Friday, June 29, 2007

Reading the Scriptures Through the Eyes of Experience

Just under two months ago I had a conversation with John Armstrong. We discussed our similar experiences of being accused falsely, and how that has caused us to read the Bible differently. Now that is not to say that I have changed my theology, but I certainly have added something to it. It is as though I have seen Jesus responding to hypocrites a little more clearly than I had seen it before. I began to see His defense of humble God searchers, against the forces of legalistic religion, and it has enlightened my path, and encouraged my heart.

Oh, and by the way, read John's blog on Bobby Cox record for getting ejected from games. It's a great post.

I'm talking with John about having him come to Salem for a conference in November. I'll let you know more about the details should this come together.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Josh on Freedom, Witches, and Christianity

Josh has been on a book reading assignment which I gave him some time back. I asked him to blog on this book written by a Pagan about Paganism. Back in April he posted an insight about Freedom as foundation search in both Paganism and Christianity. I think it's worth a read - check it out.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Post-op Elijah News

This is how Elijah is doing: He played his first show since having surgery two weeks ago today. The show was Monday Night in Newburyport. So Dan didn't have to fill in for him - sweet. You know they were thinking about Dan filling in.

Monday, June 18, 2007

The Truth War - My Last Few Thoughts

I wanted to conclude my thoughts on The Truth War. I previously made observations on MacArthur's use of "the excluded middle," which he mentions, and then displays in the book as one of his primary forms of argumentation throughout the book. The "excluded middle" most often is a classic logical fallacy, and he use it liberally as a method of argumentation to promote the concept that the Emergent Conversation is a postmodern influenced heresy, and to recruit believers to stand up against it. My first 2 posts on this book covered the fallacy of the excluded middle, which has also been known as Black and White Fallacy (under the assumption that there are only two choices, and therefore no middle), False Dichotomy, False Dilemma, and Bifurcation.

In my third post I dealt with the logical fallacy of Hasty Generalization, and identified a few of the many places in which MacArthur used a small test sample of Emergent individuals and quotes to create his overarching opinions about the movement as a whole.

Although I believe these observations do not come close to identifying all the fallacious arguments presented by MacArthur, I do feel that they have covered the most significant fallacies in logic, and place his opinions on the Emergent Conversation into the category of wild exaggeration.

Here I simply wanted to list a few more favorite quotes which further point out the exaggeration which is employed for means of sensationalism, or are an example of the pot calling the kettle black.

Many evangelical seminaries are now aggressively recruiting women for pastoral training programs. Numerous once -conservative evangelical churches are ordaining women as elders, encouraging them to teach adult classes filled with men, and even appointing them to pastoral and preaching roles.
Such feminism has gnostic roots...."

Reading before and after this quote on page 153-154 one will find MacArthur using 1 Timothy 2:12 used to support the idea that the Bible rejects women as teachers of men, or leaders in the church. I wholeheartedly disagree with his opinion, but even if MacArthur's assessment of that passage were to support a wholesale rejection of women in church leadership positions, his unsubstantiated conclusion that it has "gnostic roots" certainly needs some evidence to be considered anything more than a blustery Santa Ana wind.

"Still overzealousness is clearly a danger we need to guard against carefully. There are indeed some full-time critics operating today, always looking for a fight, taking fleshly delight in controversy's sake, and making judgments that may be too harsh or too hasty." (page 135)

Who woulda thought! Sorry, I couldn't resist. To me it seems as though MacArthur defines his own book - in fact a few of his books, and a significant portion of his own ministry with this quote.

"Proof that ungodliness is rampant in evangelical circles today is evident in megachurches that purposely cater to the preferences of the ungodly-furnishing entertainment and amusements in the place of authentic worship and Bible teaching." (page 140)

Wow! I guess we had better be careful to avoid being humorous, presenting drama, allowing quality music in the church, or showing movie clips, because it is "proof" that we are ungodly. I am ashamed of myself - I laughed at church this week.

