Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Been sick

Well, I've not been so sick for a number of months. Thursday I caught a nasty cold or paraflu that a couple co-workers had earlier in the week. I had a fever, hitting 103.5 F at one point, for two days. I slept Friday almost the day solid. Saturday evening my fever broke and my headaches started to subside.

But the virus had settled in my forearms, wrists, hands, shoulders, back, abs, calves, and thighs. At first I figured that it was just that achy feeling you get from being sick, and that I was just stiff from being in bed for a couple days.

Sunday morning I felt great, as far as headaches and such from being sick. But my muscles were weak and stiff. I figured I'd just stretch out, take a couple acetaminophen tablets, and then go to church (I was supposed to run sound). I hobbled around and ran the soundboard...felt pretty decent, though sitting and standing was awful...and a guy prayed for me and such.

But past that it became very apparent that my muscles were weak and that it was painful to do even simple things like climb stairs or open a door. I quickly noticed another problem too: my hands and fingers didn't have any dexterity to them. So, that means that I haven't been able to play guitar, and even typing on the computer is difficult. I have to two and four finger hunt-and-peck, rather than type normally.

Anyway...those wondering where I've been to...pretty much nowhere.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

A Conflicted Memorial Day by Greg Boyd

My Memorial Day was spent far from the rest of my family just simply because we live 9 hours south of them now. Every year we would visit their gravesites on Memorial Day, listen to the president speak on television, and have the family over for a nice meal.

My father was in the Marines, but I don't think that I could ever serve that way. Since I became a Christian, I never could reconcile military action with Christian practice. It confused me more how most Christians seem to believe that it is okay to go shoot up people in other countries for the cause of 'freedom'.

I think that Greg again does a good job speaking about this, because I too always feel conflicted on Memorial Day. I hope this explains my position on conflicts to my friends who are also not in agreement with the war happening right now...that they wouldn't lump all non-liberal Christians in with the often war-mongering and fear-mongering religious-right.


A Conflicted Memorial Day
by Greg Boyd

Hope you all had a happy Memorial Day. (Isn't that something of a misnomer -- a happy time remembering people killed in war?)

Memorial Day honestly leaves me conflicted.

On the one hand, I am very happy I live in a country where I’m free to engage in my own "pursuit of happiness” (as in “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness”). I also appreciate the fact that I live in a country where the governed people get to choose (to some degree) who governs them. For all its flaws, I think democracy is better (though not more scriptural) than dictatorships. And I can’t help but appreciate the young men and women who have laid down their life to protect this way of life. I benefit from their sacrifice, so it seems appropriate to remember them.

On the other hand, my Lord’s words and example have taught me that its better to love your enemy, do good to them, pray for them and bless them than it is to ever kill them. I’ve been taught to never retaliate but to always return evil with good. I’ve been taught that violence is cyclical, and that if you live by the sword you’ll die by the sword. By submitting myself to this teaching, I’ve come to actually see its wisdom and beauty. I’ve come to see taking of human life as demonically arrogant – demonic, because it expresses hopelessness in another, which is the opposite of love (I Cor. 13:7), and arrogant, because only the giver of life can justifiably take it.

To be honest, I’ve now come to see war as sheer insanity, and every fiber of my being revolts against it. I’ve gotten to the point where I’d rather die than participate in any of this, for any reason. And I grieve for all who do participate in it, for any reason. The fact that I personally benefit from some of the killing, because some of the killing is (at least supposed to be) to protect the “American way of life” doesn’t alter this assessment. Jesus is my Lord, not the American way of life. My allegiance is to the Kingdom of God. (And, in any case, as a white person I continue to "benefit" from the often barbaric and dishonest conquest of my ancestors over the American Indians and the enslavement of blacks -- but this doesn't mean I should approve of it).

I know some readers will immediately wonder, “But what about Hitler? This sort of thinking would let evil take over the world," etc. Some may in fact experience outrage at my (Jesus') suggestion that violence is never appropriate for Kingdom people. Some may see it as positively un-American and cowardly! In response, I'll simply say six brief things:

1) I totally understand and even empathize wit hthe objection, and the outrage. But Jesus’ way of life is SUPPOSED TO BE scandalous to the world. The earliest Christians refused to fight in wars to defend the Roman empire and refused to pledge allegiance to the Roman empire. And this was one of the reasons they were despised and martyred. I think this is how its SUPPOSED TO look.

