He is Risen!

For Easter, we’d like to call attention to today’s sermon by Dr. Bob Cornwall, author of Ephesians: A Participatory Study Guide, Ultimate Allegiance: The Subversive Nature of the Lord’s Prayer, and Unfettered Spirit: Spiritual Gifts for the New Great Awakening. It’s titled Unbelievable News.

A taste:

Why is this such unbelievable news?

I like the way our friend Bruce Epperly puts it:

The resurrection will always remain a mystery, hidden from rationalists, Enlightenment-thinkers, and literalists. It is always more than we can ask or imagine.

Too often, when we try to explain the resurrection, we end up domesticating it. And when we do this, we miss the deeper message.

 

What is Consider Christianity Week

This discussion will take place tonight, April 6, 2014, at 7:00 PM Central Daylight Time. You can watch it here live, on our YouTube channel or watch the recording later.

This is our first Google Hangout, so we will be learning!

Note (4/7/2014): There were quite a few problems, but I think we’ve learned how to do this. Below you’ll see the video of our session that started 45 minutes late. We apologize to all those who intended to listen/watch but were unable to do so.

Follow Energion Publications on Google+.

Five Creation Books from Energion

Science, Religion, and Subjective Evidence

Five Creation Books from EnergionIn our informal series of books on issues related to creation we’ve discussed how creation is represented in scripture, how one goes about forming a doctrine of creation that is truly Christian, and how someone who accepts evolution might reflect his in worship. Soon we will have a volume on how our understanding of God as creator impacts our lives now, and finally we’ll have a volume that talks about the basic science one needs to know about origins in order to understand the debates on the topic.

Chris Eyre is one of our editors working out of the UK. He’s been working on editing the manuscript for Creation in Contemporary Experience, which is coming soon. He posted something today regarding science and religion, and the nature of internal or subjective evidence. Where does our experience stand as evidence? (Note that, as a good editor, he does not cite this forthcoming book in his post, but it is closely related.)

In discussing such concepts of God as “ground of all being,” for example, he notes:

They also, from my perspective, fail to explain all of the evidence, as they do not give any real insight into the mystical experience, the direct unmediated experience of God, which I take as a piece of evidence, as I mentioned above. They do have a transcendent aspect, which is singularly lacking in scientific materialism, and which is well harmonised with immanence of a sort, but it is a vastly impersonal immanence. The mystical experience is in my experience a vastly personal one, and I don’t find this reflected in “ground of all being” or “being itself” theologies, nor in the extremes of the God-of-absence of, for instance, Peter Rollins.

I need something which at least explains the mystical experience as I have experienced it, which accounts for the evidence (albeit entirely personal) I have. …

In his recent book Philosophy for Believers, Edward W. H. Vick occupies an entire chapter (6: Experience and God) on this topic. In this paragraph I hear a reflection of Chris’s discussion:

For the theist the question of God is involved when the question
of the purpose of existence is raised. At such point in our lives
we may be faced with the question of the meaning of the whole,
when ‘openings into the depths of life’ lead us to ask about the
ground and goal of our existence. (p. 112)

So what do you think? Is experience valid evidence? If so, does it operate only for the person who experiences, or can that evidence be shared?

Five Creation Books from Energion

LaRochelle – The Meaning of Belief

bob_for_netThis is the third in a set of responses to Philosophy for Believers. Links to all responses can be found in the introductory post to the series, along with a schedule of future posts.

As I get older, I grow increasingly fascinated with the question of how one arrives where one does in terms of understanding one’s faith. In looking back over my life, I realize, as I have written elsewhere, that I was strongly influenced by a theological system that was built upon a philosophical foundation that emphasized the compatibility of faith and human reason. It is this background that I bring to this question and to the reading of Dr. Vick’s comprehensive overview.

As I have come to see things, faith does not exist outside of reason. In other words, for faith to be faith, it need not be unreasonable. Intelligent, rational beings can accept scientific findings and theories, including that of evolution, and be able to posit a strong faith in both the presence and the current activity of the divine.

While faith is not unreasonable, it does not depend on being proven.

