Monday, December 02, 2019

Blissful Ignorance 3

4. But my father did survive World War 2. My parents did meet. They had four daughters from 1948 to 1958 and thought they were done. Then they were surprised to have a boy in 1966, as of someone born out of season.

I grew up around "old people." My father was almost 42 when I was born. My mother was 40. I was born about a month premature. It was a dry birth as my mother's water broke about a week before I was delivered. There were medical students in the room to observe when I was finally born. They wouldn't do it that way today.

My sisters were pretty much out of the house when I was born, except for my youngest sister. But I have only the faintest memories of her living at home. All of my sisters did some or all high school at a Bible school of some sort. My oldest sisters went to the high school at Frankfort Pilgrim College, living with my grandmother off campus. My youngest sister did several years at Hobe Sound Bible College. These were all old school holiness places, buns and all.

5. They were all very "conservative." The meaning of the word conservative basically depends on what you're conserving. Conservative Quakers don't baptize. Conservative Catholics worship in Latin. Conservative holiness women used to wear skirts and put their hair up in buns, "Wesleyan wads" if you would.

I grew up already a generation in the past. The Wesleyan church of my youth was more the Pilgrim Holiness Church of the fifties or early sixties in some respects, not really the Wesleyan Church of the seventies. I grew up thinking that women who cut their hair had either "backed up on light" or simply didn't know any better.

I have always been a people-pleaser. I had not a rebellious bone in my body that I knew of. I think my mother at one point thought I was rebelling against my youth but I didn't experience it that way. My transition from the holiness world of my childhood to a more mainstream Wesleyan identity was very painful in some respects. It was driven, in my opinion, by a commitment to truth and some paradigm challenging experiences.

But I am getting ahead of myself. Until I was twenty, I was pretty much zealous for the traditions of my elders.

6. The first ten years of my life were pretty happy, as far as I can recall. My mother's philosophy of child-raising, at least with regard to me, was not to provoke her children to wrath. She did not force me to do things and mostly didn't need to. I was not resistant, for the most part. My wife would strongly suspect I was spoiled growing up.

The first four years of my life were spent in Indianapolis, in the church that would become Trinity Wesleyan Church. In my time, it was Northside, in what is now a much different part of Indy than it was then. Of course even then my family drove twenty minutes from Carmel to the church for every service. As so many churches did, it would move to the suburbs around 1980. We could ponder possible socio-economic and racial dimensions to this move but I won't.

I have few memories of Preston Drive in northern Indy. Four year old walks with my father to a fire hydrant on College Ave no doubt to talk about deep subjects. Almost getting run over by our car when I put it in neutral in our driveway. I'm told I used to shoot with my fingers at Pastor Art Davis while he preached. As foreshadowing, I'm told I used to preach up a storm on a mound in our backyard.

7. About a month before I turned five we moved to Florida. My dad worked for what would become GMAC, General Motor's Assurance Corporation. He was immensely responsible, a book-keeper by personality, like his mother. He had been the District Treasurer for the Indiana Central District of the Wesleyan Church. He would become the same for Florida and served for thirty years. In that time I saw him transition from a six-inch thick ledger to Quicken Books electronically.

I hope my Hoosier friends will forgive me, but even in the tribal days of my teens I was grateful to grow up in Florida. Even when I still quite a "holiness Wesleyan," it seemed to me that there was a certain narrow-mindedness to the Wesleyans of Indiana Central. Perhaps I will have further thoughts on that later. I felt that growing up in south Florida somehow gave me a bigger picture of the world.

Nevertheless, we did not lose contact with the world of my parents' past. Growing up, almost all of our vacations had to do with the church in some way. Every four years my father was a delegate to General Conference. That took us to places like Wichita, Kansas and Lake Junaluska, North Carolina. We went to Brooksville Winter Camp. We went to Hobe Sound Bible Camp. We went to district conference.

Two trips of great interest as a child were the trips to visit two of my older sisters at Brainerd Indian School around 1976 and the Philippines to visit my sister Juanita in 1978. The Wesleyan Church would later issue an apology to native American Wesleyans for the cultural insensitivity associated with our work at Brainerd. Many who had worked there did not see it and probably still don't to this day.

Don't get me wrong. I believe that the intentions of those who worked at Brainerd were good. They provided education, which was good. I believe most of the students there probably loved their teachers. The problem was not intention--at least I hope not. The problem was a lack of self-awareness.

Growing up in such an unreflective tributary of Christianity would later, in my opinion, give me a really good grasp of what I would call "pre-modern interpretation." It is an inability to see that you are reading the Bible as a mirror for what you already believe. The Bible is extensively a set of proof-texts that give a divine imprimatur for your group's traditions, beliefs, values, and practices. The Bible is proclaimed to be the authority, but it is really much more a sociological mechanism for giving divine sanction for your tribe's identity.

In my late 20s, I sometimes thought to myself that I might have been spared some of my faith crisis in those days if I had been born in a tradition that was more mainstream. On the other hand, I'm not sure that we necessarily start out more self-aware in any tradition. Education with an open mind is what tends to make a person more self-aware, and such education almost always involves deconstruction of tradition. Nevertheless, it is still possible that I would have struggled less. I don't know.

8. The most significant trips of all were the yearly pilgrimages to Frankfort Camp. The college was closed in 1972, I believe, but the camp meeting continued. While camp meetings began to close, I grew up in this time machine into the holiness movement's past. Running the aisle's, shouting hallelujah--I caught the tail end of that phenomenon just as J. D. Abbott and others were moving the church toward doing everything "decently and in order." (I was actually named after his son.)

Friday, November 29, 2019

Blissful Ignorance 2

I was born at a very young age. And before I did anything else, I was born.

1. Of course God had been quite busy for quite an eternity before I emerged into the world. My existence is contingent. God's is necessary.

This is one of Aquinas' arguments for the existence of God that I like quite a bit. It makes sense to me although I don't consider it definitive from where I sit in the peanut galleries. It actually reminds me a little of Anselm's ontological argument for God, although in a more plausible form.