2) To act on the fear of evil taking over by killing one’s enemies rather than doing good to them is to simply say that Jesus was wrong and to reject him as Lord in this area of our life. This is not what a faithful disciple does.

3) We who have committed our lives to Christ are called to be faithful, not practical. Jesus’ choice to die rather than defend himself with violence is our example, and his choice certainly didn’t look practical on Good Friday.

4) The notion that we can “save the world” or “fix the world” through violence is the s lie that has fueled almost every war – and it has never, in the long run, worked. Every attempt to save or fix the world through violence simply ensures that violence will raise its ugly head again in the near future.

5) The idea that we can and must ‘save the world” or “fix the world” through violence is predicated on a mistrust of God's providence. Do we believe in the providence of God or not? Whether we obey him when it seems impractical to do so reveals our faith -- or our lack of faith.

6) I grant the obvious -- that this world is the kind of world where it seems that violence is necessary. Common sense usually sides with the violent. But Kingdom people are called to manifest a different world: a world in which God reigns; a world that reflects the character of the loving savior rather than the vicious roaring lion. No wonder the New Testament tells us we're supposed to be fools.

So, y memorial day leaves me conflicted. I want to stand in solidarity with those who have lost loved ones in wars defending the American way of life. I want to respectfully acknowledge the depth of their sacrifice and acknowledge that I personally benefit from their sacrifice. But I also want to revolt against the demonic arrogance of violent-tending tribalism, manifested on all sides of any war, that makes bloody wars seem unavoidable. I want to scream, "there is a much better way to live. It’s the way of Jesus. It’s the way of self-sacrificial love. It’s the way of non-violence."

God bless the families of our fallen soliders. Good bless the families of the solidiers on the other side. God bless the families of the innocent victims caught in the cross fire. And God bless all of us by influencing our leaders to end this war, and every potential future war. Maranatha.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Impeach Bush?

MSNBC just did a poll concerning whether or not people believed that Bush should be impeached or not. The results are pretty interesting:

I'm sure that all the Foxnewsians will immediately say that this poll is slanted by the 'fact' that MSNBC is a liberal media source. But even with conservatives, from an Ann-Coulter-loving publication, Human Events, have this poll to share:

"Would you favor or oppose the impeachment by Congress of President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney?"

Favor: 39%

Oppose:55 %

Undecided/Don't Know: 6%

The survey of 621 registered voters has been weighted for age, race, gender and political affiliation. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4%.

To contrast this further...when Bill Clinton was in office there wasn't this much public support for his being impeached...and he was impeached! Click here for results of NUMEROUS polls on the issue.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Proxies and Responsibility (Part 3) I am...aiming to write my third installment of "proxies and responsibility", and my recently most quoted author writes on the very topic that I'm looking to address next...Reformist thought concerning salvation and our responsibility in that. So, honestly, rather than rehash that issue myself...I will again take the easy route and repost Greg Boyd's posting as of just over an hour ago. Thanks Greg. :-)

"Pure Grace and Free Will"
By Greg Boyd

I received a question the other day that I get quite often, so I'd thought I'd share it with you all. It was from an Arminian-turned-Calvinist who basically wondered how salvation can be by grace apart from works if salvation hinges on whether individuals choose to be saved or not. If we have to choose for or against God, then doesn't the credit for our salvation ultimately go to us? Along the same lines, doesn't the Bible teach that no one can choose to confess Jesus as Lord unless empowered by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:3)? If this is true, then it seems the ultimate reason why some are saved and some are not can't be that some choose to confess Christ while others don't. It must rather be that the Holy Spirit empowers some and not others. And so it seems God chooses (elects) who will and will not be saved. I have found that many people who are Calvinist are so because they think that this is the only view that gives God all the glory for saving us. (For a time when I was in Seminary, this was the argument that kept me a Calvinist -- as much as I hated other aspects of the theology).

This may surprise some, but I STILL find the Calvinist argument from grace to be very persuasive. The Bible does teach that salvation is completely by grace, not works. And it teaches very clearly that humans wouldn't will to be saved on their own, apart from the Holy Spirit. Left on our own, we are "dead" toward spiritual things (Eph 2:1, 5), and corpses can't do much of anything last I checked. To come to Christ, the Father must draw us.

If it was true that humans had enough life, goodness, or intelligence to choose God on their own, and if the reason that some were saved and some not was because some chose God on their own and some didn't, then I see no way one could avoid the conclusion that the reason some are saved and some not is because some are better or smarter than others! So saved people, give yourself a nice pat on the back!

