George Washington: A Guide for Immigration Policy (or is he?)


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I’m currently reading Ron Chernow’s biography of George Washington, and it is astonishingly good (I believe the proper word is “magisterial”). In the book, I’m currently in the late 80s (the 1780s, that is), in the odd period after the War, but before he was drafted into Presidential politics. He’s having old friends visit him at Mount Vernon while he’s doing renovations after its long wartime neglect.

One of those friends was Washington’s first real biographer, David Humphreys–an aide of Washington’s during the War. He liked Humphreys so much that after the British defeat at Yorktown, Washington had him take the British flags from the fort and deliver them in person to Congress as the sign of victory.

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God in Her Glory {1b}: A Good Facebook Debate (for a change)


wwii-woman-we-can-do-it-feminismWow. I’ve actually been surprised at the response to the last post in this little mini-series on using feminine language to talk of God. I thought I was addressing one simple thing in the life of churches, but I misjudged the degree to which people would feel like this touched on everything from their thoughts on the Bible to the nature of Jesus himself. One of the best sets of exchanges was on Facebook in response to yesterday’s post. Below, I’ve reproduced a lightly edited version of the conversation. I hope you find it interesting as well. And let me know what you think!

DEBATER: Your post says, “The model of God as Father may be profound and true; but it is not the only model, and it does not render other models less true or profound.”  It’s Jesus’ own self-disclosure and revelation of God. It’s more important than any other ‘model’ and it isn’t really a model. “Father” is not a metaphor. Its a reality for Jesus. And I’m not talking about Jesus’ physicality like his weight or hair color. Jesus revelation is of God as Father. That’s the particularity. He said pray to God as father. And he’s the Son. That’s ontological. The feminine is redeemed in Jesus, but its redeemed not by Jesus taking on the sign of the feminine, but by taking on the sign of the masculine redeemer of the oppressed and abused feminine.

ME: Your last line especially uses terms and ideas entirely foreign to the Scriptures. I’m actually shocked that you saw no issue in writing that. Women need a male redeemer to be redeemed? Even if you point to the ancient cultural idea of the male kinsman-redeemer, surely you aren’t saying that this (clearly) cultural accommodation is some revelation of the essentially gendered nature of God and redemption? The Old Testament also had lambs being sacrificed, and not people. Does that mean that Jesus in some sense had to partly be an “actual” lamb rather than a metaphorical one?
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I think we all need a reminder: Ken Ham is on our team.


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Okay, this one is a tough one to write.

Most all of us know by now about the Great Debate that happened a couple of weeks ago between Bill Nye and Ken Ham on whether or not Creationism is a viable model for human origins. If you’ve followed this blog for an real period of time, you know it’s no secret that I do not think it’s a viable model, and I’ve been quite vocal about that in this space.

So I felt the frustration when Ken Ham was treated like the stand-in for every Christian that wants to take the Bible seriously. I felt better when smart Christians responded well. I chuckled at those that poked fun of him and other Creationists, debunked their logic, or discredited the historical stream in which he finds himself. I gave into the private mocking.

I was then really encouraged when I read this report in Christianity Today that shows that Americans are not as divided on this issue as some polls make it seem. I was overjoyed with knowing that more Christians than ever were leaving the Ken Hams of the world in the dust of irrelevance, their budgets and voices shrinking in the distance.

As the discourse went on, I began to thinking to myself: I think we’re winning! But then yesterday, I felt like I woke from a fog and thought: Wait. Who are we fighting?
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This is why Genesis was written (and Ken Ham doesn’t see it)


Bosch-Garden-Earthly-Delights-Outer-Wings-Creation-WorldIf my Facebook feed is representative of the general population at all, then I can confidently say that most of you have heard about the debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye about creationism and evolution.

On this blog, I try not to get too much into issues of great contention in the church family when I don’t think it’s necessary, especially when I think it would unnecessarily prevent someone from reading this blog with a free conscience, or just mess with their head too much. But this is the one issue that I have felt the freedom to be blunt, bold, consistent, and loud about my opinion. So, I don’t have too much to add to everyone else out there that was more or less lamenting this debate more than celebrating it. Maybe I’ll have some thoughts next week coming at it from a different angle, but we’ll see.