At the same time, faith does not require proof. While faith is not unreasonable, it does not depend on being proven. At the risk of jumping too far ahead in the argument to Aquinas, it must be noted that even Aquinas’ five ‘proofs’, in my view, point the evidence in the direction of God yet do not contain within them the absolute proof that would come from a direct manifestation of the divine in the present moment.

Thus to Fred, I would say with Kierkegaard that for faith to be faith, there has to be the element of leap. I would also say that the leap is not only not unreasonable, but, to the contrary, is, in fact, quite reasonable. Thomistic claims of unmoved mover, first cause and the like make reasonable sense.  In asserting these arguments, one makes use of one’s mind to determine the validity of a claim for God. Yet the conclusion, while making sense, does not, as I see it, constitute absolute proof.

With respect to Frederica, we are told that she believes that she can’t prove God’s existence. We are also told that she does not believe that you have to prove God’s existence to believe. It seems that Frederica, if she were to believe in God, would be more open to an experiential understanding of the divine, i.e. something that might move her spiritually and touch her heart. That experiential sense of the divine is very powerful in many people and has been in the history of religion.

When it comes to the interplay of divine and human, there is so much that we simply do not know.

When all is said and done, the bottom line for me is that for faith to be faith, it has to entail FAITH. In other words, when it comes to the interplay of divine and human, there is so much that we simply do not know. The not knowing does not negate the possibility or value of believing. It remains a necessary safeguard into thinking that we actually know more than we do, one of the great dangers in the history of religion!

Elgin Hushbeck, Jr.

Hushbeck – The Meaning of Belief

Elgin Hushbeck, Jr.This is the third in a set of responses to Philosophy for Believers. Links to all responses can be found in the introductory post to the series, along with a schedule of future posts.

There are a number of crucial issues in this chapter, but I think the best place to respond is on the issue of “proof” and “belief,” question #19 in the book exercises. “Fred believes that he can prove the existence of God. He believes that to believe in God you have to be able to prove that God exists. Frederica believes neither of these. What is the issue between them?”

Having discussed what it means to believe, in chapter 3 of his book Philosophy for Believers  Edward Vick turns to the more controversial question of why we believe.  It is also where I have my first real disagreement with Vick.  I had two main issues with Vick’s discussion, the way he described the three main approaches, and his understanding of faith.

Vick describes three main approaches to supporting religious beliefs, presuppositionalism, evidentialism, and fideism.  Unfortunately from my perspective the first two get a somewhat distorted presentation. For example, I would not fall into the presuppositionalist camp, but I was still somewhat surprised that as an example of presuppositionalism Vick choses the presupposition that:

The Bible is to be taken as true and its world view is to be taken as the context and basis for all assertion we make. (p 58)

While I agree with Vick that this is “a gross oversimplification” I have no doubt that supporters of presuppositionalism would say the same thing and would then go on to explain that the statement itself is an oversimplification of their views.

Much the same can be said about Vick’s presentation evidentialism, though perhaps because it was closer to my beliefs, I found his presentation even more suspect.   For example, Vick writes that “both alternative views agree in their belief that the Bible is true. There is no need for proof or discussion of that assumption” (p. 59). That is not even close to my view. If, as an evidentialist, I believed that “there is no need for proof or discussion” about the Bible, then why did I write a book called “Evidence for the Bible?”

Vick goes on to further claim that evidentialists make another presupposition that “the claims made in the very varied ‘books’ of the Bible can be shown to be true” (59).  Vick is not very clear on this point. If he means that evidentialists view at least some of them as testable and open to examination, he is correct. But this is a “presupposition” that investigators of any proposition make, be it in the realm of religion, history, science or any other type of claim.  As such it would be a valid point, but hardly an argument against evidentialism.

If on the other hand, he means that evidentialists assume propositions are true before they can go “in search of ‘evidence’” that is at best simply false.   In addition, it would be a back handed way of claiming that evidentialists are biased and thus would be little more than a fallacious ad hominem attack.

Finally, Vick claims the “hidden Presupposition is that faith is in some way depended upon possessing and understanding evidence” (p 60).  Again, this is simply false, but his error goes to the crux of the issue and is one of my major issue with Fideism, which Vick defines as, “We come to truth via faith, not reason.