At the same time, it seems just as clear that God does not pick and choose who will be saved. He doesn't want anyone to perish but wants all to enter into eternal life (2 Pet 3:9; 2 Tim. 2:4-6). Jesus died for the sins of every person (1 Jn 2:2). So, any line of reasoning that leads to a portrait of God as less-than-universal in his love and less-than-universal in his desire to save people must have something wrong with it.

As I see it, the mistake in the line of reasoning that leads to the Reformed doctrine of election is the assumption that God's grace must be IRRESISTIBLE. (This is the "I" of the famous Calvinistic Acronym TULIP). It's one thing to say that humans WON'T believe in Christ without the Holy Spirit and quite another thing to claim that with the Holy Spirit humans MUST believe. As I put aspects of the biblical narrative together, I am led to the conclusion that God wants everyone saved and the Holy Spirit is working in every person's heart to bring them into salvation. (The issue of whether people need to be brought to the point where they CONSCIOUSLY choose Christ to be saved is a separate matter). But the Holy Spirit will not work COERCIVELY. A coerced love is not a genuine love. So it is that through the Bible we have warnings NOT TO RESIST the Holy Spirit (e.g. Acts 7:51; Eph 4:30; Heb 3:7-8). The Holy Spirit will bring us to the point where we CAN believe, but never to a point where we MUST believe. So, if we DO believe, it is all credited to God's grace, working through the Spirit. If we refuse, however, it's our own fault.

Does this view in any way compromise the claim that salvation is 100% by grace? Does it leave room for anyone to take any credit for their salvation? I don't see how it does. Consider this analogy.

Suppose that salvation is dancing to God's beautiful music. God graciously places us in a room with two loud speakers and begins to play his music. Surprisingly, we rebel, cup our hands over our ears and begin to sing our own songs to ourselves, dancing to our own music (representing the fall and our on-going sin). God graciously does not give up on us, however. He graciously turns the music up louder, but we continue to rebel by covering our ears harder and singing louder. He turns it up louder and louder, but we persist in our rebellion. God then graciously puts two more speakers in the room playing them at full volume, and when that fails, he puts in ten more, and then a hundred more, and so on until the room is wall-to-wall speakers, playing at full blast. Incredibly, all these gracious overtures just make us resist more forcefully. Yet, God continues to want us desperately to dance to his beautiful music, so in the most remarkable act of grace imaginable, and at great sacrifice to himself (representing the Incarnation and death of Christ), God himself comes into the room and begins to personally do everything possible to get us to lower our arms and dance to his music. Weeping and pleading, he himself pulls at our arms to lower them from our ears. We all resist...but finally, his relentless love wears some of us out. We begin to hear the music. We see his relentless love. And we begin to dance.

This is an analogy, of course, and so it only imperfectly reflects the way in which God saves us. But it's helpful in getting at the question we're presently wrestling with. Would any of those who were finally won over to God's music be inclined to credit themselves for their dancing? After all their rebellion and all God's grace, would anyone attribute their dancing to their innate intelligence or goodness? Would they not rather testify that the only reason they eventually danced to God's music was because God was relentless in his grace and wore them out with his love? Would they not say that they're dancing was 100% God's doing? I don't see how it could be otherwise. And yet, as strong and relentless as God was toward toward them, he did not coerce them.

This view is not without its mystery, but it's not the mystery of why God would irresistibly chose some when he could have just as easily irresistible chosen all (while telling us he WANTS all to be saved). The mystery in this view is how anyone could, and why anyone would, continue in their rebellion. This is the unfathomable mystery of iniquity. Whatever I make of this mystery, it seems more biblical and less problematic than the mystery of a selectively saving God. And the last thing it would ever do is make me feel righteous for being set free from its dominion.

Think about it.


Thursday, May 17, 2007

Is the Kingdom Invisible by Greg Boyd

Yes, I'm reposting another blog from Greg Boyd. Contrary to popular belief from many that I speak to, Boyd's writings and sermons are NOT my mainstay of listening or reading. The pastor of the church I go to, Springfield Vineyard, does not subscribe to open-theism, but is an excellent teacher. I generally am listening to him recently when I hear a sermon. My listening otherwise has recently been new Vineyard worship music from Jeremy Riddle, and some of the more pop-blues work of late from John Mayer. For reading, I'm digging into the book of Luke with a friend of mine, and reading through some of N.T. Wright's work. I still would highly recommend pretty much every sermon of Greg Boyd's though. And this article below is excellent too.

