Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Does Truth Come From Many Sources?

It seems as though there are two attitudes when it comes to gleaning truth from various sources. And for a while now, I have been grappling with the issue as to how to come to terms with these two attitudes. The first attitude is summed up nicely by the following quote from Mahatma Gandhi:
Since my youth upwards it has been a humble but persistent effort on my part to understand the truth of all the religions of the world, and adopt and assimilate in my own thought, word, and deed all that I have found to be best in those religions. The faith that I profess not only permits me to do so, but renders it obligatory for me to take the best from whatsoever source it may come (quoted in Ari L. Goldman, The Search for God at Harvard, p. 82).
Simply put, this view proposes that there is truth to be gained from anyone and anything. No one person or group has the "corner market" on truth. This view, by the way, does not in anyway suppose that the person who has this attitude does not believe in the supreme authority of scripture. One can be a committed Bible-believing Christian and still maintain that there are truths and insights that others outside the Bible can offer. Even Ellen White seems to promote a version of this concept when she writes in Steps to Christ, "Christ is the source of every right impulse. . . . Every desire for truth and purity, every conviction of our own sinfulness, is an evidence that His Spirit is moving upon our hearts" (p. 26).

The second attitude is not necessarily on the opposite end of the spectrum, but it is quite a bit more conservative. This attitude essentially maintains that, although there may be truths that extra-biblical sources put forth, we need to be overly and extremely careful in relying upon them because there is error mixed with every truth. This last week, I listened to a sermon that - for the most part - took this attitude. The speaker said that only the Bible is 100% accurate, and even if a speaker or book we're reading is 99% true while 1% false, we should exercise caution to the nth degree. The speaker stopped short of saying we shouldn't spend our time listening or reading such people, but that seemed to be the underlying attitude.

And so, reflecting on these two attitudes, these are some of the reactions I find myself grappling with.

On the one hand I am open to reading widely and gaining insights from many different sources, but on the other hand I am leery of the pluralistic sentiments that may creep up from taking on such a posture. To be honest, I read quite a few books by authors who may not subscribe to the same theology or worldview I take. I was just given a Book of Mormon that I am going to read, and I think it would be fruitful to read a Koran - as just two examples.

But some people's attitudes border on the pantheistic, it seems. It definitely has an underlying pluralism about it. Too much exposure to "good ideas" in other theologies or worldviews subtly starts to give the reader/listener the idea that the other person's views are every bit as legitimate as his/her own. And while they may have individual components of legitimacy, Christ seems to be pretty exclusive in His claims about truth and salvation.

On the other side of things, I am very open to the idea of the "slippery slope" and "trojan horse" argument. That is, we sometimes may be lulled into thinking that we are accepting views that are beneficial objectively speaking, but they are simply "trojan horses" that Satan is using to introduce aberrant views. One example that the above speaker mentioned was new concepts on prayer. He used "centering prayer" as one example. Such prayer may seem objectively all right (though I even question that), but by allowing it through our doors, we may be unwittingly opening the door for other errant practices and views.

I am very open to this "trojan horse" concept because I believe Satan, in these ends times, is desparetly trying to "dupe" us into unknowingly accept wrong views about God. That has always been his method, ever since the beginning. He doesn't just come right and say, "This is a Satanic practice, do you want to believe or engage in it?" There is no doubt that truth and error is going to be a huge issue in these last days, and Satan will do all he can to mix the two so as to lull us to sleep.

But, at the same time, I then have to ask the question: how much do I have to agree with somebody in order to listen to them? What's the percentage? Ninety percent? Seventy-five? Twenty? Nobody bats a thousand. And, from my specific theological paradigm, there are many other Seventh-day Adventists that I probably disagree with more than some non-Adventists. But does it make it all right to listen to them and not the non-Adventists simply because we're wearing the same label? Or perhaps I should just lock myself into a monastery for the rest of my life and read only my Bible - something the biblical authors, let alone Jesus, never did.

Of course, what further complicates the matter is, aside from my personal practices, how do I, as a minister of the gospel, present my findings from sources that I may not agree with 100% of the time? When I preach a sermon, for example, and I want to quote a certain author, does this unwittingly indicate to the audience that I endorse everything this author maintains - thus causing some of them to let their "guard down" with such authors? Another pastor shared with me last week, for example, that someone came up to him after a sermon and said, "You shouldn't quote Philip Yancey; he condones homosexuality." Now, whether or not Yancey "condones" homosexuality - or simply promotes a higher tolerance towards homosexuals - is another issue altogether. But I think you get the point.