A big problem here is that Vick leaves faith undefined,except to quote August Sabatier, “Faith, which, in the Bible was an act of confidence and consecration to God.”  While I basically agree with this view of faith, it does not explain how in faith we come to truth.

Faith is the confidence we have in a belief, more importantly it is the confidence we have that leads us to act.

Faith is the confidence we have in a belief, more importantly it is the confidence we have that leads us to act.  We can believe that a bridge will hold our weigh, but it is only when we act and cross the bridge that we can be said to have faith.  We can believe in God, but if that belief does not affect how we live, then we do not have faith.

In addition, faith cannot stand alone. It requires an object, i.e., something in which to have faith. An important aspect of faith is that it is separate and distinct from evidence.  While one’s faith may be supported by evidence, it can also be a blind faith that lacks evidence, or is even contrary to the evidence.  Likewise faith is independent of truth.  Different people can have a strong faith in differing and even contradictory beliefs.   In short, faith is a statement of confidence in a belief, it tells you nothing about whether or not the belief is true.

As I pointed out last time, this is where evidence comes in.   To be clear, evidence is not required.  We are saved through faith, not through evidence and in fact, I believe many and probably most Christians came to a saving faith without any consideration of evidence.

But if the question is asked, what should I have faith in, faith will not answer this question. The Mormon in the example I wrote about last time, had faith in Mormonism.  Atheists have faith in their beliefs.  Everyone has faith in a great many things, and live their lives accordingly.   Thus, with so many possible objects of faith how do we know what to have faith in?  Why should we have faith in Jesus but not Allah, Vishnu, or Buddha?

This goes to the core of my problem with both presuppositionalism and fideism. Has God really left us to just randomly pick a presupposition or an object of faith?  Is it really, ‘You pays your nickel and you takes your chances,’ and then only after you die will you find out if you pick correctly?   The bottom line is that the only way one can objectively make a choice, or to know if your current faith is correct, is to look at the evidence.

Having said this, let me say that I do agree with Vick’s closing remarks, i.e., these are not rigid camps and that we must beware of oversimplification.  In reality, probably no one is in a single camp.  We all hold some beliefs because of a presupposition, others because of evidence and still others because the way we live our life gives us confidence in our belief.

But again, as Paul wrote in 1 Thess 5:21 “Instead, test everything. Hold on to what is good” (ISV).

week_of_christian_unity

Please Find a Way to Promote Christian Unity

week_of_christian_unityRev. Dr. Robert R. LaRochelle

In the community where I serve as pastor of a local church, my congregation is hosting a service next week to celebrate the Week of Christian Unity. I am excited that several local Christian congregations, both Protestant and Roman Catholic, are joining in this important effort. I am likewise pleased that the service itself will reflect the variety of worship traditions that are part of worldwide Christian practice.

It bothers me as well that there does not appear to be enough shared study both of our common Christian resources and of each others’ Christian tradition.

I am concerned that, on the local level throughout our country, the impetus for services in which Christians from different churches worship together has waned.  It bothers me as well that there does not appear to be enough shared study both of our common Christian resources and of each others’ Christian tradition.

In the early days after the Second Vatican Council in the 1960’s, local Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox congregations throughout our nation and the world worked furiously to find ways to pray together, study together, and serve together. These efforts have had a lingering positive impact in many communities, especially in the area of Christian outreach and service. In many localities, such as mine, ecumenical and interfaith organizations continue to meet the real life needs of individuals and families. However, I feel that we need to rekindle the desire to find more and more ways to work together on all fronts.

… each of our individual traditions has offered particular insights into the nature of being Christian.

As a Roman Catholic for the first forty five years of my life and now as a Protestant clergyperson for the last twelve, I am deeply convinced that we need to find ways to understand our commonalities and to celebrate them. I also believe that, over the course of time, each of our individual traditions has offered particular insights into the nature of being Christian, as well as methodologies for putting Christianity into practice. In my view, it is important that we share these ways of expressing faith and our own practices of worship! I encourage the reader to do whatever you can on your own local level in order to make that happen!

A Christian Unity service can most certainly be held at any time of the year!