"Is the Kingdom Invisible?"
by Greg Boyd

Traditionally, Christians have often made a distinction between the “visible” and “invisible” Church. It was a way of differentiating between the Church the world sees, which presumably includes people who are Christian in name only, and the true Church that only God knows, which includes all true disciples. The notion that the true church is invisible is useful as a way of reminding us that no human is in a position to ever judge who is and is not “saved.” But if it is interpreted to mean that the kingdom of God is invisible – that no one can really tell when it is or is not present – then it’s completely mistaken.

There’s simply nothing invisible or ambiguous about the kingdom of God. It always looks something like Jesus, dying on Calvary for the people who crucified him while praying, “Father, forgive them.” When God reigns, it always manifests Calvary-quality love. The kingdom is present whenever people are getting their life from Christ alone and therefore are increasingly looking like Jesus, doing what Jesus did, and obeying what Jesus taught.

When people refuse to retaliate, choosing instead to return evil with good as Jesus and Paul taught us, the kingdom of God is present. When people love their enemies rather than fight them, bless those who persecute them rather than curse them, and pray for those who mistreat them rather than trying to get even, the kingdom of God is present. When people choose to serve rather than to be served and to be killed rather than to participate in killing others, the kingdom of God is present. When people choose to put the interests of others before their own, to forgive even after multiple offenses, and to invest their own time and resources in serving others, the kingdom of God is present. When people befriend the friendless, feed the hungry, house the homeless, serve “sinners” rather than judge them, and work to bring healing into people’s lives and relationships, the kingdom of God is present. And when we choose to live in a way that ascribes worth to animals and the earth rather than simply using them as a means of gratifying ourselves, as the Bible commands (Gen. 1:26-28), the kingdom of God is present.

This is what God’s LIFE looks like when it is manifested “on earth as it is in heaven,” for this is what Christ looked like when he came down to earth from heaven. While this kingdom doesn’t draw attention to itself with the world’s customary fanfare, it most certainly is visible. One can’t help but notice it, for in a self-centered, angry, violent world such as ours, this sort of Calvary-quality love can’t help but stand out.

The Calvary-quality love that sets the kingdom apart is impossible for non-kingdom people to replicate with any consistency. Indeed, as long as a person clings to the “natural” fallen way of doing life, believing life can be found in false gods, they will not find kingdom LIFE attractive or reasonable. Nothing could be more unnatural, painful, and impractical than serving those who intend to do you, your tribe, or your nation harm! It’s only “natural” to look out for oneself, defend one’s self interests, fight for one’s nation, and kill if necessary to keep from being killed--which is why most people instinctively live this way. It’s why the history of the human race is largely a history of cyclical, mindless carnage.

But to those who have become sufficiently disgusted with the emptiness and perpetual conflict of this supposedly “natural” way of living, Jesus’ radically different way of doing life sounds like LIFE, and it is attractive. Only those who know they are sick long for what the physician has to offer. Only those who have given up trying to get life on their own hunger for the LIFE that comes from God. And when they begin to receive this LIFE, it begins to transform them into the self-sacrificial, loving image of Jesus.

In the dark, violent, self-centered world in which we live, this kind of transformation doesn’t stay hidden for long.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Proxies and Responsibility (Part 2)

God meticulously controls everything, right? Nothing escapes His knowledge and will, right? So, when a tsunami hits the coast of Indonesia killing thousands upon thousands and everyone wonders why...God had a plan, right? And our response should be just like the serfs of past kingdoms of Earth...thanking their lord that they weren't the ones that he decided to kill off.

Because, of course, the creator of the universe who values love in the charitable sense as the greatest character quality, who leaves the inheritance of the earth to the meek, and who shows Himself to those whom are poor in justified because of our sin (though we had no control of being born under that corruption either) in burying us anytime He chooses to lash out in divine retribution. Then those same people will preach salvation through Christ and encourage people to come to repentance and faith in God...knowing full well that they believe God already has chosen all those individuals who will specifically be saved before the creation of anything.

Perhaps people who advocate this think they are being compassionate by expressing this plea to come to Christ because of this, but in reality, regardless if they realize it or not...they are fearmongering.

