MTA: Course Correction with Case Studies

Mahan, Jeffrey H., Barbara B. Troxell, and Carol J. Allen. (MTA) Shared Wisdom: A Guide to Case Study Reflection in Ministry. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1993.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

During my Clinical Pastoral Education at Providence Hospital, I learned about pastoral care in an institutional setting. My two classes both had six students and we divided our time between patient visits and classroom activities. These activities included lectures, group projects, sharing autobiographies and genograms, and offering each other feedback. Probably the most feared and most helpful activity involved sharing verbatims that were case studies of patient visits that did not go well.

Introduction

In their book, Shared Wisdom, A Guide to Case Study Reflection, authors Jeffrey Mahan, Barbara Troxell, and Carol Allen (MTA) write:

“This book is offered as an invitation to those involved in ministry—whether in congregations or in specialized settings—to engage in a process of reflection on their practice of ministry.”(12)

The goal of case studies is to equip the presenter to return to ministry with greater insight and confidence in themselves and in God’s provision and protection. (19).

Case studies are most helpful when they assist participants in learning from their mistakes, but, of course, focusing on mistakes requires that one first admit to them. In a world in which politicians and celebrities daily lose their jobs over a single mistake, even in the church it is totally counter-cultural to admit to and talk about mistakes. The need for confidentially is accordingly multifaceted—both those studied and those bringing forth the study need to have the process treated confidentially.

The Case Study

MTA recommend a case composed of five parts:

  1. Background. Usually a case study focuses on a specific event that requires some context be provided.
  2. Description. In describing the event, usual dialogue is given to illustrate what happened and how the presenter responded.
  3. Analysis. “Identify issues and relationships, with special attention to changes and resistance to change.”
  4. Evaluation. The presenter assesses their performance–what worked, what did not work, and why.
  5. Theological Reflection. How does our faith inform this event? (116-117)

A case is about 2 pages single-spaced and the presentation should run about an hour.

In my experience, the choice of events to write up as verbatims is critical in revealing your strengths and weaknesses in ministry. At one point when another student was going through their case study, it became obvious that I had visited the same patient shortly after the presenter—my experience and hers were completely different.[1]

Background and Organization

The authors are all former professors of practical theology. They write in seven chapters:

  1. How Wisdom is Shared Through Case Study
  2. Writing, Presenting, Clarifying
  3. Personal Wisdom
  4. Professional Wisdom
  5. Theological Reflection
  6. Reflection on the Presenter’s Ministry
  7. Futuring (ix)

These chapters were preceded by an introduction and followed by a four-part appendix.

Assessment

Shared Wisdomby Jeffrey Mahan, Barbara Troxell, and Carol Allen is a helpful guide to case studies, particularly as practiced in Clinical Pastoral Education. MTA use sample case studies to illustrate their points. More generally, the use of case studies in ministry is a helpful team building activity that will have the added benefit of deepening the experience of particular staff. In the context of individual ministry, it can’t hurt writing up difficult encounters in aiding spiritual reflection.


[1]My visit is summarized in my memoir, Called Along the Way, because it helped motivate me to focus on Hispanic ministry.

MTA: Course Correction with Case Studies

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Welcome_NY_2019

Continue Reading

Problem of Boundaries. Monday Monologues, February 18, 2019 (podcast)

Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018
Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

In today’s podcast, I will offer a Prayer about Healthy Limits and talk about the Problem of Boundaries.

After listening, please click here to take a brief listener survey (10 questions).

To listen, click on the link below.

Hear the words; Walk the steps; Experience the joy!

Problem of Boundaries. Monday Monologues, February 18, 2019 (podcast)

Also see:

Monday Monologue On March 26, 2018 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Welcome_NY_2019

Continue Reading

Prayer for Healthy Limits

Fence
Photo by Stephen W. Hiemstra

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Merciful father,

May your praise be ever on my lips and may I honor you in all that I do.

I confess that I have frequently honored you with my lips and not honored you in my actions. Forgive me that I may live into the example of Jesus Christ and listen more keenly to your Holy Spirit’s guidance.

Thank you for the many blessings of this life and for the limits that you have set for us in your law and in fulfilling it in our attitudes and actions under Gospel.