Even if it is too late to set something up for this upcoming Week of Christian Unity (January 18-25), please consider finding ways to partner with other Christians in your local community or neighborhood.  A Christian Unity service can most certainly be held at any time of the year!  Perhaps you and others can find ways to encourage study and dialogue around the commonalities and differences between Protestants and Catholics and Orthodox. There are study materials available, including many from Energion Publications!

Please consider doing all that you can to help put Jesus’ prayer into practice, the heartfelt prayer that those who follow Him may find a way to really be ONE!

dab-for2014theme

Three Convictions about Missions

Dr. David Alan Black

Dr. David Alan Black

David Alan Black

6:28 AM I’ve got missions on my mind this morning. You will quickly see that I am no expert on the subject. These convictions are simply the product of a “lay” missionist and conclusions drawn from my personal Bible study.

Mission Conviction #1:

In the scriptural sense, all Christians are missionaries.

The church, not the missions organization, is God’s primary instrument in this world. Perhaps, then, the time has come to stop outsourcing church planting to paramissions entities. This is not to downplay the role of those who are specially gifted in evangelism or church planting. These evangelists and church planters, however, are to work primarily with and through the local churches. Imagine the impact the church could have on the world if every local congregation saw itself as God’s missionary organization. “Missions” would come to mean more than sending money to support missionaries and missions programs. Nor would we continue to use the term “missionary” to refer to professionals who are paid workers. The term missionary, if used, would be given its biblical sense of “representative of God in the world” (apostolos). In the scriptural sense, all Christians are missionaries, and all are to be involved personally in missionary discipleship in service to the world. That’s why I often introduce myself to people, not as a professor of Greek, but as a “full-time missionary.” No, I am not with a paramission organization. Nor am I paid to be a missionary. So people ask, “How then can you call yourself a full-time missionary?” We must change this way of thinking. There must be a significant move away from a paternalistic attitude towards the “laity,” with a growing recognition of their importance in bringing the Gospel to our communities and to the world. According to the New Testament, ministry is not the prerogative of an elite corpus. It is not the function only of seminary-trained professionals. It is the function of the whole people of God. Thus every Christian shares the mission of the church both through personal witness and missions activities. This participation is irrespective of sex, age, gender, social standing, or academic achievement.

Mission Conviction #2:

The New Testament, from beginning to end, was written by missionaries for missionaries.

This is an implication of #1. It is my opinion that we can no longer justify theological training that aims only at making “laypersons” into “professional “missionaries. Rather, theological education must aim at mobilizing all the people of God for ministry in the world. In light of 1 Pet. 2:9 and Eph. 4:11-12, we much change our definition of ordination to include the setting apart of the whole people of God for “works of service.” In our seminaries, I believe it would make a very great difference if we were to recognize that the New Testament, from beginning to end, was written by missionaries for missionaries. It is critical to view the missionary mandate of Christ as the foundation upon which the entire work of Christian education rests. Missions acts, then, or at least should act, as the one encompassing task of Christian theology and community. Why, then, should “missions” be relegated to a missions and evangelism “department”? Such is to imply only a peripheral importance. Our goal in Christian education must be to incorporate the mission thrust of Jesus into all of our subjects. I can envision the day when trained “experts” are wedded to local churches rather than only to academic institutions. Together the whole body — trained theologians and untrained practioners — would join in the process of theologizing and missionizing. The object is for each local church to “hold forth the life-giving Word” (Phil. 2:16) in a way that people will know why and how they should turn to this new Lord Jesus Christ.

Mission Conviction #3:

The theological task in our seminaries must go beyond the classroom.