Aren't there hundreds of times in the Bible that people are told to fear the Lord? Yes indeed they were. But it is a question of what kind of fear you are talking there isn't just one type of 'fear'...and because in many cases I think that Bible translators were correct in not merely saying 'have reverent respect for' instead of using the more severe word 'fear'. We aren't supposed to fear the Lord, as in walking on eggshells before Him at all times...instead we are told to approach the throne of grace boldly. God set up the model of fatherhood that we earthly fathers are supposed to take example from, so are we supposed to make our children fear us via the punishments that we deal? Are we supposed to fear the Lord in the manner that creates scorn because of His not being approachable at all?

Now...I'm not talking about those who misunderstand the love of God, or the times when God did indeed warn people of the consequences of their actions, and then laments as the course of happenings that humanity demanded by their own actions. (Often the classical theists pass those comments about God as the author merely anthropomorphizing God...and God didn't actually have negative feelings carrying out whatever action He took against His rebellious creation.) I'm not talking about making God into a lovable teddy-bear, permissive daddy that looks the other way for everything that we want to do, be it sin or not.

So, are we to believe what we read in Scripture or not? Can I believe that God pleads with His creation to change their ways, and then is heartbroken at their responses, or that He is heartbroken of the actions that had to be taken? What responsibility do I have in my promotion of God who values love and wants us to be part of this kingdom He has established on Earth for people to live according to His ideals?

Frankly, when someone goes to their friends and approaches them for the kingdom of God, but delivers a message of fire-insurance and fearmongering...what responsibility do they have there? Many people who advocate a classical-theist/predestination position think that they are merely fulfilling the obligations that Christians have, and once they have delivered that message...that the recipient's response isn't necessarily their concern. People, not Christians and people not Christians, are passed off as being 'stuck' or 'just not ready' (or perhaps also 'not chosen').

And this very much colors the way they see other people and interact with other people, for Christians who believe in predestination and other classical-theist positions. And it isn't in a good way. Someone could go and accuse me of being pompous and arrogant in my faith and promotion of the Scriptures, the ways of God, and God directly...and they might be able to think that I'm wrong in what I promote. But I will never treat someone as second-class or look down my nose at them and think they are 'stuck'. And that is the colored view that is an example of what classical theists often do. They seem to have friendships more out a sense of obligation than they do out of genuine love for people. In the manner that they might believe that God is directly putting people in their lives, it is completely counterproductive and cold to then treat them as people they are merely obligated to.

And that feeling of being blown-off comes from that skewed sense of community that seems to be prominent not only in the classical-theist or Calvinist type Christian churches, but also generally in program-centric churches as well. Sorry guys...but you talk to people like you are blowing them off, or that you always invalidate people's feelings. It sucks, and you are responsible for your being cold when you are...i.e. it isn't providence when you are being cold.

Again, this is not to say that many program-based churches aren't wonderful. I know many people who prefer them, who are great people, and who don't disregard friendships as makeshift obligations. I'm referring to a more specific mindset in this post.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Proxies and Responsibility (Part 1)

There is a very simple thing that tends to mess up the thoughts of many Christians. Generally (because I don't want to get too deep into the aside) it is because of a stray argument prominent in Greek philosophy that has been grafted into Christian theology.

The argument generally goes like this... God is in control of everything, right? Everything, yes. And God is the one doing the things that we do that are His 'will', right? Yes...every good and perfect gift comes from Him. God knows everything, right? Yes, God knows everything past, present and future...because he has decided how things will work out according to His good and perfect will. So, why is it that bad things happen? Because God is a just God, and He is merely bringing the consequences to our sin. Wait, I thought you said that God was in control of everything? Yes, He is. But then doesn't that mean that He controls our nature? No, we are in rebellion against God and in a state of sin. So, he doesn't control everything then? No, He does. But then why doesn't He control the fact that we sin? Oh...well, that is our responsibility. We are responsible for our sin, and thus deserve death, but God didn't cause that though He is in control of everything and planned everything according to His will? No, He caused that so that He could redeem those He chooses from damnation. So...the fall and redemption of humans is in the plans and will of God? Yes. But though the fall is in God's will...He isn't responsible for our sin? Right. And though the fall of man into sin is part of God's will, He will only 'save' some people whom He pre-picked? Yes, that's right.

So...there are a few huge problems with this breakdown. And I'm sure that my classical theology, John Piper loving, friends and brothers will object to the way that I phrased it...probably because though this is essentially their breakdown...they perceive this phrasing of it as sounding hostile. But, so be it.

