Hmm…

•August 11, 2009 • Leave a Comment

“Today, firefighters were evacuating 10 homes and one business in Shasta County northwest of Burney, CA”

I think I see the problem here…

On Worldviews (a draft)

•August 10, 2009 • 3 Comments

“You attacked reason,” said Father Brown. “It’s bad theology.”
– G.K. Chesterton

Recently, an article appeared in the Sovereign Grace Times (our church’s newsletter) which talked about the importance of a Christian worldview. This reader felt led to offer a different perspective, since the term “Christian Worldview” is a very baggage-laden phrase. The purpose of this response is to make sure that we don’t fall into the trap of using Christianese to justify lazy philosophy, or worse – to justify fearing and condemning our neighbors, rather than loving them.

The Laziness of Worldviews

Speaking about “worldviews” is fashionable at the moment, but bad theology. Whether it’s “Christian” or not, a worldview is an excuse to dismiss arguments brought up by the other side. It lets you gloss over the conclusions of another person, by claiming immunity from looking at evidence objectively. Granted, everyone on the planet has their own perspective. But worldviews are most often an argument for relativism, not for Christianity; they’re used to show how, given the same evidence, any conclusion might still be logically possible to two different people. Language that undermines objective truth is especially dangerous for Christians to engage in – quite shaky ground, indeed.

When all we have is a comparison of our worldview to someone else’s, both will end up with strengths and weaknesses depending on what we each value, which leads to people talking past each other, and very circular conversations. We could say to the world, “Come join us here at our Christian worldview where there’s 12 times less swearing and three times less drinking!” (Results from the same Barna Group survey referenced in the Focus on the Family article (they found that 4% of Americans, and 9% of people calling themselves believers, had a “Christian Worldview”).) And non-Christians will reply, “Why? How can you claim THE correct Biblical worldview when even 91% of Christians disagree with you? From my worldview, Christians are 97% crazy and that’s what’s true for me.” No one will change their mind when it comes down to worldview vs. worldview.

To be fair, when most Christians talk about worldviews, they are not seeking to be relativist. Rather, it tends to be exclusivist, which can be worse. We should avoid things that give us that feeling of being God’s remnant. Self-evaluation, and pursuing a Biblical outlook on life and God, is all well and good; but dangerous is the thought, “Look at all those people who call themselves Christians but are so hypocritical! I’m sure glad I’m one of the 9% God has chosen out from among them. With only 4% of Americans having a true Godly perspective, it’s no wonder we’re going to hell in a handbasket!” This line of thinking is neither charitable nor Biblical; it creates no love for the body or for neighbors, nor any humility in oneself. Beware the thought that you or your immediate church are the lone Christians with your correct “Christian Worldview.” And woe unto you if you find yourself glancing around in the pews on Sunday to try to figure out who else is in the 9%. You are the Pharisee, not the publican.

So if we as Christians seek to be good witnesses, let us stick to what we know is true of God and reality, and leave “worldviews” to those blind people trying to describe elephants.

A “Christian Worldview” Does a Disservice to the Body of Christ

The survey quoted in the FotF article is not very conclusive. The questions they asked seemed to stick pretty closely to established creeds, with perhaps a couple loaded questions about the infallibility of the Bible and the existence of Satan. But the simplicity of the questions is misleading when it comes to how the FotF article presents it – in their estimation, one could not have a truly “Christian Worldview” unless one answered all of the theological questions correctly, AND proceeded also to bring one’s political views into line as well, on abortion, stem-cell research, etc. So disagreement or hesitation on one point would disqualify even an otherwise-Godly individual. Given Christianity’s already fractured state, it’s not surprising to me that the survey ended up with such small percentages that had a “Christian Worldview,” even though a few larger denominations recite a creed at least weekly. The small percentages in the survey, to me, reflect an error in the how the survey was done and how it evaluated correctness, and are not a dire statement on the spiritual status of the greater body of Christ. The greater body of Christ is a body with different foci of ministry and preaching. Striving for uniformity in our politics or perspective would be making us all into an ass.

Further, the article correlates a “Christian Worldview” with avoiding “broken homes, wasted lives, and ineffective Christianity,” but this is just plain false. Christianity is not a recipe for the good life, and anybody who tells you so is trying to sell you something (in this case, a DVD box-set on improving your worldview). Not all non-Christians are wasting away destitute and lonely on the couch… remember 50% of non-Christian marriages survive just fine, too. As Christians, we should expect trials and tribulations; that includes times of conflict within families, times of spiritual dryness, and times when we feel weak (and God’s strength is made perfect).

