Sunday, December 29, 2013

"Man-up" ??

It has been a while since I have written a blog post; mainly due to the amount of time I need to spend studying.  But now that I have a bit of time between semesters, I distilled a bit of Scriptural wisdom to share with you.

For the last several years, there are some who say that Christianity has been “feminized”; that women are in some way to blame for the Gospel not being preached to our congregations with boldness and strength, that today we need warriors for God; strong and courageous men as role models to build the kingdom of God.

So I decided to add my "two-cents-worth" to this conversation, a
nd since many men have written their advice to women over the years, I thought that it was high time a woman get the chance to tell you men how to “man-up” according to the Word of God.

Let's look at Deuteronomy chapter 20, and the rules of warfare given by God to the Nation of Israel.  These were the final words of Moses given to the congregation prior to crossing the Jordan. 

In this section is what would be called “the order of battle”; where the priests come out to speak words of encouragement to the army, prior to some battle in the future; in order to remind them that God goes with them to give them the victory. (vs. 3 and 4)

Yes, I really liked "Brave-Heart" too!
Then after the invocation by the priests is the speech by the general, or some heroic figure, to inspire the men before the battle; telling them to overcome their fears in the face of death; the speech that tells them to “Man-up,” that they must be BOLD and even if they should die in battle, they will be eternally remembered in glory!

Oh gee, it doesn’t say that at all!

But what it does say is this: “…Has anyone build a new house but not dedicated it? He should go back to his house, or he might die in the battle and another dedicate it. Has anyone planted a vineyard but not yet enjoyed its fruit? He should go back to his house, or he might die in the battle and another be the first to enjoy the fruit. Has anyone become engaged to a woman but not yet married her? He should go back to his house, or he might die in the battle and another marry her.” (vs. 5-7) Furthermore the official is to say (vs. 8) “…Is anyone afraid or disheartened? He should go back to his house, or he might cause the heart of his comrades to melt like his own….”

This sounds nothing like “man-up”.

This sounds more like God’s infinite grace in the face of a possible war; not wanted or looked for, but dreadfully necessary in that ancient age.  Internal to this passage is a disavowal of warfare as a way to gain glory for one’s self (contrary to all other surrounding cultures.) This sounds like God’s heart towards the things which make for a prosperous kingdom; the home, a peaceful farm (or some vocation), and focus on a new family, rather than bringing your life to an end to gain glory, treasure, or to make a name for yourself or for your kingdom. There is no Valhalla here, no life on Mount Olympus earned by a noble death, and no paradise with libertine rewards.

It sounds more like the quiet, peaceful life, (“sissified” ?), with no glory seeking, either for yourself, or even the Kingdom of God; by leaving all behind for the bold battle cry that duty calls over and above the love of family.

Loving families and a peaceful community is God’s heart for humanity, His ideal for us all and this is what brings Him Glory.

To believe that manliness is all about the the courageous warrior is a fiction of the 20th and 21st century, and standard fare in adventure movies, books, and a whole host of television advertising; but this is not a part of God’s economy.

To feed the poor, care for the widows and orphans is what “True religion” is, and for men and women together, spreading the Gospel: person to person, friend to friend, neighbor to neighbor is what the Kingdom of God is, and THAT is what gives glory to God. This is what will win those workers the imperishable wreath and the sweet “Well done” when crossing that final finish line.

So men, the next time another Christian tells you to “man-up”, why not ask them “Where is that written in God’s Word?”

And honey, if it does say that, you need a better Bible!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Quote from "On the Trinity" by St.Augustine of Hippo

This was a spectacular fall semester: enjoying both Metaphysics and Single Philosopher: St. Augustine. I want to round out my St. Augustine quotes with this memorable passage from On the Trinity Book VIII, 3 § 4

"Certainly you love only the good, because the earth is good by the height of its mountains, the moderate elevation of its hills, and the evenness of its fields; and good is the farm that is pleasant and fertile; and good is the house that is arranged throughout in symmetrical proportions and is spacious and bright; and good are the animals, animate bodies; and good is the mild and salubrious air; and good is the food that is pleasant and conducive to health; and good is health without pains and weariness; and good is the countenance of man with regular features, a cheerful expression, and a glowing color; and good is the soul of a friend with the sweetness of concord and the fidelity of love; and good is the just man; and good are riches because they readily assist us; and good is the heaven with its own sun, moon and stars; and good are the angels by their holy obedience; and good is the lecture that graciously instructs and suitably admonishes the listener; and good is the poem with its measured rhythm and the seriousness of its thoughts.
            Why should I add still more? This good and that good; take away this and that, and see good itself if you can; so you will see God who is good not by another good, but is the good of every good."

