Thursday, March 23, 2017

Reading the Bible for Devotion

Recently I have read the Bible more than I usually do. Now this may come as a surprise to some, since I actually read the Bible more often. What could I mean by this seeming contradiction? When I read, I normally read the Bible as a text to study. Now this is not bad. In fact, it is part of loving God with your mind, which is something we should all strive to do (cf. Matt. 22:37). However, I had not been reading it as a devotional—I had not been reading it as something that can and should penetrate my heart and lead to life change.

It is certainly true that academic study should and often does lead to devotion. Sometimes, as in the case of Anselm and his development of the ontological argument, devotion just is the object of academic study or reflection on God. However—and this is especially true for seminary students—it is far easier to focus on word meanings, theme, immediate context, ancient setting, and theological and philosophical systems.

Reading devotionally has been really refreshing. And I don’t mean to suggest that I turn my brain off while I read. I still try to take note of the overall message and briefly scan the margins to see what alternate translation is. But I try to avoid the full academic side for a moment, gain the basic understanding of the context, and see what applications I can make.

Note that this is still fundamentally biblical study. But it is study with a purpose of worship of God, prayer and communion with him, and life change. If you haven’t been able to get jump started on this, I’d recommend starting small. Finishing a letter of the New Testament in one setting is not only not difficult, it allows you to feel a sense of accomplishment. Reading the whole letter in a single setting also helps you not to miss the forest for the trees; in other words, you tend to gain perspective about particular passages because you see the whole letter develop in front of you. This can especially be true in Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians. Well, really, it is true in all of them.


What lessons in Scripture is God teaching you? What else might you add to what I have written?

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

God as the Ideal Observer

I am continuing trying to write something every day. I hadn’t really thought much about what I was going to write until now. So here goes . . . .

I had a brief but interesting conversation today about God and whether or not he has a “view from nowhere.” The idea is that, contrary to modernist suppositions, one really can’t be 100% objective, with absolutely no presuppositions or perspective whatsoever. There really is no view from nowhere, where nothing and no one has any influence whatsoever on how we see things. We all have a worldview, implicit or not. So suppose God is particularly situated and is not perfectly objective, where “perfectly objective” apparently means “without a worldview.” How can God then know for sure that he knows all things? Couldn’t he be mistaken, simply being beholden to his worldview?

I think not, and for two (what I take to be) decent reasons. First, God is not like us. He does not have to gain knowledge as a finite knower. He knows all true propositions innately. Thus, he would not have to worry about whether or not he is mistaken in a given situation; he knows that he is not. Second, I take it that the perfectly objective observer is one where he has access to all the facts, amongst other things. God more than has access to all of the facts concerning a matter. He just is in every possible world, as the necessary being. God could not fail to exist in any circumstance.


Out of any possible scenario, God knows everything about it, including how it might and even would actually turn out. Further, God is the locus of everything good, so he knows and will do what is good, for only good comes from God (that is, God does not perform any acts of “evil,” where “evil” is contrary to God’s nature). So I think God fits this ideal observer in objectivity, and even though he has a nature, it’s not one capable of being shared or limited by context. Instead, it just is the foundation for all reality.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

From GED to PhD . . . Sort of

Some people already know the following story I am going to tell; others do not. I share in the interest of transparency, the hope that someone may proactively learn a lesson, and the prayer that someone who was or is in a similar situation may be encouraged and exhorted.

I never finished high school. That is, not in terms of graduation. In my senior year of high school, in the late winter-early spring, I finally realized that there was no way I was going to graduate without coming back another year. That was not something I was willing to do. I had gotten myself in that situation mostly by being lazy and disorganized; I had developed bad habits that were not going to be easy to break. So I left. I took the GED test, passed it, and figured I’d go on to college, where all my problems would be solved.

Some of you likely smirked, because you can see where this is going. The habits I had developed were not helpful, and not easy to get rid of—not that I tried very hard. I skipped classes, didn’t do homework, and generally did not study for tests or quizzes. It was a minor miracle I managed to pass my classes that first semester. But I didn’t pass all my classes that second semester, and each semester seemed to be just as bad as the one before it.


Finally, I came to the place where I realized I had to either get serious about school or simply quit. I realized I had spent too much time and too much money to walk away with nothing. So, while the road from there was hardly smooth, I determined to finish. And eventually, I managed to turn four academic years into six (seven and a half years of actual time), but I finally graduated. The habits I developed beforehand were laziness, procrastination, self-serving behaviors, and quitting. These habits are not easy to break, and I still deal with repercussions from these attitudes even now. The point of the story is this: yes, you can go from high-school dropout to PhD student. But the only reason I got there is God’s work in my life, and even then only after a lot of pain. I still have to learn most, if not nearly all, of my lessons the hard way. Don’t be the same (and I pray I won’t be going forward, as well!).