In some ways, the low percentages of people with a “Christian Worldview” were actually a bit comforting. The article seemed to link this worldview with an absence of doubt, questions, or stumbles into lust or drink or anything. It sounds to me a lot like an unhealthy sort of Christianity, one easily straying into legalism, pride, and denial.

The Person of Christ is Not a Worldview

If there is one thing the Bible does teach, it is that following Christ is not dependent on having all the right answers to a set of survey questions. There was a certain rich young ruler who wished it were, in the gospel of Luke.

And a quick look at Hebrews 11 will show you a list of folks who were no strangers to doubt, weakness, and questions. Perhaps a “Christian Worldview” should be judged by how many of the Psalms you can identify with personally, or whether you honestly aren’t sure which brother in the story of the Prodigal Son is more like you… or whether you know that partying with prostitutes is very Christ-like. Following in His steps is rather complicated, and looks different for different people. It will take you to the ends of the earth, in the company of sinners, and if you’re fortunate, you’ll end up in chains before Pilate himself.

The Proclamation of Freedom for all Captives

We should not be telling people that a “Christian Worldview” will help them to be happier, or even holier – we should be proclaiming Christ, and Him risen. We should not be saying that people should come join us over at our point-of-view – we should be looking to help them see Christ at work in their lives. A “Christian Worldview” will not solve society’s problems, but interacting with Christ Himself will change lives. I would go so far as to say that having a “Christian Worldview” is not beneficial – Christianity is just as true, no matter what your background or ingrained associations, and Christ is at work worldwide. So let us abandon such labeling, and abandon striving to brainwash ourselves into believing just that extra bit harder. Let us instead love our neighbors, seek to understand where they are coming from, and pray to God to increase our faith by revealing more of Himself in our lives. Let us pursue the hard-won faith of David, and the worldview-shattering presence of Christ that changed Paul.

* * *
Notes: The article would have to be about half as long to go in our church newsletter… so I’ll be editing it a bit. 🙂

Barna Research Group Study:
http://listserv.virtueonline.org/pipermail/virtueonline_listserv.virtueonline.org/2003-December/006417.html

Focus on the Family Article:
http://www.focusonthefamily.com/faith/christian_worldview/why_is_a_christian_worldview_important.aspx

Apples to Appeals

•April 19, 2009 • 2 Comments

Last night, Biola University hosted a debate on one of the most crucial questions ever posed to any human: “Does God Exist?” The two debaters were well-known and in their elements; each had a fearsome record of past debates in a variety of contexts. But I realized later, with some surprise, that the most interesting part of the debate was not the titanic clash of arguments, but the shifting battlefield on which they met.

William Lane Craig was given the opening statement. I will do it some injustice and summarize- he started with two assertions: “there are no good arguments for atheism”, and “there are no good arguments against Theism”. He then went straight into expounding on the second, giving five arguments that God exists: a Cosmological argument (the universe exists; it must have a cause); a Teleological argument (the fine-tuning of the universe is highly unlikely; it makes more sense with a designer); a moral argument (objective moral values indicate a divine authority); an argument from the Resurrection (his empty tomb, post-mortem appearances, and disciples’ belief indicate a God); and, surprisingly, an argument from immediate experience (our experience of God is just as valid as our experience of anything).

Craig pointed out that, because of the way the debate was defined, he did not have to discuss Old Testament morality or whether Christians are morally better than non-Christians. He just had to disprove any arguments for atheism, and defend the idea that God was the best fit for the evidence.

When Christopher Hitchens took the podium, his argument went in a rather different direction. He confessed that he was rather irritated at the prospect of “defending atheism”, because he didn’t think it quite sensible to challenge a lack of belief in something. He also made a historical appeal, saying that Christian apologists kept changing their arguments in light of new evidence, something he called “retrogressive evidencialism”. This was, in essence, the same as presupposition, but with pretensions to honest reason. Such slippery doctrine is impossible to disprove, he said.

Hitchens then continued, saying that evolution required a tremendous amount of wanton cruelty, death and waste; and if God used this sort of plan, then Hitchens didn’t think very much of him.

