Wednesday, April 19, 2017

A Humble And Respectful Response To Neil deGrasse Tyson

Science is not an absolute truth, it is a paradigmatic process of discovery. Plus the scientific method is not meant to lead to dogmatic assertions by which all other claims must be subjugated or even eliminated, although that is often how people perceive it.
Believe it or not, evolution is still a theory, not a proven fact. Many issues in the field of molecular biology must be solved before anything more on the mechanisms of evolution can be understood (or as of yet even identified). Anthropological observations and paleontological discoveries are used to develop speculative hypotheses that cannot possibly be reproduced in controlled environments. Evolutionary theories (there are actually several) are attempts to contruct explanations of the evidence, a kind of best educated guess. The real frontier for research into evolution lies in the field of genetics, not digging up more bones of prehistoric creatures.
Simple views on evolution happen to be the en vogue understandings in our culture in North America and Europe, and it is indeed a disservice to evolutionary theory and to Darwin's own intentions when people try to squelch other attempts to explain the same evidence. A good theory is meant to challenge others to develop better support for its central tenets or find alternative theories that provide better explanations, not just make an inquisitional decree that all must bow down to it or be declared unclean and reprobate.
So, it is important to be aware of the innate tendency of people (even scientist themselves, and even the most brilliant ones) to misuse science for imposing their own philosophical biases on others. This is scientism, not science. Of course, the discoveries of science are fair game for use in supporting one's own philosophical beliefs, but this means being open to discussion and debate, and relying on means other than science (such as logic, phenomena, metaphysics, etc) to advocate for a particular truth assertion.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

And A Trumpet Shall Sound

These are just a few comments on where I am at in my present thoughts regarding our new president. It seems that lately I have had some people (who are members of pastor search teams) look over my blog posts, and apparently the piece I did on the Donald is drawing some comments (made directly to me, since I hardly ever get a comment on this blog).  One person even called to tell me that, no only did he not like what I said, but that there was "no way we are going to allow something like that here."  While this is definitely an aberration from most reactions, it does point out that I need to provide some kind of update to the post.  After all, it was written very early in the primary campaign, and, as we all know, a whole lot has changed since then.

While I am not yet sure where President Trump is going and what he will actually accomplish, I have joined the wary majority that did elect him to office.  This does not make me a fan, but I have come to be a supporter.  He is the president, duly elected by the will of the people (despite desperate claims to the contrary), and just as I prayed for and sought to support Barack Obama (with whom I disagreed quite regularly and drastically), I do the same for Donald Trump.  Like many during the campaign who found themselves caught in the proverbial place that is "between the devil and the deep blue sea," I had the same choice everyone else had: Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton.  While I had many  aforeposted misgivings about Mr. Trump, I had ten times more regarding Mrs. Clinton.  One claimed to be pro-life (most likely for public consumption), the other was blatantly and boastfully proud of not only supporting abortion, but made it clear she would do everything in her power to expand its devastation. One would appoint activist judges who want to dictate a judicial tyranny on any who disagree with their progressive or liberal views, and the other promised to appoint constructionist judges who would give allegiance to the constitution as the Founders intended.  Both had personal lives that were far from exemplary, and both were marked by glaring moral failures. So, given my personal views on abortion and the courts, I had very little alternative than to vote for Mr. Trump, hope for the best, and pray a lot.

The bigger issue is the rancor that has happened between some Christians who chose to support Trump and some who chose to support Clinton.  I've read numerous articles on both sides accusing the other of not truly being Christian, and saying that supporting one or the other is tantamount to rejecting the Word and betraying what it means to follow Christ.  One good friend of mine, who does wonderful work (ironically in a ministry reconciling cultural and political enemies), has taken to publishing in Facebook that people like Franklin Graham and others who are willing to identify with Trump's agenda are in fact not really Christians at all.  That is, as our new President would say, "very bad - very, very bad."  I will go one farther, and say it is yielding to the influence of Satan who seeks to divide the church and fracture the ministry of Christ in this world.  While who is a political leader and what they do is, of course, important, and has definite long lasting effects on our lives, our nation, the world, and history, it is far more important to affirm and celebrate the unity we have in Christ, who is, as St. Paul says, "far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come."  (Ephesians 1:21)

