Monday, January 26, 2009

My final integration paper

Plantinga’s paradigm divides the world’s drama into three acts: creation, fall, and redemption. These three doctrines provide a pivotal understanding of the Christian worldview. Yet, this paradigm is simplified in relation to the complexities of the divine dance. Although Plantinga’s book is entitled Engaging God’s World, it is impossible for us humans to engage in every part of God’s world here on earth because everything belongs to Him. As Abraham Kuyper said, “There is not a square inch on the whole plain of human existence over which Christ, who is Lord of all, does not proclaim, ‘This is mine’ ” (Plantinga xiii).

In our Developing a Christian Mind section, my class studied the various writings of C.S. Lewis as a part of learning to engage in God’s world. Through the class, we poured through C.S. Lewis’ ambitious works spanning through a multitude of disciplines: literature, philosophy, rhetoric, education, and theology. I was astounded at Lewis’ depth of understanding concerning many different subjects. Regardless of the subject at hand, Lewis wrote to lead people to truth. On our first day of class, the professors distinguished two types of people: flexors and extenders. Like their corresponding muscles, “flexors” tend to curl up into fetal position when things are hard, while “extenders” stand up straight and face reality. In many situations, it is easier to just curl up in a ball and avoid the hard questions. Yet, learning was a discipline that Lewis took seriously, a discipline that, coupled with humility, gave him a greater understanding of God.

With the gigantic categories of creation, fall, and redemption, it is overwhelming to make sense of it all. This task is especially difficult because of our current human condition, which wavers between fall and redemption. Jesus came to proclaim that the kingdom of God was “near” or “at hand” but not yet present in full. We have the wonderful news of the resurrection, but the world is still so fallen and broken. Metaphorically, we are living in Saturday right now: Good Friday has already past, but Easter Sunday has not yet come. We live in a state of being there, but not there yet. God equips people throughout the generations in their individual contexts to engage in His world in a particular way. Lewis engaged the world through his academic pursuits, literature, speeches, essays, and so much more. Although he did dabble in many subjects, Lewis focused his search for truth on certain aspects of culture and theology. Due to the magnitude and variety of readings from this DCM section, I will first focus on a few of Lewis’ key themes and then discuss how the class has affected me personally.

Lewis focused on writing theology in simple language, employing allegories, children’s stories, and fiction. In this way, he popularized theology for the masses. With The Chronicles of Narnia, Lewis took the popular genre of children’s stories and infused it with Christian themes of fall and redemption. When at the professors’ house for lunch, we read a bit of The Pilgrim’s Regress, an allegory, and I found that to be fascinating. As a literature professor, Lewis understood what a powerful medium literature could be.

A theme on which both Plantinga and Lewis discussed in depth was that of longing and joy. Plantinga discussed our longing for “shalom,” which he defined as “universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight” (Plantinga 15). Lewis also dedicated some writings to the concept of Sehnsucht, a German word indicating seeking or searching. In The Weight of Glory, Lewis put it this way, "I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you—the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both” (The Weight of Glory 3). Having become a Christian later in life, Lewis came to believe Augustine’s words, “You have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” These desires for hope and joy cannot be filled from anything on the earth because God has made us for himself, a point that both Lewis and Plantinga acknowledge.

I also enjoyed Lewis’ logical stream of processing, which he employed to dissect certain philosophical propositions. His thought process reminded me of geometric proofs. Professor Ribeiro was actually able to create diagrams based on the flow of arguments in Mere Christianity, showing Lewis’ logical train of thought. Some examples of that writing were, “Meditation in a Toolshed,” “Bulverism,” “We have no Right to Happiness,” and “Man or Rabbit?” Lewis also questioned the logic of moral subjectivism, which he found to be extremely harmful, as we could see in “The Poison of Subjectivism” and The Abolition of Man. He confronted pervasive thought patterns of the time and challenged them using reason. After reading so many of these essays, I would think, “Wow, I never thought about that, but now that he brings it up, that is so true!”

We read so many of Lewis’ works, but certain themes interested me the most: concentrations in theology in popular culture, logical analysis of statements and propositions, and striving for joy. I would like to devote the rest of this essay to how this class affected me on a personal level. I interpreted the point of the class to be, “What does it look like to engage in God’s world?” Our study of Lewis’ writings showed me that there is no “spiritual” discipline. God’s world encompasses everything, so both Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia and Adriana’s usage of biology in emphasizing spiritual truths are equally “spiritual.” After all, the kingdom of God is to infuse every part of the earth, which necessitates the cooperation of ministers, scientists, literature professors, and everyone in between.

Lewis also showed me that it was possible to use logic and reason in response to non-Christians’ theological objections. Ever since a camp counselor told me that my dad was going to go to Hell unless I told him about Jesus, I have struggled with how to address evangelism. Lewis’ logical and rational reasoning in Mere Christianity provided a fresh framework for discussing theological issues. His “Bulverism” essay was convicting to me, “Assume your opponent is wrong, and then explain his error, and the world will be at your feet. Attempt to prove that he is wrong or (worse still) try to find out whether he is wrong or right, and the national dynamism of our age will thrust you to the wall” (Bulverism 273). As a psychology major, I spend a great deal of time and energy analyzing why people think the way they do, and I lapse into bulverism more than I’d like to admit. For example, I’ll discount my friend’s fundamentalist ideas because I know his dad raised him in a very strict manner. Lewis’ logic exposed me to a new way of looking at things. His arguments were simple and concise, but packed with philosophy and reason understandable to the common man.

I also appreciated Lewis’ discussion of pain and diabolic forces in Problem of Pain and The Screwtape Letters. These are perfect examples of issues in which Christians tend to curl up in a “flexor” position, rather than rising to the challenge as an “extender.” Pain and the devil are difficult and controversial, but I admired Lewis greatly for the remarkable insight within these books. The Screwtape Letters was an interesting depiction of the devil’s viewpoint. I especially found the professors’ powerpoint on the Christian application of The Screwtape Letters to be profound and helpful.

Lewis and Plantinga helped me understand the idea of engaging in God’s world, but I was most affected by incredible professors, Paulo and Adriana Ribeiro. Every morning, bright and early, I woke up to one of Adriana’s invigorating Bible lessons. I saw them interact with one another with such love, respect, and focus on God as the center of everything. Their marriage is so incredible inspiring. They are so humble, intelligent, passionate, interesting, fun, and hospitable. Throughout the class, they shared insights into life, stories, and what they think it means to be Christian, Their examples of mature Christian servitude affected me infinitely more than any reading could have. Through DCM, we were equipped in apologetics and how to understand the world in the rhythm of creation, fall, and redemption, but the most convincing apologetic I got was by observing my incredible professors’ lives. They embody the old saying, “They will know we’re Christians by our love.”

Work Cited

Lewis, C.S. “Bulverism.” From God in the Dock. 10 January 2009.

Lewis, C.S. “The Weight of Glory.” Theology, November 1941.

Plantinga, Cornelius Jr. Engaging God’s World: A Reformed Vision of Faith, Learning,

and Living. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Inner Ring

The description of the "inner ring" is so true. Everywhere there are independent systems or concentric circles of rings, these unwritten systems. In social psychology, we discussed in depth the phenomenon of group formation and the rather disturbing tendency toward "group think." I find that subject fascinating, and it makes me curious as to why human nature has a tendency to do that.

I also like his idea that "in all men's lives at certain periods, and in many men's lives at all periods between infancy and extreme old age, one of the most dominant elements is the desire to be inside the local Ring and the terror of being left outside." Amen. That pretty much describes my K-12 education. My mom still is preoccupied with rings after having a dismal middle school "ring" crisis. I will also admit that I am still tormented from the cliques and drama of middle school. I remember in 6th grade thinking that if I wore the right brand of blue jeans, maybe the popular kids would like me. I was so insecure, always worried about fitting in. Social standing was like life and death at Derby Middle School.

The existence of Inner Rings is unavoidable and perhaps even innocent, according to Lewis, but it causes LOTS of problems. As he wrote, "In the whole of your life as you now remember it, has the desire to be on the right side of that invisible line ever prompted you to any act or word on which, in the cold small hours of a wakeful night, you can look back with satisfaction? If so, your case is more fortunate than most." That brings back a lot of memories. Sometimes in middle and high school, I would "ignore" certain people on my way to class (i.e. not wave to them) because they weren't cool enough. I have a serious problem with gossip, partly because I ate gossip for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day growing up. My upper-class, consumerist schooling just reveled on the latest morsel of back-stabbing and drama. I don't look back with satisfaction in anything I've said about others in order to get someone's approval.

Lewis wrote this address to "convince you that this desire is one of the great permanent mainsprings of human action. Unless you take measures to prevent it, this desire is going to be one of the chief motives of your life from the first day on which you enter your profession until the day when you are too old to care." This obsession with inner circles, Lewis said, comes from little trivial decisions. Also, "as long as you are governed by that desire you will never get what you want."

These words really convicted me, "But your genuine Inner Ring exists for exclusion. There'd be no fun if there were no outsiders... Exclusion is no accident; it is the essence." Immediately, I thought of my short-lived sorority days (yeah, I know, I'm like the least likely person you'd ever expect to join a sorority). My mom told me stories of her awesome days in the sorority at U of M, and at age 12, I was already committed to rushing. I got to U of M and signed up for recruitment (which was a horrible, long, exclusive process). Different sororities "cut" you at different rounds. It was like a middle school popularity contest all over again. But the memories of my mom's stories danced in my head enough to keep me going. I pretended to be this preppy, bubbly girl who I wasn't. I got into my top choice sorority, and it was all about exclusivity. We had our secret rituals, meetings, and in my sorority, people became cliquish immediately. When I wouldn't dress up for our chapter meetings, I noticed people would ignore me more. I went to frat parties and bars (although I did not and will never, ever drink in my life, and I didn't then), just to feel like I belonged. I even compromised relationally and sexually to conform to everyone else. I started getting involved in my church and realizing that the sorority wasn't for me, but I still wanted to feel, well, wanted. I wanted to feel "in." The next year, during recruitment, I had just about had it. We were rating girls 1-7 on criteria such as "presentation" (appearance). One of my friends was cut from the sorority because a girl's conversation with her was "awkward." That was the last straw.