The debate went on in that vein for most of its duration: Craig would review his logical argument, patching up holes poked by Hitchens. Hitchens, then, would make a comment or two related to what Craig had asserted, and follow it with his own material. But I realized, eventually, that Hitchens’s material wasn’t a series of logical arguments. It was, for the most part, powerful emotional and aesthetic appeals.

Who won the debate? Through the duration, Craig’s logical position was ironclad. The conditions for victory which he listed were undoubtedly fulfilled.

But perhaps those conditions weren’t all that mattered. Because running in parallel with the debate was a battle for the hearts and souls of those who were listening. That was where Christopher Hitchens was pouring out his energy. He was appealing, I think, to people to make them not /want/ to be Christian- to make them think it was a distasteful, senseless idea they were serving. And like most everything that either debater did, he did it well.

Where shall we get an appeal to match Christopher Hitchens’s? It may not be a great debater. It may not be a great writer. But one answer’s certainly in 2 Corinthians 5:20.

On poetry old and new

•December 9, 2008 • 5 Comments

I suppose I am now a guest poster, but since no one else is using the space, I think I’ll hop back in.

I’ve been reading through Shakespeare’s sonnets for the first time lately, and I’ve been struck by two things:

  1. How very strange some of them are. Read the first fifteen or so. Look for a common theme. See if that theme weirds you out at all; I know it did me.
  2. How very personal they all are! Even those that have the most lasting impact, the most universal appeal, still speak clearly out of Shakespeare’s soul, and are written with a particular person in mind. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the deeply personal, intimate nature of them is part of their greatness. They are not some vague, universal, bloodless “love poetry” but very specific, heartfelt, and particular.

I suppose it’s fine to read his sonnets to a lady – certainly better than to deprive her of poetry and romance altogether. And there’s nothing wrong with taking another man’s words as your own, if you mean them. We do that all the time in praising God. But while songs of praise are sung by many different voices, their object remains the same. It seems somewhat weird, both in practice and in principle, to read a sonnet to one woman that was written for another.

Thus, if I may humbly suggest an alternate course of action to all you lusty young men who would woo fair lady, or already are:

(Not that I have a great deal of experience or success at wooing fair lady, so take this with a grain of salt.)

Think not of Shakespeare’s sonnets as a frame
Of ready-fabricated words to read.
Your words they cannot be, bear not your name;
They spring from other ground and other seed.
Although with zeal you cast them as your own,
They carry out with William’s unmixed voice
And sing a song of other maidens known,
Not of the certain lady of your choice.
The sonnet form is not so hard, good sirs,
But if it is, then something simpler bring.
It may not be high art, but will be hers,
And that will be the most important thing.
So read the Bard, his master lines rehearse,
But lay them down and write your own damn verse!

– The Herald

I: Ready or not, here I go.

•July 9, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Dear family and friends,

As many of you know, it is my plan is to set off very soon for a short-term mission trip to Kenya and Latvia.  I have been preparing for the trip for the last few months, and eagerly hoping to go for much longer than that.  This letter will explain most of what I know about my itinerary, and list my prayer requests.

You may find that what I write in this email contradicts what I’ve told you in person.  This is not because I was trying to deceive you, but because (probably) I was mistaken at the time, or (maybe) because something has changed in the interim.

To start: I hope to send out an email update once per week.  (We will see if the Lord grants me the ability to do this!)  If you would like to be included in these updates, please send me an email saying so and I will add you to the list.  Please do not think to yourself: “Surely, because my relationship with him is ___, he will know that I want to be on his list.”  Even the dearest of friends is likely to slip from my mind during the present marathon; so send me a quick email to let me know.  And while you’re at it, let me know what is new with you!

Second, the practicals:
-I will depart from Los Angeles on July 9 for Nairobi, Kenya.  Departure will be at 11:30 PM on July 9, and arrival will be at 8:50 PM on July 11.  The flights are United Airlines 056, United Airlines 922, and Kenya Airways 103.
-For about eighteen days, I will serve at the St. Mary and St. Tekla Monastery in Maseno, Kenya.  After being in Kenya for a little less than three weeks, I will leave Nairobi on July 29th for Riga, Latvia.  Departure will be at 9:25 AM on July 29th, and arrival will be at 11:00 AM on July 30th.  The flights are Virgin Atlantic 672, Scandinavian Airlines 1508, and Scandinavian Airlines 9614.
-For about fifteen days, I will serve with Youth With a Mission Latvia, near Valdemarpils, Latvia.  I will leave Riga on August 14th for Los Angeles.  Departure will be at 1:45 PM on August 14th, and arrival will be at 12:18 AM on August 15th.  The flights are Lufthansa 3245, Lufthansa 9252, and United Airlines 925.