All that exists around me has a contingent existence. I know of nothing in my sense experience that has to be. But if the existence of all real things was only contingent, then it would be possible that nothing would exist. But if it were possible for nothing to exist, then nothing could ever come into being. Therefore, at least one thing must exist whose existence is necessary. And this, we call God.

Of course a cosmologist might respond that matter/energy cannot be created or destroyed. Does that make the existence of matter/energy necessary? I would respond that God created it. Then I am affirming by faith that it is not necessary even though it appears so.

Then there is the idea that particles can briefly appear and disappear as a function of quantum vacuum fluctuations. Some suggest that perhaps the universe is the result of one such fluctuation on the smallest of scales before the great expansion. Seems rather far fetched to me.

2. So I am a contingent being. What if my father had died in World War II? What if he and my mother had never met? The world would have gone on just fine.

I come from solid Hoosier stock. My mother and father were born and lived the early half of their lives in Indiana. Both sets of their parents were born and died in Indiana.

My mother's nineteenth century ancestors were Hoosiers, from the Sullivan area. Whether Shepherd,  Rich, Wall, Shelburn, or Wright, they were in Indiana by 1850. The Shelburns went back to a man who was in Jamestown by 1640. Family tradition is that he came over with Captain John Smith, although he is not found on any manifest.

The Shepherds were my mother's maiden namesake. They would seem to be Scots-Irish Quakers who came over from northern Ireland in the early 1700s. Family tradition is that they made their way to southern Indiana by way of North Carolina, I would guess from the Guilford County area.

My Grandfather Shepherd was a teacher at Frankfort Pilgrim College, a graduate of Wabash College in 1907. He was an orphan at 14 when his father died. His mother had died when he was six, in 1889. His father had been injured in the Civil War escorting an unruly soldier to the brig. A horse had stepped on him in a ruckus.

My father's family were also Hoosier settlers. His mother's family on all sides were Old German Baptists from Carroll County in the Camden area. They migrated from Germany in the 1700s. His father was of Dutch descent, coming over to New Amsterdam in the 1600s before the British took over and made it New York. You can still see the name Schenck in that part of Brooklyn.

My inherited pronunciation, by the way, is SKANK. I have since gone by SHANK to protect my wife and children. But my Dad used to tell people it was pronounced like "skunk" with an A.

3. Both my parents' family were deeply religious, deeply Christian, deeply holiness. One of my best friends in early high school was Derek Heinemann. He wrote in my yearbook that I was the most religious person he knew.

Both my grandfathers were preachers in the Pilgrim Holiness Church, a Wesleyan denomination birthed in the early 1920s out of a snowball of small holiness groups that grew out of revivals around the turn of the century. My father's dad was a church planter, an entrepreneur of sorts. He wasn't book smart by any means, and I remember him as a gruff, no-nonsense man. He was a firebrand, a man of law rather than grace.

My other grandfather pastored a number of churches during the Depression, when the college was closed. He was a teacher of end times prophecy, a thorough dispensationalist. A soft, humble man who was generally the last to get paid. He apparently only believed sex was for procreation.

Not Quite a Genius 1

1. I can have a somewhat morbid personality, with a tinge of hypochondria. It is a little joke in my family. It's not that I am surprised to have lived past fifty years. It's just that I have been preparing for death for a couple decades.

I have written a lot about myself in various places--blogs, Facebook, and such. Not that there is anything significant about my life. One possible title for my autobiography might be, "The Life of No One in Particular." I am just an intellectual hoarder. I want to preserve as many memories of the past as possible. One of the greatest losses in a person's death, at least to me, is the loss of their memories. A little history dies with each person. Frankly, a lot of history dies with each person. It can never be recovered, at least not on earth. This saddens me.

The electronic age makes possible the preservation of so much more. Papers must be discarded. Old trophies and plaques deteriorate. They become a burden to families for those who preserve them. But no one begrudges the perpetual storage of electronic words.

So I have done the thought experiment. If I were to find out suddenly that I was dying, would I have time to write my reflections on my life? Probably not. I would probably be to preoccupied with the things having to do with dying. And of course many deaths come without warning. I am traveling a good deal later today, as I write these first notes. Stuff happens.

My intention is to capture my thoughts and reflection on life here, particularly on my life. I have had many a pleasant wandering. My life has been full of privilege and joy. Not that I am a happy person. I am a melancholic. I live from emotional highs to emotional lows. I have never been diagnosed with anything. I take no medication for anything. It is simply the case that I have not always felt what is a truly wonderful life.

In high school they told me my IQ was 139, I think. It could have been 138. At times I feel stupid. At times I feel smart. Most of the time I just feel like I'm doing my best to get through life. Growing up I did not feel any smarter than anyone else.

However, I've sometimes joked that I was one point short of a number they've called genius IQ. It's really quite meaningless. But I've joked that they should put on my epitaph, "Not Quite a Genius." It somehow seems to capture something about myself. Sometimes above average. Not quite excellent.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Reminiscences: 1975-76, 1978

1. My mother is musically gifted. She plays the piano by ear, although she can also read music. In fact, she met my father because she was helping with the music for a church plant my Dad's father was doing in Indianapolis out of a rented house.

The violin on the left was hers. If I have the story correctly, she bought it off a man in Indy who had played in John Philip Sousa's band. It was my first violin.

I played violin in the fifth grade, as I recall, for Mrs. Stokes at Wilton Manors Elementary School in Florida. I was also in the Florida Singing Sons that year. We sang excerpts from The Sound of Music. Interestingly, I found it difficult to memorize all the words to the songs.

I have sometimes joked that I have a phonographic memory. I do well remembering tunes, harmonies, percussion. My family will attest that I am not so good at getting the lyrics correctly, a source of great irritation to my wife. I can whistle Mozart (as one Houghton student remarked coming upon me on the sidewalk). I can't always get the words quite right to some song I've sung for years.

I had Mrs. Stokes, as I recall, as my Kindergarten music teacher. (Mrs. Giddons was my main teacher for Kindergarten).