Today, I wanted to share with you a video from the in-person portion of my Hebrew class a couple of weeks ago. To get an A in the class I have to translate, memorize, and recite a section of the Genesis 1 in the Hebrew. To help us with that, my professor made a video of him reciting it and acting out the recitation in front of us.
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How to wear your theological offensiveness (conservative, liberal, & atheist)


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Reading through Luke, I was struck by a dimension to Luke’s portrayal of Jesus I hadn’t noticed before. I also think, in these times where more people are able to have more platforms to speak their mind on issues, it’s an important dimension to take into account.

In Luke chapter 4, we see Jesus officially kick off his public ministry. He does this by standing up at his hometown synagogue, reading some verses from Isaiah and saying that these words are fulfilled in his arrival. He then adds commentary on this, highlighting how Israel has fallen out of God’s favor and so this fulfillment won’t come to them. This enrages the people and they try and kill him right there by throwing him off a cliff (yeah, it’s kind of funny). But he gets away.

Jesus offended these people deeply. He spoke what he believed to be true about God and the world, and they didn’t like it. And yet, people spoke offensive words in the ancient world all the time. There were many Messianic figures, and yet their words didn’t “stick” like Jesus’ did. His words ended up not simply gathering people that agreed with him, but actually changing minds, even while offending those that would be offended.

How did he do this? How can we do this with our own theological (or a-theological) beliefs? How should we wear our beliefs that might be very offensive to others?
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“Simplistic Atheism: a final response” by Daniel Bastian [GUEST POST]


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(Note: These exchanges are now complete. There is a Table of Contents to the discussion now available.)

Well, it seems that we were not in fact done with this little series. After my final post, Daniel chose to take me up on my offer to have the final word (as I normally try to do in exchanges like this). He has chosen to respond, point-by-point, to my list of what things would lead me to embrace Atheism. If you feel like any of the points still demand a reply from me, or if you have any questions about what Daniel says, feel free to to comment here, on Facebook, or get in touch with me privately. For my part, though, I consider this particular set of exchanges finished. Once again, I thank Daniel for this exchange. I hope you enjoyed it as well.

Paul,

When I initially decided to compile a list of criteria that would convince me my conclusion on the question of theism was wrong, I had sincere hope that a Christian, Muslim or other person of faith would tally up a corresponding register. I am glad to see you rose to the challenge and enrolled in this dialogue. It has been a wonderfully enlightening experience for me, and I do hope that sentiment is mutual.

I read your piece the day it was posted and while at first I found much of it persuasive, the more I reflected the more I realized it was probably the list I would have drafted two years ago, before I renounced my faith. Much of your criteria seems to rest firmly on the aesthetic appeal of the Christian narrative. And this would seem to slot right in line with your epistemological moorings-a concern for the communal connection, compelling force and overall mesmerism of a worldview over against its underlying facticity.

Yet it seems this only holds true up to a certain threshold, given a few of the items on your list. You seem to be OK with affirming the faith given its impact on your life, the power of influence you’ve seen it have on history, and the way it has shaped others with which you’ve crossed paths. But if you were to discover beyond reasonable doubt that this narrative was based on so much myth, that this loosely corroborated Yeshua the gospels are based on was a mere mortal (item #1), you would relinquish the faith forthwith.

Thus it seems to me that our epistemic divergence is one of degree, not of type. With that in mind, I’ll attach some brief notes beside the items in your list. Continue reading

A Christian & An Atheist: A Discussion [a table of contents]


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I had the privilege over the past couple of weeks of engaging in a spirited back-and-forth with a good friend of mine, Daniel Bastian. Unfortunately, in the speed with which this exchange occurred, I know it was hard for people to keep track of the writings, the arguments, and the comments. And so, I’m writing this post in hopes of making it easier for people to follow. Here you will find a “Table of Contents” of sorts for the entire exchange, as it appeared on this blog.

Sadly, much was said over Facebook comments (and even blog comments) that cannot be sorted out and highlighted in their proper place. Comments on each post were scattered among different places and sites and posts, and so to try and consolidate them and make any sense of them for the reader would be nearly impossible. These long-form pieces will have to do, though I’ve provided the link to the Facebook comments when able, in case the interested reader wants to wade in.

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Simplistic Atheism {4}: What could make me an Atheist?


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(Note: These exchanges are now complete. There is a Table of Contents to the discussion now available.)