Leaving the sorority was the best decision I've ever made, but it makes me realize how much I yearn for acceptance. Indeed, "The quest of the Inner Ring will break your hearts unless you break it." It is true that without that pressure, you will naturally be inside the circle of an "accidental" group without exclusivity, also called friendship. As Lewis concluded, "But he follows that desire he will reach no 'inside' that is worth reaching."

Discussion in class on 1/22/09

All day I have been processing the discussion we had in class this morning, and I feel compelled to write a bit about it. Somehow our discussion of "Man or Rabbit?" became a theological discussion of Lewis' possible universalism.

The passage in question is this:

We all know there have been good men who were not Christians; men like Socrates and Confucius who had never heard of it, or men like J. S. Mill who quite honestly couldn’t believe it. Supposing Christianity to be true, these men were in a state of honest ignorance or honest error. If there intentions were as good as I suppose them to have been (for of course I can’t read their secret hearts) I hope and believe that the skill and mercy of God will remedy the evils which their ignorance, left to itself, would naturally produce both for them and for those whom they influenced.

When I first read that, my discernment lights flashed a warning signal, but I had no idea that such an idea would be so widely disputed in class. Perhaps I had strong feelings about it because I myself have asked this question many times, and we discussed it a bit in Religion 241 (Historical Theology 1500-present). Basically, there are three ways to look at "other religions:"
1. Pluralism- the belief that many paths lead to God
2. Exclusivity- Jesus is the only way
3. Inclusivism- Christianity is the best way, but other religions can adopt from principles of Christianity and can be saved
Here's a little more info about that-

I would guess that Lewis would agree with inclusivism, but as we discussed in theology, these terms are all jumbled and intermixed. Essentially, "inclusivism" is really picking and choosing parts of religions that are "good" and "true." What, then, is good or true? A Christian might say, "The Bible is good and true." Well, then that is really exclusivism because you're saying that Christianity is really the only way to God. It gets more confusing but I don't want to get into that hardcore. In my class we came to the conclusion that exclusivity was the most appropriate stance to take. Inclusivism has a lot of "boundary" issues: where is the boundary between a "good" religion and a "bad" religion? What is the distinction between certain religions? Do only some other religions provide salvations? To me, it sounds a little like, "Christians get first prize, then other religions get 2nd and 3rd prizes. You all win!" Then that sounds universalist/ pluralistic.

I think the Bible is pretty clear that Jesus is the only way to God. I also agree that we can't judge people's eternal salvation. I additionally believe that God judges people based on what they're given. Thus, if someone is not exposed at all to Christianity, I believe God would be more merciful to that person than to someone who had been exposed to Christianity hundreds of times and had rejected it. But, I think the passage in "A Man or Rabbit?" and our class discussion brought up some serious concerns.

We have all sinned and fall short of the "mark," and Jesus paid the price for that sin so that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life. I'll put the Socrates and Confucius thing to the side, although we did discuss those who don't know about Christ in class as well. But J.S. Mill who simply "couldn't" believe in Christ, Lewis believed God would forgive him for that. I looked up J.S. Mill, as I had never heard of his ideas of Christianity. He said this: Christianity was "essentially a doctrine of passive obedience; it inculcates submission to all authorities found established." Now I'm not God, and I don't know what God will do, but on that, the Bible's pretty clear. It almost sounds a bit subjective (ironically) to just dismiss certain matters of unbelief and say that one certain belief won't be forgiven, and yet another will not be. We have objective TRUTH: Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life!!!

I don't think we should go up to people and be like, "You're going to Hell." We don't have that type of authority to make that judgment. And it gets dangerous when Christians develop an "us vs. them" mindset, because something happens to our own souls when we condemn others as "out" and we are "in." But that doesn't mean that belief is "optional." If so, what's the point of spreading the Good News at all if we don't need it? The Good News is eternal, not just for this life. Why would Jesus have sent His disciples on the Great Commission if He didn't think people needed to hear the Good News not just for the sake of this life but for eternity?

I agree that there are certain "divine mysteries" that we can't understand, but that can also be applied to anything. My brother has this question, for example, "Why should people think about God if we can't understand Him?" Why do we seek for truth in anything if everything's just a "divine mystery?" God didn't have to reveal Himself to us, but He did, and with His Word, God gave us some insight into these divine mysteries. Yes, of course, we can't understand the universe fully nor should we try to. Jesus' atonement is a gift for a right relationship with the Father, but it is necessary for people to accept it. If you're offered a gift and refuse it, well, then you've refused it. I don't know if people will get a second chance to accept Christ after death, and I don't think God intends for us to know that. From our perspective, however, Jesus is the way to God, and we shouldn't make projections about God's forgiveness of certain unbeliefs.

I don't begin to think that I know what God will do with J.S. Mills or African tribes who have never heard the Good News or hypocritical Christians, for that matter. I just know that the Bible teaches the idea of objective truth, which is contrary to our pluralistic postmodern society. C.S. Lewis' comment in "A Man or Rabbit?" just set off alarms in my head, and our discussion in class frankly shocked me. I don't claim to be an apologist or know the exact theological reasons for the doctrine of exclusivity, but I find it important. This comment represents a far deeper issue. Yes, C.S. Lewis was imaginative and not purely a theologian, but in writing about God, theology is just as much a part of that as imagination or creativity or anything else. You can't just write essays about God and be like, "Well, you're putting too much emphasis on the theology." It's like writing a story about French culture and getting the culture all wrong. You could say, "Don't worry about the details, you understand the point." Obviously that doesn't make any sense. Theology is a part of writing about God, and it is very important, especially when dealing with such a crucial subject.

The Problem of Pain

This chapter of The Problem of Pain (chapter 6) addressed some very thought-provoking ideas. Lewis first distinguished pain in two senses:
1. A particular kind of sensation, ex. a headache
2. Any experience, whether physical or mental, which the patient dislikes, i.e. suffering, trouble
Lewis concentrated this chapter on the 2nd conception of pain.

Man was made to imitate the Creator, but due to sin, we are (according to Newman) "rebels who must lay down our arms." Surrending our self will is a kind of death that must happen daily. Thus, this process cannot be without pain, but paradoxically, "mortification, though itself a pain, is made easier by the presence of pain in its context." Lewis described this phenomenon in three ways:

1. The human spirit will not even begin to try to surrender self-will as long as all seems to be well with it. Pain is recognizable and impossible to ignore. As page 91 so clearly says, "But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain; it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world." Pain can of course lead to final and unrepented rebellion, but it gives the only opportunity the bad man can have for amendment."

2. Pain shatters the illusion that wht we have, whether good or bad in itself, is our own and enough for us. Lewis' friend said, "We regard God as an airman regards his parachute; it's there for emergencies but he hopes he'll never have to use it." The only way we turn to God is if we have tried "any other resort where it (happiness) can even plausibly be looked for." God knows that modest prosperity and happiness are not enough to make people blessed, and Lewis makes a case that our "troubles" are actually "a Divine Humility." For our sake, God must shatter our illusion of self-sufficiency.

3. With sin, we have a whole new set of desires, and it is hard to know whether we are acting for God's sake or under the influence of our own inclinations. Thus, "the full acting out of the self's surrender to God therefore demands pain. Lewis then acknowledged the paradox whether God commands certain things because they are right, or whether certain things are right because God commands them. I don't really understand that whole argument about the "nature of morality" because I've never taken philosophy, and it sounds like a whole "did the chicken come first or the egg" type issue.

Lewis said that, "Human will becomes truly creative and truly our own when it is wholly God's, and this is one of the many senses in which he that loses his soul shall find it." I found this argument to be profound and influential.

The question still must be addressed, however, "From our present point of view it ought to be clear that the real problem is not why some humble, pious, believing people suffer, but why some do not." Lewis discussed two points here:

1. The actual moment of present pain is only the center of the whole "tribulational system." Lewis gave the example of himself "progressing along the path of life in my ordinary contentedly fallen and godless condition," only to experience pain, at which point, slowly, "I try to bring myself into the frame of mind that I should be in at all times." This is what Lewis called the "terrible necessity of tribulation."

2. We must be careful to attend to what we know and not to what we imagine. Lewis observed, "I have seen great beauty of spirit in some who were great sufferers. I have seen men, for the most part, grow better not worse with advancing years, and I have seen the last illness produce treasures of fortitude and meekness from most unpromising subjects."

I also loved Lewis' last point concerning poverty: "Those who would most scornfully repudiate Christianity as a mere 'opiate of the people' have a contempt for the rich, that is, for all mankind except the poor. They regard the poor as the only people worth preserving from 'liquidation,' and place in them the only hope of the human race."

This essay struck my attention with the very word "pain." For the last two years, my brother has had this phantom chronic pain and he's seen specialists all over the state. None of them can figure it out. My brother has since turned away from his faith (part of that is the transition to a very non-spiritually nourishing secular school), but sometimes I'm sure he struggles with the reconciliation of his pain and belief in God. I know my mom has talked to me about it. She prayers for him every day, and she can't understand why God would let him suffer like this. I found Lewis' arguments very helpful in my understanding of suffering and the good that might come of it. Human suffering is a difficult concept for a Christian to comprehend, and I thought his points were good.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Man or Rabbit?