Monday, March 20, 2017

What God Brings to Mind

I’m trying to write something small each day, six days a week (I’ll take Sunday off). Or at least, this will be the attempt. I don’t know how long it will last, but many sources say it does some good to write something each day, even if it’s not research related or even particularly academic (I’m currently working on my PhD, as most of those who know me know by now!). I was reading Philippians today, and I was struck by two verses in particular (out of many!):

1:3 “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you,” (KJV)

and

3:15 “Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you.”

This past Sunday night, our church gathered for our prayer and worship night. It involved singing a few good songs, and equally, if not more strongly, emphasized was our prayer portion of the night. There were seven stations, and you could move to any station you wish and pray for the requests or topics there (missionaries, peoples of the world, the church, confession of sins, thanksgiving to God, etc.). It was a good time of focused, personal prayer (and yet we were all together). I prayed for our staff, our missionaries, people in limited-access countries, and praised God.

Yet the one thing I realized I did not do is pray for my wife and child. My own family. It was only today, in reading Philippians, that God revealed something else to me[1]: I don’t pray for my family. Oh, if one of them is sick, I will. But I don’t pray for my wife’s spiritual growth, or my son’s salvation, etc. At least not much at all. And yet there I was, praying for some people who were perfect strangers. Indeed, I should have prayed for those strangers—and I’m glad I did! But tonight I made a specific point to pray for them, and repented of that lack of prayer.

So what is it that God is bringing to your mind right now? Don’t look for excuses or dismiss it out of hand. What does he want you to change, in your thinking? It’s not about doing the kinds of things that you think ought to be done. Instead, it’s about being the kind of person that Christ would have you to be.



[1] The context of this passage is that we are to have the mindset that we have not already arrived, but we still have room to grow. If we have attitudes, then, that suggest otherwise, or areas that need improving, God will bring that to our minds.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Hypocrisy and Fallacies

When is an appeal to hypocrisy fallacious? Specifically, I’m talking about the claim, “If you argue that someone is hypocritical, therefore their view is false, that is fallacious.”

And there is something about this that is definitely right. Consider the pro-life movement. Suppose I support the outlawing of abortion in most, or even all, circumstances. Suppose further that I have never adopted any of these children whose abortions have been prevented. Suppose finally that I have never even so much as helped someone in need. “You’re a hypocrite!” the charge is levelled; and so I would be if I did nothing for anyone, ever. But what is supposed to follow from this? Surely not that abortions are permissible (the falsehood of my view). Something similar follows when people accuse liberals of being hypocrites because of immigration policies/executive order policies not opposed; nothing of relevance to the issue at hand follows from this.

But perhaps people don’t always mean to argue this way. Perhaps, instead, they mean something like the following: You didn’t hold to principle X last week, and now you do. Thus, either you have to admit that you were wrong last week, or wrong today—or else you’re being logically inconsistent.

What follows from this line of reasoning is that in cases where the opponent does not concede being wrong in the past—if this is really such a case as outlined above, and not a mistake in fact—then it follows they are wrong today. Thus, there is a kind of logical hypocrisy that, when pressed, can result in the establishment of the falsehood of a view. This is due to the law of noncontradiction; no two contradicting propositions can be true of the same thing at the same time and in the same sense.

So let’s apply this attempt at a correct appeal to hypocrisy to both test cases above. In the case of the pro-life movement, it might go like this: “You claim that God commands that life is sacred, but you seem uninterested in the poor and destitute. Are you wrong to be uninterested (since if life is sacred, one ought to be interested in the well-being of the less fortunate) or is life not sacred?”

And this makes some sense to me. Either life is or is not sacred, and unless I answer that I was wrong to be uninterested, then I affirm that life is not sacred (unless, of course, I challenge the facts of the matter). But this is not a particularly amazing strategy, since, of course, I can simply admit the error of my ways and hold to the sanctity of life. And while it’s true that if suddenly I were to claim that life is not sacred, I would not be right about this (truth isn’t up to me), it is true that if both of us in the debate agreed that life is not sacred, then there would be no more debate. What about the second case?

“You didn’t seem worried about executive orders when the last president was doing them. Either executive orders are worrisome or they are not. Either you were wrong to be not worried, or you are wrong to be critical of the current president merely for using them.”

This also strikes me as correct. Much of the analysis is the same as above; I can get out of this by admitting I was wrong. However, if I don’t challenge the facts of the matter, and I don’t admit I was wrong, then it follows I cannot criticize the president on this matter alone.


People don’t always mean this when they have an appeal to hypocrisy. Sometimes, perhaps even most of the time, they mean “X is a hypocrite; he’s wrong!” But sometimes they do—maybe—have this other style of argumentation in mind.