The issue with this is that in that picture of the world and humanity's workings...we are proxies of God's will and plans for His creation. But unlike a proxy...we are also responsible for a very specific portion of our by-proxy-actions: sin. And that is a huge problem because it begs the question of God actually being in control of everything or not. If God is completely in control...then He is also completely responsible for everything that He plans or allows in His perfect will to take place. But this is where classical theology will talk out of the other side of its proverbial mouth.

They will claim that God can be in control of everything, and that He holds all of creation in His hands (and plans), and that nothing escapes the will of God, and say that anything that we do that actually is good or Kingdom furthering is actually God doing it....but then when we do wrong, that is our fault....and when bad things happen, that is just God's divine justice. Frankly, you just can't have it both ways. God is either in complete control of everything (as the classical theists claim), chooses to command some things but not all things, or God controls nothing.

This contention comes into play because the Hebrew and Christian scriptures do clearly show God commanding some things, and also clearly show some things that are in opposition to God. Should we play on the assumption that because the Bible shows God in control of some things that we thus conclude that He controls ALL things? Or should we stop at the face value of what the scriptures say and just understand that God is indeed in control of some things, but other things in His creation happen outside of God's direct command?

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Windows Vista Woes

My previous Toshiba notebook had a nice hardware issue that caused it to repeatedly reboot during post. Best Buy made good on their warranty and replaced it with a newer HP dv6338 notebook...which was my only choice with a comparable video chipset. Well, the new computer came with Windows Vista Premium, which has the nicer Aero desktop.

However it is pretty awful otherwise. It is sluggish and doesn't run anything very quickly. First off just the installation of basic applications was sluggish and many didn't work my PDF printing software. Next, my software for my keyboard wouldn't find the keyboard itself, nor would it generate any sounds for it at all.

Lastly...I want the Windows machine for entertainment, since I play Guild Wars, and World of Warcraft. And here was the kicker...on my older notebook (Pentium M) with an ATI x200 running Windows XP I got about 14-16 frames per second. On this newer notebook with more RAM and better processor...but running Vista...I got 4-7 frames per second.

Luckily I did have another Windows XP Home license, so I finally installed that. I'm back up to about 20 frames per second for Guild Wars and up at 25 frames per second with World of Warcraft, both at max. resolution for the screen (1280x800). Oh...and XP runs my keyboard's software just fine. The point being practical proof (as if many needed it) that Windows Vista is a lumbering and clumsy hulk.

Apple just released another nice set of commercials addressing Vista. Pretty clever and spot on:

Monday, May 07, 2007

Objections to Petitionary Prayer 3 by Greg Boyd

Over the past few days I've been reposting blogs by Greg Boyd. It isn't because I don't have anything of my own to say. Though I'm sure a number of the people who read my blog are no doubt going to think that these are horribly boring posts, I think that they get at the heart of an issue concerning 'traditional Christian' doctrines, and show were they have strayed from a fundamental Biblical tradition to adding in the traditions and beliefs of extra-Biblical sources...and then try their best to support them with scripture. My contention is that your belief about Christ and practice in Christianity should start with the Bible in context...and move out from there, as opposed to starting with a belief and then just trying to prove it. Read on...


"Objections to Petitionary Prayer 3"
by Greg Boyd

Over the last couple days I’ve reviewed two objections to petitionary prayer raised by a second century pagan philosopher named Maximus of Tyre. Today I want to examine his third argument. In the fifth paragraph of his fifth oration, Maximus argues that petitionary prayer is useless because “[d]estiny is a tyrant, unbending and supreme” and “tyranny brute force reigns supreme.” The point is that, if one believes that all things are determined by a cosmic force (“destiny”) – or God – then, according to Maximus, it simply makes no sense to pray. It’s like Doris Day sang long ago: “Que sera sera, whatever will be, will be.” Nothing can be altered from the path it is destined to take. It really makes no difference whether things are determined by blind fate or by a personal God. The point is, things are (one way or another) predetermined at the time a person is making their request. And this, Maximus argues, simply means that the request can’t make a real difference in what comes to pass.

Now, there is a response to this argument that some in the ancient world offered. Ancient Stoics – and later, St. Augustine – tried to get around this problem by saying that some things are “co-fated.” (Because of its pagan connotations, however, Augustine refrained from using the word “fate”). That is, it may be fated (or “predestined,” in Augustine’s terms) that a certain person will recover from an illness. But it may be that the fated means of this person’s recovery is a friend’s prayer. So a person’s prayer is co-fated with another person’s recovery, as the end is co-fated along with the means to that end.