I loved this essay; in fact, it was perhaps my favorite essay of the class so far. The question grabbed my attention right away, "Can't you lead a good life without believing in Christianity?" Sometimes I worry that Christianity can become like glorified advertising. It just seems a little weird that some churches use the same marketing techniques as they do with businesses. I don't know, it just gives me the uneasy feeling that we're trying to "advertise Jesus," or manipulate people into a relationship with the living God. I would give a resounding AMEN to Lewis when he says, "Christianity is not a patent medicine." It's not like, "You need one Jesus pill and you'll get into Heaven for free." It sounds like an infomercial.

The question about living a good life without Christianity has deeper implications, says Lewis, that, "I don't care whether Christianity is in fact true or not... All I'm interested in is leading a good life." As Lewis wrote a few sentences later, "If Christianity is untrue, then no honest man will want to believe it, however helpful it might be: if it is true, every honest man will want to believe it, even if it gives him no help at all."

I totally agree that "those who know the truth and thosewho don't should be equally well equipped for leading a good life." Both Christians and non-Christians would agree on things, obviously, but when it comes down to it, there are practical differences: their approaches to education would be different and their conceptions of individuals vs. groups and the universe. The Christian and the Materialist hold different beliefs about the universe, and they can't both be right!!

I was kind of skeptical when Lewis wrote that concerning Socrates, Confucius, and J.S. Mill, "I hope and believe that the skill and mercy of God will remedy the evils which their ignorance, left to itself, would naturally produce for them and for those whom they influenced." Later Lewis wrote, "Honest rejection of Christ, however mistaken, will be forgiven and healed." I don't think the Bible teaches that....

But I'm back on the same page as Lewis when he began talking about the man who asked this question. Lewis believed that this man was really saying, "Need I bother about it? Aren't good intentions enough to keep me safe and blameless without knocking at that dreadful door and making sure whether there is, or isn't, someone inside?" That is problematic, likened to a man who won't go to the doctor with pain because he's afraid of what the doctor might say. That is what Lewis calls a state of DIShonest error.

Lewis admitted that Christianity does do a person good, but in becoming a Christian, people must learn that, "Mere morality is not the end of life." In fact, "a decent life" is nothing compared to the Divine Life to which we are called. Lewis wrote that the "rabbit" in us must disappear.

The essay concludes with, "The idea of reaching 'a good life' without Christ is based on a double error. Firstly, we cannot do it; and secondly, in setting up 'a good life' as our final goal, we have missed the very point of our existence."

I just loved this essay because so often I see this "convenience story Christianity" or "ATM God" fallacy coming up in my own life. God used to fit in to my schedule, and that was it. It has taken a long time for me to come to terms with the fact that God never promises it will be easy. He never promises that life will be happy and we'll get whatever we want when we want it. Often I've found my prayers to be like me using an ATM, like, "God I want this, this, and this. Oh, and this! And make sure to do this. Gotta go!" I've also seen this approach in the church, at U of M, and even within my own family. I found Lewis' insight on this topic to be fascinating.

Plantinga Chapter 4 Redemption

My biggest fear is that I would get desensitized to Jesus' message of salvation. My church was liturgical and ordered exactly like Catholic mass. In other words, for 18 years of my life, I had THE EXACT SAME church service. I had memorized the Nicene Creed by age 8 easily and the Lord's Prayer far before that... not out of devotion, but out of pure repetition. Even now, when I read about the Lord's Supper, I instantly grimace, remembering the long chanting before Communion during which I would squirm and draw pictures on scrap paper. Then, after Communion was done, I knew I was home free. There was one prayer after Communion, and we'd be done with church. It amazes me to this day how people repeat the same words over and over, "We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only son of God," and you'd be thinking we were mourning in a funeral hall! It was like emotionless chatter. The Nicene Creed, the idea of the Eucharist, the Scripture readings... I was all "church talked out" by the end of elementary school. The words had meaning, but it was the way in which they were presented. God to me was like a dull, lifeless, boring Being because of whom I had to dress up on Sunday and pretend to pay attention.

When I heard the Gospel presented at an evangelical camp, suddenly everything became clear. It wasn't that the message was different, but it was expressed differently. But soon this new passion came to an end, too. Soon I was talking Christian-ese and expressing how wonderful God was, praising Him, reading my Bible... but my heart became more and more disengaged. My church in Ann Arbor was very much missionally based, very evangelical, so new people were coming to Christ all the time. They expressed this child-like joy at the message of the Gospel, this hunger to know God, to read the Bible. Seeing that, I realized how much I had lost.

"Jesus died for my sins!!!!!!!!!!!!" had become "Yeah, I know, I've heard it a million times, Jesus died for my sins. Next subject." One day in church we were singing the popular "How Great is our God," and my friend turned to me, exasperated, and said, "How great is our God? I know, He's great, why do we have to keep singing that?" I laughed at the time, but really, that's how my heart was.

The pastor of my Ann Arbor church said that he was still in ministry because he was in love with the story of the Gospel. Sometimes I fear that I have lost that joy, that child-like admiration God's grace and peace. Reading this chapter, I had some of those impulses. I was tempted to skip over sections of it, thinking, "Yeah, I know this. Let's get on with it." Then I caught myself. Wow, how jaded I have become!!!! Maybe I know ABOUT the Gospel, but is my life really like that? Am I expressing that with my daily life? Am I living like Jesus really rose from the dead? Am I totally sold out for God? No, I'm not.

On page 75, Barbara Brown Taylor wrote, "What we have lost... is a full sense of the power of God-- to recruit people who have made terrible choices; to invade the most hopeless lives and fill them with light; to sneak up on people who are thinking about lunch, not God, and smack them up side the head with glory."

Plantinga first went over God's grace in the Old Testament, starting with the Patriarchs in Genesis. I liked the comparison that the Ten Commandments "are guides for a free and flourishing life," rather than an annoying set of rules. God was certainly persistent with the disobedient Israelites, but there is a tendency in Christian culture to be like, "Those Israelites... why did they keep worshipping Baal? How dense can they be?" Maybe we don't worship the actual deity Baal today, but we're just as bad! God raised up prophets to try to help everyone, but that ended up not working out. The prophets spoke of the Messiah, and the people at the time of Jesus had certain conceptions of what the Messiah would be like: he would be human, political, and a military king. They were definitely not expecting Jesus.

Jesus came for several reasons, as Plantinga describes:
1. Pay the penalty for our sins
2. To destroy the works of the devil
3. Deal with sin and fulfill the law
4. To seek out and save the lost
5. To gather up all things in him or to reconcile himself to all things

Jesus indeed died for our sins, but three days later He rose, which is the "platform" for everything Christians have to offer the world. Now, we are called to proclaim to the world, in our different vocations, "The Lord is risen." I love the end of the first paragraph on page 82, but I don't have time to type it out.

Now the question is: now what? So Jesus died and rose again? So what then should we do? Plantinga describes on pages 83 and 84 that we are called to have faith in Christ and get involved in a church, i.e. a community of believers. We can enjoy personal communion with God, but also public acts of communion- corporal events like preaching the gospel, Baptism, and Communion.

I found it interesting that Plantinga wrote, "Confession of sin is an enormously freeing thing to do." A lot of times Christians feel pressure to "have it together," and I must confess, I have never felt that pressure so much as at Calvin and Grand Rapids. The statement "We are Christians, so we should be happy all the time" is just not true, but that's how a lot of people act at times.

After accepting Christ, a process of regeneration of a person's love for God and for neighbors begins. Plantinga describes "regeneration" like the exposion that starts the motor of a car, while "sanctification" is the lifelong conversion of conforming to Christ. Calvin called "sancitification" and "justification" a "double grace," which releases, relieves, and redeems us. Getting rid of sin is hard, but a surrender to God's grace is necessary.

Obedience is necessary after conversion, and I like the quote, "We are not saved by good works, but neither are we saved without them." If you're a murderer and you surrender to the grace of God, you can't just go on murdering people. If you really understood the message, you would know that that's not the plan. Jesus' redemptive work on the cross was not just a "free for all" ticket for people to do whatever they want. It is an invitation to a fresh start. I like the list on page 93 of the "glad instructions" that Christians should follow.

I also like the quote, "Christians are people who dress up like Christ, not because we want to deceive people into thinking we are better than we are, but because the only way we can become better than we are is by trying on our grownup clothes." The clothes are symbolism for virtues. Lately I have felt the need to grow in virtues or in character. You can talk the talk, but bottom line: if you're not living your beliefs, people discount you. If you're trying to lead someone to Christ by a beautiful description of the Gospel and then you start yelling at another friend, people can see through that, and they will tune out the Gospel in the name of hypocrisy.

Plantinga said that, "Everything corrupt needs to be redeemed." Then, of course, comes the question of an individual's calling within that massive mandate of redemption? Plantinga offered two sources of guidance: the Bible and Catechisms/ confessions. The last point is about discernment, about the importance of "testing the spirits," not just to seek wisdom for its own sake but because "it helps us find and follow our vocation within the kingdom of God." I was a little skeptical about the confessions and catechisms being put right alongside the Bible. Are these documents not just human works, subject to error and mistakes just like other things?