When I stand up and quote Mahatma Gandhi or Pope Benedict or George Knight - or whomever - does this indicate to my audience that this person is "all right" in the pastor's eyes and that I am giving the individual a carte blanche endorsement? I am sure that for many of the "stronger" persons will understand that I am doing no such thing, but some of the "weaker" persons may not pick up on that.

So, with all this being said, I think I have come to this conclusion: no matter who I read or listen to, I need to be very prayerful. I used to think that I simply needed to pray for the Holy Spirit's guidance and wisdom when I read the Bible. Now I understand that I need to pray very seriously for the Holy Spirit's guidance whenever and whomever I read. I can't assume that in my own mind I am able to sort out the good from the bad. Jeremiah tells us that the "heart is deceitful." So there may be times that I might interact with an idea that I think is truthful when, in reality, my heart may simply be deceiving me into thinking that it is truthful.

The other conclusion I have drawn is that I need to make sure that I glean about 90% (if not more) of my knowledge and truth claims from the prime source: the Bible. This is my ruling authority and I cannot judge other books or sermons against the Bible if I do not, first of all, have a good grasp of the Bible. So the balance of my reading and listening time needs to be spent in God's word, not the other way around. Far too often the roles are reversed in my experience. And I am pretty sure that those who take an extreme approach to the first attitude (in the above two scenarios) probably spend about 90% of their time in other sources and 10% in the Bible.

So this is kind of where my thinking is on this subject right now. But it's a work in progress. And I would certainly enjoy hearing other people's perspective (indicating, of course, that I am open to listening to truth from other sources outside the Bible: yours!).

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Theology of a New Father

I have started writing a regular column for the Adventist Today website. My first one, entitled "The Theology of a New Father," was posted last week. I would encourage you to check it out here.

As always, your feedback is encouraged - preferably there.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

My Personal Psalm 136

While enjoying my personal devotional time this morning, I came across a wonderful passage that helped me understand just how much God loves, cares, and provides for me. I have been studying certain themes throughout scripture for my devotional time, and this morning I decided to look at the term "everlasting/eternal lovingkindness" in Hebrew.

Both of these words are translated differently, depending on the verse and version of the Bible. But the Hebrew words are 'olam (eternal, forever, everlasting) chesed (steadfast love, mercy, lovingkindness). And as I searched the 45 usages of this phrase in the Old Testament, I was thrilled when I came across Psalm 136. Out of 26 verses in the chapter, every single verse uses the phrase. The basic formula for the chapter goes something like this: "Give thanks to the Lord, for His lovingkindess is eternal; to Him who struck Egypt in their firstborn, for His lovingkindness is eternal." This is the formula that the Psalmist follows in this whole chapter.

And the formula is basic. The Psalmist invites the reader to give thanks to the Lord at the beginning and end of the chapter, and then lists reasons as to why the reader should give thanks to the Lord. But then he goes further. Not only does he list reasons for why the reader should gives thanks to the Lord, but he shows in every verse that those precise reasons stem from the reality that God's lovingkindness and steadfast love are eternal. In other words, precisely because God's love towards us is eternal does He bless us with all of these things.

And so I got to thinking: what would my personal Psalm 136 look like? If I looked back on the course of my life, what would I identify as proofs that God's love toward me is eternal and unchanging and everlasting? And so I scribbled down a few of those things that I am going to share. Perhaps you can do the same thing in your own time.
Give thanks to the Lord,
For He is amazingly good,
Because His lovingkindness towards me is eternal.

To Him who gave me life,
Because His lovingkindness towards me is eternal.

To Him who placed me in a Christian home,
Because His lovingkindness towards me is eternal.

To Him who drew my heart from a very young age,
Because His lovingkindness towards me is eternal.

To Him who saved me from rebellion when I was a child,
Because His lovingkindness towards me is eternal.

To Him who blessed me with the privilege to attend Christian schools,
Because His lovingkindness towards me is eternal.

To Him who has kept me safe and healthy all my life,
Because His lovingkindness towards me is eternal.

To Him who has protected me from a car accident during all my many miles of driving,
Because His lovingkindness towards me is eternal.

To Him who spared me from too many heartaches in my romantic life,
Because His lovingkindness towards me is eternal.

To Him who gave me a beautiful and wonderful wife,
Because His lovingkindness towards me is eternal.

To Him who has blessed me with an awesome son,
Because His lovingkindness towards me is eternal.