2. I took violin lessons along with a couple other students at Sunrise Middle School in the summer of 1978. I don't remember the name of the teacher. I picture him as a somewhat short man with a mustache. I did not practice, I hate to say. My parents got me the slightly larger violin to the right at some point in there.

This was always my difficulty in those days. Short span of attention. A woman in the seat in front of us at a church concert in Vero Beach once asked my mother if I'd been checked for hyperactivity. I suspect I was just being a child and the woman needed to take a chill pill. :-)

My mother's approach was not to force me to learn piano and such. When I expressed interest, she gladly gave me music or a lesson. So to whatever extent I can play the piano (which is not much), I am mostly self-taught. I hated having to follow the fingering of the lessons. Why can't I hit the notes however I can hit the notes?

Of course I agree with the words spoken to me often then--"When you're older you'll wish you had practiced." I knew she was right then and I agree with her now. I have become much more disciplined over the years as my metabolism has slowed down. Youth is, alas, wasted on the young.

3. I think I learned "Turkey in the Straw" in fifth grade (1975-76). I can probably still screech it out. I tried to learn a little vibrato in the seventh grade summer (1978), but I never mastered it.

As for the piano, I was inspired by my brother-in-law, Dalbert Walker. He introduced me to Rondo Capriccioso by Felix Mendelssohn. I got to where I could play quite a bit of the beginning of it just hammering it out on my own. My mother had of course helped me much earlier memorize Fur Elise. Somewhere in there also was Debussy's Claire de Lune. Pieces I aspired to but never attained were Liebestraum by Franz Liszt and Rachmaninoff's Prelude in C Sharp Minor.

This latter piece was a favorite of the man who lived two houses down west from us in "the woods." He and his wife had so many trees around their house that you could hardly see in. It was intentional. But as they got older they became friends with my family. They gave Dalbert a grand piano. Because of the first three notes, he called the Prelude the "O My God" prelude. They were quite explicitly atheist, the only atheists I knew in those years. But they were very nice people and became somewhat reflective in later life, as I recall.

I still tell myself that I will return to the piano when I am retired.

As a note to myself, the man next to us west was Mr. Pritchard. Tony was across the street. The Wilkersons lived across from the woods. The Hartmans (Jennifer's grandfather) and Verdigams across 6th avenue.

Books I've Read/Skimmed

So that I don't forget in my end of year summary, I wanted to jot down some books I've read or skimmed this year that I haven't mentioned.

1. Prisoners of Geography

2. Range

3. Ask

4. The Language of God

5. The Lost World of Genesis 1: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate

6. The Lost World of Adam and Eve

7. When Science Meets Religion

8. Religion and Science

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Reminiscences: Ichthusman (1990-92)

Moving affords you the chance to see items from your past. I'm not quite sure what to do with all of them. But I thought as I sort through things I might catalog snippets of my life.

1. I believe it was during the years I was a teaching fellow at Asbury Seminary that I occasionally played the role of Ichthusman at the summer Ichthus festival at the old campground just east of Wilmore. Ichthus was started by Bob Lyon as a kind of Christian version of Woodstock.

I was not exciting enough as a student to be asked to do something like this, but as a Greek and Hebrew teaching fellow I found my stride for the first time in my life. In fact, I would say those two years were probably the happiest of my life. I don't think I was especially thought of as funny before I started teaching Greek. (although my menu-boards at seminary may be a future post)

I did always have a penchant for superheroes and capes, however. I don't know how the idea emerged. I would come out on stage with the Velcroed white shirt and blue pants to the left, which I bought at some goodwill store of some kind. Then "Lust Boy" or "Sin Man" would come on stage. Then off with the outer clothing and Ichthusman to the rescue.

I found most of the pieces to the outfit in my current move. The toilet cleaning gloves were thrown away several years ago. At one point I had the idea of parachuting into the campground, an idea that was quickly dismissed not least for insurance purposes.

2. Close friends, an opportunity to teach with a little money, a stimulated mind, Lexington nearby, running, the naivete of youth in a sheltered world--these were great years. I started an MA in classics at UK in the spring of my first year as teaching fellow and would finish in 93. I found my master's hood from the University of Kentucky as well.

I actually proposed to my wife Angie under "High Bridge" during Ichthus in 1998, four miles south of Wilmore at the Kentucky River. She was a youth pastor at the time and took the Main Street United Methodist youth of her church to Ichthus. It was a cold and rainy set of days, as I recall. That was near the end of my first year teaching at IWU.

3. My educational path in those days was similar to that of Joe Dongell. He had graduated from Central Wesleyan College before me (now Southern Wesleyan). He had gone to Asbury. He had become a Teaching Fellow. He had gone to the University of Kentucky to do an MA in Classical Languages and Literature. I think I even had the same full tuition scholarship there that he did.

Of course he was superior to me at every step. In those days I always felt like I was playing catch-up. When I finished a degree, I felt like I was finally ready to start.

I adjuncted for Midway College (now Midway University) near Louisville a couple times around 92-93. It was still a college for women at that time. They were mostly nursing students. I followed the textbook and syllabus of Robert Miller, who had been a member of the Jesus Seminar. I thought it interesting at the time that he would have someone from Asbury teach. Another teaching fellow had done it before me, although I don't remember who.

I remember arguing in class for the virgin birth by saying that Paul believed it and he was close enough in time to the situation to know. It later occurred to me that Paul never clearly mentions the virgin birth in his writings :-) Galatians 4:4 is hardly explicit. The paradigmatic lapse indicated to me that I had been viewing the Bible as one book with a single author rather than as a collection of books with different authors.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Wesleyan Tradition and the Reformation

Happy Reformation Day!

I like to remember today that the Wesleyan tradition comes from the Church of England rather than the high Reformation path of the Lutherans and the Reformed. The Anglican tradition has often viewed itself as somewhat of a "via media" or middle way.