I really liked this chapter, and it was a humbling experience to try to read it from a different lens, a lens not of a jaded Christian but a hungry child.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Abolition of Man

I found chapters 1 and 2 of this book to be good background to properly understanding the 3rd (The Abolition of Man). In chapter 1, Lewis discussed negative aspects of a certain grammar book written by "Gaius and Titius" (obviously fictional names). Lewis did not have very nice things to say about this textbook, to say it lightly, such as the fact that these authors don't reference literature, wrongly overemphasize the emotional state of the characters, and dismiss all traditional values. Yet, Lewis believed that this type of education had far-reaching consequences. Lewis designated the term "the Tao" to represent the similar forms of morality that each culture and religion has generally adopted. Critical to the Tao is the necessity of objective value, that certain beliefs are true, and others are false.

Recent education has tried to scrap morality, and Lewis had a major problem with that. He wrote, "The operation of The Green Book (Gaius and Titius' book) is to produce what may be called Men without Chests," men whose chests are atrophied on the inside, lacking "fertile and generous emotion." In another way, he said, "We remove the organ and demand the function."

Chapter 2 is all about the moral/ natural law, which is described in the passage we read from Mere Christianity. I also noticed a lot of overlap from "The Poison of Subjectivism" essay. Thus, there is no use belaboring the point, but in essence: without any objective set of values, there is no point of debunking traditional morals without having objective values with which it is possible to compare.

In the first two chapters, it is all about the harm of taking morals out of education. I can appreciate Lewis' point here. Coming from U of M, I can totally see the harm of divorcing ethics from academics. Indeed, textbooks can contribute to the problem. I read a book once called When Jesus Came To Harvard by Harvey Cox, a Harvard prof, and it was very interesting. Harvard apparently was having problems with students' "ethics" and they required all students to take one ethics class. I've heard the same thing happening to all of the Ivy League schools. It is concerning. The quote we discussed in class today comes to mind, "Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make man a more clever devil."

Then there is chapter 3, The Abolition of Man. This amplifies chapters 1 and 2 into a serious caution about the implications of "valueless education." Lewis first brought up the term "Man's conquest of nature." He came to the conclusion that, "The final stage is come when Man by eugenics, by pre-natal conditioning, and by an education and propaganda based on a perfect applied psychology, has obtained full control over himself."

Education used to incorporate teachings of Tao (or the moral law), but now, "Values are now mere natural phenomenon." Now the "Conditioners" control what values to obey, and whatever Tao there is is a product, not the motive, of education. Without Tao at the center of teaching, "no conception of good can help them to decide," because there is no standard of comparison. Lewis boldly stated, "Man's final conquest has proved to be the abolition of Man." Worse yet, "Man's conquest of Nature turns out, in the moment of consummation, to be Nature's conquest of man."

Right now we are trying to have it both ways: to lay down our human prerogative and at the same time retain it. The choice is this, "Either we are rational spirit obliged for ever to obey the absolute values of the Tao, or else we are mere nature to be kneaded and cut into new shapes for the pleasures of masters who must, by hypothesis, have no motive but their own 'natural' impulses." This loss of natural law into education could lead to horrible consequences, since all moral values might be subjective.

Lewis even admitted, "I hardly know what I am asking for." Then later, he wrote, "Perhaps, I am asking impossibilities." He left the audience with the comment that, "To 'see through' all things is the same as not to see."

I think Lewis brought up a lot of good points, as usual, and I notice a similar logical style with which he wrote Mere Christianity and "The Poison of Subjectivism." I see Lewis' concerns, and certainly, in my time at U of M, I saw major concerns of valueless education. At the same time, I think Lewis brought a lot of abstract concepts into the 3rd chapter without really substantiating them or at least addressing that these were merely speculations. Also, chapter 2 to 3 seemed like a BIG leap, skipping too many important issues in between. You can't just logically jump from natural law to "the abolition of man." Lewis didn't have many constructive solutions to this problem.

I have grown up with secular humanism all around me, and I believe that Lewis was generalizing too much here. I know so many ethical, secular people who want to do the "right thing." In fact, these people are often more ethical than most Christians I know. Take my dad, for example, who is the most ethical person I've ever met in my life-- I've never heard him lie, swear, cheat anyone, steal, or gossip... and he's a self-professed humanistic agnostic! Many people don't believe in God, but they believe in an essential Tao. At U of M, the Christians on campus are a small minority, but the campus is HUGE into social justice and various social issues. People have a tendency to cling to a sense of right and wrong, with or without formal religion. I see Lewis' logic: that there are no value judgments, so people will do what they want and man will make itself instinct. But I think his speculations are misguided. There are many Christians who believe in Tao and read about Tao but don't do anything about it. Faith without deeds is dead, so I think Lewis needed to take into account the people who believe in Tao and don't practice it. Then, there are many non-Christians who are extremely ethical. I see so many non-Christians borrow from God's principles, who desire to see shalom penetrate the Earth, but they don't believe in God. Not everybody sees a lack of moral law and decided to do whatever they want because it's all subjective.

I don't think it's an education issue to try to make students more moral with different textbooks and educational curriculum. I think it's a heart issue. It's an issue that must be dealt with on a spiritual and emotional level. True, lasting, inward-motivated ethics cannot be shoved down students' throats. They must come with devotion and discipleship, a serious focus on the Author and Perfecter of our faith, and a desire to imitate Him.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Four Loves: Eros

Lewis defines Eros as what we call "being in love." I found it interesting that eros is not just sexuality because sexual experience can occur without Eros. In fact, Eros includes other things besides sexual activity. Lewis differentiated Eros from Venus, the carnal or animally sexual element from within Eros. He makes sure to note that the absence of Eros in sex doesn't make sex "impure." After all, most ancestors came to marriage not with Eros but with animal desire. Lewis ruled out mere sexuality as "irrelevant to our purpose."

Evolution would suggest that Eros grows out of Venus, but that is not always the case. Lewis said that "what comes first is simply a delighted pre-occupation with the beloved," with less concentration on sex than "the fact that she is herself." The difference can be expressed in this way, "Sexual desire, without Eros, wants it, the thing in itself: Eros wants the Beloved." Eros "makes a man really want, not a woman, but one particular woman." This type of love transforms a Need-pleasure into "the most Appreciative of all pleasures." Lewis further differentiates Eros and Venus, "Without Eros sexual desire, like every other desire, is a fact about ourselves. Within Eros it is rather about the Beloved." Despite Eros' pleasure, however, is a by-product and not the reason for it.

Lewis then addressed the misconception that Eros is most noble or pure when Venus is reduced to the minimum. When Paul says it is better to not be married, he fears the pre-occupation of marriage and the need to constantly "please" someone else rather than sex itself. Thus, it is marriage itself, not the marriage bed, that will hinder us from spending time with God. I found this passage especially interesting because this idea has been alive and well throughout church history. Christians over the years have remained single under the false pretense that they are "pure" without sex, when it's not about that. In fact, Eros makes abstinence easier because it is not a sensual pre-occupation. Lewis commented that we have taken Venus too seriously (or at least not seriously in the right way). There is a "solemnization" of sex.

Sex is serious, Lewis writes, for four reasons:
1. This is the body's share in marriage which is the "mystical image of the union between God and Man."
2. It is a Pagan or natural sacrament of the natural forces of life and fertility.
3. Morally, there are obligations involved (ex. parenthood).
4. It has an emotional seriousness in the minds of the participants.

Yet, other things are "serious" without having to be treated as totally solemn. Thus, Lewis believes that "we must not be totally serious about Venus." Further, he made the point that, "Banish play and laughter from the bed of love and you may let in a false goddess." It is a divine joke that "a passion so soaring" as Eros should be linked with a "bodily appetite" along the lines of weather, health, and diet. Lewis believes that, "It is a bad thing not to be able to take a joke."

He then described three views man has taken of the body:
1. Ascetic Pagans who called the body the prison or "tomb" of the soul and Christians who thought the body was a "sack of dung"
2. Neo-Pagans who believe the body to be glorious.
3. St. Francis called his body "Brother Ass," a view which Lewis supports, "There's no living with it (the body) until we recognize that one of its functions in our lives is to play the part of buffoon." An error is that Eros should always be serious and permanently abolish the joke.

Lewis then turned to the issue of headship, a topic that continues to strike controversy in the present day. He wrote, "The husband is the head of the wife just in so far as he is to her what Christ is to the Church. He is to love her as Christ loved the Church-- and give his life for her." Thus, marriage is like a crucifixion. I am open about my skepticism concerning "headship," but for the time, I wonder if Lewis was considered to be a feminist. Certainly his comments would have been considered too liberal for his time, in which hardly any women were allowed to enter a ministry field. Even though I still believe the section on page 148-9 contains modern chauvinism, I respect Lewis for addressing this topic in a fresh way for his time.

A major problem with Eros is if people treat it as if it is a god. Lewis entreated us to "not give unconditional obedience to the voice of Eros when he speaks most like a god." Indeed, "being in love" seems to become a sort of religion. He said that, "The real danger seems to me not that the lovers will idolize each other but that they will idolize Eros himself."

I found Lewis' arguments interesting, but honestly, I don't have much to say more on this topic. I am neither experienced nor lucky in relationships, so I think to have further insight, I would need to be in a serious relationship and/ or married. I believe that the church has indeed made sex a "solemn" practice when it shouldn't be, but at the same time, I think in some cases the church has gone too far. I know churches (well, okay, I'm thinking of one specific church) that concentrate waaaaaaaaay too much on sex and not enough on other issues. There needs to be a balance between "Let's pretend sex doesn't exist" and "Sex is the most important issue we should address." The "abstinence programs" where students get an "abstinence ring" are just as likely to have sex at younger ages. There shouldn't just be rules about sex: there should be theology behind it, coupled with discipleship. Finger-wagging doesn't help and could just enforce students to eat this "forbidden fruit." When I am married or in a long-term relationship, perhaps I will revisit this chapter and find it to be more meaningful.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Learning in War-Time

This article is culturally conditioned, about the value of education even when there's this huge war going on. At the same time, it has universal truths applicable to all time periods. During the war, C.S. Lewis first questioned whether education during war-time was "like fiddling while Rome burns."