To Him who has allowed me to live in the most beautiful part of the world,
Because His lovingkindness towards me is eternal.

To Him who has always placed food on my table,
Because His lovingkindness towards me is eternal.

To Him who has placed me in a position to talk about Him all the time - and get paid for it,
Because His lovingkindness towards me is eternal.

To Him who has provided enough money for my family - even though my wife is not employed full time anymore,
Because His lovingkindness towards me is eternal.

O, Give thanks to the Lord!
Because His lovingkindness towards me is eternal.
Two things: obviously, this is a work in progress. And secondly, when I look back at all the blessings God has bestowed upon me, it makes me realize that God is up to something in my life. He must have something special for me to do for him.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Too Much Logic

It's no secret that Clifford Goldstein is enemy #1 for many on the left side of the Adventist spectrum. So this post will not mean much to them. But it's incredibly unfortunate that they essentially scoff at his logic. Because he recently wrote one of the most logical and well-reasoned articles I have ever read. It was in the August 20 issue of the Adventist Review.

Really, the article makes too much sense. And, as my dad points out, that may be its fault in the mind of those who are allegedly more intellectually "astute." The logic is too simple - going together just about the same way that two plus two equals four.

Unfortunately, I do not believe that the article is available online - so I will reproduce it in its entirety here. And as you read the column, which is entitled, "One Lord or the Other," I hope you appreciate the brilliancy of Goldstein's rhetoric (resting assured that I do not throw out compliments like this regularly).
Let's begin with two assumptions: first, God employed some form of Darwinian evolution to create humanity. Second, knowing that the ancients couldn't understand complicated evolutionary science, the Lord waited until the nineteenth century A.D. to use Charles Darwin in order to, finally, bring our origins to light.

To accept those assumptions means believing that for thousands of years the Lord purposely kept all His people under a veil of ignorance regarding Creation. It means accepting, too, that God used Darwin to reveal these truths, even though Darwin worked from a fundamentally flawed premise:

"There seems to me," wrote Darwin, "too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly create the [parasitic wasp] with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars, or that the cat should play with mice."

Of course, "a beneficent and omnipotent God" did none of those things. Ignorant of the great controversy and the consequences of the fall, Darwin began from a fatally wrong premise about the creation he sought to explain.

Those who accept these assumptions must accept, too, that the Lord used Darwin to reveal crucial theological truth about God the Creator even though Darwin was not even close to being a worshipper of that Creator. "But I had gradually come, by this time," wrote Darwin, "to see that the Old Testament from its manifestly false history of the world . . . was no more to be trusted than the sacred books of the Hindoos, or the beliefs of any barbarian."

Now, there's nothing contradictory about the Lord using someone like Darwin to teach the world about how He created it. But it does raise this question: When using Charles Darwin to pull back the veil of ignorance on origins, why did the Lord raise up - at about the same time - a prophet, Ellen White, only to keep her wrapped under that very veil of darkness and ignorance He was using Darwin to pull away?

Even if one rejects the every-word-of-Ellen-White-as-verbally-inspired-terminal-eternal-truth, shouldn't a woman who helped found a church with a message about creation - "worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water" (Rev. 14:7), etc. - have been clued in, one way or another, about the startling new light being uncovered by Darwin about creation? Wouldn't it be reasonable, if nothing else, for the Lord to have tapped His messenger lightly on the shoulder and told her to cool her vehement opposition to the very truth He was now revealing to the world?

Instead, all through her ministry, Ellen White was uncompromisingly anti-evolution. "It is," she wrote, "the worst kind of infidelity; for with many who profess to believe the record of creation, it is infidelity in disguise" (The Signs of the Times, Mar. 20, 1879). "Evolution and its kindred errors are taught in schools of every grade, from the kindergarten to the college. Thus the study of science, which should impart a knowledge of God, is so mingled with the speculations and theories of men that it tends to infidelity" (Education, p. 227). "Shall we, for the privilege of tracing our descent from germs and mollusks and apes, consent to cast away the statement of Holy Writ, so grand in its simplicity, 'God created man in his own imagine, the image of God created him him'? (Genesis 1:27, [KJV])" (ibid., p. 130). "When the Lord declares that He made the world in six days and rested on the seventh day, He means the day of twenty-four hours, which He has marked off by the rising and setting of the sun" (Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, p. 136).

Of course, who's naive enough to think that anyone who believes in evolution would take Ellen White seriously? After all, they don't take the Bible seriously. I bring up this point simply to provide more evidence about the absurdity of the notion that evolution can be harmonized with Adventism.