1. So with regard to sola fide, we are often accused of believing in works because we believe you can fall away. We are both James and Paul. [1]

2. With regard to sola scriptura, we often speak of a quadrilateral, where some would say prima scriptura is a better description of us. [2]

3. With regard to sola gratia, we fit well with recent scholarship suggesting that grace involved a reciprocal, even if disproportionate relationship between giver and receiver. [3]

4. With regard to solus Christus, we are in agreement, but we recognize that the way of Christ is more a confession of the heart than a mere cognitive assent with the head. [4]

5. With regard to soli Dei gloria, it is technically true, but we would emphasize God's response that we mean everything to him.

[1] The Wesleyan tradition fits very well with the new perspective on Paul.

[2] Insights from twentieth century hermeneutics suggest that words alone have no fixed meanings unless they are located in a context. The locations of biblical context are varied and ancient, requiring "translation" to other contexts. In short, it's never the Bible alone.

[3] Once again, recent clarifications of ancient patron-client language support Wesleyan understandings of grace.

[4] Which can survive the postmodern critique much better than hyper-modernist traditions

Saturday, October 26, 2019

His Truth is Marching on

1. I used to love Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's famous quote: "The arch of history is long, but it bends toward justice." I knew it wasn't true for the individual histories of many places. The arch of history in so many places is conquest, plateau, decline, conquest by someone else.

But I thought it was true for the US, at least for this period. Unlike those who liked the motto, "Make America Great Again" in the last election, I have felt that America was, on the whole, getting better and better. I was truly proud of our nation. And I felt the church was getting better and better.

The biblical standard, the Christian standard for ethics is love of God and neighbor, and the primary manifestation of the love of God is the love of our neighbor. And we remember that the love of our neighbor includes the love of our enemy. I don't think the Bible is calling us to be stupid in the face of our enemy. But this is Jesus' ethic. This is the biblical ethic. This is God's ethic according to Scripture.

So what would being a great nation mean? It would mean, of course, being a nation that truly serves God. But that love of God would chiefly mean being a nation that embodies the love of everyone in that nation.

2. As far as loving God, these last years have led me to take to heart Jesus' words that "narrow is the gate and few there be who find it." There will be times and places culturally where most people claim to be serving God. But the number looks to be about 30%. What I mean is, even if 60-70% of Americas were to say they are Christians, I bet the true number in the invisible church is always more like 30%.

The implication is that there will never truly be a Christian nation. In fact, by extension, perhaps only about 30% of Israel was truly Israel. We tend to confuse political units with the church, but I suspect that only 30% of the medieval Catholic church was truly part of the Church. I'm not being rigid or flippant about these thoughts. I'm only saying is that, on this planet, on this project of God in this corner of the universe, humanity seems doomed to be a majority profligate species, even after God's offer of salvation.

God couldn't care less about a people that says they are serving him. That is a trick. That is a path of self-deception. We use our power to force people to our ways and call it "Look God, we are serving you." My hunch is that those who push for this sort of civil religion are themselves probably not truly in the church. My hunch is that the greatest proponents of civil religion are themselves drunk on power rather than the Holy Spirit.

3. So a nation that serves God in name is not a nation that serves God. The greatest embodiment of a nation that serves God is a nation that loves its people and that sets up structures that embody the love of one another. Growing up, I was proud of the American experiment because I believe it at least tried to embody this biblical ideal.

What might this look like? A nation that loved its neighbors would believe that "all humans are created equal. They are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable" privileges, because they are all created in the image of God. That means a system of equal justice under the law, and laws that fight against the natural human gravity of tribalism and inequality toward equality.

A loving system fights against classism, racism, sexism, and any -ism that privileges--intentionally or unintentionally--one group over another. I'm speaking of equal empowerment for opportunity, not communism. "The greatest good for the greatest number" with a Bill of Rights to protect minorities and individuals from what might benefit the majority to the detriment of the minority. Yes, I believe a carefully regulated capitalism makes for greater overall human thriving. Working out the details is always a matter of expertise (and the will to do so).

4. This direction is not inevitable. I knew it, but have long wanted to believe that Dr. King's motto would be true for my lifetime. Yet I cannot say with confidence that history will look back on these days and say the right thing. I still think it will, but I'll admit I'm not sure.

What is the right thing? I think it is clear that the last three years have been a major step back in the move toward justice. Has America become more loving toward its neighbors and the world in these last three years? The self-deception of the evangelical church has been astounding.

The attitude and comments of John MacArthur on Beth Moore this past week are representative of the heart of the evangelical church in general in America. It thinks it is standing up for God when in fact God's Spirit has left the room. I wish I could say, "Let them wither on the vine." God's truth is marching on. I hope that's true.

But God's kingdom is not yet fully here. It will only be fully here when Christ returns. Until then, the true invisible Church may face some rough waters... often from the visible church.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Sermon Starters: Know Thy Frog DNA