In the power of your Holy Spirit,

be especially near to me when I am most vulnerable to temptation and cherish private sins that threaten my life and the lives of those around me. Set boundaries and remind me of them that I may live in your grace and be a witness of it to those around me.

In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

Prayer for Healthy Limits

Also see:

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Welcome_NY_2019

Continue Reading

Problem of Boundaries

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Living in Christ

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Boundaries define who we are and who we are not. Undefended boundaries are an invitation to abuse and thievery. Whenever pain shows itself, we need to establish a new rule and defend it.

If our primary identity is in Christ, then we emulate Christ in all that we do, our duties in life are defined by Christ, and we act in all things expecting Christ’s return. Our boundaries reflect this life process both in our emotions and thinking.

The Good Samaritan

Cloud and Townsend (1992, 25) explain boundaries in these terms: 

“Just as homeowners set out physical property lines around their land, we need to set mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual boundaries for our lives to help us distinguish what is our responsibility and what isn’t.”

Cloud and Townsend apply their concept of boundaries in interpreting Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan.  Jesus tells this story in Luke’s Gospel:

A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead.  Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back (Luke 10:30-35).

Why is this story about the Good Samaritan rather than about the Great Samaritan? The Samaritan did not walk on the other side of the road like the priest or the Levite, but he also did not drop everything and nurse the man back to health. Instead, the Samaritan focused on what he was able to do. Then, he delegated further assistance to the innkeeper and continued his trip (Cloud and Townsend 1992, 38-39). In other words, the Good Samaritan saved the man’s life and, still, displayed healthy boundaries.

A Personal Audit

Cloud (2008, 69) suggests that a good place to start working on boundaries is with an audit. The purpose of this audit is to measure where you spend your time, disconnects between time spent and personal values, and what personal issues contribute to the problem.  This method of analysis is reminiscent of what Miller and Rollnick (2002, 38) referred to as gap analysis—highlighting the discrepancy between present behavior and broader goals and values.

Christian Boundaries

The concept of boundaries sounds a lot like law which raises a deep theological controversy about the relationship between law and Gospel, particularly when Gospel is defined in highly licentious terms. In parsing this controversy it is helpful to recognize that in the Gospels the Pharisees are pictured presenting a narrow interpretation of law to make it doable while Jesus normally widens the interpretation making compliance impossible without God’s divine intervention. More generally, Jesus speaks about principles while the Pharisees speak about rules.

When law in the commandments are expressed in principle, sin is also a violation of the principle of love in relationships with God and with neighbor (Matt 22:36-40).  Matthew outlines Jesus providing five cases where Mosaic Law is enlarged by considering underlying attitudes rather than technical compliance:  murder, adultery, the taking of oaths, application of lex talionis, and love of neighbor.⁠1  Each is introduced with an expression:  “you have heard it said.”  The case of murder is illustrative:  

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.” (Matt 5:21-22).  

In other words, the act of murder starts with an attitude of anger.  It is, therefore, sinful to become angry for the wrong reasons because it leads to murder and, implicitly, violates the attitude of love.

In this context, it is clear that Jesus is not relinquishing the law or diminishing it in any way, as Jesus says: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matt 5:17) In this context, fulfilling the law implies a more stringent condition than the law, not a more lenient one, where three states of nature are possible: noncompliance with law (transgression), technical compliance (Pharisee position), and fulfilling the law (Gospel). Contrasting law and Gospel would be to compare the latter two states.

By widening the law, Jesus makes it obvious that we must make room in our lives for God and live within his healthy boundaries. The Ten Commandments cannot therefore be abandoned; mere compliance is an indication that we have not centered our lives on Christ. The point is not to try to become the “Great Samaritan,” but rather to lean on the Holy Spirit to guide on what to do and what not to do.

References

Cloud, Henry.  2008. The One-Life Solution:  Reclaiming Your Personal Life While Achieving Greater Professional Success. New York:  HarperCollins.

Cloud, Henry and John Townsend. 1992. Boundaries: When to Say YES; When to Say NO; To Take Control of Your Life. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Miller, William R. and Stephen Rollnick. 2002. Motivational Interviews: Preparing People for Change. New York: Guilford Press.