Times noted above are local.  Both Kenya (East African Time, EAT) and Latvia (Eastern European Summer Time, EEST) will be *10 hours ahead* of California time (Pacific Daylight Time, PDT).  So if you wake up at 8 in the morning in Pasadena, I will at the same time be getting ready for dinner, at 6 PM.

Also, at this point it behooves me to take a moment to note that these are my /plans/; but I am not in full control of what will actually happen.  In a letter to early Christian churches, Saint James writes:

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” (4:13-15)

This, of course, is true advice; so let me say here that what I say in this email is generally my plan, but that only God knows for sure what will happen (and that is quite okay with me).  If it is the Lord’s will, what is in this email will come to pass.  (I won’t repeat this after everything I say, but know that I mean for it to apply everywhere.)

Third, the work:
Short-term mission trips are notorious for being unpredictable and not going according to plan; but what I expect of my own role is as follows:
The monastery in Kenya is connected to a medical clinic which serves the local community.  Some days will be spent making house visits to those being treated by the clinic; some days will be spent teaching and spending time with local orphans; some days will be spent hosting sports days for youth.  Some days MAY be spent preaching in marketplaces.  And what would I preach?  That we have each sinned, and brought God’s judgment upon ourselves; but that God sent his son Jesus, who made a sacrifice of such power that it exhausts the wrath of God against sin; and that if we believe in Jesus’ sacrifice and repent of our sins, we will be saved from God’s judgment; and we will know, not His wrath, but His love as adopted sons and daughters.  That is the Gospel!

In Latvia, I will likely stay at the YWAM base in Valdemarpils, outside Talsi.  There, they host summer camps for children, and minister to prisoners and drug addicts (among many other things!).  It has been mentioned that there’s a particular YWAM guy that I might end up helping while I’m there, but I haven’t heard who he is or what he will be doing.  So my work in Latvia is shaping up to be a bit of a surprise!

Fourth, the prayer requests:
Those of you who would- please bring the following of my petitions to the Lord in prayer:
-That I would be safe from sickness while I am traveling: mosquitoes in Kenya can transmit malaria, and impure food and drink can transmit other diseases, none of which I want to contract.
-That I would be safe from crime while I am traveling: in particular, I have heard that the Kenyan airport at night can be dangerous, and that there are sometimes bandits on the roads outside of Nairobi.  I will also be an extremely conspicuous traveler in general, because of my height and light skin, but I am less worried about general harassment than about the airport and the roads.
-That I would be a peacemaker and a man who unites: I will be serving with a lot of people who are different from me culturally and doctrinally.  And it’s very difficult to do good work when you are divided from your coworkers.  When things get stressful, it’ll be hard to be a good team member and easy to lash out and hurt people; but I want to bring glory to my Lord by being a peacemaker instead.
-That I would have a heart of cheerful obedience: it is easy to be excited about serving when I’m comfortable and at home.  But when I actually am put in a position to serve, it will be tempting to have an irritable and selfish mindset instead of a selfless one.

Fifth, the closing remarks and miscellany:
I intend to post these prayer letters to our neglected house blog, located at https://thefourhumours.wordpress.com .  Feel free, also, to forward them to anybody to like!

Thank you for persevering to the end of this email!  And thank you for your friendship.

Yours in the Best of Bonds,
-William Buck Schulze

Hehe

•May 8, 2008 • 3 Comments

The young woman behind me in line at the supermarket today complimented me on my good taste in beer.

Newcastle and Red Stripe, for the record.  And proud of it.

+the harlequin!

Total Depravity… and Politics. They do seem to go together.

•April 2, 2008 • 6 Comments

They say that if you want to keep friends, one should never discuss religion or politics. I’m banking on my friends’ understanding by discussing both at once in this post, but we shall see.

 

There is much that has been on my mind of late, slowly steeping, and flavored by many discussions I’ve had with friends over the past few years. Among my Christian friends, there is a huge variation in their politics that has always surprised me. It seems, though, that no matter what background someone was raised in, that when they mature, and examine their political beliefs in the light of their Christianity (in regards to individual issues), there is much that they end up agreeing on. However, the set of political beliefs that results from this process does not seem to fit particularly well in either of the parties in our current two-party system, and so, depending on which issues a person places emphasis on, they can still end up pretty much anywhere on the Republican/Democrat spectrum.