Conviction #2 implies that the theological task in our seminaries must go beyond the classroom. That is, God’s plan for contextualized missions is rendered inoperable when academics fail to think in such a way that their theology comes across accurately in their lives. God never intended theology to be divorced from life. In our day, such a divorce has become a major problem within Western Christianity. We must reconnect the academy with the church. We seminary professors, whatever our area of expertise, need to live missions, not just talk about it. As with Paul, the Gospel must become the one passion of our lives. “What am I here for?” might serve as a good daily reminder to those of us who serve as academics in our colleges and seminaries. We so easily lose sight of the reason for our existence: to further the Great Commission of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9781893729186mIt is a matter of keeping first things first (Phil. 1:27). And ultimately that mission belongs to the church, not the seminary. The church alone is permanent, and it alone can provide the permanent structure for evangelism and service. This is one reason why in our own mission work Becky and I have worked primarily with local churches and not with larger structures. It is also why we attempt to link local church to local church between the U.S. and Ethiopia. Already several American congregations have decided to partner with their Ethiopian counterparts to further the work of the kingdom. This is because they have come to realize that the local church is God’s center for mission strategies and outreach activities. And more and more churches are getting involved.

These convictions have legs. And I really do think we’re getting somewhere, folks. My students have convinced me. I speak with a good many of them who are throwing off the bonds of selfish individualism that mummify the Body and paralyze our people into thinking only about my salvation and about my soul and about my Christ. They are allowing God into their private lives, as 1 John and James and Jude teach them to do. Organizational self-appraisal no longer dominates their conversations. They are reexamining their crowded programs. Emphasis is being properly placed on personal sanctity. Programs to arouse pride impress them no more. Their reading of the Scriptures — not the mere words of famous American pop-theologians but the Word of God itself — has shaken their complacency, shocked the status quo. Now Christ is more important than Christendom. One student even told me he’s leaving seminary to get a job in a secular field so that he could begin “full-time Christian ministry.” Vital bonds between church and world are being formed. “I was naked and you clothed Me!” They are acting for Christ, striving to keep Him clothed and warm. Above all, they are becoming Gospelers. Evangelism is now a lifestyle, not something to do on Tuesday nights.

Yes, the road is long, but I dare say we’re getting somewhere.

 


From the Editor: If you’ve read this far, I have something to offer you. I’m going to give out five copies of Dave Black’s book Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions? I’ll accept entries until January 20, 2014. If there are more than five entries, we’ll choose the winners randomly.

You can enter by commenting her, retweeting this on Twitter, commenting or sharing it on Facebook, Google+ (includes +1), or LinkedIn.

Highpointing pic

Greetings, Energionistas!

My name is Joseph G. Whelan. I go by Joe. My publisher Henry Neufeld asked me to introduce myself to you. I will soon have the honor of being the first outside author (Henry has some of his own work on the site already) published under the newest imprint within Energion Publications, Enzar Empire Press.

Because the imprint is new, I really should introduce it as well. The reason for creating Enzar Empire is to publish “… original works of Mystery, Fantasy, & Science Fiction.” Those quoted words came from a flyer about Energion and Eucatastrophe (another imprint) and Enzar Empire that showed up in my email inbox in April of 2013.

Front cover constructionThe first of those outside “original works” is Day of the Dragon, which happens to be my first novel, first book of any type, and first introduction to the world of traditional publishing. I have also written three other novels and a nonfiction book. I’ll say a little more about those other books in a moment.

You could describe Day of the Dragon as science fiction but I prefer the term speculative fiction science fiction is off-putting to some people and I don’t want to chase away a block of readers who might really enjoy the story if only they were to give it a chance. You really shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.  Also, a lot of science fiction takes place in imagined future worlds whereas Day of the Dragon takes place in the past. While copying no one’s writing style, my 30-second description of the book is that it is somewhat similar to the speculative fiction of Michael Crichton, who penned such famous novels as The Andromeda Strain and Jurassic Park.  Jurassic Park is a highly apt metaphor because Day of the Dragon explores the “what if” scenario of the hypothesis that an intelligent species of dinosaur existed many, many years ago.

Hold on!” you might be thinking, “dinosaurs were big and impressive, but they had small brains.” That notion needs to be addressed because to be enjoyable to me and presumably to others, a story has to be plausible. It takes me about 1,000 hours to write a novel and I would not have committed to such a heavy time investment had the idea not been plausible. The plausibility issue is addressed more fully in the book but the basic idea stems from the recognition that birds are dinosaurs—and therefore dinosaurs must also be birds—and that some birds, such as parrots and crows, are quite smart. Suppose you had a crow as large as a person with a correspondingly larger head and brain, and further suppose that this über-crow had hands instead of wings.It is believable that this über-bird (über-dinosaur) might be about as smart as a typical Homo sapiens—perhaps smarter—and its hands with opposable thumb-claws would have enabled it to pick up rocks, light fires, deal with Tyrannosaurus rex, and eventually even star in its own book ages after it went extinct. That last trick might have been its best.