In this series of exchanges with my friend Daniel, I’ve tried to argue that his Facebook post on why he is an Atheist expressed an overall view of the world that is too small and too simplistic. I think this is because of his empiricist method and materialist conclusion about reality–that all there is is what we can see, touch, feel, etc.

Some concluding remarks

My whole point has not simply been that Daniel’s facts or even his method is wrong. But rather, it finds its proper place, meaning, fullness, and possibility within the Christian view of reality. I have argued in each of my posts that Christianity does not “refute” reason, science, history, skepticism, textual messiness, historical difficulty, or even doubt. Instead, the Gospel encompasses it all, and each of those things find a greater fulfillment in their use, cohesion in the whole of the world, and reality within that place.

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New Testament & History: Christians can be confident [a retort]


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(Note: These exchanges are now complete. There is a Table of Contents to the discussion now available.)

Update: Daniel has posted a reply below.

When I have these kinds of exchanges on the blog, I really try to let the other person have the last word. After all, I have home field advantage here. I was absolutely ready to move on to my last part of this ongoing exchange with my friend Daniel Bastian in response to his Facebook post about his Atheism.

Last week, I wrote a post trying to give a cursory response to some of his claims about the Bible and miracles. Daniel wrote a response, posted a couple of days ago. I offered a brief response to his critique of my view of miracles. I was really eager to get back to writing about other things.

But it seems I can’t. Not yet.

I’m starting seminary back up this Fall, not simply because I’m interested in all the “knowledge” about the Bible, but because I feel I actually have a (pastoral?) concern for the spiritual well-being of people. I care a lot about what people might see on this blog, and I care that they are able to receive these things in ways that will be ultimately helpful to them.

And I fear that his post, at least for Christians not well-read in these issues, will cloud the waters more than clear them. Don’t get me wrong. Christians should wrestle with what Daniel has written in earlier posts, especially when it comes to the more abstract philosophical concerns of God’s existence and work in this world. These are things that don’t have easy or even clear responses by Christians. I’m not worried about Christians having restless nights or days as they wrestle with legitimate difficulties in the seeming difference between what they believe about God and the way the world seems to be.

But, when it comes to the Bible and the Resurrection, I don’t think we are on as shaky ground as Daniel makes it seem. Let’s discuss.

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Simplistic Atheism {1}: a Reason & Spirituality that’s too small


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(Note: These exchanges are now complete. There is a Table of Contents to the discussion now available.)

Last week a friend of mine named Daniel Bastian posted a well thought-out catalog of the reasons why he is an Atheist (let me know if the link doesn’t work). This list includes items that don’t usually pop up in similar offerings, and I encourage every Christian to read this list and wrestle through the realities of what he says.

As I thought about it, though, and thought through how I would respond to some of these things, I found a consistent theme to what I would critique to each of his points: over-simplicity. In this series of posts, rather than going through each of the writer’s twenty points, I’d like to go through some broader ideas he touches on, and offer my thoughts.

By the time I was done writing everything up, I had at least four parts to this response. Today, we’ll briefly talk about how Daniel’s post represents an over-simplifying of human reason and spirituality..
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Simplistic Christianity; Simplistic Atheist: a response [GUEST POST]


(Note: These exchanges are now complete. There is a Table of Contents to the discussion now available.)

Earlier today, I posted an introductory post in response to a Facebook note by my friend Daniel. Before I posted it, I had a few friends read the post to see if they thought it would be taken especially personally and shut down, rather than promote, further conversation. They said that it was on the line, but they didn’t think it was too personal. Unfortunately, it seems I (we) were wrong.

Daniel responded in a comment, but I thought it deserved a more prominent place on the blog. I’ve included his response below, and included some brief words of clarification to his points.

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Paul,

While I do appreciate your taking the time to respond, I don’t appreciate the flagrant misrepresentation. The religious opinion and intellectual caliber you ascribe to me in this piece in no way reflect my actual disposition and are so off-piste that I quickly lost track of whether you were talking about me or some nondescript internet denizen with which you have passing familiarity.

To set the record straight, you do not know me personally, and you clearly know even less about my views of religion and the serious, contemplative academic respect for and to detail to which I approach the topic. If you have a question about my views on an issue, ask me. Ask me. Don’t implant your own thoughts onto my character and radiate them in a public post. It’s unprofessional and ventures headlong into character intrusion.