On page 167 MacArthur quotes 1 Corintians 9:20-22 in which Paul states he becomes "all things to all men" that he might save some, and MacArthur responds to this quote by saying, "He was not saying he adapted the Gospel Message...He did not adopt methods to suit the tastes of a worldly culture."

MacArthur apparently is convinced that becoming all things to all men means neither adapting one's presentation of the Gospel for the hearer's sake, or difference in the meaning of words from region to region, nor adopting methods appropriate to cultural distinctions, and differences. Paul apparently became all things to all men by not changing a thing. I want to learn that trick.

I am of the conclusion, that this book has been written as a knee-jerk reaction to a movement gaining some degree of popularity, and having high impact on current Christian thought. One might conclude that John MacArthur wrote it as a response to the latest fad in theology, and therefore a way to draw attention, and sell more books, and therefore is an example of the very thing he berates. I am assuming the writing of the book had more noble intentions, but for whatever reason he wrote the book, the illogical blunders were not well advised.

That's what I think about The Truth War.

Rebuttals, responses, agreements, cheers, rebukes, and trying to get the pea-soup to rise from within me are all welcome.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Loose Lips - A "SinkroBlog" (SychroBlog on Untouchable People - How we create them with gossip and lies)

During the Second World War posters, and reminders to keep quiet about military information was posted for all to see. "Loose lips might sink ships" people were told.

Loose lips still sink ships today. Gossip, lies, and selfish ambition dressed up as serious concern work together for the purpose of demoting someone else, and making ourselves look good. I wish Christianity was free from such sick ambition, but it is not. Such behavior is among the 7 things God hates, and I am sure that lying gossip spread for selfish ambition must cover all 7 of those things He hates.

"A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, A false witness [that] speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren."

Interested in WW2 memorabilia? How about a simple reminder to save someone's reputation by speaking truth, and keeping humble? If someone is a scoundrel on the other hand, you ask? Be sure to follow the guidelines found in Matthew 18. They are your safety valve for the loose lip syndrome.

June 15th SynchroBlog on The People We Consider "Untouchable"

Mike Bursell muses about Untouchables
David Fisher on Touching the Pharisees - My Untouchable People Group
Adam Gonnerman with Quickened Pen
Michael Bennet writes Nothing more than the crust life
Jeremiah at Models of church leadership and decision-making as
they apply to outreach

John Smulo talks about Christian Untouchables
Sally Coleman shares on The Untouchables
Sam Norton talks about Untouchables
Steve Hayes on Dalits and Hindutva
Sonja Andrews asks Wouldn't Ya Like Ta Be A Leper Too?
Fernando A. Gros speaks up on Untouchability And Glocalisation
Tim Abbott finds some Untouchables in disguise
Josh Rivera does his stuff with the Untouchables

A Few News Notes

Ruth Graham dies - read this great article in Christianity Today. A moment of silence is highly appropriate.

Gay Marriage decision in Massachusetts. Yep, this is where I live. What are your thoughts?

Dopers really are dopes? That's what the Brits are saying. Read this report.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Discipline of Inconvenience

On Sunday morning at The Gathering Episcopal Priest Beth Maynard who with her husband leads a neo-Maonastic community in Bevery, MA spoke on Inconvenience. It's just under a 20 minute message. I reccomend listening to The Discipline of Inconvenience.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Create Your Own Theology!

That's right you have the opportunity to create your own convenient theology!

My favorite convenient theology is "tangential (or was that tangental?) eschatology." Tangential eschatology works like this. If you are concerned about world affairs, oppression, conservation, helping the poor, learning to live like Jesus now, or matters of personal holiness my tangential eschatology jumps in, and I say, "Jesus is returning soon anyway, none of that stuff is going to matter."

Create your own personal theology. Name it, use it, abuse it for the glory of God - or at least for personal convenience. Go ahead and leave your personal self-created convenient theology by clicking "comment" below.

