, I cannot be persuaded, no matter how convincing the evidence, that it is not true. So I guess the question is, what beliefs do I put in the "unchangeable" box and which do I remain open about?

Sunday, January 27, 2008

How do we CHANGE the World?

So I went to the Passion Conference this weekend at the Nokia Theatre and it changed my life. I don't know what that means for how I live but I know that God wants something completely radical for me. I am struggling with how I live a transformed life here and now. I don't want to wait until I finish school, or until some other time when I have free time. I want to start living a different life right here and right now.

Francis Chan spoke on Saturday night and totally floored me. He challenged us to do something about the injustice in our world. How can I sit here and watch TV, play on my laptop and explore new ways to invest my money while there are millions of children starving to death, young girls being sold and forced into sexual slavery, whole villages unable to get clean drinking water and people dying everyday without knowing our Savior? I don't think I can do it anymore. I can't do this normal suburban life that society expects from me and I so desperately want. The words that kept coming to my mind throughout the whole talk, and the ensuing response time, were "Lord, teach me to live against my nature and against my culture". Contra meum ingenium, contra meum populum (I'm a big fan of Latin just fyi -and its hard to get our understanding of the concept of culture and society out of Latin). I want to live the life that He has for me and not hold on to what I want. At Passion we sang a song that powerfully conveyed the message of God's love for all of this messed up world.

This song was written by a band who set up worship in a brothel in Pattaya, Thailand and Passion has used it as their mission and new album title for the upcoming world tour.

You're the God of this city
You're the King of these people
You're the Lord of this nation
You are

You're the light in this darkness
You're the hope to the hopeless
You're the peace to the restless
You are

There is no one like our God
There is no one like you God

Greater things have yet to come and
Greater things have still to be done in this city

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

On Homosexuality

I find the typical conservative Evangelical approach to homosexuality appalling. Don't get me wrong, I don't think homosexuality is okay - but I don't think our treatment of it is okay either.
Homosexuality is never listed as the worst sin, and in the New Testament, is only mentioned in a list of other sins (and never as the worst in these lists either). We are way off in our treatment of the matter.

Besides, I think there is a much better way to view the situation.

I find a two things by looking at Scripture:

1. Any kind of sexual activity, including lust or impure thoughts, outside of marriage is wrong (cf. Matthew 5:28; Acts 15:29; Romans 13:13; 1 Corinthians 6:12, 18, 10:8; Galatians 5:19; Ephesians 5:3; Colossians 3:5; I Thessalonians 4:3; Jude 1:4).

2. Marriage is only between a man and a woman (Genesis 2:24; Romans 7:2, Hebrews 13:4).

Once these two things have been established, which I will take as givens for the large majority of Evangelical Christians, a different conclusion follows.

Specifically: There is no need to proclaim homosexuality as wrong.

Lust or sexual activity outside of marriage is wrong and there is to be no marriage except the union between a man and a woman. Any lust or sexuality activity, whether homo- or heterosexual, is immoral outside of marriage. Why don't we just say that lust and sexual activity is wrong? Why the need to proclaim homosexuality as wrong separately from heterosexual sexual immortality? The one place where homosexuality is mentioned (by name) in the New Testament is in 1 Corinthians 6:9 where Paul says that "neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God." Clearly, Paul is not listing separate immoral offenses but delineating ones that overlap (who would argue that adulterers are not sexually immoral?). The few other New Testament verses to deal with it (though much more sparse than I first imagined) only refer to homosexuality as it typifies sexual immorality (Romans 1:26-27; 1 Timothy 1:9-10; Jude 1:7). Moreover the translation of the Greek word "arsenokoitai" has been notoriously difficult and means different things in different contexts. It can and, I would argue, does mean homosexuality in at least one of the contexts but the point is that it is a difficult word.

To end, just let me mention that while the word is translated as "homosexuality" only once in the New Testament, the word "serve" is used 58 times. Maybe our focus should be somewhere else...

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Defending Huckabee pt. 2

Who would have thought there would need to be another defense of the former Governor? But, alas, there needs to be. This time the objection (though much more charitably offered) is from Biola professor Mark Reynolds - here. Fortunately, Dr. Reynolds allows that he may have misunderstood Huckabee's contention and I would argue that he does misunderstand it. Having followed Huckabee for the past 12 months (since he was on the Daily Show talking about his new book) I have read and heard lots about his position on this particular issue. Moreover, I have actually read his book - From Hope to Higher Ground (great book by the way) - and understand what he says about politics. I have also had personal communication with him and can attest to the fact that he holds the separation of church and state as very important and knows that he cannot force his beliefs on an unbelieving nation.