Lewis then asked a very thought-provoking question, "We can see that every Christian who comes to a university must at all times face a question compared with which the questions raised by the war are relatively unimportant. He must ask himself how it is right,
or even psychologically possible, for creatures who are every moment advancing either to heaven or to hell, to spend any fraction of the little time allowed them in this world on such comparative trivialities as literature or art, mathematics or biology. If human culture can stand up to that, it can stand up to anything." In another spot, he wrote that we always must answer, "How can you be so frivolous and selfish as to think about anything but the salvation of human souls/ but the war?" Sometimes I wonder that myself, and in the last blog, I stated that one of my churches encouraged people to live with an eternal perspective, focusing on saving souls and the Bible. This church would value college education, but primarily for students to be missionaries to other college students. I don't know what I think about all that, but Lewis' insights were fascinating to me!

I love C.S. Lewis' answer, "The war creates no absolutely new situation: it simply aggravates the permanent humansituation so that we can no longer ignore it... If men had postponed the search for knowledge and beauty until they were secure the search would never have begun." Very true. Lewis went on to say that "it is clear that Christianity does not exclude any of the ordinary human activities," quoting Paul's command for people "to get on with their jobs." Then, continuing on, "All of our merely natural activities will be accepted, if they are offered to God, even the jumblest: and all of them, even the noblest, will be sinful if they are not." Lewis said that education "is not the only road to God, nor the safest, but we find it to be a rouad, and it may be the appointed road for us." At the same time, Lewis cautioned about the harms of intellect to pursue one's own glory rather than God's.

Another interesting point he brought up is, "If all the world were Christian, it might not matter if all the world were uneducated... Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered." That's an interesting point because as Christians were are called to live IN the world but not OF the world. I think Christians who retreat from society are not obeying the "cultural mandate," as Plantinga might stay. The Bible is eternal truth, but it also is embedded in the culture of the time. Today, our intellectual philosophies cannot be avoided by Christians. We, as Christians, should be right inside the culture, reforming it from within, and that includes academics.

Lewis then talked about how students could counter arguments that they should be concentrating solely on the war. He warned, "Do not let your nerves and emotions lead you into thinking your present predicament more abnormal than it really is." Lewis wrote about three "enemies" that war raises against the scholar:
1. Excitement- the tendency to think and feel about the war when we had intended to think about our work (counter: the war has only aggravated an old enemy)
2. Frustration- the feeling that we shall not have time to finish (counter: we should leave futurity in God's hands)
3. Fear- war threatens with death and pain (counter: maybe we should be aware of our mortality).

In conlcusion, Lewis said, "But if we thought that for soe souls, and at soe times, the life of learning, humbly offered to God, was, in its own sall way, one of the appointed approaches to the Divine reality and the Divine beauty which we hope to enjoy hereafter, we can think so still." In other words, he believed learning during war-time was legitimate (although it would have been really funny if he had gone the other way, him being a professor and all...). Overall, I liked Lewis' points here, especially about the value of Christians being educated.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Plantinga Chapter 5 Vocation in the Kingdom of God

I actually LOVED this chapter!!!!!!!! It actually intertwined perfectly with the chapel message today. It is so true that although we want "the coming of the kingdom of God," Plantinga challenges Christians that our actions don't really show it. " 'Your kingdom come,' they say, 'but not right away.' " So true-- and I am just as guilty of that as the next person.

The concept of "kingdoms inside kingdoms" is interesting, BUT Plantinga says, "Below God, there are also presidents, prime ministers, chairmen, chiefs and shahs. In fact, to some extent we are all rulers just because God has created us in his own image to have 'responsible dominion.' " The point is that we all have "little kingdoms." I know Calvin believed governments were ordained by God (in fact Calvin said it was the "most sacred" and "most honorable" vocation), but I am skeptical about that. Government corruption and Christianity have sadly been intertwined in too many circumstances. For example, the Lutheran church in Germany supported Hitler's regime because they thought the government was ordained by God. Part of that skepticism comes from reading Shane Claiborne's Jesus for President and having listened to many Mars Hill sermons on empire.

The chapel message today was "Walking by Hope," and one of the assistant chaplains discussed the misconceptions of the kingdom of God. Hearing about the kingdom of God is so esoteric and confusing. Often, Christians see the kingdom of God as a far off ethereal cloud. In reality, Plantinga and the chapel message discuss the kingdom as NEAR, at hand, as we partner with God to restore shalom to our broken planet. In one particular church I attended, the emphasis was on ditching this planet and saving as many souls as possible in the meantime. We were told to "think eternally," or concentrate on getting people to Heaven and read the Bible. The kingdom is coming HERE; we're not escaping to some far place. As Plantinga said, to be a "Christ person" is to be a "kingdom person," but each of us has a different vocation in forwarding God's kingdom.

Vocation is indeed more than a job or career, and college is more than just job training. I came to college having no idea what I was going to study, and I prayed a lot that God would show me what He would want me to do. There are so many things to do for God, so many ways to help the "least of these." I love the quote on page 118 by Frederick Buechner, "The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet." But, as I heard in a sermon last week, Christians get burnt out when they do the well-meaning work that God doesn't call them to do. I thought that I wanted to study psychology and help others with my knowledge and insight into the topic, but then I realized that I really wasn't passionate about it. Just because the job needs to be done doesn't mean I'm the one who needs to be doing it. I love the quote from Joseph Hall, "God loveth adverbs; and cares not how good, but how well."

An interesting point is that although "a prime citizen of the kingdom of God yearns for shalom," additionally "non-Christians often yearn for at least part of it too." It is true that, "A person wdoes not have to believe in Christ in order, unconsciously, to do a part of Christ's work in the wolrd." I think it is cool that Plantinga addresses this point. It reminds me of a book I recently read called Jim and Casper Go To Church, in which a seasoned pastor took an atheist to all of these churches to see what he thought of them. This atheist was criticizing megachurches for not being interested enough in social justice. My secular Jewish dad has very strong morals, stronger morals than I have and I follow Christ. Plantinga discussed "secular education" related to Christian educaiton, which had particular interest to me, having transferred from a big powerhouse public university. U of M students desire "shalom" with or without religion. The campus is constantly protesting, engaging in the community, and giving back to others. At the same time, secular universities can be extremely harmful for Christians. Maybe there is activism going on the exterior, but the interior is far from honoring to Christ. I can vouch 100% that "in secular academia, religious approaches to learning are generally unwelcome." Meta-narratives are often "forbidden" or rejected under the influence of postmodernity. Secular schools also "promote a secular view of the world and of human life, routinely giving students the impression that theistic accounts of reality have become passe... that educated people don't think about them much." That is all so accurate. I tried to study religion at U of M, and it was the hardest, most infuriating challenge I have met. People are influenced by their surroundings, and if you are fed 8 hours a day with secular humanism, maybe you're going to all the right church activities, but it will be very difficult to prevent the secular atmosphere to permeat into your own life.

Now, there are definitely Christians on the UM campus, I can assure you. They are strong Christians, growing in the Lord, reading the Word, vibrant, and passionate. Yet, I agree that "for most Christian students mainstream higher education simply won't be able to help them understand the kingdom of God and their own vocation in it."

Plantinga talked a bit about the Core Curriculum and the role of Christian education in helping students find their vocations. I love this quote on page 128 by Richard Foster, "Superficiality is the curse of our age. The doctrine of instant satisfaction is a primary spiritual problem. The desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people." Amen!!! Honestly, I have struggled with that in Grand Rapids. In Ann Arbor, people are openly like, "Yeah, I have serious problems. I am messed up." Here, I find this level of superificiality, similar to that of my hometown, but this superificiality has a pious bend to it. I feel like I should be happy all of the tiem because I'm a Christian, like my life should be great, I shouldn't be upset at all, and I should NOT sin. Sometimes I feel alienated, as if I'm the only one with struggles because people are so detached from their own brokenness.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Plantinga Chapter 3: The Fall

I probably integrated some of this chapter into the creation section because they are in many ways intertwined, but here goes anyway. The fall... one of the most told Bible stories. We all know it. Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate the one thing they weren't supposed to eat (whoops...). For the record, yes, Eve did eat first, but Adam was just standing there next to her and she was like, "Hey Adam, do you want any of this?" And he was like, "Of course." So the next time you blame Eve, Adam wasn't much better. He was sitting right there. I like Dante's quote that Adam and Eve probably didn't last three hours in Eden. Why? Apparently even the first people had the curiosity of the unknown. In 7th grade I really wanted to watch the T.V. show Friends, but my mom didn't let me because it was too "inappropriate." I was so mad, and as much as I could, I would sneak upstairs to watch it. I didn't even like the show, but the prospect of the "forbidden pleasure" just allured me. When I was finally allowed to watch Friends, I had no desire to. That same thought process was in place with Adam and Eve. Then Plantinga discussed the implications of evil in the world, as the "absence of shalom" trickled into every part of the world. Sin is "culpable evil" that offends and betrays God. Since this fatal day in the garden of Eden, history is "in large part, the interplay of this light and shadow," a war between good and evil.