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Quote from "The City of God" Book XIV

 “And since this is so—since we must live a good life in order to attain to a blessed life, a good life has all these affections right, a bad life has them wrong. But in the blessed life eternal there will be love and joy, not only right, but also assured; but fear and grief there will be none. Whence it already appears in some sort what manner of persons the citizens of the city of God must be in this their pilgrimage, who live after the spirit, not after the flesh—that is to say, according to God, not according to man—and what manner of persons they shall be also in what immortality whither they are journeying. And the city or society of the wicked, who live not according to God, but according to man, and who accept the doctrines of men or devils in the worship of a false, and contempt of the true divinity, is shaken with those wicked emotions as by diseases and disturbances. And if there be some of its citizens who seem to restrain and, as it were temper those passions, they are so elated with ungodly pride, that their disease is as much greater as their pain is less. And if some, with a vanity monstrous in proportion to its rarity, have become enamored of themselves because they can be stimulated and excited by no emotion, moved or bent by no affection, such persons rather lose all humanity than obtain true tranquility. For a thing is not necessarily right because it is inflexible, nor healthy because it is insensible.”

City of God, Book XIV,  9 (emphasis added)

Friday, November 29, 2013

"Journey To The Manger With St. Patrick & Friends" by Jean McLachlan Hess

Here is a little gem of a book, and just in time for Advent.
Journey to the Manger With St. Patrick & Friends by my friend Jean McLachlan Hess.

And actually, according to Celtic traditions, we are a wee bit late: Advent used to be a 6 week affair, so Jean has set about to re-start that ancient tradition.

These devotionals, one for every day, touched my heart and brought me a deep feeling of peace. Jean has brought her memories of old hymns, and ancient rhythms to life with these wonderful devotionals; but not to put aside after the Christmas season, but to keep handy when life gets too hectic and we forget Emmanuel—God with us.
Here is a taste: this is the devotional for November 14th.

“Several years ago, when God placed a call on my life to research and embrace Celtic Christianity, excitement rose up within me. My husband and I had sought God’s plan and design for our church. God’s answer: Celtic Christianity. Celtic formed part of my DNA. Born and raised in Scotland, I had never given much thought to my heritage. I had no idea that this journey into things Celtic would revolutionize my life and transform my relationship with Christ.

The Celts were Peregrine—people of the journey. They never worried about where they were going or how they would get there, because they knew that God would lead the way. They trusted His promise to be with them, to never leave them nor forsake them; He always proved faithful.

As I studied the lives and ministries of these ancient Celtic saints, I became enthralled by their love of the Word, the depth of their prayer life, and the way they experienced God: Father Son, and Holy Spirit. They had an expectation of encountering their maker in all things, at all times and in all places. They lived an Emmanuel—God with us life, as the normal way to follow their Lord.

This Emmanuel—God with us aspect of their faith captivated my heart. Looking back over my life, I only knew the term Emmanuel as associated with Christmas. The promise of the coming Messiah, the Emmanuel—God with us found in Isaiah 7:14, is also recorded in Matthew 1:23. There the angel tells Joseph in a dream that he should marry Mary. These verses were always front and center in the church as we approached, and then celebrated, the birth of the Christ Child. The concept lingered, perhaps a week or two longer, and then, almost unobtrusively, we packed it away with the nativity scene and the rest of the tree ornaments.

Each year, as we celebrate Christmas, we rejoice in Emmanuel—God with us. Yet for most of the year—therefore most of our lives—we live as if He is not with us, except when we find him in those carved-out scheduled “quiet times.” But we do not need to merely settle for an hour in the morning in the hope of encountering the living Christ.

If we truly believe God’s Word, that He is Emmanuel—God with us, then we should expect to experience Him in our regular daily lives.

Celtic Christianity has taught me that living an Emmanuel—God with us life will transform your world. My life has been richer and my spiritual walk deeper since I began to embrace God as Emmanuel.