1 Matt 5:21, 5:27, 5:33, 5:38, and 5:43.

Problem of Boundaries

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Welcome_NY_2019

Continue Reading

Eric Michael Teitelman: The Trump-Cyrus Allusion

House_of_David

Today’s guest blogger is Eric Michael Teitelman of House of David Ministries (TheHouseOfDavid.org) in Haymarket, Virginia.

In this post, Eric shares an apocalyptic vision of what it means for President Trump to be the new King Cyrus. The original Cyrus was the King of Persia who allowed the City of Jerusalem and the Temple to be rebuilt after the Babylonian exile. Some call him the righteous gentile king, but according to Jewish tradition, Cyrus was the son of Esther and therefore Jewish.

Eric & Kim Teitelman, Jerusalem, Israel 2018

Pastor Eric Michael Teitelman is a Hebrew follower of Yeshua and an ordained bi-vocational pastor with the Southern Baptist Convention. He currently oversees the House of David Ministries—a Messianic and Hebraic itinerant teaching and worship ministry focused on building the Kingdom of God by bringing Jewish and Gentile Christians together as one new man in Christ Yeshua (Eph 2:14-16). He and his wife Kim live in Haymarket, Virginia.

Pastor Eric grew upin Bat Yam, Israel for much of his childhood. In 2002 after reading the New Testament, Pastor Eric received Yeshuaas His Lord and Savior. With a firm knowledge of Old and New Testament scriptureand a deep understanding of Jewish culture and rabbinical writings, he brings a unique Hebraic perspective to his teachings. 

Established in 2008, the House of David Ministries serves as a teaching resource to the body of Christ, helping Christians gain an understanding of their Hebraic foundation and spiritual heritage, embracing the church’s calling concerning the nation of Israel and understanding God’s kingdom purposes and prophetic promises for the church and Israel.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ Yeshua:

In January 2017, my son and I attended the inauguration of President Donald John Trump. A friend had offered two of his silver zone tickets. How could we refuse this generous offer? After all, I did vote for Trump.

The rain held back, andthe temperatures were unseasonably warm for January. A gentle mist fell precisely at the time of Trump’s swearing in—a blessing of sorts. The opening prayers were powerful, and hearing the name of Jesus proclaimed over our nation lifted my spirit.

I carefully observed the face of each person standing on the platform. President Obama had his eyes tightly closed in deep introspection. President Bush Jr. had his eyes wide open and was smiling at the people around him. And President-elect Trump’s eyes were half open, maybe to focus on the events unfolding. Trump’s speech was well written, and he did a great job articulating his political points. However, somehow it left me feeling empty.

I was staring at the President the whole time, analyzing every word and looking for any reflection of humility or gentleness. No so. What I heard was a strong and nationalistic message that rang with inferences of economic prosperity and safety through American isolationism—an appeal to poor and middle-class Americans. “America first,” Trump stated as he promised to be the president of the people.

Outside the heavily barricaded perimeter of the National Mall, thousands of Americans were protesting our newly elected president. Street protestors and anarchists stormed the city, smashing windows, burning trash cans, and destroying vehicles. The police quickly responded in riot gear with tear gas, flash grenades, and rubber bullets. Was this our new America—a nation deeply divided by socioeconomic, race, gender, religious, and other social issues? Strangely, Washington D.C. on this day was also divided by concrete barricades and tall metal fencing.

My son and I walked for several hours trying to get to the presidential parade. We never made it due to the impassible maze of security checkpoints. Peering through the metal fencing, we could see the tightly packed rows of police officers lining both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue. They stood shoulder-to-shoulder, their arms firmly locked on their hips as they stared blankly at the sparse crowd.

Several months before the election, I had a dream where I was sitting in a library. The Lord spoke to me in His gentle voice and said, “Write the things I will show you that are to come.” I could see our nation torn in two. We had somehow become like two separate countries. The western half of our country was in total anarchy. Vigilante and militia armies roamed the streets trying to defend their communities. The eastern part of the U.S. was also deeply shaken, but slowly recovering.