Plantinga then talked about corruption. Our own corruption corrupts not only ourselves but others, too. The basic Reformed position is in the T of Tulip: total depravity. As we discussed in class, however, "total depravity" doesn't mean that we are 100% evil 100% of the time. Plantinga wrote, "Even in a fallen world, ordinary practice ordinary kindness every day." This goodness is due to the Holy Spirit, but apparently the Holy Spirit can work in non-Christians as well. John Calvin coined Common Grace as "the goodness of God shown to all, regardless of faith, consisting of natural blessings, restraint of corruption, seeds of religion and political order, and a host of civilizing and humanizing impulses, patterns, and traditions." As I brought up in our class discussion, this predicament is evident in society, that "worldly people are often better than we expect, and church people are often worse... much worse." I agree. I love the story Donald Miller tells in his memoir Blue Like Jazz. He and some college friends set up a confession booth in the campus square. Instead of having people confess their sins, however, the Christians sat down with people and confessed their sins and sins of the church. The church has a lot of sins to confess. I found it ironic that I went on a cruise with 16 Jewish people, who acted so loving, caring, insert fruit of the spirit... than my "holier than thou" Christian (now ex) boyfriend. Of course, this pervasive depravity is not from God but from Satan, who tempts us (but we are the ones who give in!).

I like the majority of what Plantinga has to say, but the "total depravity" notion makes me nervous. I have never heard another side of the theological debate on this issue, so I don't know what else I might believe, but for some reason, this doctrine doesn't seem comprehensive to me. Depravity is not the end of the story (redemption is... which is our next chapter). Therefore, presenting this chapter without presenting redemption as well is a perversion of the Christian message. So to be continued when I discuss chapter 4.

The Poison of Subjectivism

It was just two years ago when I learned about moral relativism. Of course I had experienced some of the modern/ post-modern tension before, but I never knew it had a name. In the last few years, I have grown quite aware of the modern/ post-modern cultural shift that is permeating every part of our society... including the Church. Talking about religion with non-believers, I often heard come up: "If that's what works for you, that's great." "Whatever is true for you is fine." Do you realize how difficult it is talking to people about a concrete belief system when they seem to find your moral convictions relative? I got so frustrated dancing around in circles in religious conversations. U of M's religious is a "do not judge" type of secular humanism. You could think or do whatever you wanted... you could have a 6 foot vagina in your hallway, have a pot-smoking festival, or run a race naked (yes, Ann Arbor does have those things). The only thing you couldn't think is that you couldn't do whatever you wanted, that there is definable, objective truth. Ironic.

Then I started getting into some literature by people from the emerging church, which sent me into a theological crisis. The past few years, I've digested articles, podcasts, and books on the emerging church, and over and over I see the church struggling with postmodernity. The church is clinging on to objective truth claims, but a certain wing of the church is going, "Let's not be so fast to say we have the truth. Jesus did say not to judge. Who are we to say that what people do is wrong? Let's just love like Jesus loved and follow Him."

Interesting that C.S. Lewis wrote about subjectivism before this whole emerging church debate even came up. With this idea, logic becomes "merely subjective," as "there is no reason for supposing that it yields truth." Lewis truthfully said judgments began to be treated as "sentiments, or complexes, or attitudes, produced in a community by the pressure of its environment and its traditions, and differing from one community to another." To counter this, Lewis turned to Hitler: is what Hitler did wrong? Um, yeah. If nothing can be judged, however, and morality is all relative, then who is to say that the Holocaust is wrong? Why is there an instinct to "preserve our species" at all?

Lewis wrote two propositions concerning this:
1. The human mind can't invent new values
2. Every attempt to do so consists in arbitrarily selecting some one maxim of traditional morality, isolating it, and promoting it

Then Lewis went into the problems with moral subjectivism in his typical rational socratic method. I agree with everything Lewis argued here, and I think our society seriously needs to hear his message. I don't want to go into any more details because this part of the essay is not really what struck me.

I found it most interesting that Lewis then turned to the dangers of subjectivism in the church. One thing I'd like to note is that Lewis referenced "Flatlanders" at one point and I got really excited. I had never heard the theory of Flatland until Rob Bell presented it in his new tour, Everything is Spiritual. I can't believe no one brings Flatland up anymore! Anyway... I love these points,

"A Christianity which does not see moral and religious experience converging to meet at infinity... has nothing to divide it from devil worship; and a philosophy which does not accept value as eternal and objective can lead us only to ruin."

"The very idea of freedom presupposes some objective moral law which overarches rulers and ruled alike. Subjectivism about values is eternally incompatible with democracy... But if there is no Law of Nature, the ethos of any society is the creation of its rulers, educators and conditioners; and every creator stands above and outside his creaiton."

Lewis obviously goes into tremendous detail with the implications of subjective ideas, and it is easy to get lost into details. Essentially, however, Lewis thought that post-modernism, subjectivism, moral relativism, etc. were VERY dangerous. He said these things in the essay:

"Unless we return to the crude and nursery like belief in objective values, we perish."

"Out of this apparently innocent idea (subjectivism) comes the disease that will certain end our species (and, in my view, damn our souls) if it is not crushed; the fatal superstition that men can create values, that a community can choose its 'ideology' as men choose their clothes."

You rarely find people who are so-so about the modernism/ post-modernism shift in society. People are either extremely angry toward these "post-modern relativists" or they're extremely angry toward this "judgmental narrow-mindedness." Part of the emerging church trend in our culture is the reaction against the excessively "modern" evangelical Christianity. By that I mean that Christians can get too caught up in truth propositions and forget that Jesus did say that we shouldn't be pulling specks out of people's eyes when there was a log in our's. The church struggles with judgment. Oh, I'll admit, I struggle with judgment. When is it okay to call someone out? When is it okay to speak up? Will we come across as arrogant? Judgmental? Are Christians too judgmental? I think there is a definite answer to that: yes. The emerging church tries to go back to the "do not judge" mindset, but unfortunately that can lead to an "anything goes" subjectivism. Where is the balance?

I come back to Francis Shaeffer's theory of "speaking the truth in love." As I heard Shane Claiborne say once, you can have all the right Christian viewpoints, but you can still be mean. Who wants to listen to that? As Christians, we must emphasize objectivity integrated with love. It's not either or: either we accept everyone and make sin permissable OR we judge all sin we see because they need to hear it. Why is it not both? We should be uncompromising on truth but also loving- I would show you to Shaeffer on more of this subject.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Mere Christianity

Mere Christianity is another one of those books that I own and have tried to read, but it's hard to get through. I read the selection assigned, however, and was delighted. I actually really enjoyed the prologue. Lewis made clear that, "You will not learn from me whether you ought to become an Anglican, a Methodist, a Presbyterian, or a Roman Catholic." Lewis wasn't pushing his church affiliation's particular agenda; he was simply attempting to explain Christianity to his "unbelieving neighbors." An interesting point he made was, "Our divisons should never be discussed except in the presence of those who have already come to believe that there is one God and that Jesus Christ is His only Son." Unfortunately, those divisions are disclosed way too much for non-Christians. How many denominations are there, after all? I think thousands... that shows unbelievers that this one religion can't seem to agree on almost anything (case in point: baptism- dunk vs. sprinkle, imagine being a Muslim and hearing about churches splitting over that). I also like how Lewis agreed that "there are quesdtions at issue between Christians to which I do not think we have been told the answer." Many Christians feel like they need to be experts in answering all questions of the faith. It takes humility to say, "I don't know what God thinks about that." Lewis went to meticulous means to ensure that the book would present "an agreed, or common, or central, or 'mere' Christianity." With so much we Christians disagree on, it is necessary to come back together and think about what is important. People are prone to bitter theological arguments (and I am NOT exempting myself from this-- I am pretty bad at not getting riled up). Rob Bell said once that in the middle of a heated discussion, he started just saying, "Wait, wait. Do we agree that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who came to reconcile us to God?" "Um, yes." "Okay, so we agree on the important things. The rest is just icing on the cake."

I found Lewis' analogy of the church being like a hall quite interesting and different denominations being different doors. The statement that really hit me is this, "The hall is a place to wait in, a place from whic to try the various doors, not a place to live in." I've struggled a lot trying to find a "home" denomination. I am a Protestant mutt, and in fact, I fit in much better at large, nondenominational churches. In fact, I think we are entering a post-denominational era (another subject for another time). With less denominational labels on churches, it's hard to gage where certain churches stand. I still have yet to find a church where I'm like "YES, I agree with the majority of stuff here!" Sometimes I get frustrated that I can't seem to be satisfied with a particular church, and Lewis addressed that in an interesting way (still talking about the hall), "But you must regard it as waiting, not as camping." My issue is this: how do I know what church is the "right" one? How do I camp? I feel like I just roam around to different rooms, sitting inside for a while and leaving. It leaves me feeling alienated from the church and displaced from the body of Christ, like a refugee. But that is just something I need to continue working out.

So now onto the actual book chapters 1-4. I really liked Lewis' "engineering mind" approach, as we discussed in class. First, Lewis talks about the law of human nature, then what the law of human nature is, then the reality of the law, and then what lies behind the law. His thought process is truly fascinating. It reminds me of geometry (shudder) when we did proofs. It's like Lewis took one step, explained reasonably and rationally, moved on, etc. I have many non-Christian friends and family, so my automatic thought when reading apologetics is if this material would be useful in sharing with them.

People are not Christian for many reasons. Some busy themselves with other thoughts to avoid even thinking about God. This book would not be helpful to them because they don't think they need God and they frankly don't care about a moral law or anything else. Others have intellectual questions and have logical, philosophical minds, and this book would be PERFECT for those people. In other words, I think Mere Christianity is a GREAT tool for truth-seeking non-believers and even as an evangelical training tool for Christians. At the same time, however, people come to Christ in different ways, and this is just one tool that God can use to soften hearts. For an intellectual, skeptical audience, these chapters were absolutely great.