 

Nevertheless, I am definitely in favor of pursuing a well-examined life. So the point of this particular post is to encourage you patient readers to (re)examine your political beliefs in light of your spiritual beliefs. Dare to think that way. It is good practice, for, especially as Christians, our loyalty is first and foremost to the Kingdom, and not to earthly structures.

 

Segue to…

I’ve been thinking lately about Total Depravity and how this doctrine, in particular, could relate to politics. Total Depravity can be summarized by saying that “sin affects every area of our lives to such an extent that we are effectively incapable of responding to God’s grace on our own” (taken from The Reformation for Armchair Theologians, by Glenn Sunshine).

It seems that we should be able to take this knowledge we’ve gained about human nature from the Bible, and apply it to how we think about political issues. There are many possible controversial issues that could be brought up at this point, but I wanted to focus this post on one specific topic that seems really established and ingrained, thanks to a 50-year Cold War – such that our response to it is often rather instinctual and buzzword-triggered than well-thought-out. But it’s related to Total Depravity, I hope.

 

 

Namely, it’s Christian support for Capitalism, on principle. Generally, I’d say that Christians are in favor of capitalism – we know ourselves too well to believe that a society can be built on sharing things equally, or other such utopian thoughts. Total Depravity is often used to back up this support for capitalism – it tells us that, unless there’s literal divine intervention, society will always be comprised of people who have trouble thinking beyond themselves. So, in the big-picture, capitalism definitely makes sense as a system that takes into account the realities of our fallen world.

 

It can be observed, though, that Government seems to break capitalism. Legislation, either deliberately, or as an unforeseen consequence, keeps market forces from taking their natural course. I’d argue that our Total Depravity “human nature” (sinful, selfish nature) arguments for capitalism may also break down in these situations, leaving us with some difficult choices. Permit me to expand on this.

 

 

Basically, since people will pursue their own gain, and short-term gains especially, capitalism theoretically wins as the system most likely to be stable and to “work.” People fill needs as there becomes a monetary demand for them, which works really well when it comes to increasing the overall standard of living. However, in the US at least, the government has tried to prevent flagrant system failures in three main areas: human rights, environmental protection, and basic services. As a society, we all generally agree that disasters occur when there are failures in these areas, and we look to the government to keep things running smoothly.

 

 

It’s hardly as easy as it might sound. With regards to human rights… it seems that corporations just take their labor-intensive work elsewhere in the world, out of purview of strong human-rights legislation. Similarly, industries with a high environmental impact just go where they’re not likely to attract as much attention. “Basic” services, though, are not something that can be outsourced, and thus we have many easy examples of the problems that arise when regulation screws up the “invisible hand” that would normally govern utilities companies, healthcare, trash/recycling companies, and even things like phone service, etc.

 

 

Unfortunately, then, we’re left with a weird paradox: if there’s no regulation, capitalism “works,” but there are huge chances of something going dreadfully wrong. On the other hand, regulation often “breaks” capitalism, but society has at least spoken that certain things are unacceptable to do to people or the environment, and it’s not just the people with money that make the rules.

 

 

So the government, and in the US, the people by extension, must pick their battles carefully, and ask what is more important – upholding capitalism on principle, or upholding some other values. Here’s a particular example of what I mean (itself already within another particular example, I know, but bear with me).

 

 

 

Healthcare: It seems odd to me that proponents of the sanctity of life would wind up among those opposed to universal healthcare. The issue is often framed in terms of capitalism vs. socialism, which is understandable. But it seems that here, given the usual “make Total Depravity work for us” argument for a free-market approach, there is a good opposing argument that, in this case, money is being made at the potential expense of peoples’ health. If we, as a society, place a higher value on health and access to health services, this means that the government needs to ensure that we are not “respecters of persons” in this regard – that we don’t end up with a system that grants better treatment to those individuals with power or money, and withholds treatment from the poor.

 

So what should we say? Capitalism “works,” and generally Total Depravity supports it, especially over communism or socialism. But when lives are at stake, it’s possible to argue that Total Depravity also means that we shouldn’t really rely on greed in others to cause them to help or care, when it’s so easy for the poor to slip through the cracks in the system.

 

And when you’re bleeding on the pavement, do you want to have to worry about whether the invisible hand will pick you up and get you to a doctor?