Maximus doesn’t consider this response, and a lot could be said for and against this argument. For the moment I will just register my opinion that I don’t think it carries much weight. As a number of ancient philosophers (e.g. Carneades) argued, among others problems this view seems to seriously weaken the significance of what it means for something to be up to us. In the Stoic/Augustinian view, the decisions of people – including the decision to pray or not – is reduced to being nothing more than a falling domino in a virtually infinite chain of falling dominoes. It’s true that, if the domino of your decision to pray doesn’t “fall,” the domino of another person recovering from their illness won’t fall. Hence the Stoics (and St. Augustine) could say, “If you don’t pray, the person won’t recover.” But it’s also true that the domino of your prayer has to fall, given that the whole chain of dominoes has been fated (or predestined) to fall exactly the way it in fact falls. So really, nothing is left up to us to decide. Or better, all that we decide has already been decided for us (whether by blind fate or by God) from all eternity. Nothing now hangs in the balance of our decision. And in this sense, I think Maximus’ argument has some force.

Against this, the Bible repeatedly depicts things as genuinely hanging in the balance – in the present – on whether or not people pray. In Ezek. 22:29-31, for example, the Lord was planning on bringing judgment on Israel, but he told Ezekiel that he “looked for someone… to stand in the gap” to avert this disaster, but he found no one.

Now, if it was from all eternity a foregone (fated/ predestined) conclusion that no one would be found to “stand in the gap,” one has to wonder how God could with any degree of integrity tell Ezekiel that he looked for someone to “stand in the gap.” Can you genuinely look for something you eternally know isn’t there – or worse, that you yourself predestined not to be there? This passage, and many, many others like it, suggests that when the Bible tells us things hang on prayer, it means things are really hanging in the balance at the time the command is given.

Right now, our prayer can change the course of events – as can our lack of prayer. And this, in turn, requires that neither our past, nor our future, is under the “tyranny… of destiny.” Our hats should go off to Maximus of Tyre for helping us appreciate the incompatibility of petitionary prayer with a view of God and/or of reality that doesn’t allow for genuine freedom of choice.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Objections to Petitionary Prayer 2 by Greg Boyd

"Objections to Petitionary Prayer 2"
by Greg Boyd

A couple days ago I reviewed the first of several objections to petitionary prayer that a second century pagan philosopher named Maximus of Tyre raises in the fifth of his Philosophical Orations (entitled “On Prayer"). Maximus’ second argument is even stronger than the first, in my opinion. Let’s look at it.

Comparing God to a wise doctor and humans who pray to patients making requests of this doctor, Maximus says; “If [the request] is efficacious [that is, beneficial] the doctor will give it unasked; if it is dangerous, he will withhold it even when asked.” The point Maximus is making is that, on the assumption that God is all good, it seems that if a person asks God to do something that is best to do, God would do it even if the person hadn’t asked. (What else does it mean to say that God is “all good” except that he never refrains from doing the best thing?) For the exact same reason, if what a person is petitioning God for is something that is not best, it seems God will not do this thing despite the fact that he was asked. For again, an “all-good” God never does anything that is less than the greatest good. So either way, Maximus argues, bringing requests before God is futile.

Do you see a flaw in this argument? It’s found, I believe, in the limitations of the doctor-patient analogy. If our relationship with God could be exhaustively defined as a doctor-patient relationship – that is, if the sole purpose of our relationship with God was to get cured from a disease – then Maximus’ argument might hold water. But from a New Testament perspective, God doesn’t want to relate to us simply to get us healed. He wants to relate to us because he simply loves us. The highest good that God is aiming at is an eternal, marriage-like love relationship with humans who reign with him over the earth forever (2 Tim. 2:12 Rev. 5:10; 20:6).

If this kind of relationship is what God is aiming at, it changes everything. It’s true that an all-good God must by definition always do the best thing. But the biblical understanding of the highest good being a reciprocal love relationship not only allows for, but requires, mutual influence between God and humans. If humans are to be genuine co-workers (1 Cor 3:9; 2 Cor 6:1), co-rulers (2 Tim.2:12) and marriage partners (Jn 3:29; Rev. 19:7; 21.2; 22:17) with God, we have to have the ability not only to be impacted by God, but to impact God. What kind of marriage relationship is it if one partner is not in any respect influenced by the other partner? In what way could a one-way relationship be called a co-partnership and co-rulership? Of course, the relationship between us and God is not symmetrical. He is Lord, we are not. But it is nevertheless reciprocal. God impacts us and we impact God.