The Screwtape Letters- Letter XII

I must confess that I have owned C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters for a few years now and have tried to read it but could not. The same happened with Mere Christianity. I don't know why it is difficult for me to get into those books, so it was good for me to be assigned a letter from The Screwtape Letters. Maybe I just needed some motivation.

This letter is about "Uncle Screwtape" writing to his "dear Wormwood" about how to lure his Christian "patient" into rejecting Christianity. Basically, this is a fictional story in which these guys are employed by the devil to turn people away from God. Obviously, this strategy is effective because it encourages a Christian to get a glimpse of the "other side." As Beth Moore said once, there are two problems with Christian approaches to Satan: 1. The demonic world is not addressed, and 2. It is addressed way too much. I am not an expert on Christianity during the time when C.S. Lewis wrote, but I have a hunch that The Screwtape Letters was innovative for its time. I grew up in an Episcopal church, and C.S. Lewis was Anglican, so if that upbringing was anything like mine, the devil was completely ignored. Probably people were shocked when this book came out. I have been to churches that both overemphasize and underemphasize Satan, and I can attest to the danger of both extremes. The Screwtape Letters is a valuable resource for Christians who might be skeptical about the devil (French poet Baudelaire apparently said according to that, "The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he doesn’t exist"). At the same time, Christians shouldn't talk ONLY about the devil and his schemes because that gives Satan too much glory.

The letter we read is about lukewarm Christianity. Screwtape and Wormwood want to know, "How can we turn a devout Christian away from God?" They decide to tempt the Christian with making different choices, having different habits, and accumulating small sins all of which amount to a spiritual "snowball effect." As Screwtape writes at the end of the letter, "But do remember, the only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from the enemy. It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effective is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing... Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one." So true.

"Lukewarm behavior" comes from Revelation 3:15-16- "So, because you are lukewar-- neither hot nor cold-- I am about to spit you out of my mouth." Lukewarm Christianity is quite familiar to me as I grew up in a post-Christian suburb. I might argue that it's one of the biggest problems in Christianity today. I would like to address two aspects of "lukewarm Christianity" because people are raised in different ways and have different religious experiences. The question of "How does a devout Christian fall away from God?" is a loaded one.

1. I grew up in a "lukewarm Christian" atmosphere, but it wasn't as if people had fallen away from faith. They had never really been passionate about their faith in the first place. My peers usually went to church... until confirmation, when their parents didn't make them go anymore. My own brother went to church for 18 years and started at the University of Michigan this fall and refuses to go to church or even talk about Christianity. I guess these Christians might also be called "nominal Christians" or "deists," but I think the "lukewarm Christian" model applies here still. So many people I know believe that Jesus is the son of God, etc. but that's it for them. Faith is not dynamic; they have no relationship with God. When I was in Europe, I went to HUGE cathedrals with almost no one in them. It breaks my heart. Christianity has become "cultural" in so many parts of the world and many have substituted a vibrant, rich faith life for a stale one hour on Sunday, if that. Lewis doesn't really address this in the letter we read, but I still think the devil is working there.

2. The other kind of "lukewarm" is what is more familiar to Grand Rapids (it was totally foreign to me before I first came here). There are statistics that claim that many young Christians fall away from their faith, and it is a huge concern. It's raising huge alarms in the church. How could active youth-group participants and dedicated church-goers just fall away from their faith later on? What might possess that to happen? Right now the "College Transition Project" through Fuller Seminary's Youth Institute is striving to answer that question. But before this project, Lewis addressed this issue in letter XII of The Screwtape Letters.

I grew up knowing no real "passionate" Christians, so the thought of passionate Christians falling away just made no sense to me until high school. I still don't have very much insight into this topic, but from what I gather, Lewis' analysis is astute. It is the little things that matter, the little, everyday habits and choices that accumulate. The main warning I get out of this is BEWARE of the devil's schemes and always be on guard!!!! It is never safe to just "chill" at a certain point spiritually and not devote much effort to improving because that is a potential spot of weakness. I see a parallel between falling away from Christianity and addictions. Let's say you are an alcoholic. If you make one bad decision and drink again, it is so easy to just pick up that bottle one more time. And once you do it once, you feel this momentary rush and the urges get stronger and more frequent. Pretty soon, you've relapsed. I would argue that sin is an addiction. Each little sin "just one sip" just whets our appetite for MORE. Therefore, I would advise Christians to never settle or compromise because it is in all these little decisions that the battle is made.

The Weight of Glory: Afterthoughts

I have been thinking over what I wrote yesterday and have been processing it with the class discussion and with a friend last night. Concerning my last few paragraphs, I think I projected a lot of my own questions and confusions onto the text. I was reading a lot into things and beginning to open a can of worms on a whole other topic (how should a Christian live?). I read over what I wrote at the end of the last posting, and I would like to clarify a few things.

Heaven is REAL and talking about it is fine... the issue is with what the end of the essay says, which apparently I didn't read carefully enough:

"That being so, it may be asked what practical use there is in the speculations [about the nature of eternal life] which I have been indulging. I can think of at least one such use. It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbour. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbour’s glory should be laid on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal."

Basically, talking about Heaven is not bad, but overtalking about it is, and that's I guess the point I was trying to make. Talking about Heaven is fine, but there needs to be application along with it. What does all this talking mean for us today? In this paragraph Lewis does a good job wrapping it up by saying that we should view people in this eternal lense, seeing others as people in whom God's glory "is truly hidden." I just wanted to make that point clear after my random rampage in the last few paragraphs of "The Weight of Glory" blog.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Weight of Glory

I really enjoyed this essay. It was very thought provoking and addressed a topic that is often avoided: glory. There are several awesome quotes in this essay which have been quoted in Plantinga. I mentioned this quote in a previous entry:

1. "If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday by the sea. We are far too easily pleased."

Then there are some other good ones:

2. "I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you—the secret which hurts
so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both."

3. "The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would strongly be tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another.... There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal."

Apparently "The Weight of Glory" was a sermon preached at a church, the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Oxford, in 1942. People conceive of Heaven in different ways. One is addressed in the beginning of quote #1. The physicality of the body is a much neglected idea in Christianity. Too often the age-old Gnosticism comes up in which we reject the physical and embrace only the spiritual. In reality, we are physical AND spiritual beings. The point of the Christian life is not to spend 23 hours a day reading the Bible and then we die and go to a magical land far away. Jesus came to bring the Kingdom HERE to Earth, and it is biblically clear that we're going to have new bodies in Heaven. Lewis wrote that everlasting life is "the very consummation of their earthly discipleship; but we who have not yet attained it cannot know this in the same way, and cannot even begin to know it at all except by continuing to obey and finding the first reward of our obedience in our increasing power to desire the ultimate reward." Basically, he is saying here that we were made for Heaven, but we can't really understand it right now. I believe Lewis is right on here. We were created for something more, and we know it deep inside, but the world attempts to stifle it. As Lewis writes, "Almost our whole education has been directed to silencing this shy, persistent, inner voice," leading us to falsely think that "the good of man is to be found on this earth."

He grouped the promises of Scripture into 5 "heads:"
1. We will be with Christ
2. We will be like Him
3. We will have glory
4. We will be fed, feasted, or entertained
5. We'll have some sort of official position in the universe-- ruling cities, judging angels, being pillar of God's temples

The word "glory" has many different connotations. Lewis described his two reactions to glory: it means fame or luminosity to him. So if we will someday have glory in Heaven, does that mean we will be famous? That inference presumes vain satisfaction that God will "appreciate" what we've done based on its own merit, when in reality, we enter the Kingdom of God as a child. Our works and our glory and me, me, me is totally wrong from a Heavenly perspective. It is about GOD, not us. As Lewis put it, "How God thinks of us is not only more important, but infinitely more important. Indeed, how we think of Him is of no importance except in so far as it is related to how He thinks of us." We can't understand what this glory will be like, and maybe we're not meant to.

Keats described glory as "the journey homeward to habitual self." Lewis brought up examples of beauty, like music, art, or whatever and said that there is something within us that feels something more, but, that we have an "indescribable something of which they become for a moment the messengers." Eventually, in our future state of glory, Lewis believed that, "The door on which we have been knocking all our lives will open at last."

Lewis also conceived the word "glory" as to mean "brightness." I found this very interesting, "At the present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendours we see. But all the leave of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in." At the end of time, I agree with Lewis' assertion that we will "eat from the tree of life" and drink from the "fountain of joy."

Heaven is interesting to discuss, but we can't understand a whole lot of it and it's way in the future and cryptic for a reason. Right now we should be living for today during the time God has given to us. Thus, I liked Lewis' conclusion that wrapped up the question, "What does our future glory have anything to do with how we should be today?" Lewis correctly said that "following Him (God/Jesus) is, of course, the essential point." This is the point at which Lewis wrote quote #3. It is true that "there are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal." As we discussed in class the other day, we are all princes and princesses of the King. Do I treat my neighbors as prince and princesses? That would be a definite no. Lewis wrote that we should have "no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption" over others. We should also have "real and costly love" for people rather than "mere tolerence or indulgence which parodies love." The essay ends with, "If he is your Christian neighbour he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat-- the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden."