Is there any evidence for this? No, there isn’t – or at least not yet. While I’m not holding my breath for it to happen, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if it’s a breaking story in ten years, or five years—or tomorrow. The bottom line is this: Is it proved? No. Is it plausible? I think so. Is it possible? Absolutely!

You might have an interest in the birthing process of Day of the Dragon. It goes back almost as far as traditional dinosaurs. That’s a slight exaggeration but it does go back over 30 years. It was about that long ago that the scientific conception of dinosaurs began to change because of new evidence. That evidence suggested warm-bloodedness in some species, parental care, and the crucial recognition that birds and dinosaurs are the same class of creature. In this view dinosaurs did not become extinct. They are still with us. I saw some flying around this morning.

During those 30 years, I mentioned the intelligent dinosaur idea exactly twice. The first time was in 1979 and the person to whom I mentioned it wasn’t interested, so the conversation moved on, and although I didn’t forget about it, I took no action.

The second time was when I was visiting an older brother in another state in 2010. We were talking in his library after I had been there several days. I was flipping through a book on birds, of which he has several. He told me the amazing story of a lady hiker who was walking alone through the woods one day and her attention was caught by an unusually noisy crow. Its raucousness enhanced her situational awareness and soon she realized that a mountain lion was stalking her. When the predator realized it had been detected, it disappeared, seeking an easier meal. When she got home, she talked about the crow that had saved her life. But it turned out that there was a researcher who had been studying crow-cougar interactions and what he had learned is that sometimes crows make noise around humans and other large animals not to warn them that a mountain lion is nearby, but to alert the mountain lion that a potential victim is within killing range. The crow hopes the lion will kill the human so that the crow can feast on the remains without doing much work or assuming much risk on its own.

Naturally, my brother and I started talking about the intelligence of birds. I happened to mention that birds are dinosaurs, which my brother already knew because by then the link had been established for at least three decades. I went on to mention, for only the second time in my life, my theory that maybe way back when there used to be intelligent dinosaurs, perhaps they had even developed their own technology. There was an unusually long pause before my brother responded and when he did he said:

“That would make a great science-fiction story!”

I thought about that and within a few seconds realized he was right. It would make a great science fiction story. If only someone would write that story …

I wrote that story. Two more years passed in which I tried and failed to interest traditional publishers in the book. I wrote additional novels about the same imagined saurian world, beginning a series the creation of which continues. No publisher wanted any of them. I gave up on traditional publishing and began exploring self-publishing. In April of 2013 I received an invitation to meet Henry Neufeld for the purpose of discussing going to print with Enzar Empire. I almost declined because by then I had mentally crossed the Rubicon, and in my mind I was “done” with traditional publishers. But one thing led to another and here we are. I hope you enjoy reading Day of the Dragon. I did and I believe you will too.

Highpointing picThat covers my fiction writing to date. I also mentioned a nonfiction book. That is called Ameritrekking and Highpointing: Discovering America the Beautiful and is available as an e-book from the Amazon Kindle store .

What is a highpoint? A highpoint is defined as the highest naturally occurring geographic point in any given state. Each state has a highpoint, even lowly Florida. Some of the western highpoints are big mountains. I discovered the hobby working as an accountant and computer manager while confined in a corporate cubicle for 23 years. After I had earned enough accrued time off, I started taking two-, three- and four-week vacations. The years passed and, before I knew it, I had driven over 100,000 miles and spent more than a year on the road. I had also visited 45 of the 50 highpoints.

In addition to a camera, I traveled with a journal every year. I turned the story of the first 8,000-mile trek into Ameritrekking and Highpointing. This is not really a book about mountaineering because I am not really a mountaineer. It is more a book about America-discovery and self-discovery while exploring beautiful parks, Native American historical sites – and my first two highpoints.

Discussion of issues in society, biblical studies, and religion encouraged by Energion Publications authors