Houghton College Chapel: 10/25/19

Text: Genesis 1:1-5

  • I used to have the role Dr. Sarah Derck has here. Every once and a while I would get a question from the parent of a prospective student. "What do you believe about evolution? What is your interpretation of Genesis 1?
  • I would usually answer two things: 1) God did it and 2) the Bible is true.
I. "All truth is God's truth."
  • When it comes to these sorts of issues, I strongly believe in an old saying: "All truth is God's truth." If you find something that is really true in one area (e.g., business), then it's going to fit with something that is really true in another area (e.g., music). Truth is what God thinks, and God thinks about a lot of things in every area.
  • So if something is true in science, it's going to fit with the truth of Scripture.
  • One big problem is that we always seem to assume that the problem is with the understanding of science and not with my understanding of Scripture.
  • We are inevitably a mixture of stuff that is really there and stuff that is really tradition, or culture, or just the fact that we are weird.
  • Matthew doesn't say there were just three wise men. Some people will get very upset with you if you tell them.
  • Jurassic Park - they mixed frog DNA with the real dinosaur DNA. We all inevitably have some frog DNA in our faith.
  • 1 Corinthians 3:11-13 - the foundation is Christ. We build stuff on him--some gold (Apostle's Creed) but also some grass (not least because you're weird).
2. Let's look at the Genesis text.
  • Genesis 1:1-2
  • I see three main take-aways: 1) God did it, 2) God did it alone, and 3) God brought order out of chaos.
  • Debate about the rest. For example, many think this is God creating out of pre-existent chaos like in the Enuma Elish or Greek Theognis.
  • I tend to read it with what I consider golden Christian glasses. Creation out of nothing (ex nihilo). Creation out of empty set! It implies that God is omnipotent and omniscient.
3. Beware of staking your faith on any one interpretation or conclusion of science.
  • Beware of the "God of the gaps."
  • Beware of the "evidence demands" approach of a certain apologetic. It is ultimately about faith and God is the one who gives us the power to have faith.
  • Having said that, it is fun to read these verses with a view to some modern science.
  • Big Bang - suggests there was a beginning. Many twentieth century scientists resisted this conclusion, including Einstein. Fred Hoyle.
  • Genesis 1:3 - author of Genesis didn't have anything like what I'm about to say in mind, but perhaps God smiled at the thought of CBR 13.8 billion years ago.
  • Fine tuning of universe: expansion just right not to rip or crunch. Just right for the right proportion of helium and hydrogen. Just the right asymmetry between matter and antimatter, just the right balance between the forces.
  • Francis Collins suggests this really only leaves two possibilities: creation or the multiverse. Both require faith.
Romans 11:33-36

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Online Science and Scripture course

taken from
I will be teaching an 8 week online course for Houghton College from late October to December called Science and Scripture. I'm excited not only for the topic but also for the notion of offering the live sessions of courses like this one as life-long learning possibilities for a broader audience.

To join the class, follow this link:

1. If you just want to audit the class, basically coming to the live sessions on Monday nights from 7-9, the cost is $150 per person. A church could then have a small group to discuss the live time later in the week or during Sunday School.

2. If you want to take it as a bona fide class for college credit and transfer it back to another college, the tuition can be paid as $300 a month for five months ($500 a credit hour).

Main Books:
Tentative Course Schedule
(Reading: B=Barbour; C=Collins; W=Walton)

Week 1: The Four Views
(Oct 28-Nov 3)
  • Reading: B xi-38; C 1-54
  • Live Session October 28 from 7-9pm EDT (25 points participation)
  • Weekly Discussion (30 points)
  • Where I am now (50 points)
Week 2: Genesis 1 and the Big Bang
(Nov 4-10)
  • Reading: B 39-64; C 57-84 W 5-45
  • Live Session November 4 (25 points participation)
  • Weekly Discussion (30 points)
  • Interpretation Work: Genesis 1:1-2 or Hebrews 11:3 (50 points)
Week 3: Quantum Physics, Determinism, and Free Will
(Nov 11-17)
  • Reading: B 65-84, 150-180; W 46-76
  • Live Session November 11 (25 points participation)
  • Weekly Discussion (30 points)
  • Interpretation Work: Psalm 139, Romans 9, Ephesians 1 (50 points)
Week 4: Adam, Eve, and Genetics
(Nov 18-24)
  • Reading: C 85-142 W 77-112
  • Live Session November 18 (25 points participation)
  • Weekly Discussion (30 points)
  • Reading Response (50 points)
Week 5: Genesis and Evolution
(Nov 25-Dec 1)
  • Reading: B 90-118; W 113-172
  • Live Session November 15 (25 points participation)
  • Weekly Discussion (35 points)
  • Interpretation Work: Genesis 1 (50 points)
Week 6: Evolution and the Fall
(Dec 2-8)
  • Reading: C 145-234; Selections
  • Live Session December 2 (25 points participation)
  • Weekly Discussion (35 points)
  • Interpretation Work: Genesis 3 or Romans 5 (50 points)
Week 7: The Fall and the Environment
(Dec 9-15)
  • Selections from Douglas and Jonathan Moo
  • Live Session December 9 (25 points participation)
  • Weekly Discussion (30 points)
  • Short Paper (50 points)
Week 8: Embodiment, the Soul, and Personhood
(Dec 16-22)
  • Reading: B 119-49; C 235-272
  • Live Session December 9 (25 points participation)
  • Weekly Discussion (30 points)
  • Final Research Paper (200 points)

Sunday, October 06, 2019

2. Leadership and Diversity Books

Will add to the list as I find them in unpacking...