No longer do I carefully pack Him away each year after the Christmas celebration has passed. No longer do I only hope to experience Him when reading my Bible or praying. Instead, I expect to meet him in the midst of my ordinary day, in every moment and in every way. I look for Him and find Him in the mundane as well as in ministry. Now I walk every day in the assurance that He is with me and that He will never leave me nor forsake me.” (pp 19-20)

You can find Jean's book here on Amazon.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Introducing "Bold Girls Speak: Girls of the Bible Come Alive Today"

I would like to introduce the book I illustrated: "Bold Girls Speak: Girls of the Bible Come Alive Today" a book wonderfully written by my friend Mary Stromer Hanson.

Each Story features girl characters from the Bible, like Miriam. (below) These books are written for the 5th and 6th grade reading level, with the goal of giving girls their very own Bible heroes.

There are five Old Testament stories; like "The Daughters who Built the Walls of Jerusalem" (below)

And five New Testament stories, like "The Daughters Who Prophesied" (below)

Each story is complete with a study guide for parents at the end of each story; to guide your readers through further discussion.

Mary is a graduate of Denver Seminary, with an MA is New Testament Biblical Studies. She also has an MA in Special Education from the University of Colorado.

The book is listed on Amazon here.

Or you can contact me directly for a signed copy!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Quote from Cicero's "Hortensius" by way of Augustine

A quote from Cicero's Hortensius, recorded by St. Augustine in his book On the Trinity, Book XIV.

“At the end of his dialogue Hortensius, Cicero, commending this contemplative wisdom—I think the Sacred Scripture properly call it “wisdom” to distinguish it from knowledge; it is, of course, the wisdom only of man, and indeed it does not come to him from himself, but from Him of whom the rational and intellectual mind can partake so as to be truly wise—says: ‘If we consider these things day and night, and sharpen our understanding, which is the eye of the mind, and take care that it never grows dull, that is, if we live in philosophy, there is great hope, that even though our sentiments and knowledge are mortal and transitory, yet a pleasant setting rather than a painful extinction and, as it were, a rest from life will be ours when we have discharged our human offices. But if, as the ancient philosophers agreed—and indeed the greatest and by far the most illustrious among them—that we have eternal and divine souls, then we must needs think, that the more they were always in their proper course, that is, in reason and in an eagerness for investigation, and the less they mingled with and became entangled in the vices and delusion of men, so much the easier would be their ascent and return to heaven.’ And then he adds this sentence which recapitulates and concludes his treatise: ‘Therefore, to end my discourse at last, if we wish either for a peaceful extinction when we have spent out life in the pursuit of these subjects, or to migrate without delay from this home to another that is certainly much better, we must devote all our labor and care to these studies.’

I marvel here that a man of such talent promises a pleasant setting upon the discharge of their human offices to those who have spent their lives in philosophy, which makes men happy by the contemplation of the truth, if our sentiments and knowledge are mortal and transitory, just as if this which we did not love, or rather fiercely hated, were then to die and be reduced to nothing so that its setting might be pleasant for us.

He had not learned this, however, from the philosophers, upon whom he lavishes such praise; it savors rather of that New Academy where it seemed proper to doubt even the most evident truths. But, as he himself admits, he had learned from the philosophers, ‘the greatest and by far the most illustrious,’ that souls are eternal. For eternal souls are not unfittingly aroused by this exhortation, so that they may be found in their proper course when the end of this life comes, that is, in reason and in the eagerness for investigating, and they mingle less and becomes less entangled in the vices and delusions of men, in order that their return to God may be easier. But this course, which consists in the love of God and in the search for the truth, does not suffice for the miserable, that is, for all mortals who rely on this reason alone without the faith of the Mediator…” (p 165-166)

Augustine, On the Trinity, Gareth B. Matthews Edt. Stephen McKenna Translator. (2002, Cambridge University Press)

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Looking at Mountains again

Lately, I've been feeling like I am faced with road block after road block. Just about the time I think I have a breakthrough, another obstacle is in my path.

But as I was waiting for the bus on the way home from church today, I could see in the distance the top of the ridge above the Flat Irons; a bit of light shining on it, among a swirl of clouds.

I said to myself, “I want to climb that someday.”

A voice (maybe God, maybe my own voice) said “Why?”

I answered, “Because I like the challenge. The view from the top of the mountain is amazing.”

Then the small voice inside said, “Why are you in college, studying philosophy, when you could have finished your degree almost two years ago, and been working in a safe, 40 hour/week job, and a two week vacation after 5 years or so?”

And I realized that all that I’ve been complaining and crying about are those tough spots in the trail; when I have made it past the tree line, and the trail is steep, the air is thin, I’m really tired.