Thoughts from the Philosophy Professor on The Truth War

Bruce is a Philosophy Professor locally, and responded to me by e-mail on John MacArthur's book The Truth War. I loved his intelligent, well informed response, and thought I'd post it here. So here's Professor Bruce:

There's a whole class of fallacies of oversimplification.* Your example of the Reformed tendency toward rigidity (see end of first paragraph at this link) is excellent, since some of America's most forward thinking and active evangelists have been dyed in the wool Calvinists, e.g., Spurgeon.

*Dicto Simpliciter--the rule excludes exceptions
"special case"--the exception becomes the new rule
composition--what is true of the part must be true of the whole
division--what is true of the whole must be true of the part
black-and-white-- what we've been calling the excluded middle
quoting out of context-- we all know this one, and it is a favorite of Christians trying to Reclaim the Culture
stereotyping--the distinctive accidental characteristics of the group must be assumed to be the traits of the members without exception or nuance. There are enough members who have the trait to make it plausible, and enough who don't to make it seriously wrong.

Falling into Fallacies of Oversimplification is a particular
"occupational hazard" for cultural critics. I count myself as a
cultural critic/apologist, and have committed it enough to shoot
myself in the foot, if that makes sense. It's a hazard because the
apologist is an expert in most-things-Christian, but has to show a
passing knowlege of all the challenges to the faith, or at least an
awareness of the subtleties that belong to the challenge du jour.
The mistake of this kind that I remember most clearly was one uttered
by D. James Kennedy, staunch Calvinist and energetic leader of many
missional Christians, on his radio show. He was speaking about Neil
Postman, and cited him as one of the disasterous influences in public
education today. As proof, Kennedy quoted the title of Postman's
book, "Teaching As A Subversive Activity." End of story. Damn.
It turns out that the late Prof. Postman is one of Christianity's best
allies in both the non-Christian religious world and in academia. For
one thing, he wrote another book entitled "Teaching as a Conserving
Activity" which was meant as a sequel to the first, by way of saying
"...and vice versa." For another thing, he wrote a wonderful,
wonderful book called Amusing Ourselves to Death, in which he analyzes
televangelism (among other things) and suggests that the serious and
sober-minded practice that Christianity surely is and must be, is not
represented by televangelism, mainly because of the nature of the
medium. (He mainly attacks the network news.) He also wrote a book
that I understand as pro-Christian education, pro-homeschooling,
called "The End of Education," arguing that if education doesn't
promotes its proper ends, then the institutions of education will
collapse. And that religious ed has the advantage of promoting the
proper ends of education.


The Truth War - The General of Generalization?

Response to The Truth War Part 1
Response to The Truth War Part 2

Generalization is a nasty, hasty habit for many of us. We all become captured in the over-simplification of making hasty generalizations at times. This is a classic fallacy in argumentation. For example: During my time as a Christian I have discovered that Christian leaders who believe reformed theology are overly dogmatic and judgmental toward those who do not hold their positions, because the ones I have met. or read have been that way. Of course, this is not true. It is not even true that all reformed theologians I have met are overly dogmatic. But even if it were true, it is an over-generalization to say that all reformed thinkers are overly dogmatic, and judgmental. That is a hasty generalization, and jumping to conclusions.

Hasty generalization is the formation of an opinion from an insufficiently small test sample group of a larger body. Insufficient evidence used as a basis for conclusions leads to hasty generalization, and logical fallacy.

Enter stage right The Truth War.

From a mere handful of leaders, from a narrow range of denominations, and miniscule number of writings, a series of accusations about the apostate nature of the Emergent Church is presented.

Rob & Kirsten Bell, Brian McLaren, Tony Campolo, and reformed theologian John Armstrong are among those listed and quoted in the book. A small smattering of their quotes are given.