Leadership, Management, Administration
  • The Making of a Leader by Bobby Clinton
  • From Good to Great by Jim Collins
  • Great by Choice by Jim Collins and Morton Hansen
  • Built to Last by Collins and Porras
  • How the Mighty Fall by Collins
  • What Got You Here Won't Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith
  • Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
  • Six Thinking Hats by Edward de Bono
  • How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
  • The Starfish and the Spider by Brafman and Beckstrom
  • Leading Change by Kotter
  • Necessary Endings by Henry Cloud
  • Leadership Pain by Samuel Chand
  • Power Plays by Wayne Schmidt
  • Leadership (5e) by Northouse
  • Introduction to Leadership (2e) by Northouse
  • Leading Up by Michael Useem
  • Leading Leaders by Jeswald Salacuse
  • Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader by Ibarra
  • Mentoring Leaders by Carson Pue
  • Leading From the Inside Out by Rima
  • Leadership the Wesleyan Way, ed by Aaron Perry and Easley (I'm in there)
  • The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni
  • Death by Meeting by Lencioni
  • The Ideal Team Player by Lencioni
  • Sticky Teams by Osborne
  • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
  • Think Better by Hurson
  • Brain Rules by John Medina
  • The Four Disciplines of Execution by McChesney, Covey, and Huling
  • Range by David Epstein
  • Dare to Lead by Brene Brown
  • The One Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson
  • Work Rules by Laszlo Bock
  • Project Management for Dummies 
  • Roberts Rules of Order
  • Now, Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton
  • Living Your Strengths by Winseman, Clifton, and Liesveld
  • Standout 2.0 by Buckingham
  • Made to Stick by Heath and Heath
  • Eldership and the Mission of God by Briggs and Hyatt
  • Church Elders by Jeramie Rinne (deficient)
  • Half Time by Buford
  • Foundations of Church Administration by Petersen, Thomas, and Whitesel
  • Management for Your Church by Lindgren and Shawchuck
  • The Church Leader's MBA by Smith and Wright
  • What Every Pastor Should Know by McIntosh and Arn
  • The Missional Leader by Roxburgh and Romanuk
  • Five Levels of Leadership by John Maxwell
  • Amplified Leadership by Dan Reiland
  • Home Run by Kevin Myers and John Maxwell
  • A Tale of Three Kings by Edwards
  • From Success to Significance by Reeb
  • Free by Chris Anderson
  • The E Myth Enterprise by Gerber
  • The E Myth Manager by Gerber
  • The E Myth Revisited by Gerber
  • Visioneering by Stanley
  • Dare to Serve by Bachelder 
  • Unscripted by Johnson
  • The Death of Expertise by Tom Nichols
Culture and Diversity
  • Cultural Intelligence by Livermore
  • Culture Making by Crouch
  • Culture Map by Erin Meyer
  • Christ and Culture by Niebuhr
  • Christ and Culture Revisited by Carson
  • Christianity in Culture by Kraft
  • American Nations by Colin Woodard
  • Jesus Without Borders by Green, Pardue, and Yeo
  • Facing Leviathan by Mark Sayers
  • A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King Jr.
  • Race: A Theological Account by Carter
  • The Christian Imagination by Willie James Jennings
  • The Cross and the Lynching Tree by Cone
  • A Black Theology of Liberation by Cone
  • Jesus and the Disinherited by Thurman
  • Dream with Me by Perkins
  • Multiethnic Conversations by Deymaz and Okuwobi
  • Being the Church in a Multi-Ethnic Community by McIntosh and McMahan
  • Tears We Cannot Stop by Michael Eric Dyson
  • Prophetic Lament by Rah
  • Many Colors by Rah
  • Disunity in Christ by Cleveland
  • The History of White People by Painter
  • Dear White Christians by Harvey
  • Uncle Tom's Cabin
  • Social Inequity by Marger
  • We Should All Be Feminists by Adichie
  • Evicted by Desmond
  • Through My Enemy's Eyes by Munayer and Loden
  • The Lemon Tree by Tolan
  • Coming Together in the 21st Century by DeYoung
  • I Am Because We Are by Hord and Lee
  • Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria by Tatum
  • The Color of Compromise by Tisby
  • Lifting the White Veil by Hitchcock
  • Bridging the Diversity Gap by Alvin Sanders
  • Waking Up White by Irving
  • Prejudice Across America by Waller
  • Place, Not Race by Cashin
  • To Plead Our Cause by Bales and Trodd
  • The End of White Christian America by Jones
  • Embrace by LeRoy Barber
  • The Death of Race by Banum

Friday, October 04, 2019

1. Science and Math Books

I can't imagine I will complete this idea, but as I am in the process of moving, my books are largely in boxes. Wouldn't it be interesting to catalog all my books? Well, it would be for me. I'll add to the list as I find them. I've put my favorites in bold.

  • Calculus 6e, by James Stewart (this is the book I've been using to make YouTube videos on calculus for several years now)
  • Dr. Euler's Fabulous Formula by Paul Nahin
  • e: the Story of a Number by Eli Maor
  • Linear Algebra, by Richard Penney
  • No Bullshit Guide to Linear Algebra by Ivan Savov
  • Differential Equations: A First Course by Guterman and Nitecki (my college textbook)
  • Chemistry: The Central Science by Brown, LeMay, Burston, and Murphy (this is the book I've been using to make YouTube videos on chemistry for several years now)
  • University Physics, by Young and Freedman (this is the book I've been using to make YouTube videos on physics for several years now)
  • A Student's Guide to Maxwell's Equations by Daniel Fleisch
  • Fundamentals of Physics I and II by R. Shankar
  • The Feyman Lectures on Physics, vols I, II, and III
  • The Character of Physical Law by Richard Feynman
  • QED by Richard Feynman
  • Quantum Mechanics and Path Integrals by Richard Feynman and Hibbs
  • Reality Is Not What It Seems: The Journey to Quantum Gravity by Carlo Rovelli
  • Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli
  • A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking (I've had since late 80s)
  • Just Six Numbers, by Martin Rees
  • Our Mathematical Universe by Max Tegmark
  • The Road to Reality by Roger Penrose
  • The Science of Interstellar by Kip Thorne
  • The Fabric of the Cosmos by Brian Greene
  • The Hidden Reality by Brian Greene
  • The Theoretical Minimum: What You Need to Know to Start Doing Physics, by Leonard Suskind
  • Quantum Mechanics: The Theoretical Minimum by Leonard Susskind
  • Thirty Years That Shook Physics by George Gamow
  • Quantum Mechanics: A Complete Introduction, by Alexandre Zagoskin (bought in LA when I took Sophie to Pepperdine)
  • Introduction to Quantum Mechanics (2nd ed) by David Griffiths
  • Quantum Mechanics for Scientists and Engineers by David Miller (a textbook)
  • Covariant Loop Quantum Gravity by Rovelli and Vidotto
  • 30-Second Quantum Theory by Brian Clegg
  • Quantum Field Theory for the Gifted Amateur by Lancaster and Blundell 
  • Quantum Theory, by David Bohm
  • Higgs by Jim Baggott
  • Three Roads to Quantum Gravity by Lee Smolin
  • Relativity by Einstein (older version and 100th anniversary edition)
  • The Perfect Theory: A Century of Geniuses and the Battle over General Relativity by Pedro Ferreira
  • A Most Incomprehensible Thing: Notes towards a Very Gentle Introduction to the Mathematics of Relativity (both second and third edition)
  • General Relativity by Robert Ward (a thick texbook I've had since 1984)
  • Special Relativity by A. P. French
  • The Ancestor's Tale by Richard Dawkins and Yan Wong
Computer Science
  • Learning Web App Development by Semmy Purewal
  • Android: Programming and App Development for Beginners by Samuel Shields
  • The Columbia University College of Physicians Complete Home Medical Guide (since 1985... I was in a book club)
  • House Construction Details by Burbank and Romney (1979 - my dad was very patient with my requests)