Wow! This dream was in sharp contrast to the celebrations and cheers of our new president—confidence that America was now God’s chosen nation. I share these words with reservation as many white evangelical Christians are gleaming at the thought of Trump as their president, some even calling him a Cyrus—a type of Messiah or savior for America. Biblically, Cyrus was never given a decree to rebuild America. He was given a decree to rebuild Jerusalem.[i]Could the church have misunderstood?

The Lord spoke to me again after the inauguration. He said:

“Trump is a hammer and I hold him in my hands to bring forth both my goodness and severity for this nation.[ii]I will use Trump to protect Israel and to protect my true followers, but I will also use him to bring my hand of redemptive judgment against America, and against all who oppose me. Part of this judgment will come in the form of division, and Trump will bring division to this nation, for I am preparing the world for my soon return.”[iii]

Much of the church has been blinded and possibly deceived, somehow believing that Trump will save America—saved in spite of the millions of murdered unborn babies, saved from the history of violence against the First Nations People, saved from the scars and generational oppression of African slavery, and saved from a growing number of godless people who have placed themselves above Christ—demanding abortion, normalization of perverse lifestyles, and unrestrained access to drugs and other sinful lusts of the flesh.[iv]Oh no, this nation cannot survive the lawlessness that is spreading.[v]

Many say, how can a loving God judge this nation? I ask in return, how can a loving God forgo disciplining this nation? It is written, 

“For when Your judgments are in the earth, The inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness” (Isa 26:9). Therefore, we must remember that God’s judgmentsare always redemptive.[vi]“For whom the Lord loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives” (Heb 12:6).

Where sin abounds, God’s grace abounds even more.[vii]Therefore, it is God’s grace to discipline this nation to bring the people back to Himself. For if the riots and the millions who marched against President Trump are any indications of the depth of division in this nation, then we have not seen the full wrath of God’s judgment poured out yet.

President Trump may be the hammer. However, only Jesus can bring the healing. In contrast to the division plaguing us, even within our Christian communities, will the church in America show the love of Christ in place of the hatred we see? And, will the church in America display the peace of God instead of violence that is ensuing?[viii]I pray we will, for if we repent and return to the Lord, He has promised to forgive us and heal our land.[ix]Only then will America become great again.

Amen!


[i]Isaiah 44:28.

[ii]Proverbs 21:1, Romans 11:22.

[iii]Matthew 10:34.

[iv]Jeremiah 22:17.

[v]2 Thessalonians 2:1-4.

[vi]1 Peter 4:17-18.

[vii]Romans 5:20.

[viii]Matthew 5:44.

[ix]2 Chronicles 7:14.

Continue Reading

Tradeoffs, Desires, and Temptations. Monday Monologues, February 11, 2019 (podcast)

Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018
Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

In today’s podcast, I will offer a Decision Prayer and talk about Tradeoffs, Desires, and Temptations.

After listening, please click here to take a brief listener survey (10 questions).

To listen, click on the link below.

Hear the words; Walk the steps; Experience the joy!

Tradeoffs, Desires, and Temptations. Monday Monologues, February 11, 2019 (podcast)

Also see:

Monday Monologue On March 26, 2018 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Welcome_NY_2019

Continue Reading

Decision Prayer

Route 28, Manassas, Virginia
Route 28, Manassas, Virgina

by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Marvelous Counselor,

I come to you daily on my knees

creator of the universe

for who is like you–

you alone are worthy of all honor and praise.

Draw me into your presence,

though I am unworthy and sin beyond measure,

in the name of Jesus Christ,

who lived a sinless life and yet died on the cross

that we might be saved.

Thank you for another day

for health and family and blessings that I do not deserve,

but cherish greatly.

Grant me the blessing of your wisdom and the strength to act on it,

help me to travel your road when other roads beckon,

help me to share your blessings with others–even when I do not feel like it.

In the power of your Holy Spirit,

grant me grace and peace in the midst of anger and chaos,

In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

Decision Prayer

Also see:

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Welcome_NY_2019

Continue Reading

Tradeoffs, Desires, and Temptations

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Living in Christ

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Prov 1:7)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The Bibles teaches ethics through commandments, lists, proverbs, parables, prophecies, colorful stories, and admonitions, which renders any summary incomplete. Some of the more important  lessons can, however, be subtle. 