Choose the God you're going to serve: the one who raised up Darwin, or the One who raised up Ellen White. But let's end the farce of thinking you can do both.
Is the man on to something, or what? (I suppose the rebuttal to his argument will bear a striking resemblance to some type of Postmodern or Eastern paradigm where God can use two opposing views at the same time.)

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

La Sierra and the "Lunatic Fringe"

If there has been any doubt whatsoever in people's minds as to where La Sierra University - and its professors - stands in relation to the controversy surrounding the promotion of Darwinian evolution, a secular website that discusses the issue should clear the fog. Aside from the fact that the student in the article may or may not have followed the instructions of his professor perfectly, it is apparent that La Sierra is in no way interested in promoting a literal six day creation (which in no way contradicts the evidence of good science) unambiguously.

And one of the professors, in particular, does not exactly do a great job of instilling confidence in the minds of potential students - and especially their parents. I will quote the last portion of the article:
Bradley says he’s felt no pressure to change anything about his course, and says bluntly that he doesn’t plan to turn his class into a theological seminar, or to present evolutionary theory only to then dismantle it for students. While he’s fine with helping students work through struggles of faith, Bradley says he won’t undercut decades of peer reviewed scientific research in the interest of religious consistency.

“I am not OK with getting up in a science course and saying most science is bullshit,” he said.

Neither Bradley nor Greer have the protections of tenure. Bradley had tenure, but willingly gave it up in a deal to scale back his responsibilities in a phased retirement. Greer, who did not respond to an interview request Monday, is on the tenure track.

Faculty at La Sierra do not have to be members of the Seventh Day Adventist church -- unless they want tenure.

“I hope this will change,” Bradley said. “One cannot be tenure-track if they’re not a member. I’m embarrassed to say that, but it is true.”

Bradley joined the church as a boy, but when asked if he was a practicing Adventist, he said “On record, yes. You can read into that whatever you want.”

“It’s very, very clear that what I’m skeptical of is the absolute necessity of believing that the only way a creator God could do things is by speaking them into existence a few thousand years ago,” Bradley added. “That’s where my skepticism lies. That’s the religious philosophical basis for what I call the lunatic fringe. They do not represent the majority position in the Church, and yes I’m skeptical of that. But I want to say to kids it’s OK for you to believe that, but it’s not OK for you to be ignorant of the scientific data that’s out there.”
My first reaction is to want to believe that the professor was proverbially misquoted. Or that this whole article was made up. That's what I really want to believe. But, unfortunately, I do not think that this is the case.

And, the sad reality is that it is incredibly unfortunate that this type of stuff is going on in a Seventh-day Adventist school. And it is incredibly unfortunate that a man who receives money from God's storehouse - money which is for the purpose of gaining souls for the Kingdom - has to resort to vulgar language to express his dismay - as if the use of such vulgarity solidifies his sincerity in an apostle-Peter-sort-of-way.

May we all engage in sincere soul-searching at this time.

The Neglected Word

Sadly, I have found that the area in my life that has suffered the most since becoming a father is also the most important area: my time with God. Even now, as I write this at 5:48 in the morning, I am on pins and needles as I watch my baby monitor to see if Camden stirs. And in fact he is right now.

I find myself having to wake up earlier and earlier if I want any time with the Lord. My wife and I have this "deal" that since she takes care of Camden all through the night, I get him in the morning when he won't go back to sleep while my wife gets another hour or two of sleep. And when Camden is awake, especially in the morning, he usually needs to be entertained or held or bounced around or something or other. In other words, when I have him in the morning there is little else I can do.

And that's part of the challenge: my devotional life suffers greatly if I cannot spend a huge chunk of uninterrupted time in the Word and in prayer. Some people, I suppose, can spend five minutes here and five minutes there throughout the day and still have a vibrant and thriving relationship with God. I cannot. Unless I have at least a good hour or more in uninterrupted time with Him, I cannot get any momentum going and my whole day gets off on the wrong foot - and just digresses from there.

I am greatly looking forward to the day, hopefully very soon, when Camden gets on a very consistent schedule and I know he wakes up at a certain time. Because, that is the main problem right now: one day he'll wake up at 6, the next day at 5:30, the next day at 5:45, etc. And so I have to go to bed the night before guessing as to which time he is going to wake up, and thus basing my wake-up time on what I think he is going to do.

I wonder what other people have done in their own experience to remedy such a dilemma. Any advice would be timely.