This is a “mountain” I chose to climb. (God gave me other choices.)
I can turn around and see how far I’ve come and I can look ahead and see the summit.

So even if I have to take a longer route to get to the top of this particular "mountain", God is with me, and I know with his help I will make it to the top.

I found some more great words on mountains posted on Bonita Jewel's blog "What's the Purpose of Life" here.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

A glimpse of Illumination

I am in the midst of studying Augustine and his philosophy, and I am beginning to understand his theory of understanding or illumination.

With any philosopher, it takes time reading and thinking about their views until you begin to grasp what it is they are trying to teach.
Augustine was the first philosopher to begin a theory of mind near to our modern standards, with his theory of illumination, or understanding.

I believe that you can think of  understanding or illumination by this analogy:
We learn to travel, (I am thinking of traveling by bus or train) by following instructions given to us by the trip-planner. This trip planner gives us complete station by station directions that we follow exactly to reach our destination.

If this is a regular trip for us, we will one day look at the map of the area we travel with an overlay of our bus and train routs over the grid of the streets and landmarks and it now makes sense; we are illuminated—we get a 4 dimensional (time and space) grasp of where we are, where we are going and were we have been.

Illumination is the grand “A-ha” moment when the light has now come on for us, and we see and understand the picture, a picture which started out as a pencil sketch with stick figures, then color is added, then we stand back delighted with the flat panel of stretched canvas on which we see the illusion of depth; yet when the moment comes of  illumination, we enter in to a depth of understanding beyond a representation but to something that becomes real for us, and we can touch and see a rich, full and complete experience.

That, I believe is illumination, when by a gift from God, faith becomes understanding. 

Friday, October 4, 2013

Excerpt from "On Free Choice of the Will" by Augustine

Here is another excerpt from Augustine's book "On Free Choice of the Will" Book II chapter 13


    “People cry out that they are happy when they passionately embrace the beautiful bodies of their spouses, and even of prostitutes; and shall we doubt that we are happy in embracing the truth? People cry out that they are happy when, with throats parched by the heat, they come upon a wholesome and abundant spring, or when they are starving and find an elaborate feast; and shall we deny that we are happy when our thirst is quenched and our hunger appeased by the truth itself? We often hear voices crying out that they are happy if they lie among roses or other flowers, or enjoy the incomparable scent of the finest perfumes; what is more fragrant, more delightful, then the gentle breath of truth? And shall we doubt that we are happy when it breathes upon us? Many find their happiness in the music of voices and string and flutes. When they are without it, they think they are miserable; and when they have it, they are in raptures. So when the silent eloquence of truth flows over us without the clamor of voices, shall we look for some other happiness, and not enjoy the one that is so secure and so near at hand? People take pleasure in the cheerfulness and brightness of light—in the glitter of gold and silver, in the brilliance of gems, and in the radiance of colors and of that  very light that belongs to our eyes, whether in earthly fires or in the stars or the sun or the moon. As long as no poverty or violence deprives them of this joy, they think that they are happy; they want to live forever to enjoy such a happiness. And shall we fear to find our happiness in the light of truth?
    No! Rather, since the highest good is known and acquired in the truth, and that truth is wisdom, let us enjoy to the full the highest good, which we see and acquire in that truth. For those who enjoy the highest good are happy indeed. This truth show forth all good things that are true, holding them out to be grasped by whoever has understanding and chooses one or many of them for his enjoyment. Now think for a moment of those who choose what pleases them in the light of the sun and take joy in gazing upon it. If only their eyes were livelier and sound and exceptionally strong, they would like nothing better than to look directly upon the sun, which sheds its light even on the inferior things that weaker eyes delight in.  It is just the same with a strong and lively mind. Once it has contemplated many true and unchangeable things with the sure eye of reason, it turns to the truth itself, by which all those true things are made know. It forgets those other things and cleaves to the truth, in which it enjoys them all at once. For whatever is delightful in the other true things is especially delightful in the truth itself.
 This is our freedom, when we are subject to the truth; and the truth is God himself, who frees us from death, that is, from the state of sin. For that truth, speaking as a human being to those who believe in him, says, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”[1] (pp 55-57)

[1] John 8:31

Monday, September 30, 2013

Excerpt from Augustine's "On Free Choice of the Will"

A quote fromOn Free Choice of the Will by Augustine, translated by Thomas Williams (1993, Hackett Publishing Company)


I came upon this striking quote in my readings for this week. To set the stage for you, this is a dialogue Augustine wrote early in his Christian life, and it is the question, set in the mouth of his friend Evodius, asking, “Isn’t God the cause of evil?” and “…From whom did we learn to sin?” (p 1)

Is God the author of evil? Why is there sin, and do we have a free will, and if we cause evil because of it, why did God give us this free will in the first place? These are the questions this little book attempts to answer;  questions that are still being asked today.