Be a Good Example

Consider the admonition Jesus offers in the Sermon on the Mount, right after presenting the Beatitudes:

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matt 5:14-16)

This admonition alludes to: “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” (Gen 1:3) We are to model God’s own behavior for the benefit of those around us. This makes perfect sense because we are created in God’s image (Gen 1:27), but for whose benefit are we doing this? As an inducement to live a holy life, keeping one eye on God and the other eye on how we appear to other people is a great motivator—if nothing more was said about behaving ethically, this is a great starting point.

Balance is a Virtue

The Ten Commandments are frequently a starting point for discussing community ethics, as they should be. But after giving Moses a second set of stone tables, after he broke the first set, we read:

“The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”  (Exod 34:6-7)

Here God instructs Moses on how to interpret the Ten Commandments in view of God’s own character—God is merciful, gracious, patient, loving, and faithful. So if two commandments come in conflict, remember who God is and how he would deal with this conflict—one list (the commandments) is balanced by admonitions of a second list (the character traits). Another way to look at these two lists is that the commandments speak to the mind, while the character traits talk about the heart.

Start with the Heart

Jesus’ teaching also balances the heart and the mind. Consider this passage from the Sermon on the Mount:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that  everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matt 5:27-28)

Actually, Jesus places priority on the desires of the heart as the source of sin. In other words, do not consider yourself righteous simply because you have not yet had the opportunity to sin—manage your desires.

Dealing with Temptation

After his baptism but before he began his ministry, the Holy Spirit leads Jesus into the desert  where the Devil tempted him as recorded in the synoptic gospels.⁠1 Much like Adam and Eve are tempted with food, the devil starts by goading a hungry Jesus into turning a stone into bread. The devil tempts Jesus three times. Jesus cites scripture in response to each temptation. In the final temptation, the Devil’s temptation starts by misquoting scripture, but Jesus corrects the deception and resists the temptation.

Each temptation Jesus faces is a challenge facing all Christians, particularly leaders. Nouwen (2002, 7–8) summarizes these leadership challenges as the temptation to be relevant (provide food), to be spectacular (show your divinity), and to be powerful (take charge).

Family Tradeoffs

One of the defining characteristics of the Christian faith is honoring each individual regardless of age as being created in the image of God. The Apostle Paul’s writing is particularly clear on this point. He writes:

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:28)

No ethic group is better than any other; no economic class is better than any other; and no gender is better than any other. But Paul goes further in his household codes:

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother (this is the first commandment with a promise), that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land. Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Eph 6:1-4)

He is essentially saying that because we are all created in the image of God, no age group is better than any other.  Neither a new born nor a senior standing at the gates of heaven is better than one another. Christians are to value life stages equally, honor the stage you are in, and not cling to any particular stage as if it were intrinsically preferred. 

In this sense, Christianity is a holistic faith that values maturity and embraces each stage of life with equal joy. This makes particular sense in a Christian context because our faith is rooted in history. Creation is the beginning and the second coming of Christ will be its end. Knowing the end is in Christ, we can journey through life in Christ.

The ethical example of family life in Christ is especially important because the family is the model for ethical behavior in the church. We are all brothers and sisters under one father, Jesus Christ.

1 Mark 1:12-13 gives a brief overview while Matt 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13 are longer. The Luke version has the most detail. The second and third questions posed by Satan appear in different order in Matthew and Luke.

References

Nouwen, Henri J.M. 2002. In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership. New York: Crossroad Publishing Company. 

Tradeoffs, Desires, and Temptations

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Welcome_NY_2019

Continue Reading

Smith: To Plato’s Cave and Back, Part 2

Huston Smith. 2001. Why Religion Matters: The Fate of the Human Spirit in an Age of Disbelief. New York: Harper Collins.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Some people simply cannot look up. Sunshine and glimmering stars pose no attraction like plain old dirt. Now, I am not talking about farm folks whose relationship with the soil is almost mystical. No, soil is not the same thing as dirt. Dirt is an urban plague more like weeds in a flower garden or the stuff under fingernails. Dirt is a frame of mind—a cynicism that cuts to the core. 