Dr. Reynolds fears that Huckabee is trying to impose "biblical law" on the nation through his message but this isn't really what Huckabee intends. Huckabee stated that he wants to bring the Constitution "into line with God's standards", not that he wants to replace the Constitution with the Bible. I think this is a perfectly reasonable thing for a politician, who happens to be a devoted follower of Christ, to say. The specific moral laws in the Bible may be "specific revelation" that is intended for Christians but the overarching morality of the Bible (love your neighbor as yourself, turn the other cheek, do justice, walk humbly, love mercy) is clearly meant for Christians to bring to the world. It doesn't mean imposing our beliefs on people - especially through government - but it does mean working to make the world a better place. A world where all people are following biblical morality will indeed be a better place. The only things that Huckabee has ever brought up in regards to the Constitution are a right to life amendment and a definition of marriage amendment. He has never advocated changing anything currently written in the Constitution because it violates God's law (his fairtax proposal would abolish the 14th amendment but this is not under the auspices of bringing the Constitution into line with God's moral standards).

I do think he has been pressed lately about his faith and it is getting very hard for him to maintain a viable political campaign and still feel that he is not compromising his beliefs. I think it would be hard for any Christian who loves our Lord as much as Huckabee does to figure out how this love show be tempered in the legislative arena (as far as presidential legislative power - both direct and indirect - goes). Though you may not agree with him, Huckabee is certainly our brother in Christ and deserves our prayers through the stress and strain of a political campaign. Even if you don't think he is the best candidate he sure is giving the nation a look at a charismatic (in a good way), personable, down-to-earth, environmentally committed, social justice oriented man of God. Politics would be far better off if there were a few more Huckabee's in office.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Defending Huckabee

Gregory Boyd has a recent post (here) disparaging presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee on his announcement that he wanted to bring the constitution into line with God's standards. Besides bringing up issues that are irrelevant (such as the fantastical notion that Huckabee lobby for slavery, polygamy, concubines and holy wars merely because they're in the O.T.) Boyd doesn't even address the policy decision Huckabee announces. That is, if Boyd did the work he would discover that Huckabee is firmly adamant about the separation between church and state. And instead of contradict this position, the new announcement only signals his desire to see America regain some of its moral fiber.

Two further comments on his post. First, bringing the constitution into line with God's standards does not mean making the Bible our new constitution (though Micah 6:8 might be a good starting point). Second, simply because a saying isn't in the Bible doesn't mean it isn't in line with God's standards. In fact, we rely on the fact that our Christian teachers and preachers speak words that are in line with God's standards everyday. So to say that the opening of the constitution, drawn partly from John Locke (the last part is unique to our Constitution), would be disallowed because of its source is untrue. Even if, and Huckabee never insinuated this, he wanted to overhaul the entire Constitution, Locke's phrase wouldn't automatically be eliminated. In philosophy we call this the genetic fallacy - judging a proposition by its source and not by its content - and a fallacy it is.

I respect and admire former Governor Huckabee and I think that, rather than call for an overhaul of the Constitution as Boyd fears, he is merely stating the need to bring moral value back into America. I would hope that those who try to bring their lives into line with God's standards wouldn't be the ones criticizing a leader for wanted to bring those he leads into line with God's standards.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Can Orthodoxy really be Generous?

Tonight I was reading through Brian McLaren's book "A Generous Orthodoxy" and had a few thoughts...Specifically, his concluding chapters on these normally dichotomous subjects (liberal/conservative, Methodist/Calvinist, Charismatic/Fundamentalist) caught my attention. Though I definitely don't agree with all of the postmodern culture and ideology (or anti-ideology), I think McLaren speaks some timely truths. He calls us to view the "other side" more fairly, and more generously, so that we can learn from their strengths. For instance, while liberal Christianity certainly has its shortcomings, its mere arrogance to think that conservative Christianity does not. Instead of focusing on what other Christian traditions are doing wrong, our approach should be to seek out their strengths and incorporate those into both our doctrine and our practice. As McLaren points out, unless the contemporarily liberal causes such as social justice and environmental conservation are taken seriously, we will never be able to call ourselves true followers of the way and teachings of Jesus Christ. Of course this isn't to say that all the world needs is material or physical healing. There is definitely a spiritual and eternal deadness prevalent in our world as never before. This is precisely why we need input from more than one tradition.

In case your tempted to accuse me of postmodern relativism, be sure you recognize what I'm saying. I am NOT saying that the "other side" is right in all it proclaims just because that's what they believe, nor am I saying that truth is too elusive to constrain to factual inquiry. Nor am I even saying, with McLaren, that the word objective makes me uncomfortable. What I AM saying is what a wise man once said 2,000 years ago, "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye."

So maybe the question shouldn't be "Can orthodoxy really be generous?" but "Can orthodoxy really be anything but generous?"