To avoid further blatantly misinformed opinion from surfacing, I have tremendous respect for people of any and all religious persuasion, though I may depart from them on the metaphysics of their beliefs. I am under no delusion that theism, and Christian theism, can be dismissively fit into a box rather than a broad spectrum of nuance and theological nicety. Fundamentalism is *not* the truest articulation of Christianity and in fact is the most injurious strain of Christianity in its long history. There *are* legitimate theistic views to be voiced and I can entertain and respect those voices without affirming them for myself. I do so regularly and incorporate many of these voices in both my reading list and my book reviews on various websites.
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Trusting in our theology vs. Trusting in Jesus {guest post}


bosch-christ-carrying-the-crossToday’s post is by one of my oldest and best friends, Whit Wilson. He is currently in his first year in a master’s in counseling program at Biblical Seminary, just outside Philadelphia. I hope you get to hear more from him as he continues his education.

In the first year of my current program, three classes are required relating to the use of the Scriptures in counseling. Class 1 focuses on an overall interpretational approach to Scripture, class 2 is on the Old Testament, and class 3 is on the New Testament.

This semester my cohort and I are in the New Testament class with an eccentric and somewhat unorthodox professor who enjoys challenging various long-held theological assumptions and beliefs with the goal of helping us freshly think through these issues (everything from gender roles to homosexuality to the afterlife). I can’t say that I agree with him on everything (or most things for that matter), but I have enjoyed his fresh approach and the way he encourages us to think critically about how we use and interpret the Bible.
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2 amazing hours on the Christian end of the world


A few people have asked about my blogging absence (I have felt honored that they have noticed!) Anyway, I’ve been sick, first with a stomach flu, and now with an upper-respiratory thing. I lost my voice last week and am only now recovering it. It’s weird; I hardly ever get sick.

Anyway, this has kept me from blogging, but it’s given me the chance to watch and read some amazing things (about which I’m sure I’ll write more in the weeks to come). One of the highlights of my time was this video, An Evening of Eschatology, hosted by Bethlehem Baptist Church and moderated by John Piper (here’s some background to this talk):

This is an amazing discussion, and very insightful for those of us Christians that either have passionate views on the end of the world or don’t think about it much (as a friend used to say, “I’m a ‘pan-millennialist’: I believe in the end it’ll all just pan out.”).
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A Presidential Debate Debrief {#3}


Last night was the second debate in the 2012 Presidential Election. It was a Town Hall formet where the candidates walk around freely and take questions from audience members. Yesterday, I talked about what question I would ask if I was there, and I invited others to post there’s as well (incidentally, that post got picked to be highlighted on the front page of WordPress.com, and so there’s a lot of lively discussion to join over there, if you’re interested). Anyway, as I’ve done for each debate, here are some of my thoughts (here are my thoughts on the first Presidential Debate and the Vice-Presidential debate): Continue reading

Town Hall Debate: what would your one question be?


Update: I’ve written some specific reflections on the debate last night.

Tuesday was the second Presidential Debate of the 2012 election. We’ve had one Presidential and one Vice-Presidential Debate so far, both of which were traditional debate formats. This debate, though, was a “Town Hall“-style debate in which the candidates walked freely and spoke to a small studio audience that encircled them as they took their questions directly from audience members. They did not know the questions beforehand, but as the years have gone on, the Debate Commission has limited both the ability to have back-and-forth exchanges with the audience members as well as the follow-up role of the moderator, giving them far more space to dance around the question with no accountability (these changes were put in place after Clinton devastated Bush in this exchange in 1992).

This got me thinking: what if I was there, and I got one shot to ask them one question. I’ve had my fair share of complaints about both candidates (and their running mates), so boiling all of this down to one question that would both be difficult for them politicize and address the most issues I’m concerned about was difficult, but this is what I came up with:

Mr. President and Governor: as a social worker, I’m taught that the goals I make with my clients should be S.M.A.R.T. goals: Simple, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. Using this criteria, could each of you, in terms that are not cliched, rhetorical, or abstract, tell me what the goals of the War on Terror are, and what would represent the end and accomplishment of that War? Thank you.

What do you think would be their answers to this question? What would be your question? (And how do you think they’d answer?) Sound off in the comments below, and tune in at 9pm tonight for the debate.

[image credit: AP photo, from an article at The American Prospect]