So, that is where my political predilections are at this time, for what that is worth (not much).  I don't know yet if President Trump is going to be a good thing or a bad thing.  I pray for him, and I pray that he will seek God's direction every day.  My own sense is that there will be great difficulties, but none so large and devastating to a free and hope-filled America as a Clinton administration would have been.  We are all in the same boat right now, Democrat and Republican, socialist and libertarian, liberal and conservative, and if we don't all pull on the oars together in rhythm, we may very well sink.  Thankfully (and I am talking about gratefulness to God), there is One who walks on the turbulent waves and who can calm the storm, and it isn't Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz, or even Donald Trump.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Heart Aflame (Calvin's Emblem Redux)

Related imageRecently I was helping with a renewal event at a church here in the thriving metropolis of Cedar Rapids, and one of the speakers, knowing I was a Presbyterian pastor, asked me to talk to the gathering about the crest, or emblem, of John Calvin.  Providentially (as we say in the Reformed tradition), the Lord had prepared me to be able to speak to the dedication and passion that is expressed in this intriguing statement about John Calvin’s personal faith.
“Cor meum quasi immolatum tibi offero, Domine, prompte et sincere” were the words emblazoned over the pulpit from which Calvin preached and taught at St. Peter’s Cathedral in Geneva.  In English, “My heart as sacrifice I give you, Lord, eagerly and honestly.”  It is a statement indicative of the passion Calvin has for God and for serving God.  His heart has been ignited by faith in Christ, which is why in many images the heart is aflame as it is being offered to God.  In this we see Calvin’s view of faith as more than some kind of contractual consent between the believer and God.  Rather, Calvin understands faith to be a tangible “touch” that we experience as a fire in our inner most being!  It enlivens, indeed, it illuminates us with an experience of faith that begins and supports an ongoing growth in the fruits of the Holy Spirit, in other words, a growing healthy spiritual life.  Thus, to have faith in Christ is to enter into a most real, aware, and sensory experience of being a living, breathing human person.
One of the interesting things about Calvin’s motto is that later quotes tend to leave out the phrase, “quasi immolatum” or “as sacrifice” and the image of fire.  Almost everyone still refers to the flaming heart pictured in the emblem, but rarely is it retained in the image.  While this is probably just an innocent development in the passing down of the motto, it does raise the idea of a “cooler,” or less emotive sense of faith.  For many, their experience of Christ, church, and faith are much less than  sacrificial and “fiery.”  For many of us, we’ve never felt that “fire in our bones,” as the prophets describe it.  When Pascal experienced the reality of God in his life, he just repeated the word, “fire, fire, fire.”  Is it possible that those words for sacrifice and the image of the flame have been discarded to fit the “cooled religious feelings” of Calvin’s theological descendants?  How many Reformed, Presbyterian, and congregational ministries can be called “passionate” in today’s churches?  How many Presbyterians, especially in the United States, have any sense of “fire” in their faith? 
Let me submit to you that this is the key to both our personal walk with Christ as well as our experience of being part of a church; that is, is your heart “aflame” with faith?  Is your faith in Christ something that grabs you deep within, something that makes you feel your heart beat, making you aware of the power of life coursing through your arteries and veins?  We can talk about what we should believe, and we can discuss the things we should do.  We can have a basic understanding of who Jesus is, and even have a finely honed orthodox knowledge of Christian beliefs, but it means nothing if we haven’t at some point experienced faith as a “majestic meekness” and a “sweet burning in my heart,” as Jonathan Edwards phrases it.  The writer to the Hebrews is even more descriptive of the experience of grace and faith when he says, “…let us be thankful and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”
So, is your faith in God like cooled off lava, having hardened into the religious impressive equivalent of polished basalt or sculpted obsidian – beautiful, but hard and cold?  Or does your faith bear with it the gift of the living God, who breathes life into your soul, causing your heart to stir with the fires of love, joy, and peace; things that lead to life – life overflowing?!