August 21, 2014

Introduction to My Upcoming "God Debate" Course With My "Religious Bio"

In an attempt to awaken my blog from the Internet dead, I am pleased to announce (again) that I will be team-teaching a course called The God Debate starting next week. My hope is (no commitment because my blogging has taken a back-seat to many, many other obligations) to post updates, brief sketches of arguments made in the class, and reflections on the course. I hope others will find this useful and interesting.

To get started, I share a couple of things. First, I developed a webpage with many links to resources on Christianity and Christian apologetics. Also, the first assignment in the course is for students to provide a brief, personal religious biography. This is not intended to be a statement of faith, but a personal religious experience. To give the students a feel for this, my colleague and I have provided our religious biographies. Here's mine:
In a sense, there was never a time in my life where I was not a Christian. I grew up in a house with Christian parents, who taught me and my siblings the truths of the Bible, led family devotions, and saw to it that we regularly attended church. When I was probably 7- or 8- years old, I recall professing my belief that Jesus was my savior and my parents leading me in prayer, and I was probably 10-years old when I made a public profession of faith and was admitted to the Lord’s table in my church. So, in another sense, I might mark the beginning of my Christianity to these points. I was thoroughly “churched,” even in my education. I attended my church’s school from 1st-12th grade. I memorized the children’s catechism in elementary school and the shorter catechism (which is not all that “short”) in junior- and senior- high school; I took Bible courses throughout my primary and secondary years in school and even had fairly advanced courses in church history and a survey of the Old Testament in high-school. In short, God was always a certainty in my life, and I always considered myself a Christian. With that said, this doesn’t mean that I have mindlessly accepted my beliefs. Also, it doesn’t mean that I have been consistently fervent in my faith. Indeed, one of the struggles I sometimes wrestle with is having the “head-knowledge” about the faith without the “heart.” There were periods in my life, while never rejecting or even having a desire to move away from the faith, I merely carried the name of Christian, yet there were other periods in my life, where I was profoundly moved to learn and commit myself to my faith. Upon reflection, these latter periods are tied to my exposure to sound preaching, regular Scripture reading, and fellowship with other believers. A difficult part about maturing in the Christian faith is that the more I try to become Christ-like, the more I realize how monumentally I fail to live up to this call, so I am thankful for the grace of God through Christ Jesus, who accomplished my salvation on the cross. One of the many ways I fail to live up to my calling is my timidity to share the gospel with others, so it is for this reason that I am both excited to give “a reason for the hope that is in [me]” (I Peter 3:15) and anxious about this course.

April 21, 2014

The Christian Life (Book Review Series): Every Good Endeavor

What does it mean to be a Christian in this life? What does it look like? How do we live as Christians? These are important and difficult questions. Over the last couple of years, I have read several books on Christian living. Most of them have been very helpful. So, this is part of a series reviewing some of these books. You can see my first post in this series on Pilgrim's Progress here. In this post, I will review Timothy Keller's book, Every Good Endeavor

In Every Good Endeavor, Tim Keller partners with  Katherine Alsdorf to address the Christian's vocation. (In this review, I'll refer to this as Keller's work and words, as a short-hand). Katerine Alsdorf's name is less known than Tim Keller's, but her role says something about the importance of and intention of this book; she is Redeemer Presbyterian's (the church Keller pastors) director for the Center of Faith and Work. Keller urges his readers to consider such ministries at their own church and lives. His stated purpose is to "feed your imagination and stir your action with the richness of what the Christian faith says (directly and indirectly) about this inexhaustible subject" (p. 24).

The structure of the book is telling in terms of Keller's theological framework for vocation. The first part (four chapters) is titled "God's Plan for Work" and includes discussions on God's intention for work. The second section (four chapters) is titled "Our  Problems with Work" and includes discussions on how sin (e.g., making work an idol) and the effects of sin (e.g., the frustrations of work) impact our work. The final section titled "The Gospel and Work" (four chapters and an epilogue) provides a discussion  on re-conceptualizing work under the Gospel and even specific examples of what this would mean in various fields of work.  In case the section titles are not obvious enough, Keller uses the creation--fall--redemption/recreation categories to describe work.

If the point was to "feed [my] imagination," the task was accomplished--home run style! My copy is highlighted and annotated. Keller is profoundly thoughtful, rich in wisdom, and deeply engaging with a smooth, easy-to-read delivery-style.

As I understood the work, Keller sees the Christian's vocation as something that is redeeming the culture and the world along side of Christ, something that will appear and build (or be built into) the new creation. Christians do this by turning work into a Christ-like approach to serve others. Keller says that "our daily work can be a calling only if it is reconceived as God's assignment to serve others." (p. 66). While Keller offers some interesting ways of doing work differently as a Christian, Keller's most striking call is to think about work differently.

As someone who is sympathetic and partial to a 2k theology, I am skeptical about the soundness of parts of this thinking, even while I was (and am) profoundly inspired by it. I am skeptical about the work that I do as part of the new creation or re-creation/redemption. I am more confident in the completed work of the cross (John 19:30) and the home Christ builds (2 Corinthians 5:1-5) in the new heavens and the new earth (Revelation 21:1-4) than I am in my own work as redemptive. On a practical level, many in the secular, non-Christian world see work as a service and preform that service very well. I find that they do work-as-service better in some incidents. As such, service to others may not be the distinctive mark for Christian work.