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Language of God 4

So far:
Chapter 1 Notes: here
Chapter 2 Notes: here
Chapter 3 Notes: here

Chapter 4: Life on Earth
  • Begins by recapping the argument from design by William Paley. He argues against Paley's argument with a syllogism that I don't actually think is analogous. I recognize that Paley's argument is not without its questions, but I don't think Collins has really dispensed with it as easily as he thinks.
Origins of Life
  • Earth inhospitable to life for its first 500 million years. 4 billion years ago, no evidence of life. 150 years later, microbial life.
  • "No current hypothesis comes close to explaining how in the space of a mere 150 million years, the prebiotic environment that existed on Earth gave rise to life" (90). Collins is rightfully cautious about inserting God into these gaps, but I'm comfortable myself with a casual insertion. In other words, this certainly could have been God's intervention.
  • RNA may have been the path to the first life form.
  • Second Law of Thermodynamics is generally irrelevant to this discussion. "Order can certainly increase in some part of the system (as happens every day when you make the bed or put away the dishes)." The Second Law is about the total disorder, not the order/disorder of a portion of the system.
Fossil Record
  • "Suddenly, approximately 550 million years ago, a great number of diverse invertebrate body plans appear in the fossil record" (94). This is the Cambrian explosion.
  • "The vast majority of organisms that have ever lived on Earth have left absolutely no trace of their existence" (94).
  •  230 million years ago, dinosaurs dominated. An asteriod in the Yucatan peninsula toasted them and opened the door for mammals to thrive and eventually dominate.
  • Initial reaction to Darwin was mixed. B. W. Warfield accepted evolution as "a theory of the method of God's providence" (98).
  • Darwin's faith was ambiguous. He speaks of the Creator at the end of The Origin of Species. Then later he said, "Agnostic would be the most correct description of my state of mind" (99). Another time he called himself a theist.
  • He tells a little of the development of genetics, from Gregor Mendel to James Watson and Francis Crick. 
  • "Do not fear, there is plenty divine mystery left.

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

The Top Ten Things I Didn’t Know about Houghton

I have now been on the Houghton College campus for about a month. Before coming here, I had certain vague impressions of the college. I knew it was a Christian college with a long and rich Wesleyan history. It had the reputation of being a really smart school, with professors and students of the highest academic caliber. (Parenthetically, a former board member suggested to me that Houghton “makes” people smart, whether students arrive that way or not.)

Now that I’m here, I have discovered some other spectacular things I had little or no idea about.

10. Morning Prayer and Daily Communion
Before I came, I had no idea that a group of students and others meet five days a week for morning prayer with the Dean of the Chapel, Michael Jordan (not the basketball player). Then in the late afternoon communion is available for anyone who can come. I didn’t know that! A special group known as the Immanuel Scholars also meet together regularly for spiritual formation and retreat.

9. Online Program
I didn't realize that Houghton had entered the online area. I heard about one Brain class in the online psychology major where they mail an eyeball to students for them to dissect. There's criminal justice, organizational management--all at Houghton quality taught primarily by the residential professors.

8. Woods, Ropes, Deer
To be honest, I did know that Houghton had beautiful waterfalls and woods all around it, but the beauty of western New York has blown me away. I came to work one morning and a deer was in the parking lot. Sometimes people joke about Houghton’s location but frankly this place is amazing. Houghton sits on 1300 acres… Let’s just say having somewhere to hike isn’t a problem. One of the first things I did when I arrived was go out to its new ropes course--fantastic!

7. Solar Power and Charging Station
I found about the solar field as I was researching the campus. What a great investment! It won’t take long before it pays for itself and then saves the campus greatly. Houghton takes seriously the Christian task of taking care of the environment (creation care), which is why it is one of a growing number of colleges that has a charging station for electric vehicles.

6. Beautiful Stone Buildings
I love the stone that unifies the buildings on campus. Story has it that red brick was not available during World War II, so someone had the idea of using river stone for the Luckey Administration Building. No one regrets it now. The campus is far more beautiful as a result.

5. Bagpipes on the Quad
The fact that Houghton is in the hills of western New York suggested “Highlanders” as the name for our teams. I heard that one of the men’s residence halls even has Highlander Games of a sort with log throws and everything. When new students begin their fall semester, they march around the spacious Quad behind a bagpiper and the President. Then as they come to graduation, they make another final round.

4. Epic Adventures
It is no surprise that there are opportunities in nature here, largely under the direction of Laura Alexeichik. Some students actually do a Highlander Program before they start their first semester, doing challenging hiking in upstate New York. There are opportunities not only to ride horses but to kayak, ski, and did I say, hike?

3. Cyclotron
On my first tour of the Payne science building, I joked about Houghton getting a particle accelerator. “Well, we have one,” Mark Yuly responded with a straight face. Houghton apparently has one of only two cyclotrons in the world of a certain size. The theme of the science departments here is “Doing Science.” There are no Sheldon Coopers here. They are all hands on experimentalists, and students here do science. This is actually the first year of the electrical engineering program with Mark Budnik coming on board.

2. London Honors
Before I came here, I didn’t know that Houghton has an honor’s program in which students go to London for the second semester of their freshman year with a faculty member and family. Houghton also has other travels abroad in which all students can participate. Students in the past have gone to everywhere from the Holy Land to Tanzania to Germany to eastern Europe. There is also a science honors program where freshman students tackle a different contemporary science problem each year.

1. Horses!
OK, I knew Houghton had horses, but I didn’t know how many—almost 40 horses. Some students bring their horses to college! They have equestrian summer camps, and people come from all over the United States for them—some come for a couple months. The equestrian studies program is one of the strongest programs at Houghton. Did someone say horses?

How did I not know about all these wonderful things?! Six distinctives here--spiritual formation, the arts, athletics, creation care, life calling, and a global reach.