John Armstrong most particularly is of interest. On three counts information provided about him is illogical. Armstrong's friend P. Andrew Sandlin has provided a solid defense against the accusations here in an excellent article. The accusations against Armstrong are provided as an example of the Emergent Church's slide into empty relativism. They are false on these counts: 1) John Armstong is a reformed theologian. He once taught side by side with John MacArthur, and still holds to the reformed traditions and theology with minor variations on his previously held beliefs. He does not typically fit the Emergent Church category. 2) As shown by P. Andrew Sandlin's article, MacArthur chooses statements from Armstrong from only two sources among his many writings - one blog, and one article. 3) His responses to citations from John Armstrong are inaccurate.

Two of three points illustrate hasty generalization perfectly. First, John Armstrong is quoted from a miniscule sampling of his greater works, and his beliefs are inaccurately assessed. Assumptions about John Armstrong are made with insufficient evidence. Secondly, these quotes from this single source become an example of postmodern relativism infiltrating the church at large. MacArthur also lists quotes from such authors as Brian McLaren, and Rob & Kirsten Bell, Donald Miller, and Stanley Grenz. The small sampling of quotes frm each are presented as authoritative comments from what is a complex and diverse movement. They are generalizations about the larger group from a small sampling of ill read quotes. Generalizations are made about John Armstrong, which in turn are used as a sampling of generalizations about the larger group called Emergent.

The premise of the book is based off hasty generalization. John MacArthur shows no complete understanding about the nature of the Emergent Conversation, and similarly no clear comprehension about the basic critiques which postmodernism holds toward its predecessor modernism.

Whether as a tool for creating the larger scope of the book, or in details of the book MacArthur shows himself to be a master generalizer. After quoting Donald Miller's Blue Like Jazz with story about "Mark the cussing pastor," MacArthur goes on to say, "Obscenity is one of the major trademarks of the Emerging style. Most authors in the movement make extravagant use of filthy language, sexual innuendo, and uncritical references to the most lowbrow elements of postmodern culture...."

I don't know which books he's been reading, but my guess is that either they weren't Emergent books, or that he's become the General of Generalization. Logical fallacies are presented as sound doctrine in this book.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

(Part 2) The Truth War - John MacArthur and the Fallacy of the Excluded Middle

Bifurcation, or the fallacy of the excluded middle is a common fallacy among Christians, and particularly among Christian leaders and preachers. The scriptures themselves appear at times to validate the use of the excluded middle, and set all issues of doctrine, morality, and Gospel presentation into black and white, us versus them positions. The Truth War by John MacArthur is a classic example of this Christian tendency toward bifurcation.

"He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad." (Matthew 12:30 see also Luke 11:23) In this passage Jesus appears to present a radical excluded middle argument, which sets all actions, and all beliefs into two categories: Those for God, and those against God. If indeed it can be shown that Christ views all actions, and beliefs in this radical dichotomy then we as Christians may have no choice, but to view our response as a warlike battle against all things in this world. This is the stance John MacArthur appears to take in The Truth War. Christians are divided in to the obedient warriors for truth, and the disobedient who refuse to rise up against every postmodern idea, and everything in the Emergent Conversation as error to be battled and condemned. There is no serious potential for identifying ideas of postmodernity or Emergent as accurate critiques of modernity, or modern church culture.

"For he that is not against us is on our part. (Mark 9:40 see also Luke 9:49-50) Strangely, perhaps paradoxically, we find Jesus saying what appears to be the opposite of His previous exclusion. The disciples have seen men who did not follow Jesus casting out demons in Jesus' name, and want to know if they should be stopped. Jesus appears to have no interest in their doctrinal purity, or the methods and style of their ministry. Instead Jesus tells the disciples to let them be. If they are not against Him they are working on His behalf. The Truth War appears to give no place for people of different doctrinal stances, or those questioning the practices of today's contemporary evangelical church culture. In MacArthur's worldview those who are not with him are against him. 20 years ago it was Charismatics. Today it is Emergents.