Introduction

In Why Religion Matters, Huston Smith writes:

“Materialism holds that only matter exists [like dirt].Naturalism grants that subjective experiences—thoughts and feelings—are different from matter and cannot be reduced to it, while insisting that they are totally dependent on it.”(83)

Smith likens this philosophical presupposition of modernism and postmodernism as like the man who pulls his window shades down so that he can only see the lawn.

In part one of this review I have outlined Smith arguments and the structure of the book. In part two, I will look at his arguments in more detail.

Modernity’s Tunnel

The tunnel is an analogy to Plato’s cave where prisoners are chained to a wall so that the light at the end of the tunnel casts shadows in front of them that they mistake for reality. After a prisoner escapes, learns that reality does not consist of the shadows as believed and returns to inform his fellow prisoners, they refuse to believe him and murder him, a reference to Socrates.

Smith writes:

“It is by now a Sunday-supplement [a newspaper analogy] commonplace that the… modernization of the world is accompanied by a spiritual malaise that has come to be called alienation…At its most fundamental level, the diagnosis of alienation is based on the view that modernization forces upon us a world that, although baptized as real by science, is denuded of all humanly recognizable qualities: beauty and ugliness, love and hate, passion and fulfillment, salvation and damnation.”(2)

Smith has no problem with science as a method of inquiry, but he rails against scientism that attempts to convert the method into a worldview. He sees scientism adding two corollaries to science:

“first, that the scientific method is, if not the only reliable method of getting at truth, then at least the most reliable method; and second, that the things science deals with—material entities—are the most fundamental things that exist.”(59-60)

I am reminded of the story of the drunk who loses his keys one night and only searches in the light around the lamppost supposing that the keys could only be there.

Traditional verses Modern and Postmodern Worldviews

Smith sees five fundamental points of contention between the traditional and modern/postmodern worlds views.

  1. “In the traditional, religious views spirit as fundamental and matter derivative…The scientific worldview turns this picture on its head…
  2. In the religious worldview human beings are the less who have derived from the more [created in the image of God]. Trailing clouds of glory, they carry within themselves traces of their noble origins…Science reverses this etiology, positioning humanity as the more that has derived from the less [grown up germs] …
  3. The traditional worldview points towards a happy ending: the scientific worldview does not…
  4. …the traditional world is meaningful throughout. In scientific worldview, meaning is only skin-deep, ‘skin’ here signifying biological organisms on a single speck in the sidereal universe…
  5. Finally, in the traditional world, people feel at home. They belong to their world, for they are made of the same spirituality sentient stuff that the world is made of…Nothing like this sense of belonging can be derived from the scientific worldview.”(34-38)

Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem

Since I first read Smith’s book in 2002, I have cited one reference repeatedly—to Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem from mathematics. Smith writes:

“From Aristotle to Turing, mathematicians have tried to establish systems that are complete. Gödel smashed that dream. His famous Incompleteness Theorem states that in a formal system satisfying certain precise conditions, there will always be at least one undecidable proposition—that is, a proposition such that neither it nor its negation is provable within the system. Jacques Derrida’s denial of any single meaning in a text sounds like a direct extension of this.”(89)

In practical terms, the human mind is a nearly complete system such that depression is a turning inward on itself and losing the necessary external reference point necessary for stability. This is why the therapy for depression is to break out of the usual routine, which offers such an external reference point.  Other applications of this theorem can be cited in economics, computer science, and other logical fields.

Assessment

Huston Smith’s Why Religions Matteris a captivating book. Smith is a master story teller with an encyclopedic grasp of world religions, philosophy, and potpourri. My first reading influenced my thinking profoundly; my second reading after seminary proved equally interesting.

Smith: To Plato’s Cave and Back, Part 2

Also see:

Smith: To Plato’s Cave and Back, Part 1

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Welcome_NY_2019

Continue Reading

Limits to Progress. Monday Monologues, February 5, 2019 (podcast)

Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018
Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018

In today’s podcast, I will offer a G328 Prayer and talk about Limits to Progress.

After listening, please click here to take a brief listener survey (10 questions).

To listen, click on the link below.

Hear the words; Walk the steps; Experience the joy!

Limits to Progress. Monday Monologues, February 5, 2019 (podcast)

Also see:

Monday Monologue On March 26, 2018 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Welcome_NY_2019

Continue Reading
1 2 3 118