Augustine on “inordinate desires”:

     “Surely the very fact that inordinate desire rules the mind is itself no small punishment. Stripped by opposing forces of the splendid wealth of virtue, the mind is dragged by inordinate desire into ruin and poverty; now taking false things for true, and even defending those falsehoods repeatedly; now repudiating what it had once believed and nonetheless rushing headlong into still other falsehoods; now withholding assent and often shying away from clear arguments; now despairing completely of finding the truth and lingering in the shadows of folly; now trying to enter the light of understanding but reeling back in exhaustion.

     In the meantime cupidity carries out a reign of terror, buffeting the whole human soul and life with storms coming from every direction. Fear attacks from one side and desire from the other; from one side, anxiety; from the other, an empty and deceptive happiness; from one side, the agony of losing what one loved; from one side, the pain of an injury received; from the other, the burning desire to avenge it. Wherever you turn, avarice can pinch, extravagance squander, ambition destroy, pride swell, envy torment, apathy crush, obstinacy incite, oppression chafe, and countless other evils crowd the realm of inordinate desire and run riot. In short, can we consider this punishment trivial—a punishment that, as you realize, all who do not cleave to wisdom must suffer?” (p 17-18)

“So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Romans 7:21-25 TNIV 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Excerpt from Augustine's "Soliloquies"

Excerpt from Augustine’s Soliloquies.
(Edited and Translated by J.H.S. Burleigh, 1953)

This is some of the prayer written by Augustine at the start of Soliloquies, where he is praying for the wisdom of God to help him to understand both the soul and God.
Augustine invented this genre of literature; the internal dialogue, which he named by combining the Latin words
soli + loquie

This is talking to yourself.

O God, Creator of the universe, give me first that I may pray aright, then that I may conduct myself worthily of being heard by thee, and finally that I may be set free by thee. God, by whom all things come into existence which by themselves would not exist; who permittest not to perish even that which destroys itself; who out of nothing didst create this world which the eyes of all perceive to be most beautiful; who doest no evil so that existence is good because it is thy work; who showest that evil is nothing to the few who take refuge in the truth; by whom the universe even with its sinister aspects is perfect; by whom there is no absolute disharmony because bad and good together harmonize; whom everything capable of loving loves consciously or unconsciously; in whom are all things yet so that thou art unharmed by the baseness, malice or error of any of thy creatures; …Father of Truth, of Wisdom, of the True and Perfect Life, of Beatitude, of the Good and Beautiful, of the Intelligible Light, Father of our awakening and of our illumination, of the sign by which we are admonished to return to thee.

Thee I invoke, O God, the Truth, in, by and through whom all truths are true; the Wisdom, in, by and through whom all are wise; the True and Perfect Life, in, by and through whom live all who live truly and perfectly; the Beatitude, in, by and through whom all the blessed are pleased; the Good and the Beautiful, in, by and through whom all good and beautiful things have these qualities; the intelligible Light, in, by and through whom all intelligible things are illumined…I invoke thee, O God, to whom faith calls us, hope lifts us, and charity unites us; by whom we overcome the enemy and are delivered from utter destruction; by whom we are admonished to awake; by whom we distinguish good from evil and shun evil and follow after good; by whom we yield not to adversities; our rightful Lord, whom we rightly serve; by whom we learn that those things are alien which once we thought were ours and that those things are ours which once we thought were alien…come propitiously to my aid

Make me to seek thee, Father. Free me from error. As I seek thee, may nothing else substitute itself for thee. If I desire nothing else but thee, may I at last find thee, Father, I beseech thee. But if there be in me the desire for anything superfluous, do thou thyself cleanse me and make me fit to see thee…Only I beseech thy most excellent clemency to convert me wholly to thyself, to allow nothing to gainsay me as I draw near to thee and to build me while I bear and wear this mortal body to be pure, generous, just and prudent, a perfect lover and receiver of thy Wisdom and worthy to dwell in thy most blessed kingdom. Amen. Amen.