In this light we can see where Maximus’ reasoning is wrong, and how it is that our prayers genuinely make a difference to God and thus to the way events unfold in the world.

Maximus has one more argument against petitionary prayer we need to examine. It has to do with predestination. I'll get to that in the next few days.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Objections to Petitionary Prayer 1 by Greg Boyd

This is from a Greg Boyd's blog that he updates pretty often anymore. I think that he makes a good point concerning the origin of many Christian's view of an immutable God. Read on...

"Objections to Petitionary Prayer 1"
by Greg Boyd

For the last two years I’ve been immersed in ancient Greek philosophy, reading as many original sources as I can (e.g. the works of Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, etc.). It never ceases to amaze me how so much of the issues philosophers confronted more than 2000 years ago continue to be relevant issues today. For example, lately I’ve been studying The Philosophical Orations of a certain second century A. D. platonic philosopher named “Maximus of Tyre.” In one “oration” (Oration 5, “On Prayer”) he presents several rather cogent arguments against the idea of petitionary prayer – arguments that are still worth wrestling with today.

One argument Maximus brings up is that when people petition a god, they’re trying to get the god to change his mind (repent) about something. Against this Maximus argues: “Change of mind and repentance are … unbecoming to a good man, let alone to a god.” The reason change is unbecoming, Maximus adds, is that change can only be for the better or for the worse. But a god, he holds, can neither be improved or diminished.

The argument that all change can only be for the better or for the worse and thus that we can never ascribe change to God (or gods) goes back to Plato’s Republic (book II). This premise quickly became a standard argument among philosophers. We even find it echoed in a multitude of early Christian writings. It actually lies at the foundation of the classical Christian doctrine of “divine immutability.” But, as Maximus is pointing out, there seems to be an inconsistency in holding to this understanding of the changelessness of God while also engaging in petitionary prayer. If God can’t change in any respect, then God’s will can’t be affected in any respect. In fact, even God’s experience of the world can’t change in any respect – which is why the classical Christian tradition ended up following the platonic tradition’s view that God must be timeless (devoid of sequence). God experiences the totality of history as one utterly unchanging “eternal now.” If this is so, what possible difference can petitionary prayer make? Nothing can possibility be altered. The facts of what will come to pass are eternally settled in the unchanging mind and experience of God.

The problem with this argument, as I see it, is with the standard platonic assumption that all change must either be for the better or for the worse. It seems to me this assumption is simply wrong. Some kinds of change don’t improve a person’s character or wisdom, but simply express the character and wisdom of a person. For example, a perfectly loving parent would certainly alter their happy disposition in response to their child’s sorrow and would (within wise limits) alter their plans in response to their child’s requests. This change would not improve their character or wisdom– for their character and wisdom, we are supposing, are perfect. Rather, this change would express their perfect character and wisdom. In fact, if they refused to change in response to their child, we wouldn’t say they were perfect in their wisdom and character.

So too, if we believe that God is perfect, unchanging love, it seems we must accept that God is perpetually changing in response to his children. His ability and willingness to be genuinely affected by us doesn’t improve or diminish him: it simply expresses his perfectly loving character and his perfect wisdom. And in this conception of God, there’s no problem whatsoever with the concept that our communicating with God impacts him and makes a difference in the world.

Yet, this was simply the first of several arguments Maximus raised against petitionary prayer. Check out the blog in the next few days if you’re interested in seeing my response to some of his other arguments.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

More on Pat Tillman

It makes me truly ill as a follower of Christ to see people who are supposedly fellow believers say things like what has been said about the Tillman family.

What kind of Christian in compassion tells a family that they should be happy that their government lied about the nature of their son's death, and then claims if only they had faith in Christ that they would actually be happy about their son being shot up by his fellow soldiers? Is it a compassionate and loving action to move the blame from the Army and U.S. government when they lie instead to someone's faith?

Tillman heart goes out to you for all your struggles, and all the deceit that you've had to endure from those you thought you could trust. My hope is that you won't let these misguided and loud few persons claiming to issue you correction concerning faith. My hope is that you don't let those ill actions reflect poorly upon Christ, whom they seem to claim as who they follow.

Not to diminish that point, but it the editorial cartoon from Tom Tomorrow illustrates the problem all too clearly: