Friday, June 28, 2013

Book Review: Sex and the iWorld by Dale S. Kuehne

Sex and the iWorld: Rethinking Relationship beyond an Age of Individualism

Dale S. Kuehne. Sex and the iWorld: Rethinking Relationship beyond an Age of Individualism (2009) Grand Rapids, Baker Academic.

June 28, 2013:

I am re-posting, with a few revisions, a post I originally made over two years ago, as I think this book is needed right now. If you would like to hear the Mars Hill Audio Journal where Kuehne was interviewed, follow this link for more information for purchase of the MP3 episode.

In our society today, there is the idea, brought forward by the “Sexual Revolution” of the 1960’s, that in order to live a truly fulfilling life, one needs to be fulfilled sexually. In this book, Dale Kuehne (pronounced "keen") challenges the modern idea that sexual fulfillment is essential to human happiness. The thesis he sets out to answer is this: “Is the scriptural teaching about sexuality good news for everyone?”(Audio,2009) 

In this world of independence and individuality, we are not often presented with a book so thoughtfully written which describes our current cultural surroundings. As media has hailed the ‘self-made’ man, Steve Jobs after his death, Kuehne writes of the intent of the title of this book:

I believe the best way to describe and understand our present moment is to call it the “iWorld.” Steve Jobs and the people at Apple Inc. have brilliantly understood the spirit of our age—a spirit of unfettered individualism and freedom—by marketing many of their products using the prefix i…In short, the t [traditional] World is being replaced by the iWorld. (p.45)

As a culture today, I believe we need to take time to understand where we came from, and the schools of thought about sexual relationships. In the classical world of Greek philosophy, the highest form of relationship was friendship, and our “appetites” (including sexuality) were detrimental to the highest form of human fulfillment. “Bodily passions” as so named by Socrates, were something to be mastered in the quest to “practice philosophy” and purify your soul. In the dialog from Phaedo, Socrates is quoted as saying:

But I think that if the soul is polluted and impure when it leaves the body, having always been associated with it and served it, bewitched by physical desires and pleasures to the point at which nothing seems to exist for it but the physical, which one can touch and see or eat and drink or make use of for sexual enjoyment, and if that soul is accustomed to hate and fear and avoid that which is dim and invisible to the eyes but intelligible and to be grasped by philosophy—do you think such a soul will escape pure and by itself?(p. 72) 

So which is correct? Should we attempt to try the ancient “Classical” ideal or should we continue the search for ourselves and what makes us happy, especially our sex lives; but could there be another possible path?

Is sexual intimacy essential to human fulfillment, or have we lost something precious and vital to human flourishing by the sexualization of most of our most intimate relationships today? To read Dale Kuehne’s book is to find a thoughtful and loving answer to these questions. This is not a book of dogmatism, but a true, loving, Christian response to the problems in the clash of the Bible and the culture of today.

In the midst of heated debates over same-sex marriages, and the lack of dialogue or discipleship on sexuality within churches today, perhaps we all should talk more about the "why's" of sex only in a marriage. Many, in and outside the church think that the sex only in marriage is God's  way of being a cosmic spoil-sport. Kuehne writes:

"...[C]ontrary to some contemporary popular evangelical theology, the two great commandments are not to get married and have sex. Being married is not the only means of experiencing true love and intimacy. Marriage is an important institution that exists in service of the family, and God wants those who are married to have great marriages. But the quality of the marriage is connected to the ability of the couple to enjoy true love and intimacy with God, with each other, and with the rest of the people in the extended relational matrix...Sex will sometimes produce children; sex will provide a bond for the marriage that is useful in holding a married couple together. But sex in itself will not be the catalyst for happiness or fulfillment..." (p 162)

This, in my estimation, is a “must-read” for all people; within and without the Christian world, no matter the denomination or outside affiliation. Perhaps we can cease remaking ourselves, and begin relating.

Find it here at Amazon.

Or here at Baker Academic.


D. Kuehne.(2009) Sex and the iWorld: Rethinking Relationship beyod and Age of Indiviualism. Grand Rapids, Baker.

Ken Myers. Interview of Dale Kuehne from Mars Hill Audio, #99 September/October, 2009.

Plato: Complete Works. Edited by John Cooper (1997) Indianapolis, Hackett Publishing.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Quote by François Fénelon

François de Salignac de la Mothe-Fénelon, or better known as François Fénelon  (1651-1715) was the Archbishop of Cambray, tutor to the Duke of Burgundy, who was the grandchild of Louis XIV, and was the writer of a book titled “The Adventures of Telemachus, Son of Ulysses” which he wrote to teach the young duke of the abuses of Divine-Right absolute monarchy.

I found this quote in the book “A Diary of Readings” compiled by John Baillie (1955, New York, Charles Scribner's Sons). 
This is an excerpt from Fénelon’s Letters and Reflections” (English translation, 1906) which probably was written in the early 1700’s from Cambray.

This is a reading for day 60, with the heading of “The faults of Others.”

     "Charity does not demand of us that we should not see the faults of others; we must in that case shut our eyes. But it commands us to avoid attending unnecessarily to them, and that we be not blind to the good, while we are so clear-sighted to the evil that exists. We must remember too God’s continual kindness to the most worthless creature, and think how many causes we have to think ill of ourselves; and finally we must consider that charity embraces the very lowest human being. It acknowledges that in the sight of God the contempt that we indulge for others has in its very nature a harshness and arrogance opposed to the spirit of Jesus Christ. The true Christian is not insensible to what is contemptible; but he bears with it. 
       Because others are weak, should we be less careful to give them their due? You who complain so much of what others make you suffer, do you think that you cause others no pain? You who are so annoyed at your neighbor’s defects, are you perfect? 
         How astonished you would be if those whom you cavil at should make all the comments that they might upon you. But even if the whole world were to bear testimony in your favor, God, who knows all, who has seen all your faults, could confound you with a word; and does it never come into your mind to fear lest He should demand of you why you have not exercised towards your brother a little of that mercy which He, who is your Master, so abundantly bestows on you?"

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Book Review: "Hell: the Logic of Damnation" by Jerry Walls

Book Review: Hell: The Logic of Damnation

Jerry L. Walls, (1992, Notre Dame University Press)

 After listening to Jerry Walls speak during a panel discussion at the Evangelical Philosophical Society’s annual meeting, and after I asked a question, he suggested that I read his book on hell.

 So I did!

Actually, I decided to get the whole set of his books. 

  • Hell: the Logic of Damnation 
  • Heaven: The Logic of Eternal Joy  and finally,
  • Purgatory: The Logic of Total Transformation 

But this review is on the first book. 
I will review the other two in the weeks to come.

After a tough semester in my philosophy classes at the University of Colorado Boulder, I wasn’t prepared for how renewing the writing of Jerry Walls was for me; this book was just the thing to build back up my shaken confidence in what the attributes of God are, and for those attributes to not be in philosophical conflict with each other.[1]

As I began reading, I had a bit of concern that there was some “gotcha” waiting; some deeply troubling undermining of what my understanding was of the why’s of the doctrine of hell and who might end up there. But I found that as I followed the argument further, I could see how Walls supported God’s perfect goodness along with the philosophical and theological grounds for the doctrine of hell. I have thought along these lines myself; that it could be possible that people might put themselves in hell; that hell’s gates are “locked from the inside” as written by C.S. Lewis. And Walls make very clear that we do have only hypotheses based on the scriptural record and theological writings.

I thought Walls handled the philosophical writings of John Hicks and other proponents of universalism with a lot of philosophical charity; clearly representing the arguments for universal salvation, and the consequences of following the argument to where ever it leads. The same can be said of looking Calvinism squarely in the eye, something I have been starting to do as well.

A brief personal note: I am not saying I am changing, revising, or revealing any theological positions that I may or may not hold; for I’ve been too busy doing philosophy to deeply study theology; give me some time, no pouncing allowed! 

My only disagreement with Wall’s argument is his appeal to the authority of the church fathers; that in his conclusion against universalism he questioned how could it be possible that “... so many Fathers of the Church down through the ages completely misinterpreted what scripture plainly teaches at this point?”[2] I do believe that scripture is clear on this point, but my own “hobby horse” is the treatment of women by the Church, which if we still go by the authority of the Church fathers, I would not even be in college. So my point is, we have come a long way since then, and the Church fathers aren’t always right.  I think that this argument can stand on its own with support from authority, rather than an appeal to authority, which sounds a bit band-wagonish to me. *grin*

I truly agree that the doctrine of an eternal hell should be looked at and discussed and added to the teaching syllabi in church adult classes. This is too important a doctrine to “sweep it under the rug,” for all Christians need to understand it from a standpoint of a perfectly good God.  If they are not taught it, they will encounter the doctrine of hell at the wrong end of a lecture at college, with a professor complaining how morally reprehensible the Christian God is for condemning some poor soul X, to eternal torment. Why not think, teach, and preach this thoroughly under the auspices of our churches, and as a part of biblical and apologetics training.  

Walls writes in his conclusion, that he believes the doctrine of hell can be compatible with, “…a very robust account of God’s perfect goodness…”[3] which I will heartily agree with. I think that we actually do a disservice to the teaching of scripture by passing over difficult saying and teachings within the Bible. After all, there are actually more mentions of hell and those who will end up in hell, in the words of Jesus than anywhere else in the Bible…go ahead and check!

As an interesting aside here, I generally purchase second-hand books to save money, but also it is amazing and fun for me to see who first owned the book. In this occasion, this former book’s owner was a pastor. Reading his margin notes and underlines was fascinating, as I could tell he started this book with a “chip” on his shoulders, not wanting to agree with anything written. But as I read further, the notes became more and more positive, with even a few smiley faces by the end. So it would seem there may be more people who need to spend some quality time reading this little book on the doctrine of hell.

A final thought would be a recommendation for readership. I would recommend this book for someone who has studied philosophy of religion or theology, and understands the issues surrounding the attributes of God, and that have 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.

All in all I think that Jerry Walls did an outstanding job at tackling a complex, un-palatable and difficult topic. Here is a book that will help bring us back to think and to talk about hell, so maybe less people will end up there.

[1] Those of you who have taken PoR in secular college classes, and hold to a classical understanding of the attributes of God know what I’m talking about.

[2] J. Walls, Hell: The Logic of Damnation (1992, Notre Dame University Press) 158

[3] Ibid. 157

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Excerpt from "Hell: The Logic of Damnation" by Jerry Walls

 “...we can say hell is a sort of distorted mirror image of heaven. There is no place in it for the strength of real moral character, but an imitation of this can be had by those who deliberately achieve consistency in evil. It can offer no true righteousness, but it does offer the alternative attraction of self-righteousness. It holds no genuine happiness, but those who prefer it to heaven may savor a deformed sense of satisfaction which faintly resembles real happiness. Hell cannot truly be heaven, or be better than heaven, any more than evil can be good. But this lesson may be finally lost on those who persist in justifying their choices of evil by calling it good." (p 128)

Jerry Walls, Hell: The Logic of Damnation. (1992, Norte Dame, University of Notre Dame Press.)

Sunday, June 16, 2013

"A Diary of Readings", A Quote from Cardinal John Henry Newman

There is nothing more precious to me than for a good friend to loan me a book, and one which had been a help for them, hoping to be a help to me (and of course, it is.)
 So from time to time I will share a classic jewel from a little book called
A Diary of Readings created by John Baillie, published in 1955, by Charles Scribner’s Sons.
The sub-title reads: Being an Anthology of Pages Suited to Engage Serious Thought One For Every Day of the Year Gathered From the Wisdom of Many Centuries.

Cardinal John Henry Newman
This reading is number 12, and is by Cardinal John Henry Newman, from Apologia pro Vita Sua (1865), chap. v.  with the heading of “Original Sin”

"To consider the world in its length and breadth, its various history, the many races of man, their starts, their fortunes, their mutual alienation, their conflicts; and then their ways, habits, governments, forms of worship; their enterprises, their aimless courses, their random achievements and acquirements, the impotent conclusion of long-standing facts, the tokens so faint and broken of a superintending design, the blind solution of what turn out to be great powers of truths, the progress of things, and if from unreasoning elements, not towards final causes, the greatness and littleness of man, his far-reaching aims, his short duration, the curtain hung over his futurity, the disappointments of life, the defeat of good, the success of evil, physical pain, mental anguish, the prevalence and intensity of sin, the pervading idolatries, the corruptions, the dreary hopeless irreligion, that condition of the whole race, so fearfully yet exactly described in the Apostle’s words, ‘having no hope and without God in the world’[1] –all this is a vision to dizzy and appall; and inflicts upon the mind the sense of a profound mystery, which is absolutely beyond human solution.

What shall be said to this heart-piercing, reason-bewildering fact? I can only answer that either there is no Creator, or this living society of men is in a true sense discarded from his presence. Did I see a boy of good make and mind, with the tokens on him of a refined nature, cast upon the world without provision, unable to say whence he came, his birth-place or his family connexions, I should conclude that there was some mystery connected with his history, and that he was one, of whom, for one cause or another, his parents were ashamed. Thus only should I be able to account for the contrast between the promise and the condition of his being. And so I argue about the world;—if there be a God, since there is a God, the human race is implicated in some terrible aboriginal calamity. It is out of joint with the purposes of its Creator. This is a fact, a fact as true as the fact of its existence; and thus the doctrine of what is theologically called original sin becomes to me almost as certain as that the world exists, and as the existence of God."

[1] Ephesians 2:12

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

On"Social Media" a re-post from Paul Buler

I am re-posting this from Paul Buler's  blog "Arguing With Friends" with important reminders of the problems with social media, and a link to an article we all should read.

Paul writes:
"This article was forwarded to me. It is packed full of good advice on how to handle yourself online. The importance of heeding that advice is also explained. Here are some statistics.
  • 3 in 4 have witnessed an argument on social media
  • 4 in 5 report rising incivility on social media
  • 2 in 5 have unsubscribed, blocked or unfriended someone as a result
  • 1 in 5 have reduced in-person contact with someone over a cyber argument
  • 88% believe people are less polite on social media than in person (don’t say I didn’t tell you so!!)
  • 81% say emotional conversations held on social media are most often unresolved
 It doesn’t need to be this way.  Try sitting across a table instead of behind your laptop for starters. Think before you type. It’s mostly common sense, but read the article for plenty of other excellent advice."

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

"Holy War in the Bible" Book review

Holy War in the Bible: Christian Morality and an Old Testament Problem

Edited by Heath A Thomas, Jeremy Evans and Paul Copan

(2013, Downers Grove, IVP Academic)

From its well thought out introductory chapter, to an elegantly written chapter titled “‘Holy War’ and the New Atheism: A Theological Response,” this is a book which is a necessary addition to the thoughtful theologian, biblical student or studied apologist’s library. For those of us who work with educated non-Christians and troubled lay persons in situations where we are called upon to answer questions about the impact of historical Christianity over the millennia, this is a must read text, and one I know I will look to in the coming years to supplement and inspire future academic papers of my own.

This is a well put together resource regarding the historical use of the term “Holy War”; its roots and real history, the misuse of the term, both historically and in recent years. As well, there are chapters which revisit the hyperbolic ancient Near East war language which is both internal to the Old Testament and external in the archaeological records from the cultures who surrounded the ancient Israelite nation. This book contains chapters which set the record straight on origins of the term “holy war,” and examine the inter-biblical record for signs of actual genocide. Its authors re-examine the concept of “just war” and in contrast, pacifism within the kingdom of God or later “Christendom” in the Holy Roman Empire.

 This is not a gathering of authors all of one mind; you will find a variety of thought within this text which showcase the depth of thinking on a range of topics including the question of use of the book of Joshua to inspire crusaders, to the early church fathers stance on Christians and military service prior to Constantine’s rule, and later protests against misuse of Papal power prior to and during the reformation.

In addition, there is a well crafted chapter of New Testament uses of divine warfare language in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, which highlights the counter cultural teaching within Paul’s epistle. There is a chapter which looks at the violent imagery within the book of Revelation as theodicy to encourage suffering Christians during a time of intense persecution, reminding them of the hope of God’s redeeming justice. Returning to the Old Testament is a look at both positive witness of “holy war” and a negative portrayal of God’s dealings with his own people, which contain, in the author’s words, a “logic of hope,” represented in the prayer of the book of Lamentations. (see page 83)

 This was an informative read, and expanded my knowledge of the scholarship surrounding the book of Joshua, and reminded me of the pacifist origins of Christianity, and which enlightened me of the use of the apocryphal books of Maccabees as main texts for sermons to encourage and promote “crusade” in the middle-ages. Looking over the book, I see many underlines and margin notes I made while reading this text, which shows my engagement with each author’s writing.

 I would recommend this book for someone who has some background in apologetics, biblical history, and as a supplement to understanding the crusades and early church history. This is, as well, a resource for understanding the biblical record of the conquest of the land of the Canaanites, and the hyperbolic war language common to the ancient Near East.

My congratulations to the editors for including well crafted essays written by thoughtful scholars from across the disciplines of Theology, Biblical studies, Philosophy/Philosophy of Religion and Ethics. My hope is that this series of essays deepens the conversations within the disciplines of Philosophy of Religion, Biblical Studies and Theology.

You can find this book here at IVP Academic, or here at Amazon.

I received my copy for free from IVP for review, and was not influenced by them to write a positive review.