(From pp 23-26)


Sunday, September 15, 2013

From Maverick Philosopher: Popular Conceptions and Misconceptions of Philosophy

From time to time I face the question of what I am studying as an adult college student. I have had a wide variety of reactions to my words "I'm studying philosophy", and sometimes around Boulder, I have to explain that it is NOT spirituality, as in "Oh, I've got this great crystal that helps me focus my inner eye."

So when I ran across this post by Bill Vallicella at 
Maverick Philosopher I decided to post a part of his words here.

Popular Conceptions and Misconceptions of Philosophy

If you are a philosopher or a student of philosophy, how do you respond when someone asks what you do or study? What sorts of misconceptions about philosophy and other disciplines have you encountered? [...]

1. When I was a graduate student I would sometimes deflect the question by saying'mathematics.' But then one day I received the reply, "Why do we still need mathematicians? We now have computers to do their work." The fellow apparently thought that mathematicians spend their time doing computations sitting under green eyeshades, with paper and pencil...

2. When I told an art historian at Cleveland State what I taught, he naively asked, "what's philosophy?" The man has no idea. Here was an intelligent man in the humanities who had not clue, not clue at all.

3. And R.N. in one of my classes was very surprised to hear that there are philosophy journals. "There are journals of this stuff?"

4. At a rest stop off an interstate, some guy asked me what I do. "I teach philosophy." whereupon the gent regaled me about the interesting philosophy they have up in Nova Scotia.

...And you will just have to read the rest here!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

My 9-11 Tribute

Here is a picture I wanted to share from a vacation I took in 2010. Until then, I had not been to New York city since the tragedy of 9-11-2001. I had the honor of standing on the pier in Brooklyn...just after the memorial ceremony.

We must never forget.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Quote from "Confessions" by Saint Augustine

One of my classes this semester at CU Boulder, is the study of the philosophy of Saint Augustine, so I thought I would share with you this beautiful quote from the Confessions.

Saint Augustine, Confessions, translated by Henry Chadwick, (2008, Oxford)

Book X sec. 8

"My love for you, Lord, is not an uncertain feeling but a matter of conscious certainty. With your word you pierced my heart, and I loved you. But heaven and earth and everything in them on all sides tell me to love you. Nor do they cease to tell everyone that ‘they are without excuse’ (Rom. 1:20). But at a profounder level you will have mercy on whom you will have mercy and will show pity on whom you will have pity (Rom. 9:15). Otherwise heaven and earth would be uttering your praises to the deaf. But when I love you, what do I love? It is not physical beauty nor temporal glory nor the brightness of light dear to earthly eyes, nor the sweet melodies of all kinds of songs, nor the gentle odour of flowers and ointments and perfumes, nor manna or honey, nor limbs welcoming the embraces of the flesh; it is not these I love when I love my God. Yet there is a light I love, and a food, and a kind of embrace when I love my God—a light, voice, odour, food, embrace of my inner man, where my soul is floodlit by light which space cannot contain, where the is sound that time cannot seize, where there is a perfume which no breeze disperses, where there is a taste for food no amount of eating can lessen, and were there is a bond of union that no satiety can part. That is what I love when I love my God." (p 183)

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Book Review: "Heaven: The Logic of Eternal Joy" by Jerry Walls

A Review of “Heaven: The Logic of Eternal Joy” (2002, Oxford University Press)

          There are those in the 20th century that have theologically dispensed with both hell and heaven, but Jerry Walls, both with the first book Hell (reviewed here) and Heaven, has revisited the theology of future bliss, both from a theocentric and an anthropological perspective. If we are to hold to our beliefs in a perfectly good God, the theology of heaven is vital to both out philosophy and psychology: not merely our eschatology.
          In the second of a trilogy, Walls writes from the perspective of humanity having libertarian free will and that God is perfectly good, and managed to reconcile the two even with the obvious amounts of horrendous evil in this world.
          In this book, we can dispense with visions of puffy clouds and idle harp playing; Walls presents a theology of heaven from both the God-centered view, or the beatific vision, and the human centered theory of finally reaching our own potential, perfected, made whole and at peace in the presence of God. This book clearly can give all of us some well needed philosophical hope.
          The start of Heaven,  is a familiar one to any of you who have studied David Hume; you will be familiar with Hume's cleverly written Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion; remember that at the end of Chapter XI, Hume's conclusion, in the voice of Philo, is that the first cause of the universe, must be indifferent when he writes “…it will be thought that we have still greater cause to exclude from him [the Supreme Being] moral sentiments…” for Hume had just concluded that the first cause “…[has] neither goodness nor malice…” so his probable conclusion is that God is amoral or indifferent.
 But Walls, arguing from our human moral nature, concludes that based on God omnipotence and omniscience he is either perfectly good, or perfectly evil, not as David Hume concludes, amoral, or indifferent.
          Walls supports this by the argument that we have been made by God to feel approval for those things that promote human happiness. In his words “If God has made us in such a way that we have strong convictions that human happiness should be promoted, it is natural to believe he also cares about human happiness.” (p. 23) This statement is key to understanding the main thesis of this book. At this point in his writing, Walls  does a quite nice reductio on the idea that God has to either perfectly good or an evil genius, reminiscent of Descartes thesis to counter the evil genius.
          There is no one who is aware of the evil in the world around us, that hasn’t wondered at the horrors of both natural and man-made death and destruction and how God could be perfectly good. The problem of evil is a perennial problem in philosophy, and a heart-wrenching problem when one has to come to grips with horrendous suffering, both from personal trials and tragedies, and those of neighbors and friends; we all know those who have faced this question of God’s goodness. I find in Jerry Walls book Heaven, words that can help me reach out others as both an apologist and as a philosopher.
          Walls discusses in the next chapter the question which is still contested, as to how we get to heaven, or how we are saved. Using the starting point of the Augustine-Pelagius debate, Walls make the thesis statement for this chapter as “…one’s views about how to get to heaven may have implications about the very nature of heaven,” so with this in mind, he unpacks the idea how we comprehend our own salvation, and the effect that has on our understanding of the theology of heaven.
          Using examples from Immanuel Kant, Walls explains a crucial point of the innovation of Kant’s thinking was that God, as construed by orthodox believers of his day, was a deity that was easy to please, who would “…accept various religious practices as substitutes for genuine moral transformation.” (p. 35) Yet, as Walls explains, those very creeds of orthodoxy were and are critical beliefs for the Christian faith, traceable back to the written record of Jesus’ very words. While it is likely Kant did observe those who were going through the motions of faith to be absolved on Sunday, and go back to sinning on Monday,  these charges brought by other philosophers over the years can be shown to be “…wide of the mark, [and] that the dominant account of faith supports our best moral sensibilities.” (p. 36)
          Walls takes care to build his case in support for the importance of moral transformation in the lives of all believers to be a key to the theological possibility of there being transformation that continues after our death; all part and parcel of his thesis regarding the possibility of hope for the lost postmortem.
          This problem is both complex and for some, a theological red-flag; but with care and tact, Walls negotiates the tulip strewn field with grace. This book helps tackle some of the thornier issues facing Christian philosophers who hold to an Anselmian conception of God.
          In each chapter of this book, you will find carefully written arguments which support the general thesis of what we can use as a theology of heaven, and its importance for our view of a perfectly good God, while making some sense of the amount and types of evil in the world. Walls also devotes most of a chapter on the reports of near-death experiences, and how these reports can be reconciled with our views of heaven within an orthodox view of Christianity.
           In Walls' estimation, a clear understanding of heaven is “ essential resource to relieve us of the strangely cramped feeling produced by swallowing modern moral philosophy and to make us morally articulate again.” (pp. 164-5) I agree with Walls' main theme of this whole book, that as we have to explain great moral evils in the world and our own lives, only a robust view of heaven can bring comfort, joy and a future hope of God’s redeeming love.
          I can see areas where I can make counter-examples, and that there are issues I see as potential problems, but the arguments are so well crafted, I will have to really do more “home-work” before taking them on...that's for another time, down my philosophical journey, but some great fodder for future papers!
          Again, my recommendation for readership would be for someone who has studied philosophy of religion or theology, and understands the issues surrounding the attributes of God, and has some biblical studies under their belt. This is a text that someone without some advanced study could read, but they might miss some of the more important points that are trying to be advanced.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Excerpt from Jerry Walls' book "Heaven: The Logic of Eternal Joy"

Excerpt from Jerry Walls' book,  Heaven: The Logic of Eternal Joy  (2002, Oxford University Press)

“One of the most emotionally appealing promises about heaven is that God will wipe every tear from the eyes of the redeemed. No human tears are beyond the reach of God’s infinite goodness.
           At the heart of my case is the basic Christian notion that our true happiness is found in a relationship with God and nothing that happens to us can separate us from God or destroy this relationship. Moreover, for us to enter this relationship, we must accept the grace of Christ. This requires accepting forgiveness from the only perfect person who ever lived and allowing him to transform us into persons who will eventually be perfect as well.
         These truths provide the framework that makes it possible for us to forgive the things that have been done against us, even things of extreme wickedness or cruelty. We must recognize that the One who forgave us desires also to forgive the worst of sinners and asks us to be willing to do the same. Such willingness to forgive is not a matter of trivializing evil, for true forgiveness requires repentance and final reconciliation is ultimately dependent upon the moral and spiritual transformation that will unite believers in a bond of genuine mutual love. Those who refuse the offer of transforming grace continue to suffer the consequences of their evil choices. In view of this, the doctrine of heaven satisfies our deepest moral convictions about both forgiveness and accountability.
          The doctrine of heaven holds out the hope that all persons can experience the perfect happiness for which we were created, regardless of what they have suffered in this life. Indeed, heaven is the only realistic hope not only for loved ones who have suffered tragically but also for countless anonymous persons whose suffering may have contributed significantly to our very existence. To give up the hope of heaven is to consign such persons to oblivion and to render the verdict that their suffering is irredeemable and finally meaningless in an indifferent universe. To hold on to one’s anger, hatred, and indignation, moreover, destroys one’s happiness. Thus, the only hopeful alternative for both the victims of cruel suffering and for their advocates is forgiveness and redemption.
           The doctrine of heaven, with its resources of eternal transforming grace, offers the only realistic way of restructuring our lives and reinterpreting all our past histories in such a way that there is a truly hopeful future for any of us. Only belief in a God who is powerful enough and good enough to make eternal salvation fully available to all his children can relieve the sharpest barbs of the problem of evil. (p. 131-132)

Friday, August 2, 2013

Augustine of Hippo:A Biography, by Peter Brown

Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo: a Biography. (2000, Berkeley, University of California Press)

 It is not often that you will see a book review of a college course book, but I enjoyed reading this text so much that is exactly what I am writing; a review of an assigned text for a course I will be studying this fall.  

This book may be intimidating in size at 513 pages, but for any with a love for history, I highly recommend this book. Brown’s scholarship is amazing, but what is even better is his use of prose to tell the story of an amazing pillar of the Christian church, and the development of Augustine’s philosophic mind; forged by his birth, education and finally his faith.

This book is not just for history buffs, but for those who are interested in the growth and development of the early Catholic (read universal) church, the development of certain traditions and teachings, and important doctrines which trace their birth to this time of history.

Brown gives the facts of course, yet still adds the picturesque scenes of North Africa of the late Roman Empire, and describes the beauty of the region through excerpts from Augustine’s sermons and letters.

 In Peter Brown’s writing you can get a taste of the way of life in ancient Africa, and a vision of the people from all walks of life crowding the basilica in Hippo to hear Augustine, the bishop, expound on scripture. 

I have a better sense of the battle-lines drawn between the Manichean debates with Augustine, and then later the protracted maneuvering done between the Donistist bishops, who once in the majority in the region, against the Catholic bishops; and the enforcement of the edicts against the Donitists in the court rooms of the day, upholding Roman law and rules of public honor. These were scenes that would interest anyone who enjoys legal wrangling in modern courtrooms dramas.

I have to admit that learning more about Augustine from this book deepens my knowledge of the Bishop of Hippo, and the effect of Neo-platonic thought in the early church, and the internal sublimation of Roman pagan thought into the body of Christ, still leaving its mark to this day.
It may be late in the summer, but THIS was my idea of “summer reading” par excellence, to borrow a phrase from the author.


Friday, July 26, 2013

My Daily Prayer

Photo (c) Lisa Guinther 2013

Lord, help me this day to walk the path you have put me on.

Please give me some of your strength, for I am not strong enough to keep up with the others I am walking with.

Please give me some of your wisdom, for I will never be wise enough to teach those whom you are asking me to teach.

Please give me some of your knowledge, for I will never know enough to answer the questions I am asked.

Please give me your understanding, for I just can’t understand the evil and darkness that I see around me.

But most of all Lord, I need your love; for I cannot love people enough to say as you did from the cross “Father forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.”


“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.’ Where are the wise? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” (1 Corinthians 1:18-25)

We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true… (1 John 5:20)

“Love never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:8a)