Overall I found the essay lovely and moving, especially the last part. As for my last posting rampage craziness, I was thinking about what kind of a confused Christian I am. I grew up Episcopalian, with Jewish relatives, started going to an evangelical church in college, worked at a Presbyterian church, went to St. Mary's Catholic Church for youth group and sometimes to services, then I spent the summer in the Holy Lands doing Anglican devotions, plus I've read books and listened to podcasts of Christians all across the spectrum, and then this last semester I went to Mars Hill. Now I'm starting to go to Crossroads Bible Church. So basically, I am very confused. And inconsistent. I can see every side of theological issues, but most of the time I have no idea what side I'm on. I seriously need to commit to a church and be consistent about it (it's hard when you're in college and keep moving around....). My reason for saying this is:

1. Some of my theology may come across at evangelical, some of it may seem emerging-church influenced, etc. I'm all over the board. Hopefully I'll get myself straightened out sometime.
2. What I've heard about Heaven has clashed-- different people/ churches have told me different things. Growing up I really never heard anything about Heaven. In my church at UM, Heaven was really important. In fact, doing beach evangelism with this church, the big question was, "If you were to die tonight, how sure are you you'd go to Heaven?" It seemed sometime that the "Jesus prayer" was like a "golden ticket" to Heaven and we needed to give as many people the "golden ticket" as we could. Mars Hill was the total opposite. The emphasis was on here and now bringing the Kingdom to Earth, and we'll deal with Heaven when it comes. Paul talks about having an "eternal perspective" and that we should be first and foremost "citizens of Heaven." I guess this doesn't have that much to do with "The Weight of Glory," but it's still something that confuses me. It all relates to an issue with which I've struggled for a few years now, "How then shall we live? What should the Christian life be about?" Is it about sending people to Heaven or is about bringing Heaven to Earth? Or both? And if so, what is the ratio? It's not just me; I think Christians are really confused about this or at least inconsistent. I could go on and on about this, but I'll probably just confuse myself more, so back to "The Weight of Glory."

I swear, the above processing does have at least a little to do with this essay. I LOVED what C.S. Lewis had to say, but a lot of the "future glory" material is constrained by our finite human knowledge. Thus, should we even devote time and energy to describing what we can't describe? As Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, eternity has been planted in our hearts, and should we stop there? The church I've been going to might say that Christians wrongly hope for Heaven and think about that a lot, but they don't realize that Heaven is coming here, starting right now (theologically based on Jesus' kingdom parables). Thus, the attitude of "I'll fly away oh glory, I'll fly away" is totally off base. I think my big problem is that I have part emerging church, part evangelical, non-denominational theology (having gone to both types of churches in the last year). I guess right now I'm living in that tension of not really knowing what to think about Heaven.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Plantinga Chapter 5 Creation

For people who are not familiar with the DCM format of the class: I realized that I never clarified that the Plantinga Engaging God's World entries are not based off of Lewis writings. Rather, I am in Calvin's required DCM (Developing a Christian Mind) class, and while my section is C.S. Lewis-themed, all of the sections are required to read this book by Cornelius Plantinga, the president of Calvin Seminary called Engaging God's world. Thus, I have entries about C.S. Lewis mostly but also based off of chapters from this book.

Plantinga divides the world's "drama" into three sequences: creation, fall, and redemption. The chapter on which I will be commenting is creation. I know this sounds very pompous, but I think I have been presented with most of the concepts of this chapter already. That was my first impulse reading it, and I figure if that's how I really feel, I should admit it outfront. Of course, my next thought was, "Well, if I know everything, am I really living this doctrine?" The answer is a resounding no. I find that as I study theology, there is an increasing danger that the more I learn, the more I become arrogant that "I already know this stuff." Sometimes when I try to open up the Bible, I'm like, "I already know what's going to happen here, why bother?" That is such a dangerous instinct. As we discussed in historical theology last semester, there is a huge difference between knowing God and knowing about God. Devotion should never be sacrificed for Bible study. I need to strive after humility, like it says in Philippians 2 (but not the part of it that Plantinga quotes on page 19 but the verses before that).

Overall, I think Plantinga's discussion on the subject is good. I like his emphases on Jesus' existence in the beginning of creation and the "perichoresis," or relational dance of God. In other words, God wasn't lonely and said, "Hey, I'm bored, how about I create some humans?" God has community in Himself, with the interaction between the Father, Son, and Spirit. Thus, within God's oneness, there is this three-fold sense of community. The Trinity is so often misunderstood or confusing to the point where it is sometimes not addressed at all. Plantinga does a splendid job of describing the Trinitarian view of Scripture. It reminds me of a Rob Bell DVD I got for Christmas, Everything is Spiritual. At Mars Hill, Rob Bell has also talked in length about the Trinity.

As Plantinga writes, "creation is neither a necessity nor an accident." I love what he says about the "poetic chapters" of Genesis 1, "These highly poetic chapters do not teach us zoology, but they do teach us something important. The chapters teach us that God loves creation. God celebrates creation. God even plays with his creation." To that, I would give a resounding AMEN! I have met one person before who was OBSESSED with "6 day, 24 hour new earth creation," this riddiculous doctrine that states that God made the world in exactly 6 days with each day having 24 hours... and by the way, the earth is only 4,000 years old. I think that's not only absurd but totally not the point. Genesis is not a science text; indeed, it shows that God loves creation. Genesis puts this idea in a loving, poetic way, but Genesis is not a science textbook! Anyway, end of rant.

Then comes the discussion on Genesis 1:26-28, the command for Adam and Eve to "have dominion over" the earth. For some reason I am cautious with Plantinga's argument on page 29, "This is the place in the story where Calvinist and other activist Christians take a cue to go to work. There's so much to do in the world-- so much caretaking and earthkeeping, so much filling and multiplying, so much culture to create." I have heard that argument and embrace that idea in a form, but to me, it sounds like the Earth is like our playhouse and we get to play house as long as we pick up after ourselves. Now, I admit, people have taken for granted the doctrine of creation by hurting the earth environmentally, etc. Plantinga then discusses the implications of creation. He states that we are charged with "care for earth and animals" and "developing certain cultural possibilities," basically the question of how we should be stewards over the earth. While I think this idea presents some valuable thoughts, the "creation work order" thing kind of scares me.

The above concern is alleviated somewhat with the assertion that, "Work is very good, but so is contemplation after work is over." Of course, the Sabbath, or 7th day of creation, is the "contemplation" time that Plantinga discusses. The idea of a Sabbath is something I need to hear over and over because I still find the idea terrifying. Even God Himself wasn't a workaholic... He rested, modeling that work and play rhythm to us. In our hyper, fast American society, the idea of a Sabbath is just absurd to me. I get so wound up sometimes, it's hard to relax and take a step back. It's such a counter-cultural notion.

Plantinga finishes the chapter by describing seven meanings of the doctrine of creation:
1. Any human being we meet is potentially redeemable.
2. Created things are unique and sometimes mysterious but also purposive and intelligible
3. God and the world are distinct (contrary to pantheism).
4. Material reality is good, but we should love the natural world without worshiping it.
5. God affirms the ordinary means of production and reproduction (Christians don't have to be locked up in monastaries or covenants to follow God).
6. Human responsibilities and rights are necessary-- earthkeeping, creativity, the right to respect and to life. These are "unalienable rights."
7. There is a need to balance our individual and corporate identities.
8. We are not God but only images of God.

All that stuff is good, especially the C.S. Lewis quote on page 40, "There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal." That is true! And I hardly want to say that people don't have a right to respect or that we shouldn't take care of the earth. But back to my concern with this chapter as I outlined above. God created us so we could "be fruitful and multiply," and He intended for us to take care of the Earth and the people, beings, and environment. Yet, I think that the stewardship metaphor is misleading. Our purpose on Earth is not to be like "earthly gods" taking care of everything because God doesn't feel like it. If God wanted, He could wave His finger and the whole universe could be restored to perfection. Then, the issue could be raised, "What's the point in doing anything, then, because God could well do it by Himself?" God does mandate us to do certain things-- He gives us resources (time, energy, money) so that we will work. It is awesome that we have a part in God's redemption of humanity, the restoration of Shalom. This last semester, I attended a church that was huge into social justice and "eliminating poverty." There is such a need for that. But the work in and of itself is not the point. We are not put on Earth to be a labor force, cleaning up the mess we've made.

God wants to know us, He wants to have community with us. He wants to be with churches and individuals, societies and families alike. The Bible is more animated that a flat idea of a set of three doctrines: creation, fall, and redemption. It is about God's love for us and how that love should outpour through us to others. We are nothing special, but God sent His son to die for us anyway. Of course Plantinga would agree with all of this... what I just articulated is exactly what Christianity is about. Right now I am more than anything distinguishing emphases. I believe that the emphasis should be on spreading the Good News and discipleship, following Christ. If that includes environmental advocacy or human rights activism, great. But it should be done out of love for God and after having sought God's will into the matter. To say, "Well, there is work to do and let's go do it," without asking God's input or thinking about God at all in the process, is prideful. We shouldn't make our own plans and ask God to bless them. I heard a joke once: How do you make God laugh? Answer: Tell Him your plans.

That was a long, roundabout way of saying that Plantinga brings up some good points here, but I worry about the overemphasis of the stewardship principle. Stewardship is important, because we should take care of what God has given us, but it should not be a means in and of itself. God wants our hearts more than anything else. He doesn't need us to be the most efficient or the most helpful in solving the world's problems. God prioritizes faith over works, as can be seen in the "Faith Hall of Fame" in Hebrews 11. Yes, we are called to care for God's creation. Yes, we are called to spread Shalom to every aspect of the world. On the other hand, that is not our only or most important mandate. Jesus tells us to make disciples of all nations and to feed His lambs. Caring for creation should not become an idol and should not replace our love for God, love for others, and striving to have the Kingdom come to earth. Jesus summarized the Law in two commandments: 1. Love God with your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and 2. Love your neighbor as yourself. I think we'd do best to highlight these aspects of the Christian life.