MacArthur gives tacit approval for people to think differently on non-essential issues, and outlines the essential issues - on page 47 MacArthur says, "These nonnegotiable evangelical doctrines include the doctrine of justification by faith, the principle of substitutionary atonement, and the absolute authority and perfect sufficiency of Scripture...(...included in that short list are a number of other vital doctrines including Christ's deity, His virgin biirth, and His bodily resurrection.)" Yet a few paragraphs later MacArthur berates the evangelical movement for "acting for a long time as if our main duty is just to keep in step with the fads of worldly culture." (emphasis his)

On page 155-156 he says, "...we're forbidden to pick fights with one another on secondary issues." Citing Romans 14:1.

Once again on page 157 the author lists the historic basics of the faith: Biblical authority containing truth for God's glory, salvation, faith, and eternal life; humanity's fall, the bondage of sin, Jesus' deity, His full humanity and sacrifice for sin, salvation by grace and not by works, and the Great Commission.

Immediately following his list of essentials and his insistence that only essentials are points for warring, he begins to berate those who practice things not found in his own list of essentials, showing us that in John MacArthur's book of life few actions fit into the non-essential category.

He lists the following items as examples of a denial of the Lord's "headship over the church": Open Theism, human psychology, self-help therapy, the idea of 'recovery', twelve-step programs, and entrepreneurial styles of church leadership. Whether I agree with any of these items or not is not of importance, yet to describe them as good for nothing eternal but destined to be burned is a judgment of non-essential doctrines, and personal and corporate behavior without discretion. For example - although I too have seen the horrors of CEO corporate leadership in the church, I do not assume that every action taken by every leader working under that model is corrupt and hellish. Such absolute statements on nonessential values create a sense of making those values fundamental issues of the Christian life, and is not a good model of critique, or logic for any Christian to follow.

I believe in sound doctrine and truth. I believe that there are times in which there is no middle ground, but to remove middle ground which does exist makes an argument a fallacy. MacArthur's critique of the Emergent Church might have better been served if he kept his own advise on page 155. "Now, obviously, we cannot righteously be dogmatic about every peripheral belief, or matter of personal preference."

to read Part 1 of a response to The Truth War

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The Truth War - John MacArthur and the Fallacy of the Excluded Middle

It's late. I can't really sleep now, even though I've spent the day at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital, and my son was getting a kidney transplant. So after having sent out messages, and thanks for prayer, and updates, I thought I might respond to the book I read yesterday, since that is a goal over the next week anyway.

I read The Truth War in a day. It is easy reading. I do not recommend it to any undiscerning reader, and wouldn't have bought it except that I felt compelled to respond to it.

I did not come to this book unbiased. I am from a Pentecostal background, and have seen the writings of MacArthur, and heard his diatribes on my own variation of Christianity slammed by faulty logic before. Since I identify with the Emergent Movement to some degree currently - jokingly calling myself a PentEmergent, but really thinking of myself as some combination of Pentecostal, Anabaptist, and Emergent, I thought it would be best to respond in some way to his critiques of a movement I am beginning to find some identification with.

I will respond in a short series of posts, and try to keep each post a simple refutation of one of the many fallacies I have observed in his (what I view as) pontifications.

In MacArthur's attacks on Charismatic Christianity 20 years ago, I observed a solid Biblical teacher (excellent on some issues, and dreadful on other issues), commit a series of ad hominem attacks on Pentecostal Christianity. This is a fairly easy thing to do, since Pentecostals include a spectrum of wild to mild, and charlatan to honest characters. With some frequency in print, and on air he used examples of the most extreme, and sensational characters, and their behavior to make broad sweeping statements about the entirety of the movement. These attacks on individual behavior were even used as proof of the doctrinal error in teachings concerning the current usage of the gifts of the Spirit, and the doctrine of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. In Logic this is a fallacious argument called Argumentum Ad Hominem. The bad behavior of an individual, or even a group of individuals does not prove that a doctrinal position they hold is automatically false.