However, Keller raises several points that I want to affirm. Sin has destroyed work, and we need to draw our attention to how we make work and the fruits of our work (i.e., money) idols. We should also be more thoughtful in serving God in our work (Colossians 3:17). The Gospel really does change everything, not just religious things, as Keller notes. It should change the way we work, the way we interact with others, and all aspect of our lives. While I don't know how or if work plays a role in redemptive history, I am convinced that all should be given over to Christ. Even if our daily work--the actual behavioral tasks--do not change, Keller raised my consciousness about my work's relationship to God and the Gospel profoundly, and for what it's worth, I found myself approaching my work differently after reading the book.

April 15, 2014

Against the Bundy Ranch Standoff

There is some jubilation about the, so-called or seeming, victory in the Bundy Ranch standoff. For now, the federal agents have backed down. It might seem that the libertarian's natural position would be on the side of the rancher. Not me. Bundy's position is very unwise, not productive, and very un-libertarian.

First, Bundy's standoff against federal agents with militia and other armed citizens is downright dangerous. The simple fact is that the government is an institution of force, and the U.S. government, in particular, is an institution of extreme strength. The risk of running into a violent and very deadly escalation is great here. I'm releaved that shots were not fired, and the violence that did take place was relatively mild.

Second, it is unproductive because I suspect that Harry Reid is right: "it's not over." This man owes the government a good deal of money. The government will get it. There are a number of causes that need libertarians' voices. Supporting armed standoffs with the federal government over use of federal land is (a) diverting attention from real libertarian concerns (see below) and (b) is not the way to be considered as a serious and rationale voice in these discourses.

Third, the land belongs to to the federal government, and Bundy owe's fees to the property owners for use of their land. Opposing the use of paying property owners for the use of land is decidedly un-libertarian. In anticipation of some possible objections, I am not arguing that the government should be land-owners (and massive land-owners at that). I am also not interested, in this case, whether this is a state or a federal issue; as far as I can tell, this is federal land. I am also not considering how the federal government came to own that land (e.g., voluntary purchase vs. seizure vs. eminent domain). How they received the land is absolutely a libertarian concern, but as it stands now, the government owns it. As such, it is not a premise I am considering in my argument. The libertarian solution to this should not be to pretend that land-owners can't put a price on the use of their land; the solution is to privatize everything. As Ron Paul said, "This is a typical example of when everyone owns a piece of land and no one does all at the same time."

April 10, 2014

The Christian Life (Book Review Series): Pilgrim's Progress

"He who walks with wise men will be wise..." (Prov. 14:20a)
What does it mean to be a Christian in this life? What does it look like? How do we live as Christians? These are important and difficult questions. Over the last couple of years, I have read several books on Christian living. Most of them have been very helpful. So, this is part of a series reviewing some of these books.

In this first post, I will review the most recent book that I've read, Pilgrim's Progress. Because it was recent helps me to remember better, but one of the major themes of the books makes this review particularly appropriate to begin this series.

Pilgrim's Progress is a literary classic, in general, and a classic in Christian literature, in particular. John Bunyan's classic work is an allegorical tale of the Christian life. It follows the life of a man named Christian, who comes to realize that his city will be destroyed by God. He leaves his family and friends, who believe that he is crazy or temporarily distressed, to seek safety in Celestial City. Along the way, Christian finds the cross of Jesus, where his burden falls off his back. Throughout his journey, he faces trials in the bog of despair and the valley of the shadow of death; he meets those who have fallen asleep or are unsuccessfully attempting a different path on their journeys to Celestial City; and he meets those that provide encouragement and companionship.

Admittedly, I was a bit intimidated by the idea of picking up Pilgrim's Progress to read. I would suggest picking up a good version of this book. I read this one put out by Moody Publishers in today's English. The style is still not as contemporary as one might find in a modern novel at the bookstore, but the language was quite accessible. (The book also contains both parts of Pilgrim's Progress; the more well known journey of Christian and the lesser known journey of Christian's wife). The other fear might be the allegorical nature of the story, but one does not need to be a PhD in literature to understand the allegories. They are not hidden. The character, Faithful, is the man who accompanies Christian to the end of his journey, Evangelist is the person who sets Christian on his journey, and Interpreter helps Christian understand Scripture. There is Piety, Charity, Talkative; you get the idea. Indeed, instead of an intimidating book with dry language, I found it to be a book that was quite engaging and spoke deeply to me about the Christian life.

Two  important points emerged for me. First, I was struck by the fact that this book raised my consciousness about the sin in my life. I was saddened by the fact that I could identify parts of myself with the city of Vanity Fair, whose citizens are enamored with the things of this world. It is easier on my ego and sense of self to identify with the hero of the book, Christian, who despite his errors and mishaps, faithfully and ultimately continues on his Christian journey, gaining steam towards a more Christ-like walk. But I would challenge the reader to reflect on the other characters too.

The second theme that emerged from the book was that the Christian pilgrimage is not a solo affair. There are many people who enter our lives that provide encouragement, strength, and examples. Indeed, as I initiate this series, it is important to point out that Scripture holds the ultimate answers to those questions raised at the beginning: what does it mean to be a Christian in this life? What does it look like? How do we live as Christians?; however, there are those along our path--my path--that have provided insight, encouragement, and examples in pointing to Christ-like living. In that spirit, I begin this series, and I hope you find it helpful in the way I've found most of these books helpful and the way I anticipate reflecting on these books will be helpful to me.

PS: Below is a video of Dr. Derek Thomas discussing Pilgrim's Progress at the 2014 Ligonier Conference. He has recently completed a series on Pilgrim's Progress there.