But now the secret is out…

Monday, September 30, 2019

Language of God 3

See here for notes on chapter 1 and here for notes on chapter 2.

Chapter 3: The Origins of the Universe
  • "One of the most cherished hopes of a scientist is to make an observation that shakes up a field of research... Any assumption that a conspiracy could exist among scientists to keep a widely current theory alive when it actually contains serious flaws is completely antithetical to the restless mind-set of the profession" (58).
  • I resonated with this comment, although I did finally plow through Hawking after 25 years: "It seems likely that the 5 million printed copies of Hawking's book [A Brief History of Time] remain largely unread by an audience that overwhelmingly found the concepts within its pages just too bizarre to comprehend" (60).
  • Eugene Wigner: the "unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics" Why is it that math corresponds so well with the world? (62)
  • The Big Bang - actually very amenable to faith because it posits a clear beginning.
  • Robert Jastrow - "For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream.. as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries" (66).
  • "The Big Bang cries out for a divine explanation" (67).
  • The Anthropic Principle - basically he presents the fine tuning argument for the existence of God. "Our universe is wildly improbable" (74). This basically reduces to two possibilities--a multiverse or God. As a stand alone universe, not at all a realistic option--too improbable.
  • Freeman Dyson - "The universe in some sense must have known we were coming" (76).
  • Bottom line - "The Anthropic Principle certainly provides an interesting argument in favor of a Creator" (78).
  • Laplace argued hard determinism around 1800. Quantum mechanics smashes him to quantum bits.
  • Genesis is poetic. Augustine - "In matters that are so obscure and far beyond our vision, we find in Scripture passages which can be interpreted in very different ways without prejudice to the faith we have received. In such cases, we should not rush in headlong and so firmly take a stand that, if further progress in the search for truth justly undermines this position, we too fall with it" (83).

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Language of God 2

Here are some notes on chapter 2 of The Language of God.
(notes on chapter 1 here)

Chapter 2: The War of the Worldviews
  • "Doubt is an unavoidable part of belief" (33).
  • Paul Tillich: "Doubt isn't the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith."
He treats four objections to belief in God:

1. Isn't it just wish fulfillment?
  • Freud--"at bottom God is nothing other than an exalted father" (37).
  • Countered by Lewis: wish fulfillment would likely give rise to a very different kind of God than the one described in the Bible.
  • Lewis: "Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists." (38)
  • But in a materialistic world, Annie Dillard speaks of the growing void: "We doused the burning bush and cannot rekindle it." (39)
2. What about harm done in the name of religion?
  • Voltaire: "Is it any wonder that there are atheists in the world, when the church behaves so abominably?" (40-41)
  • Marx: "Religion is the opiate of the masses" (41)
  • "A real evaluation of the truth of faith depends upon looking at the clean, pure water, not at the rusty containers" (42).
3. Why would God allow suffering?
  • Lewis - It would be an inner contraction for God to give free will and yet withhold it. (43) I don't find this argument convincing. I do agree that a world with some freedom seems better than a world without it, but it seems to me that it's above our pay grade to know how true this is.
  • Polkinghorne's distinction between physical and moral evil. I personally prefer not to call natural evil evil at all. For me, evil by definition requires an agent.
  • Lewis: "God shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world" (46). Sure, sometimes, perhaps most of the time. Not sure this does all the work Lewis wants it to.
4. What about miracles?
  • "A miracle is an event that appears inexplicable by the laws of nature and so is held to be supernatural in origin" (48).
  • "If we hold a philosophy which excludes the supernatural, this is what we always shall say" (that the supposed miracle was an illusion of some sort).
  • Bayes' Theorem - allows you to calculate the probability of observing a particular event. (49)
  • Not only materialism will kill the notion of miracles but also "claiming of miracle status for everyday events for which natural explanations are readily at hand" (52).
  • Polkinghorn: "Miracles are not to be interpreted as divine acts against the laws of nature... but as more profound revelations of the character of the divine relationship to creation" (53).
  • What I like about Collins approach is his insistence that we not play the miracle card too quickly, especially for gaps in our scientific knowledge. He also talks about God stacking the deck of probabilities toward a miracle within the realm of possibilities.

Lectures on Philosophy

My intention is to slowly accumulate video lectures introducing philosophy from one Christian point of view. Here is the introduction to philosophy that I wrote.

0. Is Philosophy Christian? (18 minutes)
1. The Questions of Philosophy (25 minutes)

2. Thinking Clearly (logic)
3. The Existence of God (philosophy of religion)
4. The Question of Evil (37 minutes, philosophy of religion)

5. What is a Person? (philosophical psychology)
6. Perspectives on Ethics
7. Perspectives on Society
8. Perspectives on Truth
9. Philosophy of Language
10. Philosophy of Science
11. Philosophy of History
12. Philosophy of Art

Friday, September 27, 2019

Language of God I

I'm teaching an online Science and Scripture course from October to December (more to come). So I'm pulling some books off my shelf and have purchased even more in preparation. A classic, although not even 15 years old, is Francis Collins' The Language of God. I don't think I'll have time to blog through the whole thing, but here is chapter 1.
  • Interesting that the human genome was cracked six months into this millennium--3 billion letters long
  • Bill Clinton: "most wondrous map ever produced by humankind... We are learning the language in which God created life." (4)
  • "The goal of this book is to explore a pathway toward a sober and intellectually honest integration" of scientific and spiritual perspectives. (6)
  • In chapter 1 he charts his pilgrimage. Chemistry to medicine, agnosticism to atheism.
  • Then he speaks of his awakening.
C. S. Lewis' Mere Christianity was what pulled him in. He found his pathway to faith looking like that of Lewis. I am delighted that he came to faith. The moral argument seems to have done the trick for him.

For me, the fine tuning argument is the most persuasive, and I still find the cosmological argument significant. However, the moral argument has never grabbed me, nor has Lewis for that matter. No matter. I have no desire here to question Lewis or Collins.