Having seen this otherwise decent Bible teacher utilize poor logic in the past against those with whom he disagreed, I assumed the same might be true in his attack on the Emergent Conversation. I was unfortunately more correct on this point than I had imagined, and will therefore take a short series of posts to cover these thoughts.

So, here's my first observation:

John MacArthur's lack of understanding, and shallowness of knowledge on the Emergent Conversation causes him to create a potentially false dichotomy. This is called the fallacy of the excluded middle.

"Excluded Middle (False Dichotomy, Faulty Dilemma, Bifurcation):
assuming there are only two alternatives when in fact there are more. For example, assuming Atheism is the only alternative to Fundamentalism, or being a traitor is the only alternative to being a loud patriot."

For more examples of faulty logic see this list of Fallacious Arguments.

Even a reading of some basic material such as Scott McKnight's article in Christianity Today, (I posted on this sometime back here) would have shown MacArthur that the Eemrgent Conversation was far more divergent in thought than he assumes in his book. He might have understood that it included liberals and conservatives from most denominations of Christianity. That people were joining it for reasons doctrinal, and for reasons primarily evangelistic or missional. I fall into the latter category, and so the statements of apostasy and heresy are gross generalizations concerning someone like myself.

Here are a few examples of MacArthur's inability to see that the Emergent Church is more complex than he understands, and is not simply a truth evading, fad chasing, corrupt movement - as he tends to demonize it:

"As always, a war is being waged against the truth. We are on one side or the other. There is no middle ground." Introduction page xxiii By itself this is a fine statement. Placed in context of assaulting an entire movement without clarification of the complexity of the group this is a fallacy of the excluded middle.

"We will examine why defending the faith inevitably requires warfare, rather than the gullibly sanguine stance many Christians seem to favor today." Introduction page xxv Here we are given the opportunity to be a part of one of two responses, without consideration that there might be a third option. Otherwise we join John, or we are gullible. suggesting that contemporary Christianity needs to reimagine, update, or simply jettison some supposedly obsolete doctrine...They are actually working toward the wholesale demolition of the entire structure." page 80 The context of this paragraph hints that something as innocuous as updating a service is on par with challenging fundamental doctrines, and is an assualt on the basics of the faith. This theme is repeated a number of times in the book.

MacArthur's faulty logic makes itself fully known early in the book with his own observation on the "excluded middle." On page 14 he says, "The reason behind postmodernism's contempt for propositional truth is not difficult to understand. A proposition is an idea framed as a logical statement that affirms or denies something, and it is expressed in such a way that it must be either true or false. There is no third option between true and false. (This is the "excluded middle" in logic.)" At this point MacArthur idenitifies the pattern of attack he will continue throughout the book. His insistance that the Emergent Conversation, and the Seeker Sensitive Churches (which he erroneously lumps together throughout the book - perhaps not purposely, but certainly by inference, and repetitious connection) are regularly on the wrong side of "The Truth War" establishes his use of the excluded middle as a logical argument. With his ignorance at best, or at worst his outright pretention that a more complex community of commited believers does not exist in the Emergent Church, he repeatedly makes the mistake of using the fallacy of the excluded middle, and even trumpets his pleasure in using it as a solid logical argument. With his use of the argument of the excluded middle MacArthur proudly displays his faulty logic as though it were sound intellectual supremacy, and allows this fallacy to rule the basic premises of his book.

I am amazed that an otherwise solid theologian can make such a basic error in logic, but this certainly is not the first time for John Boy.

Update on Elijah's Surgery

For an update on Elijah's Kidney Transplant go to The Why Man.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Elijah's Kidney Transplant - Wednesday Morning - Updated

Our son Elijah is going in to Beth Israel Hospital in Boston on Wednesday morning. Sometime around 9:30am he is scheduled to have the transplant. His friend Jason is donating the kidney, and will be in for the surgery about an hour before. Your prayers for Jason and Elijah would be greatly appreciated.

For those who have asked about donating to the Elijah Wyman Kidney Fund - click here.

For more info on what is happening Tuesday the 5th see The Why Man Blog.